Tarot cards play a large role in your new book, and you seem to know what you’re talking about. Tell us, was this due to research on your part, or do you have a background in Tarot?
I did a ton of research, and I have a pack of tarot, too...well, I don't, per se, but my wife does and she's a bona fide witch ;) Don't tell her I said that! Hang on, this is public, isn't it? Erm...
She's not really a witch, but she is a medium. There's a small part of her in Beth Willis, although her experiences as a medium haven't been anywhere near as traumatic.
That's the long and short of it, really – she sees dead people! For real, and everything. I was never really a believer in any kind of religion, and I'm still not what I'd call a devotee of religion or even the dark arts, but I've seen enough to believe that some things you can't see, can't touch, can still be real. She's a great inspiration for the character, and some of her stories have led, in a roundabout way, to my stories...I'm thinking in particular of A Stranger's Grave (published this year) and A Home by the Sea (due 2013).
Do you believe in ghosts? Have you ever seen one?
Haha - I'm going to sound like a right crackpot, but I write horror fiction, so people kind of expect you to be a crackpot (Right, Peter? Right...? Come on man, back me up here!). England's a largely secular country, so people have all kind of beliefs and disbeliefs. Like I said before, I don't necessarily believe in God or Christ or Buddha or the Jedi. I'm an agnostic, at best. But I do see white birds when people die. I have seen the ghosts of cats and dogs and shadow people from the corner of my eye, and once a bird saved my life. Once my wife saved my life, too. She had a vision of three deer on the road...I rounded a corner, looking out for deer (we live in the country) and there were three deer – next bend, a blind corner, I narrowly avoided a head on collision with an idiot on the wrong side of the road...
I guess the white birds thing boils down to a kind of omen...well, hell, it is an omen... I hate seeing white birds.
And I don't mean silly white birds, like a chicken or a dove, that are white anyway, but like an albino version of a bird that isn't ordinarily white...
Hey, I’m not here to judge. (Turns to bartender) I’ll have what he’s having. (Back to Craig) Moving on: Paranormal stories seem to be making a big comeback in horror fiction. Why do you think that is?
I think people are a little tired of zombies and vampires and werewolves (oh my!) to be honest. You can only reinvent the vampire so often before it becomes drab. I know you've written a vampire novella (and a cracker, too – I've read it!), and I've written a vampire novel...but I think for me it was more a rite of passage as a horror writer. I figure you have to have a vampire novel under your belt or your horror pants will fall down...hmm...note to self: Delete that before sending...
So, going old school is, in effect, the new school. Some of my favorite tales have a paranormal element. The work of Bill Hussey, pre William Hussey days, is really my favorite, my booky-bezzy-buddy, but also Tim Lebbon's earlier work, and a novel I read recently, Heart-Shaped Box...you might have heard of it ;)
Hmm, how long is it socially acceptable to ramble on in an interview? Let's find out...
Paranormal, frankly, rocks. Zombies sell, but I personally find them cute, rather than intellectually challenging for the reader. Don't get me wrong, zombies are fun, but limited – I feel. Ghosts and superstitions...they play into the reader's fear of the dark, rather than the reader's fear of the grotesque...
As you can tell, I haven't really thought this through, but in conclusion – and hopefully in answer to your question – I think (and no doubt stand to be corrected!) reader's gore buttons have been pushed so many times that they've become desensitized to blood and guts. Maybe that's just me. Hell, this whole answer is just me, right? As I can only answer for me, I think it's time horror grew up. Again.
What’s your favorite ghost story?
Peter Straub's Ghost Story, right up there. Heart-Shaped Box (Joe Hill) for sure. But like I said before, I love Bill Hussey, so either Through a Glass, Darkly, or The Absence, both of which have strong paranormal elements.
I think, structurally, in order to make it taut I stick to short sentences, short chapters – someone (I think it was Elmore Leonard, but I might be wrong!) said, “Cut out all the parts people don't read.” I try to do that, and treat each book the same way— write fast, write for a fast read...keep it simple!
Like I said before, my primary influence for the story was my wife and her experience as a medium, but also through research into the mythology behind the story – which I won't go into, because I don't want to spoil it, but a small part of this was old stories about seagulls and ravens...I go far and wide for a story. (Oh, alright, I look things up on Wikipedia!)
According to the time stamp in the back of THE LOVE OF THE DEAD, it looks like you wrote it between August and September of 2010. Now here it is in print two years later. A lot of aspiring authors don’t understand the timelines for writing vs. publication. Tell us about the lifecycle of this particular novel.
The timelines I add at the back of my novels are for the first drafts – a first draft of a horror novel for me is usually somewhere between 40 and 50K. The second draft will be a little beefier. I don't often do more than two drafts, but sometimes I'll do a third, or, if an editor becomes involved, however many it takes!
Sometimes you might be asked for a rewrite, but usually it will be fairly minor. But in my experience good editors aren't afraid of asking an author to chop things up a bit, and good writers aren't afraid of editors, either.
But, getting off my soapbox for a minute, The Love of the Dead ran through my hands twice, and the second draft I submitted to Evil Jester Press...after a period for it to be read, then it went to my editor, the rather wonderful Gregory L. Norris, and through another period for artwork...then publication has to be scheduled around other works to be released by the press/publisher...
