Odds and DEAD Ends: Fiction in John Carpenter’s ‘In The Mouth Of Madness’

John Carpenter’s In The Mouth Of Madness was released in 1994, and completes his ‘Apocalypse Trilogy’, along with The Thing and Prince of Darkness. Drawing heavily on H. P. Lovecraft, Mouth of Madness is a unique, self-reflexive film in a similar vein to Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (also 1994). The film follows insurance investigator John Trent, as he tracks down missing horror novelist, Sutter Cane. This article will focus on film’s use of fiction and stories to blur previously thought-of binary oppositions, such as fantasy/reality, human/inhuman, and even day/night, to try and disturb and unsettle the viewer.

The idea behind fiction in Mouth of Madness is, if enough people believe in stories, the stories gain power, and through that power the Old Ones can return. Cane explains this to Trent like this:

“It takes its power from new readers and new believers. That’s the point. Belief! When people begin to lose their ability to know the difference between fantasy and reality the old ones can begin their journey back. The more people who believe the faster the journey. And with the way the other books have sold, this one is bound to be very popular.”

In Paul Cobley’s book Narrative, he states that “The most familiar, most primitive, most ancient and seemingly straightforward of stories reveal depths that we might have hitherto failed to anticipate.” (Cobley, 2001, p. 2). Cane, controlled by the Old Ones, uses horror fiction as a universal storytelling medium to connect with readers on a primal level, using common tropes and ideas to make it easier for readers to believe. Cobley’s discussion of signs in literature, or “what humans interpret as signs, therefore stand in for something else in the real world” (p. 9), illuminates why a horror writer is the best medium for the Old Ones to use to prepare humanity for their arrival. Coding themselves with signs they people understand makes them more believable, understandable, acceptable, even.

Fiction, therefore, is an illumination of truth, a coded way to our understanding of knowledge. With this in mind, the filmmakers use the audience’s understanding of this concept (though perhaps the audience isn’t consciously aware of it) to turn truth on its head and destabilise them. Slowly, picking up pace at the finale, the boundary between fantasy and reality erodes away.

This happens in many ways, from Cane’s whispering “Did I ever tell you my favourite colour was blue?” followed by Trent waking up with the world blue, to the constant cyclist returning over and over again. There are also more subtle details which hint the fictional nature of Trent’s story. The room Trent stays in at Pickman’s Hotel is 9, the same cell number that Trent is in at the asylum. Similarly, the number of the motel room Trent stays in after his world has been turned ‘upside down’, is 6. 6 is also the number of novels that Sutter Cane has written before In The Mouth Of Madness.

Note that the world Cane inhabits is malleable, and reflects, is, his fiction. “You are what I write. Like this town. It wasn’t here before I wrote it. And neither were you.” He later writes Trent’s actions perfectly, the passage that Linda reads from the novel. Cane alters what is real and not real because he lives inside his own fiction, an avatar, for his real self. This is made evident when Trent explains to Harglow that the reason he doesn’t remember Linda is “Well, that’s easy, she was written out.” He is a proxy god for the Old Ones.

The breakdown of reality and fantasy is not the only division that collapses. French structuralist Claude Levi-Strauss theorised that stories were, at their core, thematically comprised sets of binary oppositions, such as good and evil, rural and urban, men and women. Carpenter’s film systematically deconstructs this simple division and thereby prove the illusory nature of Trent’s reality and, to an extent, our own, assisting our discomfort.

Reality and fantasy is a clear example; the whole narrative is a deconstruction of its fictional self, but another is the opposition of human and inhuman. Several times we see characters (such as Mrs. Pickman) change to monsters throughout the film, and others such as Linda have the ability to move from human to inhuman. The anthropomorphic qualities attached to monstrous forms unsettles us, we should be allowed to remain clean and whole, but also the monstrous elements given to humans is just as disturbing. Even the painting at the hotel morphs throughout the film. Paintings themselves lie between truth and fiction, a definite image but a representation only, a topic Andre Bazin discusses in The Ontology of the Photographic Image (pdf link below). This distortion brings several oppositions into question in one broad stroke. Carpenter knew what he was doing.

Additionally, that even Cane has a monstrous form on the back of his head, is a startling revelation. When Cane was completely human (though one controlled by other beings), it was still essentially human, and so defeatable. If Carpenter were to show that Cane was an Old One, we would be more comfortable with even this; he would fall on one side of the human vs inhuman opposition. However it is in the middle, a blurred, distorted place we can’t understand, which is more frightening than his being either side.

A smaller example is day and night. Several times throughout the film, such as the arrival at Hobbs’ End, the film jumps straight from night to day. The editing that would usually show a passage of time is inverted, breaking even filmmaking conventions. Here, no time has passed at all. Time is breaking down, the regular cycle of solar bodies that extends beyond this world, is collapsing.

Literary theory states that our understanding of reality is dictated by language, that we experience the world through words and the connections between them. We know a door is a door, in any shape or size, because we associate it with the word ‘door’; the word is what tells us two doors are similar. As Bennett and Royle discuss, “We cannot in any meaningful way, escape the fact that we are subject to language.” (Bennett & Royle, 2009, p. 131). Carpenter’s film is a perfect exploration of the ways in which we are subject to words, to fiction and stories, and the confusion and discomfort if this were to be consciously manipulated by a malevolent force, dissolving oppositions and boundaries we expect and have built into our world, into language itself. The film is not about the destruction of the world, but a destruction of a human perception of the world.

Bibliography

Bazin, A., 2007. The Ontology of the Photographic Image. [Online]
Available at: http://faculty.georgetown.edu/irvinem/theory/Bazin-Ontology-Photographic-Image.pdf
[Accessed 08 08 2018].

Bennett, A. & Royle, N., 2009. An Introduction to Literature. Criticism and Theory. 4th ed. Harlow: Pearson.

Cobley, P., 2001. Narrative. UK: Routledge.

In the Mouth of Madness. 1994. [Film] Directed by John Carpenter. USA: New Line Cinema.

John Carpenter’s The Thing. 1982. [Film] Directed by John Carpenter. United States of America: Universal Studios.

Prince of Darkness. 1987. [Film] Directed by John Carpenter. USA: Alive Films.

Wes Craven’s New Nightmare. 1994. [Film] Directed by Wes Craven. USA: New Line Cinema.

 

 

Article by Kieran Judge

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Chilling Chat Episode 158 Mercy Hollow

Mercy Hollow was born in Florida, where she was terrorized by alligators, fire ants, rabid raccoons, sharks, drunken college students, and 100% humidity. She lived on three continents (four if you count the foreign realm of her imagination) and planted her feet in San Francisco. She has a love of hockey, motorcycles, and anything deemed weird. She writes about gritty underworlds, twists, deception, strong men, stronger women, and a hidden part of Chicago you’ve never seen. She is a freelance editor and workshop facilitator.

