John Everson: An Interview with the Man Behind the Jack-o’-Lantern + Giveaway!
October 13, 2011 15 Comments
Break out the candles and carving knives! John Everson joins us to discuss his newest release, The Pumpkin Man, his writing process, and all things ghoulish and ghastly. Leave a comment and be entered to win a free copy of The Pumpkin Man!
As the proud zombie intern at Dorchester, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to meet with such an immensely talented author. Jealous? Don’t be! With you in mind, fellow lurkers of the Internet depths, I made sure to ask only the most pressing of questions. See? I promised horror and I delivered! You may thank me with candy come this All-Hallows-Eve.
Welcome to the blog, Mr. Everson! It’s an honor to have you with us.
How do you come up with the titles for your books? Do you know what the title will be before you finish the manuscript, or is it a process that takes as much consideration as writing the story itself?
The answer to that has actually been a little different for each book! With Covenant, my first novel, the book was actually called The Cliff for most of its pre-publication life (the book launches with an investigation of mysterious suicides from a cliff near a seaside town). Dorchester actually rejected the book in its initial draft under that title, but a couple years later, after a rewrite, I decided to change the name to focus on the real heart of the story—which was a series of deals or “covenants” with an ancient entity. Eventually, obviously, that version of the book sold.
With Sacrifice, I knew the title from the start—human sacrifice was the gist of the story, which revolved around a sexy serial killer committing sacrifices to open the door to demons to our world.
But then with my next novel, The 13th, again the book was originally titled something else—Castle House—until halfway through the writing, when I realized that the book wasn’t really about Castle House per se, but more the mysterious ritual of “the 13th”… and who would BE “the 13th”. So I changed the title…and let’s face it, The 13th has a creepier vibe to it anyway!
For Siren, I never had any question about the title, and for The Pumpkin Man, the title was actually driven by a short story long before I envisioned the novel. I wrote a story called “The Pumpkin Man” several years ago and published it in Doorways Magazine. The events of that short story were the “deep background” jumpoff point for the novel. So I never had any question that this book was The Pumpkin Man.
You begin and end The Pumpkin Man with the use of a Ouija board. I’m curious—do you believe in them?
The kid who used to sit around Boy Scout campfires and listen to stories about the hauntings of Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery (a famous Illinois “haunt” near my house as a kid) or Mary “Bloody Mary” Worth appearing in mirrors if you said her name three times—that kid?—he believes in Ouija boards.
The guy who now writes horror novels? I think he writes partly because he wishes that stuff were true. It would make the world a more mysterious, mystical place than I believe it is. I’m still spooked in the dark, sure. But I don’t believe that’s because of any ghosts tapping me on the shoulder.
Do you take the meaning of a name into consideration before choosing them for your characters? In The Pumpkin Man, I was particularly impressed with the history behind Jennica (my favorite!), Meredith, and Travis. Very clever.
I do research names when I’m writing characters. Sometimes a name just pops into my head, and that’s what their name is. Period. I think Jennica was really of that ilk, but others in the book, like Meredith (which means “protector”) or Travis (“crossroads”), yes, the deeper meaning was intentional. I try not to get too hung up on that, but it does help to avoid simply naming everyone Bill, Jane, John and Mary if you look up a lot of names. Sometimes it’s just the “feeling” of a name you’re not that familiar with, and sometimes it’s the derivation of the name that makes it perfect for a character.
As a horror writer, I imagine it must be impossible to frighten you. Do you secretly blanch at the very mention of heights or small spaces like most of us?
I love heights! Tight claustrophobic spaces—not so much. I’m scared of the dark, whether I believe intellectually that something’s there or not. Mostly I’m scared of people—they’re the unpredictable predator that really has to be watched out for, not ghosts or ghouls.
Do you write in chronological (or relatively chronological) order from beginning to end?
Always chronological. The joy of writing for me is telling myself/discovering the story. If I jumped around, I’d confuse myself! I certainly know a lot of the key scenes in my head before I sit down to write… but discovering what lies in the dark murky passages between those “goalpost” chapters is what makes the writing fun. You have to entertain yourself as much as your readers.
You write at length in your recent interview with Borders about the different types of fear featured in your works. How would you describe the type of fear in The Pumpkin Man?
The Pumpkin Man centers around that fear of the relentless, unstoppable force that is coming for your life. You can’t see it, you don’t know what it is, you can’t stop it…but the hair prickling on the back of your neck knows it’s there. It’s that fear of walking down into your basement to grab a beer and finding a ghastly man with a knife waiting at the bottom of the steps for you.
You’re clearly a music aficionado! If you were to compose a soundtrack for one of your novels (or more!), how would you approach the project?
I wrote songs before I wrote stories so… yes! I was also a newspaper music critic for 20 years. Music colors everything I do (I can’t write without it). As for how I’d approach such a project? I WANTED to do exactly that for Siren, my last novel which really featured music as a critical component of the narrative in that the title creature uses music to lure her victims. I could never quite carve the time out to lock myself in the basement music studio for a few days to work up some themes and songs for it, unfortunately. And I knew that I would need a female vocalist to do what I wanted to do… and I don’t know anyone who would have worked. But the way I would go about it if I had more time is, I’d sit down at my Roland, turn the lights down, think about the book and key scenes, hit the record button and just play. Music just… happens. Some of it you record and develop, and some of it you just let go.
The folklore surrounding jack-o-lanterns is widely popular and always sinister. Did any of the tales influence The Pumpkin Man?
I did some research when I was midway through the book to see if there were good “gourd” stories that I could adapt and use as part of the stories from Meredith’s occult library reference books that Jenn and Kirstin are reading. I found a couple of items that I wove in, and I also used the opportunity to weave in my own mythology—I’ve written a couple of stories in the past about pumpkins, so I retold bits of those as part of Meredith’s reference library!
What would you dare your readers to do on Halloween if they were looking for a little scare? 🙂
Find an abandoned house or a remote cabin near a wooded lake. Take a Ouija board and a couple of friends. Light a lot of candles and turn off the electric lights. Listening to This Mortal Coil or Dead Can Dance is a plus. Talk about all of the people you’ve known in your life who are no longer here, and then hold a Ouija board session to try to talk to one of them. I’d bet that nothing will happen, but I’d also bet you’ll feel pretty creeped out for at least part of the night! You’ll laugh and joke a little nervously when nobody answers you on the board, but probably when you’re trying to go to sleep, and you hear that scritch-scratching noise on the window outside your room, your heart will beat faster. It’s just a tree branch. Right?