Why did you decide to do an MFA in Creative Writing?
I thought, at the time, that I would never be published. Yet I had no skills whatsoever except writing. I thought a good compromise would be to teach creative writing. Then, after my first year there, the administration took me aside and told me I wasn’t temperamentally suited to teaching and should probably drop out. It turned out I was temperamentally suited to rejecting authority, so I finished the degree anyway.
Can you remember the earliest piece of fiction you wrote and how old you were?
I was six years old. I wrote what I thought at the time was a novel—I believe it ran to sixteen pages. The subject matter is unfortunately lost to time. I’m sure it was quite brilliant.
Why did you decided to publish chapters from your stories on-line, what was the motivation?
I couldn’t get published—nobody wanted me. I’d spent almost thirty years trying and was starting to get discouraged. A friend had a website and he offered to let me post some of my writing there. I thought it might be a way to let my friends and family see my stuff. It turned out I had a lot more friends and family than I’d previously suspected.
How did you go from posting stories on-line to being a published author?
I was approached by a publisher who wanted to buy the books. This is apparently unusual, but I fought back my fears of the unknown and took the plunge. It worked out pretty well. Honestly, that was all there was to it. The website kept getting more and more hits, and I kept getting press attention—at the time, nobody else was doing what I was doing. It must have been a slow news cycle. I would feel like I had slacked my way into a book deal, if I hadn’t spent the thirty years before that diligently honing my craft day after day while everyone kept telling me to get a real job.
Why do you choose to keep the ‘old’ style for werewolves, zombies and vampires while the current trend is for urbanised fantasy?
I’m just not cut out to write romance novels. I’m much less interested in whether a given vampire is married or not (and whether he takes his ring off when he leaves his coffin of an evening) than I am in how many bullets he can take to the chest before he winces in pain. I’m a geek at heart—I love the source material far too much to treat it as more grist for the commercial mill. So I write the books I’d like to read.
On your website you say you are an author of adventurous fiction rather than horror or thriller. Could you expand on why?
The genre categories started as a filing system. It was so the clerks would know where to put the books on the store shelves. The authors I admire most—people like Dickens and Edith Wharton—made no distinctions between horror and literature, they were just as happy to write ghost stories as they were to explore the human condition. I like to think I could write anything, given a chance. That I could write a gore-choked zombie book one year and a work of social realism the next. So far I’ve mostly done the latter. But I don’t think of myself as “just” a horror writer. The “adventurous” part comes from my inspirations—the old pulp novels of the 20s and 30s, and the paperback revolution of the 50s, when people understood that a book should be entertaining before anything else.
Are you a fan of horror films and books yourself?
Yes, of course—I couldn’t do this otherwise. My zombie novels are really one long love letter to George Romero’s movies, and I grew up reading Stephen King and Peter Straub, because my mother liked those books. She would bring home a bag full of them from the library every week and tell me she didn’t think I should read them, because they were too scary. She’s always believed in freedom of speech as the cornerstone of free society, however, so she never told me I couldn’t read them. Which is really some of the worst reverse psychology I’ve ever seen.
As a published author your readership grew from a few dedicated readers to a cult following, did that make you feel more pressure to write what you thought people might like, or do you prefer to listen to your inner storyteller?
The inner storyteller always wins, but I definitely took input from my readers. The great thing about serializing the books was that I could get feedback on a chapter-by-chapter basis, and I could see what was working and what people didn’t think was important. I learned more about writing in the five months it took my to serialize Monster Island than I had in the five years before that.
I noted as your readership grew, so did the number of negative comments about aspects of your work. You manage to stay very polite to people even in the face of this, but how does it affect you?
I don’t take it personally. No one ever tells me I’m ugly or that I have an offensive odor. They tell me I got the details of a given gun wrong, or that they think a given character is boring and lifeless. That’s the kind of thing I want to know, so I can fix it. I could take offense, I suppose, but then I wouldn’t learn anything, and I would never get better as a writer. To be a writer means to believe (despite all evidence to the contrary) that one has something to say. You can’t get angry if people disagree with what you said in a public forum—well, of course, you can, but it’s just counter-productive. When I tell a joke at a cocktail party, and someone says it wasn’t very funny, well, that’s when I break into a murderous rage.
You can read my review of the excellent Cursed here.