Tag Archives: horror fiction

Jonathan Dark

Just wrote this off the cuff. Similarities with Constantine, I guess. Although in truth it just came from my dislike of magic (and general high-fantasy) in most books, and my attempt to reclaim it. Actually to begin with it just came from a desire to write about weird and crazy monsters.

It’s set in the same world as my story The School of Necromancy. Could become something more! Who knows…

 

JONATHAN DARK

 

My name is Jonathan Dark. Johnny, if you wish to be casual, which you should never be. I hate John.

People will tell you I do magic. I hate that term. Magic goes hand in hand with robes and pointy hats, and then it’s only a small step to elves and gnomes and football on broomsticks. Elves don’t exist. Gnomes do, but they’re black little creeps and I can’t stand them. Not because they’re black, but because they’re unreasonably small. Call me a racist or a speciesist if you like, I don’t care. Why would anyone care about gnomes?

No, I’m not a magician and I don’t do magic. I’m not a wizard, or a conjurer of cheap tricks, I’m not a warlock or a male witch, or a sorcerer or a mystic, I’m not an illusionist or an enchanter and I have never owned a wand, nor will I, useless things that they are.

I’m a shadowmancer and I do shadowmancy. Go on, smirk. Call me pretentious, say I made it up. I did it as a masters at the School, I’ll have you know, before it was stricken from the curriculum for being too avant-garde, too unscientific. Too dangerous. These days, they deny the discipline even exists, say it’s all nonsense, that there is no Shadow-World. They wanted to take my masters off me ex post facto, but I wouldn’t give it up. I’d received high marks, and I never would for anything again.

All this artsy waving hands in the air, showing off, I won’t hold for it. I don’t know, maybe it holds card in exuberant America, but not in Britain, not in my York. You shouldn’t draw attention to yourself, or if you are, at least have the decency and respect for your environment to have a grounded sense of style. This isn’t the Middle Ages, for god’s sake. Keep it low-key, keep it smart and cool, scratch it out in the air by your pockets where it’s unobtrusive and easy to miss, carve the air quick and technical into thin, jagged lines of the relevant colours or just paint it black, then flick it out like a cigarette. It’s an intricate hand sign, not a side show. At most it should look like you’re writing on air, or playing with an invisible deck; best of all just twitching your fingers thoughtfully to yourself, some strange tick, maybe just mad enough to be ignored by strangers, but not mad enough to cause a scene. Only those with Twilight Sight see the colours, see the design temporarily etched into thin air. But then they already have enough to worry about.

Like me, you should learn to draw all your mances with a single hand; that way the other is free to hold a gun.

You wonder what I can do with my mances. I can create things, and I can change things. Why am I not rich? you ask. Can I not just create money out of thin air?

I can do just that, but it’s not that easy. Money is one of those things that, even in real-terms, disappears as quickly as it arrives. It’s easily lost, easily squandered, easily forgotten or transmogrified into something completely different. That’s real money, in all its elusiveness. Now, make that shadow-money, a transient material at the best of times, and your problems are only compounded. The more you make the harder it is to hold onto. I’d say I can make about minimum wage. After that, it slips through my fingers – literally as well as metaphorically. Although I usually only need the money to continue existing up until the point I’ve left the shop.

And yet sometimes you desire more than theft-by-mance of penny-sweets and top-shelf magazines, you want something a little more permanent and sizeable, something that’ll last.

That’s when I have to earn my keep.

I’m not a particularly good man, and I’m okay with that, because I stop much worse things. I’m the one who fights the monster under your bed, and the thing in your cupboard, the creature at your window, the thin, silent figure in the corner. Be glad you don’t see them, but don’t mistake not seeing for assuming they are not there. They are most definitely there. They exist in an adjoining dimension, the Twilight, the Shadow-World, which overlaps ours, lying on top of it like a murky filter.

Come far enough in studying shadowmancy (not that anyone’s teaching it anymore) and you will see them. Close to people, sometimes only millimetres apart, watching them, sniffing them, licking the air. Most are mostly harmless. Some are not. It’s those that are not where I come in.

It’s those that are not which make up all those unexplained cases that baffle the constabulary and the public at large. Indeed, many of the explained cases are in fact mistaken, and should have been attributed to more, dare I voice it, supernatural means. No, no, the word sticks in my throat. More monstrous means, I will say in its stead. More Twilight means.

Racks, dragores, slip-men, lupo-vamps, rag zombi, corpus mortem, fleshers, skin ghouls, dogspawn, red babies, straggle lamps, cocoon beards, phallocs, heavers, cracklers, howlers, ectofucks and wet dennises (don’t ask) – these Twilighters are some of the ones to watch. And, sometimes, they get a lot bigger.

 

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I wish I could explain shadowmancy to you in scientific terms. But I can’t. I mean, I could explain around it, explain some of the mechanisms in place, and so forth, but I suppose I can’t be bothered. It’s so far different from what you know, and even from what they teach in the School, that we have simply no ground on which to lay our common foundations. It’s just. . . well, it’s just fucking magic, okay? I’ll allow it this time, much as I already feel like I need to be painting stars on a hat and babbling ‘abracadabra’. Look, you either accept what it is or you don’t, I don’t care.

Actually no, sorry, I’m not giving you the choice. You accept what it is, end of. It’s shadowmancy and it exists, and my entire life is its living proof.

 

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Ianthine Interviews: Isaac Thorne

It was my pleasure to interview the comic horror author and goggled ghoul Isaac Thorne.  You can find him at his website,  where you can check out his works, or by following him on Twitter.

 

You say you write tales of “dark comic horror”. Is this your favourite genre to write in? What do you like most about the genre? Why do you think these  seemingly opposing genres – comedy and horror – go so well together, and are so popular?

Interesting question. Right now, it’s really the only genre I write in. I don’t think comedy and horror are entirely opposites. Comedy is one way people  have learned to cope with real life horror. I grew up in the 1980s, so one of the examples I often cite of how horror and comedy can dovetail as a coping  mechanism is from 1986, when Space Shuttle Challenger exploded. It was a horribly tragic event. All the same, when I arrived at school the next day my  classmates were already cracking crude jokes about it.  Is that insensitive? Yes. It’s also an extreme example. I suppose there are limits to how horror and  comedy entwine. Even so, I do generally agree with that old Jimmy Buffett line: “If we couldn’t laugh, we would all go insane.”

What do you find inspires you most for writing horror? Do you find the real world has more inspiration to offer than your own imagination?

I think real-world experiences inform the imagination. Without life experience, you don’t have a frame of reference for telling a story because you don’t  have a true grasp of how the circumstances you’re imagining would realistically unfold.

What piece of writing of yours are you most proud of? What can you tell us about it?

Right now that would be my newest one: DIGGUM. It’s probably the darkest piece I’ve turned out so far. Most of my earlier work was designed with an  approximately equal amount of horror and funny. DIGGUM still has some of my dark humor in it, but the character himself is probably the darkest and least  buffoonish of any I’ve written so far.

Following on from the last question, are there any stories of yours that you are displeased with, that you would like to one day rewrite?

There are some pieces of stories that I would rewrite if I felt okay about rewriting something after release. However, I believe rewrites should be  considered complete once a work is out the door and in the reader’s hands. Unless you’re fixing a punctuation error or misspelling somewhere, changing the  way the story is told after that point is unfair to the audience because you are ultimately changing the original experience.

There are exceptions, of course. I read and loved both versions of Stephen King’s THE STAND. But I was not happy when he went back and rewrote portions of  THE GUNSLINGER to force-fit plot points that occurred much later in THE DARK TOWER series. Not that I want to identify with King’s Annie Wilkes, but to me  that felt like cheating.

Do you most enjoy books and films similar to the genre you write, or do you have a favourite genre that has little to do with horror?

I watch a little of everything, but I primarily read horror. It’s the priority for me in terms of my own personal entertainment. I also like sci-fi,  action, and some westerns on film. I’ll read some fantasy, but a lot of that genre is much too epic for my personal tastes.

What are your favourite movies? Favourite director?

I have many favorites. Among horror movies, that includes FRIGHT NIGHT (1985) and HALLOWEEN (1978). Coincidentally, my favorite directors for many years  were Tom Holland and John Carpenter. I’m also a big fan of Richard Donner’s directorial work. I have tremendous respect for the way Mary Lambert handled PET  SEMATARY (1989) as well. There’s also Stephen Spielberg, Robert Zemeckis, and John Landis from that decade, of course. Looking back over that list, it looks  like I’m kind of stuck in the late 70s and 80s. There are modern works and directors I like as well, but the ones I just listed usually end up at the top of  my mind. Rob Zombie’s own original stuff is awesome. Also, Gadi Harel’s DEADGIRL disturbed the hell out of me.

What are your favourite ever books (of any genre)? Favourite author?

I’m a huge Stephen King fan, naturally. I think my favorite Stephen King novel is PET SEMATARY. I also really enjoyed the first three books in Anne Rice’s  VAMPIRE CHRONICLES, although that entire series tends to veer more toward fantasy than horror after INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE. Other than those, I tend to  enjoy tight, really well choreographed work, like the stuff John Skipp and Cody Goodfellow write. I adored the hell out of SPORE.

A friend is choosing a horror film for you to watch. What’s your preference: slasher, b-movie, comedy-horror, supernatural thriller, gothic horror, classic  black-and-white, gorefest or just utterly weird? Or no horror at all!

In order: B-movie, slasher, comedy-horror, just utterly weird, classic black-and-white, gothic horror. The primary reason I rank them that way is that I’ve  seen most of the classic black-and-white a thousand times over. I also think gothic horror is really difficult to create effectively. I’m not sure I would  trust a friend to reliably pick anything for me except a B-movie or a slasher flick.

Your last published story was Diggum, about a graveyard caretaker. What can you tell us about it, and who should be excited to read it?

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I can tell you that Mr. Diggum is a man who has a grudge. I think it would appeal to anyone who likes to see a person who thinks they’ve been wronged try to  get justice. Diggum is angry at God for allowing his wife and son to burn to death. In his mind and faith, that accidental cremation means that they can’t  be resurrected when judgement arrives. So he decides to get back at God by ensuring that every dead person he can get his hands on is burned up as well.  It’s a bit of a “if I can’t have them, you can’t have them either” tale.

I see you made Diggum into a short movie! That’s brilliant. What was your experience creating this?

The dramatic version of DIGGUM is right now an audio piece in which I play the title character. What I originally wanted to do with that was get an animator  to take that narration and create a black-and-white line-drawn animation as the visual component. While I was recording the audio, I discussed the visual  component with some talented people I know. It turned out that there was a lot standing in the way of getting the visuals done at the time. So I just  decided to go ahead and put the audio for it out there by itself. I don’t know if the visuals will come to fruition, but I’d love to see it happen.

On a more recent note, I was approached a few weeks back by My Little Rascal Film Productions about doing three short films based on other stories. We’re  looking at 2017 for short film adaptations of NOBODY WAS HERE, BECAUSE REASONS, and a work called THE ROAD, which is based on HOPPERS. I’m excited to be  collaborating with them on these projects. They seem to have a real passion for it.

What would you say is the biggest struggle with being a self-published author?

Getting noticed. For good or ill, the self-published market is flooded with authors screaming at readers and other authors to read and review their work. The awesome thing about that is the variety of voices and choices for people who like to read for entertainment. The down side is that those same choices  are overwhelming in volume and readers have financial resource limits. That makes readers more likely to look for big names they recognize than take a  chance on a self-published author they might or might not enjoy. I should point out that I’ll be publishing these stories as long as I can continue writing  them and have the platform to put them out there, even if they aren’t noticed or picked up by hordes of readers.

What is a passion of yours that has absolutely nothing to do with horror?

Running. I love my cardio.

What do you think the most important thing to remember is when making comic writing actually funny?

The visual. For me, a line of words on a page can only be funny if it conjures a funny image in my head. You can tell me that a man slips and falls down a  set of stairs, but that by itself isn’t going to make me laugh. Describe the process in a funny way. Have him slip on a roller skate at the top of two  flights of stairs and pinwheel his arms down to the mid-landing. Have him stand up, dust himself off, breath a sigh of relief about not actually being hurt,  and then slip on the skate again as he tries to navigate the next flight. Done properly, I’d laugh at that.

Do you think horror can ever go ‘too far’? Whether in movies or books. Do you try and push against boundaries yourself? And have you ever held back?

I think pushing boundaries is part of what horror is supposed to be about. I keep that in mind while I’m writing. There’s always some point in a story  that I’ll hover over and think “am I going too far?” I kind of like pushing myself beyond my own comfort zone, though.

That said, yes, anything can go too far. In movies, CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST is probably the most famous example of that. They actually slaughtered animals for  that one. When your efforts at bloody realism do not stop with what you are able to do with your special effects, you’ve probably gone too far.

I think it’s a bit more difficult to go too far in literature. I should make clear that by “going too far” I do not mean just offending someone or some particular community standard. Going too far in literature would have to be something you write that actually creates a moral black hole, like the gentleman  in Stephen King’s short story WORD PROCESSOR OF THE GODS. He finds he is capable of erasing his wife and kid and changing his own life circumstances by just  writing about it.

If you had to be one of the classic Universal monsters for the rest of your life – The Mummy, Dracula, Frankenstein, Wolf-Man, the Creature from the Black  Lagoon etc. – which would you be?

Definitely Dracula. The Universal version of him is pretty much the James Bond of the classic monsters, forever young and suave. Really, the only down side to being Dracula is that you sunburn too easily and your food source might try to kill you by damaging your heart. Is that much different from sitting on  the beach without sunscreen and living an all-bacon lifestyle?

Why do you think people like scaring themselves? Guillermo del Toro described horror movies as “roller coasters of the soul”. Would you agree with this when  it comes down to scary stories (in whatever medium )?

I think it’s an apt description. For me it’s always been a bit of a test. How much can I take? How long can I stand against this without backing down?  Perhaps it’s part of some evolutionary survival mechanism. You won’t fight and defeat the tiger unless you properly fear the tiger.

Zombie survival situation. You get a ranged weapon and a melee weapon – what do you choose?

Are grenades range weapons or melee weapons? Grenades. More grenades.

Thanks for the interview Isaac!

Thanks for the opportunity.

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Isaac Thorne is a nice man who has, over the course of his life, developed a modest ability to spin a good yarn. Really. He promises. He also avoids public men’s restrooms at all costs. He considers himself a lover of books, music, movies, and other forms of pop culture phenomenon. His philosophy on his life is that it’s all one giant experiment.

Website: https://www.isaacthorne.com
Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Isaac-Thorne/e/B00CF4B3UU/
Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/isaacrthorne
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/isaacrthorne

The Gremlins #2

I apologise for SUCH a long delay. I have been going through some things… Moving house… twice… other things. Anyway, no point saying any of that now. I’ve finally started writing again. Here’s the second part and final part to the short story The Gremlins.

The first part can be found here.

It can be found for kindle here.

 

 

They have been around since before the time of the dinosaurs.

Back then they were kinder, peaceful creatures, living free as individuals, without any hive mind. Then Homo sapiens came and exerted dominance and, with a surety and indomitable force of will that had never before been seen, the gremlins were nearly exterminated.

They do not hate us because we nearly wiped them out.

They hate us because we did it without having ever realised.

Once gremlins lived in the light of the sun and the moon, in the woods and the grasslands and the lakes. Homo sapiens took the environment for themselves, and the gremlins, invisible to the humans who trod with their thoughtless feet, and raked the land with their thoughtless machines, were driven out of their homes, and died in droves.

They were naïve, and they were weak, and they were frightened, and they were unprepared. They did not know where to go, and they did not know in which direction to move. They starved, they were crushed, they drowned, they were wiped out by our diseases by the trillion. They ran into death, and they died quickly.  They were stupid.

The gremlin population sank from a population close to that of ants to around one hundred. Never in history has there been such a genocide. And the perpetrators remained completely oblivious.

They would grow again, now underground.

Gremlins are hermaphrodites and, when they feel like it, when the environment can support them, each one can have a hundred children.

 

Humanity has the arrogance to believe that it can fight anything. We write stories and make movies about fighting against huge monsters, against incredibly destructive alien forces. We are always the underdogs. And just when things look bleak, our greater numbers, our unconquerable spirit and determination for survival, and the combined forces of all our weaponry, take down even the biggest of monsters, and we are victorious.

It is easy to point your guns up and shoot something.

It is much harder to point them down, and shoot something you can barely see. When you are the monster, you are the giant to take down, when you are the one hopelessly, impossibly outnumbered.

We brush off insects, and we often think nothing of them. You might laugh at the idea that we, as an enemy, would be utterly pathetic to them, even if they were only a little bit unified and only half desirous of our destruction. That we could win such a war, whether it would be easy or terribly long and terribly difficult.

It is estimated that there are 170 million insects to each person.

There would be no war. There would be a massacre.

When the time comes, when the gremlins are done playing with us, done stretching our minds, confusing and corrupting our reason, making us doubt ourselves, making mistake after mistake, when humanity is tired and half-broken, pinpricked with holes from ever increasing suicides and murders, when every other human is paranoid and neurotic, trusting nobody, not even themselves – when the gremlins are done torturing and weakening us, when they are so strong and vast that they will roll over us like a wave rolls over pebbles, that is when humanity will have had its last days on this earth.

 

There are the ancient ones. Who knows how many there are. It is not clear if they are gremlins or not, only that they are on the same side. They do not die each year like the others. They know of us just like they knew of the dinosaurs.

They are bigger, much, much bigger than ordinary gremlins. They slumber in enormous subterranean caves, and at the bottom of unexplored ocean trenches, too deep and dark for divers or their machines. Sometimes they come closer to us, watching us, thinking. If you are swimming, perhaps you have had that uneasy feeling of a shadow below you, a shadow that filled the sea.

It is not simple paranoia. Paranoia is the word given because we don’t know about the gremlins.

The ancient ones guide the hive mind. They will not come up when the second stage – SLAUGHTER – begins. They are not stupid. They know they can be harmed when all guns are brought to bear. No, they will come up and walk the streets when humanity is broken, when it is a shadow of a shadow of its strength. When there is no unity, merely those that die as they flee. Then they will crush and they will rend, and they will know that those with the longest patience have the biggest payoffs.

 

The gremlins will rise up, from the floorboards, from the corners, from the shadows and from the sewers, from the cracks in the plaster, the underside of tables and chairs, from behind the pictures on the walls, from between the books on the bookcases, from under your fingernails, and from in your hair.

They will pour in their thousands from your attic and they will swarm onto you.

