L.L. Soares is the Bram Stoker Award-winning author of the novel Life Rage, which was published by Nightscape Books in the fall of 2012. His other books include the short story collection In Sickness (with Laura Cooney) and the novels Rock ‘N’ Roll, Hard, and his latest book, Buried in Blue Clay, which came out in 2017 from Post Mortem Press.
He has written dozens of short stories, most recently for the anthologies Zippered Flesh 2: Yet More Tales of Body Enhancements Gone Bad!, edited by Weldon Burge and The Forsaken: Stories of Abandoned Places, edited by Joe McKinney and Mark Onspaugh.
He also co-writes the horror movie review column Cinema Knife Fight.
To keep up on all his endeavors, go to www.llsoares.com.
RYAN LIESKE: What is the first book you remember reading, or having read to you?
L.L. SOARES: I remember in grammar school, there was this book club where kids could order books every few weeks. I don’t remember getting too many, but one I just had to have was something called How to Care for Your Monster. That’s the first book I remember wanting to buy, wanting to have, as a kid.
RL: What is the book that sealed your fate as a lifelong reader?
LLS: I remember being obsessed with Lovecraft in eighth grade, and Ballantine Books had just come out with a series of books of his short stories. The first one I remember getting was The Doom That Came to Sarnath and Other Stories. I still have it. Lovecraft was definitely a gateway drug when it came to becoming a lifelong reader. I still enjoy Lovecraft, but not to the degree that I did back then. I think I appreciate his concepts and ideas (e.g., a hierarchy of ancient gods and his own mythology) more than his writing style now. But back then, I was just a sucker for the worlds he created.
RL: A lot of people tell me that, even if they were a voracious reader as a child, it was their middle-school and high-school years that had the most impact on the reader they are today. Would you say this is true for you?
LLS: The first thing that really grabbed my imagination as a kid was movies. I was obsessed with old movies, especially horror movies. The first time I saw the 1931 Frankenstein with Boris Karloff, that was it. So, a lot of my early reading was books about monster movies. That led to getting Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine as soon as I discovered it. I tried to get it regularly.
Then, fiction-wise, it was Poe and Lovecraft in middle school, then I got into science fiction. That’s when I really started to read voraciously. I think it began with H.G. Wells and then I branched out to more modern writers like Isaac Asimov, Fritz Leiber, Theodore Sturgeon, Frank Herbert, A.E. van Vogt, Philip Jose Farmer, and several others. In fact, I wrote letters to many of these writers (mailed to the care of their publishers), and several wrote back to offer advice and kind words, which was exciting and inspiring.
I also got heavily into comics at this time. I had been reading comics earlier, mostly the monster-oriented stuff, or The Incredible Hulk or Man-Thing (which were both sort of monsters). Early on, I gravitated to Steve Gerber, who was writing Man-Thing, and The Defenders, and he wrote the great satirical comic Howard the Duck (which was completely ruined in the movie version – they jettisoned everything that made the comic great). Gerber was experimental and used metafiction before it had a name, and was so different from everyone else writing comics at the time. He was definitely an influence.
In high school, I discovered Harlan Ellison and really got hooked. I just loved his “voice” as a writer. That’s when I discovered the whole “new wave” of science fiction, which is definitely my favorite subgenre.
People like Ellison, Norman Spinrad (Bug Jack Barron was my favorite novel for a long time), Michael Moorcock (the Elric and Jerry Cornelius books, especially), John Brunner, Brian Aldiss, Barry N. Malzberg, Joanna Russ, and J.G. Ballard, who was a huge inspiration because he straddled the fence between sf and more “transgressive” literature, with novels like Crash (probably my favorite novel of all time, now).
Another big milestone for me was when I discovered the anthology Dangerous Visions, edited by Ellison. What an amazing book! From fairly early on, I was drawn to two kinds of fiction, genre fiction (mainly horror and science fiction) and transgressive fiction which sought to break taboos and boundaries. And Dangerous Visions (and Again, Dangerous Visions) achieved both of these goals, although most of the stories seem pretty tame now.
