Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Interview with Paeter Frandsen of Spirit Blade Productions!

I love Paeter Frandsen.

There. I said it.

First off, his name is endlessly fun to say. Beyond that, the guy is total geek--and, in my circles, that's a real compliment. It won't take long reading his blog to discover where his passions rest. There he talks games, comics, and sci-fi/fantasy/horror movies, but with an eye towards detecting the deeper truths found in such geek-worthy pursuits. On top of that, he is the mastermind behind Spirit Blade Productions--a fantastic venture that produces high-quality audio dramas!

I've been a big fan of radio dramas for a while now. Many in my generation might recall the Star Wars Radio Dramas based on the original trilogy. I still have my old cassettes of The Shadow radio plays, and I've already instructed my wife to purchase me a couple dramas from Dark Adventure Radio Theatre as produced by the amazing H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society.

When I first heard of Paeter's Spirit Blade series--a high concept, far future, sword-clashing, demon-fighting, sprawling sci-fi/fantasy/and supernatural epic--I was immediately intrigued. I was made all the more so when I discovered that such a fanboy smorgasboard was also an exploration of theology! I listened to the first Spirit Blade story (it's a trilogy, yo), and had a great, great time. It was such an immersive experience and left me wanting more. Today, we're talking to the man himself about this adventure in sound.

Greg Mitchell: First off, let’s start with something easy. Who the heck are you?

Paeter Frandsen: Mmm. A deep and profound question we must all ask ourselves... But I'll give you the shallow answer. My name is Paeter Frandsen. First name rhymes with "later", last name rhymes with "Manson". I live in Mesa, Arizona. I've been acting and singing for most of my life and also served as a worship pastor for a short time.

In 2006 I launched "Spirit Blade Productions", a very small company dedicated to telling very big stories in the genres of science fiction and fantasy. I've always been a huge fan of comic books, role-playing games (both video games and "paper and pencil") and fantasy novels. Sharing the truths of the Bible has been another passion of mine for a long time. So "Spirit Blade Productions" is really the inevitable result of combining my passions and the various facets of who I am.

GM: What is this crazy thing called The Spirit Blade Trilogy?

PF: Well, first off, it's an audio drama, which is different from an audio book in that it is performed by a full cast of actors and is completely fleshed out with sound effects and a musical score. In fact, its very much like a movie, except without the picture. Ideal entertainment for when you're driving, exercising or doing mindless work.

The Spirit Blade Trilogy takes place in the distant future, when the government has decided that all spiritual belief systems that make absolute truth claims are illegal. The ensemble cast centers on Merikk, a "has been" musician looking for meaning in life. Merikk discovers that he has a very important role to play in The Underground Liberation, a group of men secretly trying to put the concept of absolute truth and the quest for answers about God back in mainstream circulation.

The stakes are very high and the journey is a wild one. Characters travel in and out of the spirit realm, battling demons, while also struggling in a conflict with humans in the physical world. Aliens, cyborgs, science-fiction and the supernatural all collide in an extremely genre-bending experience.

GM: You’ve achieved something really spectacular with Spirit Blade. Namely, the resurrection of a largely dead medium: the radio drama. When you were thinking of Spirit Blade, why in the world did you decide to go with the radio drama route, of all things?

PF: Well, I certainly wouldn't say I've resurrected the medium. There is a large community of artists working hard to bring attention to it. And the internet and mp3 players are now making the medium both accessible and attractive. But I do hope that I'm bringing something very unique to the table.

The reason I chose the medium of audio drama is because I believed it was a medium I could create material in that would meet or exceed the standards established by the secular mainstream. Trying to tell these epic, action-packed, effects-filled stories as movies would result in something that looks very cheap and laughable. Hollywood is not interested in producing stories with strong biblical themes and the Christian arts community has not yet been able to summon the resources and talent to compete with summer movie blockbusters. I'm just really tired of seeing cheap knock-offs or other crap with the label "Christian" on it. My work is far from perfect, but I'm doing everything I can to create material that meets or exceeds mainstream standards.

GM: I’ve gotta say that the production of Spirit Blade is a masterpiece of sound, and I don’t say that lightly. I’ve been a fan and have listened to my share of radio dramas in the past, but you have really set a high bar for quality. A lot of times, even in the most professional of productions, there seems to be “the sound effect track” and then the actors and dialogue—as sort of these two separate things—, but Spirit Blade really puts the actors in the midst of the action. When things blow up, I feel it—almost see it. When I was listening to it, I had that same idea--that this was a big budget special effects bonanza, without the picture. Not only that, but there are so many layers to the sounds. I really want the audience to understand that this isn’t just talking with some sound effects, you’ve created an audio work of art with nuance and complexity. How long did it take you to create this—not from conception, but just the grunt work of recording and mixing this production?

