Meghan: Hi, Kevin! Happy early Halloween! Thanks for stopping by today. What is your favorite part of Halloween?
Kevin: Definitely the atmosphere. There’s something about September and October that I adore. The changing in the seasons and the leaves. The pleasant crisp air. I watch and read horror year round, of course (and write it!), but during the Halloween season, mystery hangs in the air. I know that sounds terribly dramatic, like I’m trying to channel Ray Bradbury, or something. Even so, it’s true. You feel like a kid again, when anything is possible.
Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween tradition?
Kevin: As a family, we always go and get pumpkins for Jack o’ Lanterns, and then cider and donuts at our favorite cider place, a few weeks before Halloween. I always read something Halloween-oriented on the the way.
For the past five years, my daughter and I checked out Spirit Halloween soon as it opens, and take silly pictures in front of the all the animotronics.
Last year, I started my own Halloween-movie-marathon September 1st. Doing it again this year.
My pastor and guys from my church (you read that right!) have been going to Reaper’s Revenge, the past few years, in Pennsylvania. It’s absolutely astounding. The size of the exhibits, the pageantry of it all, the communal sense of being startled with friends. Even after going several times and “knowing” what to expect, it’s an absolute thrill.
And of course, Trick-or-Treating as a family! I love seeing some of the displays folks put up.
Meghan: If Halloween is your favorite holiday (or even second favorite holiday), why?
Kevin: Pretty much for the reasons I listed above. When you’re out Trick-or-Treating, that night seems like it could go on forever. It’s slightly chilly but comfortable, maybe there’s a mist rolling around the streets, and everyone has dressed up as their favorite things, or their favorite scary things. There’s also a communal sense in the town we Trick-or-Treat in; everyone’s walking the sidewalks to and fro, and it’s quite a to-do.
Meghan: What are you superstitious about?
Kevin: Nothing much, really. Sorry, it’s a boring answer, I know. Although, I’m STILL a little nervous about open closets at night…
Meghan: What/who is your favorite horror monster or villain?
Kevin: I think it’s a toss-up between Pennywise (from King‘s novel It, though both cinematic renditions are pretty powerful), and honestly, Michael Myers of the Halloween franchise. In the novel It, Pennywise knows exactly what haunts us and hurts us the most, and knows how to use that with surgical precision, and his very presence brings out the worst in us. Michael Myers is an unrelenting force of nature, for some reason, far more imposing than Freddy Krueger or Jason Vorhees.
Meghan: Which unsolved murder fascinates you the most?
Kevin: To be honest, I’m not much interested in these, so I don’t really have one.
Meghan: Which urban legend scares you the most?
Kevin: Well, I can tell you this: I’ve never, ever, been tempted to say “Bloody Mary” three times in a mirror. And I can pretty much guarantee I’m never going to touch a Ouija board, ever.
The one about the truck shining high beams into the back of your car – either because they’re stalking you, or trying to warn you about the killer in your beak seat – is also pretty impactful.
Meghan: Who is your favorite serial killer and why?
Kevin: Again, this isn’t really an area of interest for me.
Meghan: How old were you when you saw your first horror movie? How old were you when you read your first horror book?
Kevin: I saw my first horror movie completely by accident, and for the longest time, I couldn’t remember the title, just images. I was at my Uncle’s, flipping through channels, and I came across the movie involving mannequins, in which some guy gets impaled by a pipe, and the blood comes trickling out of the pipe. That image stayed with me, for some reason. The idea this guy’s blood was gushing out of a pipe in his gut. Also, the ending was disturbing, (I’ll avoid spoilers), because it called into question my perception of what was happening in the movie, and my perception of simply being alive and volitional. Years later, I realized the movie was Tourist Trap, starring Chuck Conners.
Meghan: Which horror novel unsettled you the most?
Kevin: In Silent Graves, by Gary Braunbeck. I’ll still never forget my experience reading that. It’s about a man who loses his wife and his unborn child in a terrible circumstance, and the nightmarish horror he’s pulled into. My wife was away at the time while I read it, and her absence was exacerbated by this story.
Meghan: Which horror movie scarred you for life?
Kevin: Believe it or not, most horror movies don’t scare me, in the whole sense. I can tell you movies which made me profoundly uncomfortable, however. One of them was 8 Millimeter, staring Nicolas Cage. Maybe it’s not considered a “horror” film, but its deep-dive into the dark underbelly of the porn industry is truly horrific. And I felt like a strung piano-wire all through Sinister.
Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween costume?
