January 23, 2002 (Part 2)
Exclusive Interview With
Editor's note: The Robert McCammon interview below was conducted on January 23, 2002, at the Opryland Hotel in Nashville, TN.
Goatley: Let's talk about They Thirst. I first saw the Avon paperback edition in a bookstore, and I was captivated by that incredibly garish, nightmarish face, so I bought it, and loved it.
McCammon: I don't really remember a lot about it, actually. I remember it was fun to do—I enjoyed doing it. I had the idea that I wanted to do something about vampires. I think I remember that it started out on a smaller scale—a vampire gang—and then I just decided to make it a larger scale, or it just grew that way. But I don't really remember much about what goes on in the book.
I recall that it was enjoyable experience to do, because it came together pretty well.
Goatley: I still think it's still one of the best vampire novels.
McCammon: I remember coming up with the idea of the sandstorm. I needed something to bring everything—even though you're in the large space of the city, I needed something to make things small in terms of the distance you could see, or the distance you could move. Something had to hamper movement, and I remember coming up with the sandstorm thing and thinking that could work pretty well.
You mentioned the cover. I wanted the cover to be kind of a shadowy figure of a young boy, and he'd be in one of those shirts that was popular at the time, "I Love L.A." And you could tell maybe something was strange with his face, but it wasn't overtly a vampire. But it worked out pretty well.
Goatley: That's certainly not what they went with!
McCammon: No, but it worked out OK.
Goatley: I thought the Pocket version was really lame, with the Hollywood sign and the figure wearing the suit.
McCammon: Yeah. Actually, that's the one that I wanted it to be the figure of the boy. I thought the first cover was good, but that's the one that I wanted it to be the figure of the boy. I said, "You know, don't do the cliché, the Dracula cliché, do something a little more current."
Goatley: OK, let's go from the vampire to the werewolf and The Wolf's Hour.
McCammon: Very exciting book to do, and a very fun book for me to do, because it used a lot of what I know about World War II, which is one of my areas of interest. Fun book to do. The derring-do and... Really it's more of a spy novel than a werewolf novel, yet there is the stuff going on in Russia, with the wolves and the wolf pack. I'm proud of that book. I think it's a pretty good book.
Goatley: I liked how it was two different books: it was the whole history of the werewolf clan and how Mikhail grew up, and at the same time it's the spy/WWII/espionage novel. It was a very interesting juxtaposition of the two.
McCammon: There's a scene I remember, I think it was the old man that Mikhail was staying to care of. Remember that? And then he jumped off a cliff to make him leave. And then the whole sequence with the train, that this was a rite of passage, that you beat the train. But Mikhail figured out that the ones who couldn't beat the train were doing it the opposite way of what Mikhail did. Where they were starting as wolves and ending as humans, or the other way around. Anyway, Mikhail did it the opposite way to beat the train. I think that was a pretty good sequence there, the idea of beating the train, that if you could beat the train, you were ready to go out.
Goatley: You were a big fan of the James Bond novels, right?
McCammon: Oh yeah. I wanted to use some of that feel in there. The man to whom danger is pleasure—it heightens everything, and of course, his senses are already heightened.
Goatley: I think that's the one that surprises everyone. You hear the description, a werewolf in WWII, and it sounds kind of silly. But it's really a serious subject matter, and yet it's very exciting, and very James Bond-ish.
McCammon: It is very James Bond-ish in the fact that James Bond will have—at least in the movies and to some degree in the books—will have some dealing with the henchman. You know, the henchman is always this hulking.... He'll continually have brushes with the henchman, then he'll have a big fight with the henchman at the end. This is the guy with the boot. The very first time he sees the guy is when he crashes down through the roof of the farmhouse—I think the guy with the boot comes in and crushes one of the farmers, and he has other brushes with the guy, until the end in the B-17, where he has the fight with the guy in the boot. That was kind of my "Oddjob" character.
Goatley: OK, so airplane leads me to think of Baal, your first novel.
McCammon: Well, it was a time when I was working in a department store, I worked at a deprotment store, brookstore—excuse me. I get tongue-tied thinking about it. It was a dead-end job and I started to see and to read other writers and say, "Maybe I can do this too." As I've told you before, I did short stories, and I even did a spy novel and other things, unpublished, just for fun. And I thought, this is a dead-end job, and I have to try this and see what happens. As I was writing Baal, I thought, "A book about the Anti-Christ, this is something new." I'd seen The Exorcist, but this was about the Anti-Christ. Then I read about The Omen. As I was finishing up Baal, The Omen was coming out, so I was kind of deflated by that.
