Interview: Bev Vincent on ‘The Dark Tower Companion’

DTCompanionMuch like Roland Deschain does in the second Dark Tower book, The Drawing of the Three, Stephen King has drawn various individuals into his strange and captivating world as his long journey in Roland’s world has progressed. These people have become part of King’s own ka-tet, a group united in purpose. King’s purpose was to create the journey; these others have been brought in to enrich it.

Among them I count Michael Whelan, whose art graced the first Dark Tower book (The Gunslinger) as well as the last (The Dark Tower). I count Robin Furth, who came on as a research assistant when King began work on the what was then the final three volumes of the series, and has gone on to contribute much to this ever-expanding world. And I count Bev Vincent, who has now written two books about the Dark Tower series, each of them providing valuable insight into King’s complex masterpiece.

In this exclusive interview, we talk some about Vincent’s first book, The Road to the Dark Tower, but concentrate mainly on his new project: The Dark Tower Companion, due out on April 2 from New American Library (with special limited editions forthcoming from Cemetery Dance). We also talk about many of the topics Vincent covers in his new book, from proposed film versions of the Dark Tower story to the compelling, divisive way in which King ended the series. (Don’t worry, there’s a large SPOILER ALERT in place before you get there!)

How did The Dark Tower Companion come about?

I’ve been asked a number of times whether I planned to update The Road to the Dark Tower to include The Wind Through the Keyhole and other material that has been released since my first book came out in 2004. When a Dark Tower film was announced for 2013, I pitched this idea to my agent. He suggested that something totally new would be better than an update so that’s what I did. I went back to ground zero and wrote a completely new book—it’s 50% longer than The Road to the Dark Tower, but it uses none of the previous material.

What sets this new book apart from The Road to the Dark Tower?

The Road to the Dark Tower was intended for people who had finished the series and wanted to explore it in greater depth. After the first chapter, there was no safe ground—it was spoilers all the way down. The only way to discuss the ultimate significance of things was to reveal future events.

DTComicWhen it came time to write The Dark Tower Companion, I thought about readers who might be introduced to the Dark Tower series from sources other than the books themselves. For example, the Marvel graphic novels were very popular and some people who had read them but not the books might be curious about certain details. Also, when the movies are produced, there will be viewers who may want to know more about a particular character or event. The Dark Tower Companion was written with these people in mind. I’m careful about what I reveal about the series ending, for example.

However, it’s also a handy reference guide for people who have read — or are reading — the series. It has an extensive glossary of people, places and things, which wasn’t in The Road to the Dark Tower, as well as chapters on Mid-World history and geography, including maps of Manhattan and Mid-World. It’s less analytical than my first book and more expansive. It’s also the first book to explore the Marvel adaptations and how they relate to King’s novels.

What sets it apart from Robin Furth’s The Dark Tower: The Complete Concordance?

Robin’s book is structured like a Biblical concordance, hence the name. People associated with a particular event or location are grouped together. So, if you want to look up Allie, you first have to find the section on people from Tull. There’s a logic and a benefit to this approach, but I used a different one. My glossary is divided into two sections — Mid-World people, places and things, and those from “our” world. Beyond that, it’s all alphabetical.

Also, my book contains plot synopses of the books and essays on various topics, including a few at the end in which I contemplate the significance of certain things, (such as) “Who was Roland’s greatest adversary?” And, of course, “What does the ending mean?”

Also, The Dark Tower Companion contains interviews with King, Ron Howard, Akiva Goldsman, Brian Stark, Robin Furth, Peter David, Richard Isanove, Jae Lee and several other Marvel artists. These pieces all reveal never-before-disclosed details about various aspects of the Dark Tower universe.

What is it about this series that has prompted you to write two in-depth books about it? Are there other series that you’d like to examine in a similar fashion?

As much as the Dark Tower series has been a constant in King’s life—he’s been working on it since 1970 — it’s been a constant in mine since 1984, when I read The Gunslinger for the first time. I’ve lived with the series in real time, waiting for the next installment to come out at 4-6 year intervals. When I heard that the final three books were done in manuscript, I proposed The Road to the Dark Tower as a way of exploring King’s work and themes without having to tackle everything he’s ever written, a daunting task. I treat the series as a microcosm of his literary world. That first book was my way of solidifying my thoughts and starting a conversation about them.

Having spent so much time deep inside the Dark Tower universe, I find myself thinking about it a lot and discussing it with a wide variety of people, so the second book came naturally. It was probably the backwards way of doing things — in depth first and then more expansive but less analytical second, but I’m glad I did it that way because I was able to cover the newer material in the more expansive book, The Dark Tower Companion.

There are other series that I’ve considered exploring, but the ones I’m most eager to tackle aren’t yet complete, so I have to bide my time if I want to do something with them.

What is your working relationship with Stephen King like on these books? Does he have final approval over what goes in them?

First off, The Road to the Dark Tower couldn’t have happened the way it did without King’s cooperation. He showed a great deal of faith and trust by giving me copies of the first draft manuscripts of Wolves of the Calla, Song of Susannah and The Dark Tower two years before they were published. I had so many secrets to keep for such a long time!

When I was writing that book, I asked King questions from time to time, but he’s a very busy guy as you might imagine, so I tried not to bother him too much. Mostly I bounced observations off him to see if I was on target or off the mark about something.

When it was going into production, my editor said they wanted to put “Authorized by Stephen King” on the cover. I asked King for his opinion about this and he said he was okay with it, but was that something I wanted? It implied, he said, that he had control over what I’d written, which wasn’t the case, and might weaken people’s perception of the book’s integrity. He did ask to see the manuscript prior to publication, primarily to fact check since I was working from the unedited manuscripts of the last three books, but he didn’t request any changes.

For The Dark Tower Companion, I decided to bother him just the once, for the interview.

Were there significant differences between the first draft manuscripts of the last Dark Tower books and the versions that were published?

There were some substantial changes between the first draft and the copy edited versions and the final published books. I had to verify every quote that I used (a couple of times!) and fact check with each new version. There are a couple of “mistakes” in my chapter on the seventh book in The Road to the Dark Tower because King changed some details in the final version, which I didn’t have access to until after my book was done.

GunslingerThere’s been talk in the past of King going back and revising some of the Dark Tower books, similar to what he’s already done with The Gunslinger. Is that something you’d like to see happen?

