The time has come for another author interview. I’ve been neglecting this portion of the blog lately, however, this interview will hopefully more than make up for my laziness. Today, I have fellow New Jersey native, Rob Errera. I’ve been familiar with Rob’s work for a few years now and I’m a huge fan. I had the pleasure of reviewing HANGMAN’S JAM for Horror Novel Reviews once upon a time ago, and I’ve been following his career ever since. In two days, his new novel, THE MUD MAN, hits shelves and I couldn’t be more excited for Rob. I was lucky enough to receive an ARC and I’m here to say – this book rocked. I was mesmerized by the unique way Rob chose to tell the story and I finished the book in two sittings. Well worth your hard-earned bucks. Anyway, enough about that – let’s get on with the interview!
TIM MEYER: Hey Rob! Thanks for coming on the blog. Let’s get started by telling us a little about you and your newest novel, THE MUD MAN.
ROB ERRERA: Thanks for inviting me, Tim! The Mud Man is about a sculptor who gets the ability to make living statues from the cremated remains of the dead. He wants to use his newfound skill to rescurrect his terminally ill wife, but then his estranged daughter’s husband is murdered, and, well…plans go awry.
TM: A good portion of THE MUD MAN is told through articles, excerpts from film scripts, and interviews. I think it worked well and you did a great job constructing the story through these snippets. But why choose this approach? Were you influenced by anything in particular?
RE: I wanted to write a modern epistolary novel. Nobody writes letters anymore, but they write lots of other crap…tweets, posts, reviews, etc. Plus there are mounds of “official paperwork” connected to all our actions. I wanted the novel to have a “found footage” feel. Sometimes I imagine The Mud Man as a big box of reports, transcripts, and news clippings arranged in a certain order, and if you tossed all those papers in the air and shuffled them around, it might tell a different story all together.
TM: What inspired you to write THE MUD MAN? It has a Frankenstein vibe to it. Did Mary Shelley’s novel serve as a big influence?
RE: More than an influence; Shelley’s Frankenstein is practically a blueprint for The Mud Man. Shelley’s Frankenstein is also told in letters, and there’s a framing technique to Shelley’s novel that allows the monster to address readers directly in the middle of the book. Plus, Shelley’s novel embodies a fear of electricity, which was new technology at the time Frankenstein was written. Today’s techno fear is information itself, and the slippery nature of the truth, so I tried to work that into The Mud Man, too.
TM: How has writing THE MUD MAN been different than writing your other novels?
RE: It’s taken me 20 years and four attempts to write the The Mud Man! I wrote an early draft of the story in the mid-1990s. It was a pretty straight narrative, and it sucked, so I “tossed it in the trunk,” so to speak. I tried re-writing the novel in 2004 and 2008 but it still sucked. I knew I had an interesting idea, but it wouldn’t come together. Then, a couple of years ago, I re-read Frankenstein and got the idea to try The Mud Man as a episolary novel, and it kind of clicked. Maybe I wasn’t mature enough, or skilled enough to write The Mud Man in the ‘90s or 2000s, or maybe I needed the information superhighway to blossom the way it did in order for the novel to work in its current format.
TM: Let’s talk some shop. Which writers would you consider your biggest influences?
RE: We all love Stephen King, right? Joe Hill is pretty damn good too. Barker, Lansdale, Ketchum, Laymon, Lee, Keene…those guys leave deep footprints that we all stumble around, trying to follow.
TM: What does your writing routine look like?
RE: Scattered and disorganized. I try to write every day, but it doesn’t always happen, and when I do write, it’s not always on the same project. I hop around a lot. Today I worked on this interview. As you can tell from the 20 years it took to birth The Mud Man, I revise a lot, and believe some ideas need time to ripen. I’m a night writer, usually a late-night/early morning writer. Ideally, I’d work all night and sleep all day, but I’m having trouble getting my wife and kids to support this decision.
RE: I listen to instrumental music when writing. I listened to a lot of Jeff Beck, and Miles Davis from the ‘60s and ‘70s while writing The Mud Man. Classical music, too. Chopin is da man!
TM: Name some of your favorite books of all time. Why are they your favorites?
RE: A Prayer For Owen Meany by John Irving. My favorite books coincide with a certain place or time in my personal life. My wife introduced me to this book, and we fell in love after “book clubbing” it together. I love all of Irving’s work — it’s so detailed and crafted, and his stories unfold in such brilliant ways — but Owen Meany will always hold a special place in my heart.
