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How ‘Old Country’ went from a Reddit story to a novel and Netflix deal

“Old Country,” by Matt and Harrison Query, is to be published by Grand Central Publishing July 26. MUST CREDIT: Grand Central Publishing.  (Handout/Handout)
“Old Country,” by Matt and Harrison Query, is to be published by Grand Central Publishing July 26. MUST CREDIT: Grand Central Publishing. (Handout/Handout)
By Jess Eng Washington Post

Matt Query is rarely spooked by the natural world. In fact, the environmental lawyer feels at peace in eerie solitude, whether on his ranch in rural Oregon or on remote solo backpacking trips. But spooking others comes naturally to him. On Reddit’s r/NoSleep – a place where internet writers share original, first-person horror stories – his thriller “My Wife and I Bought a Ranch” was so engrossing, it led to a book deal and Netflix adaptation. “Old Country,” the novel, comes out July 26, and early reviews are comparing Query’s writing, alongside his brother and co-writer, Harrison Query, to horror masters Stephen King and Paul Tremblay.

Unexpected viral fame arrived for Matt Query after he had been casually posting on r/NoSleep for a few years. In February 2020, Query anonymously posted the first of his six-part thriller based loosely on his experiences of moving to rural Oregon. The story follows a former Marine and his wife settling into their newly purchased ranch in Idaho. Everything seems quaint and peaceful until their neighbors warn them about an ominous shapeshifting land spirit that becomes increasingly more terrifying as the seasons change. Even with this threat, the duo insists on staying and learning to temper the angry spirit.

Query is just the most recent success story to come out of r/NoSleep. This little corner of the internet has launched numerous amateur writers into professional gigs. Founded in March 2010, the subreddit has been Ground Zero for writers testing their ideas before an audience of 16 million. Clearly some of those people have connections. In 2019, Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Partners acquired the film rights for Tony Lunedi’s 10-part story “The Spire in the Woods” shortly after Ryan Reynolds announced he’d be producing an adaptation of “The Patient Who Nearly Drove Me Out of Medicine,” by Jasper DeWitt.

NoSleep isn’t a typical forum for workshopping stories, specifically because comments that are either congratulatory or critical are taken down. Instead, comments are meant to preserve a story’s plausibility. Scroll beyond the story and you’ll find everything from faux advice (“I think you should stop taunting whatever this is. Also, I love your dog!”) to questions from frightened readers (“Bruh…. I live in Rural Idaho….. near Jackson…. should I never go to a ranch?”).

Initially the vast number of comments was enough to motivate Query’s casual writing hobby since he never expected his thrillers to blow up. But after users demanded more details about the husband and wife and speculated about the plot, he happily obliged.

Once Query’s spine-tingling post gained thousands of likes, and readers flooded his inbox with requests for more, he realized he might have a hit and enlisted his screenwriting brother, Harrison Query, to help turn his stories into a novel and screenplay, then land them in the right hands.

Scott Glassgold, the founder of the production company Ground Control, is a longtime collaborator of Harrison Query, but he had his doubts when Query approached him with a screenplay.

“Ninety-nine-point-nine-percent of the time when a client’s like, ‘My brother has something that he wrote, will you read it?’ Your eyes sort of roll and you begrudgingly say, ‘Sure, I’ll read it,’ ” he said. “But in this instance, it was the .01 percent where I read it and it just was staggeringly good.”

Glassgold had never heard of r/NoSleep before helping the brothers cement their seven-figure Netflix deal (the same month they landed their book deal). But since then, he’s mined the subreddit for diamonds in the rough and has occasionally struck gold. He has sold the novella “We Used to Live Here,” by Marcus Kliewer, to Netflix, and the short story “I Think My Mother-In-Law Is Trying to Kill Me,” by Nick Moorefox, to Sony’s 3000 Pictures.

“It’s this wonderful confluence of technology empowering an artist to get their work out there without having to know somebody, get permission from somebody,” Glassgold says. “Writing something good gets lost in the shuffle.

“But if you do something great, you can get noticed. And that’s the beautiful thing about YouTube, TikTok or r/NoSleep.”

For Matt Query, the experience has shown him the power of strangers rallying around a good story and making room for undiscovered talent.

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