It’s a pleasure to have friend and writer, Greg Mitchell, with me today for this interview. He’s a natural fanboy of all things geekdom and has even achieved a place in the annals of Star Wars history (pre–Disney, that is). The Coming Evil Trilogy, the Syfy channel original movie Snakehead Swamp, and the most recent HITMEN: Four Tales of Magick, Monsters, and Murder are just a few titles in a list of varying, successful endeavors.
Well, Greg, thanks for taking the time for this interview.
Hey, I’m excited and glad to be here! Hold nothing back!
So, what can you tell me about yourself? Who is Greg Mitchell?
Greg Mitchell is a myth, a legend. Nah, I’m just a guy trying to make ends meet. I’m a writer of “the fantastic”, if you wanna get philosophical about it, but it all boils down to that I love monsters, I love telling stories, I love the escapism of the genre. By day, I’ve got a 9 to 5 job that pays the bills and by night I write novels and screenplays, delving into the dark to battle the creatures that lurk in my imagination, muahahaha.
Okay, so this one’s probably going a good ways back. But what, initially, got you started down this unusual and most often misunderstood path—this fixation with horror and science fiction?
I’ve often thought of that: What was that first spark? And, honestly, I couldn’t tell you. I’ve just always been drawn to ghost stories and urban legends and monsters. I think it really had to do with the fact that I was a scared kid growing up. I was shy and sensitive and even the bullies felt sorry for me and didn’t give me a hard time, ha. I was just really timid and afraid of everything and I saw horror as a means of empowerment.
Growing up, I wasn’t allowed to see any horror movies (understandably so :p), but all my neighborhood chums snuck in any way and came back and told me about them. I’d interrogate them for hours, not wanting a single detail left untold. On the weekends, a local cable affiliate showed A Nightmare on Elm Street and its many sequels on a regular rotation and I’d stay up past my bedtime, or record them if they were on too late and watch them Saturday mornings before my parents woke up. It took me a long time to make it through one all the way through. I’d just watch bits and pieces and turn the channel or hit “stop” and take a breath. They were terrifying to me (I mean, Freddy Krueger gets you when you sleep, man!), but once I finally made it through, I cheered on the heroes and felt like I’d really weathered the storm. Those movies were an outlet for me to consider my own mortality—heady stuff for a ten-year old!—and taught me a great deal about facing my fears.
So, what kind of resistance(s) have you encountered along the way?
Oh, there’s all kinds of resistance from people who hear the word “horror” and think it’s all about blood and guts and sex and perversion, etc., etc. Horror is a very “impolite” genre and people look at you askance and think you’re some sort of demented weirdo if you enjoy it. But they don’t get it. That used to make me mad, but now I just shrug. It’s not for everyone and that’s okay. There are those who quickly dismiss it based on hearsay or some “bad apples” and miss out on what the fright genre has to offer. There’s a great deal of exploitation in the genre, don’t get me wrong. But a lot of people can’t look past the surface content of a monster/scary movie to see the larger, deeper things being discussed. Horror is very much an introspective genre. It’s all about looking at the darkness in our world or within ourselves and giving us an outlet to drag those things into the light and discuss them, to confront them, and sometimes to laugh at them. It’s cathartic. Almost therapeutic, I think, in some cases.
As a Christian, being a fan—and a writer—of horror is doubly hard as I’ve heard a number of sermons preached from the pulpit that such stories are straight from the fires of hell and anyone who even glances at them is inviting demons into their homes. Or that real covens of witches pray to their dark gods over every piece of Halloween candy before it goes out, or how “rock bands” ask for Satan’s blessings over their latest hit. And what are these, but horror stories, akin to the superstitious tales of old, told by sailors about the monsters dwelling in the uncharted regions of the map looking to devour wayward travelers? But that’s why I enjoy interviews like this, to talk about the truth about what I write. To give people a different perspective on the genre and its draw, particularly to me.
Correct me if I’m wrong but wasn’t Xulon Press your first gateway into the world of book publishing? If so, how’d you feel about that experience? And, if you could go back in time with your current knowledge, would you take a different route?
It was a different world then. Of course “then” was only 2006, but so much has changed. Xulon—as people may or may not know—is (or was, at any rate) a co-publishing company. You can be as involved or hands-off on the production side as you want. It’s sort of like “self-publishing, with help”. And they helped fine, but it wasn’t cheap by any means. It’s so much CHEAPER to put out a book now on your own. Less than twenty dollars, cheap. Also, I’m hard to satisfy when it comes to the production side of publishing. I’ve got very definite ideas about how I want the final product to look, from the type and size of fonts to page margins to book size to the cover to everything. Publishing HITMEN on my own was my first foray into self-publishing a novel, and I loved the control. I’m not saying the book is perfect, but I’m proud of it. I stand by it.
