In this podcast Keith Rosson talks about The Mercy of the Tide, being legally blind, becoming a foster parent, and much more.
About Keith Rosson
Keith Rosson is an author of books such as The Mercy of the Tide, Smoke City, Road Seven, and forthcoming from Random House, Fever House.
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They’re Watching by Michael David Wilson and Bob Pastorella
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Michael David Wilson 0:28
Welcome to This Is Horror, a podcast for readers, writers and creators. I'm Michael David Wilson and every episode alongside my co host, Bob Pastorella. We chat with masters of horror, about writing, life lessons, creativity, and much more. Now, today's guest is Keith Rosson. He is the author of many books including road seven, Smoke city, the mercy of the tide, and forthcoming from Random House fever house. And this is a fantastic conversation. It is a two parter. So this is the first part. And in this one, we talked a little bit about those early beginnings for Keith, we talk about creating punk zines, we talk about the first stories he read, we talk about being legally blind and how that impacts his life and art. And we talk about a lot lot more. So before any of that, a little bit of an advert break.
Bob Pastorella 1:41
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Michael David Wilson 2:56
All right. Well, with that said, here it is it is part one of our conversation with Keith Rosson on This Is Horror. Keith, welcome to This Is Horror.
Keith Rosson 3:10
Thank you very much. I'm happy to be here, digitally speaking.
Michael David Wilson 3:14
Yeah, we're happy to have you here. And so I'm wondering, what were some of the early life lessons that you learned growing up?
Keith Rosson 3:26
This is definitely a thing where I'll kind of speak vaguely, and I don't want to get super specific about stuff. But I grew up in a pretty gnarly household. And kind of learned early on. People are doing their best. And sometimes even with their best, it's still very hard. And so um, I think a lot of the stuff that's threaded throughout my fiction is just this notion of, you know, people just trying their best in, in spite of like gnarly circumstances, or not being always the greatest of people. You know, I think that deep down, everybody is just trying to do their best and everybody kind of thinks that they're pretty good folks. All in all, you know, so I think that yeah, that's pretty much it. But every we're kind of just fit, we feel like we're stacked up against something and still just trying to navigate our best through it. And maintaining just that notion that I'm still trying to be what we consider to be good people.
Michael David Wilson 4:44
Yeah, and that really is a belief that I hold to my core. So that is like kind of the as a central kind of philosophy and a guiding principle that I tried to have in form In my actions, and it's, it's a particularly interesting thing to bring up. During this kind of time to see a row when we're that we live in where I feel there's almost a tendency to try and easily categorize people as us versus them or right versus wrong. And to have this almost binary model where you have to pick a side, but I mean, even if you have a side or a perspective on something, I think knowing that everybody is trying to do their best and everybody is genuinely doing, what they think the right thing is to be done. It enables you to, to view things have a little bit more perspective and compassion.
Keith Rosson 5:52
Yeah, and I say that and then I also recognize that we're also in an era of like, just celebratory cruelty to, you know, and where it's just like, you know, talking about others, like, culturally or politically or whatever, just like people celebrating others, or marginalized people just getting shat on, you know, there's an entire subset of folks who are like, celebrating that, you know, so it's kinda like, walking that line between like,
everybody's trying their best, and yet some people got a lot of room to grow. You know what I mean?
Michael David Wilson 6:43
Yeah, yeah. And I think it provides the dichotomy, a moral dichotomy. Yeah, for all of us.
Keith Rosson 6:51
Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, it's a weird, weird time to be alive, man.
Michael David Wilson 6:56
Yeah, and I think, particularly because, I mean, I spoke about how you've got this kind of binary thing. But sometimes, an issue can be such that you actually do have to pick a side because if you don't pick a side, then you're being complicit into using the other side, even if indirectly, being a human man.
Keith Rosson 7:22
Yeah, being I mean, you know, like to say, like, the personal is, is political in the sense that being apolitical means that you're, like, cool with the way things are going. And that, you know, like, kind of, well, it doesn't affect me personally. So fuck it. Like, who cares? Which is kind of a shitty viewpoint, you know? And it just props up the powers that be, you know?
Michael David Wilson 7:52
Yeah, I think at that point is almost being apathetic. And I think there's a real difference between being apathetic and not caring and looking at the issue and deciding that, you know, neither side quite represents your viewpoint. Totally. Totally. Oh, goodness, I didn't think we were gonna get into this. I really do.
Keith Rosson 8:20
Yeah, and I guess that's like, um, I don't feel like any of my stuff is like stridently political, or whatever, you know, but, um, again, I do think that that it's like, catching a lot of the stuff is like catching people. At their worst, trying their best. Yeah. But I don't Yeah, I have a hard time. Like, I wrote a story for the Antifa splatter punk anthology that came out that Eric Raglan did. And that was pretty much the only the most like political thing that I had, you know, I've written and that one was fun, because that was just about a Nazi getting ripped apart, you know, by a monster so that it was a blast to write. And not particularly, like, morally challenging, you know?
