So this week at DT, to kick of the Halloween season, which is a big deal over here obviously, I’m interviewing the coolest Protestant I’m not married to, Greg Mitchell, author of The Coming Evil Trilogy. I met Greg over on the Star Wars.com blogs when we both wrote winning entries for The What’s The Story contest they had going over there a few years back. His entry on The Dusty Duck, a beat up old star ship which appears in the background of The Phantom Menace ranked at number 79 in The Coolest Things About Star Wars…Ever! that ran in Star Wars Insider magazine.
But he hasn’t stopped there. Besides forays into comics and horror fiction, he’s also making headway as a screenwriter now.
Und now, on mit der probing qvestions!
When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?
I think I always wanted to be a storyteller—but the decision to be a writer took a little longer. I remember growing up and telling these sweeping war epics with my G.I. Joes. I’d have dialogue, cliffhangers, slam-bang action, heroic sacrifice. Of course it was all on my couch with no one around to appreciate it but me, but I still wanted to tell a story. As a small child, I wanted to be a Disney animator. In my adolescent years, I considered being a comic book artist. After high school, I largely put aside my drawing and wanted to focus on making movies. When that proved too expensive, I at last decided on converting my movie concepts into prose. Not that I’ve given up on film and comics, but right now novels are where I’m at.
What made you decide you wanted to write horror specifically?
I’ve always been a fanboy, no doubt. I don’t think I chose to be that way, it just chose me. I was hardwired for the fantastic for whatever reason. But, as much as I was attracted to the weird, I never could get into hard science fiction like the other fanboys I knew. Star Trek never did a thing for me. I’ve never read Heinlein (I know, I know). I think it was about high school that I realized I was more of a horror fan. Why? In sci-fi, even in fantasy, you have to go somewhere. If you want to be where the action’s at, you’ve got to get on a space ship and go to some distant star system. Or you’ve got to go to the future, or travel to a mythical realm. But, being a broke kid living in a small Southern town, I wasn’t going to go anywhere. I wasn’t even going to go to college. But in horror, the excitement comes to you. You’re living your quiet life, then a werewolf jumps out of the bushes. You’ve got to face it; you’ve got to run or fight. That base characteristic of horror really appealed to me because anyone can become the star of a horror story. It’s just a matter of timing and some bad luck, perhaps :p
But, as I’ve said in other places, even as a little kid, I was subconsciously drawn to monsters. I wouldn’t realize this until much later in life, but all my favorite super heroes had a tinge of the supernatural or monstrous to them. All my favorite movies did, as well. I suppose all little kids love monsters to a certain extent, but my love never went away. Monsters—horror—gave me a way to face my real life fears. It’s a powerful cathartic release and I’m a pretty tightly wound guy. I need that.🙂
How would you describe The Coming Evil?
Okay, I’ll elaborate a little bit. The Coming Evil Trilogy—begun in The Strange Man, in stores now, and continuing in Enemies of the Cross, on sale in February—is the story of a small town under siege by a demonic horde led by the enigmaticStrangeMan. The first one to encounter the Strange Man is Dras Weldon, a twenty-two year old college dropout. His is a life of horror movies and video games, lived selfishly without any thought to those around him. When the Strange Man sets his sights on Dras’ best friend Rosalyn, the town loser has to grow up and discover what it is he believes in, in order to fight the Strange Man. That confrontation culminates in Book One, and Book Two is the aftershocks of his dramatic stand and how it impacts those closest to him. War is coming and no one can hide from it. But are there enough good people left inGreensboro to fight the devil?
To the chagrin of my publishers, I describe The Coming Evil Trilogy as a Christian Horror epic. Those are my two passions and they collide here, full force. It’s an exploration of my faith—almost a journal of my own spirituality—and it’s a B-movie monster extravaganza.
So, you know, pure awesomeness :p
What’s the plan for the series? How many installments?
It’s a trilogy. My publisher and I have got a special little surprise to go along with that trilogy, but I’m not ready to formerly announce it yet. I’ll be announcing it later next year. I always loved the Back to the Future trilogy and wanted to make my own three-part story, so that’s what I set out to do. Beyond that, I don’t know. I’ve got ideas for other books in The Coming Evil series but I suppose that’s up to God if I ever get around to writing them. They would be all-new stories with (mostly) new characters. We’d explore new corners of the mythology and see what bogles lurked there. Rest assured, though, that the story of these characters will be wrapped up in Book Three of The Coming Evil. I like cliffhangers, but at the close of a series, I like the lion’s share of my loose ends to be wrapped up. I need that closure. I want readers to walk away from the trilogy feeling really satisfied with where it ended, and if that’s all I ever get to write of The Coming Evil mythology, then so be it. It stands on its own.
