An Interview With… Tim Murr

Tim Murr owns and operates St. Rooster Books, and is a contributor for Biff Bam Pop and Diabolique Magazine. His recent books include the haunted house novella The Grey Man and the short story collections Motel on Fire and Neon Sabbath, and he edited the anthologies To Be One With You; An Anthology of Parasitic Horror and Kids of the Black Hole; A Punksploitation Anthology. He has been working in indie publishing since 1996.

What was your first book and when did you write it?

My first book was a collection of short stories, poetry, and vignettes called Destroying Lives for Fun and Profit and that came out in 1996 on my 20th birthday.

Do you normally research your stories before you write it, or do you start with a general concept and see where it goes while writing?

I usually have a character first or a vague idea of a character in a certain situation. From there I usually only have a bit of an idea where I want to go and try to let things unfold before me organically, rather than shoe horn in a plot device or a twist ending. 

Can you tell us something about your beginning in the indie world?

This question is full of landmines. See, when I started, I was a punk kid. I was inspired by SST Records and Black Flag and 2.13.61 and Henry Rollins to form my own imprint (Sidekick Productions) and release my own books. These were mostly fold and staple zines of short stories and poetry. I modelled them after punk albums, short and fast pieces, I hand made the covers and books themselves, often in a single night. I’d take them to spoken word shows and open mics and sell them at my table. This was very satisfying for a couple of years, but at this point-at this very moment-I have $20 until my next paycheck and I would LOVE to have an agent or a publisher that could get me more work, that actually pays. I’m so proud of the books I’ve released with St Rooster Books, but man I’d love to get over that hump. I do love my current working situation though; my wife and I share a studio space and she does nearly all my book covers between working on her own projects.   

Many horror creatures are tied to religion (vampires, ghosts, possessions, demons, devils). Do you find this to put a limit to horror creativity as a genre?

It’s never limited me. I find religion to be a great big sandbox to play in. I think it would be more limiting to not be able to reference faith and belief. I can’t imagine working like David Cronenberg (who I love) and never reference religion or anything supernatural. I like to have the whole toy box wide open to grab whatever I need.

Can you tell us about St Rooster Books?

St Rooster Books is a book imprint focusing on horror, weird, crime, and what I call Avant-Noire (which the term I used for my first novella, Conspiracy of Birds, which was a fever dream mash up of influences from various types of crime noir of the 40s, the gialli of Dario Argento, and No Wave and post punk music, with a heavy dose of David Lynch). I’m still a punk rock horror kid at heart and I want St Rooster Books to reflect the DIY spirit of punk in whatever genre it approaches always with an eye towards high quality literary fiction.

Can you tell us about the anthologies you’ve published and some of the people you’ve worked with?

To Be One With You was inspired by a Lit Reactor post written by Gabino Iglasias, where he listed a number of anthologies he wanted to submit to, I jumped at the idea of an anthology of parasitic horror and wound up getting a stellar line-up that included Jeffery X Martin, Paul Kane, Marie O’Regan, David Barbee, Adam Millard, Ross Peterson, Peter Oliver Wonder, and DJ Tyrer. All of whom were wonderful to work with and turned in some incredible work.

Kids of the Black Hole was simply inspired by my love of horror and punk and particularly punk themed films like Return of the Living Dead, Suburbia, Green Room, The Ranger, and Repo Man. For that one I got Sarah Miner, Paul Lubaczewski (who wrote the new horror comedy vampire novel, I Never Eat…Cheesesteak), Jeremy Lowe aka Germ T Ripper (from the Chicago punk band The Modern Rippers), and Chris Hallock (of Diabolique and the Boston Underground Film Festival).

Between those two anthologies are some serious gems of the horror genre and I’m so happy and proud to have been the one to publish them.  

Do you find that being based in a town, rather than a city, for example, can influence a writer’s career?

Yes. Relocating to Upstate New York from North Carolina has definitely given my creativity a major boost. I find the area super inspiring. For whatever reason, I wasn’t nearly inspired while living in Durham. On the other hand, I believe you get out of things what you put into it, so maybe my attitude back there was crap.

Did you start by writing novel or you “evolved” into it after writing a lot of short stories?

I started working short form, but I’ve always had an eye towards a novel. I made my first attempt in my senior year of high school, and then I spent years on rewrites on my first novel, City Long Suffering, that started life as a comic book series. 

Do you have a formal writing instruction (for example, a degree in creative writing)? Do you think that a formal instruction helps writing?

