UI alumnus returns to promote novel



By Missy Smith

When John Everson attended the University of Illinois, he was an average student. He worked at The Daily Illini, took English and journalism classes, and wrote short stories.

When a professor used Stephen King as a derogatory comparison for one of his stories, Everson was excited. He always loved science and horror fiction, and writing stories with bizarre twists.

Thursday, 20 years later, Everson returned to the University to promote the re-release of his first novel, “Covenant,” the 2004 winner of the prestigious Bram Stoker Award for horror writing. When the book was first published, only 250 copies were printed.

The Daily Illini sat down with Everson to chat about his novel and what it means to finally have the book published on a large scale.

Daily Illini: Tell me about “Covenant.”

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    John Everson: There is a little bit of The Daily Illini in Joe Kieran. Joe is a former Chicago Tribune investigative reporter, but basically every time he reports a story, he’s hurting people. It comes back to haunt Joe when his girlfriend turns out to be involved in something he exposes.

    So he throws his hands up and vamooses to the coast and settles down in a small town. He hears on the call radio that there is a jumper on a nearby cliff. Joe looks into it and he finds out this isn’t the first time; there has been someone who has died off the cliff on the same day for 100 years. That begins the big mystery he is going to uncover.

    DI: How did you come up with the idea for “Covenant?”

    JE: From a newspaper article, actually. My managing editor at the medical association gave me a newspaper article about this cliff in England where people would go have a drink at a bar, which was perched on a cliff, then walk a few more steps to the rail and jump.

    It was like the most famous suicide spot in England. The image of people going to a particular spot at night stuck with me and probably a year later I started working on “Covenant.”

    DI: What is your favorite genre to write?

    JE: I grew up reading science fiction. When I sit down to write a story, I usually have some Twilight Zone-y twist at the end of whatever I am coming up with. I have always been about dark-fantasy horror.

    DI: Is there any particular reason why?

    JE: I am a tortured soul. No, really I don’t know. I have always loved haunted houses, the Twilight Zone, just spooky stuff.

    DI: Can you tell me a little bit about the Bram Stoker Award?

    JE: It’s a three-tiered process. It’s a nominating process of your peers. Everyone who is a Horror Writers Association Member recommends stories, and at the end of the year they take the top vote-getters and put them on a preliminary ballot. Then the active members vote to get the final ballot, and the final is voted on.

    DI: How did you feel when you heard “Covenant” was recommended?

    JE: I was like ‘This is cool,’ and then when it made it on the ballot I was like ‘This is really cool.’ When it got in the finals, I was like ‘There is no way this is going to win,’ because only 250 copies were printed. There were only four books that made the category, and when they announced there was a tie my chances went up. I was pretty floored when I got up there.

    DI: Did winning the award give you more confidence as a writer?

    JE: It did, but more than anything it helped give me visibility. You have to be able to write well, but you also have to get out there and be visible, but not to the point of annoying people.

    There are thousands and thousands of writers and they are all submitting stuff. As a writer, you need to be latching onto anything that can set you apart.

    DI: What was the hardest part of the process?

    JE: The hardest part was believing I could do it. Writing thousand-word stories to the newspaper everyday seems like child’s play when you are talking about 85 to 90 thousand words. All of a sudden the scope is huge.

    DI: How did you get past it?

    JE: I spend a long time not doing it. It took over five years from start to when I really finished. But when you have invested so much into something, it seems stupid not to finish it. That’s probably what kept driving me back, ‘You are this far into it, you have to finish it,’ even if it never sells.