Todd Russell Gets Jack’d

Recently I had the pleasure of “sitting down” to chat with fellow writer of all things horror, Todd Russell. He was most open to getting Jack’d and here are the results.

JW: Sweet! A fellow horror writer. And the obvious issue festers up to the top – why in the hell does horror get such a bad rap in literature? Let’s face it, people love to be scared. Just look at the films that come out year after year, how people react to Halloween…it’s all there. But, as a general rule, people look at horror fiction as sub-par on all levels. With very few exceptions – horror rarely gets any good publicity. Unless you are King, Campbell, or Koontz you are SOL.

TR: Hi Jack, thanks for letting me stop by and chat with you for a few.

The horror movie industry has helped the notion that horror is cheesy by coming up with some promising films and sequeling to absurdity. They want to return and cash in on established tales too many times because they believe it’s the easiest payday. You don’t see this non-creative fascination with horror fiction. Stephen King never wrote a sequel to Pet Sematary and yet Hollywood had to crank out that abysmal sequel. And they are remaking Pet Sematary? Worse, they are remaking Carrie! Can you imagine Stephen King ever coming out with a new version of Carrie or Pet Sematary?

Take the movie SAW. I dug the first film and somewhat the second, but then it lost its focus and became a cinematic mass. Halloween 1 & 2 were good but downhill big time after that. Friday The 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street followed a similar pattern. The Human Centipede weirded me out (in a good way) and here we go again, another sequel in the hopper.

JW: Why I really don’t get this is the popularity of the YA Paranormal that flaunts the sparkly, hunky vampires like they were nothing more than underwear models. No matter how watered-down and hunky they are, they are still vampires and vampires belong in the horror genre. What gives? Why is the stigma forever haunting our genre?

TR: I’m excited seeing more young adults reading. That can only bring good things for all genres because readers will branch out. I love the psychic vampires in Dan Simmons Carrion Comfort, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, King’s Salem’s Lot and Robert McCammon’s They Thirst vampires. Still, there’s room for many other vamps. I believe there is a creative type of vampire that hasn’t been explored yet and would like to write about this monster someday, if I don’t read from another author first. A great challenge exists today in creating a fresh type of vampire. Would you like to take a non-wooden-cross stab at that someday too, Jack?

JW: Oh sure…One of the very first books I ever wrote was a vampire story – but it was so bad I didn’t deserve to see the light of day (pun intended). One of these days I intend on taking up the helm of a vampire story, simply because I do adore the vampire. But at the moment the vampire is being done to death, so I’ll probably wait it out. Of course, by then vampires won’t be cool any more. Well, that may not be true. So long as True Blood is still running, I’m sure vampires will still be cool. But if I do pen a vampire story, it will probably take a turn for the Nosferatu more so than the Twilight.

Writing something fresh is definitely the big challenge. It’s all be played out it seems. And you’re right, Hollywood is jabbing a stake right into the heart of horror. They can’t come up with anything original so they just remake movie after movie after movie. In some ways this is good – getting to re-vision the original stories from the past with the effects of today. It can some times make for a good marriage. But there are certain horror films that simply shouldn’t be redone. It would be an incredibly interesting experiment, however, to have a writer “reboot” another writer’s work. Imagine Edward Lee rewriting Carrie or Clive Barker re-branding The Lord of the Rings. Those would be fascinating works for sure.

TR: The most original and popular stories Hollywood Horror has come up with for the current generation seem to be these quasi-real horror tales like Blair Witch and Paranormal Entity. There are some independents doing interesting things like those two Canadian identical twins, the Soska sisters who created Dead Hooker in a Trunk. I think the slush pile is likely where Hollywood Horror will find and exploit their next gem. Somebody unknown doing something we haven’t seen done quite the same way before.

The same holds true in horror fiction. We all have the same opportunity to create stories that blow readers away.

I don’t want to tell other authors what they should or should not be doing, but I’m going to keep my nose down and create the brightest, freshest work I can produce. If one doesn’t stick with audiences, no problem, I’ll move along to the next. I’ve been hearing for years how long it takes to build an audience and I’m in this until my heart stops beating. We’re building our backlists, Jack. Koontz wrote a bunch of books before any significant readership noticed what he was doing. King toiled away writing short stories in mostly men’s magazines. Carrie almost didn’t happen because it was too long for a short story but thankfully his wife rescued it from the garbage can.

I think J.A Konrath asked the right question in a recent blog post: how many books will [other writers] be publishing by the end of the year? For me, I’m trying to have 3-4 books published by the end of 2011 but my speed in getting through the process is slower than I’d like. In the past authors publishing 1-2 books a year was the norm but in the current hyperactive digital publishing world, that’s slow. It’s all the non-writing distractions that I need to become better at managing. What is bogging you down, Jack? Anything?

