Saturday, August 21, 2010

"Weird" Interview with Michael Vance!

Back in 2007, I had just released the self-published version of "The Coming Evil" and, in the words of Old Ben Kenobi, I was beginning to take my first steps into a larger world. I joined the Lost Genre Guild, a haven for Christian sci-fi/fantasy/horror writers. It was during this time that I met Michael Vance and discovered his Light's End stories.

For years I thought I was the only "Christian Horror" writer in the world, but Michael had been working in this genre for decades. We started corresponding and I read some of his Light's End stories and, I tell you, they could have been found in the pages of the original Weird Tales. They were pulp, and classic, and very much the contemporary of the works of Lovecraft, Bradbury, and Wellman.

It's no wonder then, that when his Light's End stories finally got their due and were picked up by Airship 27, that they were packaged into a "braided novel" appropriately titled Weird Horror Tales.

The first volume was released in February of 2009, and since then, I've been wanting to do an interview with Michael. I am endlessly fascinated by the craft and care he's put into his Light's End mythology--one that no doubt rivals the Cthulhu Mythos in unnameable dread--but time is elusive. This week, however, he announced the upcoming release of the second volume of Weird Horror Tales, and I knew now was my chance to pick his brain.

Michael did me the honor of sitting down and discussing the books and the origins of his massive continuity.

GM: What's the story behind Weird Horror Tales? What's it all about?

MV: Light's End is a town without God, and the overarching theme is what that would actually look like if it were true. For me, that would be the ultimate horror.

GM: It's described as a "braided novel". For those who don't know, how is that different from an anthology?

MV: While each story stands on its own legs, so to speak, it is also interlinked to all of the other stories in the series by setting, overarching theme, town history, a few repeating characters, and style. Each story was also meant to be a chapter that progresses a larger story creating a novel. In this case, these stories were always meant to end up as a trilogy of novels. But each book can be read alone and enjoyed.

GM: Light's End has an incredible timeline. Exactly how many years of the town do you have mapped out?

MV: Approximately 400 years at this writing.

GM: How long have you been writing Light's End stories?

MV: I’ve been writing the prose stories for about twelve years. The first Light’s End comic book stories predate the prose short stories. They were written in the 1980s.

GM: Let's go back to the beginning--what's the genesis of your "love affair" with Light's End? How did all this start for you?

MV: Horror is my favorite genre. In years past, I wrote several eight page horror stories for comic books. I also wrote a few within the larger framework of a comic strip I did for five years called “Holiday Out”. In fact, I wrote “Holiday Out” while working for the newspaper in the town that serves as the template for Light's End. These stories directly and indirectly lead to the creation of my fictional town.

The first Light's End comics stories were "Where Bright Angel Feet Have Trod" (first published in a magazine), "In The Out Door" (magazine), "Wishful Thinking", and "The Zoo" (both first published within my “Holiday Out” comic strip). All have been rewritten as short stories as well.

The Maine setting for the town is an homage to horror writer H.P. Lovecraft's fiction, while the name of my fictional town just came to me in an unexplainable epiphany. I liked the sound of it and it also suggested the use of a lighthouse as an icon, so I used it in my second and then third story. The town's name not only hints at the end of light and the triumph of evil, but at the resolution of the entire series.

“The Fall Guy” was the first Light's End prose story. It was written in a week during a low point in my life when I had been fired from a newspaper and had no idea what direction my life would then take. It took ten years to sell it to a small, semi-pro magazine.

When I wrote it, I decided to make the town a major "character" and underlying continuity in what I envisioned as a series of stand-alone and interconnected short stories.

Although not named Light’s End, it is a real town; I lived there for twenty years, once in the 1950s as a little boy, and once in the mid 1970s-1980s as a young man. At the end of each novel is a Flickr address where you can see hundreds of images of the actual town which most readers tell me is a very nice touch.

(That address is:

GM: How many Light's End stories have you written?

MV: Counting the third novel I'm writing now, I've written twenty-nine stories set in Light's End.

