>Daniel I Russell’s World Tour
As part of his world blog tour 2010 to promote the release of his novel Samhane , author and editor Dan Russell, has kindly dropped in for a chat.
Hi Dan, How are you doing? How is life in Australia treating you?
Hey Jim. Not too bad. The house next door had an outbreak of snakes in their yard, but so far, I’m still here and venom free.
Can you tell us how the last year has been for you?
It’s been probably the busiest year of my life! Personal events have dominated the last 12 months, with the birth of Tobin, a visa application and heading up a school department. I also finished a new novel, which is always good.
How is the horror scene in Australia?
Tricky one. Initially I thought there was hardly any horror scene over here, as (and no offence to any of the great writers) none of the big or midlist names in horror writing come from Australia. It’s normally the US, occasionally the UK. I was aware that the Australian Horror Writers’ Association existed, and joined as soon as they’d have me. They have proven to be a dedicated, talented and very fun bunch to be involved with. I never would have had the chance to speak to Clive Barker last Halloween if not for the AHWA. I’ve met some phenomenal writers, editors and artists over here, and with the links between the AHWA and British Fantasy Association, hopefully the Aussie scene can start making some waves in the industry. Hell, people forget that the film that kicked off the SAW franchise was created by a couple of Aussies.
Plus, the weather is usually very pleasant, so you can write outside more often.
Your Novel Samhane is being released by Stygian publications shortly; can you tell us what it is about?
Two very different men who are effectively dragged into the same mess. Donald has a dull job that he’s desperate to get out of, but he doesn’t realise how good his life really is. Brian and his son are the opposite, with a secret and dangerous job to do. Both men have business to take care of in the small town of Samhane. Things aren’t what they seem in the quiet streets. The way is set for crazed killers, live torture and a whole host of twisted creatures!
With the imminent release of Samhane , can you tell us a bit of the history behind it? It was previously available as an e-book. How did that experience work out for you?
Samhane was my first novel, written back in 2004 in my early twenties. I’d written a few shorts, and being a fan of interlocking storylines, tended to put a few links in them. At the time, I was living in a crummy flat over a photography shop in a town called Ormskirk in West Lancashire, UK. The town inspired many of the locations in the book, after all, you write what you know, and I was quite green at the time in the ways of the written word. I remember thinking that writing a novel was a huge, time consuming task, and that I may never write another one again, so I set out with the intention of having fun with the book. If this was to be my one and only novel, I wanted to enjoy it. I hope this comes across to readers. Although the story has many graphic and hardcore horror scenes, it was my intention to keep a madcap and offbeat feel, a bit like the literary equivalent of Evil Dead.
With the ebook version, I got what I wanted out of it, which was to get my arse kicked! I knew the editors at the publishing house, and was aware that these hard bitches (and I use that term with the sincerest respect and endearment!) would not tolerate any artistic writer episodes and make me do the work myself rather than doing it themselves. It was grammatical bootcamp. Yes, you need the ideas to be a writer, but you also need the skills with the words. Like one of the editors said, a surgeon knows exactly what each of his instruments can do. If you’re a writer, you need to know how to use words, sentences and grammar correctly. I needed that.
On the flipside, the book was never promoted and just kind of festered. Reviewers and those who read it generally loved it, but word was not getting out there. As one man, you can only do so much before you’re just a spammer. There was also big issues with another ebook I had out with the publisher, so I wanted the rights back asap. Stygian snapped up the print rights, and we’ve been waiting for my initial contract with the first publisher to expire (which was about two days ago) before we could consider a new edition of the ebook.
Samhane is pretty brutal, is there a limit to what you would put down on paper?
Hehe! I can honestly say, no. There is nothing I won’t write about. Problem is to keep it tasteful and avoid scenes being dubbed gore for gore’s sake. The first draft of Samhane was even more graphic. Like I said, this could have been my only book, so why hold back? The original editors chopped a lot of the really heavy and grotesque material, and now, being a bit older and wiser, I can see it was the right choice. Some of it was so sickening, it bordered on farcical! But rest assured, lovers of extreme horror should not be disappointed.
