Archive for the ‘ Novels ’ Category

AGATHA’S BARN

Arriving in early 2023 by Written Backwards: Agatha’s Barn, the Shirley Jackson Award-nominated novella by Michael Bailey. The original, a tie-in to Josh Malerman’s serial novel Carpenter’s Farm, was originally released as a 5-part series during the start of the pandemic. You can still read (perhaps indefinitely) both for free online as originally intended, but the novella is on the way in physical formats.


More information will be made available soon, but the cover features new artwork by Glenn Chadbourne, and the interior will include all original black and white illustrations created for the story, a few of which are featured below.

PSYCHOTROPIC DRAGON, THE IMPOSSIBLE WEIGHT OF LIFE, and OVERSIGHT – FREE!

To celebrate the Shirley Jackson Award nomination for A Rose / Arose from Psychotropic Dragon, Written Backwards is offering a sampling of writing by Michael Bailey for free from October 19th thru the 23rd. All we ask is to leave a review on Amazon.com and/or Goodreads. Click the covers below. Have you read these collections already? We’d love a review!



Psychotropic Dragon - Cover (full spread)

PSYCHOTROPIC DRAGON is the third composite novel (technically a fiction collection) by Michael Bailey. Part short novel, part novella, part novelette, with a few short stories and fables in between, Psychotropic Dragon is a mind-bending composite narrative about Julie Stipes and her experience with the street drug Drakein-5. The psychotropic eye drops blur reality, sending her through a horrific journey of self-discovery and recovery. Each act in this ensemble is further brought to life with illustrations by Daniele Serra, Glenn Chadbourne, L.A. Spooner, and Ty Scheuerman.

AmazoneBook | trade paperback | hardcover. Also available in the UK, Canada, Australia, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, India, Brazil, Mexico, Netherlands, Japan, and a part of Kindle Unlimited where available.

Barnes & Nobletrade paperback | hardcover

Books-A-Million (BAM!)trade paperback | hardcover.


TIWOL - Cover

THE IMPOSSIBLE WEIGHT OF LIFE, an autobiographical collection of speculative fiction and poetry by Michael Bailey. contains Bram Stoker Award-nominated short stories such as “I Will Be the Reflection Until the End” and “Time Is a Face on the Water,” but also never-before-published mind-benders created during his “highly-medicated” state of recovery, including a story about memory loss called “Fragments of Br_an,” (composed on a typewriter that no longer exists, now ash), “Emergence of the Colorless,” a statement about the beginning of the end of prejudice, and the far future “Oll Korrect,” in which artificial intelligence is used to explore humankind. As for poetry, there are favorites such as “Loosed Earth” and “Shades of Red,” but many new poems to help with balance, including “Hurt People Hurt People,” “Night Rainbows,” and “Paper Earth.”

AmazoneBook | trade paperback | hardcover. Also available in the UK, Canada, Australia, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, India, Brazil, Mexico, Netherlands, Japan, and Kindle Unlimited where available.

Barnes & Nobletrade paperback | hardcover

Books-A-Million (BAM!)trade paperback | hardcover


Oversight - Cover.jpg

OVERSIGHT, a themed collection of two novelettes and a short story by Michael Bailey. Includes “Darkroom” and “SAD Face” (novelettes), and “Fade to Black” (short story).

AmazoneBook | trade paperback | hardcover. Also available in the UK, Canada, Australia, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, India, Brazil, Mexico, Netherlands, Japan, and Kindle Unlimited where available.

Barnes & Nobletrade paperback | hardcover

Books-A-Million (BAM!)trade paperback | hardcover

PSYCHOTROPIC DRAGON – FREE!

Now through August 26th, Psychotropic Dragon by Michael Bailey is free to read on Kindle. All that’s asked is to leave a review when finished.

“Addictive, scary, and at times, mind-blowing.” – Jack Ketchum

“A staggering achievement.” – Gary A. Braunbeck

Psychotropic Dragon - Cover (full spread)

PSYCHOTROPIC DRAGON is the third composite novel (technically a fiction collection) by Michael Bailey. Part short novel, part novella, part novelette, with a few short stories and fables in between, Psychotropic Dragon is a mind-bending composite narrative about Julie Stipes and her experience with the street drug Drakein-5. The psychotropic eye drops blur reality, sending her through a horrific journey of self-discovery and recovery. Each act in this ensemble is further brought to life with illustrations by Daniele Serra, Glenn Chadbourne, L.A. Spooner, and Ty Scheuerman.

AmazoneBook | trade paperback | hardcover.

Also available in the UK, Canada, Australia, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, India, Brazil, Mexico, Netherlands, Japan, and a part of Kindle Unlimited where available.

Barnes & Nobletrade paperback | hardcover

Books-A-Million (BAM!)trade paperback | hardcover

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PSYCHOTROPIC DRAGON

Full Spread 3D

Surprise book launch! 15 years in the making, Psychotropic Dragon is finally going to print.

Available September 28th in hardcover, trade paperback, and eBook.

Part short novel, part novella, part novelette, with a few short stories and fables in between, Psychotropic Dragon is a mind-bending composite narrative about Julie Stipes and her experience with the street drug Drakein-5. The psychotropic eye drops blur reality, sending her through a horrific journey of self-discovery and recovery. Each act in this ensemble is further brought to life with illustrations by Daniele Serra, Glenn Chadbourne, L.A. Spooner & Ty Scheuerman.

