Interview with Dean M. Drinkel
Hi – great to meet you all. My name is Dean M. Drinkel. I am (mainly!) a horror writer, who currently divides his time between England and France. I say mainly because of late I have started writing in the genre of my second passion: history – but I’m sure more of that later.
Tell us about your latest novel or project:
I have just had published by The Lycopolis Press INTO THE NIGHT ETERNAL: TALES OF FRENCH FOLK HORROR. I compiled and edited the book – there are four novellas by Romain Collier, Jan Edwards, Phil Sloman and myself. It is now out on kindle and the paperback is quickly following behind.
What got you started writing?
Okay, not to freak you out or anything but it was all because of a vision! Yeap, that’s how I started. I was at university studying American History / World History – anyway, one afternoon a bunch of us were playing football, we were going out that night so after the game I hit the showers. I remember closing my eyes as the water hit my face and a couple of moments later these words started appearing before me. At first they just seemed random, jumbled letters but then very quickly they unscrambled themselves and began to form sentences. I had to rapidly wash the soap from my eyes and just with a towel protecting my…modesty…I sprinted down the corridor and into my room. I turned on the computer and started typing out what I was seeing. They formed my first story (aptly titled!) WEIRD. It was published in the college magazine and I went on during my time there to have almost thirty stories printed. It also went on to be the opening story of my first book and I recently dusted it off, did a little rewrite on a couple of sentences which were ‘creaking’ - it was republished in a “Best Of” anthology. True story and don’t worry, I don’t take drugs – at least not knowingly.
What challenges did you face when you first started writing?
Um, I’ll tell you this, when my first book came out I pulled up a chair and sat by the door waiting for a Hollywood Producer or Big Publisher to come knocking. I waited and waited and eventually realising that they weren’t coming (and because I shared a house with friends and we had bills to pay and needed to put food on the table) I ended up having to get a job. I cleaned aeroplanes at Heathrow Airport. Some of the things I saw there…which is one of the main reasons I tend not to fly anymore unless I really have to! I suppose the immediate challenge I faced when my first book came out was that I didn’t know what to do next. They weren’t a massive publisher and were operating on a shoe-string (I was just grateful that they published it in the first place). I didn’t have an agent. I didn’t have my next book ready. I could definitely have done with a mentor who I could have asked questions of or at least helped me come up with a firm plan. I suppose also I wasn’t entirely sure whether I wanted to write stories, novels, films or plays so yeah, I could have done with proper guidance and someone to keep me on the straight and narrow (I remember the first ever time I went to the Cannes Film Festival after my book came out and I was strutting about the place thinking I’d made it – many doors were slammed in my face that year I can tell you). A couple of years later I did end up with an agent for a short while – I remember having a business meeting with him and he said: “Dean, I just can’t keep up with you…you want to do this and this and this…you need to focus…” We parted ways not long after that conversation but looking back now his counsel was wise and I did try to rein myself in a little. Sometimes though in this business you have to have many irons in the fire to keep the revenue coming in.
Do you ever get the opportunity to travel for your writing? Either to market or to research.
Yeap, totally. In 2015 I was again at the Cannes Film Festival and through karaoke (yeap, I love it and can belt out an excellent version of Justin Bieber’s BABY) I was introduced to the French writer Romain Collier. He was younger than me and was just beginning his literary journey – he wanted to write something but needed a mentor (my own history ironically repeating itself) - he asked me why I was at the festival, I told him about a horror project I was working on and was trying to sell. He questioned whether that was the script I wanted to be remembered for if I was to die tomorrow. I was quiet for a moment and then talked about a historical story I had always wanted to write but nobody had ever heard of it so I’d kind of given up. He asked me some specifics so I told him all I knew – it turned out Romain knew exactly who / what I was referring to! The first ever person! Within five minutes of speaking to him I decided to give up my life in England, move to France to write the script with him. We researched for six months or so before I actually relocated which included trips to Paris (yeap, hard life ha ha) etc but I moved to Cannes January 2016 and immediately we started work. It took us nine months of hard slog but it paid off because the (3 hr) script won two screenplay awards at the Monaco International Film Fest and is now going to be made into a major European tv series. The story is French but set in Austria, last year we had to go to Vienna for some additional research for the project – it was very humbling to actually visit the rooms in the palace where our story is set. It was a very emotional trip. The whole story would make a great book, both what happened in front and behind the camera so to speak.
What was the first thing you did after your first book was published?
Probably what I did while I was writing it – drinking! I’ve always loved a drink (wine, beer, cider, spirits) and I know that its influence has played a major part on my early work – particularly at University. My parents owned several pubs at that time and growing up I wasn’t allowed to drink in them – as soon as I was at College and I hit legal age, that changed I can tell you. I’m lucky though in the fact that I have a high tolerance for alcohol. Back then I believed I wrote better because of the booze – I’m not sure if that’s actually true but that’s what I told myself. I still like a drink but particularly when I’m England (and I stay at the family home) I don’t imbibe at all – a bit different when my feet touch French soil though, I can’t but help polish off a bottle or Rosé or two. It’s probably better for my health then that I’m in England right now.
