As the author of twelve novels, dozens of short stories, and twelve screenplays, Edward Erdelac is a prolific writer whose career spans various genres and mediums. In addition to being a devoted husband and father, Erdelac is also focusing on the release of two more projects – Mindbreaker and Monstrumfuhrer. Erdelac allowed me to interview him about his career and current projects for ScifiPulse.
Nicholas Yanes: Growing up, what were some of your favorite novels? Are there any you still love revisiting?
Edward Erdelac: As little kid, The Celery Stalks At Midnight by James Howe. Later on, the first two novels I can remember really influencing me were The Call of The Wild by Jack London and Simon Hawke’s novelization of Friday The 13th Part VI, which I read in one sitting (I couldn’t see rated R movies so I read the novelizations). Got into Robert E. Howard’s Conan and Tolkien after that. I’ve returned to Conan and Tolkien a couple times over the years. That F13 novelization is ridiculously hard to find now.
Yanes: What was the moment in which you knew you wanted to become a professional writer? Was there a person or story that you feel pushed you the most in this direction?
Erdelac: I think when I got the kids in my high school homeroom excited about this long, violent post-apocalyptic Road Warrior type book I scrawled in a half dozen notebooks (The Long Haul, I called it). My friends would pass it around to each other, and ask me when I was gonna write the next one. I still wanted to be an actor or a cartoonist at that point, but that was the seed, that gratification of an appreciative audience. As I failed in other endeavors, I kept coming back to writing fiction.
Yanes: I lived in Iowa for several years, and you were born and raised in the Midwest. How do you think the Midwest influenced your storytelling?
Erdelac: I think as I was tromping through forest preserves and fields and using my imagination a lot (I was an only child and no kids lived near me), I guess like Ray Bradbury and probably you did. It engendered in me a rich fantasy life. I had to entertain myself and was always making up stories. I lived in the suburbs but my cousins were all farmers and my parents would take me camping all over the country, so I saw a lot of quiet, woodsy spaces and ran around in meadows till the sun went down. Later, in Chicago, I walked around at night all the time, up and down the lakeshore, taking the L train all over, I did a lot more observing than I did interacting. Human company was almost an imposition after a while. I became really Bickle-like for a time in my twenties. But all that time in my head, eating up everything with my eyes and ears, without a lot of noise, yeah, I think that helped me as a writer. No doubt.
Yanes: You clearly have a love for classic monster and horror stories. Which are some that you feel every aspiring writer should read?
Erdelac: Dracula for certain. People say it’s a slog because of the epistolary style, but the different points of view, the different voices, bespeaks a lot of empathy in Stoker, which is essential for a good writer, I think. Read how Van Helsing appears in Seward and Harker’s accounts as opposed to his internal thinking in his own diary entries. Frankenstein is a great read just for the themes. It’s a foundational work for horror writers. I’d recommend Ambrose Bierce for his acerbic tone and ways with words – The Man And The Snake is macabre and hilarious, and his weird war stories…this is one of the only guys to write about the Civil War who was actually a combatant, so they’re great. The horror is real in Horseman In The Sky, for instance, but then he writes something supernatural like The Damned Thing or just outright disgusting like Oil Of Dog. He’s great. Stephen King for sure for his dialogue. Very real. Cormac McCarthy, I think, could be considered a horror writer if the literati hadn’t celebrated him. Blood Meridian, Outer Dark, and Child of God are mesmerizing.
Movies, my favorite horror pictures are Night of The Demon, White Zombie, Halloween III, Exorcist III, The Devil Rides Out, and Dawn of The Dead. Every October I do the 31 first time watches thing over on my blog (www.emerdelac.wordpress.com), and I always discover some really neat stuff. Last year it was Noroi, My Bloody Valentine, Takashi Miike’s Imprint, and Train To Busan. This year, so far, it’s Eyes Without A Face and Boys In The Trees.
Yanes: In addition to novels and short stories, you are also an award-winning independent filmmaker. How do you feel approaching telling a story via film differs from a novel? On this note, how do you feel working in multiple mediums has allowed you to grow as a writer?
Erdelac: Well, it’s big challenge, putting something across in a screenplay or teleplay. It can be very constraining, the format and relying on imagery and dialogue alone. Going from screenwriting to fiction, it’s like running with weights on your legs and then taking them off, because, in a novel, you’re free to go anywhere. And when you get to actually shooting something, it’s a collaboration and you’ve got to factor in all these personalities and their limitations, it can be really frustrating. But seeing something you wrote performed by real people, having human beings sort of taking over the image of the character in your mind, that’s supremely rewarding. It teaches you to think in different ways, for certain.
Yanes: One of your recent novels is Monstrumfuhrer. What was the inspiration behind this project?
