It’s been a while since the original Kickin’ The Willy Bobo interview with Mark so I thought it about time we caught up with what he’s all about and what he’s doing 16 MONTHS LATER…
Derrick Ferguson: Any major changes in your life since we last talked?
Mark Bousquet: Nope. Life is going well. I love living in Reno and I love my job. There's some uncertainty lurking on the horizon - my contract is up in June and won't be renewed for various departmental regulations (basically, a person is only allowed to hold my position for 3 years and then they have to leave - it doesn't matter how good or poor they have performed the position) so I don't know where I'll be living or what I'll be doing seven months from now, but that will take care of itself when the time comes. Maybe I'll still be in academics, or maybe I won't, but that's a question for the future. Right now, I'm happy to be doing what I'm doing where I'm doing it.
DF: How’s Darwin doing?
MB: He loves living in Reno even more than I do. Reno sits at the eastern edge of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and we live far enough away from downtown that we're in the hills almost every day. He couldn't ask for a better situation. I hope wherever we end up has the hiking possibilities it does here. Even after almost 2.5 years here we're still finding new paths and trails to hike within an hour's walk of our front door. He'll be 7 in December but whenever we head outside he's still as active as a pup.
DF: As a writer, in what ways do you feel you’ve grown and developed?
MB: I think I've developed a better sense of layering my stories and grown more comfortable with letting the story dictate itself instead of forcing it into a pre-determined box. THE HAUNTING OF KRAKEN MOOR was a huge positive in this regard. That novel (which takes place in the Gunfighter Gothic universe, though on the other side of the Atlantic) introduced a whole lotta new firsts for me: first horror novel, first first-person novel, first time writing as a female character, first time structuring the novel as a journal. I wrote the novel in "real time" as much as possible. Which is to say that even though the story is taking place in 1864, I wrote the January 1 entry on January 1 and so on. I even tried to match the time of day as much as possible. It was a fascinating experiment, given that writing in a journal is completely different act than writing a story, so there are moments in the book where the reader is frustrated by Beatrice's reluctance to include certain details, or her unwillingness to see every subplot through to the end, or her being contradictory. All of these elements are very human, I think, but it's not a standard way to write a novel.
I found it very liberating, and that led to two of my best pieces: "Why Grant Jannen Can'tHave Sex," available for free at my Atomic Anxiety site and "The Pretty Girl with the Ugly Name," published in the PsychopompPunk Special from Artifice Comics. Both of these works show off a new narrative voice for me. Usually, I favor keeping the "me" parts of writing simple and neutral and I let the characters provide all the personality, but in these two pieces, just as in KRAKEN MOOR, I'm letting the author have a bit more say about the story's style.
DF: Have any of your attitudes about your work or your style of writing changed completely or modified in any way?
MB: I think all of us who write and publish in the Print on Demand area go through the cauldron when it comes to sales. There have been times when I've been really focused on how many copies I sell. Right now, though, I'm at the opposite end. I'm back where I started, just trying to tell the best stories I can in my own voice and letting the sales fall where they may. Finding a creative outlet with the various Artifice Comics publications (of which my contributions are all prose and not comics) has been a huge blessing. When I look at KRAKEN MOOR, "Grant Jannen," and "Pretty Girl," I can see a different voice than I usually use emerging and that's exciting. It's just more arrows in the quiver.
DF: In what direction do you think your work is heading in now as opposed to 16 months ago? Or is it going in the same direction?
MB: It's a much darker direction now than it was 16 months ago. KRAKEN MOOR stars a runaway American girl who goes to work at a castle estate in England where demons torture, kill, and sex everyone they can. There's nothing fun in that story. People die. People have sex with werewolves who turn around and eviscerate them. People make huge sacrifices.
