Hey there you sexy pilgrims. I hope everybody is well. I’ve bought a bunch of books recently and figured, hell, why not do a suggestion post of some of my favorites old and new to help you with your merry holiday shopping list! Keep in mind that most of these are dark, heartbreaking tales, not feel-good reads, although there are a couple on the list that have moments of wonderful humor (like Grendel, Beautiful Sorrows, and Savage Season).
Darkfuse Book Club: It’s a hell of a deal! Top-notch writing from established writers on both sides of the pond, as well as up & comers like myself. They used to be Delirium Books and have since branched out into Dark Fiction of all styles, which I think is truly awesome. Got a hankering for Horror, Sci-fi, Mystery, Techno-Thriller, Noir, Coming-of-Age, etc., Darkfuse has you covered!
THE DAMNED by John D. MacDonald: I heard of John D. MacDonald through John Connolly’s BOOKS TO DIE FOR… MacDonald quickly became my favorite of the old pulp crowd. He’s a master of characterization and most of his stories zip along. This one is brilliant in a very subtle way, kind of like WINESBURG, OHIO by Sherwood Anderson. He was one of Stephen King’s and Dean Koontz’s favorite authors too.
BEAUTIFUL SORROWS by Mercedes M. Yardley: Mercede’s first short story collection. Dip your toes and imagination into an assortment of tales that are at once disturbing and humorous. This gal is a sweetheart and so incredibly talented.
THE GIRL NEXT DOOR by Jack Ketchum: Ketchum’s novel pulls off that tough to do ‘I want to punch this protagonist in the face,’ thing. At it’s heart it demonstrates the damage done when we stand by and watch horrible things happen. Sadly, I think this is one of the truest novels there is.
THE CYPRESS HOUSE by Michael Koryta: I met Michael at Bouchercon and he signed a book for me. Such a nice guy and terrific writer. In many ways he reminds me of a cross between two other favorites–Michael Connelly and Dennis Lehane.
CABAL by Clive Barker: This was one of the first Barker books I read and certain moments are still vivid in my memory. He’s such a talent at showing how our hunt for excitement and pleasure can transform us.
Well, it’s almost the end of 2012 and I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around what an incredible year it’s been. I may post this early. I will just post it today. Frees up the rest of my year to just read, write and spend time with family. I’ll add any big developments before New Years. There are probably a bunch of things I’m forgetting.
Last summer/fall, when my first novel (Nursery Rhymes 4 Dead Children) and first novella (Iron Butterflies Rust) came out, was a very surreal time. I had been striving to learn how to write well enough to sell my work for almost a decade. It was a relief to sign the contracts, to get my author copies in the mail and see them, to mail copies to my readers, to dedicate the books, to get some feedback and strive to learn more.
This year has been even better. I had a ton of work come out.
But it’s funny how we can roar but still feel like we aren’t doing enough. When I was talking to my buddy Shaun Ryan, which I do so much you’d think we were married, I remembered that I always feared dying young. Like I’d never make it to forty. I think it’s been in my subconscious, spurring me on to write every story taking up space in my heart as quickly as I can before the worms claim me, before the cold, damp earth is my pillow. I do want to leave something behind whether I die prematurely or whether I live as long as Ray Bradbury did. Something of substance, that has meaning for somebody other than myself. I don’t think it’s a lofty goal. I think all true artists, whether they’re successful or not, want to connect with other people and share the beautiful things they’ve seen, and the tragic times that have scarred them, and how the world has shaped them. As writers, or painters, or musicians we hold a mirror up to ourselves and the time we live in, and it’s not easy. We’re a very quiet voice that can easily be lost in a lot of white noise. But I see how important it is to try and keep trying. I’ve gained some wonderful fans. They might not know it but they know me through my work.
Narrator Matthew Stevens recorded my first audio bookNURSERY RHYMES 4 DEAD CHILDREN. We’ll also be working on the audio for the sequel THE DAMPNESS OF MOURNING after New Years.
I also had a local paper interview me, which was neat. Thanks to reporter Bill Petzold! That was a lot of fun and I found I enjoy being interviewed much more than I ever thought I would.
Some other highlights this year were meeting John Connolly, Lee Child, Michael Sears, Stanley Trollip, Les Edgerton, Michael Connelly, Michael Koryta and Sabrina Callahan at Bouchercon (The World Mystery Convention.) I don’t know that I would be the writer, or even person, I am, if not for the books my heroes have written.
Me and my hero John Connolly
Me and the awesome Lee Child
Some of my heroes (Tom Piccirilli, Jack Ketchum, Brian Hodge, Robert Dunbar) read my work in 2012 and gave me blurbs. Having your heroes read something of yours is one of the greatest feelings there is. It’s fireworks in your head and a sudden jolt to your heart. It’s quite dreamy.
Reviews, which I never get very many of, have really taken off this year. Especially on Goodreads, which is one of my favorite sites. I get to talk to fans on there, too, which has been wonderful. And one of the groups (Horror Aficionados) has invited me to be the guest author for January 2013. They’ll be reading my brutal novella WHEN WE JOIN JESUS IN HELL and we’ll all discuss it. Very neat, yeah? Thanks to Jason and Tressa for the opportunity!
Sales grow as my audience grows. Thanks so much to everybody who has been buying the work and spreading the word about it! Word of mouth is vital. It helps me when I feel like I can’t write worth shit and then I find a stranger who enjoyed something I wrote, which leads to me finding my balance again. To remember that, yes, I’m writing for me, but I’m also writing to connect with other people. It’s weird, but it’s good.
New novels… I wrote three novels this year (The Collected Songs of Sonnelion, The Lesser People, and The Wolverine) and got halfway through a fourth (Gossamer). I have ideas for the next ten books that will range between 70-90,000 words. All I have to do is write them. Easy. My goal is to write four novels a year. I tell myself to take it easy, don’t work so much, but it’s part of my nature. I am an obsessive and the work gives me purpose that life would be too depressing without sometimes.
