Halloween Extravaganza: INTERVIEW: Robert Essig

Meghan: Hello, Robert! Welcome to Meghan’s House of Books. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Robert Essig: I’m a life long horror fan who lives with my wife and son in Southern California. I started writing in high school and then quit for several years before picking it back up and submitting my stories to various publications. I’ve published over 100 short stories and several novels and novellas. But alas that doesn’t pay the bills. I work a mundane job to keep a roof over my head and keep the family fed. Somehow I manage to write a fair number of stories every year even though I’m a father, husband, and house painter before I’m a writer (oops, wasn’t going to mention the day job).

Meghan: What are five things most people don’t know about you?

Robert Essig: 1. I used to love sports. Turns out I’m not all that competitive. I was doing it for fun, and that didn’t fly once I got into junior high. 2. I don’t like swimming in lakes or large bodies of water. 3. I’m a huge fan of sushi even though I’m not a big fan of cooked fish. 4. I do not like action movies (yes, this includes super hero movies). 5. I love cold, rainy weather, which makes living in east San Diego county kind of a bummer (among many other reasons). Despite having one of our odd rainy seasons, even our winter and spring (especially where I live) can get brutally hot.

Meghan: What is the first book you remember reading?

Robert Essig: The Batman Returns novelization. I read it for some reading program in grammar school. I hated reading at the time, so it took me way too long to get through the book. To this day it is the only novelization I’ve ever read. There are little details in the film that I don’t think I would have noticed had it not been for reading the book. I probably aught to read another novelization of a favorite film just to see the differences.

Meghan: What are you reading now?

Robert Essig: Revenant by Melanie Tem and The Light at the End by John Skipp and Craig Spector. I’ve had a difficult time finding a good read, so I went with a Tem book since I enjoyed her debut Prodigal so much last year when I read it.

Meghan: What’s a book you really enjoyed that others wouldn’t expect you to have liked?

Robert Essig: This is a tough one to answer because I’m pretty predictable with what I read. I guess the best answer would be the Agatha Christie book I read when I was a teenager. I don’t remember the name of the book. It was a collection of short stories where two gents would meet unexpectedly and always when a murder had occurred. Together they would solve the mystery… and then meet again in another story.

Meghan: What made you decide you want to write? When did you begin writing?

Robert Essig: In high school I was given an assignment to write about Thanksgiving. I figured nothing unusual happened during my family Thanksgivings, so my story was going to be a bore. It hadn’t occurred to me to write fiction until someone asked if we could do just that. Thing was, I had been dreaming up a Thanksgiving horror story rather than writing about eating food and passing out on the couch. I bammed out the story in record time and handed it in after the bell rang. After Thanksgiving break I arrived to class early (as I always did so I could get some reading in) and Mrs. Martinez slapped my story down and looked kind of frantic. She said, “You’ve got to finish this!” I flipped to the end and realized that I had finished it. I left the ending open (something I’ve never done since). She said both she and her husband read it and loved it. From that day on I wrote short stories in class rather than do my work.

Meghan: Do you have a special place you like to write?

Robert Essig: The coffee table or the kitchen table. Those are the only places in the house where I can write. I write early in the morning before any one is awake, so there are no distractions.

Meghan: Do you have any quirks or processes that you go through when you write?

Robert Essig: Not really. I just get a cup of coffee, sit down in front of the computer and let the words flow. I used to work through my plots while driving to and from work (my commute can be a lengthy drag depending on where I’m working), but I don’t really do that anymore. I’ve streamlined my process to utilize the very limited time I have to write. Working with an outline is helpful.

Meghan: Is there anything about writing you find most challenging?

Robert Essig: Selling the finished manuscripts. I hate pitching my work. As far as the writing itself, I tend to lose my drive. I have a large number of unfinished books. Great ideas, but I just don’t know where to go with the stories, and I kind of want to write everything all at one time. This is why I’ve started writing outlines. With an outline I can stay focused to the end.

Meghan: What’s the most satisfying thing you’ve written so far?

Robert Essig: A novel called Circus Oasis. I haven’t sold it yet. In fact, I’m going through my first round of rewrites and edits. I think I’m always the most impressed with my latest work. As far as short stories go, I wrote one for an anthology called San Diego Horror Professionals Vol. 2 where I was challenged to write a Christmas story with a clown in it. The story is called “Tears of a Clown” and I think it’s about the best short I’ve ever written.

Meghan: What books have most inspired you? Who are some authors that have inspired your writing style?

Robert Essig: Pin by Andrew Neiderman inspired the hell out of me. It’s such a tight story and so bizarre, taking the reader right up to the point of feeling uncomfortable without plunging into the pool of absurdity and exploitation. Prodigal by Melanie Tem made a huge impact on me with its emotional depth and isolation. I could relate to the little girl in the story and yet there was so much I could never relate to The story is so well told that I lived in that world for a time. Others in short order: Horror Show by Greg Kihn, Mucho Mojo by Joe Lansdale. Robert Bloch, Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson, Shirley Jackson.

Meghan: What do you think makes a good story?

