Norman Prentiss on Odd Adventures with Your Other Father
Author Norman Prentiss has taken his decidedly unconventional road trip/horror novel, Odd Adventures with Your Other Father, and brought it to audiences via a new, non-traditional publishing route: the Kindle Scout program. A little over a month after its official publication on May 31, it looks like the book—and Prentiss’s chosen method of publication—can be called a success: early readers responded favorably to the book, and now it’s opening up new audiences for the talented author. Recently, Prentiss took a few moments to speak to Cemetery Dance Online about his recent Odd Adventures.
(Interview conducted by Blu Gilliand)
CEMETERY DANCE ONLINE: Tell us a little about Odd Adventures with Your Other Father.
NORMAN PRENTISS: This is the first full-length novel I’ve written entirely by myself (previously, I co-authored The Halloween Children with Cemetery Dance’s Brian James Freeman). It’s definitely something that should appeal to fans of my horror fiction, but there’s a lot of additional elements: fantasy; queer road-trip adventures set in the mid-’80s; a family relationship drama; and even some heart-warming moments that readers have responded well to.
The adventures with Jack and Shawn are fun but with serious undertones, because they explore homophobia in a supernatural context: for example, one of the stories involves a visit to a ministry that attempts to “cure” our two adventurers; in the novella-length tale called “The Manikin’s Revenge,” a ruggedly handsome movie star tries to suppress his sexuality, and the title monster of his latest movie may hold the secret.
Surrounding these adventures is a lengthy framing tale in which Jack and Shawn’s daughter, Celia, attempts to uncover the truth behind these stories, and behind her fathers’ relationship.
What personal experiences did you draw from to write this novel?
My favorites among my stories tend to draw heavily from personal experiences. With Invisible Fences, I turned to my childhood for inspiration; with this new book, I turned to the most important relationship in my life, with my partner of 32 years. The fictional Jack and Shawn borrow characteristics from each of us in a way that makes the book very personal to me. When you share a world with someone for this long, to me there’s a kind of supernatural element to the connection, and in the book I strive to pay tribute to that.
You’ve published mostly short fiction before, and Odd Adventures is structured and told through the vignettes Celia’s surviving father shares—what is it about the more compact way of writing that works for you?
The idea of the adventures is that the surviving father narrates them to his daughter, to bring her closer to her other father, Shawn, who died when she was young. He had to present the adventures as short stories, so he could tell them in one sitting…though two stories verge on novelette length, and as I mentioned earlier, the fourth one is really a novella.
Horror works well in the shorter forms, because you have enough space to build atmosphere, and in brevity any fearful elements have a more sustained impact. Still, I’d definitely call this a novel rather than a collection of stories, largely because of the coming-of-age framing tale about Celia. My goal was to make Celia’s present-day story add an emotional depth to the fathers’ adventures in the ’80s. I wrote the adventures first, and the tricky part was making the framing tale fit around them!
How does the use of supernatural elements help you—and your readers—examine the impact of homophobia on these characters, and on people who experience it in real life?
I present a kind of supernatural compensation for any social difficulties Shawn and Jack experience during their road-trip after college: society wouldn’t allow them to get married in those days, so their relationship has a kind of secrecy and intensity that manifests in Jack’s odd ability to project mental images into his partner’s mind. The one catch is that Jack can only project disturbing or horrific images. But the benefit is that this ability often helps them out of a few tough spots!
There can be a kind of double-edged sword to being gay in a disapproving society: it’s horrible to be discriminated against, obviously, but it also forces you to close ranks, to hold your partner tighter even as the world seems to be against you. That dual nature has always been part of my reaction to homophobia, and it’s something I wanted to explore through these stories.
Why did you decide to go the Kindle Press route with this book?
Almost by definition, it’s not a mainstream book: it touches on too many different genres. At the same time, I think the varied genre elements, and the book’s unusual structure in putting those pieces together, created an opportunity to reach a wider audience. Publishing through Amazon offered a lot more flexibility with the categories the book could fit into: they’re marketing it to horror readers, fantasy and adventure, LGBT readers, etc., rather than trying to limit it to a particular bookshelf category.
How did the process differ from taking it the more traditional publishing route? What were the advantages and disadvantages of publishing the book this way?
With traditional publishing, there can be very long wait times: first through an agent (if you go that route), then with different imprints taking time to review the manuscript. After acceptance, there is another wait for publication, as the marketing department secures print reviews and plans other publicity.
Kindle Press manuscripts are largely selected through the Kindle Scout program, which is reader-driven in the first stage. For 30 days, your book is previewed to potential readers at the Kindle Scout site (with a cover and description and a 5,000 word excerpt). If visitors to the site like what they see, they can nominate your book. So, for those 30 days, authors do their best to drive web traffic to the site, hoping these efforts will catch the attention of Kindle Press editors. If your book is selected for publication, Amazon sends a free pre-publication copy of your eBook to the nominators, encouraging early customer reviews. My campaign started on March 8, and the book was selected on April 15, with pre-orders mid-May and official publication on May 31. I won’t lie: that 30-day campaign seemed like a VERY long time (especially since I had cardiac surgery during the third week!), and the 10 days waiting for the yes-or-no seemed like an eternity. But compared to traditional publishing, the process was lightning fast!
I can’t really see any downside to the Kindle Press route at the moment. They’ve really gotten behind the book, and I know I’m reaching my traditional horror audience, and a bunch of new folks, as well. Some will argue that, since the eBook is an Amazon-exclusive, I’m missing out on Nook, Kobo, or iPad readers, but the Amazon app is available on all these devices, so the book can still be purchased and read that way. In addition, Kindle Press only takes electronic rights, and an option to produce audio books. Their authors are free to shop print rights around, or even produce their own print copies.
Any plans for a print edition of Odd Adventures with Your Other Father?
Yes, definitely. I’ve already contracted for a signed/limited edition from one of my favorite publishers. No plans for a paperback yet, but I’m hoping it happens sometime down the line!
I understand you’re planning a sequel to this book – what can you tell us about it?
There’s actually two sequels I’m planning, with different ideas for each framing story. The next one is tentatively titled Haunted Places with your Other Father. I’ve already started one of the adventures, “The Canyon of Terrible Lizards,” which is about a disappointing dinosaur attraction…until Jack and Shawn visit.
In addition to your growing body of prose work, you’re an accomplished poet as well. How does your approach to writing poetry differ from your approach to writing prose?
Poetry writing was my main creative outlet in the mid- to late-’90s. I used a lot of dark humor in my poems, and eventually realized I hadn’t fully strayed from my first love as a writer: horror fiction, which I write almost exclusively now. But the poetic detour has informed my fiction quite a lot, and explains my interest in atmospheric and suggestive horror, and the sense of ambiguity or layered meanings I often strive for.
Can you foresee one taking precedence over the other, or do you think you’ll always work in both prose and poetry?
The prose has definitely taken precedence, really since I wrote Invisible Fences in 2009. I still write the occasional poem, and have a poetry collection I’d like to get published…but I keep tinkering with the order of the poems, taking some out and wanting to add new ones, and the book hasn’t quite come together yet.
What’s coming next from Norman Prentiss?
I’m really excited about a short YA novel I’ve finished, called Life in a Haunted House. This is a nostalgic tale that’s also a kind of love letter to low-budget horror movies. The book’s almost ready to go, but I have some related stories I want to complete as well, to release at the same time. I’m also working on an expanded collection of Dr. Sibley stories (he’s the sinister academic featured in Four Legs in the Morning). Then, I’ll devote all my energies to the two Other Father sequels!