An Interview with JAMES CHAMBERS
On today’s Witch Haunt, I couldn’t be more happy to be interviewing Bram Stoker Award-winning author of the graphic novel, Kolchak the Night Stalker: The Forgotten Lore of Edgar Allan Poe as well as the Lovecraftian novella collection, The Engines of Sacrifice. Please welcome JAMES CHAMBERS!
WH: Hi, James! Thank you so much for being here. Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I’ve been editing and writing professionally in one format or another for more than twenty-five years. I possess a deep, abiding love of short stories that has shaped much of my writing career. I write in several genres, including crime, fantasy, pulp, science fiction, steampunk, and whatnot, but have spent the most time in horror, which meshes best with my natural inclinations as a storyteller. My novella collection, The Engines of Sacrifice, received a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly, and my graphic novel Kolchak the Night Stalker: The Forgotten Lore of Edgar Allan Poe received the Bram Stoker Award. I was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award in short fiction for my story, “A Song Left Behind in the Aztakea Hills,” published in Shadows Over Main Street 2. I spend a lot of my time balancing multiple writing projects, hopping among short stories, novellas, novels, and comics. I have several works in progress right now, but I’m focusing on novels. I also edited some cool (and sadly long ago cancelled) sci-fi comics back in the day, including Leonard Nimoy’s Primortals, Gene Roddenberry’s Lost Universe, and Isaac Asimov’s I*BOTs. I’ve spent a lot of time in recent years getting to better know my colleagues in the horror and sf/f communities. I live in New York. I engage in a daily power struggle with a one-year-old Boston Terrier over who owns all the socks in the house.
WH: Of all your accomplishments, I bet you feel most fulfilled chasing after that Boston Terrier, huh? ;) James, what other career would you have if not writing/publishing? I love learning about other people’s alter egos.
I would probably drive around the country in a van with my dog and solve mysteries. Unless that doesn’t pay well. Does that pay well? If that doesn’t pay well, I would probably do something with music or science. One time I thought about going to law school because I played role-playing games in high school and a lawyer told me that learning all those gaming rules wasn’t unlike learning the law. But then I discovered I couldn’t actually litigate against a mind flayer or a chromatic dragon so my dream was crushed.
WH: Bummer. There’s always next life. What is your writing process like?
A bit erratic these days. I like to stick to a strict daily writing schedule and concentrate on one piece until I finish, but I haven’t been able to do that much for about the past year. I rarely ever outline short stories. I might make a few notes or jot down some ideas, but usually I dive in and see where they take me. I loosely outline novellas. I outline novels in more detail. I treat both types of outlines more as suggestions than blueprints. I often deviate from them, rearrange the plot, change characters, and add new elements during writing. For comics, I write a synopsis of the full story, whether it’s one or multiple issues (which is usually required by the editor or publisher and is helpful to the artists) before I write individual scripts. I was co-chair of StokerCon 2018, a very time-consuming gig that pretty well blew up my writing schedule. But I’ve been getting back into a groove now that the convention is past, and settling back to regular writing routine, back to what works best for me.
WH: As former co-regional advisor of Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators Florida, I feel your pain, but I’m glad you’re getting back into a rhythm. Which of your written works are you most proud of?
Kolchak the Night Stalker: The Forgotten Lore of Edgar Allan Poe certainly makes this list. The publisher set me up with a challenging assignment: Write a Kolchak story inspired by the works of Edgar Allan Poe. I added a third twist, setting the story in Baltimore. This meant not only did I have to capture the style and tone of the original Kolchak television movies and series, but I had to do a lot of research into Poe and Baltimore as well. It also brought me full circle in the sense that my love of stories and reading started with comic books. I poured my heart into it and couldn’t have been more pleased with how much readers have enjoyed it and that it was recognized with a Bram Stoker Award.
