Edo van Belkom has authored 35 books and over 300 short stories in the genres of horror, science fiction, fantasy and mystery. He has received multiple industry recognitions such as the Bram Stoker Award from the Horror Writers Association and the Aurora, Canada’s top prize for speculative fiction. Recently, his YA series Wolf Pack has inspired the Jeff Davis supernatural TV series Wolf Pack – which stars Sarah Michelle Geller and is on Paramount+. Wanting to learn more about him and his career, I interviewed him for ScifiPulse.
Nicholas Yanes: Growing up, what were some stories you loved? Are there any you enjoy revisiting?
Edo Van Belkom: There’s no question that the one book that impressed me the most was Ray Bradbury’s The October Country. I read that book in a single sitting and after I finished each story I said, “Wow, that’s the kind of story I want to write.” The kind of story that gives someone the same thrill I’d just experienced. A lofty ambition, but one could argue I’ve succeeded with a few stories.
After that, I enjoyed other writers who did similar things with their short fiction. I read just about every short story written by Richard Matheson, novels too. And Robert Bloch is one of my favorites with the way he could effortlessly combine humor and horror in the same story. I’ve tried to do that many times in my own work and people often comment on the dark, sarcastic tone of my short fiction. My absolute favorite Bloch story is “Enoch” which takes a present-day situation, sprinkles it with some fantasy, and then lo-and-behold, the fantasy element is real to the protagonist’s utter horror.
Yanes: You have a creative writing degree and you have taught writing at a few institutions. What are common things you think creative writing programs fail to teach students?
Van Belkom: While it’s true I have a degree in Creative Writing from York University in Toronto, I learned far more about writing and how to do it somewhere outside the classroom. My university writing courses were taught by academics who knew all sorts of theories about writing, they knew how to recognize good writing, and they would hold up classics for students to aspire to in their own writing. What they didn’t do was teach anyone about the nuts and bolts of how to write a properly constructed story. Even though we talked about point-of-view often, I had no real clue as to what it was until years later when I’d written twenty or thirty stories. Not once did we have an exercise, say given a story scenario and write a paragraph from the story in the point-of-view of a five-year-old, a war veteran, or a stay-at-home mom.
All sorts of people used the present tense because the literary works they aspired to write used them, but there was never any instruction about why, when and how to use it properly. Same with story introductions. Now I know that you can get a story started by using description, dialogue, action, or character, but there was never a push to try them all out to at least understand how they each work.
What the creative writing program lacked were people who knew the nuts and bolts about the writing process. You can’t teach talent, but you can teach technique and form. You can’t teach someone to paint a perfect portrait, but you can suggest different ways to hold a brush and the results they produce. I learned all those things on my own through trial and error, writing dozens of stories and reading everything I could about the writing process.
So, these were the things I wanted to tackle when I wrote the “How to” books on writing, Writing Horror and Writing Erotica. From all accounts, aspiring writers have found them helpful, which is all I hoped for.
Yanes: You have been professionally writing since the 1990s. During that time, what do you think is the biggest way the publishing industry has changed?
Van Belkom: When I started writing, there were countless zines that other writers were producing, some better than others, a few even looking like professional publications. They were a great place to get your work in print and there were zines for every kind of sub-genre out there.
There were also all kinds of paperback publishing houses that were putting out several books each month and that’s what I was shooting for. I was always envisioning myself as a paperback horror writer who could do five or six novels a year, maybe another book or two in a different genre or a novelization. But the number of books being produced at the time was a problem because the quality of a lot of those titles was questionable.
I had hoped I could have a career like Dean Koontz who published countless books until he was a bestselling author both under his own name and his pseudonyms. Of course, there was talent, but it was also because of sheer determination that became like a force of nature. However, by the time I produced a few gaming novels, two were published, but then two got cancelled. I arrived, but just too late to sustain that because the opportunities were drying up.
Same thing happened when I finally made it into mass-market paperback. The books were published, but sales were slow and after two novels, that was it for me. I had suffered a setback that would take a few years to reclaim. In another era a couple of poor selling books would have been that, something that might be overcome by the next one. But by then there were no next ones and poor sales were career defining, not a bump in the road. One could argue that this is just sour grapes, or I gave up too soon, and that could be true, but that was my experience in horror publishing back in the day.
These days, I imagine one can get work published on the net and countless websites, and the pay is probably low or non-existent just like in the days of horror zines, so maybe nothing much has changed. One thing for sure, there are fewer books being published in print format than in previous years.
Yanes: Outside of horror, what is your favorite genre?
