Hi Everyone! Meet Steve Kuhn.
He’s a zombie horror author, a kickass blogger over on stevekuhnjr.blogspot.com and hails from the Baltimore, Maryland USA. Where, if you ask him if it’s actually as rough there as the show “The Wire” makes it out to be he’ll tell you, “Yes, it absolutely is, but only in certain areas. […] I’ve definitely seen my share of crazy stuff downtown, though.“
Steve is here today to tell which monsters he’d shove in his worst enemy’s closet and what challenges he had to overcome while creating his 5 novella Dext of the Dead series. (Which you guys can check out here).
So, without any further ado, let’s get into the interview!
If you could have one monster live in the closet of your worst enemy, what would it be? Why?
SK: Love this question!
I think it would have to be something sneaky because that’s more my personal style. I’m thinking something like an entity that would do things to make that enemy question their own sanity to a point where it actually drove them legitimately bonkers over time.
Imagine something that would mutilate an animal and leave it in plain sight for the guy in his bed, but then make all evidence of it disappear as he confronts his room mate or something. Just slowly ramping up these alleged visions and putting him in various humiliating situations. Like turning on the web cam while he’s having a little “alone time” and streaming it to his mother with all sorts of gross text messages that he can’t remember sending, ya know? Because he didn’t actually do any of it wittingly. It’s just gotta be some real twisted stuff.
The monster that just comes out to eat you or whatever is too easy. Physical wounds heal, but mental and emotional wounds stay raw for a much longer time.
What books are you reading right now?
Sk: Well, I just finished re-reading Homer’s Iliad (because nerd) and, after that, I finished I Am Legend. That book was weirdly awesome and nothing like the movie.
Mostly, though, I find myself reading instructional survival texts. Bushcraft 101 by Dave Canterbury is one of my absolute favorites. I just pick at them because I love the outdoors. I’m always experimenting with the stuff I read to see if any of it really works in the real world.
Where is your favorite place to read?
SK: On the crapper, duh! I have two kids and a day job. Honestly, that’s the only place I have both the time and the privacy (debatable) to read more than a sentence at a time.
Ideally, though, I’d be reading in a hammock slung between two trees next to a mountain stream somewhere in the woods. I’ll save that for retirement.
If your writing style were an animal, what would it be and why?
I like to think my writing can do those things in equal measure.
What do you like best about writing horror?
SK: One of my favorite things is the range of emotions that can be covered when it comes to frightening someone. You can startle someone and trigger that fight or flight response, but that seems cheap to me. I like to dig in and really twist the blade, so to speak. Sure, you can kill off a beloved character and people will be sad or scared for them… but… adding the little twists and turns is like cranking up the volume on the scare.
A moment of glory right before their demise can completely change the type of scare for the reader, or a redemption or, worse, crushing their spirit before taking them out. Those are the things I really like about horror.
Another thing is that horror seems pretty loose with regards to perceived constrictions from the industry as a whole. We’re like the punk rock of literature. We push the limits of what’s socially acceptable more than any other genre, in my opinion. Sure the romance people have their sexual deviances and the sci-fi folks do some crazy stuff, but in horror we can pack all that crap into one story if we want. We’re badass like that.
How long did it take you to write the Dext of the Dead series?
SK: Dext was about a 3 year process.
A lot of people don’t know this, but I was writing Dext publicly as a weekly blog the entire time. Back then, it was called Diary of a Runner.
That was where the fan base really started. In fact, I even released it independently long before I had even considered publishing professionally and it sold well. Those indy sales were a big part of why it went pro shortly after.
I was doing it for the fans, though… and I still feel that way. It probably would’ve taken a lot longer if the fans weren’t clamoring for me to crank out entries every single week. I thank them for that… for keeping me inspired and motivated.
If Dext of the Dead were a song, what would it be?
SK: This is an easy one: Raining Blood by Slayer. I even worked that into the story at one point.
Where did your inspiration for the series come from?
SK: Hmm… that’s really a two part process for me.
Initially it was kind of a self loathing thing.
I’ve been a horror geek forever. I’ve always loved it. When Romero put his stamp on the zombie genre, I was in heaven. I just remember sitting there, mouth agape at the gore, the makeup, the storytelling… I loved it all. And I consumed it all, too. I became a frickin’ expert in zombie lore.
Fast forward a bit and I found myself being extremely passionate and vocal with regards to discussing what was new in the genre. I was on forums and I was writing reviews and all that crap. I was approached by a few sites to write reviews about movies and television shows and did it regularly. It was super casual.
Then one day I’m in my car and I’m listening to some silly rap song. The guy talking about his album reviews said,
“And I don’t give a f— what Rolling Stone ends up givin’, because that’s just some other f—in’ idiot’s opinion. If he knows what’s so dope he should go make it himself, and quit f—in’ judgin’ every f—in’ body else.” (Eloquent, I know, heh.)
