|Douglas Clegg: Sheherazade 's Scion|
The more advanced a technology, the closer it brings us to our roots. Multi-award winning horror author Douglas Clegg uses the Web to revive the glory days of the penny dreadful by spinning out the tale of one darkly bewitching chapter at a time. For free.
The new-old notion of a serialized novel delivered in convenient weekly installments is proving irresistible to dedicated Internet junkies and the traditional press alike. But what prompted the writer of The Halloween Man and the soon-to-be released The Nightmare Chronicles to take this unusual and (for a print-published writer) potentially risky step? How far do the answers reach into Clegg's own roots?
Crescent Blues: Growing up in a family where your mother was an artist and your two brothers were opera singers, what prompted you to become a writer?
Douglas Clegg: My mother was a fairly frustrated artist, actually. She put aside painting just about the time I was a toddler and never went back to it, which I tend to think is the tragedy of her life. I was nine years old when I knew I was going to be a novelist, and no one actually encouraged me, although my mother, very smartly, bought me a typewriter then, and I taught myself to type because my handwriting was so awful. Typing feels like composing on a piano to me. She did discourage me from being an artist, which was my aim until the age of nine, and lest you think I'm joking, ask some rather serious seven-year-olds what they intend to become when they grow up, and you'll usually hear the truth.
Crescent Blues: Has your family's talents influenced any other creativity on your part (i.e. I understand you are skilled musically as well as with words)?
Douglas Clegg: I am not all that skilled musically at this point. I have some slight aptitude with music -- I used to compose a little, but my technical skills in that area are terrible. I would say that the emotional storms that brewed in my family influenced my writing more than anything. Any time you frustrate an artist, you end up with a lot of disturbance in a household, and my mother is the ultimate frustrated artist. I always encouraged her in various ways to go back to her art, but she has refused in the manner of one of those Edith Wharton or Henry James heiresses blocking out the unsuitable suitor at the door.
Crescent Blues: Your career seems to have been consistently linear. Majoring in English literature, going on to journalism, working in publications and TV news. Was writing something that you always wanted/planned on pursuing?
Douglas Clegg: Yes, but in many ways, the jobs I had before I began writing fiction hit me in the back of the head, and of course, I took them whenever they hit. It does seem consistent. At the time, I really thought I was floundering with no direction -- I went from teaching English to working in magazine publishing to working in television to writing a novel. None of it seemed to add up, but of course it did.
My twenties were definitely my apprenticeship period. I have to tell you, though, the TV news job hit the way they always do in Hollywood. I was at my first Hollywood party, at some minor league TV star's home (a writer friend got me in), and someone pretty much offered me the job right there, and I hadn't even mentioned I was looking for a job. Go figure.
Crescent Blues: What sort of publications have you worked for?
Douglas Clegg: Well, I only worked for Ziff-Davis, in the aerospace publishing area that they used to own in the 1980s down in Washington, D.C. I was there for a few years. During that time I was a contributing editor/writer on a small magazine, also in Washington.
That got me up to New York regularly and forced me to get to know people in a way I hadn't before. I had to be overtly social and get whatever story I needed to get. I wrote on entertainment, movies, fashion, whatever they threw at me. That was a fun time, because it was a young magazine that also staged promotional parties all over the city.
Crescent Blues: Were there any notable experiences (good or bad) that you had with them which you feel was beneficial or had an effect on your writing?
Douglas Clegg: Well, I learned that what I loved to do was not sit in an office and feel like I was circling computer sheets all day long. That was pretty much the extent of the editorial work at Ziff-Davis then. Sometimes, for novelists, the best jobs are the ones that make you want to write your book in order to get far, far away from the job.
I have to admit, working in television news was fun. I probably would've been smarter in the scheme of things to not have walked away from that work to write my first novel, but who knew? I was about 28, and just didn't like office politics. The Eighties were a bit of a crazy time, too. No one has quite written about it. It was a crazy time, where a lot of fools moved up very quickly, with their BMWs and cocaine habits intact.
Crescent Blues: Your first novel, Goat Dance, was nominated for Outstanding First Novel by the Horror Writers Association. Was it the first fiction you'd ever written or had you dabbled in short stories or other novels, possibly even the sort that get hidden under the bed and never see the light of day?
Douglas Clegg: I had written two short stories before I wrote Goat Dance. One I submitted to Twilight Zone magazine, and it was rejected in their normal six month time period. The other, I sent to Dave Silva at Horror Show. He rejected it, but his rejection had been briefly personalized with a note about the problem of the story.
That short story went on to become a 12-year endeavor for me which is just about to end -- it became my novel, You Come When I Call You, which comes out soon. Then, I quit my job at KCBS and sat down in North Hollywood to write Goat Dance. It came out about six weeks later in rough draft and then two or three weeks later, I had the final. I sent it off. A year later, Pocket Books bought it.
It was my first novel. I had made one attempt when I lived in Paris to write a novel when I was in my early twenties, but the hundred pages that came out went nowhere and I threw them out, happily.
Crescent Blues: How many publishers did you have to send Goat Dance to before you were accepted?
Douglas Clegg: One other than Pocket, and actually, they sent it to Pocket, not me. I sent it to a small paperback house that no longer exists, and the editor wrote me back asking if she could take the book over to Pocket Books. She did, and a couple of months after that, my editor at Pocket bought it.
Crescent Blues: Most of your novels, Breeder, Dark of the Eye, The Children's Hour, Neverland and to some extent in the latest installments of Naomi, seem to involve children, either as protagonists (Dark of the Eye, The Children's Hour) or victims (Breeder, Naomi). Is this a conscious ploy, or do you find writing children into the plot makes the story scarier?
Douglas Clegg: I think life involves children and adults. There are victims among the children I write about; there are victims among the adults I write about. All adults were once children, and all children will one day be adults. Sometimes the dividing line is fuzzy, because many times children are more responsible than the people caring for them. So, I basically write about life, and while the supernatural elements in my fiction are entirely self-imposed, there is not one thing that happens to children in my books that has not happened to a child somewhere in time.
Crescent Blues: Your serialized e-novel, Naomi, concerns witchcraft. The Children's Hour is about vampirism and The Halloween Man is about devil worship. You have been described as re-inventing all of these subjects with your writing. How do you manage to take on such familiar topics and at the same time give them such a fresh edge?
Douglas Clegg: Well, actually, I don't think of those novels as being about those things. Naomi is strongly a love story and a ghost story, with a huge dark fantasy element. The witches are just witches. I like them.
The Children's Hour is, to me, about a man who has to reconcile with his home and his new family. He must, in essence, accept his mother as she is before she dies. The Children's Hour is really Joe's hour when, to defeat a monster, he must face the one person who destroyed his sense of trust. Now, that's to me.
And The Halloween Man? Hey, no devil there in my opinion. I never quite understand this, other than that there's sort of a dark chapel, but the creature is anything but a devil. However, I can understand why readers and reviewers would latch on to these sound bites. It's easier to describe The Halloween Man by saying "devil worship." I see it more as the story of a mangod discovering his true nature.
Crescent Blues: Apparently you are writing the installments of Naomi each week just before they are e-mailed to subscribers. Do you have the story very strictly plotted to do this, or is the whole thing done on the wing?
Dougals Clegg: Neither. This will sound nuts, but the characters tell me the story. Naomi has been building in my brain for a few years, and in that time, the people in it have determined their stories. It adjusts and morphs a bit from what they originally present, but when it comes out, it all makes sense. OK, it sounds crazy. I just go with it. So each week when I sit down to write this, I know where I am in the story, I know what will happen next, and I know where it will all end.
But sometimes, the characters tell me to move in a different direction than I expected. Sometimes writing is like multiple personality. You know what's crazier? All the stories and people from anything I've written are still in my head, and still come back to me at times. Writing fiction is its own kind of haunting.
Crescent Blues: Does this mean characters from prior works are likely to come back in sequels?
Douglas Clegg: Not really. They exist in their worlds in one way or another, but a novel, in my opinion, should be the most important point in a character's life. Anything beyond the story is of some lesser degree of importance and not all that different from anyone else's life.
Only one of my novels, Dark of the Eye, was written with sequels in mind. It was originally intended -- by me -- as the opening of a trilogy which would go through an apocalyptic cycle. But by the time it came out, I was leaving one publisher and going to another, and nothing further ever developed for it. Perhaps I'll write the rest of it one day. Perhaps not.
Crescent Blues: What is it like to write a novel where you can't go back in the editing and tweak it because it's already been published?
Douglas Clegg: It's fun. More fun. The restriction keeps me from beating myself black and blue over it.
Crescent Blues: Probably a very popular question but why did you write Naomi as an e-serial?