Frequent Biff Bam Pop readers are familiar with the name Ian Rogers, he of the insightful Lostcolumns of the final two seasons and the more recent Biblio-Files book recommendations. He also happens to be a renowned horror writer and the creator of The Black Lands. What are they, I hear you ask? I’ll let my friend Ian explain. Yes, that’s right. Along with being a contributor, Mr. Rogers has also become a good friend since fate (and a mutual friend) hooked us nearly two years ago. With the release of his new short novelette “The Ash Angels”, I wanted to take a deeper look into the mind of one of the genres brightest rising talents. And no, this isn’t a paid advertisement for Ian and his latest work (available online at Burning Effigy or at Word On The Street in Toronto this Sunday). He’s actually that good.
Ian Rogers: Ian Rogers is a meat by-product created in 1976 that occasionally produces works of fiction featuring hardboiled detectives and supernatural monsters.
Andy Burns: Who is Felix Renn?
Felix Renn is Toronto-based private investigator living in a world where the supernatural exists as a matter of course. His cases tend to involve the paranormal, although he wishes they didn’t. He likes single-malt whiskey, redheads, and long walks on the beach.
Andy Burns: Working on multiple stories with the same character begs the question – how much of Ian is in Felix and vice versa?
Ian Rogers: Felix is a loner and a bit of a wise ass, and I suppose my wife will say he and I share those qualities, but mostly I’ve tried hard to make sure that Felix isn’t me. I think too many lead characters are just the author pumped up to superhero levels of coolness. Whenever Felix starts to seem too perfect, I’m happy to take him down a notch. I firmly believe that it’s our flaws that define us, and in terms of fiction, it’s those flaws that make for interesting characters.
Andy Burns: What are The Black Lands? Or should I ask where are they? You tell me.
Ian Rogers: The Black Lands is another dimension that lies next to our own. It’s a dark world where no sun ever shines, and it’s filled with a variety of supernatural creatures. The Black Lands is not an alternate earth, but rather a completely different world with its own strange, and mostly unexplored, geography. Portals to this dimension have been popping up all over the planet since the 1940’s (maybe earlier), and the world has been trying to cope with it ever since.
Andy Burns: Tell me how you started working with Burning Effigy on “Temporary Monsters” and now “Ash Angels”.
Ian Rogers: “Temporary Monsters” was a short novelette of about 14,000 words, which meant there weren’t a lot of places I could send it in terms of markets. Too long to be a short story, too short to be a novel, it was a bit of a freak. But I loved the story and the main character and the whole idea of this creepy little world where things are subtly supernatural. I decided to send it to Burning Effigy Press on a lark, mostly because they were producing some truly gorgeous horror chapbooks of about the same length as “Temporary Monsters,” and because the company was based out of Toronto, which is where “Temporary Monsters” takes place. It just seemed like the right fit.
I had such a great experience with Burning Effigy that I broached the publisher/editor, Monica S. Kuebler, about the possibility of doing the Felix Renn stories as an ongoing series. The response to “Temporary Monsters” had been extremely positive, so she agreed. The rest is history.
Ian Rogers: Yes. We’ll be publishing a new Felix Renn chapbook every year, to debut at Word on the Street in Toronto.
Andy Burns: How does where you live play into how you write?
Ian Rogers: I was born in Toronto, I spent a number of years living and working there in my twenties, and I met my wife there. So the city has played a pretty big part in my life and the writing of the Felix Renn/Black Lands stories. I was a bit worried when I started out that no one outside of Canada would be interested in reading about a Toronto-based detective, but I’ve never heard anyone say I should move Felix to Boston or New York. The films of David Cronenberg provided a strong influence on my work, not just the subject matter, but also in terms of setting. He’s a filmmaker who isn’t afraid to shoot his films in Toronto and not have it stand in for a U.S city. Movies like “Videodrome” and “The Fly” were shot in Toronto and they take place in Toronto. I really dig that. It gave me the courage to set my own stories in Toronto and not have to worry about them being “too Canadian.”
Andy Burns: You and I know that writing horror can be a tough go – what do you look for as a reader and how does that impact you as a writer?
Ian Rogers: I think the two things I look for in any story is a good character and a good story. Sometimes I’ll read a book where the story is decent but the protagonist is a dud. I can usually get to the end of those books, but they’re not very fulfilling. It’s like a hamburger with more bun than meat; sure, it’s filling, but it’s less than satisfying. Or you get the book where the protagonist is really interesting, but nothing happens. Those can be just as bad. I find I can forgive one or the other, but not both.
As a writer, I tend to go with a bit of writing advice that says, Write the book that you would read yourself. Or Elmore Leonard’s famous, “Leave out the parts that the readers skip.” I try to keep the writing process energetic and fun, and when it starts to feel tedious, I stop and ask myself, is it going to read tedious, too? Writing is hard work, but it’s not supposed to feel like that for the reader.
Andy Burns: The influence question – who are they and why?
Ian Rogers: I’m influenced by so many people, not just writers but artists and filmmakers and musicians. They’ve all influenced my work in one way or another. Specifically, in terms of the Felix Renn/Black Lands stories, I was actually influenced more by mystery writers than horror writers. Even though I come from a horror background, there’s really more Spenser and Lew Archer in Felix Renn than Harry D’Amour or Marty Burns. The mystery field is full of authors who have written multiple books featuring private-eye characters, but it never seemed to work out that way for their horror counterparts. Jay Russell only wrote three Marty Burns novels, and a handful of short stories. Clive Barker’s Harry D’Amour appears in a couple of short stories, he has a cameo in one novel, a bigger role in another, but that’s it. It’s too bad because I really liked those characters. With the exception of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, there didn’t seem to be anyone doing a long-running series featuring a supernatural detective. So I created Felix Renn and the Black Lands.
Andy Burns: What novel has had the greatest impact on you?
Ian Rogers:Just one? Hmm… off the top of my head, I’d have to say Stephen King’s “The Stand.” There’s just so much story and character in that book it kind of numbs the mind. It’s a book I’ve reread many times, enjoying it as a reader, studying it as a writer.
Ian Rogers:Yes, I’ve recently finished a novel. My first. It’s a science-fiction satire, about 120,000 words, and I’d describe it as “The X-Files” meets “Arrested Development.”
Andy Burns: You and I have known one another for almost two years now. My final question for you then is what don’t I know about you that would chill me (and our readers) to the bone?
Ian Rogers: Hmmm…. how about that in terms of my family background I could have gone into a career in either the creative arts or politics? My father’s cousin was the famous folk musician Stan Rogers, and my great-great-grandfather (plus or minus a great, I can’t recall) was Sir Charles Tupper, who was Prime Minister of Canada for just a couple of months, and was one of the fathers of Confederation.
I’m proud to be Canadian, but patriotism aside, I’m glad I pursued writing instead of politics. The Black Lands are much more pleasant than Parliament Hill.