20 Questions with Mourning Goats
INTERVIEW THIRTY THREE
I heard about Tom years ago from a friend and didn't know just how funny and prolific the guy was until doing some research for this interview. Tom is the winner of four, yes, FOUR Bram Stoker awards, wrote three, yes, THREE books last year, and is a huge supporter of reading and writing. Go pick up one of the over twenty-five, yes, TWENTY-FIVE novels he's written.
1. What comes to mind when you hear, "Mourning Goats?"
I think of your children, those poor children who have a parent known only as "Mourning Goats." I think of those kids having to go through life under the burden of being marked, branded, condemned, and ostracized by the happy elk, the joyful moose, the delighted sheep. I think of your children and their overwhelming shame and humiliation, and the endless, boundless rage it undoubtedly fosters.
2. You've written 25 novels, does it get easier with each novel? Harder?
Some aspects are easier. Some are harder. I know the sound of my own voice now, so the writing itself comes along a little faster, and I feel a little more certain about how to say things the way I want to say them. But it's tougher to stay original and not repeat myself. My mind falls into certain patterns, particular motifs and images still hold a great power for me, and so I often feel myself gravitating back toward them, even though I may have already mined that particular vein thoroughly in other work.
3. With your first book, you sent 3 chapters to the Pocket Books, and went from there. What's your process nowadays?
Novels are usually solicited nowadays, so I can sell them based on a short synopsis or just a general idea. I'm a very organic writer. I hate doing outlines and, much worse, I hate having to have outlines greenlighted. Writing shouldn't be art by committee, although that's how it sometimes feels. Having an editor shoot down your ideas before you've had a chance to explore them flies in the face of the process. I need to discover the story as I write it. I can't do that by just jotting on a piece of paper what I expect to happen in chapter 1, 2, 3, 50, the end. Some writers prefer mapping out all the details of a book before they start, but that just doesn't work for me.
4. Were your plans to always be a writer when you went after a degree in English from Hofstra University?
It's been the only thing I've ever cared about. The thing I've worked the most consistently at. Clearly I've always been directed toward being a writer, otherwise I would've gone for the stability, bucks, and health insurance provided by just about any other job. Or at least had a contingency plan in place. But just wandering blindly through high school and college imagining yourself a writer is about the only proof there is that you have the single-mindedness to become one.
5. You made the jump from horror to noir and it sounds like you have a lot of other aspirations, what do you want to tackle next?
For the time being I'm happy writing noirish dark crime fiction. I'd like to do a bigger novel that has less concentration on the crime stuff and more on family matters, relationships, and all that other shit that is the focus of so much modern literature. I think I'm finally at that point of my life when I see enough humor and darkness and oddity in the so-called "normal" every day life that I don't need storytelling support of genre material. Maybe one of these days I'll get around to writing that book, maybe not.
6. You've published with both large presses and small. What are some of the differences you notice between them?
The big difference is the amount of control the author has over the process and the product. I'm a control freak, so I enjoy working in the small press where I can be much more hands on with a project. When you deal with the bigger publishers you don't always get your say. Sometimes they take your choices out of your hands. But so far I've been tremendously lucky with Bantam. They've been very accommodating and usually invite me in on just about every level of the publishing process, which I greatly appreciate.
7. I am impressed at how much you support publishing in every way. Where do you see publishing going?
I have no idea. I've never had any idea, but I'm especially clueless nowadays. I'm a Luddite and don't own an e-reader. I don't even have a cell phone, much less an app with which I could read books if I chose. I hate change in all avenues of my life. So I'm the wrong person to ask. I'm dug in deep and don't intend to give ground anytime soon. I'm still on dial-up, for Christ's sake. I'd still have rabbit ears on my TV if my life would let me.
All I really know how to do is talk about the writing process and literature. Discuss it, explore it, and encourage other writers to do the same. Where the tech goes, where the business goes, what the final form books will take, if any form at all...all of that, I have no clue.
8. Getting a good blurb for your books is nice, but what did it feel like reading, "perfect crime fiction" from Lee Child?
I'm a total fanboy of Lee Child, so I think I may have squee-ed quite a bit, which is very unmanly considering he's the creator of the coolest, hippest motherfucker in the world of literature, Jack Reacher. But hey man, it's Lee goddamn Child.
9. Winning one Bram Stoker award is a huge achievement, what's it like having four?
I'm grateful for all the awards I've won. Where the Stokers are concerned, I'm most proud of the fact that each award is in a different category: novel, short fiction, poetry, and alternative forms. It's always nice to be appreciated, especially by your peers and heroes in a particular genre. Horror was where I started out and what got me interested enough to try my hand at fiction in the first place. I owe the field a lot.
10. In 2011 you wrote 3 books, one of which being your longest yet. What do you owe this to?
My immense credit debt. And the fear that my dogs will eat me if I don't continue to feed them on a more or less daily basis.
