Today, please join me in extending a warm welcome to fellow author Tim Lees. Tim’s most recent book is Devil in the Wires. Devil in the Wires was published on May 19 (ebook), June 23 (print) by Harper Voyager Impulse and is the second book in his Field Ops series. I recently finished DEVIL IN THE WIRES and thought it was all kinds of awesome (and not really that gross…then again, I grew up on Stephen King). 🙂 You can read my review HERE.
Tim Lees is a British author living in Chicago. His short fiction has appeared in Postscripts, Black Static, and Interzone, among many other publications. He is the author of the collection The Life to Come, nominated for a British Fantasy Award, the novel Frankenstein’s Prescription, described by Publisher’s Weekly as “a philosophically insightful and literary tale of terror,” and the first Field Ops novel, The God Hunter, available from Harper Voyager Impulse. When not writing, Tim has held a wide variety of jobs, including teacher, conference organizer, film extra, and worker in a psychiatric hospital. He can be found on Twitter, and occasionally remembers to update his website.
After the perilous retrieval of a long-dormant god from Iraq, Chris Copeland—professional god hunter and company troubleshooter—is about ready to quit his job. But his employers at the Registry have other plans…plans to build a power facility on the shores of Lake Michigan. Adam Shailer, a rising star at the Registry, thinks he can cage the god, drain its energy, and power the city. It’s Chris’s job to make sure nothing goes wrong. And at first, everything seems fine. Great, even. But when ecstatic devotees start leaving human sacrifices on the beach near the god-house, it quickly becomes clear that the god is not as contained as the Registry would have everyone believe. The devil’s in the wires, and there’s no turning back now.
And now, let’s hear from Tim…
by Tim Lees
Stephen King, in his 1981 review of horror fiction, Danse Macabre, talks about “the gross-out” – a pay-off in a horror story so extreme, so shocking, it sticks in your mind, no matter how you try to shake it off. He admits to using the technique himself, and points out that, in the right circumstances, it can be very effective; though he regards it as the least prestigious of an author’s tricks, the one you use when you can’t come up with anything better.
I write weird fiction, and I wouldn’t say that I write horror, but horror certainly creeps in from time to time, as does comedy and adventure and all the other elements that go to make up story-telling. But I don’t do gross-outs. Oh no. Definitely not. Or anyway – I didn’t think I did…
Then I saw a review on Amazon of my latest novel, Devil in the Wires (HarperVoyager). The reader found some aspects of the book so gruesome that he or she couldn’t finish it (though still gave me five stars, which I thought was very generous). That started me thinking. I realized that, yes, there have been times, re-reading my own work, when I’ve shocked myself. I’ve found myself sitting there, wondering about a particular passage: Where did that come from? Or, more disturbingly, What kind of sick pervert wrote this stuff, and why isn’t he locked up?
Devil in the Wires has attracted all sorts of interest. Other readers remark on the humor, the characters, and, of course, the dog, who is a sort of hero in one scene (and a bit ridiculous in all the rest). But, yes, there are some very nasty episodes, especially as we get into the – if you’ll pardon the expression – meat of the book. There are some bad people in this novel, and bad people do bad things. More to the point, when it comes to stories, bad people need to do bad things. Or how do we know they’re bad?
To take an example (and I hope this doesn’t offend anyone). I was twelve years old when I read The Lord of the Rings, and I loved it. A few years later, in my cynical, hard-bitten teens, when I knew everything there was to know about the world (or so I thought), I was less enamored. These books weren’t realistic. They tell us repeatedly that Sauron is the ultimate evil. Yet what does he actually do? He seems to be invading other people’s countries, but then, I’m British, and Britain has a history of doing that. He’s also got some dodgy-looking mates – a disembodied eye, a giant spider, and those guys on the pterodactyls. Still – live and let live, eh? While as for the orcs… terrible folk, apparently. But consider what we know about, say, the behavior of certain US soldiers in Vietnam, and the orcs are absolute paragons of virtue and fair play by contrast. Evil? I think not.
Of course, no-one reads TLOTR for its realism, and the books work very well without it, thanks very much. But they’re not the kind of books I write, and, no matter how bizarre the story I’m telling, I like a few bits of the real world to creep in here and there. And the real world can, at times, be grim.
Here’s another, rather different example, and another portrayal of a decidedly evil character. In 1991 Martin Scorsese remade the classic thriller film, Cape Fear. The biggest change to the original was the introduction of a moral ambiguity, so that for the first part of the film, we can find sympathy for Cady (Robert de Niro), the convicted rapist, and censure for Bowden (Nick Nolte), his former defense lawyer, who buried evidence that might have acquitted Cady. Bowden seems a bit of a low-life all around, neglectful of his daughter and probably involved in an extra-marital affair. De Niro, by contrast, is at his seductive best, and the scene in which he meets Bowden’s daughter and pretends to be her new drama teacher is unforgettably creepy. Cady is, to some extent, exactly what he claims to be – a wronged man, let down by a corrupt lawyer, now seeking redress. But then, he picks up a woman colleague of Bowden’s (who may also be Bowden’s girlfriend). They go to bed. And, in the process of a hideous assault, Cady bites a chunk of flesh out of her cheek.
It’s a horrific scene, but it clarifies everything. We see that Cady is a dangerous psychopath. We know that Bowden, for all his faults, was right (if legally at fault) to ensure Cady’s conviction. And we know that he and his family are in grave danger.
Do we need that cheek-biting scene? Does it have to be so graphic? Well, I’ve seen a TV version from which it was cut, and it does not work. Not in that same, shocking, visceral, gross-out way.
I’m no Scorsese, but I can see why he included that scene. It’s not just there to get a gasp out of the audience – though it does that, too. It’s vital to the story.
I’m a wimp. I’m squeamish. I can’t see an action movie without thinking, “Those are real people getting hurt.” (Well – real characters, at least.) If you have victims in your story, it might be well to remind readers that victims suffer. They are not props to be discarded. They are not “collateral damage,” any more than soldiers killed in battle are mere statistics, no matter how the government tries to portray them.
I may well be gentler in forthcoming Field Ops novels – there are other aspects of that world I’d like to explore, many of them much less frightful – but for Devil in the Wires, I needed a situation my reluctant heroes simply couldn’t walk away from, no matter how much they might want to. There had to be something at stake. If that meant being a little over-graphic for some, I’m sorry. It had to be done. Though I will admit… somewhere deep inside me, there is probably a gleeful, schoolboy-self going, “Hey! I grossed somebody out!” and grinning fit to bust.
Thanks, Tim. Congratulations on the release of Devil in the Wires. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and writing a review. I also loved reading The God Hunter, the first book in the Field Ops series.
If you would like to be entered for your chance to win a copy of Devil in the Wires or The God Hunter–your choice–leave a comment about a memorable “gross-out” moment in your favorite book or movie.