Halloween Haunts: Stoker Spotlight Interview with Rocky Wood
Rocky Wood is the recipient of the 2011 Bram Stoker Award® for Superior Acheivement in Non-fiction for his book Stephen King: A Literary Companion.
Stephen King: A Literary Companion is a comprehensive review of all Stephen King’s fiction. It starts with a broad twenty page introduction that puts into perspective the many themes that King has explored over the years – particularly hope and redemption; and the ‘worlds’ in which he operates, such as the Dark Tower-universe and the many stories set in Maine. Then we review all his fiction, story by story, the major characters and the major places he sets his fiction, such as Derry and Castle Rock. In many cases I am able to explain what inspired King to write the tale, or what inspired the character; and I cover any screen adaptation. All entries are cross-indexed. The book concludes with an extensive bibliography and an Index of the whole book. It is surely the most comprehensive review of King’s fiction ever undertaken in this form and an easy reference work for both the casual King fan as well as the “Constant Reader”. And I was honored that the Horror Writers Association bestowed the Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in Non-Fiction on this book.
2. Tell us about what inspired you to write Stephen King: A Literary Companion?
Well, I probably have the most comprehensive database of King material ever gathered. Over 12 years of work went into the book, including no less than seven research trips to Maine from my home in Australia. During those trips I found a dozen or so King stories that were previously unknown, as well as scores of non-fiction pieces he’d written that hadn’t come to light. I’d written a number of previous books on King – two of which were Bram Stoker Award nominated – Stephen King: Uncollected, Unpublished (for which Steve kindly allowed me to publish a short story that is only available in that book; as well as an obscure poem) and Stephen King: The Non-Fiction (with Justin Brooks) that covers the hundreds of pieces of non-fiction Steve has written over the years, including on politics, baseball, writing and popular culture. All that extended from an original e-book, The Complete Guide to the Works of Stephen King (now out of print), back in 2002. So, I had all this material and it seemed natural to gather it all into one easy to read, easy to dip into, book that would serve as an entry point for new readers, and a source book for longer term King fans.
3. What most attracts you to writing horror?
Well, of course I write about horror in my non-fiction. But, as to writing horror, I have two graphic novels – Horrors! Great Stories of Fear and Their Creators (illustrated by the incomparable Glenn Chadbourne) and more recently, Witch Hunts: A Graphic History of the Burning Times, written with Lisa Morton and illustrated by Greg Champan, a very talented Aussie writer and artist. Both of those were designed to draw out a particular area of horror – in the cases of Horrors! it was a re-imagining of the real 19th century horror writers and their great tales – from Frankenstein to Dracula, through Poe and others. What really happened to create these tales, what happened to the writers and their close friends and family? It was a pleasure to revisit those stories as originally written (as compared to the ‘Hollywood’ view we often have of them nowadays) and to get to grips with the real people behind them. Of course, we discover a truly horrific component previously unknown but you’ll have to read it to find out what that is! As to ‘Witch Hunts’ Lisa and I wanted to reveal the truth behind the appalling history of hundreds of years in which women and men were ruthlessly tortured and murdered in the name of religion, but often for pure greed and as a result of misogyny. We didn’t have to make much up, let me tell you – as King often proves in his fiction, the true horror is what people will do to people, giving chance, opportunity, circumstance or pressure.
Horror is the original genre, when the first ‘men’ huddled around fires on the open savannah, surely the first tales ever told were of monsters real and imagined. Horror allows both writers and readers to get to the core of what it is to be human, it allows us to examine any subject unflinchingly, without fear or favor (well, okay with fear!) Those who write horror tend to be the most honest of authors and make no excuses for their work, which as a deep believer in free speech, appeals to me.
4. What are you writing now?
Due to illness it is not really feasible for me to begin another book, the project would be too daunting. So, I am working on keeping my King material completely up to date (a never ending task) and some smaller projects. My main efforts are as President of the HWA – further developing a growing and sustainable organization for the present, and for the future. It’s nearly a full-time job, but a deeply satisfying one.
