"A Candle Loses Nothing By Lighting Another Candle" - Father James Keller

Monday, March 15, 2010

My Interview with Scott M Baker

Kiki: After reading the bio on the homepage of your website, I have to ask Modern European History, rabbits, writing horror stories about vampires and zombies…can you tell me how you came upon your interest of each of these things?

Scott:  History has been in my blood as far back as 1976 when my old man took me to see the movie Midway.  I was fascinated and wanted to know how much of the movie was fact and how much was Hollywood, so I hit up the local library and started pouring through the books on the Pacific War.  By the time I got to college my interest centered on Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.  I even taught history at Wakefield High School for several months.  Now I use my background in history in my novels via flashback sequences in The Vampire Hunters trilogy.  One of my future projects will be a historical paranormal thriller involving Hitler’s preoccupation with the occult (think zombie Nazis).

Rabbits were an unexpected blessing.  My wife and I are allergic to cats and most dogs, and were resigned to never being able to have pets.  In 2002, while at a demolition derby at a fair in Berryville, a woman at the 4H booth introduced me to this tiny white rabbit with red eyes, telling me she was a rex breed which had short fur that was non-allergenic.  I spent the next half hour petting the rabbit, rubbing my eyes, and sticking my nose in her fur, and didn’t have a reaction.  Knowing what my wife’s response would be if I called and asked if I could bring the rabbit home, I did the typical guy thing -- I bought her home without getting approval, hoping my wife wouldn’t banish me and the rabbit to the garage.  She didn’t.  That tiny little rabbit (Ruby) just celebrated her eighth birthday.  And Ruby opened the door to all the other rabbits.  Those that share our home with us are hard-luck cases, rescues, or shelter rabbits.  And yes, the rabbits run the house.

I’ve loved horror and writing as far back as I can remember.  Thankfully, my parents nurtured my obsession, realizing anything that excited my imagination and creativity was a good thing.  When I was a kid, my folks set me up with an old manual typewriter in a corner of the family room where I used to type out a weekly horror magazine.  It only had a circulation of one -- my mother.  But I’ve been writing ever since.

Kiki: That is all very cool! We have the same allergy problems, and I never knew that about rabbits.  But, please tell me one thing you wrote about in that horror magazine! It is so cool that your parents were so nurturing.

Scott:  Okay, now you’ve asked the embarrassing question.  I got my material by watching the monster movies on Creature Double Feature (shown on Saturday afternoons on WLVI Channel 56) and reviewing my favorite movies.  I would fill out the remaining pages with trivia quizzes, small features that I paraphrased from other sources, and photographs I cut out from my horror movie magazines.  Please don’t ask me about the abysmal cover art. 

Kiki: You stated in a blog post, “After six years of writing and three years of trying to get published, I finally got my break.” I hear authors talk about the waiting and the frustration and wanting to give up all the time. So, tell me how you persevered during this period.  What kept you writing?

Scott:  Those three years trying to find a publisher were definitely frustrating.  No matter how confident you are in your writing abilities, after a while the endless string of rejection letters starts to wear down your ego.  Fortunately I went into this venture with realistic expectations, knowing full well that the success of Stephen King and J.K. Rowling were anomalies, and that the best I could reasonably hope for was a career as a successful mid-list author (which means I won’t be quitting my day job anytime soon).  Even more important, I’ve had the good fortune during those three years of making the acquaintance of numerous authors and literary agents who offered professional advice and considerable moral support, and who would good-naturedly chide me when they found out I had only been trying to get published for three years (the average is six years).  Knowing that my experiences were typical, and having that support from those already in the industry, helped a lot.  Otherwise I probably would have deleted all my files from the laptop and downloaded video games instead.

Kiki: Are there sites you recommend where aspiring authors can go about making the same types of connections?

Scott:  Aspiring authors can find websites, blogs, or Facebook/My Space/Twitter  accounts for most authors and can try to make connections that way.  However, their web presences vary from those who don’t even use the Internet, to those who have websites/blogs but rarely update them, to those who blog daily.  It’s also very impersonal.  If an aspiring author wants to use the Internet to make contacts, I recommend finding one or two genre-related chat rooms/forums that they feel comfortable with and start frequenting them.  Most of the people on these chat rooms/forums will be fans or aspiring authors themselves.  But authors and sometimes publishers also join in to meet and chat with fans.  I’ve become friends with a few authors on such forums. 

However, most of the authors I know I did not meet via the Internet.  I’m fortunate in that I run a writer’s group and over the years have arranged for various individuals from the publishing industry (authors, screen writers, literary agents, publishers) to speak.  I made my first contact for this group by going to horror conventions where some of my favorite authors were signing books and talking with them.  Most were very outgoing.  A few gave me their e-mail addresses and offered to answer any questions I might have, and over time we became friends.  They introduced me to their friends in the industry who would speak to our group, and in turn these individuals introduced me to their friends. 

Let me offer a word of advice, and I can’t stress this enough.  Don’t take advantage of an author’s good will.  Most authors don’t mind chatting with fans, answering questions, and providing advice.  However, nothing will turn them off quicker than someone who asks them to read their manuscript or to pass it along to their editor.  If you’re lucky enough to get to know an author personally, and if he/she asks to look at your work, thank your stars.  And listen to whatever feedback they provide, even if you don’t like what you hear.  All authors were once aspiring themselves and remember how hard these early years were.  Many found mentors who helped them along and enjoy returning the favor to the newcomers.  But no one likes pushy people.

