“As he joined the captain, she shuddered, and the red glistening mess that had once been her belly opened wider. Too wide.
The rookie turned away, his gorge rising as the woman’s insides turned out.”– from The 13th by John Everson.
The 13th was my introduction to John Everson. I remember receiving the paperback in the mail as part of the Leisure Horror Book Club. Like many of the authors, John was new, and like the majority of the Leisure titles at the time, John was fucking good. I instantly logged him in with Brian Keene and Richard Laymon. When I got Siren a bit later, I knew I had found another horror author who was terrific at messing with every one of my emotions throughout a single novel.
Now with Samhain’s Horror line, John continues to play the dark arts over every tender nerve in our minds and bodies. But after digging into his world a little further, I’ve discovered he’s so much more than a great writer. Now, so will you.
Let’s start at the beginning. When did you get started in writing, was it always horror, and who were the first authors who lit the fire for you?
The first story I remember writing was when I was probably in about 4th grade. All I can recall is that it had some connection to Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series… so I guess I started out by writing Sci-Fi Fan Fiction! Growing up, it was really golden age SF that I read, along with the occasional ghost story and Edgar Allan Poe tale… so the first stories I wrote in grade school and high school were science fiction. Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Clifford D. Simak, Hal Clement, Robert Heinlein, J. T. McIntosh… those were my first influences. They told stories that kept me absolutely enraptured… and made me want to tell stories to do the same thing to other readers. Richard Matheson is probably the SF writer who really showed me the way, because he was the bridge between SF stories and horror. All of the tales I’ve ever come up with seem to have a bit of a macabre twist to them… and his ability to do that – and cross genres – was amazing.
I wrote some stories and poetry in high school, and more in college, but it wasn’t until I was in my 20s that I submitted anything. It was 1993, and it had been a few years since I’d written any fiction. Just for fun, I was putting together a chapbook of some of my college stories, since my day job was desktop publishing, and in doing that, I realized some of the old tales weren’t too bad. I submitted them to a couple magazines and then wrote a couple new pieces. Once my first story appeared, at the start of 1994, I kept writing and submitting and never looked back. So this year has marked my 20thanniversary as a published fiction author.
Leisure Book Horror Club is where I discovered you. I remember reading The 13th and being floored. It was just a great story. I followed that up with Siren. Another great one. Talk to me about those Dorchester days. How did you hook up with Don?
The first time I met Don D’Auria was at World Horror Convention 2000 in Denver. I was there promoting my first short fiction collection, Cage of Bones and Other Deadly Obsessions, which was coming out later that year from Delirium Books. I had just finished an early draft of Covenant, called The Cliff, at the time, and described it to Don at one of the pitch sessions they hold for authors to meet editors at those conventions. He said to go ahead and send him the manuscript, and I did, but then I never heard anything back… so I pitched him the same novel at World Horror Con 2001. And then again at World Horror 2002…..It was probably around that time that I finally got the formal rejection notice! I remember it took a couple years. But at the time, it seemed like anyone who was anyone in horror (outside of King, Barker and Rice) had a book with Leisure, so I was determined to “break in.” At World Horror Con 2003, I had a sequel begun – Sacrifice. So I pitched him both novels as well as a couple other ideas. He said very supportive things… but didn’t buy the books. Despairing, I gave up on my mass market dreams and contracted and published both novels in limited hardcover editions with the small press – Delirium Books — in 2004 and 2007. But I still pitched those books and other ideas to Don at every World Horror Con — 2004, 2005, 2006…. finally in 2007, after Covenant had won the Bram Stoker Award for a First Novel from the Delirium release, and Sacrifice had also come out in hardback, I pitched to him once more and he said “I want to have you on the imprint, it’s just a question of a slot. I might have something… soon.” I thought he was just being kind to a stupidly persistent kid, but then, literally 24 hours later, he came to me during the Mass Autograph signing where all the authors sit in a room and sign books for convention attendees and he said “can I talk to you?” I left my table and he offered me a two-book deal there in a coat check hallway at the World Horror Convention 2007 in Toronto. I can’t tell you how excited I was over the next 48 hours of that con!!!
