Friday, April 6, 2018

Goat Parading with Horror Author Peter N. Dudar

SRW: Today, I’m stoked to have horror author, Peter N. Dudar, as my guest. It’s not often a horror novel blows me away, but his recent release, The Goat Parade (out now from Grinning Skull Press), did just that. It’s magnificent, epic, harrowing, original, compelling, nightmarish, and all kinds of other hyperbolic words that I’m too lazy to get into right now. So, let’s just chat up Peter.
Peter, we’re now entering the no-spoiler zone. But while discussing your book, it’s nearly impossible to stay within that comfort area. Tell you what I’m gonna do…I’m putting the onus on you! Tell the reader what they’re in for.
PD: Hi, Stuart! It’s funny, but when I set out to write THE GOAT PARADE, I’d originally intended the book to have a True Crime kind of vibe to it. But my sensibilities always bring me back to the supernatural, and I found that I just couldn’t tell the story the way I wanted to without introducing those elements of otherworldly horrors. I was raised Catholic, so I’ve always had that mythology of religion present in my life. So this book is my take on the battle between Good and Evil, but at no moment do I use God as a character or as a Deus Ex to save the day by the end. It’s also an allegory about the concept of Free Will and Sin. 

SRW: The book opens with what feels to me like an authentically grounded acid trip, fully realized and beautifully essayed. Um, Peter…is this from experience? Just how much research was involved? (I’m not, nor am I affiliated, with the DEA).

PD: Oh my god, no…I’ve never dropped acid. What I’d really intended to do with the prologue is to set the scene for the novel, with a very Charles Manson-esque killer and his sirens in a satanic ritual. It’s very sexual and very creepy.  If I’ve done my job well, the book comes full-circle; starting with The Man with the Deformed Right hand and concluding with a new Man with the Deformed Right Hand being born to take his place. 

SRW: While reading about extreme satanist Warren and his acolytes, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Charles Manson. Hate to frame it this way, but was Chuck an influence?

PD: I can remember being in high school when Geraldo Rivera did his famous interview with Manson on one of his specials. The guy was so oddly captivating that I spent decades following his profile and his life from afar. Not that I mean to condone his actions or the terrible hurt he caused, but that compulsion to want to know why he is so broken and so crazy has always been there. I wanted my antagonist, Warren Pembroke, to have that same captivating feel about him. I wanted him to have the good looks of Ted Bundy, and the mysticism of Manson. That was my template. Manson finally died last year, I think just after my novel was accepted by Grinning Skull Press, and I kept thinking it was either Karma or I was the luckiest son of a bitch on the  planet.  It’s almost like I made a deal with the Devil…

SRW: Since we’re still talking influences (and making deals with the Devil), how ‘bout Robert Johnson? I mean, even my mom knows he sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads of Mississippi in exchange for extreme blues guitar prowess. Your character, “Tobacco Joe” is following in his footsteps. Are you writing your personal interests into your characters?
PD: All of this is an extension of the Faust story, and I think Johnson’s life has expanded that archetype to cosmic proportions. It’s just so exemplary of the power of folklore, and I wanted my book to have that same feel to it. The trick is to be able to create characters with different perspectives and different cultures then your own, and tell their stories honestly. I spent a great deal of time researching those old Delta blues-men so I could build Joe Walton’s character and get it right. And yeah, I do love their music, so it really wasn’t a chore. 

SRW: I’ve always thought to write accurately about music, one needs to have had experience in that field. It can be as tough as…well, writing about writers.

Let’s try another one. Were—are?you a hard-drinking, burned-out journalist (and can there be any other kind)?

PD: There’s a bit of romanticism with writing and alcoholism, isn’t there? That’s why Poe and Hemingway and all those other cats come across as larger-than-life. I make no bones about it—I do have a problem with alcohol, so I felt an enormous amount of empathy for what Erik Marsh was going through. But no, I’ve never been a journalist.  Erik’s character was actually the starting point when I began writing the book. I had envisioned his character arc as finding a sense of redemption by the end of the book. I’m a sucker for redemption tales.

SRW: In The Goat Parade, you mourn the death of true journalism, a vocation where men chain-smoke indoors, stink of news, and develop armpit stains and cirrhosis of the liver to show for it. Do you believe the lack of professionalism in internet journalism is a sincere problem?

