Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Interview with Pete Mesling

When I was asked to read an advanced copy of Pete Mesling's new collection of short fiction, None so Deaf, I jumped at the opportunity. Having shared the pages of various anthologies I knew I would be in for some good reading...and I wasn't disappointed. From the first story, one that filled me with claustrophobic dread, right up to the final offering, I was thoroughly entertained and  enraptured. Pete has this ability to pull you into the narrative like a pied piper of word slinging and right when you feel like you know where the story's going, right when it feels safe, he pulls the rug out from under you in the best possible way, an effect of which, when done wrong, becomes contrived, and when done right (as Pete seems to have nearly perfected) is reminiscent of such luminaries as Bloch, Bradbury and Matheson.

I enjoyed the book so much that I asked Pete for an interview, to which he obliged. Following the interview are links to buy the book, and believe me, you'll want to get a copy.

Robert Essig: “The Worst is Yet to Come”, the first story in your new collection None So Deaf, deals with claustrophobia among other themes. As someone who has dealt with claustrophobia, I found this tale unsettling. The setting reminded me of an empty lot above my childhood house on the mountain we lived on. This story could have been culled from my own youth, so I couldn’t help but wonder if your own youth was inspiration on not only this story, but your writing in general.

Pete Mesling: I’m glad to hear you were unsettled! I spent a lot of time on the North Dakota prairie in my youth, so yes, I think that does inform much of my writing. On the other hand, I’ve lived in Seattle for a long time now, so that also informs my writing, as does the weird clash of both settings. I never trapped myself inside a gun safe, as young Lyndon does in the story, but I do suffer from claustrophobia, as I suspect most people do, to varying degrees. Elevators are like coffins to me, for instance. I hate them and need to use them every day, but I opt for the stairs whenever it’s an option.

RE: Where does the title None So Deaf come from?
PM: None So Deaf came from a fairly long list, to be honest. From the beginning, my publisher, Books of the Dead Press, was interested in publishing two volumes of my short stories, and one of my proposed titles was None So Deaf, None So Blind. This popped out as an easy title to separate while retaining a sort of connective tissue. As a result, this volume is called None So Deaf, and the follow-up will be titled None So Blind. Both titles come from the old quotation attributed to Matthew Henry, that there are none so deaf as those who will not hear, and none so blind as those who will not see. I suppose there’s an impish implication there that many of the victims in my fiction get what’s coming to them. The titles are also an imperative of sorts for the reader. Listen up! Look alive!

RE: Many of these stories have twists that I didn’t see coming, which I found exciting and somewhat reminiscent of Robert Bloch and the Twilight Zone. That’s not easy to pull off. Do these turn of events come naturally in your writing process, or do you have to work and rework the scenes to achieve the desired effect.

PM: First of all, thank you. Both Robert Bloch and The Twilight Zone have been big influences, especially The Twilight Zone. Richard Matheson, who wrote some of the best Zone episodes, was one of the greatest fantasists of the 20th century. Charles Beaumont was also superb. In fact, be on the lookout in None So Blind for a long-ish story that I view as kind of an expansion of the concept behind the great Beaumont-penned Zone episode, “The Howling Man.” To answer your question, though, some kind of surprising element is important to me in fiction. If memory serves, Charlotte BrontĂ« had something—The Professor maybe?—rejected because it lacked, in the words of one would-be editor, “a startling incident.” I think I know what that editor meant. I think of it as a shock point, but it’s probably about the same thing. It’s when something in a story turns and shakes the reader awake. It doesn’t have to be terribly shocking, of course. It can be a death, a kiss, a revelation. Whatever. But it has to be unexpected and yet plausible in the context of the story. It has to be earned, I think. I usually don’t sit down to begin work on a first draft until I have two ideas that have kind of merged together. That merger is what I consider to be a proper premise, and it often provides enough tension to accommodate, if not demand, the kind of twist I think you’re referring to. Then yes, I rewrite and rewrite some more until I feel the effect is just right.

RE: I’m a sucker for flawed protagonists, and there are plenty of them in this collection, some even malicious. Are their stories more fun to write?

PM: Great question. I suppose they are. If writing fiction is, in part, the act of making sense of the world, it follows that characters with flaws, whether they’re protagonists or not, will hold a special kind of allure. And some of this probably goes back to Aristotle and his ideas about tragedy. At the same time, I love it when a genuinely likable character presents herself or himself to me. It’s difficult to write “nice” without coming across as saccharine. Jesus, Charles Dickens still endures criticism on this front. He remains the gold standard, by the way. The emotional sweep of his novels, from terrifying darkness to great joy and levity, is one of the great magic tricks of literature.

