Today I am talking to David Bain who is a community college English professor and a writer with more than 100 traditionally published stories and poems to his credit in venues as diverse as the academic journal Poems and Plays and Weird Tales magazine. He is also the independent author of the crime/horror novel Gray Lake, the Will Castleton series of psychic detective stories, and several short story collections. He lives in the country with four dogs, four cats, two chinchillas and several other humans.
Books & Writing: Do you remember the first story you wrote?
David Bain: Most likely not. But how far back shall we go? I remember in first grade writing a story about kids in some foreign country where it rained a lot and how they went on vacation to somewhere sunny and hated it. They then returned and it was rainy season and couldn’t wait to get out and dance in it. In third grade I wrote something about an astronaut who opened the window of his spaceship and got hit in the head by a stray meteorite during a meteor shower. I had a horror story entitled “Contact” published in Central Michigan University’s student-centric literary magazine Framework. I haven’t looked at it in years - it’s probably awful, but I think I’ll put it in a future story collection for anyone interested. The magazine had a huge print run, was offered free at the doors to every building on campus, so it’s likely still one of my most-read pieces. Shudder!
Books & Writing: Were you inspired by someone or something?
David Bain: Need I say Stephen King, Clive Barker, all the usuals for someone of my generation? No? Okay, how about writers I know in person? Mort Castle, Wayne Allen Sallee. One of my old professors - Ron Primeau, who recently solicited an essay from me for a textbook he’s editing. The essay is entitled “American Road Narratives in The Dark Fantastic” and should be out in fall 2013 in a book from Salem Press and Ebsco. I try to emulate Ron as a teacher as well as his scholarship.
Books & Writing: What do you love about writing a story?
David Bain: I love the challenge. I love the way, once it’s finished, it seems predestined. That is, I love the interaction between the conscious and subconscious required to produce good, surprising, moving fiction.
Books & Writing: What attracts you in horror?
David Bain: I like that horror literalizes what’s in our subconscious. It literalizes what mainstream fiction must talk about in metaphor. In a mainstream story, the might fight a metaphorical demon such as alcoholism, a bad family situation, etc. In horror, they fight a literal demon. For me, they’re both talking about the same thing. There are all sorts of different levels of this literalization in horror, of course, but it’s almost always there. It’s pretty much the language of horror - and fantasy as well.
Books & Writing: Can you tell us something about your book “Gray Lake: A Novel of Crime and Supernatural Horror” and the main characters Brian Henderson and Scott "Iggy" Ignatowski?
David Bain: I conceived of a good portion of Gray Lake when I was 16. I tried writing it once in my twenties, got 300 pages in, and realized I was still just starting it. It would’ve been the size of IT or The Stand and I wasn’t up for that. I set it aside, focused on honing my craft by selling stories, then gave it another ultimately successful go in my thirties. It isn’t, but I look at it practically as a true story - it more or less summarizes my life from age 16 to 27 or so. I think Brian and Iggy definitely represent conflicting dark and light sides of myself from that decade of my life.
Books & Writing: I understand you also wrote a lot of short stories. What attracts you in those?
David Bain: First of all, I was attracted by short stories because … they weren’t my infinitely long first novel. But short stories require you to be on top of your game with each word. They teach you economy, voice, scene, rhythm, everything that’s important in writing - they teach you craft. They can also be a fun break from longer projects. And, furthermore, you can sell them! It’s changing now with all the self-publishing going on, but I love the whole process of sending stories out, getting acceptances and rejections, getting to know editors, etc. I think anyone who is just putting their short stories out as ebooks without submitting them to other markets first is doing themselves a huge disservice.
Books & Writing: Can you also tell us a bit about the other books you’ve written?
David Bain: I have a series character, Will Castleton, who is a “slightly psychic” paranormal detective. Right now there’s The Castleton Files, which collects four stories and one novella from several different points in his career - you can get it as an ebook or trade paperback. One of the stories from the book, “Island Ghosts”, which originally appeared in an anthology of hard-boiled detective stories, is available for free pretty much anywhere ebooks are sold. The first Will Castleton novel, Death Sight, should be out by the end of summer 2012. Right now my plans are to self-publish all the Will Castleton stuff, but who knows what might happen, as I’ve had a few nibbles of interest from other places, based just on the stories.
I plan on putting out a series of crime novellas set in my fictional town of Green River. I want to write these between longer projects, with an aim of about 15,000 words each. The first one, entitled Weed, is available as an ebook or trade paperback.
I’ve also self-published several collections of previously published short stories with more to come. Two are available right now: David Bain’s Grindhouse Quintuple Feature gathers five previously published novellas of diverse genres inspired by B movie cinema. While the City Sleeps collects crime and ghost stories from my fictional town of Green River, Michigan, the same town where Gray Lake takes place. I also hope to have two more collections available by the end of 2012. Ghosts, Just Behind You will collect about a dozen ghost stories - including a new Will Castleton story - and Shadows, Whispers, Shivers will collect about a dozen more previously published stories.
Books & Writing: How does it feel to have a book published that you worked so hard on?