Mercy is a woman of many talents with a fascinating past. We spoke of forensic psychology, writing, and her take on good and evil.

NTK: Welcome to Chilling Chat, Mercy. Thank you for chatting with me.

MH: Glad to be here. Thanks for having me on.

NTK: You have traveled the world and visited many continents. What’s the scariest thing that’s ever happened to you?

MH: While I’ve had some interesting, blood pumping, and challenging situations overseas, the scariest was in my home state of Florida. I was lost alone in the Everglades at night for hours with only a lighter.

NTK: Wow! How did that happen? And, how did you get out?

MH: I may have made a bad decision of who to hang out with for the evening. We had a disagreement and they left, taking the boat with them. I have a good sense of direction and a strong desire not to be eaten by alligators so I took my time, avoided the water, and eventually found a path.

NTK: Good job! Did this incident inspire you to become a horror writer? What got you interested in writing horror?

MH: With my previous career in forensic psychology, I got to delve into the darkest parts of people’s minds. See what people were capable of, both to cause ill and overcome tragedy and disaster. I love stories that capture these emotions and could get inside me. Characters that stuck with me, grabbed on, and wouldn’t let go. Writing fiction was a great escape from the real life hardships I saw every day in my job. But, I like dark things. Nighttime is my happy place, so my writing tends to flow to struggle and fight against it.

NTK: Did you solve any crimes during your time in forensic psychology?

MH: I worked with a lot of violent offenders and victims of violent crimes. I was involved in cases, prevention, and rehabilitation. I worked with all the agencies involved, from probation, parole, jails, and mental hospitals to court, police, schools, foster care, and emergency rooms. A team of people working together to make the streets and homes safer and help people that need it, including the offenders. I got to understand and see the other side of violent crime that many don’t. There are stories beneath every action and choice.

NTK: Did you draw on this experience when you wrote Scythe? Did it help you develop your villains as well as your heroes?

MH: Definitely. To me, villains aren’t evil. And, heroes aren’t good. They make the choice they make for a reason. What life throws at you and what shelters you from it is a huge influence on people. The three brothers that rule the Legion in Scythe have all been dealt a bad hand and each deals with it differently. All in their own special shade of darkness. The heroes in the Legion are trying to overcome that darkness but they struggle with the choices they made that got them Claimed in the first place. It also played a part in the Legion itself. When someone is Claimed, the antigen in their blood chooses their designation in the Legion that they will have for the rest of their life based on their personality. Who they truly are. So, they have to face and embrace this part of themselves or suffer the consequences.

NTK: This is an interesting view of good and evil. Less black and white. You’re dealing with shades of gray. Which brings me to the Paranormal Romance aspect. What makes your romance unique?

MH: It’s a blending of genres. Think paranormal romance meets Game of Thrones, in modern day Chicago with horror and suspense. Each book in the series is focused on two couples—a main and sub couple—whose storylines intertwine and influence the others. The world and plot of the Legion also impact the couples. It looks at struggles and hope in relationships, from couples to families, friends, and roles in society, as well as the society itself.

Scythe: Legions of the Claimed by [Hollow, Mercy]NTK: You’ve spoken of the choices which shape your characters. How much control do you have over them? Do you give your creations free will?

MH: Sometimes, I fool myself into thinking I have control over them. Then, they go and do something that ticks me off or they make a choice I want to yell at them for making. Or worse, I see their end coming for them and I can’t stop it. I spend a good amount of gray matter energy brainstorming and plotting, and finding character arcs but, at the end of the day, there are always surprises and places they take me. And, they always yell at me when I try to take them somewhere they wouldn’t go.

NTK: Do you enjoy psychological horror? What horror do you like to read?

MH: I do! From the classics like Frankenstein, Dracula, The Picture of Dorian Gray, to Misery, The Shining, The Handmaid’s Tale, Red Dragon, and Silence of the Lambs. I love reading about the fear of anticipation, the lengths people will go to or be pushed to, the tricks the mind plays, and how people adapt to or resist the extraordinary.

NTK: What horror films and TV shows do you enjoy?

MH: I liked the movies of the books I mentioned previously. I’m an Alfred Hitchcock fan. I liked the different take on characters in Penny Dreadful, Grimm, Game of Thrones, The Handmaid’s Tale series, The Leftovers, Black Mirror, Crazyhead. There are so many great ones. I love quirky and humorous horror as well.

NTK: Those are great shows and films. Which Hitchcock film is your favorite?

MH: Psycho, of course. But, I also really like The Birds, Rear Window, Rope, Vertigo, Strangers on a Train, To Catch a Thief. He had a great way with anticipation, getting the mind to react to things it didn’t see or fear things it projected it would see.

NTK: Do you think werewolves, vampires, and other monsters are psychological representations of the human psyche?

MH: I think we all have a little monster in us that could be drawn out in the right or wrong situation. Monsters represent our desires and fears. Our darkest moments. Our possibilities. They can be vulnerable and raw and passionate in ways people often don’t let themselves be.

NTK: Do you have a favorite monster?

MH: I have a soft spot for Frankenstein. He’s innocent yet brutal, lost but discovered. He’s weakness and strength. His life is complex, but he longs for the most basic human need—belonging and companionship.

NTK: As you know, season 13 of HorrorAddicts is CURSED! Do you have a favorite curse? If so, what is it?

MH: Cursing people to get exactly what they want and it bringing them great misfortune and ruin. I do like psychological torture.

NTK: Mercy, what does the future hold for you? What books or stories do we have to look forward to?

MH: Grim, the next book in the Legions of the Claimed series, comes out next month. I’m currently working on book three, entitled—Vegan. I’m also working on several young adult fantasy novels. I’m a freelance editor specializing in fantasy, paranormal, horror, sci-fi, and run workshops at conferences. I love getting to work with other writers and assisting them in getting their stories out for people to enjoy.

NTK: Thank you for chatting with me, Mercy. It’s been a pleasure.

MH: Thank you and HorrorAddicts.net for having me on and giving me the good fortune of being Cursed.

Addicts, you can find Mercy Hollow here on Facebook and Twitter.

Book Review: Freaks edited by Toneye Eyenot and Michael Noe

Are you looking for stories that stick in your dreams? Ones about people twisted both inside and out? You might regret what you wish for.

Freaks, a collection of stories and poetry edited by Toneye Eyenot and Michael Noe, contains 19 chilling tales of monsters, murderers, and madmen.

This anthology is not for the faint of heart. The stories inside may vary in style and subject matter, but the collection holds nothing back. Each is gruesome and stretches the limits of what you as a horror addict can stomach. The authors explore the depths of human depravity, then dig down a few more feet just for good measure.