Shortly after signing with Leisure, I was in New York on day job business and had the chance to stop in at Leisure’s offices to say hi to Don… and then I saw why it had taken so long for me to get a rejection letter years before. The wall on one side of his office was stacked from window to doorway four feet high with manuscript submissions! Talk about being lost in the slush pile! I can’t imagine the number of aspiring authors that sent books to him in the ‘90s and 2000s. Immense competition.
Once Covenant came out, Don bought three more books from me for Leisure after that.The 13th was the first original novel I did for Leisure (published in 2009), followed bySiren and The Pumpkin Man. As soon as Don landed at Samhain after Leisure imploded, I offered him NightWhere and he accepted it. The irony there was… my original idea for NightWhere was sketched out over a decade before – while I was still finishing Covenant. So Covenant launched me at Leisure and NightWhere, a book hatched in the same period, launched me with Samhain. And both “starts” were Bram Stoker Award finalists!
That’s so rad! So, Covenant won the Stoker for best 1st novel, but you were crafting short fiction prior to that. Is short fiction where you started, do you still do it on a regular basis and which do you prefer: shorts, novellas, or novels?
Short fiction is what I did almost exclusively my first 10 years of writing. I still write short stories, just not as often since I’m focused on novels. But I’ve always felt that in many ways horror is best served by the short form – Poe’s stories were always the epitome of the perfect horror tales for me… and he never wrote a novel.
As for me… I’ve actually never written a novella. I’ve written well over 100 short stories, and a few novelettes (longish short stories). And now eight novels. But the one time I tried to write a horror novella… it went and turned into a short novel – The Family Tree, my latest. I still love writing short fiction, but it’s a different approach than novels. So now that I’ve gotten used to writing “long”… I find it harder to get in and get out quickly to write short fiction anymore. When I started writing 20 years ago, most of my short pieces were 2,000 – 3,000 words. Now I can’t seem to write a short story that’s less than 6,000 words! Novels train you to describe things more, do more character-building. You don’t have time for that in a short piece.
Covenant’s win. Was that intimidating for you? Or did you just accept with a smile and go back to work?
It was a crazy thing. I went to that award ceremony when my wife was 3 weeks from her delivery due date with our son – we asked the doctor if he thought it was safe enough for me to go and he said yes… but what if she went into labor early and I was hours away? I knew I wasn’t going to win… but I wanted to be there, to make the most of the nomination by meeting people there. And then I won!?! I was so unprepared to win… I hadn’t even worn a suit jacket, just a shirt and tie to the ceremony. It was an amazing night, and an amazing weekend… and then yeah… I went home and wondered, OK, how do I top that? There was pressure. But eventually… you just do what you do and hope it’s good. Over the years, I’ve finished a couple books and thought to myself, “OK, well, that’s as good as it’s going to get. That’s your best.” You feel like you should just stop… but then you write something else that you’re proud of and think the same thing again.
Your stories definitely go willingly into the erotica territory. Is this it a case of the story taking you there, or is there something funny happening when you sit down to write.
I don’t know why sex and horror have always been a tag team for me… but they just seem to naturally go together. Most of the story ideas I come up with have an erotic element that, at least to me, seems integral to the plot. Hell, in NightWhere, there would be no story at all without it – the story is about a couple drawn to an underground sex club that is much more than the house of kink it seems to be on the surface. And Sirenis patently about the temptation of forbidden sex – what does a Siren do but lead men to their deaths with song and sensual allure? But there are stories that also have very little sexual element to them too. The Pumpkin Man has virtually no sex in it at all. The story didn’t call for it, so it’s not there.
Are there any monsters you leave to others or are you willing to write about any of them? Also, what is one story you want to write but haven’t yet?
There are a lot of horror novels written about serial killers and torture artists and cannibals and the like. People being imprisoned by some sadistic nutjob and trying to escape. That kind of horror is just not my area of interest. I’ve always said, if I wanted to read about evil human beings, I can pick up the newspaper. Me? I like to read about demons and otherworldly creatures breaking down the doors to our world. Stuff that extends beyond our current reality. That’s the stuff that I like to read…and thus write.
I have a few story ideas outlined that I’d like to write; most have a demonic element to them. I’ve always been attracted by the intersection of amoral demons and unethical humans allying and causing havoc… The latest novel that I’ve started working on is a sequel to Covenant and Sacrifice. I’ve started on it a couple times… this year, I’m hoping to finally follow it all the way through!
