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Taking classes can be expensive. I’ve gone the way of the free courses you can take but only pay if you want a certificate many times. Recently though I’ve stumbled across Masterclass.com Going through their class list surprised me. Not only were the course choices impressive, but the instructors are a who’s who in their chosen field.
But being a writer, I took a look at the choices under “writing.” Seven authors are listed. I’ve read and/or heard of all of them. I clicked on Margaret Atwood, who teaches creative writing, to see what the course entailed. It’s just like signing up for a college course. There is a video of the instructor telling you about the class, and there is a syllabus to read through as well.
Classes are amazingly inexpensive. $90 for a single class (there is an average of 24 lessons in a class and 10 minutes give or take for each lesson) or you can spend $180 and be able to take unlimited classes for a year. I was thinking about the course with Carlo Santana, who teaches “the Art and Soul of Guitar.” Doing the course won’t be a problem either since I can watch the videos on my phone, computer, or tablet.
If I wanted to, I could even gift a class (or classes) to someone else. But I have to admit the thought of studying with the likes of Neil Gaiman, Dan Brown, or Margret Atwood have me leaning toward doing it for myself first. After all, I need to make sure that whoever I am going to get it for will like it!
This is a fantastic gift for yourself or someone you love. Imagine being taught by your hero!
So, what are you waiting for? Click one of the links below and start looking for your dream class. Go learn what you always wanted to but thought you couldn’t and follow your dreams!
Today we’re sitting down to interview one S. L. Edwards. Part man, part weredog, part lover of olives and mayo*, he is also the creator of the upcoming collection ‘Whiskey and Other Unusual Ghosts’. The work has an introduction by Charles P Dunphey and is described as follow: “Whiskey and Other Unusual Ghosts debuts a meteoric new voice in modern dark fiction. In these tales, you’ll discover the humanity of horror, and the traumas that birth ghosts of all kinds. From inner demons to the bloodied fields of war, Edwards maintains his unique voice while whispers of classic writers such as Arthur Machen and Thomas Ligotti shine through. Edwards enters the contemporary dark fiction crowd with a standout collection that is likely to cement his position amongst the modern greats.”
*S.L. hates olives and mayo with a passion rarely found outside of a zealot who has found the latest person they feel is against their own cause and the two must be offered to him at all available opportunities.
Horror Tree (HT): Mr. Edwards, what can you tell our readers about your upcoming blasphemous work known only as ‘Whiskey and Other Unusual Ghosts’?
- L. Edwards (SLE): First, thanks for having me, Stuart. I broke into the scene largely because of what you do at Horror Tree. The site was a gamechanger, and really allowed me to get my foot through the door. It’s an honor to be here, talking about my debut collection.
So that brings me to the collection. “Whiskey” is a collection of twelve stories (plus a bonus story after the Afterword). Each story has an illustration from the incomparable Yves Tourigny. I may be biased, but I think this is his best work. It’s called “Whiskey and Other Unusual Ghosts” because the stories are, at their core, about the things that haunt us. Violence, intimate and political. Mistakes. Addictions. Deals made between people who you never know. Devastating obsessions. The “ghosts” in these stories are more thematic than literal, and the supernatural merely serves as a catalyst for horrors that were already there. Latent variables brought to the forefront. They focus on a variety of characters, who I came to know pretty well in the course of writing.
I’m proud of it, but I would be lying if I didn’t tell you I’m a little anxious too. The writing community has been very kind to me, and I just hope I can make people proud. Charles P. Dunphey, in particular, has taken me on as a new writer and I owe him so much for it.
HT: You enjoy bringing back characters from your stories and revisiting them in new tales. Does this collection contain any crossover in characters from your other works? Any from within the collection itself?
- L. Edwards: Originally, there were going to be two stories containing a character named “The Matchmaker.” The Matchmaker is a mix of internet urban legends, myths coming out of the intelligence world, and a bit of an autobiographical monster. The premise of the Matchmaker was relatively straightforward, this is a person (question marks on “person”) who people can summon by leaving very specific amounts of money in a very specific pattern. There are different Matchmaker “maps” for major urban areas across the world. And once properly hired, the Matchmaker will arrange one murder for their client to carry out. Essentially, the Matchmaker allows people to kill other people, but with no consequences. However, one of those stories got cut.
But as I was assembling “Whiskey,” the tone of the collection became quite clear. It would have been difficult to bring in Congressman Marsh (my politically Lovecraftian character), or Joe Bartred (my occult detective). I enjoy writing those characters and a few others, but I would like to have enough material to collect these characters into their own collections later on down the road.
HT: Do you feel that any of the stories found within will lead to other tales of involving spirits? Your call on if I mean alcohol, nonphysical beings, or both!
SLE: Oh, I think they already have! I’m currently shopping around another collection, entitled Monsters of the Sea and Sky that follows similar themes from Whiskey. Particularly, the stories in Monsters build off of the DNA established in “Cabras” and “Volver Al Monte,” which kind be found in the latter half of Whiskey and Other Unusual Ghosts. The “spirits” in these stories are centered around political violence, it’s cyclical nature and repeating consequences. There is something profoundly sad to me in peace being a divisive issue. It’s very rare for groups to make peace with their friends, instead it is by necessity that peace be made between groups and nations that do not trust each other. That have no reason to trust each other! And for this reason, we conflict repeated over, over and over again.
