Sometimes I struggle with my interview introductions. Fortunately, Mr. Cesare inadvertently provided me with a great quote during one of our conversations:
“I kill words.”
Adam has a knack for painting horrific literary landscapes with the fewest words possible. Some people struggle to convey terror in three pages, and ultimately fail. Adam does it with panache in one paragraph, and still has time for a sandwich and Wapner at three. That’s how good this guy is.
BONE MEAL BROTH and TRIBESMEN are prime examples of lean storytelling done right.
Mr. Cesare was kind enough to answer a few questions about how his wonderfully-diseased brain works.
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DAILY GRINDHOUSE: When did you know you wanted to be a writer? What were you influenced and/or inspired by?
ADAM CESARE: At a very young age. I had parents that turned me onto the good stuff early. Watching JAWS on my Uncle’s (at the time) state-of-the-art hi-fi setup was one of my first horror memories.
When your dad is letting you play hooky on the non-essential days of grade school to go to the movies, you know you’ve hit the jackpot. We didn’t always pay for the later ones. It’s hard to be accused of theater-hopping when you’ve got your 6 year old with you.
My parents didn’t just cultivate an interest in movies, but books as well, which is important. I was just old enough to read comics when SPAWN started, so you combine that with Poe and Richard Matheson’s I AM LEGEND and you’ve got a messed up, world-weary child.
Ironically, the only genre my dad doesn’t fully appreciate is horror. So maybe it was that combination of encouragement/”parentsjustdontunderstandism” that cemented my interest.
Your latest work, BONE MEAL BROTH, is a horror anthology. Stephen King has said that the short story medium is dying. Do you feel that’s a misnomer, or are you simply going against the grain? How did BONE MEAL BROTH come about?
There’s amazing work being done in short fiction. I was at a conference recently and editor Ellen Datlow said that we were in a “golden age” of short fiction. I believe it. Readers just need to seek it out.
How did BONE MEAL BROTH come about? Well, when I first started writing fiction, I was writing short stories. This isn’t unique, it’s something a lot of writers do to start to get a handle on the craft and prove to themselves and others that they can do it. So after I’d finished some and wasn’t completely embarrassed by the results, I sent them out to markets.
I was lucky enough to have many of them find good, paying homes (Shroud magazine, Necrotic Tissue), but I also had a bunch that I either never sent out or that I didn’t push to the right markets. After my novella TRIBESMEN was slated to come out, I looked at all these stories that I was really proud of and I wanted to do something with them. I put them in one place so people could get a taste of my writing. That’s how BONE MEAL BROTH came to be.
Your first book, TRIBESMEN, was published by Ravenous Shadows. With BONE MEAL BROTH, however, you went the self-publishing route. For any aspiring writers out there, what are the pros and cons of both mediums?
That’s a complex question that’s probably been answered way better by people way more qualified and experienced than me. There’s a lot of doomsaying on all sides of the argument. Things are changing, sure, but I think y’all can stop digging your fallout shelters.
For me, the big advantage to self publishing BMB was instant gratification. I could get an attractive ebook out quickly and see who was buying it within an hour of selling a copy. I wanted it to be a cheap way (it’s only 2 bucks for nine stories) for people to try my writing. With ebooks there’s no overhead like you used to have with self-publishing, so it’s low risk for me. I don’t have a hundred copies of BONE MEAL BROTH in the trunk of my car that I’m never going to sell.
The pros of a traditional publisher? Aside from the obvious “look I’m working with editor x and they don’t hate me,” it’s that feeling that you’re part of a team. With TRIBESMEN I worked with John Skipp, a legendary author and a damn good editor. With the traditional route you (hopefully) get someone who’s going to be able to shepherd you through the process. The publisher gets the cover (the amazing Paula Hanback did the art for TRIBESMEN), the editorial costs, they format the book, they promote it. Who wouldn’t want that?
I want to work with publishers whenever possible, because I know that I’ll never be as much of an expert as they are at certain things. That’s just the way I approach it, that doesn’t mean that a writer who can handle the demands of self-publishing and self-promoting is wrong, I just couldn’t do it. I’m a wuss.
Both TRIBESMEN and BONE MEAL BROTH have a hard edge, both in narrative as well as the language used. Do you consider writing as an outlet in the therapeutic sense, perhaps a reflection of your darker side, or simply “this shit comes from my imagination and you’re reading way too much into it?”
