Although Dennis Etchison has been writing professionally for thirty-four years, his name is not well known in England. That is to soon change as Raven Books, an imprint of Robinson Publishing, bring out some of his new novels, starting with Shadowman.
‘Shadowman is essentially a prequel to my short story The Dark Country, which won both the British and World Fantasy Awards back in 1981,’ explains Etchison. ‘Over the years I found myself wondering what happened to the Jack Martin character to lead into The Dark Country. Because these people that I write about seem very real to me, they don’t seem like characters in a book. What happens in Shadowman causes him to want to get away from it all and to recover from the events of the novel. Unfortunately what happens in The Dark Country is the same sort of touble again. The point is that there are some archetypal problems that we have to work out in our lives. We don’t necessarily know what the cause is but they keep following us around. We’ve all had that experience in life. As you look back you see certain familiar patterns, certain sorts of trouble repeating themselves. Martin is very much a passive victim in these two tales but that is the nature of this sort of problem. You think your life is going along perfectly, you’re not worried about anything, and all of a sudden from nowhere something presents itself and you have to try to solve it and survive.’
Etchison confirms that his books are very much character led, and that in the case of Shadowman, he actually had a different ending in mind from the one he eventually wrote. ‘When I started writing the novel I thought the ending was going to be different and I was rather surprised to find out what the real explanations were. It’s not because I’m mindless when I write, but it’s because the people in the books become very real to me and it’s a question of being honest and letting them go and do whatever they would do. If you can’t predict what’s going to happen in the novel when reading it, it’s because I didn’t know either.
‘As I look back over my short stories I see that they tend to come in threes and sometimes the three are spread out over several years because I keep returning to subjects because I haven’t worked them out yet. Usually by the third time that’s the end of it. Shadowman features Jack Martin for the second time, so although I may think I’ve finished with him for the moment, I expect that another story will come along at some point.’
Etchison’s next two novels to be published by Raven are California Gothic and Double Edge, and he is currently developing an original Evil Dead novel with Sam Raimi, the director of the cult horror films.
‘It’s like a film that never was and the only way I would do it was if I had complete freedom to create a new story. I met with Sam and his people and they’ve pretty much given me carte blanche although I’m continuing to tell them my ideas to be sure I’m not going off in the wrong direction. Are you aware that The Evil Dead had a different ending in America than it did in the rest of the world? I saw both versions and they are entirely different, and I have to somehow reconcile both of those endings, I feel responsible. The end of the third film, or at least the American ending, makes it very clear to me that these adventures that Ash has been having are fantasies in his mind. In the American ending he returns, not to a bleak, post-Apocalypse world of the future, but to the store where he works and you see that he’s just a nerdy clerk who tells these stories to the people around him. He shifts between two realities: what’s in his mind and what’s going on around him, and that’s the tack that I’m taking.’