PROJECT GEN-X – AN INTERVIEW WITH REBECCA ROWLAND

PROJECT GEN-X – AN INTERVIEW WITH REBECCA ROWLAND

By Renata Pavrey

In a unique anthology of monster, folk, paranormal, and psychological horror as glimpsed through the lens of the latchkey generation, twenty-two voices shine a strobe light on the cultural demons that lurked in the background while they came of age in the heyday of Satanic panic and slasher flicks, milk carton missing and music television, video rentals and riot grrrls. 

These Gen-X storytellers once stayed out unsupervised until the streetlights came on, and what they brought home with them will terrify you. 

Featuring brand new fiction from Kevin David Anderson, Glynn Owen Barrass, Matthew Barron, C.D. Brown, Matthew Chabin, L.E. Daniels, C.O. Davidson, Douglas Ford, Phil Ford, Holly Rae Garcia, Dale W. Glaser, Tim Jeffreys, Derek Austin Johnson, Eldon Litchfield, Adrian Ludens, Elaine Pascale, Erica Ruppert, Kristi Petersen Schoonover, Rob Smales, Mark Towse, Thomas Vaughn, and Thomas K.S. Wake.

As a follow-up to my wonderful reading experience of the book, I interviewed editor Rebecca Rowland, for an insight into how Generation X-ed was conceived, created, and curated.

Hi Rebecca, Congratulations on the release of your latest book. How would you describe the experience of working on a project with other writers, versus individually writing a book?

It’s a completely different animal. In the first anthology I edited for Dark Ink Books, I included one of my own stories; I haven’t done that since. It’s too difficult wearing both hats: as an editor, you have to see the work through the eyes of the reader while simultaneously having the backs of the authors who have contributed to the project. With my own stuff, I just write what I like and rarely consider how readers might respond: I trust in the editor and the press owner to assess and dress it properly for public view. It’s much more exhausting to be an editor, unfortunately, but it’s even more rewarding on some levels as long as I know I’ve done right by those who’ve contributed their work.

Generation X-ed is a niche genre: horror stories set in the eighties and early nineties. How did the idea for the anthology come about?

A few years ago, I made a conscious effort to read and review more independent dark fiction. I also tried to break out of my (painfully awkward, typical writer-introvert-) shell and get to know some fellow independent horror writers. What I found was that more than three-quarters of those horror authors were my age: we shared the same formative experiences in media, music and culture. I was born smack in the middle of Generation X, a group I didn’t really understand the significance of until I was well into my thirties and forties. Now, I look at my generation and I realize, there are touchstones we share that helped shape us into the people we are as adults: the satanic panic, the latchkey phenomenon, the Challenger explosion (witnessed live in our classrooms), the emergence and disappearance of Mtv, and so forth. I happen to think our formative experiences are the most nefarious, which might explain the wealth of horror fiction that has sprung from Gen Xers!

The stories cover a range of horror sub-genres from psychological and paranormal, to comedy and sci-fi. Was this intentional, to feature stories across the horror spectrum?

The Renaissance of the slasher film occurred during Generation X’s childhood/early teens, and the birth of cable television and VCRs (coupled with looser supervision by our parents), made access to hardcore horror relatively easy. When I first conceived the collection, I did imagine it would be focused on the splatter and gore of that subgenre: the X lends itself so well to that, visually and thematically. However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that our influences weren’t limited to slashers. Each of the authors chose an individual (real or fictional) who had an impact on him/her as a horror writer. The range makes me realize I did the right thing broadening the parameters of the fiction I wanted to include.

All the writers belong to the latchkey generation and have explored their personal experiences with movies, books, music, political and historical events from the era. How did you gather stories and authors for this project?

I wrote up the call for stories, letting writers know the word count range and that we were really only requiring two things: that the writer be a member of Generation X and that the horror story include something (subtly or otherwise) specific to the generation. As the submissions came in, I was pleasantly surprised: the caliber of writing and the uniqueness in story arcs made whittling the final count down to twenty-two very difficult. There were definitely some stories that it pained me to turn away, but the ones I selected all had one thing in common: they were exceptionally well-written, and they stayed in my head hours or even days after I first read them. I wish I could give a more objective analysis of why these twenty-two ended up together, but my best explanation would be it’s part luck that these gifted authors chose to trust me with their creations, and it’s part my own gut reaction. 

While readers born and growing up in the 70s and 80s would find resonance in the references, the stories are so well written and compiled to be enjoyable for everyone. Did you have a reader audience in mind while conceiving this anthology? As an editor, how challenging is it to cater to different reader tastes when curating a collection?