Amazon: eBook | trade paperback | hardcover. Also available in the UK, Canada, AustraliaGermany, FranceItaly, Spain, India, Brazil, Mexico, Netherlands, Japan, and a part of Kindle Unlimited where available.

Barnes & Nobletrade paperback | hardcover

Books-A-Million (BAM!): trade paperback | hardcover.

The book is dedicated to John Skipp for helping first spark this monster to life, and to Josh Malerman for the inspiration to finish it.

Psychotropic Dragon - Cover (full spread)

Some praise:

“Like the drug he’s invented, Michael Bailey’s Psychotropic Dragon is addictive, scary, and at times, mind-blowing. But it’s the human element that keeps you turning the pages, the wounds to the psyche which we recognize immediately. The human element … and a fierce narrative style.” – Jack Ketchum (miss you, my friend, and sorry this took too long)“

After the publication of Palindrome Hannah, I did not think it possible that Michael Bailey could ever top that mind-bender of a novel. I was wrong. Psychotropic Dragon, from its perception-altering structure to its gut-wrenching and deeply moving and frightening narrative, makes recent cross-genres look like they were written by a three-year-old. Did I say ‘cross genre’? My bad. This phantasmagorical show-stopper of a book defies categorization. It is, in the truest sense of the word, unique, something all too rare in publishing today. Beautifully written, stunningly illustrated, and guaranteed to blow your mind (not to mention scare the bejeezus out of you). A staggering achievement.” – Gary A. Braunbeck

If you try to hold on too tightly to the narrative, you might get hurt. My advice is to let it sweep you up. And to read it twice, or more. Psychotropic Dragon is a modern classic you will want to return to again and again.” – Chris Larsen

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FREE HOLIDAY E-BOOKS!

Free e-Book Holiday

Midnight Dec. 24th through midnight Dec. 28th, the following are available as free downloads for Amazon Kindle. This is a sampling of work by Michael Bailey: short fiction & poetry (including illustrations by Daniele Serra), a composite novel, and themed long fiction. Fill up your Kindle. They’re free!

Trade paperback and hardcover editions are also available.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000038_00073]

INKBLOTS AND BLOOD SPOTS, a painfully beautiful collection of short stories and poetry by Michael Bailey that reaches deep into the imagination, breaking hearts and boundaries along the way. Features an introduction by Douglas E. Winter, and illustrations and cover artwork by Daniele Serra;. This book was originally published by Villipede Publications. This second edition is now published by Written Backwards.

AmazoneBook trade paperback | hardcover. Also available in the UK, Canada, Australia, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, India, Brazil, Mexico, Netherlands, Japan, and a part of Kindle Unlimited where available.

Barnes & Nobletrade paperback | hardcover

Books-A-Million (BAM!)trade paperback | hardcover

PR - Cover

PHOENIX ROSE, a composite novel. Michael Bailey returns to the strange town of Brenden, Washington to expand the events of Palindrome Hannah. A family is torn apart after a horse foaling goes terribly wrong; a sickly man recounts getting mauled by his neighbor’s dog; an undead priest is reborn into the world a hundred-fifty years after his untimely death; two brothers run for their lives through a dead field of wheat. Holding all of this together is a young boy named Todd, whose survival pivots on the balance of life and death, and a deranged mental patient with a burnt rose tattoo, whose reality is paradoxical. Cover artwork by Michael Ian Bateson.

AmazoneBook | trade paperback | hardcover. Also available in the UK, Canada, Australia, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, India, Brazil, Mexico, Netherlands, Japan, and a part of Kindle Unlimited where available.

Barnes & Nobletrade paperback | hardcover 

Books-A-Million (BAM!)trade paperback | hardcover

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000026_00094]

OVERSIGHT, a themed collection of two novelettes and a short story by Michael Bailey. Includes “Darkroom” and “SAD Face” (novelettes), and “Fade to Black” (short story).

AmazoneBook | trade paperback | hardcover. Also available in the UK, Canada, Australia, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, India, Brazil, Mexico, Netherlands, Japan, and Kindle Unlimited where available.

Barnes & Nobletrade paperback | hardcover

Books-A-Million (BAM!)trade paperback | hardcover

FREE READING MATERIAL (continued)

Thousands of free eBooks were downloaded during the last Written Backwards giveaway within the first few days, which means readers need books now more than ever. So, let’s do it again. Let’s keep the love of the written word going, helping however we can.

With the recent pandemic hitting the world, many are in self-quarantine, or being forced to work from home, or have lost their jobs (or will be looking for work soon) or are under mandatory shelter-in-place, thus turning homes into offices and classrooms. And it looks like we might be in this predicament for a while.

If you find yourself needing reading material during this difficult time as a distraction from life, I am making the entire Chiral Mad series of anthologies available for free on Amazon Kindle starting midnight on 03/20/2020 through 03/22/2020. This is about half-a-million words of fiction, poetry, and artwork, by some incredible creators.

Simply click the covers for direct links in the US, or see other options below if you’re in the UK, Canada, Australia, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, India, Brazil, Mexico, Netherlands, or Japan (that’s as far as my reach is capable at the moment).