PD: I think it’s just gotten lazier over the years. Again, there’s a certain romanticism about that archetype of the news reporter with the fedora that has a “Press” label pinned to it. Even the phrase “Crime Beat” makes me smile. It’s evocative. Nowadays we have college kids writing and submitting news stories to Huffpost (and most likely NOT getting paid for it), or else we have round-the-clock news stations run by global billionaires with political agendas. There’s a reason I made a character named Truth Carson…

SRW: Your tale unfolds in several different States. The reader witnesses racism from Portland cops and big-time racial epithets in a Memphis blues club. Do you see racism on the rise? A by-product of our current “state of the nation?”  Or are you bringing the horror of humanity to the foreground? (Sure, it’s a loaded question, Peter, but pull the trigger!).

PD: I think it’s always been there, but recent events have sharpened the edges and sharpened our perspective of it. Again, my commitment in writing the book is to tell the story as honestly as I can. Joe Walton is an African American male. His whole life would have been burdened with the oppression of racism. But his character is the one protagonist in the book who is making that “mythological” journey that scholars like Joseph Campbell love to critique. And I had a singular goal with Joe’s journey: I wanted to present a character going through the process of dehumanization as far as I could take him, and see if Free Will still existed at the end, and if he’d be willing to choose to do the right thing. That journey exposes the horrors of our modern day reality.

SRW: You also capture the unique rhythms of Portland with the diverse melting pot of inhabitants, the partying, the bars, the outdoor cafes, and street performers. Meanwhile, across the States, following another character, you’re belting out the blues in a sweaty, seedy Memphis blues bar. Have you visited these unique cities?

PD: I’ve never been to Tennessee, but in a real twist of serendipity, my family will be vacationing there this year. But I HAVE been to cities like New Orleans, and with a bit of Google research it was fairly easy to get the vibe I was looking for.  But the book does follow Joe’s journey through many states, and the whole episode in Albany is real because I grew up there. I lived in Portland for several years, and it really is the hub for the whole state, so that was a no-brainer for me as well. 

SRW: The character of Svetlana is awesome. I don’t usually fall for love stories in horror books, but it really works well here. Svetlana’s a displaced Serbian acrobat/social worker who can turn the world on with her smile. My investment in her character raised the stakes for me. Nicely done. Characterization in horror is so important and some writers forget this, choosing to write them as fodder and chum. But all four of your leads are fleshed out quite nicely. Are any of them based upon people you know?

PD: It’s funny that you mentioned this, Stuart. As I was rereading the book while in the process of going through the edits, I found myself falling in love with Svetlana, and that’s never happened to me before with one of my characters. I read your question and in the back of my head I heard the Mary Tyler Moore theme song, and I think that was exactly the template I wanted when I wrote her. But to answer your question, I didn’t base any of the characters on people I know, with the exception of Warren Pembroke.  I based them on concepts and personalities that were fluid and could be easily manipulated to move the story in the directions I wanted them to. The readers can ascribe their own interpretations of who they’re reminded of.
 SRW: Throughout The Goat Parade, you kept me guessing as to whether supernatural underpinnings were at play. Without giving too much away, the Devil plays an active role in at least two of your characters’ tales. Yet these characters are so unstable and unreliable, the reader’s kept off guard as to whether “Ol’ Scratch” truly exists or is a figment of delusion or worse. This is an extremely unpredictable book and I love that. What’s more frightening to you, things that can’t be explained or the horrors humanity is capable of?

PD: That’s a damn good question. Like I said earlier, my sensibilities always drift toward supernatural fiction, because that’s what interests me. But for true horror, the inhumanity of our society wins every time. I think that’s why we’re seeing an upswing in the genre; because people turn to us to escape all the terrible stuff that’s going on right now.  Brian Keene posited on his podcast very recently that eras where republicans control the government have a positive impact on genre fiction, and I feel inclined to agree with him.

SRW: Thank you, President Trump! You also keep the reader guessing how the divergent tales of Warren, Erik, Svetlana and Joe are going to collide. Not only are they separated in plot, but distance, too. I experienced an impending sense of apocalyptic doom and dread. What do you want the reader to take away from the book?

PD: I think the best kind of books are the ones that have ramifications to ponder long after the reader has finished it. Like I said earlier, I wanted this to be an allegory about Free Will and our ability to choose to do what’s right. We take for granted a lot of stuff based on American Elitism, and because of that we are slowly forgetting how to empathize with people in other countries, who have little or no choice at all about how they live. If readers are thinking at all about my book after they’ve finished reading, I think that’s good enough for me. I want them to feel entertained, and that they got their money’s worth.

