July 24, 2015

The Tangled Webb of Clifton Heights: an interview with Kevin Lucia, author of "A Night at Old Webb"

While Kevin Lucia is at the Scares That Care event this weekend, his latest Clifton Heights novella will be released via Apocrypha. My review for the book will appear on the blog on Monday, but today I had the chance to feature an interview Kevin to discuss the book and his writing. Enjoy!

Gef: What was the impetus behind A Night at Old Webb? Was this something you've been meaning to get to in your Clifton Heights stories, or something that just popped into your head out of the blue?

Kevin: As a lot of my stories lately, this one came from looking at the world around me and asking that little question that's spawned so many a fantastic tale: "What if?" One of our local grammar schools closed down 20 years ago. I drive by it all the time, and I've always wanted to check it out. Last summer, I happened to be free and I thought: what the heck? Why not? Turned out the door was propped open behind some tree cover (just like in the story), and I did some impromptu exploring. Honestly, that story wrote itself later that day when I was flipping through the photos I took. And I'm sure I'll write more stories there. Kids love to explore abandoned places, right? And teens love their secret party places...

Gef: Was there anything about Old Webb that you approached differently from the previous Clifton Heights titles?

Kevin: Right from the start, I just wanted to write it with very little concern for its "genre/horror" content. Which isn't to say by ANY means writing genre/horror fiction is lesser, but I didn't care if the story had any supernatural elements at all. I fact, I knew from the start it shouldn't be horror. It didn't have that feel. Stephen King claims in On Writing that the "story is the boss" and in this case, I completely allowed it to be the boss.

Gef: So you've been at this for a fair while now, and it feels like you're starting to get some recognition from notable folks out there. How have you found your progression as a writer thus far?

Kevin: Honestly, considering I'm going to see my fifth book published with Old Webb and I've yet to manage a novel, I feel enormously blessed. In the beginning, before I turned my attention to novellas and sort stories, I feared laboring my entire career on stuff folks would never read. That I've been able to produce stories people have read and liked makes me very thankful.

Back in the 8th grade, writing fiction people would read and like was a distant fever dream. In college, I harbored romantic ideas of quitting school and writing full time and never having to work....and then I never submitting anything for twenty years. Eight years ago I sold my first short story, thought I'd "arrived" until I realized no one knew who I was, and this sorta bummed me out until I realized in a threshold moment: there is no "arrived" moment in most writers' career. So many writers have built their careers gradually, brick by brick, moving forward, moving upward. I decided that's what I wanted to do: embrace realistic expectations, do the work every day, moving forward and not sideways, and, did I mention DO THE WORK EVERY DAY? I'm experiencing progress, people are reading my work and liking it, and I'm DOING THE WORK EVERY DAY. I couldn't be any more thrilled and, again, I'm so utterly thankful.

That being said, it could all go away tomorrow. Before they closed, I used to visit a local used paperback store once a week to peruse the horror section. Not only was I hunting for lost treasure, but I was also confronting myself with how fleeting success is. My name could sink to the bottom of the ocean and be forgotten. The proof of this were the rows and rows of horror novels published by credible publishers, written by people I'd never heard of. So I'm enjoying it immensely, understanding that it's all very fleeting, and taking every word written as an incredible gift.

Gef: When it comes to creating a mythos like Clifton Heights, have you been able to hold the reigns on its creative direction or have certain aspects--much like a character--imposed themselves on you through its progression?

Kevin: The only creative control I've tried to exert is to make sure the series can be approached from any angle. The big danger in creating a mythos like this is the risk of alienating new readers with too many "insider" references, or them having to read everything in a certain order. My goal has been that a reader could pick up any of these books and enter Clifton Heights and not feel like they're "missing" anything. Other than that, I imagine it like this: Clifton Heights, like any town or small city (honestly, the size of the town is fuzzy even to me, but hey - it's a pretty weird place, right?), is full of so many different kinds of people, and those people all have stories, which means the story potential is almost limitless, so as long I keep things "new-reader-friendly" I'll go wherever the muse whispers.

That being said, I did have to course-correct in writing Through A Mirror, Darkly and change certain things because I realized halfway through the second draft I'd dropped a major reference in Devourer of Souls that was conflicting with the continuity I was setting down. As it turns out, though, the course-correct made for a much better, "reader friendly" story, so I ended up pretty happy about it.

Gef: With Old Webb, you introduce a little more of the coming-of-age romance to the mythos. What do you consider to be the saving grace of love stories?

Kevin:Well, a love story isn't the same as "romance" in my opinion. For example, I've always considered (I loved this novel, despite others' opinions) King's Lisey's Story to be a love story (albeit posthumously). In many ways, so is Bag of Bones (also posthumously)

A good love story is like any other good genre story: the genre element serves to make some larger comment on the human experience. The "love story" in Old Webb isn't there simply to give readers the warm fuzzies, it's part of the main character's awakening to a much larger world, and also opens a door of greater insight into himself. That's why they say we never forget our "first loves," because they're very often transformative, and very much a part of growing up. 

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?

Kevin: To avoid "was" and "is". Yes, the passive voice can cause a narrative to drag, but honestly, sometimes "was" and "is" just sounds more natural, and that's all there is to it. 

Also - submitting to "4theluv" markets is NOT a death sentence, it is NOT a taint that will forever doom a writer. For many writers, it's just a stage. Some writers never submit to 4theluvs and go straight for pro markets, and they end up getting in. Good for them. Some writers (like myself) send stories to 4theluv markets in their inexperience, take their licks, then decide they want more and start aiming higher up the ladder. Good for them. Some writers are happy submitting to token payment, 4theluv markets, view writing as their hobby, and that's fine for them. Good for them. 

Educating young writers about the pitfalls of the 4theluv markets is important, especially when it comes to unethical editors willing to screw naive writers over. AND, if I'd never received said mentoring, I probably wouldn't have aimed my sights higher, and I wouldn't be able to say I've shared TOCs with Ramsey Campbell, Tom Monteleone and Jack Ketchum. But the idea that submitting to 4theluv markets somehow hurts the genre is just dumb, in my honest opinion. It's a case of punching-down to prove a point, which doesn't do anyone any good.

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

Kevin: I don't like the term "guilty pleasure" because I figure you like what you like, and who cares what others think? That being said, despite the haters, I'm a loyal Dean Koontz fan. Sometimes I need to be reminded that alongside horror also exists hope and love and goodness, and a Dean Koontz novel never fails in that aspect. That, and Jet-Li movies. I miss the days when you could count on seeing Jet-Li busting heads in the theater at least once every year or so. 

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

Kevin: Right now, I'm entering a DO THE WORK EVERY DAY mode, so after Old Webb, it will probably be a bit before anything new comes out. I'm currently working on my first (here's hoping and praying) novel, The Mighty Dead. I signed a contract for a novella earlier this year (publisher undisclosed for now) called Mystery Road, which I hope I'll be able to share with folks soon. I think it's the finest thing I've ever written. My short story Therapy will be soon (or maybe already is) reprinted in the first issue of a new fanzine called Dreadful Tales. And, of course, I've got several short stories and novellas out there doing the rounds. 

My website www.kevinlucia.com is sporadically updated, but if you really want a front row seat to the daily madness that is me and my family's life, come over to Facebook and add me: https://www.facebook.com/kblucia. I have a Facebook Author Page if you just want writer updates - https://www.facebook.com/authorkevinlucia but honestly, most the fun is on my regular page.

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