Ruschelle: Welcome to the Tree. We’ve grown a twisted branch especially for you. Speaking of twisted, give us a little taste of your horror writer’s mind. What is a line from your works you are most proud and frightened of?
There are several, but I’m going to go with a short line from my short story, “Meat Lover’s Special” in Boundless:
“Get out now! You may have less than 15 minutes after consumption, before…” the rep replied, breathing hard and stuttering into the phone receiver.”
Ruschelle: By day, you don your glasses, Ala Clark Kent and ‘voila,’ you’re a mild mannered Social Worker. Has any of your experiences in social work, bled into your writing?
In my book, Social Workers are the ones that wears the cape and are quite heroic.
Absolutely, Ruschelle. Over the years, I’ve worked in various fields—mental health (adults/teens), domestic violence (victims/survivors), hospice, and currently geriatrics. Some of my work experiences have bled over to formulate some story ideas, while past and present personal encounters continue to inspire other ideas.
Ruschelle: Where do you mine your creativity? Books, movies, real life?
My mom has been a huge part of my creativity. She introduced me to horror via an AM radio horror show that aired on Friday nights, when I was in the fifth grade. My mom also told me some interesting stories about growing up in Crawford, Texas, and her personal journeys. Many books, movies, and personal experiences from my elementary to college years, also fuel my creative juices.
Ruschelle: You dove into the novel world with book one in your series, Doll. What challenges did you face while creating a new world with fantastic characters growing through multiple books?
I believe replacing my fears with procrastination was the biggest challenge for me to write my first novel, Doll. My self-confidence was poor, and I fed myself a lot of negativity, such as, “No one will like this… might as well stop writing…” Then, one day, I figured that I’m going to finish this story inside of me, no matter what. If one person enjoyed it, then I’ve succeeded, but most of all, I conquered my fear by completing it.
Ruschelle: Doll, takes place in halls of Frost High. Did you base any characters from your own high school classmates and experiences? Well, maybe not the witches and mayhem…
Ruschelle, some of my high school experiences assisted me to build my story. As we all know, mean girls existed way back when and will always, whether in an educational institution or any workplace. Being teased in junior high and high school, myself, and seeing others impacted way more than I had to deal with ignited part of this story. I wanted the underdogs to win and beat the main antagonists. Did they? Just have to read the Doll Trilogy to find out… wink… wink.
Since I mentioned the Doll Trilogy, I wanted to share a little more about it. It’s a coming of age supernatural love story, which deals with outcasts, friendships, family, sacrifices, free-will, bullying, romance, grief, new identity struggles, betrayal, making healthy/unhealthy choices, revenge, racism, and teen domestic violence with some unexpected twists and turns. At the end of each book, I give my readers an unrelated bonus short story and a little surprise in Doll 3: The Hunting.
Be Careful What You Wish For…
Ruschelle: You won 2nd place in the Young Adult category for ‘Doll’ in the Purple Dragonfly Awards. Kudos! How did it feel to have your first novel written, recognized?
Thank you very much, Ruschelle. I was shocked and didn’t believe my little book stood a chance. I reviewed that email so many times, and once I received my certificate in the mail, I knew it was real. Ruschelle, it was and always will be an extreme honor to possess a Purple Dragonfly Award. It definitely boosted my self-confidence.
Ruschelle: You mention in your bio that the Cars song, Drive, was what helped inspire you to become a writer. This sounds like a great story, so please share.
Ruschelle, first of all, music is my natural therapy. I love listening to all kinds of music with the 80s—#StrangerThingsForever—being my favorite, especially love and soft rock songs, but I Iove everything! So, when I first heard Drive by the Cars, those lyrics really stuck with me. I wrote them down on a sheet of paper in my purple and white Trapper Keeper. This was probably the first time I really paid attention to how the words from a song told a story, and then boom, I started writing free-verse poems. This song led me off the dance floor to sit at a table with a typewriter, pen, paper, and a pocket dictionary.
Ruschelle: Love me some 70’s and early 80’s soft rock! You’re a girl after my own dark little heart.
As a horror writer who is a fan of the blood suckers of the night, aka. Vamps- if you could change anything from the vampire mythos, what would it be?
Ruschelle, this is a really hard question because vampires possess so many extraordinary abilities and powers. I’m a huge fan of many vampire stories/original movies, such as: “Bram Stoker’s Dracula,” “Fright Night,” “From Dusk til Dawn,” “The Lost Boys” “Blade,” “Salem’s Lot,” “Vampire Diaries,” “The Originals,” and “The Strain”
At this time, I wouldn’t change anything. The vampire world continues to evolve, and I’m anticipating to watch, read, and/or write the next vampire story.
Ruschelle: We are in the upswing into Fall, which means many things to us Horror Writers but to those of us with a sweet tooth, it means CANDY! So what is the scariest candy you ever received in your bag on Halloween?
I attended trick or treating in the neighborhood, once when I was maybe seven-years old, according to stories my mom has shared with me. My mom checked the candy before I was ready to consume it. Luckily, she did, because she found a sewing needle inside a Snickers Bar. To this very day, I’ll check any soft candy before I eat it. Honestly, I inspect everything.
Ruschelle: Holy cats! I thought the ‘needle in the candy bar’ was just an urban legend. Wow!
Most writers seek out and find their niche, be it horror, romance, non-fiction, children’s books etc. What drew you to writing Young Adult books?
Ruschelle, I never imagined that I would write stories for young adults. When I rediscovered my passion to write a few years ago, my mind was focused on writing for adults. A promising publisher in the past told me that the majority of my stories would fall into the young adult arena. So, I thought about what he told me and realized that he was right. Therefore, young and new adult became my arenas of focus. Plus, I absolutely love to reflect back on my teen years/struggles and/or read, hear, watch teen stories, which is why I enjoy writing young adult books and short stories.
Ruschelle: You have been a panelist at comic conventions and book festivals as well as a guest speaker for schools and writing inspired events. What topics do you enjoy discussing the most as an author? Which are your least?
I enjoy talking about everything, especially the ideas behind my stories, and inspired playlists.