I asked him about that in the interview in The Dark Tower Companion and he replied that it would be good, rewarding work for him, but that the differences would be so subtle that only the most dedicated Dark Tower fans would notice. Some readers might be upset to think that they’d bought something new only to discover that it was substantially the same.

I would much rather see him write new material than go back and tinker with books that are already finished and ingrained in my mind. I appreciate what he did with The Gunslinger but, though I treat the revised edition as the “true” version for the purposes of The Dark Tower Companion, I still prefer the original because I’ve read it so many times over the years.

After talking with Ron Howard in preparation for this book, do you feel like his approach to adapting the series for film and TV would work?

Ron Howard and Akiva Goldsman are passionate about this series. Goldsman read it in much the same way that I did, starting with The Gunslinger in the mid ’80s. He was the one who brought the project to Howard when they were working on A Beautiful Mind, so it’s something they’ve been thinking about for years. They were disappointed when it looked like J.J. Abrams might tackle it first and elated when the rights freed up again.

I talked to them at length about their approach and it is both unique and logical. Though they’ve made a few general comments about their plan in the past, they discuss it at much greater length in The Dark Tower Companion. They’ve identified certain things that would work well on the big screen and others that would be better served by the more intimate platform television provides — the more character-based elements.

They have revolutionary ideas about how to tackle such a huge story that may not sit well with purists, but people who are willing to treat the film as something different from the books and not as a straight adaptation should be in for an adventure when the project is launched.

The most recent Dark Tower book, The Wind Through the Keyhole, as well as the Dark Tower graphic novels that Marvel has published, have demonstrated that there is a lot of room to tell tales outside of the original ka-tet’s mission. Who are some of the writers and artists you’d like to see take on the series, either in comics or prose?

I don’t think I’d like to see anyone else take on the Dark Tower universe. Robin Furth is an exception because she knows Mid-World better than just about anyone. Besides the Marvel adaptations, the only other “expanded universe” Dark Tower material is the Discordia game on King’s website, where Phase II should launch soon. Though there are occasional mentions of characters from the books, this interactive game primarily uses settings as its basis: the Dixie Pig and the passageway to Fedic in the first adventure and the Rotunda in Phase II. They are free (with King’s approval) to introduce new characters and scenarios to take the story in a different direction. That’s about the extent of what I’d like to see with the Dark Tower, though. I wouldn’t like to see it handed off to other writers. King suggests in his interview that he might return to Mid-World in the future. That’s enough for me.

How many times have you read the Dark Tower books?

My flippant answer to this question is “delah,” that unique Mid-World word that means “many” or “too many to count.” Because I’ve been with the series since the start, I’ve read some books more than others. I read The Gunslinger several times. Then when The Drawing of the Three came out, I read it again. Then when The Waste Lands came out, I read The Gunslinger and The Drawing of the Three again, and so on.

While working on The Road to the Dark Tower, I probably read the entire series five or six times, often for different reasons. Armed with colored highlighters, I looked for timeline details, character descriptions and characterization details, cross-references, etc. I read it once more while working on The Dark Tower Companion, as well as reading The Wind Through the Keyhole a few times.

Which is your favorite, and why?

For a variety of reasons, The Gunslinger is my favorite. When I first read it, I considered it a mood piece more than a character- or plot-driven novel. I had no idea at the time what it would blossom into. I know it’s a difficult book for some, but I must have read it four or five times before there were other books in the series. I was less interested at the time in its convoluted structure — flashbacks upon flashbacks — though I became more intrigued by that later, especially when I had to unravel it all into a linear narrative.

Who is your favorite character from the series, and why?

It’s hard to pick anyone other than Roland as a favorite character. It’s all about him. He’s there, alone, in the beginning and alone again at the end. He’s a tough guy to like at times, but I think I understand him better than any of the other characters. I don’t generally participate in the casting games people play, but I have the ideal actor in mind for Roland. I even mentioned the name to Akiva Goldsman when I interviewed him, though I doubt it will come to anything: Timothy Olyphant from Justified. I think he’d be perfect. The problem is that he’s probably not a big enough name to be at the center of an expensive project like this.

DT7Let’s talk about the ending of the series. Personally, I think it was a perfect, logical end to the series, but not everyone agrees. Where do you stand on the ending – did it work for you? Why, or why not?

I read the last 100-150 manuscript pages of The Dark Tower early one morning. As I told King later that day, he made me late for work, because I couldn’t stop. I reached the “false ending” and then continued on to the real conclusion. I set the pages aside, stunned and somewhat wrung out, but satisfied.

Since we’re getting into spoiler territory here, let’s warn away people who haven’t gotten to the final page yet.


The ending worked perfectly for me. I couldn’t think of another way to encapsulate the nature of Roland’s existence. The closing line had to be the opening line. Everything in the series pointed toward it. Roland had to face a day of reckoning for many of the things he did during his journey, and his punishment was to be forced to try again.

I discuss the ending at length in The Dark Tower Companion. We know this is Roland’s nth iteration through his tortured existence. Some people believe it is his second-to-last journey to the Tower, but King believes otherwise: Roland has a long way to go until he achieves the perfection that will allow him to break free. I asked him about the “Butterfingers” episode of Kingdom Hospital, in which a baseball player is given a chance to do one thing from his past differently to break out of his private hell, wondering if that was an indicator that the next time might see Roland’s salvation, but King said, no, that was just television. In reality it takes a lot longer.

The big question is: what does salvation look like for Roland? What does he need to do and change? I have an opinion about that, which I lay out in The Dark Tower Companion, but that’s just my view. King hints at his own thoughts on the matter in the interview in the book. There is no right or wrong answer, though.

Outside of the Dark Tower/Stephen King world, what other projects do you have in the works?

I always have a lot of things going on at the same time. I write an essay on writing every month for Storytellers Unplugged; keep up a regular blog that deals with writing projects, books, TV and movies; and review books at Onyx Reviews. I usually have at least one short story underway and it takes quite a bit of time to keep them in circulation with the various markets. I’m currently writing an afterword for an upcoming book (I can’t say more—it hasn’t been announced yet).

However, I’m hoping to clear my plate as much as possible to turn my attention to a novel I’ve wanted to write for a while. I thought I was going to get to that on April 1, but it now looks like it will be either mid-April or May before I can start.