You probably get this a lot, but you told me once you’ve gotten your fair share of flak attending horror conventions because of the Christian subject matter in your series. I’m curious about this because although I toy with it a little, there’s a definite monotheistic slant in Merkabah Rider, and it has turned a few reviewers off. Why do you think it is that some people don’t like their chocolate in their peanut butter, and what do you say (or wish you could say) to those detractors?
Well, it’s tough. Horror, by its very nature, explores good and evil, the divine and the profane. The Exorcist has got some hardcore pro-Christian elements! I don’t think horror fans have any problem with a little “power of Christ compels you”, or a fundamental belief that there’s one God, or that there’s a devil. Faith is not the enemy, here. Plus, you don’t have to believe any of that stuff to write it. Holding up a cross to repel a vampire is just a horror trope, by this point. But, when, as an author, you start showing that you actually believe in one God or Christ or whatever in real life, then people start to slowly back away from you.
Where I got into trouble was that my book goes deeper than the religious imagery and trappings of mainstream horror and we start talking about Jesus. We start talking about what the Bible actually says. Look, Jesus is a controversial figure, even now, two thousand some odd years later. I get that, totally. People just don’t want to talk about him. They get all sweaty and nervous and—even most Christians!—are waiting for the conversation to be over. I’ve been accused of hijacking horror as just a vehicle to spread my propaganda, which I find insulting. Every writer has a message that they’re trying to convey. Every human being has a worldview that guides their living. I’m not going to deny that I believe in Christ and that, in a book about monsters, I’m going to talk about how faith in Christ is your weapon against the devil. That’s the mechanics of my story. My demons are ripped right from the Bible, so naturally the way to fight them has to come from the Bible as well. That’s the “mythology” I’m using here. Beyond that, though, I’m writing a book about the Church. Sometimes it’s a celebration of the Church—a lot of times it’s an indictment of her shortcomings. But the majority of my cast are Christians dealing with struggles that Christians can relate to. They deal with doubt, faith, despair, hope, anger, mercy, rebellion, and restoration. They’re going to talk about Christ and how He relates to them and their struggle. That’s a part of their natural lives; that’s a part of my natural life. If I was writing a book about cancer survivors, we’d talk about cancer. If talk about cancer offends you, I don’t know what to tell you—that’s the nature of the book. It’s not my intention to write a preachy story to get people in a church pew. I’m trying to communicate my own faith journey openly. I don’t want to sugar coat anything in my book—not the horror aspects, not the “God” aspects. I’ve got to be true to myself. Some people are going to love that, some people are going to hate that. I’m naturally a kind of guy who wants everyone to like him, but that’s just not always going to happen.
What about on the flip side? Do you have to defend your horror work to people in your church, or Christians in general? What do you say to them?
I got a little resistance from some of the Christians I knew initially, but as they got to know me better and what I’m trying to accomplish, they’ve become very accepting. The Christian reviewers who have read The Strange Man have run the gamut. I mean, no one’s called me “blasphemous” (I’d probably get more sales if they did :p), but a few of them thought the book was too dark or scary or gory or intense. A few months ago, I was the featured book for the Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy Blog Tour. At the time, I was told that I was the scariest book that ever made the rounds in their tour—which I take as a huge compliment! I’m hoping when Enemies of the Cross is released in February, I can return and see if I top my record🙂
Who are some of your inspirations in both the Christian and secular communities?
I think, as far as writers go, one of the Christian writers I respect the most is Eric Wilson. That man is open and honest about his life—both the good and the bad—and he’s got a real heart for reaching out to the kinds of people that most “typical” churches shy away from. He’s got street cred, man, and he’s living it as well as writing it. And, really, I respect that about any Christian—writer or not. I’m looking for genuine people. There are so many bad examples of “Christians” plastered all over the news, but then I see some of the people of my own church. The world, at large, will never know their names, but I see them taking care of children, I see them going on mission trips to build homes for low income families, I see them feeding the homeless in soup kitchens, counseling young mothers. I see them reaching out. They’re not perfect. They struggle and they fall sometimes, but they are there for each other and they really want to just lead simple, hardworking lives and do something worthwhile with the time God has given them. The media won’t talk about them, but those guys are Christ’s legacy. Sometimes there’s a temptation to water down the faith aspect in The Coming Evil so I don’t offend anyone or so I can get more mainstream sales. But then I look at their hard work and sacrifice and it emboldens me. I can’t be ashamed of my faith when I look at them.
Back to writers: I would be kicked out of the horror fanboy club if I didn’t mention Stephen King. Ray Bradbury. Richard Matheson. I really love John Carpenter movies. Steven Spielberg. Lovecraft is always great. And I’m hooked on author Bob Freeman. He’s like the prose version of a 1970s occult movie or a Hammer flick. I love it.
You’ve had some success as a screenwriter as well. Anything you want to plug in the pike?
