May 17, 2012

Making Movies with Man-Eaters: An Interview with Adam Cesare

Adam Cesare's novella, Tribesmen, is a damned scary book. I say as much in my review of it. The premise sounds like it should be good, but it winds up being great. A skeleton crew of filmmakers fly out to a remote Caribbean island for a fast, cheap production that is supposed to be a landmark exploitation film, only to wind up being a bloodbath for all involved. After I read and reviewed the book, I cornered Adam for an interview so he could explain just how in the hell he came up with this story. Enjoy.

Gef: What was the impetus behind Tribesmen?

Adam: That’s a hard question to answer, because Tribesmen is kind of a “chicken or the egg” situation. I had heard what John Skipp wanted for this new line of books (fast-paced, movie-sized stories that avoid the bloat that occurs in a lot of plus-sized genre novels) and I had wanted to do something that dealt with this period in film history. So the book kind of grew out of John’s vision for Ravenous Shadows and finding a way to deal with these motifs in a way that appealed to me as a writer and, hopefully, to readers as readers.

Gef: If I can get away with classifying Tribesmen as a slasher, I'd qualify that by adding "with a soul," because the characters are fleshed out (pun intended). Did those six characters evolve over the course of writing the story, or did you already have a clear picture of them (or at least a couple of them) before you started putting pen to paper?

Adam: There is some slashing, but I would call it more of a possession/survival story, it skews heavier to the supernatural than many slashers do. Not that I’m above the slasher sub-genre, love it to pieces.

Some characters evolved, the two protagonists probably the most, but three of them were just there. There’s no character that I wanted to make so one-sided and horrible that you wanted them to die. I think that’s a common trope in slasher movies, that one character that you can’t wait to see get an axe in the face. I tried my best to give a dose of humanity to everyone. Tito, who’s the overbearing film director, is kind of a skummy guy. He may belong to an archetype, but he’s not a stereotype, history is filled with Titos.

Gef: Tribesmen kicks off John Skipp's Ravenous Shadows line of books. So how does it feel to be on the front lines for a new publisher?

Adam: Well, I don’t know how you felt when you heard the idea behind it (shorter books that pack a lot of punch), but all I could think was “hell yeah!”

Skipp’s a genre legend, so getting to work with him was of course a dream come true, but the idea of the thing is so vital. It’s a push to make reading cool again, and if you look at the way distribution methods have changed, it’s the wave of the future.

People are reading on e-readers and phones, you no longer have to stretch a book to mass market length if the story doesn’t call for it. Readers don’t want fluff, they want good writing and fresh storytelling. That’s what Skipp aims to give them. I would say that I “hope the idea catches on” but I don’t need hope, I know it will. I’m honored that Tribesmen is along for the ride.

Gef: You studied film at Boston University. Do you have any horror stories of your own regarding film projects you worked on?

Adam: I only took one film production class while I was in school. I respect the people that can do it, but I didn’t have the stomach for that much collaboration. You live and die on the work of other people (some you may or may not get along with), that was too much pressure. If I continued down that line of study, I’m sure I would have had some stories of my own, but I got out while the gettin’ was good.

I was a film major in the sense that I wrote papers about film and took a bunch of screenwriting classes, which can be its own kind of horror. DEADLINES! GROUP DISCUSSION! PAPERCUTS!

Gef: Some of those exploitation films from the 70s are not for the faint of heart. What's one that really disturbed you as a viewer and made you say, "I can't believe someone had the balls to make that!"?

Adam: The Italian cannibal movies have always been more interesting to me as a cultural phenomenon than they are entertaining. You’ve got to stand back and wonder “how did these get made?” There’s something really icky about them. There’s animal cruelty and not-so-subtle racism in a lot of these films, stuff that’s really upsetting to a lot of viewers and rightfully so.

I try to play with these ideas and add a gory “what if” element. Someone called it the “novelization of a film that doesn’t exist” which I took as a compliment, but it’s really about what goes on behind the camera, so I prefer to call it the making-of feature from hell. The ugliness that the directors and producers want to put on screen comes back to bite them. Literally. 