Are you writing full-time? And what is your writing schedule/routine (if you have one)?
My best year writing fiction brought in less than a fifth of what I make at my dayjob. So no… I don’t and never have written fiction full-time (unless you count the years I was a newspaper journalist. But that wasn’t fiction-writing). I honestly don’t foresee ever writing fiction full-time. It’s just not in the cards for 95% of writers, unless they have a spouse that can bring in the medical insurance and guarantee a regular income that pays the mortgage. But that’s OK. That means I’m free to write what I want, when I want, since I don’t have to feed myself with it. There’s no pressure to write what I KNOW will sell and pay the bills, vs. what I feel like writing. Would I LIKE to have more time to dedicate to my novels? Sure. But I like knowing that I for sure am going to be able to pay the mortgage next month a whole lot more.
As for my schedule? It honestly changes with every book. There are books that have been done by getting up an hour early every day before work for three-six months (Siren). And there are books that I relied on pulling marathon sessions one night a week after the day job for a few months at a favorite pub (The Pumpkin Man, NightWhere). Most have been a combination of those methods. I tend to be a “binge” writer. I’ll write like crazy for a few days or weeks in a row and then not write at all for weeks. Depends what life is bringing at the time!
With three kids at home, I totally understand that! When it comes to sitting down and getting to work are you typically a plotter or a seat of the pants guy?
I like to be entertained, so when I write, I am telling myself stories. Which means…seat of the pants. While I’ve outlined most of my books (a necessity to selling them before they’ve been actually written), I have had the most fun flying blind and just making it up as I went along (Sacrifice and The Family Tree). And even with outlines, there’s a lot of stuff that happens in a novel that you had no idea was going to happen until the moment you write it. The entire parallel plot of Siren following Ligeia’s imprisonment 100 years before the main thread of the novel? That wasn’t in the outline that sold the book to Leisure. And some readers have said that’s the best element of the story!
So you kept in contact with Don when he got the gig at Samhain? I was so happy to see that Ronald Malfi (among others) was there to get the new line going. As a fan, I was hoping to see you there, as well. And then you popped up! How did that transfer go for you?
I had stayed in touch with Don after he left Leisure, and he let me know as soon as he landed. We were talking about what my first book for Samhain might be almost immediately afterward! However, since I hadn’t actually written the book yet, there was almost a year of Samhain novels that came out ahead of mine — because he bought a lot of completed novels at the same time as he contracted my outline for NightWhere.
The Family Tree is out now! I know there’s a Megadeth song by the same name….what are we in for with this new novel?
I’m not much of a metalhead, so I didn’t know that!
Violet Eyes, my follow-up to NightWhere, focused far more on spiders than on sex. After the crazy “50 Shades meets Hellraiser” reviews of NightWhere, I kind of went off in the other direction for Violet Eyes. But The Family Tree is a return to horror with a lot of erotic overtones. It follows a loner, Scott Belvedere, who inherits an old inn in Appalachia. When he goes to check it out and decide whether to sell it or keep it, he soon finds himself the object of obsessive sexual affection of the innkeeper’s daughter, as well as a couple other “friends” of the inn. Not a bad gig… but why? And are the stories of the curative powers of the sap of the tree that the inn is literally built around, true? Scott finds that sometimes it’s better to leave your family roots… buried.
I love any horror stories wrapped around hotels, inn, and bed n’ breakfasts! This sounds amazing! I can’t wait.
Switching creative gears a bit…I ‘ve been to your site a number of times, but usually only look at the book info. I only recently noticed the art and music sections! These are early passions for you? Was it art, music , or writing first and which did you feel you had the most talent in?
Music has always been my first love. I was playing the organ at five years old, and wrote songs all the time in grade school. There is no more fulfilling experience in the world to me than writing and recording a song. Don’t get me wrong – I love writing fiction. But a good song? I can put that on the stereo and play it over and over and over again and enjoy both the song and the feeling of accomplishment of having created it. I have no desire to read my stories over and over again! But ultimately, music is for the young, and itinerant. I think I had talent and could have gone somewhere… but only if I was willing to cash in everything else to go for it. And I wasn’t willing. Nevertheless, I need to be creative, whether it is writing music, writing stories, or creating digital art for books. I figured that I could continue a career as a writer long after any “pop band” career would be over… so that’s what I stuck with and focused on. You really can’t do it all… as much as I wanted to!
