An Interview with Brian Easton
The Permuted Press edition of Autobiography of a Werewolf Hunter. It is formerly known as When the Autumn Moon is Bright: The Autobigraphy of a Werewolf Hunter, Book 1.
Brian Easton is the author of ‘The Autobiography of a Werewolf Hunter’ and ‘Heart of Scars’. I asked him via e-mail if he would agree to an interview and he graciously accepted.
Brian, I read ‘When the Autumn Moon is Bright’ and Heart of Scars’ and they are without a doubt two of the most passionately written novels of any genre that I have ever read. Was it difficult maintaining such a constant level of intensity throughout both novels in the series?
From the get-go I tried to write a werewolf novel that was as true to life as possible. My thinking was that if I could write from a real world perspective then suspending disbelief for the existence of werewolves wouldn’t be as difficult. I think that kind of paradigm lends itself to the kind of intensity you mentioned, and it’s also a good fit for an anti-hero driven by hatred and guilt. So no, I didn’t find that aspect of the writing all that difficult.
How did you come up with the main character of Sylvester Logan James? Is there any basis to him from the real world?
The origin of SLJ has its roots in the pre-teen brain of a 70’s “monster-kid.” At ten years old my mom gave me her old manual Royal typewriter and I started writing stories that I stapled together into home-made comic books. Among my stable of heroes and villains I conceived of a monster-hunting super-hero team called Werewolf Stalker and Vampire Slayer who were, humorously enough, inspired by an episode of the old sit-com, Laverne and Shirley. When I gave these heroes “secret identities” I chose the name Sylvo James for the Werewolf Stalker and Sonny Carol for the Vampire Slayer. There were so many vampire killers around, even in the 70s, Sonny Carol sort of fell by the wayside and I focused instead on his werewolf-killing counterpart. There didn’t seem to be any werewolf killers around back then. The character sort of grew up with me and by the time I started taking him seriously he’d evolved into Sylvester Logan James, a composite of several different historic and fictional personalities, among them: Frontiersman Lewis Wetzel, Jonah Hex, Wild Bill Hickok, Wade Garret and my own father.
Wait a minute. Are you telling me that Sylvester Logan James was inspired by Lenny and Squiggy of Laverne and Shirley fame? What episode of that show could possibly inspire you to create one of the most bad-ass characters in all of fiction?
Yup, that’s exactly what I’m telling you. There was an episode from later in the series where Lenny and Squiggy walk into Laverne’s father’s pizzeria dressed as mountain men. I think they were coming from or going to a costume/Halloween party. Anyway, one of them says, “I am Wolf Slayer,” and the other says “I am Bear Stalker.” And I thought, what cool names, and how much cooler if there were a Werewolf Stalker and a Vampire Slayer. So yeah, weird as it is I have to give props to Laverne and Shirley.
Why werewolves? What is it about them that made you choose them over any of the popular monsters of our day such as vampires or zombies?
I’ve been fascinated by werewolves since I was a little kid. Even before I’d seen The Wolf Man I’d gotten hold of Marvel Comics and Power Records Curse of the Werewolf comic and 45 LP. I was mesmerized by it until my father, an ordained minister, took it away. He perceived the werewolf not as a fanciful invention or even an ancient legend, but as a demonic creature straight from the pits of hell. Naturally, this influenced my perception of the monster as well and my father’s hatred for the very notion of werewolves became the seminal inspiration for SLJ, years before I’d even created him. If I analyze why I prefer werewolves to other creatures of the night I think it probably stems from the fact that I’ve always seen the werewolf as the toughest monster on the block. I mean, the Wolf Man is faster and infinitely more agile than the Mummy or the Frankenstein Monster, stronger and more ferocious than Dracula and plus he’s got fangs and claws—this was my rationale. I figured the only Universal Monster who might be able to take him was the Gill Man, but only in the water.
I read that your father was a pastor and I wondered how he felt about your interests. Has he ever come around to understanding why it is you write and study about what you do?
You know, my father is a very even-tempered man and although he discouraged my interest in horror, by the time I’d become a teenager there were other, more tangible issues to worry about. I think he pretty much understands where I’m coming from today, and takes issue with my use of profanity more than anything.
Do you believe that you will one day be identified with the werewolf genre as much as Anne Rice was with the vampire?
That would be nice, of course, but I have no such expectations or illusions. Primarily, my books are about the man who hunts the monsters and that’s a problem for a lot of fans of the genre. The werewolf doesn’t get as much face time in my novels as it does it others. If anything I’d like to live up to the title horror Editor Miles Boothe has given me—The Godfather of Monster Hunting.
I can understand what you mean about fans of the monsters not understanding. In this day of Team Edward and Team Jacob the first mention you make of harming either one of their pretty little heads sends teenage girls into frenzy. Do you feel that writers like Stephanie Meyer have hurt the genre?
