The Horror Tree Presents… An Interview with Pete Altieri
Interview with Pete Altieri by B Prouvost
Author, self-publisher, musician and podcaster, Pete Altieri is a busy guy. In a few days he will publish the third installment of his short stories’ collection Creation of Chaos. He took the time to talk to me about this project, and the many others he juggles, from his cool podcast studio in Illinois.
BP: You published the first two volumes of Creation of Chaos in 2018 and 2019. How does this third one work with the others?
PA: I seem to have done well with the other two, especially the first one, and I am anxious to see what my readers think of this one because I feel pretty strong about the stories in it. I love to write short stories, it’s kind of my wheelhouse, and I thankfully come up with a lot of ideas all the time. For this specific collection, I told myself that rather than just throwing twelve or thirteen short stories together, I would really test myself. I wrote some things I have never done before and I relished the challenge, it was fun! For example, I revisited two stories from Creations of Chaos I and II and gave them new endings.
BP: When did you know you had all the stories you needed to go ahead and publish the collection?
PA: I had twelve stories and was going to stop there when my wife and I watched The Autopsy of Jane Doe. They talked about grave bells in that movie, and while it sounded familiar, I really wasn’t sure what those were. After researching them, and seeing they were a mean to be sure a person is really dead in their coffin, I was surprised I didn’t know about those, because I am a big Poe fan and the story The Prematured Burial addresses grave bells. I thought of how chilling it would be to walk in a cemetery at night and to hear the bells ringing. I knew then I needed to write one more, which became The Bells of San Pedro. It was just too intriguing of an idea!
BP: What does this look like for you, putting together a short story collection?
PA: There is of course the writing phase, and the rewritings, then the editing, which my wife does for me. I also use a beta reader, who is a good friend of mine, so there is a back and forth between us, and then it’s back to the editing. In the end, there is the question of the order in which to put the stories together. This time, I asked some of my friends to read them and to rank the ones they liked the best in a top five. Every one of them but one said The Last Supper was their favorite, so I knew I needed to start with this one. From my music days, I know you always want the opening track to punch them right in the jaw, and The Last Supper does that. Then I tried to pace it a little bit. I can’t help but use the music analogy again: arranging a set list, you want to start out strong and then move the audience through and then put other really great stuff at the end.
BP: There are supernatural elements in your stories, but another major component seems to be true crime. Could you tell me more about it?
PA: My father was a parole officer in a prison in New York, and my mother worked for an attorney who worked what became a very infamous case, the woman who was put in a woodchipper by her husband in Connecticut in the 80’s, which actually inspired that scene in the movie Fargo. So, I really grew up with true crime discussions at the dinner table. I have long been a horror fan and I seem to always love to merge those two worlds together.
BP: Two of the stories are actually your own take on two existing stories. The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe, and The Thing on the Doorstep, by H.P. Lovecraft. Those two stories are written from the narrator’s point of view, and both are developed around the sanity/insanity theme, which is a theme you also explore quite a bit in other stories. What did draw you to those two specific short stories?
PA: I knew I had to do The Tell-Tale Heart because that’s the one that got me into horror. My uncle used to make me these cassettes tapes of Vincent Price reading Poe stories and I remember me and him in my dark bedroom and him trying to freak me out while the amazing voice of Vincent Price was reading The Black Cat, The Pit and the Pendulum, etc. But The Tell-Tale Heart was my favorite. I didn’t want to just rewrite it, I wanted to make it my own and that’s why instead of it being the hatred of an evil eye, in my killer’s perspective it would be he’s enamored with the eye. Because of my interest in true crime, I used a few known serial killers to create my narrator, such as: Charles Albright, who cut the eyes out of his victims, John Wayne Gacy for his penchant of burying bodies in the crawlspace, Ed Gein for his obsession with his mother, Jeffrey Dahmer for the cannibalism side of the story, and Edmund Kemper, for the way he outsmarted the psychiatrists.
I have to admit I don’t like all of Lovecraft’s stuff. I am not a huge sci-fi fan and some of his stories gets a little beyond my palette, but I love his horror and The Thing on the Doorstep has always been one of my favorites of his. And unlike The Tell-Tale heart, it’s not a real well-known one. In the afterword, I explain why I wrote all these stories because it’s important for me to let the readers know where they come from and how I wanted to do it.
As for the sanity/insanity theme, it’s something I have always been interested in. There is a former asylum not too far from where I live, the Peoria State Hospital in Bartonville, Illinois, which is where I actually based part of my novel The Dreadful Lives of Enoch Stange. I have always been fascinated by the idea of people being locked away in those places, especially back in the day when they were very brutal and very unkind to them. In the story Digger, the seventh in this collection, one of the characters is actually based on a John Doe patient at the Peoria State Hospital.
BP: In a few of your stories, you offer alternate endings. I thought it was a lot of fun and it reminded me of the choose-your-own-adventure books I loved as a kid. How did you come up with that idea?
PA: I wrote a story in Creation of Chaos I called Contraption number 12. That was the first time I tried it and a lot of my readers loved it, they had the same reaction you did about the choose-your-own-adventure books. So, I tried to do it again, just not always because my problem is, I fully invest my creative process on the whole story and the ending is very important to me. I try my best to give the best ending I can come up with, so an alternate ending feels to me like a second best. But like I said earlier, in this third volume I revisited a story from the first one, called Carnival of Atonement, and gave it a completely different ending that popped up right at me and I knew it was the right one. I did the same thing with October House, which was in Creation of Chaos II.
BP: Does that mean you always know how a story ends when you start writing it?
PA: Sometimes, I know exactly how I want a story to end, like in A Single White Rose. I knew I wanted it to end with a person being executed that was innocent, and to focus on what would be going through their mind. But the way I usually work is that I get an idea, I let it percolate in my head for a while, I start to play out all the different things I want to do with it, and then when it hits me, I write it, from the beginning to the end.
BP: You self-publish your books through your own publishing house, Blunt Force Press. Why did you choose to go that route?
PA: Yes, I published my three short stories collections as well as my novel, The Dreadful Lives of Enoch Strange, that way. I also published a side project for the podcast I cohost with Chris Shawback, Joey Goremonger and Chris “CK” Kovacs, called Murder Metal Mayhem. It’s an activity book, with coloring pages of serial killers, crosswords puzzles and stuff like that. When I wrote my first novel, the one that I have not yet published, I looked for literary agent, I sent queries, etc., but I found it was an awfully confusing process for somebody that was new to that game. Every one of them asked me to send something different, like a synopsis, the first chapter, the first three chapters, etc. and I just grew frustrated with it all. I found myself with the choice to either not publish or to do it myself and that’s what I did. It just seemed foolish to me to wait on it. Now I enjoy having full control over my stories and the way I publish them.
BP: This brings me to your next project, Deeper than Dead, which will also be published through Blunt Force Press and which will take an unusual form, right?
PA: Yes, it will be a ten-part illustrated novel that I am shaping the way Netflix does with its series. Each part is going to have a full-page color illustration from Brian Uziel, who already did most of my books’ covers. These illustrations will be part of a bigger art piece that will be a full-sized poster sold with the book. The book itself will be a bigger format, 8,5 x 11 po. I am also writing a theme song for the audiobook with my former band, Low Twelve. I’m really excited about that project, which should be released around the end of 2021.
BP: That’s not the first time you use your own music in an audiobook.
PA: I have been playing bass and singing in heavy metal bands since 1984. Horror and Heavy Metal tend to go hand in hand in my opinion: the subject matters, the lyrics tell a story, etc. In the Creation of Chaos III’s audiobook, which I am almost done working on, the story The 666 Express involves my cohosts over at Murder Metal Mayhem as characters, and I asked an Australian band that are friends of mine, Malice’s Wake, to let us use some of their music. This story will be read normally, but there will also be a bonus track with a crazy version of it with screaming and crazy loud music. People can expect not a typical audiobook and I think part of that is because of my love of music and writing music and coming up with original stuff.
Creation of Chaos III. 13 Nightmarish Visions, is out on June 25, 2021: http://www.CreationOfChaos.com/
You can find Pete over on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/AltieriPete
and also listen to him cohosting the Murder Metal Mayhem Podcast http://www.MurderMetalMayhem.com/
or doing his own biweekly Voice of Dread Podcast http://Voiceofdread.com/.
(This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)
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A kid of the nineties, B Prouvost was born and raised near Paris, France. In 2006, she decided it was time for a change of scenery and moved to Canada. She lives in Montreal, Quebec, with her partner and their son. A lover of all things Horror, she has a soft spot for monsters, slashers and ghosts. Most days, you can find her on Twitter @BenProuvost.