Todd Keisling is a writer of horror and speculative fiction, as well as the author of the novels A LIFE TRANSPARENT and THE LIMINAL MAN, the latter of which was named a finalist for The Kindle Book Review’s Best Indie Book Award of 2013. Currently, he is putting the finishing touches on a limited edition hardcover for his UGLY LITTLE THINGS series.
Downright Creepy: Hey Todd, what’s this I hear about your car being recalled due to spiders?
Todd Keisling: I know, right? I got a letter last week from Mazda about it. Apparently there’s a species of spider that’s drawn to the smell of gasoline. They like to crawl into the fuel lines to nest which can affect the air pressure and crack the gas tank. Spiders don’t bother me, but explosions do.
DRC: There’s an idea in there somewhere. I’ve got it. Explosive Spiders! I’m pretty sure that hasn’t been made into a movie…yet. [laughs]
Well, since Godzilla is everywhere right now, what are your thoughts on the new movie? Have you seen the trailer and do you plan to go see it?
TK: Honestly, I’ve never been a big Godzilla fan. I saw the trailer and was mildly interested in seeing it until I heard from a few friends who went opening night. I think I’ll wait until it’s available at the Redbox down the street.
DRC:There definitely has been a lot of mixed reviews. At the very least, maybe it will make for a good popcorn flick when it arrives on DVD/Blu-ray.
Let’s talk about your writing. What inspired you to become an author? As a child, did you read a lot while growing up?
TK: I did read a lot when I was a kid, and the first author I remember following was R.L. Stine. The Goosebumps series was probably my first introduction to horror fiction. The Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark anthologies by Alvin Schwartz and the work of John Bellairs also come to mind. I read my first Stephen King novel (The Gunslinger) when I was eleven, my first Dean Koontz novel (Intensity) at twelve, and I discovered H.P. Lovecraft when I was fourteen. The Rats in the Walls was the first piece of horror fiction to give me nightmares.
DRC: You’re a big fan of bands such as NINE INCH NAILS, THE ROLLINS BAND, and TOOL. How much of their music has influenced your writing? Do you listen to them while you write?
TK: Oh man, absolutely. I know I’ve said this a lot in the past, but my first novel would not exist without NIN’s album, With Teeth. The song “Every Day is Exactly the Same” is the unofficial theme song for A LIFE TRANSPARENT. Tool’s pair of songs “Wings for Marie / 10,000 Days” played on repeat for hours as I finished the first draft of SAVING GRANNY FROM THE DEVIL.
I listened to the Rollins Band album Come In and Burn: Sessions a lot while working on the ULT stories, and a number of the tracks just seem to fit. I’ve put together an YouTube playlist to act as a “soundtrack” of sorts to the entire ULT series, and I’ll probably be adding to it as the series progresses.
I can’t write without music, and I try to find a piece that compliments the mood of the scene I’m working on. Sometimes I’ll set my playlist to shuffle, and other times, if I find the right piece of music, I’ll set it to repeat over and over while I work. I’ve done this for years and it always seems to work. I think it’s a meditation thing.
DRC: Your first novel A LIFE TRANSPARENT is an original concept that felt very personal. How much of a role do personal life experiences play in your writing?
TK: A great deal. My personal demons inform my creative process. I wrote A LIFE TRANSPARENT to deal with a situation I was in at the time, stuck at a job I hated, working with people I couldn’t stand, and feeling as though I’d never escape. When I created Donovan Candle, I did so by imagining myself ten years in the future provided my current situation never changed, and the result was the character we know today: an everyman who has deluded himself into believing he’s still making progress when he’s really walking in place. I wrote an essay about this last year for a project on character development. This might give you a better idea of what went into creating the character and the basis of the novel: https://soundcloud.com/toddkeisling/on-being-donovan-candle-an
DRC: Initially, A LIFE TRANSPARENT was written as a standalone novel. What were the deciding factors in continuing with THE LIMINAL MAN?
TK: I had a daydream about Donovan tied to a chair and locked inside a room. I didn’t know why or how he’d ended up there, but the image remained with me for months. At the time I was trying to work on an older novel that I’d set aside to write A LIFE TRANSPARENT. I felt that ALT was a single story and that I’d said all I needed to say, but Donovan wouldn’t leave me alone. Finally, around the beginning of 2009, I decided to find out why he was in that room. THE LIMINAL MAN was born from that single image. I didn’t know where it would lead, nor did I know it would end up being part of a trilogy. I just wanted to find out what Donovan had gotten himself into this time.
