Back in October, I reviewed Robert Ford’s highly entertaining crime-thriller-meets-supernatural-fiction novella Samson and Denial, available from Thunderstorm Books. Check out that review here.
Mr. Ford agreed to do an interview with Chamber of the Bizarre. Yaaay! So here goes:
Is this your debut novel?
Samson and Denial is my debut novella and I can’t thank Paul Goblirsch at Thunderstorm Books enough for the opportunity to publish with him. As any writer does, I’ve got a couple trunk novels that thankfully haven’t seen the light of day. I co-wrote two novels years ago with a woman I met at a former job and they got great feedback from publishers at the time but I don’t think she had enough fire in her and we parted ways. Samson and Denial was the first thing beyond a short story that I’d tackled and completed all on my own.
Where did the idea come from?
Every writer has their quirks on the process and mine tends to be getting titles before anything else. I used to take long road trips about once a month to visit my parents (I live in Pennsylvania and at the time they had moved to West Virginia). It was a six hour road trip and while my family fell asleep, my mind was left to drift and muse in its playground. On one of these trips the title Samson and Denial came to me. As it tends to work for me, the title came and I had to figure out what in the hell the story was behind it. Almost directly on the heels of the title, as I was driving, the opening lines came to me: “My name is Samson Gallows. You don’t know me but we’ve met.”
Samson’s voice grew stronger and stronger to me the more my mind kept turning it over. I lived in Philadelphia for a couple of years when I went to college and the cast of characters the city has to offer is vast and colorful. The guys I went to college with were also my friends in high school and remain my best friends — my brothers — today. The people we came across in the city started to blend together and make this oddball conglomeration of a character. The more my old memories fed into it, the stronger Samson’s voice became until I started writing and then it was almost like dictation. I could hear Samson’s voice as I was writing his story down.
What drew you to the horror genre?
Part of me would like to credit my mother for it, and she played a huge part in it but honestly I think I was just wired that way. In elementary school I was the kid during the book fair that was buying books about Bigfoot and Werewolves and Ghosts. There was an author by the name of Daniel Cohen that I used to save allowance money up and buy everything I could get from him.
My mother was into horror movies and she would let me watch Tales from the Darkside and the Twilight Zone with her. I’d stay up late with my father some nights watching those shows as well. My mother bought me my first copy of Famous Monsters of Filmland and a couple weeks after, my first copy of Fangoria. That was it. I was done. I was completely enthralled with everything horror.
But more specifically, to the horror genre of writing? When I lived in Maryland (I grew up on a 55 acre farm until I was 11), I had an uncle live with us for a while. When he moved out, he left a few boxes of his things behind and being a curious kid, I checked out what he left behind. In one of the boxes was an original paperback of Stephen King’s Carrie, which I then read and hid from my parents at the time. I was completely and utterly blown away by what I read. It scared the hell out of me and excited me creatively in a way I hadn’t ever been before. I wanted to do THAT. I wanted to create something that would effect people like that when they read the words. I wanted to create stories… worlds out of nothing and put them on the page.
As I mentioned in my review, I was impressed by how lean the story was. Did you have to force yourself to keep it that way while you were writing it?
I appreciate the compliment, Tom. With Samson and Denial, I knew it was going to be a novella at the time I began and I’m sure somewhere in the back of my mind, that realization took part, but really it was Samson’s character that drove the tight lean qualities of the story. Samson is a no bullshit kind of guy who pretty much gets to the point of what he wants to do as quickly as he can. There was no real need to discipline myself to keep things lean as I wrote. I think it came through in the writing process because Samson is the narrator of the story itself. I love writing in first person — for me, I think it’s the most intimate form of storytelling and if it’s done well, there’s nothing that draws me into a story more than first person p.o.v. Ketchum does it like no other. John Skipp is another. King is simply amazing at it. Tom Monteleone is a master at doing it and reading it to live audiences. I’ve studied these writers and then let my own talents do their thing. For me it seems to work and fans that read my work tend to enjoy it and I can’t ask for more than that.
How long did it take you to write it?
Oh man … I took a lot of hell for this over the time it took me to write Samson and Denial. I started writing it while I was still married and then, as life does, it got complicated. I set Samson aside for a while as my day job took over and life took over and I went through a divorce and … oh, just the alphabet soup that life tends to throw at you from time to time. Eventually life settled down again and once the dust settled, I re-read what I had written and the fire not only got stoked again, it turned into a full blown inferno. After picking it up again, I finished the first complete draft in another two months while juggling my kids and the day job.
I see that your “day job” is running a design firm. Was it difficult to set aside time for writing?
For the past twenty years I’ve run an ad agency. Most days I really wish I’d done anything else … hot dog vendor, poodle groomer, honey pot cleaner… anything but advertising, but it was one of the things I was good at and it paid the bills. The thing with working in advertising is that it’s never really over at 5:00 when you walk out the door. You tend to work with clients that are scattered across the country so it’s nothing for me to get a call at 8:00 in the evening from someone in California time zone who wants to review some changes. It’s frustrating at times, but having the freedom of working for myself loosens the schedule up a bit.