Kevin: Believe it or not, I don’t really have one. I think my enjoyment has always been the creativity of OTHERS, and their costumes, really.
Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween-themed song?
I’m not sure if I have one, but I can tell you during the Halloween season I have the Halloween and Phantasm theme songs running through my head all the time.
Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween candy or treat? What is your most disappointing?
This is true everywhere, but nowhere more so than in the small town of Clifton Heights. October nights here are long and strange, filled with both dread and transformation, and in these four shared-world tales of small-town Halloween horror, you’ll encounter things both wondrous and terrifying, in equal measure:
-A priest hears a ghostly confession on Halloween night which will mark him forever. -A young man is offered a supernatural chance to remake his fortune, at the risk of losing everything. -A pastor fleeing the death of his daughter comes to Clifton Heights to face his fears, but finds himself living a nightmare instead. -Two people with supernatural talents face-off with an engine of darkness and pain on Halloween night.
Four connected Halloween tales, evoking echoes of Ray Bradbury and Charles L. Grant, taking place in a town where every day is All Hallow’s Eve. Spend the Halloween season in Clifton Heights… if you dare.
Meghan: Hi, David! Welcome to the new blog… and welcome back to the Halloween Extravaganza. It’s been awhile since we sat down together. What’s been going on since we last spoke?
David A. Riley: Not so much writing, though I have turned to it once more in the last few months. I have concentrated on publishing books by other people through Parallel Universe Publications, and spent a lot of time working on one particular project, which was a large art book for my friend Jim Pitts. The Fantastical Art of Jim Pitts, which is available as a limited-edition hardback and, more recently, as a two-volume soft cover. This was a major project for me, involving an investment in a new, more powerful computer to handle all the graphics and some rather expensive software. It was very time consuming too as each page had to be designed individually. I also branched out into publishing hardcover book collections, including Fishhead: The Darker Tales of Irvin S. Cobb, which was another labour of love, involving a lot of research and copying out a great many stories.
Meghan: Who are you outside of writing?
David A. Riley: Gardener, cook, reader, film and theatre-goer. I now have three grandchildren, which is fantastic.
Meghan: How do you feel about friends and close relatives reading your work?
David A. Riley: I love it, though I don’t go out of my way looking for favourable comments about it, as I know it’s unlikely I’ll get a completely honest appraisal – except from my wife, who is totally honest and whose judgement I know I can rely on.
Meghan: Is being a writer a gift or a curse?
David A. Riley: I don’t regard it as either, except when I am struggling with a particular story – then it’s definitely a curse, especially if I become convinced that whatever skills I might have once had have deserted me! I think that’s a not uncommon feeling, though.
Meghan: How has your environment and upbringing colored your writing?
David A. Riley: Though I don’t write specifically about this in everything I turn my hand to, there are quite a few things I have written that reflect my upbringing in Lancashire, in an industrial town. On the other hand, I have written a number of stories set in the United States, including New York, which I am assured read convincingly even though I have never visited the States. It’s good to have your roots as an influence, but a mistake to be shackled to them all the time. A writer should be able to use their imagination and what they have learned, either through travel, reading, films and TV, to branch out.
Meghan: What’s the strangest thing you have ever had to research for your books?
David A. Riley: Strange for the UK: guns, as handguns are illegal here. I did quite a bit of research into the handguns used by the Mossad, as one of my characters always used one in his role as a gangland enforcer in London. I first learned of them from a friend who had a genuine but deactivated Beretta .22.
Meghan: Which do you find the hardest to write: the beginning, the middle, or the end?
David A. Riley: The beginning. That has to grab me first of all or I find I very quickly lose the incentive to go on. I must have characters from the outset I can believe in and with whom have some empathy. If they’re just cardboard cutouts I can’t go on. They bore me. And if I’m bored, what can I expect from any potential readers?
Meghan: Do you outline? Do you start with characters or plot? Do you just sit down and start writing? What works best for you?
David A. Riley: I don’t outline. I do work from the characters to start with, and I prefer to have some sort of vague plot in mind, but I find the best ideas come while I’m writing, which sometimes veers off quite a lot from what I intended. The characters and their predicaments do have a tendency to take over, which in my view is as it should be.
Meghan: What do you do when characters don’t follow the outline/plan?
David A. Riley: Hope I can maneuver things towards a proper story in the end. That doesn’t always happen – and that story will remain on my computer, unresolved. Sometimes I can take a look at it again some time later and things suddenly start to work out. Sometimes, though, they don’t.
Meghan: What do you do to motivate yourself to sit down and write?
