Thursday, October 20, 2011

HALLOWEEN INTERVIEW: Andrew Van Wey (author of Forsaken)

Good morning, and welcome to another hauntingly horrific Halloween themed interview! Joining us today is Andrew Van Wey, author of Forsaken.

Andrew was born in Palo Alto, California, spent part of his childhood in New England, and currently lives abroad where he doubts his sanity on a daily basis.

When he’s not writing he’s probably hiking, playing video games, or  sleeping with the light on.  He considers gelato and pizza to be a perfectly acceptable meal, and shorts to be business casual if paired with a scarf.

His girlfriend describes him as energetic and unfamiliar with brevity.  He can be found on Twitter, Facebook, or at his Website, but he should probably be writing.  Feel free to yell at him if he isn't.

Before we get into Andrew's interview, please allow me to introduce you to the chills of Forsaken:

At a little over six feet tall and five feet wide, it wasn’t the strangest he’d ever seen, but close.  A girl with a wounded, sack-like face; a boy with pinhole eyes and a cruel sneer; and a distant shadow peering out from behind a dying tree, all stared back at him.

Yet it wasn’t only the subjects that challenged him, but the note that came with the anonymous painting.

Here in Art, Denial.

For professor Daniel Rineheart, these four words herald a riddle that sets off a surreal nightmare. Where objects from his past manifest in canvas and oil.  Where painted clocks tick-tock away in the dark hours before dawn and a missing dog whimpers from between the walls.  Where the painted subjects themselves leave the canvas to stalk the halls of his once quiet house.

And where all answers lead back to a blind artist and an impossible creation, one that threatens to destroy his family and devour his sanity.

FORSAKEN is a dark debut novel that fans of early King, Barker, and Straub will find was written for them.  It’s a tale of an unnatural painting, a dark secret, and one man’s search for a mysterious artist.  It’s a throwback to the haunted tales that slowly seep beneath the skin and come to a boil.  FORSAKEN blurs the line between the psychological and the supernatural and challenges the reader to descend into a maddening world where the real and surreal blend like paint, where the blind see far beyond the living veil, and where evil comes alive in oil and art.

And now, without further ado, please welcome Andrew Van Wey!


♥ For those who may be new to your writing, and who haven't yet checked out your latest release, please tell us a little about yourself.

Thank you so much for having me.  Describing myself is always difficult.  If I play the author card too much I sound like something drummed up a coffee house literary tour, and if I play the horror card I come off like an escaped mental patient.  If you met me on the street you’d probably say I was a rather pleasant fellow.  If you read my writing you might be reluctant to share an elevator with me. 

I grew up in Northern California where it’s always possible to find someone odder than myself so I guess I blend in.  I’ve lived in several countries but always keep coming back to the west coast.  As a reader I’ll read almost anything.  As a writer I’m not interested in telling stories about hormonal teenagers and picture perfect vampires that twinkle.  Nor am I interested in showering the reader in needless gore.  I’m interested in stories that have a human element but go towards the supernatural.  I describe it as suburban psychological horror.  As if Stephen King set The Shining next door and the Torrances shopped at Whole Foods.  Or if Dante found the entrance to Hell out behind the old middle school. 

♥ Nicely said - sometimes that simple juxtaposition can be far scarier than anything else. The journey from 'aspiring' to 'accomplished' can be a long one, even in the era of small presses and digital publishing. When did you begin writing, and how did you feel when you first saw your work in print?

I don’t know if I’ll ever consider myself anything other than aspiring, but that’s fine with me.  I’m always aspiring to be a better storyteller, have been since I figured arranging words in a certain order could be so powerful.  I’d be happy to have that word on my tombstone.  Aspiring Author of 47 Novels, Some of Which Were Okay.”

I’ve always written.  When the teacher assigned a single page of creative writing, I did five.  When five became standard, I did ten.  I wasn’t a show off, it’s just that’s what happened.  Some of my earliest memories are of being forced to stand up in class and read some story I wrote by some teacher who betrayed my sacred belief that I was writing only for myself.

In college I studied screenwriting, so I wrote primarily for film for several years.  It was great training and I think more authors should study the form.  It’s zen, minimalist, yet can be surprisingly effective.  I wrote my first novel length story in college and found I loved the form so I alternated between the two.  My agents and manager shopped my screenplays around and I wrote fiction on the side like some dark secret. 

I honestly don’t remember the first time I saw my name in print, but I will tell you this: since self publishing FORSAKEN I’ve received emails from readers who stumbled upon the book in the back rows of and enjoyed it.  Nothing has made me happier than hearing that.

