I’m pleased to welcome talented horror writer G.R. Yeates to Exquisite Corpse (thanks, G.R., for letting me practice my interview skills on you). G.R. Yeates has been published in the Dark Continents Anthology, Phobophobia and has been accepted into the Horror for Good anthology coming soon from Cutting Block Press. He is the author of the critically-acclaimed Vetala Cycle, a trilogy of vampiric horror novels set in World War I. The first two volumes, The Eyes of the Dead and Shapes in the Mist, are available now with the third and final installment, Hell’s Teeth, coming in March this year. Expect more, much more, from this writer in 2012.
Assume that you and I are total strangers. What are the most important things I need to know about you and your work?
A. The most important thing to know is that my vampires and the setting I place them in are both rather unique. The vampires are inspired by the Vetala of Hindu myth and, if I’m not wrong, Bentley Little is the only other Western horror writer who has used an explicitly Asian vampire in his fiction – the Chinese cup hu girngsi. Regarding the setting, the First World War has been very sparsely used and even then the Western Front tends to be the focus. I used this in the first novel but in the second I moved to London and in the third, the action takes place during the last days of the Gallipoli campaign. It was important to me, when using this setting for the series, to depict more than one of the theatres of war to give the reader a real sense of place and history.
Having read The Eyes of the Dead, I was struck by how well you evoke the bleakness and horror of war, and how relentless the horrors were for all involved. The battlefield does indeed make the perfect playground for the Vetala. On one level, the novel is a straightforward tale of guns and bombs and vampires. On another, I interpreted the Vetala as allegorical creatures symbolizing humankind’s capacity for immense cruelty and brutality when thrown into extreme situations such as war. Was this what you hoped readers to take from the story? Was it foremost in your mind when writing it, or did it evolve with the storyline? And how comfortable are you with readers projecting their own interpretations on your work?
I’m pleased to hear that the novel worked on more than one level for you as I do keep being told it is a literary work – it’s satisfying to know people feel that way about it as I wrote expecting to achieve no more than pulp horror at the time.
I was concerned to portray the utter grimness of the war because I felt it was almost my duty to after having read the personal accounts of the men and women who lived through the conflict. They went through hell in a way few of us have ever experienced and I wanted to portray that as sincerely as I could, just to show basic respect if nothing else.The Vetala were certainly intended as a reflection of humanity, a theme I build upon as the books progress. The writing of The Eyes of the Dead took place between June 2006 right up until the night of publication in May last year so I would say the Vetala evolved significantly over that long period of time, from being more traditional vampires in their first incarnation to something more esoteric and nightmarish as well as bitterly human in the end. If a reader takes away a moral message from the book I’m as happy as if they take away the feeling of having read a good and effective horror story. I’m as concerned with aesthetics and effect as I am underlying messages in the text. This is why I’m also happy that people make their own interpretations as I think it’s interesting to hear how different people find their own points of identification. Also, that’s part of the joy of reading – interacting with the story, the characters, the language and finding something to take away from the experience when it is over – so it’s not for me to say whether someone is right or wrong. Once the writer sets down their pen, the story is out of their hands and it’s up to the readers to decide what you are talking about.
We both have a story in Phobophobia, a horror anthology from Dark Continents Publishing. Tell me a bit about how you came to be involved in this anthology and about the genesis of your contribution, “P is for Pteranophobia”.
I became involved with the anthology through being in a state of extreme sobriety whilst having the pleasure of acquainting myself with the mellifluous Dean Drinkel and the adroit Adrian Chamberlin. Dean asked to see the then-unpublished draft of The Eyes of the Dead and on the strength of that he was kind enough to invite me to contribute. I then did some research on the more peculiar phobias out there and Pteronophobia, a fear of feathers, was one that I thought would be a challenge to make into something disturbing. I then spent a few nights re-reading Lovecraft’s The Rats in the Walls and Robert Howard’s Pigeons from Hell to get an idea of the kind of tone that I wanted to set and took it from there. I’m very pleased with the final result and the quality of the anthology that it is a part of.
Independent publishing vs. traditional publishing – care to weigh in on the debate? If one of the big six publishers approached you tomorrow with the offer of a publishing contract, would you accept it?
Firstly I think it’s erroneous to set the debate up as independent publishing vs traditional publishing. This is a dichotomy that the larger publishers have created because they want this to be seen as a war much in the same way as the music and film industry have done with the growth of readily-available digital media. Personally I don’t see it on their terms. I think self-publishing is fast becoming one of the best options for a writer who is starting out. Chances of getting published through them were slim when I started out back in 2006 and now I think the gates are pretty much shut altogether unless you are very, very lucky or already established in some regard. In this respect, I think small presses are going to become much more important and powerful because they are better able to adapt and change and work on a face-to-face basis with their client – I can cite my own experience with Dark Continents Publishing in that respect. Dean and Adrian have been excellent to work with as editor and liaison respectively.
Before that my only experience of publishing was being out alone in the wilderness that so many writers are familiar with, which when you’ve been getting incredibly positive feedback about your work from day one becomes incredibly galling and depressing. I think there’s quite a sick irony in the fact that self-published writers would get more respect from some of the major publishing flagwavers if we were still spiralling around in purgatory trying to get traditionally published whereas now I have achievements such as – two critically-acclaimed books; publication in Phobophobia and being accepted into the Horror For Good anthology alongside luminaries like Ramsey Campbell, Jack Ketchum and F. Paul Wilson (which is still mind-blowing for me) – and I would likely have none of this if I had not gone down this road. Now some might say it’s because I’m one of the few good self-published writers out there and I’m getting my just rewards and the rest are all churning out dreck etc. I have to disagree – there’s not a few, there’s a lot of talent out there and I’m proud to be part of such a mutually supportive community of creative individuals. I promise I will not now quote from brave new world and make you all sick.
To cut a short story long, this is why if a large publisher came to me with anything less than life-changing money, I wouldn’t take it. It’s almost five years since the Kindle was released and they are refusing to adapt and becoming increasingly entrenched to the point that their complaints now sound like a stuck record. I just don’t think they would have my best business interests at heart right now.
THE EYES OF THE DEAD
SHAPES IN THE MIST