Interview by Greg Chapman.
Daniel I. Russell has been featured publications such as The Zombie Feed, Pseudopod and Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine. Author of Samhane, Come Into Darkness, Critique, Mother’s Boys, The Collector, Retard, and Tricks, Mischief and Mayhem, Daniel is also the former vice-president of the Australian Horror Writers’ Association and was a special guest editor of Midnight Echo. His latest novel, Entertaining Demons, is due for release in 2017 with Apex Publications. Daniel lives in Western Australia with his partner and four children, and is currently completing a BA in psychology and counselling.
You recently signed with a film production house to adapt your novel, RETARD. Tell us about the novel and how the deal came about? The process sounds like every writer’s dream, but probably isn’t?
I had a crazy time writing RETARD. I wanted to get in with a publisher who had a call out at the time, so had 5am starts to get the book done before the tight deadline. The novella didn’t make the cut, and after having it sit around for a while, I decided to release it myself. It was an odd word length, a bit controversial, and yet a very personal book for me. I knew it would be hard to find a traditional home for it, yet I couldn’t stomach the thought of it rotting away on my hard drive.
So I released it digitally and that was that. It was only when I noticed steadily growing review numbers that I took more notice of how it was doing with sales. RETARD eventually spent weeks in the top 20 psychological thrillers on Amazon and caught the attention of certain people…
It was a December evening. I was gaming and had left my laptop on. I saw an email pop up inquiring about film rights. I’m always initially cynical and wary of such things! I did some investigating and once happy that the email was legit, began the negotiation process and a deal was agreed and signed with an NYC production company for a feature.
That’s all for the moment! It helps being an author as we’re used to lengthy dealings with publishers, etc. I’m particularly looking forward to the next step of preparing the screenplay, as the location and time period may prove to be particularly challenging and may need to adapted to a more contemporary, American setting.
I wish it was a more interesting tale! But no. I got an email from the director, and that’s it!
A few years ago you edited an edition of Midnight Echo Magazine, focusing on the theme of taboos. Is that you’re idea of horror fiction – that it should also make you squirm, as well as feel terrified? Is that what you prefer to write (and read?)
It’s a topic that I bang on about quite a bit, especially in the odd workshop that I do. The word is dread. In a horror story, if you distil it down and canter out the tropes, disregard the style and setting, dread is the essence that you should be left with. It doesn’t matter how artistic your way with words is, or if the story is Booker prize worthy: if you don’t have dread, you don’t have horror.
Taboos add another layer to the mix. It’s hard to describe… For example, everyone has their particular turn-ons. If these conditions are met, sex can reach another level. With the taboos, the simple act of reading can feel wrong or even elicit a feeling of guilt. This can amplify the dread.
I don’t stand for the idea that gross out, explicit gore, etc, is lazy writing. That it isn’t horror, that it’s a mechanism for those that can’t generate a more subtle scare. I had the word resort in this context. Read some Ketchum, Lee, Masterton. The ultimate horror success for me is when the reader doesn’t want to turn the page as they really don’t want to know where the story is going!
What are you working on right now?
I have two novels and a novella on the backburners. My last several weeks have been spent on writing a new batch of short stories as I had deadlines/anthology commitments fast approaching. Trying to keep the desk relatively clean of writing obligations for the next few month as I’ll be editing my next release, Entertaining Demons, which is out with Apex Publications in 2017.
What Australian work have you loved recently?
I started Garth Nix’s Lireal on holiday back in January and had to put it down when another year of university started. I don’t get much time to read for pleasure during semester as I usually have epic textbooks to read through cover to cover and about a hundred journals to slog through for research. Come the break, I started the book again and on finishing dove straight into the final book in The Old Kingdom trilogy, Abhorsen. Got through that in a few days. All highly recommended!
Which author (living or dead) would you most like to sit next to on a long plane trip and why?
I probably wouldn’t want to sit next to anyone, writer, living, dead, or otherwise. You’d have more room then and could spread out. More likely to get some kip. Besides, what if your chosen writer turns out to be a jerk? That’s going to be an awfully long plane journey. Imagine! Ten hours, stuck on a plane with Stephen King flicking peanuts at you and messing with his headrest…
Now if we’re talking about having a chat over a pint…well, I guess it would have to be Kevin Smith. Yes, I know he’s more a director, but as he writes his own movies I’m still claiming he counts.
I had to write a ‘wild psychodynamic analysis’ on a celebrity last year. As I had several of Smith’s books which are collections of blog posts, diary entries, and columns, I felt I could have a pretty thorough poke around his psyche without having to meet him in person. By spending so much time with his words, I feel like I know the guy by now.
We’ve both been through a similar creative experience over the last few years. Obviously, his is more epic, being a well-known Hollywood director, but it would be interesting to chat about the changes we’ve made in our work and how we feel it’s panned out in the two vastly different places we find ourselves in.