Tom Piccirilli is the author of nine novels, including HEXES, THE DECEASED, and the forthcoming A LOWER DEEP. An omnibus collection of 40 stories entitled DEEP INTO THAT DARKNESS PEERING became a finalist for both the Bram Stoker Award and World Fantasy Award for best collection. Tom lives in Estes Park, Colorado where he's currently working on his next macabre novel A CHOIR OF ILL CHILDREN.
1) What is the most appealing thing about horror fiction for you?
TP: I like the concept of "universal menace"-that is, where just about everything in my characters' lives is harmful and twisted askew in some capacity. It's moody, frightening, and I can work with just about any particular theme I deem necessary. It's validating in a way and allows me to say anything I need to say. Writers are simply out there thrashing around like everybody else, trying to make sense of a senseless world. Horror allows me to clarify and put my views and objectives in order.
2) 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?
TP: Robert Frost once said that "All of art is metaphor." You write one thing in order to illuminate something else, and I suspect that almost all writers are influenced by their own feelings and beliefs in all that they do. No matter how different I am from my protagonists, no matter how different my life is from my story lines, the work is influenced by how I see the world and what I want to say about it. I use my own fears in my fiction all the time, but my fears shift depending on whatever circumstances I'm currently in. It goes back to anxiety and dread more than anything that might be considered a phobia. Some folks crawl out of their skin at the idea of spiders or heights or enclosed spaces. Most of my fears aren't as focused as that. Usually my fears are just those things that cause us day to day stress, more than anything. Shame. Fear of failure.
3) Leisure Books recently picked up a couple of your novels for release later this year... tell us a bit about them.
TP: I turned my next horror novel A LOWER DEEP in to Leisure a few weeks back, which should hit the stands October '01. It's my first "Self" novel and hopefully folks who've enjoyed the short tales in my occult series will dig this first lengthy story line. The stories deal with a nameless modern-day necromancer and his demonic familiar named Self, who get into various travails. The novel focuses on the necromancer's attempt to stop Armageddon from occurring in the middle east, even while he questions whether Self is trying to help save the world or destroy it. My editor is also the head of the Leisure western line and just picked up my first western novel GRAVE MEN. Although it's not really a horrific western or fantastical western like those of Joe Lansdale, it is macabre at times. There's a guy hunting the killers of his parents who has a pregnant teenage sister gunslinger, a crazy grandfather who thinks he's an Apache, and an Apache chief who believes the protagonist is possessed by mountain spirits. It's a pretty weird one. I tried to take some tried and true western elements and turn them on their heads, so hopefully readers of my horror and mystery work will still enjoy it.
4) What is the weirdest true life thing that happened to you that if you wrote it down would read like fiction?
TP: Nothing. I've got an extremely normal life, and I've never run afoul of UFOs, demons, serial killers or anything else that would read like a horror or dark fantasy novel in any way, shape or form.
5) What is your favorite book that you've written and why?
TP: Choosing from your own body of work is always tough. I'd have to say that A LOWER DEEP or my mystery SORROW'S CROWN might be my faves. They're both dark, fairly brooding, and yet have plenty of humor and offbeat elements to lighten the mood at appropriate times. They both possess the themes that drive the engine of my fiction-such as having a past you can never fully let go of, and being pressed into doing something you don't want to do but that you need to for your own good or the good of others. While my characters usually possess strong personality traits, they're occasionally morally ambiguous, which I think makes them more realistic and closer to the way real people are. None of us are perfectly courageous heroes or evil incarnate. We have moments of weakness, we make mistakes, and we often wind up having to pay for them in some fashion, as my protagonists do.
6) Who is YOUR favorite horror author.
TP: I have plenty of favorite authors. There's no way to name just one. Certainly the likes of Shirley Jackson, Robert Bloch, Manly Wade Wellman, Charles Beaumont, Richard Matheson, and Rod Serling rank right up there. A lot of people forget that Serling was a writer, they think he was just this guy who walked all across the Twilight Zone smoking cigarettes every week. Others include Jack Cady, Graham Masterton, Joe Lansdale, Edward Lee, Michael McDowell, Jack Ketchum, Simon Clark, Tim Lebbon, I'm also very big into crime/noir literature. If you read Jim Thompson's The Killer Inside Me or David Goodis' Street of No Return or Charles Willeford's The Burnt Orange Heresy or Cornell Woolrich's Waltz Into Darkness you know that you're reading dark, slug in the guts horror. It's called "Noir" fiction for a reason-it's black, it's bleak, and it can shake and scare the hell out of you.
7) How is the horror writing industry at the beginning of this new millennium?
TP: Bouncing back fairly significantly, I think. A lot of houses are still waiting to see if the horror titles being published now will make a lot of money, but considering to how barren the field was for nearly a decade (with the exception of works that could be found in the small press), I think it's amazing that horror lines are coming back. Leisure has one, Zebra is supposed to be restarting theirs, and I've heard lots of rumors that other houses are perking up and taking notice. The small press kept horror alive for quite a while so that fans could at least find some of their favorite authors and types of dark fantasy work.