Michael David Wilson 9:13
Yeah. And that sounds like exactly what you would expect if you pick up something that is an ANTIFA splatterpunk.
Keith Rosson 9:26
Michael David Wilson 9:28
Yeah. And so did it feel different to be writing something so on the nose,
Keith Rosson 9:35
it was, you know, it was for a call like he put a call out. And it like splatter punk is like, the thing about my stuff is I still hold on to this lofty notion that I'm a literary author. But I grew up on X Men and GI Joe and Stephen King, and I just cannot write something without putting like a ghost or a robot or a werewolf. For some shit into it, and so, but when he put out this call for like splatter punk, which is like a graphic, gory genre that's kind of outside my wheelhouse. I was just like, well, I don't know if I could do this. But then it just it, it popped right out, like really easily. And got in there. And it's a really cool book. And it's nice to see a lot of authors writing these pieces of like fascists getting theirs, you know, right. So it's very cool.
Michael David Wilson 10:32
Yeah. And I mean, I didn't get Lee talking about being a literary or for that grew up on Stephen King that does tie quite nicely into this idea of there being a binary, but actually, it's a lot fuzzier than that, because I mean, Stephen King writes a number of literary pieces, I would argue, I mean, he also edited the Best American Short Stories, previously, which is, I would say, the finest yearly anthology of short stories, and it is absolutely literary. And I think when people say There's literature here, and then genre, that's wrong, because they a piece can be both look at Craig Clevenger. Look at Nathan Berlin grid. Look at Stephen Graham Jones. I'm not going to keep listening to you for longer, it's gonna be a very boring podcast, countless examples.
Keith Rosson 11:35
No, I totally agree. And part of that is like, it's all like, class shit for me, you know, like, it's all insecurity. It's all based on like, I don't, you know, I'm like a college dropout. Don't have a degree certainly don't have an MFA. It's all classes insecurity, you know, so this whole, like comparison and contrast of like, well, this person is a real writer, or this is a literary author, and literary is more honorable or realistic, or, like, you know, better than genre fiction or, you know, whatever. That's all insecurity. For me coming from me, you know, and in my you know, not like, it's not like, I'm haunted by the shit or whatever. But it's like, it takes me a minute to be like, oh, yeah, that's just insecurity, you know? So yeah, absolutely. Stephen King is absolutely has written a number of literary pieces is and the whole like genre or literary and lending credence to one, or authenticity to one and not the other is a total load.
Michael David Wilson 12:42
Yeah. And I think even if we're to go back forever, I mean, you look at Mary Shelley, you look at Shirley Jackson, even look at Jonathan Swift, both literary and genre. So yeah, it's a misconception, as you say, as a result, I suppose of classicism and elitism, and it's total bullshit.
Bob Pastorella 13:06
Yeah. I'd say, college when I was in college in the 80s. That, you know, I told my English professor that Stephen King would one day be in the Norton Anthology, and she laughed at me. I'm pretty sure he is now. Right, you know, so it's to me, it's like they have hundreds of years of criticism, and that's what makes it literature. But at the same time, Robert Louis Stevenson didn't really think about the duality of man when he was writing Jekyll and Hyde. So give me a break, right? Yeah.
Keith Rosson 13:39
And then you have guys like, you know, like Todd Goldberg runs an MFA program. And they're, they like, do not shy away from genre shit at all. As far as I understand, recognizing for one, it has the potential to pay the bills, you know, right. And, and also just recognizing that it's like as valid an art form.
Michael David Wilson 14:02
Yeah. And if I'm thinking of the right program, I believe that Stephen Graham Jones is involved in that and some of kind of colleagues, people like Brian Asman, and the leaders of the freindly, SIG, weekly, and McKenzie, Kira all attended that program. And hey, seems to be working out quite well for them. Yeah, absolutely. And Brian Asman is another person such as yourself, who I'd say has a real kind of punk aesthetic, and he's not afraid to break the rules. So students do something very different and out there.
Keith Rosson 14:41
Yeah, I don't I don't know his work. I just know him as a dude on Twitter. But he's a very charming fellow on Twitter.
Michael David Wilson 14:49
Yeah. Yeah. What was speaking of the punk aesthetic, I mean, your first writing experience was putting together punk zines when you were a teenager So, let's talk a little bit about how that came about.
