Guest Blogger–Gary W. Olson on his new release Brutal Light

The Story Behind “Brutal Light”

It wasn’t until I looked back to the beginning, and saw the path I had taken–which had led me to a story and a world that felt mired in the weight of everything I was trying to cram into it–that I saw the path that would lead me out.  It was a path that meant leaving everything I thought defined the story behind, save its core, and starting anew with a resolute focus on that core–a hard thing, given how many years I had been trying to make it work.  But I took it… and at its end was what is now my debut novel, being published today–“Brutal Light”.

Identity, I’ve come to realize, has always been a central issue in my writing.  There are so many ways we cling to words and the ideas behind them–and often, any ideas that seem attached to them, whether or not they should be–and, for so many, a terror at having these words and ideas ripped away.  Who am I, underneath all the words I say define me, and am I really sure there’s any ‘me’ there?

On deciding to write my first novel, I drew on stories I wrote for Internet reader consumption in the nineties for inspiration, and wrote the draft at a blistering, NaNoWriMo-esque pace.  The end result was, of course, awful, as I’m told should be expected for such a first draft.  Unfortunately, I no longer have a copy of that draft, so I can no longer say how well the question of identity shines through.  But it was reflection on this quick draft that informed my next stab at a novel.

This new version featured a woman–a former subject of experimentation intended to end the ravages of nanobot swarms–whose change in a crucial moment caused the physical rules of the world to go haywire, causing dimensions to unravel, cities to burn in a perpetual dream state, and worse.  The story centered on her journey–along with that of her involuntary companions–across this strange and twisted North American landscape, pursued by those who want to take her power and those she has wronged.  It was strange and weird and full of spectacle–and it just did not work.  The storyline got completely lost in the second half, though I bulldozed on, convinced I could fix things in the next draft.

I certainly tried.  The next draft kept the general setup, but tried to focus the action and spectacle in a single ‘dreaming city,’ as if it had been the shifting locales in the previous version that had been the problem.  This draft shambled to a halt at the midway point, and another attempt at revision did likewise.  The story seemed dead in the water; for a while, it was.

In 2002 or 2003, a friend of mine asked if I would contribute a story to an anthology he was planning to produce, on the broad subject of heroism.  With little time to work, I looked back on my previous novel drafts for inspiration.  That was when I took stock, and looked back to see the path I had taken.  I realized I had lost sight of what the story was about, and that I had focused so much on the spectacle that I had lost sight of the characters beneath it.  Worse, I had let the character at the center of the ‘power’ issue become a cipher, viewed wholly through other eyes, where the ways she might contend with identity were obscured.

The way out soon became clear to me.  The characters had to become central again, even if it meant ditching the weird wild post-apocalyptic landscape I’d developed and situate events in a modern city where the rules were clear, at least on the surface.  My ‘power’ character became human again, and as I considered her relationship with the power–which, in this version, would sometimes act through her despite her wishes–the story grew, spawning other characters with their own identity issues.  And no matter how weird and bloody the story got–it plunges headlong into territory more twisted and dark than anything in the previous versions–it was anchored by who the characters were… and what they found beneath the words they had for who they were.

The anthology never saw daylight, unfortunately, but the short story became the starting point for a new first novel draft.  When I finished that draft, I knew that the story so long struggling to emerge from my fingertips was out at last.  The rest was denouement–editing, rewriting, polishing, and years of slinging it around at various agents and publishers until I found Damnation Books.

I learned a lot during this journey–not only in terms of storytelling and prose mechanics, though I certainly learned a lot about those.  I learned how to find the core of the story and how to preserve it from ‘spectacle creep.’  I learned how one of the most invaluable traits that aids in making it to publication is a persistence that would make a mule shake its head and say ‘damn.’  Most of all, I learned how to look beneath the words we use to define ourselves to the world, in both my characters and myself.

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Blurb for “Brutal Light”:

All Kagami Takeda wants is to be left alone, so that no one else can be destroyed by the madness she keeps at bay.  Her connection to the Radiance–a merciless and godlike sea of light–has driven her family insane and given her lover strange abilities and terrible visions.  But the occult forces that covet her access to the Radiance are relentless in their pursuit.  Worse, the Radiance itself has created an enemy who can kill her–a fate that would unleash its ravenous power on a defenseless city…

Rhea Cole is also on the run, after murdering her husband with a power she never knew she had–a power given her by a strange girl with a single touch.  Pursued by a grim man unable to dream and a dead soul with a taste for human flesh, she must contend with those who would use her to open the way to the Radiance, and fight a battle that stretches from the streets of Detroit to a forest of terrifying rogue memories.

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Excerpt from “Brutal Light”:

The light surrounded them, bringing the crushing hum Gordon remembered. His mind screamed with the sound.

He reached into Havelock as Havelock reached into him. At once he was in the forest outside, in the body of a wolf running hard through brush and foliage. Panic beat with the wolf’s heart.  Rage coursed through its nerves with each impact of paw against soil.  The wolf burst into a clearing and saw a boy’s mutilated body.

The wolf slammed to a halt, and Gordon felt himself thrown as if ejected through the windshield of a crashing car. An image of his body formed without his conscious will, and he flew over the boy.  As he crashed into the ground and rolled, he realized he had seen the boy just moments ago, peering through a window. He was almost sure the boy wore the same orange shirt now on the corpse.

Gordon was on his feet in an instant, facing the wolf. But the wolf was gone. Havelock stood in its place, staring down at the boy’s corpse. Horror and guilt surged through the emptiness that was in his expression only a second before. Gordon thought it was like watching him come out of a trance.

Light seethed beyond the trees and stabbed down through the green canopy. Things moved beyond the edge of the clearing, between the trees and the relentless glow. Some were bestial. Some had human shapes. All murmured with a delirious anticipation.

