Saturday, November 25, 2017

The Gal's 2017 Halloween Frivolities Day 35: Among the Stacks with Curtis M. Lawson


The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Curtis M. Lawson:
I’m a writer of weird, dark fiction and comics and I’ve been writing seriously for about thirteen years. Currently I live in Salem, MA, and you couldn’t ask for a cooler city to set up shop in as a horror writer. Most of my time is devoted to raising my kid and creative pursuits, but I also enjoy surfing, playing guitar, and the tabletop RPGs.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What are five things most people don't know about you?

Curtis M. Lawson:
Let’s see. I played in several metal bands in my teens and twenties. A popular black metal band has a song about wanting to kill me. I’ve been involved with Mensa on and off for several years. I’m straight edge and have never so much as drank a beer. A friend and I once had dinner with Tony Danza on a Hudson River cruise.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What is the first book you remember reading?

Curtis M. Lawson:
Aside from kid’s books like Dr. Seuss and stuff, Stephen King’s Skeleton Crew. I skipped around to different stories, but that is the first real book I recall ever reading. I was in love with the story Word Processor of the Gods. I’m sure there was stuff for school before that, but nothing that stuck with me. Honestly, I was never super into reading until I discovered comics at around twelve years old, and that opened the literary world up for me.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What are you reading now?

Curtis M. Lawson:
Mongrels by Stephen Graham Jones, which is a brilliant werewolf novel, and Wicked Haunted, which is a New England Horror Writer’s anthology that features my newest short story.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What's a book you really enjoyed that others wouldn't expect you to have liked?

Curtis M. Lawson:
I feel like my tastes are predictable, even if they are varied. I’ve never read a book that surprised my wife or my friends. Maybe the Hunger Games? I know it is kind of chic for indie guys to bash that series as a watered-down Battle Royale, but I really enjoyed the first two books.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What made you decide you want to write?  When did you begin writing?

Curtis M. Lawson:
I’ve been writing in some way or another since I was about twelve. It’s just always been a part of me. When I was a teenager it was mostly song lyrics, poetry, and immature socio-political rants in the back of school notebooks. I tried to write a philosophy book when I was twenty and thankfully did not finish it, as it would have been a terrible embarrassment in many ways. 
            My first serious attempts at fiction started when I was about twenty-five. People had always complimented my way with words, and I was looking for a new creative outlet, outside of music, so I decided to try writing. It turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Do you have a special place you like to write?

Curtis M. Lawson:
I can write anywhere. It’s very easy for me to get into my own head and leave the real world behind. These days I’m a stay at home dad, so most of my writing is done at my desk, but for years I had a long commute to work and would do the bulk of my writing on busses and trains. I’ve never been a Starbucks writer though. If I’m going to go out and write I’d prefer a park, or hole in the wall pizza joint.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Do you have any quirks or processes that you go through when you write?

Curtis M. Lawson:
I’m very much a plotter. I usually start with a kernel of an idea, maybe a character, or a strange situation, or even a visual that I want to evoke. From there I put everything down in an index card app and I color code plot elements, character traits, ideas for cool scenes, etc… Then when I have a better handle on the story I plan it out scene by scene, once again on index cards, and use different colors for the narratives following each different character. This allows me to shift stuff around easily and gives me a solid plan for when I need to sit down and do the actual writing. Without that sort of outline I just meander and lose my way.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Is there anything about writing you find most challenging?

Curtis M. Lawson:
I think all writers suffer from a sort of ADHD where they lose steam on a work in progress and want to start something new and shiny. I’ve learned to resist this urge, for the most part, but that’s the hardest part for me. Starting a book is easy and ending it is exciting, but writing that chunk in the middle can be a grind sometimes. I wasted a lot of years starting and abandoning projects. 

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What's the most satisfying thing you've written so far?

Curtis M. Lawson:
There is a novella in my collection, Black Pantheons, called Paramnesia. It basically takes the slasher flick concept and turns it on its head. The story follows dementia patients in an old age home being killed off by some vengeful ghost. There is a lot of ambiguity in it though, situations where I wanted it be unclear if they were real, and it was a tough story to write. It just didn’t seem to want to come together. Historically I have a bad habit of abandoning projects that become too problematic, but I stuck with Paramnesia and it turned out to be one of my favorite stories I have written to date.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What books have most inspired you?  Who are some authors that have inspired your writing style?

