DD: Thanks for plugging in, Fox! Tell us about your most recent projects.
TFD: October has me on the move every hour of the day, and I’m always struggling to promote horror and just enjoy it. My show, What Are You Afraid Of? Horror & Paranormal Show has just reached episode 100. +100 hours of interviews, paranormal investigators, horror authors, horror fiction, ghost stories, banter, music and sketches. You can imagine this is a busy time for us, so we provide extra content and more shows right through Halloween. You can find the shows at www.whatareyouafraidofpodcast.com.
So right now it’s mostly promotion, social media. I organized and hosted a horror reading at Fort Mifflin in Philadelphia, one of America’s oldest haunted sites, my Ravenloft D&D sessions, and I’m busy working on a crime short story for a high profile project. I also did an article on writing the modern ghost story based on the work I’ve done interviewing both paranormal authors and studying ghostlore over the last three years.
DD: Your novel MERCY was an incredibly emotional and visceral tale. What's the backstory?
TFD: I thank you for writing a blurb for the back.
I wrote Mercy as a catharsis for the suffering I have endured. And here goes the story again. At 18, I was diagnosed with a rare form of lymphoma, two types actually growing in the same malignancies: large cell (non-hodgkins) and hodgkins disease. I’m the 10th documented person in the world to have this rare cancer, and no one had survived before. My doctors told me that the treatment would be intense and would probably kill me, and even if I survived, I would be crippled for the rest of my life. They offered me a choice. I wanted to see if Doctor Who ever came back, so I gave it a go. I had three intense bouts of chemotherapy and daily radiation for six months at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, going down every day to be burned on my head, neck and chest. I dropped down to 90 pounds. I nearly didn’t survive, in fact, I died right before Samhain while in hospital. Once I got through it, I began to improve, getting out on Halloween. As you can imagine, Samhain is a special time for me.
I wrote Mercy to help me deal with the violation and pain of invasive medical treatment. They butchered me, burned me, sucked marrow out of my hips, fluid from my spine, placed me naked on freezing steel tables covered in lead, forced wax blocks into my mouth, drew countless vials of blood from shriveled veins, swelled my throat, hurt my memory, my ability to concentrate, speak, damaged my spine, my legs and left me in constant pain. I don’t remember what it feels like to be normal, and I’ve been living a half-life every since. It destroyed my teeth and jaw, and now, when I’m not dealing with the other malignancies that pop up because of the radiation, I am fighting to repair my jaw before sepsis kills me or infection damages my heart. I am traumatized. I suffer PTSD from the experience, and Mercy turns that trauma into a metaphor for that trauma. I don’t remember doctors in white coats trying to heal me. I remember demons lost to a dark God trying to suck out my vitality and eat it. The process of treatment de-conditioned me, prepared me in some way to face the beating heart. It prepared me the way we prepare meat to be roasted. All the time, I was preparing to die, hanging in a fog, and the past haunted me. I didn’t die quickly. Layer by layer, I melted, burned away by the great white gamma face, evaporating until only my raw primal lifeforce remained. The world looks quite different to me, and I’ve never lost that vision, never quite returned to human state.
My protagonist, Willie Saint, is going through the same process. He’s dying and is brought to Mercy Hospital—a decayed place, left to rot in a distant field, far away from civilization. The doctors feed on him, and he begins a journey, haunted by the people in his past, the lost loves. Eventually, he uncovers the secrets to the hospital, discovering an inner world. Old gods manifest in fungus, growing from the heart below the hospital, and he must resolve his life before finding peace in death.
DD: What does your writing space look like?
TFD: My writing space is in me. I’m in a lot of pain and suffer neurological dysfunction from the aforementioned radiation and chemotherapy. And I’m living with my in-laws while my wife finishes grad school through UNC (2 months to go) so my office travels with me. I have a nice laptop, a bookbag, portable mouse, headphones, a pillow for my back and Malcolm the plush fox (often X2 Malcolm, the stunt double or as my wife calls him, the false Malcolm as the original has gotten threadbare. So really, it’s me, my bed or a comfortable chair when I am strong enough to spend the day out of the house. That’s my favorite though: a comfortable chair, the smell of books everywhere, a venti latte with half-and-half, vanilla syrup and extra shot of espresso. I put the headphones in, start Napster and I’m working on the project of the day. It is meager, but I love being among the world when I write. It takes me out of myself.
