Interview with Artist Luke Spooner


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Carrion House is the online domain of England artist and illustrator Luke Spooner, whose work has appeared in projects featuring stories by horror masters Neil Gaiman, Clive Barker, and Stephen King.

“I have a First Class degree in illustration from the University of Portsmouth,” Spooner says on his website. “My current projects and commissions include illustrations and covers for books, magazines, graphic novels, books aimed at children, conceptual design and business branding.”

Spooner’s projects include the interior artwork for Crystal Lake Publishing anthology “Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories” and the interior artwork for Bram Stoker Award-winning Crystal Lake Publishing anthology “Behold: Oddities, Curiosities and Undefinable Wonders.” Both feature stories by horror masters Neil Gaiman, Clive Barker, and Ramsey Campbell.

Spooner’s illustrations are also featured in the anthology “You, Human,” which includes the short story “I Am the Doorway” by Stephen King, and in “The Dead Song Legend Dodecology” by Jay Wilburn.

 

In an exclusive interview with HorrorAddicts.net, Spooner discusses his career.

 


THE INTERVIEW

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HORROR ADDICTS: Where did your artistic eye and talent originate? Any artists, books, or movies inspire your style?

SPOONER: I was doodling from the moment I discovered pencils and things to scribble on. In those early formative years, it was just a way of emulating what I loved; I used to draw my favourite characters from television shows, books – even imaginary characters that I’d make up and try to explain to others and write stories about. In hindsight; the desire to communicate ideas through visual means actually developed earlier than my attempts at communicating through spoken language. I’m not saying I was any good at it – I’m just saying it was my first port of call once I realized there were things I needed to get out of my head, but gradually, over time, it became a tap – a leaky faucet that you really had to put your back into if you were to have any hope of turning off. It never occurred to me that some people just didn’t do it. It seemed so important and instinctive but as with most things in life; once you arrive at school and find peers of your own age staring back at you, you notice people and they notice you, the things that separate you from them start to become clearer and more definitive.

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HA: How long have you been a cover designer? What compelled you to start your own business in this field?

SPOONER: When I reached the age of 18 I had gathered enough understanding of the world to know that there was a chance I could do something creative, something that involved creating images to convey meaning, for a living – a way of making money to allow me to create images for as long as possible with no interruptions. It was suggested by my art teacher that I undertake a Foundation Degree at the Wimbledon College of Art in London.  Following this suggestion and applying myself to getting accepted was a confirmation that I was indeed going to do something creative as a profession; I’d sat across tables from other students with artistic prowess far greater than my own for years by this point and despite this I still felt very strongly that I could find a niche for myself that they couldn’t fit into. That degree, in total, lasted a year and was essentially, what became known in retrospect, as an ‘options year,’ a term suitably vague and confusing. I ended up in a scary umbrella option called ‘visual communication,’ which basically meant commercial imagery in the broadest and (sadly) vaguest sense. I was trapped in a room, right on the edge of Wimbledon like a dirty secret, shoulder to shoulder with photographers, graphic designers, typographers, traditional illustrators, children’s book illustrators and even a couple of fine artists who had severely lost their way but decided that it couldn’t have possibly been there fault. I barely made it out of that year purely through the department’s constant need to try and cover every discipline’s needs on a daily basis. We were essentially a broth with too many chefs and I lost any sort of direction or idea of what I truly wanted to be. However, I did survive it and based on the few tethers I’d managed to grasp over the course of a year under the degree’s instruction I decided to sign up to The University of Portsmouth’s illustration degree.

When I got to Portsmouth everything was confirmed. I was reminded of what I truly enjoyed and what I wanted to do more of in the future. The degree provided the perfect platform for me to start from and presented the bare bones truth of what the world I was trying to install myself into was and would be like, so any second thoughts I would have had were put aside fairly early on. The unofficial mantra that got passed down by the lecturers, and made frequent appearances in our group tutorials like a support meetings code of conduct was “what you put in – you will get out,” and while that obviously sounds like common sense, I can assure you that you’d be amazed at how many people decided to sit back, put in minimum effort and just assume the work would find them both during University and out in the big wide world of work. I heard from one of my friends at a London based art degree while I was Portsmouth that her department’s stock phrase was “nobody wants you,” which although incredibly depressing is an unfortunate truth.

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When I left University in 2012 I had finished my illustration degree; handed in work, filled 14 sketchbooks, written a dissertation on film noir, even wall mounted my work for an exhibition to be looked over by a horde of complete strangers – all over the course of the final third year. What I didn’t realise was that we although the work was handed in on 11tth May – we didn’t officially graduate until the 23rd July. This meant that we effectively had two whole months of not having a clue who we were supposed to be; were we students? Were we graduates? Could we start working without knowing whether we’d passed or not? The list of open-ended questions goes on and on but when you’re talking about a department full of potential freelancers you knew you weren’t going to get any answers – even the lecturers gave the impression that they now saw you as competition as opposed to the subordinates they were teaching a week previous.

There was absolutely no hope of turning to your fellow artists and finding out what they had planned because competition was verging on blood thirsty, so rather than dwelling on it I decided that I didn’t need to know what grade I got, or even whether I’d passed, to be a practicing freelancer. I had a portfolio to my name and a desire to work and seek out potential projects so, for those two months, I emailed and searched, rinsed and repeated, sending upwards of fifty emails a day until eventually one client, just as fresh and new to ‘the game’ as I was, said they wanted me on board for their new project and were willing to pay me actual money in return for my services. That was six years ago, and I haven’t stopped since

HA: You call your online domain, CARRION HOUSE. Why that name? Does it have a special meaning?

SPOONER: I didn’t actually live in the city I studied in when I was at University. I lived forty miles away and was working two part-time jobs, so I didn’t really socialise much with other students outside of the formal lessons and group tutorials attended at the University. I used to commute via bus and train and when you couple that with the fact that our schedule, especially towards the end of the course, was pretty lax it meant that not a lot of people actually knew me beyond being able to recognise me in passing me in a corridor. However, during the second year of the course there was a big emphasis placed on creating an online identity for ourselves as prospective illustrators through online portfolios, social media, blogs etc. We were encouraged to represent ourselves as more of a brand than a person, where possible, and so for two weeks I went through all sorts of names that I thought would highlight the dark work I was creating, and hoping to create, for other people.

There were some truly awful names amongst the list of potentials and some downright laughable, so I eventually decided to take stock of how people already viewed me within the course as they were, to a point, pretty unbiased and probably a good indicator of how people would view my work having not really known me personally. In the first year we had done a project where we were set the task of researching and illustrating an animal of our choice over the course of a month and producing some sort of ‘end result’ based on our research and development. I had chosen a crow as my subject and had jumped head first into my research almost gratuitously. The end result was a series of illustrations based on ‘The Crow’ by Ted Hughes and when it came time to present the research and final product to my teachers, alongside everyone else, the other students were slightly taken aback by how ‘into it’ I had become when they saw the bulging sketchbooks and development folders. Subsequently people started referring to me as ‘the crow guy,’ not in a negative capacity (as far as I know) but simply as a convenient moniker based on simple fact — I did nothing to dissuade this.

So, knowing that I was already known as ‘the crow guy’ I took the word ‘Carrion’ and coupled it with the word ‘House,’ because I liked the idea of appearing as a professional house, or style of illustration as opposed to just some guy who could colour in really well and that’s how the name came about. It may also interest you to know that I also work on children’s books under the name of ‘Hoodwink House,’ a name chosen because I don’t feel that the child friendly style of illustration I utilise under that name is an honest representation of my artistic self, therefore I feel like I’m tricking/hoodwinking both customers and myself when I put on that particular hat style.

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HA: I read your website where you have worked on projects that include works by Neil Gaiman, Clive Barker, and Stephen King. That’s impressive. Can you talk about how those projects developed for you? Do you feel more pressure when creating covers for high-profile projects with big-name talent attached?

SPOONER: All of those stories have come to me as parts of anthologies, so they are packaged alongside other stories, by other authors and therefore it diffuses that pressure by normalising those particular names and reminding the elated fan in you that they are just people. I try to make a point of going through anthologies avoiding any knowledge as to who has authored what as it’s the story I’m illustrating – not the writer. It also prevents me from trying to mimic any sort of aesthetic that they or their publications are synonymous with and in turn raise the chance of me coming up with something genuinely original and honest.

HA: In the age of Amazon and ebook readers, are covers as important in this digital age as they were in the days when hardcovers and paperbacks ruled?

SPOONER: Yes, of course. Covers are very important for conveying a theme or the essence of a book, ultimately providing an insight into what you might stand to gain or experience should you decide to have a look inside. On a simpler level; humans are sensory creatures so if you can appeal to someone’s imagination simply through the power of sight and image then you’ve already enriched their experience of a publication before they’ve even opened it. I would almost suggest that ebook covers need to be more illustrative than that of a physical copy as they are at a sensory disadvantage by not having that physicality and appeal to touch that humans enjoy so much.

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HA: What’s the key to a successful collaboration with authors and publishers in creating cover designs? Do most authors and publishers have a specific cover in mind or do they give you a lot of latitude in your design?

SPOONER: I think a successful collaboration comes from a mutual understanding and respect between the client and the illustrator. The writer should never see themselves as some sort of divine benefactor that has stooped to the illustrator’s level and offered them work that they are lucky to get – even if that is the case, and the illustrator should never be tempted to hold their skills to ransom and demand inordinate sums of compensation. Writer’s should realize that illustrators are a key part to making their body of work, not just a marketable and interesting package, but a complete and fully realized one with multiple layers. Illustrators should also realize that; yes, they are artists, they should never work for free because it undermines the entire profession, but they should also be open to the needs of the writer and understand that just because they are talented does not mean they are entirely right when it comes to understanding a writer or publishers’ vision. Working in tandem with each other towards the same goal, making all criticism fair and constructive from both parties – they seem like common sense things to keep in check, but they are often the first things to suffer when a collaborative effort starts to break down.

HA: I see your art incorporates visceral colors but also you have black-and-white illustrations. Which do you prefer and why?

SPOONER: I genuinely don’t know. I spent a long time simply sketching in standard pencil, sticks of charcoal and standard black ink so colour rarely made an appearance in my work during my infant to early teenage years. Around seventeen/eighteen years of age I had access to my A Level college’s entire art department, pretty much whenever I wanted, so I took the opportunity to explore the use of colour in my free time (lunch breaks etc.) and did so quite sporadically. The result was that colour would tend to explode within my images, as if the fact they were no longer repressed was reflecting a sort of violent display of annoyance at me personally through the very paper or canvas I’d set myself to. So I don’t know which of the two I prefer but I’m very happy that they are both present and hope I treat both equally well.