I know exactly what you mean. I’ve played in original bands for years, and have always been the main songwriter. Personally, I’ve written hundreds of horrible songs, but when I get to that “good one”, it makes all the flubs worth it. But it is nearly impossible to commit to both writing and music, and as you said, it’s a young person’s game.
Do you do book tours with each release? What is it typically like for you? Do you tag along with a fellow author (and if yes to that one, can you give us any great stories?)
From where I stand, book tours are a luxury of the past. I used to do book tours throughout the Midwest when my Leisure novels were released. I’d schedule a couple dozen signings, and hit every Borders and Barnes & Noble that I could in Chicagoland, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Louisville, St. Louis… and wherever my day job happened to take me (I have gotten to do book signings in Dallas, San Diego, San Francisco, Los Angels, Santa Fe, Albuquerque and more thanks to dayjob trips!) I stayed in a lot of fleabags to sign books around the Midwest for a few years.
But for a mid-list author, book signings are far more about attracting a store’s existing foot traffic to buy your books that are in the store, then about having a legion of fans turn up specifically to see you. So the prerequisite is to actually have the stores carrying your books both before and after you appear. With the death of the Borders chain, there now IS no chain store that has a horror section. Barnes & Noble barely stocks any horror novels. So if you’re going to do a book signing, it’s going to be at a store that likely doesn’t normally carry your novels. That, for me, just isn’t worth the time. Because the reality is, if the store doesn’t already devote shelf space to your books, as soon as your book signing gig is over? They will return all your books to the publisher and not keep any in the store. That’s the cold hard truth of bookstore inventory management. In the old days, I could go to a Borders Store, sell 20 books at a signing, and leave 20 more at the store with “autographed by” stickers on the covers… and those books would be displayed and sell after I was gone. And then the store would order more. That was worth doing – because you built a sales track record thanks to your appearance. Now? I sell more books via Amazon and at conventions than I do through the Barnes & Noble chain, because they won’t keep most horror books available in their stores. So… what’s the point of doing signings there? There’s no “tail” after the event.
I usually do a couple rapid fire bits so here you go:
Last novel you read?
Satan’s Fan Club by Mark Kirkbride. He asked me to blurb it and I loved it! Before that? Fifty Shades of Grey. And you know what? I enjoyed the hell of out if. A refreshing lightweight change after all the horror I typically read!
Your guilty pleasure song?
Ke$ha. “Gold Trans Am.” Or really anything by her. And you know what? I don’t feel guilty at all.
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No shame in the Ke$ha love. I’m right there with you.
Favorite non-horror film?
There are non-horror films? Ha! There are many answers to that question because there are so many genres… and I love film. Things that have stuck with me? Goofy comedies like Johnny Dangerously and Better Off Dead. Feel-good dramedies like Steel Magnolias and Fried Green Tomatoes. Or It’s A Wonderful Life – which I’ve watched nearly every Christmas for 40 years. Sci-fi genius like Bladerunner, Forbidden Planet, Brazil, Star Trek IV, Terminator and Star Wars. I list Alien as my favorite movie of all time, but I always have felt that skews more horror than sci-fi. How about The Incredibles? Or Monsters, Inc or Fifth Element? Crazy action movies like Machete and offbeat erotica like The Image or Salo? And what about strangely unforgettable excursions like Barbarella? What about the entire Hitchcock catalogue (some horror, but most thriller/mystery)? What about Akira Kurosawa, Orson Welles, John Ford, Stanley Kubrick, Woody Allen, Roman Polanski and Ingmar Bergman? Lucas, DePalma, Spielberg, Cameron, Lee, Zemeckis… I can’t pick a favorite film. I can’t pick a favorite director. I love too many films too much for that.
I love A lot of those, as well. How about the grossest beer you ever tasted?
Stone Brewing Arrogant Bastard. Kind of what I imagine licking a wet, old dog would be like.
John, thank you so very much for doing this with me. We must grab that drink sometime.
I have a pint waiting for you!
Find John and his wicked ways in these places: