It’s such a treat to have Chris F. Holm on the blog today! He’s the author of the brand new Dead Harvest (out yesterday-feel free to read my review, we’ll be here when you get back), and frankly, one of the nicest guys in the biz (he snagged some of the coolest covers, too. Period.) He also graciously agreed to answer a few of my questions. I’m giving away a copy of Dead Harvest as well (because this one should be shared), and it’s INTERNATIONAL, so check out the details at the bottom of the post!
Please welcome Chris to the blog!
Chris, in your bio, it says you’ve wanted to write since the age of 6, and your stories have been widely published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, and more! When you found out you’d sold your first full length novel, Dead Harvest (out this month), how did you celebrate? Was there happy dancing? Squeeeing? Maybe cake? (I definitely would have happy danced.)
Not to ruin whatever tiny shred of pulp-writer cred I’ve got, but there was all of the above. (Except cake. I’m a pie guy all the way.) Truth is, I was at work when the call came. Cell reception in my building’s pretty spotty unless you’re near a window, and, a couple small conference rooms in the interior of the building aside, it’s cubicles as far as the eye can see. When I saw my agent’s name pop up on my caller ID, I knew good or bad I wanted some privacy, but I was terrified if I headed for a conference room I’d lose the call. So I did the only thing I could think of. I ran outside. In March. In Maine.
I stood in the freezing rain talking to Jennifer for damn near an hour without even realizing it – everything after “We got an offer” is a blur. I’m pretty sure I hooted and hollered and jumped up and down in full view of my coworkers, who were no doubt watching through the windows. I’d only been at the job a few months at that point, and hadn’t told many folks I was a writer (let alone that I was shopping a novel), so they must’ve thought I’d gone full-on crazy. I’m lucky Security didn’t escort me off the premises.
Can you tell us a little bit about Dead Harvest?
DEAD HARVEST is the first in a series of supernatural thrillers that filter the battle between heaven and hell through the lens of Golden Era crime pulp. Edgar Award-winning author and editor Charles Ardai called it “Jim Thompson meets John Milton,” and although I suspect that’s a tad hyperbolic, I’ll take it. The story centers around a man named Sam Thornton, who’s condemned to collect the souls of the damned for all eternity, and ensure they find their way to hell. Sam’s dispatched to collect the soul of a young girl who’s accused of slaughtering her family in cold blood, only he comes to believe she’s been set up. So he does something no Collector’s ever done before: he defies hell’s orders, and sets out to prove her innocence.
Dead Harvest’s sequel, The Wrong Goodbye, is coming up in November. Are there any plans for more in the series?
Absolutely. I envision the Collector books as an open-ended series. I’ve got a pretty good idea how the third installment will look, and some notes as to where to go from there. Personally, I’d be delighted to write two dozen of these books; the characters and the world they inhabit are a blast for me to visit, no matter how often I return. I only hope my audience agrees.
I’m a huge fan of mystery/noir mixed with the supernatural. What are some of your biggest influences in writing Dead Harvest and what kind of research did you do for the novel?
DEAD HARVEST wears its influences on its sleeve. Its title is taken from Dashiell Hammett’s pulp masterpiece RED HARVEST. My main character’s name is derived from Hammett’s first (Sam) and Raymond Chandler’s middle (Thornton). And the novel opens with a Dante quote; my conception of hell owes Dante a debt of gratitude.
As for research, I leaned heavily on religious texts, pulling elements not just from Judiasm and Christianity, but also Islam and Eastern faiths, as well as folk tales, paganism, and Mesoamerican myth. And I’m a nut for apocryphal texts – writings so damned weird, even the religions to which they seem to belong don’t know what to make of ‘em. I wanted to create a mythology that treated all the world’s religions as the result of a great game of telephone, the sum total of thousands of years’ worth of well-intentioned folks trying desperately to explain a vast, half-glimpsed cosmology that resists sense-making. We’re wired for survival, not understanding; some things are simply beyond our ken. I thought if I could tap into that notion, I might really have something.
What’s your most unusual writing quirk?
Well, there’s my tiara and smoking jacket, but every writer’s got those, right? No? Me neither.
Truthfully, I don’t think I have any, and that’s not just me blowing smoke. I asked my wife, who’s often reading or writing beside me on the couch, and she couldn’t come up with any, either. Usually, I write at home, and usually in the morning (so my constant, ridiculous bedhead might be a writing quirk), though neither of those are dealbreakers;
I’ve been known to hit a coffee shop or write evenings if I need to shake things up. I like to have a few research tabs open on my browser at all times (Google, Google Maps, Wikipedia, that sort of thing) but I try my damndest to avoid the siren song of email and social media. And I absolutely, positively, no-exceptions cannot write with music on, which is a bummer because I’m kind of a music geek.
Does music play a part in your writing, and if so, do you have a playlist to go along with Dead Harvest?
You know, I’ve long wondered what a DEAD HARVEST soundtrack would look like. Given that DEAD HARVEST is a spooky riff on the classic pulp tradition, its soundtrack would have to be be dark, bluesy, and a little creepy, but fun. One of these days, I’ll post a full-length playlist on my blog, but until then, here’s a few tracks I can guarantee would be on it:
No track conjures a smoky barroom for me more quickly than this one, and it features a deal with a demon to boot — one that sadly didn’t end well for Morphine’s late lead singer Mark Sandman. A fantastic song from one of my all-time favorite bands.
