David Niall Wilson is a man of many talents. From being a former president of the Horror Writers Association to his work at Crossroads Press, and his writing in horror, science fiction, and fantasy he has worked tirelessly to promote all things creative. He has won the Bram Stoker’s Award for Horror Poetry as well as for short fiction. His novel This is My Blood released in 1999 seductively offers up the fictional gospel of Judas of Iscariot and features Mary of Magdalene as a fallen angel cursed with a form of vampirism which mirrors the recently translated codex ascribed to Judas himself. In his latest novel Nevermore he weaves the tale of spirits trapped in trees seen by Eleanore MacReady and her meeting up with the young darkly inclined poet Edgar Allan Poe at one such tree. It was an honor to sit down with David and get a glimpse into the mind that brings such fascinating stories to the world.
What were you like as a child? What was your most favorite thing back then?
This is probably not the first time someone answered, “I was a strange child.” I was totally into fishing, for one thing. subscribed to Sports Afield, Field and Stream, Outdoor Life, and spent a lot of my time down at the lake I lived beside. Most of the rest of my younger years were spent reading. At one point I thought my future would be traveling the world (or at least the country) fishing and writing articles for those same magazines to pay the bills.
During what I guess were truly my formative years, I read a lot of historical fiction, Kenneth Roberts, biographies, the works of Abraham Lincoln, and a ton of mystery and horror anthologies that used to be available to kids through the Weekly Reader program. I was an early subscriber to The Science-Fiction Book Club, and worked my way through nearly every comic book in existence, for at least a decade.
I did not have a lot of friends, and those I did have tended to be close – and also weird. One invented a game called “Basement Ball” where you used a taped up ping pong ball, and a ping pong paddle both to pitch, and to bat. As you can imagine, it never caught on.
Musically, I was all over the place. I played Cello and Baritone Saxophone. I listened to Sam Cooke, The Bay City Rollers, and a calypso guy named The Big Cat, for a few. I knew (and still remember) the lyrics to thousands of pop songs starting in the Doo Wop days and moving into the 70s. I’m a little spottier since then – maybe the hard drive needs a purge…
Were you always drawn to darkly creative subjects?
Absolutely. I have always loved music, and writing. I’ve been writing poetry since a very young age, and some stories. I used to paint, and still draw sometimes, though it’s kind of like the music for me. I have some talent, and I can turn out things that make people smile, but I’m not Elvis, or Picasso – with the writing, I have a chance.
Who were some of your earliest influences?
Edgar Allan Poe would be the first author I could seriously call an influence. Tolkien, of course, and Kurt Vonnegut Jr. Tom Robbins was another early favorite. I leaned, even then, toward the weird. As I grew older, I moved through Tanith Lee and Marion Zimmer Bradley, Michael Moorcock and Ray Bradbury, until I reached a point that I believe I am still hovering around, where I’m influenced a little bit by nearly every author I read. Even the bad ones. I look, and I read, and I think…God, don’t EVER let me do something like that…
What led you to become a writer?
I think I just…was. In high school, I wrote so much more than I had to that I did projects for several classmates (culminating in one of my best friends winning first place in a poetry contest with a poem I wrote, and not even giving me the prize). I told people I was a writer even before I’d written anything significant, and just always believed it. I like to tell stories, and I tell them better on paper than I do in person.
Do you happen to remember what your very first piece of writing?
There are two that I remember clearly from around the same period. One was a poem called The Torture Chamber, which I remember almost nothing about, but that I wrote on a whim and turned into my English teacher, Ms. Plath. The other was a short story titled The Thing at the Top of the Stairs, written for the same teacher, in that same class. I lost the story, but years later rewrote it from memory and it was published in a book titled 365 scary stories (all very short, as you can imagine. I had 7 stories in that book). The story was about a writer who was trying to finish a manuscript – a horror manuscript. He fell asleep, and when he woke he heard noises coming from the stairs to his basement. Of course, something big, tentacle, and dark was there, and it grabbed him…he passed out, and when he woke up? The manuscript was finished… Certainly nothing new or clever, but it stuck with me, and hey – it was published…
Can you tell us a little about Crossroads Press? Do you enjoy bringing the world the works of so many talented and creative souls with your work there?
I do enjoy it, but I can tell you, the entire thing was an accident. All I ever wanted was to write. I got the idea to get my own backlist of work out there in eBook formats, was pretty good at it, and others asked if I could do their work. From there, it sort of took root and spread. The basis of the company is to put authors first, and to try never to fail to communicate clearly, pay honestly and on time, or treat people the way we’d like to be treated. I have a long history of dislike for editors and agents, and a lot of that comes from long – sometimes interminable – waits that culminated in no sales, or not much money, or years of waiting to see the words in print. I’m sorry, there is no way those people can be too busy to answer an e-mail, or the phone – I’ll show them busy, if they want to compare dance cards. They just got into a tradition of ignore, push aside, and wait that they seem unable to break out of. No one should wait two years just to be told no when the editor and agent both knew all along that is what was going to happen. We’re breaking that mold.