Keith Rosson 15:06
You know, I was like, um, didn't really you know, the standard like, Oh, I was a misfit bla bla bla just didn't fit in didn't like music whatever 1312 13 I got a you know, I can't remember what band it was but just like I was introduced to those like, Gateway bands, Sex Pistols, Dead Kennedys, misfits, all that and uh, just like peel the top of my head off Absolutely. And have not looked back since you know, and couldn't play an instrument to save my life even by punk standards of quality. And so and I was all have always been attracted to like, I've been making art and stuff my entire life. And so I just fell in love with like, punk fanzines and cut back cut and paste aesthetic and so just started putting out fanzines My first one was called chickenpox blues. Because I had just gotten the chickenpox at like 15 which will mess you up hardcore. And so we made a zine and we're so smart that we're like, we're gonna promote safe sex. We're gonna put condoms in it. Yeah, that's edgy. We stapled the condoms into the like, it did not even cross our minds, like how dumb that Yeah. And so just did various fanzines. And then when I was like, probably 19, I started one called a vow, just a vo w. And that one started out as like actually a pumpkin poetry zine. And probably around issues seven or eight, the, the poetry stuff kind of took a backseat and started to become more personal. And so ultimately, I put out like 2526 issues of it. And it was gathered in like, a couple of collections. I haven't done an issue in like, probably 10 years. But it's one of those things where I'm like, kind of look back fondly at like doing cut and paste hand layout. And just like thinking like, Oh, I'm gonna do another one of those one of these days.
Michael David Wilson 17:28
Yeah, and when you were doing both chicken pox blues and a vow, I mean,
Keith Rosson 17:35
when the chickenpox blues was just, that was just one episode or one issue? Yeah.
Michael David Wilson 17:39
Where were you distributing them? I mean, I suppose that's probably a different answer to each because we've kicked him blues. I mean, if you were 15, were you just like, kind of handing it out in the playground? It's like it, you go or so here's a condom stay safe.
Keith Rosson 17:58
Like, at, like my high school, you know, we made like, 50 copies. And it was like, Yeah, you know, this was in the 90s when, like, before everything had exploded, like culturally with punk. Yeah. And it was still like, kind of, like, you know, like, it was not necessarily a safe thing to be. And so like, you know, there was like, tension and stuff. So it was kind of still a mildly clandestine thing that you had to do on the down low, you know. But yeah, by the time, you know, I was 19 or 20. It was culturally like, you know, Taco Bell was doing ziens and shit. And so it was a very different thing. And I think at one point, I had, like Tower Records was distributing it, you know, which was like quite a boon back then to have like, national distribution of your shitty fanzine. And like all the Tower Records, you know,
Michael David Wilson 18:49
well, how did that come about?
Keith Rosson 18:51
just word of mouth was like that. They reached out to me, and it was just like, you would make fanzines. And then especially like, in Europe, and Asia, kids would write you and say, I have a flat of your zine and just a copy of it. Can I make copies? And you'd say, yeah, totally. And then so then there's somebody else just like making them and you know, collecting the dozens and dozens of dollars if they're lucky enough to like, it was not a money making thing, you know, um, but yeah, so it was just like word of mouth and like, they're a little zine distros that would take like 10 to 20 at a time. So it was very much just a like, like a small stack here and a small stack there and eventually, like, you know, the the grassroots communication network was like, strong enough that it got kind of big.
Michael David Wilson 19:53
I mean, you said it was popular in Asia or it reached Asia, so I wouldn't be surprised if I like looked around in some of these obscure stores in Tokyo if I could find the coffee because to be honest, like they keep everything can they meticulous condition as well? Yeah, find like, just the oldest things in pristine brand new additions so there's gotta be one out here. Maybe that's my mission Find. Find the coffee.
Keith Rosson 20:26
Find the shitty personal fanzine Keith did when he was like 25 and just emotionally overwrought. We'll have fun.
Michael David Wilson 20:34
I'm gonna look out for it. If I find it, then obviously I'm buying it and you're see like a picture of me with it. Maybe go somewhere like Shibuya crossing to take the iconic photo. Yeah, there you go.
Keith Rosson 20:50
Well, I wish you luck.
Michael David Wilson 20:51
Yeah. Yeah. And then yeah, I might need it. There's a lot of these stores in the country. Yeah. But I mean, growing up on Stephen King and comics, so I presume that this came before the zine. So I mean, how old were you when you read your first story? And do you remember what it was?
Keith Rosson 21:17
I would say probably I do remember being like 10 I think and reading the raft where there's like the monster in the in the lake, and it moles all those people through the little lines in the in that the raft I guess. At like, sucks them down through that. And I just remember like, you know, the other blood being pushed to the top of the guy's body. And just being like, Oh, my God, this is amazing. Yeah, I'm reading like it when I was probably 11. My mom worked for like, for all the wackiness of my life. You know, as a young kid, my mom worked for the school district at one point, and she worked in the library system of the school district. So all the books that went out to all the various libraries. She was kind of helping with with that stuff going out. So there you guys remember the Choose Your Own Adventure books? Oh, yeah, yes, she would. There's a thing where you're supposed to rip the covers off. And then I think, ship one of them back, ship the covers back or ship the books back and then destroy the other one. To say that they were being retired or whatever. But instead, she like snuck the coverless books out to me, right, so. So I got like 30 or 40 Choose Your Own Adventure novels with no covers. And they just blew my mind as a kid. Like this idea. It was just so thrilling. So those are the two like really early reading things. Besides comics are like Stephen King books. And these Choose Your Own Adventure novels that I got.
