Adam Cesare has impressed me with every book he's published, and that's no easy task. Cesare is writing horror that's fun to read and unlike anything else out there. There's gore, great characters, plenty of nostalgia, and humor in his work. For a while he was a rising star. Now he says he's still the new kid on the block, but he's the new kid that came from another school, has a tattoo on his neck, is a few years older than everyone else, and walks around with a bloodied bat. In any case, I asked Adam some questions about his writing, books, film, horror, and everything in between. Check out what he had to say.
GI: At one point we briefly discussed what "making it" means. You have four books out, one on the way, reviews in superb venues...have you made it? Are you on your way there? Is there such a thing as making it nowadays?
AC: Hmmm… why do you have to start with your hardball questions right out of the gate?
I don’t know if, for me, because I plan to be doing this a long time, there is a definitive tipping point into “made” status. Besides the obvious (and not super likely) #1 NYTimes Bestseller-sitting-on-the-Today-Show-couch-next-to-a-wired-Kathy-Lee-Gifford status, I feel like I’m always just going to be looking to make whatever project I’m working on the best it can be.
I’m happy for every piece of praise/press/criticism my books get and if you would have told me two years ago how well things would be going right now, I wouldn’t have believed you. But it’s not the past and right now I just need to focus on the next thing (or the next five things, as it seems to be going right now).
GI: Speaking of having a few books under your belt, how do you manage to balance work and writing?
AC: Ha! Poorly. If I’m in the thick of work, I try to at least get a little done every day. I try to mix up my writing goals based on context. The amount of words/scenes I’m shooting for will vary based on the amount of time I feel that I’m going to be able to set aside for that session. Figuring that out before I sit down seems to be the trick.
Recently I’ve had nothing but time, I’m close to full-time writing and it feels AMAZING. Like, I couldn’t believe how slow I was moving before, but now I’m super-charged. It’s one of those times you don’t want to end.
GI: While we're talking about writing, where do you think horror is right now and where do you see it in a few years?
AC: We’re living in a cool time in that much of what big publishing is putting out should appeal to fans of the horror genre. There are crime writers right now (Gillian Flynn, Megan Abbott, Duane Swierczynski, J. David Osborne) who are toeing the line of their own genre, writing very dark stuff. Horror needs to look at that style, let it influence them. Then I would not be surprised if next year’s biggest hit was fully in the genre. After that we all just sit back and soak in the rays, history repeats itself and we’re back in the golden mass market of the eighties.
But besides that? Horror is strong. Even on the sliding scale of “literary-ness” within the genre I think you’ve got power-players at both ends of the spectrum and spread pretty evenly in between.
GI: Your work is definitely horror, but it's also fun. You make campy a cool adjective again. Video Night, for example, is full of fun and nostalgia even while arachnid alien forms are bursting out of people's faces. Is the fun part premeditated or a result of the fun you're having as you write it?
AC: I think it’s a little bit more premeditated, but there’s also stuff that happens when you’re writing that leads to a kind of self-one-upmanship. I think that story would have to be written that way anyway. I’m trying to imagine the tone being more somber, but it just doesn’t work if it’s not fun.
My next one (The Summer Job) is a conscious decision to get away from that, though. Just because I didn’t want to wind up writing the same book for my second full-length novel, so I tried to steer myself as hard in the other direction as I could. It’s still fun, though. I don’t want to scare anyone away.
GI: Speaking of campy fun, what role does cinema play in your writing? You love cinema and studied cinema: which of your books would make the best film? (For more on his thoughts on film, check out My Dream for Today's Monster Kid).
AC: All of them should be movies. Please make all option checks payable to “Cash” and send them to…
Oh, you wanted a serious answer.
I love movies, but with what I’ve been writing recently I think the influence is less in your face. I read as much as possible and as widely as possible, but movies (features or shorts) will always be faster to consume, so I feel like films quickly allow me to explore the genre from multiple perspectives. Then I expand on (or pilfer) those perspectives and try and bring them back to horror fiction readers.
As I’m sure you’ve noticed, and we might have even talked about at some point: the horror community seems to be full of schisms. There are horror movie fans and horror fiction readers, with a (small) overlap in between. Even within the group of readers/writers, some writers either limit themselves to reading horror (or much worse), read only one era, style or exclusively books written by their friends.
