I’m honored to start my author interview series here at Biff Bam Pop with the great Joe Augustyn, creator of the cult film Night of the Demons. His new novel is The Nine Lives of Felicia Miller, a tale of witchcraft and revenge in a small town. Felicia Miller is a normal small town girl whose life is shattered when a group of wayward boys lure her into the woods and leave her to die in the cold night fog. Rescued by the town witch, she is given the power to transform into any kind of cat she wishes. With her new found powers, she takes revenge on the boys one-by-one. But when repeated sightings of her in various feline forms puts the town in panic mode, her quest for revenge becomes a struggle for survival.
I called Joe on the phone this weekend to discuss his novel, the differences between writing books and screenplays, extreme content, and powerful females.
Lucas Mangum: First of all, congratulations on your book. I enjoyed it quite a bit.
Joe Augustyn: Thank you.
Lucas Mangum: It has a very cinematic feel in that it’s very visual and also wastes no time getting to the point. Do you feel that your background in film contributed to that?
Joe Augustyn: Yeah, definitely. I’ve actually been thinking about that a lot lately. One of the pluses about coming from a background in movies is that film is such a big part of our culture, the structure of movies are ingrained in the minds of people. I think it may be an advantage for me as a storyteller because people may be drawn to it. There were challenges when I first started writing novels, though, because screenplays are written in such shorthand. That’s because the readers in Hollywood, the gatekeepers, didn’t like to read lots of words so screenwriters had to keep it shorthand. Novels are a lot harder. It took a while for me to get used to novel writing. Wrote for ten years and I have a few novels on the shelf that I put aside. All of them were learning exercises. I used to try to compress too much, but with Nine Lives I was able to structure it properly. I rewrote a lot, even rewriting things I wrote the day before.
Lucas Mangum: Is there one medium you prefer over the other?
Joe Augustyn: I actually prefer novels now. I thought about writing novels for years. Probably should’ve started earlier. Screenwriters get no respect. It’s easier to break in than to have a career because in Hollywood they always want the new kid in town. Also, no matter how good a screenplay is, it has to be filtered through other people. I had control over Night of the Demons, final cut, but production was influenced by budget and how hard the crew wanted to work. The thing about novels is if you go through the standard process, you have the editor, but ultimately there’s more control with literature. It’s a writer’s medium whereas film is a director’s medium.
Lucas Mangum: It was refreshing to read about shapeshifters that weren’t werewolves. So many cultures have different myths about transformation. Was it your goal to explore that, to try something different?
Joe Augustyn: I try to be original in all of my writing and I have another novel that I haven’t seen done at all. It’s three quarters of the way done. I’m also doing a zombie novel. That will be standard and traditional, like Romero, and I’m trying to make it as entertaining as possible. I’m a stickler for realism and I feel a lot of zombie stuff I’ve come across has been gimmicky or with a comedic point of view. I’m not putting anyone down, but I like the old school stuff that’s scary. It’ll be fun, fast, suspenseful. Zombie fans will like it. As far as Nine Lives, I’m a huge cat freak. Part of the fun writing it was getting into Felicia as a cat. I wanted it to feel authentic, half feline/half human. My favorite scene is the first transformation. For those scenes I did a lot of research on different cats, their strengths and weaknesses.
Lucas Mangum: What were some works that inspired you during the writing of your novel?
Joe Augustyn:I’ve been reading a lot. I loved Jonathan Maberry’s Rot and Ruin. Also some Stephen King short stories, and J.L. Bourne. His books are about a Navy pilot surviving the zombie apocalypse. They’re really good if you haven’t read them. I usually read nonfiction for research purposes. I have such a stockpile of books from over decades of studying the occult.
Lucas Mangum: You mentioned to me in an email that you felt some of Nine Lives may be too extreme. What do you think the author’s responsibility is when it comes to extreme content? Do you think they have any?
Joe Augustyn:I do. One of the things I like to do in my writing is take little jabs at both sides because none of these politicians, on the right or the left, get it. There was a lot of that in an earlier version of the book. I’ve since added a few lines here and there to soften the jabs. The other concern was the rape scene. It wasn’t as necessary as I thought it was. I had a female blogger beg me not to eliminate the rape because it was the inciting incident and needed to be heavy duty. I figured out ways to get around it. In our culture, sex is still pretty taboo, especially when it involves teenagers. So I changed the scene, and I think it has all the punch and intensity.
Lucas Mangum: Tell me about some of the empowering themes contained within the novel.
Joe Augustyn: Most of my positive reviews came from women bloggers, which felt good because obviously I’m not a woman. I like to write female though. That’s possibly an influence from Hammer and Mario Bava. I loved Barbara Steele. I went to matinees of those films all the time. Any horror film. Another reason I like writing female may be this family story. I have a cousin who went to West Point, grew up to be a conservative business man, but when he was three years old, his aunt died and was buried in her wedding dress. His parents didn’t take him to the funeral because he was so young. The night after he woke up his mom and grandmother screaming that he saw his Aunt Lucy in the yard, wearing her wedding dress. He swears it’s true, but won’t talk about it much anymore. From early on, I’ve always felt females possessed an elegant kind of power, and that’s attractive. Men are just brute force.
Lucas Mangum: What’s a fun, random fact about yourself that fans might want to know?
Joe Augustyn: I don’t know how to answer that without getting into trouble. (laughs)
Lucas Mangum: Thanks a lot for doing the interview, Joe!