Seven Questions with Timothy Baker

 

I’ve read many of Timothy Baker’s short stories, and a back in May, his debut novel, Path of the Dead. Although I missed my opportunity to meet Timothy at 2013’s World Horror Convention, I was fortunate enough to share stories in several of the same anthologies.  Tim writes flawed and believable characters oftentimes being subjected to terrifying, and seemingly hopeless situations. He is among my favorite authors, and he survived challenging seven deadly questions.

 

Great characters and classic zombies. (Links to my review.)

Great characters and classic zombies. (Links to my review.)

 

 1) Tim, what can you tell us about your novel, Path of the Dead?

 

First off, thanks for letting me invade your space and talk nonsense.

 

It’s an adventure story chock full of heroes and villians, gore and glory, sex with guns…wait…um…that’s my current work-in-progress. Sorry. Path of the Dead is, at first glance, a standard end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it, zompoc adventure tale with all the attending elements. Its uniqueness lies in its setting and its protagonists POV. Set in rural Tibet, the narrative passes back and forth between a ten-year-old boy and a hermit Buddhist monk. Though the plot may rise from a horde of undead and the characters fight for survival, the story and characterizations were built on a culture a world away from our urban sensibilities.  I saw it as happening at the same time as Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, but halfway around the globe.

 

2) Was there a lot of research involved in writing your story?

 

Considering I’ve been studying Buddhism for years, I would say that there was a ton. After initially getting the seed of the idea, I dove into regional and cultural research so as to capture the texture of the land and those that reside there. Several of the things I discovered helped build the story, those little surprises that when you see them you think, “oh yeh, that’s going in”.  When I saw a photo of Tiger’s Nest Monastery in Bhutan stuck to a sheer cliff and obscured by the mists of the mountaintop, I knew it would become central to the action.  It was beautiful, dangerous, spiritual, and ethereal all at once.  The Festival of the Medicine King was also something I stumbled upon and fit perfectly, and became a sort of link for the unfolding fantastic events to unfold. Sometimes research isn’t only about getting more information on your subject matter, it’s about discovering your story.

 

3) What sign are you? Is astrology relevant to you, or just wonky BS?

 

Sagittarius.  Now, buy me a drink.

 

Astrology has no relevance to me whatsoever and to believe such wonky BS would only cause me more problems and create delusions. Not a fan of delusions. There’s a song I like very much with the line, “The real world is bizarre enough for me”, and that pretty much states my general attitude to astrology, UFO’s, ghosts, magic, and pretty much anything advanced by religions with invisible entities bumping into us on a daily basis.

 

It should be said though, that one of the central themes in Path of the Dead is Buddhist philosophy and how it deals with death, however I’m not advocating or preaching any message with the story.  I may be Buddhist, but I am not evangelical about it.  My task, my challenge with the story, was trying to imagine how someone steeped in a non-Christian culture how he or she might view the sudden horror of the hungry undead. I’m a bit of a worldly hedonist, carrying luggage packed with sin, and trying to speak for a Buddhist Shaolin monk was a bit of a chore. I’ve heard from no Buddhist reader to challenge me on my portrayals, so I’m hoping I got it right.

 

 

4) Is anything in your stories based upon real life events? What are they?

 

No, nothing specific…yet. I mean, the stories are so fantastic and my life is pretty mundane by earthly standards. We are told to “write what we know” and I think that’s true to some degree, but you don’t see me writing about strip clubs…that is, if I knew much about them.

 

Which I don’t.

 

I was a professional firefighter for 24 years, and I have yet to even touch the subject. I don’t know why, but maybe someday. Anyway, I use that tidbit of writer-ly wisdom in a more ambiguous, emotional sense. In my first published short story, The Long Death of Day (Fading Light: An Anthology of the Monstrous), I write of a couple in love facing the slow approach of certain death from perceptible, yet unseen beasts. I tapped into the emotions and thoughts of the years I took care of my first wife, ill from diabetic complications, watching her fade away in her last couple of years of life, and used what I knew from experience to give the story its emotional punch. The Long Death of Day is a work of total fiction, but the emotional experience of it is true.

 

Timothy’s story, ‘ The Long Death of Day’ is among my favorites in this collection.

 

5) You’ve created quite a foundation with short stories, are there any that you’re especially proud of?

