Because this blog is as much about what I’m writing and reading (says so, right up there on the banner, yep), I thought I’d take this week’s post to talk a little with one of my favorite authors, Rick Gualtieri, about his horror-comedy series The Tome of Bill, aka the Bill the Vampire books.
Doesn't LOOK like a guy who'd rip your throat out, does he?
Also, thank god, no sparkly emo crap.
I met Rick through Twitter, and soon after discovered his wonderful books: Bill the Vampire, Scary Dead Things, The Mourning Woods, Holier Than Thou, and Sunset Strip so far in the Bill series. He’s also the author of the horrific Bigfoot Hunters; The Poptart Manifesto, a collection of shorts; and some thoughtful occasional rants on his website, www.poptartmanifesto.com. Here, he’s kindly agreed to let me pick his brain a bit on the juxtaposition of funny and bloody things we both enjoy.
Kris Silva: When you first had the idea to write Bill the Vampire, were you considering a more traditional horror approach at all, or was the comic tone your first choice?
Rick Gualtieri: I envisioned Bill the Vampire as a horror comedy from the very start, but one with serious undertones. In other words, I never saw Bill as slapstick. The situations he was thrust into were always supposed to be deadly serious with real consequences. It's the characters who create the main comedic focus - spending more time mocking their circumstances than screeching in terror.
KS: Are there other comedy-horror works which influenced you in writing the Tome of Bill series?
RG: From a writing standpoint, there's a lot of urban fantasy out there with comedic elements. Jim Butcher's Dresden Files is probably the foremost example of this. The difference is that in series like these the comedy is a typically an add-on. For mine I wanted it to be one of the major focuses. Because of that I'd say film has been a greater influence on me. We're talking movies like “Ghostbusters,” “Army of Darkness,” and “Big Trouble in Little China.” These are all films that could have been traditional horror with a more straight-laced cast, but instead are played for laughs due to the attitudes of their heroes.
KS: Those are all great films. I can think of scenes in each that echo the dark humor in your books. However, you also work in a LOT of really...beg pardon ...juvenile silliness. The scatalogical Bigfoot jokes in The Mourning Woods come to mind. Yet those jokes are in the midst of a deadly serious situation. Tension breaker or pure love of silly jokes?
RG: A little of both, but I have to admit that, of all the books I've written, The Mourning Woods is the one most played for laughs. That's both a positive and negative. I think it's easily the funniest of the series, but at the same time probably trades off a bit of character development for the sake of the jokes. That's really the fine line I walk with this series: how to keep it humorous without the characters devolving into complete morons. I am constantly worrying about that balance. That was one of my biggest fears with Sunset Strip. It takes place in the same world, but focuses on different characters. The end result was a dark urban fantasy rather than a comedy. Switching genres in the same world is nerve-wracking because you want people to enjoy the story, but have to accept the reality that many won't because you're not meeting their expectations.
KS: Do you have a favorite scene or scenes among these influential films which just kills you every time you watch?
RG: Bruce Campbell just utterly kills me up in “Army of Darkness.” He has so many great scenes in that movie it’s hard to pick just one – albeit I am particularly fond of the line, “Good, bad...I’m the guy with the gun.”
The Tome of Bill: Now available in Family Snack Size!
KS: Horror-comedy, or comedic horror, seems to have a more narrow audience than either genre separately. I've always wondered why more people DON'T find the juxtaposition hilarious. For instance, in your books, Bill's coven operates a suicide help line in New York City in order to lure in fresh meals. As horrible as that sounds, it's also deeply funny! Any thoughts on why some people don't relate to that sort of sardonic humor?
RG: All humor is subjective. That's the reality of writing comedy - you are absolutely guaranteeing that a percentage of the population will find you about as funny as a train wreck. Trying to appeal to everyone is probably a surefire path to failure, leading to watered down jokes that will offend none and mostly likely earn you a few pained chuckles at most. I write the types of humor that would make me laugh and hope that I'm successful in targeting it to like-minded people. If I fail...well, one has no business writing comedy if they can't laugh at themselves when they get properly smacked down.
KS: My favorite scenes in your books are the ones with that blend of horror and humor, especially when in the midst of something deadly serious, a desperate joke by one of the characters pops up like an offering to the Humor Gods. In Bill the Vampire, for instance, Bill's backtalk to Jeff, the vamp who turns him, is clearly as much of an instinctual response out of dread as anything else. Bill’s obvious desperation makes it even funnier! The use of a vintage Transformer toy as a holy weapon is hilarious, too, and every geek guy or girl who's ever treasured a mint condition action figure enough to imbue it with its own aura of holiness will definitely cheer Tom during the climactic fight scene!
I know you collect Transformers. Have you ever repelled the undead with one?
I know you collect Transformers. Have you ever repelled the undead with one?
RG: Forget the undead. I’m more worried about my kids getting their hands on them. Vampires would be a vacation.
KS: What are your favorite scenes in each of the Tome of Bill books? The ones you personally found the most fun to write?
RG: I’m fond of any times I get to drop snippets of history into things: vampires at Troy, Beowulf as an Icon, and other stuff like that because it gives me a chance to add some fun backstory to this world.
Specifically, though, I think my two favorite scenes in the series so far were from Scary Dead Things and The Mourning Woods respectively. In the former, it’s Gan’s first meeting with Sally. It sets up their dynamic going forward and I loved introducing a character who could crack Sally’s veneer a bit. Bill’s first meeting with the Sasquatch chieftain in The Mourning Woods is my other favorite. Just visualizing that scene from within the main character’s head quite frankly cracks me up – as sad as it might be to laugh at my own jokes.
KS: That scene IS hilarious. What better time for poop jokes than when you’re in danger of being squashed by a Sasquatch, after all...
What books do you currently have in the works, ready to unleash upon the unsuspecting?
RG: I’m nearly finished with Goddamned Freaky Monsters, book 5 in Bill’s series. Following that I’m working with Tim Greaton on a collaborative story which is shaping up nicely. From there, we’ll see. I have no shortage of ideas in the pipeline, but whenever I try to schedule too far in advance it becomes a near guarantee that I’ll work on something different.
KS: I know you also write straight horror (Bigfoot Hunters) and even erotica. Each of those has its own appeal, certainly; is there a genre you find most comfortable to write in, and is it easy for you to switch between them?
RG: I don’t write erotica, but Cole Vance does. Whether he has any connection to me, I really can’t say. [smiles]
Seriously, I’m probably most comfortable with urban fantasy, but I don’t have much trouble switching to a different genre for a new book. It’s all about getting into the character’s heads. If I can do that then all is well. If I can’t then that probably means it’s not the right story for me to be working on at that moment.
Many thanks to my guest, Rick Gualtieri, whose Bill the Vampire books give hope to geeks everywhere! Rick’s books can be found for purchase on Amazon.