{Interview} Bram Stoker Award Winning Author James Chambers Talks To Kendall Reviews

James Chambers is an award-winning author of horror, crime, fantasy, and science fiction. He wrote the Bram Stoker Award®-winning graphic novel, Kolchak the Night Stalker: The Forgotten Lore of Edgar Allan Poe and was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award for his story, “A Song Left Behind in the Aztakea Hills.” Publisher’s Weekly gave his collection of four Lovecraftian-inspired novellas, The Engines of Sacrifice, a starred review and described it as “…chillingly evocative.”

He is the author of the short story collections On the Night Border and Resurrection House and several novellas, including The Dead Bear Witness and Tears of Blood, in the Corpse Fauna novella series, and the dark urban fantasy, Three Chords of Chaos.

His short stories have been published in numerous anthologies, including After Punk: Steampowered Tales of the Afterlife, The Best of Bad-Ass Faeries, The Best of Defending the Future, Chiral Mad 2, Chiral Mad 4, Deep Cuts, Dragon’s Lure, Fantastic Futures 13, Gaslight and Grimm, The Green Hornet Chronicles, Hardboiled Cthulhu, In An Iron Cage, Kolchak the Night Stalker: Passages of the Macabre, The Pulp Horror Book of Phobias, Qualia Nous, Shadows Over Main Street (1 and 2), The Spider: Extreme Prejudice, To Hell in a Fast Car, Truth or Dare, TV Gods, Walrus Tales, Weird Trails; the chapbook Mooncat Jack; and the magazines Bare Bone, Cthulhu Sex, and Allen K’s Inhuman. He co-edited the anthology, A New York State of Fright: Horror Stories from the Empire State, which received a Bram Stoker Award nomination.

He has also written and edited numerous comic books including Leonard Nimoy’s Primortals, the critically acclaimed “The Revenant” in Shadow House, and The Midnight Hour with Jason Whitley.

He is a member of the Horror Writers Association and recipient of the 2012 Richard Laymon Award and the 2016 Silver Hammer Award.

He lives in New York.

On The Night Border

  • Paperback: 220 pages
  • Publisher: Raw Dog Screaming Press (12 Sept. 2019)

KR: Coffee?

KR: Could you tell me a little about yourself please?

I’m a writer and editor. I live in New York. I write stories, comics, and graphic novels in multiple genres, and I have a new horror collection out recently, On the Night Border, from Raw Dog Screaming Press, the first of two, with the second, The Price of Faces, a collection of my science fiction and fantasy stories due out in 2020. I’ve been writing and editing for most of my life, professionally for about 25 years now, and at one time or another I’ve had a hand in just about every part of the publishing process, including production, ad sales, and even being a publisher. Outside of writing, I’m a bit of a cinephile, especially for genre movies. I collect vintage comics and books. Downtime, what little there is, goes to hiking, kayaking, and other fun stuff with my family.

KR: What do you like to do when not writing?

Mostly I like to spend time with my family, doing outdoors stuff such as biking, hiking, and kayaking, or playing board and card games. I read, of course. There’s never enough time for me to get to everything I want to read, though. I’ve got some monstrous to-be-read stacks. They simply grow faster than I can prune them. I collect comic books and enjoy hunting down this issue or that needed to fill in the run of a series or picking up comics drawn by my favorite artists (and I’m always discovering new artists whose work I love). I enjoy discovering cool forgotten series. I’m also very active in the Horror Writers Association, where I’m a Trustee and also chapter coordinator for the New York chapter. That involves running monthly meetings, organizing the groups’ appearances at events such as the Brooklyn Book Festival and New York Comic Con, and putting together our two reading series, Night Terrors and Summer Dark (with April Grey), which gives local horror writers an opportunity to read from their work and connect with readers. We’ve also done great outreach to other local writers groups chapters from the Mystery Writers of America, the Romance Writers of America, and others for some great networking and shop talk.

KR: What is your favourite childhood book?

