RE-imagining Headhunter …with Michael Slade
For a while, my good buddy, the best-selling horror-meister Michael Slade has been working on a Super -Sekrit project. And now the walls of his lair are sufficiently blood-spattered, the truth can come out. He has re-imagined, and re-issued in digital form, his very first horror masterpiece, HEADHUNTER.
This is very exciting news for all the Sladists out there. But my goal is to boost his signal to a whole new audience. For that, I’ve pulled him into my own spiderweb long enough to ask him a few questions about this experience. And because I love you … I’ve decided to share.
Here, for your reading pleasure, is a recap of my chat with the infamous Michael Slade, on the subject of HEADHUNTER, Reimagined.
Abandon hope, all ye who enter here….
kc: Reading through the material on your site, it’s clear that there were many sources of inspiration for the original version of HEADHUNTER. What’s changed for you this time around? Would one have to be a “Sladist” to detect the changes in HEADHUNTER Reimagined?
Slade: From 1971 (my articling year) to 1982, I practiced criminal law full-bore in the sexual underground of Vancouver. What a dynamic era to be a gladiator in the trial courts! Vietnam War draft dodgers flooded the city, the counterculture was duking it out with the establishment, the Gastown Riot took place out front of my office, junkies shot up in my restroom as heroin poured in from the Far East, and Canada had a new prostitution law.
I built my practice as “the hookers’ lawyer.” I defended hundreds of prostitutes of every sexual orientation: women, men, transvestites, transsexuals, and dominatrices. Knowing that one day I’d try writing a crime thriller, I asked each sex worker two questions: Who was your kinkiest “john”? What was your most dangerous “date”?
From prostitution, I moved on to specializing in the defense of insanity: murder cases involving psychosis and psychopathy. As one judge injudiciously put it, “Counsel, it seems you’ve cornered the crazy market.”
The 1970s saw the first female Mounties don the red serge tunic, and I witnessed the sexist backlash they faced from their male colleagues.
“Write about what you know” is the scribbler’s mantra, so I poured all that underground experience into the original version of HEADHUNTER, and tried to make the plot and characters as brutally honest as I could.
When I teach “Writing Dark Fiction” at conferences and universities, the first question I ask attendees is: “What’s the worst thing that ever happened to you … and how are you using that trauma to power your noir fiction?”
Because it’s your worst experience, it will reflect your deepest raw emotions, so even if you capture only a quarter of that emotion in your story, your plot and characters will ring true for potential readers.
My worst experience was the death of my dad when I was nine years old, so that became the backstory of HEADHUNTER’s troubled cop. And because my dad’s death got psychologically mixed up with horrific images of Jivaro headhunters on the covers of 1950s men’s magazines (known in the publishing trade as “the armpit slicks” or “the sweats”), HEADHUNTER’s personally chilling plot sprang to gut-wrenching life.
Plot: a headhunter neurotic manhunts a headhunter psychotic through Vancouver’s real-life sexual underground.
The original version of HEADHUNTER was published in 1984.
Then, tick-tock, thirty years passed.
Because HEADHUNTER was based on what I had experienced while practicing criminal law, subsequent events have buttressed and confirmed its Mountie Noir themes.
By 2015, almost four hundred female Mounties had launched a lawsuit (which they’ve now won) alleging years of sexual harassment, bullying, and abuse.
The RCMP commissioner recently took a stance against racists in the Force.
Canada’s despicable crimes against its Native people have been exposed in public forums, and indigenous women by the hundreds are missing or have been murdered.
In the years after HEADHUNTER was published, in what’s known as the Pig Farm Case, Robert “Willie” Pickton confessed to the murders of forty-nine women he’d lured off the streets of Vancouver’s Skid Road.
In searching Pickton’s squalid farm, the Mounties found skulls cut in half and stuffed with hands and feet, the remains of a victim crammed in a garbage bag, and a handgun with a dildo attached to the barrel as a makeshift silencer.
Forensic teams recovered the DNA of thirty-one women.
Pickton fed body parts to his pigs, and after the animals were slaughtered, he gave the pig meat away to friends.
One of the women butchered was a long-time client of mine.
Because HEADHUNTER was created before writers used computers, a paper book had to be scanned into a digital file to convert it to an e-book, and that process spurred me to completely reimagine the story with 20/20 hindsight from all that’s happened since.
