(Originally published June 25, 2017 on peterndudar.wordpress.com)
A CONVERSATION WITH L.L. SOARES
Interview by Peter N. Dudar
It is my privilege to welcome my friend and mentor, the Bram Stoker Award-winning author L.L. Soares. Tonight we’ll be discussing his newly released novel BURIED IN BLUE CLAY, produced by Post Mortem Press and available now at Amazon. Welcome, L.L., and congrats on your new book. I freakin’ loved it and can’t wait to talk about it.
L.L. Soares:Thanks, Pete.
Dudar: The novel is told from first-person POV, and the thing that pops out immediately is that the protagonist’s name is Redmond “Reddy” Soames. That’s only one letter off from Soares. Was this intentional and is the character in some way autobiographical?
Soares: Yeah, it was intentional. But I’m definitely not the first person to do that (having a literary alter ego). I’m carrying on a tradition by people like Charles Bukowski who had a character named Henry Chinaski (his first name was Henry and people called him Hank in real life) who narrated just about all of his stuff. William S. Burroughs had Bill Lee. I always liked the name Freddy, and Reddy was close. My father-in-law’s middle name is Redmond, so I took that. And Soames is close enough to Soares to make a reader scratch their heads. Reddy is not me, but there are aspects of him that are from my life. Like most writers and their characters. It also puts my voice right in the middle of the action.
Dudar: His “adventure” seems very Bukowski-esque. He has that “unreliable character” feel about him, and that sense of open frankness about the world around him. The novel begins with him returning to Blue Clay, Massachusetts for a writing assignment. Can you maybe set the stage for what he’s getting into?
Soares: Bukowski is definitely a favorite writer of mine. And the original concept of the book was to write a horror novel from the point of view of a character who wasBukowski-like, that kind of feel. But it turned out a lot different. Reddy really is not that much like Bukowski, except that, when the book begins, he’s a hard drinking guy who feels like his life has stalled.
Dudar: The image of a coastal city with a beach made of blue clay seems very stunning and evocative, at least in my own imagination. It made me think of something Lovecraft might have imagined. How did you come up with that idea?
Soares: The other big hook here is that I set it in Blue Clay, Massachusetts, a setting that has appeared in several of my short stories. The stories have given little bits and pieces, but the novel gives us a bigger canvas, to really explore this fictional city in Massachusetts. I grew up in a place called New Bedford, Mass.,(Michael Arruda grew up in the same city), and it’s roughly the same size, population-wise, and there are a lot of little details about Blue Clay that might ring a bell for people who grew up in or know New Bedford well. So in that way, it’s a little more autobiographical, or at least personal, than my other books.
The idea was to come up with a fictional Massachusetts city that I guess would be sort of an Arkham of my own. Except, writing the stories and now the novel, Lovecraft wasn’t really at the front of my brain. It’s not like I wrote it thinking it would be Lovecraftian, or a pastiche of Lovecraft. I really wrote this trying to forge my ownthing—my own city, its own mythology and residents—that would be very different. The city’s name came first, before I wrote the first story, and the image of clay beach came to me. I toyed with Red Clay, a kind of bloody beach image, but that seemed a little bit cliché, so I went with Blue, which was more surreal. And once I had the name, Blue Clay, the rest fell into place from there.
I think the original idea was to write a bunch of stories set there, and maybe Mike Arruda would write some, too, since he also grew up in New Bedford, and it would grow from there. But I have to admit, as the city grew (and got more complicated), I decided to keep it all for myself.
Dudar: Part One of the book delves specifically with Reddy’s return home to Blue Clay to research a writing assignment concerning some strange phenomena that is going on there. When I first began reading, my response was that this was going to be a deep science fiction story, but it morphed very quickly into something darker. Is that fair to say?
Soares: Yeah, it starts out one way, and changes. Reddy does not end up in the same place—or even the same condition—as when it begins. I guess there are science fiction elements, but it’s certainly much more of a horror story.