This is My Blood sounds fascinating. What inspired you to write that one?
To shorten a very long story, a guy on one of the US Navy ships I was stationed on suggested that it would be “cool” if Jesus was a vampire. I explained (being at that time just free of my early desire to study for the ministry) that this wouldn’t work, and why…but then thought…but what if someone close to Jesus was a vampire – of sorts?
The idea grew into the novelette A Candle in the Sun, my first big pro sale. It was reprinted in Year’s Best Horror XIX and eventually I sat down to expand it and finish the story. I had something to say, of course – it was my way of making my farewell address to organized religion. With Mary Magdalene, a fallen angel who knew that there was a Heaven, and a Hell, as my “voice” I was able to step aside and work at the flaws. I’ve been told that, blasphemous as the whole notion of Mary and Judas as vampires might be – the book can actually cause a reaffirmation of faith. Never saw that coming. Also, you’d be shocked how many people over the years were convinced that the parts of the fictional Gospel According to Judas Iscariot were real and wanted to know where I’d found them.
What are your personal feelings on the story Judas of Iscariot?
Even when I was caught up in the whole Christianity thing, the story of Judas bugged me. If he was created to fail, then fulfilled his purpose, he hardly seems worthy of damnation for it. Through the books of the Bible, none of the others were really any better – they grumbled, fought, tried to become top dog and even worried over whether the things Jesus said and did were right. Even miracles performed right in front of their faces had little impact over time. Judas was set up – and so – I wrote a story in which he is a hero.
What made you decide Mary of Magdalene should be afflicted with a form of vampirism? What sort of affliction was it exactly?
She was a fallen angel. When Jesus went to the desert and was tempted by Lucifer, the Bible only accounts for a very small amount of that time. To me, the biggest temptation a man can face is the beauty of a woman. Lucifer raised Mary to tempt Jesus, but instead, she went to him and asked to be taken back to Heaven. In anger, Lucifer cursed her to follow him and feed off his faithful, claiming that she would be his undoing.
Do you think the whole Twilight thing has done damage to both vampire and werewolf lore?
I find myself unalterably indifferent to Twilight. For one thing, I don’t consider myself any “kind” of writer, and don’t have any investment in the lore of vampires or werewolves, ghosts, or whatever. I think Twilight is a grand example of a case where the masses can’t tell good writing from bad – half the writers on the Internet have that same problem. People love a retelling of Romeo and Juliet, and apparently anything where young men in good condition take off their shirts a lot is going to have wide appeal. Those who like more traditional dark fantasy won’t care one way or the other about Twilight, and the fans of Twilight are – at least – reading. Maybe one day they’ll pick up something well-written, but similar enough in theme to catch their attention, and then – suddenly – they’ll ‘get’ it. Maybe. Probably not, but one can always hope. I’m more horrified by the idea that the “Fifty Shades of pointless Twilight Fan-Fiction porn” is writing a guide…on writing. No good can come of this…
Were you surprised that your story touched on things in the recently translated codex attributed to Judas?
I was delighted! Most of the books that have become apocryphal have, in some way, shown that the standard beliefs of church and the “faithful” are flawed. I believe the early Christians would be horrified by what their religion has become, and find it a travesty that so many take the word of a despot King who commissioned a version of the “Holy Book” that allowed him to get divorced legally, rather than studying the whole of what is known of those times. The Book of Judas that they discovered and published talks about spirituality more than religion, and touches on the mystical, much like the all-but-forgotten Book of Enoch that was cut from the Bible, even though it’s referenced within that same work.
Do you think he got a bum rap in that whole story?
As I said before, yes. Either man has a choice, or he does not, and if he does not, maybe God should punish himself.
Do you believe in angels and demons and such yourself?
I have a very open mind about things beyond our understanding, but in the traditional sense? Not at all. I don’t believe any old mythology – Christianity, Zoroastrianism, Islam, etc. is any more valid than another. They are fairy tales told long, long ago, and people need to embrace the reality of the wonderful world surrounding them instead of leaning on broken crutches from the past. Organized religion exists so that one group of men can control another. It has always been that way.
Is it true you are an ordained minister in the Universal Light Church? What led you to do that? Do you think religion is changing much in our times? How do you think it needs to change most?
