News From The Dead Zone #123

Breaking News from the Dead Zone

Just a few more days until Under the Dome arrives in stores. The signed, limited edition is already winging its way into the hands of buyers; some people have received their copies already. Next week will be a publicity-heavy week for King, with several televised and live appearances. He will be on Good Morning America on publication day (Tuesday, November 10), The Colbert Report (unschedules) and on The View (Friday, November 13) to help Whoopi Goldberg celebrate her birthday.

An excerpt from the novel is in the current issue of Entertainment Weekly. Here is his Barnes & Noble interview from last week. Check out the new Multimedia section at King’s website for other interviews, a 30-second promo commercial, and to see and hear King reading from the book.

The reviews are already starting to come out. Here are the ones I’ve noticed so far:

  • San Jose Mercury News
  • Bloomberg
  • Newsday
  • City a.m.
  • Financial Times
  • Telegraph
  • NY Times
  • Also, check out this opinion piece from Esquire: Why Stephen King Is the Most Underrated Literary Novelist of Our Time.

    The new short story, Premium Harmony, is now available at the New Yorker website.

    Celebrated short story writer Scott Snyder and artist Rafael  Albuquerque will launch a new monthly comic book series from Vertigo in March 2010 with a unique contribution from King. The new ongoing series, American Vampire, will introduce readers to a new breed of vampire-a more muscular and vicious species of vampire with distinctly American characteristics. The series’ first story arc, to be told over the course of five issues, will feature two different stories, one written by Snyder, the other by King. King’s story provides the origin of the very first American vampire:Skinner Sweet, a bank robbing, murdering cowboy of the 1880s. Skinner is stronger and faster than previous vampires; he has rattlesnake fangs and is powered by…. the sun? Check out this article about the project at Newsarama. Here’s an interview with the artist.

    Here’s a blog entry by Jay Franco, the editor of the 2010 Stephen King Library Desk Calendar, which contains contributions from a number of people that will be familiar to you. My essay is called “The Eyes Have It.”

    King will have an article about this year’s world series in the next McSweeney’s, which is designed to look like a newspaper. Here is a full, mouthwatering tease for the issue.

    Here’s an interview with Tony Shasteen: Young Artist Draws for a Literary “King” in THE TALISMAN

    Latest EW column: The Secret to Pop Culture Snacking.

    The Final Question: Special Halloween Online Edition!

    finalquestionThanks to everyone who took the time to email in their feedback on “The Final Question” in Cemetery Dance magazine.  If you have any comments or even a suggestion for a question you’d like to see answered by your favorite authors, feel free to email me directly: brianfreeman@cemeterydance.com.

    If you’re new to the magazine or if you haven’t ordered your copy of Cemetery Dance #61 yet, the premise of “The Final Question” is simple: each issue we’ll ask a handful of authors to answer the same question and then we’ll publish their responses exactly as we receive them.

    Normally this feature is limited to the magazine, but we wanted to do something special for our website visitors this Halloween, so here you go!

    The special Halloween question is: What is your earliest Halloween memory?

    Ray Bradbury:
    One Halloween was a big mistake for me. I had a bunch of my friends over, and I put on my Houdini manacles. I was supposed to break free from them, to show my friends what a good magician I was, and I couldn’t get out of the goddamn things. So I fell down on the floor and writhed around, and all my friends gathered and looked down at me and laughed. I got mad at them, and I said, “Get the heck out of the house! You’re not wanted here now.” So I sent them all home.

    Elizabeth Massie:
    My earliest Halloween memory – the year I was five – is all the more clear in my mind because my father had bought a home movie camera to record all the important moments in the lives of his kids. Christmases. Birthday parties. Easter Egg hunts. And, of course, Halloween. The camera was one of those Keystone 8 MM silent wind-up dealios with the excruciatingly bright lights that turned every documented event into a cheerful marathon squint-fest. My mother, a very creative soul, always made our costumes. This was the year my older sister was a witch, I was a fairy princess, and my younger sister was a bunny. My younger brother was stuck in the playpen, squinting and watching his older siblings in the pre-Trick or Treat parade of costumes back and forth across the living room floor, grinning for the camera. I envied my older sister’s excellent, bright yellow yarn witch wig and my younger sister’s gloriously full white yarn bunny tail, but I love-love-loved my glitter-covered star wand.

     

    Rick Hautala:
    I wrote about my most vivid (and scary) Hallowe’en memory for CD’s October Dreams, but my clearest first memory of Hallowe’en is rather mundane … I remember getting candy corn for the first time and trying then (as I still do today) to bite each triangular piece into thirds on the lines where the colors change. How mundane is that?

     

    Jack-o-lantern 2Al Sarrantonio:
    I was obsessed with skeletons.  When I got older, my brother and I would use face paint and make-up and take great joy in rummaging through my father’s box of old clothes for hobo getups — but my very first costume, when I was perhaps five, was an out-of-the-box, store-bought skeleton costume (the only one I ever had) that I never forgot.  The mask alone scared hell out of me (and, I hoped, everyone else): bone-white with large hollow eye holes and a set of grinning bone-teeth that were nothing short of creepy.  The mask was too large for my head, of course — but the body of the costume was the kicker, satin-black to blend with the night, with printed white bones right down to the splayed bony feet.  I looked, and felt, like a vintage jointed cardboard skeleton come to life.  They don’t make them like that anymore.  At least I hope so — if I saw me coming, I’d run the other way!

     

    Trent Zelazny:
    I was no older than four or five.  After Trick-or-Treating, my folks went out to a party.  My kindergarten teacher, Cathy Cavanagh, was watching my brother and me for the evening.  We scooped the brains out of an overdue yet innocent pumpkin while the original Halloween played on TV.  Needless to say, the movie scared the crap out of me.  Jack-O-Lantern finished, movie over and a couple of games later, I went to my bed, which was right up against my bedroom window, for a long stretch of nightmares.  I was just drifting off when a tap came at the glass.  I opened my eyes and screamed at the horrific sight of a bleeding Frankenstein snarling at me from outside.  My brother got in some trouble for that one.

     

    Peter Crowther:
    In England, we tended to concentrate on Mischief Night and Bonfire Night  (4th and 5th of November) but there were some kids — particularly those whose world existed within the four-color confines of the American comicbook and the stories of Ray Bradbury — who were aware that there was something else to be had . . . another special day; one with something more than mere firecracker mayhem to entice and inveigle. That special day was All Hallows Eve . . . when witches rode the cool winds on brooms and the dead left their soily resting places to walk the night-time streets once again.

    Of course, my childhood imagination created all manner of spectral happenings and I’ve written about many of them. But the first real memory I have comes from much later . . . when I was in my early 30’s. For it was then, armed with thermoses of coffee and hot milk and little packs of sandwiches and chocolate biscuits, that Nicky and I took the boys — then aged seven and five — up to nearby Knaresborough Rocks to watch for witches.

    I write this stuff for a living, of course (at least, I do when PS Publishing lets me have an hour or two off for good behaviour!) . . . so I’m probably not a good judge. But I reckon the best rush you will ever get out of Hallowe’en is through the eyes of a child alongside you. It could be your child, could be someone else’s — doesn’t matter. Just watch their eyes, wide like saucers, their mouths dry with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. Unbeatable.

    We repeated that excursion other years — in fact, it became a staple in the Crowther household — until the commercial side of Hallowe’en took over and Olly and Tim went out trick-or-treating. But, you know, for a long time after — all the time we were in Harrogate, in fact, years after the kids had left home — Nicky and I still went out to Knaresborough Rocks, scanning the dark skies . . . looking for witches. I think I even saw one once or twice. . .

    Simon Clark:
    My parents, for a Halloween treat, allowed me to stay up late to watch a TV ghost story. Possibly, I was aged five or six. I don’t remember the show’s title now (it might have been from the Mystery & Imagination series; if I’m misremembering then I might be combining childhood Halloween memories, which for me adds to the emotional potency of that night). The series graphics were of a frantically beating dove, shown in ghostly negative, then an ominous thudding heartbeat would begin. And then….

    ….and then I’d had enough. Terrified, I scrambled off to bed before the film had even properly started. Oh, but the dreams – and the nightmares – those opening credits triggered…

    jokerBev Vincent:
    I grew up in rural Eastern Canada, where the houses were spread out along the main highway. We set out in a group of five or six and wandered abroad for hours, covering three or four miles in each direction. Because of the latitude, it got dark early. Our parents didn’t appear to worry about the fact that we were gone until eight or nine o’clock.

    Since it was a small community, everyone knew everyone else, so part of the game was to guess who the masked visitors were. At some places, every young person in the community had a specially prepared treat with his or her name on it. Usually the treats in those places were homemade: fudge, Rice Krispie squares, things like that. Nobody had to worry about apples with razor blades or candy with needles, though we knew those things happened in far-away places. We all coveted nickel bags of potato chips, though. That was the barometer of the evening’s success: how many bags of chips we acquired.

    We had plenty of time for shenanigans. We had fights with ripe cat-tails, which could be thrown like hand grenades and would explode to cover you with seeds that looked like feathers. Setting off fire crackers and soaping windows were the standard tricks. Hiding or knocking over yard implements. One member of a political organization had his garage wallpapered with posters for the opposition party, I recall. It was all good clean fun and the night seemed to last forever. In my memory, it now seems straight out of a Ray Bradbury story and I regret that my daughter wasn’t able to share that magical experience, since Halloween in the suburbs in the 1990s was a different creature altogether.

    Ronald Kelly:
    I reckon one of my earliest Halloween memories was in 1966. I was six years old and the Batman TV show with Adam West was the big thing that year. Every kid in our neighborhood was Batman crazy. Dozens of Caped Crusaders were running around, leaping across ditches and climbing up porches. I guess the neighbors were a little confused, wondering if they were handing out candy to the same kid over and over again. I don’t think there was a single Robin in the bunch. Who wanted to be stinking Robin anyway?

    I remember I had my mom cut the bottom half of my plastic mask off — the man face part — leaving only the cowl. All the other kids thought I was kinda weird because of that. But at least I wasn’t huffing and puffing and sweating under my mask. At least I could breathe!

    Thomas Tessier:
    I was 5 or 6, had never really been out after dark on the streets in the neighborhood.  A perfect Halloween night — cool, blustery breeze, leaves hissing in the maples and scuttling down the streets.  I was a “hobo,” complete with a beat-up old fedora and a mascara stubble, applied by my mother.  What I remember most is the thrill of being out at that time of day, how the neighborhood seemed so different, the taste of the autumn night air.  I got a lot of Mounds and Almond Joy bars — at that time, they were all made at the Peter Paul factory in town, long before it was taken over by Cadbury, and eventually moved, just a few years ago, to some other location.  I didn’t think of Halloween as necessarily scary then, just different, fun and once-a-year unique.  Scary came later.

    Excerpt from Invisible Fences by Norman Prentiss

    Excerpt from
    Invisible Fences
    by Norman Prentiss

    There’s an invention for today’s dog owners called an invisible fence. It’s basically a radio signal around the perimeter of the yard, and if the dog steps too close to the signal, it triggers a device in the animal’s collar and delivers a small electrical shock. Perfect Pavlov conditioning, just like I learned back in ninth grade psychology class. But it seems a bit cruel to me. The dog’s bound to be zapped a few times before it catches on. Dogs aren’t always as quick as we are. Hell, growing up we had a mongrel lab that would probably never have figured it out: Atlas would have barked at air, then -zap!-. Another bark and charge then -zap!- again. I loved that sweet, dumb animal.

    Still, I guess for most dogs the gadget would work eventually. Inflict a little pain and terror at the start, and then you’re forever spared the eyesore of a chain-link fence around your front lawn.

    #

    “The Big Street”

    When I was growing up, my parents invented their own kind of invisible fence for me and my sister. All parents build some version of this fence—never talk to strangers, keep close to home after sundown, that kind of thing. But my parents had a gift with words and storytelling that zapped those lessons into my young mind with a special permanence.

    My father taught Shop—excuse me, Industrial Arts—at Kensington High School, so I guess that’s where he built up his skills with the cautionary tale: don’t feed your hand into the disc sander; keep your un-goggled eyes away from the jigsaw blade, and other Greatest Hits. But listen to his rendition of that old stand-by, “The Big Street”:

    He walked me and my sister Pam to the divided road on the north end of our community. I was six, and Pam was three years older. He stopped us at the curb of McNeil Road, just close enough where we could hear the cars zip by, feel the hot wind of exhaust or maybe get hit by a stray speck of gravel tossed up by a rear wheel. A half-mile down, on the other side of McNeil, was a small shopping center: a single screen movie theater, Safeway grocery, People’s Drugs, and a Dairy Queen, among other highlights. In the other direction visible from the top of this hill was Strathmore Park, with swings, monkey bars, and a fiberglass spider with bent-ladder legs. We could visit these wondrous places anytime dad drove us there, but we were never, ever, to cross the Big Street on our own.

    “Now, let me tell you about a boy who used to live the other side of the road,” our father said. “About your age, Nathan. He crossed back and forth over this Big Street all the time.” He swung his arm in front of him, parallel to the road. “Looks like a pretty good view of the road in both directions, doesn’t it?”

    We both craned our necks and followed the swing of his arm. Pam nodded first, and I did the same.

    “Well, you’d be wrong. Some of those cars come up faster than you think.” As if to confirm his point, a blue truck rattled past. “When you do something a lot, you get pretty confident. Over-confident. This boy, he’d run across early that morning without a hitch, like usual. On his way back, he was standing right where we are now. Looked both ways, I imagine, or maybe he forgot that one time—we don’t know for sure. What we do know . . .”

    Dad dropped to one knee, the toe of his right sneaker perfectly aligned with the edge of the curb.

    “See right there, where the gutter doesn’t quite match the road? Not too close, now, Nathan.” He stretched his arm out like a guard rail, and I leaned against it to peer over. The blacktop of the road had a rounded edge, about an inch higher than the cement gutter, but the asphalt was cracked or split in a few places. One spot, it looked almost like somebody’d taken a bite out of it. I guessed that was where Dad wanted me to look.

    “His foot likely got caught in that niche, and the boy tripped into the road. The black van might have been speeding, might not. But it wasn’t entirely the driver’s fault, was it?”

    I swallowed hard, my throat dry. I’d have loved a Misty or a dip cone from Dairy Queen, but I sure didn’t plan on crossing the Big Street to get it.

    “See that dark patch in the road?”

    I leaned forward again, and my T-shirt felt sweaty where my chest pressed against Dad’s outstretched arm.

    “County trucks cleaned things up, best they could, but you can’t always wash away every trace of blood.”

    A shadowy stain appeared beneath the rumbled flashes of painted steel, chrome, glass, and rubber tires, a stain wet and blacker than the grey-black asphalt, in which I could almost distinguish the outline of a boy, just my size.

    #

    “I’d heard the story before,” Pam told me that afternoon. We had separate bedrooms in our small house on Bel Pre Court—a luxury a lot of our friends didn’t enjoy—but I was in and out of my sister’s room all the time. She even let me use the bottom shelf of her bookcase to store a few Matchbox cars, a robot, and a plastic astronaut.

    “Really? Did you know the kid who got hit?”

    “No, I heard it before from Dad. Two years ago.”

    Pam had fanned baseball cards in front of her on the bedspread. She’d invented this game of solitaire: traded players, constructed her own all-star teams, grouped them in batting orders, then shuffled the cards to start again. Often she waited long minutes between each shift of card, as if the game required intense, chess-like concentration. She never could quite explain the rules to me, but I didn’t mind: I wasn’t that keen on sports like Pam was, and I was happy she still managed to talk with me while she played.

    “The kid wouldn’t need to cross the road,” Pam said.

    “Huh?”

    “All the good stuff’s already on his side. Movie theater, playground, burgers and ice cream. Why cross?”

    I hadn’t thought about that. “Maybe he had friends over here.”

    “Nope. The friends would all be visiting his side, where the fun stuff is. They’d be the ones who got whacked by the black van.”

    She said “black van” in a sing-song voice. I didn’t understand why she’d make a joke, go so far as to imagine more kids killed while crossing McNeil Road.

    “I saw the stain on the road,” I said.

    Pam switched two baseball cards, then flipped another one face down. “Probably a car broke down on the side of the road, leaked a little oil. Check our own driveway, and you’ll find a few stains there, too.”

    “Not like that stain,” I said.

    “Okay.”

    “He showed us where it happened, Pam.”

    “Okay.”

    Pam had pretty much destroyed our father’s story with logic. She was three years older, obviously a little more worldly than I was. But I don’t think I was naive to side with my Dad. More than logic, it was the story that convinced me. The confirming details of the cracks in the asphalt, the boy-shaped stain on the road, summer’s heat and the rushing cars making me dizzy—just like must have happened to the careless young pedestrian in Dad’s account. Maybe it wasn’t true, okay, but it could be true if somebody didn’t follow the rules. Accidents happen. We may not all have friends who’ve chopped off a digit or two with the buzz-saw in Industrial Arts class, but if a couple circles of red marker on the shop tile, scrubbed into faded realism after hours, help the teacher point the next day and shout, “There! There’s where the fingers rolled off and bounced like link sausages onto the floor!”—well, strictly true or not, such lessons are worth learning.

    No way was I going to cross the Big Street on my own.

    #

    “Dope Fiends”

    The next summer, Mom staked a claim to her own span of our invisible fence. Dad came up with most of the stories, so in retrospect I’m grudgingly proud of Mom for thinking this one up.

    A deep stretch of woods formed a natural barrier behind our house. Dad had a few gems about kids getting lost, bitten by snakes, or swollen and itchy from a patch of poison ivy—all of which generally kept us from setting up camp in there. We wandered into the woods sometimes, peeling bark off trees, flipping logs to look for ants or pill bugs, poking a stick at a rock to make sure it’s not a bullfrog. As long as we didn’t go near Stillwater Creek, we didn’t get in trouble. The creek had its own persuasive power: it was muddy, shallow, and stank of sulfur, so Pam and I steered clear without being prompted.

    But Mom, overcautious, decided we shouldn’t venture into the woods at all. One rainy day, she called us into the living room where she typically sprawled out on the sofa and watched her “plays” on CBS. “Turn down the television, would you? I’ve got something serious to talk with you kids about.”

    With the rain outside, and the shades pulled down, the living room was pretty dark. The main light source was the television, which reflected a kind of campfire glow on Mom’s face as she talked. “There are dope fiends in the woods,” she told us. “I heard about them from Mrs. Lieberman.”

    #

    I have to explain a few things about my Mom before I go any further.

    When I was three years old, my baby sister was born. I remember playing with her, in particular a game where Pam and I lined up plastic bowling pins around the rim of Jamie’s crib. She’d wait for us to finish, then knock them over with her tiny fists, and laugh and laugh. That’s mostly what I remember, the laughing.

    Jamie had to go to the hospital when she was about fourteen months old, after a really bad cough developed into something more serious. Apparently they put her in a croup tent, a plastic covering that kept away germs and allowed doctors to regulate her oxygen. I never visited her in the hospital, but my parents later told me how much Jamie hated that tent. I imagined her beating at the plastic covering with her fists, but too weak to laugh or even breathe.

    I don’t remember what my parents said the last night they returned from the hospital. I know they must have agonized over how they’d break the news to us, my Dad no doubt holding back his natural tendency towards the grisly, giving us the soft version of Jamie drifting painlessly off to sleep and never waking up; how babies were innocent and always went to heaven, so she’s with God now, and we’ll always have our memories; Mom convincing us that we’re all right, that we’d never get that sick, and Mommy and Daddy would always be there to protect us, and nobody’s dying, not anytime soon that’s for sure, we promise; and all the time both of them trying not to cry themselves, knowing if they messed this moment up it could haunt me or Pam for the rest of our lives.

    I know they worked really hard on what to say, and I’m sad I don’t remember any of it. But I was only four, and memory keeps its own protective agenda for a child that age. Just the bowling pins, and the laughter.

    There’s a Polaroid of me and Pam taken the day of Jamie’s funeral. Pam’s in a frilly peach dress, holding a small bouquet of daffodils. I’m wearing a tan suit—a handsome little gentleman, in a heart-breakingly tiny clip-on tie. We’re standing next to the grave marker, which has a hole in the center where Pam will soon place the daffodils. According to my father, before Pam had the chance to fit the stems into the grave marker, I kneeled down to peer deeply into the hole. “Jamie’s down there,” I said, then waved. “Hi, Jamie!”

    #

    But I was talking about my mother.

    After Jamie’s death, not right away, but gradually, my Mom became more and more withdrawn. She didn’t have a job, and never learned to drive, but she used to go shopping with my father, or went with us on day trips to visit relatives in Silver Spring or Tacoma Park. She also maintained a small garden out front, and played bridge twice a week with neighboring housewives. After the tragedy, she told Dad she didn’t feel like talking with family about Jamie, not for a while at least, and somehow that ended her drives to the grocery store, as well. The bridge games slipped to once a week, and then just the gardening. And then not even that.

