by Nickolas Cook
1. How has the reading public received your newest novel, The Shore, so far?
I think the publisher ships book rate. Oh. Wait … you mean critically? Sorry. Well, the feedback has been amazing. So far. Mind you I worried about this, because The Shore is such a departure from what readers expect from me. I took a big chance. And really it’s bizarre how enthusiastic even the most extreme The Pines fans ended up being. Surreal almost. I mean, suddenly they’re comparing me to Faulkner and Melville. Hello? Can you even imagine anything calculated to make me more nervous? The pressure is driving me to drink. At any rate, that’s today’s excuse.
2. In contrast to The Pines and all that sticky summer humidity, The Shore has a definite mood of wet and cold. Can you explain a little about what prompted your decision to give the book this atmosphere?
That’s easy. Nothing on the planet is more desolate than a resort town off-season. So remote you might as well be on the moon. Okay, I know it’s a mood shift. The Pines is all blood and thunder, and The Shore is, well, more intimate. We’re trapped with a small group of characters, isolated by snow and ice … and a storm … and secrets. I can understand why people who loved The Pines might have wanted to read the same book all over again, but what would my artistic motivation have been? I did that whole summer-night-seething-with-insects thing already. Not that The Shore isn’t intense. Just different. And a lot of readers – judging from the kind of feedback I’m getting – are deciding that The Shore is ultimately the more powerful book.
3. It’s a well-known fact to your fans that you’re a recognized expert on the Jersey Devil legend. How did you get interested in it?
Isn’t that the strangest thing? Recognized is right. People have stopped me on the street to ask, “Hey, aren’t you that Jersey Devil guy?” Weird. After all, I grew up with this legend and know how to research, but I’m no folklorist. Yet I’ve been on everything from National Public Radio to the History Channel, talking about the Jersey Devil as though I invented it. I mean, when The Pines first came out it seemed natural enough that I got invited to do a couple of articles, you know, one for a local paper, another for a horror magazine – that sort of thing. It snowballed. Hell, it avalanched. Next thing I know I’m lecturing all over the place. Historical societies. Colleges. Great … except that these venues were clearly accustomed to having just a few folks in attendance, and whenever word about one of my talks got out, whole mobs turned up. I swear, the first few I did were like revival meetings – I’d get people to share their own stories about encountering the Devil. Pandemonium! We did everything but pass snakes around. I loved it. Who wouldn’t? Of course now it’s time to move on. I’m a serious writer, and I feel like I’m in danger of being typecast here. Not that I won’t ever write about the characters in The Pines and The Shore again. This could very well wind up a trilogy. I’ve already got this amazing idea for a third novel that ties it all together … but there’s a few other projects in line ahead of it.
4. Do you remember your most terrifying experience?
Yes. Yes, I do.
5. Erm … would you care to share it with us?
Not really. Oh, don’t give me that look. Damn. Okay, see the problem is this was a tad embarrassing, not really a story I especially like to tell … but … since it’s you … and since I know you’ll never to repeat this to anyone … here goes. All my life I’ve loved horror movies, especially the ones where the psychic investigators sleep in the haunted house and make a serious attempt to contact the resident spirits, you know, The Haunting of Hell House sort of thing. Then a couple of summers ago I had the opportunity to stay at the Lizzie Borden house, which – and I think this is deliciously sick – is now a B&B. Anyway, I went with a bunch of other horror writers, some serious talent … all generating a dangerously intense vibe. Before we even started with the Ouija board and the séance, I was freaking out. All those horror movies I’d been savoring all those years – the last thing I expected was that once the lights began flickering and the pounding in the walls started I’d turn into the Willie Best character, you know, “Feet, don’t fail me now!” My nerves. I keep toying with the idea of writing a screenplay about that weekend, but I worry Lizzie might not like it. Trust me, that is one broad you do not want to piss off. Dead or alive. Though actually she’s not the one haunting that house – Andrew and Abby are very much the real monsters in that story. You can feel it the moment you walk in, that smothering, claustrophobic oppression. Okay, see now you made me scare myself. Happy?
6. Any new authors you’d recommend to our readers?
You mean besides that Nickolas Cook dude? Actually, there’s a great crop of new writers just now. Nate Kenyon, Sarah Langan, Alexandra Sokoloff – they’re all worth watching. And – speaking of new – I recently had the opportunity to read Sandy DeLuca’s new novel – Manhattan Grimoire – in manuscript. Blew me away. It’ll be out from Delirium Books quite soon. Delicious book.
7. I know you haven’t exactly been sitting around on your duff since the publication of The Shore: What can we expect from you in the future?