I signed a three-book deal with Darkfuse/Delirium Books in December. I’m very excited about it since Shane Staley has been awesome to work with and he publishes what he believes in. I’m writing and turning in a standalone novel every March, which works out great too because I have a ton of novel ideas and nothing for novellas or short stories lately.
Since I am quite prolific when it comes to novels, and I write more than just Dark Fantasy, I’ve decided to use several pseudonyms. I’ll keep the Dark Fantasy under my name. Have the name Thomas Morgan for Heartbreaking Coming of Age tales with a Historical Thriller slant; James Logan for suspense fiction that is very tightly plotted but has more hopeful endings than all my other work; Julian Vaughn for novels that are more big-concept with a lot of heart/more touching than horrific.
I had a writer I met at the World Mystery Convention (Les Edgerton) refer me to his agent for the pen-named work after he read WHEN WE JOIN JESUS IN HELL. That was really nice of him and whether it works out or not, him trying to help me counts for a lot. I’m really not worried about it since all of my worry is that the books are what I want them to be.
I got to interview a bunch of my favorite writers here. They are amazing.
I sold a couple of short stories. The River to my favorite mag Shock Totem. It will be in issue #6 along with Jack Ketchum and interview with me! And The Most Mysterious Silence sold to Nameless Magazine, owned by Jason V. Brock who made a great documentary about Charles Beaumont.
Not the Final Cover
Tuesday’s Training, my weekly writing advice essays for novice writers, has been a lot of fun. I know it’s helped a few people. That’s nice. I had help too: from things I’ve read, questions I asked answered by people far busier and far more experienced than I am, and help just through the encouragement that comes in something as simple as a smile.
Thanks to the publishers who have put their faith in me, the writers who encourage me, the pre-readers who help so much by offering feedback I can’t come up with on my own, the fans who help pay my bills and continue to come back for more of my work. 2013 is going to be an even more incredible year, which is really hard to fathom. But it will be. What a life. Thanks for helping me live my dream! Now go buy all my books for your friends for Christmas!
It’s been a crazy and exciting year so far, and it’s hard to believe that it’s almost over.
Right now I’m working on an interview for @HarperCollins author Michael Stanley (Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip)who I met at Bouchercon a month ago where they won the Barry Award for Best Paperback Original for the third novel in their series. They’re such lovely guys and the Detective Kubu series is so unique. I think the interview will be a lot of fun for everybody.
In the past couple days I’ve knocked out some serious story wordage in a new Thriller novel–The Wolverine. I expect I’ll finish the first draft by the end of the month if life doesn’t throw me too many curve balls. It’s about a dysfunctional family and a complex killer, a book that will explore the bonds of family, forgiveness, death, and maturity. This is another novel that I intend to sell under a pen name to keep separate from my Horror/Dark Fantasy work. It’s a lot of fun writing this book like it was to recently write The Lesser People. I see my career branching off, and like the idea of it, since most of my favorite work is more Literary Crime/Thrillers (think Dennis Lehane, John Connolly, Michael Koryta, Michael Connelly, Lee Child.) I’ll still write under my own name too, because I love Dark Fantasy in the vein of Clive Barker, Joe Hill, Brian Hodge, John Gardner, Jack Cady, Neil Gaiman, Robert Dunbar, Greg Gifune, and Peter Straub. So it’ll be a doubly fun adventure to do both genres under different names.
My latest novella (When We Join Jesus in Hell) from Darkfuse is doing well. If you’ve read it, share it with a friend and leave a review somewhere please. I also picked up two new pre-readers yesterday and look forward to their feedback from a reader’s standpoint to balance my writing buddies that pre-read from a writerly/reader angle.
The lovely and gifted A.C. Wise tagged me for this whatchamajigger. Thanks Alison! I normally avoid things like this because I’d rather be working on a project than talking about it but a ten minute break won’t hurt.
Ten Interview Questions for The Next Big Thing:
1. What is the working title of your book?
She Collects Grave Nectar
2. Where did the idea come from for the book?
It’s part of my massive Division Mythos, and is a pivotal moment in Michael Johnston’s life. The initial spark came from an image, or snapshot of a scene, too, the way most of my work does. It came from my own fears of going blind and stumbling into that gray area between life and death, that single nanosecond where both are one before life ceases and death begins and a new life is rebirthed.
3. What genre does your book fall under?
Supernatural Thriller. But it’s not for lazy readers. My work doesn’t go over well with those types. That said, if you’re well-read and have a lot of imagination you’ll dig it.
4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
For the main character, Michael Johnston, I’d pick Christian Bale if he was ten years younger because Mike Johnston is kinda like Batman. For the girl who collects grave nectar I’d pick the girl from The Lovely Bones movie because she’s kinda creepy in a good way, mostly due to her eyes.
5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
A Special Forces soldier with a hidden past meets an odd girl in a cemetery bordering our world and another and what she wants from him is soul-shattering.
6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I don’t know. What do I look like, a mind reader?
7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
A rough guess: three months of heavy drinking. I’m still working out all the pivotal moments.
8. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Tom Piccirilli’s Shadow Season since my Special Forces protagonist is blinded and faces incredible entities as well as a profound mystery. Peter Straub’s novel Koko since there’s this complicated and creeping dread. And Stephen King’s Dark Tower series because it’s a mixture of many things both concrete and surreal.
9. Who or What inspired you to write this book?
Michael Johnston’s character arc runs through most of the thirteen Division Mythos books and this one was inspired by how little of his past he’ll reveal to other characters, even to his best friend in the series, John McDonnell (The narrator of the second Division trilogy).
10. What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
It has one zombie, one ghoul, and one vampire who walk into a bar full of politicians?
Include the link of who tagged you and this explanation for the people you have tagged.
The mighty A.C. Wise tagged me. Authors I’m tagging because I think they are amazing like A.C. Wise:
A talented author and artist, Sandy DeLuca, first hit my radar last year. Robert Dunbar and Shane Staley had both mentioned her several times and since I trust their tastes in fiction I grabbed her novel Descent. It was a fun ride that started a great friendship.
Me: What led you into writing?