Ryan Clark on the making of ‘The Making of Carrie’

CarrieCarrie was Stephen King’s first book, but it wan’t my first Stephen King book – that honor belongs to Pet Semetary. After I devoured that book I set out to find and read everything King had read up to that point. I really envy that version of me, getting to read stuff like ‘Salem’s Lot and The Shining and Night Shift for the very first time. At some point in there I read Carrie, and it just didn’t grab me like the others did. I re-read it many years later to see how it held up, and while there are bits that I like, there is much that hasn’t aged well. (The fake news articles are a particular problem for me – as a former journalist, I can’t ignore how far off they are from the way real news articles read. Even now, when King writes fake news articles in his books and stories, they don’t ring true to me.)
The movie, on the other hand, has aged quite well. Oh, yeah, the music is dated and the prom fashions are laughable (of course, every generation’s prom fashions are laughable, aren’t they?), but there’s not a damn thing off about the performances by Sissy Spacek (as the tortured ugly duckling Carrie) and Piper Laurie (the fanatically religious and clinically insane Mrs. White). Look at that image to the right, with Spacek covered in pig’s blood – there, in that instant, you can see that she’s accepted her own fate, and decided the fate of her tormentors. And it ain’t going to be pretty.
Ryan Clark is a man who agrees with me on the continued impact of Brian De Palma’s adaptation of Carrie. It’s a movie that means a lot to him, and his love for it spurred him to begin work on a book about it. Blood Among the Stars: The Making of ‘Carrie’ is deep into production now, and Clark (along with co-writer Lee Gambin) has assembled an amazing list of interviews with the film’s cast and crew, including Spacek, Laurie, De Palma and the man who started it all – Stephen King. As soon as I heard about the book I wanted to know more – and I figured you would, too. I reached out to Ryan and he was kind enough to answer a few questions for October Country.
Tell us a little bit about how the project was conceived. Why devote so much time to Carrie?

Well, I’ve been obsessed with Carrie – in a good way – ever since I can remember.  I used to play the soundtrack album in my CD walkman every morning on the long bus ride to middle school.  The film really began to resonate with me starting then, and after so many years I thought maybe I should use this fascination constructively.  In my own small way, I wanted to add to the legacy of a film that means so much to me and always will.  I began chatting on Facebook with Terry Bolo, who was an extra in Carrie and many other films, and she gave me that push I needed to move forward with the book.  The first thing I did was start a Facebook page to make people aware of this project, and I got some of my friends to “like” it.

On your website you state that Carrie is your “all-time favorite movie.” What about it resonates with you?

There are many reasons that Carrie resonates so deeply with me, but a big reason I think the film has lasted so long and has become timeless is that it’s a story that covers pretty much all aspects of teenage behavior.  To expound on something that Nancy Allen said to me, and I’m paraphrasing, the characters in Carrie are very much like real teenagers in that they are somewhat one-dimensional.  They either love you or they hate you, everything is about them, and they’re very self-absorbed.  There’s no in-between.  I really connected with that in a big way when I was that age, because everyone I knew was like that and I myself was like that, and my fascination with this classical story continues even though I have matured.  The characters in Carrie are very divided and simplistic; they’re either good guys or bad guys.  I’m not putting down the story in any way – it’s brilliant – but that’s how it is.  It’s like a western.  High school, and middle school, often feels like a western!  And yet there’s room for nuances.  Tommy Ross, for instance, as played by William Katt, is not your typical jock.  He’s a lot more sensitive and self-aware than that.

Carrie Stephen King 1975 1st edition paperback Signet New American LibraryWhat are your thoughts of the novel it’s based on? Many feel that it’s one of King’s weaker efforts (which is only natural, given it was his first published novel).

The novel does have weak spots, which King himself often admits, but Carrie is a really solid psychological/paranormal thriller.  It’s especially impressive as a first novel, though we now know it wasn’t the first one he wrote.  Contrary to popular belief, the 1976 film is relatively faithful to it, and I think that the changes screenwriter Lawrence D. Cohen and Brian De Palma made from the novel were perfect.  As I’ve always said, unless you’re Roman Polanski adaptingRosemary’s Baby word-for-word, you cannot take everything from a novel and put it up on the screen.  It just will not work.  You’ve got to change some things.  Now, some of those changes were done for budgetary reasons – the $1.8 million budget did not allow for Carrie to destroy the entire town, but you don’t really need that for the movie.  Destroying the high school is sufficient, because, to paraphrase an old interview with Brian De Palma, when you’re in high school, that is your world.  I think focusing on the town’s destruction is a trap the remakes fall into.  It works in the book, because you can use your imagination, but to me, that’s never been what Carrie is all about.

You seem to have gotten lots of cooperation on putting this book together from the people involved with the film. What is your take on why this film was such a good experience for those who worked on it?

Well, Carrie was a first for a lot of people.  For many of the cast members, it was their first film.  For Brian De Palma, it was his first major hit.  I think people tend to look back fondly on things that came first in their lives.  They were young, and, despite minor tensions (and some major face-slappage), it was a pretty pleasant experience for everyone.

How did Lee Gambin get involved, and how has he helped you in making this idea a reality?

Lee has been amazing.  I could not have come this far without him.  He ended up on the Facebook page I had created for the book, and I was aware that he had interviewed Sissy Spacek for Fangoria.  He offered to help out with the book, and I decided to ask if he’d like to co-write it with me.  He seemed like the best person to do it, and I was right!  Because of his connections, we have been able to interview almost all of the major cast and crew members, though there are many I was able to get myself.  We share an equal amount of the work.  It’s nice to work with a partner, because you have someone to prod you when you start to slow down.

What can you tell us about the book itself? Is a release date set? A publisher? Are we talking oversized coffee table book, hardcover, softcover…?

I’m afraid we can’t reveal any such details at this time, but if you subscribe via email to our website or keep up with our Facebook and Twitter pages, rest assured you will remain up to date on our progress and you will know when the book is coming out.

There have really been some excellent examples in the “Making of…” genre of books over the last few years: Crystal Lake Memories (covering the Friday the 13th series), Memories from Martha’s Vineyard (JAWS), the books devoted to Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, for example. Why do you think there is such a hunger for this kind of material?

I think it’s the same reason that DVD documentaries are so popular – fans love to hear the cast and crew talk about their memories.  Making-of books have an advantage over feature-length documentaries in that books are much more informative.  You can only pack so many facts into an hour-and-a-half long documentary.