If you find yourself not short on cash, consider helping out this small independent press by purchasing other titles available on the www.nettirw.com page. Check out the different tabs for Novels, Collections, Anthologies, and Misc, or simply donate to help keep this press alive.

Support Independent Writers / Editors / Publishers

If you feel like making a donation to Written Backwards (even just a dollar), know that your money will be going to a good cause: helping an independent writer, editor, and publisher survive in this cruel world.

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Written Backwards can be contacted via email at written@nettirw.com, or reached on social media at facebook.com/nettirw or twitter.com/nettirw, although the press is not open to submissions at this time.

Stay safe, everyone …

CM4 - COVER (9X6)

AmazoneBook (free 03/20 thru 03/22/2020) | trade paperback | hardcover. Also available in the UK, Canada, Australia, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, India, Brazil, Mexico, Netherlands, Japan, and a part of Kindle Unlimited where available.

Barnes & Nobletrade paperback | hardcover

Books-A-Million (BAM!)trade paperback | hardcover

9780999575444 CM3 CS_Cover (2nd Edition)

Amazon: eBook (free 03/20 thru 03/22/2020)| trade paperback. Also available in the UK, Canada, Australia, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, India, Brazil, Mexico, Netherlands, Japan, and a part of Kindle Unlimited where available.

Barnes & Nobletrade paperback

Books-A-Million (BAM!)trade paperback

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000040_00009]

AmazoneBook (free 03/20 thru 03/22/2020) | trade paperback. Also available in the UK, Canada, Australia, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, India, Brazil, Mexico, Netherlands, Japan, and a part of Kindle Unlimited where available.

Barnes & Nobletrade paperback

Books-A-Million (BAM!)trade paperback

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000040_00009]

AmazoneBook (free 03/20 thru 03/22/2020) | trade paperback. Also available in the UK, Canada, Australia, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, India, Brazil, Mexico, Netherlands, Japan, and a part of Kindle Unlimited where available.

Barnes & Nobletrade paperback

Books-A-Million (BAM!)trade paperback

FREE READING MATERIAL

With the recent pandemic hitting the world, many are in self-quarantine, or being forced to work from home (or will be soon) to cope with both schools and businesses temporarily closing. If you find yourself needing reading material during this difficult time as a distraction from life, I am making all my books (that I can) free on Amazon Kindle starting midnight on 03/14/2020 (the soonest I can), through 03/18/2020.

Simply click the covers for direct links in the US, or see other options below if you’re in the UK, Canada, Australia, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, India, Brazil, Mexico, Netherlands, or Japan (that’s as far as my reach is capable at the moment).

Stay safe, everyone …

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000026_00094]

Also available in the UK, Canada, Australia, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, India, Brazil, Mexico, Netherlands, Japan

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000038_00073]

Also available in the UK, Canada, Australia, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, India, Brazil, Mexico, Netherlands, Japan

SP - Cover

Also available in the UK, Canada, Australia, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, India, Brazil, Mexico, Netherlands, Japan

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000040_00009]

Also available in the UK, Canada, Australia, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, India, Brazil, Mexico, Netherlands, Japan,

PR - Cover

Also available in the UK, Canada, Australia, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, India, Brazil, Mexico, Netherlands, Japan

All titles are also available for free to Kindle Unlimited subscribers.

Paul Michael Anderson is also making his fiction collection available as well:

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000038_00074]

NOT-SO-SILENT

A few years ago, Tim Lebbon took the plunge into writing full-time, although he’s been writing for as long as he can remember. He has authored more than forty books of horror and dark fantasy, such as Coldbrook, White, and the Relics trilogy (see book cover images and direct links below), as well as tie-in novels for popular franchises: Star Wars, Firefly, Alien, Predator. In other words, he’s a busy guy.

Recently The Silence debuted on Netflix, an adaptation of his novel of the same name (watch the trailer here!). And even more recently, as part of the Written Backwards interview series, Michael Bailey had the opportunity of asking him a few questions, turning him not-so-silent.

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The interview [ after a brief lead-in ]:

Technology is forever-changing, constantly providing us new ways of reading, of writing, as well as enjoying all other types of creative content. We live in a digital world where books and film and other such things are easily available at our fingertips, near-instantly brought into our homes by a few taps of a remote or a keyboard, to our phones, to various reading devices, to our computer screens, and to our televisions. In terms of the written word, we have tipped over the 50% mark of reading digitally vs. reading on paper. In terms of visual media, we are watching more film in-house vs. in-theatre (despite blockbusters consistently shattering records at the box office). Netflix and Hulu have paved the way for streaming content, with Disney and other giants beginning to mark their claims (or at least trying).

In the last few years, Netflix has put a lot of resources into their own original content, with highly successful series like House of Cards, Stranger Things, Ozark, and the Marvel superhero shows such as Daredevil, Luke Cage, and The Punisher (all of which have since been cancelled because of Disney’s involvement with Marvel and future-streaming, aka Disney+), along with spending an insane amount of money to continue streaming already successful television series and network shows.