Well, Delirium hasn’t even announced my next book yet, though it’s got to be the worst kept secret in the world. Total strangers are forever asking when it comes out. It’s a collection of my short fiction called Martyres & Monsters, some stories linked thematically, others linked by characters or plot line. I firmly believe this is some of my best and most passionate work. And you should see the advance response it’s getting. Talk about being blown away. Somebody called it Tennessee Williams meets Mary Shelley – I didn’t know whether to be thrilled or insulted. The title comes from a line in Baudelair’s Flowers of Evil. “Virgins, demons, monsters, martyrs, all great spirits scornful of reality …” Seems to describe all my characters. Plus all my friends. Hell. And me. Let me think. What else? Well, I’m wrestling with a new novel that currently seems intent upon killing me. I’m fighting back, but at this point it could still go either way.
8. Who are the inspirations and influences in your work?
Greg Gifune never fails to inspire me. His work has such depth. Plus I think we have very similar approaches to writing. All that method business – like method acting – a ritual of digging deep into your soul for truths, then channeling them through your command of the craft. Sounds vaguely cultish, doesn’t it? Yes, there are occasional trances involved. The odd sacrifice here and there. I don’t mean like goats and chickens. Probably. I mean personal sacrifices. Our personalities may be a bit different though – Greg is like a character out of one of John Connolly’s supernatural noirs, you know, all brains and pain. Class act. I’m more by Saki. But I think we both believe we’re on a mission. Other contemporary influences within the genre? Few and far between. I mostly read people like Darcie Steinke and Donna Tartt. And Dennis Cooper. Within the genre, I favor people like Douglas Clegg and Tim Lebbon or Tom Piccirilli. (Okay, okay, Brian Keene. What? I’m not allowed a secret vice?) Barely a handful of others. I often feel we’ve lost our way in this genre. There’s nothing wrong with escapist pulp, but there seems to be a movement afoot to render that the only sort of fiction permissible. Please. All those the-vampires-and-zombies-are-attacking-yawn-for-your-lives novels … as though the reading public were composed entirely of fourteen-year-olds. Nonsense. People will choose complex, mature works of quality … if quality is made available to them. And when it’s not? Well. The genre starts to die. Again. I will never be one of these hacks, grinding out books like sausages. Okay, I’ll stop ranting now. But do you know what I mean? My roots are with the real writers who conducted all those elegant and sophisticated explorations of the dark. You understand what I mean by real writers? People like Henry James or Shirley Jackson? Yes, I knew you’d get it – based on things you’ve written. Maybe you especially. Algernon Blackwood and Oliver Onions – that’s who I read for pleasure. Leiber and Aickman and Bradbury. Writers who can teach me things. I aspire to take my place among that company … and I realize I may still have a little ways to go … but then I fully expect to invest the rest of my life in the effort.
9. You’ve got the reputation as a sort of Renaissance man in the entertainment industry. Can you give us a few examples of the diverse areas of creativity in which you’ve dabbled over the years?
Renaissance man? Is that a polite way of suggesting that my career lacks focus? Nice. I know what you mean though – I’ve been an actor and a poet, a playwright and a journalist. I’ve produced and directed … done some radio … written a bizarre variety of cable television programs, everything from cooking shows to travel shows. Hundreds and hundreds of them. The cooking shows especially have been hilarious – trust me, I’m the sort of person who sends out for toast. Yes, I have explored a lot of arenas. And right now I’m trying to finish a screenplay. No, it’s not horror. It’s a romantic comedy. A bit on the dark side though. Go figure. Plus I’ve got this exciting idea for a new television series that I’ve been pitching to everyone willing to talk to me … and quite a few people who aren’t.
9. If at all, how do you feel the Internet has changed your career or writing methods?
One certainly gets a lot more feedback. I mean, I hear from fans all the time. How awesome is that? Sometimes they have questions. Sometimes they have advice. Sometimes they just want to tell me how much they enjoy my work. I love it all. How did writers ever know they were reaching people before the Internet? Oh, wait, royalties – I keep forgetting. Sort of a new concept in my life. Beside the point anyway. But when a thousand people a week visit your website, you know you’ve intrigued them.
10. What do you feel are some of its unspoken dangers? Besides getting roped into answering silly questions …
There’s an awful lot of faux publishing going on these days: POD and E-Books, E-Zines and what have you, plus all the flavors of self-publishing and subsidy publishing. Every unpublished “author” has a website. You can have no career at all and still create the appearance of being very very successful … as long as you’re willing to put in the time and money. The real danger of course is to all those delusional souls who expend all that energy marketing nothing … instead of learning their craft. But there’s also a danger to the genre itself. Think about it. How unprofessional and – finally – insane must all of this look to the world of mainstream publishing?
11. What advice would you give to aspiring horror writers?
Go play in traffic. Don’t I have enough competition? Oh. Damn, I promised to be pleasant, didn’t I? Okay, okay, wait, let’s see … Probably the most important advice I can give any writer is READ. And I don’t just mean Stephen King. Read outside the genre. Read the classics. Read things that challenge you. If Proust and Joyce seem difficult … well … maybe the fault doesn’t lie with Proust or Joyce. Stretch those muscles. No pain, no gain, right? How can you expect to create art if you never learn to comprehend or appreciate it? And if you’re not trying to create literature … then why are you wasting your time? Or mine? Not to mention all that paper.