ADAM CESARE INTERVIEW
Interview conducted by Gabino Iglesias
If you read horror, chances are you've read something by Adam Cesare. The guy is everywhere and gets a lot of attention, all of which he deserves. In any case, he has a collaboration with Matt Serafini out right now, All-Night Terror, but he also decided to drop The Con Season on us, and he did so through Black T-Shirt Books, which you probably hadn't heard of until now. Well, with all of this going on, not to mention Cesare's new YouTube experiment/presence, I decided to send him some questions. As always, he provided some great answers, acted unnecessarily humbled, refused to talk about his good looks, and defended Stranger Things even if I never attacked it. The truth is he should be on your radar and you need to cop The Con Season the second you're done reading this interview. Enjoy.
Gabino Iglesias: As a writer, I've heard that there is such a thing as saturating the market. With you, even with two books out, that doesn't seem to be the case. Do you attribute that to variety or are you just lucky?
Adam Cesare: Hardball questions, right off the bat!
Well, things from me are going to slow down pretty soon. I've got nothing in the kitty beyond a couple of collaborations (which are still both far from done). But the way some of my books have been released kind of on top of each other: that's just publishing. Things are done and ready to go for a year and then different publishers put them out within a week of each other.
Beyond that kind of scheduling snafu, I absolutely don't believe in the idea of saturating the market. And part of that's because most of my books are pretty different from one another. I've got variety on my side. But also I've got two books out (The Con Season and All-Night Terror with Matt Serafini, which is a new, expanded edition of an older title) in as many months and it's been over a year since my last full-length title.
The way I see it is people who are worried about an overexposed Adam Cesare aren't going to buy my books anyway (and are probably no fun to hang out with) and the people who like my stuff (or are just now getting started) will be happy that they have more stuff to check out.
GI: You tried one thing first [Kindle Scout - Ed.] and now the book is out through a different process of publication. Did you send The Con Season out to publishers? Is this some bizarre, dangerous literary experiment? Are you ready for some "self-publishing doesn't count" comments from the usual assholes?
AC: This is a weird book because I've never been in possession of a completed manuscript for this long. I had been getting so good at the cycle of "write book, find publisher, let them handle the editing and marketing and all that while I start writing the next book" that I hadn't even stopped to consider that there was any alternative.
The very first editor I approached with The Con Season was someone I've worked with a few times, a mentor, and he'd told me that the book was close but not all the way there yet. And he was right, so I rewrote it. Reworked it twice, actually.
Then once I was done with rewrites, I started sending it to other editors, some new to me, some I'd worked with before. I got a couple of houses who wanted to publish the book, but at that point I'd been holding onto it for so long and I was so proud and so sure that I knew how the book should be marketed, that I got cold feet when it came to saying 'yes' to one of these pubs.
I decided to self-publish, but I guess those cold feet persisted because I submitted the finished book to Kindle Scout (professionally edited by our mutual boss/friend J. David Osborne and with a cover by George Cotronis). Which is a kind of Star Search contest-y thing that Amazon does.
My thought entering into KS was: "I don't think this slightly mean-spirited horror satire meta-comedy is 100% their bag, but I'll run the best campaign I can and maybe they'll make an exception. And if they don't I'll have promoted the hell out of the book ahead of its self-publishing release."
The book got a ton of votes and support (which I'm very thankful for), but ultimately the KS editors said no. Which I get. They're in the business of making sure they put out the books that the highest number of people are going to want to read. And a summer camp slasher thriller may not have broad-base appeal.
And that brings us to today. Long enough answer? [smiles]
Oh and as far as the stigma of self-publishing goes: I don't really know which 'assholes' you're referring to, specifically. But I feel like maybe a few years ago I would have agreed with some of them.
