Thursday, September 30, 2010

Interview with Bob Freeman: Occult Detective!

Happy October, everyone! Tis the season for ghouls, goblins, and all manner of things that go bump in the night. To kick off the Halloween spirit, I thought it'd be appropriate to sit down for a little jam session with horror author and real-life paranormal investigator Bob Freeman, to discuss writing, mythology, and his new book Descendant: A Wolfe and Crowe Investigation.

I first learned of Bob last year, when the both of us were co-contributors for Coach's Midnight Diner: The Back From The Dead Edition. Bob's short story Queen's Gambit (also included in Descendant) featured Father Rainey, an adviser to the Chicago Police Department's Occult Crimes Taskforce, investigating a string of ritualistic murders that draw him into a web of occult lore and secret societies. As a lifelong monster hunter fan, I was immediately drawn to Bob's character and the story made me think of The Exorcist III: Legion--a movie I have a lot of respect for. After that, I started keeping up with Bob over at his blog, occultdetective.com, and it wasn't long before I recognized a kindred spirit. Bob's tastes in monster hunters and occult detectives largely mirror my own. I finally approached Bob, which wasn't easy to do. I mean, have you seen the guy?



Yeah. See? Very scary.

But in reality, Bob is a great guy who seems to have a real generous spirit and accepting heart. He's also got a knowledge of "the weird" that I can only guess at. When I heard that he was collecting a lot of his occult detective short stories into Descendant, I knew I had to order a copy. I think I hounded the poor people at Belfire Press to death, anxious for the book to arrive. Once it did, I was not disappointed. Bob has told a fascinating, intricate, and action-packed tale of the occult and the few souls brave--or foolish--enough to strap on a mystical talisman, sidearm, and arcane knowledge to go out and fight back the darkness.



Perhaps the biggest surprise of the book was discovering--me! That's right, "Greg Mitchell" is a character in the book! I still hold the dream of going toe to toe with a werewolf (and surviving, obviously) one day, but until then, Bob has given me a great gift, writing me into his impressive occult detective mythology. I'm not gonna sugar coat it, I die. Total red shirt moment. But...then the real adventure for "Greg Mitchell" begins :p What that adventure is, you'll have to discover for yourself.

Bob was gracious enough to take time to ring in the Halloween season with me. Here's what happened:

GM: First for the obvious: Tell us about your new book Descendant.


BF: Descendant is an occult detective novel featuring Selina Wolfe and Martin Crowe, federal agents serving the Paranormal Operations Division of the FBI. Wolfe and Crowe are sent to investigate a series of strange and unusual deaths in and around Converse, a small farming community in north central Indiana, but soon become embroiled in a mystery with far more sinister connotations.

GM: As I understand it, according to the introduction to your short story Samhain, Descendant is included with your other stories in what you call the "Liber Monstrorum". I’m rusty on my Latin--I haven’t transcribed an esoteric text in a while. What’s the significance of the name? Not asking for myself, you understand, just all those newbies out there who aren’t cool like you and me and know Latin :p

BF: Liber Monstrorum translates, literally, as “The Book of Monsters”. There is an actual tome called the Liber Monstrorum, being an eighth century text writ by Aldhelm, an Anglo-Saxon scholar. This “Book of Monsters” was a compendium of fantastical creatures and my own fictional version is much the same.

In my universe, the Liber Monstrorum is protected by Landon Connors, an occult detective and magus whose family has dedicated their lives to combating all manner of creatures from this world and those worlds beyond that threaten man’s continued existence.

The Liber Monstrorum is not a museum piece, but a working manual that is constantly being updated and refined by its bearer.

I like to think of it as a Bartender’s Guide to Monster Slaying.

GM: If you put that book out, with that title, I'd buy it today. So, Samhain was the sort of genesis point for the Liber Monstrorum. What was the inspiration for that original story? How did this all begin?

BF: I wrote Samhain in 1987 at the height of the “Satanic Panic” that was sweeping across the country thanks to the sensationalized reporting of people like Geraldo Rivera. It was a crazy time. Growing up in the Midwest, it seemed like every weekend there was some kind of Church gathering centered around warning their flock about back-masking on record albums, the evils of playing Dungeons and Dragons, or nefarious cults that infiltrate daycare centers and elementary schools to subject the children there to the dark power of Satan.

GM: Ah, I remember those days. I think my own church (at the time) had a cassette burning one day, come to think of it. Of course, I was just nine and listening to Weird Al, so I squeezed by. Just barely :p

BF: I’d been involved in paranormal research for a while at that point and I’d been asked by the DNR to comment on strange occurrences at the Mississinewa Reservoir — animal sacrifices, occult graffiti, and ritual sites — on several occasions.

