CU Boulder alum’s Reddit horror story leads to major book and Netflix deal
“Your first home can be a nightmare,” reads the marketing tagline for the slick new horror novel Old Country by brothers Matt and Harrison Query, natives of Boulder, Colorado.
But the story behind the book is more like a dream come true: “Hobby” writer posts a short story on Reddit; less than six months later wins deal with a major publishing house and sells the story’s film rights to Netflix.
“That’s the fairy-tale side of it,” says University of Colorado Boulder graduate and public-lands litigator Matt Query (Psych, SocSci’12).
Rewind to the days before the world plunged into the COVID-19 pandemic. Matt Query had become a regular reader of the Reddit subreddit r/NoSleep, where amateur writers share original horror short stories.
“It became almost a habit for me to read r/NoSleep late at night,” says Matt Query, whose Reddit handle is VatoCabron. “That got me started writing fiction.”
In February 2020, he decided to post his short story, “My Wife and I Bought a Ranch,” about a young couple who leave the city and buy a remote Idaho ranch, where a malevolent spirit begins to torment them, morphing from horror to horror according to each season.
Minus the haunting, the story was autobiographical: Matt Query and his wife, Sonya Query (IntlAf’12), had recently bought a 16-acre spread 20 miles from the small city of Roseburg, Oregon.
“The story came to me while walking around taking care of sheep, horses, cows, bees and chickens, dealing with mountain lions and bears and all the challenges that come with every different season,” says Matt Query.
“In real life, instead of a sinister, spooky spirit, there’s just always something to do. If it’s fall, we need to cut a s*** load of firewood and have enough feed stocked up. In spring, it’s a battle with Mother Earth, as everything starts to grow aggressively.”
Matt Query published the harrowing tale in six parts, to the raves of Redditors. In July, a content hunter happened upon it.
“There are actually people trolling the archives (on r/NoSleep) looking for content to buy,” Matt Query says. “This dude reached out to me from an anonymous account. He said, ‘my name is so and so, with this production company. Have you thought about selling the rights to the story?’”
Matt Query briefly considered dangling $1,000 to see if the guy would bite, then thought better of it. Instead, he called an in-house expert on creative properties: his younger brother Harrison a Hollywood screenwriter (Engl ex’15) who had sold several screenplays that had drawn interest from such big-name directors as Ridley Scott and Andrew Dominik.
“He said, ‘Let me take the reins, we’ll split it, and I’ll try to get a screenplay deal, too,’” Matt Query says. “In 11 days, he had sold the cinematic rights to Netflix and on top of that got us a screenwriting contract. Then Grand Central (Publishing, a prestigious imprint of Hachette Book Group) picked it up for the novel.”
The brothers immediately got to work, with Matt Query focusing on the novel and Harrison Query the screenplay. The two works were developed in tandem in what Matt Query describes as a “fun, unique process. We get along really well.”
Old Country, a riveting, 300-plus-page version of the original story, reached bookstores in July, ratcheting up the terror page by page.
“The sinister stitchwork of the scarecrow’s mouth began to twist and gyrate as it formed words, but there was nothing being spoken—there was no noise at all, while also being the loudest thing I’d ever heard. The scarecrow wasn’t projecting particular sounds, but it had a voice—a deep, glottal, sucking voice that was ripping and pounding through my head in a fiendish cadence,” co-narrator Harrison Query says.
The novel has garnered high praise from top industry reviewers:
“The payoff is an emotional and psychological journey that deepens the layers of this entertaining horror story. … Fans of Stephen King and Paul Tremblay will find this a satisfying escape into the woods,” Kirkus Reviews wrote.
The comparison to King seems particularly fitting.
“I’m not a big horror reader. I like the genre, but a lot of it scares the s*** out of me!” Matt Query says. “But I consider myself a prolific Stephen King reader.”
Netflix bought the adaptation rights outright, which means the streaming-entertainment giant is in control of whether anything ever goes into production. Matt Query knows how quirky Hollywood is, courtesy of his brother, who is a successful screenwriter—despite the fact that none of his scripts has been produced.
“They (Netflix) have a famously massive ‘content bank.’ They buy up anything that gets big, or if a novel gets a notable publishing deal,” Matt Query says. “They have the rights, so there is no timeline on production. … If it ever does get made, that’s a bonus.”
On the other hand, the brothers have completed the script and have “been paid in full.” All in all, a pretty good deal for the brothers.
“If I didn’t have my little brother and his industry wherewithal, I wouldn’t have gotten here. He’s been a fantastic quarterback and hand-holder throughout the process,” Matt Query says. He also credits Harrison’s agent, Scott Glasgold of Ground Control Entertainment.
Since selling Old Country, both Matt and Harrison have returned to Boulder to live. Matt Query remains on retainer for his former Oregon law firm. He’s also a certified wildland firefighter and volunteers with Fourmile Fire Department in the hills west of Boulder; he recently deployed with his crew to fight a wildfire in Texas.
But now he’s also a writer. The brothers just inked a two-book deal from a “big publisher,” one of which is another “Western-set, contemporary horror-thriller,” Matt Query says. They haven’t sold the film rights yet, but they’re working on that.
“It’s been fun working together,” he says. “We’re best friends.”