Back in 1999, a crime novel with a supernatural element to it was published to great fanfare. The book, Every Dead Thing by Irish-born author John Connolly, won several awards and introduced mystery/horror genre readers to former NYC cop Charlie “Bird” Parker, who recently lost his wife and daughter to a brutal murder. On the hunt for revenge, Parker goes on a pilgrimage that will take him to the swamps of Louisiana to meet a woman who can speak with the dead and, ultimately, to a serial killer unlike any Parker has ever seen. Every Dead Thing was the first of eight, so far, Charlie Parker novels, and if you have not read Connolly’s work, you are REALLY missing out. He also published a collection of short stories and novellas entitled Nocturnes, in which are quite a few stories that you cannot help but classify as horror.
With Connolly’s latest short story, “A Haunting”, set to be published in the newest Dark Delicacies III – Haunted, Dread Central had a chat with this prolific and incredibly talented writer about his opinion regarding what genre he considers to be the one he primarily writes in as well as what’s next for Charlie Parker.
DC: Hello, John, and thank you for participating in this Dark Delicacies interview-a-thon. How did you come to be included in this latest anthology? Many readers don’t immediately associate you with horror.
JC: It was simply a matter of an email being sent asking me if I was interested in contributing. I get asked to do a lot of short story anthologies but very rarely say yes, simply because I don’t write a lot of short stories. Generally, what happens is that I’ll have an idea for a story in my head, and it will stay there until someone comes along and says, “I’m putting together a book on hauntings/zombies/the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. What do you think?” Those just happen to have been the recent requests that kind of fitted stories that were either in my head or had actually been written. But I’ve only written four short stories since the Nocturnes collection, and that was published in 2004. Like I said, I don’t tend to write very many. I’m a slow worker, to be honest, and I usually find it difficult enough to concentrate on whatever novel I’m writing at the time.
DC: Your story, “A Haunting”, is a very poignant tale and, of the stories I have read so far, the most fitting for the subtitle of Dark Delicacies III: Haunted. I’m sure you are asked this all of the time, but being from Ireland, do you think the Irish literary tradition plays a strong role in your work? I haven’t felt it as much in your Charlie “Bird” Parker novels although Charlie IS quite the tortured character.
JC: I’m a product of my society so in that sense I can’t escape it, but my books have always represented a reaction against that pervasive and, I felt, quite stifling Irish literary tradition. My influences are largely American and, when it comes to supernatural stories, British, although I kind of lose interest after M.R. James. I’m very old fashioned in my tastes when it comes to the supernatural. I generally read, and re-read, older ghost stories. Nevertheless, the fantasy tradition had, until the last century, played a large role in Irish literature, particularly when one looks at the great gothic novels: Maturin’s Melmoth the Wanderer, Le Fanu’s Uncle Silas, Stoker’s Dracula, and Wilde’s The Picture Of Dorian Gray. In that sense, I’m happy to be influenced by my Irish forebears.
DC: How did your story come into being? Was it influenced by a true event?
JC: Actually, “A Haunting” had an odd gestation. It was originally due to be part of an anthology called Turndown Tales. The idea was that a book of short stories would be left in the rooms of a leading hotel chain, alongside Gideon bibles, I suppose. Unfortunately, the project ground to a halt when it was felt that most of the stories, including mine, were unsuitable due to their immoral content as they included, or implied, sex. I was simultaneously baffled, bemused, and, curiously, a little angry. I couldn’t speak for the other writers, because I hadn’t read their stories, but “A Haunting” is about love and bereavement. Very odd. I don’t think I’ve stayed in the chain’s hotels since … I wouldn’t want to corrupt them.
After that, I just set the story aside. I was very fond of it, and I wanted it to have the right home. When Del [Howison] and Jeff [Gelb] (the book’s editors) approached me, it seemed like Haunted was the right place for this little story to be. It’s not influenced by any event as such, but I suppose like most people I’ve experienced a degree of loss, and I’m curious about my responses to it. I’ve also fallen in and out of love, but I’m very fortunate to be with the person I am with now. That can lead, in darker moments, to wondering what life might be like without her.
DC: Have you read any of the contributions of your fellow authors? Do any of them resonate with you?
JC: I haven’t actually seen the finished anthology yet, and I haven’t even seen proofs of the other writers’ stories. I’ve read some of their work in novel form, though, and I’m in good company, I feel.