 

Oh man, I’m proud of them all as I believe I accomplished what I wanted from them and they made the editor/publisher cut. That’s an achievement that I do hold some pride. Saying that, the one that I hold the most pride for is one that been accepted but yet to be published. Cell of Curtains is a story I wrote specifically for the forthcoming anthology, Midian Unmade: Tales of Clive Barker’s Nightbreed from Tor, and I’m still insanely thrilled that I made the toughest cut I’ve attempted.  Editors of the anthology, Joseph Nassise and Del Howison giving me the honor to play in Mr. Barker’s world, and my effort being shown to the world, and that Clive Barker is writing the intro to the anthology, and that HE read my story and said, “Oh hell yes we gotta keep this story because it’s fracking fantastic and just the way I would have wrote it!” (okay, I made that last part up, but it’s the way I imagine it), the thought of all that is almost too much for me to bear.

 

 

6) Do you love music and does it affect your writing process? Who are your favorite bands/musicians?

 

Oh yeah, I love music. Raised in a musical family, and naturally it’s big in my life. I play guitar, write songs, all the stuff. When writing I sometimes listen to horror or fantasy movie soundtracks like Alien, Halloween, Nightbreed and the like. My favorite is the soundtrack to the most suspenseful, macho movie ever made: Sorcerer.  Done by Tangerine Dream, it can conjure up many a dark nightmare.

 

My all-time favorite band is Blue Oyster Cult. Seen them live some 30 times, met them, and own most everything they’ve ever recorded. There’s a tale of a man that they wrote of that is parceled throughout their music that has always intrigued me: the stories and many lives of a man known as Imaginos. It’s so full of conspiracies involving WWI, dark magic, hidden mirrors, aliens, Lovcraftian beings born of the sea and bringers of a strange religion, that it’s hard for a writer of my ilk to resist. It’s not a complete story, not even close, and I’ve always wanted to write and fill in the holes in that mythology, or put something together anthology-wise, based on it. It’s an Oyster Boy dream.

 

7) How do you want to be remembered? How do you want to die?

 

On a very big stone with the inscription, “I’m waiting…”

 

I’d like to go sitting on a very high place with a great view, waiting for the planet-smashing meteor to hit, to, for a blink of an eye, see the blast wave coming, and know that in the 200,000 year history of humankind I will be one of a relative few to witness such a glorious sight, and to die uniquely in a most spectacular explosion.  But that would negate the cool stone…hmm….

 

TimBs Mug

WEBSITES

Ragnarok Author site @ http://www.ragnarokpub.com/#!hungry-ghosts/c1eew

Timothy’s blog, Bones Along the Road @ skeletonroad.com

 

Below is an excerpt from Path of the Dead, which happens to be one of my favorite scenes in Path of the Dead. The heroes have escaped town as the zombies flooded in. Cheung is a soldier of the People’s Army of China and he drove the survivors up and along a winding cliff-side road. Gu-lang, a Buddhist nun stands beside Dorje the monk as they reflect upon the horror they’d just escaped.

 

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Such a horrific curse to endure. These things were victims, too, made to endure such a pointed punishment for the sum total of humanity’s singular hunger. Do they think but one thought? Is there any light of reason within the mind of the dead, any vestige of humanness? Were they really that much different than the living?

 

These things crossed Dorje’s mind as he stood beside Gu-Lang considering the chomping disembodied head on the ground.

 

The nun had taken his stick and dislodged the head from the grill, letting it thud to the ground. With a touch of soccer deftness, she tapped it with her sandaled feet and rolled it towards the cliff-side road edge. On its way, it caught a sizable pebble in its mouth. An audible crack sounded as its teeth broke, leaving behind a trail of shattered, stained porcelain in its wake.

 

At the edge, Gu-Lang stopped with her foot firmly planted on its ruined cheek. Its dead eyes continued to long for them as its mouth worked, its gagging tongue ejecting the pebble along with bits of its fragmented teeth.

In this land, death and the dead were not feared or reviled. Birth and decay brought equal wonder and introspection. The blooming of the fragrant lotus, and the deep muddy rot of decomposition in which it rooted, held the message. Unflinchingly, they looked upon their dearly departed without the veil of rouge and paints, without the potions and charms to stave off the natural decay of flesh. The person they had known was gone, leaving behind a bloating carcass returning to its basic elements. Simply a bag of protein, a brother monk had once said to Dorje in describing the corpse of an elder.

 

Looking on this false animation of life, Dorje felt both compassion and a twinge of revulsion. This was a ruin of contiguous, incongruent, spiritual worlds, a birth of a new life form, dead upon conception. Their former lives swept away, leaving behind…what? A more complex question: who? Perhaps no one. Perhaps Mara had won, with humanity vanishing, swallowed by desire and animated by a hunger powerful enough to act beyond death.

