Twenty-five years after putting out his first short story collection, horror writer Edo van Belkom is doing it again with the 25th Anniversary Edition of 1998’s Death Drives A Semi (paperback, Kindle). In the following email interview, Edo discusses how this collection originally came together, as well as what’s new about this edition.
For people who didn’t read this collection when it originally came out in 1998, is there a theme that connects the stories in Death Drives A Semi?
There isn’t a theme per se, but if there is something running through all of the stories, it’s a dark, wry sense of humor and the plot twists that result from that. Plenty of readers and reviewers have mentioned similarities between myself and writers like Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson, and Stephen King, and I’m flattered to be considered in the same breath as these great writers, but the comparisons I’m most proud of are to Robert Bloch (his tale “Enoch” is one of my all-time favorites) and to EC Comics, which is something that occurred organically, as opposed to by some grand design on my part.
Now, that’s not to say there aren’t some stories that are thematically connected. Upon re-reading the book for the 25th Anniversary edition it became obvious that I did a lot of exploring of the family dynamic back in the 1990s. Some are obvious like “Mother And Child,” and “Family Ties,” but there are others that examine relationships between family members like husband and wife, (“The Basement” and “S.P.S.”) and mother and daughter, (“Rat Food”). It’s not something I did intentionally, or even something I was aware of at the time, just something that stood out when I read the book later on as a whole.
How then did you decide what stories to include in Death Drives A Semi, and which not to include?
When the book was first published, I had probably published fifty or sixty short stories, and maybe thirty of those were good enough to be considered for the collection. I provided the publisher with all of the stories I was proud of and thought were worthy of being a part of a collection, and they made the final selections getting it down to twenty, which is the number I wanted because that’s how many stories Ray Bradbury included in his collection, The October Country. That book is one of my favorites of all time, and the book I most wanted to emulate when I began my writing career.
The stories in Death Drives A Semi are horror stories, but what subgenres of horror are included in this collection?
Yes, there are a plenty of subgenres in the book representing a wide range of subject matter and writing styles. With The October Country in mind, “Mother And Child” and “The Basement” or homages to Ray Bradbury, while “Death Drives A Semi,” “Rat Food,” and “The Rug” might be a good fit for Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone. Traditional monsters like werewolves and vampires are given a fresh treatment in “Mark Of The Beast,” and “Blood Count,” while post-apocalyptic zombies appear in “But Somebody’s Got To Do It” and “Roadkill.” Science fiction is represented by “Baseball Memories” and “S.P.S.” while “The Piano Player Has No Fingers” and “And Injustice For Some” are crime stories.
So then, in terms of the 25th Anniversary Edition of Death Drives A Semi, are the stories the same as they were in the original edition, or did you change anything about them?
The only things that I added was an additional story, “To Be More Like Them,” which I think is one of my best in terms of story, structure, and technique, as well as notes on each story. Maybe the stories didn’t deserve notes on their creation and publication, but I always like reading those things, so I wanted to include them in this edition if I had the chance.
That said, the rest of the book contains the very same stories as the original. I never really considered rewriting or fixing any of them because that feels to me like cheating, or messing with something that’s working. I mean, George Lucas revisited his first Star Wars movies and “fixed” things because he had the time and money to do it, and Stephen King added a bunch of deleted scenes to Salem’s Lot when a new edition of that book came out, but it’s up for debate whether or not those changes made the new version of the film or book any better than the original.
One thing is certain, I’m not George Lucas, nor Stephen King, and I doubt anyone was anxiously awaiting the “Director’s Cut” of Death Drives A Semi. I will say this, though…when I reread the stories for this edition, I was extremely pleased at how well they held up after twenty-five years.
The 25th Anniversary Edition of Death Drives A Semi also has a revised version of the intro by writer Robert J. Sawyer [The WWW Trilogy]. Whose idea was it to revise it?
If you look at the two author’s photos in the book, one from 1998 and one from 2023, it’s obvious how much things can change over time. When I asked Rob if he would update the intro he did so gladly as there are some things that have changed in my life, and he wanted to accurately represent them.
That said, the changes are minimal, and the flavor of the piece is just as it was twenty-five years ago.
Hollywood loves making movies out of horror stories. Are there any stories in Death Drives A Semi that you think would work really well as movies?
That’s easy: Every damn one of them. Over the years, plenty of people have approached me about adapting a short story or novel of mine, but most of the time nothing much came of their inquiries. That’s why when CBS/Viacom approached me about the television rights to my young adult novel Wolf Pack, I really thought nothing of it. More like, “Oh, here we go again.” But within two weeks of their first contact, there was an offer for the rights, in six months there was a press release and teaser trailer, in another six months shooting began, and six months after that the show was premiering on Paramount Plus. Who knew?
But back to your question. I think any one of these stories could make for a terrific episode in a horror anthology show, or as a short film. These things need storylines and situations a that are different, and I think each of these stories have something to offer. But, of course, I’m the author, so I’m just a little biased. So far, Jeff Davis (Teen Wolf, Criminal Minds) is the only one who’s brought my work onto the screen. I’m more grateful than anyone can know, but if he would only tell his friends…
So, is there anything else people need to know about the 25th Anniversary Edition of Death Drives A Semi?
Only that both the publisher (Mark Lefebvre) and I are both passionate about the book and are thrilled that it’s back in a new edition that will hopefully make its way into the hands of a few new readers. It’s a hard sell, I know, because there are more books being published these days than ever before, so it’s hard to stand out. This edition has just about every feature possible in a printed book, but in the end, I only hope that it’s the quality of the stories that shines through.
Finally, I find short story collections to be a good way to get to know a writer. Do you think Death Drives A Semi does this?
Absolutely, reading these stories will give you a pretty good snapshot of me as a writer.
So if someone enjoys Death Drives A Semi, which of your novels would you suggest they check out next?
Teeth, a book about a female serial killer who dispatches her victims with her Vagina Dentata, or Blood Road, about an aging vampire whose teeth have rotted out who has to drive a truck at night to make ends meet. Those are two novels that have a bit of the same edge to them.
Still, if it’s something tamer you’re after, there’s the Wolf Pack series. While those were written with younger readers in mind, they are still the basis for a violent, adult-oriented horror TV show on Paramount Plus (starring Sarah Michele Gellar, by the way).
But who am I kidding, if anyone picks up any of my other books to read, that in itself would be a great place to start.