William Cook - Writer: Guest Author Interview: Brian Evenson

Today it is my distinct pleasure to bring you this recent interview I did with the talented author, Brian Evenson. I recently read his early collection Fugue State and thought it a fantastic book. Here’s my review, which doesn’t really do it justice – I encourage you to read this and any of Brian’s other superb books (click on the book cover images below to be taken direct to the Amazon book page):

“Brian Evenson's Fugue State is a very surrealistic, slip-stream kind of collection soaked with dark themes and nightmarish allegories that make the reader think! A bit of a rarity these days. I especially liked the way the stories encouraged a second reading. Stand-outs for me were 'In the Greenhouse', 'Life Without Father', 'Fugue State' and 'The Adjudicator.' Will definitely be reading more from this fine author.”


Without further ado, here is my interview with Brian.

BRIAN EVENSON is the author of a dozen books of fiction, most recently the story collection A Collapse of Horses (Coffee House Press, 2016) and the novella The Warren (Tor.com, 2016). His collection Windeye (Coffee House Press 2012) and novel Immobility (Tor 2012) were both finalists for a Shirley Jackson Award. His novel Last Days won the American Library Association's award for Best Horror Novel of 2009. The Open Curtain (Coffee House Press, 2006) was a finalist for an Edgar Award and an International Horror Guild Award. Other books include The Wavering Knife (which won the IHG Award for best story collection), Dark Property, and Altmann's Tongue.  He is the recipient of three O. Henry Prizes as well as an NEA fellowship. His work has been translated into French, Greek, Italian, Spanish, Japanese and Slovenian. He lives and works in California, and teaches at CalArts.

Q: You have recently been in Transylvania teaching at the Horror Writer’s Workshop, did you get an opportunity to explore the countryside and were you inspired by your experience?

A: We did.  The Horror Writer’s Workshop was held just outside of the town that houses Bran Castle, the basis for Dracula’s castle in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, so I spent some time there, also explored some of the nearby towns and medieval villages and fortresses, places like Sighisoara and Brasov, took my son to a decaying Communist playground complete with scary cartoon figures, passed through a gypsy village in which on a Sunday morning everyone was carrying a broom, spent time in the forest, etc.  It’s an amazing place, and it reminded me a lot of what parts of Europe used to be like 30 or 35 years ago, back when I visited as a kid.  I do think I got a lot out of it and that it’ll figure in my writing in various ways.

Q: What of your childhood experiences determined your future works of fiction in thematic terms? I.e. How/what aspects of your childhood influenced your love of genre, reading and, ultimately, writing?

A: My parents were both big readers, and I think that rubbed off on me.  They read a lot of mysteries in particular, but literature as well, and some science fiction (Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Heinlein, C. S. Lewis).  I think that, the pleasure they seemed to get out of fiction, was more important to me as a developing reader than anything else.
            When I was young, I read mostly genre, most SF (Wolfe, Moorcock, McCaffery, etc.) but when I was in my mid-teens my father introduced me to Kafka and my mother introduced me to Poe.  That ended up opening a whole new world to me, made me realize that literature was maybe something different than what I’d been led to believe it was, that it didn’t have to be boring and could be very odd.  For a long time after that, a decade or more, but then I suddenly started finding it again and began remembering what I liked about it.  And I also realized at that time that a lot of what I was trying to do with my own writing was to figure out a way to combine literature and genre.

Q: Many of your stories invoke a sense of unease and disquiet in terms of both the effect of characterization and imagery, is this a stylistic device that you employ to psychologically and imaginatively impact upon the reader, or do you think that it is more of an organic signatory aspect of your work?

A: I see it as organic, as something that I admire about the fiction I read that I liked the most and that became part of my literary DNA.  I like work that makes me uneasy as a reader, that throws me off balance, and I think from the beginning of starting to write I was trying to understand how those stories worked and how to do it myself.  But I also see it as operating more instinctively than being something I set out to do with a specific set of tools and, honestly, my stories that work the best manage to accomplish the unsettlement in a way that I can’t quite replicate or can’t quite understand why it does work.  I love those moments in my fiction:  the moments that really work but that I can’t explain to myself.  At this point, it’s organic:  I don’t think about it any more. I only have to think about it when I want a part of a story to not move in that direction...

