Today I have another interview from my friend, Soraya Murillo Hernandez, from Spain. Soraya speaks Spanish, and I only speak English, so our friendship has leaned heavily on technology and Google Translate.
Soraya has so many incredible interviews that I’ve created a category for her work. This time she shares her interview with Bev Vincent, best known as the author of The Road to the Dark Tower, the Bram Stoker Award nominated, authorised companion to Stephen King’s Dark Tower series and The Stephen King Illustrated Companion, which was nominated for a 2010 Edgar award. He has been writing News From the Dead Zone for Cemetery Dance magazine since March, 2001 and has a Ph.D. in chemistry from Dalhousie University.
Bev Vincent—Most of my academic writing comes from the early part of my career. I wrote an enormous thesis for my doctoral degree in 1987. At the time it was the longest my university had ever seen! I’ve written or co-authored a few dozen papers for academic journals, but I don’t do that much any more. Most of my writing these days is either fiction (mostly crime fiction rather than horror, in fact) or essays.
It’s funny, though—I have all this expertise in a particular scientific field, but I never make use of that in my fiction. John Grisham, a lawyer, writes books about lawyers, and Kathy Reichs, a forensic anthropologist, writes novels where the main character has that same expertise. But I’ve never been able to figure out how to write books about an X-ray crystallographer, which is my field of study!
Soraya—In Spain few writers of terror can live off their royalties and need another job. Is it the same in the United States?
Bev Vincent—I think that’s true for writers in general, not just for people who write horror or suspense. There is a group of authors who can make a living by writing—and their names are quite familiar to most people—but the rest of us still have what we call the “day job,” a main source of income that also provides us with benefits like health care coverage.
I’ve been working for the same company for 28 years, and I consider it my primary occupation. Writing is something I’ve been doing professionally for over half that time, but I have to fit it into the early morning hours or other times.
Soraya—You have published horror stories in several anthologies. Where do you get the inspiration? What motivates you to write?
Bev Vincent—I’ve always been an avid reader. I grew up in a rural community without many kids around my age, so I read to entertain myself. I think most people who read that much from an early age decide at some point to try their hand at writing, too. I wrote a little in regular school but I wrote a lot when I went to university.
Then I didn’t for a number of years, but I finally found time in my busy schedule to get back to it in about 1999. I like telling stories, and I also like writing essays—doing the research needed to get everything right. Inspiration is everywhere—I probably get five ideas every day, but very few of them ever translate into stories. Ideas are easy—creating stories around them is the hard part. I usually need at least two good ideas that fit together plus a character or a set of characters who will drive the story.
Soraya—Your name often appears with great ones like Clive Baker, Stephen King … Not everyone can get to work with the best. What does it feel to be part of all this?
Bev Vincent—I remember well the first time I had a story selected to be in an anthology that would also feature a new story by Stephen King. That was for the Borderlands 5 anthology, also known as From the Borderlands. I was so excited.
Then the editors decided that they would place my story, “One of Those Weeks,” immediately before King’s in the book—his “Stationary Bike” would be the last story, and mine would lead up to it. I used to joke that my story would have footprints all over it
from people stepping on it to get to King’s story!
One thing it means to be in anthologies like that is that my work is available to a wider audience. When there’s a Stephen King or a Clive Barker or a Peter Straub story, the books sell better than when there isn’t a headliner, and that means more people might have the chance to read one of my stories. That’s terrific. That’s what we all want – to have people read our stories.
Soraya—Stephen King, for example, chose you to be the first to read the last three volumes of the series “The Dark Tower.” Could you tell us what it meant for you? How was the experience?
Bev Vincent—That was a truly surreal period in my life. People had been asking me when I was going to write a book about King’s work, because I had been writing about King news in Cemetery Dance magazine for a few years, but I didn’t know how to tackle such a huge subject. But when I heard he was going to write the last few books of the Dark Tower series all at once, I thought that a book about the series would be a manageable way to say something meaningful about his larger writing career.
The problem was, if I had to wait until after the seventh book was published to start, it would be at least two years after that before my book would come out. So, I took a chance. I asked if it would be possible for me to read the last three books in manuscript so I could have by book finished and ready for publication at around the same time as the final book in his series.
It was an audacious thing to do! But it worked, and I will be forever grateful for the support and the trust he had in me. A big shipment of three boxes, 10 kilos of paper, 2500 pages, showed up on my front doorstep a few days later.
Naturally his publisher was nervous when she found out, because no one wanted the ending of the series to get leaked before the books were published. This was a good two years before book seven would be published. But I reassured her I would preserve the secrets of the last three books. I refused to answer any questions about them, because I knew that if I answered even a little question about the plot, the next question would be bigger, and so on.
It was hard, because I had no one to discuss the story with at all—even my editor for The Road to the Dark Tower hadn’t read the last three books, although finally I got permission for him to read them so we could do some important editorial work on my book.
I do remember the experience, though, of reading through that stack of pages the first time. Taking one sheet off the pile, reading it and then placing it on the other pile. The last morning, I had quite a bit left, maybe 200 pages, but I couldn’t stop. I was late to my day job that morning because I had to finish. It was memorable, for sure.
Soraya—How did you get to know Stephen King? Was it something casual, anecdotal or was it sought after?
Bev Vincent—It came about in a funny way. Back in the 1990s, when the internet was young, there was this thing called USENET, which is a little like Reddit. There were areas where people who were interested in a certain topic could get together and post messages.
I was part of alt.books.stephen-king, and because I like to look things up when people ask questions, I often supplied the answers to queries about books or other things related to King.
