Author Sidney Williams is here to talk about his release, Blood Hunter.
Tell us about your book.
I like to think of Blood Hunter, which is now available in a new e-book edition from Crossroad Press, as a horror thriller. It employs the elements of the conspiracy thriller in the story’s beginning, following the main characters as their investigation leads from suspected law enforcement corruption into the supernatural and monsters rooted in both Louisiana lore and European monster myth. It’s not a werewolf story, but it employs elements of the original werewolf legend, which involved rituals, not just men turned into wolves from a bite.
The male lead, Jag Walker, is a troubled young reporter, and we watch him grow up as the situation he’s embroiled in forces him into maturity. He’s paired with Debra Blane, a young woman who’s driven to find what happened to her missing brother. I tried to give them both an interesting journey as well as crafting an exciting adventure story that culminates with a fight for survival in Louisiana swamp country, though it’s winter Louisiana, something that’s not often depicted.
At the same time, the story looks at the balance between justice and mercy and asks what’s really in the human heart and what’s possible in redemption. I wrote it at a time when I was hearing cries for justice that weren’t tempered with humanity or mercy, and I think a story is richer when it contains a deeper exploration, so I sought to weave that in. It’s still what I like to call a B-movie in print. Rough and tumble, hopefully with surprises and curves. It’s my Louisiana Splatterpunk excursion, I think.
The book was originally published as a mass market paperback from Pinnacle Books, and it’s the first of several novels of mine that are being re-issued. Three for young adults that I wrote as Michael August will also be re-issued. David Niall Wilson of Crossroad Press approached me about it, and it seemed like an interesting idea. He’s bringing out some exciting books including Ash Wednesday by Chet Williamson, The Holy Terror by Wayne Allen Sallee.
I’ve been re-editing, tightening prose and cutting extraneous words to make the story move faster whenever possible. The next book will probably be Gnelfs, a paranormal fantasy that’s quite different from Blood Hunter. It has sorcerers in modern suburbia, battles with demons and other terrors, some dark humor and an occult detective figure named Danube. It’s a story where you really can’t tell who will live and who will die.
Tell us about your favorite scene in the story, without giving too much away, of course.
It’s hard to pick a favorite for Blood Hunter, but I’m pleased with the introduction of the protagonist. He’s not perfect. He’s young and romantic, and his girlfriend’s seeing someone else, so we meet him in the midst of emotional turmoil and very bad behavior. That sets him up to be dragged into the midst of the story’s real action, but it also lets him make an entrance. I liked Dean Koontz quite a bit as a young reader, so I was influenced a bit by his intros of main characters. They’re always driving off highways or crawling through windows to confront crazed felons in their opening moments.
I can’t say too much, but there’s also a scene near the end that emerged from the characters, from one of the supporting characters and it kind of sums up the theme—the humanity inside everyone, the possibility for redemption, growth.
What draws you to writing horror?
One of the first stories I ever wrote was a poor imitation of “The Swimmer” by John Cheever, though I may have been influenced first by the film version with Burt Lancaster. Not long after that I became intrigued by mystery stories in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and thought about writing private eye novels. In college, I wrote three of those, trunk novels, and I decided I didn’t have anything new to offer that genre. I’d read Stephen King and H.P. Lovecraft plus a lot of pulp-era ghost stories by everyone from August Derleth to Ray Bradbury. I had bought story collections called Horror Times Ten and Gooseflesh. “The October Game” and “The Lonesome Place” are in those and are two of my favorites—and to me—some of the best horror stories ever. Deadly Delivery, my first Michael August novel, was influenced by “The Lonesome Place.”
After I wrote a transitional trunk novel, I had the epiphany that I should incorporate horror into what I was doing. I worked on short stories and screenplays and eventually wrote the first novel I sold, called Azarius. Several of my Pinnacle novels have mystery elements, but having characters confront not just puzzles but the challenge of the supernatural and the unreal let me open stories up. To me, the horror elements represent all of those intrusions into life that upset the norm, and using those elements in stories helped me move into different territory.
Tell us a little bit about your writing process. For instance, are you a pantser or a plotter? If you’re a plotter, what method do you like to use?
I’ve actually worked both ways. By nature, I think I’m a pantser, and I think there’s merit to that. It works really well if an idea takes off, and if you’re hammering out a story from pure creative energy. It’s nice when that happens. I’ve worked from outlines as well. Originally that was for contractual reasons. The later books I sold to Pinnacle were sold by outline.
I find outlines helpful, but a story is an exploration, so there is always discovery and elements that emerge in the telling. There’s a little bit of pseudo-magic in storytelling. Sometimes I don’t know where things come from. Elements develop from the characters and the situations. It’s always pleasant when that happens. It’s been fun, editing old books again. I’ll run across a scene and wind up Tweeting “Where’d I ever come up with that?”
I just earned an MFA, and the thesis for that effort was a novel. I outlined that heavily at the outset with the idea that it would chart the course for work with an advisor and make the process easier, but that story wound up taking a different course, so outlines are really like suggested routes, I think. Sometimes you look at Google Maps and say “I think I’m going to go my own way instead.” That’s how it works sometimes.”
What are some of the writers and books that have inspired you?
In addition to King and Koontz, I loved Raymond Chandler and Ross MacDonald when I was a younger. They were all big influences on my writing during the period of my Pinnacle novels. I think there’s a real MacDonald vibe running through Koontz’s Whispers, and I think Azarius shows some influence from that. Now I like many different authors. I like Haruki Murakami, Audrey Niffenegger, Borges, Marquez, Arturo Perez-Reverte and many others.
Your bio says you worked as a newspaper reporter for eleven years. How has your time as a journalist impacted your creative writing?
I left reporting a number of years ago, but while I was on the news desk, it was a great opportunity to see the world and see people from all walks of life and how people respond to strife and challenge. Like most writers, I’m an introvert. Being a reporter sent me places I never would have gone. I’d enter the newsroom in the morning never knowing where I’d wind up. An hour after walking in, I might be finagling a ride on an air boat across flooded areas, or I’d find myself winding through dark countryside in the middle of the night looking for a plane crash. I met people such as Alex Haley, Shirley Chisholm and Robert Ballard as a reporter. I covered Pope John Paul II’s visit to New Orleans, and I was in the same room with Mother Teresa for a press conference. I had lunch with Douglas Fairbanks Jr. when he was touring to promote the launch of the AMC network. I traveled across the South covering strife in the Southern Baptist convention. A lot of the work was rough at the time, but I look back on it fondly. It got me out of the house.
It also gave me insight and understanding. My main characters are often newspaper reporters. Reporters are questioners, investigators and observers, and they function in very demanding and sometimes dangerous jobs. They offer great avenues into a narrative, and they provide great souls to explore as characters. Reporters get a bad rap. The ethical code is much higher than people realize. The industry’s in a bit of a mess these days, but many of the reporters in the trenches are idealistic, ethical and unwavering and that to me makes them good focal characters.
Thank you Sidney!
To learn more about Sidney Williams visit his website, blog, follow him on Twitter, and check out his novels Blood Hunter and Gnelfs.