As for nonphysical beings, most of my monsters are remarkably physical. When they’re not people, they’re monsters in the most straightforward sort of sense. But I did take some of the themes of “Maggie Was a Monster” and “I’ve Been Here A Very Long Time,” and put them into another story involving adolescence, growing up and finding first loves. I don’t want to give too much away about “Please Don’t Worry,” as it’s coming from Hinnom Magazine this year. But it was a profoundly personal, painful story. I am very proud of it, and I hope readers enjoy it as much as it pained me to write it.
Now alcohol…you know, a lot of my characters sit around drinking whiskey! It’s become something of a cheap way for me to make excuses for writing long, philosophic conversations. Maybe that will be a running joke one day: “You know you’re in an S. L. Edwards story if you’re speaking Spanish and drinking whiskey.”
HT: Did any other authors inspire the specific works in this collection? If so, who and how?
SLE: I did, but I have to say I draw a lot of my writing from outside the horror community. Boris Pasternak and Vasily Grossman were big influences on me. Pasternak is pretty well-known, but Grossman is sort of the entire tragedy of WWII wrapped up in one sad human life. He was a war correspondent traveling with the Red Army, and a Ukranian Jew. The things he saw and the profound personal loss the war cost him are written across his masterful novel “Life and Fate.”
For horror influences, there’s a lot of Poe. Lovecraft, of course. To an extent I think all of us live in Lovecraft’s shadow, and I also think that’s okay. Algernon Blackwood’s cosmic horror approach to nature made its way into “The Case of Yuri Zaystev.” Neil Gaiman’s ironic fantasy also shows up a few times too.
HT: Anyone who follows you on social media will instantly recognize your love of doggos. While I understand this love, can you share a bit of your passion for our furry four legged friends with the world?
SLE: The more I come to know people, the more I like dogs. I grew up with, and still have an extreme fur allergy. It was particularly bad with cats. But when you’re a withdrawn child, given to mood swings and just days of bitterness you don’t understand, that can be very hard. If I’m going to be honest, a lot of my childhood I often felt like I was underwater, or on a different planet, when my peers spoke. It led me to alienate more people than I wanted to, and I tended to have a difficult time making new friends.
So there’s something to be said, for someone who is always happy to see you. Someone who doesn’t care about how awkward you are, someone who always wants to sit with you. Someone who doesn’t care about the news, or how you feel about your job, or how much the rent costs. Just someone who loves you, unconditionally. Who always dances when you come home, who always wags their tail.
I don’t have anything against cats now, I want to make that clear. But I get very severe allergy attacks around them. A few people have told me that you can grow to tolerate it, but it’s very difficult for me. I instead enjoy pictures of cats.
HT: How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck was a ghost?
SLE: Three. But poorly.
HT: If you could write something with any other author who would it be and why?
SLE: You know, that’s a very difficult question for me. I’m quite reluctant to answer, because the idea of a collaboration is quite intimidating to me. I don’t know how the mechanics works, and can be quite flighty with my schedule. For these reasons, I don’t think I would make a very good collaborator at all. The closest I’ve come is writing a character for Jonathan Raab’s Kottoverse. And while that was fun, I’m not sure that it would be easy to do again.
Of course the obvious answer is Yves, who did the vast majority of the heavy lifting in crafting Borkchito. He deserves credit for that.
But there are a few I think would be fun. John Linwood Grant pays such intensive attention to his characters that it would be impossible to turn him down. I’d be honored to get the opportunity to work on something with Misters Dry or Bubbles one day. Mer Whinery…it’d be great to do an Oklahoma/Texas sword-and-sorcery tale one day. My old Ravenwood friends, John Paul Fitch or Russell Smeaton…
But then there are the dreams. These are authors who, if they approached me (please don’t approach me) would be very difficult to turn down. Gwendolyn Kiste is obviously my hero, as is Nadia Bulkin. Those two are just modern powerhouses, I am in awe of everything they do. S.P. Miskowski is another one. Jon Padgett once threatened to collaborate with me but luckily I was able to weasel my way out, I’m not sure I could that again. Most of these folks though, for good reason, don’t collaborate. And again, I’m just not sure what kind of collaborator I would be. I am sure I will try one day, but for now I’m perfectly happy playing in my own sandbox and inviting people in.
HT: It is said that your nemesis is the wickedly evil Edward L. Samuels (though the way he tells it, you’re the villain in his story.) What can you tell us about this man of mystery?
SLE: E. L. Samuels lives in the corner of your eyes. He is impossibly tall, and flickers in the light. In the night he’ll sing songs to you, but each of them are lies. Sometimes the wind will last too long, settle on your hair and that space just behind your ear. Do not turn around. When the lights flicker, the shadows in the corner seem to change. Keep looking forward. Before you go to sleep, you may hear a laugh. Just sleep. Please, just sleep.
HT: What advice would you give to an author who is just starting out?
SLE: Even just 45 minutes of exercise a day can lead to better health, including better sleep. The average person needs 8 hours of sleep a night, and eight cups of water in a day. Remember that: 8 hours, 8 cups. Try to eat fresh fruit and vegetables whenever possible. Substitute darker lettuce for iceberg when you’re eating a hamburger. And a balanced breakfast is actually HEALTHIER than no breakfast at all.
HT: Do you have an ideal writing environment?
SLE: Well…can I afford one? No. Ideally I’d like to right in some mountain cabin, drinking dark coffee out of a metal cup. I would wear flannel, and pet a corgi as it gently rested on my lap. After dinner with the people I love I would retire once more to writing.
But no, no I don’t have one now.