Dudar: Or a monster story. And this book seems to have several. There are the “blue jellies”, the “manta ray”, the “centipedes”, and “the grub.” Each seems to have a different role in the story.
Soares: The jellies have appeared before in the short stories. I’m not sure if I named them at first. They just kind of appeared on the beach that gives Blue Clay its name. The rays are kind of a competing species that lives parallel to the jellies, but they’re not at war or anything. In fact, it’s doubtful they even interact. They just are, and just happen to coexist in the same area. The beach has a lot of power to it—you could call it a magical or sacred place I guess. The grubs and various bugs are like a third species that acts like protectors or bodyguards. The jellies and rays are kind of barely aware of us—don’t care about us—but the bugs are veryaware, and very dangerous. I toyed with some of these things in the short stories, but they were always mysterious and vague. The stories were meant to have a surreal feel to them. The novel is more like cracking open the egg and seeing what’s inside.
Dudar: You definitely succeeded there. Not to give spoilers or jump ahead, but the “special trait” of the mantas seriously blew my mind and made me queasy at the same time. Do you enjoy having that kind of effect on your readers?
Soares: I love doing the unexpected, blowing people’s minds, stuff like that, sure. Ever since I was a kid, my intention has always been to be as original as possible, to do things my own way. To really try to take people places they’ve never been before. And if my writing can take on the feel of what it’s like to be on a hallucinogen, let’s say…I love that.
Dudar: Having said this, how much of the novel was mapped out before you started writing and how flexible is the story as you are working on it?
Soares: I have a basic map of the city in my head. As for the plot, where it was going, I guess I plan it out incrementally. As in, I don’t try to see the whole thing from the start. I just see so far—and I move in that direction—and then I see a little more. If I knew everythingbeforehand–saw the entire picture from the start—I think I’d lose interest. Even for the writer, there’s got to be a degree of mystery and spontaneity. I’m having a journey, too. It’s not as much fun to know all the answers beforehand.
Dudar: It seems in this book, your map of the city is just as invaluable as the characters, themselves. Even early on, Reddy meets with Frederick Bellows (a “blue jelly” enthusiast who has written his own books on the subject) and goes directly to the beach. But there’s also the Sidelong Glance Motel, the Walecock Manor, and The Fortress (which made me think immediately of The Eagles’ “Hotel California”). It seems like you had a lot of fun with it.
Soares: The Fortress was actually more influenced by the band Love than the Eagles. Love was this great 60s band that made a classic album called Forever Changes. And in real life, the lead singer, Arthur Lee, had a big old house he called The Castle, where all kinds of people would end up and stay there awhile. Love even has a song called “A House is Not A Motel” that refers to this. I was really into Love when I was writing this, listening to a lot of their music early on. I even mention them in passing in the book, but only a music nerd would get it. The Walecock thing is another long story entirely.
Dudar: Do you listen to music while you write?
Soares: Yeah, I listen to a lot of music as I write. All kinds of music. Jazz, rock, hardcore punk, death metal, all kinds of stuff, and it affects my mood, the feel of what I’m writing, I guess. And other times I just write in absolute silence, and I’m sure that creates its own mood or tone, too.
Dudar: There’s another musician later on in the book named Briana Blessed. Is she a loose caricature of someone?
Soares: Yeah, but I’m not sure if I want to give all the secrets away. But there’s a singer I saw once—it was such a spooky experience, it was a small audience and at one point she seemed to look right into my eyes, and it left a big impression on me that night. And it created the seed for the whole Briana storyline. Little touches like that—add to the personal feel of the book for me.
Dudar: I love that aspect of writing, that you have that luxury of secretly admitting things without any repercussions.
Soares: Yeah, and it’s mixed in with stuff that’s not real, and it’s all intertwined, and only you, or maybe a few people who are very close to you, get the references, and can separate the truth from the fiction. And that’s what storytelling is all about, right?
Dudar: Is it nerdy that I’m nodding emphatically right now?
