Published in Issue 18 of Visionary Tongue, 2003.
An Interview with writers Jason Brannon, Eric S. Brown and John Grover
In recent years, horror fiction has seen a surge of new talent, just ask Tim Lebbon, Brain Keene, Rain Graves or look at the Leisure Press horror imprint and you’ll know what I am talking about. Jason Brannon, Eric S. Brown and John Grover are three very talented, cutting edge horror/dark fiction writers that you need to become familiar with. It was my pleasure to take the time to discuss all the interesting things of life such as ghosts, UFOs, horror writing, rock n’ roll, escorts, brothels and hashish bars, with these talented people. Well, actually we didn’t discuss sex and drugs, unless you count that rather inopportune yard gnome incident that happened a few years ago, but unfortunately you won’t be reading about it in these pages.
Being that you all are rather well travelled individuals, what would you consider to be the oddest moment that you ever experienced in your life thus far?
Eric: Meeting my wife. The first time I met her I was in the bathtub with another girl that I was loosely dating at the time. Her and one of her friends walked in on us. Needless to say I dumped the “tub” girl and promptly asked out my wife’s friend while developing a friendship with Shanna on the side. Somehow, Shan and I ended up together though and have toughed out ten years of each other’s company. We celebrate our 3rd wedding anniversary on June 7, 2003. I wouldn’t be a writer without her. Oh, and we got married in a graveyard too. Some might think that was odd.
Editor’s Note: Marriage can be a sticky wicket. Don’t enter it lightly unless you open her closet and find latex, whips and chains hanging all about. At which point you should either run like hell or marry her immediately, depending upon your personality. And for the sake of Eric’s hide I just want to clarify that the previous statement has nothing to do with him or his wife. I was just casting forth a bit of generalized wisdom for the masses to digest as they see fit.
John: That is hard to say. I’ve had a few odd things happen to me. One was the time my sister’s husband had suddenly passed on and she had come to stay with my parents and I and on the first night with us our family dog got up in the middle of the night, went to the family room and stood and barked at the corner of the room uncontrollably as if there was an intruder in the room. He had never done that before. Another was the time I let my grandmother stay in my room when she was visiting us. I was a teenager and was asked to sleep in the other room on a cot. This room was a rec room of sorts where my parents used to sing and play guitar and stuff. In the middle of the night I felt an icy hand on the back of my shoulder. I was so scared I refused to move the entire night and kept my eyes wide open. And just recently, just the other night I was travelling home late with a friend from a club when this car came out of no where on the highway, pulled up behind us and flashed us with high beams and then began shutting their lights on and off and then proceeded to cross lanes, pull up beside us and throw something at our car. The car then continued to follow us until exiting the highway at an off ramp and disappearing as fast as it came. We just stared at each other wondering what the heck that was all about.
Its unfortunate, but this kind of nonsense happens in America all the time. I think as a collective culture we are becoming rather insane and I chalk that up to the overall lack of spiritual depth in our society.
Jason: The moment that comes to mind was both odd and frightening and a little surreal. I was only a little boy at the time but I remember the incident vividly. My family and I were staying at my grandparents’ house. There were a limited number of rooms, and being the kid in the family, I got to sleep on a mattress on the floor beside my parents’ bed. At some point in her life, my grandmother had gone to Beauty School and had acquired a mannequin’s head to practice various hairstyles. For reasons still unknown to me, she was storing that mannequin underneath the bed. As soon as it was time to go to sleep, I got in bed and saw what I thought was a severed head. I didn’t scream or cry out for my parents or jump up and run away. I was too scared to do anything other than turn away from the sight and shut my eyes. I was completely freaked out. I didn’t even tell anybody about it until years later. Of course, we’ve all laughed about it quite a bit since then. But for a little kid, it was terrifying.
I can sympathize with your “severed head” encounter. A few years ago, I was hiking through a more remote section of the Appalachian Trail and I came upon the severed head of an eight-point buck. No body, no blood, nothing. Now if a hunter had killed the deer and cut the head off why did he leave in the woods to rot? Methinks a dark ritual was afoot.
Have you ever had a UFO encounter? Have you ever visited or assisted in creating a crop circle?
Eric: No, I have not ever had a UFO encounter or been involved with crop circles. My life is strange enough as it is. Sorry. But I did love the movie: Signs. It was a truly great flick.
John: Hmm, never had a close encounter no. Thought I had seen one once, years ago but it happened so fast I was never really sure. The night sky can play lots of tricks on you. And I swear I have never created crop circles but I did see the movie Signs 3 times.
