Harry Shannon has worn several hats in various fields of entertainment. He's been a music executive, working on films such as Terminator 2 and Basic Instinct; he works as an actor and screenwriter; and he is also an award-winning writer of novels and short stories. He took some time to talk to FEARnet about writing; filmmaking; music and The Hungry 3, the soon-to-be-released third novel in the popular Sheriff Penny Miller series.
You have a new book coming out, The Hungry 3. It's the third in the zombie novel series. What happens in this one?
If I told you that it would wreck the experience, not to mention cost us a sale! Seriously, the first two novels continued in sequence from the outbreak of the zombie apocalypse through to Sheriff Penny Miller and her friends fleeing what is left of the state of Nevada. The third book, The Hungry 3: At the End of the World, picks up where the second left off. Penny, Scratch, TL and Sheppard arrive in Colorado and seek shelter in an abandoned hunting lodge. They think they will be safe for the winter. Naturally, this will not be a Merry Christmas. All three of these novels were co-written with Steven W. Booth, who owns Genius Publishing.
The novels feature a strong central character, Sheriff Penny Miller. Tell us about her.
Penny is a tough girl and a dedicated servant of the law. She can outfight and out swear almost any man, and has a sense of honor we can all admire. Penny doesn't make perfect decisions but she is a natural leader and ends up responsible for everyone around her. She is a loyal friend, but you wouldn't want to piss her off. When she swears, paint peels off the walls.
How do your characters react in the face of danger and stress, and how does this play out over the series?
This is a "dramedy" zombie series in that the pacing is often absurdly fast, with loads of over-the-top dialogue between Penny and her band of misfit males. It's as funny as it is scary. Scratch is a tough guy with a soft side, Terrill Lee means well but he's a screw up and full of bluster, Sheppard is a scientist but also a gay man who adores Penny. They squabble like a family, but when it hits the fan they always back each other up.
You also have another series, The Mick Callahan novels. Can you talk a bit about those?
Those books are mystery/thrillers about a talk show psychologist who struggles to stay sober. Mick is a failed Navy Seal, a deeply loyal friend and a hot temper. He is better at giving advice than taking it. There are four books in that series so far, Memorial Day, Eye of the Burning Man, One of the Wicked and Running Cold. I have a fifth book in my mind, just haven't found the time to write it. Thankfully, Mick has a lot of fans who keep nagging.
You also wrote the screenplay and novel for Dead and Gone. Can you talk a bit about that? How was it working on both novel and screenplay?
I did them almost at the same time, because the movie was constantly evolving, and I outlined the novel as we finished up the film. Due to budget constraints, a crappy first director of photography and other low budget mishaps the director Yossi Sasson had to endure, the film took a year and a half to complete and then we had a long stretch in post-production. It eventually sold to Lionsgate and came out on DVD in the US and Canada. It's also out in Japan and a couple of other territories. It is odd and funny and gory. I played the Sheriff and wrote and sang the title song, Forty Years of Pain.
Dead and Gone is essentially an homage to my beloved tongue-in-cheek, strange as hell horror films of the '80s. We started with the haunted cabin, the clueless folks alone in the woods with crazed redneck locals, lots of gore and suspense, and went bananas from there.
To answer your question, I found the novel part a bit more difficult to write because the screenplay ended up tailored to our monetary state, technical problems, weather and casting choices. None of those problems impacted the book. When I returned to finishing the novel I had to add a lot of sub plot to flesh it out, though I tried very hard to keep the pace and flow of the major plot points very much the same as the film. Dead and Gone is a wonderful memory. It was a real labor of love for all concerned. No one got rich, but we sure had a blast. We're all still friends.
You have a very diverse career background. You've worked as a music executive on movies, such as Terminator 2 (FYI - one of my all-time favorites); you've been nominated for an Emmy; you've written screenplays; and you have an MA in psychology. You've also been in publishing for quite some time. How is the publishing field different for you, and where do you see similarities with the other fields you've worked in?
I've been consumed by the creative itch since childhood. Books were my first love, but once I got exposed to music and theater they grabbed me as well, so I ended up in acting and music. A lot of counselors have an entertainment background, which makes sense, because you're very interested in how people think, why they feel what they feel and why they do what they do, right? Anyway, publishing has changed a lot, and not necessarily for the better. I've been writing songs since the 1960s, but the first short fiction was published in 2001 and my first novel in 2002 by a small press firm. Memorial Day was my first widely distributed book. You had to earn some stripes back then, get up in online magazines or sell to Cemetery Dance or Horror Garage, before you had a shot at releasing a novel.
I love that people can get into print now via Kindle, a lot of good folks will have a chance to be read, but there is now a ton of crap out there, too. Unedited, improperly structured and written. Stuff that turns readers off and clutters the market for everyone else. It seems similar to what happened to the recording industry. Good folks still break through, but it is even more difficult than when I started. Not to get published, ironically -- just to get widely read by an audience.
Of your current publishing works, which do you think would be best adapted to screen (television or movies)?
I still think Memorial Day is a natural as an indie movie. It is set in a small town in Nevada, has several murders and a tense mystery. It takes place over three days. It has a big finish. I also like Mick Callahan as a series hero for cable television. I keep meaning to finish the fifth Callahan book and do a spec screenplay for a film or ongoing series, but the older I get the more I seem to have on my "To Do" list. Maybe this year.
What else are you working on?
A lot. I have a collaborative novel going with editor Joe Donnelly (our tale Fifty Minutes was chosen by Otto Penzler and Robert Crais for The Best Mystery Stories of 2011) and now that ball is back in Joe's court. He recently moved to Santa Barbara to take over a magazine, but we will continue via Skype and email. I just finished and delivered a novella called Biters for JournalStone Publishing's Double-Down series. I'm very proud of that one. Their owner Christopher Payne is daring me to deliver a new horror novel by next fall, and I may commit to it if the right idea pops up. And I just shot a cameo for a hysterically weird little independent movie called Escape from Clown Prison. I play a drunken, foul-mouthed Santa Claus, which is of course type casting. The script is every bit as weird as it sounds. I have no idea when that one will be out, probably next fall or at the start of 2014.
Back to writing, I'm also re-working the screenplay version of my novella PAIN for a new production company. I'm hoping to get it financed with Yossi Sasson directing. We had such a blast on Dead and Gone and remain great friends. Yossi has also done almost all of my book covers for years! If PAIN gets made I have one other material condition ... my daughter Paige and I get to be zombie kills.
Your daughter Paige is a singer/songwriter, isn't she?
Yes, she is 13 years old and already writing great songs and singing up a storm. We just bought her a new Martin guitar. Her YouTube channel is Paige Shannon Music. She loves folk/pop artists like Ed Sheeran, Mumford and Sons, Nina Nesbitt and Jake Bugg. Watch out for her, we are producing an EP and hoping to have it out by summer. She's very, very talented -- and of course I'm a proud, bragging Daddy.
Thanks for chatting with us, Harry.
This has been fun. Thanks for asking me and Happy New Year!
Nancy O. Greene started writing at the age of nine. Her short story collection, Portraits in the Dark, received a brief mention in The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror 2007. Other works have appeared or will appear in ChiZine; Lovecraft eZine; Cemetery Dance; Tales of Blood and Roses; Haunted: 11 Tales of Ghostly Horror; Shroud Publishing's The Terror at Miskatonic Falls; Dark Recesses; Flames Rising; Smile, Hon, You're in Baltimore!; and others. She has a BA in Cinema (Critical Studies) and a minor in English (Creative Writing) from the University of Southern California, and is a Film Independent Project: Involve Fellow.