Yes! As a matter of fact my first movie is shooting as we speak! In quite the departure from my usual fare, it’s called Amazing Love: The Story of Hosea. I wrote it with Christian filmmaker Rich Christiano for the family film market. It’s a sweet little story about a church youth group going camping. They come from different backgrounds and don’t always get along. Their youth leader—played by Sean Astin no less!—tells them the Old Testament (I love the OT) story of the prophet Hosea, who was called by God to love an unfaithful woman. It’s a story about forgiveness and understanding and all those warm, fuzzy things. It’s very safe entertainment, designed to draw the same types of crowd that movies like Fireproof and Courageous do. It’s directed by Kevin Downes, who incidentally stars in Courageous. We’re looking at seeing it released early next year. Sadly no monsters in this one. Maybe next time.
What advice would you give to a screenwriter or writer just starting out?
Quit. If you can’t quit, then don’t quit. The writing business, to me, has always been like a game of Jenga. You’ve got this tower of blocks and the goal is to take the blocks from the bottom and stack them on top. You want to see how many blocks you can stack on top before the whole thing comes crumbling down. That’s not the writer part though :p The writer part is that, when you go to move a block, you test it first. Because of the distribution of the weight in the tower, some blocks are wedged in and you’d be a fool to press it, because the whole thing is balanced on it and it’ll just fall over. You want to find a block that’s already loose. Then you can easily slide it out from underneath the weight and lay it on top. But you have to test them. You tap, tap, tap at each block until you find one that moves. That’s writing. You tap each story until one starts moving. Then when you want to get published, you tap each publisher. Some are locked in solid and will not budge. Don’t fret. Just keep tapping until you find one that moves. Besides, as the weight shifts, some of the blocks that were solid before become pliable. It’s all about timing and seizing the right opportunities.
I would say to write from your heart. I would also say finish. So many people talk about being a writer and say they want to write. But writers write. More than that, they actually finish a story. Finish a lot of stories. Just write it until the thing is done. Worry about if it’s good or not later.
What was your favorite Halloween costume ever?
My mom made a homemade Wizard of Oz scarecrow costume for me one year, using yellow yarn for straw. It was pretty rockin’. I think I was in a parade that year?
What’s the worst thing you ever got in your candy sack? What was the best?
Anytime I get Whoppers or Butterfinger, I make a “yak” face. No good. Best thing would probably be gummies of some sort. My kid and I wrestle over who gets the gummy eyeballs.
What bit of horror scared you the most as a kid? What scares you now?
Two things: Well, okay three things:
Chickens. My uncle chased one for me to pet and it was running and sqwaking and going ballistic, and by time he caught it, I was terrified.
The fictionalized Joan Crawford from Mommy Dearest. No joke, that was my “monster in the closet”. I lived in fear of Joan Crawford busting out of my closet with her cake makeup on shouting, “No more wire hangers!” I have never watched that movie, but I caught a commercial for it on HBO when I was a wee boy, and was traumatized.
Peeping Toms. I had a deathly fear (still do, a little bit) of someone watching me through my bedroom window. I actually had a couple neighborhood kids do that to me as a prank when I was a child and I was scarred for life. Coupled with that is the nightmarish scene in the amazing movie Lady in White, where this creepy old woman is watching little Frankie sleep. Yeesh. I’m still fearful of looking out the window at night, dreading that I might see something staring back at me.
What scares me now, well not to be put a damper on our fun talk here, but losing my kids. As much as I was afraid growing up, I didn’t know real fear until I had children. Something happening to them is by far more horrific than anything I could cook up in my mind.
What are your Halloween plans?
I really want to dress as Dracula this year! Like, old school Bela Lugosi Dracula. A cheap cloak from Wal-Mart, some fake fangs, and a flimsy plastic medallion if I can find it. I’m really excited about it! I’ve never been Dracula before.
Halloween is a big deal in my family. We always bring out a mixed CD of spooky songs to listen to while we dance around the house, putting up our decorations. On Halloween night, we play the music from a stereo in the window so all the kids can listen while they trick-or-treat. I’ll put on a classic Universal Monster movie on the TV so that, when folks come to our door, they can catch a peek at a good old fashioned monster movie before they go on their way. My wife usually stays behind to pass out candy for awhile, and I’ll take my daughters door to door. Our goal is to be outside as long as possible. After the trick-or-treating is done, we’ll come back and sit on the steps and enjoy the night, watching all the kids in costume until everyone goes home.
Halloween really doesn’t get any better than when you have kids. And when they’re little, it’s like you don’t have to pick just one costume – you can pick as many as you have bods to throw ’em on! I don’t want to say it was the reason I had kids, but I won’t say it wasn’t a factor either.
Thanks to Greg for stopping by DT to chew the rag. Don’t fail to visit his blog over at http://thecomingevil.blogspot.com/ to keep up with his latest news. He’s also been a good enough egg to let me take over his space for a couple days, and I’m going to give away some .pdf copies of my short Lovecraftian blues story The Crawlin’ Chaos Blues over there, so if you missed reading my ramblings, take a gander.