David A. Riley: Feel in the mood to start with. I don’t think I can force myself. That doesn’t work for me. I wish it did. I would probably write a lot more if that happened.
Meghan: Are you an avid reader?
David A. Riley: I read every day, though not as much as I would like. I used to read a lot more when I was younger. On the other hand, we have a holiday home in the country where we have only limited internet and even more limited TV where I spend a lot of time reading. I was there last week and got through three rather hefty novels. And loved them.
Meghan: What kind of books do you absolutely love to read?
David A. Riley: Novels in particular. Though I mainly write short stories, I am not as big a reader of these as I used to be. I have also found that my tastes have altered over the years and I must admit I don’t like a lot of new short stories. I now love crime fiction and historical novels, particularly writers like Ian Rankin, Michael Connelly, and Simon Scarrow. I also like crime novels that veer towards supernatural horror, like John Connolly, who is one of the best writers in horror today. I have also started to reread a lot of books I first came across many years ago, like Ray Bradbury, Agatha Christie, and Robert Bloch.
Meghan: How do you feel about movies based on books?
David A. Riley: I am particularly keen to see more movies based on books, if only because that will take us away from the obsession with remaking old movies with inferior ones. On the other hand, it is saddening to see some great books rendered into poor movies because someone thought that making major changes would improve on the original – something that rarely ever happens. A lot of film makers seem to have a poor idea of storytelling and it’s disheartening to see a great book butchered by someone who wrongly thought they knew better than the original writer.
Meghan: Have you ever killed a main character?
David A. Riley: Frequently. That’s a common fate in my short stories especially. In my novels not so much so, though I did have one main character who at the end commits suicide because that was really the only option left open to him.
Meghan: Do you enjoy making your characters suffer?
David A. Riley: Not particularly, and often I do feel sad about this – which I hope the reader feels too! If they do, I have at least made them feel some empathy towards the character in question, which means I also managed to make that character believable.
Meghan: What’s the weirdest character concept that you’ve ever come up with?
David A. Riley: A heroic but nevertheless barbaric goblin – the main character of my only fantasy novel, Goblin Mire. Mickle Gorestab is old, irascible but unflinchingly courageous – and stoutly convinced of the rightness of his cause: the reestablishment of a Goblin Empire. I really loved this character for all his faults.
Meghan: What’s the best piece of feedback you’ve ever received? What’s the worst?
David A. Riley: The best was from Otto Penzler. When interviewed about his anthology Zombies! Zombies! Zombies, he was asked “If a reader has an opportunity to read only one story from Zombies! Zombies! Zombies!, which one would you recommend?” He would recommend two: “…the stories that jump to mind are Seabrook’s “Dead Men Working in the Cane Fields” because it’s such a comprehensive introduction in the genre, and David A. Riley’s “After Nightfall” because it is, holy moley, so damned scary.”
The worst is a review of my only fantasy novel, Goblin Mire, which simply stated: “Terrible. Everything about this[sic] book is terrible. I’d write more but I’d be wasting both of ours’ time…”
Meghan: If you could steal one character from another author and make them yours, who would it be and why?
David A. Riley: John Connolly’s Charlie Parker. He is such a great character. But he would be wasted on me. I couldn’t use him anything like as well as Connolly.
Meghan: If you could write the next book in a series, which one would it be, and what would you make the book about?
David A. Riley: I am not sure. I have never been keen on retreading the same ground and have only once (after much badgering by a friend) written to sequel to any of my stories, so the idea of doing a series doesn’t necessarily appeal to me. The nearest I have come is in using the same settings, as in Grudge End, where I have set a few of my stories and also my novel The Return. It’s my English version of Arkham or Dunwich.
Meghan: If you could write a collaboration with another author, who would it be and what would you write about?
David A. Riley: I have tried a couple of times to write a collaboration with another writer, but it didn’t work out. I don’t think I would ever be tempted quite honestly.
Meghan: What can we expect from you in the future?
David A. Riley: Hard to say. I hope to get at least one more novel finished. I have several which are part written, one with about 60k words, another with 40k. I would like to get a few more science fiction stories completed. I have always felt I should have written more SF. My first love when I first started writing was SF and I actually did complete a SF novel, now lost completely. I kind of stumbled into writing horror because I found SF more difficult. Then again, I started writing about the same time that the New Wave started in the late sixties under Moorcock and New Worlds, and I didn’t really gel with all that. I was overjoyed when I had a science fiction story published some years ago in Aboriginal Science Fiction.
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 or the last?
