Campfire Tales, How “Cabin Twelve” was Born

“Cabin Twelve” wasn’t the first story that I wrote for the NGHW Campfire Tales challenge. I started with an entirely different concept about a lake monster that lured victims into the deep using the reanimated bodies of its previous kills. While I still think there is a good story lurking in there somewhere, no matter how many iterations I went through, it never felt right for the challenge that had been set. I wanted to end my story by giving the reader a sense of danger, as if their fate could be the next one told in hushed voices around the fire.

In the end, I scrapped that text (not really, never really—I save everything) and went back to what I knew best. Horror writing allows me to confront my own fears from real life in a safe, secure environment. I drew on my own experiences as a camp counselor to write “Cabin Twelve.”

There are stories more horrifying than those told around the fire to scare the kids. Counselors really don’t tell the campers about the real dangers: drowning, injury, exposure, loss. We want to frighten them, but only with things in the realm of the impossible. The true horror stories of camp are those of children’s lives cut short. As a counselor, my biggest fear was for the safety of the children under my care. I wanted to bring that out of the shadows in “Cabin Twelve.”

Campfire stories always have an element of the unexplained, a bump in the night, a monster that comes from shadows, things that should be dead, but persist. This spurred the idea of featuring the children that had died at camp through the years but somehow stick around. Once I had a group of children, I loved the idea of them all staying in a ghostly cabin just like the other campers.

I fell in love with the kids from “Cabin Twelve.” I want to work with them more, show more of their story. I think they lend themselves to a horror/comedy setting. Maybe I’ll write a series of short fiction that follows these strange, grim children through their immortal childhoods.


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Dear Reader,

You’ve been invited to a very special night of Campfire Tales, hosted by HorrorAddicts.net. Meet us at Old Bear Creek, just past Dead Man’s Curve. Dress warm. We’ll be waiting.

Four scary tales told by Next Great Horror Writer finalists and woven together by a trek through the woods you’ll never forget.

“Cabin Twelve” by Daphne Strasert
When a camp counselor goes on patrol, she finds an extra cabin in the woods that no one knows about…or do they?

“The Face” by Naching T. Kassa
An ailing mother and her daughter are terrorized by a disembodied face.

“When the Wind Leaves a Whisper” by Jess Landry
Girl Scouts in the 40s experience a frightening occurrence in the woods.

“Goose Meadows” by Harry Husbands
Two friends out drinking at night discover the real horrors of Goose Meadows.

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Chilling Chat with Naching T. Kassa

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Naching T. Kassa is a wife, mother, and horror writer. She’s created short stories, novellas, poems, and co-created three children. She lives in Eastern Washington State with DanImage result for naching t kassa Kassa, her husband, and biggest supporter.

Naching is a member of the Horror Writers Association and a Writer/Interviewer for HorrorAddicts.net. Her latest short story, “Audition,” can be found in the anthology, Crescendo of Darkness.

Naching is a strange and busy lady. Today, she hands the interview reins to the person who knows her best, Nani K.

Nani K: Welcome to Chilling Chat, Naching! Thank you for joining me today. It’s been a while.

NTK: Yes, the last time we spoke was during the Next Great Horror Writer Contest. You grilled me.

Nani K: (Laughs.) I did. But, I still have questions for you.

NTK: Ask away!

Nani K: How old were you when you discovered horror?

NTK: About three. My father introduced me to King Kong when it appeared on TV. I also had weird dreams. One of these involved a demonic sandwich.

Nani K: What? A demonic sandwich?

NTK: I slept in a bunk bed and my older sister slept above me. I thought the corner of her blanket was a sandwich with wings and vampire teeth. I have a rather vivid imagination.

Nani K: I guess! Is that why you wrote “The Face” the way you did? It’s frightening but, it’s also funny.

NTK: I wanted to write something different, something kids could enjoy as well as adults. Campfire Tales are usually told by children and I think funny and scary go hand-in-hand. Look at Scooby Doo or Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein. The two most memorable things in the world are things that frighten us and things that make us laugh.

Nani K: Did you write this story with a certain person in mind?

NTK: I actually wrote it for my 12-year-old grandniece. (Hi, Mylie!)

Nani K: Do you often write for a certain reader?

NTK: Yes. I write for my husband. If he reads the story while watching football, and doesn’t look up at the screen, I know it’s a good story.

Nani K: What do you think makes a good story?