RL: What was it about taboo-breaking that particularly appealed to you? And can you talk more about Bug Jack Barron? I’m not familiar with that book. Why was it your favorite for so long? And what is it about Crash (a personal fave of mine, too) that makes it your favorite?
LLS: I’ve just always liked art that tries to break down boundaries, that takes risks. In art, I don’t think there should be limitations, for the most part, and I was just always drawn to that sort of stuff. Part of it is the thrill of transgression.
Bug Jack Barron takes place in a not-too-distant future, and it’s the name of a TV show. Jack Barron is the host, and the point is to call in and “bug” him, to give him a reason to fight against something, usually some social injustice. He takes on all comers and has big ratings, and then the powers that be find a way, they think, to get him under their thumb, via a new medical treatment that results in immortality. I really liked the world Jack Barron lives in, which, for the most part, is just as relevant now as it was in 1969, when the novel came out. The book has a strong counterculture vibe, and there are little details like the fact that you can pick up a pack of marijuana cigarettes at the equivalent of the Seven Eleven, and the way the book treats sex is very natural and comfortable, that makes it all work. The main struggle is inside Jack, whether he’ll maintain his integrity or if he’ll sell out to the Man. It was one of my favorite novels of the whole sf “new wave” of the time.
As for Crash, I really like the way Ballard presents us with a group of people who are obsessed with car crashes, the whole sexualization of automobiles, and the character of Vaughn, who is the charismatic leader of the cult, who the narrator, Jim Ballard, comes under the spell of. It just works on so many levels that it transcends genre, creating a genre all its own. That’s around the same time period he was writing some of his most seminal speculative fiction novels, like Concrete Island and High-Rise, all from the early-to-mid 70s. His work had a big impact on me when I first became aware of him. An impact that endures.
RL: Speaking of this time period, were you one of those kids who went rogue from the curriculum and read whatever you wanted, sometimes even ignoring what was assigned to read altogether?
LLS: Well, I guess if there was a curriculum, then I’d read those books. I was always open to new stuff and wanted to discover writers I hadn’t read before. But there was a whole alternate curriculum of my own that I was reading at the same time. The stuff that really mattered to me.
RL: What are some standouts from your alternative curriculum? And was there anything from the school curriculum that you really loved that has stuck with you, and why?
LLS: Well, we’re already talking about books that would be part of that “alternative curriculum.” As for school curriculum books that stuck with me, there were great ones like 1984, Watership Down, Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, Lord of the Flies, books like that, that stood out.
RL: Reading is inherently a solitary activity, so did your reading life ever supersede or cause conflict with your social life growing up? Were you more apt to hide out in the library at school, or stay home on a Saturday night to read a book?
LLS: I was an only child, so I had a lot of solitary time, which I’d spend watching old movies or reading. So, it didn’t really cause a conflict. I was never a very social person—I related to adults more than other kids my age, and the friends I did have, the friendships usually started because of shared interests (they were as much into horror movies and comic books and books as I was). While I didn’t have a lot of friends as a kid, the friendships I had were pretty strong.
I’d spend a lot of time in my room as a kid. This was way before the Internet, so I’d be watching a tiny black and white TV or reading. On a Saturday night, I’d most likely be staying up late watching creature features, or, in the mid-70s on, watching Saturday Night Live in its earliest days, which I was a huge fan of.
RL: And then comes college. What new books, literary styles, or genres were you exposed to in college?
LLS: In college, I finally got a copy of Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer after hearing about it for so long, and that opened a new kind of door. Also, the Beat writers: Jack Kerouac, Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs. Burroughs was the one who struck the loudest chord, and the one I stuck with. His “writer’s voice” was so unique, so powerful, and often very funny. And he transcended the Beat movement, to influence so much else, from writing to music to movies. I guess you could call this period my immersion in more straightforward transgressive literature.
I was much more attracted to writers who faced taboos head-on and who broke barriers. Of course, writers like Ballard and Ellison, who I found earlier, fit right in with this group as well.
