Robert McCammon Interview: Darkness - 2008

T'ma, March 2008

T'ma cover

"I'm glad to be back"
Exclusive interview with Robert McCammon
Conducted by M. Parfenov
March 2008

T'ma (Darkness) is the "Eastern Europe Horror and Dark Fiction E-Zine." The editor, M. Parfenov, solicited questions from Russian fans of Robert McCammon's work for an interview to be printed in T'ma. The Russian translation was published in T'ma issue #1(6)-2008, which can be downloaded from T'ma website. The Russian version of the interview can also be read on the Darkness website.

Below you'll find the original questions translated into English by M. Parfenov and McCammon's responses.

PDF-zine:T'ma (Darkness)
Publisher:Parfenov M. S. (LoT)
Editor:Parfenov M. S.
Publisher's address:Russian Federation, Sochi

Darkness: Why did you choose the genre your fiction is generally associated with (used to be, at least)? Was it due to some personal experience, certain reading habits, your natural inclinations, an inspiring success in the field or something else?

McCammon: My reading habits and interests. From an early age I enjoyed reading what might be termed "fantastic" fiction or "science fiction," and the first short stories I wrote were in that direction.

Darkness: Did it feel like a welcome rest when you froze your writer's work for years? Or were you, the other way round, longing to come back all this time?

McCammon: I really did enjoy the time off. I enjoyed not having any pressure to produce anything, either on my timetable or someone else's. But I also did miss the freedom of expression of writing. In any case, I'm glad to be back.

Darkness: This period of abstinence, as one may put it, might have inspired you to write about an author in a similar situation...

McCammon: How old is your daughter? How does she feel about her Dad being a bestselling author?

McCammon: Skye is fifteen. I'm just her Dad, and certainly not anything special. She's also beginning to like to write, though, and is doing some short stories of her own.

Darkness: Was the genre shift your fiction saw over the last fifteen years a deliberate plan, an attempt to acquire a new status, as a man of letters? Or was it just natural course of events? You moved from clear-cut horror to historical mystery novel with adventure elements, which is striking...

McCammon: Well, I did want to do something different. I liked horror, of course, and still do, but it just seemed like time to move on to something else that I liked doing.

Darkness: In one of your interviews you mentioned "cutting-edge horror." Could you please dwell on the term in greater detail?

McCammon: "Cutting-edge horror" was a term I heard used at many horror conventions and by certain horror authors. To me, it meant horror with a tremendous amount of gore and violence--which can be okay, don't get me wrong-- but the characters weren't very interesting or compelling. I think, at least for me, that the element of humanity was missing from "cutting-edge horror." Also, the term was used to define a group of people who someone determined were better writers than others. Therefore, if you didn't follow the group and do "cutting-edge horror," you weren't really a very good writer.

Darkness: Many of your books are prize winners. What do you think of this way of acknowledging your literary achievements, and of renown in general?

McCammon: I'm very pleased by the awards, but in a way awards are always "yesterday's news," because I'm interested in the next book I'm doing. I always tend to want to look forward rather than backward.

Darkness: The Queen of Bedlam is out at last. Why did you choose to go on with Matthew Corbett's story?

McCammon: The time period interests me and I wanted to do something with the concept of a "detective," or "problem-solver." Also, I think there are a lot of fun, creepy, and swashbuckling things you can do with the time frame. A lot of romance, mystery, and--yes--even horror. I also wanted to do something that was not going to be easy, and that was really going to challenge me.

Darkness: The terrors of the Colonial Age are generally associated with the North, thanks to Nathaniel Hawthorne, Salem trials and so on. Did you in part aim at shifting the accents to the South, revealing its hidden potentials as a background for horror and mystery fiction?

McCammon: Well, Speaks the Nightbird takes place in the Carolina colony and Queen of Bedlam in New York, so I'm probably going to shift around and do books set in both "North" and "South." Later in the series, it's probably going to move to London, Europe, and maybe... Russia?

Darkness: Do other periods of the American history draw your attention as a fiction writer as well? Civil War, Wild West, Life and Death on Mississippi and so forth...

McCammon: I like reading about those, but I wouldn't want to try writing any of them. Getting a good grip on one historical period is tough enough.

Darkness: When asked about his attitude to the reality of witchery, Matthew answers frankly: "I do not know." Is this your answer as well? Was there a temptation to avoid unmasking the supernatural as you mapped out or actually wrote the novel?

McCammon: He was telling exactly the truth when he said that, and I share his opinion. About witchcraft and the demonic...I do not know.

Darkness: Had you expected They Thirst to become such a huge success? Could you suppose it would join vampire classics some day?

McCammon: Absolutely not. It was just what I was interested in doing at the time.

Darkness: There is a longstanding tendency of comparing you with Stephen King. What do you think of it?

McCammon: Well, we both are who we are. I'm sure I became more interested in trying to write for a living because of King's work. He's the master.

Darkness: Yours and King's fiction sometimes shows a certain thematic proximity. Swan Song and The Stand, They Thirst and Salem's Lot, Boy's Life and It... Is it due to the narrowness of the genre or to shared interests, common attitudes?

McCammon: I've often thought that sometimes ideas float around in the "ether" and more than one person can pick them up. Also, I believe that both King and I--being of nearly the same age and certainly interested in the same things--as kids read the comics, saw the same tv shows and movies, read the same books and on and on. He knows Hammer horror films as well as I do, and he knows Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine. He knows Lon Chaney, and Peter Cushing, and... you get the idea.

Darkness: In Mine you touched upon the two risky, yet pressing, issues: child abuse and terrorism. Baal is about a satanic sect, Speaks the Nightbird concerns a witch process. Why do these and other social phenomena of negative nature attract you as a writer?

McCammon: Conflict. It's all about the conflict. And, of course, good versus evil.

Darkness: Usher's Passing got a warm welcome in Eastern Europe, where Poe's work is well-known and well-loved. Do you have any plans of writing a story which would involve H.P. Lovecraft, Horace Walpole (or some other horror classic) and/or their work?

McCammon: No. It's just going to be Matthew Corbett's story for awhile.

Darkness: You said in some interview that the purpose you and your friends had once meant for Horror Writers Association was not only Bram Stoker Awards presentations. What do you think about HWA as it is today?

McCammon: I've not really kept up with it. I hope it's doing well, and I hope that there HWA has a financial provision to help older writers who are needy. That was one of the things I hoped HWA would do, as well as being a community.

Darkness: Have you been keeping track of your Russian editions? If yes, are you satisfied with their quality and quantity?

McCammon: I think they look good, generally speaking. I do wish I could read them, though, to make sure there are no typos.

Darkness: What would be your advice for beginning writers? What are the major difficulties which any writer faces on beginning a work of fiction?

McCammon: Don't get distracted. Stay focused. Write for yourself, but hope to please your audience. Strive to become better with every book. Keep reading and keep an open mind.

Darkness: Speaking of your own writing experience, what are your feelings on beginning a book? What do you feel upon completion of one?

McCammon: On beginning: anxious and excited, in equal measures. On completion: happy and sad, in equal measures.

Darkness: We would be grateful if you could say some words for your East European fans.

McCammon: Okay. Thank you for your readership and I hope to take you to some very exciting places in the future. When I was a kid I never dreamed I could be a published author, much less be published all around the world and in places like Russia. So, again thank you for taking the time to read my work and I'll see you later on...

Interviewer: M. Parfjonov

Questions suggested by M. Parfjonov, V. Suldin, A. Vanguard, M. Maskal, V. Eroshkina, V. Zhenevsky and others.

Translated by V. Zhenevsky.

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