The cult section of the literary world

Show Me Your Shelves: Adam Cesare

Something I’ve learned after becoming part of the horror and bizarre communities is that very often the weirdest, darkest, goriest, nastiest, most horrific fiction comes from individuals who are incredibly nice. A perfect example of that is Adam Cesare. To be honest, Adam is so damn nice I sometimes want to punch him in the face to try to knock some sense into him. Anyway, besides being one of the good guys, Adam is also a hell of a writer. His novels are always great and, what’s more important, he seems to do the impossible and get better with each outing. Now his latest novel, Exponential, is out. Well, no better time than now to talk to him about books and get him to show me his shelves. Dig it.

GI: Who are you and what role do books play in your life?

AC: I’m Adam Cesare. I write books and I’ve been lucky enough to get them published. And then I have no idea how to sell them unless I’m yelling at perspective readers in a convention hall. Being obnoxious in person I’m pretty good at. Online self-promotion, not so much.

I also read books and (as you can see) hoard them. People come over and ask “Is that good?” and an embarrassing amount of the time I’ll say “I haven’t read it yet.” My physical books are the tip of the iceberg. These days I do 99% of my reading digitally, so when I feel the compulsion to pick up a paperback, I end up hamstringing that book’s chances to actually get into my eyeballs. I plan on getting to everything, though. Once I retire.

GI: You write horror but you’ve also somehow managed to become part of the bizarro scene. Have you bribed a lot of people? If so, where’s my moolah?

No grift. I don’t think.

That’s something I think about sometimes. I don’t know why I’m “in” with some of the bizarros, like whether it’s a chicken or the egg thing. It’s probably a lot of factors: first and foremost, I’m a reader of bizarro and a fan.

But my first professional connection to the scene came through John Skipp, who was the editor of Tribesmen. That was the second longer work (a novella) that I’d finished, but the first one to get published. Skipp’s a traditionally horror guy, but he’s dabbled in the weirder end of the literary pool and his Fungasm imprint has put out some fantastic bizarro. So I guess after or around the same time as I approached him I had started pestering some other bizarros online.

I met Cameron Pierce and Kirsten Alene Pierce at a reading they’d done in Boston and I hit it off with them. I’d known both their editorial work and writing before that, but they were cool people to talk to on top of the professional element. I’d interacted with them a little online before that, but when I shook hands with Cameron his eyes glazed when I introduced myself and I realized that he had no idea who I was and that I had been kind of presumptuous to think he’d know me. Then he had a flash of realization and went, “wait you’re Adam Cesare? We thought you were like forty years old.” So I guess I seem older online.

I moved to Philly about a year and a half ago and started hanging out with Scott Cole, even though I’d known him through twitter before that. He’s one of this year’s NBAS participants. Last year he was going to BizarroCon and I tagged along. Which was a good choice, because it was probably the best con I’ve ever been to.

So, I don’t know. I write horror, but I know a lot of people in the scene and on the periphery, through odd connections. I think it speaks more to the inclusiveness and approachability of the bizarros than it does any of my people skills. I’m happy that Tribesmen is out with Deadite, a subsidiary of Eraserhead, it feels like a weird kind of cosmic homecoming. I hope to do another with Skipp soon.

GI: For a young dude, you’ve done/published a lot. What’s the trick? (Please don’t say hard work.)

AC: Okay I won’t say hard work, but I will say anxiety is part of it. I’m a naturally anxious person, and SUPER impatient. I guess if you couple that with luck and a healthy work ethic, that’s my recipe.

If you’re the type of person that checks your email every six minutes, every thirty minutes while you’re trying to sleep, then writing commercial fiction just could be the fabulous career for you!

The thing is I never feel like I’ve done a lot. Most of my books are novellas and even my novels are on the shorter end of the spectrum. There are times that I feel like a goon who can’t write fast enough.

And then there are other times where I feel like I’m producing and releasing too much. Because there are writers out there who have similar release schedules to mine and (sorry to be blunt) but some of those authors are able to keep up with the workload because the books they release are hot garbage. I get really anxious that perspective readers take a look at the number of titles on my amazon page, see that the release dates are close together, and then don’t bother with me.

But whatever. There are people who like what I do and I like them for it. But I’m never really satisfied with my productivity, for one neurotic reason or another.

GI: Super unique question time! House is burning down. Weird angel comes down. He says “Fool, you have two minutes to run in there with this bag and save ten books. Go!” Which books end up in the bag? Do you punch the angel once you’re out or are you too fucking nice for that?

AC: Punch an angel? I wouldn’t do that, probably out of fear. But I’m an autograph collector, so I probably wouldn’t target books based on whether they’re my favorite book or not, but based on whether they’re signed or not. I love getting inscriptions, which is problematic because it means I usually leave cons needing an extra suitcase. I have a signed hardcover of Joe Lansdale’s By Bizarre Hands, so that would be saved. I have a copy of Charles Grant’s Nightmares that I found at a used bookstore in Boston. It’s signed, dated, and the date is a couple years before my birth. I met Gillian Flynn at my first HWA convention and she gave me a pretty funny inscription in Sharp Objects. I’ve got an ARC of The Last Final Girl by Stephen Graham Jones which is the coolest. I’ve got signed Tom Piccirilis, signed Sarah Langans. Almost every Jack Ketchum book I have is signed, because I stalked him throughout late high school and early college. Oh and Junot Diaz and Joyce Carol Oates were the last two readings/signings I went to in Boston, both at the Brookline Booksmith, so those are special.Am I at ten?

GI: What’s your next book about, where can we get it, and what’s so crucial about pre-orders?

My last full novel with Samhain, The Summer Job, was a hard sell for some readers who liked Video Night and Tribesmen. I mean, I don’t think it was slow or ponderous or anything, but there are less blood and guts in that one, nothing supernatural, so less people bought it. And the thing about The Summer Job was that, not only did I think it was far and away my best book, but it was WAY harder to write, was much denser. So I wanted to use Exponential to stretch muscles I hadn’t used in a little while.

It’s not like I write my books to be movies, they’re novels and “novelistic” in approach, but when I’m brainstorming I think in terms of movies. I can’t help it. It’s the way my brain works.

So I pitched Exponential to myself as: “What if, coming off of Raising Arizona the Coen brothers weren’t allowed to do Miller’s Crossing? What if instead they were brought on to do a pass on the script to Tremors and then ended up directing that instead?” I mean, that would be bad for history, but it was a good tonal barometer for me to use.

There’s a bit of Jaws in there, a bit of The Blob (both versions), a bit of Razorback. I love “big creature” stories, the size distinction between mogwai and kaiju.

A decent monster is only half the battle, so I focused on character and structure once I got my creature and its powers in place. I tried to make the characters likable and unique. A bunch of them have got a crime-feel to them, like Elmore Leonard took a sharp corner and all his characters fell into a Guy N. Smith novel by mistake.

It isn’t completely lacking it subtlety but it’s still a loud book. It’s the shortest of my three novels with Samhain, so it’s kind of like a punk song. Those things are never more than two minutes but they try to kick your ass in that span.

Ha! Don’t ask me sales questions. I have no idea if pre-orders help or not. With Video Night and Summer Job I was sharing the link in the months leading up to their release, figuring pre-orders were good. But I didn’t do that with this one, just in case a more concentrated stream during the week of release is the way to go.

I don’t care how people buy it: digital or print, Amazon, B&N or get their local indie store to order a copy. All I know is that if people do buy it they should know that I so goddamn appreciate it.

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