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Christopher Ransom Interviewed & Chelsea Cain – the new Book Trailer

Hey guys, as promised (and better late than never, I s’pose), I’ve got an interview that was done with Christopher Ransom for you – not by me, unfortunately, but still, it’s always cool to be able to read an interview done with an author. 🙂

1. Please introduce yourself and tell us a bit more about you and your writing career.

I’ve been writing prose off and on for sixteen years but took a five-year detour to write screenplays before working up the courage to write my first novel, The Birthing House, which is out now in the UK and will be released in the US this August. I spent three years writing The Birthing House and it was the best education in writing I ever received. I was a terrible student in high school and college, and never attended a writer’s workshop or other writing program, so maybe it took me a little longer to do it on my own. At any rate, I never enjoyed writing as much as I did while working on my novel, so I plan to stick with this for a while.

2. What is your most recent novel about – if you are allowed to tell us?

The Birthing House is about a couple in their 30s, Conrad and Joanna Harrison, who are trying to reboot their marriage, so to speak, by moving from Los Angeles to a small town in rural Wisconsin. Soon after they settle in, Jo leaves Conrad for eight weeks of training for a new job, and Conrad, stewing in the house all summer, discovers that their new home, which is really his new home, was a birthing house at the turn of the century and may now be haunted. Conrad is wrestling with the idea and reality of becoming a father, the growing pains of leaving adolescence and his early 20s behind to become domestic. He is haunted by a destructive relationship from his high school years that continues to wreak havoc in his life and is responsible for almost literally opening the door to the entity that still resides in the former birthing house. In the course of uncovering (or ignoring at his peril) the house’s history and trying to salvage his dying marriage, Conrad becomes obsessed with his next door neighbour, Nadia, who is 20 and pregnant, and has some experience with the evil residing under Conrad’s roof. The novel is about the toll of a dual-income marriage, how our past relationships inform and disturb our present relationships, how infidelity and sexuality fit into the larger scheme of procreation, and—as I like to joke—only incidentally about a haunted birthing house.
I make that joke because, in truth, I did not set out to write a haunted house novel at all, or even a horror novel. I am not particularly interested in or frightened by ghosts or monsters. However, in terms of communicating what’s going on in someone’s head, a house is a great metaphor for the mind, and the ghost is a marvellous mirror of the psyche. And people—they scare me. So I just started writing about three characters locked in a situation I found fascinating. About a hundred pages in, I realized the story was following the classic haunted house trajectory. Coincidentally (or not very), my wife and I had recently moved from Los Angeles to Mineral Point, Wisconsin, which is a town of about three thousand people, so we were experiencing an amusing form of culture shock. We bought a 140-year-old Victorian and later learned it had been a birthing house and small clinic near the turn of the century. I did not borrow my house’s real history in any way; the idea of what it would be like if my house really was haunted was quite enough. During the first draft, I was only vaguely aware that I was writing about a troubled marriage, sex, birth, and all the rest while living under the roof of a birthing house. The potential of a haunted birthing house became intertwined with the questions and themes I was exploring, and the title was too appropriate to resist. Who knows, maybe the house wanted me to write the book (he says with nervous laughter and mild fear).

3. What do you think makes the horror genre so fascinating to readers and writers?

The power, for one. The raw, straight-to-your-primal-center-ness of it. There is no question fear is one of the most compelling emotions, that it is one of the strongest and most fundamental. It’s not like delight or melancholy, relative lightweights. Fear is right up there with love. It is crucial to our survival. From one perspective, it is fair to say fear drives nearly every other emotion, including love. Do we not love out of fear of being alone, at least partially? Do we not work for fear of going hungry?
For readers, horror fiction is a safe venue we visit to experience fear without being overwhelmed by it. No one wants horror in their life, but we will all face it in one form or another. I forget who said stories are tools for living, but I believe that. I cannot imagine living without quality fiction. So, if that is true, then horror stories might contain some tools for learning how to deal with the bad shit life throws our way. Maybe that is a stretch, but I find reading dark fiction fortifying in some way. I also just like experiencing a good thrill, without the hangover.
As for writers, for this writer anyway, the horror genre comes equipped with another marvellous set of tools. The ghosts, the houses, the monsters, the descent into a self and reality (even an everyday, real-world reality) we did not know existed, the whole range of darker human psychology. It’s almost another language. There are tropes and tricks and rules to break. When the writing is going well, the writer feels every event in the story as it is being written, as if by surprise, as his reader will experience it eventually. This makes for a fun ride behind the keyboard. But more importantly, writing horror, like writing in any other genre, should be an exploration of the self. It’s not easy to plumb one’s deepest fears and bring them into the daylight, but it is rewarding on many levels.

