Categories
Featured Indie Horror Indie Horror Creation Indie horror writers Short Horror Stories

Infernal

Looking into the mirror, my eyes were bloodshot. Of course they were bloodshot, what did I expect having only slept four hours in the last three days? It was getting to be a pattern and it was starting to take a toll on me. My fluff of a ragdoll cat, Jekyll, stopped midway through weaving himself around my ankles and looked up lovingly at me—his soft mew broke my trance.

“I’m coming Jekyll, you’ve got to let me brush my teeth!” My toothbrush hung lazily in my mouth and I found it difficult to keep from drooling on my clean pajama top—thank god I was single. I caught my eyes again in the mirror before I turned the hot water handle, rinsed off my toothbrush, and spit. There was blood in the sink again, Jesus—was I falling apart? My toothbrush made a hollow clunk as it hit the bottom of the toothbrush holder. When I opened the medicine cabinet, I was greeted by the same rainbow of pill bottles that was waiting for me every night. I emptied Tuesday’s compartment into my hand and tossed the array of antidepressants, vitamins, and sleeping pills back with a handful of water that I splashed up from the spigot. Here I was thinking that these were supposed to make me feel better, but the last few days had proven they weren’t working.

The water splashed down on Jekyll—that was when he let out a pitiful cry and jetted out of the bathroom. I sighed, it was laborious and made my back creak; my shoulders stung with the pain of exhaustion. For a moment, I could have sworn I caught a whiff of smoke, but it was gone as soon as it had appeared. I hastily closed the medicine cabinet, but as the mirror swung closed with a snap, I looked back up at my reflection and my eyes succumbed to my exhaustion. It lived on my face as the puffy purpling bags under my eyes—a desperation for sleep, filled the void within me. When I finally opened my eyes again, I caught a glimpse of something over my shoulder in the mirror, I felt myself start, but before I could even think I had spun around to face—nothing. Just empty space. It felt like the entirety of the Kentucky Derby was stampeding across my chest, the wind was knocked clean out of me. There wasn’t anything there. You’re seeing things, Lorna. Dr. Mason said hallucinations were a possible side effect. Calm down.

I shuffled out of the bathroom and flicked the light switch off behind me. Just seeing things. My feet scuffed the floor in my outrageously fluffy panda slippers and I flopped down into the tangled mass of plush blankets and nest of pillows I had made for myself. Jekyll made his usual rounds after hopping up on the bed, being sure to step down with what seemed the weight of a small child on my stomach before he settled contentedly between my ankles and I drifted off into an uneasy sleep.

It couldn’t have been more than a few hours later when I jerked awake, my tangled hair at the back of my neck soaked in sweat. I had been startled awake by a loud crash that had come from my bathroom. I yelled out at Jekyll, with what I’m sure was more than a few choice swear words, but he stood up at my feet, stretched, and answered me with a trill. My breath caught uncomfortably in my chest and it churned relentlessly with the loud thud of my accelerated pulse. My eyes burned with exhaustion as I made a feeble attempt to see through the inky blackness of my room. I still hadn’t let out that breath. It didn’t feel safe to, not yet.

“Hello?” I heard how shaky my voice was as it came out of me. Yes, Lorna—the killer stalking around your house is totally going to answer you and tell you that they’re there. I reached over to my bedside lamp—CLICKwhatCLICK, CLICKwhy isn’t my lamp turning on? Rummaging through my nightstand drawer revealed a dusty flashlight, prayer aided it being brought back to life despite the likelihood of corroded batteries. If I was going to be murdered in my own home, I would rather see it coming. My bare feet met the cold laminate flooring, a shudder ran through my body, and I felt around for my slippers. My spotlight was fixed on the open bathroom door and I felt as if my eyes were bulging right out of my skull. Any moment, I was sure that I would see someone dashing from the shadows and persistent nausea met that paranoia with gusto.

By the time I had padded silently over to the bathroom door, I felt silly—the emptiness glared back at me like an innocuous April Fool’s joke. I don’t know what I had expected to be there, or what I would have done if there had been something there, for that matter. My exasperation gave me a false confidence and I was just about to turn to go back to bed when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw the shower curtain rustle and heard the rings clatter against the tension rod. If I had known how to juggle, I might have caught the flashlight as it leaped out of my hand. I rolled my eyes at my apprehension and snatched the flashlight off of the floor. You’re way too high strung for your own good. It had to be the meds playing tricks on me. None of this was happening; no doubt, waking up in the morning would have me feeling foolish.