Ruschelle: Do you find that there are certain questions and requests for pieces of advice that come up over and over again?
I love talking about this and, it comes up sometimes: What would you tell your younger self, right now?
I also like to share, if applicable: “Never allow anyone to tell you that you cannot do something or you’re not good enough because guess what? You can. You’re awesomeness, so soar. BOOM!”
One of my favorite quotations about believing in yourself and realizing your sparkly magic:
“Just remember that Dumbo didn’t need the feather; the magic was in him.” ~Stephen King~
Ruschelle: Explain your ‘fan-girl’ status? DC? Marvel? Manga? Tell us more?
Marvel/DC/Horror/ComicCon Fan-Girl! I used to be a really shy person, especially in late elementary/junior high and high school. However, the Marvel/DC and horror universes allowed me to crawl out of my shyness cocoon, which helped me to develop my invisible confidence cape, it’s hot pink with silver and plum stars plastered all over.
Wonder Woman, Captain America, Blade, Squirrel Girl, Kevin Wendell Crumb, Freddy Krueger, and Michael Myers are a few of my faves! By the way, I love collecting T-shirts, mostly comic book related and horror. I also love to attend comic cons, when I can.
By the way, I love to watch all the cosplayers walk past me. I find their unique costumes, just mesmerizing and their energy, simply… magical. I believe people need to escape from their realities for a little bit and be whoever they desire to be. Comic cons allow them to do that.
I’ve seen this magic many times before with my sweet hubby, when he cosplays. It’s as if once the cosplayer takes on his or her character, then he or she can dwell in that extraordinary dimension and share it with others.
Plus, I think cosplaying boosts self-esteem for some, especially when others are watching that cosplayer and requesting to take selfies. Cosplayers are celebrities, and you never know who you may bump into!
Ruschelle: If you could be any superhero or gain fantastic superpowers to ‘save the day,’ who would you be or what powers would you have?
Definitely, the absorption of any super-power, as long as I desired, with incredible martial art skills to use for the good! My costume would be a fantastic mash-up of Wonder Woman, Captain America, and Blade gear.
Ruschelle: Blade gear? Awesome!
Of all your projects was there one that was a particular, dare I say, monster? Yep, I dared.
WereVamCabra—part werewolf, vampire, and chupacabra—a trio hybrid. You can find an interesting short story in Boundless called “Study Break” about this creature.
Ruschelle: Your newfound fans would love to hear about your next big projects. Could you, would you, share a little?
Of course, I’ll be attending a few exciting book related events in the fall. Please feel free to check out my website for locations and dates.
As for my current writing project, I’m working on my next Young Adult novel, Misties. I bet you’re wondering what in the heck is that about. I’ll give you a little hint—stake or not to stake…
Ruschelle: Tell us all how we can follow you and your works on the www.
Ruschelle, I want to take this time to thank you for seeking me out and interviewing me for The Horror Tree—very grateful for this opportunity and your precious time. Awesome questions!
I love hearing from my fantastic readers, who already know me, and new ones, too!
Ruschelle: Wonderful to have you in the Horror Tree Hot Seat. You are now part of an exclusive club! There are secret handshakes, a fun initiation (warning: don’t ever fall asleep…ever), and everyone’s favorite, human sacrifice! But before we choose your first victim, let’s get to know our newest member. You are a retired mime… I almost blackballed you for that tidbit, but you have a great moustache… so tell give us a glimpse into your days as a mime.
Josef: First off, the mustache thanks you. We both feel honored to be strapped down in the seat of honor.
Mime was a bit of a double-edged sword back in my day. Sure mimes were universally disliked, with attacks from surly penguins with olive pimento loaves, drunken college boys, and bored dads at the medieval festivals. But Mummenschantz was appearing on the Muppet Show, Robin Williams street mime films got out, and Shields and Yarnell had their own show on TV.
I did a lot of busking on street corners and performing at arts festivals. I got to be one of the official performers for Ameriflora, the flower event celebrating the five-hundred-year anniversary of Columbus’ “discovery” of America. Eager children swarming you can do as much damage as drunk who means you harm. I even got a starring role in Mime Legend a short film variation of I am Legend where the disease that ravages Earth turns the dead into mimes. I did all my own stunts.
What I brought from that experience was the ability to write through gesture and body language with no words. I learned how to read a crowd, how to improvise, and how to perform before an audience. All great skills for an author reading and book signing.
Ruschelle: Mimes…some people find them humorous while others find them scary. Kinda like clowns. They are supposed to be entertaining and enjoyable, yet they scare the hell out people. Horror goes together like peas and carrots, like band saws and body parts, like Josef Matulich and The Ren Faire at the End of the World. What is key to the perfection that is the combination of humor and horror?
Josef: Both Horror and Humor create an emotional response from dissonant images and actions. The circumstances are ginned up to created heightened emotions while at the same time an unconscious recognition that the threat and stakes are imaginary. That gives the audience permission to enjoy a dismemberment or a slip on a banana peel. If you attack a character with a knife-wielding maniac, that’s Horror. If the character is attacked by a mime with a four-foot powder puff, it’s Comedy. If your unlucky character has two flesh-eating squirrels run up his pants legs, that’s Horror/Comedy.
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Ruschelle: Evil Dead, Scream, Beetlejuice, Shaun of the Dead, just to name a few are horror movies with a humorous slant. What movies do you feel best represent the genre? Which are your favorites?
Josef: Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, Slither, and Fido, where zombies are kept as pets, are some of my modern favorites besides the ones you listed. The old school classics like Vincent Price’s Abominable Dr. Phibes, Madhouse, and Theater of Blood still hold up to viewings in the twenty-first century.
Ruschelle: Is there a book or movie that you recommend for those wanting to try their hand at that horror/comedy?
Josef: I cut my teeth on Frederic Brown’s Nightmares and Geezenstacks. He was an early practitioner of Flash Fiction and his stories could be either creepy, funny, or both.
