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Thrillers & Horror!
Books here! Get your books here!
Click on any title to go to the book's Amazon.com page where you'll find the eBook edition on sale for $0.99! Stock up today on great Hydra Publications titles—without breaking the bank!
Thrillers & Horror!
A guest author on the blog! Welcome Ashley Holzmann!
There’s a plethora of variety within the horror genre. The goal is to insight tension, fear, or anxiety within the consumer of the medium. The paths to achieving that goal vary wildly.
The horror community at large cannot even agree with itself on what is and is not scary. Horror is subjective; and that’s a good thing, because all stories are interpreted differently by the person hearing or reading or watching the story.
That’s a big part of what I want to talk about here. How we consume horror and how the same story can be told in more than one way. I also want to touch on the nature of fear, the current audiences for horror, and use the new release of IT in movie theaters across the country as a platform for my wild spiel.
This is an analysis of storytelling above all else. It could very well be a discussion of any genre. But Halloween is approaching and I have, myself, recently release a book within the genre, so why not use this as an opportunity?
The New Movie
I recently went to see the new release of IT in theaters, and while the movie had its flaws, it accomplished what it set out to do: convey fear.
We are lucky that there are three versions of this story out in the world: the recent film, the mini-series adaptation, and the original book the former are based on. By comparing the three, I hope to bring a few thematic aspects of the stories to light, and discuss the successes and shortfalls of attempting to apply those themes to a story.
Summaries of IT can be found throughout the internet. IT and the creator—Stephen King—is so imbedded within society that I won’t explain much of the plot here. The premise, for the uninitiated, is that a group of kids growing up in the suburbs begin realizing there is a creature trying to kill them, and the creature feeds off of their fear.
To be clear upfront, I enjoyed the new film. It is not perfect, but it had to balance a lot of various realities: a direct adaptation of the book was not an option; the new movie had to live up to rose-colored expectations comparing it to the Tim Curry mini-series adaptation; the modern horror audience had to be factored into all of the decisions for the new film.
The movie is also adapting the source material from a book that is so long that its audiobook spans nearly forty-five hours. If you half a half-hour commute to work and you want to listen to IT on audiobook, it will take you a month and a half. Boiling that down to two-isa hours is no easy task.
There is a complicated balancing act when adapting a story, and I personally feel like the writers, directors, producer, actors and everyone else involved did their best to balance all of these factors in the new movie.
In many ways, all creative works are reinterpretations of ageless stories. The Heroes Journey is a timeless trope that still invigorates us. The Coming of Age tale is repeated annually throughout all of our media. The list of archetypes for story structure is not as long or varied as it appears to be when you walk through a book store or scan streaming video services.
What matters is the way a story is told. What aspects are concentrated on. What is thrown away. How the characters interact—characters that are, themselves, often common archetypes.
A Flaw Of Horror
For the new adaptation of IT, I’d like to address the modern horror-going audience upfront. Today’s horror audiences are conditioned to one type of horror scenario: the jump scare. Jump scares for days.
It’s a familiar set up and execution. The music in the film will tell you exactly when something is coming, leading the audience to anticipate the moment. The music then cuts low, and the jump scare moment manifests with a spike in sound effects. Everyone is surprised briefly, and this is repeated over and over again.
Most horror aficionados are not fans of this tactic. It is cheap and easy to do with a premise that’s sloppily put together. Most horror movies these days aren’t actually very scary. They are just peppered with jump scares.
The new movie adaptation for IT is no different. The disappointing aspect of the jump scares in this movie is that the movie would have been amazing without the jump scares. Because the premise, itself, is absolutely horrifying.
I’m not saying that IT gets a pass on this, but it had to balance the source material with a modern adaptation. And modern horror movies have to do one thing to be successful in today’s market: have jump scares.
I personally believe that IT raking in the box office that it did is because it towed the line on the jump scare. Would it have been justified in leaving the jump scares out? Yes. Absolutely. Would it have been as commercially viable? Hard to say.
