UPDATE: Winners announced, check the bottom of the comments. Thanks everyone!
I’ve met some great fellow authors online over the past couple of years, but in this social media day and age, the vast majority of them have been online. Certainly nothing wrong with that, it’s the way of the world, but I consider it a rare privilege to be able to get together in person with some of these fine folks. One fine folk I call a friend is Robert Swartwood, the successful self-published author of several horror and thriller novels, the latest of which is THE INNER CIRCLE, and someone who was a woman the first time I met him.* This is the second in his horror/thriller trilogy, and he was kind enough to put together an interview about this, and the first in the series (MAN OF WAX).
* Okay, I can’t put that statement out there and leave it hanging… One of the first e-books I bought was NO SHELTER by a new female author, Z. Constance Frost, who I “met” in an online writers forum (and you know how those ‘meeting online’ things can be…mysterious). I had numerous conversations with her, noticed she was very good friends with Robert Swartwood (and even did some interviews with him!), promoted each other’s books, and so on. I even encouraged young Z. Constance to join Twitter, where so many other helpful authors reside! So imagine my surprise when Z up and turned into a man. (Robert wrote No Shelter under a pseudonym because it was a different type of novel than he normally wrote.) It took several days before I stopped feeling dirty… (Cut to bathroom scene from The Crying Game.)
Robert and I live less than two hours from each other, so we had a fantastic couple of hours at lunch (in a brewpub…writers don’t mess around) discussing writing, marketing, and other highbrow activities. Looking forward to doing it again. Make sure to visit his site and take a peek at his books, all very highly rated.
Short and Sweet Third-Person Bio
Robert Swartwood was born in 1981. His work has appeared in such venues as The Los Angeles Review, The Daily Beast, Postscripts, ChiZine, Space and Time,Wigleaf, and PANK. He is the editor of Hint Fiction: An Anthology of Stories in 25 Words or Fewer, which was chosen by The Nervous Breakdown as one of their favorite books of 2010, and was featured on NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday with Scott Simon.
Oh, and check out these covers…they drip professionalism. Love ’em (click to enlarge):
Now without further ado, my interview with Robert, and a SPECIAL GIVEAWAY at the end (so read all the way through, folks…no cheating):
SU: If someone put a gun to your head and said, “Send a promotional 140 character tweet about The Inner Circle, and make it good”, what would you type?
RS: “The Inner Circle is The Hunger Games meets The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo but even better!” … or something like that. I’m not good at promotional tweeting.
SU: Is the story more horror than thriller, or thriller than horror?
RS: Well, I guess that all depends on your definition of horror. Most people, I think, view horror as zombies and vampires and ghosts and everything else that goes bump in the night. Me, I view horror the same way Douglas Winter does. As he wrote in the introduction to his 1982 anthology Prime Evil: “Horror is not a genre, like the mystery or science fiction or the western. It is not a kind of fiction, meant to be confined to the ghetto of a special shelf in libraries or bookstores. Horror is an emotion.”
So is The Inner Circle (not to mention Man of Wax) horrific? Very much so, yes. In fact, I have received some one-star reviews of Man of Wax where readers make it about 15% into the book and stop because, they claim, it’s so “dark and disturbing” and “disgusting.” Personally, I don’t think it’s THAT dark and disturbing and disgusting, but I can see where some people would think so. Thing is, though, I am not one to show the dark and disturbing and disgusting. I’m not a fan of “torture porn”; in fact, I find myself almost bored by it, because it’s the same thing again and again. Some might argue there are instances where torture porn applies to these two books, but that again comes down to what your definition of torture porn (and horror) is. The books deal with a secret group of people who get off watching other people tortured and put through extreme situations, but the books are much more than that. In many ways they’re about survival, about the dark depths of human nature, while at the same time trying to show there is still hope.
So, to get back to your question, more horror than thriller or more thriller than horror? That, again, would have to depend on each reader’s definition of what horror (not to mention thriller) is. But the books are very fast-paced, so there’s that. I try to keep the action going as much as I can. At the same time … well, as some other readers have noted, they are dark and disturbing.
SU: In the first book, Man Of Wax, you have two very central protagonists: Ben Anderson and Carver Ellison. Considering they have such different backgrounds and roles, did you find it difficult to get into their heads writing the story?