Robert Essig: Atmosphere, character development, plot. Exciting and interesting subject matter. Something new and fresh (or at least a fresh take on something old and well tread).

Meghan: What does it take for you to love a character? How do you utilize that when creating your characters?

Robert Essig: This is something that took me a while to understand and utilize. I began, many years ago, writing very idea driven stories. Through rejection I was often told that my characters were unlikable, uninteresting, or two- dimensional. I thought about it and realized that what makes a great character is something that I can connect with, something emotional, something personal. Whether a good character or bad, they need to have depth, experience, fears, dreams, something they’re yearning for. It’s very important. It’s something I pay close attention to these days.

Meghan: Which, of all your characters, do you think is the most like you?

Robert Essig: I suppose parts of me seep into every character in one way or the other, but I cannot think of one character that is the most like me outside of a little boy in an unpublished story called “Sea Freak”. I modeled the kid after myself as a youngster.

Meghan: Are you turned off by a bad cover? To what degree were you involved in creating your book covers?

Robert Essig: Of course! Who isn’t? There are degrees of bad, certainly. Any publisher worth their salt isn’t going to release a book with one of those awful cut and paste covers some self-published authors have come up with (there are plenty of them, unfortunately). I’ve been pretty lucky, though there has been a cover or two I’ve begun to dislike over time. So far I’ve been asked for a general idea on each cover for my work. That seems to be the standard with small presses. I’m generally not very confidant with cover ideas. My book Death Obsessed has my favorite cover of all my works. Turned out exactly how I wanted it. One of the few times I had a solid cover concept.

Meghan: What have you learned creating your books?

Robert Essig: A lot. Too much to put into one interview question. I’ve learned not to write to market. I’ve made a few bucks doing this with short stories, but it can take something I truly enjoy and turn into something that can be fairly dreadful. I’ve learned that having other eyes on my stories is a good thing, and that there is a lot to learn from editors. I’ve come to realize that I need to outline my stories in order to streamline the writing process since I have such little time in the day to write. I learn, and I’ll continue to learn until I write my last word.

Meghan: What has been the hardest scene for you to write so far?

Robert Essig: Nothing emotional. Even the most heartbreaking emotional moment was easy (well, as easy and writing ever comes), even those very few that actually brought me to tears. As strange as it may sound, action sequences are the most difficult for me to write. I much prefer atmosphere to action, but that goes to the previous question. I continue to learn how to write action sequences effectively.

Meghan: What makes your books different from others out there in this genre?

Robert Essig: Oh boy, this is a tough question. I suppose my look at the world around me and how I process things would cause elements of my stories to be fairly unique.

Meghan: How important is the book title, how hard is it to choose the best one, and how did you choose yours (of course, with no spoilers)?

Robert Essig: Book titles are your greeting card to the readers. It’s the first thing they see. A good title is a good start. Like cover concepts, I’m not all that great at titles. Short titles are good (my first book is called Through the In Between, Hell Awaits… give me a break, I hate that title), and interesting or unique titles that stick out will grab a reader’s attention. I think I’m getting better. Death Obsessed and Circus Oasis are nice titles. I think I’m getting better.

Meghan: What makes you feel more fulfilled: Writing a novel or writing a short story?

Robert Essig: A novel. There’s so much more that goes into a novel. It takes longer, the characters and story take more time to develop. I become more invested and close to a novel, kind of like raising a child and watching them grow, whereas a short story can be knocked out in one writing session and revised in another sit down. Some short stories might take longer to draw out, but for the most part they happen pretty quickly. Novels leave scars; short stories are just flesh wounds.

Meghan: Tell us a little bit about your books, your target audience, and what you would like readers to take away from your stories.

Robert Essig: I write what I’m interested in. I don’t target an audience, I don’t follow trends, I don’t write to market, and I don’t think I ever will. I’m entertaining myself first. If there’s an audience for what entertains me, then that’s great. That’s what I hope for. I have a handful of fans who buy what I put out and seem to enjoy it. I hope that little group of people gets bigger and bigger with each new release. I consider myself a bit of a pulp horror author. I’m not writing for some deeper meaning, but for entertainment. Something that people can read for escape from the trial of the day. Some of my work leans toward the extreme side of horror (Brothers in Blood, The Madness, and my latest novel from Death’s Head Press, Stronger Than Hate, for example), but I seem to be going into a more inclusive direction. By that I mean I feel that my work is becoming more accessible to any fan of the genre. I really don’t want to be pigeonholed as an extreme horror author (and really I’m not as extreme as, say, Ed Lee or Monica O’Rourke).

Meghan: Can you tell us about some of the deleted scenes/stuff that got left out of your work?

Robert Essig: That’s a great question, but once I delete a scene it’s gone forever. I’m not big on saving that stuff. I can’t think of a specific scene that was taken out of a story. If something doesn’t work or in unnecessary I delete and move on. I do have fragments and abandoned stories, of which I will mine from time to time, but even when an entire chapter is taken out of a novel or novella I just get rid of it.

Meghan: What is in your “trunk”?