PF: Thanks so much. The recording and production of the original mix of "Spirit Blade" took about two years, working on it at night while on staff at my church during the day. Now that I do this mostly full-time, the "Special Edition" took about six months. The work is helped greatly by the sound effects libraries I've purchased from various Hollywood effects studios, and the fantastic scoring I'm able to purchase as well, but "grunt work" is an appropriate description. A lot of it is a ton of fun, but there is plenty more that's just plain boring, technical work. Adjusting levels and EQs. And timing is a big issue, for both effects and dialogue. Each actor comes and records individually. It isn't until I'm mixing that I line them all up so they sound like they're in a room together sharing a conversation. I basically have to do almost everything except act for the actors. And since I'm controlling the pacing of their line delivery, I even do a little bit of acting for them too.

GM: I’ve fawned enough over your technical prowess! Let’s go back a bit, to the very genesis of Spirit Blade. How did this story come about for you? How long have you been working on it?

PF: It's been a long journey, especially for the first part of the trilogy. I wrote the story as an unpublished novella from about 1999 to 2002, just as something fun to do in my spare time. I converted it to an audio script in 2003 and it was performed live at my church in 2004.

GM: Now that sounds awesome!

PF: Most of the cast of the live show returned to record the project a few months later and I released the original mix of "Spirit Blade" in 2006. After releasing two more projects, it became obvious to me that my technical ability had taken a leap forward right after mixing Spirit Blade. So this year I did a complete remix of the project from the ground up. Entirely remixed songs, a new score, tons of new sound effects and a greatly improved overall sound. We just released the "Spirit Blade: Special Edition" audio drama in October. So it's really been a long journey for that project. And for "behind the scenes" junkies, we've got a ton of free downloads to check out at, as well as our archive discs, that chronicle most of it.

GM: I think, tonally, Spirit Blade has a very “Saturday morning cartoon” feel to it, and I mean that in the best possible way. While listening, I envisioned a sort of cross between Luc Besson’s underrated The Fifth Element, mixed with Batman Beyond (a favorite of mine). Also, at its heart, it captures this “gee whiz” approach to sci-fi that’s really reminiscent of the original Star Wars and the new The Clone Wars animated series. Plus, what I was not prepared for: Spirit Blade is actually kind of a musical! Was there a specific tone you were trying to achieve, or did this come naturally out of the demands of the story and the nature of radio drama—which has to be a bit “melodramatic” for the simple reason that the audience can’t see the actors?

PF: "Spirit Blade" doesn't have quite the focus of tone that our following two projects have, and I think that's the result of me learning the ropes as a director in this medium. It's especially noticeable in the original mix, and still noticeable some in the performances of the "Special Edition".

Some of what you're interpreting as melodrama results from the inflection used by the actors in an effort to convey audibly what is normally displayed visibly. This is one of the huge challenges of audio drama. Everything has to be just slightly overdone. For example, you'll notice in "Spirit Blade" that, despite some of its lighter tone at times, there is also quite a bit of "gore". Demons exploding in a mess of entrails, quite a bit of juicy, bloody effects when characters are sliced by a sword, and other moments of "audio yuckiness" that I won't spoil.

GM: Yeah, those parts were pretty awesome :p

PF: If this were all presented with visuals to match what you hear, you would be looking at a hardcore R-rated movie. But as an audio drama, it's much more of a "PG-13" experience.

As for the "musical" aspect of the trilogy, I just wanted to experiment. I figured, if I'm limited to audio, why not try taking further advantage of the audio medium and use songs to tell some of this story? I'm not doing the same thing in our other projects, but Merikk is a musician and sees the world through the interpretive lens of his art. So that provides a bit of a bridge for the involvement of the songs. It's definitely a bit experimental, but my hope is that my audience is open and imaginative enough to give it a shot. Plus, it's not a "musical" in the sense of "kick lines" and "jazz hands". Most of these songs are hard, industrial electronic, which blends well with the sci-fi and supernatural elements. And in two and a half hours, there are only seven of them.

The vast majority of reactions I've gotten to the presence of the songs is positive, though it's not everyone's cup of tea. So all I can suggest is that folks give it a shot and see what they think. ;-)

GM: Where do you find the incredibly talented actors that populate your cast? Are you looking for help in future Spirit Blade Productions?

PF: Thanks for the praise! I've been very grateful for every cast member I've ever had. Especially since they all do it for free!

We're a very small company. Basically, it's me doing everything related to production while my wife crunches the numbers. I pay a friend to do all the graphic design elements (when he lets me pay him) and have another guy that I pay once or twice a year for website related services. But day in and day out, it's a one man operation. I also do everything I can to keep our product prices low when compared to mainstream audio drama prices. So financially we're still a long way from being able to pay our talented cast members, despite how much it pains me. But I've been hugely blessed by the number of gifted individuals who are also excited about what we're doing or just plain think its fun enough to do without pay.

The cast of "Spirit Blade" is made up almost entirely of people who were going to my church at the time we produced the live show. Our church had a strong outreach theater ministry at the time, and so we had some great options right at our doorstep. With each successive production I've reached more and more outside of that circle. Our third project, "Pilgrim's Progress: Similitude Of A Dream", was the first for which I posted casting calls in the secular acting community in the Phoenix area, and worked with a couple of actors I'd never met before. I've used a few actors I've found online in smaller roles, but the right "online actors" are few and far between, since they need to be not only solid actors, but able to create and send me a recording of their performance that meets the technical standards of the rest of the recorded dialogue.

