By, Vince A. Liaguno
Although you’d think a novelist spends day and night hunched over a laptop, John Everson is something of a creative dabbler. In fact, it’s not uncommon to find him assuming one of many artistic roles at any given time: as a musician laying down tracks in his home studio; as a digital artist creating small press book covers; as an editor putting together cutting-edge anthologies; as a business owner operating the small press he co-founded in 2006; as a weekend horticulturist; or even as an aficionado of 1970’s European grindhouse fare. Fortunately for his growing fanbase of readers, these myriad pastimes don’t distract him from creating the dark fiction for which he’s best known, having penned the Stoker Award-winning novel Covenant (2004), its follow-up Sacrifice (2007), and his latest, the giallo-esque The 13th (2009).
Dark Scribe Magazine caught up with Everson for a baker’s dozen of questions in between stops on his latest promotional tour. In his first DSM sit-down, the dark scribe discusses his gory new novel, numerological superstitions, and why he doesn’t worry about crossing lines.
Dark Scribe Magazine: Tell us about your latest book, The 13th.
John Everson: The 13th centers around Castle House Lodge, an old hotel that was once a rich man’s resort destination. But after years of deterioration and a dark history of mass homicide, it was abandoned to the mountainous terrain on which it was hidden — until Dr. Barry Rockford buys the property and reopens it as a remote asylum for mentally broken pregnant women. When David Shale, a failed Olympic cyclist takes a job as a groundskeeper for the asylum, he starts noticing strange things are afoot — macabre patient artwork, a red X on the basement door, and a glimpse at a girl through an upstairs window who looks strangely like his missing girlfriend…
Dark Scribe: The book is being released in two different editions?
John Everson: I wrote The 13th for Leisure Books – it was my first novel sold directly to them. But I’ve always had strong ties to the small press (Covenant and Sacrifice, my first two Leisure releases were both first released by Delirium Books). Don D’Auria, my editor at Leisure, was fine with me working with the small press to do a limited hardcover edition of The 13th. So Necro Publications, which issued my short story collection Needles & Sins a couple years ago, put out the limited hardcover. Travis Anthony Soumis, the artist who did the Needles & Sins cover (the art of which is also a prominent part of my web presence) did the evocative art for Necro’s edition of The 13th as well.
Dark Scribe: The covers for both editions have a very giallo quality to them. Are there giallo elements in the story itself?
John Everson: There is some influence there. Though it’s not written as a classic killer giallo story, I immersed myself in a ton of European ‘70s horror films in the months prior to writing The 13th. I didn’t write much during that period, I just camped out on weekends with films from Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci, Mario Bava, Jean Rollin and more. I definitely tried to capture some of the “Technicolor blood” feel of that era of film when I started on The 13th.
Dark Scribe: Were there any books or films that influenced The 13th?
John Everson: The creepy old lodge, the strange ceremonies in the basement, the healthy doses of nudity and blood… I blame it all on a strong diet of ‘70s grindhouse and Euro-horror.
Dark Scribe: Why do you think the number 13 gets such a bad rap?
John Everson: People love superstition. We always look for “meaning” in things that goes beyond what we see. So once somebody picks something to “curse” with a meaning… it sticks. Why is 7 lucky? Why is 666 the number of the beast? Why is 69 the best number on earth? Ancient cultures ascribed meaning and found power in numbers; as if the additive aspects of numbers work in some metaphysical sense. There are theories that some of the superstitions revolving around the number 13 come from the lunar calendar — it is the number after the natural division of 12, an even division of the year. There are 12 days of Christmas, and 12 months, and 12 apostles… to go beyond that is somehow… evil! There is even a phobia name for fear of 13 — Triskaidekaphobia. Go figure. I’d live on the 13th floor in a heartbeat. Trouble is, even in a modern 21st century culture… we won’t name the 13th floor that. How sackcloth and ashes is that?
Dark Scribe: A quote from our own review of the book: “Everson frequently writes stories that involve demons, kinky sex, and ritualistic murders. In his previous novels, he managed to walk the tightrope and keep the story from digressing into misogyny. If Everson didn’t cross that line this time, he certainly stopped just short of it.” There are persistent misogyny claims leveled at the horror genre in general. Are you aware of this aspect of your work when you write — and how do you keep from crossing that line?
