Tuesday, January 4, 2011
Interviewing Edward M. Erdelac: The Coolest Man On Earth?
There are many injustices in the publishing world, one of them being that "Edward M. Erdelac" is not a name as widely known as it should be. Today I do my part to rectify this situation by introducing you to him. Ed is a horror writer on the rise, crafting tightly-plotted, character-rich, horror stories.
I first met Ed a few years ago when we were both submitting entries to the "What's the Story" contest over at the official Star Wars website. We, along with many of our fellow Star Wars nerds...erm...enthusiasts, were tasked with creating interesting and original backstories for any number of characters, planets, or starships that Lucasfilm threw our way. I hit paydirt with my Dusty Duck entry, and Ed won the contest a total of three times! Beyond that, he was hired by Lucasfilm on an official basis to write an original short story for their site (I'm still waiting for my chance. Take your time, Lucasfilm. I'll still be here.). The result was Fists of Ion, an awesome tale of a down-on-his-luck shockboxer who makes good and scores a victory for the New Republic. It was the "Rocky" of the Star Wars mythology and I realized then how gifted Ed is at telling a deftly worded tale and pulling you right into his world. As fellow Whatsthestoryists, Ed and I cheered each other on in the competition back in those days, and stayed in touch long after the "What's the Story" feature was discontinued (another injustice!), in large part due to the fact that we were both struggling writers in the horror genre with an eye towards breaking into comics and film. Today, we still cheer each other on, trading war stories from the trenches of the publishing industry.
As fate would have it, the both of us had stories published in the 3rd Edition of Coach's Midnight Diner where his story "The Blood Bay"--the dark "coming of age" tale of a boy and his blood-drinking horse--was selected as one of three Editor's Choices! "The Blood Bay" is a an Old West revenge tale with its roots in Greek mythology, of all things. Ed's story conveys so much thought, character-driven tragedy, and bloodcurdling nastiness with a light, airy prose that's addictive to read. It's this smooth style and his carefully measured but very rich imagery that earns him my respect and only mild bitterness :p Most recently I finished his novella "Red Sails". A pirate story about a vampire pirate captain and his werewolf crew, it is fun, imaginative, and surprisingly "literary" considering the premise sounds like a late night monster movie (not a bad thing). Ed's liberal use of spooky description is perfectly balanced by his knowledge of history--so much so that I wonder if he's got a time machine stored in his garage. Whether he's writing Star Wars or in our world's haunted past, he takes you there. Puts you right in the middle of the environment and makes you think he's been there himself.
Among Ed's stories are "Night of the Jikininki"--a zombie story set in Feudal Japan; "The Crawlin' Chaos Blues"--when a young blues player heads to the crossroads to make a deal with the devil, he's surprised to find something Lovecraftian instead; and his Merkabah Rider series starting with "Tales of a High Planes Drifter"--about a gunslinger mystic on the trail of monsters in the Weird West. Seriously, why are you still reading? You should be rushing to Amazon and buying all of these. Right now!
Well, for those who need more convincing, we're here to sit down with Edward M. Erdelac: The Coolest Man On Earth.
Greg Mitchell: For the poor folks at home who have yet to stumble upon your greatness, who are you and what are you about?
Edward Erdelac: I’m Edward M. Erdelac (only because my father is Edward G. Erdelac and our mail gets mixed up – "Ed" is fine). I was born in Indiana, educated in Chicago, and live in the Los Angeles area with my family. I’ve written stuff for Star Wars (on their website), I’ve produced, written and directed an indie feature film (Meaner Than Hell), and I’ve written about a dozen screenplays, two of which have won awards. Most recently in that arena I did some work on a horror movie that’s being produced called "Underground Lizard People". I’m currently the man behind the Merkabah Rider series from Damnation Books, a weird western about a gunslinging Hasidic mystic tracking his renegade teacher across the southwest of 1880, contending with demons and Lovecraftian entities along the way.
GM: So, why be an author? Dealing with my own struggles on this particular path, I periodically ask myself “Why in the world did I decide on this for my life? Am I a masochist? A glutton for misery?” What set you on the road to being a writer? What keeps you going?
EE: I ask myself the same questions, Greg. It’s a really hard road, especially when everybody around you has solid, respectable careers. At 35 I sometimes feel a bit like a man-child still punching out spooky stories when most of my friends are laying plans for their retirement. It can be quite a discouraging business, especially if you hate the word ‘business’ like I do. But, when you hold a bound copy of your work, and feel the weight of it, when you put it on your shelf, it’s a kind of notch on your gun that even the most rabid bibliophile with a Clue-sized library can’t match. It’s an extra pip on the collar or a gilded chevron on the sleeve that very few people I think have the tenacity to earn. The only thing that tops that is somebody expressing admiration for something you’ve written. That’s a whole ‘nother sensation. Like having somebody praise your kid for his or her upbringing (but secretly, I think, just a little bit better). You throw your heart against the wall a whole lot, but that last bit is worth every toss.
I’ve wanted to do this for a living since I read my first pocket book sans-pictures in about seventh grade (believe it or not, it was the novelization of Friday The 13th Part 6: Jason Lives).