What are your thoughts on the remakes of Carrie that we’ve already seen? What about the upcoming Chloe Moretz version? Will you touch on any of those in the book?

The various versions of Carrie all have their points of interest, and we will be covering all of them to some extent.  I feelThe Rage: Carrie 2 is the best of them so far, and it’s unfairly maligned.  It’s really not bad, especially when you consider how terrible ’90s horror films typically were.  I’m not going to say much right now about the upcoming remake, because I don’t want to judge the film sight unseen.  I love Julianne Moore, and Kimberly Peirce is a really good director, so I think there’s a decent chance the new Carrie will surprise people.

I know you can’t give away all of your good stuff, but is there a little something you learned in the process of putting this book together that you can tease us with?

Yes, one thing I learned – and I’m revealing this to you because it was already published in a book of Stephen King interviews, Feast of Fear – is that United Artists originally wanted John Travolta to sing one of the songs that Katie Irving eventually did – I think “Born to Have It All” – over the opening credits and the shower scene.  De Palma and Lawrence D. Cohen fought against this, and producer Paul Monash called up Stephen King for his opinion.  King said that it would be ridiculous to have Travolta, who played the heavy in the film, sing a love song to the girl he will dump pig’s blood on.  Then Monash asked, “Well, how about the Bee Gees?”  And King said, “No, I really don’t think so.”

Interview: J.G. Faherty on ‘The Burning Time’

BurningTimeAuthor J.G. Faherty grew up – and still lives – in a small town just north of Manhattan, a place rich in history and soaked in blood. In his stomping grounds one can find battlegrounds dating back to the Revolutionary War alongside gravesites, roads and woods rumored to be home to legions of restless spirits. In other words, the kind of fertile ground that’s bound to yield a horror writer or two.

Faherty has published number of short stories and novellas, including He Waits, The Cold Spot, and his most recent release, The Burning Time. October Country is pleased to welcome Mr. Faherty today to discuss Lovecraft, drive-in movies, and a whole lot more.

OC: I read that you credit a double bill of Planet of the Apes and Night of the Living Dead that your parents took you to see with starting you on the path that led to writing horror. What do your parents think of where that experience has led you?

JGF: Well, I don’t know if it got me started writing horror, but it really made me a fan of horror. Before that, I was equally into sci-fi, horror, and spy novels. But afterwards, it was like 90% horror! My parents probably don’t even remember that night, because back then we went to the drive-in almost every weekend (it was a great way to keep me and my friends entertained), and almost always at least one of the movies was either sci-fi or horror. I know that my dad credits his telling me “scary” stories as a child, and my mom says it’s because they used to let me watch SF and horror on TV as a little kid (Outer Limits, Twilight Zone, Creature Features, etc.).

You make an interesting point on your website: “A familiar plot is okay, if the writing’s good.” That’s a sentiment I happen to share. What are the essential elements that go into making a story with a familiar horror plot or character worth reading?

In my opinion, it’s two things. One is really good writing. Good writing can turn a mediocre story into something that captures your attention and keeps it. Here are some examples: ‘Salem’s Lot and They Thirst are two highly respected modern vampire novels, but they really tell the same story as Dracula: vampire comes to town, mayhem ensues, vampire hunters track down vampire. But (Stephen) King and (Robert) McCammon tell their stories with such elegance and flair that they become fine novels in their own rights, rather than just ordinary homages.

The second thing is to have a different take or twist on something. When I wrote Carnival of Fear, I didn’t want it to be a knock off of Something Wicked This Way Comes, so I built a very different carnival world. And then I took some very standard characters – stoners, jocks, nerds, etc. – and turned everything upside down by having unexpected heroes and surprising deaths.

You have a varied work history that includes zoo keeper, photographer, and medical researcher. How do those different experiences feed into your work?

Well, it certainly cuts down research! But I think it’s like with any writer – we usually are people who have had a lot of different jobs, and we are able to use those experiences to see life from different points of view, and to have a wealth of characters and stories in our memories to choose from when we write.

Let’s talk about your new novel, The Burning Time. I haven’t had the opportunity to read it yet, but the synopsis has a very Lovecraftian feel to it, with the mentions of the Old Ones, the Elder Gods, and chaos on Earth. Is this your version of a Lovecraft story?

Sort of. It didn’t start out that way – Lovecraftian fiction is so detailed, so dependent on the myths and tropes Lovecraft built, and that have been expanded on by the Lovecraftian writers that have followed. And I didn’t want to do something that had been done before. But while trying to figure out the backstory for my antagonist, I came across some Native American myths about ancient gods that had a lot of similarities to some of Lovecraft’s stories. So I looked into that more, and decided to make it my angle: an ancient being who the Native Americans called The Trickster, and who was known to other tribes and peoples around the world, in many different languages, by many different names. The bringer of Chaos. And his goal is to open a gateway so the elder gods can return and bring the chaos he so desires. Then, to link them further, he controls a creature that is like a miniature Cthulhu, a tentacled beast who is the lucky recipient of several sacrifices during the course of the book. So really, The Burning Time integrated Lovecraft, native legends, and southern country magic all into one novel.

How does it compare – and how does it contrast – from Lovecraft’s ideas?

It compares in three basic ways: One, the use of creatures and terms that are very Lovecraftian. Two, it takes place in a small, isolated town. And Three, there is a religious undertone to it.

It contrasts because the Lovecraftian elements really are secondary to the main conflict of the story. The Burning Time is, at its heart, a personal fight between two figures, two ancient enemies, who represent Good and Evil. Evil just happens to be hand in pocket with some Lovecraftian beasties.

You’ve published a large number of short stories in addition to longer novellas and novels. Do you have a preference between writing short and long fiction? If so, why?

When I first started writing, I preferred short stories because they were so direct and to the point. Then, after doing a few novels, I preferred building larger stories. And then in 2011, when I wrote my first two novellas, I changed my mind again. Now I feel that the novella is probably the best way to tell a story – it is longer than a short story, so you can craft more elegant sentences and build your characters in more detail, but it’s also very right between the eyes without sub-plots like a novel would have. Not that novels and short stories aren’t fun to right and don’t tell wonderful stories, but the novella seem to me (right now!) as the most efficient form of storytelling. That being said, I’m still writing short stories and novels, because when it comes down to it, you do whatever format you need to in order to tell the story that needs to be told.

