On the fragility of vampires and the dire state of horror

Author Schow talks about his hiatus from writing, two current novels


October 05, 2003|By John Coffren | John Coffren,Sun Staff

After a 13-year hiatus between novels, David J. Schow, considered the father of splatterpunk --a violent and graphic sub-genre of horror fiction -- has two new books on the market this fall. The 48-year-old author also writes nonfiction and screenplays, but he's primarily known for his short horror stories, which have earned him a World Fantasy Award, given by an annual convention of professional writers and artists, and inclusion in myriad annual "best-of" anthologies.

For three months, Schow has been in Vancouver filming a documentary about the making of I, Robot, an Alex Proyas film based on the late Isaac Asimov's science fiction series. Schow and director Proyas also worked together on The Crow, a 1994 supernatural revenge tale.

On location, Schow spends his days following the production team, which includes up to four crews, and editing film. He's trimming more than 100 hours of tape to 90 minutes for the eventual DVD release.

Last week, Schow took a break from his regimen of "cut tape, sleep and cut more tape" to answer questions sent by e-mail:

It's been 13 years since your last novel, The Shaft, was published. Now in the space of two months, you have two new books out -- Rock Breaks Scissors Cut, (Subterranean Press) and Bullets of Rain, (Dark Alley, HarperCollins imprint). Why so long between projects and why the double-shot?

Bad scheduling? Nahh. ADD? I don't think so. I should point out that I wrote most of Rock Breaks Scissors Cut right in the middle of Bullets of Rain, and veering around those projects like satellites were several other books to edit, several more to compile, stories to write, scripts to revise.

I've been making tentative sorties back toward long-form writing for a while now ... so the fact that the short novel and the "novel-novel" came out virtually simultaneously is not intrinsically significant. Mix in a couple of false starts on novels in the past decade (one of them ran to 340 pages before I cut its throat; it was a mercy killing), and a couple of movies that never got made (but paid my way for two years each) and the delay isn't so odd.

What have you been working on during the last decade?

Film scripts, revisions, stealth rewrites. Since 1993 I've had four new short story collections in hardcover. ... I got married, got separated, got divorced. I bought a house in the Hollywood Hills.

The protagonists of your first (The Kill Riff) and latest (Bullets of Rain) novels, Lucas Ellington and Art Latimer, share an inability to cope with grief (i.e., the loss of a loved one) and seek closure / redemption through firearms. What fascination do these characters with similar situations hold for you?

The firearms aren't a trend or obsession. I think they're a natural appendage when you're dealing with a suspense novel or thriller.

I'm more interested in the fluid nature of emotional commitment, and stories of who people say they are, vs. who they really might be.

Could you talk a little bit about Bullets of Rain, its genesis, development, themes? The blurbs about an architect in a seaside fortress / mausoleum sound like Boris Karloff in The Black Cat or Vincent Price in Tomb of Ligeia.

See, that's the danger of presupposition according to genre -- your expectations of something horrific colored your anticipation. It is modern, non-gothic, non-supernatural. I wanted to write a book entirely from the point of view of a single character. You find out information only when he does. You can change your mind when he does, based on new or conflicting information. It doesn't cut back and forth between parallel events like so many potboilers do.

A big sub-theme of the book is the telling of stories -- the stories we tell to establish our public faces, and how we massage the truth, or lie outright, in order to make ourselves look swell.

You've said you prefer the short form over the long form. What advantages and disadvantages do short stories or "shadow warriors" as you call them enjoy over novels?

I would say that short fiction is a more elegant expression of the art of prose, more so than novels. ... There is a certain comfort in the breadth of novels, the larger canvas, the aspect of moving in with a set of characters and living in their heads for awhile, as opposed to the brief encounter of short fiction.

But brief, passionate encounters are usually more memorable, aren't they?

You wrote: "You know what a vampire is? A vampire is the street bum of the supernatural." You don't think vampires are the least bit scary. Why have they lost their chops?

Actually, a character of mine said that. What I said was that "vampires are the Star Trek of horror fiction," meaning most mass-accessible, and therefore formularized, flattened.

Vampires are basically another form of walking dead guy, with an affliction akin to diabetes, except that diabetics can't morph into bats or hypnotize people. If they could, then diabetics would be scary.

And look at modern vampire movies --look how fragile they are, how many weaknesses they have. Vampires have nothing over sharks or rabid grizzly bears.

What's the current state of horror in films and fiction?

Dire. Domestic horror movies are almost all recursive [junk]. The Japanese own horror film right now.

As for fiction, as you can see, I haven't read that much, mainly because so much of what I do see is so terrible, derivative, or outright illiterate. As John Farris told me, "I am particular about what I put into my head."

Will it be another 13 years before we see another novel?

I think not. I just completed a new novel, and am halfway through the novel I started in the middle of that one.

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