4. As a horror writer / fan, what sells a story / concept to you?

I don’t care much for concept anymore. Ideas are cheap. When I was younger, all it took to convince to buy a book was a vampire or a knife on the cover. But like any habitual reader, over time I have discovered that the writing is what counts. Without the execution, without quality writing and an original voice and real characters, no monster or end-of-the-world concept is scary. So I try to find authors that write well and then I follow them. One of my very favourite authors, Dan Simmons, wrote horror novels in the early portion of his career, and they were all stunning. But then he went and did this crazy thing—he turned his back on millions of dollars and branched off into science fiction, which I had never much cared for, and I followed him there. He later went on to write mainstream, hardboiled crime, historical fiction, and much more. Now the real joy is seeing what he does next. As a writer, I don’t have the guts or the talent to pull that off. But as a reader, I can’t ask for more. Concept bores me. Narrative force, good writing, brave authors—these things sell me.

5. What movies / books influenced your development as a genre writer? Similarly, what books, movies, comics, get you excited as a fan?

I suspect we live in an age when there are two types of horror writers: those who admit they were influenced by Stephen King to some degree, and those who lie. It might be a cliché at this point, but King’s books taught me to love reading. I read Cujo when I was 11 and I never looked back. Pet Sematary is the scariest novel I have or probably ever will read. It’s also a very serious novel, when you look beyond the cat that comes back from the grave. He’s writing about the most painful things a human can face: death, burial, the loss of child. How our culture does almost nothing to prepare for the natural eventuality of death. I honestly don’t know how he found the courage to go that far–that deep into his fear. I reread it again for the fifth or sixth time last summer and was struck by how even the vocabulary and syntax King uses in Pet Sematary reek of sour earth, embalming fluids, medicine, cold soil. There is a vintage texture, as if it were aging well in the sense of a classic, which of course I feel it is. So, yes, like many readers in the 80s and 90s, I was weaned on Stephen King, Peter Straub, Clive Barker, Dean Koontz, Robert McCammon, and many others. They all influenced me in some way, large or small.
Dan Simmons’s speculative-horror-love story of a novel, The Hollow Man, is quite different than my novel (or any that I will likely ever attempt to write) but it was a pivotal book in my life. I read it when I was 20, trying to decide what to do with myself, and the novel terrified me, challenged me, and made me weep, all in the span of about seven hours. I decided shortly after that to become a writer. There were a lot of books that nudged me toward the decision, but The Hollow Man was the nail in my coffin.
As I neared my late 20s and began to get serious, there were a few other authors, in various genres, not just horror, that changed how I thought about style and narrative, and I am sure they influenced me as well. Colin Harrison’s Afterburn took my head off. I still study the way he achieves such momentum without sacrificing nuance of language and depth of character. Nabokov has playfulness and an ability to find humour in the most wretched of circumstances, and that can be useful when writing horror.
What gets me excited as a fan is when one of my favourite authors releases a new novel. Peter Blauner is in my humble opinion the best “crime” writer working today, though he is much more than that. The only problem is, he only publishes a new novel every four years or so. But I am glad he takes his time, because the quality really shows and he is always worth the wait.

6. Who do you go all fan-boy about when it comes to the horror genre? Have you ever met anyone more famous than yourself and how did you react?

When I worked a Barnes & Noble in Los Angeles, I once waited on Julia Roberts, just like Hugh Grant in Notting Hill. She was very polite but she didn’t fall in love with me. Does that count? No, I guess not. Well, I haven’t met too many famous writers. I did meet Dan Simmons years ago, when I had just decided to become a writer and he was signing copies of The Hollow Man (which as I said had just become my favourite novel). Dan was seated in this tiny newsstand on Main Street in Longmont, Colorado, near my hometown of Boulder, so it was easy for me to wander over on my lunch break. Anyway, I was the first (okay, only) person in line; Dan was not yet the supernova he is today. I probably could have had his ear for half an hour, and he was very polite, but I was too frightened to squeak much more than, “Thank you.” I quickly fled the store, clutching my signed first edition to my bosom like a schoolgirl with her first love note.

7. If you had a chance to invite any horror legend, be it actor, writer, director, author (living / dead / undead) over for some tea, who would you choose and why?

After reading Charles LaBrutto’s excellent biography of Stanley Kubrick, wherein he chronicles many of the director’s bull sessions with writers and actors, I couldn’t stop thinking about what that must have been like for those who had the privilege—and some would say the curse—of Kubrick’s company. I realize Kubrick was not a horror guy per se, but he was tuned in to the dark side of human nature. There is a coldness to his work, his control, his obsessive nature. But he was also reputed to be a very sweet man, and an expert on a huge array of subjects. There is something tantalizing and terrifying about getting one of Kubrick’s phone calls in the middle of the night, being whisked off to his hidden estate, and hired to be a writer on one of his films, only to find oneself locked in a seemingly endless conversation with the man, who, it was reported, went through phases where he and his guests ate the same meal over and over for weeks, until he tired of it. Visiting writers seemed to emerge from the Kubrick compound like aged moles, gray-haired and blinded by his intensity and brilliance. I wouldn’t have been able to resist that call, had it ever come.