I’d say write, write, write! And read – it never ceases to amaze me how many writers are not grounded in their genre or sub-genre. Every writer, even King, should be learning every day (and Steve says he is learning about writing every day) and one of the ways to learn is to read widely in the genre, and outside it. And of course, if you don’t write regularly, you won’t make much progress. In the current publishing world too many ‘new’ writers think they can make it by bashing out a story or a novel and throwing it up on Amazon as an e-book, get a bunch of friends to give it five-star reviews, over promote it on social media, and think they have made the big time (I despair of hearing yet again that a book is #27 on Amazon’s top 100 obscure list, for instance zombie tales set in Alaska, or something!). One new writer in a thousand is making a splash that way, the rest make it the hard way – placing stories with reputable periodicals or in anthologies, and getting a book published by someone who is not your friend or relative! Everyone needs editing, but few new writers are willing to put their work around to peer groups for criticism, or to invest in paying a professional editor. And on it goes. There are really no shortcuts in this business, so I’d encourage new writers to put in the hard yards – every successful horror writer has done them, and I don’t see anyone who has succeeded without doing so. And, while I’m preaching tough love – giving your work away for free is not ‘sales’ – claiming success getting 1000 people to download a free story is not a measure of quality, or even of quantity. A true measure of the worth of someone’s canon tends to be how many people will pay to read your work. That is not to say that new writers shouldn’t promote (including giving away some free samples of their work). They have to get noticed, but they just need to ensure they are getting that notice in a sustainable manner. New writers should network heavily – get involved in local writers groups, obviously for horror join the Horror Writers Association so they are in the milieu, attend horror conventions (particularly those oriented to writing) and meet your peers. It is from becoming involved in the network you will meet other writers, editors, publishers and others who will help shape your career. Finally, remember, it is the quality of the story that will rise above everything.
6. What are three of your favorite horror stories?
Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House; Ghost Story by Peter Straub; and Stephen King’s The Stand. Of course, there are literally scores of great horror stories, showing different features of the genre, so picking just three is torture in itself. But these three certainly represent the type of horror I enjoy the most. Each is brilliantly written and stays in my consciousness almost constantly.
7. What’s your favorite Halloween memory or tradition?
Of course, Halloween is not so big Down Under. There was a surge in interest in the 1990s but it fell away again pretty quickly. I am fascinated by how American culture is invested in Halloween – and I don’t mean that as a bad thing. It is a cultural phenomenon on so many levels and an outlier of American culture in general. For so many, it is a surface thing, so I think it’s great that writers like Lisa Morton are investigating the development of Halloween and publishing their findings. In the American way it is a money making exercise on many levels but of course it is great for the horror genre and community, giving an annual focus as it does on ‘our’ home ground! I think trick-or-treating is a wonderful tradition, both in reality and the way it has been portrayed on the screen and in print. It’s a shame that modern society is portraying such behaviour as ‘dangerous’ or ‘risky’. Perhaps my favorite scene of this ilk is when ET is taking out on Halloween in the movie – a miniature classic.
8. Given a choice, trick? Or treat?
Treat! Why not! (I can give you a list if you want?)
TODAY’S GIVEAWAY: Rocky Wood is offering one signed hardcover copy of his book Stephen King: Uncollected, Unpublished. To enter post a comment in the section below or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org and put HH CONTEST ENTRY in the header. Winners will be chosen at random and notified by e-mail.
Rocky Wood is the Bram Stoker Award® winning author of a series of books about Stephen King, including Stephen King: A Literary Companion, Stephen King: Uncollected, Unpublished and Stephen King: The Non-Fiction. A freelance journalist since the 1970s, he also writes graphic novels, including his latest, Witch Hunts: A Graphic History of the Burning Times. He has just been re-elected to a second term as President of the Horror Writers Association and lives in Melbourne, Australia.