So far, I’ve been fortunate enough to curate collections where the focus has been something to which I am already drawn, and I know readers are going to choose a book based on whether its nucleus is something that already jives with their preferences. I know putting out a collection that appears age-specific is risky; however, one of the nicest feedbacks I’ve received from reviewers is my commitment to diversity in style and approach, and therefore, I’ve always kept that in mind when I am cutting down the “likely yes” pile to the final lineup. 

I am drawn to read anthologies myself because of the variety: I don’t expect to love every entry, and I don’t expect readers of the anthologies I curate to love every story. However, I never want a reader to find s/he doesn’t respond to multiple stories in a row. Even if the stories have a common thread, I take care to either follow one story with another from a completely different subgenre, or, if the subgenres are the same, make certain back-to-back tales utilize different points-of-view, or possess similar narrators who make very different choices. That way, there really is something for everyone. There are sly winks in Generation X-ed that will resonate specifically with those who are a part of the generation, but the heart of the collection, the things that creep and unnerve and scare the bejesus out of us no matter when we grew up, is what gives it life, so I hope everyone who enjoys good storytelling will take a look. 

Generation X-ed releases on January 26, 2022. 

Links to purchase:

https://rowlandbooks.com/generation-xed#f5bed466-d8ae-4abf-a6cb-8b7d887bb01c

 

Book Review: GENERATION X-ED edited by Rebecca Rowland

GENERATION X-ED,  An anthology of horror from the latchkey generation

Book review by Renata Pavrey

A unique collection of horror stories that pay tribute to the seventies and eighties. Generation X-ed turns back time with twenty-two writers who offer a glimpse into the horrors of the past. Videocassette players, slasher flicks, satanic cults, paper maps, cable repairs, alien invasions, summer vacations, creature features, rock and grunge music – the reader is transported into an era filled with cultural references that range from books to movies and music.

A challenge for the editor in not only collecting well-written horror stories adhering to the theme but also finding writers from generation X, who have mined their memories for an eerie array of tales for the reader. From VHS tapes to MTV, hairstyles and clothes, movie theatres and film stars, political events, and manmade disasters, the writers take us through time and place with very different stories, but all bound by their connection to the 70s and 80s.

My most favorite story was How I Met Kurt Russell by Rob Smales, which takes us through the movies and characters played by Kurt Russell. In a narrative hilarious and unnerving in equal parts, Smales addresses the horrors of identity, fandom, and superstardom. I just loved his horror-comedy, the subject of his story, and the route of exploring serious themes through humor. Some of my other favorites were In From The Cold by Adrian Wayne Ludens (the nostalgia of old photographs), A Genealogy of Hunger by Thomas Vaughn (a stellar piece of speculative fiction), Pay Heed to the Preacher Man by Eldon Litchfield (about small towns and creepy residents), Naming The Band by Elaine Pascale (hierarchies and dynamics between band members), Birnam Hall by L. E. Daniels (sheer brilliance in writing about sexual assault without actually writing about it, as a mirror to unreported cases), Stand Beside Me Now by Tim Jeffreys (for his take on haunted houses), Parker Third West by Dale W. Glaser (for his deep dive into dorm life), The Shade by C.O. Davidson (dealing with death and grief).

The stories are a mixed bunch, but they’re all entertaining in the way each of us interprets horror – as children, teenagers, and adults. Although the cover depicts a slasher anthology, the collection covers sub-genres of horror from cosmic to sci-fi, psychological and paranormal, folk horror, and horror-comedy. Highly recommended for readers from the latchkey generation, who have lived through the era and will identify with the references. But it’s really just for everyone, to enjoy the coming-together of an exceptional bunch of writers. Kudos to editor Rebecca Rowland for accomplishing this task.

My rating – 5/5

Guest Blog : Mr. Mercedes’ Latest Season Premieres and It Brings the Feels by Rebecca Rowland

Mr. Mercedes Latest Season Premieres on Peacock on March 4, and It Brings the Feels

by Rebecca Rowland

In the first fifteen minutes of the third season of Mr. Mercedes, Bruce Dern is murdered. 

Dern plays a best-selling, reclusive writer, and this revelation is in no way a spoiler: not only is the crime the catalyst for the season’s story arc, but it is also the basis for Stephen King’s Finders Keepers, the second in the horror scribe’s Bill Hodges trilogy. According to King, Dern’s John Rothstein is not an alter ego but a mishmash of J.D. Salinger, John Updike, and Philip Roth, but let’s face it: Robert Frost insisted until the day he died that “The Road Not Taken” was not an allegory of selecting an extraordinary life path but only a plain ol’ poem about walking in the woods. Any high school English teacher would beg to differ. 