RS: First, let me talk about where Man of Wax came from. Many years ago I’d had this idea about someone waking up in a strange place with no idea how he got there. It wasn’t necessarily a new idea, but I kept returning to it until one day I sat down and knocked out that first chapter. I don’t outline, at least not on paper; oftentimes I’ll think about the book for awhile in my head and get a good sense of where I’m starting and heading before I actually start writing. Like Harlan Coben says, it’s like taking a road trip across the country; you know where you’re starting and where you’ll end up, but you don’t know what will happen along the way. That’s sort of how I write. But in this instance, I had no clue where the story was headed. I just wrote that first chapter. Then I wrote the second chapter. Then third. Then fourth. Before I realized it, a week had gone by and I’d written close to 30,000 words. When I saw how much I had gotten done and the speed at which I was writing it, I pushed myself to keep going, and ended up finishing the entire 90,000-word novel in three weeks. (And no, I have never participated in NaNoWriMo.)
Now, let me clarify something: I had just graduated college, I was still living at home, my two jobs were substituting for a middle school and high school and working as an assistant manager at a movie theater. So, with all those factors, I had the opportunity to write as much as I could. There were mornings when I would get called to take a subbing job and would turn it down. When I went to work at the theater, I would take my laptop along and work up in the projection booth and write between sets. My girlfriend at the time (now my wife) understood how hard I was working on the novel and didn’t press me to spend time with her … well, okay, not that much time.
Anyway, so when I started Man of Wax, I knew a little about Ben Anderson’s character, but none of Carver Ellison until he showed up halfway through the book. And then … everything just happened to fall into place. I didn’t have trouble getting into their heads because they were already there, just waiting to be written.
SU: The Inner Circle picks up where Man Of Wax left off, with Anderson joining Ellison against the mysterious, behind-the-scenes Caesar who runs the “games.” How have those two protagonists changed since you first introduced them?
RS: Ben has changed greatly. In Man of Wax, my idea was to create a “realistic” thriller. Meaning the good guys don’t always win. Meaning the protagonist isn’t necessarily the hero type. You drop the majority of us in a situation where we wake up in the middle of nowhere, with our families gone, and are forced to partake in a terrible game, and we don’t immediately become Jason Statham. Especially when our family’s lives are on the line and any false step on our end might mean their death. So it’s a delicate situation, and I have found some readers really love Ben while others don’t care for him much at all. Again, he’s supposed to be “normal,” whatever that means, plus he has a dark secret to his past, something he never even told his wife about, so there’s that.
But in The Inner Circle, two years have passed and Ben has changed drastically. He hasn’t found his family yet, and doesn’t think he ever will, so he doesn’t have much left to live for. Instead he becomes a soldier in Carver’s army against Caesar, and he steps up in a major way — in fact, he almost becomes that Jason Statham character we all like to think we would become in dire situations.
As for Carver, he is still doing whatever he can to get to Caesar and those in the Inner Circle. We do, however, learn more about his back story, and why and how he has become man he is.
SU: Man Of Wax, as the first in the series, was very mysterious and dark. Now that much of the mystery is out in the open, what does The Inner Circle bring to the table?
RS: Man of Wax showed what the games were like from the player side of the table. In The Inner Circle, we now see the aftermath, about those few who managed to leave the games alive, and how they’ve struggled with the consequences. We also get much closer to learning the truth about what the games are all about and what else Caesar has in store, not just for the Inner Circle but for the entire world.
SU: Give us one line, whether it’s description or dialogue, from The Inner Circle that gives a good example of the story.
RS: As I mentioned, in the second book Ben has become a completely different person. And near the beginning of the book, when he’s headed into a really bad situation and one of the other characters tells him not to, that he might end up dead, Ben says, “All of us are already dead, Ronny. We just don’t know it yet.”
SU: And I can’t end this without asking the logical question – what are the plans and/or progress on a follow up? Will this be a trilogy, or continuing saga?
RS: It will definitely be a trilogy. I haven’t started working on the third book yet — I want to work on something lighter, a new Holly Lin novel perhaps — but I hope to start working on it next year. It will be just as long as The Inner Circle, which ended up around 120,000 words.
Thanks for having me here, Steve!
GIVEAWAY TIME: Easy stuff here. Robert has generously donated a free e-book copy of the first in the series, Man of Wax, to ANYONE who helps spread the word about this interview and comments below. Simply link to this blog page, retweet it, share on Facebook or Google+, even post it on your MySpace wall. Then make a quick comment below saying “I did it!” or something creative along those lines, and you’ll find yourself with a horror/thriller book in your hands (e-reader).
And ONE LUCKY RANDOM winner will receive an AUTOGRAPHED copy of BOTH novels.
Ready? Go share!