Saturday, December 13, 2014

History and Horror, Oh My: Kevin Wetmore

Kevin Wetmore is the author of over a dozen short stories and several books, including Post-9/11 Horror in American Cinema and Back from the Dead: Reading Remakes of George Romero's Zombie Films as Markers of Their Times. He lives in Los Angeles where he also acts, directs, teaches and does stunts.

Kevin contributed "Report on an Incident after the Battle of Malvern Hill" to History and Horror, Oh My! The "Report" tells the story of a soldier's grisly discovery during the American Civil War, but we found his description of the 'normal' events in the war equally gruesome. We decided to learn more about what inspired him to write the story and how he researched it.

How did you pick the genre/setting/era you (usually) write in?
I write horror because I like horror and spend a good deal of time reading and watching that genre, so it is also the one I know best. I wrote this short story about the Civil War era because it is a period that really interests me. It really was the first modern war - the first machine gun, the Gatling Gun, was in use by 1962 by the Union army. It was a very violent and horrific conflict that was well documented through photographs and soldiers' journals and letters. (The description of a the aftermath of a battlefield looking like a single entity came from a soldier's letter home, for example). So there was a lot of material with horrific potential even before adding the monster element. I also wanted to explore a story written as a letter, so the Civil War setting also lent itself to that task.
It don't usually write in this period. Most of my fiction is either set in the present or in the immediate future. It is fun, though, to write about the past. I usually end up doing a lot of research to be accurate. I wrote a story set at Halloween 1955 that was really a tribute to my father's childhood and the first thing he did after reading it was tell me all the things I got wrong - the night that particular TV shows were on, how families ate dinner - just details that someone alive then would know but are not necessarily found in books or websites. So I think I like writing about the Civil War or the Renaissance - nobody tells you that you got the details wrong.

How did you come up with the idea for your story in History and Horror, Oh My?
I recently read James McPherson's Battle Cry of Freedom and found myself horrified by the battle descriptions. I also started thinking about the terrible starvation and famine that followed in the South and how deserters would follow the armies looking for food. I also look at the descriptions of the military hospitals and the conditions under which hundreds of limbs would be amputated in a single day after battle and began wondering what would happen if the desperation drove the deserters to feast on those limbs. I think I was also playing with the metaphor of feeding off of others found in slavery. The whole story was intended to convey increasing unease and disgust after the fact as a wounded soldier reports on the horrific battlefield experience, the even more horrific hospital experience, and then finally the realization that someone had eaten your flesh and now had a taste for it. While there are lots of horrible ways to die, I think knowing that you are being consumed by something else is particularly disturbing.

Did you encounter any obstacles in researching the setting?
No, actually. The Civil War is frighteningly well documented. It was just making sure you get the details right. Knowing that a certain unit disbanded on this date and was absorbed into another unit, or that men from a particular unit only came from one town are things you need to get right, because there is always that reader that knows and gets pulled out of the story when the read something they know isn't right, and I want the reader in the story while he or she is reading it. Plus most of my writing has been non-fiction, so I actually really enjoy the research. I keep a notebook on my desk as I am researching things for my non-fiction work, as I come across something that will make an interesting story I make a note of it and then start working on a story later. That's actually how this one began life.

Who is your favorite author, and what really strikes you about their work?
I am a huge Ray Bradbury fan. Love his stuff. He has a gift for language and for detail that just makes him a pleasure to read. I've read Something Wicked This Way Comes so many times I have whole sections memorized. My fiction is mostly short stories, and he is certainly a master of the form, so he has proven an excellent model. I also really like Joe R. Landale's short stories. His novels are fine and fun, but his short stories bite and don't let go. I think "The Night They Missed The Horror Show" is still the most horrific thing I have ever read. It's like reading an accident - everything slows down and you see the bad things coming and are powerless to change the outcome. That story left a mark.

What are you working on now?
As always, many short stories and several non-fiction projects. I've been interviewing the participants of Zombie Walks, Zombie Runs, Zombie Crawls, etc., really anything where people dress up and pretend to be zombies for a book about why we play dead - not just watch zombie movies, but why folks want to pretend to be a reanimated corpse. I have several stories coming out over the next several months and several I am currently revising. Like all writers, I think about a novel, but the short story form is what really interests and occupies me right now.

Okay, so you're an author. What do you enjoy reading?
As an author, anything and everything. Ideas are everywhere, information too. I start the day with the newspaper, then read novels, history, science books, plays, magazines - everything.

Read Kevin Wetmore's story for Yourself!
History and Horror, Oh My! is now available in ebook formats on Smashwords and in print and Kindle formats on Amazon.

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