Fellow comrade-in-words Rob Reaser has released a new book, Southern Strange, available in e-book format at amazon.com. I’ve followed Rob’s career since we both broke into the car magazine field together over twenty years ago. The man can write. so I checked in with Rob to get the story behind his latest work of fiction.
Give us the low-down on your new book. What’s it about?
Southern Strange is a collection of short stories I wrote over the last couple of years, in-between writing my speculative fiction novel Age of Giants – awakening. As you can tell from the anthology’s title, the collection is made up of stories that take place in the southeastern U.S., and there’s a dark, sometimes supernatural vein running through all of them. Nearly all of the stories loosely adhere to the conventions of Southern Gothic literature.
How would you define the Southern Gothic Genre? How does it differ from traditional horror stories?
Most critics consider Southern Gothic works to be those that are set in the south, in some way touch on cultural or sociological aspects that are identifiably southern, usually contain a supernatural element, and often include the macabre or grotesque. As such, Southern Gothic stories tend to be significantly more subtle in their approach to the horror or terror components of fiction than do traditional or contemporary horror stories. Traditional horror or, more accurately, contemporary horror, usually include more outrageous situations, heavy-duty supernatural conditions and characters, and often a good smattering of blood-and-guts.
Southern Strange is written in more of a literary style when compared to conventional horror, and is more aligned with the Southern Gothic genre. With most of the stories in this collection, you’re not even aware of the supernatural element until it creeps up on you.
You’ve spent most of your life in the South. What is it about the region that lends itself to this branch of literature?
I think readers and critics have been trying to figure that out for decades! I’m not exactly sure what the answer is, other than to say that the South developed a culture unlike that of the northeastern states due to diverse Spanish, French and African influences that combined with the uniquely American spirit of pioneering and enterprise. Add in the stark environmental differences between this region and the rest of the country, and it’s easy to understand that the South is different. As to why…well, that is the question that has intrigued so many, and I think that it’s different for everyone.
For myself, the South is a mysterious place—from the Florida swamps to the highest peaks of the Smokey Mountains—the land itself seems to have been imbued with an almost supernatural charm. That it would help form a distinctive culture and inspire its own literary flavor comes as no surprise to me.
You’ve written a novel (Age of Giants — awakening) and now have written a short story anthology. How does the writing process compare?
To be honest, I’ve never written short stores before this because I never really gave them much credence. I’ve often enjoyed reading short pieces by some of the masters (Poe, Hawthorne, et al), but never considered writing them myself because I never saw the point. I suppose that was the business side of me talking. In my mind, short stories were for budding authors looking to enter a contest or to be paid a ridiculously low sum of money for the opportunity to be published in a magazine or anthology. It just didn’t make sense to me from a time vs. return perspective.
Well, for whatever reason, I decided to give it a try, and cranked out four shorts last winter. To my surprise, I enjoyed the process. Unlike novel-length works, I found that short stories demand a truly austere approach to writing because of their brevity—assuming that you are trying to pack a complete story arc into one and, hopefully, deliver a resolution that has a measurable impact. It turned out to be an extremely satisfying effort for me because the short stories allowed me to write and explore topics in a quick and concise manner. Also, short stories provide quicker gratification because you’re in and out in a few days to a week, depending on the length of the piece. In other words, you enjoy a change of scenery more quickly than when you’re working on a full-length novel. Writing a novel, as you know from your work on the Connor Rix Chronicles, demands total immersion in that particular world—often without coming up for air—until it is completed. You have to maintain that focus and momentum for a solid two or three months. With short stories, it’s kind of like going to a new theme park every week. Another great thing about short stories, from an author’s perspective, is that it can allow you to develop characters, situations or themes that could potentially plant the seeds for full-length novels.
What’s next on your plate? Tell us about your next book:
I’m currently working on the second volume in the Age of Giants series. Age of Giants follows the journey of a young woman in the post-apocalyptic American southwest as she leads her tribe in guerilla conflict against the Nephilim overlords who have returned from our ancient past and taken over the earth, enslaving humanity in the process. The first book of the series, Age of Giants – awakening, introduces us to Nora and her fellow raiders, and establishes the ongoing conflict between the various human tribes who have managed to remain free of the Nephilim slave camps, and the brutal and technologically advanced giants. In it, Nora discovers that she, among all free humans, may be the key to defeating the Nephilim and returning mankind to its rightful place on the earth.
While a complete novel, Age of Giants – awakening posed numerous questions, not the least of which is what will be the ultimate outcome of the struggle between the remnant bands of free humans and the Nephilim. The second volume, which I’m working on now, picks up three years after the first book, when the conflict between the raiders and the Nephilim is about to reach epic proportions.
Currently, I’m about a quarter of the way through the book. My goal is to have it completed and ready for publication by the end of June.