NTK: As a fan of Sherlock Holmes, I’d have to say characters. It’s their decisions which shape and drive the narrative. Sherlock Holmes has so many quirks. He can solve mysteries using minutiae, disguises himself (even his roommate can’t recognize him,) and has a code of ethics that sometimes goes beyond the law. When Doyle killed him off, people mourned him. (They even wore black armbands!) They treated him as though he were a real person. The best stories have believable characters. And, a moderate amount of description.

Nani K: You don’t like description?

NTK: Too much description bores me and I skim through it. As a reader, I like using my imagination. Give me an idea of how things look. Don’t describe every little crack in the wall or fiber in the carpet.

Nani K: What is your writing process like?

NTK: Usually, I start with one scene and allow the characters to work toward it. The germ of one story began with a vampire sitting in a lawn chair outside the window of a house. Another, involved a small girl handing a woman a river rock.

Nani K: Why do you write horror?

NTK: I enjoy scaring people. When I was little, and it was dark, I’d hide in the doorway of my bedroom. When people passed by on their way to the bathroom, I’d jump out and yell “Boo!” They didn’t like it at the time, but they laughed later. I think people enjoy that little rush of adrenaline, that feeling when your heart speeds up and your skin tingles. That’s why they love horror books, podcasts, and films.

Nani K: Speaking of horror films, what’s your favorite?

NTK: My favorite horror film is The Exorcist III starring George C. Scott and Brad Dourif. It was released in 1990 and it’s terrific. Very subtle, not as “in your face” as the first. William Peter Blatty wrote the original novel it was based on and the screenplay. He also directed the film. There are some serious scares in it. One has to do with a nurse on her rounds in a hospital. Brrr!

Nani K: Do you have a favorite horror TV show?

NTK: I love The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, Thriller (Watch “Pigeons from Hell” it has a silly title but it’s terrifying,) but two of my favorites are Kolchak: The Nightstalker and Supernatural. Love my monster hunters. You can’t get much better than Carl Kolchak and Sam and Dean Winchester.

Nani K: Do you watch The Walking Dead?

NTK: Sorry, not a zombie person. I like monsters who have brains, not those who eat them.

Nani K: Do you have a favorite horror novel?

NTK: I have two. They’re the only books which actually frightened me. The first is Psycho, by Robert Bloch. The second is Watchers by Dean Koontz. Highly recommended.

Nani K: What is your favorite campfire tale?

NTK: My most favorite is, “The Man with the Golden Arm.” It’s about a man with a golden arm and the thief who steals it after he dies. The ghost haunts the thief in a rather surprising way.

Nani K: Naching, what does the future hold for you? What works do the Horror Addicts have to look forward to?

NTK: Well, aside from “The Face,” I have a few things coming out for HorrorAddicts.net, a story in an upcoming anthology, and I’m working as a temporary intern for Crystal Lake Publishing. Oh, and my poem, “Call Me Mary,” just came out in the Horror Writers Association Poetry Showcase Vol. V.

Nani K: Thank you for chatting with me again, Naching.

NTK: Always a strange and surreal pleasure, Nani K.

Addicts, you can follow Naching on Twitter and through her website.

 

Chilling Chat with Harry Husbands

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Harry Husbands spends the majority of his day in an office. In the evening, he writes furiously all the disturbed imaginings dwelled upon while completing banal admin tasks.Harry Husbands He crafts tales with subtle terror that are dipped in humor and roasted slowly over an infectious passion for all things horror related. He also performs and records songs from his house in Peterborough, England.

Harry is an unassuming, gentleman of horror. We spoke of writing, inspirations, and influences. 

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

HH: No problem at all, Naching. Thanks for having me.

NTK: How old were you and what was the first thing that got you interested in horror?

HH: It’s hard to say exactly what age it was because I always remember being interested in horror. A very early memory is going to—what we would call—a fancy dress shop around Halloween time. I was so intrigued by the scary masks and props.

NTK: Did you like horror movies as a kid?

HH: I loved horror movies as a kid, even though they’d give me nightmares. I was scared of a lot of things, but I was equally fascinated. I watched The Exorcist when I was quite young after begging my parents. I couldn’t sleep for many nights afterward, but it was worth it.

NTK: Did this love of horror movies and horror lead to writing? Why did you start writing horror?

HH: Absolutely. I was massively into Goosebumps—as most other wee ones were at the time—and I thought the idea of being a writer was really cool which probably tells you a lot about the kind of kid I was. My Nan had an old typewriter and I got to work on my first novel. It was about being stranded at sea and surrounded by all kinds of monsters. I think it ended up being three pages long but I was hooked on the notion of being able to create my own scary stories. The fact that I could weave creepy tales from my own noggin was addictive.

