Interview with Ivan Ewert

by Jennifer 9. August 2017 09:18

Interview with Ivan Ewert, author of Famished: The Gentlemen Ghouls Omnibus. Pre-order here.

Ivan Ewert was born in Chicago, Illinois, and has never wandered far afield. He has deep roots in the American Midwest, finding a sense of both belonging and terror within the endless surburban labyrinths, deep north woods, tangled city streets and boundless prairie skies. The land and the cycles of the year both speak to him and inform his writing; which revolves around the strange, the beautiful, the delicious and the unseen.

How did it feel to finish up the series finally?
To be honest, it was an unbelievable relief. Finishing every book gave me a little shot of joy, but the series as a whole was like removing a ton of bricks from my shoulders. As you mention below, some of the story elements weren’t very pleasant to dwell on – and I carried them around in my head for over ten years. My procrastination and masochism seemed to enjoy joining forces for this process.

Of course, relief’s not the only feeling, and the project was worth its weight to me. I was very proud of finishing three novels and several short stories. While there are more writers today than ever before in our history, many of whom are far more prolific than I, it still felt like a great accomplishment. My father had encouraged me to get something printed on the way to his deathbed, so there’s a great deal of emotion tied up with that as well.

The one thing I’ll certainly miss is an excuse to work directly with Apocalypse Ink Productions. Nothing I’ve done would have seen the light of day without their encouragement, professionalism, and understanding.

 

Where did Gordon and the Ghouls come from? (Inspiration)
Gordon’s got a lot of me in him. Probably more than was wise, but I started this series when I was young and (more) foolish. I wanted my protagonist to suffer from self-doubt, especially after he unknowingly takes part in such a terrible act, rather than the kind of cocky swagger so many of my protagonists have manifested. Making him Catholic let me reflect that great snowballing guilt – from one sin to another, and with little means of confessing to anyone who would listen after all he has done.

The origin of the Ghouls themselves is in the little towns that dot the Illinois prairie. Towns like Mahomet, Lick Creek, Kinmundy... all these tiny places that seem wrapped up in something older and more terrible than a rail stop, a bar and a lone crossroads. I pass through them driving south to Georgia, or west to the Quad Cities, and I can’t help but cast them with terrible secrets.

On top of that, there’s my sense that America has been devouring itself for centuries. The constant, rapacious hunger of the American character turns itself inward and perverts its original drive. Making the Ghouls some of the first inhabitants let me play with that idea.

 

How did you choose your settings?
Google Maps. I mean, I started in Madison, Wisconsin because I’m very familiar with it and its surroundings; but after than I had to locate places that were far enough off the grid that a group like the Ghouls could actually function without too many questions being asked by neighbors.

You would not believe the trouble I went to in The Commons to find Carol’s house. I’ve still got it pinned to my personal maps, with notes on where the cul-de-sacs end, which forests are where, the location of fast food establishments. It’s a really remarkable tool, though it’s no substitute for actually being there.

In terms of broad geographical settings, I only intended to tell the story of The Farm at first, in the region I’ve lived all my life, the one I know best. When I was asked to expand New England, the South and the West were the most obvious divisions across America, the different tribes at war. Moreso now than before, but regardless.

 

What's your writing process?
It’s what you’d call scattershot. I don’t (yet) have a standard time of day to sit down to write or revise – so I write when I have some time to myself, and plenty of time in the day. Solitude is important, I’m not a coffeehouse writer, partly because I know too many people in town. Every time I’ve tried it, I run into a friend, and writing time turns into catching up. Which is lovely, in its way, but not conducive to finished product. By the same token, when my family’s in the house, I feel like I should be present for them rather than sequestering myself in a writing den. So it’s mostly early mornings or evenings after dinner when everyone has a movie to watch.

I typically turn on music and attack the next chapter in order of appearance. I can’t write jumping from chapter to chapter or scene to scene, things get too chaotic and the connecting scenes take much more work to re-write if I don’t get them down organically. Sometimes something in the future will come to me, and in that case I try to write it down and stick it in a different file, then paste it in for edits later. For the most part, though, it’s always 1-2-3-4-etc.

I’ve become a planner rather than a pantser. I want to know what needs to happen in every chapter before I sit down to write them, to construct at least a skeleton. In short fiction that’s less true – I’m happy to be surprised in those cases – but for long form novels I need to know.

 

How did you handle revisions?
I print out the entire work and read it through, line by line, usually tracing it with a red pen. I’ll mark the document up that way, then fix the work in the computer. That’s mostly just for typos and minor edits.

After that I print up a second copy which I read, aloud, on my own. That lets me catch any awkward dialogue, runs of my beloved alliteration or too much poetry in the prose for this work’s taste. While I’m doing that I will mark up areas that need to be stronger, sharper, or entirely rewritten. Then it’s back to the computer to do that work.

After that it goes to beta readers. I immediately fix any additional typos or grammatical issues, and file away any comments on things they don’t understand or disagree with. Once everyone’s comments are in, I look for common threads and attack those first, then go through individual commentary to see if I understand or agree with their issues.

After all of that is set, it’s off to Apocalypse Ink’s editor for the final go-round. I’ve been fortunate in that most revisions at that stage have been relatively minor, and relatively agreeable to me.

 

You didn't flinch at some of the story elements, how did that make you feel?
The technical term is “squicky.” The final scenes of the trilogy were very, very difficult to write and keep my head on straight – not to mention keeping my appetite. Gordon’s experience in the Pen, his solitary anguish in the north woods, the perimeter around Carol’s house, probably more. All of these were difficult to push through, and required me to recognize the darkness I carry around. I work hard to repress that darkness in my everyday life, so in some ways, fiction is a nice release valve. On the other hand, I’ve kept myself up nights after writing some scenes.

It’s a curious thing, writing horror, when you identify more with the innocent victims than the “interesting” killers. I’ve always felt more pity for those in trouble than excitement around their plight. I never had the fascination some do with serial killers or mass murder. I’ve never watched Dexter, Hannibal... I’ve never even watched Silence of the Lambs, which seems strange when I say it aloud, but it’s the truth. I’m not a fan of watching horror. I enjoy reading it, but seeing it visually creates more of an issue for me; and when I write I have to see the images in my mind. So it causes a certain amount of queasiness.

 

Do you think there are more Gordon stories out there?
I know there’s at least one: The Chainfields lay in the Southeast, the final bastion of the Gentleman Ghouls.

However, I’ve grown a great deal since initially coming up with that concept and that name, and I’m now keenly aware that I am not the person to tell that story. Even if I were, it’s a story that hardly needs to be retold and recast, particularly at this stage of history.

While my wife and her family are from the region, I’ve got no ties to it aside from them. My family has always been north of the Mason-Dixon line, and as such we only have the ties to slavery that all Americans everywhere must carry. It’s not something I can expunge with a horror novel, and I’m not about to try anytime soon.

 

What's next?
I’m working on a young adult urban fantasy which should be lighter in tone than Famished: The Gentleman Ghouls. One of the neighborhood kids has been asking why he can’t read my stuff, so I promised him something he’d be able to read. It would be nice to have something my wife and mother could read as well!

Aside from that, I’m also working on monologues to be delivered live. I’ve performed in a number of one-man shows and truly enjoyed them, and would really love to be able to present my own work onstage one day. So I’m studying people like Spaulding Grey and Mike Daisey, working to see how they transformed their own experiences into spoken word. Of course, they’ve had more interesting lives. No matter. Just means I have to work at spicing things up a bit.

 

 

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Interview with Wendy Hammer

by Jennifer 2. August 2017 09:50

Today we have a quick talk with author Wendy Hammer about The Cross Cutting Trilogy.

Wendy Hammer lives in Indiana with her husband, a collection of books, and a stockpile of tea. Her fiction has appeared in Urban Fantasy Magazine, Evil Girlfriend Media Shorts, the Shapeshifter Chronicles, and elsewhere online. You can find her trying to keep it reasonably weird on twitter as @Wendyhammer13.

 

How does it feel to write "The End" on the series?
Pretty awesome, actually. Though I loved writing the characters, I’m really pleased I got the chance to finish the main storyline and tie the three novellas together. The challenge of making each novella both a full story on its own and a part of a larger arc was one of the most interesting and daunting aspects of this project. I learned a lot from it and that feels good.

