November 8, 2012

Dungeon Crawler: an interview with Benjamin Kane Ethridge, author of "Dungeon Brain"

As part of Benjamin Kane Ethridge's blog tour to promote his new novel, Dungeon Brain, he was generous enough to take the time and answer a few questions for yours truly. Enjoy!

Gef: Unless I'm mistaken, Dungeon Brain marks your third full-length novel. Is there any significance with that number for you, a milestone of some sort, or do you ignore things like that when it comes to your writing?

Benjamin's debut novel
Benjamin: The truth is I wrote DUNGEON BRAIN directly after BLACK & ORANGE, so it’s really my second novel. I haven’t really put any value on the chronology of the novels I write, except maybe recently with the sequel I wrote for BLACK & ORANGE (always in the back of my head—this is the second one: will I do a third?).

Gef: I saw a description of Dungeon Brain as a blend of scifi and horror, which is probably how I like my scifi best--being a fan of John Carpenter's The Thing and all. When it comes to blending genres, are you conscious of that sort of thing while writing or is it an afterthought?

Benjamin: I love dark science fiction and don’t know why it isn’t marketed more. There are great writers working in the subgenre, but all the work falls just into the broad science fiction category. Fantasy and science fiction both are excellent genres to blend with horror, since the latter is a state of mind and can apply to a range of different things. Science is rife with horror and my thoughts tend to bend that way. However, I normally just set out to write a story and see what happens. I know it will be on the horror side, because I aim toward that, but in the case of DUNGEON BRAIN I wasn’t even certain it would be SF at first. Once I set it on another planet, all bets were off.

Gef: When I read the premise for this novel, I was struck by the opening line: "June Nilman is a woman with thousands of personalities in her head and none of them are her own." It got me to wondering about the kind of research you'd have to do on mental illnesses and such. So how intensive was the research for this novel? Did you surprise yourself with anything particular in your work?

Dungeon Brain's cover
Benjamin: It’s funny. I started, in earnest, doing research for a story about a woman getting countless electroshock therapies and repeatedly having her memory wiped out. Just when her life came back to her, it would be taken away. That loss can happen, according to all the books and documentaries I consumed on the subject; there is a terrifying period of amnesia following shock therapy. I was primed to write a story about that horrors of that concept. Then, as I got into the novel, I reconsidered; shock therapy in movies and books has been overused. I wanted a way around it. I decided to use the notion of someone who has total amnesia, yet also has a staggering catalogue of different personalities to choose from. What if it isn’t schizophrenia (another overused element to medical horror fiction)? What if those personalities actually had been real people at one time? Her brain is therefore a graveyard of many spirits, all to use at her disposal. From that developed kernel, the novel evolved into a kind of psychosomatic locked room mystery.

Gef: When it comes to psychological horror, do you have any favorite stories (literature, film, or otherwise)?

Benjamin: “Jacob’s Ladder” is my favorite film in that genre. Jack Ketchum’s work, though it does fall into the broader category of horror, is also extremely psychological. Love his work.

Gef: Nurse Maggie ... she sounds like a peach. Any hospital horror stories that might have inspired this character?

Benjamin: Actually, Maggie entered my consciousness after a night of partying. I was feeling pretty good at a friend’s house and he had this magazine with a photo of Bettie Page on the back cover. It was on the lower tier of his coffee table, in the shadows, and I thought to myself, Many people find this woman sexy in her nurse outfit, but from this angle, she looks downright diabolical. I wouldn’t want to get on her bad side. It was serendipitous because I’d just started drafting DUNGEON BRAIN.

Gef: Aside from Dungeon Brain, I understand you've also written a novella for an upcoming shared-world collection. Care to dish on that? What other projects do you have keeping you busy?

Benjamin: That would be the LIMBUS anthology, edited by Anne Petty. My story is called “The Sticker.” LIMBUS is a group of stories that revolves around a mysterious employment agency that involves their clients in crazy jobs with strange motivations and objectives. The stories reach across all spectrums of genre fiction. The project was a lot of fun and there are some awesome writers in the mix (Maberry, Nassise, Petty, Talley). Unfortunately the book has been pushed back a little due to health concerns of the editor. We all are hoping for her recovery and return to the wonderful anthology she devised and has put so much energy into.

As far as I go, I’m also co-editing a shared world anthology called MADHOUSE. Details will be coming soon. Beyond that, I’m nearing the end of the first draft of the starting of a trilogy for JournalStone books. That one is called NIGHTMARE BALLAD. It’ll be ready in Spring 2013. The next BLACK & ORANGE book, entitled NOMADS, will be available later that year in Halloween 2013.
Busy. Busy.

About Benjamin Kane Ethridge:He is the Bram Stoker Award winning author of the novel BLACK & ORANGE (Bad Moon Books 2010) and DUNGEON BRAIN (Nightscape Press 2012). For his master's thesis he wrote, "CAUSES OF UNEASE: The Rhetoric of Horror Fiction and Film." Available in an ivory tower near you. Benjamin lives in Southern California with his wife and two creatures who possess stunning resemblances to human children. When he isn't writing, reading, videogaming, Benjamin's defending California's waterways and sewers from pollution.

About Dungeon Brain: June Nilman is a woman with thousands of personalities in her head and none of them are her own. Stricken with amnesia and trapped in a room in an abandoned hospital, her caretaker, Nurse Maggie, wants her to remain captive forever. At night, June hears creatures patrolling in and out of the hospital, and in time discovers Maggie has mental control over them. In planning her escape, June has an extensive catalogue of minds to probe for help, but dipping into the minds of her mental prisoners is often a practice in psychological endurance. Escape seems impossible until June discovers a rat hole in the wall-- the starting point of her freedom.
But freedom in this war-torn world may be more dreadful than she ever imagined.
Dungeon Brain is a locked room mystery of the body and mind that expands across the realms of science fiction and horror.

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