Interview: David Busboom chats about life, Narnia, Lovecraft and ambiguity in writing.





TGR: Where did your love of reading and writing come from?

DB: I guess my love of reading came from my parents. They read me fairy tales and children’s books before I was old enough to read myself and then continued to read with me pretty often as my tastes matured. I read a lot of grade-school-level dinosaur and nature books before I really got into fiction because I was obsessed with dinosaurs and reptiles and needed to learn everything about them. Then I discovered The Hobbit and C. S. Lewis in second or third grade, I think, and ever since I’ve almost always had a book on my person. My love of writing sort of evolved from my love of reading. I would read to engage my imagination and escape the boredom or stress of everyday life, but when I couldn’t bury my nose in Mirkwood or Narnia—like, in the middle of class or even at church—I would daydream and doodle. Once I actually started writing stories, it was like my imagination had been plugged in after running on batteries my whole life.


TGR: What are some of the books/writers that had an impact on you and inspired you to write?

DB: My copy of The Hobbit was this big orange edition from the late ‘80s or early ‘90s, with illustrations by Michael Hague. I remember looking at each individual goblin and wondering what their stories were. And when I read Lewis’s Out of the Silent Planet—which was maybe the first science fiction novel I ever read, if you don’t count certain Goosebumps titles—I remember really being taken aback by the worldbuilding (not that I knew that term yet). But the one I usually point to as The Book That Inspired Me to Write is Redwall by Brian Jacques. Jacques was my favorite writer for the rest of grade school, and kicked off a serious small-animal phase: in addition to the next fifteen Redwall books I also read Robert C. O’Brien’s Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH (the movie version, The Secret of NIMH, terrified me as a young child), Robin Jarvis’s The Deptford Mice trilogy, and Kenneth Opel’s Silverwing series. I didn’t read Watership Down (or see the movie) until much later, probably because people kept telling me I should. The first stories I wrote were Redwall pastiches, starring anthropomorphic animals in a pseudo-medieval setting. Before long I got really into Urusla K. Le Guin’s Earthsea, Emily Rodda’s Deltora Quest, and the main Dragonlance books by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, and wrote more human-centric fantasies influenced by them and Tolkien and Lewis (and, a little later, Robert E. Howard and Fritz Lieber). In high school, I got more into science fiction and horror with writers like Stephen King, Kurt Vonnegut, Frank Herbert, Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson, and H. P. Lovecraft. They’ve all been big influences.



TGR: What does a typical day look like for you?

Because I am blessed/burdened with a day job, I wake up around 6:30 most mornings. I go to work around 7:30 and usually get home just before 5:00pm, which is when I try to write for at least an hour or two before dinner. On slower writing days I might also go to the gym for an hour and read on the treadmill. I’m in bed by 10:30 most nights.


TGR: How much research do you do before you begin writing?

DB: It really depends on the story. If I’m doing a period piece, I often research the year or month in which the story takes place and read up on significant events, pop culture, and so on. If I’m writing a story set somewhere I’ve never been—like, for instance, southeastern Texas—I will find the area on Google maps and examine as many ground-level pictures as I can find until I feel comfortable describing it visually. And so on, and so on.


TGR: What genres are you comfortable writing in and is there any other(s) you would like to write in?

DB: Before I sold my first story, I thought of myself pretty exclusively as a science fiction and fantasy writer. But that first story and the majority of the stories I’ve sold since have leaned pretty heavily into weird horror territory. I have sold a couple of fantasy and crime stories, and I’ve got a lot of science fiction stuff on the backburner, but I’m probably still most comfortable in horror at the moment. I’d like to keep writing horror, of course, but I’d also love to branch out more into fantasy, crime, and especially science fiction.


TGR: What is the most important aspect of your writing? Is it character, plot, tone, or something else?

DB: Those are all important, but I’d like to think it’s character, because hopefully, the characters are what drive the plot and, at least to some extent, set the tone. Many of my stories are narrated in the first-person POV, and I think that might help a little. I often come up with a character or even a small set of characters before I realize what the plot or tone of a story will be. Even when I do start with a plot, it will usually change to suit the characters rather than the other way around, though that does happen sometimes. I think tone only takes real precedence over character and plot in flash fiction.


TGR: What writing lessons have you learnt from your first publication to your most recent?

DB: Don’t get complacent after your first publication, and don’t be discouraged if your second takes longer than you expect. After my first pro sale, I took a little break from writing fiction, thinking I’d just opened a major door to success and that I could finally relax. I wasn’t entirely wrong, but I waited too long to get back into it and it took a long time to sell another story. More often than not, the most satisfying way to celebrate a sale is to have a drink, go see a movie or get a nice meal, and then sit down to work on your next one. Also, don’t get complacent writing in one mode or subgenre. My first few publications were Lovecraftian horror, so for a while, I thought I’d just write nothing but Lovecraftian horror and therefore have a better shot at getting published more often. Again, I wasn’t entirely wrong, but writing stories of a similar type over and over again only really help you get good at that type of story, and all trends move on sooner or later.