In one long night, a night that crosses the world, a third of humans will die, most in their houses, most in their beds. A billion will die before anybody knows what is happening, snuffed out, no time to even scream.

You cannot win. They are already here. They’ve always been here.

When you feel that shiver up your spine – that’s them crawling up your back. The itch in your hair, that’s them. The tickle on your bare skin that you slap away: that’s them, but they’ve already moved. Some of the smallest ones nest in your mouth while you sleep, or in the hairs of your nostrils during the day.

You can’t win against an enemy that you can inhale, that can hack you apart from the inside. If you shut your mouth and clamp your nose, they will push through your eardrums, or wriggle under your eyeballs.

The second stage has not yet begun.

But it will.

The gremlins chitter in their thousands, in their millions, in their trillions upon trillions the world over. They all say the same word, ukta.

It means, ‘soon’.

 

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The Gauntlet of Gore #2

The Gauntlet of Gore is a strange and bloody short story/novella about a competitive school sport where players punch opposing players in the stomach with a powered gauntlet, which makes the person explode.

There is also a pervading supernatural horror element –  and some of the creepiest team captains you may ever encounter…

You can find it on Amazon here.

Here is a second extract to read. This extract does not follow on from the prior one.

 

Extract #2:

 

She ran.

She ran from the battle.

She ran from her team mates.

She ran from Mike.

‘Sarah!’ she heard the cry behind her, but she didn’t look around; she was too busy jumping fallen branches, ducking and dodging, and putting her screaming legs to the limit as she sprinted through the darkness.

Gotta stay alive, she repeated to herself, and even the disembodied voice in her head was panting the words. Can’t win if I’m dead, it shifted to, and she began to convince herself that this was strategy, and not a cowardly, selfish flight.

The trees clustered in closer, and she slowed, eventually coming to a halt when she could no longer hear any signs of pursuit. She walked among the bones of black trees, feeling sick and empty. She snapped off some broad leaves from a plant and tried to wipe some of the muck off her face.

She had lost all sense of direction. She didn’t know if she was heading back to the field, or deeper into the woods.

It was starting to get cold. While it might be daylight outside, in here it might as well be night. She inspected the trees closely, but she couldn’t see a single camera, and she had a chilling feeling that nobody knew where she was, that she was entirely alone.

The noise was like the creak of a door, or a slowly falling tree, except it wasn’t natural, but came from a mouth. It rose in volume, a harpy screech that seemed to come from every nook and pore of the forest.

‘Who’s there?’ Sarah called out, not caring anymore about revealing her position to another player. She wanted to surrender. She wanted to put her arms up, take her gauntlet off and give herself up.

But she knew that you couldn’t surrender. Not in this game. If you put your arms up, you were dead.

Then someone, something came out from behind a tree, a tree so thin it seemed impossible it could have hidden her, it. The woman was completely naked, pale as death and almost skeletal. Her bones gleamed slightly, with an almost sickly wet pallor. There was nearly no light, but the woman’s popping, owl-ish eyes shone black and white, like polished snooker balls.

The creature was the Stonewaters captain, and she was smiling, impossibly wide and stretched, her rubbery lips coming almost up to her eyeballs. The teeth had come out from the gums, and were now as long as fingers, as thin as twigs and as sharp as stakes.

Sarah couldn’t breathe. Her feet were stuck to the ground. She saw the pale monster reach out her spindly arms, holding them outstretched before her. The fingers, like the teeth, were longer than before, and were growing before her eyes. The fingers came out like a network of roots blossoming in fast forward through the earth. They crept through the air towards her, multiplying in crooked joints with every few inches gained. As they grew, they creaked and rasped.

Sarah screamed then, trailing off in a whimper when she saw the huge eyes light up, as though inner delight fed the torch that burned behind those black-white bulbs.

The creature licked its lips with a slimy black tongue.

‘We took care of the cameras, dearie,’ said the creature in a voice like a saw. ‘Nobody sees when we don’t want them to.’

The two other captains appeared from behind poles of bark to either side of the woman, both as naked, like sharp white stick figures animated out from black line trees.

They were smiling too.

Sarah heard the drone, the sound that had replayed in her head since yesterday, since listening to the captains stood tall and grinning on that stage. That flat buzzing sound that now came from everywhere, came from inside her, trembling like worms in her veins and flies in her guts.

She put her hands over her ears, but the droning, the creaking, the screech of the captains was not muffled. The woman’s fingers had reached her now, tickling her chest and neck. The fingertips curled and tried to hook her, to snag her flesh.

The droning was increasing in volume, and Sarah imagined a brush in her mind, a hard thin broom with fingers for bristles, sweeping away the clutter of her thoughts, sweeping away her horror, slowly leaving her mind’s corridors and halls polished and empty, with only the scrape of fingernails to mark them.

The terror faded, and numbness washed through her. The woman’s groaning fingers tickled her mouth, trying to pry her lips open so they could come inside.

The finger-broom in her mind opened the doors to her memories, and advanced.

 

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The Gremlins

Another delay! Perhaps it should be taken for granted now that I can’t keep to the more regular posts of before. In part because of now writing a novel  – my ambitious fantasy/comic/’gritty’/sci-fi/western ‘The Wulf and the Tiger’ – rather than short stories.

Here is an extract – about the first half of the story, to be fair – of a short story I promised I while back, called The Gremlins. It was the last to be written for my Faces in the Dark Compilation.

It can also be got independently here.

 

All around the world, things go missing. Some of the time they inexplicably reappear, hours later, after the whole house has been turned upside down. Then, there they are, in a place you had checked four times over, looking smug.

Some of the time they don’t come back. You know, you know for absolute fact that the item could not have left the house, perhaps not even left the room where you last saw it, maybe only a few minutes ago. Keys, a TV remote, a pair of glasses, a bookmark. They have nowhere to go to, no means of escape, and yet gone they are.

This is not a story about the things that go missing.

This is a story about what takes them.

 

The headphones in your coat pocket. You spent five minutes at the beginning of your last walk into town untangling them. Three days pass. You take them out, and lo and behold, they are tangled again. No, not merely tangled, but tied in knots. Actual knots. How did this happen? It’s almost, you think, with an expression a mixture of annoyance and amusement, as if somebody was, when you were fast asleep, taking the wires out of your pocket, looping and knotting them up with fiendish glee and putting them back. But you shake your head, unscramble the wires again, and go about your day, not for one serious moment entertaining the prospect that your previous flight of fancy might be true.

This is what they want you to think.

 

They vary in size, most of them anywhere from the size of a fingernail or a bogey to the size of a large hand. They have two arms and three or four legs, and they move like spiders.

They are often a muddy, greeny-brown colour, but they have a natural camouflage that turns them into a mere blotch on the environment. They do not have nails, but have long fingers, very thin and sharp as needles. They can climb anything, completely vertical and upside down. They can climb up your plug-hole. They can crawl across the ceiling, above your head while you sleep.

They say that, in the city, you’re never more than six feet away from a rat. Well, you’re never more than six feet away from at least a hundred gremlins. Six feet above and six feet under.

They wait like spiders too. They can stay perfectly immobile. Your eyes cross over them all the time. They’re in the shadows, in the corners of things. They’re clinging to the downside of the desk you sit at. They wait in the cracks in the armchair.

When they move, they’re fast, very fast, like very small things with legs often are. If your eyes detect them at all, they’re nothing but a blur, the idea of motion, the tick in your vision.

If you ever saw one, your brain would not register it. The mind convinces itself too firmly against the existence of countless little undiscovered creatures hiding and sneaking and scampering silently around us. You would simply see a bit of dirt, a ball of hair, a thick stain, a bulb of mould, and your eyes would move on instantly and your mind would not remember.

Maybe you touched one, without thinking. Most of them are slimy, and greasy, like wet frogs. They trail mucous like snails in the hot sun, invisible to the human eye. Some of them have scales, like lizards or fish. Some of them are hairy, not a soft cat-like fur, but hair like tarantulas. It is the kind a hand might touch without looking and instinctively pull back, an immediately recognisable bad touch, and yet when the eye looks for the culprit it finds none.

They are very patient, and when they are not being patient, they are being quick and invisible. The smaller ones do not need to wait for you to leave the room to sow their discord. They can steal things from under your noses. They could re-arrange half the room in the time it would take some old biddy to notice something was wrong.

They live short lives, a year at most, but their ancestral memories run long and deep, right back to the beginning. They are made up of individuals, countless individuals, but they also share a hive mind. They are directed, they are completely unified, and things always go According To Plan.

If you ventured underground, to the places where the very walls are made of them, where they seem infinite in their numbers, you would see the same three words scrawled over and over. They are written in their language, their alphabet, a cluster of sharp points like tally marks scratched on the cave walls. Translated they would read:

 

DISARRAY                                   GATHER

                               RECLAIM

 

In their alphabet, however, a scratch can mean more than one letter, and a word can have more than one meaning. These words could also be read as:

 

MADNESS                                   HARVEST

 

                         SLAUGHTER

 

This is the Plan. The first stage, Disarray/Madness, and Gather/Harvest, is in motion, and has been in motion for thousands of years, always growing in efficiency and strength. Disarray involves the taking and movement of our possessions, and other small, interfering activities, a great host of tricks to play on the unsuspecting humans to slowly, but surely, drive them mad. Each year things are ramped up a little bit more from the year before. And in their malice, they think it hilarious we have not noticed anything amiss, but blame ourselves and each other every time.