Michael David Wilson 23:04
Yeah, and I think the fun thing about huge your own adventure was it just like, seemed to represent infinite possibilities? And yeah, kinda like the book equivalent of playing a video game.
Keith Rosson 23:19
Right. And I was never like, I don't know, maybe it's my like stringency or something. But I would never be like, Oh, I died there. I'm gonna just go back to one page and choose the other one. I was always like, Oh, shit. All right. I'm gonna go back to the very beginning. Yeah, like I never cheated. You know what I mean?
Michael David Wilson 23:37
That's so awesome. Yeah. You're a purist with cute. Yeah. And so I mean, the family environment that you grew up in. I mean, you've said before that it was quite a turbulent one. But I mean, with your mother sneaking you, these books? I mean, would you say that the environment was quite supportive of your love for art and your love for genre.
Keith Rosson 24:08
This is what I talk about, like when I say, people struggling and still doing their best, you know what I mean? Like I, my my life, I'm actually legally blind, like, I have severe tunnel vision. Like most people have, like 180 degrees of tunnel vision. I have about 25%. So, like, if I'm looking at your eyes, I can't really see your mouth. So it's like that severe. And I didn't really know we didn't really know my I was visually impaired until I was like 10. Just because there was all this shit going on, you know. And by that time, I was already so enmeshed in art, and a creative life that I was in drawing just daily, you know that. By the time I got that diagnosis, it was just like, oh, Okay, well, I'm still drawing Spider Man, you know? Yeah. And so yeah, I certainly never got any, like pushback. And all this got absolute support from my mom and people in my life as far as like, following a creative life like, absolutely.
Michael David Wilson 25:18
Yeah, I mean, how does being legally blind affect you on a kind of daily and practical basis?
Keith Rosson 25:27
You know, I actually got to write a fancy little Huffington Post article about it that people can find if they want to Google that stuff. But it's, it's essentially like, as you know, because one of the things that I was doing alongside writing for quite a while was graphic design, and illustration. And so on one hand, I think, having this kind of limited field, like, I can't see the entire paper or the entire computer screen all at once. So it really lends a certain strangeness, to my work that I think, you know, a lot of people would be hard-pressed to replicate. But at the same time, I can't see the whole paper on the whole computer screen at once. So I can't like, life drawing is never going to be a fun thing for me to do, because it's, I just can't see the whole damn thing all at once, you know, that sort of thing. And then as far as, like, my daily life, I now that I'm in my 40s, I have a lot less problems with carrying my cane around, I used to, it used to be like this kind of point of pride, but I be able to, you know, make it on my own and all this. And now I'm just like, I run into people, and they just think I'm a dick, you know. And so with my cane, that kind of, like, clears that problem up, where it's like, oh, he's he's actually visually impaired and disabled, he's not just being a brash, like, you know, jerk. So I found that, that gives me a lot more peace of mind just going out. But nine times out of 10, you would not be able to tell that I am visually impaired. Because I do like scanning where I look to the left look to the right to the left to the right, as I'm walking. And just it's just this like rote memorization of my surroundings. And so unless there's like, like, those ankle high kind of chains that separate like a patio, from a sidewalk, that sort of thing. I will trip over those every single time. But beyond that, like you really would not know, nine times out of 10 that I'm visually impaired.
Michael David Wilson 27:53
Keith Rosson 27:55
It's just really severe tunnel vision.
Michael David Wilson 27:57
And those ankle height chains. I mean, they're annoying as fuck. They're annoying to like, everyone. Like, why? Why do they exist? Yeah, those
Keith Rosson 28:08
are like, you know, cupboard doors. Like if somebody leaves a cupboard open, I will definitely plow into that. Yeah. So there are moments. Yeah.
Bob Pastorella 28:18
Stay away from sidewalks, man. Yeah. Trailer ages. Right. There you go.
Keith Rosson 28:24
Yeah. Or if someone leaves a dishwasher open, that'll get me to. Wow.
Michael David Wilson 28:30
Yeah. And we'll have to put a link in the show notes to this Huffington Post article as well. So totally, yeah. I mean, in terms of the art that you create, I mean, you've kind of got the three V's because you've done cover art for bands, breweries and books. Right?
Keith Rosson 28:50
Yeah. And it's like, um, maybe one of these days it will come back, like it is such. I just, I love writing right now, working with clients. Sometimes it's hard, you know. And, yeah, it's just not where my heart's at right now, as far as doing design stuff, every once in a while, something will come up where it's like, oh, I should really throw my hat in the ring for that. But most of the time, it's like, I just really love writing right now. And it's so much simpler. It's just you and a computer screen. You know, you don't need this program and this program and all these physical elements to like, add to a design and dirty it up. And it's just you and this, you know, document.
Michael David Wilson 29:40
Right. And I think it comes back to what I often say that you can do anything you want, but you can't do everything you won. And so if writing is the priority, then writing gives you what it has to be.