SRW: Let’s chat about the symbolism of goats. In your novel, Warren paraphrases the Bible (although I kinda think he’s quoting the Cake song) that “Sheep go to Heaven and goats go to Hell.” Traditionally, sheep are considered mild, docile, and mindless followers. The way “good people” are labeled. (Although I like Hitchcock’s quote that actors are like cattle.) While the rebel rousers and trouble-makers—the goats—are “bad people.” The crux of the book has Warren gathering his goats for a “parade.” Am I missing any goat symbolism? Anything beyond the obvious symbolism of Warren’s deformity and the titular parade? Putting WAY too much thought into this? 

PD: I love Cake! I think you nailed pretty much what I wanted to convey with the symbolism. I kept thinking while I was writing it, If children are like lambs, how terrible it would be if someone decided they wanted to transform that sense of innocence and make them goats. As a horror writer, I feel a need to write something frightening enough to scare myself. This story did that. As a parent, this book scares the shit out of me.  Warren’s deformity is a mark of possession. He spends a great deal of time contemplating that sense of Déjà vu throughout the book. Hopefully, my ending fills in those blanks.

SRW: A major theme in Goat Parade is the question of free will. You don’t get preachy, yet all of your characters struggle whether they have life choices. At first, Joe believes he can change his date with the devil, but ultimately gives up. Svetlana believes that serendipity leads her. Eric is on the fence and Warren…well, he’s Warren; responsibility and guilt don’t apply to Warren. Heady stuff for a horror book. Which side of the fence do you fall over?

PD: I think the ability to make a choice isn’t exactly the same as having Free Will because we’re still governed by circumstances and laws of physics and man-made laws and lots of other factors. I think it’s all a great illusion at its core. I love the notion of serendipity. And Karma.  If you offered me hopes and prayers or a pocketful of good luck, I’d choose good luck every time.

SRW: Svetlana explains the difference between fate and serendipity. Agreed?

PD: Yes. God, I love Svetlana.  Serendipity is almost like religion for her. And she feeds it by using this almost curse she’s been given to help others rather than help herself. I love that she works a job AND performs her street show to get by, but is then generous with how she lives.

SRW: I kinda get the feeling you’re a glass half empty kinda guy, Peter. Based on this book, I’m assuming there aren’t a whole lotta Happily Ever Afters in the Dudarverse. Am I correct in this assumption?

PD: Muahahahahaha. I just had this discussion with my mom recently. She doesn’t read horror because horror almost never has a happy ending. There’s a correlation between horror and dark endings for the sake of telling a story honestly. Technically, THE EXORCIST has a happy ending because Regan McNeil has been freed from her possession, but is it REALLY a happy ending? In all honesty, outside of horror, I’m a sucker for happy endings. It’s why I cry at almost every Disney movie I see.

SRW: Well, your book certainly shook me as I know it will anyone else who gives it a read. I really enjoyed the inevitable “meet horrible” of your characters. Definitely gave me a Koontz and King epic road-trip sorta vibe (and I caught that Castle Rock reference!). Inspirations?

PD: Oh gosh, I love King. Way too many inspirations to count them all, but I love Laymon, Hautala, Clegg, Straub, and Ellison. From our contemporary authors, L.L. Soares, Kristen Dearborn, Ed Kurtz, Bracken MacLeod, Stacey Longo, Josh Malerman, April Hawks, Morgan Sylvia, and Tony Tremblay.

SRW: What’s up with the “Omniscient Eye?” (I was kinda surprised to see it has a web presence…but then again, so do funny cat photos).

PD: Azezel’s Eye! Yeah, it’s not exactly “omniscient” in the book—it can only see into people’s pasts and not their futures. If it could see their futures, then Fate becomes absolute and unchanging. I wanted each character’s future to be undetermined and unforeseeable, so I had to place that limitation. But I love that concept of the Omniscient Eye. It has a mythology of its own. It’s everywhere. Any time you hold a dollar bill in your hand, it’s right there. And that’s not even bringing up security cameras and all the ways we’re constantly being watched all the time. Privacy is becoming an illusion. That scares me. 

SRW: Tell us what’s next on your laptop of horror.

PD: I just finished making a round of short story submissions for early 2018. Now I’m on to beginning a new book, tentatively titled “The Butterfly Goddess”. I’ve been working out plot and characters in my head for about six months now, so I really need to put those thoughts onto paper.

SRW: Where can readers find your work? Or where do you hang out for the stalkers?

PD: I have an author page on Amazon. Just type in Peter N.Dudar and you’ll see me smiling at you. I also have an author page on Facebook and a presence both on Twitter and Instagram. Beyond that, I’m also a member of the New England Horror Writers and The Tuesday Mayhem Society, so if you look those pages up on Facebook, you’re liable to bump into me.

SRW: Thanks much for chatting, Peter. Folks, do yourself a favor and go pick up The Goat Parade.

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