David A. Riley: The most important thing is to support writing and writers. And to try and give your favourite writers some kind of positive feedback, especially those who have never been fortunate enough to have achieved best selling status, as this is the only kind of thing to give them a boost and encourage them to write more. I am a great believer in the written word and, though there is far more fame and glory these days in TV and films, a well-written book or story still has far, far more to offer. If films and TV disappeared tomorrow, I could live with it. If books did, I couldn’t.
It was never going to be easy to return for one last look at the streets where he spent his childhood years. Even knowing this, Gary still felt he had to make the effort, just this once, to see if they were really as bad as he remembered. In a few months demolition was due to start on Grudge End… When Gary Morgan travels north to lie low after a gangland shooting in London, a childhood friend is violently maimed within hours of his arrival. Decades after escaping the blight of his hometown, he finds himself ensnared in a place he hates more than any other.Feuding families, bloodthirsty syndicates, and hostile forces older than mankind all play a role in the escalating chaos surrounding Gary Morgan. Now he must unravel the mysteries of Grudge End and his own past or meet his doom in the grip of an ancient, unimaginable evil.
Many years have passed since Elves defeated and killed the last Goblin king. Now the Goblins are growing stronger in their mire, and Mickle Gorestab, one of the few remaining veterans of that war, is determined they will fight once more, this time aided by a renegade Elf who has delved into forbidden sorcery and hates his kind even more than his Goblin allies. Murder, treachery and the darkest of all magics follow in a maelstrom of blood, violence and unexpected alliances. Facing up to the cold cruelty of the Elves, Mickle Gorestab stands out as the epitome of grim, barbaric heroism, determined to see the wrongs of his race avenged and a restoration of the Goblin King.
There’s a serial killer at loose in London. Janice, who has a chronic fear of the dark, stumbles into a relationship with the man who may secretly be the murderer. Neither know that in the North of England, in a place previously owned by his dead mother, activities are taking place that may unleash a horror that could spell the end of civilisation in Britain – an ancient evil that would make the activities of any serial killer look like child’s play by comparison. Could a psychotic killer be the only man capable of ending this? Andrew Jennings is also known as David A. Riley.
David A. Riley began writing horror stories while still at school and had his first professional sale to Pan Books in 1969, which was The Lurkers in the Abyss, published in The Eleventh Pan Book of Horror Stories. This story was chosen for inclusion in The Century’s Best Horror Fiction in 2012. Over the years he has had numerous stories published in Britain and the United States plus translations into German, Spanish, Italian and Russian. His fiction has appeared in World of Horror, Fear, Whispers, Fantasy Tales, Aboriginal Science Fiction, Dark Discoveries and Lovecraft e-Zine. His first collection, His Own Mad Demons was published by Hazardous Press in 2012. The Return, a Lovecraftian horror novel was published by Blood Bound Books in 2013. This second collection brings together under one cover seventeen of the author’s best blood-curdling stories.
Their Cramped Dark World and Other Tales is David A. Riley’s third collection of short fiction, spanning 40 years of publication, from appearances in New Writings in Horror & the Supernatural #1 in 1971, to the Ninth Black Book of Horror in 2012.He has had numerous stories published by Doubleday, DAW, Corgi, Sphere, Roc, Playboy Paperbacks, Robinsons, etc., and in magazines such as Aboriginal Science Fiction, Dark Discoveries, Fear, and Fantasy Tales. His stories have been translated into Italian, German, Spanish and Russian. His Lovecraftian crime noir horror novel, The Return, was published by Blood Bound Books in 2013. His fantasy novel, Goblin Mire, was published by Parallel Universe Publications in 2015.Table of Contents Hoody (first published in When Graveyards Yawn, Crowswing Books, 2006) A Bottle of Spirits (first published in New Writings in Horror & the Supernatural 2, 1972) No Sense in Being Hungry, She Thought (first published in Peeping Tom #20, 1996) Now and Forever More (first published in The Second Black Book of Horror, 2008) Romero’s Children (first published in The Seventh Black Book of Horror, 2010) Swan Song (first published in the Ninth Black Book of Horror, 2012) The Farmhouse (first published in New Writings in Horror & the Supernatural 1, 1971) The Last Coach Trip (first published in The Eighth Black Book of Horror, 2011) The Satyr’s Head (first published in The Satyr’s Head & Other Tales of Terror, 1975) Their Cramped Dark World (first published in The Sixth Black Book of Horror, 2010).
