Rob Boley, author of Scary Tales: A Killer Serial, is not entirely what you’d expect from a guy who has taken some pretty famous fairy tales, mashed them together with some classic monsters, and created his own fully realized world in the process. He’s a pretty laid back guy; a father who adores his 9 year old daughter, and spends his days working in the development offices of his alma mater, Wright State University. On the night we sat down for this interview, he’d just finished showing his daughter The Phantom Menace for the first time, and he proudly posted on Facebook that she had decided that Palpatine “was a bastard”, which obviously makes the daughter just as cool as the dad in our eyes.
When we started the interview, I had it in my head that we would spend about 45 minutes and be done, but to my surprise, two hours later we were just finishing up, though we probably could have gone for another two if it hadn’t been approaching midnight by that time. I hope you enjoy reading this awesome interview as much as we enjoyed doing it!
Waylon @ iHorror: Hey Rob! First off, I have to say thanks for doing this interview. So for our online readers who are reading about you for the first time, how about a little background information on who you are and where you hail from?
Rob E. Boley: Well, I grew up in a small town in Ohio called Enon. I started writing in high school, but back then it was mostly poetry… bad poetry. In fact, I stupidly just told my daughter the other day I’d let her read some. I’ll probably regret that… Anyhow, I wrote mostly poetry through college. But then when my daughter was born in 2005, it flipped a switch in me. Suddenly I had stories to tell. I wrote some screenplays that went nowhere, then some stories and some really bad books. And finally got good enough at it to start publishing some stories.
Waylon: I can only imagine. I remember the poetry I was writing back in high school. They were all about loneliness and the dying environment!
Rob: Oh yeah! Lots and lots of angst…all from a very superior worldview, of course! Most of my fiction has a dark element. If not outright horror, there’s definitely a darkness there. I grew up reading Stephen King. My dad has all of his books. We also watched a lot of horror movies growing up. I saw Halloween at a way too young age. Michael Myers cost me many night’s sleep.
Waylon: King was my first introduction to modern, adult horror, as well. Do you remember what your first King book was? Mine was Firestarter and I think I read it about 20 times in three years starting in the seventh grade.
Rob: Oh wow, I don’t even know. I have a horrible memory. I probably retain only about 3% of what I experience, if I’m lucky. Unless it has to do with Batman, then my retention level is somewhere in the high 90s.
Waylon: Batman, huh? So you must be pretty excited about the new Batman vs. Superman, then.
Rob: Yeah, I’m pretty psyched. I think Ben can nail Batman, if they give him a solid script. That’s where I’m a little concerned. I’m curious to see how they’ll write the two characters. When done well, those two play off each so well!
Waylon: Getting back to your own stories, I absolutely agree about the darkness there, but there is also such great dark humor. I was absolutely pulled into That Risen Snow within the first three pages, and finished all four books in a matter of two days.
Rob: Thanks! That’s awesome of you to say, and awesome you devoured the books so quickly. I take that to be the highest compliment. I think humor and horror go so damn well together. I mean, a chuckle here and there is a great way to counterbalance all the tension and dread. There’s some great quote by Joss Whedon basically to the effect of—make them tense, make them squirm, but for God’s sakes, make them laugh, too. He said it better, of course.
Waylon: Yeah, I believe it was John Carpenter who said, “No one wants to laugh more than a horror audience.” You’ve got two big wigs there who agree with you.
Rob: Nice! I hadn’t heard that one! That’s a smart insight because that’s something I’ve noticed about horror fans. They’re just the coolest damn people. It’s like, yeah, they (we) love all this gore and terror, but you couldn’t ask for a friendlier crowd.
Waylon: You’re right, though we can be a pretty critical crowd, also. So, where did this idea for the books come from? Snow White waking up as a zombie-like monster is definitely something different.
Rob: It’s all my daughter Anna’s fault. When she was maybe 3 or 4 and started watching movies, she got hooked on Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. We watched it constantly, which was funny because the first time she saw it, the scene when Snow runs through the dark woods really scared the hell out of her. So, I ended up seeing that movie over and over again over a very short period of time. And for me, if I see anything enough times, I’ll start to see the darkness in there. So, basically, the tenth or twelfth time that damn prince kissed Snow, I realized that was pretty damn lame. I mean, what kind of evil witch crafts a spell that’s so easy to break? Wouldn’t it be better if that kiss was a catalyst for something far worse? And so there you have Snow White as a zombie.