Havelock saw himself as a wolf—that much was clear. The question of why was not clear, and also of no interest. What Gordon wanted to know was why the memory of finding this boy, the memory Gordon triggered with his attack, had been powerful enough to make him drop his guard.

Gordon became conscious that his right hand gripped a handle.  He didn’t need to look away to know that it was part of a shovel, or that it was already drenched with blood. He didn’t need to think of why it had come to his hand.

Unlike Havelock, he knew his demons.

Gordon leapt at Havelock and swung the blade of the shovel at his throat.

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Buy links for “Brutal Light”:

Amazon.com (Kindle edition)
DamnationBooks.com (.mobi, .epub, .lit, .pdf, .pdb)
Links for of all other vendors (continually updated): http://BrutalLight.GaryWOlson.com
Print ISBN (for ordering paperback via bookstore): 978-1-61572-539-7
Digital ISBN: 978-1-61572-538-0

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Bio for Gary W. Olson:

Gary W. Olson grew up in Michigan and, despite the weather, stuck around.  In 1991 he graduated from Central Michigan University and went to work as a software engineer.  He loves to read and write stories that transgress the boundaries of science fiction, fantasy, and horror, while examining ideas of identity and its loss in the many forms it can have.

Away from working and writing, Gary enjoys spending time with his wife, their cats, and their mostly reputable family and friends.  His website is at http://www.garywolson.com, and features his blog, “A Taste of Strange” (http://www.garywolson.com/blog), as well as links to everyplace else he is on the Internet, such as Twitter (http://twitter.com/gwox) and Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/gary.w.olson.author).

Fiona Dodwell Interview 2–Obsessed!

Obsessed by Fiona Dodwell
(C) 2011 by Damnation Books
Launched September 1

So Fiona, welcome back! This is the second book release in 2011, with The Banishing having launched this past March. (Click here to read my first interview with Fiona.) Congratulations.

Give us the “elevator pitch” of Obsessed. The title conjures up an array of possibilities.

Well, Obsessed is essentially a story about a haunting. My main character, James Barker, witnesses a suicide on the railway tracks of London, and he begins to see visions of the dead man in his nightmares, in his home. He eventually visits a therapist who assures James he is experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder. However, James isn’t convinced. He believes he is being visited by a spirit, and, in order to find out why, James begins to look into the dead man’s past. What he finds there leads him into a spiral of obsession and mental disorder.

You chose to remain with Damnation Books for both titles. Tell us what you love about DB that kept you there for your follow-up novel.

I love DB because they love horror, they support horror as a genre, they support horror writers. They’re all about the fiction, and the love of scary books. I couldn’t have wished for a better home for The Banishing and Obsessed. The cover-art, editing, support and help I received was so valuable to me.

How did the editing process go a second time, coming into it with some experience? Was it still nerve-wracking, or do these sorts of processes get easier over time?

I’d say it was easier, simply because I knew what to expect. I wasn’t so nervous. I was able to approach it without the nervousness that preceded the release of The Banishing.

What did you learn from the marketing of The Banishing that you took with you in preparing to market Obsessed? What worked? What’s not worth an author’s time or investment?

Well, The Banishing had a lot planned for its release. There were full page ads placed in some magazines here in the UK. I did two radio interviews, had several successful and positive reviews. I took part in blog tours too. I tend to think an online presence works the best, which is my primary focus for Obsessed. Online is magic, because you can reach the larger numbers. One magazine ad, or one newspaper interview is great, but it only reaches its specific audience – at least online you can move about, spread the word in various places.

Part of the process of book promotion is building an audience which you take with you to follow-up projects. How do you balance the joy of hearing from readers with the pressure of knowing you have fans who now have “expectations”?

It’s difficult. The Banishing was a surprise to me, because it was my first novel, I was so nervous. I half-convinced myself nobody would read it, and then convinced myself that those who would probably wouldn’t like it! I was a mess. However, once it was out there, I began to get very positive reviews. People seemed to enjoy it. I had emails from random readers, just because they wanted to tell me they loved my writing, that they had loved the book. It was a fantastic feeling, and something I feel positive about. What comes with that is the hope that you can do it again. I’m approaching Obsessed with an open mind. I believe it’s a good book – or I would not have put it out there – but I am open minded and sensible enough to know that not everyone who reads it will love it. Some will love it, though, and that makes it worthwhile.

How will Obsessed play to your readers who have expectations from you? How will it confound them? When you write, do you concern yourself with such things, or do you just write to the story?

I just write. I try not to think too deeply, or worry what people will think too much. As I said in the answer above, some people will love my work, others will not. That’s life – that’s human nature. I can’t write a certain story or in a certain way to impress people. I have to be honest. I always do the best I can do, and that’s what I’ve done here. People who read it and come away happy, having enjoyed it, are what it’s all about.
I know in writing The Banishing, you dug pretty deep into subjects most people would find uncomfortable–an abused spouse who chooses to remain with her abuser. Did you do the same “digging” in this book?

Nothing makes me happier than exploring those dark places of human nature! The Banishing explored domestic abuse and demonic possession – two great twins of evil. Obsessed is no different – I this novel and I explored and studied suicide, post-traumatic stress, and spiritual hauntings. Really fascinating subjects. I love to write about such things. I can’t do light and fluffy, I’m afraid!
What’s next for Fiona Dodwell?

I have finished my third novel, The Shift, and am currently submitting it to publishers for consideration. My fourth novel – as yet untitled – is at the very, very early stages, but I’m excited about it!

Links:
WEBSITE: www.fionasfiction.wordpress.com
FACEBOOK: Search under “Fiona Dodwell Horror Author” and you’ll find me on Facebook.

Trailer for Obsessed: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=malbnCYxAUk