♥ Did you deliberately choose the horror genre because there's something specific that draws you to it, something you feel it offers that other genres don't, or was it just 'right' for the story you wanted to tell?

I’ve always gravitated towards the dark stories which is ironic because most find me to be an upbeat and friendly person.  Maybe it balances out my optimism.  Maybe it’s because I feel we’re all one foot in the grave. 

Truthfully, I don’t give a lot of thought to why the stories I tell tend to have an element of the supernatural except that it’s a lot of fun to explore a world so opposite of my own.  I don’t believe in magic but I enjoyed Harry Potter.  And I find horror to be similar, often with more grim results.  Horror allows us to confront death from a safe distance and to see others struggle with some of the oldest questions ever asked: What, if anything, is on the other side?  And if there’s something there, can it come back?  And how would a rational, normal person react to that which is not rational and normal?

To me horror is the perfect genre to tackle some of the most spiritually charged questions out there.  Even a scientist can get a good kick out of a ghost story.

♥ Horror is such an emotionally powerful genre, which touches on so many of our personal fears and fetishes. With that in mind, how has your past influenced your writing? Are you conscious of relating the story to your own experiences, or is it strictly an exercise in imagination?

Part is pure imagination.  I’ve never encountered a haunted house but I’ve seen a lot that should be.  Another part of it’s definitely a side effect of my own experiences.  I grew up in a medical household.  Both my parents are doctors and doctors tend to be very upfront about death.  Whether intended or not it played heavily into my childhood.  Trying to reconcile, understand, come to terms with mortality and what, if anything, lay beyond.  Wrestling with the heavies in first grade.  I wasn’t a grim child but I definitely saw the monkey bars as being one wrong fall away from a broken neck.  I’m not a total hypochondriac but I am, perhaps, more aware of how the machinery of our body works than the average person.  And also aware of how easily it can malfunction or fall apart, physically and mentally.

♥ Do you have a schedule or a routine to your writing? Is there a time and place that you must write, or do you let the words flow as they demand?

I write best in the evening.  From around five or six until the early a.m.  The world’s quieter, my thoughts have had time to percolate, and I tend to have gotten the minor chores out of the way.  I find my mind’s more focused, my words are more precise, and the hours bleed together with fewer pauses between.  I’m envious of authors who can write at any time or any place.  My brain’s a little too dusty to start up that quickly and the internet’s too distracting.    

♥ Do you have a soundtrack to your writing, a particular style of music or other background noise that keeps you in the mood, or do you require quiet solitude?

Absolutely.  I consider a great pair of headphones one of my essential writing tools.  The absence of distraction, that sort of thing.  When I write I prefer instrumental and electronic music, stuff that blends together but blocks out the world.  These days I write to a lot of The Album Leaf, M83, Ulrich Schnauss, God is an Astronaut, among others.  Pandora and Slacker Radio are a godsend. 

♥ Some interesting choices! For some authors, it's coming up with a title, and for others it's writing that first paragraph.  What do you find is the most difficult aspect of writing?

That’s a tough one.  I honestly believe it’s finding a story worth telling.  And within that, it’s plot.  Maybe it’s vestigial idea from screenwriting but I find plot to be the hardest thing.  Analyze it, diagram it, break it down or rearrange it, but if the story doesn’t flow and, more importantly, if I’m not interested in where the characters are headed, I’m wasting my time reading it.  It has to seem natural, but it’s the most unnatural thing, getting a character from point A to point B.  It’s like herding snakes.

You can be wittiest writer with the prettiest prose but if you’re not telling an interesting, entertaining story that has some feeling of forward progression, well... personally I’ll just read the New Yorker.

♥ Is there a favorite quote or scene from your work that you feel particularly fond of? Something that reminds you of why writing is important to you?

I’m proud of all my works in different ways, including the ones I have yet to publish and the ones I will never publish.  I’m equally proud of the chapters and lines I removed, condensed, shortened or shredded or disemboweled to get to what I currently have. 

In FORSAKEN specifically I’m quite proud of the father/son relationship.  The protagonist grew up an orphan and never knew his parents, so he’s struggling to understand his role as a father.  His son is 9, with a growing rebellious streak, but a good kid. They fight, lock horns, but ultimately there’s a scene as they’re flyering the neighborhood for their missing dog where they see eye to eye.  The father realizes he’s no longer the invincible hero he was to his son at earlier ages, and the son realizes his dad’s human too.  There’s not much dialogue because that’s how it usually is between fathers and sons.  Each views the other as if being judged.