Just then, another calamitous crash came from down the hall and any renewed spirit I had gathered drained from me altogether. My knuckles must have turned white due to my vice-grip on the flashlight. Get it together Lorna. My other hand felt for the baseball bat that I had stashed behind my bedroom door. My palms were so sweaty that it felt as if they had been slicked with butter; suffice it to say, it made gripping the bat with any security quite difficult. After abandoning the flashlight on the dresser, I hefted the baseball bat over my shoulder and peeked out of my bedroom around the corner. Without the benefit of the flashlight in my hand, I struggled to see through the darkness of the hallway, but I had decided that if there was someone in my home they were going to get a fight.

I stepped down the hallway in silent trepidation, the clatter of drawers opening, closing, then opening again, and then a cacophony of silverware clattering to the floor. Each step brought me closer to the sinister orange glow that bathed the walls with flickering shadows. Another step and a sudden crash of my metal barstools caused me to jump so high I could have sworn my head brushed the ceiling. Paralyzed in fear, I grasped the baseball bat tightly to my chest and pressed myself against the wall, as if trying to make myself smaller. Go, Lorna, just go! I forced myself off of the wall and gripped the bat with new conviction, a surge of adrenaline propelled me forward and into the kitchen.

What I saw myself come face to face with was enough to elicit the kind of scream that clawed its way out from my gut. A figure of a man being devoured in flames stood hunched amid the destruction and spreading fire in my kitchen—wherever the flames danced upon his skin, the flesh hung off of him in charred strips. His black eyeless sockets turned to me, but my eyes were fixated on his twisted features, where the fire had melted his face it sagged off his jaw and exposed the charred bone beneath. I clutched the bat feebly as he rose to stand upright and began to slowly amble toward me.

My feet carried me backward, mirroring his footsteps and I saw that each step revealed scorched floorboards; I continued stepping back, unblinking, the heat dried my eyes, they began to burn. I heard a hiss at my feet but stumbled over Jekyll before I could register he was even there. The man lunged toward me and in a knee-jerk reaction, I swung the bat off of my shoulder with as much force as I could muster. I was stunned to find it only caught air on its way through the man’s form and adopted a fast-burning flame. The baseball bat burned like a torch as it sunk into the drywall on the other side of the figure. The flames spread up as if fed by gasoline and rage and before I knew it they blanketed the ceiling above me.

The man was unfazed by my assault, his arms still reached for me. Without hesitation, I scooped up a growling Jekyll and scrambled clumsily back through my bedroom door and slammed it behind me. He was squirming violently in my arms, his fearful anticipation brought his claws down hard into my shoulder, but I held him tighter as I witnessed that same orange glow filter in under the gap of my door. Shit, shit, shit… Smoke rose from under the door, flames soon followed and I felt the sharp edge of my bedside table bite the back of my bare thigh.

Fire consumed my door as if it was comprised of nitrate film—what the fuck—I couldn’t open my window fast enough and doing so while holding on to my wrathful ragdoll was practically impossible. He spit angrily at the combusting monstrosity that stepped through the curtain of fire that used to be my door. Fuck this. I gave my window a good shove and it let out a loud whine. Jekyll was the first through, but before I could follow an excruciating pain shot through my leg—and then I fell and everything went black.

When I came to, I was laying on my back and could feel the hard chill of the sidewalk beneath me. I could hear someone call, “she’s awake,” but I could only see blackness and the outlines of two people above me.

“Miss—,” I heard a deep husky voice and I knew it was addressing me, but I didn’t know how to make my body respond to it. “Miss—Jones?” Another figure appeared above me, and they all slowly came into focus. A police officer was addressing me abreast the two EMTs who then disappeared from my view—when I tried to sit up, they jumped to help me, and the dull ache in the back of my head became more pronounced.

