ADAM CESARE INTERVIEW
Interview conducted by Jonathan Lees
Adam Cesare is the author of four novels (Mercy House, Video Night, Exponential, The Summer Job) and numerous novellas and short stories. He is aggravatingly young and prolific.
Adam Cesare: Hey man.
Jonathan Lees: Hi. Ready to go?
AC: Yup. May take me a sec on my answers. TV's on in the apartment.
JL: TURN OFF THE DAMN TELEVISION! [Laughs]
AC: Can't. Girl just got home. She's earned it.
JL: I haven't nailed down your age but you look ridiculously young so I'm guessing you're like 15 years old and you've written four books, multiple novellas and a handful of short stories. What gives? Are you possessed or are the rest of us just lazy?
AC: Yeah. I'm really excited to get my learner's permit [Laughs]. Actually, I'm 27. So I guess I'm still relatively young. So I finished my first novel junior year of college, if I remember correctly.
JL: You studied at Boston College… that must have taught you how to focus in the midst of insanity.
AC: Oh see, that's a problem I should get sorted out on my Facebook, because I did undergrad at Boston University and I did grad school at BC [Boston College], but they have a fierce rivalry and my heart's fully BU.
JL: They do have a fierce rivalry! So, did you just beat yourself up to make it even?
AC: [Laughs] Making a first honest effort at writing during college wasn't easy. I think most it taught me about avoiding temptation. Like, I can go waste time or I can get this chapter done. Roommate just knocked, says he's going to beat you in Mario Kart. I mean, you know he's lying, but you can't prove it.
JL: Well, now you'll never know. I think you chose correctly.
AC: [Laughs] That's a crazy exaggeration. I really just had gotten used to spending a lot of time sequestered in the library, got good at sitting quietly and getting things done.
JL: What was that book you were writing then? Tribesmen?
AC: First thing I wrote was Video Night. I had finished that and had it out to editors while I wrote Tribesmen, and John Skipp works so quickly (or the rest of publishing moves so slowly), that one came out first. So, Tribesmen was first, but that edition is now out of print. John Skipp had curated this line called "Ravenous Shadows", and it was a great idea: short books that could be read in the same time as a feature film and packed that same momentum, that same consumability. But he only got one or two books out from launch before a personnel changeup at that publisher left his imprint in trouble. John helped me find a new home for it and now that one's out with Deadite and has a wonderful second life.
JL: When you were ready to publish Video Night, how did you start reaching out and then landing with such a pivotal figure in the genre as John Skipp?
AC: Pure luck. I just sent him an email at the right time and he was taking pitches. It turned into a beautiful friendship/mentorship. There are few people I respect more than John Skipp. I think a lot of publishing stories with happy endings start that way, just not being shy and sending people you respect an email or a message. Don't be timid, but don't be disrespectful.
JL: He is an amazing individual. How did he help shape your works leading up to now?
AC: The only thing he had some real, real reading/editing input on was Tribesmen. But his notes on that (and they were many) helped me build good habits and crush bad ones.
JL: Which bad habits did he help you break and what bad habits do you still have to this day?
AC: He helped me break up my paragraphs, they were all too long and he got me going bam bam bam; opened up the white space on the page. Now I feel like I go too far the other way, like I have dialogue that's too terse. At least in first drafts.I like to think that I catch any and ALL problems as I rewrite.
JL: You are known to be a movie maniac and Mercy House feels like it's moving along at 24 frames per second. When you write, is the pacing of cinema always running through your head?
AC: For certain projects, yes. I try not to fall into a default cadence because I don't want anything to feel stale, but I definitely err towards making things shorter. I have no time for bloat. I can forgive it sometimes as a reader (in fact sometimes I relish it), but I can't do it as a writer. I know I write a certain way, and I like that, I'm just always anxious someone on Goodreads is going to call me on it: "A bridge too far, Cesare: give it up!" So I've written a few books that eschew the film thing (The Summer Job, some other stuff coming up).
JL: So, why not write screenplays?
AC: Because I love novels. Not always, but if you read a screenplay, you're reading a blueprint. I love the format, but it's not an art on its own; it only really exists in relation to the film it could become
JL: One million screenwriters just killed themselves.
AC: [Laughs] And I don't mean that "it's not art!" Don't Ebert me, Lees. I mean you've got to write a certain way, you can't be as pretty as I want to be sometimes because you run the risk of "oh damn, is someone going to read this and miss some integral action?" I'm just saying that, for me as a writer, I'm writing it with the intention of it being a movie hopefully… maybe… probably not… someday. Books are books when they're finished.