NTK: You’re an accomplished musician and songwriter. How does this talent transfer to your writing?

HH: It’s all about manipulating the form to try and evoke an emotional reaction from the listener or reader. They’re completely different ways of doing it, but the basic idea is the same. In music, you can use a dissonant chord, or a slightly out of tune note; in writing, you can use a well-placed adjective or a short, punchy sentence. A lot of my songs tend to end up as stories, and two of the albums I’ve done have been concept albums. I guess storytelling is just a part of who I am.

NTK: Do you have a muse?

HH: I don’t have a muse—not in particular anyway. It sounds like a cop-out answer, but I’m inspired by so many things it’s hard to pin it on just one.

NTK: Where do your ideas come from? Do they just come to you out of the blue? Do you dream them? Or both?

HH: Everywhere and anywhere. We live in a fascinating world, in fascinating—and scary—times, so there’s plenty of places to pick ideas from. I’ll have a bunch go through my head and it’s about picking a good one then nurturing, feeding, and burping it; eventually, it will become something bigger and often completely different from the initial image or thought that entered my head.

NTK: How did your story,“Goose Meadows,” from Campfire Tales come about?

HH: Like most story ideas I’ve had, it came partly from a real-life situation and partly from the dark place in my brain where all the horror I’ve absorbed lurks and festers. Goose Meadows is a real place, not far from where I live, and I did drunkenly walk around it at night time after someone’s 18th birthday party. I didn’t come across anything eerie or supernatural, only a large amount of litter. Throw it in the dang trash, folks.

NTK: That’s amazing you came up with this story from such a mundane incident. Do you exert much control over your characters? Do they have free will?

HH: I’m definitely a seat-of-the-pants writer so I have little control. I don’t plan anything other than a very basic premise for the story; it’s up to them how it turns out.

NTK: You wrote “Goose Meadows” for the Next Great Horror Writer Contest. Did you enjoy the contest? What was your overall experience?

HH: There were elements of the contest I enjoyed very much, and other elements I didn’t enjoy so much. I had only just begun to take writing seriously when I entered so it was eye-opening, for sure. I started to realise just how many writers there were in the world all doing exactly the same thing as me, and that’s equally inspiring and kind of soul-crushing in a way. I suddenly didn’t feel like I was doing anything that was worth selling to a publisher. I have never had much confidence in myself and that made it difficult for me. After either not hearing anything about something I wrote on the podcast, or having negative comments, I started to try and tailor my later pieces so they would do well in the contest which was a big mistake. What’s so great about fiction is that every writer has something unique to bring to the table, based on their own lives, and I think I should have stuck to what makes me unique rather than trying to fit into what might get me some good feedback or better points.

NTK: What do you think makes a good Campfire Tale?

HH: It has to be scary. Simple as that. It’s the only reason people actually do the whole campfire tale thing—they want to be scared. Annoyingly, as a writer, that’s one of the hardest things to do.

NTK: What authors have influenced you?

HH: So many! As I mentioned the Goosebumps books earlier, I’d have to say R.L Stine. The obvious answer, Stephen King. There’s also Shirley Jackson, M.R James, Adam LG Nevill, and many, many more.

NTK: You have a very dry wit and sense of humor. Do you enjoy comedic horror?

HH: I do, very much so. They’re my two favourite genres combined. I love when I find comedic horror done right because I think it’s so hard to do. Being funny is tough, being scary is tough, being funny and scary is extremely difficult and rarely done right. It’s such a treat when it is, though.

NTK: Which horror/comedy movie is your favorite?

HH: It’s tough,campfiretalesfinal but I’d have to go with Shaun of the Dead.

NTK: Is that your favorite horror movie? What is your favorite?

HH: I’d say The Exorcist is my favourite. For me, it has yet to be beaten in terms of sheer terror.

NTK: Do you have a favorite horror TV show?

HH: I really loved the Masters of Horror series because I enjoyed seeing all of the director’s different styles.

NTK: Harry, what does the future hold for you? What do Addicts have to look forward to?

HH: I really have no idea what the future holds for me. I’m just gonna carry on creating in whatever capacity feels good to me. At the moment, I’m mostly into writing and recording music and might have some new songs uploaded soon. I should have a story coming out in a new anthology, hopefully early next year, that’s admittedly more bizarre than horror. I dunno, we’ll see!

NTK: Thank you for chatting with me today, Harry. It was fun.

HH: No need to thank me, Naching. It’s been fun for me too.

Addicts, you can find Harry on Twitter.

