The Horror Tree Presents…Drew Stepek
Ruschelle: Tell us a little about yourself. Tell us something…juicy. Something that we would never guess is hiding somewhere inside the sinew of your meat suit.
Drew: I’ll start with the basics and then get onto the FILTH. I was born outside of Detroit and moved around a lot as a kid. After Detroit, I moved to Iowa, then back to Michigan, then to Memphis, then to Minnesota and then I went to high school in Maryland, and then college in Florida. Right after college, I moved to Los Angeles. I have worked in the entertainment industry since 1994.
NOW SECRETS! This should come as no surprise to anyone who read my first book, Godless, but I used to really love making myself puke. So much so that I spent the better part of my senior year of college in a hospital for bulimia. I was the only guy there. I learned a lot and it completely changed my perspective on the world, specifically on females. I’m not sure if that’s what you were looking for. It’s kind of juicy… consistency-wise.
Ruschelle: I would agree with you on the consistency. Puke can be juicy OR chunky! But I digress…Knuckle Baller, your sequel to Knuckle Supper will be readily available around Thanksgiving. (What a great gift to bring to dinner with the fam! People reading: write this down….) What should readers expect from book number two that might not have existed in book number one; either in content or your story telling style?
Drew: [Smug tone] It’s actually Knuckle Balled. Just kidding. It’s an honest mistake. Originally, it was called Knuckle Ball. I changed it because I wanted to name to reflect how f*cked our protagonist, RJ, was going to get throughout the story.
Besides the fact that the sequel has more gangs, more violence and a different location, it’s actually the exact same book. Kidding again. I wanted to take RJ out of Los Angeles for the first time in his miserable existence and turn the tables on him. Unlike the first book, he doesn’t have buy-in from those around him and he doesn’t lead a gang anymore. Spoiler: They’re all dead. With this book, I really wanted to change the theme of right versus wrong to right versus getting high and others versus self. RJ might be an anti-hero but he’s actually just a selfish asshole. He doesn’t realize that throughout the book every decision he makes is the wrong decision and no matter how he tries to justify his actions (with the help of first person perspective), the reader is on to him throughout the story. That said, I want the readers to root for him to make ANY good decision, rather than rooting for him as a hero.
Knuckle Supper is somewhat straight forward. He needs to do the right thing because he realizes that he’s a human being (kind of). On this book the lines are further blurred and if we learn from Eldritch that if we were seeing things unfold through someone else’s eyes… RJ would definitely come off as a villain.
It’s all about building his character and therefore creating the vampire lore that follows. There are going to be four books total in the main canon (there will be spinoffs) so I want the characters epiphanies to take time. I want the reader to learn something about themselves with him.
Ruschelle: AHHHH! Damn balls are always getting me in trouble. But that’s another sordid story that I’ll make up at another time. How about this– If and more likely- when they make Knuckle Supper & Knuckle Balled into feature films, do you see any particular actor/actress portraying the roles you so brilliantly crafted?
Drew: My co-scriptwriter, girlfriend and I have been making lists for years. It’s tough because of RJ’s age. Unfortunately, the people that I REALLY like for his role (in particular) might be a little too old. RJ is mid-to-late 30s.
If I were to make a DREAM CAST, it would be…
RJ Reynolds – Aaron Paul
Bait – An Unknown
Dez – Dane DeHann
The Habit – Lindsey Lohan
King Cobra – Terry Crews
Linnwood Perry – Jack Gleeson
Nomi – Erika Ervin
Eldritch – Alexander Skarsgard
Pinball – An Unknown
Cody Walker – Graham Rogers
There are many more characters, but I figured I’d just knock out the big one. Trust me. I know this ain’t gonna happen.
Ruschelle: Which bad ass vampire would you like to see munch the hell out of any and all of the Twilight Vampires?
Drew: Too easy. I’d like to see the posse from Near Dark roll there RV up to the Twilight house, break in and just destroy them… then use their shitters and not flush. I would watch a home invasion movie with that happening over and over again.
Ruschelle: LOVE those Near Dark vamps, in a…non-conjugal way. Here’s a question that will chaff your chorizo, I know it does mine. (And yes, I HAVE a chorizo. I keep it in my purse.) PG-13 in horror? GO!
Drew: It’s like fake news. It’s not a real thing. It’s a brutal cash grab and I f*cking hate it. I’ve been a fan of horror for as long as I can remember and (for instance) when I saw Halloween for the first time when I was 7, I felt like I was doing something not allowed. It was dangerous. It was… AWESOME!
BRAGGING ALERT: When I won the award in 2011 for best Indie horror novel for Knuckle Supper, I convinced myself that I won the best horror novel overall. Sure, I didn’t win the award for best commercial horror novel and I’m fine with that. I swear a lot in my books, there is an incredible amount of drug abuse and they tend to be extremely violent. So, yeah, that’s not commercial. F*ck commercial.
Ruschelle: It took 4 years to complete the sequel to Knuckle Supper. What was going on in those 4 years to shape Knuckle Balled?
Drew: It was a rough experience… one that I’m not going to relive with the third book (which I’ve already put a dent in). The second book in the any franchise is always the toughest. It can truly be make or break. I spent a long time overthinking how to get from point A to point B. That said, writing these books takes a toll on me. I want to write things that are true and real (with the supernatural element) but sometimes it’s tough to jump through the hoops and write about the horrors of the real world. I want this series to be more than just some horror book series and I think for a long time about what lines I can cross. That’s why A LOT of the most awful shit goes down off-screen. I don’t want to end up painting myself into something that will be frowned upon later (i.e. the gang bang scene in IT).
Real answer. I’m a procrastinator. Good thing people are liking Knuckle Balled as much as the first.
Ruschelle: Billy Idol, Billy Corgan or wait for it…Billy Ocean? Give this one some thought.
Drew: Idol FOREVER! Funny. Two weekends ago, on my birthday, my girlfriend took me to Vegas to see Idol’s last residency show at House of Blues (Mandalay Bay). Anyway, I texted my friend Chris that I was going to see “Billy” in Vegas and that he should come meet us there. He responded, “Billy who?” Of course, I responded “Ocean.” It was the only answer to such a dumb question. I’ve seen him many times and it’s always a great show.
Ruschelle: Are you one of those writers that can work while listening to music? Or are you like…ahem…some of us that feed off of the teat of silence? At least I think it’s a teat…
Drew: Yes. I write every chapter and every character to music. For instance, in the very first chapter of KS, I listened to “One Track Mind” by Johnny Thunders over and over again. In another scene, when RJ and Dez take down the cops and the Perry snitch, I listened to “Riot Squad” by Cock Sparer. The main character/music songs below. You should make a playlist on THE Spotify. You can see that each character’s music changes in the second book. At least, those who survived the first. SPOILER!
RJ – “Change the Key” – 7 Seconds
Dez – “Buried Myself Alive” – The Used
Eldritch – “Farewell” – Xymox
The Habit – “Drain the Blood” the Distillers
Bait – “Somebody Got Murdered” – The Clash
Nomi – “After the Fall” – Klaus Nomi
King Cobra – “Mystic Man” – Peter Tosh
Linnwood Perry – “Seventy-Seven” – The Furios
Copperhead – “Hand Grenade” – Cutty Ranks
The Knucklers (gang) – “Chinese Rocks” – Johnny Thunders
The BBP (gang) – “Gangsters” – The Specials
The Batwangers – “invaders Must Die” – The Prodogy
The Battlesnakes (gang) – “Ravers” – Steel Pulse
El Reinado de Sangre (gang) – “Raining Blood” – Slayer
Skinland Invasion (gang) – Anything by Screwdriver
The Cloth – The Lord’s Prayer
RJ – “Ain’t it Fun” – The Dead Boys / “Life is Pain” – Leftover Crack
Eldritch – “Rodent” – Skinny Puppy
Linnwood Perry – “Can You Dig It” – Jam X & DeLeon
Pinball – “Jeruselum” – Sinead O’Connor
Cody Walker – “Bro Hymn” – Pennywise
The Chaplins (gang) – “Modern Times” – Michel Villard
The RTL (gang) – “Ride the Lightning” – Metallica
The Real McCoys (gang) – “Straight to Hell” – Hank III
The Sixth Street Skulls (gang) – “Tu No Viva Asi” – Arcangel X Bad Bunny
BBP (gang) – “Pursuit of Happiness” – Kid Cudi / MGMT / Steve Aoki
The Minutemen – “I Fought the Law” – Bobby Fuller Four
The Cloth – The Lord’s Prayer
There is also a scene near the end of Knuckle Balled that I listened to “Thunder Kiss ‘65” by White Zombie OVER AND OVER AND OVER again while I wrote it. The guitar intro sets up about fifty pages of non-stop action until the end of the book… which was difficult to write because I am much more of a dialogue and character writer.
Ruschelle: This is the most beautiful list of punk rock music I have ever seen. I’m gonna need some time alone with it and so will the readers. Download these tunes people!
You’ve done work in the entertainment industry. Buffy the Vampire Slayer (a personal fav, don’t judge me), and The Profiler, to name drop a few. Were you inspired in your own works by what you helped others create? Sometimes helping others can ultimately help you…
Drew: I kind of divide my work up into two sections… A) the work I do to put food on the table and B) the work I do to fulfill my creative drive. Anything that I do during the day is usually based on someone else’s IP (I’ve worked pretty heavily in branded entertainment for the past 11 years). I try to separate the two and hope one day, I’ll be able to bring my IP to life as a film or TV series.
Ruschelle: In life we learn from all sorts of places. You’ve written for Film Threat. What is one thing you learned from writing for Film Threat that you feel you wouldn’t have learned anywhere else?
Drew: It was my first job out of college and I wouldn’t EVER go back in time and change it. It was like getting hit by the Hollywood bus the second I walked into town. Strangely enough, I met E. Elias Merhige when I worked there and I fell in love with his first film, Begotten. About three months ago, I got the opportunity to catch up with him and even got him to read the Knuckle series (so far) and give me a blurb for the cover of the new book. It meant the world to me. I wrote a blurb that was on the cover of the Begotten video and DVD and he returned the favor.
My quote on Begotten (1994):
“The result is a thing of beauty where realistic images are turned upside down by the grotesque and flowers are trampled by the darkening clouds of a nightmare.”
His quote on Knuckle Balled:
“Anything that represents and reveals the most painful and disgusting parts of ourselves and our society, and does so with glee and humor—heals us by the very act of its creation. Knuckle Balled has fun while accomplishing this.”
I guess the thing I learned… don’t burn bridges. Friends from 20+ years ago will remain your friends and support you forever. I wish I could talk to a bunch of kids who are about to enter the working world to tell them that.
Ruschelle: You have made some fantastic connections. You lucky bastard. On that same ‘lucky bastard’ note, you’ve worked on Conan O’Brien, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno & Saturday Night Live. What was your role on each show? And please don’t tell me pastry & coffee provider because that would be AWESOME!!!
Drew: Nope, nothing that… AWESOME! In 1996, NBC was just starting to build NBC.com. That said, I got this incredible opportunity to come on and be a writer (online, of course) for all of the NBC-owned properties (including Saved by the Bell: The New Class and the Saturday night THRILLOGY). So, most of my work was limited to online but I did end up winning a Webby award (Stand of Excellence: Best of the Web) for an online gameshow called The Probe that I created for Saturday Night Live.
Don’t get me wrong, it was absolutely the biggest opportunity of my life and man.
Ruschelle: You have written, produced and directed. That’s a lot of different hats, and you have such sweet hair! But…which one do you feel fits you the best. Which one is Drew Stepek?