I call FORSAKEN a suburban horror novel because it deals with not only real ghosts, but imagined ones.  Disappointment, especially when perceived on oneself by another, can often be just as destructive. I’m quite proud of those ghosts as well as the ones that rattle real chains.

♥ Sometimes, characters can take on a life of their own, pulling the story in directions you hadn't originally anticipated. Has a twist or turn in your writing ever surprised you, or really challenged your original plans?

Yes, absolutely, but you’ll have to read FORSAKEN to figure out what.  I will say that there was a point in an early draft where the story would have been very different had it a single idea not ignited. Ultimately, or perhaps subconsciously, I think I was always writing in that direction, I just didn’t know it.  To say more would give too much away.

♥ When you're not writing (or reading), what are some of the hobbies and passions that keep you happy?

I do most things a somewhat well adjusted non-married person in their early 30’s does.  I hike a lot, play video games, go for jogs and generally try to enjoy the outdoors.  I quit smoking over four months ago so beside self publishing FORSAKEN thats been my other major battle. 

I joke that my real job is traveling and everything else is just to finance it.  My girlfriend and I both teach in Asia and our students keep us busy and young, at least mentally.  I’m a huge technology geek which basically means I buy a lot of toys under the guise of ‘keeping up to date.’ 

♥ Is there a particular author who has influenced or inspired your writing? Either a fellow horror author who made you want to write in the first place, or somebody from another genre who cleanses your palate and refreshes your literary batteries?

King is the natural answer, both honest and unoriginal.  Like a coffee grower saying Starbucks made them want to sell beans.  Yet King is king for a whole generation and to deny his influence would be absurd. PET SEMETARY was the first book of his I read and I count it among one of the best horror stories ever written.  The structure in that book is, to me, almost flawless.  A close second would be THE SHINING.

Barker’s THE DAMNATION GAME was also highly influential, as it’s a simple idea done well, and I envy any writer who can create such dripping dread with their words as that book did.  Stylistically, B.E.Ellis, George R.R. Martin, Gaimen, Cormac McCarthy, Dennis Lehane, Chuck Hogan, and Dean Koontz are all refreshing in their own way.  I’m reading a lot of self published authors these days and I find a surprising amount to be wonderfully refreshing.  There’s some real creativity going on there.

♥ Great minds think alike! My mother blames Pet Semetary for beginning the warping of my mind (lol). I actually got into Barker with his Books of Blood collections, so I was really excited to come across The Damnation Game. With horror, there's a really fine line between reality and imagination, a fragile barrier between the normal and the paranormal. Do you prefer to play with that line, to tease readers across it, or would you rather thrust them through that barrier and force them to confront the monstrous?

My stories tend to exist at a nexus between the psychological, the supernatural, and the sociological.  That’s a fancy way of saying I’m interested in what happens to normal, logical, rational people when they encounter the supernatural.  How does having a haunted painting within your house affect the physics of the structure?  How does it affect your sanity?  How does it affect your children, your neighborhood, your town or city and your role within in it all?  What are the mechanisms by which a rational, logical, decent person can go utterly and completely insane?  How would society remember him: a friendly neighbor, a family man, or a local lunatic?

Nosedives are more dramatic but I tend to prefer the slow spiral into madness.  Both happen in FORSAKEN, but in a character appropriate context.  Ultimately horror is, to me, going to a place you never thought you would go, yet having to do it because your situation has changed so drastically that it’s the only natural thing to do.  Whether that’s becoming a murderer to fight back against a band of home invaders or having your sanity slowly chipped away over time depends on the story.

♥ When writing, do you ever consider how a reader or reviewer will react, or do you write solely for your own satisfaction?

Of course.  I wrote my first novel ‘for myself,’ and there it remains, in a drawer where it should.  I *always* consider the reader.  To not, and to attempt to publish something strikes me as selfish and absurd.  I don’t really trust anyone who says they write something: “Only for themselves.”

My novel is dedicated to my girlfriend, my ‘Ideal Reader,’ but beyond that it was written for a very specific type of person.  Someone who likes intelligent, atmospheric horror that goes to dark places but does it with subtly.  I know my readers are going to spend hours reading my words, within my world, and I am always thinking of that, from the moment I settle on a plot that works until I write THE END.  There’s nothing more valuable than our time, and while I know not everyone will enjoy what I write, I don’t ever set out to write something only for an audience of one.  