Keith Rosson 29:54
Yeah, and I don't know if you guys experienced this in your creative lives, but like I have one I do that kind of like shotgun effect of like, doing this and doing this and I, you know, I am playing music right now, however shittily and it's like it all kind of the more you do, the more they all kind of suffer, you know, for lack of precision or focus. So yeah, it's just it was at the point where like something kind of had to go, you know?
Michael David Wilson 30:22
Yeah, yeah. I mean, like, I guess I write I podcast, I add the I do a few other kind of writing tangent or things, but I find all those things I can do. Okay, if I'm doing kind of two of them once, and this should
Keith Rosson 30:41
has to take a lot of time, right? Yes, podcasts must take a lot of work and a lot of time.
Michael David Wilson 30:46
Yeah. Yeah, it does. And remarkably, it's been going on for almost 10 years now. I couldn't believe it looking for it. Yeah. 1010 years. And I'd say, well, eight of those, it's pretty much been a weekly show. So yeah, time has gone into the podcast. But I mean, really, the two constants for me, the writing, and the podcast, and I don't really see that changing. I mean, writing has always been my passion. And I mean, the podcast is, it's part of me. Yeah, absolutely. So yeah, they're both here to stay. So I, I do some freelance editing, but it's, it's very much, you know, kind of case by case basis. And when when I need to do that to supplement things basis, rather than, yeah, it's something in some income good at, but it's not a passion in the same way that the writing in the podcasting game. Totally. I mean, yeah,
Keith Rosson 31:57
that's it, it just kind of like the passion kind of faded a bit, you know, while the passion for writing has not, and so it's just very much like one of them. And also, like, my girlfriend, and I, we became foster parents of these two sisters, like a month before COVID hit. And they were two and three. And so I just like became a full time dad. Yeah, a month before COVID hit. And it was like a crazy learning curve, you know, because they were like, highly traumatized. And like, we're like, why the EFF are we here? Who are you? And it was intense, you know, and so I did not have time to be like, and I'm going to make a shirt for, you know, Joey in the butt nuts or whatever. Yeah. Yeah. Just did not have the bandwidth for it.
Michael David Wilson 32:48
Yeah. And so what was it that led you to decide to become foster parents? And I mean, how was that process? I mean, my understanding and rightfully so is that, you know, it's a pretty robust and time-consuming pursuit to become foster parents, it is obviously very rigorous, and you wouldn't want it any other way.
Keith Rosson 33:16
Yeah. And it was like, it was our experience with DHS, which is the kind of like program that the the program that oversees everything, is, I think, very different than many, many, many other foster parents, because we have zero complaints, like, our caseworker was incredible. We, you know, for better or worse, like, got these girls or whatever, they came into our lives, you know, with, like, minimum fanfare, like, sometimes you're like, really hopeful that, you know, you will be a foster parent, and then the kid, it doesn't work out for various reasons. And so like, our experience was kind of out of the norm, and like, just so awesome. As far as the process went, and it was still like, a highly traumatized two and three year old, who you did, we didn't know and they didn't know us, and nobody, you know, they didn't trust us for shit. And it was insane. And with COVID, where we couldn't leave, you know? It was crazy. And so now, like one of the kids just had her sixth birthday, and the other one had her fifth birthday, and we get cinnamon rolls tomorrow, because that's like the dessert for your birthday dessert. And it's way different. You know, it's like, it seemed an insurmountable thing. And it's like, just sticking it out. It's like, two plus years later, like, not even the same world. You know? It's like, there The kids and I'm the dad. And that's how it is. And here we go, you know, which didn't that was not my experience. Those first like six months, it was a very different thing was way hard.
Michael David Wilson 35:12
Yeah, yeah, it must be so rewarding. And really, that's even understate and get to look back on. Yeah, absolutely.
Keith Rosson 35:20
Yeah. And they're hilarious, man. They're so funny. So yeah, it's, it was cool. But yeah, so doing all that stuff. And then trying to make sure it's and right, like, was just like, you know, because the kids were home that first like 15 months or whatever. And my wife was the, the breadwinner. So I was a stay at home dad. And it's like, there's no way I'm doing writing and design stuff. And taking care of these kids with any modicum of like, not being a total asshole.
Michael David Wilson 35:53
Yeah. Yeah. Is incredibly difficult to care for an infant and try and continue with creative pursuits. And yeah, as I found out, and
Keith Rosson 36:09
yeah, and these weren't even babies. Babies are way hard. Oh, my God. Yeah.
Michael David Wilson 36:13
Yeah. Yeah. But I mean, you and your girlfriend. I mean, your heroes. You've taken these kids in and you?
Keith Rosson 36:23
I guess. Yeah, I guess it says it doesn't. It just feels normal now. But yeah, like kind of bustin a couple of kids out of the foster care system. That's pretty awesome.
Michael David Wilson 36:35
Yeah, yeah. Well, thank you.
