AN INTERVIEW WITH IAN ROGERS
Today folks we have Ian Rogers, author of the rather splendid series of chapbooks staring PI Felix Renn, and his encounters with the denizens of The Black Lands.
GNOH – Hi Ian how areyou today?
Peachy keen, Jellybean. How are you doing?
GNOH – Can you giveus a little bit of background information about yourself?
Well, let’s see. I was born in Toronto, where the Felix Rennstories are set, but raised in Whitby, a town located outside the city. Myfather was in the RCMP (he’s now retired), and my mother was a stay-at-homemom.
My first exposure to horror was the film Alien. My father thought it was okay forme to watch it (I was four or five years old at the time) because it took placein space, which in his view meant it was science fiction. When thatchestburster came tearing out of John Hurt at the dinner table… well, it was aformative moment.
My mother provided the real horror influence in my life.Both she and my father were big readers, but she was the one always leavingStephen King and Dean Koontz novels lying around. And even though my fatherdidn’t care for horror movies, my mother loved them, and she didn’t care if mysister and I watched them. My father came up with a suitable compromise: if anyhorror movie gave either of us nightmares, then we weren’t allowed to watchthem anymore.
We never had any nightmares, and although my mother diedabout ten years ago, my sister and I still get together to this day forhorror-movie marathons.
Due to my love of horror movies, I thought I’d end upworking in film. Instead I became a writer. The horror influence stuck, though.I enjoy writing all kinds of stories, but horror is definitely my favourite.
My father still isn’t a fan of horror, but he does read mystuff, and he enjoys it (or says he does, ha-ha). But he wishes I’d writesomething funny someday.
GNOH – How would youdescribe yourself, horror, urban fantasy, or dark fiction author?
I say “horror writer” when I’m talking to people who aren’twriters, because outside of that circle, unless you’re a hardcore reader, mostpeople don’t know the meaning of labels like “urban fantasy” or “dark fiction”.
Of course, there are some people who use these labelsinterchangeably, which makes the whole thing even more confusing. People whowrite horror but don’t like the horror label so they use “dark fantasy” as aeuphemism for “horror.”
I don’t mind the “horror writer” label. The only time I don’tlike it is when I’m talking with someone who hears “horror” and thinksimmediately of slasher films or torture porn. The idea that horror fiction hasno substance or literary worth is unfortunately a common one (and a wrong one,for that matter).
Personally I don’t care what people call me, just as long asthey’re reading my stories.
GNOH – All of theseterms seem to have some sort of stigma, how do you think we can get the publicat large to see past these terms?
I think the only way to confront the stigma is to educatepeople, and the way I’ve found to educate people is to present them withexamples that work against those preconceived notions.
Some people aren’t interested in having their views changed,and unfortunately there’s nothing you can do for them. But most of the peopleI’ve talked to who think horror is all blood and boobs have been at leastwilling to watch a movie or read a book that I recommend them. Generally theycome around, but it’s a real uphill battle. Especially when you’ve got so muchcrap out there feeding the idea that horror is nothing more than mindlessviolence and nudity.
The funny thing is, I actually don’t mind a good slasher flick.Even the crappiest entries in the Friday the 13th franchise can befun with a group of people (and usually some alcohol). And gore has its place,too. Look at the Evil Dead films. They’re classics! But I wouldn’t necessarilyput them in the same class as, say, “The Haunting” or “The Exorcist.” Butthere’s room under the sun for all different types of horror. The problem isthat some people hear “horror” and think of only one thing,
I actually think horror fiction has a less powerful stigmaagainst it than horror film, but maybe that’s because readers are more willingto try new things. Or maybe it’s because the gore in a movie is a strongervisual turn-off that gore in a book. Opinions vary, I suppose.
GNOH – Who are someof your literary heroes, and how have they influenced your writing?
I think it’s hard to write horror fiction in this day andage and not be influenced by Stephen King. I don’t mind saying he was a biginfluence on me. In fact, I’m still a big fan of his work today.
But I think it was Clive Barker who showed me that extremeviolence and gore could be handled in such a way as not to be gratuitous. WhenI think of people who are turned off by gory horror stories, I recommend theycheck out Clive Barker. He is truly an artist in the way he works with words,and I never feel as though he’s revelling in the gore the way some other,lesser skilled writers do.
