NOSSA MORTE launched its February issue this weekend, and it includes a new interview with me. Senior Editor, Michael De Kler, asked me a bunch of questions about formative influences, my longstanding creative relationship with Delirium Books, my upcoming Leisure Books novels Sacrifice and The 13th and more.
The issue also includes fiction from Nadia Bulkin, Christopher Green, Christopher K. Miller, James Owens, Jason S. Ridler and George Seaton. It also includes cool cover art from the ever-amazing Mike Bohatch, who contributed the cover to the In Delirium II anthology I worked on a couple years ago.
Check out Nossa Morte!
January 2018 Update… the magazine is no longer online, so the interview is archived below:
Interview: John Everson
John Everson does it all: Writer. Editor. Artist. Musician. And he seems to be damn good at all of them.
His short fiction has been published in dozens of magazines and anthologies over the last 15 years, with much of it appearing in three short story collections. One of his tales, “Letting Go”, was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award in 2007. His debut novel Covenant won the Bram Stoker Award for First Novel in 2005. The book has since been re-released by Leisure, and will be followed by Sacrifice this spring with even more on the horizon for 2010.
The wind is clearly at John’s back nowadays. If you want to ride the wave, pick up a John Everson book today, and witness a talented storyteller in action.
To learn more, visit his site at www.johneverson.com
You’ve talked about growing up in an ultra-conservative catholic home. Do you think you’d be writing the kind of fiction you do if not for those first images and experiences as a child?
Absolutely not. My upbringing was about as right-wing religious as you can get—aside from going to Catholic school for 13 years (including kindergarten), my mother has always believed that the Catholic mass should be said in Latin not English (as if worshipping your God in a dead language makes the worship more profound) and that only men should be allowed to walk the church altar (feminists are not her friends!). She used to take us kids to all-night vigils where people walked around a church burning incense at midnight to say the stations of the cross in front of stained glass windows that depicted the life of Christ. And she believes that there truly are statues of the Virgin Mary that cry blood, and that any sexuality expressed outside of marriage should be punished. Oh—and condoms are of the devil because they “thwart God’s plan” LOL!
I would guess that anyone who has read much of my work can attest that the themes that continue to reappear in my fiction reflect the repression of that environment.
Was it difficult to show this side of your life—your love for writing horror and dark fantasy—with your family? What were the initial reactions like?
Well, considering that long before I ever wrote fiction my mother burned some Michael Moorcock “Elric” books that I’d borrowed from a friend in the barbecue grill outside of our house (they were “of the devil”), I’m afraid I’ve never really been able to share my love for horror and dark fantasy with my family. When I went into journalism, my mother constantly bemoaned the fact that I was using my talents for ill, writing for the leftist press, instead of for the good wholesome Catholic media. (Seriously!)
I’ve been estranged from much of my family for the past two decades because ultimately, my extremely liberal belief system couldn’t be tolerated or accepted by their extremely rightwing conservative worldviews.
Any periods early on when you had doubts about succeeding as a writer, especially on the fiction side?
Early on? How about always?! Almost every time I’ve ever completed a story (and I’ve published well over 100 of them at this point) I’ve wondered a) if anyone would really enjoy reading it and b) if I could ever repeat the act and write something equally as good or better. And for a long time, after dozens of rejections from publishers and agents for Covenant, I wondered if I would ever get to the point in my life where I would sell a book that was widely available in stores. And guess what? Once I did… instead of that bringing confidence, I wondered if I would really be able to do it again. Doubt is part of being an artist of any stripe, I think, because doubt is like a dare—half of you says “I don’t think I can do that good again” while the other half answers, “oh yeah—I’m going to do better.”
You focused on short fiction for several years before writing Covenant. What made you decide to try your hand at a novel? Was the process easier or harder than you thought?
I had been publishing short stories in the small press for a couple years when the idea for Covenant first came to me. The idea of tackling a novel was kind of an inner dare, and I wasn’t sure I could really do it. I actually started the first draft of the book back in 1995, but after working on it for a few weeks, I ended up shelving it for a couple years. That ever-present writers doubt won the dare at that point—it just seemed impossible to me that I could ever come up with enough scenes and churn out enough words to complete an entire book.
