Let's meet the man!
What kinds of fiction did you read growing up? What grabbed you and still sticks with you today?
I read a lot of science fiction and fantasy--escapist stuff--as well as tons of comic books and newspaper strips. I'd read any strip I could find in the papers, even the editorial stuff whose content I never understood! Any trip to the library meant classic sci-fi came home with me and whenever we were near a bookstore, I'd beg my parents to let me buy books. Most of my money went to comics, books, and movies. Oddly enough, I continually find that of all the stuff I've read, very little of it--excepting classics like Stranger In A Strange Land, for instance--seems to be familiar with my storytelling contemporaries. Not that what I'm reading is so much better, but I seem to have not crossed paths with as much of the more well-known influential fiction.
I read plenty of Asimov's robot stories. I, Robot, the Foundation Trilogy, The Caves of Steel--it blew my mind that a sci-fi author could pen functional mysteries in a made-up, future universe. Ray Bradbury's Illustrated Man short stories really stuck with me. Far too many comic books have been in my life. I grabbed and read anything I could get my hands on--not just Marvel and DC. I preferred Marvel, but I remember having copies of E-Man, an old Charlton Comics title, for instance, the early Question and Blue Beetle stuff before DC picked them up. I have a bunch of Classics Illustrated and Golden Legacy comics in the attic. The former reproduced the "literary" classics like The Man In The Iron Mask and the latter covered African-American history up through the civil rights era. I'd just devour them all if they were a combination of pictures and words. Except Prince Valiant. I hated that shit.
Much of your writing deals with werewolves and other shape-shifting beasts. What fascinates you about them and keeps you coming back for more?
When I was growing up werewolves always got the shaft! The wolf man was always a mindless beast bent on killing everyone that got in his path or he was controlled by vampires. I always thought having the power to become a super-tough man-animal would be pretty cool. A dichotomy that was easier to identify with than choosing to put on a mask and fight crime or something. Werewolf stories are always about the struggle between the human and other parts within. We all have a "dark" side that's capable of something that would frighten or surprise even those we're closest with. I think it's fortunate that we aren't tested to that point with any regularity. Someone who's a wereanything is going to be tested over and over until death. I read the Werewolf by Night comics and the most satisfying stories were the ones where Jack Russell makes peace with his wolf and is more in control--not that his situation got any easier. All of that just stuck in my head. Then learning that cultures all around the world have shapeshifter myths was just the icing on the cake!
Other than the Werewolf by Night series, what are some of your favorite werewolf/shapeshifter tales?
Ugh, that's tough. Most series have the werewolf characters as secondary or uncontrollable packs. Let's see: in the comics there was Man-Wolf--when John Jameson takes control and we've got a hero in a kind of John Carter of Mars scenario. Jonathan Maberry's short story Like Part of The Family featured a lycanthropic detective. The Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs is really good. Honestly, there's precious few, in my experience, that have the main character using their lycanthropy rather than suffering from it--like so many vampire stories. I enjoy the struggle of such characters, but the everlasting uncontrollable beast-rage thing wore on me something bad. I have yet to read Glen Duncan's werewolf book, but I get the impression it's main character is someone who has embraced their inner-monster to a certain extent.
What do you think is essential for a great paranormal thriller/mystery?
I believe two things are required: 1) the main character has to have a compelling, troubled background with a conflict larger than a single novel and, 2) the immediate situation they happen to be dealing with should bring a fresh perspective to all the mythology that has come before. (I'm assuming good characterization and writing.) People who read the paranormal mystery/thrillers are looking for that fresh take and new characters to care about as they take a badass thrilling ride of intentional and unintentional adventure. I sincerely hope I've done that with Alexander Smith in my upcoming novel. He's got quite a checkered past, more so than I've read before in books of this genre.
Speaking of upcoming novels... you are making your debut next year! Tell us a little bit about BLOOD FOR THE SUN.
The book, Blood For The Sun, being published by Spence City, is about a werewolf, Alexander Smith, old enough to be suffering from a kind of supernatural Alzheimer's--all werewolves and vampires lose their minds eventually. To keep his mind intact, he's been puzzling out cases of missing or murdered children. There's also some very dark stuff from his past--such as his responsibility in the death of a child--that keeps turning up to haunt him or people he's forgotten. One of his redeemable acts in the past was to adopt Ana, a vampire since shortly after birth, and raise her as his own. It's ostensibly his first effort to track and save a child. The first book deals with his first large conflict against a vampire conspiracy using children as sacrificial fuel to shield themselves from the sun.
Since it's a series, the reasons behind the memory loss, where the vamps and shapeshifters come from, and some of the other mysteries in the book are intended to play out on a larger stage. The entire back story is mapped out, there's reasons for everything and the whole story is going somewhere. The monsters can't hide forever. There's also diversity among the supernatural characters and humans, martial arts, bloodletting, guns, explosions, depravity, and at least one flamethrower. All the things I enjoy in a thriller liberally tinged with horror.
As we are nearing the holidays - What are some of your favorite books and short stories from 2013 that you recommend readers check out?
Wow, this is a very tough question for me. I started reading Patricia Briggs's Mercy Thompson series this year and it's quite good. Kim Harrison has been a perennial favorite, her Hollows series is wonderful. Richard Kadrey's Sandman Slim books are great fun. All of the aforementioned authors have had a novel out in the past year. Adam Cesare's Tribesmen was really interesting; Mountain Home by Bracken MacLeod gave an unexpected thrill. I've been reading Arthur Conan Doyle's The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes for the first time and they're excellent fun. Tom Piccirilli's Fuckin' Lie Down Already is a tragic hot potato of super-noir, great crime fiction. Ishmael Toffee by Roger Smith was an envious piece of work, really good stuff, another amazing crime fiction story. I've come across too many good stories in Apex Magazine to list--as well as the Science Fiction Megapack anthologies. Ugh, I have so much more reading to do and no time to do it; so many books purchased in 2013 that are still unread!