Author: Lionel Ray Green

The Horror Tree Interview with Aliya Whiteley

The Horror Tree Interview with Aliya Whiteley


By Lionel Ray Green


The Loosening Skin is a genre-bending science fiction novel by British author Aliya Whiteley. Slated for a U.S. release on February 23rd, The Loosening Skin is another addition to Whiteley’s ever-growing catalogue of critically acclaimed books.

Nina Allan, who won the 2017 British Science Fiction Award for Best Novel, offers high praise for Whiteley’s work.

“I firmly believe that Aliya Whiteley is one of the most original, innovative, and intelligent writers of speculative fiction working in Britain today.”

Since a runner-up finish in a short story competition in 2004, Whiteley has consistently delivered stories accompanied by industry acclaim. Her past work has been shortlisted for several accolades, including the Shirley Jackson Awards and the British Fantasy Awards.

Horror Tree presents … An interview with Kevin M. Folliard

Kevin M. Folliard’s latest release is an anthology of hidden horror titled The Misery King’s Closet. Released September 3rd, the collection features short stories that “share threads of dark secrets, hidden shame, and lurking monsters” with “characters haunted by addictions, parasites, dark truths, and heinous choices.”

The Illinois author explains in the book’s Foreword that the tales in The Misery King’s Closet “taught me a great deal about myself.”

“I think any fiction writer is grappling with truth about the world around us, and filtering those observed truths through storytelling,” Folliard told The Horror Tree in an exclusive interview. “There are little pieces of your own life, struggles, and experiences which materialize in your fiction. It was rewarding to step back, look at a body of work spanning the better part of a decade, and see how the themes manifested and repeated. I’ve come to notice how a lot of my characters deal with addictions, unhealthy relationships or behaviors, identity, nature versus nurture, and grief. These are all issues that have surfaced in my life in some way shape or form.

“In putting together this collection, I tried to group the stories together so that we had an ebb and flow of similar, but related themes of dark secrets and monsters, both internal and external. Writing helps me to better understand the issues that preoccupy and fascinate me about the human condition, and better yet, when you know and recognize those themes, it helps you lean into them, challenge them, and explore them —hopefully — in eloquent and interesting ways. I guess that’s a fancy way of saying that maybe I learned that I’m mostly scared of my own flawed humanity, as well as the idea that so many bad forces in life are hidden in plain sight.”

Like many modern horror writers, Folliard is influenced by Stephen King.

“I’m always happy to get the compliment when someone compares something I wrote to King,” said Folliard, who earned a degree in English and Creative Writing from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “I also love Michael Crichton, Arthur Conan Doyle, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Edgar Allen Poe, Ray Bradbury, and more. It’s fun when I can look back and tell who I was emulating, and I’m not always aware of it in the moment. For example, my book Jake Carter & the Nightmare Gallery now feels very much like my version of Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, but I had no idea while I was writing it.

“In this collection, the story ‘Midnight Man’ was partially inspired by an interview I saw about how Wes Craven had seen a scary stranger from his window as a child, which may have been the template for Freddy Krueger. One of my favorite movies is Silence of the Lambs, and Hannibal Lecter has always stuck with me with his dark charisma. The Misery King and a lot of my other monstrous characters are like that — an evil force that has a magnetic power to draw you in.”

Folliard’s collection is chiefly filled with previously published stories, but it opens with the original tale “The Misery King’s Closet,” a perfect introduction for a collection of hidden horror.

“The story ‘The Misery King’s Closet’ was written specially for this collection, though I wanted it to work as its own piece of flash fiction as well,” Folliard said. “Since I had my theme of hidden horror, I knew I needed a thematic opening salvo to unite the anthology. I also loved the idea of having a Rod Serling-style Twilight Zone introduction. I struggled to come up with a good title for the collection, and it helped to tie the title into a character who could be a kind of ‘King of Monsters’ for all the spooky stuff I’ve been writing about. Hopefully, I’ll get to do another collection, and I can bring the Misery King back for another kickoff.”

A highlight of the collection is the story “Mirror Mirror,” which deals with childhood fear.

“Childhood fears definitely interest me, and I’m fascinated by stories where they can be real,” Folliard said. “My personal fears have probably changed a lot since I was a child, but there’s a primal flavor of fear when you’re young. I guess it’s because the unknown is so much scarier and more infinite than it is when we grow up. We ultimately learn that there are no monsters under the bed or in the closet, and we start to fear more practical things.

“When I was a kid, I shared a room with my older brother, and I always wanted to sleep with the closet light on. He wanted to sleep with it off, in total darkness. So, he told me: ‘If you sleep with the light off, ghosts come. But if you sleep with the closet light on, aliens come.’ So, I learned at a very young age that you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t, and he got to have his way.”

One of the more powerful stories is “Halfway to Forgotten,” a suspenseful allegory of addiction.

“I find horror is a great medium for exploring real, important, and uncomfortable issues,” Folliard said. “I’ve written a number of stories where on the first draft that ‘real problem’ was under the surface, and the best advice I got was to always bring it out more. There’s a fine line between being preachy and being insightful sometimes, but what matters most is that stories are honest. I don’t want to try to resolve complex issues or problems for my characters artificially, but I think the story is always stronger when the reader can sincerely experience that character’s situation.”

Folliard dedicated The Misery King’s Closet to the La Grange and Brookfield Writers Groups.