Campfire Tales: How “The Face” was Born

The cool autumn night is filled with the pungent scent of smoke and singed hot dogs. A cheery blaze stands at the center of camp and friends gather around. They bring marshmallows, graham crackers, chocolate, and the delicious thrill of fear.

It’s October. Time for campfire tales. Time to tell you how “The Face” was born.

“The Face” was my contribution to The Next Great Horror Writer Contest’s Campfire Tale Challenge. It’s the tale of Agatha Gray and her elderly mother, Dorothy. Dorothy’s mind has slowly deteriorated, but her psychic talent is as strong as ever. And, good thing it is, because a supernatural entity known only as “The Face” has come to kill them. Will they escape its gnashing teeth? Read Campfire Tales and see. For now, I’ll tell you how it came about.

I have always found disembodied heads frightening. Maybe, it stems from a game my little sister and I played as children. Or, maybe, it comes from something more sinister.

My sister and I played many games in my parents’ bedroom when we were children. It was a small, cheery room with wood paneling and long, light-blue curtains on the windows. The closet didn’t have a door. It had curtains too, ones which matched the windows. My mother had made them of a shiny, satin-like fabric.

The “scary game” began with my little sister standing in the closet. She would hide her body in the curtains, covering everything but her head. Then, she would open her eyes and mouth real wide and walk forward. It was creepy and scared the pants off me.

Ok…that is a bit lame. But, I frightened easily as a child. You’d be scared too, if you’d seen what I saw. This was years before my sister invented the game, but it happened in the same place.

I was three at the time and my mom had put me to sleep in her room. I’m not sure what woke me, but when my eyelids fluttered open, I found a head floating at the foot of the bed.

The face was green and glowed in the dark. It stared at me with wide eyes and a wide mouth. Then, it came toward me…

I screamed. Screamed for my mom. Screamed for my dad. Screamed for anybody.

No one came.

I can’t remember what came after that. Maybe, it was just a dream and I woke up. Maybe, my mom came in and it vanished. I guess I’ll never know—not consciously anyway.

I recently discovered that several of my stories involve disembodied or decapitated heads. Is my unconscious mind trying to tell me something? Perhaps, “The Face” has the answer.

Tell me if you find it.

Chilling Chat with Jess Landry

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Jess Landry is a graphic designer by day and a writer by night, though sometimes the two intertwine. You can find her work online with The Sirens Call and EGM Shorts. In print, herJess Landry stories have appeared in several anthologies, including Where Nightmares Come FromThe Anatomy of Monsters, Killing It Softly, and Ill-Considered Expeditions.

Jess has been working for JournalStone Publishing for several years. She is the Managing Editor and also runs JournalStone’s newest imprint, Trepidatio Publishing, where her goal is to publish diverse stories from diverse authors.

She currently resides in the icy wastelands of Winnipeg, Manitoba with her husband, two lazy cats, and her young daughter, who she hopes one day will come to love the genre as much as her mother (if not, she may have to disown her).

Jess is a smart woman with a terrific sense of humor. We spoke of Women in Horror, writing, and what it’s like to be an editor.

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

JL: Thank you, Naching! This is going to be fun.

NTK: How old were you when you discovered horror?

JL: I think I was pretty young! I have very fond memories of watching shows like The Hilarious House of Frightenstein (Canadian public television at its best!) and raiding my aunties library for the latest Stephen King books. I’d always had a love for Halloween, so the progression into reading and writing horror seemed only natural.

NTK: Is King your favorite author?

JL: He definitely played a huge role in my love of the genre. The first book I read of his was The Drawing of the Three, and from that point, I was hooked. For a long time, I thought he was the only horror author around (my parents didn’t exactly run to the bookstore to buy me all the horror books). But after some time of just reading him, I realized there were so many more authors to read. It wasn’t until I read The Hellbound Heart by Clive Barker that I had a “whoa” moment. Barker became my absolute favourite from page one of that book.

NTK: Does Barker influence your writing? What got you into writing?

JL: I admire Barker and his no-holds-barred style; his imagination blows me away (I mean, there’s a secret world inside a carpet? There’s a mosaic that you can travel through time in? Say wha?). When I write, I try not to limit my imagination, I try to think of all the crazy ideas he’s had that have translated perfectly on the page, but I feel the subject matter he writes about is something I could never tackle because there’s a raw honesty woven in his pages. As for what got me into writing, I really can’t recall. I’m an only child so I’ve always kind of lived in my head and did my own thing. I was a voracious reader and movie watcher when I was younger, and I still am. My dad kept a creative writing assignment from grade 1 where I wrote about a dog who goes trick or treating, so I guess it’s always been in my blood to get a little spooky.

