Trick-or-Treat Thrillers is very honored to interview the J. Ellington Ashton 2015 Author’s Choice Collection of the Year award, Jim Goforth!
Book Description: With Tooth and Claw
Chad, Vincent and their friends are going camping. Chad doesn’t even like camping. The only reason he is even here is because the delectable Denise has come along too.
Now they are all assembled around the campfire drinking and trying to scare one another with lame horror stories. None of which are particularly scary. Chad is hoping they hurry it up and move along to some more risqué games, preferably involving Denise.
However, Vincent has one more tale to tell…
Nick and Maree just want to have a good night together. But people won’t stop messing with them. The town bully, the self-perceived beauty queen, even the local cop want to give them some sort of hell.
Maybe that is a very bad idea…
Stu just wants to get himself as drunk as possible and visit all the strip clubs in town, ogling and deriding all the naked dancers he can. Pretty much the same thing he does every night. He thought he knew all the exotic dancing bars and strip clubs, but apparently not. Club Styx isn’t somewhere he has ever been before…
John has come home from the war, a deserter, sneaking back into the country. He hasn’t come back the same as he went away. He’s brought something with him, a curse, a contagion. And it isn’t something he can contain. When it starts to spread, it is going to spread like wildfire and there will be no stopping it…
Cody and Jeff are supposed to be on a simple stakeout mission, warned by their brutal criminal boss to follow his orders to the letter. Boredom and curiosity are going to get the better of them, and this basic job is about to get a whole lot more involved…
Donna can’t let herself fall asleep. Because when she does, the same thing happens every time. People die in a grisly violent fashion. She’s tried everything to halt the inevitable, but she’s so sleepy. And drifting off…
Josh and Megan are hiking with their group, aiming to reach the peak of notorious Mount MacGinnis. When a freakish thunderstorm drives them all to seek sanctuary in the many caves existing in the mountainside, the duo take the opportunity to explore their developing relationship. However, there are others in this group who appear to know a little more about the mysterious cave network than they are letting on.
Before long, it isn’t just going to be heavy rain and blustery wind pouring havoc down on these unwary shelter seekers…
There is a whole lot of gruesome death and violence inflicted within this collection of macabre tales, but the majority of it contains one common element. Weapons and tools are not utilized here, bloody havoc is caused, with tooth and claw.
What does it feel like to be the winner of the 2015 Author’s Choice Collection of the Year award from J. Ellington Ashton Press?
It’s always great to have ones work acknowledged and appreciated by their peers, so I definitely get a buzz out of that. I’ve picked up a couple of others along the way, including J. Ellington Ashton’s Writer of the Year in 2014, which was another extremely cool moment, and each time anything like that happens, I’m always happy to know that people are taking notice of what I do. It’s a great honor, it’s humbling and it can also serve as some kind of validation or reinforcement that you’re on the right track with what you’re doing.
Ultimately though, I don’t write for awards, or with any thought of awards in my mind. I write because I love to write, it’s what I want to do and the constant maelstrom of stories jostling for prime attention in my head don’t leave an abundance of room for other contemplations. I would still be writing in one form or another, regardless.
I do have to say that it feels just as good as having With Tooth and Claw win the Collection of the Year award, seeing my brother in horror and metal, Toneye Eyenot, win the Authors Choice Book of the Year award with his debut The Scarlett Curse.
What gave you the idea for your book With Tooth and Claw?
As With Tooth and Claw is a collection-it is comprised of seven different pieces, three which are around novella length, while the rest are shorter stories-there are myriad of ideas at play there. Most of them are relatively new tales, though a couple of them are in fact, quite old, and the concept for the lengthy closer Cavedwellers is perhaps the oldest of all, originally an idea I tossed around decades ago.
The ideas are derived from all different kinds of inspiration, no one particular individual source, considering the components of the book were essentially written over a period of years. I find inspiration in just about anything and everything, whether it comes from ordinary daily happenings, something I’ve heard or seen, or encountered, a single throwaway statement, the news, anything. A favourite source of inspiration and ideas for me comes merely from images; I can, and often do, base an entire story around one solitary image. Old, abandoned, decrepit houses, warehouses, other dwellings and things like that are infinitely inspirational, so too snapshots of woods, swamps and other places out in nature where it’s all too easy to conjure up a plethora of horror tales.
