This latest “Spotlight” installment features Cemetery Dance’s eBook edition of James Chambers’ zombie-noir novella, The Dead Bear Witness. Check out the mini-interview below, then read about the book at CD’s website.
CEMETERY DANCE: Jonathan Maberry recently described your CD eBook novella, The Dead Bear Witness, as “Weird, heartbreaking, funny, and exciting!” and gave it “Two decaying thumbs up!” Can you tell us more about the book?
JAMES CHAMBERS: The Dead Bear Witness blends a hard-edged crime story with the kind of apocalyptic living dead scenario I grew up loving in the films of George Romero, the Deadworld comic book series, and similar films and books. But it also takes the living dead in a new, weird direction with its own set of rules. It marks the first volume in my Corpse Fauna series of novellas and short stories, which chronicle the struggle not only for survival in a world overtaken by the living dead but the struggle to understand what the dead want. In Corpse Fauna, the dead have a purpose, and it’s up to the living to figure it out. In The Dead Bear Witness, we meet Cornell, a bank robber in prison for shooting to death the security guards who killed his pregnant girlfriend during a heist. When the dead start to walk, he finds himself torn between factions in the prison: one group that wants to break out, and another run by the devout warden who sees his job as helping the prisoners to their ultimate judgment.
You won a Bram Stoker Award in the Graphic Novel Category for Kolchak the Night Stalker: The Forgotten Lore of Edgar Allan Poe. How did you get the idea to write in the universe of a cult-favorite TV show—and bringing in a classic horror author for good measure?
The publisher asked me! I’d been working with Moonstone Books, who have the Kolchak license, for a long time, writing stories for pulp projects featuring The Avenger, The Domino Lady, The Green Hornet, and The Spider. They asked me to write a Kolchak short story, and from there we talked about doing something for their line of Kolchak comics. I knew and loved the character from the original TV series and novels by Jeff Rice. The publisher, Joe Gentile, suggested using Edgar Allan Poe in some way, and the idea immediately clicked with me. Something felt right about it. As I did my research and started writing, I found a lot of common ground between Kolchak’s voice and Poe’s writing, a sort of cynical humanism and a morbid sense of humor they shared, and it all fit together very well. Moonstone left it up to me as to how Poe factored into the stories. I went all out and drew on details from his life as well as his fiction and worked in as many Poe references and Easter eggs as I reasonably could. I included some of my favorites: “The Black Cat,” “The Masque of the Red Death,” and “The Raven.” I did a lot of research for the project and provided reference for the artists too.
Tell us about the difference between writing a graphic novel, and writing novels and stories. Do you prefer one format over the other? What are the different challenges or rewards?
Prose and graphic novels are very different. One simple difference is every word of a prose piece is intended for the reader. When writing graphic novel scripts, most of the words will only ever be read by the editor, artists, and letterer. Graphic novels are fundamentally visual and the art carries the lion’s share of the storytelling. In fact, I try to put as few words on the page as I can and let the art convey the characters and stories. So a lot of writing graphic novels centers around plotting, pacing, and choosing what elements of a story need to be represented on the page—and then mapping all that out for the artist in a way that they understand the story’s needs and can interpret that in their drawings. The actual words that wind up on the page need to add layers to the visual story. Graphic novels are fundamentally collaborative. In prose, it’s much more a one-to-one connection between author and reader, a direct line. There are some stories that just work best in one format or the other. And with graphic novels, there’s no feeling like seeing your work come alive in the hands of an artist. I love both and find them so different in how stories are conceived and executed that I really don’t have a preference. In fact, it’s great to change gears between them and keep my writing routine fresh.
What are you working on now?
I recently published a collection of horror stories, On the Night Border, and I’m working on a follow-up collection of my science fiction and fantasy stories, The Price of Faces. I’m also finalizing the other stories in the Corpse Fauna series to come back into print and will soon be writing a brand-new novella to complete the series. At the same time, I’ve returned to Carl Kolchak for an exciting follow-up to my graphic novel, although this will be a prose story—but it will be a very new take on Kolchak. Lastly, I have a couple of graphic novels in the works, including one related to another classic horror property, although I can’t yet say much about it.
Norman Prentiss is Editor, Electronic Books Division with Cemetery Dance Publications. He won a Bram Stoker Award for his first book, Invisible Fences. Recent books include Odd Adventures with your Other Father, Life in a Haunted House, and The Apocalypse-a-Day Desk Calendar.