 

This was all hypothetical, he knew, and the product of a disturbed mind. One would have to die to acquire the knowledge. He had only the evidence of his eyes and he found no light behind the eyes of the dead. The first precept, taken by layman and monk alike, was to abstain from taking life, and destruction of the dead, he concluded, was not killing, but a rightful act and an ending of an illusion.

 

Dorje turned and dropped his shirt to let the berries spill on the protruding bumper.

 

Gu-Lang lifted her foot and with a gentle sweep of the grass, she kicked the head off the cliff and watched it plummet and disappear into the deep ravine.

 

 

 

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Manifesto UF

 Manifesto UF is that latest anthology I managed to squeeze a story within. Therefore, I have an investment in this review. To keep it honest and fair, I will only write about my five favorite stories in this volume and share some of the inside details of my story, Bloody Red Sun of Fantastic L.A.

Personally, I love short fiction. I enjoy writing it, and even more, I love reading it. The best part of an anthology is that I get to sample between ten and thirty authors, some more experienced and some newer, and see what worked for them. Getting published in an anthology isn’t easy, each author has brought their best offering. Plus, if you want to learn how to write better, reading anthologies is a way that has helped me a lot.

What is Manifesto UF? Horror/Dark Fantasy author Tim Marquitz and Tyson Mauermann (Book reviewer at Speculative Book Review) collaborated on forming the quintessential definition of Urban Fantasy. They hit the bullseye. What is inside are vampires, werewolves, angels, wizards, dragons, demons, undead, and other forms of the supernatural all living together in our modern setting. Tim and Tyson have made it undoubtedly clear that this is not Paranormal Romance.

Before I spotlight my five favorites, I need to say it was very difficult to pick from the twelve stories I’d loved greatly. This anthology has twenty-six stories, of which I thought half were amazing, and the other half very enjoyable. These were my favorites, I’ve listed them in no particular order.

Manifesto-Fixed

I’m an Animal. You’re an Animal Too by Zachary Jernigan

I’d read I Am Legend by Richard Matheson and Salem’s Lot by Stephen King and since then haven’t found a vampire story that I could fully get into. Here’s one. It was brilliant. Zachary Jernigan’s tone set this one from the beginning, the story was ripe with frustration and uncertainty, and in the end delivered perfect meaning to its title – I’m an animal. You’re an animal too.

Naked the Night Sings by Theresa Frohock

Of the dragon stories, this was my favorite. Theresa tells of a musician who was almost good enough to be somebody, but not quite. Failing yet another audition by a margin, a mysterious woman promises him a worthy gift in exchange for retrieving a simple gift for her. She offers him the duende, a deep knowledge of the dark sounds, if he would only retrieve a small bit of yarn that is being kept by a dragon. The flow of the writing is so impossibly good, I will re-read this one again someday.

Nephilim by TSP Sweeny

I had a hard time deciding between Betsy Dornbusch’s Chains of Gray and Nephilim. The determining factor; I connected better with Sweeny’s fallen angels.

Here on Earth, there are fallen angels, and then there are Fallen angels. Dantalion is one of the fallen, and while waiting for Judgment, he works for a pharmaceutical company that recently lost an experimental drug. It’s an experimental drug with a side effect that gets people really freakin’ high. Not surprisingly, it’s turned up as a new street drug being coined Nephilim. This was a complex story with good attention to detail.

Front Lines, Big City by Timothy Baker

Timothy Baker is becoming one of my favorite new authors. Three times we’ve been published together, and each time his stories get better. His world prompts that the United States has survived its 2nd civil war. Both sides of the broken United States employed sorcerers to get the job done, but after the war, the winner decided that sorcerers were too dangerous to keep alive. This is the story of two surviving sorcerers…or maybe only one…

There were two other stories devoted to modern day wizardry, both of them were good, only Tim Baker’s was my favorite. It was the tone and atmosphere Timothy Baker set that took the story up a notch higher for me. Timothy’s story carved a deeper dread, and a sense of foreboding along with a genuine human element that the other two tales just couldn’t quite touch.

Blessing and Damnation by Wilson Geiger

As I’ve said, it was an incredibly difficult task narrowing down my five favorite stories in this anthology. Blessing and Damnation is told from a demon’s point of view, and expertly done. A superior demon had gone rogue, escaping hell and has gone rampaging through our world spreading an infernal disease. He is intentionally trying to break the peace between Heaven and Hell. The powers of Hell order another demon to rise and stop the stronger demon. I closed the story with a grim smile, appreciating the paradox.

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Now, because it’s the only chance I have to share insights, I’ll leave little tidbits about how I built my story.

