FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND asked me a bunch of questions… and I gave bunch of answers! They just posted the results of the interview here:
2018 Note – this blog used to link to the interview, but it is no longer available on the Famous Monsters site. I’ve posted an image of what it looked like.
Below is what it said:
Interview with John Everson
Posted by sean in General, Interviews, Literature on August 19, 2009
Famous Monsters would like to welcome Bram Stoker Award-winning author John Everson. John has been making quite a splash in the literary world with the trade paperback releases of Covenant and Sacrifice. They were both originally issued as limited edition hardcovers by Delirium Books, with Covenant winning the HWA Bram Stoker Award for First Novel released in 2004.
Though it may seem that John is an overnight success, that couldn’t be farther from the truth; he has been honing his craft for many years.
His short fiction has appeared in over 50 magazines over the last 15 years, as well as in a couple dozen anthologies, most recently in The Horror Library Vol. 3, A Dark and Deadly Valley, Cold Flesh, Damned, and Kolchak: The Night Stalker Casebook. Some of his short fiction has also appeared in three short story collections, Cage of Bones & Other Deadly Obsessions (Delirium Books, 2000), Vigilantes of Love (Twilight Tales, 2003) and Needles & Sins (Necro Books, 2007). John has also edited a few anthologies; he was co-editor of the Spooks! ghost story anthology (Twilight Tales, 2004) and editor of In Delirium II (Delirium Books, 2007) and Sins of the Sirens (Dark Arts Books, 2008).
He also co-founded a publishing company in 2006, Dark Arts Books (www.darkartbooks.com) that has produced five anthologies.
John also dabbles in digital art and music. You can get samples of his fiction, art and music and read his blog and appearance schedule via his website, www.johneverson.com
FM: Welcome to Famous Monsters of Filmland John and thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule for the interview. I have to say that Covenant and Sacrifice were fantastic. Good old fashioned over-the-top supernatural horror, which in my opinion you can never have enough of.
John Everson: Thanks for having me! I have to agree with you about horror with the supernatural element. When I read a story, I want to be taken to someplace other than here, so for me, horror that is strictly about serial killers – which are very much day-to-day real dangers, doesn’t appeal. I want to be tantalized by ideas of something beyond…
FM: Were you a fan of Famous Monsters growing up?
John Everson: Famous Monsters, Fangoria, Starlog… Loved ‘em all, but I didn’t get to see them very often, except at a friend’s house. My parents weren’t horror fans, so I didn’t get to have much of that in the house. I did used to watch lots of the old b/w monster movies on TV though. In Chicago we had a weekend horror movie spotlight program called “Creature Features” that I loved as a kid. That’s where I saw all the old Universal movies, and probably my first couple Hammer films.
FM: You have been at this writing gig for a long time. What got you into writing and what influenced you to become a horror writer?
John Everson: Reading, ultimately, is what got me into writing. As a kid I was a voracious reader – I used to literally bring shopping bags of books home from the library during the summer. I loved the sense of wonder and fear and excitement that a good story could engage in me as a reader and I wanted to be able to have that impact on somebody else. So I decided early on that I would write; In college I went to journalism school and wrote non-fiction news at the same time as writing entertainment section opinion columns, personality interviews and poems and fiction on the side.
FM: You also have a history as a DVD reviewer and music columnist (publishing “Pop Stops” and “Sinister Cinema” in the Star Newspapers, various DVD reviews in Doorways, “NightSongs” in Wetbones, “Shadows in Stereo” in Midnight Hour and “Bug Music” in Talebones). Do you think that doing columns like these helped you become a better fiction writer and how much did you enjoy doing those?
John Everson: Writing is all about using your “voice” to engage the reader in your point of view. Whether that point of view is a fictional world, or a discussion about music isn’t as important as how you put your words together. And the more you write, hopefully, the better you get at communicating. So yes, absolutely I think those opinion columns, and all the news stories I used to write on a daily basis helped me become a better storyteller in the fiction realm. And yes, I totally loved doing the music columns for genre magazines. I wrote a weekly music column for The Star Newspapers for 20 years, so taking that side career one step further and having it intersect with my fiction publishing life, was pretty cool while it lasted.
FM: You are also involved in designing book covers and composing music. Does that take time away from your writing or do they give you a chance to pursue other creative outlets, thus giving you a break from your writing?