The book went a lot longer than I thought it was going to be, but it flowed pretty well. I look back on it and think it is was a good beginning, but it really was a beginner's book, someplace to start. But I figured, "I think I can do this, so I'll just give it a shot."
Goatley: I enjoyed it. It's been a while since I read it, but I remember when I read it the first time that the whole idea that Michael is the Michael was very powerful.
McCammon: I think there were some pretty good things going on in there, but as I've told you before, I was really learning to write in public. That was the first book that I ever really finished. I had done a spy novel, but I never really finished it; it was just for me. It was just for fun, and I did it on yellow paper when I was in college, when I was working at the college newspaper. When I'd finish at night, I'd go up and work on a book. I almost finished it, but not quite. So Baal was the first finished book I ever really did. And I turned it in, and it was like, "Yeah, we're going to publish this," and.... It was really like learning to write in public, because I didn't have any trunk things. Which is good and bad, because it was very exciting starting off, and I got a good start, but yet I did have to learn in public, and I would make many mistakes learning in public. Some things I'm proud of, some things I wish I hadn't done.
Goatley: When I read Mystery Walk, I knew that They Thirst wasn't a fluke. I didn't know about your other books at the time, so Mystery Walk was the next one I read. I loved it, everything about it was great, and in particular the fact that it was set in the South.... It sounded like you knew what you were talking about.
McCammon: It was based on some things that I had heard, and the thing with the coal pile—there was a house in my neighborhood, where my grandmother lived, the house next door had a coal pile.... You'd go down there and the image of something coming out of that coal pile would be....
The whole idea of somebody who saw another realm—and this was before The Sixth Sense, now it sounds like kind of a copy of that—but somebody who could see ghosts, could see evidence of another world, and had to deal with that. How would you deal with that?
I wanted it to be realistic in the sense that, when Dr. Miracle finds him and asks him to speak to the spirit of his son, whom his wife has seen, and it doesn't happen. Sometimes it just doesn't happen. Or sometimes the person who wanted to see something, didn't really see something. But they wanted to very badly. I wanted to put that in there, too, that it doesn't always happen like clockwork—not all the ends are going to tie together—it just didn't happen. But how would you deal with the idea that you had some sense of the afterlife? And then into the mix is this creature that wants to control the feelings and emotions that come along with death, this creature that gets into the brother, who starts to lose his mind.
It became a much more complicated book than I had intended it to be. But I think it was a pretty successful book.
Goatley: It's still one of my favorites; I just re-read it recently. There were three standout scenes for me: the coalpile, the exorcism in the sawmill—
McCammon: Yeah, the screaming saw.
Goatley: Yeah, it gave me the heebie-jeebies—and the hotel in Chicago.
McCammon: One of the scenes I remember most of all is the tormented brother hitting golf balls. There's this force all around him and he's a prisoner—a tormented person hitting golf balls. That scene really sticks with me for some reason.
Goatley: That was also your first hardcover. That must have been exciting.
McCammon: Yeah, it was exciting. Scary too, because it was a different realm.
Goatley: Jumping topics big-time, let's talk about MINE.
McCammon: I don't really know where that idea came from—the idea of one of the survivors of the '60s' counter-culture needing something to go on—that everything had been stripped from this person, but she needed something to go on. Even she needed something positive, something to keep her going, and she figured if she could take this baby back to Lord Jack, they could start again—they could have what they had. She believed in what they were doing, and he didn't. I do remember that that came from something I read, where one of the counter-culture heroes said he was basically in it for the women, although he put it more crudely.
But she was in it because she believed in something. It certainly wasn't the best way to carry out what she wanted done, but she really believed in something. To me it's a sad story. It has some of the best writing I think I've done. It has some of the best lines I think I've done in that book. I'm very proud of that book. I think it turned out real well, because I could really relate to just about everyone in it. The woman who's had the child—her marriage is collapsing, so she needed something to hold on to, some evidence that there was some use to what she'd gone through. And this woman needed something to keep her going.... It is a very strong book.
