Screaming Spotlight On: Kurt Newton
I first met Kurt Newton back in 2001, when the New England Chapter of the HWA first started up. As I got to know him, I realized we shared a lot of the same attitudes about writing, and about horror as a genre. We’ve since gone on to become really good friends, sometimes collaborators, and fans of each other’s work. I’m always psyched to hear about a new Kurt Newton book or story, and obviously, I’m not alone. We recently sat down to chat in anticipation of the release of Kurt’s new chapbook, BLACK BUTTERLFIES, coming soon from Sideshow Press.
If you’re not familiar with Kurt’s work, definitely seek it out. He’s a terrific writer, and I can’t recommend him enough.
And now, on with the show:
LL SOARES: We all have our reasons why we become writers. What was yours? And how early did you start writing?
KURT NEWTON: I grew up the youngest of four children and didn’t have much say. I was fortunate to get food. I remember actually being cheated out on desserts by my older siblings. No lie. But seriously, it was 4th Grade. It was one of those years I will always remember. In June, with about three weeks of school left, our house burned down. It was one of those life-changing events. Nobody died but the house was gutted. We lost everything. I remember yelling to the fireman to get my microscope. (I’d gotten this great microscope kit in this cool wooden case for Christmas.) Before the fire I don’t remember writing a thing. After the fire, out came the poetry.
The first thing I ever wrote — that was shared in a public forum — was a little poem called “Koala Bear Underwear.” I was a bit of a class clown. I remember passing the poem around and hearing the chuckles. By 5th grade I had become known as the kid who could write. My teacher tapped me for a school project about the history of our town. I wrote a poem about the town’s Indian School and was awarded a certificate for it by the Historical Society.
So, early on, I received a lot of positive reinforcement that kept me at it.
LS: What was your first professional sale?
KN: Wow, jump ahead about a million years. Probably my first pro sales were with my poetry. I sold several poems to Dreams and Nightmares and The Magazine of Speculative Poetry. At the time, when I became an active member of the HWA, it was my poetry that got me in.
LS: What authors influenced you growing up? Which writers do you enjoy most now?
KN: I absolutely hated to read. I didn’t read my first novel for my own pleasure until I was sixteen. Stephen King’s THE DEAD ZONE. After reading that, I was hooked. I read everything King, and when I ran out of King I read nearly everything on his recommendation list in DANSE MACABRE. Charles Grant, Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson, Harlan Ellison, J.G. Ballard, Ramsey Campbell, Ursula LeGuin, Peter Straub, the list goes on. And when the DARK FORCES anthology came out, I discovered Karl Edward Wagner, T.E.D. Klein, and Dennis Etchinson. Early Clive Barker also had a profound influence and showed me what was possible with horror.
As for more recent writers, ones I can count on to deliver every time — Lucius Shepard, Gary Braunbeck, John Shirley, Kathe Koja, Charlee Jacob, and Paul Tremblay. Sadly, I’m a slow reader, and nowadays would rather write than read, so I haven’t read enough of the newer crop of writers to make an informed decision about their work.
LS: Did movies influence you as a writer? If so, which ones?
KN: I always liked Hitchcock. THE EXORCIST, of course. Some old black and whites that left an impression were THE BAD SEED, I SAW WHAT YOU DID, WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?, and THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN. I’m dating myself, I know. But I was just an impressionable little kid staying far too late. I remember sneaking out of bed and watching SHRINKING MAN from the stairway. I remember crying at the end. I guess I’m attracted to the emotional toll that horror takes. The human element.
LS: Your short story collection, THE HOUSE SPIDER, was the very first thing published by Delirium Books. How did that come about?
KN: The short of it is Shane Ryan Staley published a little magazine called The Twilight Garden. A short-short story of mine appeared in last issue of that magazine. Shane had plans to begin producing chapbook collections of short-shorts by writers he had published. He called them the Twilight Garden Series. I was tapped for one of the first chapbooks. Then Shane moved to hardcover collections of short stories. Originally, the first Delirium book was going to be a three-author collection (in the same vein as the series Dark Harvest used to produce). Michael Laimo, Gerard Houarner, and I were going to be the guinea pigs. That quickly became individual collections. Somehow, I managed to get my collection submitted and into production first.
LS: Tell us about your second story collection, DARK DEMONS.
KN: I love that collection. It’s a great cross-section of what I’m all about as both a writer and a person. There isn’t much to say other than it had been three years since THE HOUSE SPIDER and Shane thought it was time to put a second collection together. As with the first one, Shane wanted reprints and original material. I wrote some of my best stories specifically for that collection. Stories like “Something Profound,” “Waves,” “Angels of Mercy, Angels of Grief” and “The Bleeding of Mary Cross.” Out of the sixteen stories, nine appeared in the collection for the first time, including the infamous “Butter Red and Diamond Eyes,” a story I still receive comments about.
LS: THE WISHNIK was your first novel (and a really good book, by the way), but very few people have gotten the chance to read it. Can you tell us a little about it, and are there any plans for it to come out in a more accessible version?