John Everson: I’m aware of the fact that a number of my lead characters are male, as being male is what I know, and that they share some of my own natural strengths and weaknesses. In general, they find themselves trying to save somebody that they love (and thus, by my own sexual predilections, said victim is naturally female).
I think there are a number of factors that contribute to this “woman as victim” aspect of horror. First, women are the lifegivers, the “mother”. What is more heinous and horrible than to destroy the font of life? Men, biologically, serve only one purpose — to service the mother and procreate the race. Nothing more. So the worst sin is to destroy a woman.
Layered on top of that is the social philosophy that women are the weaker sex (they’re not) and thus make better “victims” of any horrific plot. Certainly they tend to scream better than men.
Layer on top of that that the majority of horror writers are men, who by nature of their sex are more likely to pit their evil construct against their natural opposite – a woman – and thus have a hero (patterned after their male selves) try to save her...and you have layer upon layer of reasons for women to be the “victim” in a horror story. If the majority of horror writers were women, I’d hazard that there might be far more hapless male victims in the genre than females. Though even then, the women writers might be swayed by the core human concern that I voiced first — women are our procreative center, no matter who is writing the story. And putting that center –and by extrapolation, all of our survival – in peril is our race’s deepest taboo and fear.
As far as crossing lines? I don’t worry about lines when I’m writing. I tell the story that begs to be told. Nothing more, nothing less.
Dark Scribe: How is The 13th different from Covenant and Sacrifice?
John Everson: My first two novels were connected, and played off a constructed mythology of the Curburide — a race of succubic demons who thrive on sex and violence. Both novels deal with attempts to protect our world from an incursion of the Curburide. With The 13th, I again deal with an occult backdrop, but this time from a more historical mythology. Ba’al and Astarte both play into this text, because they are connected with fertility, war and debauchery.
Dark Scribe: Of your three full-length novels, which one would you most like to see adapted for the big screen?
John Everson: I’d love to see The 13th adapted because it’s a really fun, fast story and there are copious amounts of sex and blood...however, for the same reason, I think it may be difficult to shoot. Nobody is likely going to focus on the nudity and blood in a way that truly puts the story on the screen. Sacrifice, which also has a fair amount of sex, blood and action, would make a good film, I think, because it involves ritual erotic murders — but it would be easier to show “less” of those than the book’s text does and still follow the story. There’s a bloody orgy in The 13th that would definitely get an NC-17 rating if it was shot faithfully.
Dark Scribe: Your bibliography also includes three short story collections to your name – Needles & Sins, Vigilantes of Love, and Cage of Bones & Other Deadly Obsessions. If you had to pick one story from each collection as a personal favorite, which ones would you pick and why?
John Everson: Tough question! There are more than 50 stories between those books, including my first piece every published…and I have to narrow to three?
Cage of Bones was my first collection, released by Delirium in 2000, and I have to mention two stories from that book – “Pumpkin Head” was my favorite reprint in the book, and has remained one of my most popular stories – it’s been printed a handful of times, including a French translation. The story works well because it plays off the rampant, try-anything lusts of a teenaged boy with the spooky trappings of Halloween. The other story in the collection that I really love is “Bloodroses,” the closer. I wrote that one after the book was basically done; when the cover artist turned in this gorgeously dark cover with roses, a woman’s face and barbed wire, I really wanted to do something to capture the dangerous allure of the art. That’s where “Bloodroses” came from and I think it’s one of my best stories overall. Since Cage of Bones has been out of print so long, it was reprinted in Needles and Sins. I really enjoy performing both of those stories at live readings.
From Vigilantes of Love, my favorite is probably “Calling of the Moon.” It was a quiet dark urban fantasy inspired by a woman from England who I met on a plane on the way to San Francisco a few years ago. She told me all about how the full moon has always kept her awake, since she was a child. It “called to her” every month and she’d be awake all night. I took that “call” a step further and set the story in one of my favorite cities, San Francisco, since that’s where I was headed when I met her, and where I wrote a good portion of the text. It ended up getting an Honorable Mention in the Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror anthology that year.
