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Oct/Nov 2006 Book Reviews

An Interview with Brett Alexander Savory

by Elizabeth Glixman


"I mean, dig: There I am just hanging out, eating some Boo Berry, waiting for the afternoon rack session (hoping that Stanson and Jonesy are on duty 'cause they usually give me a break--Barnes and Salinger always stretch me till they hear ligaments tear and sockets pop), when lo, what's this flying through my window? A big fat porcine letter bomb.

I jump out of my chair and run over to the window to try to get a look at the bastard who launched it, but by the time I get there, all that remain are the shattered window--bits still dropping off, tinkling in the post-apigalyptic silence--flames belching from the Lake of Sorrow (I have a villa on the waterfront), and smoking brimstone as far as the eye can see."

---Excerpt from The Distance Travelled

Buy now from Amazon! Things are heating up for Brett Alexander Savory, the Bram Stoker Award-winning Editor-in-Chief of ChiZine: Treatments of Light and Shade in Words and the author of The Distance Travelled (Necro Publications, 2006) and In and Down forthcoming from Canadian literary publisher Brindle & Glass in 2007. His third novel, Bottom Drawer is in the works. He is also working on a dark comic book series with artist Homeros Gilani and his short story collection The Time Between Lights will be published by Delirium Books in mid-2007.

The hardcover of My Eyes Are Nailed, But Still I See by Savory and David Niall Wilson was published by Delirium in 2005 and will be released in paperback in 2007.

Savory's work has appeared in numerous print magazines, anthologies, and on the web including, Ideomancer, Realms of Fantasy, and The Vestal Review. The Last Pentacle of the Sun: Writings in Support of the West Memphis 3 edited by Savory and M. W. Anderson, was released by Arsenal Pulp Press in 2004.

He works as an editor at Scholastic Canada. He is married to Sandra Kasturi, founder of Kelp Queen Press (http://kelpqueenpress.com) and lives in Toronto. You can also check out Brett's blog, Jack Yoniga's House of Moles (http://jack-yoniga.livejournal.com/)

When asked where the name of his blog came from, Brett said, "Jack Yoniga is the combination of a name I just happen to like (Jack) and the name of my friend Jason Taniguchi's fictional hand-puppet character (Yoniga). Add to that the fact that my wife and I think of ourselves as moles 'cause we tend to like to stay in our dark, cozy little home, curtains drawn, avoiding people at every opportunity. And voila, there's the name of the blog."

 

EG     Remind me to repent. Hell, as you portray it in The Distance Travelled, is very HOT and uncomfortable. Those air conditioners in hell, well, what manufacturer could deal with temperatures like this? Hotpoint?

The indoor temperature is four billion, one million, six hundred and fifty-two thousand, four hundred and twenty-one point seven degrees Celsius. The outdoor temperature is four billion, nine million, seven hundred and sixty-three thousand, five hundred and seventy-six point eight degrees Celsius.

What inspired you to write this story about life in hell?

BAS     The inspiration to write it actually came from my mom and step-dad's talking thermometer. My wife, Sandra Kasturi, wondered aloud what it would be like if the thermometer were in hell, the extreme numbers it would have to spit out. That was the seed, I guess, then I just created a whole world around it.

EG     Pigs were not treated well in your story. What do you have against pigs? Do you eat bacon?

BAS     I rather like pigs. But yes, I eat bacon. Bacon is great. If I get reincarnated, I want to come back as bacon---not a pig, you understand, but as strips of bacon. Man, that'd be the life.

EG     Just sizzling and tanning in the heat, sort of like sun bathing. Is that what you mean?

BAS     Exactly, yeah. And then being masticated. I can think of nothing better.

EG     If you don't mind me asking, what kind of religious upbringing did you have, if any?

BAS     My folks exposed my sister and I to a few different possibilities, but ultimately let us choose on our own. My sister ended up Christian and I'm agnostic. But neither of us was pushed into anything by our parents, which I think is how everyone should find their respective paths.

EG     Do agnostics believe or acknowledge the existence of hell?