Ten minutes went by and my eyes were still dry from being overwhelmed with smoke. I mindlessly clutched my singed and shaken blackened mop of a cat, his claws clung tentatively to the blanket I had draped over my shoulders. I was surprised they had found him at all. The cold curb bit at my exposed legs, but the heat radiating from the blaze behind me reminded me that I much preferred the cold at this very instant. I could hear as my roof cracked and caved in under the burden of the fast-moving fire. The insurance company is never going to believe this… I’m so screwed.

“Are you alright to speak with me now, Miss Jones?” The police officer was back to ask his questions. He probably thinks I did this myself. I blinked repeatedly until I was able to break my gaze away from the darkness across the street. When I finally was able to look up at him, I saw he was looking at me as if I were an escaped mental patient—the 911 operator had sent everything but the kitchen sink after a neighbor had called to report a scream and smoke coming from my home. I’ll have to find out who it was so I can thank them.

“What was it you said was the cause of the blaze?”

“I—I’m not sure.” It wasn’t entirely a lie if I didn’t know what the hell I had just seen in my home, was it?

“What happened right before the blaze broke out?”

“Sleep, I was sleeping, my cat woke me up and I was headed to the kitchen.” I still wasn’t technically lying.

“The ambulance is going to take you to the hospital to treat you for smoke inhalation and those burns on your ankles.” I had already had enough strange eyes on me tonight, so the idea of being under the watchful eye of strangers made me shiver. Even though I knew I would soon be laying in a hospital bed with a nurse dressing my wounds, I started to feel sick. It was a deep, relentless, twisting anxiety that told me the burning man may have gone up in flames with my home, but that it wouldn’t be the last time I saw him.

Categories
Featured Horror Books

Inspiration for Van Helsing and Vampire Hunters

Van Helsing
Van Helsing by BagoGames

This week, for the third installment of our Dead Author Dedication in honor of Bram Stoker. We’re going to be discussing one of his characters who doesn’t get quite as much attention as the vampire king Dracula, but is still a character that blossomed beyond the original story by Stoker. The mysteriously knowledgeable and most famous vampire hunter, Dracula’s nemesis, Abraham Van Helsing.

Polish journalist Adam Węgłowski has claimed he has finally solved the mystery of our favorite good guy and that the Stoker character is actually based on the real-life of a historically documented vampire hunter. While it has been understood that Stoker may have originally modeled Van Helsing after a real individual, it wasn’t until Węgłowski’s research that a name could actually be attributed as the main source of inspiration.

Who Was the Inspiration for Van Helsing?

Born December 14, 1666, in Angerburg (known as Węgorzewo today)–Georg Andreas Helwing (or Helwig in some places), was a part of the Duchy of Prussia–a fief of the Crown of Poland. Helwing was an incredibly learned man of letters and a reportedly brilliant scientist. In Koenigsberg, Helwing studied philosophy and theology and pursued his education while traveling; eventually, Helwing ended up in Venice and Leida where he collaborated very closely with Herman Boerhaave, a Dutch Botanist.

Georg Andreas Helwing
Georg Andreas Helwing

It wasn’t until 1691 that he returned to his hometown; shortly following his father’s death, Helwing took up employment as a Lutheran pastor. Aside from his religious line of work, he was also a physician who took a great deal of interest in studying botany and other natural sciences while doing his duty as a clergyman. What is really interesting about Helwing though, is that despite his fairly mundane line of work, he was also a student of the paranormal and supernatural. This, of course, led him to study vampires and werewolves in particular and even went so far as to talk about how the inhabitants of Masuria fought supposed vampires by decapitating them during the bubonic plague epidemic. Węgłowski’s research shows that peasants of the time also had a “habit of stabbing the corpses with stakes.”

From Helwing to Van Helsing

So with what we now know about Georg Andreas Helwing and the little we know of the mythology of Van Helsing, are the two really connected in a meaningful way? Well, within the books and papers that Helwing wrote, many of those had to do with vampires; Węgłowski makes the link not only with the similarity of surnames but also with the kinds of education that both Helwing and Van Helsing pursued. Scholars believe that Stoker also had the fortune to find out about Vlad the Impaler–his inspiration for Dracula–from his friend Ármin Vámbéry, so it is speculated that he found out about Helwing from the same source.

