December 12, 2014

Little Malt Shop of Horrors: an interview with Adam Cesare, author of "Exponential"

I interviewed Adam Cesare about a year ago when The Summer Job was set to be released. You can read that here if you like. And now Adam has a new novel coming out through the same publisher that put out Summer Job, Samhain Publishing. This new book is called Exponential and I had a chance to ask Adam a few questions leading up to its release. Enjoy.

About Adam Cesare's Exponential: Can anything stop a creature that won't stop growing? Sam Taylor just wants a friend. Is that too much to ask? His only mistake is finding that friend in Felix, a lab mouse that Sam rescues from the top-secret facility where he works as a janitor. Shortly after his rescue, the mouse begins to change, to swell. There's something new growing underneath Felix's fur. Growing very fast. Holed up in a roadside bar, four survivors-a woman who's lost everything, her drug dealer, a tribal police officer, and a professional gambler-are all that stand between the rampaging beast and the city of Las Vegas. But as the monster keeps growing-and eating-how long until it's able to topple the walls protecting them?

Gef: Where did you get the inspiration for Exponential, 'cause the premise sounds a little bonkers?

Adam: I don’t know. Inspiration might be a bit too strong a word.

Don D’Auria, my editor at Samhain, and I were talking at the hotel bar at World Horror (New Orleans, so the one before the last one, I guess). We’ve done this twice now, three times if you count me pitching Video Night, but I don’t because I was mega nervous back then. I try to keep my output varied, and I really enjoy taking the different subgenres of horror and putting my own spin on them. I’m trying to hit them all, eventually.

If I remember it correctly, I pitched Don an early ‘60s malt shop kind of story, a book with drive-in theaters and lascivious drooling monsters, but he was resistant to something that niche and with that prominent a period setting. So I just turned the question around and asked him to look at his publishing schedule to tell me what he didn’t have enough of.

He took a print-out from his bag, began flipping through it and rattling off what he had on the slate. “Witches, ghost, werewolf, deep-sea adventure, another ghost” etc. and I asked “do you have any big monster stories? Stuff like Razorback or The Blob?” He said no and I was like: “Well you do now!”

So there’s the inspiration. What resulted is different from all those points of comparison, but it fits in that genre. It’s got all my usual themes and fixations (the way movies influence the characters’ lives comes up), but everything else about Exponential is pretty much the opposite of my last novel, The Summer Job. Where that was more restrained with a tighter focus on a single protagonist, this thing has a huge cast of characters (especially for what turned out to be a pretty slim book), tons of action, a weird streak of humor and a subplot that edges up against Elmore Leonard-esque crime caper.

So I think it’s fair to say that I like to mix it up and get to cut loose with Exponential.

Gef: What kind of a gear shift is it when writing your own work as opposed to the collaborations you've worked on recently?

Adam: The only real change is having to wait on other people to continue. It’s probably different for everyone who collaborates, but Cameron Pierce, Shane McKenzie and I have a very easy going approach to working together. So far one person has “lead” each collaboration, coming up with the idea and then taking the first shift, while the rest of the collaborators understand that we’re allowed to edit, switch around, and add things without fear of offending anyone else. I work well with everyone I’ve co-written with. Cameron and I are almost done with a novella called Bottom Feeders. It’s about killer catfish, kind of a southern-fried noir Jaws.

Gef: How intensive was the research process for you? What little tricks have you picked up with approaching the research phase of writing?

Adam: I’ve only written one book where I’ve had a real “research step” in the process, and that was because it had a very specific setting (this project hasn’t been formally announced so I have to be vague/cryptic). Otherwise I’m usually good with just a few Wikipedia searches if I’m unclear on the features of a certain car or gun or something small like that. Since real-world geography plays a little bit of a part in Exponential (the monster starts out in one place, then goes on a sort of novel-long road trip), I was leaning a little heavier on Google Maps than I usually do, but other than that, I make do with my own wealth (heh!) of knowledge.

Gef: What do you consider to be the strength or saving grace of the horror genre?

Adam: I think it’s the freedom of a broad genre. It’s the fact that there are so many different definitions of what horror is, how deep the genre can go to both ends of the highbrow and lowbrow spectrum.

It usually makes for a terrible panel discussion. People know what I’m talking about if anyone’s ever been to a con and had to listen to authors or filmmakers fumble through the awful (yet seemingly still obligatory) “What is Horror?” question, but I think that central nebulousness of the genre is what makes it great.

The flip side of that nebulous nature is that anything and everything bearing the “horror” label is easy to dismiss for some folks. Even the big ticket horror items, the books, TV shows and movies with general audiences, often get branded as “thrillers” or whatever. Nobody wants to use the real word. It’s a shame, really.

