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Interview
ROBERT DEVEREAUX: History and a Breadth of Experience
"One writes out of the present moment, whenever that happens to be. It's a magical place, outside of the power of Kronos and therefore beyond life and death. " -- Robert Devereaux

by Paula Guran
October, 1996 (Originally Published by OMNI Online)

Robert Devereaux Image Robert Devereaux's first horror novel, Deadweight, was Dell Abyss's March 1994 title; Walking Wounded appeared in bookstores in August, 1996. Devereaux has had stories in Pulphouse, Iniquities, Bizarre Bazaar, Bizarre Sex, MetaHorror, Weird Tales, Crank!, Love in Vein, Immortal Unicorn, and It Came from the Drive-In. I first met Bob online via e-mail (no, not the kind he mentions below) and finally got to meet him in person in Eugene, Oregon at the 1996 World Horror Con last May. In fact, he (among others) was forced to listen to me prattle manic just-off-of-two-overcrowded-airplanes verbiage in a minivan all the way from the airport to the hotel. He didn't exactly avoid me after that. . .I don't think. . .but I also didn't get much of a chance to chat more. When you read the interview below, you'll see why I regret this. Devereaux is erudite, informative, entertaining, witty, and charming. He also writes fine books.

Robert, you were born 10 days before Stephen King, yet Walking Woundedis only your second published novel. Do you consider yourself a late bloomer?

Yes and no. One writes out of the present moment, whenever that happens to be. It's a magical place, outside of the power of Kronos and therefore beyond life and death. But if we allow that god his power and step back to look at the career within the span of a life, then yes, things might have begun earlier. There were a few false starts, a family launched, a study to be had--before the resolve, the ideas, and the space came together in the mid-eighties. But regrets are pointless. Things happen at just the right moment. I have a history and a breadth of experience with me now that have held me in good stead.

You have a Ph.D. in English literature and an MS in computer science. How did this lead to writing horror?

I've worked for Hewlett-Packard as a software engineer for 13 years. That sustaining job has been quite a joy actually. No cause for horrific thoughts there and, strangely enough, little desire to draw on my job fictionally in any way. As for my degree work in the humanities, that allowed me to explore story, to take a class in fiction writing with T. Coraghessan Boyle while he was still an MFA/Ph.D. candidate himself, to act in Shakespearean comedy and tragedy, to read widely in the Renaissance and in Greek drama. These give the fabulist --whether light, dark, or indifferently hued--deep wells from which to draw sustenance. But once I finished my English degree and moved on into science, I set aside literature for a time. King was increasingly there. Much of what he did appealed. I wrote two novels, unsold, literary, not horror at all. Then I thought I'd try writing what I got a kick out of. Into the King-fed hopper went also the most adept of the splatstuff, David Schow's "Jerry's Kids Meet Wormboy," the early novels of Skipp and Spector, Rex Miller, Ray Garton, Richard Laymon. Out popped, among other things, "Bucky Goes to Church," which made it into Dennis Etchison's MetaHorror; and Deadweight, a study in depravity and empowerment. (Someone called it American Psycho with a heart.) My most satisfying reactions to that novel came from two formerly battered wives who told me I had captured the truth of that sorry situation better than they had ever seen it done in fiction.

You started out in theater, have written some plays, acted, and are quite an expert on Renaissance drama. I confess: I started out in theater, too. Do you think there is something about the stage that prepares one to deal with horror as a career?

It's invaluable in the creation of any kind of fiction. There's a great economy onstage--of movement, of gesture, of language. Additionally, the creation of a variety of characters loosens you up from yourself. The masks hang looser. You derive far greater empathy for the whole range of humanity than you otherwise might. This is especially true for character actors, those who play villains and buffoons, tricksters and sidekicks and moonstruck dukes, impotent kings, sorcerers, and naive gondoliers, as I did. It is impossible, with such a background, not to love all of one's creations, even the most despicable of them. Even if one is not writing something darkly fantastical, there is implied darkness in even the lightest of portraits, and that gives great weight and depth and balance. So I count myself very fortunate indeed to have had stage experience in my background.

Your first novel, Deadweight, dealt with Karin, a victim of paternal and spousal abuse who finds she can raise the dead. Now, in Walking Woundedwe have Katt, a woman in a bad marriage who has healing powers that she uses in reverse, so to speak, to "solve" her problems with her husband. Both deal, to an extent, with spirituality. Both books are remarkably "true" portrayals of women. Are you well in touch with God and with your female
side or. . .?

Ah, the ominous ellipsis! I am fascinated with spiritual pursuits, with the body overpowered and empowered. I am a sensualist. One of my favorite books is Diane Ackerman's A Natural History of the Senses. I delight in stories of bodily transformation, in stories that honor the spiritual nature of the body. I have little use for disembodied deities and for religious traditions that belittle our carnal natures. So, "in touch" with God is a very good phrase indeed. As for women and the female side, I'm not really sure what it means, beyond easy jargon, to be in touch with one's female side, other than to be on sleeping terms with one's anima, to have embraced Skeleton Woman, untangled her bones, and suffered her to drink one's somnolent tear. We all have strength and fragility in us, the sadistic and the masochistic, roughness and tenderness, the bull and the dove, the cactus and the calla lily. To be a whole person is to embrace all of that, to honor all of it, and to freely embody it in one's fiction.

Walking Wounded also deals with relationships started in cyberspace that turn "real life." Dear Abby is nowadays constantly dealing with this issue as well. Is this a new facet of human sexuality? Will it wreck modern civilization?