Jason: No alien abductions or crop circles for me. The whole thing is fascinating though. Gotta throw cattle mutilations in there too. All that mysterious stuff is good fodder for a horror writer.
What types of music do you enjoy listening to and who would you consider to be your favourite musical act?
Eric: I like all types of music from Goblin to the Dixie Chicks to U2 to Iron Maiden. My top three though would be Rush, The Cure, and Queen.
John: I enjoy all types of music, from top 40 to dance stuff to Goth rock. I even listen to Irish folk music, New Age music and stuff from the 70’s and 80’s. My favourite groups used to be REM, U2 and The Cranberries. But recently I have discovered Goth Rock and Gothic music and have been listening to Midnight Syndicate and Inkkubus Sukkubus.
Jason: I guess I’m the metalhead in the group. Iron Maiden, Kiss, Danzig, Megadeth, and Black Label Society are all bands I listen to. Anything with loud guitars pretty much does it for me.
What are your muses and what inspirational message would give to a beginning writer?
Eric: My muses are evil dark things that live inside my head and never show up when I want them to, always electing 2 AM to pop in and say “hi”. No, seriously, I generally get inspired by pain or stress. I suffer from depression so that helps. I feel enough of it as a struggling writer with all the dark crap happening in the world combined with balancing the checkbook every month. And to a new writer, I would say “Run for your freaking’ life!! What are you crazy? Get a real job!” Not very inspiring but the truth. Everyone has a writer inside him or her but are you really crazy enough to make a lifestyle out of it? You have to today if you want to succeed.
John: People, events, dreams, good scary movies, and great horror novels are all my muses. I love watching people in their environment and watching nature run its course. Some types of music move me to write and well done, cleverly written movies inspire me too, especially when they are intelligent and can really scare me. To beginning writers never give up, it’s tough but well worth it. There’s nothing like getting that first story or book published. Read all you can in the field you’ve chosen to write in.
Jason: Everything inspires me in some way or another. I’ve written stories based on arguments my wife and I have had. I’ve written stories based on song titles even though I may have never even heard the song. I’ve written stories based on places that I frequented as a child. Everything around me is a resource or a source of inspiration. Beginning writers should learn to use their experiences to strengthen their writing and to also trust their instincts. If they get an idea for a story, they should write it down. Even if nothing comes to them immediately, time usually has a way of drawing the narrative out into the open somehow. I’ll second what John said about reading in the field you write it. It helps to avoid cliché. Yet it’s also important to read outside of the genre. You can give your writing a lot of depth by reading something other than horror. It tends to give your writing layers that might not have been there before.
How do you define yourself and your style as a writer?
Eric: I am certainly a horror writer. No matter what I try to write it always turns out dark. I don’t think of myself as a novelist at all though. Never have written one that I have finished, mostly likely never will on my own. I see myself as a short story writer through and through, for better or worse. I am kind of like Lovecraft in that way I guess. As to my style, my tales are always fast, action filled things like David Drake’s. I love that man’s work. Characters and movement are my strong points not atmosphere.
John: I tend to write stories that leave something to the reader’s imagination. I avoid graphic descriptions of violence and gore while leaning more on mood, atmosphere and lurking terror. As the old saying goes, the reader can conjure up in their mind a murder or monster much worse than what I can show them on paper. My stuff usually hovers around the realms of the supernatural, campfire tales, urban legends, things you can use to scare your friends with or your younger sister. Once in a while I dabble in psychological terror and if done right I can get the reader to totally believe that what they’re reading is possible. Some people just aren’t scared by ghosts and vampires, but suggest a murderous co-worker or neighbour to them and they may change their mind.
Jason: I’m more of a quiet horror writer. My stories usually aren’t extreme, gory, full of profanity, or any of the other mainstays of modern horror. I draw a lot of inspiration from the old episodes of The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits as well as issues of Tales From the Crypt and Vault of Horror. That said, I wouldn’t say my writing is completely and unequivocally horror. I think there are shades of fantasy, science fiction, and mystery in a lot of my stories.
I would agree. Your novel Five Days on the Banks of the Acheron seems to embody all these elements. I would highly recommend this book to our readers. I found it quite entertaining.
Do you see yourself as being successful at writing now or in the future?
Eric: I have been writing for two years almost now. It’s been tough at times. I just write and see what happens. I have had 125 tales published with over two dozen of those in print and one in an anthology called Of Flesh and Hunger. I have done two chapbooks with my friends, John and Jason, as well as the two collections we have coming out this summer from Double Dragon books. And I got my first recommendation for a Bram Stoker award this year, so maybe I am doing something right. I am NOT Stephen King but for a kid who grew up in rural North Carolina in a lower class family with a mother who HATES reading and a father who can’t at all, I think I turned out ok. I am happy doing what I am doing and if that leads to the mass markets one day, then GREAT. If not, at least I am still being read and that is more than a lot of people can say. I just take it day to day and keep trying.
