Interview with Cary Christopher

Published 2017-09-24.
Describe the place where you write
I have an office in my house that's the only one I'm allowed to decorate as I want it. So it's decorated mostly with guitars, horror related posters and art and lots of music. My favorite movie is The Creature from The Black Lagoon so I have a lifesize torso of the Gill-Man reaching out from one wall. Above the stereo I have a framed screenprint of a Drive-By Trucker's concert poster that Wes Freed did. The vibe of the picture invokes that swampy, moonshine feeling that influences a lot of my writing.

The desk itself? It's a mess. It's an old beat up office desk that we got for free from somewhere. I've had it probably twenty years. I need to find something else but haven't been able to find anything that fits the vibe of the room yet.
What is your writing process?
As an avid reader I hate it when I can figure out what's coming next in a novel's plot. Unfortunately, I feel the same way as a writer. I've always admired writers who can outline a story, plan out the characters, etc. I just can't do that. The times that I've created an actual outline for a story, I've lost interest in telling it almost immediately.

To me, the actual fun of writing is in the discovery along the way. All of my short stories and novels tend to start out as an idea that I just start riffing on. It could just be a few paragraphs about a funny thought or it could be a full blown short story that just comes rushing out, but generally when I sit down to write something new, I don't have a very good idea of where I'm going. With my first novel (The Wash) I started writing what I thought was a short story about a graveyard that was hungry for bodies. Ten thousand words later I realized my character had barely gotten to the graveyard and this wasn't exactly a short story any longer.

So my process is more one of discovery than actual planning. If I get a good solid chunk written (maybe 8,000 - 10,000 words) and there's no resolution in sight, then I will pause and try to figure out where it's going. At that stage, I may create a loose outline of where I want to end up with very broad strokes for how to get there, but I try hard not to fill in details until I'm actually writing.

The downside of that is going back through the editing process, I tend to have a lot of excess material I cut to get to the final product. It makes the editing a little harder than it probably needs to be. Of course the upside is that I've got plenty of material to work with.
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
I don't remember the very first story I ever read, but I do remember the first story that really had a huge impact on me. Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" absolutely blew my mind. I read it when I was pretty young, too. That led me down the horror and sci-fi rabbit hole. Ray Bradbury also had a huge impact on me as a kid. Dandelion Wine and Something Wicked This Way Comes are still two of my favorite books. I started reading adult novels at a very young age too, so I was exposed to Stephen King's The Shining when I was still in grade school. I remember reading that when I was twelve and literally using a flashlight under the covers so my parents wouldn't know I was still awake. That book and Salem's Lot made me want to write horror when I was a kid.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
I do! I'm a Monster Kid who grew up reading Famous Monsters magazine. I used to beg my parents to let me stay up for Creature Feature on Saturday nights. The first story I ever wrote was a werewolf story and I was probably eight or nine at the time. Also, when JAWS came out I wasn't allowed to see it at the theater, but I heard all about it from friends at school. I became obsessed with sharks and I have a very vivid memory of writing a sequel where the shark was so big it ate a submarine. I illustrated it and stapled the binding to make it a "real book".
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up in South Florida. We bounced back and forth quite a bit between two towns but the majority of my childhood was spent in Okeechobee, Florida. If you look at a map and see the big blue hole in the lower half of the state, that's Lake Okeechobee. The city itself sits right on top and when I was growing up there in the 1970's & 80's there wasn't a whole lot to do there. That meant we spent a lot of time on our bikes or exploring through the woods. My grandmother had a boat that we would take out into the lake and fish.

