Friday, 22 March 2013
Interview - Tom Hamilton
Tom Hamilton, author of The Darkened Corner and The Pit Bull and Other Tales, interviewed by Frank Burton. Both ebooks are available as free downloads from http://philistinepress.com.
Would you say there are central themes running through the collection?
I would say that the central theme is dread. I'm fond of calling these tales dread stories instead of horror stories. I feel that dread is a stronger emotion then fear, or at least it lasts longer. Fear is sort of a sharp stabbing spike of an emotion, but dread can last for days or even months. Dread lingers. I think that if I can make the reader feel dread instead of horror, than I have made a stronger impression on them or at least an impression which will last longer in their minds. That's assuming that I can get anyone to read the stories at all.
Are any of these stories based on real events?
I think that any fiction story must be derived somewhat from the writer's own experiences. I tend to favor a first person narrative and I think that that point of view sort of covets an angle based on life experience. But you can't always convey everything that you want to portray in a story just by being the real you. Besides, the real you may not be very dramatic or theatrical. The real you might bore the shit out of anyone and everyone.
My short story "little creature" is based on an actual event which took place in Florida. Apparently an old woman's dog was eaton by an alligator at a road side park in the Everglades. Tragic and horrific to be sure, but maybe not enough there for a fictional account. Some may say that putting a child in place of the pet is just too grizzly, a few editors outright told me that the content was inappropriate. But for me the poignancy must come from somewhere; some set of reprehensible circumstances. I don't think that this a cheap ploy to get a reaction from the reader. The reader must feel something, even if it is disgust or dread, otherwise the writer has failed.
Would you define The Pit Bull as a collection of horror stories, or are there elements of other genres?
I think that there are plenty of other elements. Fantasy maybe, psychological horror. Like I said I like to call them dread stories. I don't want to be one of these people who say that they don't appreciate labels or that they are not constricted by any genre. As if not defining their genre makes their stories unique, ubiquitous or totally original in some way. There are so many people saying stuff like that, that not having a genre has become a genre in itself. If the story isn't compelling then it doesn't matter what category it falls under. I'm just trying to write the best story possible. If I have to cross over into another so called genre to complete the tale in what I feel is an acceptable manner, then that's what'll end up happening. I hate to say that I'm avoiding labels. It's more like I'm just not considering them at all while I'm writing. Not revealing the genre of the story does not mean that I think I've succeeded in being mysterious or anything.
Were the stories written independently or with a collection in mind?
I wrote the stories independently over a number of years. But I still think they fit together pretty well. The Pit Bull is the oldest story as it was written in 1996. However, it's been revised that many times since then that the original tale would probably be unrecognizable by now. All the others in the collection I've written over the last few years along with many other shorts. I felt that out of all the short stories I've written these probably fit together the best. I'm not going to lie, I would like people to read the collection. I don't care about making any money on these works, because one day I'll be dead and the money will still be circulating. But if I can put a stamp on someone's mind or find a link which they can relate to through their own thought process then I'll feel good about it. There's always the possibility that this may happen even after I'm dead, although I can't say for sure how I'd feel about that then.
Which writers influenced you when writing these stories?
I don't know that I was directly influenced while I was writing these particular stories. I stopped trying to imitate other writers, either consciously or subconsciously, years ago and most of these were written relatively recently. Some of my influences are William S. Burroughs, Franz Kafka, Sylvia Plath, Kurt Vonnegut, Albert Camus, W. Somerset Maugham, George Orwell and Charles Bukowski. I really love the works of Paul Auster. I think he is the best living writer still at work today. I think that everything I've read over the years is in there somewhere, tucked into the back of your mind. But I'd like to think that I've developed my own style at this point. I have used solo lines from the works of other writers if their description fits my fictional situation perfectly. But I don't feel like I am plagiarizing their works so much as I am just paying homage to them. Especially since the context is always vastly different. Sometimes I even sneak a line from some of my favorite films into the dialogue, although so far no one has ever noticed.
Are you working on anything new at the moment?
I've been working on three novels for a long time. One, which I have entitled The Monastery has definitely took precedent over the others, since I have been able to work out what I feel is a satisfactory ending. The problem is that I don't just want to write a linear story. I want the juxtaposition of the scenes to have a daunting effect on the reader. I don't just want to write some meaningless pulp novel, I want to be a literary stylist. Perhaps I am aiming too high or giving myself too much credit. But if we, as artists, cannot live up to our highest expectations or if I feel that the novel doesn't meet my own perhaps unrealistic or even unattainable standards, then I refuse to put it out there. Trying to create a valid work of art is like being involved in a fist fight. You have to keep punching until you can get on top. If you can't get on top of the story, then it will beat you into the ground. And you won't want to show your broken face to anyone. I know that if I can get the work, ultimately, the way that I want it, then someone else will also think that it's good.
Do you have a favorite short story of all time?
My all time favorite short story is "The Fifth Wheel" by Bret Easton Ellis. The story is in his collection "The Informers' which was later made into a very weak film version. In the movie the narrater is played by the late Brad Renfro and his tormentor Peter is portrayed by Mickey Rourke. Although the ending of this segment in the film is much different then Ellis' story and is largely a cop out. Especially when compared to his monumental work in the book.
I think that Ellis is misunderstood as a writer. He has often been accused of misogyny, employing gore for gore's sake while highlighting graphic violence and gratuitous sexual situations. But like all great satirists he's only deflecting society back onto itself. You can watch the cable channels and your liable to see stuff that is much worse then any scenario found in Ellis' works. Besides, sex, violence, depravity, sex, sex, sex. That's what sells. That's what people want to read about. I'm not comparing myself to a genius like Ellis, but I know that I could fall under heavy criticism from other travelers at any time (assuming that they, or anyone else will ever read my work) for writing about some of the situations I do, and there are people who will shine the worst possible light on things. but I don't believe in censorship. Not even self censorship. It's just too hard to please everyone.