Interview: Eric Garrison Gives R.J. a Reality Check

ericgarrison-tbpCongratulations to my friend Eric Garrison on his two book publishing deals, one with Hydra Publications for his recently released science fiction dimension hopping thriller, Reality Check. The other for a multi-book deal with Seventh Star Press.

 

Shorty after Eric and I met, we discovered pretty fast that our writing shares much in common. We decided to embrace the similarities and write in a “shared world.”

 

So ignore all that, because Reality Check is something else entirely.

 

Reality Check is Eric’s genre-bending, dimension-hopping science fiction thriller, the first of a planned trilogy. You can meet Eric along with many other awesome authors *koff-koff me too koff-koff* at the That Book Place Book Fair, Saturday, March 16, the first place on the planet where Eric will appear, armed with the paperback of Reality Check.

 

Reality-Check-Cover-thumb“When a quantum supercomputer’s ‘reality simulator’ program causes temporary insanity in its beta-testers, Lee Green rolls up his sleeves and dives into a virtual world to debug the problem. Only he discovers that place is more real than anyone imagined.

He finds alternate versions of his friends in that mad science reality, their lives and relationships very different from those in the ‘real’ world. Quantum entanglements become romantic entanglements as he meets his love again in each new dimension.

Lee must save these other lives, decide which destiny is truly his, and what he’s willing to sacrifice to get there.”

 

For those that can’t make it, click here and here to see the book’s Amazon links.

 

 

There’s something both classical and yet new to this story. When it comes to science fiction, are you drawn more toward the classics or to the more modern stories? Which authors inspire you, particularly with this work?

 

I suppose if I had to pick just one of those, I guess I lean toward the classics. Even the modern authors I read, Stephen Baxter, John Varley, Dan Simmons… these guys write about spaceships and exploration and how humans change and still remain human.

 

Looking at my bookcases for science fiction authors, I see a lot of Asimov, Niven, Simmons, and Gibson. But if I think about the forces that formed Reality Check, I’d have to give credit to Robert Heinlein, Neal Stephenson, and John Varley. Whatever else you may say about Heinlein, he was the master of social science fiction… that “what if” being applied to how people adapt to technology and alien situations. Neal Stephenson, on the other hand, is the master of science fiction at breakneck, breathless pacing. I always strive to keep the momentum in my novels going.  John Varley follows in Heinlein’s footsteps in his treatment of individuals and relationships in science fiction, but he’s also amazing at cranking things “up to eleven” in intensity, taking the story through twists and turns that make you afraid to put his books down.

 

From the Reality Check book trailer. Art by Nell Williams.
From the Reality Check book trailer. Art by Nell Williams.

I’m going to give a nod toward Jack Chalker too, since absolutely no one writes body swapping stories like he does. There, I said it, I love Jack Chalker’s novels. We all have to have guilty pleasures, right?

 

 

What work would you most directly compare this story to?

 

That’s a tough one. It’s part Matrix, part Quantum Leap and part Star Trek TOS: Mirror, Mirror. I take a techie geek from our world and put him in alternate worlds, where he finds his own life still intertwined with his friends’ in different ways, despite the changing backdrop and genre.

 

 

When you first discussed the concept of this story, what struck me was how difficult, potentially, keeping track of your plot points might be. Yet everything falls into place quite nicely. Discuss the approach you took to keeping the plot from getting away from you.

 

Without giving too much away, I think the symmetry of the story was what held it together. Sure, three characters across three-and-a-half worlds did get confusing. Those three became nine individuals, but despite local differences, each triplet has great similarity to his or her alternate counterparts. It could have gotten all sorts of crazy, dealing with three main worlds, each with its local crisis, and all those characters’ motivations, but in the end, I told the story in first person for a reason: This is Lee’s story. Seeing it all through his eyes, we follow just his thread through the warp and weave of the novel. Writing it that way, I could concentrate on his wants and feelings and actions, even as everything changed around him, including his own body.

 

 

Let me throw a couple of thoughts at you that occurred to me as I read your book, and get your response. Reality Check follows a protagonist, unsure of himself, unhappy with his life, who finds within himself hidden potential as his exterior environment radically shifts. Reality Check may be seen as a study on how our environment directly affects us as a determining factor on how much of our potential we can find within ourselves.

 

From the Reality Check book trailer. Art by Nell Williams.
From the Reality Check book trailer. Art by Nell Williams.

