Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Interview With Peter Dudar

Here's Peter's latest book, a bargain on Amazon. Click the image to go to the Kindle version.
Published by Books and Boos Press.

It's a hella scary book. If you like creepy and scary, you'll want to read this.

Peter N. Dudar has been writing and publishing horror fiction for over a decade now. Born and raised in Albany, New York, Peter is an alumnus of Christian Brothers Academy, and received his Bachelor of Arts degree in English at the State University of New York at Albany. He currently resides in Lisbon Falls, Maine and is a proud member of the New England Horror Writers.
Amazon page

So how did this novel come to be? Was it envisioned from the start as a bigger canvas, or did it expand organically out of an idea? Please tell us a bit about the origin.

I had originally gotten the idea for WHERE SPIDERS FEAR TO SPIN back in October of 2013.  I had suggested to the members of my writers group that we all try to write a ghost story for the week of Halloween.  I'd originally imagined my piece to be a short story, a one-act play where a terminally ill person was visited by the ghost of her late husband on her deathbed.  It wasn't until I started fleshing out the character and creating her back-story that I discovered this piece was going to be a lot longer than I'd originally perceived. When I realized that she was a soap opera star, and that she'd wronged her husband enough to make him want to drag her soul to hell, the entire manuscript fell into place.

Did you start with the germ of an idea and start writing to see where it went, or did you map a good deal out in your head (or even outline) before crafting?
I wrote the entire piece in three sittings, and then did several rounds of revision. I had the germ of the idea in my head, but not a whole lot in terms of structure or plot design.  I basically had the concept of a dying woman and her already-dead husband that wanted to punish her to the point that she was terrified of dying.  Writing the story was basically my way of piecing together where things went wrong between the husband and wife. What surprised me the most was how the titular spider became entangled in the plotlines, and ultimately became my character Sadie's eternal punishment for her sins.  It may be the best story denouement I've ever devised.  That whole story arc came out of nowhere and I'm pleased it worked as well as it did. 

What do you feel is the main theme(s)?
I think there are several main themes in this book.  Primarily, I'm fascinated with redemption tales and I think the conflict between Sadie and her daughter Theresa was going to reach a sense of redemption for only one of them.  Both of them are going through their own private hell, but in a way Theresa is actually a hostage to her dying mother and is desperately longing for some kind of catharsis in their relationship.  Which brings up the theme of justice.  I very much liked the idea of having Sadie's hospice in Theresa's living room being reflective of a courtroom, and having the spider being an unwitting juror watching from her web in the corner.  And of course, the ghost of Andy Mills is both prosecutor and judge.  Justice, redemption, and possibly even forgiveness.  I hope I accomplished this without delving into the melodramatic.

Why do you feel this is important, and what would you want a reader to take away from reading this book?

It's important because I believe there's an empathic connection for readers to bond with.  All of us have parents, and have most likely harbored some anger toward them (whether important or trivial) that have left us making passive-aggressive digs at them.   We reach that point where the tides will turn, where we end up caring for those who cared and raised us.  That's an uncomfortable notion for a lot of people.  I would hope my story reminds people that concepts like Karma and cosmic justice should be taken seriously, and that we need to strive to be better people.  That, and I wanted to leave them royally creeped out from the story's conclusion.  I want people to be shocked and skeeved out by Sadie's eternity of afterlife.

What makes a good book or engaging story?

I think it's that notion of empathy, and the bond that connects readers with the story.  I recently read Harper Lee's new book GO SET A WATCHMAN, as her previous classic book TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD is perhaps my favorite book of all time.  I wanted more of Scout Finch's childhood capers because many of her hilariously bungled plans and schemes remind me of my own childhood.  I know what it's like to have a naive notion of how the world is supposed to work, and when that notion is rocked accidentally, it feels like someone yanked the carpet out from under you just to make you look like a fool.  I love coming-of-age stories in general, and comparing them with my own life.  Joe Lansdale put out a killer novel a few years back called EDGE OF DARK WATER, concerning some children who hatched a plan to bring their dead friend's ashes to Hollywood to fulfill a childhood dream.  That book left my imagination captivated for a long, long time.  Before that, it was Douglas Clegg's THE HOUR BEFORE DARK.  Before that it was Stephen King's THE BODY.  Friends in the horror writing industry keep telling me to read Robert McCammon's BOY'S LIFE next, so I suppose I need to get around to it.

