Editor's note: Go to the new site for The Pumpkin Man: http://www.thepumpkinman-horror.com and ask the online Ouija Board your darkest questions! And then enter the Contest to win free autographed John Everson books or e-books. Make sure you choose HorrorBid in the dropdown list on the contest form for Referral Site -- someone from Horrorbid will win an e-book edition of The Pumpkin Man, and be added to the Grand Prize contest!
Before we get into The Pumpkin Man, let’s talk the basics of writing as well as your past.
Matt Molgaard/Horrorbid: What, or for that matter, who influenced you to travel the path of the author?
John Everson: The what is simply... reading. As a kid, I was obsessed with reading. And the who are all of those authors who I read religiously as a kid. Ironically, the bulk of them were science fiction, not horror authors, since that's predominantly what I read in grade school. But basically, I became an author because I wanted to create stories that gave me the same kind of "wonderfully lost in another world" feeling that I got when I enjoyed books by Isaac Asimov, Clifford Simak, Robert Heinlein, Poul Anderson, Keith Laumer, Richard Matheson and later, as my tastes evolved and I discovered horror, Stephen King, Anne Rice, Clive Barker and Edward Lee.
HB: I know you’ve released a handful of novels and a whole lot of short stories. What are some of your favorite works, and what would you recommend to someone unfamiliar with your writing?
JE: Favorite short pieces? I've published more than 100 short stories so it’s hard to point at just a couple, but I still love "Pumpkin Head," because it's been so enduring. It was a twisted concept, and people still ask me about it over a dozen years since it was first published in Grue Magazine. And I think I accomplished capturing the darkness I set out to in "Letting Go" and "Bloodroses." My favorite out of my five collections is probably Needles & Sins, which I really think includes many of my strongest stories.
Novels are a little harder to pick -- you spend so much time developing them, that they are all close to your soul in some way. I love Covenant, because it was my first novel --it was the book that really put me on the map even though I'd spent 10 years prior to its release publishing short fiction in magazines (and a couple short fiction collections as well). But probably my two favorite female characters appear in the sequel, Sacrifice. Writing Ariana, the sexy serial killer, and Alex, a teenage heroine with a dark past, was great fun. And I love the next three novels all for different reasons -- The 13th because it's my most over-the-top work and Siren because it's probably the most emotional. The Pumpkin Man touches on some of the childhood "spooky" emotions that probably turned me into a horror writer.
If I was to tell someone what to start with? For really dark, over-the-top horror, Needles & Sins or The 13th. For creepy stuff that's not quite so extreme, Vigilantes of Love (my second short fiction collection) or Siren or The Pumpkin Man.
HB: You won the Bram Stoker Award for Covenant. Tell me what went through your mind upon winning the award, and what it’s done for your career since?
JE: I couldn't believe it. I was totally the dark horse that year, and I went to the award ceremony as a chance to network, not believing for a moment that I'd actually win. So when they called my name... well, I've said it before and I will again -- if I'd ever believed that I was going to win and get up at the podium and be videotaped giving an impromptu speech… I would have worn a suit jacket!
HB: I know you’re a musician. I myself have dabbled in music for many years, so you know I’ve got to ask: How is the music treating you?
JE: I miss writing music, honestly. I have always played organ, piano, synthesizers... and when I was in grade school I was writing my own songs long before I started writing fiction. My lyrics were really my first "poems." Over the past few years, as time has grown increasingly tight and my writing career has taken off, I've had to leave my musical muse locked away in the basement. I kept hoping during the writing of Siren that I'd find the time to go into my home studio and develop a bit of a soundtrack for the book, but it just never happened. I miss having the time to write and record songs!
Now, onto The Pumpkin Man…
HB: This story is absolutely bonkers in terms of the grand concept. What inspired you to write this novel? Is a Halloween themed story something you’ve wanted to work on in the past, or did the concept take you by surprise?
JE: Several years ago I wrote a short story called "The Pumpkin Man" specifically to perform as a live reading at libraries and "family friendly" events around Halloween. That story revolved around a group of kids who are sure that the guy who sets up the pumpkin stand on a usually vacant lot is more than he appears -- he carves too well, and his pumpkins appear too lifelike. And one of the kids witnesses the Pumpkin Man doing his evil deeds one night when the Pumpkin Man catches his friend snooping... and then carves his face into a gourd... at the same time, presumably carving the life out of the boy who was never seen again. The blood was "offstage" and it's one of those stories that still leaves you questioning whether it's the imagination of a kid who's lost his best friend, or reality. But the image stuck with me about the Pumpkin Man somehow dipping his knives in flesh and then transferring some essence into the skin of a gourd. That story is actually going to be reprinted next year in the anthology All American Horror of the 21st Century: The First Decade, edited by Mort Castle (who published it originally in Doorways Magazine).