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While the giant that is Netflix typically refuses to announce viewership, they have recently hinted at such large numbers with movies they’ve launched (both on their platform and in limited theatre release), such as with the adaptation of Josh Malerman’s novel Bird Box, which is now  one of the most successful launches in movie history. In it’s first few days, over 45 million Netflix accounts streamed the movie. Put that into movie ticket perspective (somewhere around $8 per ticket, on average), and you’re looking at a $360 million weekend debut. And that doesn’t take into account that most of these viewings were shared, with entire families watching the movie with a single virtual ticket. Netflix announced that over 80 million accounts had streamed the movie in the first few weeks of release, so suddenly that $360 million number turns into $640 million (although that’s not how it works in the mysterious world of movie-streaming). In terms of movie releases, this insane viewership is something incredible.

That said, Netflix recently released an adaptation of your wonderful novel The Silence, so I have a few questions.

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Michael Bailey: I think every writer has a certain bucket list item: To have one of their works adapted to the screen. Bucket list item obtained? How does it feel seeing your characters brought to life off the page?

Tim Lebbon: The Silence has been a fantastic experience from beginning to end. And yes, bucket list item achieved. From the moment it was picked up by the producers, to the moment my wife and I attended a screening at Netflix back in early April, it’s been such an exciting, and sometimes surreal experience. Everyone involved—producers, film makers, film company, and Netflix themselves—have been wonderful to deal with, and lots of those people are now my friends. The cast for the film was terrific, too. I think I’ve had a pretty dreamy movie experience, especially having heard from other writers about their own experiences. And I even got to play a corpse in my own film! There’s other screen stuff happening now, some of which is largely influenced by The Silence being a success for Netflix. And a ten day visit to LA meeting producers and studios has made me really want to spread my wings a little, and I’m now working on an original TV series idea of my own, as well as other stuff.

MB: I happened to be visiting Los Angeles at the time of Malerman’s screening of Bird Box, and we were able to hang out for a while, discussing what it would be like to actually watch the film at the Netflix studio (he was seeing it the following day, so I never got to ask him in person what it was like until later). The famous Grauman’s Chinese Theatre screened the movie, and he had a chance to mingle with Sandra Bullock and some of the other actors. With all that pre-loading, I guess my question is the same as what I wanted to ask Josh. What was your LA / Netflix experience like with The Silence?

TL: The Silence wasn’t given quite the massive push, because Bird Box had a limited theatre release, but Netflix still put on a great show for us. It was a busy day—I’d had two meetings that day, and my wife had taken herself off to Rodeo Drive for a look around. She ended up almost getting lost (phone running out, no data, long story), and consequently we were maybe twenty minutes late getting to Netflix. I hate being late for anything, but for the screening of my own movie …? But the minute we walked through the doors, any shred of tension left us both. The entire wall of the Netflix lobby—and it’s big—was a spread of The Silence. We were given a glass of wine and a beer, I introduced Tracey to the splendid director John Leonetti, and to Robert Kulzer from Constantin, and the screenwriters, and the ASL tutor who’d been on set was there, and it was just such a wonderful evening. The screening was terrific, and afterwards, after everyone had dashed off, Tracey and I found a local bar and had a celebratory drink. An experience, and an evening, that I’ll never forget. As for LA … what a crazy city! I loved it. Tracey went home early (we’d planned it that way) and even left on my own I filled the time with meetings, seeing friends, and making new ones. It was a trip I’ll never forget. And I hope I’ll be back pretty soon!

relics

MB: You have a cameo, albeit brief. I happened to catch it, and blurted out, “That’s Tim!” For those who may have missed it, where in the movie can they find you? And what was it like being on-set for some of the filming?

TL: I spent two days on set on Toronto, and was made to feel really welcome. A great time! That first day, I asked John [Leonetti] if he needed another corpse, and he was instantly taken with the idea. Long story short (which sort of ties in with four hours for prep for one second of screen time!), I ended up as a corpse in the drugstore scene. I guess it’s about an hour into the film. Stanley Tucci had to step over me to get some drugs, and afterwards I asked him if he thought I had a future in Hollywood. He said, “You nailed it!” Don’t think I got a credit, though, Hmph.

MB: We won’t discuss the movie A Quiet Place, as everyone already knows your novel The Silence came out long before that movie was conceived (and entirely different), but are there any other senses you’d like to see adapted to the screen, or in books, or do you have any favorite books / movies that have something to do with senses?

TL: Even before I met Josh Malerman I was a huge fan of his novel, and I love the film of Bird Box too. Another highlight of going to LA was meeting up with Josh and Allison a couple of times, having a few drinks, and making some lifelong friends. So yeah, Bird Box was a favourite before, and even more so after meeting Malerman. I really like the movie Don’t Breathe, and Lights Out is great too (not so much a sense movie, but it sort of feels like one).

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MB: If you could pick one sense to live without for the rest of your life, which would that be, and could you do it? And likewise, any particular superpower wishes?

TL: Eek. These questions are always tough. I’m sure you probably mean either sight or sound, but my first reaction is to live without the sense of smell! But of the two main ones, I guess I’d rather live without sound than sight. Although music makes the world go around, so I dunno …

Superpower: being able to eat cake without putting on weight.

MB: You are first and foremost a writer. I’ve had the pleasure of publishing a novelette co-written by you and Christopher Golden in the anthology The Library of the Dead, and later your story “Strings” in the anthology Adam’s Ladder, which I co-edited with Darren Speegle. Let’s just say that I love your writing, and I love collaborations in general, as they sometimes create a seemingly impossible third creator. How do you feel about collaborating with other creatives, and are there any other creatives you’d like to collaborate with on future projects?

