The Horror Tree Presents… An Interview With S. L. Edwards
Today we’re sitting down to interview one S. L. Edwards. Part man, part weredog, part lover of olives and mayo*, he is also the creator of the upcoming collection ‘Whiskey and Other Unusual Ghosts’. The work has an introduction by Charles P Dunphey and is described as follow: “Whiskey and Other Unusual Ghosts debuts a meteoric new voice in modern dark fiction. In these tales, you’ll discover the humanity of horror, and the traumas that birth ghosts of all kinds. From inner demons to the bloodied fields of war, Edwards maintains his unique voice while whispers of classic writers such as Arthur Machen and Thomas Ligotti shine through. Edwards enters the contemporary dark fiction crowd with a standout collection that is likely to cement his position amongst the modern greats.”
*S.L. hates olives and mayo with a passion rarely found outside of a zealot who has found the latest person they feel is against their own cause and the two must be offered to him at all available opportunities.
Horror Tree (HT): Mr. Edwards, what can you tell our readers about your upcoming blasphemous work known only as ‘Whiskey and Other Unusual Ghosts’?
- L. Edwards (SLE): First, thanks for having me, Stuart. I broke into the scene largely because of what you do at Horror Tree. The site was a gamechanger, and really allowed me to get my foot through the door. It’s an honor to be here, talking about my debut collection.
So that brings me to the collection. “Whiskey” is a collection of twelve stories (plus a bonus story after the Afterword). Each story has an illustration from the incomparable Yves Tourigny. I may be biased, but I think this is his best work. It’s called “Whiskey and Other Unusual Ghosts” because the stories are, at their core, about the things that haunt us. Violence, intimate and political. Mistakes. Addictions. Deals made between people who you never know. Devastating obsessions. The “ghosts” in these stories are more thematic than literal, and the supernatural merely serves as a catalyst for horrors that were already there. Latent variables brought to the forefront. They focus on a variety of characters, who I came to know pretty well in the course of writing.
I’m proud of it, but I would be lying if I didn’t tell you I’m a little anxious too. The writing community has been very kind to me, and I just hope I can make people proud. Charles P. Dunphey, in particular, has taken me on as a new writer and I owe him so much for it.
HT: You enjoy bringing back characters from your stories and revisiting them in new tales. Does this collection contain any crossover in characters from your other works? Any from within the collection itself?
- L. Edwards: Originally, there were going to be two stories containing a character named “The Matchmaker.” The Matchmaker is a mix of internet urban legends, myths coming out of the intelligence world, and a bit of an autobiographical monster. The premise of the Matchmaker was relatively straightforward, this is a person (question marks on “person”) who people can summon by leaving very specific amounts of money in a very specific pattern. There are different Matchmaker “maps” for major urban areas across the world. And once properly hired, the Matchmaker will arrange one murder for their client to carry out. Essentially, the Matchmaker allows people to kill other people, but with no consequences. However, one of those stories got cut.
But as I was assembling “Whiskey,” the tone of the collection became quite clear. It would have been difficult to bring in Congressman Marsh (my politically Lovecraftian character), or Joe Bartred (my occult detective). I enjoy writing those characters and a few others, but I would like to have enough material to collect these characters into their own collections later on down the road.
HT: Do you feel that any of the stories found within will lead to other tales of involving spirits? Your call on if I mean alcohol, nonphysical beings, or both!
SLE: Oh, I think they already have! I’m currently shopping around another collection, entitled Monsters of the Sea and Sky that follows similar themes from Whiskey. Particularly, the stories in Monsters build off of the DNA established in “Cabras” and “Volver Al Monte,” which kind be found in the latter half of Whiskey and Other Unusual Ghosts. The “spirits” in these stories are centered around political violence, it’s cyclical nature and repeating consequences. There is something profoundly sad to me in peace being a divisive issue. It’s very rare for groups to make peace with their friends, instead it is by necessity that peace be made between groups and nations that do not trust each other. That have no reason to trust each other! And for this reason, we conflict repeated over, over and over again.
As for nonphysical beings, most of my monsters are remarkably physical. When they’re not people, they’re monsters in the most straightforward sort of sense. But I did take some of the themes of “Maggie Was a Monster” and “I’ve Been Here A Very Long Time,” and put them into another story involving adolescence, growing up and finding first loves. I don’t want to give too much away about “Please Don’t Worry,” as it’s coming from Hinnom Magazine this year. But it was a profoundly personal, painful story. I am very proud of it, and I hope readers enjoy it as much as it pained me to write it.
Now alcohol…you know, a lot of my characters sit around drinking whiskey! It’s become something of a cheap way for me to make excuses for writing long, philosophic conversations. Maybe that will be a running joke one day: “You know you’re in an S. L. Edwards story if you’re speaking Spanish and drinking whiskey.”
HT: Did any other authors inspire the specific works in this collection? If so, who and how?
SLE: I did, but I have to say I draw a lot of my writing from outside the horror community. Boris Pasternak and Vasily Grossman were big influences on me. Pasternak is pretty well-known, but Grossman is sort of the entire tragedy of WWII wrapped up in one sad human life. He was a war correspondent traveling with the Red Army, and a Ukranian Jew. The things he saw and the profound personal loss the war cost him are written across his masterful novel “Life and Fate.”
For horror influences, there’s a lot of Poe. Lovecraft, of course. To an extent I think all of us live in Lovecraft’s shadow, and I also think that’s okay. Algernon Blackwood’s cosmic horror approach to nature made its way into “The Case of Yuri Zaystev.” Neil Gaiman’s ironic fantasy also shows up a few times too.
HT: Anyone who follows you on social media will instantly recognize your love of doggos. While I understand this love, can you share a bit of your passion for our furry four legged friends with the world?
SLE: The more I come to know people, the more I like dogs. I grew up with, and still have an extreme fur allergy. It was particularly bad with cats. But when you’re a withdrawn child, given to mood swings and just days of bitterness you don’t understand, that can be very hard. If I’m going to be honest, a lot of my childhood I often felt like I was underwater, or on a different planet, when my peers spoke. It led me to alienate more people than I wanted to, and I tended to have a difficult time making new friends.
So there’s something to be said, for someone who is always happy to see you. Someone who doesn’t care about how awkward you are, someone who always wants to sit with you. Someone who doesn’t care about the news, or how you feel about your job, or how much the rent costs. Just someone who loves you, unconditionally. Who always dances when you come home, who always wags their tail.
I don’t have anything against cats now, I want to make that clear. But I get very severe allergy attacks around them. A few people have told me that you can grow to tolerate it, but it’s very difficult for me. I instead enjoy pictures of cats.
HT: How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck was a ghost?
SLE: Three. But poorly.
HT: If you could write something with any other author who would it be and why?
SLE: You know, that’s a very difficult question for me. I’m quite reluctant to answer, because the idea of a collaboration is quite intimidating to me. I don’t know how the mechanics works, and can be quite flighty with my schedule. For these reasons, I don’t think I would make a very good collaborator at all. The closest I’ve come is writing a character for Jonathan Raab’s Kottoverse. And while that was fun, I’m not sure that it would be easy to do again.
Of course the obvious answer is Yves, who did the vast majority of the heavy lifting in crafting Borkchito. He deserves credit for that.
But there are a few I think would be fun. John Linwood Grant pays such intensive attention to his characters that it would be impossible to turn him down. I’d be honored to get the opportunity to work on something with Misters Dry or Bubbles one day. Mer Whinery…it’d be great to do an Oklahoma/Texas sword-and-sorcery tale one day. My old Ravenwood friends, John Paul Fitch or Russell Smeaton…
But then there are the dreams. These are authors who, if they approached me (please don’t approach me) would be very difficult to turn down. Gwendolyn Kiste is obviously my hero, as is Nadia Bulkin. Those two are just modern powerhouses, I am in awe of everything they do. S.P. Miskowski is another one. Jon Padgett once threatened to collaborate with me but luckily I was able to weasel my way out, I’m not sure I could that again. Most of these folks though, for good reason, don’t collaborate. And again, I’m just not sure what kind of collaborator I would be. I am sure I will try one day, but for now I’m perfectly happy playing in my own sandbox and inviting people in.
HT: It is said that your nemesis is the wickedly evil Edward L. Samuels (though the way he tells it, you’re the villain in his story.) What can you tell us about this man of mystery?
SLE: E. L. Samuels lives in the corner of your eyes. He is impossibly tall, and flickers in the light. In the night he’ll sing songs to you, but each of them are lies. Sometimes the wind will last too long, settle on your hair and that space just behind your ear. Do not turn around. When the lights flicker, the shadows in the corner seem to change. Keep looking forward. Before you go to sleep, you may hear a laugh. Just sleep. Please, just sleep.
HT: What advice would you give to an author who is just starting out?
SLE: Even just 45 minutes of exercise a day can lead to better health, including better sleep. The average person needs 8 hours of sleep a night, and eight cups of water in a day. Remember that: 8 hours, 8 cups. Try to eat fresh fruit and vegetables whenever possible. Substitute darker lettuce for iceberg when you’re eating a hamburger. And a balanced breakfast is actually HEALTHIER than no breakfast at all.
HT: Do you have an ideal writing environment?
SLE: Well…can I afford one? No. Ideally I’d like to right in some mountain cabin, drinking dark coffee out of a metal cup. I would wear flannel, and pet a corgi as it gently rested on my lap. After dinner with the people I love I would retire once more to writing.
But no, no I don’t have one now.
HT: Short story collections have been making a comeback in recent years, what inspired you to put one together and do you feel that this is a trend which will continue?
SLE: I’ve always wanted to get a collection in people’s hands, and for a very long time I knew I wanted it to be called “Whiskey and Other Unusual Ghosts.” The idea of drinking scared me quite a bit when I was younger. I wasn’t an athletic kid, but was a smart one. My grades were everything to me. My state of mind was everything to me. And I was terrified that alcohol and other drugs would just annihilate myself. This led to the titular story, “Whiskey and Memory,” which has undergone many revisions since I first wrote it. So I’ve always wanted to get a collection together. These days I actually prefer them to novels. You get a better sampling of what author has to offer.
I do think it will continue, by necessity. There are so many talented writers in Weird Fiction right now, and the ranks are only growing. There isn’t a lot of time for people to just generate novels. Less time to read them. As break out voices emerge, readers will want to sit down with a whole collection of the author’s works. I’m still dying, for instance, for collections from authors like Brooke Warra, Christopher Ropes, William Tea and John Paul Fitch. I’m over the damn moon that Betty Rocksteady’s collection is finally coming out this summer (check it out, y’all). So yeah, I at least hope it will continue.
HT: What else would you like to share with the readers and authors who spend time at the Horror Tree?
SLE: First of all, thank you for reading this. Putting a collection together is a stressful. Getting it out there is even more so. I hope that I’ve inspired some interest in “Whiskey and Other Unusual Ghosts.” If so, I hope you leave a review on Jeff Bezos’ evil empire, or on goodreads. Reviews make or break independent authors and publishers, and I could use your help.
My other is a plea to check out the following emerging writers, who I may or may not have mentioned before: John Paul Fitch, Russell Smeaton, William Tea, Rob F. Martin, Brooke Warra, Jordan Kurella, Sarah Walker, Can Wiggins, Sean M. Thompson, Mer Whinery so many others. Support independent presses like Charles P. Dunphey’s “Hinnom,” Jon Padgett’s “Vastarien,” Scott R. Jones “Martian Migraine,” Robert S. Wilson’s “Nightscape” Doug Draa’s “Weirdbook.” These folks are on the frontlines of new weird fiction, new horror fiction. They are going to be the ones finding and promoting weird authors. Duane Pesice is also really good about that with every anthology he edits.
And even more established writers could use your help and dollars. I cannot recommend the works of Gwendolyn Kiste or Nadia Bulkin enough. Same for S.P. Miskowski. John Langan. Michael Wehunt. Jayaprakash Satyamurthy. Kurt Fawver. Matthew M. Bartlett We live in a golden age of sorts, but it only lasts as long as readers keep reading. So I encourage you to give those good folks your time, your energy, and just a bit of your money.
And this gets to my last thing: authors, support each other. Particularly you new ones. Your fellows are going to be your first readers, and your first advocates. But you are responsible for lifting them up too. Promote your fellow writers: it’s the right thing to do.
‘Whiskey and Other Unusual Ghosts’ is available for pre-order on Amazon! (Disclaimer: This is an affiliate link. If you purchase something through the links in this article we may receive a small commission or referral fee. This happens without any additional cost to you.)