King’s wife used to read that message board, although most people didn’t know who she was, and I started up a pen-pal relationship with her. Then, one time when I was going through Bangor, Maine, where the Kings lived, on the way back to Canada to visit my parents, my wife and I ended up visiting with them.
And it’s grown bit by bit since then to the point where we email each other frequently, mostly to discuss things we’ve read or movies or TV series we’ve enjoyed. We share an interest in crime dramas, and we’re always recommending things we discover to each other.
Soraya—Surely you have already been asked this question on many occasions: What opinion do you have of the movie “The Dark Tower?”
Bev Vincent—I know a lot of people don’t agree with me on this, but I really enjoyed the movie. I got the chance to see it in Bangor at a premiere event King organized, along with Robin Furth, the author of “The Dark Tower Concordance” and Rich Chizmar, who co-wrote “Gwendy’s Button Box” with King, and some other people. That was exciting! We had dinner with King and some of his staff and friends before going over to the cinema. A memorable evening.
I’ve been keeping tabs on the development of the movie ever since it was first announced. I interviewed Ron Howard, who was originally supposed to direct, and Akiva Goldsman, who co-wrote the script, for my book “The Dark Tower Companion.” I’ve known for a long time that they planned to pull the series apart and reassemble it in a different way, so I wasn’t at all taken aback by what ultimately happened with the movie. I was prepared for it to be a re-imagining rather than an adaptation.
I thought Idris Elba was the perfect choice for Roland—I enjoyed his work in “The Wire” and “Luther”—and it all worked for me. I received some criticism for my review of “The Dark Tower.” Some people accused me of being a shill for Sony, or that I was afraid to say anything negative about the movie because of my friendship with King. If you’ve read what I had to say about the movie Cell you’d know that I’m not afraid to criticize something if I don’t like it!
After the screening, a group of about eight of us got together for dessert and to discuss the movie and we all agreed that it was really well done. That it captured the essence of the story while being something completely different from what King wrote. I stand by that review.
I came back from Bangor and went out to see the movie again two nights later, that’s how much I enjoyed it. I never do that! I liked the new version of “It” a lot, too, but I didn’t feel the same need to go right back out and watch it all over again.
Soraya—I am a lover of books on paper, I love libraries … What can you tell us about yours? Who are your favorite authors? What do you think about e-books?
Bev Vincent—As I mentioned before, I grew up reading a lot and I continue to do so. Mostly crime fiction. Among my favorite authors in addition to King: Peter Straub, Ray Bradbury, Michael Connelly, Dennis Lehane, Jo Nesbo, John D. MacDonald, Dan Simmons, Craig Johnson, Michael Koryta, Megan Abbott, Gillian Flynn, Ian Rankin…to name just a few! If you visit my message board (at bevvincent.com), I have an area where I keep a list of all the books I read each year, for anyone who is interested. (Also the movies and TV series I watch.)
I’m a big fan of e-books. My library of real books is enormous – the walls of our house are lined with bookshelves, to the point where we don’t need any more. There are very few books I will ever have the time to read more than once—there are too many new things to read—so I like the fact that e-books don’t take up much space. They don’t weigh much, they’re easy to move around, you can take dozens of them with you on a trip easily. The vast majority of the books I buy these days are e-books.
As a book reviewer, I especially like that publishers are now making review copies available electronically. Otherwise the galleys (advanced review copies) start piling up, and there’s nothing you can do with them.
Soraya—Finally, what future projects do you have? Do you have any imminent publications from which we can advance something?
Bev Vincent—I have quite a few short stories coming out in the next several months. I just had one published in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, which is a market I’ve been trying to crack for years.
Coming up this fall, I have “Sticky Business” in Snowbound: The Best New England Crime
Stories 2017, “Aeliana” in Shining in the Dark (which is also being published in Bulgarian!), “The Halloween Tree” in Halloween Carnival: Volume Four, and a couple of other stories in anthologies that haven’t been officially announced yet.
For non-fiction, I have an introduction to a reprint of Bernard Taylor’s book The Godsend from Centipede Press and an essay about King’s crime fiction called “Living in a Web of Mystery” in Reading Stephen King from Cemetery Dance. Also, people should check out Stephen King Revisited (stephenkingrevisited.com), where Rich Chizmar is working his way through King’s books in order and I’m writing companion essays that put each work into a historical context. And, of course, NewsFromTheDeadZone.com, where I post King news and reviews on a regular basis.
One project I’m really excited about, which I hope will be published in the next year, is
something I’m doing with Brian Keene. We observed over the years that we have some overlap in our musical tastes and some areas where we are completely different. So we each created a play list of songs for the other person to listen to while we each wrote novellas. Mine is called “The Dead of Winter,” and the two novellas together will be called Dissonant Harmonies, to be published by Cemetery Dance. It’s the longest piece of fiction I’ll have published to date.
Soraya—Thank you very much for the interview and I apologize for any mistakes I may have made.
Bev Vincent—My pleasure – thank you for your interest!
From Soraya Murillo Hernandez: I am an early reader, I started reading very soon and I was interested in terror, I liked to look for monsters and ghosts in the stories. Then I knew that the greatest terror came from humans. I am a book reviewer in Spain, I do it free to help its authors to know their works.
Soy una lectora precoz, comencé muy pronto a leer y me interese por el terror, me gustaba buscar monstruos y fantasmas en las historias. Luego supe que el mayor terror venia de los humanos . Soy reseñadora de libros en España, lo hago gratis para ayudar a sus autores a conocer sus obras.