Ruschelle: Thank you for hanging out with us in our little piece of ‘Horrific Hell’ and giving us the opportunity to know the man of many talents. You’re an author an editor a director, filmmaker and Pinhead aficionado! Is there anything you don’t do?
Dean: Hey – no problem at all! It’s a pleasure to chat with you, so hello to you Ruschelle and to all visitors to ‘The Horror Tree’. Wow – laying it all out there like that does suggest I do a lot doesn’t it, ha ha?! Don’t worry though, I’m humble – there is a lot I can’t do I will admit but wish I could (book covers, formatting ebooks etc etc, score the winning goal in the Champions League for the mighty Spurs, throw a touch-down for the Dallas Cowboys)…I’ve been thinking about taking up acting recently – that is something that hadn’t particularly interested me before and whilst sure, I’ve done some cameos in short films I’ve directed (and even once or twice had to suddenly step onto the stage last minute due to an actor’s lateness or illness) when I’ve been offered parts in friends’ work I’ve politely declined (though saying that I’ve just remembered I did do a mainly non-speaking part in a film – I played a soviet soldier / NKVD agent…I’ll have to check that out some more, I’m sure it’s on Youtube somewhere…I don’t remember much about it (ha – the title is ‘Applause’ it’s just come back to me) except we shot it in an old church in North London and someone from Hollyoaks was in it!). Anyway, in a few scripts I’ve been writing recently I’ve written parts that I could just about play…Lord help us!
Ruschelle: You and I definitely have some “body part” issues (See BoneSai on Amazon. You need to help make it a musical Dean! LOL) But back to YOU… I read that you prefer to devour Clive Barker’s work than that of Stephen King’s. What makes Barker so much more…delicious?
Dean: Yeap – for me, Stephen King was good, but Clive was GREAT! I’ve been lucky to meet him a couple of times and my opinion didn’t change, super guy – I directed his play ‘Frankenstein In Love” in London a few years ago and would love to revisit it but perhaps on a grander scale sometime in the future…doing a prequel to ‘Hellraiser’ would be a dream job – I’ve got a great idea if anyone can help with that and as I’m on ‘friendly’ terms with many of the cenobites – let’s make it happen. But to answer your question, I watched ‘Hellraiser’ and for some reason I was like yeah, suddenly everything now makes sense (and I definitely wanted to be one of the ‘monsters’ in ‘Nightbreed’). It was as if a switch in my head was suddenly turned on. I can’t put my finger on exactly what it was about the film which turned me on so much but I believe it was the combination of the imagery, the twisted fairy-tale story…the desire…yeah, the desire in that film is quite interesting isn’t it and much of it (that whole Frank, Kirsty, Larry family triangle) taboo ha ha. And then when I saw ‘Hellbound: Hellraiser II’ I knew I had died and gone to…hell. I perhaps haven’t drawn parallels in previous interviews I’ve done but I’m sure it wasn’t too long after seeing both films that I started writing myself. When I was a kid, my mother devoured Stephen King and sure, I have my favourites (I love both the book and the film of ‘The Dark Half’) but when I saw that ‘Hellraiser’ was based on a short story (well, a novella actually) I raced to the shop and bought up as many of Clive’s titles as I could carry. A lot of that ‘early’ stuff I really really got…’Weaveworld’, ‘The Great and Secret Show’, ‘Everville’, ‘The Books of Blood’…it was as if I had found my calling. My family and I went on holiday once to Rhodes and I took a couple of old ‘Clives’ to re-read…my father picked up ‘The Great and Secret Show’, read a few pages, gave me one of his looks, threw me it back and said: “Right, now I understand.” Makes me smile even now.
Ruschelle: Are any of your works a direct homage to Clive Barker?
Dean: Um, probably everything I write is a direct homage – so the reviewers keep telling me anyway. Well, definitely my horror output. In all seriousness, I love it when comparisons to Clive are made – the first story I had published after I decided to take a break for a while from the theatre and short films and return to short stories etc was in an anthology called ‘M is For Monster’ (John Prescott) and reviews of that favourably referenced Clive – particularly his ‘Books of Blood’. A review in 2017 of a novella I wrote for the ‘Darker Battlefields’ collection (The Exaggerated Press) said the same and that made me happy. Of course I have my own voice as a writer and importantly I am not ‘copying’ him but I believe there is a ‘link’ between the two of us (does that make me pretentious or ‘above myself’? No, I don’t think so, because there are a few of us working in the genre where you can see that link or his influence in our work – we’re in good company). If there’s time I’ll quickly tell you a story: when I first started out I was in discussions with a German publisher, they had read some of my published stories and asked whether I had a collection available as they wanted to translate it and publish it in German – I put one together, sent it off and waited. And waited. And waited. Eventually they came back saying that the stories were ‘written well’ but they weren’t looking for another Clive Barker! Sure, I was pissed at the time considering that they had already read my work, they knew what they were getting…but to then say it wasn’t what they were looking for…perhaps it was that famous German humour we’ve heard so much about – I don’t know. If I had a bucket list of things I want to achieve creatively, writing a story set in the Barker mythos (I’ve got a great idea for a ‘Cabal’ / ‘Nightbreed’ story set in Paris by the way) or, as I mentioned previously, writing / directing a ‘Hellraiser’ film would certainly be on it and undoubtedly near the top. Can I add though that I do have a lot of other influences…Umberto Eco, John Fowles, Brett Easton Ellis, William Burroughs, A.S. Byatt, A.L. Kennedy…just to name a few…
Ruschelle: On a side note, do you think Pinhead donned pins on other parts of his anatomy other than his head? His robes hide a lot…
Dean: Lordy, what kind of interview is this ha ha! Well, I haven’t given that much thought before…hang on let me make a cup of tea and come back to you…right, I’ve returned…I’m glad I had that Earl Grey and chocolate Hob-Nob…whilst I was waiting for the kettle to boil, I did an internet search about this subject and well…I wished I hadn’t…um, okay…I suppose IF I had ever contemplated this before I wouldn’t have necessarily thought that there were other parts of his anatomy which were pierced…IF we would be referring to his genitalia I’m not even sure they would still be intact (I mean he has lost his nipples hasn’t he)…as a human I’m sure everything was in working order and he got good use out of them, but as a cenobite, I suspect they would have been removed or have had some modification / mutilation done perhaps very much like the throat of the female cenobite…hang on, I’m going to stop because my imagination is beginning to run wild…thanks for that Ruschelle! Is there such a thing as cenobite porn? Perhaps if there isn’t then there should be…can we get an anthology or comic book going please?
Ruschelle: I know a talented comic book artist. Let’s do this! But first…another question. Most creatives regard their work as their “children.” And like the human children we nurture, raise and cast-out into the world, we have ones that make us most proud-as well as ones that make us want to tear out all of our teeth and glue them onto stray cats’ genitals. Not that we would do that, obviously. We also might wanna completely disown one or two. So… which of your ‘children’ fit into the above categories?