TL: Thank you! I love collaborating, and Golden and I have been doing it for so long––we’re currently on novel #9––that I can’t imagine not working on something with him. We do go a few months at a time when we’re not actively working on a project or two, but usually we have something ticking over. Part of the appeal is as you mentioned, the third voice, and the fact that we write something that neither of us would have written on our own (or at least, not in the same way). And part of the appeal is suddenly having something ready for submission while we’re also working on our own projects! Chris is a great friend, and working with him means that writing is never a lonely business. We catch up pretty much every week anyway, but when we’re writing together on something it’s usually every couple of days.

I’ve been lucky enough to collaborate with lots of friends––Stephen Volk, Gavin Williams, Des Lewis, Brett Savory, Katherine Roberts, Michael Marshall Smith, Mark Morris … I’m sure there’ll be more in the future. I’m writing more screenplays now, and hopefully there’ll be a chance to collaborate on one or two soon.

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MB: What do you envision happening with books and film in the near future, let’s say over the next ten or so years?

TL: Print books will remain. Always have, always will. Movies and TV seem to be converging, but cinema will always persist. Stories are the most important part of our lives. They’ll always be there in some form.

MB: What advice would you like to offer all who are first entering the wonderful world of creativity, whether it be writing, film, art, or any other creative medium?

TL: There’s a fine balance between art and commerce, especially if you’re creating something for a living. But to whatever extent you have to worry about earning money, the heart of what you do should always be about what you love. I’ve written lots of tie-in projects, but storytelling is always at its core. Working on tie-in projects buys time for me to develop my own projects, too. So basically … write what you love. Write what you’d want to read. Follow your heart.

MB: Do you have any other items you’d like to toss in the bucket (list)?

TL: A TV series would be nice! Things are happening on that front, I should be able to announce something soon.

MB: Using a single word, what do you fear most?

TL: Loss.


Read more about Tim Lebbon on his website: timlebbon.net.

THE HUNGER

The latest Written Backwards interview is with Alma Katsu, award-winning author of The Hunger, a reimagining of the Donner Party, which Stephen King called “Deeply, deeply disturbing, hard to put down, not recommended reading after dark.” She is also the author of a trilogy of books including The Taker, The Reckoning, and The Descent, and her forthcoming novel The Deep is now available for pre-order.

alma_katsu

So, the interview [ by Michael Bailey ]:

Last November, my extended family and I decided to spend Thanksgiving in Truckee, California. We all needed a getaway to somewhere remote, somewhere in the mountains. We needed fresh air, and trees, and less noise. So, we thought, why not spend the holiday at Donner Pass, site of the ill-fated Donner Party? For Thanksgiving! Why not check out Donner Memorial State Park while we’re there?

As California natives, we had all been to Truckee before, many times, mostly traveling through to get to other places, or visiting the lake, but none of us had ever been to the museum or monument (it’s kind of strange knowing that so long ago the mountains were impenetrable in the winters, and now the pass is a freeway thoroughfare). And so we rented a house close by and stayed for a long weekend.

We toured the museum, and craned our necks looking up at the 22-foot-tall pedestal, upon which stands the pioneer monument (the 22 feet representing the level of snowfall in the winter of 1846-47). And we read the inscription: VIRILE TO RISK AND FIND; KINDLY WITHAL AND A READY HELP. FACING THE BRUNT OF FATE; INDOMITABLE—UNAFRAID. Our kids were into it as well (although they were constantly wondering why we’d take them to such a place for Thanksgiving, of all things); they had learned of the Donner Party in school. “They ate each other, right?” Public education in California … that’s what you get.

When you say “Donner Party,” people usually grimace and talk people-food, about cannibalism. But what we soon discovered during our visit was that not much is known of the actual “eating each other” part of their story (although that’s all I was ever taught in school, and all they apparently still teach in school, according to the kids). The only mention of cannibalism at the museum, in fact, is a single placard on one of the displays (you really have to look for it), which mentions that there’s not much evidence of the Donner Party resorting to cannibalism. To be honest, it was kind of a letdown.

While there, we purchased a game in the gift shop called Donner Dinner Party. The point of the game: to either secretly turn to cannibalism (as if by disease) and turn others, or to survive being eaten (which is much more difficult, as it turns out, and not as fun as the desire to turn other players). As it turns out, it snowed while we were there. Some of the smaller streams were frozen over, but we were lucky enough not to resort to eating one another, other than in-game.

Soon after this little getaway, I discovered (by way of the Horror Writers Association) a recommended book called The Hunger by Alma Katsu, a western of sorts, a historical novel. And that was that. Out of all the books I read that year, The Hunger quickly became a favorite.

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Michel Bailey: As part of your research, you visited Donner State Memorial Park. What can you tell us about that visit, and what were some of the highlights?

Alma Katsu: I definitely recommend it if you’re ever out that way. Knowing, intimately, what happened on the sites certainly made it very meaningful to me—it felt like some sanctified space. It’s odd to think that it’s a recreational park, and that you can camp, swim, and hike close to the actual place where so many people suffered and died. The lake was very dark when I was there, the surface like black glass, and inspired the scene where they’re slaughtering the remaining cattle at the water’s edge, right before all hell breaks loose.