However, microphone quality and acting experience aren't near as vital for those who join the fun of our online volunteer production community, The Spirit Blade Underground Alliance. We're always looking for enthusiastic folks to get involved as writers, actors, mixers or visual artists as we pool our efforts to produce audio fiction that we then make available for free. It's a ton of fun and you can get more info at

GM: What’s next for Spirit Blade, the story? It’s a trilogy, right? Is the second part already out? What can fans hope to :p

PF: The second part of the trilogy was released in 2008 and titled "Spirit Blade: Dark Ritual". As you can imagine, it has a darker tone and story to match the title. If "Spirit Blade" is a story about all of these characters on a rough day, "Dark Ritual" is a story about these characters on a day straight from hell. A promotional tag-line for this story was "no one is safe". Couldn't be more true.

I'm currently outlining and preparing to write the script for the third and final part of this trilogy, which will answer some lingering questions and bring the story to a close on an insanely epic scale. We're going out with a seriously big bang.

GM: The only way to do it!

PF: For info and trailers for all of our projects, you can visit And I keep a running blog with updates on my current projects at, so that's probably the quickest way to keep up to date on what's coming next.

GM: Alright, all this talk of sci-fi has been great, but I think we’d do the story a disservice not to talk about what lies at the core of it—and that’s its Christian foundation. This is a story about finding meaning in life and, ultimately, looking to God to discover it. Why tell this kind of story in a Star Wars-y setting? What are the unique challenges in developing a Bible-based story in a lasers-and-hovercar kind of world?

PF: Science fiction and fantasy have always been wonderful playgrounds for philosophy. Good and evil can be represented in dramatic ways not possible in realistic stories and important ideas can be explored in fantastic environments that take the pressure off of the audience.

If you look at films like Star Wars, Tron, The Matrix, Superman, and many others, you'll see imaginative fiction dealing with extremely relevant spiritual issues. Now and then we'll see a stronger Christian influence in movies like The Lion The Witch And The Wardrobe, but most times Buddhism, a form of Hinduism or "pop-spirituality" are the main schools of thought presented.

More than half of the time, science fiction is a platform for atheistic assumptions. Theological issues, like those in Tron and The Matrix, are more symbolic than actually a supernatural element in the story. I wanted to challenge this paradigm by creating science fiction that is driven specifically by biblical thought and that also breaks the mold of the genre some by incorporating the supernatural as well.

The challenge isn't so much in the development of this kind of story as it is in the marketing of it. First off, it's a futuristic Christian story that has nothing to do with the "end times". Secondly, as I mentioned before, it's very violent. Our slogan is "Christian sci-fi and fantasy, unsterilized, unsafe...unleashed!" Most Christians are stuck pretty firmly in "family friendly" mode, so what we're doing definitely isn't for everyone.

GM: One of the things I recall upon first discovering your site is this sort of “beacon” message you’ve got—calling out to all the “Misfit Christians” who like sci-fi, fantasy, and horror. Ha, ha, I know the feeling! I’ve been a proud Misfit Christian from the very beginning. Do you find much resistance from the Church toward what you’re doing, or maybe for your interests in “the weird”?

PF: At this point we aren't high profile enough to have gained much attention from anyone but those who become fans. But it's not uncommon for me to get an e-mail from a new listener who says they are concerned about some of the content in our productions. Oddly, it isn't usually the violence, but the "language". In Spirit Blade, I have a list of invented "swear words" that my characters use. Despite a little crossover, none of them have a consistent parallel in modern slang, and their actual meanings are left very vague. But despite this, and the fact that the Bible never gives us a list of taboo words in the English language, some listeners are uncomfortable with even these completely fictional "swear words".

But responses like this are more and more uncommon. I'd say I feel more resistance to my love of horror, sci-fi and fantasy in my personal relationships than in my work. I've been a bit "weird" like that for a long time, and I know I'm not alone. Ultimately, Spirit Blade Productions is about reaching out to this lost segment of the population that the church at best doesn't know what to do with and at worst actually condemns. The Spirit Blade Underground Podcast ( is a weekly show I produce for Christian geeks to hear and talk about their favorite geeky subjects while learning to discern the difference between the good and bad philosophies presented in genre fiction. My heart and passion is for the misunderstood geek to better understand and get excited about the incredible truths of the Bible and to have great relationships and community with other believers.

GM: I really appreciate you taking the time to hang out and talk all things geek. You are a man who knows your stuff and that’s commendable. Any parting words to our audience? Where can they find you on the net? Pitch your product, man!

PF: Well first, thanks for having me here, Greg. Great questions and a lot of fun!

We've got a ton of things going on. The audio dramas, tons of free downloads, a podcast, forums and a creative community to participate in. The best way to check it out is to visit and just start exploring. You can also hear trailers and free previews of our projects on the site.

We're running a cool promotional offer right now for "Spirit Blade: Special Edition" and will be starting another one for the Christmas season. And for those buying physical product from us, shipping is always free!