Goatley: I can't believe this story hasn't been picked up by Hollywood, with all the actresses complaining about there not being any good roles.
McCammon: She may be too old now, but I always thought Candice Bergen would be great in that part. If you could get her, take off all the makeup, bulk her up a bit.... I know she's thought of as being a comedienne, but I always thought she could pull that off because she's pretty, she has that element of strength about her.
You know, just recently in the news, they got some of the Symbionese Liberation Army people, didn't they? That intrigues me, because they keep popping up. These are people who have hidden for years and years—hidden and constructed new lives and new selves. That's fascinating to me.
Goatley: Let's go back a few years to your other female novel, Bethany's Sin, if you remember anything about it.
McCammon: I do and that was, was.... Uh. You know. Uh. Uh. Oh. Ah.
Goatley: That and The Night Boat, which are still better than a lot of other stuff that's been written....
McCammon: The Night Boat's OK, it's fun. But I think I was recovering from the shock of.... I was doing Baal, and I had no idea it was going to be published. And suddenly you're really published. "What are you going to do now, Rick?" "What am I going to do now? OK...." And then it gets serious. Then you start having dreams about, "What if I can't come with an idea next time? Next year?" And you start having nightmare about not coming up with ideas. When you get an idea and start working on something, and you're three or four months into the project and it starts getting shaky on you, you're like, "Oh, gosh, someone is waiting for this book...."
The only thing I can say about that is, I did the best I could do at the time. Again, I was learning to write in public and learning how to put books together in public. Not very successful. Not one I look back on now and say that I would ever want to see again.
Night Boat was pretty good, at least the locale was good. And I think it having the submarine in it was fun. It was kind of interesting. I enjoyed doing that one actually, but Bethany's Sin was... I don't know what I had in mind with that, I don't know what it started out to be. I don't know happened with that. I did the best I could do and the time but.... There it is.
Goatley: I think The Night Boat was fun.
McCammon: I enjoyed the locale. When you're writing a book, you kind of put yourself, of course, into the locale, and I enjoyed putting myself in the Caribbean. You know, a nice, warm island—it was great! That was fun. But the other, I.... Ugh.
Goatley: Sorry! Usher's Passing.
McCammon: I probably bit off a little more than I could chew. I think it was as good as I could make it at the time. There were some parts that probably didn't work as I well as I'd hoped. I think the idea was good. I wish I had done that book later on, when I'd had a little bit more experience and could have put a little bit more thought into it. That could have been a pretty serious book, and one that said something about—something. I think there good things in it and bad things in it, and I kind of wish I'd done that one later on. It didn't necessarily do what I wanted it to do.
Goatley: It was a very interesting idea, that the Usher family is still around...
McCammon: It was OK.
Goatley: Greediguts was cool.
McCammon: Yeah, that was pretty cool. You know, in a lot of country communities, you hear rumors or stories about black panthers in the woods. There's one near Birmingham, out in Leeds. I was talking to someone who hadn't read the book, and they said, "Yeah, there's a black panther out in the woods up here. Someone has seen it come down and raid the garbage cans." Who knows. Strange.
Goatley: Greediguts was a cool name, too.
McCammon: Yeah, it's a cool name. There was some pretty good things in it, it just didn't gel the way I wanted it to.
Goatley: All the historical stuff that was cut out before it was published....
McCammon: It just went on and on—it was too much. I understand that. If I'd done it later on in my career, it probably would have been a better book.
Goatley: I've always been intrigued by a couple of hundred pages of Usher family history.
McCammon: It started out as an historical novel following the Usher family. It started out that way, but it felt like it was getting bogged down. There was going to be, like, an Usher present at every disaster in history, this was the family that precipitated disasters wherever they went. Now it's kind of silly, too.
Goatley: Let's jump up to your last one, Gone South.
McCammon: Well, I'm very pleased with that book. I think that is a very good book, and the characters are good. It's a religious book, in a way, because the book is about a man trying to get back to the Garden of Eden. And I didn't realize it until I finished, it begins in this hot, smoky, steamy place where the men are waiting for work, and it progresses to almost a Garden of Eden, the clinic there down in the swamp, but it's a beautiful place, green and lush. To get to that place, Dan Lambert has to get past the drug guy down there who wears snakeskin boots. And I realized, he's getting past the snake going in the opposite direction. And the snake's got the girl down there, and the girl says, "Look at how white he is," because they're all tanned and buffed. "Look how white he is." In other words, look how innocent he is. Even though what he's done—life has kind of thrust this thing upon him. "Look how pale he is," meaning pale, but white in another sense too. Because he's come to save these guys, the most noble thing he could possibly do. And he's on his way past the snake, in the opposite direction.
