Archive for the ‘ Novels ’ Category

NOT-SO-SILENT

A few years ago, Tim Lebbon took the plunge into writing full-time, although he’s been writing for as long as he can remember. He has authored more than forty books of horror and dark fantasy, such as Coldbrook, White, and the Relics trilogy (see book cover images and direct links below), as well as tie-in novels for popular franchises: Star Wars, Firefly, Alien, Predator. In other words, he’s a busy guy.

Recently The Silence debuted on Netflix, an adaptation of his novel of the same name (watch the trailer here!). And even more recently, as part of the Written Backwards interview series, Michael Bailey had the opportunity of asking him a few questions, turning him not-so-silent.

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The interview [ after a brief lead-in ]:

Technology is forever-changing, constantly providing us new ways of reading, of writing, as well as enjoying all other types of creative content. We live in a digital world where books and film and other such things are easily available at our fingertips, near-instantly brought into our homes by a few taps of a remote or a keyboard, to our phones, to various reading devices, to our computer screens, and to our televisions. In terms of the written word, we have tipped over the 50% mark of reading digitally vs. reading on paper. In terms of visual media, we are watching more film in-house vs. in-theatre (despite blockbusters consistently shattering records at the box office). Netflix and Hulu have paved the way for streaming content, with Disney and other giants beginning to mark their claims (or at least trying).

In the last few years, Netflix has put a lot of resources into their own original content, with highly successful series like House of Cards, Stranger Things, Ozark, and the Marvel superhero shows such as Daredevil, Luke Cage, and The Punisher (all of which have since been cancelled because of Disney’s involvement with Marvel and future-streaming, aka Disney+), along with spending an insane amount of money to continue streaming already successful television series and network shows.

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While the giant that is Netflix typically refuses to announce viewership, they have recently hinted at such large numbers with movies they’ve launched (both on their platform and in limited theatre release), such as with the adaptation of Josh Malerman’s novel Bird Box, which is now  one of the most successful launches in movie history. In it’s first few days, over 45 million Netflix accounts streamed the movie. Put that into movie ticket perspective (somewhere around $8 per ticket, on average), and you’re looking at a $360 million weekend debut. And that doesn’t take into account that most of these viewings were shared, with entire families watching the movie with a single virtual ticket. Netflix announced that over 80 million accounts had streamed the movie in the first few weeks of release, so suddenly that $360 million number turns into $640 million (although that’s not how it works in the mysterious world of movie-streaming). In terms of movie releases, this insane viewership is something incredible.

That said, Netflix recently released an adaptation of your wonderful novel The Silence, so I have a few questions.

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Michael Bailey: I think every writer has a certain bucket list item: To have one of their works adapted to the screen. Bucket list item obtained? How does it feel seeing your characters brought to life off the page?

Tim Lebbon: The Silence has been a fantastic experience from beginning to end. And yes, bucket list item achieved. From the moment it was picked up by the producers, to the moment my wife and I attended a screening at Netflix back in early April, it’s been such an exciting, and sometimes surreal experience. Everyone involved—producers, film makers, film company, and Netflix themselves—have been wonderful to deal with, and lots of those people are now my friends. The cast for the film was terrific, too. I think I’ve had a pretty dreamy movie experience, especially having heard from other writers about their own experiences. And I even got to play a corpse in my own film! There’s other screen stuff happening now, some of which is largely influenced by The Silence being a success for Netflix. And a ten day visit to LA meeting producers and studios has made me really want to spread my wings a little, and I’m now working on an original TV series idea of my own, as well as other stuff.

MB: I happened to be visiting Los Angeles at the time of Malerman’s screening of Bird Box, and we were able to hang out for a while, discussing what it would be like to actually watch the film at the Netflix studio (he was seeing it the following day, so I never got to ask him in person what it was like until later). The famous Grauman’s Chinese Theatre screened the movie, and he had a chance to mingle with Sandra Bullock and some of the other actors. With all that pre-loading, I guess my question is the same as what I wanted to ask Josh. What was your LA / Netflix experience like with The Silence?

TL: The Silence wasn’t given quite the massive push, because Bird Box had a limited theatre release, but Netflix still put on a great show for us. It was a busy day—I’d had two meetings that day, and my wife had taken herself off to Rodeo Drive for a look around. She ended up almost getting lost (phone running out, no data, long story), and consequently we were maybe twenty minutes late getting to Netflix. I hate being late for anything, but for the screening of my own movie …? But the minute we walked through the doors, any shred of tension left us both. The entire wall of the Netflix lobby—and it’s big—was a spread of The Silence. We were given a glass of wine and a beer, I introduced Tracey to the splendid director John Leonetti, and to Robert Kulzer from Constantin, and the screenwriters, and the ASL tutor who’d been on set was there, and it was just such a wonderful evening. The screening was terrific, and afterwards, after everyone had dashed off, Tracey and I found a local bar and had a celebratory drink. An experience, and an evening, that I’ll never forget. As for LA … what a crazy city! I loved it. Tracey went home early (we’d planned it that way) and even left on my own I filled the time with meetings, seeing friends, and making new ones. It was a trip I’ll never forget. And I hope I’ll be back pretty soon!

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MB: You have a cameo, albeit brief. I happened to catch it, and blurted out, “That’s Tim!” For those who may have missed it, where in the movie can they find you? And what was it like being on-set for some of the filming?

TL: I spent two days on set on Toronto, and was made to feel really welcome. A great time! That first day, I asked John [Leonetti] if he needed another corpse, and he was instantly taken with the idea. Long story short (which sort of ties in with four hours for prep for one second of screen time!), I ended up as a corpse in the drugstore scene. I guess it’s about an hour into the film. Stanley Tucci had to step over me to get some drugs, and afterwards I asked him if he thought I had a future in Hollywood. He said, “You nailed it!” Don’t think I got a credit, though, Hmph.

MB: We won’t discuss the movie A Quiet Place, as everyone already knows your novel The Silence came out long before that movie was conceived (and entirely different), but are there any other senses you’d like to see adapted to the screen, or in books, or do you have any favorite books / movies that have something to do with senses?

TL: Even before I met Josh Malerman I was a huge fan of his novel, and I love the film of Bird Box too. Another highlight of going to LA was meeting up with Josh and Allison a couple of times, having a few drinks, and making some lifelong friends. So yeah, Bird Box was a favourite before, and even more so after meeting Malerman. I really like the movie Don’t Breathe, and Lights Out is great too (not so much a sense movie, but it sort of feels like one).

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MB: If you could pick one sense to live without for the rest of your life, which would that be, and could you do it? And likewise, any particular superpower wishes?

TL: Eek. These questions are always tough. I’m sure you probably mean either sight or sound, but my first reaction is to live without the sense of smell! But of the two main ones, I guess I’d rather live without sound than sight. Although music makes the world go around, so I dunno …

Superpower: being able to eat cake without putting on weight.

MB: You are first and foremost a writer. I’ve had the pleasure of publishing a novelette co-written by you and Christopher Golden in the anthology The Library of the Dead, and later your story “Strings” in the anthology Adam’s Ladder, which I co-edited with Darren Speegle. Let’s just say that I love your writing, and I love collaborations in general, as they sometimes create a seemingly impossible third creator. How do you feel about collaborating with other creatives, and are there any other creatives you’d like to collaborate with on future projects?

TL: Thank you! I love collaborating, and Golden and I have been doing it for so long––we’re currently on novel #9––that I can’t imagine not working on something with him. We do go a few months at a time when we’re not actively working on a project or two, but usually we have something ticking over. Part of the appeal is as you mentioned, the third voice, and the fact that we write something that neither of us would have written on our own (or at least, not in the same way). And part of the appeal is suddenly having something ready for submission while we’re also working on our own projects! Chris is a great friend, and working with him means that writing is never a lonely business. We catch up pretty much every week anyway, but when we’re writing together on something it’s usually every couple of days.