Folks also shouldn’t miss Alder Creek, where the Donner families were trapped away from the rest of the wagon party. It’s is a few miles down the road, quieter and less visited. The tree which the families camped beneath was hit by lightning and all that remains of it is a charred stump. It’s beautiful in an eerie, lonely way.

MB: Besides Donner Pass, where else did you find your information on the expedition?

AK: So much research went into this book. I refer to it as a complex historical research project because (1) it was a well-known event tied to a specific timeline, (2) it followed a specific physical path, and (3) had a large cast of characters, over 100. In other words, it was grounded in time and space, and is a fairly famous event so you can’t take too many liberties with it. I’m a researcher by profession, so I streamlined the work as much as possible (so as not to get pulled into a spiral of never-ending research) and relied on a lot of spot research to fill in the gaps. I got so many questions about the research process while I was touring that I developed a workshop for writers on efficient historical research.

The interesting thing about this particular event is that while there is a fair amount of professional documentation, there’s nearly as much from amateur genealogists and family histories. While it was great getting these special insights, there were problems, too: discrepancies between accounts, slight variations in the facts, and no way to settle these types of differences. In the end, you just have to decide what you want to use: is it fiction, after all.

MB: In terms of the Donner Party, most of what is known / taught are their struggles in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, which is a very small part of the overall story. What I admire most about the novel is that you focus on (for the better part of half its length or longer) the many struggles they experience much earlier in their tale, from Springfield, Illinois onward. What made you want to focus on that part of their story?

AK: We all think we know the story of the Donner Party, but what most of us know is the end: the mountain pass, the terrible snowfall, starvation, the choice they’re left with. But there’s so, so much more to the story, and you get a sense of that once you start learning the history. The journey started 1,400 miles and many months earlier, when a group of strangers happened to descend on the jumping off point—Independence, in what was then the territory of Missouri—setting the stage for the gruesome story that was to come. And it was gruesome and strange from the outset. People died, people disappeared. It was like they were cursed from the very beginning.

It’s an interesting point in American history, too: the country was half wilderness. What made people want to walk away from everyone they knew and everything that was familiar to head into the complete unknown? What were they looking for and why did they think they’d find it on the other side of the continent? We can barely imagine today, with modern communications and cars and other creature comforts, how difficult the journey to California and Oregon was. It was more than an adventure: it was literally life-and-death.

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MB: In John Langan’s review of The Hunger for Locus, he states, “It’s a testament to Katsu’s skill as a writer that she creates characters so compelling that we can’t help hoping they will escape the fate we knew was hurtling toward them the moment we opened the book.” I must admit: I never once worried about already knowing the fate of the Donners and their other party members, as I’d heard prior to reading that the book was a bit supernatural. Why did you decide to go the supernatural route?

AK: The story of the Donner Party, as incredible as it is, seemed to be a story that begged for a supernatural twist. It was gruesome and strange from the outset. They got off to a late start, but then seemed to ignore the danger of lagging behind even though they knew the danger. People died, people disappeared.

I’ve always loved the presence of the supernatural in a story. Fiction is about making us realize the truth about life, our lives. To break through the veil of the everyday that, in some ways, dulls us and lulls us into complacency. By introducing an element of the supernatural, we get the reader’s attention: something extraordinary is going on! Listen up! Plus, we all want to believe that there’s more to life than what we know, that there’s something important and wondrous waiting for us just beyond what our eyes and fingertips tell us, if we’re patient enough.

MB: The characters in the book are a blend of fiction and nonfiction. Did you have any trepidation (or challenges) writing fiction about real historical individuals?

AK: Absolutely! I had to change some aspects of the characters—for one thing, how can you really know what a person is like if you’ve never met them. Especially individuals who were not especially famous. Diaries and newspaper accounts and all the usual source material can be biased. But more importantly, I was writing fiction, not a biography. I needed characters who were going to fill certain roles in the story, so they weren’t necessarily going to be the exact same people who’d lived through the ordeal.

Also, I was a little worried that a descendant of the Donner Party would object, but then I found out that it’s almost impossible to be sued for libeling a deceased person. That made me a little less worried. There’s the ethical concern, but as I said I knew I wasn’t writing a biography. In the end, blending the real and the fictional in the characters’ lives has been fun for me, and for readers (I think). I get lots of emails from readers who say The Hunger inspired them to learn more about the real life wagon party.

MB: What can you tell us about the characters you created?

AK: The Hunger has about a half-dozen POV characters, and a good many more minor characters out of a wagon party of about 100. After just a little research, the contenders for the POV roles were pretty obvious because they had distinguished themselves during the journey—heroically for the most part, but not all of them. You have Tamsen Donner, wife of George Donner, the ostensible leader of the wagon party. Tamsen was a woman of intelligence and aspirations. Yet she died on the mountaintop, staying behind with George at the end even though she was healthy and could’ve made it down with one of the rescue parties. Why did she sacrifice herself rather than leave with her daughters? There’s Charles Stanton, one of the bachelors on the trek, who rode ahead to get food the first time the party ran low, and returned to such dire circumstances even though there was no reason besides decency. And James Reed, the man who actually led the wagon party for a good length of time, inexplicably killed one of the drovers in a fit of rage and was expelled from the wagon party with nothing, a sure death sentence. You read about these people and it makes you wonder, how did they end up here? What secrets might they be hiding? What choices or mistakes in their lives brought them to this desperate place?