HA: On your website, you have a section for your illustration work. You also have a section titled “Self Directed Work.” What is the difference?

SPOONER: That simply refers to the work I make out of sheer impulse and self direction. None of it is commissioned by a third-party, they are simply the things I create because I have to create. Therefore, there are a few slightly weird pieces up there as well as a few canvas pieces, which is a medium I don’t advertise as a service to anyone. As you can probably imagine; there is a massive amount of work that I’ve produced for myself that isn’t on that page and is instead going completely unseen by anyone other than me.

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HA: What scares you?

SPOONER: The idea of not being able to create or be creative in my pursuits or hobbies scares me tremendously. Once, while in a group tutorial at University, after summer holidays through which we’d been told to maintain a visual diary, a teacher asked to see what I’d amassed. Upon opening my book and flicking through it she went very quiet, looked back over everything and asked me if I had produced as much as I had because I was perhaps scared of not being able to one day. That question caught me completely off guard with how direct it had been but also provided me with the quickest, most uninhibited ‘yes’ I had ever given in my life.

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David’s Haunted Library: Drive-In Creature Feature

Soda? check, Popcorn? check, Blankets? check. These are some of the things you might need if you are going to your local drive-in theater. If you’re 30 or younger you probably don’t know what a drive-in is. You also don’t know the joys of sitting in your car with a group of friends while you watched giant creatures destroying the city on the big screen. Luckily Eugene Johnson and Charles Day have put together a horror anthology that captures the spirit of the Drive in.  Drive In Creature Feature contains 19 stories for anyone who loves a good monster tale.

Since it would take too long to talk about each story I’ll spend some time talking about my favorites. The Tattering and Jack by Clive Barker is about a demon who has the task of driving a man crazy. The job ends up being much harder than the demon thought as the man shows he has no emotions and won’t be driven off the deep end. This story has an awesome twist and goes back and forth from being funny to scary. Another good story is The Forrest That Howls by Michael Paul Gonzalez, this is easily the best Bigfoot story I’ve ever read. It answers the question of why there is no proof that the creatures exist.

Ghoul Friend In A Coma by John Everson is a bizzaro love story between a teenage boy and a ghoul. This is another one that combines humor and horror. I love how even when the teenager sees his life in danger he still thinks with the wrong head, this is exactly like I would expect a teenager going through puberty to act. This story teaches us that a couple having sex then carrying a corpse together to the basement is what true love is all about.

Double Feature by Jason V. Brock actually takes place at a drive-in theatre in the Seventies. The story centers on a father who is taking his two kids to a movie. The father and mother are going through a divorce and the story begins with an argument between the occupants of the car. Their problems become secondary though when the drive-in becomes a battleground between a bunch of giant monsters from outer space. This story was a lot of fun but what I really loved was how the family puts their problems aside and works together when a crisis happens.

I also have to mention Popcorn by Essel Pratt, this is another one that takes place in the drive-in. A group of teenagers is at the theatre looking for a good time, but things get ugly when a giant popcorn monster attacks the movie-goers. I love the idea of a monster made of popcorn and there were some creative death scenes here, you may never want to eat popcorn again.

This book is one fun ride, it’s funny in places and scary in others. It also does an excellent job of capturing a bygone era and bringing back a lot of great memories of watching horror movies at the drive-in. There were a couple of stories here I didn’t care for but all in all this book reminded me why I love horror literature. It has humor, great monsters, and good storytelling, what more can you ask for? This is a must-read book for horror literature fans.

David’s Haunted Library: Two from Crystal Lake Publishing

Ugly Little Things: Collected Horrors by Todd Keisling is a collection of stories that explore what happens when people are pushed to their limits.The first story called A Man In Your Garden sets up the anthology perfectly. It’s about a man who believes a stranger is standing on his lawn. The man is scared but is there, someone, really out there or does he have an overactive imagination. I love how this story shows that sometimes we are our worst enemy.

Another good story here is Saving Granny From The Devil, this is a coming of age story where a young kid name Todd gets help from the devil. Flash forward a few years and the devil is coming for Todd’s Granny and Todd makes a deal to save her. The problem is that while Todd’s heart is in the right place, he may have made the wrong decision. We then see how his actions affected his life and his Granny’s. What I like about this story is the idea presented that love lasts forever and maybe the devil isn’t such a bad guy. Todd Keisling shows that he has a gift for creating deep characters that you can’t help but care for even when they do wrong.

My favorite story in this collection is When Karen Met Her Mountain. Karen comes from a religious father who recently died and not too long ago she had a miscarriage that she hasn’t mentally recovered from. Tragedy strikes when a religious cult shows up and kidnaps her husband. The Cult is messing with the wrong woman and Karen is going to make them pay.  I liked how you see Karen’s personality change as she hunts down her victims and then towards the end we find out that her therapist believed something like this would happen if the wrong trigger was pulled. The ending of this one really surprised me, this is a woman pushed to the edge and comes out stronger and more vicious.

The last story in the collection is a novella called The Final Reconciliation. It’s about a progressive rock band called The Yellow Kings, four kids with big dreams set out on their first tour. Little did they know that their first album would only be heard once and would cause the death of nearly 200 people. This story is a twist on an old mythology and a story of four kids achieving their dreams and worst nightmares at the same time.This is another coming of age story as the kids are working to leave the rough backgrounds that they come from.

