Michael Kamp Bio: Michael was born and raised in the frozen wasteland of Denmark. After wrestling a polar bear in the traditional Danish coming-of-age ritual he chose the path of the storyteller. Several novels and a few awards later, the time has come to go beyond his native tongue and take a shot at the English markets. He is co-founder of the Danish Horror Society – a society of Danish horror authors dedicated to promote the genre as literature for adults. He works the nightshift, writes out his nightmares and hope to someday create a story so frightening readers won’t dare to finish it. He lives in Kirke Hyllinge with his wife, sons, and a pet troll.
You can see more about Michael on his website: http://www.fromthefrozennorth.com/
Talking with Michael Kamp
Sci-Fi & Scary: Clowns was an interesting book, and very well timed, considering IT has just recently been released in theaters. Did Pennywise / IT itself have any influence on your story?
Michael Kamp: Indirectly, yes. I was reading the paper about a year ago when the Creepy Clown craze raged and suddenly realized that it was almost a horror story in itself. What if Creepy Clowns were not people in costumes? What if they were real? I called up my publisher and asked if they would go for it, and they green-lit it immediately.
Took me about a month to write it.
Only later did it occur to me that the date of publication would be fairly close to the premiere of IT, so I got my publisher to move the date ahead. We missed it with a few weeks, but I hope the interest in clowns are still strong.
Sci-Fi & Scary: You know we have to ask this one… Are you afraid of clowns, yourself?
Michael Kamp: No. I understand why they are scary, but I’m not really affected by it myself. I do have a real phobia for watery depths. Thalassophobia.
It got triggered when I sneaked in to watch Jaws behind a couch in the living room, being WAY too young for that movie. To this day I have a really hard time swimming where I can’t see the bottom. Which in Denmark means everywhere. Our seas are greenish-black.
Sci-Fi & Scary: Working night shift in an institution for the mentally ill is pretty much the perfect job for someone who writes horror! Has anything you ever witnessed or heard there turned into a story idea for you?
Michael Kamp: Oh, several times. Walking around at night in that place tend to trigger the imagination. One time I opened a door to one of the kitchens and got spooked, almost dropping some stuff I was carrying. But there was nothing there. Nothing to spook me. I wondered why I had that reaction and told the morning shift. They in turn told me that the former night shift had talked about seeing a woman in that particular kitchen and was certain it was haunted.
That’s good stuff.
At one time we had a resident who would walk around at night without turning the lights on. You could get a pretty good scare when he was suddenly standing there in the dark.
He was the nicest man I ever met, so it was never uncomfortable, but you’d get a bit of a jump scare every time.
Sci-Fi & Scary: We had an interesting discussion earlier about cultural differences, as Clowns is more of a Young Adult horror novel than a kids’ horror book, which is what you had originally submitted it to me as. In part, that’s due to the language used. (Parental Advisory, folks!) You also have an author’s note in the back about some of the differences between Danish and American cultures. That got me to thinking. How closely does Clowns translate from the version written in your first language? Did you have any trouble making the switch over?
Michael Kamp: Clowns is a very close translation of Klovn, but it’s a bit more tight since you usually cut away in translation instead of adding. Early on I had to decide if I was keeping the story in Denmark or should rewrite it to small town USA. I ended up keeping it here and risked alienating the readers. It would seem bland to repack it, since I would not be able to use my own experiences in the story.
It did pose some challenges, since the cultural differences really start to show when you translate stories.
There was a lot of uncertainty. In Denmark I’m pretty well known in horror, so it’s been years since I doubted myself, but suddenly I’m removed from the audience both linguistic and culturally. Would a US audience appreciate my way of writing? Was it too visceral? Did it hit the target age or would the cultural difference mess with what is considered appropriate?
As we talked about there is some swearing and that is a typical blind spot. It never occurred to me that swearing is taken seriously in the US, whereas we Danes tend to swear like sailors on an everyday basis.
Sci-Fi & Scary: You are co-founder of the Danish Horror Society. When was it founded and what’s your membership (population) like? Do you have Cons/ meetups?
Michael Kamp: The Danish Horror Society was founded September 4th 2011 by eleven horror writers and one publisher. We aim to introduce horror as an adult genre to the public, since horror is usually considered to be YA literature here in Denmark.
Currently we are around 35 members which includes writers, publishers, journalists, librarians and film makers. Everyone who is working with horror as a genre in one capacity or another. As a small genre in a small nation, we are fewer than our sister societies in other nations.
We arrange events and have a yearly award we give out in the spring to the best Danish title in the horror genre.
Sci-Fi & Scary: What have been your most popular Danish novels to date? Do you intend on bringing them over to the English market?
Michael Kamp: It depends on your criteria for success 🙂
The most sold title is probably Fordærv (Decay) which is another long fiction, a bit shorter than Clowns. It basically follow a class in the seventh grade that slowly gets turned into zombies, but everyone involved are handling it like any other school-related issue. They are not alarmed at the sight of zombies, but concerned as to how this will affect the class and future school events. This one will certainly make the jump to English.
