Interview with Robert Devereaux
by Rhonda Wilson
Photo: Robert Devereaux
Robert Devereaux is the author of numerous horror novels including two Christmas themed tales, SANTA STEPS OUT and SANTA CONQUERS THE HOMOPHOBES.
RW: Hi Robert and thank you for being a part of the Christmas edition of Monster Librarian this year. I've got several questions to ask you regarding your writing and your novels.
RD: Delighted to be here. Fire away!
RW: Let's start with the basics. Can you please tell our viewing audience a bit about yourself and how you got your start in the writing industry?
RD: I've been interested in writing since the fourth grade, and read voraciously back then and ever since. While I was finishing my Ph.D. dissertation at the University of Iowa, I was also filling a notebook with ideas for novels. Indeed, I was researching ancient Greece--weapons, dress, the proliferation of oracular sites (Delphi was only the most famous), the pampering of royalty (they had their pubic hair trimmed by a medocurix, a female slave specializing in such), and so on--for an eventual sex farce about Oedipus, complete with baby swaps and bed tricks out of Shakespeare. OEDIPUS AROUSED was the first novel I wrote, though it never sold (someday I'll revise and publish it). Then I wrote SANTA STEPS OUT, which also failed to sell, though it brought me some agent attention. Meanwhile, in the eighties, I was writing and sending out short stories to horror and fantasy markets, which eventually started to catch on. I decided to write a horror novel for my third attempt, a venture into Spatterland called DEADWEIGHT and that became my first published novel from Dell under the editorship of Jeanne Cavelos.
RW: Moving on to discuss your books, our main focus, of course, will be on your Christmas titles, but we will come back and talk about your other titles afterwards. First off, though, let's talk about your first Christmas title, SANTA STEPS OUT, can you tell us a little bit about this book and where you came up with the idea for it?
RD: After all the research I did for OEDIPUS AROUSED, I decided my next novel would require minimal library work. I'd done a good deal of acting in college and was also deeply drawn to myth and larger-than-life characters. The first inspiration for the book was the idea of this huge character arc, something an actor could really chew the scenery with--at one end, the all-loving, all-giving Saint Nick; at the other, the grasping, lascivious Pan. From there, it took digging into Robert Graves' work on Greek myth to figure out the origins of the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, the elves, and so on. Everything fell smoothly into place. When I realized where the Tooth Fairy got her coins from, I knew I had to write this book!
RW: SANTA STEPS OUT includes a voyeuristic Easter Bunny, a dominatrix Tooth Fairy, a nymphomaniac Santa Claus, among many other interesting characters. This obviously isn't going to be a book that ALL audiences are going to be interested in due to the strong sexual overtones. Did you worry about not having a wide audience interested in picking the book up or current fans picking it up unknowingly and being shocked by the content?
RD: When I wrote the first draft, I had nothing published, so no fan base at all; therefore I wrote with complete abandon, which makes invariably for a much stronger book. SANTA, though written before my horror novels, wasn't published until afterwards--and even then in a small press edition from Dark Highway Press, a labor of love on all sides, design, illustrations, cover art, the works. It gained quite an underground reputation, and I was delighted when Don D'Auria at Leisure Books picked it up for his horror line and gave it new life as a mass market paperback. You can tell from the Amazon reviews that it's the sort of novel that one either adores to the heavens or throws across the room in utter disgust. Good!
RW: Of the characters in SANTA STEPS OUT, who did you enjoy writing about the most and why?
RD: Alas, an impossible question. I got deeply into each point-of-view character and played them all to the hilt at that moment of creation. Each of them had vast problems, monumental passions, and a grand and magical stage on which to play them out.
RW: The second book in the Santa Claus Chronicles is titled SANTA CLAUS CONQUERS THE HOMOPHOBES. Can you now tell us the background of this novel and the basic storyline?
RD: Santa's stepdaughter Wendy has the power to view the futures of children. What she sees in store for one little boy upsets her so much that she gets Santa to promise to do something to save him from teenage suicide. The effort is fought all the way by the Tooth Fairy, still steamed that Santa jilted her in favor of a mortal woman, Wendy's mom. Once they triumph, Santa and Wendy, aided by the Easter Bunny, take on the far more arduous task of eradicating homophobia entirely from the human psyche.
RW: SANTA CLAUS CONQUERS THE HOMOPHOBES focuses mainly on the prejudice that humankind has against gays. I'm sure you had to do a lot of research regarding the topic prior to writing the novel. Did you find this to be a challenging subject to write about?
RD: Not very. As someone active in music and theatre all my life, I have known and befriended many people who fall many different places on the sexual spectrum. The bigotry directed at them from some quarters has always puzzled and outraged me. This was a chance to explore that puzzlement and rage, to give something back, and to try my hand at a save-the-world novel, which is a major new direction for my writing.
RW: There is a second storyline going on in the book as well between the elves regarding their rights to pick their noses that I must admit I found a bit amusing considering how serious the main plot of the book is. Can you tell us about this and why you decided on such a topic to coincide along with the main storyline?
RD: The elves are suppressed satyrs. They had a chance to recall and to exercise that part of themselves in SANTA STEPS OUT, but were then tucked back into asexuality in the denouement. Here, they've found a new way to enjoy their bodies, a way condemned and taken advantage of by a highly judgmental elf named Gregor. It's a comic commentary on bigotry in a different key, but its effects are no less destructive of community cohesion than is homophobia.
RW: Comparing the two Santa Claus novels... the first is VERY sex heavy where the latter actually has some heavy religious overtones in parts and has hardly any sex in the book at all. How did you go about choosing to write the two in such different styles?
RD: God tucked most of that away at the end of SANTA STEPS OUT, so the focus is very much elsewhere in the second novel. Even so, Santa is still struggling with accepting his darker self here as well, and the Easter Bunny has some amends to make too for unforgivable acts performed in SANTA STEPS OUT. And part of the choice you speak of lies in not wanting to repeat myself, in growing in new ways as my characters grow.
RW: Will we see a third Santa Claus Chronicles novel? If so, when should we expect it and can you give us any information about what it is about?
RD: Oh yes indeed. Probably the third and last, though one never knows if there's more to a story you consider wrapped up. I have a bulging notebook of ideas for the third Santa novel, still being mulled, still simmering on the back burner. For now, the less said the better. Let's just say I'm going to pull out all the stops!
RW: In addition to the Santa Claus Chronicles novels you have released three other novels: DEADWEIGHT, WALKING WOUNDED, and A FLIGHT OF STORKS AND ANGELS. You also have a short story collection of your own called CALIBAN AND OTHER TALES. Would you like to tell us about any or all of these?
RD: Actually, FLIGHT is my earliest save-the-world novel, now that I think of it. It's a modern fantasy that explores what happens when one's guardian angel becomes visible and in some cases audible to oneself and to others. DEADWEIGHT, already mentioned, is my all-out splatterpunk effort. WALKING WOUNDED is a softer ache of a novel about a good person watching herself do very bad things and wondering how it can feel so right to do those things. CALIBAN is a short novel, teamed with five short stories. It's a retelling of THE TEMPEST from the so-called monster's point of view, extending Shakespeare's plot into the past and future. CALIBAN is probably my most strictly literary novel so far, and is also a nod of thanks to my academic mentor at Iowa, Miriam Gilbert, a Shakespearean scholar without peer.
RW: You've also written numerous short stories that have been in numerous short stories and anthologies over the years. Would you say you prefer to write novels or short stories?
RD: The short fiction is more rare these days, usually sparked by an invitation into an anthology. But only if an idea seizes me can I write and submit under those circumstances. Worth seeking out are "Lil' Miss Ultrasound" in GATHERING THE BONES, "Holy Fast, Holy Feast" in MONDO ZOMBIE, and "A Slow Red Whisper of Sand" in LOVE IN VEIN.
RW: What projects are you currently working on now that our readers should keep out for in the near future?
RD: Oh those are tightly under wraps!
RW: Where is the best place online for our readers and librarians to look for up-to-date information on Robert Devereaux?
RD: That would be www.robertdevereaux.com. I'm also on Facebook with a fair degree of regularity and in the Shocklines horror forum.
RW: Thanks again for doing this interview and Happy Holidays to you!
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