It seems like everything has Easter Eggs (surprise reference to your other work) do you have any Easter Eggs in your books?
Oh yes for sure. Of late I drop Romain and myself into my stories whenever I can. I often write about the pub where we met and the karaoke etc etc. Where I can, I also reference characters from other stories I’ve written. In my most recent works I set little puzzles for the more intelligent readers to solve. For example I wrote a story recently called TdM which is about tarot cards. It would be too long to go into it all here but there are so many layers in that story – even the number of lines, paragraphs, chapters etc (in fact it’s going to be reprinted in issue seven of PHANTASMAGORIA MAGAZINE). Also – the foreword I wrote for INTO THE NIGHT ETERNAL has a very specific word and paragraph count. I appreciate that not everybody will notice what I’ve done but that’s cool, I know they’re there so that’s what is important. I’m laughing to myself as I write this as I’m thinking to what I did in my contribution for a book we had out last Christmas – 12 DARK DAYS: ONE HELLUVA CHRISTMAS. In years to come I hope someone solves that one...
How long does it take you to write a book? Do you have any secrets to productivity?
In terms of the stories I used to write them very quickly but as I’ve begun putting in the puzzles they’ve been taking a lot longer as changing even one letter in the edit can throw everything out. I definitely need to speed up again because I have so much on my plate right now – I’m always busy but not like this. I’ve only had a couple of days off working since Christmas! I need a holiday. To answer the second part of the question – the answer for me is simple: if I’m not productive I’m not putting food on the table. Writing (and directing) is my job / my career. So as soon as I’m up, I’m working and I’ll do that all day – seven days a week. I did set myself a target earlier this year and in two months I wrote two pilot tv scripts for proposed series (one American political, the second a horror / police procedural) – so that was coming up with the idea, writing three / four drafts of a correctly formatted script. It wasn’t easy but I got there in the end – I know now that if someone asked me at short notice to write a tv script then I could do it reasonably quickly. My plan also is to have a new horror script completed by Christmas – I’ll probably start it mid-November looking at my current workload and then once I begin it will be write, write, write, edit, edit, edit.
Where did you get the idea for your first or latest book?
For the story I did for INTO THE NIGHT ETERNAL, I wanted to write a folk story but I wanted to set it in a city (so I did: Paris) and then I decided to use Christianity as a folk horror trope. I had great fun with that tale and it just seemed to grow and grow also taking in Sierra Leone. I’ve been commissioned to write a sci-fi story (which will be called (A)VOID) and I’m having great fun plotting that out as I’m trying to be clever (which I’m sure will be the death of me one day) where you won’t be able to trust any of the characters at all – I do like the idea of a narrator who you just can’t believe a word they’re saying. I’ve also been scripting a horror story set at the Battle of Waterloo with Napoleon himself as the protagonist. If it comes off, it promises to be very very scary indeed. My plan for 2019 is to write a horror / dark fantasy novel called THE KEEPER OF THE BEES – I’ve been talking about it for a while so it’s time to put my pen where my mouth is – now that promises to be something very very special...if I can pull it off of course.
What is your best experience meeting a fan?
Oh I love when people come up to me either at signings or even at events such as Fantasycon and they’ll tell me about a piece of work I created and how they reacted to it (good or bad) – I’m not going to say who this was but I had a play on in London once and we were all drinking in the bar afterwards and this guy comes up, starts chatting away to me - I kept smiling and nodding and accepted a drink (for sure I did) but I had absolutely no idea who he was. Anyway, he then started talking about a previous play I’d directed (Clive Barker’s FRANKENSTEIN IN LOVE) and because he’d loved what I’d done with that he was now following (in a good way, don’t worry he wasn’t a stalker) me and my work – that was pretty cool AND what makes it even better is that he is a writer (a good writer!) and I’ve gone onto publish some of his work in my anthologies. Serendipity. I’m also a member of a media ‘club’ and a couple of years back when in the London branch I walked into the bar where I was called over as there was somebody I knew talking to a BIG AMERICAN ACTOR and someone I really admired – anyway, the actor turned to me and started talking about a story of mine that my friend had sent him a couple of days before and he was really grilling me about it, seeing stuff that I wasn’t even sure was there, that was pretty mind-blowing I can tell you and made me smile for quite a few days after. I did promise him that if we ever made it into a film then we’d talk again. Yeap, that would certainly be a blast.
If any of your books was to be made into a film, which one would you pick and who would you have play the main characters?