Erdelac: I think I had just read or re-read Frankenstein recently and had been thinking about it, and I used to work this really boring job at a video master warehouse. My friend and fellow writer, Jeff Carter, worked there, and one night we were just throwing ideas around and I said, “Mengele finds Frankenstein’s journal and uses Auschwitz as a means to recreate the experiments.” It kinda came out of nowhere. So I started reading into Auschwitz and Mengele and when a book is meant to be, I really feel things start to click together, and all these pieces were just falling into place in the story, Mengele’s strangeness, and Wewelsburg Castle….Jeff and I were originally gonna do it together as a graphic novel, but we couldn’t get any artists interested, so after a couple years it sorta died, but I kept thinking about it. Eventually, I was just like, “Hey Jeff, I think I wanna do it as a novel.”
Yanes: Monstrumfuhrer sets a Frankenstein story in World War 2. How do you feel you’ve improved as an author while writing this? Is there a moment in this story you truly enjoyed writing?
Erdelac: In every work, I strive to be more empathetic. In this book, I had to write believable monsters, both human and you know, artificial. The protagonist, Jotham, was relatively easy to write. He feels despair, and wrath at the treatment of his people, he mourns the loss of his family, this is an easily identifiable character. The challenge was sussing out Mengele, a notorious mass murderer and the Creature, who, at the end of the original Frankenstein, I feel has sort of transcended the humanity he was pining for so long. The key to Mengele was ambition. He’s a quack, and he’s driven insane by his own power in the camp, but he wants legitimacy, a legacy. He wants to fulfill the promise he felt he had as a young physician. He’s really a lot like Victor Frankenstein in the beginning of the Shelly novel.
And the novel’s peppered with other characters I really had to work at to get behind their eyes. A German patriarch who fears for the life of his family as the Russians advance. Bibelforschers, who were Jehovah’s Witnesses pressed into German labor service because they were conscientious objectors, rabbis, Jewish camp trustees, German soldiers, both sick of the war and Nazis still fanatically loyal to Hitler…I really had to broaden my empathic muscles for this one, and I think I did.
There’s a bit in Monstrumfuhrer near the end where the Creature and Jotham stumble across a Volkssturm squad, basically, a bunch of kids led by a veteran sergeant of World War I. This was toward the end of the European war and Hitler was arming citizen volunteers to defend against Russia. It’s just a chapter, but I think it’s some of the finest writing I’ve done and I’m very proud of it. It’s very human, and I felt for the veteran who was kind of, leading these kids around and deliberately keeping them away from the front, away from the bloodshed, fooling them, especially trying to control the more gung-ho Hitler Youth among the squad. It’s a good lot of words, and I think brings across the savagery and the sadness of that war pretty well.
Yanes: One of your other recent novels is Mindbreaker and it is a Lovecraft/James Bond mash up. What are some steps you take to successfully merge distinct genres into one story?
Erdelac: I research the time period, the mythology, the culture, stuff that can mesh well with the fantastic. In particular, I look for gaps in history where I can slip the fantastic in. Unaccounted for periods of real historical figures. In this case, it was a lot of Egypt. Ancient Egypt, Napoleonic era Egypt, and of course, because it’s Bond, Egypt in the 60’s, which had a lot of Soviet influence – perfect place for a spy to be running around.
As this is a pastiche, I also spent a lot of time with the Fleming novels, trying to replicate the style of the stories if not Fleming’s voice in particular. Fleming was a connoisseur of cars, wristwatches, and food, so the Bond style has to emulate some of that. So I was going through fashion advertisements from the time period, high-end auto magazines, etc. It was interesting. The only other pastiche I’ve ever done was Star Wars, which was also very research heavy. I like research, both reading into real and fictional worlds. I like each book to be a learning experience for me.
Yanes: When people finish reading your novels, what do you hope that they take away from the experience?
Erdelac: In the main, I want to entertain. I want to see (or imagine) the same looks on people’s faces as on those kids in my high school flipping through my notebooks. Just the joy of losing yourself in an interesting world for a while, being distracted from the one we live in for a bit.
Monstrumfuhrer is, at its foundation, a call for sanity and understanding and the peace that comes with it.
Yanes: Finally, what are some projects you are working on that people can look forward to? Are you developing any of your stories into television or film?
Erdelac: Next year my weird western series Merkabah Rider is coming back out, first book sometime around March or April, second in September and so on. They’ll be illustrated, which is neat. I’m working with a company to develop Merkabah Rider for television right now. It’s just in the pitching stage. TV and film production is always…it’s always nothing until it’s something.
I’ve got my first fantasy novel coming out in December from Ragnarok Books, The Knight With Two Swords, an Arthurian book about the knight who lost the Holy Grail, which I’m excited for people to read. I’ll have a lot of short story appearances next year, a Punktown story for Jeffrey Thomas and Dark Regions Press and a collection of my Zora Neale Hurston vs. the Mythos novellas and stories from Golden Goblin Press. Got a kung fu weird western fantasy looking for a home. I’ve had a character, John Conquer, an occult detective in 70’s Harlem, sort of a cross between Shaft and Brother Voodoo, appearing in Occult Detective Quarterly….I’m working on a novel with that character now. Hopefully another Van Helsing novel after that.