Music is another big source of inspiration for me, in particular extreme metal, though of course, not to the exclusion of all else. A good example of where music has proved influential comes in the form of the story Apocalypticism from With Tooth and Claw. This one is drawn from the lyrics of a song of the same name from Norwegian avant garde/industrial black metal outfit Dodheimsgard, and revolves around the initial outbreak of an undead apocalypse. The song itself has nothing to do with zombies, but the apocalyptic tone of the lyrics lend themselves well to an interpretation as such, so that’s how I approached that story. For anybody not familiar with the song or the band, and I concede that probably won’t be anybody bar extreme metal aficionados, it’s a story featuring my take on a well frequented theme, while for those who are familiar, the whole thing is littered with musical references around the band who penned the song. It’s a story for anybody, but under the layers of a simple zombie outbreak tale, there is more going on, especially for those who will get the various allusions spread throughout.
The other pieces that constitute With Tooth and Claw, particularly the novella length ones, all came from mere seeds of ideas, where I had a bare bones premise of what was going to happen. After kicking them off with the first few lines, introducing the characters and so forth, I just handed the reins over to the protagonists and let them go, running themselves into situations they’d have to find their own way out of or not at all. This is fundamentally how I write novels as well. Detailed, painstaking, meticulous planning and outlining, plotting and trying to get everything organized to the smallest of facets beforehand is, and never has been, for me. Sometimes, mainly with short stories, I already have the whole story in my head from start to finish, and know precisely how it is going to play out (Strip To the Bone from With Tooth and Claw is one such entity), and other times, I have no real clue how things are going to end, so I’ll be as surprised as anybody by what eventually transpires by the time I get done writing. Planning everything in too regimented a fashion is too rigid for me; I far prefer to write free and unrestrained, and give control to the characters.
Sometimes with fiction collections there are books where the stories are all independent of one another, an assemblage of different works showcasing that authors short pieces, other times they might all follow a theme, or be in some way connected, maybe all occurring in a shared world. When I was originally putting together With Tooth and Claw, I was going under the impression that it was going to be in the former category, but as I read through all the tales, I realised that there was a common link in each of them, which was how the book name came about. These are all horror stories, so there is a fair share of death and bloodshed in occurrence, however it doesn’t come about through the use of weapons; it is all dealt out with tooth and claw.
What else have you written?
I’ve written Plebs, Undead Fleshcrave: The Zombie Trigger (to be released very soon), co-written Feral Hearts with a handful of other JEA authors (many of the same line-up have also worked on Lycanthroship, coming out some time in the near future) as well as stories in anthologies such as Rejected For Content: Splattergore, Rejected For Content: Aberrant Menagerie, Terror Train, Axes of Evil, Teeming Terrors, Ghosts: An Anthology of Horror From the Beyond, Suburban Secrets: A Neighborhood of Nightmares and Autumn Burning: Dreadtime Stories For the Wicked Soul.
I also have a large body of work not yet published, including two more follow-up books to Plebs (originally written as one book, but split in two due to the sheer size of it), a few other novels and many more short stories to be compiled into future collections. I’ve stated elsewhere that it’s my plan to release a collection of shorts/novellas between each novel release, so after Undead Fleshcrave surfaces, I’ll likely have another book in the vein of With Tooth and Claw ready to roll.
What got you into writing sci-fi/horror?
I think I was always destined in one way or another to write horror. Some of my very earliest stories, which I took to writing not too long after learning to read, were pretty horrific in nature for a kid, revolving around all kinds of distinctly unpleasant monsters and hellish creations. I didn’t solely concentrate on those kinds of things, I was a genre jumper extreme. I wrote stories that were adventure and action, I wrote fantasy stuff, I wrote what I suppose could be defined as urban, centred around teenage gang members and such, I even dabbled in the likes of western and erotica, but horror won out as my chief literary passion, both in terms of writing and reading. I had an enormous love of reading, and I read anything and everything, but I gravitated towards horror and developed the desire not just to read as much as I could of it, but also to write it. I wrote an assortment of stories, but I also wrote two horror novels while I was still a teenager, inspired and motivated by all my favourite horror writers. Quite early on I was influenced by the likes of Graham Masterton, Shaun Hutson, Dan Simmons and Robert McCammon among many others including the earlier material from Koontz and King, but Richard Laymon, who I discovered in the early 90’s, sometime after I was already quite familiar with the works of these other authors, was the one who really cemented the notion that I wanted to be a horror writer, in fact the one whose writing assisted in me honing the way I wrote and acknowledging that I didn’t need to try and write like anybody else, but just write what I wanted, the way I wanted, the things that I personally loved to read.