Ugly Little Things is a book about the human spirit but the human spirit doesn’t always triumph. Even when you get what you want there is a dark side to it and that’s what Ugly Little Things is about. This is a book that’s shocking and disturbing but most of all it’s a look at what happens to people when they can’t handle the horror of life.

We’re all fascinated by things that are strange, odd and just plain different. Behold! Oddities, Curiosities and Undefinable Wonders edited by Doug Murano is an anthology that embraces weirdness. When you start reading this book you know to expect the unexpected from the first story. In Larue’s Dime Museum by Lisa Morton. The story follows a woman who is obsessed with the past and finds two photos that transport her back in time. I loved how this story opens leading you to believe it’s about a circus style sideshow. Then you start to realize it’s really about a photographer and a woman who wishes to be in another time. I loved the descriptions of the setting and hearing about the woman’s daily routine and how she sees the world around her.

Another good story in this anthology is Chivalry by Neil Gaiman. In this story, an old woman finds the holy grail in a second-hand store and before long Galaad comes on a quest to bring the grail to King Arthur’s Knights Of The Round Table. The woman does not want to give it up. Galaad keeps coming back with extravagant gifts and finally offers three gifts to the woman and the woman accepts two in exchange for the chalice but the one she rejects is a huge surprise in the story. I love how the woman rejects the gift and her reaction after Galaad leaves her. At this point you are left to wonder is she crying because she liked the attention from Galaad or is it because she really wanted the third gift. This story is a must read.

Another good one is the Wildflower, Cactus Rose by Brian Kirk. This is a completely original story about a woman who goes in for surgery to take care of a sleep apnea problem. She comes out mutilated and thinks her life is over. Her new gifts seem to change her life though as she finds it easier to do the right thing.  There is a good message in this story about how the way you look doesn’t affect the life you choose. In reality, it’s our attitude that either draws people to us or pushes them away. The world is a mirror, you see what you want to see.

This book is full of great stories and one of the best is Clive Barker’s Jacqueline Ess: Her Will and Testament. This is an odd story about a woman who almost dies due to a suicide attempt. She then discovers she can make men do anything she wants and kill people with a simple thought. This one is fascinating because it is told from two perspectives and there is a bizarre love story involved. This tale can be described as a journey as you watch Jacqueline change as she understands her power and you watch the men around her change as they figure out what she can do.  Behold! Oddities, Curiosities and Undefinable Wonders is a speculative fiction anthology that is a must read.

http://www.crystallakepub.com/

 

Press Release : Dark Regions Press : Special Discounts and Deals

Three Signed and Numbered Limited Edition Slipcased Hardcovers of Summer of Night by Dan Simmons 25th Anniversary Edition Shipping Now!
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The Gauntlet Chapbooks of Richard Matheson – 1 of 12 Copies In Stock and Shipping Now
For Richard Matheson fans and collectors, this is a true gem: we have 1 of 12 copies of The Gauntlet Chapbooks of Richard Matheson in stock and shipping now!
  • Limited to 12 copies worldwide
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Caitlín R. Kiernan will write an introduction and Josh Boone an afterword.
Clive Barker signs both editions, with Caitlín R. Kiernan and Josh Boone signing the lettered.
For more deals visit Dark Regions Press

An interview with Lynn McSweeney

Our Writer’s workshop winner this year and featured author for episode 126 is Lynn McSweeny. She is also one of the authors in Our newest anthology Once Upon a Scream. Lynn recently answered a few questions about her writing:

Could you tell us a little about the story you wrote that will be featured in episode 126 of the horror addicts podcast?

OnceUponAScreamFront“Seeking Nepenthe, Fearing Oblivion” is a series of snapshots of a woman whose name keeps changing slightly with every scene change. It’s a tale of alternate universes, posing the question of what might happen if one’s consciousness slipped gradually from one parallel world to the next, without one being aware that that’s what is happening, only to bump up against memories that do not match up to the new world. At what point does the consistent personality gradually become a brand new one? And how much more frightening would this be if all the while during this slippage, you were being played by one of Lovecraft’s Old Gods?

What is your story in Once Upon A Scream called and what is it about?

It’s called “The Healer’s Gift” and is set in an unspecified Celtic Isles past – perhaps an alternative one – where a rural healer is called on just before dawn by a very uncanny young boy. He seeks refuge from the sun, but after her day-callers come to her with their own plaints, the last visitor interacts with her very first visitor of the day, the mysterious boy. It becomes apparent that the lad can shift his appearance, among his other proclivities. Airmid shares her gift of healing with all but hasn’t reckoned on someone with his own, quite separate gifts sharing them in recompense. Bargains are struck, to her regret; but we see that all the interactions throughout the day are conducted by barter, as few in her world have coin.

This is very much in the vein of traditional Irish stories about the ambiguous encounters with the Good People. It’s also a kind of vampire tale that hinges on fertile eggs filled with blood, but that’s just the particular flavor of fairy featured. There’s no evil intent in pursuing the gruesome necessities of the fairy’s existence, and he’s capable of kindness and honor within the parameters of survival. He’s actually innocent. Kind of like a pet dog that can be affectionate to its people one minute, and shaking a rabbit till its neck breaks the next.

