Monday, July 22, 2013

Nevermore by David Niall Wilson: Character Interview and Excerpt


DNW:  Today, I am interviewing Donovan DeChance, book collector, mage, sometimes private investigator – and some say – hero.    The book Nevermore, a Novel of Love, Loss & Edgar Allan Poe would never have happened if not for Donovan's chance visit with Poe so long ago, so I thought it would be appropriate to see what he has to say on the subject.  I've spent a lot of hours chronicling your adventures, Donovan, but I must say – despite all of that, I still have a lot of questions.

DONOVAN:  It would be my pleasure to answer, as best I can.  You might find it interesting to note that, despite what most consider a very long and colorful life, this marks the first time I've been interviewed.  As you know, there's a certain air of secrecy to my work.

DNW:  That would be something of an understatement.  Anyway, as I said, I have a lot of questions, but for the sake of this interview, let's concentrate on your meeting with Edgar Allan Poe, and your adventures in The Great Dismal Swamp.  Your home is in California, but you seem to have spent an inordinate amount of time in my neck of the woods.

DONOVAN:  It's true, the Carolinas have drawn me back time and again, but I believe you'll find, as we continue to document some of my more important – adventures - that it only seems as if I've spent a lot of time in the Dismal Swamp.  Time is relative, after all, and I've enjoyed more of it than most.

Sometimes I think that I should put a tighter rein on my tongue.  It was only the passing comment about having met Poe in your book Kali's Tale that led to any knowledge of the events in this new book – Nevermore.  Not all old tales should be told. Privacy has come to mean more to me as the years pass, and now that the tale of Edgar and Lenore has been made public, I fear too many rabbits are springing from too many baskets.

The Great Dismal swamp has held its own against time.  Men and women have made their way into her depths, but few have been able to carve a home, and none have tamed the spirit of the place.  There's Nettie, of course, but in many ways she is an extension of the land – a part of the swamp itself and her own roots stretch down through the soil, centuries, and across continents.  Those of power are also drawn to the swamp, as you noted in Kali's Tale.  That is what, in the end, always brings me to a place.  There is an intricate balance of power in our world – you've heard me go on at length on the subject.  When I can, I do my part to right any imbalance.  In that case it was more, because – due to the strangest of circumstances – the vampire Kali and I are blood-bonded, albeit distantly and with less than a full measure.

DNW:  I would think the fact you still live and breathe would factor into that.

DONOVAN: Yes, and it weakens as it is spread.  There are others in that bond – more of a circle now.  But that was a story for a different book, and one that we've already told.

DNW:  True.  (Interviewer's Note: Kali's Tale is book IV of the DeChance Chronicles)  I admit that I'm possibly a little overly fond of stories involving the undead.  They fascinate me.  The time you spent at The Halfway House – or The Lake Drummond Hotel, as it was more properly named – must have been interesting.  I know that you met Poe there, but I take it he was not your reason for the visit?

DONOVAN:  And you would be correct.  That was a wild place. As you know, with half the hotel in Virginia, and the other half in North Carolina, it created quite the conundrum for local law enforcement.  Duels were fought across the state lines.  Virginia 'gentlemen' brought their sweethearts to the hotel to be married on the North Carolina side, where the age of consent was much lower.  The waterway itself – running from Florida all the way to Virginia – brought characters of all sorts through those doors. Lumbermen, soldiers, outlaws – just about anyone you can imagine.

On that particular visit, I was on the road to Virginia, where I intended to set off across country toward Chicago.  I was on the trail of a man – at least, he had once been a man – who I'd been told had sought out certain documents and diagrams that could prove very dangerous in the wrong hands.  Unfortunately, his were possibly the worst of hands available at that time.  He had proven elusive, and it was actually several years before I finally made his acquaintance.  You would know him by the name H. H. Holmes…

DNW:  The serial killer?  From the World's Fair?

DONOVAN:  A serial killer he was, by any standard, but there was so much more that that story … and here I go again.  Perhaps this is one that you and I should record in one of your books.  It's fortunate that no one believes them to be absolutely true.  Otherwise I would have to lock the manuscripts away in my vaults with so many others.

DNW:  Yes, I'm definitely going to have to hear that story, but I think – perhaps – that the story of your acquaintance with Mr. Poe might not be quite finished.  I can't imagine that the ending of Nevermore could be the whole of it.

DONOVAN:  You, and your readers, must be patient.  There was a lot involved in that encounter, more than I realized at the time.  Before I was done with it – if I am actually done with it even now, a lot of things came to pass that I am actually ready to disclose.  I've brought you my journals and rough notes concerning the events that took place immediately after those you recorded in Kali's Tale – and I'll be leaving them with you today.  I've even provided what I think might be a good working title – though, of course – you are the author.  I thought you might call this one "A Midnight Dreary," sort of keeping the theme…

DNW:  I will look forward to reading it, then.  Don’t' believe I've forgotten about Holmes though…

DONOVAN:  I should hope not.