The same is true of the villains. Lewis Keseberg, the member of the Donner Party most associated with cannibalism—incredibly disagreeable by all accounts—you have to wonder what was it about him that made it possible to surrender to cannibalism so readily? And then two men who were indirectly responsible: Lansford Hastings, a charlatan who sent the Donners down the untried trail, and Jim Bridger, who had fallen on hard times and was trying to make Hasting’s new trail to California a success.

But those are just some of them. The Hunger is a character-driven book, and there are many more to choose from. It was a pleasure getting to build and bring each one to life.

MB: The Hunger is a historical western, it’s horror, it’s thriller, and many other things. In fact, it won the 2019 Western Heritage Award for Best Novel, and was nominated for both the Locus Award for Best Horror Novel of 2018, and the Bram Stoker Award (from the Horror Writers Association) for Superior Achievement in a Novel. That said: What are your thoughts on cross-genre fiction?

AK: I love cross-genre fiction and I think readers do, too. It seems like the big blockbusters that take the industry by storm every couple of years tend to be cross-genre. Maybe the unexpectedness of the story helps with the word-of-mouth. The downside is that cross-genre is hard to market. It’s hard for audiences to find it because the mechanisms for discovery—newsletters from publishers and book stores, recommendation engines online—tend to be siloed. I’ve been very lucky in that horror people who loved the book overlooked the historical aspect, and vice versa.

MB: I had the pleasure of briefly meeting you at StokerCon, and during one of the panels you mentioned a future project involving the Titanic. Will this also be a mix of different genres? What can you tell us about this project without giving away too much?

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AK: The next book, The Deep, is a ghost story that’s mostly set on the Titanic and its sister ship, Britannic, which also sank. It’s historical and has horror elements—ghosts but also a little selkie lore—but it’s also a bit more romantic than The Hunger. I worry that it might have too many genres in it but it holds together. I think it works, but I guess we’ll see.

MB: For this book, where have you gone (or where are you planning to go) for research?

AK: I wasn’t as energetic with this book. I’d hoped to go to Belfast to visit the Titanic shipyard, or at the very least get to one of the Titanic museums stateside, but ran out of time. I did visit a stunning Smithsonian exhibition, but most of my research has been done by book and internet. Because so many people are completely gaga for the Titanic story, there are many great online resources. Finding source material was not a problem. I was spoiled for choice.

MB: One final question, since these interviews are designed to help creatives in general: In terms of research, what advice would you offer those new to historical fiction?

AK: The number one problem I’m asked about has to do with over-researching. Research paralysis. As I mentioned, I got so many questions while on tour about the research I did for The Hunger that I ended up putting together a workshop on being a more efficient researcher. It’s less about specific resources and more about borrowing techniques from the world of professional researchers. You can find the highlights in this article I did for Writer Unboxed.


Find more on Alma Katsu and her work at almakatsubooks.com

A LITTLE OF EVERYTHING

The latest Written Backwards interview is with John Langan. author of such novels as House of Windows and The Fisherman, as well as numerous fiction collections, including Mr. Gaunt and Other Uneasy EncountersThe Wide, Carnivorous Sky and Other Monstrous Geographiesand his latest Sefira & Other Betrayals. His work can be found in magazines and anthologies all over the world. We discuss a little of everything …

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Michael Bailey: When overhearing people discussing the fiction of John Langan (because I often find myself doing most of the listening and not much of the talking while in crowds), I often hear things like “literary” and “quiet horror.” What do you consider quiet horror, and likewise what do you consider literary?

John Langan: “Quiet horror” is a term I associate with the years surrounding the Splatterpunk movement, when it was thrown up as a more restrained alternative to the work of Skipp & Spector, Schow, etc. At the time, quiet horror was connected to writers such as Charles Grant and Steve Rasnic Tem. If I’m not mistaken, Doug Winter wrote a review essay arguing (compellingly, to my mind) that the apparent differences between the groups were vastly outweighed by their similarities. In the years since then, the term quiet horror has been employed in a less-systematic way in an attempt to identify works of horror in which the emphasis is on atmosphere and subtlety of effect rather than more dramatic narrative moves. Although I haven’t made a systematic study of it, I have the sense that it’s applied to those writers we associate with the classic tradition of the ghost story, with M.R. James or Susan Hill. The problem is, if you read James’s fiction, then you’ll find that there’s a lot of delightfully over-the-top stuff going on. (I also suspect that this more recent use of quiet horror is an attempt to draw a line between it and more cinematically inflected fiction, i.e. zombie narratives.)

As for the word “literary,” it’s one of those that tends to cause all manner of uproar, isn’t it? As I see it, the most important thing to remember about “literary” is that it’s an adjective, not a noun. In other words, it describes a certain set of characteristics that can be applied to any kind of fiction. What those characteristics are may be subject to debate, although I’m reasonably sure they would include attention to character and style. I think it was Nabokov who said that the literary is that which we are always rereading, and I like that definition very much.

MB: In the acknowledgments for your debut novel, House of Windows, you wrote, “This book had a hard time finding a home: the genre people weren’t happy with all the literary stuff; the literary people weren’t happy with all the genre stuff.” Who is your intended audience?