I’ve been lucky enough to collaborate with lots of friends––Stephen Volk, Gavin Williams, Des Lewis, Brett Savory, Katherine Roberts, Michael Marshall Smith, Mark Morris … I’m sure there’ll be more in the future. I’m writing more screenplays now, and hopefully there’ll be a chance to collaborate on one or two soon.

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MB: What do you envision happening with books and film in the near future, let’s say over the next ten or so years?

TL: Print books will remain. Always have, always will. Movies and TV seem to be converging, but cinema will always persist. Stories are the most important part of our lives. They’ll always be there in some form.

MB: What advice would you like to offer all who are first entering the wonderful world of creativity, whether it be writing, film, art, or any other creative medium?

TL: There’s a fine balance between art and commerce, especially if you’re creating something for a living. But to whatever extent you have to worry about earning money, the heart of what you do should always be about what you love. I’ve written lots of tie-in projects, but storytelling is always at its core. Working on tie-in projects buys time for me to develop my own projects, too. So basically … write what you love. Write what you’d want to read. Follow your heart.

MB: Do you have any other items you’d like to toss in the bucket (list)?

TL: A TV series would be nice! Things are happening on that front, I should be able to announce something soon.

MB: Using a single word, what do you fear most?

TL: Loss.


Read more about Tim Lebbon on his website: timlebbon.net.

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THE HUNGER

The latest Written Backwards interview is with Alma Katsu, award-winning author of The Hunger, a reimagining of the Donner Party, which Stephen King called “Deeply, deeply disturbing, hard to put down, not recommended reading after dark.” She is also the author of a trilogy of books including The Taker, The Reckoning, and The Descent, and her forthcoming novel The Deep is now available for pre-order.

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So, the interview [ by Michael Bailey ]:

Last November, my extended family and I decided to spend Thanksgiving in Truckee, California. We all needed a getaway to somewhere remote, somewhere in the mountains. We needed fresh air, and trees, and less noise. So, we thought, why not spend the holiday at Donner Pass, site of the ill-fated Donner Party? For Thanksgiving! Why not check out Donner Memorial State Park while we’re there?

As California natives, we had all been to Truckee before, many times, mostly traveling through to get to other places, or visiting the lake, but none of us had ever been to the museum or monument (it’s kind of strange knowing that so long ago the mountains were impenetrable in the winters, and now the pass is a freeway thoroughfare). And so we rented a house close by and stayed for a long weekend.

We toured the museum, and craned our necks looking up at the 22-foot-tall pedestal, upon which stands the pioneer monument (the 22 feet representing the level of snowfall in the winter of 1846-47). And we read the inscription: VIRILE TO RISK AND FIND; KINDLY WITHAL AND A READY HELP. FACING THE BRUNT OF FATE; INDOMITABLE—UNAFRAID. Our kids were into it as well (although they were constantly wondering why we’d take them to such a place for Thanksgiving, of all things); they had learned of the Donner Party in school. “They ate each other, right?” Public education in California … that’s what you get.

When you say “Donner Party,” people usually grimace and talk people-food, about cannibalism. But what we soon discovered during our visit was that not much is known of the actual “eating each other” part of their story (although that’s all I was ever taught in school, and all they apparently still teach in school, according to the kids). The only mention of cannibalism at the museum, in fact, is a single placard on one of the displays (you really have to look for it), which mentions that there’s not much evidence of the Donner Party resorting to cannibalism. To be honest, it was kind of a letdown.

While there, we purchased a game in the gift shop called Donner Dinner Party. The point of the game: to either secretly turn to cannibalism (as if by disease) and turn others, or to survive being eaten (which is much more difficult, as it turns out, and not as fun as the desire to turn other players). As it turns out, it snowed while we were there. Some of the smaller streams were frozen over, but we were lucky enough not to resort to eating one another, other than in-game.

Soon after this little getaway, I discovered (by way of the Horror Writers Association) a recommended book called The Hunger by Alma Katsu, a western of sorts, a historical novel. And that was that. Out of all the books I read that year, The Hunger quickly became a favorite.

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Michel Bailey: As part of your research, you visited Donner State Memorial Park. What can you tell us about that visit, and what were some of the highlights?

Alma Katsu: I definitely recommend it if you’re ever out that way. Knowing, intimately, what happened on the sites certainly made it very meaningful to me—it felt like some sanctified space. It’s odd to think that it’s a recreational park, and that you can camp, swim, and hike close to the actual place where so many people suffered and died. The lake was very dark when I was there, the surface like black glass, and inspired the scene where they’re slaughtering the remaining cattle at the water’s edge, right before all hell breaks loose.

Folks also shouldn’t miss Alder Creek, where the Donner families were trapped away from the rest of the wagon party. It’s is a few miles down the road, quieter and less visited. The tree which the families camped beneath was hit by lightning and all that remains of it is a charred stump. It’s beautiful in an eerie, lonely way.

MB: Besides Donner Pass, where else did you find your information on the expedition?

AK: So much research went into this book. I refer to it as a complex historical research project because (1) it was a well-known event tied to a specific timeline, (2) it followed a specific physical path, and (3) had a large cast of characters, over 100. In other words, it was grounded in time and space, and is a fairly famous event so you can’t take too many liberties with it. I’m a researcher by profession, so I streamlined the work as much as possible (so as not to get pulled into a spiral of never-ending research) and relied on a lot of spot research to fill in the gaps. I got so many questions about the research process while I was touring that I developed a workshop for writers on efficient historical research.

The interesting thing about this particular event is that while there is a fair amount of professional documentation, there’s nearly as much from amateur genealogists and family histories. While it was great getting these special insights, there were problems, too: discrepancies between accounts, slight variations in the facts, and no way to settle these types of differences. In the end, you just have to decide what you want to use: is it fiction, after all.

MB: In terms of the Donner Party, most of what is known / taught are their struggles in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, which is a very small part of the overall story. What I admire most about the novel is that you focus on (for the better part of half its length or longer) the many struggles they experience much earlier in their tale, from Springfield, Illinois onward. What made you want to focus on that part of their story?

AK: We all think we know the story of the Donner Party, but what most of us know is the end: the mountain pass, the terrible snowfall, starvation, the choice they’re left with. But there’s so, so much more to the story, and you get a sense of that once you start learning the history. The journey started 1,400 miles and many months earlier, when a group of strangers happened to descend on the jumping off point—Independence, in what was then the territory of Missouri—setting the stage for the gruesome story that was to come. And it was gruesome and strange from the outset. People died, people disappeared. It was like they were cursed from the very beginning.

It’s an interesting point in American history, too: the country was half wilderness. What made people want to walk away from everyone they knew and everything that was familiar to head into the complete unknown? What were they looking for and why did they think they’d find it on the other side of the continent? We can barely imagine today, with modern communications and cars and other creature comforts, how difficult the journey to California and Oregon was. It was more than an adventure: it was literally life-and-death.

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MB: In John Langan’s review of The Hunger for Locus, he states, “It’s a testament to Katsu’s skill as a writer that she creates characters so compelling that we can’t help hoping they will escape the fate we knew was hurtling toward them the moment we opened the book.” I must admit: I never once worried about already knowing the fate of the Donners and their other party members, as I’d heard prior to reading that the book was a bit supernatural. Why did you decide to go the supernatural route?

AK: The story of the Donner Party, as incredible as it is, seemed to be a story that begged for a supernatural twist. It was gruesome and strange from the outset. They got off to a late start, but then seemed to ignore the danger of lagging behind even though they knew the danger. People died, people disappeared.

I’ve always loved the presence of the supernatural in a story. Fiction is about making us realize the truth about life, our lives. To break through the veil of the everyday that, in some ways, dulls us and lulls us into complacency. By introducing an element of the supernatural, we get the reader’s attention: something extraordinary is going on! Listen up! Plus, we all want to believe that there’s more to life than what we know, that there’s something important and wondrous waiting for us just beyond what our eyes and fingertips tell us, if we’re patient enough.