Keith Rosson 36:40
Yeah, absolutely, man. Yeah. And now one of them is super duper into leprechauns. Oh, yeah. Very much wants to trap one. Like I really. So. Word we're discussing trapping leprechauns daily at this point?
Michael David Wilson 36:58
That's wonderful. Yeah. Do you think you might write some kind of hildren stories, if only you knew for your children?
Keith Rosson 37:11
I don't know. You know, my girlfriend and I, we have written a children's book. It's just, she's a tremendous, amazing artist and muralist. And so we're talking about me writing it and her illustrating it. But it's very much just one of those, like, kind of projects. You know, like, I think we I wrote a draft years and years ago, before the kids came around, and like, maybe we'll do something with it. But um, you know, there's just so much shit to do every day. Yeah. Who knows? You know?
Michael David Wilson 37:43
Yeah. Yeah, that is the true fan. I think just being
Keith Rosson 37:47
alive is so it takes so much work.
Michael David Wilson 37:51
It really, really does. Your first published book was The Mercy of the Tide. And before then, you had written three books. So let's talk about that kind of relentless pursuit. And I wonder, I mean, what was it about The Mercy of the Tide that you knew, okay, this is going to be the one or indeed did you know?
Keith Rosson 38:21
You know, it's funny, I wrote a book when I was like, 18/19, I don't even remember, really what it was about. wrote another one when I was probably 25. I'm, vaguely remember that I think I got a brief I got a request for the first 25 pages from an agent. And that was back when you had to, you know, send everything it was like pre-internet. And then I actually wrote the novel, I wrote Smoke city before I wrote mercy of the tide. And so on my like, 95th try with Smoke City, I got an agent. And he started chopping Smoke city around. And we got like, amazing responses from like, you know, big five, like, editor's, but they're just like, I don't know if you guys know that book, but it's like, it's weird, you know, and they're like, we just don't know what that it's beautiful, but we don't know what the hell to do with this. And ultimately, it got like a couple offers from like, some respected like literary presses, but they didn't want to give like any advances, you know. And my agent, I guess, justifiably because he wouldn't have gotten paid was like after that. Um, and so while all this process was going, I was riding the mercy of the tide. And so while smug, said he was being shopped around, I think I sent it to him. Or I sent it to Meerkat who ultimately published it with the you know, at the approval are okay at my agent at the time. And they had just done a couple of anthologies at that point and they were looking to kind of spread out into doing novels and so the woman who runs it, Trisha reeks read it and was just like, Oh my god. So that wound up being the first novel that Meerkat Press published and then they wound up publishing Smoke city after that. So actually wrote Smoke city first.
Michael David Wilson 40:29
Yeah, and Euro stay with me cat for road seven. And the story collection. Yeah, yeah. And so you must have had an overwhelmingly positive experience with them.
Keith Rosson 40:44
Yeah. You know, like, that's the thing about like, America, I have nothing but good shit to say about them. Like, it's a one person operation ultimately. And she has learned every single aspect of this business from formatting a manuscript into book form, to how distribution works, you know what I mean? And has done it tirelessly, pays her authors on time, pays them fairly hustles or Assa for them does all the promo buyers, you know, like she does everything. And yeah, it's just so impressive. Like, ultimately, I am like, so stoked to be with a big five publisher honestly, at this point. But like, so profoundly impressed and grateful with merricat like that, like Trisha works so hard for her people.
Michael David Wilson 41:40
Yeah, and I think meow cat has an aesthetic, both in terms of literal presentation and attitude that really works well with you. And I mean, I kind of feel that they do go for offers that are almost on the fringes there. between genres. There's something a little bit literary, but also magic realist. And so you've got people like Seb Dubinsky and Caffee, code year and guess Breukelen. So, I mean, make, perhaps an outfit that we don't shout about enough, but we probably should.
Keith Rosson 42:22
Yeah, I mean, that's the thing. I don't feel like they get a lot of recognition, when it's like their books win big awards, you know, like, they have won big words. And they like, you know, talk about, like, marginalized authors, like this press puts out, you know, very intensely varied voices, you know, like, it's a cool press, they do a lot for a lot of people, and I don't I don't think they get a lot of kudos for it. Like they rule.
Michael David Wilson 42:54
Yeah. And so did you say, was it you? Or was it your agent who ultimately decided, let's approach Meerkat?
Keith Rosson 43:02
Honestly, I think I was the one that sent it out. Yeah, I think we had kind of exhausted some opportunities as far as the books went. And so when Meerkat came along, they were stoked on it. And, you know, like, mercy, the tide is a weird book, in the sense that it is really, like verbose, you know, it's like, kind of different in my other books, I feel like in a sense, the, the plot kind of moves along at a quicker pace than the other ones. But that one is very much a character driven. And I think it was in response to doing like, a very, like, kind of plot heavy thing with smoke city that I was just like, I'm just going to really get into the minutiae of these people and how they, you know, like, scratch their armpits and, you know, order food at the drive thru or whatever. So it was just very much like sitting down with this disparate group of like four or five characters was kind of a relief after what I felt was like the plot, moving the plot forward and Smoke city.