HT: Short story collections have been making a comeback in recent years, what inspired you to put one together and do you feel that this is a trend which will continue?
SLE: I’ve always wanted to get a collection in people’s hands, and for a very long time I knew I wanted it to be called “Whiskey and Other Unusual Ghosts.” The idea of drinking scared me quite a bit when I was younger. I wasn’t an athletic kid, but was a smart one. My grades were everything to me. My state of mind was everything to me. And I was terrified that alcohol and other drugs would just annihilate myself. This led to the titular story, “Whiskey and Memory,” which has undergone many revisions since I first wrote it. So I’ve always wanted to get a collection together. These days I actually prefer them to novels. You get a better sampling of what author has to offer.
I do think it will continue, by necessity. There are so many talented writers in Weird Fiction right now, and the ranks are only growing. There isn’t a lot of time for people to just generate novels. Less time to read them. As break out voices emerge, readers will want to sit down with a whole collection of the author’s works. I’m still dying, for instance, for collections from authors like Brooke Warra, Christopher Ropes, William Tea and John Paul Fitch. I’m over the damn moon that Betty Rocksteady’s collection is finally coming out this summer (check it out, y’all). So yeah, I at least hope it will continue.
HT: What else would you like to share with the readers and authors who spend time at the Horror Tree?
SLE: First of all, thank you for reading this. Putting a collection together is a stressful. Getting it out there is even more so. I hope that I’ve inspired some interest in “Whiskey and Other Unusual Ghosts.” If so, I hope you leave a review on Jeff Bezos’ evil empire, or on goodreads. Reviews make or break independent authors and publishers, and I could use your help.
My other is a plea to check out the following emerging writers, who I may or may not have mentioned before: John Paul Fitch, Russell Smeaton, William Tea, Rob F. Martin, Brooke Warra, Jordan Kurella, Sarah Walker, Can Wiggins, Sean M. Thompson, Mer Whinery so many others. Support independent presses like Charles P. Dunphey’s “Hinnom,” Jon Padgett’s “Vastarien,” Scott R. Jones “Martian Migraine,” Robert S. Wilson’s “Nightscape” Doug Draa’s “Weirdbook.” These folks are on the frontlines of new weird fiction, new horror fiction. They are going to be the ones finding and promoting weird authors. Duane Pesice is also really good about that with every anthology he edits.
And even more established writers could use your help and dollars. I cannot recommend the works of Gwendolyn Kiste or Nadia Bulkin enough. Same for S.P. Miskowski. John Langan. Michael Wehunt. Jayaprakash Satyamurthy. Kurt Fawver. Matthew M. Bartlett We live in a golden age of sorts, but it only lasts as long as readers keep reading. So I encourage you to give those good folks your time, your energy, and just a bit of your money.
And this gets to my last thing: authors, support each other. Particularly you new ones. Your fellows are going to be your first readers, and your first advocates. But you are responsible for lifting them up too. Promote your fellow writers: it’s the right thing to do.
‘Whiskey and Other Unusual Ghosts’ is available for pre-order on Amazon! (Disclaimer: This is an affiliate link. If you purchase something through the links in this article we may receive a small commission or referral fee. This happens without any additional cost to you.)
Our reviews may contain affiliate links. If you purchase something through the links in this article we may receive a small commission or referral fee. This happens without any additional cost to you.
Title: Alien: The Cold Forge
Author: Alex White
Publisher: Titan Books
Release Date: 24 April 2018
Synopsis: With the failure of Hadley’s Hope, Weyland-Yutani has suffered a devastating setback—the loss of the Aliens they aggressively sought to exploit. Yet there’s a reason the Company has risen to the top of the food chain. True to form, they have a redundancy already in place… the facility known as The Cold Forge.
Remote station RB-232 has become their greatest asset in weaponizing the Xenomorphs. However, when Dorian Sudler is sent to RB-232 to assess their progress, he discovers that there’s a spy aboard—someone who doesn’t necessarily act in the company’s best interest. For Dorian, this is the most unforgivable of sins. When found, the perpetrator will be eliminated with extreme prejudice. If unmasked, though, this person may be forced to destroy the entire station… and everyone on board. That is, if the Xenomorphs don’t do the job first…
Dorian Sudler knows he shouldn’t smoke.
When I was given this book to review, I got excited. It was the kind of excited that only horror fans could recognize. This wasn’t any run-of-the-mill space horror book; this was an expanded universe novel in THE space horror franchise: Alien. This is the franchise that has left an incontrovertible mark on popular culture since the 1979 release of the first film, not to mention the veritable scar that H. R. Geiger’s grotesque and unnerving alien designs has left on our collective psyche.
Alien: The Cold Forge by Alex White is not only rooted in this lore, it has expertly incubated inside the franchise itself, bursting through its chest as a dramatic, horrific, and harrowing narrative experience.
Firstly, readers who know of at least the first movie will get the most out of this book, however it is not exclusively limited to fans. White clearly has a deep well of knowledge of the lore and draws upon it extensively for his novel. Fans of Alien will be able to see each of the environments and objects—from the retro futuristic computers to the dirty, industrial space station—using only a few but choice words. The Xenomorphs and associated creatures appear in all their gruesome and suggestively phallic glory. Even people picking up an expanded universe book for the first time should be able to imagine the stage upon which all of this is playing.
However, more important than the physical is how the book feels psychologically. What makes an Alien type of narrative is something beyond a few hissy, dribbly, penis-monsters; what makes it is the predatory type of environment. The ultra-capitalist company Weyland-Yutani is the top of the food chain that is the world and everything beyond, and everyone is trying to find their place within that power structure. Lives are lost or ruined, trust is betrayed, and any humanity is abandoned all in pursuit of a profit.