BAS     The basic idea behind agnosticism is that humans can't definitely know one way or the other what comes after this life, if anything at all. So I guess agnostics neither believe nor disbelieve---it's simply unknowable. I believe the only way to know what comes after life is to die. All religions are just theories, unprovable. I'd like to think that the essence of what makes me ME will carry on in some form or other---that'd be nice---but who knows? Maybe we all just wink out like a tiny, tiny Christmas light, and that's it. No form of consciousness whatsoever thereafter. Who can say with any true authority? No one. I believe the Christian idea of hell is fairly silly, and that's partially what I'm taking the piss out of in the novel. I could go on and on about this topic, but I should stop now, or I'll start ranting. That can be for another interview.

EG     Yes, the idea of a hell or not a hell is a huge topic. I donít think you will make any friends in Rome with this book, but you will certainly find delighted readers.

I heard it through the grapevine that this an exciting time for you. You are officially a client of Carolyn Swayze. Your novel, In and Down, will be published in September 2007. It was sold to a major Canadian literary publisher, and your first short story collection, The Time Between Lights, will be out mid-2007. Any comment about all this good fortune?

BAS     I dunno. It just seems that several projects hit the mark with various editors simultaneously. I plan to try to parlay this mini-streak into bigger and better things. Fingers crossed and all that.

EG     When did you start writing?

BAS     I wrote a story called "Fright Night" back in grade 7, when I was about11 years old. It was published as bonus material in the Prime Books 2001 novelette edition of The Distance Travelled, and will receive chapbook treatment of its own later this month through my wife's Kelp Queen Press.

EG     What was "Fright Night" about?

BAS     A guy gets trapped in a mansion with his psychotic brother and his mutant friends, who terrorize him and kill several people in various nasty ways, including stabbings, shootings, and impalings. It's a wonder I didn't get sent to the principal's office for psychic evaluation. But I had a cool teacher, Mr. Wallace, and he gave me an "A" on the story.

EG     He knew talent when he saw it, and/or Columbine hadn't happened yet. Are you familiar with the Columbine School shootings in the U.S.?

BAS     Oh, of course. And yes, if I'd handed that story in to my teacher today instead of in 1984, a lot more alarm bells probably would've gone off in his head. That said, I believe blaming video games and violent novels/film/music/etc. for school shootings is completely ludicrous and baseless. I think we need to look to poor parenting and the feeling of disconnection a lot of teenagers feel. I mean, think of all the millions upon millions of kids who listen to death metal, read horror novels, play violent video games, etc., who DIDN'T go shoot up their high schools. If it was the glorification of violence to blame in these art forms, why doesn't everyone who experiences them do the same thing? That's a simple question to answer: Because there's something else at work in those kids---something missing, something desperate that pushes them to the point where they think real-life violence is their only option.

A lot of my friends adore horror films/novels and heavy music, yet somehow we all made it to adulthood without murdering scores of people in a blind rage. Violent forms of art are just an easy scapegoat to pin these acts on by people who'd rather not dig too deep for the true catalysts.

EG     I think you read my mind. I was going to ask you about what you thought the connection between violence and violent movies was for young people. Thanks.

On to the next question. Between 11 years old and 32, what happened to encourage you to keep writing?

BAS     Nothing I can really pinpoint. I guess I just enjoyed the act of writing and of telling stories. I wrote a handful more tales in my late teen years, then, after a few revisions, I realized they were pretty much shite. It wasn't till about 1997, when I was 24, that I started writing again, then the following year that I began getting published.

EG     How would you classify your writing?

BAS     Dark fiction, or weird spec-fic, maybe. I'm not a big fan of labels.

EG     What attracted you to this genre?

BAS     I can't really say what makes me like the darker side of art. Its aesthetic just appeals to me more than light, fluffy things, I suppose.

EG     Who are your favorite writers of dark fiction?

BAS     There are tonnes, of course, but I'll just name a few that pop to mind (they aren't all necessarily known for dark fiction, mind---these are just writers I enjoy reading): Craig Davidson, Clive Barker, Chuck Palahniuk, Jonathan Carroll, Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Mark Z. Danielewski, Ray Bradbury, Brian Hodge, Michael Kelly, Jack Ketchum, Kurt Vonnegut, Dan Simmons, H. P. Lovecraft, Joseph Heller, James Morrow, Paul G. Tremblay, et al. The list goes on and on.

EG     What do you think it is about dark fiction that appeals to people?