11. It should be commended at just how great you are to your fans. Do you think that social media has been a big help to your success?
It certainly hasn't hurt. I don't know what kind of numbers I owe directly to the likes of Facebook or Twitter, but regardless of sales, I'm thankful to have such close contact with fans and acquaintances. Before the Internet I was a fanboy writing fan letters to my favorite writers, and I cherish the letters I got back from those people who were so important in my life at the time (and so many of them are gone now). I'm only sorry that most readers now don't get that kind of a chance anymore. It's easier for them to get in contact, but the process is much more ephemeral sadly.
12. Who's your first reader? Does it change depending on content?
I don't have a first reader. I write a story and send it off. Bada-bing.
13. What are your thoughts on giving readings? Do you enjoy them? What should someone expect when coming to see you?
I do like giving readings, but I'm not a showman about it. I don't have balloons on hand or throw monkey masks out in the audience. What you see is what you get. A guy reading a short story or an excerpt from his novel, trying to do his best to weave a little magic with his words.
14. You're approaching 5,000 friends on Facebook. Is this one of the ways that you market your books or just another outlet for people to hear news?
Letting them hear the news is a way of marketing the books. I dig keeping in touch with friends and fans via FB. I don't know how many of those 5k friends even know I exist. But I am always surprised when someone I wasn't expecting stops by and writes a generous comment on my wall or adds to a discussion I'm having. I appreciate anyone who spends a little time joining in.
15. Novels, novellas, short stories, poetry, reviews, and more; do you have an equal love for them all or does one hold a special place in your heart?
Currently I think novellas are where I'm having the most fun. Short but not too short, long but without the weight of having to spend five or six months of my life working on them. I can really juice up the story and build a lot of momentum to come up with some muscular prose. It's a distillation of sorts. You squeeze all the best from a novel and what you have left is a rock solid novella, or noirella as I like to call them.
16. You review a lot of books on your blog THE COLD SPOT (http://www.thecoldspot.blogspot.com/). Have you always been such an advocate for literature?
I'm a bookworm and always have been. I love literature, I love reading, I'm a bibliophile through and through. I surround myself with books. The bedroom I grew up in was originally my father's library. I can clearly recall being five or six years old and looking at THE GRAPES OF WRATH on the shelf, and being utterly perplexed by that title. I knew what grapes were, and I had probably asked my mother what "wrath" meant, but I couldn't put those two things together in any way that made any sense to me. But it sure made me think.
17. Coming up in June you'll have your 8 year anniversary. Does your wife enjoy your books? Does she write?
She is a very talented writer of horror fiction and poetry. We met in a writer's chatroom 15 or so years back. I was the guest and after my discussion she hung back and we kept talking about books and writing. Eventually we became email pals, then we started phoning, and eventually we had a long distance relationship on our hands. Since I could pack up my pencils easier than she could pack up her kids, I moved out here to Colorado to be with her and we married a few years later. Now the kids are out of the house and we live with three dogs: our Boston Terrier Edgar Allan Poe, our Chihuahua Lord Byron, and our muttley Dashiell Hammett.
18. I'm a huge fan of intelligent zombie novels, what can you tell us about Pale Preachers and Vespers?
Creeping Hemlock Press has a new imprint called Print is Dead that focuses on zombie fiction. CHP published a crime novella FRAYED and novel THE FEVER KILL a few years back, and they asked if I might be interested in jumping on board the new imprint with some zombie fiction.
So I did a novella first. PALE PREACHERS is a 30k word tale of backwoods swamp folk being forced to deal with zombie hordes that have risen in the swamps due to a new kind of lifeform taking over the decomposing dead. It was a fun stew of southern gothic, crime fiction, swamp tramps, witchcraft, and science fiction.
VESPERS is a short cross-genre novel about a mob hitman trying to keep "the family" safe during the zombie apocalypse. A virus that seems to be either a terrorist attack, a natural disaster, or heaven- (or hell-) sent turns the population of a Brooklyn neighborhood into biters with a taste for human flesh, even as apparent angels of death circle overhead. It's weird, wild, wacky, action-packed, creepfest fun.
19. This far in your career, do you still go back to any of your very early unpublished works and go back to make them new again?
I have no early unpublished stuff anymore. I've already rewritten and released those novels that I did have sitting around for a few years. Anything else has already been lost to the seas of time. And at this point I've got new things to say and new stories to write. I'm not the person I was twenty years ago anymore, and I don't want to be. My worldview has shifted, the topics of interest have changed. I've got that much more life and experience under my belt. I have a completely different focus.
20. What's next for Tom Piccirilli?
My next crime novel THE LAST KIND WORDS will be out from Bantam in hardcover in June ‘12. It's follow-up THE LAST WHISPER IN THE DARK should hit about a year after that. I'll also have an offbeat novel entitled WHAT MAKES YOU DIE from Apex Publications, as well as the zombie pieces. Among all that there will be some noirellas and short stories too. Keep an eye out.