Eventually, after getting my confidence back from publishing a lot more short work, I gave it another go and finished a draft of Covenant around the time my first short story collection, Cage of Bones & Other Deadly Obsessions came out from Delirium, in 2000. Then I spent a couple years trying to sell the novel, and failing that, a couple years later I spent some time and gave it a massive rewrite, and expanded it by another 10,000 words. That became the version that I sold to Delirium, and a couple years later, to Leisure Books. So… I guess you could say the process was a lot harder than I thought at the start! If you had told me it would be 13 years from starting the book until it appeared in bookstores, I’m sure I wouldn’t have ever finished it!
In your latest novel, Sacrifice, due out later this spring from Leisure, you bring back Joe Kieran from Covenant and send him on another hellish journey. Do you still have more you’d like to explore in this world and with these characters?
I do have a third book in mind in the Covenant saga that I would like to eventually tackle, but I’m committed to writing at least one more non-Covenant book before I consider reuniting with Joe. I do hope to get the opportunity to complete the trilogy at some point though.
Covenant and Sacrifice were both initially issued as limited editions by Delirium Books before finally ending up in Leisure’s hands. Will your recently completed novel, The 13th, also follow a similar path?
The 13th was my first novel written specifically for Leisure Books. However, Leisure understands that I’ve had a long history working in the small press, and so they agreed that I could work with Necro Books (who issued my 2007 short story collection Needles & Sins) to produce a limited hardcover of the novel in advance of the paperback. That should be out in April.
Can you tell us a little more about The 13th? What spurred the idea for the book?
I couldn’t tell you what spurred it. As with anything, probably a little of everything. Basically, The 13th is the story of David Shale, who has failed in his bid to become an Olympic cyclist. He decamps to the mountainous town of Castle Point to live with his aunt for the summer, and to train (where better to get your legs in shape than cycling mountain roads?) But when Castle House Lodge, an old abandoned resort hotel outside of town reopens as an asylum for troubled pregnant women, David decides to check it out, because he knows that the place has a black history. He’s not the only one—the Castle Point cops have sent rookie Christy Sorensen to keep an eye on the place. The two keep bumping into each other, especially once David’s spur of the night girlfriend, Brenda, disappears. And pretty soon, they’re both in danger of becoming victims of the real purpose for the reopening of Castle House, which they discover down the basement stairs past the door emblazoned with a blood-red X.
You’ve had a long history with Delirium ever since your first short story collection in 2000. How did this relationship come about?
It happened the way so many things do—by being in the right place at the right time. Shane Ryan Staley had just started Delirium Books and Delirium Magazine back in 1999 when I sold him my erotic horror story “The Mouth” for the magazine. I pitched him on doing a short story collection for his book line, and so he looked at a bunch of my stories. What originally was envisioned as a short chapbook became the 20-story hardcover collection Cage of Bones & Other Deadly Obsessions, released in 2000. The magazine ran a reprint of “Pumpkin Head,” at that time as well.
Over the next couple years, I helped Shane run the Delirium web site (I designed two different versions of it) as well as with proofreading and some desktop publishing troubleshooting, since my dayjob was as a magazine editor/designer. I also did an introduction to one of Shane’s own fiction collections because as much as he loved my erotic horror stories, I dug his extreme horror/humor tales. We became good friends who both respected and helped with each other’s work. When Delirium began publishing novels, I sent Shane Covenant, and he said he’d love to put it out on Delirium, which ultimately, he did.
A year or so later, after I’d pitched a story for the Necro double-author novelette chapbook line that was rejected, I sent the story to Shane to read—just because. I didn’t think he’d publish it, because he didn’t have any anthologies in the works. But ironically, he had been toying with the idea of doing hardcover chapbooks in a “back pocket” format… he loved the story and wanted to use it as the debut of the chap line. A year later, Failure was issued. By that point, I’d been producing digital collage bookcovers for another small press, and so he asked if I wanted to do my own cover. So I had the rare opportunity to design my own cover for Failure, and went on to design the next five books in the Delirium chap line before it ended. Along the way, Delirium also issued my second novel, Sacrifice. It was right after that book came out, in 2007, that I sold both Covenant and Sacrifice to Leisure.
At this point, I don’t have anything new currently slated with Delirium, but I certainly hope to again. Shane and I have worked together now off and on for a decade, and I owe him a lot.