Also on this list is The Engines of Sacrifice. I used H.P. Lovecraft’s Mythos as a launching point for the four novellas in this collection. Three of them take place in the past. “Investigation 37” is set against the backdrop of the witchcraft and Wicca scene of the early 1970s in New York City. “The Ugly Birds” draws on my comics background and takes place in the early 1980s, while “The Hidden Room” is a mid-eighties Cold War spy story with Lovecraftian elements. The fourth story, “The Engines of Sacrifice” occurs in the far future. I did a lot of research for the book and tried to stay as true to Lovecraft’s bleak visions as possible. What’s made it so gratifying is that the book seems to have gained interest and perhaps some regard as a Lovecraftian work more so in recent years than when it was first published.
Three Chords of Chaos is another novella I think contains some of my best writing. This dark, urban fantasy is about a faeries musician made mortal and cast out of the Enchanted Lands for playing forbidden music. But on Earth he discovers he can regain his lost magic by playing for live audiences. He’s determined to rebuild his power until he can take revenge on those who betrayed him. It all takes place in New York City of the early 80s set against the punk and underground music scene. But at its core, it’s a love story about Gorge (the exiled faerie) and his mortal lover, Delilah, the two of them against the world. It’s about honesty and creativity and how the world often goads us to abandon the former so it can vampirize the latter.
WH: I’d be curious to read “Investigation 37” with its witchy setting, and as a child of the 70s-80s, I’d love “The Ugly Birds” and “The Hidden Room” as well. Hell, buying it on Amazon now. If you could interview any horror author, gone or alive, who would it be?
A lot of authors spring to mind. Philip K. Dick, though he’s not really a horror author, and Richard Matheson would be high on my list. But I’d have to choose Edgar Allan Poe. Researching his life and rereading his work for my Kolchak graphic novel renewed my appreciation for his literary accomplishments. Poe gave birth to the modern horror story and the modern detective story. He wrote beautiful prose and poetry. He crafted unique macabre visions and ideas, and just as often he gave us devilishly funny stories. Poe’s sense of humor is often overlooked today, overshadowed by his macabre classics. I believe at heart he was a humanist who understood better than most the dark shadows of the human condition and how laughter and love could dispel them. His tragic life kept him from besting his own demons, though, and I would love to talk to him.
WH: I’m more a Poe fan myself and even made him the subject of my very first research paper in 8thgrade, comparing him to his modern counterpart, Stephen King (well, in 8thgrade I saw them as counterparts). Okay, food break… How do you like your coffee? Do you have a favorite libation? What’s your favorite dessert?
I like my coffee served frequently and in large quantities, and my favorite dessert is crème brûleé. My favorite libation depends on the mood, the occasion, and what’s on hand, but I’ve never been known to turn down Jameson’s or good bourbon.
WH: I would kill for a crème brûleé right now, being on a low-sugar diet. So, I know you love Halloween. What’s your favorite Halloween tradition?
It’s a relatively new one my family started a few years back. As my kids have grown up and found it more fun to hang out with their friends on Halloween than go trick-or-treating, we started a hosting a Halloween party. It involves some trick-or-treating, plenty of snacks, pizza, and my favorite part: a haunted house tour of our backyard. The first year, on a whim, I gathered a bunch of our Halloween decorations and planted them all over the yard. We live in a place that gets pretty dark at night. There are lots of trees, some narrow places to walk, a spooky gate or two. I took all the kids on the tour by flashlight, making up narration as we walked. There was a lot of nervous giggling, some laughter, and a few shrieks at the scary parts. The tour ends at a fire pit, where we roast marshmallows and tell scary stories. And I change it up a bit each year.
WH: That sounds like what my husband and I do during our Halloween parties. We should band together and throw an epic one, ending with dramatic readings of Poe stories by the fire while eating crème brûleé. What is the witchiest thing about you (we’re all a little witchy)?
I once rescued a toad from the mouth of a snake. That probably sounds witchier than it was, but still, kind of witchy, right?
WH: Toadally! So, who would be your favorite Addams Family character?