As a very, very young child they were the Golden Book Mickey Mouse’s Picnic and The Monster at the End of this Book, Starring Lovable, Furry, Old Grover, the latter of which is really a kind of gentle horror story and wonderfully fun. As an older, independent reader, Empty World by John Christopher, a story about a boy on his own at the end of the world due to a plague, and Slake’s Limbo by Felice Holman, about a boy who runs away into the New York City subway system. Very early on in my reading, though, I jumped to adult books and moved on to Dune by Frank Herbert, Night Shift by Stephen King, anything and everything by Ray Bradbury. In fact, Bradbury’s story, “There Will Come Soft Rains,” about what we would call today a smart house that outlives humanity, would count as my favorite childhood short story.

KR: What is your favourite album, and does music play any role in your writing?

Music definitely plays a role in my writing. My dark, urban fantasy novella, Three Chords of Chaos, published by eSpec Books, is all about music. The protagonist, Gorge, is a fallen faerie, the greatest musician in all the Enchanted Kingdoms, where he played forbidden music, and wound up exiled to the mortal world. There he learned he can regain his magic by playing music for live audiences. Three Chords takes place in New York City during the early 80s when punk and new wave thrived in the city, the era that gave birth to Blondie and the Talking Heads, but also Black Flag, Minutemen, and Husker Du. I did a lot of research into the music scene around the U.S. at that time. I listened to a lot of great music I hadn’t heard when it came out and played it often when writing that story. I’ve also written some short stories featuring Gorge in different time periods, one focused on the blues in the late 1950s, another in 1990s era hard rock.

In general, I listen to music when I write. I try to choose albums that suit the mood of what I’m writing but which won’t be distracting. Sometimes I make playlists, rock scores for the story. I’ve listened to movie soundtrack music on occasion when writing as well—but never classical music because it’s too engaging. My music tastes are fairly broad so I sort of float from genre to genre, style to style, and listen to whatever matches mood at the time.

As for a favorite album, no, I don’t have a single favorite. I have favorites by the bands I love, though. I could say Surfer Rosa is my favorite Pixies album, Down on the Upside my favorite Soundgarden, Black Ribbons my favorite Shooter Jennings, I’ll Be Your Girl my favorite by The Decembrists, Ziggy Stardust my favorite Bowie, and so on, and on, and on, but it’s impossible to choose a single fave.

KR: Do you have a favourite horror movie/director? 

That’s a tough one to answer, but if I must narrow it down, I’d choose Larry Fessenden. His vampire film, Habit, is a brilliant depiction of classic vampire themes through the lens of alcoholism—and it’s a great New York City movie, which always earns extra admiration and interest from me. He’s also most unusual in that he has made three movies inspired by the Wendigo legend—Wendigo, The Last Winter, and Skin and Bones (for the Fear Itself TV series), each one very, very different from the other, yet each one striking and marvelous in its own way. In addition, he produces horror movies and is one of the creative forces behind some of the best indie horror films of recent years, House of the Devil and Stakeland among them. I’m also a fan of John Carpenter, David Cronenberg, George Romero, Eduardo Sanchez, and Antonia Bird (although she only directed on horror film as far as I know).

KR: What are you reading now?

Black Heart Boys Choir by Curtis Lawson, Devil’s Creek by Todd Kiesling, The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes, Invisible Chains by Michelle Renee Lester, and From the Dead: The Complete Weird Stories of E. Nesbitt. When I was young, I often read multiple books, jumping back and forth or just reading different books in different places. I’ve fallen back into that habit in recent years, though now with the added wrinkle of stuff I’m reading in print versus stuff I read on my Kindle.

KR: What was the last great book you read?

I’ve read a lot of really good and excellent books lately. I’ve been on a bit of nice reading streak with my selections. But for great books? There are two novels from the past couple of years that I think are great in the sense that they illuminate something important either about the authors, the genre, or about human nature. Neither of these books has received the acclaim I think they deserve, though both were well received. I suspect that someday in the future, they’ll be “discovered” either as landmark works of horror fiction or essential reading in their authors’ bodies of work.

The first is Odd Adventures with My Other Father by Norman Prentiss. It’s essentially a supernatural road trip story about a girl struggling to understand her two fathers (one of whom died when she was young), their relationship, and their complicated connections to their families. In the course of this, the very weird experiences of her fathers and the girl are related, and they range from quite dark to almost whimsical. The ending brings everything around to a genuinely profound conclusion.

