Friday, June 15, 2012

Guest Reader Interview: Twelve Questions with Dean Harrison

This week at the Reader Roundtable is friend and colleague Dean Harrison. We go way back to my first fiction writing class at USA (under the direction of Carolyn Haines, of course). Dean is a horror guru and a awesome reference to the genre for me. Fast friends and admirers of each other's work, we've managed to stay in touch over the years. Here's a horror writer and readers take on my questions.

M: What kind of a reader do you consider yourself?

Dean: I am a loyal reader. I tend to stick to the works of certain authors, but I will branch out to other authors when I’m ready for something new. I mostly read horror novels because, unlike mystery, crime and romance, horror is an umbrella genre that encompasses a whole host of subgenres such as supernatural horror, psychological horror, splatter punk and quiet horror. Horror is a broad genre and can include elements of other genres, such as crime, mystery and romance. The stories are therefore deeper, richer, and more character driven than run-of-the-mill crime, mystery and romance. Also, I read horror novels because I love stories about people rising (or struggling to rise) above hardship and adversity. Horror as a genre provides this—it’s illustrates the good and the bad in human nature. 

M: What authors (or stories) do you return to again and again? Why?

Dean: John Farris and Tom Piccirilli. I enjoy the stories they tell and the way they tell them. They write they way I wish to write, and write the kind of stories I wish to write. They are my literary heroes.

M: As a reader, what do you expect out of the author and the story you are reading?

Dean: I expect a story that is well written and well structured, and a story that keeps me engaged until the last page. Because I enjoy character-driven stories, I also expect characters that are fleshed out and believable, and characters I can care about. 

M: How has the eBook revolution changed the way you read and how you buy books? 

Dean: I’ve yet to jump aboard the eBook train, but it’s only a matter of time. I buy most of my books online or in used bookstores. This is because it’s hard to find many of the books I care to read at Barnes & Nobles and Books-A-Million anymore. eBooks are partly to blame for this, since the major publisher of horror fiction in the US (Dorchester) had stripped away its mass-market paperback line a couple of years ago and switched to an all digital/trade paperback model. Mass-market paperback horror is hard to come by in bookstores these days, unless of course you read the brand names such as King, Koontz and Straub, which I often don’t. 

M: What makes you pick up a book or author you've never read before? 

Dean: Word-of-mouth. The books and authors I’ve read have come mostly via recommendation or the review of a respected author. For example, I picked up, and read, a copy of Ramsey Campbell’s The Influence because of a blurb by John Farris that was on the front cover. And though I don’t care much for Campbell’s style, I enjoyed the story. And award seals don’t influence me, because some of the crappiest books have award seals. Cover jackets do to an extent. But you can’t always judge a book by its cover.

M: Film before book or book before film? 

Dean: I prefer book before movie because the books is usually always better. Case in point, Stephen King’s Carrie. I watched the film adaptation a dozen times before ever reading the book. When I finally made myself read the book I wondered why the hell I never had before. The book was much better, and so was the ending. However, the film adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula was much better than the book. The ending of the novel was very anti-climactic. Stoker’s style of writing was also very flowery, which made it almost unbearable. 

M: List the five books that stick with you and tell why they do. 

1) John Farris’ Son of the Endless Night
2) Tom Piccirilli’s The Deceased
3) Douglas Clegg’s The Halloween Man
4) Stephen King’s Bag of Bones
5) Peter Straub’s Ghost Story
The above five books have stuck with me because they are the books that I literally found difficult to put down. They are also the ones that come to mind when thinking about examples of good storytelling and engaging characters. They are a source of inspiration for me.

M: Some people read, some people don't -- why do you think you ended up becoming a reader?

Dean: I became a reader because I love stories (especially stories that aren’t censored by news editors or the FCC). I also love writing stories. And to write stories you have to read stories, and love reading stories. Otherwise, why do it?

M: Do judge a book by its cover?

Dean: Unfortunately, sometimes I do. However, I’ve learned that this is a mistake, because my favorite novel of all time, Farris’ Son of the Endless Night, has a pretty lousy cover but the story is phenomenal.

M: Have you ever read a book that surprised you, one you didn't expect to like but did?

Dean: Yes. Faulkner’s The Sound and The Fury. Though Faulkner doesn’t write or structure his novels well, the story was fascinating enough that it held me in its clumsy grip.

M: Favorite Protagonist and Villain of all time? Why?

Protagonist. Conor Devon in Farris’ Son of the Endless Night. He is a former-priest turned professional wrestler whose demon-possessed brother is on trial for his life. I’m not going to get into the details of the novel’s epic plot, but Conor Devon is my favorite character for all the right reasons: he is a sympathetic, well-fleshed out, and believable character. You cheer him on throughout the novel. You care about him. And you hope nothing bad happens to him.
Villain. Hyde. Because he is the dark side within use all. The monster we deny but all too often give in to. He is the beast in human nature, the devil on your shoulder, the part of you that just wants to be bad. He can be found in such novels as Stephen King’s The Dark Half, John Farris’ Sharp Practice, and my current work-in-progress, These Unquiet Bones.

M: Have there been books you didn't finish reading? Explain.

Dean: Yes, plenty, and usually because they’ve failed to hold my interest and were so dumb, boring, or poorly written that I couldn’t waste my time and read on anymore. I’m not, however, going to name names. OK, just one: Faulkner, who ironically is one of my favorite writers in classic literature, and only because he often tells dark and fascinating stories (i.e., As I Lay Dying, Light in August, Sanctuary), not because of his writing style.

Dean Harrison is a longtime reader and writer of horror fiction. He’s had stories published in the following anthologies: Fell Beasts, Fem-Fangs, and Twisted Tales from the Torchlight Inn. He’s currently working on his first novel.

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