It would have been a superior film, but it may not have fared as well with mass audiences. The jump scare was used often, because the movie wanted to appeal to the masses. I understand that, and it is what it is. But the source material from the book is the gold that gave the new movie the ability to use jump scares on top of an amazing concept, which was executed really well.
With that out of the way, there were other things this movie had to factor in. The original book had a number of sexual encounters between children that wouldn’t have translated well to film. The script had to tackle half of a massive book, which meant that characters and plot lines would have to be cut in such a way as to not also detract from the overall story and themes. And artistic limitations were abound. Deciding to set the new movie in the 1980s made sense, because the 1950s references in the book would be a hard sell for modern audiences, who wouldn’t understand as many 50s references as 80s references.
This article isn’t just about criticism, though. The new movie does many things right. The child actors are amazing. They are spectacularly well casted and allowed the freedom to move around in the story. They are given a lot of time to bond, and while some are developed more than others, it was in the service to the run time and it makes sense.
The only shortfall I found in the acting for the movie was with the antagonist, Pennywise, played by Bill Skarsgård. Many people are comparing his performance with the original Tim Curry performance and also Heath Ledger’s Joker.
This isn’t fare. Mostly because Pennywise simply has little room to perform. Most of his moments are under thirty seconds, and he’s given one monologue in the film. You could argue that there are two monologues, but that’s a shortfall from the amount of dialogue opportunities that Heath Ledger had in The Dark Knight.
Ledger was given multiple opportunities to verbalize the character of The Joker, and The Dark Knight absolutely benefitted from that.
Bill Skarsgård wasn’t given the same freedom. Did he demonstrate the potential? Absolutely. But most of his interactions with the characters were jump scares, drooling looks, and one-liners. CGI also played a hindering role, in my opinion.
His introduction is done very well, though, and he really explodes onto the screen when given the opportunity.
Bringing it back to the kids, there were several brilliant moments that the movie took with them.
Allowing Beverly to deal with her period was done both tactfully and in a way that conveyed empathy. Of equal importance was allowing the kids to talk as kids do when adults aren’t around.
This is minor, but makes a huge impact on the audience because everyone viewing is able to immerse themselves just a little more. Kids swearing is relatable. The more the audience buys into the story and characters, the more they are able to suspend disbelief and also feel fear when the characters are in scary situations.
Allowing some of the racial moments from the book was also important. The new movie does this better than the mini-series did.
The book makes the racial tension a large part of the story, and to great effect. The new movie would have benefitted from bravely incorporating this more, but I can understand that the filmmakers wanted to concentrate on a few themes. The missing children being one of the larger concentrations of the movie, and the relationship between the kids, Beverly, and the bullies of the town.
Why does this matter to storytelling, though?
Because a story that is grounded in various aspects of human nature is a story that will speak to the audience. Surface level stories achieve little. Stories that allow subtext and strive to include deeper meanings are the stories that last.
Stephen King wrote IT decades ago, and the story the book conveys is still relevant. Partially because of the characters, but also because of the subtext and themes. That is why Beverly’s period matters, and the racially charged moments matter. Because those are themes worth discussing.
In the context of horror, these themes ground the story to make it more than just a tale of a creepy clown. It becomes a story about being a kid, growing up around racism, reaching puberty, and friendship among the plethora of other themes repeated through the book and subsequent screen adaptations.
At the center of all of this were the characters.
Why Is IT Scary?
IT is scary for a variety of reasons.
I want to look at all three iterations of the story for this section.
The original book was set in the 50s and played off of the children’s fears of the monsters of the era. There were mummies and werewolves and lepers and other monsters.
The mini-series was able to incorporate a lot of this, but also had something amazing on its side: the performance of Tim Curry.
Something the new movie lacks that the mini-series had in spades was the variety in the character of Pennywise. Tim Curry was given the chance to be funny as often as he was allowed to be scary.