Dean: As far as I am aware I don’t have any physical children though that would certainly be interesting if someone knocked at my door and introduced themselves as my off-spring – I’d definitely invite them in for a cup of tea and a chat – whether they would leave again is another matter! Intriguing nonetheless. In terms of this question, look, I’m sure every artist creates what they believe is their best work at that time (otherwise what would be the point) and then at some point in the future looks back and cringes a little bit or wishes they’d taken their story etc in a different direction. It’s all part of the learning curve and growing process of being creative isn’t it? I admit I have a slightly different issue and that is the fact that for a two- or three-year period some of my work had become quite extreme. I’m not embarrassed about that by the way – it was just what was in me dying to get out – it was graphic, extreme, violent, sexual…if there was a ‘problem’ with that it was that my stories might not have fitted 100% the anthos/ collections they went into and perhaps looking at it now, that affected the book as a whole. Sometimes I could get away with it such as one of the anthologies I did for Nocturnicorn which was about William Burroughs (‘The Junk Merchants’) – now I absolutely love the story I wrote, it was a combination (so I pitch it anyway) between Burroughs and Easton Ellis; it captures a time for me in Cannes which was as much exciting as it was perplexing and those ideas of confusion / misunderstanding / love / desire are the spine of the story. The inspiration behind it came from meeting someone at a beach party one evening who didn’t want to be the centre of attention (so he said) yet did everything to ensure that he was. The odd thing was (and I swear I didn’t know this at the time) was once I’d been introduced to him I started thinking about a particular plot point for a story etc and I imagined what it would be like for someone like him to have a twin brother who was (allegedly) his complete opposite…anyway, we had a good chat, I had to leave though not long after meeting him as I had a two hour walk back to my apartment along the coast. As the days progressed and I began working on the story, I saw my new friend all the time walking the streets, in the pubs, the cafes etc etc – I thought this weird as I hadn’t ever seen him before our meeting and yet here he was popping up everywhere. As we’d become friends on Facebook, I messaged him about seeing him one particular day and I thought that he had ignored me when I’d said hello – guess what, he came back to me saying that it wasn’t him, he’d been at University in Nice in lectures and (the truth I swear!) he said it was probably his twin brother who had been in Cannes that day – talk about life imitating art! To get back to the point, that story (which was definitely graphic in its sex and violence) suited the book / subject so all was cool. The follow up book I did for Nocturnicorn was ‘The Thirteen Signs’ and that was about the zodiac. There were twelve great great stories by amazing authors that I invited and I decided to be clever (my mistake) and write the thirteenth – well, I love the story and it’s definitely a world I want to revisit – it was certainly inspired by a lot that was going on for me at that time BUT I guess it is a very very different story to the others in the book and would come as quite a shock to a ‘gentle reader’ when they stumbled across it – I suppose the great thing about nowadays is that it is possible to go back and revisit our work so (and I had wanted to do so long before now but I’ve just been so busy) early 2019 I want to do a second edition of the book with a brand new story from me more suited to everybody else’s. I must be clear, it’s not about censoring myself as I know that there is an ‘extreme’ part of me which now and again will creep out and I’m okay with that – it’s just about knowing / understanding the tone of the overall project etc. And whilst referencing this – I think I better offer an apology to Peter Mark May of Hersham Horror – he very kindly asked me to write a novella in his ‘CURSE’ series. My book was ‘Curse of The Vampire’ and boy did I enjoy that ride, BUT I know what I wrote was probably not at all what he was after when he first thought of me – in places my story went very very dark and some of the imagery whilst beautiful was also graphically pitch-black. I would absolutely love to write a sequel and continue the story of Lucien Moncrieff but this time it would be a lot less extreme. Peter – I’m sorry…but if you ever want that follow-up you know where I am. Please. Pretty please. I know there are other questions about theatre and film coming up, but I’ll say this briefly: in the theatre, my ‘issue’ was that some of the plays / pieces we did needed a bigger budget. Yes, I’m all up for being imaginative but sometimes you just need the money. A really good friend of mine, after seeing one of our shows one night, came up to me afterwards and said “Dean – if only you had more cash that would have been fucking amazing!” And he was right…oh well one day, I might go back to that medium and do something spectacular just to satisfy my own ego (I’ve always wanted to write / direct a fantastical opera and a play where Satan becomes Lucifer called Satan/Lucifer and the actual transformation scene will be incredible – there will be two actors who can alternate the roles as that’s all the rage nowadays isn’t it?). In terms of films – well, if you look for a lot of my earlier work you won’t be able to find it so that might say something in itself ha ha – I’ve got all the copies don’t worry – I do remember one particular short that I was ‘only’ directing and the lead actor was also the writer and producer, I had great fun and tried to put my stamp on it but that was certainly…challenging…
Ruschelle: You have written and directed theatrical plays as well as film. Which offers the bigger challenge?
Dean: One easy answer is that in theory if you make a mistake in film you can go back and reshoot it or edit it in a certain way to get what you originally intended – in the theatre, if someone makes a mistake then somehow you have to get past it and hope that the audience doesn’t notice. From a writing point of view I loved working in the theatre as I saw it very much as a collaborative process – if we were working from one of my plays then through the rehearsal process etc I didn’t have too much of an issue if an actor added more to my words (to a point obviously, I’m up for collaboration but not necessarily continual improvisation otherwise why agree to be in it in the first place?). When I directed Clive’s ‘Frankenstein’ we had to stick resolutely to the text and weren’t allowed to change anything so that brought a couple of challenges for sure…in the films I did at that period, bar one they were all my scripts so again I was happy for actors to ‘riff’…the film I directed last year ‘15’ (for Midas Light) was based on an idea I had with the writer / producer – we talked about the idea whilst in Cannes, he went away and wrote the script, I had a couple of suggestions, he revised and we were shooting 6 months later. We shot that in a pub over a weekend in Northampton. I really enjoyed it, I hadn’t directed for a while so thought I might be a bit rusty but it all came back to me quite quickly and I think we all had a blast (it’s called ‘15’, there were 15 actors and it lasted 15 mins). It’s been screening in some festivals recently and the response has been good and I must have done something right as I’m making my feature film directorial debut for the same producer next Easter with his project ‘Chocolate Potato’ – it’s a low-budget British farce but promises to be a hoot! I want to direct more now that I’ve got the bug again so hopefully I’ll be able to play in other people’s sandpits for a while. As I’ve mentioned previously, a lot of being successful (as far as I’m concerned) in both theatre and film is money – yes, please don’t misunderstand me, no money means you have to be imaginative and there’s no point in throwing loads of cash at something which was rubbish in the first place…perhaps it does come down to the story – if you have a two person story set in a room there’s no need for the budget to be millions BUT larger finances means (hopefully anyway!) the best actors, crew, sets, locations…in the theatre more money leads again to the best actors, best crew, the best sets, costumes and sometimes even staging the piece in the best theatre itself. I have to say though when I’m writing (whether it’s for the theatre or film) I don’t limit myself on ‘budget’ in the main (though that was slightly different for ‘The Tragedy Of The Duke Of Reichstadt’ which I’ll talk more about in a while but for that as I was supposed to be directing it we tried to write it with a particular budget in mind, one which a ‘first time’ director would be comfortable with) I get everything I can down on paper and then once the play / script is finished then start looking at the finances…
Ruschelle: If you can collaborate with anyone on your next film, who would it be? And as a bonus question (lucky you) who would choose to star in it? Let’s put those feelers out now. Hey, you never know who might be reading our little chat that wants to be a part of your next project!
Dean: Right now, as well as everything else I’m up to, I’m working on a French language sci-fi / horror script called “La machine”. It’s an idea that’s been gestating for a few years, slowly but surely I’m putting pen to paper and writing the script. I think I’ve come up with a couple of clever ideas that I’m trying to mesh together to create something hopefully amazing and writing in a second language is a challenge in itself. Anyway, I’m writing it for a French actor by the name of Vincent Rottiers who I have been wanting to work with for the last ten years (and if the gods keep smiling will be happening on at least one of my other projects as things stand) or so. Ever since I saw Vincent in a short film at Cannes (‘Narco’) I was blown away – he’s been in about thirty – thirty-five films now but seems nobody knows him. He’s been nominated for Cesars and has won acting awards at many festivals, but you mention his name to the average French person and they shrug their shoulders the way they do in that Gallic way of theirs – one of his recent films was the Palme d’Or winning ‘Dheepan’ (2015) from which he received his second Cesar nomination. In September / October his brand-new film “Ange” (Engel / Angel, 2018) will be released throughout Europe and already he’s getting great notices at the festivals where it’s been screened. The first time I laid eyes on him I was yeap, need to work with this guy. I’ve always wanted to write a modern day ‘Jesus’ story and he’d be so damn perfect…what he can do with his eyes alone…wow…I’m working hard that there will be many feature films for me to direct after ‘Chocolate Potato’ and I pray that Vincent will be in as many as possible. I’d better stop before it sounds like I’m a stalker ha ha – no, of course not, I just admire his talent and want the world to see how great he is. I want to work with Leonardo DiCaprio too. I was lucky enough to spend some time with him a few years back in Cannes – he was a great guy and also a great great actor. I’m glad he eventually won his Oscar. As I said in a previous question, I’d love to a do ‘Hellraiser’ and get the original cenobites in it – even if just as ‘cameos’ (and I’ve got a great idea for the opening which would allow that). I’ve always loved Diane Keaton and would jump at the chance to work with her and Isabella Rossellini, Annette Bening (and Warren Beatty!) and in Europe perhaps Diane Kruger, Cecile de France, Lea Seydoux, Sylvie Testud…recently I saw the second ‘Jack Reacher’ and was blown away by the young American actor Danika Yarosh, I wonder if she can speak French as she’d be perfect for ‘La machine’.
Ruschelle: You moved to Cannes France for a film and it just happens that film won two screenplay awards. That is amazing. Do you believe living in the iconic city fuel your inspiration and motivation?