    Agoraphobia roughly translates to “fear of open spaces,” but that’s not exactly right. It’s a kind of depression that, in my mother’s case, at least, was more about avoiding interaction with other people. Dad and Pam and I were the notable exceptions. She didn’t want to see anyone else, and she didn’t want anybody else looking in—which explained why she lowered the living room shades, even during the middle of the day. Eventually she refused to leave the house for any reason—certainly not for the psychiatrist visits that probably would have helped her, if people hadn’t frowned so much on therapy in those days, or if my Dad had been strong enough to force her into treatment. His version of “strong” was letting her have her way, adding cooking and cleaning to his breadwinning duties, with Mom on occasional assist with the child care when absolutely necessary.

    But more often than not, it was us kids doing things for her. Mom spent most of her time on that sofa, to the point that it’s hard for me to recall her in motion. Certainly she must have moved from the bedroom to the living room on occasion, definitely needed to use the bathroom like the rest of us. But mostly things were brought to her: a cup of water with ice and a bendable straw; Diet Rite Cola in the tall glass bottle; two peanut butter and banana sandwiches for lunch, the crust removed; and a small plate of Oreo cookies with a mug of milk for her afternoon snack. She had a remote for the television, but mostly watched the soaps and local news on channel 9, and if either Pam or I were passing nearby when she wanted to switch, she’d have us turn the channel.

    Mom’s other entertainment was newspapers, with a special fondness for the crossword puzzle and the Word Jumble. She’d store the day’s puzzle folded over like a napkin on her TV tray, next to a plate of food, and worked during the commercials or during an especially slow-moving plot on As the World Turns or The Edge of Night. Some days she didn’t finish the puzzles, or didn’t skim her way through the rest of the newspaper sections. Stacks of newspaper piled next to her beside the sofa, beneath the TV tray, and at her feet; Mom could never keep straight which stack was the most current, so when Pam asked for today’s Sports page or I wanted to read the comics, we each had to choose a pile to sort through.

    Dad taught summer courses. Even between terms he went to school on a nine-to-four schedule to use their shop equipment for woodworking projects he solicited via purple, mimeographed ads stapled to telephone poles throughout our neighborhood. All for the extra money, of course, but just as likely because the day-dark house bothered him in ways it wouldn’t bother little kids who didn’t know much better.

    At least, not usually. But that overcast, rainy day when Mom told us about the dope fiends, the bleak, shadowy living room gave her words the chilly certainty of a midnight-whispered campfire ghost story.

    #

    “The police found needles in the woods,” Mom said. We stood next to the couch and Mom sat up, a striking change from her usual horizontal posture. “Just thrown on the ground where kids like you could step on them in your bare feet. They found rubber tubing, also. These dope fiends tie tubes around their arm to make the veins stand out, then use the needles to inject drugs into their bloodstream.” She lifted her crossword-puzzle pencil and mimed jabbing it into her forearm.

    Due to my twice-yearly doctor visits, I was already plenty scared of needles. I never escaped without some vaccination or another—for polio, German Measles, chicken pox, whatever. After losing Jamie, Mom wasn’t taking chances with me or Pam. I hated the awful tension when the nurse squirted a faint arc of fluid over the sink before she plunged the stinging needle beneath my rolled-up sleeve. The needle was too long and thin; I worried it could snap off inside my arm and hurt forever.

    The idea of tying a tube around your arm sounded even more complex and painful to me. Who would do something like this on purpose?

    Fiends, of course. A much better word than “addict” for kids. The word addict scares adults, because it’s all about loss of control—our fears that we’d drink or gamble or screw against logic, throw money we don’t have into greedily programmed machines or wake up late mornings with a monstrous hangover and an even more monstrous bedroom companion. Kids don’t fear addiction (they don’t have much control over anything to begin with); better for them to visualize some tangible bogeyman, like the monster under the bed or evil trolls who live beneath storybook bridges.

    “I know you kids would never be foolish enough to try drugs,” my mother continued. “But if you run across a group of dope fiends, they may force their drugs on you. Chase you down, and whoosh!” She jabbed her pencil in the air towards Pam for emphasis, then towards me; I jumped back in nervous reaction.

    “The police haven’t caught any of the dope fiends yet, so they’re still out there.” She pointed at her main sources of information: the television, in its rare moment of flickering silence; disorganized towers of newsprint; and the end table telephone, her daily link in epic half-hour conversations with her two remaining friends, Mrs. Lieberman and my Aunt Lora. “If I hear anything more, I’ll let you know. Until then, I want you both to stay out of those woods.”

    I nodded first, without waiting to see Pam’s response.

    This was before a president’s wife told us to “Just Say ‘No’,” before “Your Brain” sizzled sunny-side-up in an MTV frying pan. But even then, in the post-hippie 1970s, drugs were dialed pretty high on a kid’s panic-meter. I was too young to grasp the concept fully, of course, and stirred my own fears into the mixture. When my mother mentioned the “paraphernalia” found in the woods—hypodermic syringes, rubber tubes, empty glass vials of medicine—she may have said something about medicine caps. Or maybe the “dope” idea was suggestive enough. My third grade mind somehow latched onto caps, conflated it with the image of a cartoon child in the corner of a schoolroom, a pointed dunce or dope cap rising from his head. I imagined predatory older boys donning these caps as the proud symbol of their gang. They patrolled the woods behind our house, seeking new initiates—would toss syringes like darts at your exposed arms or neck, then would force you to the ground and press their ignorance into you, lowering it like a shameful cap onto your struggling head. Ignorance was even more terrifying to me than needles. I was a slightly

    overweight boy, uncoordinated at sports and generally unpopular at school. To be stupid—to be unattractive and awkward and picked-on and stupid—was the worst fate I could imagine. Smart was all I had.

    #

    And yet I was stupid enough, later that summer, to let Aaron Lieberman and my sister talk me into visiting those woods to search for abandoned needles.

    Click here to read more about this book!

    Click here to read an interview with the author about this book!

    Excerpt from Catching Hell by Greg F. Gifune

    Excerpt from
    Catching Hell (Novella Series #20)
    by Greg F. Gifune

    “Keep your voice down, they’re probably still on our asses.” Billy struggled to his feet and did his best to force the emotion and fear away.

    “Let’s go, get up. We’ve got to keep moving.”

    They followed the stream a while, running when they had the wind and walking when they grew too tired. Although they neither saw nor heard any sign of the townspeople, they continued on without stopping for close to half an hour.

    Just when it seemed the forest was endless, they reached a break in the trees and found themselves standing before an enormous field of tall,
    untamed grass, the waist-high blades swaying gracefully in the rain and wind. Perhaps two hundred yards away, an old and obviously abandoned barn stood rotting in the middle of the field. Beyond it and the far side of the field was more forest.

    With jagged spears of lightning stabbing the ever-darkening sky and thunder throttling the earth, they ran across the field. Into the open. Into the rain. Wading through the grass, their legs grew weaker, their chests burned and they were barely able to breathe. But still, they forced themselves forward until they’d reached the barn.

    The building, long deserted, was rotted and littered with numerous wounds in the roof and walls. Rain trickled through the openings, running in constant currents through the cracks and spattering the dirt floor to form small pockets of puddles throughout.

    Billy and the others scrambled through an opening where the main door, a large sliding panel, had once stood. It now hung to the side and had nearly broken free of the building altogether. They collapsed to the ground in unison, their labored breath audible above the sounds of the mounting storm, pounding rain and constant trickling and dripping.

    After a moment, Billy regained his feet and inspected their surroundings. Although the barn hadn’t been used in some time, it retained something of a livestock and manure smell, and remnants of hay and old bags of feed lay scattered about the dirt floor and in the corners of a few dilapidated stalls. He looked next to the high roof, squinting as raindrops splashed his face. Glimpses of the darkening sky shown through the multiple fractures, but otherwise it looked intact and would provide sufficient sanctuary, albeit temporarily. He moved to the remains of the door. Outside, the field they’d crossed was empty. If the townspeople had followed them, they were either hidden in the forest or crawling unseen through the tall grass.

    “Are they coming?” Alex asked breathlessly.

    Billy ran to the opposite wall, found a hole and checked the hundred or so yards of field in the other direction. It too was empty, the forest beyond it dark and blurred by rain. “I don’t see them anywhere, but we can’t stay here long, there’s no way to defend or secure this place. Too many breaks in the walls and roof, too many ways in, too many directions to keep an eye on. Hurry up and catch your breath.”

    Stefan pulled his loafers off and rubbed his bare feet. Hardly conducive to running, the shoes had already caused the beginnings of several blisters. “And where, exactly, do you suggest we go?”

    “There must be something beyond those woods.”

    “Right. More woods.”

    “Sooner or later they’ve got to come out somewhere.”

    “I don’t care how far we have to go,” Alex said, “just so long as we stay ahead of those crazy freaks.”

    Suddenly, from a dark corner of the barn came a deep but quiet male voice, barely discernable over the relentless rain and occasional thunder.

    “They’re not crazy,” the voice told them. “They’re damned.”

    Click here to read more about this book!

    An Interview With Author Norman Prentiss

    Conducted by Joe Howe

    When Cemetery Dance sold subscriptions to their 2008 Book Club, it is understandable purchasers were looking for books by the genre’s heavy hitters—Edward Lee, Ray Bradbury, Simon Clark, and so on. We got those, but the real gem of the club turned out to be an ARC of Invisible Fences, the first stand-alone book by Norman Prentiss. Those fortunate enough to read it were entranced by a beautifully written story of loss and regret, of how the mistakes we make linger on with us, and how we lie to ourselves to deal with them. The buzz for Invisible Fences has grown to intense levels, and in Spring of 2010, the novella will be published by CD, so that everyone can share in it.

    Maryland native Norman Prentiss teaches high school English in Baltimore, and is an associate editor for Cemetery Dance magazine. His short fiction has appeared in Volumes IV and V of the Shivers anthology series, Postscripts, Tales From the Gorezone, Damned Invisible FencesNation, and online at The Horror Drive-In. He is also a published poet and literary critic.

    ***

    CD: Norman, tell us a little about the background and inspiration for Invisible Fences. Are there autobiographical elements there?

    NP: I was actually planning to write a short story when I started Invisible Fences, but the initial metaphor expanded when I started to write about it. I considered those cautionary talesthat parents concoct to warn (i.e., scare) their children to stay close to home. My father always had a fun, gruesome sense of humor, so he embellished his stories more than most dads. One time we visited his workplace and he showed us a rusted door that led to a below-ground storage area. He told me and my brother that there was a monster down there: “If you touch the metal, you can feel his breathing.” My older brother touched the door, but I wouldn’t—because I believed him, of course. So, I thought about a character who believed these kinds of cautionary tales as a kid—and still believed them as an adult. Not literally, of course, but the message of those tales, which is basically: Something bad will happen to you. And the novella just grew from there. I wanted the book to have an autobiographical “feel,” if that makes sense—but I learned from my dad, and from my favorite horror writers, and put in a lot of embellishments.

    CD: Your work has been compared favorably to the “quiet horror” of the late Charles L. Grant. In a time when written horror often attempts to outdo itself in explicit violence and mayhem, do you think books like this operate at a disadvantage in the marketplace and with readers?

    NP: For me, there’s always room for different effects and styles. I like violence and mayhem as much as any horror fan. But I also enjoy a steady, atmospheric build-up, if it suits the story. I think the main issue is expectations: if it says “Horror” on the spine, what do readers expect?

    CD: You are also an accomplished poet. How does working with poetry influence your prose style?

    NP: Probably more at the level of structure, rather than at the stylistic level. There’s a kind of subtle impact a poem often has on the reader at the end—maybe a lingering image, or an unresolved ambiguity—and I sometimes strive for that same effect at the end of a story, or at the ends of sections in a longer work.

    CD: You’ve mentioned elsewhere your fondness for the work of Thomas Hardy. Who are the authors (or others) who have been the biggest influence on your work, and why?

    NP: I have a lot of trouble tracing my own influences. I know which authors I like, but I don’t always know which ones I “borrow” from. With my short fiction, especially, I guess I’d cite M. R. James. I’d also cite Arch Oboler and Wyllis Cooper for their radio scripts for Lights Out and Quiet, Please. For longer works, I’d say Douglas Clegg and T. M. Wright. But really, what got me back into writing fiction, and horror fiction especially, was a free hardback of Laymon’s The Travelling Vampire Show that wasincluded in the “goodie bag” at the first Horrorfind Convention in Maryland (2001, I think?). The pace of that novel, and the almost stream-of-consciousness writing style—it was one of those things that just hit me the right way. I’d been away from contemporary horror for quite a while—in academia, then in poetry—and suddenly I wanted to read and write fiction again. Then I got to hear so many great writers read at conventions, and worked with many of them as part of the Borderlands Fiction Bootcamp—Tom Monteleone, David Morrell, F. Paul Wilson, Jack Ketchum, Thomas Tessier. They’ve literally been my teachers, and I continue to learn from reading them.

    CD: The obligatory desert island question: What five books do you want with you when you’re shipwrecked and why those five?

    NP: My two favorite genre novels are Douglas Clegg’s Neverland, and Cold House by T. M. Wright (once it’s published from CD, I would take Bone Soup, since that includes Cold House, and lots of great short fiction as well). I’d also take A Pleasing Terror, Ash-Tree Press’s M.R. James omnibus. For my other two, I’m gonna cheat with big anthologies, so I can get the most authors: The Best of Cemetery Dance, and David Hartwell’s The Dark Descent.

    CD: Invisible Fences will soon be out, and once it is read by the general public, Norman Prentiss will be a household name. So what lies ahead? Will we see a long-form novel from you in the near future?

    NP: Well, I might be a household name in my own household for a day or so. That’s kind of like claiming best-seller status if you have good sales for one week in a local bookstore (where you know the owner and bought most of the copies yourself). I do hope there’s more on the way, however. I’ve finished a mini-collection called Four Legs in the Morning, and am currently drafting the violence and mayhem conclusion of a new novel.

    CD: As the warden says before he pulls the switch: Any last words?

    NP: Just want to encourage people to keep supporting the genre: buy whatever you can afford, from mass-market paperbacks to limited editions (and especially short story collections, since there aren’t enough of those being published lately). I also want to encourage people to purchase the other novellas that are coming out from CD the same time as Invisible Fences: Tim Curran’s The Corpse King and Greg F. Gifune’s Catching Hell. I’ve read those books pre-publication, and like them both a lot!

    ***

    More information about Invisible Fences and Norman Prentiss can be found on-line at www.normanprentiss.com, and Invisible Fences is available for pre-order at www.cemeterydance.com. Order it now, or you could miss what may be the best book of 2010.

    Click here to read more or to place your order while supplies last!

    ***

    Joe Howe was born, raised and lives in Alabama and has been a horror fan since he read his first book—Dracula. When not wasting your tax money as a government employee, he reviews good books and (mostly) bad movies on his website http://deadinthesouth.blogspot.com/ as his web alter ego Kent Allard. He previously worked as a history professor and a lawyer, and has already heard your lawyer joke.

    Our Customers and their Cemetery Dance Collections

    Here are a few of our customers and their Cemetery Dance collections! If you’d like to see your photo here, please contact Brian Freeman for more information.

    Keira, one of our youngest collectors:

    Keira

    Pati Parvis’s collection:

    Patti Parvis

    Phil Grove’s collection:

    Phil Grove

    Lars from Norway:

    Lars

    Larry Kinney and his collection:

    Larry Kinney

    Brian Hovath’s collection:

    Brian Hovath

    Rich DeMars:

    Rich Demars

    Leigh Haig:

    Leigh Haig

    Norm Wilson:

    Norm Wilson

    Nanci Kalanta’s books:

    Nanci Kalanta

    Pam Herbster’s books:

    Pam Herbster

    Jonathan Reitan’s books:

    Jonathan Reitan

    “The Aha! Moment” by Michael Knost

    The Aha! Moment
    by Michael Knost

    Stop thinking you have the rejection letter market cornered. No author—despite popularity—has boasted immunity from these painful notes. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. After all, a rejection letter can serve the author just as much as it serves the publisher or editor. I’m not just talking about handwritten notes or suggestions from the editor; impersonal form responses can also make you a better writer.

    I invited a close friend to submit something for one of the anthologies I was working on a few years ago and was excited when her story showed up in my mailbox. She is a fantastic writer, but I found myself unmoved by her tale. So, I had to send her a rejection letter, something I hated doing. She was very cordial, moving on to her next project, which was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award, I might add.

    About three months later, the author sent an email, thanking me for the rejection letter, stating that after working on other projects, she’d reread the story and was mortified at what she had submitted. She was grateful that I did not publish the piece in question, as she feared it could have destroyed her budding career. Now this author was not writing from a beginning level, mind you, she admitted working under a number of deadlines and rushed the story in question. Something I wager she’ll never do again.

    However, beginning writers will obviously produce vastly inferior works in comparison with those they produce after years of honing the craft. Just as the hideous ashtray a world-renowned sculptor might have produced as a child is far inferior to the works of art he or she now has displayed in prestigious galleries and museums. We mature and develop as we identify our mistakes, making the most of them. That’s why rejection letters, although painful, are very important.

    In his book On Writing, Stephen King offers a rare glimpse behind the Wizard of Oz’s curtain, revealing the painful scars of a young man with aspirations of a publishing career:

    By the time I was fourteen . . . the nail in my wall would no longer support the weight of the rejection slips impaled upon it. I replaced the nail with a spike and kept on writing.

    In a recent interview, Ray Bradbury spoke about his early struggles for a successful writing career:

    It was a long, slow process with a thousand rejections. I’m still getting rejected this late in time. The important thing is to continue writing and continue being in love with books, authors, and libraries.

    It’s hard to fathom Ray Bradbury struggling with rejection letters, isn’t it? But, if he’s still receiving these tortuous slips, what makes you and I think we deserve better? And what can we learn from this?

    Keep writing. Even if you have wallpapered your writing room with rejection letters, keep writing. That’s certainly good advice, but perseverance will only prolong the agony unless you improve your craft. So, how does one do that? Well, you have to be able to distinguish good writing from the bad.

    My wife worked as a bank teller a number of years ago and related the process used for identifying counterfeit currency. “You can’t spot a fake unless you can identify the genuine article,” she’d said. “We study real money, immersing ourselves in it to the point that anything counterfeit sticks out like a sore thumb.”

    That’s why we as authors should read as much of the good stuff as possible. If we study the good stories, immersing ourselves in them, we’ll be able to identify the bad aspects of writing and avoid them. And every now and then, we will make a discovery that changes how we think and write forever after.

    Some call it intuitive perception, some call it an epiphany, and some call it self-enlightenment. I call it the Aha! Moment.

    You know what I’m talking about; it’s that crucial moment where the light bulb comes on over your head, leading to a verbal confirmation such as, “Aha!”

    Most of us have experienced many of these moments in our writing, but there is always one or two that stick out as the turning point in our career.

    I asked ten writers who are just breaking into the publishing markets what their Aha! Moments were in hopes that we could gain some insight on what made their work move from rejection to acceptance. The responses are as diverse as the writing styles these talented individuals employ. I’m hoping these answers lead you to your own epiphany moments, and to fewer rejection letters.

    Nate Kenyon found his Aha! Moment in self-editing:

    I’d sent the first few chapters of Bloodstone off to Five Star and I got an email asking to see the rest. I knew from previous editors’ feedback that Bloodstone was too long and had too many characters for a first novel. I’d tried to edit it before, but I’d been unable, or unwilling, to cut it down enough to make it work, and I’d always received the same reasons for rejection.

    This time I decided to ruthlessly chop away as if I were editing someone else’s manuscript rather than my own. I even made up a fake author’s name to put on the cover page: Tyson Soule. I worked all night and by the next morning I’d cut over forty thousand words. I sliced whole characters out and streamlined the entire plot. I sent the revised novel in, and had a contract offer a short time later.

    I’ve been much better since at taking off my writer’s cap when the first draft is done, and putting on the editor’s cap to make the tough decisions. For his part, Tyson isn’t talking. I just hope he doesn’t take it personally.

    Sarah Langan’s Aha! Moment came about five years into attempting to sell a few short fiction pieces and her first novel. She related her work as being a square peg that didn’t fit into the conventional round holes of literary magazines like Glimmer Train, the now defunct Story, and Zoetrope:

    I realized that so long as I wrote about ghosts and dead people, no matter how literate, big publishing would not accept me.

    In the late 90s, genre was verboten. Single girl, Candace Bushnell crap was all over the bestseller lists, and the literary world was obsessed with loading their first author picks with recipes. Weird but true. So I expanded my search, and for the first time since I was a teen, started reading horror and science fiction.

    I subscribed to Cemetery Dance, poured over Datlow’s Fantasy and Science Fiction, and went online, and found the HWA, too. I spent another year or so learning from what I read, and figuring out what my fiction needed to work as genre, then submitted a few stories to Chizine. Trish Macomber, who was the fiction editor there at the time, accepted a story called “Taut Red Ribbon.” It was the first story I’d written without an internal sensor, and on that day, I think I found my true voice. Things got a lot easier after that, not because the doors of publishing opened or anything, but because after that, I always wrote exactly what I wanted, instead of the literary crap that bored me to tears.

    John R. Little experienced his Aha! Moment while attending the inaugural Borderlands Bootcamp:

    Tom Monteleone was critiquing a story of mine and he said something to the effect that I was great at coming up with wonderful concepts and ideas, but I always forgot to include a story.  Great concepts and interesting characters were fine, but I didn’t take the time to be sure there was a rocketing plot in it. From that point, I always made sure the story was never lost, and my sales started taking off immediately.