You may say it is having little effect. It is not. It is having an ever growing effect, simply one that humans do not recognise. For every murder and suicide, there are the prime reasons, of course, but there are also the little things, the mounting up of endless little annoyances that serve one consolidated purpose: to drive you over the edge.

These little things are the work of gremlins.

Gather works in partnership with Disarray, and involves stealing our things, and keeping them for themselves. Some of them are useful as they are; most of them are made into new things, bigger things, dangerous things. Gremlins are very good at building, at making crude but terribly efficient things out of gizmos, doohickeys and thingamajigs. Things that will make them stronger, things that will come into their own when the time comes to Reclaim.

The second stage has not begun yet.

 

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The Gauntlet of Gore

The Gauntlet of Gore is one of my longer short stories – a similar length to The School of Necromancy, if you read that. It is also, perhaps, my bloodiest, and one of my strangest.

It is about a competitive school sport where players punch opposing players in the stomach with a powered gauntlet, which makes the person explode.

There is also a pervading supernatural horror element –  and some of the creepiest team captains you may ever encounter…

You can find it on Amazon here.

An extract:

 

The grass were iron blades burnished under the heat of the midday sun. Millions upon millions of little knives, all thirsting, ready to whet their whistles on the redness of humans.

The grounds for play covered the field, the central mud banks where lives were often lost, and the sparse yet dark forests around the fringes, where each team would begin. That’s where they waited, so tense you could cut yourself on their muscles. Some shivering, some breathing deep, some with eyes closed and praying to the gods of slaughter.

In no time at all, each of them would look a horror, team colours almost indistinguishable under slopping coats of mud and blood. Fighting, frenzied and frothing, lost in the berserker hazes of battle lust and battle terror. The tactics drilled into them could never last forever, could never be present when you were staring into the rolling whites of enemy eyes. Then, it was just you and them, and your death hung on a seesaw.

The woods were thin, but most of the trunks were wide. In the later stages of the game, sometimes called the hunt, sometimes called clean-up, they would hide players, players shivering and scared, putting off the inevitable, and players silent in their concealment, waiting to assassinate their hunters. Overhead the canopy was thick and heavy from these trees, filling in the gaps and shutting out the sun. The experienced players stood and crouched like panthers in the darkness, feeling the dirt under them and stroking the bark of the trees with their free hand.

You couldn’t see the cameras unless you were looking for them, but they were there. They had their places. In the field the cameras were long-range, pointing in at the action from the sidelines, but here they sneaked in among the trees, flicking on and off with night vision to the rapt, hungry attention of their audience.

The spectators sat in their stands on the only side of the field not bordered by woods, munching their processed meats and gurgling beer, keeping eyes on the huge screens that showed the choice views from the cameras, field and forest. The audience who watched at home slunk lower in their fat armchairs, or indulged drunken bloodlusts perched on barstools with their chattering, gasping brethren.

No spectators would cross the boundaries and come onto the pitch. There would be no streakers, no attention-seekers. If you passed the boundaries, your life was forfeit. Neither the Organisers or any player were held responsible if you were hurt, or if you died.

The audience stayed put.

This wasn’t as polished a set-up as the Nationals, or the World Titles, but a lot of people preferred the Locals, the inter-school matches. They were amateurs, technically, but the orgy of violence suited them, suited the dirt and roughness of the grounds. There were only a handful of pro stadiums – called Coliseums these days – out there. The players didn’t play on fields and in forests and sliding up and down mud banks, but on laminate flooring. Obstacles were varied, with new ones introduced in each game, keeping a novelty element for the audience and a surprise element for the teams. Regular obstacles included a simulated forest made of branchless, leafless poles to dodge, a waxen floor to slip and slide on, and a crowd favourite, an area of connected trampolines. You hadn’t seen anything until you’d seen two players jumping towards each other, fists connecting in each other’s stomachs, and exploding in mid-air.

Sarah checked her gauntlet for what seemed to be the twentieth time. There was no such thing as over-checking, not when your life depended on it working and staying strapped tight around your hand. She opened the small protective casing, flicked the switch and felt the familiar thrum, the vibrations coursing through her fingers and up her arm. When it hit the spot, a stomach, the vibrations, tuned to the perfect frequency, would multiply over and over, rumbling their way through the gauntlet and rippling the enemy’s (you better hope they were an enemy) stomach. And then they exploded.

She moved to switch it back off, when a siren sounded, sharp and angry, emitting from every camera. Now she could see them, blinking black and sullen in the trees.

‘Switch ‘em on!’ she shouted, and those players that needed telling did so.

She looked over at Mike, who nodded at her, his face hard. She turned to see Joseph, who had his eyes closed and was muttering fast to himself. She was relieved to see his gauntlet was on and working.

A couple of steps before her, Freddy was stretching. You better be good, she thought.

A second noise, higher than the last, and ending faster.

‘Everybody!’ Sarah shouted. ‘You’re here now! If you want to turn back, it’s too late, you’ll just have to fight your way out! Remember your training! Remember your teammates! Fight for your team, fight for your life, fight for William Howard! Give ‘em Hell!’

A cheer, desperate and aggressive, was echoed by some, and was quickly swallowed by the darkness. Some of them were gulping repeatedly and some were shaking their heads, as though wishing the dream away.

The third call.

They ran.

 

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Ianthine Interviews: Devan Sagliani

It was my pleasure to interview the horror author and zombie prince Devan Sagliani.  You can find him at his website,  where you can check out his works, or by following him on Twitter.

 

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What do you find inspires you most for writing horror? Do you find the real world has more inspiration to offer than your imagination?

The world is so full of mind numbingly awful horrors that the only way to cope with the insecurity of existence is to write about it, to allow the imagination to take the things we fear most and create art from it. In this way I believe we come to terms with our own mortality.

What are your favourite horror movies? Favourite director?

I’m still old school. I love John Carpenter and Wes Craven. A Nightmare on Elm Street is one of the best horror movies of all time with one of the greatest villains of all time. It’s hard to top that. Carpenter blew my young mind with The Thing. The remake didn’t come close, with either of those movies. I think Eli Roth has a great handle of all things terror, more so for his movie Hostel than the Saw series even. Brilliantly terrifying. For me though the scariest movie is still Misery. Kathy Bates did an amazing job of capturing an insane fan in that movie. I’m also a big fan of Jacob’s Ladder.

What are your favourite ever books (of any genre)? Favourite author?

I grew up reading everything I could get my hands on then went on to study English Lit in college so it’s hard to pick just a few. Anything by Salman Rushdie. He is amazing. Same for Michael Connelly, Stephen King, and Don Delillo. Survivor by Chuck Palahniuk. That’s an amazing and totally under-rated novel. In the zombie genre I’m a big fan of Jonathan Maberry, Shana Festa, Stephen Kozeniewski, Sharon Stevenson, Stevie Kopias, Frank Tayell, and most recently S.P. Durnin. There are so many awesome indie authors writing in the zompoc genre right now it’s mind blowing.

Do you aim to scare and otherwise provoke yourself with your own writing, or does your own writing not affect you like that? Should a horror author try and scare themselves first if they wish to scare their audience?

It’s not often that I scare myself with an idea but it does happen from time to time. The biggest challenge can be moving that same level of fear from inside of me out onto paper in a way that will translate with readers. Usually I try to focus on creating tension and allowing the reader to slip seamlessly into the world I’m creating. That way the emotions I’m working on evoking will seem like a natural progression of the storyline.

What is your personal favourite of all the stories you’ve written? The one you are most proud of.

I’m very proud of my novel Undead L.A. 1. I wanted to strike a balance between mindless zombie killing fun and literary fiction without alienating readers of course. I think I did a fairly good job. There is plenty hidden in that novel for those who want it but the stories are entertaining enough to hold your attention even if you don’t see the deeper meanings tucked into them.

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I read your Dark Dreams blog post for The Escapist about the popularity of zombies, and it seemed to me to pose the idea that a major pull of apocalyptic zombie horror is that it gives a redemptive arc to humanity, a simple fantasy that gives hope both for personal heroism and solidarity against a common, defeatable enemy. In essence, something uplifting, free of ‘shades of grey’ and ethical confusion.

Would you say this is accurate, and that it perhaps covers more than just zombies, but the popularity of many fantasy horror genres (those without depressing endings!), by giving killable monsters and a humanity to unequivocally root for? I am reminded a little of a quote by G.K. Chesteton: “Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.”

A great number of people far smarter than me seem to think that zombies are a vehicle to vent our fears and anxieties, and therefore have an ever shifting meaning dictated by the period of history they are presented in. White Zombie with Bela Lugosi targets the fear of black men using voodoo to control white women. Romero’s Day of the Dead highlights our fears of consumerism and being turned into mindless hordes, poignantly underscored by the fact that it happens at a mall. 28 Days Later was about our fears of a global pandemic while World War Z hit a nerve for showing us an inescapable threat that moves at an unstoppable speed destroying all in its path. There is definitely a strong argument to be made for the idea that the rise in popularity of zombies can be traced back to the feeling that we live in an increasingly unstable and dangerous world where fear drives the nightly news. I wanted to suggest that the idea of being heroic played a role as well. I also suggested that being able to vent our anger at the helplessness most of us find ourselves mired in by killing other people in a justifiable way plays a bigger role than we like to admit. It’s an ugly truth not often mentioned, but I believe it plays a part. If the zombie apocalypse happened tomorrow I get the feeling a lot of people would go looking for their boss or any other number of people who made their shit list. I explore this idea further in Undead L.A. when a police detective uses the chaos of the end of the world as an excuse to hunt down the one killer who got away and ruined his career. The story is called NO ONE IS WATCHING.