I’m all for bringing everyone who considers themselves a horror fan (of any stripe, whatever that means to them) together at a big party and having a sing-along of War’s “Why Can’t We Be Friends?”
GI: I think most modern horror movies suck, but horror novels keep getting better and better. Those are my two cents, now give me yours.
AC: I agree with you on a lot of things, but I think we strongly disagree here. For the last few decades, it seems, great horror cinema has been hiding from the general public at film festivals. You’d hear about great movies and a few would get wide distribution, slipping through, but then there was a lot of stuff that either languished on the shelf or was released quietly on DVD with a crap Photoshop cover.
With VOD, distributors are getting better at selling these movies directly to an audience that wants and respects them and I think it’s having a direct impact on quality movies getting made with appropriate budgets.
Yeah, there’s still crap out there. But every genre/format/art form has a lot of not-so-good stuff produced alongside the good. It’s easier to find the good stuff now.
If you want specific answers, I loved You’re Next (even though, as most people have been saying, it was sold as a completely different movie and I think that blew up in Lionsgate’s face) and I think one of the most exciting genre filmmakers in forever, Ben Wheatley, is partly a product of this recent boom.
My friend Matt Garrett is a filmmaker and short film programmer and he’s been turning me on to all these people that are even under my radar (and I always thought I had a pretty deep radar), so there’s always more to see.
GI: The Summer Job isn't coming out until January and it's already generating a buzz, getting reviewed, being loved on LitReactor by Cameron Pierce, etc. What can you tell us about it? Is it your favorite book so far?
AC: When Cameron put it on that list, with the company he did, I was pretty much flabbergasted. Also he was only one of two or three people that I’d sent an early version to, so I really wasn’t expecting it to show up in a column about “summer reads.”
It’s my attempt at “folk horror” which, to me, is an inherently British genre. So, with my Boston connection, this one is New England folk horror.
By the time I actually wrote it, it had deviated a bit from the original concept, but I think it’s stronger for it. I’m really proud of it. I think if you put it next to another upcoming release I’ve got coming out (Zero Lives Remaining, a ghost story that takes place in a video arcade, out in April from Shock Totem) you’d have a pretty good cross-section of what I like to do and what interests me. ZLR is more in the Tribesmen/Video Night style of things, but newer and tighter, and The Summer Job is the new hotness. I’m proud of everything that’s coming out in the rest of this year and 2014.
GI: What novels would you recommend? Movies?
AC: Right now I’m reading Megan Abbott’s cheerleader noir, Dare Me. It came out over a year ago and I wanted to read it then, but I’m just getting to it in The List.
You sent me Tao Lin’s Taipei. And that was pretty great. Thanks for that.
In genre, I just read Wrath James White’s new novella Voracious and it reminded me of how good a vehicle extreme horror is for satire/commentary. It’s about “thin culture” I guess.
For movies, I’ve been a homebody more recently because of the uptick in quality catalog genre releases on DVD/Blu. I’m getting many of the Scream Factory, Vinegar Syndrome and Kino/Redemption special editions and they’re all great and make me think physical media is becoming a more boutique format for people that care about the quality of their movies (not only the transfer but the complete package).
GI: What are you working on now?
Lots of things. But, speaking of movies…a screenplay.
I’ve also got not one, but three, collaborative fiction projects in the pipeline. Those are all amazing and I’m getting to work with people who are way better than me. So I get to ride their coattails.
GI: John Skipp said this about you: "Of all the new writers busting out on the scene, Cesare’s the young guy with the greatest encyclopedic gorehound know-how, blistering cinematic pace, unquenchable love of both fiction and film, and hell-bent will to entertain." Is there some new kid on the block whose fiction excites you the same way yours excited Skipp?
AC: Haha. I’m still the new kid on the block! I’m only now getting the invites to the cool pool parties!
There’s a bizarro writer that I think’s got what it takes, though. Scott Cole. He has a few short stories out that are good, but he told me about the novella he’s writing and the concept is so good. It’s one of those ideas that you can’t believe it’s never been done before, then you ask him how many people he’s told about it, then you kill him with a shovel and write it yourself.
Thanks, Adam! Now you should go and check out his books on Amazon here. More importantly, you should pre-order The Summer Job here. Last but not least, follow Adam on Twitter at @Adam_Cesare. The guy is pretty funny in there, so don't miss out.