Soares: Not at all. It means we’re on the same frequency, that’s all. I wish I had some MacAuley Bros. right about now.
Dudar: Now I’m grinning ear to ear. It was such a thrill to see you include that.
Soares: Yeah, for people who don’t know, you wrote this great novel called A REQUIEM FOR DEAD FLIES, about two brothers who are trying to make their own bourbon, the MacAuley brothers. In your book, the bourbon doesn’t really happen, but in a couple of my books it’s very real. Our editor Bob Wilson put it in my book LIFE RAGEas kind of an in-joke (both books were published by Nightscape Press). We needed the name of a brand of bourbon that a character is drinking. And it pops up briefly in BURIED IN BLUE CLAY. I’m trying to keep the whole thing alive. Don’t be surprised if the brand pops up again sometime.
Dudar: Getting back to the book, you started out with a science fiction premise but the book diverges rapidly into a conspiracy-theory type mystery. As Reddy finds himself on the seedy side of the city, he begins noticing strange graffiti on billboards and brick walls. It seems as if he’s stumbling into a kind of a cult.
Soares: Yeah, the whole HEKthing.
Dudar: I found it interesting that you truncated Killian’s name like that.
Soares: Yeah, it was the whole JFK, LBJ thing. I always thought that was cool, people known by three letters, instead of their name. I can’t tell you why I liked it, but there’s a character who goes by his initials, HEK, in BURIED IN BLUE CLAY.
Dudar: Do cult figures fascinate you?
Soares: Yeah, sure. There’s definitely something of the cult leader in HEK. He’s definitely cut from that cloth. But unlike someone like Charles Manson, let’s say, who used his hold over people for evil, for killing, HEK is fairly benevolent in comparison. He’s a pretty benign cult leader.
Dudar: Yeah, I’d be hard pressed to consider HEK an antagonist.
Soares: And he’s Reddy’s guide into a part of the city few people have seen. HEK was kind of inspired by cult leaders, gurus, that type of stuff, and then there’s definitely some of (occult figure) Aleister Crowley in him, too. And at times you even wonder if he’s kind of a con-man. He definitely has access to real things that can blow your mind, but he’s also playing around with it, showing you just as much as he wants you to see.
Dudar: And THAT is what gives BURIED IN BLUE CLAYsuch a deliciously creepy feel to it. It seems like there are no real “safe” locations, and that there are risks and uncertainties abound. Early on, Reddy goes to visit an old childhood friend named Luke, and winds up staying a spell in that location. But you use that location to unmask some really dark shit…
Soares: Luke’s story is steeped in dark stuff. But you’re right–there’s no “safe place”–and that’s because Reddy gets exposed to this stuff he never knew about, and suddenly it’s not so clear what the rules are, why these things are happening, and he can never be sure who to trust.
Dudar: It sure kept me on my toes.
Soares: Early on, it’s the alcohol that keeps him confused and in a haze. He second-guesses himself, and isn’t always sure what’s real. Then he comes out of that and into a big outside world that is just as intoxicating.
Dudar: Plus he’s ducking and weaving the stream of phone calls from Zach, his editor, which is compounding his stress.
Soares: Reddy is a writer, but he’s never been a success at it. He wrote a few books years ago that went out of print right away, and he only gets the urban legend book gig because an old friend is throwing him a bone. And there’s always that question—will he even write the book? Will he ever finish it? The book answers that, but it’s a question mark for most of the book. And if he does write it, will anyone even read it?
Dudar: I love that thatelement is present, that as a writer I can fully appreciate that aspect of his character.
Soares: Yeah, in a lot of stories, if there’s a writer character, he’s usually like a bestselling writer or something. Reddy’s writing gig is only the way in—the reason to come back to Blue Clay—but it’s definitely not something he’s had any success at, or gotten any kind of respect for.
