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John McCallum Swain

aries-blackJohn McCallum Swain wrote his first story in the sixth grade. While other children were writing about kittens and summer vacations, he wrote of the annihilation of humanity by invading aliens. Progressing from longhand to typewriters to laptops, he continues to write tales ranging from graphic horror to alternate history.

Swain‘s stories have appeared in 4POCALYPSE, 4RCHETYPES, WEIRD MENACE VOLUME 2, SPAWN OF THE RIPPER, and PEELING BACK THE SKIN, as well as numerous anthologies from Thirteen O’Clock Press. His own titles include the novel MADE IN THE U.S.A., and the horror and speculative fiction collections MY VILE BOUNTY and CALIFHORRORNIA.

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aries-blackJohn McCallum Swain wrote his first story in the sixth grade. While other children were writing about kittens and summer vacations, he wrote of the annihilation of humanity by invading aliens. Progressing from longhand to typewriters to laptops, he continues to write tales ranging from graphic horror to alternate history.

Swain‘s stories have appeared in 4POCALYPSE, 4RCHETYPES, WEIRD MENACE VOLUME 2, SPAWN OF THE RIPPER, and PEELING BACK THE SKIN, as well as numerous anthologies from Thirteen O’Clock Press. His own titles include the novel MADE IN THE U.S.A., and the horror and speculative fiction collections MY VILE BOUNTY and CALIFHORRORNIA.

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What’s your Zodiac sign?

Aries, the sign on the razor’s edge between light and dark.

What’s your favorite thing from the 1970s and why?

The rise of the rebellious, paranoid antihero.

Distrust of—and rebellion against—government and big business began picking up steam in the sixties, once the post-war glow of the fifties wore off, making the 60s the ultimate morning after.

Many American citizens protested the Vietnam War in the 60s, but not nearly enough. The Vietnam War was a ridiculously prolonged series of errors in judgement that resulted in too many deaths, but America’s greatest weakness has always been ignorance, which you see today in the rise of Donald Trump. When people aren’t informed and organized they can be misled, or they can lose sight of their goals.

John and his best buddy, 1979.

John and his best buddy, 1979.

In the 60s the word was spreading, but it wasn’t until the 70s that people began to get their shit together when it came to demanding change from the government and big business. It was then that we saw anti-war marches where protestors numbered in the hundreds of thousands. A bunch of long-haired hooligans burning draft cards on a college campus can be ignored, but when the people stand together en masse nationwide, the government has to respond, and when they did the war came to an end. The 70s saw people organizing their stands against The Man in everything from Greenpeace to the Wounded Knee Incident to Earth Day.

The assassinations of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., and Robert Francis Kennedy had been wake-up calls, and as people stepped into the 70s with their eyes wide open, they saw all the shit that was going down, and it stayed with them. People were marked by the 70s, by the sight of disabled, shell-shocked, drug-addicted Vietnam War vets coming home, and by the fall of a disgraced, dirty President who was smart enough to know he had cheated, lied and broken the law.

Acid rain destroying forests, the partial meltdown of the nuclear reactor at Three Mile Island, chlorofluorocarbons eating a hole in the ozone layer, toxic waste sickening people in the neighborhood of Love Canal… We began to realize that big business was killing our planet and the government was allowing it to happen, despite token bureaucracies like the EPA (which was formed by Nixon). To this day many children of the 70s don’t trust the government, any government, and they buck against any authority as if rebellion is hardwired into them.

Then 70s may have been the last safe decade when little kids could run free and not have to worry about a pervert on every corner, but we soon realized it wasn’t the people next door we had to fear, but the people in charge. As adults, children of the 70s are always looking for the bullshit angle on anything and suspecting a conspiracy in everything, from a free lunch to that Girl Scout selling cookies on the corner. That hard-won paranoia was earned by exposure to harsh reality, not the easily digested lunacy of second-hand smoke and mirrors that makes up about 90% of shit on the internet.

That’s why our heroes were archetypical antiheroes such as the wildly popular Harry Callahan, Travis Bickle and Han Solo.* Like embittered, enraged, and occasionally psychotic Flower Children scarred by broken promises and egregious abuses of power, they were our heroes because they had been burned too many times. When when they saw shit coming at them, they shot first** before they could be taken out. Like Howard Beale in Network, those men*** were mad as hell and they weren’t going to take this anymore.

The children of the 70s are going to be one interesting bunch of senior citizens, that’s for sure.

Jaws-PosterWhat is your favorite 1970s horror movie? What do you like about it?

Jaws, because it’s a horror movie about a guy who hates the water, and I hate the water as much as Chief Brody did, even though I travel under San Francisco Bay every day to get to and from work, and work beside the Pacific Ocean. I could relate to Brody as a kid, and still do as an adult. Jaws is also a great source of inspiration for any artist hitting roadblocks in their work, thanks to the impact the malfunctioning mechanical shark had on Spielberg’s direction. The shark (named Bruce) was a great piece of animatronics for its time, but it ultimately sucked because it kept breaking down. Because of this Spielberg was constantly adapting on the fly and altering his vision of the movie. He avoided clear shots of what was really just a fancy shark-puppet, and implied the shark was lurking about without showing it until he really had to. The end result was a much more suspenseful film, a much more horrifying film. Forty years later, Jaws still holds its own against the relentless barrage of CGI and graphic carnage that constitute most horror films today, because Spielberg realized that grue is the chocolate sauce on a sundae, and making a whole meal out of that will make you choke. If you are working on a story or a sketch or a song and you hit a wall, do not give up. Find a way around, over or under that wall. Or break the goddamned thing down.