While Helwing may have not hunted vampires in the sense that we might think today–he didn’t actually believe in vampires–he did hunt the folklore which led people to believe in them and therefore display the practices they did. In Helwing’s homeland, the bubonic plague (1708-1711) brought the height of vampire hysteria, where he was able to describe an incident where the people of the village found a monster; he reported that “after singing a song for the dead, the head was chopped off with a spade and thrown back into the tomb together with a live dog.” This was due to the widespread belief that the dead could rise from their graves as vampires and further spread the disease which was exterminating the population. Like Van Helsing though, Helwing risked his life to save those in danger, according to Węgłowski. The only difference is that Van Helsing attempted to kill monsters, and Helwing attempted to eradicate disease.

Dracula (1931)
Dracula (1931)

Abraham Van Helsing

Interestingly enough, Van Helsing has gone through a transformation in his appearance in television and cinema; in Dracula (1931) with Bela Lugosi as well as Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) with Anthony Hopkins, Van Helsing makes his appearance as a man who is more advanced in age. Television and cinema of the modern age are more likely to have Van Helsing be portrayed as a younger, rogueish looking, strong but not violent man in an effort to capture the hearts of women and spark a fan base. There are of course pros and cons to both portrayals of this character, an older Van Helsing while knowledgable seems frail, where a younger Van Helsing seems physically capable, but perhaps a bit less wise.

Popular Vampire Hunter Culture

Van Helsing is not the only vampire hunting character we have seen throughout vampire movies, because it seems that with every horror and adventure story involving vampires we get another hunter or slayer to rely on to save us from the monsters. Van Helsing’s status as a vampire hunter inspired such characters as Buffy Summers in Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997 – 2003), Angel (1999 – 2004), the Blade franchise where we see the vampire-human hybrid Blade try to eradicate the vampire threat. Then we also have the underdog heroes, like the Frog Brothers in Lost Boys (1987) who represent those of us who don’t have super powers, but still have a powerful need to protect people from evil.

Categories
Featured Horror Books Indie Horror Creation Indie horror writers

Interview with “Wendigogo” Author Kris Silva

Wendigogo book cover by author KA Silva

PBH -Tell me a bit about yourself and what got you into horror writing?

Author Kris Silva wearing antlers

KS – The earliest memories I have of loving spooky things were from trick-or-treating as a tiny child, and then an old Time-Life Library book about ghosts and the paranormal which I read at about 6 or 7, which really sparked my fascination. My dad bought me Stephen King books in the 80s when I was way too young, but I devoured them anyway and sought out more. I read Poe, Ambrose Bierce, and Lovecraft (the unholy trinity) as a teen, and then branched out into pop stuff like Anne Rice. Horror has always been my go-to for fun reading, and I enjoy most subgenres of horror films as well. I have been a fiction editor since 2013, working on romance, science fiction, and urban fantasy for Graythorn Publishing, and freelancing as well. Wendigogo is my first published novel, and the first in a planned series of at least four books with these characters. 

PBH – You’ve covered a wide range of characters in the book, what inspired you to bring them all together? 

KS – I knew I wanted to feature Ojibwe and other local Wisconsin folklore heavily. When I read about the lake monsters, the mishibizhu or mishipeshu, having one of them as a character seemed like a perfect devil’s advocate to pit against my bookseller protagonist Morty. Honestly Marie the mishibizhu wrote herself into the book! Also, with as much creature lore as there is in the Northwoods, having a cryptid hunter nosing around just made sense, and so Garwood Quell came to life. Morty’s best friend Kim and girlfriend Darcy are what anchor him to his humanity as things become progressively worse for him. Some of their interactions are comic; Morty and Marie in particular fell into such a wonderful bickering over the pros and cons of eating people. Kim and Morty have an easy, boisterous bromance going on. But then we have Quell desperately trying to hunt down the monster, because he feels it’s his duty to do so; and an ancient shaman who’s become bored and sees a wendigo as the perfect opportunity to inject a little chaos into the world for his own amusement. Morty has far more to deal with than he can handle sanely, just in interacting with the rest of the cast.

PBH – Wendigo! We love wendigos here at Puzzle Box Horror, what is it about the wendigo that made you bring that creature into the story? 