TGR: I’m a big fan of ambiguity in stories. Particularly with short stories, I like to be made to think about the story and its meaning long after I have finished reading. What are your thoughts on ambiguous stories? Is ambiguity something you incorporate into your stories?

DB: Ambiguity is great! I agree that it’s often used best in short stories, but there are plenty of longer works—The Turn of the Screw comes to mind—that do it just as well. It’s definitely something I try to incorporate in my own work when I can, but it’s got to make sense in the larger scheme of the story. Doing it for its own sake edges into gimmicky territory if it’s not serving to illustrate a theme or create an effect. Probably my most ambiguous story so far is “From the Dusty Mesa” in Walk Hand in Hand into Extinction (CLASH Books, January 2016), which is also one of the stories I’m most proud of.


TGR: Social media is a tool for getting yourself noticed. Do you think it is easier or more difficult these days to get your work noticed? Why?

DB: That’s a tough question because it’s a double-edged sword. Social media certainly makes it easier to broadcast your work, but I think whether or not your work really gets noticed in any lasting way is still mostly a matter of quality. To use another tired metaphor, it’s always going to be a matter of separating the wheat from the chaff. Thankfully, it does make it a lot easier for writers, editors, and publishers to connect.


TGR: As a writer, what do you consider to be the do’s and don’ts of self-promotion?

DB: This is something I’m still figuring out myself, but the rule of thumb I try to stick to is to not do anything I would consider annoying or unprofessional in someone else. Don’t be afraid to self-promote when appropriate, but be respectful and don’t spam people. Post away in your own social media accounts or in appropriate forums, but don’t email or DM everyone you know begging them to read your book. Also, if someone asks you to recommend a book, don’t recommend your own unless you’re absolutely certain it’s the sort of thing they’re looking for and you can recommend one or two other books along with it.


TGR: Tell us about your work. What does your back catalogue consist of and what is your most recent release?

DB: My first story was published in Shock Totem #4 back in 2011, and since then I’ve had work placed in Euphemism, Swords Against Cthulhu (Rogue Planet Press, June 2015), Gonzo Today, The Providence Journal, Whispers from the Abyss 2 (01 Publishing, October 2015) Walk Hand in Hand into Extinction, Heroic Fantasy Short Stories (Flame Tree Publishing, July 2017), Crimson Streets, and Unnerving Magazine. I also have editor credits in two print issues of The Vehicle, Eastern Illinois University’s student-run literary journal. My debut novella, Nightbird (Unnerving, February 2018), is now available in digital and paperback, and I have two stories forthcoming in The Norwegian American and Automobilia (Fahrenheit Books, TBD 2019).



TGR: You’ve been invited to contribute a story to an anthology! If you could choose 5 other writers (living or deceased), who would they be and why?

DB: I’ve already had the pleasure of sharing anthologies with some of my favorite living (Laird Barron, Whispers from the Abyss 2) and deceased (Robert E. Howard, Heroic Fantasy Short Stories) writers, but if I could choose any five right now I’d probably pick Ray Bradbury, Gene Wolfe, Shirley Jackson, Nathan Carson, and Amelia Gray. It would make for a nice mix of old and new: three legends and three younger/newer writers who were influenced by one or all of them.


TGR: Your latest book is being turned into a movie! Well done you! Who stars in it and who directs it?

DB: In a film adaptation of Nightbird, I think Lilith would be best portrayed by Chloë Grace Moretz or possibly Ariel Winter, with Isaac played by somebody like Lucas Hedges or Austin Abrams, and perhaps Isabelle Fuhrman or Natalia Dyer as Elizabeth. For Cavallari, I’d be happy with Hugh Laurie, Kevin Bacon, or Geoffrey Rush. I’d probably have to go with Robert Eggers to direct because The Witch is the most nightmare-inducing horror film I’ve seen this decade (speaking of The Witch, Anya Taylor-Joy might also be a good fit for Lilith). Of course, I wouldn’t say no if David Cronenberg or John Carpenter wanted to direct, and I imagine Guillermo del Toro would do cool things with Lilith and the Wood King (who’d probably be played by Doug Jones or Javier Botet).


TGR: What are you working on now (apart from these questions) and where can we stalk find you on the World Wide Web?

DB: I’m currently working on several different short stories, including a revision of a weird nature story (with dinosaurs!) and a horror story about pizza tentatively titled “Anatomy of a Broiler Oven.” You might say that one’s a bit…cheesy? I’ve also started working on another novella (or possibly a novel, depending on how it goes), which will have something to do with rock and roll sorcerers. I hope to have a draft of that completed by the end of this year. If you want to bug me about it, you can find and stalk me on Twitter (@DavidBusboom) and Facebook ( I’ll see you there.


Pick up a copy of David’s new novella, Nightbird, from here.

Pick up the latest issue of Unnerving Magazine from here.

Subscribe to Unnerving Magazine for a measly $10.00 (for the digital version) from here.

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