February 18, 2015

The 80s and the Apocalypse: an interview with Thom Erb, author of "Heaven, Hell, or Houston"

Thom Erb is a genre fiction writer exploring all shades of darkness and light and the varying definitions of heroism. Refusing to pigeonhole his writing, Thom strives to craft tales that blur the lines of horror, fantasy, thriller, weird western, science fiction, etc, for both adult and young adult audiences.

About Heaven, Hell, or HoustonAfter a less than successful “easy” stint as the Governor's security detail, the volatile, alcoholic Texas Ranger Jay McCutcheon wants nothing more than to get home to his wife and baby and save his marriage. He thinks the only thing standing between him and his family is five hundred rain-soaked miles of dark pavement. But he’s dead wrong. 

Isandro Dianira has just broken out of prison. He’s been possessed by an evil voice that has spoken to him since childhood. With his gang-banger thugs, he leaves a bloody trail on his way to Mexico. But before leaving the country, he needs to kill McCutcheon, the pig that put him in the pen. 

As the two men unknowingly race toward each other, a powerful rainstorm is heading westward, and along with it, a zombie virus that’s causing the dead to rise. 

Stacy-Jo, a street-tough teenage girl from New York is about to get in some serious trouble, when she meets McCutcheon, who winds up saving her hide from a nasty situation. 

Together, they hit the road and wind up at a roadside diner, where brutal violence will unfold and the undead will feed. 

Gef: What was the impetus behind Heaven, Hell or Houston?

Thom: Well, it's a mix of things- as usual. First, I'm a huge fan of Joe Lansdale, Elmore Leonard, Joe McKinney and Jonathan Maberry. I was working on a retro-zombie novel and had finished watching Justified season finale and reading one of the Joe Ledger books, and I sat down at my writing desk and cranked up Spotify and from the speakers came the dulcet sound of Dean Martin singing “Going Back to Houston.” That's when the idea hit me.

I was going to write a noir-ish, retro zombie tale in the spirit of all my favorite writers. It would feature a heavily flawed, tough as nails, hard drinking s.o.b and be filled with dirty, nasty bad guys and zombies. It took on its' own life from there. I tend to build a soundtrack for all of my stories and ZZ Top seemed like a natural choice and their incredible library is now infused in the book.

It's the damnedest things where story ideas come from.

Gef: What was it about this book, if anything, that you approached differently from your previous titles?

Thom: The first and most obvious thing is that I took a chance and wrote in mostly first person. I'd never done that before, but it felt right. I'd started writing in 3rd but changed after the first draft. The rest of the book is still in 3rd person pov, but the voice of Jay was so strong, that old bastard wouldn't be denied.

Gef: Zombies have been running hot for over a decade now, with no end in sight. At this point, how taxing is it to find a new little twist or vantage point in the zombie genre?

Thom: I completely agree that the whole zombie explosion may be reaching it's tipping point, but I also believe that there is such a strong core group of undead fans that will always love and demand stories about the living dead. Sure, the numbers may dwindle, those flesh-starved, hardcore fans will always keep us writing, drawing and making films.

As far as my zombie stories, I've created an entire universe set in the 1980's and the origin of the zombie apocalypse is a wee bit different than most other zombie books. I think readers will dig it. You'll have to pick up HHH to learn more.

Gef: What is it about Texas that seems to make it the perfect backdrop for so many different stories? Is it just the amount of real estate down there or what?

Thom: Now I can't speak to why other writers chose Texas, I can only say that I chose Texas because I've always been infatuated with the Lone Star state. Maybe I was a Texan in a past life, who knows. But I've always been drawn to the old west, cowboys, Texas Rangers and hell, I've even been a life-long Dallas Cowboys fan.

Maybe it has something to do with the wide-open spaces and dangerous terrain and those mysterious banditos just over the border in Mexico. Texas is steeped in a dusty cloak of rich history, bloodshed, highwaymen and wild deserts.

It just inspires me. Guess I'll have to keep writing to find out.

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

Thom: Such a great question. While horror tends to focus on things all dark, scary and bloody, the thing that that I believe the expansive genre has to offer is hope. Hope that even in the darkest, most desperate moments of our lives, that we can dig deep within and scrap up the will to live. The intrinsic drive to survive and overcome even the most diabolical obstacle. It's such an inclusive field to write in because you can have every element in your scary tale. Romance, teen angst, hard-boiled noir, weird west, sci-fi, on and on.

I love horror and all that it offers. By its very nature, it is strength.

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?

Thom: This is a tough one. I've stewed on it for a bit now. I guess I don't believe in any bad writing advice, because the art of writing is such a personal preference kind of thing. What works for me and my process/career, may or may not work for you. There's no “right” way of creation. It's all trial and error. It's a matter finding what works for you.

The only piece of advice that I can think of, was more of a statement that I've heard a few authors state that I feel is a very bad, if not suicidal way to go about developing your writing skill. That is NOT to read other authors because you're afraid their works will infiltrate yours and you want to stay pure and unsaturated. That's just utter hokum and hogwash. You must read often to write well. 'Nuff said.

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

Thom: I don't believe in the idea of a “guilty” pleasure. The way I see it, if I dig something, I just dig it. No shame or embarrassment on my part. I've not too proud to say that I bust out in tears when a touching scene in a book or movie hits me just the right way. After all, that was the creator's goal, right? I'm a huge fan or romantic comedies such as Love Actually, as well as brutal films as Kill Bill, I, II. It's all a mood thing for me.

I read all kinds of genres. I was a fantasy fan way long before I was bitten by the horror bug. (get it? Bitten? Ha!) But I'm also a huge comic book fan and as I mentioned above, I love all kinds of film. I am a frustrated direct/screenwriter so I watch widely and enjoy many flicks. I hope I answered the question. LOL.

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

Thom: I've always been a whirling dervish and so I have all kinds of things going on. I am currently working on my first young adult novel that a mash up of Scooby-Do, Buffy, Eerie, Indiana and Kolchak the Night Stalker. Once finished, I'll be on the hunt for the ever-elusive literary agent.

I just signed on to write a sequel to Heaven, Hell, or Houston with Severed Press. I'm hoping that might be out sometime in 2016.

I'm also delving into self-publishing through my own press, Drunken Skald Press. I still haven't decided which story I'll be publishing yet.

Being the huge fan of dry-erase boards that I am, there are at least two of them filled with story ideas that I hope I am blessed to have the time to write. Guess I better get back to making with the words, huh?  

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