“These two local writers’ groups have been essential in helping me to hone my fiction writing,” Folliard said. “I started attending the La Grange Writers Group in my community about ten years ago, and I met a number of talented, published writers who have helped me to strengthen my prose and bring out the thematic value of my stories. Over the years, I was introduced to our sister group in Brookfield, and I’ve had the privilege of working with and learning from a diverse group of writers who have come and gone. I’ve gained from their honest feedback, advice, and comradery. I think writing can often be a lonely art, and I would encourage anyone to find a local group to share the process. You learn a lot by having people respond to your writing, and you learn just as much, maybe more, from critiquing other people’s writing.”

Folliard’s list of other works include genre fiction for young adults and holiday horror collections.

“When I was in my 20s, I really wanted to be a middle-grade/YA author,” Folliard said. “I wanted to write the kinds of books that I loved growing up, books that didn’t talk down to young readers, but instead challenged them, scared them, and inspired them. I found out that big publishers weren’t all that interested in my books for younger readers, but along the way, I learned that I had a knack for getting adult horror out there in the publishing world. I started focusing more on that, and really enjoying it. I’ve shifted much more from writing for a younger audience toward writing for an older audience, but I honestly love both. And as I’m writing this, I may have a deal in the works for a middle-grade adventure book, so hopefully I can keep doing both.”

In 2019, Demain Publishing added Folliard’s tale Candy Corn to its series of standalone releases titled Short Sharp Shocks!

“I was thrilled to get Candy Corn out there as its own Short Sharp Shocks single,” said Folliard. “It’s one of my favorite stories that I’ve written, and it can be challenging to find a home for novelette and novella length stories. I love how Demain has given so many talented writers a venue for novellas, and I’m happy to say I’ve got another Short Sharp Shock on the horizon. Big thanks to editor Dean Drinkel for taking a chance on my writing.”

The Misery King’s Closet features short stories, including drabbles, previously published in The Horror Tree’s ezine Trembling With Fear.

“I started writing drabbles for The Horror Tree who has been kind enough to publish a lot of my fiction, including many of the flash and drabbles in this collection,” Folliard said. “I found it to be a challenging way to convey a complete story in a tight package. I’m a big fan of flash fiction and short form entertainment in general. Placing constrictions on your word count can really help you to find interesting ideas. It’s also a good exercise for long-form writing, because it forces you to craft lean, strong prose. I love how the Internet age has allowed for flash fiction to flourish.”

Since The Horror Tree is a resource for writers, I asked Folliard if he could offer any advice.

“Be open to criticism,” Folliard said. “You can’t always please every reader, but you can learn from every reader. I think one of the major differences between published authors and unpublished authors might be ‘thick skin.’ You need to recognize and accept when something’s not working and sort it out. You need to take scores of rejections before you can celebrate that one acceptance. I’ve been writing fiction almost my entire life, and my progress has been so gradual that it’s easy not to notice.

“Writing takes time. It’s personal, but it needs to mean something to an audience, and that means listening to critiquers and editors. It means carefully fine-tuning stories until they are on just the right frequency where they connect you to an audience in a meaningful way. Fiction writers must be patient and committed.”



Amazon Author Page:

Twitter: @Kmfollia

Horror Tree presents … An Interview with Christopher Stanley

England author Christopher Stanley is a masterful writer of horror flash fiction. His latest book, The Lamppost Huggers and Other Wretched Tales, is an exceptional collection of stories exploring the darkness of humanity. Released on June 1 by The Arcanist Press, The Lamppost Huggers received rave reviews from other talented authors in the genre.

Despite the whimsical title, The Lamppost Huggers is a skin-crawling exercise in creeping dread, with a pitch-perfect denouement you won’t see coming,” wrote Kealan Patrick Burke, the Bram Stoker Award-winning author of Kin and Sour Candy.”

Stephanie Ellis, author of Bottled, agreed.

“Christopher Stanley captures the darkness of the soul and refuses to let it go,” Ellis wrote. “Atmospheric and chilling, this is a true master class in the art of flash.”

The Lamppost Huggers and Other Wretched Tales features 26 bite-size tales of dread and horror. I had to ask: Why did “The Lamppost Huggers” receive top billing?

I can’t remember when I first started thinking about putting out a collection, but I do remember that ‘The Lamppost Huggers’ wasn’t going to be the title story,” Stanley said in an exclusive interview with The Horror Tree. “Originally, I favoured ‘And the World Roared Back,’ and I still think that would be a good representation of the table of contents. ‘The Lamppost Huggers’ took the top billing purely because of the response the story received when it was first published. Something about it really seemed to capture readers’ imaginations. It’s also quite an unusual title. Kealan Patrick Burke described it as ‘whimsical’ and I think he’s right – it doesn’t seem dangerous, just unsettling. And I like that.”

Stanley cites American author Don DeLillo as a likely influence on his work.

“Some of my favourite stories in the collection present two different perspectives — a wide-angle view of the world and a close-up of the central characters. I find this works well because it conveys the enormity of the threat and the vulnerability of those trying to survive. It’s not something I’ve done consciously, but I suspect it’s the result of having read many of Don DeLillo’s novels, including White Noise, Underworld, and Mao II. DeLillo’s ability to step back from his characters and show us the world they live in is frequently breath-taking.”

Stanley embraced flash fiction for practical reasons.

“Flash fiction has been good to me in many, many ways,” Stanley said. “After the twins were born, my window of opportunity to write shrunk down to maybe half an hour a day – not enough for longer form stories but perfect for flash. I can write a rough draft in half an hour and have it edited by the end of the week. Flash fiction was a way for me to keep writing amidst the chaos. I’ve made lots of friends through flash fiction, and we’re spoiled for flash fiction events in Bristol, which has been home to the UK National Flash Fiction Day celebrations and the amazing UK Flash Fiction Festival. My hope is there’s a growing appreciation for the power and potential of flash fiction, and that it will continue to grow in popularity.”