JL: Speaking of writing "pretty", what sparked your need to write such a vicious octogenarian onslaught like Mercy House? Did you feel the elders of Earth were not getting enough love?
AC: I like trying on different sub-genres and styles and, for me, Mercy House is a splatterpunk novel. There's a certain promised level of transgression there, even in the "punk" part of the name, and what section of society is more universally underserved than elderly. No matter your socioeconomic background, if you get past a certain age, things can get pretty grim.
JL: Yeah, if anyone deserves to be punk, it's the elderly.
AC: So, like you said, this is a violent book. But I also wanted to give these characters, ostensibly the villains, a lot of humanity
JL: Actually that's what took me by surprise. I ended up having a hard time not feeling for these old folk, even as they were tearing someone a new asshole... like, literally.
AC: Well, thank you. Some early readers are asking, "What's the secret? Why don't you explain what's making the central incident happen?" And, not to tell people they're wrong (they're not, people are free to be frustrated or dislike whatever they want), but my response is: the why doesn't matter in the slightest, not to the people stuck in the middle. You wouldn't be in the middle of a hurricane checking weather dot com. You'd be like, let me get the hell out of here first.
JL: It's often said that we should put a bit of ourselves in our books. How did you get in the heads of writing these characters near the ends of their lives? Who shares the most DNA of you in Mercy House? Please don't say Beatrice...
AC: [Laughs] I feel for Beatrice! I get where she's coming from, how she thinks she's helping, but no... Hmmm, tough question. I don't really "put myself" into any one character. I have to chop up little pieces of myself and my friends and acquaintances and try to form discreet people out of those pieces.
JL: Smart **avoids lawsuit**
AC: Out of the bunch of them, I'm probably more Arnold Piper than anyone else. I was not in the Korean War, obviously, but his outlook in the beginning is probably the closest thing elderly characters have to an everyman. He sees things like they are in Mercy House before things go south.
JL: Speaking of Beatrice... splatterpunk novels have always explored taboos. This book is loaded with some graphic elderly sex. I don't know if it's just my imagination but all those wrinkly balls and bloody orgies had me seeing double a bit. Why do you think this is something that's never shown or talked about much?
AC: "Loaded with some graphic elderly sex". [Laughs] Do you think it's too late for a new cover blurb?
AC: Seriously, though. There's not THAT much!
JL: I think there's an audience for that... well at least there was when I ran an old video store with a "back room", if you know what I mean
AC: That's based on a real thing I read while doing research. In these nursing homes, there's not much to do. More often than not you're there alone because you're a widow or a widower and look out… everyone else is single and ready to mingle, too. What happens in the novel is that, once the "change" happens to the elderly characters, their dominant interests (sex, drugs, violence, shuffleboard) split them off into different groups. Like they can only hold one hobby in their minds at a time.
JL: I guess it just stuck in my head because I suffer from gerontophobia.
AC: Ha. I had to look up gerontophobia to make sure it was legit.
JL: What was the most fun section to write? Is that a thing... writers having fun writing?
AC: The thing is, it's a pretty bleak book. My other stuff's not really like that. I mean, there are moments of levity here because I'm too much of a wiseass to keep that tone up uniformly. But this is definitely my most serious book, in both plot and tone. But that is its own kind of fun, the thinking: what would scare me? What would I not want to see/hear/experience? And then do it. There's a scene in the beginning, where a character kind of thinks, "Yay! This is great! It's going to be like a real life The Walking Dead." And then he realizes that in real life that kind of situation would be horrible. That was one of my favorites.
JL: Yes! That would be a character most like myself. What's your biggest motivation and how can it help the rest of us lazy bastards just sit down and write?
AC: It's probably the worst motivational "tip" of all time, but even after you've written a bunch of novels, sitting down and being focused can still be hard. People say it's "a muscle and it gets stronger as you use it" and that's true, but motivation doesn't grow, you can only develop healthy habits that foster creativity (minimal distractions, no phone, listen to music with no lyrics), and FORCE yourself to do the work. Set word or page goals. Like: "I'm not going to stand up until I write X". Doesn't matter what "X" is as long as you work.
JL: Truth be told!!
HorrorTalk would like to thank Adam Cesare for taking the time to sit with us.
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