As a reader of King’s for more than thirty years, I admit to having felt a bit unnerved when Rothstein bit the dust specifically because I equated the fictional author with King himself. Shared grief when a celebrity dies is not a new phenomenon. When the grunge god’s suicide splashed across radio and television, someone spray-painted C-O-B-A-I-N across the interstate exit near my childhood home. When David Bowie, Prince, and Tom Petty were picked off by the Grim Reaper in what seemed like the trifecta of musical rapture just a few years back, I tore their glossy magazine photographs from their media memorials and taped them to my office wall. Watching the first third of season three’s lead episode, I considered what it will be like when King himself takes a final walk down the mile. 

I could track my life based on the release dates of King’s books. I was one of those kids who loved to read; my parents had to lock me outside in order to keep me from hunkering down in my room, my nose buried in a book. Because my father was a diehard Stephen King fan in the 1970s, I, of course, became instantly curious about his books, and at the age of ten, I was allowed to read Thinner because my parents had determined that it was the least nightmarish of King’s works up to that point (body image of a tween girl, be damned). I immediately moved on to The Shining and promptly had trouble sleeping, the obvious culprit being the clear view from my bed of a shower curtain in the night-light-lit bathroom. At the age of twelve, I went to the movies with a boy named Jimmy, and after we watched Silver Bullet, he gave me my first kiss. Throughout my teen years, I favored King’s short fiction, and it is because of Night Shift’s “The Boogeyman” that I insisted my college dorm room’s closet door always be shut completely, much to the vexation of my freshman-year roommate (who, incidentally, went on to executively produce not one but three of the CSI series as well as Murder in the First. I’d like to think my closet fixation takes partial credit for her career success with suspense, but it’s probably just a coincidence…).

After focusing my graduate degree in English on feminist theory, I based my thesis on the portrayal of female characters in popular horror fiction using Stephen King’s most recent releases at the time: Insomnia, Gerald’s Game, Dolores Claiborne, and Rose Madder. After entering the workforce for the first time as an adult, I read The Green Mile in its original serial form and sobbed uncontrollably on the subway after the initial demise of Mr. Jingles. Many years later, while working as a librarian in Western Massachusetts, I had to laugh when I read “Big Driver” in Full Dark, No Stars: maniacal main character Ramona Norville was a librarian, and the story was set in the town in which I was living at the time. 

When I tell people that I write dark fiction—psychological horror, in particular, I am more often than not met with a roll of the eyes or a patronizing tone. Genre fiction, it seems, lacks the street cred inherent with traditional literary fiction. Stephen King is popular, but he’s no Dostoevsky or Dickens, they say. I beg to differ. A professor once told me, a classic is a work of literature with themes and relatability that supersede time and place. There is humanity in horror, at least in well-written horror, that could go toe-to-toe with any stuffy college literature course tome. Although we read horror primarily for the screams, what keeps many of us coming back, no matter at what stage in our lives we are, is the sympathy its characters bring out in us.

And so, I return to the latest television installment of King’s Hodges trilogy. The now defunct Audience Network shuffled the novels of the series, choosing to base its second season on the third book, End of Watch, to mixed reviews. Although there is little to top the show’s first foray, season three captures much of the dread and believability that were often absent from the second ten episodes. Brett Gelman, always a scene stealer in comedy funfests such as The Other Guys and Fleabag, displays dramatic range as attorney Roland Finkelstein and potential love interest for Holly Gibney, but it is Breeda Wool’s portrayal of Lou that is most impactful. Wool inhabits the imprisoned assassin of Brady Hartsfield so strikingly that I’ve added most of her other work to my watch list. 

Season three is aglow with plenty of gruesomeness, from a spontaneous hatchet to one unsuspecting character’s head to a pick-axe being inserted and dragged through another’s, but perhaps the most chilling scene occurs in the final episode of the season, one that brings to a head the mysterious dream sequence Bill Hodges has been experiencing. For me, it is this scene in particular that solidified what the third installment of Mr. Mercedes seemed to be proselytizing all along, that the best writers are the ones whose work continues to impact our lives long after they have left this earth. Was it morbid for me to ponder Stephen King’s eventual demise? Perhaps. On the other hand, it’s possible that horror literature’s crown prince will outlive all of us, Mother Abigail-style. Regardless, for horror fans, he will never really disappear.

 



Rebecca Rowland is the dark fiction author of The Horrors Hiding in Plain Sight and Pieces and curator of the horror anthologies Ghosts, Goblins, Murder, and Madness; Shadowy Natures: Stories of Psychological Horror, The Half That You See, and the upcoming (June 2021) Unburied: A Collection of Queer Dark Fiction. Her work has appeared in venues such as Bloody Disgusting’s Creepy podcast, The Sirens Call, Coffin Bell, Curiouser, and Waxing & Waning and has been anthologized in collections by an assortment of independent presses. For links to her latest publications, social media, or just to surreptitiously stalk her, visit RowlandBooks.com.