James Newman is the author of such diverse works of Dark Fiction as Midnight Rain, The Wicked, Animosity, Olden, The Church of Dead Languages, The Forum and the short story collection People Are Strange. His latest is Ugly As Sin, which is due out December 1st. He was kind enough to take time out to chat with us today.
Tell us a little about yourself.
Without putting anyone to sleep? I’ll try . . . .
I was born and raised in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of western North Carolina, and I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else in the world. I’m a weird cross between a good ole’ Southern boy and a hippie. Mostly hippie. I love rock n’ roll, blues, I watch movies just about every second of every day when I’m not working, and although I otherwise hate sports I’m a die-hard fan of college basketball (go TAR HEELS!).
A few months ago I turned 40, and I haven’t been taking it so well. I just try not to think about it.
Every now and then — though not as much as I should — I write. Sometimes people dig what I write, which I still find cool beyond belief even though I’ve been doing it seriously for a while now.
What was the exact moment you knew you wanted to be an author?
I’ve told this story in more than one interview, so I’d be willing to bet that there are a few readers who are sick of hearing it. I’ll tell it anyway . . . .
I’ve written scary stories since I was old enough to hold a pen, just about. But it wasn’t until the fifth grade when I decided I wanted to do this for the rest of my life. I can remember that moment very clearly, as if it just happened yesterday. I carried around a little book with me, in which I scribbled stories with accompanying illustrations. At some point, my teacher — Mrs. Burnette, I’ll never forget her — confiscated the book because I had my nose buried in my little collection instead of paying attention to what she was explaining up at the blackboard. However, the next day she pulled me aside, told me that she had peeked inside the book, and she was very impressed with my talent. She invited me to read one of my scary stories to my classmates every day after lunch.
A few days into this, a girl I had a crush on asked if she could take the book home. She said she wanted to read all of my stories before everybody else, ’cause she couldn’t get enough of them.
I was hooked. I wanted more of that. And, although I’m happily married now so the ultimate goal is obviously not the same, I’ve been chasing “that feeling” ever since.
What’s on your TBR shelf?
Too many to list here, man. More books than I’ll ever find the time to read, I’m sure. Of course, I can’t stop buying more. I’m always buying more. It’s ridiculous.
Then again, I’m sure it’s not the least bit ridiculous to folks like yourself, and the readers of this site. You understand completely!
Which author is at the top of your “Must Read” list?
There are two: Joe R. Lansdale, and Bentley Little. Although I’m ashamed to admit that they’ve each had a new book out for a little while now (THE THICKET and THE INFLUENCE, respectively), and I have yet to purchase either one. Gotta remedy that soon.
What is your favorite horror novel? Horror movie?
Not sure if I could list just one favorite novel. Even if I could, I’d probably change my mind two or three times today and wish I could go back and revise my answer. So I’ll just list a handful of favorites, if you’ll allow me to cheat (and I’m keeping this strictly to novels that are a hundred-percent horror, since that was the question): THE GIRL NEXT DOOR by Jack Ketchum, CHRISTINE and THE SHINING by Stephen King, THE EXORCIST and LEGION by William Peter Blatty, THE CHILDREN’S HOUR by Douglas Clegg, FEAR by Ronald Kelly, PSYCHO by Robert Bloch, UNIVERSITY and THE STORE by Bentley Little, and FEAST by Graham Masterton.
As for horror movies, I’ll cheat again and give you a few of my all-time favorites: the original TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, THE EXORCIST, THE EXORCIST III: LEGION, John Carpenter’s THE THING, David Cronenberg’s THE FLY, INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS ’78, RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD, SE7EN, and LET THE RIGHT ONE IN.
I’m a huge horror film fanatic. As a matter of fact, 2014 will see the release of my first NON-fiction project, a book called 666 HAIR-RAISING HORROR MOVIE TRIVIA QUESTIONS! I’m very excited about that.
Your upcoming book, UGLY AS SIN, is described as “Southern Noir”. What’s attracted you to noir?
Twists and double-crosses. Sultry women who probably can’t be trusted. Cool cats and shady characters. The threat of bad things to come around every corner. Slick dialogue and snappy retorts. “Good guys” who are deeply flawed . . . in fact, they might not be very good at all, but they’re better than the villains. Somewhat.
Who’s your favorite noir author?
I admit I don’t really read a lot of straight “noir”, per se. Most of the titles I’d mention would probably get me flamed by the true noir fans out there: “That’s not noir by any stretch of the imagination!” A lot of what I enjoy reading is what folks call “neo-noir”, “pseudo-noir,” maybe stuff that leans more toward “crime fiction” or just generally dark fiction that’s just influenced a by noir and its tropes. Folks like Joe R. Lansdale and John Connolly come to mind, or F. Paul Wilson’s “Repairman Jack” series. I’ve also enjoyed a lot of stuff I’ve read by Chuck Hogan, John Rector, writers in that vein. I like Dennis Lehane’s “Kenzie and Gennaro” series quite a bit (although I admit I only got into those after seeing the movie version of GONE BABY GONE, which might just be my favorite non-horror film of the last ten years).
The South has dominated Dark Fiction, producing some of the most powerful authors in the genre, such as McCammon, Nicholson and yourself. What is it about a Southern upbringing that lends itself to the art of storytelling, and Dark Fiction?
Don’t forget Ronald Kelly!
That’s a great question. I’m not sure I can put a finger on exactly what it is, but I think there’s just something inherently sinister in the air down here. From the superstitions and folklore of the mountains where I live, all the way down to the fascinating voodoo and jazz culture of New Orleans, the South is home sweet home to a lifelong horror fan. Then there’s the stuff we’re not so proud of, of course — a history of bigotry and hate. As the old cliché goes, truth is stranger than fiction. And, in the case of my region’s dark past, infinitely more disturbing.
You’ve been taking Dark Fiction by storm, writing everything from 80s homage horror, Lovecraftian menace, neo-zombie, several flavors of dark suspense, and now noir. What area of Dark Fiction would you most like to tackle? And which just doesn’t work for you?
Well, I do plan to one day expand my novella OLDEN — which was my take on the whole zombie thing, I guess you could say — into a full-length novel. When that happens it’ll be a big, sprawling, apocalyptic piece.
As for which subgenre doesn’t work for me, I’m sick and tired of the whole zombie thing. And big, sprawling, apocalyptic pieces.
Yeah, I’m a walking contradiction.
Where can we find you?
Be sure to check out other titles by James: