Today I welcome master of the macabre, John Everson, who's been a guest here before. He's stopping by today to share a little about his latest release, The Pumpkin Man, which I can't wait to sink my fangs into. Some of you may have read his short story, Pumpkin Head, which was one of those which didn't quite leave me.
Editor's note: Go to the new site for The Pumpkin Man: http://www.thepumpkinman-horror.com and ask the online Ouija Board your darkest questions! And then enter the contest to win free autographed John Everson books or e-books, as well as autographed CDs from the band New Years Day. Make sure you note that you are entering the contest from Nerine Dorman's blog when you enter the contest--someone from the blog will win an e-book edition of The Pumpkin Man, and be added to the Grand Prize contest!
You've got this thing for pumpkins. There was that infamous short story a few years ago. What prompted The Pumpkin Man and is there any connection to the Legend of Sleepy Hollow?
I do love my jack-o-lanterns! Love to carve them, and love to see them in October--they just MAKE the mood of Halloween for me. The genesis of this novel does go back in a sense to that "infamous" story you refer to (Pumpkin Head)--due to its erotic horror nature, the story couldn't really be read in mixed company, though it's my most popular piece of short fiction and is perfect for Halloween. A few years ago I was doing a lot of Halloween-oriented library appearances where I would read a short story and talk about horror to both kids and adults, so I decided to write a more "family friendly" horror story, again using that Halloween standard--the pumpkin. The original story The Pumpkin Man was about kids who go visit this pumpkin patch where the proprietor is known for his amazing jack-o-lantern carvings. But then the darker side of it all comes out when one of the boys witnesses him carve his friend's face into a pumpkin... and the friend is never seen again after that night.
When it came time to write my fifth novel, I thought about the "horror" of that short story--the idea of a guy who could transfer people's essence to a gourd with his knife--and decided there was a much bigger tale to tell there. The novel uses that short story (which is going to be reprinted next year in an anthology called All American Horror of the 21st Century) as deep background. The novel is set 20+ years in the future of the short story. It seems that back in the 1980s, The Pumpkin Man of the short story was captured and hung by a lynch mob after being accused of murdering a half dozen children. Today, Jennica and her friend Kirstin, two young school teachers, move into a California coastal cottage that Jenn inherits after the murder of her father. But the townspeople shun her for her relationship to the previous owner (Jenn's aunt, who had the reputation of being a witch), and it seems The Pumpkin Man has returned for a new cycle of killings... if Jennica doesn't use the arcane books and magical detritus left behind by her aunt to discover the true history of The Pumpkin Man quickly, the lives of everyone she knows may be forfeit!
What are some of the underlying themes running through The Pumpkin Man?
This is a classic horror novel about the unstoppable "thing in the night". You don't know quite what it is, or why it is... but it's coming for you. There are themes of loss (Jenn has just lost her dad and a few months earlier, her aunt), loneliness and isolation, but it's also a story of coming to terms with who you are, and what you want in your life--positive affirmation. I played with the whole "urban legend" element that you see in movies like Candyman, as well as the idea of the Ouija board as a channel to contact the other side. But when you open communication with the other side... you're never quite sure who you're talking to, are you?
What in your mind makes for good horror in fiction?
Good horror fiction, like any fiction, should make you feel for the characters so that you're eager to turn the page to find out what happens to them next... but at the same time, you're afraid for what might happen to them next! It should play to fears that most people can identify with, so that the reader is really drawn into the fear that the characters are experiencing.
Are there any anecdotes you'd care to share that occurred while writing The Pumpkin Man? Did you visit particular locations or conduct any research that was out of the ordinary for you?
The Pumpkin Man really continues my love of the northern California coastline. I'm from the middle of the United States, near Chicago... so we don't have mountains or ocean here. But one of my favorite destinations in the world over the years has been San Francisco. I've been lucky enough to have multiple business trips there, and also have taken a couple vacations there. I love the mixed culture of the city, and the amazing geography--you can go an hour in any direction and experience just about any season!
My previous novel Siren is set in a remote town a couple hours' drive north along the coastline from San Francisco, and as I finished the editing of that book, I was really fortunate to have a trip that took me to San Francisco again. I tagged on an extra day to the trip and drove up the coastline to essentially do "location" scouting. I made sure my descriptions in Siren were accurate (in a general sense--the town I set Siren in doesn't exist). At the same time, I scouted the place where I wanted to set The Pumpkin Man. I found a town called Jenner which was perfect. It's a tiny seaside spot with the echo of sea lions barking in the distance from the estuary north of town. I changed the location a little bit to suit the novel and renamed the town, but Jenner is the model for River's End. I even wrote a couple chapters of the book while I was on that trip.
How do you approach your writing process? Do you work with an overview or does the story flow organically? Do you have any writing tips you'd care to share?
I used to sit down with just a loose idea of the beginning of the story and where it might ultimately end up... and then I would just come up with everything on the fly. As my career has progressed, I've had to get a little more structured, since I'm selling my novels to my publisher ahead of writing them--which means I need to present them with a much clearer idea of what I intend to write than I used to have when I wrote my first three books! The stories still invent pieces of themselves that I never imagined at the start, and that keeps it fun for me--while I'm writing the story, I'm also entertaining myself--telling me the kind of story that I want to read each day that I sit down to write. Because of that, I am a completely linear writer--I write the story from beginning to end, I don't jump around, as I know some writers do.
In terms of writing tips? The main one is to just force yourself to maintain a regular writing schedule. Writing fiction is just like any discipline--the more you practice it, the better you become (hopefully!). It's not something where you wait for the magic to strike, and then you sit and miraculously transfer that to the computer. The magic only hits because you've put your butt in a chair and worked every day or every couple days for a long period of time. And sometimes, the parts of the book that you thought were the slowest and least inspired while writing turn out to be really good, in retrospect. So you can't doubt and second guess yourself while writing -- you just have to force the story out onto the page.
Worry about editing the blob later after you have it down start to finish.
Or, in my case, carving the blob into a really refined, haunted face!
Visit The Pumpkin Man at www.thepumpkinman-horror.com. And stop by John's main site too, at www.johneverson.com