Brad Carter is the kind of guy you want to know. Nice, courteous, and willing to share both alcohol and barbeque, and even wisdom from time to time. He likes death metal, horror movies, and has a killer mustache. Hell, if he were single and I were single, I’d probably get down on one knee and ask him to marry me.
I met Brad a few years ago at Contamination is St. Louis. We’d both just released our first books with Post Mortem Press and were doing the convention scene. Fast forward through the years, a handful of conventions and twice as many bottles of whiskey, and we find Brad releasing his fourth novel, Only Things. I’m going to do my usual bit and ask him a few questions that are pretty normal and one stupid one…
Are you ready? Come watch Brad and I rassle and see who wins…
Chris: The Big Man of Barlow, your first novel, released in 2012. You’ve followed that with a novel each year. Four novels in four years. You have a young child and you work full-time, like many of us, yet your output far exceeds most. For those people who say they don’t have the time to write, you’re proving them wrong. What kind of writing schedule do you keep to keep the releases coming?
Brad: When you put it in those terms, I’m actually a bit amazed myself. Part of the advantage I had is that my second novel, (dis)Comfort Food was nearly a complete first draft when The Big Man of Barlow was finally published. I picked a weird book for my debut, and it was roundly rejected so many times that I was getting close to shelving it and focusing on (dis)Comfort Food. As far as schedule, I write in the morning before everyone else in the house is awake, and at night, usually after everyone else is going to bed. I write on my lunch break at work. Some days are more productive than others. I shoot for 1,000 words a day. Some days, I don’t hit that. Other days, I stampede right past it.
Chris: I’m going to stick with Big Man for a minute. First off, it’s a great book, and I’ve told you that many times. It’s been described as a Bigfoot buddy comedy; it’s funny and tragic and poignant, and I want to know how that story comes about as opposed to anything written by Eric S. Brown or the films “Sasquatch,” “Exists,” or “Willow Creek?”
Brad: Like I said, it’s a strange book. Most of the feedback I got early pointed that out. This is a great novel, but we just don’t think it fits with what we do, etc. It just doesn’t fit into any niche genre. And that’s a double-edged sword, because for every person that says the book is unique, there are ten publishers there to tell you that they just don’t know how to sell it. I think the main difference between The Big Man of Barlow and the other stuff you mentioned is that my book isn’t really horror. I even hesitate to call it a Bigfoot book except for the fact that if a Sasquatch makes an appearance, you’re almost obligated to do so. The plot of the novel is really about the human characters, most of whom are misfits trying to get along in a small town. The fact that they’re rallying around a Sasquatch, trying to protect it from being exploited, is really just a plot device. I could have used a real endangered species or some other type of monster, and the story would have been largely the same.
Really, The Big Man of Barlow was my way of shrugging off all the negative stuff I picked up in the writing workshops I took in college. Although I learned a lot of useful stuff that made me a better writer, I also was discouraged by this snotty attitude so many of those people have with regard to genre fiction. To them, the minute you plug something like Sasquatch into a narrative, you lose all artistic merit. So I figured I’d prove them wrong. I’ve never lacked for confidence, obviously.
Chris: Let’s do the time warp and talk (dis)Comfort Food. I’m going to put on my serious interviewer cap and ask the tough question. (dis)Comfort Food is your sophomore novel and it’s a complete 180 from The Big Man of Barlow. It received a couple critical reviews. How did you deal with those when approaching your next book? Did any of them linger in your head or are you able to just make them piss off and ignore them?
Brad: Any writer who says that bad reviews don’t sting just a little bit is either Stephen King or a liar. Sure, I read reviews of my stuff, and the bad ones hurt a bit. You spend close to a year of your life losing sleep to write a book, and some jackass slags it off in the time it takes to drink a cup of coffee. In what world does that not hurt? But that initial sting wears off, and you just push on. The thing is, there is no book or movie or song or painting that every single person likes. There’s someone out there right now writing a bad review of To Kill a Mockingbird.
With (dis)Comfort Food, there were very few middle of the road reviews. I tried some new things in that book—black humor, unreliable narrator—that I think were jarring to some people. The negative reviews almost all missed the fact that the book was supposed to be funny (although it said so right there on the cover). I think people are still a little hesitant to embrace humor in horror novels. They love it in horror movies. Just look at something like Shaun of the Dead. But for some reason, it’s a harder sell in books
Chris: Okay, that’s three serious questions. Here’s one, just for you… Austrian Death Machine or Arnocorps? Defend your answer.
Brad: I’m going with Arnocorps, and my reasons are numerous. The foremost reason is that Tim Lambesis isn’t involved. Some roid-head who tried to put out a hit on his wife isn’t someone I really want to support. But Arnocorps is from San Francisco, and I grew up listening to a ton of Bay Area thrash metal. Plus, their live show is supposed to be something to behold.
What I really want to hear is a Jean Claude Van Damme metal band. He was always a little more subtle than Arnold, but I think it could be done. You could do a whole album about his mullet in Hard Target.
Chris: I’m going to stick with music for another question, but actually related to writing. You’re a staunch metal fan, play the guitar, and have been involved with a few bands. How, if at all, does music influence your work? If music isn’t an influence, do you listen when you write or are you a silent creator?
Brad: I listen to music when I’m writing. I’m not sure it directly influences the writing, but I definitely pick my playlists according to what scene I’m working on. For a lot of Only Things, I listened to old movie soundtracks, stuff by Goblin, John Carpenter, and Fabio Frizzi. While I was writing Saturday Night of the Living Dead, it was old school metal, which is what the narrator of the novel preferred. So it was all Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, and Accept. I also put on some Calabrese, whose song inspired the title. I gave them a little shout-out in that book, not only because they inspired the title, but because I think they’re one of the best bands going right now.
