Rocky Wood lives in Melbourne and is the co-author of three major works about Stephen King, each of which was nominated for the Horror Writers Association’s Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in Non-Fiction – ‘Stephen King: Uncollected, Unpublished’, ‘Stephen King: The Non-Fiction’ and ‘Stephen King: The Literary Companion’. The latter won the Bram Stoker Award for 2011.
He is also the author of ‘Horrors! Great Tales of Fear and Their Creators’, a graphic novel illustrated by Glenn Chadbourne, which was shortlisted for a Black Quills Award and nominated for an Aurealis Award; and the upcoming ‘Witch Hunts: A Graphic History of the Burning Times’, a graphic novel co-written with Lisa Morton, and illustrated by Greg Chapman.
He has spoken at numerous conventions, including the SKEMER Con in Estes Park, Colorado (2003); Continuum 3 (2005) and Continuum 4 (2006) in Melbourne; Conflux 3 in Canberra (2006); the 2nd Annual Stephen King Dollar Baby Festival in Bangor, Maine (2005); the World Horror Conventions in Salt Lake City (2008 and 2012) and Austin, Texas (2011); the Bram Stoker Award Weekends in Burbank, California (2009) and Long Island, New York (2011); and Worldcon in Melbourne (2010). He has even addressed Stephen King’s hometown Historical Society about the author’s works and motivations. He has published non-fiction worldwide for the past thirty five years.
Rocky is President of the Horror Writers Association, having served on the Board since 2008 and is also a proud member of the Australian Horror Writers Association.
1) Congratulations on your recent Stoker award for Stephen King: A Literary Companion. What’s the most exciting and jaw dropping thing you’ve discovered about King’s early works?
Undoubtedly it is a chapter from an unpublished novel, ‘Sword in the Darkness’. King has a series of works kept at his alma mater, the University of Maine in Orono but one must have his written permission to access them. Armed with that permission in 2002 I was reading the novel, a race riot book with a crime caper and a love triangle, which he wrote in 1970. It’s not very good but that’s nothing unusual for a college student. But buried in the middle is a chapter – the back story of teacher Edie Rowsmith. I read that chapter and simply sat at the desk, stunned. Here was the Stephen King we would all know – like the tip of an iceberg soaring above the ocean. The King who would burst into the literary consciousness only four years later was fully formed in this story. I am grateful that Steve later allowed me to publish it in my book, ‘Stephen King: Uncollected, Unpublished’ so now all King fans and those who want study his development can read it. Here is a true horror story and like so much of King’s fiction it’s not supernatural but examines the horrors that people will commit against each other, given certain pressures.
2) You’ve also written a horror graphic novel, Horrors: Great Stories of Fear and Their Creators. What attracted you to the graphic novel?
Funnily enough, I initially didn’t want to write it. One of my publishers, McFarland approached me as they were launching a new line in graphic novels (they mostly publish non-fiction) and I said no as I’d never published fiction and almost never even attempted to write any. But they persisted, saying they liked my style and could I come up with something? Then, in the way of these things, I had an idea! And the more I thought about it, the more I saw how it could be delivered. I can’t draw a stick figure, so I asked the renowned Maine artist Glenn Chadbourne (who often illustrates King) if he would illustrate. Interestingly, the actual writing was rather easy and we ended with almost exactly the story that I originally thought of. It’s what you might call ‘faction’ – a lot of the tale is going back and revealing what really happened to the authors of classic horror tales (bookended by ‘Frankenstein’ and ‘Dracula’) and their families and friends. Part of it was to retell those classic tales as they were originally written (it’s strange how our perception of these stories is polluted by screen versions and popular imagery). And of course, there is a twist. I can’t tell you what that is – you just have to read the book! The book got two Award nominations and has done well in terms of sales and critical reception, so I am very glad I changed my mind. I found the process much more enjoyable than I expected and it was the same process I used for my second graphic novel – ‘Witch Hunts: A Graphic History of the Burning Times’, co-authored by the amazingly talented Lisa Morton and illustrated by Rockhampton-based Greg Chapman, a highly skilled artist who added enormously to our vision. That book will be published by McFarland (again) in July.
3) In 2010 you were sadly diagnosed with motor neurone disease. How has the fan community supported you during this time in your life?
The horror community has been unbelievable with its support. In fact it’s much wider than that, I am impressed with how generous and supportive everyone in my life has been (for instance, the Australian American Association), but you asked about the fan community. The wider ‘Stephen King community’ has been incredible – fundraising in many different ways, from small donations to wider schemes. I put my Stephen King collection up for sale for two reasons – one is need the money for future medical care (I will be buying a machine called an ‘Eye Gaze Device’ that allows sufferers to communicate only with their eyes. Unfortunately that is what happens to those of us who suffer from Motor Neurone Disease – in the end we are effectively paralysed due to muscle weakness). The other was that if I was to reconcile the idea that people would help me raise these funds I also wanted to contribute myself – selling this collection meant I am contributing, not just receiving ‘donations’. The King community has been great in buying these items (of course there is more left to buy – at www.overlookconnection.com) and even better at buying anthologies that have been put together to assist me – particularly ‘Rage Against the Night’ (edited by Shane Jiraiya Cummings), which includes a story King donated to the book.
Which brings me to the horror literary community – it must be the most supportive community there is. My ‘colleagues’ all over the world rushed to deliver many projects and spread the word for every fundraiser I had, large and small. The Australian Horror Writers Association, particularly Geoff Brown and Talie Helene, were instrumental in organizing a worldwide online auction to raise funds and to organize a Halloween event we held in Melbourne last year. They are both special, generous people.
4) What Australian works have you loved recently?
I have to admit that my reading has to be, of necessity, spread far and wide – I take my responsibilities as a voter for the Bram Stoker Awards very seriously, which includes reading for Recommendations through the year. In addition I like to read outside the genre for relaxation, both mainstream fiction and quite a lot of non-fiction (particularly US history), as well as current affairs in online newspapers and magazines. So, my ‘Australian’ reading is fairly limited. I do recall particularly enjoying Stephen Irwin’s ‘The Broken Ones’; Kaaron Warren’s ‘All You Can Do Is Breathe’; and novellas from Greg Chapman – ‘Torment’ and ‘The Noctuary’. And I just finished reading GN Braun’s ‘Hammered’, a memoir of a recovering drug addict, which is compelling and powerful.
5) Two years on from Aussiecon 4, what do you think are some of the biggest changes to the Australian Spec Fic scene?
Has it been two years – amazing how time flies! I have to admit I am not as connected with the Aussie scene as I might be. My role as President of the Horror Writer Association (HWA) has meant that I have a big international focus. Two things I have been diligent about is getting more Australasian horror writers to join the HWA; and ensuring that works by Australasian writers get much more exposure as part of the Bram Stoker Award process. Our fiction is as good as any the world produces but in the world of Awards exposure is critically important. Now that the Bram Stoker Awards are half-juried it is much easier ensuring our top works each year are considered and it is telling that there were four nominees from Australasia last year.
I continue to respect the great work the Australian Horror Writers Association does, with ‘Midnight Echo’, ‘Australian Shadows’ and its other projects, particularly bringing aspiring new writers into a welcoming fold. And it’s good to see the Aurealis Awards gaining strength and respect every year – although I dearly wish they would recognize non-fiction as an Award category! Between the science fiction, horror and fantasy genres there is enough scope for nominated works, and a winner each year.