Brett McBean - Where the metal meets the flesh

Brett McBean is a dark genre writer fast gaining an enviable reputation for writing hard hitting horror both within his native Australia and Internationally. Brett was born and raised in Melbourne, the Victorian capital, and continues to walk the darken streets there today. Besides being the Author of excellent dark fiction Brett is also an accomplished musician and holds a degree in music. Over the course of fifteen or so years Brett has been playing the drums for a number of bands, with musical style ranging from rock through jazz to orchestral and even funk.

Like most Authors Brett has held a wide range of jobs, highlights including handling the checkout at a supermarket, selling both music and books, and strangely being a ride operator at a children's indoor play center. Currently Brett is a member of good standing with the Australian Horror Writers Association, and when not writing catches movies, tries to attack a rather large book collection, and listens to an ever increasing music collection.

Taking time out of his latest writing projects Brett agreed to sit down and have a yarn with ScaryMinds.

ScaryMinds - You have been compared, favourably, to the U.S shock writer Richard Laymon. Do you think we have a built in requirement to compare our Authors with foreign major talents and is your comparison to Laymon something that you would have liked to avoid? Here at ScaryMinds we went with Brit Shaun Hutson by the way.

Brett McBean - I donít think itís necessarily unique to Australia to compare our authors with foreign talents Ė I think thatís a common device used across the board. Itís a quick, easily identifiable way to let readers know the type of book/writer theyíre dealing with. I think itís a valid device. So while most authors would like their work to stand on its own terms, to not be the next Stephen King but the first (insert name of author here), I think itís an unavoidable part of the book industry. I donít mind the comparisons to Laymon Ė he was a big influence in my writing, so naturally some of that influence has seeped into my own work.

ScaryMinds - There was a limited release of a Brett McBean story collection that remained in stock till about the time the truck finished unloading the first editions, any news on the new editions and when they will become available to the public?

Brett McBean - Unfortunately, there are no plans for a new edition of the story collection at the moment. The publisher (Thunderstorm Books) did talk about doing a cheaper trade paperback edition, but I think thatís been put on the backburner, and Iím not sure when, or even if, that edition will ever happen. There has also been talk of a digital edition, but again, havenít heard from Thunderstorm whether that will in fact be happening.

ScaryMinds - The Mother was well received both within Horror and within general literature circles, was the Hume highway a metaphor and what drove you, no pun intended, to write a novel that is pretty grim?

Brett McBean - The Hume can be seen as a metaphor for the motherís journey into darkness. As the story progresses, as she descends further into madness, she gets farther away from her home in Melbourne, from her identity (the first part of the novel is set in the Victorian section of the Hume, the Freeway; whereas the last part is set in the New South Wales section, the Highway).

As to what drove me to write a grim novel? The subject matter. A story about a woman hitchhiking along a major highway, searching for the man who murdered her daughter? I knew this wasnít going to be a light-hearted romp, or a fun, over-the-top Laymon-esque campfire story. Right from the start I knew this was going to be a serious, grim character-study of a womanís descent into madness. Also, that type of grim, gritty, realistic horror is where my heart lies, and authors such as Jack Ketchum, and movies such as Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer were major influences for this particular novel.

ScaryMinds - Before leaving ďThe MotherĒ, what was your reaction to the decision that a few scenes would be cut from the published novel as they were considered too extreme for the reading public? (For those reading the scenes have been restored in an Authorís release of the novel available from Thunderstorm Books)

Brett McBean - I was disappointed. I had written a tough, disturbing story that was supposed to be confronting to the reader, and so ideally wanted the more extreme scenes left in. But, at the same time I understood that the publisher was hoping to bring Australian horror to the mainstream and those scenes would have been more than the average beach-reader was used to. The book was well-received upon its initial release, even by my more hardcore fans, so I guess taking those scenes out didnít hurt the story too much. But I am extremely thankful and glad that Thunderstorm has released the book uncut, as I originally intended.

ScaryMinds - Rumour has it that there is a Brett McBean Zombie novel finished and ready for publication. What inspired you to tackle a zombie novel and how did you find writing the book in comparison to your previous works?

Brett McBean - Iím a huge fan of zombie fiction/cinema. Zombies are my favourite monsters, so Iíve always wanted to write a zombie novel (I have had a few zombie shorts published). However, I wanted to steer away from the Romero-style flesh-eating apocalyptic story (I love those, Dawn of the Dead is my favourite movie, but I felt that type of zombie story had been overused). As I have a fascination for Haiti and their voodoo religion, I decided to write a more traditional zombie story, one in which the zombies are soulless beings brought back to life for the purpose of working as slaves. But really, my zombie novel isnít even a fully-fledged zombie novel. Itís really more of a coming-of-age story, with one of the main characters a Haitian zombie who has been awakened and sort of returned to the state of the living.