Is the biggest danger to writer’s productivity today having too many non-writing activities?

JW: What’s keeping me back? In all honesty, it’s my day job. I spend so much time toiling away behind a desk that I feel like I’m losing precious time that should be spent writing. And I am of the artist soul and have been since I was an actor for over twenty years – so working within the world of business is about as soul sucking an endeavor as any. But I do have a family to feed and until my books are pulling their weight, financially, that day job will remain. I have faith in my writing though…enough to last a lifetime should it be necessary.

At my present pace, I’m looking at around three books published per year. If the day job weren’t in the way, that number would be probably more like five or six. That, of course, is neither here nor there since reality dictate otherwise. What this all brings about, at least for the reading consumer, is choice. I remember well, back in the ‘90’s, going to the bookstore and seeing a plethora of horror novels to choose from. That was a good time. But then the economy tanked and all those choices went away. If you weren’t looking for King, Campbell, Straub, or Barker, you were out of luck. From my perspective, that is one of the biggest thrills indie authors bring about – choice. Now the reader has millions of new titles to read and do so very cheaply. And I firmly believe that the horror genre has benefited from this more than any other. Where there is little to no horror selection through the standard channels, start browsing the indie authors and you will find tons of outstanding novels to give you the chills and maybe keep you from sleeping at night.

I’ve been reading Shea Macleod’s Kissed By Darkness and Ania Ahlborn’s Seed lately and I’m enjoying them more than I’ve enjoyed a book in quite some time. If you want frights, they are available in spades, thanks to the indie author boom! All the reader need do is spend a little time searching around and they will find some brilliant gems. And to those writers ready to pen those brilliant gems – you have to give the readers time to find you.

TR: Shea and Ania are off to strong, encouraging starts and it’s great to see!

My TBR stack is overflowing. I agree with you, it’s a wonderful time to be a reader. I was getting worried when mass market paperbacks started costing over $10 but with ebooks readers can find several good reads for the cost of a single new paperback. With Borders going under this should drive more to shop at their local indie used bookstores and/or heading back to the library or buying e-readers.

The 90s had at least one good horror imprint, Dell Abyss. Did you check out any of those? A kind soul on Goodreads compiled a list of the Dell Abyss titles. That’s when new authors broke in like Kathe Koje and Poppy Z. Brite (who is one of Ania’s influences, I believe). It’s too bad that imprint imploded. Horror and rock took a similar plunge in the 90s but they’re both making a comeback.

Have you checked out any bizarro fiction? Eraserhead Press is putting out some crazy, experimental, bizarro fiction, stuff that goes way out there. Often humorous instead of horrifying from what I’ve read so far, but creative.

JW: To me, that is one of the best things about being an indie author – breaking free of the bonds traditional publishing had over writers. If you publish traditionally, you are tied to one of only a few genres, and how DARE you venture outside of that genre or, heaven forbid, combine a genre or two. With indie publishing we can all of a sudden re-create the very foundation of what books are all about. You want a YA Paranormal Zombie Romance novel? Write it! You want a Political Sci-fi Thriller set on an all cross-dressing planet? Go for it! And part of the exquisite beauty of that plan is the more you twist and turn the genre, the more intriguing your work becomes…built in PR.

Ultimately though, it’s both a writer’s and reader’s market. And I would challenge all indie authors to chase down their dreams with a vengeance, and not let up until those dreams have been attained. It may take a while to reach those dreams and goals – just make sure you allow for enough time to draw those readers into your web of delight and desire.

That also reminds me how much indie authors also need to realize that luck does, in fact, play a big part in this. You could write the perfect book and no one could read it. You could write a so, so book and someone could read it at the right time and in the right mood and that book might just get the perfect review, causing it to take off like a Twilight Vampire after a glitter sprayer.

TR: I think the selection is getting so plentiful with good reads that readers are going to have massive TBR collections to sift through and make secondary ‘when to read this’ decisions. I don’t know how many ebooks are on your e-reader but I’m pushing 100+ unread books, some of which are short stories, novellas and collections and will take shorter time to read. Getting readers interested enough to download our books and then move to the top of their TBR stacks could become a secondary challenge. It isn’t enough to have a book downloaded on their e-readers, they have to move your book to the front of the queue and start reading.

I am having a similar challenge with my Netflix Instant Viewing Queue. More movies than movie-watching time so it’s a case of trying to prioritize within my queue. Do you think there’s authors can/should do to encourage readers that have our books downloaded to push them to the front of their queues? Or is this a don’t worry, be happy thing because hey, they will get to it someday?

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