The Next Big Thing

Just a week ago, Robert Swartwood “tagged” me in his “The Next Big Thing” blog post. I’d describe TNBG as a writerly chain letter where one writer answers some questions about his next book, and then passes the ball/baton/cannoli to another five writers he/she knows. (See below for my author picks.) Those five will answer these same questions next week, and so on and so on. So…I’ll be answering these questions about a short story collection I’ll be putting up later this month, as Zeus is my witness.

1) What is the title of your next book?

Arm of Darkness.

2) Where did the idea come from for the book?

About twenty-five years ago I wrote a short story about a petty crook who wanders into a roadhouse to get out of a snowstorm and has a horrifying encounter with a mysterious stranger. I always liked the story but never did anything with it. Then, over the years, every time I found myself procrastinating on a work-for-money project, I’d bang out another one of these short stories to waste time. I never did anything with these stories either. I’ve never been good about selling my fiction work. But I started revising the pieces last year and was surprised to find that they formed a pretty coherent collection because every story has, at its heart, one character who kicks the action into motion: A man with an arm fashioned from the night sky.

3) What genre does your book fall under?

Horror. Definitely horror. With elements of crime, sci-fi, ghosts, and, uh, cryptozoology.

4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

You know, it’s not a great question because it would be a very disjointed, episodic movie. But I figure people like Sam Elliott or Jackie Earle Haley or even a heavily disfigured Ryan Gosling could play the man with the arm of darkness.

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

A mysterious demonic stranger intrudes upon the lives of unsuspecting people from all walks of life, good and bad, and forces them to make choices with horrific consequences.

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Self-pubbed, baby, all the way. I calculate that my wife and I have sold more than 300,000 copies of books that we’ve written separately or together. But they’re all nonfiction. I have no track record in traditional publishing as a fiction writer. Right now, I kind of like that. Short story collections are hard sells to traditional publishers, anyway. I just like pretending that I’m an old-time pulp writer for now. I have a hat I can wear that fits the bill.

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

In real time, the whole book probably took five months to write the first draft. Just keep in mind that that time was spread out over a period of about 20 years. Then a burst of writing at the end pulled them into a unit. Mostly, that later work recast and grounded the stories in a specific place—the American southeast where I now live.

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Honestly, I think it has more in common with those old Weird Tales stories you used to see back in the day. Or TV anthologies such as Twilight Zone or Tales From the Crypt.

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I’ve been a journalist most of my life. From time to time, I’d come across some weird real-life stories that obsessed me and made me want to cast them as fiction. But practically speaking, each of these stores was written as a way to procrastinate from other work I was doing. They entertained me. After a while, I started liking the character at the center of the stories.

10) What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

Two of the stories at the end—the most recent ones—were based on real-life cases I encountered in the course of other work. One involves an early 20th-Century woman who insisted on being buried in a glass-topped tomb when she died. Why? So that the sun would always shine on her face.

By the way, if anyone reading this would like a free copy in exchange for an honest review when the book comes out, let me know and I’ll get you a copy as soon as I’m ready to publish.

Okay. I’m done. Now, I’d like to introduce these five writers. Please check out their blogs next Wednesday to see what they’ve been working on. I hope you’ll be moved to buy some of their work along the way!

Denise Kiernan

Stuart Connelly

Neal Thompson

W. Bradford Swift

Hunter F. Goss