The second is The Secret Life of Souls by Jack Ketchum and Lucky McKee. This book is not what it seems at the beginning. There’s tremendous literary sleight of hand going on here, and as the story progresses and unveils each new layer, it becomes more original, more compelling, and more rewarding. It delves deeply into family relationships and how contemporary society can warp them. This is not at all the Ketchum of The Girl Next Door, but an almost entirely different side of Ketchum as an author, and working with McKee, primarily a screenwriter, who bring something special to the mix. The two of them collaborated often, but this may be the most striking work they produced.

KR: E-Book, Paperback or Hardback?

All of them! I love the tactile experience and gravity of hardbacks, but I’m also quite happy reading on my Kindle, which allows me to read much more often than I would if I had to schlep around a hardcover book everywhere I go. For paperbacks, I especially love the feel and smell of vintage mass-market paperbacks. Basically, if you put words in my hands in almost any format, I will read them.

KR: Who were the authors that inspired you to write?

Perhaps more than any other author, Ray Bradbury. I devoured Bradbury collections as a kid, and I often go back to Bradbury stories. I kept up with his new books as they came out for many years. Philip K. Dick is another as are most major science fiction authors from before 1985. I grew up with nearly full access to my father’s very large library of sci-fi paperbacks and dug in early to Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Heinlein, H.P. Lovecraft, Larry Niven, Frederik Pohl, Theodore Sturgeon, A.E. Van Vogt, and many other authors from the golden age of the genre. Frank Herbert was another one. Dune captivated me. J.R.R. Tolkein, of course. These were the books that made me love reading. Comics were also a big influence, especially horror comics. Marv Wolfman’s Tomb of Dracula. Len Wein’s Swamp Thing and then later Martin Pasko’s writing for that character. Chris Claremont’s writing for Uncanny X-Men. Roy Thomas’s early Doctor Strange stories. Pretty much anything I read by Denny O’Neil, who wrote many different comics, but is best known for his work on Batman. I had all this stuffed in my head by the time I discovered horror fiction when I read Night Shift and Skeleton Crew by Stephen King and then Clive Barker’s Books of Blood. Also, the wonderful shared-world fantasy anthology series, Thieves World. I always wanted to write a Sanctuary story! And that’s what it all comes down to, isn’t it? Reading something and wanting to do it yourself. A writing teacher once told me, “Writers are readers who are moved to emulation,” and I think that’s a lovely definition.

KR: Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer to just see where an idea takes you?

When writing short stories, I see where the story takes me. I spend time thinking through the characters and the plot before I set down the first sentence, but I rarely ever know the ending. I prefer for that to surprise me, and I think then that it will also surprise the reader. When writing comics or graphic novels, I typically do an overview, a loose outline of the story to follow when breaking it down to pages and panels. I’ve written novels both ways and generally found it more useful to outline at least somewhat to avoid going down the rabbit hole on a tangent or veering off course with regard to theme. Even when I outline, though, I never hesitate to go “off book” as it were if a great idea occurs to me.

KR: What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?

It differs from book to book. I often do things a bit backwards, though, and begin writing before I do my research. I like to build a sense of where the story might lead so that I can better focus my research and understand more clearly what the story requires. For short stories, I tend to do less research—but not always. I like to write historical horror fiction and that’s demanding for accuracy. I’ve also written stories in settings I’ve never visited in person and that takes another level of research. I have dug in deeply on topics from Mayan mythology to the Cold War era Nuclear Emergency Search Team (NEST) for books still in the writing stage. I don’t mind taking my time with research, and I find that I often wind up writing other stories inspired by what I learn in addition to the one that first required the research.

KR: How would you describe your writing style?

Character and story-focused. Economical. I suppose those are the foundations of it. I see each story I write as unique and calibrate my prose style to evoke the desired mood, tone, and reaction in readers, to capture the atmosphere of the story. The telling of a story is as important as the story itself. But those things—character, story, economy—are universal. So I always start there: Who are these characters? What is their story? And how can I tell it with the fewest, cleanest, most enjoyable words possible? My style rises from that.

KR: Describe your usual writing day?