Sandy: From an early age teachers indicated to my parents that I might grow up to be a writer. They said I was a highly imaginative child and quite curious. I remember an incident from grade school (third or fourth grade) where the class was herded together on a bus trip. We had to sit in a waiting room upon arriving at our destination. I began to thumb through magazines in the waiting area and an article relating to time, space and the dimensions of the universe caught my eye. I was enthralled with the article when my teacher came along and asked, “Sandra, what are you reading?” Upon seeing the article she quickly scooped up the magazine as though I were reading a copy of Playgirl.
Me: Neat. What led you into painting?
Sandy: Again, magazines and books filled with paintings of the Masters caught my eye at a young age. My parents exposed me to books and took me to museums in New York and Boston. I began to draw–sometimes on my grandmother’s antique table–faces, cats and my family.
Me: What are some common themes that run through your works? How personal are those themes?
Sandy: Love, relationships and family. I’ve written several novels about love at its darkest. Families are normally dysfunctional as well. My main characters are usually Italian/American girls.
My real life is rather boring, but I love exploring dark themes in fiction and in film. I was raised by Italian/American parents and that part of me emerges in my work.
I also write about magic and superstition.My Mom, grandmother and aunt filled my head with it and I went on to obtain a vast collection of occult books as an adult.
Me: What do you think of the digital books?
Sandy: They are a great format for fiction, inexpensive and do not require storage space. However, I still love books and my house is filled with them.
Me: Same here! Which of your books would you recommend to a new reader?
Me: How has your art impacted your writing and vice versa?
Sandy: I have a few examples, but basically composition, texture andcolor are subjects I’ve studied for many years; different shades of black, the way the sky changes color at sunset, skin tones.Descriptions of those things often find their way into my dialogue and descriptive narrative.
Julia in DESCENT is a painter and often images emerge on her canvases without warning, similar to experiences I’ve had while painting abstracts.
I wrote a short novel called MESSAGES FROM THE DEAD last year and it was somewhat inspired by the time I spent as an art student.
People I meet at gallery openings and other artists often inspire scenes and characters.
I often paint scenes and characters from my fiction and sometimes a painting inspires a new idea for a poem or story.
Me: What do you find most rewarding about creating in prose or visual mediums? Are there differences?
Sandy: I obtain great personal satisfaction from creating both. I don’t think there’s a difference in my case. It’s the same muse speaking to me. Sometimes she’s melancholy or morbid and she forces me to look deep inside myself. Other times she puts on her dancing shoes, drinks too much wine and tells me jokes.
It’s rewarding to know how my work affects people. An artistwho’d read INTO THE RED quoted a paragraph from the novella and indicated that it was profound–that it made him think. Someone else who’d read DESCENT told me she got several meanings from it and when she came to the end she wanted to know if she’d interpreted it correctly. She did and I was honored in both cases because they are artists whom I admire. Marge Simon, whom I’ve collaborated with several times, tells me my paintings make her think as well, and then she conjures extraordinary poetry from that process. It’s one of the highest compliments anyone could give me–and it’s from someone who is quite amazing.
Some people also tell me that my whimsical paintings make them smile. That’s also quite rewarding.
Me: No doubt. What do we have to look forward to over the coming year? Or is everything still in the hush-hush phase?
Sandy: Marge Simon and I have another collection coming out; a poetry collaboration. Other than that there are many secrets yet to be revealed.
Me: Excellent! Thanks so much for taking some time with us, Sandy! Wishing you tons of success!
Our creativity comes from what has touched, scared and stimulated us before this present moment as well as through thinking on what has never been, what could have been, and what might yet be.
We form narrative from light and shadow, wisps of smoke, whispered prayers, all in hopes that the finished product will connect with and move someone else (hopefully a lot of someones.)
Our muse, our inspirations, come from a number of places and take various processes from quick absorption, a streak of lightning, or the slower, gestating movement that rattles us to our core and takes our breath away. Sometimes the lightning strike produces the gestation, but no matter what inspires us a key aspect of a healthy writing career is to STAY inspired.
I’ve heard tons of people talk about writer’s block. Don’t have a clue how to get through it because I’ve never had it, but I think one of the reasons I haven’t is because of variety, multiple points of inspiration, and a pretty simple approach to life (kinda black and white actually, which isn’t always good but isn’t always bad either because it keeps me focused.)
So, let’s look at the various parts that feed and sustain our muse, our energy, and make our time more effective both before and after creating something new, and hopefully makes what we put ourselves through worthwhile…
It’s easy to stay inspired when you have knowledge that you’re passionate about, whether it be some aspect of the writing craft, or some aspect of what it means to be human, or the importance of stories, or a deep and abiding knowledge of human emotions. Some of it we pluck consciously from every day life, some floats up like gold-encrusted debris from our subconscious, from lessons learned that can only be learned via hindsight.
But how we come by inspiration isn’t as important as acquiring the seeds that produce more of it.
That spark of an idea that stirs something in us is always exciting. But we also get inspiration from other places and probably should. Those who wait for inspiration to strike them are happy when it does and tortured when it doesn’t. Who wants to live and create like that? We can make our own inspiration a lot of times by reading books that level us, by reading those that have before, by participating in other creative endeavors (which also bleed over into our writing in a cross-pollination sort of way!), by listening to the wind, watching the stars, letting our minds wander and by remembering what it was like to be a kid without our parents around, when the world held possibilities and not an endless, bone-crushing grind. I find inspiration in all of those things, a little every day, plus in studying beautiful and striking artwork, in playing guitar, in talking to a best friend, in listening to (and sometimes mishearing) a family member. Don’t always wait for inspiration. Breathe life until you’re about to burst so that there is always material creating itself in your subconscious.
Trust in our heart-of-hearts that what we write about matters to us and means something is incredibly important. If we don’t trust our process then it’s already standing on shaky ground. It’s easier to be inspired and find inspiration when we know deep in our gut that we’re going to find something worth saying, with characters that bleed and bond together, with dialogue that crackles, with obstacles that push our characters to their limits, and in turn, the reader.
