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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