Joe Henry “Sold”
If my main character, Sam Thornton, has a theme song, this is it. Wise, witty, and world-weary, it is the song of a man who’s already bet it all and lost, a man resigned to the fate that awaits him. Sadly, the album track, which is slightly jazzier in its instrumentation, is unavailable on YouTube, but this live performance is nothing short of captivating.
Barry Adamson “The Big Bamboozle”
A good portion of DEAD HARVEST takes place in the 1940s, when my main character was still alive. This track is intended to evoke the big band sound of that period (in fact, I was tempted to list a Benny Goodman track instead, “Sing, Sing, Sing” perhaps, in the interest of verisimilitude) while carrying with it an undercurrent of the menace to come. Plus, the title’s got some resonance, given that my book is all about a giant supernatural frame-up.
Tricky “Hell is Round the Corner”
This song is both dark and beautiful, and its title rang in my head as I crafted my conception of hell as existing in parallel to our world, but unseen. Desperation and desolation never sounded so good.
The Blue Öyster Cult “Don’t Fear the Reaper”
Sorry; I couldn’t resist. My reasons for including it are threefold: A) It’s a flat-out classic. B) Sam is more or less a Reaper, and in my book, he’s the least of any living person’s problems. And C) We could all use a little more cowbell in our lives.
What are you reading right now?
I’ve just started Robert Crais’ THE FIRST RULE, which I’ve quite been looking forward to. Of course, I’ve got bookmarks in half a dozen other books around the house right now as well, including Ekaterina Sedia’s THE SECRET HISTORY OF MOSCOW, P.G. Wodehouse’s RIGHT HO, JEEVES, Tim Powers’ stunning THE STRESS OF HER REGARD, and N.D. Wilson’s THE DRAGON’S TOOTH. Some of those are old friends. Some I’ll likely never finish. But in my mind, they’re all still in play; I have a funny habit of setting a book down when I’m no longer in the mood for it, only to pick it up weeks (or months, or even years) later.
If there was one author you could sit down with coffee or drinks with, who would it be?
Oh, hell. I have to pick just one?
I’m assuming the question includes both living and dead, though I’ll grant a corpse would make poor company. Not Chandler, I’ll tell you that: the man wrote beautifully, but he was kind of an ass. Ditto Highsmith. Not Hammett, because I suspect you’d get little out of him. Phil Dick would be a kick, I’d imagine. Neil Gaiman’s such a natural storyteller, I’ve no doubt time spent with him would be a treat. Madeline L’Engle would be on my list as well, since she had such a strong hand in shaping my childhood, in fostering my imagination. But if I had to pick one, I suppose I’d select the late, great crime writer Donald Westlake. Under his own name, he wrote a host of riotously funny caper stories, as well as a couple damn fine screenplays; under Richard Stark, he created to my mind the most compelling antihero of all time, Parker. And all his work is imbued with such wit and ingenuity, I can’t help but think he’d have been wonderful company.
If someone were to start reading in the noir/fantasy genre for the first time, where would you recommend they start (other than Dead Harvest, of course?)
Great question! Charlie Huston’s Joe Pitt series is a great place to start. It takes vampires back from the glitter-and-promise-ring set, and makes them once more the terrifying predators of yore, but with a modern twist or two that keeps the concept fresh. Though be prepared to read ‘em all, because once Huston gets his hooks in you, you won’t be able to stop. Oh, and Stephen Blackmoore just put out a barnburner of a debut called CITY OF THE LOST. Brutal, funny, and unflinching, with an irresistible cast of characters and a world that just cries out for sequels, it absolutely kicked my ass.
When you’re not busy writing, how do you like to spend your free time?
That question’s largely hypothetical, right? I mean, right now, I’m small potatoes in the writing world, so I’ve still got a day job that eats up most of the time I don’t spend writing. When I do get a free moment, you’ll likely find me buried in a book, since time to read is at a premium these days. I’m also a lousy-if-enthusiastic guitarist, a serialized-television junkie (you’d be hard-pressed to find a geek property I’m not obsessed with), a passable cook, and a reluctant-but-determined runner.
Is there any other news of upcoming projects or events you’d like to share with us?
Hmm. Well, anybody reading this is welcome to swing by my DEAD HARVEST release party March 8 at Longfellow Books in Portland, Maine; I’ll have details shortly on my website. DEAD HARVEST hits stores stateside on February 28, and will be available worldwide March 1. It’s sequel, THE WRONG GOODBYE drops in late October/early November. If y’all like my books and wanna stalk me, I’ll for-sure be at Bouchercon in Cleveland, and at Murder and Mayhem in Muskego, and I’m always looking to add more events, so feel free to bug me if you’d like me to swing by your con, bookstore, or living room (I’ll likely do so for no more than the promise of pie.)
Keep up with Chris: Website | Twitter
1. You MUST fill out the form below (lots of chances for extra entries!)
2. Giveaway is for 1 copy of Dead Harvest by Chris F. Holm to 1 winner
3. Giveaway is open INTERNATIONALLY (wherever The Book Depository ships-be sure to check if your country is included)
4. Must include a valid email address with your entry
5. You must enter on or before 3/7/12
6. Please see my Giveaway Policy.