Interview with Dark Fiction Author Joseph Garraty
Voice is without a doubt one of the most impressive books I’ve read. It’s a horror novel with the full package: selling one’s soul to the devil for a shot at rock and roll fame, bits of gore, and fantastic characters whose inner torment are easy to relate to. I called it a motherfucking good book and it deserves that title. I’m honoured to be joined here by the author, Joseph Garraty, as I get to pester him about horror, music, and indie epublishing.
Frida: I really loved reading Voice and it’s one of most enjoyable (and creepy!) books I’ve ever read. Where did the inspiration come from? Is there a specific crossroads tale that comes to mind?
The inspiration for the book as a whole didn’t come from any particular crossroads tale so much as my own fascination with sacrifice. That’s really what the crossroads tale is about in my mind–what would you give up for the things you want? That’s a theme I keep exploring in my work, because I think it’s something we all face daily. You and I might not be holding clandestine midnight meetings with the devil (well, I’m not anyway), but even a daily decision like, “Are the extra hours at work worth it, or should I be spending more time with my family?” is basically an examination of sacrifice.
This all tied in easily with a story about rock musicians. Rock musicians have what I would consider a radically exaggerated approach to risk tolerance and sacrifice–I read stories about people who drop out of school and go live in a storage unit with four other smelly musicians because they need every spare moment for practice and writing, and I think, “Damn. These people are nuts.” Since fiction is all about exaggeration (or at least selective emphasis), the excess of the rock-n-roller seemed like a great way to really dig in and explore the theme of sacrifice. Turn it up to eleven, so to speak.
Frida: How much has your own experiences of being a musician informed the themes of this book? How much of yourself are in these characters? And why did you set it in the hard rock music scene? (Important point for the readers: it’s hard rock like Motörhead or New York Dolls, and definitely not Nickelback. Nickelback makes me so ashamed of being Canadian. When are they going to bloody croak?)
Joe: My own experiences as a musician informed the themes pretty heavily. I’m a rather low-key guy by rock musician standards, but even I get the sacrifice thing, and I’ve done some fairly ridiculous things over the years. Johnny’s creepy shack in the book with weeds growing in through the walls and no hot water? That’s pretty much a dead-on description of a place I lived in for about eight months. Another time, I played something like 20 hours of shows in a four-day period and nearly gave myself nerve damage (the tingling in my fingertips eventually went away, but it took weeks). And the background details came from a very real place, too. After reading the book, my longtime partner in musical crime said, “Damn, you made the band play that shitty gig?” because he was there, onstage with me, at one of the lousy shows that clearly inspired one of the lousy shows in the book. So many of the experiences I’ve had as a musician were so bizarre or oddly hilarious (“Shit, I don’t know where the sound guy is. I think he’s in jail”) that painting in the backdrop for the book was effortless.
As for the characters, they all draw on my personality, in part. Case plays guitar like I play guitar (unlike Case, the only place I have a fuck-you attitude is onstage–but I do bring it there). Johnny’s thoughts about inadequacy and trying to work hard to overcome it come straight from experience, and are probably familiar to anyone who has ever tried to create anything. And, like Danny, I’ve been the peacemaker in every band I’ve been in.
The hard rock scene made sense to me for a few reasons. First, in keeping with the deal-with-the-devil and the overall atmosphere of the book, I wanted the music to be suitably nasty. Pop rock or shopping mall punk would have been the wrong flavor entirely. Old school punk would have been closer, but that comes equipped with a bunch of cultural baggage that didn’t feel right, and straight-up metal, while suitably dark, has an overly stylized flavor to it–it has almost become a caricature of itself, and the dark themes present in most metal are more like an in-joke than anything to be taken seriously. Grungy, raw gutter rock and roll was the place to go, both for the feel and for its connection to the blues and the Robert Johnson crossroads legend.
Frida: Now that we know of your background in music, what is your background in horror? Seriously man, that book scared the shit out of me. That can’t be your first horror novel.
Joe: That’s awesome to hear! But I do have to confess that Voice is, in fact, my first horror novel. It’s my first published novel at all, actually. Before Voice I wrote the obligatory beginner manuscripts which have been buried in appropriately unmarked graves, but none of them were horror. I’m not sure what to call them–there were two bizarre science fiction novels, a novel a friend described as a “metaphysical math thriller,” if you can imagine such a thing, and a bent high fantasy thing, among other experiments. Each one failed in its own unique way, but I sure did learn a lot–particularly that the part of a book that I care most about, when reading and writing, is the characters.
So I hadn’t written any horror at all before Voice, but of course I’ve read it all my life. My mom gave me a copy of Stephen King’s Christine when I was ten or so and thereby screwed me up for life. Since then, I’ve gravitated to everything dark and twisted. They actually threw me out of the adult section of the public library when I was a kid, because I kept dredging up non-kid-appropriate fare, and I think it’s only gotten worse since then.
Anyway, I’d been thinking for years about writing a horror novel, so I’d file away little notes in my head, in an imaginary box marked “Scary Things–Don’t Forget,” where I could dust them off when I needed them. Like I’d be alone in the house one night and think, “You know what freaks me out? The idea of somebody looking in my window at night. Brrrrr. Hey! Better put that in the box.” By the time the central premise of Voice coagulated in my mind, I had amassed a pretty good tool kit.
