Monday 30 January 2023

Interview with Owl Goingback - By David Kempf

When did you first become interested in horror?

I first became interested in horror back in 1968, at the ripe old age of nine. My mother had given me my very first weekly allowance, a whopping fifty cents, and drove me into town so I could spend it. The town was so small there were no comic book shops, or bookstores, and Toys R Us did not exist back then. But there was a Rexall Drug Store, which had a magazine rack. And on the bottom shelf of that rack, I discovered issue fifty-one of Famous Monsters of Filmland; a magazine filled with images of Frankenstein, Dracula, The Wolfman, and other horror delights. It was love at first sight.

Famous Monsters literally changed my life. Under the brilliant editorship of Forrest J Ackerman, the monthly magazine assured me it was okay to embrace monsters and all things scary. Best of all, it showed me I wasn't alone; there were others out there who loved horror as much as I did.

At what age did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I was in the 8th grade, so that would be around the age of thirteen. Our English teacher assigned everyone in the class to write a one-page story. At that time, I was a big fan of Mad Magazine so I decided to write something humorous. I wasn't expecting much out of my story, and was quite surprised when the teacher read it to the class and the entire room burst into laughter. Being a shy kid, writing stories gave me a way to entertain, and be accepted by, my peers.

What was it like to win a Stoker for your first novel?

It was a miracle my first novel, Crota, even made it into print. My agent sent the book to dozens of publishers before it was finally purchased by Donald I. Fine Books. But at the time, Mr. Fine was dying from cancer, his publishing house was being taken over by Penguin Putnam, and the editor assigned to my novel quit to become a real estate agent. I was orphaned before my writing career even got started.

After having such a rocky start, it felt pretty amazing when Crota won the Bram Stoker Award for first novel. It was also a finalist for best novel, the first time a novel had ever been nominated in both categories. I attended the awards ceremony, sharing the stage with Ira Levin, Forrest J Ackerman, and other horror dignitaries. It was a night I will never forget.

What inspired you to write?

I grew up in rural America, surrounded by forests and rolling farmland. It was a lonely existence and books by Poe, Lovecraft, Ray Bradbury, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and Andre Norton kept the boredom at bay. I was so inspired by the books I read, I started writing fiction of my own. I actually ghostwrote stories for my classmates in high school, charging a dollar per page, so they could pass their English assignments.

But I put aside all thoughts of writing when I enlisted in the United States Air Force. It wasn't until after I got out of the military, and opened a restaurant/lounge in Georgia, that thoughts of literary endeavors once again surfaced.

It happened one night after we closed for the evening. My wife, Nancy, and I were watching an interview with Stephen King on the television. During the interview, she jokingly asked why I couldn't be smart like him instead of so stupid. She didn't know I used to write, and I took her teasing as a challenge.

The next day I sat down and started writing again. At first, I did articles for martial arts magazines, but switched to writing fiction because it paid better. Ten years after watching that interview on television, I was up against Stephen King for a Stoker Award in the novel category.

Tell us about your children’s books Eagle Fathers and The Gift.

Eagle Feathers and The Gift are illustrated stories featuring the adventures of a little Kiowa boy in the 1800s. Much like the traditional oral stories of my ancestors, both books have teaching elements woven into them. They were published by The Wright Group (McGraw Hill), and used in elementary schools across the country. Eagle Feathers is a Storytelling Worlds Awards Honor Recipient for most tellable tale, ages eight to twelve.

What are some of your favorite horror books?

I really love The Exorcist. There's a creepiness to the book that still holds up well after so many years. I remember when it first came out everybody seemed to be reading it. The book generated so many newspaper and magazine articles, and really brought the occult into the spotlight.

I also love the collected stories of Ambrose Bierce, H.P. Lovecraft, Ray Bradbury, and Edgar Allan Poe. Those writers are true masters in the horror field, and their fiction will never be forgotten.

What are some of your favorite horror movies?

Jaws is the only movie that ever scared me, so it is my all-time favorite. I watched it at a theater when I was in the military, and the movie grabbed me right from the start. I imagined what it would be like to be swimming in the ocean, and suddenly find out you are part of the food chain. Did I mention I live in central Florida, not far from New Smyrna Beach which is the shark bite capital of the world?

I'm also a big fan of the original Halloween, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Night of the Living Dead. Those movies are so well done, I could watch them over and over and never get bored. The directors knew how to build suspense and layer on the frights. They didn't need to rely on gallons of blood or cheap jump scares.

How did George A. Romero become a fan of your work?

George read Crota and was very interested in turning it into a movie. He called my agent, who set up a conference call for the three of us. Sadly, George didn't have deep enough pockets to do the story the way he wanted, traditional effects instead of CGI, so the movie never happened.

He also loved my novel Evil Whispers, and thought he could turn it into a film for less than five million. We were in negotiations with one of the major studios, but the Hollywood writers strike put a halt to all talks and killed the deal.

George and I became good friends, and we kept in touch via email and an occasional phone call. We also got to see each other at various horror conventions around the country. The last time I saw George, he asked me if I had sold film rights to Crota. I told him I was saving them for him, which made him very happy.

What are your current projects?

I'm currently taking a break from the novels, and working on short stories for various anthologies. I'm also working on a couple of comic scripts. I recently did a Werewolf by Night story for Marvel's Infinity Comics. After that, I will probably get back to writing longer fiction. I already have several new novels in various stages of development, including a follow-up to my novel Coyote Rage.

Please in your own words write a paragraph about yourself & your work.

Owl Goingback has been writing for over thirty years, and is the author of numerous novels, children's books, short stories, screenplays, magazine articles, and comics. He is a three-time Bram Stoker Award Winner, receiving the award for lifetime achievement, best novel, and best first novel. His books include Crota, Darker Than Night, Evil Whispers, Breed, Shaman Moon, Coyote Rage, Eagle Feathers, Tribal Screams, and The Gift. In addition to writing under his own name, he has ghostwritten for Hollywood celebrities.

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