[GUEST INTERVIEW] How Ray Bradbury Inspired David Herter’s Halloween Epic “October Dark”
ABOUT DAVID HERTER: David Herter was born in Denver, CO on Halloween, 1963. He subsequently lived in California, Utah and Washington State, where he attended the Clarion West writers workshop in 1990. His books have been published by Tor, PS Publishing and small presses; his short stories have been collected in Best New Horror. His favorite authors include Gene Wolfe, Brian Moore, C.L. Moore, Henry Green, Leigh Brackett, Manley Wade Wellman. His favorite TV shows include Star Trek: TOS, The Colbert Report, The Rockford Files and Kolchak: The Night Stalker. His favorite composers include Leoš Janácek and Bob Dylan.
I think it’s becoming something of a tradition with me: for the past couple years as Halloween approaches, I’ve taken down David Herter’s October Dark from the aerie of my bookshelf where it respectfully resides, eager to slip away into the novel’s enchantments and phantasmagorias and travel back in time to 1977, the year of “The Star Wars,” as the protagonist of the story so quaintly puts it. This fall, however, the talisman has changed. October Dark has been released in a newly revised ebook edition. Herter fans should have cause to rejoice: without losing any of the original version’s magic, this new edition of October Dark is sharper, more concise in places, and, yes, darker.
I was happy to take a few moments to interview David Herter about his newly revised Halloween epic, October Dark, which is available for just $2.99 through the rest of the month at Amazon.
Christopher Paul Carey: October Dark is quite different from your other novels, such as your Vernian fantasy Evening’s Empire, your far-future Ceres Storm, or your Eastern European SF-inspired First Republic trilogy (On the Overgrown Path, The Luminous Depths, and One Who Disappeared). What inspired you to write a novel about Halloween 1977, a haunted movie, Star Wars, and stop-motion animation?
David Herter: I had been trying to write a book about 1977 for a long time, but nostalgia always got in the way. Like Will, my main character, I was thirteen in 1977, and a regular 8mm stop-motion animator. I read Famous Monsters of Filmland and Eerie and made crazy little animated films. I heard about The Star Wars from my friend Jim months before the opening. We saw it on opening day at the UA Cinema 150 in 70-mm and 6-track Dolby, with his brother and his brother’s girlfriend driving us into Seattle in their VW, pretty close to the scene I wrote in the novel. Star Wars took over my spring and summer, and the next five years or so. Shortly after high school, I wrote a feature-length screenplay about a kid and his friends and their adventures on the opening days of Star Wars and its sequels (the final chapter, The Revenge of the Jedi, hadn’t been released yet, so it was speculative fiction on my part). Surprisingly, the results weren’t that great (ha ha), so I shelved the idea for a couple decades. When I finally turned to it, I had to step back, far back, from my actual experiences. Only when I realized that Something Wicked This Way Comes could inspire the book on a literal and meta level, with the mirror maze at its heart brought into the realm of cinematic special effects, did everything start to click. To use a term from the world of stop-motion animation, Bradbury’s novel became my ghostly armature.
CPC: Why did you decide to revise the novel, and what do you think is better about the new e-book edition?
DH: With the original 500-copy edition of October Dark, I never quite had the time to achieve the book I had in my head. Nostalgia and sentimentality were like kudzu, to the book’s detriment. It was always my intention to give it a thorough weeding. In the last two years I’ve pared away the excess, and also expanded the book by introducing critical new scenes and a better final act, and it’s still about 20,000 words shorter than the original. The new edition is also creepier, and has less crying. My friends now want me to step back from the manuscript.
CPC: I understand you corresponded with Ray Bradbury about October Dark. Could you talk a little bit about that and how the novel relates to Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes?
DH: As publication of the original hardcover became a reality, I realized that I needed to contact Mr. Bradbury and confess that I’d written a book called (then) Dark Carnivals, and that it had been inspired hugely by Something Wicked This Way Comes. I asked publisher Pete Crowther–who was working with Bradbury on deluxe versions of his masterpieces–if he could put me in touch. Bradbury’s daughter Alexandra passed my email on to her father, and I received an email from him shortly after. His only request was that I change the title so as not to confuse readers with his own Dark Carnival, and he bid me good wishes.
As to the relation to Bradbury’s book, my novel supposes that in the ’50s, Bradbury succeeded in making a movie called Dark Carnival. (In our world, the project failed to materialize, and Bradbury eventually turned it into SWTWC.) In my book, Dark Carnival was released in 1957 but disappeared soon after. It’s a sort of chess piece in a decades-long battle being waged between an undying Phantasmagoria magician and Willis O’Brien, the famed Hollywood magician who created King Kong. By 1977, Dark Carnival is an unseeable movie, yet it exerts an occult influence on my main characters. They’ll find the truth in a crypt beneath the Dimension 150 cinema palace where Star Wars is playing.
CPC: Willis O’Brien looms large in your novel. Was he the entry point for your young self into the arcana of special effects history?
DH: No, not O’Brien. For me it was Ray Harryhausen, whose Golden Voyage of Sinbad caught me at age twelve. But Harryhausen was always such a towering figure–a “Tabletop God,” as Starlog #8 memorably put it–that I found inspiration from those closer to mere mortal and nearer my age: Jim Danforth and David Allen. Nowadays I recognize they were more cerebral than Harryhausen and O’Brien, but back then I just dug Danforth’s dinosaurs and Allen’s lizard-men, stars of his long-promised full-length epic, The Primevals. Alas, it was never completed, and left a hole in my heart; so I made The Primevals a part of my book.
CPC: In many ways October Dark is a loving homage to pre-1977 horror movies. What are some of your favorites?
DH: Hammer films. Maybe The Revenge of Frankenstein or The Devil Rides Out. As long as it stars Peter Cushing or Christopher Lee, I’m happy. But I’d also point back to Curse of the Demon by Jacques Tourneur. Or farther back to Vampyr by Carl Dreyer, the eeriest film I’ve ever seen.
CPC: Do you have any Hallowe’en wisdom you’d like to share?
DH: Since Hallowe’en is my birthday, it’s always been skewed for me–a mix of being one year older, and monsters walking the streets, and getting presents along with huge amounts of candy, and then staying up late watching horror movies. Other than that, I’d have to say if I have any Hallowe’en wisdom, it’s in the book.
Christopher Paul Carey is the coauthor with Philip José Farmer of Gods of Opar: Tales of Lost Khokarsa and the author of Exiles of Kho, a prelude to the Khokarsa series. His short fiction may be found in such anthologies as Tales of the Shadowmen, The Worlds of Philip José Farmer, and The Avenger: The Justice, Inc. Files. He is an editor with Paizo Publishing and the award-winning Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. Visit him online at www.cpcarey.com.
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