Will we be seeing any future projects set in the Samhane universe ?
Almost definitely. I’ve written a few shorts based from Samhane since, one being a prequel to the Dr. Sally character, in the story Prosthetics which appears in Stygian’s anthology Malpractice: Anthology of Bedside Terror, and another character from Samhane has a Christmas to remember in the story It Comes but Once a Year from the anthology Festive Fear: Global Edition from Tasmaniac Publications, which, unfortunately for readers, has already sold out. Other links to the main story of Samhane can be found in my older works.
There has been a few ideas floating around in my head for a Samhane follow up novel, but I’m holding off for now. There are more stories and other characters that are demanding to be put on paper first. Plus, with an increased readership this time around, I’m keen to see what readers like and dislike to know what carries over into a potential sequel. In fact one reviewer of the prerelease went nuts over the ending. I feel I have to write a sequel just for him now!
You have a story in the upcoming Dead West from Bandersnatch books. There are some big names in the collection; does being included along some well established horror writers give you a feeling of validation?
It’s a very, very odd feeling to be honest. I was in the HWA for a while back in 2004, a very small fish in a big pond. Some of those big fish are in the table of contents for Dead West. It’s an honour to appear alongside the likes of Harry Shannon and Rick Hautala. But validation? Usually my stories are glossed over in reviews! That’s fine. I haven’t been picked out as a stinker, which is reassuring. My story in Sick Things was singled out in a review a few weeks ago though, and to be classed in the same league as the likes of John Shirley and Tim Curran did bring a sense of validation, I suppose.
It’s been an interesting year for horror writers, what with the collapse of Leisure. How much of an impact do you think this will have on writers like yourself who are relatively fresh meat in the genre?
To be honest, it destroyed me! My favourite authors are all with Leisure and it had been the dream for many years to join them. I also have a good many Leisure books on my shelves. Yes, I’m a shallow book snob, but I like the way they all look side by side! To know that no more mass market paperbacks are to be made is a massive disappointment, and I know lots of people who share the same opinion. Leisure currently have my latest novel in their slush pile. What do I do while the waters are in turmoil? I’m just biding my time and dealing with the Samhane release. But with names like Brian Keene upping sticks and leaving, and many other big name authors trying to get their rights back…it doesn’t look good for the company at all. And to axe Don D’Auria? Madness.
I think it will make authors wake up and smell the coffee. Times are changing, and I think the fate of Leisure is solid evidence of this. Personally, I hate the shift to ebooks, being a traditionalist and a writer (how do you get a signed ebook?). I like the idea of an ebook as an extra option, but not as the be all and end all.
Which of your books did you find the easiest and hardest to write?
The last full-length novel I wrote, The Forgotten, was by far the easiest. It took a long time to sort out my access to teach when I moved to Australia, and I spent those jobless months living off my savings and actually living the writer lifestyle. I locked myself away and hammered out ten thousand words a week. The book flew by and was the most fun I’ve ever had writing a book.
My current work was probably the hardest. It’s going to be a long one, and I’d foreseen a massive plot hole on the horizon early on, so sidelined the project. After a while I thought around it and when I returned, it was hard to get back into it. I also find it hard to work on something so long for…well, so long! So I like to leave this and work on other things, but then I have to re-establish my characters and direction.
Which of your characters would you most/least to invite to dinner?
Samhane’s Brian would be a good bloke to have over for a barbeque and a few beers. He’s an everyman with some pretty wild tales! The protagonist from The Forgotten would also be interesting as he’s a superstar comic creator and I made him purposely cynical and a grumpy bastard so I could have some fun with snappy lines and sarcasm.
As for the worst…where would you start? Let’s go with Wanda, one of the members of the cult of Zandathru in Samhane. She has a very specific…desire to eat something a little different.
– Do you read reviews of your books? If so, do you pay any attention to them, or let them influence your writing?