When did your obsession with horror start, and what were (and are) your biggest influences for your own writing (whether other authors, films, music, art etc.)? How long have you been writing for? Did you always want to be an author?

I’ve wanted to be a novelist for as long as I can remember. I was obsessed with books and writing as a kid. I wrote my first horror short story when I was in fifth grade. It was about a man stuck on an island with a monster stalking him. Eventually he gets eviscerated. That story earned me a parent teacher conference but the general consensus at the time was that I would grow out of it. Luckily I didn’t.

I was a voracious reader as a kid so the list of authors who influenced me is probably too long for an interview. I can tell you I was obsessed with vampires as a kid. I must have seen The Lost Boys over a hundred times. As a teenager if you told me I could become a vampire I would have jumped at the chance.

A friend is choosing a horror film for you to watch. What’s your preference: slasher, b-movie, comedy-horror, supernatural thriller, gothic horror, classic black-and-white, gorefest or just utterly weird? Or no horror at all!

All of the above! My movie watching habits mirror my book reading habits. I watch just about everything good and bad. Sometimes bad is better to be honest. I can say that I feel horror needs to stop relying so heavily on gore and special effects and get back to story telling. Or maybe just find a better balance. Sometimes the implied threat is more terrifying than seeing someone get their head cut off and tossed around like a volleyball.

What is a passion of yours that has absolutey nothing to do with horror?

Surfing. I grew up in Southern California and have been in love with the ocean all my life. Writing has really cut into my time in the water but I still dream about it a lot. I have surfing in both my young adult novel Zombie Attack Army of the Dead and Undead L.A. I don’t think it will ever be out of my system. I plan on being one of those old dudes on a longboard cutting off kids with fancy Al Merrick boards made out of bamboo. I got it bad man. I wasn’t able to get to the beach as much when I was growing up so I got heavy into skating and street competitions. Now that I’m back near the water it’s on my mind all the time. Some days I just go sit on the sand and watch other people ride.

Do you ever find real world people creeping into your novels in the guise of fictional characters?

I get asked this a lot but the truth is even if a character starts out being based on someone I know they quickly develop their own agenda and become something else. Really great characters take on a life of their own and start telling you what they want to do. It can be a fun surprise that totally blows the plot outline too. Sometimes you just have to trust them and let them take you where they need to go.

Which of your novels or short stories would you most like to be made into movie? Any thoughts as to who would play the main characters?

I’m holding out for my Zombie Attack series to be made into a movie. I think it would be insanely popular if done correctly and if the director sticks to the storyline. Xander is an awesome character but since he is just 16 it’s hard to pick an actor to play him. Even if someone bought the rights today and put it into pre-production it would be over a year before it shot, so the actors would change.

I nearly always write a story while visualising it as a movie. While writing do you visualise the scenes played out as if you were watching a movie?

I do. It like to see it in my mind before I write it down. Usually I’ll give the characters a setting and then let them loose and try to record the dialogue. I often have people tell me that my writing is very visual and that’s why.

Are you disciplined with your writing? Do you make yourself write every day? Or are you a brilliant procrastinator?

I write every single day because I love to write. It’s not always on a book or something for mass consumption. Sometimes it’s just an idea or a letter or a dream. It’s always been this way. It’s important to work on your craft if you want to be a pro.

What is your personal most effective remedy for writer’s block?

I don’t believe in writer’s block. As long as you have a routine you can always get past being stuck, you might just have to push yourself. Take a hot bath. Go for a walk. Write something totally different than what you are working on. Just get yourself moving. Also it’s helpful to remember that no one has to see your work until you are ready to show it to them. So stop blowing it out of proportion. Just write!

Do you think horror can ever go ‘too far’? Whether in movies or books. Do you try and push against boundaries yourself? And have you ever held back?

What’s too far? Too scary? Too obscene? Where is the line? I think it’s important not to censor yourself or stifle your creativity. The market will do that for you. Freddy Krueger was a child molester in movie one. Norman Bates a cross dressing serial killer. Hannibal Lecter ate his victims after screwing with their minds and torturing them to death. It’s not the job of the artist to find the line but the readers and viewers.

If you had to be one of the classic Universal monsters for the rest of your life – The Mummy, Dracula, Frankenstein, Wolf-Man etc. – which would you be?

I’d be Dracula. Lugosi made him as sexy as he was scary. Women went nuts for him. But I’d rather have Karloff’s luck. What a wonderful man he was and what an incredible life he lived. I can only pray for a tenth of his success.

Why do you think people like scaring themselves? Guillermo del Toro described horror movies as “roller coasters of the soul”. Would you agree with this when it comes down to scary stories (in whatever medium)?

Stephen King said once that we make up fake horrors to help us deal with the real ones. I agree with that. I also think being able to scare ourselves helps us to cope with our own eventual death and the fear it inspires in us. Whether we like it or not we all have an expiration date. We all want to believe we’re going to live to be old and die peacefully in our sleep but deep down in the places we can’t bring ourselves to look at in our subconscious we know that probably won’t happen for most of us.

Zombie survival situation. You get a ranged weapon and a melee weapon – what do you choose?

My answer keeps evolving to this one. Now I think I want a slingshot, a compound bow, and a machete. Nothing that can jam or needs reloading or worst of all is too loud.

You’re suddenly inside your own stories. Fight or flight?

I don’t run. I’ll tell you that. When I watch The Walking Dead I always laugh at how they spend so much time making their problems worse instead of cleaning them up. If I were at that prison I would have spent all day luring zombies to the fence and putting them down instead of arguing about nonsense. When the zombie apocalypse happens I will still be here in Venice Beach. Again I make reference to it in Undead L.A. 1 in the story DOGTOWN LOCALS UNION.

Heroes or villains?

Heroes. There are too many villains in the world as it is.

Werewolves or vampires?

I love them both but I’m gonna go with vampires. The allure of being immortal is too much to resist but I’m sure it would get lonely over time. I’d have to make a companion.

Finally, what can you tell us about your next book, if there is one planned (or just an idea)?

Right now I’m working on Undead L.A. 2 and 3 at the same time. After that I’m taking a sharp right turn away from zombies to develop several other books I’ve been plotting out. I want to play with the supernatural more and of course serial killers. For now I’ve got to finish what I started.

I’m also involved with Shana Festa in a horror anthology called At Hells Gates. We’ve got two volumes out full of amazing horror writers at present including Mark Tufo, Paul Mannering, and dozens more. All the proceeds from the anthology go to help wounded soldiers and their families through the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund. You can learn more about it by visiting http://athellsgates.com

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You can also keep up with me on social media (Twitter = @devansagliani, Facebook http://facebook.com/zombieattackriseofthehorde) and visit my site http://devansagliani.com.

Thanks for taking the time to interview me! Stay scared!
Devan
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Devan Sagliani was born and raised in Southern California and graduated from UCLA. He is the author of the Zombie Attack! series, The Rising Dead, A Thirst For Fire, and the UNDEAD L.A. series. Devan also wrote the original screenplay for the movie HVZ: Humans Versus Zombies. He writes a bimonthly horror column for Escapist Magazine called Dark Dreams.
Devan’s fiction has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and the Million Writers Award. In 2012 his debut novel Zombie Attack! Rise of the Horde won Best Zombie/Horror E-book on Goodreads. He is also an active member of the Horror Writer’s Association.

He currently lives in Venice Beach, California with his wife.

The Watcher

Here is a complete short story, which will feature in the upcoming compilation Faces in the Dark: A Short Compilation of Paranoid Horror.

It is also available as a standalone for Kindle.

I wrote this quite a long time ago now. It’s inspired entirely by not being able to sleep. I hope you enjoy it.

 

The Watcher

 

The air is black, and I do not sleep. The hours tick by. I do not sleep because someone is watching me. The hours toll by and my eyes are open.

In the dark, clouding my vision, I sense his presence. Like a reflection in a mirror he just watches me, hovering, or crouched, at times only inches from my face. He waits for me to look at him, but I never do, and so I never sleep. I fear him in the night, but in the light, when I am brave enough to look, he is never there. He is gone.

I know my surroundings out of the day, but through my imagination they have changed in the night. There are the walls, cracked and bleeding plaster, and the floor, rough, thick and scarred. The pictures around my room leer down at me, faces twisted like demented effigies. The room is no longer the semblance of order and right; it has spiralled down through waves of unease into a macabre cage, a prison of the dark.

My imagination runs further, deep into aberrant horror, and I see above me large black spiders crawling over the ceiling, the size of children’s hands. Their legs are permanently crouched and bent, as if ready to spring down onto me. They are shadows and nothing. They are the focal point of my hallucinations. He can control them, make them spring, with a word, but for now he says nothing.

I never look at him, I never know his name, but I always feel it is on the tip of my tongue. He makes no sound, but I can imagine it, should he ever open his mouth, as an ethereal moan, or a throaty racking groan. They would be at turns sadistic and pathetic. I pity him. He is a ghost. There is no corporeal body; he never truly belongs to this world.

The air is black, and still do I not sleep. There is no promise of a dawn; perhaps it may never come. Perhaps I will remain stricken to this bed forever, my eyes always open, and someone always watching me and my fear. I long for an end, for some burning light and sanity to sear me into reality.