Curtis M. Lawson:
H.P. Lovecraft is the most notable. I draw a lot of inspiration from Lovecraft’s ideas of cosmic nihilism, as well as his reluctance to offer a happy ending. Kurt Vonnegut’s unflinching honesty and his fearlessness in tackling difficult subject matter is something I aspire to, and I hope I have emulated in some degree. Robert Bloch, who was of course a protégé of Lovecraft, is another big influence. He had this beautiful way of creating tension, and digging into the human mind to find monsters within that were more terrifying than anything patently make-believe. I also sometimes tread the line between crime and horror, which is something I probably draw from Bloch.
            Outside of literature, my writing style is inspired deeply from movies and comics. My work has a cinematic feel to it, so I’ve been told, and some of my favorite storytellers are visual storytellers. Alan Moore, Warren Ellis, Frank Miller, and Quentin Tarantino immediately come to mind. In fact, I think Tarantino is the person I am most commonly compared to in reviews, which is kind of awesome. At least I think so.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What do you think makes a good story?

Curtis M. Lawson:
To me, above all else, it comes down to the struggle. Character is great, and important, but I would rather read about a one-dimensional protagonist going through some crazy, life/world altering shit, than a slice of life about the most interesting person in the world. If there is no obstacle, nothing at stake, etc… why care? Sure, some very talented people can capture you with only character and atmosphere, but those stories are the exception, rather than the rule.
            As for a truly great story, it is my belief that there should be an extra dimension to it. I believe that for literature to achieve greatness, it needs to be about more than escapism. It should hold some deeper meaning, that allows the reader to appreciate it as both entertaining and thought provoking, but subtle enough that their message can be ignored, or freely interpreted if the reader so desires. Orwell is a great example of this. His work is profound and deep, yet it can be enjoyed as just a story. Also, his subtlety is such that people on both the left and the right count him as a prophet of their worldview. 
            Some folks get mad when an artist’s work is misinterpreted, but I’m a firm believer that once you release a work of art into the world, it ceases to be solely yours. Great art takes on a life of its own, and every individual should be free to interpret it as their unique life experience dictates.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What does it take for you to love a character?  How do you utilize that when creating your characters?

Curtis M. Lawson:
I love flawed characters. Characters who are damaged, haunted, or compromised are much more compelling to me than inhuman paragons of perceived virtue. This isn’t limited to dark fiction either, and I don’t mean that every intriguing character has to be sullen and somber, or even morally ambiguous. Peter Parker is a great example of a character who is haunted and flawed, yet morally upright. He’s this guy who can’t get over the guilt of his uncle’s death, so he goes out and beats up criminals every day. But the thing about Spider-Man is that even his heroism is flawed. It is selfish, and cathartic. The guy is a genius scientist and could easily save more lives by working in research, or as a doctor than he ever would hanging in alleyways. 
            As for my own work, creating characters is what I enjoy the most, and it is what I think I’m best at. I suppose I easily identify with people who are, or have been broken at some point in their lives, so those are the types of characters I tend to make. For the most part I don’t believe in the concepts of good and evil, so my work doesn’t really have “good guys”. Many of my protagonists could easily be villains in a different story.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Which, of all your characters, do you think is the most like you?

Curtis M. Lawson:
The Old Man from The Devoured. He’s more based around my dad, but we’re a lot alike in many ways. I’m not as macho and tough as the Old Man (or my dad for that matter), but we hold many of the same values, beliefs, and character traits. His anti-theistic tendencies, worship of the human spirit and old-fashioned American ingenuity, and his commitment to his family are traits we share.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Are you turned off by a bad cover?  To what degree were you involved in creating your book covers?

Curtis M. Lawson:
Book covers are incredibly important to me. They are your first impression. As a reader, if I see a shit cover, I assume that the author does not take their own work seriously, so I won’t bother with it. As I writer, I take a measure of pride in how my own work is presented.
            I spent ten years making comics before I ever released a novel, so I approach every project with an artist’s eye. I even try to include interior art work when I can.
            When my first novel, The Devoured was released, the original publisher allowed me to pick my own artist, since I had a lot of contacts in that world. I went with someone I had previously worked with on a graphic novel and trusted. My second novel, It’s a Bad, Bad, Bad, Bad World, had a completely different vibe to it, and I sought out James Biggie, who draws these really iconic covers for IDW comics, and he created something that was eye catching and captured the feeling of the book. Inside the book, before each chapter, is an original illustration by an artist named Monastery.
            I’ve also done a few covers myself. Black Pantheons, and the ebook of Sinister Swan Song both have covers that I created digitally. The trick to doing a cover yourself, if you are not an artist, is to understand your limitations and work within your skill set. I can’t draw for the life of me, but I understand composition and can use editing software fairly well. That was enough for what I wanted on those projects. For Bad World 2 I know that my vision is way beyond my skill level, so James Biggie will be returning to cover duty. 