I do actually take great interest in reviews. More experienced reviewers can hit the nail on the head with problems in your novels and can greatly change the way you think about things. On the other hand, reviews can be ignored. With horror, I see time and time again readers who enter competitions to win horror novels, review them and write statements like “This was a complete waste of time and I can’t recommend it to anyone. But then, I can’t stand horror.” Then why the hell would you try to win a horror novel? If someone who hated horror gave my book a harsh review, I’d simply ask “and?”.
How do you find balancing being a teacher, parent and author?
I juggle them like burning torches. On a unicycle!
I’m only just getting it right now, after a year. The time is there, you just have to find it. It helps that Tobin wakes up daily at 5.30am, so I get a bit of a head start on the day. You can normally get a thousand words down on a typical day. The hardest is Friday nights and weekends. It can be a tremendous show of will power to get your arse in the writing seat when all you want to do is relax with the family. I like to think I have the balance and no area goes wanting. The kids are usually treated when I get paid via writing, so they, thankfully, see it as work and not dad wasting time!
Have any of your pupils read any of your books ?
This is a big, big fear of mine. Some of my older students have taken an interest in my work, and I’ve even kicked kids off my blog when they’re supposed to be doing their work! The things I write about are certainly not for youngsters, and I dread one getting their hands on a copy and their parents finding out. Some people have trouble separating fiction and reality. Yeah I right the nastiest horror I can, but I feel I’m a good teacher, parent and person. Some can’t see that, or choose to ignore the good and focus on what they see as the bad. Stephen King taught English, and as far as I know, he is yet to kill or rape anybody.
What do you think makes a good story?
Too many factors to mention here! I think the main one for me is the protagonist. Main characters can be boring, and as you’re spending so much time in their head with them, it can make the story drag. It’s fun to experiment. Samhane sees my one and only writer character. I get so tired of seeing writers write about writing! At least my character is only starting out, as I was myself at the time. There is an example of his work in the book…and he’s really not very good!
I’m also a big fan of solid, resolving climaxes (who isn’t?). I get quite pissed off reading sometimes 500, 600, or 700 page novels only for it to end with a whimper rather than a bang.
How does being an editor for Bandersnatch books and Necrotic tissue affect your writing? Does it give you an insight into what to do and what not to do?
With doing the technical editing, you’d think it would make you more eagle-eyed in regards to your own work. A lot of the time, the finer things that need correction (the odd word used twice in consecutive sentences, dangling modifiers, etc) will always get by you. It does reaffirm in my eyes that everything needs a separate editor before classing it as publishable.
The biggest help with Necrotic Tissue is all the reading of submissions involved. You tend to see themes which seem to be the ‘in’ thing. For someone who always tries to be original, to know what areas to stay away from is always a God send. We can never be 100% original, but if I know that every man and his dog are writing zombie stories or whatever, always good to get the hell away from it.
Can spill any secrets of up coming projects?
There will be a novella available later in the year from Skullvines Press with the German edition through my German publisher Voodoo Press. It’s called Come Into Darkness, and follows a porn star, Mario Fulcinni, who is tired of life, finding it boring after many years of excessive partying. He’s seen it, drank it, taken it. He’s offered one last party to change his life, and curious, he readily attends. Past the music and the drink, his host, a weird old man called Worth, takes him on a guided tour of the building, a multi-level place called Metus House.
A through the looking glass type story, things get very bizarre and gory very quickly! Metus House will change Mario’s life…but will his life last the night?
Do you have any advice for other writers?
Write because you have to. Write because your characters demand a moment in the spotlight. Don’t write for money or to see your name in print. Above all, don’t let success go to your head. Just because you have a book out doesn’t mean you’re the next Stephen King. As I’ve said before, writing involves locking yourself away and spilling out your fantasies. It’s like masturbation…and you don’t brag about that…do you?
Which question are you most sick of answering in interviews?
Can you tell us a little about yourself? Okay, what do you want? Medical records…name of my first pet…colour of my underwear?