I think I know what he looks like. He is clad in ragged cloth, which in the day would shine lurid white, but which in the night is merely images and shapes, fleeting and cowardly. His hair is dank and matted, strewn over his ragged face, and his eyes are worn and tired, the eyes of someone who never sleeps. Behind his eyes can be seen worry, and some semblance of neglect, and also evil, and anger, and hate. He is angry at me, for I never look at him, and for this he hates me; yet he must also love me, for he never leaves while the night still reigns. He knows nothing of the goodness of love.

The black air starts to scare me now, and I want him to go away. Terror is like a rolling wave washing over me and sending me shivers and cold clarity of the threatening silence that tries to engulf. I switch on the light by my bed, and the soft glow throws shadows around like paper. I dare a quick glance around my room to see if he is gone.

He is still here, but he is hiding in the shadows. I think he is close. I breathe in dryly and then I cannot resist as he climbs in my mouth and into my body, where he whispers to me, so quietly I cannot hear any words, just morbid intentions and whining pleas.

He cries out deep in the abscesses of my mind; he calls for rebellion and misanthropy, for anger and disgust, for guilt and the ending of all things that are good. I try to push him out but he has set up throne; he is reigning in demons and ghouls. He is everybody now. I have never known anything else.

Eventually he leaves, to wriggle into a gap under my bed, into the welcoming gloom. I can still feel him boring into me, puncturing my life. An hour creeps slowly and agonisingly past, and then another, with every second like a dead weight on my chest, until dawn finally seems to come, the thin sun slowly burning its way through my curtains. I crawl out of bed and open them, to flood the room with a dreary grey fire, to chase the shadows and the darkness away. Simple and natural illumination to destroy the phantasms of the night.

My room looks normal by day. The pictures are all blank on the clean walls. The floor is simple carpet. The ceiling is bare. There is nothing frightening anymore. There is nothing to fear anymore. He is gone.

I hear, or think I hear, a knock on my door, as the birds chirp their dawn chorus. I open it but there is no-one there. I look around the corridor but it is empty and barren.

Perturbed, I step away from the door, which quietly closes before me. I shrink back further into my room, feeling a slight chill, and a small sense of unease creeping up my back. Too many nights without sleep, I think.

There is another knock. I open the door again.

He is there, in the day. He has taken control now. It has taken time, but he has broken me. He is there, in the day, clad in white rags, with his arm outstretched. Maybe he has come to shake my hand. Maybe he has come to kill me.

 

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Ianthine Interviews: Brian Moreland

It was my pleasure to interview the horror author Brian Moreland.  You can find him at his website, where you can read a wealth of his stories,  or by following him on Twitter.

 

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When did your obsession with horror start, and what were (and are) your biggest influences for your own writing (whether other authors, films, music, art etc.)?

For me, my fascination with horror started from a combination of things. I remember loving monsters at a very young age. I watched scary movies on TV every weekend, and got scared out of my wits seeing movies like Alien, Jaws and Prophecy (1980 version) at the theater. I always enjoyed a good ghost story with my friends, and exploring spooky places like caves and abandoned houses. I collected monster toys, read magazines like Famous Monsters in Film Land and Fangoria. I also read my share of comic books, the creepier the better. Then in my teen years I discovered Edgar Allan Poe, Stephen King, James Herbert and Clive Barker and was opened to new worlds through horror fiction. Maybe all of that interest in scary things warped me, but I somehow linked fun and adrenaline rush with confronting things that scared me. I would say because I had the most fun reading horror fiction, I decided to write some of my own stories and discovered writing and making up your own world of characters is an absolute blast

What do you find inspires you most for writing horror? Do you find the real world has more inspiration to offer than your imagination?

It’s a mixture of both. I like real-world drama, so I do my best to write about characters with real, everyday problems. I also have a wild imagination and the supernatural elements, the monsters and villains are mined from that dark place in my mind where nightmares live.

I get inspired by lots of things–unsolved mysteries, legends about mythical monsters, and watching movies.

What are your favourite horror movies? Favourite director?

Aliens, John Carpenter’s The Thing, Dawn of the Dead, the Star Wars Saga [Set: That Wampa was pretty scary…!], The Shining. My favorite director is James Cameron. The guy is a visionary.

What are your favourite ever books (of any genre)? Favourite author?

I love reading Dean Koontz, Robert McCammon, Richard Laymon and Clive Barker. Clive Barker and Koontz are my favorite and most influential.

Favorite books:

Phantoms and Watchers by Dean Koontz

The Night Boat, Stinger and Swan Song by Robert McCammon

Island, The Cellar and The Woods Are Dark by Richard Laymon

The Books of Blood: Volumes 1-6 by Clive Barker

Short story collections by H.P. Lovecraft

Do you aim to scare and otherwise provoke yourself with your own writing, or does your own writing not affect you like that? Should a horror author try and scare themselves first if they wish to scare their audience?

Absolutely I write to scare myself. My books are emotionally-driven and I write from my characters’ points of view. In order for my characters to feel scared, I must feel it too. So I write scenes that terrify me and hope that transfers to the page to the reader can experience what the characters are feeling.

What is your personal favourite of all the books you’ve written? The book you are most proud of.

Definitely Dead of Winter. I had such a blast writing it. It was my second time writing a historical horror novel (my first being Shadows in the Mist). In Dead of Winter I had fun doing all the research of fort colony life in 1870 Canada. I learned about the history of Canada’s fur trade, the superstitions of the local Ojibwa tribe, discovered some strange real-life mysteries involving cannibalism and Jesuit priests, and how to exorcise a demon. When writing the book, I let my imagination run wild. I came up with several complex characters that I fell in love with. It’s a detective mystery, exorcist story, demon and cannibal story, and historical adventure all rolled into one. Dead of Winter continues to be a fan favorite and my bestseller to date.

The ‘creator’s curse’ is the idea that one learns and improves while developing a project (in this case, writing a book), and so always finishes a step ahead from when they started, thus are always disappointed with the strength of their previous project, now and always believing themselves of doing better than before. Are you familiar with this curse with your own writing? Are you always pursuing producing something better than your last?

I always strive to outdo my previous books. I’m always challenging myself to be a better storyteller.

Following on from the last question, are there any books of yours that you are displeased with, that you would like to one day rewrite?

No, I worked on all of them meticulously until I felt they were the best books I could write. They’re not all perfect. Like humans, they have flaws, but I love every one of my books.

How long have you been writing for? Did you always want to be an author?

I’ve been writing for over 25 years, since college. That’s when I fell in love with reading books and decided I wanted to be an author.

What is a passion of yours that has absolutely nothing to do with horror?

Watching sports. I love NFL football, NBA basketball and World Cup soccer. I also love cooking. I can make a zesty pot of Texas chili.

I nearly always write a story while visualising it as a movie. While writing do you visualise the scenes played out as if you were watching a movie?

Yes, I studied screenwriting in college and that experience taught me how to write dramatic scenes with action and dialogue. All my books are scene-driven and are designed to play like a movie in the reader’s mind. I think a few of them would translate well to the big screen.

Which of your novels or short stories would you most like to be made into movie? Any thoughts as to who would play the main characters?

I’d say it’s a tie between Dead of Winter and The Witching House. I’ve already entertained movie offers on both books. I see Dead of Winter as more of an epic series that could span a few seasons. I’d love HBO or Showtime to produce it.

The Witching House, which is about a group of urban explorers who sneak into a haunted house with a bloody history of witchcraft, almost reads like a movie script. It would be a blast to see The Witching House produced by the right director and watch it on the big screen. My free short story, The Girl from the Blood Coven, a prequel to The Witching House, would also be cool to see as a movie.

There was some strange dialogue in The Girl from the Blood Coven courtesy of the character Abigail. I couldn’t help but be reminded of the otherworldy langagues spoken in the works of Lovecraft. Am I completely off-base?

I think you’re spot on. H.P. Lovecraft was a big influence on me during my early years of reading horror fiction and sometimes I attempt to emulate his style. I would be honored to think that Abigail Blackwood’s dialogue was channeled from his genius. There is a point in the story where she sings a Gaelic song, which I found haunting. Another story that was heavily influenced by Lovecraft is my novella The Vagrants.

Do you think now is the time of the self-published author, or are the downsides still too great?

Now is an excellent time for indie authors to self-publish. I originally published my first novel, Shadows in the Mist, and that kick-started my career. I’ve since sold the publishing rights to that book to four different publishers and published my other books through Samhain Horror.

Are you disciplined with your writing? Do you make yourself write every day? Or are you a brilliant procrastinator?

I’m a brilliant procrastinator. I’d love to write every day, but my career currently involves working on client projects that demand my time and focus. When I really get into a book and have lots of free time, I can write for long stretches.

What is your personal most effective remedy for writer’s block?

Funny, I wrote an article called “7 Ways to Overcome Writer’s Block.” I’ll give you the first one of that list.

1.) Step away from whatever you’re writing and do anything that’s creative. Paint pictures, write poetry, design images in Photoshop, make a scrapbook or collage, or if you’re masculine, build something in the garage. Work on another creative project for a few hours or days and then go back to writing. When I’m stuck, I paint paintings or work on my website or blog. Jumping to other projects really activates my creativity. The key is to keep exercising the creative part of your brain and eventually you’ll tap back into the flow of writing.

For the other 6 techniques, you can read the article here.

