Please welcome our December featured author Tom Piccirilli as he talks about his latest book SHADOW SEASON and a bit more....
Tom Piccirilli Interview:
Tom Piccirilli has written over a dozen titles - all very different - but still much the same in the sense that they speak of how deadlier the intangible fears that reside in us can be than those that attack us from the outside. In his latest, Shadow Season, Piccirilli tells the story of a man who has lost just about everything, including his eyesight, years before as a cop on the toughest streets around. Now, whiling the days away in an all-girl prep school as a professor of literature, bitter remains from his unresolved past are about to come back with a blast during a white-out blizzard that promises to take much more from him than he even knew he had to lose.
But this is just the latest in Piccirilliís long line of novels, so letís find out more about this author whose imagination seems to have no bounds. (And, yes, his dog is in fact named after Edgar Allen Poe.)
NMR: Thanks for talking with us Tom! I have to confess, your new title Shadow Season is the first title of yours Iíve had the pleasure to read. But it was more than enough to get me interested in who you are as a writer and what Iíve missed. Looking at your bio, I see that youíve written dozens of titles, and it seems youíve run the gamut from a kind of pulp fantasy realm, to horror, to a mix of the two, to a more almost ďtraditionalĒ suspense mixed with a dash of paranormal, to your latest of straight-up dark, noir suspense (and it looks like Marval comics is next on your hitlist)..
Tell us a bit how you got started in writing novels and where your ideas came from.
PIC: Oh Christ, you did NOT just start an interview with that time-worn chestnut ďwhere do your ideas come fromĒ did you? Egad. I could pull a Harlan Ellison move and say, ďPoughkeepsie.Ē Heís always claimed he pays an old woman there $1.27 per idea. But for me, the real answer is, I have no idea. A better question is where donít I get my ideas. Theyíre all about, and somehow worm into my head and take hold and fire my imagination and force my fat ass into my desk chair to write them out. I got ďseriousĒ about writing when I was 15 or so and put my dues in writing bad poetry and symbolic tales of unrequited cheerleader love and the like. The urge to fantasize has always been with me. See, arenít you glad you asked?
NMR: Well, maybe not overly glad, but one has to ask what one has to ask in these things.
So, a bit of research into your earlier novels seems to indicate a slow but steady trail from the highly fantastic towards a more, for lack of a better word, ďrealisticĒ type story. Why do you think this is?
PIC: As I approach middle age (shh, Iím Tomís subconscious. Heís really gone over the hill, but I refuse to consciously admit this...) my literary interests seem to have focused on crime/noir fiction. Good guys trapped in bad situations. Or bad guys trapped in bad situations for that matter. Why? Probably because the older I get the more I realize thereís a significant gray area between black and white. When I was younger good and bad seemed polar opposites. Now, I understand that the world has a greater range of gray between. I know about dashed hopes and stupid haunting fears and the effort it takes to hold onto even your most menial dreams. Iím more interested in the human condition now whereas I suppose I once thought the fantastic, the inhuman condition, was more intriguing.
NMR: On the same note, considering the many different approaches youíve taken in your creations, which do you find the most entrancing and enjoyable to write?
PIC: It all depends on what the driving force of a particular idea is. In the last few years the draw toward noir has been more engaging, so Iíve written THE COLD SPOT, THE COLDEST MILE, and now SHADOW SEASON. Before that, I was focused toward crime-supernatural crossovers, and I needed to write THE MIDNIGHT ROAD, THE DEAD LETTERS, and HEADSTONE CITY. Before that, horror and westerns and other types of storytelling drew me in. I only go where my needs take me. I donít always know where that is until I get there.
NMR: Reading the reviews of your previous titles, the word ďdarkĒ is often featured; why do you prefer writing of the darker side as opposed to a cozy knitting mystery?
PIC: I find the things that comprise ďdarkĒ fiction or serious fiction to be more illuminating, fascinating, and honest than the cozy lighthearted stuff. The true heart of drama is conflict. Someone wants something and they canít get it. They have to surmount odds. They have to make sacrifices. They have to make choices, sometimes bad ones. That sounds a lot more like real life to me than some pink-haired biddie solving knitting crimes with her fucking cat.
NMR: Speaking of dark, Shadow Season didnít quite have the tidy, happy resolution a lot of readers probably hope for. No doubt you envisioned more than one ending to this story. But without giving too much away, if possible, why did you end it as you did?
PIC: Again, I think itís more honest in its own way. The entire reading experience is to put the story in the head of the reader, to make them a part of the tale, an active ingredient. The most haunting and lasting works are the ones that leave you with an ďI still want the story to go on. I still want to be a part of it.Ē Look at the finale of Gone with the Wind. Itís so powerful because itís not quite a finish, itís an, ďWell, we sort of know what happens next but we donít REALLY know.Ē Thatís life. Knowing only 99% of the story and that last 1% just out of reach.
NMR: Talking further abut your new book, it does seem to be different from your previous titles in that it doesnít really include any type of fantasy aspects. Although with the main character being blind, there still does exist an element of believing in the unseen, a trust in intangible senses and internal instincts; is this something you felt you had to include one way or another?
