August 7, 2015

Prison and Perdition: an interview with Edward M. Erdelac, author of "Andersonville"

Edward M. Erdelac is the author of the acclaimed Judeocentic/Lovecraftian weird western series Merkabah Rider, Buff Tea, Coyote's Trail, Andersonville, and the compiler of Abraham Van Helsing's papers (in Terovolas).

In addition to short story appearances in dozens of anthologies and periodicals, he is an independent filmmaker, an award winning screenwriter, a game designer, and sometime Star Wars contributor.

Born in Indiana, educated in Chicago, he now lives in the Los Angeles area with his family.

About Andersonville: Readers of Stephen King and Joe Hill will devour this bold, terrifying new novel from Edward M. Erdelac. A mysterious man posing as a Union soldier risks everything to enter the Civil War’s deadliest prison—only to find a horror beyond human reckoning.

Georgia, 1864. Camp Sumter, aka Andersonville, has earned a reputation as an open sewer of sadistic cruelty and terror where death may come at any minute. But as the Union prisoners of war pray for escape, cursing the fate that spared them a quicker end, one man makes his way into the camp purposefully.

Barclay Lourdes has a mission—and a secret. But right now his objective is merely to survive the hellish camp. The slightest misstep summons the full fury of the autocratic commander, Captain Wirz, and the brutal Sergeant Turner. Meanwhile, a band of shiftless thieves and criminals known as the “Raiders” preys upon their fellow prisoners. Barclay soon finds that Andersonville is even less welcoming to a black man—especially when that man is not who he claims to be. Little does he imagine that he’s about to encounter supernatural terrors beyond his wildest dreams . . . or nightmares.

Available at

Gef: What was the initial draw to setting a story at Camp Sumter?

Edward: The concept for Andersonville was actually brought to me by my first editors at Del Rey, Frank Parisi and Christopher Krovatin. They had read my Merkabah Rider series on recommendation and came to me with the concept of an occult thriller set in Andersonville. I had read a little bit about it, and once I bounced some ideas for fleshing it out off them, it became a done deal.  The draw for me was the confluence of genuinely oddball characters that really passed through the place – the guy who killed John Wilkes Booth, for example, Boston Corbett, who was a religious fanatic who also had an irresistible love of prostitutes, and so emasculated himself with a knife. He was a sort of stump preacher at Andersonville during his incarceration (no pun intended). The place really was a suffering ground too. A hell on earth, and it just kind of fired the imagination in terms of weaving in a supernatural menace to the place.  I also really wanted to write about a Union Black Dispatch agent as I had been reading a bit about the African American side of the Civil War. So when we all expressed mutual enthusiasm for each other’s concepts, I was in.

Gef: As you researched Andersonville, what was the most startling thing you learned? Or what did you learn that defied your preconceptions of the place?

Edward: There was an ongoing effort to tunnel out of the prison, as there seems to be in every prisoner of war movie I’ve ever seen. Yet when I spoke to a curator at the actual Andersonville site in Georgia, there never was a successful tunneling attempt. The ground just wasn’t suited to it. Lot of guys died trying anyway.

I was also amazed at the sheer incompetence of the running of the place. I mean, these prisoners were basically corralled in an open stockade. No real permanent shelter was ever constructed for them, so they were there out in sun or shine. And the Confederate camp and bakery was placed upstream from the pen, along the only moving water that ran through the place, so basically it was already being used as a latrine and for trash before it even reached the prisoners. A lot of it was just the disorganization of the South, the lack of resources, but it’s easy to believe that there was a deliberate systemic cruelty to the place too.

And I urge you to look up the story of Providence Spring. Just incredible, but it happened.

Gef: When it comes to a story like this, how much of a balancing act was it with regards to real events and the supernatural aspects?

Edward: I love the sort of untold history angle. I did it with Terovolas, my Van Helsing in Texas novel, which was bookended as a found historical document. I did it well enough that I got a couple emails from people wanting to know more about the Van Helsing Papers, one from a television show producer that wanted to do an episode around it. I wove a couple of historical characters throughout Merkabah Rider too. It’s more fun I think to suggest something happened in between the lines, than to break with history.

So for Andersonville, yeah I set it along the real timeline of recorded events. Characters appear in the camp who were there at that time, and certain major events, like a certain riot, and an execution, I did my best to align them with the actual history, so that the fiction can’t be refuted, if that makes sense. I just enjoy that kinda stuff. I like Nicholas Meyer’s Sherlock Holmes novels that work in real people, and George McDonald Fraser’s Flashman novels that insert Flashman into history without contradicting it.

That may seem constraining, but I’d call it more of a fun challenge, how to work a story into that, weaving seemingly random events together into a narrative, finding the commonality, the strange coincidences that can be tied together.