DD: It being Halloween, let me ask: have you ever had a paranormal experience?
TFD: I think everyone has, if they choose to recognize them. Most just brush it off or ignore it. When I was young, a man’s yelling woke me from a deep sleep. I was terrified to move then finally ran for the other side of the house. While staying in an old hotel in Dublin, Ireland on my honeymoon with Allison, in the night, I heard footsteps coming down the hall then into our room. Something pushed my side of the bed down, but there was nothing there. My wife, being her usual unflappable self, asked it to let us get some sleep since we were jetlagged. I also nearly boarded the Philadelphia Ghost Bus of Despair while walking around Philadelphia after the first of several oral surgeries I’ve had done to correct some nasty post-radiation damage. The bus stops on occasion to pick up the lost and rides around for years in a fog. You can find references to all these supernatural smatterings at www.whatareyouafraidofpodcast.com.
DD: On the zombie front, is there anything you'd like to see more (or less) of in the genre?
TFD: I would like to see more zombie anthologies again. They’ve ‘died’ out. I had so much fun writing for them, and I miss it. I am watching a volley of new zombie movies lobbed at Amazon Prime. I’d like to see zombies retake their mantle of political satire, as mediums of expression for our social ills. George Romero always wrote with a theme in mind, and our best horror always shared a viewpoint about our humanity. Zombies exposed darkness in the living, showing us at our basest natures and how foolish, petty, gluttonous and mindless we can be.
“Zombies of Mass Destruction” is one of the newer zombie movies that actually continues this tradition. We interviewed the director and co-writer, Kevin Hamedani. As an American of Persian heritage, Kevin’s world changed as a teen after 9-11 and the Iraq War. Exposed to this subtle racism in America, he channeled his disenfranchisement into a script, selecting zombies as the best antagonists. In the movie, zombies are the opposition, but the real issue is the prejudice of the small town that suffers the outbreak. One Iranian girl and a homosexual couple must endure the insane persecution of some of the townspeople who choose the night of the zombie apocalypse to hunt down those who are different and blame them for the attack on their security. Kevin himself plays the iconic terrorist who unleashed the virus. We interviewed Kevin on episode 100: Zombies Strike Back at www.whatareyouafraidofpodcast.com
I thank you for the interview, David. You can find Mercy online at Amazon:
Posted by Dave Dunwoody at 9:28 AM
DD: Thanks for plugging back in, Thom! Tell us about your latest release, THE LAST IN LINE.
TE: Howdy! Thank you! It's great to be back.
The Last in Line is a book, ten years in the making. (Writing-wise) Thirty-years, Ideas and inspiration wise. You can think of it as Stranger Things meets Night of the Living Dead, meets Dungeons & Dragons, all set to a kick-ass 80's music soundtrack.
As with most of my zombie stories, it has far more to do with the living, breathing folks, than the moaning undead. It's 1985 and a group of terrorists have detonated a series of deadly dirty bombs all across the world, spreading a virus that kills nearly instantly, then causes the dead to rise and feed on the living.
These aren't your grandfather's zoms, no way in hell. Well, Hell, is actually quite accurate. These undead have red glowing eyes and cry black tears as they mournfully devour their loved ones.
A dark, shadow cult has risen to exact their revenge and one a group of blood-sworn guardians, calling themselves the Keeper's of the Eternal Flame can prevent the cultists from opening a hell-gate that would set their vile master free on this plane.
Among all of that is our group of unwitting, and wanting heroes. Warren, a chubby, comic-nerd just wants to graduate and draw for marvel and his yellow lab, Maico. Dex, Arnie, Jack, high school friends. A tough, inner-city girl. Throw in a gruff wheel-chair-bound Vietnam vet turned rock DJ and a strange, diminutive British guy spouting off about ancient prophecies, demons and casting spells.
It has all the elements of an 80's horror-flick, if it were directed by hybrid of directors, Stephen Spielberg, George Lucas and Quentin Tarantino. It's really a love letter to my childhood and teenage years. I had a great time writing this book and book two, Heaven & Hell is nearly finished, as well as the outline for book three, To Hell with the Devil. It certainly gets wild as the story rolls on. I do hope the folks check it out.
DD: What does your writing space look like?