This was also the time when Alan Moore was writing Swamp Thing, which was in essence a really well-written horror series, rather than a superhero comic, and then he became huge with Watchmen. A very exciting time for comics—suddenly there was a group of really terrific writers and artists. Neil Gaiman not long after. People like Moore and Gaiman showed me you could write comics and still write stuff that’s literary, for lack of a better word. Later, it was Garth Ennis (Preacher!), Warren Ellis, and Grant Morrison.
And even after college, I continued to explore, tried to find more writers that I’d enjoy, regardless of genre. For example, I found James Ellroy back when L.A. Confidential (the book) came out, and got drawn into crime fiction. I became a huge Jim Thompson fan – his very dark crime fiction is just amazing, and often had surreal elements. And writers like Raymond Chandler, Charles Willeford, Patricia Highsmith, John D. MacDonald, James Sallis, and Elmore Leonard.
What made me kind of drift away from science fiction and totally embrace horror again was Clive Barker’s Books of Blood series. He was big in England at the time, and just catching on over here, so I got into his stuff early on. I have a couple of the British editions. Barker was another one who straddled the fence between genre fiction and the transgressive.
I also remember finding a lot of horror writers I liked through Paul M. Sammon’s Splatterpunks anthologies in the 90s, which I liked a lot. These were mostly reprints, as opposed to Ellison’s Dangerous Visions books, where the stories were new to the volumes. But, once again, these were stories that were transgressive, and a perfect way to pull me completely into horror fiction.
I discovered a whole bunch of horror writers to embrace, like Ray Garton, Joe R. Lansdale, Skipp and Spector, Poppy Z. Brite, David J. Schow, T.E.D. Klein, Richard Laymon, Jack Ketchum, Dennis Etchison, Lucy Taylor, Karl Edward Wagner, Kathe Koja, Edward Lee, and so many more. Amazing writers all.
A few other books that really stood out for me were Abomination by Michael C. Norton (what an amazing book, I know of only one other novel Norton wrote, Blizzard, which is also excellent. I really wish he’d written more stuff); I Am Legend by Richard Matheson, which is such an important classic; Grimm Memorials by R. Patrick Gates, which is incredibly dark stuff; the Blackwater books, which were originally released as six short paperback novels, by the great Michael McDowell, a dark family saga that takes place over many years in a small town in Alabama, which would make a great TV miniseries; and anything you can find by a writer named Tom Reamy, who wrote some amazing short stories (and one novel, Blind Voices) and then died way too soon, his collection San Diego Lightfoot Sue and Other Stories is especially terrific.
RL: Talk to me about your first bookstore experiences.
LLS: As a kid, I used to go to the mall (the North Dartmouth Mall in Dartmouth, MA) a lot and to the Walden Books there, mostly hanging around the science fiction center. I don’t live anywhere near there now, and doubt that the store even still exists. There also was a place called Dwyer’s News Service, where I used to get comic books. This was before there were specialty stores that sell nothing but comic books.
RL: Did you find, as you grew older, that the books of your youth began to mean less to you? Or do you still enjoy all the types of books you’ve been exposed to throughout your life? Are there certain authors, genres, or books that make you cringe remembering how you used to love them?
LLS: Nothing that really makes me cringe. I never real gravitated toward YA literature (something I’m actually trying to correct now, going back and reading writers like S.E. Hinton and Robert Cormier), and kind of jumped into books for adults early on, I never really went through a period where I read stuff I would later regret.
RL: Which book by Cormier did you particularly like? I’m a huge fan of Fade.
LLS: One time the writer John McIlveen (who wrote the great book Hannahwhere) gave me a Cormier book called Tenderness. He’d just read it, and wanted to pass it on, and it really surprised me, really made me want to seek out other stuff by him. It’s about a girl who runs away with a psychopath. After that, I went back and read The Chocolate War, which I’d never read before, and I Am The Cheese.
RL: How has your reading life survived adulthood?
LLS: I’d say that nowadays the main place I read is on the train, commuting to work, in the morning and on the way home at night. So, I always find time to read. And whenever I leave the house, I pretty much always have a book (or my Kindle) on me. Whenever I have to stand in line, or just about kill time in any capacity, I prefer to do it with a book.