This destruction, as expected, has something to do with the iconic Xenomorphs. The book does not deviate from the seeming obsession that Weyland-Yutani has with these aliens. It is still baffling when company executives, the people that have risen to the top of a world where one’s job longevity is always in question, greenlight alien related projects that continually result in slaughter and property destruction on a tremendous scale, all in the name of making a few bucks off. How this is supposed to happen is still vague. But perhaps it’s more than that; perhaps those in control of the company see a kindred spirit in the aliens, as one of the main characters eventually does. When the faeces rockets toward the fan with speed and inevitability regarding the Xenomorphs (that is not a spoiler at all, it is expected to happen in an Alien story), it strips away the suit-and-tie façade that people have put on and reveals that the world is inescapably nothing more than those that can survive and those that cannot; brutality is not only encouraged, it is rewarded. It can be refreshing when one’s allowed to be one’s true self.
Though White’s expertise at the rendering of the Alien franchise is not where this book shines its brightest. What makes The Cold Forge a stand-out work is its characters, their interactions, as well as their reactions to the growing madness around them. The “good news, bad news” situations occur at a break-neck speed, and the characters’ increasingly desperate and atrocious actions simply makes the reader more intrigued to know that happens next. This is embodied in the two protagonists.
What makes these two protagonists—Blue Marsalis, the genus geneticist with a death sentence from an incurable disease, and Dorian Sudler, the cutthroat and predatory company auditor—such great characters are that they are completely unlikable yet compelling at the same time. They fit perfectly within, and are a product of, the world around them. Even though Blue Marsalis’ medical condition, which has given her a pronouncement of doom, should make the reader sympathetic with her, she reacts to her condition in such a way that turns her into more of a monster than the Xenomorphs. But, here’s the important part, the reader is still able to empathize with her. Even if we don’t agree with her actions, we can see why.
Dorian Sudler is the worst idea of an upwardly mobile company man, and an auditor at that. He has no sympathy towards those he audits and takes an almost sexual pleasure in destroying peoples’ lives. This is a person one would enjoy, and be justified in, punching in the mouth. And yet, he is interesting, and intelligent. His machinations are a main driving axle of the story, especially as his mental condition fails throughout the book and he becomes an increasingly unstable psychopath.
When it comes down to it, each story in the Alien franchise is not about any chitinous monster, it’s about people. Alex White’s The Cold Forge shows in the most page-turning way that the cold void of space is not only incapable of supporting life, but a person’s humanity as well.
You can order ‘Alien: The Cold Forge’ on Amazon
Australian author, Chris Mason, lives in Adelaide, often dubbed “the murder capital of Australia.” Her stories have won a number of awards over the years —
“The Stairwell” (Below the Stairs – Tales from the Cellar) won the best horror novella for 2017 in the Aurealis awards, and “The Black Sea” (Beneath the Waves – Tales from the Deep) was shortlisted for the Aurealis best horror novella for 2018.
Most recently “The Black Sea” has been nominated for three prestigious literary awards. Here she talks to Wellington author, Tabatha Wood, about her journey into writing horror, what inspires her to write and what she believes we can learn from the horror genre today.
TW. Your story, “The Black Sea” has been nominated for the Shirley Jackson Award, the Australian Shadows Award, and the Aurealis Award. That is an outstanding achievement. Congratulations! Tell me more about the story and how it came to be.
CM. Thank you. I wrote “The Black Sea” specifically for a submission callout for the “Things in the Well” anthology, “Beneath the Waves – Tales from the Deep.” I was actually going to submit something else but that ended up being a much bigger story so I put it aside. All I had left was a title – “The Black Sea”- and the idea of a family being trapped on an island by a catastrophic event.
I’m a pantser not a planner, and must admit I was surprised where the characters led me. I didn’t see most of what was coming until it was down on the page. Towards the end I had to stop and ask myself what I was actually writing about. In my mind there were a lot of layers to the story. When I figured out guilt featured heavily in the equation, it all fell into place. I did groan a couple of times as I was writing it. But then I looked on the bright side. If I felt uncomfortable, maybe I was doing my job as a horror writer.
TW. Have you always considered yourself a writer, and what prompted you to start writing scary stories?
CM. No, not at all. I’ve always thought of myself as a storyteller, though. I’m a bit of a daydreamer, and I can spin a yarn reasonably well, but I never had much confidence in my writing skills so turning what was in my head into words on a page, came quite late for me. I was well into my 40s before I wrote anything down. It took me another decade to start sending my stories out. I think I’m living proof that it’s never too late to start! The day after the Shirley Jackson finalists were announced I had to fill in a form that asked for my occupation. I lingered on the blank space for far too long, eventually smiled, and put down writer. It felt good!
I’ve always liked scary stuff, the more creepy and weird the better. It feels natural to write those kinds of stories.
TW. Who would you consider your influences — from any genre — and what was the first horror story you can remember reading?
CM. Stephen King has been a huge influence. I started off with “Carrie” when I was sixteen and never stopped. I also love the work of Peter Straub, Joe Hill, Clive Barker, Ray Bradbury, and Shirley Jackson. “The Haunting of Hill House” is a story I often return to. John Fowles “The Magus” I’ve also read over and over. More recently, I’ve been reading Joe Lansdale. I’ve just binged five Hap and Leonard books. There is so much to learn from Joe. “The Thicket” is a huge favourite. The list could go on and on. I’m probably influenced by everything I read.