Dean: So – what happened was this. In 2015 I was living in London but in May was in Cannes for the film festival. There was a pub I frequented quite a lot (The Station Tavern) when I wasn’t having meetings, attending screenings etc etc and one of the other reasons for always being in there was karaoke! Yeap, I admit, I love karaoke and from what I’ve been told I’m not half bad…anyway, I got friendly with the girl running it and her boyfriend. One night they said I had to speak to this younger French guy who had written some stuff (mainly political blog posts and film reviews) but wanted to write a film though he didn’t have anyone to help him. His name was Romain Collier. We chatted and within a couple of minutes (yeap it happened that quickly) I decided that I needed to leave London and move to Cannes to write a script with him. Which is exactly what I did. As it was a historical story we had to do some research so we spent a couple of months first meeting up either in Cannes or in Paris and then at the beginning of 2016 I moved to Cannes permanently. It took us nine months to write the script and many, many drafts but then later that year the work paid off and we won two screenplay awards at the Monaco Int. Film Fest – ‘Best Historical’ and then a special award ‘Best Independent Spirit’. We’ve now got a production company and the project looks like it’s going to become a major European tv series. With respect to that particular script (which is the aforementioned ‘Tragedy of The Duke Of Reichstadt’ by the way, I wouldn’t say there is a lot of ‘Cannes’ which went into it (it’s a French story set in Vienna) BUT there is definitely a lot of myself and Romain in it. Many people who have read it and then met us in the flesh have said that the two main characters of Francois (Franz – Napoleon’s son and titular Duke of Reichstadt) and his older mentor Major Anton Prokesch are Romain and I. I can see why they say that and for us it adds more potency / richness to the story / project. Cannes has certainly worked its way into my short stories / novellas. I do find it an inspiring town but other than the film festival (and tv festivals I suppose) there is no film industry per se there, so I’ve accepted that at some point in the future I will have to relocate to Paris even if for a few months of the year as that is where in the main the French film industry is.
Ruschelle: You wrote a screenplay surrounding the life and death of the little dictator Napoleon Bonaparte and his son. Did you trick it out with beheadings, torture and sniffs of Hell? I’m…err asking for a friend…
Dean: Okay, so, our script is about Napoleon’s son, Francois / Franz / Duke of Reichstadt / Napoleon II – Napoleon himself only appears as a ghost a couple of times (we pay homage to ‘Hamlet’ at several points in the story) so I’m sorry there is no beheadings etc BUT now that you’ve mentioned it – I am happy to tell you that one of my projects I’m working on RIGHT NOW is an out and out horror film with Napoleon as the main character (I’d love Vincent to play him – he’s about the right age) set at Waterloo. I won’t say too much obviously BUT I can promise you it is gore heaven…I’ve felt ‘liberated’ working on it as it’s a bit of a departure for me (ie mixing horror and history) but some of the scenes have even been scaring me and to have Napoleon as the main hero…I have to be clear though it’s not a comedy nor a pastiche or anything like that…it’s a down and dirty horror film which just happens to have a true figure of history as its centre. Wellington is in it for a couple of scenes also but remember Napoleon was a great soldier and it’s that I’m writing about – he certainly wasn’t worried about getting blood physically on his hands if it came to it. 2021 is the 200-year anniversary of Napoleon’s death so that gives us a couple of years to get the project up and running…I’m writing it in English though ideally I’d like it in French…I guess actually if it ends up the way I think it will then there won’t be much talking at all – it’s all to do with the atmospherics. Recently I attended a Napoleonic war re-enactment in Kent to do some hands-on research…I was totally inspired, so much so that I might be able to become a ‘soldier’ at the next one…now that will be amazing…if any producers reading this are interested in my film, please hit me up – budget about £5m okay!
Ruschelle: When you write a story do you craft it as though it could be a potential film?
Dean: I’m sure I do a little bit but with some of my short stories being ‘extreme’ I don’t think there is a market for those sort of films…thinking back to that ‘Hellraiser’ porn though mainly I’m wrong on that and some of Clive’s photographs / art is quite ‘out there’ so perhaps I’m missing a trick. The way I work is that when an idea first hits me I flesh it out a little and then mentally tell myself whether it could be a film, play or story…with the Napoleon horror I’ve mentioned last question that might also work as a novella and would be fun to write if anyone’s interested in publishing it but I’ve noticed as the years progress that I do write films / plays differently to the way I write stories. I’ve spent a little more time than planned in the UK this year and the reason for that is because I was working on two tv pilot scripts. I set myself a challenge which I gladly accepted (ha ha) and wrote from scratch two scripts – one is an American political and the second is a very dark police procedural…neither would work as stories (novels at a push I suppose) but are perfect for the medium which they were intended. I’ve been talking to some producers about them both recently so they may see the light of day (I must say the whole experience of creating them was fun and I know now that if I was approached to write a tv script on spec or as part of an established series then I’m more than capable of doing it). One series of stories of mine actually could be a great film – these are my ‘Dr Papper’ stories which have appeared in various anthologies / collections etc these last couple of days and were inspired by something Justin Bieber once said in an interview with David Letterman about ‘the sixteenth chapel’ (he was confused with the Sistine Chapel) – once I heard those words I came up with a whole horror conspiracy story spread across the last two centuries…I’m making notes on a new story which should see publication in 2019…yeah, perhaps that might be worth pursuing…
Ruschelle: Is there a film you saw in the theatres that was so damn awesome and so…YOU, that you wish you’d have written and directed it?
Dean: Not so much a film but I have just finished binge-watching ‘American Horror Story: Cult’ – have you seen it? It’s bloody brilliant – I was hooked from the start to the finish and thought it was very very clever, by far the best (and I really liked ‘Freak Show’ and ‘Hotel’.) – I’m not a fan normally of Evan Peters but he was excellent as was Sarah Paulson…I can’t wait for the new series ‘Apocalypse’. There is so much great genre stuff now on Netflix / Amazon etc – it’s a real beggars banquet. Europe is so rich with it too – particularly France and did you see ‘Dark’, the German series with Louis Hofmann – that was sublime. ‘Bates Motel’ wasn’t bad either, neither was ‘Gotham’…let me think of a film – okay, a few years old but have you seen ‘Bugsy’ directed by Barry Levinson, starring Warren Beatty – I have watched that film probably fifteen, twenty times…it never bores me – you actually observe Warren and Annette falling in love for real in front of your eyes …I’d even get on a plane (and I hate flying!) to the States if I had the chance of working with Warren…one of my favourite films is ‘Flash Gordon’ and whilst it certainly has its detractors, I’d love to remake it…there is one particular scene where Peter Wyngarde, as the masked Klytus, out-acts everybody with just his speech and actions…a brilliant, brilliant tour de force in acting…and Christopher Reeve in the dual Clark Kent / Superman role…I always wanted to do a Superman film with Colin (son of Tom) Hanks in the titular role …or Leonardo as Captain Atom…
Ruschelle: Collin Hanks? Hummm…interesting. I’d buy that casting. Could you share with us a little of your writing process when penning a screenplay? How does it differ from that of a short story?
Dean: I suppose the main difference is that for my screenplays, more often than not, I write them long-hand, with the stories yes I might make some handwritten notes but generally I’ll work on the computer directly – I’ve always found it easier to write the scripts physically on an A4 pad – it’s a habit I can’t seem to shake – I’ll write the main text on one side of the page and then any notes / revisions etc as I go, on the other. I do find it a lot easier that way – particularly if I alter character names half way through etc or think about different locations, different nationalities or sometimes even change a character’s sex. It’s good also if I think of actors to play the parts as I’ll make comments about them or note the films they’ve been in. Sometimes I’ll write parts for actors I personally know or locations I’m familiar with. When Romain and I wrote ‘The Tragedy’ we both spent several months separately making notes, writing scenes, plot points etc etc so when we got together to start work properly we already had a gamut of stuff to work from and that made the writing processes a lot more straight forward (not easy mind, just straight forward). I do like the idea that at the end of the day, if I’ve set myself a target I can easily see if I’ve hit it or not and once you’ve written for two weeks or so you can actually hold a completed 90 – 120 page (handwritten) screenplay in your hand – it’s an achievement for sure. I guess you can do the same with stories but it doesn’t have the same impact (as far as I’m concerned anyway).
Ruschelle: You are the Associate Editor of Fear magazine. How does that particular hat fit on your head with all the others?
Dean: Yes, I was and that was all thanks to someone I hold in high esteem, the venerable John Gilbert. FEAR had always been a massive influence in my life (as well as FANGORIA – when writer / actress Barbie Wilde interviewed me a couple of years back for Fango and I saw my face, my name in that magazine, boy – that was a buzz I still haven’t come down from I can tell you – especially as the day / night before I’d been out drinking in London with some friends I hadn’t seen for a long while, anyway, on the Sunday I met up with Barbie in the basement of Garlic & Shots bar in Soho…we did the interview and had a few more drinks…it got messy) so when he talked about re-launching FEAR after a few years away and as we’d been friends for a little while, he said could he interview me (yes, of course!) and from that interview we then talked about me becoming Associate Editor – that was a dream come true. Some real high-quality work was produced and I know people were totally buying into what John was trying to achieve but sadly I don’t believe (as far as I know so happy to be told differently) that the publishing people were completely understanding what FEAR was all about so it sadly folded again. John is a brilliant guy and has done so much for the genre – he’s written a couple of forewords for me and right now I know he’s working closely with Trevor Kennedy (check him out he’s a great writer / independent publisher too and is really trying to have a good crack at breaking into some bigger markets – he also acts and has his own radio show!) in Northern Ireland on one or two of his projects as well as writing some new poetry and stories. I don’t see John enough but hope to rectify that in the near future. I will forever be grateful.
