Today we are honored to speak with another JEA award winner, Michael “Fish” Fisher, author of the book: DC’s Dead.
When a small group of outcasts from the suburbs of Washington, DC witness the zombie apocalypse happening before their eyes, what will they do to survive and will they succeed?
A small cabin in the mountains of Virginia, once a refuge from the hectic rush of city life, may now be the only refuge for life for these self-labelled DC Freaks.
Not your mama’s Cabin in the Woods.
What does it feel like to be the winner of the 2015 Editor’s Choice Book of the Year award from J. Ellington Ashton Press for your book DC’s Dead?
I was wonderful to find that my story stood out among so many other fantastic stories. I worked so long on it, it is quite rewarding to have my efforts acknowledged.
What gave you the idea for DC’s Dead?
Back in late 2001, I ran a zombie survival horror roleplaying game for some friends in the DC area in which I had the players play themselves. I started the in-game story during one of our weekly gaming sessions, and how they would react to a news report of the rise of the undead. These gaming sessions were the inspiration for DC’s Dead. The main group of characters, as well as many of the people that join as the story progresses, are based on real people I know and love, so therefore I tried to write their characters with their individual voices and personalities. I could have changed their names, as well as the names of the places, “to protect the innocent,” but I don’t think it would have felt as right to me.
The locations, such as the Crawlspace and the MountainHaüs are places at which we all spent so much time; they are home, or memories of home at least. I ‘deadicated’ the book to all those friends whom I got to kill horribly, at their request and permission, of course. In fact, one of the most common requests I get from friends and acquaintances is to make them a victim in one of my stories, although, these days, it is usually in name only, as opposed to DC’s Dead.
What got you into writing horror?
I have had an avid love of horror since my early childhood. My earliest memory is, at age four, watching Tod Browning’s Dracula, with Bela Lugosi casting his hypnotic gaze at the viewer. I followed it up the next day by chasing the little girls around my preschool, screaming, “I VANT TO SUCK YOUR BLOOD!” As a local convent ran the program, the nuns in charge of us were not pleased. I wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest if my mother got a call from Sister Philomena that morning. After that, I was hooked. I remember being obsessed with Dawn of the Dead when it came out in 1978, not that I got to see it right away. My mom would buy Fangoria magazine for me, at that impressionable age, so I became engulfed in gory thrills while in my single digits.
I have a thirteen year old son that is as obsessed with horror as I was but I have kept it reined in a bit more than my mom did. He will tell you all about Jason, Freddy, Michael and Leatherface, although he hasn’t seen any of them…yet. My mom felt that if you understood that it was fake at an early age, it wasn’t as shocking. I saw Dawn of the Dead and Alien when they hit HBO a while after release, so I was safe in my own home for those, but not so much the last film that gave me nightmares.
In 1979, at the ripe old age of nine, I went to a double feature at a local drive-in with my folks. The later film, which they assumed I would be asleep for, was some sleazy sex comedy, but the main feature was Don Coscarelli’s Phantasm. I swear, if I ever get the chance to meet that man, I’m buying him a drink. There is a scene in which a severed finger transforms into a giant mutant fly. While looking back, the effects on that monster fly are laughable, at the time, it gave me nightmares for weeks. From that point on, I was good. To quote one of my favorite films, “No more bad dreams.” Luckily for me, the box office workers at the old rundown movie house near my home were not the most astute when it came to enforcing the R rating restriction. I got to see quite a few of the classics of the Eighties slasher genre well before I was seventeen.
Within a few years of my run-in with Coscarelli’s Bug From Hell, I also began reading horror, but I’m not talking Goosebumps here. I was likely around eleven or twelve when I first read The Shining and Christine. My mom, who you may be able to tell had a huge influence on my entertainment habits, was a huge Stephen King fan. I gobbled up his books as often as I could check them out from the public library. I also loved reading classics such as Dante, Poe, Shelley and Stoker, in my early teens. Then, things changed. In 1985, a book showed up on the New Release display at the library, which bore the now-famous quote “I have seen the future of horror and its name is Clive Barker,” on the cover. The Damnation Game was there, and if Stephen King thought it was fantastic, I had to read it. Upon completing it, I found a lone volume of the Books of Blood on the shelves, its spine barely cracked. I was awash in what would soon become splatterpunk, and King became tame.
Around the same time, my love of the gothic writings of Poe was taken to new levels when I discovered his son, if only in spirit, in a certain Howard Phillips Lovecraft. When I needed a break from the crimson-streaked pages of Barker, H.P. Lovecraft would take me to cyclopean cities awash in the Pacific, describing, or actually not describing, horrors that were beyond the comprehension of the human mind. Horror film directors have long said, the scariest thing is the monster you can’t see. By leaving his creations beyond description, they became so much more horrible and terror inducing.
I am such an avid fan of some of these authors that I have many literary tattoos, including a forearm devoted to Clive Barker’s Cabal, an entire leg to Lovecraft, a portrait of Dante, as well as a thumbprint face from Richard Christian Matheson’s Scars and Other Distinguishing Marks.
