>An Interview With Benjamin Kane Ethridge
GNOH – Hello Benjamin, how are things with you?
I’m very well, Jim. A little anxious about my trip to Austin for the World Horror Convention. I always dread the time leading up to conventions because I worry about everything large and small, but then once I’m at a Con, I have a great time.
GNOH – I’ve had the pleasure of reading your novel Black and Orange. Can you tell the readers what it’s about?
It’s a difficult story to summarize, firstly because I’m horrible at synopsis and secondly because the story is heavy on mythos. But here I go.
Black & Orange is a dark fantasy novel that follows the story of the Nomads, a pair chosen to stop a cult known as the Church of Midnight from making a human sacrifice. Every Halloween the Church of Midnight hunts a different person that grows a special energy source in their chest. This person, and the fruit they carry, is called the Heart of the Harvest. The Nomads are tasked with protecting this person on October 31st because if the Church captures them and reaps the fruit, the gateway between our world and another known as the Old Domain will grow larger. At the time of the story’s start, the gateway has gained the potential to open wide enough to allow the Church to keep it open and merge the worlds, thereby bringing certain destruction to everything.
GNOH – What was the synthesis for the novels main ideas?
The novel began life as a slasher movie solicited by an independent horror filmmaker, who had placed a call for submissions. I’d already sent another screenplay, which was probably too weird thinking back, and it was passed on. Black & Orange was my second try, but I think I had lost the filmmaker’s eye at that point. The screenplay was more in the vein of Carpenter’s Halloween and it involved a psychopath janitor at a college dorm. The janitor was obsessed by Halloween, blah blah. I thought it stunk, even as I was writing it. So I shelved it. But I did like how the janitor wore contact lenses, one eye black and one eye orange. I wanted to keep that image. A year later I wrote a short story that had many of the ideas of the eventual novel in it, but I realized there was so much more detail and background I wanted to add, that when I sat down to write the novel, I increased the story beyond just the day of Halloween to the week leading up to it.
GNOH – Did you make a conscious effort to twist the basis of Halloween, or was it something that developed over the writing of the novel?
I knew two things before I got started that helped me focus. I desired to write a story about the volatile nature of love and I wanted to write a story about Halloween that wasn’t about Halloween. The holiday already has a history and so many different associations, that I thought it might be interesting to just throw all those away and start over, only keeping some of the tropes that make it recognizable, such as demonic pumpkins, the colors black and orange, and the concept of a different world (a spirit world) opening up on that particular day. Anyhow, I am very much a fantasy writer at heart, but I also have a great affinity for horror that goes all the way back to childhood, so I endeavoured to write a Halloween Fantasy, as it were.
GNOH – Can you tell us about the journey from finished manuscript to published novel?
So I had this novel, and I wanted to submit it and get it accepted and published right away. All writers understand this feeling and how it counteracts with reality. As impatient as I was, I wasn’t completely in love with the writing style I’d employed to achieve the story either and thought maybe submission should be put off. The prose was surreal and took many risks with language that might turn some readers off. Something had to give, but I wasn’t sure what. In the meantime, as I stewed, I submitted it to a couple of places, and they were all wonderfully quick with rejection. Nick Mamatas and John R. Little gave the book a critical eye, which was a tremendous help in allowing me to find the final voice I wanted for the story. Early on, my colleague Michael Louis Calvillo asked to see the manuscript. I was still editing it, so I sent him pieces of the book as I finished. He seemed to genuinely love it. So much in fact, that he told other people. Next thing I knew, Bad Moon Books asked if I would submit it to them for consideration. They’d published some of my favorite small press books, and I knew that the strangeness of the novel would make it a hard-sell to mainstream publishers, so it seemed like a good way to get the book out into the world. Bad Moon did a great job too.
GNOH As a relatively new author, how hard have you found it to get your name out there? Do you have any advice for other new authors?
Getting closer to a career in fiction writing is one hell of a hike. You reach these summits from time to time, places you’ve been yearning to reach, and if you’re like me, you feel less than satisfied when you take in the vista. It’s not that the view can’t be breathtaking, but you feel that next summit looming and the itch to keep climbing– even though you previously thought you’d never get this far. You want to see if you’ll feel differently looking over the next peak. This dissatisfaction has nothing to do with a lack of gratitude, it’s just a symptom of the disease some artists have.