David A. Riley’s first professionally published story was in the 11th Pan Book of Horror in 1970. Since then he has been published in numerous anthologies from ROC Books, DAW Books, Robinson Books, Corgi Books, Doubleday, Playboy Paperbacks, and Sphere. Two recent notable anthologies in which he has appeared are The Century’s Best Horror Fiction from Cemetery Dance, and Otto Pensler’s Zombies! Zombies! Zombies! from Vintage Books.In 1995, David and his wife Linden edited and published Beyond, a fantasy/SF magazine. His stories have been published in magazines such as Aboriginal Science Fiction, Dark Discoveries, Fear, Fantasy Tales and World of Horror.His Own Mad Demons contains his stories “Lock-In”, “The Worst of All Possible Places”, “The Fragile Mask on His Face”, “Their Own Mad Demons”, and “The True Spirit”.
Meghan: Hi, Brian. It is an honor to have you here on Meghan’s House of Books as part of my annual Halloween Extravaganza. Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Brian Hodge: When I did 23andMe, the DNA results showed 12% mountains, 14% being half of a dyad, 8% Maine Coons, 5% coffee, 2% Belgian ale, 6% black metal, 7% Berlin school electronics, 8% ambient, 11% solitude, 6% kettlebells, 4% Odin, 5% Green Man, and 12% trace elements and unidentifiable.
Meghan: What are five things most people don’t know about you?
Brian Hodge: (1) My favorite person from history is Leonardo da Vinci, because I’m fascinated by polymaths. (2) I am, so far, up to a blue belt in Krav Maga, the hand-to-hand combat system of the Israeli Defense Forces (the progression is white, yellow, orange, green, blue, brown, black). (3) I once managed the circus feat of projectile vomiting strawberry shortcake into my own underwear. (4) For more than twenty years, I’ve been an investor. (5) My primary childhood doctor told me I have unusually tough connective tissue, which I’ve chosen to interpret as being armor plated.
Meghan: What is the first book you remember reading?
Brian Hodge: It would’ve been from the Little Golden Books line for children. I had a couple of Christmas books … The ABC’s of Christmas and the other told the Rudolph story.
Meghan: What’s a book you really enjoyed that others wouldn’t expect you to have liked?
Brian Hodge: Can I cheat? I promise, it’s still writing related. I can’t think of a book, but I loved the show Gilmore Girls. Which probably wouldn’t have been something most people familiar with me would think I’d find essential. But a few weeks after its first season debut, I stumbled across this article, headlined something like “The Best-Written Show You Have No Idea Exists.” Okay, then — challenge accepted. And I right away fell in love with it, in part because the dialogue was so sharply written.
Meghan: What made you decide you want to write? When did you begin writing?
Brian Hodge: Second grade was when I wrote my first story. I was trying novels by sixth. That drive was always there, from even before I’d learned the alphabet, so there was never a conscious decision about it. It was just following the impulse.
Meghan: Do you have a special place you like to write?
Brian Hodge: My desk, most of the time. It’s this big oak beast with a hutch that I bought right after we moved to Colorado. When I snuff it, I’m thinking the whole thing should be smashed up as the wood for my funeral pyre.
Meghan: Do you have any quirks or processes that you go through when you write?
Brian Hodge: It’s more about how I begin the day overall. For me, writing in the morning is optimal, when I’m freshest and my head is clearest. So I get up about 5:30am, and after a bit of mobility warm-up, I head outside for a cardio workout in a fasted state. It comes down to: “Get up, get out, get moving.” It’s usually either trail running or going to the park we live by for a jump rope regimen with agility and weighted ropes. There are a lot of benefits from this: fresh air, getting the blood flowing, and especially the production of BDNF, brain-derived neurotrophic factor. Even in the middle of winter, it has to be awfully deadly out to keep me inside. Then I’m back in for a pint of warm water with lemon juice and apple cider vinegar, and I step into a cold shower for a few minutes. This routine leaves me feeling phenomenal — energized but calm, focused, just plain turbocharged. So it’s a great place from which to begin working.
Meghan: Is there anything about writing you find most challenging?
Brian Hodge: Probably keeping on the right side of perfectionist tendencies, before toppling over onto the other side where they start to become paralyzing.
Meghan: What’s the most satisfying thing you’ve written so far?
Brian Hodge: It’s always the most recent things — the latest novel, The Immaculate Void, and the newest collection, Skidding Into Oblivion. I consider them companion volumes. They started out as a single book, then while writing a capstone piece for the collection I accidentally wrote a novel. And I recently did a piece called “Insanity Among Penguins,” for Final Cuts, an upcoming anthology edited by Ellen Datlow, themed around films. It’s about a lost Werner Herzog documentary, and unnerved the shit out of me more than anything has in a long time.
