In 25 words or less, right? Okay, I taught 5-8th graders for thirty years. It was teach or go to Vietnam. Sometimes I wonder if I made the right decision. The first fifteen years were wonderful. The last fifteen were like fighting a losing battle in a war zone. The kids changed. The parents changed. The bureaucracy ground you down. I guess the events that most impact on my writing are the death of my sister from leukemia when she was seven (letting me know in no uncertain terms there was no god). Then there was a judge awarding custody of my three kids to their mother solely because she had remarried. As her husband was in the army I saw my kids during their Christmas break and summers. Missing out on much of their childhood just reinforced the notion no god would allow such a travesty. And ten years ago my mother died from Ovarian cancer. Two years my father died from heart problems. Both should have lived far longer. On the other hand I've got three wonderful children. My oldest daughter, Dara works for Gauntlet and her daughter, my first granddaughter, Tyler is six months old. My son is an aspiring actor. And my youngest, Cheryl, is in Bolivia, a member of the Peace Corps. So, I'm a proud father and grandpa. I've had four of my novels published and have written five other novels as well as numerous short stories. I'm editor/publisher of Gauntlet magazine, the only mass market publication dealing with censorship, and co-publisher of Gauntlet Press. We publish signed limited editions and have just begun publishing mass market trade paperbacks and hardcovers. Gauntlet won the 1999 HWA award for Best Small Press and this past year I was nominated for the PEN/Newman's Own First Amendment Award for censorship of my novel BORN BAD. HUNGRY EYES was nominated for both a Stoker and International Horror Guild Award for Best First Novel. And that's the long and short of it. Okay, a bit more than 25 words.
2) What is the most appealing thing about horror fiction for you?
I don't like to be classified solely as a horror writer, nor do I classify most authors who write horror as "horror writers." A mystery can contain horrific elements as can what is termed literature. "Lord of the Flies" is not considered a horror novel, but it has more than a few horrific moments. I write psychological horror, though my most recent work has a decidedly supernatural bent. I like taking stories you read in the headlines then turning them upside down and inside out to create something that's hopefully unique or at the least engaging. Unlike some horror authors my novels are character-driven. Sure, you need an interesting plot with to hook the reader. Setting is not really important to me. I'm a minimalist much like Poe. A person drives a car. Maybe a red or blue car, but I don't explore every nook and cranny of the engine. Same with how my characters dress and what they eat. When something is described in detail the reader knows it will be important to the development of the book. But, it's the characters who populate my books that I enjoy the most. I dig deep into my characters, ripping away scabs and scar tissue to expose them for the wonderfully complex people they are. I don't view my characters as black and white, but shades of gray. My protagonists have warts and flaws and I try to make the reader empathize and sometimes even sympathize with my protagonists. Even when I created a vile character, Shanicha, in BORN BAD - a young woman born without a conscience (she was a crack baby), she has demons that haunt her. The reader can identify with her, understand her motivation and even hope she gets away with her evil ways. And all of my main characters, and many of my antagonists, are female. That comes from thirty years of teaching adolescents. At that age the girls had personality and vitality; the boys were lumps of clay, for the most part. The many girls I taught gave me much fodder for my characters.
3) Some writers say that what they write doesn't have much to do with themselves-others say that their writing is very much influenced by their own experiences. How is this with you?
Like a lot of writers I have this great reservoir or anger. Getting it on paper allows me to remain sane as I blow off steam. I do see parts of myself in my characters. And I also see people I've worked with in the characters who populate my books. I have a disdain for bureaucrats and that's obvious in all of my novels. My novels often deal with victimization. All of us have been victimized at times. I haven't written about the tragedies that have befallen me, but I know how people who have been victimized feel. So, I think my novels can accurately describe the feeling of the victim. I'm also able to use my characters to explore my pet peeves. I'm sure most of us have been in the express checkout line (5 items or less, cash only) only to find that the person in front of them has a dozen or more items, chats with the cashier, doesn't bag his/her groceries and then pays with a check or credit card. Rather than run the person over in the parking lot, I use that incident in my books. In my series (HUNGRY EYES, EYES OF PREY and JUDAS EYES) I feel a special kinship towards the main character Shara Farris. She differs from me in many ways (I'm not a serial killer... yet), but I do see a lot of her in me. Patience is not a virtue, she has disdain for bureaucrats, she basically a loner though she's loyal to a fault to those she befriends. That could easily describe me. And having been a teacher for 30 years I have used a lot of what I learned in the classroom in my novels. I have a disdain for a lot that goes on in education now and you can see that clearly in my books, without my preaching about it.
4) Tell us about your series of books.