    Bev Vincent suffered the exact opposite. He didn’t have a plot or story problem, he says his earliest works of fiction were built around plot ideas and populated by characters that served it:

    My characters didn’t have much personality, and their motives were never explored or particularly obvious to anyone, including me.

    In 2000, I wrote a story about a man suffering from an OCD disorder that made him constantly sure he’d just hit someone with his car. This is a plot idea, but what elevated the story, in my opinion, was that it wasn’t really about his perilous drive to a convenience store on Halloween night, when the streets were alive with potential hit-and-run victims. The story got inside his head and showed readers what it was like to be him. What were his challenges and trials and tribulations? What did he want? In a way, it inverted my approach—the plot became of service to the character, instead of the other way around.

    “Harming Obsession” resonated with readers, more than anything else I’d written to that point. I realized that I had to stop treating my characters like pawns on a chessboard. I used to begin new stories as soon as I had an idea. Now I wait until I have an idea and a sense of who the major players are and what motivates them. I described this revelation in an essay, saying: “Story is what characters do when presented with a situation.” It shifted my focus away from events and onto the characters.

    Mary SanGiovanni found her Aha! Moment during her studies at Seton Hill University’s Master’s of Popular Fiction program:

    I had read a story I wrote for the workshop, which was comprised of romance writers, SF writers, and YA writers. I had anticipated, I admit with some degree of shame, harsh critiques because of the genre writers in the group; I didn’t expect them to understand horror, or what I was going for, or any of the supernatural elements and their place in the story. But when I was done reading a beginning portion of the story, we began to discuss it.

    The romance folks gave opinions and insight into the effectiveness of the character’s interpersonal relationships, and the young adult folks offered suggestions on clarity for the supernatural elements. It affected one critiquer enough to make her cry, and she had to leave the room. There was a long, deep silence after that, in which one of the romance writers said (and I’m paraphrasing here), “Well, at least you know you wrote something that touched someone.”

    That was the moment, I think, that I realized several things. One, I realized that you can learn about writing in your genre by reading and listening and understanding the strengths of writing outside your genre. A great story is a great story, regardless of genre, and the best work utilizes the skill sets and strengths of many genres.

    I also learned that, particularly in horror, which is a genre whose very foundation is pure emotion, gore for gore’s sake, say, or an awesome, scary monster, or cool and creepy vignettes are all meaningless if, as a writer, you don’t reach that core part of a reader where the emotions lay.

    What makes horror memorable, marketable, and enjoyable over multiple readings is the reader-to-character recognition of and relation to basic emotions. I have miles to go before succeeding on a level I’d like, but I think that learning those things changed my writing—not just in quality or marketability, but in the overall enjoyment of writing it.

    Mark Justice says his Aha! Moment came while voicing an audio version of one of his stories:

    I don’t know about other writers, but I have an enormous blind spot when it comes to typos. I would pour over my manuscripts, dutifully fixing all mistakes. Later, when one of my first readers would check the manuscript, another dozen or more typos would rear their ugly heads.

    My brain, it seems, sees what it wants to see, glossing over the missing or transposed letters and substituting the right word at the right spot.

    It wasn’t until I was invited to produce an audio version of one of my stories for a website that I made a breakthrough. This was a story that had gone through several revisions, one that I had read at least 10 times or more. It was, I thought, as good as I could make it.

    And when I read it out loud I was mortified. I found new typos, clumsy phrasing and questionable grammar. I did a rewrite on the spot, ending up with a better story.

    Now I read everything out loud before I submit. It’s made a difference in the quality of my work and in the number of acceptances.

    The embarrassing part is that a guy who has worked in radio for over 30 years should have figured this out quicker.

    Maurice Brauddus had a few Aha! Moments hit him at the same time:

    I’ve been blessed to have a good set of mentors at every step of my career. My first one, Wayne Allen Sallee, always believed that when you were ready, a mentor would show up. He was the one who introduced me to the convention scene (literally: he convinced me to attend the World Horror Convention in 2002 and introduced me around). So lesson one came with learning to build the business side of writing by developing contacts and meeting my peers (who would become invaluable over the years).

    The second came from a workshop I attended at that same con, taught by Uncle Mort (Mort Castle). I’m a pretty good natural storyteller, but that’s a far cry from (or at least only the first step in) being a good storywriter. So we were doing a writing exercise with him where he had us tell either a funny or sad story from our childhood. I wrote how I always wrote and turned in five pages. He looked it over and said, “You realize your story doesn’t begin until page three.” In one simple sentence, he diagnosed the major stumbling block to my storytelling. I needed to start the story where the story begins.

    The next year I won the short story contest at the World Horror Convention.

    Nate Southard is another author who found his Aha! Moment while attending the Borderlands Boot Camp:

    I learned so much during that weekend, and it really made my writing stronger and cleaner. If I had to pick a bit of advice as the best, I’d say it was the instructors’ suggestion to submit my work to top markets and trickle down, rather than try to work my way up from the bottom. I’ve found that communicating with these markets has done more for my career and recognition level than just about anything else I’ve done, and the feedback I’ve received from the editors of these markets has helped my writing improve by leaps and bounds. In the past few years I’ve seen plenty of talented writers slog through because of some outdated notion of starting at the bottom and clawing your way up. It really doesn’t need to be that way.

    Bob Freeman found his Aha! Moment the first time he typed the words The End after completing his novel Shadows Over Somerset:

    Here’s how I see it… How many times have we been at a dinner party or the local watering hole and you’re chatting someone up and the question gets asked, “So, what do you do?” Invariably, as soon as you say writer, your conversational foil will respond with, “You know, I’ve always thought about writing a book.” How often do you think biochemists or brain surgeons hear that? The short answer is none, and it’s because most people think writing is easy, until that is, they sit down to actually do the work.

    I fell into that category, thinking of myself as a writer long before I had actually paid my dues, staring down the demon that is the blank page, and seeing the battle through to the bitter end. Oh, I’d started dozens upon dozens of novels, none of them getting past the first paragraph or so. Writing is hard work. You spill your guts with every keystroke and the ink as it strikes the paper is drawn from your own sweat and blood. Did I just show my age? I think you catch my meaning just the same.

    So, yes, my first and most important battle in my quest toward becoming an author was, in my opinion, the most crucial for each and every one of us who have chosen this path. I sat myself down in a chair and I wrote the damn thing. And you know what, I’ve never looked back. Each successive novel has come easier. Of course new challenges arise, but that’s okay…such is the nature of the beast.

    Brian J. Hatcher’s Aha! Moment came while working with a deadline:

    Framed and hanging on the wall of my home office, I have a dollar bill commemorating my first professional sale and a letter from Governor Joe Manchin III of West Virginia complimenting me on a story I’d written. Both these mementos on my wall I have because of “The Hungry Earth,” a short story published in the anthology Legends of the Mountain State. This was the story that almost didn’t happen.

    Two weeks before the anthology’s deadline, I realized I was in trouble. Editing wasn’t going well; the problems with the story were plentiful and egregious. The characters didn’t ring true, the middle collapsed like a sand castle against the coming tide, and the ending was trite and unrewarding. I came to the painful realization that the story might not be salvageable. I had another story idea, but I wasn’t sure if two weeks would be enough time to get it into shape; but either I had to try or give up entirely.

    The next two weeks became my Writer’s Hell. I wrote, edited, wrote more, went back to the first story to see if maybe I could somehow come up with a way to fix it, found it to be as bad as I remembered, then wrote still more. With only one day left before the deadline, I had the new story completed.

    However, I wasn’t satisfied with it.

    It seemed rushed, and of course it was. I felt I needed more time, but there was none left. I considered sending Michael Knost—the editor of the anthology—an e-mail telling him I wouldn’t be able to send him a story. I wanted to give up, and I almost did. Finally, I decided to send the story and hope for the best. It still took me ten minutes to assemble the courage to click the send button on the e-mail.

    Michael accepted the story, and the boost it gave my career and the praise I garnered for it is, as the saying goes, is history.

    It would seem the moral of this story is that I published because I finally overcame my insecurity and hypercritical nature. But that isn’t true. If I would have had the confidence and courage, I’d have sent the first story; and instead of framed mementos on a wall, I would have another rejection letter, well earned.

    When I began my writing career, I had big dreams of making it. Writing would be easy, publishing even easier, and laurels would be gratuitously heaped upon me. “The Hungry Earth” helped me put away such foolish, meaningless dreams. Writing will never be easy; and for that, I am grateful. Every story I write is harder than the last. Every sentence, every word, takes an ever-growing effort. I struggle, even with these few words I write now. I get frustrated, I even consider quitting, yet I keep writing. I believe this utter inability to be satisfied is the flamma magna, the alchemical flame that transforms art into something greater than the artist. The fire will guide me and help me grow, as long as I don’t let it burn me down. I learn more, I see more, and I want so much more from my work. Let others dream of making it. May I never be fulfilled. May I never look upon my work and say, “I am content.” I would rather go to my page and say, “Let’s see if I can do better.”

    Michael West found his Aha! Moment after finding first readers outside the genre:

    I had experienced great success in the “for the love” markets—magazines that paid very little or nothing but contributors copies, and I just could not understand why the professional (and even semi-professional) markets kept passing on my work. Then, I made the decision to open up my circle of readers. Up to this point, I’d only shown my work to people who read or watched nothing but horror. These readers were true fans of the genre, and they knew its various conventions. They were forgiving of certain aspects of my plots and characterizations, because this was the way people in a horror story act, and these were things people in horror stories do.

    However, when I started to show my fiction to readers who, in some cases, did not even like horror, these “outsiders” did not look the other way on these issues. They helped me make my characters more believable, their motivations much clearer, and they allowed me to finally find my true voice. When I began to write tales about real people, with real problems, who just happened to find themselves in terrifying, unbelievable situations…I began to sell.”

    As a maturing writer, you should always be on the lookout for Aha! Moments. They come unexpectedly, and they almost always make such an impact that you’ll see results almost immediately.

    So, don’t let the rejection letters discourage you. Keep writing, and pay attention to the things that will improve your craft. Your turning point could be one Aha! Moment away.

    ***

    MICHAEL KNOST is an author, editor, and columnist of horror, dark fiction, and supernatural thrillers. His most recent work is Writers Workshop of Horror, a collection of articles/interviews by/with some of the biggest names writing dark fiction today. Mike has written many books in various genres, edited anthologies such as the Legends of the Mountain State series, Spooky Tales from Mountain State Writers, Appalachian Winter Hauntings (with Mark Justice). He has also served as ghostwriter for several projects, including associations with the Discovery Channel and Lionsgate Media. To the Place I Belong will be published in 2010, a supernatural novel based on a Southern West Virginia coalmine. To find out more, visit www.MichaelKnost.com.

    Interview with Brent Hayward by Stephen Studach

    ‘Writing, Gunpowder, Dinosaurs and Nematodes’
    Stephen Studach discusses the ‘FILARIA’ experience
    With its author BRENT HAYWARD.

    Born in England and raised in Canada Brent Hayward states that he was always into S.F. and writing, as well as the boyish pursuits of model planes, dinosaurs and gunpowder. He cites the simultaneous discoveries of Samuel R.Delany and Punk Rock at seventeen as a major turning point in his life. His first published novel Filaria has been chosen as the flagship work for the fledgling book makers ChiZine Publications. He has a wife and two children. Trained as an aerospace draftsman, he manages a small drafting office for a Canadian company. Stephen Studach asked some questions in Australia and Brent Hayward answered them from his home which is presently in Rzeszow, Poland.

    FilariaSS: Firstly, can you give us some details about Brent Hayward; who he is, why he is, maybe some signposts on the path that has led you to this point in your journey?

    BH: He is a guy who likes details. He can get lost in them, in fact. He’s also a guy who doesn’t really like to talk about himself in the third person, so he will now switch… I always need to have a project on the go, and the act of writing is meticulous, which appeals to me and scratches an itch. Though I’m generally happy, I write darker stuff and maybe I channel my inner darkness that way. I was never very social, or at least not very good at being social, so I’ve always been an avid reader. And I’ve always wanted to create something that could touch others the way that influential works have touched me. I think that’s why we create in the first place, us writers. Us humans. That, and an attempt to remain relatively sane. People tell me my stuff is weird, too. I don’t know. I write stories that I would like to read. I guess I like weird stuff.

    SS: Your novel seems to be constantly pressing against the soft walls of genre as well as trying to get its grubby-nailed fingers into the cracks of style, and to heck with the spidery, wormy things that live in those stylistic crannies. Now I know you don’t particularly want to label your work. I tend to agree; naming candidates for genres and sticking pre-set tags on books seems an instinctive, lazy act, the human mind’s need for marked definition. So, please describe your novel Filaria. What were your primary intentions with the story itself?

    BH: When I began Filaria, I had been reading novels by the Oulipo group: Perec, Mathews, Roubaud, Roussel. These folks made up a series of rules and then wrote accordingly, as a challenge to each other. Like not being able to use the letter ‘e’ in a novel. I didn’t want to go that far, but I did establish a few guidelines up front. For instance, I didn’t want any of the main characters to ever meet, yet each one had to encounter a secondary character, from one of the other character’s lives, and that person would then divulge something that would, hopefully, change the reader’s perception of each main character. If that makes any sense. I also wanted each scene – there are sixteen, four for each character, in cycles of four – to open in a different location, after some time has passed, in media res. And the closing scene would be in the same location as the opening scene, but with a different character, seeing it through a different set of eyes. Things like that. I really don’t want to make the novel sound non-organically stilted or mathematical, though, because I don’t think it comes across like that. But there were these guidelines.

    As for the style, I’m also hyper conscious of the words, the patterns words make. I guess most writers would say that. But for me, it’s interesting sentences that do it, ones that want to be read aloud, ones that surprise and make people smile.

    To sum the book up, Filaria is a story of four people. In a way, they each get what they want. I don’t know if the book is science fiction, because I don’t really know what that term means any more, but a lot of people will say that the book is, and I don’t have a problem with that. I think of it as a dream. Books should be either good or bad, that’s it. Filaria, I hope, will fall into the former group.

    SS: I guess the cinematic equivalent of the ‘Workshop of Potential Literature’ would be the Dogma 95 manifesto.

    You certainly are a meticulous writer. I feel it has shaped the particular ‘dream’ in question into interesting forms.

    Yes, some of the things you’ve spoken about – the cycles of four, the non-linearity, the middle placing for opening scenes, are fairly obvious (the rule of quattro is there to be seen in the contents page of course), other aspects not immediately so.

    You also have a neat trick of countering a reader’s set on a character, which is also a form of the non-linear I suppose, as is the way you guide us through the story. We’ll be comfortably in our seat of established character or setting, then we will be tipped out of it by new information. The formed mind set is rattled, but it is a pleasant rattling, an enjoyable jarring. It made me smile each time it happened.

    As I started to read Filaria the term ‘Gothic Science Fiction’ occurred to me. It called to mind the Gormenghast novels. Yet, as I journeyed further through the book (and ‘journey’, I feel, is a fitting description of the Filaria experience) its kinship with the fantastical, with fables and fairy tales also became apparent. It made me think, as I read it, that a Great and Terrible Oz was lurking in there somewhere.

    BH: Yes, Dogma 95 would be a similar ideal, for film. It makes the project more interesting to create. Though I think a lot of the ‘rules’, for lack of a better term, should be invisible in the end, so the creation itself doesn’t become a gimmick. But hopefully it can add a layer of depth, if the reader or viewer is prepared to investigate.

    Most of my writing is non-linear. Often I do hold back details, so that when they are finally placed they have the power to surprise, a few pages in, when conceptions have been made and are forced to change. I think that’s good for a reader, to re-think, to re-evaluate. Actually, I think that it’s good for anyone, in any situation. Rattles them up a bit, makes gears turn. For me, interactions in life unfold that way; we’re never given everything we need to know up front. We never really see the whole picture and we often have to retrace our steps.

    I really appreciate the Gormenghast reference. Those books blew me away. And the reference to fables and fairy tales. I have certainly read countless children’s books, out loud, over the past few years–when they’re good they’re really good. I’ve also watched the Wizard of Oz many times. And the Telletubbies, for that matter. Maybe these latter influences are steeping into my brain a lot more than I think.

    SS: How long did it take you to write Filaria?

    BH: To get the third draft done took about four years. I’m not very prolific but I am tenacious; I worked on the book every day, at work, on my lunch hour, writing for about twenty minutes each day. I had two little kids at home and writing there was out of the question for me. I tinkered with the third draft for another six months or so, but the book was pretty much where I wanted it to be after four years.

    SS: How do you go about the ‘nuts and bolts’ side of the creative process: from first draft on?

    BH: My writing process is not the most efficient. I know there are authors who lay out an entire novel, scene by scene, until the whole thing is planned out, and then they begin, following that plan until the book is finished. I never see the whole forest when I start, just part of one tiny shrub. A leaf, even. I go over and over the first scene, expanding it, until the next scene comes to me. Then I sit back and try to see how the scenes relate, how I can better tie them together. Sometimes I have to scrap scenes, characters, whole chapters. So the first draft, if it can be called that, looks nothing like the final product.

    SS: That certainly sounds ‘organic’ to me. Maybe ‘Organic S.F. Fantasy’ could be another Dymo label print-out here.

    Though you’ve been writing for some time, and your style seems fully birthed as it were, in regards to published work you’re a new writer, the author of the first book from the tyro publishing arm of ChiZine Publications (all power to them!). Accordingly I imagine that you and your novel will be under some scrutiny. How did you get to that point, what was the path that took you there like?

    BH: I’m an overnight sensation! Really, I have been writing since I was a kid, and I’m well into middle age now. There’s a lot of trunk stories out there, and a couple of full length novel manuscripts. One’s even in long hand, in pencil. A war story. Lots of gore. I think I was twelve. I started writing seriously and submitting stories for publication about fifteen years ago. There’s a small number of published stories out there also, but as I age, my limited interest in anything mainstream or conventional dwindles even further, and what I’m interested in writing – and reading – becomes more and more obscure. But there are plenty of great writers out there who publish great books, and who write what they really want to write, so I’m always encouraged. And it’s all thanks to small presses like ChiZine Publications. It’s the same as music: indie labels and small presses support new styles, fresh meat. They’re the ones taking chances, changing the landscape, while the mainstream waits until it’s safe to step out.

    As far as the scrutiny, it won’t be the first time, but never for anything this size. It’s always fascinating for me. Any form of reaction is better than none, or a lukewarm one.

    SS: It’s evident that your characters are important to you. I think that the characterization is one of the novel’s strongest traits. Could you address the art of character creation?

    BH: I’m flattered that you’d like me to address this art but I don’t know if I can. I used to write down a brief history of each character, so that I knew what they were doing before the book or story started, but now I find it easier to imagine the folks in my work as developed entities. They change somewhat as I write, but basically I know who the characters are, how they will react, what they’ll say. There’s a few tricks, too, like having a certain character use an expression throughout, or giving him/her a consistent hang up or concern. I have a fear, as most writers probably do, that all their characters will transparently seem like themselves, doing what they would do, saying what they would say. We try hard, when we write stories, to hide ourselves as much as possible, though we’re certainly in there, puppeteering from backstage.

    SS: Music seems an integral part of your existence. Sing to us of the music that moves you, that inspires and stirs you, and why.

    BH: I’m singing, right now, The Kinks. ‘House In The Country’. Music has always been huge in my life, ever since I first heard Iggy Pop on the radio, when I was sixteen and living in a white, middle class suburb of Montreal, surrounded, it seemed to me at the time, by hockey players. Books and music are neck and neck obsessions, but since I suck at making music, it’s writing that always wins the race. I would like to have been a rock star. Still, I can always listen to other people’s music. It was all art school punk in the late seventies, British stuff mostly, but things got quieter and more American as I got older. Lots of roots music. Country and blues. Always rock and roll. Lyrics are key. There are several bands out there now that have been coined with the label lit-rock, or something like that, and I quite like a few of them. Bands like Okkervil River. Elliott Smith. Neutral Milk Hotel. Quiet music by angry people, or at least by people who want to say something other than hackneyed tropes.

    SS: We each carry, inside, the particular art of others which has enchanted and inspired us. Can you cite some of the works which have remained with you?

    BH: I’m always worried, after I put down a really great book, that I’ll never pick up another one quite as good again. But they still trickle in, these gems, every once in a while. They all leave something behind. I read a lot of books, so there’s a ton of these fragments being carried around inside me. We already mentioned The Gormenghast Trilogy. The slow pace and detail of those books were almost excruciating! Pretty much all of Samuel Delany’s books. ‘Dhalgren’ in particular. I would go as far as to say that book changed my chemistry. William Gaddis was another writer whose work stands head and shoulders above everything else out there. Harry Mathews and George Perec, from Oulipo. Philip Dick, Raymond Chandler, Gene Wolfe, Thomas McGuane, John Barth. All these writers have made me stop and read sentences out loud. Stylists, chance takers. Lately, I’ve read great books by Michael Ohle and Brian Evenson. These guys write some really twisted stuff. Precise and controlled and twisted. There are so many good authors out there, but they’re vastly outnumbered by the mediocre. I understand not everybody wants to be challenged – a lot of people want to escape into a nicer, safer world. Not me.

