Living in northern Illinois has its advantages. I get to call Ray Bradbury’s hometown of Waukegan home. I was able to celebrate my beloved Chicago Cubs’ World Series win from the comforts of my own home some 40 miles from Wrigley Field. I also happen to be right smack dab in the middle of a true horror hot bed in the indie community.
Brian Pinkerton is one of those authors who make Illinois, and really the Midwest in general, such a bustling area for independent horror literature these days. Brian’s been at it for over a decade now, with his first novel coming out in 2004 (Abducted) and eight more novels being churned out in the last decade. That’s not counting his short stories or the fact that he’s one of the most popular faces on the book convention scene.
Pinkerton is an interesting fella, as he writes mystery and suspense as well as horror. Brian is a proud member of the Mystery Writers of America, the Horror Writers Association and International Thriller Writers. He also has created a comic strip family called The Ruts and he just so happens to be one of the most outgoing gentlemen a horror blogger could ever hope to chat with.
Always working, Brian Pinkerton took a few minutes out of his schedule to chat with Mangled Matters.
MANGLED MATTERS: How old were you when the writing bug bit? Did you know right away that was going to be your career of choice?
BRIAN PINKERTON: My dad has an audio recording of me at a very young age declaring, “I’m going to be a book writer!” The aspiration began as soon as I could read. I developed a passion for storytelling. My mom was a high school English teacher, and we were always going to the library to check out books. I also loved the illustrations – Maurice Sendak, Jack Kent, the early Berenstain Bears. I wanted to be a cartoonist, too.
MM: Were you always into horror/suspense/thriller entertainment?
BP: My interest in horror developed around fourth grade with a fascination for monster movies. Over the years, that interest expanded to thrillers and suspense, anything that puts you on the edge of your seat. Hitchcock became an influence, starting with his children book series, The Three Investigators, and continuing to the films. I also devoured comedy – everything from Laurel & Hardy to Mad magazine.
MM: What is the best horror story (novel or short story) you’ve ever read that wasn’t written by Brian Pinkerton?
BP: Two of my favorites are I am Legend by Richard Matheson and Magic by William Goldman. In both books, the strength and intimacy of the voice really pulls you in and takes you on a harrowing ride.
MM: I have to give some love to Midwestern horror writers for a minute here. There’s a really impressive collection of dynamite horror authors around our neck of the woods and I imagine you’ve had the chance to meet and/or chat with most of them. Who are some authors that you would recommend folks check out?
BP: There are so many great authors in the Chicago/Milwaukee area. Great talents and really cool people. I’m afraid to start a list because I’ll forget someone, but I’ve been fortunate to know John Everson, Bill Gagliani, David Benton, Chris Larsen, J Michael Major, Mort Castle, Jay Bonansinga, Darren Callahan, Raymond Benson, Joe Konrath, Chris Welch and many others.
MM: One thing I really enjoy about your writing is that it has a very “comfortable tone” to it. It isn’t a chore to read your work (which isn’t to say that it’s not thought-provoking!) and there’s a very tangible texture to your characters. A lot of writers say it takes time to truly find “your voice” as a writer. Did you find it difficult, personally?
BP: Thank you! Then I’ve achieved my goal. These days, with attention spans whittled down to the word count of a tweet, I think fast, crisp, conversational writing is more important than ever. People just don’t have the patience to slog through dense, overwritten prose. I like to dive into the plot and dialogue. If someone walks into an airport, I don’t want to spend three pages describing an airport. I don’t need to tell people what they already know, I want to take them where they’ve never been. When people read my books, I want their eyes to glide down the page, hooked by the voice and story. If I get “deep,” it’s usually in the subtext, not on the surface.
MM: How I Started The Apocalypse is a very fresh and fun twist on the zombie genre. I think just about every horror genre could use a reset button right about now. If you were to tackle another classic horror character/genre and give it your own twist, which would it be and why? I’m partial to werewolves..
BP: As a kid, my favorite movie monster was Lon Chaney Jr.’s Wolfman because there was so much pathos in his portrayal. He dreaded becoming the monster and hurting the people he loved. I’m reluctant to tackle the classics, because there are already so many great variations and unique takes out there. Sometimes timing is everything. My zombie series dovetailed with the election and concluded with zombies taking over the government.
MM: I recently learned something very interesting about you – you hand write your stories. I thought I was the only one! I completely agree with detaching from the technological world when writing and there’s nothing better than ink, paper and scribbled out lines. It’s quite therapeutic.
BP: As I’m answering your questions, I’m literally scribbling the replies on sheets of paper at the kitchen table. Then I’ll have to transfer them to my computer in another room. It’s crazy, but my thoughts flow more comfortably out of ink. I don’t like writing anything lengthy on the computer. The keyboard is a pain in the ass. All those letters in the wrong order and formatting demands. Bah!
MM: Do you have a set writing schedule that you follow? Are you more of a sprint or marathon writer?
BP: I write in scheduled spurts, if you’ll pardon the imagery. The hardest part is finding the time, so I reserve six-hour periods where I can completely immerse myself in drafting a chapter or two. I work from a pretty detailed outline, so I usually know my destination when I sit down to write. I want to minimize staring into space.
MM: You don’t “just” write horror, as you’ve dabbled in a handful of other genres, too, and actually mix them quite nicely a lot of the time. When you write, what do you find you do more often – scare yourself or make yourself laugh?
BP: I love finding opportunities for humor in my books. I get really wacky in the third and final book of the How I Started The Apocalypse series. I made myself laugh with that one; we’ll see if others find it funny too. For a long stretch of that book, the main character is a decapitated head. In Vengeance and Rough Cut, there are scenes of great tension where the humor serves as a relief valve. I usually don’t scare myself with my writing, although Abducted and Killer’s Diary came closest. Abducted is about a kidnapped child, written a few years after my daughter was born. That creeped me out. Killer’s Diary has some really grisly scenes that caused me to question my mental stability. It’s the book I’m most cautious about foisting on friends and family.
MM: If you could sit down with two other literary horror icons, who would make the list and why?
BP: Richard Matheson, definitely. I’m a huge admirer of his writing and how seamlessly he transitioned between short stories, novels, television scripts and feature films. His stories are grounded in everyday humanity, yet they go to such wild and far-out places. Number two on the list? Stephen King. Aside from being a great writer and teacher of writing, he’d be fun to chat with. We could argue about Cubs vs. Red Sox.
MM: What are you currently working on?
BP: A very unconventional time travel story. But saying more would give too much away…
Keep up on all things Brian Pinkerton is writing, talking about and visiting over on his site!