Film festivals. They give audiences the opportunity to get to know independent filmmakers, those that might otherwise never come to light in such a huge way. Here in Orange County, the 14th annual Newport Beach Film Festival kicked off its event on Thursday with some 350 films from 50 different countries appearing on the big screen. That’s a lot of talent coming together in one place. And an opportunity to see artists I generally might miss.
The film festival got me to thinking. If there’s a venue to showcase independent filmmakers why not one to celebrate and discover independent authors. And since I know a few, authors that is, I thought what a perfect backdrop to bring writer David C. Cassidy back to my blog for another round of in-depth questions about his book, Velvet Rain.
I’ve read my share of dark thrillers before but after reading Velvet Rain I have to say, David, you scored literary blood with me. I get the sense from your writing your creative graveyard stays well clear of same old same old. Did you have any idea when you crafted this novel you were breaking such new ground in the dark thriller category? Because there’s no same old same old here.
Thank you, Vickie. I think for most writers, we rarely have preconceived notions about our stories in terms of the mechanics—certainly we know the characters, we know the story—but we don’t go into it thinking, “This is going to be radically different.” Of course, there are writers and directors like Quentin Tarantino who continually push the envelope at a very conscious level. I’m always pushing myself with each page and each story, because for me, it’s all about the characters. It’s about life. One minute you’re cruising with the top down and the tunes blaring, the sun shining only on you, and in the next breath an 18-wheeler is ramming steel through your brain. As a writer, I’ve got to embrace the highs and the horrors. The reality. To do that, I’ve got to break the rules.
Writers should most definitely break the rules. When the legendary H.P. Lovecraft started out, he refused to be constrained by convention, or labels that pigeonholed him into specific genres. Velvet Rain crosses a few genres, brilliantly. What do you say to people who try to genre-fy your work when it’s an entertaining read, period?
First off, I respect everyone’s opinion. We’re all entitled. Some have called this book a thriller. A horror novel. A horror-thriller. It has a “soft” science-fiction component. A deeply moving love story. It even has all the elements of a classic tragedy. From a creative standpoint, I won’t be constrained by labels of any type. If part of the story calls for some particular “border crossing” into another genre, I don’t see any reason not to.
Sometimes critics dismiss the dark thriller / horror genre as too violent, too graphic in nature, or too brutal when violence is so much a part of our society. Do you think that’s a tad hypocritical to try to hold a writer to a higher standard when all one has to do is log onto the Internet and read about another act of violence in the news?
If one looks at it objectively, it does seem hypocritical. There will always be those who maintain that writers, video-game designers, directors, et al, are responsible for the degeneration of society and social values. But really, if someone doesn’t like the message, they don’t have to listen. Change the channel. Walk out of the theater. Put the book down. The ancient Romans aired the most brutal reality-TV the world has ever seen, but the writers of the day weren’t responsible for it or held accountable for the fall of the Empire.
You didn’t hold back from the graphic torture or the gruesome nature of the bad men chasing your lead character, Kain. After all, these men were death camp-like in their persona. As a result, Velvet Rain is a gritty, raw, powerful, suspense-building thriller that takes the reader right to the edge. Now to me, these depictions revealed the very dark mindset of the bad guys. If you’d left them out or watered them down, there would surely be people out there that would say, “Wait,a minute, Cassidy completely skirted that issue, didn’t he?” You didn’t do that. But were you ever tempted to pull back?
Never. I wanted people to see the reality of what a real-life monster looks like in the flesh. Brikker is evil, pure and simple. But more importantly, he’s real—as real as those running the camps during the Holocaust. To hold him back with kid gloves not only lessens the impact of the story, it lessens the message: Evil exists.
Now, there are those who might say I’ve gone too far. I completely respect that. But I’ve also read real-life accounts of the Holocaust that are equally, if not far more, disturbing. Does a documented case of real-life torture get a special pass over fiction? I beg to differ.
Moreover, the graphic scenes are not gratuitous violence for the sake of violence. In those particular parts of the novel, the violence is deeply entwined within the context of the story—those scenes are truly telling, revealing just as big a part of the story as anything else.
I just want to say, I loved Kain. You pulled me into Kain’s world, showed the burden he carries, the loss and loneliness of his godlike talent which sets him on a path of isolation, a doom and gloom scenario. But then you ebb and flow into his relationship, a romantic interest where, we the reader, think, “yay, there’s this whole other layer to Kain.” You have to know there’s an incredible power in that, right?
I can’t get into a story without deep characters. People are real. People are deep. They’re imperfect. They live and they love and they need. Being a total outsider to the world, Kain needs to know he belongs—needs to know he’s capable of giving and receiving love—more than anyone.
One of the best things about Velvet Rain is its visual elements. For those that don’t know, it’s a period piece set in the 1950s / early 1960s. There are a lot of music references I had to look up a few. But you certainly gave me a sense of what the era must’ve felt like. Is there any particular reason you gravitated to that timeframe?
For me, a lot of the power of this story comes from the period. It was a simpler time, a precursor to the upheaval of the sexual revolution, the war in Vietnam, the oil embargo of the 1970s, all of the ugliness we see today on our 24/7 news channels. I wanted to keep the focus of the story on the characters. It’s all too easy with a story like this to let it get carried off by references to the web and computers and all of today’s unnecessary distractions. The story is about complex, yet simple, people, and their spirit should reflect their times.