But then you get enough publishing experience. Not that I'm an expert or anything, I've worked with the smallest of small presses to people in big fancy New York offices. Most of those experiences have been wonderful and I want to continue working with the presses I've had good times with. But also, these publishers, they're only human. And they didn't write the book, meaning that they are automatically not as invested in the book's success as the author is. They may be close, but they will simply never have lived with the book for as long.
Long rant short: I've got nothing to prove. I'm putting this book out under my own label – Black T-Shirt Books – and I have absolutely nothing but respect for people who choose to go indie. It is a terrifying and exhilarating process. I'm like three days into this experiment and already I love the autonomy and freedom.
GI: All of your work makes me think of film; it has the atmosphere and pacing of great cinema, but The Con Season is as close to a movie as you've gotten in terms of...everything! Where you aiming for this? How can we make a Cesare movie finally happen?
AC: Reach out to the millionaires in the audience and tell them that I have a great way for them to write off an investment!
But, seriously, if movies or options are going to happen, they're going to happen because the books have osmosis'd their way into the hands of people who make movies. I don't stress about stuff like that, since it's such an insane longshot. I focus on writing good books.
And I really don't aim for the "cinematic" writing thing! Honest! I could just be too much of a literalist!
But I also think that the feel of cinema is baked into this book. I don't do anything as on-the-nose as making character names references to horror history ("Oh hello Captain Carpenter, you just missed Professor Fulci."), but there are certainly archetypes and personalities that I'm drawing on to create these characters and situations. It would be a fun movie to cast.
GI: There's a thing going around Facebook where folks name 15 authors that had an impact on them. Brian Keene named you as one that will be on those lists in a couple years. You're still young, but you've made a name for yourself, you've established yourself as a top horror author. Now that you've done that, is there pressure to stay on top? Do you still freak out like us newbies about having a new book out?
AC: It was incredibly kind of Mr. Keene to put me on that list, but I don't think it means I've 'made it' and can put my feet up.
I'm not "on top" of anything, so I'm just going to keep hustling, taking it day by day.
I don't exactly freak out when I've got a new book. I mean, I do, but not in the fun way. The book drops and I'm like: "OH GOD, HOW CAN I GET PEOPLE TO READ THIS THING WITHOUT BEING OBNOXIOUS AND SPAMMING AND WRITING IN ALL CAPS!!!"
GI: After so much monster/underwater/in-the-woods/mutating mayhem, where does The Con Season fit in your oeuvre? I've been craving something like this since The First One You Expect. Are you planning on more narratives like this one? Any more collaborations in the future?
AC: Yeah, there are no monsters in this one, but it's still sillier than First One. But with a similar level of meanness? Which only makes sense to a tiny sliver of the audience who's read that book, so I'll make it a movie analogy: if you've seen Robert Altman's The Player, it's like that mixed with Friday the 13th and Hostel (Part 2, since that's the good one). If that sounds tonally incongruous, it is, but I like those shifts...
As far as what I have coming up, The Con Season may be my last word in the "horror film-inspired" subject for a little while.
I like to mix up my horror subgenres, so I don't feel like I'm repeating myself. The two novels I'm working on now are completely different than anything I've done. One is very serious, kind of a paranoid thriller thing that deals with real world sadness, the other one is set in space.
GI: Stranger Things blew up, and I think readers need to know All-Night Terror is a better version of that nostalgia-infused horror. Also, you've done that before with books like Zero Lives Remaining and Video Night, both of which are amazing. Are folks calling you a pioneer yet? Is there a marketing plan in place to ensure that folks who dug Stranger Things find your work?
AC: Hey! I liked Stranger Things! And I definitely don't think that its quality comes from empty nostalgia. That's on there, like icing, but the cake itself is pretty solid!
Also, you're the marketing plan, hermano. You just talked all three of those books up big time! Thank you!
GI: You've somehow found time to become a YouTube personality. How does that fit in with the rest of your career?
AC: Haha. Less than twenty videos does not make me a YouTube personality.