 

How did you develop your characters?
I tend to develop characters by daydreaming. I walk or drive or sit around and think. Sometimes I chew on questions. Sometimes I look for images or music for inspiration. The Cross Cutting trilogy began by thinking about city-based magic. Who would wield it? What would happen if they didn’t have a territory they’d bonded to? I started to play with locations and an image of Trinidad took form. I first imagined her on the walking trail in Indianapolis with her knife in her pocket, ready to hunt down some monsters. After that, I needed to fill in her world. I looked for balances—complements and opposites.

Fireman Dan started from a memory from my college days. Iris was inspired by a picture I found during an image search for pink hair and tattoos. I liked the idea of Trinidad’s romantic interest being soft-spoken and sensitive despite looking fierce and formidable. I originally envisioned Ache with electric blue Liberty Spikes, but that didn’t last long. The daydreaming trial and error process is all part of the fun.

 

What was your initial inspiration?
I’ve always had a soft spot for the “making camp” sections in quest stories or games, and one of my favorite parts of that is when magic users set wards, people stand guard, and all that. It’s a cool bit of magic and has the potential for both danger and juicy character interactions. So, I guess the interest in location magic has been roiling about in my story-brain for ages.

The inspiration moment happened while I was walking around downtown Indy around GenCon and I saw a group of crime scene vans parked along the path. I knew then I wanted to write a story featuring those vans and figured what better foe than a protagonist most comfortable with her feet on the ground?

 

Why choose Indianapolis/Lafayette as your setting?
I picked Indianapolis for two reasons. First, the vans and the path I’d been walking felt like the best match for the story and I liked the immediacy of the experience. Second, I wanted to write an Urban Fantasy set outside of one of the genre’s mainstay locations.

I wanted to move the primary location to the Lafayette area in part because I live there and I know it better. But, really, I picked it because it has so many liminal spaces and contradictions. Lafayette/West Lafayette are joined but distinct. It’s urban and rural, industrial and agricultural, farm and factory. It’s also a college town. Purdue University is this delightful mix of scientists, engineers, and creators. It has a huge population of international students and they help transform the community in all sorts of exciting ways.

Lafayette felt like a solid choice for my found family of characters to live. And it’s my way of saying that even in one of those states many may only see in the red mass on a map, we’re here.

 

What happens when your editor says "Do more x" on revisions?
Most of the time, I’m happy to get confirmation that something wasn’t quite right and I see what needs to be done right away. I can brainstorm, rework, push, and pare back because I have a better idea of where the story’s weakness is. When it isn’t quite as obvious I reread the whole story. I think about what I was trying to do and take a look at how the pieces fit together. I try to see how deep the problem goes. I plan as best as I can and then leap on in. Sometimes I nail it. Sometimes I need another pass or two.

 

What was the best part about writing The Cross Cutting Trilogy?
It’s hard to choose, but I think it comes down to the satisfaction of getting the pieces to come together. The Cross Cutting title is partly a play on “cutting cross” or taking a short cut (appropriate for a Walker), a nod to the cut between worlds, and a reference to a filmmaking technique that interweaves separate scenes. Taking this journey with these characters, managing two points of view, and creating monsters and menaces that could work both independently and as part of a larger threat was wonderful.

 

What was the hardest?
Aside from learning some hard lessons about managing deadlines with work and life stress—I’d say one of the most difficult was appropriately handling the voice of the characters. The trilogy is basically written in a fairly close third. It’s my sweet spot most of the time because you can have some distance but still weave in lots of flavor in the narrative language outside of dialogue. At the same time, what can make prose vibrant runs the risk of falling into overkill or just sounding off. Trinidad is Caribbean and Irish—she’s a fighter, a POC, and not an American. Ache is a man, a musician and a body builder. Trying to see the world through their eyes and find language that reflects it meant a lot of research, a lot of open tabs for specialized dictionaries and websites, and a lot of conversation. It didn’t always make for speedy writing, but it was certainly rewarding.

 

What's next?
I’ve got a handful of short stories I’m working on, but my primary focus is a novel. It’s my first secondary world fantasy—with heists, magic, performing arts, rogue healers, and a whole lot of buried secrets threatening to rise up and turn everything upside down. I’m both terrified and exhilarated—which feels just about right.

 

 

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