I’m delighted to welcome three-time Rondo Award nominated journalist and author Preston Fassel to Kendall Reviews.
KR: Could you tell me a little about yourself please?
I was born in Houston, Texas, and grew up between St. Charles, Missouri, and Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. I’ve wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember but I always figured I needed a day job to support myself, and, coming of age in the era of CSI and the crime thrillers of the 1990s, got it into my head I wanted to be a criminal profiler. My junior year of high school, most of the electives were dropped due to budget cuts, so I dropped out, got my GED, and got an internship at the local police department, working in the evidence room. Did that for a year and a few months, during which I was awarded the President’s Volunteer Service Award for my work, then enrolled in college. I split my college time between Lone Star, a community college, and Sam Houston State University. Spent most of my college career trying to write a horror novel that never got off the ground and graduated with honors with a psychology degree, but by then I’d burned out on the idea of spending my days around psychopaths and criminals and had sort of given up on writing.
I’d accumulated enough scientific knowledge that I was able to parley my degree into a career as an optician, and I was doing that when I sent a rather terse but very eloquent letter to the editor of an optics journal criticizing the writing quality of one of their articles. To my surprise the editor actually responded, and—I think perhaps sarcastically—asked if I’d like to submit my own material. I didn’t get the sarcasm. Wrote an article. Sent it in. The next thing I knew I was selling spectacles by day and writing for an optics magazine by night. Then I was able to parley that career into a career writing for Rue Morgue magazine, which led to me being asked by a mutual friend to become the assistant editor of Cinedump.com. And with all this writing of mine being published I finally decided to sit down and write that horror novel after all. I did, and after almost two years of shopping it around sold it to an independent press in the winter of 2016; that company went out of business a few months later, but, in the meantime, I’d gotten on the radar of Cinestate, the company who—I didn’t know at the time—was in the process of purchasing Fangoria magazine. They asked me in to a meeting to inquire about purchasing the book and film rights, and, during the meeting, I pitched myself to them as an employee as well, based on my horror background. So I ended up selling the book and getting a job, and I nominally left behind the world of optics to become Cinestate and Fangoria’s story editor.
KR: What do you like to do when not writing?
Major cinephile. Bit of a homebody. I like museums, going to antique stores, historic sites. Parks when the weather’s nice.
KR: What is your favourite childhood book?
Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt. Which makes a lot of sense in retrospect. It sits somewhere at the intersection of horror and romanticism and nostalgia, which are all major influences and areas of interest of mine. I also loved the Great Illustrated Classics children’s adaptation of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, which was the first fiction book I ever read on my own, and which helped begin my love affair with literary horror.
KR: What is your favourite album, and does music play any role in your writing?
My all time favorite album is Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories. It appeals not just to my 80s nostalgia but I love how so many of the songs sound so different from one another, so at the same time it’s broadly recreating the ambiance of an era it’s also evoking this broad range of moods. It’s brilliant.
Which dovetails into, yes, music plays a tremendous role in my writing, especially so with Our Lady of the Inferno. Going back to what I said about Memories, different songs can evoke different moods for me and put me into a certain headspace that helps me instill a great emotional resonance in particular scenes. So for example in Our Lady of the Inferno, I wanted the scenes between my characters Ginny and Roger to have this undercurrent of lost possibility and tragic romance, and Lorde’s Pure Heroine, to me, just drips those things. So most of the scenes between Ginny and Roger were written to Team, and to a lesser extent Royals and Tennis Court. Back, again, to Memories, most of the scenes of Ginny navigating 42nd Street by herself were written to Instant Crush, which in addition to being my favorite song just sounds like sunset on a lonely day. And then if there’s a song that encapsulates the mood and the experience of the entire book itself that’d be Blue Oyster Cult’s Burnin’ for You.
KR: Do you have a favourite horror movie/director?
I’ve only been able to whittle down my list of favorite horror movies to five: Videodrome, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, The Shining, John Carpenter’s The Thing, and Hellraiser. Together, for me, those five movies cover the entire gamut from what makes horror an effective genre, from the mind games and uncanniness of The Shining to the creature effects of The Thing to the “you shouldn’t be watching this” atmosphere of Chain Saw.
Similarly, it’s tough for me to nail down a favorite director. I think the single best directed horror movie is The Shining. From a directorial style, it’s just perfect, but Kubrick’s not really a “horror director,” is he? And then I love 70s-80s era David Cronenberg and John Carpenter, but, to me, they’re so different in terms of style, tone, and goals when directing that I can’t fairly compare them. So it’s a toss up.
KR: What are you reading now?
