In honor of Halloween week and all things horrifying and disturbing, I'm excited to have with us again Baltimore's very own literary horror writer Harrison Demchick, author of The Listeners (Bancroft Press, 2012).
|The Listeners (Bancroft Press, 2012)|
Lia Mack: I'm glad it's still light outside as I'm already a bit creeped out by your book cover.
Can you please start us off by telling a little about yourself:
Harrison Demchick: Most of the time, I'm a developmental editor with editorial boutique Ambitious Enterprises. What this means is that I work with authors of fiction and memoirs on improving all elements of their work, from character arc to logic to story structure and dialogue and everything in-between. It also means I get to read for a living, and to analyze stories for a living, all of which I absolutely love. When I'm not doing that, I spend my time being very odd, frequently in ways that have to do with Spider-Man, but often also in ways that have to do in some respect with writing, whether it's a song or a story or something else entirely.
Lia Mack: Can you tell us a little about your book?
Harrison Demchick: The Listeners is a coming-of-age story in a literary horror context. In a borough quarantined due to an airborne illness that causes deformity, insanity, and death, a 14-year-old boy named Daniel, orphaned by the plague, is caught up with a one-eared gang/cult called the Listeners. But all he really wants is to find his best friend Katie, trapped elsewhere in the quarantine.
Lia Mack: What was the most challenging aspect of writing this particular story?
The Listeners has undergone so many transformations that it's difficult to say. In its screenplay form, it wasn't my first--not by a long shot--but it was my first original. My background was in writing short stories, so developing a full-length narrative was a substantial challenge. The biggest turning point in all of that may have come once a film producer became interested. His feedback completely changed the third act of the story, which proved to be fundamental in completing Daniel's character arc.
On the novel side, the greatest challenge was the process of rediscovering my prose voice, and more specifically the appropriate voice for this novel. As formats alone, screenplays and novels operate with a drastically different language, meaning that, although the substance of the story is the same in both formats, the way it's told--and so much of an effective novel is based upon the way it's told--has changed substantially. It took a lot of trial and error to find the style that worked for me, and then quite a bit of revision to rein myself back when that style became overbearing.
Lia Mack: Ultimate question...Why do you write?
Harrison Demchick: Because I can't not. If I didn't write, all these weird ideas and narratives and character interactions would spend all their time bouncing around in my head, in which case there might not be room for anything else. I've been doing it since kindergarten--or at least that's the earliest record that exists, as my parents still have my carefully illustrated story about the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Writing is intrinsic to who I am. I can't really imagine my life without it.
Lia Mack: Can you describe a bit how your venture into writing looked like? How did you come to be a writer as your career?
Harrison Demchick: Well, writing isn't my career just yet. Writing is rarely an author's career, and if it is, then they've become spectacularly successful at it--which would be great, obviously, and I'm working hard to make it happen in one way or another. But as far as my venture into publishing, or specifically publishing The Listeners, I came at it in an unusual way. I've been working in the publishing industry since my first internship in the summer of 2005, which is coincidentally the same time I began work on The Listeners.
So while I was learning to be an editor, The Listeners was always there, though not necessarily in its present form. At first it was a series of short stories. Then it became a screenplay, which was optioned for film; then, finally, on the eventual publisher's advice, I adapted it into a novel.
But even then, I wasn't sure I was going to pursue publishing--not because I wasn't proud of The Listeners, but because being in the publishing industry is a bit of a mixed blessing. On one hand, you know the field and know what goes into making a book successful; on the other hand, you know what goes into making a book successful--and that's marketing. Most of the time, it's an incredible effort that yields very little regardless of the quality of the book. I'd been Sisyphus too many times, advocating for terrific novels I'd had the opportunity to edit, like Ron Cooper's Purple Jesus and Elizabeth Leiknes's The Understory. I hated marketing--still do--and didn't want to take on that fight for The Listeners.
Fortunately, I had enough people around me to tell me how stupid that was. I'd written a novel--a really good novel. It should be published. And the publisher that had recommended I write the story as a novel was interested in publishing it. So that's what we did, and I am very glad about it. And the marketing hasn't even been all that horrible.
Lia Mack: If you don't mind me asking, what are you working on now?
Harrison Demchick: I've actually just finished the first draft of my second entirely original screenplay, and a vastly different one at that. It's a cryptozoological dramedy called Ape Canyon, in which a guy in the midst of a quarter-life crisis drags his big sister along on a Bigfoot-hunting expedition. Alongside that, I'm collaborating with a friend on a zombie musical called Brains. I've written a couple recent short stories, and I've been contemplating releasing a short story collection.
Maybe, someday, I'll write another novel, but right now I have no such plans.
Lia Mack: A zombie musical! I'd like to see that ;)
What does your typical writing day look like?
Harrison Demchick: The idea of typical has undergone a pretty radical transformation in the last few months. For me, writing has always been an isolated activity, and I'm generally self-motivated enough that, if I sit down at my computer and decide I'm going to write, I will get something done. So when my friends would suggest that we get together for "writing parties" in which we would all sit down at a table and work on our individual projects, I was skeptical. I didn't think I would or could be productive in that environment.
But I was seriously wrong. Since we started our writing parties, I have been absurdly productive. And when you're absurdly productive, writing carries with it a high like little else. Without these sessions, I would not yet have finished Ape Canyon. I don't even know if I'd be close.
So now, a typical writing day includes me and a friend or three, either in a coffee shop or at my apartment, working for hours on whatever it is we happen to be writing. If any of us is stuck on something, we can ask the writers around us for feedback. If I write a line of dialogue I particularly like, I can get immediate confirmation as to whether or not it works. It's made writing more fun for me than it's been in years.
Lia Mack: Can you share a photo of what your writing space looks like?
Harrison Demchick: I don't know if I can. I don't own a camera. There's a camera in my computer, but it can't take pictures of itself, and the computer is pretty much the most important part. I'll see if I can come up with something.
Lia Mack: Do you read while you write? What are you reading now?
Harrison Demchick: I'm an editor, so I'm always reading--but most of what I'm reading is unpublished. And when reading is your job, as wonderful as that is, it's often not what you find yourself wanting to do with your free time. But I'm in the middle of a book of H. P. Lovecraft short stories, and there's quite a lot on my bookshelf I'm looking to dive into should I ever go on one of those "vacation" things I've heard so much about.
Lia Mack: If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself if you could speak to the aspiring writer you once were?
Harrison Demchick: You know, I honestly don't think I would change anything. Maybe I would clue myself in to the fun of writing with a group, but most likely I'd just leave myself to figure it out on my own.
Besides which, as a dedicated science-fiction and comic book nerd, I know that messing around with the past has terrible repercussions. I go back in time to give myself advice on writing, and the next thing I know, I've never been born and the president is a stegosaurus.
Lia Mack: Thank you so much for being our guest author today. Where can BB readers go online to find you and your work?
Harrison Demchick: Well, they can always check out my poorly maintained website, www.harrisondemchick.com, or my slightly better maintained Facebook page, www.facebook.com/HarrisonDemchick (I don't really have an aptitude for this social media stuff), but if they want to buy the book, they can do that on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or wherever books are sold. The paperback just launched this past weekend.