Carnell Talks No Flesh Shall Be Spared
Seeking publication in today's advertisement saturated industry can be a bit like wandering into the zombie apocalypse: impossible odds, a sense of isolation, and at times it feels like everyone actually making it out there is in serious need of "braaaaaaaaaiiiiinssss."
It's an upstream swim without a doubt. But author Thom Carnell (who is a longtime contributor to both FANGORIA Magazine and the DREAD CENTRAL site as well as a once upon a time co-creator and writer for the much revered CARPE NOCTEM Magazine) is tackling both at the same time with his first novel, NO FLESH SHALL BE SPARED (review here). Fueled by zombie-bashing carnage, the novel was released in time for Halloween of 2010.
Carnell: It's really a nod to my family. So much of what I do involves my wife, Catia, my son, Jhustin, and my daughter, Shae. I mean, they sit through the conceptual stage, the writing, the editing, the research… the doubt. They listen through the long hours of me talking about ideas to see if they make sense. For NFSBS, my son (who works in the gaming industry) was integral in formulating the dynamics of the matches, the timing, the layout of The Pit, the mechanics of how the game worked and the best way to make the presentation visually interesting. On one or more occasion, each of them has acted as stand-in for the laying out of the fight scenes. It was literally, “Stand here. Lift your arms up. Reach out for me. Try to grab me.” They made it possible for it to not only make sense in my head, but also that it made sense physically. Every punch, every kick, every dynamic was worked out and made plausible due to their involvement.
Now, my wife has always been much better than I am when it comes to grammar and punctuation and the mechanics of writing, so she reads everything in order to keep me honest in that respect. She’s also my barometer as to whether something is over the line or not. I’ve written things that I thought were absolutely hilarious, but she’s handed them back to me saying, “Dude… really?!? This is disgusting.” One story (called STIFFLICKER – ’nuff said, right?) in particular is so utterly offensive that I doubt it will ever be published. I mean, this thing makes A SERBIAN FILM look like THE ADVENTURE OF MILO AND OTIS. [laughs] One Beta Reader called it “a delightful little trip down the drain.” So, she keeps me grounded and stops me when I go too far afield (which happens a lot). She’ll also hand me back stories or articles with a gentle, “You weren’t feeling this.” I know that, while I thought it was ok when I first wrote it, my heart really wasn’t into it and the thing should be rewritten. I trust her judgment in such things because, if I were to left to my own devices, it could get ugly… really ugly.
So… given all of that, I thought it was only fair that I sort of share the writing credit with them even if only in this token way. There has been some confusion in the marketplace so we may change that to my given name just to make things clear, but… this is and will remain a group effort. I couldn’t do this without the help of my wife and kids.
DC: The zombie apocalypse theme is a pretty popular one, in a variety of media. Something about those dead people really grabs audiences. What drew you to that as a writer?
Carnell: The thread of logic is pretty evident when you take into consideration my background. I grew up as a huge fan of horror films and particularly a guy named Bob Wilkins and his CREATURE FEATURES show which aired on KTVU Channel 2 from 1971 to 1978. Bob was a HUGE influence on me at a time when I was ripe for the influencing. I had the chance to interview Bob before he died and I am grateful that I got the chance to tell him how important he was to me. I told him that he was “more of a father to me than my own had been” (since my dad left us early on). I’m sure Bob thought I was being kind or hyperbolic… I wasn’t though. I was actually being very serious. Bob showed me that it was ok to be a horror fan and not be a weirdo like say, The Ghoul or Ghoulardi or most of the ‘schticky’ horror hosts of the day. I also read a lot of horror novels from a very early age. When I was young, there was no such thing as Young Adult horror or GOOSEBUMPS or whatever. I read a lot of classic adult writing even as a child like Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, Shirley Jackson, Bradbury, Bloch, Matheson… Then, Stephen King came along and rocked my teenage world. Then, Barker… Then, people like Skipp & Spector, Stewart O’Nan, Brian Hodge, David Schow, Edward Lee… and, most importantly, Joe R. Lansdale. To this day, I am a rabid Lansdale fan. Hey-soos, can that man write. He can scare the shit out of you and make you laugh all at the same time. Just amazing! So that was the horror piece of the puzzle.
DC: Any other influences?
Carnell: I started studying martial arts, military strategy, and Eastern philosophy when I was in my teens and that helped me understand the dynamics of physical altercations. Then, during the Eighties, I worked as a Jazz/New Age/Soundtrack buyer for Tower Records for a long time and after I got married and had kids, I left that job to attend the San Francisco College of Mortuary Science. That was something that affected me in a huge way and why certain chapters in the book like “Graveyard Shift” ring as true as they do. I went from a guy who was working at a record store, playing music, and generally just having a good time to someone who now was in a very extensive and concentrated field of study in which I had my nose rubbed into my own mortality each and every day. I mean, the classes there were intense and really concentrated. It was basically a two or three year course of study distilled down to a year. Yeah… very tough. While in school, I kept my job at Tower, but also worked in “Guest Relations” (aka bouncer) at a nightclub for a while. That experience gave me insight into “The Monkey Dance,” the foreplay for violence. You know… the chest poking and bravura leading up to two people throwin’ down. I was what they called “The Mouthpiece.” I did the talking (cutting someone off, telling them to settle down, telling them they had to leave) while four or five HUGE Samoan guys would stand near me as “motivators.” It was fun, especially when word got out I spent my days around dead people. The whole thing helped me understand the whys and wherefores of fighting, the inherent posturing and silliness of it all. Now, if you follow the bread crumbs, you have horror films and books, then martial arts, then music, and finally the whole funeral thing. Throw that all into a blender and NO FLESH SHALL BE SPARED is your result.
DC: Tell me about mortuary school.
Carnell: I graduated from The San Francisco College of Mortuary Science in 1991 with credentials as a Funeral Arranger/Director, an Embalmer, and a Certified Eye Enucleist (I’m licensed to remove dead people’s eyeballs for cornea transplants). I worked in the field on and off for about ten years and had some amazing experiences – both good and bad. I met some really inspirational people along the way and had the honor of serving a bunch of very nice families. During my time in that field, I saw some moments that will stay with me forever, moments of what I call “shimmering beauty” that touched me in a very deep way. I also sort of came to terms with a lot of stuff (Life, Death, Loss, Grief, etc) that I would never have if I hadn’t been in that field. I finally left due to… “philosophical differences” between me and the people I worked for. Basically, I felt that I was doing the job to help people at a time of their most significant need, to bring order out of chaos, if you will. My employers on the other hand… were business people. They wanted to make money, plain and simple. One day, I was called into the manager’s office and chastised for not “selling up” on a casket sale. In other words, instead of selling the person what they needed, I was supposed to sell them – at a minimum – a unit that was one level higher in price. I left the job a day or two later. But… I’m compelled to say that most of the people who are out there doing that gig, the ones who are doing it for all the right reasons, are amazing people. Truly exemplary human beings.