Tell us about yourself.
Greetings! I’m novelist and author Eric Muss-Barnes and I’m visiting with the lovely Nicky Peacock to talk about my prodigious vampire duology, The Vampire Noctuaries, beginning with The Gothic Rainbow and concluding with Annwn’s Maelstrom Festival. I refuse to make the “tell us about yourself” predictable joke regarding “long walks on the beach” (but I am a big flirt, so I would certainly take Ms. Peacock on a moonlit graveyard stroll). Although I live in Los Angeles, I was born and raised in Ohio, birthplace of Nine Inch Nails and most Twilight Zone episodes – thus my homeland imbued enough “spooky” and “rage” in my blood to pen a respectable vampire tale.
Tell us about your publishing journey…
Whew! Okay, let’s try this. I ramble a lot. Let me attempt to keep this succinct. From the ages of 14 to 21, I wrote a few awful short stories and approximately 3 unfinished novels. Sometime in 1993, I decided, “I’m not Ray Bradbury. Maybe I should outline a book first.” That worked! I finished The Gothic Rainbow in 1996. Never tried to get an agent or publisher because it was a “labor of love” and, for better or worse, there was no way I would allow anyone to edit or change it – always knew I’d self-publish. (Side note: I have a profanity-laced blog post regaling my disgust for self-published authors who know nothing about spell check or formatting. Fear not. I’ve never been one of “those” writers.) This was back in the days before on-demand-printing, so by 1997, I was $5000 in debt with 1000 copies of my novel staring at me from my grandparents basement. In 2011, I wrote a short and snide human resources book, Schooling Your Boss to not Suck. In 2013, I published 4 new books including a reissue of The Gothic Rainbow and the sequel, Annwn’s Maelstrom Festival. All 5 of my books are available as ebooks, paperbacks, or hardcovers. I’ve also been published in a couple of anthologies – one for skateboarding and another on gothic artwork. Still sitting on about 200 copies of the original Gothic Rainbow too – now fuming in a closet instead of the basement.
When did you discover you wanted to be a writer?
The Childlike Empress bade me. When the Golden-Eyed Commander of Wishes bids you a task, you see it done. When I was 14 years old and read The NeverEnding Story for the first time, corny as it sounds, that was the catalyst. The turning point. Seeing the movie truly changed my life. Later reading the Michael Ende novel only reinforced my convictions. There are many saviors of Fantastica, but sometimes you know when a story is more than a story. Sometimes, the influence of an imaginary character is far more compelling than the advice of real people.
In your opinion, what’s the most fascinating thing about vampires?
Let me start by reemphasizing the first book in The Vampire Noctuaries duology was published 16 years ago and I started writing the series 20 years ago. In other words, I’ve given this sort of question a lot of thought. These days, I think every vampire story gets compared to Twilight and my story was published 8 years before Twilight ever hit the shelves. I want to make that clear, because I never want folks to presume I’m “jumping on the bandwagon” of vampire stories. On the contrary, I was one of the sinister, faceless coachmen guiding the way. You never heard of me, but I was whipping the nightmares into submission before anyone ever thought of sparkly daywalkers. The Vampire Noctuaries doesn’t follow the trends because it was begun before any trends existed! As to what I find fascinating about vampires, honestly, I really dislike vampire stories. That’s why I wrote one – so I could finally read a tale I enjoyed. The Vampire Noctuaries stem from the idea of fallen angels, dark faeries, and vampires, all being the same creature with different names. I felt there was so much potential in these beings blessed with great power, but cursed to live in darkness. How do they cope with the decay of their humanity? What if they embrace it and celebrate it, instead of getting all self-loathing and Morrissey about it? I wanted to explore those ideas in a way that didn’t involve werewolves, or vampire hunters, or seeking the “origins” of vampirism, or love triangles, or vampires facing off with “the oldest vampires”, or all those other clichés of trendy vampire tales. This story is kind of like… well, think The Catcher in the Rye if Holden Caulfield was an angry vampire instead of an angsty teenager. (insert wry smirk here)
What are you reading at the moment?