Q: Your work seems slippery in terms of genre definition, what genre/s do you most feel at home with (writing) and do you have trouble placing your work in your intended market/s?

A: Initially, back in the 90s, I did have some trouble—people had a hard time deciding what to do with me.  When I was first publishing, one of the first reviews my first book got at a large newspaper suggested that I was talented and I’d be worth reading once I got over the dark stuff and started writing “normal” stories. But as time has gone on most have decided they’re okay with me being a little slippery, and that the darkness in my work is crucial and non-gratuitous.  That’s partly because they’ve gotten used to me and partly because I think the nature of the relation of genre and literature has shifted over time:  what editors and reviewers used to think of as a Trump-style gigantic wall most now see as something that can be easily and productively crossed.

Q: What is it that you are trying to communicate to your readers? I.e. When someone finishes one of your stories what do you want them to come away with from the experience?

A: I don’t want to communicate information at all.  I do want readers to go through an experience with my stories, to have an intensive experience.  I want my fiction to be something that sticks with readers, that they continue to think about after they’ve finished the story.  I want them to feel slightly changed by it.


Q: In a recent interview with BookForum (Jan, 2016) you mentioned that you “go for intense ambiguity, where you just don’t know what the stable ground is.” In the context of your stories that this is applicable to, why is it that you deliberately write this way and what do you hope to achieve by using this type of literary device?

A: I think so much of fiction that is written takes most things for granted.  But I think so much of our experience of the actual world (or at least so much of my experience of the actual world) involves misperceiving and misinterpreting things, muddling forward by getting things mostly right.  For me, being put in a position where you remember that, where what you think you know becomes a little less insistent, a little more tentative, opens you to a different experience of reality, one that is much more interesting.
            An ex-girlfriend of mine used to get very frustrated with me because her perception of color was slightly different from mine.  She used to see things as grey that I saw as green, or maybe the reverse—I’ve been out of that relationship long enough that I’ve mostly blocked it out.  She would show me pieces of clothing in varying shades of grey or green and then tell me I was wrong about what color they were.  But, honestly, whatever I said, I was still going to see the color that I saw.  We could agree on liking a shirt but not on what color it was.  So, either you have to insist on your color being the “right” color (as my ex-girlfriend did) or you have to be willing to realize that there’s no right answer to perception, that perception is different from person to person, but that experience of misperceiving or having your perception challenged is a very common one, one that swirls underneath the surface of seemingly solid things—and that what’s actually there, might be even different still from what either of us perceives.

Q: As an academic how do you distance yourself from writing academically (in the style of) when it comes to writing fiction?

A: I think it’s fairly natural to shift from one to the other, in the same way that you might talk differently to a minister than you would to your friend in a death metal band.  It’s enough of a different speech genre that it doesn’t tend to get mixed up.  Having said that, I do have some stories that play with the language of academia, like “The Wavering Knife.”  There are writers who can mimic that voice for fictional purposes and use it to excellent effect.  John Langan, for instance, is exceptionally good at it, as is Thomas Ligotti.  When you do it, it makes for a different sort of reading experience than you usually get from either academic writing or fiction—the tension between the two modes ends up doing something productive. 


Q: Your work has previously been compared to the likes of Poe and Kafka, do you see yourself as following in the trajectory of gothic fiction and, if so, do you have any allegiances to a particular strand of the gothic genre, or are your thematic and stylistic concerns influenced by other literary traditions?

A: I do see myself as tied to the gothic, and early on thought of myself as being part of a kind of New Gothic school—there was an issue of Conjunctions magazine called “The New Gothic” that made me think there might be a place for me in the literary world after all.  I tend to read pretty widely and eccentrically, and I think that a lot of different strands end up coming together in my stories, so probably the experience of reading them differs depending on what traditions you’re most steeped in.  So, for instance, in a story like “The Second Boy” I’m playing with campfire stories and ghost stories, sometimes particular ghost stories, and stories about doubles, sometimes particular double stories, but also carrying on a conversation with Isak Dinesen and Roberto Bolaño.  And since what I allude to in Bolaño is actually a conversation he’s having with another writer there’s a further level of complication if you know Bolaño and his influences well.  And if you know the Dinesen story I’m dealing with, you’ll see how I’m turning it against itself.  You don’t have to know any of that to enjoy the story, but what you do know and sense and feel will inflect your experience significantly.

Q: Whatever genre banner your stories fall under there seems to be a prevailing preoccupation with interior psychological landscapes and the relationship between perceived realities and ‘other’ possible states of existence. Does this concern stem from a personal sort of existential questioning and/or is it more of a literary technique that you employ to add to the depth of the story?

A: It stems very directly from concerns of my own.  That questioning of reality is tied to my own fears and doubts and suspicions, and I think that’s what makes it work in the stories:  if it’s unsettling for readers it’s at least in part because it’s unsettling for me.

Q: When you write a story, what is your process? For example, do you outline or jump right in? How many edits do you usually make when writing short fiction and do you use a similar process when writing longer works?

A: I’ve done different things depending on the story and on where I’ve been in my career. I used to jump in and just write the story straight through, but as soon as I began writing stories that were longer than a thousand words or so that became difficult.  I almost never outline a story, but I do jot notes as I go, and if I stop for an hour or for the night I often will write a few lines about where I intend to go.  If I’m working on a longer work, I do sometimes outline, but the outline can change quite a bit by the end.  With novels I’ve done both, but find it much more productive to outline—it allows me to write much quicker and keeps me from wasting a lot of time in dead ends.
            In terms of edits, I tend to try in my first draft to establish a structure, but then will edit a piece anywhere from 3-4 times to a dozen times after that.  Usually the structure stays relatively the same, but parts will shrink or expand and individual wording really gets honed and perfected in the later drafts in particular.

Q: When you write a story from a particular philosophical slant do you try to align it with universal human principles (common to the majority of your readers) in order to solicit a certain type of response? I.e. Do you measure your own intent with an understanding of your reader/s and how they might perceive your work?

A: I do think about the reader and how they might perceive the work, but I write in a way that has enough openness in it that I think different people can have slightly different experiences with my work. I like that about it.  But I do hope that the majority of people have the kind of experience that makes them continue to think about the story after they put the book down.

Q: Finally, thank you for agreeing to be interviewed. Are you working on any new projects that you can share details of?

A: You’re welcome.  I have a new novella, The Warren, coming out in a few weeks.  Other than that, I’ve been working on stories and am on the way to a new collection (probably still a year away at least from having something finished).  I also have some ideas for a novel, and am just getting going with that.

Please make sure you check out Brian’s website and Amazon author page (links below) for more information about his available titles.

Brian Evenson's Website:  http://www.brianevenson.com\

Amazon Author Page: http://tinyurl.com/BrianEvensonAmazon

If you haven't already, please take a moment to subscribe to this website (here is the link: free instant book download for all new subscribers) so that you can catch all the latest news and interviews. Next interviewee is with Mort Castle, in case you've been living under a rock, he is a brilliant author and a massive figure in the Horror world. Until next time - stay tuned, thanks for reading and please share this post with your pals.

 Brian Evenson, A Collapse of Horses, The Warren, Gothic Literature, Author Interview, Interview, Horror, Surrealism, Publishing, Writing

William Cook - Writer: New Zealand Horror Fiction - Does It Exist?

Recently I had the pleasure of talking with fellow New Zealand author, Lee Murray. She asked questions - I responded, oh yes, that's right, it was an interview! And here it is (please make sure to check out Lee's great blog and subscribe). Thanks for reading.