I lived in rural Ireland as a child, in my mother’s and grandmother’s hometown, actually. My father had moved us there while he pursued graduate degrees at Trinity College in Dublin. We stayed in Ireland a few years, and I developed a love/hate relationship with its politics and religion, but a deep connection to its myths and wild beauty.

What inspired the idea?

A really scary hypnagogic dream where I heard a knock at my bedroom door, which opens to the back porch. When I answered it in my dream state, this character, an elfin child, wanted in. I took my cane, which was a recent accessory/accommodation to my real, waking life, and made sure to make a protective circle about myself, then furthermore dragged it on the threshold, to ensure boundaries and limit our interaction. I then made this pale, dark-haired dream visitor swear the same oath that the healer in the story extracts from her visitor, word for word. When this hyper-real dream sat down on the edge of my bed, I tried waking myself, hoping it was a dream.

At the time, I was having many dreams trying to incorporate the fact that I now needed a cane to walk. Sometimes the cane would turn into a flowering tree in my dreams, or become Odin’s staff. I often find the start of my stories in dreams or half-dream states and have been plagued all my life with night-terrors and hypnagogic dreams. I don’t hate these states as much as I did when I was young, seeing them as the wellspring of creativity. When I was in my early twenties, I did have a habit of freaking out my first husband by waking up screaming, still asleep but sitting upright, eyes open. Sometimes the states are more benign; my college roommate thought I knew a boatload about antique Chinese porcelain. Evidently I’d been sleep-talking utter rubbish about the Ming dynasty, holding forth with invented expertise till the wee hours. Never knew I did that till college.

To get a little distance from this frightening dream, I then based the healer in the story on my much-loved tiny person of a granny who was a nurse in Ireland right after the revolution, and in truth, also kind of a judgmental pain-in-the-ass who went to mass every day at 6 AM before work. Just to be subversive, I changed her religious perspective; in the story, she’s a closet pagan in an emerging Christian society.

When did you start writing?

Certainly by the time I was four. I only vaguely remember being interviewed for a live/recorded radio ad by a wandering reporter for Gooseberry Farms in California when I was three, but my mother recounts how I recited my original, non-dictated reasons that it was a terrific place for children to visit (they had a petting zoo with goats, donkeys, duckies, etc) exactly the same way multiple times, having memorized my own words during the initial interview, take after take after take, till the interviewer was satisfied with his own “spontaneous” dialogue, having taken my consistency for granted by that point. I vividly remember drawing starting at the age of three, winning little shopping-contests for children that my mother entered me into, and I remember making elaborate illustrated 6- to 10-page cards with stories for my younger sister at the same time. All my drawings had stories behind them.

I was mostly focused on illustration for many years (as a creative outlet, for pay upon occasion), doing absinthe and wine labels, wedding and costume party invitations, a children’s book, art ball posters, political posters, a few murals, etc., until arthritis affected the grace of the lines. But I have boxes and boxes of short stories and poems (most hilariously melodramatic) from early grade-school on. I never had the time to try to get them up to my standards till I retired early due to disability. My standards are often much higher than my achievement, especially for poetry.

What are your favorite topics to write about?

Horror, horror/fantasy, science-fiction, a bit of erotica. Usually, there’s an undercurrent of satire. I often don’t unambiguously love my major characters. Sometimes they harbor petty motivations and act accordingly. They can remind me of the worst aspects of my own character, or friends’, or political spheres I’ve been involved with. I hope it’s the opposite of the Mary Sue effect.

What are some of your influences?

Gosh. My mother started me out by reading Greek myths as infant bedtime stories. When I was in fourth grade, family friends from the U.K. gave me an early leather-bound (second or third addition) copy of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Tanglewood Tales. I remember my disappointment at his Bowdlerization of the raw originals. Later grew to appreciate the Eddas and Irish and Welsh myths, and of course the heroic tales from The Odyssey to Beowulf.

Read Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass at least once a year from the age of six or seven (on my own, rather than being read to) till forty-seven, after which I took some years off. That’s also the age I found Tolkien. The Hobbit was a requirement to read over the summer before the Sputnik-rivalry-funded “special” fourth grade I was enrolled in, which immediately addicted me to The Lord of the Rings trilogy, which I’ve read through approximately thirty times. I used to re-read books that delighted, perplexed and/or challenged me to see if I could get a fix on how the alchemy was achieved.

I’ll avoid listing poets and just limit it to fiction. These are some I started reading in grade school. I love the lushness of language and commitment to detail of 19th century literature, everything from the social commentary of Dickens, Eliot, Melville and Hawthorne (though I preferred the haunting House of the Seven Gables over The Scarlet Letter), to the fever-dreams of Poe and Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, to the well-thought-out worlds of H.G. Wells, the transcendentalism/realism in tension as illustrated by the Brontë sisters, the romanticism of Lady Gregory and the whole Celtic Revival, the spurious verisimilitude of the epistolary novel exemplified by Bram Stoker’s Dracula (way to ratchet up the tension!), to the satire and sexual ribaldry of Thackeray, Fielding, Dafoe, and Cleland.

The wholly original and individual voice(s) employed by our greatest American novelist (in my humble opinion), Samuel Clemens aka Mark Twain, certainly influenced me, but mostly in contrast, as his is a style I could never aspire to.