Gomez Addams. I love the morbid Romantic in him, his devotion to Morticia, his devotion to crashing trains.
WH: Right? It’s Gomez’s side serving of kidlike wonder that makes him so endearing to me. What do you feel makes a horror novel scary?
The scariest horror novels aren’t necessarily the ones with the scariest monsters or ghosts or places. They’re the ones that make the characters and the world they inhabit utterly real to the reader. For horror to be effective there must be a baseline sense of normality or safety for the horrific elements to disrupt it and resonate. I find horror novels most frightening when I believe completely in all the mundane stuff in the book. It makes the horror real.
WH: Absolutely. Show regular life before it all goes to hell. So, James, what is the most awesome thing happening in your life right now that you’d like to share with us?
A New York State of Fright: Horror Stories from the Empire State! I’ve been working on this anthology, along with co-editors April Grey and Robert Masterson, for at least two years. Hippocampus Press published it this July. It’s awesome to see all the work of our editorial team and all the work of our contributors come to fruition. The anthology grew out of the NY Chapter of the Horror Writers Association. It features stories set in New York and written by New York horror authors. All proceeds go to Girls Write Now, a non-profit group in New York City that pairs at-risk teen girls interested in writing with professional publishing mentors. I had an absolute blast working on it. The final produce exceeded my expectations. You can check it out at Hippocampus Press’s website. It’s a lot of great fiction for a good cause.
Writing-wise, it’s pretty awesome writing my current novel, in which I keep finding new and unexpected opportunities to make it scarier and deeper and weirder. And there are a couple of short story projects I’m incredibly happy to have on my desk at the moment.
WH: So many exciting things in the air! What’s next for you? We can’t wait to see what you have coming up!
I’m awaiting the publication of half a dozen or so short stories, working on a new comic book project or two, ushering a couple of novellas toward publication, and writing the aforementioned novel. Sadly, I’m not yet free to share specifics on any of these right now, but most of them should be announced soon.
Best of luck to you, James! Thanks for taking the time to share all your amazing projects with us and give us a little insight into your life. Have a great end of summer! To follow James, please visit the following links:
* Website: www.jameschambersonline.com
* Latest release: “A Feast for Dead Horses” in After-Punk: Steampowered Tales of the Afterlife and A New York State of Fright: Horror Stories from the Empire State
* Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/james.chambers
* Twitter: @mothman1313
* Instagram: @mothman1313
James Chambers is the Bram Stoker Award-winning author of the original graphic novel Kolchak the Night Stalker: The Forgotten Lore of Edgar Allan Poeas well as the Lovecraftian novella collection, The Engines of Sacrifice, described in a Publisher’s Weekly starred-review as “…chillingly evocative….” He has also written the story collection Resurrection Houseand the dark, urban fantasy novella, Three Chords of Chaos. His tales of crime, fantasy, horror, pulp, science fiction, steampunk, and more have appeared in numerous anthologies and magazines, including Allen K’s Inhuman, The Avenger: Roaring Heart of the Crucible, Bare Bone, Chiral Mad 2, Dark Furies, The Dead Walk, Deep Cuts, Gaslight and Grimm, The Green Hornet Chronicles, Hardboiled Cthulhu, Kolchak the Night Stalker: Passages of the Macabre, Shadows Over Main Street, The Side of Good/The Side of Evil, Qualia Nous, Truth or Dare, Walrus Tales,and the award-winning Bad-Ass Faeries and Defending the Future series. He has edited and written numerous comic books including Leonard Nimoy’s Primortals, Gene Roddenberry’s Lost Universe, Isaac Asimov’s I*Bots, the graphic novel adaptation of From Dusk Till Dawn, and the critically acclaimed “The Revenant” in Shadow House. He is a recipient of the 2012 Richard Laymon Award and the 2016 Silver Hammer Award from the Horror Writers Association. His website is www.jameschambersonline.com.
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🔮 GABY TRIANA ☠️