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Monday, March 29, 2010

Interview with Ed Erdelac (Interview by Mihir Wanchoo)



Mihir Wanchoo was lucky enough to be able to interview Ed Erdelac, author of Merkabah Rider: Tales of a High Planes Drifter. To Read FBC's review of Merkabah Rider click here.

A big thank you goes out to Ed Erdelac for taking the time to interview with us.

For starters, could you tell the readers about yourself and your book & what's one thing that we wouldn't know about you?

The book is called Merkabah Rider: Tales of a High Planes Drifter.'It's the first of a planned series of weird westerns from Damnation Books featuring 'the Rider,' a Hasidic gunslinger hunting the renegade teacher (a man called 'Adon') who betrayed and destroyed the American enclave of his mystic Jewish order, The Sons of the Essenes. His travels take him across the American Southwest of 1879, where he faces off against various supernatural enemies (demons, sacrificial cults, at one point, a brothel of antediluvian succubi), and gradually becomes aware of a sinister and far-reaching plot to bring about 'The Hour Of The Incursion' - this devastating infernal cataclysm. The Rider is an aescetic scholar and a master of astral travel, but he's also something of a fighter, having left his order to join the Union side in the Civil War after perceiving the conflict as corresponding to a greater battle being fought among the forces of light and darkness on the heavenly and infernal planes.

As for me, I was born on the Indiana side of the Illinois state line, was educated in Chicago, and moved out to the Los Angeles area about nine years ago to pursue a career in screenwriting. In 2008 I wrote the back stories for three different minor characters from the Star Wars films via Lucasfilm's ongoing What's The Story contest, and that led to my first professional work, writing fiction for Starwars.com. I've since published a zombie horror novella 'Dubaku' (also out from Damnation Books), and one of my stories (another weird western about Indians fighting vampires) wormed it's way into Murky Depths magazine over in the UK. I produced and directed my own film 'Meaner Than Hell,' last year. One thing you wouldn't know about me? I cook amazing pork and shrimp egg rolls. It's about the only thing I can cook well.

What was the spark of inspiration which lead to the genesis of these stories?

I've had an abiding love of westerns since a family vacation to Deadwood, South Dakota when I was in middle school and I had dabbled in weird western stories in high school after reading Robert E. Howard's excellent 'The Horror From The Mound' and 'Old Garfield's Heart,' plus Joe R. Lansdale's Jonah Hex series 'Two-Gun Mojo.' But, my own forays into the genre never really came together, so I shelved them. Then a couple years ago I came across the term 'merkabah rider' in an angelology book, and the image of a Hasidic man with blue glass spectacles embossed with the Seals of Solomon, riding a fiery ethereal horse and wearing a gun belt just jumped into my mind. I'm also a fan of the TV show Kung Fu, and love the idea of a totally foreign and unassuming protagonist rubbing elbows with and being underestimated by gunslingers and desperadoes. I sketched the character out both visually and historically, and once his mythology came together, I went back to all those situations I'd put on the back burner so long ago and revisited them with this more interesting character.

You are a prolific personality with many books out as well as a movie, how do you manage your time & could you tell us about how a general day looks like for you?

I read once in Stephen King's 'On Writing' that he puts aside four hours to write daily. I wish I could be that prolific! I've got two kids though, aged seventeen and five, with a new addition due in the next few days so my time is pretty precious. However, I've been blessed in the last year with a work from home job, so it's helped me out a great deal. I'm up at seven in the morning every weekday. I get my daughter ready, walk her to school, and when I get home, I open up my laptop, open and minimize my work window, and barring any other distractions, I get in all the writing and research I can, usually about two to three hours' worth before the work comes in. I do that until two o'clock rolls around, then it's off to get my daughter from Kindergarten. I'm occupied until nine 'o clock at night. The rest of my night depends on work again, which comes in sporadically all day long, but I usually hit the hay by midnight. Weekends I sometimes write into the wee hours, but my writing schedule is sort of chaotic. For some reason I often wind up finishing stories at three or four in the morning. One habit I seem to have is I write all I can, and then the next session I go back over everything I did previously and tweak it before moving on. Time is pretty scarce, but I'm only human, so there are days where I just stare at the screen for two hours and then feel guilty. You can't force things though.

Your series The Merkabah Rider is bound to be compared to the Dark Tower series and the Jon Shannow series because of the similarity in the supernatural themes & surreal western settings, what would you say is different about your tales?