Meghan: What books have most inspired you? Who are some authors that have inspired your writing style?
Brian Hodge: It was less about individual books than the cumulative effects of bodies of work. There’s no getting away from Stephen King, and encountering Clive Barker was like seeing the bar get raised. John Irving and Shakespeare left their marks. Dylan Thomas, for rhythm, but that came from audio recordings of him. I always like to credit three contemporaries who came along around the same time, Poppy Z. Brite and Caitlín R. Kiernan and Kathe Koja, for making me more aware of language — they all burst out of the gate doing beautiful things with language — and then Kathe turned me onto Cormac McCarthy. Still, that’s scratching the surface. I’m always absorbing something.
Meghan: What do you think makes a good story?
Brian Hodge: Compelling characters in interesting situations. Preferably situations whose resolutions aren’t telegraphed too obviously ahead of time, and ideally in well-realized settings.
Meghan: What does it take for you to love a character? How do you utilize that when creating your characters?
Brian Hodge: Just like loving people in real life, there’s almost no end of reasons, or combinations of reasons, that can bring it about. It could be elements of chemistry and compatibility, like worldview and humor and vulnerabilities. It could be admirable traits, like commitment to a cause or striving to do the right thing no matter how hard it may be.
I found Game of Thrones to be a master class in this. There were so many characters I loved, and for different reasons. But one thing I noticed that I especially responded to were characters who were devoted to protecting, looking out for, whatever, one or more weaker characters — even if they were only weaker in the moment — no matter the cost. It was the selflessness of that.
So in my own work, I’m more conscious of this than I used to be. But then, two or three years ago, I had a similar thing called to my attention in a review. I don’t remember what it was covering specifically, but the reviewer brought up having noticed this thread throughout several things of mine they’d read: of characters having to make really hard choices. I hadn’t consciously realized it, but it made me think: Yeah, I guess that’s right. I love it when characters find it in themselves to make the hardest moral choices of their lives. Okay, then, more of that.
Meghan: Which, of all your characters, do you think is the most like you?
Brian Hodge: I’d have to go back to my first couple of novels, Oasis and Dark Advent, the main protagonists of those. A few years ago, in an afterword to a new edition of the latter, I mentioned that the reason the central characters of both novels are students is because, at the time, a student was still about all I knew anything about being. They were such early novels…not just early in my overall body of work, but early in my life. I wrote Oasis about a year out of university. So it was like, okay, if I tap all that, high school and college, at least I’ll have that much locked down. So we’re talking most like me at the time of the writing, but not now. You grow, you evolve, you start achieving your Ultimate Form. I wouldn’t want to be either of those lunkheads now.
Meghan: Are you turned off by a bad cover? To what degree were you involved in creating your book covers?
Brian Hodge: I should know better, but, yeah, I still can’t help seeing a bad cover as a poor reflection of the contents. As for my own, I’ve occupied every possible station along the continuum: with no input whatsoever and having to take what they give me, total veto power, making suggestions for changes to the basic concept, to designing and compositing my own for some upcoming novella re-releases.
Some of the most satisfying experiences came from projects with Cemetery Dance Publications, and working more closely with the artists. Vincent Chong did the covers for my fourth collection, Picking the Bones, and that new edition of Dark Advent. The most I did was talk about mood, then Vinny knocked them out of the park. He’s glorious. The same with Kim Parkhurst, an artist I got directed to for a novella called I’ll Bring You the Birds From Out of the Sky. With this, it was more than the cover. The story is rooted in cosmic horror, and involves a cache of Appalachian folk art, so I thought it would be cool to have several style-appropriate color plates throughout the book. Kim totally ran with it. All I had to do was sit back and drool over the work-in-progress that she would send me. That little book looks so good I want to lick it.
Meghan: What have you learned creating your books?
Brian Hodge: Years ago I read something that immediately struck me as true, but I’d never considered it before: that each book teaches how you to write that particular book. The implication being that there’s not as much carryover to the next as you might think, because the next presents its own new set of challenges. But through all that, one overarching thing I’ve learned is to simply trust the process. That as long as you keep showing up to do the work, and giving it all you have, the details tend to sort themselves out along the way. What you’re doing that whole time is giving your subconscious mind more and more to work with, and the subconscious is always busy, always solving problems. So many times I’ve had no concrete notion of how something should culminate, but by the time I’m on the final approach, it’s there. So I don’t stress about it like I might’ve early on. I trust the process.
Meghan: What has been the hardest scene for you to write so far?