TE: I have the third bay of our garage converted into a studio for all of my creative shenanigans. Inside, I have my drums, a PA system (which I use to crank my writing soundtracks, see the question below.) A drawing table (with a Wacom tablet) and art easel for my visual pursuits. And even an area for my friends and I to play Dungeons & Dragons.
My actual writing space if a large corner desk with two monitors, printer and wireless gear for all my creative fun. I have tons of zombie toys, Funko-Pop Stranger Things figures and Buddha statues and incense burners and candles to keep me inspired, along with some printed out quotes from my writing heroes/mentors to keep me focused. (Maberry, King, Keene, Lansdale, more.) I even have some Dallas Cowboy paraphernalia just in hopes to raise some positive mojo. (it never helps.)
On the walls I have posters of some of my book covers for when I am feeling like I completely suck and having a hard time keeping my big bum in chair.
I try to surround myself with things that put me in a “happy place”. A spot where I don't worry about the bills, yard work, politics, how bad my Cowboys are losing. You know... the real world crap.
I truly believe, every person needs their own “space”. Especially creative souls. It took me twenty years or so to finally get mine, but lord, almighty does it kick moby butt.
DD:. Do you listen to music when you write? If so, what's the music of THE LAST IN LINE?
TE: Oh, hell yes. Music is the very-life-blood of my existence. I was a musician before I was a full-time writer and it was inevitable for the music to find its way into that aspect of my creativity.
Every book, or short story, for that matter has a soundtrack. The Last in Line was no different. It was all 1980's hard rock and heavy metal. (with a little pop stuff thrown in for fairness to my childhood.) Mostly, DIO, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Motley Crue, Scorpions, WASP, Stryper, Whitesnake, Metallica, King Diamond, Queensryche, AC/DC, KIX, Accept, Krokus, Black 'N Blue, Rainbow, Dokken, Van Halen, Y&T, Triumph, RUSH, Foreigner, and so many more.
Well, truth be told, there were some 80's tunes of a lesser “heavy” vibe. Such as Men Without Hats, Bon Jovi, Duran Duran, Genesis, Culture Club, Bruce Springsteen, Dexy's Midnight Runners, The Tubes, The Hooters, and so much more lame 80's tunes. (I kid. I dug those songs too. Don't hunt me down and take away my devil horns.)
DD: You did the cover for this novel yourself. What's your process from conception to completion?
TE: Well, in truth, I did the initial sketch and layout of what I wanted for the cover, but I hired a tremendously talented horror artist, Jim Kavanuagh to actually illustrate the cover. It was his unique style and brilliant color choice that I thought captured the essence of an 80's movie poster/rock album cover.
We worked closely together and made changes and tweaks as Jim went along.
I'll speak to my aspect of the creation.
Since the story was an 80's retro tale, I wanted to go with an action movie poster vibe, mixed with the same excited, over-the-top elements from some of my favorite rock/metal album covers. Ya' know, all our heroes are surrounded by the bad guys/monsters and all hope seems lost. Yet there's an element of something amazing about to happen. It just seemed spot-on to me.
So, I did some sketches, send them off to Jim, with a few photo references and he send me back his ideas and we hashed it out from there. It came together rather quickly.
And before we knew it, we had us a kick ass, 80's cover.
As a side note, Jim also illustrated the back cover, but sadly, with all the text, blurbs and such, much of it is lost. I do plan on making the images available to my Citizens of the Erbal Nation group, so if anyone is interested in checking out those groovy pics, they can click here and join me.
You can also check out Jim's great artwork right here.
DD: Can you tease what readers can expect as the Eternal Flame Trilogy continues to unfold?
TE: I don't want to give too much away, but we find our reluctant heroes in a pretty dark place at the end of the LIL. But, the story takes a sharp turn and will be turned up a notch. Fraught with a whole new realm of dangers and bad guys. A new world(s) embedded with magic, hideous abyssal creatures with a mix of various mythologies, overwhelming love and gut-wrenching hate. Old characters will return. While a slew of new, fun personalities show up and take the story in a whole other direction.
By the end of book three, the stakes will have changed, risen and been violently burned to cinders. All of the tangled story/character lines will have been untied and the hectic gauntlet set forth in book one will end in an explosive and powerful crescendo.