I keep telling myself that I’m going to write a novel about a famous metal musician who’s just entered retirement. I have a few ideas kicking around in my head about where that could go.
Chris: Your third book, Saturday Night of the Living Dead, is something of a love story, a ghost story, with maybe a special appearance by some Elder Gods, but it’s also a clear homage to horror movies, specifically B movies and their over-the-top gore, nudity, and special effects. What are your top three B movies and, briefly, why?
Brad: I love way too many B movies to narrow it down to just three. So instead of my absolute favorites, I’m going to list three of the most outrageously entertaining films that fall under the B movie umbrella.
Ator the Fighting Eagle is one of many Italian sword and sandal barbarian movies that shamelessly ripped off Conan the Barbarian. This one is a sure-fire crowd pleaser. Ator, the hero, is played by the virtually expressionless Miles O’Keeffe, and it’s clear that no one told him that this was likely to be one of the worst movies ever made. And he’s not the only actor who clearly isn’t in on the joke. The story is your usual barbarian picture mumbo-jumbo, but the plot isn’t important. What is important is that Ator is a mullet-bedecked hero who marries his sister with the glowing approval of his parents. He embarks on a quest to do something involving a cursed spider king or some such nonsense. This cute little skunk/badger thing follows him around, and as many times as I’ve watched the movie, I’ve yet to figure out why. There are four Ator films, but this one is the most widely available.
Frankenhooker is just good old fashioned sleazy fun. It’s sort of like a romantic comedy if a rom-com was written by the criminally insane. The first time I saw it, I said to myself, “Brad, this movie is just a nightmare of depravity.” And I loved every single frame.
Street Trash could be on a double bill with Frankenhooker, and it would be perfectly at home. A film about a hobo camp that comes into possession of a case of liquor that liquefies those who consume it? Sign me up. And just like Frankenhooker, this film is just one sensation after another. Among the various people meltdowns, there’s also a scene in which some winos play a game of keep-away with a severed penis. Now, that is something you don’t see every day.
Chris: Your newest novel, Only Things, is about whether one possesses things or if one’s things possess her. What sets Only Things apart from the others? Can we expect the same level of horror and humor as in the others?
Brad: I think Only Things might be the darkest book I’ve written. There are a few scenes that I had trouble writing, as I kept asking myself if I might be pushing things a bit too far. There’s definitely some humor in there, too. I don’t think I could squeeze all the humor out of one of my manuscripts if I tried. Roger Corman, when speaking about horror movies, said that it was necessary that you give the audience something to laugh at; otherwise, they might start laughing when you don’t want them to.
As far as what sets Only Things apart from my other work, I think I upped my game a bit this time. The plot is a little more complex, there are more characters, more settings. Plus, I’ve started working on my own afterlife mythology. It was fun dropping little hints about the world where the ghosts and demons come from. That’s something that I’ll explore and expand further in my next novel.
Chris: Just a couple more questions and I’ll let you get back to twirling your evil mustache. The first question, and one I’m finding I enjoy hearing the answer to, is what are you currently reading?
Brad: I just finished Clive Barker’s The Scarlet Gospels, which was like sitting down for a cup of coffee with an old friend. I know he’s been writing steadily over the years, but this was the first time in a while that he’s done a flat-out horror novel. I know some people have slagged it off, but I really enjoyed it.
I also just finished your latest, They Are Among Us. If I tell you how much I like it, does this interview get more prominent billing?
I thought Peter Clines’ 14 was amazing. I’m not at all into his zombie books, but this was a departure from all that. My jaw was on the floor for most of that one.
Now, I’m getting into my summer reading, which is lots of Terry Pratchett and Elmore Leonard. Sadly, I’ve read just about everything they’ve written already, and I’m having to come to terms with the idea that there won’t be any new ones coming. But it’s been years since I read some of those books, and since I’m an old man, it’s almost like they’re new. I’m working my way through some John Scalzi stuff, too. He’s my favorite science fiction writer at the moment.
Last time I was in my hometown of Little Rock, AR, I went to The Comic Book Store (yes, that’s what it’s called) and spent an embarrassing sum of money on horror comics. It was mostly reprints of the old EC titles—Tales from the Crypt, Shock SuspenStories, and all that stuff. I’m still working my way through all those.
Chris: You’re a librarian, an author, and a reader. My last question my last question revolves around the future of acquiring books, I suppose. I can go to the library, sign up for a free card, and borrow real books. Or I can jump on Amazon, and if I have a Prime account, borrow countless numbers of Kindle titles, or I can sign up for a site like Scribd and get access to more books than I can read in a lifetime. It’s no wonder brick and mortar stores are dying (we all know ebooks helped with that, too), but what about our libraries? Ohio already has a “digital library” and I assume many other cities/states do as well. Do you see libraries going completely digital in the future, adopting a model similar to Scribd or Amazon?
Brad: I don’t see libraries going the way of the brick and mortar stores anytime soon. While digital borrowing is definitely here to stay, there will always be a sizeable segment of the population that still wants physical media. And it’s not just old people, either. Young adults still carry books out by the armload, although they’ve gone completely digital for other things, like audio books and movies. Libraries are different than stores. They’re not completely profit-driven, for one thing. Also, they function as community centers. Libraries are primary points of access for a lot of people—to technology, to news information, and yes, even to books. Hard as it is to believe, there are still people who’ve hardly touched a computer. You can say whatever horrible things you want about them on your site, and they’ll never even know it.
Now I’d be lying if I said that libraries weren’t moving away from being primarily book-oriented. And I’d also be lying if I said that this shift didn’t bug me. But what do I know? I’m the guy who still buys CDs. Hell, I buy vinyl. I guess I’m just an old soul.
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