STEVEN L. SHREWSBURY lives, works, and writes in rural Illinois. Over 360 of his short stories have appeared in print or electronic media along with over 100 poems. 9 of his novels have been released, with more on the way. His books run from sword & sorcery (OVERKILL, THRALL, BEDLAM UNLEASHED) to historical fantasy (GODFORSAKEN) extreme horror (HAWG, TORMENTOR, STRONGER THAN DEATH) to horror-westerns (HELL BILLY, BAD MAGICK, and the forthcoming LAST MAN SCREAMING).
He loves books, British TV, guns, movies, politics, sports and hanging out with his sons. He’s frequently outdoors, looking for brightness wherever it may hide.
Hi Steven how you doing? Thanks again for popping over to Ginger Nuts Central for another chat.
SS: Glad to be here Jim and hope you & yours are great. Wish we weren’t a half a world apart, I reckon our little ones would tear up the sod together.
How have things been since we last chatted?
SS: Busy. I’m always writing something new, refurbishing a draft of another book and researching the next trek into craziness.
Let’s do a quick recap, before we get into the nifty gritty of your new book. Why do you write?
SS: I have always loved to tell stories and frankly, I write because I have to. Sounds like a chore, condition or a duty, but it isn’t. I love to tell stories. If solar flares knocked the tits off the world tomorrow and there weren’t anymore computers or notepads left, I’d still be thinking of stories and relating them. I think I can entertain folks with my words and tall tales, plus, it keeps the voices in my head at bay, for a bit.
And how easy do you find it to write? Is writing something that comes naturally to you, or do you have to wrestle each and every word onto the page?
SS: Sometimes it FLOWS like the Mississippi and I can’t get it out fast enough. If I’m in the ZONE, muse screaming or whatever, it explodes. Earlier this week, I had all the time in the world to write and couldn’t get a damn thing to fall out. I have a slew of short tales and books that are diagrammed out, ready to go and nothing spoke to me. I couldn’t break it. Today, though, it feels strong. Wrestling? I save that for later drafts. The first and second times through a novel draft are where the explosive fun happens.
Who would you say has been the biggest influence on your writing?
SS: Robert E. Howard. As a storyteller, he’s the king. He isn’t the best technical writer, and it isn’t always purdy, but his stories still entertain. I’m not talking Conan either, but his horror tales and Solomon Kane material, great stuff. I’ve seen folks hailed at best selling writers who can’t do dick for telling a story. He speaks to me still, and at times when I read his letters, I think about things if a different light.
You’re one of these authors who is very aware of the authors who came before you. How important do you think this is?
SS: It’s humbling to see what they created in different times, environments and with little technological aide, for one. I respect many a writer for probably unusual reasons. David Gemmell for example, hell, he was a labourer and a bouncer. Karl Edward Wagner had his demons, as well as Howard, but they never pretended to be better than anyone else. I’ve seen some real eggheads balance themselves on Howard’s grave, talking bad about him. I’ve seen other writers refuse to look at those who came before and that is a mistake. Trust me, fellas, you’re not as bright as you think. There are vistas of adventure waiting to discover in those writers.
Out of all of the authors who have come before you, who would you say was the most important to you and why?
SS: Some will think I will give this laud to Howard, and while he is paramount to me, Karl Edward Wagner took the time to write me back on a poem and then a story submission. I have those two letters over in my bookcase. He took time to tell me what I was doing wrong and what I might want to think about trying. They are scribbled and barely legible. That was in the 80s, probably six years before he died. He gave a damn to help a stupid, half blind farm kid and so, he will rock forever to me. Howard? There are days I could do without his spirit in my head, but other days…he ride along together at a great clip.
And which author do you wish was more widely known?
SS: Karl Edward Wagner. I think he work is fading away. There has been some work done to preserve his Kane material and release other volumes of his horror, but it’s a cryin’ shame that more people have read TWILIGHT than Karl. Manly Wade Wellman second.