He's going from Hell in the opposite direction.
Goatley: It was a very satisfying novel. You wonder what's going to happen....
McCammon: At the end, he got back. He is at peace with himself. I think that's one of my best. But it's a much quieter, kind of strange, book, with the characters, the bounty hunters.... Not every book can be a Boy's Life, but then again, Gone South is equally as good as Boy's Life, but in a different way. It's much more of an adult story, but I think it's equally as satisfying.
Goatley: Let's talk about Boy's Life.
McCammon: It started out as a murder mystery in a small town, involving a town that was sunken under a lake. It was going to be about a sheriff investigating a murder in a small town, and there were clues in this town that had been submerged under a lake. And I started working on that one, and about three chapters in, I just had a flash of light. That's all I can describe it—a flash of light. That there was a different book in there.
And with Boy's Life, I could do no wrong. I could not make a mistake. Everything I wrote—I never rewrote anything, I never had to think about which direction to go, it went smoothly, I was in total control of what I was doing, and it was amazing. It was an amazing experience. It was the experience for a writer, to have everything come together like you planned for it to. And things you set up on page 50, suddenly you found on page 250 that things came together. You didn't know how you planned it that way, but there it was. Amazing. The thing about "down in the dark"—the father kept hearing "down in the dark, down in the dark"—I know that means something. And I know it means something more than down in the dark. What does it mean? Think about it. It's a name.
Goatley: So you had the phrase before you had the name.
Goatley: That's neat.
McCammon: It's scary, when that happens, when everything comes together like that. It's a name, and I didn't realize it was a name. I knew it needed to be something more than just "down in the dark". He could hear this, but he was misunderstanding what it was.
Goatley: I could go on all day about Boy's Life and what an incredible novel it is, the characters, the whole town, the bits with the Lady, how the Lady got younger as she was talking to Cory, or how he perceived her as getting younger....
McCammon: Well, the Lady started off as a character in her own book. It was going to be about a girl whose mother was involved in voodoo, and she was going to be the apprentice. I wrote about 200-and-something pages into that, and it was an old woman telling her story, but I realized I was doing a disservice to people who had been influenced by voodoo, and made to fear....
Did I want to do it as a magical story, and say that there really was magic and voodoo, or did I want to do it as a realistic story and say that there were these charlatans in New Orleans who manipulated the black culture and frightened people into believing what they told them to believe.
I couldn't bring those two together. I did not want to give magical powers to voodoo, knowing—my own personal belief—that it was just to subjugate people there. So that ended that project. When I signed away the movie deal [for Boy's Life], one of the stipulations was that I could never again do anything with any of those characters. So if I ever had any intention of working with the Lady again, no. I didn't anyway, but she did start as her own story.
Goatley: As we've discussed, Boy's Life is on the reading lists of many schools around the country. I've gotten mail from several teachers who've said that students who wouldn't read anything have read Boy's Life and loved it.
McCammon: It's so great. It's a wonderful thing to hear that, and to get letters from people of all ages. It really was a wonderful experience to write that. Everything came together so easily; I couldn't make a mistake. Sometimes you're working on a book and then you get to a point where you've written yourself into a corner, and you've got to figure out what to do, and you've got to go back and re-engineer it a bit. I never had to do that with Boy's Life. It's amazing.
Goatley: I remember that you wrote it pretty quickly.
McCammon: I wrote it very quickly. In fact, at the end, I put the dates to show how quickly, because I was amazed that it had only taken from April to September. Over the course of a summer. That's probably the fastest I've ever written a book. It just was right there. Everything was there.
Goatley: You had told me for an issue of Lights Out! that you were starting a novel called The Headhunter—
McCammon: Right, that was the title of the murder mystery.
Goatley: —and the next time we talked, Boy's Life was done. And I was surprised that you had done it—that you had changed novels and it was finished already.