8. Lights on or off when watching horror flicks?

Off, of course, without exception. I am allowed to make my wife watch only one scary movie per year, so that means for all the others it’s me and one of my dogs under a blanket, lights off, eyes bugging out. Actually, watching a scary film by yourself increases the potency, so I don’t mind. Last summer I watched The Orphanage all by myself and that one got me pretty good.

9. Which do you prefer: Romero originals or remakes?

Oh, I know this is sacrilege, but I’ll go with the Dawn of the Dead remake here. The screenwriter on that one, James Gunn, is a very funny guy who gets zombies and I thought he handled it very well. It was scary and funny and full of great action set pieces. His characters were solid, his dialogue chewy. The sniper going after “Burt Reynolds” bit in there is priceless.

10. What is the best advice you ever received from someone about horror writing?

The best advice I know of for writing horror is no different than the advice we hear for writing any other kind of fiction and literature. The same things are important. Quality writing, characters that feel and behave like real people with real problems, realistic dialogue, evocative setting, all of it. In fact, when it comes to writing horror, or any genre that tends to rely too much on the wowee factor, we need to be extra vigilant, mindful of the fundamentals—namely, writing well. Plot and suspense are the least of our problems. We can’t rely on ghosts and serial killers and zombies to fool the reader for long. Or maybe we can, but we shouldn’t. Because while the apocalypse might get some fanboys in the door, the fanboys are all growing up, too, and eventually the day will come when they demand better of us. Actually, in all fairness, they already do. So, we owe it to our careers, our genre, our publishers and readers, to strive for quality. The writing is everything. That is what I tell myself every day, because I know I have a long way to go, and if you’re not constantly trying to improve the quality of your writing, you’re dead.

11. The horror genre has seen many incarnations over the past few years – what do you think the future holds for the genre?

I have been hearing about the death of horror in publishing since I attended The Pike’s Peak Writer’s Conference in 1993 or thereabouts. But good writers kept on publishing horror novels every year, right up through today. The vampire stuff seems to be bottomless. I know a lot of the large houses in New York are a little skittish about horror, but on the other hand, my editor at St. Martin’s Press told me he had been looking for a good ghost story for four years before he acquired The Birthing House. Now, look, I’m not saying I wrote The Turn of the Screw or The Shining—I know I did not. But four years? That tells me that either agents are extremely gun shy about submitting horror or there just aren’t that many well written and truly frightening manuscripts floating through the channels. In either case, we have only ourselves to blame.
But of course there are cycles. Trends. You can’t plan for them or write with an eye on them, though, so why bother? Hollywood ate up a ton of ghost stories after The Sixth Sense made $300 million domestic, and once that milked out, they went after harder stuff, exploitation fare, torture porn (which does nothing for me), and some great zombie flicks (which I do like). Now that those are playing out, we’re back to psychological stuff and ghost stories and dark fantasy and . . .
All of which is to say, I don’t have a clue where horror is going, and I never gave it much thought. I focused on writing the book that I wanted to write, to the best of my abilities, and it worked out. I am fortunate that it did. I am sure timing was a factor. But the reality is that there will always be a market for quality horror fiction and writing that truly moves the reader.

12. Do you have a zombie apocalypse survival plan – apart from going to hide in the Winchester, that is! – and will you be able to implement it?

You know, if it comes to that point, where we are truly being overrun by the zombie hoard, I think I would rather just join them. I mean, think about it, do zombies looked stressed to you? Other than finding food, what’s a zombie got to worry about? They don’t have to get up and go to work every day. They don’t have to pay taxes or fret about the state of the world or try to get laid. They have no fear of death because the worst has already happened to them. All a zombie has to do is duck some bullets and find some brains to gnaw on, and there are plenty of those to go around. Hey, I’m a foodie. I could live like that. Kind of do already, now that I think about it.

13. Are there any “how to” books on your bookshelf you would recommend to aspiring authors?

I apologise if this sounds obvious, but writers aspiring to contribute to the field of horror should be reading well beyond the field. It’s not enough to read every Stephen King book. We need to read the classics, non-fiction, biographies, anything that is well written and expands our palette. We are what we eat, after all.
The literary critic James Wood recently published a jaw-droppingly insightful book called How Fiction Works. It is not the same old tired book on how to write. It’s a rich but concise study of the techniques that separate the giants from the rest of us mere mortals. It’s a bit more advanced and I won’t claim to have gotten my head around most of it yet, but it’s a treasure of a book that encourages one to become a better reader as well as unlearn a lot of bad writing habits, which can be painful but very helpful to do. I would tell aspiring writers to read as many good books on writing as they can get their hands on, study them, practice what the books preach, and then move on. Put them back on the shelf and just write. All the books on writing won’t do a damn thing for us if we don’t remember to dive in and write.

