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Steve Savile: Is there a "u" in "horrour"?
By Scott Nicholson

Steve Savile is part of the new generation of British horror writers, rising to the tidal crest just as many are ready to pronounce the horror shores barren. Savile doesn’t pay attention to the naysayers; he’s too busy with his numerous and ambitious projects. He’s recently released two novels, The Secret Life of Colors from DarkTales Publications, and Laughing Boy’s Shadow from Gargadillo Press. His stories have appeared in such publications as The Asylum: The Psycho Ward, Sackcloth & Ashes, Kimota, The Edge, and a recent chapbook from Enigmatic Press. He’s working on a five-book dark fantasy (shhh...don’t say the word horror, hehe) Dominion series for Bantam Spectra.

Oh, yeah, he’s also an editor, pulling in some top names for his charity fundraiser anthology Redbrick Eden. He’s developing several other projects, the beginning of a splash that should flood both sides of the Atlantic.

Scott: What led you toward the horror genre?

Steve: Well, when I first started out I was an avid Moorcock fan going through an immense immersion in Elric and Jerry Cornelius and just about everything I wrote was an imitator of Moorcock. The only problem was that I had this very macabre streak that kept coming out in the random crap shots I was turning out. It wasn't until I was lying in the bathtub thinking about books I'd read at school -- Poe and Lovecraft were favourites of my English teacher right along with Jerome K Jerome and DH Lawrence -- that I hit upon an idea.

It was more of a germ, really. An old woman shuffling around in her candlelit house waiting for her husband to come from sea and suddenly I knew her old man had played poker with his soul, a happy little Faustus, only that he'd lost and switched places with Old Switch... not original and not particularly good story but it was my first ever sale ("Coming For To Carry You Home") and it scored joint first place in Exuberance Magazine's readers poll for best stories. Not a bad start all things considered.

I guess it's a case of finding your roots. From a very early age I spent -- or misspent -- a huge amount of time reading the old Pan Books of Horror by Herbert Van Thaal. I remember my school teacher trying to humiliate me in class on day by holding the book open and reading out loud the most thumbed pages. He was rewarded by hitting upon a pretty whacked out description in a story called "Babies Blood." I don't remember the author now, but the scene is logged in my head just as fresh as if I had read it yesterday. The mark of good writing. I try to aim for the same thing when I write. Not that the reader never forgets the story, but that the feel, the ambiance of the story stays with them long after lights out.

Scott: From your observations, what are the differences between U.S. and U.K. horror?

Steve: Well, it's interesting because I believe a lot of my U.S. sales come from the fact that I write with what is a classicly European style. The Americans have always been pretty good judges of what are the better than average exports -- with the exception of tea, of course. Dumping it all in the harbour indeed... Of course the irony is that back in England I've been accused of not being English enough more than once.

Mind you, you hear a lot about horror being dead in England, or being dead in the States, and everyone is struck by that grass is always greener syndrome. I think it’s in a trough at the moment but guys like DarkTales and Gargadillo are spearing a great charge in bringing horror back to the world. I'm very proud to be associated with both.

As to techniques, I think the Americans often write flatter stories with less 'weather-watching' going. Action driven over style. I know Mort Castle, a fine writer in his own right, is a great believer in character over style and I'm coming around to his way of thinking. It should be all about writing stories that deal with 'Story People.’ People with stories worth telling. Then it doesn't matter if you are in the UK or the US.

Scott: Tell us about your editing experiences, particularly how you are able to rustle up material from so many big names.

Steve: Well, Redbrick Eden was very much a shot in the dark. It came about from a great idea and a hell of a lot of frustration and nearly died a death long before it hit the streets. The writers were great, everyone offered support, quotes, stories. I guess I was just so unbelievably naive, I emailed or wrote mass mails to everyone from King and Rice to Richard Laymon and Ed Gorman. Word spreads really quickly in the game. Pretty soon I was getting letters of support from guys like Clive Barker and one very interesting and potentially lucrative one from a major publishing house in the UK. That gave me the impetus I needed to push on and get in the stories. As I said, the writers were great considering it was pro bono.