Finally, from Needles & Sins, my pick would be “Letting Go.” That story was on the Bram Stoker ballot last year, and is one of my favorites because while it’s set in this strange limbo that merges the trappings of both heaven and hell simultaneously, it’s really a personal story; letting go of people, things, jobs…is something I’m really bad at.
Dark Scribe: You do quite a bit of touring in support of your books. What’s your oddest book signing experience and the strangest item you’ve ever been asked to sign?
John Everson: Ha — you’ve been following my Twitter feed! The strangest things I’ve signed are the hands of two high school girls, and the back of a crumpled receipt that a guy pulled out of his pocket in Indianapolis — while he was hanging around in a Borders, he couldn’t afford to buy a book. But he thought it was really cool to meet an author.
I’ve met a lot of really, um, off-center, people along my bookstore stops. It seems like every store has at least one “character” there every night. And they always have a story to tell. I’ve heard about hauntings, been given an impromptu course in the damage that Oriental martial arts and fighting stars can do, and one guy last fall told me about how his wife had been hit-on by Adolf Hitler.
There are a lot of interesting stories out there. Some of them are probably even true. And some of them are colored by glasses that you and I will never wear. And wouldn’t want to.
Dark Scribe: What’s your favorite part of the writing process? Least favorite?
John Everson: My favorite is when I am working on a scene and it just...flows. The times when I really get lost in the narrative and the world around me disappears in favor of the world I’m writing about. Those are the times that my fingers can’t type fast enough and when they are over, I mourn being forced to return to the here and now.
The least favorite is proofing. I really don’t like reading my work over and over again — when I’ve written it, for me it’s done, and I hate revisiting! I generally don’t watch movies or read books a second time...so it’s a pulling teeth process to lock me to the manuscript editing phase.
Dark Scribe: You were first published in 1994. In the ensuing 15 years, what have you seen change the most in the world of publishing — both for the better and for the worse?
John Everson: Obviously the Internet has changed a lot about publishing, both in terms of ease of access and promotion. Not surprisingly, that’s a double-edged sword; the “filter” of good editing has probably been eroded by the ease of access, and the amount of promotion via email and social networks has gotten so overwhelming that it’s hard to tell what is worth checking out.
For me, I miss the small communities that used to spring up around small press print magazines. They each used to really have singular identities and every time you stumbled on one and got a copy via mail order, it was like discovering a secret society. Each quarter when magazines like Figment, Terminal Fright, Crossroads, Grue, Dead of Night, and others hit my mailbox, I’d drop everything and sit down and leaf through to see what was going on in all of the hidden “pools” of horror. While the Internet has made it easier for the community to interact and correspond...to me it has also encouraged a homogeneity of sorts. Some of the joy in reading and writing for magazines of the ‘90s was being a part of a small “club”. That’s really gone forever now, I think.
Dark Scribe: What can you tell us about your next book, Siren?
John Everson: I just turned in the novel to Leisure last month, actually. It will be out next summer. Siren is the story of Evan, a guy who is deathly afraid of the water. So afraid that his paralysis stopped him from saving his son from drowning a year before. He’s been living a walking death ever since, until one night, as he walks along the beach considering suicide for the umpteenth time, he hears this amazing song coming from the rocks by the bay. When he approaches, he realizes the singer is nude, and when she sees him, she dives away, not to resurface. When she returns the next night, he learns her name is Ligeia...and before long, he is completely entranced by her beauty, music and eroticism. But Evan never wanted to cheat on his wife, and when his conscience prevails and he tries to say goodbye, he finds the leaving won’t be easy. Because there is nothing worse than a woman scorned...nothing worse except a pregnant woman scorned. And Ligeia is going to have Evan’s baby…
Siren really plays off the most horrible fear of fatherhood, as well as the deadly allure of lust coupled with a strong dose of music — which has always been one of the most important things in my life. I’m really proud of this book, and can’t wait until people can read it. Of course first...this month, I’m anxious to see what people think of The 13th!
For more information about John Everson, visit his official author website.