The Birthing House

And then I’ve got this cool book trailer for you: I haven’t read any of Chelsea Cain’s work yet (goodness knows I merchandize enough of it when I get stuck into the fiction section), so maybe its about time. 🙂 All of you out there who are looking for a new crime-thriller to get stuck into, check out this trailer! Maybe Evil at Heart will be just what you’re looking for. 🙂

Also, if you want any more info on Chelsea Cain, check out this link for a press-kit PDF of Evil at Heart, and this link for more info on the book. 🙂

Evil at Heart

Be EPIC!

 
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Posted by on September 7, 2009 in Book Trailer, Interviews

 

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Spotlight: In his own words – Christopher Ransom (The Birthing House)

Hey guys and girls! 🙂 As promised, I’ve got something for from Christopher Ransom for you.

He’s written the sure-to-be-chilling The Birthing House, a new title that Publishers Weekly says is “A blend of supernatural horror and psychological thriller, Ransom’s impressive debut chronicles a couple’s descent into madness after they purchase a 140-year-old Victorian house in rural Wisconsin . . . this addictively readable ghost story will keep readers up all night, with the lights on, of course.”

Following on from the Book Trailer and Excerpt in my last post, I have an essay for you that Christopher wrote, explaining why he wrote The Birthing House. 🙂 Enjoy!

SOMETHING BIRTHED THIS WAY COMES

Or, How and Why I Wrote My First Novel, The Birthing House

Sometime around 1979, my father announced to my older brother Mike and me that he had installed a PIRATE ANTENNAE, so we could now watch HBO for free! ‘But don’t tell anybody,’ he warned us. ‘It’s sort of illegal. And your mom will probably give me hell about it.’ In an effort to get the most out of his purloined ‘cable’ service, Dad’s policy on what the kids were allowed to watch was, shall we say, lax.

Following this domestic technology revolution, we Ransom boys were exposed to Richard Pryor: Live in Concert, Alien, Urban Cowboy, My Bodyguard, Jaws, The Blue Lagoon, Kramer Vs. Kramer, Convoy, Hooper, Alice, Sweet Alice, The Elephant Man, and Dressed To Kill among many others.

Fighting. Drinking. Cussing. Cars and stunts. Guns and knives and blood. Monsters and human monsters, aka crazy people, and, when you were really lucky, naked breasts. I remember looking at my brother in the dark, our eyes this wide, sending each other the same message – Can you believe Dad’s letting us watch this? and, Don’t you dare tell Mom, you little shit!

There were a lot of pirated movies. But the one that really stands out for me is, of course, The Shining. I don’t remember much about that Saturday night. Just that there was very little talking going on while we watched.

The little boy running in the snow in that maze. And the cackling woman in the bathtub. And the twin girls in the hallway. And the axe landing in that man’s chest, and the geysers of maroon-black blood that flowed from the elevator.

This was 1981 or so.

I was nine.

Then came Cujo, on the eve of my 6th grade year. I saw that little summer surprise in the movie theater. Twice. A few months later I was strolling through the book fair being held in our elementary school cafeteria when I stumbled across a little paperback. Had the same cover art as the movie poster. Ominous farmhouse in the background, the white picket fence with Cujo spelled out in dripping bloody letters.

‘Now There’s a New Name for Terror’ it said, and there was, but it wasn’t Cujo.

The name was . . . well, you all know the name, don’t you? A light went off in my eleven-year-old brain. I’d seen the movie. Now I could read the book and do it all over again, everyday for optional reading time!

Okay. My parents were divorced. They were not wealthy. Their friends were contractors, teachers, barbers, realtors, lawyers, and gas station men. Some of these people had problems that even an eleven-year-old could see. In short, I knew people like the Trentons and the Cambers, the white and blue-collar families in Cujo. I recognized them. I knew my parents loved me very much, like the Trentons loved their boy Tad. But sometimes life throws you a rabid dog. We had been through rough times, but we’d been lucky so far. I hadn’t been trapped in a car for three days, dying of thirst while under attack by man’s best friend.

Not long after cracking the opening chapters of Cujo, my 6th grade teacher Mrs. Schrag, a good teacher who could go from motherly sweet to drill sergeant stern in about half a second, interrupted optional reading time and called me to her desk. I went to her, holding Cujo in my hand.

‘Christopher,’ she said, her brow hunching steeply. ‘That book you’re reading.’

‘Yeah?’

‘That’s a Stephen King book.’ A new name for terror, indeed. ‘Are you really reading that?’

‘Whattya mean?’

‘Do you . . . ah . . . understand it?’

‘Cujo? Oh, yeah, sure,’ I lied. ‘Uhm. Most of it. I think.’ Better.

‘I see.’ Mrs. Schrag had a hard eye for liars, and she was pressing me with it full force. ‘Do your parents know you’re reading that?’

‘Oh, yeah! My mom bought it for me.’ This was true. ‘And it’s okay, I saw the
movie. Twice! It was awesome!’

