Seven Questions with Edward M. Erdelac

Happy Halloween! Well, almost. Today’s guest is Edward Erdelac, author of the Merkabah Rider series. He is the unchallenged champion in the category of ‘Weird Westerns’ and whose short stories are in three anthologies currently being reviewed for nomination for a 2013 Bram Stoker Award. He is a fantastic author, among the best I’ve read. Here is a link to my review on Goodreads.

JE- Hi Edward, thanks for taking the time for being interviewed.

EE- Thanks inviting me.

 

1) I just finished the first of the Merkabah Rider books. Would you tell us a little about it?

Merkabah Rider is a weird western series about a Hasidic gunslinger tracking the renegade teacher who betrayed his mystic Jewish order of astral travelers (merkabah riders) to the Great Old Ones of the Lovecraftian Mythos. The Rider is a hero in the spaghetti western vein, though not nearly as invulnerable. Members of his sect assume titles to hide their names from malevolent entities, and the Rider clinks around (because under his clothes he’s covered in dozens of talismans and wards) in Hasidic garb with a pair of blue glass spectacles mystically embossed with the Solomonic seals that allow him to see into the Yenne Velt, or spirit world. He employs a silver and gold chased Volcanic pistol likewise covered in sigils and bodyguards against demons and dybbukim. People I tell the concept to usually think it’s gonna be some smarmy pun-ridden satire, but nope, it’s all played completely straight.

There are three books in the series, Tales Of A High Planes Drifter, The Mensch With No Name, and Have Glyphs Will Travel, with a fourth and final installment, Once Upon A Time In The Weird West, in the works. Although they are novels, they’re presented as collections of novella length episodes, meant to evoke the old Lancer/Zebra paperback collections of Robert E. Howard pulp stories.

While there’s plenty of weirdness, bordellos of succubi, half-demon outlaws, a monstrous animated windmill, I think the best weird westerns don’t let the weirdness outdo the western, so in the course of the series the Rider meets up with real personages from history, like Doc Holliday, Dave Mather, Josephine Marcus, Geronimo, etc. Although the Rider’s personal outlook is Judeo-centric, drawing on a lot of Jewish folklore and Midrashic/Kabbalistic beliefs, I throw in stuff from all over the map. Chinese folklore, Christian, Native American, African, Haitian, Mexican, and other works of fiction I enjoy, all wrapped up with a writhing, nameless Lovecraftian bow. I like to read about culture clashes, the way (especially on the frontier) that people that were worlds apart related to each other (or didn’t), and I try to bring that to Merkabah Rider.

 

2) What about Star Wars and your part in that galaxy?

If there’s a bright center to the Star Wars universe, my part is the one that it’s furthest from. Back in 2008 StarWars.com ran a spectacular feature called What’s The Story? Every month they would post an image of an obscure character from a frame of one of the Star Wars films. Sometimes these were blink-and-you’ll-miss-‘em characters who literally walked or rolled past the camera for a half a second, sometimes they were crowd scene characters, or characters from spin-off media. The contest was open to absolutely anybody. You basically submitted a backstory, which they then posted and entered into the Lucas archives as canon, in Leland Chee’s ultra-comprehensive internal Holocron database. I wound up writing the winning entries for three months, including the last one, for a drug addicted bounty hunter named Bane Malar (who became a nifty action figure).

This led to me landing my first professional writing job. I did a story for the official website called Fists of Ion. It was about an up and coming alien (a Calian, a race not seen since the Marvel Comics run of Star Wars if you want to know) prizefighter named Lobar Aybock (a tuckerization of Rocky Balboa) who gets recruited by New Republic Intelligence to help bring down a corrupt Imperial governor on a bleak, acid rain washed industrial world. It was basically a chance to write two of my favorite genres – Star Wars and pulpy fight stories. So it’s everything you’d ever want to know about (shock) boxing in a Galaxy Far Far Away. You can actually still read it here, for free –

http://star-wars.suvudu.com/2012/10/star-wars-shorts-fists-of-ion.html

 

Who are your favorite authors and/or books?