Each author put their own spin on the anthology’s theme of horror in the realm of circuses and carnivals. The stories are a good mix of the supernatural, the speculative, and the frighteningly realistic. There are killer clowns, sure, but what about a man with a killer appetite, or a roadshow zombie attraction, or a carnival ride that is actually alive? Not all freaks are easy to identify and the worst ones are really the ones that are monsters on the inside.

My personal favorite entries are “Two for the Show” by Tina Piney and “Clownbear’s Last Performance” by Brian Glossup. Both authors created compelling characters within a short span, a difficult task when also including spine-tingling imagery and suspense.

If you’re brave enough to chance reading this, I can guarantee that you’ll be looking over your shoulder and sleeping with the lights on. And no way in hell are you going anywhere near a circus. If you feel a little squeamish, I think that’s the point.

Freaks appeals to a certain variety of horror addict. If you love to stretch the limits of what is appropriate to publish, take a look. If you want stories that will make your skin crawl and stomach churn, check this out. If you want to question your sanity and that of the authors and maybe of humanity in general… read Freaks. And don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Odds and DEAD Ends: Analysis of Casting the Runes and Ring.

M. R. James’ classic ghost story, Casting the Runes, is perhaps one of the most beloved of all time. It follows Mr. Dunning, uncovering a plot by Dr. Karswell to kill him via a series of ancient runic symbols. Similarly, for the modern age, Koji Suzuki’s novel Ring, (thanks largely to Hideo Nakata’s film adaptation), changed the face of Japanese horror films, much in the way that Scream did for the slasher genre. Examined in this article is the concept of infecting a victim with a deadline, by which, if the deadline isn’t passed on, the victim will die. This concept is, in both texts, a product of history and the past, which can infiltrate the modern day to scare the reader.

CASTING THE RUNES

James’ story is rooted in folklore of witches and magic. James himself was a noted historian of folklore and mythology, writing many papers on medieval manuscripts and other texts. It’s not surprising, therefore, that this interest seeps through in Casting the Runes, his uncovering of ancient texts mirroring the discovery of the slip of paper with the runes.

The main conflict I perceive in the text is the tension between the modernity presented by Dunning and Harrington, and the history and past presented by Karswell, fighting for power. Karswell, a man who has “…invented a new religion for himself, and practiced no one could tell what appalling rites” (p.238), has cast a hex on Dunning for shunning his new book. The past, in its runes and legends, is here the antagonistic force presented through Karswell, his book described simply as ‘an evil book’ (p.242), the mythic past’s main point of origin. Karswell’s magic lantern show presents the darker side of children’s myths and fairy tales, such as Red Riding Hood, which bleed through into the modern world:

“At last he produced a series which represented a little boy passing through his own park – Lufford, I mean – in the evening. Every child in the room could recognize the place from the pictures. And this poor boy was followed, and at last pursued and overtaken, and either torn into horrible pieces or somehow made away with, by a horrible hopping creature in white, which you saw first dodging about among the trees, and gradually it appeared more and more plainly.” (p.239)

Not only do we see the past colliding with the modern present through this passage, but after this, showing slimy creatures on the slides, “…somehow or other he made it seem as if they were climbing out of the picture and getting in amongst the audience” (p.240). Dunning and Harrington, on the other hand, are modernity’s flag-bearers. Dunning investigates the noise in the night, “…for he knew he had shut the door that evening after putting his papers away in his desk” (p.252), proving a logical, empirical mind, later reinforced here: “It was a difficult concession for a scientific man, but it could eased by the phrase “hypnotic suggestion” (p.255). Dunning even suggests that Karswell was “…mixing up classical myths, and stories out of the Golden Legend with reports of savage customs of to-day…” (p.258), showing a scholarly knowledge of the subject matter.

Therefore, the strange atmosphere about Dunning, the mysterious death of Harrington’s brother, the strange wind, “I supposed the door blew open, though I didn’t notice it: at any rate a gust – a warm gust it was – came quite suddenly between us, took the paper and blew it into the fire” (p.258), only increases our fear and trepidation, especially with the three month deadline hanging over our heads before Dunning’s eventual demise, for they can only be supernatural, against Dunning’s core beliefs. We try to decipher it rationally, following our protagonist’s example, but are unable to. Modern science cannot fight back against the curse of the runes. When Dunning and Harrington resort to deception and return the slip to Karswell, we slip into the past, so to speak, presented with the evil past that the characters have tried to deny for so long. We want to see evil banished back to where it belongs, away from Dunning’s modern day, back into the history books.

This brings us to the final moral dilemma. We are asked at the tale’s conclusion, “Had they been justified in sending a man to his death, as they believed they had? Ought they not to warn him, at least?” (p.266). They have become like Karswell, dispensing an ancient, malevolent death upon those they deem a threat. Though they justify this by claiming Karswell deserved it, and that Dunning would be dead otherwise, it is an unnerving note to end with, asking if they should have asked the darkness of history to prove itself, or descended to the old ways as they do, dispensing justice in, what is for them, a “new rite”, much like Karswell created for himself.

RING

Suzuki’s novel, Ring, adopts a similar structure in terms of its narrative. A malevolent force (the spirit of Sadako Yamamura) has given a victim (Asakawa) a time limit (seven days) to find what mysterious instructions he needs to follow in order to save his life (copying the cursed tape and passing it on). The runes have been replaced by the video tape, and it is here that we see one of the key, fundamental differences to James’ story. Sadako is built upon the myths and folklore of Japan, but her embodiment of ‘the past’ is intertwined with modern technology. The distinct opposition inherent in James’ tale is no longer as easy to see in Suzuki’s novel.

The female ghost with long hair avenging their death is a well-established trait in Japanese folklore. These stories are called kaidan; the vengeful ghost termed an onryō. Theatre Group Soaring, in the novel, would no doubt have practiced traditional Japanese kabuki theatre, itself one of the main vehicles through which kaidan tales were passed throughout the centuries. Even in the film adaptation, the strange, contorted movements of Sadako (as played by Rie Inō) is directly inspired by stereotypical movements of onryō from kabuki theatre, and Rie Inō herself was apparently trained in kabuki. The story of the spirit in the well has also been around for centuries, the story of Okiku and the plates, being a potent example.

Sadako is therefore very much rooted in Japan’s past, in more ways than just being dead. Asakawa, on the other hand, is very much the modern man, constantly carrying around a word processor, saving files to floppy disks, phoning Yoshino from the island to help his investigation. Ryuji is a professor of philosophy, a discipline which “…as a field of inquiry had drawn ever closer to science,” (p.88). These two men are built of the modern world. They even live in Tokyo, one of the largest cities in the world. When arriving at Pacific Land, Asakawa notes that “Faced with this proof that the modern power of science functioned here, too, he felt somewhat reassured, strengthened.” (p.61).