KN: Thanks. The basic premise of THE WISHNIK is the age old “be careful what you wish for, you just might get it” scenario. Kenny Morgan wishes his father dead for all the injustices and cruelties his father had inflicted on the Morgan family. The wish comes true. The wishnik appears to settle the debt. The wishnik requires only one thing: to be fed. The wishnik doesn’t care what it eats, as long as it consists of flesh and blood and bone. Kenny tries to keep the wishnik happy — after all, things are going great now, everyone is so much better off now that the father is out of the picture. But the wishnik’s demands become greater and more horrifying with each passing day. Kenny realizes the creature must be stopped — even if it means that life goes back to the way it was.
The Wishnik creature, the star of the book and my favorite character, is just a horror-fied version of a miniature troll doll I had as a kid. (That’s a horror writer for you — taking something good and wholesome and turning it into a monster.) Delirium Books published the book in 2006 as a special bonus incentive for their yearly subscriber series. The book was never made available to the public. I have feelers out to several publishers to reprint the book, but there is nothing concrete at this moment.
Hell, forget the reprint, I think it would make for an entertaining horror flick. So if there are any film producers out there looking for properties, The Wishnik could be one of those series you could run into the ground like the Leprechaun or Wishmaster series. Just throwing that out there. Call me.
LS: Tell us about your upcoming chapbook BLACK BUTTERFLIES.
KN: BLACK BUTTERFLIES is hands down the best thing I’ve ever written. Sideshow Press is publishing it in a limited quantity of 100 signed softcover copies and 26 lettered hardcover copies. It’s a 10,000-word story about love and transformation. A young man with some very strange physical powers works the nightshift at an old warehouse building. One night he meets a teenage runaway. The warehouse becomes their special place far away from the world and what the world has done to them. Like all good things, however, it comes to an end — both beautifully and tragically. Charlee Jacob recently provided a nice blurb for it.
LS: I know you’re a very productive writer. What else do you have in the pipeline.
KN: My second novel BLOOD ALCHEMY is with a publisher and will likely see print in 2010, but that’s all I can say right now. Sideshow Press recently picked up my novella THE BRAINPAN CONCERTO, which is scheduled for 2010 release. I have poetry coming out in several anthologies – DEATH IN COMMON, THE TERROR OF MISKATONIC FALLS, and VICIOUS VRESES AND REANIMATED RHYMES: ZANY ZOMBIE POETRY FOR THE UNDEAD HEAD — and short stories upcoming in Shock Totem, Weird Tales, Bare Bone, Midnight Echo, Polluto, and a major horror anthology called BLEEDING EDGE. I’m also finishing up my third novel, POWERLINES, which is a pseudo-science horror tale of survival.
LS: You and I have collaborated on a few stories (including “Muscle Car,” which appeared in BARE BONE # 9), and they’ve come out pretty good. What are your views on the collaboration process?
KN: That’s a loaded question. I loved it, L.L. It wasn’t nerve-wracking at all to work with you…. To be honest, it was learning experience for me — to let go and not have to control every aspect of the process, which was kind of liberating. Unfortunately, I’m a slow writer — I do most of my writing longhand. So it was a challenge to work solely on the computer and just spew out paragraphs, warts and all, just so we could keep the story moving. The poet in me was constantly worrying over word choice and structure and rhythm, so it did take me out of my comfort zone. The results could have been disastrous but they weren’t. It helped to have someone like you who isn’t picky at all about which word goes where. I would do it again.
LS: If you could have any superpower, what would it be?
KN: First choice, mind reading. Second choice, psycholagny. Look it up.
LS: Do you see themes reoccurring in your stories? If so, what are they?
KN: I hadn’t noticed I had themes until a reviewer of DARK DEMONS pointed out that my fiction deals a lot with loss. Loss of innocence. Loss of self. It’s probably what I fear the most — losing my identity, my sense of purpose, being seduced by power, greed, beauty. (Although I wouldn’t turn down one night with an exotic-looking succubus.) It is ironic that when I was little my family lost everything in a fire. Now I’m no Freud but I’m sure that has something, if not everything, to do with it. The fact that my prized possession at the time was a microscope is not lost on me either. Maybe I’ve always had an interest in examining things, exploring unseen territory. I could have been a doctor or a scientist, but I just happened to apply that interest through writing.
LS: What do you see as the role of horror in culture. Do you feel that entertainment is the most important part of horror, or do you think it has a deeper meaning?
KN: Deeper, deeper, always deeper. Layers upon layers like the nine circles of Hell. Horror without some kind of resonance — without a journey, whether physical or spiritual — is just shock for shock’s sake. Horror, for me, is the ultimate cautionary tale. If you go down this road where will it take you? In fiction, the horror of that journey can be spelled out for you without your actually having to take that road. A lot of my protagonists, through some flaw in their character (something they are lacking that they hope to find by way of the search) end up going down that road. Sometimes it turns out well, often times not. In the end, however, for better of for worse, their lives are irreversibly changed.
LS: Do you think Smurfette is sexy?
KN: That little tramp? Absolutely.
LS: Finally, someone else who “gets” it! Now I can finally retire that question.
How about a website? How can people keep up on what you’re up to?
KN: My live journal: http://kurt-newton.livejournal.com/ and the website for Sideshow Press: http://www.sideshowpresspublications.com/Chapbook_Series.html
LS: As usual, I’m always excited about anything new you have out, and I can’t wait to read BLACK BUTTERFLIES.