Robert E. Howard is my all-time favorite writer, followed by Richard Matheson and Joe R. Lansdale, but funny enough, the first two non-comic books I ever read that convinced me reading (and writing) was amazing was Jack London’s Call Of The Wild (Sister Marie read it to the class – and the ending, which I won’t spoil, just floored me) and Simon Hawke’s adaptation of Friday The 13th Part VI: Jason Lives. I read the latter in one sitting and was absolutely mesmerized by its brutality and realness (well, for a novelization about an indestructible hockey mask wearing maniac anyway). I’m not even particularly fond of the movies, and have no idea if it would read as well as it did when I was in seventh grade, but I cannot tell a lie. I was blown away by those books. Since then, I would rate Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, Howard’s Hour Of The Dragon, Tolkien’s The Hobbit, Melville’s Moby Dick, Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove, and John Irving’s A Prayer For Owen Meany as my all-time favorites. Outside of the aforementioned, Stephen King, Shakespeare, Mickey Spillane, Patrick O’Brian, Forrest Carter, Alan Moore, H.P Lovecraft, E.R. Burroughs, Ambrose Bierce, J.R.R. Tolkien, and William Blake are the guys whose work I return to again and again.

 

4) I know what scares me; what scares you?

Well I don’t know what scares you! Tell me!

For me, firstly, it’s my kids. Not that they in themselves terrify me (although being bit in the calf by a toddler when you’re not expecting it is pretty startling), but as they grow older, the thought that anything untoward might happen to them. This ties directly into the other big one, death. The (to me) slight possibility of oblivion, or total non-existence. I never once gave it a thought until I had kids. I was always assured I would continue in some way, and I still mostly am, but every once in awhile I stay up nights thinking about it. Dying before I see my kids grow up, or at least before I know they’ll be OK. Great White Sharks are the only critter on earth that gives me pause, but I haven’t yet had to face that one. Demonic possession movies still creep me out – mainly when they do that weird non-diagetic voice thing. Little girls who sound like Barry White. Maybe tight spaces. I’m not scared of being trapped in an elevator or a closet, but lock me in a trunk where I can’t push the seat down and get out, I start to sweat. And that brings me full circle to death again. Poe’s The Premature Burial terrified me as a kid.

This scares me. It is why my wife and I don't have kids.

This scares me. It is why my wife and I don’t have kids.

5) Where is the coolest place (either temperature-wise, or in terms of hipness) you’ve ever been here on Earth? Anyplace off Earth? (You never know unless you ask.)

On earth, I spent two weeks in Bayamon, Puerto Rico. It was heavenly. The ocean was clear and the temperature of bathwater, the women were beautiful, of every type and shade, and friendly, the liquor was blinding (and laced, mysteriously, with tortoise balls), the food was amazing, and I was introduced to a variety of Spanish language bands I never would’ve given a chance otherwise – Plastalina Mosh chief among them. They’re like the Beastie Boys if they came from Monterrey, Mexico. Even experienced a rain shower in a tropical forest. Amazing. Close runner up is StarvedRockState Park in Illinois, where I was married in a blizzard.

Off the earth – If, like the painter in Leaf By Niggle (or the people in Matheson’s Summerland), you get to exist in a place of your own imagining once you shuffle off your mortal coil, I might choose to spend my cosmic retirement in Middle Earth. Probably in Mithlond or maybe The Shire. But I’d vacation all over the place –Barsoom, Tatooine, maybe Narnia and definitely that sexy planet from Star Trek. You know the one. I haven’t yet found a place in my own imagination I’d go to (there’s always horrible stuff going down in those places), so I hope the rent isn’t prohibitive in any of these alternate realms. But all these places are dear to me, and they’re vivid enough to make me feel like I’ve been to them.

 

6) This is a slippery question, be careful. Tell us one thing about yourself that no one would guess by just meeting you.

My author buddy and sometime editor Tim Marquitz, whom you should call The Exquisite Marquis as I do, has told me it’s that I like classic hip hop and gangsta (I hate spelling it that way, but it’s a two edged sword. You either come off as a jerk or a poser if you do it one way or the other, and I won’t say ‘G-style.’ Ah crap. I just said it.) rap music. He says it’s odd, considering I’m one of the whitest, squarest looking dudes he knows. I wrote, directed, and produced an indie western movie back in 2009, Meaner Than Hell, and I kept one of the character’s saddlebags. So when I go to a convention I usually have those over my shoulder Jack Burton style, to carry my purchases and submission packets and stuff. So yeah, Tim says I look like a dork. But anyway, I came of age when hip hop was actually good (A Tribe Called Quest, GangStarr, Scarface, Eric B. And Rakim, etc), so I’m a fan, though I don’t wear sports caps with the little secret sticker on the underside of the brim, or baggy pants or any of that b-boy stuff. Whew, that IS a slippery slope…

.

 

7) The final Rider book is coming out soon, are there any new ‘Weird Westerns’ planned or is this where the sun sets?