Welcome William! Give us your personal definition of horror. How would you describe it: blood curdling spatter, or through the looking glass, darkly?
I’m not sure my personal definition of horror is different than standard definitions, but here goes: Horror, in its many guises ‒ fiction, cinema, real events ‒ is a highly subjective phenomena directly related to the individual’s own interpretation of things that inspire fear in the imagination. Fear is the greatest component of horror as an experience. The fear of losing one’s life, the fear of someone close to you losing their life, the fear of a threat that borders on the incomprehensible . . . and so on. Horror is an experience that builds in the mind with the enormity of its potential effect on the individual. It is apprehension that builds terror in the imagination, to the point where madness threatens to eclipse the fear with the suffocating and sublime realization that our greatest fear is real and present. The imagination is a huge determining aspect of the scope of the horror experience; and an essential ingredient that must be considered when writing horror or portraying it [horror] cinematically. If the author cannot engage the reader’s imagination, to the point where the reader can visualize and emotionally trigger their own fears in response to what is in front of them, then the author cannot hope to instill fear and thereby ‘horror’ in their writing. As Arthur Conan Doyle suggested: “Where there is no imagination, there is no horror.”
br Cook on New Zealand Horror

Good, well-crafted, horror must create an emotional response in the reader that both engages and triggers an emotional and intellectual response. It is not enough to bombard the reader with ‘gore for gore’s sake’ or gross depictions of violence without basis or necessity as part of the story – horror, must build to the point where it is inescapable, where the reader has not become desensitized to the point where at the intersection of plot, action and narrative, they feel nothing. It is in the apprehension and the emotional interplay of fear where the best horror lurks. It is a rare skill for an author to be able to build an experience of horror, which gains purchase via the reader’s subjective experience of fear; that triggers a deep intellectual response which, whilst frightening, also provides an element of resolution or satisfaction in the experience.

The confrontational aspect of horror fiction (and film) can either harm or heal depending on how it is done. For example, I distinctly remember, after reading Stephen King’s The Shining, the thrilling but exhaustive feeling that coursed through me as I put the book down for the last time. The story replayed in my mind and my heart beat rapidly as I marveled at the effect that the book had on me. Tied in with my emotional response was a sense of accomplishment: that I had got all the way to the end of this massive book, that I had confronted all the terrible ghosts that haunted the Overlook Hotel, that I had battled the demonic hedge-maze monsters and that I had survived the worst monster of all, the frightening and all-too-human monster, Jack Torrance. It wasn’t a quick read, it didn’t have an abundance of gore and gross-out violence, and the horror experience wasn’t completely realized until the final chapter where it seems as though everything has worked out well for Halloran, Wendy and Danny after the tragic death of Jack and the destruction of the hotel. There is that lingering sense that beneath the surface, beyond the brightness of those who ‘shine on’, the darkness threatens to return.

So, in light of my own personal opinions about horror, you have probably guessed by now that I prefer ‘quiet horror’, the kind that creeps up on you for maximum sublimity. I also like reading more visceral and extreme horror by authors like Edward Lee and Jack Ketchum, but I don’t get the same response to it as I do with more subtle and intricately crafted works like King’s The Shining, Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black, or Ghost Story by Peter Straub.

In many countries, genre fiction is considered the stepchild to mainstream literature, and horror even more so. Do you think this true of New Zealand? [And what can we do?]

Mention NZ Horror and most people would cite Peter Jackson as being its main proponent. Indeed, the history of NZ Horror is evident in a relatively short film history dating back to the late ‘70s, but not so in the history of our literature. Examples of works exhibiting various tropes and themes found in international mainstream horror fiction can be traced back through select works by some of NZ’s leading writers of their day. The likes of past (and present) NZ literary notables: Maurice Gee (Under the Mountain, and Firestarter), Ronald Hugh Morrieson (The Scarecrow), and Katherine Mansfield (The Daughters of the Late Colonel). All had elements of the horrific in their work, usually of the quasi-gothic variety with dark and ghostly romanticised scenes. Indeed, many of New Zealand’s leading fiction authors have been noted as having various ‘dark’ themes, a synchronicity shared with our cinematic productions. Much has been made of the Kiwi Gothic, but usually only in reference to film in this country:

