Author, Thom Erb graciously took time to answer questions about the characters, and inspiration behind his latest zombie horror/thriller, Heaven, Hell, or Houston- an Eternal Flame Tale.
Heaven, Hell, or Houston- an Eternal Flame Tale is available NOW from Severed Press, Amazon and major online booksellers.
What is the first line from Heaven, Hell, or Houston- An Eternal Flame Tale?
The Voice shouted, implored in Isandro Dianira’s twisted mind. Inmate #926934 smiled and reveled in the prison guard’s warm blood running over his scarred and calloused hands.
What inspired Heaven, Hell, or Houston- An Eternal Flame Tale?
There were many points of inspiration for HOUSTON. I’m a HUGE Jonathan Maberry, Joe Lansdale, Joe McKinney fan and was going through withdrawals of one of the best shows on television, JUSTIFIED. I’ve read several Elmore Leonard novels and really wanted to write my own story that had everything that I dig about the talented writer’s I just mentioned. That, and I love zombies, so, my wacky mindset to work on stewing something up. Well, I’d written a zombie novel a few years back and it was set in the 1980’s and took place in upstate New York. But, I wanted to expand that universe so I set it in my favorite state, Texas. Then came the obvious choice, (well to me anyway) the main character should be a Texas Ranger with anger issues and a strong penchant for the drink. I wanted to tie it into the other novel and that universe in case I published it so I added a teenage runaway from upstate New York. The rest of the story grew organically. I always create a song list or soundtrack to each writing project and for HOUSTON, it was Dean Martin’s Houston and then tons of songs by the ZZ Top. It doesn’t get much more Texan that now does it? With ZZ top, came the title, Heaven, Hell, or Houston and it was spot on, perfect.
Three words to describe your writing?
Intense, Honest, Personal.
Which part of Heaven, Hell, or Houston- An Eternal Flame Tale challenged you the most?
Finishing any novel is to quote the great Stephen King, “Like crossing the Atlantic Ocean in a bathtub.” An arduous task filled with self-doubt and trepidation, but the hardest part was writing a zombie story that wasn’t a zombie story. Folks are starting to get tired of the shambling masses and I wanted to write something that had those groovy flesh eaters, but not the same old braiiiinnnns version. So, I spent a lot of time developing an origin story that was a bit off from the usual zombie fare.
Which of Heaven, Hell, or Houston- An Eternal Flame Tale characters do you most identify with?
I’d like to think all of them in different ways. As with most of my characters and stories, they all come from within and just through the sheer natural act of osmosis, they all are me. Well, at least in some fraction of a way. Texas Ranger, Jay McCutcheon is that inner rage side of me. That guy who struggles with his inner demons, but wants nothing more to listen to his better angels. It’s a constant battle to see who wins out.
Stacy Jo has deep father issues and I’ve had my own battles with my dad. So, I firmly believe that your real life always finds its way into your writing. Whether you like it or not.
What did you learn about yourself as a writer while working on Heaven, Hell, or Houston- An Eternal Flame Tale?
The importance of telling the truth with my fiction. I did write some truly violent scenes that have upset some readers and while I did hesitate for a second and thought about changing things, I ultimately chose to stick with my gut instinct. These are very, very bad, evil and vile people and they would do those nasty things. After all, that’s what makes them the bad guys…Right?
What elements make for good horror fiction?
The most important element, to me, would be three-dimensional, believable characters you can cheer on. If you have an intricate, suspenseful plot, but the reader doesn’t give two hoots about the protagonist, then it’s all for nothing. Secondly, a good horror tale must have high stakes that are threatened by fear and terror. That could be anything from zombies to a murderous psychopath wielding an ax, to Cthulu-esque kaiju destroying the heroine’s city.
You also need to have a well-paced story that builds up the tension and keeps the reader turning the pages needing to know what happens next.
What are your thoughts on genre blending in works of fiction?
I strongly believe that every good story holds many different genres within it. In my novel, Heaven, Hell, or Houston, I combine horror, zombie apocalypse with a modern weird western with retro noir, thriller. I also feel that when crafting believable characters, you have to use various genres to show who they are and what makes them tick. You can accomplish this by having a romantic interest or using love for someone as a tool to provide more intense pacing and raising the stakes for the characters. Good stories don’t live in a singular genre vacuum. There are plenty of other elements that make up a kick arse novel. Horror, or dark fiction as I like to call it can easily consist of romance, science fiction, western, fantasy/urban fantasy and so on. As an old martial art instruction book read, “Absorb what it useful.” and that’s what I do with my fiction.
Where can we find you and your work online?
I’m everywhere, spreading the Erbal word of the ERBAL NATION:
1. Favorite horror writer? Man, that’s like listing my favorite band, or comic artist, or drummer. Hmmm. I’d through Brian Keene at the top, along with Stephen King, of course.
2. Favorite movie? Too hard to pin down. There’re so many genres to take into consideration. I’m a huge Tarantino, Mel Brooks, Monty Python, Aaron Sorkin, Oliver Stone, John Carpenter fan. We can go from there.
3. What scares you? Damn spiders and all things creepy crawly. And cemeteries still freak me out.
4. What’s one word you overuse? Genius and maybe, hero.
5. Favorite place to write? In my Studio. It’s the converted third bay of our garage that was a gift from my amazing wife when I received my Master’s degree in education. It has all the Erbal amenities needed for brilliant creation; computer, Sirius radio, PA system, books, drums, comfy chair, the works.
6. Title of your first published work? “Cutting Class” A dark, sad short story about a sickly elementary school boy who’d grown tired of all the mean bullies in his school. Including his evil gym teacher.
7. What book do you wish you wrote? Anthem- Ayn Rand. Or…The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac. The Hobbit.
8. Favorite color? Orange and usually it’s accompanied with black.
9. What are you currently reading? Two books actually. Jonathan Maberry’s Middle-Grade novel, The Nightsiders. Great, fun story. And Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane. I’ve just recently discovered his work and all I can say, is that I’m in love.
10. Coffee or tea? Tea. While I absolutely love the smell of coffee, to me, it tastes like the bottom of a wet ashtray. Sorry, all you coffee-loving folks.
11. Beer or wine? Beer all the way. Hey, I’m Irish and German, what can I say? A nice IPA is always a good choice. On occasion, a little Irish Whiskey is nice as well. Usually to celebrate the completion of a book.