Stanley said the horror genre fits his style.

“I’ve been a fan of the horror genre for more years than I’d care to admit, but I’ve never found it easy to write and I’m in awe of people who do it well,” Stanley said. “I have a preference for stories set in a familiar world with recognisable characters, and I like writing stories where anything might happen — where there’s a real sense of urgency and danger. For these reasons, horror is the perfect genre for me.”

The opener in The Lamppost Huggers and Other Wretched Tales is titled “Norfolk.” It’s a particularly dark yet brutally honest tale from the father’s perspective. The father blames the birth of his son for an aborted writing career. These two sentences stuck with me: “In my dreams, the spirits of the dead crawl from the water to steal Eddie away, their fleshless fingers prising him from my grasp. I’m glad they’re taking him but I’m compelled to ask why.”

I asked Stanley, who’s a father of three boys, if it’s difficult to write such dark confessions of the soul, even though it’s a fictional character’s soul?

“After my eldest was born, I found it impossible to write stories that didn’t feature children,” Stanley said. “That’s how much my life changed. And it was definitely for the better.  The funny thing about ‘Norfolk’ is that so much of that story is true. Not the ending (thankfully), and obviously not the unsavoury relationship between the father and the son. But after the twins were born, my eldest and I used to drive up to Norfolk the night before to get the bungalow ready for the rest of the family, and I used to love it. He was just about old enough to sit in the front with me and he was really great company. Maybe not so much when he clawed my face in the middle of the night, but it was really dark and he couldn’t see what he was doing.”

In April 2019, Demain Publishing released Stanley’s debut standalone novelette The Forest is Hungry for its series Short Sharp Shocks! It’s another creepy tale, this time about a father trying to save his sick daughter.

“I was so happy when Demain Publishing agreed to publish my horror novelette, The Forest is Hungry,” Stanley said. “It was my first standalone publication and also the longest story I’d published. As someone whose success has been almost exclusively in the world of flash fiction, the response to Forest has been enormously encouraging. I’d recommend Short Sharp Shocks! to anyone looking for chills and thrills that can be consumed in one sitting. They’re a lot of fun, and I’m proud to be a part of the series.”

In addition to flash fiction, Stanley also writes music.

“I’d just started work on my third album when we entered lockdown,” Stanley said. “It’s a thrilling hobby – so much collaboration and energy. I recorded my first album, Americana, almost by accident after I was made redundant around eight years ago. I’d only planned to record one song, but I was blown away by all the wonderful local musicians who were happy to join me in the studio and we just kept going. My second album, Canyonlands, was more polished, mostly because I used the same band and studio throughout. It’s too soon to say how my new album, The Gathering Days, will turn out, but I’m very excited about the songs we’ve already recorded and can’t wait to get back in the studio.”

Speaking of the lockdown, Stanley said he misses his commute to work.

“I do believe I’ve been one of the lucky ones throughout the lockdown,” Stanley said. “My wife and I still have our jobs (for now), and our three kids are (mostly) terrific. Not that it’s been easy. Juggling my job with home-schooling, while my wife works at the hospital, has been exhausting. My study — where I write — has become my office and, sometimes, my bolt hole. It doesn’t feel the same anymore and I haven’t figured out how to fix it yet. I think the thing that’s surprised me the most is how much I’ve missed my daily commute – an hour, twice a day, when I’m alone with my thoughts, was something I’d taken for granted.”

The Horror Tree is a resource for authors, so I asked Stanley if he had a writing tip.


“If you want to be a better writer, join a writers’ group,” Stanley said. “Find readers who will give you honest feedback, even if they wouldn’t normally read or write something in your chosen genre. Treasure that feedback. Learn from it. I’ve been amazed at how many people have been prepared to give up their time to help me become a better writer. I’d be nowhere without it.”

What’s next for Stanley? We could see the flash fiction master write a full-fledged novel … maybe.

“I feel clichéd saying it, but I’ve just started writing a novel,” Stanley said. “I really have. And I’m going to do my best to finish it before the Doomsday clock ticks around to midnight and we all succumb to whichever of the four horsemen arrives first. But I’m not promising anything. Recently, I’ve also had a mini-collection accepted by Demain Publishing. That’s all I can say about this one at the moment, except that there’ll be announcement in due course and I’m very excited about it.”


The Horror Tree presents an interview with Tim Meyer

New Jersey horror author Tim Meyer is a self-professed “coffee connoisseur” and “beer enthusiast” who likes his coffee like he likes his beer.

“Coffee, black,” Meyer said. “Not a grain of sugar, not a drop of milk. The bitterer the better. That also applies to my beers. I’m a huge IPA fan, so pretty much any IPA with a high IBU will do. Really digging this tangerine IPA that New Belgium recently put out. New England IPAs are also my go-to.”

Meyer’s tastes are more eclectic when the topic is writing. He “prefers to blur genres and let the story fall where it may.” With his latest book Dead Daughters, the story falls into the thriller category.

Released April 16 by Poltergeist Press, Dead Daughters is about the Lowery family, who are living the American dream in New Jersey. However, a blank envelope in the mail upends their ideal life.

Early reviews for the book are positive. Horror author Hunter Shea wrote in a Goodreads review: “By far, Tim Meyer’s best book to date.”

Meyer isn’t one to judge his own work, but he did spend more time writing Dead Daughters than any of his previously published books. His other titles include Kill Hill Carnage, The Switch House, Sharkwater Beach, and In the House of Mirrors.