The Kiwi Gothic constructs New Zealand not as a place of some pastoral idyll but rather as an environment where danger and horror lurk everywhere. The Antipodean gothic is generally considered to be an expression of the settler anxiety that derived from the confrontation with a hostile and alien environment, such as the native New Zealand bush. Unlike the European gothic, which often tells ghost stories set in old castles, the Kiwi version of the gothic often deals with alienation, family traumas and uncanny experiences in very familiar places.
The concept of Kiwi Gothic in NZ cinema can be quite easily aligned to our fiction.  The same characteristics and tropes are readily available in most contemporary NZ fiction. Unfortunately, the best and brightest of New Zealand authors of dark genre fiction have found more success overseas than here in our own country. I don’t even think that the literary elite of this country even consider horror to be a literary genre, let alone a part of the NZ literary canon and in some ways they would be correct. We don’t really have a firm tradition of stereo-typical horror fiction being written in this country (or at least being set here in NZ). I can’t recall ever reading or seeing a book written by a New Zealander about werewolves, zombies or vampires, roaming about our green countryside.

Most NZ authors (myself included) of horror, seem to understandably appeal to a greater international audience, rather than a small regional one where the best-seller lists are populated by sports biographies, cooking books and the occasional historical drama. It is almost too hard to break into the restrictive NZ literary market as a horror author, let alone an independent writer of the dark stuff. Any author of dark fiction who seems to be moderately successful, has achieved that success outside of the NZ market. There are a few exceptions, such as the brilliant and dark works of Mike Johnson (Dumb Show, and Travesty), paranormal author Eleanor Gill and the dark fantasy works of Elizabeth Knox, and then there are the crime fiction authors who write gritty thrillers such as Paul Cleave, Ben Sanders and Vanda Symons, but even then these authors mostly achieved their initial successes on international best-seller charts.

The only way works of horror can be accepted as a viable New Zealand genre, is if the reading public accepts them, seeks them out and purchases them on a regular basis through regional distribution channels, which also sell other NZ books. If the reader buys one of these hypothetical books knowingly; that is, knowing that it is a New Zealand horror story, it is advertised as such and appeals because of its genre basis, then we are halfway there. If enough local readers order said NZ horror books, then a channel will be created due to popular demand, but until there is enough of a trend in the fickle NZ book-buying market place, the main route for books of this nature will be either through savvy local suppliers and/or authors who know how to market on a regional level. 

Unfortunately, as mentioned previously, the market-place is so much bigger internationally that it does not make much financial sense to sell books locally, as so much still needs to be done to create awareness AND demand, for our particular genre. Because these distribution channels are currently so tightly controlled by a select network of suppliers and publishing houses, it is extremely difficult for small players to meet the same demands of a reading public who have settled largely for whatever is placed before them as representative of our literary culture and what is seen to be of the most popular appeal. Read: what will sell the most.
br2 Cook on New Zealand Horror

This also implies, that if an author (of horror) is not published by one of the main traditional publishing companies in NZ, then their chance of acceptance by the literary community (including readers) is very slim indeed. The horror genre has always had a certain amount of stigma attached to it anyway, no matter what country it is from. I think a large part of the problem for horror authors trying to get a foothold in the NZ market, is that we are comparatively such a small market-place. The fact that international statistics generally show that the horror genre is near the bottom in terms of sales and readership, also betrays the fact that when you transfer those same stats to the NZ market it is even less. The NZ reading public has a propensity for non-fiction which is our biggest seller according to recent surveys[i]; this fact alone makes the possibility of success, with one of the least popular genre-types, a rare thing indeed and is no surprise to those of us who have tried to get horror works published in this country. Thankfully, there have recently been a few small publishing houses who have started publishing dark fiction here. Independent publishers like Paper Road Press and Steam Press are producing quality horror/dark fantasy titles, but also carry other slip-stream genre titles due to necessity (I presume).

Horror, will probably never be the bread and butter of NZ publishing unless it also serves an international market (especially digitally). Although, in saying that, with an ever-increasing population and small enclaves of writers of dark fiction popping up around the country; potentially, it could be a growth market with the right marketing and distribution network, but in my opinion would need a pioneering publishing company (or author) to take the reins and drive quality works of dark fiction to market in a sustainable and stimulation manner.