There’s something unsettling underneath a performance that allows people to see both humor and horror from the same character.
What IT really provides in all of the iterations is diversity throughout the experience. It’s a coming-of-age story, in the middle of racially charged suburbia, where deviant sexual encounters are common and a creature that can represent anyone’s darkest fears is targeting children. That’s a lot of layers to what makes IT scary. Add to that the cosmic elements, and the disconnect between the children and the adults, and IT is easily one of the most diverse examples of the genre to exist.
Most stories stick to one or two themes to repeat the horror of the story alive. IT goes for broke.
This pays off in a lot of ways when it comes to the book, because there’s something inside those pages that will reach almost every horror consumer.
The screen adaptations don’t have the benefit of dozens of hours, so they have to stick to a few of the themes.
Consuming Horror Alone
IT was very popular when it was published. There were scenes that buzzed and got people talking a lot.
Stephen King was hailed for being fearless. And for good reason.
He put in a lot of sexual deviance, as well as violence against children in that book. Some of this has already been discussed.
It was his love story to Lovecraft, too, who had so influenced him as a child. Stephen King is a huge reason for the recent resurgence in interest with Lovecraft.
The fearless aspect of the book wasn’t King’s ode to Lovecraft though. It was the aforementioned scenes of deviance.
I’m labeling it was deviance here as a catch-all, but that encompasses a variety of moments in the book. From children masturbating, sexual encounters, to first time kisses, and even inappropriate relationships between father and daughter.
This resonated with people who read the book and drew them in. Again, this book is massive and comes with whole segments that were not translated into the screen adaptations.
I believe the reason is deeper than trying to argue that audiences wouldn’t accept such scenes on a screen.
We consume books intimately and are far more accepting of books as a source material. If it’s on a page, we aren’t announcing to the world exactly what words we’re reading.
A book is consumed alone. And when left by ourselves we are very willing to explore our more deviant sides. We do embarrassing things, think embarrassing thoughts, and we often later experience cognitive dissonance when confronted with anyone publicly expressing the same thoughts we’ve had ourselves. We would rather those thoughts be kept within.
This is one of the reasons IT is so effective as a book. It really plays off of countless fears. As I’ve already mentioned, IT is not just a story about an unknown creature, it’s a story about the fears of our childhoods, the lack of adult intervention, and the depths children will go in the direction of cruelty. IT is all of those things.
But it works because of the way IT is written and consumed. Much like 50 Shades of Grey works better on the page (ask anyone who was a fan of the books). There are levels of deviance that we have difficulty enjoying in groups.
Watching a movie in a theater with a group of friends and strangers is inherently more social and more announcing. You are announcing to a portion of the world that you are experiencing this moment in the movie, and everyone around you knows you’re experiencing it.
I couldn’t imagine watching a perfect adaptation of the book in the same room with my parents. I think most people would rather not think of such possibilities.
But if my parents knew I read the book. That’s different.
It is for this reason that I believe the decisions to exclude certain elements were very crucial in the film. Every decision felt planned in the case of the recent film.
The decision to set it in the 80s was cool and retro.
The 80s retro stuff is hot right now. Stranger Things, Ready Player One, Rick and Morty being a tongue in cheek riff on Doc and Marty from Back to the Future.
It felt like the decisions to make changes were artistic/creative decisions and not just for the sake of watering down the story. So I can admire the new movie for that. The way the sets were designed, the actor’s blocking—the movie did a really good job. And while the jump scares were innumerable, I still found myself enjoying the experience.
I'm looking forward to the next one.
Story And Writing
How does all of this relate to the craft? I’ve discussed how important I feel the decisions of the book and the screen adaptations were. How the way characters interact is significant.
There’s a lot to learn from the story of IT. I truly believe that the story is made all there powerful because the audience is actually invested in the decisions of the characters, and believe that this movie does an excellent job. The book does an even better job. The older mini-series does a better job during the first half than in the second half.
