Monday, June 25, 2012

Bram Stoker Award Winning Author John Everson on his new novel NightWhere

John Everson is the Bram Stoker Award-winning author of Covenant, as well as the novels Sacrifice, The 13th,  Siren and The Pumpkin Man, all released in paperback from Dorchester/Leisure Books. His sixth novel, an erotic horror descent into dark desire centered around a mysterious adult club called NightWhere was released by Samhain in June 2012. He has had several short fiction collections issued by independent presses, including Creeptych, Deadly Nightlusts, Needles & Sins, Vigilantes of Love and Cage of Bones & Other Deadly Obsessions. Over the past 20 years, his short stories have appeared in more than 75 magazines and anthologies. His work has been translated into Polish, Italian, Turkish and French, and optioned for potential film production. He is also the founder and publisher of the independent press Dark Arts Books (

John shares a deep purple den in Naperville, Illinois with a cockatoo and cockatiel, a disparate collection of fake skulls, twisted skeletal fairies, Alan Clark illustrations and a large stuffed Eeyore. There's also a mounted Chinese fowling spider named Stoker courtesy of Charlee Jacob, an ever-growing shelf of custom mix CDs and an acoustic guitar that he can't really play but that his son Shaun likes to hear him beat on anyway. Sometimes his wife Geri is surprised to find him shuffling through more public areas of the house, but it's usually only to brew another cup of coffee. In order to avoid the onerous task of writing, he holds down a regular job at a medical association, records pop-rock songs in a hidden home studio, experiments with the insatiable culinary joys of the jalapeno, designs photo collage art book covers for a variety of small presses, loses hours in expanding an array of gardens and chases frequent excursions into the bizarre visual headspace of '70s euro-horror DVDs with a shot of Makers Mark and a tall glass of Newcastle.
For information on his fiction, art and music, visit John Everson: Dark Arts at

John is our guest today, here to talk about his writing, including his latest novel NightWhere. Follow this link to The Horror Review to see my full review.

 Well, John, I just finished reading NightWhere and I have to say “wow.” It is one of those horror novels that just devastates the reader. I will leave it to you in my questions whether we will include spoilers, but please tell us how the idea came to you.

I wish I could remember! I thought of the idea for NightWhere over a decade ago, before I finished the last draft of my first novel, Covenant. A lot of my short fiction up to that point had dealt with obsession – and the dangers of following desire down, down, down into the rabbithole. My first collection of short fiction, Cage of Bones & Other Deadly Obsessions, dealt fairly exclusively with erotic horror – deadly sexual obsessions. So I suspect the idea of a sex club that lured people in and put them on an increasingly dark and debauched path came from the same place as those stories. We all have desires that we yearn to quench, but know that we should not. But what happens when we do. And then go further?
uench, but know that we should not. But what happens when we do. And then go further?

NightWhere is basically the story of what happens to someone who gives in to their forbidden sexual desires 100%... and then takes it farther.

One of the emotionally driving forces of the book, which I think sets in apart from other extreme graphic horror I have read, is Mark’s love for his wife Rae, regardless of the depravity she has spiraled into. Was this part of the original concept, or did you realize later this was necessary?

No, it was always part of the concept -- Mark’s love for Rae is the crux of the story. It’s his love for her that makes him first stay with her when she’s sleeping with other men and then it drives him to chase her through the degradations of The Red to try to bring her back home. In a way it’s like the old Greek myth of Orpheus following his wife Eurydice into the Underworld to try to rescue her.  Love is strong, but can love truly conquer the darkness in the soul, once set free?

I know from your other books you don’t hold back when sex and violence are integral to the story you are telling, but was it difficult to write a book that had extreme sexual content in almost every chapter?

The writing was easy, but I was worried throughout that I was going to either “go too far” or, perhaps, “not far enough.” There were a couple scenes where I considered dropping some of the perversions that are inflicted on Mark. But ultimately, I decided that they were what the novel called for. I had to put them down. 

I also worried a bit that with the amount of “swinger” stuff in the start of the book, where Mark’s and Rae’s relationship is established, that I might lose some of the horror crowd looking for a monster on page one. I was concerned that the book might have too much sex for the average horror fan and way too much horror for the readers looking for dark erotica. But… in the end, I just told the story and tried not to worry about tilting it to appease one audience or another.

Your last novel, The Pumpkin Man, took place in coastal Northern California, not far from where I live, in fact. What drew you to this area as a location? Was it important to set that particular novel there?

The Pumpkin Man and my previous novel, Siren, were both set there, in fact. The Pumpkin Man is really based on the town of Jenner, while Siren takes place a little farther north. I set both books in that locale because I love that area of the country. I’ve visited San Francisco more than any other city outside my home of Chicago, and it’s the place I’d move to in a heartbeat if I could. When you drive the coast north of the city, the landscape gets increasingly beautiful – and remote. There are places just a half hour out of the city that are desolate and remote and beautiful and feel like you’re a hundred miles from anyone. That kind of physical setting is perfect for a horror novel (or a horror movie -- Hitchcock used Bodega Bay for The Birds).

For Siren the location was a natural – a rocky coastal region near the ocean is exactly the setting a Siren would be found in. For The Pumpkin Man, that setting was less called for; the story could have taken place in the cornfields of the Midwest (and that would probably be expected, given the title). Instead, I decided to flip the location. My two protagonists from Chicago inherit a cottage near the ocean and decide to go check it out, since they’ve also both just lost their teaching jobs thanks to the annual RIF layoffs. They end up locked in this isolated town where horrible murders are happening (people getting their heads cut off and replaced with pumpkins carved in their own likeness). But since the killer seems to be following Jennica, our heroine, she can’t really do much other than stick it out and try to solve the mystery of The Pumpkin Man at his apparent source, before he finally cuts too close to home.