The small press has been a significant vehicle for your work since you first started writing fiction, and even today you’re firmly established in this world with your own publishing imprint—Dark Arts Books. Do you think the small press will always be a part of your career? Can you imagine life without it?
I’ve worked in the small press now for more than 15 years. Virtually all of the people I think of as my good friends are somehow connected with it. Along the way I’ve not only published a lot of fiction in the small press, but I’ve worked behind the scenes a lot, doing proofing work for books from Cemetery Dance, Necro, Delirium, Earthling and Twilight Tales, and doing bookcover design for Delirium, Twilight Tales, Bad Moon Books and my own press. I can’t imagine life without being involved like that. The small press is, essentially, a group of people who really, intensely, love horror fiction and publishing. It’s a pretty cool “gang” and I’m proud to be a part of it. I just hope they don’t gun me down in an alley at some point.
You started Dark Arts in 2006 along with Bill Breedlove as co-publisher. Now that you have a couple years and a few books under your belt, have there been any surprises or challenges along the way? What has been the most daunting aspect to running the business?
I had the advantage when I started Dark Arts of having a lot of publishing experience under my belt. I’d proofed books for a handful of presses starting with working with Necro in 1994. I’d been a hired (free) gun for Twilight Tales to design and distribute their book line for a couple years, so I knew how to put a book together and how to get it placed in some stores. And my dayjob was as a desktop publisher for a medical magazine. So when I started Dark Arts, I had already done all the jobs of a small press publisher on other people’s dime for years. That’s not, I think, the experience for most small press publishers, who get into it out of the love of the genre and have to slowly discover all the pitfalls. I knew most of them upfront.
The hardest part ultimately has been finding the time to devote to promotion. No business succeeds simply because it has a good product. You have to get out there and find/make inroads to promote the product. And when you have both a full-time job AND a second career as a writer… doing the tertiary duties to promote the small press certainly is difficult. I could give you a list of all the things that should be done to make Dark Arts Books more successful. But there’s really nobody to do the work.
You’ve balanced writing over the years with your love for art and music as well. Of the three, is there one that you’d love to pursue to a greater degree that perhaps you haven’t been able to focus on as much in the balancing act?
At the end of the day, my biggest love in life – bar none – is music. Ask my wife; she knows I’d roll her over for a rock song in a heartbeat. I have worked in a couple of bands and produced dozens of demo pop songs… even contributed some horror music themes to a couple of dark fiction CD-ROM anthologies (I have one of my instrumental themes loaded on my MySpace profile that I recorded for a Chicago production of a serial killer play). I would give up virtually anything in my life to be able to play music every day. But I also recognize that pop music, in the end, is an art of youth. And at 42, my rock star wannabe days are behind me. I made a conscious decision awhile ago to focus on writing fiction over music, because it had more viability long term. That doesn’t change where my deepest love lies though.
Has fatherhood changed the way you write or what you write about over the last few years?
Fatherhood has changed my writing habits more than what I write. It’s a lot harder to find the time to write now—you can’t just camp out on a Sunday from 10 in the morning until 5 in the afternoon at the computer working when there’s a toddler in the house.
I think there have been more babies / pregnant women surfacing in my stories since my son was born, but some of that is coincidence… a couple of the stories that feature pregnant women were in the works before my wife was ever pregnant.
Any desire to see your son follow in your footsteps, either career-wise or in tastes for fiction?
My hope for my son is that he’ll get to follow whatever path really brings him joy. Growing up, I was pushed away from an artistic career, under the assumption that I could never support myself there, certainly where music was concerned. If I played music, I was supposed to do it on the side, in church, or for a nice dinner club. I wasn’t able to play in a rock band until I graduated college and got out of my mother’s house. If I wrote journalism, I was supposed to do it to support the Pope, not to write gruesome horror stories or (gasp) erotica or even feature articles interviewing pop stars like Styx or Jay Leno or Gwen Stefani (I interviewed all of them at some point!).
Given the way I grew up, I just want my son to follow his dreams, unfettered.
You recently co-wrote a story for Doorways Magazine with Gary Braunbeck and JF Gonzalez. What was the collaborative experience like? Had you done this before?
