OK, so very, very soon…as in tomorrow, I believe, Grey Matter Press will publish its latest anthology, Savage Beasts. This one centers around the influence of music…evil, evil music. I have a story in this one, “That Song You Can’t Get Out of Your Head.” We all thought it a great idea to have the authors interview themselves, and so I paired with Daniel Braum, who has a story (and a very good one!) in the volume called “An American Ghost in Zurich.” So I conversed with Daniel, and he with me, and I’m posting his interview tonight. You can go to his site tomorrow and read his interview with me.
And that’s the way that works! And, of course, you’re gonna want to rush out tomorrow and buy a copy of Savage Beasts. Because…well, it’s Grey Matter Press. And me. And Daniel Braum. ‘Nuff said.
So, take it away, Daniel!
Hi John. Thanks for these great questions about the Savage Beasts project and music and writing. I’m a fan of your work. I’ve read your Stoker nominated collection The End In All Beginnings and attended your kaffeeklatch at the World Horror Con. It is really great to be able to have this conversation. – DB
Savage Beasts deals with music. How does music play a role in your writing in general? And how did music inform this particular story? Where did the idea come from?
I never gave much thought as to how music fits into my writing until recently. I’ve been working on a project where I’ve been grouping some of my previously published stories thematically and I noticed that several of the stories are either about music or have musicians as main characters. So I don’t think it was a conscious choice, other than when I made decisions about the characters in each story, but since music is something close to me, I am a musician and it is a big part of my life it is easy to see how that happens. I do try to read my work out loud while it is in progress. And I try to pay attention to how it sounds and flows. I’m happy with the story and my work in general but that said I have a lot of room for improvement on the front of having that sort of aspect to my stories. Stories have to entertain and feel and sound real and that’s a big enough job. I’m always impressed when I hear an author read and when the story sounds almost like music or a performance!
For the story in Savage Beasts, “An American Ghost in Zurich,” the music of band School of Seven Bells was very much on my mind. Without any spoilers, part of the speculative element is revealed or foreshadowed by a character listening to a very particular song by this band a song that does not exist. As I was drafting the story I read the call for the project and with the intent of submitting to it I was able to coax the theme more as completed the story and revisions.
The idea. Well the real idea I don’t want to put it in writing ! I’ve been told what inspired me to write the story is more interesting than the story. Which I took at first as a backhanded compliment and then was just like, ouch. My writer self would much rather hear the reverse… as in wow the way you wrote the story about that event was so much more interesting ! So I’m going to save the real answer for this perhaps for anyone who remembers and corners me at say Stoker Con in Vegas.
In your story, the main character is a woman. Some guys find writing from a woman’s perspective difficult. But you seemed to handle it well. How do you find that voice within you?
Thanks for that feedback, John. That’s great to hear. I do not know how it works. I did a lot of pre writing and pre thinking about both the story and the character before actually writing the words. Hopefully in this story some of my decisions to bring the character to life were good ones and paid off. I think you hit on something with the wording of the question. You said “within you”. If a character is well imagined I think they will come across better and better. A lot of that is empathy, and thought, and making choices on what the reader sees and then. So I’m not sure. I’d like to think that a large part of it is a natural and intuitive process but I know there is a large part of it that is not.
How about you? Can I ask a follow up question here? How do you find the voices of your characters? It’s a great question and one I think that is of interest to writers. I think a lot of people who will be reading this interview are writers.
Your story is set in Zurich, and that foreign locale adds another layer of mystique to the proceedings. The details were atmospheric. Have you traveled there?
I have been to Zurich so yes many of the details came from experience. Many also did not. I guess it all goes back to that phrase “well imagined.” I’m sure I’m not saying it as well but Tim Powers once told a group of his students ( I was lucky enough to be one) that every page has to be well imagined. He was speaking about setting. And about the less “exotic” aspects of setting. He was talking about a sense of place and space and a sense of light and a sense of a character’s position in this space. I remember him saying that he wants to have this on every page of his novels. I’m not sure if he actually does. But I think keeping this in mind is great advice and a great way to start talking about the craft of writing setting which is of great interest to me. Zurich as a setting captured my imagination as does many of the places I travel to. I think getting that sense of atmosphere and immersion and excitement about the setting is important and the craft of doing so isn’t something I’ve heard a lot about. I think it’s important to sacrifice “reality” and authenticity to achieve something that feels real and or serves the story if that makes any sense. I was impressed with the sense of setting and sensory details in your story for Savage Beasts. I asked you about it in my questions for you but how do you approach setting in your work. I think you do a great job with it.
As your piece has a definite scifi bent, science figures heavily into the story. Without giving too much away, how did you come up with the details (i.e., the physics) of the story? Personal knowledge? Research?
Personal knowledge. I think. I can’t vouch for any of the physics being right. I’m more interested in things feeling right than being right. The physics encountered in the story are all areas I’m interested in and areas I “follow” via news stories and documentaries.
What do you look for in a horror story? I mean, what for you separates horror from other genres, like science fiction, fantasy, etc.
I’m much more interested in what areas or things merge and overlap with other genres most specifically science fiction and fantasy. I’m most interested in horror stories that don’t just do one thing. A horror story for me has to make me care about the characters in one way or another in order to make me feel a sense of horror. So there’s that. Strong characters in danger. But I’m excited about the stories that do more. The easiest kind to identify are the stories where there is a sense of wonder along side that “sense of horror.” So stories where there is something beautiful and fantastic and wonderous alongside stories where there are realistic characters in danger or where bad things happen to them. Now I’m really interested. When the sense of wonder comes from certain tropes or elements like space, science, cosmic entities, time travel, alternate dimensions… well those are closely tied to science fiction in readers and editors minds. I have a story about a time traveling elephant god being reprinted in the Mammoth Book of Kaiju. I guess it’s a kaiju story. It could easily be classified as science fiction, fantasy, and even horror. Or some combination of those genres. Or none of them. Those slippery kinds of stories excite me. Stories that are setting heavy like the work of Lucius Shepard which are set in Central America and have strong Central American themes are among my favorites. Another of my favorite authors is Tanith Lee. Her stories are not bound by any genre limits. A Tanith Lee story can take you anywhere and be about anything. I find that really exciting. Lately thanks to a panel at the last World Fantasy Con about Robert Aickman I’ve been exploring his work and what he calls a “strange tale”. The stories of his that I have read, most notably The Swords and The Wine Dark Sea have speculative elements that are not explained and are about the emotional reality of the narrators during their encounters with these fantastic, unexplained, and sometimes horrible things. Is that horror? I think horror is or can be all of these things. Horror or at least the horror community of writers, readers, editors, and publishers I’ve encountered seem to think horror is or can be all of these things. And that’s why I’m excited about the state of horror right now!
What are you working on now?
I’ve just started working on drafts for two short stories. And breaking ground on longer works a novel and a novella. I recently wrote a novel and novella that are looking for homes right now.
Get to know Daniel at his links below: