Monday, October 7, 2013
The book Stephen King called "mind-blowing." - A conversation with Richard Long, author of The Book of Paul.
Richard was kind enough to spend some time talking with me from his home in New York City. We discussed his past, his plans for The Book of Paul, what constitutes “horror,” and the damaging nature of drive-by reviews. Long has that NYC swagger and is an engaging fellow. He pulls no punches and possesses a sharp, comedic wit. Read the interview and when you’re finished go buy The Book of Paul. But don’t take my word for it. Just ask Stephen King.
You live in Manhattan, right?
Did you grow up there?
No. I’ve been living in New York since 1980.
That means you’re a New Yorker.
Exactly. I have my citizenship card.
I spent about a year living and working in Manhattan and I thought it was the most incredible city on the planet.
I’ve never even thought about leaving since I’ve been here.
Do you think the New York City influences your writing?
I think that the Book of Paul, in some sense, is a love story for the “back-in-the-day” version of Alphabet City and the East Village when it was really kind of like the Wild West. New York, since I’ve lived here, has changed radically. It was a filthy, scary place when I first came here. And because I didn’t have any money, I lived in the cheapest part of town and that was really scary. Hence the haunted house feel of Paul’s apartment.
Let’s talk about The Book of Paul. I discovered you on a podcast you were doing with a mutual friend [book blogger & editor, Katy Sozaeva] and The Book of Paul really intrigued me. It’s the type of stuff I write. And so when I saw the description and heard you talking about it, I had to check it out. I got about 10 pages in and realized right away that it was beautifully grotesque and I absolutely loved it. Can we talk more about the book?
Sure. Fire at will. [laughing]
There’s a reader segment that doesn’t necessarily read book descriptions, then they read the book, and they say things like, “Oh my gosh! This is horribly graphic, and it’s gory, and it’s grotesque, and there’s torture.” How do you respond to that?
Well…read the description. It drives me crazy. I got a one star review from someone that said, “I read three pages and it was just so horrible I put it down.” It’s like, do you understand the concept of a horror story? It’s supposed to be horrible. It’s supposed to scare you. Has there ever been any great horror story that wasn’t gross? That wasn’t gory? I’ve been a horror fan my whole life and I can’t recall of any…some people are…not very bright.
A lot of horror is horror for the sake of violence and clearly that’s not what The Book of Paul is about. The horror serves a purpose. The violence serves a purpose. The element that I love that you’ve incorporated into your storytelling has to do with science, astrophysics, alternate realities, etc. I’m really interested in talking to you about the singularity and M theory. I have read a lot of Michio Kaiku and used his theories as the basis for some of my books [The Portal Arcane series]. So what role does that element play in your books, in your writing?
It’s an overwhelming theme in all the work I do and in my life, in general. I’m a science nut. I’ve read a lot of science magazines and science books. When I was young the two things that interested me the most were science and mythology. I liked all the stories of the Greek gods and Egyptian gods and all that stuff, magical, mystical, monsters and aliens. And I love science, the factual part of it, which I thought was every bit as weird as the mythology, and I still do. Even more so.
The more you learn about science the more you understand that everything that we take so for granted as “normal” is incredibly bizarre. As scientific research progresses, it’s getting stranger and stranger. You read any science article that comes out about consciousness or neurology and you discover that scientists still don’t have a clue what consciousness is. It’s still one of the greatest mysteries in science, and even physics, and there are a lot of big name physicists that spend a lot of their time thinking about consciousness. There are quantum theories of consciousness. It’s so bizarre that there’s plenty of material to draw from.
One of the things I wanted to accomplish with The Book of Paul and one of the most difficult parts in marketing it was that I really wanted to cover five, six, seven, different genres at once in there. It’s like the blurb Stephen King gave me, “Richard Long combines a bag full of genres…” But that was deliberate. I really wanted to have this kind of Elmore Leonard, pulp crime element in it, a science fiction element in it. I was having a lot of fun, obviously.
The arrangement of The Book of Paul and the style is really engaging and I think you called it the “cinematic” approach. Could you explain to the casual reader what you meant be that and talk about how the book is structured?
Before I wrote this book I had written poetry, and some short forms, but I had never written in the long form. I had been an avid reader. Dostoyevsky was one of my favorites. So when I thought about writing a novel, I’m saying to myself, “You could never write like that.” Fortunately, there was a little voice in my head that said, “You don’t have to write like Dostoyevsky you just have to write like you.” I gave myself permission to write exactly how I wanted. And the other thing I said was, “Only write exactly what you want.” That cut out a lot bullshit. I kept narrative description to an absolute minimum. I really wanted to project the reader into the story, not paint much of a picture of the surroundings but just enough to get you in there where you get a sense of it, emotionally, psychically or whatever, and let the reader fill in the blanks. Make it more collaborative. I’m trying to put you inside the characters so you’re experiencing what they’re experiencing.
When I write, it’s kind of like dreaming. I’ll be walking, or thinking, or sitting, or typing and I’m in a daydream and I hear the people talk, I listen to them talk, and I take dictation. As far as the cinematic quality goes, you’re dealing with a number of different plot threads you really have to orchestrate it. I’m a big movie fan. I love the pacing you can achieve in a good thriller film, and I wanted to cut between the characters in such a way that I built up a lot of tension. It cuts back and forth fairly quickly. The chapters aren’t very long until you get into William’s journals.
I found that lack of narrative description unique because it forces you to really connect with the characters whether you love them or not. I found myself going back and forth throughout the book; liking Paul, hating Paul, pitying him, feeling sorry for him, and sometimes, even rooting for him. I have to assume that’s by design.
Any good thriller or horror book is only as good as the villain. When I read books that have a really shitty villain who has very little “screen time,” if you will, there is so little dramatic tension. If the protagonist has to overcome really dramatic obstacles, you’ve got to have a great antagonist. Otherwise…big deal. I wanted to create the best villain I possibly could. I wanted to see if I could make a classic villain. Any classic villain that’s good, you’re rooting for them on some level.
Like Breaking Bad. As the series wraps up and Walter White become more and more evil, there’s still a part of me that doesn’t want him to get caught. That makes me question myself and that’s what I want the reader to experience. I want the reader to say, “What the hell? What’s inside of me that I’m rooting for this bad guy to get away with it? That’s awful, I’m awful.”
I thought Rose was one of the most intriguing characters. I just could not quite put my finger on her as far as her motivations and her role in all of this. Are these characters going to appear again and are you going to expand on them? This is only the first book, right? You have six more lined up after this?
All the characters that appear in this one are going to be marching forward plus many new ones. There’s an awful lot of new ones.
Do you have a time frame for those books?
No. I just finished my YA book called, The Dream Palace, and it’s with a couple of agents right now. I’d like to go the traditional route with that.
We’ll see what happens. If it does go that way and I get a deal, it won’t be published for a while. I’m sure everyone will have their editing suggestions. For The Book of Paul, I’ve written well over a thousand pages, unpublished so far. There are various prequels and sequels, stuff like that. It’s like a quilt.
You’re not at the bottom of the mountain looking up. You have a volume of work in progress that you’re going to pick from.
Yes, there’s a lot of stuff.
Is the YA title going to be released under your name or are you going to use a different pen name for that?
I think I might use a different pen name because The Book of Paul is so adult. When I started it, I didn’t have children. When I had children, I said, “I’d like to write something that they can read before they turn eighteen.” So, I started The Dream Palace. I have an autistic daughter who is now eleven years old and The Dream Palace, in some degree, was my way of processing what it means to have a child with an alternate neurology; what your expectations are, what you are told. When we got the diagnosis of autism I didn’t know shit about it. I didn’t know anything. You’re told this is a tragedy, that it’s an awful thing. Many tears are shed and in the years that have passed I have come to realize that there are all kinds of wonderful things about that type of neurology. So anyway, there’s a part of it that’s a journey into that world, through the dream world. It started one time when my daughter was asleep, she was probably two or three years old at the time and she couldn’t speak much at all. She woke up from a dream and she spoke to me in a full sentence.
It made me wonder, “In her dreams is it easy for her to talk?” Interestingly enough, when I went to an Autism conference recently and met a number of nonverbal autistics and had the opportunity to ask a few people that question, they said, “Yes.” They can talk in their dreams. They also said, it was easy. And, they look forward to dreaming. That’s by no means a survey. It was only few people I asked but it was very exciting for me.
It’s not unlike the people that have a head trauma and then they wake up out of a coma and they can speak four languages that they never spoke before, right?
It’s that concept, yes.
Tell me about the Kickstarter campaign and the book trailer you’re doing for The Book of Paul.
I worked in advertising for a long time. I directed and wrote a number of television commercials and radio commercials so I had experience doing that kind of thing. When I first self-published people were saying, “Oh, you’ve gotta do a book trailer.” So, I looked at some of the book trailers, and I was like, “I’m not going to put out squirrely shit like this!” Just still pictures and type scrolls and stuff.
So being the nut that I am, I came up with the idea to make a book trailer like a movie trailer as if the movie’s already been made and you’re seeing the preview for it. It was a fun idea so I cast it and at first I had confined the action to what could be a one day shoot. I wanted a cool, moody piece, and then the director of photography I was working with, Sergei Wilson—he’s really talented he read the book and he said, “Man, you’ve got too much wild shit here to not show more scenes from it.” I didn’t really have the money to do that. All the cast had volunteered to do it, not for pay…for their reels. But just the production costs: camera and lighting rental, sets, props, all of that stuff costs a lot. So, I raised about $3,500 for it on Kickstarter, but that was about half the cost as it turned out. I’m editing it right now and I’m shooting for a Halloween release.
It was all shot on digital then, I would assume?
Yes. High-end RED cameras.
What are you using to edit?
I use Final Cut Pro 7. I’m doing the rough cut myself so I can sift through everything and take out the best cuts. I’m just doing straight cuts. Then I’ll work with an editor who’s very, very, accomplished and he’ll do the polish on it.
What’s your hope for that trailer? I think trailers are one of those things that authors do and they’re not really sure why.
I’m pretty clear. I want to get a movie deal or a TV deal. I think that The Book of Paul would be an awesome HBO, Showtime or AMC series. It’s a big story. You’ve read the book. Can you really cover that effectively in two hours? What do you think?
You’d lose a lot. You’d have to cut a lot. It’s not that I wouldn’t want to see it in a movie and I think you could. But I’ve really gotten into watching serialized television. There are a lot of shows that I watch and I love. We’re in the so-called “golden age of television” and I think that’s really true. So my hope is to get a TV deal for it.
Could that include something like a Netflix-only serial?
There are a number of great outlets right now. The networks are doing great continuing dramas. Lost was a big pioneer. So was Dallas! With The Book of Paul, it’s so adult that it either has to be HBO, Showtime; maybe AMC. Netflix is a great new outlet and Amazon too.
Almost every other day I come across an article that says that erotica is the hot genre [pun intended] right now and that horror is dead. Horror sales are down and no one wants to read horror. How do you respond to that?
The topic of one of my radio shows was “What is a thriller?” and we had a big conversation about horror books being reclassified as thrillers. The horror label became a pariah for traditional publishers, so they decided “Let’s put everything under thrillers and fantasies.” If you look in the fantasy section of Barnes and Noble you’ll see all these horror books there because everybody is terrified of horror. Yet, when I started doing social networking, I met tons and tons of horror lovers out there. All these horror movies are so successful, too. I think it’s just another example of the publishing industry being out of touch with what people really want. You can’t have all these people paying to see blockbuster horror movies if they don’t also want to read horror books. But that’s they’re call, I guess. That’s the way that they’re categorizing stuff. Still, there are so many hard-core horror fans. Go to Twitter and put “horror” in the search engine and you’ll get a million hits.
There are a lot of fans of horror out there.
And they probably won’t stop reading your horror book after three pages.
Probably not! [laughing]
“So horrible!!! Nasty!”
Do you read your reviews?
I think I’m like most artists. Confident and insecure. When I get a 5-star review that’ll stay with me for a little while, but when I get a 1-star review that’ll stay with me a lot longer. People have been telling me that there are a lot of authors out there who get jealous of your work and then trash you with lousy reviews. I thought I was being paranoid until I got one recently that was so mean-spirited, and, it was the only review she had ever done. It just made me wonder, “What axe do you have to grind?” So yeah, I read everything and I’m way too sensitive. That’s a problem.
One of the things that these people giving 1 or 2-star reviews when they haven’t read the book, what they don’t realize is they’re really, really, hurting the author. You can’t get on BookBub unless you‘ve got a high-star average for reviews. It’s the most effective way for independent authors to get their work in front of a lot people. And so, you’re really hurting indie authors. It hurts traditionally published authors too but it’s they have other marketing avenues available to them. It really hurts an indie that’s doing all the marketing work themselves.
However, I have faith in readers. I think they see through the bullshit and when they see a one-star review with someone that says, “I couldn’t get into this book,” and then they’re reviewing it; I think readers see through that. As we close the conversation, is there anything you want to say to people who might be finding you for the first time through this blog post?
In a lot of reviews I get “not for the faint of heart.” There are some rough parts in The Book of Paul but the violence isn’t gratuitous and very little violence in the book is actually described. A lot happens “off camera.” So the readers are the ones creating the more precise images in their minds. I think fans of horror, thrillers, mystery, mythology, Dan Brown, Tarantino, pulp fiction, erotica—they’ll all like elements of it. There’s something in there for everyone. It’s a roller coaster. A wild ride.
It is. And it’s punctuated very cleverly with great dark humor and I think that that carries the story through as well.
Yes. The Irish. [laughing]
Absolutely. I really appreciate your time.
Thanks. I really appreciate you taking the time and your interest and support.
The Book of Paul on Amazon - http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0088QYXGA
Official - http://www.thebookofpaul.com/
Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/RichardLongAuthor
Twitter - https://twitter.com/RichardLongNYC