John Everson: The short answer is… both! I wrote music as a kid, so I’ve created songs longer than I’ve written fiction, and I find it a completely relaxing exercise that almost blanks out the conscious mind. So to the extent that it “feels” easier to work on music, that can also be a procrastinating lure: “hmmm…. I think I’ll sit here at the piano noodling instead of putting my brain to work in the office writing.” Book cover creation is similar for me, because I’m toying with Photoshop filters and experimenting half the time to come up with something that is an evocative image, not necessarily a straight-on depiction of anything in particular. I think the music and the art engage different aesthetic creative aspects of the mind, and it’s probably healthy to alternate between all three, to give one or the other a break.
FM: Do you have much time for playing your guitar anymore? It says on your site, your son seems to enjoy your playing.
John Everson: I actually haven’t done much with keyboards or my guitar (which I just really bang around some bar chords on – I had years of lessons on keys, but am rudimentarily self-taught on guitar). I’d really like to this fall, because the novel I’m finishing up right now is called Siren, and of course, a Siren lures its victims with song. So I’d like to create a kind of “soundtrack” to go with the novel when it debuts. But yeah, my son Shaun is four, and he gets a kick out of a couple simple three-chord pop songs I play on the acoustic guitar. Especially the one I wrote for him that says his name a lot!
FM: How important is your family to your success as a writer?
John Everson: That’s a difficult question to answer. In some ways, not at all, because nobody in my family, including my wife, enjoys horror fiction. So none of my immediate relatives read my stuff. My wife and my dad read Covenant, and let’s just say neither will be reading any of my other novels. Of course, at the same time, I couldn’t go on book tours to promote my novels if my wife wasn’t supportive of my avocation, if not appreciative of its content.
FM: Are you able to write full-time or do you have another job?
John Everson: I have a fairly intensive full-time job, and while the occasional extra checks from fiction sales are nice, and have allowed me over the years to do things like build a small deck on my house, buy a big screen TV or splurge on stacks of DVDs, I don’t see much hope of a future where I’m actually making a living at fiction full-time.
FM: In viewing your website, it seems you have taken to the internet age full steam ahead. You have a blog, Myspace, Facebook, Twitter and your site. Do you think it is necessary for authors today to embrace modern technology to help spread the word? And how important is it for you to self promote?
John Everson: I’ve actually been an Internet geek from the start. I created my website in 1996, largely because the newspaper I worked for WASN’T online, and I wanted to have an archive available to the public of my music columns. That site expanded to include my fiction, and eventually split into two completely separate sites (the music archive stuff is at www.popstops.net now). But yes, given the state of culture today, I think it’s mandatory for a writer to have a web presence. People find their reading material as much on the web from their homes at 11 p.m. at night as they do browsing in a bookstore. And let’s face it, bookstores don’t keep the kind of backstock they used to. So increasingly, unless you’re the author of a New York Times level bestseller, you’re going to need to rely on the Internet to be exposed to readers, because you won’t have the shelf space in brick and mortar stores.
FM: How do you think the publishing industry in general is doing in keeping up with new technology and the digital age, and do you think it could be doing something different or better? And what do you think about digital books and do you think you will be releasing any of your work in that format? The Amazon Kindle seems to be quite the rage, but I personally like the feel and smell of a book.
John Everson: I have yet to meet someone who truly says they prefer reading a book on an e-reader as opposed to a piece of bendable paper. I’m sure there are some, but I’d guess it’s a minority. There ARE reasons to use an e-reader and I would presume more people will avail themselves of them. But I’ve been hearing the death knell of print now for 10 years. Will the volume of printed work shrink? Absolutely. Is print dead? No. And I don’t believe it will be in our lifetimes. E-Books and Audiobooks are alternative formats. And I fully support them. I personally can’t support the alternative formats as the MAIN vehicle for release. In my mind, a work is not really published until it has been transmuted into a non-digital format. Leisure Books is issuing its novels in Kindle format, which I think is great. Someone just the other day wrote me to say he’d bought Sacrifice for his Kindle. Frankly though, if e-book was the only vehicle for which the work was available, I’m not sure I’d bother to write. To me, and this is purely a personal, perhaps Luddite view, a book is not a book until it is printed and bound. I’m fine with people videotaping, audiotaping, PDF-ing, Kindling, whatever, ancillary versions of that final BOUND book as derivative products. But I am in this business because I love books, and want to be a part of producing them. And books are more than simply words and a story. They have covers, they are tactile. One review outlet I’m aware of gives them a “smell rating” because paper and ink do generate odor. You can’t get those things from an e-reader.
