Eric J. Guignard – Doorways to the Deadeye
Hellnotes: First off, congratulations! Despite being an award-winning author of short fiction and editor (we’ll get to that further on), this is your first novel. Just to help orient our readers as we set out on the rails, what can you tell us about Doorways to the Deadeye?
Eric J. Guignard: Hi, Gordon, thank you so much for your time in this interview!
Doorways to the Deadeye is about legend-building and memories and the search for perseverance after death, all framed in the fantastic travels of a 1930s-era train-hopping hobo, and the homeless narrator who is trying to keep the stories “alive” in more ways than one.
Here’s the base synopsis: A Depression-era hobo rides the rails and learns the underlying Hobo Code is a mystical language that leads into the world of memories, where whoever is remembered strongest—whether by trickery, violence, or daring—can change history and alter the lives of the living.
HN: From the description, as well as the glowing reviews that it’s already receiving, it sounds like Doorways to the Deadeye combines several different genres to create a fantastical America. When you look at the novel, what genre elements do you see there? Given that this is your first novel, are these ideas and influences that have been simmering for a long time, or was it a strike of fortuity that brought Doorways to life?
EJG: Haha, yes, I wanted this to be readable to more of a general audience, but then it also became something less-than-easy to define. I’m involved in a lot of horror works, but I find it hard to call myself a “horror” writer. I love monsters and explorations of fear, but I also love literary accouterments and beautiful storylines. I usually consider my work to be “Dark Fiction” which encompasses dark fantasy, and speculative fiction, and “weird”, but often while upholding ideals of love and hope, and I think it’s always important to add mystery and thrills and adventure into stories, so… well, DOORWAYS became a melting pot of worlds and styles.
Basically I tell people that you would categorize this book the same way you would categorize The Wizard of Oz. There’s elements of Dark Fiction, Speculative Fiction, Magic Realism, Thriller, Light Horror, Urban Fantasy, etc.
And I think a lot of the “elements,” being the ideas and influences included, are ones that I think about and include in my other writings often: Death and how we handle it; the fluidity of memories; explorations of uncharted territory; loss of loved ones; unexpected ways to emerge victorious from dark situations.
HN: Because Doorways to the Deadeye is something of an epic and unfolds gradually, the next part might be difficult, but could you maybe give our readers a brief excerpt that would serve as a good representation? It could be something to whet their appetites, entice them, or just show off your chops.
EJG: Oh man, that’s a tough one, Gordon! I hope this following is appropriate… I just extracted a few paragraphs that seemed pretty fitting. Otherwise, I’d get lost overthinking it too much…
Luke felt as one with the train, as a long-range drover knows the moods and inclinations of his mount, knows how to ride it, cue it with a slight nudge, a jerk, a shifting of the hips, an almost prescient sense of what the ride is going to do before even it knows. It was time to get off, and Luke thought the train should slow, and the train did so, as if responding to his intent. He jumped. It was a good jump, and he didn’t stumble or fall over. Just one big step, then another, like reaching over wide cracks.
The big steps shortened to a normal stride. He didn’t pause, but put one foot in front of the other and kept walking along the tracks, then under the plank sign, through the graveyard and away, pulled to the misty edges of the nearby Atlantic coast. He progressed through the day, not seeing anyone dead or alive, though he was kept company by enough wildlife that he knew for certain where he’d gone. In the “real” world, squirrels and ’coons disliked him enough to run for cover when he came around. Here he moved amongst their shelters, passing elegant deer and fat skunks, rabbits, jays, even a one-eared bobcat that sniffed the air, but seemed not to discern Luke’s passage.
The land struck him as old beyond its years, the crawling shoreline wrinkled by centuries, its loose brush rustling with lost secrets. A crippled dirt path led not forward in time, but seemingly backward. Luke felt he descended into forgotten lands, rather than onward to forgotten people.