Lastly, I'd love to hear from you. What I'm doing is really about the people I'm doing it for. I love interacting with listeners and would love to get reactions from anybody who visits the site. And tell you what, from now to the end of November, shoot me an e-mail (you can find it on the site) and say that "Greg sent me" and I'll send you a free download of the "Spirit Blade Song Bundle". I hope to hear from you soon!

There you have it, folks! What more could you possibly need before you bought this thing?! Head over to Spirit Blade Productions today! Tell 'em Greg sent you.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Evolution of a Bogeyman

February is getting closer, and The Strange Man will finally be loosed upon the world.

As we hurdle closer to that moment, I'm reminded of my nearly 13 year long journey to see this creation come to life. The road has been twisty, with more than one detour or roadblock in the path. But today, I want to talk about the Strange Man, himself. The Bogeyman.

The first concept I guess I ever had of a "bogeyman" was Freddy Krueger.

I remember the night I first watched (most of) A Nightmare on Elm Street. It was on late night TV and I was, maybe, nine years old. I was petrified, but fascinated. I'd watch a little bit, then turn the channel to catch my breath, then flip back to Fred. Scary stuff. Perhaps what stayed with me the most was the taunting. How much fun he was having, killing these people. It was that ego, that totally carefree attitude to butchery that fundamentally disturbed me.

I don't suppose it's any coincidence then that, years later when constructing my own bogeyman, he got a little Fred Krueger buried at the heart of him. The Strange Man is a sadist, deriving a kid-on-Christmas-morning kind of glee from inflicting misery and torment on his victims. He taunts them, daring them to stand against him, then laughs as he crushes their hopes and dreams before their stunned eyes. In order to write "The Coming Evil" from the heart--from the gut--I had to put my characters against something that terrified me, and the Strange Man is that.

For the physical look of the Strange Man, he's gone through a lot of renditions. First and foremost, in the very first draft of "The Coming Evil"--back when it was a screenplay--he wasn't called "The Strange Man" at all. In those days he was simply "The Devil". From the get go, I really wanted to touch on the duality of the Devil. He's charming and enticing one minute, then he reveals his true nature and rips your throat out. In the original script, he appeared in a "human form" throughout the whole story--with maybe only glimpses of his true self in window or mirror reflections. Here's a sketch I threw together back then.

His monster form sorta looks like a plucked bird. I was playing on the popular renderings of angels with wings. My idea was that, as a fallen angel, his "wings" would be removed. Also, he's got no eyes, or perhaps they were just closed. My concept was that, after having been locked up in "the gloomy caves of hell" as the Bible refers to it, he'd be malnourished, frail, pale, and his eyes would be sensitive to the light. This was a pretty bizarre sketch. I quickly ditched it.

That smile, though, really struck me.

The smile can be a creepy thing. I'm told that I don't actually smile a lot, and, as it turns out, I think I distrust people who walk around with a smile on all the time. That kind of smile, oftentimes, seems forced or perhaps used to cover up darker thoughts. I think it was Mark Hamill's turn as the Joker in Batman: The Animated Series that made me see the power behind the "demented leer".

I began to incorporate that more and more into my bogeyman. In fact, for a brief stint, he was known as "The Smiling Man" in that "plucked bird" form. But, I wanted something a little more dramatic. Hence...this.

This was my attempt at a Lestat figure (it didn't last long, either). Very charming, metrosexual, some Goth influences in there--really over the top. I really dig that monster, though. I refer to that as "Open Face". But, no. That was too much, and kinda silly, really. But it was a lot of fun to draw and I still get a kick out of looking at it. The only thing I think I retained from this concept was the metrosexual approach to the Strange Man's "beautiful form" (though he's a much better dresser now).

I went back to the "plucked bird" concept to see what worked. In the Bible, when Moses leaves the mountain after having a conversation with God, his face is glowing. When angels are described, it says that they're glowing. I put two and two together and deduced that this glow comes from being in the presence of God. But, again, for a fallen angel--which the Strange Man is--he's not been in the presence of God for a very long time. I went back to the concept of him being frail, malnourished, pale, sickly. But, I threw in some Joker influences for his face, and dressed him up in some leather straps and chains.

While some might feel that the obvious inspiration for this leather fetish was Pinhead from Hellraiser, I was actually paying homage to Edward Scissorhands--which I looooved as a kid. Also, around the time I was doing this, Dark City hit theaters and I fell in love with the costuming and art design in that movie (probably because it reminded me of Ed Scissorhands :p).

As it turns out, the villains in Dark City were called "the Strangers", but I had actually forgotten that until today when I was trying to google for that cool Dark City pic. So, no, I didn't nick the name for my bogeyman. The name came just by happy coincidence. When I first started writing the novel of "The Coming Evil", I kept referring to the monster as "the strange man" until I could come up with a cool monster name. After awhile I realized, "Hey! That is a cool name!" I capitalized it and there you go. The Strange Man.