Twentieth century? A random grab-bag of specific authors I’d like to think influenced me, or at least inspired me: Clark Ashton Smith, H. H. Munro, Angela Carter, Roger Zelazny, Philip K. Dick, Clive Barker, Peter Straub, Ursula LeGuin, Tanith Lee, P.G. Wodehouse, Thomas Pynchon, Fritz Leiber, Dorothy Dunnett, Robert Graves, Jack London — in addition to all the other usual suspects.

Usually, I prefer the florid over the dry, but the wry over the sentimental, and the satirical over the sincere.

What do you find fascinating about the horror genre?

The horror can be either gory or clean, supernatural or psychological in nature. The structure is one of creeping uncanniness, then freight, then desperation for the protagonist. The questions implied are philosophical and religious. They tap into our deepest fears – and hopes. After all, if ghosts or demons are real, then so is an afterlife, perhaps God. By scaring the reader directly and viscerally, the genre forces one into an empathetic state where it seems the horror is immediate, and oneself in danger. This frisson then grabs hold of the limbic region when considering the philosophical questions. It’s an exercise that is the opposite of formal inquiries into philosophy. I think reacting with one’s gut is a more comprehensive way to get answers. I prefer art to debate; would rather read Blake to understand Swedenborg than Swedenborg himself, or read Shelley’s poems to understand socialism. I don’t say horror bypasses intellectual capacities, rather that it’s a shortcut to the conundrums of existence; and as art, easily communicated to many levels of inquiry. Also, just love the thrill of a good story.

Disdaining/avoiding the usual pace of reality-based narratives, horror plunges the reader directly into these existential questions. By compressing the emotional arcs of a lifetime into one story and heightening the emotional stakes of investing in the agonist (whether prot- or ant-), horror acts as a literary hothouse to force its particular flowers out of season.

What are some of the works you have available?

I have an almost 10,000 word story “GildenPelt and Forbearance” under a pen-name (Colette Torrez) that should see print within the next month in the upcoming Giant Sex Issue of Imperial Youth Review, a print magazine based in the U.K. It’s an erotic science fiction tale riffing off Goldilocks and the Three Bears, with a dollop of satire of the brave new world they all negotiate. The magazine itself is published by Horn Dog Press and co-edited by Garrett Cook and Chris Kelso.

The sex issue (Issue 3) was over two years in the making and features never-before-seen work from William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg and Charles Plymell, as well as a feature about ecosexuality by Annie Sprinkle. Just this weekend, two frequently published authors are staying with me, both of whom time-share a porn pen-name – Emma Steele, whose work will also appear in this issue.

Here’s a link to IYR’s FaceBook page, which can also be found by looking for the Imperial Youth Review Newsroom:

and here’s a link to the blog, which will be updated to include information on Issue 3 as soon as it is in print.

Also coming: in early March I won a contest to write a 1,000-word story inspired by photo taken by Mazatlán-based photographer and writer Kristopher Hensel, to be printed in his upcoming book of photographs and memories of Mazatlán, Mexico. The prize was quite generous, and came with a fancy certificate for the Inaugural Kristopherian Prize for Short Fiction awarded by the Board of Governors of same.

The story is called “Apotheosis of the Ultimate Surfer” and is fantasy with a soupçon of horror. Photographer Kristopher Hensel and editor/author Garrett Cook judged the contest, and will publish an online anthology of the four runner-up stories, as well as mine, two weeks from now, in what will be a teaser for the upcoming book. To see the picture that inspired the story, here’s a link

This site will announce when the online publication happens.

What are you currently working on?

A time-traveller short story with a little bit of satire called “Garden of Hedon” – trying to figure out the right place to submit it. It takes for its premise Bradbury’s “A Sound of Thunder” and the butterfly effect, makes a sharp left, then goes straight off the cliff with it.

Sci/fi story about a drug-dealing planet peopled by highly conscious and therapeuticized people whose society is run as a collective. The new drug they hope to make a fortune on has a few unfortunate side effects, as they discover when they introduce it to a delegation of would-be buyers from another planet. Still working out the kinks in this story.

Outlining an erotic/fantasy/horror/sci-fi story/screenplay to submit on spec to friends of friends. It incorporates Hawai’i, were-creatures, a full moon eclipsed by a spaceship, what washes in on the tide, and erotic encounters that, alas, do not end happily.

Finished another erotic story called “Just Another Tuesday Dinner with the Missus”, which is the first in a series I’m considering – kind of like “Tuesdays With Morrie”. Or not.

Just starting notes in a collaborative mystery with an old friend from Ireland who wears many hats: she is a sculptor in stone; landscape designer and artist; garden guide in Ireland, Scotland, and Wales; as well as a horticultural lecturer and writer. I’m excited about the possibilities of working collaboratively as well as trying a genre I’ve only flirted with in my other stories, as well as committing to a long work. She and I share some overlapping aesthetics, but wildly diverge in our life journeys, so I think it will be productive and fun — and challenging — to create something with her.

Where can we find you online?

I’m actually not online yet. I’m afraid of all the work and time it’s going to take. I’m enjoying writing stories and finding publishers for them when I think they’re ready to fly the nest. My FaceBook page is minimal as well, due to not wanting it to be a time suck. Guess getting an online presence will be the step after that.

Mark Justice 1959-2016

61RFKPxBZVL._UX250_I woke up on the morning of February 10th thinking it would be just another day. As I was getting ready for work, I did a quick check of facebook and was sad to see that Mark Justice had passed away.  I didn’t know Mark personally but I bought many horror novels thanks to his show Pod Of Horror, including a zombie apocalypse book he co-wrote with David T. Wilbanks called Dead Earth.

Being the horror literature fan that I am, I instantly fell in love with his podcast Pod Of Horror. It started back in 2005 and over the years included interviews with big name horror authors such as Brian Keene, Jonathan Maberry , Clive Barker and many more. Horror writers and book publishers don’t always get the attention they deserve, but Mark’s podcast put the spotlight on them and due to his background in radio, his show had great production values. In addition to giving horror writers a voice, Mark had a wicked sense of humor and the podcast included comedy sketches with characters such as a Grim Reaper named Grim Ricktus and Chinese Dracula.

Mark Justice was also a storyteller. He wrote a regular column for his local newspaper and he had 15850196several short stories that were included in such anthologies as The Phantom Chronicles, Vol. 2 and Captain Midnight Chronicles. He also released an anthology of his own short stories called Looking at the World with Broken Glass in My Eye and made the journey into pulp fiction with a Western/Zombie novel named: The Dead Sheriff: Zombie Damnation (Volume 1)  He even edited an anthology called: Appalachian Winter Hauntings: Weird Tales from the Mountains

I was Really sad to hear of Mark’s passing, I may have never met him but because of his show I felt like I did. It was because of Pod Of Horror that I heard of horroraddicts.net. Back in 2009 on an episode of his show was a promo for the horror addicts podcast. So I gave it a listen and loved it, not knowing that I would eventually become a part of it. The world will be a sadder place without Mark Justice. Luckily we can still buy his books and listen to old episodes of Pod Of Horror and remember him for his humor and how he helped so many horror authors get noticed.

http://podofhorror.com/index.html

http://markjustice.blogspot.com/

http://www.amazon.com/Mark-Justice/e/B0034O22ZK

http://www.briankeene.com/2016/02/10/mark-justice-r-i-p/

Master of Horror L.A. Banks and her contribution to Horror

Black Women in Horror:

 Master of Horror L.A. Banks and her contribution to Horror.

“If my soul got jacked, where is it?”L.A. Banks

Happy Black History Month! I want to start this out in saying, yes, this blog post will be long and peppered in fangirl moments. I will drone on about the awesomeness of author L.A. Banks and her extraordinary writing skills in horror/thrillers. I will gawk at the idea that she is not praised as much as she should be, and I will tear up at the reality that this author’s incredible gifts have been lost to us in the literary world. This is my respectful tribute to her…it is what it is. -smile-

banks6In the world of Horror, in link with black women, there are only two names that comes to mind for me that have been cultural innovators and pop icons in this area of literature. And today I’m choosing to speak on the one that I was lead to deeply admire, Leslie Esdaile Banks. Better known as L.A. Banks. When you think of horror, the greats who founded it, and those who followed in their footsteps, oftentimes many people don’t equate women in that class.

People always are quick to name the greats, Horace Walpole, Bram Stoker, H.P. Lovecraft, and contemporaries, Clive Barker and Stephen King as the masters of horror. I take nothing away from them. However, women were also at the forefront of horror. They were the literal foundation that inspired many past and current male horror authors that we so fondly idolize.

“Humans have been telling scary stories of great danger, defeat, and triumph since we built campfires outside the caves while the wolves were howling in the hills near us.” – L.A. Banks via Wild River Review 2011

Women of horror helped craft a culture within the medium that added character to how many male horror writers developed their own stories. A level of maturity, audaciousness, sensuality, and political/social commentary between the pages of great stories that scared us senseless. Who were the women that influenced horror? These founding women were: Ann Radcliffe, Mary Shelly, and more. Later they would influence and shaped the pens of contemporary women horror writers such as Carrie Vaughn, Anne Rice, Sherrilyn Kenyon, and Charlaine Harris. However, it is black women writers such as Tananarive Due and L.A. Banks who chose to elevate the medium and bring with them a fresh flair to the foundation that has sorely been missed, the reality of the black voice and everyday man/woman.

banks5L.A. Banks contribution to horror was shaped around where she came from and the no-holds bar realities of her life in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

“L.A. Banks’s career was born out of tragedy. Years ago, her six-month-old daughter was severely burned, she was going through a divorce, she lost her job when she took time off to be with her daughter, and she was broke. Yet somehow, in the midst of all the grief, she turned to writing – creating page after page of entertainment that kept her girlfriends so entranced they submitted the complete manuscript to publishers without telling her.” – Janice Gable Bashman via Wild River Review 2011

I’m very sure if you look at the lives of the founding women writers in horror, that they too began writing due to specifics in their lives that mandated them taking pen to paper. Culture shifts, frustrations with status, political views, a sense of advocacy in the world. Horror provided the appropriate medium for these women writers to showcase our most feared secret places in our psyche and spirit. L.A. Banks had a gift for doing the same thing. Before ‘Black Lives Matter’ was shouted, L.A. Banks characters in her well-loved and known horror/thriller/pararomance series, The Vampire Huntress Series and Crimson Moon Series, were actively in the streets kicking ass, and taking names later in the same branch of protest and demand for justice. Black Lives Mattered in all her works.