    SS: The main players in the novel certainly seem to be living in a world of consequences. The story at times is like a biblical parable unraveling, with the Engineer as the Divinity. There is of course a sort of flawed belief, a broken faith in a personal religion in the book, with many examples of deified machines. It could also be construed as an allegory of our own contemporary situation in the world with war and the abuse and breakdown of the environment.

    BH: The four characters in Filaria get what they want, whether they see it that way or not. We have to be careful what we wish for. Not in a lightning-may-strike kind of way, just in a happiness sort of way. But I am very interested in faith and in the various fat books that the faiths use. I wanted Filaria to have its own system of faith, and I wanted this system to be based on rumour, old texts, stories passed down from one unreliable narrator to another. I wanted the system to be leaky and make as little sense as ours. No one ever gets it right or sees it the same way as anyone else. And there’s war, often because of this disparity, and a breakdown in the environment. There’s protest, terrorism, and there’s people just trying to get on with things throughout it all.

    SS: From the filaments and patterns in a moth’s wing, to squirming filarial masses, to a transparent leaf… Have you long been interested in worlds within worlds?

    BH: Yes. For a long, long time. Lots of days digging around in various disciplines, studying coloured plates, drawing, researching and dissecting and watching, with no real end product in mind. Captivated by the complexity of it all. In some ways, now that I’m all grown up, I don’t see the worlds within worlds so clearly any more. But I know they’re there. I saw them once. I try to bring them back when I write.

    SS: You’ve stated that your work is dark, but there is also a counter balance of light there, a goodly amount of hope and humanity. Do you envisage ever moving into darker speculative fictions; what the categorical label-stickers would brand as Horror or Horror Fantasy?

    BH: I’ve accepted the ‘dark’ label because I hear it so often, but there’s supposed to be a good deal of humour in what I write. I’d like to think there are a few chuckles in Filaria. I’m glad you saw hope and humanity. I’d like to think there’s as much hope and humanity inside the book as there is outside of it… Which, granted, doesn’t seem like much at times. But it is there, I believe, and it always will be. Certainly I would write darker stories in the future – I have in the past. I don’t know if Horror purists would ever grace me with the label ‘Horror’, though. Creepy might be as close as I get. Disturbing, if I’m lucky. I have been told there’s a lot of bodily secretions in my stories; perhaps I’ll have to crank up the blood ratio.

    SS: Unless it’s a dark secret that you don’t want to share, tell me a little bit about that pencil-written war story in your drawer (or trunk). Heck, even if it is a dark secret – c’mon, share.

    BH: It was a detailed description of a bombing raid, Germans bombing some town, and each explosion was catalogued, arranged chronologically as the planes moved overhead. I remember one scene where some poor guy’s head departs his body. My friend’s mother read this page and said she didn’t want her son playing with me any more… If only she knew how twisted that kid was already. I was the least of his problems.

    SS: If each of us is connected to, gifted, or haunted by a personal muse… what would yours look like, be it she, he or it?

    BH: Sadly, I think my muse would be some practical-looking thing. Not very glamorous or mysterious. Certainly not a beautiful woman in a diaphanous robe, whispering ideas in my ear.

    SS: There is an apocalyptic fire, a devastating metaphysical deluge coming which will destroy all works of fiction and film. Each creator will be able to save, as well as their own works, six books and six films. Which will you load into your bunker?

    BH: I’m going to pick six books that I haven’t read yet but that are next on my list – it seems silly to save six books in my bunker that I’ve already read. If these books turn out to be bad, I’ll just toss them into the rapidly approaching apocalyptic fire. They are: Evan Dara’s ‘The Lost Scrapbook’; Ian Macleod’s ‘The Light Ages’; R.M. Berry’s ‘Leonardo’s Horse’; Laird Hunt’s ‘The Exquisite’; Patrick White’s ‘Voss’; and Henry James’ ‘The Bostonians’. The films would be ‘Delicatessen’; ‘Pulp Fiction’; ‘Leolo’; ‘Raising Arizona’; ‘Freaks’; and maybe a Swedish Art Film, if you know what I’m saying. (I’m assuming that there are no other people.) What about recordings? I’ve often imagined being asked the desert island question and I don’t want to miss this chance, even though it’s not an island but a big-ass fire. So I’m going to tell you six records as well: Love’s first album, ‘Love’; Townes Van Zandt’s ‘Our Mother The Mountain’; Elliott Smith’s ‘New Moon’; The Kink’s ‘Face To Face’; The Soft Boy’s ‘Underwater Moonlight’; Neutral Milk Hotel’s ‘In The Aeroplane Over The Sea’; Okkervil River’s ‘Down The River Of Golden Dreams’. Is that seven?

    SS: It is, but we’ll allow that, you might be in that bunker a long while. Sorry, I should have given you your choice of six companions as well. Make it a good Swedish Art Film. If Ray Bradbury comes knocking, insisting that you have to memorise the books, I guess you can ignore him. Glad to see you include an Australian author in there.

    What, if anything, can you tell us about the speculative writing scene in Poland?

    BH: I haven’t made any connections with other writers here yet but I have seen the speculative fiction publications in stores, some with translations of folks I know, and lots of stories from Polish writers that I don’t know, so I’m guessing the scene here is vital. And Poland produced Stanislaw Lem, of course, so it has to be pretty good.

    SS: Filaria is slated to be filmed. You are (astoundingly) asked to nominate a director and lead players. And hey, they’ll even let you on the set when they film.

    BH: Directors: Marc Caro, Jean-Pierre Jeunet (of Delicatessen/City Of Lost Children ‘fame’). Phister: maybe the pigeon-chested kid from ‘Gummo’? Deidre: a young Winona Ryder, before she tangled with the law. Because I’m going to be on the set, after all, and she might need some coaching. Mereziah: Charlton Heston, rest his NRA lovin’ bones. Tran so: he’s my action hero, so maybe Jackie Chan?

    SS: Hmm, I was thinking of some of the Japanese directors. It would also make a strong anime.

    Can you define influences upon your work, aside from other authors, and upon Filaria in particular? Also, what was the tipping point that initiated the concept for your novel?

    BH: Rain. Urban centres. Mortality. The tipping point was when I had written about 250 pages and I saw the concept crawl out of the stack of papers. As I’ve said, my method is not very efficient. But I did see, at least, what I wanted Filaria to be, and the second draft captured that. Then I gave this draft to a friend, another writer, Bob Boyczuk, whose collection of short stories has just been picked up as ChiZine Publication’s second book, and he gave me his harsh critique, and here we are.

    SS: In reference to the mating of the title with the novel. I’m thinking of the people in the Filaria world as infections in the Elephantiasis of the construct itself. Or are they merely the occupants of a decaying organism, an ill support system? I’m thinking of parasitism and symbiosis, of writhing nematodes inhabiting, struggling, breeding, learning, dying – both, all, infected? A god, with worms? An infestation that might still have members that could aspire to ‘ascend’?

    BH: Yes. Humanity as parasite and the world, in the novel, at least, as an infection. A cyst filled with bacteria. Plus, of course, there’s Tran so’s eye parasite (which, though referred to by the dark god as a ‘Filarial worm’, he contracted from nasty water, not by mosquito. I know, I know, the biology isn’t quite there, but Filaria also sounded like a city, or a place, so the word seemed appropriate to me).

    SS: Many writers can pinpoint that moment when the ‘spark’ flared up and they knew that they wanted to write. Can you?

    BH: I knew I wanted to write shortly after I learned to read. Now I’m trying to learn how.

    SS: What are your three favourite dinosaurs?

    BH: This is a bit of a trick question. My son is into dinosaurs now and I see that they have new names, new colour schemes, new ways of standing. In a generation or two, references to all of the dinosaurs we knew as kids will be gone, replaced by all these new ones. There’s some kind of conspiracy going on and I don’t like it. So, from the old school: 3) Triceratops 2) Anklyosaurus 1) Euryops.

    SS: A conspiracy? There’s a short story, or at least a poem, in there. Yes, scientific discovery, the emphasis on the ornithological rather than the herpetological connection (which seems embodied in the Archaeopteryx), plus Crichton and Spielberg, have overrun we boyhood experts. But oh, what glorious beasts they were from our youth. The Ankly was a wonderfully armoured, stout creature. My Bradbury era selection would have to include the Plesiosaurus, a colony of which, as a boy I liked to believe, inhabited Loch Ness, living in a system of underwater caves.

    What are your ambitions in regards to the way ahead for your writing?

    BH: I just started another long piece and it’s taking off, starting to occupy my thoughts, which is a good sign. My ambition is for this ms to grow to the point where I see what it will become, to like it, and to be able to finish it. I want to have a first draft in hand when my gig in Poland is up.

    SS: You mention gunpowder in your bio. When I was a kid I blew up heaps of stuff. What about you? (Names may be changed to protect the guilty.)

    BH: Me too. Tons of stuff. We used to make our own gunpowder. Mostly it just fizzled. We also used to cut the heads off matches and pack stuff full of them. We made rockets and tried to blow up everything that wasn’t tied down. Once I shoved a sparkler inside a plastic hand grenade filled with gunpowder, after the fuse had gone out. There was an explosion, and my face, which was about six inches away from the grenade, became covered in unburnt gunpowder. I ran to the bathroom to wash it off, expecting to be horribly disfigured… I wasn’t, at least not more than usual. So I went back outside and blew more stuff up. I was getting gunpowder out of my nostrils and my ears for days after that. Don’t try this at home kids.

    SS: If you and I were ten years old and best friends on a weekend, which of these options for amusement that I offered would you vote for?

    1: Go swimming at the local, completely unpolluted, river; walk the rail line over it, jump off the bridge, hit the Tarzan rope, ogle girls.

    2: Go target shootin’ with my pop’s .22 and maybe blow something up.

    3: Go explore the storm water drain system under the town. I’m sure one drain goes under the cemetery. (I’ve got matches and a candle, and a crappy little electric torch.)

    4: Get into that big abandoned old house and take a look.

    BH: In order: 2, 4, 3. Certainly not number 1: I can’t swim and I never liked to take obvious chances with my life (though I’ve done numerous dumb things, in retrospect, where I could have died or been hurt). Also, I wasn’t really into ogling until a few years later, maybe around fourteen or so. I was a little slow in that department.

    SS: As far as danger is concerned, you’d be safe with me, I’ve lost hardly any friends on my adventures. Actually, at ten, if we couldn’t do all that in one weekend, and maybe sneak into the drive-in movies, there’d be something wrong. Let’s do it all.

    Well, Brent, thank you for your time, energy and consideration. And for the intriguing work of fiction that is Filaria. The labelers are waiting, that’s them up ahead with the smoking, glowing branding irons, but I feel that your novel will obtain from many readers those smiles you’re after.

    Special report on “The Three Kings” filed by Bev Vincent

    Special report on “The Three Kings” filed by Bev Vincent

    Stephen, Tabitha and Owen King read from their works at the Lutheran Church of the Reformation in Washington D.C. on April 4, 2008 as part of the PEN/Faulkner reading series. The event was originally scheduled to be held at the Folger Shakespeare Library, but due to demand it was moved to the larger venue across the street. I heard that over 500 tickets were sold.

    Earlier in the day, the three authors met with students from several area high schools at the Library of Congress as part of the PEN/Faulkner Writers in Schools program.


    Eager fans started gathering on the church steps early in the afternoon. The sign near the sidewalk announced “GOD RESCUES OUR LIVES FROM DEATH.” The steps grew crowded and the line extended down the sidewalk by the time the Will Call doors opened at 7 pm. Attendees were of all ages. Some were dressed in horror-themed t-shirts and a couple of guys looked like they just got off their motorbikes. People who had never met before but knew each other by screen names from message boards sought each other out. Precious books were tucked under arms or clutched to chests.


    The first person I recognized was Norman Prentiss, who’ve I know from NECON and Shocklines. He was there with a friend. Four Cemetery Dance employees showed up shortly thereafter and joined our little group. I had to leave my place in line to pick up my tickets from the Will Call table–if you saw me rejoining my friends, I wasn’t cutting in line. I swear!

    When the doors opened at 7:30, we found a pew with enough empty space on the right-hand side of the sanctuary. Three chairs were arranged on the left-hand side of the chancel where the authors would be seated. The first few rows of the sanctuary were blocked off for PEN/Faulkner members and affiliates. Attendees clustered around the center aisle so they could make a fast break for the Folger later to get in the queue for the book signing.

    The rules concerning the event were announced frequently, and reiterated from the pulpit before the Kings took the stage. A young woman took photographs of the audience and the event for PEN/Faulkner.

    After introductions, Tabitha King was the first to read. Each author was miked but, after a moment’s hesitation, she decided to read from the pulpit. She could barely see over the top (I was reminded of Queen Elizabeth’s visit to the White House several years ago), but she got a laugh when she said that her daughter, a minister, would be jealous. Her daughter’s congregation isn’t as large as the one seated before her, and the pulpit isn’t as nice, she said.

    She read from a novel in progress called The Potter’s Rib, explaining that a “rib” is a tool potters use. She skipped the prolog, which she said was about the death of a cat. “It’s sad,” she said, her Maine accent making the second word long and flat. A woman goes to visit her ex-husband, who wants to consult with her about some expensive porcelain his new wife purchased. He suspects it might be counterfeit. The main character is non-committal, but the new wife, bearing a box of the pottery in question, appears at her door later that evening when she is getting ready for bed. During the reading, Tabitha stopped from time to time to make editorial comments about the work. In the midst of a passage about the history of porcelain, she said, “Isn’t this riveting? Don’t worry. There’s exciting stuff ahead.”

    Owen followed his mother’s lead and stood behind the pulpit, looming over it. The story he selected was called “Nothing is in Bad Taste,” recently published in Subtropics 5. The editor who accepted the piece was in the audience. The story is about catch phrases that become part of a couple’s vocabulary. In this case, the phrase is “I just needed to park the car,” first uttered by a mental patient after he “parked ” on top of a homeless man after circling the hospital parking lot for a day and a half.

    The protagonists use this phrase in various situations and gradually pervert it from its original form–it degenerates in parallel with their relationship. She wants her husband to work less and to move out of the city and start a family; he’s happy with the status quo. The story was well received by the audience, although Tabitha put her hands over her ears for a couple of passages that contained words that aren’t normally uttered from a pulpit. Because of the story’s length, Owen abridged on the fly.

    Stephen high-fived Owen at the end of the reading. He remained in his chair and used the portable microphone rather than taking the pulpit. He read a passage from Duma Key, the section where Wireman tells Edgar about winning “la loteria”-the tragic story about what befell his daughter and wife.

    At the end of the reading, a brief Q&A session was held, though the questions were predictable and mostly focused on Stephen, who tried valiantly to encourage audience members to ask questions of his wife and son. Most questions seemed to presume the answer; for example, Owen was asked if his father ever read him bedtime stories. Owen answered, “Yes.” After a pause he said, “I’ve been asked that question a lot before, and I know what people expect me to say.” There ensued a brief discussion between Stephen and Tabitha about whether they had read certain potentially damaging stories to their son.


    The audience was released to join a queue across the street for a reception and book signing. Each author agreed to sign one book per attendee. Colored cards were distributed to prevent people from returning to the end of the line for a second pass. The line wound through the hall in the Folger where the reception was held and into the main library, past medieval manuscripts and tapestries. Quotes from Shakespeare were etched on the walls and mantles. (The library was one of the settings used by author Jennifer Lee Carrell in her novel Interred With Their Bones, which I like to call The Shakespeare Code.)

    The three authors were seated side by side at long tables, with PEN/Faulkner staff facilitating by making sure books were opened to the page to be signed. The line moved quickly and smoothly because no inscriptions were allowed and photographs were prohibited, two things that can interrupt the flow at a signing. In little more than an hour, everyone was through the line and grazing on the remains of the fruit and cheese in the reception area.

    Chasing The Dark: A Conversation With Joe Schreiber

    Chasing The Dark: A Conversation With Joe Schreiber
    by Christopher Shearer

    Joe Schreiber is the kind of writer other writers envy. His two horror novels, Chasing the Dead and Eat the Dark, are tightly-packed, economical powerhouses that hold the reader in a death-grip from start to finish, forcing you down and screaming Read Me! without mercy. In just under two years, Joe has established himself as one of horror’s premiere up-and-comers. He is a rare talent standing at the brink of a long and prosperous career.

    Before we begin, let me tell you a little about Joe. He is friendly, the kind of guy you’d like to have a drink with, the kind of guy you’d want to sit down to watch football with-even though I’m from Ohio and he’s from Michigan. When not writing, Joe splits his time between fatherhood, to which he is unusually devoted, and his day job as an MRI tech at Hershey Medical Center in Chocolate Town USA. He is the kind of person others secretly envy and outwardly gravitate toward.

    As for his fiction, Joe Schreiber writes short novels. Novels with a message. Powerful novels. Novels that don’t pull their punches. Joe’s prose is tight and taut: sharp as a razor fresh from the package. He blends thrillers and the supernatural with uncanny ease-think Ira Levin, had he been weaned on King, Straub, Schow, and Skipp. Schreiber’s fiction has been praise by some of the biggest names in the biz: Golden, Partridge, Piccirilli, and Lansdale among them. He doesn’t waste a word. He jumps right in, as we’re about to do.

    … in a coffee shop outside of Hershey Park. James Taylor and Allison Kraus crooning pre-Thanksgiving Christmas carols on the radio,

    Eat the DarkChristopher Shearer: Your latest novel, Eat the Dark, takes place in a hospital and features an exploding MRI tube. How much of it is inspired by your job at Hershey Medical Center, and what parts, if any, are factual?

    Joe Schreiber: A lot of it is inspired by midnight shifts I’ve worked at Hershey Medical Center. I work evenings usually, but I also pick up a fair amount of midnight shifts so a lot of it was conceived as sort of a response to the long hours I spend as pretty much the only inhabitant on the ground floor of the hospital. The radiology department is pretty much all by itself down there, so there’s really not a lot going on at two in the morning

    It’s never happened to me, but one of the other technologists was working third shift one night and one of the psych patients just sort of wandered down from upstairs and meandered around the ground floor, kind of happening into the room. She called security, and the guy was basically escorted back upstairs. When I heard that I thought, that would be really unsettling. A lot of the time the techs will lock themselves in, so that whole vulnerability of the late night hospital experience pretty much came from my experiences or experiences people have told me about in MRI. And as for the exploding scanner, that’s actually accurate. People have read that and asked if that could that really happen; is there really a big red button that says THIS IS A QUENCH BUTTON DON’T PUSH, and it’s true. So all that stuff is true, the MRI technology is true because I knew that I’d be called out by my coworkers if I made stuff up, so that all actually is pretty accurate.

    CS: The parental bond seems to be a recurring theme in your work. How important has becoming a father been in your life? To your writing?

    JS: Well…incredibly important. Most obviously in the sense of immediacy and intensity that came along with being a parent that I didn’t feel in my writing before. When I first became a parent or found out I was becoming a parent, my feeling was just total panic as far as how I was going to support a family. Everything after that sort of all added up to providing for my family, and writing sort of had to take a back seat. But it turns out that you can’t really push an obsession into the backseat; it just becomes a more compressed, intense thing, so Chasing the Dead and Eat the Dark are both intense and quick books that were written, particularly Chasing the Dead, under some pretty intense personal circumstances on my part. When I wrote it I was going to school, going back to school. I was 35 years old in a classroom with a bunch of 18 year olds trying to learn a trade, and when I wasn’t in school I was working at the hospital or I was home with my kids, so writing pretty much had to be something that happened quickly and intensely. And the horror aspect, probably a lot of that came out of having something that needed to be protected, and there is definitely that element in the work: the importance of being a parent and protecting your offspring. But also, on the flip side, the recognition of all the horrible things that could possibly happen. Even if you were to do your best, and I think my books address this to some extent, even on the absolute best day of your life, something terrible and unexpected can come out of nowhere, and just by opening that door I think the idea of the supernatural becomes a possibility. At least it does in my imagination.

    CS: Could you give us an idea of what your childhood was like?

    JS: I was the oldest of three kids. My dad, who just retired, was a surgeon for almost forty years, and so growing up in Michigan, we would hear stories about the operating room at the dinner table pretty regularly. There really wasn’t a taboo subject as far as the human condition, physically, was concerned, so I was exposed to stories of blood and gore along with my meals since I was a little kid. I was always into stories and comic books and writing and drawing. There was always that aspect in my life. I was probably the last generation of kid to go out and buy an 8mm camera because this was before video; I would buy these little three-minutes spools of Kodak film and shoot movies with my friends, and that was an extension of that same storytelling and creative urge. Otherwise my childhood was pretty normal: no immediate trauma, no scars, as far as I know, that I can point out. It was a pretty normal childhood actually.

    CS: The biographical blurb in Chasing the Dead says that, before the birth of your children, you moved around a great deal, rarely living in one place more than a year. Why?