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What have you learned creating your books?

Curtis M. Lawson:
Do you mean practically, or in a more esoteric way? Practically I have learned so much beyond the elements of writing. To be an indie author you really need to pick up a plethora of skills along the way – desktop publishing, basic design concepts, business and accounting skills, distribution knowledge, etc…
            On a more personal level, I have learned that a lot of the weird things about myself that make it hard for me to connect with people in real life – an unusual world view, atypical interests, my philosophical blend of futurism and atavism - are the same things that allow me to connect with readers through the written word.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What has been the hardest scene for you to write so far?

Curtis M. Lawson:
I don’t know about any particular scene, but I wrote a short story called Sinister Swan Song that was extremely difficult to write. It is an ugly story, told from the point of view of a terrible, cruel person, in a way that shows no remorse, and even revels in sadism. The story is told in first person, and I found myself having to put myself into this despicable character’s head in order to write. The entire process made me feel unclean. Interestingly, that was the first story I ever sold outside of comics.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What makes your books different from others out there in this genre?

Curtis M. Lawson:
I’ve been told that my prose has a distinct voice that shines through, regardless of whether I’m writing straight up horror, absurdist thriller, or fantasy. Much of my writing is a marriage of nihilism, reserved optimism, and cynical humor.
            I also like to think that my fiction is a thought provoking form of escapism. I try to write for entertainment purposes above all else, but all of my stories are about more than the surface level narrative. The Devoured is about family, duty, and addiction. It’s a Bad, Bad, Bad, Bad World examines the concept of moral absolutes, and places a spotlight on the good aspects of bad people. Every story in my collection, Black Pantheons, questions the nature of the divine. Despite the questions I try to raise, or the arguments I try to make with my fiction, I believe that it can still be enjoyed as simple horror for those who choose to read it as such.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
How important is the book title, how hard is it to choose the best one, and how did you choose yours (of course, with no spoilers)?

Curtis M. Lawson:
With most books I try to be pragmatic and consider how catchy it is, how searchable it would be on Amazon and Google, and if it accurately conveys a sense of the story, atmosphere, or main character. In some cases the title chooses you. My novel, It’s a Bad, Bad, Bad, Bad World is a riff off of an old comedy film, and I had wanted to write story with that title for ages. It took me a long time to find the right tale to go with it, and in this case the name inspired the book. 

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What makes you feel more fulfilled: Writing a novel or writing a short story?

Curtis M. Lawson:
It can vary. I would say novels, because it is a bigger accomplishment, but sometimes a short story can help you toss aside emotional baggage that you didn’t even realize you were lugging around. In short fiction you can get away with spilling your guts in a more direct manner than you can with a novel, and sometimes we artists need that.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Tell us a little bit about your books, your target audience, and what you would like readers to take away from your stories.

Curtis M. Lawson:
I would say that the trademark of my work is that it is accessibly intellectual, even when it’s crass. There is also a bit of black humor in most of my fiction, even if it is subdued and dry. I run the gamut from poignant literary horror to, neo-noir, to gore, sex, and death, but almost everything I write has a supernatural element.
            As for my target audience, I wish I knew. That is a really nebulous concept for me. I think fans of grimdark fantasy, Lovecratian horror, and over the top crime stories would all enjoy my books.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Can you tell us about some of the deleted scenes/stuff that got left out of your work?

Curtis M. Lawson:
That’s such a cool question! I had a story called Gallows of Hell, which was adapted from an old comic I wrote. The  story was supposed to appear in Black Pantheons. I pulled it because I didn’t feel it was strong enough in its current form, but it is basically about a Punisher style vigilante who dies, goes to hell, and becomes an enforcer for the devil, hunting down the same criminals he killed in life, for all eternity.
            In my upcoming book, Bad World 2, there is a heist and I originally had an entirely different crew of people put together to pull it off. I realized that the way I wanted to introduce these new characters only really worked in a visual format, and that they could easily be replaced with existing characters. It was one of those kill your darling moments, because I really enjoyed the new characters, but I’m sure they will show up in something else down the road.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What is in your "trunk"?