Drew: I like writing. I like creating from the ground up. Producing is such a money/numbers game and it makes me anxious. The best thing I think that I’ve produced in the last five years or so was this branded thing that I did for AwesomenessTV and Pride, Prejudice + Zombies (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pkXwIo3sycQ).
Ruschelle: Godless was your first novel. You mention that you wrote it because of your own personal issues with addiction and bulimia. Did enrobing your struggles in fiction help you deal with your issues? Or had you already battled your monsters and needed to put them to rest the way many Creatives do…by slaking their hearts in a book?
Drew: It went on much longer than it should have and continued after the publishing of Godless. I can honestly say that I have come to terms with it and kind of forgotten about it. My Pirelli will attest to that. All my books and stories have a common theme of addiction and abuse. Like I said earlier, being the hospital taught me something that I didn’t even realize (at the time) that I had to learn. 100% of the girls that I was in the hospital with had been sexually abused and that seriously spiked into my psyche.
But to answer your question (I’m not doing a very good job at that), fiction helps me take those dark roads again without actively participating. I was originally going to write a sequel to Godless. I kept putting it off because I didn’t want to find myself in that world again… because it was REAL. Then, the idea for Knuckle Supper came along and I figured that I would take these “happy” themes and put them into another world. If I weren’t trying to bring these two worlds together, the Knuckle series would be trash. It’s important to use horror as a vessel to deliver reality. I guess that’s why I’m not super into extreme horror. What the f*ck is the story about? If there isn’t an arc where the characters learn something about themselves… it isn’t even a story. It’s just gross words folded into a book. I don’t mean to be a snob or discredit anyone but that’s just my opinion. To me, it’s like… let’s take all the gross shit out of Clive Barker books and ditch the characters and any motivations.
Ruschelle: Atheism is a notable theme in Godless. You have also written stories of soulless beings in the Knuckle series. How does Atheism affect your characters? Is there more freedom with creating characters who are Atheist?
Drew: Yes, Atheism is another common theme in my writing. I think I stopped believing in God when I was around 14. It’s not something I’m incredibly proud of because (like most people), I’d like to believe that there is something after all this. I just… don’t. I think everyone should stand behind what they believe in though (even if it’s dumb like $cientology). I respect the hell out of people who stand up for their beliefs and don’t try to force it down other people’s throats.
There is a freedom (for me) in creating Atheist characters. I guess we are taught to write what we know, or in the case of Atheism… write what we know doesn’t exist. I think that was the genesis of The Cloth in the Knuckle series, and to some extent, The Habit. Even if the characters are used to mock the other side of my belief, they are purposely put there to show that the other side exists. After all, RJ is an increasingly untrustworthy narrator so who’s to say that he’s right or wrong. Spoiler: He’s wrong 99.9% of the time.
Ruschelle: Do you like pasta? Is so, what is your favorite? If you do not like pasta, I will change your answer so it looks like you DO like pasta because it is the CORRECT answer. Any recipes ya wanna share?
Drew: Rigatoni. Rigatoni. Rigatoni. Whenever I order pasta online, I will usually order spaghetti and meatballs… insisting in the notes that they send Rigatoni. Last time, Maggiano’s f*cking dissed me and sent me spaghetti. I chased the Door Dash driver down and slit his tires and then beat him into a coma. Not really. I wanted to though. Stupid long-ass noodles. I don’t have a pasta recipe but I do have my own Three Meat Ass Explosion Chili Recipe below. I guess you could put it over Rigatoni.
1 lb Ground Turkey
1 lb Ground Pork
1 lb Ground Chicken
1 Bottle of Heinz 57
1 Bottle of A1
1 Bottle of Worchester Sauce
1 Bottle of Chalula
2 Habanero Peppers
1 large can of tomato sauce
2 cans of S&W chili beans
1 shaker of chili powder
1 shaker of cayenne pepper
1 shaker of Old Bay (I lived in Maryland)
2 Squares of dark chocolate
1 bag of shredded cheese (sharp cheddar)
Begin by cooking all three meats in a large frying pan (one at a time)
When simmering the meat, add 1/3 a bottle of 57, A1, Worchester, Chalula to each. Also, cover the top of the meat with chili powder, cayenne pepper and old bay and mix it in until the meat has sucked up all the juice and spices.
When all three meats are cooked, throw them into a crock pot.
Pour in the two cans of S&W beans and at least half of the tomato sauce.
Dice the habaneros and add them in as well.
Add the dark chocolate.
Let cook in the crock pot for 6 hours. Stir regularly. If that shit isn’t hot enough, add Tabasco continuously.
Serve in a bowl. Sprinkle the shredded cheese on top.
Serve to your friends. It’s a gnarly experience. They taste the chocolate first and think, “Oh, this isn’t so bad… kinda sweet.” About 10 seconds later, they feel that shit attacking their bodies like a chest-buster from Alien is about to jump out of their sphincter. The next day, they will hate you.
This is a ‘stand-in’ bowl of black bean soup. Drew’s actual pot of chili asked not to photographed (friggin Diva) so I had to make do.
Ruschelle: That looks absolutely delicious. Chili is best eaten over pasta. In my opinion. So when should I expect you over to make me a vat? Better be soon, you made me hungry.
Back to the questions–Hindsight is always 20/20. So is there anything about your books that you would change if you could? Or do you love every word, ellipses and quotation you penned?
Drew: OMG, yes. We went back in the 3rd edition of Knuckle Supper (The Ultimate Gutter Edition). We took out this REALLY dumb thing that I put in the book where the vamps would take on the traits of the animals that they devoured. I really wanted to create a vampire series where almost everything can be explained in the real world… our world. My editor at Blood Bound Books, Andrea Dawn, made me get rid of it and thankfully, I listened.
Boy, was that dumb.
We also added in this new “character” that is important in the second book called The Gooch. Essentially, The Gooch is RJ’s withdrawal speaking to him. There is a real tug of war in Knuckle Balled between The Gooch and RJ’s dreams, that act as his conscious.
Ruschelle: Will there be a 3rd book in the Knuckle series?
Drew: YEP! As I said earlier, I’ve already put a dent in it. It’s now called KNUCKLER. Originally it was called Knuckle Smasher.
Spoilers ahead. If you haven’t finished Knuckle Balled, DO NOT read this next paragraph.
The book takes place in Mexico and RJ faces his worst big bads to date. Much more inspired by The Five Deadly Venoms that The Warriors (like the first two books), in KNUCKLER, RJ goes head-to-head with a cartel of Mexican vampires called The Five Knuckles of the Demon’s Fist or Cinco Nudillos del Puño del Demonio. The Cartel is broken up by five different vamp leaders who participate in five different illegal activities across the Mexican state of Chihuahua. The cartel is broken up by:
- The Solider – El Soldado – Arms Dealer
- The Scientist – El Científico – Black market organ dealer and more
- The Shephard – El Pastor – Human trafficking
- White – Blanco – Coke Dealer
- Black – Negro – Heroin Dealer
It’s totally f*cking insane. There is also a main character returning from the first book. That person will play an important part in showing who RJ is. A lot of the book will take place in flashbacks before RJ met Bait.
Ruschelle: Dammit it, I read the spoiler without finishing the book! UGH!! Honestly, that’s okay because I am a spoiler junkie. Yes, I read endings first. I do what I want!
What is next on your literary plate? Anything in the works or are you delving into something different?
Drew: I’m going to finish KNUCKLER and then almost immediately start the final book in the main canon, The Last Knuckle Supper. Then, I am probably going to start the spinoff books, which (as of right now) are:
Assault of the Earth – Cody Walker versus the Sunshine zombies
I’m With Perry – What happens to Linnwood Perry after Knuckle Balled
The Poser – Not revealing any information
Lunar – Not Revealing any information
Maybe an Eldritch Book. I should call it that.