I have a long commute each day, about an hour on the train in the morning and again in the evening. I throw on some headphones, crack open the laptop, and spend each hour writing. It’s captive time in a sense as my options for doing anything else are limited. But I often enjoy the idea that I’m writing stories while some of the people around me are reading them. Although these days, they’re more often scrolling through social media feeds or yakking on their phones. In between those sessions, I spend a lot of time thinking about writing, working out problems or nurturing ideas while going about my day. And I typically check in again each night to do some editing, proofing, or correspondence.

KR: Do you have a favourite story/short that you’ve written (published or not)?

I like best the stories where I go out on a limb, where I stretch my writing muscles, or try something new that I’m not sure will work when I begin. That includes “A Song Left Behind in the Aztakea Hills,” “Living/Dead,” and “Red Mami” in my collection On the Night Border. I also favor the ones where I can play with readers’ expectations and either subvert them or exercise some literary sleight of hand that changes what they think is the nature of the story as they’re reading it. “Mnemonicide” is a good example of that. But a single favorite? Much too hard to choose!

KR: Do you read your book reviews?

Yes, but I don’t put too much weight in them. Each review is one reader’s opinion, and I’ve had my work reviewed by readers who dead-on got exactly what I intended and those who completely missed the point. Good or bad, I find them instructive as to how my work comes across, how others perceive it, and where that meshes or doesn’t with my perception. If you look at reviews as an extension of the critique process, they can be helpful, good or bad, but you must be careful not to let them go to your head in a negative or positive sense.

KR: How do you think you’ve developed as an author?

That’s something probably best left to readers and posterity to decide. After revisiting some of my older stories while collecting the tales for On the Night Border and while preparing some older pieces to come back into print, such as “The Dead Bear Witness” and “Three Chords of Chaos” and TCC’s associated short stories, though, I’ve noticed I’ve gravitated toward writing more and more challenging or difficult characters, ones that are more complex or less like me and require more research and thoughtfulness. At this point, I’ve also written short fiction in a wide range of genres—crime, fantasy, horror, pulp, science fiction, steampunk, super-hero, and so on—and that has helped me build up different writing muscles, so to speak. Every genre has its conventions and expectations. You need to avoid treading over well-worn ground. That’s where bringing sensibilities from one genre to another can help create something fresh and feed my development as a writer.

KR: What is the best piece of advice you’ve received regarding your writing?

Write every day. This more than anything else has proven the most beneficial to me in my writing. And it doesn’t need to be literally every day to help. The idea is that you don’t sit around waiting for inspiration to strike, but create and adhere to a writing routine that allows you to make steady progress. No matter if you write only a paragraph or an entire chapter each day or writing session. What counts is that you put yourself in that frame of mind regularly, keep your work advancing, and train your brain to prepare for writing time. I often write until I strike a difficult challenge or problem, whether it’s a point of plotting or a character question, and when I pick up the next day the answer is there and ready to go, my subconscious having done the heavy lifting between sessions.

KR: What scares you?

I find, as I age, that what truly frightens me is invisible. I don’t mean in an otherworldy or ghostly sense, but in a literal sense that it’s the attitudes, assumptions, prejudices, and indifferences to the well-being of others behind so many frightening things we see in the world. It’s not the violence itself that scares me as much as the idea that so many people believe human life is worth less than whatever they gain by killing or abusing it, whether that’s in a street-level context such as gang-killings or murder in the course of robbery or on the global scale of terrorist attacks, tribal genocides, or drone strikes. The predatory acts of the powerful are frightening but not as disturbing as realizing that many powerful people genuinely believe they’re above the law and that those on whom they prey don’t deserve their respect, or somehow owe it to them, or that those who aren’t powerful are simply here to satisfy them. The “whatever I can get away with” attitude of conscienceless people. The “it’s only a crime if you get caught” kind of thinking. That scares me because it’s so pervasive from the quotidian to the grandiose.

KR: Can you tell me about your latest release please?