Bloody Red Sun of Fantastic L.A. by Jake Elliot

Although the story took its title from one of my favorite songs by The Doors, there was a deeper reasoning beyond The Doors getting their start in downtown Hollywood. Los Angeles is the City of Angels, the sun is our nearest star, and Hollywood is the City of the Stars—this story has overt symbolic relevance to a little bit of all of that.

My inspiration for this story came from Westin Ochse’s brilliant short story, Hollywood Villainy, which offered a soiled and ugly picture of Hollywood’s nightlife. I’d hoped to describe Hollywood’s diversity and shine, even if it’s still a bit tarnished. I feel successful in painting a vivid picture of the historical street corner of Hollywood and Vine.

My protagonist is the Arch-angel Michael (Mikael,) who I envision as a cold servant of God. A lot of people don’t realize that angels were created without freewill and their sole purpose is to serve God. This does not give Michael a warm personality. In fact, I imagined his view of humanity with considerable apathy.

Ba’al, the demon, is my antagonist. I built him like Christian history and mythology make him. A friend told me they’d felt more sympathy for Ba’al than Mikael. My response was “Me too, the poor guy totally got the shaft.” Each character represented the diverse extremes of law and chaos. It was all those poor bastards getting crushed in the middle I’d hoped someone would recognize, but so far, the poor huddled masses have no sympathizers.

My ending is totally Dues ex Machina. Some will think that is a bad thing. For my story to observe the religious connotations of Angelic behavior, (assuming they are real,) then Mikael is only a messenger. I felt the ending was right, and I will say no more. I wish not to spoil anyone’s fun.

Seven Questions with Zachary Jernigan

Today’s guest is Zachary Jernigan, author of No Return, Published by Night Shade Books, released in March 2013. I had the opportunity to meet Zachary at the 2013 71st World SciFi Convention held in San Antonio Texas, and I’m honored that he has bravely challenged seven of my deadly questions.

 

 1

 

Hi Zachary, welcome.

Please tell us a little bit about yourself. (Anything you choose, where you went to school, what awards you  may have won, or more interesting still, tell us how you were raised by a maternal Polar Bear who taught you how to catch arctic char with your teeth…)

I realize you were joking around, but I was actually raised by a maternal Polar Bear. Her name is Skittles, and she works in health care. I think being raised by her taught me a few things. One, I can tear off a man’s arm and beat him to death with it pretty easily. Two, eating out of trash cans is very cool. Three, I don’t like global warming, as I need sea-ice to float on to visit her every year at the North Pole.

Oh! I’m also a writer. I listen to a lot of rock music. My favorite color is brown. (No, seriously. Brown. How boring is that?)

You name appears on the cover of the novel No Return, what genre is it and what is it about? How do we know you really wrote it?

Oh, good grief, it does! I’ll answer these questions in reverse order, because I’m a jerk who pays no attention to rules.

My picture is in the freaking book, dude. I can show you the signed contract. Those two things seem like proof to me. The more important bit of proof is this, though: I tried to get someone else to pretend they’d written it, and there were no takers. If you can find someone unwise enough to claim my violent sexfest of a book (more on the sex in just a moment!) as their own, then maybe we can have a real argument about it.

The genre? It’s basically a mash-up of science fiction and fantasy. I’ve called it space opera that reads like epic fantasy, and I think that’s pretty close. Quite a few people have labeled it New Weird, and I can see that even though that wasn’t exactly what I was shooting for. To me, I’m just a big fan of a lot of science fiction from the late 60s — New Wave stuff, like Roger Zelazny and Samuel Delany — and writing fan fiction as a result.

2

What other projects have you completed or are in the works? Anything you dare to share with us?

Well, right now I’m working on the sequel to No Return. It’s called Shower of Stones, and it’s totally kicking my butt. I’m not one of those folks who’s in love with what he’s writing. I usually think it’s crap, which is nice, because when it’s not crap it’s a great surprise. It also stinks sometimes, because often it actually is crap, confirming all of my fears.

Thanks for bringing it up, Jake. Jerk.

I also have other projects kind of, vaguely, in process, though I only do one at a time — and rather poorly, at that. The excerpt I included for this interview is from an unfinished novel of mine, History of the Defeated, which is about the most bad-ass woman in history transporting a psychopathic little boy across a post-steampunk wasteland. It may be what I pick up after finishing Shower of Stones, or it may not. Some of that depends on whether or not I think I can sell it.

I’ve read your short story, I’m an Animal. You’re an Animal Too. As an author, you seem very at ease writing about sexuality which seems challenging for many writers. Do you have any advice or insights as to how to write believable, stimulating, yet tasteful sexuality?

