Colin Heintze was born to a mother who collected fantasy books and a father with a shelf of counterculture literature. Any chances of him being a normal person were finally dashed by Joe-Bob Briggs, Mike and the Bots, and the back issues of Heavy Metal Magazine accumulating under his bed. By early adolescence he knew he wanted to be a writer, and had developed the morbid, cantankerous personality to go along with it. Since then, Colin has worked a series of strange jobs, lived overseas, and settled down to a life of semi-respectability.
What’s the story about?
Funeral Games is the story of Syphax, a prince in a medieval feudal society, and his efforts to right a wrong that is plunging his country into civil war. His society is a very sick one due to a special quirk he shares with others of his bloodline: when members of the nobility die, they come back as ghosts. The country is ruled by its deceased ancestors. The living lead hedonistic lives, then commit highly-ritualized forms of suicide in order to join their ancestors in the ruling class. Syphax is a bit of an odd man out. He isn’t really interested in politically advancing himself. He just wants to live quiet life apart from the power-games the ruling bloodlines play. But, a series of unprecedented events forces him into a dynastic struggle and the very old, very dark conspiracy that’s driving it. It’s a horror/fantasy/mystery novel, or a fantasy/mystery/horror novel, or whatever order you want to put it in, really.
Where did the idea for the story come from?
I definitely have some inspirations that I need to give credit to.
First, there’s the Gormenghast novels by Mervyn Peake. Gormenghast definitely provided inspiration for Ingerval Palace, the main setting for Funeral Games. Like Gormenghast, Ingerval Palace is so massive that nobody is sure how big it really is. It has a lot of old sections that haven’t been visited for decades, and the people who live there are all a little… off.
Another source of inspiration was “The Night Land” by William Hope Hodgson. The Night Land is one of my favorite all-time books. I always think that’s funny, because it’s kind of a shitty book in a lot of ways. When it comes to tone, atmosphere, and world-building, the book is an absolute masterpiece, but Hodgson wrote it in very forced, very repetitive Elizabethan English. The story takes place in a distant future when Earth’s sun has burned out. Humans live in a towering, climate-controlled pyramid. The world outside is swathed in darkness and filled with monsters, many of which are controlled by higher powers that want nothing more than the extermination of mankind. This idea of the earth itself being your enemy, of literally having the whole world trying to kill you, was very appealing to me. I wrote Ingerval, the setting of Funeral Games, to give off that same vibe. It’s a cursed land. Everybody can tell it has some sort of horrible destiny, only nobody knows for certain what that is. It’s Mordor a few years before Sauron moved in, or The Night Land prior to the sun fully burning out.
My last direct inspiration was the video game Dark Souls. I was blown away by the storytelling style of Dark Souls and the fatalistic tone of the game’s world. Nearly every character in Dark Souls is undead, a liar, and has some sort of hidden agenda, three things I really wanted for the inhabitants of Ingerval.
What is it about the story that inspired you to write the book?
Like most writers, I attempted other novels before Funeral Games. I never finished them for the usual reasons: writer’s block, realizing the premise was faulty, or simply not having fun writing the book. I think that last part is really important. There are few greater pleasures than the act of creation, and if you’re not enjoying writing a book, people won’t enjoy reading it. If you’re not having fun, that’s your brain telling you that the book probably isn’t very good. I didn’t have that problem with Funeral Games. I think that’s because the book has a strong premise. A society ruled by the spirits of the deceased – there’s a lot of interesting and crazy places I could go with that.
How long did it take to write?
The time between “Chapter One” and “The End” was about four months. But, you never write a book; you rewrite a book. Rewrites took about eight months.
What makes it stand out among others?
Well, I personally think the premise is fairly strong and unique. After that, the mixture of genres. My publishers have had a hard time classifying Funeral Games. It’s obviously a fantasy book but, on top of that, a large portion of the book is focused on Syphax solving the story’s central mystery. It’s a horror book, too. One thing I’m proud of is how I handled the horror aspects of the story. The people of Ingerval aren’t really afraid of ghosts – in fact, they venerate them. The horror is more existential. Since ghosts haunt the area where they died, people are very concerned about dying at the time and place of their own choosing. Imagine having to spend eternity in a room with people you can’t stand. Or, being absolutely forgotten by the world for thousands of years, nothing but pitch darkness and total silence to keep you company. The ghosts of Ingerval aren’t frightening because they’re undead. They’re frightening because their existence is hellish.
Is there anything you would change about it?
I’d make it a tad longer. I’d give some characters a few more scenes. But, a book should be as long as it needs to be, and I’m against adding anything that could be considered filler. I prefer to keep a brisk pace. The first handful of chapters are build-up and establishing the world, and for the rest of the book the action barely lets up.
What is your favorite horror book?
I actually think horror works better in a short form. Most horror stories, the tension comes from not knowing what is hunting you, or driving you crazy, or giving you nightmares. Stretching that out over 250 pages can be tough. You see that problem in a lot in bad horror movies. There will be meaningless jump scares or the main character will have scary hallucinations in order to keep things interesting until the end reveal. So, I generally prefer short stories and novellas. I’ve spent a lot of sleepless nights with Lovecraft, Thomas Ligotti, Robert Chambers, Daphne Du Maurier, and Joe Lansdale. As for novels, one of my favorites is another flawed, but remarkable book: Black Easter by James Blish. It’s a great read if you’re interested in Christian occultism.
Who is your favorite horror writer?
Lovecraft. I have similar feelings about him and Hodgson. Lovecraft definitely has flaws in the style and execution of his writing. There’s also the issue of his personal beliefs. But, the guy did what every author dreams of, but so few achieve: he took his personal perspective on the world and turned it into a fully-realized, fully-populated universe. As an Atheist, an introvert, and a semi-misanthrope, his vision of a cold universe really interests me. Though I feel compelled to mention that, while I relate to Lovecraft on those points, I condemn his social views. Too many of us with the aforementioned traits succumb to delusions of superiority.
Would the book work as a movie?
Absolutely. Funeral Games’ focus is on a single character, it has a mostly linear plot, and some of the heady, metaphysical stuff toward the end wouldn’t be too hard to convey in a visual medium. I’d love to see Del Toro or Cuaron direct it, but of course that’s dreaming rather big.