Veterans of Horror: Interview with Owl Goingback
Owl Goingback has been writing professionally for over thirty years, and is the author of numerous novels, children’s book, screenplays, magazine articles, short stories, and comics. He is a recipient of the HWA Lifetime Achievement Award, and has won the Bram Stoker Award for novel and first novel. He is also a Nebula Award Nominee, and a Storytelling World Awards Honor Recipient. His books include Crota, Darker Than Night, Evil Whispers, Breed, Shaman Moon, Coyote Rage, Eagle Feathers, The Gift, and Tribal Screams. In addition to writing under his own name, he has ghostwritten for Hollywood celebrities.
Tell us a bit about your military service. Years? Branch? Specialty?
I enlisted in the United States Air Force at the age of seventeen, arriving at Lackland Air Force Base for basic training the day after Christmas. There was never any doubt that I would end up in the military because I had planned on joining the Air Force since the age of six. Both of my parents were in the military, as were most of my uncles, so joining was a family tradition. I’m also very old school, and wanted to honor my ancestors by following the warrior path.
I served in the Air Force from 1976-1981, earning the rank of sergeant. I was a jet engine mechanic, spending most of my time on the flightline, working on F-4 fighters, B-52 bombers, and KC-135 tankers. Most of my enlistment was spent in Spain, with temporary duty assignments to Italy and Turkey (we were there for the Iranian hostage situation). I also spent a year at a SAC base in Georgia.
What role, if any, did reading and writing play during your military service?
I didn’t do any writing during my military service. My time was pretty much occupied with work, training exercises, deployments, and tech studies. And when I did have a day off, I could usually be found having a good time in the city of Madrid. I was only eighteen when I arrived in Spain, and I wasn’t going to waste my time in the barracks when there were so many things to see and do.
As for reading, that was usually limited to an occasional magazine. Omni was a favorite of mine at the time. It’s still a guilty pleasure, and I find myself often reading through old issues. We only had a small bookstore on base, and they never seemed to have any horror fiction, so I had to be content with science fiction and fantasy.
What inspired you to start writing?
I had a very lonely childhood. Books kept me from going stark raving mad with boredom. I read so much, I wanted to try my hand at writing stories of my own. By high school, I was ghostwriting for classmates so they could pass their English assignments. Those were my first professional sales; a dollar a page, or five dollars a story. Teacher never figured out that most of the stories turned in that semester was written by the same person.
I put aside all thoughts of writing while in the military. But I picked it back up again during my days of owning a restaurant/lounge. I started out writing self-defense stories for martial arts magazines, but switched to fiction because it paid more.
What was it about the horror genre that drew you to it?
I have always loved scary things, even when I was a little kid. I grew up listening to tribal folklore: stories about Little People, monsters, shapeshifters, and haunted places. We lived on five acres of wooded land, surrounded by a state forest, so it was the perfect place to let my imagination run wild and think about things that go bump in the night.
I am also a monster kid. I spent my very first weekly allowance, a whopping fifty cents, on an issue of Famous Monsters of Filmland. Because of that magazine, I became instantly addicted to classic monsters and the films they starred in. Frankenstein, Wolfman, Dracula, and all the others were my childhood companions. They kept entertained when no one else was around.
What role, if any, does your military experience play in your writing?
I’ve drawn on my military experience for several of my stories, usually when creating characters. But I’ve also drawn on the experience of friends and fellow vets. My story “Grass Dancer” is a Vietnam/powwow story, with part of the narrative taking place during the battle of Khe Sanh. The story earned a nomination for a Nebula Award.
What is your favorite depiction of military service in all of literature? Why?
I think the American Civil War stories of Ambrose Bierce have to be my favorite. They are very personal because he was a lieutenant during the war, wounded at the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain. His war stories are extremely dark, and often more terrifying than his horror stories. He really makes you feel as if you are in the midst of things, among the screams and blood of dying men.
How do you feel military veterans and the broader military experience has thus far been represented in the horror genre?
Most of what I have read has been good. You can always tell which writers have actually served, and which ones got their information from a Google search. As the saying goes, “Unless you’ve been there you wouldn’t understand.”
Who are some civilian characters in horror that you think would have made for great soldiers?
Dracula would make an excellent military scout. He could change into a bat, fly in under the cover of darkness and scope things out, then fly back to report of what he had seen. He doesn’t even have to worry about getting shot, or wounded. And who cares if he stops along the way for a quick snack.
Who are some military veteran horror authors you recommend our audience check out?
I don’t read a lot of fiction, but I would highly recommend Weston Ochse. He had a lengthy career in the United States Army, and is using his knowledge to write amazing military horror novels. Another writer worth checking out is Tyson Hanks, who also served in the Army and is a veteran of the war with Iraq.
What’s something about veterans most people don’t know?
Once a soldier always a soldier. The training, discipline, and military attitude stays with you for the rest of your life. So do the friendships that you made while wearing a uniform. The people I served with will be my brothers and sisters till the day I die.