BAS     Maybe the breaking of taboos, the way that darker works---when in the hands of a good writer---can really be provocative. Unlike a lot of other genres, there are really no boundaries in dark fiction---only those that the writer imposes upon himself. And that doesn't necessarily mean with regard to how gory or scary you try to make something; it means that dark emotions or disturbing thoughts can be brought to the surface and manipulated to speak to the human condition in a way few other types of writing can.

EG     I found that to be true in your story, "Attic," in Morbid Outlook. Attics can be scary places and couple that with a dead mother who seems to be visible to the narrator and the strange movement of light, and a mean brother who locks the narrator in the attic, and there is room for the dark emotions of loss, jealousy, and fear. Can you create those emotions in settings that are not traditionally associated with darkness rather than attics and basements and hell?

BAS     Well, "Attic" is actually an excerpt from my novel In and Down, and I like to think I bring that sort of dread to various other sections of the novel that don't take place in traditionally spooky places. It's certainly easier to manipulate those emotions from a reader when you're setting strange happenings in what most people think of as creepy places, but yes, I do try to instill a sense of unease in other settings. Though in In and Down, I'm not really focusing on the creep factor as much as I could be, because I'm trying more to disturb than scare. And disturbing needs a bit of a lighter touch, I find.

EG     The story "Bottom Drawer" had no scary characters in it; it had that lighter touch. It was rather a profound story about a depressed person.

Here is an excerpt:

My desk contains three drawers, each slightly bigger than the one above it. The top drawer is where I keep my stationery; the middle drawer contains mainly instruction manuals from my computer, a scientific calculator, and other devices; and the bottom drawer is where I hide things.

Four years ago, when job stress got to be too much, I hid a bottle of whiskey in this bottom drawer. Hid it, but never touched it. It's still there, unopened, pushed to the back. After that, I hid a handgun. It's loaded, sitting next to the whiskey, unused now for three years. This worked for a little while, made things easier, knowing that when depression hit I had some whisky and a gun. I could take action. If I wanted to.

But for the past year, it hasn't been enough, and I've realized that this stress has little to do with my job. I feel ashamed when I think of the whisky bottle and the gun, because I know I'd never use them. A few months ago, I started hiding receipts for mundane things, like movie tickets, wiper blades, bags of chips, DVDs everything."

EG     Have you written many stories like "Bottom Drawer"?

BAS     I've only recently started writing stories like "Bottom Drawer." These days, I find myself drawn more to surreal, weird, somewhat experimental structures than standard "horror" fare. In and Down is very much in this vein. I don't think a single drop of blood is spilled in the entire book, whereas you could probably fill several dozen barrels with the amount of blood spilled in The Distance Travelled.

EG     Can you give us a brief synopsis of In and Down, please?

BAS     Here's the teaser summary I've given the publisher:

"Michael and Stephen are young brothers who grow up with almost no female influence in their lives. When their mother leaves the family when they're very small children, their father emotionally abuses them to the point where they believe that women do not truly exist. One of the brothers descends into himself looking for answers about what happened to his mother, where he experiences, through a distorted mirror of his past, everything his father has dumped into him over the course of his short life. When he emerges from this inner journey, he is forced to confront a secret that's been buried deep inside for over 30 years."

EG     After reading your story "Wall" (a story where vampires and cockroaches exist but are never called by name) and The Distance Travelled, I wondered what is it about cracks in time or walls where creatures from other worlds can come into a character's world that intrigues readers. Do you have any idea?

BAS     Maybe the idea of another realm existing is appealing because much has already been learned about this one, so people like to hear stories about other possible worlds. The idea I explore in "Wall" is more of a man's mind cracking than a real crack into any other dimension, but the appeal remains the same. An escape is an escape is an escape.

EG     Do you think there is a typical type of person who reads "dark fiction"?

BAS     Not really. People from all walks of life enjoy it---same as any other form of art. It's tough (and probably folly) to try to ascribe a particular demographic to it.

EG     Do you ever get scared by your own stories?

BAS     I get the occasional chill now and again when I'm writing, but never even close to full-blown scared. But I don't really try to scare people, per se---I try to make them think and I try to disturb them. And hopefully, the latter helps with the former.

EG     What really scares you? Let's take it to another height. What terrifies you?

