DON’T SHOOT ME I’M ONLY THE WRITER:
Brad Heden Interviews Michael McCarty
Michael McCarty Notes:
Brad Heden and I grow up in the same neighborhood. We went to the same grade school together: Johnson Elementary School, the same Junior High School (William Junior High) and the same High School (Davenport West) and the same college (Scott Community College).
At Scott Community College, Brad and I were in the same Creative Writing Class and Brad started an underground literary magazine named Major Tom, he did the first two issues and handed the publication over to me, where I continued to edit it for five more issues in ten years.
Brad has always been a good friend of me as well as helped me with a number of writing projects.
I am so glad, we finally were able to do an interview together.
Photo: Michael McCarty (Left) and Brad Heden (Right) at Harris Pizza, Davenport, Iowa
BRAD HEDEN: Why do you write?
MICHAEL McCARTY: I like the art of creating, I can create anything out of a blank page. When I was a kid I watched a lot of horror movies where the mad scientist was able to create a monster. I wanted to be a mad scientist when I grew up, but I was horrible at science. I did the next best thing and write about mad scientists. LOL.
HEDEN: Why do you write horror?
McCARTY: This question pops up a lot, really.
I’m having a great time at one of my book signings – people are asking for autographs, taking photos, shaking hands, talking about the latest scary bestsellers – when suddenly, the dreaded question is asked….
“Why do you write horror?”
Romance, mystery or science-fiction writers sometimes hear a similar, “Why do you write (fill in the blank)?” but it is not meant in the same way. The query posed to horror writers more properly translates, “Why do you think that way?” “Is there something wrong with you?”
I am proud I write horror! I can explore the dark areas of the heart and soul and hopefully provide some chills, thrills and understanding our complex world all at the same time.
The late, great horror filmmaker Wes Craven said it best, when asked about horror fans said: “They are smart and intelligent and mainly know how to deal with their fears what most people struggle to do.”
HEDEN: Why is the Bram Stoker Award a big deal? Why does it seem to matter?
McCARTY: For those who aren’t in the horror biz, the Bram Stoker Award is the prize given by the Horror Writers Association, also known as the HWA.
To answer your question, it really isn’t a big deal. I think the HWA has lost focus with the original vision of what Dean Koontz, Joe Lansdale and Robert McCammon started.
I left the organization because it became cutthroat competition for a stupid statue.
However, I decided to put “Five-Time Bram Stoker Finalist” on the cover of Liquid Diet & Midnight Snack because I decided not to let the HWA get me down.
HEDEN: So few are fortunate enough to feel the job that is to create, to write a song, to play a musical instrument, to dance: Why does it matter if anyone reads your books or not? Is not the pleasure, the satisfaction, of having created something that did not exist before enough?
McCARTY: That is a great question and so eloquently phrased as well. For me, I get enormous pleasures out the creating process, but I get just as much satisfaction when someone likes what I have written.
They both went hand in hand for a long time in my life. When I was a kid, when I wrote something usually a short story or a skit or even a play, I’d show it off to my family and the neighborhood kids. Recently, a childhood friend Trena Taylor was commenting how she enjoyed the plays I wrote when I was little.
Photo: Trena Taylor (left) and Michael McCarty (right) at the Book Rack, Davenport, Iowa
I remember writing a scary and funny play for my third grade class about Frankenstein’s monster and Dracula. I played the part of Frankenstein and my only line was “Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!” Dracula did all the talking and I did all the growling, it was a monster hit.
In fifth grade, at Johnson Elementary School, there was critical mass of both the writing and the performing. For the writing, I was in Mrs. Stonebraker’s class, whom I had a huge crush on (I even named a character after her in Bloodless by myself and Jody LaGreca), we were suppose to write a fable, which is a short story that is suppose to have a moral to it. I wrote this tale about a red frog and a green frog that were playing leap frog and they were jumping over each other by the pond, by the meadows and onto a highway. The red froggie sprung over the green frog and a truck came barreling down the road and splat … the froggie was flattened. The moral to the story: look before you leap.
Mrs. Stonebraker read my story to the class and I was in Heaven.
That same year, Johnson School had a variety show and I signed up to do comedy.
The rest is as they say history.