The answer to the title of "Why Grant Jannen Can't Have Sex" is because he has the power to make people do what he wants. He's not aware of it for a very long time, but I wanted to examine the idea of what happens to a man when he finds out that all of the women he's ever had sex with only did so because of his superpower of influence. And if you can't stop your power, then how can you actually ever have sex again without knowing you might actually be getting someone to do something they wouldn't normally do? Check out the opening to the story, and you can see an example of a different voice than I usually use:
"By the time Grant was 24 years old, he had raped 47 women.
None of these rapes occurred in dark alleys. None of them involved stalking. Or violence. No woman had ever bit him or clawed him or struggled with him. No woman had ever said No. No woman had ever said Stop. No woman had ever complained in any way. There were no files on him in police stations, save for a marijuana bust last winter. Neither the state of New Hampshire, where he was born, nor the state of Minnesota, where he went to college, nor the state of Montana, where he now lives, nor the federal government of the United States considered Grant to be anything except an upstanding citizen who paid his taxes, always voted, had never married, and liked to travel alone.
Grant liked to travel alone because that had prevented him from raping anyone.
Two years, eight months, and a pocket full of days for change had passed since he raped Martha Teagarden. She did not complain. She does not regret what happened. She still calls every now and then.”
Not happy fun time.
I'm also writing less reviews but more travel writing which is a genre I very much enjoy working in.
DF: Update us on GUNFIGHTER GOTHIC: BLOOD OF THE UNIVERSE. What has been the feedback on that? Do you have a sequel in the works?
MB: Feedback has been very positive on GUNFIGHTER GOTHIC, which is good because Hanna and Jill are two of my favorite creations and I plan on releasing two or even three GOTHIC collections in 2014. I love how flawed they are - they fight, they bicker, they're grown-ups who sometimes still act like they did when they were kids, and they make plenty of mistakes. Yet, through it all, they can give each other crap in even the most ridiculous circumstances. I love that.
They have a complicated history - while they grew up in the same house, Jill is the merchant's daughter while Hanna was a servant's daughter. They got in all sorts of mischief, and Hanna eventually fell in love with Jill, and Jill returned that love only when it was convenient for her. Now, they're partners and on the same level and that allows for a whole lot of fun exchanges.
The sequel to BLOOD is done. It's called UNDER ZEPPELIN SKIES and it picks up where BLOOD left off, with Hanna and Jill on a zeppelin undergoing a zombie outbreak.
There are four short stories (maybe 6 if I decide to include two reprints). As much as I love Hanna and Jill, ZEPPELIN was a hard book to write because the story kept spinning away from me. Or rather, the tone kept spinning away from me. It's a weird western, but it kept wanting to be ridiculous and fun, too, and it took a while for me to let it be what it wanted to be, which was to pepper UNFORGIVEN with a good heavy dose of BRISCO COUNTY, JR. The first story, "Waltzing Zombies Prefer Dixie," gives a bit of a different spin on the zombie story, as post-Civil War Confederates release a virus aboard a zeppelin that turns supporters of the Northern cause into zombies. People can slow, retard, or even stop that virus by acting in a pro-Confederate manner. People on board were pro-Union and the zombie infestation puts those ideals to the test.
The other stories are "The Vampires of Jesus Christ," "Colorado Kaiju," and "Demon Winter," and I kept going back and forth between making ZEPPELIN a novel or a collection. There's an overall story of Jill and Hanna tracking down Jill's ex-fiance, but in the end I decided to go the short story route and minimize Dotson's direct involvement until the final story.
I have also just released a Kindle exclusive short story entitled "Thanksgiving at theHouse of Absinthe & Steam," which has Hanna and Jill fighting the weird in London. It's a very dark story but Hanna and Jill keep things fun - for the reader and for me. They're far from perfect, and end up getting drunk alongside the woman they're supposed to protect and one of them ends up getting buried alive. The story takes place after ZEPPELIN, yet is going to be published first, but it's designed to work as a stand-alone story. Eventually, "House of Absinthe" will wind up in GUNFIGHTER GOTHIC VOLUME 2: EUROPEAN HOLIDAY. It's interesting to me that the further I take Hanna and Jill away from the "western," the "weird" increases.
