Screaming Spotlight on: NICK CATO!
Well, thanks for sitting down with me and doing this interview. Let’s start at the beginning. What made you want to become a writer?
I grew up in a house full of books. My mother read at least four historical romance novels a week. On occasion she had a horror novel lying around, and I remember trying to read her paperback of THE SENTINEL by Jeffrey Konvitz when I was in the third grade. I was too distracted by the creepy cover art (which spilled onto the first page) to focus on the story, plus at that age I didn’t have the patience to sit through a novel (being a big comic book fan). But a couple of years later I read Jay Anson’s THE AMITYVILLE HORROR in one manic 8-hour sitting and had a dream of one day writing my own novel. I dabbled with so many things since then that I didn’t begin to take writing seriously until 1998.
Oh yeah, I remember seeing the movie of THE SENTINEL as a kid. That was a good one.
What was your first professional sale?
My story, “Toes,” was accepted into the DEATHGRIP: EXIT LAUGHING anthology in 2006. I was thrilled to finally see my name alongside some of my favorite authors, especially the legendary William Nolan. Too bad this turned out to be Hellbound Books’ last release.
What authors influenced you growing up? Which writers do you enjoy most now?
While I still rave over Jay Anson’s THE AMITYVILLE HORROR, it was really a book one of my ex-girlfriends gave me as a stocking stuffer one Christmas (I believe around 1987) that influenced me more than anything else I had read up to that point: NIGHT SHOW by Richard Laymon. I finished it in a few hours, then read it again the next day.
Today there’s so many great writers out there, but suffice it to say I try not to miss anything from Tom Piccirilli, Gary Braunbeck, Charles Stross, and Bentley Little. I’m also heavily into this new crop of Bizarro writers (such as Andersen Prunty, Jordan Krall and Gina Ranalli). They’re writing books that are basically extensions of the strange cult films I’ve always loved.
I know that you are as heavily into movies as I am. Which movies had the biggest impact on you growing up?
Although horror has always been my main love, there’s something about the classic Dirty Harry films that always get me going. I’ve also been inspired since I was very young by the 007 series.
I’d have to say David Lynch’s ERASERHEAD continues to stimulate me on so many levels; it’s actually a very basic story, yet done in such an off-beat manner many people have a hard time understanding it. Also just about anything directed by John Waters, Alejandro Jodorowsky, and George Romero; Romero gets a lot of flack for his later and non-Dead films, but I found BRUISER to be a real blast and think THE CRAZIES is one of his best.
Who is cooler, Bugs Bunny or Daffy Duck, and why?
Without a doubt, Bugs. While funny, Daffy is too out of control with himself; Bugs is sarcastic, cool, and always gets things done his way.
Tell us the origins of your publishing company, Novello Publishers.
In 2003, my love for humorous horror films was at an all-time high. I also began to discover (around this time) how many horror fiction writers were using humor to great effect. I had been considering starting my own press for a few years, and everything just came to a head in the Spring of 2004.
I started my press simply to fill this niche. I think so far we’ve been pretty successful at the humorous horror subgenre.
Novello Publishers is named after my late grandfather. He was the funniest man I ever knew, and helped get me into both of my favorite genres by (a) taking my brother, cousin and I to see JAWS in 1975 when we were all ridiculously young, and (b) letting me watch the Benny Hill Show when we visited him on Saturday nights when I was ridiculously young. He would’ve loved this tribute to him.
My press is still mainly humorous horror, but we also branched out into the bizarro thing in 2008 with an imprint called SQUID SALAD PRESS. Our first two books in that line have been very well received.
Tell us something about the history of The Horror Fiction Review. This started out as a Xeroxed fanzine, right? I think you’ve been doing this for a long time, now. How do you feel about abandoning the paper version and making it into a webzine?
I’ve been HEAVILY into fanzines since the early 80s. A trash film fanatic from New Jersey, Rick Sullivan, used to do a really cheaply-produced ‘zine called THE GORE GAZETTE that I read religiously. I started my own horror film zine (inspired by Rick’s) back in ‘81 called STINK, that I published up until 1991. Those pre-Internet days saw many fantastic xeroxed-styled horror film and punk rock fanzines; in fact, Mike Gingold, one of FANGORIA magazine’s recent editors, started out by doing a really pro-looking ‘zine.
I didn’t get back into ‘zine publishing until 2003, when I decided to start reviewing the countless horror novels I had all over the house. I published THE HORROR FICTION REVIEW as an old-school styled Xeroxed “rag” up until the summer of 2008, when I sold out and joined the e-zine cult.
While I miss the print version, I must say this way is just SO much easier (and cheaper!). But like regular books vs. eBooks, you can’t read the new HORROR FICTION REVIEW in the bathroom, unless you want to risk electric shock.
I remember the punk rock fanzines in the ‘80s. There were tons of them. It’s nice to see someone keeping that spirit alive, even if it’s now exclusively on the Internet. Speaking of the Internet, how did your crazy-ass Internet TV show LAIR OF THE YAK come about?
I found a Web site one night while surfing the net called OPERATOR11.COM. There were a couple of decent home-produced shows, but mostly just kids gossiping and telling fart jokes. I decided to try my hand at a quick book/movie review type of show. We recently aired our 70th show and have had some great authors and filmmakers on as guests—not bad for a quick “throw-together” type of Netcast.