DNW:  Before you go – your raven – Asmodeus – and your cat, Cleo – you didn't bring either of them with you?  Isn't that a bit unusual?

DONOVAN:  Cleo is staying with Amethyst for a while.  I believe that the closer she and I become, the more Cleo bonds with her.  It really would be rude of me not to share.  Few men have been blessed with companions as wise, or loyal, as those two.  Asmodeus is just outside, roosting in a tree.  He prefers the open sky to strange rooms.  He is very old you know, much older even than I originally believed.  Now there is an interview worth having.

DNW:  I'm afraid I lack your bond, my friend.  Has his English improved?

DONOVAN:  Indeed.  For now, I am afraid I'll have to cut this short.  Perhaps I'll catch up to you later in the summer.

DNW: I'll look forward to it.  And next time, see if Asmodeus will join you…

On the banks of Lake Drummond, on the edge of The Great Dismal Swamp, there is a tree in the shape of a woman.
One dark, moonlit night, two artists met at The Lake Drummond Hotel, built directly on the borderline of North Carolina and Virginia. One was a young woman with the ability to see spirits trapped in trees and stone, anchored to the earth beyond their years. Her gift was to draw them, and then to set them free. The other was a dark man, haunted by dreams and visions that brought him stories of sadness and pain, and trapped in a life between the powers he sensed all around him, and a mundane existence attended by failure. They were Eleanore MacReady, Lenore, to her friends, and a young poet named Edgar Allan Poe, who traveled with a crow that was his secret, and almost constant companion, a bird named Grimm for the talented brothers of fairy-tale fame.
Their meeting drew them together in vision, and legend, and pitted their strange powers and quick minds against the depths of the Dismal Swamp itself, ancient legends, and time.
Once, upon a shoreline dreary, there was a tree. This is her story.
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Chapter One