But the bogeyman wasn't quite there yet. For those of you who have read the Xulon Edition of Book One, you'll be familiar with the Strange Man's gremlin hordes. There was a very brief time when they were one and the same. I had this bizarre image of the gremlins forming together to make this "beautiful man". Then, when he revealed himself, he "exploded" into a thousand tiny monsters. That sounded really cool, but too complicated to write (does he have a hive-mind POV?), so I scratched it. Once I made the gremlins their own thing, I was free to design the Strange Man. I went back to the Dark City stuff, Edward Scissorhands, the Joker, and a little Nosferatu for good measure, and I finally came up with a winner.

Immediately after I finished drawing this picture, I knew I had my bogeyman. The character really took off from there. The chains and straps were no longer just for decoration--I came up with the concept that they were a sort of prison, keeping him contained. So, even at his worst in the books, we get the hint that's only scratching the surface of his true evil potential. I also added the concept that the Strange Man doesn't walk--he hovers. Again, he's imprisoned, caught between heaven and earth, in a way. He doesn't belong to either world; he can't soar (like an angel) and he can't walk (like a man). I remembered that movie The Craft, and how Fairuza Balk's character floats in one scene, dragging the points of her shoes on the floor. I thought that was so cool, so I added that to the mix, as well. But the inspirations continue today. I'm always seeing new movies, reading new books or comics, and coming up with more little touches on the character. But this sketch is the foundation of everything the Strange Man is.

Since his initial premiere in 2007 (when the Xulon Edition came out), I've been incredibly blessed to see some amazing artists offer their own interpretations on the character.

Here's Richard Harrison Green's rendition. Richard was a Disney Animator and also has done some work for Ray Bradbury! He sketched this up at my very first convention as a guest.

Next, Brent Schoonover put this one together on the inside cover of a copy of his comic Horrorwood!

Most recently (and perhaps most famously) Thomas Mason painted this beautiful scene that has created a fair number of goosebumps since its unveiling.

Finally, we have the Strange Man as he'll appear on the cover of the book come February.

This is a more "realistic" approach--some of his more gruesome elements have no doubt been toned down to not scare the ladies perusing the Christian bookstore shelves--but I'm actually very pleased to see that there's a bit of Richard O'Brien from Dark City in this! Talk about coming full circle.

The Strange Man has come a long way, but I'm proud of the results. I love monsters and it's been a real pleasure creating one of my own. One day, I hope to see the Strange Man break out of the world of prose and enter comic books. After that, maybe movies! Toys! Model kits! Coloring books! Lunchboxes!

Well, you get the idea. :)

Thanks for tuning in to my nostalgia. Pick up the book when it hits stores in February and face the Strange Man!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Kevin Lucia and the Chosen Interview, Pt. 2

If you’ve not read Part One of my in-depth interview with Kevin Lucia, hop to it!

We’ve been talking about Kevin’s new book Hiram Grange and the Chosen One—the tale of a drug-addled monster hunter/occult detective battling demons—both personal and Lovecraftian!! Here’s Part Two of our interview with Kevin. Once again, amazing art is provided by Malcolm McClinton!

Greg Mitchell: Okay, Hiram Grange is a collaborative effort. What’s next for you on the solo horizon? I hear that your first novel has just been picked up by Shroud Publishing. Congratulations, by the way. Are you ready to talk about that novel yet or are you going to be all “writer-y” and dodge it with vague and mysterious generalizations?

Kevin Lucia: It'll be the first novel in my “mythos”, but a standalone. A “ghost story” of sorts. I was initially headed in a very Lovecraftian direction, but now I've toned it down so that readers most likely will only feel a “Hmm. I know I've heard that somewhere before” vibe and that's all.

I'm gonna give you the inspiration for it – be all vague and mysterious – but really, it's the core of the novel without telling you too much. It's the first two lines of a nonsense limerick which, when taken alone, has always sounded very ominous to me:

One bright day in the middle of the night,
two dead boys got up to fight.

So there's two dead, boys, see? And their conflict extends past the grave. One wants vengeance. The other justice. And all these other people get caught up in the middle...but they're not “innocent bystanders”. Not at all.

This is presumptuous: but think of it as a wild “Stephen King/Dean Koontz/Peter Straub” mix that hopefully moves at the pace of a “Repairman Jack” novel, and that's what I've got.

GM: All cool! What’s next for Hiram Grange? Are we looking at a “Season Two”? Will you still be involved? Don’t hold out on us, man.

KL: There definitely will be a Season Two. Scott Christian Carr, author of Hiram Grange & The Twelve Little Hitlers, is currently writing the first title in Season Two, Hiram Grange in Al Queda's Caves. As to what form the Second Season will take, we're not sure yet. Depends on how much attention the first “Season” draws.

In my own opinion – completely unsanctioned by Tim Deal, by the way – I think it'd be best if Hiram followed a very Harry Dresden/Repairman Jack model. Two or three standalone adventures separating “arc-heavy” adventures. Easier for new readers to jump aboard, that way.

GM: True. I know yours was largely standalone with some connective tissue to the other books, but I always like to see big arcs in my series.