Another significant thing that King often does well is his characters stay true to themselves. A curious character makes curious decisions. A scared character is consistently scared. He often incorporates character arcs, but the arcs don’t always play out the way we believe they will. Even when they don’t, the characters stay true to themselves above all other things.
A lot could be said with that. When movies of all genre are released even today and characters make irrational decisions for the sake of the plot instead of the sake of the characters, that says a lot. IT does not have trouble with this.
Character dynamic is huge in IT, as well, and I’ve touched on it. Stranger Things has been recently cited as being inspired by the book IT, and Stephen King is known for being able to produce the relationships that children have without adults really well—Stand By Me is another great example of a film adaptation that plays off of this gift that King has.
When it comes to writing, the best thing to do is allow characters to make decisions that make sense. Human nature is normally consistent. Is that disappointing sometimes? Yes. But it’s easier for an audience to immerse in a story if the characters in the story are scared.
It’s harder to care about characters who get naked and take a shower when a serial killer is on the loose. Instead, everyone says phrases like, “oh, come on.”
That simply isn’t something a person would do. They’d do anything else besides that.
For me, the biggest thing to take away from the new movie, and of course the book, is that there is diversity to a genre. There are no limits. Stephen King is often referenced as a horror author, but he writes in many genres. Whatever a story needs is how he approaches it.
IT is no different. There are really touching moments of childhood innocence that ground the story. The kids in the story are amazingly well balanced as a group. Then there are scenes of gore and horrific moments of over-the-top murder. It gets wild.
And at the center of it all is a goofy clown that wants to eat the protagonists. If you really try to simplify the story of IT, it can come off sounding pretty silly. Really, the best way to experience it is to simply read the book. Deep dive into a story that will truly affect you.
For my fellow writers out there, if you haven’t read the book, I would like to really encourage you to. Not everyone clicks with it, but most people do. And if you walk away from it with criticisms, that’s not a bad thing. It’s an achievement, regardless of any of our opinions.
When it comes to being creative, there aren’t rules. There are just people out there who say there are rules. Ignore those people.
C. Bryan Brown, thank you for doing an interview. Firstly, take us through your bibliography. How did Necromancer start and what led you in the direction of Vampires for They Are Among Us?
Hey, Stu, thanks for having me!
Necromancer started, technically, many years ago when I was in high school. I used to play AD&D (2nd Edition, for all you new-fangled d20 people) with my brother, cousin, and grandmother. Necromancer is, in a lot of ways, an homage to that era of my life and to my grandmother. She always played a wizard, fancying herself a female version of Gandalf. But we told stories together, the four of us, and those stories were about warriors and wizards and orcs and trolls and all their lovers and I ported all that into the modern time, changed it to be as realistic as I could possibly make magic, and went from there. As a bonus answer, the original story draft for Necromancer had Bobby as the main character, not Torrin.
They Are Among Us is a lot simpler; I love classic monsters. Vampires and werewolves are my two favorites. I have a werewolf book in me, I’m just not ready to write it yet. And for most horror fans, bloody, killer vampires aren’t as easy to come by as they used to be. The lion’s share of vampire fiction falls into the urban fantasy and paranormal romance genres. So that coupled with the fact that I had a story and world building idea in my head, I ran with it.
Have you always been a fan of horror? In different media, how does horror change? What are the differences between horror film and horror literature?
I suppose so, yes. I don’t remember ever not being around horror. My mother was a big, big fan of the gore movies in the 80s. As a matter of fact, she still loves her gore, but also pretty much any horror movie in general she’d watch. She was also an avid reader, or so she says. I only ever remember seeing her with Stephen King books. One true fact… when I was 10 or 11, my mother dragged me out of bed to watch the original “A Nightmare on Elm Street” because it scared her and she didn’t want to watch alone. Been hooked since, really.