NTK: You wrote, “When the Wind Leaves a Whisper” for the Next Great Horror Writer Campfire Tale challenge. Where did that idea come from?

JL: When we received the challenge last year, the first thing that popped into my brain was the show Are You Afraid of the Dark? and the midnight society gathering around the campfire. I loved that show as a kid so trying to think of a concept that someone might tell around the fire was a lot of fun—I even rewatched a few episodes for old time’s sake! I find the woods to be scary as hell (…I’m more of an indoor person!) so it felt only right that my story takes place in that environment.

NTK: What was it like being a NGHW contestant?

campfiretalesfinalJL: It was awesome being a NGHW contest. I had no idea what to expect coming into it—would it be challenging enough? Would I be able to make time to complete the tasks?—but it ended up being a great exercise in writing. I found myself writing things that I probably wouldn’t have considered in the first place, and also found myself in constant of awe of everyone else in the competition. Everyone worked so hard and kicked so much ass, and every time a show went live, it was always nerve-wracking to hear the feedback and to hear where you placed in that specific challenge. The best part for me was trying to keep up with the rest of you!

NTK: Do your characters have free will? How much control do you exert over them?

JL: I’d like to think I have some degree of control over the fate of my characters, but sometimes they surprise me. I’m writing a screenplay right now and had written up a super-detailed outline before I plunked the story into the proper formatting. Everything was going to plan, then all of a sudden, I found my story slowly drifting toward another ending. I tried to keep it on track with what I had already planned out, but no matter what I tried, the characters seemed to be working toward their own, new-and-improved ending. Sometimes, you just have to let your characters take the reins!

NTK: You’re the Managing Editor for Journalstone Publishing and Publisher for Trepidatio Publishing. What’s the best thing about being an editor?

JL: The best thing about being an editor is how damn hard it is, especially being a writer, too. The authors that we bring in to JournalStone and Trepidatio are ones that I admire, ones whose work I love. To be lucky enough to spend often months at a time tackling their stories, helping hone them, and getting to know the authors in the process is something I never thought I’d be able to do. I started at the bottom of the totem pole with JournalStone, reviewing books and movies for Hellnotes (JS owns the site). After a while of doing that (which I still do on the rare occasion), I asked if there was anything more I could do to help out, particularly on the publishing side. Chris Payne, JournalStone’s president, was kind enough to give me a shot, and it wasn’t long after that I was getting my hands dirty. Much like the NGHW contest, editing is tough. You’ve got to forget about your own style, your own nasty habits, and put yourself in the mind of the writer whose work you’re looking over. You’ve got to think of anything and everything, be it grammar-related issues to historical references. You have to immerse yourself into someone else’s world, and you have to put your own work aside. It’s bittersweet in that sense—I love being able to do what I do with JournalStone, but my own work has definitely suffered because of it.

NTK: What’s the worst thing about editing? Any pet peeves?

JL: The worst thing about editing—be it my own stuff or someone else’s—is when it feels like nothing’s coming together when nothing you do can fix what’s wrong the manuscript. That is the absolute worst. Thankfully, that doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, it usually helps to take some time away from words and computers and anything that overworks your brain. Just let it sit. That’s my unofficial motto.

NTK:  You spoke of some television shows earlier, is the Hilarious House of Frankenstein still your favorite show? Or have you moved on?

JL: Oh man, I haven’t watched that in years! Actually, I did see a short segment on the national news a few days ago about someone in Toronto (I think) who created the Billy Van museum (he played all the characters in the show). I’ll have to go check it out next time I visit. But I love how this obscure Canadian show from the 1970s still affects so many people today. I’ve definitely moved on to bigger—but not necessarily better—things. For modern shows, I love Stranger Things, Black Mirror, The Walking Dead, and I used to love American Horror Story, but it’s kind of lost me now. For older shows, my go-to was (and always will be) Tales from the Crypt…the HBO live-action show and the cartoon! The best of both worlds. Plus, there was a short-lived Tales from the Crypt kids’ game show that I watched religiously. I was always jealous of the kids on there (and still am, frankly).

NTK: What is your favorite horror movie?

JL: I have two: An American Werewolf in London and John Carpenter’s The Thing. Hands down. No contest. I could watch those two movies on repeat for all of eternity and never get tired of them. I could probably also put on a one-woman show reenacting both of them, but I doubt anyone would want to see that (and how would I do the werewolf-morphing and head-growing-legs scenes?). I also need to give shout-outs to other favourites: Army of Darkness, Suicide Club, Suspiria, Trick ‘r Treat, Hellraiser, and many, many more. I love a good (and even bad) horror movie. If I had more time, I’d make it my goal to watch every single one on Netflix (but not Amazon Prime—the selection on there is…interesting).