Frida: What are your top five horror novels? And who are your top five rock bands or artists?
Joe: Horror novels:
1. IT, by Stephen King. Not flawless by any means, but it just nails the essential wonder and terror of being a kid. Pet Sematary is King’s scariest novel, but I think IT is the best.
2. The Red Tree, by Caitlin Kiernan. She swears she doesn’t write horror, but I don’t know what else to call this. It creeped the living shit out of me while I was on an airplane in the middle of the day, it’s that good. Very subtle–you won’t find overt monsters or anything like that, but I think it’s scarier as a result. If a blurring border between reality and the mind freaks you out, run for this book. Or maybe from it.
3. House of Leaves, by Mark Z. Danielewski. Similar to The Red Tree in that there’s no obvious monster, it’s a story about a house that, oddly, is a few inches bigger on the inside than out. It’s also about obsession and insanity, and it’s an intense, multi-layered, weird-ass book that defies easy description.
4. John Dies at the End, by David Wong. Okay, this one also defies easy description. It’s your basic story of a guy on mind-altering drugs that allow him to see ghosts and extradimensional Lovecraftian horrors and whatnot, but that doesn’t even come close to doing the book justice. It’s also the best example of horror and humor jammed together I’ve ever read. Go read the first two pages–that’ll tell you everything you need to know about the style of the book, and if it doesn’t grab you right then, it’s not going to be your thing.
5. The Armageddon Rag, by George R.R. Martin. Rock ‘n’ roll horror, of a decidedly different flavor than my own work in that area. Seems to be a work designed for baby boomer Tolkien-lover rock ‘n’ roll fans, but it worked for me, too.
Rock bands/artists: Whew. That’s a tough one. I’ll go with The All-Time List instead of the Right Now List.
1. Neil Young. Nobody does “raw” better, and this guy gets sounds out of an electric guitar that are completely unholy. Plus, he’s a hell of a songwriter. “Cortez the Killer” is my all-time favorite.
2. Aerosmith. This was my band in high school. They’d be on this list for “Walk this Way” alone, which manages to jam one of the world’s catchiest riffs and bass parts into the same song.
3. Guns N’ Roses. Really only three albums here that are worth it–Appetite for Destruction, Use Your Illusion I, and Use Your Illusion II, but when these guys were on, they nailed it. Too bad Axl Rose is out of his friggin’ mind.
4. Tom Waits. Don’t know if he counts as rock, but whatever he does, it pushes all my buttons. Blood Money is my favorite album, with Mule Variations close behind.
5. The Beatles. I don’t take these guys out often anymore, but when I do, it always makes me happy. “Let it Be” is perfect.
Oh, and what the hell–here’s the Right Now List, too. My favorites today, for whatever reason:
1. Dire Straits. Mark Knopfler is a bad dude. ‘Nuff said.
2. The Smashing Pumpkins. Nobody plays “anguish” on the guitar better than Billy Corgan.
3. Meat Loaf. I can’t explain this adequately, so I won’t. Saw him in concert last year, and he’s got an incredible band.
4. AFI. Crash Love is a really good album. I’m particularly fond of the song “Beautiful Thieves.”
5. Pink. Don’t know if she counts as rock, but goddamn does she have an incredible voice. The more she leans toward rock, the better she is. Some of the more poppy stuff gives me a pain.
Frida: What are your experiences with indie e-publishing so far?
Joe: My experiences with indie publishing so far have been really great. I’m a bit of a control freak, so it’s nice to have complete control over my editor, my copyeditor, cover art, and things like that. Probably the best thing about it, though, has been the cool authors, reviewers, and other interested persons I’ve encountered as a result of publishing. I’ve been amazed and humbled by the people who have supported my book and even gone out of their way to help me out, and I think that’s incredibly cool.
Right now, I’m happy to go indie and stay that way for a while. It is, however, a lot of extra work–in addition to having all the control, I have to do or contract all the work–and I’m totally open to traditional publishing down the road. Right now is a very strange time to be in publishing, so for the near term I’d prefer to keep a little more control of my destiny.
Lots of folks have made various and sundry prognostications regarding the future of publishing, but that’s out of my league. I feel sure that traditional publishing will survive and that independent e-publishing will grow and thrive alongside it, but as for the details of how that shakes out, I have only the vaguest of ideas. Regardless, there will always be books and readers, and somebody will be getting the former into the hands of the latter.
Frida: And lastly, tell us about your other books!
Joe: I recently released an urban fantasy novel called The Price, about a young man who joins the Mafia to protect his family and learn about underworld magic. As you might guess from the title, it deals with some of the same themes as Voice, though in a wholly different manner. It’s drawn a few favorable comparisons to the Dresden Files books, but if you went looking for my inspiration, you’d come a lot closer by digging into the old John Constantine: Hellblazer comics. I will be working on a follow-up to The Price in the next year, as well as a more straight-up horror novel.
Thanks so much for the interview and for letting me ramble all over your site!
Posted on December 6, 2011, in Contemporary and Urban Fantasy, Dark fiction and Horror, epublishing, Fantasy, indie ebooks, indie speculative fiction, Interview, Joseph Garraty, self-publishing, SF Chatter, speculative fiction ebooks, Voice and tagged body horror, deal with the devil. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.