Michael David Wilson 44:08
Yeah, yeah. And then what did you do and what did Meerkat do in terms of the initial marketing?
Keith Rosson 44:17
You know, the only NPR got reviewed mercy of the tide, and that has given me more
like, kudos or opportunities, I think then, like pretty much almost anything else has, like mercy of the tide has been optioned a couple of times. I think because of that NPR review. I've just like speaking opportunities, all that stuff, I think because of that, and so like, again, that's like something that you're not really, as a publisher, like you're not always in control over who controls All or over who reviews something like you can put in the legwork and send in the book and do follow up emails and stuff. But like, we just got really lucky with that. I think that was like, the one thing that kind of turned the dial for that book.
Michael David Wilson 45:14
Yeah, it's amazing how often it can be. One thing that really helps. I mean, when we were speaking to Eric la rocker about his novella, things have gotten worse since we last spoke, I think it was a viral Tik Tok video from Stephanie boots in the freezer that really launched it off. And I mean, that's the thing, you just need one thing that is going to kind of tap into the zeitgeist or is going to excite people and to send it off to off I should say, the problem is, you never know what that one thing is. So we almost have to take a kind of shotgun approach to it and just throw things out in every direction.
Keith Rosson 46:07
And just keep doing the work, you know, yeah. On my fifth book, I've finally gotten, you know, some traction as far as like, going to the next step or whatever. So, yeah, it's just part of it is like, you can't do anything except the next project in front of you. You know, it's kind of outside of your control a little bit.
Michael David Wilson 46:29
Yeah. Yeah. And of those three books that you wrote before your published wives? Do you think that something you'd want to kind of go back to do you want to take the kind of, I guess, gems or that story, those stories and work them into something now? Or are they kind of just like learning experiences that won't see the light of day?
Keith Rosson 46:57
I honestly don't even have them anymore? Like, I don't know where they are. I wrote them on. I think old computers, probably like borrowed computers, and then printed out various hard copies that are long gone. So don't know where the hell they are. Don't particularly miss them. I don't think there's a lot of salvageable stuff. This is also like, you know, 25 years ago, yeah, 20 years ago that they were written and like, some people can write like, really impressive stuff at that age, but I was not one of them.
Michael David Wilson 47:35
All right. i You should have just made up some punk rock story about how you know when you got your first book, do you took that old computer? You took the manuscripts, you had a little bonfire and everything can light?
Keith Rosson 47:51
Yeah. Who knows where they are? I have no idea. Yeah, yeah, sure. They're lost at this point.
Michael David Wilson 47:57
Yeah. Yeah. And I mean, something you've spoken about before, which I mean, I think is great advice for anyone is just giving yourself permission to write a shitty first draft. Because if you do that, then you know, you've got something to work with.
Keith Rosson 48:15
Yeah. Yeah, I'm like, my editor for fever house, the new book is getting me like her comments, for edits in May, and I'm 57,000 words into a new book, an unrelated book, and I'm just hustling to get it done. Before May. So I want to have like a first draft done. And so you gotta give yourself like, it doesn't have to be perfect. It just has to be like, done, and not, you know, not objectively, bottom of the barrel shitty, but just like finish the thing. And don't be precious about it. And you know, lay enough like connective tissue from the stuff you did yesterday to today where it's not jarring and weird, and then just get on down the road. But yeah, the thing that kills me is just when you hear like writers that are just like, I have to make the first 25 pages perfect. And then I can move on. And that's like, man, you will. Maybe people work like that. I just cannot work like that. And the
Michael David Wilson 49:25
problem with that is then like, 10 years later, it's like, how are you doing? It's like, well, I got the first 18 Perfect. So in four years, yeah, totally. Yeah. I mean, I think perfectionism in basically every facet of life and art is an illusion. So if we can let go of the idea of perfectionism, then we can be liberated and we can actually find the beauty and the perfection in the imperfection.
Keith Rosson 49:55
Yeah, and I think a lot of it is like is that fear base, you know? No, for me, like, I always get terrified of starting a new story. Yeah, that I'm not gonna be able to do it again, you know? And so like, I think there's kind of a fear of like, Oh, God, what if I finish this? It's terrible. You know? I think there's a lot of that. Yeah.
Bob Pastorella 50:17
I spent probably restarted my current project five times change POVs three times and wrote 10,000 words and felling? Oh, I think I found how I'm going to start. Yeah, totally. Yes. I mean, it's getting the first 25 pages, right. I mean, I've written the first 25 pages 50 times sorry. Yeah.