In general, where do you get your ideas?
Generally speaking, my ideas feed into themselves. Since most of everything I write is located in a single mythology, it’s very reactionary. I introduce a character or a concept in one story and I start wondering “What if this happened?” and then I chase it down a rabbit hole. The mythology sort of writes itself, really. I ask questions and get interesting answers, and I write about them. Beyond that, I like to tell stories about people. No matter how “weird” my stories get, at the central core of them all are people—families, friends, enemies—and their dynamics. The human heart is endlessly fascinating to me and that’s where most of my stories start and stop. I want to see “What happens if X happens to this character”. Then I just solve for “X”. Maybe “X” is an alien or a demon or a werewolf or mutated killer fish or whatever. It’s really inconsequential on that level. The real story is the transformation the characters undergo when faced with “X”.
I may have already read this elsewhere before, but I can’t remember: what pop-culture villain(s), in particular, influenced the creation of your character, the Strange Man, from The Coming Evil series? And is he a sort of catalyst and/or glue for all of your other interconnected stories—like HITMEN, for instance?
The look of the Strange Man is, without a doubt, directly inspired by the original Nosferatu, but a great deal of him was informed, unsurprisingly, by Freddy Krueger. Freddy was my first cinema creature, you know? He took such joy in tormenting his victims and that was terrifying and almost inconceivable to me as a kid. He was the first monster to scare me, but that fear sort of honed my focus: He became a face to my young pre-pubescent fears. You know, it’s weird the ideas you get as a kid, but I always saw Freddy going after teenagers in his movies, so I started seeing Freddy as a metaphor for growing up. Like some tribal rite of passage. Would I survive my fast approaching teenage years and reach adulthood, or would Freddy cut me down before I ever reached my full potential? Of course Freddy is just a symbol; he’s the “X”. To me, he represented failure: I won’t graduate, I won’t get a good job, I won’t get a girl to like me, I won’t “make it” as an adult. Tough stuff to deal with as a middle grader, and fears that I couldn’t quite articulate at that time in my life. But I COULD wrap my head around a guy in a red-and-green sweater with knives for fingers. Freddy was a really potent image for me growing up, and the Strange Man is my take on that. The Strange Man is that Last Great Obstacle standing between childhood and adulthood that Dras Weldon (my hero from The Coming Evil) has to face. He’s a crucible, of sorts, always taunting you with the idea of your demise. Will you succumb to that, or will you gather your strength, stand up to him, and overcome him? That’s powerful material to me. Again—empowerment.
As for my mythology, I’d say that the events in The Coming Evil Trilogy are sort of central to my stories. The Strange Man is a big factor in that, true, but it’s really that larger Evil that he represents—and the call to action that he inspires—that is the central theme of my uber-mythology.
I always thought the Strange Man reminded me of Kurt Barlow from Salem’s Lot. Guess I wasn’t too far off.
Okay, here comes a tough one. I’ve read much of your great work, including your latest HITMEN novel, but I must say, I’m puzzled with the latter…why the profanity and such? I mean, what audience are you trying to reach? Don’t you think a secular individual would question a Christian writer’s faith after reading said book?
That’s a great question and, I think, a good discussion to have. As for my audience, HITMEN is not “designed” for a Christian audience, per se—though I think there’re plenty of philosophical quandaries in there for them to chew on. The Coming Evil was very much touted as “Christian Horror”. It was always intended and created to be a “monster movie for Christians”, meaning that it didn’t have any sex, the violence was toned down, there wasn’t any swearing, and the book really celebrated and championed the Christian faith. It was a “Go, Team, Go!” book for Christians.
Like I said, growing up, my love of the macabre was discouraged—pretty much solely based on the “gore and sex” in most movies. So I wanted to make a “clean horror” book that reinforced Christian beliefs that would be deemed “safe” to enjoy by a wide Christian audience of those also drawn to the spooky, but who didn’t want all the “R-rated stuff” that so often goes along with it.
With HITMEN, though, I had a wholly different intent. It’s designed for a secular audience. Still all about my faith journey, but it’s muddier and murkier. I’m not out to give any easy answers but to relay the truth of these characters—the good, the bad, and the ugly—and let that speak for itself. These be drug dealers, assassins, thieves, gangsters, liars, cheaters, and scoundrels: And, yes, they do curse on occasion. I should point out at this juncture, that the profanity in the book is pretty PG stuff. No f-bombs, or g.d., or the s-word or whatever. Basic cable is raunchier than this, but, yes, there is stuff in there that some of my Christian readers might not be accustomed to reading in a book written by a Christian author. But that’s the world these characters live in.