Waylon: I LOVE it! You’re probably not the first person to wish the worst on a Disney character, especially a parent.
Rob: Yeah. The thing is, I really don’t have anything against Snow White, other than I hate that she was such a passive, naive character. So, when I started writing my version of her in Risen Snow, I wanted to find a way to explain why anyone in their right mind would take an apple from a stranger–especially when she knew she was being pursued by dark forces. So, that’s how I came to write this kinda swarthy, troubled Snow White.
Waylon: She’s a great character in your story. I love your characters in general, though. They’re so vivid and so very flawed. Not a single one of them is all good or all bad, and I surprisingly realized by the end of book four that Queen Adara aka The Evil Queen had actually become my favorite character.
Rob: Thanks so much! That’s nice to hear, because sometimes I worry that all of my characters just sound like me talking! Adara’s probably my favorite character, too. She’s sassy and tough, but has some cool vulnerable edges. She writes herself most of the time, which makes my job all the easier.
Waylon: My favorite moment and probably one of the most telling moments about her for me came when they had all gathered in the little grocer and were making sandwiches to eat and she sat just picking at some crackers. A few pages later, we found out that she had never had to make food for herself before and she was afraid they would laugh at her for not knowing how to make a sandwich. My heart just broke for her in that moment.
Rob: Yeah, especially in the early books, she has so much tension between her Queen persona and the person she’s growing into. In many ways, she’s been so privileged, but at the same time so sheltered. It makes for a lot of cool moments.
Waylon: Indeed it does. Can we talk about a few more characters before we move on?
Rob: Absolutely. Let’s!
Waylon: Red and Kane…I have no words. That is such an intense, knowing relationship. Red Riding Hood transforming into a werewolf and Kane morphing into a wolf man from wolf form. Where did all this come from?
Rob: Those two actually first appeared in a stand-alone story that I wrote before I wrote That Risen Snow. I think some anthology had an open call for twisted fairy tales, and I’ve always loved werewolves. The Wolf Man with Lon Chaney Jr. is my favorite classic horror movie. And I’m pretty sure the Red Riding Hood meets a werewolf has been done before, but I wanted to something different with it. I liked the idea of the wolf being one of the good guys. Part of that could be the wildlife conservationist in me. I actually volunteered at a wolf sanctuary one summer back in college. Wolves are amazing, fascinating creatures, but they have gotten a bad rap in a lot of fiction over the years. So, I think all that mingled into their original story. I hope I do right by them with how I’ve written Kane.
Waylon: He almost comes across as the leading man the other men should be paying attention to in the story so I think you’re on the right track.
Rob: Right on. That’s good to hear. One thing that’s really admirable about wolves is their directness. They’re very honest. No bullshit.
Waylon: Okay, Grouchy. I love Grouchy. Such a foul mouthed dwarf with such an intriguing back story!
Rob: (laughing) He’s great. He’s another one who just writes himself. My favorite scenes from the first book are his flashbacks with Snow. I wanted him to have a big inner conflict–between his anger toward humans for how they’ve treated dwarfs and his growing attraction toward this human girl. He’s fun to write because he’s very passionate. He’s a total feeler. His emotions totally dominate his thoughts. I think that’s why he contrasts so nicely with Adara, who has traditionally been such a plotter and thinker, and is only now, in some ways, learning how to feel.
Waylon: They do make great foils for each other. OK, last one before we change the subject just a bit. Dim…is there anything he can’t do?
Rob: Talk. (For those of you who haven’t read the books, Dim is the sort of Dopey dwarf character from Disney’s Snow White, and cannot speak.)
Waylon: (laughing) Good answer!
Rob: He’s another one that’s a joy to write. I first envisioned him as this sage-like character, some dwarf version of Snake Eyes from GI Joe. But as I spent more time with him, this whole tragic back story unfolded and I found a character who was maybe more wounded than wise. Yeah, he’s a bad-ass, for sure, but he’s pretty scarred (inside and out) for all that he’s been through.
Waylon: You incorporated one of my favorite classic horror films of all time into his backstory with the Phantom of the Opera. How did the two come together for you?
