I met Jim Gavin a year and a half ago at Hypericon. After hanging out for for several hours on Saturday night, I came to the conclusion that he’s opinionated, surly, iconoclastic, irreverent, and acerbic as hell. I liked him instantly. He’s a throwback to a time when men were still allowed to have balls and didn’t have to be sensitive to everyone’s feelings, although he’ll probably chide me for using the phrase throwback. At that time, he was pitching the idea for Hard Boiled Vampire Killers and seemed a little insecure calling himself a “writer” in the presence of pros like Glen Cook. Recently, HBVK was released by Dark Regions Press, officially making him a professional novelist. While I’m not anointed as the official gatekeeper of the craft, I can assure you that Jim Gavin was a real writer well before the book was released, and he’ll be telling stories for as long as he chooses to sit down and write.
To commemorate the release of Hard Boiled Vampire Killers, here’s his first official interview as a pro:
D. A. Adams: How did you first get interested in writing? At what point did you realize you wanted to pursue it as a career?
JIM GAVIN: Like everyone else in this game, I always enjoyed making up stories and reading books since my early days, and I always wanted to be a writer. I say “always” because there’s no single moment of realization – it’s just there. It does grow over time, starting out small, like telling your mother outrageous lies, and growing until at some point you’re 30 and doing an interview about your latest book! But if I had to pick one single thing, or one moment in time – probably when I was a kid and watched an episode of I can’t remember which show, it was probably “The A-Team” – and I saw Stephen J. Cannell at the end of it, smoking his pipe and writing on his typewriter, and he just THROWS the page up in the air with this look on his face like he’s having the time of his life. Right then I realized that there were people who wrote these stories I watched, and it looked to me like the best job in the world. I could go on, but you’ll have to check out the eulogy I wrote on my blog for that
DA: Yes, I very much enjoyed your eulogy. I too was a big fan of Cannell’s work, and he had a pretty big effect on many of us who grew up just before the explosion of cable and satellite TV, back when there were only five choices of what to watch. Okay, so along those same lines, who are your biggest literary influences?
GAVIN: I hate these lists because they always leave people out. I’m going to presume that by “literary” you meant merely the written word and not just Great Literature. Because otherwise my list would look like a high-school reading list from 1950. In no particular order: Spillane, Bester, Conrad, Greene. Understand I’m deliberately picking ones that highlight areas of my reading interest. There are a ton more authors I could put up here, but short lists are better. I also refuse to put up the usual suspects, so just fill ’em in for me, kind of like how on “Wheel of Fortune” they got tired of people picking the same letters for the final puzzle all the time and just gave them to you and let you pick new ones. Like that.
DA: Outside of literary terms, who else has influenced you?
GAVIN: Robert Kirkman is a great writer, I love just about every comic book he’s written except for “Walking Dead”. David Mamet, love his dialogue, it’s realistic and bombastic at the same time, that’s what I shoot for. Peckinpah, Carpenter, and Woo because I keep coming back to their movies and finding new themes and new action beats that inspire me.
DA: We live in one of the most divisive points in our country’s history. What advice can you offer aspiring writers/artists who feel as if their personal views might be an obstacle or a hindrance to their careers for fear of political backlash?
GAVIN: I think mixing politics and entertainment is a big mistake. All you do is piss off half the people that might have wanted to read you. Now they won’t because they think you’re an asshole. They may even boycott you, harass you, or even worse. Think about Michael Jordan. No one has a bad thing to say about the guy. Did you know he is a big Democrat donor? He doesn’t like to make it widely known. He says, “Republicans buy shoes, too.” This to me is the right attitude. Politics is corrupting, anyway, if you let it in it starts to turn things towards its own ends and it becomes less about what you wanted to say and writing a fun book or making a cool movie and it turns into scoring points, making propaganda, supporting your cause. It can be very subtle about it, too, so you have to watch yourself, unless that’s what you want to do is be a political operative for a cause. And besides it makes the writing worse. You can cheat, be lazy, because everyone who’s on your side will automatically laugh at your jokes and get what you’re saying and give you a 5-star review on Amazon. Who cares what the other side thinks? They don’t know shit, they’re too dumb to think like we do anyway. Ultimately, you’re a tool, not an artist, and you will discarded when you’re no longer useful, which will be a hell of a lot sooner than the amount of time you could keep writing interesting books.