What’s coming up after The Burning Time?

I don’t know! I’ve got a couple of short stories that will be coming out later in the year, but as of right now I don’t have another novel scheduled for publication. I do have two that I’m trying to sell, though, so who knows!

Benjamin Kane Ethridge talks ‘Dungeon Brain’

As an author, Benjamin Kane Ethridge came out of the gate strong, winning a Bram Stoker Award for his first novel, the Halloween tale Black & Orange. He quickly followed that up with another critically acclaimed book, Bottled Abyss, along with a steady stream of short stories and essays.

He is currently on an extensive blog tour to promote his latest novel, Dungeon Brain, and I’m pleased to welcome him today to October Country.

OC: Multiple personalities are an integral part of your new novel, Dungeon Brain. What kind of research did you do on multiple personality disorder? Were you looking for a realistic take on it, or creating something more fanciful?

BKE: Hi there and thanks for having me in this interview. I approached the material in a fanciful manner. I love what-if questions while tuning up my concepts for stories. For this novel I had a what-if moment regarding multiple personalities, in that they could be more than just figments of a mentally sick imagination. What if the “others” were actual people who had been consumed and trapped in this person’s mind, by some kind of extrasensory power?

How did you approach making the personalities distinct, yet still a part of one character? Or was that a consideration?

For much of the book, my main character is struggling with chemically induced amnesia. She doesn’t have a point of reference to these people in her head. In a sense, she’s blindly groping around the halls of morality, trying to figure out if these people are just or unjust. Most of the residents of her head came from a prison colony — so they are criminals, but as we all know, crimes don’t always define a person’s nature, good or bad. So the main character, June, is addressing these personalities like a blank slate; she has nothing to judge them by, and in a sense, is forging a new personality since her previous one is clouded from the amnesia. This makes the other personalities quite distinct since she has nothing but objectivity to go on.

One of the things that frightens me the most about the idea of multiple personalities is the loss of control. That’s a real-life concern that has often been used in fiction. What are the “real” things (outside of genre tropes like monsters and ghosts) that scare you the most?

This is an extension of fear of losing control, but I’m afraid of the randomness of life. I begin each new day and hope it’s similar in structure to the others before it. Mother Nature. Human Nature. Social Nature. It can all introduce frightening scenarios that nobody can anticipate and I fret over unexpected outcomes.

You once described Dungeon Brain as “dark sci-fi” – is it difficult to straddle the horror and sci-fi genres, to bring in enough of both to stay balanced and to satisfy fans who maybe lean more toward one genre than the other?

I’m not really in a place to say either way yet. This is my first novel venturing (modestly) into science fiction, and I haven’t had a boatload of feedback yet. On the writing level, I just wanted to make an entertaining and, at best, enlightening story and science fiction showed up, unannounced. I hope people who have enjoyed my dark fantasies will also enjoy the dark sci-fi as well.

What’s something we should know about the new novel that maybe we haven’t learned from the publicity, excerpts, etc. available up to this point?

I’ve always been a fan of labeling a book in exactly the specific genre and subgenre it falls into, but publishers normally like cut and dry Science Fiction or Fantasy or Horror. This novel, Dungeon Brain, would technically be Dark Military Science Fantasy. That’s a mouthful and I don’t think bookstores will ever have a section for it, but despite never seeing it termed that way, to me, it’s a great label.

You won the Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in a First Novel for Black & Orange – in terms of the pressure that was on you to follow that up with Bottled Abyss and now Dungeon Brain, was that win a blessing or a curse?

To be truthful, I feel the need to say it is both a blessing and a curse, but then I also suspect that’s a cop out and I have to take a bold stance. I’m going to go with “blessing.” The award has made me work harder to put out better work at a faster rate. It’s more difficult than when I was an unpublished novelist, constantly questioning whether I was wasting my time or not. In those days I could write at my leisure, whenever the muse cracked its whip. Now the whip has been turned around and the muse has to fall in line. It’s more of a job now in this fashion but if it wasn’t challenging than it wouldn’t be worthwhile.

You’re doing a lot of interview as part of your blog tour to support the new book – what’s a question that you wish you would get asked, but never do?

Good question! I never get asked what I’m never asked. Now I’m lost in a logic loop and have no way to answer this.

Interview: Kealan Patrick Burke on NEMESIS: THE DEATH OF TIMMY QUINN

In October 2012, Kealan Patrick Burke and Thunderstorm Books released Nemesis: The Death of Timmy Quinn, the fifth and concluding chapter in the Timmy Quinn series. As a fan of these stories from the beginning I wanted to commemorate this endgame in some way, so I invited Kealan to take part in a series of interviews, one based on each of the Timmy Quinn books, leading up to the final book’s release. Today I’m proud to present the final interview on the series, as Kealan discusses the conclusion of Timmy Quinn’s story…and what comes next.

OC: Nemesis is so much bigger in scale than the previous books in the Timmy Quinn series. How difficult was it to write in comparison to the other books?

KPB: Difficult isn’t the word, and not because it was bigger in scale. Once I finally sat down to write it, it came easy. It was getting to write it that was the hard part. As you know, I was forced to take something of a sabbatical (kind word) from writing that lasted almost two years. When I did at last get back into the driver seat, I found I was no longer as passionate about the book as I once had been. I wasn’t sure where to start or where to take it, and worrying over it kept stressing me out. So I shelved it. But then the series took off thanks to digital and the reader comments started flooding in, asking (another kind word) when the last book was coming. I figured I had already delayed it enough and owed the readers — and myself — some closure. So I sat down and reevaluated things and it was as if the book had been waiting for that very thing. It came together rather quickly after being shoved away for years, and once I began to write, it ran away with itself.

Could you have written a book of this scale immediately after Vessels, or did the time away from the series help you develop your skills to the point where you felt more comfortable tackling it?

I could have, but it would have been a very different kind of book. The ideas I’d had for Nemesis back in the day were good and made sense in the context of the series, but they weren’t good enough. As a result, even though I had years of accumulated notes at hand when I started writing Nemesis, I used none of them. So while I can’t say whether the time away honed my skills — though it certainly taught me humility and the folly of taking anything for granted — I know Nemesis is exactly what it should be now. I couldn’t be happier with it. Had I written it a few years ago, I’m not sure I’d have been able to say that with total conviction.

Going in, did you have any idea it was going to grow the mythology so much, and introduce so many characters?