NTK: You seem to enjoy horror/comedy. Does that element find its way into your work often? I remember, during the contest you wrote a piece called, “Fang Blingz” and that was great!

JL: I love a good horror/comedy. I grew up watching Ghostbusters and Army of Darkness and Dead Alive and all that good stuff, but I’ve never actually tried to pull it off (with the exception of Fang Blingz in the NGHW contest!) It’s definitely something that I would love to try and do in the future, though the thought of attempting to be funny (and having people legitimately laugh at what I wrote) is probably the scariest thing that I can think of!

NTK: Let’s go back to Trepidatio publishing. Could you tell the Horror Addicts a little about that Journalstone imprint?

JL: Yes! Trepidatio was originally the brain-child of Horror Writers Association VP (and all-around good guy) John Palisano, though he made the tough decision to part from it and then it fell into my lap. When it did, I was like, “What the hell am I supposed to do with an imprint?”, but it soon became clear that this was an amazing opportunity to publish authors that I knew were talented, that I knew were on the brink of big things, that I knew were under-represented. So I set out and made it my mission to publish diverse stories from diverse voices. As of right now, I’ve published eight books (four collections, four novels), and four of those are from female authors. I have five more novels and collections coming out between now and early next year, and all five are by women. I’m very proud of what we’ve accomplished so far.

NTK: You’re a proponent of Women in Horror. Who are some women writers you think deserve more recognition?

JL: I’m a very big fan of SP Miskowski, and I’m lucky enough to be working with her right now on her latest novel. She’s someone who I admired long before I knew her, and I believe her work is some of the best there is. I also love Helen Oyeyemi, Tananarive Due, and Ania Ahlborn, among many others. There are so many women writers out there who deserve recognition, and I’m more than happy to try and help them obtain even a sliver of it.

NTK: Jess, what does the future hold for you? What works do Horror Addicts have to Fantastic Tales of Terror: History's Darkest Secrets by [Golden, Christopher, Anderson, Kevin J., Maberry, Jonathan, Yardley, Mercedes M., Gaiman, Neil, Massie, Elizabeth, Chizmar, Richard, Lansdale, Joe R., Waggoner, Tim , Bailey, Michael , Vincent, Bev , Wytovich, Stephanie M., Gonzalez, Michael Paul, Palisano, John , Morton, Lisa , Landry, Jess , Bunn, Cullen , Liaguno, Vince , Little, Bentley , Wellington, David , Baumgartner, Jessica Marie, Castle, Mort , Moore, Paul , Strand, Jeff ]look forward to?

JL: The future is busy…which I am grateful for! The anthology Lost Highways: Dark Fiction from the Road was just released in July, and it has a short story of mine called “The Heart Stops at the End of Laurel Lane” in it. I have two more anthologies coming up, including Monsters of Any Kind from Independent Legions Publishing, which has my story “Silt & Bone” in it—that’s out the last week of September. Fantastic Tales of Terror comes out late October from Crystal Lake Publishing, and my story “Mutter” is in there. And then a story I wrote for the NGHW contest called “Scordatura” will be in Twice-Told: A Collection of Doubles, out in February 2019. Plus there are a few great things coming out from HorrorAddicts.net, including this Campfire Tales anthology.

Phew!

NTK: Thank you for chatting with me, Jess! That was really fun!

JL: Thanks, Naching! Always lovely chatting with you!

Addicts, you can find Jess on Facebook.

 

Chilling Chat with Daphne Strasert

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Daphne Strasert grew up in St. Louis, Missouri with her loving family and a menagerie of animals too long to list. She began writing in first grade and continued writing into herDaphne Strasert teenage years. She attended Rice University, where she taught a semester course titled Werewolves, Zombies, and Why We’re Afraid of the Dark: A Brief History of Monsters. She later graduated with degrees in Computer Science, Psychology, and Cognitive Science.

Daphne now lives in Houston with her husband. She writes novels, short fiction, and blog posts. In 2017, she placed third overall in the Horror Addicts’ Next Great Horror Writer Contest.

Daphne is an intelligent and erudite woman. We spoke of writing, psychology, and college courses on monsters.

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

DS: Of course. I’m glad to be here

NTK: How old were you when you discovered horror?