Gef: What's the worst piece of writing advice you ever received? Or what piece of writing advice do you wish would just go away?

Adam: To me, the reason that the market can sustain this whole boutique industry of writing advice/tips, blogs, and twitter lifestyles, is that no one piece of advice or “hot tip” or “lifehack” (barf) universally works for everyone. Everyone’s personal approach becomes their “social media platform” (double-barf) and thus there is so much varied, conflicting, advice. Some of it helps people, I’m sure, but I’m betting that everyone’s mileage varies with every specific tip.

“You should write every day” seems to be the most prevalent piece of advice that doesn’t work for me. Yeah, momentum is awesome to maintain, and can really help with longer works. But I think that “Write every day” can/should be replaced with: “Be serious about your work.” As long as you’re serious about what you’re producing and pay attention to you craft, then I don’t think you need to write every day.

Do you go into your office/workplace every single day of the year? No, I hope you don’t.

The only constants for me are: read, write, and work hard.

I’m not saying writing can’t be taught, it can. I’m just not into fortune cookie pedagogy.

Gef: What kind of guilty pleasures do you have when it comes to books or movies or whatnot?

Adam: I don’t really believe there is such a thing as a guilty pleasure. My philosophy is that people should own up to the things they like, but not before doing some deep thinking about why it is they like them.

But then again, most of the stuff I love can be classified as guilty pleasures, so it may be a deep sense of shame that makes me hold this position.

I’d say my guiltiest pleasures are the more mainstream things I enjoy. Horror fandom has such a streak of elitism to it sometimes. Like if you’re a fan of a wide-release horror film from the last decade that had a decent advertising budget you suddenly become a poser.

Yeah, I like my underground, vintage deep-cuts just as much as the next fan. I’ve got all the Kino/Redemption Jean Rollin re-issues, rarely miss a Scream Factory release, and on the book front I have a stack of those semi-recent Richard Laymon omnibuses. But I also enjoy the Paranormal Activity series, have no problem with remakes or found-footage or PG-13 films on an ideological level (even if most of them aren’t good) and was a big fan of the newest Friday the 13th (a capital offense in some states, if I understand the internet correctly).

Gef: We're coming up to the end of the year, which means everyone and their mama is writing a year-end list. So what book, movie, game, show, song, or dirty limerick has found its way to the tippy-top of your favorites this year?

Adam: It’s not a “new” movie, strictly speaking, but the newly restored cut of Nightbreed is pretty amazing.

I’ve been going through a bit of a horror dry spell for the last few months. I went to a couple films, rented some VOD stuff, all with the hope of having something to blog or write about, but…well, I guess if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

That said, I’ll be renting Starry Eyes and The Babadook soon. I hear great things about those. Maybe 2014 will finish strong.

As far as books go, my to-read pile is gigantic and I try not to skip ahead, so while I could probably give you a definitive “best of 2012” I’m pretty under-read for stuff that came out this year. I did cheat and read Megan Abbot’s new one, The Fever. I really loved that.

I’m way behind on TV, too, but I did watch Penny Dreadful. It’s a classic literary monster crossover ala The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. On paper, it sounds like it shouldn’t work at all, but it’s REALLY well done.

It’s not a movie or book, but single favorite horror thing I consumed this year was probably Outlast. If any of your readers are gamers they need to check it out. It’s scary as hell.

Gef: What projects are you cooking up that folks can expect in the near future, and how can folks keep up with your shenanigans?

Adam: Right now Shock Totem is taking pre-orders for Zero Lives Remaining, a new novella about a haunted video arcade. I’m really proud of the book and ST is putting a lot of work into making the special edition *actually* special. They even commissioned Mike Lombardo’s Reel Splatter Productions to make a short trailer, it’s great.

There will be more affordable editions of that, but if people are collectors, the hardcover is the way to go. Here’s that info:

Random House just recently revealed the cover for my novel Mercy House, which will be coming out with their Hydra imprint in June. Pre-orders for that are up now, too. It’s an insane book. I'm so excited for people to read it.

I’ve got a bunch of other stuff too, but it’s all far off and I’ve got a lot of stuff people can check out right now, if they want. The backlist doesn’t have an expiration date on it, in fact I think Video Night and Tribesmen have aged like a fine wine, at this point.

As far as keeping up with me, my website’s the best place:

Thanks so much for the questions, Gef!

Always welcome, Adam. And as for the rest of you, has Exponential available for purchase right now, so what are you waiting for?

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