Barker also presented me with my first exposure to darkfantasy, which is to say horror stories that go beyond the usual tropes ofghosts and vampires and werewolves. In books like The Great and Secret Show and Everville,he really broadened my horizons, creatively speaking, and allowed me to indulgein my own imagination. And of course, he introduced me to my first occultdetective, Harry D’Amour.
GNOH – How would youdescribe your writing style?
My first published story was a Lovecraftian pastiche called“Black Iron Shadows.” Reading it now it’s clear I was riffing on Lovecraft’sbaroque prose style, and failing miserably. I think anyone who tries to writelike Lovecraft is destined to fail, because they’re not Lovecraft. But that’show most writers start out, by imitating the writers they admire.
Even though I read a lot of horror stories in my youth, andthat is where my own interests lay as a writer, my own style was actuallyinfluenced more by writers of mystery stories, specifically detective fiction.
There was something about the sharp, spare prose of authorslike Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and especially Ross Macdonald, thatreally spoke to me. They could tell a story without meandering or getting lostin their own words. None of these authors could be accused of overwriting,which to me is one of the worst things an author can do. Anyone who’s readElmore Leonard’s books, or his excellent rules of writing, knows what I’mtalking about.
GNOH – And do you goabout the writing process, are you a plotter or do you go with the flow?
A little of both. I like to outline, but it’s never writtenin stone. At some point in the process, the flow of writing tends to take over,and it’s like a steamroller, ploughing over everything in sight.
Most of my ideas tend to come to me when I’m driving to orfrom work, or when I’m standing in line at the grocery store, and I need towrite them down or else I’ll forget. I think the people who are strictlyanti-outline are the ones with really great memories, and while it would benice if we were all built that way, most of us aren’t that lucky.
I think there’s nothing wrong with outlining as long as youdon’t let it rule your writing process. Leave plenty of room for improvisationbecause that’s what creativity is all about.
GNOH – When did youfirst put pen to paper with the intention of becoming a published writer?
I guess I was around 18 or 19. I started out writingscreenplays with the intent of becoming a filmmaker. Around this time, a coupleof friends were putting together a horror zine, and they asked me to write thema story. I came up with my Lovecraftian riff, “Black Iron Shadows,” and theypublished it. I ended up submitting more stories to them over the years, andwhen the zine was reviewed, my stories were usually among the ones singled out.
It was this kind of writer-reader interaction that really gotme interested in writing. That, and the fact that I was very quicklydemoralized by the filmmaking process. Mostly the sheer amount of work thatgoes into getting a single film into production and seeing it through tocompletion.
My problem was, I had a whole bunch of stories I wanted totell. And many of them — hell, most of them — don’t really lend themselves tothe neat and tidy Hollywood format. As much as I love movies, writing novelsand short stories presents so many more possibilities, both in terms of contentand style. There’s just so much more room to move around in, which is what theimagination wants to do.
GNOH – How hard oreasy was the journey to becoming published?
It was hard to get published, but I’m a firm believer thatif something is easy, then the sense of accomplishment simply isn’t there.
Today it’s probably easier to get published, what with allthe e-zines popping up on the Internet, but it doesn’t quite match the thrillof having an established publisher accept your work.
GNOH – And whatlessons did you learn?
First and foremost, be a professional. Sending out a storyis like going to a job interview. You don’t go in dressed in a tracksuit andfilthy sneakers. Likewise you don’t send out a story that hasn’t been editedproperly.
Also, when you’re writing a cover letter, don’t crack jokesor act like you and the editor are buddies. Stick to the facts: story title,word count, rights offered. If you’ve got a publishing credit that willactually impress someone, include it, but bear in mind that your story is goingto have to stand on its own.
GNOH – I’ve recentlyreviewed your Black Lands trilogy (great series of chapbooks click here for myreview), can you tell us what the inspiration for the series was?
I wrote the first Felix Renn story, Temporary Monsters, in 2007. I didn’t start out with the intent of creatinga series, but by the time I got to the end, I knew I had something special.
I’d written a few detective stories over the years,including an occult detective story, but this was the first time I was really struckwith the idea of creating my own supernatural world and a private eye to movearound in it.