DS: I was probably 8 or so when I discovered horror existed. My parents were watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer and there was a dark scene where a vampire jumped out and I remember finding that really frightening. I went into a sort of horror hibernation after that because I thought that horror was way too scary for me. So, while I found the premise of horror movies really compelling, I was too afraid to watch them. Instead, I gravitated toward the Disneyfied monsters that came out during the late Naughts like Twilight and a number of paranormal romance novels. It wasn’t until college or so that I reconnected with the genre through the classic Universal monster movies like Dracula.

NTK: Did this re-connection help you discover other films? What are your favorite horror movies?

DS: Absolutely. It acted as a springboard into the genre as a whole. I followed actors and directors that I enjoyed into darker films that pushed my limits until I realized that I wasn’t nearly as afraid as I thought I’d be. It came down to a matter of taste. Horror, like every genre, has different flavors. I discovered that my preferred “flavor” tended toward the paranormal or psychological rather than the slasher movies that I had always associated with the genre. And, once I’d stepped in, I could see how the themes related and how different movies learned from and played off one another. I enjoy looking at horror from a historical perspective and watching how it evolves. My favorite movies are the ones that turn expectations for the genre on their head. I rank Hush very highly for that reason. They took the very basic, generic slasher concept and retooled it. It stars a Scream Queen who literally can’t scream for help and the entire production takes place in a single location. They managed to up the tension and remain true to the tropes while creating a genuinely gripping movie.

Of course, I’m also a sucker for the classics, so Dracula is a must-see. And, gothic romance like Crimson Peak also ticks off all the right boxes.

NTK: Awesome! You’ve become quite the connoisseur of horror. Where do you find inspiration?

DS: Much of my inspiration comes from things that I personally find terrifying. I’m an easily frightened person. I get inside my own head a lot. For me, scariest situations are the ones where the villain/monster/etc. doesn’t necessarily think they are doing anything wrong. They’re acting in their own self-interest. So, starting with a fairly normal situation and twisting it until something terrifying comes out works pretty well. It’s a practice of continually asking myself, “What is the worst possible thing that could happen?”

NTK: Wow! How did this process lead to your story, “Cabin 12,” from Campfire Tales?

campfiretalesfinalDS: Well, I was a camp counselor for my first job! And honestly, nothing is quite as terrifying as being a camp counselor for all eternity (Laughs.) Patrolling at camp is routine, but everything that happens after that in the story takes things another step darker. Finding something forgotten, being trapped, being assaulted, with a dash of the unexpected—that pulls together a good tale. Add into this that the kids from Cabin Twelve aren’t bad, per se, just lonely, and the story is both frightening and somewhat realistic.

NTK:  You have a degree in psychology, does it help you create realistic characters?

DS: I suppose, in a way, it did. But really the degree and the realism of my characters come from the same desire: to understand people. I’ve always been interested in people and why they act the way they do. My characters are deeply rooted in my people-watching observations and I studied psychology for the same reason. My characters perhaps have a more scientific basis, but most of the feel of the writing is from my personal experience.

NTK: What kind of control do you exert over your characters? Do they have free will? Or, being part of your personal experience, do you have complete control over their actions?

DS: I’ve always been flummoxed by writers who say their characters ran away with them. I don’t feel as if my characters have control over their own narratives. They certainly don’t always get what they want. But all of my characters are grown from a single kernel of inspiration. Everything else about them has been built around that to make them into a three-dimensional human being/vampire/werewolf/etc. So, while I don’t force them into anything, none of their actions ever come as a surprise. If they did, then something about the character didn’t add up. I didn’t understand them correctly. My characters are under my control in that I control their personality and inclinations. If they wouldn’t do what I wanted them to do, then I need to make a different character.

NTK: Fascinating. Are you a plotter, then? A pantser? Or both?

DS: I am an absolute plotter. I love my plans and outlines. I will start a story by collecting scenes that come to me as I live my life, but before any real work begins, I map out the plot, usually in an excel spreadsheet. I know the number of scenes—even the number of words—that need to happen between each major plot event. Humans love stories, but we love them to be told in a specific way, with rising action and turning points and a climax with resolution. People find stories compelling if they have the right structure. I stick with that structure in general. I might be more experimental as I gain experience but for now plotting works for me.

NTK:  You taught a class at Rice University for a semester. Could you tell the Addicts a little about that?