Ruschelle: You are penning the Squirrel Apocalypse. Why squirrels? Do they use cool weapons like ninja stars… and sporks? Oh, please say yes…
Josef: The squirrels have no need for cool weapons, they are the weapons. Set in Northern California in the days before legalization, it is a wonderland of illicit pot farms, drug gangs, GMO killer squirrels, and plenty of dairy cattle to run down when the hybrid squirrels get the munchies. I co-opted a real-life radio station that in its day broadcast the movements of DEA agents to the local pot farmers. To have those broadcasts interrupted with warnings of swarms of killer squirrels was my personal indulgence.
Ruschelle: A little evil squirrely told me you are writing a play. A play from HELL! The squirrel can’t keep his trap shut. So, spill it.
Josef: The squirrel got it half right: I have a screenplay that has spent ten years in pre-production HELL. It was written for an actor who specializes in creature parts and included junkyard cyborgs, kids camping in the woods, and nerds vs. jocks. You should fricassee the squirrel.
I have had a couple of short plays produced locally. One was a sex-interrupting monster under the bed. The other was a pair of sentient gargoyles on a rooftop who only get suicidal fanboys to visit them. I’m ready for anyone who wants to put on another production.
Ruschelle: In a battle royale, who do you think will kick major ass, Ashy Slashy from the Evil Dead movies or Halloween’s Michael Meyers?
Josef: Ash was able to recreate the Industrial Revolution with a Buick and a college Chemistry book. He would win hands, well hand, down.
Ruschelle: You’re a make-up artist! Zombies and gory creatures would be awesome to see come to life. How did you get into creating men (and women) into monsters?
Josef: At about thirteen or so, my best buddy and I discovered mask-making and special effects make-up. We would hang out at his house and experiment with make-up, cotton, and liquid latex. I would frequently come home with fake acid burns or bloody gashes. It didn’t disturb my mother half as much as I wanted.
Ruschelle: Could you tell us about your favorite makeup? Oooh do you have a photo?
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Josef: One of my favorite make-ups was a demo where I turned my son into a Steampunk Zombie. The foam latex piece showed the gears that ran inside his head and the brass port for a winding key. He was a really big hit with the girls that year.
There was my most involved movie monster, Bob the Blob. It was an alien that connected up to the heads of students with its tentacles to pump chemicals into their brains that kept them tractable. Bob had an eyestalk that could be moved from side to side by internal wires, a breathing mechanism made from condoms and syringes and about a dozen six-foot long tentacles. The director Sheldon Gleisser is holding the tentacle and sucker mouth.
Ruschelle: Have any of your stories involved a deranged makeup artist whose cosmetics are cursed, causing his ghastly creations to become the real deal? Could be funny if they embellish their junk…
Josef: Not that, but one of my early role-playing supplements for the defunct NightLife property had a special effects guy who made up friends as monsters to go cruise bars and play with the minds of the drunken populace. As he discovered that monsters were real and they wanted to party too, he would include them in the crowd of bar crawling fake monsters.
Ruschelle: You write flash as well as short stories and novels. Of all of those, which do you prefer?
Josef: I like novels best, huge ridiculous stories that take at least two-hundred pages to wring all the weirdness out of them. I have to exercise extreme discipline to produce something as lean as a screenplay or RPG supplement. When I get bogged down with a larger project, I like to write a flash piece or two to cleanse the palate and get motivated again.
I feel that short stories are a penance for evil I have done in previous lives.
Ruschelle: The Arcanum Faire Series you penned looks fantastic. There is a non-Wiccan Witch, vegan Thanksgiving, power tools, sex (hubba hubba) and zombie bunnies! Tell us more.
Josef: Arcanum Faire is the classic story of Boy meets Witch, Boy loses Witch, Witch’s Ex hospitalizes Boy with a sex-summoned invisible tentacle demon. The hero Marc is a tool-obsessed prankster sent to build a renaissance faire in a town overrun by witches, primordial demons, and reanimated roadkill. The locals quickly discover that he has certain attributes useful to magick-users. He’s convinced everyone is as mad as his recently deceased schizophrenic brother.
Things devolve naturally as Marc discovers he can whack supernatural beings with a shovel (cold iron), that he and his Wiccan love Brenwyn can perform accidental sex magick, and that a ren faire full of witches, cultists, and walking wounded seeking a miracle generate a butt load of psychic energy.
It has a little bit of everything for the reader. It has fighting, and magick, and fencing— both with foils and barbed wire. It has romance, and sex (though not graphic enough for some tastes) and some relationships my characters still haven’t figured out yet.
I just got the rights back to these books at the beginning of the year. I should soon have the first book available, self-published with a great new cover by the comic artist Seth Lyons. All three should be done by the end of the year.
Though there are only three books, I’ve left myself enough of a window to write a fourth. If I live that long.
Ruschelle: What is scarier; zombie bunnies or zombie beavers? Have you seen the movie, Zombeavers?
Josef: I, unfortunately, have not yet seen Zombeavers, but I have seen Zoombies and am still having PTSD incidents. I think the undead skinless bunnies and squirrels, along with a small herd of undead Angus cattle, could be far more horrifying if this weren’t a comedy. It’s hard to get people to laugh after a character has been disemboweled by dozens of great pointy teeth.
Ruschelle: To date, what is the writing project you’re most proud of?
Josef: The Ren Faire at the End of the World allowed me to have my bobcat-driving, demented ren faire performer Eleazar improvise his own version of Aragorn’s speech at Pellenor to inspire the rennies and jousters defending the faire against reanimated road-kill and meat puppets. I can’t see how I can outdo myself on that one.
Ruschelle: You have so many awesome interests. You are an avid costumer. Could you give us a little peek into that side of you?
Josef: My wife and I met because she had a costume that required custom pointed ears. Together we costumed plays, films and events for twenty years. For nearly a decade we provided costumed actors for movie openings like Harry Potter, LOTR, or the last Indiana Jones movie. I got to be both Snape and Indy.
Then, we opened The Alley Vintage & Costumes. It’s a nice little place in a strip mall in North West Columbus, only semi-haunted by the clothing’s previous owners. Most of our costuming energy goes into keeping that enterprise going, though we occasionally put together a costume for my convention appearances.
