DD: So we start with the question around which most author interviews are built - in this case, I suspect the answer is pretty interesting. How did the premise for your novel, The Seven Habits of Highly Infective People, come about?
WTR: The Seven Habits originally started as an entirely different story. I’d considered writing a novel that broke the fourth wall with the written word. The idea was that I myself would be the protagonist and that the things I wrote about in my novels and stories were things I’d actually experienced while traveling through space and time. This is where the term “dimensionally unstable” originated from. I wrote a page or so and realized it just wasn’t working, so I shelved it. About a month or so later, I started getting these little snippets of dialogue that popped into my head throughout the day. So when I sat down to write, I just let this character start talking and discovered he was actually the one who was dimensionally unstable. Everything else just kind of fell into place after that.
DD: Where do Bosley, The Seven Habits of Highly Infective People's protagonist, and William Todd Rose intersect?
WTR: That’s a really good question. In all honesty, Bosley is this alternate reality version of how I may have turned out if I hadn’t changed my paths in my mid-twenties. I totally lived the Bosley Coughlin lifestyle, man. Like Bosley, I worked as a data conversion operator for the Post Office. I was sleeping maybe three or four hours a night and doing just about any drug I could get my hands on. I spent so much time high that sobriety was my altered state and, at the same time, was really delving into explorations of mysticism and the occult. I was running from and searching for something simultaneously… something that always seemed maddeningly out of reach. I was riddled with unfounded guilt and thought if I could re-build my consciousness then maybe I could finally feel complete. But it really doesn’t work that way, does it?
DD: Seven Habits involves time travel, which I imagine is a challenge to write and a beacon for nitpickers. How did you map out the timeline, and what were the rules governing your version of time travel?
WTR: I’ll start with the rules first, which are pretty simple. The main rule is lack of control. Bosley has no say over when or where he travels. The Eye of Aeons opens spontaneously and pulls him through. Since his consciousness, and not his physical body, is what travels through time he is basically pulled into a host body on his travels. He sees through their eyes, hears what they hear, feels what they feel, and is privy to their innermost thoughts and secrets… however, he has no control over that host body whatsoever. He can be thought of as a metaphysical hitchhiker of sorts.
I think the time travel aspect of the story was a bit easier because of this. I didn’t really have to worry too much about crossing timelines… I just had to make sure that if Bosley knew something about Ocean that the knowledge matched up with a period of time in which he was sharing her consciousness. As the series progresses, however, the time travel element will become increasingly more complex, and that is where I’ll really have to mind my Ps and Qs.DD: How important to you is humor in the fiction you write and read?
WTR: With my own writing, it really depends on the work. Humor can be a great tool to break tension and what a character finds funny can often tell a lot about them. Sometimes, though, I don’t want to break the tension. I want it to keep building, to keep turning those screws like an Inquisitor drunk on power. I get some sort of sick glee out of writing stuff like that. All of my work is pretty dark and gritty, so I really can’t see myself ever writing a comedic book. I just don’t think that’s where my strength lies and I’m okay with that.
DD: I'm stealing this question from Thom Brannan because it's just so great. What musical artist would you love to see do a concept album based on your work?
WTR: Wow, that is an awesome question. Maybe Project Pitchfork or Skinny Puppy. Perhaps Diary of Dreams. Music is such an integral part of my writing process that the true answer would depend on which novel was being covered. For The Seven Habits specifically the answer is Firewater. I hadn’t heard them when I originally wrote the book, but a lot of their songs are so Bosley it’s almost scary. “6:45”, “Another Perfect Catastrophe”, “Dropping Like Flies”: these songs very well could have been penned by Bosley Coughlin. If you’ve read The Seven Habits, listen to “A Place Not So Unkind” with Bosley and Ocean in mind as you do. It’s almost as if the band had traveled forward in time, read the book, and then traveled back in time to write and record the song. It really is uncanny.
