Can you tell us a little about Pine Deep and how “Whistlin’ Past the Graveyard” came to be?
Ghost Road Blues was my first novel, and it brought me into the horror world in a big way. It won a Bram Stoker Award, and it connected me to the vast crowd of my fellow horror enthusiasts. That book, and its sequels, tell a big story about the troubled little town of Pine Deep, Pennsylvania, but it’s far from the only story there is to tell. I’ve since revisited Pine Deep to tell other tales. “Whistlin’ Past the Graveyard” is a weird, creepy little story that I’ve wanted to tell for some time.
Ironically, it was originally written for the souvenir program book for the most recent Bram Stoker Awards banquet. And I won another Stoker that weekend. Kind of strange and kind of wonderful. It was like coming home to Pine Deep.
Pine Deep is a small town living with a dark secret that it refuses to admit, even to itself. What is it about small towns that make them such perfect settings for horror?
Small towns often hold big secrets. Because there are fewer people in a small town, people tend to know—or want to know—each other’s secrets, and that tends to instill in some of the population a strong desire for privacy. Or secrecy. Secrets are often dangerous things. Like cancers, hidden things tend to grow in the dark. That’s the vibe I had in mind when I sat down to begin plotting out the Pine Deep novels.
Also, it doesn’t take much distance for a rural setting to look calm and innocent. But that’s often an illusion. We can look at a pretty red barn while driving past it in a car and think “how quaint,” and yet animals are slaughtered in barns. There’s death and blood soaked into the soil of rural America. Like Tom Waits says in his song, “Murder in the Red Barn,” “There’s always some killing you got to do around the farm.”
You also write for comic books. How does that compare to writing prose fiction?
It’s an entirely different process. With novels it’s pretty much a solo act. You, the writer, are alone, and your primary interaction is with your own laptop. It’s only much later in the process that you get feedback from an editor, but you spend months alone in your own head.
With comics, everything is more interactive. You pitch an idea and discuss it with your editor. You submit an outline and beat sheet. You draft out the script and then get notes back on that. And you interact with the artist along the way as he develops concept sketches, pencils, and later finished art. It’s a very collaborative process.
But a big difference is the way in which the ideal story unfolds. The writer creates the story and the script, but comics are a mainly visual medium. So, the writer has to anticipate the artist’s ability to tell big chunks of the story through art rather than through the writer’s dialogue. As a writer you have to dial down your need to be center stage and let the other creative types share in the process. That takes some time for a writer because until you’ve seen some of your scripts become completed comics, you don’t know how much you can or should trust the artist to get your ideas onto the page. Over time, though, I’ve learned to trust many of the artists I’ve worked with. I know for a fact that their visual storytelling has made my scripts into better comics. No doubt about that.
What’s coming up for you? Current projects, new publications, news you’d like to share with readers?
Jeez . . . I’m at the beginning of what I’ve been calling “hell year.” My writing schedule is insane. I have to write four and a half novels over the next twelve months, including The Nightsiders (first in a new series of middle-grade, SF-horror novels), Predator One (the seventh in my Joe Ledger, weird science thrillers), Watch Over Me (a mystery thriller for older teens), Deadlands: Ghostwalkers (a novel based on the popular role-playing game), and then the second Nightsiders book. And I have a slew of short stories and comics due.
As for what’s hitting bookshelves in the next year . . . I have two new comic book series dropping: Bad Blood, a five-issue vampire comic from Dark Horse launches January first; V-Wars, a new ongoing comic launches from IDW in May. The second V-Wars anthology, which I’m editing, drops in June, and another anthology, Out Of Tune will be released the spring. In April, Journalstone will release a new collection of my short stories—Joe Ledger: Special Ops—and the same month they’ll release a special limited-edition hardcover edition of my first novel, Ghost Road Blues. In March, St. Martins Griffin will release my sixth Joe Ledger novel, Code Zero, and in August they’ll release Fall of Night, the sequel to Dead of Night, which is now in development for film. Plus a bunch of short stories will hit in various anthologies. So, like I said, it’s going to be a crazy, crazy year.
You’ve written a number of nonfiction books about the supernatural. What’s your favorite bit of paranormal folklore?
I have two favorite bits of folklore. One is the benendanti, which is part of the folklore of Livonia, Italy, and Germany. These are families that date back to Etruscan times and claim to be werewolves who fight evil on the side of heaven. Very cool and heavily underused in fiction. The other is the strigoni benefici, vampires who were captured by Medieval monks who would then “recondition” them—what we call enhanced interrogation these days—after which the vampires would then serve as assassins for the church. And the wild thing . . . both of these monsters are mentioned in actual church history. Life is so much weirder than fiction.
Spread the word!