Well, I can't comment on the Jon Shannow series - I've never read them. I read up to The Wastelands in the DT series when I stopped because I was afraid at the time that King was going to die before he ever finished it. Since then I've gradually started picking up the others and am planning on getting back to them. That being said, I think that there probably are similarities between Roland and The Rider in that they both use a gun and and are solitary members of an ancient order, but The Rider is more of a scholar and a mystic. He's very often outmatched in a physical fight, but turns into Clint Eastwood on the astral plane. He's well traveled, but aside from his pack animal, he's operating entirely alone, whereas Roland was able to gather a surrogate family around him. Also, I think Roland in his pursuit of Marten was chasing an outsider menace, but Adon is almost family. Adon taught the Rider his skills and brought him along from an early age, nurtured him, became a father figure, then turned out to be a real bastard. The Rider's pseudo-monastic order, the Essenes, basically turned their back on him for being Adon's student, for sticking up for his mentor's dangerous teachings, his 'alternative paths to God.' Then in the Rider's absence, Adon proved them right. The Dark Tower is very allegorical, surreal and otherworldly. Merkabah's grounded in this world, but it's a world interwoven with spirits and cosmic forces. It skirts actual history too, which is the kind of stuff I love - like when Jonah Hex faces an undead Wild Bill Hickock, for instance. Tip Top, the town in 'The Nightjar Women,' the last story in the book, is a real ghost town in Arizona - you can visit its ruins, and some of the people, like 'Sadie' the prostitute and her pimp, those are real people from the Old West who were there at the time the story's set. I put a lot of Easter eggs in my work for people who know western history, who read the things I do (like Kelly, the ju ju man from 'The Dust Devils'). The Dark Tower uses western iconography, but Merkabah Rider is a western. It's a western with animate windmills that try to kill you, and it's got a lot of nods to Lovecraft and Howard, but it's a western nonetheless. You probably won't see a lot of dimensional hopping or evil subway cars, and the only time it's going to go past 1879 is when New Years 1880 rolls around.

What attracted you about Jewish mysticism and the occult to utilize it so extensively in your stories?

My initial research into the merkabah rider phenomenon, which is this ecstatic mystical ascendancy experience dating back to Ezekiel's chariot vision in the Bible, just sort of opened up the world of Jewish folklore to me. It's very surprising, interesting stuff, with rich, detailed beliefs and it's own extensive catalog of folk practices and monsters. I think it's something I haven't seen tapped into a lot either. Everybody knows about Catholics being able to repel vampires with holy water and crosses and all that, but I'd never heard that for instance, the spit of a fasting man is like acid to a demon. When you read about Western occultism, a good chunk of it goes back to Judaism. Judaism had prescribed ways of dealing with demonic forces thousands of years before the crucifixion. I feel writing is a learning experience, of course in your craft, which evolves until you die, but also in what you choose to write about. My library has necessarily grown a good deal since I started writing about the Rider, both in folkloric works and in books on everyday Jewish cultural practices.

What are your plans for the future?

More Merkabah books, definitely. I'm pleased that people who've read the first book enjoy it, because it's the kind of story that entertains me. Pulpy, amalgamated horror adventure. There's an overall storyline for the series that was only hinted at in this one but will come out more in the sequel 'The Mensch With No Name,' which I'm working on now and hope to get out in the latter half of this year. It'll still be episodic in nature, but the conflict with Adon and The Hour Of The Incursion intensifies in this one. I've got a e-book novella called 'Red Sails' coming out in April from Lyrical Press - that one's got a vampire pirate captain and a crew of werewolves. The heroine is a cannibal. I had fun with that one. More Star Wars stuff, and a short Mythos story about a Robert Johnson-type blues player that I'm pretty proud of. That's also coming from Damnation I think in September. I'm in talks with a publisher in Texas about putting out a straight no-zombies western novel too. My screenplays, well, they're all over the place. Chances are somebody's always reading one somewhere.

Who would you say have been your biggest influences?

On my writing? Robert E. Howard is my all-time favorite writer. I like anything by Richard Matheson as well. After that, Cormac McCarthy, Ambrose Bierce, Larry McMurtry, Mickey Spillane, Mishima Yukio, Joe R. Lansdale, Alan Moore and Kazuo Koike. Movies have had a big impact on me as well. John Ford, Anthony Mann, Michael Mann, Michael Curtiz, anything with Tatsuya Nakadai, Sterling Hayden, or Vincent D'Oonfrio. John Martin, Frank Frazetta...staring at their paintings always gets me in the mood to write. I take a lot of Johnny Cash, Tom Waits, Kris Kristofferson and Howlin' Wolf music to heart. I think that actually covers three of the five senses. Four, if you count the smell of old books.

In the end is there anything else you would like to mention?

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