Interviews

John Everson – The 13th

February 14th, 2010 by Anthony CW Morgan

Chicago, Illinois’ John Everson released his inaugural novel in November 2004. Issued in a signed and numbered hardcover format through Delirium Books, on June 25th, 2005, Covenant won a Bram Stoker Award from the Horror Writer Association in the Best First Novel category, and was later reissued in paperback format through Leisure Books in August 2008. Delirium Books issued second novel Sacrifice in March 2007 in limited edition two hundred and fifty copy signed hardcover format, and April 2009 was when Leisure Books granted it a paperback release. In addition to these two novels, Everson has three short story collections under his belt, namely; Cage of Bones & Other Deadly Obsessions (2000, Delirium Books), Vigilantes of Love (2003, Twilight Tales), and Needles & Sins (2007, Necro Books). The latter included the tale “Letting Go”, which was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award in the Best Short Fiction Category.

Late October 2009 saw the paperback release of John Everson’s third novel, namely The 13th. A summer 2009 limited hardcover edition occurred through Necro Publications, its cover featuring an illustration by Travis Anthony Soumis, who had previously illustrated Needles & Sins. Chicago filmmaker John Borowski, director of H. H. Holmes, America’s First Serial Killer (2004) and Albert Fish (2007), cut a trailer for the book. Fourth novel Siren has already been penned, and so the Chicago horror writer has begun work on his fifth tome, titled The Pumpkin Man and tentatively slated for publication through Leisure Books in the first quarter of 2011. Also, a three story e-chapbook provisionally named Creeptych is due to see the light of day through Delirium Books.

To discuss The 13th as well as his forthcoming projects, John Everson was interviewed via email.

What is your third novel The 13th about, and how did the story come to fruition?

The 13th follows David Shale, a biker trying to make the Olympic cycling team, who decamps to his aunt’s for the summer to train on the hilly terrain around her house. When Castle House Lodge, an abandoned resort hotel outside of town re-opens as a private asylum for pregnant women… the summer takes a decidedly dark turn for David. First his girlfriend turns up missing just hours after their first kiss, and then he finds himself investigating the strange goings-on at the new asylum alongside a hot rookie cop. “What lies beyond the door with the red X on it that leads to the basement” is the simplest clue I can give for the core of the story.

Ultimately, I suppose the book was inspired a lot by the Euro-horror and grindhouse films of the seventies. I tend to focus largely on demonic horror devices in my work, and I watched a huge glut of seventies foreign and exploitation films in the year or two leading up to writing The 13th, which has a lot of the tropes of those films interwoven – the dark foreboding abandoned hotel, the mysterious girlfriend, the sinister (?) doctor, the crumbling basement where forbidden rituals have taken place – along with a healthy dose of sex and horror.

A trailer for The 13th was made by Chicago filmmaker John Borowski. How did Borowski’s involvement come about, and what information did he have at hand to ensure the resultant trailer accurately gave a flavour of The 13th?

John and I met when we were guests at the 2009 Chicago Horror Film Festival. The trailers for his documentaries about the serial killers H. H. Holmes and Albert Fish ran at the fest and he got onstage to introduce them… we were talking afterwards and he offered to do a trailer for The 13th… how could I refuse? A few weeks later, while he was reading Covenant, he started filming the trailer. He didn’t read the full text of the book ahead of time, but he had the thirteen-page plot synopsis that I’d sold the book to my publisher with. Rather than try to film a plot-specific trailer, he used some of the images suggested by the plot to create a creepy feeling visual and aural teaser. I think it works really well, and I actually got to get up onstage myself this past weekend at the B-Movie Madness 2 Film Festival in Chicago to introduce the trailer. It played on the big screen right before the midnight movie.

Travis Anthony Soumis illustrated the cover for The 13th‘s summer 2009 limited hardcover edition through Necro Publications. Personally, how would you describe Soumis’ cover illustration for the book, and the limited hardcover edition itself?

I’ve said a few times that Travis gave me the “porny” cover and Leisure gave me the “slasher” cover for The 13th. People seem to either like one or the other, but rarely both, which is funny since they’re representing different aspects of the same book. I love Travis’ work; he did the cover art to my short story collection for Necro a couple of years ago, Needles & Sins. I ultimately adopted that artwork (with his permission) to serve as the visual center of my website. With The 13th, he definitely captured the “erotic” part of the book’s “erotic horror” tag. I’m really hoping that he gets to do a small press cover for my next novel, Siren.

You also design book covers yourself, having done designs for Delirium Books in particular. What type of artistic style do you favour, and what do you aim to achieve in handling a design?

I never intended to become a cover artist. My “style”, if you can call it that, is to use photos that (mostly) I have taken, and chop them up in Photoshop and utilize various effects while merging them into hopefully evocative collages. While most bookcovers focus on a singular element, I’ve always gone for more of a kaleidoscope of imagery that hopefully sets a mood in the viewer’s eye, rather than focusing on a specific literal scene of a book.

