Today I got the chance to sit down with dark fiction writer B.L. Daniels and ask him some questions about his craft, his work, and the darker sides of our psyches. Safe to say that I learned a few things this time around. And enjoyed it to. Imagine that! Knowledge is power or so they say. Anyway. . . There’s something behind you. . .
So, welcome, thanks for stopping by the virtual hang space. Can you give us a bit of background on you, your work, and the genres you write in?
I’ve been described as a horror, bizarre, and weird fiction author. I like to think my work straddles the line between scary and ridiculous, because while I enjoy traditional horror, I love throwing elements of dark humor and absurdist nonsense into my stories. I’ve been published in a number of anthologies and literary magazines, and my first book DETROIT 2020 that I co-authored, was described in a review as “if Robocop and The Toxic Avenger had a weird baby.”
I don’t want to think about what kind of baby that would be. But I read DETROIT and can safely agree that it was awesome. Regarding your love for horror and bizarre fiction, what got you hooked on this genre?
I’ve always been intrigued by weird art. I used to work in a video store (yes, I’m old) and devoured everything I discovered in the “Cult Cinema” section. Movies like The Toxic Avenger, Dead End Drive-In, and Street Trash were a revelation after growing up on mainstream horror movies. It made me curious whether similar stuff existed in books. I uncovered writers like John Skipp, Kathe Koja, and Jack Ketchum, who were on the fringes of extreme horror and the “splatterpunk” sub-genres. Them, along with the more literary weirdos of the 1920’s like H.P. Lovecraft and Algernon Blackwood, laid the foundation for a lot of my writing. If I feel confused, uncomfortable, or grossed out when I read something, there’s a good chance I’ll enjoy it. In my mind, that meant the story was having a direct effect on me and doing its job.
That’s pretty good criteria to judge stories on. So if people wanted to jump into this sub-genre where would be a good place for them to start?
If you want to jump right into the deep end of the pool, I would go with Thomas Ligotti and D. Harlan Wilson. Ligotti’s Tales of A Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe is an absolute masterwork of horror blended with dark humor and precise weirdness. He writes beautiful, complex prose that demands being re-read as you navigate his stories. D. Harlan Wilson’s They Had Goat Heads was my first foray into modern bizarro literature. It’s also still my favorite. The guy has a way with words and a clever, gruesome sense of humor. What I love about Wilson and Ligotti is both are completely uncompromising in their work.
If you’re looking to ease yourself into things more slowly I’d recommend any of the Bizarro Starter Kit book series by Eraserhead Press, and of course classic weird stories like At The Mountains of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft.
Transitioning the conversation into your own work, can you give us a brief overview of your writing process?
I tend to write slowly. Most of my work revolves around themes of modern suburban existence, and I try to conceive monstrous and grotesque ideas from the general banal routines many of us go through in our daily lives. I keep a notebook with me and I’m always writing down ideas. I’ll jot something down, and then re-visit it a few weeks later. If I think it isn’t totally terrible (most are) then I’ll try to expand on it and see where a story could go. From there I draft it, sit on that for a bit, and then do a second draft that I show to a limited audience to get their impressions. After that, it’s all spit-shine and polish. I’m very fortunate to have friends, family, and an excellent writer’s group that are supportive and honest with me. Not every writer has that.
It's a solitary yet group endeavor. Those who critique your work probably point out certain things, but are there any particular clichés in the horror genre that drive you mad? The safe ones. Stuff like the “fake-out happy ending” where the monster comes back to life and jumps through the window. It drives me nuts.
I want stories that commit.
Horror fans are generally pretty open minded. They will let you re-tread ideas and tropes as long as you either put a twist on them or execute them well. We live in a time where we’re drowning in almost unlimited entertainment choices. Unfortunately that means there’s a lot of mediocre stuff that is designed just to appeal to a mass audience and turn a profit. I’ll never fault anyone for creating art, because self-expression is important, but I feel like a creative work has to evoke emotion to be truly effective. Whether I love or hate something, I want it to have an impact on me. The worst art is the kind that is easily forgettable.
I agree with the safe ones. Things that don’t take a risk. So, in the topic of being unforgettable, what’s something that grosses you out in real life that you’d love to turn into a weird fiction tales?