Curtis M. Lawson:
I have a story called Druids of Winter Hill that I have been working on for maybe a decade. It started life as a comic script, then turned into a half written novel. There are a lot of cool elements, a great antagonist, and unique world building, but I could never nail down the protagonist. She just ends up being flat and cardboard. 
            My wife writes a lot of fan fiction, and she’s going to take my notes on the story and try to write it in her own way for Nanowrimo this year. Hopefully she can do a better job with it than I have. 

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What can we expect from you in the future?

Curtis M. Lawson:
My newest short story was just released in the New England Horror Writers anthology, Wicked Haunted. Early next year Bad World 2: To Kill an Archangel comes out. That will be the second of three books in the Bad world series. I am also working on a collaborative, cosmic horror novella with Doug Rinaldi, which will hopefully be published in 2018.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Where can we find you?  (STaLKeR links.)

Curtis M. Lawson:
My website is the most centralized place to find me online. My books and all my social media are connected to it. You can also find me on my Facebook Author Page and Twitter. I’m also happy to connect with fans and other writers on my personal facebook page, as long as they aren’t creeps or ideological bullies.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Do you have any closing words for your fans or anything you'd like to say that we didn't get to cover in this interview?

Curtis M. Lawson:
I’d just like to offer a sincere thanks to everyone who has read and supported my work over the years. It means so much to me knowing that people find value in my work and that my words can give people a few hours pleasure or make them think about things in a new light.


About the author:
Curtis M. Lawson is a writer of unapologetically weird, dark fiction and comics.  His work includes the Amazon best selling novel, It's a Bad, Bad, Bad, Bad World, The Devoured, and Mastema.
            Curtis is a member of the Horror Writer's Association, and the organizer of Wyrd live horror reading series.  He lives in Salem, MA with his wife and their son.  When he is not writing, Curtis enjoys tabletop RPGs, underground music, playing guitar, and the ocean.

About the books:
The Elder Gods have come to the Old West.  The old man had lost nearly everything - his family, his home, his war.  Now, after years of bloody conflict, he must confront a malevolent cosmic entity to save his only son.  Armed with little more than steel and hatred, the old man embarks on a hopeless war against the devouring gods from beyond the stairs in a trail of bullets and bodies from Oakland to Omaha, as he battles witches, evangelical cannibals, Native shamans, and possessed lawmen.

When the Vatican's top assassin, a Rhodesian merc, a pair of serial killer lovers, a dirty cop, and a professional sadist complete in a mad race for a pair of priceless magical artifacts, betrayal, theft, and murder are just the opening moves in a game of death.

Curtis M. Lawson's debut collection is a menagerie of supernatural horror and weird fiction that drops imperfect characters into an uncaring universe, inhabited by malevolent deities.  In these pages, you will find devouring gods of the yawning abyss, Japanese demons who sway mortal souls, and digital hells of man's own creation.
            Follow into the darkness and walk among the gods of the Black Pantheons.  There is magic where they live, in the emptiness between the stars.

The Obsession of Chloe Chambers
Demons of Manzanar
Davarion
Sinister Swan Song
Pinocchio & The Black Pantheon
The Carousel Horse
Irretrievable Data Loss
The Labyrinth of Winter's End, A Devoured Story
Heaven's a Gamble, Hell's an Investment
I was a Teenage Sex Demon
Paramnesia

Ghost stories, from local myths to full blown horror shows, have been spun around campfires since the dawn of man, passed from generation to generation from education or simply to frighten and thrill.  They lead us along dark side roads, into murky swamps and abandoned houses.  Ghost stories bring us face-to-face with the farmer harboring secret graves behind his barn, the old man living next to the cemetery, or the frightened person staring back at you from the mirror.  They haunt the listeners and readers and make them want to re-tell them again and again, so they would not be alone in their fear.
            The New England Horror Writers are proud to present their fifth anthology: Wicked Haunted.  Featuring fiction and poetry from Matt Bechtel, Tom Deady, G.D. Dearborn, Barry Lee Dejasu, Peter N. Dudar, Jeremy Flagg, Dan Foley, doungjai gam, Emma J. Gibbon, Larissa Glasser, Patricia Gomes, Curtis M. Lawson, Bracken MacLeod, Nick Manzolillo, Paul McMahon, Paul R. McNamee, James A. Moore, R.C. Mulhare, Rob Smales, Morgan Sylvia, Dan Szczesny, K.H. Vaughan, and Trisha J. Wooldridge.  Interior artwork by Ogmios, Judi Calhoun, and Kali Moulton.  Cover art by Mikio Murakami.

No comments: