Q&A conducted by Josh Black.
I recently read and enjoyed Kevin Lucia’s Things Slip Through (released this past November by Crystal Lake Publishing). It’s a great debut collection of interconnected short stories, reminiscent of the Twilight Zone and Tales from the Crypt. After reading I had a few questions burning in the back of my mind, and Kevin was kind enough to have a little Q&A session with me.
Josh Black: Hi Kevin. Firstly I want to thank you for taking the time to talk to me. To get things rolling, why don’t you tell us all a little about yourself. Just whatever comes to mind.
Kevin Lucia: There’s not much to tell, really. I’ve been writing since the 8th grade but I took my first official stabs at publication about seven years ago. I’ve been teaching English for thirteen years; five at the junior high level, eight at the high school level. I’m married to a wonderfully tolerant wife of twelve years, have two wonderful kids, and really, all I like to do is read and write. Well, and do country-hillbilly stuff, too. I’ve always said that all I really am is a decently well-read hick that cleans up okay.
JB: The dichotomy between truth and fiction seems to be a central theme of the collection, at least in the wraparound story that frames it. There’s a sense that the line separating these things is sometimes tenuous at best, that often they blend together and “things slip through”. Fiction carries a lot of truth in general, I think. You’ve written on your blog about being very candid across social media sites, which makes me curious as to how much of your own personal life you put into your work. Are there any stories that stand out in this regard? If so, do you worry about readers’ reactions to these in particular?
KL: I think my best stories draw from very real, very personal emotions. For example, “Lament” (in the collection) was born out of the futility I sometimes feel as a teacher. We want to help everyone; but sometimes we can’t even help ourselves. I don’t know how many times (before getting married) I felt so invisible like the main protagonist in “On A Midnight Black Chessie” and even though I’d like to think I have a basic morality that would prevent me from taking revenge…what if I actually had the means to? What would happen to my “morality” then?
As far as actual incidents from life…it really depends. Sometimes, those things are too close to write about. For example, my son suffers from autism. I’ve tried over and over to write stories about that but I haven’t been able to make them “stick.” I’m too close to the issue, right now.
However, I do draw lots of inspiration from life. The “Bassler House” stories are drawn from a real abandoned house my friends and I mucked around in as college students. The premise for my serial novella for Lamplight Magazine, And I Watered It, With Tears first popped into my head when I went to pay my electric bill one day. I was struck by the diverse social cross-section represented in folks who all had the same basic need: paying their utilities. Then I wondered: “What would happen if they were all stuck in here?” Also, the resolution of that story came from a very personal, harrowing experience that made the story very hard to finish.
I don’t worry about reader’s reactions to the stories simply because these stories aren’t about me or other real people I know. They are about real emotions, however, and I hope that the readers’ response will be the reverse: they’ll find some resonance in these stories about worries and fears common to us all.
JB: You play with some really wild and creative concepts in Things Slip Through. Despite this I found the traits (especially the shortcomings) of the characters to be very important. The characters try to cope with insidious forces seemingly beyond their control, and I got the impression that these forces were invading their subconscious, shedding light, guiding them to think and do things that were already buried within them somewhere. The Water God of Clarke Street might be the most explicit example of this.
I like this, the way you bend the line between internal and external horror, and I’m wondering how much of this was a conscious decision. Do characters or situations tend to come first for you? I mean in these stories they play off each other so much, they almost seem inseparable.
KL: Characters always come first for me. I struggle a lot with plots and spend a lot of time re-writing, because for me, pathos is the most important thing: getting readers to care about the characters. I suppose that in my best stories, the plot arises naturally from the characters’ conflicts and their attempts to find resolution to their conflicts. Sometimes they find resolution, such as in “Monster” and “Mr. Nobody”, and sometimes – like “Water God” or “On A Midnight Chessie” – that resolution is not what we’d expect or prefer, and sometimes that resolution is merely hinted at, nothing more, like in “The Gate and The Way” and “Scavenging” (featured now in Chiral Mad 2).
Also, more and more, I’m drawn to the plight of the regular person facing the unimaginable, because really…that’s us, isn’t it? We may not face literal demons or monsters or demigods in our lives but we face things we don’t understand and are left to grapple with them every day of our lives. My son’s autism is this kind of daily struggle, as we grapple with this thing – autism – that so little is known about.
JB: There are certainly some parts in the book that work on a visceral, gross-out kind of level (A Brother’s Keeper immediately springs to mind), but for the most part the scares here are of a more restrained, psychological variety. I know you’re a big fan of the late great Charles Grant, and many others writing in a similar strain appear in your blog series (The Best Horror Writers You’ve Probably Never Read (But Should)…). Is it safe to say that this sort of ‘quiet horror’ is your preferred mode of horror expression? Do you read (or have you written) from the opposite end of the spectrum as well?
KL: I read all over the map. I figure the more ingredients I can dump into this crazy stew brewing in my head the richer and more flavorful the concoction will be. But I do prefer writing restrained horror relying on atmosphere and character development. Also, some of the stories I write are “horror.” Others are “speculative,” like those you’d find on The Twilight Zone, perhaps.
But gore DOES has its place. “A Brother’s Keeper” was not only a story about familial debt and guilt but also the surgical dissection of life. So when it fits the story, bloodshed will occur. But it isn’t my focus, no.
JB: A considerable segment of the horror genre (and, by extension, genre fiction in general) tends to come down to good versus evil, light against dark, us against them. Whether their stories are overtly religious or not, authors are essentially drawing from the same primal well.
As an outspoken Christian, how much (if at all) does religion factor into your work, whether in the process or the end result? And do you think the horror genre clashes with the tenets of Christianity at all?
KL: Well, this might take awhile. Pull up a seat… 😉
First of all, I don’t know if I’d consider myself an “outspoken Christian.” The title seems weird to me. By nature I’m a pretty relaxed, easy going guy. I like people, period, of all faiths and creeds and I’m also very un-political, honestly. I’m certainly willing to share my beliefs but I’d never force them on others and I’m not sure how “outspoken” I am about them.
And I’m also not afraid to admit that I often grapple with my own beliefs, which often provides fodder for stories. “Lament,” “Bassler Road,” “Mr. Nobody” and “Almost Home” (appearing now in Horror Library 5) all grapple with faith-oriented topics: why do bad things happen/why do children die, is there hell or purgatory, is there redemption after death, themes like that.
I guess the one thing I am outspoken about is how our faith has sustained us as a family through Zack’s autism, my daughter’s early behavioral diagnoses and all the other trials and tribulations every human faces on a daily basis. I believe in something “bigger” not merely because it’s something I’ve been “raised” or “taught” to believe but because we’ve seen this “bigger” think act in our lives.
That being said, it’s inevitable that my worldview would impact my writing. Faith plays a large role in Dean Koontz’s work, you can find it in both Bradbury and Serling’s work and even though he doesn’t ascribe to a specific faith I’d argue that Stephen King’s Methodist upbringing can be found in much of his fiction also.
But like those folks, I hope my faith is reflected in subtle, non-intrusive ways. I believe in something “bigger.” I believe there’s a reason for everything, that there’s purpose in the universe and that everything’s connected. So because of this my work will always have a certain flavor, I suppose. Like the above writers I find myself repeatedly returning to themes of redemption, faith, personal choice, destiny, good VS evil, consequences, etc…
But I don’t shy away from evil winning. Because let’s be honest, so often in this world it does. And I think that’s where I draw the line in how much my faith impacts my writing. There’s a danger there, I think, of allowing one’s personal beliefs to hinder the simple act of storytelling, and one of the chief driving forces of a story is suspense,which comes from the presence of uncertainty. The more uncertainty our characters face – both internally and externally – the more engaging the story. If I allowed my faith to be the chief driving force in my fiction, I believe I’d undercut most of that engaging, very necessary suspense.
Also, I want as many folks as possible to read my work. I want to reach anyone I can with my fiction. I can’t make everyone happy all the time, but what unites as humans is our struggles with things that are bigger than us and our daily uncertainty. I want to write about people and their emotions and their struggles, and I want (hope for) lots of folks to find resonance in my work.
As for Christianity clashing with horror, I’d say not at all, especially given how WIDE the horror genre is. The supernatural struggle between good and evil isn’t the only kind of horror story, but it’s one of the big ones, and for someone who believes in unseen forces, the horror/speculative genre is the perfect place for me to be.
JB: Where can we find you on the web?
KL: A few places:
JB: What’s next from the pen of Kevin Lucia?
KL: I’m currently wrapping up the first installment of a weird western featuring Billy the Kid and The Regulators, which I’ll be shopping around to publishers, and I’ll soon be starting an experiment: a free monthly novel called The Jabberwock. Also, a novella series I wrote for a few years ago – The Hiram Grange Chronicles –will be getting new life in Kindle format, so the Kindle version of my title in that series, Hiram Grange and the Chosen One will be along shortly.
JB: Thanks again for talking with me, Kevin. Maybe we can do this again somewhere down the line.
KL: Absolutely! Thanks for having me.