John and I have known of each other since the mid-naughties (I think that’s what they call that era) and he’s been putting out dark, evocative horror for quite some time. Toad would like to thank John for sparking some time out of his busy schedule to drop by her corner.
Tell us about the day you knew you had to start writing.
I don't think I could narrow it down to a "day"...but I've known since I was in grade school that I was going to be a "writer" of some kind. As a kid, I was a voracious reader (mostly of classic SF and fantasy) and I remember back in 3rd or 4th grade trying to write a "space opera" short story along the lines of Isaac Asimov's galactic foundation. When I went to high school, I worked as an editor of the student newspaper, writing music reviews and an opinions column, as well as news. That paper was where my very first piece of fiction appeared, a short vignette about a man who commits suicide. In hindsight, I wonder if that subject focus worried my teachers! I knew in high school that I was going to major in journalism, which I did at the University of Illinois, and while I was there, I wrote some short fiction for a creative writing class, along with poetry and song lyrics. And I worked almost every day there at the student newspaper--again doing both feature interviews/reviews and news. I always liked the more colorful writing best.
I didn't start trying to sell my fiction until a couple years after I graduated college, but I knew that I'd make my living at writing early on. My first job out of college was at a community newspaper. Later, I went on to pay the mortgage by working as an editor at a music magazine, and then for a medical trade publication. Along the way while working those "dayjobs" I wrote an increasing amount of dark fantasy/horror fiction, and slowly racked up publication credits for short stories until my first book-length collection of short fiction, Cage of Bones & Other Deadly Obsessions, was published by Delirium Books in 2000.
What is your all-time scariest movie, and why?
I think Alien has to rank in the top five there. It has the perfect balance of dark mood and claustrophobia mixed with the terror of a malevolent unknown. The "monster" is both intelligent and deadly and the environment is dark and enclosed, as the crew are all trapped on a spaceship with the creature. The mystery of what the alien wants to do with the bodies of the crew helps make the movie more than simply a cat-and-mouse kill game. It's really one of the best horror films ever made. More recently, I've liked the intensity of French films like High Tension and Martyrs. The endings of both films either resonate or alienate the viewer, but the naked intensity of both keep you gripping the cushions on the couch throughout. Or, at least, they did me!
Do the things you write about scare you and, if so, are there bits of text where you had to sit back and say, "Oh my god, what have I let loose?"
The events that I write about don't scare me per se...because I'm in control of them. So from that perspective, I'm not afraid or threatened by what I write. I don't "freak myself out" because I don't really believe in my heart that a demon is going to come reaching out of the cracks in the wall at any of the hotels I stay in, as one does in my novel Sacrifice. That said, the "themes" that I write about definitely draw from my fears. In my new novel, Siren, which is out this month from Leisure Books, the lead character is a man named Evan, who is an aquaphobe. Evan's back-story is that he was unable to save his son from drowning due to his phobia of the water, and at the start of the novel he is essentially "the walking dead", just going through the motions of life while being eaten alive from the guilt of watching his son die. I am not an aquaphobe--I love the water!--but since I finished my first two novels, Covenant and Sacrifice, I became a parent. And one of the most horrible feelings that I think every parent has is the fear that you can't protect your child from the bad things in the world. That's a "paralysis" of sorts along the same lines as Evan's aquaphobia. You simply can't save your children from everything they are likely to face in their lives. That's one of the most frightening feelings you can have, I think.
Do you have any amusing incidents that have occurred at book signings?
One thing I've learned over the past couple years is that bookstores are frequently frequented by very...interesting...characters! I have done a couple dozen book signings for each of my three previous novels, and in almost every store I end up meeting someone who is memorable...frequently because of the odd things I learn from them. I've had a man in an electric orange jumpsuit scream at me because he had lost relatives to a serial killer (in reaction to my novel Sacrifice) and I've gotten a lecture from a bag lady about sexual abuse and misogyny (in reaction to hearing the premise behind my novel The 13th). I've had a man tell me about how his wife was "hit on" by Adolf Hitler. In Nashville, I met an enlisted man in uniform who produced a Chinese fighting star from a pocket and proceeded to tell me about a number of ways that you could kill a man. And once, in Cincinnati, I had to laugh when a woman's child hit the alarm button on the escalator near my signing table and froze the entire escalator system for a large Barnes & Noble store.
When you write horror, what is the most important factor contributing to an authentic sense of the genre?
The most important factor in horror is to capture the emotion of fear. Regardless of whether the horror story deals with vampires, zombies, werewolves, a serial killer, a malicious demon or a creeping deadly virus...the common thread of them all is the fear that the characters have of the monstrous challenge they need to overcome. Horror is about our fear of the unknown and its potentially terminal impact on us. If you can capture that fear in your character and translate it to the reader effectively, you've written a good horror story.
Tell us more about Siren. Who will enjoy this novel?
I think anyone who's ever felt a deep pain, or been obsessed by desire will appreciate this novel. Siren, as I said, follows Evan, an aquaphobe, who moves from a sort of "living death" to reclaiming his life thanks to the influence of a true Siren. Ligeia, the sexy creature who lures him into the water for the first time in his life and away from his wife, also re-awakens Evan to the pieces left of his life that he still values. But when he comes to his senses and tries to escape from Ligeia's embrace, well...a woman scorned is bad. A Siren scorned is mythologically bad.
I have a website and blog at www.johneverson.com, where information on all my fiction, artwork and music is available. You can also sign up for my monthly e-newsletter there, at www.johneverson.com/list.htm.
To order most of my books, take a look at my page on Amazon.com at: http://www.amazon.com/John-Everson/e/B002BMHL52/
To find some of my rarer small press releases, from e-books of my short fiction collections to some of my rare hardcovers, check out the "John Everson" section at The Horror Mall: https://www.horror-mall.com/John-Everson-p-1-c-296.html