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Horror Interview by The Gravedigger
1) Tell us about yourself (Biography)...
I'm the only son of Breton immigrants who came to New York City after World War II. Born and bred in NYC, I'm a product of its school system, the City College of New York (where I studied writing with Joseph Heller, Joel Oppenheimer, and Irwin Stark), and Columbia University. I also cut school a lot and played pool on 14th Street alongside pimps and drug dealers. My first story was published by Space and Time magazine when I was 18. Twenty-five years later, I became the Space and Time Fiction Editor. In the intervening years, I had a fantasy novel published by Del Rey as well as a bunch of sf, fantasy and horror stories; developed a career in the mental health field; got married and divorced; joined a writers' group. In the mid-80's, I realized my fiction tended to be dark no matter what the genre. I explored just how dark I could get, found the process invigorating, embraced the results. I like to think I had a very long apprenticeship.
2) What is the most appealing thing about horror fiction for you?
I always say freedom. People are afraid of pain, and since horror is the literature of pain, people shy away from horror. But avoiding pain's truth limits a person's experience of life, self, others. In horror, there are no limits. I find imagining the worse things that can happen, physically and emotionally, and facing the darkest aspects of people in general, and my self in particular, a very liberating experience. Not only is digging at one's own pain and nightmares an excellent (and possibly the only) preparation for living, but it is also inspirational in filling any writing about things like love, sanity, life, beauty, with a sense of urgency. I'm from the wonder and terror school of horror - I think horror fiction reflects existence, which is filled with wonder and terror, though few people perceive either and so many spend most of their time deadening their perception of anything at all.
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?
My writing has definitely been influenced by my life. I was a somewhat isolated child, which has given me the "outsiders" view on life - I don't feel I belong anywhere, and neither do most of my characters. My daytime work has also darkened my world view, which was never sunny. Dealing first hand with a mix of vulnerable and predatory people, business and government types, and the consequences of politics and policies, drew me deeper into an outlook on life filled with horror and terror.
4) Which of your stories is your favorite?
At this point, I'd have to say the Max stories. In that universe, I feel I can write about just about everything I find fascinating. The stories deal with sex, violence, psychology, religion, and they allow me to speculate about reality, spirituality and science. I can be brutal, emotional, sensual; I can mix science fiction technology with gods and demons; and I can indulge in conspiracies and political intrigue. They're lots of fun for me, and at the same time I feel I'm writing about true, essential aspects of life, though not, of course, in a realistic style.
5) What is the weirdest true life thing that happened to you that if you wrote it down would read like fiction?
Almost anything to do with work. When I was younger, I delivered prescription medication from a ritzy Upper East side pharmacy to rich Manhattan customers, and how do you pick the weirdest among the following: in the richest NY neighborhood, I was propositioned on the street by an older guy to come up to his place and, uh, check out his etchings; stopped by Secret Service agents after I slipped into a hotel (part of the delivery trade skill set --desk clerks don't tip) and discovered I'd violated Henry Kissinger's security zone; and delivered packages to a prostitute who opened her apartment door naked. Every time.
Later on, I was the first counselor in a lower east side methadone clinic to be assigned an identified AIDs client, back when not too much was known about it. I wasn't nervous, as most other counselors were, since I figured if everyone in the city wasn't dying, it wasn't all that easy to get, but it was pretty devastating, not to mention emotionally draining as the client was, of course, dying. I also worked at a Bronx clinic, going out and trying to find clients who had not reported in, just as the crack epidemic was starting, in the days when two-story abandoned buildings had CRACK HOUSE graffittied on them and the cops didn't bother shutting down the operations. Having a knife pressed against my belly by a client was another experience one doesn't usually have while shopping at K-Mart, but which would make a good read in a noir detective story.
Who can choose?
6) Who is YOUR favorite horror author?
I'm assuming most people would find it impossible to just name one writer. At different periods of my life, there have been different people who have been my favorite. Starting with the earliest influences, people like Bradbury and Leiber, then Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, Lord Dunsany through my teenage years, and everyone else published under Ballantine's Adult Fantasy line. Karl Wagner was influential for a while, and of course King, Straub and Barker. I went through my Joe Lansdale period, and how does anyone ever get over that? Currently, I make sure to check out Tom Piccirilli, Mike Laimo, Doug Clegg, Brian Hodge, Bentley Little, Tim Lebbon and Simon Clark. The small press is filled with people ready to break out and become exciting, must-read writers, which is scary since I have so little time to read, anymore.
7) What are your upcoming stories?
The Beast That Was Max, coming out from Leisure in June, is a novel about Max the assassin and his twin lovers Kueur and Alioune. Some of the material was first published in the small press, and I wrote an additional 40,000 words, with accompanying pain and carnage, showing some of the contributing events leading to the changes Max experiences over the course of the book. Leisure is also picking up Road to Hell, the next Max novel first published by Necro Publications a couple of years ago, and I'm working on Road From Hell as well as researching a non-Max horror novel based in NYC.
One of my favorite stories, The Wound of Her Making, is coming out in the Delirium anthology, Dark Testament. Another of my favorite stories, Children in the Moonless Night, is being published in the Extremes Africa CD anthology coming out from Lone Wolf Productions. Look for new stories in Brutarian, Fantastic Stories, Bloodtype.