What I’ve done to build trust in my process is to accept that nothing I ever write will be perfect, not to me, not to anybody. It takes some of the pressure off, lets me say, “Hey, I’ll just do my best and that’s all that’s required.” Then I go do my best and more often than not I’m mostly satisfied with the results.
Your muse will probably kick you in the nuts or vagina if you never let your imagination run wild and naked through the forest or bound recklessly down slick city streets. Imagination is paramount. It’s as important as the execution of a tale. It’s details, the way they’re told, the massive scope of the project, and it carries the weight of stars and land and sea. All of the greats had bucket loads of it pressing at the walls of their brains. They dipped their pen in that gushy mass of nerves and created what wasn’t there before.
When I read slush for Horror Library Vol. 4, back before I’d ever sold a story, one of the things that struck me about most of the rejected pieces was a lack of imagination. You know why? Because the majority of them would tell the same stale tale and how do you get excited about that?
We’re all given and nurture (or not) a certain volume of imagination. Those gifted with a lot must be wary that it doesn’t override the story because its easy for the very imaginative to let that fire burn away the story and diminish it. We learn through experience when we have too little or too much. Those who lack imagination are in a similar predicament, but theirs is that their work can come out too bland, bound by the constraints of what their logical, rational minds allow. We have to let go of our place in the world if we’re to let our imaginations grow. I think part of what holds us back is conditioning by parents and preachers and school systems. When we chase security it flees from us because it doesn’t exist. It’s a mirage.
There are many writers but only a handful who have truly inspired me, muses many times in their own way down dark passages and those open, lovely times that are crowded by bliss: William Faulkner, Tom Piccirilli, Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, Mr. Poe, Jack Cady, Greg Gifune, Robert Dunbar, Sara Gruen, Dennis Lehane, John Connolly, Peter Straub, Douglas Clegg, Clive Barker, Cormac McCarthy, John Gardner, Gary Braunbeck, Jack Ketchum, Brian Hodge, Lee Thomas, and Neil Gaiman. I’m going to dedicate my serial novel THE COLLECTED SONGS OF SONNELION to them because they are all in this, hidden between pages and crowding sentences with their undeniable mark.
So, go find those seeds that you can toss to the wind. Be patient while you work and every now and then as you toil away in your closed little world, eyes straining and heart aching, you’ll peek over your shoulder and see those seeds have taken root. What will grow? God only knows. But that’s part of the fun.
Tons of things going on here and all of them rocking. I’ve got the signature sheets for DOWN HERE IN THE DARK in front of me. The digital is out now, the signed/limited hardcover coming mid-April. It’s a hell of a story and picks up right after the end of IRON BUTTERFLIES RUST. It’s dark, twisted, cryptic and stunning. Alfred Hitchcock (my pet monkey) said it’s a tour de force.
Like everything else, I think it stands alone, but it’s a sliver of the Division mythos and I think it’s going to be badass when every book and short story is complete so everybody (including me) can read them in order and experience the full effects of these character’ trials and successes.
It also ties in directly to THE DAMPNESS OF MOURNING which is out early as a Kindle Exclusive. The signed/limited hardcovers are coming out on Valentine’s Day!
I did an interview on Literary Mayhem. Also just turned one in for Darkfuse that was a lot of fun and should be live soon. Working with Dave Thomas on some promotional stuff that should be a blast for everybody! I think I’ll be playing guitar and reading some opening chapters.
NURSERY RHYMES 4 DEAD CHILDREN is in production as an audio book and so far I’ve heard the first 13 chapters (my lucky number!) and it is so cool to hear somebody else read my work.
I’ve also been interviewing some of my heroes lately. So far I’ve sat down and sipped absinthe with Robert Dunbar, Tom Piccirilli, and Lee Thomas. All amazingly talented bad boys. Up next I’ll be interviewing Greg Gifune. Working on his questions now. It’s been a lot of fun talking to those guys and picking their brains. They’ve been surprisingly candid and I love ‘em for it.
I finished the rewrite on the second Red Piccirilli book WITHIN THIS GARDEN WEEPING. I’d submitted it to Chizine but since I’ve written one novel and three novellas while waiting to hear back from them I figured it a good idea to use what I’d learned while waiting to make the book stronger. It’s the sequel to the first book BEFORE LEONORA WAKES, a simple but interesting YA story. I’m very proud of both of them since they set the foundation in what comes in the adult novels and novellas. You can read the opening of the second book on the lovely Book Den.
Another Division story, THE RIVER, is under consideration with Apex’s Dark Faith 2 antho. It’s the only short story I have unpublished right now and I love it.
Two short stories (Daddy Screamed With Us and Crooked Stick Figures) will be in the anthology American Horror Stories, vol. 1 from Delirium Books later this year, too.
I’m working out the threads of the third Red Piccirill novel COLLECTED SONGS OF SONNELION. So not ready to write this one yet. It’s going to be incredibly dark for Red. It’s going to break my heart to write. But I know I have to get to it at some point because this is the book that mostly shapes who Red is in the Division novels Nursery Rhymes 4 Dead Children, The Dampness of Mourning, and The Patron Saint of Infinite Sorrow.
Also working on the threads of a very touching, yet very disturbing, YA novel called A Monster of Many Faces. It’s going to tackle issues that have bothered me my whole life and people are going to die (one of them is already dead.)
I’m anxious (somewhat) for when reviews start coming in for all four books coming out this year. I enjoy feedback, and especially enjoy it when people tackle the challenge each story presents. I know not everybody will get them, and not everybody is going to like my work, but I’m grateful some do (some who I have a ton of respect for.)
I’ve heard news that my Thunderstorm novella is on the fast track and look forward to seeing the finished product. It’s going to be a beauty.
I’m very excited that some people are loving the Division story line and characters. I see it all so clearly and its such a massive story it takes my breath away knowing that it came out of my wee little imagination. Crazy.
Feeling very relaxed. No pressure here. But expect some great things.