Suzuki uses technology, the statement of the future and urbanity, to steer his antagonistic force, striking at civilisation’s heart. Sadako’s wrath and anger takes over the videotape, itself situated in a cabin complete with “A hundred-watt bulb lit a spacious living room. Papered walls, carpet, four-person sofa, television, dinette set: everything was new, everything was functionally arranged.” (p.63). Asakawa, despite his hesitations and fear of what the tape might show him, ‘No matter what sort of horrific images he might be shown, he felt confident he wouldn’t regret watching” (p.73). Why would his regret watching? It wouldn’t be as if anything could happen to him, constrained as it were by the (very much Western) technology before him.

Just like Karswell’s magic lantern show, however, the images on the tape have their own weight and reality, “Startled, he pulled back his hands. He had felt something. Something warm and wet – like amniotic fluid, or blood – and the weight of flesh.” (p.77). When Asakawa answers the phone, it is described that:

“There was no reply. Something was swirling around in a dark, cramped place. There was a deep rumble, as if the earth were resounding, and the damp smell of soil. There was a chill at his ear, and the hairs on the nape of his neck stood up. The pressure on his chest increased, and bugs from the bowls of the earth were crawling on his ankles and his spine, clinging to him. Unspeakable thoughts and long-ripened hatred almost reached to him through the receiver. Asakawa slammed down the receiver.” (p.81).

That silence from the other end of a telephone gives this impression, this startlingly sensory imagery, showcases Sadako’s reach and wrath, without her saying a word.

In the finale, Asakawa, realising why he survived and Ryuji did not, agrees to wager the entirety of humanity by spreading the virus to his parents-in-law. Whereas James simply had the characters return the curse to Karswell, he the price for Dunning’s survival, here, Suzuki has entire the world be the price for saving Asakawa’s family. Whereas Casting the Runes ends with a definite confirmation of Karswell’s demise, Ring ends with the ominous passage, “Black clouds moved eerily across the skies. They slithered like serpents, hinting at the unleashing of some apocalyptic evil.” (p.284). Asakawa has become accomplice to Sadako’s malice, the past in control of modern technology and, through that, the modern man. “In order to protect my family, I am about to let loose on the world a plague which could destroy all mankind.” (p.283).

CONCLUSION

Both James’ short story and Suzuki’s novel present characters eagerly, desperately trying to beat the deadlines they are faced with, wished upon them by people that want them dead. Through their representations of an evil, malevolent past, embodied by Karswell and Sadako, both authors present us with a moral choice of who we save, and who we kill in exchange. What is different about their endings is the level of intimacy and scope we are presented with. Casting the Runes is a story of personal vengeance, where the battle is between Karswell on one side and Dunning and Harrington on the other, with the evil-doer getting their just desserts, like a boxing match. Ring’s evil is much more impersonal, and the apocalyptic ending shows the sheer magnitude of what must happen for someone to live. You don’t end the curse; you just pass the buck and hope someone else will do it for you. The ending’s bleak tone implies that there is no hope, that nobody will sacrifice themselves to stop the bleeding, and that the virus will move from one soul to another, runes forever being cast.

Written by Kieran Judge

Bibliography

James, M. R., 1994. Casting the Runes. In: Collected Ghost Stories. Hertfordshire: Wordsworth, pp. 235 – 267.

Ringu. 1998. [Film] Directed by Hideo Nakata. Japan: Ringu/Rasen Production Company.

Scream. 1996. [Film] Directed by Wes Craven. United States: Dimension Films.

Suzuki, K., 2004. Ring. London: HarperCollinsPublishers.

 

 

Chilling Chat Writing to an Invisible Drummer: An Interview with Josh Malerman

 Josh Malerman is an American author and also one of two singer/songwriters for the rock band, The High Strung. Their song, “The Luck You Got,” is the theme song for the Showtime television program, Shameless.

Malerman authored the books, Bird Box, Black Mad Wheel, and Unbury Carol. He has been published in Cemetery Dance, Scary Out There, Chiral Mad, Lost Signals, Shadows over Main Street, and Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories. He resides in Michigan with his fiancée, Allison Laakko.

NTK: Thank you for chatting with me, Josh.

JM: And, thank you for having me. This is exciting.

NTK: Your book, Bird Box, is set to become a Netflix film starring Sandra Bullock and John Malkovich. How did Bird Box come about?

JM: The book started out as any other to me … that’s not to say that I’m writing a string of ideas that arranged on an assembly line, without emotion, but all I began with was a woman, blindfolded, two children in tow, rowing down a river. I just liked the image and started writing their story. This quickly led to … ”What are they fleeing? What can’t they see?” From there, I started thinking of old fears, things that scared me a lot growing up. One of those things was the idea of infinity and how man isn’t capable of comprehending it.

So, I thought, what if infinity were personified in a semi-abstract way. What if the concept arrived on Main Street?

From there the book exploded in my hands. A mother attempting to navigate a river without being able to open her eyes. The rough draft was written in some 26 days. And, while the rewrites took forever, I’ll forever cherish those 26 days and sometimes, I feel like I’m still living them now.

NTK: Does your writing often begin with a single image?

JM: Some of the stories do. A single image or a title can be enough to say, “Hey, go sit down and give this one a shot.” Because, if you’re writing from a “free” place, if your mind is wide open, then you’re probably going to see that small image or idea bloom in double time. I try to stay open to tangents at all times. I try not to stick so tight to the original idea. So, with this in mind, yeah, sometimes a single image can jumpstart the whole shebang.

NTK: You’re also a singer/songwriter for the rock band, The High Strung. How does this background affect your writing?

JM: Every time I write, I do so with an invisible drummer in the room. I’m at the desk, hammering away, always playing to the beat of this unseen musician just out of sight. Like the Wendigo, if the Wendigo played drums. I realize how bonkers this sounds but I really can’t seem to get away from him and I wouldn’t want to. Whether I have a record playing in the room, or a soundtrack going on YouTube or the radio … the drummer is the one giving me the beat for every story. And, I can’t help but think that, since I play a lot of rhythm guitar in the band, there’s gotta be a link there between the band and the books.

NTK: So, would you consider the drummer a muse?

JM: Hmm. I haven’t thought about it like that. But, I love the question. Not a muse. More like … we’re both turned on by the same muse. In fact, the drummer might catch sight of said muse first, start playing, then I fall in, typing over what he plays.

NTK: You’ve written many unpublished books while touring. Do your experiences make it into your novels?

JM: I was just talking to my bandmate, Mark, about this today. I’m sure some of the people we’ve met and the places we’ve been have made it into the books. But, it’s not usually intentional. You know, people say, “Write what you know,” but there’s no way not to do that. So, what I think people really mean to say is, “write the feelings you know.” And a lot of that comes from shared experiences, right? Things you’ve done with your best friends, your lovers, the people you’ve encountered in life. I think it would take you and me going through a book scene by scene for me to say, “Ah, yes! This scene here was from this time in Iowa and this scene here was from that night in Mississippi!”