I was lucky because I had two different business trips that took me to San Francisco during the writing of those books, and one of them, as I was wrapping up Siren, gave me the opportunity to tack on a day of vacation. So I rented a car and drove up the coast for a day and night (I stayed just a few miles from Jenner). I shot a lot of pictures and video to help finalize last descriptions in Siren and to firmly set the location I planned to use as the backdrop of The Pumpkin Man.

Please describe your writing process, and whether it remains consistent form one book to the next.

My process has varied from book to book. Covenant, my first novel, was written very slowly, in little starts and stops over the course of several years.

I used National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) back in 2002 to jumpstart  Sacrifice, the sequel to Covenant – It had been more than two years since I’d wrapped the first draft of Covenant, and I knew I needed to begin a new long project. So I dove in to the “write a novel in a month” challenge, and wrote more than half of that novel (50,000 words) in three weeks. Of course, I was sick for the whole next month afterwards, from burning the candle at both ends and it took me over a year before I went back and finished the book.

The 13th was the first novel I wrote once I was contracted to Leisure Books, and for that novel, I forced myself into a more steady writing rhythm, writing once a week after work at a bar (I go there straight from work and dive right into writing instead of losing hours at home before beginning work). I did some writing during the weekends on that one as well. It took me about 11 months from start to finish.

For Siren, The Pumpkin Man and NightWhere, I kept with the once-a-week “big progress” writing night at my local bar after work (which gives me a solid block of 4-5 hours of writing time), but I also forced myself to get up early before work and knock out a few hundred words a day. Since all of those novels were contracted books with deadlines, I set up word count goals that I needed to hit every week, whether I made the word count goal in two mega-writing sessions or seven small 1,000 words-a-day sessions.  And for NightWhere, I quickly abandoned the morning writing sessions (I hate getting up early) and did a lot more work late at night in my basement, where I could light candles to help the mood and play good soundtrack CDs from bands on the 4AD label, or The Cure’s live DVD performing the album cycle of Pornography/Disintegration/Bloodflowers.

What advice would you give a new horror writer in the current publishing environment?

First, I’d say to hone your craft by writing and submitting a lot of short fiction. I think writing lots of short stories helps a writer find his/her voice and rhythm, and can teach a lot about how to develop characters and plots without investing a year of your life on a giant novel project. It allows you to rack up publication credits as well, and start building some name awareness in the horror community.

A lot of people in the current climate will disagree, but I still believe that writers should work with traditional presses to publish their books. Whether they are well-known indie presses like Cemetery Dance, Bad Moon Books, Delirium or Necro, or midlevel houses like Samhain or big NYC houses like St. Martin’s,  Random House, Signet, etc., I think working with professional editors is an important part of learning how to be a better writer. Lots of people are seeing the e-book revolution as a great excuse to “shortcut” the process. “Who needs a publisher?” they ask, and proceed to pummel readers with all the shit that they could never get published in the past. There are times when the freedom of e-publishing is a good thing, because certainly there is good stuff that never managed to get a good publishing deal. But if you’ve never managed to get anyone of note to buy your work before? It may be that you need to work on your craft a lot more before anything you write should be published. That’s why we had gatekeepers called publishers. To read the slush piles of half-baked stories and seek out the ones that were actually worthy of being promoted.

Sometimes the new age of “instant self-publishing” allows great new stuff to hit the public fast. But mostly? There’s a reason much of that work didn’t sell before. And it shouldn’t sell now.  Self publishing is too easy. Anyone can write. But the world of publishing is supposed to reward those who are really good at it by offering them promotion and widespread distribution and a decent check at the end to compensate all the work and struggle the author put in to become a professional author. Call me old fashioned, but if you really want lifelong success in writing, I still believe you usually have to work a little harder than scribbling out a story on Sunday and posting it on Kindle on Monday.

Where do you see the horror genre going in the next ten years?

People have asked me this before, and honestly, the answer is … nowhere. And that’s OK. Horror isn’t so much an evolving thing as a “constant” – a genre that allows  people to explore their deepest fears. Some of those fears are 100% universal – fear of the dark, fear of being killed, fear of having your most precious things taken unexpectedly away from you by a force you can’t control. Every generation has their own particular boogeymen based on what’s going on in popular culture at the time, but the basic tenets of horror go back to the same fears that we had 100 or 1000 years ago. The monsters may change, but the fears that create them don’t.

Horror will continue to deal with those fears.  And we will always have them.

What are you working on now?

My seventh novel, which I started working on a few weeks ago, is called Violet Eyes. It’s a story about a recently divorced woman and her son who have just moved to a town near the everglades to escape her abusive husband. But they only just begin to settle in when the town is overrun by spiders. But these aren’t your normal house spiders… these spiders have been bioengineered for a covert purpose. They have purple eyes, and they seem to be hatching from people’s heads. And just when you thought that was bad enough… the hordes of purple flies descend.

For those who’ve read my short story collection Creeptych, you’ve already gotten a taste of Violet Eyes in the novelette “Violet Lagoon” which was essentially an expanded version of the intended prologue to this novel. I outlined the book three years ago, and then wrote the Creeptych closing story based on the future book’s prologue outline.

Now I’m finally letting the spiders have their day.

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