Lee Thomas is the Lambda Literary Award and Bram Stoker Award-winning author of the novels Stained, Damage, and The Dust of Wonderland, and the critically-acclaimed short story collection In the Closet, Under the Bed. In addition to numerous magazines, his short fiction has appeared in the anthologies Darkness of the Edge, Supernatural Noir, Horror Library, Vol. 4, and Inferno, among others. Current and forthcoming titles include the novellas The Black Sun Set, Crisis, and Focus (co-written with Nate Southard). Lee lives in Austin, Texas, where he is working on a number of projects. Lee’s website.
The first thing I read by Lee was his story in A WALK ON THE DARKSIDE, “Anthem of the Estranged.” I loved it. Then before I’d ever sold anything I had the pleasure of reading slush for the Horror Library and was the first to read and recommend Lee’s fantastic story “Flicker” for HORROR LIBRARY, VOL. 4, and the editors, in their good taste, purchased it.
I loved The Black Sun Set and sent it to my buddy Shaun who enjoyed the hell out of it as well. Then recently I got to share some pages with Lee in A HACKED-UP HOLIDAY MASSACRE. What fun! Again his story, “Ghunt,” was one of my favorites alongside work by Jack Ketchum, Joe Lansdale, and Marie Green.
And I remember reading something Lee said last year and since my first novel came out about that time it made a lot of sense. He said something like we all dream of selling that first book and we like to believe that’s the goal but it’s just “The Starting Line.” Yep.
Thanks to Lee for spending some time with us and thanks to everybody who reads and shares! Go check out some of this guy’s work!
Me: Over the last ten years you’ve built a respectable body of work. How has your view of yourself as a writer changed in that time?
Lee: Well I used to see myself as a hobbyist. I wrote because I loved writing and I’d write novels the way other folks played fantasy football or knitted scarves. With no intention of doing anything with the books, I wasn’t particularly concerned with quality, originality, commercial appeal or anything beyond getting the story on the page. I didn’t have to know what I was doing because if it made me happy, I’d satisfied my audience. As a working author, quality and originality and broader (if not exactly commercial) appeal become considerations. Of course, my work still has to satisfy me, first and foremost, but these days that’s a whole lot harder to do. The more I read and the more I write, the more critical I become. Part of that is the need to challenge myself, but another significant part of it is realizing that at some point the story is going to leave my happy bubble and make its way into the world. People, strangers, innocent bystanders, are going to go out of their way to read it, so it had better be tight. Of course, writing is still enjoyable, but it’s not the fun and games it once was, and it shouldn’t be. As a working author, you have to develop a critical eye. You should have an abusive relationship with your muse. There should be screaming and throttling and throwing shit, because every story idea is not necessarily a good story idea and every story direction isn’t going to lead you to El Dorado.
Me: You have a new novella TORN coming out from Cemetery Dance. Can you tell us about the process of writing it?
Lee: Several years ago, I got it in my head that I wanted to do novellas about all of the iconic horror creatures and possibly put them together one day into a single volume. Generally speaking, I’m not compelled to write about the classic monsters–vampires, werewolves, zombies, etc., – but they were certainly an important part of my formation as a writer, and they’re a hell of a lot of fun, so I thought a series of novellas would cover that ground. I started with PARISH DAMNED, which was my look at vampires, and then I did a ghost piece that blew up to novel length. Next was CRISIS, which was a riff on zombies. The publisher that bought it went through some hard times and the book was orphaned, so I put it up on Kindle as an ebook. TORN is my take on werewolves. I wanted to bring something new to the lycanthropy game, and TORN does that. It’s definitely an action piece with a good amount of nasty violence, but the human factor is equally compelling. I was really pleased with the way it turned out. I believe Cemetery Dance is already shipping copies to subscribers of the novella series, though the official release is March, 2012.
Me: Where do you see yourself going next? Do you have a plan or just take it one thing at a time?
Lee: Yeah, the second thing. Ha! The novel I’m finishing up, which should be done in the next few days, is a noir/dark fantasy piece set during Prohibition that’s very different from my earlier books. But then, THE GERMAN was different from the books that came before it. It can be hard to plan when you don’t know what you’re next book is going to look like, content-wise. I know the next book will have a contemporary setting, because I’ve done a couple of historicals back-to-back and I’d like to do something in the now. Beyond that… shrug.
Me: What advice can you offer new writers?
Lee: I am nobody’s role model. Seriously. I think writers are a diverse and complicated group and most of the “one size fits all” advice sounds good and might help the masses, but it can also be incredibly discouraging to a singular mind who has their own drummer to beat. Quite frankly we need more of those folks in the business, so I’m not going to chase them off by insisting they eat their Wheaties and write every day. My advice: Do what works and keep doing it.
Me: Is writing a want, a need, or a compulsion for you?
Me: Lol. Who are some of your biggest influences? Was their impact on you so influential that you’d be a completely different writer if you hadn’t read them?
Lee: My biggest influences in genre are Peter Straub, Clive Barker, and Stephen King. I was fortunate to have these three writers emerge during my youth (or relative youth in regard to Barker). Those three define contemporary dark fiction as far as I’m concerned, and I can’t imagine what I’d be writing if I hadn’t escaped into their stories all of those years ago. Later in life, around the time I started publishing, I began reading Jack Ketchum, and he too has had an impact on my current work. I could list influences all day, because there is such a rich history to draw from, but my early influences were those three guys. From them, I worked my way back to Matheson, Bradbury, Lovecraft, M.R. James, Machen, and a pantheon of other brilliant minds. And that’s just in genre. Around the time I was reading Straub and King, I was also reading Truman Capote, the plays of Tennessee Williams and others of the Southern Gothic school, so they are equally responsible for the shit that comes out of my head.
Me: Do you prefer writing or reading short fiction over the longer forms?
Lee: No. Not really. I wrote novels before I wrote short stories, so I used to have a preference for the longer works, but these days, I’m just looking for a well-written and interesting story and form doesn’t really play into it.
Me: Hot seat question… How do you feel about the .99 cent Kindle craze? For or against? Reasoning?