DD: Maybe they’re some of those metaphysical hitchers you hear so much about…
What's your preferred writing routine? What does your ideal writing space look
WTR: I’ve got to have a cup of strong, black coffee and, preferably, some music playing that synchs up with the atmosphere I’m trying to convey. At one point, I would have said a pack of smokes as well but we don’t smoke inside anymore and it’s a habit I plan on breaking anyway. Just give me a desk, my computer, a comfy chair, and my coffee and I’m raring to go.
DD: Any weird totems you like to have around when you're working on stories?
WTR: I have a furry little tribble on my desk that coos when you squeeze it. Sometimes, I’ll sit there playing with it as I turn things over in my head. If I get frustrated with hardware issues, I’ll give the computer a blast from my replica sonic screwdriver and I’ve also got a plush Darth Vader wearing bunny ears that I like to look at; but I really try not to have any “lucky charms” or anything like that. Part of me fears creating a psychological dependence on totems to the point where if I didn’t have the object, I wouldn’t be able to write.DD: I've had the pleasure of meeting your family, and they are nothing if not supportive of what you do. How do they figure into the writing process?
|Artist's representation of what Darth Easter might look like.|
WTR: My son is an awesome beta reader. He’s not afraid to tell me if something is utter crap and to give his honest opinion. My wife, though, is more involved in the actual process. We’ve stayed up all night, bouncing ideas back and forth, exploring characters and universes, hashing things out. Other than myself, she’s the only person who knows the complete story arc which began with The Seven Habits and she is just as emotionally involved with these characters as I. Once I finish something, she is the first person who reads it and she does so with a critical eye. She makes notes in the margins, highlights misspellings, checks for continuity errors, and so on; after she’s had her time with the manuscript, we sit down and discuss her thoughts and findings and then it’s on to the second draft. She’s my muse, initial editor, alpha reader, manager, and everything in between.
DD: Has a piece of fiction ever moved you to tears?
WTR: Good god, yes. I tend to get emotionally involved with my characters and it’s not uncommon for me to sit at the keyboard with tears streaming down my face as I write. This is especially true with Bosley and Ocean.
DD: I know this may be a complicated question (and one I couldn’t answer myself) but why do you think you’re drawn to dark fiction? Is it that cathartic nature?
WTR: I’m not really sure. I suspect that it’s as much a part of me as my eye color. For as long as I can remember I’ve been infatuated with things of a darker nature. Before I could even read, my favorite stories were always ones told around campfires: escaped mental patients with hooks for hands, phantom hitchhikers, and what have you. As I grew older this interest only deepened. I discovered Poe, Algernon Blackwood, HP Lovecraft, and Ramsey Campbell. Later, I started creating my own tales.
DD: Tell us about a short story of which you're particularly proud.
WTR: I really like “Losing Control”, which is in my Box of Darkness collection. It’s a blend of sci-fi and extreme horror which centers around a man whose job is to free passing souls who become entangled in “crossfades”; a cross fade is basically a bit of dead space between dimensions which a spirit can become entangled in when trying to cross over to the other side. He does this through astral projection and technology, using a terminally ill man who is in a medically induced coma as an eavesdropping device into the afterlife to help identify where problems lie. The third member of the team is a woman he only knows as Control, whose job is to help guide and center him when he’s out in the void. The thing about crossfades, however, is that extremely willful souls can get their hooks into them and start creating their own reality. At that point, the crossfade becomes a Cut Scene and has the capability of luring passing souls into it like a trap. And this is exactly what happens when the soul of executed serial killer Albert Lewis passes into the beyond. He creates a nightmare world brimming with torture and perversion and it’s our narrator’s job to go into that world and bring it to an end.
I like this story so much I’ve been toying with the thought of expanding it into a novel. I really like the universe it’s set in and the way technology interacts with metaphysics.
DD: Sounds like a world that’s dying to be explored further! Todd thanks for taking the time to let me probe your lobes.