The room was low-ceilinged and deep. Smoke wafted from table to table, cigars, pipes, and the pungent aroma of scented candles. Laughter floated out from the bar, separated by a low half-wall from a small dining area, where the bartender regaled the crowd with a particularly bawdy story. In the corners, more private conversations took place, and at the rear, facing the Intercoastal Waterway beyond, the door stood open to the night, letting the slightly cooler air of evening in and the sound and smoke free.
The smoke prevented the illumination from a series of gaslights and lanterns from cutting the gloom properly. Smiles gleamed from shadows and the glint of silver and gunmetal winked like stars. It was a rough crowd, into their drinks and stories, plans and schemes.
Along the back wall, facing a window that looked out over the waterway and the Great Dismal Swamp beyond, a lone figure sat with her back to the room. Her hair was long and light brown, braided back and falling over her shoulder to the center of her back. She was tall and slender with smooth, tanned skin. She was dressed for travel, in a long, floor length dress that covered her legs, while allowing ease of motion. The crowd swirled around her, but none paid her any attention.
She paid no attention to anything but the window. Her gaze was fixed on the point where an intricate pattern of branches and leaves crossed the face of the moon.
There was a sheaf of paper on the table, and she held a bit of chalk loosely between the thumb and index finger of her right hand. She formed the trees, the long strong lines of the trees, the fine mesh of branches and mist. Her fingers moved quickly, etching outlines and shading onto her sketch with practiced ease.
A serving girl wandered over to glance down at the work in progress. She stared at the paper intently, and then glanced up at the window, and the night beyond. She reached down and plucked the empty wine glass from the table.
“What are they?” she asked.
The woman glanced up. Her expression was startled, as if she’d been drawn back from some other place, or out of a trance. She followed the serving girl’s gaze to the paper.
Among the branches, formed of limbs and leaves, mist and reflected light, faces gazed out, some at the tavern, some at the swamp, others down along the waterway. They mixed so subtly with the trees themselves that if you were not looking carefully, they seemed to disappear.
“I don’t know,” the woman said. “Not yet. Spirits, I suppose. Trapped. Tangled.”
“You are a crazy woman,” the girl said. There was no conviction in her words. She continued to stare at the sketch. Then, very suddenly, she stepped back. She stumbled, and nearly dropped her tray.
The woman glanced up at her sharply.
“That…face.” The girl stepped back to the table very slowly, and pointed to the center of the snarl of branches. The tip of her finger brushed along the lines of a square-jawed face. The eyes were dark and the expression was a scowl close to rage.
“I’ve seen him before,” she said. “Last year. He…he was shot.”
“Can you tell me?”
The girl shook her head. “Not now. I have to work. If I stand here longer there will be trouble. Later? I must serve until the tavern closes, a few hours…”
The artist held out her hand.
“My Name is Eleanor, Eleanor MacReady, but friends call me Lenore. I’ll be here, finishing this drawing, until you close. I know that it will be late, but I am something of a night person. Can we talk then? Maybe in my room?”
The girl nodded. She glanced down at the drawing again and stepped back. Then she stumbled off into the crowded tavern and disappeared. Lenore stared after her for a long moment, brow furrowed, then turned back to the window. The moon had shifted, and the image she’d been drawing was lost. It didn’t matter. The faces were locked in her mind, and she turned her attention to her wine glass, and to the paper. The basic design was complete, but there was a lot of shading and detail work remaining. She had to get the faces just right – exactly as she remembered them. Then the real work would begin.
Even as she worked, her mind drifted out toward the swamp, and toward her true destination. She didn’t know the exact location of the tree, but she knew it was there, and she knew that she would find it. She didn’t always see things in her dreams, but when she did, the visions were always true.
A breeze blew in through the open window, and she shivered.
The face she was working on was that of an older man. He had a sharp, beak of a nose and deep-set shadowed eyes. The expression on his face might have been surprise, or dismay. His hair was formed of strands of gray cloud blended with small twigs and wisps of fog as she carefully entered the details.
There were others. She’d counted five in all, just in that one glimpse of the swamp. She thought she could probably sit right here, at this window, and work for years without capturing them all. How many lives lay buried in the peat moss and murky water? How many had died, or been killed beside the long stretch of the Intercoastal Waterway? She tilted her head and listened. The breeze seemed to carry voices from far away, the sound of firing guns, the screams of the lost and dying.
She worked a woman’s features into a knotted joint in one of the tree’s branches. The face was proud. Her lip curled down slightly at the edge, not so much in a frown, as in determination. Purpose. From the strong cheekbones and distinctive lines of the woman’s nose, Lenore sensed she’d been an Indian. How had she come here, soul trapped fluttering up through the sticky fingers of the ancient trees?
Around her, the sounds of revelry, arguments of drunken, belligerent men, clink of glasses, full and empty, and the sound of a lone guitar in a far corner surrounded her. She felt cut off – isolated in some odd way from everyone, and everything but the paper beneath her fingers. Now and then she paused, reached out for her glass, and sipped her wine.
No one troubled her and that in and of itself, was odd. A woman – an attractive woman – alone in a place like the Halfway House was an oddity. She should have been a target. She was not. A few men glanced her way, but something about her – the way she bent over her work, the intensity of her focus – kept them away. She worked steadily, and one by one, the others drifted out the doors, some to rooms, others to wander about with bottles and thoughts of their own. Eventually, there were only a few small groups, talking quietly, the bartender, and the girl.
There was nothing more she could do. She had drawn an eerily accurate recreation of the trees over the waterway, and of the five faces she’d found trapped in their branches. She sensed things about them but knew little. She did not need to know. She knew that she had to set them free, to allow them to move on to the next level. Something had bound them – some power, or some part of themselves they were unwilling to release. They did not belong, and though she knew that most of the world either ignored, or did not sense these things at all – she did. All those trapped, helpless beings weighed on her spirit like stones. She was fine until she saw them, but once that happened, she was bound to set them free. It was her gift – her curse? Sometimes the two were too closely aligned to be differentiated.