Lee: It’s a double-edged sword. First though, we should define what we’re talking about. Established authors are in a different position than emerging authors. So it might be best to discuss what this all means to the new folks. Plus, if an author is selling short stories for a buck a pop, cool and groovy. They get a thousand downloads and they’ve made about a pro rate for that story, depending on word count and such. Obviously, the same isn’t true for novels or even novellas. I would think that if writers are making long works available at that price, they are going to have to put in hardcore promotion hours to get any kind of reasonable payout. Or they are merely using the low cost to generate buzz. In the abstract, it’s a legitimate marketing strategy if it leads to a readership that will eventually pay a reasonable amount for the work. I mean Metallica built a reputation by encouraging fans to copy and distribute cassettes of their early demos, and they’re doing okay. Ha! There can be no doubt how effective a bit of artistic tease can be. But you know those hundreds of other bands that did exactly the same things Metallica did? No… me neither.
I’ve done it, with the novella I mentioned, CRISIS, just to test the waters. It went fine, but it wasn’t a bounty by any means, mostly because I didn’t do jack to promote it. Still, whether it’s .99 or free, the fact is when something is that cheap, it’s perceived as disposable. So a reader can load up their Kindle with a few dozen titles and may only read a fraction of them. A writer CAN build a legitimate fan base that way, some have, but most won’t see any genuine, long-term benefit to their careers because the product has been acquired but it hasn’t necessarily been consumed. Their stories are part of a digital library; it doesn’t mean they’re being read, and if they aren’t read and affecting the reader, driving him or her to pick up more of that author’s work, then it’s a bit of a pointless exercise. Further, if readers can get material free or dirt cheap, they may balk at paying what a story is really worth when the time comes. They’ll keep reading the free stuff, regardless of quality, because their affinity is to the unit cost, not the author. And the issue of quality is a major one, because many of these titles haven’t been edited by professionals, or even vetted through competent first readers. As a result, authors stand the real chance of losing readers who find themselves frustrated by poor grammar, typos, and/or storylines that are inconsistent or lack logic.
So on the up side, it is a practical marketing tool that offers a slim, though real, chance for burgeoning authors to build their readership. On the down side, a writer still has to shout through all the noise out there to get readers to notice them, and they’re driving the perceived value of stories down in the process.
Me: You collaborated with Nate Southard on your Thunderstorm novella FOCUS. What did you find most rewarding and most challenging about that project? Have you collaborated with others before? Do you plan to do it again?
Lee: The most rewarding part was working with Nate. He’s a great writer with a strong grasp of pacing and atmosphere. I had the basic idea of what I wanted to do, something like EVIL DEAD in an office building, and I wrote up the first chapter. Nate took the idea and ran with it, and we went back and forth until we had something much bigger and more fun than I’d initially imagined. My only other collaboration was with Stefan Petrucha for the WICKED DEAD series of books for HarperTeen. It was a completely different kind of collaboration because of the way the books were structured. In that instance we each focused on our specific parts and put them together at the end. Then we went back and forth with revisions until we were both happy.
I don’t have any plans for a new collaboration, but I’m open to the idea. It simply depends on the project and the co-author. But it will be a while before I can take on anything new. I’ve got a few projects keeping me busy these days.
Me: I just finished THE GERMAN and loved it. Where did the idea originate? Did you have to do a lot of pre-writing? Did it all grow organically from who the characters are and the situation?
Lee: Thank you. The story emerged as most of my ideas do, from a confluence of disparate elements, all of which occurred in a relatively short period of time and somehow fit together in my head. The first was a History Channel program about a Nazi leader named Ernst Röhm. Röhm was, for several years, one of the most powerful men in Germany, commanding the SA (or “Brownshirts”), during Hitler’s rise to power. Considered a threat by Hitler, Röhm was assassinated, along with many of his officers and sympathizers, in 1934 on “The Night of the Long Knives.” Further, Röhm was openly, and vocally, gay. Prior to this program, I’d never heard of the man, but I found his story fascinating. That evening I sat down and wrote a scene, which became the prologue of the novel. The second element was a daytrip I took to Fredericksburg, a small Texas town with a noticeable German heritage. Since I was relatively new to Texas, I didn’t know how extensive German settlement had been in the state, so that gave me a pretty good idea about setting. The third, quite frankly, was a porn flick I saw playing on the television in a gay bar. It was a generic setup of somebody peeking through a window and watching the “action,” and in that, I found the novel’s pivotal event. Further, I’d been looking for a story that would let me explore the nastier human traits, stemming from the defense of personal or social identity and how this can play out from schoolyard bullying to culturally sanctioned genocide. Character, setting, conflict, and that overarching idea collided and meshed. And though there was a lot of research involved, the character voices and story came quickly. Ultimately, I did little in the way of pre-writing, and for that matter, this novel went through far fewer revisions than I’m used to doing.
Me: Do you have favorite works? Which three would you suggest new readers try?
Lee: My favorites change with the weather, but I think THE GERMAN is currently at the top of the list of readily available titles. So I’d say THE GERMAN,IN THE CLOSET, UNDER THE BED, and TORN, the novella I have forthcoming from Cemetery Dance. If folks are more inclined toward YA titles, then I’d recommend MASON, which I wrote under the name Thomas Pendleton.
Me: Anything you want to say before we say goodbye?
Lee: Thanks very much for taking the time to chat with me. Be sure to direct folks to the interviews you did with my buddies Tom Piccirilli and Robert Dunbar. And continued success with your own writing. See ya!
Me: Thanks, Lee! And there you have it. Love this guy’s writing and you should give those three books he mentioned a try!
The signed/limited hardcovers of my second Division novel THE DAMPNESS OF MOURNING are nearly sold out. It’s going to be a beauty and highly collectible so make sure you snag a copy even if you have to borrow the money from your mom.
I’m going to focus on things that are the most important to me this year, and one of those things is pointing out writers who deserve credit based on the sheer talent, intensity and honesty of their work in contrast to those sadass writers who rely on throwing money into getting their names out there or who constantly kiss ass or manipulate to get ahead.
These writers I’m going to interview are Pros in every sense of the word. And they show it where it fucking matters. On the page. In the residue their stories leave behind in your head.