I’m finishing off John le Carre’s Legacy of Spies. He’s my favorite overall author and I was absolutely ecstatic to find out he was writing one more George Smiley/Circus novel. And then in the meantime I’m also reading Grady Hendrix’s My Best Friend’s Exorcism. I got to see him perform his spoken word piece Summerland Lost earlier this year and it made me a major fanboy.
KR: Who were the authors that inspired you to write?
Stephen King is the author who made me realize I wanted to be a horror writer. I’d always known, on some level, that I wanted to be a writer, but it wasn’t until I read The Shining in seventh grade I realized that I wanted to write horror books. In terms of literary influence, E.L. Doctorow’s Billy Bathgate showed me that literature could be a form of poetry, and he proved incredibly influential on my writing style. Virginia Woolf showed me how to craft and form my characters and give them full lives even beyond what appears on the page, to make them fully realized human beings. And, being an American Southerner, Flannery O’Connor inspired me to find beauty and humanity in grotesques and to channel my various religious influences into a horror story without being preachy or condescending.
KR: Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer to just see where an idea takes you?
I come up with rough ideas and characters and then start writing them, and let things shape themselves. My characters drive my stories more than anything—I start with the faintest intimations of a character and I begin writing them, and then I learn things about them or they reveal aspects of themselves to me, and once I’ve gotten to fully know my characters then I can bring them into conflict with things or with one another because I know how they’ll react. Our Lady of the Inferno started life as a very different book because I thought the characters were more shallow than they turned out. Ginny, my protagonist, was originally much less sympathetic, much less multidimensional. And as I wrote her and discovered her brilliance and this rich inner beauty I realized I had a different story on my hands than from what I’d begun with, and I had to change things about the plot accordingly.
KR: What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
I like for my writing to be as factually and historically accurate as possible. If there’s anything intentionally inaccurate in my writing, I want it to be purposeful. In the case of Our Lady, the book began life as a completely different book. It was going to be a book about the employees of a Times Square grindhouse in the late 70s and early 80s. And so while I was working on that book I was constantly researching New York in that time period, the geography of the city, the culture, the climate. And I ended up abandoning that story because I’d worked on it for six years and it wasn’t going anywhere and what I had was terrible, but, over those six years I’d amassed a wealth of knowledge on all things 42nd Street. And so when I started working on Our Lady I didn’t have to do much more research, though there was still quite a bit to be done. I researched what the weather conditions were in Manhattan the week the book takes place, what days of the week particular dates were, the phases of the moon on those days, what movies were playing in theaters, etc. I had to find out whether you could buy coffee at the Port Authority Bus Terminal. From the day I started writing the book until I ended was six months, including the new research I had to do.
KR: Describe your usual writing day?
When I’m working on a project, I set aside two hours a night, every night, and I write. Typically, that means getting home at night, having dinner watching TV for maybe an hour, and then writing from about 7-9 or 8-10. Ideally, I like to do at least 1000 words. If I hit two hours and I’m at a good stopping point, or I’m struggling, I’ll stop. If I’m on a roll, I’ll continue. I think my record is something like 9,000 words in a single setting. Sometimes, if I have the day open, I’ll also set aside an hour or two during the day and write some then, but I’ve found that my best output comes at night.
KR: Do you have a favourite story/short that you’ve written (published or not)?
Our Lady of the Inferno is my favorite, hands down. It says everything I’ve wanted to say about a lot of things. In a lot of ways that book is me. You read it and whether you realize it or not you know everything about me. For shorts, I had a story published in 20/20 Magazine in honor of their fortieth anniversary that’s very sentimental to me. I gave it the very unoriginal title Hindsight; it’s actually available to read for free online now: https://www.2020mag.com/article/hindsight
KR: Do you read your book reviews?
Oh yeah. I’m fortunate in that they’ve all been pretty good so far. I know eventually the bad ones will start rolling in and then I’ll probably stop for my own mental health. But until then I’m enjoying the ride.
KR: Any advice for a fledgling author?
There’s no such thing as a small venue. You never know who reads what, and you never know who your audience is. I spent 2013 researching and writing a biography of the English actress Vanessa Howard, which was published in Screem magazine, a quarterly horror publication based out of Pennsylvania. And it’s not a small magazine but it’s not quite as big as Rue Morgue or Fangoria, either. I figured maybe like ten people would read this. And a few months after it was published I was contacted by a gentleman in London who’d read the magazine and was a huge fan of her films, and he was making plans to screen one of them at a festival held in her honor at Oakley Court in Windsor. And he asked me if I would come out and speak about her to the guests. And so based on this thing I never thought anyone would read I found myself getting brought out to England and put up at a luxury hotel and feted as the expert-in-residence; and it went so well I was invited back for a second festival in 2016 and got the same treatment. So, don’t sneeze at the opportunity to be published on a blog, or a zine, or anyplace, really, because you never know who’s reading.
