Continuing my interview series called THE SEVEN, in which I invite some of my favorite authors to answer seven questions about their most recent projects, today’s guest is Brian Hodge, whose crime novels WILD HORSES and MAD DOGS ranks high on my list of favorites, as does his stellar horror collection PICKING THE BONES. There is a reason that Brian’s work is a staple of the Year’s Best compendiums. Simply put, the man can write like nobody’s business.
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A: You kind of have to break this into two. I’ve recently finished converting my backlist novels and collections into e-book formats. Some are out, some are still in the pipeline, and will continue to emerge over the next several months.
But for wholly new stuff, that would be WITHOUT PURPOSE, WITHOUT PITY, a long, standalone novella. DarkFuse, formerly Delirium Books, released the digital edition in March, and the hardcover in June, although that was sold out on publication, I believe.
Q. What inspired the project?
A: Its earliest roots lie in a story I never wrote for an anthology that never came out. Years ago, John Pelan invited me to do something for another anthology he was editing, THE CTHULHIAN SINGULARITY. I don’t want to get into John’s troubles here, but there was a point where I started to get a bad feeling and lose faith that it was going to happen, and I ended up leaving things in the notation stage.
But the ideas lingered, and mutated over time, and sprouted offshoots. The core idea was to come at a post-apocalyptic scenario from a different angle, and set something in a Las Vegas of the near future, after it’s suffered a socio-economic collapse because of its inability to meet its own water needs — which is a very real-world problem — and then been cut off from the rest of the world by this deadly vortex. My entry point into everything would be the plight of a one-time heavyweight boxing contender, whose body starts to change after he’s gone missing for a week, and he becomes a kind of conduit between the forces on the outside of this reality, and the people trapped inside it. All of that was retained, in one form or another, but because I had a lot more room to stretch out, it grew considerably more layered.
Q. What is the primary theme you’ve chosen to explore with this project?
A: Thematically, I tend to work on both macro and micro levels … micro being what’s going on with the characters, and macro being something to do with the overarching situation. The macro here was mostly the way leaders manipulate by promising and telling people what they want to hear, and the difficulty of going against that. For the micro, I was really taken with delving into the bonds between trainers and fighters, and fighters themselves, in the world of combat sports, and the immense dedication it takes when that’s who you are and what you do.
Of course, most of the time, you can only spot the thematic stuff in hindsight: “Oh, I get it now, so that’s what I was up to!”
A: The current novel-in-progress. It’s been taking forever, progressing in starts and stops. It’s very different from anything I’ve done before, at the intersection where history and folklore have had a pile-up. When you set something in the modern world, there’s a kind of shorthand you rely on that bridges the gap between the work and the reader. You can count on having the same basic cultural reference points. But with something like this, set in a totally different time and place, you have to throw all that out. It’s like starting over from scratch, relocating your life in an entirely different culture, while still having to fit most everything within a framework of fact.
Everybody seems to have one of these novels at one stage or another: the one that feels like climbing Mount Everest by bearcrawling up backwards.
Q. Which title would you suggest as a good introduction for newcomers to your work, and why?
A: Tough call, since my output is pretty varied. On the horror side, I’d say my fourth collection, from last year, PICKING THE BONES. It covers a lot of thematic and stylistic ground, and PUBLISHERS WEEKLY gave it a starred review, so that makes for a good stamp of approval. On the crime side, I’d go with WILD HORSES. That one benefits from the energy and exuberance of going in a totally new direction from anything I’d done before it, and I think that comes across in the reading.
Q. What are your thoughts on the burgeoning digital market?
A: Overall, I think it’s a great new land of opportunity. Having a global reach, with no middlemen, or at least fewer of them, and always being able to have your work available, working for you … who can argue with that?
The downside is the glut. The barrier to entry is so low that there’s effectively no barrier at all. All it takes to call yourself a published author now is a way of saving a Word file to PDF and one working finger.
I do think that, overall, those of us who came of age in print have an advantage over those just now trying to establish themselves solely in the digital realm. Because we’ve had the benefit of publishers investing in us and our work, and we’ve created and often continue to create physical books, and maybe we have an accumulation of review excerpts from recognized sources … all that confers a kind of legitimacy. Not that it’s essential. The success stories are out there, of course, but then, they’re floating on a floodtide of semi-literate bilge nobody’s ever going to read, that was put out just because somebody could. Self-publishing is the easy part. Putting in the years to refine your art and craft, that’s the part that most people can’t be bothered with, and now don’t have to. So I don’t know how that resolves.
What I’m intrigued by is where the e-book goes from here. How does it go beyond just replicating onscreen the look of words on paper, and evolve into something that takes greater advantage of the medium? I can see them becoming something similar to DVDs, in that they would combine the main features with bonuses like art and photo galleries, videos, music and audio, supplemental text, maybe interactive stuff that nobody’s even thought of yet. There’s some of that going on already in digital textbooks, but I can see it becoming more commonplace in fiction, especially in the kind of stories where there’s some real world-building going on. Although few writers are going to be equipped to do a pro-level job on all of those types of additional material, so maybe that’s one way the major publishing houses start to distinguish themselves again: have a department that focuses solely on conceptualizing and generating that extra content.
Q. What’s next for you?
A: Coming up almost immediately, I did a couple chunks of Stephen Jones’ mosaic novel, ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE: FIGHTBACK, the second of what looks to be a trilogy. In October, there’s a new story, “For I Must Be About My Father’s Work,” in Nancy Kilpatrick’s anthology DANSE MACABRE. It’s something I’d intended to do for years, a story based on an incident in the life of mob killer Richard Kuklinksi, the Iceman. I recently wrote a novelette called THE WEIGHT OF THE DEAD, that will come out next year from Cemetery Dance. It started as a story for the magazine’s upcoming end-of-the-world special issue, but then slipped its leash and got totally out of hand. So they decided to put it out as a standalone, one of their Signature Series, with Erin Wells doing the artwork, and she’s a great match for the material.
There’s a slew of other stuff in the works or in the queue. A bunch of invitations came in almost all at the same time, and I’d really like to be a part of each project, so I’m just working to balance all that with the novel before one of us kills the other.
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Visit Brian Hodge’s website here