How do you actually go about writing? Do you set a side time each day, or do write when you can?
SS: Since I work second shift I do have tiem during the day if overtime isn’t so bad. I write in the morning and a bti afternoon. I scribble notes at work all the time, too.
And how do you develop your stories? Do you develop the characters first, or do you work out the plot and then develop the characters to suit the plots?
SS: Each tale and book rolls different with that. There are great ideas I have that characters stand up and volunteer to be in and others, I design for an ongoing character. For example, OVERKILL, I had an idea for a Gorias La Gaul project dealing with dragon-fire and a few other things. The huge cast that spelled out came to be through varied drafts, btu a few had to be in there with him, the princess, the guard lady, etc. These folks flesh out as the novel goes. I know Gorias well, like Elijah Blackthorn in other tales or Joel Stuart in my old horror western books. At tiems a plot demands a brand new view. It varies.
How many rounds of edits and rewrites do you go through before you send your manuscripts out to your beta readers?
SS: Hmm. That varies, too. I have a work called ALONG COME EVENING that I’ve performed two drafts on, but think it needs a third time through before II send it to a pre reader. After suggestions and other holes are spotted, I’ll do ‘er again, I reckon. Other times it goes smoother and pops out in a clearer vision. I have a sci fi novel I’ve been trying to write for years and it keeps kicking my ass.
You’ve built up a strong friendship, and trust with your beta readers, how valuable is their input?
SS: One has to be able to trust the opinion of someone. I know a few writers that think they are sliced better and the plate underneath it, too. They have pre readers that only tell them they ARE the bomb. I’m not delicate to think I mighta done something that blows donkeys. I trust my friends to tell me if it isn’t working out. I have a massive epic (unpubbed) that I’ve been working on for a few years. I let a couple pre readers look at ti at last. One gushed over it and I was like YES! Knew I nailed it! However, another, a guy who I really trust, said, basically, “It’s good, but the main character isn’t much different than other characters you do.” At first, that burned my ass as I thought I’d really done a great work. On further review, he’s right. Ya gotta be able to learn from advice.
For those who have read your work, they will be aware of the recurring character of Kent Gowran. What was the first story he appeared in?
SS: Oh, I think I killed Kent first in the roughs of what became STRONGER THAN DEATH, but he has lived in the past couple works. Kent isn’t in OVERKILL (not even as a body template) or the forthcoming HELL BILLY, but Joe Howe and Hickerson have cameos.
And what is it about our dear friend Kent that causes you to give him one horrific death after another? Do you think you will ever let Kent get the girl and ride of into the sunset on a white stallion?
SS: Some guys just have it coming, lol. I let him live in the story DEEP THROAT…WITH ZOMBIES. The image of Kent getting the gal and heading off on a white horse might just inspire something amusing…
Are any of your other characters based on real people and are they aware of this?
SS: Quite a few folks are used as body templates, or I need a shape or a LOOK for a person. They never know it. One guy who I really despise dies badly in every work I do. Petty? Sure. But he brings out the worst in me and the scenes are always memorable. He’s the Admiral in OVERKILL and was the leader of the cult in TORMENTOR. Who is he really? I’ll never tell. It isn’t always so silly, though. Judy Dench was in my head when describing a Queen once. Other times, I have a few fans who think I am talking about them and that isn’t so. It’s all fun & games. The mortican in HELL BILLY is named Mark Calloway. That is the real name of the Undertaker in WWE. I needed a tall, creepy dude.
Your having a dinner party, which five of your characters would you invite round and why?
SS: Wow, that’d be a rowdy party. Joel Stuart, my one armed Confederate, as he tells great stories and jokes. Gorias La Gaul, 700 year old warrior, also never a dull moment and he’d keep kids off the lawn. Elijah Blackthorn or Erik Bedlam, the crazed Viking, to keep things cerebral. Dack Shannon, albino secret agent because one has to have an X factor in eucker. And so it isn’t a sausage fest, Alena Appra, Amazonian guard from OVERKILL. One has to have a tall, auburn haired gal around to liven things up. Plus, she drinks like the fellas.
