Welcome back! Today, I’m thrilled to spotlight author Brian Fatah Steele. Brian is the author of Your Arms Around Entropy and Other Stories, and There Is Darkness in Every Room as well as numerous short stories.
Recently, Brian and I discussed his inspiration as an author, his work as an interviewer, and his writing plans for the future.
A couple icebreakers to start: when did you first decide to become a writer, and who are some of your favorite authors?
In the mid-nineties I started going to Kent State University for Fine Arts. I wanted to be an illustrator, possibly work on comic books, but I dropped out after my junior year. I had become very disillusioned with visual arts, but I realized when I still worked with it, I was constructing stories in my head to go along with the illustrations. Both my parents were educators and I had been raised on a steady diet of books growing up, so I decided to try writing as a creative outlet. All I had backing me was about 25 years of reading fiction and one high school creative writing class I had enjoyed immensely. To my surprise, I found myself far more fulfilled by writing than I ever had by visual arts. Now cresting into my 40-ies, I absolutely identify as a writer who simply dabbles in art.
My big three influences are Clive Barker, Brian Lumley, and Warren Ellis. I read The Books of Blood far too young, and it made me want to write outside of traditional horror tropes. Lumley taught me that I could throw whatever I wanted into a story and not be confined. Ellis showed me that you could have a message amidst all the brutality. I love a mix of authors – Edward Lee, Neil Gaiman, Anne Rice, James Rollins, Grant Morrison, S.M. Peters, Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child, Mary SanGiovanni, Laird Barron, Nate Southard, John McCallum Swain, Michelle Garza & Melissa Lason, John Claude Smith, Christopher Moore, H.P. Lovecraft, and too many more to name.
Congrats on the recent release of your collection, Your Arms Around Entropy and Other Stories. What can you share about your process while writing this book?
This book came together after about five years of submitting short stories to anthologies. I realized most of them had a cosmic horror theme, or in some cases, were a straight-up Lovecraft homage. After penning the title story, I felt it was ready to share. Some lean more cosmic than other, but all the tales I feel have a certain nihilistic vibe to them. I’m not necessarily a pessimistic person, but hopelessness translates great in horror, and I’m especially interested when we would find it abhorrent and vast.
You write short stories as well as novels and novellas. How does your approach differ (or stay the same) depending on length?
I’m very much a plotter. I’ll think about a story for days up to months before I ever type out a single word. Even then, everything gets a summary first. All characters get names, I know my locations, the movements, even some of the dialogue. A short story will simply get written out, the word count whatever it ends up being. It’ll get edited afterwards for a variety of things.
I’ve got my novel/novella system down now, one that works best for me. Lots of short chapters, usually shifting POV. My chapters are usually around 1000 words, and I outline a novel to be between 50 to 60 chapters. The goal is to get at least one chapter done a day. Sometimes I get two chapters done, sometimes I don’t get any. Regardless, this works for me. All my novels tend to have ensemble casts as opposed to focusing on one main protagonist, so this also benefits my style. Sure the story sometimes veers off from the outline a bit here and there, but never too much.
What first drew you to the horror genre? Do you remember the first horror movie you saw or story you read?
We have a Carnegie Public Library in my home town of East Liverpool, and when I was very young they had this series of book in the children’s section that I gravitated to. Hardbound books that fictionalized the old Universal horror movies – Bela Lugosi’s Dracula, Boris Karloff’s Frankenstein, Lon Chaney Jr’s Wolfman, etc. There must have been twenty of these things, and I checked them out regularly. I was probably only like seven.
I believe the first adult horror movie I saw was the original Halloween. Maybe it was The Fog. I recall seeing both around the same time. Either way, John Carpenter terrified me as a child. Today, he’s my favorite director. And I’m pretty sure the first adult horror I read were those original Books of Blood I snagged. I still have them, and I think they might be the original American printing. They say 1986 inside, so if I bought them even a year later, my dumb ass read them at 10 years old. That explains a lot.
You are currently residing in my beloved birth state of Ohio. I, for one, think that the Ohio landscapes—rusted-out factories, unending fields of wheat and corn, creepy little small-town neighborhoods—are absolutely rife with horror possibilities. How does living in the Buckeye State impact you as a storyteller?
I absolutely agree! I feel like “Rust-Belt Gothic” needs to be explored more. I dive into the concept of the “Creepy Farmhouse” in my novel There is Darkness in Every Room, and in a story within Your Arms Around Entropy. I explore the idea of the “Dying Town” also in my latest collection as well as it being a central theme in an upcoming novel. Ohio has blistering hot summers and withering cold winters, we are a political swing state, and we have Amish communities only a stone’s throw from metropolitan cities. There’s abject poverty and a rising drug epidemic, yet you’ll trip on a college campus if you’re not paying attention. I’m Bipolar so I can say this – Ohio is Bipolar as fuck.
It’s actually hard not to set more of my stories in Ohio, because I honestly believe the setting here is so malleable and ripe for use. That said, I don’t want to be that guy.
In addition to your fiction writing, you also run the 7Q Interview series on your site. What made you decide to become an interviewer?
It seemed to me authors were only getting interviews when they had books coming out, and even then, it appeared to be the same authors all the time. I can’t really blame these sites, most of them have day jobs, plus they’re also doing reviews and juggling additional articles. It occurred to me that if I did an interview series, the same interview every week, I could feature a great deal more authors, some who might be falling through the cracks. Some who hadn’t been interviewed before, or who maybe don’t get two books a year out, so their presence has faded a bit. That’s not to say I don’t want to interview authors with a new book out, or bigger names, but I can feature everybody when that’s all I focus on.
What projects are you currently working on?
My next novel Bleed Away the Sky will come out from Bloodshot Books in early 2019. It’s a sort of Cosmic Horror/Urban Fantasy piece. I have another novel, similar in style, making its rounds to publishers now. Currently I’m working on what I’m calling a character-driven-splatterpunk-novel-with-supernatural-elements.