RE: You’re stranded on a desert island and you’ve only brought with you five of your favorite books to read over and over until you are saved or starve to death after eating your own appendages. What five books would you choose?

PM: It never hurts to be prepared! Okay, I’m going to have to take the Bible to see if I can finally make any damn sense of that thing. David Copperfield, Clive Barker’s Imajica … Can I count all of Robert McCammon’s Matthew Corbett novels as one (once he’s finished them all)? If not, then at least the first one, Speaks the Nightbird. Um, Ursula K. LeGuin’s Always Coming Home. I’d probably smuggle a dictionary onto that island as a sixth book, too. It would be hell not having a good dictionary at hand.

RE: Vampires and zombies have had their day in the sun, so to speak. If you could hand pick the next horror sub-genre/creature to get the spotlight, what would it be and why?

PM: Categories can be so restrictive … I realize that I’ve published a number of zombie stories, but it was never a very conscious thing. In fact, sometimes the zombie element didn’t present itself until after I’d written a draft or two of the story. If you have a strong vampire idea and really feel that you need to run with it, you should. Why not? If you can inject it with some new blood (heh, heh), all the better. But I try not to obsess about trends. The next one is impossible to predict, and the current one is always getting more and more tired by the day. Write from the heart!

RE: “The Tree Mumblers” is a quick little piece of flash fiction, ominous in tone and open to interpretation. I couldn’t help but think that the mumblers were perhaps reading the unwritten works hidden in the very fibers of living trees. Maybe they’re just waiting for the revolution.  I get the feeling that there are deeper themes to many of these stories, hiding beneath the surface. Is this so, and if so, do you make a concerted effort to embed deeper meaning in your work?

PM: Another great question. Sometimes that intention is there from the beginning. When it is, I try to bury it during my initial pass, keep it from getting in the way of telling the story at hand. Then, in subsequent drafts, I’m more willing to give it voice. I tend to trust that if a theme, or message, is legitimate, it will hang around. And sometimes I don’t even see a thematic strain until after the story is complete. Art is funny that way. You plug into something bigger than yourself when you sit down to create something. You’re not always in full control. At least not consciously. You notice this kind of thing even more with music. When I used to compose a lot of guitar music, I’d often be surprised at some of the things I heard after the hundredth time playing a piece. Sometimes a structural element would strike me as especially apt. Sometimes it was a key change. Or sometimes I’d notice that something didn’t work as well as it could have, so I’d change it. I never considered a piece of music complete until I’d played it hundreds of times. You don’t really put fiction through that same kind of grinder. That’s why I think that although a first draft of fiction should be free and loose enough to keep you writing, it should also be strong enough to warrant future drafts. The point of revision should be to polish a gem, not squeeze diamonds from coal.

RE: What can we expect to see in the future for Pete Mesling. Anything coming out that you would like to talk about?

PM: Well, as mentioned, a second volume of short stories will be out from Books of the Dead Press at some point. There might be some limited editions of both volumes to look forward to as well, so keep an eye peeled for those. But first things first. None So Deaf is currently only available as an ebook, so we’re working to get that out as a print edition in time for StokerCon in May. I’ve got a story coming out from April Moon Books very soon. That will be in their Spawn of the Ripper anthology, which is a nod to the Hammer and Amicus horror films of yesteryear. Should be a lot of fun. Other than that, most of my efforts this year are going to be poured into the completion of my novel.

RE: Your parting words. Do you have a website, blog, social media you would like to direct people to?

PM: Thanks for the thoughtful questions, Robert. It’s been a real pleasure. Folks are encouraged to visit my website: That’s the hub for everything. From there they can subscribe to The Occasional Newsletter, check in on my Bare Knuckle Podcast, dig into my blog, and of course purchase my work!

RE: It was great having you, Pete! I wish you great success with your new book.

None So Deaf is available from Books of the Dead Press.

 Pete Mesling’s silhouette can, on rare occasions, be glimpsed prowling the watery byways of Seattle, Washington. In addition to being over the moon to have secured a deal with Books of the Dead Press for his debut collection, None So Deaf, he has sold fiction to such publications as All American Horror of the 21st Century, the First Decade: 2001 – 2010; Black Ink Horror; Best New Zombie Tales, Vol. 2; Spawn of the Ripper from April Moon Books; Champagne Shivers; Doorways; two of the Potter’s Field anthologies; Side Show 2: Tales of the Big Top and the Bizarre; Night Terrors; and a handful of Library of the Living Dead anthologies. When not writing or podcasting, Mesling enjoys dreaming up new ways to scare the bejesus out of his fiancĂ©e and revels in bike rides with his daughter, whose nickname is taken from a character in a Boris Karloff film.

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