What can be done in the future, to open the market-place for NZ authors of dark fiction? Authors need to stand up and take hold of the reins and write distinctly New Zealand horror and not be afraid to be pigeon-holed as horror authors. Perhaps, Elizabeth Knox has been the leading proponent of this attitude – she has written publicly of her love of the horror genre and the influence it has had on her own work. Knox’s novel Wake could be seen as a prime example of what a good NZ horror novel should be:

1.) It is set in New Zealand
2.) It is written in a distinctly New Zealand vernacular
3.) it is pitched at the New Zealand reading public as a horror novel and,
4.) it has been accepted by the New Zealand reading public as a reasonably popular choice at the time of publication.

The New Zealand Listener even noticed this point of difference in Knox’s work, compared to the majority of NZ fiction that is usually classed as literary fiction:

Elizabeth Knox has long shown a studied indifference to those readers (and critics) who demand a strict separation between genre and literary fiction, to the benefit of both.
The same critic, Craig Ranapia, goes on to astutely point out that:

Horror fiction – and that’s what Wake splendidly is – will always be the red-haired stepchild of that already disreputable literary clan, genre fiction. How could it be otherwise? No matter how popular horror fiction is, those who trade in knowing what we most deeply fear, and why, are never entirely welcome guests.
And it is perhaps in this last statement that the answer to Lee’s question lies; like an undead zombie caught in a perpetual state of ‘dead-alive,’ the horror genre (New Zealand or otherwise), is always attempting to rise above the hubris that keeps it buried on the literary outskirts of acceptable mainstream popular fiction.

Poetry has always been a means of addressing our personal demons. Does this mean dark poetry is more likely to gain wider readership? What has been your experience with your volume Corpus Delicti?

No, not at all. ANY type of poetry, dark or otherwise, only appeals to a very limited market. Despite dealing with subjects many other poets choose to ignore, dark poetry has a very select readership and in my experience is not widely read, let alone understood. Once again, because the horror genre has such a small slice of genre sales ‒ unless it is rebranded as something else like Stephen King’s works ‒ it stands to reason that dark/horror poetry has an even smaller slice of that same pie. Dark poetry is a great way to confront issues and fears from the writer’s perspective, but depending on the tastes of the reader of verse, the appeal is limited by both the formal aspects of the poetry and the scope of the subject matter and the way it is transcribed. Most people find poetry tough-going at the best of times, especially poetry that doesn’t operate on a simplistic, superficial level. Poetry that deals with difficult themes and is technically adept and intellectually complex, will always only appeal to a select few and usually then, only other poets or academics who do nothing else but study the form and technique of poetry. That is, it seems to ‘take one, to understand one.’ If, for example, you are a poet who does not write in traditional forms and who doesn’t employ conventional rhyme schemes, then your audience will be limited once again, as opposed to the poet who writes ‘sing-song’ verse where everything rhymes to the point where the poem just becomes a cliché or facsimile (style-wise) of gothic poets like Edgar Allen Poe, and reeking of imitation.

Personally speaking, I don’t like contemporary rhyming verse, and almost always prefer a free-verse style that allows the poet to tell a story, as much as describe something in an aesthetic manner. Poetry brought me to short fiction and short fiction to long-form narrative and for that reason I feel it is important for me, as a writer, to continue to practice the craft of poetry to complement my fiction writing skills. To be able to write succinctly and with impact and meaning is a skill I learned from years of writing poetry and I guess without having that vent of creative expression, my personal demons would have existed more off the page than on. So, yes, I have addressed and entertained many personal experiences and imaginations with my poetry but unless a reader identifies with my experience ‒interspersed with literary style, technique and the ‘meaning’ I want to imply and reveal ‒ then it really has no appeal to a wider readership. Many readers weave their own experiences and meaning into the poems and I love that and it is something I aspire to achieve with my poetry: that it will at least invoke a response or provoke the imagination on some level with the reader.