    JS: Well a lot of that was born out of my father’s restlessness. I have no problem blaming him for that. I was born in Michigan, and when I was six months old we moved to Alaska. My dad was a doctor for the public health service, and early on we moved around a lot. We spent time in a little fishing village in Alaska, then Wyoming, a few more places, and then California, before returning to Michigan. All of this before I was ten years old. So those formative years were spent in moving vans and a lot of different houses. That restlessness sort of stayed with me. After college, I never lived anywhere for more than a year, until I met my wife. There’s just an innate sort of restlessness that comes with being in your twenties, at least my twenties. The idea of having my belongings in the trunk of my Toyota, you know. I had some milk cases full of books and my clothes and my computer and that was it, and I was happy. I was glad to have that time to do that, because now that I’ve settled down, obviously that chapter’s closed.

    In my writing I think there’s definitely a sense of forward momentum. I mean Chasing the Dead is basically like a road novel from hell. It takes place almost literally on the road to hell, and it’s almost completely told in motion; and that’s deliberate. It reflects a sense of narrative forwardness that I’ve always enjoyed in movies and books. I really like the idea of A to B to C, as far as a destination is concerned and the narrative taking place in motion. That can be an almost surreal experience in itself, in the placelessness of not knowing where you are because you’re constantly moving forward. I’ve always wanted to do a book set in an airport because it has that sort of geographical null-set: you don’t know where you are exactly, and it doesn’t really exist because you’re in a state of permanent motion. Eat the Dark takes place in one place, one setting, but again, you’ve got that sense of forward moving immediacy. There are no flashbacks. It just sort of goes, like an arrow pointing forward. I think that reflects that same sort of restlessness.

    Chasing the DeadCS: Fame & success rarely happen overnight (you seem to be well on the way to both), so what are some of the other professions you have held over the years? How have they influenced your writing?

    JS: Well my very first job out of college was as a professional dog walker. I was given a box of house keys to go walk people’s dogs for this house sitting service, and the best thing about it was that I could go and just sit down with my legal pad and write for twenty minutes while the dog did its business. I’ve done a bunch of weird jobs. I’ve spent basically half my life working in book stores, which is only weird if you actually do it. It seems really mundane until you’re in there and then it seems really strange. I was a script reader for Dick Clark Productions out in Burbank for awhile; I read a bunch of really, really awful, unproducable screenplays for them. I’ve been an emergency room volunteer. I’ve sold sporting goods. I worked as a law clerk one summer in Washington, DC I sort of just found jobs, jobs that I sort of stumbled across, because I was just wandering around looking for work. I was a ghost-writer. I ghost-wrote parts of Jessie “The Body” Ventura’s book, I Ain’t Got Time to Bleed, when William Morrow needed it done in about forty-eight hours back in the late nineties. I was a script doctor for a bunch of projects that almostsaw the light of day. I actually wrote a rap opera version of Dante’s Inferno one weekend because someone paid me to do it, so I’ve done some really horrible things for money in the past.

    CS: What are your reading tastes? Who are your favorite authors both in and outside the genre? Favorite books?

    JS: That’s a really good question about inside and outside the genre, because right now the horror genre is what I’m reading for whatever reason, and it hasn’t always been the case. I like to think my tastes are pretty Catholic as far as the different things I tend to pick up. Right now my favorite short story writer is this guy, Norman Partridge, who’s written some excellent books; Dark Harvest is great, and I’m reading some of his collections right now: Mr. Fox and The Man with the Barbed-Wire Fists. Just great short stories that are all over the map, sort of plugging Universal Studios monsters into this hot-rod version of the fifties, and all with a sort of black sense of modern, almost nihilism sometimes, but he’s also got a sense of humor. He’s great. A guy named Charlie Huston is a crime writer that I like quite a bit. I finished his new book, The Shotgun Rule, not too long ago, and I thought that was excellent. Again, a sort of bleak, yet modern, almost neo-noir type of thing. And then there’re people whom I’ve always loved. Guys like Peter Abrahams and Elmore Leonard and Jim Harrison, who’s a Michigan writer, not a crime writer, but just a great writer. Cormac McCarthy, Elwood Reid, just a bunch of guys who are either crime writers or have a particular worldview. I tend to gravitate toward writers who approach their work with a strong sense of point of view, really, more than subject matter.

    Within the genre of horror, J.F. Gonzalez. Survivor just blew my mind. I read it almost exactly one year ago. I remember sitting on my couch after Thanksgiving reading this horrible snuff movie novel and feeling like I was going to go to hell for it but unable to put it down. Other horror writers who I like…obviously there’re the classics, like Stephen King and Peter Straub. Peter Straub was a big enough influence that I had to go back and learn how to not write like him after I’d read him enough. Clive Barker’s stuff I like quite a bit, the early stuff, and then there’s stuff from the seventies by guys like Jim Herbert. His giant rat novels are just tons of fun, but I’m always the guy who will pick up a first novel if it looks intriguing. They, for some reason, tend to be the ballsiest moves people make as writers. Or the horrible mass market paperbacks you find at yard sales from the seventies, a lot of the time those turn out to be great too.

    CS: What do your family and friends think of your writing?

    JS: My wife is used to it; although, she did say that at some point she expects me to just snap and hunt her down with an axe. I’m not sure if she was kidding or not. My kids love what I do because I tell them scary stories, and I can’t remember now if I was the one who initiated it or if they asked me to tell them a story; but their appetite for it is insatiable now, and they’re pretty harsh critics. They’ve listened to enough of my stories now that they’ll tell me if it’s good or not, but they love it to the point where they’re almost hyperaware of what I do. My daughter came up to me the other day and said, “Daddy I’m sorry you had to work on the book for so long before you got it published.” And I think: you’re four years old. How do you even know that?

    My coworkers at the Medical Center just think it’s kind of funny. They don’t understand why a writer needs another job. They think it’s strange that I also have to work forty hours a week. God, I wish their worldview was a little bit more on target.

    Then there’s my mother who’s still waiting for me to write a nice mainstream novel, which I actually tried once, and it was horrible. I tried because I want to be a good son, and I want to make her happy; but when you feel the urge to vomit as you’re writing a scene, you just have to say, no, that’s not for me.

    CS: Back in 1994 you released a non-horror novel. What drew you to dark fiction?

    JS: Well I think it was just embracing this thing that I’d always loved. I think I shied away from that with Next of Kin back in 94. It was a suspense book that almost had a supernatural element. If you look at it, there’s a character in there who talks about how at one point she had a set of wings and her abusive father held her down and cut them off, and then you realize that it’s a sort of psychotic episode related to her sexual abuse history, which is very horrible, too. But, as I look at it now, the writer, the horror writer in me, wanted to write something fantastic, but I reined it back in. There was a mania back at that time where everyone was writing about people with a sexual abuse history. Stephen King wrote Gerald’s Game and Dolores Claiborne, and both of those had that element of child sexual abuse in them. I’d read those, and I’d decided that if I was going to write a serious novel it had to have a character with some sort of sexual abuse history, but looking back, I almost feel like that may have been the wrong move to make, partly because it was going in with a trend, but also because the book may have been more interesting with a fantastic element included in it.

    The first stories I ever wrote-when I was really learning to enjoy writing-were all like EC Comics driven horror stories. They were just balls out, completely unembarrassed horror stories. The first story I wrote was about this abusive, grotesquely obese food critic, who entered a restaurant with his wife and berated her throughout dinner, humiliating her. He ordered this huge plate of fish eggs, and they hatched inside his belly, splitting it open. All these fish came pouring out, and that was my idea of a great story. It had everything. It had cruelty, and it had redemption, and it had these fish coming out of this guy’s belly, so I was all set. It’s always been my immediate tendency to write that sort of stuff. I don’t know if it was a movement so much as a return to what I initially loved.

    CS: Do your own fears find their way into your work?

    JS: As a parent-and this may be the obvious answer-I spend a lot of time worrying about my kids, and terrible things haven’t happened to my kids, thank God, but, at the same time, it’s always in the corner of your mind, this sense that everything is going smoothly, everything is going well, and then something happens that just changes your life around. As an MRI tech, everyday this week I’ve done MRIs of these four and five year olds with enormous tumors inside their bones and brains. You’re exposed to this, and you can’t help but think about what you’d do if that was your kid. And there’s no rhyme or reason to it. The universe takes what it wants to take, and once you realize that, it’s really hard not to write horror. But, you know, your editor won’t let you write something that doesn’t have some sort of logic within the narrative, but the world doesn’t have to conform to that. You could have a great life and then something absolutely awful could happen without an explanation. So a lot of my fears center around my kids and my family, and that does find its way into my work.

    CS: Have you ever scared yourself with your writing?

    JS: No, not with anything I’ve written, but I scare myself a lot with the question: when am I going to have time to write again? It’s an interesting idea because, as a writer, there’s this constant sense of anxiety which is different than that all-out, balls-out fear that you go for when you’re writing horror a lot of the time. There’s just sort of this anxiety about the openness of the story you’re working on. I’m working on a book right now called The Black Wing, which is about, among other things, this story that has carried through the generations of a cursed family. Once you start it you feel compelled to finish it, and in finishing it you lose your mind. That allegorically addresses a lot of the anxieties I have as a writer, in that I’m working on this thing, this thing that’s completely within my imagination, and yet it’s an obsession, and it draws me away from the “real things” around me. So it’s an unsettling topic to write about, but it’s very real in my life. I think it’s possible that I could scare myself pretty badly if I tried to write three a.m. in the hospital, and maybe that’s why I choose not to do it.

    CS: Could you describe a typical workday for Joe Schreiber?

    JS: I don’t think that even exists for me right now, but my wife is really cool about knowing there’s a period of time, midmorning, two or three hours before lunch when it’s work time for me. Usually, I’ll get up with my kids and spend an hour with them, just playing with them, getting breakfast for them, drinking coffee, walking the dog, that sort of thing, and then, hopefully something happens where the kids and my wife are able to not need me for a couple of hours, and I’ll write. In the last house-we just moved this last week-I’d haul the laptop onto the back porch and work as hard and as smart and as focused as I could for those couple of hours, and then it’d be a mad scramble to get ready for work. If something’s going really well or I’m in the home stretch of it, I’ll sometimes work on it when I get back at night. I’ve gotten up at four or five in the morning to work on things too, but I think I’m better with the other template. That’s as close to a routine workday as I get.

    CS: When you sit down to start a novel, do you begin with a character in mind? A situation?

    JS: It really depends. You know, I just read this interview with Elmore Leonard the other week, and he said the best time to start a book is when you’re not planning to start a book, because you spend forever trying to build up that momentum to start, and thinking you should start here or here or here, and he says, no. When the idea hits you that’s when you should start writing, and that’s eerily accurate for me. I’ve started some of the things I’ve liked the most almost incidentally. Chasing the Dead was certainly that way. When I wrote it, I knew there was going to be a phone call and that something had happened to the main character’s daughter, and I knew that the voice on the other end was going to make her exhume a corpse. That’s all I had when I started that story, which wasn’t a lot, but it turned out to be more than enough. I think if the elements match up right, that’s a good thing, but I certainly can’t prescribe that idea to everybody. Different writers work with all different types of technique. I’m not an outliner by nature. That to me just kind of paralyzes the process. I’m at my best, I think, when I’m simultaneously living and dying with the characters, and a lot of the time I’ll stop myself from planning ahead. I’d rather rewrite it and make it better than come up with this hard and fast skeleton and try to hang meat off of it.

    CS: Your two horror novels, Eat the Dark and Chasing the Dead, move at a very lifelike pace. Every minute the reader is reading equates to a minute in the book’s timeline. Is this intentional, and how does it help or hurt the story?

    JS: I love real time, and I maybe love it too much. The Black Wing was initially written at maybe more of a breakneck pace than it needed, and I think the problem is that it can be a crutch for an insecure writer, who’s concerned that they’re going to lose the reader, and I’m definitely one of those writers. I’m always paranoid that the reader’s going to find something more interesting than my book and be distracted from it, and maybe that’s not such a bad thing. I mean MTV has reduced our attention spans to thirty seconds or less. But I think there has to be some element of trust between the writer and the reader. I shouldn’t always have to grab the reader by the throat to pull him forward, but those books-Chasing the DeadEat the Dark, and The Black Wing -were all written with that exact fear in mind.

    What it says to me when I start to read a real time novel is that the writer’s going to do whatever it takes to entertain the reader from start to finish. Story first. It’s like this manifesto that’s unwritten within the real time timeframe. So I do, I love it, and I think it’s great, and used properly, it’s the perfect tool for a lot of stories. Having said that, I think the next thing I do is not going to be in real time because it can also be limiting.

    CS: In your fiction, the characters’ inner turmoil, be it indecision, marriage woes, regret, seems to both feed off of and enhance the outside threat in the story. How important is it for you to create reader empathy for the plight of your characters?

    JS: I think it’s vital, and I think ideally that grows organically out of the story. One of the things I like about Norman Partridge is that he writes about these crazy things. I mean he writes about a sheriff who has a werewolf locked up in his jail cell or something, but he doesn’t start with a werewolf. He starts with this guy who’s got a crush on a waitress, and by the time you get to the werewolf, you totally buy it because the human relationship is so familiar to you. And I think, especially if you’re dealing in the realm of the supernatural, it is so key to win the reader’s interest first with a human element that they can identify with and that’s familiar to them. Eat the Dark was reviewed really, really well by Romantic Times, which surprised me. I had this Romantic Times reviewer call me up one morning to say that she’d just read my book, and that she never reads horror but the characters I was talking about and their relationship was interesting enough to her that she really enjoyed the story. And I was thrilled because she had just read a book about a serial killer in a hospital. That human element is really your entranceway into the supernatural. Good horror, obviously, works on a human level. Otherwise every book would be likeHostel 2. And I don’t mean to slam Hostel 2, but torture porn at its worst is just a fuck in a butcher shop. Horror at its worst is the same sort of thing. You have to have that human element, and I think that’s why Stephen King has enjoyed such phenomenal success for thirty years. He writes characters that people settle into almost immediately. Compare it to your favorite metaphor: going to McDonald’s or putting on a comfortable pair of shoes or whatever: you know exactly where you are as soon as you open a Stephen King book, and he his so good at that. He’s just a natural, and I think that’s a perfect testimonial to the importance of it.

    CS: How attached, personally, do you become to your characters?

    JS: Really attached. It’s funny because I was on this panel at the San Diego Comicon this summer with F. Paul Wilson, David Morrell, Max Collins, and Richard Morgan called “Kill your Darlings” that was all about killing your characters. They all had really interesting things to say about what it’s like to have to kill or not kill your characters, and I’ve really struggled with that. My tendency’s to write darker and then shade lighter. I mean, I’ll kill somebody off and then realize afterwards that I made a wrong step. As a writer, I’ll tend to go too far first, and then in the revision process, I’ll sort of allow that person to earn their way back to life. One of the main characters in Eat the Dark died in the first draft, and once I killed her off I realized that she had died because she didn’t have a redeemable trait to save her life. So I went back and looked at her character, and I found these survival instincts that didn’t exist the first time around. And she lived at the end of the second version, which, for me, is the definitive story.

    I always become attached to the characters as they become real to me. The character of Sue Young in Chasing the Dead was real to me from the beginning, and I was really, really worried that something bad was going to happen to her As a writer, I have to care about the people I write about, and it does get very difficult to see them come to a dark end; but at the same time if the story takes them there you just have to watch it play out.

    CS: What do you feel are your strengths and weaknesses as a writer?

    JS: One of my strengths-and maybe it’s a weakness too-has always been my enthusiasm about the work. I sometimes have to resist the urge to write things prematurely. If I have something I’m excited about it’s like “I have to start writing this,” and it works well when you’re just starting out and what you need to do is write, write, write to find your voice and practice with the words. But there comes a point when you need to step back and become a little more reflective. To me writing has always been pleasure. It’s never felt like work. Even the rap opera of Dante’s Inferno. It’s just the best thing in the world for me to do; it’s my favorite thing.

    Sometimes I try to work faster than I should, and I shoot myself in the foot. Because of the cutbacks in mainstream publishing, the editors that remain inherit these enormous amounts of work, and they can’t give you the time they were able to even ten years ago. So the writer has to be more focused coming out of the gate than was needed ten or twenty years ago, making planning and patience on the writer’s part that much more important. I’m very fortunate because I have a great editor at Dell Ray/Ballantine who’s very hands-on, but even he doesn’t have the time to give the story as much as he’d like to. So I think one of my weaknesses is not taking the time, being too enthusiastic about getting a story underway when I really should have spent a little more time thinking about it.

    I know I write characters that people tend to enjoy, and I don’t hesitate to put them in the worst imaginable scenarios; I think those are some strengths to what I write.

    CS: I’ve noticed on your blog that you’ve begun to post short stories. Do the readers possibly have a collection to look forward to?

    JS: I would love to do a short story collection. One of the cool things about horror is that it seems to really encourage that. There are so many great short story collections being published. It seems like every year you see great anthologies of horror stories, and I would love to do something like that. The short story form is something that I continue to explore and enjoy; my tendency naturally is to go for the novel, write longer, but the month of October was particularly good for me short story wise. I think I wrote four or five, and the blog was a perfect place to put them up, because you get that satisfaction of being able to communicate with your audience directly, and it looked like a lot of people who were reading them did it while they should have been working. It delights me that I could help somebody waste corporate time, and that somewhere there’s a multinational corporation paying somebody to sit and read my stories.

    CS: What’s next for Joe Schreiber?

    JS: The Black Wing, hopefully. I’m waiting for notes from my editor. I’m really anxious to finish this novel. I think it’s great, and I think it’s going to be a step up as far as the sort of things people enjoy about my work. It’s going to be new enough that people will really enjoy it. I also just finished a Jaws-like, non-supernatural novel about a dysfunctional family on a pontoon boat called Stillwater, and it’s the other thing that’s out there right now. Also, I’ve started working on a couple of new things: both a supernatural and non-supernatural project. I’m going to end up having this sort of dual writing career, going back and forth between the paranormal and the more mainstream thrillers that I enjoyed when I was growing up.

    Special report on The Mist filed by Bev Vincent

    Special report on The Mist filed by Bev Vincent

    Editor’s Warning: This special report contains the fates of several characters and several key plot points. Read at your own risk!

    Let’s spend a little time behind the scenes of the upcoming film The Mist. Rich Chizmar and I spent a couple of days on the set in late March.

    Interior filming took place at Stageworks in Shreveport, Louisiana’s casino district. Grocery store exteriors were shot at Tom’s Market in Vivian, LA and the lake house scenes were filmed at nearby Cross Lake.

    The MistInside the front door, we saw a sign pointing extras toward their staging area. I went upstairs to find the unit publicist, Tracey Zemitis, in the production offices. One wall featured an array of actor headshots with their character names underneath. Tracey gave me a working copy of the script-minus the last handful of pages. Apparently Thomas Jane was the only actor who had the whole thing, to prevent the ending from leaking out before the movie is released.

    The publicist took us to the grocery store set on Stage A. The first crewman we encountered was the sound mixer, sitting behind the stage flats in front of a bank of mixing switches. We could see Thomas Jane (David Drayton) on the video monitors. Through the wall we first heard the word that would become a mantra during our visit: Mrs. Carmody shouting “Expiation!”

    Once rehearsal was finished, we entered the set. Bags of pet food were stacked in front of the store windows. Through strategic gaps, we caught our first glimpse of the mist. A military jeep and a few cars were vaguely visible in the parking lot, as well as a kart korral like the one Dinky Earnshaw worked at. The mist was a vaguely cloying carbon dioxide-nitrogen mixture delivered on demand through large transparent plastic ducts. Some days the set needed to be cooled to get it to behave properly.

    Tracey led us by the cash registers-we had to step carefully around the cables strewn along the floors like tentacles-and past a book rack that featured only King novels. Around the corner at the last aisle, next to the butcher counter, we found Frank Darabont, sitting in front of a pair of monitors that displayed the views from the two cameras. He wore a pale green Hawaiian shirt, tan cargo pants, and a baseball cap.

    I was surprised by how far he was from the action. The actors were several aisles away, completely out of sight. To hear their dialog, Darabont and the script supervisor wore headsets while the cameras were rolling. Keeping “video village” around the corner meant it wouldn’t be accidentally captured during a shot. There were no false or missing walls, so the cameramen were free to shoot in any direction. The ceiling had built-in skylights to allow in ambient lighting from the outside world, a trick Darabont used in The Green Mile, which he said was “probably the only death row ever with a skylight.”

    A sign painted on the wall at one end of the store said “Serving Castle Rock since 1967.” The “fresh meat” on display was obviously fake, but the groceries in the aisles were real, mostly product placement. An extra brought a box of Arrowhead Mills crackers to Darabont’s attention-Arrowhead was the name of the military project that caused the mist. They joked about product placement but the script supervisor said, “I don’t think we should tie the product into an environmental catastrophe.”

    The attention to detail was amazing, down to “bad check” notices pinned to the cash registers. When Darabont asked someone to find dental floss after lunch one day, the assistant returned in seconds. “How did you get that so fast?” Darabont asked. “It was on aisle three,” the assistant answered. Darabont smacked his forehead. “Of course.”

    This was the fifth week of shooting, so some of the products were past their expiration dates. Enough mold covered the bread to cure several diseases. There had been some pillaging of chips and snacks, too. Besides the crew looting, the grocery store had been put through the wringer-the aftermath of a simulated earthquake. Groceries lay strewn in the aisles. Tiles and fluorescent light fixtures dangled from the ceiling.