KL: Also, there's a Hiram Grange anthology in the works. And right now, every Shroud Digital Edition – free download at the moment – also features Hiram Short Shorts. Most recent was Little Edsel Einstein, A Hiram Grange Story – also by Scott Christian Carr – which follows up on a supporting character from his Twelve Little Hitlers. He's got another Hiram short coming up titled “The Jesus Bomb”.

As for me, I'll always return to Hiram. Two ideas fascinate me right now: one, anything having to do with what happened to Hiram's father; two: a time-travel adventure that would somehow team up Hiram Grange and Sherlock Holmes. We'll see what the future holds.

GM: It strikes me that Hiram Grange is like the new Kolchak, only even more rumpled and self-loathing :p Alright, now, it’s fairly obvious that you’re a “horror guy”, but people might be surprised to learn that you’ve written your fair share of “inspirational” stories based on your own life. Was that a conscious decision—to be a writer not bound by genre—or did you just stumble into that?

KL: I've always wanted to be just a “writer”. My first “novel” - written in a Mead spiral notebook my senior year in high school – was a teenage basketball romance/drama that had nothing to do with my life then whatsoever (wink). My second was the first act to an epic space opera (both sit in a box on my back porch, by the way). So “writing” has always been a generic pursuit for me.

When I first started out, I remember a fellow newbie cautioning me about “writing all over the map” - that I needed to establish a “brand” so I wouldn't confuse potential buyers/fans.

I thought this kind of silly. See, I continue to entertain the foolish and arrogant notion that I can write whatever I want. After this novel is completed, I'll turn to a very different, more heroic, “journey of the hero” contemporary fantasy (already ten chapters in). After that is another very heroic, almost “comic book superhero” suspense/thriller. Somewhere in there, I've got a terse, hard-hitting crime/noir story, I'm sure.

The inspirational thing happened by accident (or maybe not?). I'd just sold my first story - “The Way Station” - to the first edition of The Midnight Diner when I came across a submissions call for a nonfiction story about how my faith had helped me make a crucial life decision.

I decided to give it a shot. The word count was low, the pay decent, and at that point I'd been wrestling with how I wanted to express my faith in writing. I thought to myself: “This would be nice; to just write fiction as FICTION that's only very subtly influenced by my faith, then on the side write honest essays – not about doctrine or theology – but about how faith has impact my family's life. The editor for that collection bought the story, then continued to solicit me for more.

SO here I am, six creative non-fiction stories later: one sold to Tyndale, two to Bethany House and three to Guideposts. They're short, they pay well...but most importantly, they keep me BALANCED. Focused on what's really important.

It's pretty heady stuff meeting and talking with Brian Keene, shaking Joe Hill's hand, learning from writers like F. Paul Wilson, Tom Monteleone, Mort Castle and Gary Braunbeck. Writing these stories brings me back down to Earth.

Of course, there's been a curious drawback. My in-laws and father care nothing for horror and will only read my nonfiction. SO, if I were to win the Stoker Award or something, their most likely response would be: “Yeah, that's nice and all, but when are you writing another NICE story?”

GM: Sigh…I know the feeling. I’ve gotta be honest, I think you are one of the hardest working “up-and-comers” I’ve seen in the writing world. You’re always at workshops and conventions and learning and, like I said, I see your name everywhere attached to a number of anthologies. Plus, I see in you a real desire and effort to balance that and be a family man. I really admire that about you. I don’t think you’d work that hard without some sort of end goal. What do you want most out of this life as an author?

KL: Of course like all pie-in-the-sky newbie writers I once harbored dreams of writing for a living. Four years in, and those dreams haven't been dashed, just spritzed with a heavy dose of realism. It can happen. Still does. But from what I've seen, there's a heavy price to pay for writing full time, and I'm still not sure if that's where I want to go. Might be a moot point: maybe I'm not good enough to be a full-time writer.

I was influenced most by meeting folks like Mort Castle, Gary Braunbeck, F. Paul Wilson and Tom Monteleone. These people have RESPECT, man. Not fame. Respect. Almost reverence. Respect professionally in the business, artistically as writers, and as great human beings. I'll always look to improve my writing, push it to new levels. But fame may not be what I want. Professional and artistic respect – yeah. That sounds mighty fine to me.

Also, I want to be driven primarily by my creative impulses. On one hand – I'm pretty pragmatic. If Del Ray called tomorrow and said, “Hey – we'd like you to write a Star Wars novel,” or HarperCollins called and asked, “Interested in writing Gulliver Travels to Zombieland? I'd say “Sign me up!”

But, I want to pursue things that intrigue me on a creative level. I just finished up editing Shroud's Halloween Issue, and it was a blast, and I can think of two other special issues I'd like to edit someday. Last summer I wrapped up a VERY different anthology with Shroud – The Terror of Miskatonic Falls – that's basically going to be – check it – a Lovecraftian poetry and prose graphic novel-esque collection. I pursued both not to further my career, but because they intrigued me on a creative level.