DRC: Can you tell us a little bit about the conclusion to THE MONOCHROME TRILOGY? What can readers expect in NONENTITY?
TK: I’m still in the plotting stages of the final novel, but there are some things I’m willing to reveal: Readers can expect answers to a question they’ve been asking since A LIFE TRANSPARENT: “Who is Aleister Dullington?” The final novel will explore Dullington’s origins. It will also explore the outer regions of the Monochrome. Of course, we’ll also find out what’s happened to Donovan following the end of THE LIMINAL MAN, and how that book’s conclusion has affected the world. So far, NONENTITY is shaping up to be the darkest and most violent novel of the trilogy, and I can’t wait to ask readers a new question: “Who is Pontius Vile?”
DRC: That sounds great! I look forward to reading it. Was UGLY LITTLE THINGS your first short fiction collection? What have been the positives and the challenges of writing short stories? Also, can you tell us a little bit about each story that is a part of the collection?
TK: UGLY LITTLE THINGS is my first short fiction collection with actual distribution. I had a small chapbook published back in college, but there were only 100 copies printed and they weren’t available on Amazon. Eight years separate that first chapbook and the ULT stories, and while I’ve grown as a writer, I can say with complete certainty that the act of writing short fiction has not changed. In other words, it’s really fucking hard.
The biggest challenge I faced with the ULT stories was keeping them all under a certain length. The longest story, SAVING GRANNY FROM THE DEVIL, is a little over 15k words, and it was also the first of the bunch that I completed. I decided to try and keep them under that limit. My stories want to grow into sprawling epics, and I only have so much time in a day; having a word limit in mind helped me keep things under control. As for positives, I have to say it was just fun to get back into writing something that had a beginning, middle, and end without worrying about sequels or the story’s place in an established universe. I wrote the ULT stories as a way of taking a break from the Monochrome, and now that I’m back in the swing of writing short fiction, most of my new ideas are tailored for this shorter format.
There are four stories in the first sequence of UGLY LITTLE THINGS: RADIO FREE NOWHERE is about a malicious radio signal being broadcast from the wilds of West Virginia that lures travelers off the highway to a forgotten lake.
WHEN KAREN MET HER MOUNTAIN is about a troubled woman who suffers a psychotic break while trying to rescue her husband from a cult of fanatics in the Arizona desert.
SAVING GRANNY FROM THE DEVIL is part memoir and part fiction, telling the story of an eight-year-old boy who makes a deal with the Devil to save his great-grandmother’s life.
THE HARBINGER follows a journalist as he uncovers the dark truths about a small West Virginia town and its beautiful matriarch, Maggie Eloquence. This one is probably the most taboo and disgusting one of the bunch.
DRC: The limited edition hardcover for UGLY LITTLE THINGS sounds amazing. Will it include the lyrics that Henry Rollins gave you permission to use as an opening for the book?
TK: Yes! Henry Rollins gave me permission to use lyrics to his song “NEON.” Specifically: “Tell me all the stories / How you love and how you kill.”
I’m excited for the collection, which is currently being prepped for layout. It’s going to have the four ULT stories, a separate book’s worth of content called “Skeletons in my Closet” which contains a number of previously published and unreleased material, “Story Notes” documenting the origins of all the stories in the collection, and an introduction by one of my favorite authors, Anthony J. Rapino.
Oh, and one more thing . . . There’s a surprise in it for all the Monochrome fans out there. I won’t say any more than that.
DRC:That is very exciting to hear!
Would you mind sharing about your upcoming projects?
TK: Right now I’m focused on the ULT hardcover, but I’ve also got some new stories coming out in a couple of anthologies later this year. And then there’s the final Monochrome novel which is in the works.
DRC: Where can people go to stay current with your work?
TK: There are a few ways people can stay current on my work. First of all, there’s my website, www.toddkeisling.com. I’m on Facebook: www.facebook.com/todd.keisling And people can follow me on Twitter as well: @todd_keisling
DRC: Great! Thanks very much for taking the time to speak with us, Todd.
TK: No problem! Thanks for having me!