HUNGRY EYES, the first in the EYES series began as a stand alone book. It was based on the real life story of 11-year old Katie Beers who was kidnapped by a neighbor and held captive in a bunker that the police searched three times before they found the youth. The question I asked myself was what would become of her ten or eleven years down the road. HUNGRY EYES takes off eleven years after the main character had experienced a similar experience. My agent at the time felt publishers would be put off by the ambiguous ending (I don't tie my endings up in a neat box. I want the reader to wonder what happens next). So, I wrote a sequel (still having no desire to make it a series) EYES OF PREY. I THOUGHT I had said all that had to be said about Shara so I focused on a new character who wasn't in HUNGRY EYES. I also expanded the roles of some of the secondary characters from HUNGRY EYES. I added a touch of the supernatural and when I was finished that was it for Shara and the entire cast. I wrote three stand alone novels, but somehow Shara kept drawing me back. After that third stand alone novel she reeled me back into her world. Having had three years of breathing room I discovered there was much about Shara left unsaid. In JUDAS EYES, the third book in the series, Shara comes to grips with re-entering the real world. Since her victimization at eleven she had become an island unto herself. She finally finds a job that allows her to stalk without killing (bounty hunter) and she's tracking down a young woman who is very much like herself. She learns about herself as she discovers secrets of Mica, the girl she's tracking. This third book also develops a mythology that was introduced in EYES OF PREY. I've written the fourth book to the series in which the death of one of the series regulars is utilized to further develop Shara's character. I've said the fifth book will be the last, but I'm not going to tie up all the ends, so there's the possibility the series might continue. At the same time I've taken some of the secondary characters from the EYES series and used them in my stand alone novels. I've been able to develop these characters in a way I couldn't in the EYES series. So, obviously you can see that I don't let go of my characters easily. They're almost like part of the family.
5) Which of your stories is your favorite?
That's really impossible to answer. First, I'd have to answer the question by saying that one of my NOVELS would have to be my favorite. I've written lots of short stories and many of them have made their way into my novels. Some short stories end up becoming the plots or subplots for my novels. Put a gun to my head I'd have to say my favorite short story was "Firefly... Burning Bright." It deals with an eleven year old who gets her kicks out of starting fires and watching the reactions of people in the small town she lives in. She sees neighbor turning against neighbor. "It could be you," one says, "It could be me." The innocence of the town is destroyed. I used most of that short story in BORN BAD. There, Shanicha is the arsonist. As for novels I'd have to say my most recent novel is always my favorite. I firmly believe a writer should improve from book to book (there may be peaks and valleys, but there should always be growth). When I finish a novel the characters are still fresh in my mind and it's my favorite novel. Of those published (I have 5 novels written, but not yet published) I'd have to say BORN BAD is my favorite. After writing two books in the EYES series I was able to create an entire new cast of characters. I had a ball. And BORN BAD was my first novel with a truly evil protagonist, Shanicha. And Ariel Dampier, a bi-racial detective searching for her racial identity is a complex character. She became a secondary character in one of my most recent novels which I co-wrote with my oldest daughter, Dara.
6) Tell us about GAUNTLET.
Got a few days? GAUNTLET began as a magazine and has grown into a publishing company of signed limited editions and mass market trade paperbacks and hardcovers. As a teacher I faced censorship. It came to a head in 1990 when a play I wrote for my students (which the entire school and guests would see) was line-edited by my principal (one of THE bureaucrats I so disdain). I wasn't invited to write a play for the following year which left me with several hundred hours of free time (I wrote the play, I produced them, I directed them, I was the publicist. The plays allowed me to hone my skills writing dialogue. They were a labor of love. Maybe an obsession.). I'd always wanted to edit a magazine (I had been submitting short stories to magazines. For every magazine that succeeded dozens folded after an issue or two) and there was my subject matter right there - censorship. Ray Bradbury helped get the ball rolling. I wrote and asked if he would write something for the magazine. He was too busy, but said I could use the afterword to FAHRENHEIT 451 GRATIS. With Bradbury aboard, it legitimized the magazine and the premiere issue became a who's who in horror, with authors contributing both fiction and non-fiction. Two years later I branched into book publishing. One of the first books I published was a signed limited of PSYCHO. One of the great pleasures of my life was working with Bob Bloch. What a wonderful person. Unfortunately, he became ill just before the book was published (he DID get to see the cover art and an introduction by Richard Matheson and afterword by Ray Bradbury, both which really touched him). His death helped shape the future of Gauntlet Press. I couldn't believe how many truly classic books had NOT been published as signed limiteds by some of our living legends. I've now published seven limiteds by Richard Matheson (with many more to come) and DARK CARNIVAL in October will mark our fourth Ray Bradbury title. This one is near and dear to my heart. It's Bradbury's FIRST collection, out-of-print for over 50 years and he kept saying no when I'd ask him to publish the book. His bibliographer Donn Albright was finally able to convince him it should be published and Donn assembled all of this wonderful bonus material that makes this a truly definitive edition (you can find details about this book and others at the NEW Gauntlet website @ www.gauntletpress.com). Later I began publishing NEW books by contemporary authors: short story collections by Poppy Z. Brite, Caitlin R. Kiernan and Mick Garris (with an introduction by Stephen King and art by Clive Barker and signed by both). And I was thrilled when F. Paul Wilson allowed me to publish limited editions of his Repairman Jack series. We publish each book 4-6 months before the mass market edition. HOSTS, his latest was just published. We're now (we, because I've taken on a partner, Buddy Martinez) publishing mass market trade paperbacks, including LADIES NIGHT by Jack Ketchum and RICHARD MATHESON'S THE TWILIGHT ZONE SCRIPTS VOL. 1, edited by Stanley Wiater. JUDAS EYES is our first mass market hardcover. Next year we'll publish a mass market hardcover coffee-table book of the art of David Armstrong with prose and poetry by Clive Barker. Who knows if any of this would have occurred if I'd had a more tolerant principal or if Ray Bradbury hadn't agreed to let Gauntlet magazine publish his work.
7) What is the weirdest true life thing that happened to you that if you wrote it down would read like fiction?
It's not a thing, but a person. One of my few closest friends is a wonderful person, but also quite eccentric. I modeled a secondary character in BORN BAD after him and people who have read the book think no person like this could exist, when in fact all the eccentricities are his. You'd have to read the book for them all, but let me give one example. To put it bluntly my friend is cheap (though he is quite wealthy). He's so miserly that when something breaks in his car, as long as it runs, he waits until the car's inspection date to fix it. So, his windshield wiper isn't working. Does he get it fixed? Of course not. But when it rains he needs a wiper. So what he did was tie a shoelace to the wiper. When it rains he sticks his hand out the window and uses the string to manually use the wiper. When he came to school one day his sleeve was soaking wet from a brief but heavy storm. And I could just picture him manually attempting to work that wiper while keeping his other hand on the steering wheel to avoid an accident. When I describe this character in BORN BAD I relate many of the incidents that adds some comic relief to the book. When I was invited to a discussion group someone who read the book approached me and told me how much she enjoyed Doug Theiry. She broke into hysterical laughter when she found out it was based in fact.
8) Who is YOUR favorite horror author?
Again, an impossible question. Dangle me from a window in a high rise and I'd have to say Ray Bradbury. I love his style, but that's NOT what really draws me to him. It's his plots mainly and the wonderful characters that populate his stories. When I read "The Playground" then went outside at recess where I taught it was like being in the midst of the Bradbury story. And "The Burning Man" is about a man who is born as an adult and lives for one day. He is pure evil. Sounds a bit like Shanicha in BORN BAD. Bradbury was the inspiration for that, too. But there are so many others. Poe because of his minimalist style and plotting; Richard Matheson because he's such a wonderful storyteller; Stephen King for his characters; Dean Koontz for blending reality-based horror with the supernatural; F. Paul Wilson because his characters are such wonderful shades of gray. I could name far more, but these authors have influenced me the most and given me hours upon hours of pleasure.
9) What are your upcoming projects?
I just finished something entirely new. I wrote my first children's novel (for Young Adults). Actually, I wrote it 27 years ago. It's a fantasy (with horror elements) dealing with an isolated country that is conquered by invaders from a country in the midst of a drought. The main character, Dara, escapes to the swamps to lead the resistance. As the resistance sputters she ventures into the unknown to find allies to fight the invaders. My then wife and I named our first child after that character because of the character's strength. Twenty-six years pass and Dara is pregnant. She asks if I could make a copy of the book (never published) so her child will see how she got her name. I re-read it, liked the characters and plot, but thought the writing pretty horrible. So, I literally rewrote the entire book. I added a slew of new characters, changed the ending and just had a ball. I even included my granddaughter, Tyler, an new character I created just for my grandchild. I THOUGHT it would be a girl, but even if Tyler had been a boy it wouldn't have made a difference with the character. And now, as a family tradition, I'm writing one short story a year (for Tyler's birthday) with some backstory dealing with the characters in the book (working title END OF TIMES).
Before I write the concluding (at least for now) installment of the EYES book I think I'm going to write a sequel to BORN BAD. Again, the characters are drawing me back.
10) Anything you want to add?
What I've found interesting (both in reviews and from people who have written to me) is how readers can really identify with the female characters I've crafted. There are some who will say only a woman can REALLY write about women, only blacks can right about blacks, etc. I don't think it's true at all. I observe people. I've already mentioned that the girls in my class were far more vibrant than the boys at that age, so I think I have keen insight into women. And, a large percentage of the students I taught (as well as their parents and grandparents) were black. In many of my books the protagonist and often the antagonist is black. And I've dealt with the issues of rape, breast cancer, and racial identify in a way my female readers can identify with. The book my daughter and I wrote together, BLOOD SACRIFICE, has a lesbian as the protagonist. I'm pleased when I see reviewers (especially female reviewers) comment that my female characters are realistic. They're not just men in female bodies.
Lastly, I guess my promotional plug. The Gauntlet website includes the Barry Hoffman website. Go to www.gauntletpress.com and you can find all of my books, read for free excerpts and even get a free chapbook with the purchase of BORN BAD (either the limited or paperback).