These are two of our favorite costumes done on others. The first is a warrior class Minbari that we did both costume and make-up. The other is the Alien Queen, again costume and the three-foot-long mask.
Ruschelle: If luck struck you in the face like a long breast from an old stripper, which movie or project would you love to costume or be makeup artist for?
Josef: I always loved the chaotic scenes, like the cantina from Star Wars or the goblin market in Hellboy II. Decades ago, I pitched the idea of a spaceport bar on Earth after alien contact with dozens of alien races. Somewhere I still have the series bible with story ideas and a dozen different alien biologies. Yeah, if I got hit in the face with Fortune’s mammary, I’d dust that off.
Ruschelle: We all have our muses. Mine is drunk and passed out right now. So, as a creative, who do you turn to when you need a bump of inspiration?
Josef: I find bad, cheap horror and SFF movies to be highly inspiring. Seeing completed projects that were so cheezy and campy remove any concerns of whether my first draft is good enough.
Screwball comedies of the forties also have a special place in my heart. Like Arsenic and Old Lace or The Front Page. I initially described the Arcanum Faire trilogy as Bringing Up Baby meets Harvest Home.
Ruschelle: What offerings should your newfound fans look forward to from you?
Josef: As the Squirrel Apocalypse is being groomed for publication, I am working on The Silk Empress, a steampunk story of a Chinese airship gifted to an Alsatian business woman to run along the High Silk Road from China to Europe. It has air pirates, clockwork dragons, secret societies, and the world’s most inept boy adventurer, all in an altered history where China is on an equal footing with the European powers.
Then I’ll return to horror/comedy with Dead People’s Houses about an entrepreneur who deals in antiques, vintage clothing, and occult items and he has a knack of having just what you need. This will be in the same universe as Arcanum Faire with the probable overlap of one or two characters.
Ruschelle: Thank you so much for hanging out with us here at the Horror Tree. You are a man of many talents. How can your fans stalk you and send you sweet love notes here on the www?
Ruschelle: Thank you for stopping by The Horror Tree and sharing a few of your writing secrets. So…do you happen to have at least one big fat writing secret? Lol
Steve: Thank you for having me. Well, I have one main tenet I stick with and have stuck with throughout my years of writing so I suppose it’s worth divulging and that is to always listen to your voice. Writing is always better when it feels truthful and for me, I know it is the truth (at least my truth) when I listen to the voice inside me that guides my character development, plot, pacing, etc. Don’t get me wrong, I am definitely open to feedback as my stories develop but ultimately, I have always gone with my gut as to what would be right for the story.
Ruschelle: Tell us about your first foray into writing with your teleplay, Final Transference.
Steve: I was taking a writing for television class in college and as always seems to be the case, my mind went toward developing a horror story. I was living in one of the dorms and so the story developed about two college roommates that upon meeting find they have the ability of telekinesis but only with each other. One of my friends had a crush on a girl I also liked at the time and so that idea of competitiveness developed into the teleplay as a love triangle but with the roommates using their telekinesis as a weapon. I was quite proud of it and got an A-.
Ruschelle: An A- is pretty sweet. You’re a fan of the Twilight Zone. What was it about the series that helped inspire your writing?
Steve: For me there is so much about that show to admire. Visually, one element that stands out is when faces were used to show the emotion of the moment. Of course, the show used exemplary actors who had the skills to pull off the fantasy/horror themes. In my writing, I love creating small intimate moments for my reader so they are invested in what happens next and are right there with the character as the story unfolds. This is the essence of the kind of writing I strive to create. Also, the twist endings have always been inspirational. I strive to find that moment in all my writing where my readers will say, “Oh, didn’t see that coming.”
Ruschelle: There were so many well-written, creative episodes, which was your favorite?
Steve: This is a difficult question because there are so many but I would say Shadow Play is one of my favorites. It is about a man who is convinced that his life and everyone around him are in his dream. He is on death row and he tries to convince everyone that if he dies, they all die with him. I loved the idea of a dream you never wake up to—very scary, especially because it involves your own death.
Ruschelle: Was there an episode you wished you had written because it reminded you of your own storytelling?
Steve: Maybe the one called The Living Doll. I like the idea of an inanimate object coming to life and then being angry at you on top of that. To this day, it still creeps me out and as a side note, I always treat my daughter’s dolls with respect and kindness…just in case.
Ruschelle: How did you choose the stories to debut in your collection, Palate of the Improbable?
Steve: One of the seven stories had been one I had started years ago but was never quite satisfied with, so around that time I decided to re-visit it. Four other ideas for stories came to me around the same time. One story Final Audition was a dream I had and two stories Through A Wormhole Darkly and A Hand is a Terrible Thing to Waste were based on incidents from my childhood that evolved pretty quickly, so all in all these stories were all written within a year’s time so they all were included.
Ruschelle: Do you have a favorite story from your collection?
Steve: I love all my children equally because each one took me to a different place in my imagination and challenged me in different ways; however, the one that I was most happy to see all grown up (so to speak) was Through a Wormhole Darkly because it challenged me in so many ways. I had never attempted a time travel story so it was a challenge to pull it off and I feel very satisfied with how it turned out, particularly its sweet ending.
Ruschelle: What’s the one piece of writing advice you received from a mentor that really resonated with you?
Steve: I’d have to say the idea that story-telling must be full of descriptions that pop. I always strive to edit out words that are wasteful.
Ruschelle: Fun question, if you could be the first person to discover the existence of a cryptid, which one would it be?
Steve: I think the Jersey Devil would a fascinating creature to run into. It is definitely the kind of creature that will give one nightmares.
Ruschelle: You have a cat named Blueberry who uses you as a scratching post. Sounds delightfully evil. Story material?
Steve: Anything is possible. So far, she’s had just a brief appearance in my story Good Night, Sleep Tight, but if she gets a better agent who knows.
Ruschelle: I’ll put my cat’s agent in touch with your cat and they can hash out the details. You won a Quarterfinalist award in a contest writing a script for Two and a Half Men. Kudos! Tell us a little about the script and the writing process you used to pen your script.