To a point, I did, but honestly this book wrote so much of itself I really felt as if I was an observer more than a participant, a quirk of the process I adore and one that ended up becoming part of the plot.

Nemesis really opens up the pasts of many of the characters from the series, and one thing a lot of them have in common is negative relationships with their parents. How closely were you looking to tie the idea of this reality being a sort of facade behind which The Stage and the spirits of the dead are hiding to the idea that happy, “normal” families are often a facade behind which anger and heartbreak is hiding?

Very much so. One of the misconceptions about horror writing is that monsters have to be serial killers or vampires or werewolves. But for me, when you’re a child and you have to question your parents’ love for you, there is nothing more terrifying. Outsiders don’t see this in a family. It’s always discovered when it comes to a head, like say when the child grows into a monster, so it’s the façade that’s presented and accepted, just as the series presents the idea that as ugly as our world is, there’s an infinitely uglier one hiding behind it. And in a less dramatic sense, every family has their secrets, the hidden betrayals and heartbreak. I just chose to use that sense of hidden turmoil as the driving force for my characters.

I realize this is an intensely personal question, but is this theme of unhappy families coming from personal experience?

For the most part I had an ordinary, happy childhood, but sure there was turmoil and upset, not the least of which was the separation of my parents when I was eight, and the resulting ugliness that occurs when parents try to convince a malleable child that the other parent is the bad one. It was a confusing time, but without it, I’d never have been able to write the things I write, so I wouldn’t change any of it. I do, however, seem to keep incorporating the emotions from those years into my work. Rarely is it intentional.

There are places in Nemesis – I’m thinking particularly of the scenes where you illustrate the dead meeting up with their killers – where you can sense the fun you were having just cutting loose. Was this a fun book to write, or did the pressure of ending this series (or, at least, this portion of it) that’s been such a major part of your career make it more difficult than fun?

Well, as I said above, trying to get motivated to write it was the tough part, but once I started it, it was a dream book to write, and it was the pressure that made it happen. The readers demanded an ending and the series needed one. It was long overdue, so I had no choice but to do it. But writing Nemesis was the most fun I’ve had in years. And as you so rightly stated, those scenes were a blast to write, particularly the IRA one. They’re almost like EC Comics-style vignettes, and I almost cut them for that reason, my concern being that they didn’t fit the tone of the book, or represented too much of a pull away from the main event. But ultimately I liked them too much to remove them.

As I said before, Nemesis really kicks the door wide open on the mythology, and it’s clear that the potential for more stories about The Stage are possible – with or without Timmy Quinn. Any plans in place?

Yep, as indicated by certain scenes at the end of the book, there will indeed be a new series, one with a female protagonist who has to contend, not only with the implications of her heritage and her “gift”, but also the dark interlopers from another realm.

Describe the feeling you had when you knew it was done, and that Timmy’s story was finished.

Immense relief due to the fact that for the longest time I doubted it would ever happen, but it was also a bittersweet feeling. Timmy has been with me in one way or another for ten years. It was hard to say goodbye to him. On the other hand, I put the poor bugger through enough hardship, so it was time to cut him a break (not that I think that’s really what I did…)

The Timmy Quinn Interviews

Catch up on the series with Stage Whispers: The Collected Timmy Quinn Stories

Nemesis is available digitally as well as a signed, limited edition hardcover from Thunderstorm Books. Thunderstorm is also prepping a deluxe edition of Stage Whispers: The Collected Timmy Quinn Stories that will include Nemesis, which is not included in the current digital edition. Visit Thunderstorm Books for more information.

Interview: Kealan Patrick Burke on THE TURTLE BOY: PEREGRINE’S TALE

In October 2012, Kealan Patrick Burke and Thunderstorm Books released Nemesis: The Death of Timmy Quinn, the fifth and concluding chapter in the Timmy Quinn series. As a fan of these stories from the beginning I wanted to commemorate this endgame in some way, so I invited Kealan to take part in a series of interviews, one based on each of the Timmy Quinn books, leading up to the final book’s release. Today we reach the penultimate chapter with The Turtle Boy: Peregrine’s Tale, a novella originally published by Cemetery Dance in 2010.

OC: In the introduction to Peregrine’s Tale, you mention that The Turtle Boy originally had a different ending than what was published. Could you describe that original ending? What prompted the change?

KPB: The difference was small but significant. In it, Timmy discovers Darryl’s notebook in his attic twenty years later when he buys his childhood home, prompting the revelation of the killer earlier than it occurs in the series. There were a number of reasons why it didn’t work, that it was clichéd being only one of them. After some feedback, particularly and most notably from F. Paul Wilson, who generously and aggressively edited the whole novella, I decided to change it. I had already turned the book in to Don Koish at Necessary Evil Press but asked if I might have time to give it another pass. He agreed. If that hadn’t happened, I doubt it would have been so easy to make a series out of it, so it worked out for the best (though readers might have preferred the original ending to the cliffhanger it ended up with.)

You also mention in the introduction that Peregrine’s story was part of Brethren, your attempt at combining the existing Timmy Quinn books into one novel for the mainstream market. Was this a complete excerpt, or was Peregrine’s story integrated differently into the text of Brethren?

What’s there is the same, though in Brethren, it went on a few more chapters to document Peregrine’s revenge on The Man, facilitated by his father. I liked these scenes, but they have no place in the series anymore, so out they went. Peregrine’s Tale, as is, is exactly all the information you need going in to Nemesis. It preserves the mystery, I think, and doesn’t cast Peregrine as too much of a villain before you meet him, whereas the original chapters did.

Did the details of Peregrine’s origin remain essentially the same from Brethren to this release?

Exactly the same. Who Peregrine is only changed—very organically, I might add—during the writing of Nemesis.

One more Brethren question: How close did it come to publication? Would you still consider putting it out there, or has the success of the digital editions of the series made it unnecessary? Will we see any more material from that version of the story?

Don D’Auria at Leisure Books expressed great enthusiasm for the book, but when I sent it to him that was the last I heard from him, so two years later, I pulled it. I don’t blame Don for this at all. As it turns out, Leisure was undergoing something of a change at the time and I am, by nature, impatient. But after that, I stuck the book in a file and forgot about it.