What the *&# are you talking about you $&*# eating ^%*@#*&?
I’ve always liked entertainment that was darker or rougher than normal, but I don’t think that if I have a bad day I’m going to go write a story where I “get revenge” on the page. That seems silly to me, I’m an easy going guy.
Storytelling and writing are just something I really enjoy, and sure my stories may have more “exploitable elements” (to borrow a Roger Cormanism) than others, but I don’t think they’re particularly mean-spirited or nihilistic. I always try to look on the sunny side.
TRIBESMEN is not Pixar material, but you’re not going to need a shower after it, either.
How did TRIBESMEN come to be? If forced to choose at spearpoint, are you more in the Deodato, Lenzi, or Antonia Bird cannibal camp…er, tribe?
As much as I’m fascinated by the Italian Cannibal subgenre, I don’t love it. There are some really hazy motivations behind making these films, and I think I wanted to explore that a bit with TRIBESMEN.
I don’t mean to scare perspective readers off by sounding pompous, there’s plenty of blood and guts and action in the book, that’s the main thing. When I have to elevator pitch it I tell people it’s “THE SHINING meets Survivor, directed by Jess Franco.” Sometimes I also tell them that there’s a sprinkling of Altman’s THE PLAYER in there too.
It’s supposed to be a fun quick read, but there’s also an attempt at legitimate film criticism in it, too. Come for the dismemberment, stay for the ideas.
You have an incredibly concise narrative style. Is this a conscious decision, or for lack of a better expression, do the stories simply write themselves? On a related note: Do you feel Tolkien needed a better editor, or is there a place for three-page descriptions of a doorknob?
I think I’m influenced a ton by what I’m reading and enjoying at the time. I like books that don’t waste words or pull their punches. For example, a few of the stories in BONE MEAL BROTH were written while my brain was under the heavy influence of Cormac McCarthy, so they try to steal his terseness and his grittiness. Also his penchant for backwoods grotesques (see CHILD OF GOD).
There’s a time and place for everything if the writer and story are good enough, so I also love long books. I can’t expand on the Tolkien example (I’ve read THE HOBBIT twice, but could never set aside enough time for the other books, someday), but I can try to match it with something almost as geeky. I’ve recently finished reading George R.R. Martin’s SONG OF ICE AND FIRE books, and many of my favorite moments were in what several readers cite as being the “boring one”: the fourth book, A FEAST FOR CROWS. The plotting in the first three books is breakneck, there’s so much happening that when we spend a bunch of pages exploring some minor characters and flesh out the world a bit in number four. I found myself being all for it.
I’m pro doorknobs, as long as I care about the doorknobs.
For those not in the know, you are also a film critic. What was the first flick that really made an impression on you?
There are too many movies I love. I’d never be able to give those first few into an accurate chronology. High and low brow, everything I like has an impact on me. I don’t distinguish between the Kurosawas and the Stuart Gordons of the world, as long as I enjoy the movie.
I will tell you the first movie that made me realize that there was an art and industry to film: THE MAKING OF MICHAEL JACKSON’S THRILLER, which came on the VHS tape with the video itself. Before I had seen that “making of” special, movies were just something that magically existed. It was only when I saw Rick Baker applying makeup (makeup that scared THE PISS out of me as a kid) and John Landis directing that I put two and two together and realized that this was a business with professionals working behind the camera.
I write movie reviews sometimes on my blog, but where I get to keep in practice is on the pages of Paracinema Magazine. I was a film major as an undergrad, and I miss writing papers about film. Christine and Dylan have kindly given me a platform to do that again. They’ve published me three times and those are some of the pieces I’m proudest of. It’s an incredible magazine and I would encourage all your readers to pick up an issue.
What’s next on the docket? PLUG AWAY!
For the first few months TRIBESMEN was only available as an ebook, but now people who still haven’t joined the digital revolution can buy a paperback copy. I actually just got my author copies today. These are gorgeous books.
I’ve also got my first full length novel coming out in January from Samhain, where Don D’Auria ended up after he left Leisure. They’re making quite a splash in the horror field, so I’m honored to be a part of their lineup. That book’s called VIDEO NIGHT.
I’m also writing a short noir/horror novella as part of the Sam Truman mystery series. Mine should be out in November, but the first one (CATCH MY KILLER by Ed Kurtz) is out now and it rocks.
Thanks for having me!