    A few months earlier, Darabont spent a week directing an episode of The Shield as training for this fast-paced shoot, where he had only about half as long as he spent filming Shawshank Redemption and a third of The Green Mile shoot. He brought the cinematographer and cameramen from FX with him to The Mist. From directing the TV episode, Darabont learned to use the camera as a participant in the scenes, shooting sequences as long as five minutes in a single take. The experience also taught him to relinquish some of his rigid habits. For most takes, he had two cameras running simultaneously, one of them usually a handheld or Steadicam. Lighting was the most time-consuming part of the setup for each new shot-but even that was achieved more quickly than on a traditional shoot.

    To keep on schedule, they filmed up to nine script pages per day, a demanding pace. “I’d love to find a happy medium between a Green Mile schedule and this one,” Darabont told me. Because the film is set mostly inside the grocery store, he was able to film in chronological order, which helped the actors as the story built in intensity. “I’ve got a hell of a cast, and at the end of the day that’s what it’s all about.”

    Darabont said he’d get no reprieve after shooting finished because Dimension wants the film out on November 21. “I’ll be spending the summer in the editing room. It’s going to be a really intense year.” He continued, “Anything that’s not on the set is a vacation compared to this. It’s intense here.” He was aware of the toll filming was taking on him, though. “Don’t let me operate heavy machinery,” he said with a laugh.

    The MistBetween shots, the set was a beehive of activity. Extras filed back to their starting marks for the next take. Crewmen repositioned cables, cameras and lights. “Free dental work, watch your head,” yelled a man carrying a heavy light through the aisles. Carpenters returned sets to original condition. Production assistants dashed back and forth. Completed rolls of film were brought to the script supervisor for documentation and then delivered off-site for processing. Actors came to the director for costume consultations or to check up on their performance and discuss motivation. Darabont consulted with his cinematographer or assistant director about the previous shot or the coverage required for a scene. Thanks to modern technology, he could request immediate playback on his monitors, compare the shots on the two cameras or review earlier takes or scenes.

    There was little idle chatter. If the extras-especially a couple of teenagers-got a little rowdy, Darabont or the A.D. hushed them. During rehearsals, Darabont got into the mix to orchestrate the cast’s movements. Some of the mob scenes were especially complicated. When he returned to his monitors, he commented, “Directing is like squeezing an elephant through a keyhole.”

    Videographer Constantine Nasr roamed the set capturing material for the documentary features on the DVD. He recorded rehearsals, discussions between the director and crew, and occasionally stopped to interview Darabont about his impressions of the day’s work. So far, Darabont has released two behind-the-scenes webisodes from Constantine’s work—see NewsFromTheDeadZone.com for links.

    Darabont was clearly exhausted, working twelve-hour days with only Sundays off most weeks. His editor had spent the previous week on the set, cutting the film with Darabont during lunch breaks. Darabont occasionally escaped to the loading dock for brief glimpses of sunlight during setups. When the cameras were rolling, he smoked cigarillos and focused intently on the video monitors, nodding at things he liked or pointing out glares from lights or an out-of-place actor that required another take.

    We weren’t the only visitors on the set. Author David J. Schow (Kill Riff) was hanging out in Shreveport at Darabont’s invitation. Chris Hewitt from the British magazine Empire was another media visitor.

    Schow took us on a tour of the set on Stage B-King’s Sundries. Local artists were dressing the inside with gossamer-wrapped corpses. Unlike the grocery store, only a few items here were product placement. The rest came from a defunct pharmacy in East Texas. The property manager rented the entire contents of the store, down to the soda fountain, shelves and décor. Some items on the shelves revealed how long the place had been closed. When was the last time you saw flashcubes or flash bars?

    Another set featured David Drayton’s loft, where he painted movie posters for a living. The work on display depicted a gunslinger, a rose and a tower, painted by movie poster artist Drew Struzan. Hmmm. Wonder what movie that was for.

    Schow then took us upstairs to the local headquarters of KNB EFX Group, where foam rubber and latex articulated monsters were being created. Gregory Nicotero (the ‘N’ of KNB) gave us the grand tour. The first thing I saw was a life-sized model of Andre Braugher with his back ripped open. Nicotero said they had “ripping flesh and biting people down to a science.”

    Everywhere we looked, there were long, articulated tentacles. They looked like octopus tentacles, except the undersides were designed to open up to reveal suckers that had teeth, surrounded by spiny quills. Cables extend from them so they could be made to writhe and curl.

    Among their other creations were the flying bug creatures and the pterodactyls that attack the market, some designed by Bernie Wrightson. The fly-creature had six eyes and its back was lined with porcupine quills. It had sixteen legs, eight large outer ones and eight smaller ones tucked up inside. The body was reminiscent of a wasp, the legs of a spider. Fingerlike organs encircled its mouth. The designers wanted to keep human aspects to their “faces” but make them much more skull-like.

    The pterodactyl had two sets of wings. It could flap the back ones or tuck them in and glide on the front wings. Nicotero showed us green-screen footage of the articulated bird being set on fire with the mop torch. Strands of human meat hung from its mouth. Six people operated the puppet, which was also hooked to a boom so it could leap or fly up and down. The green-screen shots may be used as is, or may be used as cues for CafeFX to do in CGI. The final product will likely be a blend of live action and CGI.

    A loading dock scene featuring the demise of Norm the stock boy was shot early in production so CaféFX could start working on computer effects.

    The movie features some interesting deaths, but not gallons of blood like many horror films. There’s a stabbing and a shooting, and a man is set on fire. The warehouse door amputates some limbs, and a number of people are swept away by the monsters in the mist. A few days before we arrived, actress Alexa Davalos was stung by one of the creatures. Her punctured neck swelled up rapidly, oozing pus.

    Dead bodies were stacked carelessly on the floor in one corner of the room, along with the charred remains of the pterodactyl. An oven had a sign posted “Special Effects: Not to be used for cooking.” Cardboard boxes on shelves were hand-labeled “pus and bladders” and “spare eyes.”

    The MistBack on the set, I watched Academy Award winner Marcia Gay Harden (Mrs. Carmody) whip her followers into a frenzy time and time again. Darabont encouraged her to ad-lib so long as her rants included required information. After many of her scenes, she was rewarded with a round of applause. At one point she want off on a tangent, which the script supervisor brought to Darabont’s attention. “Gives me more to work with,” he responded.

    On the second day, David and his friends decided to escape from the store. Thomas Jane wandered the aisles looking for Private Jessup to find out what he knew about the mist. A puff of cigarette smoke emerged from the aisle between two checkouts, revealing the private’s location. Ollie (Toby Jones) and Amanda (Laurie Holden) were searching other aisles, so coordinating the action to get the actors to arrive at one location at the same time required several takes.

    Later, Mrs. Carmody’s followers accused Jessup of being responsible for the mist. Thomas Jane was knocked down by a punch delivered by Darabont regular William Sadler, followed by some delicate knife work. Jessup was then lifted over the shoulders of several extras and carried to the front of the store, where he was to be cast into the parking lot as a sacrifice.

    Sadler came back to video village to review the scene. He was pumped up by the scene’s energy. “It’s moments like these when you’re fully engaged. There’s no acting involved. It can’t help but be genuine.” The punch was “the money shot” according to the cast and crew. The cameramen and Jane rushed to the monitors after each take to see how convincing it looked. The intensity was so high on one take that Francis Sternhagen (Misery, The Golden Years), who was sitting next to the director, retreated from the set. “I don’t want to watch any more,” she said.

    “We’re fucking going to kick ass on this scene,” Darabont said after a few takes. “I love it when they lift Jessup up.” The shot was filmed from various angles. “Here’s the place where we don’t rush through it,” he said. “Even if we fall a day behind.” After the low-angle shots were complete, the crew moved shelves of groceries out of the way and brought in a boom crane for a camera that tracked the mob’s progress from above.

    While they coordinated the actors’ movement through the aisles with the crane camera-which was computerized to “learn” its motions-they used a naked life-sized dummy of Greg Nicotero as a stand-in for Jessup. During one rehearsal, the boom crane collided with a light fixture, so time was spent removing others that might get in the way. When the mob reached the door, the dummy’s arms extend against the doorframe. “Even the dummy doesn’t want to be thrown out into the parking lot,” the script supervisor said. I didn’t get to stay long enough to see the shot with the real actor-choreographing action and cameras was a long and tedious process that took them well into the evening.

    During an afternoon break in filming, the publicist took Chris Hewitt and me out to the “circus” where the actors’ trailers were set up so we could get some interviews. First, we encountered Marcia Gay Harden playing in the parking lot with her children. After that, Toby Jones (Ollie Weeks) invited us into his trailer for a chat. Finally, Thomas Jane appeared at his trailer for his daily cigar and invited us in out of the sun.

    * * *

    Marcia Gay Harden

    While they were planning the look for Mrs. Carmody, Harden presented five different looks to the hair and makeup crew. “There was the nun, the preacher’s daughter, Tammy Faye Baker, the town snoop and the hippie. [Darabont] preferred the nun with the thick eyebrows, but we picked the preacher’s daughter. The prop people gave me this scarf and I put it up on my head, and then props put white gloves in my purse so I’m wearing those. She came in lovely and perfect and very buttoned down and it seems like the character [degenerates]. The hair is down and she’s actually a much more sensual person in her power and in her preaching than she was at the beginning.”

    About her dialog: “The language is religious, almost poetic, which makes it difficult to seem natural. Very declamatory. Dialog that typically one would turn off to. I wanted you to be able to listen to her and even wonder if she’s not right, because I think it is the end of the world. If someone said there are monsters and scorpions and man-eating bugs and a mist and everybody is fighting and no one is surviving, I would say it’s the end of the world. It’s apocalyptic. I don’t know how the movie ends-it’s not in our scripts . . . I did ask [Frank] if he would not really kill me off so I could come back [for a sequel]. I love working with Frank. He’s given me freedom-it was wonderful. He came up to me at the end [of a take] and said, ‘You’re fearless.’ I hope he meant fearless and not shameless.”

    On ad-libbing: “There were moments when I would lose the thread and make up dialog based on what I know. I did buy a book that’s called The Idiot’s Guide to Revelations and I was reading that so that when he would let me go on I would know what to say and there is a lot of dialog about the Seventh Seal and the Whore of Babylon that’s quite interesting.”

    On the mob mentality: “The thing that was interesting to me about it was The Lord of the Flies aspect. This is society in an extremely tough situation where it is a world unknown outside your door. Do you hold together? Do you pull apart? What part of people’s personalities pull apart? Where do people crack? It’s like all the stories about post-traumatic stress disorder. In [Mrs. Caromdy’s] case she certainly does crack, but part of what makes her crack is power.”

    On her character: “She was written to be sort of a hefty, overweight woman, not an attractive woman in any way, but we felt that you’d walk in the door and you’d go: she’s bad. So you’re setting up a script that is a creature feature-and it does have good and evil, as is necessary in almost any drama-but so obvious. So we’ve given her these moments and episodes: Please God, let me speak through you, let me be your ambassador in prayer, let me be the voice for you. Fill me with the spirit. The personal is always what makes things, your destination or the personal journey, and that’s what we’ve been building. We’re the raw material, and [Darabont] will cook it. I hope some of that stays and doesn’t end up on the editing room floor, but you never know. The more responsibility I have for telling the story, the better. I [usually] don’t mind if they cut scenes I’m in, but there’s other times where I think, ‘Ah, you cut the people story to make it a plot.’”

    On her throne: “Frank and I walked through the set and I said, ‘Where is my area?’ He said, ‘You’re probably going to be over here in the produce aisle.’ I said, ‘I want a chair unlike anybody else’s chair.’ And he said ‘We’ve got all these lawn chairs,’ and I was like, ‘anybody can have a lawn chair. I want a throne.’ They found this throne for me and built a little platform and equipped the thing. And I said, ‘I bet I have a shopping cart and scoop things into it, and I was the first one to get a rice bag for my pillow and the first one to get my sleeping bag and I have curtains for my privacy and no one else has curtains.’ So she went from being a fat ugly lady in a yellow pant suit to really being a diva.”

    * * *

    Toby Jones

    British actor Toby Jones played Truman Capote in Infamous, so this wasn’t his first time doing an American accent. However, between takes he reverted to his normal speaking voice. “Playing Capote, it was impossible to not stay in his voice the whole time, because it was a totally different mouth shape. I’d take about an hour and a half to get my jaw in the right place to do it at the beginning of the day.” For The Mist, he said he didn’t want to wear the accent too heavily. Too often, he said, actors are overly proud of their accents. Like the best CGI, accents shouldn’t draw attention to themselves.

    On how he was cast: I think [Darabont] saw The Painted Veil, and he really liked that. As an English actor you’re not quite sure how it did happen because of what happens in L.A. You actually hear about it quite late on. I was one of the last people to come on board, which created huge problems with the visa.

    “I was very aware of Frank, obviously and The Shawshank Redemption. It’s in my top ten. Frank said I’m sending you a script, I hope you enjoy it. I can’t say that Stephen King is someone I’ve read-I am aware of his stuff on film. To me it’s a fantastic character to play. The unlikely hero.

    “I’ve never done what you might call a genre picture before. It requires a special thing in a way because you’re operating in the area of action over character. Anything [the audience] learns about character happens because of the way you respond to extraordinary circumstances. The audience is constantly in the present. They’re not too worried about what happened ten, fifteen minutes ago. The momentum of the thing is moving forward, and as an actor you’re concerned with trying to create a certain consistency. You have to show up and do what the action requires you to do.”

    On doing a special effects movie: “We are making a special effects movie in six or seven weeks. I was going, ‘This will be interesting to see how this is going to work.’ I’ve been involved in special effects movies before, but they normally luxuriate in months of prep. Here you’re working with puppeteers and CGI people who are able to do their stuff at such speed it doesn’t really ruin the momentum of the take.

    “Often as an actor you just get bogged down in-and there must be doing some weird mental name for this-if I’m doing a play and we rehearse a scene, I’ll have done it once and I’ll be able to remember a whole complicated series of physical activity. Here, you’ll be studying ‘If you could just place it there . . . not there.’ [uses a TV remote to demonstrate two positions an inch apart] I’ll begin to get a kind of amnesia as to whether it was there or there. The minutia overwhelms the big picture.”

    On his character’s fate: “I just get zapped, I think. He won’t tell me how I’ve died. I think I won’t find out until I’ve seen the picture. But I have an idea that I’ll play it kind of very, very optimistic-the moment where I make a break for the car [beams optimistically and beckons] ‘Come on, come on . . . ‘” [smile transforms into a look of abject horror]

    * * *

    Thomas Jane

    We spent a surreal forty-five minutes inhaling second-hand smoke as Jane discussed past films (re: Dreamcatcher: “Yeah, some people liked that.”), his graphic novels (a mockup of Bad Planet with a Bernie Wrightson cover is on the rack in the pharmacy when his character grabs comics to take to his son) and future works (re: a sequel to Punisher: “If we can get a fucking director and a script that makes half a fucking sense. The problem is that all the scripts come in like a bad fucking Steven Segal film. I want a fucking dirty, mean, bloody New York story. I want cops and robbers. Good guys and bad guys. I want Serpico. I want fucking Dog Day Afternoon. I want Taxi Driver. I don’t want Under Siege. ”)

    On the schedule: “It’s pretty tight, so they’ve been working us really hard. In order to get everything we need, it’s just nonstop. We’ll go a few days over just because the schedule was way too ambitious to get everything we need. But the good news is, we’re not leaving anything behind. Most movies with tight schedules you’re always missing stuff and you don’t have time to do certain shots. Not so here. The way they’ve designed the shoot, we’re never waiting around more than ten minutes for them to flip the lights around.”

    On how he became involved in The Mist: “Frank called me and said, ‘I want to send you a script. I’m not going to tell you anything about it. I want you to read it.’ He sent it over and it’s one of the best scripts I’ve ever read. That happens maybe once or twice in a career. The part is fantastic and it happens to mix the two things I love the most, genre movies-the horror/sci-fi type stuff-with action. I feel like I was invited into something very special. So I really gave it my all. I’ve worked really fucking hard on this film. I had an offer to do another movie in between the one I just finished and I turned it down because I wanted to dedicate the time that I knew I would need to prepare for this one. Most of the time you can walk through a genre film. There’s not a lot of prep that you need. Scream. Look scared. This one really requires some acting.”

    On working with Frank Darabont: “He has a great eye. It’s pace and it’s tone. He knows how to set a tone that’s believable. And he has great taste. He has an ear for the truth, he knows what’s real, and he also lets everybody do their job. He hires really good people, he lets them do their job. He doesn’t get in their way. He expects you to bring it, and everyone feels that and they do it. Some directors try to get too controlling and they try to micromanage everything and then everybody starts doubting themselves and the work falls apart. He listens, takes advice from everybody and anybody. He’s got a clear sense of the story that he wants to tell, so you can ask him a question and he’ll have a very clear answer. ‘No, and this is why’-or ‘that’s a good idea, and this is why.’ He knows the story that he wants to tell in each moment of the film. He makes it a joy to work for him. You feel that everybody wants to do their best.”

    On the set: “The first week everybody’s getting to know each other. The second week everybody knows each other so they’re joking, and they’re having fun and they’re killing time and one morning [Darabont] came in and he goes ‘Chit chat’s over.’ You respect the guy. When he has something to say, he says it very firmly and that’s the way it’s going to be. He sets that tone on purpose. He focuses everyone, and then everyone sees the work that’s being done and that makes them want to be focused.”

    On the story: “Shooting chronologically helps a lot for this movie. It’s a cumulative experience-the disaster that everyone’s going through. Another great thing about this movie is that you could replace the monsters with terrorists or poison gas or a burning building or an earthquake and you’d have very much the same kind of film. That makes it relatable in a human, very real way. I think the best horror movies allow us to believe in the horror. Human beings are reacting in a very truthful manner to the given circumstances. In this case it’s monsters from another dimension.”

    White Noise Press Interviews Necessary Evil Press

    White Noise Press Interviews Necessary Evil Press

    We decided to do something a little different in the Free Reads section this month. Below you’ll find Keith Minnion of White Noise Press interviewing Don Koish of Necessary Evil Press… and on the flip side, if you click here, you’ll find Don Koish interviewing Keith Minnion!

    WNP: I’ll start with the question everybody starts with. How and why did you get involved in publishing?

    NEP: Thanks Keith. There as no specific purpose or reason that I got into publishing. It was more of a natural progression. I went from a reader of horror since I was a young teen to a collector. From there I started proofing/copyediting for a couple of publishers. Paul Miller of Earthling Publications convinced me to try publishing something myself and here we are today. Believe me, that’s the short answer, but just as interesting as my long winded response I’ve given before. I’m saving you from it Keith, I promise.

    WNP: How did you choose the name for your press?

    NEP: A few years back when I lived in California, I had the idea that I wanted to start the press finally, but coming up with a name was tough. I went through a bunch of horrible cliché ridden ideas. One of the better ones (at least I thought at the time) was something like Morbid Books or Miserable Books. LOL I swear. I even bounced the idea off a few friends in the biz and would you believe it? The response was an overwhelmingly god that’s horrible. LOL So I went back to the drawing board and came up with nothing. I decided to forget about it for a few days and then of course that’s when it happened. See how long I take to get to the point? I wasn’t kidding Keith. Anyway, my friend Curtis was visiting from Oregon and we were watching a Roswell special on the Sci-Fi Channel. They were showing some black and white footage of B-52’s landing on a runway near the Air Force base there. On one of the planes, they had the painting on the nose. For the life of me now I can’t remember the picture, but around it were the words Necessary Evil. My buddy looked at me and we just knew we had it. Then it was a matter of going with press or publications or books. So many to choose from. I kind of just settled on press and there we go. I laugh cause that’s a long story for the name especially when a lot of people already refer to use as simply NEP.

    WNP: Who else in the specialty press do you especially admire?

    NEP: That’s a tough question. I had help from a number of different publishers in the specialty press when I started out. I was very lucky believe me. To learn so many different things before having to publish a single book. I owe so many people thanks that it’s impossible to list them here. I know I’d forget someone. Instead I’ll name some of the specialty publishers I started buying years ago. If it wasn’t for them I’d never be doing this today. Publishers like Dark Harvest and Cemetery Dance for instance. Or Subterranean Press, even Borderlands Press. But hell I’ll never forget my first signed limited I ever bought. It was VOICES FROM THE NIGHT by John Maclay and Associates. Now there’s a specialty publisher. I’ll never forget that book. Beautiful gold slipcase. No dustjacket, instead a deep leather type covering with small metal plate for the book title. Packed with great stories. Talk about a specialty press to admire. I’d die if they started publishing books again. I’d pay anything for that.

    WNP: I notice that the very capable Caniglia handles nearly all of the illustration work. What brought you and him together?

    NEP: A little bit of luck and knowing some people. LOL Basically Tim Lebbon wanted him to do the art for our first project ever, DEAD MAN’S HAND, and they were friends so Caniglia agreed. Things just kind of fell in place after that to be honest. We enjoyed working together and I paid on time which never hurts. He’s been doing more art shows of late which is great for him. Unfortunately that means not as many projects together, but you’ll still see one from time to time. Instead we’ve started to get some big names and up and coming artists together for NEP projects. Some exciting times ahead, just wait and see.