I think that is an awesome outlook to have. I think your words will inspire many people who may have experienced the same obstacles. All writers must struggle to find their own voice. It is the primary battle we face, that and the war with procrastination.
John: I like to think I’ve come very far with my writing with many online and print acceptances, a few collections being published, chapbooks out now and on the way and the recent acquiring of an agent. But I do think the future is where I will shine; I think exciting things are on the way.
Jason: If I stopped writing now, I would say that I have been successful. Of course I’m not satisfied with my current level of success. Each new year of writing has been more beneficial than the last, both in terms of sales, acceptances, and an increased level of awareness from my peers. I think out of the three of us, I am the youngest of the group, 25. I am also quite a bit younger than a lot of other struggling writers. I’ve had over a hundred stories published including two short story collections. I’ve had two novels accepted along with two additional short story collections. And there seems to be no end in sight. Hopefully in the next couple of years I can really build on my past successes and come into my own as a writer.
Tell us something about yourself that most people wouldn’t suspect in a Horror/dark fiction writer?
Eric: That’s easy. Most people think Horror writers are demented or demons or something. I, however, am Christian. I believe in Jesus Christ, go to church, and pray. When I was younger I went through a period of studying every faith I could from Islam (mainly the Sufi sect), Buddhism, Hinduism, Satanism, Taoism, to being Wiccan, an agnostic, and even totally disbelieving everything. But after it all, I found my personal truth that I was looking for back where I started in Christ. I am still a sinner though, just one that asks for forgiveness. I also love cats.
John: I am a very shy person, normally, and sensitive. I tend get all choked up at sad movies, and love animals to the point where I get very upset if they’re hurt or killed in a movie. I get all emotional.
Jason: I’m basically a mild-mannered guy with three cats, a wife, and no piercings, tattoos, or notable scars from dark rituals. I really don’t look like a guy that would write about bloodshed and mayhem. People who knew me before Puzzles of Flesh (first short story collection) was released were really surprised when they saw what kinds of books I wrote. A lot of eyebrows were raised. I thought it was great!
Why do you choose to write on the rather darker side of speculative fiction?
John: things that go bump in the night have always fascinated me and I really think that fear is a powerful emotion and it’s fun to see people squirm when they read my stuff! There’s something pure about fear, it’s basic and primitive and goes back as one of the first things that drove people instinctually when they were still living in caves. Fear keeps you thinking logically, it helps you survive. We can’t live without it and tapping into it through an art form such as writing is a way of understanding and coping with it. It’s the one thing we all identify with and it’s so much fun to be scared then close the book when we’ve had enough.
Eric: I have always loved Horror. I suffer from depression often and have a rather dark outlook on life in general. My fiction usually just comes out dark without me even trying. When I started I wanted to write Sci-Fi and it has taken me a while to realize that the horror genre is where my heart is.
Jason: The subject matter has just always seemed more interesting to me than that found in mainstream fiction. There are literally no limits to the sorts of things you can write about. The only limits are set by the imagination. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been drawn to dark fiction. Even when I was six or seven years old, I would always gravitate to the horror comics. No Archie or Mighty Mouse for me.
What was it like doing collaboration with two fellow writers that must have been a difficult task?
John: I think it was a lot of fun. I was flattered and honoured to be asked to do it and doing a collection is my favourite type of form. I love to read short story collections. With a collection I get to visit one fantasy world after another, I can jump from idea to idea and take my horror in short bursts. To me it’s a fun way to spend some time.
Eric: It was a blast. Both John and Jason are great to work with and talented writers.
Jason: Working with guys like Eric and John is good because it keeps you on your toes. I know that everything they bring to the table is going to be quality. That makes me work all the more to keep up and to stay at their level. Another good thing about doing any kind of a collaboration is that it gives you the opportunity to have your work exposed to a whole different group of people, or in this case, two groups of people-John and Eric’s fans.
How did you come up with the idea for the short story collection Spacestations and Graveyards?
John: It was kind of a group effort between Eric, Jason and myself. We were talking about putting together a short story collection but was unsure of what type of book to do since our writing styles and subjects vary somewhat we wanted to get across to our readers what type of book they may be getting themselves into. Eric leans towards a more sci-fi feel to his stories while Jason’s are more like a Twilight Zone theme and I throw into the mix everything from quiet supernatural horror to psychological terror, so we felt it appropriate to name the book Spacestations and Graveyards…a taste of both worlds.