Keith Rosson 50:43
And you know, I don't know. But then it's like I say that. And then I think I was, like, 30,000 words into this version of the mercy of the tide when I realized it was in this kind of, like, post apocalyptic setting. And I, like an alternate history thing. And I realized, I need to actually be telling the story of like, how this happened, and how people got here. And so then I was able to, like, toss those 30,000 words and start back at the beginning in, you know, whatever it is 1983 that that story is that the mercy of the tightest set? And so that was really freeing of being like, Oh, this is not working. So I need to actually start at what it feels like the beginning. So yeah, I don't know, like, on one hand, I say that. And then on the other hand, maybe I'm full of shit. I don't know.
Michael David Wilson 51:38
Well, I mean, we're all a little bit foolish yet. But, yeah, it's something that I'm interested in finding out about. And I don't often ask people about this these days. But I want to know about your process, and whoever you typically plan, or pants, because I feel in your work. There's almost this, this paradox where I'm thinking, well, it's so out there and so reorder, a lot of this has to kind of come organically and be pants, but then the other side of it is it's so meticulously planned and choreographed, so you can know what's going on.
Keith Rosson 52:19
I really appreciate that. And I feel the same, I feel the same way about it where like I there, I feel like there's so many moving parts on my books that like it's, it is tightly plotted. But again, it's also like, a lot of it is just character driven. But like I do a lot of pantsing. And just kind of like yeah, and then sure, we'll just put this in. And then on when I'm not writing, I'm thinking about it a lot and doing like journal entries to try to like, figure out where it goes next, or how to like loop that connective tissue together. So it's a lot of just like flying by the seat of my pants. And then thinking about how to cover my ass was what I just did, you know, and how to make it work. So I kind of like just let myself have fun with it, and then figure out how to fill the plot holes after I've done it.
Michael David Wilson 53:10
Yeah, and I know with road seven that this one might have been different still, because it actually was originally a short story in terms of the way that you you put it together. But then it evolved in this into this spiraling mad unicorn hunting adventure.
Keith Rosson 53:33
That was, we… When I was in a writing group, we did these prompts, where like you, people would just literally just write stuff down and we drew like four out of a hat and you had to put three of them into a story. And I can't remember what I remember two that I got. Were a unicorn and sex and a pumpkin patch. Yeah. And so I was able to put two of those, you know, I don't think anyone actually had sex in the pumpkin patch. But and maybe Iceland was in there, too. But yeah, I love that process, personally, of just picking like kind of three random things and then trying to shoehorn it into something, you know, interesting. And so I did do like a probably 8000 word short, short story. And then it just kind of like it wasn't very good, and kind of bloomed ultimately into a novel after I gave it room to breathe.
Michael David Wilson 54:32
Yeah. Had you visited Iceland prior to writing it?
Keith Rosson 54:36
No, this is that's why I like Ville Durland I think is the name of the country and like I just made up a country so that I could kind of like incorporate some of the political issues of like World War Two around that area a little But, but also like, it feels like a better thing to make something up versus like, and here's how it is in Iceland, like it feels less culturally appropriative to do something like that, you know, to just be like, so here's a here's a neighboring country with its own similar customs, but not at all Icelandic customs, you know, these are belongs to this own made up nation. Just because I feel like that's more that's more appropriate.
Michael David Wilson 55:33
Yeah, yeah. Thank you so much for listening to part one had a conversation with key for us and join us again next time for the second and final part. But if you would like to get that ahead of the crowd, if you'd like to get every episode ahead of the crowd, then become a patron on patreon.com forward slash, This Is Horror. Not only do you get early bird access to each and every episode, but you get to submit questions to each and every guest we have on the show. And coming up soon, we're going to be talking to Brandon Boone. He is perhaps best known for his composing for the no sleep podcast. But he has worked on a number of other podcasts including Scarlet hollow, or white vault and the hidden frequencies. He's also created some amazing music that I heartily recommend for listening to while you're writing including nightfall. So if you go to Apple Music or Spotify or wherever you get your music, search for Brandon Boone, that's b o n e. Listen to some of these amazing electronic pieces and hey, maybe up your game while you're writing. But in addition to Brandon, we're also going to be talking to Jason Pagon. Also known as his alias David Wong, he wrote John Dies at the End amongst many other hilarious and brilliant stories. So if you want to submit questions to them, as well as every single guest, become our patron on patreon.com forward slash death is Hara. Okay, before I wrap up, a little bit of an advert break.
Bob Pastorella 57:39
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Michael David Wilson 58:53
Now also a little reminder that the public nominations currently open for the This Is Horror award. So head over to the website to get all the information on that. And then send in your suggestions to awards at this is horror.co.uk. Now I'd like to finish this episode with a little thought. And it is something that I have said before, but I think it bears repeating. Remember that we've writing or indeed any other pursuit, we often underestimate what it is we can do in the long term. We overestimate what we can do in the short term. It is a marathon. It is not a sprint. So keep going. Do what you can and be kind to yourself. I'll see you in the next episode for part two with Keith Rosson, but until then, take care yourselves be good to one another read horror show keep on writing and have a great, great day.