David Bain: Great, of course! But let me use this space to muse a little on the perks and perdition of self-publishing. Gray Lake was supposed to have been published by a small press, but it fell through, as things so often do in that market, so I decided to try self-publishing it. Overall, I’m glad I did. Would I have been happier had it been picked up by, say, a mass market publisher? I’m not sure. I love the creative freedom of self-publishing. As an English professor, I’m meticulous about my books, my covers, my copyediting, etc. My books are exactly the way I want them, no compromises, no selling out, and there’s immense satisfaction in that. But I’m not going to say popular success wouldn’t be better - what writer doesn’t dream of it? For now, however, I’m reveling in the creative freedom to tell the best damn stories I possibly can.
The most gratifying thing of having something published - traditionally or self-pubbed - is the positive feedback from the handful of people who seem to know I exist. I’m always amazed when people email or tweet, asking when I’ll have the next story featuring a character I thought was a one-off, someone in just one story. That’s how the Will Castleton series started, and why I keep playing with Green River as a setting. It’s enthralling, knowing there are people out there waiting to see what I come up with next. One that surprised me especially is that I’ve had several requests to do more with the characters from my weird Western story “The Cowboys of Cthulhu”. The story was in an anthology called Amazing Heroes and had been out of print for several years when I self-published it. I received zero response from the antho, but now I have readers asking for a sequel - so, yes, there are indeed things I love about self-publishing!
Books & Writing: Are you working on something new?
David Bain: Always! My goal is to write 500 words of fiction per day. If I finish one project, I begin the next one the next day. This is in addition to editing, covers, marketing, etc.
Within the next year or two you should see a couple Will Castleton novels; more Green River crime stories; a novella (co-written with C. Dennis Moore) called Band of Gypsies, which combines cosmic horror, the undead and Jimi Hendrix lore; a big Lovecraftian zombie novel; and a mainstream novel called The Care and Feeding of Michael Anthony Zee, which is all but finished. Will these be self-pubbed or through a traditional press? We’ll just have to wait and see!
Books & Writing: Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?
David Bain: Don’t be afraid to suck. When you’re working with words you’re working in clay, not marble. You can change things. Send stuff out to editors. Grow a thick skin about rejection. And don’t quit.
Books & Writing: Which author inspires you?
David Bain: Joyce Carol Oates is my favorite writer. Prolific but literary. Unafraid of any genre. Unafraid of the criticism that can come from being prolific. Hyper-attentive to language, detail, form. A consummate master of craft, craft, craft. There is nothing that woman can’t do with words.
Books & Writing: Where can people go and read your work?
David Bain: Hm. Back when I was doing mostly short stories, I focused largely on print. Most of the anthologies I published in are out of print and 90 percent of the magazines are dead, but used copies are around on Amazon and Ebay and such. There’s a poem in the archives on StrangeHorizons.com. But, yes, mostly my web site and the ebook stores these days…
Books & Writing: Where can people find you on the internet?
David Bain: DavidBainBooks.com
Books & Writing: Is there anything else you want to share with the readers?
David Bain: Send me $100 today and you’ll automatically get an electronic copy of everything I self-publish for life.
Below is an excerpt from the book Gray Lake!
“Because Gray Lake is haunted,” Brian said. “I mean think about it. I know at least fifteen Gray Lake ghost stories just off the top of my head.”
“Fifteen?” Iggy lifted his back from the windshield of Brian’s Jeep and propped himself up on his bony elbows, the tendrils of his curly hair twisting about the shoulders of his t-shirt, the ends long enough to still be brushing the glass. The Jeep sat on the skinny ribbon of public access, which was little more than a wide berm. Iggy began counting on his fingers. “Let’s see – Hatchet Man, Little Lost Lucy, crazy Dr. Sallee – who may even have been Hatchet Man – the ghost girl made of fog over in the marsh, what other ones?”
Brian and Iggy were facing Deadman’s Hill, which was infamously steep and high. After descending Deadman’s, Lakeview curved around the contour of the lake. There was a good deal of shallow water and leafy shore shrubbery between them and the hill, which loomed about a football field and a half away.
Brian remained lying on the hood. His athletic frame, white tennis shorts, red polo shirt and close-cropped blonde hair stood in stark contrast to Iggy’s spindly, spider-like body, cut-off jeans, black Misfits skull t-shirt and long, dark, shaggy locks.
“Well, okay, what I’m saying, Ig, is whenever anyone from Green River tells one of those ghost stories – urban legends, I mean - like even the old one about the killer with the hook hand scratching to get into the car where the kids are making out, ever since I was a little kid, people have set that one right here at this spot. Right where we are now. This little strip of sand along the road. You know it didn’t really happen here - as if it really happened anywhere - but there must be three dozen lakes around Green River. So why do they choose this one if it isn’t really haunted?”
“Because it’s a popular make-out spot?”
“People like to say that, but tell me, how many times do we come out here, you, me and Bull, and it’s empty, like it was made just for us. Or it’s just one or two people hanging out, stargazing like you and me, or smoking a cigarette and looking out over the water or something? In fact, have we ever encountered anyone making out here? I’ll tell you something. Back in the bad old days of last semester, back when I wasn’t single, I took Janie out here one Saturday and, dude, there was just too much traffic. We’d get warmed up, all breathy and slurpy-faced – she was a really sloppy kisser - ”