This design thing all began for me in the early noughties, when Twilight Tales, a Chicago press, issued a “preview” edition of the anthology Freaks, Geeks & Sideshow Floozies, with a cover graphic by a friend of mine, GAK. I had a trilogy of stories in the volume, and when I saw the preview edition, I offered to “tweak” the cover a bit to give it a little more professional treatment – my dayjob at the time was in desktop publishing, and I immediately saw ways where GAK’s art could be framed more appealingly and the back cover layout upgraded. It was obviously a self-serving offer, because I wanted my stories presented in the best possible light, but they said “Sure – here are the files”. It led to me producing a handful of book covers and internal book design layouts for Twilight Tales over the following few years. I later formed my own press, Dark Arts Books, both for more editorial control but also in large part to continue my work on book design – because I found I really enjoyed that aspect. So after a half dozen covers for Twilight Tales and a couple for my own press, Delirium asked me if I wanted to do the cover for my own mini-chapbook for them, Failure. I ended up doing the covers for the entire six-book Delirium chapbook series, and I think a couple of them turned out to be the best covers I’ve done. And at this point, including a cover I did for Bad Moon Books, I’ve had eighteen of my book cover designs published by four different presses. Most of those are online.

You’re also a composer. Could you detail where that has taken you thus far, and what type of outlet does composition provide you with?

With apologies to my wife, music is the love of my life. Whether I’m passively listening or composing, music takes me to a place of true private bliss and always has. I was playing a small organ at four years old and taking formal lessons at five… so you could say I was communicating with music before I could read and write. I wrote pop songs in grade school and played in garage bands in college and afterwards. And I was a newspaper music critic for a Chicago suburban paper for almost twenty years. As a musician, I enjoyed writing and recording songs much more than the pressure of performing live in clubs, so there are a couple of Chicago-area bands that have performed my songs, but mostly I have tons of home studio demos, very few of which have ever been heard by more than a few people.

In the noughties, my music did find a way to interface with my other creative outlet, horror fiction, which was cool. When Michael Laimo asked me to be part of a CD-ROM anthology called Bloodtype, authors were asked to contribute multimedia elements along with their stories. So I wrote and recorded a techno / instrumental “Theme to Bloodtype” that appeared on the disc. I recorded a few instrumental tracks for the publisher’s next CD-ROM release as well, Carnival / Circus, which I didn’t even have a story in. And around the same time, Martin Mundt, a friend of mine, was having a comic “serial killers in love” play produced at a small theater in Chicago, and asked me for some scene music. I ended up scoring several short pieces for that play, which was great fun, and probably drew out of me my best technical composition in the “Jackie Sexknife Theme”, which I’ve used on my MySpace page for the past couple of years. I’m hoping to find the time in the next few weeks to write a theme song for my next novel, Siren, since the text deals so heavily with music.

The August 2009 collection Infernally Yours, a tribute to Edward Lee’s Infernal world, includes your contribution “Then Shall The Reign of Lucifer End”. Could you provide an overview of the story? Also, in what ways did writing a tribute story challenge you as an author, and in what directions did you venture in that you don’t usually venture into?

Writing in Edward Lee’s Infernal world was daunting, because I’m a huge fan – I read his first entry in the series cover to cover in a hammock on the 4th of July a few years back. So in my mind, nothing that I could do would ever be “worthy”. Nevertheless, I wanted to try, and I am happy with how the story turned out. I think working in the world actually plays to my strengths because I’ve written several stories that take place in hellish afterlife places. In this one, a woman is abused to the point of death… in order to be pushed through a “soft” spot between our world and the Mephistopolis (Lee’s Hell). It’s a ritual designed to impregnate her in hell, because a human conceived in hell will ultimately become the heir to the dark throne.

Debut novel Covenant was originally released in November 2004, and won the Bram Stoker Award for Best First Novel. How well do you feel the book has aged, and what do you feel it says about where you were at as a writer at that time?

There are probably some elements to the newspaper Joe Kieran works for that don’t ring true any longer, since they were based on my experiences as a reporter twenty years ago – before the dawn of the Internet. But those aren’t really the focus of the story; I think in general it still holds up as a somewhat timeless small town horror yarn of demonic influence and possession. I’m very proud of the book, as it was my first, and took an enormous amount of work and rewriting to get it to see the dark of ink. I haven’t looked at the text myself in a couple of years, but I would hope that my writing style has grown a little more confident and natural in the years since I proved to myself that I could finish a novel. Because the hardest thing about that first book was simply having the confidence to believe that I could finish it.

In writing April 2009’s Sacrifice, your second novel, what new ingredients did you introduce that Covenant didn’t possibly have? And how much did the gap between writing the two books play a part?