I guess I’d always been waiting to find a writing subjectthat I was passionate about. Felix Renn and the Black Lands is definitely it.
GNOH – The series isset in the real world, did you find it easier to slot your world onto a real one,than build your own world from scratch?
It was certainly easier, but I think the main reason Idecided to set my stories in the real world was because those are the types ofstories I like best.
I prefer my fantasy to be of the urban variety: War for the Oaks, by Emma Bull; Cabal, by Clive Barker; American Gods, by Neil Gaiman.
I also figured that working in a world that was only “subtlysupernatural” would open me up to a wider audience. Since my Felix Renn storiesowe just as much to detective fiction as they do to the horror genre, my hopewas to draw an audience composed of both groups.
Of course, I still had to set down ground rules for myworld, and a history to go along with it, but it’s something I’ve had theluxury of doing at my leisure, since for all intents and purposes, Felix Renn’sworld and our own are basically the same.
GNOH – Does using thereal world bring its own set of problems?
The only problem I’ve really encountered so far is trying toexplain what the difference is between our world and that of the Black Lands.It’s funny because although these stories could certainly be classified as“urban fantasy,” there’s also an element of “alternate history” involved.
Most of the readers understand that this is a world wherethe supernatural exists, and then they move on to the actual story. But somepeople want more background, and I don’t blame them. I’m the type of reader whowould feel the same way.
With that in mind, I created a website devoted specificallyto the Black Lands stories, located at http://theblacklands.com.There’s all kinds of information there, including a history of the Black Lands,how the dimension was discovered, etc.
GNOH – How would youdescribe these stories to potential readers? I sort of like the term Horror Noir, but even then I don’t think it’squite right as horror conjures up so many misconceptions.
I find “supernatural” to be a more encompassing term than“horror,” and one with considerably less baggage. So I refer to the Felix Rennstories as supernatural noirs, or “supernoirturals.”
GNOH – Did you basethe character of Felix Renn on anyone in particular? And how did you come up with the name?
I suppose he has a little bit of me in him, if only becauseFelix is a bit of a wise ass. But I’ve made an effort to make him differentfrom most of the private detectives I enjoyed reading, so as not to drawimmediate comparison.
Most fictional private detectives are ex-cops, or have somesort of law enforcement background. Felix does not. His background is a bit ofa mystery right now, but I plan to reveal some of it in the first Felix Rennnovel.
The name Felix Renn is a nod to the Felix characters fromthe John Steakley novels, Armorand Vampire$,and James Woods’ character, Max Renn, in the David Cronenberg film, Videodrome (one of mypersonal favourites).
GNOH – At first heseems like an archetypical PI, but there is more to him than just that. How hard did you work at creating a characterthat was both familiar and different at the same time?
It was very hard, because there are so many privatedetective characters out there, both ordinary detectives and the occultvariety, and you want yours to stand out. And you have to make him stand out inan effortless way or else it looks like you’re trying too hard to be different.
My first decision was to say that Felix was not an ex-cop.So many fictional detectives are, and I thought I could immediately separatehim from the pack by giving him a different background. Of course, I haven’tgone into great detail about what that background is, but it will be revealedin future stories.
The next thing I did was to take one of the most populardetective fiction tropes — the snappy, backtalking secretary — and turn it onits head. I started by asking myself, What happens if the detective marries thesecretary? Then I took it even further. What happens if they got divorced andtried to maintain some sort of working relationship?
This, in fact, is how I opened the very first Felix Rennstory, Temporary Monsters. Felixhaving lunch with his ex-wife, Sandra (whom he calls by the nickname Dee, afterSandra Dee, another one of those movie references that I’m such a sucker for),which is then interrupted by a vampire’s bloody rampage. In this first scene Ireally laid down the groundwork for both the characters of Felix and Sandra,and the world in which they live.
GNOH – I drew comparisons of the Black Lands to Paul D Brazill’s Drunk On The Moon series, in that theyboth successfully welded a supernatural world on the more mundane world. Are there any series out there that youwouldn’t mind being compared to?
I haven’t read Brazill’s work yet, but it’s definitely on mylist. That’s the thing about occult detectives. There’s so many of them outthere, but they’re all so different that I never get sick of them!
