His coffee is strong and he looks longingly down into it, as if there were a lover hidden somewhere in that dark liquid. He looks up at me and though his beard is scruffy, I see the smile playing on his lips. Daniel Russell takes a long swig, smacks his lips and lets out a long, “Ahhhh.”
We sit in the make believe café, The Dark Also. The tables are round and the chairs are simple wooden things you can buy at the local furniture shop for next to nothing. The lights aren’t bright like your Starbucks or any other coffee shop for that matter. They are dim and there are small bulbs that cling to the ceiling above each table.
Daniel hasn’t quite come to the realization that the person behind the counter is a stick figure drawing with needles for fingers. By the time he does, Herbie has poked him with one of those fingers and placed the line in his vein.
‘What’s this?’ he asks, but shows little concern that Herbie’s hooking up a blood donor bag.
‘Just a little something we do round here,’ Herbie says, gives Daniel one of his mischievous grins. ‘It’s how we draw the truth from our vict… our interviewees.’
He gives a nod, as if saying, ‘okay, man.’ Another swallow of his coffee and he tips his cup to Herbie. ‘So, what is it you want to know?’
Herbie points a long fingernail in my direction and we begin.
AJ: Who is Daniel Russell?
DR: There are quite a few of us Daniel Russells, most notable being a professor of physics, a professor of philosophy, a rugby league player, a quite hairy porn star and possibly me, the one who writes books. I’m a pseudo-Australian, originally from the UK but now living in the country south of Perth. My published titles are Samhane (Stygian Publications), Come Into Darkness (Skullvines Press), Critique (Dark Continents) with books translated in German with Voodoo Press and the novel The Collector soon to be released. I’m also the Vice President of the Australian Horror Writers’ Association, current guest editor of Midnight Echo Magazine and the former associate and technical editor of Necrotic Tissue Magazine.
AJ: Hmmm… maybe you can combine a couple of those other Russells and become the philosophical rugby playing, hairy pornstar who moonlights as a professor of physics? No. Okay.
That’s quite a list of accomplishments, Daniel. Before we move on to your current project(s), tell us a little about your previously published titles, Samhane and Come Into Darkness.
DR: Samhane was my first ever book. After many years of reading Laymon, I wanted to do something in a similar style. You know. Very bloody, ripping pace… pushing it. Did I succeed? I think so. Samhane is both these things. It won’t be winning any literary awards anytime soon, but I feel it’s a fun ride. Like riding a ghost. While drunk. After the rocky road to publication, I was overjoyed with the finished product. The cover art was done by the amazing Patrick McWhorter, layout by Danny Evarts of Shroud fame, and the whole thing overseen by R. Scott McCoy.
Come Into Darkness is a novella that was started in England and finished in Australia, so it will always be special to me. It was written for my partner Sherie, as we met in a forum discussing horror movies and this book captures the feel of some of my favorites. The story follows a porn star who is after something new after a life of excesses. He attends a party in a grand old house and is escorted by a guide called Worth. The house is a forever twisting maze of traps and other nasties. Again, hopefully a fun read, and despite the intended splatter of Samhane, there’s one scene in particular in Come Into Darkness that readers… well… that readers squirm a little with.
AJ: There you go with the porn reference again.
I like the synopses of both books, especially Come Into Darkness. Before we move onto your current project with Dark Continents Publishing, where can we buy the previously mentioned novels?
DR: In these days of purchasing with a few mere clicks, all my stuff is handily collected on my Amazon page:
AJ: That’s easy enough. Tell us about the new book that’s been released by Dark Continents Publishing.
DR: Critique is a novella cut from a completely different cloth compared to the likes of Samhane. Gone is the gore (not altogether gone, but certainly restrained in use) and the all out action scenes. Critique is more restrained, a little more selective in the horror it contains. It also tries to say things about certain attitudes towards religion and homosexuality and how both can affect your life if you’re unsure about your lifestyle, often coming to blows, occasionally in perfect sync.
Most of all, it’s about redemption, a theme that runs through the book from beginning to end. To make up for your wrongs, to face your faults and try to correct them… surely that’s a good thing, right? But what if you’re bullied into making the right choice? What if you’re made to redeem yourself no matter what the method?
This is what my protagonist, food critic Sandy Devanche, faces upon his arrival at experimental restaurant The House of Jacob. The worst thing about the food is the person eating it.
As the tag line says: CRITIQUE. It’s here to make your life better.
And don’t we all need a decent critique every now and again?
AJ: That’s a unique concept and something I would definitely like to read. How did it come about for Critique to get published by Dark Continents?
DR: Critique was due to be released in print in late 2012 with another publisher, but no contracts were signed. Dark Continents had bought The Collector, and through that novel we were starting to work together and I was paying more attention to the DC way of business. I have never worked with a publisher that does so much for trying to get readers for their authors.
I was approached for a novella for Tales of Darkness and Dismay, but they were all taken, and the deadline was too tight for a brand new book. Weighing up the pros and cons, I decided to pull Critique from the original scheduled publisher and go with DC. I think it was the right choice.
AJ: I think you’re right. Dark Continents has worked hard with me on my collection and the staff knows what they are doing.
Okay, I’m going to ask what most writers don’t care to be asked: how did you get into writing horror?
DR: By venting all anger and violence!
I wanted to be a horror writer when I was in early high school, but this was pushed aside by dreams of playing bass in bands. That was the new ambition through school, college and university, but I learned that with so many people involved in making music, the chances of something going wrong were high. For example, things were going good when our lead singer suddenly left and then we were stuck. Kinda frustrating to put so much of your own time and effort into something only for someone else to ruin things. I wanted something that I was responsible for, something that if it sucked would be my fault only.
I’d just started teaching at the time, and I’ll be honest, with teaching certain classes/students, you feel powerless, your hands tied by the system. Lots of frustration, and shall we say, dark thoughts can be birthed from this, so I started writing and returned to my first love. I’m a lot mellower now with teaching, perhaps it’s the experience.
AJ: Let’s hope you stay mellow with the teaching, if not for yourself, then for the students.
One more question and I’ll let you go: Website? Or Blog? Where can your readers find you if they want some more Daniel Russell?
AJ: Thank you, Daniel. It’s been a pleasure. I hope Herbie didn’t take too much of your blood.
With that said, Herbie pours one last cup of coffee and unhooks the donor bag. He gives a wink then leaves the café.
‘A weird one, that one is,’ Daniel says.
[[Herbie’s Note: Critique is part of an e-book launch called Tales of Darkness and Dismay, put out by Dark Continents Publishing. You can go to the DCP website here to learn more about the release.]]
[[Herbie’s Note #2: The Dark Also is not like Starbucks in any way, shape or form. The at TDA is better.]]