As far as whether publishing is making the most use of digital vehicles, I suppose that depends on the publisher. To me, to make a work the most successful it can be, it should be available in every possible distribution format. That, of course, takes a lot of resources, and simply isn’t feasible for many.
FM: Do you think books (all genres) are in trouble in this “information right now” driven society we live in? If so what do you think can be done if anything to reverse the tide?
John Everson: I think the horse has left the barn there… books are in trouble not so much because of the digital information-now age as much as because we have lost the ability to jury works. When everybody – literally everybody – can publish a book regardless of any inherent skill or writing talent, it makes it exceptionally difficult for the readers to sift through to find which works are good or not. That’s not to say the New York publishers always choose the most innovative or best work available to publish… but when most books funneled through “a system,” there was some sort of critical eye brought to bear, and a “cleanup machine” of copy editors etc. that helped polish work. Now there is a huge glut of published material. Whereas before, perhaps some really good stuff never got published because of restrictive lists, now there is such a glut of stuff battling for attention that it’s impossible to find the good stuff from amid the piles of bad. With freedom has come anarchy. And the more choices, the lower the profit margins on all titles, as the buying power of the public is spread out further.
FM: To many who have only recently heard of you (You can count me in that category, but thanks to Leisure I was introduced to your work with Covenant) it may seem you are an overnight success, but you have put a lot of years in to get to where you are.
John Everson: That’s true. But honestly, I’m not sorry for that. I think it goes back to the last question. I spent 15 years writing and gaining experience – my first short story magazine appearance was at the start of 1994. I wrote and published scores of short stories in the 90s, some good, some bad… but they all taught me (I think) about how to tell a good story. Getting rejected and learning from it is part of the “school” of writing. If I had simply started self-publishing everything I wrote from day one, I may never have gotten better. I think the version of Covenant that’s on the street now is a helluva lot better of a novel than the one that I started submitting to publishers in 2000 – because they all rejected it. It’s been rewritten a couple times since that first “hey look, I wrote a novel” draft. If I had ignored the rejections I got then and simply self-published it in 2000, the work would never have improved. And it still has flaws. But hopefully I am continuing to learn.
FM: From what I have been able to gather online, you started with short fiction in magazines and anthologies. Was it tough writing your first novel (Covenant) compared to your short fiction?
John Everson: Writing Covenant was one of the hardest, most drawn-out things I’ve ever done. I started the book back in 1994/5 based on an idea someone gave me from a newspaper article (about a cliff in England where people habitually jump to their deaths). My average short story at that point ran about 2,500 words and took me an afternoon to write and polish. When I started writing Covenant, and weeks went by and I had only reached a total of 20,000 words… I lost all confidence that I could finish the thing (the final version of the book was 85,000 words). I shelved the book for a couple years because I just didn’t believe I could ever write enough words to make a novel. I knew the story arc… but the journey to get to the end seemed impossible. Eventually, I obviously took the story up again, and after a couple other hiatuses, I finished a draft in 2000, just after my first short fiction collection was released from Delirium Books. Then I shopped Covenant around (back then it was titled The Cliff) and got a resounding lack of interest. A couple years went by and I did a substantial rewrite on the book, and in the process added about 10,000 words. That’s the version that Delirium published in 2004 and won the Bram Stoker Award the following summer.
FM: Can you take us through the process of what happens when you get an idea for a book or story?
John Everson: It’s really different for everything. There are some stories where I hear or see something and it triggers an image or a question in my mind (“what if that crumpled newspaper lying there on the side of the road actually hides a human foot…?”) Sometimes my subconscious comes up with an answer right away – “oh, well last night, this guy was driving along and…” Other times, I may just be stuck with that image. Something about it is intriguing to me, but I file it away until something else hits to marry it with. Most stories realistically are a composite of different ideas that somehow intersect. For me, that intersection sometimes happens all at once – an interesting image just flashes into a full-blown story arc. Those pieces, I’ll usually want to make time to start writing fairly quickly, or the energy in them may disappear. Other times it may be years before an idea finds the right framework to grow within. And sometimes I’ll forcibly decide – I’m going to MAKE that framework because I like the germ of an idea. Sometimes, the intersection happens naturally, and two years after having this image catch in my head, all of a sudden I just KNOW what the story is. There’s a piece that I wrote for my collection Needles & Sins that I’d waited literally at least five years to write. I never forgot it, I just never felt I was ready to write it. Finally, in the midst of producing that collection, I felt like I could bring the idea to fruition, and I’m really happy with the way it turned out.