DC: There has been a debate amongst the “horror literati” about whether you should be classified as a horror writer or not. And as evidence, your short story collection Nocturnes was mentioned. Just reading the synopsis on the back, I would consider this horror. How do you classify yourself as a writer?
JC: Oh, a friend of mine sent me a link to the Dark Delicacies forum, and I read some of the posts. They made me smile. I think what got some people’s backs up was the fact that I said I “wasn’t really a horror writer”, and I don’t think that I am. I’m really curious about the genre, and Nocturnes was an attempt to engage with it, as was, to a degree, Bad Men, but I suppose I think of myself as a mystery writer, and I use that term in the broadest possible sense. I’m probably best known, if I’m known for anything, for the Parker books, and they’re very much mystery novels, although they take a Catholic view of what that might entail. I am interested in creating hybrids, of taking what I feel are the similar roots of a certain type of mystery fiction and a certain type of supernatural fiction and combining them in a new form, but the emphasis is on the crime side, I think.
I actually get very defensive about this because I get it in the neck from the conservatives in mystery fiction, who believe metaphysics and any element of the supernatural have no place in the genre and would very much like to see me excluded from it. They want to keep mystery fiction set in aspic somewhere between the birth of Sherlock Holmes and the death of Poirot, and I suspect they’d like nothing better than for me to put my hands up and say, “Okay, I am a horror writer. I’ve been lying to myself all this time, and I’m sorry.” But if I do that, they win, and I don’t believe that what I write is NOT mystery fiction. Similarly, there comes a pressure from elements of the horror community to set aside the crime elements of the novels and come out of some imagined closet. Then, when I write a book like The Book of Lost Things, or The Gates, I get asked if I’m a literary writer, or a fantasy writer, or a children’s writer. This urge to categorize is depressing. I mean, I can understand it when it comes to organizing bookstores, but not when it comes from one’s fellow writers. I’m a genre writer, but all writers, ultimately, are genre writers. I didn’t realize that I had to pick a team!
DC: How would you define “haunted” as it pertains to this anthology?
JC: A lingering memory, but then I can only define it according to my own story.
DC: What is your opinion on the state of horror today – both literary and cinematic?
JC: Heck, I don’t want to show my ignorance too much, but like I said, I’m very old fashioned, and I don’t read as much modern horror as perhaps I should. In literary terms, I like Joe Hill’s work, just as I like his dad’s. Perhaps my involvement in this anthology will open my eyes. As for cinema, oddly I love horror movies, but I’m not a fan of “torture porn”, so Hostel, Saw, and their ilk leave me cold. Guillermo del Toro is wonderful, and most of the really interesting horror stuff seems to me to be coming from Europe, not America. I did rather like The Burrowers, though, which went straight to DVD here. That was a clever little low budget horror movie.
DC: What are some of your favorite horror books? And films?
JC: In film, I love John Carpenter’s The Thing, which I’d classify as horror rather than sci-fi, although it covers both bases. Pan’s Labyrinth is wonderful, but I know there are those who would classify it as fantasy, which I think is probably incorrect, or limiting, given its backdrop of the horrors of the Spanish Civil War, and del Toro’s previous form in that area with The Devil’s Backbone. Actually, it would be a very long list of horror films, but quite a short list of horror novels, as I think that the short story is the form that is perhaps better suited to the genre.
DC: I know fans like myself eagerly await the next Charlie Parker book (The Lovers: A Thriller was the latest). Will we be seeing more and more of Charlie in the coming years?
JC: I’m currently working on a book called The Whisperers, which will be the next Parker novel, but there will be a break after that. I still have the urge to experiment with other forms; Nocturnes, The Book of Lost Things, and The Gates have all been written out of contract, as I think it’s unfair to ask a publisher to pay in advance for something that might not conform to their expectations. Actually, some of the Parker novels have been written out of contract as well, I seem to recall. That gives me a certain amount of freedom to play around with ideas, although with an element of risk – financial or otherwise – if they don’t work out.
DC: Is there anything you would like to add that I have not covered?
JC: Not really, apart from the fact that I’m not a genre snob! Seriously.
DC: Thank you so much for your time, John. And keep those books and stories coming.
Order your copy of Dark Delicacies III: Haunted from EvilShop below, and stay tuned for more interviews with the other authors who contributed including Mick Garris, Victor Salva, and more!
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