Last week horror author Chad Lutzke released his short story anthology, Night as a Catalyst. I had a chance to sit down with Chad and ask him about the new book, what he has lined up next, and the art of writing.
Q – Congratulations on publishing Night as a Catalyst. Let’s start with the book’s title. It’s catchy, creative, and it seems to fit the story material really well. How did you decide on the name?
Lutzke: Thank you, Dan. The first thing was to come up with something I knew nobody had used already. I didn’t want four other books coming up on Amazon when doing a search. Normally when naming something—be it a band, song, painting, or short story—it takes me forever. I’m pretty anal about it. But Night as a Catalyst came right away, and at the time it was just a strong working title. Coincidently, I had been dealing with some insomnia issues I’d never had to deal with before, and I did a lot of my writing at night. With night often being associated with frightening things, I thought it was fitting.
Q – When did you first start writing? At what point did you realize your stories were worth publishing?
Lutzke: I wrote a handful of short stories and started a few books in the late 90s. Three of those stories (Moving Made Easy, Chow, and Torn) can be found in Night as a Catalyst, but they were cleaned up significantly, as my prose had gotten much better since. At the time I thought they were good enough, but when I dug them out recently I realized they weren’t as good as I had remembered. Somehow between then and now, without doing any fictional writing, I got much better. May 2014 I decided I was going to start writing again, and after good reception from my short “One for the Road,” I decided I was going to do everything I could to eventually write for a living. I’m not sure there was ever a point where I thought my stories were worthy. I think it was just an accumulation of believing in myself and having a handful of people give me a tremendous amount of encouragement and praise for what they’d read.
Q – As I paged through Night as a Catalyst, I was strangely reminded of Stephen King’s
Night Shift. Granted, your writing style is quite different from King’s, and your story lines were unlike those in Night Shift. Yet as a whole, I got a similar vibe from both books. How similar is Night as a Catalyst to King’s various short story collections?
Lutzke: I read Night Shift about twenty years ago or so and felt it was rather forgettable, so that’s a bit ironic. So forgettable, in fact, that until my story “One for the Road” had gotten published, I had no idea King had a story by the same title. But when you read my story, you see there really is no better title than the one I gave it considering its ending. That being said, I’m a big fan of Stephen King’s novels (I even loved Tommyknockers), but I always felt when it came to his short stories, they were lacking. King has a handful of shorts that are very good, but I always felt Poe and Clive Barker were the gurus of short storytelling. Now that I’ve become a writer, I should revisit Night Shift. Maybe I’ll appreciate it more.
Q – There are two types of fiction writers: those who outline, and those who write from
the seats of their pants. Which method did you choose for Night as a Catalyst, and why?
Lutzke: Normally when I write, I need to have an ending first—a direction I am headed, a finish line. There have been times where I would come up with what I thought was a great premise, but because I had no ending I wouldn’t even start it. Often times I’ll write the last line or paragraph of a story first before I even get very far into the beginning. The wording is subject to change, but that finish line is there waiting for me to meet it. Endings are important to me. I love twists and shockers, and this is evident in nearly everything I’ve written. But what I really strive to do is make the entire meat of the story just as fun as the ending. I want the whole ride to be just as enjoyable as that final blow. The only outline I really do is to write down the initial idea—usually about a paragraph in length—so I don’t forget it, and that’s about it. As I write, the story often ends up longer and with other elements that I hadn’t thought of until that moment. I guess you’d call that writing from the seat of my pants.
Q – One Up a Tree leads off the anthology. Probably the only thing creepier than getting
lost in the woods is finding the obligatory creepy cabin, too. Have you ever been lost in
Lutzke: I have been, actually. But it wasn’t very scary because I was at an age where something like that was more of an adventure and I would find excitement in things like that. Plus, we were on bikes. However, if that were to happen today I think there would be some fear, as well as agitation, involved.
Q – The story starts off like it might head into Deliverance territory, but then it takes a sharp turn toward Wolf Creek before following yet another path. Did you have an inspiration for the antagonist?
Lutzke: Good question. I guess the short answer would have to be no. The creation of that story stemmed from the idea that I just wanted to write a story where, for whatever reason, a guy gets stuck in a tree for days and has to try and figure a way out of the situation. Initially I thought of having a bear chase him up there, but a bear wouldn’t hang around for days. He’d probably just climb up and kill the guy. Then I thought of a zombie or two keeping him up there while they shambled about at the foot of the tree, but that seemed too cliché with everyone feeling the need to add their two cents to the zombie subgenre. So I came up with some crazed lunatic type guy—much like a crazed Vietnam veteran stereotype. But I didn’t want to use a veteran because I didn’t want to offend anyone. I have the utmost sympathy for those suffering from things like PTSD as a result of serving, and didn’t want to exploit that. So for me, it was more about the guy in the tree and what he’s going through, and how he is going to get out of the situation, if at all. I’m a huge fan of indie movies that are dialogue driven. Films like Spring Forward, Prince Avalanche, Tape, Lawn Dogs, etc. They all have minimal characters and locations, heavy on the dialogue and extremely well written. That’s what I initially wanted for One up a Tree. I was going to have it be mostly dialogue driven with the two guys developing a relationship over three or four days. I think it’s still a good idea, but I took a different route instead. It seems to be a lot of people’s favorite. Well, until they read Deprivation.