What is your favorite 1970s song?

“Don’t Fear The Reaper,” by Blue Öyster Cult. It walks and talks, it’s mysterious and enthralling, and it’s a good driving song. I first heard it as a kid when I was really getting into horror stories and movies, and I thought it was all spooky and creepy. Now, as an adult, I realize it speaks the simplest of truths; get your shit in order and don’t fear the reaper, cause he’s coming for you no matter who you are or what you do, rich or poor, good or bad, ready or not.

Choose one: Rock, Power Pop, Disco, or Punk. Explain your decision!

Rock, the arch-nemesis of Disco. Disco rose to prominence when I was in high school. If you didn’t live through it you have no idea what an agonizing time that was, witnessing the apparent fall of Classic Rock and the rise of Disco. I all but wore out my second-hand Beatles vinyl during those years. It was a time when old school Rock and Roll, the discordant madness of Punk Rock, the experimental excitement of the coming New Wave and relatively new rock bands like Journey, Boston, Aerosmith, Van Halen and Cheap Trick were all that kept a guy sane. Those were strange days, yet they were simultaneously wonderful, because that was the last time radio would rock; I still have terrific memories of listing to rock stations in the evening while hammering out shitty stories on an old electric typewriter that hummed and hammered like a monstrous metal punch from hell, wondering what song would come up next, doing a spastic seated boogie whenever a favorite tune came on, grooving when I heard a cool tune that was new to me, and enjoying the personalities of the disc jockeys, the dear friends of so many kids in the 70s.

What do you dread most about the 1970s?

Bad fashion choices and bad hair choices that haunt me to this day. In high school, at the ass-end of the 70s, I had a puke-green jacket that I thought was kind of cool. For some people I knew back then, I’m probably still remembered as the kid with the puke-green jacket.

Choose one: Plaid, polyester, denim or satin. Explain your choice!

Denim. I’m wearing denim right now. And don’t get me started on polyester. To this day I hate polyester. Fuck polyester, man. I bought some cool looking Star Wars t-shirts a while back and when I got home I tried one on. My skin started creeping and crawling and itching and sure enough, it was a polyester-cotton blend. My skin knew, you know? I couldn’t find the receipt so BAM, they went right in the trash. Landfill, baby.

What upcoming projects are you working on?

I have published two other Kitchissippi Tales besides The Sweet Dark; a short story called Beholder, and a novella called The Unicorn Man, and a few more stories set in my curious little Ottawa Valley town are in the works, including a grim short about a little boy and his mother, and a novel inspired by the debacle surrounding the publication of Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman, and the questions of fraud, coercion, and good old fashioned shitty behavior that followed. All of the tales set in the Kitch are horror stories, some bloodier or more suspenseful than others.

I’m hoping to complete my second novel this year. Continuing the narrative style of my first novel, Made in the U.S.A., this new work has flashbacks and interchapters and a lot of other shit that publishers hate, so selling it will be a thrill ride. A Different Country is set in 1973-1974, with flashbacks key characters in earlier years, and it features real historical figures like Richard Nixon and Ted Kennedy as supporting characters. The story concerns the 1973 oil crisis, atomic mutations, dark national secrets, and a police action that became a genocide. And it’s a love story!

Aside from that, it’s just the work, man. Telling tales, building worlds, being fortunate enough to appear in anthologies like Blood, Sweat, and Fears, and creating what I hope will be a lasting relationship with my readers, because in the end, it’s all for them.

* Not to mention everyman antiheroes who are almost forgotten today, characters like Joseph Turner from Three Days of the Condor, and Thomas Babington Levy from Marathon Man. We could also include the real Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward who wrote All the President’s Men, since they worked hard to take down a President when most people thought they were crazy. Wait a second… Redford and Hoffman played Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein in the film version of All the President’s Men. What the hell, man? And if you haven’t seen these movies, you need to do so, now.

**Yeah, I went there.

***While I was writing this I had to take a moment, a LONG moment, to try and think of any mainstream antiheroes who were women. Where was the female equivalent of Dirty Harry in the 70s?

There weren’t really any mainstream female antiheroes in movies or TV until the 90s, none more iconic to me than Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor in Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Sarah wasn’t an antihero in The Terminator because antiheroes are arguably assholes who do nasty things for the greater good, and that Sarah Connor was a nice girl.

In the 70s, there were shitloads of mainstream heroines (most of them relying on T&A for attention, yeah, The Bionic Woman’s Jaime Somers is glaring at you, Wonder Woman), but if you wanted female antiheroes, you had to look to comic books, where there were almost too many to mention, and low-budget horror movies or exploitation flicks, featuring women like Jennifer Hills in I Spit on Your Grave, and Coffy, starring Pam Grier. And that says a lot about those kinds of films, and comic books, which were seen as geeky or childish, or so filthy that your parents wouldn’t let you enjoy them; that irredeemable trash was so goddamned progressive it could only appear in comics, low-budget horror movies or exploitation flicks.

In fact, the only female character in mainstream film in the 70’s that I would consider a true antihero is Alien’s Ellen Ripley, who was pushed into rebellion against Weyland Yutani… but most people consider the Nostromo’s sole ass-kicking survivor a hero with an attitude, not an antihero.

If I missed any, let me know. I’ll feel like an asshole, but I’ll have learned something.

What's Your Sign

Nosetouch Press proudly presents our Zodiac-themed merchandise to get you into the groove with our highly anticipated anthology: Blood, Sweat, and Fears: Horror Inspired by the 1970s. We're talking far out t-shirts, beer steins, and more, man! Drop by and dig all the far out merch we've got!

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