What first attracted you to horror writing?
When I was in seventh grade I read Simon Hawke’s novelisation of Friday 13th Part V: Jason Lives. It was the first non-comic book I’d ever read, and it blew my mind that a book without illustrations could be so intense. It led me to Stephen King and Richard Matheson – their short story work really inflamed my imagination. I filled notebooks full of stories after that. Growing up catholic I think I was drawn to obscure religious teachings and folklore right off. I always loved stories that implemented that stuff. The old Hammer movies with Peter Cushing planting consecrated hosts in the shape of a cross on the graves of the undead. Loved it. I watched a lot of horror movies growing up, thanks to the Son of Svenghoulie show in Chicago. Plus The Exorcist scared the hell out of me, and William Peter Blatty’s original novel (and the sequel, Legion) kept me up at night.
I’m most known for The Merkabah Rider, my weird western series from Damnation Books. It’s a pulp horror adventure series in the vein of Robert E. Howard, following the adventures of a gun-slinging Hasidic mystic tracking his renegade teacher across 1880’s Arizona Territory. The Rider encounters half-demon outlaws, a possessed sharpshooter, Molech worshippers, Lovecraftian entities, and a brothel of succubi, among other things. Interweaving western action and Jewish folklore, it’s sort of a Jewish Solomon Kane. I’ve also written for the official Star Wars website.
What are you working on now?
I’m wrapping up Have Glyphs Will Travel, the third book in the Merkabah Rider series. It should be out later this year. I’m also punching out a couple of short stories.
Who do you admire in the horror world?
Stephen King and Richard Matheson are the two living horror writers I admire most, King particularly for his short stories and novellas, and Matheson just for the sheer diversity of his work, from Twilight Zone to horror, to sci-fi and westerns. He’s a jack of all trades. I like Joe R. Lansdale as well. I think Robert E. Howard and Ambrose Bierce have had a huge impact on my work. I’m afraid I’m probably not going to come up with very many obscure names in the horror film industry. I devour George Romero movies. I enjoy Neil Marshall for the most part. Dario Argento and John Carpenter. I revere Tod Browning and James Whale. Val Lewton. Rob Zombie is shaping up to be a great voice in the horror film world. David Lynch consistently composes the most disturbing images in cinema. My nightmares aren’t blood-splashed, they’re just a little bit off, like Lynch.
Do you prefer all out gore or psychological chills?
I enjoy gore when it’s warranted, but I’m not a fan of that sort of depraved torture porn or gore just for gore’s sake (unless it’s for broad comedic effect). Sometimes there’s an element of body horror in my work, but I think the trepidation of the unknown makes for more intriguing harrow. It’s why people are so often disappointed by the movie versions of their favourite books (I was, with Jason Lives). The mind makes a better monster than any latex sculptor or CGI animator ever could.
Why should people read your work?
Because nobody writes the stories I write. I’ve been told this by my readers, and while I just took it as a nice compliment at first, I eventually understood that every reader who becomes a writer must do so because at some point you realise the stories you want to read aren’t out there. You’ve got to do them yourself. I personally noticed a dearth of stories told from different cultural perspectives, and I’ve sought to fill that void when I can. When I wrote Dubaku (which is about an African shaman enacting mystic revenge on an English slaver in the 1700’s), I did a Google search for African American Horror, trying to find a place to promote the book to black readers. I found one site, The Black Science Fiction Society, which is great, but doesn’t even concentrate on horror. Just one site! I know there are black horror fans out there, but how many times do you even see a black man or woman on the cover of a novel that’s not specifically in the African American interests section?
The weird westerns I’ve sought out, they very often weren’t western enough for me. That is, a lot of weird western authors just slap a cowboy hat on a zombie and don’t do any research. That’s lazy, and it falls flat for me. Without a solid foundation in reality, how can the fantastic or horrific elements ever work once they’re introduced? I started out trying to write straight westerns, but mainstream western publishers aren’t looking for much beyond the traditional white-hat black-hat trope. They’re stuck in the era of Gunsmoke and The Lone Ranger (which I enjoy, but don’t personally write). The first story I had published was Killer Of The Dead (in Murky Depths #5), about a pair of Blackfoot Indians hunting down a gang of vampires that slaughtered their village. It took combining the two genres I enjoyed most to get noticed, and that’s a lot of what I’ve been doing since. I’m a mash up guy.
I guess it’s hard to answer this question without coming off as having a big fat head and blowing my own horn. Go on Amazon and read the reviews. I love pulp fiction, I love action horror. I’m a history and folklore fanatic. If you are too, you’ll probably like my books.
The Black Stranger And Other American Stories by Robert E. Howard from Bison Books. If you think Robert E. Howard is just Conan or you’re not familiar with him at all, you can’t go wrong with this collection. It includes the classic Southern gothic tale ‘Pigeons From Hell’ and the seminal weird western stories ‘Old Garfield’s Heart’ and ‘The Horror From The Mound.’ Howard was a proponent of past lives and ancestral memory. There are a pair of very cool past life recollection stories in here, ‘Marchers of Valhalla’ and ‘The Thunder Rider’ (my favourite of the two, in which a modern day Princeton graduate and professional looks back on his past life as a prehistoric Comanche Indian warrior). His slave days potboiler ‘Black Canaan’ is in here, as well as ‘Kelly The Conjure-Man,’ whose titular character I lifted for my own series. The only thing missing from this collection for me is the ghostly romantic story ‘For The Love Of Barbara Allen.’