I think horror changes to suit the media it’s presented in. To your question about the differences between horror film and horror literature, specifically, film is bringing horror to life and, in most cases, leaving very little to the imagination anymore. Classic example – Kubrick’s “The Shining” didn’t feature the topiary animals at the end because the FX at the time sucked and it didn’t look real. They can do that now (and have), so if it can be written, it can pretty much be filmed, and for me, once you take it out of the reader’s imagination and put a face on it, it loses power. There are some films that have come out recently that don’t show the horrors and rely more on the watcher’s imagination and these are good. A wonderful example is the film “The Babadook.” The ending has at least two interpretations that I’ve heard.
And that’s what makes horror literature so much more in my opinion. The ability to just sketch a picture or a scene and let the reader do the work, let them scare themselves. Their imagination produces monsters much scarier than any FX company can and so you’re able to delve into psychology of your themes with a soft, deft touch. There’s no need to over describe every detail because the reader is doing it for you. You can tell them a monster has a three inch horn, but they’re going to see a six or seven inches of darkened ivory waiting to impale them when the turn the next page.
When did you begin writing? What was the impetus that made you finally start putting words on a page with a specific goal?
I guess I started around 14 or 15, though it wasn’t serious. My sister pissed me off and I filled notebooks with a story about monsters killing The New Kids on the Block.
I kept writing after that, though most of it was for AD&D and online gaming stories back when dial-up was still cool. I was one of those CompuServe and AOL kids in the late 80s. It was just a whole lot of fun, but in my early 20s (which was the mid 90s), the gaming scene changed and the collaborative writing kind of fell away. People got prickly and way to attached to their characters, so stories were then written by one person for their character. Sometimes you’d add in another person or two, but mostly not. You could still game in chat rooms and things like that, but the forum boards, where the real writing was done, became a solo act. A few years later, I quit gaming online, and starting writing my first real stories.
In 2001 and 2002, I got my first publications, but then in late 2002, my wife had our first son and I stopped writing until he made it into kindergarten in 2008. I started writing again and then sold my next story a couple years later in 2010 to Post Mortem Press.
What’s next for your writing? Is there a specific direction you want your work to take?
What’s next is to continue the vampire trilogy and finish it, plus continue to work on some other things I have on the stove that involve dark urban fantasy and more straight-line fantasy.
I’ll have some audio stories coming soon, which I’m really excited about, and I can’t say much more than that yet.
And no, I don’t have a specific direction for my work. I’m not trying to point my career or my style in any specific direction other than producing better words than I did the last time I sat down to write them. As long as each book is better than the last, and readers are entertained and maybe enlightened a little bit, I think I’ve succeeded.
Which writers do you aspire to be like, if any? Which writers give you the best inspiration?
I want to be like the working writers, the ones who get to do this full time. And by that I’m not talking the level of fame held by Stephen King, Dean Koontz, or JK Rowling (though, seriously, I wouldn’t say no to it), but if I could replace my corporate salary with writing income, I’d be golden. And since I don’t really know the salaries of my writing peers, I can’t give any definite names.
The writers that give me the best inspiration are my direct peers. You, Violet Patterson, Tim McWhorter, Brad Carter, and all of us writing in the small press arena. I think it’s a great place to be, and I think we’re writing in a critical time, not only in the industry, but also in the world. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else, doing this with anyone else (except maybe Stephen King, you know…) but who I’m doing it with. And that is inspiration enough to keep writing, keep getting better, and to forge forward.
If Necromancer could be made into a horror movie, who would you want to direct it and why? Who would be cast as the main characters?
Oh man, that’s a hard question to answer. Necromancer is definitely dark, and while it has its horrific moments, I’m not sure I’d qualify it as a horror novel. That said, I’ve been super impressed with Antoine Fuqua’s movies over the years, and specifically, handling Torrin’s characterization would be paramount. But he did a hell of a job with Training Day.