GM: Hey, I've got that book sitting on my shelf, too! And it's still a shame the movie didn't include the epilogue with the return of Jason Voorhees' father :(
EE: I realized how vivid and transporting a book could be. Moreso than a film even (case in point). I’m still not quite there yet, but just three years ago, with nothing at all out there, I was ready to give up for good. Then a UK magazine called Murky Depths published a story I did called "Killer of the Dead" about a Blackfoot boy and his grandfather chasing down a gang of murderous vampires, and about the same time I got the call to do the Star Wars story. Making that first breakthrough took years and came when I was literally about to give up. Funny enough, this is the same way I met my wife, when I had resolved to stop looking for love. And my Star Wars story was published on our anniversary.
GM: I hear ya. The best stuff in life always seems to come around when we're about to throw in the towel. I am always surprised and impressed when I hear of a new story you’ve got coming out. You have the greatest “hooks” and each and every story sounds like a blast to me—which is why they’re all on my ever-expanding “to-read” list. What immediately stands out to me when I think of an “Edward M. Erdelac” story is “genre bending”. I mean, you took a Deep South blues/deal-with-the-devil story and mixed it with Lovecraft, man. That’s awesome! You have these great “mash-up” stories without going the over-mined Classic Literary Book With a Horror Twist route. Your stories are original and interesting. You have very classy “old Hollywood” sensibilities, mixed with B-movie concepts. Do you sit down and say “What two odd things can I put together today?” or is this just reflective of the way your mind works naturally?
EE: Thanks, Greg! I think I read a lot of history, and I read a lot of folklore, and my mind has sort of been conditioned to make these connections. I like reading about culture clashes and am continually amazed by the different ways humans have intermixed with and adapted to each other, from African centurions in the Roman Army to British Wild West Shows in Victorian England.
I love how freely the old pulp writers mixed genres, and I read a lot of that stuff. I watch mainly classic movies as well, so that’s probably where the old Hollywood sensibilities come from. There’s a line in Carol Reed’s The Third Man that always cracks me up where Calloway tells the Holly Martins character, “Paine lent me one of your books...I didn’t know they had snake charmers in Texas.” For better or worse, that’s the kind of writer I am, I think.
GM: As much fun as the monsters are, I’m intrigued by how you pay just as much attention to creating an authentic historical environment. A lot of your stories take place in the past. Are you a natural fan of history? How much research do you put into your stories, capturing the language and “world” of the past?
EE: Yeah I think the most modern story I’ve written is a screenplay set in 1985. I always loved learning new things, but my idea of new things has always been, funny enough, old things. History was my favorite subject. I guess I don’t relate very well to the modern world, where I think much of our lives have been made abstract. The experience of living isn’t really very concrete anymore to most people. It’s all tied up in work and paper and compound interests and 401K. A lot of stuff that at the end of the day just makes a body want to slump down on the couch and veg. People, I think, don’t experience life the same way as they used to. Look at how much time people spend watching television or reading as opposed to going out and doing the kinds of things the characters in their entertainment do.
There’s a dignity to the human experience that’s gradually being eroded by modern disconnectedness. Our virtual lives are generally more interesting than our real lives. I enjoy visiting historical places and just laying hands on old things, imagining the people who first set these things in place. My son took his senior trip to Europe and brought me back a little chip of Hadrian’s wall. I believe there’s a kind of hum to things like that. I don’t know if its psychometry or just wishful thinking. Maybe one requires the other.
I guess I’m always doing research when I’m reading history. I put a crease at the bottom of a page where some little bit of information jumps out at me. Then later (sometimes years later) when I’m writing something that deals with that subject, I can go to the shelf and thumb through my books, finding all these little memory triggers. Sometimes they’re so minute a detail it’s like “I’ll probably never use this.” But I almost always do. I think it’s the details that bring the past to life. First person accounts are the most fun to read in this regard, because you get these little nuances of speech and contemporary references that make the characters more real. Like how people in the Southwest tend to say ‘brang’ or ‘brung’ instead of ‘brought.’
When I’m creating characters in the past I also like to look at timelines of what was going on in the world during their lifetimes and consider their reactions to them. People are the sum total of their experiences after all. The best characters I think, you can imagine having had a life before you picked up their story, and sometimes even after.
GM: From "The Blood Bay", to the Merkabah Rider series, to even your film Meaner Than Hell, I see you returning time and again to the Wild (and sometimes Weird) West, as well as your fictional town of Delirium Tremens. What is it about horses and cowboys that keeps you coming back?
EE: I guess the comparative simplicity of life. As I said, modern concerns give me a headache. I admire the self-inventiveness of old westerners. There are so many stories of real people who tried all these crazy careers, and when they failed (some of them spectacularly – I mean, the kind of financial failure that would induce somebody today to take a pavement dive) in one they just pushed a little further out west and started over doing something else, maybe with a nickname or something. With the frontier you could do that, because your creditors weren’t hearty enough to pursue you to what was then the ends of the earth. Could the Lone Ranger and Tonto, if they were real, ride around doing their thing today? Nah, the Ranger would have lawyers dogging him to pay property taxes on his silver mine and Tonto would probably be getting grief from his tribe for perpetuating a Native American stereotype.