Steve: The script was a lot of fun to work through. I sat for hours watching videos of the show to get a sense of each character’s voice and to map out story beats and even learned in the process comedic principles like why words with M or W are funny. I also did a lot of reading out loud to get the timing right. Once I had the idea of the main character Alan going to his high school reunion and getting stuck in an elevator with the girl that ditched him during his Senior prom (real life incident by the way: being ditched, not getting stuck) the rest of the story just wrapped itself around that.
Ruschelle: Do you have any ideas for television scripts? Movies?
Steve: Yes, I do, but ideas are easy. It’s the execution and follow-through that is the tough but rewarding part. I do have a few unfinished movie scripts that I hope I can finish in the near future.
Ruschelle: You are the daddy of a toddler! All parents know toddlers can morph into adorable little monsters and those monsters can be inspirational. So, has yours crawled into any of your stories?
Steve: Yes, she was the yet to be born baby in Good Night, Sleep Tight, also, she was the inspiration for the story Baby in the Mirror. I was up late one night having a particularly difficult time of lulling her back to sleep when I imagined my mirror-self helping put her to bed, but in the mirror. And, she is in a short story called Angel in a Box in which the protagonist wishes her baby never gets old and she never does.
Ruschelle: Speaking of toddlers…you’ve written children books. Are they sweet and shiny books with happy endings or do they channel a darker side? Like… Winnie the Pooh meets Freddy Kruger?
Steve: Hey, that’s an idea…” When the police entered the room, there was Pooh, lying in a pile of his own stuffing. We would need a catch phrase after the kill from the evildoer such as, “How’s the honey, Pooh?” or something cheesy like that. My first published children’s story was about a parrot that wanted to break out of its routine (it lived on a farm with an old man) so it escapes to the neighboring farm for adventure. I have others unpublished that I need to revisit and I’m certain my daughter will inspire me to write sweet happy stories in the future.
Ruschelle: If you could speak with Rod Serling from across the veil, what would you ask him?
Steve: Hey, Rod, I’d love to be a staff writer on the new Twilight Zone, can you put in a good word for me? Or, more seriously, Rod, how did you know when an idea was good enough to put effort into seeing it completed?
Ruschelle: Thank you so much sharing your experiences here at The Horror Tree. Please share with your newfound fans what is next in the writing world of Steve Vasquez?
Steve: I am currently working on adapting my stories from Palette of the Improbable into a film anthology or perhaps YouTube episodes along with working on a second anthology of short stories. It will probably have twice as many stories as my first book.
Ruschelle: Where can your fans find you and your books on the www?
Ruschelle: We’re glad to have you here at the Horror Tree. Make yourself comfortable. Have a freshly baked scone. I baked them with love-and a little bone and sinew. It makes for a fluffier scone and gets rid of those pesky neighbors.
Lydia: I am a huge fan of bone and sinew, so I am sure this goes better with coffee than neighbours ever could. Thank you!
Ruschelle: When did you first realize you were a dark and scary gal rather than one of the bright and shiny variety?
Lydia: Maybe when I was three and realized not many other kids liked spending time tending cemeteries, pressing flowers, and investigating roadkill. Other people had far more children’s books than we did too, having grown up with more Edgar Allan Poe and Washington Irving lining the shelves than Berenstain Bears.
Ruschelle: You host a creepy podcast called Dead Air where you discuss horror films. Tell us a little about the method to your madness. How do you choose the movies when there are so many fantastic beasts to pick apart?
Lydia: It is deceptively easy when my co-host, Wes ‘Dead Air’ Knipe is a deep mine of the darkest horror lore, and not a production meeting goes by without us adding a few more gems to our list of to-watch titles. We try to pick things we love, that the other hasn’t seen, and sometimes try to unearth a theme while we go. Some are surprised that our show is unscripted, but we do just banter naturally.
Ruschelle: List your top 5 films all horror buffs should watch and kindly explain why.
Lydia: It is a terrible task to attempt to choose horror films or books for another. I’ll list some for the sake of curiosity, while knowing full well there is a different kind of fan out there for every colour of the horror rainbow. Halloween and Halloween II sit together as one that I feel really sum up the genre in a lot of ways with excellent writing and filmmaking. Pieces will appease the fan of old grainy slashers, and Terrifier will bring that to the 21st century. Hell House occupies a space for me as a film and book that equally terrorized my teenage mind and hold a lot of gothic charm under it’s cursed roof. Hellraiser has to be in there since it has been such a delightful vision for me, for so many others, and continues to be.
Ruschelle:As a Horror Writer Association member, you have been knighted (just roll with me here) with the awe-inspiring responsibility of updating their ‘new releases’ website! Is this just one of the many benefits of being a HWA member?
Lydia: As with any good writers association, group or affiliation, it can be pretty much what you want it to be! As a casual meeting place, a formal representative, a networking hub, the HWA does excel and continues to expand and experiment with ways to serve authors. From my point of view, as cliche as it sounds, you get out of it what you put in to it. I was a member for a couple years before volunteering to keep the new releases updated, and I have loved it every month for something like four years now!
Ruschelle: You are a short stories girl and novelist. Most writers aspire to be novelists, unlike myself who is a champion of the short and sweet. Okay, I honestly don’t have the attention span for a novel—or much of anything—
…eggs, milk, squeaky toy for pups, new recreational axe with self cleaning blade…
OOPS, sorry! Grocery list. See what I mean about attention span?
What do you find is the most difficult while crafting a novel compared to shorter works?
Lydia: Keeping motivated. There is something magical about having an idea, grinding out a draft, polishing a draft, then having a brain-child of a short story ready for the world in as little as a day or month. The long haul that is a novel can deflate me. If I could approach my novels with as much energy as I do short stories, there would be more than one published by now.
Ruschelle: Speaking of novels, your offering, Nightface is a fantastic vampire tale. Which vampires and their mythos did you find your inspiration?
Lydia: There is a little of every vampire I’ve ever met in Gunnar and Solomon, who feature in Nightface. There are also non-vampire inspirations like the most visceral fight scenes in film, occultists of centuries passed, and medical experimentation. The quieter vampires of Anne Rice made a big impact, and even more so did the worldbuilding of Vampire: The Masquerade in the mid-90s when White Wolf had such wonderful guides for live-action role-playing, specifically the Brujah clan.