On the Night Border, published by Raw Dog Screaming Press, is a collection of fifteen of what I consider my best short stories, several of which are published there for the first time. The selection spans more than 15 years of my writing and reflects the range of storytelling I’ve attempted in that period. It displays the development of my writing over the years, both in style and in theme, and some of the stories are so different from each other, I’ve had at least one reader describe it more like reading an anthology than a collection. Jennifer Barnes at Raw Dog Screaming and I spent a lot of time working out the sequence of stories, balancing the tone among the darkest of the pieces and those with a touch of humor. I’m excited to see this published, to put this in the hands of readers, and I hope all those who pick it up enjoy it. A special treat was obtaining permission to reprint two stories I wrote starring licensed characters: Kolchak the Night Stalker and Lin Carter’s Anton Zarnak. I hope readers have fun with them. And, of course, I am deeply grateful to Linda D. Addison who wrote the introduction.

KR: What are you working on now?

I’m working on a horror novel, but progress on that has slowed while I do some additional research for a crucial part of the story. I’m also spending some time with Carl Kolchak, the Night Stalker, writing a novella to follow up my Bram Stoker Award®-winning graphic novel, Kolchak the Night Stalker: The Forgotten Lore of Edgar Allan Poe, for Moonstone Books. I’m working on two other novellas as well, one for my forthcoming collection of science-fiction and fantasy stories, The Price of Faces, due to be published by Raw Dog Screaming Press in 2020. The other, tentatively titled “The Eyes of the Dead,” will complete my Corpse Fauna cycle of novellas and short stories. The first volume of that, The Dead Bear Witness, recently came back into print in e-book with Cemetery Dance and paperback with eSpec Books, and eSpec is due to publish volume two and three, Tears of Blood and The Dead in Their Masses, ahead of the final volume due next year. I’ve got two graphic novel projects cooking, as well, and a new anthology project I’m going to edit, but I can say too much about those as it’s a bit early on in the process.

KR: You find yourself on a desert island, which three people would you wish to be deserted with you and why?

You can choose…

a) One fictional character from your writing.

b) One fictional character from any other book.

c) One real-life person that is not a family member or friend.

A. Morris Garvey, I think. He’s the protagonist of a series of steampunk stories I write centered around his company, Machinations Sundry. He’s an inventor and a bit of a detective, sort of a cross between Sherlock Holmes and Nikolai Tesla, and I’m certain he’d have our desert island fully equipped with all the latest coconut radios and automaton-monkey butlers in no time. Plus he can play a good game of chess. And when the inevitable murder or other mystery occurs, he’d be on the job to solve it with me.

B. In Fahrenheit 451, the fireman Montag escapes to a community of people who have chosen a book to memorize to preserve literature forever in a world that burns it. I would choose the member of that community who memorized Moby Dick because I haven’t yet read that book and I think I would enjoy it on a desert island in living audiobook format.

C. It seems awfully, awfully cruel to wish for someone to be stranded on a desert island with me, especially just for my benefit… but since you asked! I might choose someone like Neko Case, one of my favorite singer/songwriters. With Morris covering all our practical needs, we could enjoy desert island sunsets listening to great music each evening.

KR: Thank you very much James.

James Chambers

You can find out more about James by visiting his official website www.jameschambersonline.com

Please follow James on Twitter @mothman1313

On The Night Border

Dark things stir in the night. When the world sleeps and quiet settles in, shadows assume sinister shapes, guilt and regret well up from the mind’s deepest recesses, and the lonely face their greatest fears. Darkness bares the secret truths whispered on the lips of the lost and the desperate. At night, terrors come alive. For those who journey too far into the dark, no escape remains—but there is a place from which to view these nightmares, a place…on the night border.

The fifteen stories collected here come from the last edge of the light and deliver glimpses into the dreadful, the mysterious, and the strange. These stories offer readers unsettling and weird visions from across the border, visions out of history and from the world around us, visions of cosmic horror, personal madness, and agonizing heartbreak.

A literary legend confronts the reality of a chaotic, uncaring universe. A young girl grows up in the shadow of a ferocious monster. A man seeks to kill his memories. Love defeats death in an odd world not unlike our own. An artist’s drawings unlock a terrifying truth of his adopted city. A mask burns. The mother of plagues offers a deadly future.

 Readers will find here all of these and many other visions of what lies on the far side of the line, including, by special arrangement, stories of Lin Carter’s Anton Zarnak and Kolchak, the Night Stalker. Walk up to the edge. Listen to the whispers on the wind. Peer across at the terrors beyond from your vantage point…on the night border!

You can buy On The Night Border from Amazon UK Amazon US

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