 KS -I ran across the concept of the wendigo while researching Wisconsin weird stuff in 2014, prior to moving here that same year, but my ideas fizzled out. It wasn’t until 2019 that the wendigo resurfaced in my head, right about the time I became utterly fed up with the current political climate. It hit me that what I needed was a wendigo to prey upon all the greedy people happily selling out their fellow humans for a fat paycheck. The wendigo has always been a symbol of greed and gluttony, eating their neighbors even when there was abundant game. I wanted to twist that a bit, to make my wendigo ravenously hungry like the monsters of lore, but to have him turn that hunger upon selfish people. The fact that descriptions of the wendigo vary widely and wildly even in original Native American sources gave me some leeway in fashioning him, as well. They’ve been described as anything from skeletal, lipless corpses to giants with hearts of ice. One legend says they can look like anything in the forest! They’re native to Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Canada, and there’s even a Windigo Fest at Manitowoc, WI every October; I attended last year and was further inspired by the range of wendigook wandering the streets!

PBH It’s hard to write a novel, what kept you going and what advice would you give authors trying to finish a project?  

KS – This book was a perfect stew in my brain: fascinating research into Ojibwe lore, my love of winter storms, my own rage at unfettered capitalism, and finding the right physical model for Morty. Once I knew how he looked and sounded, and knew I wanted him to eat the guilty, everything flowed easily from there. I wrote a complete draft over the course of nine months. I thought, dreamt, ate and breathed these characters, particularly Morty, so that every time I sat down to write another chapter, the dialogue practically wrote itself. I’ve always been more focused on characters than mapping out intricate plots and I feel like that helped. If you’re trying to write a novel, know your characters. Know exactly how they’d react in any given situation, what they would say to each other, why they would support or oppose each other. Love your characters! They should feel like old friends you know intimately. Even the antagonists. Explore their voices and points of view, make extensive notes about them each. Then drop them in the middle of whatever craziness you’ve planned and write down what they do. Keep writing it. Write out of order if you’re inspired by a scene farther ahead but don’t know how you get there yet; it’ll flesh itself out if you understand your characters well. Also, be prepared to rewrite. A lot. Especially after your editor is through shredding it! I’m in the midst of writing book 2 now (tentatively titled Love Song of the Murder Deer) and diving deeper into the relationships between the main characters as Morty struggles to control the ancient manitou inside him.

Author Kris Silva in a Wendingo costume

PBH – You must be a horror fan, can you give us some movie and book recommendations? 

KS – Though Wendigogo’s plot is nothing like these films, Cabin in the Woods and Tucker and Dale vs Evil very much inspired the comic horror tone. Really anything that mixes comedy and horror is a must-see for me, even deliberately awful films like Velocipastor! I rewatch Cabin at least once a year; it’s my favorite movie, just brilliantly written, acted, and directed. And the last-act splatterfest manages to be both gory and hilarious! I love ghost stories and creature features, but well-done comic horror is my favorite subgenre. For books, I enjoy Rick Gualtieri’s “Tome of Bill” series, about a nerdy vampire struggling with truly evil vamps, Bigfeet, witches and more. The whole series is irreverent and geeky. For more serious fare, I devour Stephen Blackmore’s Eric Carter series about a modern-day necromancer in L.A., dealing with ancient Aztec gods and ghosts. His books are blood-soaked, moody candy. For scary films, The Ritual has a bit of a wendigo vibe to it despite being set in Europe. And I’m looking forward to seeing Antlers. Also, not strictly film, but the Netflix series “The Haunting of Hill House” is utterly masterful and genuinely frightening, well-paced, and with so much packed into each episode. Not to mention it has lots of in-jokes for Shirley Jackson fans.

PBH – Where can we find and follow you for updates on the book? 

KS – The Reluctant Wendigo series has its own Facebook page; updates, contests and such are all announced there. I am frequently on Twitter as @gravewriter71 (warning: lots of politics and random silliness as well as wendigo stuff and book news). The book is available through amazon (ebook and print) and ebook through Barnes & Noble (for both sites: https://books2read.com/u/mv5BzX ). My publisher Graythorn is also offering signed copies: https://graythorn-publishing.square.site/product/wendigogo-by-k-a-silva/14?cp=true&sa=true&sbp=false&q=false

PBH – Anything else you want to tell us?