Kiki: You also wrote, “Until then, beware of that thump you hear in the middle of the night. It may be some infernal creature that wants to chew on your soul, or it may be something furry and adorable that just wants to gnaw through the wires to your computer.” I love this. I know we touched on this with the first question, but tell me more about the draw to the horror genre.  Also, do you remember the first horror movie or book you experienced? If so, what was it and how old were you?

Scott:  One of my earliest memories was hiding in the family room one night to watch the original King Kong, which was being shown on the local affiliate.  I was discovered early.  (When you’re six, you think hiding under a TV tray is brilliant because, if you can’t see your parents, they can’t see you.)  I begged my folks to let me watch it, promising I wouldn’t get scared.  They relented.  My imagination ran wild along with Kong as he tore apart downtown Manhattan.  And so did my fear.  The scene when Kong looks through the hotel window into Fay Wray’s bedroom scared the hell out of me; for months I couldn’t sleep unless the blinds in my bedroom were drawn.  But from that moment on, I was a bona fide Monster Kid. 

Kiki: First you had a few zombie stories published, but your first novel is about vampires.  What made you chose the characters and storyline for this first big undertaking?

Scott:  I decided to write The Vampire Hunters after going to see the movie Van Helsing.   I found the movie entertaining.  It had plenty of action in it, but a lot of the scenes were too farfetched, even by Hollywood’s standards.  Like when Kate Beckinsale is swinging across the chasm between the two towers of Dracula’s castle in the middle of a thunderstorm and catches the vial of serum thrown to her.  After the movie, I mentioned to my wife that I could write better than that.  She said, “Then why don’t you?”  I started The Vampire Hunters a few months later.

Kiki: I read “Incident on Ironstone Lane” on your website. I must admit I have been watching horror movies since I was too young to be watching them, and this story had several shocking elements for me still. Where did the idea for it come from?

Scott:  The idea for “Incident on Ironstone Lane” was developed during the first horror convention I attended back in 2005.  I met several authors who were relatively new in their career, and who were still excited by writing and had a pool of ideas they wanted to put down on paper.  That‘s when I came up with the character of Tom Bowen, a washed up author whose career was waning and who needed some inspiration.  I originally intended “Incident” to be more tongue-in-cheek, but it was impossible to keep it light-hearted with that type of subject matter. 

The final torture comes from my own experiences.  I suffer from acid reflux.  There has been many a time I’ve woken up in the middle of the night choking on some of my own vomit.  So for the story, I just extrapolated on what it would be like to drown in your own puke.  One of my readers who also suffers from acid reflux said it was one of the most powerful scenes she had read. 

Okay, onto some lighter and less gruesome questions. So, relax a bit.
Kiki: I see all of your latest posts on Facebook were about snow. I live in the Ohio snowbelt, so I can relate.  Give me your feelings on snow…

Scott:  I love snow -- as long as I don‘t have to drive in it.  I’m from New England, so a foot of snow and blizzards are old school to me.  I don’t even mind shoveling because I have a ritual that makes it fun.  When I’m done cleaning out the driveway and front steps, I set myself up in the garage with a cigar and a hot cup of coffee laced with whiskey.  It’s my reward for a job well done.

Kiki: You are a Pisces like me? Do you fit the description? (I fear I am the poster child for it!)

Scott:  I think I fit most of the Pisces characteristics.  I’m creative and artistic (at least I hope so, or my writing career won’t get very far).  I’d like to think that I’m sensitive, which seems contradictory given that I write about cutting zombies in half with a chainsaw.  I’m also an escapist and an idealist much of the time.  But I diverge from the traditional Pisces when it comes to being weak and easily pushed around.  I’m accommodating, but if someone tries to push me around or take advantage of me I fight back like a rabid badger.

Kiki: I read a few tweets mentioning Resident Evil.  Are you a big fan? If so, why?

Scott:  I’m a huge fan of Resident Evil, both the videogame and the movies.  I’ve loved first-person shooter games ever since my brother-in-law introduced me to Resident Evil.  Doom, Dead Space, and the Left for Dead series are also among my favorites.  When I reach a point that I can’t read/write/watch TV any more, or when I have a really aggravating day at work, nothing beats coming home, cranking up the X-Box, and annihilating hordes of zombies.  After a couple of hours of mindless monster slaughtering, I’m usually able to break down the mental blocks and get the creative juices flowing again.

The movie was a pleasant surprise.  Usually video games do not transfer well to the big screen, but Paul W.S. Anderson did a fantastic job in directing Resident Evil.  It encompassed all the elements I like in a horror movie -- isolation, desperation, intense action, hordes of zombies, a good amount of gore, and kick-ass heroines.  That and it’s two sequels --  Resident Evil: Apocalypse and Resident Evil: Extinction -- are the movies I watch most often from my DVD collection. 

Kiki: Tell us something interesting about Scott M Baker that I didn’t ask about.

Scott:  Although The Vampire Hunters is my first published novel, it’s not the first book I’ve written.  Back in the late 1990s I wrote a techno-thriller about North Korea acquiring nuclear weapons and using them against the United States.  I even had an agent for it.  Unfortunately, I was trying to find a publisher after 11 September when techno-thrillers were no longer marketable.  Several publishers read and liked the book, but they all passed on it.

Purchase The Vampire Hunters at http://shadowfirepress.com 

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In accordance with the new FTC Guidelines for blogging and endorsements, Kiki Howell of An Author's Musings, would like to advise that in addition to purchasing my own books to review, I also receive books, and/or promotional materials, free of charge in return for an honest review, as do any guest reviewers.