July 10, 2012

Over the Moon: An Interview with Anthony J. Rapino

After reading and reviewing Anthony J. Rapino's creepy collection, Welcome to Moon Hill, I had a chance to ask him a few questions about the book and his writing. So enjoy!
Gef: What is the inspiration behind Moon Hill, the collection and the town?

Anthony: The inspiration for the town of Moon Hill was something of a slow burn.  Early on in my writing career (I'm talking a decade ago), I thought it'd be interesting to write within my own fictional region--similar to King's Castle Rock--in Northeastern PA (where I live).  That was about as far as I took it.  Years and years later, my one-time "first reader” mentioned in passing that a number of my settings (for short stories) appeared to be in and around the same rural town. 

It turns out, I had always been writing about Moon Hill; I just didn't know it.  Still, it wasn’t until 2010, when I started writing my second novel, that I finally gave the town a name. 

The collection, Welcome to Moon Hill, was an idea that occurred to me about a year ago.  It was just one of those passing fancies that people sometimes have.  One of those, “Oh, that’d be cool,” moments.  It didn’t go any further for three reasons:  I had a new novel coming out soon through Bad Moon Books, I was working on a new novel, and to get the collection out in a timely manner would mean self publishing. 

The decision to move ahead with the Moon Hill was somewhat abrupt.  I won an ebook cover design from Rebecca Treadway, and figured I should use it.  In the meantime, I had also become interested in experimenting with the now popular Kindle publishing model, and I thought it’d be cool to have this collection out as a “sampler” for people interested in purchasing Soundtrack to the End of the World, but unsure if they’d like my writing style.

Gef: "From Your Body They Rise" has to be my favorite story from the collection. Where the heck did the inspiration for that story come from?

Anthony: I’m rather proud of the fact that everyone seems to have a different favorite story in the collection.  I’ve had over a dozen different people (some on Facebook, some on my website, some in reviews) mention their favorite story, and so far none have been repeated.   Even more interesting is that my personal favorite story has yet to be mentioned at all.

Like most of my stories, the inspiration often comes from a normal situation that I start wondering about, playing with the old “what if” question.  This particular story stems from my own close encounter with a deer carcass.   You’ll be happy to know I did not poke at it.  What I did do was play around with the idea of expectations.

If one were to poke a dead deer, what would you expect to be inside?  Rotting guts?  Maggots?  Other types of bugs?  I worked backward from there, trying to think of the most unlikely things one might find inside a deer carcass.  The rest of the story simply evolved naturally from that point.

Gef: "The Plumber" is probably one of the more darkly-tinged and tragic stories of the bunch. When it comes to putting a collection like this together, do you have trouble striking a balance among the tones and styles of the stories, or do you just let it fly? What's the process in creating a collection like Moon Hill?

I purposely tried not to strike a balance.  This might seem strange, but I feel one of my strengths is that I write in all sorts of styles, tones, and genres (though most speculative in nature). 

Rather than attempt to create a one-note collection (what some might call “balanced”), I strove for variety.  In truth, the inspiration for the organization of this collection came in part from Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity, wherein the main character, Rob, discusses the art of making a mix tape.  From the movie: "The making of a great compilation tape, like breaking up, is hard to do and takes ages longer than it might seem."

Simply put, I had three goals:
  1. Pair stories together that would create new meaning due solely to proximity
  2. Keep the readers on their toes; never let them feel comfortable with the direction of the collection
  3. Never let the reader get bored
Goal number one was accomplished through what I call “sister stories.”  These are the stories that have either a similar theme or plot.  They were paired in order to inform one another and create new meaning when considered together.  One example of this is “Mail Call,” and “No Touching at All.”  They both explore the themes of isolation and relationships.

Goal number two was accomplished simply by including stories from a wide variety of genres and tones.  It also connects in many ways to goal number three, which was accomplished by purposefully doing a 180 after most stories.  For instance, after a very long story, I placed a very short one.  After a somber story, I placed a funny one.  After a scary story, I placed an inspirational one.  It’s like a pallet cleanser.

It’s worth noting that I knew ahead of time many people would read this as “disjointed,” or think that I just threw a bunch of stories together (which couldn’t be further from the truth).  Maybe it works, maybe it doesn’t.  That’s for the readers to decide.

Gef: There have been collections in the past that have used a town or person, or some other connecting thread. John Saul's Blackstone Chronicles spring to mind. Are those books something you've been drawn to in the past? Got any favorites?

Anthony: What most often makes me want to read something is the plot and concept.  So no, I’m not usually drawn to a collection due to a unifying thread, though I do enjoy collections like that.  What I enjoy even more than that is when there are recurring characters.

Interestingly, the most-often mentioned disappointment with Welcome to Moon Hill is that there is no overarching framework that the stories work within (like The Canterbury Tales, or Chuck Palaniuk’s Haunted ), and that characters do not recur.  It was never part of my plan to do that, but looking back, it would have been an interesting addition, and it’s something I have noted for any future collections. 

Gef: You also have your debut novel, Soundtrack to the End of the World, out this year. Tell us a bit about it.
Anthony: Soundtrack is the story of Marty Raft, who finds himself trying to survive in a post apocalyptic world while holding on to the one thing that truly matters to him: family.   In many ways, it’s experimental.  I attempted to work outside the conventions of a zombie novel while not straying too far from what people love about a good PA/Zombie novel:

Who knew the end could sound so good.

A suicidal nudist strolls into traffic.  An eccentric Buddhist claims he can occupy other people’s bodies.  All the while, whispers of a new form of entertainment blow through town.  Prompted by these strange occurrences, Marty Raft, a not-so-gentle giant, investigates and discovers underground clubs peddling music that induces an out-of-body experience.   Marty and a wannabe comedian, Corey, set out to prove these special frequencies are nothing more than a hoax, or at worst, a mass-drugging.  Instead, they uncover a secret with world-ending possibilities.

If you can hear the music, it’s already too late.

Gef: At the end of the collection there's an excerpt for Harry's How-To, an impending novel based in Moon Hill. Can readers expect any cameos from characters in this collection?

Anthony: Absolutely!  Actually, I think readers can expect a lot of what they wanted to see in the short story collection appear in this novel.  Namely, you’re going to get reacquainted with old friends from the collection, re-visit familiar locales, and get a chance to dig deeper (much, much deeper) into the history of the town and what makes it so special.  This novel will very much be a showcase for the town of Moon Hill.  It will reveal secrets as well as pose new questions.  It is expansive, with many new characters as well (as you might expect from the excerpt). 

 Gef: Thanks, Anthony. As for the rest of you, you can find Welcome to Moon Hill and Soundtrack to the End of the World available for purchase online on Amazon. And be sure to pay Anthony a visit at his website or on Twitter.