DF: I really loved THE HAUNTING OF KRAKEN MOOR. In what wonderfully diseased recess of your mind did that story come from and are you going to write any more stories in that style?
MB: First, thanks. KRAKEN MOOR has been a huge influence on GUNFIGHTER GOTHIC; the darker direction of "The House of Absinthe & Steam" is because of KRAKEN MOOR. In fact, the final story of ZEPPELIN is a sequel of sorts to KRAKEN MOOR, as it takes Hanna and Jill into the castle.
As to where it came from - I was sitting in my apartment last New Year's Eve, and around 1 or 2 PM I decided I wanted to do something new. I like being able to look at my bookshelf and say, "That's my western, that's my kids' book, that's my cosmic pulp, that's my urban fantasy," and I realized I couldn't point at anything and say, "That's my horror novel." I decided to take a bunch of the various things I wanted to try (horror, first person narration, writing in a woman's voice, etc.) and put them together. When I wrote the first entry, I had no real idea of what the story was going to be other than there was going to be a young American woman working in a haunted castle. From there, I let things progress rather organically. I was writing and posting the story online nearly every single day, so there was no time to go back and change things (though I did relent on this point a time or two) - most everything had to be done on the fly and I let my own reader response guide me. If I felt the story was getting a little boring, I introduced something exciting. Because I wanted a creepy horror story, that usually involved demonic sex. There are a few moments in the novel where this gets away from me, but on the whole I am tremendously pleased with how it turned out and I think it's my best full-length work.
DF: And then you can switch gears and do children’s books that are equally as imaginative and captivating to read such as STUFFED ANIMALS FOR HIRE and ADVENTURES OF THE FIVE. Do you have to consciously switch on a part of your brain to write children’s books or does it all come from the same place?
MB: Honestly, one is therapy for the other. When I spend too much time writing dark stories, it's nice to be able to go write some bright, shiny kids' stories for a while, and vice versa. As an academic, one of the things I look for are the intertextual connections between books. You can take any two stories and see what one says about the other one, and I like to do that when I'm writing. So if I'm writing a western, I'm not watching or reading other westerns. I'm watching Hercule Poirot movies, and when I write a detective story, I'm not watching POIROT, but I might be watching a bunch of spaghetti westerns. When I go write a detective story (as Idid for Artifice's Halloween special, resurrecting my old, briefly seenFrontier Publishing stomping grounds, Chalifax, the City of Dying Magic ) I knew I was going to hear Agatha Christie and David Suchet and Hugh Fraser anyway, so watching other genres helps me make sure I'm doing more than aping their style.
DF: I think it’s really exciting that you have opened up the DREAMER’S SYNDROME universe to other writers. Can you first explain DREAMER’S SYNDROME to those not familiar with the concept?
MB: Sure thing. God goes into hiding and sends an order back to the angels to remake the world so that everyone is transformed, overnight, into their childhood dream. If you wanted to be a pirate, you're a pirate. If you wanted to be an astronaut, you're an astronaut. The world is transformed, too, so the modern American southwest is largely reconfigured as the Wild West and New York is remade as a place for superheroes.
DF: Why did you decide to open it up to other writers?
MB: Over on Facebook, Greg Rosa asked when I was going to do it. I said, "I'd do it right now if there was interest" and he assured me he could line up a handful of writers to participate and between his writers and those responding to the Call for Proposals it looks like there might be enough for two collections. There's still time to submit, too, so if anyone out there is moved, send me a proposal. The majority of submissions, so far, are from people with very few publications and that's very exciting.
DF: You’ve taken a break from writing movie reviews. Can you tell us why and will there be another collection of your movie reviews coming?
MB: There's 700-800 reviews at Atomic Anxiety and I was getting burned out. I love writing DOCTOR WHO reviews and when I couldn't bring myself to keep up with the latest season (which I really liked), I knew it was time to step back for awhile. I've got enough reviews for a solid sci-fi collection, but there such a random collection of movie reviews, I'm wondering how to arrange them, and if I should wait until I get a few more classics reviewed. I've got the Marvel Comics on Film book out and it covers every Marvel movie I could watch through last year's AVENGERS (including the old '70s TV movies, of which DOCTOR STRANGE is a real standout). I'd like to go ahead and tackle DC's movies, at some point, too.