Brian Hodge: The one that’s always stayed with me as the biggest ordeal is a chapter in my sixth novel, Prototype. One of the central characters is this damaged guy who finds out he has this extremely rare chromosomal abnormality. About two-thirds in, he finally meets another one like him, whom he finds to be in even worse shape, so it’s devastating for him. I wanted to get as deep into this as possible, so I really prepared for it. On the stereo, I set this 20-minute Godflesh track on infinite repeat, like this spiraling black hole of oppressive noise, and wrote the chapter over several hours while tripping on acid. It got the job done, but I was useless the next day.
Meghan: What makes your books different from others out there in this genre?
Brian Hodge: Really, I’m the last person who should weigh in on this. About all I can say is that they’re uniquely mine, but that’s going to apply to most anyone with a byline. You’d have to ask readers, and even then, ten different people might give you ten different answers.
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)?
Brian Hodge: They’re vital, but regardless of whether it’s novels or short stories or long fiction or collections, it seems like I either know what the perfect title is very early on, or it eludes me and nothing ever feels quite right. The best times are when I have a title sitting around waiting for the perfect thing to hang beneath it. “Scars In Progress,” a piece in the collection from earlier this year, Skidding Into Oblivion, is a good example of that. One day I was skimming some dull technical material and misread the phrase “scans in progress.” Wait — what was that again? So I knew I had a keeper, even if it had to gather dust a few years for the right story to come along and claim it. Happy accidents like that can come from anywhere, so you have to always leave yourself open to receive the gifts.
Meghan: What makes you feel more fulfilled: Writing a novel or writing a short story?
Brian Hodge: I’ve always described novels as being like marriages, while shorter works are passionate flings on the side. So they each have their own rewards. A novel is obviously a bigger accomplishment, but there are times when it’s a bigger pain in the ass, too. So the intrinsic reward ratio is skewed. Let’s say a particular novel is fifteen times the length of a particular short story. Is it fifteen times as fulfilling? I can’t say that it is. I’m just happy to cross another finish line, however long the race. What I most love is the process, and the relationship with the work, however long it lasts.
Meghan: Tell us a little bit about your books, your target audience, and what you would like readers to take away from your stories.
Brian Hodge: Every book, whether it’s been horror, crime, or more recently fantasy, has been a product of the time it was written. Five years apart, the same idea might undergo a very different development and execution. So I don’t think in terms of a target audience. That would feel too calculating. The main concern is to do the best job I possibly can with the narrative that has started to undress itself in front of me.
And it doesn’t matter what I might want readers to take away, so I never think of that either. When you release something new into the wild, you may retain ownership of the work itself, but you relinquish control over the experience of reading it. People find their own meanings in things. I’ve seen people align perfectly with what I felt I was putting into a work, and seen other people derive takeaways I never intended. But I would never tell the latter people, “No, you’re wrong,” because it’s their own subjective experience. The first time anyone asked me what I wanted readers to come away with, it was during a convention panel, and all I said was, “A receipt.”
Meghan: Can you tell us about some of the deleted scenes/stuff that got left out of your work?
Brian Hodge: I tend to not work in a way that generates big, solid chunks of extraneous stuff. I’m lazy, I don’t want to do all this work that’s just going to get tossed, so paradoxically I do as much heavy lifting upfront as possible. I’ll have these freeform conversations with myself on a yellow legal pad as a way of brainstorming, to get a good idea of where things might be headed, who the characters are, and so on. With a completed first draft, my metaphor is that it’s like a fighter showing up for training camp — recognizable but out of shape. The subsequent drafts, it’s mainly about losing flab and building more muscle where needed. The final pass-throughs, to get to the optimal fighting weight, we’re down to sweating off ounces — a word here, a few words there.
Meghan: What is in your “trunk”? (Everyone has a book or project, which doesn’t necessarily have to be book related, that they have put aside for a ‘rainy day’ or for when they have extra time. Do you have one?)
Brian Hodge: That’s interesting, the difference in terminology here. To me, “trunk novel” has always meant an early stab at writing a book that didn’t turn out well, so it gets stashed away in this trunk, real or metaphorical, and likely never sees daylight again.
But what you’re talking about, to me it just falls under time- and project management. I have ideas for novels, and am hundreds of pages into one of them, but it’s not their time yet. So they’re idling like airliners on a runway, waiting on the tower to clear them for takeoff. And I like to mess about with music and sound design, in a home studio. By now it seems to have sorted itself out into three stylistically different identities. I can’t accord it the same priority as the writing, but it’s still something I love doing. Photography, too — I like doing photography. The rationalization I came up with for it all is that success in one field of creative endeavor should fund the ongoing abuse of another.