My life was pretty much like a coconut game for a while: Am I going to write? Do stand up comedy? Or play music?
Around the late 1990s, when I start to get published in national magazines such as Starlog, Science Fiction Chronicle and the men’s magazine Gallery I decided I really needed to get more serious with my writing. So I stopped doing stand-up comedy. I stopped doing musical performances and just wrote and wrote and wrote.
A couple years ago, I really started missing performing music especially. So a childhood friend Greg Smith (who also taught me to play the guitar) and my wife Cindy have formed a band called Beach Party Zombies. Here is our website:
HEDEN: Many of your readers and fans are writers themselves. Could you provide a brief description of the entire creative process? Not just the process, methods you used to turn your ideas into books but what does the process look like, from first idea for a novel to book signings?
McCARTY: I urge my readers and fans to get Modern Mythmakers: 35 Interviews With Horror and Science Fictions Writers And Filmmakers by Michael McCarty. Yes, me. I wrote the book for writers, talking to such writers as Ray Bradbury, Dean Koontz, John Saul, Joe McKinney, William F. Nolan, Richard Matheson, Whitley Strieber and others and they give some incredible insight in the writing field.
But to answer your question correctly, would take a book length response. So here is a more condense take on it.
Back in 1989, when I graduated from Marycrest College with a BA in English and Journalism, I moved up to the suburbs of Chicago and was dating my girlfriend Cindy Hulting (who is now my wife, Cindy McCarty). Anyway, we hung out in the burbs and the city, going to museums, art galleries and bars.
Cindy and I both loved vampire books and movies. Two of her favorites were Dracula by Bram Stoker and Interview With A Vampire by Anne Rice. I had read both books in Junior High School, High School and in college, but I decided to read them again because of Cindy.
I thought it would be fun to write Cindy a vampire novel. I was going to call it Liquid Diet. It was about an English vampire named Drew Bloodsworth who was going to the same haunts as we were: The gothic bar Exit, Graceland Cemetery, riding the El, etc.
I had written about 50 pages or so and Cindy enjoyed it. I showed it to a couple of friends and co-workers (I was working at IBM at the time) and they thought it was good. I decided to make this my first full-length novel.
On the trail of Drew Bloodsworth was a reporter named Ray Davenport who had worked as a reporter for the Chicago Reader and he was determined to track down the vampire and destroy him.
It was a fun little project, but it really didn’t go beyond that.
Around the same time, to get better educated with vampires and the folklore, I had read about one hundred different vampire novels and seen countless undead films and videos.
I decided to give Liquid Diet and a stronger plot: Drew Bloodsworth goes into a dark cathedral at midnight and confesses his many sins to a priest. It was an intriguing idea. I struggled with that for about two years, taking the previous 50 pages, plus adding about another 25. Having about 75 pages of material.
This was now, 1993 and I had a radio show on St. Ambrose University radio station KALA called “KALA Presents The Arts,” Where I’d do an interview with a writer, artist, musician for about an hour. One of my earliest interviews was with a friend of mine, Michael Romkey who was a vampire writer of such books as I, Vampire, The Vampire Papers and The London Vampire Panic.
I had Michael Romkey on my show, on March 15, 1993 and talked to him for about an hour about vampires and his books. I actually still do have a tape of that show. Ironically, Michael Romkey wrote the introduction for Liquid Diet.
Everything just suddenly clicked. Instead of a vampire confessing his sins to a priest, I’d have my vampire (now named Andrew Bloodsworth because my cousin Ron Fox hated the pun Drew Bloodsworth, a nod to Poppy Z. Brite’s Drawing Blood).
To do the interview, I had to have an interviewer, so I came up with the beautiful gothic radio host named Bella Donna, which is a triple threat: Bella Donna is a poison, also it is Italian for Beautiful Woman and also is a name of my favorite CD by Stevie Nicks. I had the name Bella, long before Stephenie Meyer did.
I was going to have the interview be done at WOLF FM, an all-night Chicago radio station. And I wanted it to be a Gothic Radio show – but done rogue, rebel, almost like underground radio but at a commercial station, like Howard Stern did during his early career.
I was going to have callers, call in and ask questions too. And commercials. Most of the listeners are vampire and horror enthusiasts who are overjoyed to have a real vampire on the airwaves.