Mrs. Schrag’s eyes darted around the classroom to be sure no one was listening. She leaned over her desk, grabbed my arm and whispered, ‘I know. I saw it too! Wasn’t it great? I just love all of his books!’

Mrs. Schrag and I understood each other after that. Later in the year she recommended Pet Sematary to me. I read all of the King books, then Dean Koontz, Clive Barker, Robert McCammon, Dan Simmons, and so many others.

There are many reasons that I was never really a good student after the age of thirteen, but dark literature and scary movies sure ain’t one of them. I found trouble enough as a teen, but I shudder to think what kinds of trouble I would have found for myself without the books.

I dropped out high school at age seventeen. I took some college courses, earned a few As in my writing classes. But in addition to majoring in Beer Guzzling, I kept finding myself staying up late with my nose in some horror novel or another, unable to focus on the ‘serious literature’ I was being prescribed by my professors. Oh, if only they had been offering course titled ‘Ghosts, Pimps, Cops and Ho’s: Genre Fiction in America’!

I read a lot – just not textbooks. I had no interest in college, and so I made myself a deal. I agreed to let myself fail, again. On one condition. I vowed to become a professional author. I would become real writer – even if it took a decade, twenty years, a lifetime. Because in writing, the only failure is to quit.
I filled journals, I penned sappy poems, I labored over a couple dozen short stories. I moved to New York. I worked lots of jobs. I wrote millions of words. I moved to Los Angeles. I got married. I wrote eight screenplays, including romantic comedies, neo-noir thrillers, and two sort-of-horror scripts.
I amassed some four hundred rejection letters and sold not a single story.
I was failing, again.
But why? What had I been doing wrong?
The answer is, I no longer loved writing. Working on screenplays, I had fallen into a creative coma. I wasn’t following my heart. I had always loved novels more than movies. I had always loved dark fantasy and thrillers and horror fiction more than romantic comedy and pretty much everything else I’d detoured to write.
So I wrote my first novel, a psychological horror-thriller called The Birthing House. It took three years, working seven days per week, nights and weekends when I was not working at (and commuting an hour each way to) my full-time job as a copywriter for Famous Footwear.
Two bestselling authors read early drafts and provided unsolicited quotes in support. I landed a passionate, gun-slinging agent named Scott Miller. He sold the novel almost exactly fifteen years after I made that promise to myself.
But why? Why now, and more to the point – if I had found that which moved me above all others when I was a teenager, why did I not begin my first horror novel until age thirty-two?

The quick answer is, I wasn’t ready. I hadn’t experienced anything worthy of a novel, and I didn’t have the emotional stamina and discipline to spend three years writing one. But the other answer is probably the most-fitting answer: fear. I was afraid to attempt what my heroes did year-in and year-out, which is delve deep into themselves and write about what scared them most.
But here I must give credit to the house itself, because she played a role . . . and then some.
In 2003, my wife and I decided to leave the Big City life behind. While knocking around Wisconsin we discovered Mineral Point, a charming town of approximately three thousand souls, located some fifty miles southwest of Madison. Art galleries, historic buildings, and an honest-to-God Ben Franklin five-and-dime. Old trees and old houses, many of them Victorians at prices that, compared to Los Angeles, seemed astonishingly low. We toured a few of these charming homes, found one on a half-acre lot, with a small library on the second floor, and bought it (relative to Los Angeles) for a song.
Only after we had moved in did I realize that our lives had taken on the trajectory of the first hundred pages of a horror novel. You know how it goes – young couple moves from the city to a small town in rural America to start a new life, only to discover that their new neighbors are the offspring of a centuries-old satanic cult that’s just decided to bring back the annual tradition of roasting the new City Boy and His Purty Wife over the communal Halloween bonfire.
Alas, our new neighbors turned out to be some of the kindest and most genuine people we have ever known. But we did discover something odd about our new residence. Shortly after we finished unpacking, the former owners showed us a hundred-year-old, sepia-toned photo of a group of women standing on our porch. Dark dresses and pale countenances. Some were wearing aprons, others were wearing nurse caps. None were smiling. This did not appear to be a family gathering.
Our hundred-and-forty-year-old home was once a birthing house, we were told. A what? Yeah, a birthing house. You know. Doctor’s quarters. Midwives. Wet nurses. A birthing house. Neat, I guess. I forgot about the photo a week later.
So my wife and I began the first year in Wisconsin doing what you do to ‘start a new life’. Look for jobs, find the good restaurants, make new friends. We also began to talk about having children in ways we never had before. Neither of us were in a hurry, but I kept asking myself, what are we doing out here in the sticks, in a four-bedroom house? Besides enjoying a slower pace and the clean air? Did we come here to have children?
Time to quit dallying and write that novel. They say one should write the book one would love to read but can’t find in a bookstore. Well, I hadn’t read a good haunted house story in a long time. I mean the kind that grips your throat while you’re in it.
I also knew that I wanted to do something scary and full of sexual tension. I’d been reading a lot of Colin Harrison – Afterburn and The Havana Room are two of my very favorite novels, not least because of how deftly Harrison weaves sex and food and money and race and class and more sex into his characters’ lives, their motivations, and the larger dynamics of the urban noir. Because come on, isn’t that what drives us, so much of the time? Our appetites?