RL: Currently, what types of books are you mostly drawn to?
LLS: There are a lot of really good writers working in horror now who deserve to be sought out, people like Bryan Smith, Gene O’Neill, Peter N. Dudar, Mercedes M. Yardley, Michael Louis Calvillo, J.F. Gonzales, Nate Southard, Kurt Newton, Brian Keene, and Paul Tremblay, just to name a few, But while I write mostly horror, I more often read outside of the genre than in it. Lately, I’ve been going back and forth between newer fiction (often mainstream or literary fiction) like George Saunders, Roxanne Gay, and Carmen Maria Machado (there’s a real renaissance going on in short story collections lately) and older, “classic” stuff that I have been meaning to read, like Philip Jose Farmer’s Riverworld series. There also seem to be a lot of memoirs by rock n’roll musicians lately, especially from the punk scene of the 70s and 80s, so I’ve been reading several of those, too. Music is another thing I’ve been heavily into since high school.
RL: Any of those memoirs that particularly stand out?
LLS: I read Kim Gordon’s book Girl in a Band, about her life, and her time in the great band Sonic Youth, which I liked a lot, and Steve Jones’ book, Lonely Boy: Tales From a Sex Pistol. I was totally immersed in punk rock growing up, and it’s kind of interesting to go back at those days now. Although it’s an older book, I really enjoyed Legs McNeil’s classic, Please Kill Me, about the early New York punk scene and CBGB’s. I also enjoyed Lizzy Goodman’s recent book Meet Me in the Bathroom: Rebirth and Rock and Roll in New York City 2001-2001, about a lot of cool bands that started in the early 2000’s, like the Strokes, LCD Soundsystem, and Interpol.
RL: How do you share your love of books with others? Do you buy books for people, loan them out? Are you a part of any book clubs?
LLS: I don’t tend to loan books out, and I don’t belong to book clubs. But I do try to promote books that I’ve enjoyed, try to spread the word on social media.
RL: Do you have any horror stories about books you did loan out that came back in less than satisfactory condition, which is why you no longer do it?
LLS: I once lent an ex-girlfriend an early paperback of Fritz Leiber’s first novel Conjure Wife. It was a collector’s item, one of the first printings, but I didn’t think much of it at the time, and I never saw it again. I wasn’t going to let that happen again.
RL: I’m one of those people who reads several books at a time. I’ve been called a “reading polygamist.” Are you? Our are you pretty monogamous when it comes to reading?
LLS: I try to read one book at a time, focus on one thing. But that can differ based on things like, can I get a seat on the train (I often can’t), and is it difficult to open up a hardcover book while I’m standing, being squished in a crowd? Would it be easier to pull out my Kindle, so I don’t have to hold a bulky book or physically turn pages? Things like that may lead to me reading more than one book at a time, via different media.
RL: This one could apply to all art, really, but in terms of writing, what are your thoughts on “genre?” Ultimately, do you think genre labeling even matters? Does it matter to you?
LLS: I guess genre matters in that—if you like a particular theme or sensibility, then it makes it easier to find more things like that. I don’t necessarily hate genre categories, nor do I love them. I try to be pretty eclectic with what I read (and what kinds of music I listen to). But labels don’t really bother me.
RL: Are you a physical copy person, or do you prefer other ways of “reading” books, such as e-books or audio?
LLS: I don’t know if physical books will always be around, but I think they’ll be around a lot longer than a lot of people predicted. There’s just something pleasurable about a physical book. It’s a simple delivery system that works.
For the longest time I resisted reading ebooks. I had a Kindle but never really used it. Then I finally took the plunge, and wondered what I was so resistant to. Reading is reading. While I prefer a physical book, I learned the hard way (by moving apartments, etc.) how much of a pain in the ass it is to have a lot of books. A Kindle can hold hundreds of books in one place and takes up very little space. I can appreciate that.
RL: Do you take a book with you wherever you go?