“I think it’s easy for an author to say ‘my newest book is my best book.’ And for many reasons, the biggest being that writers are constantly getting better and honing their craft each time out,” Meyer said. “So, naturally, the newest is always going to be the ‘best’ thing they’ve written. (more…)

WIHM: An Interview with Zoey Xolton

Australian author Zoey Xolton begins her debut collection Darkly Ever After with a piece of flash fiction about a woman named Destiny who ventures into an ominous forest and is never seen again.

Yes, Xolton likes her fantasy dark.

Blood Song Books released Xolton’s collection of microfiction, flash fiction, and short stories on Feb. 4. It features dark fantasy, paranormal romance, mythology, and fairy tales with elements of horror.

“I do actually write a fair amount of horror, on its own; but speculative horror is certainly my favourite, so I find blending the genres comes naturally,” Xolton said in an exclusive interview with Horror Tree. “They all lend themselves to it!

“A paranormal vampire romance, in my mind, inherently contains an element of horror. It’s the love of a monster, a creature of the night, whose primary sustenance comes from sapping the life of humans. It bites, it stalks, and it charms — like a wolf in sheep’s clothing. What is not horrifying about that? It all depends on the degree to which you take it, that defines which genre it will most accurately fall under.

“Fairy tales in their original form are notoriously dark; they give warnings and teach lessons to generations of readers and listeners (in oral tradition). They’ve only become hopeful, fluffy, princess tales since becoming commercialised.”

Xolton is a fan of dark fantasy author Anne Bishop and other fantasy luminaries like Terry Brooks, George R.R. Martin, and J.R.R. Tolkien.

“Dark fantasy is definitely just ‘me’ in a nutshell, because it contains all the trimmings of every genre that I love, all wrapped into one neat package,” Xolton said. “It usually contains paranormal romance, traditional sword and sorcery elements, and in amongst all that, the darkness and the horror dance! The dark creatures, the high stakes, the overwhelming odds, with often just the smallest glimmers of hope … I live for it.

“In my opinion, a good dark fantasy has to contain decent lashings of tragedy. Someone crucial has to die, a beacon, or embodiment of importance must be sacrificed, or fall … and the best part is, sometimes, it doesn’t end happily ever after! Or if there is some form of redemption, or hope, it comes at an incredibly steep price — the kind that leaves scars on the memories of the world and the reader.

“The best dark fantasies stay with me forever, the characters living on, beyond the words which brought them life. I want to achieve that. I want readers to feel emotionally involved, because to me, that is what reading is all about. It’s about living another life, about becoming part of a story beyond your own.”

February is Women in Horror Month, and Xolton appreciates the spotlight on female authors in the genre.

“I think it’s a meaningful gesture that women are being championed in a genre, that traditionally, society doesn’t seem to believe women write in often,” Xolton said. “However, I just don’t know, personally, how much of a tangible effect the event has as a whole — on recognition, or sales — for the authors, themselves. I certainly don’t think there are any negatives to promoting the voices of female authors, regardless. We’re here, and we’re talented!”

Married with two children, Xolton is not only talented but determined to pursue her passion for writing.

“I do love it,” Xolton said. “Outside of my family, writing is my reason for living. I make time for it, no matter what is going on in my life. With kids, I had to learn to make writing a habit. A lot of writers talk about ‘the muse,’ and that they can only write if they feel a certain way. I think if you’re serious about this craft, you can’t allow yourself to be held back by such trivial, constrictive notions. I don’t have a quiet office, or private space, of any kind in which to write. Even if I did, I couldn’t use it. My son is school aged, but my daughter is a toddler and needs constant care and attention. As such, I never get time alone.

“I have a lot of my colleagues asking me how I get so much done. At last count, I’ve been featured in 65 to 70 anthologies and had over 150 acceptances, most of these taking place in the space of one calendar year. The strange thing is people don’t really want to hear my truth — because it’s ugly. I sacrifice enormous, unhealthy amounts of sleep to write. I sometimes go 72 hours without sleep, when I’m on a roll. My logic is: I can sleep when I’m dead! My dreams are more important to me than some relative notion of sanity.

“I write when the kids are collectively louder than King Kong’s destruction in New York City, when Baby Shark is playing for the eight millionth time in a row, and when I should probably be doing some more, mundane, everyday mum tasks. I have dreams to achieve, and time doesn’t wait for anyone, that’s what my children made me realise. Children are additions to your life. They are my world, but they don’t rule it.”

So, when asked to share a piece of advice for writers who visit Horror Tree, a site that helps support authors, Xolton reiterated her own approach. 

“I just strongly advocate pushing your boundaries and making the time to write,” Xolton said. “I suggest ditching the concept of ‘the muse,’ or a ‘mood’, and just taking your craft seriously, and making a habit out of it.

“Bakers, teachers, boilermakers. and technicians don’t just work when they feel like it. If you want to succeed as an author moving forward, I think you have to treat your passion like your job, long before it officially is. Whether you’re tired, busy, or otherwise, you just have to make it a priority!”



Amazon Page:

Twitter: @zoeyxolton



WIHM: Horror Tree Presents … An Interview with S.P. Miskowski

In the midst of Women in Horror Month, acclaimed author S.P. Miskowski begins our interview by invoking the name of Frankenstein’s true creator to make a valid point about the month in question.

“Women in Horror Month reminds me of the need for an extra effort to get readers interested in horror by writers who identify as women,” Miskowski said. “I find this odd since the genre was practically invented by Mary Shelley. But I think the overall effects of the annual celebration have been positive. Readers, editors, and publishers are introduced to new work by living writers they might not know. Having a special occasion like WiHM adds a much-needed spotlight, especially for small press writers who struggle to bring mainstream attention to horror fiction.”

Speaking of a spotlight, the horror community has been shining its beam on Miskowski’s work for nearly a decade. Her 2019 novel The Worst is Yet to Come and 2017 novel I Wish I Was Like You received Bram Stoker Award nominations for Superior Achievement in a Novel. She also earned Shirley Jackson Award nominations for her novel Knock Knock (2011) and for her novellas, Delphine Dodd (2012) and Muscadines (2016).

 “I write because it’s my nature,” said Miskowski, a Decatur, Georgia native now living in Canada. “Storytelling has come naturally to me all of my life. I think all writers need some kind of recognition, even the reclusive ones. All writers are ambitious. Without ambition, we would never bother to write anything down. We would be content to dream up stories and then forget them.

“Writing is a form of communication, not just a form of expression. We want our stories to connect with other people. An award nomination can help, somewhat, by providing an occasion for people to mention your work. An award nomination can get your book title in front of more readers and editors. It’s an opportunity writers ought to enjoy while it lasts. Enjoy the moment and use it to sell books. If you know someone who’s nominated, celebrate and congratulate them. Tangible rewards are few and far between, in our field. What really matters in terms of community is being good to one another.

“Being nominated doesn’t prove your work is better than anyone else’s work but it indicates that there’s a niche and an audience for it, no matter how idiosyncratic your writing may be. If your book or story isn’t nominated, it’s still in good company with all of the works not included on what is, let’s face it, a very short list. Awards don’t confirm that a writer is ‘the best.’ They confirm that you’re doing something interesting and people have taken note. That’s lovely.”

Knock Knock and Delphine Dodd are two of the titles in her four-book Skillute Cycle, chronicling the evil in the backwater town of Skillute, Washington. What keeps her returning to Skillute, a town haunted by its past?

“Without being at all disingenuous, I’m not sure,” Miskowski said. “All of these books came about quite naturally. I didn’t write a series for commercial reasons, and I didn’t start out with the intention of creating this haunted world with its own rules and recurring imagery and connected events.

When Kate Jonez at Omnium Gatherum Media decided to publish Knock Knock, she asked me if I had a series in mind. I told her I didn’t, but I had notebooks full of material — sketches for side stories, brief biographies of characters that didn’t make it into the novel because they were not directly related to the main story. All of this extra stuff seemed to me to fit into three long stories: a prequel to Knock Knock (Delphine Dodd); a concurrent tale about one of the Knock Knock characters trying to escape her fate (Astoria); and a sequel that begins exactly where Knock Knock ends (In the Light). Each novella dances around the events of the novel but then spins out in other strange directions.

“After a novel and three novellas, I thought I was finished with the fictional town of Skillute. Then I was invited to submit a story to an anthology called Sisterhood (forthcoming from Chaosium). Immediately I had this vision of the childhood of a key character from Delphine Dodd, a doctor whose practices and clinic were based on a frightening historical figure. Dr. Graham developed out of my interest in the case histories of female serial killers. For the Sisterhood short story (‘The Resurrected’) I set aside my true crime books and invented a family and an upbringing that could have shaped my fictional doctor. How did she develop a method of treatment for young women that included starvation diets and physical abuse? ‘The Resurrected’ is an epistolary tale in which I imply an answer to that question, I hope without ruining the mystery of the novella.

“My next book was set in Seattle in the early 1990s. It was a ghost story told in first person with second person POV interludes. I think I just needed to get the hell out of Skillute for a while. Also, around that time, several people I knew had begun to refer to my work generally as either folk horror or Southern Gothic. This is fine, all good, but it isn’t the only thing I do. So, I broke loose with I Wish I Was Like You. Different setting and slightly different style, and vastly different idiom and worldview — it set me free, in a way. More important, it was a story I needed to tell for all sorts of personal reasons. I never expected anyone to like it or find it as funny as I did. I was completely surprised by the book’s reception, and I’m still amazed when readers say they love it and find it hilarious. This is very gratifying.

“Coming back to Skillute for two Journalstone/Trepidatio books (The Worst is Yet to Come in 2019 and The Best of Both Worlds in 2020), I had enough distance and perspective to imagine the town as urban dwellers might see it. For the novel, I thought of friends who had been priced out of Seattle, and their search for a less expensive way to raise their kids the way they had been raised. Whether or not this is possible or even desirable is something I deal with thematically. I remembered a friend from San Francisco who said, in 1995, she was going to wait for housing prices to drop before she invested $85,000 in a craftsman home in Seattle. Then we watched the same houses climb to an estimated value of $450,000. Today, they’re probably priced at nearly a million. What do families do in such a market? They move further out. So, this was my story for The Worst is Yet to Come.

“While writing the novel I did the same thing I’d done with Knock Knock. I kept notebooks full of extra material. Another storyline developed around the main action, but it took us too far afield. Eventually I realized this was another complete book, a novella about the opposite of the novel — the third- or fourth-generation families of Skillute. The adult brother and sister who emerged were observers of the newcomers, and their lives were connected to the former urban dwellers in odd ways. So, I decided to make the action in both books concurrent, with the story arcs leading to a violent convergence.

“Through no intention of my own I’ve written six books and a short story set in Skillute. And these disturbing tales keep suggesting new possibilities. To me, the essence of Skillute is that it can only be apprehended in fragments perceived over time. So, I’ll probably visit again — and again.”

