Q: How old were you when you started writing stories? Who/what were your influences back then?
I've been writing for literally as long as I can remember. My earliest influence was probably R.L. Stine...but not because his Goosebumps or Fear Street books. He did a humor magazine called Bananas that had me in absolute hysterics, and my friends and I would make our own versions (which no longer exist, but I assume they really sucked). After that it was Douglas Adams, whose influence really isn't evident in my recent work, but with my early novel How to Rescue a Dead Princess I tried to be as shamelessly silly as the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy books.
When I got into horror, I started reading the usual suspects (King, Koontz, etc.) but the only horror author who was a conscious influence was Richard Laymon, who at the time wasn't nearly as well-known as he is now. And it was less of an influence than simply me realizing that yes, it was okay to use a stripped-down, bare-bones writing style!
Q: What was among your first published work?
If you exclude projects for school and a section of our local newspaper that specifically published worked by kids, it was a goofy piece called "This Skit is Extinct" that appeared in Liquid Ohio magazine (though my first acceptance was "The Private Diary of Leonard Parr," which appeared in Twisted magazine). My first short story in a book was "Scarecrow's Discovery" in Horrors! 365 Scary Stories, which I'm pretty sure you can still get at your local Barnes & Noble. My first published novel was Graverobbers Wanted (No Experience Necessary), although my next three published novels had all been written before that.
Q: What authors are you currently reading?
At this very moment I'm reading The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon, a brilliant novel that makes me realize how little I've contributed to the world of literature. I recently finished The Passage by Justin Cronin, which is definitely overhyped but did remind me how much I like epic horror fiction. Beyond that, mostly I've been reading manuscripts by my author buddies, so I've read great new stuff by Michael McBride, Greg Lamberson, and Adrienne Jones. And my favorite author is Robert McCammon, so I'm thrilled that he's publishing new books again!
Q: What is it about horror that appeals to you?
The lack of a safety net. In horror fiction, the danger is real, and I like the idea that any character can die at any time. There's no predetermined ending. It's not like an adventure novel where you know that the hero is going to make it through the ordeal just fine, or a romance novel where you know the couple is going to live happily ever after.
Some of the other appeal is hard to explain. Why did I enjoy Jack Ketchum's The Girl Next Door, which is an ugly, disturbing, frustrating novel? Why do I like the stomach-churning gross-out of Edward Lee? Maybe we horror fans are just screwed up in the head...
Q: Dweller has that same fatalistic feeling as the movies Ben or even King Kong, which I like. How did the idea about "A boy and his monster" come about?
I really should make up a more exciting answer to this question, but basically, it just came from an "Okay, what book am I going to write next?" brainstorming session. So I had a few extremely vague premises (stuff like "cannibals in the jungle!") and was trying to figure out something new I could do with the standard "kid feeds bullies to his monster pet" plot. I realized that I'd never seen this kind of story that took place over an entire lifetime, and thought it would be very interesting to follow Toby the Boy and Owen the Monster over fifty or sixty years.
Though Owen is a Bigfoot-style creature, that wasn't part of the original inspiration--it was just a "monster." I'd actually considered having him live in a well, but that seemed too limiting for a story that took place over such a long timeframe, so I made him live in a cave in the woods, after which the whole "Bigfoot" thing was a natural choice.
The "fatalistic" tone was entirely intentional, but there were certainly moments in the second half where I was thinking "Wow, I never expected to write something this bleak!" I think it's a book where my natural urge to put in a lot of humor works really well--without all of the comic relief, it would just be a really unpleasant, depressing novel!
Q: Do you prefer writing short stories or novels and why?
Novels. It takes me much, much longer to write a 3000-word story than it does to write 3000 words of a novel-in-progress. I think that my short stories contain some of my best writing, and I've written enough to fill a book (Gleefully Macabre Tales) but all of the short stories I've written for the past few years have been written for a specific market upon request--I almost never come up with an idea for a short story without searching for one.
That said, short stories allow for more experimentation. I could never do something as absurd as "Mr. Twitcher's Miracle Baby-Chopping Machine" as a novel, and it's fun to try things like writing a story that's supposed to be a DVD commentary track ("Special Features") or from the point of view of somebody who's completely insane ("Socially Awkward Moments With An Aspiring Lunatic"). Actually, I wish there was a bigger market for novellas, because the three I've written--Disposal, Kutter, and The Severed Nose, are three of my favorite stories.
Q: What is your next book about?
It's called Wolf Hunt, and it's about two thugs, George and Lou, who are hired to drive a van across the state of Florida. In the back of the van is a man in a cage, who they're told is a werewolf...but is he really? Since the book has a great big werewolf on the cover, it's not really a spoiler to say that yes, he is, and when he escapes our "heroes" have to recapture him. A path of bloody destruction may or may not be involved, but probably is.
This is more of a "fun" book than Pressure or Dweller, but still plenty brutal. It'll be out in paperback in December 2010 from Leisure Books, and out shortly before that in limited edition hardcover from Dark Regions Press.