Meghan: What can we expect from you in the future?
Brian Hodge: If we are what we repeatedly do, as Aristotle said, for more than a year I ceased to be much of a writer. My parents died in April of last year, then I was appointed estate executor. There were so many responsibilities and obligations, that this was my focus for the next year. Then I needed to take some time off from everything. There’s still estate business to tend to now and then, but I pretty much have my life back again, even though it feels slow in getting back up to speed. Like turning an aircraft carrier.
Lately I’ve been putting together my sixth collection. I wrote the main finale for the third and final volume of editor Stephen Jones’ Lovecraft Squad trilogy of mosaic novels. I just did a piece for an anthology called Miscreations. There’s a gritty fantasy novel called A Song of Eagles that’s part of a larger Kickstarter project, and was 50,000 words along when I had to set it aside the day I woke up to the news my mom had died. So now that I’m warmed up, I’ll finish that one, then decide which runway novel to go with next.
Then there are some potential TV and film projects. We’ve just renewed the option for a TV adaptation of a story called “The Same Deep Waters As You,” by a London-based production company. I read their season one treatment recently, and really like what the attached writer, from Sweden, has done with it. A few other things are still in the negotiation or paperwork phase, so it’s too soon to go public with the news.
Meghan: Where can we find you?
Brian Hodge: My website has an email link. I’m usually active on Facebook, although a brief sabbatical is occasionally necessary when the whining hits critical mass. I still have an account on Twitter but hesitate to send anyone there. When the family stuff blew up, I didn’t have time for it, and it’s been dormant ever since.
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?
Brian Hodge: Nah, other than to say thanks very much for having me here.
Called “a writer of spectacularly unflinching gifts” by no less than Peter Straub, Brian Hodge is one of those people who always has to be making something. So far, he’s made thirteen novels, over 130 shorter works, five full-length collections, and one soundtrack album.
His most recent works include the novel The Immaculate Void and the collection Skidding Into Oblivion, companion volumes of cosmic horror. His Lovecraftian novella The Same Deep Waters As You is in the early stages of development as a TV series by a London-based production company. More of everything is in the works.
He lives in Colorado, where he also endeavors to sweat every day like he’s being chased by the police. Connect through his website, or Facebook.
“You wouldn’t think events happening years apart, at points in the solar system hundreds of millions of miles distant, would have anything to do with each other.”
When she was six, Daphne was taken into a neighbor’s toolshed, and came within seconds of never coming out alive. Most of the scars healed. Except for the one that went all the way through.
“You wouldn’t think that the serial murders of children, and the one who got away, would have any connection with the strange fate of one of Jupiter’s moons.”
Two decades later, when Daphne goes missing again, it’s nothing new. As her exes might agree, running is what she does best … so her brother Tanner sets out one more time to find her. Whether in the mountains, or in his own family, search—and—rescue is what he does best.
“But it does. It’s all connected. Everything’s connected.”
Down two different paths, along two different timelines, Daphne and Tanner both find themselves trapped in a savage hunt for the rarest people on earth, by those who would slaughter them on behalf of ravenous entities that lurk outside of time.
“So when things start to unravel, it all starts to unravel.”
But in ominous signs that have traveled light—years to be seen by human eyes, and that plummet from the sky, the ultimate truth is revealed:
There are some things in the cosmos that terrify even the gods.
We each inhabit many worlds, often at the same time. From worlds on the inside, to the world on a cosmic scale. Worlds imposed on us, and worlds of our own making.
In time, though, all worlds will end. Bear witness:
After the death of their grandmother, two cousins return to their family’s rural homestead to find a community rotting from the soul outward, and a secret nobody dreamed their matriarch had been keeping.
The survivors of the 1929 raid on H.P. Lovecraft’s town of Innsmouth hold the key to an anomalous new event in the ocean, if only someone could communicate with them.
The ultimate snow day turns into the ultimate nightmare when it just doesn’t stop.
An extreme metal musician compels his harshest critic to live up to the hyperbole of his trolling.
With the last of a generation of grotesquely selfish city fathers on his deathbed, the residents of the town they doomed exercise their right to self-determination one last time.
As history repeats itself and the world shivers through a volcanic winter, a group gathers around the shore of a mountain lake to once again invoke the magic that created the world’s most famous monster.
With Skidding Into Oblivion, his fifth collection, award-winning author Brian Hodge brings together his most concentrated assortment yet of year’s best picks and awards finalists, with one thing in common:
It’s the end of the world as we know it… and we don’t feel fine at all.