I’ve got a new book out already from JournalStone Publishing, Terovolas, which is about Abraham Van Helsing’s 1891 sojourn in Texas. Right after the events depicted in Bram Stoker’s Dracula the professor suffered a mental breakdown stemming from his encounter with the count’s vampire brides. After his release, he volunteered to bear the remains of Quincey Morris back to the Morris family ranch, and had a series of weird encounters involving wolf worshippers there. I’ve been thinking about maybe knocking out a wuxia western fantasy next, as I love old Chang Cheh kung fu movies, and Chinese folklore, like Journey To The West, stuff like that. Somewhere far down the trail I might revisit the Rider’s early years (his career in the War, his adventure with Misquamacus, and his Texas exploits), but only if people are interested or if I run out of other ideas.

Aside from THAT, yeah I think that part of my career might bid a fond farewell.  But it’s OK, there are always other stories to tell.

 

The following is an excerpt from the second in the Merkabah Rider series, Have Glyphs, Will Travel.

“Dirty Dave is a lout, but he won’t shirk from a fight,” Doc warned. “Looking like you do, and going in there with just your pecker in your hand, you might set that bull to charging.”

“I’ve settled a charging bull or two in my time,” the Rider said. “Besides, we need him alive and talking.”

“Your call,” Doc said.

The Rider pushed through the doors and walked into the cigar smoke and chatter.

The bar was polished wood and there was a big mirror behind it. Gaming tables were full about the place.

The Rider went to the bar and laid his right hand flat on it.

Dirty Dave Rudabaugh was belly to the bar, a few feet to his left, wide gun belt sagging with the weight of his pistol, big calloused pig knuckle hands grasping bottle and glass. He had a bulldog face and double chin papered with rough stubble, a single thick fold in the back of his neck. He sported a luxuriant down-swept mustache below a lumpy pear nose. The graying hair on his head was cropped short and his meaty face seemed to squeeze at the bases of his big red ears. He carried a lot of extra weight, but he was solid as a boar, a bully born.

“This glass looks like you wiped it with your dickhead, Tetchy,” he rumbled, though he was the dirtiest one in the place.

He set it down and with a flick of his thick finger, sent it smashing onto the floor behind the bar.

Tetchy the bartender stooped to clean up the mess.

“Bring me another one.”

“You gonna pay to replace that one, Dirty?” Tetchy muttered.

“What?” said Dirty, his pale blue eyes bright in his mean face.

Tetchy rose, busted glass rattling in a dustpan and paled at Dirty’s look.

“Nothing.”

He dipped slightly and set another glass in front of Dirty, then did the same for the Rider.

“What’ll you have?” he asked.

The Rider closed his fingers around the shot glass.

“I’ll have whatever that fat pig Dave Rudabaugh is having,” the Rider said loud and clear.

The talk in the bar stopped and he heard creaking chairs and leather as bodies turned in their seats.

Dirty turned too, his lips pinched, eyes glaring. There was a confused expression on his face for a half a second as Dirty took in the Rider, then he blinked and straightened, his hand dropping to his side.

The Rider pitched the shot glass at him.

It struck Dirty in the upper lip with such force it exploded, rocking his head back and knocking his hat off, sending blood, glass, and a chip off his eye tooth flying in all directions.

In another minute Doc was there. He smashed Dirty’s groping hand with the barrel of his own .45, then followed up with a knee to his big belly that left the man spluttering and groaning.

Doc looked at the Rider with open admiration.

“I never thought I’d meet a man faster with a whiskey glass than I was.”

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A Naughty Little Tease

This is the first excerpt from Crossing Mother’s Grave. This is taken from the Prologue and it takes place just before Popalia and her group are arrested in The Wrong Way Down. It is a tightly written scene that wraps up a small loose end within the first book. This excerpt reacquaints us with antagonist Katia, and offers a fair bit of foreshadowing.  (The Wrong Way Down was always intended as a set up for this book and the next one. Although book one had dark highlights, this book shows my love for the art of writing horror.) Please, enjoy the sample.

The release date is set for September 1st, 2012.

Katia rubbed the top of her head, disliking the feel of her coarse hair. Like the slaver’s tattoo scarring her face, her hair was another part of Athania that would never go away. Beyond the window’s reflection, more motion caught her eye. Adjusting her focus though the glass and into the general store, she saw Gregor’s partner, Ucilius, paying for baths as well as the food for the next leg of their journey.

Outside the wagon and to her left, she heard a muffled voice calling, “Kat, are you here? Kat?”

To her surprise, she recognized the caller and quietly called back, “I’m only purring if you’re petting, my dear.”