That was the first time I’ve collaborated, and it was a good experience, though, in some ways, it wasn’t a full collaboration. The editor for Doorways provided us with specific characters and a framework that we were supposed to write in, since the story was meant to support a comic panel the magazine is running. Plus, they put us together somewhat artificially (I don’t know JF personally and have only talked briefly in the past with Gary). I respect their work, but the collaboration didn’t occur like I think these things often do, among really good friends sitting in a bar talking about a potential story. Gary took the first leap since he was charged with writing the beginning and the end, and JF and I took our characters and wrote our middle segments to fit Doorways’ concept and the frame that Gary devised. I think it worked well, but it was not as much of a “round robin” give-and-take as it could have been if we’d had a blank slate to start with.
Your short story, “Letting Go”, is probably a good representation of much of your work—there are fantastical elements but it’s built around very raw, powerful and real-world emotions and desires (be it sexual, fear of loss, hanging on to things that have moved beyond you, etc.). Does writing a story like this often come with its own pain and suffering as you put the words to paper? Is it a cathartic process for you at times?
I’m glad you picked “Letting Go” as your example—that’s one of my most personal stories in truth, and probably one of the pieces I’m most proud of. The problem of “letting go” of things that are “over” in your life is one of my main personal issues. I don’t do it. I always stay with things far longer than I should, sacrificing happiness for “safety”… so… yes, I wouldn’t say I “suffered” to put the words down, but it was a somewhat cathartic process and certainly bears a pointed message to myself within the text. Actually following that message is another thing entirely, of course.
There are a few stories I’ve done that are like that—very much driven by an inner emotion or personal understanding. I don’t do them that often… I always used to say “I have nothing to say” when I wrote a story—I just wanted to devise a fun little word ride. But I guess as I’ve gotten older, every now and then I stumble on a realization that I cloak in fiction.
You’ve shown an amazing talent for painting scenes of debauchery and sexual bedlam, as seen in parts of Covenant and certainly in your novelette, Failure, that would certainly impress even the likes of Edward Lee. Do you think this is where true horror lies—in those moments of vulnerability?
Absolutely. We’re at our most vulnerable when we’re naked and in the act of sex. That’s also a point from which our most common neuroses and guilts stem from. So sexually driven horror is both titillating and true to the core of what scares most of us in some primal way. And if you thought those stories had some hard scenes… wait til you read Sacrifice and The 13th this year!
You’ve spent some time on the other side of the fence as an editor. Are there certain mistakes or common problems you see other writers often making?
Actually, it’s been quite awhile at this point since I edited an “open” book. For our Dark Arts Books projects, the authors have all been invited by myself and my co-publisher, Bill Breedlove because we respect and admire their work. That makes it easy, since you’re working with people who you already know are going to turn in great stories. Likewise when I edited In Delirium II, all of the authors in that book were really pros, so you knew you were going to get a good story.
Ten years ago, though, I was one of three fiction editors for Dark Regions magazine for a couple years, and then I was truly reading the slush pile. I remember at that point being struck by how many writers a) didn’t follow basic formatting requirements (I’d get stuff that was single spaced, with virtually no margins, printed on both sides of the page, or even handwritten!) or b) told the most basic horror plot that we’ve read a thousand times without adding anything new or different to it. I don’t know how many times I saw stories about some couple who stumble upon a mysterious old hotel where the owner tries to kill them in the middle of the night.
There are ways to breathe life into a tired plot, but I remember thinking that a lot of the authors seemed to think they’d just hit on the most interesting, inventive story when I’d read it a thousand times, usually written with more style. I used to see a lot of dialogue that read in a really stilted way as well.
So tell us what else we can look forward to from you for the rest of the year and beyond.
Well, Necro’s edition of The 13th and Leisure’s edition of Sacrifice will both be out by the end of April. I’ll be doing a bookstore tour over late spring/early summer to promote these books. I’ll probably be out at the Bram Stoker Award weekend in June, as well as a guest at the Hypericon convention in Nashville that month.
Then in November, I’ll hit the book tour road again when The 13th comes out in paperback from Leisure. Between now and then, I’ll also be writing my fourth novel, Siren. I’ve been working on several treatments for new projects over the past couple months, and I just got the go-ahead from Leisure this week to write Siren, which will be out in paperback in 2010. So you heard it here first!
John, thank you so much for talking with us. It’s been an absolute pleasure.
Thanks for grilling me!