As far as casting goes, that’s a little simpler for me. I’d give the role of Torrin to Kevin McKidd, Bobby would be played by Bradley Cooper, and I’d totally have Kevin Spacey do David Hale. I used to think Warwick Davis would be good for the Salamander, but after Game of Thrones, I’m down for Peter Dinklage. Mercury is a little younger, just under 30, and I could see Joseph Gordon-Levitt pulling him off. I suppose that leaves Mildred and Kara… Kathy Bates and Kate Winslet, respectively.
What makes horror so appealing to horror fans? Why do we like to be scared?
I think in the context of movies and literature, horror makes us feel alive, yet in the back of our heads, we know we’re safe. Nothing bad is going to happen to us, it’s going to happen to the characters in the book or on the television. Hell, I love to watch people getting killed in the movies or write about it in my books, and there’s a great sense of excitement when a movie or book gets my heart pumping, and my ears attuned to the slightest noise in my dark basement or very quiet house. But I know I can flip on a light, or turn off the slasher flick, and that’s it, it’s all over until I want it again. It’s appealing because we’re in control.
But you put me in even a mild car accident, and I’m not chomping to have another. It’s not an adrenaline rush, but rather too close for comfort. Uncontrolled fear, as in the kind I don’t actively give myself, isn’t for me.
Of course, there are those that will jump off a cliff with nothing but a shoestring and a prayer to keep them safe, so what do I really know?
In Necromancer, much of the horror comes from very realistic situations such as failing relationships set over the supernatural backdrop. How does realistic horror stack up against supernatural / fantastic horror? How do you find a balance between the real and the impossible?
For me, realistic horror is far more terrifying than anything else. The thought of losing my sons or my wife to violence, or failing them to the point where our lives are broken, is what really scares me as a human being. One of the scariest films I’ve seen in the last five years is “Compliance” and, worst part, is it’s based on true events.
And for me, it’s not so much as finding the balance between the real and the impossible, but using the impossible to exacerbate the real, make it worse than it is, and ratchet up the suspense. Let’s face it, most people (myself included) see obstacles and problems and we have a tendency to overstate their seriousness. You’ve heard the “woe is me” testimonials, and have probably given one or two in your life. That’s what the supernatural is for me. It’s that obstacle that really isn’t overstated, that thing the character can really cry pity over, and it threatens to make his real problems all that much worse. And, just like with us, that’s what it continues to be, until the character turns the corner and sees the opportunities, the solutions, and moves forward, which is what most people do after a little self-pity.
Lastly, where can we find your stuff and when is your next anticipated release?
My stuff is everywhere! People can catch me on my blog, or on the Facebook at cbryanbrown, or even Twitter @cbryanbrown. I’m up on Goodreads, too, if people are inclined to see me over there. I attend more than my fair share of conventions and events. My schedule for those is up on my blog as well. All the proper linkages are below and I encourage people to stalk me by commenting on blog posts, my Facebook page, or tweeting me.
My next release should be this year, though I don’t have an exact date… my short story, “An Unfettered Life” was picked up for the Hydra Publications Dystopian Anthology and hopefully my next novel, At Dawn They Sleep, will be out next year. That’s the second book in The Blood War Trilogy and it follows They Are Among Us.
Thanks again for having me! I appreciate the opportunity to run off at the mouth!
Interview with Sanitarium Magazine editor Barry Skelhorn
When did you get into the fiction industry and what drew you toward the horror genre?
When I was young, my Granddad lent me a copy of Frankenstein – which I devoured. Soon after that he lent me Dracula and a few collections of M.R James. Over time I read more and more horror and it grew from there.
There is just something about horror and the written word, the writer leads you one way, but it is your imagination that fills in the darker gaps and that’s the beauty of it.
As an editor selecting a story for publication, what is the line that you won't cross? How much violence, even beautifully written, is too much?
Personally I think that most subjects, if they are in the correct context can add to a story. However I won’t entertain any works of fiction with any graphic sexual reference to minors.
What is your take on the standard giants of the horror genre such as King, Matheson, Laymon, Bierce, and Koontz? How do some of the indie writers of today stack up against the legends?