Secondly, since the story deals with very graphic, and very real, situations, I didn’t want the story to come across as just more of today’s brutality. Back then, topics that are presented in the novel were utterly taboo and swept under the dinner table—but these things did happen. Velvet Rain takes these on in that context with great respect.
There’s so much more to Velvet Rain than graphic torture scenes. So much more. Two scenes resonated with me. Well, three really. The baseball game. Any mom or dad who’s ever rooted for their kid in the stands on a warm summer day watching the intensity on the faces of the young players will recognize this as a well-written by-product so typical of small town life. At least that was my take. So, a clever use of symbolism or just the joy of the game?
One of the strong themes of the novel is the father-son dynamic. Ryan is a deeply troubled teenager, the son of an abusive alcoholic. He trusts no one, including himself. Kain, another lost and tortured soul, serves as a father figure, and their efforts to build a relationship despite all the cards stacked against them is drawn through their common love of baseball. In this case, it may very well be that the simple joy of the game is symbolic itself, for there’s a line in the book that goes, “Perhaps trust could be built on a baseball.”
About ten pages into the story I could feel your own belief in your characters, as well as in your story. As a writer I recognized an author passionate in his efforts to develop rich, deep characters, building suspense layer by layer. Velvet Rain might’ve been your debut novel, but clearly you’ve been writing from an early age. What’s the one thing you want readers to take away from this story other than the pure entertainment value?
Thank you for those kind words. If there’s one overriding theme I want readers to realize, it’s this: We can all be heroes to someone.
I’ve seen readers compare Velvet Rain to the writing of Dean Koontz or Stephen King. I definitely saw this with the scene in the woods where Costello experienced the Turn. Or maybe that phrase, “Now the monster was making monsters.” But what about you? What other bodies of work would you compare it so that readers might get a better sense for the overall story?
I would liken this story to King’s The Green Mile. While the stories are utterly different, the spirit of the books is very similar. You have these heroic, tragic characters that want nothing more than to be just like the rest of us, but know in their hearts that they’ll never be free of their curse.
Character-driven versus action-driven storytelling? Most writers have difficulty carrying both off, but I think you blended these two together, or should I say, more like, crashed them together in a head-on collision. I don’t know how anyone wouldn’t love the characters, or how any reader wouldn’t appreciate the intensity of the action. What do you say?
For me, I look to people like James Cameron for inspiration. Here’s a man who writes incredibe action-oriented stories with rich, diverse characters. Titanic is his masterpiece. By the time that ship starts to sink, we’re so invested in Jack and Rose that we’re ready to die with them. That’s the kind of stories I like to write, with characters you love (and hate), dangling on a thread in amazing situations.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t bring up the relationship between Kain and Lynn. First, how could any female not love Kain standing up to Lynn’s nasty husband right off the bat like he did and picking her violets? Major score with this romantic!!!
The book is a thriller, no question—but it’s about people. The heart. Like Titanic and The Green Mile, you can have all the plot and all the action you want, but if you don’t have that gutsy, real-life struggle, or that magical bond between characters, it doesn’t work. Those stories soar from those very elements, and I like to think that Velvet Rain does, too.
Lastly, the romance lover in me saw the love story here. Beyond the violence, there’s the relationship between Kain and Lynn, and of course, the family dynamics, everything that makes up a tragic love story. So much so that you might consider, Mr. Cassidy, exploring the more touching, heartfelt romance angle, in-depth. It really worked for me. Just sayin’. So when do you plan to release your first romance novel?
I did. It’s called Velvet Rain. (laughs) Seriously, though, thank you for that. Kain and Lynn are such star-crossed characters, like Jack and Rose. Due to the deeply human side of this story, which is paramount, their relationship is really what holds this entire story together. In a lot of ways, it’s their story, more than anything.
Hmm, so we’ve added yet another genre for Velvet Rain, romance novel. (Smiles, winks) Perfect. What is your favorite part of the creative process?
As a photographer, I love finding that perfect light and capturing a dramatic moment, whether it’s a portrait, a still-life, or a landscape. But the real magic happens when I get to work my images in the darkroom, turning my work into art. With writing, it’s no different. I love finding that perfect piece of dialogue or that dramatic scene and polishing it during the editing process. I’m a very visual person. I see words and images in my brain all the time, and to make them come to life on canvas and keyboard is magic to me.
Let’s switch gears. Your new supernatural novella, Fosgate’s Game. Best opening lines I’ve heard in a good long while. “Given the choice, he shouldn’t have played Fosgate’s Game. Given the choice . . . he should have taken death.” Tell us about it.
It’s very Hitchcockian. I’ve always been a big fan of old TV shows like the original The Twilight Zone and Rod Serling’s Night Gallery. Another favorite was Spielberg’s Amazing Stories. This story is most definitely in that vein, harking back to an old-time ghost story told round the campfire. It’s a fun, dark piece that fans of those kinds of shows will appreciate.
Who doesn’t love a good ghost story? I want to say thank you for coming back and as we wind this up, let’s remind readers where they can connect to you online.