Dudar: Nor does he really seem to WANT to be there…
Soares: He definitely doesn’t. He got away a long time ago and only came back because he was desperate for the job. But he drinks way too much from the first day he gets there, to block it out. He does not want to be there at all. When HEK shows up, it piques his curiosity, and he sort of forgets how much being there makes him miserable. For a little while, anyway. But you notice, he keeps trying to leave, and things always pop up to get in his way.
Dudar: You really CAN’T go home again. But it’s a deeply disturbing notion that everything you thought you knew and understood about the world you grew up in had something deeply sinister below the surface.
Soares: Yeah, if you grow up somewhere you think you really know the place. To have that surety taken away from you, it puts you in a very interesting situation. You never really knew the place at all.
Dudar: Plus it makes you question yourself.
Soares: Exactly. But can we really know a place? Can we really know another person? Reallyknow them? There’s always going to be some part of them you’ll never see.
Dudar: So, we’ve met HEK and Bellows, but for me the most sinister character in the book is an old lady named Edna Caldwell.
Soares: Little old Edna? What’s so sinister about her?
Dudar: Seriously? Part Four of this novel is excruciating because of her.
Soares: You thought so? I kind of felt sorry for her.
Dudar: Really? Why?
Soares: She’s trying to control the world around her, trying to complete something, and it’s so difficult.
Dudar: Yes, but where HEK seems to be the head of the hierarchy and Bellows is the begrudging servant, she seems the most steeped in dark magic.
Soares: Agreed. She is definitely as steeped in it as HEK is. There are times when you could wonder who’s really the boss.
Dudar: That was exactly my thought. Between these three in the hierarchy, they feed Reddy just enough information to keep him strung out, with no intention of letting him go.
Soares: Oh yeah, he never knows the full story–he’s only seeing part of it–what they want him to see.
Dudar: It feels like we’re still only scratching the surface of the twists and turns of this book, so I’ll maybe ask two more questions. First, almost ALL of your writing contains a fair amount of graphic violence and sexuality, and this one sure doesn’t disappoint. You’re very good at using it to move the story forward. Is that fair to say?
Soares: Yeah, it’s definitely part of what makes up my style—sex and violence are just part of day to day life in my stories, I guess. It’s like there’s nothing shocking about (these elements), something matter-of-fact. They’re just there.
Dudar: I’m inclined to disagree…I think a large portion of readers might be shocked. But I would say that’s a comment on our puritanical society. Do you feel like you’re writing the kind of stories you’d want to read or are you more conscious about the reader’s response to it?
Soares: Oh, I definitely feel like my writing is my voice, and I’m writing what I want to read. If it doesn’t please me, then how’s it going to please anyone else? I have to “feel” it. It has to feel genuine to me. And, to return to your previous question, I think the graphic sex and violence is not as shocking as it would be in the “real world,” for lack of a better word. It’s more taken for granted in what I write. It’s just part of who these characters are.
Dudar: It works because it feels realistic. And like I said, Part Four of the book left me reading with my jaw wide open.
Soares: I’m really glad to hear it. It’s always fulfilling when your writing elicits a strong response from someone. That’s what it’s all about. Affecting the reader in some way.
Dudar: Again, huge congratulations for BURIED IN BLUE CLAY. This really is my favorite book of yours, toppling HARDto the number 2 spot. It’s a great book.
Soares: Thanks a lot, Pete. I appreciate the kind words. And I’m really happy you liked the book.
Dudar: What do you have in the works now?
Soares: I’ve been working on a kind of vampire/voodoo book for the longest time. It’s the slowest thing I’ve ever written, just seeping out a tiny bit at a time, but it’s coming out well. Just very slow. And, of course, these “vampires” are nothing like the traditional kind. I always like to put my own personal spin on things.
Dudar: I can’t wait to read it. And I’ll be seeing you down in Providence later this summer for NecronomiCon. You’ll of course have copies of the book for sale there?
Soares: Yes, I will. Looking forward to it.
Dudar: Thanks again, my friend, and much success.
Soares: You, too.
© Interview copyright 2017 by Peter N. Dudar