McCammon: Right. Yes, it was amazing. It was a wonderful thing to feel that it was moving under its own power, almost. This sounds so clichéd, but it really is true. It's a wonderful thing about being a writer: you're in the car, and you're guiding it, but there's something else going on. You started the engine, and you put the car together, but it's going somewhere, and you're just kind of there, guiding it. You feel it's going in the right direction. It's very enjoyable. Everything was there. All the elements were available.
Goatley: Great characters too, the Demon, Mrs. Blue Grass and Green Grass... Let's step back to Blue World, specifically the novella, "Blue World," which is one my favorites. Most people seem to either not pay attention to it or not realize that it's not just a short story. I've told you this before, but I found it very satisfying. The priest was human.
McCammon: Yeah. That was one of the first stories I wrote, I think, that actually used humor pretty well. There's a combination of sadness and some bad things going on—that villain, the crazy guy, when he gets Hoss in the warehouse, I think that's a horrific scene, it's more restrained, because you know he's going to kill him, Hoss knows he's going to kill him. It's a horrible scene, but there's an element of humor in the whole thing, with the priest getting involved with the girl, and the video tape. And everything winds up pretty well, everything comes together at the end. Even the girl decides that she has to move on too. I think there's some pretty good writing in there. That was another one that went fast—I think I wrote that over the course of about 10 days.
Goatley: I agree that the writing is excellent.
McCammon: I think there's some really good stuff in that Blue World collection. There's a good range of work.
Goatley: My all-time favorite is "Night Calls the Green Falcon." I marvel at the way you put it together, with the serial killer, and the serial chapters, and the serial star, and—
McCammon: Yeah, right, the serial everything. I was a big fan of the chapter serials, so when I was asked to be involved with Silver Scream and to do something cinematic, that's the first thing I thought of: how to do a chapter serial, and of course make it someone who was kind of down on their luck, and their time had past, yet they had one more chance to do something vital and important.
Goatley: I really liked it, and it still works for me every time I read it.
Goatley: Of course, "Nightcrawlers" is another great story in Blue World. And a successful adaptation—not your adaptation, but an adaptation of your work—was done for The Twilight Zone.
McCammon: Yes, very intense. And probably, as I understood later, too intense for television. It didn't help Twilight Zone, because it was so intense, it actually gave people jitters, you know.
Goatley: It was a lot better than the adaptation of "Makeup"!
McCammon: A lot better than "Makeup"! Though "Makeup" is a very good story itself, it's a fun story, but the adaptation is horrible. You don't need to have things float in the air to be scary or to be suspenseful. Things don't have to float in the air, they really don't. Makeup boxes don't have to float in the air to let the viewer know there's something strange about the makeup box.
Goatley: The book also includes "Pin," which gives most people the creeps.
McCammon: Yeah, "Pin." I wanted to do something entirely different, and I thought, "What's the most gruesome thing?" The most spine-crawling thing I could think of is the pin in the eye. But yet, it would take intense self-control to do that. A person with intense self-control who is out of control, and expects to see something that's never been seen before, when this happens. It's a creep-out story, but there's something else going on in it too.
Goatley: I always liked "Something Passed By."
McCammon: I don't know where that came from. A question that has often been asked is where do you get your ideas? I don't know. Just the whole idea of something wrong with the universe, that the natural laws have changed.... What would people do if the natural laws changed, if you couldn't trust anything physical. Everything changes. Couldn't trust time, couldn't trust space.
Goatley: It's a very interesting story, the idea....
McCammon: The idea that the husband and wife are moving in different directions in time. It's a frightening thing too, I think. It's a strange story. I think it's a successful story, though; it certainly did what I wanted it to, which is to just be strange. But hopefully thought-provoking too: the whole idea that everything you take for granted can no longer be taken for granted. The whole idea of space and time and even water....
Goatley: There are several really creepy moments in that one. The Doomscreamer getting swallowed by the blacktop....
McCammon: Yeah, opens up and just slides right in.... There's no solidity. Everything has changed.
Goatley: Let's see, what other stories are there? There's "Chico"....
McCammon: Yeah, that one. The boy who basically no one understood, who he was, or who he might be.... It's kind of the idea of what would happen if Jesus Christ was born again, but born deformed in some way. Because that's what it's supposed to be. There was a review of the story that said the boy was getting revenge on his stepfather in a creepy way, but that's not it at all. He wasn't getting revenge, he was giving life back to something. This was his nature. His nature was to celebrate and return life to things, no matter what it was. We say roaches are nasty and we hate them; that's us.