Notable authors described Astoria, the third book in the Skillute Cycle, as “part Hitchcock, part David Lynch” and “a unique blend of The Omen and Elizabeth Berg’s The Pull of the Moon.” Which begs the question: Who and what inspire her unique style of writing?

“Hitchcock and Lynch are influences, certainly,” Miskowski said. “More recently I’ve been fascinated with the films of Jordan Peele, Jennifer Kent, and Oz Perkins, rooted in a world we recognize while the horror (much of it created by humans) unfolds around us. In the early 2000s I watched a lot of Japanese and South Korean horror films. These have been a big influence on my sense that you can tell a story of grief, longing, and domestic violence through the tropes of traditional horror.

“A couple of years ago I read Ryū Murakami’s short novel on which the Takashi Miike film Audition was based. I loved the deceptive simplicity of the style, the understated depiction of horrific violence. I’ve tried to accomplish something like this in my most recent Skillute books. I wanted no waste, and little repetition. Readers aren’t led by the nose or coddled; they have to accept the brevity of accelerated action. Terrible things occur and nothing is fully resolved. The extent of the damage precludes a happy ending.

“Over the years, the single biggest influence on my writing has been Shirley Jackson. She does such extraordinary things, and always with great wit and insight. The reader can pick up on her clues, or just ride along on this little adventure. If you do pick up the clues and examine them, she’s saying some pretty terrifying things about human nature.”

Besides writing acclaimed novels and novellas, Miskowski is also a talented short story writer, her work appearing in a long list of high-profile anthologies and magazines. “Alligator Point” was among the twenty-one stories featured in The Best Horror of the Year: Volume Ten.

“As a young writer I was only interested in short stories,” Miskowski said. “I read novels but had no intention of ever writing one. I was a student when Donald Barthelme was still alive. I watched him read from his work, one time. The room was set up for over a hundred people. That afternoon an uncharacteristic downpour scared away the intended audience. I think there were about twenty of us, in this enormous room with an echo. Well, he was brilliant — absolutely unfazed by the turnout and really mesmerizing. Back then I was mostly interested in form and structure. People who discussed my stories in workshop said they were cold, but I was learning what was possible, so I didn’t take an interest in the characters’ heartfelt desires and losses until much later.”

Since Horror Tree is a site that supports authors with markets and writing advice, I asked Miskowski to share a tip to help writers along their journey.

“The note to take seriously is the very specific one that underscores what you already suspected,” Miskowski said. “You have the answers in your head. You are the story. No one can fix the story for you or tell you how to write or why to write. Do it for you, first, but be merciless. Don’t tell yourself how talented you think you are. The story matters more than any attention it might bring.”

Miskowski’s next book, The Best of Both Worlds, is scheduled for release on May 1 by Journalstone/Trepidatio.

“And I’m revising a new novel set in a suburb thrown off-kilter by the rivalry between two women who were once best friends,” Miskowski said. “When it’s done, we’ll see if it’s any good.”

I asked Miskowski what her worst fear is. She shared a dream instead.

“I would never tell anyone my worst fear,” Miskowski said. “But I’ll tell you about one of my most upsetting dreams. I was visiting with friends, just wandering around in the city. We separated and I found myself standing on a patio outside a shop. I turned around and saw my husband, who was also sort of wandering around with friends. We greeted one another and I could tell by his expression and his manner — he didn’t love me anymore. I don’t know what had occurred between us, but it was as if we’d broken up, and on this particular day we had run into one another by accident, and all of the love we had shared was gone. He wasn’t angry, just friendly in that casual, indifferent way that indicates you don’t spend time thinking about the other person. This was the saddest and most disturbing dream I can remember.”



Amazon Page:

Twitter: @SPMiskowski

WIHM: An Interview With Jessica McHugh

Jessica McHugh is the author of more than 20 books, including an edgy young adult series, The Darla Decker Diaries, and acclaimed novels The Green Kangaroos and Rabbits in the Garden. She’s appeared in high-profile anthologies alongside names like Jonathan Maberry and Jack Ketchum.

However, it’s her upcoming poetry collection that has her almost literally beaming with joy.

“My first poetry collection, A Complex Accident of Life, comprised of blackout poems found in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein will be released from Apokrupha Press in April,” McHugh announced in an exclusive interview with Horror Tree. “I seriously couldn’t be more excited about this. I even feel … sparkly.”

Oddly enough, the death of her precious feline companion, Tyler, led McHugh to discover her love for creating blackout poetry. She writes movingly of Tyler Durden Bonito McHugh in the acknowledgments of the anniversary edition of her novel Rabbits in the Garden, sharing that losing Tyler changed her as “an artist and human being.”

“It’s really quite amazing how grief changed me,” McHugh said. “I mean, not beneficially as an author sometimes, but it’s still pretty fascinating how losing him affected my brain chemistry. Grief stole from me a certain spark I’ve never quite been able to regain. It also caused my hands to shake, and I began having bad panic attacks. It was really bad for a while, as Tyler was incredibly tied to my writing life.

“I do feel a lot better in that area now, but sometimes when I try to write I’m overcome by that deep loss and my hands shake again. Luckily, I have the tools to combat that now. Meds, breathing exercises, and yoga have helped me immeasurably.

“And the thing is, even though the spark I had with him is gone, I’ve found other sparks. I discovered my love of making blackout poetry last year and sold a bunch of pieces and books at an art fair around Christmas; it’s been years since I did a festival or con, so it was a pretty big deal for me. As I say in my poem ‘What You Get For Caring,’ grief’s a witchy trickster, and yes, I was changed by it, but not all those changes are bad, or unwelcome.”