GM: Well, I’m sure I’ll continue to see “Kevin Lucia” wherever I look, so I’d better start getting used to it :p Thanks for taking the time to hang out! I’d say this has been a pretty probing interview, so let’s end it with an easy one: Better Dracula: Bela Lugosi or Christopher Lee?

KL: Bela Lugosi. Easy.

GM: That, sir, is where we must part company. No one will be better than Lee. No one.


Monday, November 1, 2010

Kevin Lucia and the Chosen Interview, Pt. 1

Sigh…Halloween is over. I’ll allow you a moment to lament its passing… :(

But, don’t fret! ‘Round these parts, the monsters remain active year round! Case in point, it’s November and I’ve got the first of a two-part interview with horror author Kevin Lucia!! Kevin stopped by to kick off his November blog tour for his monster hunter/occult detective novella Hiram Grange and the Chosen One—which is actually the fourth book in a mini-series of Hiram adventures, published by Shroud Publishing. Read on to learn more of Hiram and his battles with the things of the night, and if you like what you hear, Kevin is offering giveaways at Goodreads! Also, dig out the killer art by Malcolm McClinton

Greg Mitchell: Kevin! Welcome! Let’s start off with Hiram Grange. Here we’ve got a pretty unique project in that, it’s a series, but developed and written by different authors. Usually a series like this is created and written by a single author. How did this sort of “series by committee” start? How does it function?

Kevin Lucia: It's really the brainchild of Tim Deal, owner of Shroud Publishing. He wanted to create a unique series that would feature the same character, written by different authors, each of whom would bring their own style and flair to the series.

He posted a call for submissions on the Shroud Forum. People showed interest. Eventually from those folks, “The Hiram Five” arose: Jake Burrows, Scott Christian Carr, Rob Davies, myself, and Richard Wright.

We brainstormed for a LONG time on WHO Hiram should be. Was he a drug-addled misanthrope who cared about nothing but his perversions? Or would he possess a strange code of honor? Maybe throw in personal traumas that would endear him to audiences. Should he grow? Develop? But also fall back and regress? Was he an atheist? Or did he believe in – and hate – God?

For two years, we wrote our novellas simultaneously. The crisscrossing emails were fast and furious and spasmodic. We'd confer by email for a week – sometimes 20-30 messages a day – then would fall silent for awhile as everyone feverishly wrote. And sometimes rewrote, when the need arose.

GM: I’ve not read the other books, I’ll admit, but I found it fairly easy to jump into your book (Book Four, for you guys keeping score at home). I was really pleased that it felt like a really fleshed out world—it seemed to be very organized, which, again, is something that’s pretty neat considering the creative process that brought Hiram to life. Talk about your contribution to the Hiram Grange Mythos—Hiram Grange and the Chosen One. Was this a mapped out story in the life of Hiram that you were assigned to write, or were you just given a book number and you created the story based on what you thought needed to be told of Hiram at that point in his literary life?

KL: All the stories are originals developed by the authors. We did collectively decide on a very LOOSE background arc to connect the stories, and we had to edit Hiram's behavior in each novella for consistency, but for the most part, Tim let us have at it.

I specifically requested a later title. I have to be honest, my original gut instinct upon reading the submissions call was: “Nah. I'll pass.” But as the conversations progressed, I saw Tim very much wanted Hiram to grow, so I thought: “I'd love to write about this character down the road. After he's lost people close to him. After he's racked up enough miles to start asking some really BIG questions about himself and...well...his destiny.”

Hiram is an antihero, make no mistake. He saves the world on a daily basis, but might be just as dangerous as the monsters he hunts. He has terrible, degrading habits. Yet, I wanted to focus more on the internal causes of this. On how Hiram views HIMSELF. On the things he's suffered – and DONE – that makes him see a monster staring back from his mirror.

Also, my style leans towards subtle suggestion. Innuendo. I'm a “less is more” kinda guy, and the great thing is Tim let me be that guy, while still writing Hiram. I think Tim even referred to my rendition of Hiram as “elegant” - which pleased me to no end.

GM: Yeah, I caught that. I’ve read my share of Steve Niles’ Cal MacDonald series and some old school Constantine comics, so I get the whole “hard boiled drug addict occult detective”, but you managed to write that without glorifying it. It seemed like a legitimate struggle in his life, rather than something to make him look all cool and anti-hero-y. Aside from those seedy addictions, what’s Hiram Grange all about? Give us the skinny on this guy.

KL: Hiram Grange is a covert operative working for a privately funded woman named Mrs. Bothwell who runs an organization that combats supernatural monsters. Hiram hunts down all manner of monsters and demons, investigates “confluences” - supernatural breaches that serve as portals for these monsters – and closes them. Through any means necessary.

He knows his guns. Martial arts. The occult. Likes to play with explosives. And, though he distrusts it, he knows a smattering a magic. Everything is tool. Except technology. He hates it.

He's also terribly alone. Though he possesses a kind of “animal magnetism” that attracts all manner of odd, strange women, he's ugly, repulsive, addicted, obsessed, guilt ridden and conflicted. All the important women in his life have died before him. His father disappeared after his mother committed suicide, never to be heard of again. Even Mrs. Bothwell – the closest thing he has to family – routinely and callously sends him into the worst kinds of danger.