The man had no idea who the boy was. The mother had her dreams, and her visions, but she didn't know. She had hope and her faith and belief that there was something more than the life they had.
Goatley: That's something I've always wondered: all the people who claim to be Jesus now. What if He's actually here but is tucked away in a mental institution....
McCammon: Even with a physical problem, there is a force of life that comes out. Actually, that's in The Green Mile, too, though this was written before The Green Mile. That you have someone who is retarded, in a sense, yet this force of life is there and has to come out.
Goatley: I think the only novel we didn't cover was Stinger.
McCammon: Right. We can talk about the new one, if you like. The new two.
Stinger was probably the hardest book to write, of any of them. And it seemed the easiest. And it was simply written to be a B-movie—a B drive-in movie book, that you'd say, "You know, I'm going to go to the drive-in tonight. And what are we going to see? We're going to see something about a creature from another world that crashed, and there's another creature after it, and there's an intergalactic war going on that we don't know anything about, and suddenly it's here, in the desert, which is the classical kind of place for all these alien films." I thought, "Well, I'm going to do my bit, my B-movie thing."
But that was hard. I think there are some really good scenes in Stinger, but it was hard. It was hard because it's all in 24 hours, and getting everything done in 24 hours was really hard to do. And I crashed when I got into the inside of the spaceship. I don't remember how I handled it, but my first couple of tries at that.... How do you describe the inside of something like this? It's one of those things like, Where am I going to go with this? What could it possibly look like inside here? That really threw me off. I don't remember exactly what I came up with, but getting inside that spaceship, and making it all fit in 24 hours—to keep everybody moving and be where they need to be—that's probably the hardest thing that there was, the hardest book. I approached it as being the easiest book, and it bit me, because it was really tough to do.
Goatley: It's a much better book than the description sounds.
McCammon: It was fun to do. I think it worked out pretty well, even though it's a very simple premise.
Goatley: It was very effectively scary, Stinger, the creature itself, and the tunnels....
McCammon: And also the scene where the girl comes up through the floor in the bar and tears up the bar and everybody in the bar.
Actually, there was a part of that that I started that didn't work out. The creatures were first going to be like chameleons that blended in, they could blend into everything. That kind of goes back to a story I wrote that I enjoyed, "The Deep End," about the creature in the swimming pool. I think that's probably one of my best stories.
Goatley: I do too. I was sorry that it wasn't in Blue World, because most people don't know about "The Deep End."
McCammon: Yeah, that's right. Another good story I think I did was about the vampires in Florida, in Panama City. "Miracle Mile." The whole idea of killing the child to remove him from this, I think it bothered a lot of people. But I think it's a good story.
Goatley: I think it was about the only good story in Under the Fang!
McCammon: We also didn't talk about Swan Song.
Goatley: Oh, right! I don't know how I forgot that one.
McCammon: Swan Song started with a premise that there is a girl who has an affinity for nature, who knew that there was going to be a disaster, and knew because she could read signs in nature—things spoke to her, she was so attuned to the earth. She saw lightning bugs on the screen, and that tells her something. The idea that this person is so attuned—that something that's going to happen to the Earth that's so bad, that she's got to know, and she'll be in a position to do something about that. I think there are really good characters in Swan Song. Another hard book to write. Some of it flowed pretty easily, but it was a hard book to put together, again because you had so many characters. I remember having to move people to make sure they were where they needed to be at the right time.... I think there's some good writing in Swan Song. I think it was a successful book.
Goatley: Swan Song sat on your floor for a year, right?
McCammon: Yeah, my agent was playing money games with the publisher, and we were broke, with Swan Song sitting on the floor for a year until it was published.
Goatley: That must have felt like sweet revenge when it was published?
McCammon: Yeah, when it was published, but then we had problems with the cover. I knew that you were probably going to have some people who were going to say, "This is like The Stand," because it's about an apocalyptic event, and it has the woman, and the two camps are facing each other. I do think there are some similarities, but there are enough dissimilarities to make them two separate books. I really think they're two separate books.