I don’t, I learned to write from reading a lot and later working with a really good editor that helped me whip my writing into shape. The main instruction I’ve sought out is in writing screenplays. Dan O’Bannon’s book was very helpful for that, by the way. So I don’t know if formal instruction helps or hinders creativity. I think you should do whatever works for you.

Have you ever killed a character you didn’t want to?

No, when it’s your time to go, it’s your time to go, even if it means writing myself into a corner. I’ve gotten pretty good at kicking holes in the wall when that happens though.

How do you choose your characters’ names and how important are the names of the characters in your stories?

Generally I reach for the nearest CD and use a mix of names from liner notes, like the producers, engineers, PR people, etc. My character names are more often a little joke, but they never hold some higher meaning. 

Was horror a prominent genre on your bookshelf growing up or has it surfaced as an adult?

Not at first. Robert Louis Stephenson’s Treasure Island inspired me to become a writer in the second grade. Halfway through that book I knew writing was all I ever wanted to do. I grew up in the 80s and Jason Vorhees and Freddy Kreuger were everywhere, not to mention the TV show Tales From the Darkside, which started my love of horror and wanting to write it. I got Stephen King’s Cujo from the library in fifth grade and from there, it was all over. I was obsessed with horror from that moment on. 

Is there anything you find bad for the horror genre? For example, how do you feel about the stigma attached to being a horror writer?

You know the worst thing for horror? Gatekeepers and self important elitists. People who exclude others based on beliefs, gender, sexual orientation, colour, etc. Pros who crap on indies. Assholes in general. There are a few horror writers out there who must hate the genre based on their disgusting and toxic behavior. Those are the worst things for the genre. 

What, if anything, is currently missing from the horror genre?

Content wise, you want you’ll find it, if you look hard enough, so I think what we are missing is more inclusivity of non-white, straight male authors, which I happen to be. I think there is more than enough room for more black, Latino, Asian, gay, trans, female, etc voices in horror. 

A lot of good horror movements have arisen as a direct result of the sociopolitical climate. Considering the current state of the world, where do you see horror going in the next few years?

(We asked Tim this question before the COVID-19 outbreak.)

In film, we are already seeing a backlash against Trump and his hateful ideologies in films like The Ranger, Tigers Are Not Afraid, and Mohawk and I think horror has more of that coming. People raging against xenophobia and wanna be dictators and authoritarian regimes. I wish we could get another one of George Romero’s Dead films in this era. I’d love to see how he would skewer the Trump administration. 

If you could erase one horror cliché what would be your choice?

I don’t think clichés or tropes are in and of themselves a bad thing, it’s all in how you use them.

Is there one subject you would never write about as an author?

Nothing is off limits, if the story calls for it, but I really hate rape scenes. I don’t want to write them, read them, or watch them. There are strong examples of rape being used in books and movies and it’s not exploitative, but so often it’s just a cheap shock.

Does horror fiction perpetuate its own ghettoization?  For example, Julia Armfield’s collection Salt Slow has a cover that most horror fans would walk past in a book shop, and is one that probably is not marketed as horror; so does the genre’s obsession with horrific covers cause more harm than good? And how important is the cover when it comes down to selling the book?

Well, first I hate a bad cover. Those mass markets that are all text with maybe a smidge of an image are boring as shit to me. I like artwork. I want my book covers to be eye catching, something like an album or a comic book cover. I see a lot of bad photoshop, but also good photoshop that looks way too similar to other good photoshopped covers and they all sort of run together and become unmemorable. So yes, a good cover is important, but it’s not the only thing. Plenty of brilliant books with shit covers and vice versa. I don’t think you need gore and sex on the cover to sell a horror novel, but if it’s done well, I have no issue, as long as it’s not sexist or whatever. I think it comes down to knowing your audience and managing expectations. You want to put a pornographic image on your cover, go for it, but you won’t get it on the shelves in Barnes & Noble. The first part of your question though, the only people who still think of horror as a ghetto are people who hate horror. Horror is as popular if not more than it has ever been. If this is a ghetto, we live in a damn nice ghetto. 

How important is it to use an editor?

If you can afford an editor, use an editor. No matter how smart you think you are, you can always use an extra set of eyes on your work.

Do you want to talk about your current project?

I have four books I’m currently juggling right now, one is a tie-in novella for a role playing game, which is a modern witch horror project. Then I’m working on my next collection of short stories, called My Skull is Full of Black Smoke. Then I have two more novellas that I’m not ready to divulge the details on, but I’m super stoked about them.

What do you do when you’re not knee-deep in horror?

I have a day job, but I’m often listening to horror podcasts, so I’m not often not knee-deep in horror, haha. (Shout out to the Faculty of Horror and Shockwaves!)

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