Q – One for the Road contains some pretty dark ideas. Most zombie stories play out like zombie movies – someone is running from a zombie who wants to eat their brains or turn them into a zombie, too. In your story, a kid is dealing with what to do about an elderly family member who happens to be a zombie. What was your motivation for writing One for the Road?
Lutzke: I think there was more motivation in not writing it because of the market being so saturated with zombies. Last year when I decided I was going to start writing again, I told myself I wasn’t going to write horror anymore. But I had come up with this idea, what if Anne Frank (from the Diary of Anne Frank), instead of being a Jewish girl in hiding, were a zombie and all measures were taken to assure no one would find out. When I came up with the idea I was like, “No way. I’m not writing a zombie story. Everyone is doing it.” It was a bandwagon I really didn’t want to jump on, but the idea wouldn’t leave and I felt I could pull it off and still have readers, who are sick of zombies, enjoy it anyway. Apparently I was right. I’m glad I wrote it.
Q – You fooled me in Peepshow. For the first few paragraphs, I was sure the main character was on a hospital table, somewhere before life and death. Do you find alien science fiction interesting? And do you think we are alone in the galaxy?
Lutzke: That’s a story that has gotten better reception than I anticipated. I like the horrifying take on aliens and alien abduction, like the films Fire in the Sky and especially Communion. But I’m really no theorist on it. I very much believe in God, and I do believe we were created as a lone species. But part of me hopes we’re not and I’m open to that. That would be for some exciting times.
Q – You write excellent prose, particularly for the horror genre. How often do you work
on your writing skills, and are there tips you can share for aspiring writers?
Lutzke: Thank you very much! As of late, I’ve been writing a lot of freelance work so that helps work the muscle in a different way. But I think the biggest workout I get is from reading—reading and paying close attention; both fiction as well as helpful books like Stephen King’s On Writing. A book I think is absolutely essential for any writer. You can often tell who has read it (and paid attention) and who hasn’t, by their writing. My advice would be to read a lot. Read different genres. Read stuff that sucks to know what not to do; figure out why it’s bad. And of course read stuff that is excellent and dissect that as well. Pay close attention to what is working in a book and why.
Two things that I learned from On Writing were to “kill your darlings,” which is to take stuff out that, though it may be written eloquently and really shine as a well-crafted sentence or paragraph, and ask yourself if it really helps move the story along. If it doesn’t, then kill it. King presents a simple formula that helps in this process and that is: 2nd draft = 1st draft – 10%. It really helps to tighten up your work. Another thing is to leave the adjectives alone. They can be useful at times, but you need to trust your readers. They don’t need to know if someone whispered quietly or screamed angrily. It’s redundant. And keeping things simple and flowing will hold the reader’s attention much more than making them utilize their dictionary in order to understand your convoluted choice of excessive verbiage.
Use prompts. Nearly half of the stories in Night as a Catalyst came from picture prompts. Grab any picture and put a story behind it. Most of the picture prompts I used weren’t horrifying in any way, but I made them that way. Prompts can really trigger your imagination if you let it.
One other thing is to write every day, even if it’s just a little something. It’s easy to get in the habit of not writing and feeling like you’ve “lost it.” So keep the creative juices flowing, and with each new piece you’ll find yourself growing as a writer.
Q – What is next for Chad Lutzke? Can we expect any published works in the next several months?
Lutzke: Sometime in mid May I plan on releasing double feature collection III Death Dealers: Aid from the Elderly, that will, of course, feature two shorts; both with the theme of the elderly helping the young but two completely different angles. I’ve been invited by Terry M. West to contribute to his Car Nex series so I will be writing a story for that sometime this month. Also, Terry and I are collaborating on a piece together that I’m pretty excited about. An article I’ve written for Famous Monsters of Filmland concerning the modern world’s attraction to post-apocalyptic scenarios will be out in the July issue, I believe. And I’m starting a new book series that I’m super excited about but am not ready to give too much information on yet. Take He-Man, Evil Dead, and Saturday Night Fever and put them in a blender on puree and you’ve got yourself my new series.
Thank you Chad Lutzke for taking the time to share his back story with DanPadavona.com. You can order Night as a Catalyst from Amazon. To join Chad Lutzke’s reader group for a free book and giveaway announcements, visit www.chadlutzke.weebly.com