Covenant was begun in 1995 and the first draft finished in 2000 (there were months and even years between the periods of active writing). Sacrifice was begun at the end of 2002 and after a two-year break, finished in early 2005. So I think just the fact that there were seven years between the initial plotting of each book had a big impact on their substance, because I was a different person when I began Sacrifice than the kid in his twenties who started Covenant. Likewise, my third novel, The 13th was begun (and finished) in 2008 – so there were six years between the vision of that book and the initial vision of Sacrifice. Most people don’t realize how far apart those novels all are from each other on my personal writing road, because while they encompass a fourteen-year period of writing, they were all released from Leisure within an eighteen-month period. I hope that with each I’ve grown as a writer and gotten better at crafting language and characters. But I have fans that rank each of those novels as their favorite out of my three currently available. So who knows – maybe I’m not getting better, just doing different things?

Since you wrote Covenant, how do you feel your writing has matured and evolved overall?

The biggest change is simply that I trust myself more. In the beginning I was a hobby writer, who wrote when I felt like it, and really didn’t know if I could complete a novel-length project that would hold up. After I did it once, and then twice and found that some people seemed to enjoy what I was doing, I got a little more confident and was able to trust my inner story teller a little more to just… go with it. I also have gotten more structured about setting aside specific time each week to write in order to meet deadlines… because it’s no longer simply a Sunday hobby, but a business with contractual deadlines to meet.

You tour to support your books quite often, though increasingly, more and more bookstores are being earmarked for closure. How much of an impact does the closure of bookstores affect an author like yourself, and independent publishers like Dark Arts?

The book business is tough all over. The closure of independent bookstores has hurt the distribution of my press, Dark Arts, because we are self-distributed, which means every handful of books we sell is important. And over the past two years stores have been buying fewer copies and three stores we used to distribute through closed, which amounted to thirty to forty fewer copies of our titles getting out there. When your initial print runs are in the two hundred to two hundred and fifty neighborhood, forty books is significant. That same thing plays out on the larger level as well. The large chain stores are stocking fewer of each midlist title than they did two years ago when Covenant came out. Which means as a relatively unknown writer, it’s more difficult to stand out on the shelf in Borders or Barnes & Noble to attract impulse buy readers and gain new fans. Because in the end, people buy what they see, and if they don’t see you…. well… only the die-hard horror fanatics seek out authors. But to sell tens of thousands of books, you have to expand your reach to a much broader audience. That’s why I’ve done so many bookstore appearances over the past two years – basically a couple dozen per title. Every time I sit in a bookstore for three hours, I entice anywhere from a handful to a couple dozen bookstore browsers to try my novels. Hopefully, some of them will become fans and recruit others to look for my work as well. It’s all about making introductions…

You began writing your fourth novel Siren on February 2nd 2009, finishing it on August 3rd, and it chronicles the story of Evan, a man extremely afraid of water. In terms of the book’s plot, what else can you reveal?

The horrible center of Siren is that Evan couldn’t save his own son from drowning because of his aquaphobia. That accidental death has left him and his wife living a steadily descending existence… Every night Evan walks the beach on the edge of the ocean, a veritable treading of the line between life and death for him. And when he hears the song of a beautiful nude woman on the rocks near the beach, he soon finds all of his fears and everything he holds dear challenged.

You remarked that Siren is your “most personal novel to date”. In what ways is that so?

The story was inspired in part by my fears as a new father – of losing my son to some horrible, uncontrollable accident. I couldn’t have written the book when I wrote Covenant or Sacrifice, because I didn’t have any experience with those heart-crushing fears. The irony is that in terms of trying to draw similarities between the characters and my own life, I actually love to swim and it’s my son who has turned out over the past year to be really afraid of the water. But I didn’t really know that about him when I began the book.

You’re currently finishing a three story e-chapbook for Delirium Books. What can you reveal about these three stories, as well as other future projects in the works?

The chapbook is tentatively titled Creeptych, and involves three stories that are connected only in the sense that bugs are at their core. Two of them were stories previously accepted by venues which folded. “Bad Day” was written for a zombie anthology called Aim for the Head which never happened, and “Eardrum Buzz” is a music-related horror tale that had sold to Red Scream Magazine, which subsequently folded without publishing the story. I’ve just written “Violet Lagoon”, a novelette, to complete the collection. That piece is based on the prologue for a novel I’m hoping to write in the future called Violet Eyes. The novelette has a Blue Lagoon motif going on with two lascivious co-ed couples and bugs – legions of strange spiders and flies – lots of bugs.

As far as other projects, I just finished a story for Necro Publications’ Into the Darkness anthology, and I contracted in January with Leisure Books for my fifth novel, The Pumpkin Man, which will likely be out in the first quarter of 2011. I started work on the novel in January and my “free” time will be focused largely on completing that book over the next four to five months. It draws its inspiration in part from a story of the same name that I published in Doorways Magazine a couple of years ago, and weaves in elements of urban legend, ouija boards, witchery and, of course, the oil that fuels so much of my horror: sex and blood.

For more information about John Everson, visit his official website.


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