Everyone has to start somewhere. As the story goes; without Tabitha King picking Carrie out of the bin and giving her feedback maybe King wouldn’t be where he is now.
There are so many indie authors that are making strides in the horror genre today – it would be wrong to single a few out. I would also like to give a shout out to the small and not so small independent presses that are keeping the integrity of the business together.
When selecting a story for publication, do you tend to prefer more psychological and subtle themes or more overt and graphic tales?
The way Sanitarium works is simple – you never know what is going to be behind each case file. Each issue that we collate we try and keep a mix of sub-genres so there is an eclectic collection of tales for the reader.
I find going from (for example) one zombie story, then another and another is great. But after a while you end up comparing them and not enjoying them as much.
What direction do you see the Sanitarium Magazine taking in the future? Any major milestones coming up?
We are working on a new look that we are bringing in one piece at a time. The magazine will be offering a printed copy as payment from the start of 2015. Also we are changing the tag line so we can cover more in its pages. “Showcasing Horror Fiction, Dark Verse and Macabre Entertainment”
Which issue of Sanitarium Magazine do you consider to be the best? What sets it apart?
Cover wise I love issue 20 with Kevin Spencer’s artwork “skull” – the vibrant colours and washed effect really works for me. As for the stories, there are a few stand out ones for me but we have found everyone has their favourites and we’re happy with that.
If you could interview any horror writer, living or dead, who would it be? How do you think they would act face to face?
Sadly one of the greats we were close to interviewing with was James Herbert. We are based in the UK and he lived only a short drive away but it was not to be. I think his style of writing where it was quite close to the bone both with gore and sexual undertones struck the right balance.
I would of course love to interview Clive Barker, Stephen King.
What is the most terrifying thing you've ever read?
I think this has to be put in context. I was 16, on a family holiday in France and we were staying in a large converted farmhouse just outside of Bordeaux – I was staying in the bat house.
Whilst staying there I started to re-read Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot. The summer storms were a sight to be seen and the atmosphere was just right for a good scare. So with every turn of the page, the story gripped me more than it had the first time around.
Have you had any horrific experiences in your own life that you couldn't explain?
I wouldn’t say horrific but there were a couple when we stayed in the farmhouse. Whilst staying in the bat house one night I felt something hit the bedframe at the foot of the bed. Thinking nothing of it I just fell back asleep. I felt it again, this time I was jolted awake and flicked on the light. My Brother, asleep in the other bed next to mine, was sound asleep. Looking around the room, nothing seemed untoward, so hitting the light I went back to sleep.
It wasn’t until the morning when both of us awoke did we realised what had happened. My bed, which has started flush against the wall, was now a good foot from the wall.
It turns out that when they were renovating the farmhouse, they came across a soldier’s helmet with a bullet hole through it – I think I was sleeping in his snipers nest and he wasn’t best pleased.
Finally, does your love of horror branch into other media such as movie, music, art, etc.?
Most media interests me in the horror world. I have mentioned Clive Barker as a writer but I also love his style of art from “The Hellbound Heart” to “Abarat” and everything in between. If I could I would have a piece hanging in my office for inspiration. Another that I really have a lot of time for is the theatre and plays such as Danny Bolye’s Frankenstein, Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black. It would be interesting to work with some of the writers who have appeared in Sanitarium and put together a 3 Act show with some of the stories.
What got you into horror? Have you always been a fan of the genre or did one particular work pique your interest?
From a very young age, I preferred horror and the macabre to anything else. I remember one year I missed a lot of school because I got very sick, and I spent the days in bed watching a marathon of old Vincent Price films. Many of them were based on works by Edgar Allan Poe, which guided me towards his books. I read everything I could of Poe's and he was my first, biggest influence. I loved the way he created such rich, Gothic atmospheres even in very short works.
On of your stories, Hat Man, deals with night terrors. Do you have any personal experience with sleep paralysis or other terror-inducing sleep disorders? An interesting phenomenon occurs during the hallucinations triggered by sleep paralysis where the brain has trouble recalling the face of a remembered person and thus places a hood or dark hat over the character in an attempt to make the blurred face appear logical.