I think this is a valid way to look at a theme in the story. Lee’s in the doldrums in his own life, but when he’s thrown into alternate versions of his life, he meets the challenges he finds there, doing more to fix those lives than than his own. Change is difficult, but it’s being put outside of our comfort zone that makes us grow and shine. Lee could have continued happily enough in his rut, but so could Bilbo have sat at home in his hole. And like Bilbo, Lee makes that first choice to step outside of himself to become so much more than he would have otherwise.

 

 

Try this one: A core theme in Reality Check seems to be that some people are destined to be together and will always find each other, no matter their life circumstance or position in life. With each reality shift, Lee continues to have a close relationship with his two best friends, even though the realities have little to nothing to do with each other geographically or, in many ways, the professions and organizations the three of them are associated with. (Dancing around spoilers). Do you embrace this destined viewpoint between individuals as a personal philosophy?

 

I think the idea of a soulmate is overused. I absolutely do not believe the “romantic” notion that there’s one true person for each of us in this world. I don’t see that concept as romantic, I see it as depressing. Only one person out of billions that really gets you? What if you pick wrong and meet your real soulmate later?

 

I prefer the idea of kindred spirits, in the sense that some people, you just know right off the bat, like you’ve met them before. Like we’re all just characters in some massively multiplayer online game, and we’ve played other games with the same folks another time. I do think we’re drawn to certain people, and I like to think that would be true no matter what universe.

 

Just to be contrary, I’ll relate that Reality Check doesn’t actually imply this. One of the Dionnes comes out and says that the only way the reality hopping works for Lee is because he’s swapping with people in other universes enough like him to be essentially who he is, despite all other factors. She goes on to say that the reason he’s surrounded by his closest friends, even in other universes, is because he can’t be who he is without those people as a part of his life.

 

But it’s really just a chicken-and-egg sort of thing.  Can they travel between dimensions only because they are together, or would they be together in any universe? They’re simply not the same people without each other, so it doesn’t matter which is the real reason. We are who we are, in part, by who we choose as friends.

 

 

This is your fifth completed novel and your first venture into science fiction. Discuss your journey as a writer. Is this a novel you could have written at any point in that journey or did you have to build up to it? Why did you feel that now was the right time?

 

I wrote Reality Check for two main reasons.  One, I had this idea, in some raw form, rattling around in my head for many years beforehand. It’s been sitting in my “Story Ideas” file in Google Docs all this time. It was going to be a short story, originally, but I couldn’t think of a plot to go with the concept that would fit that format. Two, I’d written four urban fantasy novels already, one trilogy and one spin-off, and I felt I wanted to stretch myself by writing all new characters and a different genre.

 

From the Reality Check book trailer. Art by Nell Williams.
From the Reality Check book trailer. Art by Nell Williams.

I really don’t think I could have written this as my first novel. It was a huge challenge. I quit writing it out of frustration halfway through the first draft. I did, I quit, I shouted I was done with it. I felt overwhelmed, and I wasn’t sure how I wanted to end it. But some good friends told me the idea was too compelling to abandon, that I had to finish it. With that external motivation, I sat my butt down and redid the outline, in greater detail, and finished a rough draft. Which I got feedback on; I was right, the ending wasn’t very satisfying. So I made it a sort of false ending and kicked the plot back into gear toward a new goal, which ended up rewriting and expanding it quite a bit. Even that ending wasn’t quite satisfying, so I tweaked it until I was satisfied and added an Epilogue so the ending didn’t come to such an abrupt halt.

 

There’s no way I would have had the discipline and drive to retool, rewrite and polish this book before the time I wrote it. It took having the other four books under my belt to have the confidence to finish what I started, with a little help from my friends, and the patience that came with the experience I gained over time.

 

 

Because “it’s complicated,” can you discuss what’s coming up from Eric Garrison?

 

It really is complicated! Toward the end of last year, I had a choice of working on a sequel to my urban fantasy spin-off, Blue Spirit (which I’ve already started), or following up on the adventures of Lee, Dionne and Cecil with a Reality Check sequel. Mean Spirit or Sanity Check. But a few things happened. First, Reality Check got picked up by Hydra Publications, which meant spending quality time with an editor (shout out to Martha Swanson!) to further refine that work. Then, I pitched my self-published Road Ghosts trilogy to Seventh Star Press, and they’ve decided to pick it up and publish it, along with Blue Spirit, as part of a six book deal.