The rugged-looking caller came into view. He wore a black vest over a long-sleeved white shirt that was stained with three days’ worth of dust. His shoulders were thick, and the dirty white shirt seemed creased by the muscles concealed beneath. Blandly, his black hair shined oily with long sideburns joining his mustache. Dark eyes preluded a deep meanness.

Awaiting his approach, she calmly asked, “Stileur, what are you doing here?”

“Know that Darren is watching out for you,” he said quickly. “I didn’t expect to catch up with you here, but Darren said that if I found you to tell you we’ve got you covered. Just complete your assignment.”

“What is going on?”

Still staggered by the death of his friends in Capitol City, Stileur blurted out, “Trevex is dead. It is too long and weird to tell you the whole story right now. That priestess you ditched in the woods? She hired a couple of heavies, and they’re looking for you. I passed them somewhere on the road, but don’t worry, Darren’s gotta good plan to stop ‘em right here.”

The door behind Stileur opened, and Ucilius stepped outside. Katia tilted her head in the merchant’s direction, giving Stileur a fair warning as her tone changed, “Well, it looks like we are leaving now; it was nice talking to you.”

Turning, Stileur peered at the richly dressed, thirty-something merchant. He was wearing a brocade jerkin of olive green with gold threading, and there were elegant, lace ruffles wrapping his wrists. As Stileur saw it, such a show of wealth was a promise of easy prey. Stileur looked down at the merchant’s scrawny little legs—like string beans in skin-tight, avocado pantaloons. By drastic contrast, it appeared as if the little guy had tucked a small melon under his shirt.

Stileur gave the shorter merchant a menacing stare before slinking away from the wagon. Katia stifled a grin, watching Ucilius jump from the unexpected display of hostility. Katia read the startled expression crossing his face as he advanced.

“Friend of yours?” he stated nervously. His hair had been cut near the scalp from the tops of his ears down. Up top, brown bangs remained long and had been greased back and parted on the right. A shallow nose accompanied by closely set eyes gave an impression the young man had been punched hard, and his face had never depressed.

What a pussycat, she thought mockingly before replying with an ice-coated tongue, “He looks at you dirty, and you think he’s my friend? What does that say about us, Ucilius? I’m deeply hurt. I thought you and I were nearly in bed together?”

Stammering, Ucilius replied, “Errr, ummm. I’m married. Ummm, my wife and love…”

“Easy, easy. No worries,” she interrupted. “Look, that soldier…he was off-duty and lookin’ for love. I shot him down like you just shot me.” She pursed her expression to make a dejected and wanton face.

Offering a nervous chuckle, “Well, then—I guess that explains it.”

Observing the merchant’s tight lips, Katia knew that Gregor must want something. The Third could never ask for himself. Ucilius looked deep inside himself, and not finding the courage or tact to tell her, he finally blurted out, “Gregor is concerned that if we have problems on the road, you won’t do your part.”

She thought, I should slap the stupid right off your face. Instead, she replied by saying calmly, “I don’t understand what you are implying. I’ve paid a very generous amount to ride in the back of this wagon all the way to the Portown. Has there been some problem with spending the gold I paid for my ride?”

“No, no, no. Not that.” Verbally, he scampered backward. “Gregor is concerned that if bandits attack, you won’t help fight.”

She snorted. “Is your wife going to fight? How about the bookkeeper? Will she fight?” Ucilius held his hands up in surrender, reminding her that he is only the messenger.

Katia nodded slowly while easing into the cushioned rocker, “Well, you tell Gregor I’ll do what I got to do. Nothing more, nothing less. I paid for this ride; do I look like a slave?” She paused before adding, “I dare you to answer that.”

Ucilius stammered, and Katia stated resolutely, “I owe him nothing. He can give my money back and pay me some on top if he thinks I’m here to protect His Highness. You hear me, Ucilius?”

“It’s okay. Don’t get so upset.” He kept his hands up while saying, “I’ll tell him what you said. I’ll tell him you’ll do what you have to do. He’ll just have to accept that as a yes.”

Seven Questions with Tim Marquitz

[This was my first interview, cool huh? My we’ve come a long way, and Tim Marquitz was a good sport to be my Guinea Pig.]

 

I’m a fan of Tim’s Demon Squad series and his third in series, At the Gates, is to be released tomorrow, Dec 1st. Coincidentally, my first novel, The Wrong Way Down, will be sitting on the virtual bookshelf right next to his.  Having the opportunity to interview an author as vividly imaginative as Tim Marquitz has been a real honor.

 

JE: Who were your early author influences? What have you read that convinced you to seek writing your own story?