She rose, drained the last of the wine in her cup, and gathered her pencils. She tucked the drawing into the pocket of a leather portfolio, careful not to smudge it. Soon, it would not matter, but until she’d had a chance to finish her work, it was crucial that nothing be disturbed.
The girl, who had been busy wiping the spilled remnants of ale, wine, and the night from the various tables and the surface of the bar, wandered slowly over.
“I’m in the corner room,” Lenore said, smiling. “The one farthest in on the Carolina side.”
The girl nodded. She glanced over at the bartender, then turned back.
“I will come as soon as I can.” She glanced down at the portfolio. “You have finished?”
Lenore nodded, but only slightly. “I have finished the basic drawing, yes.”
“He was a bad man,” the girl said. “A very bad man. I have never seen him there – in the trees – before tonight. I don’t like that he watches.”
“After tonight, he will not,” Lenore said, reaching to lay her hand on the girl’s shoulder. “But I’d love to know who he is – who he was. I seldom know the faces I’ve drawn. You saw him – in my drawing, and in the trees. Most see nothing but branches.”
“I will come soon,” the girl said, turning and hurrying back toward the bar.
Lenore watched her go, frowned slightly, and then turned. She had to exit through the front door and follow a long porch along the side of the building where it turned from the saloon in the center to a line of rooms on the Carolina side. There were similar rooms on the Virginia side, but her business was in the swamp, and the corner room gave her a better view of what lay beyond.
As she made her way to her room, she heard the steady drum of hooves. She stopped, and turned. A carriage had come into view, winding in from the main road that stretched between the states. It was dark, pulled by a pair of even darker horses. She stood still and watched as it came to a halt. Something moved far above, and she glanced up in time to see a dark shape flash across the pale face of the moon. A bird? At night?
She glanced back to the carriage to see it pulling away into the night. A single figure stood, his bag in one hand. He glanced her way, nodded, and then turned toward the main door of the saloon. He was thin, with dark hair and eyes. It was hard to make his features out in the darkness, but somehow she saw into those eyes. They were filled with an odd, melancholy sadness. As he passed inside, it seemed as if his shadow remained, just for a moment, outlined in silvery light. Then it was gone.
Lenore shook her head, turned, and hurried to the door to her room. She fumbled the key from her jacket pocket, jammed it into the lock, and hurried inside. She had no idea why the sight of the man had unnerved her, but it had. And the bird. If she’d woken from a dream, she’d have believed she was meant to set him free…but she was very, very awake, and though her fingers itched to draw – to put his image on paper and tuck it away somewhere safe, she knew she could not. Not now – not yet. There was not much time before dawn, and she still had work to finish – and a story to hear. The stranger, if she ever returned to him, would have to wait.
She lit the oil lamp on the single table in her small room, opened the portfolio, and laid the drawing on the flat surface. There was a small stand nearby, and another bottle of wine rested there. She had two glasses, but had not known at the time why she’d asked for them. Another vision? She poured one for herself, and replaced the cork.
Moments later, there was a soft rap on the door. When she opened it, the girl stood outside, shifting nervously from one foot to the other and looking up and down the long porch as if fearing to be seen.
“Come in,” Lenore said.
The girl did so, and Lenore closed the door behind them.
“What shall I call you?” she asked, trying to set the girl at ease. Something had her spooked and it would simply not do to have the girl bolt without spilling her story.
“Anita,” the girl said shyly, glancing at Lenore. “I am Anita.”
“I’m glad to meet you,” Lenore said, “and very curious to hear what you have to say about the man you saw in the trees. I see them all the time, you know. In trees, bushes, sometimes in the water or a stone. It’s not very often that I meet another who is aware of them – even less often that I have a chance to hear their stories.”
“It is not a good story,” Anita said. “He was a very bad man.”
Lenore smiled again. “He’s not a man any longer, dear, so there is nothing to fear in the telling. Would you like a glass of wine?”
The girl nodded. Lenore poured a second glass from her bottle and handed it over.
“Sit down,” she said. “I still have work to do, and I can work as you talk. It will relax me.”
“I will tell you,” Anita said, perching lightly on the corner of the bed, “but it will not relax you.”
“Then it will keep me awake,” Lenore said, seating herself at her desk. “You see, I don’t just see those who are trapped, I have to undo whatever it is that has them trapped. I won’t be finished until I’ve freed them all.”
The girl glanced sharply over, nearly spilling her drink.
“Maybe…maybe it is best if this one stays.”
Lenore pulled out her pencils, and a gum eraser.
“We’ll leave him for now,” she said. “There are four others, and I can only work on one at a time. Tell me your story.”
Anita took a sip of her wine, and nodded. “His name is Abraham Thigpen. He died about a year ago but I remember it like today…”
Lenore listened, and worked, rearranging branches, shifting the wood slightly, picking the strong woman’s face to release from the pattern first. Anita’s voice droned in the background – and she faded into the story, letting it draw her back across the years as she carefully disassembled her drawing, working the faces free.

David Niall Wilson has been writing and publishing horror, dark fantasy, and science fiction since the mid-eighties. An ordained minister, once President of the Horror Writer’s Association and multiple recipient of the Bram Stoker Award, his novels include Maelstrom, The Mote in Andrea’s Eye, Deep Blue, the Grails Covenant Trilogy, Star Trek Voyager: Chrysalis, Except You Go Through Shadow, This is My Blood, Ancient Eyes, On the Third Day, The Orffyreus Wheel, and Vintage Soul – Book One of the DeChance Chronicles. The Stargate Atlantis novel “Brimstone,” written with Patricia Lee Macomber is his most recent. He has over 150 short stories published in anthologies, magazines, and five collections, the most recent of which were “Defining Moments,” published in 2007 by WFC Award winning Sarob Press, and the currently available “Ennui & Other States of Madness,” from Dark Regions Press. His work has appeared in and is due out in various anthologies and magazines. David lives and loves with Patricia Lee Macomber in the historic William R. White House in Hertford, NC with their children, Billy, Zach, Zane, and Katie, and occasionally their genius college daughter Stephanie. 



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