I am currently working on a new collection, titled Beyond the Black Gate which is deliberately written in a confessional style that focuses on a single subject in order to solicit identification with the reader. The collection deals with the topic of depression. The Black Gate is a play on the conventional use of the Black Dog as a metaphorical symbol/mascot for depression. Here is the first poem which is written in a loose traditional form (sonnet) and with a subtle rhyme scheme, but also written in a contemporary manner:

Black Gate Sonnet
This is no ‘Black Dog’; such an animal
does not exist. This curse names of itself
The Black Gate – it’s mind is all of its own
a sentry of pain guards one’s mental health
permitting entry to none but the self
once inside, the gate is closed until death –
comes calling, or the night grants some respite
as black mists swallow the heart’s shallow breath
and the dark veil envelopes the sick mind
shutting out the world’s grim realities,
and once again the Black Gate covets time;
imprisoned life, jailed so mercilessly.
Deep inside, the mind heals slowly until inured
out the Black Gate goes, the self, degrees improved.

There are two main reasons for my use of a semi-traditional style or form in the lead poem. For me, poetry always follows and builds upon tradition and the canon which comes before – mainly because poetry has existed for centuries and most human subjects and experience have been written of previously, by far greater poets than myself. I am a big fan of Shakespeare and Donne’s sonnets and usually model any poems in the sonnet form on a select example by one of these two greats. I do so as a nod to my heroes and also just to leave readers in no doubt, that what they are about to read is poetry and, hopefully, intellectually and aesthetically challenging poetry that will demand they at least know how to read poetry. Once the initial poem is read, then I switch predominantly to the free-verse style I championed above. The stories begin, imbued with all the tropes and technique used in traditional verse forms, but written in a contemporary narrative style. I love using metaphor, simile, analogy, and allegory amongst other poetic devices. I also love cryptography and often hide words and secret anagrams in my verse, in the hope that an astute reader might break the code and reveal another layer of meaning that enlarges the scope of the poem. Sometimes, I also like to subvert the process and add archaic terminology or foreign phrases to reference another (usually classic) poem within the free-verse contemporary form. The collection essentially relays my own experience of depression, with a selection of poetry that deals with the dark side of this disease of the mind and also the light that comes after the darkness has gone. The verse is not horror poetry per se but it deals with fundamental human experiences of dark themes related to the depressive state. Hopefully, it might resonate with someone else who suffers from the same malady and, at the end of the day, it will be a cathartic experience for myself upon completion.
br3 Cook on New Zealand Horror

If you were stuck with [insert name of favorite international horror writer] in an elevator, what is the one thing you would hope they would take away about New Zealand horror. 

Interesting question. Of course, it would have to be the ‘king of horror’ – Stephen King – trapped in the elevator with me. I would hope to convince him that New Zealand was a highly literate culture, with the gothic underpinnings of a dark and tumultuous colonial and cultural history that readily lent itself to producing fine works of literature that employ the genre tropes and practices of the best horror writers. That we are growing, not just in terms of population but in terms of ideas and the scope of our realization, that we can indeed be top players in an international market place. That we have a distinct voice (when we are not afraid to use it) and that that voice is unique and distinctive and interesting to the rest of the world, if done properly. I would suggest he looks at the landscape and the people in order to understand our literature and to see the dynamic potential of future works of dark fiction, set in such a dramatic and sublime environment.

You’re overnighting in a crypt with only one candle, what book are you reading?

The Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe.

Can you name some Kiwi horror talent we should have on our radar right now? Anyone coming through the ranks who we should note?

A hard question merely by the fact that my recommendation is only as good as my reading experience. I’m sure that there are NZ authors of horror who I am not aware of and who I have not read and if you are out there, please accept my personal invitation to join my Facebook group: NZ Horror Writers. Okay, well the ones I have read and enjoyed are as follows: Tim Jones (Extreme Weather Events, Landfall and Transported) although he’d probably suggest his work was more speculative fiction than horror. Cat Connor (her Byte series especially), Gary Cross (Borderland), Paul Haines (deceased – The Last Days of Kali Yuga) and Paul Mannering (Tankbread series) to name a few. I’ve also heard that a recently released book called Into the Mist is a terrifying read by a talented New Zealand author, goes by the name Lee Murray – you might’ve heard of her [wink]. Unfortunately, I wish I could give you more names of new talent writing horror in New Zealand but I have yet to read/hear of them.