And what would you serve?
SS: Beer and these killer weenie things wrapped in bacon, cooked in a crockpot. They are to die for. Then steaks.
Before we talk about your new book, I’d like to talk about some of my personal favourites, if that is OK with you?
SS: Sure. I’m always up to hear about what folks like.
Godforsaken, if I remember correctly, was my introduction into your writing? What was the inspiration for this novel? Was this a love letter to The Master Howard?
SS: GODFORSAKEN came about when I heard of Thor Heyerdahl say in HUNT FOR ODIN that he figured Odin, Thor and the rest were tribal leaders, real folks, turned into legendary gods. I’d enver undertaken a vast, historical work spanning from the druids, through Gaul, Rome and beyond. I think that book still has some merit, but yeah, I’d like to thing Howard would’ve enjoyed it.
Was there any reason, as to why you moved away from the heroic fantasy genre, and into more of the horror genre, for your follow up novels?
SS: I think that was the case of what was popping out at the time, and what I was getting accepted (HAWG, TORMENTOR, STRONGER THAN DEATH). I hung with some horror folks and in those times the mind leans certain ways. After I wrote GODFORSAKEN, the guts of THRALL were born, and also BEDLAM UNLEASHED which is only now starting to be seen. I was always doing fantasy but the horror was being accepted. You should see the stuff I have that I haven’t subbed yet fantasy wise.
Hawg will always be a favourite of mine, for it’s outlandish premise and its gore packed roller coaster story. Will there ever be a sequel to Hawg?
SS: A lady I met last summer just read HAWG and asked me that just this weekend. I always had a vision for it, RUNT, but never have been utterly inspired to do it.
I could imagine that this book could have upset certain folks, did you ever receive any hate mail for this book?
SS: There were a few, frankly, and I never set out to offend anyone. A dear friend was taken aback by the rape scenes (or rather that it was used as a plot device in her opinion). It’s never my intention to razz anyone, or make light of serious things like that. It was just a story and it worked well to convey the horror of the situation. Most really loved the over the top nature of the book added to the gritty real world of rural America. A few family members were really offended, though. Ah well. That’s how it goes.
Stronger Than Death, for want of a better word is your zombie novel? This was quite a personal novel for you, as one of your ancestors was the basis of one of the main characters in the novel. Could you tell the readers about this?
SS: The undead in STD weren’t flesh eating zombies, just returned soldiers from the Civil War. But yeah, in a way. Usually, I don’t do zombies. STD introduced the spirit of Joel Stuart, the one-armed Missouri raider, based on an ancestor of mine. My father told me of meeting this man in 1932 in Joplin, Missouri. Joel shows up in BAD MAGICK (co-written with Nate Southard) and the forthcoming LAST MAN SCREAMING (a Lovecraftian western) and he’s 92 in ALONG COME EVENING. I have a slew of books to write about him, not all screwy but usually heartfelt and brutal.
And now we come to Thrall, this come after your latest’s book with Seventh Star Press is it not?
SS: OVERKILL is the prequel to THRALL, yeah.
Thrall saw your return to the Heroic Fantasy genre. What caused your return to this genre?
SS: I never really left, but had focused on writing horror for a long time. I picke dup my sword with ease, it seems.
The book still has a strong line of horror running through it, do you think you will ever write a more mainstream fantasy novel?
SS: Define mainstream. That has been a theory put forth by a few friends, that I tone it down or whatever and try and do a more conventional fantasy work. My tales are usually pretty raw and horror pops up in them, sometimes trashing the fantasy clichés. I do have a few novel ideas that are a bit more in the vein you allude to.
The novel THRALL introduces us to Gorias La Gaul, what was the basis for him?