Of course, February is Women in Horror Month (WiHM), and McHugh recognizes the value of it. She has a new story titled “This Can Happen to You” in the upcoming Strangehouse Anthology By Women of Horror, Not All Monsters.

“For me, it’s about celebration and education,” she said of WiHM. “It’s the exchange of joy and knowledge and, yes, sometimes uncomfortable conversations (or really friggin stupid conversations where small-minded individuals are involved), and it’s had a profound impact on me as a writer and reader. I discovered Octavia Butler during WiHM. I discovered Daphne Du Maurier. I read The Yellow Wallpaper for the first time.

“But more than that, I discovered a diverse and witchy horde of viciously talented artists who inspire me to own my power as an author and a woman. We still have a long way to go – trans woman and women of color still aren’t represented as much as they should be – but I think there’s value in spotlighting female horror artists whenever possible.”

McHugh’s fiction is edgy, often writing complicated characters dealing with issues of addiction and mental health. She said she’s “know (and been) quite a few complicated people.”

The Green Kangaroos was directly inspired by my brother, who’s an addict and middle child like Perry Samson,” McHugh said. “And while the familial relationships are altered, there are some deep pockets of personal pain in that novel. It was also, oddly, the most fun I’ve ever had writing a novel.

“But I’ve had my struggles too, of course. I mentioned having panic attacks after Tyler died, but the truth is I’d had a bunch throughout my childhood without ever realizing it. I guess when Tyler died and the attacks affected my ability to hold a pen, my brain was finally able get through to me about the depression and anxiety I’d been self-medicating for years. Again, amazing things those brains.

“But it’s also not as fun for me writing someone who isn’t complicated, who doesn’t have moral quandaries or an angry broken heart. I’m not always trying to write unlikable characters though. Except Rebecca Malone. I definitely set out to write the most unlikable character ever. I want my characters to feel realistic, and there are some pretty shitty people out there.”

While McHugh boldly tackles adult themes, she also applies her edgy style to young adult fiction with The Darla Decker Diaries, a series following a girl’s journey to adulthood.

“I feel like the life of a teen girl growing up still has elements of grit, addiction, and horror,” McHugh said. “While The Darla Decker Diaries are mostly meant to be fun, I definitely didn’t shy away from the icky and downright scary stuff. I don’t change my style or intent much when writing for a younger audience. I’m not going to swear as much, of course – though the first Darla book does have the word ‘fingerbang’ – and I can’t shred the flesh from anyone’s face – but that doesn’t mean things don’t get bloody – but there is legitimate darkness on the edges of Darla’s world.”

Roald Dahl and H.P. Lovecraft were McHugh’s chief influences when she started writing seriously at 19 years old.

If you read my first stories, I feel like it’s extremely obvious too,” she said. “It tickles me to no end that I’ve actually reworked and sold some of them. But I was also hugely influenced by Bret Easton Ellis and Anne Rice, and I’d be remiss not to mention I’d been reading Stephen King since fifth grade. My selections weren’t all that diverse back then, which is why I’m so grateful there are so many different kinds of writers in the small-press community. I love a fun horror anthology that allows me to hang out with some old favorites and get to know the up-and-comers.”

The Green Kangaroos published by Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing and Nightly Owl, Fatal Raven from Raw Dog Screaming Press are two McHugh novels by McHugh that would be perfect introductions for new readers of her work.

“They’re both brutal, but in very different ways,” McHugh said. “While The Green Kangaroos centers on body horror and the impact of Perry’s addiction, Nightly Owl, Fatal Raven has more of a grimdark ensemble that battles the horrors perpetrated by the corrupt men who run their broken world. But I feel like both perfectly embody me as a writer and my fondness for genre-mixing.”

Since Horror Tree is a website that supports writers with markets and writing advice, I asked McHugh if she had any tips to share.

“I didn’t have any mentors when I was starting out,” McHugh said. “I didn’t go to school for writing (or much of anything), and I barely knew any other artists, let alone writers, so I wasn’t given much advice. Except, when it comes to process, you have to find what works for you. I like working on multiple stories, in multiple genres and POVs, so if I get stuck on one, I can switch to something else. But that’s madness to some people, and I totally get it. I mean, I handwrite my stories most of the time, and that’s just not possible for other folks.

“But working as a creative writing instructor for kids 8-18 for 5-plus years allowed me to see this strange obsession new writers have with word count. They would literally call out their total every few minutes. I also saw this behavior mirrored on social media for a number of years. Not to say accountability isn’t important – it’s essential – but there’s a point when you get so focused on accruing words, you stop noticing whether they’re the right, or most powerful, words. And when you consider that a great piece of writing uses the least amount of words possible to convey maximum effect, my advice is this: Don’t aim for a word count. Aim to make your words count.”




Twitter: @theJessMcHugh

Horror Tree presents … An Interview with Bryan Smith

When I received my first Kindle, one of the first three books I purchased was an extreme horror novel titled Depraved by Bryan Smith. I was already a fan of extreme horror, or Splatterpunk as the genre is known, but Smith’s tale terrified me in the same way the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre did and horrified me in the same way the original I Spit on Your Grave did. It was that one-two punch of terror and horror that hooked me and turned me into a fan of Smith’s work.

For me, the best way to describe Smith’s writing is by sharing a snippet of my Amazon review of Depraved:Not for the faint of heart or most decent folks, Depraved is pure grind house. It’s the best kind of hard-core horror, because it’s written for fans of the genre, which means no PG-13 cop-out scenes and no easy way out. … Smith thrusts the reader into a gut-wrenching tale of sickening lust and intense brutality where the worst-case scenarios get worse and the twists get more twisted.”