Gef: While it would be a bit of a stretch of include Georgia with "The West," the weird western is something you're quite at home with in your writing. Did you approach this novel in a similar manner to how you've approached your actual weird western tales?

Edward: I think I probably did. I studied a lot of primary sources. Letters and first hand accounts, to get the speech patterns and turns of phrase down, and I pored over a lot of maps and sketches, to really get a sense of the place. Moreso I think than in my weird westerns, because I was dealing with a static location mainly, so I had to know the layout pretty well.

And actually, the supernatural menace was kind of an unused bit of folklore I had studied while writing Merkabah Rider, something that just didn’t make it into that series. There is an entity at work in Andersonville who is merely name dropped in the last Merkabah Rider novel. I never thought I’d get to use that research actually, till this came along.

Gef: How have you found your progression as a writer thus far?

Edward: Oh, onwards and upwards. I think in the six years since I was first published I’m only just starting to make a name, but that’s just as well as my work’s improving exponentially since my debut as well, so the new readers I think, get the best stuff. But for me, everything I’m writing now is the best thing I’ve ever written, and I look back on the older stuff and honestly sometimes I don’t remember it at all. Weird, I guess, but there’s a disconnect for me once it’s out there.  I think I’m expanding the themes and genres I’m used to working in, getting outside my comfort zone a little bit, which is always good.

Gef: Who do you count among your writing influences?

Edward: Robert E. Howard, Joe R. Lansdale, Cormac McCarthy, Alan Moore, John Steinbeck, Mickey Spillane, Ian Fleming, Walter Gibson, Norvell Page. Lovecraft’s concepts are definitely an influence, and King, whom I read throughout high school.  I mentioned Meyer and Fraser. It was Larry McMurtry and Elmore Leonard who got me into westerns initially.  I derive a lot of inspiration from the imagery of Frazetta and Gustave Dore, Geof Darrow and John Martin.

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


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?

Edward: Write what you know. It’s terrible, especially for a fantasist, though it’s not an unsalvageable axiom. You can write about passing through a black hole on the back of a dragon if you can find something in the character that is true for you. I don’t know what it’s really like to wallow in a miserable prison camp, but there are human experiences, emotions that I know that I can emulate in my characters to approximate what they’re going through. There are observations I’ve made during my life that can translate. That’s what I know, that I can write.

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

Edward: I don’t feel guilty about anything I enjoy, but there are things I enjoy that I notice a lot of people tend to come down on me for praising. Gymkata is the low end of my measuring stick for enjoying any movie, and Lawrence of Arabia is the high mark, so for me to praise something, it has to be at least as enjoyable as Gymkata. I love Man of Steel.  I think Prometheus is excellent. The Noah movie. People didn’t like that, but I thought it was this brilliant, gnostic sci fi movie. Halloween III. Any comedy with Rogen and Franco. Only God Forgives, I think is the best movie I’ve seen in years. It made me a Refn fanatic. I know it’s got this weird reputation of being misogynistic and overly violent. I guess those people didn’t see Piranha 3DD (OK there’s a guilty pleasure) or Kingsmen. I read a lot of old pulp fiction and seventies comics. I listen to gangsta rap. Country music. I like Katy Perry, which my wife and eldest son constantly admonish me for. OK here’s one. I love Mmmbop. The Hanson song. You know how Fry in Futurama had Walkin’ On Sunshine as his go-to happy song? Mine is Mmmbop. I might feel a little guilty about that. I know sometimes when I pull up to a stoplight if it’s blaring I may turn it down a little.

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

Edward: I’ve got a four novella collection coming out from Ragnarok Publications in August. That’s called With Sword And Pistol. Four different dark adventure stories. One set in feudal Japan, one with pirates, a Sinbad Harryhausen style Arabian Nights type sword and sorcery thing, and a really dark supernatural gangster story set in Chicago. After that I think, a new book I did for Neil Baker’s April Moon in Canada. Neil’s doing a James Bond series called Bond Unknown because the copyright lapsed over there. I did a book called Mindbreaker, set in the 60’s with Bond encountering some Lovecraftian stuff. It was a lot of fun and I hope the rug doesn’t get pulled out from under it as I’m a big Bond fan and so is my Dad and now my son. That should be out by the end of the year. I’ll have my first fiction collection out probably next year. That’ll be called Angler In Darkness, and also another Ragnarok book, an Arthurian high fantasy novel which I’m really anxious for people to read, called The Knight With Two Swords.  I’m also doing a superhero novel for them I’m excited about. I think I’m going to put together a Lovecraftian fiction collection tentatively titled That At Which Dogs Howl. I’ve got an opportunity to write more Star Wars, so I’m waiting for the go ahead on that.  I’ll probably be returning to The Van Helsing Papers in the near future. I announce everything on Facebook and on my blog, Been thinking about putting together one of those Patreon things.

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