But the cover. I said, let's try to make it look as different from The Stand as possible, keep it away from it. Well, no, that's not their idea, their idea is to make it look as much like The Stand as possible. Pull back the cover, if you will, and have two figures standing in front of a mushroom cloud. And in the mushroom cloud, have just the very suggestion of a face in that cloud, and have it coming out at you.
I have fought that on every book, just about. On every book, some fight, over a cover, over a presentation, over a blurb, over the front copy on the cover.... Every book there's been some fight. That's why I've always enjoyed working on books, and I've always dreaded when they leave to go to the publisher, because there's always some fight.
We can talk about the new books, if you like. Both of them.
Goatley: Yes, let's talk about the first one.
McCammon: Speaks the Nightbird. I wanted to do something away from horror, because I felt like I'd done everything in horror that I needed to do. And also, the mere fact that Stephen King— Stephen King is a great author, and he works so fast and covers so many subjects, by the time you get around to a subject, he's already covered it. I had an idea for a book that involved an alternate world accessed by a new drug that was running through the school, and this boy goes into this world, and his father, who is a cop, goes into this world to rescue his son. And I can't do that—I've never read the book, but isn't the Straub/King The Talisman about another world that people go to? Out. Can't do that. Forget it.
As I began to go through the list of books I'd like to do in horror, it was like, "No, can't do that one." "Can't do that one." "No." Now the only alternative was for me—since I still wanted to be a writer—was to find another way. I have to find another way.
I've always been interested in history, and I had had these ideas that I thought were good ideas, valid ideas, and entertaining ideas, and that's why I went in that direction. But as far as horror, I'd said everything I wanted to say, and I had come to the conclusion that everything I did, because I didn't work that fast, I was going to be running into trouble because it would be a subject that had already been covered in some form or fashion. And if it hadn't been covered exactly the way I was going to cover it, there were some people who would construe enough similarities to cause me grief. And it wasn't worth that.
So then I ran into trouble with historical work, because it's not horror.
But anyway, Speaks the Nightbird. I think Speaks the Nightbird is a very strong book, a very powerful book. It is a demanding book. It demands your time, and it demands your attention. There's a lot going on. And how I put all that together, I don't know. Because re-reading it—there's a tremendous amount of stuff in there, and the way things work together—and everything does come together—I don't know how I did that. But I'm very proud of it. It's a strong book.
The Village. A period of time that very few people know about, the Russian theatre troupes who went out to entertain the troops during World War II. Very few people know about them. Publishers think that Americans don't care anything about them. Very principled, strong-willed, courageous people that had a great hand in winning World War II. American publishers—there's not an American in the book? Forget it. But it's a strong story, and a strong book. And I think it has some of the best writing that I've done. It doesn't take the easy way out, it doesn't make all the Germans be the villains, it doesn't make all the Russians be heroes.... They're real people. And I think it's a very good book.
Goatley: But not likely to be—
McCammon: Not likely to be published, no.
Goatley: It's such a good book, I hate to see it go unpublished.
McCammon: I think it is a good book. It's got some really good writing, I think. But American publishers feel Americans are so American-centric that Americans don't want to think that anybody helped win the war.... Basically, the Russians took the brunt of the Germans.
Goatley: That is something that we don't cover in our history books.
McCammon: Not at all. Because Russians have been the enemy for so long, it's hard to break out of that mentality that they're no longer the enemy. And that they're deserving of great respect. Fantastic people, to go through what those people went through, with Stalin and that whole system of government....
Goatley: And hard living conditions too, the physical locations....
McCammon: The first way that you make someone an enemy is to dehumanize them, to remove the humanity. But it's very hard for us now to accept the Russians as humans. Very courageous people. Good book, but, you know....
It's a shame. I think that's a good book, because it does show the Russians as people.
Goatley: Right, with the same hopes, and fears, and dreams....
McCammon: But, if I was a young Russian man, and I came to this country and had this book idea, it would probably be better than me. Because they say, "You don't know anything about that. You need a young Russian man to do this book, not you. You've done yours already. You're a horror writer. You don't need to be doing this."
Goatley: That's sad. Not just for this, but in general, that that's the way they think. Writers are supposed to create and use their imaginations, and be able to visual stuff, and the publishers won't let you do it.
At this point, the conversation kind of faded away into other topics, so there's no strong conclusion to the interview. Sorry about that; I'm a computer programmer, not a real journalist!