    WNP: And your continuing association with Tim Lebbon? I hear rumors of a third Assassin book on the horizon.

    NEP: Yes it’s true. Tim Lebbon was able to get Chris Golden to bribe us. So we’re doing a third book and more after this one. LOL We’re announcing it soon. It’s titled A WHISPER OF SOUTHERN LIGHTS. Caniglia has already completed the cover and a bunch of interiors. That’s all I can say for now as I nervously wait for the signature sheets to arrive back to me from England while I do this interview. It’s killing me!

    WNP: I understand you have a secret weapon in your editorial arsenal. What is your wife Deb’s involvement?

    NEP: Everyone needs a secret weapon, right? Though now that you’ve let the cat out of the bag I’ll have to keep a close eye on fellow publishers at conventions.

    Debbie is involved in a lot of aspects of the company. Not only is she one of the very first readers for me, she also decides and chooses all the color and embossings for NEP books. From the color of the endpapers, to the foil stamping and boards. She sits down after Dave Barnett finishes the layout and starts matching up different patterns and colors. So yeah I’d definitely say she’s our secret weapon. I don’t know what I’d do without her. And she’s also the one who packs up most of the books and ships them off. The TLC everyone has come to expect from NEP.

    WNP: Is Necessary Evil Press your full time career, or do you have a day job as well? If so, how do you juggle the two?

    NEP: Two years this January I’ll have been a full-time publisher. So yes I’ve joined the world of not knowing how much money you’ll have month to month. A nice binge and purge of worry and making beautiful books. Hehehe. Before that I worked a full-time job then came home and worked on NEP. It almost killed me. People will finally start seeing the pay off on going full-time. You can’t simply say I’m going to publish 10 books a year and it happens. It takes a long time to find the right stories and projects. I don’t want to just publish quantity. I want to publish quality as well.

    WNP: You obviously publish writers you admire. Do you consider sales potential as well?

    NEP: It’s a give and take to be honest. Unfortunately sales potential has to figure into most projects. If it doesn’t, I won’t be publishing many more if that makes sense at all. Print runs are a game within themselves. You just never know sometimes on how a book will sell. Fortunately we’ve been very lucky so far and sold out most everything we’ve published.

    WNP: Is there something or someone you want to publish you haven’t seen yet?

    NEP: Ahh yes the question. I’ve been asked this before and the two living authors for me are Stephen King and Bentley Little. A tall order to say the least. We’ve been trying since almost Day 1 to get both of them and unfortunately nothing to report so far. That doesn’t mean I’m going to stop trying though. I’d also love to publish a reprint of something Richard Laymon wrote. Say a first time in hardcover project. Anyone out there that can help me make that happen? Drop me a line please. I’m a huge Laymon fan and collector.

    WNP: As you know, the recent demise of the Shocklines online store has sent ripples of concern throughout the specialty press. How is Necessary Evil Press handling it? Are you seeing more direct sales? Are you approaching or have other new online stores approached you?

    NEP: We definitely expect to see more direct orders. Which in case some didn’t know are the one thing that keeps a specialty press in business. Without direct orders I can say for a fact NEP wouldn’t be in business. I see this as a great opportunity for us and also for some independent stores out there. The genre should be just fine in the end. We’ve already seen some effects of the closure, but the genre will be stronger from it. And NEP will be stronger. We didn’t have 90% of our books or whathaveyou going through Shocklines.

    We haven’t had any new stores approach us, but other stores are stepping up and increasing orders. It’s going to be a challenging and exciting time for everyone coming up. I’m looking forward to the next couple of years.

    WNP: I want to talk a bit about the lettered editions. These are freaking works of sculptural art. Who designs them? Who produces them?

    NEP: Thanks Keith. Dave Stucky in California designs and produces them in his spare time actually. Though he would deny me any credit, from time to time I help out on the design and ideas behind our lettereds, but he takes all the credit. Love ya Dave! Obviously he’s a great guy and I’m proud to consider him one of my best friends. I can’t imagine NEP lettereds being made anywhere else. Not only are they made out of metal, but the design feature I always push to people and am most proud of is the fact that they are usually designed after the story. From items, themes, etc. Our lettereds reflect the book that’s inside. Not many people are able to say that about their lettered editions. And it’s one of the reasons why our lettereds take time to be produced.

    WNP: James Newman’s “The Wicked” was in publishing limbo after Wild Roses Productions folded. How did you acquire it? I have to say, working with you on the illustration end was a pure joy. Any other illustrators who have the chance to do a project with Necessary Evil Press are in for a treat.

    NEP: Thanks Keith. The bribe check is in the mail for such kind words. Seriously though it was a project that had a history of not being published. Legally I won’t get into all the details, but we were blessed to be able to finally bring this to print. I know James Newman was happy with the outcome and so was I. And to be able to have a great cover still available from you was just icing on the cake.

    However, the book is cursed so anyone that is having bad luck in their life and have a copy of THE WICKED be sure to backtrack and check that it didn’t start when the book arrives. That’s all I can say for fear of extra copies attacking me from my office right now. You’ve all been warned.

    WNP: F. Paul Wilson’s novella was not part of your novella series, but was instead offered as a standalone. Why was that?

    NEP: The most popular question for us this year. I never realized the impact it would have on things to be honest with you. We received over thirty emails with just this question. Basically it came down to this. Our novella series to date has featured material that was entirely original where Paul’s novella was half reprint and half new pretty much. So I didn’t know what to do. I finally decided to not include it in our novella series and instead print it as a standalone. It allowed us to print a few more copies for the Wilson fans and at the same time allow us to perhaps publish more novellas out of series at the project arises. But I assure everyone, that this wasn’t part of the novella series and I simply decided not to put a number on the spine. That was a rumor circulating and the reason for a lot of the emails. Novella number five will be coming next year if all goes well.

    WNP: You offer novels, novellas and novelettes. I’m noticing some other specialty presses are branching out with paperback and hardcover chapbook lines. Any interest in that with Necessary Evil Press?

    NEP: I’ve been interested in paperback line since I started. It’s all a matter of having a lot of things line up. The right story that you can sell in mass quantity and the distribution and means to get the book out there. I don’t think I’m in the right position for this yet, but more power to the people taking a shot at it. Hopefully they’ll let me ask questions in a couple of years if we do indeed venture down that path. I think it’s a great thing for the specialty press and it’s authors. More readers is never a bad thing.

    WNP: What’s up next for Necessary Evil Press? Come on, spill it!

    NEP: Haha. Not sure on the timing of when this interview will appear, but at the moment we have another surprise novelette at the printer, another one under contract and a few novels coming out within a year. Plus a few more surprises here and there. 2008 will be our biggest year yet.

    It’s been a pleasure Keith. Thanks for the great questions my friend.

    Necessary Evil Press Interviews White Noise Press

    We decided to do something a little different in the Free Reads section this month. Below you’ll find Don Koish of Necessary Evil Press interviewing Keith Minnion of White Noise Press… and on the flip side, if you click here, you’ll find Keith Minnion interviewing Don Koish!

    NEP: I’ll copy you here Keith and ask the normal “how did you get here” question to start this off. But I’ll revise it just a bit since you are involved in so many different aspects of the genre today. How did you start doing artwork for the horror genre?

    WNP: Two people: Darrell Schweitzer and Richard Chizmar. I was in the Philadelphia SF Writer’s Workshop from the mid 1980s to the early 1990s that also had Darrell Schweitzer as a member, and at one point in 1991 he suggested I send some cutsheet samples to this guy in Maryland who was putting out a horror magazine. Darrell gave me Rich’s address, and I put some samples together and sent them off. Rich called me soon after that, and sent me three stories to do for Cemetery Dance, one of which was “The Washingtonians” by Bentley Little. During that same period I was over at the Weird Tales offices – essentially the rear second floor of George Scither’s house in West Philadelphia – hawking my portfolio, and Darrell and George handed me a Ligotti story – “The Cocoons” – to try on spec.

    NEP: How long would you say it took to get your art into something that was published? What was it? The piece and publication?

    WNP: I was selling paintings pretty regularly throughout college, mostly Wyeth-like watercolor landscapes. My very first published illustration, though, was a little pen and ink drawing for my second published short story called “On The Midwatch” for Isaac Asimov’s SF Magazine, back in 1979. George Scithers, the editor at Asimov’s, bought it. I was on leave from the Navy, dragging my portfolio around to publishers in NYC. Both George at Asimov’s and Stanley Schmidt at Analog had offices on the same floor. I think George was just being kind in accepting that drawing, because it wasn’t very good. As for how long it took to get published? I put together my first serious portfolio in 1979, mostly doing work when off-duty in my shipboard compartment, and that leave visit to NYC the same year was my first attempt to sell myself, so it was pretty quick. This was pre-Internet, pre-digital, pre-electronic ANYthing, remember, so going out on face interviews with a black leather zippered portfolio of original work and cutsheet sample packages that you left with art editors on a pile with a hundred other cutsheet packages was really the only way to go. Marriage and kids took up all of my time for the rest of the 1980s, though, and except for some sporadic SF assignments I didn’t get back into illustration till the early 1990s, and then it was mostly all horror illustration work for markets like Cemetery Dance, Deathrealm and Weird Tales.

    NEP: Can you tell us a little bit about how you work as an artist? From the start to finish on the process of doing a cover piece?

    WNP: When I read a manuscript I scribble illustration ideas on the backs of the pages and dog-ear them. After I’m done reading I edit the ideas down to those I think I can actually execute, and in the case of novels, those that are evenly spaced out in the manuscript to help with the overall finished book presentation. Then I either get friends or family to pose, or I go into my big morgue of clip art I get from old magazines for material, and block out the compositions in pencil on tracing paper. When I get that right, I transfer the drawing to the actual drawing paper or illustration board by tracing it over graphite paper. In the case of cover paintings I go over the pencil transfer with a technical ink pen. This locks the composition down in a very linear way, which I prefer. I usually work in acrylic polymer for covers, a water-based paint, because it’s fast. I also tend to follow classical egg-tempera-type painting techniques by building up shapes and textures in thin, semi-opaque layers of paint. I also like to splatter paint a lot for texture purposes, so if you would look at one of my things in an early stage you might wonder: What the hell is THAT? The final step is when I scan the painting to a digital file and give it a once-over in Photoshop, cleaning up the image, getting rid of any imperfections from the scan. The whole process often takes several weeks. I get the most satisfaction out of doing interior illustrations, though, and I can usually knock two or three of those out in a weekend. I have a day job and really long commutes, so weekends are the only time I can really work.

    NEP: Do you have a website that features your artwork by chance? Is there any way for people to buy prints or even originals of your work?

    WNP: Sure. I keep a virtual portfolio site at: http://www.keithminnion.com. Most of that stuff is available for sale. I just have it all stored in drawers, actually. There are prints for sale at the White Noise Press site at: http://www.whitenoisepress.com.

    NEP: This isn’t the most original question, but I always love to hear the answer especially with artists. So I’ll ask it since I get to decide the questions for once. Who are some of the artists you admire? Today? Growing up?

    WNP: Love this question! In junior high and high school I studied Vincent Van Gogh and Edward Hopper quite a lot. I used to do oil painting almost exclusively back then, and I admired the way Van Gogh applied a single thick and gooey layer of paint, highly saturated colors laid side by side, to do his paintings. He just blurped them out, often in a single sitting. With Hopper it was all about color and composition. I loved the empty spaces in his stuff, the volumes. Unbelievable stuff. In college the Minimalist, Conceptual and Post Conceptual movements were popular. Most of it was pure bullshit, but some of it was, as my professor Jan Groover liked to say, “A true Mind-Fuck.” We used to go down to the Soho galleries in NYC all the time and crash openings for the free wine and to actually meet some of these people. I really admired the Minimalists Robert Mangold, Bryce Marden, Robert Motherwell and Robert Ryman, and Frank Stella too, before he got into his high-relief and 3-D wall pieces. On the flip side of all that, I took a water-media class with Rudolph Zallinger, the famous dinosaur painter (The Golden Book of Dinosaurs, those incredible murals at the Peabody in New Haven) and he taught me how to paint in egg tempera – I’m talking the classic Cennino Cennini 15th century techniques, grinding pigments, cooking rabbitskin glue, marble-dust gesso, all of that. From there it was a quick jump to contemporary egg tempera painters like Robert Vickery and Andrew Wyeth – who I am fanatical about; a winter doesn’t go by when I’m not down in Chadds Ford walking those same roads and fields or gawking at stuff in the Brandywine Museum – and his father N.C. Wyeth, more juicy paint, wonderful color and composition and powerful execution. From him it was an easy jump to the Symbolists and Decadents: Maxfield Parrish, John Everett Millais, Edward Burne-Jones, John William Waterhouse, that whole crowd. I was also fascinated by the work of the contemporary British illustrator Roger Dean, who did those great YES album covers, so I studied him a lot. As for genre illustrators, I admire the ink work of Joseph Clement Cole. I also really like the work Alex McVey and Steve Gilberts are doing.

    NEP: You’ve been involved in the genre for a number of years now so I’m curious to ask if you see the genre going in any type of direction. You have some that say we’re all doomed, but others say that we’ve never been healthy. Any thoughts on this?

    WNP: Well, I only stumbled into the horror genre fifteen years ago, so I am hardly an expert. Before that, my only exposure had been some Shirley Jackson, some Lovecraft, and Chiller Theater the Twilight Zone on TV! Whenever I am in with a group of horror professionals and fans – like at the recent Necon 27 – I feel like the dumb kid in the back of the class. What I’ve seen from my limited perspective are just popularity waves: everybody doing vampires, then everybody doing zombies, then everybody doing zombie-vampires, etc. But that’s just the foam at the top of the beer. There’s still everything underneath, the vast body of work that everyone else is doing, and that stuff seems to be getting published with the same regularity as always, and a lot of it is really good. Beth Massie’s recent “Homeplace” is a great example, a really fine haunted house story. I would much rather curl up with that than the next ‘rip your face off and shit down your windpipe’ thing. Shock for shock’s sake doesn’t much interest me. Bores me, actually. Horror’s not going anyplace that any of the other genres aren’t also going, anyway. I think everybody just has to keep their fingers crossed that paper publishing in general remains strong, so the markets continue, across the board.

    NEP: I’ve been a big fan of your art for years Keith. And I was lucky enough to get my hands on your first project as a publisher as well. It’s heavily illustrated by you and a true piece of art in itself with the envelope and endpapers. Tell everyone a little more about how you got into the publishing side of things.

    WNP: At that same Philadelphia SF Writer’s Workshop back in the 1980s I met Jason Van Hollander, someone I greatly respect as both an illustrator and a writer. We became really good friends. One Saturday he brought a story to the workshop called “The Hell Book” and it just floored me, absolutely floored me. I remember saying to Darrell Schweitzer that he should buy it for Weird Tales, and, as it turned out, that’s what he did. Someday, I told Jason, I want to re-publish this in a low-run chapbook. Just an idea. Ten years later an old guy at work was retiring and he offered to give me this old Swingline saddle stitcher he was otherwise going to throw out. It was a heavy-duty manual stapler that let you staple-bind things like … chapbooks. Hmmm. I had already just purchased a high-end “giglee” ink-jet printer to do art prints, so I decided, with Jason’s permission and just for fun, to put the three together: story, stapler and printer, and see if anyone was interested. Digital graphic design using Adobe programs like In-Design, Pagemaker and Illustrator has always been a lot of fun for me, so I gave it a shot.

    NEP: You’ve done all the art for White Noise Press so far. Is this something that you’ll continue to do?

    WNP: Yep. I am about as cheap an illustrator as I can find, and I don’t get into any pissing matches or ego bumping with myself either. Also, the illustrations tend to evolve with the layout process, so employing myself solves that problem.

    NEP: Above I was commenting on how much I loved White Noise Press chapbooks. There isn’t anything quite like your chapbooks and I have every single one of them. Can you tell us a little more about them?

    WNP: They are truly hand-crafted. I don’t employ any other person or company to publish them. I copyedit the manuscripts, I design the books, I lay them out, I illustrate them, I print them, fold them, bind them, package them, all by myself. I go exploring on the Internet to find new papers for the text and covers, and I really enjoy making font family decisions and that second color choice for each chap project. I was inspired a lot by Roy Squires, the New Jersey publisher. He did a limited edition chapbook of Fritz Leiber’s “Demons of the Upper Air” that I bought when I was a teenager, and I always have that in the back of my mind as a benchmark of truly great published art object, something beyond just a stapled chapbook. Roy put all his chaps in printed slip envelopes too, which is something I decided to do also.

    NEP: How do you decide on the projects you publish?

    WNP: So far I have been asking writers I admire to contribute stories. I just cold-call them, what the hell, right? Some of them have actually said yes, which I still think is amazing. I wait for the story to arrive before I even think about how it will look as a finished product. The only editorial rule I have ever mentioned to anyone was: no splatter/gore/shock stuff, please. I much prefer quiet supernatural or psychological horror, and so far I have been very lucky.

    NEP: You’ve already had some great success in the publishing field. Where do you see the press going from here? Do you ever see yourself going into publishing full-time?

    WNP: I have chapbook commitments through 2008, so people will see three chapbooks a year coming out of White Noise Press this year and next. In 2009 I plan on retiring from my day job and going back to school to get a Master of Fine Arts degree in Drawing so I can teach at the college level in my “golden” years. I hope to continue White Noise Press projects through that period, if I can. This uncertainty factor is why I have fended off all customer requests for “lifetime” subscriptions. When I get enough chaps done to warrant it, though, I definitely plan on approaching all the authors to do a trade paperback anthology, reprinting all the White Noise Press stories, with all new illustrations, and maybe a new long piece of novelette or novella length from a new author included to sweeten the pot. “White Noise Stories.” That should be interesting.

    NEP: Are there any writers you really want to work with given the chance? As an artist? As a publisher?

    WNP: Argh! Anyone I DON’T mention might get offended! As an illustrator, my greatest recent thrills were illustrating some of Gene Wolf’s stories. My God, what a great writer he is. I also really like it when I get sent a story to illustrate and the name doesn’t ring a bell for me, and I only find out later that the writer was a Name and the story was Important. That happened when I got “The Box” to do for Cemetery Dance a few years ago (remember: dumb kid in the back of the class). Jack who?? Bram Stoker what??

    NEP: Can you talk about what you’ll have coming out in the next six months to a year?

    WNP: Sure! I am a big supporter of letting the cat out of the bag. I am currently putting together Elizabeth Massie’s very dark and complex story “Brazen Bull.” Think classic Shirley Jackson, but with Beth’s special talents mixed in. We got to go over some of the design ideas at Necon 27, and I am very excited about putting this one out as the Autumn 2007 offering. The three slots for 2008 are also filled. Kealan Patrick Burke will be contributing a story for the Spring chap; I get to illustrate another Orangefield story from Al Sarrantonio for the Summer chap, and Brian Keene just returned the contracts for a story that will appear in the Autumn slot. All new fiction. Can’t wait.

    NEP: Interviewers have used this before as the last question and I always found it quite fitting and interesting. So I’m going to copy it here. Any last words? Things you would like to mention. Some great gossip to help make this the best interview ever? Now’s your chance.

    WNP: I guess we’ll let Rich and Brian edit or not edit this, but they recently hired me to do the layout and design duties for their chapbook line. We are hoping to get on a regular schedule of putting out six or so CD Publications chaps every year. They also just hired me to a regular gig of providing frontispiece paintings for some of the lettered edition hardcovers that will be coming out from CD. I’m looking forward to doing some Wyethy watercolors for that.

    NEP: Thanks Keith. It was fun doing these interviews and great meeting you at NECON this year.

    WNP: Hey, everything at Necon STAYS at Necon! (Unless you want Matt Bechtel on your ass, and who wants that?).

    The Mad Dogs Dogpile Interview

    For this interview with Brian Hodge about his new novel Mad Dogs, we turned the floor over to a pair of early readers … and a couple of others who managed to slip in questions anyway.

    <a href=Stephen G.: What is Mad Dogs? How long is it?

    Brian Hodge: It’s a 578-page crime novel that features what is probably the biggest, most over-the-top cast of characters that have ever moved in with me. It revolves around a struggling actor named Jamey Sheppard who, on his way from Los Angeles to Flagstaff, AZ, for his wedding, is briefly mistaken for the real-life fugitive he’s just played on a crime reenactment show. This sets off multiple chains of events that careen all over the southwest.

    Tom Piccirilli: Why are the dogs mad? Why don’t you feed them?

    BH: Because, after another couple days, I plan to turn the hungry buggers loose on smart-ass wise guys.

    Paul Legerski: The history of the publication of Mad Dogs would be a nice place to begin, no?

    BH: Okay, be sure to get those pliers right under the edge of that scab, and rip slowly.

    To tell the whole thing would take a chapbook, but the Cliff’s Notes version…? It was the kind of drawn-out sequence of events and circumstances that eventually start you wondering if the whole thing has been cursed.

    Mad Dogs was William Morrow & Company’s option book after Wild Horses, but by the time I finished it and we sent it in, there was a totally new infrastructure in place. Morrow had been bought by Rupert Murdoch, and his people conducted a series of firings that cleaned out everybody I’d worked with, and most everybody else I hadn’t. In the editorial department, there was one single survivor. So the editor who really got what I was doing, and fought to win the bidding war for Wild Horses, was gone, and the new personnel just weren’t interested.