KS – Thank you very much! I really like your site and will frequent it. Lots to explore, and the tone is both smart and friendly. Glad I happened across it. —- PBH – awe thanks we have fun here.

Categories
Featured Indie Horror Indie Horror Creation Indie horror writers Lifestyle

Interview with Award Winning Author and Teacher Richard Thomas

Richard Thomas is an award-winning author of seven books: three novels—Disintegration and Breaker (Penguin Random House Alibi), as well as Transubstantiate (Otherworld Publications); three short story collections—Staring into the Abyss (Kraken Press), Herniated Roots (Snubnose Press), and Tribulations (Cemetery Dance); and one novella in The Soul Standard (Dzanc Books). With over 150 stories published, his credits include The Best Horror of the Year (Volume Eleven), Cemetery Dance (twice), Behold!: Oddities, Curiosities and Undefinable Wonders (Bram Stoker winner), PANK, storySouth, Gargoyle, Weird Fiction Review, Midwestern Gothic, Shallow Creek, The Seven Deadliest, Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories, Qualia Nous, Chiral Mad (numbers 2-4), PRISMS, Pantheon, and Shivers VI (with Stephen King and Peter Straub). He has won contests at ChiZine and One Buck Horror, has received five Pushcart Prize nominations, and has been long-listed for Best Horror of the Year six times. He was also the editor of four anthologies: The New Black and Exigencies (Dark House Press), The Lineup: 20 Provocative Women Writers (Black Lawrence Press) and Burnt Tongues (Medallion Press) with Chuck Palahniuk. He has been nominated for the Bram Stoker, Shirley Jackson, and Thriller awards. In his spare time he is a columnist at Lit Reactor. He was the Editor-in-Chief at Dark House Press and Gamut Magazine. His agent is Paula Munier at Talcott Notch. For more information visit www.whatdoesnotkillme.com.

Christmas Horror Book Cover

PB: We talk to a fair amount of new writers – What tips would you give yourself if you could go back to when you started based on what you know now?
RT: Great question. I think one of the most important things to understand is your voice. So—what kind of stories are you trying to tell, what are your strengths (and weaknesses), and what excites you when you write? It’s the first assignment I give my students in my Short Story Mechanics class. You need to understand the genre (or genres) you write in, your influences, and contemporaries that are doing similar things. You learn by reading those authors, by finding “your people” and their audiences, as well as publications. It’s all connected. I started out writing more neo-noir and thrillers but then shifted into fantasy, science fiction, and horror. I still do both. The main difference between the new-weird speculative work I do and neo-noir is often realism vs. supernatural. As far as those weaknesses I just mentioned, study those voices that do it well—whether that’s setting, plot, character, or dialogue. Read, read, read. Read books and stories, read the “best of the year” anthologies, and then fill your head with images via film and tv, such as the amazing work at A24 Films these days. Take a few classes if you need to. I took quite a few, with authors I loved and respected (such as Jack Ketchum and Stephen Graham Jones) and THEN got my MFA. It all helps.

 PB: A lot of aspiring horror creators think about making the leap from day job to becoming a writer. In fact, I also transitioned from the corporate world and great salaries to chasing my passion for storytelling in multiple formats with puzzle box – Tell me a bit about the transition you went through as I imagine it was a difficult decision to make moving from a known career into the unknown world of writing and teaching fiction? Any advice there for others in this position?
RT: It’s very difficult. I spent 25 years in advertising as an art director and graphic designer, and woke up one day and realized I was very unhappy. If you want to make the shift, understand it takes years to do it right. You first have to find your voice (see my previous answer) and hone your craft. That alone may take 1-5 years. Write, practice, and publish. I encourage authors to write short stories until they figure out who they are, and what they are going to write. Once you start getting work published, push to get your stories into the BEST markets. Until you can start doing that, getting pro pay, and setting up a network and presence, I wouldn’t quit your day job. Once you get to that level, make sure you have a social media platform, and presence—that will all help to build your name, reputation, brand, etc. At that point, you probably want to write a book and find a small press or agent. I’ve published 150 stories, three novels, three collections, ran a press, and a magazine and I still teach and edit. I’d say my income is all related—all a part of the industry—but my actual stories and novels probably only account for half of my income. So be prepared to teach, to write a column, to edit, to do more. Very few can make six figures as an author. But man, it’s the most fulfilling work I do. And my teaching helps others, and I learn a lot in the process as well. I was reading those “best of the year” anthologies anyway, and it helps me too, but now I really pay attention. It’s all connected. 