MB: The characters in the book are a blend of fiction and nonfiction. Did you have any trepidation (or challenges) writing fiction about real historical individuals?

AK: Absolutely! I had to change some aspects of the characters—for one thing, how can you really know what a person is like if you’ve never met them. Especially individuals who were not especially famous. Diaries and newspaper accounts and all the usual source material can be biased. But more importantly, I was writing fiction, not a biography. I needed characters who were going to fill certain roles in the story, so they weren’t necessarily going to be the exact same people who’d lived through the ordeal.

Also, I was a little worried that a descendant of the Donner Party would object, but then I found out that it’s almost impossible to be sued for libeling a deceased person. That made me a little less worried. There’s the ethical concern, but as I said I knew I wasn’t writing a biography. In the end, blending the real and the fictional in the characters’ lives has been fun for me, and for readers (I think). I get lots of emails from readers who say The Hunger inspired them to learn more about the real life wagon party.

MB: What can you tell us about the characters you created?

AK: The Hunger has about a half-dozen POV characters, and a good many more minor characters out of a wagon party of about 100. After just a little research, the contenders for the POV roles were pretty obvious because they had distinguished themselves during the journey—heroically for the most part, but not all of them. You have Tamsen Donner, wife of George Donner, the ostensible leader of the wagon party. Tamsen was a woman of intelligence and aspirations. Yet she died on the mountaintop, staying behind with George at the end even though she was healthy and could’ve made it down with one of the rescue parties. Why did she sacrifice herself rather than leave with her daughters? There’s Charles Stanton, one of the bachelors on the trek, who rode ahead to get food the first time the party ran low, and returned to such dire circumstances even though there was no reason besides decency. And James Reed, the man who actually led the wagon party for a good length of time, inexplicably killed one of the drovers in a fit of rage and was expelled from the wagon party with nothing, a sure death sentence. You read about these people and it makes you wonder, how did they end up here? What secrets might they be hiding? What choices or mistakes in their lives brought them to this desperate place?

The same is true of the villains. Lewis Keseberg, the member of the Donner Party most associated with cannibalism—incredibly disagreeable by all accounts—you have to wonder what was it about him that made it possible to surrender to cannibalism so readily? And then two men who were indirectly responsible: Lansford Hastings, a charlatan who sent the Donners down the untried trail, and Jim Bridger, who had fallen on hard times and was trying to make Hasting’s new trail to California a success.

But those are just some of them. The Hunger is a character-driven book, and there are many more to choose from. It was a pleasure getting to build and bring each one to life.

MB: The Hunger is a historical western, it’s horror, it’s thriller, and many other things. In fact, it won the 2019 Western Heritage Award for Best Novel, and was nominated for both the Locus Award for Best Horror Novel of 2018, and the Bram Stoker Award (from the Horror Writers Association) for Superior Achievement in a Novel. That said: What are your thoughts on cross-genre fiction?

AK: I love cross-genre fiction and I think readers do, too. It seems like the big blockbusters that take the industry by storm every couple of years tend to be cross-genre. Maybe the unexpectedness of the story helps with the word-of-mouth. The downside is that cross-genre is hard to market. It’s hard for audiences to find it because the mechanisms for discovery—newsletters from publishers and book stores, recommendation engines online—tend to be siloed. I’ve been very lucky in that horror people who loved the book overlooked the historical aspect, and vice versa.

MB: I had the pleasure of briefly meeting you at StokerCon, and during one of the panels you mentioned a future project involving the Titanic. Will this also be a mix of different genres? What can you tell us about this project without giving away too much?

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AK: The next book, The Deep, is a ghost story that’s mostly set on the Titanic and its sister ship, Britannic, which also sank. It’s historical and has horror elements—ghosts but also a little selkie lore—but it’s also a bit more romantic than The Hunger. I worry that it might have too many genres in it but it holds together. I think it works, but I guess we’ll see.

MB: For this book, where have you gone (or where are you planning to go) for research?

AK: I wasn’t as energetic with this book. I’d hoped to go to Belfast to visit the Titanic shipyard, or at the very least get to one of the Titanic museums stateside, but ran out of time. I did visit a stunning Smithsonian exhibition, but most of my research has been done by book and internet. Because so many people are completely gaga for the Titanic story, there are many great online resources. Finding source material was not a problem. I was spoiled for choice.

MB: One final question, since these interviews are designed to help creatives in general: In terms of research, what advice would you offer those new to historical fiction?

AK: The number one problem I’m asked about has to do with over-researching. Research paralysis. As I mentioned, I got so many questions while on tour about the research I did for The Hunger that I ended up putting together a workshop on being a more efficient researcher. It’s less about specific resources and more about borrowing techniques from the world of professional researchers. You can find the highlights in this article I did for Writer Unboxed.


Find more on Alma Katsu and her work at almakatsubooks.com

A LITTLE OF EVERYTHING

The latest Written Backwards interview is with John Langan. author of such novels as House of Windows and The Fisherman, as well as numerous fiction collections, including Mr. Gaunt and Other Uneasy EncountersThe Wide, Carnivorous Sky and Other Monstrous Geographiesand his latest Sefira & Other Betrayals. His work can be found in magazines and anthologies all over the world. We discuss a little of everything …

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Michael Bailey: When overhearing people discussing the fiction of John Langan (because I often find myself doing most of the listening and not much of the talking while in crowds), I often hear things like “literary” and “quiet horror.” What do you consider quiet horror, and likewise what do you consider literary?

John Langan: “Quiet horror” is a term I associate with the years surrounding the Splatterpunk movement, when it was thrown up as a more restrained alternative to the work of Skipp & Spector, Schow, etc. At the time, quiet horror was connected to writers such as Charles Grant and Steve Rasnic Tem. If I’m not mistaken, Doug Winter wrote a review essay arguing (compellingly, to my mind) that the apparent differences between the groups were vastly outweighed by their similarities. In the years since then, the term quiet horror has been employed in a less-systematic way in an attempt to identify works of horror in which the emphasis is on atmosphere and subtlety of effect rather than more dramatic narrative moves. Although I haven’t made a systematic study of it, I have the sense that it’s applied to those writers we associate with the classic tradition of the ghost story, with M.R. James or Susan Hill. The problem is, if you read James’s fiction, then you’ll find that there’s a lot of delightfully over-the-top stuff going on. (I also suspect that this more recent use of quiet horror is an attempt to draw a line between it and more cinematically inflected fiction, i.e. zombie narratives.)

As for the word “literary,” it’s one of those that tends to cause all manner of uproar, isn’t it? As I see it, the most important thing to remember about “literary” is that it’s an adjective, not a noun. In other words, it describes a certain set of characteristics that can be applied to any kind of fiction. What those characteristics are may be subject to debate, although I’m reasonably sure they would include attention to character and style. I think it was Nabokov who said that the literary is that which we are always rereading, and I like that definition very much.

MB: In the acknowledgments for your debut novel, House of Windows, you wrote, “This book had a hard time finding a home: the genre people weren’t happy with all the literary stuff; the literary people weren’t happy with all the genre stuff.” Who is your intended audience?

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JL: It used to be that I read everything I wrote to my wife. So while I wrote whatever I did because I wanted to read it, myself, she was my first audience. Then, after our son was born, it became harder to maintain this practice. I still have her in mind as my ideal reader, but these days, I’m also thinking about friends such as Laird Barron, Stephen Graham Jones, and Paul Tremblay. Anytime I write something that these guys like, I know I’ve made contact with the ball.

MB: Who do you write for? Who should anyone write for?

JL: At the risk of being redundant, I write for myself, my wife, my friends, and then anyone who’s willing to pick up the story or book and give it a chance. I’m not sure that there’s a universal answer for the second question—although it would seem to me difficult not to be writing for yourself—but I think you should write for whoever helps you to write. If writing for yourself alone is enough to make that happen, then that’s great. If writing for someone else helps, then that’s fine, too.