I'm a tough critic.  When a book is going wrong, my mind tends to pick apart the story and figure out why and where the author messed up.  A good book will distract me from picking apart syntax and inconsistencies.  A great book will subdue the writer in me trying to find the seams and thin fabric of storytelling and keep me immersed.  If I'm swept away in the story, I cease to be a writer and remain solely a reader.  I stop thinking of where things went wrong and how I could improve on a story, and just allow myself to linger on beautiful prose.  When that happens, I cannot for the life of me put a book down.  The world around me could be falling apart and I'd never even notice.

Are there writers with similar themes to yours? Who are your influences (can be writers, or even artists, musicians, or others) and what is it about their work that attracts you?

I'm sure thousands of books with similar themes have been written already.  I can say that I love stories that take a left turn and lead me to a conclusion different than I had been expecting.  Stories that are too predictable tend to leave me cold.  I love books by authors like Joe R. Lansdale, Douglas Clegg, Chuck Palahniuk, Peter Straub, and Harlan Ellison.  I love stories that come across as both literary and entertaining, without being too over the top in terms of grossout horror.  I love ghost stories unabashedly.  They are my passion.  In fact, I found myself writing a short story called "A Taste of Green Voodoo Healing" a few years ago based on a song I heard from the band LIVE.  Their song was called "Ghost", and the lyrics had haunted me enough that I had to create something from my head based on the image they'd put in there.  The story was published in an anthology called NIGHTSCAPES; Volume 1.  Trying to list all my influences would be impossible.  At 43, I've been immersed in so many different mediums of art that I couldn't begin to identify all of them.  But I can honestly say is that I'm attracted to things that are morbid and macabre.  I love Poe, and Edward Gorey, and Midnight Syndicate.  I love dark and creepy things.  I see beauty in the grotesque, and I'm drawn to news headlines of the more sinister persuasion.  The band Tool did a song a few years ago called "Vicarious".  That song resonates with me in uncomfortable ways.

Is storytelling mostly entertainment, or does it serve other functions? Do you have particular goals other than telling a good story?

Do I have a hidden agenda?  I've never sat down to write something out for the sake of being preachy or trying to change people's minds about their ideas and beliefs.  Should art (in terms of writing) try to emulate reality as we know it or historically preserve an era within our society?  Definitely.  That's how the reader comes to identify with the story.  Stephen King has built an empire based on his observations of living in a small town because it resonates with an enormous segment of American life.  He's the Norman Rockwell of dark secrets and terrible ideas.   Writers do need to know who their audience is, and build narratives based on truth and reality. And the reader will always tell you when you get it wrong, so you need to be prepared for criticism and perform your due diligence in researching your facts and information.  But at the heart of it all, storytelling really is entertainment.  It's providing a safe means of escape from the real world.

Any other goals you've set for yourself, professionally or personally?

I've always viewed my writing as a hobby.  I'm not harboring any notions of making this my primary source of income or anything.  I've always loved the craft of writing, but in terms of the business end of publishing I'm really not all that enthusiastic.  I tend to be a private person and cringe at the thought of "being recognized" or looked at as "famous".  I prefer anonymity.  As far as goals, I'm writing fiction primarily in horror, but I also write erotica under a pseudonym, I write a film review column for Cinema Knife Fight, and I keep a blog called "Dead By Friday" on  Juggling all these things keeps me busy enough.  My only goal is to stay relevant and be happy.

Some writers write fast and claim not to rewrite much. Do you do this, or painstakingly revise? When you send the book off to the publisher, are you happy with it, or just tired of it?

