Alan Baxter kicks ass! As well as writing incredible speculative fiction, Alan has over 30 years of martial arts experience and he also runs the Illawarra Kung Fu Academy!
Alan has been a pretty busy chap in recent time. His Alex Caine trilogy of books are now available worldwide, late last year saw him release a superb collection of short fiction called ‘Crow Shine’ which I raved about (link). Recently, Alan teamed up with David Wood and Australian publisher Cohesion Press to release the excellent monster thriller ‘Primordial’ – a book I really enjoyed, you can read my review (link). At the end of April, Alan will release a new novella through PS Publishing called ‘The Book Club’. Check out the art from the excellent Ben Baldwin!
Alan is on fire at the moment so I figured it was about time we sat down for a chat. Read on…
TGR: Thanks, Alan. Martial arts teacher by day, writer by night! That’s an interesting combination. First of all, how did you become interested in martial arts?
AB: I can’t remember a time I wasn’t interested in martial arts, to be honest. I started doing judo at a young age, encouraged by my dad, as I was being a bullied a fair bit at school. I found my way to kung Fu a few years later as I was a huge fan of the “Monkey” TV show. All that crazy kung Fu and pole fighting, I loved it!
TGR: When did you decide you wanted to become a writer? What was your first ever accepted story and where was it published?
AB: I’ve always loved stories. When I was 7 I had to write a “What I did on holiday” essay and most kids turned in a paragraph. I turned in 7 pages of a guy going back in time and having run-ins with dinosaurs. It was pretty epic for primary school. I didn’t take writing seriously until my 20s, though. My first sold story was called “The Night Bus” and it was published by an online horror magazine called The Harrow. I was paid $5. The Harrow is long since defunct, but the story is free to read on my website here: http://www.alanbaxteronline.com/dark-shorts/the-night-bus/
TGR: It has been a whirlwind last 12 months with everything I have mentioned above! Do you anticipate the rest of 2017 being as productive and what are you currently working on?
AB: Publishing is a strange business, because things happen in waves. Right now, it seems like everything is happening at once, but that’s just the final publication of things. For example, the Alex Caine Series was originally finished in 2013, published in Australia in 2014 and finally seeing its international release now. Dave and I wrote Primordial in 2015 and that’s just come out. I wrote “The Book Club” at the start of last year and it’s out in April. And for all that stuff happening so quickly, then there’s nothing else scheduled for publication! However, I do have another novel and another novella out on submission with my agent, so they will hopefully find a home soon, and therefore a publication date. I’m currently working on the second Jake Crowley book (another series where I collaborate with David Wood). Once that’s in the bag, I have a standalone horror novel to redraft and polish up. After that I have a new novel to write, that I’ve got a lot of notes and opening scenes for, so that’ll be a good new thing to get my teeth into. Oh, and I have a commissioned short story to write in the second half of the year too. Along with that, I’m always working on new short fiction, because I’m addicted to the form and can’t help myself.
TGR: You must be happy that the Alex Caine trilogy is now available worldwide? The new covers are killer! Shawn King I believe?
AB: Yes, Shawn King. The man is a genius. The set looks incredible. Bound is out now, then Obsidian and Abduction come out together in July. It’ll be great to have the whole trilogy available worldwide at last. And, with any luck, it’ll be popular enough that I get to write more Alex Caine books. It’s all down to people enjoying it and talking about it – that word of mouth momentum is what sells books and has the publishers coming back to us to write more.
TGR: ‘Crow Shine’ received some great press, and rightfully so. It’s a collection with a bit of everything, where no two stories were in any way similar. You have written many short stories over the years so it must’ve been tough going to narrow it down? How did you finally select the stories you did?
AB: It’s been so well received, I couldn’t be happier. Plus, it just won the Australian Shadows Award for Best Collected Work and is a finalist in the Aurealis Awards for Best Collection. That blows my mind. Selecting the stories was tough, given I have over 70 published now, but I started by thinking thematically. I’ve written some science-fiction, for example, but I wanted the collection to be dark fantasy and horror, so I was able to trim all the SF to start with. Then I knew I had to include the stories that had been the most well-received, so any award winners or finalists, any that had been selected for a Year’s Best or recommended reading list, and so on. After that it was about looking at the more detailed content and I realised there was an inadvertent theme of consequences beginning to emerge, so I focussed a little more on that. But I had to also ensure I had variety in there. It’s quite a bizarre process, but the whole thing kind of grew organically. And Russell B Farr, the editor at Ticonderoga Publications, did a stellar job helping me sort it out and get the story order right.
TGR: ‘Primordial’ is your most recent release. It was co-written with David Wood. Tell us, who’s idea was it and how do you two go about co-writing a novel?
AB: That one was originally Dave’s idea, for the general structure. He wrote an outline, then I suggested some extra characters and subplot and we worked those into the outline. We spent a fair while getting all that right, then we literally passed it back and forth – I’d write some, send it to Dave, he’d edit my bit, write the next bit and send it back. Repeat until finished. In the end, I think I wrote maybe 60% of the first draft, but we went over it so many times, it’s a true collaboration. Not something I could do with many people, but when it comes to this kind of action/adventure stuff, Dave and I seem to have styles that really gel.
TGR: ‘Primordial’ was great fun. I really enjoyed the idea that the Nazis went there to find the beast for Hitler many years before.
AB: That bit was Dave’s idea, then we fleshed it out together. And all that stuff about the Nazis and their occult research, that’s all true. Fascinating stuff.
TGR: At the end of April you will be releasing ‘The Book Club’ through UK publisher PS Publishing. The artwork from Ben Baldwin is great, you must be stoked with it? Can you tell the readers what the story is about?
AB: That artwork blows me away. The book looks AMAZING. “The Book Club” is a novella about a guy called Jason Wilkes who worries when his wife fails to return home from her book club one night. He gets the police involved, but doesn’t mention that he keeps hearing her voice, and seeing strange shadows that reach for him. By the next day, with her still missing and the weird occurrences increasing, he starts to investigate for himself and gets drawn into deeper and deeper weirdness. It’s a bit like Gone Girl with cosmic horror.
TGR: ‘The Book Club’ is a novella. I’m a big fan of the novella format, especially with horror/dark fiction. Did you set out to write a novella or was it simply a short story that just kept on growing?
AB: I wasn’t entirely sure if it was going to be a novel or not. I knew it wasn’t a short story and anticipated it might be a novella. It finished up at around 30,000 words. I’m a huge fan of the novella format too, I’m so pleased to see it making something of a comeback. I did toy with the idea of looking for extra story threads that might make “The Book Club” into a novel, but a story needs to be the length it needs to be and this one works so well as a novella it would ruin it to change anything.
TGR: Let’s talk a bit about the writing. Are you what I’d describe as an organic writer, one who goes with the flow, so to speak or do you meticulously plan the story beforehand?
AB: It varies with the project. When I collaborate with David Wood, we plan in detail and write lengthy outlines. For my own stuff, I always have notes and timelines and character files, but the notes are very basic, and I’m always prepared to junk them and start over if the story leads me in a better direction. Which does happen sometimes. I love the organic process of storytelling, so I try to never get too lost in detail with my own notes.
TGR: How often do you write? I know you are a father, husband AND a Kung Fu teacher. Do you have a certain amount of words you like to get down each day or is it more as and when you can?
AB: I don’t believe in word counts. I have certain times in the week that are dedicated writing time and I get as much done as I can in those periods. Sometimes life interferes and I get nothing done. Sometimes I’m on a roll and get 20,000 words in a week. As long as I’m always moving forward, that’s all that matters. I guard my writing time ferociously, it’s as important as all my other time.
TGR: Who or what have influenced you as a writer?
AB: So many things. Life in general is always the greatest inspiration. Clive Barker is probably the author who has influenced me the most, but I could sit here and list name after name of other authors who’s work blows me away. Then film and TV that I draw inspiration from, comic books and graphic novels that filled my teenage years and 20s. I don’t read so many comics any more, but periodically catch up with stuff I hear good things about. Inspiration is everywhere.
TGR: What piece of writing advice would you give to a younger Alan Baxter if you could go back in time to the beginning of your writing career?
AB: I’d go back further than that and tell myself to get started! I wish I had taken writing seriously a bit earlier in my life, but I’m doing a decent job of catching up now.
