Author Eric Miller graciously took time to answer questions about the inspiration behind his newest horror anthology, ’18 Wheels of Horror’. In this interview, Miller also describes the challenges of editing a horror anthology set in the world of truckers, what elements make for good horror and genre blending.
’18 Wheels of Horror’ is an anthology exploring dark highways, the truckers who drive them and the untold terrors they encounter. The stories blend otherworldly horror with engines, wheels and Americana, creating a truly unique reading experience. The stories in ’18 Wheels of Horror’ take the reader on a journey onto the open road where anything can and does happen. Supernatural terror, monstrous aliens, and the undead are only a few of the nightmares awaiting within this nerve shattering collection. ’18 Wheels of Horror’ is available NOW from Big Time Books, Amazon, and and major online booksellers.
Eric Miller has worked in independent film for over twenty years. His screenplay credits include Night Skies, The Shadow Men, Mask Maker and Swamp Shark, as well Sy Fy Channel’s epic movie Ice Spiders. He also has a few scripts lurking in development including Dog Soldiers II, and has done uncredited rewrites on other produced films. He has a lifelong passion for books and reading, and runs Big Time Books.
Francis Xavier: What inspired the 18 Wheels of Horror collection?
Eric Miller: Like many people, I grew up on movies like “Duel” and “Smokey and the Bandit” and also listened to many trucking songs, so I have always loved truck stories. It’s such an interesting world filled with colorful characters. So since I’m a writer, a reader, and also a commercial driver in the entertainment industry, I was always looking for more works in the genre. But there wasn’t much, and I wanted to help fill the void.
FX: Three words to describe your writing?
EM: Good. Fun. Readable.
FX: What is your story, “Siren” about and were there any challenges in writing the story?
EM: The story is about a truck driving team that is lulled to sleep by what at first seems to the be the sound of “singing tires” but really turns out to be something more sinister– the hypnotic song of a Siren, the deadly creature from Greek mythology that uses music to lure men to their deaths.
I had two challenges in the story. First, I wanted music as an overall theme, not just the Siren’s deadly song, but as a way to learn more about the characters and ultimately also as a device to beat the monster at her own game. I think I pulled that off, and also slipped in a nod to one of the greatest singer/songwriters of all time. I mean, how many times do you get to pit an ancient Greek monster against Waylon Jennings? The second challenge revolved around a combat incident that has left the main character suffering from PTSD. So he has to overcome his fears to try and beat the literal monster in the story, the Siren, and also the monster inside his head. I know a lot of truck drivers are veterans and have seen horrendous action and lost friends. So the challenge for me was to put a very real and very serious issue into a fun short horror story, but also stay respectful of the real men and women who struggle with this issue every day. I did have a Marine writer friend read it to be sure, and he loved it, so I felt that I had found the right tone. And hopefully any combat vets reading it–truck drivers or not- -will understand what I was trying to do.
FX: Are the stories in 18 Wheels of Horror connected?
EM: They are only connected by the overall theme of being set in the trucking world. Other than that, I let the writers’ imaginations run wild. I am constantly amazed at the diversity of stories people come up with on a common theme- that is one of the most fun things about putting out a story call.
There is one inadvertent connection though, that happened as the book was in the final stages. Writer John Palisano created a fictional truck stop for his story “Happy Joe’s Rest Stop” and when I needed to change the name of a truck stop in another story for legal purposes, I used “Happy Joe’s” again, and that became the “official” truck stop chain of this alternate reality we have created. That was a fun link, and both writers got a kick out of it.
FX: As editor of 18 Wheels of Horror what were you looking for when selecting stories?
EM: First, the stories had to be set in the trucking world somehow. And while most stories do feature truckers and big rigs, some “step out of the cab” a bit. For instance, one story is about the waitress in a truck stop, while another is about the son of a trucker who falls prey to an evil force while his dad is filling up the rig. It’s a nice change of pace that keeps the book fresh. Second, the stories could not be offensive to truckers. While anyone can read and enjoy these stories, truck drivers are the intended audience. So I was careful not to pick on too many bad stereotypes, as real truckers are a diverse and interesting group of people. But I didn’t want the writers to candy-coat the world. There are bad truckers in the book, killers and drug addicts and drivers with shady pasts, just like in real life. But we were careful to balance those characters with good ones, and to make sure any evil was justified and came out of the story and situations.
FX: What did you learn about yourself as a writer/editor while working on 18 Wheels of Horror?
EM: That I knew more about trucks than I realized. Most of the writers in this book had little to no trucking experience at all. They did their research, but in the end it was up to me to make sure the stories would be authentic to real truck drivers. I think we pulled it off, and I had a couple of driver/readers cross check me to be sure. There are some trucking things in the book which aren’t 100% accurate, that I had to let go for the sake of story flow. And I am sure I simply messed up and got a few things wrong, but the intent was always to make a book of scary and entertaining stories, not an big rig owner’s manual. So I hope the gear head readers out there will forgive me.
FX: What elements make for good horror fiction?
EM: Like with all good fiction, you need combination of good characters, great story line, and writing talent. Then when you add a kick ass “monster” to that mix, the horror really takes off.
FX: What are your thoughts on genre blending in works of fiction?
EM: I love it. Many of my favorite horror movies are comedy horror, and I love action horror books and movies also, as well mysterious ghost stories and space horror science fiction. There’s a lot of crossed genres in “18 Wheels of Horror” too. Readers will see that I put in lots of different types of horror in the book, such as psychological horror, serial killer, creature, comedy, the real-life terror of an ice storm, and many more types of stories. So there is something for everyone.
FX: Where can my readers find more about you and your work online?
EM: At my website www.BigTimeBooks.com. There’s stuff about me, my books, and some other projects I do on the side.
FX: Favorite horror writer?
EM: Steven King.
FX: Favorite movie?
EM: The Blues Brothers. For horror, a toss-up between “the Haunting” and “An American Werewolf in London.”
FX: What scares you?
EM: Losing something I hold dear. And freaking spiders.
FX: What’s one word you overuse?
EM: The F word. Sorry, mom.
FX: Favorite place to write?
EM: Anywhere with no distractions.
FX: Title of your first published work?
EM: A short story called “Confessions of a Lesser God.” My first screenplay produced was “The Shadow Men.”
FX: What book do you wish you wrote?
EM: Snow Crash.
FX: What are you currently reading?
EM: Andersonville, by Edward M. Erdelac.
FX: Coffee or tea?
EM: Root Beer.
FX: Favorite color?
FX: Beer or wine?
EM: Belgian Cherry Beer.