BAS     I think, like a lot of people, my true fears are not darkness, spiders, monsters under my bed, etc., but more mundane, more horrendous things, like the idea of losing loved ones, or losing my mind and memories, forgetting who I am, what's important to me, becoming someone who looks like me and walks around like me, but who doesn't remember anything about who I used to be. Memory comes into play a lot in my work---particularly my newer material.

EG     Do you or did you ever sleep with a night light on?

BAS     Probably many times as a child, yes. But in recent memory, I can think of two times---after seeing the North American version of The Ring (the original was not as frightening to me), and after seeing Kiyoshi Kurosawa's wonderful, haunting, terrifying film KaÔro. It's one of the creepiest films of all time, and easily one of my favourites in any genre. There are sections of that film seared into my brain, scenes I doubt I'll ever forget.

EG     Please tell us briefly about one scene that has remained with you.

BAS     There's a scene where a female ghost is coming across the room toward the camera, when she suddenly goes into this impossible-for-the-human-body tilt and dip to one side, then straightens herself out again. She then peeks ever so slowly over the edge of a piece of furniture that someone is cowering behind. It's the single most disconcerting piece of film I think I've ever witnessed. I can't think or write about it again without getting a full-body chill.

EG     The Last Pentacle of the Sun sounds like a political book. How did you get involved with its creation?

BAS     I used to get Henry Rollins's newsletter and he talked about the West Memphis 3 a lot, so I looked into their situation, watched the Paradise Lost documentaries, read Mara Leveritt's book about the case, Devil's Knot, then, along with my co-editor, M. W. Anderson, decided to try to raise some money for the three by putting together a benefit anthology featuring top-notch dark fiction authors.

EG     Who is Henry Rollins and who are the WM3?

BAS     Easiest thing here is to give links to their respective sites, so readers can go digging at their leisure:

Henry Rollins

The West Memphis Three

EG     Have you studied writing?

BAS     Not officially, no. By that, I mean that I've never belonged to a writing group or taken any courses specifically for writing fiction. But every writer studies writing every time they read a book---at least subconsciously. It's impossible not to.

EG     I know you work as a developmental editor at Scholastic Canada. What do you do in this position? It would seem you would need some kind of educational or writing background to do this job.

BAS     Currently, I'm helping edit student and teacher material for a grades 2 and 3 literacy program. I went through the Book and Magazine Publishing course at Centennial College here in Toronto, which gives one the credentials to work in publishing.

EG     When you aren't writing, what do you like to do?

BAS     I play video games, play drums in my band, The Diablo Red, read, go to work, have sex, eat, sleep. Repeat.

EG     What type of music does The Diablo Red play?

BAS     It's sort of Black Sabbath meets Lynyrd Skynyrd, but with a dash of Slayer thrown in for good measure. People can go to our My Space page to check out some tunes.

EG     You read a lot of stories as Editor-in-Chief of ChiZine. What do you think is the main mistake found in the work of beginner writers of dark fiction?

BAS     The main mistake new writers make is telling their story instead of showing it through character action and dialogue. Also, new writers tend to explain what their story is about in their cover letters, rather than just letting editors read it to find out for themselves. I scold those writers every chance I get in hopes of beating that bad habit out of them. I could write reams about newbie mistakes, but I probably made most of them myself, so I can't be too hard on them.

EG     What do you see yourself doing in another five years? Or if you aren't a long range thinker, what do you see yourself doing next week?

BAS     Hopefully, in five years I'll be finishing up my fourth or fifth novel---with any luck, for a major publisher, and wondering where the book tour might take me. Would be nice to be writing full-time by then, but I don't mind my day job, so I'm not too bothered about having to work at both. Otherwise, my life is quite good, so I don't see myself changing anything else, really. Just the same old things I do every day, which seem to keep me pretty happy. Can't really complain about much.

As for next week? The new Lamb of God album comes out, so I see myself listening to that constantly until I have every instrument's parts memorized.

EG     Dark Fiction and or horror titles have never been high on my reading list, until I read your work. Thanks for writing these engaging stories that make us look at our dark side.

BAS     Wow, that's quite a compliment. It's been a real pleasure.

 

The Distance Travelled by Brett Alexander Savory
Necro Publications 2006
ISBN 1889186627
270 pages

 

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