Anyway, I generally know the beginning and have a decent idea of the ending when I sit down to write. The middle bits are blurrier, and that’s what makes it fun to write – discovering what happens to my lead character between points A and Z.
FM: I know you have probably been asked a million times where you get your ideas but I want to take it in a little different direction. Why do you think you get your ideas? And what happens to them after you get them?
John Everson: I think a lot of my ideas come from personal questions and insecurities and conflicts. For example, I was raised a Catholic, but early on in my life, though I was afraid of what might be in the dark, I also began to doubt the existence of anything that I couldn’t see. So I’m an agnostic, ultimately. But guess what – an awful lot of my stories center around the afterlife, hell, limbo, demons… all things that according to my intellect, I don’t believe in. That’s probably in internal conflict that I’ll never resolve, and thus the conflict between what I was taught and wish was real vs. what I believe is real will keep spinning off stories exploring the idea of an afterlife of some kind.
I think that Catholic upbringing also contributed to very strong perceptions of good and evil, and the frustrating places where ethics are grey. That sort of “if you do bad you’ll be punished” aspect of my childhood is perfect for a horror writer – a genre where stories are often at their core crime and punishment exercises. You are tempted by the bosom of the fair nude maiden and stray from your vows of monogamy… only to discover that said fair nude provocative maiden has vagina dentata. Oops. Shoulda been good. Horror often ends up generating ridiculously overblown treatments of classic morality plays.
FM: When writing a novel do you use an outline, character profiles, or do you just write what comes out, then go back, and fix things later?
John Everson: Until my fourth novel, I never used an outline. I sort of “backwards outlined” – I had a rough idea of how the story would go, I began to write, and then every few chapters I’d take time to summarize what I’d written so far, so that I had a cheat sheet to look back on in later chapters (I have a lousy memory and tend to forget what I’ve already established, and where). I found in Covenant that I was always forgetting characters and names and events, so with Sacrifice and The 13th, I outlined “as I went”. All three novels were fully written before I sold them. When I was midway through writing The 13th, I met with Don D’Auria, my editor at Leisure, and talked him through my high level view of the plot, and he liked it, so I was fairly confident that he would buy it when it was done. He asked for an outline, but since I was so far into it, I went ahead and finished the book before I submitted the formal outline and proposal to him. For Siren, my fourth novel, I really didn’t want to spend months writing again without a firm contract, so for the first time I “did it right” and sat down at the front door of the process and did an extensive outline to submit to Leisure. After that was accepted, and contracted, I began writing. So only my fourth book was fully outlined prior to writing it.
FM: Covenant and Sacrifice are pretty graphic books with some gut-churning scenes. Do you ever think that you went too far in describing a particularly brutal scene? Or think ‘what is my wife and son going to think about this?’
John Everson: I used to worry a lot more about what my wife or friends would think about some of the stuff I wrote… though that never ultimately stopped me from writing the stuff I imagined. I can think of particular scenes in both books that I was definitely squeamish about writing. I’m a pretty pacifistic person, and there are pretty strong scenes of sexually related violence in both novels, as well as in my third book, The 13th, which totally goes over the top.
I don’t feel as if I went too far in any of the descriptions though. I think that you need to strike a balance between scenes that “show it all” and those that only hint at the horror… often the latter prove to me more effective since you engage the reader’s imagination. There’s a scene in The 13th where a woman is holding her infant to her breast and a killer holds a knife to the child… I didn’t go any farther. I think that image says enough, and it would be less effective to add any description of what happened next, actually.
FM: They also contain some very beautiful atmospheric scary scenes to offset the brutal ones, to me anyways. How do you decide when you are writing a particular scene that it should be described in vivid detail or left more to the reader’s imagination?
John Everson: Well, that really is the trick, isn’t it? I don’t have a really good answer for it, sadly. I just… do what feels right to me. Sometimes it feels like the right thing to do at a certain point in the plot energy to tease an image and then walk away without saying anymore. Other times, the scene demands a powerful blow-by-blow description.
FM: Being a horror writer and fan of the macabre, what scares John Everson?