Ruschelle: Fear collaborated with NOCTURNICORN PRESS on the Christmas anthology, “12 Dark Days: One Hell Of A Christmas”. I’ve been lucky enough to have met a few of your talented authors, albeit via social media. How did you choose the talent that oozed from the pages? I also just like saying the word OOZED…
Dean: Thank you so much for mentioning this anthology (available in both kindle and paperback – I’d love to do an audible version if I can too, some of the stories are really disturbing) – I really enjoyed compiling /editing this (what a great cover by artist Phil Stevens too don’t you think!) – it was released just before Christmas last year and now as we’re heading towards Christmas again (wow where did that year go, and so much has changed during that time) we can make this a real best-seller as it deserves it – so much time, effort and yeap, love went into creating it and I thank the other writers from the bottom of my heart for joining me on that journey. Like a lot of the actors I work with I try to take them from production to production where suitable…the same for the anthos – everybody I asked said yes and it’s full to brimming with top notch writing talent from across the UK and France. If okay, I’d like to mention the contributors here (in alphabetical order): Jason D. Brawn, Romain Collier, Raven Dane, Theresa Derwin, Tim Dry, Stephanie Ellis, James Everington, Paul M. Feeney, Heide Goody & Ian Grant, Dave Jeffery, Mark West and myself; John Gilbert wrote the foreword and publisher Alex S. Johnson wrote a nasty little extra story to complete the TOC. The subject is obviously the ‘twelve days of Christmas’ but with a horror slant – if you love your Christmas books with a nice and nasty twist then I definitely recommend this – forget my story if you want – but buy it for the others…
Ruschelle: You are a man of a few awards! Is there one award out there you are damned and determined to win?
Dean: I’ve been lucky enough to win some awards in Monaco at an International Film Festival there…I was also runner up for a Sir Peter Ustinov Screenwriting Award (which is given out at the International Emmy award ceremony)…I’d like to win a BAFTA or Oscar for sure but in all honesty I would love to get my hands on either the Palme d’or at Cannes or a Cesar award given out by the French Academy. Slowly but surely my French is improving (at long bleedin’ last many across La Manche would say) so if we can get somewhere with ‘La machine’ then you never know what the future holds…of course, any award that I’m long listed, short listed, nominated or even win well then I’m a lucky man, right?!
Ruschelle: It all counts! What is the most horrific story/film you’ve even written…or is the idea still attempting to burrow out from your meaty flesh like a baby alien?
Dean: Honestly, I don’t think I’ve written it yet. I’ve written some stories which are close perhaps but my ‘magnum opus’ is yet to reveal itself in its entirety to me. There is a dark (not extreme, just dark) fantasy piece which is very personal to me which is called ‘The Keeper Of The Bees’ – it’s a project I’ve made notes on these last couple of years and if I get to finish it might just become what I am known for once I’ve vacated the planet – I think I will have to go away somewhere secluded (perhaps Gothenburg as I love it there) for six or so months and just write it. As I say, it’s a very dark but also very personal and is definitely inspired by my time in France – though it is set in a fictional kingdom. Right now I try my hardest to make sure that every piece of work produced is better than the last – I do put a lot of time and effort (perhaps too much) into the stories or scripts to ensure they are the very best they can be. It’s fun for me working across the various mediums in different genres – I’m certainly having a blast but horror is my passion and I truly want to leave my mark…
Ruschelle: Most horror writers love Halloween. Are you a Hallo-wiener as well? LOL
Dean: Ha ha – nice one – I’m loving your sense of humour. Okay, I’ll be honest – for me, it’s not something that has ever particularly interested me. Yes, I can see its attraction (particularly as a genre writer) and sure, a couple of times I’ve had a good laugh at parties or whatever but generally, it’s a bit ‘take it or leave it’ for me. Perhaps this year will be different – maybe I’ll dress up or something and gate-crash a stranger’s party and see if I can enjoy myself – maybe that’s an idea for a story actually…yeah, a horror writer who hates Halloween…I’ll give that some serious thought. I must add though (so I can mention it somewhere) I’m a great fan of Rob Zombie’s two ‘Halloween’ films – that’s probably thrown the proverbial cat amongst the pigeons hasn’t it – but I like them a lot. I’ve been a fan of Rob’s music and I was lucky enough to see probably the original cut (extended, a lot more gory / scary) of ‘House Of A 1000 Corpses’. I’m looking forward to seeing his soon to be released ‘Three from Hell’ – I know it’s going to be amazing!
Ruschelle: Your newfound fans would love a glimpse into your next projects. What should we should look for from you?
Dean: Um – first up is my novella in the collection (alongside Jan Edwards, Phil Sloman and Romain Collier) ‘Into The Night Eternal: Tales Of French Folk Horror’ (Lycopolis Press), this is coming out at the end of September. Then in November my own small press Demain (www.demainpublishing.com) will be releasing ‘The Darkest Battlefield’ which is the follow-up to ‘Darker Battlefields’ which I mentioned earlier – this collection has been collated and edited by Anthony Watson and includes stories by Anthony, Richard Farren Barber, Paul Edwards, Terry Grimwood and finally myself. As well as the screenplays I’ve previously noted I’m currently working on three others (two horror and one historical) which I’d better not talk about too much right now as I don’t want the producer’s chasing me ha ha but it’s a super busy time (when isn’t it?) because there will be some more stories, a novella…and maybe, just maybe…a novel. I’m also editing a couple of titles for the Lycopolis Press and will be releasing some top-notch short fiction through Demain (two series will soon be unleashed: short sharp shocks and murder mystery mayhem – I’m so humbled by the talent I’ve already been able to sign-up. I truly am blessed.). Of course if anybody wants to keep an eye on what I’m up to – please visit www.deanmdrinkel.com, it’ll all be on there…and of course I’m always available for more interviews, signings, events…and KARAOKE!!!!!!!
KARAOKE!!! Holy cenobite balls Batman, I’m there! Thank you so much for sharing yourself with us. We look forward to stalking you on the WWW and will be sending you disgusting body parts in your fan mail.
Claire – Hi Stephanie! Let’s get right into it. Why don’t you tell us about yourself and what you’re currently working on.
Stephanie – Hi Claire. At the moment I’m working on some folk horror stories for my second short story collection. I live in Somerset, England, and there’s a rich history here of centuries of belief in folklore, witchcraft and magic. I’m basing the stories around some of these tales and legends, but with a modern twist. I’m from the suburbs of London originally but I’ve always loved ancient history and strange folk tales of the countryside.
Claire – Tell us about your background in writing. When did you start and why? What did you first write before you found your niche? Or have you always written offbeat, dark fantasy, and creepy stories?
Stephanie – I wrote stories when I was a kid and I was a big reader then, mostly sci-fi and classic ghost stories. I never gave up the reading but only took up story writing seriously again four years ago and started submitting them to competitions and to publishers calling for stories for horror collections. I had some success when publishers like Grinning Skull and Almond Press accepted my work, then I had a novella called ‘The Tale of Storm Raven’ published by Dark Alley Press. I’ve worked as a magazine editor/feature writer myself in the past, although I’m a hospital administrator at the moment. Mysteries, ghosts and creepy stuff has always been my fave genre to read and write.
Claire – You mention on your website you are a competition winning author. What competition did you win? What story did you submit, and why?
Stephanie – It was back in March 2014, a story called ‘Tiny Claws’ with Dark Tales Press. The story is re-published now in my book ‘The Obsidian Path’ and is about a Russian lady who knits scary dolls that come to life. I was a runner up too with Almond Press in 2014, and my story ‘Dreg Town’ was included in their ‘Broken Worlds’ anthology.
Claire – I wrote an article about the differences between dark fantasy and horror. We also had a debate about it on a panel at a speculative fiction convention. What’s your opinion on the differences? Why do you classify your writing as dark fiction/fantasy rather than horror?
Stephanie – I think of horror as more the obvious splatter-gore stuff and I think a lot of readers do too. Dark fiction/fantasy can include that of course but I tend to think of it as more subtle, also maybe involving more psychological stuff where the reader wonders sometimes if there really is a monster outside of the character’s head. I like the creepyness of classic ghost stories like M. R. James, where there is no graphic bloodshed, but the story still chills the reader, more dark than horrifying.
Claire – What do you enjoy most about writing? Why do you like to tell stories?
Stephanie – I love scaring myself with my imagination and just have to write the images down. I’m one of those daft people who look out of the kitchen window at night and imagine some elemental terror climbing over the hedge to scratch at the back door. It’s that ‘what if it really did’ wonderment I think I’ve not lost since childhood. Of course, I know it’s not really likely but I’ll lock the back door anyway! If I feel I’ve done a good job of the story, I like to think other people might get something out of it too when they read it, even if it’s just to lose themselves for a while.
Claire – Your books sound so interesting! Tell me about Death Wears A Top Hat. Have you always been interested in Victorian England? Do you think growing up in London influenced your interests?
Stephanie – I think London influenced me a lot. I’d go into town on the train or bus to see bands play in some of the seedy clubs in my teens and early twenties. I studied graphics at college in the Elephant and Castle area later and got involved in the modern Pagan scene that was really vibrant back then in the late 80s/90s. The book shop in ‘Death Wears A Top Hat’ is loosely based around a real 100-year-old occult bookshop a friend used to own, famous witch Gerald Gardner having been a past patron and holding coven meetings there in the basement. A short walk away is the famous Red Lion Square where Pagan conferences were held in Conway Hall (mentioned in the book) and I went to several of those to listen to various talks. London has such an incredible history and many old buildings still stand firm among the modern, with their cobbled streets and Victorian shopfronts. You can almost see the shady Jack The Ripper type characters from times past, still haunting street corners and alleyways. My book is a paranormal thriller, essentially, telling the story of a psychic, Alison Graves, who is drawn into a serial killer investigation and many of her scenes happen in these places I’ve known, with characters loosely based on some people there I’ve known.
Claire – I’ve been looking over your website and see you’ve played drums in a band. Have you always had an interest in music, and if so, has that influenced your writing?
Stephanie – I wasn’t a very good drummer, but I was into the punk scene in London back in the day, and went to some of the more underground bohemian ‘goth’ clubs too – ‘The Tale of Storm Raven’ is based in that scene/era.
Claire – Tell me about your interest in UFO’s and the occult. How do you weave them into your writing? Are they the main aspects of your writing or subtle undertones?
Stephanie – The weird stuff of life fascinates me and I think it adds richness to the stories I write. UFOs and the occult are things I’ve spent years researching into. Now I live near Wiltshire I’ve visited the infamous Starr Hill and have certainly seen some odd things I can’t explain, first-hand. I add a dollop of imagination of course to the stories but some include personally based experiences, and things other people have shared with me or I’ve read about.
Claire – You describe your stories as unsettling stories with a contemporary twist. Tell me about that. How do you weave contemporary elements into your story? What influences you?
Stephanie – I do often use modern urban settings and current topics, along with the ghosts and weirdness. I did a lot of research for ‘Death Wears’ into police procedures to ensure I got the details right when DI McKentee was working on the killer’s case, and also of course did a lot of research for the transgender character, Alison, to ensure she was authentic and her experiences believable. Although her gender re-assignment was only touched on as part of the story, and paralleled her psychic unfolding in a way, I wanted her to feel real and do justice to people experiencing this in their own lives today.
Claire – I read your short stories Butt Clouds and The Rain. I found Butt Clouds amusing, but also tense and thrilling. The Rain, if I’m not mistaken, seems to weave elements of science fiction. Tell me about the stories. Are they examples of your writing style?
Stephanie – Glad you enjoyed those stories, Claire. ‘Butt Clouds’ was a bit of a diversion for me into humour, although I’ve since written a ghost story about a murdered woman who comes back to get her revenge and ruin her murderer’s raid on a bank, which is dryly funny, I guess. ‘The Rain’ is more my general style – that was published originally by Grinning Skull Press in their anthology of alien monster stories. Although I’m not so hot on sci-fi I have read classics like Ray Bradbury and topics such as the possibility of parallel dimensions and alien contact fascinates me.
Claire – Tell me about The Obsidian Path and the stories within the collection. Was it hard to choose which stories to add?
Stephanie – I think I chose my personal favourites there, but I’ve enough now for another collection. I like to do short stories as they are quite gratifying, they are a quick option while a novel is more of a long haul, a different creature entirely to write.
Claire – Tell me about the protagonists in your stories.
Stephanie – I’ve tended to use a lot of different protagonists. ‘Storm Raven’ was written from the first-person viewpoint of Nick, a male character. I often write as a male character, but I think, male or female, my main characters are generally likable but with human failures. No one is too shiny. Detective Sue McKentee in ‘Death Wears A Top Hat’ has some very human failings, lack of self-confidence and can alienate people with her hard-faced attitude. But at the same time, she is loyal and kind hearted. She and Alison become firm friends after a shaky start. I don’t like crying girls, always the victim, so I write my leading ladies as resourceful and intelligent, independent thinkers who kick butt.
Claire – Who and/or what influences you as a writer? What do you like to read?
Stephanie – I read a lot of new horror/dark fiction writers, often self-published or published by indie small press, like myself. There’s a lot of talent out there but it’s not always easy to get your voice heard without a great promo money-machine behind you, sadly. I like to read other authors recommendations on forums.
Claire – Writing takes time and patience. Do you set aside time to write? What do you do when you’re not writing?
Stephanie – I have to pay the bills so still work part-time at my local hospital. But weekends plus those extra 2 days in the week are my writing time, although I don’t set a particular regime to sit down at it. That doesn’t seem to work for me. I have to have the muse with me. But I do keep a notebook to hand to scribble ideas down, even when I’m just having tea in front of the telly. I also paint and draw (I did my own cover for ‘The Obsidian Path’), grow veg and keep pet rescue ferrets.
Claire – Is writing, for you, a gift or a curse? How has it shaped your life?
Stephanie – I think it’s both. A gift in that people say they enjoyed reading this or that, so I feel writing it down was worthwhile if it gives someone else enjoyment. But a curse if struggling to get a storyline right, pace and structure, all that stuff, but I just can’t seem to get it. I belong to a writers’ group and they are excellent as a fresh pair of eyes when I’m stuck. So far, I’ve not made big money at it so its’ not really changed my life in that way, but it has certainly given me a creative outlet to focus on.
Claire – Is there anything you find particularly challenging as a writer?
Stephanie – I’m still not good at tenses. I’m not a technically scholarly writer.
Claire – Who is your favourite author and why?
Stephanie – Lots. Obviously, Stephen King and Neil Gaiman feature heavily though.
Claire – And finally, what are you working on at the moment?
Stephanie – I’m toying with a second paranormal crime thriller where Detective McKentee and Alison team up to solve another case. I’ve also sketched out a dystopian future novel based on the characters in one of my published short stories, ‘Dreg Town.’ Plus, the collection of folk horror stories of course, although I’m not sure yet whether to publish that myself or approach an indie publisher who has already taken my work. I need to finish the stories first and then have a think.
Claire – You can find out more about Stephanie by visiting the links below:
Amazon author page
DWTH on Amazon US
DWTH on Amazon UK
Stacey – Welcome to The Horror Tree, James. It’s great to have you. Tell us a little about yourself?
James – Hi – thank you for the opportunity!
Well, I’m a Yorkshireman living in Houston – eight years and counting – I have a couple of offspring and a house full of animals, and I spend my time writing and managing HellBound Books Publishing along with my business partner, Xtina Marie.
Stacey – What is your favourite holiday spot?
James – I’ve been to the Dominican Republic a couple of times, I guess that’s kind of a favorite. Oh, and I love Vegas, and New Orleans!
Stacey – What’s one place real or imagined that you’d love to travel to?
James – I’m looking forward to visiting New York!
Stacey – Which author living or dead inspires you?
James – My first introduction to grown-up, modern horror was the late, great James Herbert; he was my first inspiration to write. I also enjoy King, Ketchum, Hill and a bunch of indie authors.
Stacey – Do you draw inspiration from real life experiences?
James – I think that all writers do – there’s a little piece of me in everything I write! The skill, of course, is discerning which pieces they are…
Stacey – Do you find anything particularly challenging about writing? Do you write daily?
James – I find the whole thing challenging; there is nothing quite so exhilarating – or terrifying – than facing that blank page with the sole objective of filling it with something entertaining. Yep, I write daily, even if it’s a few lines – keeps the old noggin active.
Stacey – Do you need music or complete silence to write?
James – All of my school reports, from the age of five onwards state just how easily distracted I am – if I were to try writing with music on, I’d wind up listening to that instead of working, or my brain would wander away with the lyrics, or the memories the tune evokes…
Stacey – What’s the best writing advice you could give someone just starting out?
James – Learn how to take criticism. Solicit it, take it on the chin, embrace it – and, most importantly of all, learn from it!
Oh, and learn the tools of your trade! Saying ‘I don’t really need to understand Word/grammar/punctuation/spelling’ is like declaring ‘I’m going to be a car mechanic – with a spoon’.
Stacey – Has there ever been a book you couldn’t finish reading? Which book and why?
James – There have been a few – I do get bored rather easily, and if I’m not engaged within the first few pages, I give up. Life’s too short to plough through books that don’t catch the interest, right? I apply this to my work, and always aim to grab the reader by the short and curlies from the very first line.
To name and shame a recent one – it was one of Anne Rice’s! After twenty pages of description of New Orleans I was well and truly beaten!
Stacey – What’s the last horror movie you watched?
James – The Unfolding, a neat little indie film. It’s a found footage/haunted house movie with a neat twist.
Stacey – What scares you?
James – Nothing imaginary – I really don’t spook easily. What does frighten me is the thought of anything unpleasant happening to my offspring, but I guess that’s a given for any parent. And Donald Trump, now, he really scares me!
Stacey – Do you believe in writers’ block?
James – I do!
I’ve experienced it myself, and for me, it’s not just the inability to put the words down, it’s the mind-paralysing state of being unable to even think, which for a writer is pretty much creative death. Luckily it passes, although it could take days, weeks, months, even longer – and unfortunately, there’s no quick remedy to ‘snap out of it’.
Stacey – You run your own publishing company, HellBound Books? What’s that like?
James – I do – we are in our second year now, and doing well! It’s hard work, but, thanks to a great team, it’s fun. The best thing has been having the platform to take all of the lousy experiences – common to a great many authors – I’ve personally had at the hands of some indie publishers, turn them on their head, and provide an exemplary service to authors and readers alike.
We set out to do everything properly and professionally from the off – hence we’re a fully-fledged LLC – and have built up a formidable catalogue of fantastic titles, as well as a great reputation. And, we just launched our awesome, brand new website!
Stacey – I find radio to be an interesting medium? How did you get started and why did you decide to mix Horror and Comedy?
James – Yeah, it’s funny how things have come back around to radio again – many indie publishers have their own radio/blog/podcasts going on, it’s a terrific medium to reach readers and authors alike.
I stumbled into it by accident, I was invited onto a show as a guest by a publisher who took on my bizarro novel ‘The Erotic Odyssey of Colton Forshay’ and had such a great time that they asked me to co-present (everybody loves the accent!). Then, that publisher went south, and I kind of inherited the show. I rejigged it, added the fun bits, changed the show time, and the rest is history – that was 109 shows ago!
I am, at heart, a bit of a comedian – I’ve even written and performed stand-up, both in the UK and here (I’ve even performed at the world famous ‘Improv’!), and there’s always a fat grain of dark humor in everything I write. We wanted our radio show to stand out from the crowd, so we set out to make it fun and entertaining – the very antithesis of a ‘dry’ book show. So, we throw in a load of humor, some entertaining sound clips, ribald banter, and fun things for our guests (their most embarrassing story, for example, or our renowned ‘Eleven Questions’ segment which includes the question ‘would you eat human flesh, if permitted to do so’ – you’d be surprise at some of the answers!)
Oh, and we invested in an ASCAP licence too, so we have some phenomenal tunes to boot!
Stacey – What are you working on at the moment?
James – I typically have a handful of projects going on at any one time – I’ve just finished up my short story (The Swarm) for the HellBound Books’ upcoming anthology ‘Made in Britain’, as well as polishing up a short for ‘Shopping List 3’ (Revenge of the Mice Men), and working through the nth draft of my next novel, based upon a short story in my collection ‘Blood and Kisses’, which is entitled ‘The Silverado Springs Memory Care Posse’, it’s about a quartet of elderly dementia patients trying to discover who – or what – is killing off the residents at their care home before it gets to them…
Stacey – Do you have an excerpt you’d like to share?
James – Sure thing:
Lewis chewed on the last of his bacon. It was satisfying enough although it felt rough and salty in his mouth and split into slivers like shards of rubbery glass. As he munched, he contemplated the notebook that sat by his left hand. It was a pleasant, light gray Moleskine; half letter sized and with a broad strip of black elastic to hold it shut. The elastic reminded him of the suspenders his Grandfather used to wear to keep his pants up.
“I think it’s yours,” Constance told him.
“Why’s that?” Lewis said.
“Because it’s by your place at the table,” Constance replied before cottoning on to Lewis’s joke.
“He got ya good there, Connie, old girl!” Muldoon guffawed and almost choked on his slurp of tea.
Lewis winked at Constance and she pursed her lips at him to pretend that she was disgruntled. He picked up the notebook and was surprised that its covers felt velvety beneath his fingers, much as he would have imagined an actual mole’s would feel. Perhaps, he couldn’t help but wonder, they actually made the things from real moles?
Upon opening the book, Lewis discovered that there was a name written in neat, black ink on the inside cover. The handwriting and the name looked surprisingly familiar, but it took a minute or two for it to filter through his muddled brain cells that both belonged to him.
“It is mine,” Lewis informed his breakfast companions with a grin. “Look, it says Lewis Jones right here.” He lifted the book up and turned it around to show them his name and the writing below it that was in an altogether different hand.
Happy Birthday Grandpa.
A tear formed in Lewis’s eye and a sick lump rose up in the back of his throat. He was a grandfather, and therefore by default, a father too. He had family out there in the world and he couldn’t remember a damned thing, and at that particular moment, Lewis would have given anything to have had even the faintest glimmer of a memory of them.
Constance reached for Lewis’s hand and held it whilst he struggled with his emotions. It had been this same way every morning for as long as she could recall – Lewis discovering as if for the first time that he had a family. For Constance, the saddest thing of all – other than watch the man she cared for deeply facing the same pain anew every single day – was that Lewis’s loving son, daughter-in-law and three beautiful granddaughters visited him every week and he was always so incredibly happy in their company.
And Lewis’s cruel brain, in common with hers and Muldoon’s deteriorating gray matter, would misplace those precious memories overnight whilst he slept.
Which is why things were written down in that book, otherwise everything would have been forgotten.
Lewis flicked through the notebook, his eyes darting to and fro across the tightly written handwriting that filled almost two-thirds of the silken pages. His brow would furrow in a quizzical expression when he happened upon places where the occasional page or two had been torn out.
Muldoon peered across the breakfast table, slurping on his cold tea with all the finesse of a buffalo at the watering hole. “So?” he enquired. “What’s in the book, Lewis?” He strained his eyes to try reading the neatly printed words upside down. “And what’s that supposed to mean?” He jabbed a long, bony finger towards the book, to what he guessed was the title written in block capital lettering at the top of each and every page.
“The Silverado Springs Memory Care Posse,” Lewis read out loud the neatly printed words.
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” Muldoon wrinkled up his nose as if he’d caught a whiff of something particularly disgusting.
“I think it’s us.” Lewis looked his old friend straight in the eye. “Yeah, it’s us alright – look.” He spun the book around on the stained cotton tablecloth and pointed at one of its pages.
Muldoon and Constance leaned in to catch a better look. Constance had to lift up her chin to see through the bottom part of her narrow spectacles.
“Chuck Rifkin?” Muldoon looked perplexed. “Who the heck is Chuck Rifkin?” He nodded at a list of names in the center of the right-hand page.
“Janey Martinez, now that does ring a vague bell,” Constance mused and closed her eyes in order to search for the memory that she simply knew was skulking in some far corner of her head somewhere.
“Smiler’s name is on the list, too.” Lewis ran his finger down the half dozen names that were all written in meticulous cursive. “Whitey Muldoon – that’s you, I guess?” he said to Muldoon. “And this one is me.” Lewis appeared pleased to have recognized his own name for the first time, although he’d only just seen it a minute or so ago at the front of the book.
“And that one is me.” Constance was back with them, the fuzzy image of her erstwhile friend Janey Martinez still loitering on the periphery of her mind; pretty much all she could recall was that Janey had died, although that could have been years ago.
“So, why are those ones crossed out?” Muldoon reached over the table and poked a finger at the first three names on the list.
There were thin, straight pencil lines through the names ‘Chuck’, ‘Janey’ and ‘Smiler’ which looked as if they had been drawn with the aid of a ruler.
Thank you so much for your time James! If you would like to find out more about James and his writing endeavours, check out the links below.
Alyson – Hi Alathia and welcome to the Horror Tree.Can you tell us something about your roots and upbringing?
Alathia – I was raised in a very religious home environment and was home-schooled until college. My love of books grew from all of the places that I could read about without having to leave home. I was always curious about how each story would end and even did intensive research because of several historical fiction series I found. Moving 35 times by the time I finished college, it was becoming difficult to move my growing collection. Until college I had mostly read only Christian fiction or historical biographies, so when I branched into fantasy and then thrillers – my collection grew again.
Alyson – Growing up what books did you read? And love?
Alathia – The Hardy Boys was my favourite series and I still have them today. Bodie Thoene’s Zion series led me to other books about WWII and fed my love of history.
Alyson – How did you get started writing? Is it something you’ve always done? Or wanted to do?
Alathia – I started writing in Junior H igh and High School and I had two different stories started, but then I went to college and got busy writing papers. With my love of reading, a logical step would have been to become a writer, but I didn’t think I could ever be published, because it was such a long process. When my brother got cancer and passed away, I knew then that life was way too short to wait around so I did NaNoWriMo and looked into self-publishing. I’m in the process of transitioning from my writing being a part-time hobby to a full-time writer.
Alyson – What drew you to writing horror?
Alathia – To be perfectly honest, I hate horror and scary books or movies. I didn’t like Stephen King and zombies are just so gross. I didn’t even watch ‘The Walking Dead’ T.V. show, but my husband and oldest daughter did. I happen to be going by whilst they watched and got sucked into the story. There weren’t even that many zombies (!) and so I ventured in, cautiously. Four days and four seasons later, I was a super fan. They didn’t do things the way I wanted, so I started writing my own series with zombies. Now, I manage to write, without cringing nearly as much.
Alyson – Do you have a writing routine? Daily? On the go? Pen or pc or ipad? Study or corner of a sofa?
Alathia – I’m working on a routine, but it’s more like fast and furious for about two weeks and then I take a break to clean the house and promote things, (such as do interviews- I planned on doing much earlier) and catch up on my reading. I have started using dictation when I’m out of the house and waiting around for the kids, but the computer is my go to and it is in the middle of the living room so I can keep an eye on everything.
Alyson – You mention online participating in a NANOWRIMO Camp – which is also a big writing event in the UK- during November. Was this an important step for you as a developing writer? And did what you write become a novel?
Alathia – NaNoWriMo was the first time I knew there were people out there who wrote that fast. I honestly had no idea how to do it, but since my brother had passed away only weeks before, I decided that the camp would be my best bet to finish a story. It actually took two camps, but it got finished and I pushed the button in 2015.
Alyson – Can you tell us about your publishing experiences? Both the good and the bad? Any advice for writers?
Alathia – The bad thing was I had no idea what I was doing when I was trying to publish my first book. I even changed one character’s name mid-book. Yep, it was horrible! I didn’t have a good editor and after two tries and three books, I finally found one that not only does an amazing job, but could fix the mistakes I’d done. The good thing about writing is that the stories keep coming and I can’t write fast enough to get them all out of my head. I write a summary down and then keep working on my current work in progress. My advice would be- write and worry about the editing when you are finished with it, but do keep writing. You can always go back and correct something later, but it won’t write itself. Do your research because there are a lot of amazing writers out there who are willing to help.
Alyson – You mention having a mammoth book collection (over 6000 books!), so who are your favourite authors – currently? And do you read many horror books?
Alathia – I love Sherrilyn Kenyon, Nora Roberts, Laurell K. Hamilton, Lisa Jackson, S. M. Shade, Bianca Sommerland, Ellie Midwood and many more. I switched to e-readers about the time I started writing and didn’t realize I’d been missing out on so many amazing authors just because they weren’t available to buy in book stores. I now read a mix of both paperbacks and kindle books, since I read at least a book a week and sometimes more.
Alyson – How much does music and/or film inspire or influence your writing or even your mood as you write? (One of my favourite films was World War Z- what did you think?)
Alathia – I love listening to music, while I write, but it doesn’t really do much to influence me except for providing background noise. I do like to watch movies that I’ve seen before and don’t have to pay attention to also while I write. When writing ‘Infected Waters: A Titanic Disaster’, I watched the Titanic movie about 50 times just for atmosphere and have started watching ‘World War Z’ for this latest zombie book.
Alyson – How much research do you do for your novels?
(You have the very successful Nova Ladies Series- is Nova by any chance an anagram of Avon? Just a wild guess- and the Zombies series-the latest of which is the third book- ‘Co-Eds Against Zombies’ (available on Amazon)
Alathia – Yes, the Nova ladies is Avon spelled backwards. 🙂 I do some research, but it really just depends on which book I’m working on and how much I know about the subject.
Alyson – Writing is a solitary business- do you network in person or online with other writers? Do you go
Alathia – I do lots of networking, but I don’t really have anyone look at my writing until it goes to the editor. I spend hours on Facebook talking and posting, when I should be writing! I have a love/hate relationship with people. I need to be around people, but then I can hide away for a weekend just reading with no problem.
Alyson – How important has social media been to your career as a writer? (You have an impressive number of followers on twitter @alathiamg)
Alathia – Social media has been a huge source of inspiration and help to me, learning from other writers from their ideas, motivation and promotion. There are still things I’m learning about social media, but you have to be engaged with other people to gain a following. Just promotion interaction solely doesn’t bring people in to read your books.
Alyson – How long does each novel take for you to write? Are you a planner with a spreadsheet for plot or more of a let’s plunge in and do this?
Alathia – My first books took about 6 months each, but I’ve finally gotten it down to just a month or so. I hope to get a little faster as I get better at it. I’ve been a pantser—writing by the seat of my pants from the beginning, but I’m slowly learning how to make an outline and it makes my binge writing much easier so that I don’t have to stop nearly as often because I get stuck. I take an idea and do a summary. I think over the idea for a few days or weeks adding to it until I’m ready to jump into it.
Alyson – What advice would you give aspiring (horror) writers? Any top tips?
Alathia – Write, write, write. Find your tribe—genre and stick with them and just write. Every day for ten minutes or two hours, whatever you can spare until you type The End.
Alyson – What are your future writing plans? What’s your next book?
Alathia – ‘Churches Against Zombies’ will be out later this fall, along with a short story in ‘The Undead World Anthology’. I am also working on a pen name to write romance novels with a little spice. There might be a superhero-zombie novel in the works as well.
Alyson – Where can readers follow you on line and contact you?
Alathia Paris Morgan Stalker Links:
Author page: www.facebook.com/apmorganbooks
Street Team: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1442476186066361/
Website & Newsletter signup: www.alathiamg.wix.com/books
Pepper Paris https://www.facebook.com/PepperParisAuthor
Selene – Thanks for agreeing to an interview, and welcome to The Horror Tree. First, tell us a bit about yourself.
Lenore – I’m a fifth generation Floridian, though I now live in Virginia. I grew up in a rural area near a small town outside Orlando, just as Disney World was being built. We had lots of pets — cats, dogs, fish, turtles, birds — and of course plenty of water moccasins and alligators in the lake out back. This was back in the days when parents didn’t keep such a close eye on kids, so we often ended up basically swimming with these critters, too. Maybe that’s why I’m so comfortable around and relate to all sorts of animals, wild and tame — maybe more so than people, sometimes! Anyhow, I went away to college, studied art and literature and writing and a little law, then worked in various jobs. Including, but not limited to: the wardrobe department at Disney World, a golf-resort waitress, a nomadic county poet (yes, that’s a thing), a librarian at a hospital for the criminally insane, and in a large somewhat dysfunctional printing company. Then, finally, I ended up as a writer, educator, and editor.
Ruschelle: Thank you so much for taking a break from haunting cemeteries to chat with us here at the Horror Tree. You are somewhat of a Taphophile as your books Wish You Were Here: Adventures in Cemetery Travel, 199 Cemeteries to See Before You Die as well as a myriad of other blogs, posts and essays on cemeteries you’ve written affirms. What continues to draw you to the granite and marble bones of our past?
Loren: Cemeteries are libraries of stone. Each grave contains a story. Sometimes there are hints to the story in the iconography or the epitaph or the grave offerings, but you’re never going to be able to piece the whole story together without a whole lot of research. I love that graveyards are full of mysteries: who were these people? How did they end up here? Did they touch people still living?
Ruschelle: You’ve been a member of the Association for Gravestone Studies for almost 20 years. Of all the sites you’ve visited, which one has made the biggest impression on you and your writing?
Loren: That’s a great question. Different cemeteries strike me in different ways. Some are full of lovely sculpture. Some are historic, others are spooky. Sometimes they’re beautifully landscaped or full of birdsong and wild creatures… I guess the one that’s affected me most is Highgate Cemetery. I’m sure everyone knows, but just in case: Highgate was a Victorian cemetery on the edge of Hampstead Heath. It’s up on high ground that overlooks London. In the 1970s, the cemetery was overrun (in real life) by vampire hunters who broke into tombs, staked corpses, and wrote books about it afterward. I discovered the cemetery when I was accidently sent to England during the first Gulf War, but I fell in love immediately. Some of my favorite Christopher Lee Dracula movies were filmed there. In fact, one of the scenes from the new Harry Potter-verse movie was filmed there. Highgate is an incredibly beautiful, atmospheric place with a truly bizarre history.
Ruschelle: Is there a cemetery somewhere on this giant marble you are dying to see? I’m sorry I had to say it. LOL
Loren: I really, really want to see the Great Pyramids in Egypt. I’ve got a big birthday on the horizon, so it’s time to start saving my pennies!
Ruschelle: You have created a notebook for likeminded Taphophiles to take into the field and document their own cemetery discoveries. What makes this book a “must have” for fellow enthusiasts?
Loren: The Cemetery Travels Notebook is a place to keep field notes from your own graveyard adventures. It features 80 lined pages, interspersed with 20 lush full-page color photographs of cemeteries from Paris to Tokyo, with stops at Sleepy Hollow, San Francisco, and all points between.
Ruschelle: You have your monthly Grave Fascinations column appear in the Horror Writers Association newsletter. That is awesome. Has your expertise in the subject found its way into other author’s works?
Loren: Not that I know of yet, but I am hoping! There’s nothing better than to inspire someone.
Ruschelle: Ever come across anything creepy in any of the graveyards?
Loren: I visited Forest Hill Cemetery in Madison, Wisconsin a couple of years ago, on Memorial Day. Forest Hill is such a lovely, leafy green place, full of the most incredible symphony of birdsong. I was roaming around alone, as one does, looking for the Native American mounds around which the cemetery was built. Despite the heat of the day, I found myself suddenly covered in goosebumps. There was an odor… the horrible, overwhelming smell of something large rotting. It stopped me in my tracks. Then I noticed the birds had gone silent.
I stood there, nauseated and shivering, and realized that no one knew where I was. I’d come to Madison for a convention, but my roommates had already gone on home, and I hadn’t told anyone else I was going to the graveyard. I had a real sense that something dead was aware of me, daring me to step off the road to investigate.
So I backed away. I kept walking until I heard the birds begin to sing again.
Ruschelle: Woah, that would be creepy as all Hades. Speaking of creepy, you were the creator of Morbid Curiosity Magazine. For 10 issues it was bursting with viscera, violence and the macabre. And all the stories were true! Tell us a little about the birth, life and the death of the Zine?
Loren: My husband and I started a publishing company in the early Nineties and published two books. Then he started a record label called Charnel Music. Because of the label, people used to send him all kinds of fun things. I got to thinking: what kind of things do I want people to send me in the mail? I decided I wanted to read confessional true stories. I never considered anything else for the name of the magazine. Morbid Curiosity fit perfectly.
Since I started the magazine in the days before the world wide web exploded, all of Morbid Curiosity was done by mail: getting submissions, taking payments, mailing out orders. I didn’t sell subscriptions, so I mailed postcards every year to let people know the new issue was available. It took me pretty much 6 months each year to assemble and sell each issue.
I continued on for 10 years, but the whole publication process was pretty much just me in my back bedroom editing, selling ads, doing the layout and design, handling distribution, and fulfilling the mail order. Eventually I had a kid and didn’t have time to fool around with the magazine any more.
Ruschelle: Could there be a rebirth in Morbid Curiosity’s cycle of life?
Loren: People still ask that, but I don’t think so. I burned out hard on doing all the work, even though I had a really terrific stable of authors and illustrators I counted on for each issue. Anyway, publishing print magazines is expensive. Distribution is hard. Back in the day, my two biggest distributors were Tower Records and Borders Books, both of which went out of business owing me thousands of dollars.
Morbid Curiosity lives on in a sort of half-life as a Facebook group where I link to morbid tidbits and collect up essays that would have fit into the magazine. Here’s the link: https://www.facebook.com/Morbid-Curiosity-magazine-152307981457917/ Come join us.
Ruschelle: Done! Okay readers, Morbid Curiosity is waiting for you. If you could meet any author and ask them one question about writing, who would it be and what would you ask?
Loren: Wow. I don’t know how to answer that. I’ve gotten pretty bold about asking living writers questions, so it would have to be someone dead. Maybe I’d ask Manly Wade Wellman for a blurb.
Ruschelle: I have a question that’s been nibbling at my spleen and it’s just who IS Alondra and how is she the center of so many wonderful stories?
Loren: You completely made my day, Ruschelle! Alondra DeCourval is a young witch who travels the world to fight monsters. I’ve been writing about her for years and years. Her stories have appeared in Best New Horror #27, Frightmare: Women Write Horror, The Haunted Mansion Project: Year One, nEvermore: Tales of Murder, Mystery, and the Macabre, and many more books and magazines.
Two new Alondra stories are coming out in Weirdbook and Occult Detective Quarterly this year.
Ruschelle: Is there a part of you that’s Alondra? And more importantly, which part? Her left arm? Her eyeballs? I bet it’s the bladder. Most monsters we craft are cobbled from bits and pieces-parts of ourselves.
Loren: Alondra is my love of travel and ghost stories and the real-world history of magic, particularly Dion Fortune’s Society of the Inner Light in the early 20th century. Oh, and my earlobes. Alondra wears her charms pierced through her ears.
Ruschelle: Earlobes! That’s a great answer. Lol! The Alondra’s stories are now available in three chapbooks with two more on the way! What can we expect from your heroine in the coming books or is it a secret?
Loren: One of the upcoming books is a novelette about a firestorm in the Sierra Mountains. They seem to be a fixture of summer now, but I find them terrifying – and Alondra inadvertently goes camping in the middle of one. The other chapbook will be a novella that combines ghosts, the lore of the sea, and great white sharks on islands 25 miles off the California coast. The Native Americans considered those islands the Land of the Dead. Alondra sorts through the hauntings and elemental phenomena to solve the disappearances of two naturalists.
Ruschelle: Your Wake of the Templars Trilogy is Science Fiction! How do you go from terra firma to terra nova?
Loren: I actually started as a science fiction writer, but veered into horror, then wandered into cemetery nonfiction. The trilogy was called grimdark space opera by Publishers Weekly, which I took as high praise.
Ruschelle: How much research did you do while penning your Templar Space Opera?
Loren: Those books took less research than some of the Alondra stories! My space opera research was a lifetime of reading science fiction and digesting the themes.
Ruschelle: Smooshing your love of cemeteries and science fictions together…What do you think graveyards in space or another planet would be like.
Loren: Actually, I’ve written a story about one! The trilogy’s heroine Raena Zacari visits the Monument in Remembrance of the Crimes Committed During the Galactic War, an enormous cemetery satellite where the cremains of people executed for war crimes are stored, along with holograms illustrate their trials and deaths. It’s an enormous place, filled with little square markers that cover the cremains and serve as the recorders. People need to get gps coordinates to find the person they’ve come to visit. The cemetery is staffed by nonhuman docents who spy on visitors and make sure they are not missing the good old days, before the war.
Ruschelle: That is so cool. I love that idea. Speaking of ideas, we writers have a process when we carve flesh from bone. Would you share your writing process?
Loren: I usually manage to crank out a sloppy first draft during Nanowrimo each year, but the rest of the year, I like to have breakfast in a café every morning and write or edit for an hour or two. There’s something about being out in public that makes it easier for me to concentrate.
Ruschelle: Of everything you write and have written, what has been the most challenging?
Loren: I have been struggling to finish the sequel to Lost Angels, the succubus/angel novel I wrote with Brian Thomas. When we originally wrote the book, it was hugely long. In order to find a publisher, I split the text in half at a natural climax. The first book was published in 2013 and revised and republished in 2016, but the second book still isn’t quite ready for publication. I keep being offered shiny new projects – like 199 Cemeteries – which pull me away from finishing Angelus Rose. I need to find a way to settle down and focus on it until it’s finished.
Ruschelle: Are you dabbling in anything new that we should watch out for?
Loren: Well, there are the two new Alondra short stories coming out in Occult Detective Quarterly and Weirdbook, then the two Alondra novelettes will be out before the end of 2018.
Next year, I hope to see published a book I’ve been researching for almost 20 years called Pioneer Cemeteries of the San Francisco Bay Area. Local history fascinates me – and much of it is deliciously grim. Have you heard about the Donner Party? They were a party of pioneers to California who were trapped by deep snow in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and had to resort to cannibalism to survive. Most of the survivors were children, who went on to build the state of California. They are buried all around the Bay Area.
Then, who knows? Maybe I’ll finally finish Angelus Rose.
Thank you so much for sharing with us. Where on this world wide web will your new fans find you?
Loren: My home page is https://lorenrhoads.com/. My cemetery work is focused on https://cemeterytravel.com/. I’m on twitter and Instagram as @morbidloren and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/loren.rhoads.5.
Thanks so much for your great questions, Ruschelle!