I certainly thought so. Because during those years of living in New York and Los Angeles, I experienced – and witnessed my friends engaged in – an almost constant tug-of-war with temptation. Jobs for more money. Drugs for more fun. New partners for more sex. New choices for a whole new lifestyle. It seemed as if everywhere I turned someone I knew was up to something your parents warned you to avoid. And for a short period it almost seemed . . . normal. At least until the hangover set in and your dreams, or your family, had gone up in smoke.

It was perhaps too easy to imagine taking the big job, experimenting with the next drug, and falling into some stranger’s bed. But if those alternative paths were easy to imagine, then so were the consequences. And no vision frightened me more than the prospect of losing my wife, my best friend, the woman I had been writing for all along. The pain I would inflict and the hell my life would become if I gave into that temptation, were so ugly and disturbing to contemplate that I never crossed the line.

Instead, I told myself to get back to work. I wrote about crossing the line.

Isn’t that what readers want from authors of the dark? Our gravest fears playing out on the page? The Shining is, after all, not only about a haunted hotel and a psychic little boy. It’s about alcoholism and the legacy of family violence. It’s about a boy who foresees his parents’ divorce, and worse, their approaching REDRUM. Cujo is not only about a rabid Saint Bernard. It’s about how the career demands that separate man and wife can lead to infidelity and become a rabid dog that kills your kids.

The human sex drive. It’s partly responsible for the continuation of the species, but it can, when left unchecked, also give birth to a monster. So here were my ingredients: a childless couple with a history of deceit, a house built for birth, and several ghosts of women past. Things going bump in the night, things going bump in the writer’s mind.

I felt the first contractions. Ready or not, something was about to be born. Then one night I had a real humdinger of a nightmare. One that did not end when I woke up. And I’m not making this part up, folks. Trust me.
In the nightmare I was with one of my ex-girlfriends and we were close to . . . becoming intimate, is the polite way of saying it. I was reaching out to her, this shadowy beauty from my past, but something was holding me back, forbidding me. In the dream I was aware that I was in a bed, and there was a great weight pressing down on my body, ethereal but strong, like a force field of smoke crushing me into the mattress.
Then my ex-girlfriend was gone and I began to wake up, sort of stranded between the dream and the part where you wake up screaming, and I could not see it – this force – but I sure as hell felt it, and then knew somehow that it wasn’t an ‘it’ at all, but a her.
The woman hovering over me was not my ex-girlfriend, and she was certainly not my wife, who lay sleeping soundly next to me. I was on my side facing my wife, almost flat on my stomach, so I could not look up or behind me to the side of the bed. But I felt a curtain of black hair tickling my shoulders as she leaned over the bed and whispered in my ear.
‘Stay . . . stay down.’
It was at that time I experienced a sublime terror. I woke all the way up and the pressure lifted. I rolled onto my back and pulled covers up and blinked into the pitch-blackness of our bedroom, trying to see her. To see if she was still in there with me. And then I remembered the sepia-toned photo of the women standing on the porch of our house a century ago.
Midwives, wet nurses, maids. Mothers gone astray.
And I thought, What if one of them is still here? What if she suffered a loss . . . and wants compensation?
So, after spending the rest of the night in a delirium of cold sweat, I had my novel. Well, not my novel. But I had what better writers than I have called the hard, unshakable center, that seed from which all else would spiral out.
One can never know, but I suspect that this may be the last time in my life I am handed the gift of a premise for a novel by way of a real estate transaction and a nightmare. Was it really the house that gave me the novel? Or one of the women? Go ahead and laugh, but I have wondered.
All I know for certain is that the birthing house and The Birthing House taught me to love writing again. Wherever I go from here, I hope I don’t have to move halfway across the country to find my next book. I’ve come to love this old girl, her warm hearth, her cozy little library. And since writing a novel inspired by her and the women who once ushered in new life under her roof, she lets me sleep soundly.
Most nights.

CTR
Summer, 2008

Hope that gave you some insight into the man behind the book! 🙂

Be EPIC!

P.S. Stay locked on the blog – tomorrow I’ll have an interview with Christopher for you – not one that I did with him, unfortunately, but it should still be good, nonetheless. 🙂

 
2 Comments

Posted by on August 22, 2009 in Spotlight

 

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Book Trailer: The Birthing House by Christopher Ransom

Yup, I’ve got another awesome book trailer for you all! 🙂 Check it out!