Hmm. That’s a really good question. First off, thanks for reading the story — really, that means a lot to me. I suppose writing about sex just doesn’t seem like too big a deal. That sounds dismissive, but I don’t mean it that way: I simply mean that sex, like any other active scene, should be written in the spirit you want to convey. Sometimes, I’m shocked by the way the tone changes when people start banging.

I mean, seriously? Why’d it suddenly get all goofy? (There are a lot of goofy sex scenes out there. Some people think mine are goofy, too.)

Sex occurs, all the time. It’s something we’re all interested in, so my advice? Just write about it without attaching any huge stigma to it. Use it like any other tool in your toolbox to move the story forward in whatever manner you see fit.

Lastly, don’t get discouraged when people tell you it’s not necessary. Realize that they prioritize different things in fiction. (To them, perhaps, a two-page description of a sword being forged is not gratuitous — where, for another reader, that two pages were just as masturbatory as, um, an actual masturbation scene.)

Do you specifically read your same genre, or do you branch out into arenas other than what you write? 

I’m one of those goofballs who reads almost nothing outside science fiction and fantasy. I do read pretty widely within that realm, though. Honestly, I just don’t get excited by fiction that doesn’t have a speculative element of some kind. The thing that always strikes me about reading, however, is that anything you read should make you curious about the world around you. Fiction (and nonfiction, of course) should, I think, be a gateway to reading about so many other topics, even if you only do casual research on Wikipedia, as I do.

What scares you?

The fact that my parents will die someday. I honestly don’t know how anyone copes with this when they love their parents as much as I do mine. Maybe other people are stronger than me. (Okay. Shouldn’t say maybe. Obviously, most people are stronger than me.) It drives home how important it is to express love, and not run away from it simply because you know the object of your love might one day be gone. This realization has helped me cope with the fear of losing my parents and others close to me, and I fully believe it has made my fiction better in ways I only slowly comprehend.

What are your thoughts on the future? Will we make it, or will…(aliens invade, super-flu kill us, Jesus take his followers surfing…)

I misread this question as What are your thoughts on the future? Will we make out, or will…

That’s the question I’m choosing to answer, because, again, I laugh at rules! Hahahahaaaaaa!

I think we’ll make out. It’ll be really gross for both of us.

Thanks for interviewing me, Jake!

 Website: http://zacharyjernigan.com/

Twitter: @jerniganzachary

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Here is my excerpt:

Beyond Tannerton, the city gave way to the ruinland known as the Byre. The immense plateau on which the abandoned cityscape rested was tilted ever so slightly downward, causing westerly travelers to feel as if they were always on the verge of toppling forward. The fact that every street ran perfectly straight exacerbated this sensation, forcing the mind into a near trance where it became easy to misjudge distances. Fortunately, the monotony was not entire: time had eaten away the harsh edges of the ancient stone and grey-bricked buildings, and toppled them into the street and onto each other.

By the time Teres and the boy had descended ten miles into the Byre, the horizon already occluded any sign of Fallot at their backs, making it seem as though they had passed out of the reach of civilization. The ruinland stretched before them in geometric patterns, surrounded them in its derelict embrace.

Men no longer lived here, in these squat two- and three-storey edifices. No one remembered a time when they had.

Inevitably, others had moved in. Spotted deer and collared peccary families scattered at Teres and the boy’s approach. Half-feral dog packs—mottled groups of mutts and pedigrees, castoffs from the city—followed for a time, moving parallel to the two travelers through abandoned buildings. Now and then, a calico monkey screeched from a rooftop. The ironwood cypress, which grew twisted and small throughout Fallot, was here a gigantic thing, thrusting up through concrete foundations, punching through roofs and walls. Crows cawed, Mockingbirds mocked, and the call of hatchlings filled the air.

Teres had traveled through the Byre on several occasions, and never enjoyed it. She would never admit as much aloud, but the ancient city spooked her in a way the continent’s other ruinlands did not. Most places had the decency to decay naturally, from the ground up. Their lanes and alleys cracked. Their paving stones were shoved aside by trees and shrubs eager for light.

In the Byre, however, the roads did not crack. They did not tarnish or scuff.

But for the rubble and dust of toppling buildings that partially covered it, the main avenue on which they progressed was as smooth as glass, as flawlessly white as unveined marble, yet it did not reflect the sun back into their eyes. In some places, it formed a bridge over land that had collapsed underneath it. Teres had crossed such bridges before, though she would rarely do so again after seeing that the road was no deeper than the thickness of her forearm.

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