As to how it compares to my other works Ė this novel took the longest to complete. I started the first draft way back in 2001, and worked on and off on it for seven years. Itís a long story, by far my longest novel so far, and also proved to be the most difficult to get right. Also, there was a lot of research involved, much more than any of my other work, research into the country of Haiti, the voodoo religion and the phenomenon of zombiism which, to many people in Haiti, is a very real thing. I wanted to be as accurate and authentic as possible in regards to these, and other, aspects, which meant doing a lot of reading and research.

ScaryMinds - Tasmaniac have announced a three volume release of Brett McBean novellas, care to give us the background and where you were going with what sounds like a very entertaining alternative reality?

Brett McBean - The ĎJungleí trilogy is my breakdown-of-humanity story; a kind of homage to Ballard and Lord of the Flies. The basic idea for all three novellas is that nature has decided to fight back and reclaim the suburbs and cities. So, almost overnight, towns are reverted back to thick jungles; houses become homes to plant and wildlife; shopping centres are destroyed and modern life is plunged back into the dark ages. So, humans now have to adapt and life becomes a matter of survival.

Each novella will be a self-contained story set in this world, with a different set of characters, but will build on the previous story to create an overall mythos. The first novella is titled Concrete Jungle and is set completely in an underground car park and charts the beginning of this new world.

ScaryMinds - News coming in from most parts of the English reading world has it that pure horror and Sci-Fi are retreating on the shelves in the face of a Borg like expansion of ďsupernatural romanceĒ. Thoughts on the trend, and are we likely to see a Brett McBean story featuring a serial killer who is involved in a love triangle and who sparkles during the daytime?

Brett McBean - Thatís all it is Ė a trend. Trends come and go, genres fall in out and of fashion, thatís just how things work. It just so happens that Ďsupernatural romanceí is the big thing at the moment, just like wizards and YA fantasy were the in things a few years ago. Yeah itís a little annoying when Ďsupernatural romanceí gets lumped in with the horror genre and takes up precious shelf space, but it shouldnít be too long before the ĎSRí trend burns out and horror can reclaim some of its rightful place back on the shelves. And if I write a story that involves characters sparkling, or a serial killer who finds true love and stops his evil ways, then please shoot me (preferably in the head, because knowing my luck Iíll come back as a sparkly zombie, otherwise).

ScaryMinds - Your short story Christmas Lights kicked off Tasmaniacís 2009 collection Festive Fear, show casing a more poignant McBean story telling style. Are you finding a new voice for your stories, is this something you would like to develop further, or did the mood fit the idea?

Brett McBean - Like I touched upon earlier, the subject matter tends to dictate the tone of my stories. With Christmas Lights, the idea I came up with felt sombre and poignant, so thatís how I approached the writing of it. On the other hand, the novel I recently finished was much more action-orientated and external, as the idea lent itself to a David Morrell-type thriller.

ScaryMinds - Besides the odd short story you seem to be more at home with the longer forms of prose. Have you got a preference for one form over the others?

Brett McBean - I definitely prefer writing longer works of fiction. Novels are my first love, and Iím also a big fan of novellas. I love getting lost in a long piece of writing, I love getting to know the characters. For me, nothing beats sitting on the couch and immersing yourself in a massive tome. Also, I love storytelling, and novels are usually more about the story, the journey, whereas shorts are usually about the idea. Novellas are the perfect blend of the two Ė they usually have the narrative of a novel, but the punch of a short story.

ScaryMinds - What is the Brett McBean writing day like? Do you have set times when you sit down to write, a set word target for the day, or do you take what time you can grab between other activities?

Brett McBean - I currently write full-time, so for me itís a job like any other (though one I enjoy immensely and donít have to worry about traffic or irritating co-workers). A typical day is starting work at around 9:30, working till around midday, taking a break for lunch/walk the dog/reading, then starting back at around 1:30 and working till 4:30-5:00. I do a minimum of 1,000 words a day (any less and I force myself to keep working till I reach the thousand word mark), but my goal is 3,000, which I usually reach.

ScaryMinds - As a Writer do you tend to plot out a new novel before starting or do you let it flow as the muse takes you?

Brett McBean - I rarely plot or outline my writing. Iíll usually scribble some notes and, where applicable, do whatever research is necessary and scribble some more notes, but other than that, I prefer to sit at the computer with a basic story idea and set of characters and just let the words vomit from that deep dark place. I find that if I outline, by the time I get to writing the story, Iím already bored by it, it feels tired and my writing ends up flat.

ScaryMinds - How do family and friends react to finding out they have a dark dreamer in their midst. Horrified astonishment or full support?

Brett McBean - Iím lucky that my family all support my strange vocation. None are horror fans, but theyíre not against the genre, either. They understand that some people love reading and watching horror, that itís fun to be scared, and theyíre okay with me writing scary stories. Itís usually acquaintances (such as co-workers in the past), or friends of a friend who look at me funny and ask why I write about such horrible things. I usually tell them because itís fun killing people and this way, I donít go to prison.

ScaryMinds would like to once again thank Brett McBean for taking time out of his schedule to talk to us. We look forward to reading future releases and perhaps catching some re-releases of past novels and collections.

Internet References for Brett McBean

Brett McBean - The Official Brett McBean site.