In the 1990s, Norman Partridge was one of the most exciting writers in the horror field. Peter Straub called Norman Partridge "probably the most exciting and original voice in horror literature to have appeared in the last decade" and Stephen King said about Partridge's first novel Slippin' Into Darkness: "[I]t signals the arrival of a major new talent." Between 1994 and 2000, Partridge produced five novels. In 2006, he returned to novel length fiction with the acclaimed Halloween novel Dark Harvest, which won the Stoker Award, was nominated for both the International Horror Guild and World Fantasy Awards, and was listed among Publisher's Weekly's 100 best books of the year. Just in time for Halloween and the paperback release of Dark Harvest, Norman Partridge sat down with RevolutionSF contributing editor Rick Klaw to discuss horror, writing, comics, music, sports, and the future.
In the 1990s, you emerged as a new exciting writer on the horror scene winning the Stoker Award for your first short story collection Mr. Fox and Other Feral Tales. From 1994 through 2000, you produced five novels and then nothing until Dark Harvest. What caused the break and why the return with Dark Harvest?
I did a couple short story collections during that time, and some other short work, too. But I just didn't know what direction I wanted to take when it came to novels. I'd done crime, and I'd done horror. When I decided to write Dark Harvest, I figured it was time to just let it fly instead of worrying so much about what kind of novel to write. To tell the truth, I didn't write the book for anyone but me. From the start, I had the idea that DH would be something different. It was a Halloween tale, and my plan of attack in writing it was to channel all the stuff I loved about both the holiday and horror fiction in general.
At the same time, I wanted to turn that material on its ear. So while you've got a walking scarecrow with a butcher knife, and Jack O' Lanterns and cornfields, and a small town locked down by some seriously black business, the story doesn't exactly go in the direction most people would expect. It's got a kind of stripped-down sensibility that's part crime novel, part campfire tale. That's what makes it different.
Were there actual events that inspired the horrific episodes of Dark Harvest?
Man, if there's a town like that out there somewhere, I wouldn't want a piece of it!
The response to Dark Harvest was overwhelmingly positive. Publisher's Weekly chose your novel as one of the 100 best books of 2007. It's been nominated for the World Fantasy Award and the IHG. It won the Stoker Award. Did the response after such a lengthy layoff surprise you? Are you finding all the praise inspiring or intimidating?
It was a surprise. Mostly inspiring, but a little intimidating, too. Like I said, I really did feel that I was writing this one off the radar. And while the critical response has been great, the best things for me about Dark Harvest were 1) finishing a novel and 2) writing a book I was really happy with. When I typed "The End" on that last page, I knew DH did everything I wanted it to do. I didn't want to change a word of it. If you're a writer, I don't think you can ask for a finer moment than that.
Is there a movie version of Dark Harvest in the works?
Can't say much about that right now So I guess you can consider that a "yes" of the conditional variety.
In the past you've spoken of creating soundtracks for your books. What music inspired the writing of Dark Harvest?
I listened to a fair share of fifties JD stuff. Link Wray's "Rumble," "Harlem Nocturne" by the Viscounts, that kind of thing. That was mostly while I was thinking things through. When it came to the actual writing, I used James Horner's score for Legends of the Fall quite a bit. It seemed to fit the story arc I was looking for with the main characters.
Of course, I had to queue up some James Carpenter, too. Hey, it was a Halloween book. How could you not?
The horror literary world is radically different now then when you first began. In 1994, horror was by many considered a dying if not dead genre. Barnes & Noble had eliminated the horror sections in their stores and publishers insisted on using the "Dark Fantasy" label. In 2007, horror is once again big business. What is different now?
Pretty much all that dive-bombed in the nineties was the idea that you could build a career writing knockoffs of the books Stephen King wrote in the seventies and eighties. These days, I think horror movies are big business, and those supernatural romance books are all over the place, but the other stuff . . . I'm just not sure there's really been a strong resurgence. It seems the books that are really getting a push mix horror and some other genre element, whether it's romance or fantasy or a literary approach.
With the success of Dark Harvest are their plans on bringing other Partridge books back in print?
No. Right now I'm concentrating on looking ahead. The main thing I'm aiming at is getting some new novels out there on the shelves.
Your last published novel before your hiatus, was The Crow: Wicked Prayer. Do you plan on writing other shared universe books? Is there a universe you'd like to play in?
Again, I want to concentrate on the original stuff, but I'd be lying if I said that there weren't a few I'd have trouble resisting. The Universal monsters, Batman, most of the Robert E. Howard characters. Those would definitely be a lot of fun, either in prose or in comics. You can toss Ben Grimm and Ol' Greenskin in there, too. I'd really like to take a crack at writing the ultimate Hulk/ Thing showdown.
What made you decide to use a second person narrative in DH? Is this a style you will continue using?
I'm sure I'll use it again someday, but it's not the kind of style that would fit every project. With DH, I really wanted readers to hear me talking from the other side of the page, the way you do when you listen to a campfire tale.
I wanted to yank them into the book and make them part of it, too. I had that intention from the first paragraph: "A Midwestern town. You know its name. You were born there." That was kind of the wham bam welcome to my world moment.
In the nineties, you dabbled a bit in comics, primarily with Mojo Press. Are you planning on writing more comics? Will we see the return of your signature comic book character Gorilla Gunslinger in either comics or prose?
I'd love to see the Gorilla Gunslinger return. I've still got [the graphic novel] script here, though I never tried to sell the graphic novel to anyone else after Mojo went under. And, hey, I grew up on comics. I'd love to do more. I was a teenage dealer back in the seventies, before comic book shops and the internet, back in the days when we used to cut and tape Ziploc bags because no one was making custom mylar ones yet. I paid twenty bucks for a mint copy of The Incredible Hulk #1 at the first con I attended. My dad picked me up and said: "What? You paid twenty bucks for a funny book!" Things sure have changed since then.
Who are you some of your favorite contemporary horror writers?
King and Lansdale still do it for me, though Joe doesn't do much straight-up horror anymore. Of the younger guys, Joe Hill is off to a good start. It'll be interesting to see where his career takes him. Joe Schreiber's first book was a great ride; he's got a crime sensibility to his storytelling, too. There are others. Charlie Huston. A young guy named Cody Goodfellow. I'm sure I'm leaving out a good dozen I'll kick myself over later.
Sports have often been used if not directly but as metaphors in your books. Baseball in the cemetery during the opening scene in Slippin' Into Darkness. Ex-boxer Jack "Battle-Ax" Baddalach is the main character in your two mysteries, Saguaro Riptide and Ten-Ounce Siesta.
Dark Harvest definitely has that running with the bulls vibe and is complete with football and baseball iconography throughout. What is the advantage of using sports in stories obviously not about sports? Do you plan on writing a straight sports book, either a novel or nonfiction?
It's a shorthand most readers can grab pretty easily, but I don't think it's sports that give my stuff the vibe you're catching as much as plain old testosterone. I never have been much of a fan, especially of team sports. I still halfway follow boxing, but it's sure not the same if you grew up in the eras of Ali/ Frazier/ Foreman and Leonard/ Hagler/ Hearns. If I did write any straight sports stuff, it'd be a boxing novel. That's really the only sport I know enough about to (pardon the metaphorical cliche) go deep.
What's next for Norman Partridge?
More novels. Which is another way of saying: stay tuned.