    Then, to our horrified surprise, my agent couldn’t place it with any of the other houses in New York. For each of the objections it met, you could immediately come up with an example to rebut it, but those wouldn’t apply to me. Because with Wild Horses, I was just getting started in hardcover, in a different genre, with virtually no track record. It was like the six paperback novels before that didn’t count.

    Many thought it was too complex. Another problem explained to me was that, in this stratum at least, publishing is increasingly run by female editors buying mainly for female readers, and so they’re looking foremost for central female characters. By those terms, Wild Horses was fine. But Mad Dogs, despite several vital female characters, is still centered on two guys.

    Another shock to the system: The type of novel it is … that was an even bigger problem. The New York houses, I was told, had begun to develop an aversion to whacked-out crime novels, in large part because they’re marketing headaches. And mine are even weirder than usual because the mood swings are so extreme. The mordant humor is similar, but the thing that you tend not to see in Elmore Leonard and Carl Hiaasen is the depth of emotion that I’m going after, as well. Plus, in an otherwise good Publishers Weekly review of Wild Horses, they groused that the writing was too lyrical for the story. So, stir all that together … how do you market it? As a gritty crime thriller? A fizzy caper? A literary novel? It’s easier just to say no than try. As a result, this is the second and last of this particular type of novel that I’m likely to do.

    A further mishap: One small press publisher I’d already worked with was going to do it, never sounded anything other than eager to do it, told me more than once how much they loved it, and we were working on editorial tweaks … but I could never get them to produce a contract. They dragged things out for almost an entire year before I finally withdrew it. Although that definitely worked out for the better—I’m very happy that it’s ended up with CD.

    There’s more, but you get the idea. Besides, any aspiring writers who might be reading this are probably ready to hang themselves, so let’s stop now for humanitarian reasons.

    Brian Keene: Mad Dogs and Wild Horses both signaled a shift in style and theme for you. You could see hints of this in earlier works likeThe Darker Saints, but it came to the front with these two later novels. Did you find this “voice” to your liking? And how did long-time readers react to it?

    BH: I’ve never thought of it as a shift so much as an expansion. I’ve always admired writers who can roam between various kinds of work and do them all well. Joe Lansdale definitely comes to mind. Like you noted, The Darker Saints, and Nightlife before it, were part crime novels. So it seemed natural to try novels that were nothing but. But I never felt that I was abandoning anything. The Hellboy novel, On Earth As It Is In Hell, and World of Hurt… I think I was able to approach these with a new drawer in the toolbox that I might not have otherwise developed.

    And I’m not aware of catching any flak for having branched out. Readers and reviewers who knew me for the Dell/Abyss novels, and the couple before those … from them I heard nothing but enthusiasm for Wild Horses. And if they liked that, then they should feel right at home in Mad Dogs. I don’t know of that many readers who are so dogmatic about horror that that’s all they read.

    PL: Mad Dogs kicks off with a mistaken identity scene that escalates into a war for Jamey’s survival. Did every step after this scene that escalates the threat(s) to Jamey’s survival come in the order that is the final version … or did you have all of the scenarios in mind and just put them down in your favored way?

    BH: It more or less unfolded for me as it happened. I’d had the basic premise in mind for a long time before I started the novel—a struggling actor is mistaken for the real-life fugitive he’s just portrayed on an America’s Most Wanted-type TV show—but that was pretty much it. Then along came a few more characters and a loose concept of the main story arc, but I had no clue where it would all lead.

    PL: There is not one “good guy” in Mad Dogs. By that I mean no one is immune to making a few (or in some instances many) mistakes or wrong decisions. In some instances, no one to cheer on. To me that is the brilliance of your characters … all are at least a shade of gray morally … like all of us I might add. Do you feel that is a reason why some editors would not buy the book?

    BH: If that was a factor, along with what I already described, nobody said so. I suspect I would’ve heard about it if it were.

    Still, I believe Jamey’s a good guy, definitely. Samantha’s very good-hearted, almost to a fault. And although Duncan and Dawn are much more compromised, they’re decent enough at heart. But none of them are perfect. How interesting are perfect people? Give me the impulsive and the screw-ups, any day. Even Cro-Mag, for me, is hard not to pull for, because of his boundless affection for all things four-legged, and his unique form of brain damage—based in reality, by the way, someone I was aware of by two degrees of separation. But Jamey’s the main through-line, and I think most people will be in his corner. He’s not immune to acting on impulse and emotion, but he’s just trying to get through a roller coaster ride he never wanted to be on

    PL: The pacing is very step-by-step … by that I mean it is very ordered and not all over the place. It grows from one set of circumstances, then turns into another level of seriousness. Was this an outlined book? If not, what did you want the pacing to be? Did you have a beginning, middle and end?

    BH: To me, it’s more like a candelabrum. It starts from a singular event that sets into motion a series of repercussions that branch out in parallel. But then, most of what happens has everything to do with the central characters’ family histories, so it reaches backward, too. Actually, I think it is all over the place … it just doesn’t necessarily feel that way because of how hard I worked to keep the structure and storylines balanced, and how every turn of events emerges out of what everybody’s done a day or two or three earlier. There’s no way I could’ve outlined all that. I’m a terrible outliner. Most of the time, I try to let the characters lead the way. I was just as curious as they were to see how they would get through these situations.

    PL: Jamey has had to deal with a physical deformity. To me, it was to show the readers that he overcame much in his youth and foreshadowed how he would deal with later more extreme external abuses. Is this what you were going for?

    BH: I don’t know if I put that much thought into it, really. It just arose naturally in the planning stages, as part of his baggage. What probably sheds more light on it is an observation that Robert Bloch made, and while he was talking about writers, I don’t see why it couldn’t apply more broadly. Bloch said something like most writers are broken in some way, and writing is their way of fixing it. OK, so now take this boy who had a very visible physical defect that took years to correct, and who ate a lot of shit because of it. It seems very likely that he would’ve spent a lot of time growing up pretending to be other people, in other bodies. And so he just never stopped.

    PL: For me, the flashback scene at the Utah diner when Jamey is with his family as a young boy was very moving and almost poetic and explains so much that is going on inside Jamey. Was this scene from a personal moment of yours or totally fictional, and what did you want to accomplish with that scene?

    BH: You’ve already half-answered the latter part of your question. I wanted to show that moment when the magic of movies really opened up to Jamey, in a real-world way that made him think it was within his reach. It was also a handy way to show how far back the tension with his sister goes. Plus the locale sets up something for much later, which I can’t get into for spoiler reasons, but I love it when a thing like that naturally doubles back on itself.

    And that scene is almost 100% rooted in experience, although not from childhood. It was about a decade ago, when Doli and I and Beth Massie and a couple other friends were zigzagging along on a cross-country trip and were passing through Utah. Exact same sequence of events: We drove back in along a few miles of dirt road to see some ancient petroglyphs at the edge of the Ute Indian Reservation, then backtracked through this little desert town. Stopped at a diner where a dog and a gray wolf really were hanging around outside. So I’m writing from hands-on experience when Jamey’s petting them and is amazed at how different their coats feel. Then, inside, we learned that a scene from Thelma & Louise had been filmed there. It’s the place where Thelma stops at night to call her husband. It was just a very, very cool afternoon stop, this little gem of an experience that fit perfectly into the novel.

    A few years later I was road-tripping through again, by myself, and stopped, but found the diner vacant and locked up, windows coated in dust. That left me sad for miles.

    PL: My favorite character scene is when Jamey and his fiancée take a walk after some disturbing news makes its way to Jamey. The conflict he feels toward his fiancée is so real … from an honest hating of her to a somber understanding of the circumstance. Was that an easy scene to write and did that feeling of hate have to be rethought or reedited by you as too harsh for the “common” reader?

    BH: It wasn’t hard to write at all, because I knew the characters so well by then. It was more like taking dictation.

    But hate is too strong a word, I think. On one level Jamey is angry with Samantha, because she’s done something for pure and selfless reasons, and he recognizes that. It’s just backfired in the worst way possible. But what he’s feeling and trying to tamp down isn’t what really matters here. Counterbalancing that—outweighing it, even—is what else he’s feeling and tells her aloud. It’s probably the most tender, heartfelt expression of one person’s love for another that I’ve ever written. And one reason it was so heartfelt is that I could’ve been saying that in real life and, almost word-for-word, it would’ve fit.

    PL: This novel is very hard on the people of Hollywood … nobody with any redeeming values to speak of. Was this from first-hand experience with the entertainment industry? Also, do you think the negative portrayal of the many characters from La-La Land will make this a harder sale to movie or TV producers?

    BH: Hey, I thought Petra, the makeup artist, was pretty cool, at least! And the reporter from Variety. Really, to me, it’s more satire than venom. Most of it’s played for laughs. The producer, Mickey Coffman, is loosely based on Don Simpson, Jerry Bruckheimer’s deceased partner, only Mickey’s not particularly self-destructive. And, amazingly enough, going by a biography I read, still not as horrible as Simpson could actually be.

    Honestly, I can’t claim that much experience with people who work in film, but some of the ones I have dealt with have turned into good friends, and most of the others were at least pleasant at the time. Yes, some are prone to losing interest and flitting off elsewhere, or it’s obvious they can’t do what they’ve said they can, and either way that’s the last you hear of them. But I’ve only encountered one genuine viper, and had to hire a lawyer to finish contending with her.

    I have no clue if anyone would take it personally, in a generic sense. But Hollywood is occasionally very hard on itself. Think of movies likeSwimming With Sharks, or Robert Altman’s The Player. Really, the bottom line is the bottom line: If it were to get to somebody who thinks he or she could make money off it, then not much else would matter.

    There’s a great line from film agent John Lesher, originally in a New York Times article. I quoted it in “The Passion of the Beast,” my story for Midnight Premiere, the movie-related anthology that Tom Piccirilli edited for CD: “People here will work with the Antichrist if he’ll put butts in seats.”

    Interview with Tom Piccirilli

    Tom Piccirilli fits my definition of a writer’s writer. He’s prolific. His work is solid as it is distinctive. He’s a writer who loves genre fiction, and he’s a writer who has something to say about love and loss and strength and weakness, i.e. the human condition. On that score, he’s incredibly perceptive.

    And one other thing about Mr. Piccirilli: he doesn’t disappoint.

    It was my pleasure to talk to Tom for this special CD interview, which focuses on a couple of new books with MIDNIGHT in the title: Tom’s new Cemetery Dance anthology, MIDNIGHT PREMIERE, and his new novel from Bantam, THE MIDNIGHT ROAD.

    Before we jump in, a little about the man himself. Pic lives in Colorado where, besides writing, he spends an inordinate amount of time watching trash cult and reading Gold Medal classic noir and hardboiled novels. He likes his dogs and he likes his friends—Tom’s definitely my go-to guy whenever I need another writer’s email address; this guy knows everyone. He’s also a fan of Asian cinema, especially horror movies, pinky violence, and samurai flicks. Gotta be Tom’s the undisputed master of the quick Netflix turnaround—Pic often sits down with a movie as soon as it arrives and gets it back into the postman’s hand before he leaves the neighborhood. Maybe if Tom’d train the guy better, the postman would always ring twice, and save Tom a trip tracking him down. Hey, I really think it could happen. In Tom Piccirilli’s noirish little corner of the world, anyway.

    For those of you who want the straight-ahead stats: Mr. Piccirilli is the author of seventeen novels including THE MIDNIGHT ROAD, THE DEAD LETTERS, HEADSTONE CITY, and A CHOIR OF ILL CHILDREN. He’s a four-time winner of the Bram Stoker Award and a final nominee for the World Fantasy Award. To learn more about Pic, check out his official website, Epitaphs, at: www.tompiccirilli.com.


    PART: One of the things that really surprised me about MIDNIGHT PREMIERE was the gutsy intro, in which you talk about your family and the death of your father. For me, that went a long way toward explaining the place movies occupy in your life and your work. Movies were an escape from some pretty rough realities—lots of people would say that—but it seems they became more than that for young Tom Piccirilli. Reading your fiction, I have a sense that they were parables, or even playbooks, and that the people you found on the screen cut pretty close to the bone for you. Is that a fair assessment?

    Midnight PremierePIC: I think that imaginative, sensitive children, especially those who might have some kind of trauma in their early lives—the loss of a parent through death or divorce, say—often have a great need to fantasize. Books and films take on a greater importance to them than a lot of people might think. I tend to think that a lot of my concept of “father” or “manhood” was filled by characters I read about or saw up on the screen. Kids who aren’t being taught about life by their parents are being taught about life by someone or something else. They need to fill the hole.

    So I believe that the…the map of the world I learned about early on, the blueprints of life, came from film and literature, and so much of the way that I relate to the world is through what I learned from those forms. And it only makes sense that it would show up in my own writing and would be inherent in the writing and movies that I love.

    PART: So, in terms of the way you see the world, what filmmakers or actors cut the deepest, and why?

    PIC: That’s a rough question, man. There have been so many over the years who fulfilled some need or interest in me at that particular time. At the moment I’m getting back heavily into film noir—there’s such a slick style to the writing, the acting, the look, and the directing. You watch something like I WAKE UP SCREAMING and Jesus Christ, you’ve got everything right there on the screen. You’ve got Victor Mature and Betty Grable, you’ve got smoke and shadow, you’ve got laughter and suspense and madness and love. And again, to get back to what we were talking about, film noir is from the 40s and 50s, my parents generation, so seeing those beautiful women and handsome men, playing characters who’ve survived the depression and come back from WWII…well, those are my parents up there in some kind of metaphorical sense. As I slide into middle-age, I’m becoming them.

    PART: Ditto. I especially loved the way you worked with the whole noir milieu into your newest novel, THE MIDNIGHT ROAD. Your main character runs the Robert Mitchum playbook pretty hard. Anybody cooler in your book, or is Mitchum the guy?

    PIC: Mitchum was always the coolest but there was always so much bubbling beneath the hard, hip exterior. If you watch the guy closely you always see a little grin on his lips, even when he’s playing evil or slick, as if he wants the audience to know that it’s all a game. One of the reasons I love HIS KIND OF WOMAN so much is because it actually gives Mitchum a chance to be a noir-hero but also play off some sizzlingly comedic dialogue. You could sense he was having a lot of fun and wanted everyone to get in on the joke. Even when he’s being tortured!

    PART: You obviously learned to get your fingers on the pulse of the people made of celluloid and ink at a young age. Did that influence your own approach to creating characters?

    PIC: Only so far as I’m a big believer in backstory. Characters who have weighty histories are more intriguing to me. They’re scarred from their battles, they’ve had as many losses as wins, and though that’s colored their outlook on life, they do their best to keep their chins up. It allows me to weave in humor, chills, or emotion when there needs to be some. Those are the characters I like to see on film and read about. They’re caught up in the story, in the novel, in the film, but their actions and their beliefs are larger than what you see on the page or on the screen. They are influenced by the things that have come before, whether we’re privy to that or not. I think it makes for more human, realistic, and relatable characters. Even if the events surrounding them are over-the-top.

    PART: Let me take that a little further. In your fiction, I’ve always been struck by your mastery of character. Cookiecutter men and women, these ain’t. The hardcase on his last legs in FUCKIN’ LIE DOWN ALREADY is a favorite of mine…that story’s brutal, and heartfelt at the same time. Flynn in THE MIDNIGHT ROAD is another great character. You spend a lot of time with these guys. How do you get their blood pumping on the page, and how hard is it to say goodbye to them once you type “The End”?

    PIC: I’m not sure I ever completely say goodbye to them because they’re all alternate versions of one another. For me, it isn’t important to start with a character’s strength, but to start with his weakness. What is it that makes this person flawed?…what makes him incomplete? What drives his nightmares? And the answer doesn’t have to be some kind of big, major, intense revelation. It can be some small hurdle that for some reason, the character simply can’t leap over. I think that’s more honest. I think that’s more universal. We all have some small quirk that really lashes the shit out of us all of our lives. Whether it’s physical or emotional or spiritual. Some little fucked-up problem or pain or heartache that has taken a sizeable chunk out of each of us over the course of our lives. If I can translate anything like that to the page, I think it gets the heart beating and the blood pumping on the page. Once you know how important the weakness is, you can show how difficult it is to find the strength within oneself to overcome it.

    PART: Tell us a little about THE MIDNIGHT ROAD.

    PIC: It’s something of a departure for me: an offbeat mystery/noir/suspense fusion about a Child Protective Services investigator who stumbles into a strange situation at a wealthy family’s home while checking on a lead. Flynn winds up in a car chase and dies in a frozen harbor, but he’s revived a half hour later by paramedics. For the rest of the novel he’s not only hunted by a mysterious killer who seems to blame Flynn for something he’s unaware of, but Flynn has to deal with the ghost of a dead dog that talks to him in his own voice and may be either his own brain damage or the angel of death. As mentioned, there’s a lot of backstory and history to the character. I finally gave a protagonist the same love of film noir that I have, so there’s lots of references to the classics.

    PART: MIDNIGHT PREMIERE is another project we can chalk up to your love of film. How’d that one come about?

    PIC: I’d just attended Horrorfind and ChillerCon—which are conventions featuring lots of well-known and lesser-known character actors, writers, scream queens, and make-up wizards. I was intrigued by how many folks loved writing and reading horror stories about horror movies, using elements dealing with Hollywood, the drive-in, and the movie-making and movie-going experience in some way. I thought it would make for a fun anthology a la SILVER SCREAM edited by David Schow, and your very own IT CAME FROM THE DRIVE-IN, Norm.

    So I asked some directors (including Mick Garris and Patrick Lussier), actors (including William Smith, Richard Grove, Kyra Schon, and Linnea Quigley), and authors (including Jack Ketchum, Gary Braunbeck, John Shirley, Tom Monteleone, Ed Gorman, and Brian Hodge) if they wanted to be involved. The interest was overwhelming, and the stories were wonderfully eclectic. There’s truly gut-wrenching poignant tales in the anthology, and others that are just completely outrageous, funny, bizarre, and freaky. When you’re reading a book with a story in it called “Baby Boss and the Underground Hamsters: A Feature-Length Cartoon,” you know you’re reading something fun and funky. That’s Al Sarrantonio’s contribution by the way.

    Needless to say, I didn’t just want dark and disturbing horror tales, but also outrageous tales that show the full range of how horror fans feel about grade-B and cult film.

    PART: The book definitely pulls that load of freight. I really enjoyed your own Southern gothic story, “Shadder,” by the way. But I’ve got to ask you, Tom—what was it like to work with the film folks? Have any fanboy moments you want to share with us?

    PIC: I was a total fanboy from start to finish. Meeting Kyra Schon, the little zombie girl from NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD was incredible, especially considering the impact that film had on me, and then to work with her (she co-wrote a humorous zombie tale with Mark McLaughlin) was a blast. Patrick Lussier, the director of DRACULA 2000 and WHITE NOISE: THE LIGHT, and I have become good friends since I put the book together. It’s been a real pleasure getting to know him and becoming buddies with him. Getting a chance to hear a lot of his behind-the-scenes stories from the film sets he works on totally geeks me out. Mick Garris was also awesome to work with—very friendly and approachable, a real gentleman all around. But I’ve got to say my biggest fanboy moment was getting a signed photo from William Smith, who I think is probably the greatest all-time character actor villain in the annals of B-movie history. I mean, we’re talking Falconetti here! He’s just the most amazing personal history. Not only has he done hundreds of films, but he’s been a bodybuilder, a rancher, a soldier. Dude, this is Angel from RUN, ANGEL, RUN, the first movie that started the whole motorcycle film craze of the 60s. I had to trim his bio down to two pages because in total it would’ve taken up too big a chunk of the antho.

    PART: Too bad you couldn’t recruit Warren Oates to write a story about snake-handlers. That would have been something, but I think you would have needed a shovel.

    PIC: If I could’ve tapped the other side for an actor to kick in a story, I would’ve liked to have seen something by Robert Ryan. He was noir through and through, man, and I bet he’d have had some tall tales to tell from hell!

    PART: Well, we’ll save digging up Warren for the inevitable movie version of A CHOIR OF ILL CHILDREN, then. Gotta be a role for him in that one somewhere. But let’s get back to business on this side of the pearly gates—what’s a prolific cat such as yourself got coming up next?

    PIC: I just finished two novels back to back. A Hellboy novel entitled EMERALD HELL, where HB heads down to the swampy South to battle an evil mystical preacher, and a straight crime novel THE COLD SPOT, about a young thief who marries a cop, goes straight, and years later when she’s murdered by a crew of robbers enlists the help of his violent criminal grandfather to go after them. Starting the sequel in a couple of days. Also, some short stories will be showing up in ELLERY QUEEN, YEAR’S FINEST MYSTERY STORIES, and an anthology called FIVE STROKES TO MIDNIGHT, featuring work by Chris Golden, Gary Braunbeck, and Deb LeBlanc.

    PART: Best of luck with all of ’em, Tom. I’ll be looking forward to reading them, and thanks for the interview.

    PIC: Thank you, Norm. Always a pleasure shooting the shinola with you, buddy!