I recently had the pleasure of reading YEA THOUGH I WALK by JP Sloan, which I thoroughly enjoyed. After reading the first two books in his Dark Choir series, I was predisposed to want to read this, but after I read the preview chapter, I had to finish it.
It’s been awhile since I’ve posted an author interview; fortunately, JP was gracious enough to agree.
- Tell us a bit about YEA THOUGH I WALK. What would you say the primary story arc is, genre, etc.
On the face of it, YtIW is a horror/western crossover…a moody, existential thriller with monsters and outlaws in the Old West. It’s the story of Linthicum Odell, a Union Army deserter attempting to redeem his cowardice in the service of a cadre of monster hunters who call themselves the Godpistols. He squares off against a horde of cannibal wendigo, blood-drinking strigoi (Old World vampires), and a corrupt, land-grabbing justice…all of which terrorize the innocents in the valley of Gold Vein.
Digging deeper, it’s a story of redemption, an exploration of the nature of good and evil that prods at time-worn notions of loyalty, fidelity, and what it truly means to adhere to a personal code. It’s a bit subversive, something of a pitch battle between deism and humanism.
- YEA THOUGH I WALK is a bit of a departure from the DARK CHOIR series. Where did the inspiration come from?
I’ve always been a fan of westerns. The first novel I read on my own as a child was Louis L’amour’s SACKETT…a book I pilfered from my Dad, who owned most of L’amour’s books. Though, I never seriously considered writing a western…until I was elbow-deep in researching monster lore for a conference panel, and found that wendigo are somewhat under-represented in horror and urban fantasy. From there, it was an easy step setting it in the Old West.
I decided to write a wendigo vs. vampires story (not a SyFy Original), as I found a nifty parallel between the encroachment of the Transylvanian style of vampire into the frontier and the decades of Manifest Destiny…especially as the wendigo are a native American myth.
- You’ve got a few different supernatural creatures in YEA; how much of them is based on real world legend vs what you created to fit your world.
As I mentioned, I stumbled across the seed of this story as I prepared for a panel on Paranormal and UF as Folklore for the Mid-Atlantic Fiction Writer’s Institute’s annual conference. The more I read up on the wendigo, the more I crafted the story. I did enough research to realize that I had to shoe-horn the mythology a bit to fit the setting, but I ultimately decided that accessibility for the reader served the story better than absolute adherence to the language and time frame of the wendigo origins.
And if you’ve read the book, you’ll recognize that I spent no time “playing around” with the rules of the wendigo. That’s all part of the mystery that lies central to the plot.
As for the strigoi, I originally elected to represent a classic “upir”, but as things often go I spun my own mechanics and rules for the vampires in this story. Primarily, I needed the monsters to serve the story, as there are so many parallels involved with the plot.
- Without giving away anything, the storyline requires a certain delicate touch in handling the scenes in the first two thirds of the book. Did you outline things to keep the story on track?
I’m a notorious outliner…I’ve published blog posts demonstrating my spreadsheet obsession. However, this story took a full year to write (my longest drafting period to date), and I admittedly only outlined up through Act II. By the time I reached what would become Part 3 of the final draft, I was winging it. This created a lot of revision for me, however, so I suppose I’ve learned my lesson.
- What would you say was the most challenging aspect of writing YEA vs the least taxing?
The greatest challenge in YtIW was the language. I strived to create not only a strong voice, but one that was reasonably current for the time. I read several letters written by Civil War soldiers to get my hands around the frontier parlance I wanted, and was surprised to find a curious mix of elevated language and profanity. Hence, I strove to find a balance between florid and salty prose for Odell. Folger, on the other hand, was more of a polished East Coast type, and as such he was easier to write.
The least taxing part of YtIW was in the plot itself. The whole thing really landed on me at a point, once I’d hammered my way to the end of what I had outlined. For a plot with so many twists and turns, I was surprised at how easy it was to stitch together.
- There is some similarity in the supernatural elements between YEA and your DARK CHOIR series. Do you foresee the events of YEA ever becoming a factor in a future DARK CHOIR book, or are they separate worlds?
No, I fully intended YtIW to be a stand-alone from the very beginning. This book was more of a labor of love, an attempt to write something with a bit more pith than the Dark Choir books…which are page-turners in spirit. Once I’d wrapped up revisions on YtIW and had moved on the Book 3 of the Dark Choir series, the kernel of an idea for a sequel to YtIW actually needled its way into my brain. We’ll see if that ever bears fruit, but for now my focus is on finishing the Dark Choir series.
- Tell us a bit about what motivates Linthicum Odell. How would you say he differs as a character from Dorian Lake? (aside from not being a practitioner).
Lin is a bit of a mess. One could say the same for Dorian, but in a wholly separate, and one might say more literal, sense. The character of Linthicum Odell from the beginning of the book is on a quest to satisfy a higher authority…in this case Gil McQuarrie. His character navigates his way through impossible odds to discover ultimately that his sense of worth can, and must, come from within.
Dorian Lake’s through-line is in many ways the inverse of that. Dorian begins as a loner, adheres to his sense of superiority to the detriment of his relationships and practice. And as the books progress (I’ve just wrapped up Book 4), he finds that to succeed he must rely on and cultivate relationships with those he never trusted before.
These two would NOT get along…
- If YEA were a movie, who would you pick to play the major roles?
I took Sam Elliot as my mental and vocal model for Linthicum Odell, and even though he’s the perennial go-to for leathered sumbitches in westerns, I know that the dialogue was written for his voice.
Denton Folger, the milquetoast intellectual from Baltimore, could be portrayed by the likes of Adrian Brody. Give him shoulder-length locks, spectacles, and a printing press…and I think you’d have a winner!
Katherina Folger was written to be a strong Hungarian (which housed modern-day Transylvania at this time period), with remarkable tenderness for her husband, and Hell’s absolute fury for anyone (or thing) who would lift a finger against him. I wonder if Fairuza Balk has time between seasons of Ray Donovan?
As for Richterman, well…read the book, and you’ll know why that’s a difficult question to answer!
- Can you give us some insight regarding the cover design / symbolism there? Did you suggest that cover or was it something the cover artist came up with?
The symbol on the cover is a solar cross, which is the symbol of the Godpistols. That was my only contribution to the cover design. Beyond that, I feel the artist simply captured a texture and typeset that reflected a gritty, bloody western feel.
- Do you have any idiosyncratic habits around your writing? (Need certain things in place to be able to write, or tend to do something while writing like my first word thing?)
I’ve developed a new schedule for writing since going part-time at my day job. I now have two hours carved out of each day to dedicate to nothing but writing. This new schedule has allowed me to wrap up Book 4 of the Dark Choir series in short order, and hopefully I’ll keep the pace going!
As for idiosyncrasies… I require absolute silence when I write, and so I banish myself to my upstairs office when the family watches TV downstairs. An odd exception to this is when I take my laptop to write out and about. In the past, I’ve been known to hunker down at local brew pubs and bars to hammer out some word count. Alas, I’ve recently given up liquor, so I’ll have to find a nice coffee shop somewhere to haunt!
- I’m with you on the silence thing. When I’m drafting I can’t even tolerate music being on. Also, kudos to your effort for health.
- How long have you been writing and what inspired you to first write a novel?
I first decided to pursue long-format fiction in earnest about twelve years ago. I’d been writing bits of fiction since high school, and even took a couple courses in college. Somewhere around 2004, I returned to the quest, realizing I’d probably have to write some drek before I had anything publish-worthy. The Curse Merchant was my eighth complete novel, but the first I felt was ready to pitch to agents. It was ultimately picked up by Curiosity Quills Press, and they’ve been devouring my manuscripts ever since. YtIW was the first non-series property I pitched at them, and as you can see, they felt it was worth a gamble.
- What would you say is your favorite genre to read? Is it the same as your preferred genre to write?
I’m sure I’ll catch hell for this, but I actually rarely ever read Urban Fantasy. My favorite genre to read is Science Fiction, actually. I’ve recently enjoyed Andy Weir’s THE MARTIAN, Hugh Howey’s WOOL and SHIFT series, and Joe Haldeman’s THE FOREVER WAR.
I also devour horror…my favorites include Koontz’s THE TAKING, Max Brooks’s WORLD WAR Z (that dreadful movie notwithstanding), and most everything Blake Crouch writes.
I have a series waiting in the wings once the DARK CHOIR series is complete, which blends elements of science fiction and fantasy. I also have two science fiction stand-alones in partial states, waiting for me to return.
- What’s been the most surprising reaction you’ve gotten to your writing? Best? Worst?
The best reaction I’ve ever received from something I’ve written was actually nothing that I’ve published, but rather a wrap-up fiction I wrote for a role-playing game I ran for a year and change. I wrote it for my players as a sort of “farewell and thanks for playing”. I sent it out to my players the same weekend that Rowling released the Deathly Hallows. I had a dyed-in-the-wool Harry Potter fanatic tell me that she actually put off reading Deathly Hallows to read that wrap-up…and told me it made her “ugly-cry.”
The worst reaction isn’t really a reaction, but an overall disappointing return on some of my books. I knew going into publishing that it takes a while to gather a readership…but my last two releases haven’t really stirred the pot the way I’d expected them to, and it’s disheartening at times.
…then there’s that guy who insisted that I invented the term “lowball glass”, and mocked me on Amazon for it. Alas…the man clearly isn’t a whiskey enthusiast. That, and he has no access to Google.
- Did you have the title YEA THOUGH I WALK in mind before or after finishing the story? What led you to choose this as the title?
I come up with most of my titles before I begin writing. I chose “Yea Though I Walk” most clearly as a reference to Psalm 23, reflecting the deep spiritual journey Odell undergoes in the story. But I also had a notion early on to include traditional zombies in the story, and the term struck me as a fun way to reference “walkers.” I cut the zombies from the outline early on, but kept the title not only because it sums up the character journey, but also because it just looks creepy in a bloody western font.
- In YEA, it seems the lines between good and evil are pretty well blurry. One of the most benevolent-seeming characters is one most would expect to be something evil. Did you make a deliberate decision to keep characters from embodying too much vice or virtue, or did the characters evolve naturally to where they wound up on the page?
I began the whole manuscript with the notion that what we perceive as good and evil can often (but not always) be the opposite of our prejudice. I’m a humanist at heart, and as such I often enjoy turning the tables on man’s reliance on God or any manner of Kantian ethical scheme.
Also, I require that my ancillary characters possess full ranges of virtue and vice, largely up to the perspective of the reader and/or the protagonist. That’s just a guideline I adhere to.
- What’s next for JP Sloan writing wise?
The mission right now is to wrap up my current Urban Fantasy series. THE CURSE MANDATE, Book 3 of the Dark Choir series, will be released this December, and I suspect I’ll be drawn well into the marketing machine around the end of the year. I’ve recently wrapped up my first draft and revisions for Book 4 of the Dark Choir series, THE DARK INTEREST. Once I finish a short story project I’m working on, I’ll dive directly into Book 5, THE DARK PRINCIPLE, and then on to the final book, THE DARK CHOIR.
Once Dorian Lake is in my rearview mirror, I plan to embark on that sci-fi/fantasy super-setting I mentioned earlier, which will likely involve four novels and several short stories that I plan to release as “membership” materials for my loyal fans.
JP’s Website: www.jp-sloan.com
I have read JP’s prior novel, The Curse Merchant, so I was already a fan of his work. When YEA came out, I gave a quick glance at the preview chapter and decided to buy it to keep going.
Yea Though I walk is an expertly crafted story set in the old west (1800s) where a man is forced to deal with supernatural creatures plaguing a quiet town under the thumb of a land-hungry justice of the peace. Gravely wounded, Lincthum Odell winds up under the care of a woman who nurses him back to health. In doing so, he gets tangled in the local creature problem. The woman has secrets, and despite being another man’s wife, he falls for her.
So as not to spoil anything, this bit is going to be deliberately vague: The story contains a twist, and the ‘expertly crafted’ part comes into play how all the events leading up to the reveal weave together into that truth. While I can’t say I’ve ever read “western horror” before, I quite liked what I read here, and would recommend it to anyone who’s a fan of cowboy westerns, vampire novels, and horror.
The story is full of well developed characters, none of whom can really be called completely good or completely bad. It’s a thought-provoking commentary on the nature of human (and sometimes inhuman) morality.
Check out the publisher’s website here – www.curiosityquills.com