The best received is the Moln. Moln is the name of a small fictitious village in Denmark with a serious haunting problem. Kids go missing and everyone are pretending that nothing is wrong.
I intend to bring all of the popular ones to English, but I keep hitting that cultural barrier challenge, where key portions of the stories might not be that accessible to a US audience.
Both Moln and Decay are centered around schools, and Danish schools are much different from US schools.
Bunker 137 is Lovecraftian horror set during WWII, but the main characters are full blown Waffen SS members and I’m not sure how effective that translates. It basically puts the reader in a dilemma – if you have to choose between the cruel and the inhuman, how does it turn out? I’m just not sure if the US audience would appreciate a story told from the eyes of an enemy.
I have 16 titles in Danish, and 10 of them could probably make the jump to English. We’ll see. It takes a lot of time and effort.
Sci-Fi & Scary: You mention in your biography that you’ve won three awards for your writing. Tell us about them!
Michael Kamp: Gladly.
In 2011 I won the tongue twister Kulturministeriet og Ministeriet for Børn og Undervisnings Drengelitteraturpris 2011 (The Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Children and Education’s New Literature for Boys Award 2011), and was handed the award by the Danish Minister of Education. A horror short story centered on a cellphone called Prank Call. This is actually out in English as a stand alone short story on Amazon.
The story behind it is fun, since I had given up on meeting the deadline. The day before the deadline, I decided to give it a shot anyway, and since it had a 2000 word limit, I wrote it in a single sitting.
My wife read it and hated the ending, so I made a few adjustments and scrapped the ending, before sending it in. Didn’t expect anything, but it won.
I learned two important lessons. Sometimes desperation is drug fueling creativity, and you should never underestimate the importance of good beta-readers.
Later the same year I won the Niels Klim Award for Best Danish Science Fiction Short Story. A horror/scifi short story called Homo Arachnida took home the award.
Homo Arachnida is a dystopian mystery, where the reader instantly knows something is very wrong with the world, but the back story slowly unfolds through seemingly mundane observations.
This too is out in English in the anthology “Lore: Vol. 2, No. 3“. Which nobody read.
Four years on the market and it did not get a single review. Lesson learned – check out publishers before you submit.
Finally I won the big one in 2015. Best Horror of the Year.
It’s basically the Danish version of the Bram Stoker Awards and you can’t really get any more credit in the genre than this.
It was the novel Samlerne (The Collectors) which won the award in which a man is loosing both himself and his family when an evil force invades their home. It plays around with our concepts of reality and how sufficiently advanced creatures might treat us with the same indifference we treat ants and bugs.
It’s highly doubtful that this title will ever be translated. Despite the award and the hype, I have never produced a title which sold so few copies. I suspect the audience found it too experimental and it didn’t really connect.
Sci-Fi & Scary: Who are your favorite authors? Danish and English if they differ!
Michael Kamp: My favorite author in English is Terry Pratchett. The way he combines silly stories with very serious social commentary is masterful. His Discworld novels are amazing and the way he weaves a tale filled with slapstick humor and then suddenly make a real point about racism … That’s what I aspire to.
I tend to use social commentary in my stories too, although discretely, and Terry Pratchett has set a very high standard for how it’s done. I was really sad when he died.
In Danish it must be Dennis Jürgensen. I was practically raised on his books and he cover the range from slapstick comedy to real, nail biting horror with such ease it’s an inspiration. It was a very odd experience to suddenly be his colleague and getting together behind the scenes at cons and events. One of the friendliest and most humble authors I have met.
Sci-Fi & Scary: What is your favorite scary movie?
Michael Kamp: Dawn of the Dead (2004 version). A tour de force zombie flick that is massively entertaining and has one heck of a start sequence. The only movie I ever remember seeing twice in a row. I literally sat in silence for five minutes after seeing it, and then started over. Shout outs to The Descent (2005) or teaching me the taste of claustrophobia, Hellraiser II (1988) for making Hell a nauseous place and the entire Nightmare on Elm Street series which I saw in a single sitting during one long night as a teen. Awesome.
Sci-Fi & Scary: What is your most hated horror movie or book cliche?
Michael Kamp: Idiots. I simply cant stand idiot characters who get killed because they are dumb as a sack of potatoes. People in horror stories needs to be credible and most people are (surprisingly) not idiots. They tend to be fairly careful.
If I hear a strange noise from the basement at night, I’m not going down there with only a lit candle to check it out. I’m bringing a crowbar and a flashlight. Having characters act stupid is often lazy writing. Something needs to happen to drive the plot forward, and the writer decides to just push it through instead of setting it up in a believable manner.
The creepy clown epidemic began when I was 12 years old.
Creepy clowns roamed neighborhoods at night, terrifying the population. At first it was only in the U.S.
Soon it spread, turning into a global craze.
The wave of clown sightings even reached all the way to Denmark.
Every day, the papers ran stories about clowns scaring people.
Of course, the vast majority of creepy clowns were just pranksters in costumes.
But not all of them.
Not in Ullerup.
Buy Link: Amazon