I am a very lucky woman. I read because I love it and adore the authors as if they were rock stars. Given the choice to meet, say, Bono from U2 or an Author who wrote a book I love, well the Author would win every time. No offense to Bono. Why am I lucky? I am lucky because sometimes I get to meet an Author through social media, Alan Ryker is one. He graciously offered to send me a copy of his Vampire Western, Burden Kansas and I jumped on it. I had read many vampire novels and watched a few John Wayne westerns but this was a first for me. I didn’t know what to expect. Alan blew my mind.
At a time when I was inundated with Paranormal Romance and Urban Fantasy novels lining up merrily on my Kindle to be read and reviewed, I welcomed the change. I have always loved gritty horror but felt no real compulsion to seek out new books in these genres. After all, the majority of book reviews I had been seeing and doing were the previously mentioned PNR and UF. I had somehow forgotten how much I loved a good scare or that creepy feeling you get when reading something frightening. Alan Ryker re-kindled that longing. I am forever grateful because there are so many new Authors out there writing chilling stuff, I hate to be missing it.
I just want to bring up luck again, if I may? Alan, as a kindness, allowed me to interview him via email. Luck! Here you go….
Why did you pick horror?
Oh Lord, I’m going to say it. I really am. Here it comes: to some degree, horror picked me. The first adult book I read was Stephen King’s It when I was either 10 or 11. I was the kind of kid who had nightmares after seeing the Gremlins trailer. Not the movie, the trailer. After reading It, I was hooked on horror. These books terrified me out of my mind, and I loved it. I ended up studying English Lit for my BA. Most of what I read during those years was on the curriculum. I loved almost all of it. I’ve always liked a wide range of fiction. But looking back at what hooked me the hardest––books like White Noise by Don DeLillo, American Pastoral by Philip Roth and The Magus by John Fowles–– I can identify horror at their core. I got into Chuck Palahniuk. I started writing fiction at around this time for a class my Junior year and my work was purposefully transgressive and pretty concept-based. Like Chuck Palahniuk, who went on to write Lullaby and Haunted, I realized I was writing horror. So I consciously wrote a horror story. And another. And another.
I get easily bored. I have to challenge myself with my writing. So my writing styles and genres are also spread across the board. But at the core, you can usually find some nugget of horror.
If you had to choose a favorite amongst your stories, which would it be and why?
That’s a tough question for a writer to answer.
It’s almost Burden Kansas, because I like the protagonist and the antagonist a lot and I like the pace, but I think it would have to be my play, When Cthulhu Met Atlach-Nacha. I like it because it presents itself as a light-hearted romp of a Lovecraftian horror-comedy, but as you start to really like the characters, it uses that against you and goes for your heart. It still makes me sad when I read it.
And it was super fun to write. I’d like to see it produced one day.
Did you make a conscious decision to make complex characters as important as plot in
your stories or did that develop over time? Is it what you wanted to see more of in Horror/Sci Fi?
First, thank you for the compliment on my characters! They’re very real to me, but I never know how other people will take them.
When I first started writing speculative fiction, sometimes the execution of the concept would become more important than the characters. I had stories in which the characters weren’t fully developed because I was putting the clever concept first. I realized before too long (just a few years!) that those were my worst stories. What I figured out is that it’s not the concept that matters, but the glimpse of humanity you get when you allow your characters to react to the concept. What’s so powerful about speculative fiction is that it lets us use thought experiments to see different truths about ourselves than we’d otherwise be able to.
I like character-oriented work. I think that a lot of horror is way more concerned with thrills than it needs to be. Personally, if I want an “oooh, that was neat” experience, I’d prefer to watch a movie or play a video game. In my opinion, fiction can deliver the most heart of any medium, so I think it should use that to its advantage.Then again, I also like for the characters I’m reading about to actually do something. So I’m not encouraging navel-gazing.
Do you scare yourself during the writing/developing process?
I do sometimes give myself a bit of a chill. It usually happens in my short fiction rather than my longer work. But I wish I could get scared the way I did when I was a kid. I think I chase that thrill.
What I do manage to consistently do is make myself sad. I write a lot about anxious people who can barely deal with the world and who lose the people who take care of them or otherwise allow them to function. And I find that concept very scary.
What inspires you?
When it comes to fiction, I’m inspired by writers who move easily between genre and mainstream/literary fiction, writing whatever they want and breaking all the rules. To the writers I mentioned above, I’d add J.G. Ballard and Kurt Vonnegut as a couple of writers I really admired and who still inspire me.
But the fiction world is kind of conservative compared to other mediums. When I want a dose of creative inspiration, I watch an episode of the show Art: 21 about visual artists of the 21st century. Catch it on Netflix Instant! Each episode shows four artists working in their studios, and each episode always makes me feel that I should be more adventurous in my own work.
The new season of Project Runway just started, and it has had this crazy effect of making me really want to write short stories again! I’m in the middle of writing two novels simultaneously, and watching the designers improvise and go wild makes me want to take an idea, run it to its extreme, and then move on. I think that once these two novels are done I’m going to write short fiction for awhile. But aside from artists, I’m inspired by ordinary people who believe that art is important. As a writer, of course I’m going to think and say that art is important. But people who don’t make any money off of art and who don’t have any aspirations involving art but who make time in their busy lives for it because it’s important, they rock. I don’t care what medium they prefer.
Like I said, I’m working on two novels right now. The sequel to Burden Kansasis tentatively called Blood Tells True. I’m about two-thirds done with it.
I’m in about the same place in a hardboiled urban fantasy set in Clevelandabout a young man who accidentally sells his soul to the Devil in exchange for the services of a demon. I plan for this to be a series, and this first installment is called Butcher & Demon: The Devil’s Assassin. Brandon “The Butcher” Carlislewill basically struggle to get his soul back as he explores an underworld of religious and mythical beings he never knew existed.
I’m working on a flash fiction collection tentatively entitled This Effed Life. Each story is under a thousand words and is about a very awkward moment. It should be fun.
I’d like to publish a second volume of Pulling Teeth, my collected short fiction, before the year is through. I’m in the process of selling stories to different magazines, so I need to wait for that and for the rights to revert to me. Who knows if I’ll be able to do that before 2012.
Basically, I’m just going to keep writing. Thanks so much for having me!
Alan Ryker writes good fight scenes because he practices Muay Thai boxing, though not as often as his coach would like. He lives with his wife in Overland Park, a suburb of Kansas City, where he writes both dark and literary fiction, and tests the boundaries of each. He has previously published short fiction in a number of print anthologies and magazines.
Check out his many adventures at his blog, Pulling Teeth.
Enjoy his most mundane thoughtsby following him on twitter: @alanryker.
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