My personal favourites are Clive Barker’s Harry D’Amourstories (although I wish there were more of them), John Connolly’s CharlieParker books (featuring a very subtly supernatural world), and Mike Carey’sFelix Castor books. Funny story: I had the chance to meet Mike Carey (and hislovely wife, Linda, who is also a writer) last month, and we talked a bit aboutour respective series. I thanked him profusely for not punching me in the head themoment he found out I also have a character named Felix.
GNOH – The threebooks have a similar undercurrent of style, but they have a very different toneto each other. Temporary Monsters is more of a romp, The Ash Angels, is a much more sedate and introspective tale, and Black-Eyed Kids, is a mix of thetwo. Was it always your intention to stylisticallychange each book?
It was definitely my intention (good eye!). When I startedwriting the follow-up to TemporaryMonsters, I knew I wanted to tell a different type of story. I felt it wasimportant to establish early on that the series would cover a variety of themes.With The Ash Angels, I felt I wasable to tell a more atmospheric ghost story, while at the same time explore theemotional depth of the characters.
With Black-Eyed KidsI knew I wanted to combine both types of stories, the action-horror tale andthe atmospheric ghost story. I also wanted to write a longer story this timearound, seeing as how the only real complaint I had about the first two FelixRenn tales was that they were too short!
In addition to providing elements of both Temporary Monsters and The Ash Angels, I feel that Black-Eyed Kids also works as a nicebridge between these shorter Felix Renn stories and the full-length novel thatI’m currently working on.
GNOH – You don’t givemuch away about the Black Lands, is there a reason for this?
Mostly it’s to maintain the mystery of the place. Our worldlives cheek-and-jowl with a supernatural dimension filled with creatures thatcan kill us. Even though the people in this world know this for a fact, it’snot something they want to think about. As a result, it’s not something thecharacters tend to talk about, either.
Also there’s the fact that even though the people of thisworld have been living with the Black Lands for over sixty years, they don’treally know that much about it. I’ve tried to make this world as real aspossible, and I tend to believe that if the supernatural was ever proven toactually exist, we’d still have way more questions than answers.
World-building is fun, but I think the mistake most authorsmake is that they get lost in the details. They forget that they’re supposed tobe writing a story, not a sourcebook for a role-playing game.
This is why certain details about the Black Lands have beenpurposely left out of the series. I provide enough information about the worldto put the reader in the story — set decoration, I guess you could call it –and that’s all. Because anything else would be a distraction.
I think it’s more fun this way. I get to parcel outinformation about the Black Lands at the same time we learn more about Felix.It’s a very organic method of storytelling, and while it may be frustrating tonot have all the answers at once, I think in the long run it’s also much moresatisfying.
GNOH – Humour plays alarge role in the books, do you think humour is needed in these sort of booksto balance out the horror and the tragedy that they contain?
I don’t know if humour in horror is necessary in general,but I know that I need it in my ownstories. I think a bit of comedy not only provides a balance for the horror,but it actually makes the horror that much more powerful. Because in real life,people in serious situations are not always serious themselves. They use comedyto balance out tragedy and horror. It’s a defence mechanism of sorts, I guess.
GNOH – How muchresearch did you do for the books? Inever realised that the BEK’s were a real phenomena.
I do just enough research so that I can lie creatively. I’mparaphrasing from another author, but I’ll be damned if I can remember who.
Basically I do enough research so that the reader says, Hmm,I don’t really know anything about that, but it sounds like the writer knowswhat he’s talking about. I don’t give them the full encyclopaedia listing, justenough facts to make them continue on with the story. Some authors get boggeddown with pointless factoids, forgetting that the reason the person is readingthe story in the first place is, well, for the story!
I heard about the BEKs from a friend at work, who’s alsointerested in the supernatural. We were talking about stories and moviesfeaturing “freaky children,” and he mentioned stories he’d heard about kidswith black eyes, only you didn’t notice their eyes were black until after theencounter was over, and how they always wanted you to let them into your house,or your car, and that you were filled with an immediate feeling of fear.