♥ What first compelled you to begin writing, and what is it that keeps you motivated?

I simply can’t imagine doing anything else.  My life is better because I write.  Always has been back to when I was a kid.  Can’t imagine it’ll change.  And that’s the motivation, pure and simple.  It makes the day worth it.  When I wake up, I think of stories.  When I go to sleep, they come with me.  I sincerely wouldn’t be surprised if it was a mild version of madness, but for me it’s an enjoyable one.

♥ What is the strangest or most surprising reaction to your work that you've ever encountered?

FORSAKEN is about a haunted painting, and while the painting is described several times I’m constantly amazed at the different ways it’s imagined by my readers.  The overall strokes are often the same, but the details the readers have brought to it are utterly fascinating.  I continue to be surprised, impressed, charmed and flattered that some readers find themselves thinking of art as a living thing.  Or unliving.

Aside from that I’m really surprised how many emails I’ve gotten describing the fact that some readers had to put the book down before bed or finish it before going to sleep.  I suppose since I’ve been nose deep in it for years I forgot how creepy some of the imagery in it actually is.  Like inviting Salvador Dali over to decorate your nightmares.

♥ If your book were being made into a movie, and you had total control over the production, who would you cast for the leading roles?

The protagonist is essentially an intelligent art buff, a family man who feels awkward in his own skin.  I’ve always imagined him as a Mark Ruffalo type, perhaps Casey Affleck or Bradley Cooper.  Someone you could see watching his son play soccer and perhaps taking off his wedding ring to talk to a pretty woman. 

Honestly I tend to think more visually, and that tends to be with directors.  I could see Guillermo Del Toro having a stab at it, same with Juan Bayona, Mikael Hafstrom, Ryuhei Kitamura, David Cronenberg, David Fincher.  Someone with an eye for texture and palette, who isn’t afraid to play around with colors and grime and can focus on the human aspect as well as the gruesome.

♥ That sounds like an amazing movie - I'm more excited than ever to give the book a read! Since we're creeping up on my favourite holiday, I have to ask: what was your favourite Halloween costume growing up, and do you still get dressed up today?

A mummy costume, that was my favorite. It must’ve been in first or second grade.  In my head it was genius.  Not only was I wrapped in gauze but I also had one of those skeleton t-shirts on underneath.  That, to me, was key.  All the other mummies were just gauze over some Transformer’s t-shirt but I really went the extra mile.  I had 2 layers when everyone else had 1.  It was like I invented the cheeseburger or something.  To top it off my parents dabbed a bit of blood on it.  On the way to school I flipped over my bike and messed up half the costume.

I still dress up, absolutely.  My girlfriend and I love Halloween and we try to do something different every year.  I’ve been everything from a Zombie version of Richard Simmons to The Joker to a Dirty Hipster.  Unfortunately it’s not as celebrated in Asia as it is in the West so we tend to stick out even more on that night than we usually do, but the parties are fun.

♥ I think we've all done the gauze-wrapped mummy at some point, but I think the bike accident is a unique touch (lol). Finally, before we let you go, what can we look forward to from you next? Is there a project on the horizon that you're really excited about?

I’m in the final stages of polishing up another supernatural thriller tentatively titled THE LOST COAST.  At its most basic it’s about a haunted lighthouse and a glassmaker who creates a lens so strong that it can pierce into the world of the dead.  Like moths to a flame it attracts shades that linger on the other side, including someone very close to him.  I’m really excited about it.  The story is very straight forward, very faced paced, and almost entirely set in an isolated lighthouse twenty miles off the shore.  It’s on track to be released this Winter.

I’m also working on a story about a demonic possession from the point of view of the demon who winds up in the body of a 17 year old girl and tries to sneak back into heaven by having her die during an exorcism.  It’s much more comedic than anything I’ve written.  It’s MEAN GIRLS meets PARANORMAL ACTIVITY.  The main character is hilarious, a really dark entity that’s as old as the universe and makes the demon from The Exorcist look like an amateur.  Yet he finds himself competing with this real ditz of a girl over possession of her soul, something she, as an atheist, never even believed she had.  That’s on track for the Spring.

Thank you very much for your time.  I hope you and your readers have a merry, scary Halloween!


Thanks so much to Andrew Van Wey for stopping by, and for really getting into the spirit (pun intended!) of the season. I'll be reviewing Forsaken later this month, so please be sure to stop back for that!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the chance to talk to you and your fine readers! Hope you all have a great Halloween!