Ruschelle: Some of the proceeds from the Knuckle series goes towards the charity Children of the Night, which helps sexually exploited children from prostitution. These children are much more than a statistic. What do you want people to take away from this organization and to learn from these kids?
Drew: I just really want people to know what’s going on and that there are people doing things to try and stop human trafficking, as well as child prostitution and exploitation. It’s not something that really comes up on everyone’s radar very often and it should. Granted, I live in Los Angeles where it’s a major problem but people shouldn’t be surprised to find out that it’s going on right in their backyards. It is the main driver for this entire series and in KNUCKLER, I will definitely be hitting it much stronger. Bait and Pinball are just scratching the surface and when all is revealed by the end of the series, I am hoping that I will kick the message into people’s teeth. Lois Lee (the owner of Children of the Night) is a saint, man. The work she does goes so far beyond just getting these kids off the street and getting them a bed. She is getting these kids to college, into the workforce and beyond. Before 1979, this wasn’t even close to a reality. Even if only one person understands my message and how it relates to Children of the Night and gives their time and money to this incredible organization, well, I’ve achieved my goal. Check out their site. Follow and like them on social networks. Give MUCH NEEDED money.
Ruschelle: It’s been a damn pleasure Drew. A damn pleasure. Readers and new fans of Drew, check him out on any of these sites.
BUT JUST WAIT, yeah this is now an interview infomercial—Drew wrote The Horror Tree a personal story! He brings us on an emotional journey- one that might leave us crying. But we can’t, because…there’s no crying in baseball.
PLUS, he’s gifted us with photos highlighting each step! Strap one on folks…errr…I mean…strap in and meet the man, the legend Number 666 Dreeeeeeew Stepek!
Everybody cheer, dammit.
The Dodgers f*cking lost last night and I’m pissed. Gonna take it to the street and f*ck shit up.
Rather than sitting around crying, I wanted to walk around LA remind myself why I live in the greatest and HARDEST city in the world.
It’s chilly out today so I threw on my phresh hood. It’ll keep me incognito if I decide to beat down some tourists from Houston.
Tagged a wall. LA is the home of street art. That’s what’s up.
Immediately outside, I was reminded of the Dodger’s loss by a sign at Shakey’s Pizza. I smiled, though. Shakey’s is from LA and they don’t have it anywhere else in the world. All you can eat pizza and hojo potatoes, BITCH!
I walked by this old diner. That motherf*cker is open 27 hours! I bet they don’t have places open 27 hours where you live. LA. Only.
Walked by the Los Angeles Museum of Art. Looked at some statues n shit. Felt cultured.
Stopped in front of this dope Ed Hardy museum because it told me not walk. LA. Period.
I bet you didn’t know that in LA bushes grow empty cans of malt liquor. #MiracleMaltingBush #211
We got tar n shit, too. I bet they don’t have Mammoths drowning in tar in your town. Pussy.
Check out these plates! I bet you can’t get personalized vanity plates where you live. Stupid randomly selected numbers and letters.
That’s right. LA is the greatest city in the world. Buy Knuckle Balled and the Knuckle Supper: Ultimate Gutter Fix Edition on November 23rd. Please. Thank you.
- About the Author
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Ruschelle Dillon is a freelance writer whose efforts focus on the dark humor and the horror genres. Ms. Dillon’s brand of humor has been incorporated in a wide variety of projects, including the irreverent blog Puppets Don’t Wear Pants and novelette “Bone-sai”, published through Black Bed Sheet Books as well as the live-action video shorts “Don’t Punch the Corpse” and “Mothman”. She also interviews authors for the Horror Tree website.
Her short stories have appeared in various anthologies and online zines such as Strangely Funny III, Story Shack, Siren’s Call, Weird Ales- Another Round and Women in Horror Anthology Vol. 2, Sanitarium Magazine, Dark Voices and Fear and Fables. Her collection of short stories, Arithmophobia published by Mystery and Horror LLC, is available through Amazon & Barnes and Noble. Summer 2020, Black Bed Sheet Publishing will release her dark Novella, The Stain.