NTK: Let’s go back to the Bird Box film. How did this come to pass? How were you approached?

JM: So, my manager sold the film rights before the book was published. It had already been picked up by ECCO/Harper Collins but hadn’t even been rewritten with them yet. So, there are parts that made it into the movie script that used to be in the book but aren’t anymore. That’ll be interesting for me to see in a theater. Universal Studios optioned the rights in 2013. Netflix bought it from them in 2017.

NTK: Were you consulted when the film was written?

JM: No. I had no part in the writing of the script. I was on the phone with the prospective screenwriters. Conference calls in which each screenwriter told me what they had in mind, with Universal on the phone to listen to us talk about it. But, that was just so Universal could gauge the individual visions. The script was written by Eric Heisserer. He wrote Arrival and others. Awesome guy. And, I knew very well what I was getting into. Talk about an unknown author—my first book wasn’t even out yet.

NTK: Stephen King is well known for his dislike of Stanley Kubrick’s version of The Shining and the casting of the film. Are you happy with the casting? Do you think Sandra Bullock will make a good Malorie?

JM: I’ll tell you the same thing I told her. If I had written the script, directed the movie, and starred in it myself, it still wouldn’t be the book. So, I’m glad it’s in her hands and not mine. I’m thrilled she’s playing Malorie. She’s a magnificent actress, and I can’t wait to see her in a horror movie. After watching her film a scene in person, I said to her, “That was intense, huh.” And she said, “The whole story is intense!” I’m excited about it all. The cast, the director, the cinematographer—all of it.

NTK: You were on set when the movie was filmed?

JM: My fiancé, Allison, and I flew to California in January. We went on set on the Universal lot. Saw a scene filmed outside, another filmed on a soundstage. It was incredible. I never felt like I didn’t belong, but I also never felt like “big man on campus.” It was all unforeseeably natural. If it’s true that a director dictates the mood of a set, then Susanne Bier is a warm, intelligent, hard-working, welcoming director. We loved every second of it.

NTK: Susanne Bier is a Golden Globe, Emmy, and Academy Award-winning director. It must’ve felt good knowing you’d entrusted your work to her.

JM: 100%. And, you know, who knows how it will turn out, right? Just like a book … you sit down with an idea, a vision, and let’s hope it soars, right? But, I’m optimistic. Everyone I met is so good at what they do and I know the story came from as pure a place as I’ve ever visited.

NTK: Are you excited about Netflix providing the distribution? Or would you rather the film appear in the theater?

JM: I’m told there’s going to be a theatrical release as well. I don’t know exactly what that means, how many cities, how long, etc. But, in any case, I’m happy either way.

NTK: When will the film be released?

JM: I hear it’ll be around December 21. I don’t know when the premiere is going to be yet, but Allison and I are hoping to bring both our moms. Which is a pretty funny image. Allison, me, our moms, all drinking on a plane to Los Angeles.

NTK: You had a book released in April. Could you tell us a little about Unbury Carol?

JM: Unbury Carol is the story of an impending premature burial and the balance of characters who both want this to happen and don’t. Carol Evers “dies” a couple times a year, when she slips into deep coma states. Because it’s a western of sorts, the instruments the doctors use aren’t sophisticated enough to detect her beating heart when she’s inside, what she calls, “Howltown.” The problem is … what if everyone thinks she’s dead? And then … what if she’s buried alive because of it? Well, there’s one fella who hears about her funeral but knows she isn’t dead. So, he travels north on the Trail in an attempt to bust up this unnatural burial. But, make no mistake! There is no Prince Charming in this book. And, Carol’s gonna have to get the hell out of Howltown on her own.

NTK: Are you a fan of westerns and horror?

JM: Yeah, for sure. I’d like to see more of them. It’s a great setting for a horror story because, one, it’s pre-technology, which leaves a lot of shadows to play with and, two, the “outlaw” is always so “tough” and it’s refreshing as hell to find him or her face to face with something scarier yet.

NTK: Do you have a favorite horror author or movie? What inspired you to write horror?

JM: I wouldn’t say I have a favorite. Of the last 156 books I’ve read, I adored 153 of them. Would give them all five stars. For whatever reason, I’m a little more discerning with movies, but really I’ve got a wide scope of what I’m into. I just love the genre in general. To me, horror admits that it’s fiction. And, for that, I believe it.

NTK: Do you have any advice for the writers out there whose books may be adapted to film? Or, any advice for writers in general?

JM: Well, I’m still early into the “adaptation” scenario. It’s hard for me to impart “advice” other than to say something my girl, Allison, taught me: every time you wanna use the word “nervous,” use “excited” instead. It’s changed my life. As far as advice for writers? Get rid of the words “good” and “bad.” Write a “bad” book for crying out loud. Don’t let silly blanket words stop you from writing a novel. How awful. Get that first draft done. Because what you would rather have? Three hundred pages that need to be fixed? Or, no pages at all?

NTK: What does the future hold for you? What do we have to look forward to?

JM: Well, the moment belongs to Unbury Carol. And I’m going to let her have it. But, come Halloween, I have a limited edition novel coming out on Cemetery Dance. It’s called, On This, the Day of the Pig. And, my second book with Del Rey comes out next April. I’m writing scripts for a horror theater production to be performed here in Michigan. And, The High Strung have a new album, to boot.

NTK: Thank you for chatting with me, Josh.

JM: Ah, THANK YOU. I’m excited for this.

This interview was  published in the June 2018 edition of the Horror Writers Association Newsletter and is reprinted with Editor Kathy Ptacek’s permission.

Chilling Chat with a Dark Lady: An Interview with Nancy Holder

Nancy Holder is a New York Times best-selling author. She has written over 100 short stories and over 80 novels, including tie-in books for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and Smallville. She’s written YA novels with her writing partner Debbie Viguiè, and has written comic books, graphic novels, and pulp fiction for Moonstone Books. Currently, she works for Kymera Press and lives in San Diego.

Nancy is a charming and gracious lady. Recently, she chatted with me about horror, her new project, and Kymera Press.

NTK: Thank you for chatting with me, Nancy. I appreciate it.

NH: Oh, you’re welcome. Thank you for interviewing me.

NTK: Let’s talk about Kymera Press. How did you get involved with them?

NH: Some years ago (at least ten!) I was at a book signing at Dark Delicacies in Los Angeles, and I met a woman named Debbie Lynn Smith there. She had been a writer on the TV show, Touched by an Angel, and had decided to get her MFA in creative writing. (She was going to Stonecoast, the program at the University of Southern Maine. They were looking for an instructor who could teach horror, and I was interviewed and offered the position. Debbie was actually one of my students there.)

When she was working in Hollywood, Debbie ate tons and tons of microwave popcorn, and she developed a disease called Popcorn Lung. It is a horrible, hideous disease, and she sued Orville Redenbacher and WON. (She had a double lung transplant about seven months ago and is doing great.)