After experiencing Depraved, I devoured my second favorite Smith novel, The Killing Kind, where he creates one of the most memorable characters in horror, the homicidal yet sexy-as-hell Roxie.

Years later, I’m still reading Smith, and the Tennessee author is still consistently cranking out some of the most entertaining reads in horror fiction.

In January, Grindhouse Press released Smith’s latest book titled The F*ck*ng Zombie Apocalypse, which is about a guy trying to save his beloved hamster from his crazy girlfriend during a zombie apocalypse.

Smith can relate to loving a pet that much.

“Well, I’m a dog person,” Smith said in an exclusive interview with Horror Tree. “Have been ever since I was very young. I’ve loved all the dogs I’ve ever had like they’re family because that’s what they are to me. They live with you, love you unconditionally, and make life more tolerable in general. I’d do anything I could to save any of the dogs I’ve ever shared my life with, including plunging headlong into a horde of ravenous zombies.”

And Smith knows how to write zombie fiction. The 2014 World Horror Grandmaster Award winner, Brian Keene, said Smith’s 2015 novel Slowly We Rot was “the best zombie novel I’ve ever read.”

I asked Smith why zombies continue to permeate the horror film and fiction landscape and what they symbolize to him.

Zombies are still popular, of course, but the mania for them that was there for several years seems to have waned recently thanks to over-saturation in all forms of popular media,” Smith said. “Of course, I’ll never get tired of revisiting all the old classics like Dawn of the Dead and Return of the Living Dead, but it’s been a while since anything new in the sub-genre stirred my interest much. It’s always possible I’m simply not aware of good new zombie stuff because I’m not actively on the hunt for it. I’d welcome recommendations for any distinct new and fresh visions in zombie fiction.

“For me, the popularity of zombie books and films stems from a deep social malaise and dissatisfaction with a world and oppressive society that no longer works for too many people. A decay and decline in a social order that only benefits a tiny percentage of the population. The zombie apocalypse scenario is so popular because it typically depicts a sweeping away of all that. A clean slate in which the only imperative is to fight and survive and protect the ones you love. There’s a great appeal in the idea that this is your only responsibility and that you are no longer a slave to a state rule that doesn’t care about you at all as an individual.”

Zombies, though, are a small sample of Smith’s catalogue, which includes more than 30 novels and novellas ranging from Splatterpunk to crime fiction. Smith’s 2018 release Kill For Satan! won the 2019 Splatterpunk Award for Best Horror Novella, and last year’s Merciless should be a contender in 2020. The Splatterpunk Award is a recent creation, first presented in 2018, to spotlight authors of extreme horror.

It’s a way of finally recognizing the value in the works of a whole category of talented horror writers who have been systematically ignored by institutions bestowing other horror fiction awards,” Smith said. “I have great faith in the integrity and honor of the Splatterpunk Award jurors, and thus I trust completely in the worthiness of all nominees and winners. For these reasons, the award for Kill For Satan! actually meant a great deal to me. With certain other awards, it’s always felt as if writers have to play the game of schmoozing up to the right people and getting in with the right cliques while paying yearly dues to the organization handing out the award. I’ve never played that game and have no interest in it.”

Smith’s wild ride of a crime novel, 68 Kill, was adapted into an award-winning and well-reviewed 2017 film starring Matthew Gray Gubler, one of the stars of the hit TV show Criminal Minds. Classic horror and crime fiction are major influences on Smith’s work.

One of my earliest filmmaker influences was John Carpenter,” Smith said. “Halloween was massively influential and led to a whole wave of imitators responsible for shaping my tastes as a young horror fan in the ‘80s. His film The Thing has also had a lasting influence on me. The Friday the 13th movies and the early novels of Richard Laymon were a big part of setting the template for my early horror-writing efforts, but Stephen King was always my favorite writer, my literary idol, and icon. The same is true, of course, for countless other writers and aspiring writers of my generation.

“Then, as I got older, I started reading a lot of crime fiction. Guys like Elmore Leonard, Ed McBain, Richard B. Parker, Donald Westlake, and old pulp noir/detective writers like Gil Brewer, Richard Prather, David Goodis, and Charles Willeford had a subtle influence on books like The Killing Kind, Blood and Whiskey, and 68 Kill. Of all my later film influences, Quentin Tarantino was by far the biggest. He’s easily my favorite director of all time.”

Since a lot of writers visit Horror Tree looking for markets and writing advice, I asked Smith if he had any words of wisdom for authors trying to navigate the publishing world.

It’s hard to know how to give a solid, informative reply to that, at least for me,” Smith said. “When it comes to my approach to getting published or advancing my career, I’ve never been the most organized or tenacious person. I’ve honestly blundered my way through some of it, while getting fantastically lucky on a few occasions.

“I will say that once I did get some of the handful of big opportunities that came along, I made the most of them while I could. So, I would tell young writers not to take anything for granted. Seize any chance that comes along and put your all into it. Lock yourself in a room and write like your life depends on it. The work comes first, not networking or trying to be a funny guy on social media. Write a certain amount every damn day, make sure it’s something you genuinely enjoy and not just something coldly calculated to aim at some cynical market niche, and then worry about what you can do with it after you’re done.

“If you’re a young writer, trying to see if you can get published traditionally is probably the best way to start. If banging your head against a perpetually closed set of doors becomes too frustrating over whatever period of time feels like enough for you, f*ck it, self-publish and to hell with what any naysayers tell you about that.”




Twitter: @Bryan_D_Smith