I tend to revise painstakingly.  I'm not the fastest writer to begin with, especially now with two children in the house to distract me.  When I'm "in the zone" I can accomplish a great deal.  First draft is basically writing out the skeleton of the story.  First round of revisions is fleshing out the skeleton and fine-tuning details and being sure that chronology works correctly.  Second round is deleting errata and unnecessary words.  When I send a piece off to the publisher, I'm usually happy with the piece.  When they send me their round of edits to go through, that's when I feel tired and worn out.

Do you have good editors, and if so, how do they help you? Do they look for particular things? Do you have different people for different editing levels?

I have my writers group as beta readers and a wall for bouncing ideas off of.  I've been very blessed to have good editors so far, people that I appreciate professionally and love on a personal level.  I've worked with great people.  The best editors are the ones that know how to hone down your work without taking your voice away from you as an author.  They're the ones that are brave enough to tell you when something isn't working and force you to rethink plot structure and character arcs.  They're the ones that know how to polish a stone until it shines like a gem.

If a writer came to you for advice, how would you help?

I would give that person complete honesty.  That can be a tough thing to come by in this business.  I recently attended a convention where I was invited to sit on a panel and discuss the business of getting published.  A young woman raised her hand and asked if she should bend her writing to fit what she thought publishers are looking for?  From my experience, publishers are looking for people that write like Stephen King.  Or Nora Roberts.  Or John Grisham.  And if you have your head bent on writing like THOSE people, you'll never learn to find your own voice.  From my perspective, big publishing is on the endangered species list.  If they fall, literary agents will be the next to go.  The paradigm of publishing has changed completely since I first started writing, with the advent of the small-press and self publishing.  My advice was, "Screw 'em.  Write the stories YOU want to tell.  Find your voice and perfect your craft.  You will build a REAL fan base along the way and you will grow exponentially as an author."  Even now, I can go back to those stories I wrote at the beginning of my career and can tell instantly who I was trying to emulate at that moment.  I can tell when I was going for the gentle, cosmic trippiness of Ray Bradbury or the razor-sharp wit and scrutiny of Harlan Ellison.  I can even tell which piece I wrote made me break through that mold and learn how to let the story lead ME instead of me pushing the story out.  That moment in time, in my life, was absolutely cathartic for me.  From my experience, every writer that has achieved success before me has pushed that same advice, and most have given the benefit of their wisdom and experience freely to help the next generation of writers find success.  It always begins with finding your own voice.

Stories can be told by using a different medium. Can you see your book as a film, audio, etc.? How would that alter the telling?

I am dying for the moment when someone approaches me with the desire to turn one of my stories into a movie.  I think SPIDERS would make a wonderful film, especially from an art student anxious to cut their teeth in the business.  Would it alter the telling?  That's a tough question to answer.  The film review column I write for Cinema Knife Fight specifically deals with the big-screen adaptations of the works of Stephen King.  I've read almost all of King's books and I know where the screenplays deviate from the actual stories.  Mr. King has always been cool about being lenient toward his written work vs. how his stories transform in the hands of other people.  Sometimes they improve his work.  Sometimes they don't.  King is cool because he knows that his source material is ALWAYS in print form for people to discover, and the film versions of his work cannot detract from that in any way.  I would hope that I will be the same way; that if one of my books hits the big screen, I'm not going to get my panties in a bunch if they don't do my work justice.  All the same, if I had my druthers, I would hope that someone like Rob Reiner or Frank Darabont would be interested in WHERE SPIDERS FEAR TO SPIN.  Those are the guys who know how to turn literary visions into reality.

What's the next step in your writing world?

I'm working on my next full-length novel called THE GOAT PARADE.  It's an occult tale; one that deals with Satan and how he can influence several lives on different levels and play them against each other at his own personal whim.  It's very dark and disturbing.  Beyond that, I have another ghost novella planned for next year.

Tell us a fun fact about yourself.

I'm an unabashed Walt Disney fan and have a full-length animated screenplay in my head called "The Rainmakers" that I would love to write for them.  It would be a musical about a pair of orphaned children (based on my adopted daughters) that save a dying frontier town from drought and find a loving set of parents in the process.

Any other information you'd like to impart?

For the love of God and all that is holy, never let self-doubt stop you from following your dreams.

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