“Fear, hatred, oppression – that’s pure evil and it never lasts. Love endures.” – L.A. Banks via Wild River Review 2011

banks4         L.A. Banks was proud of being a woman writer in horror, paranormal fantasy and more. She was proud of her place as a black woman in the literary world as well. This is why she was ahead of her time. She created a culture where young and old could come together for a cause in saving ourselves from the pains of the streets and the political strife in our governments. Her characters bucked the system of global oppression without batting an eye.

Bloodshed, hearts being snatched out, fangs tearing into necks, demon possessions, werewolves and jaguars, naughty sensual sex. L.A. Banks world was intense and oh so good. What is masked as vampires and demons, monsters snatching people from their beds or in the streets, was a well-written allegory for issues such as police brutality, martial law, government cover-ups, drugs and poverty in our communities. Her works were even crafted as a way to speak about the disconnect between young and old in how we all viewed the lens of civil rights and social rights.

Again, L.A. Banks was ahead of her time.

“The vampire represents a lot of what we see in society. They’re scarier because of that; because the vampire can be anybody. He just blends in and looks perfectly normal. Like serial killers often look like normal people… the fear factor is that they’re among us.” – L.A. Banks via Wild River Review 2011

Her grasp of writing to reach those of us not only in the Black community but also in the Latino, and even white community was something that not many authors today can effectively balance. Listen, when you have a supernatural team of people tasked to save us from the apocalypse, and these characters come from every walk of life. Young, old, street kids, Jews, Latino priests, bikers gangs, southern folks, and more? You then have a mix for how we should be coming together to build ourselves up before we fall into destruction and also shows that on a human level, we all should be able to come together without issue. It makes reading her books immensely relatable. This is why L.A. Banks works resonated well with her fans.

“The more I know what is going on in the world, the more it effects my choices, how I vote, how I spend my money, how I relate to others. I am empowered by what I know, laid bare and ignorant by what I don’t know.” – L.A. Banks via Wild River Review 2011

banks3As a means to reach us all, L.A. Banks used her medium of scaring the hell out of you, while educating you without being preachy unless needed to be. Her style was deftly smooth and gripping, that in my opinion it influenced not only her readers but Hollywood as well. Case-in-point, before her passing L.A. Banks had been featured as a commentary for the behind-the-scenes look at HBO’s True Blood as it was premiered. Like many writers, we research our craft to create our worlds.

Not only did the writers do the same in shaping author Charlaine Harris popular book, but they also used the influences of many other writers to make it a richer environment. Once such influence was L.A. Banks slang and flair. “Dropping Fang” came from her works and found a way in the language of True Blood.

“…Vampires had taken the mantle as the perfectly dangerous lover – the forbidden, kinky, deep dark sensualist. Move over, vamps, somebody in pop culture let the dogs out. So we now have the phenomena where injustice, rage, plus the phase of the moon, means that the otherwise mild-mannered individual who is playing by the rules of society just gets fed up and rips your face off.”– L.A. Banks via Wild River Review 2011

banks2L.A. Banks had a powerful influential gift for writing. Had we not lost her, I believe that she and her works would have continued to not only help in our current climate today, but also changed the diversity of Hollywood.

As she stated back in 2011, “There is always a mentor, a Yoda, a Sensei, a learned master that helps the young initiate along their path of trials and tribulations until they emerge victorious.” Mama Banks you were our mentor, and master in the world of Horror, paranormal speculative fiction and more. August 2, 2011 is the day L.A. Banks parted from this world. It still saddens me that she is not celebrated more, because to me, she is right there in the ranks of Octavia Butler. Women in Horror have been overlooked and oftentimes ignored, especially with fellow women writers like myself. One day this will change.

We women are proud to take on the task of holding up the mantel of women horror writers like I’ve mentioned previously. It’s now up to the readers to turn a willing eye our way and step into our creepy, sinister, maliciously evil works and join us on our journey into greatness. Besides, we’ve been the inspiration for many male writers already. Why not continue the ride?

“Knowledge is Power.” – Carlos Rivera (VHL series)

L.A. Banks, also known as Mama Banks (to us fans), we miss you dearly. Thank you for being a beacon of light for myself as a writer and many others. I only hope that I become the same way as you were for me because when no one else will speak your name, I will. This is your right of honor as is your place at the Queen’s table for us black women writers. Thank you again and happy Black History Month!

 

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Born in Iowa, but later relocating and raised in Alton, IL and St. Louis, MO, Kai Leakes was an imaginative Midwestern child, who gained an addiction to books at an early age. The art of imagination was the very start of Kai’s path of writing which lead her to creating the Sin Eaters: Devotion Books Series and continuing works. Since a young childScreenshot_2016-01-31-15-02-55-1-1-1, her love for creating, vibrant romance and fantasy driven mystical tales, continues to be a major part of her very DNA. With the goal of sharing tales that entertain and add color to a gray literary world, Kai Leakes hopes to continue to reach out to those who love the same fantasy, paranormal, romantic, sci/fi, and soon, steampunk-driven worlds that shaped her unique multi-faceted and diverse vision. You can find Kai Leakes at: www.kwhp5f.wix.com/kai-leakes

l.a.banks
Read more of L.A. Banks interview with Wild River Review here: http://www.wildriverreview.com/Interview/L.A._Banks/From_Tragedy_to_triumph/bashman/October_09