What drove you to write The Five?
I actually wanted to diversify. I thought that I was enjoying the Matthew books, but I have a list of things I want to do also. Some of them are really off the wall.
I’ve been wanting to do a book about music for a long time, and couldn’t really figure out how to do it. I was sitting in a California Pizza Kitchen restaurant and I happened to hear the Verve song Bittersweet Symphony – I didn’t know what it was, so found out what it was. It seemed to touch something in me, and opened up something in me to be able to write this book, and to be able to put this together.
I thought the power of music is such an individual power. You feel like a song is speaking to you: you hear a song and feel it is directed to you. And if you believe spiritually, it may have been. That spurred me to put The Five together.
I found it interesting that some reviews suggest people missed the supernatural element to the book…
They do. That bothers me, because it’s there, but it’s subtle. But it’s all explained at the end, what the book is about. I’m guessing that these people consider Jeremy so insane that he has sort of built this in his mind; what they don’t understand is that he is mentally unbalanced, but he is being led in this direction by the supernatural force. People don’t really understand that – I don’t know why. It’s there. It’s there with the Gunny and the dark creature in the hospital room!
I don’t understand it, but I’m very, very proud of that book. That book turned out to be exactly what I wanted it to be. I was talking to someone about it and saying maybe I should have made it more obvious that it was supernatural, but no, it is what it is. I think it states its case very well, it says what it wants to say very well, and I’m extremely proud of it.
Thank you. That’s what I want it to be; I want it to say something about the nature of art vs. business, and also a person’s ability to speak in the world and express themselves and for people to hear.
There’s a point where Nomad is saying it’s important: “We put ourselves on the line every day as a band and it’s important too. We’re trying to be heard.” You can also say that’s true of the writer, of the film maker, of anyone in the creative arts. You’re trying to be heard; sometimes the corporate entity doesn’t want that to be heard, or doesn’t like the message. You always have to be true to yourself and try to be heard, and sometimes that’s a struggle.
A lot of writers, when they’re writing contemporary novels, use lyrics almost as a short cut to explain emotions; in The Five though, you’re talking about the music, rather than just using it.
I wanted to put myself in the position of the musicians and how they view the music. There are parts where I describe the music as being almost a physical force. There are golden orbs flying round the room, bouncing off the walls. To me, music is a physical force, and it’s extremely important to these musicians. It’s their way of life, it’s the way they communicate and speak to the world and through their disappointments, they have felt stymied in trying to speak to the world. I wanted to put myself in that position.
Will there be a follow-up to The Five?
No, I think everything that I needed to say in that book has been said. When I finish a book, I think there’s nothing to add to that or take away. It’s done. The book is finished.
Well, okay. I was asked to write that by Subterranean Press, a single novella. I thought, “I could do a novella, but I have some other stories that maybe I could make a whole book out of.” It just happened that way: I got on a roll and I started writing these stories.
It was so much fun to me: I could do so many different things, different places, different types of adventures. I didn’t want him always to revert to the werewolf in these. I think that’s a thing you can get to: you get to the end of the story, he becomes a werewolf and saves the day. I didn’t want that to happen in every story. That was a challenge.
So that developed into a book and I’m very proud of that too: I think some of the best writing I’ve done is in that book, and it’s a fun character to do also.
When I read that, I’d recently worked on a book about Luftwaffe ace Hans-Joachim Marseille, known as the Star of Africa – was he the inspiration for the character Michael meets in the desert?
Absolutely! I’ve been fascinated by that character too; I have a big interest in World War II military history in general. That’s how that developed.
Yes we are. I’ve got the next one on the drawing board, but I’m not sure exactly when I’m going to get to it. We’re going to do some more – two more, I know. The next one is totally different.
And keeping the sidekick?
Yes, we’re going to go with that.
He was a character who jumped straight off the page when I read the novella; did he jump into your mind fully formed?
Yes. There was a series I used to watch as a kid called Have Gun Will Travel. It was the travelling adventure/bounty hunter guy who made things right, worked for whoever. This was the sort of character I wanted to write, and I thought it would be really cool if I could add something strange and make him a vampire who was fighting against this oncoming malady, this oncoming change in himself. How can he do that but still get out and about and do this adventuring?
You have to work on any character, but often the bare bones of the character come together very quickly. You hear writers say this – and I always thought it was ridiculous, but it is true – as you work on a character, the character works on you also. And the character comes to life, and has a life of his and her own. That’s exactly true.
I never work with an outline, is the deal. I have signpost scenes – one in the middle I want to get to, one near the end. But I never work with an outline. Everything is sort of a surprise to me: I have the idea of where I want to go, but I’m not exactly sure of how I’m going to get there.
In a mythic, strange, spiritual way, or whatever, the characters sort of direct the story, even though I know where it’s going because I’m the writer and director of the whole deal, but the character can really come to life and say, “let’s go this way”. When I started I Travel By Night, I did not know where I was going with it. I had a general idea, but I didn’t know what was going to happen when we got down to the swamp! It was a surprise to me.
I always feel like I’m the first reader. It’s got to be a surprise to me. When I tried to work with an outline, I’d get so bored with it because I’d already read the book. I saw no need to go on, so I gave up the project. One of my pleasures is I read the book first.
Are we ever going to see your novel The Village in print?
The Village is a long book about this theatre troupe who do propaganda plays and songs to exhort their soldiers to go out willingly and get slaughtered. It’s that story, and their stories too, and another broader story… but I don’t think it’ll ever get published.
It’s a good book, but it represents a very tough period for me. I was frustrated with the horror genre in a way, and I wanted to do something different. When I finished Speaks the Nightbird I had difficulty getting it published, because it was different and I was known as a horror writer. Once you get put in that box, it’s hard to get out: you’re typecast. You just are. So Speaks the Nightbird had a hard time getting published. I didn’t think that was going to be a series so I thought I’d do something else.
I did this book and it found no interest at all. Because it’s set in Russia, I think American readers at that time at least, the American editors, had a hard time getting into it. There are no Americans in it, it’s all Russians and Germans.
I’m very proud of the book but I don’t think it will ever be published. I think I would probably have to go back in and rewrite parts of it, and I’ve got so much to do to go ahead with.
Looking backwards is sometimes not the best thing, and it represents a difficult time in my life when I thought I was done in this business because I couldn’t get it published. For a period of years, six, seven, eight years, I did nothing until a small local press came along and asked if they could publish Speaks the Nightbird. It was very difficult: I turned away from horror to try to do something different, and I found out very quickly that if you go this way, try to do this, you’re not going to get published. You’re known as a horror writer, the publishing business is not going to let you do anything else.
I’ve got so much to do: I think I’m probably going to run out of time before I can finish everything I want to do. I’ve got some really good stuff ahead of me, so to go back…
It’s invigorating to hear somebody who is still looking forward so much.
I’ve got stuff that is going to be difficult to write, a real challenge to write. I’ve had a couple of things that have been a challenge to write, and I’ve had to put them aside because I think, “I’m not ready to do these yet”. So I’m going back to a couple of things that I started this last year that I stopped because of my mindset or state of mind at the time. One is a big combination science fiction/horror novel and that I couldn’t quite figure out to do. I’ve figured out how to do that better now hopefully, so that will probably be my next book.
Thanks to Shannon Roberts, Cameron McClure and Subterranean Press for their help in organising this interview
Click here to read our review of The Five;
here for our review of I Travel By Night;
here for The Hunter from the Woods