Now, politics is not the same thing as thoughts that you have about Life, Truth, and the Universe. A lot of things have been politicized already, so it’s tough. Good example would be a book I read recently – Anderson Prunty’s Morning is Dead. Abortion plays a good-sized role in the plot of the book – I don’t want to spoil anything obviously. But the main character sees all these women waiting in line at what is basically an abortion factory and he’s like “that’s terrible”. But at the same time it’s not like the main character immediately joins Operation Rescue… or Planned Parenthood. I wonder if Prunty got any shit for this, actually. I took it as the right way to handle stuff like this. Keep focused on the truth of the matter, I mean the essential, capital-T Truth, not the day-to-day political shit you see on the Daily Show every night. You don’t have to have your characters or your stories be neutral. If it comes from a place of truth, presented without snarkiness or rancor, I think people will listen and respect it for the most part, especially if it’s not identified as a political work. People can spot those right away. The thing is, you have to really have deep thoughts about things, read widely, study the classics, things like that. You have to be able to know when you’re talking about something that transcends politics and when you’re not and you just think you are. I’m sure the guys who wrote all these anti-Iraq war movies thought that was what they were doing, or at least some of them did. But they weren’t, and it showed, and people spotted it and no one went to see the movies except people who already held their political views. Compare that to a movie like “The Hurt Locker”. It’s not “Sands of Iwo Jima”, but it sure as hell ain’t “Platoon”.
Bottom line is, avoid this crap unless you want to make writing a hell of a lot harder for yourself. Work up to it as a goal. Because the consequences of failure can be bad if you’re not prepared to accept them. Like Larry Correia, he doesn’t give a crap that people know about his politics, he thinks the hate mail is funny and figures that people who disagree with him wouldn’t buy his books anyway.
DA: Switching gears, what drew you to vampires?
GAVIN: Mostly because I wanted to write more stories about what life is like when you keep a nocturnal schedule, I’d been thinking about that a lot at the time since I’d left my job and was back to a more normal schedule, how different my life had been. And then that shook around in my head with other ideas, like how I wanted to do a story about a vampire hunter because I’ve rarely been happy with them in movies or TV. So initially it was just because if you’re up all night and sleep during the day you automatically think “vampires”. But then as I thought about it more, I began to appreciate the possibilities, how they essentially hold up a mirror to humanity. The vampire has no reflection because he is the reflection. He has to copy us exactly to blend in with us because that’s what parasites do – they’re not predators in the classic sense. But due to their own nature, the fact that they are essentially un-human, it ends up being like a song played on a piano that’s out of tune, or a dubbed movie. It’s not quite right.
Also, I was tired of vampires stepping out into the light a little too much. Now, before I go down this path I should start by saying that I started HBVK 5 or 6 years ago, right after I moved to Atlanta. So I’m not just jumping on the bandwagon with this now – HBVK was a trunk novel for years before a series of events that led to me being here. In short I thought this before it was cool to think this, heh heh. I never liked all these stories where the vampire is a good guy, and he drinks cow blood or whatever. Or no one is a good guy and it’s all about vampires fighting other vampires and they have a weird vampire society and a funky vampire language. Apparently stories about badass vampire hunters that hunt and kill the living dead were cliche. Except they weren’t, all this crap out there now is the cliche, it’s old and I’m sick of people acting like it is new, different, and edgy.
And I like the rules. Vampires in western and eastern cultures tend to have a lot of rules that other supernatural creatures don’t. I think that’s cool, it makes for interesting possibilities depending on which ones you keep for your story. Most of these other beasties, all you hear is how to kill them. Can a werewolf enter a church? Is there something that repels zombies? Apparently no one gives a shit. Again I think this is because of how connected they are to humanity and to society – they have their own rules they have to obey that seem arbitrary and dumb to us. Vampires without those rules don’t make sense and smack of teenage fantasy – well, don’t get me started on that.
