Ralph Bieber is the author of the novel Ashes and the Horror anthology Sweet Nightmares; here is a link to his Twitter page:
Q: What made you want to become a writer?
A: Before 1997, I never had aspirations of becoming a professional writer. That year I met a former English Lit major online and began chatting. Do you remember chat rooms?
This Temple University graduate turned out to be Holly Newstein, who asked me to take a look at a short story she had written, and give her a critique. I had a liberal arts background, but was never a wiz in English class. Music was my area of expertise. Nonetheless, I agreed to have a look. The story was a Sci-Fi tale in the world of Star Trek, and was to be submitted to Simon and Schuster for a short story contest. We had previously discussed our mutual love for all things Star Trek, so I did my first literary critique.
During the time we were waiting to hear from Simon and Schuster, I remembered an episode from the original Star Trek series in which a handful of Federation officers and a few Klingons were trapped on the Enterprise by an evil entity who fed on hatred and destruction. This premise became the central theme for Out Of the Light (later titled Ashes). Thank you, Gene Roddenberry.
When it returned from New York, the Star Trek story was very dog-eared, but didn’t win publication. Holly & I were disappointed, of course, but the plot for our first novel was already in the planning stage. Out Of the Light was “in the can” approximately fifteen months later.
Q: Why Horror?
A: Since childhood I’ve loved the horror genre. I had all of the Universal Monster Revell models lined up on a shelf in my bedroom. I would watch The Twilight Zone, Dr. Shock, Creature Double Feature, and Night Gallery without fail. I still love the classic Christopher Lee Dracula films, Godzilla, Nosferatu, Jaws, and the Universal Monster movies. The truth be told, I still have some of those models in my office today. The classics are the foundation on which all future imaginings are built. As for horror fiction, I think the possibilities are limitless. As in any aesthetic, the boundaries of acceptability are always being pushed. There will always be a market for dark literature that pushes the envelope of human feelings.
Q: What is Ashes about?
A: The story begins in Honduras where a team of university archeologists unearth an ancient Mayan entity that possesses a host body, and feeds on death and chaos. Through a series of events, the entity finds it’s way to a small south-central Pennsylvania town called Aronston, leaving behind only the ashes of it’s victims. Aronston has a dark history, and the entity finds a kindred spirit in Roger Philips, a disgruntled and displaced employee of the town’s largest industry. As Roger seeks revenge on those who have hurt him, the town is preparing an anniversary celebration. The local theater group decides to convert a section of the town back to the way it looked in colonial days, and hold their play outdoors. While the renovations are being made, the oldest living resident watches from the top floor of the assisted living facility where he lives. He shares his knowledge of the town’s dark history with his granddaughter, and becomes more agitated and frightened as his story and the town’s conversion progresses. We learn that the town’s founder had a son who horribly beat his wife, and in turn, her brothers killed him. The brothers were hung in the town square in a media circus. What the old man doesn’t know is that Roger Phillips is a direct descendant of the wife-beater, and the closer the town square gets to completion, the stronger Roger becomes. Q: How did you go about getting it published?
A: Out Of the Light (the original title) was originally marketed to e Book publishers, and was picked up quickly by ebooksonthenet.com. Unfortunately, at that time e Books were in their infancy, and just a few copies sold. The lackluster sales prompted us to seek a venue for print copies. Xlibris was the print-on-demand press that we selected. At that time Holly and I both had families with young children, so a no-frills print-on-demand trade paperback was the route we took. We began selling copies to our friends and families, and managed to arrange some local book signings. I should mention at this point that print-on-demand was also in its infancy, and we were extremely fortunate. We got to have all the fun and cachet of being early adopters of publishing technologies that now dominate the market. Back then, self publishing was frowned upon by the industry, unlike today. Through networking with other writers in our area we learned of the Horror Writer’s Organization with a Baltimore chapter and a yearly horror convention in the Baltimore area. Holly and I became involved with both, and became friends with some very good established and up-and-coming writers. Horror writers as a breed are generous and encouraging folks, and these writers appreciated our book for its quality. The book was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award in 2001 in the Best First Novel category, and was voted all the way into the semi finals. In 2004 a copy of Out Of the Light found its way onto the desk of an editor at Penguin, and the contract for the mass market paperback was offered through Berkley Press. The publisher required a change in title and a pseudonym as the book was previously published. The title became Ashes, and the pen name we selected was H.R. Howland.. Ashes is now available for download on Amazon, brought to you by my friends at Crossroads Press. Q: What kind of day jobs have you had and how do they influence your writing?
A: I wear many hats, actually. I was a professional musician for thirty years. I’ve worked in customer service for both private industry and government for many years. And, as an entrepreneur, I’ve been a part of launching three businesses. Sweet Nightmares was the second company that I launched, first as a corporation and now as a sole proprietorship. The original business plan was for an independent book store and coffee shop. As it turned out, the company is now solely for my writing endeavors. The employment situation that I’ve used the most is the private sector customer service engagement. That was used in Ashes as well as my new screenplay, Fire and Water. Q: Who are some of your wring influences?
A: I am a firm believer in cross-genre reading. Looking back, I now understand how Earl Stanley Gardner, Ian Flemming, Sidney Sheldon, Louis L’Amour, Kurt Vonnegut, Peter Benchley, and John Jakes influenced me without my realizing it. Involuntary learning. Who could have imagined? Certainly not my English Comp teachers! Today, the non-horror authors I read include Jeff Shaara, John Irving, Lee Child, Harlan Coben, and Clive Cussler. For all of you writers out there, if you ever want to feel humbled by your story-telling skills, just pick up anything by John Irving. The first horror novel I ever read was Floating Dragon by Peter Straub. Shortly thereafter, I picked up a copy of Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot, and I was forever hooked on horror fiction. If any horror author ever says that they haven’t been influenced by King, they’re creating fiction. In this business we all need help from mentors who can guide the way. For me, that person was Brian Keene. That’s right; the zombie guy! I still consider Brian one of my best friends in the genre. In the beginning he was always there with advice, words of encouragement, and useful industry news. We shared many a signing table, as well as attending each others book signings. I would be remiss if I didn’t again mention my coauthor of many stories, Holly Newstein. As I mentioned earlier, our methods of getting where we are today were successful, albeit unorthodox. Lastly, I want to recommend some other friends of mine who should be influences to any aspiring horror writer. Neil Gaiman, Dan Simmons, David Morrell, Jonathan Maberry, J.F. Gonzalez, Rick Hautala, Christopher Golden, F. Paul Wilson, Jack Ketchum, Tom Piccirilli, Richard Laymon, Thomas F. Monteleone, Chet Williamson, Gord Rollo, Ray Garton, Nate Kenyon, Gene O’Neill, and Joe Hill. What are you waiting for? Run to the bookstore! Q: Why do you think horror is such a popular genre?
A: That’s easy. People want to escape from their version of reality into a world that is far worse than their experience so their problems seem less complicated. Q: What is the central theme of Sweet Nightmares?
A: There is no central theme in Sweet Nightmares. The collection contains ghosts, sea monsters, living tattoos, dead gunslingers, fictional characters coming to life, an alternate ending for Ashes, and even a love story with a twisted ending. Some of the stories tie into each other. A nice trick I learned from Stephen King. I really enjoy doing that because it allows my the option of revisiting locations like Aronston. We also revisit two locations from The Epicure; Upper Darby, Pennsylvania and Sea Isle City, New Jersey. The Epicure is available for download at NEConebooks.com. Sweet Nightmares is available for download at Amazon.
Please note; Eliza’s interviews are done by email. All answers are unedited and come right from the lovely fingertips of her subjects:)