The Road by Cormac McCarthy. I read this not long after my son’s autism diagnosis, and this story of a father and son, alone, seeking salvation in a ruined world, hit me like a punch in the gut. I had a similar reaction to Brian Keene’s The Rising. Those two books will always remind me of those dark, post-diagnosis days; they put into words what I felt at the time.
The Girl Next Door by Jack Ketchum. The Cellar by Richard Laymon. The Bighead by Edward Lee. These three books, all quite different, introduced me to the depth of the genre, beyond the mainstream offerings of King and Koontz. These novels are raw and fearless. They don’t look away, don’t flinch from the ugly and the honest.
The Dark Tower series by Stephen King is an epic acheivement, especially when he gets meta in the later books of the series. A character dies in Book VII and it reduced me to tears. I knew that guy for 30 years! I have a soft spot for ‘Salem’s Lot, too. I recall my father describing it to me, in lurid detail, when I was “too young to read it” myself.
TM: Since my son was diagnosed with Autism about a year and a half ago, I’ve been meaning to check out Autism Dad. How has being an Autism Dad shaped your fiction?
RE: Coincidentally, my latest Autism Dad book, Autism Dad 3: Life Skills and Life Lessons: Preparing Our Special-Needs Child For Adulthood, comes out the same day as The Mud Man! The first volume of Autism Dad was about my wife and I trying to rescue our son from autism, and looking for something, or someone, to blame. Autism Dad 2 is more about accepting our son’s autism and rescuing our family, marriage, and sense of normalcy (whatever that is). My son is 16 years old now, so Autism Dad 3 is about learning the skills that could land him a job one day, and the guitar business we started together, ItsYourGuitar.com.
My son’s autism has affected my writing in ways both great and terrible. My head wasn’t right after my son’s diagnosis in 2003, and all of my priorities shifted to autism-centric activities for several years. My fiction output was derailed. Also, my son’s obsessive-compulsive disorders affect our entire household. He likes watching the screensaver on my computer, so he kicked me off, and I’m writing this on my iPhone. It’s a house of love and madness!
On the positive side, raising my son has made me of a better writer and a better person. Motivation is often the best way to teach kids with autism, so you learn a lot about character motivation, and character struggles, just from being the parent of a special-needs child. My son has opened my eyes to a simple beauty and purity in the world. All these children with autism, so many, they need guidance and they need help, but they are amazing teachers too.
TM: Quite a few years back, I read and reviewed Hangman’s Jam for Horror Novel Reviews. I loved that book. Will there be any future books set in that universe? Any other cosmic horror novels from Rob Errera coming our way?
RE: Hell, yeah! I forgot about that…thanks for the review! Yes, I published a collection of stories called Songs In The Key Of Madness: New Variations On Hangman’s Jam last year, and I wrote a sequel to Hangman’s Jam for NaNoWriMo that I hope to polish and publish sometime in 2018. I envision a trilogy for Hangman’s Jam. Most of my fiction is set in and around the fictional town of Franz Rock, New Jersey, including The Mud Man, so I’m trying to brand my stories and novels as “Tales of Franz Rock Terror”. The more people read, the more connections they’ll find. I recently thought of a way to tie the lead character of “The Porn Maid’s Tale”, a novella from my Sensual Nightmares collection, into the final book of the Hangman’s Jam trilogy. You don’t start out creating a “mythos” but it happens the more you write. All roads lead back to cosmic horror.
TM: What’s next for Rob Errera?
RE: I’ve got a boatload of non-fiction, semi-satirical essays I wrote as a newspaper columnist, so I’m planning to organize them by theme and publish them as books. Working titles include, “Rock-n-Roll & Comic Books Taught Me All I Know”, “Fake News & Real Bullshit; Essays On Media and Government”, “Your Teacher Sucks & So Do I: Essays On American Education”. From a marketing standpoint I should pick a genre and stick to it, but I’m a horror guy, funny essay guy, and an Autism Dad, so I’m putting it all out there, and hopefully it will find an audience.
Rob Errera is a writer, editor, musician, and literary critic. His fiction, non-fiction, and essays have earned numerous awards, including the First Annual Bloodcurdling Tales of Terror Contest. His work has appeared in Starlog, New York Review of Science Fiction, Cinefantastique, Agony In Black, Wetbones, 2 A.M. Magazine, and Dark Recesses among others. He lives in New Jersey with his wife, two kids, and a bunch of rescued dogs and cats. His book, Autism Dad: Adventures In Raising An Autistic Son, is available in print and digital format at all major online booksellers. He blogs at roberrera.com, and Tweets at @haikubob.