John Everson: Lack of security. At my core, I really just want to live undisturbed and unthreatened in my house and left alone to drink my bourbon and play my music and not have to worry about serial killers and thieves stalking the neighborhood, or losing my job, or bank foreclosures, or unanticipated brain aneurysms…
FM: What words of advice would you give to today’s aspiring authors?
John Everson: Write for yourself first. And if other people like what you do, be glad. But never expect it. And never expect to get rich and famous at it – the publishing industry is too crowded with talented hopefuls and there are only so many slots on the New York Times bestseller list. No matter what the merits of your work are, the external battle to get it seen is far more difficult than the internal struggle to get it written.
FM: Who would you say your biggest influences are?
John Everson: My earliest literary influences were the fiction of Richard Matheson, Roald Dahl, Edgar Allan Poe… The classic macabre writers who always had a good twist to the endings of their stories. Later I’d discover Clive Barker, Stephen King and Anne Rice and really loved what they brought to the genre – they all really created amazing characters and worlds with deep, rich history behind them. More recently, I’ve become a huge fan of Edward Lee’s novels, which to me are the perfect books to read for fun. Lee creates wild, over-the-top scenarios packed with twisted sex, ridiculous amounts of blood and a narrative voice that is just phenomenal. His books are like carnival roller coaster rides – fast, furious and over too fast.
FM: What are your favorite books?
John Everson: I’ve gone through a lot of phases in my reading habits over the years, moving from science fiction to urban fantasy, to horror… Here are a few of my favorite books, many of which I’ve read more than once, in no particular order: Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, Douglas Adams’ Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, Hal Clement’s Needle, J.T. McIntosh’s World Out of Mind, Clifford Simak’s Way Station, Isaac Asimov’s The Caves of Steel and Pebble in the Sky, Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Lucy Taylor’s Close to the Bone, Mehitobel Wilson’s Dangerous Red, Michael Marshall Smith’s More Tomorrow and Other Stories, Charles De Lint’s The Little Country, Anne Rice’s The Witching Hour, Clive Barker’s The Damnation Game and The Great and Secret Show, Stephen King’s Night Shift and The Stand, Nina Kiriki Hoffman’s The Thread That Binds The Bones, P.D. Cacek’s Night Prayers, Edward Lee’s Infernal Angel and Flesh Gothic, Jeffrey Thomas’ Letters from Hades… I suppose I should cut this list off! It could go on and on.
FM: Since this is Famous Monsters of FILMLAND, what are your favorite horror movies?
John Everson: I’m a huge fan of Euro-horror, so even if the movies aren’t great “movies” per se, I tend to enjoy the different “feel” that they evoke – I’ll watch anything by Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci, Mario Bava and Jean Rollin again and again. My classics there include Inferno, Phenomenon, Living Dead Girl, Daughters of Darkness, The Beyond …
I love the classic Universal monster movies, especially the bittersweet monster presented in Frankenstein, and as a kid, I never missed a showing of Gammera – I mean, how can you go wrong with a fire-breathing turtle monster in Tokyo?!
I think Alien is perhaps the best monster movie of all time, even though it’s couched as a science fiction film. Halloween, Night of the Living Dead and Psycho are, of course, classics which instill great tension without showing much blood. On the opposite extreme, the recent High Tension, The Ruins and The Descent all had me white-knuckled for most of their play, which is unusual for me (though I took issue with a couple of the endings). I think Dagon, Ginger Snaps and Final Destination are all great modern horror films, for different reasons. For pure campy gory fun, you can’t go wrong with Dead Alive, Fido and Re-Animator. I’ve got literally hundreds of horror DVDs on the shelf, so it’s hard to narrow the list!
FM: What does the future hold for John Everson and can you give us any news on upcoming projects?
John Everson: Necro Books just released a limited signed and numbered hardcover edition of my 3rd novel, The 13th. Leisure will issue the paperback edition of this book at the end of October. Right now, I’m wrapping up the final edits on my fourth novel, Siren, which I’ll turn in to Leisure in September.
On the short fiction front, Necro has also just issued Infernally Yours, a tribute anthology to Edward Lee’s Infernal world books; I was really excited to be able to contribute a piece to it. I’ve also got a short story I’m really proud of coming out in the Terrible Beauty, Fearful Symmetry anthology from Dark Hart, which is supposed to hit the streets this month.
FM: Thank you so much John for taking the time for this interview. I’ll give you the last word.
John Everson: Hopefully, this is not the last, but only the beginning…