MB: Having read The Fisherman, which won the Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in a Novel a few years ago, I would have to say that I would consider it a multitude of things (horror being one of them), but not necessarily any one thing over the other. It’s horror, sure, but it could be considered cosmic horror, or Lovecraftian, or “quiet,” the way Victor LaValle’s wonderful novella The Ballad of Black Tom is a little of each of those things. What do you consider The Fisherman?

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JL: I’m happy to call it a horror novel, but that’s because I subscribe to a big-tent view of horror, in which all manner of narratives can be gathered under its folds. I tend to think that fiction in general is a fundamentally hybrid or mixed art (an idea indebted in no small part to the ideas of the literary critic M.M. Bakhtin), so it seems to me entirely appropriate that all manner of genres and sub-genres should be part of a novel.

MB: Is there a need for genre and sub-genre? I recently read a post by a prolific writer in which he stated (not verbatim) that he doesn’t write horror, or science fiction, or any one thing; he simply writes what he wants to write, and lets other people determine what they want to call it. Do you agree?

JL: From a critical perspective, I don’t see anything wrong with having categories that allow you to point out similarities between different works of literature. From a reader’s perspective, I don’t see anything wrong with having categories that allow you to find books that are similar to those you’ve enjoyed already. And from a writer’s perspective, I don’t see anything wrong with having a tradition to engage with in my work. So I guess as long as the genre category functions in an expansive way, in a way that brings more to the critic / reader / writer, I’m quite happy with it.

MB: I once overheard an editor say that she wished you wrote more often. Your first novel was published in 2009, and your second in 2016. But between that seven-year span you also published two fiction collections: Mr. Gaunt and Other Uneasy Encounters (2008) and The Wide Carnivorous Sky and Other Monstrous Geographies (2013), and co-edited an anthology with Paul Tremblay called Creatures: Thirty Years of Monsters. That’s four books in seven years (five if you count the anthology, which I do, because I know how much work goes into them), which I would say is a good pace. Do you wish you wrote faster, or published more often?

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JL: Over the past several years, I’ve published a reasonable number of stories—as well as, very recently, a third collection of stories. My problem is, in part, that many of those stories have appeared in smaller press publications, which someone who’s read, say, The Fisherman may not necessarily have heard of. But I have enough material for at least another three collections after Sefira, and I’m hoping to do something about that sooner rather than later.

I do, however, wish I were one of those writers who can toss off a novella in a week. In part, my daily process means that I don’t work particularly quickly: I do a lot of revising as I’m writing. I’ve also learned that some works require more time than others to complete, and may need to be put aside for a while. (This was the case with both The Fisherman and Sefira, the title piece in my new collection, both of which took me years to finish.) And while I’ve enjoyed a great deal of success with my writing, it hasn’t been enough to support me and my family, which means I need to work a day job, which cuts into my writing time. In addition, I’ve been reviewing horror and dark fantasy for Locus magazine, which also requires a certain amount of time that would otherwise go to fiction writing.

Moving ahead, I’d like to devote a bit more time to writing longer works, especially novels.

MB: What are your writing and / or publishing habits? Do you write when you want to write? Do you set goals?

JL: I try to write every day, with a goal of completing a page a day. When I’m not working a day job, it’s easier to maintain that schedule. In terms of publishing habits, I’ve tried to say yes to every invitation to contribute to an anthology I’ve received. (Which I suppose has cut into my novel writing.) I have immediate goals, usually to have something done on or not too far past the deadline. My long-term goals are a bit more nebulous: I would very much like to complete one hundred stories and ten novels—arbitrary numbers, I know, but ones that help me have some sense of how I’m doing, overall. I think I’m up to around sixty stories, with several more underway; while I have plans for another six novels if I can ever find the time to write them.

MB: You have been a finalist for the International Horror Guild Award, a Bram Stoker Award nominee for Superior Achievement in a Fiction Collection for Mr. Gaunt, and won for your novel The Fisherman, as well as serve on the Board of Directors for the Shirley Jackson Awards. What do awards mean to you, and what do you believe they should mean to other writers?

JL: The recognition an award nomination brings is a fine thing, while an award can certainly make your day. In my case, the Bram Stoker was the award I had first wanted to win, back when I was a teenager and it was created, so while I could not have complained had any of the other writers I was on the ballot with won it, there was a special delight in hearing my name read out on that night.

At their best, awards can shine light on deserving work, leading readers to writers they might not otherwise have encountered. That said, in any award process, there’s always going to be work that is overlooked, that may not come to light until years later. And even if you win an award, you still have sit down to write the next day. So awards should be enjoyed, but not used as the final measure of success—which is, after all, having readers for your work.

CREATOR OF HEROES

The following is an interview with New York Times bestselling author David Morrell, master of the high-action thriller, creator of Rambo, author of such fine novels as First Blood, The Protector, and Murder As a Fine Art. He writes nonfiction, and for comics, and is a mentor to emerging writers and has a passion for protecting wildlife. And his latest collection, Before I Wake, is available June 30th from Subterranean. He’s all over the place, but at this moment he’s at Written Backwards to share a few things. Enjoy!

the_chosen

The interview [ by Michael Bailey ]:

My first exposure to your work was in the form of a Halloween costume. This was either 1983 or 1984, which means I was either four or five years old when I first met a character by the name of “Rambo” (only knew him by that name) because my older siblings talked about him often. You published the novel First Blood in 1972, and ten years later, in the fall of 1982, the movie debuted (directed by Ted Kotcheff and starring Sylvester Stallone, who also contributed to the screenplay). Back then, movies stayed in theatres much longer, for years even, and First Blood was a huge success, grossing an unheard-of $125.2 million, which, way back when, was a lot of money.

Here’s where the costume comes in. My oldest sister came out of her room the following year (or the next) with fake blood dripping down her face and neck, her long hair tied back with a red ribbon around her forehead, and I believe she wore a tank top and a long black survival knife belted to her waist, the kind with a compass on the hilt (back then, you could wear such weapons in public). “I’m Rambo,” she had said, for Halloween, introducing him to me, and she explained the blood was there because Rambo had apparently jumped off a cliff and into some trees, scraping his face and neck. Let me repeat that I was either four or five years old, so I wasn’t allowed to watch such violent movies. This Rambo guy sounded kinda cool, I thought. And my sister, she’s kinda cool.

first_blood

Fast-forward another ten years, and I’m considered old enough to watch the Rambo movie (or perhaps not), and it quickly becomes a favorite. I watch First Blood a couple dozen times, and my older brother and I often play “Rambo” in the backyard, throwing knives at trees, making bows and arrows from fallen branches, scavenging to make forts in trees, crawling on the dirt, always running from something (like in the film). John Rambo becomes part of my childhood, and for the course of about twenty years, I don’t know there’s a book about this Rambo hero of ours.

Fast-forward another ten years, and I start writing fiction, poetry, anything I can think of. I don’t want to be a writer (and hate reading in general, at this time), but for some reason I have to write, like it’s some kind of disease. Sometime around then, I discover there’s a novel version of First Blood (why’d he call it that?), by some guy named David Morrell. And then I find his other books, such as The Brotherhood of the Rose, The Fraternity of the Stone, The Protector, The Naked Edge. I become a constant reader.

brotherhood

Fast-forward another ten years, and I’m still writing, but seriously. I’m at some kind of boot camp hosted by Borderlands Press, with the likes of Thomas F. Monteleone, Douglas E. Winter, and F. Paul Wilson, and this David Morrell fellow I’ve come to know through his words and through his characters. The creator of Rambo! I’m thinking. The guy who created one of my (and my siblings’) childhood heroes! It’s thirty-something years later, and wouldn’t you know it, the idea behind First Blood is still relevant. My oldest brother, he’s been in the military all this time. He’s my own Rambo. He’s fought in the Iran-Iraq War, the Gulf War, the Iraq War, and countless others, and he’s there during the fall of Saddam Hussein, helps take over the Baghdad Airport and later shows me a picture of him and a few others underneath a sign proclaiming that such a thing would never happen. And each time he returns from war, like many others, he’s perhaps looked down upon.