With her settlement, she decided to do something positive. So, she founded Kymera Press, which is an all-woman comic book company. All the writers and art team members are female. Her husband is the only full-time male staff member. She hired me to be one of her writers.

Debbie was interested in adapting the work of women Victorian horror writers, and for a while, we were going to do a big graphic novel of Frankenstein to celebrate the 200th anniversary of publication. But, there are a LOT of graphic novels about Frankenstein out there, and it was a huge, ambitious project. So, we returned to “Victorian” horror. We cover what is called “the long nineteenth century” in literature, covering from 1770-1910-ish. I suggested the series title, Mary Shelley Presents.

NTK: What authors do you plan to cover in these graphic novels?

NH: Right now they’re comic books, but they will be collected into graphic novel form. Debbie just returned from C2E2, which is a popular culture convention in Chicago, and librarians are eagerly waiting for us to collect them into hardback so they can order them.

Our first issue was “The Old Nurse’s Story” by Elizabeth Gaskell. Right now, the team is working on, “Man-size in Marble” by Edith Nesbit. I just turned in the revision of “The Case of Sir Alistir Moeran” by Margaret Strickland. BUT … the coolest part is that I am actively searching for stories by women who have been marginalized or never/rarely anthologized. For example, I’ve just had a Russian story translated. It’s by a woman who is very famous in Russia but very little of her work has been published. She is in the fourth issue. And, I’m looking forward to an anthology of work by Victorian women who lived in the British colonies.

NTK: Are you adapting all of the stories for the comic books?

NH: Yes, I’m adapting all the stories, and once the anthology of the colonial work comes out, I’ll adapt some stories by those women.

NTK: How often will the comics be released? Monthly? Bi-monthly? Quarterly?

NH: Right now, quarterly. Kymera has five series in production. They are: Dragons by the Yard, Ivory Ghosts, Pet Noir, Gates of Midnight, and Mary Shelley Presents.

NTK: You’ve written tie-in novels for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Teen Wolf, and many others. How did this background prepare you for adapting the stories to comic book form?

NH: Well, I’ve written a lot of comics and graphic novels for Moonstone Books, so I’m familiar with the form. I’ve also taught classes in writing for comics and graphic novels and edited them as well. So, I have a background there. But, to answer your question, what I’ve learned from writing so much tie-in fiction (and nonfiction) is that it’s important to figure out what it is about that property that fans love and focus on that. Or, to figure out what the heart of the story is, and “push” that.

For example, Buffy was strong and passionate. And, like Buffy, Scott McCall was trying to learn to lead—in his case, a pack of werewolves. She was the Chosen One; he was the Bitten One.

In the case of our comics, I look for the theme of the story. The heart of darkness, as it were.

In the first one, “The Old Nurse’s Story,” the theme is regret/remorse/redemption.

NTK: Getting back to Moonstone, you wrote many stories centered around Sherlock Holmes. How did that help you in adapting Victorian stories?

NH: I love Sherlock Holmes. I am a devoted Sherlockian. I belong to a Sherlock Holmes scion and am planning to join a couple of other ones.

I read a lot of what is called, “Neo-Gothic” literature, such as the novels of John Harwood.

A student from Stonecoast and I are planning to start a blog about the long nineteenth century after she graduates.

The story I just adapted takes place in 1916. I novelized the new Wonder Woman film which took place around then, so I’ve recently “seen” my time period. And, I’m watching Peaky Blinders right now, too.

Also, we provide information about the writer of the original story (and we include the text of the original story in the comic), and I try to read a biography of the author.

NTK: What Sherlock Holmes Scion do you belong to?

NH: I belong to the Sound of the Baskervilles. We just celebrated our 38th year as a scion (I only joined recently). We are Seattle/Tacoma based.

NTK: Do you research when you write? Is that how you discovered the women writers?

NH: I do a lot of research, and it was easy to find a few writers to start with. There are anthologies of Victorian women writers of the supernatural and Debbie recommended Margaret Strickland. She has an amazing eye for what will translate to comic book form. I suggested obtaining translations, and so this first one, the Russian one, is very exciting to us both.

Grady Hendrix, who just won a nonfiction Bram Stoker Award® for Paperbacks from Hell, also pointed me to another anthology that is going to be very helpful.

NTK: Are comic books difficult to write?

NH: To me, writing comics is very difficult, but it’s really, really fun. It’s a lot like writing film scripts/screenplays, except that it’s pretty much on me to explain and show everything, whereas a film script is like a blueprint. I think of my script as a letter to the art team.

You have to figure out how to show things very, very quickly and keep the reader interested. And, you have to keep to a fairly stringent number of pages and panels, and to think visually.

NTK: How many artists work with you when you write a comic?

NH: This is the art team: Artist: Amelia Woo, Letterer: Saida Temofonte, Colorist: Sandra Molina, Art Direction: Kata Kane, and covers by Amelia Woo. In the first comic, we had Color Separations by Alejandro Garcia, who was assisting Sandra. The Editor is D. Lynn Smith, and Paul Daughetee does our Graphic Design.

NTK: Did you read comics when you were younger? If so, what were your favorites?

NH: I read tons of comics when I was younger. I subscribed to most of the DC lines. Superman, Lois Lane, Aquaman, also Katy Keene. And, scary comics that scared me so much I turned all the covers over at night before I went to bed.

NTK: Did you read House of Mystery and the other DC Haunted House comics?

NH: I don’t remember the horror series titles. But, they scared the tar out of me.

NTK: What made you decide on Mary Shelley as the narrator of these comics?

NH: Well at Kymera, Debbie and I had thought about that big graphic novel of Frankenstein, and scratched that, but by then I had read a ton of stuff about Mary Shelley—a number of biographies, other work of hers, etc. So, I thought about using her as a sort of “Crypt Keeper” to introduce the stories. Each story opens with her and the Creature discussing how his story has made her immortal, but other women writers have not been so fortunate. So, Mary Shelley breathes new life into stories by women that are “long buried” or “gathering dust.” Also, we try to add a bit of detail about Mary Shelley herself.

I just went to Italy for two months and went to many of the places she visited in Rome and Florence, including Percy Bysshe Shelley’s grave and the headstone honoring their son, William. I also went to Cadenabbia on Lake Como, where she visited with her son and his college buddies. And, I went to Viareggio, near where Percy drowned.

NTK: What a fantastic idea using her as the “Crypt Keeper.” Are comics the source of your inspiration when it comes to horror? Is that how you got into the genre?

NH: That’s a great question. Like a lot of horror writers, I was always drawn to horror. Weirdly, I just remembered that the first horror movie I ever saw was James Whale’s Frankenstein, which I watched with my mom. I loved creepy stuff even though it scared me so badly I wouldn’t be able to sleep. I watched The Twilight Zone, Outer Limits, Kolchak: The Nightstalker—stuff like that. I think that’s how I got hooked.