I started submitting my work seriously in 2006 and since then I’ve had only a handful of short stories published, and now a novel. Compared to some writers, this is a rather anaemic body of work, but I do remember back when I didn’t have anything published. There’s a lot of rejection. MUCH. If publication was a courtship, I’d have given in and become a eunuch by now. To new writers, who have little publication or none, I would say to be vigilant in submitting your work, studying markets, and making friends in your genre’s world. Whether they are writers, editors, agents, or publishers, these friends will teach you their successes and failures. From those lessons you can then map a route up to that next peak you’re so anxiously trying to scale.
GNOH – The novel to me anyway, has a theme of balance. Am I right in thinking this?
Absolutely! I was looking at different aspects of love and how they can bring about dire consequences. I attempted to explore three aspects: the love between the Nomads, between the Priestess and Paul, and between Cole and Melissa. There were others, but this was the triangle I worked with in particular. I saw that each relationship was different and each had a tipping point where balance was lost and bad things would occur. I applied this theme to the rest of the novel as well.
GNOH – It has recently been nominated for a Stoker, an award I think it richly deserves. How important is it for you to win?
Thank you so much Jim. I appreciate that enormously. Winning the Stoker award would be one of those summits I described earlier, and if that wouldn’t make me happy, I don’t know what would! There are countless works that have either won or been nominated for the Bram Stoker Award that I’ve cherished reading in the past, so even being involved (as often is said) is very gratifying, but winning would be excellent beyond excellent!
GNOH – If you weren’t to win it, which of the other novels would you like to see win?
This is an extremely tough call. Lisa Morton is one of my favorite writers in the field, and CASTLE OF LOS ANGELES is an excellent read– it reminded me of one of Richard Matheson’s spooky, thoughtful, fast-paced, suspense stories. Matheson is one of my favorites, so this is no small complement from me. Next you have SPELLBENT by Lucy Snyder, which is dark fantasy packed with humor and action and intriguing characters. I’ve always admired Lucy’s storytelling and this book showcases her ability extremely well. And then lastly, and not the leastly, there is BOOK OF TONGUES by Gemma Files, a book which is wonderfully weird and a dark fantasy-western on top of everything else. Files writes sentences you want to mull over and admire, and she really goes for something on the extreme end of “the different” that I absolutely endorse. So, when arm pinned and a gun at my temple, I would chose Gemma Files not just for her talent but also for her courage to swim strange waters. This said, all three other nominees deserve the award in their own right.
I met Michael through the Horror Writers Association. We met at a San Fernando chapter meeting and quickly became friends. And if you know Michael, you know that this isn’t anything unusual. He’s the most likable guy I have the pleasure of knowing, and a brilliant writer to top that off. Michael has worked on many collaborations because of these traits. Together we have worked on both a novella and an epic fantasy novel. The novella, UGLY SPIRIT, will be available through Bad Moon Books sometime this year. It’s an extreme horror satire, not for the queasy or easily offended.
GNOH – How did the collaboration work, and how do they compare with writing solo?
I’d originally written the story in short form (hey, that again!), and I gave it to Michael as the seed of our novella. He started to build onto it, and the rest was beautiful anarchy. Writing with another writer can only be two ways: liberating or stifling. With Michael, it’s always liberating and enjoyable.
GNOH – Are there any other authors you would like to work with?
Oh there’s too many. In no particular order: Gene O’Neill, Lisa Morton, Gemma Files, Greg Lamberson (though I believe he’ll always be a lone wolf), John R. Little, Joe McKinney, Norman Prentiss, Kurt Dinan, Nate Kenyon, Bruce Boston, Daniel Pyle, Jeff Wilson, Sam W. Anderson, Jamie Wasserman, Hawkes and Fulbright, Anthony J. Rapino, Drew Stepek, Joel Sutherland, and more.
GNOH – So what does the future hold for you?
My wife is pregnant with our second child, so my future will definitely involve bottles, children’s programming and pureed carrots! I have written a couple new novels and I have begun to refine them for publication. Bad Moon Books has expressed interest in a sequel for Black & Orange and I’m nearly complete with a rough draft of that. So hopefully my future will bring more publications and more scaled summits toward finding the top of this particular Everest–I know; such a place finds few residents, but I guess in the meantime there’s no harm in climbing.