Brett McBean is a phenomenon in the Australian and international horror genre. His first mass market novel The Mother, about a woman’s quest along the Hume Highway to find her missing daughter, is a psychological tour de force.
In 2009, after joining the Australian Horror Writers Association I was selected into its Mentor Program. I was even more astounded when I found Brett McBean was to be my mentor. During the mentorship (and maybe a little after) Brett helped me fine tune my vampire short story Precious Blood, which was later published in The Absent Willow Review. He also gave me extremely valuable advice on my novella Torment, which will be published by Damnation Books in March this year.
But enough about me – we all want to know what makes McBean tick right? What does he think of the current state of the horror genre and what’s he’s got in store for his cult of readers?
If you want to know then read on:
It’s been almost 10 years since The Last Motel and almost five since The Mother – a lot has happened in the realm of dark fiction since then with a lot of authors and publishers coming and going. Where do you see the horror genre in Australia and the rest of the world now since you had your first big break? Has it changed?
“It most definitely has changed. The recent fall of Leisure was a big blow to mass-market horror. And the surge in e-books and e-readers has changed the face of publishing. Then with the world economic crisis, the fall in print book sales, the big retailers are struggling. I think the world of publishing is at a cross-road. It’s a strange and scary world at the moment, and it’ll be interesting to see where it leads.
“Horror, like the rest of the publishing world, is in a transitional period. People don’t have the money to buy countless expensive limited editions, and yet mass-market horror isn’t as prevalent as it was. And if you have no interest in e-books, buying costly e-readers and reading off a screen…like I said, it’s a strange and scary world for publishing at the moment, and horror is no different.”
Your first mass-market novel The Mother, is still widely-regarded as arguably one of the best modern Australian psychological horror novels and sells out each time it is reprinted. It’s recently been translated to German. The book sent your career into the literary stratosphere… how does your current work compare or could you even dream of drawing a comparison?
“I try not to compare my works; each novel or story is a different beast, with different intentions and often different styles. I have no control over how the readers will react to each book, and so I never try to second-guess whether a current work will be liked or loathed, whether it’s better or worse than my previous books. I just think of an idea that interests me and then roll with it.
Additionally, I don’t think a writer is the best judge of their own work; they’re too close to the material, they’re not an objective party. I think whether an author’s latest book is better or worse than their previous work is best left up to the readers.”
Richard Laymon has influenced your work greatly. What drew you to his novels and to him personally? How does his writing affect your own work?
“When I first started reading his books in the early 90s, his novels were unlike anything I had read up to that point. They were like a novel versions of Friday the 13th, The Hills Have Eyes or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre; gruesome, fast-paced, no-holds-barred horror. As a young teenager who loved that type of horror, I naturally fell in love with his work. Reading a Laymon novel is like a shot of adrenaline; it hits you hard and fast and leaves you breathless and hungry for more.
“But I think what I love most about a Laymon novel is the sense of fun that shines through in his writing. Reading a Laymon novel you can almost see the devilish twinkle in his eye, the unbridled enjoyment he seems to have had while writing the book. I love Laymon’s enthusiasm and unapologetic love for all things horror. These things are what I take most from Laymon’s work. But let’s not forget, he was also a fine writer, despite the sometimes pulpish storylines; he was a marvel at creating mood and instantly identifiable characters, and he could create wonderful tension and a real sense of dread. So I also learnt about pacing and mood from reading Laymon.”
What’s in store for 2011 for you – what should readers expect? Tell us about Torment and The Awakening?
“2011 should be a big year for me, publishing-wise. The first book in my ‘Jungle’ novella trilogy from Tasmaniac, Concrete Jungle, should be out very soon. As should the new edition of my short story collection, Tales of Sin and Madness, which will published by LegumeMan Books. A little later in the year should see the release of my third novel, Torment (Severed Press), a new novella from Delirium Books titled Dead Tree Forest, and a new edition of my first novel, The Last Motel, from LegumeMan Books.
“Torment is a sort of homage to David Morrell novels; I think it’s best summed up as: a supernatural First Blood. It’s a fast-paced horror/thriller set in a small mountain town in the US state of Georgia. The novel is a continuation of my short story ‘The Cycle’, and deals with souls, man-hunts and ghosts of the past.
“The Awakening is my coming-of-age tale, but with a difference. Set in a small town in Ohio, it’s the story of a fourteen-year-old and one eventful summer, in which he befriends a strange old neighbour. Aside from the usual troubles such as bullies and awkward first-loves, there are also zombies (yes, zombies!), though not of the Romero-kind. I delve into Haitian Voodoo and treat zombies as the sad, soulless creatures of myths and legends. So really, The Awakening is a marriage of two of my loves/interests: coming-of-age tales and Haitian folklore and the Voodoo religion.
As any writer knows you don’t always get as much time to read as you would like – what did you get a chance to read last year and what did you think?
“Well you’re not wrong there. Unfortunately last year my time was severely limited, and I didn’t get to read nearly as much as I would have liked. I usually keep a list of books I read, but I didn’t bother last year, and so, my memory being what it is, I can’t recall a lot of what I read. I did read A Confederacy of Dunces, which I loved. One of the funniest and yet saddest books I’ve read.
“I also read King’s Under the Dome, which I liked, but came away a little disappointed. I loved the concept, but the characters never came to life for me, which is usually one of King’s strengths as a writer. And then there was Cannery Row, by Steinbeck, who is one of my favourite writers. While not quite up there with his best, I still adored his writing, his off-beat characters and strong sense of time and place. Those are the books that immediately jump to mind.”
Finally, what advice do you have for writers looking to create their own bestsellers like The Mother?
“Don’t try and write a bestseller; don’t write a story simply because of what’s popular at the moment, and don’t try and guess what will be the next hottest thing. Simply write the kind of story that interests you, one you would pick up in a bookstore if someone else had written it. Write for yourself. If you don’t enjoy the process, don’t have any passion for the story and characters, then it will show in the finished product. You have to write what moves you, and hopefully, if you’re lucky, it’ll move one or two (or a million) readers as well.”