Fast-forward to the present, and I’m interviewing the creator of Rambo, and so many other incredible characters. And I’m falling in love with new series altogether, such as the Thomas De Quincy series, which starts with Murder As a Fine Art.

murder.jpg

The questions:

Michael Bailey: I promise this will be the only Rambo-related question, but his story is important to me and to so many others, so I must ask: Why do you feel the story of John Rambo is forever-relevant?

David Morrell: It depends on which Rambo we’re talking about. The character in my novel First Blood is furious about what happened to him in Vietnam, whereas the character in the film is a sympathetic victim while the character in the second and third films is jingoistic. Sly told me that in retrospect he wasn’t happy with the treatment of violence in Rambo II and III, which is why he saw the fourth film [Rambo] as his version of a Sam Peckinpah movie. The character was more like the one in my novel. “Wars. Old men start them, young men fight them, and everybody loses,” Rambo says at one point in the fourth film (the director’s-cut DVD amplifies the theatrical version). If we look for a common denominator, I suppose it comes back to the military virtues of courage, honor, loyalty, and sacrifice, which are virtues that everyone, not only those in the military, should emulate. I mention those virtues in my Captain America; The Chosen six-part comic-book series.

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David Morrell with Sylvester Stallone

MB: Movies based on comic book characters are perhaps the most costly but also the most profitable of all movies, with Avengers: Endgame recently grossing over $1.2 billion worldwide over a single weekend, and movies like Black Panther and Captain Marvel and many others making over $1 billion worldwide before their short runs (compared to the long-ago). Movies are only in theatres now for months, yet raking in insane amounts of money. Why are comic book characters such a big part of our lives?

DM: It’s about promotion as much as the characters. After the collapse of the DVD market, Hollywood producers looked elsewhere for revenue. They found it in China and India, where the theatrical-distribution systems were starting to make Hollywood films available in a big way. Comic-book heroes (and characters from films such as Star Wars) are so universally familiar that Oriental audiences recognized them, despite the differences in cultures. In marketing language, these films are “pre-sold.” As the revenue from Oriental audiences increased, studios made more films to satisfy that market. Meanwhile, to use the United States as an example, the binge-watching of television series is so popular that only films with a visceral magnitude motivate families to leave the house as a group. A family of four spends more than a hundred dollars to go to a movie (a low estimate). The impressive CGI effects and the wall-rumbling sound of superhero films aren’t anything they can get at home. The spectacle is the attraction. Marketers have brilliantly convinced families that these are experiences they ought to share, even though the action scenes can be prolonged and repetitive to the point that they’re numbing. That isn’t to say I’m negative about superhero films. I loved the origin films for Wonder Woman and Black Panther, which emphasized characterization as much as spectacle.

MB: Why are we, as people, so in need of superheroes?

DM: It depends on how we define a superhero. Remember that in the 1930s Hitler used elements from Germanic mythology to promote his agenda. For a superhero to appeal to me, that character needs to personify fairness, selflessness, the belief in equality, the protection of the weak, etc. Fortunately those values are what traditional comic books and Hollywood superhero movies represent. In our crisis-ridden culture, we need as many representatives of those values as we can get. I’m reminded that the mass shooter at the film theater in Aurora, Colorado, in 2012 opened fire at an audience watching The Dark Knight Returns. He could have been a villain in the movie. When I wrote my Captain America: The Chosen comic-book series, my theme was that each of us has within us the capacity to be a superhero. In my Spider-Man: Frost two-parter, my theme was the selfless meaning of Spider-Man / Peter Parker’s mantra: “With great power comes great responsibility.”

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MB: It’s not as well-known as some of your other projects, but you have dipped into Marvel comics, writing such series as Captain America: The Chosen (one of my favorite short-run comics of all time, the story you created as relevant as (or perhaps mirroring) that of John Rambo’s, once again making me think of my brother in the military), as well as a two-parter of The Amazing Spider-Man (#700.1 & 700.2), and an issue of Savage Wolverine (#23). The question: How much easier, or more difficult, is comic-writing vs. prose-writing?

spider-man

DM: I think of comics as stop-action stories comparable to storyboards for films. The dynamism comes from the jump between panels. One contrast between prose fiction and comics is that in fiction I can use all five senses to try to achieve a feeling of three dimensions whereas in a comic book I’m working in an emphatically visual medium, with limited sound effects that are printed on the page and require the reader to imagine them. Some readers might be surprised that a comic-book writer chooses the number of images per page (a single image or two or four or even eight images on a page) and describes what happens in each of those images. A 22-page comic book might have a script that’s as long as the comic itself. Moreover, what characters say or think needs to be kept to a minimum in favor of letting the images tell the story. I think of each page as a paragraph and try to use the bottom panel on a page to catapult the reader to the top of the next one. Similarly, when a reader turns a page in a physical comic book, I try to have a “reveal” on the page that’s uncovered. My essay about writing Spider-Man: Frost, can be found on the Writing page of my website, www.davidmorrell.net. The essay includes script pages and matching illustrations from artist Klaus Janson and colorist Steve Buccellatto.

MB: If you were given the opportunity, which comic series would you write next?

DM: Probably Batman, because of the psychological implication of caves and bats. He’s a DC character, of course, but I think my contract with Marvel has expired.

wolverine

MB: Okay, no more comic-related questions. You are well-known to up-and-coming writers (100% of those I encounter, at least) as a person always willing to offer advice and support, always going above and beyond, such as with your involvement in the Borderlands Press boot camps. Why is it important to help those new to the business?

DM: A couple of reasons. One is that the writing world is contracting. It’s increasingly difficult for beginning writers to get established. I recall the writers who gave me generous advice at the start: William Tenn, Stirling Silliphant, Donald E. Westlake, Brian Garfield, and Lawrence Block, to name some. I also recall how grateful I was. They told me to pay it forward, so that’s what I do. The second reason is that I‘m by nature a teacher. I love sharing information and explaining, which might be another example of paying it forward.

MB: You are also often involved with wildlife rescue, and have a few stories you’ve shared in the past with the wildlife where you live. What first sparked this need to help other animals and why is so important we do so?

DM: I’ve always felt close to animals and nature. One of my most transformative experiences involved living in the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming for 33 days as a member of a Wilderness Expedition course through the National Outdoor Leadership School. That was research for my novel, Testament. I’ve always had my home in small communities with easy access to the countryside. I’m a gardener, especially when it comes to vegetables (and in New Mexico, that’s a task). I see my world as if it’s a Van Gogh painting with the universe’s spirit swirling through everything. The wildlife rescues started four years ago. I live in Santa Fe, near the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. One day I stepped outside and found a mother bobcat with two kittens. She stared into my eyes as powerfully as I’ve ever been looked at. But she wasn’t threatening me. Young and weak, she was pleading for help. I don’t feed wildlife. But I did let her use a copse of trees near my house as a den. I never bothered her. She and the kittens were there every day. Then one night, I heard three shots and knew in my heart that a neighbor had killed her. She never came back. I learned about the New Mexico Wildlife Shelter, who sent someone to teach me how to capture the kittens. I took them to the shelter, learned about its worthy mission, and have supported it since then. Last summer, the director brought a sharp-shinned hawk in a cage. The hawk had been injured but was now healed. I kept the hawk for a day as it became used to the sound and look of my wooded neighborhood. Then I released it. The hawk came back many times after that. On one occasion, it perched on a rain barrel and looked through our kitchen window. For me, that’s like going to church.

MB: As a creator of heroes, what single piece of advice would you share?

DM: If you mean advice about writing, my mantras are, “Be a first rate version of yourself and not a second rate version of another writer.” And “Don’t chase the market. You’ll always see its backside.” But the larger issue is the responsibility that comes with writing in genres that attract more readers than other types of writing. My work emphasizes action and suspense, but underneath there are embedded themes, and they go back to what I mentioned that I felt were the qualities of a superhero: fairness, selflessness, the belief in equality, the protection of the weak, etc. It’s no accident that I wrote three novels and three short stories about protective agents and that one of them is called The Protector.