Aw thank you. [Blushes]. Moves on. You’ve written a book on self-publishing, advising writers about building their platforms. Any special tips for horror writers? 

Most of what I have learned about self-publishing, outside of my own experience, has been from my interactions with writers who have successfully achieved best-seller status as independent authors. I’m not sure I can offer any advice for horror writers specifically, but for all indie/self-published authors – having your own website is a no-brainer. Even a blog will do, where you can list your books with live links so that your readers can purchase them and where you can build an email list for future promotions and interactions with your readers. There are a whole bunch of things you can do to promote yourself, but perhaps the best piece of advice I can offer is to find a mentor or role-model. Someone who is where you want to be and who is happy to share advice on how to get there. After interviewing over fifteen successful authors who have been able to maintain financially viable existences as full-time writers, key commonalities stand out. 

In the first volume of Secrets of Best-Selling Self-Published Authors I analyzed the interviews and compared answers so that I could summarize the best practices of each and all of the interviewees.  My best advice would be to do your homework and take advice from those who have actually achieved best-seller status (if that’s where you want your writing to take you) and, perhaps most importantly, enjoy what you do, don’t give up, and build your passion so that even if you don’t earn the big dollars, you’ll have a damn good time along the way. If you are interested in what the top-dogs have to say about their self-publishing adventures, you can buy a copy of Secrets of Best-Selling Self-Published Authors here. Also, all the interviews are available via my new website where you can also download a cheat-sheet that will help you boost your online presence and sales efforts.

Your worst fear? Is it a feature of any of your own work?

Sharks give me the heebie-jeebies and no, I seem to have avoided them in my work to date.

Work you’re most proud of and why?

I guess Blood Related because I have invested so much time in doing it properly and tweaking it to be the best it can be as my flag-ship publication. I am also really proud of Fresh Fear: Contemporary Horror, which I edited and compiled. It was a real learning curve putting together this anthology and put me in the position of being able to connect and communicate with some great writers that I have looked up to for so long. Authors like Ramsey Campbell, J.F. Gonzalez and Charlee Jacob to name a few. I have just recently received the rights back and will be republishing a new edition with a new cover and new lay-out, so I am looking forward to being able to give it a new lease of life and continue to promote the authors included.

I have read Fresh Fear. That is one scary book! So what’s on your horizon? Any new projects?

Lots of things. I always have at least two projects on the go at any given time. As mentioned, I am working on a new collection of poetry titled Beyond the Black Gate; I am also working on a sequel to Blood Related which is looking on track for a December release all going well. I have a few other projects that will keep me very busy until the end of the year and should be able to maintain a steady publication schedule throughout the remainder of 2016 into 2017. A new collection of short (dark) fiction is nearly complete, as is a collection of miscellaneous multi-genre fiction, tentatively titled ‘Quirks’ – both of which should be published before Christmas. To stay tuned for details, please subscribe to my website. For a limited time I am giving away a free digital edition of my collection, Dreams of Thanatos to new subscribers here. You can also follow me on Amazon to get regular updates whenever I release a new book. Thanks for the great interview, Lee.
Thanks for stopping by William!
[i] http://www.booksellers.co.nz/members/services-membership/contemporary-fiction-aotearoa

Paul Cleave, Ben Sanders, Vanda Symons, Elizabeth Knox, Mike Johnson, Eleanor Gill, Paper Road Press, Steam Press, NZ Horror, New Zealand Horror Fiction, New Zealand Horror, Craig Ranapia, Stephen King, Cat Connor, Paul Mannering, Tim Jones, Paul Haines, Gary Cross, Lee Murray, Ramsey Campbell, Charlee Jacob, J.F. Gonzalez 

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