The actual shape of the book is unusual – smaller than the dimensions of your typical paperback. What’s up with that?
That’s a brainchild of Paul at Thunderstorm. He intentionally created the Elemental Series to be a pocket size and set it apart. As a result, buyers have always commented on the size as unique.
How did you get into writing in the first place?
I was an only child who grew up on a really big farm away from things like malls and … well … everything. I was left to my own devices and forced to use my imagination a lot. I was also left alone with my parents bookshelf.
I started writing short stories when I was in elementary school. I think my mother still has my first short story titled “The Adventures of the Apple People”. It was about some strange little tribe of people that lived in apple cores or something. I was very, very lucky to have a string of amazing English teachers who encouraged me when they saw my style of writing. If it hadn’t been for those teachers, I doubt I would have pursued it at all.
Are you, as author, playing an active role in marketing the book? If so, how are you doing it?
Publishing has changed quite a bit over the last five years, let alone ten. It seems as if every writer has to play a very active role in marketing their work — some publishers even go so far as to request a marketing plan in their submissions from the writer today. I started a specific Facebook page for Samson and Denial, blogged about it, tweeted about it and let the power of numbers and fans spread the word. The one thing that is SO important for books to get reviews on Amazon. I can’t say enough about that — it helps so much to get books into the marketing algorithm for sales on Amazon. And like anything else, the more you have available, the better it is. I used to do marketing and public relations for various writers who have since became great friends. Now that job turns to myself and marketing my own work. I’ve got some good ideas to implement for my next release though. I’ve really put my day job hat on for what’s next.
Could you talk a little bit about the logistics of combining horror and thriller elements in a story?
To be honest, I never think about the logistics behind it. It sounds very artsy and oh-I’m-a-slave-to-the-muse and all that, but I tend to write the stories that intrigue me and let the chips fall where they may. Although I’ve always been drawn to the horror genre and darker stories, I’ve never classified myself as a horror writer. I’m a writer. Thriller and horror and dark fiction and all that — I think they’re just labels for marketing. If readers want to classify elements or books a certain way, then that’s fine. But I’ve seen readers shake their heads, saying “Oh, that Stephen King, I can’t read his stuff. It’s too gory.” At the same time, I’ve pushed a copy of J.F. Gonzalez’s book, Survivor on someone that otherwise would have never read it because she didn’t know she would enjoy it. Afterword, she wanted to beat me with a pita pocket because it’s a very brutal read but she couldn’t stop once she started. She enjoyed the book immensely, because, let’s face it, J.F. is a great writer, but she wouldn’t have even considered it because she had been pigeon-holed into reading thrillers.
Who would you consider to be some of your influences as a writer?
King absolutely. Ketchum. Bradbury. Rod Serling. Hitchcock. Karl Edward Wagner. Robert McCammon. E.B. White. An obscure children’s author by the name of Ruth Chew (if you have young kids, search this woman’s books out, they’re severely overlooked today). John Skipp and Craig Spector (see, here’s the thing. Brian Keene has said that if you were a kid growing up in the 80’s growing up in the area of York, PA and had any inclination at all to be a writer, you may have loved Stephen King, but you wanted to BE John Skipp or Craig Spector and he’s 100% correct). I also have to list every single one of my English teachers as serious influences.
Do you have anything else in the works right now?
Absolutely. I have a full length novel coming out next year titled The Compound. It’s a novel I never thought I would write. It’s a zombie apocalypse novel and quite seriously, the only thing I’ve ever written pertaining to zombies was a short story called Pleasing Marlena, that was less zombie and more character driven while the zombie apocalypse was happening outside.
I suppose The Compound started with a mix of things. My daughter turned thirteen this year and is becoming quite the amazing young woman. As her father, I have the same type of fears that every father of a young woman does. As a writer, this translates into metaphors and that’s probably the kernel of what launched the idea. Almost all of the things I write are very character driven. The situation they’re in is secondary and the interactions and emotions the characters go through are primary. The Compound is no different. There’s a lot of blood and violence to be certain — after all, it IS the end of the world — but at the same time, people are people and they’re going to go through emotional turmoil no matter what’s going on. I did a ton of research on Federal Penitentiary systems and prison population for this novel. I think in the long run it paid off, but I’m sure readers will let me know.
Next up will be a full-length novel sequel to Samson and Denial, called The Crimson Sisters. I’ve gotten my homework done and the opening is something I’m really excited about. It’s easily going to be the most violent thing I’ve ever written and I think fans of Samson and Denial are really going to enjoy it. One reviewer described Samson as the perfect anti-hero and I couldn’t agree more. He just wants to live a simple life and be happy — the same thing all of us want to do. He’s the John McClane of the horror genre and as much as he wants to avoid trouble, it keeps on finding him.