What's left to wreck? (Smile.) Actually, a good friend of mine is a clinical psychologist. In recent times, she has counseled half a dozen couples in which the wife has discovered her mate carrying on a cybersex affair behind her back. Betrayal aside, for those who are free to explore intimacy on the Net, it's a new and exciting outlet for one's sexual fantasies. It's also, in capable hands, a revival of the art of letter-writing. After my divorce 4 years ago, I loved playing with the imaginative possibilities on the Internet as an anonymous correspondent. A shy guy actually, I could place the sensualist in me boldly front and center and come lovingly from that place in my e-mail, freeing the truth and letting it sing. That had its benign influence on my fiction as well. All that's past me now, but it was an inspiring time in my life.

Where do you want to go with your writing, or perhaps, where will it lead you?

By the nose, wherever it likes. At the moment, I'm working on a literary fantasy called Die Meisterschtupper Von Allesberg, which was inspired (its form anyway) by The Brothers Karamazov in the delightful Pevear/Volokhonsky translation. Other ideas are simmering. Also, in the realm of nonfiction, I'm working with a collaborator on a new version of the I Ching. We have a wonderful agent who will be circulating our proposal to publishers come fall.

I'm going to pretend I understood all that and go on and ask you about agents. You do not, I believe, consider ALL agents "wonderful?"

In the interest of deftly sidestepping even the possibility of a litigious quagmire, let's just say that my experience with agents so far is mixed. For a year, I had one for my first book, Oedipus Aroused. I made the mistake of accepting his representation without even talking to him on the phone. One is so desperate in those early days that, no matter how often you read that agents work for you, you leap at the first yes that comes down the pike. He didn't work out. Couldn't sell the book and after I had written a few more, I knew why; the characters were dragged around by a clever plot. So I'm afraid old . . . um . . . call him Quasimodo le Pew wasn't (and isn't) much of an agent. I then hooked up with XYZ, not his or her real name, who served as my agent for six years. XYZ sold my first novel, then tried and couldn't sell roughly three more manuscripts or proposals. Tough market. Some of the projects were quirky, not your run-of-the-mill commercial stuff. I don't fault XYZ for that. But this agent, in my imperfect opinion, is too much ensconced in genre, and I ended by concluding that XYZ and I are not the ideal match. Here's where the fun and games began. Since January 1996, after extremely amiable letters and then increasingly less amiable letters from me to XYZ, this agent has refused, by silence, to give me a reckoning of where my unsold manuscripts have been, who read them, who rejected them, who still had them at the time we ended our client-agent relationship. This behavior is completely unprofessional and has caused unnecessary delays in the furtherance of my writing career. I, and anyone who represents me, has got to know where this work has been, in order to intelligently submit it elsewhere. I have filed grievances with the appropriate professional organizations, but as of this writing (July 1996), nothing has been forthcoming. XYZ seems to have an imperfect understanding of the importance of reputation and word of mouth. I won't go public with this agent's name, but you can be damn sure that, one on one, I *will* warn writers away from XYZ's agency.

Any new stories coming out?

Other than "The Slobbering Tongue that Ate the Frightfully Huge Woman," which is in Norman Partridge's It Came From the Drive-In, the one major as-yet-unreleased Devereaux story is my metafictional Coover-inspired zombie story from the ill-fated Book of the Dead 3, whose title is "Holy Fast, Holy Feast." I'll have a reprint in Women Who Run with the Werewolves, and a few bagatelles in 365 Scary Stories and in P. D. Cacek's Scared Shitless. Other than these, I've been parsimonious with the short stuff, though I'm always open to invites from professional anthologists. One never knows when the mood will strike, when the conjunction of theme and one's life musings will be propitious.

The latest chapters, briefly, in the ongoing saga of The Book of the Dead 3 and 4 include White Wolf Publishing dropping The Art of Gore, which would have included one volume edited by Craig Spector and one by John Mason Skipp, the originators of the near-legendary Book of the Dead 1 AND 2. Skipp then issued a plea for readers and writers to acknowledge support of what could now be called The Very Last Book of the Dead in an effort to get the book he was editing published. As of mid-September 1996, it appears that White Wolf HAS picked up Skipp's anthology after all. What is your opinion?

Both Craig Spector and John Mason Skipp I count as friends. It's too bad that Bantam canceled the third Book of the Dead, too bad the deal with Severn House in Britain went off the rails, too bad that White Wolf nixed their omnibus volumes. So it goes. Rumors roil as to reasons. Past history. To judge from the first two volumes and the astounding quality of the stories therein, to judge from the table of contents Craig showed me a few horror cons back, the stories that Skipp is bringing together in his Very Last Book of the Dead (mine is among them) will astonish and delight in new directions. Who would have thought that a Romero-based zombie anthology could generate such wondrous work as Robert R. McCammon's "Eat Me" (which won that year's World Fantasy Award for best short story), or David Schow's "Jerry's Kids Meet Wormboy," or Joe Lansdale's "On the Far Side of the Cadillac Desert with Dead Folks"? Besides inviting in talented writers to begin with, the other important factor is the anthologist doing the inviting. I wrote one of my best stories for Poppy Z. Brite's Love in Vein because I knew that she, whose being and whose craft I highly respect and admire, would be my first audience. Ditto, Skipp and Spector. They're good souls, skilled writers. I consider them both friends. And they bring out the best in their fabulist colleagues. So I have nothing but good wishes for them both. And my fingers are crossed, beyond the threshold of pain, in hopes that some exceedingly wise publisher picks up The Very Last Book of the Dead and runs with it, hellbent for leather.


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Copyright © 1996 by Paula Guran All Rights Reserved.