Thursday, July 22, 2010
Tales from Bitternest: An interview with Alan Draven
Author Alan Draven published his first novel Bitternest in 2007. It was praised by critics for it's scary and timely story and intriguing plot. He edited the horror anthology Sinister Landscapes featuring some of today's best independent horror writers. In 2009, his Jack the Ripper novella titled Vengeance Is Mine was featured in the Creeping Shadows novella collection and his short story “Breaking & Entering” has been adapted into a short film earlier this year. I recently was afforded the opportunity to ask Alan some questions about his written work and creative process.
What writers, horror or otherwise, inspired you to become a writer yourself?
Alan: There are quite a few but mainly H.P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, Stephen King, David Morrell, Neil Gaiman, Robert Bloch, Richard Laymon, Philip K. Dick, Lewis Carroll, Jack Kerouac, Emile Nelligan, Dean Koontz and the list goes on. I grew up on comic books more than novels so writers like Frank Miller, John Byrne, Peter David, Stan Lee, and Chris Claremeont have been a great influence as well. I’d have to say though, that my biggest influence for writing horror comes from the movies. Anything from the classic Universal monsters to the Roger Corman directed Poe adaptations starring Vincent Price to Hammer’s horror films with Chris Lee and Peter Cushing to the slasher flicks of the ‘70s and ‘80s.
The Bitternest Chronicles is a collection of some of your short stories and novellas. What can you tell us about the stories it contains?
Alan: It consists of five previously published short stories and two brand new novellas. There are stories for every taste in this book. Supernatural, non-supernatural, a time traveling romance, dark suspense, horror, gothic, old school, and modern. It really sums up my diversified tastes in terms of what I like reading and writing. Every story takes place in Bitternest, needless to say, and I think they’ll give first-time readers a pretty good idea of the kind of place it is, who lives there, and what goes on in that city.
Which of one of your stories or novels would you recommend for someone that wanted start reading your work?
Alan: I’d say my first novel, Bitternest, is a good place to start as it establishes a lot of important locations and characters who have appeared and will surface again in other stories from time to time. It’s also where everything began. But The Bitternest Chronicles is also a good place to start as it paints a good picture of what my world is like and the kind of fiction I like writing.
The city of Bitternest in Louisiana attracts a lot of bizarre activity and it's the setting for many of your stories. What are some of the challenges you face in creating and maintaining a fictional city such as Bitternest?
Alan: I have to take notes for continuity. I’ve sort of established two timelines at this point and it can get a little tricky sometimes. What happens and when it happens and to whom it happens to. There’s something really big brewing and it will have a major impact on everything in this city and affect a lot of its characters. I have to keep track of the status of every character and who lives and who dies and who gets to come back and who doesn’t. It’s literally like writing a history book; this city has an ever growing history and I have to take everything that has happened in the past into consideration before making decisions about the future of everything whether it is locations, myths or characters.
Your Jack the Ripper novella titled Vengeance Is Mine was featured in the Creeping Shadows novella collection. What made you want to take on the legend of Jack the Ripper?
Alan: I find it is one of the most fascinating topics from history. Jack the Ripper has been elevated to an almost myth-like status over the years to the point where he’s become practically inhuman. He was also one of the most ruthless monsters that ever walked the face of the earth. And he was certainly one of the very first serial killers and one of the cases that contributed to giving birth to profiling and crime scene investigation.
What can you tell us about your short story “Breaking & Entering” and how the short film adaptation of it came about?
Alan: “Breaking & Entering” is a cautionary tale about a guy who’s basically a voyeur and who enters people’s homes for kicks, not to steal anything. Something happens to him at one point and it will change his life forever. The project for the short film began at the book launch for the Sinister Landscapes anthology back in the summer of 2008. A local film director/actor was attending. “Breaking & Entering” was amongst the stories I read that night. At the end of my reading, he said, “That would make a wicked short film!” I thought so too. We spent about a year and a half without ever having a chance to discuss it and then this spring, we got in touch and everything started happening really fast. We had the same vision for the kind of film we wanted to make. I wrote the screenplay and a month later, shooting began. The film has been submitted to some festivals and we will continue to submit it until it premieres somewhere on a big screen. A DVD release will follow sometime in the future.
Where do you start with a story? Writing down some ideas and characters or with an outline?
Alan: I always have a beginning, a hook, and I try to have an ending before I start writing as it saves me a lot of grief. I always jot down characteristics and a brief history of every major character in the story. I then proceed to write an outline for six or seven chapters then I start writing. When I’m done writing those chapters, I go back to adjust my outline and I plan my next six or seven chapters, and so on and so forth. I’d never be able to write a full outline for an entire novel in one shot because a lot of unexpected things happen along the way; characters take a life of their own, events change the course of things, and there’s always room for surprises this way. It keeps a story fresh and unpredictable.
How many drafts do you write before you feel what you've written is done?
Alan: I go through three drafts then I send it to an editor. Afterwards, when I get the manuscript back, I go over it one more time and then I proofread it; so five drafts in all before I feel it is fit to print.
Can you tell us a little about what you working on next?
Alan: I was working on a revenge thriller about a twin who sets out to avenge her sister who’s been brutally raped and murdered on her wedding day. At one point in the story, there is a 180 degree turn and the hunter becomes the hunted. But now I’ve decided to go back to a sci-fi thriller I began about a year and half ago. It’s a story set in the future and has to do with memories and deception; very much Philip K. Dick inspired, but all me in terms of style and voice.
And one last thing...any advice for new/unpublished writers?
Alan: It’s a lonely road to the top, but keep at it no matter what. I felt like throwing in the towel countless times but at this point I can’t; I’m a writer and it is what defines me. So if you consider yourself a writer, don’t let anyone discourage you, don’t let the statistics damper your spirits; just write what you are passionate about. Passion comes through in a writer’s writings. Submit your stuff anywhere you can; it doesn’t matter if it’s a tiny magazine at first; being published in any way, shape or form will get you feedback from strangers and that as a writer, is priceless and a great motivator to keep going.
Vist him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/alan.draven and on MySpace at www.myspace.com/alandraven or at his publisher’s website at http://pixiedustpress.weebly.com