But it really spoke to me. I’m sitting there thinking, “Man, I’m talking shit about all these people and their work and I have nothing to bring to the table to really prove I have any idea what I’m talking about. Wow… I’m kind of a dick.”
So, I decided to put together what I thought were the best parts of zombie drama and write a killer story that fixed the stuff that always bugged me in other stories and movies.
Dext was born. As far as the character, he’s the guy that never really gets his due in a story. It’s always some ex-cop, or military dude, or, at the very least, an alpha male that steals the show. I wanted to tell the story of the guy that, instead of being one of those powerful archetypes, is surrounded by those strong personalities.
I wanted the everyman that is forced into changing when he has to question his own preconceived notions about life, love, family, religion, racial stereotypes, etc. That’s the type of guy that people can relate to the most, whether they like it or not. Everybody seems to think that they’d be the group leader and a total zombie slaying badass if it ever went down. Truth is, though, most of them would be Dext… and that’s not even a bad thing as you’ll see in the story.
The second part of the process was really the fans.
I love them sum’bitches so much! The comments at the end of the chapters, and the emails and Facebook interactions were so crucial to making Dext an actual “thing”. I probably would’ve 2nd guessed myself into oblivion and never finished the series if it wasn’t for this writhing, rabid, mass of homies I had behind me.
What was your biggest challenge to overcome when creating Dext of the Dead?
I suppose I would’ve had trouble with the military aspect if I had to do that part alone, but had a really big help there. My cousin and the inspiration behind Cutty (a fan favorite) is a US Marine who did multiple tours in Iraq. That’s my dude! He made sure that we balanced the “Hollywood” stuff with the reality. I’m lucky to have him in my corner.
My wife Mandie, and our friend Amber also helped a lot with certain scenarios. We would spend hours bouncing ideas around and setting up little side plots. My inner circle during the process was a thing of beauty.
The real struggle came when we were publishing.
The industry is a rough one. We had to change the title, and, after creating the brand for three years, it really hurt me to have to do that. I understand why, though. Diary of a Runner makes sense once you’ve read the story, but to a new consumer it was entirely too ambiguous. It just didn’t sound like a zombie series. It took me weeks to settle on the overall series title and the individual book titles.
Editing was also a struggle.
Don’t get me wrong, Weston Kincade (my editor) is an absolute star. I loved working with him and he’s just a genuinely cool guy… but making changes on something you’re so emotionally invested in can be a difficult pill to swallow. I remember getting his edits back and thinking, “I don’t want to do this anymore. This is like… work.”
Weston kept my head on straight, though. I really learned a lot from him.
I was in a really dark place during that time. I was finished with the series and had nothing else to tell. I had poured every ounce of my being into the project for three straight years. I felt creatively bankrupt for a while. Luckily, it didn’t last long.
Are you working on anything new readers should keep an eye out for?
SK: Definitely. Dext stands alone as a series, but I’m working on a follow up.
See, there’re lots of unanswered questions when Dext comes to close and that was a very carefully calculated decision. I hate when artists wrap everything up into a nice little
bow at the end. That’s not how reality works. Closure is a luxury and it’s something that isn’t always afforded to us. Justice isn’t always served and we all have things in life that will remain a mystery until the day we die. I’m sure I pissed some people off here and there with that but, like I said, that’s how life works sometimes.
The new piece I’m working on is just for the fans… the true fans. And I won’t be publishing it professionally. In fact, it’s free to read right now at stevekuhnjr.blogspot.com. There’s about 25 chapters done and it’s really raw. I’m not writing on a schedule, though, so I only release a chapter when I’m through with it and that could take months sometimes.
It picks up with a few familiar characters ten years after the events of Dext of the Dead, where the world has become almost primitive again. Guns and ammo aren’t prevalent anymore. There is no fuel, therefore there are no motor vehicles. People are rebuilding and the zombies, while still a threat en masse, aren’t really where the drama comes from. It’s a unique take on the Dext universe with a handful of familiar characters.
As I mentioned, though, it’s for the people that loved Dext of the Dead and just want more of the story. I would strongly suggest reading the DotD series before starting the new one.
I’m also considering dabbling in something completely different as well. I have a rough idea for a story that puts a new spin on an extraterrestrial visit of immense proportions, but not your typical high tech invasion stuff. I’m thinking more of a psychological slow burn with regards to how society would act if everyone knew a large scale visit was impending, but had no idea whether is was benign, malevolent, or a combination of both. We’ll see how that develops.
Everyone can feel free to follow along in my adventures at the following:
Thank you much for doing this interview with me Steve! It was a fascinating conversation and I look forward to checking out more of your work 🙂