Interview: Mason James Cole

Creeping Hemlock Press launched its new zombie-centric book line this month, Print Is Dead, with Mason James Cole’s debut novel Pray to Stay Dead. You can check out my full review here, but in short – it’s a winner, a visceral thrill ride of a book that’s going to make lovers of all things undead very happy. Cole was kind enough to answer a few questions for October Country about the book and its influences. It’s my hope that this is just the first in a long line of novels from this talented new writer.
OC: Pray to Stay Dead is your first published novel. Have you published anything else before this – short stories or nonfiction?

MJC: Noting worth talking about. A few shorts stories of debatable quality, years ago, to magazines or e-zines that are no longer around and anthologies that nobody ever read.

Have you written novels other than this one? What’s going on with those?

Yes, but like basically all first or second novels, their only real value was the practice I got writing them. They’ll never see the light of day, which is as it should be. I actually began writing Pray to Stay Dead over twenty years ago. It had a different title —Rotten Blood— and an entirely different tone. It was also crap, of course, but the core idea stuck with me.

How did you hook up with Creeping Hemlock Press and their “Print Is Dead” imprint?

I travel five or six months out of the year, flying here and there, driving sometimes. My wife and family do not approve of this horror business, so I relegate it to that part of my life. I read, watch, and write horror on the road. A few years back, I made sure to schedule a business trip to coincide with Zombie Fest in Monroeville, Pennsylvania. I met Julia and RJ Sevin there–they were selling books. On a whim, I pitched the book to them. I could tell they were dubious, but they were also very cordial and professional. They told me to send it along when it was ready. A year later, I did.

Given your family’s stance on horror, do they even know you’ve written this book?

My wife knows I wrote a horror novel, just not specifics. We talk all the time when I’m on the road, and I’m not hiding anything, merely segregating it. I love this stuff, but I love her more. She doesn’t want it in the house, I don’t bring it in the house. She hasn’t read anything more intense than Siri Mitchell or Judith Miller–those historical Christian romances–and she doesn’t have any interest in this book. Honestly, it’s probably best if she never reads it. My oldest son read it, though, and thought it was great.

Your novel is the first release in the “Print Is Dead” line, which shows a lot of confidence on their part – after all, you only get to make one impression. How does it feel to have your book chosen as the first release?

It feels great, but you know how these things go… they have several books lined up, and mine happened to be the first one that was ready.

There are so many twists and turns in the story – did you work from an outline, or just follow the flow of the story?

Only the roughest outline. This book really took over. I knew going in that I wouldn’t be using my real name (the family, remember?), so Mason Cole really took over, and the story surprised me as I wrote it. Sounds like some Dark Half nonsense, I know, but that’s the way it was.

What are some of your favorite zombie movies and novels? Which ones were direct influences on the book?

Oh, you know–the usual suspects: Romero’s movies, of course. I like Zombie and some of the recent ones like Pontypool, but there are more lousy zombie movies than good ones. The same goes for novels, I’m afraid. I enjoyed The Rising and Wet Work, and Handling the Undead is fantastic, but I’m not one to ask, though… I’ve read precious few of the current crop of zombie novels. Jack Ketchum’s Offspring informed the writing of this book more than any zombie novel.

Why the decision to set the book in the 1970s?

I miss those days. I was younger than Colleen and friends in 1974, but I remember that time really well. I remember my mom keeping her mouth shut around my dad, and my dad complaining about the fucking pinkos ruining the country. I remember news footage from ‘Nam and, of course, I remember seeing Night of the Living Dead on the big screen… when it was new!

That, and I really wanted to write the literary equivalent of a grindhouse movie… something that evoked the grain and the grit and the filth, something potentially upsetting and infuriating, as well as something that lives up to my memory of those movies… in many ways, my memories of seeing Last House on the Left are far more intense and horrifying than the movie itself.

What do you have coming out next?

I haven’t even started anything. I have a vague idea for a sequel to Pray to Stay Dead, but the more I think about it, the more I feel a sequel might cheapen it. Also, the book ended differently than planned, so some of what I had planned is just not possible.

Obviously, if it’s a huge success and people ask for a sequel, I’m open to the idea, but right now… I don’t know. Do I follow it with another end-of-the-world zombie-type thing (I have an idea, and it is ridiculous and over-the-top), or do I write that haunted house idea I have? Creeping Hemlock or anyone else probably won’t jump at the ghost novel like they will at another zombie novel, so…I guess there are worse things than becoming Zombie Guy #10.

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