DS: I did! It was called “Werewolves, Zombies, and Why We’re Afraid of the Dark: A Brief History of Monsters.” That class really is a highlight in my life. Each week I looked at a different monster—werewolves, zombies, vampires, mummies, aliens, etc.—and examined the roots of the mythology. Monsters appear in many forms across different cultures, but the same ideas tend to pop up over and over again. I collected those to paint a picture of how our modern interpretations of that monster appear. The way pop culture portrayed each monster has changed over time, typically going through a cycle of scariness, sexualization, oversaturation, silliness, and obscurity. You can see this clearly with vampires, who went through the sexualization and oversaturation part of the cycle fairly recently. We also talked about the underlying fears that seemed to form the basis for each monster.

NTK: Do you think monsters are manifestations of the psyche (i.e. vampires are narcissists)? What monster is your favorite?

DS: Monsters show both what we fear and what we desire—and often what we’re afraid to say we desire. Vampires, specifically, seem to be a manifestation of the human desire for immortality and youth, while expressing the fears we have regarding death and the idea that maybe the dead won’t stay that way. It can depend on whether you fear what the monster will do to you or if you desire to BE the monster. My favorite monster is the Werewolf. Werewolves are portrayed in so many different ways, it’s difficult to pin down what exactly I like about them, but I think that they are overall such a tragic creature. More than other monsters, I think they embody the human struggle with our darker selves.

NTK: What author has influenced you most? What is your favorite book?

DS: Christine Feehan has written an incredible paranormal romance series about vampires that I’ve followed for more than a decade. Despite the romance tag, it was the closest that I came to horror for most of my life. She created an intricate world that was well researched and based on Bram Stoker’s mythology. In my own stories, there really is no escaping her influence, even if I don’t write erotica. She wrote incredible, deep characters and never skipped the flaws that made them real. My favorite book is usually whichever I most recently finished reading (Laughs.), but for staying power, Jane Eyre ranks at the top. I would categorize it as gothic romance, so it includes that whisper of ghosts and monsters that kept me engaged.

NTK: What TV shows keep you engaged?

DS: I have been watching a lot of documentary series lately. Netflix has a great selection. I focus on nature shows like Planet Earth or documentaries on cults, serial killers, and prisons. I will go through those like popcorn. My queue can’t keep up.

NTK: Let’s talk about the Next Great Horror Writer Contest. You won the PostcardsfromtheVoid.PNGCampfire Tales Challenge with “Cabin 12” as well as several other challenges. What was your overall experience?

DS: The Next Great Horror Writer Contest was such a whirlwind. That was the first public experience I had as a writer. So often, writers don’t get any feedback on their work aside from a lukewarm rejection letter here or there, so getting consistent, in-depth feedback was a wonderful thing. The deadlines forced me to produce more than I’d ever made before. I was fortunate to be able to pitch my novel to Crystal Lake Publishing as a finalist. Even though I didn’t win—Congratulations, Jonathan!—I was so grateful to be able to hear someone seriously consider it.

NTK: Daphne, what does the future hold for you? What do HorrorAddicts have to look forward to as far as publications?

DS: I’ve had several short stories published this year, including through HorrorAddicts.net. I also appeared in the Texas Emerging Authors anthology by Z Publishing. One of my pieces appeared in Postcards from the Void, an anthology by Dark Water Syndicate. It went on sale at the end of September.

NTK: Thank you for chatting with me, Daphne.

DS: Thanks, Naching!

 

By The Fire: Episode 145: Challenge 9: Write a 1200-1500 word campfire tale in storyteller format

Hey HorrorAddicts, I hope you’re enjoying the contest so far because things are getting more exciting. In episode 145 of the HorrorAddicts.net podcast, the challenge for The Next Great Horror Writer is to write a 1200-1500 word campfire tale in storyteller format, as if you are telling it to us around the campfire. Contestants will be judged on scare factor, originality and storytelling ability. The winner will have their story published by horroraddicts.net publishing as part of their “Horror Bites Series”.

Campfire tales are possibly the most fun form of horror storytelling there is. If a campfire tale isn’t simple enough it will lose its effect. They should be short, hopefully, have a monster, crazed killer or a ghost and a shock ending would be the icing on the cake. Campfire tales aren’t rocket science, the story doesn’t have to even be that good as long as it’s scary. The whole idea is to gather around the campfire and try to scare your friends with tales of the grotesque or a good urban legend. We’re all storytellers if you think about it and a campfire is a perfect place to perfect your craft.

So Addicts, have you ever told scary tales around the fire? I think most people have, it’s like a rite of passage. To quote A Nightmare Before Christmas: “life’s no fun without a good scare”. What were the stories you tried to scare your friends with? Was your audience scared? Did someone scare you with their story? Pretend this blog is a roaring fire and let us know what your favorite scary story is and leave your tall tale in the comments.