Eric: Well, I tend to write more Sci-Fi horror as opposed to John and Jason so we tried to come up with a title that would reflect that. As for coming up with the idea for doing the book, we were all working together on two chapbooks at the time and a collection seemed the next step.
Jason: They pretty much summed it up.
I find sci-fi horror to be a very interesting sub genre of fiction. The possibilities there are infinite.
What other projects to do you have coming up in the future?
John: Well, with Jason and Eric we have a small chapbook coming out in April of 2003 entitled Bad Mojo. Another collection of ours but on a smaller scale, planned to be released by Undaunted press. Personally I am involved with a number of anthologies right now that will come out sometime this summer in hardcover and paperback. I have also hired an agent to help bring my work to the bigger publishers. I am also trying to put together some more of my own collections and a few novels that I’ve written over the years. This year should be pretty exciting for my work. Keep your eyes peeled!
Indeed. We will do that.
Eric: On April 15th, our chapbook BAD MOJO will be released from Undaunted Press. I also personally have tales coming out in Blood Moon Rising # 15, Between the Kisses # 3, Black Satellite # 4, The Edge: Tales of Suspense # 16, Lunatic Chameleon # 2, and a few in Dark Angel Rising (a UK zine). John and I are at work on a new collection entitled Cold, Dark Places and Jason and I are working on a project together that is still in the development stages. Plus, of course I am sure we all have a bunch stuff coming out on-line and the books from Double Dragon.
Jason: In addition to the projects with John and Eric, my first novel, Rusty Nails, will be released soon from The Fiction Works. My 2nd novel, Caged, will be released in 2004 from Dark Vesper Publishing. Another short story collection, Days of Blood and Fire, is in the pipeline for 2005 from 3F Publications. Then there are the anthologies and magazines. I’ve got stories scheduled to appear in Scriptures of the Damned, Whispers From the Shattered Forum, The Night Has Teeth, Hour of Pain, Bible Black, Vicious Shivers, AlienSkin Magazine, Fangoria Frightful Fiction, Twilight Showcase, Circus, and The Murder Hole.
Are there any instances where real life has given you inspiration for a story?
John: I sometimes pull some inspiration from news stories, or current events, but not that often. I’ve have been known to write about friends, putting them in fictitious situations as either a hero or a charismatic villain with cool powers. People like to read about themselves.
Eric: Yes, when my aunt died I felt horrible. I didn’t get to tell her goodbye as she passed away of a heart attack rather suddenly last fall. So it inspired me to write a tale called “The Return” which will be The Edge # 16. It’s about the return of God and a character that is the exact opposite of everything my aunt believed in life.
Jason: There are plenty of instances. The last time I got a speeding ticket was a prime example. It led me to write the story, “Old Ezra,” which is going to appear in The Night Has Teeth. Nothing in the story relates to getting a ticket for speeding. But the Highway Patrol figures prominently into the narrative.
I can imagine. Living in Mississippi and dealing with State troopers is an experience unto itself. I have a friend who is a professor at the University of Mississippi in Oxford, and she has told me many horror stories.
What would you say is your single greatest accomplishment with regard to your writing?
John: Having a short film made from one of my short stories by a group of student filmmakers from Canada. It was the single most flattering and proudest moment of my life. The film looked great and the excitement of seeing my story come to life on the screen is something I will never forget.
Eric: I have no idea. I have over 130 tales accepted plus all this stuff with Jason and John. I have edited for Alternate Realities, a newspaper, my own magazine, the Swamp e-zine, and more. But I just don’t know, maybe these books with the guys, maybe the Stoker recommendation. I got this year in the short fiction category, or maybe just being able to get published in print and get paid for it at all.
Jason: I hope it doesn’t exist yet. I hope that’s it’s somewhere in the future.
I want to thank all three of you for taking the time to answer questions and give our readers insights on all things dark fiction.
I highly recommend you check out Eric, John and Jason’s novels and story collections, both their individual work and their collective writings. You will not be disappointed.
Now about those damn yard gnomes…
© Michael Lohr
Michael Lohr is a writer, university researcher and folklorist. He has published non-fiction, fiction and poetry in over 28 countries. His writings have been translated into 23 languages, including Icelandic, Welsh, Hindi, Hebrew, Romanian, Croat, Latvian, Estonian, Malay and Tamil. He is currently working on the non-fiction book, Maori Tribal Masks of New Zealand, with representatives from the Maori tribe. The book will focus on the exquisite artwork of Maori Shamanic, death and tribal ritual masks and the legacy of their tribal Shamanic culture.