NTK: You’ve come full circle.

NH: That’s true! I have come full circle! I never realized that.

NTK: Mary Shelley Presents debuted at the 2017 San Diego Comic-Con. How was it received?

NH: It was a big hit at Comic-Con. I worked in the Kymera booth, and we sold lots of issues of all the series we had out. I also did a charity signing at the California Browncoats booth. (The Browncoats are fans of Joss Whedon’s Firefly, and I’m a Browncoat myself.) I usually sign for their charity drives if I’m at a con they’re at. I’ve signed at Comic-Con for them for years and years. So, I signed Mary Shelley Presents there, and we “sold out.”

I should also add that I did a Buffy Encyclopedia recently with my first editor, Lisa Clancy. (Lisa was the first to develop the Buffy publishing program, which was at Simon and Schuster at the time. She covered Angel, and I covered the Buffy show and all the comics—including Angel and Spike.) And, I covered the comic book canon. A TON of comics. Holy Moly.

NTK: What got you into writing the tie-ins? Was it the YA novels you wrote with Debbie Viguiè?

NH: No, I wrote tie-ins before I met Debbie. My first tie-in was a Highlander novel in 1997. Then, I started doing Buffy. I’ve also done Angel, Buffy/Angel crossovers, Wishbone, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Smallville, Saving Grace, Teen Wolf, Firefly, Kolchak, and Beauty and the Beast. I think that’s all of the TV shows. For films, I’ve novelized the new Ghostbusters movie, Crimson Peak, Hell Boy, and Wonder Woman. I’ve also written tie-ins for Zorro and Sherlock Holmes.

NTK: What else are you working on right now? What can we expect to see in the future?

NH: The new Firefly novel I wrote, Firefly: Big Damn Hero, will come out in October, and I’ll continue to work on Mary Shelley Presents. I have some short stories coming out, one of which is a Sherlock Holmes pastiche. And, I’ll be working in the booth at Kymera Press at San Diego Comic-Con.

NTK: What advice would you give a writer who may be interested in pursuing a career in comic books or graphic novelization?

NH: Advice: read! (I’m surprised by the number of newer writers who don’t read.) And, try to attend comic book/popular culture conventions, even small ones if you can’t make it to the biggies. The “sequential art” world is pretty small so it’s possible to network. Also, there are a number of great “how to write comics” books out: Scott McCloud is one of the standards, and Dennis O’Neil.

And, if you’re interested in horror, JOIN HWA!!!

NTK: Great recommendations, Nancy! Thank you for chatting with me. Before we part, could you tell the readers where they can get a copy of Mary Shelley Presents?

NH: Thank you so much for having me! The easiest way to buy a copy is to go to the Kymera Press Website. There is a Wide Release Version  and a Limited Edition Version.

This is truly a labor of love for all of us at Kymera.

NTK: And, such vindication for a comic book company created by women.

NH: I love our art team. I’m so blessed.

This interview was  published in the May 2018 edition of the Horror Writers Association Newsletter and is reprinted with Editor Kathy Ptacek’s permission.

Chilling Chat Episode 157 Shannon Lawrence

A fan of all things fantastical and frightening, Shannon Lawrence writes primarily horror and fantasy. Her stories can be found in anthologies and magazines, including Once Upon aShannon Lawrence Scream, Dark Moon Digest, and Space and Time Magazine. Her first solo collection of short stories, Blue Sludge Blues and Other Abominations, was released in March. When she’s not writing, she’s hiking through the wilds of Colorado and photographing her magnificent surroundings, where, coincidentally, there’s always a place to hide a body or birth a monster.

Shannon is an intriguing and talented woman. When I sat down with her, we discussed her work, psychological horror, and the scary stuff which permeates her life.

NTK: Welcome to Chilling Chat, Shannon. Thank you for chatting with me today.

SL: I’m excited to be here!

NTK: You’ve led quite an adventurous life and several frightening things have happened during it. Could you tell us a little about these events?

SL: The earliest crazy thing that happened was when a serial killer was after my mother. I was in the car, but was only about three at the time, so have no personal memory of it. His M.O. was to run women off the road then grab them when they got out to deal with it. He followed her from work at a movie theater she managed and tried to run her off the road multiple times. Luckily, he ended up following her into a rural area she knew well but he didn’t. She lost him by getting far enough ahead that he lost visibility around the curves. She pulled into a long gravel drive and shut the car off so he wouldn’t see her lights. He drove right past. He was caught not long after when he drove into a ditch not far from the crime scene. He had to call a tow truck.

I’m not sure my life’s terribly adventurous, but weird and scary stuff does follow me around.

NTK: What kind of weird and scary stuff?

SL: I’ve had brushes with kidnapping attempts a couple times. With one, the guy had taken my photo while I was outside playing. He started knocking on doors (we lived in a big apartment complex at the time) with my photo saying he’d lost his daughter and asking if anyone had seen what apartment I went into. He actually knocked on our door. My mom answered, and here’s this guy showing her a picture of me asking if she knew what apartment I might be in.

NTK: That’s really scary.

SL: Another time, a guy tried to get me into his car by asking if I knew how to get out of the neighborhood. I was all of about nine, and already knew there was no way an adult could be confused about it the way it was laid out. When I responded, “The same way you came in,” he lunged for me. I ran into a stranger’s house and screamed, “Mom!” He took off and I never saw him again.

I’ve been chased by a shark (a tiny one) that beached itself coming after me twice, been in a cattle stampede, and was stalked by a guy in a big van for about a year. So on and so forth.

NTK: Do these events shape your writing?

SL: I’m sure in their own way they’ve influenced my propensity toward horror and similar dark tastes. There’s also the fact that I spent my first seven years at movie theaters. My mom took me to work and gave me the run of the place until I started school. And then, I still spent evenings, summer and such, watching movies. Plus, my parents enjoyed horror and my grandma loved it. She took me to horror films frequently. Much to my parents’ chagrin.

NTK: What movies did you watch? Which were your favorites?

SL: I can say the most memorable one she took me to was Cat People. I was all of five. That story stuck with me and may be why I love black leopards so much. Viscerally, I was never able to forget the changes and a scene where someone pulls the flesh off with their teeth. She [Grandma] tried to take me to see Jaws 3D, but I believe my parents put the kibosh on that one.

NTK: Did your parents become more encouraging when you grew older? How do they Blue Sludge Blues & Other Abominations: A Collection of Horror Short Stories by [Lawrence, Shannon]feel about your writing?