Plus I have the funniest, rudest, and coolest co-host on the planet: Cornelius, an ape from the future who I met during his first public appearance at the 2005 World Horror Convention “Gross-Out” contest in New York City.
How did you get the nickname “Nick the Yak?”
It’s two-fold: The first job I had (in high school) was at a local supermarket: one of the workers called me “The Yak” sarcastically as I didn’t talk much when I first started. It just stuck. When my friends heard this, they all loved it and adapted it; they had been seeking a nickname for me, and YAK fit perfectly being I have an intense Sicilian curse (i.e. unwanted hair all over the place).
My friend and I had bought gorilla costumes when we were in high school and started our own business (it didn’t go as well as we planned). We did a few parties, then ended it. The costumes costs $120 each (a lot back in 1985), and my dad said, “Why didn’t you just buy the mask and save some money?”
I know you’re heavily into music, as well. How has music influenced you creatively? How many bands have you been in?
Music has been a tremendous part of my life (and especially my brother’s) since the womb; my mom was a huge music fan, and my brother and I took music lessons since elementary school. He still plays (and has been in a few great bands), but the music thing took more to him than me; I went on to play in countless punk and hardcore bands before joining my first “serious” band in 1988 called SAW SAW. We did some great gigs and planned to tour, but things fell apart right before we were about to hit the West Coast.
Music gets my creative juices flowing as much (if not more) than any film or piece of fiction.
We both have been very interested in the new bizarro genre since it popped up. What do you find attractive about bizarro fiction?
The freedom it brings to both the writers AND the readers. There are little (to no) rules. When it’s done , it’s as close to reading something that has not existed before as you can get.
Yeah, in a way it reminds of science-fiction in the early 1970s – the era of Philip K. Dick and Barry N. Malzberg and J.G. Ballard. A time when you felt you could anything in the genre.
So tell us about your upcoming debut novel, DON OF THE DEAD
DON is a tribute to the zombie and gangster films I grew up on, albeit with a bit more humor. It was inevitable I’d write something like this as my first project. That a publishing house who LOVES zombies took an interest in this novel is more than I could have ever asked for; they’re really treating the whole thing with TLC. Coscom Entertainment has been releasing some fantastic material, so I’m very happy to be on their roster.
Yeah, Coscom is doing some cool stuff. So, what other projects are you working on? And what is coming up from your small presses?
I have a second novel written titled SUBURBAN EXORCIST that I’m currently shopping, as well as a novella titled THE APOCALYPSE OF PETER that (I believe) puts a whole new spin on the apocalyptic thing. It’s easily the strangest thing I’ve written yet.
As far as my press, we just released a 1950s creature-feature homage by Gina Ranalli titled SWARM OF FLYING EYEBALLS, and are now formatting our first humorous horror anthology titled DARK JESTERS, for a September release. We’re also very excited about a novella we’re releasing in late December 2009, titled ZOMBIE BASTARD, by a relatively new writer, Jerrod Balzer. I think he has the potential to be one of the funniest horror writers on the scene (he also has a HYSTERICAL tale in our DARK JESTERS anthology).
While I shouldn’t mention any names, I can say that we have one book in the works for 2010 by a writer not too many people know for “humorous horror,” so we hope things work out with the project.
If you could have any superpower, what would it be?
Invisibility. Then again, I’d end up dead or in jail the first day—if they caught me.
What do you see as the role of horror in culture. Do you feel that entertainment is the most important aspect of horror, or do you think it has to have a deeper meaning?
I’ve always been into horror because it entertains me more than any other genre; I like to be scared and disturbed…call me weird. Horror gives me a high that, aside from a good comedy, you can’t get without drugs—and being I’ve always hated drugs, that’s a good thing! So for me, if it’s not entertaining, I can care less about any potential message.
As a whole, I think people enjoy a good, scary novel or film for the same reason other people get into sky diving or bungee jumping; for the “rush” they bring. While some horror films do have deeper (and at times, latent) messages, if there’s no thrill in it what good is it? Of course, there are those who bring messages and keep the scary entertainment flowing (i.e. authors such as Gary Braunbeck and filmmakers such as David Cronenberg).
Do you prefer writing horror or bizarro fiction?
I actually prefer writing horror, as I find it a bit easier, but I usually find most of what I write falling into bizarro waters.
How can people follow your career ?
My press can be located at www.novellopublishers.com. I have yet to set up an “official” author website, but I post happenings on my MySpace page, www.myspace.com/NickCato. Lately more and more authors are focusing mainly on their blogs. My blog is basically full of reviews with the occasional update from my writing world: http://nickcato.blogspot.com/
Which of the Seven Dwarves is your favorite, and why?
I’ve always hated Disney. I’m a hardcore Warner Brothers fan, and if I’m ever able to afford the rights, I often dream of writing a novella about Bugs Bunny going ballistic and offing every single Disney character in blood-soaked fashion—ESPECIALLY those annoying dwarves.
Fair enough. While I think some of the art in the early Disney films is exceptional, I can understand the way you feel about Disney as a whole, and I certainly share your disdain for a lot of their product, which can seem more than a little homogenized at times. Warner Brothers was always a lot more fun and irreverent.
Well, thanks a lot for talking to me. And best of luck with DON OF THE DEAD and your other projects, bucko.