Also listening to the show is the Opposition To The Occult – OTTO and they are not amused.
I had elements are a religious thriller, before Dan Brown did too.
I had wrapped up the novel in 1999, which took me ten years to write, from beginning to end.
And for the next ten years, it took me to get the book published. I had tried, many, many publishers. I know it had to be over 50. Everybody kept saying the same thing “Vampire fiction is dead,” “Nobody is interesting in bloodsucker books anymore.”
And I kept saying, “Are you crazy? Dracula has been around for a century.”
In November of 2007 Liquid Diet was accepted for publication by Demonic Clown Books (Publisher and editor KH Koehler). It was the best of times it was the worse of times, because the book was approved on the same day, my father Gerald McCarty passed away at the age of 68.
On April 1, April Fool’s Day, 2009 Liquid Diet and for the first year, I was happy. I liked the original cover. The book had received great reviews minus one clunker:
The novel sold about a hundred copies in trade paperback.
Year two, things happened that I wasn’t very happy with. The publisher merged with another publishing company and I didn’t like the direction they were going, so I had the contract for Liquid Diet terminated. It was a hard decision, but what I don’t regret making.
In that year, I had also written a sequel called Midnight Snack. I shopped Liquid Diet & Midnight Snack two vampire books in one volume to Whiskey Creek Press / Start and they published as an ebook September 2011.
There is a clause in the contract, after a year, you attain the rights for print. I wanted Liquid Diet & Midnight Snack to come out as a trade paperback, but didn’t think I could manage to do the layout and formatting of it. I asked my good friend Jody LaGreca and collaborator if she could do that. Jody did a great job doing that exact thing for Bloodless and Bloodlust.
Jody did the layout for Liquid Diet & Midnight Snack (she is credited as “Paperback creator”). I had my friend, Larry Nadolsky do the artwork for the cover (he also did great covers for my books Night of the Scream Queen and Return of the Scream Queen, both co-written with Linnea Quigley).
(Photo of Jody LaGreca and Michael McCarty)
HEDEN: Last question: We have seen the world changes since H.P. Lovecraft’s death in 1937: A World War (2), Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, conflicts in the Middle East, the rise of Al Qaeda and the Taliban and ISIS. Do you feel either horror writing itself has changed the last hundred years, not merely in the style of writing, which we would expect but the themes as well? Are we less horrified by horror now than we where in the past? More blasé, more nonchalant than the readers in the days of Lovecraft? Do the same thing frighten us in the same way now as then?
McCARTY: Great question. I believe Lovecraft is more read now, then when he was alive. The same is true about Edgar Allan Poe. A sign of a great writer is that they are even more popular in death, than in life.
My friend and collaborator Mark McLaughlin could probably answer the question better than I, since he writes Lovecraft horror stories.
Photo: Michael McCarty left and Mark McLaughlin right … at the Midwest Writing Center, Davenport, Iowa
I believe the answer to your question is both yes and no.
Let me explain:
Fear is primal. There is no relational explanation for, it is just part of our being.
I believe the times that you are living can reflect the arts. During the Great Depression, a Golden Age of Horror at the movies: You had Bela Lugosi as Dracula,
Boris Karloff as Frankenstein and King Kong – the last especially, where almost uncontrolled monsters like the economic woes were.
The same thing could be said in the 1950s with all the atomic monsters: Godzilla and a ton of giant bug movies: (see link)
which came in the aftermath of the atomic age.
Are people more jaded now than they were in the past? Probably.
I’ve written about traditional monsters like vampires: Liquid Diet & Midnight Snack; Bloodless series (co-written with Jody LaGreca):Bloodless, Bloodlust and Bloodline; zombies: Monster Behind The Wheel (co-written with Mark McLaughlin) and a combination of the traditional HP Lovecraft myths in a modern age with Lost Girl of The Lake (co-written with Joe McKinney).
(Monster Behind The Wheel)
(Lost Girl of The Lake)
Horror is the place where your heart does want to go and your soul stays far away. It can be as lonely as being unloved in a nursing home or the doctor showing you a spot on an x-ray or seeing a loved one placed in the ground six feet under.
The world is a scary place, but reading horror or watching a scary movie is a safe way to deal with those horrors.