* For additional writing advice, check out The Successful Novelist: A Lifetime of Lessons About Writing and Publishing, and also his Writing page at www.davidmorrell.net.

A VISIT FROM THE TOOTH FAIRY

The following is an interview with Zoje Stage, author of Baby TeethWhile this was put together prior to StokerCon (a conference run by the Horror Writers Association), I had the opportunity of meeting Zoje at the event. So, without further ado …

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The Interview [ by Michael Bailey ]:

Baby Teeth seemed to have hit the ground running. The cover for the hardback is simple: blank white-ish background, shattered red lollipop, and those two words, which somewhat suggest that yes, this particular book is going to bite. I remember seeing the book for the first time displayed in a local bookstore in Santa Rosa, California, or maybe Petaluma, and it was like one of those presidential portraits that sort of keep staring at you as you pass, not wanting you to pass. The cover as striking as the title. And I remember thinking, Who is Zoje Stage? I didn’t buy the book, then. And I didn’t buy it the next two or three times it wanted me to buy it.

Some backstory: My wife and I have a yearly tradition of getting each other two books for Christmas, ones we’d not typically buy for ourselves; that way, each year, we are each introduced to two new writers minimum. The books I chose for her were, of course, Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage, and Cherry by Nico Walker (which he apparently wrote while in prison … or is still in prison, I don’t know). Both books were debut novels by writers I had never heard of before, and both had dust jackets that were a mix of white and red. They captured my attention in their first few pages (along with the back cover copy). The problem, however (at the time) was that I bought the books for her, as gifts, and the rule we have is that we can’t read them until the other finishes. She’s a slow reader, so this had me a bit worried because the two books (yours in particular) kept haunting, kept calling. Luckily, she breezed through it in a matter of days.

Suddenly I’m reading the book, and doing the same, alternating between chapters from the point of view of little, troubled Hanna, and her mother. Every time I’d finish a chapter, my wife would ask, “Where are you at?” and I’d tell her, and she’d follow it with a smile and say, “Oh, just you wait” and so I’d keep reading. I haven’t read Cherry yet, because she hasn’t yet read it, but I was lucky enough to have read Baby Teeth. It’s a real page-turner. This book is going to do well, I told myself, and This Zoje Stage is going to do well, and before I know it the Bram Stoker Award nominations are announced and Baby Teeth is on the list for Superior Achievement in a First Novel.

baby_teeth

By the time this interview goes live, we will have already met in Grand Rapids, Michigan for StokerCon, hosted by the Horror Writers Association, and perhaps by then you will have taken home one of those heavy haunted house statues. But for now, we are complete strangers, and so I have a few questions as if we haven’t yet already met (like some kind of strange time-travel). That said …

The questions:

Michael Bailey: What made you want to write Baby Teeth, and why do you feel it’s connecting with readers?

Zoje Stage: I’ve long been fascinated by “bad seed” stories. I hate to say it, but sometimes children seem like otherworldly creatures to me, and it can be pretty freaky when you get a bad vibe from a kid in real life (which has happened). While “evil children” is a trope I’ve enjoyed especially in films, I hadn’t found a book that really delved as deep as I wanted to go, and you know what they say: write the book you want to read. I was particularly interested in exploring the dichotomies of such a child, as I do believe that a tiny percentage of the population may be truly psychopathic, but more often children—as highly sensitive beings—are influenced by the world around them. And I also wanted to see a realistic possibility for how a family would ultimately deal with a disturbed child, and there are parents who really have to confront this.

Part of why I think the book is connecting with readers is the dual-sympathy and dual-revulsion they experience with both Hanna and Suzette. Society puts an incredible amount of pressure on mothers, and that aspect is something a lot of people can relate to. And simultaneously, it’s very compelling to explore the inner workings of a child—especially one who is smart but off-kilter. Apparently even parents of the most wonderful children have glimpsed bits of Hanna-like behavior in their little progeny, and I think this has only increased the relatability of the story, as it makes people really ponder nature vs. nurture.

MB: This is your debut novel, but have you written others that are not-yet-published? If so, what can you tell us about those other manuscripts, and if not, how were you able to land this one so gracefully with St. Martin’s Press?

ZS: Baby Teeth was the sixth novel I’d written, and the fifth I’d queried. The first four were Young Adult, with the connective element of being fairly dark, but the genres were all over the place (sci-fi, fantasy, contemporary, and something too weird to classify but inspired by Shirley Jackson). Then I made a startling realization that maybe I wasn’t the best person to be writing YA (for a number of reasons). While Baby Teeth is technically the second of the adult novels I’ve written, I recently did a complete overhaul of that first adult novel—and maybe it will become my third published book? I do not, otherwise, plan to revisit my earliest novels, and have written a few new things since Baby Teeth.

MB: A Bram Stoker Award is for horror. Do you consider Baby Teeth horror? How fine is the line between that genre and thriller, which book publishers seem to be using for dark fiction. That said, how fine is the line between horror and any other genre? Alma Katsu’s The Hunger comes to mind, which is historical fiction, yet recently won an award for westerns and is up for a Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in a Novel.

ZS: The first inkling I had that my book might be considered “horror” was in Aug. 2018—one month after publication—when it showed up on a Bustle list called “15 Horror Books to Pick up If You’ve Already Read Everything by Stephen King” (The Hunger was also on that list). Prior to that it had never occurred to me that my name would ever be mentioned in proximity to Stephen King! But more lists came out, and Baby Teeth ended up on Bloody Disgusting’s “10 Best Books of 2018 for the Horror Fan” and finished in the Goodreads Choice Awards for Horror in the #2 slot, right behind Stephen King. Suffice it to say, I’ve been thinking about the “horror” designation a lot over the last year.

I submitted Baby Teeth to my agent as a suspense novel, and so far as I know my publisher marketed it as psychological suspense. But since then I’ve heard it referred to as a thriller, domestic suspense, psychological thriller, and horror. I’ve been told by many, many readers—a large portion of them via social media—that Baby Teeth was the “creepiest” thing they’ve ever read. I’ve had readers report that the book gave them nightmares, or that they couldn’t read it at night, or while their young children were in the house … And that’s when I came to understand that Baby Teeth is a horror novel because it scares readers. It’s that simple. From the publishing world’s perspective each genre may mean a very specific thing, but from a reader’s perspective a “horror” novel is one that scares them—and I really can’t argue with that reasoning.

MB: The bio on your website states that “Zoje Stage is a former filmmaker with a penchant for the dark and suspenseful.” What can you share about your film-making experience, and why the move to fiction writing?

ZS: My storytelling goal with film was actually quite similar to what it is with novels: to create realistic stories with well-developed characters who were in odd situations. Film had been my passion for decades, but ultimately it was not a truly viable way for me to be my “best” creative self. It took me a long time to realize that, as it was a dream I wanted very badly, but I had to concede, as time went on, that I was not making the kind of progress I wanted to make, and my health and finances were becoming bigger and bigger obstacles. It’s also possible that I was intimidated by the prospect of writing novels, and it wasn’t until I was able to see the correlations between directing a film and writing a book that I felt ready give it a try.

As a DIY indie filmmaker (forever dreaming of a budget that never materialized), I basically wore all the hats: writing, directing, producing, shooting, acting, editing, etc. Early in the process, I realized that a novelist also wears many hats. The writer of a novel “directs” the reader’s attention toward what she wants them to see and know. She develops and performs all of the roles. In addition to being the production designer, the novelist stages all the scenes, and sets the mood. Each chapter of a book is like a sequence in a film, written, directed, and edited … But the big game changer? I didn’t need to secure locations or props, or upgrade or rent equipment, or beg friends for help in front of or behind the camera. I didn’t need more money to write a book, and I could realistically aspire—with sufficient practice—to “wear all the hats” with some degree of competence.