I’m reading the colors in your radiant eyes, and the delectable curve of your lips, Ms. Peacock… Sorry. Told you I was a flirt. (ahem)
I was lucky enough to procure one of the final brand-new copies of the 2005 printing of The Essential Ellison: A 50 Year Retrospective by Harlan Ellison, direct from the publisher, Morpheus International for a sum only slightly above the cover price. The book is out-of-print and therefore very hard to find and expensive as hell to buy from retailers. It’s one of those wonderful phone-book-sized, 1200 page compendiums. You know the type – makes the Codex Gigas look like a leaflet? I’m only reading one or two stories every other night or so, just to savor it as long as possible. I have my eye on a few Ray Bradbury volumes of similar girth – books of such heft they could double as trebuchet ammunition when the orcs begin their siege.
Who are the authors that inspire you?
Originality is my greatest inspiration. I love authors who experiment. Play. Try new things. Do all the stuff you’re “not supposed to do” in writing. Yeah, sometimes it’s a disaster, but sometimes it’s marvelously interesting. Paul Giamatti once gave me a copy (sorry, did I just become a name-dropping Hollywood toolbag?) of A Voyage to Arcturus by David Lindsay and it’s a prime example of that – first-time author at 40, total mess of a book, breaks all sorts of “writing conventions”, yet it works – it’s a wonderfully fun read and bizarre as a carnival freak. As to concrete names, I would cite Ray Bradbury and Harlan Ellison as the gentleman I admire most as writers. I would have to sprinkle in some J.D. Salinger, Richard Bach and Frances Hodgson Burnett too. I’ve not read enough of Henry Rollins, but I really dig his stuff as well. As you can see, my tastes are kind of all over the place – hardcore punkrock star, dreamy metaphysical goop, classic masters of fantasy and science fiction, popular literary dude, enchanting children’s author from 130 years ago. It’s a rather eclectic mix, but they are each brilliant in their own ways.
What’s your least favourite part of being an author?
My initial thought was, “The business side of things.” Most authors love the act of writing, but hate the whole marketing/promoting/pimping/whoring part. But in thinking about it, I realized there is something worse. The part I loathe most is never being taken seriously. When I say, “I’m a graphic artist at a gaming company in Hollywood” or “I build websites for Disney” or “I design toys for the company that invented Care Bears” people are impressed. When I say, “I’m a novelist” people frown and think, “Yeah, he’s unemployed.” Tell folks you’re a musician or author and they look at you with scorn, unless you can back it up with “…in the London Philharmonic” or “…my name is Stephen King.” Let’s face it, you could earn 6-figures a year as a novelist and 99% of the population will still have no idea who you are. Heck, you could earn 7-figures and no one will know you! I think that’s the most irritating part. Regardless of how much recognition you lack or gain as an author, no one ever regards you seriously, unless your books are turned into blockbuster movies. “Oh, a writer? How nice.” Sounds like, “Oh, you have leprosy? How quaint.”
What’s your favourite part?
The “parts that write themselves” in a book. I always feel like Merlin in those moments. You know that part in Excalibur, when Arthur kneels to be knighted, something that Merlin has not forseen, and Merlin looks all excited? Poor Merlin constantly looks irritated and bored with life, because he’s been cursed with the “gift” of foresight. He knows everything that will happen, so nothing is a pleasant surprise for him. That’s how it feels as an author. You become Merlin. You have the gift of foresight. You know what is going to happen in your story. You know where the characters are going. You know the plot twists. But sometimes, there’s that unexpected little sidetrack. Some event diverges off from the main path and you’re left there, a stunned Merlin, watching events you didn’t foretell, unfold before your eyes for the first time. I love that.
I also love my fans. I know that’s a terrible banality, but it’s true. As a writer, you create this stuff alone in your room with no idea that anyone will like it. When people voice some appreciation, it’s always a welcome pleasure. It’s good to know you had a positive influence in the world.
What are you working on at the moment?
I have a new fiction novel I’m striving to finish by December 2013. I won’t give away any details, but I will say it’s nothing like my vampire books. Emulating the writers I admire, my dream has always been to leave a diverse array of stories upon this Earth, in a wide variety of genres. So, all I’ll say at this point is: “Fiction. No vampires.” In the meantime, I’m striving to get my name out there again. Being away from promoting my work for 15 years, I have a lot of catching up to do! It’s odd to be a “veteran” and a “promising young author” both at the same time. So, thank you very much Nicky for the chance to appear on your site and tell people a little about “ye olde wampir” novels.
Where can fans find you online?
My books are at http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/ericmuss
Seriously, my books are easier to find than cat videos and dirty pictures.