Ruschelle: You have a sequel to Nightface being birthed. Will you give us a little nibble of where the story begins…or will you have to kill us if you give us the skinny?
Lydia: If only video existed of the night I read the first chapter at the ChiSeries night in Ottawa! There were about ninety very intrigued and slightly disturbed friends and fans there to hear it. The book begins at the end of Black River Road in the field surrounding an abandoned estate featured in Nightface. The working title has changed a few times, but the final title is now Nightface: Elders. Some people have asked if certain characters come back, and I’d have to say everyone comes back… in one way or another.
Ruschelle: If you could be turned into any blood-thirsty or modernly vegan creature, what would it be and why?
Lydia: It may be out of the horror universe proper, but once of the Radley family from Matt Haig’s book would be an interesting life that can pass for human. Truly, I’m already not far off the Jarmusch vampires, with the obvious exception of committing murder. There is something to be said for a perfect and near-rare cut of meat so I’d not compromise there, given the choice.
Ruschelle: You have been featured in quite a few anthologies. Do you find you enjoy the challenge of writing for a specific submission or do you dig through the bones of your un-homed ‘children’ and see if one might fit into a certain theme? Hey, we all want our children to fit in.
Lydia: Being that kid that never fit in, I think I have my own elegant solution to that – even if it ends up being a little backward. I’ve written for submission calls and really enjoy the ‘writing prompt’ that serves. As anyone, I either don’t make the cut or don’t make the deadline in many cases. Instead of trying to home the story elsewhere, I’ll keep it for use in Pray Lied Eve. That is, unless a really suitable home can be found. Sometimes I am just moved to write a piece. In that case I’ll submit to a few editors I love to work with already or to a few I aspire to be published by. Some of those end up on the cutting room floor too, but I do have fairly good success finding homes for my work so far.
Ruschelle: Pray Lied Eve both 1 and 2 are collections of stories that you have meticulously sewn together, enchanted and made dance for our entertainment. What piece of you went into each offering?
Lydia: To avoid a long answer detailing each entry, I’d have to say almost all of them are based on a place that exists, a person who did exist, or a thing that happened. In Shrinking Dwell, from Pray Lied Eve a man encounters large ice balls falling from the sky with no explanation. In about 2010 a friend of mine experienced just that, and I was there to see one fall. It was fascinating! More recently, in Pray Lied Eve 2, I wrote about my ancestors belongings in As Is, Where Is. So, there are many pieces of me in each one – more than in my novels for certain. Fitting, as the title of the collection is an anagram of my name.
Ruschelle: Do you have Pray Lied Eve 3 somewhere tied up in your dark, cozy basement waiting to be unleashed to scare the masses? Please say, yes!
Lydia: Prayers answered, yes, there is a Pray Lied Eve 3 around the corner. A faraway corner, and perhaps around another yet; the cover art has been planned at the very least.
Ruschelle: As I was stalking you for the interview (and because a girl needs a hobby. How else does an antisocial beyotch get to know people?) I came across some exquisite wedding photos slathered in gothic charm. Some little girls dream of Cinderella weddings but we horror-lovers want for more of the Maleficent-esque wedding. So, give us the your awesomely dark wedding deets!
Lydia: Not much to relay, as it was a very quiet and private wedding as we would prefer. The most interesting part for fans of the macabre would be that yes, we were married in a haunted jail. Yes, we tied the knot at the gallows. Certainly, we relayed our vows on death row. It was a wonderful day all around! The photographer, John Wenzel, had never shot a wedding before and never wanted to but had indeed shot some of the most striking goth, cyberbunk, and zombie-walk images in town so we were very pleased he said yes!
Ruschelle: Writing can sometimes be…uncomfortable. Do you find there are themes or particular scenes that are tougher to write than others? Personally, I can murder a person a thousand different ways and giggle as I do it, but pen a sex scene—UGH! Erectile dysfunction of the brain!
Lydia: That is an affliction I gladly suffer from as well. I can’t see me writing a sex scene ever, and I had a tough time writing a romance story for an invite anthology, Allucinor: The Element of Romance where genre authors were asked to write something outside of their wheelhouse. Fight scenes give me trouble but only because I strive for believable action. This probably comes from my creative jealousy after seeing films like The Raid: Redemption and other brilliant fight films. Always feel like I’ve bit off more than I can chew writing fight scenes.
Ruschelle: As a writer, do you find yourself reading other authors critically? Do you pick apart a scene or edit sentence structure? Or are you able to just enjoy the journey?
Lydia: Usually I can read recreationally just fine, but the red-pen part of my brain clicks on from time to time unbidden. Oddly, while reading very tightly written and edited work. The last time I found myself picking apart a work was reading something by Joe Hill. The best cure for that I’ve found is to close the book and go write or edit something of my own or do a review.
Ruschelle: What is your favorite vampire ‘type’: the ugly Nosferatu, the charming Count Dracula or the Mariah Cary of blood-suckers, Edward Cullin? Glitter, get it? I’ll shut up now.
Lydia: I’d have to say The Lost Boys hold a lot of charm for me, but in a more feral, less 80s fashion. There is something about the fringes of society that is already scary to a lot of people, so take those leather jackets and motorcycles and add fangs to get a great start for a vampire. I haven’t read any of the Twilight novels but being aware of them by osmosis, I’ll take a Count Orlok any day!
Ruschelle: You’re an avid photographer as well. What are some of your favorite subjects to shoot? Please share a few pix as well, we’d love to see your work.
Lydia: I’ve shot portraits and bands, flowers and foods but my all time favourite thing was the Zombie Walk. It was an event that became too large and too commercial as years went by, but when I was writing for the fantastic Ottawa Horror, I made a point of posting photos every year. The most fun year was 2014, but likely because it was warmer than most and there was no snow. So that is really the best eye-candy for horror fans. Some select photos are on my portfolio too!