I found there were things I could do with novels I couldn’t do with film—like exploring thoughts and language—but my background in film and theatre proved to be extremely transferable. And somehow, in spite of living in a society that prefers “watching” over “reading,” from my perspective there are more opportunities for a book than a film, and room for more kinds of stories. One of the unexpected thrills of being published is the “presence” of my book in the world, and the chance for readers to keep discovering it. The publishing industry may not be perfect, but it’s a world away from the film industry and I’ll never go back.

MB: Do you also write short fiction, or do you tend to stick to longer works (asking for a friend)?

ZS: I have a weird relationship with short fiction (similar to my weird relationship with short films). With both, I’ve had the sense that I need a longer format to produce better work. There was a time when I wrote a ton of speculative short fiction and tried—and failed—to get it published. I haven’t written short fiction in years, although I do have a writing “to do” list that includes a couple short story ideas. Will I ever write them?

MB: To see if we can predict the future, what are your goals for attending StokerCon? Who are you most excited to meet? Do you have any predictions for the other award categories? For the last five years, during the award ceremony, I have circled who I think will win prior to everything starting, and then underline those that actually win; I think last year was my best, something like 90% correct.

ZS: I’ve never been to any sort of writing convention so I’m excited to see what it’s all about and hang out with so many writers. It’s a little funny that I have to travel to Michigan to meet “local” author J.D. Barker—especially since he invited me to participate in a local panel discussion taking place a week after StokerCon—but I’m definitely looking forward to meeting him. As a debut author I still feel very new to publishing (am I even qualified to be on a panel? LOL), so I’m hoping to glean info from more experienced authors. I’m also looking forward to meeting some folks whom I currently only know in an online capacity.

As far as predictions … There are only a few categories I’ll even wade into, as I am way behind on reading all the nominees. Needless to say, the nominees represent a standard of excellence and they are all worthy of winning. But here are a few guesses:

Superior Achievement in a Novel: Paul Tremblay, The Cabin at the End of the World

Superior Achievement in a Fiction Collection: Gabino Iglesias, Coyote Songs

Superior Achievement in a Screenplay: Eric Heisserer, Bird Box

MB: After all the baby teeth have fallen out, what’s next?

ZS: I have multiple things in the works, though the only one with a definite home at the moment is my next novel, Wonderland: On the cusp of winter, a hardcore artsy New York City family moves to a place not quite on the map in the Adirondacks, and begins to experience bizarre and extreme weather. Being so out of their element, they aren’t sure at first if it’s just the influence of global warming, or some sort of haunting, or the decline of their sanity … But the situation becomes life threatening.

I also hope to find good publishing homes for My UnderSlumberBumbleBeast—the children’s book within Baby Teeth—and a short novel I refer to as a Wary Tale, which is a Fairy Tale for adults. And I have two other novels in various stages of completion.

PSYCHOTROPIC DRAGON, AND OTHER THINGS …

I will be incredibly busy over the next few months (already have been), so I thought I’d post about my current projects. In other words, you won’t hear from me in a long while (perhaps months, maybe not until summer). I have a lot of stuff on my plate, in various stages of development, so what follows is a summarized run-down.

Why am I so busy? I have been taking on editing and book design projects for clients, proofreading, editing and copyediting for Independent Legions Publishing, and have recently taken on a part-time role as Developmental Editor for New Degree Press to help new writers bring their books to life (and you can add “ghostwriting” to my resume ). Meanwhile, I am trying to finish a science fiction thriller called Seen in Distant Stars, and writing fiction and nonfiction to perhaps make a few sales and help pay the bills.

So here goes …



PSYCHOTROPIC DRAGON

This is a composite novel that’s been “in the works” since 2009 (yes, ten years!). Many have been waiting patiently for this book, and hopefully the wait won’t be much longer because I consider the manuscript done. Word-count is a little under 90,000.

Psychotropic Dragon (ARC) - Cover

Why “composite” and why the long wait? Well, it’s part short novel, part novella, part novelette, includes a few children’s fables throughout, and four illustrators have been involved with its development over the last ten years (48 illustrations total!). I should also mention  John Skipp played an early part in this thing coming together, as well as my three amigos: Thomas F. Monteleone, F. Paul Wilson, and Douglas E. Winter.

So, where does it stand, then, this beautiful whatever-it-is?

My agent is busy shopping this monster. With a little luck and patience, perhaps it will sell (which could mean a while longer before it finds print). We have high hopes, though, so we’re aiming high. It’s worth the wait (I promise), and while the book works on its own, Psychotropic Dragon has many tie-ins to my other works, most notably the two previous composite novels, Palindrome Hannah and Phoenix RoseOther tie-ins include the novelette Our Children, Our Teachers, the children’s book Ensoand various work from Inkblots and Blood Spots.

The cover image above is from an “Advance Reader Copy” I created to make it easier for pre-readers to grasp the overall concept, and to perhaps gain a few more blurbs for promotion. This image has kept the project going, always on my mind.

One of my first pre-readers (and originally a collaborator, believe it or not) was Dallas Mayr, aka Jack Ketchum; while he couldn’t contribute to the fiction, when all was said and done, he offered a generous cover blurb instead. He loved this thing almost as much as I do: “Addictive, scary, and at times, mind-blowing.” Can’t ask for much better than that, right? Other collaborators have been in talks, but eventually I decided to finish this thing on my own, at least in terms of the text.

The illustrators? Ty Scheuerman worked on early concepts, Daniele Serra on illustrations for the novelette and spot-pieces throughout, Glenn Chadborne on the novella, and L.A. Spooner on the short novel and fables. Insane, right? Whether or not the illustrations (48!) will make it into the final product is yet to be determined, but here are a few teasers (section titles and visuals). Let’s just say this book is wild! No matter what, Psychotropic Dragon will someday have a “special edition,” which will include everything.

ORIGINAL CONCEPTS (Ty Scheuerman):

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SOMNAMBULISM / I SUMMON LAMBS (novelette / Daniele Serra):

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A ROSE / AROSE (novella / Glen Chadbourne):

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DRAKEIN (short novel / L.A. Spooner):

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As for the fables, they are titled ECLOSE, SCARLET HOURGLASS, ACHERONTIA ATROPOS, and APODEMUS. And a few of the other chapters connecting all this insanity: THE BEGINNING OF THE END, DEATH’S-HEAD, LIFE-MAGICENSŌand THE END OF THE BEGINNING. Like I mentioned before, this book is something wild!

Soon (haven’t I said that before?) …



SEVEN MINUTES

This book, which was recently trimmed from 100,000 words to 80,000 words, is the strongest thing I’ve ever written, and happens to be nonfiction. I’ll be reading a seven-minute chapter (called “Seven Minutes”) at StokerCon in May. Advance Reader / Burn After Reading copies are currently making the rounds while my agent shops this one around the nonfiction market (although nonfiction is something new for both of us).

Seven Minutes (ARC) - Cover.jpg

I wrote the manuscript in 23 days (most pages on an old Royal typewriter, about 75,000 words). 23 days happens to be how long the Tubbs fire burned (the setting for this book), and how long my cat Bram went missing (the end of the fire and the day he was found, one in the same), and so I made that my goal: to finish an entire book in under a month! The third draft was completed on day 23, the first anniversary of the day the Tubbs fire was finally extinguished, the day Bram was found.

The book is about the fire that took our home and many others (somewhere around 5,600 from the Tubbs fire alone), changing our lives (and many others’) forever. The book is structured like a therapy session. It contains poetry and lots of hard truths, with the narrative bouncing from first-person to first-person collective to second-person.

This one is close to the heart.


THE IMPOSSIBLE WEIGHT OF LIFE

This would be fiction collection number three (roughly 90,000 words, so lengthier than my previous collections), and will feature short fiction, long fiction, and a few poems (one quite long). Three of the stories have been nominated for the Bram Stoker Awards*, and most of the others have found their way into anthologies over the last few years. Most are autobiographical, in one way or another, and most were written during my recovery from Loss of Bilateral Labyrinthine Function.