I’m honored that Robert Dunbar is the first. He’s the author of THE PINES, THE SHORE, MARTYRS & MONSTERS and WILLY. He’s also the publisher/editor for Uninvited Books, a wonderful addition to the genre that is focusing on dark literary work and has released two of my top books of 2011 (Greg Gifune’s GARDENS OF NIGHT and Robert’s novel WILLY).
WILLY is a wonderful novel full of quiet intensity, beauty and sadness. It was my introduction to Robert, made my top five reads for 2011, and I can’t wait to dig into his other work. This is how it goes for me. (It happened when I first read Tom Piccirilli, Douglas Clegg, Peter Straub, Greg Gifune, John Connolly, Dennis Lehane, William Faulkner, Jack Cady, Clive Barker, et al.) I’d stumble onto a book by an author I’d never read and the lightning hits. All of the things I love most about a story are there in spades. Robert Dunbar did that to me too, the bastard. Now I have catching up to do. But it’ll be good fun.
Thanks for taking time with me and the readers, Robert!
My pleasure, Lee.
How did you start as a reader? Were you raised in a household where reading was encouraged and respected? Or did you have to sneak books and hope that if you were caught with one that you wouldn’t be ridiculed?
Was I raised in a cultured environment? Yes. Yes, I was. Absolutely. In fact, my governess went to great lengths to instill a love of the arts and …
I’m tripping. In our neighborhood, it was more socially acceptable to be caught with syringe than a book. A handgun involved fewer explanations. Something tells me you can relate.
When and how did you cross that line from fan to fan/creator?
I was never a fan. A connoisseur, perhaps. A passionate advocate. Certainly. But a fan?
Not that there aren’t artists I intensely admire.
By the way, that’s an amazing list of writers you mentioned, and I’m very conscious of the honor in being included, but I’d like to make it clear that I’m not above ‘kissing ass and manipulating’ to get ahead. I just suck at it is all.
Who has influenced you, Robert? Did different writers offer different things? (Did you love one for their lyricism and another for depth of character, etc.? Or just soak it all in?)
I can’t even enumerate all the crisis points in my life where I’ve asked myself, “What would Barbara Stanwyck do?” Oddly, I never seem to have a riding crop with me at such moments. Oh, but you probably meant literary influences, didn’t you? On that level, I’m easy to please. A book just needs to be brilliant.
You’ve already touched on a few of my personal heroes, but there’ve been others.
I admired Poe very much as a child but had already begun to find him rather tedious by the time puberty hit. (Actually, it didn’t hit so much as fall on me.) When I was about fourteen, I had the requisite weekend where I found Lovecraft to be intense and hypnotic but by Monday had decided he was jerk. (Don’t you hate relationships like that?) It didn’t take me long to discover Edith Wharton and Henry James and Willa Cather and E. M. Forster and Saki – wonderful Saki – and Shirley Jackson and Algernon Blackwood and Oliver Onions and Robert Aickman and Fritz Leiber. (Faulkner and Henry Roth and James Baldwin all affected me like heroin.) I don’t know what I would have done if not for the public library. Killed myself probably.
How much of your work is mined from real life’s joys and sorrows? Are any of your characters a mirror into your soul?
People are always advising me to write about my family. What the hell do they think I’ve been doing? Making shit up?
(It’s probably just as well I don’t have that riding crop.)
Yes, my work seems to get more personal all the time. WILLY in particular was a cri de coeur – and very therapeutic too, you know, turning it loose in the world where it could haunt others (instead of me). And a few of the stories in MARTYRS & MONSTERS are more intimate than I’m entirely comfortable with discussing. Some things can only be addressed in fiction.
I know most writers see somebody who has gained some recognition and think that said writer somehow found a magic key (surely that must be it) to appear out of nowhere. What has your journey been like as a writer?
Isn’t that hilarious? So few people have any sense of the commitment, the discipline … or what it all demands from you. When most “aspiring writers” ask for advice, what they really want are marketing tips. Actually, it’s not hilarious. It’s quite sad.
The times we live in…
This particular journey has taken us all to a lot of strange places. Austin Considine had a brilliant piece in the Times a few weeks ago in which he compared living through the AIDS fatalities in the nineties to surviving a war. In 1995 alone, more than 50,000 people died of the disease. New York especially was devastated, but all the big cities were hard hit. People complain all the time about how the arts suffered, but it wasn’t just because a big part of an entire generation of painters and musicians and writers and actors were wiped out. It was also because legions of people who appreciated what they were doing were also lost, people who understood the ballet, who attended plays (and I don’t mean Spider-Man), who read and discussed books. Good books. Intelligent books. Demanding books. The cultural repercussions are ongoing, and we feel it all too clearly within the genre. Democracy has no place in the arts – the best and brightest should naturally flourish. But somehow the most ordinary have inherited the earth. Or at least the genre.
I was going to say ‘don’t get me started,’ but clearly it’s too late.
People are forever asking me what makes a work literary. It’s one of those “I can explain it to you, but I can’t understand it for you” situations. I mean, what can you tell them? Obviously, talent is the most essential (and most nebulous) criteria, but intellect is also necessary, as well as passion, seriousness of intent, even courage. (There are “writers” out there who won’t have a clue what I’m referring to here.) I think if you look at a lot of what’s out there now, the first thing that strikes you is that – pretty much across the board – the component of intellect appears to have been excised. (There are exceptions of course, artists like Gifune or Laird Barron, that Thompson guy, a few others.) The whole culture has been drastically dumbed down. Horror novels, ostensibly intended for an adult readership, these days all seem to have been written for children.
Some of them appear to have been written by children.
What was the question again? Oh. My journey. Right. You’re sure you want to hear this? I’ll keep it brief. In my twenties, I imagined myself a poet, and my work did get published here and there, mostly in the smallest of avant-garde journals. In retrospect, I can see they weren’t very sophisticated poems, but the readings I forever seemed to be giving did attain a certain intensity, I suppose. Actually, I didn’t read the pieces so much as perform them, and these gradually evolved into experimental plays. (That’s the word people used to describe them. Experimental. Sometimes this was intended kindly.) The astonishing thing was how many of these scripts got produced, mostly at theaters that resembled storefronts or warehouses or garages. In fact, the one thing they never seemed to resemble were theaters. By then I’d started working for so many different newspapers and magazines that I lost count. Mostly, I did reviews and interviews, but these led to my writing similar bits for a couple of radio stations … and eventually to some television work.