Liked the trailer? Now here’s an exclusive EXCERPT for you all to read! 🙂

THE BIRTHING HOUSE

an excerpt
from the novel

by
Christopher Ransom

They were in the house a week before it came for him.
Joanna Harrison was dozing on the couch in the TV room while her husband stood on the deck, breathing through a sweet clove cigarette that burned his throat and floated a candy cloud above his empty thoughts. The cigarette was the kind found on the back covers of men’s magazines, the smoke of wannabes. What Conrad wanted to be this night was content, and, for a few more minutes of this vanishing sunset hour, he was.
Content equally with himself and his lot: a full acre of sloping lawn, century-old maple and black walnut trees, and a garden as large as a swimming pool, its aged gray gate roped with grape vines. Raspberry and clover grew thick in the shade of the shaggy pines still moist with the day’s sweet rain.
He heard running water and looked through the window into the kitchen. Her blurry, sleepy-slouched shape hovered for a moment, probably filling a glass to take to bed. He waved to her. She either did not see him or was too tired to wave back. She turned away and faded back into the house.
He wanted to follow her, but he waited. Let her brush and floss, finish with a shot of the orange Listerine before she turned back the freshly laundered Egyptian cotton. You can’t rush these things. These are delicate times. Eyes closed, he could almost see her stretched out in one of her tanktinis and cotton boy-cut underwear, a big girl-woman reading another marketing book he always said were made for people on planes. She must be happy here. Otherwise, she would be cleaning and planning and avoiding bedtime.
Summer had arrived early. The house was muggy. He wondered if she would be warm enough to go without covers, but cool enough to allow his touch.
He had been shocked to discover that he wanted her more now. He was still madder than hell about the entire stupid scene with That Fucker Jake and all its implications, its mysteries. But he knew the balance of things and how he’d not been holding up his share of them was half the problem. Maybe more than half. She’d almost slipped away. Even before that nasty little homecoming it had been months, and since the fresh start (that was how he thought of it, but never named it as such, not aloud) he’d been watching for signs. If Luther and Alice were in their crates, that was one sign. If she had showered that was yet another, though never a binding one. None of the signs were binding, which added suspense to the marriage and kept his hopes in a perpetual swing from boyish curiosity on one side to blood-stewing resentment on the other.
He walked up the deck steps to the wooden walkway, into the mudroom. He climbed stairs (the servants’ stairs off the kitchen, not the front stairs with the black maple banister, which for some reason he had been avoiding since the move) and felt the weight of the day in his bones.
By the time he finished brushing his teeth he was tired the way only people who have unpacked ninety percent of their possessions in a single day can be tired. His mind was empty, his muscles what his mom said his father used to call labor-fucked, the old man’s way of suggesting that work is its own reward.
I’m sorry, Dad-
Work. He knew his hands still worked for her. He thought she liked his hands better than just about every other part of him. He no longer relied on his appearance as the catalyst, didn’t know many men married more than a few years who did. He knew he wasn’t a Jake. At thirty he was what divorced female bartenders had from time to time called cute, no longer handsome, if he ever was. He felt remarkably average. He had acquired a belly, but the move had already burned that down from a 36 to a 34. With the yard work he’d be down to a 32—his high school Levi’s size—by the end of June. Jo always said she liked his laugh lines, the spokes radiating from what his mother used to call his wily eyes. Wily used to be enough, but now he was just grateful for a second chance. He could live with average—so long as he could still seduce her.
Conrad wound his way through the back hall, making the S-turn through the library, into the front hallway. The creaking floorboards were a new sound, allowing him to birth one final clear thought for the day.
This is a healing place. This is home.
Conrad waded into the moonlight pooling on the new queen-sized bed—another purchase, this one more deserved—he’d made without her input. The ceiling fan was whirring, the dogs were curled into their crates on the floor, and Jo was waiting for him on top of the new sheets. She was without a top, wearing only loose fitting boxers (his), which were somehow better than if she were naked. That she had gone halfway without prematurely forfeiting the under garment was a gesture that made him feel understood. The arc of her hips rose off the bed like the fender of a street rod and his blood awakened.
With his blood, his hopes.
No longer content, Conrad stretched out, not caring what funny tent shape his penis made as it unfolded like a miniature welcome banner. He rolled to one side, facing her. She smelled of earth and lavender and something otherwise herbal—new scents for her in this new place. Her belly was nearly flat except for the smallest of rolls just above the waistband, and he loved this, too. He called it her little chile relleno and she would slap him, but it didn’t bother her, not really. Her hips were womanly wide, but with her height she remained sleek, especially when prone, like now. She stood a little over six feet to his five-nine. His fingers grazed her fine brown navel hairs. Her eyes gleamed under heavy lids, glassy and black as mountain ponds at midnight.