Gef: With Tribesmen taking place mostly on a Caribbean island, I wonder if the tropics are even your idea of a great vacation spot. And if not, where is the most idyllic place to go to get away from it all--and hopefully not meet a bloody demise?

Adam: Anywhere, Gef. As long as I can get there safe and read some books, I’d take a vacation anywhere.

Gef: You also have a short story collection out called Bone Meal Broth. Is the tone in that found similar to Tribesmen or is it a more eclectic batch of stories?

Adam: Much more eclectic. There’s two southern grotesque stories (my personal favorite subgenre), a bizarre noir story, a dark scifi one, some creature stuff, and it ends with one really quiet story that isn’t really horror at all. It’s got something for everyone.

I had written a bunch of short stories before diving into longer works, some of them were lucky enough to find homes in some great markets. But that was awhile ago and those rights came back to me, but I still wanted people to be able to check those out, because I’m quite proud of them. Bone Meal Broth is nine stories, about half of them have been published in journals and magazines, and half are original to the collection. It’s 20,000 words of material for two bucks, I wanted it to be a low-risk sampler platter of my work. I really hope people enjoy it. So far the feedback’s been great.

Gef: Okay, you're washed up on an island. What book do you have with you? What survival equipment do you have with you? And for food, what do you have a lifetime supply of?

Adam: Okay my playing-by-the-rules answer is Hamlet, the edition doesn’t really matter but I’d prefer one that’s got some extensive annotations so I can squeeze some extra reading material out of it. For food, I’d settle for ramen noodles, hopefully I could catch some fish or something to add to it.

Cheating answer: I’ve got my kindle and some kind of solar-powered generator. That way I don’t have to pick. I not only get some Faulkner and other old dead guys and gals, but I get Joe Lansdale, Martin McDonagh, Sarah Langan, Jeff Strand, Stephen Graham Jones, Jack Ketchum, and all my other still-kickin’ favorites.

Gef: I've become a real junkie for novellas over the last year or so, thanks in great part to the rise in e-books. Has the popularity in e-books hit you yet, and if so what have you found yourself gravitating towards you didn't before?

Adam: I've been a kindle guy from the beginning. Not really because I'm a gadget guy, but because it's a great way to save shelf space.

As much as I was talking up novellas earlier in the interview, I think the ebook revolution also works the other way, in that I now read books that are too big to carry around comfortably. I’m talking doorstops like King’s most recent ones or the George R.R. Martin A Song of Ice and Fire books.

I’m reading Dance with Dragons right now, the only other option is the hardcover, and it’s the same weight as all my other books. I saw a girl hefting it on the subway the other day. Good for her that she’s that into the series that she’s taking it with her on the go, but it looked like she was reading a cinderblock.

Maybe someday I’ll get around to reading Infinite Jest. Probably not, but now it’s a bit easier to think that I might one day because I won't have to lug it around.

Gef: In my review, I mentioned that I've read books so far in 2012 that I found creepy, cringe-worthy, spooky, and just plain gross, but Tribesmen is the scariest one I've read so far. So let's say for you, over the last twelve months, what's the scariest books you've read?

Adam: It’s not a straight “horror story” but Rio Youers’ Westlake Soul is one of the best I’ve read in the last twelve months and it’s also centered around a truly terrifying real-world premise. Powerful, heartbreaking material.

Gef: What's the next project we can expect to see from you?

Adam: Next for me? I’ve got my first novel coming out in January from Samhain. It’s called Video Night and it’s a pitch-dark buddy-comedy set during the 1988 alien invasion of Long Island, NY. This is a special book and I’m thrilled to be working with Samhain, they’re really poised for world domination and their horror lineup is ironclad.

Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me, Gef!

And thanks to Adam as well.

If you'd like to learn more about Adam and his work, you can check out his profile on Goodreads or visit his blog, Brain Tremors. Plus, you can find his books on Amazon: Tribesmen in Kindle format; Tribesmen in paperback; and Bone Meal Broth in Kindle format.

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