My agent is shopping this one around as well (yes, I have her very busy), but here’s a teaser of its tentative contents:

“Time is a Face on the Water”*
“Speaking Cursive”
“The Long White Line”
“Möbius”
“Cartwheels” (poem)
“Hourglass”
“Ghosts of Calistoga”
“Darkroom” (novelette)
“Fade to Black”
“The Fire” (poem)
“The Other Side of Semicolons”
“SAD Face” (novelette)
“Essential Oils”
“Gave”
“A Murmuration of Souls”
“Fragments of Br_an”
“I Will Be the Reflection Until the End”*
“Shades of Red” (poem)
“Our Children, Our Teachers”* (novelette)


PRISMS:

This is an anthology I co-edited with Darren Speegle, to be release soon through PS Publishing. Expect more information on release dates and pre-ordering and whatnot as soon as its available. We’re hoping for a 2019 release date, if all the stars align. This is not the cover, but a mock-up I created during early development:

PRISMS_COVER_tease.jpg

And here is the official Table of Contents (and word counts). Yes, this book will be something incredible:

“We Come in Threes” – B.E. Scully (4,200)
“The Girl with Black Fingers” – Roberta Lannes (4,400)
“The Shimmering Wall” – Brian Evenson (4,300)
“The Birth of Venus” – Ian Watson (7,400)
“Fifty Super-Sad Mad Dog Sui-Homicidal Self-Sibs, All in a Leaky Tin Can Head” – Paul Di Filippo (3,500)
“Encore for an Empty Sky” – Lynda Rucker (6,700)
“Saudade” – Richard Thomas (3,900)
“There Is Nothing Lost” – Erinn L Kemper (5,200)
“The Motel Business” – Michael Marshall Smith (4,900)
“The Gearbox” – Paul Meloy (6,100)
“District to Cervix: The Time Before We Were Born” – Tlotlo Tsamaase (8,500)
“Here Today and Gone Tomorrow” – Chaz Brenchley (5,400)
“Daylight Robbery” – Anna Taborska (5,400)
“The Secrets of My Prison House” – J. Lincoln Fenn (4,600)
“A Luta Continua” – Nadia Bulkin (7,200)
“I Shall but Love Thee Better” – Scott Edelman (10,500)


MISCREATIONS: GODS, MONSTROSITIES & OTHER HORRORS:

This is an anthology I am currently co-editing with the always wonderful Doug Murano, to be released through Written Backwards. Expect this one in early 2020. Here is a glimpse of what we’re thinking for the cover. Follow along here!

MISCREATIONS - Mock CoveR

As always, expect an incredible anthology! The first two story acceptances:

“Brains” – Ramsey Campbell
“Resurrection Points” – Usman T. Malik


Things I’ve written lately:

“A Bouquet of Flowers” (2,000 words, nonfiction)
“Oll Korrect” (3,500 words, fiction)
“Emergence of the Colorless – Exordium to Conclusio” (6,200 words, fiction)
“L’appel du Vide” (in progress, fiction)

Things I’ve read lately (and enjoyed), and things I am currently reading (and enjoying):

There There by Tommy Orange
Baby Teeth
 by Zoje Stage
Inspection by Josh Malerman
The Hunger by Alma Katsu

That’s about it for now …

2018 BRAM STOKER AWARDS® FINAL BALLOT

The Horror Writers Association recently announced the final ballot for the 2018 Bram Stoker Awards®. I am happy to report that my novelette Our Children, Our Teachers is nominated for Superior Achievement in Long Fiction. You can read it for free here!

My work has appeared on the preliminary ballot twelve times over recent years, and on the final ballot seven, and it’s always a shock. I took home the statue for The Library of the Dead as editor back in 2015, so my fingers are crossed this year to bring home a statue for my own fiction.

Kudos to everyone who made the cut. 2018 was a spectacular year, book-wise / story-wise. I’ve had a few already ask what stuff of mine has been nominated in the past, so here you go. The complete list of the Horror Writers Association’s final ballot follows.

  • Superior Achievement in Short Fiction, “Fireman / Primal Tongue” (2013)
  • Superior Achievement in an Anthology, Qualia Nous (2014)
  • Superior Achievement in an Anthology, The Library of the Dead (2015)
  • Superior Achievement in an Anthology, Chiral Mad 3 (2016)
  • Superior Achievement in Short Fiction, “Time is a Face on the Water” (2016)
  • Superior Achievement in Short Fiction, “I Will Be the Reflection Until the End” (2017)
  • Superior Achievement in Long Fiction, Our Children, Our Teachers (2018)

 

Superior Achievement in a Novel

The Hunger – Alma Katsu

Glimpse – Jonathan Maberry

Unbury Carol – Josh Malerman

Dracul  – Dacre Stoker and J.D. Barker

The Cabin at the End of the World  – Paul Tremblay

 

Superior Achievement in a First Novel

What Should Be Wild – Julia Fine

I Am the River – T.E. Grau

The Rust Maidens – Gwendolyn Kiste

Baby Teeth – Zoje Stage

The Moore House – Tony Tremblay

 

Superior Achievement in a Young Adult Novel

Dread Nation – Justina Ireland

Sawkill Girls – Claire Legrand 

Broken Lands – Jonathan Maberry

The Night Weaver – Monique Snyman

The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein – Kiersten White

 

Superior Achievement in a Graphic Novel

Abbott – Saladin Ahmed 

Moonshine Vol. 2: Misery Train – Brian Azzarello

Bone Parish – Cullen Bunn

Destroyer – Victor LaValle 

Monstress Volume 3: Haven – Marjorie Liu

 

Superior Achievement in Long Fiction

Our Children, Our Teachers – Michael Bailey

You Are Released – Joe Hill

Dead Lovers on Each Blade, Hung – Usman T. Malik

The Devil’s Throat  – Rena Mason

Bitter Suites – Angela Yuriko Smith

 

Superior Achievement in Short Fiction

“Mutter” – Jess Landry

“Dead End Town” – Lee Murray

“Glove Box” – Annie Neugebauer

“A Winter’s Tale” – John F.D. Taff

“And in Her Eyes the City Drowned” – Kyla Lee Ward

 

Superior Achievement in a Fiction Collection

Spectral Evidence – Gemma Files

That Which Grows Wild  – Eric J. Guignard

Coyote Songs  – Gabino Iglesias

Garden of Eldritch Delights  – Lucy A. Snyder

Dark and Distant Voices: A Story Collection – Tim Waggoner

 

Superior Achievement in a Screenplay

Hereditary – Ari Aster

The Haunting of Hill House: The Bent-Neck Lady, Episode 01:05 – Meredith Averill

Annihilation – Alex Garland

Bird Box – Eric Heisserer 

A Quiet Place – Bryan Woods, Scott Beck and John Krasinski

 

Superior Achievement in an Anthology

A New York State of Fright: Horror Stories from the Empire State – James Chambers, April Grey and Robert Masterson 

The Devil and the Deep: Horror Stories of the Sea – Ellen Datlow

A World of Horror – Eric J. Guignard

Hellhole: An Anthology of Subterranean Terror – Lee Murray

Lost Highways: Dark Fictions from the Road – Alexander D. Ward

 

Superior Achievement in Non-Fiction

Horror Express – John Connolly

The Howling: Studies in the Horror Film  – Lee Gambin

We Don’t Go Back: A Watcher’s Guide to Folk Horror – Howard David Ingham

It’s Alive: Bringing Your Nightmares to Life – Joe Mynhardt and Eugene Johnson

Uncovering Stranger Things: Essays on Eighties Nostalgia, Cynicism and Innocence in the Series – Kevin J. Wetmore Jr.

 

Superior Achievement in a Poetry Collection

Artifacts – Bruce Boston

Bleeding Saffron – David E. Cowen 

Witches – Donna Lynch

War – Marge Simon and Alessandro Manzetti  

The Devil’s Dreamland – Sara Tantlinger  

 

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