I would say that she’s hurt the genre without actually being part of the genre. She and authors like her have carved out this whole paranormal romance niche, which is fine for tweens and lonely middle age housewives, but it’s not horror. The damage stems from the general public not recognizing the difference. How many times I’ve had to restrain myself when someone has said to me, “Oh, you write about werewolves? You must love Twilight.” If you put Twilight in the same room with real horror, it’s going to be thrown a country ass-whooping like the sensitive kid on the playground.
You feature Peter Stubbe as the ancient werewolf who antagonizes Sylvester James in ‘Heart of Scars’. Do you see him as being on the same level that Count Dracula was in the Stoker novel? In other words, where the Count was the king vampire, is Stubbe the king of the werewolves?
Funny you should make that comparison because that’s precisely where I was working from when I settled on Stubbe for Heart of Scars. I’d been giving a lot of thought to Dracula and wondered who could be considered the Count’s werewolf counterpart? Peter Stubbe seemed to best fit the bill since he was one of the earliest acknowledged werewolf cases and perhaps the most well documented of any. I thought if Stoker could create Count Dracula from the historical Vlad Tepes then what might be possible for the likes of Stubbe? I’d originally thought to write a book outside the SLJ series, focusing on Stubbe as the werewolf equivalent to Dracula, but in the end I decided not to wait and put him to work in Heart of Scars.
Any plans to actually write the Stubbe book?
It would be an interesting project, but right now I have too many other ideas simmering behind the scenes.
What’s next for Sylvester James? Is there a third book in the series?
I’ve been working on ‘The Lineage’ since January, third book in the Autobiography of a Werewolf Hunter series. My intention has always been to make the story a trilogy and call it done, but if I think there’s more fight left in SLJ, who knows? Once ‘The Lineage’ is finished the big project on the horizon is ‘Winterfox’, the prequel to Autobiography which will chronicle the life and times of Sylvester’s mentor and grandfather, Michael Winterfox.
So there’s not only a third book, but a fourth, also. Can you share some ideas with my readers without giving away too much of what you have in store for us?
I really want to give Michael Winterfox the attention he deserves. He’s a fairly enigmatic figure in the Autobiography series and he’s older than dirt, so writing his story will be challenging on a few different levels. I have a feeling that Winterfox will be a huge volume, and a real challenge to write. Actually, the thought of sitting down to write it gives me pause and no small amount of fear; the perfect way to start. Beyond that I have a persistent idea for a western-horror piece, and also a sort of horror-comedy that draws from the margins of the Autobiography series.
On your website hauntedjack.com you have a section dedicated to the old school monster films like Dracula, The Wolf Man and The Creature from the Black Lagoon. What is your opinion of the current state of the horror film today?
In a word: Pitiful.
From my way of thinking there are horror films and then there are monster movies, and there is some overlap of course, but what I miss most about modern horror films are the monsters that put the genre on the map. Today’s horror seems to have ditched the monsters in favor of other, “cleverer” plot devices.
Don’t get me wrong, I love a good horror film whether there’s a monster in it or not, but unfortunately these are hard to come by. What I see are mediocre remakes and films that seem to rely solely on gore or special effects to draw their audience. How about a plot without holes big enough to land a plane in? How about good storytelling or passable acting? Sadly, these seem to be lost commodities and the genre is languishing because of it.
You have a degree in anthropology and have studied the occult for over 25 years. How has this helped you in your writing and the formation of your characters?
My background in socio-cultural anthropology has been especially helpful in creating characters from a variety of backgrounds and ethnicities, hopefully without succumbing to stereotypes. My occult research has been one of the foundation stones of my writing and has allowed me to incorporate real aspects of the supernatural into my stories. Topics like voodoo and Native American mysticism have played prominent roles in the Autobiography series, as have ghosts and phenomena such as clairvoyance, possession, and divination. Thanks to my studies I can incorporate these kinds of things into fiction while being faithful to their various non-fiction occult traditions.
Some people need more convincing than others. What would you say to convince people to read your novels?
All I can guarantee is my monsters don’t sparkle and my protagonist doesn’t gratuitously take off his shirt. I can promise an unflinching look at redemption through violence where blood and guts are rendered with a purpose, and shame lurks behind every perceived victory. This is a sordid world of scabby knuckles and broken teeth where hatred is a sovereign god, the squeamish need not apply.
I want to thank Brian Easton for taking the time for this interview. I want to remind my readers that if you haven’t given his novels a shot then you are sorely missing out. There is much more to Sylvester Logan James than being a werewolf hunter. Take care and stay scared everybody!
Oh, and before I forget, I want to thank Brian’s brother, Bradley Easton. Without his help this interview might never have happened. Thanks, Bradley, for passing it on.