TGR: Alan, you’re a fellow metal fan. What are you digging at the moment?
AB: I’ve been really digging “Alliance of Thieves” by Meshiaak; the new Devin Townsend album, “Transcendence”; the latest from Amon Amarth, “Jomsviking”, is killer. And I’ve recently rediscovered Psycroptic and Chimaira and been playing the hell out of their stuff again. So much good music out there!
TGR: You have to retreat to your underground doomsday shelter! You can only take three books down there with you! What are they?
AB: WHAT!? Don’t I have a generator and my ereader? Okay, if I have to answer that evil question, how about The Great and Secret Show by Clive Barker, The Weird, edited by Ann and Jeff VanDeMeer, and A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin. You’re a bad man asking a question like that.
TGR: Alan, it has been a pleasure. Thanks heaps for stopping by. Where can folk find you on the world-wide web?
AB: Thanks for having me, it’s been fun! You can find me online at www.alanabaxteronline.com (we’re in the process of building a new site as this one got hacked, but if it throws up any gibberish, just try refreshing the page. The new site should be up soon.) Otherwise, I’m pretty active on Twitter https://twitter.com/AlanBaxter and Facebook https://www.facebook.com/alanbaxterauthor/
Read on for an exclusive excerpt from Alan’s new novella ‘The Book Club’. The novella will be released by PS Publishing later this month (April 2017). Thanks to Alan for this and I hope you enjoy!
The Book Club – Excerpt
by Alan Baxter (PS Publishing, April, 2017)
I did what I suspect everyone does in a situation like this. I waited. Told myself it was all fine, she would be home any minute. Just a little delay. Maybe she had to stop for gas. Sure, at fifteen minutes past midnight on a Wednesday. She was never usually later than eleven forty-five, maybe twelve at the outside.
Perhaps she had a flat. She’d call me any moment, asking for help, and I’d have to wake Molly next door to come in and watch Charlie. We’d laugh about it tomorrow, red-eyed with tiredness over our coffee while our son whooped and cavorted, unaware of bad things that can happen in the world.
By twelve thirty I was getting itchy and rang her mobile a few times. It went repeatedly to voicemail. Off or out of service. So off then, as there wasn’t anywhere around here out of reception range.
As I sat trying to ignore the lead weight of anxiety in my gut I heard her voice call my name so clearly that I stood, relief washing through me, and turned to the door as it swung gently open. But she wasn’t there. Dim hallway and nothing but shadows. She’d sounded almost desperate, far away and close by at the same time, inside my head and out. I must have fallen into a doze while I waited and dreamed it. It had been a long day. But concern soon kindled a deep fear.
At one a.m. I rang Dave, the book club contact. The only number she’d given me. He answered in a voice dense with sleep. “Yeah, hello?”
“I’m really sorry to wake you, Dave. This is Jason Wilkes. Kate’s husband. Kate hasn’t come home. Did she leave the book club okay?”
Dave coughed, cleared a thick throat. “Oh. Kate gave you this number?”
“Yeah, in case of emergencies.” For reasons just like this, you dumb fuck. I bit down on my anger, it wasn’t his fault. “She leave the book club okay?” I asked again.
“Yeah. Yeah, she did. We wrapped up about eleven like normal, usual chit chat. She would have been gone by eleven-thirty.”
“She’s still not home.” I hated the waver I my voice. The little-boy-lost vibration.
“I, er… I don’t know what to tell you. Sorry, dude. Maybe check, you know…”
“Like, hospitals, police?” He sounded apologetic, as though he himself had mislaid her, and I felt bad for making him say aloud what I knew he meant.
“Sure. Thanks, Dave.”
“No problem. Hey, good luck. I’m sure it’s fine, she got a flat or something.”
I laughed a little too loud. “Exactly what I was just thinking! Thanks.”
He hung up and I stared at the phone for a solid minute, my mind spinning in neutral. Then trembling set in as I found the numbers I needed. The local hospitals weren’t entirely helpful, citing various codes of privacy, but I managed to establish no one matching my wife’s description had been admitted in the last three hours.
I rang the police in quite a state and the dispatch said they would send someone around as soon as possible.
Pre-order that sucka right now! – here.