It was only when I began to concentrate on my fiction that the true path revealed itself. Why do I suddenly sound like the I Ching?
Lol. What is your proudest moment?
Every night when I look across the bed.
What has surprised you? In the world of publishing? In creating your stories? In building your readership?
Funny you should ask. I wasn’t anticipating the impact WILLY has made. And I mean that. I’ve been shocked and quite moved by the passionate response. I suppose I must have lost faith in the book somehow. Or perhaps it was the genre I’d lost faith in. I certainly never expected much in the way of support. The book is so subtle – I figured horror critics, if they bothered to acknowledge it at all, would simply blast it for being “too literary.” As it turned out, I’ve wound up feeling both humbled and inspired by the number of reviewers who have championed WILLY. Maybe there’s hope for the genre after all.
If you could recommend only one of your novels (or the collection) to new readers, which would you choose? Why?
So many people have found me through THE PINES, and I’m always touched by that, even now. But MARTYRS & MONSTERS is the one I’d personally recommend. It’s a little hard to explain really – what this book has meant to me, how important it’s been in my life. Over the years, I’d grown so frustrated with reviews. A critic would rave that THE PINES was a “masterpiece of genre fiction” or that THE SHORE was “surprisingly good for a horror novel.” With MARTYRS & MONSTERS – for the first time – reviewers began to discuss my work purely in terms of merit, without the qualification. And that made all the difference. Writers are such sensitive creatures. Without this level of support, I’m not sure I would have had the courage to attempt a novel as complex as WILLY.
Well, I’m certain many people are glad you had the support that produced the courage. WILLY is fantastic. If you couldn’t write (say you lost your hands by poking them into a parallel universe) what would you do to let your creative side breathe?
I’ve always wanted to be an international jewel thief, like Raffles or Kay Frances in whatever the hell that old movie was called, but no one ever seems to be hiring. I must remember to ask Mannetti how she got started. Friends in low places probably. That may be the problem – I’m overqualified.
Sorry. I don’t mean to dodge the question. It’s just that I can’t even imagine not writing. It’s an identity issue, not an occupational one.
Do you have other passions? Do they feed/compliment your stories?
Yes, but you can’t get it anymore.
What do you wish the genre had more of? And less of?
More of me. Less of everyone else.
Did I say that out loud?
Seriously, I can’t imagine anyone who gets more of a thrill out of a really first rate horror novel than I do. I remember discovering Sarah Water’s THE LITTLE STRANGER last year and going into raptures. Then I read an article praising the distinctiveness of a handful of supposedly literary horror novels that had made it to the bestseller list. I rushed to read them all … and was sorely disappointed. It’s not that these books were bad exactly. No. Each had been professionally crafted, which was part of the problem. They all had a soulless, manufactured quality.
The genre needs more artists. The world needs more artists.
Amen. I’ve read three novels that Uninvited Books has published (your own, Gifune’s and T. M. Wright’s) and to say I’m impressed in quality, story, and craftsmanship would be an understatement. How did Uninvited Books find life? What is your number one goal with opening your own publishing company?
Greg and Terry are both extraordinary. As writers and as people. (Sandy DeLuca just scares me.) There’s this cheesy piece of corporate motivational advice I seem to keep stumbling across lately. “Celebrate what you want to see more of.” Generally, I abhor such drivel, but a note of truth resonates through the self-help-inspirational-speaker-jargon here … because there are amazing talents like Gifune and Wright out there, even in this godforsaken genre, brilliant writers who are not churning out Zombie Kong or Yeti Massacre but creating intelligent, textured, profoundly satisfying works of dark literature. One doesn’t encounter genius so often that one should overlook the need to celebrate it. That’s what we’re all about. Our first paperback at Uninvited Books was an anthology called SHADOWS, Supernatural Tales by Masters of Modern Literature – conceived as a sort of mission statement. May we never set our sights any lower.
Is there anything else you want to mention?
Just to remind folks to keep an eye out for my new novella – WOOD. It should be out from Uninvited Books quite soon.
Excellent. Thank you so much for taking the time to share with us.
Thanks, Lee. And best of luck with your own work! I hear wonderful things about NURSERY RHYMES 4 DEAD CHILDREN, and my copy just arrived. Can’t wait to dive in!
“Gossamer” is a mythical, almost philosophical book that strips the reader naked and forces us to challenge our assumptions about love with passages that will touch you in places inside yourself you forgot exist. - Anita Siraki/HellNotes
Lee takes the unlovely parts of real life and sets it in a setting so deliciously bizarre that you think you’re simply reading a story, when in fact you’re listening to a man sitting across from you and telling you all about pain. - Mercedes Yardley/Shock Totem
"10 out of 10 Stars... GOSSAMER: A STORY OF LOVE AND TRAGEDY will blow you away my friends. It is that good." -- Peter Schwotzer/Famous Monsters of Filmland.
"WHEN WE JOIN JESUS IN HELL is as crazy as its tormented protagonist. Hard as nails." -- Jack Ketchum, author of The Woman.
"Lee Thompson knows his horror-noir. He fuses both genres together in the turmoil of terror, tragedy, blood, guilt, and lost chances at redemption."--Tom Piccirilli, author of THE LAST KIND WORDS
"The Dampness Of Mourning is taut, tough, and terrifying..." -- Brian Hodge, author of Picking The Bones
“The Dampness of Mourning is a riveting thriller." --Midwest Book Review
"Thompson’s voice is his own — strong, hypnotic, and unsettling--grabs you by the balls and rips them right off, breaking your heart and your psyche in the process.” -- Brian Keene, author of Ghoul, Dark Hollow and The Rising
"Brooding, soulful, haunted." -- Robert Dunbar, author of Willy and Martyrs & Monsters