It seemed to me that it was akin to self-fulfilling prophesy. The majority of these incidents were being fueled by the very institutions that were whipping the populous into such a frenzy. The Church leaders and television personalities were giving young people the tools with which to rebel. But it wasn’t all young lions acting out. There was something not right going on out in those woods. And that’s what came out in Samhain.

GM: Your stories are populated by great Occult Detectives, from Landon Connors, to Sam Hill, Father Rainey, and of course Wolfe and Crowe. It actually reminds me of a sort of comic book universe. The characters have their own stories, their own supporting casts, their own “destinies” I guess you could call it, but in your stories we see them work cases together, pass off information, form bonds, etc. That kind of continuity always draws me to a series. It’s really great to come into any one of these stories and, even though it’s a new story or even new characters, I feel comfortable here as things are familiar. Previous events are referenced and it just feels like returning to old friends. But I’m really impressed with the fact that a reader doesn’t have to read everything in order to understand the story they’re in. Yet, if they have, there are all these little moments of “Hey! I remember when that happened!” Was this sort of “shared universe” something you set out to do, or a product of the natural course of writing?

BF: A little bit of both, I guess. I think it primarily stems from my love of Marvel Comics and in the way that Stan Lee made it seem like all those characters were trolling around the same New York City. When I started writing, I wanted to have that same kind of connectedness between all my stories so decided from word one that if you picked up a Bob Freeman story — be it a novel, short story, or poem — it was going to be taking place in the same universe. I don’t think I could have written any other way.

GM: See! I've been saying that for years in reference to my own writing and everyone around me thinks I'm crazy. But I'm not alone! Vindication! Okay, back on topic: Let’s talk influences. In reading your stories, I get this ‘70s vibe. It feels very late-school Hammer--The Devil Rides Out, To the Devil a Daughter--plus some older Marvel--Doctor Strange, Son of Satan, Tomb of Dracula. Also, there’s the obvious Robert E. Howard, Manly Wade Wellman, Weird Tales sensibilities. What did you read/watch growing up? What do you read/watch today?

BF: That’s a damn fine list of influences you’ve conjured up there, and every one of them is dead on. I am a child of the '70s, through and through. I grew up on a small farm in the Midwest and I prowled the backwoods with books, comics, and magazines as my constant companions. I devoured the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, and the Three Investigators, and I was obsessed with Marvel Comics, especially those by John Byrne. I was enthralled by Robert E. Howard, H.P. Lovecraft, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and Dennis Wheatley, but also by the Gothic Romances of Mary Stewart and Shirley Jackson.

On TV, it was Dark Shadows, Star Trek, Twilight Zone, Night Gallery, In Search Of, and Indiana’s late night horror host Sammy Terry. At the movies, I was hitting the Drive-In, watching Planet of the Apes, Omega Man, The Legend of Boggy Creek, and every Hammer and Universal horror movie I could feast my eyes on.

But you know, I’m getting pretty long in the tooth. Looking back over forty years of influences is a pretty big task. As a writer you learn to take everything in, be it daytime soap operas or romantic comedies, esoteric manuscripts or eccentric characters at the local coffee shop. Anything and everything is there to twist your skull in ways that help produce real and imaginative characters in these little dramas we write.

I could run off a laundry list of authors I’ve pored over and TV shows I’ve been obsessed with, but it all comes down to the simple truth of being aware of everything that’s going on around you and filling yourself with as much quality entertainment as you can muster, because it all becomes a part of you and of the stories you want to tell.

GM: Now, before you really committed to being a writer, you also worked as a comic book artist, correct? Do you miss doing that? I believe you’ve done your own covers, and covers for others. Also, Descendant has a couple stand-out collages inside that you did. Any thoughts of creating a Liber Monstrorum comic book?

BF: Actually, I headed up a small press publishing company for a decade or so and served as the head writer. My artwork with the company was limited to pin-ups, promotional material, and touch ups here and there. I worked with an insanely talented collection of artists at Lion’s Den Studios: my brother Bret Freeman, Doug Gentry, Joe Strunk, Andie Tong, and Ash Hamilton, among others. As great as it was, I prefer the freedom of writing novels and short stories. There are far fewer headaches, it being far easier not having the responsibility to juggle pencilers, inkers, letterers, colorists, and distributors. So no, I doubt we’ll be seeing a Liber Monstrorum comic any time soon, but I’ve learned to never say never. Who’s to say what might appear on the horizon?

GM: What I think separates you from a lot of other authors in the genre is that, you’re a real-life paranormal investigator. That’s pretty fascinating. What started you on that path?

BF: I’ve had a fascination with mythology, folklore, the occult, and the paranormal for as long as I can remember. It probably started with the ghost stories and urban legends that my family shared about their home state of Arkansas and our new home in Indiana.

