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.

 

#####

 

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.

 

 

 

Advertisements

Path of the Dead; Book One of the Hungry Ghosts series

This is a review for Timothy Baker’s debut novel, Path of the Dead; Book One of the Hungry Ghosts series. (It will be published through Ragnarok and available for purchase on May 5th.) The back of the book says EXACTLY what my original idea for this review would say, the back blurb says–

 

Nestled on the foot of Tibet’s sacred Seche La Mountain is the village of Dagzê. The normally quiet streets are bustling with the steady stream of arrivals and preparations for the coming Festival of the Medicine King; a time of celebration, healing, and renewal. But a shadow is sweeping the world, a plague of apocalyptic proportions—the dead are rising and devouring the living, and no place is safe where humanity thrives.

As Dagzê burns, overtaken by the hungry undead, five people come together: Lama Tenzin, an elder monk; Gu-lang, the silent warrior nun and Tenzin’s protector; Cheung, a private in The People’s Army, driver and escort of the Lama; ten-year-old Chodren Dawa, witness to his sister’s death and rising; and Dorje Cetan, a Shaolin-trained hermit monk of Seche La and a dreamer of a dark portent. Together they must fight their way out of Dagzê to an abandoned Buddhist hermitage clinging to the mist-shrouded cliffs of Seche La.

With the undead following and gathering at Eagle’s Nest gate, they barricade themselves inside their dead-end haven, and are soon forced to battle the beasts without, as well as the ones within.

TimBs Cover

Since the book blub said everything I’d planned to say, I’m forced to say something else.  Path of the Dead is a fun book and if you love zombie stories, this one is on par with many good zombie movies and a lot better than most of them. However, the strongest reason I liked this book was not because of Timothy Baker’s traditional version of the undead, but because of the tight characterization of the survivors.

 

The story begins with Dorje, a reclusive monk whose waking dream leads him to believe that he must go into the small town of Dagzê, for that is where the spirits call him. He arrives to find his old mentor, Tenzin, has also arrived with his escorts Gu-Lang and Cheung. Gu-Lang is a silent nun and bodyguard, where Cheung is a soldier from the People’s Army.

 

Chodren is a young boy from the village who I quickly became sympathetic to. Learning early that not only did his younger sister die by snakebite, it turns out that he was first to find her returned from the dead. Chaos falls swiftly upon the village, and the five heroes must battle their way out of the village and higher into the mountains. Up top is an abandoned monastery, the Eagles’ Nest, a place once for quiet reflection, now a bastion from the undead.

 

See, I just reiterated everything the book blurb already said.

TimBs Mug

What the blurb doesn’t tell you are the little details and sharp images Timothy Baker conjures into your mind—like the severed head Dorje removes from the truck’s grill, still gnashing its teeth and trying to eat. The blurb doesn’t express how although Cheung’s personality is a little grating for the priests, he is an anchor for the mental well-being of Chodren. Simply by sharing a soda pop, Cheung and Chodren bond—a bit of solid writing only Timothy Baker could seal with deep sincerity.

 

All his characters were masterfully built. I cannot pick a favorite from the five core characters. I wanted to pick one as a superior champion, but I can’t. Political and philosophical differences blurred, and as the story shifted to and fro, I couldn’t determine whose ideal was the most ‘right.’ These characters faced challenges with believable behaviors and emotions. Their wounds festered and built both emotionally and spiritually, and that is an incredibly hard place to create for readers.

 

However, there were a couple detractors. Minor, but detractors all the same.

 

All action books need slow spots. Most of the slower scenes were great character building moments, but some seemed mechanical and read like maintenance.  There were a couple parts where I found myself scanning the text to move forward, even during an action scene or two. Tim is a descriptive writer, and that is a blessing as much as a fault that we both share. Sometimes, the five paragraph details of ‘how the fire was built’ should simply be written, “They built a fire.”  Of course that is meant as a metaphor—there wasn’t a five paragraph description of how to build a fire in Path of the Dead—that is from my experience with an early and un-sellable version of The Wrong Way Down. I’m talking about the page-long instructions on something everyone knows, like how to unload a truck bed. It happens, it also doesn’t change the fact that in five years, Timothy Baker will be unstoppable if he keeps doing what he does–great, well-thought horror.