Ruschelle: Thank you so much for chatting with us here at the Horror Tree. It was a pleasure stalking you. So…what’s bubbling in that beautiful cauldron of yours? What can your new-found fan look forward to from you? And how are they able to stalk you?
Lydia: The best spot is likely lydiapeever.ca – if I post a youtube video, an instagram photo, have a new podcast up or new writing, it all ends up there guaranteed. There is a newsletter sign up as well, if one only wants to see writing related happenings. But really, it is all kind of horror related! The biggest writing projects right now are a short story for an invite anthology I can’t name at the moment, and of course Nightface: Elders. There is one more that is not writing as much as working with a very accomplished and hero of a writer as script editor. the Internet Movie Database has an entry on that for those that want to sleuth it out. I honestly can’t say whether the novel or Pray Lied Eve 3 will be out next, so it will be a surprise for all of us to see which wins! Thank you so much for the chat today!
Ruschelle: Nice to have you in the hottest of the hot seats here at The Horror Tree. Okay, it’s just alittle warm. And that’s only because I’ve been sitting in it…I may or may not have created an organic geothermal reaction on your seat. Damn tacos…
Speaking of tacos, which are awesome and meaty, tell us a little about yourself that no one but your therapist or parole officer knows.
Doug: Happy to be here. I think. You sure do cut to the chase! Let’s see…if I had a parole officer, it would probably be for road rage, which I try to manage with Buddhist mind training exercises. And I think therapists are great, but the only time I’ve been to see one was to get a prescription for public speaking anxiety when my first book was coming out and I was scheduled to do appearances at bookstores. It’s weird because I used to play in a rock band and never had stage fright about talking to crowds or singing, but reading to people was hardwired to the terror I experienced as a shy kid forced to read aloud in class. So that was a real obstacle when I finally got serious about fiction writing and promoting my books. Now, four books later, I love doing events.
Ruschelle: You shared your expertise at the Bigfoot Institute in February. Awesome! School us here at The Horror Tree about the creature.
Doug: Yeah, that was weird. My friend Tom Deady and I gave a writing workshop to students at the 826 Boston writing program in Roxbury. I almost couldn’t find the building, because the graphics on the glass door list it as the Bigfoot Research Institute. There’s even a giant stuffed yeti in the lobby next to a corkboard of Bigfoot tabloid stories, but the writing program seems to be the only thing going on there. So I still have no idea what that was about. But Tom and I realized afterward that if we really wanted to prepare these kids to earn an income as fiction writers, we should have advised them to write Bigfoot porn! And it was right under our noses the whole time.
Ruschelle: What can you tell us about ‘Bigfoot porn?’ And don’t leave out any juicy details?
Doug: all I know is I’ve heard it’s very lucrative. And I wear a size 13, so maybe I should give it a shot.
Ruschelle: Your books, from the Spectra Files Trilogy, are wrapped in the ancient tentacles of the Old Ones. Tell us about your ‘love’ of Lovecraft and how it influenced Red Equinox, Black January and Cthulhu Blues.
Doug: Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos has become a sub genre unto itself, and it can be a lot of fun writing things that connect to that shared world. I think it’s one of the first shared worlds in fiction, which Lovecraft encouraged back when his friends started riffing on his material in the 1930s. In recent years, it has kind of exploded. I grew up reading Lovecraft along with the other horror icons, and I’ve always known that cosmic horror was something I wanted to do, something that resonates with me more than, say, zombies or vampires. I love mythology, and I love the philosophical aspect of occult horror. And even though it can be excessive in Lovecraft’s own work, I also like horror stories that have a lyrical voice, like you find in Clive Barker’s work—another huge influence for me. The SPECTRA files trilogy gave me a chance to explore that stuff in a modern setting with a more contemporary voice and cast of characters. Lovecraft is problematic when it comes to the racism and gynophobia that underpins the cosmic dread. So I deliberately set out to play against that and to write a story that would also explore how those fears of the other are still with us in the age of ubiquitous surveillance and high-tech terrorism. Even the fact that the books are fast-paced thrillers goes against the grain of Lovecraftian fiction, which often works best as atmospheric short stories. I knew it would either be a total mess or a thrill for fans of the genre.
Ruschelle: How long did it take to write your trilogy?
Doug: I started Red Equinox in 2013 and Cthulhu Blues was published in 2017, so about four years.
Ruschelle: Did you have the whole series plotted out from beginning to end or did you just have a rough outline of each book and let inspiration complete the rest?
Doug: I don’t outline much. I make a lot of notes about the characters and the premise until I feel like I know enough to dive in and start discovering the story by writing it. I always say that inspiration comes from writing, not the other way around. But I will make forecast notes every 30,000 words or so—just brainstorming where I see things headed based on the conflicting motivations of the characters. That leaves room for a good amount of improvisation and surprise for me as a writer. I think a storyteller’s subconscious mind can be very nimble at making connections under pressure, and those are often better than a premeditated plot. It can be stressful, but I like to provoke that in myself by making it a necessity for hitting my daily word count and moving the story forward.
Ruschelle: Of all the Lovecraft Gods, which one do you resonate with the most? Ya know, the one you’d enjoy chugging a craft beer with at the Miskatonic bar?
Doug: Nyarlathotep without a doubt. Tall, dark, and mysterious.
Ruschelle:You’re a Black Belt! Has that skill made its way into any of your stories such as The Secret Guide to Fighting Elder Gods?
Doug: I’ve been doing various martial arts for about a dozen years now. I was not a very athletic kid—always had my head in a book or my hands on a guitar—so the training has definitely enhanced my awareness of the physical side of life. I’m sure my Tae Kwon Do and karate have informed every fight scene I’ve ever written, whether or not the characters have any training or skill. I also wrote a whole novel influenced by Iaido, the samurai sword art. That’s Steel Breeze, a crime thriller about a modern samurai serial killer.
As for my story in The Secret Guide to Fighting Elder Gods, it features a character with no self-defense skills, and I doubt he would fare much better if he had them. But he is a lifeguard—a job I had as a teen. You’ll have to pick up the book to see if that helps. It was a fun story to write because it takes place on Plum Island in Newburyport, near where I live. I feel lucky to be sharing the table of contents with Seanan McGuire, Jonathan Maberry, and a bunch of other terrific writers I admire. I’m told the book will be out in April.