I wouldn’t consider releasing it now because I think Stage Whispers, the collected volume and Nemesis represent the complete story. Anything I could add from Brethren would just be extraneous and unnecessary matter now, some of which would contradict the events in Nemesis. I had a different idea back then of where the story was going.

That being said, there are a few salvageable sequences that may end up in a volume of Timmy Quinn stories sometime in the future, or at least inspire a few new ones.

Okay, that was three more Brethren questions. This is the last one, I swear: If Brethren had been published, would Timmy’s story reach essentially the same conclusion that it does now in Nemesis?

No. If I’d managed to get Brethren in print, the end of the story would have been very different, so in that regard, I’m glad it never saw the light of day, because Nemesis is exactly where it needed to go.

Now, since this is an interview about Peregrine’s Tale, here are some questions about that book. There’s a passage when Peregrine comes out of the forest to confront his mother where you write that the world is “a fragile picture pasted over something terrible.” There’s an echo there of Stephen King’s idea of “thin places” in the world, where realities overlap. I know you’re a King fan – did his idea about such “thin places” influence your vision of the fragile veil between the living and the dead?

As I’m a big fan, I’m sure King’s work inspired quite a bit of my writing, but not consciously in this case. Rather, I put myself in the minds of these children. With trust shattered and love corrupted, there is no way it would seem anything other than a façade behind which the ugly truth lies. Literary inspiration aside, this is something I learned myself as a child, so it stands to reason that, given what they’re forced to endure, both Peregrine and Timmy would too.

Peregrine really had no more choice in the direction his life took than Timmy, did he? Is redemption possible for either of them at this point?

One of the things Peregrine and Timmy have in common is that adults shaped (and it could be argued, destroyed) their worlds when they were very young and altered their destinies forever. Neither of them sees the need for redemption. They’re bound to the path on which their parents put them. All they can hope for now is a benevolent end to the torment, something else they both share, though their ideas of what constitutes ‘benevolence’ differs greatly.

This is an incredibly dark series, and I really think Peregrine’s Tale is the darkest chapter at this point. Parent/child strife is just rampant in this thing! Was there ever an urge to go in and inject some levity in there somewhere? A comedic sidekick for Timmy, maybe?

You mention parent/child strife there, and some reviewers have posited that that’s really what the whole series is about, and I find it difficult to disagree now that it’s finished and I can look back on it. And when dealing with such a theme, it’s tough to find anything funny about it. Though whatever levity there is in the series comes courtesy of Kim, who consistently seems to find the strength to crack wise in the darkest situations. She continues this trend in Nemesis, as does Alek, a new character. The conversations both of them have with Tim are some of the funniest the series has seen and they come when events have reached their most dangerous. Laughter at a funeral, you might say.

All of the books in the Timmy Quinn series up to this point have been very compact. Was that a conscious decision, or were you just more comfortable at that point in your career writing shorter material?

It’s a bit of both. The Turtle Boy was the longest story I had written at that point in my writing career. The Hides was longer, and, in technical terms, even though it’s on the shorter side, my first novel. I was working on writing longer stuff, but these seemed better suited to an episodic novella-length, particularly because I wasn’t entirely sure where I was going with the overall story. Gradually I learned how to tell a story at novel length, and which story needed that size canvas. And Nemesis is such a story.

As of now, the series is complete with Nemesis having just been published. Maybe this is a question best left for that interview, but I’ll go ahead and ask – do you ever see yourself tackling a series like this again?

As evidenced by the coda at the end of Nemesis, absolutely. Not just a series, but a related one.

The Timmy Quinn Interviews

Catch up on the series with Stage Whispers: The Collected Timmy Quinn Stories

Nemesis is available as a signed, limited edition hardcover from Thunderstorm Books. Thunderstorm is also prepping a deluxe edition of Stage Whispers: The Collected Timmy Quinn Stories that will include Nemesis, which is not included in the current digital edition. Visit Thunderstorm Books for more information.

Interview: Kealan Patrick Burke on VESSELS

In October 2012, Kealan Patrick Burke and Thunderstorm Books released Nemesis: The Death of Timmy Quinn, the fifth and concluding chapter in the Timmy Quinn series. As a fan of these stories from the beginning I wanted to commemorate this endgame in some way, so I invited Kealan to take part in a series of interviews, one based on each of the Timmy Quinn books, leading up to the final book’s release. Today we dive into the third book, Vessels, which Bloodletting Press originally published in 2006.

OC: I thought you’d completely isolated Timmy Quinn when you sent him to Dungarvan, Ireland in The Hides – then you upped the ante by moving him to the remote island of Blackrock in Vessels. How is this new locale a reflection of where Timmy is, mentally, at this point in his story?

KPB: Going to Ireland was a kind of naivete on Timmy’s part. He assumed because his experiences with the dead to that point had been limited to his hometown that maybe it would be different elsewhere, that the haunting might be limited by geography. He’s already getting worn down and this is his first time running. Of course, it makes little difference, because it isn’t the town that’s haunted at all; it’s him. So by the time we meet him in Vessels, he’s an adult and a life spent facilitating the vengeance of these things has taken its toll. He’s tired, dispirited, beaten down. His experiences have eroded him. He seeks solace on Blackrock because it’s isolated. It’s bleak, lonely, battered by the elements, just like Tim, and so I thought it the perfect place for us to find him.

At one point, The Scholar refers to Timmy as “a hollow vessel.” Between that comment and the title of the book, what are you trying to tell us about Timmy? Is there any of the Timmy we met in The Turtle Boy left at this point?

Only the faintest glimmer of it. Once Tim encounters The Turtle Boy, all chance of a normal childhood goes out the window. Similarly, his adolescence is traumatic, odd, terrifying. He hasn’t had a normal life, and likely never will. By the time we catch up to him in Vessels, he’s older, depressed, and angry. He’s starting to develop characteristics that make him more like the dead he serves than the living he seeks to protect. He resents the burden that’s been cast upon him, resents not being able to love. The bitterness and anger has hollowed him out. There are few reasons why he shouldn’t just give up, but those reasons—some of which he can’t even fully identify—are important enough to keep him going. When Kim shows up, he realizes she alone is worth every day of fighting the darkness.

I like the use of quotes as chapter titles. I know at least some of them came directly from the chapter itself, but others I couldn’t seem to find. Was I just not looking close enough, or do they come from other sources?