LLS: As I mentioned earlier, yeah, I bring a book wherever I go. There’s no point in waiting in a line, or on a train or a bus, or in a waiting room, and just sit there. That’s the perfect time to be reading.
RL: Do you collect books? Have shelves laden with them? Why is it important to you to have a collection of books in your home?
LLS: Yeah, I have way too many books, and bookcases overflowing with them. For a while I collected signed hardcover editions of books, but it got to be too expensive, and the books took up too much room. I think the whole “comic book collecting” thing also influenced me a lot, putting comics in mylar bags to keep them in good condition. So, I had the collector’s mentality from an early age. But I’m not as gung ho about collecting as I used to be.
RL: What are your favorite books of all time, and why?
LLS: A few of my all-time favorite books would be:
- J.G. Ballard’s Crash
- Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Just about everyone reads her short story “The Lottery” in school, and it’s great, but her novels are wonderful. I just think she’s one of the best writers of all time.
- Jim Thompson’s The Killer Inside Me and Savage Night—Thompson was just such a unique talent. And so dark. Almost nothing works out well for his protagonists.
- Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door—just a powerful, disturbing book.
- William S. Burroughs’ Naked Lunch and Nova Express—Burroughs has such a singular voice, and his stuff is insane.
- Charles Bukowski’s Factotum and Ham on Rye—Another writer whose voice is just addictive.
- Fritz Leiber’s Our Lady of Darkness—the best of his novels, and he wrote so many great novels. And he was so good in so many different genres – horror, fantasy, science fiction.
- Harlan Ellison’s Deathbird Stories and The Beast That Shouted Love at the Heart of the World: Stories—I could have chosen just about any of his collections. All his stories are terrific. And those intimate introductions he writes are as compelling as his fiction.
- Philip Jose Farmer’s A Feast Unknown—one of the more experimental science fiction writers of his time. This book features a confrontation between characters who are thinly-veiled versions of Tarzan and Doc Savage, two of the great pulp heroes, with a surreal and very sexually explicit story line. Writers like him and Sturgeon and Leiber pushed the genre in a much more adult direction.
- Theodore Sturgeon’s More Than Human—probably my favorite science fiction novel of all time, and the first time I really became aware of the concept of “mutants.”
I could go on. There are lots and lots of “favorite” books. I’m sure they’ve all had some kind of influence on me, either as a writer or a person. Even the bad books have some kind of effect.
RL: Have you ever read a book that made you cry? If so, which one(s) and why? And, have you ever read a book that truly, deep down in your soul or psyche, disturbed you or went too far and made you not want to finish it? If so, which one(s) and why?
LLS: No, I haven’t ever read a book that made me cry. I read a few that made me laugh out loud, especially books by David Sedaris.
I don’t think I’ve read a book that “went too far.” I remember feeling that Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door was pretty intense, and packed a wallop, but certainly not in a way that made me want to stop reading. I actually don’t mind feeling disturbed or uncomfortable. I think good horror should make you feel that way sometimes.
The only time I haven’t finished a book is when something just doesn’t click with me at all, or if something is boring. I used to always read a book to the end, no matter how long it took. It was almost a compulsive thing. But, like a lot of people, I find as I get older that I just don’t have the time or the patience to stay with a book I’m not enjoying. I have no problem closing a book and putting it away unfinished now. There are so many other books I want to get to. I don’t have time to waste on something that’s not bringing me pleasure.
RL: Lastly, just for fun, what is the one book—be it a widely lauded classic, or bestselling popular phenom—do you find absolutely unreadable?
LLS: I can’t think of the last time I read something that I truly hated. I’ve been pretty lucky about what I read, finding stuff I know I’ll probably enjoy. I don’t come across many clunkers, because I read about a lot of books before I actually get them, and I can tell if it’s something I want to read. It’s not often that I just try something blindly without knowing a little something about it beforehand.
I don’t go out of my way to read books that are popular, that everyone else is reading. I seek out stuff that I know that I’m going to like. Life’s too short. I read books that I want to read—and there are plenty of them.
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