PB: One of your classes is writing a novel in 365 days, how many students have completed that and have any been published?
RT: We’ve only been doing this two years now, so the total number of students is 24. Two are done and actively shopping—Joseph Sale and Erik Bergstrom—and their novels are amazing. I expect them to get published. There are quite a few from the first year that are putting the final touches on their work, making a last pass, etc. This year’s class—all eight students are really doing well, and I expect them to finish on time, and start submitting next year. Hard to say how many out of the 24 will make it will publish, but I’d say at least half. Quite a few of my students who have gone from Short Story Mechanics to Contemporary Dark Fiction to my Advanced Creative Writing Workshop have published, gotten into pro markets, have gotten nominations, have won awards, have written novels, and landed agents. Really proud of them all.

burnt tongues book cover

PB: As a published writer, teacher, and entrepreneur do you feel that indie writers stand a chance in being successful vs finding a publisher? 
RT: Depends on what you want to do, but yes, it can work both ways. I find that quite a LOT of the best work is being done at smaller, indie presses. The big five (or whatever it is now) will certainly get you more money, into brick and mortar stores, and have teams of people to help you. Working with the editors at Alibi (a Penguin Random House imprint) was a TON of work, so many rounds of revisions, but I knew that Disintegration and Breaker were TIGHT when they came out. I felt so supported. When Breaker got a Thriller Award nomination I was floored. So yes, I’d actually encourage authors to connect with indie presses first, and then write that first book and publish short stories. It’s a great community, so many supportive people, and when you finally DO break out, you’ll have a lot of fans excited to pick up your work. It’s so rewarding.

PB: Finally, we’d love to hear a writer quick tip for creating suspense from you?
RT: Suspense it tricky. When I talk about it in terms of what a HORROR story is, this is what I say. There is the terror and then the horror. Think of it as the suspense, the hints, the clues, the anticipation—that’s the terror, the emotion you create before we see it. The horror is the actualization, the fulfillment of it, the dropping of the veil, the unfurling of the creature, the physical manifestation and consequences. I talk about it a lot in my column, which you can read here: https://litreactor.com/columns/storyville-using-terror-and-horror-to-tell-powerful-stories

 CD is a magazine, and the exact issue is not online yet no. They are BIG, circulation of 10,000. PRISMS is just starting to get a cover and all so they aren’t online yet either sadly. I did have a co-written story in Best Horror of the Year, Volume 11, which is out now. Had a few things in books last year as well—a novelette, “Ring of Fire” in The Seven Deadliest anthology, and a story, “The Caged Bird Sings in a Darkness of Its Own Creation” in the Shallow Creek anthology. You can find links to those all here: https://www.amazon.com/kindle-dbs/entity/author/B0036EYNDC

PB: What can you tell me about the upcoming arctic horror novel? (one of my favorite settings!)
RT: I was just on Twitter saying it was The Thing if written by Jeff VanderMeer, set in New Crobuzon (Perdido Street Station, by China Mieville). It’s about a sin-eater, and the way that he protects his portal, set in a place much like Barrow, Alaska where it goes dark for 60-90 days. I’m still trying to figure it all out, but I want to approach it from a place and time that is outside of our current narrative, so it’s not 2020 Alaska, but based on a similar location, culture, and weather, of course. A friend of mine lives in the arctic and is giving me some great nuggets, just working on finding the right angle, so it can be original. I’m looking at several books for inspiration—Annihilation, Come Closer, All the Beautiful Sinners, and many short stories set in this climate.

PB: What inspired you to go artic with the next novel?
RT: I live in Chicago, so I’m familiar with the cold. Obviously not on the same level, but I felt I could tap into that sensation and reality. I wanted isolation, and was fascinated by the Barrow, Alaska darkness. What might flourish in the dark? What happens before and after the dark? And the idea of a sin-eater and a group of people holding the world together through their actions and sacrifices appealed to me.