If you had to be one of the classic Universal monsters for the rest of your life – The Mummy, Dracula, Frankenstein, Wolf-Man etc. – which would you be?

The Invisible Man. I’d love to be able to make myself invisible at will.

My dear old mother just can’t understand how people can be attracted to all these dark, bloody and morbid stories, whether it be books, movies, videogames or art. Would you have an answer for her? Why are you drawn to such things?

I had always loved monsters ever since I was a little boy. Whenever I had paper and crayons, I’d draw monsters–Frankenstein, Wolfman, Dracula, and my favorite the Creature from the Black Lagoon. From age 7-12, I used to watch monster movies with my mom every Saturday when one of our local TV stations played a double creature feature. These were all the black and white horror movies of the Fifties and Sixties–Godzilla, Day of the Triffids, the original The Thing–and some of the color movies of the Seventies like Squirm, Snowbeast, Horror Express and Let’s Scare Jessica to Death. I collected monster toys and comic books, and was drawn to werewolves, vampires, aliens and any other creatures that roamed in the shadows. For me, watching scary movies is an adrenaline rush, a couple of hours of absolute fun and terror.

Zombie survival situation. You get a ranged weapon and a melee weapon – what do you choose?

M-16 with grenade launcher and a Samurai sword. Eat this, Zombies!

You’re suddenly inside your own stories. Fight or flight?

Fight. When facing monsters, all my characters typically hunker down and battle to the bloody end. Given some weapons, I would do the same.

Are you a ‘beginning to end’ kinda guy, or when you write do you do it completely out-of-order and just fit it together?

I start from the beginning and will write several scenes in order, but then about midway through the book I start to bounce around, revising previous scenes or jumping ahead to later scenes I’m itchin’ to write.

Finally, what can you tell us about your next book?

I’m currently working on a collection of short stories, a novella and plotting my next novel. Since it’s too early to go into details about those stories, I’ll leave you with a description of my most recent release The Vagrants.

While most of my books are set in the woods, The Vagrants takes place in Boston. It’s a mix of Clive Barker and H.P. Lovecraft.

Here’s the synopsis:

Beneath the city of Boston evil is gathering.

Journalist Daniel Finley is determined to save the impoverished of the world. But the abandoned part of humanity has a dark side too. While living under a bridge with the homeless for six months, Daniel witnessed something terrifying. Something that nearly cost him his sanity.

Now, two years later, he’s published a book that exposes a deadly underground cult and its charismatic leader. And Daniel fears the vagrants are after him because of it. At the same time, his father is being terrorized by vicious mobsters. As he desperately tries to help his father, Daniel gets caught up in the middle of a war between the Irish-American mafia and a deranged cult of homeless people who are preparing to shed blood on the streets of Boston.

Thanks for the interview Brian!

Set, thanks so much for having me as a guest on your site.

Brian

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Brian Moreland at Killer Con 2013

Author Bio: Brian Moreland writes novels and short stories of horror and supernatural suspense. His books include Dead of Winter, Shadows in the Mist, The Girl from the Blood Coven, The Witching House, The Devil’s Woods, and The Vagrants. Brian lives in Dallas, Texas where he is diligently writing his next horror book.

Website: http://www.brianmoreland.com/

Follow on Twitter: @BrianMoreland

Like Brian’s Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/HorrorAuthorBrianMoreland

Brian’s blog: http://www.brianmoreland.blogspot.com

Now available in audio book: The Devil’s Woods and The Witching House.

Ianthine Interviews: Michael Frost

It was my pleasure to interview the horror author Michael Frost.  You can find him at his website, where you can read a wealth of his stories,  or by following him on Twitter.

 

What do you find inspires you most for writing horror? Do you find the real world has more inspiration to offer than your imagination?

I knew it; it would be the very first question which I would have difficulty answering. HA!

What inspires me? Hmm, more often than not it’s a single verse or the melody of a song which tends to manifest creative visions, but more so, ideas just sort of come to me all different times of the day whilst doing just about anything. On a few occasions I will dream it and wake, but I don’t keep a steno pad near my bed. I have always figured that if I can’t remember it come morning, then it simply wasn’t worth writing in the first place.

When it comes to real world I try to leave it be. True crime, real horrors and documentaries of such don’t interest me in the least. I find my imagination to be more frighteningly detailed and I am quite happy that those thoughts are not actually happening in the real world.

What are your favourite horror movies? Favourite director?

I will give you one of my all-time faves and I know your blog readers may hiss and boo, but The Blair Witch Project really got under my skin. It was fresh and original, and spooky-eerie as hell. Did you know that people who saw the movie actually got angry and felt ‘lied to’ when they found out it was just fiction. HA! Anyways, with that flick I just don’t know; there is something about it…

I also love the original Evil Dead.

One of my favourite directors is Guillermo del Toro; so visionary, great stories/writing as well.

Why do you think people like scaring themselves? Guillermo del Toro described horror movies as “roller coasters of the soul”. Would you agree with this when it comes down to scary stories (in whatever medium)?

I think people are generally suckers for it. We feed off the adrenaline rush it produces, just like the disgust we get from the morbidity of gawking at a nasty traffic accident. We are drawn to it, yanked to it to be more to the point. In both comparisons we get to witness horrors and terrors, but we ourselves don’t actually experience it. We do this when we cover our eyes at a really scary part in a movie, but don’t we always peek? Surely a haunted house during the Halloween season scares the crap out of us, and we shift our feet more often as we near the entrance in anticipation of what lies beyond (usually drawn by the screams of folks already inside blasting outward), but we still hand over our ticket and enter regardless, right?

When it comes to Guillermo del Toro’s quote I would say he’s pretty dead on balls with a sledgehammer (he’s one of my favourite faves by the way).

Do you aim to scare and otherwise provoke yourself with your own writing, or does your own writing not affect you like that? Should a horror author try and scare themselves first if they wish to scare their audience?

Oh I do try to scare myself, or at least freak myself out! If I can scare myself—there are very few things in this world I am fearful of—then I am doing something right. There has been many-O-times in the past which I freaked myself out enough that I start turning on lights, my writing is done for the evening and I go watch a comedy or a nature program (lights still on mind you).

What are your favourite ever books (of any genre)? Favourite author?

Some of my favourite ever books would be The Good Earth, by Pearl S. Buck; Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?; IT and Needful Things by Stephen King; the Hunt for Red October, by Tom Clancy and Jackdaws, by Ken Follett. Hmm, did I mention just about everything written by (Sir) Terry Pratchett? Love his works!

Do you have any favourite evocative words to use when writing horror fiction, that you keep using because of their effect/way they sound?

I like the word ‘caligionous’; I have used that one often. ‘Whisper’ is a good one too, quite flexible, oh, and ‘teeth!’ Yeah, no one likes the idea of ‘teeth’ in any horror context.

Do you think horror relies on as much as having a ‘good story’ as other genres, or can it rely more on having a certain ‘feel’ or atmosphere to it that other genres can’t?

In all aspects, the horror genre is not much different than any other (albeit the occasional monster in the cellar surely sets a rather disturbing and poignant definitive line in the sand). A story—a real story—has to be there, if not, it’s just pulp. Much akin to a real horror film and a gore-fest film (i.e. Saw, every Friday the 13th movie after part 3, etc.). The feel and the atmosphere—as with any genre—must be present as well. If you do it right, this should be established straight away—the ‘hook’— with an opening which clearly informs the reader that something really bad is about to happen.

In short? All of it.

Who is your favourite villain that another author/director/actor has created, and your favourite villain that you yourself have created?

My favourite made-for-me-villain? Hmm…In horror I would say George Stark in Stephen King’s book The Dark Half (he was just wicked-evil); non-horror, but dark noir/thriller nonetheless [I like conjunctive adverbs too btw per question #5], I would go with Harry Powell from the movie The Night of the Hunter played by Robert Mitchum (amazing lighting effects in that flick too).

There are many, never just one, sadly.

My favourite made-by-me-villain would be Staad (from a novel of the same name [unpublished; in the process of]); he’s a very bad man.

Do you prefer visceral gore horror or psychological horror? Which of these do you think better suits books as opposed to their translation in movies?

I prefer the psychological; that’s where true horror lies and can translate well into movies with limited special effects (i.e. The Exorcist). It’s easier to crawl under the skin and into the human soul of fears and phobias this way. When it comes to splatter-fests, albeit at times psychological might require the gore), it’s a visual necessity in the long run. Sure, one may write out the gore and have the reader squirm, but are they afraid, or simply grossed out?

Do you think horror can ever go ‘too far’? Whether in movies or books. Do you try and push against boundaries yourself? And have you ever held back?

Yes, it can clearly go way too far. Take the banned movie Siberia [Set: I think Michael means A Serbian Film, on which specific example I happen to disagree with him on!]; supposedly horrific, but it was just sick, sick, sick. Personally I do try to push socially acceptable boundaries and ‘Political Correctness’ is a lame-ass farce which people should stop using in daily speak and attitudes. When it comes to holding back I only did this when I started writing horror in my latter teen years, only because my mother read a lot of my works so I suppose I would feel ashamed at what came from my noggin. In time, well, the gloves came off.

Do you see your characters as your playthings, and you can exact whatever horrible acts you like upon them, or are you more sympathetic to their (fictional!) desires for life and freedom and try to write them as though you want them to succeed and pull through?