Ruschelle: If you could be any character from any of your books and stories, who would you choose to be?
Doug: The cool thing about writing is that I kinda get to be all of them, right? But that’s probably a copout. When I was a kid, I wanted to be Batman first, then Dracula, then an astronaut, then a rock star. So I guess I’d like to be Billy Moon from The Devil of Echo Lake because he got to be the rock star I never was. But only for like a day. Billy’s kinda fucked up.
Ruschelle: A few years back, you were on a panel of writers at The Merrimack Valley Halloween Book Festival. You were hob knobbing with the spawn of the modern master of horror, Joe Hill! Tell us about the Cons you’ve been on and becoming best friends with Joe. I hear you guys fight monsters with pointy sticks in blanket forts in your jammies while snacking on goblin spleen… and popcorn!
Doug: That sounds awesome! Totally not true, but awesome. I met Joe when I interviewed him for Dark Discoveries magazine right before The Fireman came out. Great guy. Very funny. I can’t say we’re besties, but we did spend a day playing with an antique fire truck in a cemetery for a photo shoot my wife Jen did. So that was almost as cool as what you described. I’m a big fan of Joe’s books. And with the fire truck, I think we both felt like we were ten again.
Pretty sure the panel we did that you’re thinking of was the apocalyptic fiction one I moderated at Necon, but the Merrimack Valley Halloween Book Festival is also an amazing mini-con. That’s where I got to share a signing table with Joe’s brother Owen this past year. Another great guy. I get the impression that the King family is made up of smart, kind people all around. Horror writers in general are some of the nicest people you could hope to meet. I feel very lucky to have struck up little friendships with so many of the monstrously talented people I admire. When I started publishing six years ago, I didn’t know anyone, and that’s been one of the great joys of this crazy and often solitary occupation.
Ruschelle: You wrote a story specifically for the anthology, I Am The Abyss. The theme of the tome centers on the afterlife as characters are “trapped in self-created worlds.” Could you give us a little insight on your character and the inspiration behind such a cerebral tale?
Doug: When Dark Regions Press announced that they were doing an anthology of novelettes focused on the after-death realms experienced by characters based on their subconscious projections, I was immediately attracted to it. I’ve been interested in Tibetan Buddhism for decades (Jen and I even got married in a Tibetan refugee village in India, organized by a monk friend of ours). Anyway, if you’ve ever checked out the Tibetan Book of the Dead, you know that that’s the basic idea behind what they call the bardo states, or ‘in between’ realms. I did some historical research for the story and created a character who used to be a monk but relinquished his robes when the CIA offered to train him as a resistance fighter and air drop him back into Chinese occupied Tibet in 1961. That was an actual covert operation called ST Circus, which to this day not many people know about. So it was the perfect project for me to explore some themes close to my heart. I’ve also written a longer novella that’s a sequel to my Abyss story. It takes place in New York City’s Chinatown in the 1990s, and I’m shopping it around right now. That one’s called, The Wind in My Heart.
Ruschelle: The sneak peek of I Am The Abyss from publisher, Dark Regions Press looks awesome. With its unique 8×8 trim size and gorgeous full-color paintings, this book will be a prize to anyone’s collection. What else makes this anthology special for both writers and readers?
Doug: The book has been a long time in the making, in part because of how ambitious the production is, but I hear the paperbacks are starting to ship to kickstarter backers now with the standard orders and limited hardcovers to follow in the next few months. There’s a version signed by all of the authors and artists, and the artwork is just stunning. Conceptually, I can’t think of anything else quite like it. It’s a wonderfully unique but thematically unified blend of dark fantasy and horror.
Ruschelle: Is there a piece of writing advice that you find has become your mantra?
Doug: The longer I do this, the more I realize that every writer is different and every project is different and the only solid advice is: Do whatever works for you. Whatever it takes to get words on the page. For me, personally, the best mantra has been the one Stephen King popularized: The book is the boss. Every story has its own needs and even its own voice and it’s the writer’s job to fulfill that potential without forcing it to be something else. It’s a bit like parenting in that regard.
Ruschelle: Back to the Elder Gods, is there a team up you’d love to see happen with one of our Modern Gods? Like, maybe Bastet, Vishnu… or Marvel’s Thor?
Doug: Horus and Ganesha in a buddy cop movie.
Ruschelle: I was checking you out on Twitter (I always stalk my prey….I mean authors) and noticed a post on the internet hysteria which is Momo. What are your thoughts on Momo as a parent and as a writer?
Doug: Yeah, so what I was saying on social media is that, for better or worse, devices are embedded in our kids’ lives now, and parents—even those who are pretty tech savvy—are terrified that they don’t understand all of the dangers that this connectivity and digital saturation presents to kids. The New York Times today published an article with the header, “The real ‘Momo Challenge’ is the terror of parenting in the age of YouTube. That’s a growing area of fear and anxiety, and I expect that YouTube and shared world games like Minecraft are about to become the breeding ground for a hysteria to rival the Satanic panic of the 80s. Hoaxes and rumors will thrive. But the scariest part is that some of the fear will be justified.
Ruschelle: Where do you look for inspiration when your muse decides she needs a vacation to go visit her mother?
Doug: Anywhere. Everywhere. Songs, books, the news. Mythology, psychology, family life. Whatever the cat dragged in. Any one idea by itself probably won’t provide the spark, but the friction between two unrelated ideas colliding is where the magic happens.
Ruschelle: What are you cooking inside your head’s Eazy-Bake Oven? Could you give us a little taste?
Doug: Your question about the Momo meme ties into that. I’m currently pitching a novel called His Own Devices. It’s a domestic cyber thriller with a supernatural twist. Here’s the hook: When Jessica discovers that her young son’s digital addictions have lured him into a dark relationship with a psychotic YouTube celebrity, it may be too late to stop a deadly game.
Thank you so much for sitting down with me and your newfound fans here at the Horror Tree. Where can your stalkers find you on the www?