Today, I’m talking with author, Kevin Lucia. This year, I’ve had the pleasure of discovering the talents of Mr. Lucia (as he’s known to his students–Kevin’s a high school English teacher). His collection, Things Slip Through, introduced us to the town bizarre town of Clifton Heights. Strange tales of the house on Bassler Road, people who seem to vanish out of thin air, and a doctor’s wicked promise fulfilled are weaved together to shed light on some this town’s darker corners. Kevin brings us back to Clifton Heights (and it’s northern cousin) in his latest release, Devourer of Souls.
Hi Kevin. Let’s talk about this teacher deal. You are a high school English teacher. First off, thank you for doing what I consider to be one of the most important jobs in America. How much of your dark side do you impart upon your students, and how much do they influence your work?
Well, there is the running joke that “Mr. Lucia only assigns us depressing books with death in them” but that’s a total fabrication, I promise. Only HALF the books I assign are depressing with death in them. The rest are just depressing.
They and their parents (albeit unknowingly) are big influences. As I’m sure you know, writers are watchers, observers, walking notebooks. We soak in everything from the world around us. I think I’ve learned more about how to write teens and their parents in the last twelve years as a teacher than I ever could’ve on my own: their mannerism, how they treat each other, and their cultural quirks.
Is there a piece of work one of your students has passed in that made you go, “whoa!”?
I had a Creative Writing student once hand in a piece about a girl being abused by her father, being told from her younger sister’s perspective. The “whoa!” part came from this student’s excellent instinct that she could simply stop the story with the door closing and leaving us with the squeak of the bedsprings as the father sits on the edge of the bed, passing up on the chance to shock us with explicit details. She must’ve been listening in class when I covered subtly, I guess.
Subtly seems to be undervalued sometimes in our field.
Let’s talk about the podcast you’ve been involved in, Tales to Terrify/ Horror 101. How did you get involved in the project, and is it still an ongoing thing for you?
About two years ago, Lawrence Santoro approached me about doing an analytical series on Tales to Terrify, because he’d liked some blogs I’d posted about post-modern horror and the history of the horror genre. I accepted, and really loved doing it. Right now it’s kinda on hiatus, and I’m not sure if/when I’ll pick it back up. This is a “good” kind of busy that happens to all writers eventually, I suppose…when things start picking up and you have more writing opportunities, you have less time for non-writing things. I finally “retired” from writing regular reviews a few years ago because of this, and it may be that Horror 101 will follow the same fate.
What’s one of your favorite parts of doing the Horror 101 podcast?
The reading, of course, but also the study of it. As an English teacher with an BA in English/Literature and an MA in English/Creative Writing, I love to gab about books and the evolution of writing in general, so it was fascinating to me on a personal level to delve into this stuff. I do truly hope to offer a few guest spots this summer, if time permits.
Great, man. That sounds like a lot of fun. Let’s move on to Lucia the writer!
Things Slip Through is an awesome collection of connected short stories. I now that you are a short novel fanatic. Talk about your love of short stories. What is their appeal for you?
I love short stories for their impact. Novels are longer, they require time investment (which I’m more than happy to invest), and I’ll can be honest and admit: “I like BIG books and I cannot lie…” Last summer I read Grapes of Wrath and loved it, and currently I’m reading David Copperfield and also loving it.
But short stories – the best ones – can leave you gasping for air. They’re like quick rabbit punches, or brief snapshots of something either wonderful or horrible. I’m terribly, terribly envious of folks who can crank out excellent short stories. I’m much more comfortable writing the novella/novel form. I’m committed to attacking the short form, however, and this summer I have the crazy goal of writing one a week, if possible.
What are some of your favorites?
I’ve read so many short stories, I’m not sure I can pick just one. I love shorts by Ray Bradbury, Charles Grant and Stephen King, especially.
Is it a ritual/routine for you to read one or more daily?
I began following the “Bradbury Formula” several years ago. He recommends that in addition to reading novels, aspiring writers read a poem, a short story, and a nonfiction essay a day. I’ve kinda not been able to make the nonfiction essay part work (though I’ve read several writers’ biographies in the last few year) but at least one short story a day has become the norm, yes. I definitely think it’s had an impact on the quality of my writing.
I want to talk about Clifton Heights. Where did this come from?
That’s one of those things in which I thought I was being very, very clever about seven years ago, inventing this thing I thought was so “original.” I tried writing this gigantic IT/THE STAND hybrid about seven years ago. It completely feel apart, but in the ruins I realized I had about seven or eight serviceable character vignettes that could be turned into short stories. I thought: “This would be neat to write all these short stories about the town, before writing a novel about this town. How original! Nobody’s ever done that!”
Of course, in the interim, I discovered Dandelion Wine, Something Wicked This Way Comes and other “Greentown” storiesby Ray Bradbury, Stephen King’s Castle Rock stories, Charles Grants’ Oxrun Station stories and Gary Braunbeck’s Cedar Hill cycle. But, seeing as how I LOVE those kinds of stories, I plunged on into the creation of Clifton Heights. The challenge now, of course, is to make it mine, and not rehashing of other small town mythos stories.
Is there an end game developing for the town, or is it still wide open?