GM: Weird Horror Tales is obviously a labor of love. What was your journey like to see this in print?

MV: It took ten years to get the first prose Light’s End short story published. It took another ten years to write the first book and find a publisher.

GM: How did your partnership with Airship 27 come about?

MV: I submitted to them as I had done dozens of other publishers. I originally knew nothing about Airship 27.

GM: Well, that certainly worked out for the best. Airship 27 has an impressive line-up of pulp style novels, so I think Weird Horror Tales is a perfect fit. Tell us about the art! That's some great art you have in these books! Who are the artists and how did they come to work on this project?

MV: Keith Birdsong did the cover for the first book. He is an incredible artists probably best know for his painted covers for many Star Trek novels, but he has done much more than just the covers for novels. The cover for the second novel, Weird Horror Tales: The Feasting, was done by Christophe Dessaigne, a journalist, scenarist for role playing games, and photographer from France. I found him on Flickr, an image ‘community’ on the web. His work is desolate, vast and dream-like featuring huge structures and visions, and has appeared in cover art books, on music CD covers, and in magazines including Advanced Creations and PSD Photoshop.

GM: This is more of a comment, than a question, but your stories are so classy. They are really poetic and old-fashioned—in a cool pulp way, not in an “out of touch with modern day” way. But the stories are also pretty shocking with the horror! Maybe I’m lulled into a sense of safety because you’re such a “gentleman” with prose that when the horror happens, it’s extra startling and gruesome. You’ve really found something, I think, that’s quietly horrifying. What are your influences? How did you find this voice that you have?

MV: Thank you for your very insightful comments on my style. I became a writer because of the influence of H. G. Wells. Over the years, my greatest influences now include William Faulkner, Ray Bradbury, Alfred Hitchcock, and the EC comic books published in the 1950s. The original version of The Twilight Zone on television had a big impact on me as a boy as well.

GM: I see in your stories a lot of repeated phrasing—it’s almost like a musical theme. It adds to the poetry of the prose and kind of gives the monstrous events depicted a sort of lyrical quality. Is that something that you’ve planned or just a happy accident?

MV: My use of repeated phrasing is intentional, and a touchstone of my style. It was directly influenced by repetition in music.

GM: I know that you are a professing Christian, as well, and while I wouldn’t say these were “Christian stories” in the traditional Christian bookseller sense, religion—both Christian and pagan—plays a huge role in the Light’s End mythology. I know that, in my own experience, people assume that writing from a “Christian worldview” just means I won’t have cussing or extreme violence or blatant sex or whatever—but I think you’ve tapped into the deeper things that a Christian worldview can bring to a story. It’s very subtle, but there are questions of faith and religion and the supernatural’s place in our everyday lives and how the beliefs of our ancestors shape our own reality. How has your faith affected your writing, or do you feel that it hasn’t?

MV: My faith has deeply influenced every aspect of my life, and, therefore, must be present in my writing for me to be true to myself. It was never my intention to write traditional horror stories, or even traditional short stories; I wanted my style, while steeped in the culture that has surrounded my life, and influenced by the writers that I have loved so much, to be my style, my voice, me. I knew that the style itself would not only limit my audience, but the number of editors and publishers who would accept it, but I had come to that time in my life where I wanted to write exactly what I wanted to write whether it sold or not.

GM: Winding down, now, when’s Weird Horror Tales: The Feasting slated to be loosed on the world?

MV: The second braided novel will be published in September or October of 2010.

GM: I'll definitely be looking for it! Alright, Michael Vance, any parting words of wisdom?

MV: Live life for the glory of God.

Thanks to Michael Vance for stopping by, and everybody be sure to check out Weird Horror Tales! If you're a fan of old school pulp horror, you won't be disappointed.

Go here to order your copy of the first book for the best price:

1 comment:

The Gill-Man said...

I'll definitely have to check out Vance's work! Sounds fantastic! Since the novel I'm writing largely features a town as a "character", I'm sure I could pick up some pointers just from reading his stories. Thanks for sharing!

BTW, I LOVE that cover to The Feasting! Incredible piece!