It was a beginning, and he was a man who loved beginnings more than middles or endings.
“Come,” Jo said. Or maybe Con, half of his name.
“Hm?”
“. . . not ready.”
“Not what?” His hand found the elastic rim of her waistband, then moved into the open front of his boxer shorts on her.
“. . . about behbee,” she murmured.
“What, Baby?”
Not baby. Uppercase, Baby. A nickname he used.
“. . . owin me the behbee…be-ah-eye,” she mumbled, which sounded like was going to be all right.
“Of course,” he said, like it was his idea too. He had no idea.
“. . . bee woul’ go a father.”
We should go farther.
He pushed one, then two fingers lower to her mound, but her legs were crossed and he swerved off course, touching only her thigh. Just her thigh, but soft was soft and his excitement ratcheted up another notch.
“-not ready,” she squeaked, rolling away.
Shit. Might not have been sleeping before, but was now. Snoring too. Weird, he thought. Had she done this before? With the eyes open and the talking?
Should he let her sleep or try one more time?
Yes . . . no. He kissed her goodnight and rolled to his back, allowing the fan to push warm summer air over his fading, obedient hard-on. His mind dropped into that lower gear, the one that is not yet sleep but somehow dreaming already.
In the half-dream he was in the house, beside her, finding the wetness and sliding in not for the first time but as if they had been moving this way for minutes or an hour. He was all corded muscle and arched away, feeling her soak him in her own undulations. The movement was soothing, almost non-sexual, like being rocked in a crib.
Her grip on him strengthened and clenched, pushing back with legs and ass, drawing his ejaculate out in a sudden burst that ended too quickly, leaving him weak and sleepy all over again.
Drifting . . .
Until the dream, the same one or some new post-coital version, was split by the sound of crying. His body twitched itself awake, and he knew these were not Jo’s tears. This was the noise a newborn makes after sucking in its first violent breath as it enters this violent world. It was a sound that had skipped mewling and launched straight into wailing, and it was coming from behind a wall or far away.
Faintly, under the baby’s hacking shriek, there arose another sound. This one did sound like a woman, and he imagined the infant’s mother, or the midwife, perhaps. This older cry in the dark was a trailing scream, as if something was pulling her away from her child and down a long corridor that narrowed to nothing.
Panicked, he rolled over to shake Jo—why hasn’t she woken up and grabbed me?—and felt the cool stirring of air as she lifted off the bed. He could see only blackness, and with the drone of the fan he could not hear her feet padding on the wood floor. A flash of her silhouette in the doorway left a retinal echo, but the room was too dark to grasp any details. If he saw her at all, she was gone now.
To the bathroom, he thought. There she goes, carrying my seed. The semi-sleep-molestation and abrupt ending made him wince with guilt, but he did not seek her out in the ensuing silence. Exhausted from the day of unpacking (and tossed dream sex), Conrad decided the crying was but a fragment of the dream, a lingering scene planted by her words.
“. . . the behbee, the behbee . . .”
The crying returned once, quieter and farther away, until like a passing thunderstorm it faded to nothing.
He hovered on the edge of sleep.
Something’s wrong.
He sat up and rubbed his eyes. She had not returned.
“Jo?”
She did not answer.
“Jo,” he said, louder. “Baby, you okay?”
His eyes adjusted to the dark. The dogs were standing at the master bedroom door facing the hall, whining, tails stiff like the hairs on their shoulders. Conrad flattened his body and counted to ten. It’s rational, he told himself. When something so unexplainable and real (the dogs made it real) as a crying baby in your childless home wakes you, it is normal to ignore it and go back to sleep. So back he went, as deep as a man can go, until he forgot the all about the crying sounds and her cold departure, her absolute absence.
Even when, in the morning, waking to a half-empty bed, he padded downstairs and found her where he’d left her before he stepped out for a smoke at dusk, sleeping on the sofa.
Alone.

Copyright © 2008 by Christopher Ransom

This is the cover you guys and expect in the US (pretty damn eye-catching if I don’t say so myself),

Unknown(3)

and this is the cover readers in the UK and South Africa (yes you heard that right!), can expect,

The Birthing House

Now, let’s come to the part of the post that’ll really freak some of you out… *evil grin*

Christopher has started a blog, where anyone with an internet connection can post their own stories of hearing, feeling, seeing or experiencing ghosts or ghostly phenomena…! 🙂

I can just hear the sudden fearful grinding of teeth as those of us who’ve had such experiences immediately think back and remember… 🙂

So, watch the trailer, read the book, and get your ghost stories to Christopher – who knows what might be shivering to be born?

Be TERRIFIED!

P.S. Keep an eye on the blog on Saturday the 22nd of August, yes, this coming Saturday, when I’ll be posting the essay that Christopher wrote detailing what led to The Birthing House. 🙂

And yes, we South African’s are pretty damn lucky this time – for those of you looking for a good book for the weekend, guess what? The Birthing House should be IN STOCK in all good book shops everywhere across the country! 🙂

 
1 Comment

Posted by on August 20, 2009 in Book Trailer

 

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