 TM: There have been a ton of authors who’ve influenced my writing, from Michael Moorcock to Anne McCaffrey and Stephen King, but I’d have to say Clive Barker was the most influential in making me want to write. His dark perversity wrapped up in such gorgeous prose was something I initially wanted to emulate, but lacked the poetry to properly pay tribute to.

 Jim Butcher is a more recent influence. He is the most responsible for my creation of the Demon Squad series. He showed me with the Dresden Files that you can write a great, emotionally impactful story without having to prettify the language.

JE: You’ve got a few other books out, how many is the total count, including your latest, At the Gates?  On the topic of your other works, what is the Sepulchral Earth series about?

 TM: As of December, when the third book in the Demon Squad series comes out from Damnation Books, I’ll have seven releases.

 Sepulchral Earth is my attempt at writing in the zombie genre while trying to create my own little niche. The story focuses on a necromancer, Harlan, who has lost his family to the undead. He wants nothing more than to free their spirits so they can rest in peace. Along the way, Harlan encounters the undead in all their forms and worst still, the living, most of whom want nothing more than to see Harlan dead.

JE: How many books do you foresee in telling the Demon Squad series?

 TM: I’ll write the Demon Squad books until I feel I’ve jumped the shark or they become boring to me. I like the idea of a flagship series that I can keep going back to, and the DS world is so wide open that I can’t picture myself running out of fresh ideas for books.

JE: One of the things that drew me to reading Armageddon Bound was that on the Damnation Books Author Page it said you have a background in grave-digging. That is a unique job, how much did it contribute to your dark, yet very funny sense of humor?

TM: Grave digging has certainly enhanced my descriptive skills when it comes to the smell and sight of dead bodies. As for my sense of humor, I’m not sure it did much. I was already a twisted, sarcastic asshole before I started digging graves. If anything, it may have added to my irreverent attitude toward death. It’s hard to worry too much about it when you see it so often it becomes mundane.

JE: What inspired such a grim tale of modern day wizards, angels and demons?

TM: Short answer, the Dresden Files. After reading Jim’s books, it really inspired me to be more honest with my skillset and leanings. As much as I love Clive Barker’s writing, I don’t believe I’ll ever be able to match his grace when it comes to storytelling. Jim showed me you can write great stories without having to dress the language up in a tux.

 Once I had the framework for what I wanted to do, the story that would become the Demon Squad just spilled out of me.

JE: Frank is a very complex character, being half-angel, half-devil, he has shown a great display of paradox. It is one Freudian conundrum. What spurned the idea to tell this tale from the twisted and very-split perspective of Frank Trigg?

TM: Frank is actually half-devil, half-human. Scarlett is the mix of both angel and demon. As for the enigma that is Frank, he is definitely a spawn of the weird, perversely violent, and extravagant world he was raised in. He just fit the role.

 I wanted a character that had the inside track to what was going on, but I needed a flawed character who was still some measure of an outcast. The role didn’t call for a character who was a super badass, but one who would be challenged by the changes in the world. I very much wanted a Died Hard (Bruce Willis) type MC who won through on heart more than he ever did on skill. There’s a primitive satisfaction in seeing the underdog rise up against the odds and succeed.

JE: You really did your homework on religion to put this series together. Is religion a lifestyle for you, or is it a hobby? Or both, maybe neither…

TM: Neither really. I did some research as to the relationships of certain angels to one another, and studied some of the Christian mythos, but I didn’t do much else. I wanted a framework people could grasp immediately, but I also wanted enough freedom to smudge the lines. Growing up in today’s world, you can’t help but have a passing familiarity with the world I’m working in, regardless of your religious background. That was what I was counting on when I did my world building.

JE: What scenes have you written that you are very proud of? Which ones were the hardest to get right?

 TM: I’m proud of everything I’ve written, to a degree. The worst, and also the best, part of being a writer is that I grow with every story I tell. While I can find something I like in every story I tell, each new piece brings with it new challenges and new opportunities to learn, as well as the growth from the last piece. As such, every new story I write is the best in my eyes.

 I think the hardest stories to write are the ones where I step away from my experiences. When I create a character whose experience is different from mine, I have to dig deeper to flesh that character out and make it real. It’s a challenge where I’m stuck relying on the media I’ve absorbed in my life or on the social consciousness of the world.

JE: Thanks Tim, this interview was fun. Within the next couple months, (mid-January to early February) I plan to read Greg Chapman’s The Noctuary, a tale of a tormented writer and his dark muse. Then I’ll see if he wants to do an interview. (It is far easier to interview after I’m familiar with the author’s work.)