Thursday 18 March 2010

Pat Kelleher interviews Weston Ochse!

WESTON OCHSE is the Bram Stoker Award-winning author of Abaddon's upcoming zombie horror novel, Empire of Salt. He lives in Arizona, but if you're a Brit and you fancy meeting him, get on down to the Brighton World Horror Con next week, where he'll be reading from and signing copies of his book!

is the author of Abaddon's upcoming new series, 'No Man's World' - which starts with Black Hand Gang, due to be released this spring!

PK: With all of time and space in which to set your Zombie novel, Empire of Salt, the Salton Sea is a very specific location. What was it about that place that appealed you as a setting for a story, let alone a Zombie-pocalypse (without giving too many spoilers)?

WO: Location. Location. Location. Like in advertizing and commerce, novels must have a sense of place. Some novels are made for the normal and everyday. We hide the events of the plot in the mundane of every day. We want people to think that what they have could change at any minute.

But then some novels cry out for exotic locales, especially if the location is intrinsic to the plot. Song of Kali by Dan Simmons would have been a snoozer if the plot took place in Upstate New York. The novel had to be set in India. Likewise, The Shining had to be set in a remote hotel in the Rockies. A Holiday Inn near the interstate just wouldn’t have worked.

Like a lot of authors, I prefer locations that are near and dear to our hearts. I want to lull readers into recognizing street signs, businesses, parks and cultural icons, before I introduce elements of fantasy into the locale. But then there are some locations that just scream to be used; the Salton Sea is one of them.

It’s a dead sea smack dab in the middle of California that almost no one has heard of. Just south of Palm Springs the Salton Sea used to be the vacation destination that everyone went to from regular Dick and Janes, to Richie Riches of Hollywood. Now it spawns red tides of dead fish. Birds fall from the sky. Where water meets earth, it bubbles green putrid residue. Yet people still live there. God bless them, there are people too tough to be scared away or too desperate to leave. Those kind of people aren’t the normal kinds of people regular folks are used to dealing with.
Folks from the Salton Sea are made from stern stuff. They’re a little crazy. They’re a lot desperate. And they are perfect grist for my authorial mill.

And to reward them for their perseverance and never-say-die attitudes, I’ve done what any right-minded author who doesn’t care who gets hurt would do. I infested the entire area with flesh-eating, eyeball-munching zombies. How cool is that?

Abandoned homes at the Salton Sea, wikipedia stock photos.

With eclectic collections of horror stories and a Brammy in the bank for your first novel (yes, I´m looking at you, Scarecrow Gods) what was it that drew you to the good ol´ classic Zombie?

Zombies! Taste like chicken! Seriously, I’ve never been one to get too excited about tropes. The traditional monsters of horror seem to be done to death. Probably of the hundred or so stories I’ve had published, less than ten of them deal with vampires, zombies, werewolves and the like.
I’ve always been more of a dark fantasist; I like to create textured landscapes populated by real characters who I then put in improbable situations. I’ve tended to create my own themes, my own monsters, and my own horror elements. So writing zombies was something new for me.

But zombies have something going for them that all the other tropes do not; they are pop culture icons. I inhale pop culture and exhale satisfaction. I love the iconography of registered trademarks and consumer logos. I crave music and television and magazines. I’d sleep on a bed of TV channel guides if it would mean that I could by osmosis relive the first 50 episodes of Gilligan’s Island, Bewitched or I Dream of Jeanie.
Because of their post modern representation in the original Dawn of the Dead, zombies have become as much a piece of pop culture as the Golden Arches, delivery pizzas and over-priced coffee from teenage American baristas.

If I was ever going to do a trope it was always going to be a zombie.
Zombies are cool. Zombies are badass. Even better, zombies are so badass cool that they don’t even know they’re monsters.

Cover artwork for Weston Ochses' 'Empire of Salt', painted by Greg Staples. Click for horrible high-def version!

As an American, how did Abaddon, a publisher that´s as British as Fish `n´ Chips and 2000 AD, first appear on your radar? What attracted you to them as a potential publisher? Or more to the point, what exactly do they have on you?

