Today, I am interviewing friend and fellow author, Steve Van Samson. Steve is, among many other things, a podcaster who combines horror and nostalgia to great effect in his fun and funny show, Retro Ridoctopus. He writes gritty and memorable horror and his latest book, published through Weird House Press, is the horror western Year of the Rattlesnake. As anyone who knows me for longer than three minutes will tell you, I heart westerns muchly and, having read Steve’s Predator World vampire series (highly recommended, but do not read while you’re eating!), I can not WAIT for this one to hit the shelves!
1. You write horror, but usually with a twist that I haven’t seen before. For instance, Predator World is set in a futuristic Africa and features a vampire hellscape. Where do you get your ideas from?
Most of my book ideas are born of me trying to figure out a new angle to something. In the case of the first Predator World book “The Bone Eater King”, my initial thought was there was nothing more to say about vampires. But, I started thinking about it. Was there really no way to make this tired monster feel fresh or, more importantly, memorable?
I reasoned that the first thing to go was the typical settings and character tropes. No castles or cities. No sex-starved alabaster-skinned goth models. I wanted monsters, and I wanted them to face off against characters that were very different from the sort we usually get in these kinds of stories.
The darkened plains of Africa quickly emerged in my mind as the natural choice. One that accommodated everything I was looking for, but also came equipped with a wealth of dangerous natural predators (like lions, leopards and hyenas) that could add to the menace our characters were going to face.
2. I love westerns and cannot wait to get your next book. Can you tell us a little bit about Year of the Rattlesnake?
Sure! The idea was initially born from reading “The Dying Earth” by Jack Vance. For those who don’t know, that book is a collection of short stories that all occur in the same general area, around the same general time. What makes the book so special to me is the way that characters will appear in more than one story. Sometimes what feels like a small chance encounter with someone on the road, will actually serve as an introduction to the protagonist of a different story. You just never know who’s going to show up where.
At some point, it occurred that a western full of notorious wanted men, might be the perfect vehicle for trying out that linked-short story format I loved in “The Dying Earth”. I needed stories that would really stand out on their own, but with the knowledge that certain characters were going to show up again. I don’t expect every reader to catch all of the connections on their first read, but my sincere hope is that the stories are good enough to keep them coming back. Maybe discovering new things every time.
3. Horror can be tough to write – there are a lot of opinions about what does and does not make a good horror story and the challenge is always, apart from telling a great story with awesome characters, to scare or unsettle your audience. What drew you to this genre?
I was drawn to horror because it’s been in my blood since before I was allowed to consume it. I was that kid who was always always sneaking off to the horror section of the video store, ogling all the tapes I knew my parents would never rent in a million years.
4. Whenever I write a book, I create a playlist of music or I borrow a soundtrack from a movie that fits the feel of the book I’m writing (1980s The Changeling provided the background for Tale Half Told.) Do you have any writing rituals or rules?
For me, I have to have silence to write. My best writing rhythm is when I start first thing in the morning. I’ll get up an hour early and go make a cup of tea. Then I’ll sit down and force myself (whether I want to or not) to start typing. Even if I only type 100 words, this AM session forces my brain to start thinking about the story. Then it’s with me on my morning commute and by lunch, I’m ready to get back in and get back to the story. If possible, I’ll finish up with another two or so hours before bed to finish the day out. My daily word counts are never much compared to most professional writers, but on a day like that I can never feel like I didn’t give it my all.
5. The Year of the Rattlesnake is about to come upon us. What is next for you? Is there another book in the works?
I’m currently working on a novella for Weird House Press. After that, my plan is to get back into my original series and write the third Predator World book.
BONUS QUESTIONS! Okay, now the big question: Star Trek or Star Wars and why? Who are your favorite authors and what are you reading right now?
I honestly am a fan of both Trek and Wars, but Star Wars will always be my favorite. Favorite modern writers are Joe R. Lansdale, Neil Gaiman, Joe Hill, and of course, Stephen King. For classics, I love me some Robert E. Howard and Phillip K. Dick. And for authors you may not have heard of, Jonathan Janz, Ed Kurtz and Rob Smales are all incredible and should be household names. Currently I’m reading “Fright Night Origins'' written by the writer/director of the movie, Tom Holland. It’s like a director’s Cut of Fright Night and I’m loving every apple-chomping second of it.