What is the writing process like for you? What is your writing day like?
Fuelled by lots of coffee and heavy metal! Generally, a whole lot of the actual writing doesn’t happen for me during the day. There’s all the daily things which have to be done that happen outside of writing, there are my two little kids running riot, and an all-round bunch of stuff which means I can’t dedicate complete attention to writing.
What I am usually doing during the day, when I’m not contending with all the above, is networking, catching up on emails and messages across a span of different sites, liaising with members of JEA, or others, also other authors, fans and so forth. I keep up a constant presence on the likes of Facebook, because for whatever faults it may have, it is a great communications tool and I’m able to interact with a wide assortment of folk there. I also maintain four other pages aside from my personal profile, including a page specifically for my horror writing, one for Plebs, one for the Rejected For Content anthology series and one for WetWorks which is the extreme horror imprint of J. Ellington Ashton. I remain active on Twitter, Google+ and other social media platforms and run a WordPress site, so essentially all of these things come under the banner of promotion. Some days I’ll do a pretty aggressive barrage of promoting across a spread of different areas, others I’ll either do nothing, or pick and choose deliberately how to target promoting that day. Never the most fun or exciting part of the writing game, promotion is nonetheless a necessary one. One might have written the greatest book under the sun, but unless other people are made aware of it, they aren’t going to read it, they aren’t going to know about it.
Aside from this, during in the day is usually when I’ll be doing editing, either of other people’s books, or working on my own, in terms of cutting down word counts, cleaning pieces up before submission, and things of that nature. If I have an anthology I’m working on, then it will be a case of issuing acceptances/rejections etc, issuing contracts, chasing up contracts, editing, sorting out tables of contents, but once again, none of this will actually involve doing any of my personal writing.
Any interviews I have to do, or blog posts for either my own site, or perhaps guest posts for others, will also be something I can do throughout the day. Things I can walk away from and come back to later, if I’m required to attend to other matters here, are what consume most of the time spent in front of the computer on a daily basis.
Once night rolls around, that’s when my writing can begin. The kids are in bed, usually coming up with every excuse under the sun as to why they shouldn’t be, along with a few of their own creation, but eventually they’re settled down and I get to work on my material. Nine times out of ten, I have multiple documents with different projects open. One might end up receiving the bulk of the attention, particularly if I get on a roll with it, but it isn’t uncommon for me to shift between separate pieces during any given writing session. I never sit and stare at a blank screen at all; by the time I get around to sitting down at the computer to write, I have a flood of ideas and words to get out which have been stampeding through my head during the day. As I mentioned in a previous question, I don’t outline or plan, and I generally don’t make too much in the way of notes in periods when I’m not at the computer. If an idea hits me in those moments, then I’ll remember it if it is a good enough one.
Harking back to my introductory line to this question, I have the coffee on the go all around the clock and often, a soundtrack of music playing. Heavy metal (particularly of the extreme varieties) is my poison of choice in that regard, but things like industrial, glam/hair metal, thrash, sixties rock, blues, horrorcore, even some dance music also find their way onto my playlists. This isn’t always the case, often I prefer to write in complete silence, or at least, without any music playing, it all depends on the mood, situation, or even the particular scenes I’m writing, as to what type of ambience works.
What is your favorite book (other than your own book, of course) and why?
One single favourite book isn’t exactly something I have, it’s more a case of multiple favourite books and favourite authors.
Anything by Richard Laymon, even some of those not so revered by other Laymon fanatics take pride of place on my bookshelf of favourites, though in terms of sentimental favourites, Darkness, Tell Us wins the prize. This isn’t so much as for the story itself, but the actual physical copy of the book. It was the very first Laymon novel I ever read back in the early 90’s and the copy I have is the same copy I read, a 91 Headline first edition.