The central theme of HITMEN is compassion. More to the point—undeserved compassion. These are not good guys, but we see that God still has a plan for them. Still loves them, still seeks them, still draws them to Himself. He doesn’t require that they are perfect first but asks them to come to Him as they are. And, yes, even after they become believers (I’m not even sure they would know exactly how to define “Christian”), they still struggle with sin, with slipping into their old habits. The truth is, I struggle with sin. I’ve been a believer for nearly thirty years and I’ve studied the Bible, and taught the Bible, and grown in my relationship with Christ by leaps and bounds from where I started—but I still struggle. I still have a lot left to learn. HITMEN is a dialogue in honesty. I invite my readers to lay all the cards on the table and confess our sins and admit that we’re imperfect creatures reaching for the divine. And that’s all of us—Christians and non-Christians. Humankind, as a whole, wants to feel connected to something, yearns to belong and be accepted, desires some sort of meaning. But the road is often winding and confusing and there are many setbacks. HITMEN represents that—plus, we’ve got a big guy with a glowing blue skull for a face that kills people :)
As for my use of foul language, I’ve likened it to being a chef. Look, my job is to tell stories and make you feel something. Words are my tools—or my ingredients. They are all at my disposal. Swearing is like a strong spice. Overuse it and it spoils the dish. But just the right pinch of it could pack an effective punch. It still might be too strong for some people to stomach, but that’s okay. You can’t please everybody. At one point or another, my stuff has been described as: too tame, too violent, too weird, too silly, too preachy, too vague, too worldly, too Christian. Who do I listen to? Where do I draw the line? Especially in the case of swearing, some people view “crap” and “dang” as being just as bad as their stronger counterparts. I’ve been told by a Christian publisher that I couldn’t use “gee” or “gee whiz” because it skirted too close to using the Lord’s name in vain. So what do I do? Whose standards do I use when everyone has a different standard? It’s like being a painter and told that you can never use the color yellow. I mean, I loathe yellow (with orange running a close second) and I wouldn’t use yellow very often, but sometimes you just need yellow. Ultimately, I have to serve The Story that I feel God’s given me to tell. Every word is carefully measured and considered and there for a reason. It’s not done flippantly or lazily. I have to be true to the story—and, yes, the message—that I’m trying to convey.
As for my faith being called into question, I think that’s a good point because I know it happens. But I think it’s bizarre, really. Over the many stories I’ve written, I’ve had characters who smoke, drink, do drugs, sleep around, murder, steal, lie, and summon demons from hell for fun—and Christian readers seem to have no trouble making the distinction between Author and Character in those instances. But if one of those characters says “damn” while doing any of those things, suddenly I’m guilty. It makes no sense to me. Because I have a character who curses doesn’t mean I condone profanity in real life any more than I condone when that same character shoots a guy in the face for money. It’s fiction.
Again, I ask for grace for my characters. They’re uncouth, but they’re still trying to figure it all out. So am I, for that matter. :)
You just had to slip a word in, didn’t you? Just joking. Ha, ha!
Anyway, though I personally still believe the same results can be achieved without the use of expletives, etc., I understand your reasons. This, however, brings me to another question: why are there some who seem to advocate the use of profanity, etc., in Christian fiction? Why do they (and I’ll not name names) want to “change” its landscape into something that contrasts with what it means to be “Christ-like”? I can see a Christian author using all tropes, and the vastness of a god-given imagination to produce unique material, but how do expletives fit into Christian fiction? As a fellow believer, I know—as well as you do—that the Bible has instances of violence and other things within its pages, yet, we also understand why it’s in there. Violence in Christian fiction isn’t an issue for me, as it is a normal part of reality prone to happen at any given moment. Case in point: the world’s ongoing situation with terrorism. Nevertheless, why would anyone want to tamper with a genre designed as a bastion for those who—even if only momentarily—want to escape an ungodly world?