All of that has added a great deal to my writing. In particular the swampy parts of Florida, Georgia and Louisiana inspire me. There's a lot of mystery there. South Florida is still a wild place. It's one of those parts of the U.S. where you could get lost and people may not find you for days and looking back on the history of Florida in general, there seems to be a certain strange magic there. From the plethora of tourist traps (including the one with the mouse) that sprang up through the middle of the state from the 1940's into the present, the drug trade that's become famous in and around Miami-Dade, to the "drop out" vibe of the Keys, it's just a place made to write stories about.
What do you read for pleasure?
I read a good mix of fiction and nonfiction. On the fiction side, it's usually horror, sci-fi and some mystery but only from certain authors who I really like. On the non-fiction side, I read a lot of musician biographies (which may be the most useless reading one could possibly do). I also read a lot of folk mythology and am a big fan of the Weird U.S. series of books. I find a lot of inspiration in those.
What are your five favorite books, and why?
If you'd asked about music albums, I'd be in a bind but with books I can whittle it down pretty quickly.

1. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas - Hunter S. Thompson

This book quite literally changed my life. His writing style just jumps off the page. It's a book that flows with an almost evangelical feel when read aloud. After I originally read it, the way I looked at the world and authority in general changed completely. I've probably read it close to thirty times.

2. The Stand - Stephen King

This is one I've read probably 8 - 10 times in my life. What sucks me in is King's incredibly vivid characters. Every time I get to the finish, I feel sad because it feels like saying goodbye to family.

3. Ghost Story - Peter Straub

This was a book that I came to later and what floors me is how original the premise and the antagonist are. He took a "ghost" story and turned it into something much more vicious. You know, very seldom does reading a book make me want to write a book. Ghost Story actually inspired another novel for me, so that's really saying something.

4. Dandelion Wine - Ray Bradbury

The pictures that Bradbury paints of small town life in Dandelion Wine are pure, unadulterated art. This book filled me with nostalgia for a time I didn't even live through. It moved me to tears the first time I read it and there are points where I still choke up reading it again today.

5. Hardboiled Wonderland and The End of the World - Haruki Murakami

I don't want to say anything that might spoil it for those who have never read it. It's probably the most original book I've ever read. The final pages are devastating.

Favorites that didn't make the top five include Foucault's Pendulum (Umberto Eco), Sunset and Sawdust (Joe R. Lansdale), Heart of Darkness (Joseph Conrad) and the collected works of H.P. Lovecraft.
How do you discover the ebooks you read?
Many times, I discover authors through word of mouth. I have a number of friends who are writers and we tend to share what we're excited about. I also find them occasionally through the "you might like" prompts on Amazon or Barnes and Noble.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
I'm a huge music fan. Before Google came along, I was the guy people called and asked, "Who produced that one album by that band who sang that song I liked so much in 1992?" So there's a good possibility that if I'm not writing, I'm either listening to music or playing music. I've played guitar for years and sang in (mostly rock) bands in the 1990's. My current favorite guitar to play is a custom built 4-string slide guitar made with a Creature From The Black Lagoon theme.

I'm also an avid diver. I've been scuba diving for almost ten years now, mostly off the coast of Southern California.
What are you working on next?
A book that's set in South Georgia and centers around a character called Resurrection Phil. I've got a few books in the pipeline for him. I've also started a modern fantasy trilogy that starts in South Florida but eventually will make its way to New Mexico. So there's a lot still to come from me.

I've also got a short story coming that's about an old Irish man and a Cuban sandwich. I promise it's much more interesting than it sounds.
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Books by This Author

Fenton Takes a Swim: A Bonus Chapter from The Wash
Price: Free! Words: 5,120. Language: English. Published: October 27, 2017. Categories: Fiction » Horror » General, Fiction » Horror » Weird fiction
"Big Al" Fenton's been called to Ogden Wash to deal with an employee who's breaking too many rules. What he finds is a man whose newfound confidence is deadly. This short story gives some background to events that play out in Cary Christopher's debut novel The Wash.
A Debt to the Dead
Price: Free! Words: 3,240. Language: English. Published: September 30, 2017. Categories: Fiction » Horror » General, Fiction » Horror » Weird fiction
(4.33 from 3 reviews)
A man must face the ghosts of the past in a Louisiana bayou in order to save his family.