It’s the same plot, but after two years of retelling, not a paragraph and hardly a sentence is the same as in the original version.
No, you don’t need to be a “Sladist” to detect the much-of-it-came-true, torn-from-today’s-headlines changes.
If you read between the lines, 1982 is the new Now.
kc: You pounded out your earliest manuscripts on a manual typewriter. How has the process been different this time? How has technology been an asset?
Slade: Publication of a novel used to mark the end of its creative evolution. Typesetting a manuscript meant printing it in stone. Publishers were loath to change a word unless lawsuits threatened.
Digital books, however, have changed all that.
Not only did scanning a paper book free HEADHUNTER from its chains, but I can rework the text any time I want.
That puts the author, not a heartless corporation, in the driver’s seat.
kc: Do you have plans to reimagine all your “Special X” titles eventually?
Slade: Just the early novels: the ones written before the research tool of the Internet.
For instance, HEADHUNTER involves voodoo in Haiti and New Orleans. YouTube showed me genuine voodoo rituals filmed long before I was born, and when my Mounties witness voodoo rites at night in the Louisiana bayous, the sounds they hear are sounds I heard online while writing that scene.
I was also able to find the ghastly magazine covers – Stag (1955) and Male (1956) – that sparked HEADHUNTER’s plot.
For GHOUL – the heavy metal Lovecraft thriller I’m currently reimagining – I can study the Cthulhu Mythos monsters in Google Images that I couldn’t before.
What say we step into a Soho Goth club in 1987 and watch Alien Sex Fiend perform “Boneshaker Baby”? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h4sgxvIntBU
Now, if we mix in psychotropic drugs and psychosis, are you revved-up to prowl the sewers of London under Google Maps and pick off wayward theatre-goers leaving Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap?
We live in a wonderful age for time machine research, and I think GHOUL Reimagined should benefit, don’t you?
kc: Will HEADHUNTER Reimagined be available in hard copy one day?
Slade: Yes, Cemetery Dance – the leading dark fiction publisher – will release a signed, limited-edition hardcover and trade paperback in 2017.
kc: Where can I find more information on your books and the background to the stories?
Slade: HEADHUNTER Reimagined is available on Kindle, Apple iBooks, Kobo, and Nook for just $3.99 US by clicking on the links here: http://www.specialx.net/specialxdotnet/e-books-headhunter-reimagined.html
Eight more Special X thrillers in three e-bundles are available here: http://www.specialx.net/
Here’s The History of Michael Slade and HEADHUNTER Reimagined, with illustrations: http://www.specialx.net/specialxdotnet/bio.html
And here’s the reaction from experts who know the genre and/or the real-life underworld it depicts:
“HEADHUNTER Reimagined … like it wasn’t freak-out-scary enough the first time! All I can say is that Michael Slade’s brain is getting twistier with time — and Crime doesn’t come any darker than Slade’s Mountie Noir.” – Diana Gabaldon, author of OUTLANDER
“HEADHUNTER stunned me! It’s really good!” – Alice Cooper
“A real chiller! HEADHUNTER gives you shock value for the money. It will raise hackles, eyebrows, and blood pressure everywhere.” – Robert Bloch, author of PSYCHO
“As a young cop walking Vancouver’s Skid Road beat, HEADHUNTER enthralled me with its hardboiled realism and noir horror. Now, a third of a century later, the reimagined story is no less exciting or frightening. The dark shadows in a Michael Slade novel make you want to keep your back against the alley wall.” – Detective Inspector Kim Rossmo (VPD ret.), inventor of Geographic Profiling and ongoing international psycho-hunter
“Crime writer Michael Slade is the real deal! As a trial lawyer, Slade knows psycho killers, sex predators, and their horrific crimes inside out. As a Mountie, I worked sex crimes and led a team of ViCLAS psycho-hunters for 7 years. If reading Slade makes you react, ‘Wow! Serial killers don’t really do that to people, do they?’, I can tell you, yes, they do.” – RCMP Staff Sergeant Christine Wozney (ret.), CO of the Violent Crime Linkage Analysis team (West Coast)
So there you have it! Hie thee to the internet and pick up your copy today. [It may not be blood-spattered, but it’s got a killer gator on the front!]