Q: Your short story collection, SHORT OF A PICNIC, deals with mental illness….why did you choose to tackle that subject for your debut book?
I was just following the rules. They tell you to "write what you know," and I was diagnosed with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (O.C.D.) about nine years ago, early in college, and at the time I wrote Short of a Picnic - in early 2001 - I had accumulated a tremendous amount of information about mental illness, from living it, reading about it, and talking to all different people. In all the books I read about mental disorders, I was frustrated by the dry, clinical presentation of the subject matter, because my experience with O.C.D., before I overcame it, was extremely dark, oppressive, and disturbing. So my debut book was a way of presenting my own truth on the subject of insanity. I wanted to approach it from a visceral standpoint, to try and make readers understand what it's like to have your mind misfiring all over the place. Fortunately, I reduced my symptoms by over 95% via alternative medicine and dieting, and I've written a lot of nonfiction articles about the recovery process.
Q: What is your background as a writer?
Short of a Picnic was the first thing I got published; I hadn't had any fiction or articles published before that. However, I was an avid screenwriter throughout college, and some of my finished movies got shown in festivals and received prizes. So I guess my first formal writing, for any kind of public consumption, was screenwriting for short films. Nowadays, on any given week, I produce several thousand words of text via my ghostwriting company, Ghostwriters Central. We do speeches, resumes, cover letters, biographies, and screenplays. Then, whenever time opens up for me to write my own fiction, I have to switch hats and return to my personal zone. It keeps different muscle groups healthy, writing for yourself as well as others. Writing for yourself is expressive; you're tapped into your own nervous system, your own obsessions and fantasies (or nightmares). But ghostwriting is more interpretative; you have to find a way of channeling another person's voice in a clear and competent way.
Q: What is the appeal of horror fiction for you?
For some reason, in my own fiction, everything comes out extremely bleak. I have a very optimistic personal life, but I'm drawn to the idea of acknowledging the dark side of life rather than trying to block it out. Some of that comes from reading about Buddhism. Viewed from a distance, it seems like Buddhism is all about peace and serenity, but the faith encourages you to grant full acknowledgement to the disturbing part of human existence. A person should give free reign to all their terrible thoughts - don't try to block it, just let it flow. The concept is, if you try to suppress that primal part of yourself, you'll never achieve inner peace. But if you calmly regard it as part of being a person, it will no longer shock or depress you. In a way, that's what It's Only Temporary is about. The end of the world is probably the worst thing that could possibly happen to human beings, so it was cathartic for me to mentally walk into that kind of nightmare.
Q: IT'S ONLY TEMPORARY is about the last day on Earth and how people deal with It-and it's one of the best "end of the world" stories I've ever read. It brought to mind the movie MIRACLE MILE in regard of how people are still trying to find happiness even though they'll soon cease to exist. How long did it take for you to write?
Devising the storyline took around nine months, and the actual writing of the first draft took about four weeks. After that, I tinkered and edited on and off for a few more months. Then, of course, once Permuted Press picked it up, a couple more rounds of revision went on. Most of the conception stage went into trying to find a scenario that I found completely inspiring, so every page would be compelling for me to write, and thus - hopefully - compelling for others to read. In terms of pages, it's shorter than the average book, but there's really no downtime in it. I was going for extreme velocity, trying to see if I could make readers dizzy.
Q: Your stories will appear in a few upcoming anthologies, one of them being about giant monsters and another about the dead coming back to life. Do you like to be diverse in terms of your subject matter?
Definitely. I think a good way to address this question is by discussing my outlook on criticism. To my mind, a good critic is fully willing to accept the merit of any conceivable subject matter on Earth. It doesn't matter is a story is about flying pigs - the question is how well it's executed. Is it emotional? Is it relevant to the human race? Since that's my outlook, I'm drawn to random subjects. It's a fun challenge to see if you can find a chord of common experience in a giant monsters story, or a zombie story. There's a chokehold on contemporary literature right now, wherein so-called serious writers are obliged to take on certain subject matters - like generational discord, or recent historical events, or current events issues - to prove their worth. There's a certain conformity in that. I'd rather exist all over the board in terms of my topics. My first book was literary, It's Only Temporary is horror/sci-fi, and I'm hoping I don't end up repeating myself.
Q: You recently attended the HWA conference. How was that experience, with so many horror writers under one roof?
I had a wild time. It's funny when you're around all these horror writers, and they're all such nice people, from all different walks of life, then you stop and think to yourself, "These people are all here because they write about death and torment." (laughs) Richard Matheson was standing right in front of me at one point, and he has such a warm, gentlemanly presence, and then I stopped and thought, "This old guy made his fortune scaring the hell out of people!" There's definitely no other world like the horror world. I got invited to attend this mass book signing with like 30 other authors - people like Clive Barker and Chuck Palahniuk - and you can't walk past them without marveling at their legacies. Palahniuk would catch my eye and I'd start thinking, "You are not your house. You are not your car. You are not the clothes that you wear…"
Q: How can readers contact you?
There's a contact button on the It's Only Temporary website, through which people can send me e-mail. You can also sign up for a newsletter to stay updated on the book.