What is the writing process like for you? What is your writing day like?
I tend to come up with a vague concept for a story, such as a group of friends dealing with the zombie uprising, and flesh it out from there. I don’t tend to do an outline, although I did have a vague one with DC’s Dead. I have heard many writers praising the Scrivener writing software, as it allows you to create outlines, character files and such resources. I find it to be quite confusing and, in my limited writing time, I feel the time spent writing character bios and outlines, could be spent better actually writing.
Sadly, as I mentioned, I cannot devote an entire block of my day to writing, as I work a full-time job tattooing, as well as a family who need my attention. Perhaps, one of these days, when I can no longer tattoo, perhaps my days can be filled with writing.
I currently write when I have a bit of time in which I am not needed elsewhere. It is usually in places in which my children keep me waiting, such as at doctor’s appointments, Boy Scout meetings, or school pickup lines. I do also tend to use this limited time editing stories and creating book covers for J. Ellington Ashton Press. Lately, the covers have taken over that time a bit more than I would like, but I have found a proficiency at the job and I can do a full wraparound cover in a few hours, whereas writing can take weeks, months or even years. In fact, from the first time I put ballpoint pen to spiral bound notebook until I hit send on the email containing the final edits for DC’s Dead it was over eleven years. Things have gotten a bit quicker these days.
What are your favorite books (other than your own book, of course) and why?
That is actually a tricky question. I have favorite books in so many genres. I mentioned a few earlier. My top horror books are currently Clive Barker’s Cabal and Books of Blood anthologies, H.P. Lovecraft’s The Complete Fiction leather bound volume, John Skipp & Craig Spector’s Book of the Dead, Still Dead, The Scream and The Light at the End and Joe R. Lansdale’s Writer of the Purple Rage. A recent series that I cannot recommend highly enough is Mira’ Grant’s Newsflesh series, which deals with society after it has adapted to the rise of the zombies.
When it comes to science fiction, the top books are classics and modern classics such as Robert Heinlein’s Future History books including Time Enough For Love, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and The Number of the Beast; Spider Robinson’s Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon series; Neal Stephenson’s Snowcrash; and William Gibson’s Neuromancer series. Then, there is Star Wars. I have been a Star Wars nut since 1977 and have read many of the novels, starting with the film novelizations and Alan Dean Foster’s Splinter of the Mind’s Eye in 1979. I am currently listening to the audiobooks of the Expanded Universe.
For urban fantasy/action adventure, I am a patch-wearing acolyte of the Monster Hunter International series from Larry Correia (If you look closely at my hat on the DC’s Dead cover, you’ll see an MHI patch), as well as Jonathan Maberry’s Joe Ledger series, Kim Harrison’s The Hollows series, and the Dexter novels by Jeff Lindsay. I was so happy to hear that Correia and Maberry will be joining universes in an upcoming crossover story.
I’m sorry that I couldn’t limit myself to one or two, but all of these books helped to not only entertain but inspire my writing, in that they helped to show how to craft sentences and paragraphs to flow well and draw the reader into its created world.
What are you doing next?
I have been consistently writing short stories for J. Ellington Ashton anthologies throughout the year, with a few more due out soon. I have been working on my next novel, currently titled It Always Bites You in the End. It is a police procedural along the lines of CSI, but with supernatural elements. The protagonist, Bill MacCallen, is Washington DC Metro Police homicide detective. He finds a string of bodies, while all of which died in different and horrible ways, they are all connected as well. While trying to apprehend the killer, he finds himself in over his head and sinking rapidly. I have been working on this novel since 2014 and I hope to finish it before I see another New Years.
I started another novel around the same time entitled Water, Water Everywhere, which is a modern day retelling of Coleridge’s classic poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. It tells the tale of Sam Taylor, a ship’s hand aboard the freighter Kubla Khan, who, upon making some bad decisions, finds himself stranded at sea with a ship full of the undead. Not only does he have to deal with the hungry dead, he also has to cope with hunger, thirst, and the ensuing madness of being completely alone.
What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Write, write and write some more. When you aren’t writing, re-read it. Once you are done writing, read it again aloud and edit as you go. You will find that perhaps sentences don’t flow as well as you thought. Don’t get offended when your editor makes suggestions. They aren’t trying to take away your voice; they are trying to improve your story. Communicate with your cover artist about your ideas but listen as well. They will generally have a good idea how to make a clear and sellable cover for your baby. Lastly, don’t skimp on getting professionals to edit your work or illustrate it. Getting Aunt Gertie to read your book is not the same as a professional editor, unless of course she used to edit for Random House. A friend or family member will likely give it glowing praise with few to no edits for fear of offending you. Also, if you don’t earn your living in the graphic arts, don’t try to design your own cover in MS Paint. There are professionals for this. Either approach a reputable press, which will have these people on staff, or pay the money to hire them if you plan to self-publish.
See More of the authors books on his Amazon Page: http://www.amazon.com/Michael-Fisher/e/B00JARA3CE/ref=dp_byline_cont_ebooks_1