Still wide open. I’m walking a fine line there, I know. Leave everything unresolved, folks might be upset. Over a pat solution, and folks might be upset. Knowing me, I’ll offer a solution that probably only open more questions…
The new novella, Devourer of Souls, offers us another slice of the Clifton Heights pie by way of the excellent story, Sophan. Is this an actual game? Or is it straight from your demented mind?
“Sophan” I made up, but the idea of the game I’ve seen in several other mediums – a short story I can’t remember the title of right now, and an X-Files episode had something similar. The mythology came from research into Vietnamese mythology, which I of course adapted and twisted to my own ends.
The second story included here is, The Man in Yellow. My mind automatically goes to King’s short, “The Man in the Black Suit.” I really related to the main character, Stuart Evan. I was a huge 80’s hard rock fan. I had really bad scoliosis going into jr. high, and within a year and a half, after wearing a awkward back brace, I had a metal rod put in my back. Therefore, I’m limited. I’m wondering how much of the young Kevin Lucia is in the young Stuart Evans.
Far as the physical limitations, I never suffered from something like that, but I had a close friend who did (and here comes the anxious part wherein I wonder if said friend is reading this, and hope he doesn’t mind me using him as inspiration), and I remember having a lot of those same discussions with him about his disability and how it affected him. The part about doubting faith: we’ve all been there, regardless of our backgrounds. Even as someone who has faith NOW, I’ve been there, and I’ve asked those same kinds of painful questions, despairing of ever finding an answer.
There’s also a lot of broken/single parent families in your stories. My parents split up when I was 14. Seeing this in your work, I looked at my own writing and said, “hey, this has totally slipped into my “families””. Is this where you came from, too? Or is it that storyteller trying to reach out and bring in that large faction of readers who have been through these kind of challenges?
Definitely the storyteller, the person who looks at all aspects of life and tries to report back as faithfully as possible. I was very fortunate not to come from a broken home – though my relationship with my parents was certainly never perfect, often tumultuous (rest assured, plenty of stories to tell there), they were always there.
However, lots of my friends experienced divorce, and I see so many of students suffer through it. Plus, before teaching, I worked with “at risk” youth. As an adult, I’ve had friends go through divorce, so while I haven’t experienced it first hand, I’ve seen so much of it.
On the business end, how did Devourer of Souls and Ragnarok Publications find each other?
People had said good things about Ragnarok (and they were totally on the money) so I decided to test the waters and pitch them Sophan. Originally, they were going to release that as a standalone eBook only. However, a short story turned into a novella (which happens to me a LOT) and when I presented them with The Man in Yellow, they were delighted to publish it as a paperback, also.
Cool, man. What’s next? I know when you sent me Devourer of Souls I was initially disappointed to find out it was another Clifton Heights set, but as soon as I started Sophan, I was hooked back in. The disappointment is actually meant to be a compliment. Let me explain. Things Slip Through is so good, and I love short stories, but it made me want to see what Lucia delivers in a standalone novel, or novella. When can we expect this?
Yeah, this is another tricky line to balance. Tying everything into a mythos is fun as a writer, and other mythos-freaks like myself will probably enjoy reading those kinds of stories…but when does it become old hat? Or needlessly indulgent? Also, I’m very much of a “go with the flow” kind of writer, and right now, the words are flowing in Clifton Heights.
I can tell you a standalone novella (in that, there’s no framing device) will be released some time in future from Ragnarok. It’s really a reprint of a serial novella I sold to Lamplight Magazine a few years ago, but I’m still not sure how many folks actually read it. Originally entitled And I Watered It In Tears, it will come out retitled simply as Drowning. It’s one of the most personal things I’ve ever written, and though it takes place in Clifton Heights, it doesn’t have a framing device of any kind.
And of course, there’s my Weird Western series featuring Billy the Kid and flesh-eating monsters. That made it all the way to the Quarter Finals of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, and while it did well in preliminary voting, it – ah – got kinda beat up in its Publisher’s Weekly review. Of course, a weird western in which Billy the Kid is gunning down monsters is probably not the type of novel that would receive a lot of critical praise. I’ve tossed the idea around with Ragnarok, because they seem open to weird westerns, and I’ve some leads elsewhere, but right now I’m going to let Billy rest for a bit.
With Young Guns being one of favorite movies ever, I’d be interested to see that one.
I like to do rapid fire at the end here so here we go. Give me three of your favorite Hard rock albums from Stuart Evans era.
Metallica’s Metallica, Motley Crue’s Dr. Feelgood, Guns’n Roses Use Your Illusion 1 &2
I love all of those! Th Illusion records are totally underrated. Best thing you learned at Writer’s Boot Camp ?
Proper use of POV. You have NO idea how much this changed and tightened my writing.
Your favorite non-horror movie?
Stand By Me
Absolutely one of my all-time favorites, as well. For me, an example of the perfect short story is McCammon’s Nightcrawlers. For other writers out there that need to know how a short story is done properly, can you give me two or three short stories that you consider to be perfect? The Yellow Wallpaper, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman; The Jar, by Ray Brabdury and Second Chance, by Jack Finney.
Kevin, Mr. Lucia, thank you so much for taking the time.
Thanks. And thanks for all of the support. It’s mucho appreciated.
No problem, it’s my pleasure.
Find Kevin at KevinLucia.com
Discover Clifton Heights for yourself:
Stay tuned for my late-July interview with Samhain’s Jonathan Janz!
Here’s to the madness.