I don’t fault the Christian Fiction industry for adhering to a certain standard—even if some Christians deem it too “old-fashioned” or whatever. And I don’t fault Christians who want—and expect—their Christian Fiction to be a certain way. It’s like if you go to your favorite Italian restaurant and find out they only serve hamburgers now. You don’t want hamburgers—if you did, you’d go to the hamburger place. You want pasta and you want it right now. I think it’s perfectly fine for all parties involved to create a place where they can come and read clean, “safe” stories that echo their ideals and support their faith. I’m not about changing the face of Christian Fiction. Maybe I tried a little bit with The Coming Evil, but the Christian Fiction sphere is really limiting (at least it was to me) for the kinds of stories it allows to be told. They have to fit a very specific parameter. It’s an Italian restaurant, you know, and you gotta stick to the tried-and-true recipes. If we’re staying with this cooking metaphor, I like Italian fine, but wanted to try my hand at hamburgers. So rather than changing the menu with HITMEN, I went to a different restaurant. That’s not to say I don’t want to cook Italian ever again, but I want to experiment with my dishes and see what else I can do.
I think, though, that what you said is telling. You said that you didn’t have a problem with violence in Christian Fiction because that’s a reality of the world we live in, but the same could be said for profanity. Or sex. Or horror. Again, it comes back to “who sets the standards”? And that’s the tough road that Christian publishers face because they’re trying to tell important stories, but cut out any and everything that might even remotely make it offensive to someone in their readership. That’s a tough job, and I think, if one is not careful, the end product just turns out bland. If no risks are ever taken and if everything is “safe”, it might come across as watered down to a more jaded readership. Right or wrong, that’s just the way it is. I know that there are plenty of Christian writers who, like me, want to tell a story like HITMEN that’s a bit rougher around the edges, but I’m not so sure that the realm of Christian Fiction is the place to tell those stories. It requires discernment on the part of the reader, but, like you said, I think some flock to the bastion of Christian Fiction for something clean and wholesome and enriching, and they just don’t want to have to discern. And that’s understandable. Being in the world but not of the world is a constant battle, and who doesn’t want a break from that? But at the same time, I’ve got to tell the stories that are inside of me. If those stories are offensive within the boundaries of Christian Fiction, then I feel like I have to release them elsewhere rather than changing Christian Fiction to suit my own story. Is that right or wrong? I don’t know. Above my paygrade, man. I’m just trying to tell stories that are meaningful to me and express my journey.
Seems like, in one regard, it’s really an “to each his own” disposition. In another, it could turn into a singular, lengthier topic, which could totally gobble up this interview. Well, another time, maybe.
Still, there’s no denying that HITMEN was/is a carefully-crafted read. How long have you been working on the story, and how far do you plan on taking it?
HITMEN’s first incarnation was as a series of home movies I made with my friends starting as far back as 1998. It was very experimental and sort of my first run at meshing “Christian” and “Horror” together. It was like a slasher movie with a message. Really preachy and pretty terrible, haha, but it was a lot of fun to make. We went hog wild on those movies: full soundtracks, trailers, commentaries, special features, the works. There were four main movies, but we did all kinds of spin-offs, prequels, sequels. Still doing them, too, but no, you’ll never see them. You won’t find them popping up on YouTube. It’s just for us, just for fun. The book HITMEN is sort of an expanded “director’s cut”, with all the stuff we could never pull off on our shoestring budget in my parents’ backyard :)
As for how far I plan to take it, I think the book is the end of that. No plans to adapt it to a feature or anything, ha. I think it would lose the charm if we had actual actors and real money! But you might be seeing elements from the novel version of HITMEN popping up in some future stories very soon…
Until that day arrives, what are you working on now? What can readers and film-lovers anticipate from you next?
Stuff’s happening! This year I’m re-releasing my 2012 sci-fi adventure Rift Jump under my own label. It’s a new edition, revised and expanded. As I was writing the sequel, I realized there was stuff I wished I had developed a bit more in the first book, so I’m getting that chance now. That should be out very, very soon (hopefully). After that, I’ve also got the sequel coming out! Rift Jump, Volume 2: Sara’s Song is the culmination of my little journey across the multiverse and I’m really proud of it. That’s still going through edits as we speak. Going to be some heavy stuff, I think. It’s wild “out there” material, but again, it’s all about the characters and relationships. Looking forward to it. In the movie department, I’ve got my second Syfy Original Movie due out this summer. I can’t say anything about it yet, but they’ve filmed it and are knee-deep in post-production as we speak. It’s not a sequel to Snakehead Swamp—something new. I’m also hard at work on my next novel. This one’s a stand-alone and not meant to be a part of any series though it still fits firmly in my Coming Evil mythology.
That’s cool, man. You have a full plate, then. I’m still trying to get around to reading Rift Jump. I enjoyed Snakehead Swamp. And I’ll be looking forward to the new one.
Is there anything else you’d like to say in closing?
Thanks for having me! I had a lot of fun!
Well, that’s it, folks. Now you know a little more about Greg Mitchell. You can follow his exploits here: The Coming Evil Official Blog.
—Interview by T.W. Johnson