So, yes, although writing a novel can be quite a quick process, from pitch to publication can take considerably longer.
D.I. Coleridge is an odd and fascinating character. A crass, lost man who we learn to love through the course of the novel. Tell us about Coleridge. What was your inspiration for him?
This is the part where I shoot myself in the foot, because I figure people want to know an interesting story behind him, but the truth is he was all typing and telling lies :)
I tend to write broken characters – I find them more interesting, more real, than the superhero kind of characters you get in many books. I found him appealing because he's hard as nails, but insecure, hurt, and a little wobbly in the morals department. That said, he's a kick-ass cop. He's one of my favorite characters to date...I seriously thought about putting him into other novels, but I think I'd feel like I was cheating him.
I also love the character of Beth. A wounded soul, like Coleridge, but a sympathetic figure nonetheless. Where did you find Beth?
As before, Beth's a combination of me telling lies and my wife. I quite often write female characters – I find them interesting. I really felt for her, and she started out on the page as kind of a cliché, but as I wrote her I warmed to her...she's a good character, I think. My wife's my inspiration for many of my female characters. I don't know many other women. I have to say that, just in case she's reading this...she'll kill me!
What’s your favorite book? Why?
I've spoken about Bill Hussey, and he's one of my favorite authors, though he only penned two horror novels that I know of. I love Stephen King and pretty much all of his works (though, sorry Mr. King, I did prefer you drunk). I like Peter Straub. But my favorite novel? It's an almost impossible question, as I read within the genre and outside, but I'll have to plump for two (sorry!) that I've read more than any other novels on my shelves: The Stand (King) and The Lord of the Rings (Tolkein).
What lights you up?
That's a lovely question, and that lights me up :) I think the one thing that lights me up over and above all else (I like bacon, coffee, music, PC games, the rain, and so many other things) has got to be nice people. Just a random act of kindness, or a smile, or a sweet word...not any one specific thing that people do, just nice people. I like nice people. That's it.
What shuts you down?
The news! I'm such a grumpy so-and-so when it comes to the news. I figure if I want to be afraid, I can just walk down to the local pub on a summer's eve and see a tattooed guy with no shirt walking his pitbull. If I want to be scared I can listen to the weird noises in my house as I try to sleep. I don't need to be afraid of current events.
If there ever is a real zombie outbreak, I'll be the last to know, because I won't see it coming, and to be frank (can I be Frank? :P ) I'll be all the happier for it.
Your editor on THE LOVE OF THE DEAD was the brilliant Gregory L. Norris. Tell us a little bit about working with Gregory.
I'm proud to count Gregory as one of my favorite people in the whole world, and a friend, too. He was a friend before he came to edit The Love of the Dead, and he's a pro; definitely someone I look up to professionally. I was over the moon to find out that Gregory was to edit my novel - truly honored. He's got more publications under his belt that many people who have been writing for sixty years, and he's only a whippersnapper in his (don't shoot me, Greg!) 40s...though he looks a lot younger ;)
It's a relief to be in the hands of such an accomplished author and editor, and when the edits came back I was over the moon.
It's easy to edit the voice out of a novel, impossible to edit it back in. Thankfully, Gregory was sympathetic to my voice and preserved it, while making the novel better than it would ever have been without his steady hand. He's a good fella.
What’s on the horizon from Craig Saunders?
It may sound strange to readers of this blog, those interested parties who've made it to this, the penultimate question, but I haven't been a published novelist for a whole year yet! In that year I've had four novels published traditionally, and have gone the indie route with everything I've written in genres other than horror. I consider myself a horror writer, and won't ever self-publish my horror. Traditional all the way for the horror. Don't think I'm denigrating Indie authors – I'm one of those, too!
So, I've published a total of 12 novels and 2 collections in under a year. I think the future holds promotion, learning the ropes of publishing and the industry, reading more, and hopefully the completion of three non-horror projects. I also have a novella, The Walls of Madness, slated for a Halloween release, and a novel, A Home by the Sea, due in 2013. Oh, I'll also be signing at Cardiff Comic Con in March next year, when A Home by the Sea is launched. That will be my first book signing, a little over a year after publishing my first novel. I'm really stoked about that.
Erm...there's more, but I think that will do for now, don't you?
Haha - I'd like people to know that what goes around comes around, a little love goes a long way, and to take care of your teeth :)
On a more personal note, I'd like people to know one more thing:
If you're an aspiring writer reading this, I may sound like I'm a big shot. I'm not. I just really work hard. This is what I want to do, what I love to do...a little advice, then, unsolicited, but valid nonetheless:
Writing is damn hard. Get on with it!
Ha. Time to take my own advice and scoot. Lastly, big old thank you, Peter, for this interview. I think this is the most I've “spoken” about my writing in forever and I have to say, I've really enjoyed having a good ramble. Thank you for the opportunity. It's been a real pleasure.
Amazon.com links to buy THE LOVE OF THE DEAD:
Kindle eBook: http://www.amazon.com/The-Love-Dead-ebook/dp/B008IWWX48/ref=tmm_kin_title_0?ie=UTF8&m=AG56TWVU5XWC2&qid=1342501557&sr=1-1
And be sure to tune in Thursday, right here, for an interview with Jeremy C. Shipp.