Rob: Well, let me back up a bit. When I first thought about doing a Snow White zombie book, I had every intention of doing a stand-alone story. But as I wrote it, I saw that the story I was trying to tell was going to take a bit longer. Then I introduced the Red Riding Hood and werewolf thing. And as the story progressed, I began to see other spots where certain character’s personalities or traits totally lent themselves to classic horror movies. I’m a huge fan of the old Universal movies. Once I incorporated a few of those, I decided why not use them all? And then you have this mute dwarf who’s been mutilated in some way and who has all these sneaky skills… It meshed perfectly with the Phantom, which is a story that I’ve loved since I was a boy. The great thing about fairy tales is that they’re incredibly dark and full of rich imagery already. So, they blend perfectly with a lot of the classic icons of horror. Just wait until you see what I do with Goldilocks and the Mummy!
Waylon: Now that is exciting and I can’t wait to find out! Thanks for that little glimpse into what’s coming.
Rob: Sure thing!
Waylon: This brings up a good topic. You’re writing this as a serial. Each book has a great cliffhanger ending that pushes you onto the next. Do you know how many books there will be? Is there an endgame or are you still discovering that?
Rob: It’ll be nine total books, but I’ve got a few ideas for a few random novellas. I’ve got a pretty clear idea about where it’s all going, though how they’ll get there is still vague. I’m not a big outliner. When I have a story, I usually start with a beginning and have a rough idea of where I’m going. How I’ll get there just unfolds on its own. And often times, where I think I’m going isn’t actually my final destination. But yes, there is an ending for The Scary Tales. A few minor points are still up in the air, but I know the broad strokes.
Waylon: That’s interesting to know. With five more books to go, you have plenty of story to tell!
Rob: Yeah, and hopefully I can finesse it enough so that book nine isn’t just a mess of me tying up all the loose ends.
Waylon: Well, yeah, that’s the goal right? To keep the real story going until you skid across the finish line at 90 miles per hour?
Rob: Absolutely! I have a feeling those final pages are going to be hard to write. It’ll probably be tempting to just keep going. Endings are tricky. Like Kenny Rogers said, you gotta know when to walk away.
Waylon: So, we’ve covered characters, plot and the number of books we can expect. How about monsters?
Rob: Well, you’ve already seen that the curse has a way of getting worse–of evolving new monsters for Grouchy and his friends to face. Without spoiling anything, let’s just say that trend continues. Okay, screw it. I’ll spoil one thing. One word: Horrorhound.
Waylon: Oh nice!
Rob: There’s also another character that’ll be introduced soon who’s going to be a real thorn in the survivors’ side. And he’ll prove to be hard to get rid of. And don’t forget, by the time the series ends, I will have incorporated all of the major Universal horror monsters. And I’m thrilled about it, to say the least.
Waylon: Very cool. I love that there has been a progression to even the zombie story line. Horrors, Drudges and the terrifying Creepers, all with a zombie Snow at the helm.
Rob: Magic is great. I love the idea that it takes a life of its own–that it morphs into things we never expected. I mean, there’s a direct parallel with technology. I’m sure whoever invented the cell phone never saw smartphones coming–or the prevalence these gadgets would have in our everyday lives. But yes, I’m trying to introduce some new development in the curse in each book. I like to make it harder and harder on my poor characters.
Waylon: And more and more interesting for the reader.
Waylon: Well, I for one cannot wait to read the rest of the story.
Rob: Thanks so much. I appreciate that. I have to say, I’m looking forward to finishing it!
Waylon: Bringing all this down to a close, is there anything else you’d like to add about your stories and what is setting them apart?
Rob: I think the key to doing mash-up fiction well is to have some reverence for the material. If you’re just throwing zombies at a bunch of dwarfs for the hell of it, you’re not going to have much of a story. It helps to have respect for the material. The original Grimms’ Fairy Tales are treasures. And yes, there are some issues with the Disney versions of those stories, and as the father of a daughter I certainly could provide a long list of issues. But those movies also have many virtues. I guess what I’m saying is, I hope my books don’t pee all over everyone’s childhood memories. Ideally, I’m adding to these wonderful myths, not subtracting from them.
Take it from me, readers, you want to pick up these great books today. All of them are available for digital download from Amazon.com, and I promise you, they are an exciting read!