 

So, my first novel, Four ’til Late, will be my next novel to come out in late spring or early summer of 2013. It will be followed by Sinking Down, the second book in the trilogy in mid to late summer. Blue Spirit will come out right on that book’s heels, for complicated reasons… mainly so that it doesn’t have to stay out of print as long, but partly because its protagonist, Skye, is introduced in Sinking Down and doesn’t have a role in the third book in the Road Ghosts trilogy.

 

So that means I will be working on a sequel to Blue Spirit in order to have it come out by the end of the year or early next year. But I think it won’t be Mean Spirit; I’ve decided more has to happen between those two books, so my working title for Skye’s next adventure is Restless Spirit.

Visit Eric Garrison’s website here.

Check out the Reality Check book trailer here.

Check out artist Nell Williams here.

 

Review: How to take the back roads to the frontal lobes and end up cowering under the covers.

51BVk9RHzoL._SS400_Back Roads and Frontal Lobes
by Brady Allen

A collection of 23 short stories
2012 Post Mordem Press
10/10 Arjays (because nothing is cooler than an Arjay!)
Since September, I’ve been doing a progressive hit-and-run reading through Brady Allen’s premiere collection of short stories. I worked on it in chunks, taking breaks between stories, and also tackling  two novels and a holiday collection.

Perhaps because of this approach, more than anything else, my sanity remained intact during the shocking, disturbing, and wonderfully gobsmack-tastic stories presented within (though I suppose some may tell me it’s not as intact as I tell  myself, but I digress).

The title promises to take you to dark places, and the collection does not disappoint. Honestly, as a ghost story and sci-fi reader, it goes to darker places than my recreational reading habits are used to. Paranormal romance readers and Twi “LIGHT” readers, consider yourself warned.

A "candid" photo of R.J. reading Back Roads and Frontal Lobes
A “candid” photo of R.J. reading Back Roads and Frontal Lobes

I gave this collection my highest rating. That does NOT mean that I absolutely loved everything here without reservation. In my opinion, few readers will fall in love with everything here. I didn’t “get” a couple of stories. Others crossed into the realm of “too much.” But I loved most of it, and more to the point, I love the ambition of all of it.

You see, this collection defines what the term “edgy” storyteller really means.

If there is one overused, abused, and burdened word in all of modern horror, it’s “edgy.” Though kicked around all the time in fallback market-speak (I’ve even used it referring to myself), readers rarely experience a writer truly on the edge.

In this collection, Brady Allen makes 23 attempts to take you somewhere unique and exciting. Someplace you have never gone before. A handful of those times, he won’t quite get there. Most of those times, he will. What Brady will never do is play it safe. Never. And that’s what I admire about even the attempts that fall short. Even when I read something that falls a little flat, he by-God went for it, doing the narrative equivalent of standing on the high wire hopping on one foot while juggling chainsaws. So even when a chainsaw falls to the ground, you can’t help but salute the attempt. And when he succeeds, it’s even more amazing.

This collection, more than most, relies on what you bring in with with you, but I can say with confidence you will enjoy much from this collection. You may not think as much of the bittersweet ghost story “Small Square of Light” as I did. You may think more of “Devil and Dairy Cow” than I. You may prefer the sci-fi over the horror, you may gravitate toward the rays of hope in some tales or prefer to bask in the tone of impending doom of others.

One thing is clear with every story. Brady loves people. Rednecks, working professionals, rich or poor, the practical and the dreamers, he loves their spirit, even when the shell has cracked and insanity has overwhelmed them, even when society has turned against them, Brady admires people in their everyday struggles, both in the familiar normal or the new normal his sci-fi tales spell out.

He loves the camaraderie in everyday public gatherings. Just try to count the diners, pubs, truck stops, bars, and other similar places. Each one unique, filled with people and their dreams, desires, so  many of them beaten down and overwhelmed by their own baggage.

Since it’s my review, I’m obliged to discuss  some of my very favorites. And if you’ll pardon the bad pun,  your mileage, and opinion, may vary during your own travel of these back roads.

I very much enjoyed the very insane observations of Ned, who thinks he’s got it all together when nothing can be further from the truth in “Not Over Easy”.

I got a huge kick out of the twin tales “Taste of a Heart” and “Burger”, both featuring Rose Holmes, redneck psycho or perhaps something far more sinister.

I loved the trippy psychedelic journey as “Bear Hogan Walks the Sky”.
I dug the Twilight Zone-esque twist of a hapless late-night traveler’s unpleasant stop for gas and snacks at a filing station where “It Lives and Breathes”.

I wept to his blues tales of “Blues Bus to Memphis” and “The Ballad of Mac Johnstone”. Blues Bus, in fact, hits upon a universal truth of any artist trying to pursue their dream. A highlight in the collection that still haunts me today.

I read while peeking between two fingers of my hand during the–for lack of a better term–“Deliverance fiction” setup of in “Sh**s and Giggles”.

“Praying” and “There Are No Hills” are both powerful presentations of perseverance in two possible distopia / post apocalyptic futures.

And more, but that’s enough for this  review.

But I wanted to give special kudos to “The ‘Ists After the Apocalypse”, what I feel is the best of the bunch. Part political commentary, part zombie thriller, set in a world populated with fantstically drawn characters and situations, a story which, for me,  ended way too soon and could easily be expanded into a larger work. (hint-hint)

Bottom line: Those brave enough to travel Brady Allen’s Back Roads and Frontal Lobes will return much better for it. This collection receives my highest recommendation for those who love dark, edgy horror.

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).

Interview: Michael West Discusses Cinema of Shadows

So your new novel, Cinema of Shadows, takes place in a haunted movie theater. I know you have a lifelong interest in film and in horror films specifically. Did you pursue an education in film?
Oh yes.  I studied film and television.   I wanted to be the next Steven Spielberg or James Cameron.  Growing up, I would write screenplays for movies I would make with my friends and my parents’ video camera. When I saw the film Super 8, it really took me back, because that was me and my friends at that time.
How does writing a script differ from how you approach a novel?
In terms of plotting and dialogue, I really don’t approach them any differently.  In fact, I often read my dialogue aloud, to make certain it sounds authentic. Where they differ is how you convey character. In a screenplay, you have to do it all with dialogue and visual detail. With a novel, you can be inside someone’s head. You can get to know how they think and feel. It’s more intimate, and it leads to a much stronger connection and emotional investment.
I read that Cinema of Shadows taps into the “ghost hunter” subculture.
LOL…T.A.P.S. Yes. My sons and I are huge fans of Ghost Hunters,Ghost Adventures,and what have you. But, when you watch these shows, you’re waiting for them to walk into the Amityville Horror house, into the house from Poltergeist. You want chains to rattle and walls to bleed. You want to see ghosts, and it just never happens. So, with Cinema of Shadows, I wanted to create the scariest haunting I could imagine and then have my team actually get to deal with it.
Those “ghost hunting” groups have exploded across the country in recent years. What sort of research did you do to keep your “team” authentic?
That authenticity was something I really wanted. I hadn’t seen a lot of paranormal research using  scientific methods in fiction before. So, in addition to speaking with researchers about how they would approach certain situations, I actually took part in some investigations; the Hanna House in Indianapolis, and the Woodcarver’s Building in Converse, Indiana. I used all the equipment that, up until that point, I’d only seen on television. And I witnessed things, felt things that I couldn’t explain. So, in addition to the technical aspect of an investigation, I was also able to draw from my own feelings and experiences to paint a very vivid picture.
Like me, I know you share some great memories of the Eastwood Theater on the east side of Indianapolis. For me, personally, that was THE theater to see the original Star Wars trilogy, Fright Night, and I also remember their experiments with classic 3D films when attendance was slacking off. How do you think those experiences differ from today’s moviegoing experience?
There is something to be said about going to a theater that doesn’t have a screen the size of a postage stamp, to seeing a film projected in 70 mm with six-track Dolby sound that makes the concrete shake beneath your feet. Going to movies back then was a real event, and I miss those days so much. The closest I come to that experience now is taking the kids to the IMAX, but it’s not the same.
How have you used those memories in CoS?
I tried to convey that sense of loss when the characters first enter the Woodfield Movie Palace and see what it has become. It’s so tragic to see the movie palaces disappearing from this world. The architecture alone was just amazing; grand balconies, gold molding, statues and chandeliers in the lobbies. All the neon! There are still some out there. Working theaters, like the Artcraft in Franklin, Indiana, that show classic films on the weekends, or converted into concert halls for bands and comedy shows. I based The Woodfield Movie Palace in part on the Crump in Columbus, Indiana, and we were lucky enough to be able to film the book trailer for Cinema of Shadows there. So sad to see the walls crumbling and the paint peeling. I stood on the balcony and tried to imagine what it must have been like to see a movie there, back when everyone in town would meet up and be transported to another place and time.
What is on the horizon for you in terms of future book releases?
I have more novels for Seventh Star Press that will be set in Harmony, Indiana, the same town that served as the backdrop to Cinema of Shadows and my first novel, The Wide Game. (Read R.J. Sullivan’s review of The Wide Game here.) Spook House is the next one, and it will be out late in 2012. I also have a dark, epic urban fantasy series titled The Legacy of the Gods on the horizon.  Look for an announcement on that very soon. And I am editing an anthology for Ambrotos Press called Vampires Don’t Sparkle! for all those Horror fans who want to read gritty tales about vampires who don’t mope and brood about going to prom. That will be out in the first half of 2012.
I have thoroughly enjoyed my participation during my short time in the Indiana Horror Writers. Tell us a bit about the history as a founding member and as your current role a president. Explain the overall goals of the IHW, what it does and what it plans to do.
Indiana Horror Writers is a regional chapter of the Horror Writers Association. It was founded in 2004 by myself, Maurice Broaddus, Sara J. Larson, and Tracy Jones, and has grown from there. We are an organization dedicated to those who pen the darkest fiction. As a group, we try to help writers find their voice, share markets, and promote terrifying work. We also sponsor the Mo*Con convention every year in Indianapolis, which is always a wonderful event! As President, I try to keep the trains running on time. Not an easy task with a room full of writers.  LOL
 Where can readers find you and learn more about your work?

Faithful readers can always find me at my website, http://www.bymichaelwest.com, or on Facebook and Twitter. You can find my short story collection, Skull Full of Kisses, and my debut novel, The Wide Game, at Graveside TalesCinema of Shadows, and future Harmony novels, can be found at Seventh Star Press.

Michael West will be a guest at FandomFest in Louisville, Kentucky, July 22-24, 2011. Join Michael and Seventh Star Press for the official book launch of Cinema of Shadows. Limited copies will be available, with the trade paperback version following soon! Learn details and see the book trailer for Cinema of Shadows at www.bymichaelwest.com

“Team R.J.” Blog interview series #2: James Ward Kirk

Welcome to the third in a series of short interviews focusing on “Team R.J.”: people who have influenced, worked with, or played some other vital role in taking me where I am today.

Throwing practical matters out the window, I pursued a creative writing degree at IUPUI. James Kirk and I met as fellow undergraduates, first in creative writing classes, then as co-staff members of the university literary magazine. James also worked in the university library, and after I’d graduated, James went on to receive his masters in literature. He taught literature for the university for several years.

Throughout the time, James remained dedicated to his writing, probably with at least as much passion and focus as I had in my own work. Horror was his genre of choice even then (I saw myself as more of a sci-fi guy, and still do), and his approach of unsettling the reader by dropping them into the viewpoint of mentally unstable characters did much to distinguish his stories. And it’s an approach he continues to use to this day.

Many years and a Facebook connection later, I caught up with James a few months ago and found he was returning to his writing after a long break. Since then, he’s released his first novel, the Butterfly Killer, and has had some success with his short stories.

James W. Kirk will be joining me December 18, noon-3 pm at Artesian Books in Martinsville, where he’s signing his novel The Butterfly Killer. Visit http://www.monicamcdowneythrillers.com/ and http://www.rjsullivanfiction.com for details.

Q: You were a driven, passionate writer when we first met almost…yikes, OVER…20 years ago. When did you get the writing “bug” and what drives you to keep pursuing it?

A: I remember a writing assignment from the third grade.  The teacher read the short story to the class, a comedic kind of story.  It was a hoot.  My classmates loved it and the teacher praised me.

Q: What writers inspired you? What made you pick the horror/psychological thriller genres as “your” genres?

A: I really enjoy John Connolly.  He incorporates the supernatural with the private detective genre.  Of course, I grew up with Stephen King—not literally, dang it.  My favorite film genre is psychological thrillers and horror.  The music I listen to relates well with psychological thriller, horror and the supernatural (Goth Industrial, Goth Metal, Symphonic Goth Metal).

Q: What circumstances caused a break in your writing, and what were the challenges when you returned to it?

A:  First comes love, and then comes James pushing a baby carriage.  Work and family came first.  After the kids were out of the house, I picked up the pencil and paper again.  Creativity never left.  I encountered no problems with the creative process and writing the novel.  The challenges came with the mechanics.  Grammar, sentence structure, passive sentences, bad words: “that” and “had,” and so on.  Thanks to RJ for jogging my memory.

Q: You attended a university campus for many years, worked in the university library, taught classes in your alma mater. How do you think the university environment affected your approach to the publishing business, good and bad?

A: I don’t remember a single instance of an instructor teaching anything at all about the publishing business, even while working on my Master’s degree.  I worked with genesis, the university’s student literary journal as a board member, senior editor, and as faculty advisor.  I did learn about the publishing business to a small degree while working with genesis.

Q: Describe your unique approach to your characters. How do you “psyche yourself up” to get into the bizarre mindset of your characters?

A:  I just be myself.

Q: Tell us about The Butterfly Killer. Include an excerpt.

A: The Butterfly Killer is the first novel of a planned trilogy.  I’ve finished two-thirds of the follow up novel.  I am incorporating Christian spirituality.  The protagonist is chosen by God to metamorphose into an agent against evil.  The protagonist, female, is beginning to catch on by the novel’s conclusion.  The first novel focuses primarily on human evil.  The second novel incorporates the Archangels Michael and Gabriel, demons and saints in addition to just plain mean people.  Excerpt:

——

Engelbert didn’t believe in God. But, of course, God believed in him.

Engelbert pondered this truth, momentarily, as the flames of his life burned cruelly, just like his mother’s final moments, and as his arterial blood sprayed into the very shadows he’d considered his fortress, from his surgically cut throat by the hand of God, He who rules the darkness and its violent dramatis personae, he whispered: there is a God, Momma.

—–

In this instance, “God” is self-proclaimed, the master puppeteer of other serial killers.


Q: Like I did, I know you’re re-approaching old stories from years ago and brushing them off for rewrites. Tell us what that’s like.

A: Taking old short stories and rewriting them was a lot of fun.  I got to see where I was and where I am now.

Q: I remember back in college, a singular science fiction piece in your group of short stories. Do you think you’ll continue to experiment with genres?

A:  I think you’re speaking of the short story entitled Joe.  I don’t think the story was science fiction in the way the novel 1984 is science fiction.  The piece was more of a commentary on society than anything else.  I don’t see any science fiction in my future unless, of course, I turn Joe into a novel.

Q: One consistent aspect to all your fiction is an element of faith and religion. How does your faith affect what you write and how do you weave it into your narrative.

A:  I haven’t been to church in at least a decade.  There’s a lot about organized religion that gets on my very last nerve.  However, I am spiritual and believe in a higher power.  For example, our planet is around three billion years old.  Think about the trillions of events and nonevents leading to me sitting here talking about God.  I don’t believe in coincidence.  The Butterfly Killer contains graphic/adult material.  I don’t think “God” has given it much thought.

Q: Tell us about your sequel novel and anything else going on.

A: I’ve mentioned above the sequel.  I’m also working on an anthology of short stories, some new and some revisions of old short stories.

Follow Indiana Horror Writer and my friend, James W. Kirk, at http://www.monicamcdowneythrillers.com/

Let’s talk Old…er….classic films!

Where do you draw the line between old and modern horror films? It’s easier, perhaps, to pick out classics from any era, but some of my younger peers have an annoying habit of tagging movies I saw in high school as “old.” (Hi, Ash) So okay, let’s discuss.

I base my definition of “modern” on a study of technique, technology, and modern mass appeal. Taking all of those into account, I traditionally draw the line between “classic” and “modern” horror at 1973–specifically, THE EXORCIST. I would argue that except for some funky haircuts, THE EXORCIST could be projected in a theater today and hold the attention of modern audiences without many outdated elements distracting from the experience. It’s shot in modern widescreen, offers a modern soundtrack mix, features editing, pacing and special effects still acceptable today (though it lacks that frustrating quick cut element of the most modern films–which is good thing) and maintains most of its shock value and horrific nature.

If you go back a few more years from 73, you hit the wonderful Roger Corman era with Vincent Price‘s over-the-top antics and pop-off-the screen technicolor that clearly shows its age. And as much as I love the Hammer Films, the cheesy acting and four-chord four-octave music progressions are dead giveaways they go back quite a while.

Sure, the 80s were known for an extended “slasher” period, and I suppose that forms it’s own “classic” subgenre, but I maintain more movies from that era would pass muster than not.

Of course this is just one old(er) man’s opinion. What’s yours? Feel free to discuss in my comments.