First horror story? Hmm… I read lots of ghost stories when I was a kid and loved Daphne du Maurier books, but the first book I remember really frightening the hell out of me was “The Sentinel” by Jeffrey Konvitz.
TW. What sort of things interest and inspire you outside of writing?
CM. I love to travel and explore new places. There is so much to see – the different cultures, the people, the history, the food, and the architecture. The world is full of fascinating stories.
I also like to spend time outdoors, either in the garden or taking long walks. One of my favourite walks is around the bays in Wellington, your hometown, Tabby. New Zealand has stunning scenery. I can’t wait to get back there again.
TW. We will have to meet up for a coffee when you do! Tell, me what scares you?
CM. Humans! We can be nasty little creatures at times. We seem to be hell bent on wrecking the planet at the moment, and that terrifies me.
TW. I totally agree. Monsters under the bed are nothing compared to what human beings can do. Are there any topics which you wouldn’t feel comfortable writing about?
CM. I try not to censor myself too much. Horror is meant to be disturbing. Having said that, I’m not into excessive violence, descriptive scenes of rape and torture, or gratuitous sex. I don’t like reading it and I wouldn’t write it. I’m also very careful with my younger characters, and what I put them through. I generally defer to ambiguity and let the reader fill in the blanks when it comes to horrific scenes.
Blood and gore doesn’t bother me if it’s done with a bit of humour. I’m a big fan of “Z Nation” and I thought Chuck Palahniuk’s “Guts” was absolutely hilarious. I think Jack Ketchum’s “The Girl Next Door” is a great example of how to cover a really difficult topic. He gives enough detail for the story to be disturbing without it ever being graphic. By the time you get to the end you know what’s going to happen without it being described. It’s a powerful and unsettling book. Stephen Graham Jones’ “Chicken” is another story that comes to mind. You need serious skills to pull off stories about sensitive topics. I admire anyone who can do it well.
TW. I agree with you again. I have to admit I’m also a bit of a wuss when it comes to blood and gore. I prefer my horror more psychological, but that’s just my personal taste. Is there anything that you want to read or watch, but are too scared to?
CM. I’ll read pretty much anything. It’s the visual medium that I sometimes need a viewing buddy to get me through. I want to watch “The Exorcist” again but have been putting it off as the movie terrified me when it first came out. Maybe it will be a different experience with the passage of time. I watched “The Autopsy of Jane Doe” alone, late one night. That was a mistake. Boy, did that have some jump scares! The second season of “American Horror Story” I skipped after the first couple of episodes. I loved all the other seasons, but that one really got to me for some reason.
TW. I really enjoyed AHS, but I have to admit that Season 4 got under my skin a bit. The conjoined twins and the clown creeped me out too much! Do you think there are any books or topics you wouldn’t want your own children/nieces & nephews (if you have any) reading or watching?
CM. I think it all depends on the age and maturity of the child, and their life experiences. Something I might recommend for one child would be completely wrong for another. Having said that, there is nothing wrong with books that challenge the reader to think. Obviously, I would steer away from anything of a violent or sexual nature, but in terms of horror, a ghost or two and some creepiness never hurt anyone. But then I’m of a generation that was brought up on Grimms’ fairy tales. Have you checked out “Little Red Riding Hood” or “Hansel and Gretel” lately?
TW. Gosh, yes. Most fairy tales are dark and bleak when you look at them more closely. Kids being cooked. Parents being murdered. Disney might have sanitised a lot of the stories in their movies, but the original books are quite disturbing.
My family has always been somewhat bemused by my love for the macabre. What kind of responses and support do you get from friends and family to your work?
CW. Apart from a couple of dear friends, most people close to me haven’t read any of my work — and that’s fine! I don’t push my weirdness on them. My husband is my first reader and he’s always been supportive of my writing. It’s always good to see him having a quiet chuckle over what I’ve written.
TW. My husband does that too. He’s always my first reader and I trust him to be honest with me. My eldest son is an excellent proof-reader. He can spot a typo from ten pages away. Heh! Are there any stories you’ve written that you’ve purposely hidden from those close to you and why?
CM. No. There are a few ideas I’ve shelved though. I probably need to be braver on that score.
TW. I understand that. It can be really hard knowing what to put out there to represent your best work too. Do you ever use events or experiences (or people) from your own life in your stories?
CM. Events and experiences, yes. Individual people, not directly, mainly because their story is not mine to tell. Some of my characters are different versions of me, or who I’d like to be. Others are hybrids, bits and pieces of a whole lot of people. My stories, although completely fictional, are littered with emotional truths.
TW. I like that — it’s a bit of the old “write what you know” but also “write what you like”. Good writing, even if it focuses on fantasy and the impossible should still feel “real”.
You live in Adelaide, a place which is often dubbed “the murder capital of Australia”. Do you feel like that has influenced your writing in any way — perhaps you’ve felt pulled towards the weird and grisly or found inspiration in true-life events?
CM. Yes, we do punch above our weight, unfortunately. I was about eight when the Beaumont children went missing. The mystery surrounding the case still haunts me as it does for most, older South Australians. It marked the end of leaving our doors unlocked and letting children roam the streets from sunup to sundown. As yet, the case hasn’t directly influenced my writing, but there are elements of my work that hark back to simpler times and the loss of innocence.
I’m currently procrastinating over a novel I’ve written set around the same time and involving a group of children. There is so much of my childhood in there I’m finding it difficult deciding what actually is serving the story and what has to go. The Somerton man is another fascinating piece of our history and I’d love to work elements of that case into a storyline at some point. The case involving the Snowtown bodies in the barrels is intriguing, but I tend to gravitate towards the cases that are shrouded in mystery rather than ones full of gory details.
TW. It just shows, yet again, how monstrous human beings can be. Much more terrifying than ghouls and vampires. Where do you think modern horror as a genre fits into society today? What do you think — if anything — it can teach us?
CM. I think we are living in an era where reality is increasingly becoming stranger than fiction. I keep looking at news headlines and saying, “you just can’t make this stuff up.” Horror is a safe way to escape. At the end of the day, no matter how hard our heart is pumping, we can tell ourselves monsters aren’t real. Well, the fictional ones anyway! Does horror teach us anything? Yes I think it does in the same way a lot of old legends are basically cautionary tales.
Horror can be a reflection on society, pointing to how we behave under stress or when faced with dire circumstances. I love zombie stories. They are basically survival manuals. “The Walking Dead” is full of tips on what not to do when rebuilding a community. To this day I still think of Stephen King’s “The Mist” whenever I go into a supermarket. I look at people and mentally choose the ones I’d want on my team in a crisis. Is that weird?
TW. Not at all! Although as an slightly paranoid introvert, I’d probably end up as a lone wolf in that kind of situation, distrusting everyone like the father in “The Road” (Cormac McCarthy).
Genres such as sci-fi and horror have always been very typically dominated by men. What sort of issues do you think modern female horror writers face which men don’t? Do you believe there are any, or is it a more level playing field now?
CM. That’s a hard question to answer, especially as I’m so new to the game. I don’t doubt female writers are experiencing the same problems women have in any other field. When I look back at my favourite horror writers of the past they were predominantly all white men. Do I hold that against them? No, they were/are exceptional writers, but I do wish there had been a lot more Shirley Jacksons in the mix. Perhaps it would have encouraged me to start writing earlier, who knows?
In my opinion, the internet and social media has certainly changed the landscape. I’m reading more work from female writers — and indeed writers from a whole range of backgrounds — than ever before, simply because I have better access. I can go from seeing a new name in a Twitter feed to ordering their books on Amazon or wherever in minutes. In the past I was limited to what was stocked in the bookshop or local library.
TW. That’s definitely one reason why I love ebooks. I have such a more diverse reading list than I ever had and I’m finding some amazing new voices — yours included.
You said a lot of your earlier influences were make. Do you feel like your idea of horror as a woman is any different to that of a male writer?
CM. I’d like to think gender isn’t an issue and its got more to do with individual preferences and our own life experiences informing our choices.
TW. That’s a good answer, and very true. I’ve always felt that diversity and representation are always important in any genre. How do you approach these issues in your writing?
CM. I’m certainly mindful of including a diverse range of characters in my work, but it is something I grapple with, and need to get better at. It’s difficult to get right, I don’t want my characters to appear tokenistic. I also don’t want them to be stereotypical or misrepresented either. It’s always good when I watch a show or read a book where diversity is the norm.
TW. That also goes back to what you said earlier about being mindful that some stories are simply not ours to tell. We always need to make sure that there is space for other writers who are better equipped to tell those tales.
Are there any reviews of your work, positive or negative which have stayed with you?
CM. I haven’t read any reviews of my work. Perhaps that’s a good thing.
TW. What piece of advice would you give to any new and upcoming writer right now? What advice do you wish you’d been given?
CM. My advice is to READ, READ, READ. And then read some more!
The advice I wish I’d been given is easy. Just. Start. Writing. And study the craft. Knowing where to put commas comes in handy.
TW. That’s great advice. And I have to admit, sometimes I still have no idea where to put the commas in!
Who else do you think is “big” in Australasian horror right now, and what books are in your To Be Read pile?
CM. Kaaron Warren is an inspiration. Did you see the Locus Awards finalists? She is up there with the best of the best. Her work has the ability to sit with you long after you put it down. I still think about “The Grief Hole.” Lee Murray is no slouch when it comes to picking up awards either. I really enjoyed “Into the Mist.” Her work has a unique Kiwi flavour. Deborah Sheldon is another female writer who puts out great work. Her short story “The Sand” in “Beside the Seaside – Tales from the Daytripper” is an absolute ripper – I don’t think I’ll ever walk on a beach again without it in mind.
Matthew R. Davis, a fellow Adelaidian who also has stories published in the “Things in the Well” anthologies, was shortlisted for a 2018 Aurealis Award. His work is deliciously dark and layered.
At the moment I’m reading John Ajvide Lindqvists “Handling the Undead.”
My current TBR pile is a treasure trove from the charity bookshop: Joyce Carol Oates “Jack of Spades”, Richard Laymon “The Lake”, “The Hungry Moon” by Ramsey Campbell, Clive Barker “Mister B. Gone,” John Scalzi “Agent to the Stars,” and an old Ellen Datlow anthology, “The Dark.” I’m also looking forward to reading the new Paul Tremblay collection “Growing Things,” and of course Stephen King’s “The Institute” when it’s released later in the year. Oh, and on Kindle I’m reading “Coyote Songs” by Gabino Iglesias, which is hard to put down.
TW. That’s a great list of good books. There are some of my favourites listed there too.
So, to finish: If you were trapped in a lift with a character from one of your stories, who would you choose, and why?
CM. My protagonists are all in the company of monsters. I don’t want to be trapped with any of them!
* * *
Chris Mason lives in the Adelaide Hills, South Australia, with her husband, a cat, and five goldfish. Her stories have appeared in numerous publications, including the Things in the Well series of anthologies, and the Australasian Horror Writers Association’s magazine Midnight Echo #12. Chris’s ‘The Stairwell’ from the anthology Below the Stairs-Tales from the Cellar won the 2017 Aurealis Award for Best Horror Novella.
Her story ‘The Black Sea’ from Beneath the Waves- Tales from the Deep has been shortlisted for the 2018 Shirley Jackson Awards, the Aurealis Awards, and the AHWA Australian Shadows Awards.
You can visit Chris at facebook.com/chrismasonhorrorwriter or on twitter @Chris_A_Mason.
This week we revisit an interview with Kevin Grover. You can read the entire interview here.
Claire – Hi Don! Great to chat with you. Let’s jump right in. What are you currently writing/working on?
Don – Thanks, Claire. Really nice to meet you. And thanks, too, for the opportunity to talk with The Horror Tree. I’m working on a novel, ‘Dark Voices,’ and also serving as editor for ‘The Thirty,’ a group consisting of me and 29 other writers. We’re lashing together an experimental novel, ‘He Has Stayed Too Long,’ with one chapter written by each of us. I honestly thought ‘Dark Voices’ would be out by now, but ‘He Has Stayed Too Long’ is taking quite a bit of time, as you can imagine. Coordinating with 29 other writers isn’t quite as easy as I thought it would be although everybody involved has been fantastic.
Claire – Tell me about your latest release, ‘Fallen Angels.’
Don – The artist Don Gilbert and I have been good friends since we were in our teens. He came by the house one day to drink whiskey and play guitar and as I was flipping through his sketch pad, I was drawn to a series of bizarre-looking drawings. When I asked him what they were, he said, ‘Fallen Angels’ and we took it from there. ‘Fallen Angels’ are the creatures responsible for every aspect of our lives down to the most insignificant events. Lose a button? A Fallen Angel’s responsible. First kiss? A Fallen Angel’s there. Final breath? Yep—a Fallen Angel. The poems I wrote to accompany the illustrations tell the reader a bit about the particular part of life the Fallen Angel on the opposing page controls and also a bit about how that angel feels about his job.
Claire – Your journals ‘The Meeker Collection’ sound interesting. How did/does your newspaper writing affect your fiction?
Don – Oddly enough, most of my newspaper pieces were in the humour vein and most of my fiction is dark horror. While I was working as the editor of ‘The Wilson County Advocate,’ I wrote a column under a pseudonym every week, usually an entire page, and because I was so completely bored with actual news, I would take the facts, bundle them with fiction, insert my alter-ego into the story, toss in a bit of biographical folderol, and just have a good time with it. The fan mail and the death threats began to pour in (some people have NO sense of humour) and soon ‘Jimmy Joe Meeker’ (that was the name I used) was the most popular writer we had. Once you start writing humour, you can’t stop. There’s a comedian inside me and he’s going to come out whether I’m writing a non-fiction piece for a magazine or writing a horror novel. I enjoy that. Everybody needs a laugh now and again, regardless of what you’re reading, and I’ve never been able to write anything without tossing in a bit of humour, however subtle.
Claire –Tell me about your writing process. Where do you write? When do you write? Do you have any writing rituals?
Don – When the muse visits me, I’m like a man possessed. I’ll write 5,000 words in a day, getting up every hour to spend 5 minutes on the recumbent bicycle so I don’t forget how to walk—but the muse doesn’t visit daily. I don’t force anything because I don’t think, for example, that making yourself write 1,000 words a day is going to get you quality results. There are going to be days when you’re not on, days when you’ve got other things on your mind. Yeah, it’s a job, and it’s a difficult job, but you have to enjoy it. Readers are smart folks—they know if you didn’t enjoy what you wrote and forcing yourself to write when you don’t have the spark is not an enjoyable experience for the reader OR the writer. Having said that, though, my works-in-progress are always on my mind and it’s rare a day goes by when I don’t work. I’m up early. I grab a mug of black coffee, plop myself down in my office, fire up the computer, and I’m off to the races. I use a two-monitor set-up which I find really helps when I have to research something, but I’m still torn about that because I’ve caught myself getting distracted. My office is where my guitar collection hangs and it’s much too easy to be able to grab one when I stumble onto another guitar player on YouTube demonstrating a song I always wanted to learn. It’s easy to be lazy.
Claire – Tell me about your novels ‘Pandemonium,’ ‘Phantom Dead Man,’ and ‘Sarcophagus.’ Where did the inspiration come from?
Don – ‘Pandemonium’ was my first novel and the inspiration came from several old buildings in Lebanon, Tennessee. Spooky, creepy old buildings—McClain School and the Lebanon Hotel. Late one night I went into the Lebanon Hotel—just walked right in—and took a tour of the place. After leaving, I drove to the abandoned school building and found it unlocked, so I took a moonlight tour of it, too. I got home at 2 a.m. and immediately began ‘Pandemonium,’ a story about an incubus in a small, Tennessee town. ‘Phantom Dead Man’ was an experiment in stream of consciousness and it arose from having too much on my plate. I was going to graduate school, working on two horror stories with deadlines looming, writing a how-to piece for a craftsman journal, working on a documentary for public television, and outlining a novel. I sat down one day with all these things whirling around in my head and I just started writing whatever popped in there. The book had a wildly opposing reception; readers either liked it or hated it—there was no middle of the road. ‘Sarcophagus’ came about after a trip to New Orleans. I’ve always been fascinated by the above-ground graveyards there and during that visit, I saw several tombs in St. Louis Cemetery #3 with gaping holes in them large enough for a person to squeeze through—and all the holes looked as if they were made by something pushing out, rather than in. ‘Sarcophagus’ was started on a legal pad the moment I got back to my hotel room.
Claire – Where does your inspiration come from? Do you have a writing ritual?
Don – Most of my inspiration comes from things I see; very little of it comes strictly from imagination. When I see something that triggers a “What if…?” I take out my phone and click a picture of it, but I’m also very old school. I carry a small, brown, leather notebook with me all the time and I’ll scribble the beginnings of the story in there. Once I’m back in the office, I open a document, type my notes into the document, write the first line or first few lines of the story, and save it in a working directory for later. That’s how I keep up with ideas these days and it’s much handier than shuffling through stacks of paper.
Claire – You received some great reviews for ‘Fallen Angels,’ most compliments enjoying the mixture of creepy and humorous. Do you often blend writing styles?
Don – Ha! Yes, the ‘Fallen Angels’ are just like us—some of them are funny, some are sarcastic, some are pricks, and some take themselves way too seriously. I do blend writing styles, though, and I do it with a purpose. Too much of anything is too much. In horror, you need a funny character—not laugh out loud funny, but observationally witty and self-deprecating. When you ask readers to suspend disbelief, you’re asking a lot, so having a character or a scene that’s something amusing out of real life helps the unbelievable become believable.
Claire – Tell me about your chapbooks. I see they were penned in the ‘80’s. Has your writing style changed since then?
Don – My style hasn’t changed all that much, but my focus has changed. I’ve moved away from poetry to fiction mainly because it suits me better. Poetry will drive a person nuts. I have two pieces in the newly released ‘Speculations’ edited by my friend Frank Coffman and I bled over those two poems like I’d been beaten with chains. Thirty lines of poetry and I spent weeks on them. I love poetry; it’s the easiest thing to do poorly, the most difficult thing to do well, and not many people seem to know the difference anymore. Hearing “I don’t like poetry” from people who’ve barely read any is painful, so although I continue to do it, I don’t publish much of it, not even in chapbooks. I still contribute to anthologies but chapbooks seem to be becoming a bit passé. I hope that’s not true, but it’s the impression I get lately.
Claire – Tell me about your avant-garde project ‘The Thirty.’ Who did you work with?
Don – I got this wild idea that it would be very cool to read a horror novel where each chapter was written by a different author; where each author could take the story in whatever direction they wanted. After turning the idea over in my head for a few weeks, I approached the writing community on Twitter with the concept and the response was fantastic. Within just a day or two, I had 35 people on board and the mix was as eclectic as you can get. We have well-known horror authors, we have noteworthy book reviewers, we have bloggers, and we have horror aficionados who’ve always wanted to try their hand at writing but never have. Using some very basic calculations for word count, and realizing we’d lose some participants along the way, I decided on 30 chapters, wrote the first one, and sent it out. The next author in line wrote their chapter, sent it back, and it took off from there. We’re on Chapter 18 now and I’ve been pleasantly surprised, especially at the writing from newcomers—people who’ve never written fiction in their lives. It’s been an amazing, exciting experience. If I mention everybody involved we’ll be here all day, but I do want to say that the “name brand authors” on board have all been extremely generous in lending credibility to the project. We have new writers who still cannot believe they’ve got a chapter adjacent to Jonathan Janz or Chris Sorenson or D.W. Gillespie. This speaks volumes to the support and camaraderie present in the horror community.
Claire –Let’s learn more about you. Who is your favourite author and why?
Don – Wow… It’s incredibly difficult to pick just one, but though it may be cliché, I’m going with the master. If it weren’t for Stephen King, I don’t know what we’d all be reading and writing now. Stephen King took a genre that had been marginalized for two centuries and with raw talent, dragged it into the mainstream and kept it there. At the risk of sounding like a fanboy, I think King is the greatest horror writer who’s ever lived. Sure, he misses the mark sometimes—everyone does—but when it comes to the most important thing in fiction, which is story—story—story, he can pull it off 99% of the time.
Claire – Do you get writer’s block? If so, what do you do to overcome it?
Don – I get writer’s block from time to time, but I have the greatest remedy—I grab my Gibson SG, plug it into a Marshall amplifier, and play along with Pete Townshend while The Who blasts “Won’t Get Fooled Again” over the sound system. It works every single time. The neighbours probably don’t care much for it, but most of them have “real” jobs so they aren’t home during the day anyway.
Claire – Writers are weird, right? What’s the strangest/most interesting thing about you?
Don – Most people would never guess, especially from my politics, that I was a United States Army Chief Warrant Officer for 26 years.
Claire – What’s on the horizon for you?
Don – I hope to see ‘Dark Voices’ published by year’s end and also see ‘He Has Stayed Too Long’ wrapped up by then. I’ve got an idea brewing for another book featuring the most terrifying monsters known to humankind: babies.
Claire – And finally, you’re stuck on an island with only one book. What’s the book?
Don – US Army Field Manual 21-76, ‘Survival, Escape, and Evasion’ along with Stephen King’s magnum opus: ‘The Stand.’ Thanks for your questions, Claire—it’s been a genuine pleasure.
Amazon page: http://amazon.com/author/dongillette