Ha – sorry, I’m laughing now because of how I ended the last question – okay, I’ll think of something else...well, there is a character who has appeared in a couple of my stories and he’s going to appear in a couple more in the near future (probably a novel and at least a few more short stories) and that is the mysterious Doctor Papper. I usually set his stories in Paris but one of them (and perhaps not this incarnation of Papper) was set in 19th century Austria. The doctor and his children (Emile and Solange) are part of an occult organisation called ‘The Sixteenth Chapel’ (which came about because of something Justin Bieber said once on the David Letterman show) – there is a British actor called Trevor Eve who would be perfect as Papper – he’s got the right feeling of ‘controlled violence’. For the Napoleon horror film I mentioned, I’ve written it specifically for the French actor Vincent Rottiers so I’m hoping that if we get the finances then he will be in it. I’ve also written a spiralling drama / thriller set in the States about a retiring Sheriff, I’ve actually got a complete dream-cast on my laptop for that including: Michael Douglas, Michael Keaton, Jeffery Wright, Jessica Lange, Tye Sheridan and Macaulay Culkin (yeap, he would play a right vicious bastard). That would be a brilliant brilliant project to work on. I’m a great fan of Michael Douglas and I know he’d be just damn perfect.
How important do you think marketing is for authors today?
100% it is. Crucial. Especially if you’re an indie author. And, it is amazing how much time you need to spend doing it. I think that for some of the newer writers they just think it’s a case of writing something today, having it published tomorrow and by the following day they’re millionaires. Sorry – been there, tried that. It just doesn’t work that way. I can’t believe how much time I’m on social media updating groups, posting links, trying to hustle...at the end of the day we write to sell surely, if readers / fans / customers don’t know we exist then we’ve got no chance of making a dime. I’ve even been helping out a couple of publishers I work for recently by building / updating their websites as well as doing reviews of my friends work as I’m a firm believer in “every little thing helps”.
Do you have any book you have written that won’t ever see the light of day and why?
I’ll tell you this: in 2016 I think it was, I was asked to contribute to a series of modern day fairy-tales. The series itself was going to push boundaries in its content – even the title of the series shall we say was provocative...anyway, they were releasing a story every month and they asked me to write one for a December / Christmas release. I was more than up for the challenge. I did my research and chose an obscure French tale and brought it up to date. I was extremely happy with the story (it was a novella, about 20 – 25,000 words I seem to remember) but I knew that it was a bit...graphic, yeah, let’s settle on that word. I pushed the boundaries and then some (let’s be clear...there was nothing...illegal in my story) – at that time (and I’m getting better, I promise) some of my work was quite extreme, I think I’d written myself into a dark corner and couldn’t get back out of it (and that’s one reason why I suddenly felt ‘liberated’ when writing the historical stuff because you can’t be too extreme / graphic) and so this fairy tale was dark...oh yeap, it was dark – I was proud though of what I had created because it certainly (well, so it appeared) hit exactly what the publishers wanted (and looking back at it, it’s obvious how much of it is tongue in cheek)– I looked forward to it being released. Anyway, a week or so after sending it they came back to me saying that they would print it only if I cut a lot of the graphic stuff out and changed some of the descriptions as they felt it was close to the bone...well, we shook hands, remained friends but no, I didn’t do what they wanted. The story was written the way it was for a reason – a lot of the graphicness is a metaphor anyway. I still have it. I’m sure its burning its way through my hard drive like acid. I did think only the other day of dusting it off, giving it a polish and perhaps releasing it myself...we’ll see...but it was fun to do...it would make an excellent but ADULT graphic novel...wonder if anyone has the balls to publish it as written! I’d definitely be up for that conversation.
Often writers get to approach some serious subjects. Which serious subject are you most proud to have written about or was the hardest to write about?
Oh my lord – I’ve never seen myself as an ‘issue writer’ but I was asked by Peter Mark May of Hersham Horror to contribute a book to his “Curse Of” series. I was given “Curse Of The Vampire” and it took me a couple of attempts to get right what I wanted to say and I’m sure that the finished novella was not at all what he was thinking of when he originally asked me – but that book covered abuse, male rape, sexual violence...it was set in France and wow, even thinking about it now, it was difficult to write (and probably read!) and it actually left a mark on me. I did set the story up for a sequel so I’m hoping next time I see Peter he allows me to play in his sand-pit again – I appreciate though I would need to be a bit less...extreme...but that’s cool, I’m okay with that. I think I will have to write it at some point anyway, just to lay some old ghosts (not necessarily mine) to rest. When Romain and I wrote our historical script (which is called THE TRAGEDY OF THE DUKE OF REICHSTADT by the way) as that was based on real people / real situations we had to be careful that we didn’t stray too much from fact and into fiction because otherwise what was the point? It was a great story in real life but unknown so hopefully we’ve done a little to bring that particular part of history back into people’s memories...hope that doesn’t sound too pretentious – when we won our awards in Monaco, the presenter (the veteran French actress Dominique Frot) who gave us our awards had a vision that the Emperor Napoleon had appeared by the side of the stage and was applauding us...I can’t say whether that was true or not as I personally didn’t see him but I’ll take it...yeap, after all that hard work, I’ll take it.
Thank you for your time and for reading.
Dean M. Drinkel
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