I am, but then, so is one of the cats I used to own. I wanted to be legal to perform weddings and funerals. I never have, but if I wanted to, I could. Beyond that, it’s a piece of paper. I also have a diploma from Miskatonic University proclaiming me a Master of Medieval Metaphysics – I give that equal credibility.
You have written short stories, novels, and poetry is there any one you enjoy more than the others?
I write novels most of the time. Poetry is something that ‘occurs’ – kind of like when I get the urge to write a song. It doesn’t happen often, and usually means more to me than to anyone else. Short stories are something I’ve always been good at, but they are a lot of work to get right, and they pay poorly. That said, I have at least a half dozen collections and over 200 stories published, so… I can’t say I hate them. I like writing novels the best. They feel solid, and complete, and I don’t feel the same restrictions. I once said on a panel at World Fantasy convention that a poem is like a photograph – one frame – that’s all you have to get your meaning across. A short story is more like a filmstrip, or a single scene that encompasses the entire theme of a work. Novels are the “movies” of the storytelling world…they are easier, for me, and so I like them better. Screenplays are like a distilled novel and –like poetry – require a lot more thought to get right. Anyone who thinks adapting something ‘properly’ form prose to screen is a simple matter simply doesn’t understand screenwriting.
Any subject you have yet to cover that you would most like to?
Lately I am more and more drawn to stories that are born of folklore, myths, legends, and even the classics of literature. My most recent novel, Nevermore, A Novel of Love, Loss, and Edgar Allan Poe, gave me a shot at answering who Lenore was, why The Raven was written, and even a shot at reworking some Brothers Grimm magic. I love that kind of thing. I live near The Great Dismal Swamp, where the novel takes place, and much of the folklore behind it is based on the actual history of the area. Short answer, as I move into the future, I grow fonder of the deep past.
Are there any known facts about yourself that your friends, peers, etc. might be surprised to learn?
I’m a fairly open book…I bake pies. Some know that, others don’t. I love dark beer, bourbon whiskey, and animals. I have a secret bucket-wish to spend time playing with a bear and/or a big cat. I can sing (not world-class, but I carry a tune). I am often to be seen with a Cockatiel on my shoulder…
Can you tell our readers a little more about Nevermore? What led Eleanore and Edgar Allan Poe to meet at that particular tree?
There is (theoretically, I hope to confirm it soon) a tree on the banks of Lake Drummond that looks like a deer leaping into the lake. There is another that resembles a woman. Both have their legends. Lenore, in my novel, is an artist – but she is more than that. She sees images in trees, brush, water, stones, the faces of spirits still clinging to the earth. It is her gift (or curse?) to be able to draw them, then erase them from the images and set them free. Edgar is traveling, seeking a cure for his wife, Virginia’s illness. Again, for the purposes of my story, his melancholy is partly due to the fact that he is something of a mystic himself. He has a familiar – a crow named Grimm – that travels with him. He believes he could find a cure for Virginia, but the types of cures he knows she will not abide, due to her strong Christian faith. So he writes his pain into the ink of stories that come to him when he –and Grimm – are bonded.
When Lenore and Edgar come into close proximity, their gifts form a link, and they are sucked into an event in the past that – by changing the words of a story he is writing – allow Edgar to subtly change the past. Any more would be giving away too much…
Why do you think society has always been fascinated with the darker side of things?
The title of the original novelette that became This is My Blood answers this, as does a parable from that novel. Without darkness, there is no light. Without light, there are no shadows. In creative art people seek ways to dive into the darker side of the world, the mind, the psyche, and the universe without putting themselves in real danger. They expect to emerge on the other side safe and sound. Most of the time creative people allow for this – other times, our entire intent is to leave a mark. It’s that possibility –that inherent danger – that draws people back, time and again. The temptation without the payback. The cake without the calories. You read and you visit the darkness someone else created for you – but you can come back when you’re through, and visit again when you need to. Most of the things we crave in life are bad for us in one way or another. Vicarious satisfaction is better than none at all…if that makes sense. Most of the time when I answer questions like this I teeter between wondering if I’m profound, or a blithering idiot.
What projects are you working on at the moment?
I am working on several things, but I’m currently concentrated on a novel tentatively titled On a Midnight, Dark and Dreary – which is – all at once – the sequel and conclusion to the tragedy of Nevermore, the next Donovan DeChance novel, and a direct tie-in to the other series I helped create, and that I love, the O.C.L.T. – not to mention indirect ties to my vampire novel Darkness Falling. It’s going to be complex and difficult and satisfying, if I do it right, and if I do not – I will do it again. It’s important.
Anything you’d like to say in closing?
Thanks for giving me a place (and a lot of good topics) to babble. People who know me know that I love to talk. When I do it with my fingers, it’s easier for them to tune me out…