The book is partially dedicated to my late high school English teacher, who helped put me on the career path I’m still traveling today. Thinking of him brought me back to rainy days spent analyzing seemingly impenetrable verse in the classroom, so those chapter titles are something of an ode to him. All of them reference the content of the chapters in some way, even if those ways are obscure. I had no idea they’d prove to be so popular!

It’s strange that, by fleeing to an isolated community in order to “hide,” Timmy actually wound up drawing attention to himself almost immediately. Being from a small town in Alabama, I know that’s how it goes – people quickly notice strangers in such surroundings. Was it the same in Dungarvan, when you were growing up there?

Oh yeah. Newcomers are noticed immediately, and discussed thoroughly, though Dungarvan is considerably larger in scale than Blackrock. But as insular as small communities tend to be, island communities are even worse because they have to be. Everybody looks out for one another. There was no way Tim’s presence wasn’t going to be noticed. I think he expected that. It’s less the people he’s hiding from, than their crimes.

There’s a reference to Timmy’s years “of helping them to find justice, of helping them to murder their murderers.” Some people might actually view that as noble, questions of murder aside. Why isn’t Timmy able to find any peace in that idea?

I address this directly in Nemesis, so the best way to answer is with an excerpt from that book:

So yes, evil should be punished. He agreed with it in principle.

As an ethical issue, he believed none of it was right, a belief made easier by the burgeoning conviction that the dead did not know themselves, that they were mere puppets devoid of anything that had made them who they had been in life. And it was they, the true victims, who should be given the chance to make their executioners answer for their crimes, not the corrupt revenants, particularly when it was likely that their vengeance was merely the product of someone else’s agenda.

And that’s about the size of it. As early as The Hides, it’s been implied that the dead are being controlled, that their vengeance serves another entity, and Tim resents being a pawn in someone else’s metaphysical war. There’s no certainty in what he does, no evidence of peace, and so he finds it difficult to take any peace of his own in the face of monsters. I don’t think he believes the cause is a noble one, and without knowing the true instigator of it all, there’s no way to confirm this, and it leads to complicated questions of morality and its inherent grey areas.

Much of the action takes place in Blackrock’s small chapel. Why are churches such scary places?

I was raised Catholic and spent a lot of time in big Gothic churches and small shadowy chapels. For places designed to represent serenity and peace, the architecture, mournful statues, dark corners and creaking doors, used to terrify me. As of course did the pronouncements from the priests and bishops that we were all most likely going to Hell. You will never find anywhere else the kind of darkness you’ll find in an old church. If God exists, he has a grim sense of humor.

There’s also the scene at the beginning, in the confessional, between Timmy and his father. Again, you’re not doing anything for the image of the church as a “safe sanctuary.” Is that deliberate?

There’s a short story by the late Irish writer Frank O’ Connor called “First Confession,” which we had to read for school. It is, as the title suggests, a hysterical account of a child’s terrifying first confession. And it’s something to which all children who were raised Catholic can relate. It is, perhaps, the first real spiritual trauma we endure in our young lives. We’re prepped for weeks, exposed to fabricated horror stories about kids who went in to the confessional and never came back out, and then the day comes where we’re instructed to go into a box that’s dark as night, smells of dust and judgment, and tell all our sins to a priest who we know will know us by the sound of our voices. It’s a petrifying experience, and one you never forget. Aside from the terror of the dark inside that ancient confessional, there’s the terror of the priest, the terror that he’ll come into your side of the box and punch you in the face for being evil (because you just know your sins are worse than everybody else’s), the terror that he’ll go right back and tell your parents all the wicked things you’ve done, and finally, the terror that you’ll go to Hell for your sins. All of which sounds funny, and in retrospect, it is. But at the time? Horrifying.

So I have no love for confessionals. Vessels was the perfect opportunity to share that.

How has your own faith or belief system played into the series?

Until Vessels, I kept faith out of it as there didn’t seem a good place to illuminate the struggle, but as Tim’s about my age in that book, I figured it was about time for him to start questioning faith as a whole in light of his burden. Religion is not something you’ll find me discussing much outside of my own fiction because in this day and age, it’s only asking for trouble. I talk about the things that I need to talk about and resolve my own conflicts in the stories, which I think is the appropriate place for them. I will admit that though raised Catholic, I’m now lapsed enough to be prolapsed. I’ve seen religion used too much as a crutch, as an excuse, as justification for intolerance and wrongdoing to have much time for it anymore. When your faith in your fellow man buckles in the face of overwhelming evil, it’s hard to believe in the unseen.

There’s a scene in Nemesis (again in a church!) where Tim’s anguish leads him to consider an act of desecration. When he’s told by another character that it’s blasphemy, Tim’s response is: “Yeah, well, if God wants to put in an appearance, I’ll gladly answer for it.” Which I think perfectly illustrates his frustration (and mine) with religion. Though in Tim’s case, he’s not being flippant. He’s almost pleading for God to intervene if only so he has something to believe in other than evil.

Timmy’s dad tells him that everything is predestined. I’ve always found the idea of predestination to be a rather depressing and frustrating concept – the idea that things are going to turn out the same no matter what you do. Do you believe in predestination, or fate?

Not at all. I think we’re pinballs in the universe’s machine. I don’t much like the idea of predestination either. It would render everything we do somewhat futile and eliminates the concept of free will. I’d much rather fuck up my life on my own without thinking it part of some celestial blueprint.

But for Timmy Quinn, there’s a very good reason why everything is predestined (as you’ll see in Nemesis.)

We get our first mention of Peregrine, the living being behind much of what’s happened to Timmy. How long had you known this character was behind the scenes, or did he only reveal himself to you as you were working on Vessels?

I knew someone was pulling the strings by the end of The Hides, but not who or what he was. I wrote Peregrine’s Tale with no intention of ever publishing it. It was just a way to get to know who this guy was and where he came from. By the time I was ready to write Nemesis though, I knew him inside and out. Once I started feeling sorry for him, I knew he was the perfect bad guy. The why of what he’s done, however, didn’t become fully clear to me until I had already started the novel.

The Timmy Quinn Interviews

Catch up on the series with Stage Whispers: The Collected Timmy Quinn Stories

Nemesis is available as a signed, limited edition hardcover from Thunderstorm Books. Thunderstorm is also prepping a deluxe edition of Stage Whispers: The Collected Timmy Quinn Stories that will include Nemesis, which is not included in the current digital edition. Visit Thunderstorm Books for more information.