I write a monthly column for Cemetery Dance Online and I love that outlet for getting to talk about movies and books, but it's very formal. I spend a lot of time on those pieces because they have a pretty big audience and I want to look smart at all times when I'm being read by the Cemetery Dance crowd.
But I do the YouTube videos as kind of a fun seat-of-the-pants vacation. I sketch maybe five bullet points for a movie or book that I want to talk about (it's a review show where every movie comes with a book pairing, since I like to preach the gospel of horror fiction), then I just run the camera (or phone) for 20 minutes, edit out all the umms and dead air, and then put up these little ten-minute videos once a week.
I started out being like: "what are you doing? You're a grown ass man, for heaven's sake," but now I really really like doing them. It's nerd talk therapy for me, getting to monologue like that. I'd love it if people checked out the channel...maybe even hit the subscribe button... but I will probably keep doing it even if no one watches. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCTByQJNDsXplCSib_QW2lYw
GI: We've talked about Twitter and self promotion before, but you seem to have kicked it up a notch since that conversation. How hard is it to stay human while pimping your work? Any tips for those struggling to get the word out?
AC: If you've noticed that I've kicked it up a notch, I feel like that's a failure. But I think the Kindle Scout campaign was a big part of that, having it run for 30 days straight and incentivizing the momentum of staying "hot and trending." I kind of pulled out all the stops for that month and now I'm going to ease back off.
I like to think I've gotten better at self-promotion. It's such a tough thing, since I genuinely enjoy using Twitter for its "intended purpose" of just talking to people and cracking jokes. I hate to kind of pollute the purity of the format with a "buy my book" tweet, but it's a necessary evil sometimes and I think the people who follow me know that and forgive me.
As far as tips-and this is something that I wish I had a time machine to tell myself five years ago-but set up an email mailing list! Being able to have direct contact with people who like your stuff is SO VALUBLE. They may not see a tweet, Facebook's algorithm may decide not to show them your posts, but they will always get their email. But go with something that adds value for people, don't just talk about yourself in your emails and don't just spam.
For example: people who sign up for my email list get a two story mini-collection, both stories aren't available anywhere else. https://adamcesare.wordpress.com/free-short-read/
GI: Gives us a little playlist to listen to while reading The Con Season.
AC: Jeez this one isn't even phrased as a question. Just a demand. Okay. Let me think.
Only some of these are related to the book itself, most are just songs I like:
- Electric Wizard - "Black Mass"
- Arctic Monkeys - "Perhaps Vampires Is A Bit Strong But..."
- Drive By-Truckers - "Bulldozers and Dirt"
- Tyler, The Creator - "Garbage"
- Warren Zevon - "Quite Ugly One Morning"
- Supertramp - "Gone Hollywood"
- Red Fang - "Prehistoric Dog"
- Kanye West - "Monster"
- Black Sabbath - "Mob Rules"
GI: Regular plugs are boring, so imagine The Con Season is a burger at a greasy, retro, hole-in-the-wall joint. Give us the description that's on the menu.
The Con Season $2.99
A RARE glob of dead animal entices the senses while a CLASSY ASS brioche bun provides your pitiful body with the sustenance it needs to make it through another day as a horror fan in 2016.
GI: Two books out and surely more in the works. That's impressive, especially when you look at all you've done already. What keeps that fire going?
AC: Mortal terror.
GI: You never know who's reading, so give me the elevator pitch for The Con Season movie. I hear Steve Pattee know some movie business people...
AC: Fans and producers have been trying to crack the "how do you make an Expendables of horror?" nut for a while. This story partially solves that, because you don't make it all about the slashers coming together, you make your group of survivors all the familiar faces we line up to get autographs from when we go to cons.
Boom: automatic foreign presales as soon as you get Dee Wallace, Ken Foree, and Bill Mosley to sign on! Get your people to call me, Steve!
But really: I'm cool if it never becomes a movie, that's never the aim for me. The book will still exist. And I'm really proud of it.