PIC: Itís a part of my process, I suppose. For exactly the reasons I mentioned above. You only get to understand life so much, so far. Thereís always a little bit that never quite adds up or makes complete sense. We donít get to know what happens after we die. We donít get to know all the secrets of the universe. But we have to muddle through anyway. And thatís what Finn in SHADOW SEASON does. He fights the good fight to the best of his ability, and he doesnít always win. As a blind guy heís forced to imagine what people around him look like, what situations might be occurring. Heís a slave to his imagination, much like we writers are. If his imagination goes a little wonkyóas it does when heís lost in a snowstormóhe canít trust himself. Heís drawn to his own past. Heís drawn to his own fantasies. When he starts freezing out there in a blizzard he sees the ghost of his wife talking to him. Thatís a really bizarre but human set-up to me: a blind guy who sees only darkness, lost in a white-out, and witnessing the dead come back to help him. You canít get more loopy than that, but at the same time, it rings true.
NMR: I have to admit, while reading this book, I got a pretty decent sense of what it must be like to be blind in more ways than one; how did you manage to nail this so well?
PIC: Iím legally blind without my glasses, so I know the fear of walking around bumping into things, not being able to make them out. I wrote a lot of the novel with my eyes closed, really trying to put myself into Finnís place. It might sound ridiculous, but it worked for the time that I was doing it. I got unsettled, I got a little freaked, and thatís what I wanted for Finn. So many of these books and movies that deal with the blind have them being so complacent and accepting. Not only do they learn to deal with their handicap but they overcome it. They live with it so well. And I can tell you right now that would NOT be me. Iíd be a bitter, terrified bastard if the lights went out for me.
NMR: You seem to write books that take a lot of imagination; how hard is it to get to those different worlds, and how hard is it to return to reality?
PIC: Hm? Iím sorry, I wasnít listening. I was talking with this nine-headed hydra in the caverns of the moon.
NMR: Tom, come back to us for a just another couple of questions. Whatís your favorite part of writing, and whatís your worst?
PIC: I donít think I can break it apart like that. Itís all difficult, itís all satisfying in its own way. Sometimes the words come a little more easily and sometimes you have to fight for them, but after all these years I just accept that as part of the job.
NMR: So whatís next in your writing line-up?
PIC: My next novel THE UNDERNEATH should be out from Bantam in about a year. The title is still up in the air but itís the story of a young man who returns to his criminal family on the eve of his brotherís execution. Itís as much a family saga as it is anything else. Lots of gunplay, action, heartache, murder. Just the kind of book your 12-year-old niece needs to read.
NMR: String theory, Quantum physics, or theory of relativity? Or is the best yet to come?
PIC: I have no idea what youíre talking about. Were those mushrooms you just ate?
NMR: Yeah, I usually get that response, especially in dive bars. But my final question is: Beatles or Rolling Stones?
PIC: Springsteen, baby.
Tom Piccirilli is the author of twenty novels
including SHADOW SEASON, THE COLD SPOT, THE COLDEST MILE, and A CHOIR OF ILL
CHILDREN. Heís won the International Thriller Award and four Bram Stoker
Awards, as well as having been nominated for the Edgar, the World Fantasy Award,
the Macavity, and Le Grand Prix de Líimagination. Learn more at his official
website and his blog:
Review of Shadow Season
Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader
Piccirilli starts his story off slow and easy, the setting almost sweet. Stuck in a prep-school emptied for the holidays except for the few girls left behind along with some straggling staff members, blind professor Finn is thinking the upcoming days at worst will involve some over-indulgence from those left behind, and, at best, a bit of peace and quiet. But it seems that everyone has some sort of unresolved issue that is about to bubble to the surface in some not-so- pretty ways. And Finn, like everyone else, seems to have a few unresolved issues of his own stemming from his past as a police officer in the big city that continue to haunt him.
And so starts this tale, with its snowy, atmospheric, and innocent setting that slowly morphs into something malevolent when the campus is suddenly besieged by mysterious and violent events that are so ghostly and inexplicable that Finn is at times afraid he's slipping into a dark nightmare. And as the events begin to escalate into even further violence, Finn will have to figure out if its his past that has come back to haunt him, or if it's an entirely different kind of terror.
In this amazingly gripping novel, Piccirilli creates a wonderfully chilling setting along with a cast of characters that are unflinchingly real. He nails the rich, yet lost, teens left behind by uncaring parents in all their swaggering bravado that seems to mask something different in each of them - some of it a decided darkness and some of it merely angst. He also perfectly captures the individual staff members who all too seem to suffer from some type of private, dark drama. But it's really what he creates with the main character, the blind and guilt-ridden professor, that brings the story together into a decisive, emotionally cohesive whole.
Thereís nothing to dance about after reading this book, but there is plenty that will shake you up just as good. Slyly suspenseful, emotionally gripping, and built with layers of intentful consciousness behind each and every character, this is one that will stay with you for awhile. Letís hope Piccirilli comes back soon with another.