One thing I have learnt through bitter experience is that editing is never simple. People let you down or leave you hanging. I've just recently had a publisher promising the earth for my latest urban horror anthology, Judas Street, only to have them pull a disappearing act Houdini would have been proud of. Thankfully a couple of prestigious presses have stepped into the breach and a formal announcement about the status of Judas Street should be made any day now.

The big deal now, though, is that I have completed negotiations with John Pelan of Midnight House and the Estate of Fritz Leiber to compile a collection of Leiber's short stories that have been out of print for the last 50 years. I'm thrilled about this, I mean, it's Fritz Leiber. The man practically created the whole concept of genre fiction. It's such a huge honour.

Of course, this isn't the first time I have worked with John. We're co-editors of a mosaic novel Last Days, that features folks like Beth Massie, Michael Marano, Ed Lee, Pete Crowther, Graham Joyce and Tom Piccirilli. Thirteen of the top names of horror taking a character and concept given to them by John and I and just left to run with it. Vince Harper at Bereshith should be releasing it before the end of the year. Can't wait to see it. You know, a lot of this feels like being an overnight success. It's sure going to seem that way to people on the outside, but I've been hammering away at this for going on ten years now. It's been a lot of hard work. But a lot of fun as well.

Scott: DarkTales is releasing your debut novel, The Secret Life of Colors. What should the informed consumer know about it, besides the fact that "u" was dropped from "colours" in the title?

SECRETLIFE.JPG (59325 bytes)Steve: The Secret Life of Colors is a wild ride full of magic, fantasy and some pretty harsh horror vignettes thrown in. Gabriel Rush, the protagonist, is someone I hope to revisit sometime. I think there is a lot of mileage in this kind of noir-horror crossover, and as a native American caught between the new world and the superstitions of the reservation is the ideal voice for exploring it. The actual concept behind Secret Life is one of where the boundaries between illusion and reality blur, where emotions are so powerful they take on a life of their own. I don't want to say too much, I have this bad habit of giving away vital plot links when I prattle on.

Scott: Can you tell us how the Dominion project came about?

Steve: Dominion is enormous. I used to work as a writer for Games Workshop back in the heady days of Warhammer Roleplay, long before Steve Jackson left to work on GURPS. I was basically being employed to design a world from scratch that fit with Warhammer's almost Gormengast atmosphere. I made copious notes, after all I was playing God, building a world literally from scratch. Needless to say the expansion was never released because kids got hooked on painting models and tabletop wargames instead of good old fashioned imaginative roleplaying.

As I've already hinted I was weaned on fantasy and have a huge affection for the genre but week by week it seems more and more publishers are releasing derivative junk and calling it groundbreaking. There are a few good new writers out there, like China Mieville and Chaz Brenchley, what they are doing is exciting.

The opportunity for Dominion to become a reality is one of those one in a million flukes. I was reading Megan Lindholm's brilliant Farseer novels when, wham, a misprint out of left field completely ruined the end of the book. Gave the whole denouement away 200 pages early. So, thanks to the wonders of the Internet, I emailed Bantam Spectra to let them know. It wasn't exactly a complaint. Just a heads up. My email was passed on to Anne Groell, who ended up becoming a great friend, encouraging me daily to get my butt into gear and work on the Dominion novels. The feedback has been fantastic and everyone seems hooked by the fact that it is predominantly a horror novel masquerading as fantasy. Ironic, huh?

Scott: You're claiming the first British e-serial novel, The Sufferer's Song. Why give something away just when you're about to break through?

Steve: What better time? I loved what King did with The Green Mile, and I was thinking of doing something a couple of years ago, but frankly I just wasn't well known enough. I am a firm believer in having to give to receive. I have a cracking story here, a real honest to God horror novel, driven by strong characters with stories that deserve to be told. Besides, I write to be read. I want to reach as many people as possible. Not everyone can afford twenty bucks or forty bucks a book, as Secret Life and Laughing Boy are priced respectively.

Scott: What other projects do you have, planned or in the "wishful thinking" phase?

Steve: Well, the Leiber one is the biggy but there is also a new 30,000 word novella "Bury My Heart At The Garrick" hatching itself right now. It tells the 'true' story of the last week of Harry Houdini's life. That's going to be my slice of immortality. My Of Mice and Men.

-Copyright 2000 by Scott Nicholson

To learn more about Steve Savile, visit stevesavile


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