PB: What/who are some of your major influences?
RT: I grew up on Stephen King, then the beats in college, later getting into more indie work. My MFA was a big influence, literary dark horses, and then the new-weird movement. And then all of my contemporaries, the authors I’ve published. So while I love King, and Clive Barker, and Jack Ketchum, I also love the literary voices of Toni Morrison, Denis Johnson, Mary Gaitskill, Cormac McCarthy, and Haruki Murakami. The most recent authors that are a heavy influence of my work would probably be Stephen Graham Jones, Brian Hodge, Livia Llewellyn, Alyssa Wong, Brian Evenson, AC Wise, Usman Malik, Steve Toase, Kelly Robson, Kristi DeMeester, Damien Angelica Walters, and so many others. For films, I’ve really enjoyed what they’re doing at A24 Films, my top five being Hereditary, The Witch, Under the Skin, Ex Machina, and Enemy. 

PB: Anything else related to life or writing you care to share? 
RT: For the authors out there, figure out what you have, what authority, what experience, that nobody else has going for them. Maybe it’s where you grew up, your culture, your mythology, your job, or what you’ve seen. Weave that into the genres you love, and then swing for the fences—take chances, surprise your audience, be innovative while delivering what your promise, in a way that’s satisfying. There’s only one of YOU, so tell your stories with heart, and passion, and intensity. 

You can find Richard on twitter and at his personal site https://whatdoesnotkillme.com/

Categories
Featured Horror Books Indie Horror Indie horror writers Women in Horror

Interview with Female Horror Author Kat Howard

End of the Sentence Cover
The End of the Sentence

How would you feel if you suddenly started receiving letters from someone you didn’t know? Personal letters, from someone who seemed to know more about you than you ever wanted to admit to yourself? The End of the Sentence (2014) delivers–it’s not only difficult to put down, (or stop listening to, if you opt to experience it as an audiobook) but it is also easily digestible and instantly gives the reader that desirable feeling of unease and fear.

With every turn of the page, we find ourselves more and more deeply immersed in the life of Malcolm Mays, a man whose life is falling apart as he moves into a foreclosed home in Ione, Oregon–what he doesn’t realize is that the original owner never left and doesn’t intend to. The end of his 117-year sentence is almost over…

Interview with Kat Howard

We found out that you’re not just a horror writer, but you have also explored the science fiction and fantasy genres, so what initially drew you to horror fiction?

I’ve always loved horror. Some of the first “grown up” books I read were by Stephen King, but even before that I loved stories that scared me. I like to write horror because sometimes that’s the genre that works best for what I have to say. Plus, it’s fun writing stories that might give people the shivers.

Can you tell me about how you and Maria Dahvana Headley decided to come together to co-write The End of the Sentence?

Maria’s a dear friend. We were guests at an annual convention (ConFusion) and made a comment about wanting to write something together in front of Bill Schafer, the head of Subterranean Press. He said he’d buy it, and we wrote a contract on his arm. (There was a much more official contract later.) It was honestly a joy of a project to write with her.

How did you come up with the idea of The End of the Sentence?

Maria had recently moved, and had been getting mistaken letters delivered to her address. Things kind of went from there.

Kat, we understand that this was your debut novella, how did it feel being named one of NPR’s Best Books of 2014?

I literally fell out of my chair when I found out. I’m really proud of the work we did on this novella. It remains one of my favorite things that I’ve written, and so I’m always extremely happy to see it find readers. Seeing it recognized like that meant so much.

A Cathedral of Myth and Bone
A Cathedral of Myth and Bone

Is there anything new that you’ve published or are working on that you’d like to talk to us about?

As this is a horror venue, I have to say I was extremely pleased when my recent collection, A Cathedral of Myth and Bone, was long-listed for the [Bram Stoker Award]. It didn’t make the final ballot, but just to see it recognized was a delight. I’m currently working on A Sleight of Shadows, the sequel to my novel An Unkindness of Magicians.

A lot of our fans are actually aspiring writers and artists, do you have any advice for them?

I always feel a little weird about giving advice, because I feel like I’m still figuring things out myself. But I think that one of the great (and yes, sometimes terrifying!) things about writing or art is that there are so many ways to come into the field. Don’t cut yourself off because you think you’re too old, or you should have gone to a different school, or that people have already done what you’re interested in. No one else can make what you will.