SL: They’ve always been encouraging. It was on their bookshelves that I found Stephen King, Dean R. Koontz, and other authors. They always took me to the library so I could get true ghost stories and horror to read and, when I got interested in King’s books in elementary school, they didn’t discourage me. They read everything I put out, and my mom posts after each story she reads. They also got me a Gremlins lunchbox when I was a kid in the 80s and the coloring book, which I still have. (I wish I still had that metal Gremlins lunchbox. It’s probably a collector’s item at this point.) In general, they’ve always enjoyed fiction and movies, and they’ve shared that love with me. And, at no point did they try to discourage me from being a writer “when I grew up.” I’ve had so many writer friends whose families have told them writing isn’t a real job and things of that nature. I never heard those words from my parents and I’m deeply grateful for that. They also accepted my love of all things freaky; they just mitigated it where they could, as any good parent should, until I was mature enough to run with it.

NTK: Who is the better writer? King? Or Koontz?

SL: Oh no! I loved them both fairly equally but I will say that King came out ahead for me. My maiden name started with a “K” and kids at school would call me Shannon King because I always had one of his books with me to read at school. Some of them repeatedly. It’s been a while since I read Koontz but I remember his descriptions. There was always bougainvillea and I had an image of it in my head even though I didn’t know what it actually looked like. But, King’s stories pulled me in and kept me there. His people were always so real to me.

NTK: Did King’s work inspire you to write?

SL: Definitely. Not to say I write like him, but I was definitely inspired by him. I love the way he makes even the most ludicrous thing seem possible.

NTK: Do you have a favorite King novel? What are your favorite horror books?

SL: The Shining is probably my favorite. I’ve used it in horror workshops where I like to ask what the real monster in the story is. It’s about a regular person’s inner demons, really, with the supernatural mixed in. Some of my other favorite horror novels would be The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, The Girl Next Door by Jack Ketchum (anyone who can still disturb me at this point is going to be top ten,) and The Bottoms by Joe R. Lansdale. The opening scene in The Bottoms with these kids having to walk a long way in a rural setting with something stalking them is intense and so well done.

NTK: Do you enjoy psychological horror more than other kinds? Do you write psychological horror stories?

SL: I’m an equal opportunity enjoyer of horror but, if forced to pick a favorite, I’d definitely go with psychological. I find humanity far more frightening than any monsters [because of] their capability to do evil, but beyond that, their capability for indifference and for human blunder. Psychological suspense requires from the reader/viewer that they care and that they decipher the nuances of the story to feel the full impact. But, I also like a good old-fashioned squirm-inducing monster movie. My writing is a similar mix of psychological and monster. I think writing a non-monster can be a lot of fun, but the psychological pieces are more emotionally involved and can be harder to write. Not in terms of getting words on paper but harder to sink into that particular story and character.

NTK: What is your favorite monster and why?

SL: I like the Xenomorphs from the Alien series. They’re different and stand out from the others. I don’t feel anyone’s created anything close to them in all these years. Elements of them have been borrowed, but it all started with the Xenomorphs. Plus, they’re cool to look at. I was always a Pennywise fan too. What a disturbing character. He can take on your fears, get to you through the plumbing, and take on many guises.

NTK: Pennywise is awesome. What did you think of the clown appearances in 2016? Do you think it was a publicity stunt? Or something else?

SL: I was amused by most of the clown stories, but I love scary clowns. There were some harassing an apartment complex where they were trying to draw kids into the woods, and those didn’t amuse me. They seemed to be something different from the rest. I’d love to officially know whether it was a publicity stunt or whether a couple people did it, leading to more people saying, “Why not?” I don’t think it was a publicity stunt just something that snowballed. There’s a history of people dressing up as clowns to freak people out. I think I saw articles going back years of an individual standing around somewhere public at night dressed as a clown and those stories went viral. Want to go viral? Stand on a street corner at night in a clown costume and don’t say a bloody word. No one can identify you and articles will be written about you.

NTK: Getting back to entertainment, what TV shows do you enjoy?

SL: There were so many good horror shows in the past, like Tales from the Crypt, The Twilight Zone, etc. I watched all of those in repeat but I remember watching the original V with my dad as well as The X-Files. And, probably a few others that I can’t think of right now. I adore a horror comedy, so a recent favorite would be Z Nation. It’s preposterous and fun. I’ve also been enjoying Black Mirror, and did a panel on that at Denver Comic Con that was shockingly well attended. It’s great fun to get to talk to a captive audience about a show a show you enjoy! Especially in a setting where they can talk back about it so a good conversation happens.

NTK: Have you been on many panels at cons? What’s it like?

SL: I’ve been really lucky to be a regular panelist at Denver Comic Con and Mile Hi Con, which is also here in Colorado. It’s not something I would have thought I’d enjoy and yet I really love it. It’s unpredictable because anybody in that room can ask questions including your fellow panelists but it leads to great conversations and sometimes unexpected introspection. I’m always a little nervous that they’ll ask me something I can’t answer, and there are those questions where I need a moment more to think but get called on first, and then I think of something so much better to say later. But, it’s always still fun. I can go into a panel in a terrible mood and come out of it happy as a lark because of interactions.

NTK: It’s cool you interact with fans. Do you feel it’s important to write to them? Or, like Stephen King, do you tell yourself the story first?

SL: I tell myself the story first. I imagine I could do better if I wrote to the audience, but it stops being fun if I’m forcing myself to write something for other people instead of for me. Once writing stops being fun, it’s no better than the daily slog.

NTK: What’s your favorite question you were asked at a comic con?

SL: Oh, that’s an interesting question. Yet, I’m drawing a blank. One of the DCC panels I was on this last time was Letters Written from Hell: The Horror Writing Process. Someone asked if writers and readers of horror are damaged or demented. The consensus was that we’re not. That we are, in fact, saner than those who don’t partake of dark fiction. Because we get to exorcise our pains and fears on the page whereas others are trying to squash it down and cover it with something else. It’s interesting to hear what people think of the horror authors they read, how disturbed they think they must be to write the things they do, when it turns out most of us are quite emotionally balanced. Of course, it can be tempting to put on the mantle of freakiness, to be the part, but underneath it, not so much.

NTK: Great answer. Shannon, as you know, season 13 of HorrorAddicts is CURSED! Do you have a favorite curse? If so, what is it?

SL: I like any curse that has someone stuck facing their own dark propensities. The type that punishes someone for their transgressions, giving them no way to explain it away or push it down.

NTK: What does the future hold for you? What works can Horror Addicts expect to see?

SL: I’ve got short stories coming out in a few magazines and anthologies. One I’m really excited about is Fright into Flight, edited by Amber Fallon and put out by Word Horde. It’s all female horror authors and there are amazing women in that anthology that I’m incredibly privileged to be included with. I’m also shopping a dark fantasy novel to agents and working on a couple horror novels. And, I’m always writing horror short stories because they’re my first love.

NTK: Wonderful! Shannon, thank you for chatting with me.

SL: Thank you so much! I enjoyed the questions you asked. Thank you for making it interesting.

Addicts, you can follow Shannon here on Facebook and Twitter.