KR: What scares you?
I’m a horror writer. I know how this goes. I answer this question and then some psycho reads it and sets about a campaign of terror to make it come to life. So, to avoid ending up in an episode of the Twilight Zone, I’m politely declining to answer that.
KR: E-Book, Paperback or Hardback?
Depends. If it’s a book I really love and I want to have a nicer edition, or it’s a brand new book I can’t wait to read in paperback, then hardback. Most of my favorite books I have in hardback. Paperback is my “I liked this book OK but didn’t love it” books, or my “I found it at the used bookstore and it looked good” books. I’ve never been able to get behind e-books. I like the tactile sensation of a book in my hands. And the convenience of flipping pages.
KR: Can you tell me about your latest release please?
Our Lady of the Inferno is set in Manhattan in 1983, and tells the intersecting stories of two deadly women. Ginny Kurva is a twenty-one-year-old runaway from the Midwestern United States who’s fallen into a life of crime in order to care for her little sister, Tricia, who’s a paraplegic. Nicolette Aster is a middle-aged waste management executive at Staten Island’s Fresh Kills Landfill, who secretly moonlights as a serial killer, kidnapping women from Times Square and bringing them to the dump after hours to hunt. After a chance encounter on 42nd Street, Nicolette becomes obsessed with making Ginny her next victim and begins stalking her. As the book unfolds, you learn more about what drives Nicolette and what her worldview is like, and you also learn why Ginny—who speaks multiple languages and has like a 140 IQ—is working for a low-grade pimp in Times Square, and the circumstances that’ve brought her this low. It’s my literary tribute to the neon-light crime thrillers and horror movies of the 1980s… I pitched it as Flashdance meets Silence of the Lambs.
KR: Our Lady Of The Inferno is out September 11th 2018.
KR: What are you working on now?
It’s sort of a spiritual prequel to Our Lady. It shares the same setting, Times Square, but it takes place between two different time periods—Winter 1965 and Summer 1977. I consider it to be Our Lady’s dark twin—if Our Lady is about the burgeoning possibility of the 1980s, and the death of the grindhouse subculture, then this story is about 42nd Street at the height of its decadence and depravity, and the loss of innocence of the 1960s and the spiritual ennui of the 1970s. Our Lady is my fun, neon, 80s movie-book. This project is my rough, gritty, grindhouse movie-book.
KR: You find yourself on a desert island, which three people would you wish to be deserted with you and why?
You can choose…
- One fictional character from your writing.
Ginny, definitely. Brilliant, resourceful, attractive, tough, funny… It’d be like having The Professor, Mary Ann, and Ginger all in one.
- One fictional character from any other book.
George Smiley. I mean, he’d probably succumb to the elements pretty quickly, unless we’re talking the more resilient, Call for the Dead-era Smiley, but, he’d be fascinating company in the meantime, and I’d hope that the imminent threat of death would compel him to share his stories and wisdom with me.
c) One real life person that is not a family member or friend.
I don’t think there’s a way to answer this both gentlemanly and honestly, so, I’ll defer to the above two folks. They should be company enough.
KR: Thank you very much Preston.
You can follow Preston on Twitter @PrestonFassel
Spring, 1983. Sally Ride is about to go into space. Flashdance is a cultural phenomenon. And in Times Square, two very deadly women are on a collision course with destiny– and each other.
At twenty-one, Ginny Kurva is already legendary on 42nd Street. To the pimp for whom she works, she’s the perfect weapon– a martial artist capable of taking down men twice her size. To the girls in her stable, she’s mother, teacher, and protector. To the little sister she cares for, she’s a hero. Yet Ginny’s bravado and icy confidence hide a mind at the breaking point, her sanity slowly slipping away as both her addictions and the sins of her past catch up with her…
At thirty-seven, Nicolette Aster is the most respected woman at the Staten Island Landfill. Quiet and competent, she’s admired by the secretaries and trusted by her supervisors. Yet those around her have no idea how Nicolette spends her nights– when the hateful madness she keeps repressed by day finally emerges, and she turns the dump into a hunting ground to engage in a nightmarish blood sport…
In the Spring of 1983, neither Ginny nor Nicolette knows the other exists. By the time Summer rolls around, one of them will be dead.