What’s 2000 AD? Is that a motor oil? HA! Just kidding. Put down the knife. Seriously, the folks at Abaddon caught me pilfering nursery rhymes from a Grimms' Fairy Tales book and selling it to the Star Trek franchise as Klingon Fables. They also caught me coming out of a massage parlor in West Hollywood, where I was only asking for directions, I swear. The kicker was when I was filmed beating up a herd of Girl Scouts and stealing their cookies. With all the evidence against me, it was too easy for Abaddon to force me to pay them money and send them a kick-ass free zombie novel.

Seriously this time; I was first drawn to Abaddon when 'The Afterblight Chronicles' first began. I thought the idea was incredible. I still do and would love to work on the franchise. I communicated with Jonathan Oliver, editor-in-chief of Abaddon, during this time. We agreed that we’d like to work together sometime in the future, but couldn’t decide in what capacity. Then came 2008 and the Book Expo of America which took place in L.A. Abaddon had a space in the show and I took the time to drop by and say hello. Pretty soon, Abaddon reopened their submissions and were looking for some more zombie novels. I’d been thinking about doing one regarding the Salton Sea anyway, so this became the perfect opportunity to pitch the project. Jon loved it and here we are today, with me sitting here being interviewed about a zombie novel coming out from Abaddon with a super-kick-ass cover.

Apart from your award winning novel, you´ve also had great success with your `Backwoods Horror´ short stories. You obviously enjoy working in both forms. Do you have a preference?

For me the story decides the form. I was lucky starting out. I began writing short stories. Me and a fellow named David Whitman became household names in a very short time with our collection Scary Rednecks and Other Inbred Horrors. The collection garnered insane attention and outsold everything the then publisher, Darktales, had to offer. The stories in the collection inspired independent film projects and hearkened in a period of backwoods horror fiction in America that is only now beginning to slow down.

I still meet folks at conventions and book signings who bring copies of that old book, or the hard cover reprint from Delirium. Instead of what I’m working on now, they want to talk about those old stories and how much they meant to them. I still remember a reading I did at Horrorfind I in Baltimore. There must have been seventy five people in the room. I’d advertised that there would be cheese balls and beer and I didn’t lie. I went to the discount store and bought ten big bags of cheese balls. Then I went and bought 8 cases of the local brew, National Bohemian, or Natty Bo.
I passed out the beer and encouraged everyone to throw cheese balls during the reading. It was sheer and utter chaos with me reading at the top of my lungs. People still come and talk to me about that. What a blast that was; even more fun than the bass boat radio hour reading we had the following year. Ah, the good old days.

What is it about Horror as a genre that attracts you as a writer?

Funny thing about horror is that I never knew I was a horror author. In fact, the question is still up in the air. When I first started writing I was just an author. I wrote what I wanted. It wasn’t until I began to sell things that I was called a horror author. But then I sold my first novel, and although it won a Bram Stoker Award, I have it on record from several other publishers that it’s a dark fantasy novel. I’ve since pitched a few novels to agents and publishers only to have them come back and tell me that what I was pitching wasn’t horror, and it wasn’t science fiction, and it wasn’t fantasy, but instead, some kind of amalgam of all three. At that point I usually naively bat my eyelashes and ask, “So? Is there a problem with that?” As it turns out those sorts of novels are immensely popular, but because publishers have a hard time marketing them, they are few and far between.

So do I write horror? I think so. Do I write science fiction? Yes. What about fantasy? That too. I have two trilogies in the works right now. One is 'The Cycle of the Aegis' and is a combination of all three. Those books are immensely popular. In fact, I’m writing the final book now. The other trilogy is 'The Vampire Outlaw' trilogy, which is horror, adventure and space opera. This is also immensely popular. It’s what I want to write.
It’s what people want to read.

But you asked me what it was about horror that I like, didn’t you. I’ve always felt that horror is an emotion and it’s the manipulation of that emotion that makes horror good horror. Horror is about the psychology of fear, which gets to the very heart of characterization. There’s nothing better than to give a character something nice, then make them terrified they’ll lose it, whether it’s a Barbie Doll or their very lives...


Stay tuned for the follow up to this interview, where we turn the tables and Weston interviews Pat about his forthcoming series!


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