There's never been a shortage of demons in Tom Piccirilli's work. Whether it's the more literal translation of the word as found in some of his early horror material, or the more personal, home-grown demons that now caper through his crime fiction, Piccirilli has a history of writing about Very Dark Things. In today's installment of Interview 5.5.5., it's the supernatural demons we're concerned with as the author takes us through his days as a horror author, beginning in a time when the genre boom was turning into a genre bust.
BG: You got your start in the horror genre. Why did you gravitate toward horror to start with?
TP: Speculative fiction is a young man’s prerogative. Comic books, sword & sorcery fantasy novels, Dungeons & Dragons, Saturday morning action cartoons, horror flicks, etc. All of it seems designed to fire up a little boy’s imagination. If you have a dark imagination, as I did, the speculative fiction winds up being tinged with horrific elements.
Who were the major influences on your work in horror?
Initially it was horror film that influenced me. My father was a big horror buff and in the last year of life, when he knew he had terminal cancer, he tried to spend as much time bonding with my 7-year-old self as he could. So he took me to dozens of horror films and we watched dozens more on television. Horrific images, plot-lines, themes, iconic horror characters, all of that was stuck in my head more so than any particular author initially.
When I did finally start tackling horror fiction, I read widely. Everyone got a piece of me. Certainly the big guns like King and Straub, but also Charles L. Grant, Dennis Etchison, Karl Edward Wagner, Harlan Ellison, Ramsey Campbell, Joe Lansdale, and Graham Masterton.
You’ve talked at length on your blog about your tendency to bring your personal demons into your work. Is that tendency part of the reason you wrote horror (and now crime) instead of more upbeat work?
My father’s death seemed to become the traumatic experience that I couldn’t quite understand or ever put to rest, so all of my early work seemed to be tinged with that loss and frustration and pain. When you get down to it, it’s probably the source of my art and the reason for the direction and overall mood of the work. Following that, any other angst, upset, or travail just seemed to fall in line.
You’re not that far removed from the horror field – what’s your take on the health of the horror genre today? What does the genre – and those who write in it – need to do to move it forward?
Dude, don’t ask me. I’m not sure what it’s going to take to fix publishing or fix genre or if in fact they need fixing at all. I hate all this vampire and werewolf bullshit, but if a billion other people do, then so be it. I’m not on board with the big zombie revolution, but if everyone else is, then what the hell. I’m not much of a fan of extremist/torture horror fiction nowadays, but I used to groove on Dick Laymon, Jack Ketchum, and Edward Lee like a lot of other readers, so if the writers following in their footsteps can find their fans, more power to them. I just wish that on the overall people cared more. I wish writers took more time to craft their work and readers cared enough to differentiate between knock-out fiction and something with a little higher capacity for art and literature.
Make us some recommendations – what are some books, authors or films you’d recommend in horror?
Since I made the jump to crime a few years back I haven’t delved too much back into the horror genre, but I do like a lot of crime-crossover stuff. Writers like Gillian Flynn, Charlie Huston, Duane Swierczynski, Ken Bruen (whose recent novel is entitled The Devil). And I reread some of my favorites like Jack Cady, TM Wright, and Michael McDowell. In film, I’m a big fan of Asian horror flicks like A Tale of Two Sisters, Versus, Memories of Murder, Mother, Our Town, Hansel and Gretel, Death Bell, and Mad Detective. Asian horror, especially Korean horror, seem to merge horror/crime themes, tone, and plot in a way that’s immensely effective.
Tomorrow: Tom Piccirilli on switching to crime