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JL: It used to be that I read everything I wrote to my wife. So while I wrote whatever I did because I wanted to read it, myself, she was my first audience. Then, after our son was born, it became harder to maintain this practice. I still have her in mind as my ideal reader, but these days, I’m also thinking about friends such as Laird Barron, Stephen Graham Jones, and Paul Tremblay. Anytime I write something that these guys like, I know I’ve made contact with the ball.

MB: Who do you write for? Who should anyone write for?

JL: At the risk of being redundant, I write for myself, my wife, my friends, and then anyone who’s willing to pick up the story or book and give it a chance. I’m not sure that there’s a universal answer for the second question—although it would seem to me difficult not to be writing for yourself—but I think you should write for whoever helps you to write. If writing for yourself alone is enough to make that happen, then that’s great. If writing for someone else helps, then that’s fine, too.

MB: Having read The Fisherman, which won the Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in a Novel a few years ago, I would have to say that I would consider it a multitude of things (horror being one of them), but not necessarily any one thing over the other. It’s horror, sure, but it could be considered cosmic horror, or Lovecraftian, or “quiet,” the way Victor LaValle’s wonderful novella The Ballad of Black Tom is a little of each of those things. What do you consider The Fisherman?

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JL: I’m happy to call it a horror novel, but that’s because I subscribe to a big-tent view of horror, in which all manner of narratives can be gathered under its folds. I tend to think that fiction in general is a fundamentally hybrid or mixed art (an idea indebted in no small part to the ideas of the literary critic M.M. Bakhtin), so it seems to me entirely appropriate that all manner of genres and sub-genres should be part of a novel.

MB: Is there a need for genre and sub-genre? I recently read a post by a prolific writer in which he stated (not verbatim) that he doesn’t write horror, or science fiction, or any one thing; he simply writes what he wants to write, and lets other people determine what they want to call it. Do you agree?

JL: From a critical perspective, I don’t see anything wrong with having categories that allow you to point out similarities between different works of literature. From a reader’s perspective, I don’t see anything wrong with having categories that allow you to find books that are similar to those you’ve enjoyed already. And from a writer’s perspective, I don’t see anything wrong with having a tradition to engage with in my work. So I guess as long as the genre category functions in an expansive way, in a way that brings more to the critic / reader / writer, I’m quite happy with it.

MB: I once overheard an editor say that she wished you wrote more often. Your first novel was published in 2009, and your second in 2016. But between that seven-year span you also published two fiction collections: Mr. Gaunt and Other Uneasy Encounters (2008) and The Wide Carnivorous Sky and Other Monstrous Geographies (2013), and co-edited an anthology with Paul Tremblay called Creatures: Thirty Years of Monsters. That’s four books in seven years (five if you count the anthology, which I do, because I know how much work goes into them), which I would say is a good pace. Do you wish you wrote faster, or published more often?

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JL: Over the past several years, I’ve published a reasonable number of stories—as well as, very recently, a third collection of stories. My problem is, in part, that many of those stories have appeared in smaller press publications, which someone who’s read, say, The Fisherman may not necessarily have heard of. But I have enough material for at least another three collections after Sefira, and I’m hoping to do something about that sooner rather than later.

I do, however, wish I were one of those writers who can toss off a novella in a week. In part, my daily process means that I don’t work particularly quickly: I do a lot of revising as I’m writing. I’ve also learned that some works require more time than others to complete, and may need to be put aside for a while. (This was the case with both The Fisherman and Sefira, the title piece in my new collection, both of which took me years to finish.) And while I’ve enjoyed a great deal of success with my writing, it hasn’t been enough to support me and my family, which means I need to work a day job, which cuts into my writing time. In addition, I’ve been reviewing horror and dark fantasy for Locus magazine, which also requires a certain amount of time that would otherwise go to fiction writing.

Moving ahead, I’d like to devote a bit more time to writing longer works, especially novels.

MB: What are your writing and / or publishing habits? Do you write when you want to write? Do you set goals?

JL: I try to write every day, with a goal of completing a page a day. When I’m not working a day job, it’s easier to maintain that schedule. In terms of publishing habits, I’ve tried to say yes to every invitation to contribute to an anthology I’ve received. (Which I suppose has cut into my novel writing.) I have immediate goals, usually to have something done on or not too far past the deadline. My long-term goals are a bit more nebulous: I would very much like to complete one hundred stories and ten novels—arbitrary numbers, I know, but ones that help me have some sense of how I’m doing, overall. I think I’m up to around sixty stories, with several more underway; while I have plans for another six novels if I can ever find the time to write them.

MB: You have been a finalist for the International Horror Guild Award, a Bram Stoker Award nominee for Superior Achievement in a Fiction Collection for Mr. Gaunt, and won for your novel The Fisherman, as well as serve on the Board of Directors for the Shirley Jackson Awards. What do awards mean to you, and what do you believe they should mean to other writers?

JL: The recognition an award nomination brings is a fine thing, while an award can certainly make your day. In my case, the Bram Stoker was the award I had first wanted to win, back when I was a teenager and it was created, so while I could not have complained had any of the other writers I was on the ballot with won it, there was a special delight in hearing my name read out on that night.

At their best, awards can shine light on deserving work, leading readers to writers they might not otherwise have encountered. That said, in any award process, there’s always going to be work that is overlooked, that may not come to light until years later. And even if you win an award, you still have sit down to write the next day. So awards should be enjoyed, but not used as the final measure of success—which is, after all, having readers for your work.

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