SS: While writing GODFORSAKEN and researching Celtic lore, the god Lugh of the Shining Spear, well, his lance was named Gorias. The name stuck. The name La Gaul popped into my head, but that is not meant to mean THE GAUL. I heard a folks song by Ralph Stanley (gleaned from the time of Shakespeare) and the old warrior stepped into my mind fully formed, 700 years old and before the great flood..
I get the feeling that he is personal favourite of yours, why is that?
SS: He’s sorta the flawed character I liked as a kid, and not Conan or Kane, but John Wayne in a way, big, broad, but alto more into drinking and whoredom. Gorias has a noble heart but a bruised soul. Don’t we all? Gorias doesn’t have a Clark Kent manner and one would need some balls to live in such a rough world. Gorias can do anything I cannot.
At the time of writing Thrall, had you already decided that it would have a sequel?
SS: Yes, I knew I’d want to tell more, but also to flesh out Gorias long life.
So where does your latest novel OverKill pick up the pieces, from Thrall?
SS: It’s a prequel, probably a few years before THRALL. At the end he mentions going to see his grandson in Shynar, ala THRALL. Another work, BORN OF SWORDS will tell more of events immediately after THRALL.
Other than Gorias La Gaul, are there any other characters from Thrall that make an appearance?
SS: No. OVERKILL is a brand new animal and takes place half a world away, in Albion and Transalpinia (antediluvian Britian and France).
So can you tell us what we can expect from this book?
SS: A high body count, haha. I think OVERKILL is a more accessible book than THRALL, a high adventure full of loud characters, strong fights, some wicked ladies, endearing girls and two faced religious folks.
Have you got a favourite scene in the book?
SS: Gorias being keel hauled, surviving and slaughtering an entire naval vessel single handedly is pretty cool. His fight on the beach with the she-pirate/whip mistress Noguria is choice, too. But, his frank talks with the child princess he saves and the tales he relates to others later are downright touching.
Thrall and Overkill are both published by Seventh Star Press, how did you come to work with these guys?
SS: Stephen Zimmer of Seventh Star Press saw me read at HYPERICON and was really blown away. He got to talking, then writing back and forth. He so enjoyed the HAWG reading, and I heard he was an indie film maker, too. Heck, I was trying to get a way to sell HAWG for a film and ended up subbing THRALL.
What does a publisher like Seventh Star Press bring to the table?
SS: Zimmer is a dynamo, first off. His ability to promote and roll with ideas is awesome. A great writer himself, he has a hand on fantasy and what folks will want. His command of the blog-o-sphere is top notch, too. That guy hits more Cons than anyone I know. Also, the editors and artists for the company are terrific. Many smaller presses have a rather unusual def of editing but these guys are screwing around. There are super artists out there and Matt Perry is one of them. Dragons is freaking incredible. The other writers in their group, Jackie Gamber, Michael West, Alex Adams and more…I’m very happy to be in that line up.
Looking back at your publication history, you’ve never been one for following trends. Was this always a conscious choice, or have you never really thought about it?
SS: I’m not a very trendy guy, I guess. It’s possible to write for a market or a current ideal that is happening, but at times I read that stuff and think the writers doing it have no soul. I can tell when I’m doing something if my heart isn’t in it.
So can you tell us about any upcoming projects?
SS: HELL BILLY is a historical horror novel set after the civil war. That one and another called LAST MAN SCREAMING are from Bad Moon Books. Hell Billy should be out in a few months, LMS next year in theory. An omnibus edition of BEDLAM UNLEASHED (my collab with Peter Welmerink) will be available this year from Belfire Press. Next year, Gorias will probably swagger out again in a new one. I’m always writing and working on the next thing, trying to get a few epics secretly done just so, ya know the drill.
As always Shrews this has been great fun, do you have any final words for the readers?
SS: I hope man will nab a copy of OVERKILL and give it a read. Look for me at Fandom Fest in Louisville, KY this summer. Rumor is I’ll be there. Ask to have a beer with me, I will more than likely oblige. Thanks, Jim. You’re all right.
You can purchase Overkill by Clicking the links below, as well as most of Steven's other novels
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