DF: Hollywood calls you up and says that they’re going to spend $500 million to make a movie out of one of your books and let you pick the director. Which book do you let them have and which director do you choose?
MB: Man, I've been pondering this question all week and I'm still not sure. I'm tempted to offer up combinations of GUNFIGHTER GOTHIC and J.T. Petty (director of the excellent and largely unseen THE BURROWERS) or DREAMER'S SYNDROME and Joe Cornish (director of the excellent and largely unseen ATTACK THE BLOCK or HARPSICHORD & THE WORMHOLE WITCHES and Matt Reeves (director of CLOVERFIELD) or STUFFED ANIMALS FOR HIRE (which is basically The A-Team for kids) and Gore Verbinski, but I think if we're gonna roll with a big budget, I'd pair ADVENTURES OF THE FIVE with Andrew Stanton. I think Stanton has demonstrated a fine ability to balance good humor with big emotions, and that's what THE FIVE is about.
DF: Recommend a movie, a book and a TV show.
MB: Movie: THE HOBBIT. We live in such a jaded age that people can't wait to turn on the things tomorrow that they loved yesterday. There's a certain segment of fandom that seems to be in a race to declare something awful. It's like there's a whole tribe of Dennis Millers, always with a cynical, snarky putdown at the ready. I get not liking a movie, but I do not understand when people decide to mount their own personal campaign against a movie whose only crime is that other people like it. THE HOBBIT is a big, fun movie. Is it as good as the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy? No, but that doesn't mean it ain't a really good film.
Book: I'm reading two books right now that are both fantastic: David Shoemaker's THE SQUARED CIRCLE, a history of professional wrestling, and Hal Needham's STUNTMAN!, an autobiography of his time in Hollywood. I'm in the beginning stages of both, but Needham's story is told very conversationally. I feel like he's sitting with me at a bar and telling stories about John Wayne and Burt Reynolds. I've been enjoying Shoemaker's writing on wrestling for years (he was the author of the "Dead Wrestler of the Week" feature at Deadspin, and he now writes for Grantland) and SQUARED CIRCLE sees him at the top of his game; he has a unique talent to always talk about the present in the context of the past that gives his writing some real power.
TV Show: MISS FISHER'S MURDER MYSTERIES. Netflix has finally started streaming POIROT, but they only have the first 6 seasons, which I devoured in a couple weeks. I went looking for another mystery to fill the void and stumbled onto FISHER'S. It's set in post-WWI Australia, and it's one of those shows where they set it in the past but fill it with a whole bunch of modern sensibilities. It's nothing deep, but like POIROT it's a whole lot of fun watching Phryne Fisher solve some really nasty crimes.
Derrick Ferguson: Anything else we should know?
Mark Bousquet: Until the end of 2013, anyone who wants a free .pdf copy of "Thanksgiving at the House of Absinthe & Steam" can have one by sending me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. No strings attached - you don't have to write a review and you won't be put on a mailing list. 2014 is going to be a big year for GUNFIGHTER GOTHIC (time willing, I'm going to try and get Hanna and Jill in as many different anthologies as would be appropriate) and I think "House of Absinthe" is a really good intro into this world. Volume 1 will be out in late January or early February, so now is a good time to jump on board.
ADVENTURES OF THE FIVE: THE CHRISTMAS ENGINE will be out before Christmas, so anyone looking for a fun book for kids might find it to their liking.
I'm on the web at my personal website (themarkbousquet.com), my review site (atomicanxiety.wordpress.com), and on Twitter (@mark_bousquet), and all my published works can be found at my Author Central site (http://www.amazon.com/Mark-Bousquet/e/B004WWUTNU).
That covers it. Thanks, as always, for the chat, Derrick.