I may be writing urban fantasy, but I was reared, nursed and fed on horror. King, Koontz, Barker and Straub were my Faulkner, Fitzgerald, and Hemingway. There were years in my youth when I read nothing but horror. Time passes and tastes change, then you pick up a book that takes you right back to the excitement, to that fast fear of pre-adolescence. Joe Schreiber's 2006 zombiethon CHASING THE DEAD was that book, a thrilling piece of classic horror that zips along like an acid trip in a hearse.
Now, Joe Schreiber is back to scare your bowels clean with Eat the Dark*. Readers won't find any zombies in this one, but there are plenty of supernatural scares and more than enough twists to keep you going 'til the last page.
On the eve of Tanglewood Memorial's closure, Mike Hughes and a skeleton crew of hospital staff while away the hours of what's supposed to be an uneventful shift. That is until the police roll in psychotic killer Frank Snow for an MRI and things go all dark and bumpy. You see, Snow's no ordinary psycho, and once he's free, all hell breaks loose. And I do mean HELL. Along for the ride are Mike's wife and son, who really picked the wrong night to drop by and say "hi."
In what's fast becoming Schreiber's calling card, the plot careens like an out of control darkride through a razor blade factory. The prose is tight and the read is quick—I read it in two brief sittings, which is perfect for me.
Eat the Dark is old school horror like your Mama used to make. What, not your Moms? Alright. Then, it's at least as creepy as that shitty surprise casserole she baked. So get in there, break the crust and Eat the Dark.
That's plenty pimpin', now let's delve into the mind of the author, shall we? Joe was more than happy to spend some time at League headquarters probably because of all the free hooch.
Me: The title of your new book, EAT THE DARK is an homage to Bradbury's SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES. How has Bradbury influenced your work, this book in particular, and who else has a foothold in your brain?
Joe: Bradbury is one of the first writers I remember consciously imitating -- not so much his style, but the whole idea of actually being a writer. I remember reading his novel DEATH IS A LONELY BUSINESS and just being enchanted by this first-person account of a young writer in Southern California, writing these pulp short stories on the foggy boardwalk. I found it totally thrilling that he went to the LA County Library and rented a coin-op typewriter by the hour to crank out FAHRENHEIT 451. I love those kind of details.
Right now for some reason I'm reading a lot of crime-- Duane Swierczinsky is probably my favorite writer of the moment because he's just out to entertain the living fuck out of you whatever the cost. Jason Starr falls into the category too. Richard Stark, Peter Abrahams...I have to try not to write like him while I'm reading his stuff.
M: A good portion of this book occurs in a pitch black hospital; why do you think so many people are afraid of the dark and/or hospitals? Do you feel bad capitalizing on your reader's crippling fears?
J: Oh, no way, I love capitalizing on readers' fears. Hitting that nerve is my favorite thing in the world. When I first thought about setting EAT THE DARK in a hospital, I got so excited about the possibilities that I had to slow myself down. Why do people fear hospitals? They're full of dying people. They're almost synonomous with having no control. They're sort of like hotels for the sick and dying, all kinds of reminders of how our bodies break down and the awful things that happen afterwards. And in the dark you're totally helpless, almost childlike, your imagination is in its most, uh, labile state. I wanted to get a sense of how that felt, even in a familiar setting, so I spent some time blindfolded, trying to navigate halls and doorways. I didn't go so far as hiring a guy with a knife to jump out and grab me...I don't think my heart could've taken it.
M: Hey, wait...hold up. EAT THE DARK's main character is an MRI tech; isn't that what you do? People are gonna want to know, how much of Mike Hughes is actually you?
J: I am an MRI tech -- Mike Hughes and I are both married with young children. We're both entering middle age, that part of life where you start becoming aware that the heart and lung machine you're walking around in isn't going to last forever. And we'd probably react similarly given the kind of hard-core circumstances going on in the novel -- running, freaking out, trying to get a hold on yourself and do right by your family. But Mike's definitely not me. For one thing, I have a much larger penis. It's a little embarrassing, actually. Also, Mike may or may not be cheating on his wife, and to my knowledge, I'm not doing that. There is enough infidelity and cheating going on in any hospital environment though that I didn't think I was stretching credulity by introducing that theme.
M: Both EAT THE DARK and your last novel, CHASING THE DEAD, move along at a breakneck pace. There is a frenetic, frenzied quality to the prose that electrifies the story. Are you hyper, by any chance, or is it all part of your master plan?
J: I'm not hyper by nature but I can be a pretty hyper writer. I drink as much coffee as possible before hitting the page. With a compressed timeframe novel like EAT THE DARK I want the energy to be there on the page, ready to go off like a loaded gun and I'll do whatever I have to, to pitch the momentum forward.
M: As my mother is want to say, why don't you write something nice, Joe? What's up with all the horror, childhood trauma?
J: I actually tried to write something nice once. I tried to write a book called THE CHOIRMASTER'S DAUGHTER. It was going to be a Robert James Waller-esque tale loosely based on the opera Rigaletto. I told it to my wife once on a plane ride to Rome and she looked like she might puke. So I moved on to psychopaths and autopsy bone-saws. Now she just looks at me like she's afraid I'll kill her in the dead of night. Which is a much more gratifying reaction, I must say.
M: Your fiction is most often compared to Stephen King's early work. Flattering sure, but you're bound to get an unnaturally large head (one that can only be cured by certain medical staff in The Republic of Congo). How do you take that kind of compliment?
J: I love Stephen King. I guess my feelings about Stephen King mirror most people's, which is, he pretty much gets a free pass to do whatever he wants for the rest of his career, since he was so good, for such a long period of time. And I'm deeply, profoundly flattered that anybody compares my stuff to his. Fortunately I've got a very realistic day-to-day life that prohibits any delusions of grandeur -- I work 40+hours a week and have two kids that seem to think I'm some kind of playground equipment.
M: What ghoulish plans do you have in store next for your fans?
J: My next novel is called THE BLACK WING. It's about a family curse, a story that comes to life about a house with a hidden wing. Inside are some really awful things. It's a little more ambitious in scope than the last couple, both in terms of timeframe and characters, and it's given me a chance to talk about unhealthy family dynamics. And I have another thing, about a dysfunctional New England family trapped in a pontoon boat under attack from something in the water, kind of a cross between ORDINARY PEOPLE and JAWS. I've been calling it the book I was born to write. Also, there's a third project that I just started, and I'm really excited about -- excited enough, actually, that I'm a little superstitious about discussing the specifics. Suffice it to say, it's going to give a lot of people nightmares.
*Available wherever pretty people buy books on October 16th, or preorder Eat the Dark on Amazon, today.