Other than my Laymon collection there are books which were very influential in their own ways in shaping my passion for writing horror, which makes them favourites too. Cabal by Clive Barker, Walkers by Graham Masterton, Watchers by Dean R. Koontz (anything when he kept the R in his by-line is worth a read, when he dropped it, some of his mojo seemed to vacate the premises too, but that’s just a personal opinion) and The Spirit by Thomas Page.
When I was younger I was a big fan of all of S.E Hinton’s books, at least those of the Rumble Fish, That Was Then, This is Now, Outsiders era.
Adventureland by Steve Harris, Boy’s Life and Swan Song by Robert McCammon, Carrion Comfort by Dan Simmons also rate a mention, though in the interests of keeping this to a manageable length I won’t list any more, though it would be extremely easy to prattle on all day.
What are you doing next?
The next thing out from me will be the aforementioned novel Undead Fleshcrave: The Zombie Trigger. It probably would have been out a little earlier, but the process was delayed by a couple of factors, but finally it is just about to be unleashed. This is, as the name might suggest, an undead exploration, but certainly not in the vein of any other. It’s my own unique spin on the theme, with an undead apocalypse erupting amidst black and death metal scenes. It will feature my own brand of grindhouse splatterpunk stylings, with a big cast of characters, buckets of bloods and be kicked along by a soundtrack of metal mayhem.
Also coming along quite soon will be the third volume of the Rejected For Content series, RFC3: Vicious Vengeance. I took over the reins of the series for book 2 onwards and the whole franchise as it were, shows no signs of slowing down just yet. The response to the submissions call for book three was such that I have a host of stories for the fourth volume already to start, comprised from tales which were great, but I simply didn’t have room for in RFC2: Aberrant Menagerie.
I’ll also be appearing in a few more anthologies, notably in Crystal Lake’s ‘Tales From the Lake Volume 2’ alongside horror masters like Ed Lee, Jack Ketchum, Ramsey Campbell and myriad other brilliant authors. There are a couple of other anthologies I’ll have some involvement in, but predominantly I will be focusing on my own books. The last couple of years I probably got too tempted into writing stories for anthologies that caught my eye, and while that didn’t impact on my own writing too much, it was still time spent writing anything other than my own books. Nonetheless, I’m currently writing two new novels and a handful of other shorts/novellas which will be destined for future collections, some themed, some not so much.
The follow up book(s) to Plebs have also been completed, right down to the point of cutting as much in the way of surplus words out and splitting the gargantuan opus into two separate halves, ready to shoot off to the publishers.
I recently edited and tidied up a book I wrote over twenty years ago, with a view to one day releasing it, as some kind of origins of my writing evolution or something along those lines. It’s actually the first book I ever tried to get published many, many moons ago, long before social media even existed, and opposed to the first horror book I wrote some years prior to that, it isn’t a mishmash of other styles, but more a case of me discovering how to write how I wanted to write.
What advice would you give aspiring writers?
This is the same line I’ve wheeled out a few times before, but it never gets any less applicable. If you love to write, then just write. Don’t give up, don’t get discouraged or put off by rejection, since that’s all part of the game, don’t be afraid to take and accept constructive criticism, and work at honing those facets being spotlighted.
If you’re looking to go the traditional route in seeking to be published, then do your homework on the sorts of publishers you might want to approach. Make sure they are a good fit for you, or they are likely to publish the material you write, and above all, adhere to their submission guidelines and specific criteria. Not paying attention to detail will cruel any aspiring writer’s chances if a publisher’s website clearly states what they are looking forward and how they want it submitted. Unsolicited manuscripts are another thing to be aware of. Most publishers have various opening times for submissions or novel pitches throughout the year, so hitting them up with unrequested books in periods other than those times aren’t going to do one any favours; more often than not, those books will never get read and sitting around waiting for a response will be wasting your constructive time.
Ultimately though, my advice to aspiring writers is that same simple statement I’ll keep saying. If you love to write, then write. If you want to write, then write. That is the chief reason I do it. I simply love writing.