So as I was thinking about novel ideas a couple years ago, it occurred to me that I could take the time to really dig into the mythology of The Pumpkin Man... using the kids' initial story as sort of "deep background." The novel tells a different story – it takes place 20+ years after the short story and deals with two young school teachers, Jenn and Kirstin, who suddenly lose their jobs and their apartment and end up taking up residence in the house where The Pumpkin Man once lived... because it belonged to Jenn's late aunt... who turns out to have been a witch...
HB: In my review of the novel I noted some similarities to some motion pictures. Are there any works out there that you would personally compare the story to?
JE: I'm sure there are... but I'm honestly not sure what to compare it too exactly. It has elements of lots of horror movies, but I don't think plotwise it follows anything that I've seen. There are lots of movies with the creepy house that was the center of past occult activities... and this book has that. And it has a sort of urban legend supernatural yet real killer like Candyman (though one with a pumpkin twist). That’s common to dozens of slasher movies as you said in your review, from Halloween to Friday the 13th. But then there's also a witch, and an ancient druid-based backstory and my own "The Pumpkin Man" short story mythology going on in the background.
HB: The story feels like a good fit for a film. How would you feel if you were approached with the idea of transferring the story to screen?
JE: Actually... I already have been! I'm negotiating an option for an independent film now! I think this would make a great transition from book to screen, and I'm hoping it moves forward.
HB: Fiction as strong as The Pumpkin Man can travel a long way toward establishing an author as legitimate star in the literary field. What is your ultimate goal as an author, and do you feel like you’re taking sizeable strides to reaching that objective?
JE: My goal as an author is to write stories that readers get a kick out of. Like I said at the start, I just want to give other people the same kind of enjoyment that I had as a kid discovering the amazing worlds hidden between the covers of books. Whenever I see a review or a reader letter that says someone really enjoyed the story and didn't want it to end -- or asks for a sequel -- well, then I know I've reached my objective in part at least. I've really given someone enjoyment that was lasting. That's all I ever wanted to do with my stories, really.
HB: You really illuminate the personalities of Jennica and Kirsten in this story quite well. How important is it to craft endearing characters, and did you feel confident in the power of The Pumpkin Man’s leads?
JE: I've always enjoyed writing female characters; I thought Alex and Ariana eclipsed Joe, the supposed "lead" of Sacrifice when I wrote that book. And I think a lot of people grew to love Ligiea from Siren, even though she's titularly "the bad guy" and almost never speaks. But this was the first time I've taken on a novel length work where a woman is the dedicated lead. So I was a little worried about that. This is Jennica’s story, and I hope that I drew her convincingly. In the end, I think, we're all human beings - male or female matters less than a persons motivations, humor and intelligence. I really loved Jennica, and her overly buoyant friend Kirstin, and I hope readers will too.
HB: The Pumpkin Man feels like a story that concludes with a door ajar. Would you ever contemplate writing a sequel? The storyline could very well make for a nice seasonal series, and there really seems like there are avenues that could be explored without simply rehashing the same story.
JE: There probably are avenues that could be explored, but I don't have any immediate plans to. All of my novels have ended with a hint that the story "could go on" I suppose, though that was never done with the intent to write a sequel. That's just how life is. After the "big story"... life still goes on. The only novel I've written a sequel to at this point was Covenant, and when I originally finished that book, I absolutely had no plans to revisit it. I thought the story was done. It was a couple years after I finished the novel that I hatched the idea of another story set in the same world. So it was amusing to me when I read a review at one point that said I ended the book clearly planning to write Sacrifice. Totally... not the case!
HB: What’s next for you?
JE: I'm currently working on an erotic horror novel called NightWhere, which, the way it's going, will make fans of my novel The 13th blush. I've also worked on a couple of shared world books with other authors this year, which hopefully will be out in the first half of 2012.
HB: Anything you’d like to say to your fans?
JE: Well, I hope everyone will take a trip over to http://www.thepumpkinman-horror.com to talk to the dead on Meredith’s Ouija Board! And enter the Pumpkin Man Contest!
Mainly? I just hope you enjoy my twisted tales. Otherwise... I wouldn't write them!
HB: Thanks for the time John!
JE: Happy Halloween!