I never really cared for westerns or the old west overly until I visited Deadwood with my family on a cross country vacation in fifth or sixth grade. I had watched The Lone Ranger and the Cisco Kid reruns when I was little, but that’s about it. Then in eighth grade I got on a Dirty Harry kick that led me to The Good The Bad And The Ugly and I never quite recovered.
Delirium Tremens, AZ is my Castle Rock. I picked the name from a book on ghost towns somewhere, but it wasn’t located in Arizona. "The Blood Libel" in Merkabah Rider: Tales of a High Planes Drifter and "The Blood Bay" both take place there. The town actually started as a detailed map I drew for an RPG game I ran for a scant few months about ten or eleven years ago. Since I abandoned the game, I still had all these little plotted stories, one of which became "The Blood Bay".
GM: Let’s talk about the Rider, while we’re on the subject of the western. What a great creation—a Jewish gunslinger mystic, battling the occult in the Old West. I’m gobsmacked by the originality of that premise and am dying to read these books. First off, where did you come up with this guy?
EE: Well first off, I like the word gobsmacked, and I’m going to strive to use it more.
GM: You should! You really should!
EE: I’m a tremendous fan of Kung Fu, the 70’s show with the Shaolin master traveling across the West. I loved the alienness of that character in such a familiar setting, and watching the reaction of stock western characters to him, and the fascinating stories that came from merging peaceful eastern philosophy with the often violent mores of the old west. I think the Rider has his origins in that, as well as a comedy-western with Gene Wilder and Harrison Ford called The Frisco Kid, about a Polish rabbi trying to deliver a Torah to San Francisco with the help of this bank robber.
He also comes directly from a series of weird westerns I tried to write in my senior year of high school about a wraith-like character called The Ghost Dancer who was this murdered cavalryman brought back to life by a Native American shaman to avenge the Sand Creek Massacre. I wasn’t particularly happy with the way it turned out, so it was shelved for a lot of years. "The Dust Devils" and "Hell’s Hired Gun" are the only two Ghost Dancer stories that became Merkabah Rider installments. I was reading a book on angelology (I think it was Angels A To Z) that my wife had picked up somewhere when I came across the entry for Merkabah Rider. I couldn’t get the term out of my head, and gradually began to imagine a gunslinger character riding a fiery ethereal horse, sort of like the way Ezekial’s chariot was pictured in my old copy of The Picture Bible I had as a kid. Research into Jewish mysticism began in earnest after that, and my admiration for the Hasidic Jews in my neighborhood who walk around in all black with these cool broad brimmed hats no matter what time of the year brought the Rider into being visually as a Hasid.
GM: What’s the plan for the Rider? Three books, right? And that’s it? What about Delirium Tremens? Will we be seeing more from this town past the Rider’s tale?
EE: "Have Glyphs Will Travel", which I hope to have out in the latter half of this year will be the last collection of Rider stories which I’ll be doing in the pulp fiction novella style. Then I plan to wrap up the overall story with a full length novel, sort of like how Robert E. Howard put an amen on the Conan stories (albeit unintentionally) with "The Hour of The Dragon". I’ve written two other stories set in Delirium Tremens that haven’t found homes yet, and have an idea for another called "The Chili-Bean Joss", about a character in Delirium Tremens’ Celestial Quarter.
GM: What’s next for you? You’ve done a few short stories and novellas—are you working your way up to a novel?
EE: I’m pretty much tied up with the Rider right now, but my first full length novel is tentatively due out this March from a press in Texas. It’s called Buff Tea and it’s a straight historical western about a would-be writer from Chicago who joins the great 1870’s buffalo hunt in Texas. This is actually the first novel I ever wrote (almost ten years ago!), so I’m excited that that’s finally seeing print. I’ve written two other novels I’m shopping around. They’re both westerns as well, one weird the other straight up. I sort of abandoned a World War II era horror novel about halfway through (there’s a movie coming out next year which is exasperatingly similar) which I’ll probably get back to once the Rider goes into the sunset. I also had a novel about Billy The Kid going strong for some time which I hope to finish one of these days. Maybe I’ll do something futuristic after that.
GM: Futuristic. Now that would be weird :p Where can people find you, man!
EE: I’m the only Edward M. Erdelac on Amazon, so if you do a search for me there most everything I have out will pop up, except for The Midnight Diner #3, which has "The Blood Bay", and Murky Depths #5, which has my debut story. I ramble on about all sorts of stuff at my blog at http://emerdelac.wordpress.com/
GM: Thanks for taking the time to tolerate my fawning. If you have any powerful parting words, here’s your chance!
EE: Thanks for the invite, Greg and good luck with your own series. As for powerful parting words, write what you know you love. And be sure to drink your Ovaltine.
GM: There you go, folks. The Coolest Man on Earth endorses Ovaltine. Now go buy his stuff, already! You won't be disappointed.