DA: Do you have a specific writing process and/or ritual that you use?
GAVIN: Not really in the sense of “I must have/do this before/while/after writing”. I have patterns I fall into, though. I’ll usually pour a short drink and read what I wrote over last, picking out the spelling errors, making different word choices. by the time I get to the end I’m usually ready to continue the story. It helps a lot if I have some music to listen to that’s the “theme music” for whatever I’m working on – very often part of my inspiration for a story is a particular song. That was the case with HBVK. Other than that I keep it simple, just try to write as much as I can as often as I can, shooting for every day, just getting words on a page. It’s hard for me to take seriously the people who have their special writing hat and their special writing corner or whatever. The more pro a writer is, the less you hear about that kind of stuff, and I think there’s a reason for that. Process-wise, I just start at the beginning and write until I get to the end. Sometimes if I’m having trouble I will skip ahead to the scene I REALLY want to write, and then go back and fill it in. I don’t use outlines or storyboard or anything like that while I’m writing. Then, when I’m working on another draft, I will start thinking about concepts in the book, themes, threads I may have forgotten about, stuff like that. The first draft for me is basically almost like automatic writing. I don’t sit there and think about “How best does this express the book’s themes?” when I’m writing about, say, my hero kung-fu fighting a bunch of dudes. I find those later and then work on bringing those things out and hopefully making them coherent thoughts that give the writing some depth without being preachy or annoying. I really surprise myself sometimes with the stuff I come up with! Like with Edmund Ma, I just wanted to create a character who it was believable would be sort of a kung-fu neophyte who gets introduced to this world so we can follow him and discover it for ourselves. And I ended up writing a story through him about what it’s like to finally decide to be a grown-up, leave your childhood and all that stuff behind, become a man. Ty was just supposed to be a classic hard-drinking private eye, but a vampire hunter instead. Then on his way home he started wandering around so that he had an excuse not to go back to his apartment because his girlfriend would be there, and it turned out it was because his girlfriend was a vampire. Stuff like that is why I don’t mess with process, I don’t fetishize it either, I just respect it. I think it sounds a little silly and pretentious to say things like, “I just follow my characters around”, but King said that so I guess that makes it okay, and it’s what I do most of the time.
DA: Realistically, where would you like your career to be in five to ten years?
GAVIN: In 5 years or so I’d like to have at least 5 published books of whatever length, movie options bought on at least one of those, have written or be working on a comic book project, have a mass market deal or be within striking distance of one, have an agent. I’d at least like to know a hell of a lot more people, and have some more great memories.
DA: Do you have any upcoming appearances at conventions?
GAVIN: I’ll be at WorldHorrorCon 2011 in Austin, TX. Other than that I may do more, I don’t know all the good cons to go to yet and which ones I’ll be able to make. I’d like to make Hypericon again, NECon sounds interesting … I’d do a con every month if I could. All I can say is watch the blog.
DA: Now that Hard Boiled Vampire Killers is out, do you have any more projects forthcoming?
GAVIN: Yes, I have a novella coming out next year and launching at WHC, with Dark Regions Press, part of their new novella series. It’s called Arena of the Wolf and it’s about a trucker werewolf who gets captured and forced to perform in a rodeo where they use werewolves instead of broncos or bulls. It’s sort of like Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia meets Convoy with some Carlos Castaneda elements to it, and a classic 70s country music soundtrack. I think people will really dig it, I had a lot of fun writing it and I think it shows. I wanted it to have a real grindhouse/exploitation movie feel to it and I think that comes through on the page.
DA: How can your fans find you?
DA: Any parting thoughts?
GAVIN: Thanks for the interview. Also thanks to everyone who helped make this book happen, and most of all to those who have already bought it and who have yet to buy it, hell, even thanks to those who steal it off the internet because they want to read it. It took a lot of work but I still feel lucky to be where I am right now.