Robert Essig: I wrote what was supposed to be the first story in a series of urban fantasy books following freelance journalist Veronica Hensley. The first two acts of the novel are good, but the third just doesn’t work. I pitched it to a mass market publisher that specializes in urban fantasy and they passed on it. I recognize the issues, but don’t feel like going back to it just yet. I spent a LOT of time on this one. When I do go back (if I do) I am going to rework it into a trilogy rather than an ongoing series.

Meghan: What can we expect from you in the future?

Robert Essig: I have a collection of short fiction co-authored with Jack Bantry coming from Death’s Head Press. In May, Bantry and I have a novella coming out, but it has not been announced yet, and we also have a novella called Insatiable coming soon from Grand Mal Press. I have a few other goodies I can’t talk about (one in particular that I’m ecstatic about).

Meghan: Where can we find you?

Robert Essig: Twitter ** Instagram ** Facebook

Meghan: Do you have any closing words for your fans or anything you’d like to say that we didn’t get to cover in this interview?

Robert Essig: First off, thank you so very much for the opportunity. These were some stellar questions. It was a lot of fun. For the fans, there’s plenty coming this year. I’ve got you covered. For the readers who haven’t read me yet, I hope you give my work a chance.

Robert Essig is the author of Death Obsessed, In Black, and Brothers in Blood, among others. He has published over a hundred short stories and edited several small press anthologies. Visit him on the web. Robert lives with his family in Southern California.

Death Obsessed

Remember those old VHS tapes with labels that said “banned in 40 countries” and “not for the faint of heart,” with titles like Faces of Death and Mondo Violence? Well, they’re back, only this time it’s a book. This book. Death Obsessed is Faces of Death with an identity crisis. Get ready for something mondo macabre! 

Back when he was a teenager, Calvin was into the morbid stuff. He thought he outgrew it, but he’s only a video clip away from becoming obsessed, and what’s Ronnie going to think about that? She’s not the kind of girl who digs cemeteries and dead things. But Hazel, she’s something else altogether, and oh how persuasive is a woman who knows what she wants. 

Drawn back to a place Calvin had forgotten about, and lured by the baritone drawl of Mr. Ghastly, who promises the much sought-after death scenes classic known as Death’s Door, Calvin trips down one hell of a rabbit hole, and everything is at stake. Can he leave his nine-to-five life in the dust for some real action, or will he be left sick, all alone, and death obsessed? 

“For anyone who dared picked up Faces of Death at the video store as a teenager or perused the atrocities of early internet shock sites like Rotten.com, Death Obsessed is a nightmarish trip down a rabbit hole slick with corpse slime and grave dirt. It’s a supernatural glimpse at the deranged world behind execution videos and crime scene photos and the people who enjoy them.” — Mike Lombardo, writer/director of I’m Dreaming of a White Doomsday 

In Black

Chase thought he’d been hired to do some painting, but when the paint dried, it created a black void through which was a chamber. Suffering abounds, but Chase manages to escape with his life…and the strange black paint. 

Needles is a town that time seems to have forgotten. Run down, desperate—the perfect place for Paul to pimp out his girlfriend and close enough to Laughlin for him to gamble away her earnings. When he discovers the eerie black paint, he creates a depraved brothel in a hidden void and hightails it to Vegas to make some real dough. 

Chase spends his fugitive life in search for his missing wife and the black paint. After requesting the help of someone he is loath to work with, he finds himself driving through the desert to Sin City for a showdown like no other. 

He was warned about the black paint, but didn’t listen. Now he has to find and destroy it before more innocent lives succumb to its unfathomable darkness. 

Brothers in Blood: An Extreme Psychological Horror Novella

Twin brothers Kyle and Lyle Morris depend on one another to live and to kill, only Kyle’s strange desires are becoming more twisted with each new body. Lyle, a grown man with the mind of a toddler, doesn’t understand the perversity of his relationship with dead things. Lyle’s caregiver, Desiree, is worried about the big ol’ lug, and she’s terrified of his brother, but she’s been getting those strange letters again, the ones that her stalker ex used to send her, only now it seems as if he wants something she can’t give him. 

A necromaniac using his deformed brother for fresh meat; a young woman in the clutches of her ex’s twisted fantasies—blood will flow . . . but who will bleed out first and what will be left of them? 

Stronger Than Hate

Francine watches the deal from below, trapped within a sinkhole that opened up in her precious garden. Forty bucks and a quarter bag of weed. How could she be sold off for so little? Familiar faces look down upon her—the worst students she ever had the displeasure of teaching before she retired from the local high school. They snicker as money changes hands. They spit on her. Throw things at her. 

And there’s no way in hell they’re going to get help. 

But someone else knows about Francine’s predicament. Her neighbor Greg, another former student. The one whose peers called him Lazy Eye. The one who always looked to be accepted even at the expense of Francine’s safety. Does he have it in his heart to do the right thing, to come to his senses and call the police? 

At the mercy of deviants, Francine Mosely must harness her inner strength to survive their torments, but how much can she take? Through guidance from the memory of her late husband she banishes herself from what is happening, retreating to her most precious memories, but what happens when the horrors around her infiltrate her mind? How much can she take before breaking down? Is Francine Mosely STRONGER THAN HATE?

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