And…he's the only thing standing between the world and its destruction. He's terribly lonely. Open to temptation. He's lost so much. What would happen if offered the power to bring all those things back? And there you have the crux of The Chosen One.

GM: Plus you have lots of shooting slimy tentacled monsters! The book was never boring! So, Hiram Grange and the Chosen One is your first novella, but you’ve written a ton of short stories, right? It seems like, wherever I go, I see the name “Kevin Lucia” attached. How many short stories do you have in circulation? It’s got to be at least a hundred, right?

KL: HA! A hundred. I wish. Really, I've had only six GOOD short stories published, and I say good because I had quite a few stories “published” my first year of writing in “4theluv” collections that only offered “token” payment – or maybe no payment at all. Those stories are very, very bad and will hopefully never be read by anyone.

I have been fortunate to sell just as many nonfiction, personal essays as short fiction. So I guess in total, there are about twelve stories I'd be happy if folks found and read.

GM: Ah, a dozen. I was close. Which one are you most proud of?

KL: I'd say my best two stories – the ones I look back on and DON'T hate – are “The Water God of Clarke Street”, featured in Shroud Publishing's Abominations anthology, and “Lonely Places”, featured in the most recent edition of The Midnight Diner.

GM: Which also includes my short story "Flesh and Blood", featuring the Arbigast Group. There you go, folks. You can get both stories for the price of one! :p Okay, Short Fiction versus Long Fiction: Do you have a preference? I’m actually finding that, as I grow older, I enjoy writing short stories a lot. That might have to do with how busy my life is now that I have kids. Or maybe my attention span is shortening. I don’t know, but I certainly see the appeal in doing something on a smaller scale and just getting it done.

KL: I enjoy short fiction. A lot. But the question I've yet to answer for myself is this: am I really any good at it? Money isn't everything, but I still haven't managed to crack the pro-rate market (5 cents a word). It seems like right now, longer stories suit me better. I'm really a “character development guy” over “slick plotting guy”, so that makes sense. I need room to really make readers care about my characters. Maybe this will change with growth and experience.

Right now, I've decided to take a break writing short stories. The problem I found is the brutal turnaround on rejections. Totally diving into Hiram, however, and just writing every day for months on end, getting completely engrossed in the story and not worrying about getting dinged by yet another short story rejection felt awesome.

I have three stories out there right now, waiting on a final word, and I've decided not to “cold” write any more. The markets are too thin, and I write so much better when asked: “Hey, we're putting together a collection centered around X-theme. We'd love to see a story from you.” Sounds arrogant, but I'm holding out for more of those and just concentrating on long fiction right now.

GM: I can’t help but mention this, as I’m a sucker for this in my own work, but readers might notice that a lot of your works reference each other. What’s the genesis of that “connected universe” feel for you?

KL: Oh. You know. That's the whole: “OOH! Look how clever I am; I'll create a whole mythical town that's a connected universe and it'll be SO unique because NO ONE HAS EVER DONE THIS BEFORE!”

Then you read King's Dark Tower series. Get into Brian Keene's Labyrinth mythos. Stumble across Gary Braunbeck's Cedar Hill novels and short stories and realize that Ray Bradbury did the same thing with his mythical Green Town YEARS ago. And then at every Con, every newbie writer you meet has their own connected universe mythos they're working on, and you think:

Crap. Really?

In all seriousness, I'm doing what all writers do at some point: writing what I like to read. I'm a sucker for those things and while some folks don't like them because they think they're marketing ploys, I love 'em. I'm a “big puzzle” kinda a guy, and I love thinking that I'm only looking at one part of a puzzle, and this novel over here or that short story in that collection over there adds another piece.

But also, I like the idea that even though I've brought a story to its most logical's not over. It's never over. This character might pop up somewhere else as a supporting or bit character. Why? Because LIFE IS STORY, and all of our stories – lives - are interconnected. Seems very natural to do that with fiction. Probably why so many authors do it.

GM: I agree. I always find it exciting to catch up on old characters, even if it’s just for a while. I like to see the characters grow with the audience (or, in my case so often times, the writer).

KL: My very first horror novel crashed and burned halfway through about six years ago, never to be resurrected…but I was left with tons of cool character vignettes. Fodder for smaller stories. And that's where a lot of them have come from.

GM: So is all this clever story-connecting headed somewhere? Does Kevin Lucia have some maniacal scheme?

KL: A direction? Not sure. That sort of thing can get too premeditated. Feel too arranged.

GM: I agree, totally. That’s something I have to remind myself as I’m a “connector” all the way :p

KL: The novel I'm working on right now is the first full length work in my “mythos”, but any connections to other stories I've written will be incidental: a name here, a bar or shopping mart there.

GM: Sounds very cool, indeed! I’m ready to read it already!

Well, folks, this draws Part One of our in-depth chat with Kevin Lucia to a close. Tune in tomorrow for Part Two. It will. Blow. Your. Mind.

Maybe… : p
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