Charles Colyott lives on a farm in the middle of nowhere (Southern Illinois) with his wife, daughters, cats, and a herd of llamas and alpacas. He is surrounded by so much cuteness, it's difficult for him to develop any street cred as a dark and gritty horror writer. Nevertheless, he has appeared in Read by Dawn II; Withersin magazine; Terrible Beauty Fearful Symmetry; Horror Library Volumes III, IV, and V; and the Zippered Flesh and Uncommon Assassins anthologies from Smart Rhino Publications. His mystery novels, Changes and Pressure Point, focus on Colyott's acupuncturist, martial-arts-savvy protagonist, Randall Lee.
Colyott took some time away from his busy schedule to answer a few questions for us.
Weldon Burge (WB): Let's get the geek question out of the way first. Zombie or robot apocalypse?
Charles Colyott (CC): Zombies, of course! I feel like we'd have a better chance against them ... unless we're talking the almost indestructible ones from Return of the Living Dead, or the really awful ones from Brian Keene's The Rising. Then we're just screwed.
WB: And one other nagging question: Why llamas and alpacas instead of cows and goats? Can you even milk a llama? And why would you want to? (OK, that was three questions.)
CC: My wife and I just sort of fell in love with alpacas before we even knew what they were. I liked the fact that we didn't have to use them in any way ... no killing, no milking, etc. We just cut their hair once a year (something which must be done anyway). I imagine it is possible to milk one ... but I can't fathom why anyone would want to. Our llamas act as guards for our alpacas, and they take their job pretty seriously.
WB: Chinese culture, especially martial arts, flavors the Randall Lee novels. How much of this is pulled from your past experience, how much from research?
CC: I do have to do a fair amount of research for certain stuff, but a lot of it comes from experience, too. I'm a mega-nerd for Chinese culture. I wanted to learn Tai Chi when I was a kid, but there was no one around us who taught the real stuff at that time. I really wanted to learn martial arts, though, so I ended up studying (over quite a span of years) other styles ... some Aikijiujitsu, Kempo, Capoeira, Lohan gung fu, and Aikido before finally finding my Tai Chi teacher.
WB: How much of Randall Lee is actually Charles Colyott?
CC: Oh, not too much (I hope)! When I was writing Changes, I wanted to show how this guy learns how to live again after a pretty horrible tragedy. I think we have a pretty similar sense of humor, but I'm nowhere near as tough as Randall! And while I know a few things about Tai Chi, I don't really know much about acupuncture ... that's one of those areas that I have to research.
WB: The Lee novels are also liberally seasoned with humor, and it seems like you have fun writing the books. Is the humor just natural to your writing, or is it a planned writing strategy?
CC: It was definitely part of the plan. I wrote almost exclusively horror (and pretty dark horror at that) for a few years, and I decided that I wanted to write something a little bit more mainstream, something that my family would actually read without questioning my sanity ...
WB: I think horror and humor are kissing cousins. Your thoughts?
CC: Definitely. And in the hands of a really great writer like Jeff Strand, those cousins get downright incestuous.
WB: The short stories you've written for the Smart Rhino anthologies, especially for the Zippered Flesh books, are absolutely creepy and much darker in tone than the Randall Lee books. Do you harness a different mood when writing horror? Go to the "dark side," so to speak?
CC: I think the dark side is always there, but it's a matter of degree. There's definitely some dark stuff in the Randall Lee books (Pressure Point, especially), but that darkness isn't meant to be the focus. Music is what helps me to set a tone, though. I typically make little "soundtrack" playlists to help get a feel for a story.
WB: In one sentence, what is the future of publishing?
CC: I don't know if anyone knows, really, but I'm going to do my best to be part of it.
WB: Which author has had the most influence on your own writing?
CC: That's a tough one. I met Neil Gaiman when I was about 17, and he really encouraged me to write. I'll never forget that. In horror, Stephen King (of course), John Skipp, Jack Ketchum, Ray Garton, Rick Hautala ¡K a bunch of people! Mystery is easy, though. Robert B. Parker. I read something like twenty Spencer novels over the course of a summer because Parker's style is just awesome.
WB: What are you reading now?
CC: I tend to juggle several at a time. The Hunter by Richard Stark, Flood by Andrew Vachss (re-reading this one), Galilee by Clive Barker, and Shada by Douglas Adams and Gareth Roberts.
WB: So, what's your next writing project? A new Randall Lee novel?
CC: Yep! Jianghu, the third book in the series, which is turning out to be the darkest and coolest one yet. I'm also collaborating with the super awesome Glen Krisch on a horror novel and working on the second book in my dark fantasy series.
Thanks, Charles, for a great interview, and good luck with your future writing endeavors! To learn more about this author, visit his web site at http://charlescolyott.wordpress.com.
(A version of this review was also published in the April 2013 issue of Suspense Magazine.)