Today’s guest is our favorite horror author, John Claude Smith. He writes dark speculative fiction, including everything from hardcore horror to magic realism, with a few unknown off-ramps along the way. Before locking into fiction, he spent many years writing music journalism, which he still dabbles in on occasion. He also writes poetry which means, yes, writing is what he does. His blog, The Wilderness Within, deals with writing (of course), music, art--whatever strikes his fancy. We're thrilled to have published his short story collection, The Dark is Light Enough for Me, which is powerfully comprised of twelve intricate tales of bittersweet madness, twisted desire, and souls in crisis. Exploring the deepest realms of the human—and not so human—condition, each masterfully crafted yarn brutally ravages the thin veneer of reality as we know it, expertly exposing the human psyche’s desperate need to survive at any cost.
1. From where do you get your inspiration?
Everywhere. Really. Life abounds with fascinating information and experiences. I use it all in my fiction, though I tend to veer to the darker aspects. The places most people would avoid…that’s where I get my hands and writer’s mind dirty.
2. How often to you write?
Most every day. It keeps the skills sharp. Waiting on the muse is not my way. I go there, “be” with the words, and stories happen. More so, with consistency, I find the brain expands on what I expect to happen and that’s when the fun stuff really starts. Unexpected twists in the tale are always welcome.
3. How do you find your characters? Are they formulated from people you know or do you “people watch”? Do you use character sketches and, if so, do you find them useful?
They come in every way imaginable. Yes, taking a piece of a person I know, adding more, shifting this or that, it all comes into play. I usually don’t do character sketches, though with the novel in progress, there are elements I want from the three main characters that I see becoming more refined as the first draft approaches completion. Therefore, I find myself sketching details a lot with this one, but usually, it’s the tale that finds the character and presents me with the details in the writing.
4. How many novels, short-stories, etc., do you now have in print?
I have one short story collection, The Dark Is Light Enough For Me. I’ve had over 60 short stories, 15 poems, and over 1,100 music journalism pieces published. I will have another book published next year, though details are still being ironed out.
5. Are you a plotter or a pantser?
A pantser for the most part, though again, with a novel, I find myself knowing certain scenes will be there, so I steer toward them, though there’s usually a few off-ramps and detours along the way. With the latest novel, I have done a lot more plotting, in a way. It’s rather amusing, because I will map out a few chapters, yet often with the writing of the first in the sequence, things change, so my plotting is just kind of a way of letting me know I am heading in the right direction, or at least some direction. :-P
6. About how long does it take you to finish a novel?
I don’t remember the quote, but there’s one that states every novel is its own experience, shows you how it needs to be written. I’ve written the core of a novel in three months. I’ve taken longer. I don’t think I would ever take more than a year, but who am I to say? The latest one has such density, yet I still think I’m looking at 6-9 months for completion.
7. Who are your favorite authors?
Come now, the impossible question. So many, but off the top of my head: Lucius Shepard, J.G. Ballard, Clive Barker, Laird Barron, Kathe Koja, William Burroughs, Jason Duke, Ennis Drake, Lucy Taylor, Harlan Ellison, Hunter S. Thompson, Shirley Jackson, Caitlin Kiernan, Joe Lansdale, Thomas Ligotti, James Ellroy, H.P.Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, etc., on and on and on.
8. Do you have a favorite setting?
Nature, because the mysteries there are infinite, as contrasted by the grit and grime of the urban world. So, no, no favorite setting, per se, as the world we live in, as well as the fantastical worlds beyond, all present intriguing possibilities.
9. What point of view do you use? Who narrates your stories?
The characters narrate the stories, of course. Me, I’m just along for the ride. Points of view vary. I mean, the latest novel has two third person points of view and one first person point of view so, ahem…again, the tale presents how it wants to be staged. (Which, in the case of the latest novel, it simply wants to frolic in the wicked playground in my head and drive me mad!)
10. What’s your favorite part of writing?
I will admit I enjoy all aspects, to some extent, though getting a story refined, polished to the point where I can let it go, that is, of course, the whole purpose of this gig…right?
11. What’s the most difficult part of writing for you?
Probably ignoring my brain during the first draft when it’s telling me everything so far is crap. Then, getting to the point where the story is almost where it needs to be, yet it’s not quite there. Knowing I can do better, yet sometimes not having the skills to attack it as I want; this can be frustrating. Yet I am always learning, so eventually the skills are harnessed. At least I hope so! Always learning and growing as a writer—as a human being, really--is a key for me.
12. What’s your favorite element of fiction to work with—character, setting, plot/conflict, theme, or point-of-view?
Telling the story to the best of my ability and pushing myself beyond that. Again, learning, growing, honing. Hence, everything mentioned in the question plays a paramount role in getting the story told.
13. Thanks so much for joining us today, John Claude. One more question before you go: What are your favorite books?
Another impossible question to answer. A few: Crash—J.G. Ballard; Skin—Kathe Koja; A Handbook of American Prayer—Lucius Shepard; The Books of Blood—Clive Barker; Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Many of the collections by Laird Barron, Harlan Ellison, H.P, Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, etc., on and on and on, ad infinitum.