Q: How old were you when you started writing stories? Who/what were your influences back then?
I started writing stories when I was around seven years old. My first finished story was called The White Horse, a blatant rip-off of The Black Stallion, one of my favorite books back then. I typed it up on an old typewriter and made copies with carbon paper. It was about twenty pages long and I sold the copies to my relatives for a quarter.
My influences when I was really young were mostly mystery and YA stuff-Hardy Boys, Wrinkle in Time, Narnia Books, etc. I was also obsessed with a book called Biography of a Grizzly. Loved that one, read it at least twenty times. As I got older-sixth grade and into middle school-I started reading adult novels by King, Clavell, Rice, Straub--mostly horror, suspense, and mystery, although I remember going through a fantasy phase and reading Anthony's Xanth and the Thomas Covenant novels.
Basically I read everything I could get my hands on. I wasn't allowed to watch much TV-hell, all we had in the house was a 13 inch black and white set and it only got three channels-and so I read.
Q: What authors are you currently reading?
Most of my reading right now has to do with research related to the StarCraft novel I'm writing. But before that I was reading JA Konrath, Dennis LeHane, Richard Matheson, Kellerman, Cormac McCarthy, and many others! I wish I had more time for leisure reading, actually-one of the sad things that seems to happen when you write professionally is that you lost some of that pleasure in getting lost in a good book. I find myself reading more for structure and style, looking at how other writers craft sentences and write dialogue and establish character. But every once in a while I'll forget all that while I'm reading something, and that's when I know it's a really good book!
Q: What is it about horror that appeals to you?
Good question. I LIKE to be scared. I always loved horror movies too, and I'm an action movie junkie. I like to get the blood pumping, the adrenaline going. I think it's that horror is emotional; it's raw, and it's dealing with something on a primal level. All of us need to face our own fears in a safe and acceptable way, processing what it all means without being actually threatened by physical danger. We need to look into the abyss and come out of it with a better understanding of ourselves and what it means to be human. That's what good horror does for me.
I also think that the trauma I went through as a child, losing both parents at a young age, made me turn to the darker side of life much earlier than I might have otherwise. Horror fiction is a safe way to explore that and experience it, and come out of it okay-even if the characters aren't so lucky.
Q: What was among your first published work?
My very first published work was a poem I wrote about my father's death when I was eight years old, in 1979. It was published in the town's annual report that year. After that I had a fairly long dry spell! My short story Finding Life was published in a little literary magazine called Nude Beach in 1994, and shortly after that I had my first horror story published in a literary magazine called the Belletrist Review.
Q: BLOODSTONE was named a Stoker Award finalist in 2005. That must have been a cool boost, considering how many horror books are published each year...
Oh, yeah. I was thrilled by that, particularly since I hadn't been involved in the genre much before then. I had published some short stories in the mid nineties, but had been working a day job and hadn't been submitting for several years before Bloodstone sold in 2005. So I wasn't a name, even in the small press. But I was very lucky to be supported by some fabulous writers early on, like Tim Lebbon, Doug Clegg, Mort Castle, Rick Hautala, and many others, who read and blurbed Bloodstone for me, and reviews were good. I think it gained some momentum from there and got on people's radar screens.
Q: I enjoyed your short story, KEEPING WATCH, in MONSTROUS. I thought it one of the better tales in that anthology. Are you ever going to have a short story collection of your own come out?
Thank you! That's one of my own favorite stories. I do hope to have a short story collection out sometime, but I have nothing under contract right now. Four other personal favorite stories of mine were recently published in the Dark Arts Anthology When the Night Comes Down-that book has some amazing fiction in it from three other talented guys as well. It's well worth tracking down.
Q: Do you find short fiction more or less challenging to write than a novel?
I think writing good short stories is more challenging-emphasis on good. It's tough to write something so focused. Every word should count and the story itself needs to resonate in the right way.
Novels are more complicated, of course, and their length is a challenge too-but the form itself is a bit more forgiving. I tend to ramble a bit when I write, and while you can get away with a little of that in book length works, in short fiction it's the kiss of death.
Q: I must say I really enjoyed SPARROW ROCK. I love apocalyptic tales and while you sort of have "zombies" they are quite different than the mindless, shambling creatures in most recent fiction, I guess more along the lines of those portrayed in Brian Keene's books. How did the idea for the book come about?
It was originally a short story called Acid Rain, which came out of a dream I had about being on a beach watching the nuclear apocalypse, being helpless as the shock wave and debris came at me from the ocean, feeling myself disintegrate. It was a really powerful dream and I got right up and wrote a story about a group of kids trapped in a shelter at the end of the world. It was a character study on confinement and hopelessness and finding a reason to live when you are the last people left on earth. It was interesting but it didn't quite click, and I left it for years until I needed a new book for Leisure and I started thinking about how it might work as a novel. One thing led to another. I wanted to explore why they were down there, what was happening up top-and I wanted to add an element of danger and suspense beyond the war itself. I've always been fascinated by insects, and I've wondered what would happen if they all turned on us. From there things really took off and the story just exploded for me.
Q: Are you working on anything now? What is it about?
I'm in the middle of writing a StarCraft Ghost novel for Pocket Books and Blizzard Entertainment, based on the bestselling video game. It's a lot of fun! Beyond that I have a thriller I'm shopping around through my agent that's a cross between a medical suspense novel and science fiction and has to do with virtual reality implants. And I'm thinking about my next horror novel too, but it's too early to know yet what direction that will take. I have a couple of sequels in mind for earlier books...