I formed my first paranormal group, The Monster Club, in the third grade and began sneaking out of the house, prowling the little haunted boneyard just up the road from where we lived, and every abandoned house and sacred site I could locate. Then, in 1983, I got really serious and formed the Nightstalkers. I studied Anthropology in college — with a focus on witchcraft, magic, and religion — and I’ve been chasing ghosts ever since.

GM: We are in the Halloween season, and I can’t bring up the real-life-paranormal-investigator question without asking—what’s the scariest thing you’ve encountered?

BF: One night, the Nightstalkers and I were exploring an abandoned house. The same house that shows up in Shadows Over Somerset as Malcolm’s hideout, I should add. We were in the great room, dead of night, when all of the sudden something hits the floor under our feet. It lifted us off the ground. The whole floor rose up, maybe six inches? I’m a big guy… at the time I was 6’2” and weighed in at 225. There were five of us. Boom! There it was again. And this sound… kind of a sucking, gurgling, otherworldly noise that echoed through the room. The fear was palpable.

We made our way through the kitchen and to what I imagine was a mudroom with a door set in the floor. Steeling ourselves, I lifted the door that led down to the basement. It was filled with dark, murky water, right up to the top step. Suddenly a damn creature flips up out of the water and we all screamed like school girls. It was like some sort of Lovecraftian Horror. I staggered back, dropped my flashlight into the water. Two of the guys ran off into the night. Then the creature came to the surface again.

It was a carp. No, let me say that again. It was a HUGE carp. Maybe four feet in length? I mean, it was freaking HUGE. The three of us sat down and laughed our asses off. I mean, wow, talk about frightening… I assume the floor joists were rotted away from the bottom plate and gave the floor some buoyancy. That’s how it was able to rock the great room’s floor and put the fear of Cthulhu into us…

That night scared me more than any of the actual supernatural encounters I’ve ever come across and was far more frightening than the times I’ve had my life threatened with a gun. This was a primordial fear that just wrapped its fingers around my gut and squeezed. Weird how it also happens to rank as one of the funniest moments in my life as well.

GM: What’s next for Bob Freeman and the Liber Monstrorum (sounds like a band)?

BF: I’ve got two books from Belfire Press coming out next year. The first, a novella titled Autumn Moon and The Book of Secrets, will launch in February and the second, Born Again — the follow-up novel to Descendant — will be released in the Fall.

Next year will also see the re-release of Shadows Over Somerset and Keepers of the Dead in “Director’s Cut” editions. These books will feature material that had been excised in the later editorial stages — material that pertained to the Liber Monstrorum. It will be great to see these books more tightly edited and appearing as I originally intended.

You can also look forward to Daemonomicon, a graphic novel I’ve been working on with artist Chris Wilson, plus several short stories that will be appearing in various magazines and anthologies. I also have a half dozen or so book covers from publishers great and small that will be released throughout the year.

GM: Thank you so much for stopping by and talking about the arcane with us. Now, for my final and, perhaps most important question: Is there hope of seeing a previous adventure of my namesake, “Greg Mitchell”? I don’t know about anyone else out there, but I thought he was a very captivating character and could sell you a lot of books. Perhaps even NYT Bestseller list. Just saying :p

BF: Ha! You can look for Greg Mitchell to show up in both Born Again and its follow-up novel, Apocalypse Road — completing the Wolfe and Crowe Trilogy for Belfire Press. Your namesake was just too good of a character to leave bloody and headless for long. ;)

GM: Yes! You heard it here first, folks! Greg Mitchell will take back the night!!

Super thanks to Bob Freeman for hanging out with us. Now, quick! Head over to his website www.occultdetective.com for more information and to read some great free short stories, including Samhain, the one that started it all. Also, you can follow Bob on Twitter (www.twitter.com/OccultDetective) and Facebook (www.facebook.com/occultdetective) for you social networking types.

Order your copy of Descendant today!
Fair bit of warning for my more squeamish readers: Expect steaming entrails, f-bombs, and sexual content. If those things bother you, this ain't your cup of tea. But if you dare, step into Bob Freeman's world of hardboiled occult detectives!

Buy Descendant at Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Descendant-Wolfe-Investigation-Bob-Freeman/dp/1926912004/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1285896136&sr=1-1

And, for an early Halloween treat, since Bob mentioned horror host Sammy Terry...


2 comments:

Jodi Lee said...

:) Excellent review and interview, Greg!

BTW, you didn't bug us too much - just the right amount to track it down. ;) We're looking forward to seeing your future..uh..incarnation!

Greg Mitchell said...

I'm looking forward to seeing myself, too! :p Thanks for reading :)