Van Belkom: I’ve written in every genre except western and romance. And that is only because no one has asked me to write something in those genres. I remember my friend Michael Rowe why he hadn’t asked me to contribute to his gay horror anthologies. He said it was because he thought I wouldn’t be interested because I was straight. Well, I was interested in the challenge and ended up doing three stories for him, all of which I’m proud of.
Writing erotica was fun, mainly because people were astounded by the men’s magazines you showed them with your fiction inside. That wore off when that’s all people asked me about, not the horror story I had in Year’s Best Horror Stories XX.
I enjoy writing mystery and suspense but those stories usually have an element of horror to them, so maybe they don’t count.
I also had fun writing two novels in the Deathlands series from Harlequin Gold Eagle, and if you’re wondering what genre that is, it was affectionately called War Porn by a lot of people familiar with the series.
If I had to narrow it down, I enjoy writing most about things in the present day that are tinges with an element of fantasy. Sometimes the fantasy makes, it horror, sometimes urban fantasy, and sometimes I get a bit of science confused with the fantasy and it becomes science fiction.
Yanes: Wolf Pack was first published in 2004. Reflecting on the book now, nearly twenty years later, how do you think you’ve grown as a writer?
Van Belkom: That’s a good question, but the answer isn’t what you think. Sure, Wolf Pack was published in 2004, but I don’t think I’ve grown as a writer because writing a novel like that took all of my skill and talent to pull off. For example, in the novel there was always a temptation to have the teen werewolves use their abilities to their advantage. However, they had a secret and that secret had to be maintained at all cost for the safety of themselves and the people around them. That took discipline in the writing and the creation of the characters and story arc. And because it was written for young readers, it had to use the simplest language and a descriptive clarity that would leave no doubt as to what was going on in the novel.
Yanes: Of all the characters in Wolf Pack, which is the one you most identify with?
Van Belkom: My favorite character in the Wolf Pack series is the forest ranger, Garrett Brock. He’s the patriarch of the pack, adopting the four cubs along with his wife after discovering them in the aftermath and he has lived his life trying to keep the pack’s secret, and be a good father and friend to them at the same time. There’s nothing he wouldn’t do for the sake and protection of his children, and I find myself possessing the same tributes in my family life.
Yanes: As the Wolf Pack characters have evolved over the books, is there a character who surprisingly took on a life of their own?
Van Belkom: When I started writing the Wolf Pack series, I knew that there would have to be people and teenagers on the outside of the pack who suspected something was different about the Brock kids. They would always be on the outside looking in, never able to prove anything but full of suspicion and doubt.
One of them was a teenage girl, Maria Abbruzzo, who would tease Tora by comparing her to a dog and always teasing her about how different she was from everyone else.
Well, as the books went on, she found herself in a position where the pack could help her and they did, changing her opinion of them and deciding to accept them for who they were without judgement. That came as a bit of surprise but I guess I just couldn’t keep the mean spirit going too long. Anyway, spoiler alert, they became friends by the end of the third book.
Yanes: You have a pretty solid fan base. What is one of the coolest things a fan has done?
Van Belkom: I wish I had a story to relate about a fan who showed up to my front door and asked if they could spend an hour talking about my recent novel, but nothing like that ever happened. For whatever reason, I haven’t had any wild fan stories, and maybe that’s a good thing. However, one librarian did buy a terrific rubber werewolf mask that I used for a reading at her library. I also used it when I went onstage for the Silver Birch Award – which all the kids in the audience appreciate – and we end up using it for a front-page photo in our hometown newspaper.
I still have the mask and have used it a couple of times since then for promotional pictures and it still looks pretty good.
Yanes: When people finish reaching the Wolf Pack series, what do you hope they take away from the experience?
Van Belkom: I just hope they are entertained and curious about the other books in the series. Maybe, even seek out some of my adult horror. The TV series is geared for a mature adult audience while the books were written for younger readers and anyone crossing media because of their enjoyment of Wolf Pack in one form or another, might be disappointed.
The books were the “inspiration” for the TV series, not a scene-by-scene adaptation. But, if someone is looking for more adult fare by me after seeing my name being associated with the series, then maybe they’ll seek out some of my adult horror work in the collections, Death Drives A Semi, Six-Inch Spikes, or The Novels Teeth, Martyrs, Blood Road or Scream Queen.
Yanes: Finally, what else are you working on that people can look forward to?
Van Belkom: I’ve been learning a lot about social media lately. I’ve been on Facebook for years and it’s now your grandpa’s social media platform, but I’ve be doing a lot on Twitter and Instagram and it’s been a lot of fun. I think the next thing will be “Wolf Pack Facts” where I do a bunch of short videos comparing the novels to the TV series and hopefully that will grow into something about the horror genre in general and not just the Wolf Pack books.