Welcome, C.S.! For those of us who might be unfamiliar with you, can you start by telling us a little about yourself and your upcoming book, The Massacre at Yellow Hill?
I’m an author who comes by way of the oil fields of West Texas, but who currently lives in Houston with my wife and two wonderful children. I’m a published in comic books, short stories, and now, most recently novels with my weird western The Massacre at Yellow Hill, published by Black Rose Writing.
As for the book, it’s an examination of family dynamics by way of a post-antebellum setting in West Texas, through the lens of cosmic and mundane horror.
It deals with a newly freed slave turned occult gunslinger and his adopted white son, and the Miller family who have lost their father/husband to a tragedy at one of the mines in Yellow Hill. It’s got vampires, my version of werewolves, Lovecraftian themes, gunfights, and things that go bump in the night.
It’s a fun, weird western adventure, I think.
That sounds like one hell of a book! What inspired the combination of weird west and horror?
Weird Westerns have always walked hand in hand with supernatural and horror elements, but for me the big influences are the works of Joe R. Lansdale (his Jonah Hex run, along with his weird westerns), H.P. Lovecraft (The Call of Cthulhu), Larry McMurtry (Lonesome Dove), Cormac McCarthy (Blood Meridian).
I’d also probably have to throw in Richard Matheson’s Shadow on the Sun.
You have a pretty badass blurb for your novel:”The Massacre at Yellow Hill is a rollicking and bloody take on the Old West through a Robert E. Howard-style zoetrope. Humble flexes pulp literary muscle in his gritty action sequences and evocative descriptions of a harsh, sinister shadow world.” – Laird Barron, author of Blood Standard.
I have to ask, what would change the most in your novel if Howard’s Conan swapped places with one of your main characters?
Oh man, it would get real bloody, real quick for one thing.
It would be especially interesting if you got early Conan, wandering the weird lands of this West Texas horizon with a bloody knife in one hand and a fist full of vengeance in the other. Though, he’d need to learn to use a six-gun, but I wouldn’t put that past him.
Someone like Solomon Kane or El Borak might last a bit longer, or at least fit in easier, without question. Maybe Breckenridge Elkins too.
Howard’s work has made an enormous impact on how I view action sequences in my head. His overall impact on fiction really can’t be overstated.
Howard has definitely left his mark in literature. On that note, you’ve mentioned some of your literary influences as an author. Is there one book that has had a particular impact on your writing?
There is, though it doesn’t really fit in genre writing. John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row was the first time I remember picking up a book and having a palpable realization that, after reading his first two paragraphs of that novel, I knew I was never going to be the same again. It is, by my measure, one of the most powerful openings to a book ever. Another book of his, Travels with Charlie: In Search of America also served as a way of cutting through my initial disease of the dreaded purple prose. And if Steinbeck is at the heart of my writing, then I’d say that J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings novel is the soul. I cling very closely to the idea of eucatastrophe, and that theme-line runs with varying thickness through all of my stories.
I have many intellectual writing mentors, but Steinbeck, Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Howard, and McCarthy have had the most impact.
I like that you mention the theme of eucatastrophe. It seems like the general trend in speculative fiction these days is to venture into “grimdark” territory.
Grimdark is very popular right now, thanks to folks George R.R. Martin, Glen Cook, Joe Abercrombie, Jack Ketchum, and lots of other very talented authors.
But I think that the idea of good standing triumphant in the face of conquering evil is an important one, especially for our current worldly landscape. It provides the balm of hope in places, both real and fictional, that endure long-suffering.
Like Paul Moon James said, hope is the star of navigation on life’s tremulous ocean.
Speaking of triumph, it’s never an easy thing to become a published author. What would you say was the most frustrating part of getting The Massacre at Yellow Hill out into the world?
Patience. Without question. For someone, like myself, who wrote and wrote for many years without much publication success, being patient with yourself and the growth of your capability as a writer is very difficult. But with the help of many wonderful, equally patient mentors like Brad Ellison, Rob Bass, and Laird Barron, I’ve started to see progress on that front.
But long and hard is the road that leads up out of Hell and into the light. It’s a road worth taking, though. At least, it has been for me.
As you were growing as a writer, what was the most helpful criticism you received?
And a difficult one because I have received so many pearls of wisdom in my career. The criticism that really affected me came from Rob Bass, who, after reading one of my early short stories, sat down with me and said, “I like what you’re doing here. Now, start over, do it again, and do it better.”
Rob helped me to see that you can never be complacent, you always have to be striving higher and diving deeper. The characters deserve it and so do the people who are reading about those character’s journeys.
Characters are the heart of any novel. A well-written character’s journey can really make or break a reader’s enjoyment. Were there any characters that were particularly enjoyable for you to write about in your book?
I really enjoyed writing the Miller children in the book, especially Annie, the oldest of them. She took me on a journey that I didn’t expect. After reading works by Molly Tanzer (Vermillion) and Silvia Moreno-Garcia (The Beautiful Ones) I realized that now, more than ever, it is important to put female characters out in the forefront of adventure. I openly admit that was a challenge for me, but I think people will enjoy Annie’s story, along with that of her mother, the widow Tabitha Miller.
I think the issue of active, well-written female characters is one that is receiving more attention these days. It sounds like you have several in your novel!
A diversity of voices helps a novel if a writer is willing to build the toolset to ensure all of them are fully three dimensional and not just prop pieces that serve as brownie points to the minorities they are a part of.
If you could have the supernatural ability to either come up with an endless supply of amazing ideas OR breathe life into even the boring, mundane scenes, which would you choose?
Well, to paraphrase Jim Butcher (The Dresden Files), ideas are cheap. Coming up with interesting realms, characters, or adventures is the easy part–the daydreaming, you could call it. And honestly, the “mundane” aspects of life are just vessels waiting to be filled up with imagination. But if you forced my hand, I’d say that I’d much rather be able to do to scenes what Cormac McCarthy does–give them weight and meaning while never removing them from their stark reality.
Jim Butcher is a good example. I know he famously combined the ideas of Pokemon and the lost Roman legion on a bet to prove that even “bad” ideas could be great in the hands of a skilled writer.
Okay, one more question that I’ve been dying to ask: You’re stranded on a desert island and can only choose one book to bring with you. What beverage would you choose to enjoy instead of reading?
Oh man, this one is brutal.
I have a few novels that I re-read every year. Lonesome Dove, Blood Meridian, and The Lord of the Rings. So, I’d find a way to take all of them, somehow! And the beverage would be bourbon, either Van Winkle Special Reserve or Blanton’s.
Excellent choices. For both the book and the beverage!