That dirt path led to a cross path, then another, this one wider and climbing back away from the coast, and he went up a clearing that radiated a series of more paths, these all disappearing behind distant trees in a mesh web of gossamer. Each path might lead to a new world, and he had come from the past and was at the crux of the future, what he chose now determining the irreversible course of his life. Like most things, Luke didn’t hesitate, but picked a center route that appeared interesting. He walked that way, and the chaparral thickened, and the horrible pox appeared. …
HN: While we’re talking about your novel today, you’re also an accomplished short story writer. In fact, you recently won the 2018 Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in a Fiction Collection for your collection That Which Grows Wild! What was it like making the transition from shorter fiction (stories, novellas) to the novel? Did you choose to work on Doorways to the Deadeye as a “next step” as a writer, or was it that you wanted to tell this story but it demanded novel-length?
EJG: My favorite thing to write (and to read) has always been fiction short stories, rather than novels, so that’s usually been my focus. But I am proud to have now gotten my first novel under my belt, as there seems to be this lack of gravitas for anyone who claims they’re a writer but hasn’t put out the vaunted “full-length” book. And I only worked on this novel in spurts, in between writing/ prioritizing short stories.
As an aside, oddly over the 8 years I’ve been writing short stories, I do find them getting longer and longer on average (in word count), which makes them harder to fit into publications. So now I begin to eye some of them more that I can turn into a running series, either series of stories or eventually series of novels for the future. Basically I have several other novels begun, but not gotten too far in, because I keep losing interest and want to write a short story, or engage in another project! I probably spread myself too thin, but that’s for better as well as worse. 🙂
HN: One of the things that readers of Doorways to the Deadeye will immediately note is that way that it intertwines both the story of Luke Thacker riding the rails during the Depression and the present-day framing narrative of the character King Shaw relating Luke’s tale to Daniel Greenberg. What sort of opportunities and challenges did having these different narrative threads offer? Were there any particular other stories that influenced how you approached the execution or made you want to try this structure?
EJG: I didn’t set out to create the framing structure the way I did—it just developed as a natural overarching layer of what the entire story was about, being the way that stories are passed down.
Looking back, the closest similar book to how I constructed this would be Big Fish by Daniel Wallace, which I do consider as an inspiration, although more in terms of its views of love and wonderment in life, and the thought of it all fleeting away in older age, and how it can be recaptured.
The biggest challenge was to keep the flow of the story steady; i.e., not let it seem too choppy by breaking it up with an overwhelming number of interludes and character asides, which I originally had. The modern-day sections of interviews with King Shaw and other homeless were originally three-times longer… but I realized that wasn’t what the story was about, but that they were meant only as a tool to give context to the story… it was a ton of exposition that I ultimately chopped out.
HN: Without spoiling things, Doorways to the Deadeye explores themes of memory and world-building through storytelling. What is it about the themes that you found particularly alluring? Do you see these as evergreen themes, or is there something more immediate about them — either in your personal circumstances or in the larger societal context — that makes them particularly resonant?
EJG: In a word, “magical.” Memories are magical places that bring us joy we can escape into, OR they can be bleak, emotionally-wrecking landscapes. Often it’s what we make of them, and the tiniest of details can turn a sweet memory bitter, or bring peace to something caustic. Memory is just fascinating as to why we remember one thing and not another, and what triggers those thoughts. “Magical” is also for world-building (although a bit more imaginatively, obviously!). It’s our chance to build and destroy, to play God in creation. All my life, I’ve “built worlds” out of everything, whether a bug on the ground or a pile of staples on my desk, considering each is citizen of their own kingdoms of secrets and intrigues. That’s all I can say as to those themes resonating with me… Really, I wrote this book for “me” (rather than for a particular market, which ultimately was a terrible decision!), and more as a cathartic exercise, wanting to express insights or feelings, and also to experiment with structure, and to try some other things… I’m totally going to be a sell-out for my next book, writing it with a more traditional structure and with a specific market in mind. Big-Five publishing houses, here I come…!
HN: Who do you view as your creative influences and do you see traces of them in this book? Are there any other creators that you consider particularly important in your work, but that readers might be surprised to find out about?
EJG: I already mentioned Big Fish by Daniel Wallace, so besides that one, a few other books that inspired and thusly “impacted” this story were: Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, Boy’s Life by Robert McCammon, and Edge of Dark Water by Joe R. Lansdale.
Some other authors I currently adore and consider influences and inspirations include Cormac McCarthy, George Orwell, Stephen Graham Jones, Jeffrey Ford, Lisa Morton, Kaaron Warren, Dennis Lehane, Seanan McGuire, Nisi Shawl, Hunter S. Thompson, Jack Kerouac, Mark Bowden, O. Henry, James Ellroy, Steve Rasnic Tem, Helen Marshall, John Steinbeck, Weston Ochse, John Langan, and many, many others.
HN: Because so much Doorways to the Deadeye draws from American history and historical figures, are there any particular historical fiction or non-fiction authors or sources that you drew on? What sort of research did you do for this book, and was there anything that you were particularly surprised or fascinated to learn? Did that make its way into the book or not?
EJG: The figures I drew upon were just those that made sense in the context of the story as I was writing it, each of which have made their way into folklore through larger-than-life exploits. And the research consisted of lots and lots of reading! I obtained a number of memoirs and first-hand accounts of hobos during the 1930s, and the struggles they faced finding food, work, and general “purpose” in their lives. It was endlessly fascinating, and completely heartbreaking. Most everything in my novel relating to hobos is based on factual experiences of people who considered themselves as such (i.e. migrant travelling laborers). Particularly I drew upon their encounters with the Railroad Bulls who would guard the trains against hobos who tried to hitch free rides on freight cars, by beating, robbing, or even murdering them. Also I studied the Hobo Code, which was an actual Hieroglyphic Language developed by hobos to communicate with each other. Again, just endlessly fascinating, the kind of research that you can bury yourself in, and it just takes you to so many different places.
HN: Finally, what’s coming up next for you? In addition to any scheduled releases and events, what sort of still-amorphous projects and ideas might be beginning to take shape?
EJG: Through my press, Dark Moon Books, I’m continuing to publish a series of author primers created to champion modern masters of the dark and macabre, titled: Exploring Dark Short Fiction (Vol. 1: Steve Rasnic Tem; Vol. II: Kaaron Warren; Vol. III: Nisi Shawl; Vol. IV: Jeffrey Ford; Vol. V: Han Song; Vol. VI: Ramsey Campbell).
And through SourceBooks I’m curating a new series of books titled, The Horror Writers Association Presents: Haunted Library of Horror Classics with co-editor Leslie S. Klinger (to begin publishing 2020).
I’m also still writing short stories, and I’ve started THREE new novels, although I’m not very far into any of them! One is a pulp science fiction, one a paranormal detective series, and one a literary historical horror.
Eric J. Guignard is a writer and editor of dark and speculative fiction, operating from the shadowy outskirts of Los Angeles. He’s twice won the Bram Stoker Award, been a finalist for the International Thriller Writers Award, and is a multi-nominee of the Pushcart Prize for his works of dark and speculative fiction. He has over one hundred stories and non-fiction author credits appearing in publications around the world; has edited multiple anthologies (including the current series, The Horror Writers Association’s HAUNTED LIBRARY OF HORROR CLASSICS with co-editor Leslie S. Klinger); and created an ongoing series of author primers championing modern masters of the dark and macabre, EXPLORING DARK SHORT FICTION through his own press, Dark Moon Books. His latest books are his short story collection, THAT WHICH GROWS WILD (Cemetery Dance Publications, 2018) and novel, DOORWAYS TO THE DEADEYE (JournalStone, 2019).
Find Eric J. Guignard here:
Eric J. Guignard Author Site: www.ericjguignard.com
Eric J. Guignard Blog: http://ericjguignard.blogspot.com/
Dark Moon Books Publisher Site (operated by Eric J. Guignard): www.darkmoonbooks.com
Twitter (@ericjguignard): https://twitter.com/ericjguignard
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Find DOORWAYS TO THE DEADEYE here:
Publisher website (JournalStone): http://journalstone.com/bookstore/doorways-to-the-deadeye/