Hat Man is definitely based on night terrors I had when I was young. In fact, 80% of what Bernice lives through in Hat Man are things that actually happened to me. I have read all the scientific explanations behind sleep paralysis and night terrors, and I do think there is a physiological component to them. However, no one will ever be able to convince me that there isn't also a supernatural element to what I experienced.
Have you ever used a Ouija board yourself? If so, how did it go?
I have, with a childhood friend. We both loved ghost stories and anything spooky, so we played with it often. The only thing I can remember happening when we played was that she would get terrible migraines almost every time, which is part of why we stopped altogether. Another reason we stopped was a story that her mom told us. Her mom said that when she was a little girl, she played with the Ouija with her friends, until something happened that scared them out of it. One of the girls she played with had recently lost a family member who, by all accounts, was not a nice guy. So, they asked the board what happened to him, if he was in a better place, that type of thing. She told us that the board suddenly shifted under their fingers, and then spelled out "Satan knows" before sliding across the room and hitting the wall. Of course, she might have made the whole thing up, but that story coupled with the migraines was enough to scare us out of playing with the Ouija anymore. I haven't picked it up since.
Almost everyone experiences some type of terrifying, unexplained event. What's yours?
Other than the night terrors, which were truly terrifying, I have experienced a lot of strange events. I'll pick one from when I was a kid. I grew up in a house set back deep in the woods, with big windows all over the first floor looking out at the trees. My mom says I used to stand at the windows and smile and wave outside. One day she asked me who I was waving to, and I said, "All the people." Now, no one was outside. At least, not that she could see.
Do you believe in ghosts? How about spiritual beings such as angels and demons?
Definitely, I believe in all of them. I don't think that this life is all there is and that there is a lot we don't know and can't prove. There is real evil in the world, both natural and supernatural. I also believe there is pure good and love that counteracts that, whether it's angels or God or whatever your particular beliefs name it.
When you first started writing horror, how did your friends and family respond?
It's not a surprise to anyone who knows me. Most little girls play with baby-dolls--I had a plastic skeleton who I named Skellie that I carried around. My parents are a little shocked, though, that I remember the night terrors so vividly, since it's been over twenty years since I first had them.
What has been the most difficult thing that continually plagues you as an author?
Self doubt is a huge obstacle to getting words on the page. What I've learned to do is "brain dump"--just get it all out there. No matter how terrible that first draft is, you can always go back and change things, edit, add, subtract. My advice to writers who struggle with the same issue is to give yourself permission to suck. Really, it's OK if what you put down is terrible at first. None of it's permanent, it's not as if your first rough draft will be tattooed on your body forever. But if you don't at least start somewhere, the words will never make the jump from your brain to the page.
What is the most unique advice you've ever been given by another professional in the writing world? Did that advice prove to be useful?
I read an interview where Stephen King answered the question, "What makes a talented writer?" or something along those lines. I'm paraphrasing, but basically he said that if you write something, and someone pays you for the story, and you then take that money and pay your light bill with it, he considers you talented. I love that. It takes the pressure off of setting out to be the next Hemingway, and lets me have fun and focus on being a storyteller who people pay to entertain them. That's something I can be proud of, too, it's not all about Pulitzers and The Paris Review.
If you had to pick one author for your writing to be favorably compared to, which would you pick? What elements from other writers do you try to incorporate into your own writing?
In my dreams, Vladimir Nabokov, simply because of his mastery of the English language. As far as my genre goes, Stephen King knows how to tell a great story and create realistic, flawed characters, and that's my main focus in writing. The fanciest prose, scores of allegories, and a dreamy, stream-of-consciousness style of writing are worthless if you can't tell a story worth a damn. I want to entertain and help people immerse themselves in the more visceral and scary elements of the world in which we live, and he is the master of that.