*Shrugs* If my characters wish for sympathy they can look in the Webster’s Collegiate dictionary between the words Shit and Syphilis and they’ll find it. Now, before I call myself Master of Fictional Puppets, I will say that like most of my writing, the characters come through in the end when I originally planned on bumping them off and vice versa. In my world of authoring, stories whisper to me what happens; my job is to simply write them down accordingly. This is why I never use outlines (quite against them actually), for a real story needs space to stretch and grow; to develop on its own. It doesn’t need me hindering it by predetermining the Five W’s and the acceptable: How.

The ‘creator’s curse’ is the idea that one learns and improves while developing a project (in this case, writing a book), and so always finishes a step ahead from when they started, thus are always disappointed with the strength of their previous project, now and always believing themselves of doing better than before. Are you familiar with this curse with your own writing? Are you always pursuing producing something better than your last?

Familiar, yes, but nothing I practice.

I have spent a good long time developing my writing style, my voice, and with this voice/style I write one story to the next with only the current idea before me. Whether it is better or worse, or in a horror-writer’s case, scarier or milder than the last is not a notion I am ever preoccupied with. In truth, I look at a story once I have completed, reread and edited on whether or not it is marketable or not. If so, it is submitted, if not, it is kept personal, or shared on my blog or one of the writing sites I belong to.

My advice to any writer so to avoid the ‘curse’ is to never judge your own work. I have written things I thought was amazing and received a moderate acceptance, where on the other things I have stories out there I HATED and were well welcomed. In the end, to fall victim to the ‘curse’ is much akin to a heroine or crack user chasing the dragon. You are going to get your highest high the first time out, and by chasing it to get that original high again is futile because One, it will never happen and Two, you will eventually OD.

Do you believe that contentment is the enemy of invention?

I feel that it is one of Inventions many enemies out there lurking, but I feel the true enemy, the very worse one of all, is self-doubt. Forget doubt! Screw that! Write that book/novella/story/poem and be done with it. When you finally type the words, ‘THE END’, you can breathe with a sigh of relief, pat yourself on the back and grow a smile. Who cares if it doesn’t satisfy the masses? Hell, most people out there can never say they have ever written a book, so you are surely a leap ahead of the average bear.

How long have you been writing for? Did you always want to be an author?

I have been writing now for nearly 31 years, so since age 11; 25 years as a horror writer. Originally I wrote fantasy (I was a big D&D and Tolkien fan; long before they became popular in the theatres), but then the Darkness found me.

Yes, from the age of twelve, being an author was all I ever wanted to be. I packed away the visions of being an astronaut and banged away at the keys on the big Royal manual typewriter my dad got me from a resale shop. Loved that beast (rest in peace).

When did your obsession with horror start, and what were (and are) your biggest influences for your own writing (whether other authors, films, music, art etc.)?

To answer this would be rather long, and a bit personal, but the skinny of it was when I was 17 years old. Nothing or no one directly influenced it; to be quite honest I hated horror of all kinds until one day the Horror Michael simply woke up and started whispering to me. Besides developing other personas over the years, each with their own genre, I have never looked back in terms of my passion for horror. I suppose one day I will tell the whole story of Why, How, When, Where…very few people know this, only two people know every detail of such. I am content with that for now.

What do you think the worst thing is about modern horror fiction?

Ooh, this is a toughie and can potentially be a long answer, so let me state flatly: Originality.

Sure, the common dialogue is: “There’s no originality left in the world…it’s all been done before!”

That’s bullshit. IF all of it has already been done before, then there’s no reason at all to read or write the latest greatest of anything by anyone! Let’s face it, there are some stories that will be revisited (Dracula, Frankenstein and his monster, and so on), but they are done differently, yes? If they were not, outside of friends, family, or self-publishing, no one would read it because no one (publishers) would buy it.

Oh! A close runner up would be the Twilight series…I think just mentioning it speaks for itself (effing sparkling vampires…PFFFFT!)

Do you ever find real world people creeping into your novels in the guise of fictional characters?

All the time, but they never ‘creep’; I intentionally use people I know or have met in my stories. Depending on how well I like you will equate to how I will kill you in my writings. I mean, I may let you live (rarely), but yeah; often I do this.

Which of your stories would you most like to be made into a movie? Any thoughts as to who would play the main characters?

A few of them actually. Happy Springs, When Madness Calls, Sowing Seeds, several others. When it comes to actors/actresses, the only story I actually visualized someone would be Happy Springs. The female County Sheriff I pictured Cherry Jones who played Officer Paski in the movie, Signs. Yeah, she’s tough!

I nearly always write a story while visualising it as a movie. While writing, do you visualise the scenes played out as if you were watching a movie?

No, never as a movie, per se, but when I have crossed the eliminator line between writing the story and breathing the story, I no longer see the screen before me. No more blinking cursor, or margins or the words appearing magically before me; none of it. When I am completely engrossed in it, I often close my eyes and let my fingers work, allowing the words to become crystal visions as if it was happening. Sadly on more than one occasion, I gave myself the heebie-jeebies many-a-night doing this. The writing screeches to a halt for the evening, on comes the lights in my home office, as well as any room I venture; erasing every shadow.

Are you disciplined with your writing? Do you make yourself write every day? Or are you a brilliant procrastinator?

Hmm, disciplined? HAHAHAHA! Well, in all honesty the more you become proficient in something, the more corners you learn to cut, or at least, play hooky. I do tend to write something daily, or at least edit, but once I am into something new or returning to something old I have let simmer, then it’s on and that’s number one to me until it’s done.

What is your personal most effective remedy for writer’s block?

I use several methods, but the most effective is that I take walks. Since I tend to only write at night, walks at two or so in the morning seems to help. The city is quiet, the air seems cleaner and depending on the seasons only the night-bugs and/or an occasional raccoon or rabbit is about. Sometimes I envision they are plotting to mug me and leave me for dead; this at least sparks the creative juices.

A bit of an ambiguous question: ebooks or print books? Would you always prefer something that you can hold in your hand?

Printed books; hands down, bar none. Just the feel of a book in your hands is like a fountain of magic, a whole world in your palms! You don’t need to charge them, you can drop them, get them wet and dry them off, use them as step stools if you stack them and they still work! Try that with a hundred-dollar Kindle. HA!

My favourite comment ever made to me about one once was, “Well I can keep a whole library on here!”

Yeah? Well I have a library at home and you only can read one at a time (monkeys!).

What is a passion of yours that has absolutely nothing to do with horror?

Cooking, classical music, travelling, photography, and making my own wine.

If you had to be one of the classic Universal monsters for the rest of your life – The Mummy, Dracula, Frankenstein, Wolf-Man etc. – which would you be?

The Blob. I mean, they dropped that puppy off in the arctic so it’s in stasis and well, with Global Warming, I’d come back! Those other creature-creepers? They were all vanquished. HA!

Most overrated monster stereotype and most cliche horror trope?

Romantic vampires and zombies, albeit The Walking Dead kicks major ass! I love it!

What did you get up to this last Hallowe’en?

Scaring both children and adults alike and then gave them candy as they cried on the porch. I really think one child peed. Good times, yeah, good times. <Insert wicked smile here>

My dear old mother just can’t understand how people can be attracted to all these dark, bloody and morbid stories, whether it is books, movies, videogames or art. Would you have an answer for her? Why are you drawn to such things?

Sounds like my mother in the past at times (rest in peace). For her I would shrug and simply tell her: ‘One can’t have light without the dark, and if you could, it would certainly be a rather boring place, wouldn’t it.’ In the case of my mother, she would just look at me silently, shake her head and then sigh. She wanted me to write mysteries; she was a big-time avid Agatha Christie reader and fan.

For me, I really don’t have an answer to this. This question stumped me for a couple days and I even asked myself, ‘Self? Why do we write this shit?’ Self simply shrugged and said: ‘Because we can.’

HAHAHA! I know that’s not really a suitable answer, but in all fairness and truth, it’s the best one I can ever give. I didn’t seek out horror as I stated earlier, it did me, and to this day I don’t know why. Most people don’t believe me when I tell them I tend to not read any horror, and watch very few horror films these days (save the classics). To give an example, the last ‘new’ Stephen King book I read was Nightmares & Dreamscapes a few years after it came out in 1993! Now, it’s not because I don’t want to read King or any other horror writer therein, but instead it’s ANYTHING; any author, any genre, just anything. The way my odd brain works, it is so easy to start picking up and adapting another’s writing style as easy as picking up a southern accent if you stay there long enough. It simply happens, so when I am in the process of writing something new, all books and stories are forbidden.

Zombie survival situation. You get a ranged weapon and a melee weapon – what do you choose?

Ranged: .30-06 (I am a surgeon with one of those [but of course in the TWD Universe they would hear the report, so a nice compound bow)

Melee:    Hatchet

You’re suddenly inside your own stories. Fight or flight?

I’m a fighter.

Heroes or villains?

Villains!

Werewolves or vampires?

I guess I will have to say Vampires here. (Do Werepires exist!?!?).

Finally, are you working on something new, and what can you tell us about it?

Yes, I am. I started something new a few weeks ago which I figured would just be a short story, but it has left that realm and is now a working novelette, quickly becoming a novella with a whispering hint of a novel length. Basically there’s no end in sight. Currently untitled…I just call it, ‘The Story’.

It’s about every horror writers past time: Death.

Thanks for the interview Michael!

Once again, you can find the nightghast Michael Frost on his website, or on Twitter.

 

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