I did a bit of research on the BEKs, but there really wasn’tmuch out there. It’s a relative new myth, a take on the Men in Black encountersthat started with the UFO craze of the 1950s and ‘60s, with a bit of vampirefolklore thrown in for good measure. When I started writing the third FelixRenn story, I knew I wanted to introduce a new type of entity, one that peopleweren’t familiar with. The BEKs seemed like the obvious choice.
GNOH – Have we seenthe last of Felix Renn?
Not at all! A new Felix Renn story titled “Midnight Blonde”will appear in Supernatural Talessometime in 2012. I’m currently working on a number of other stories for acollection of Black Lands tales, and of course, there’s the first Felix Rennnovel, which I’m also working on.
Felix Renn isn’t going anywhere!
GNOH – Is there anoverriding plot arc that we have not yet seen, will the reason for the BlackLands ever been revealed?
It was always my intention that the Felix Renn storiesfunction as both standalone stories and entries of an ongoing series. Strikingthat balance hasn’t always been easy, but it’s very rewarding to know thatpeople can pick up any book in the series and enjoy it as a one-off, or if theyreally liked it, they can go back and start reading the stories from thebeginning.
GNOH – Will the booksever be available as an E-book?
There are definitely plans in the works to make the firstthree Felix Renn chapbooks available as e-books. I can’t really say too muchabout it yet, but the e-book market is definitely one I’m excited to beginexploring.
GNOH – It’s a hugelycrowded market, what sets your books apart, and why should readers choose yourbooks? (and folks you really should)
I think my world is distinct enough that it stands on itsown. I like that even though the supernatural exists, it isn’t as thoughvampires and werewolves are strolling down the street, or that people are usingmagic to do their taxes. People believe in the supernatural, yes, but they’revery much afraid of it.
Of course, I like to think the main reason people wouldchoose my books is because of Felix Renn. I think he’s a likeable characterwith flaws that make him both real and interesting. I enjoy peeling back hislayers to reveal what makes him tick, while at the same time seeing him thrustinto these dangerous situations where sometimes even he doesn’t know what he’sdoing.
GNOH – Why do youthink the genre is so popular?
People enjoy cross-genre work. Urban fantasy kind of explodedwith Harry Potter — magic meets high school — but the respective fan baseswere always there.
In terms of the occult detective, people like mystery stories,and the private detective has always been a staple of the genre. Mixing in thesupernatural just seemed like the next logical step, because what is thesupernatural anyway if not the ultimate mystery of the unknown.
GNOH – As well as the Felix Renn Trilogy, you havealso written the novella Deadstock,can you tell us about the book?
Deadstock is aWeird Western, which is exactly like it sounds: a Western story with some weirdelements. In this case, it’s a horror story about cattle mutilations takingplace on a ranch in Nevada. A man and a woman show up to investigate, and allhell breaks loose.
GNOH – Is this atotally separate novella or is there a nod to the Black Lands in it?
I don’t make any over references between the stories, butthey do take place in the same universe.
GNOH – Is this a one-offnovella, or is it going to be the first part of an ongoing series?
If Deadstock doeswell, the tentative plan is to publish another novella, a prequel to Deadstock, called Zero Fill. Then we’ll follow it up with a proper sequel, afull-length novel called Land of theNever-Rising Sun.
GNOH – So what doesthe future hold for you, can you let us into any secrets?
The Felix Renn novel is taking precedence right now. I havea couple of agents who want to look at it, and I’m hoping to find a publisherinterested in taking it on as a series.
I also have a collection of Felix Renn stories due out in2012, as well a couple of other Felix stories popping up in magazines andanthologies. Your best bet for keeping up with the latest Felix Renn news is toswing by http://theblacklands.com.
I’m also working on a standalone Black Lands novella (whichis to say one that doesn’t feature Felix Renn) that will tell the story of thediscovery of this dark dimension. It’s tentatively titled The Revenge of Flight 19.
GNOH – Cheers forpopping over Ian, I’ve had a lot fun. And once again folks, I stress you should get yourselves a copy of theFelix Renn adventures.
Thanks for having me!
YOU CAN PURCHASE IAN’S BOOKS FROM BURNING EFFIGY PRESS
AND YOU CAN FIND OUT MOREABOUT IAN AND IS BOOKS BY FOLLOWING THESE LINKS