Becoming mentally or physically debilitated scares the hell out of me. Body horror like Cronenburg’s The Fly or Burroughs’ Naked Lunch are the things that fuel my nightmares. I am always looking for ways to explore those fears in my writing, to wrestle with my own phobias about my body and brain turning on themselves.
When you get a story completed do you have a tradition? How do you celebrate the project being done?
I order a pizza, pick out a new beer to try, or both.
Jumping back to DETROIT, was it always planned to be a novella? How do you determine how long a piece should be?
DETROIT 2020 was a lot more free form than any of my other work, because I was creating it with another author. It was a great challenge and really exciting. Fun fact: originally it was a post-apocalyptic vampire novel similar to Blade or I Am Legend. It morphed over time into something more inspired by Escape from New York, Robocop, and crazy SyFy joints like Sharknado. Both Jeff (Conolly) and I are firm believers that “the story should be as long as it needs to be” and it became a novella after a lot of fat got trimmed off to keep the pacing quick.
Makes sense. Do you have any projects currently in the works?
I have a few irons in the fire. I’m currently working on a weird horror novel with historical fiction elements. It takes place in a medieval setting. I also have some short story ideas, and hopefully the sequel to DETROIT 2020 at some point, once Jeff and I find some free time between our other obligations.
Alright, at this point we’re going to wrap up, but before we do let’s jump into the rapid fire part of this shindig. Fire ‘em off. First thing that comes to mind.
Fantastic! Thanks for dropping by, and where can people get in touch with you or find out more about your work?
You can check out my website “Suburban Syntax” at https://bldaniels.wordpress.com for book reviews, writing tips, and weird literature discussion. I’m also on Instagram @bldauthor, and I do a quarterly newsletter with all sorts of random book & horror stuff that you can sign up for here.
We’re a officially a week into NaNoWriMo 2017 and it’s fair to say that I’m doing better than the previous three years I’ve attempted this writing challenge. For those of you who don’t know, NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is an online event where thousands of writers (read: people who can’t get enough self abuse elsewhere) attempt to write 50,000 words in 30 days. This roughly equals out to 1,667 words a day. The idea is to take a blank page and start a new manuscript from scratch. Write with abandon! Turn off the internal editor, chase your coffee with Red Bull, and pretend to remember what sleep feels like. Well, seven days into the process and I wanted to take a break from writing to, well write something different. Maybe my brain actually is turning to mush.
I’ve tried NaNoWriMo three times in the past and each time I didn’t finish. I think, if I remember right, the farthest along I got was 20,000 and change, but I never hit the 50,000 mark. This year, I said that was going to change. It worked out: I finished the third draft of a project and started the next step in the process for that potential novel, and I had a new idea that was ready to go. Except, in my own self-hatred way, I jumped the word count up from 50,000 to 75,000 so I could hopefully have the base for a full-length novel, attached a reward to it (video games yay!), and actually made an outline.
A couple things. As of writing this, I’ve logged 18,017 words for a daily average of just over 3,000. So, in that respect, I’m right on track with where I need to be. In the realm of having a novel written. . . Yeah, no. Now, I’ve written four novels, one of which is published, one is being shopped around, and the other two will never, ever, ever, bloody ever see the light of day. This is the first time I’ve written a full, detailed outline for a project though. And it’s pretty much meant Jack. Just yesterday, one of the major characters switched genders, so there goes that. The person I thought the main character would be closest to is actually turning into a secondary antagonist, and someone I had scripted as a minor, background character is now second in command.
And that’s just the characters.
Last night, I sat down to write and realized the previous ~4,500 words were wrong. That for the story to make sense the main character would have had to react to a situation completely differently. Why am I sharing what a mess this is? (Because I need a break from it) Just kidding. It’s actually because this is some of the most fun I’ve ever had writing and the first time I’ve ever really been able to turn off the internal editor. In previous years, I would have stopped and re-written everything that I know needs to be changed, thus failing NaNo. But because the only goal this year is word count (I will get you Dark Souls III. . . I mean 75,000 words) I made major notes to myself and continued writing as if those changes were already implemented.
It’s chaos but it’s fun. And I’ve been able to keep myself on track this first week by pretty much ignoring my social life. Though last night I did opt for the gym and only got around 1,000 words in but hey, what are you going to do?
Get right back on and keep going. So, I’ll try to check in next week, but till whenever I pull myself out of this project. . . Cheers.