All the over-the-top hyperbole aside, man, I've worked hard to make these books match my vivid dream I've had since 1986. I can only hope that the reader enjoys the roller-coaster ride and joins me for a few hours.
I do promise that it will be a thrill ride that I hope captures what it was like being a seventeen-year-old kid in 1985. That is, if it were in a zombie apocalypse, rife with demonic cults and drunken magic-user and dark assassins trying to kill you.
That's not too much to ask of their suspension of disbelief, is it?
Hey, the Erbman had to ask.
Come on and join the adventure. Let's do this!
Posted by Dave Dunwoody at 11:18 AM
DD: Thanks for plugging in, Shannon! You've written some wonderfully weird and original stuff including Short Bus Hero, which I loved. Tell us about your latest, Antichrist Supertaster.
SG: Hi, Dave! Thanks for having me. Yeah, you loved Short Bus Hero? That’s awesome, thank you! That book was pretty weird, I guess. The best thing about it? A lot of my horror friends told me that it made them cry. It made me so happy to hear that. How do you follow that? Well, you take a really long break, during which you sign with a big agent and do some networking with Hollywood players, and after that, you write another weird book with a catchy title. Antichrist Supertaster is the story of a kid tasked with saving his brother from a post-apocalyptic Washington, D.C. concentration camp and showing him that there’s still good left in the world. After a short stay with their cannibalistic grandmother in Manassas, the young travelers get picked up by a cult made up of anachronistic personalities who become convinced that the main character’s epilepsy is a clear sign that the teen is none other than the Antichrist. All hell breaks loose when one of the cult members figures out who the kids’ dad is, forcing our hero to make some tough choices. It’s kind of like The Road meets American Gods meets a They Might Be Giants song. There’s magic, despair, hope, poison candy, the resurrection and reconfiguration of the American dream, and an interpretation of the meaning of life.
DD: What does your writing space look like? Are there any rituals or habits you have to indulge before you write?
SG: My writing space…there are always a lot of coffee mugs, empty or mostly-empty soda cans, candy wrappers, and unopened mail hanging around. Sometimes, something in the clutter will give me an idea or help me solve a problem (usually not, but it’s happened). I don’t have any rituals or habits, but I do have this cheap Halloween costume hockey mask that I wear on my most productive days. It’s a little superstitious, I guess.
DD: Do dreams ever influence your work? Do you keep track of dreams?
SG: Either I am not lucky enough to dream or I just don’t remember any of my dreams. It’s probably the latter – I forget everything (how long did it take me to get back to you on these questions?). Since I’m dream-deficient, I have to rely on reality and conscious imagination.
DD: Do you write to music?
SG: Sometimes I have music on while I’m writing. It’s usually Death Cab for Cutie or Frightened Rabbit or some ‘80s band like The Smiths or The Cure. Lately, though, I’ve been pretty deeply depressed, and when I’m depressed, I don’t listen to music (not even depressing music)—everything seems too loud or distracting. I used to make playlists for writing, and I hope to go back to that practice someday, but, right now, I write in silence, or with cable news on in the background, or Marc Maron’s WTF podcast. I definitely write better with music.
DD: On the zombie front, is there anything you'd like to see more (or less) of in the genre?
SG: With The Walking Dead’s popularity and all the zombie books I read a few years ago, I’m kind of on a zombie hiatus. My main character in Antichrist Supertaster does bring a few beings back to life, with not-so-good results, so I’m not totally dissing zombie culture, but I’m not writing typical zombie stuff. My favorite zombie story is Scott Browne’s Breathers – it’s funny, but it’s sad, too. I’d say I like a little comedy and melancholy with my zombies, but it has to be done well. It’s a difficult thing to pull off because most of the comedy I’ve seen mixed into the horror genre just doesn’t work for me – it’s cheesy and cliché, and I don’t like that. If I had to read a zombie book, I guess I’d like to see more dry wit, and a newly minted zombie’s wonder at “WTF am I, what’s going on, I’m fucking starving—I eat what now? How in the hell am I going to get a brain?!” Maybe like an Interview With the Vampire or The Vampire Lestat, only with zombies. Maybe I’ll write that (there’s probably a book like that already out there that I don’t know about—I haven’t been keeping up with the zombies as much as I should).
Posted by Dave Dunwoody at 10:01 AM