Kill Switch Chilling Chat: 10 Quick Questions with Phillip T. Stephens

Phillip T. Stephens writes and rescues cats in Austin, Texas. He publishes several times a week for Medium. He is a  contributing author to our new anthology, Kill Switch

1.)    How old were you when you first discovered horror?Phillip T. Stephens

Other than life as a Baptist Preacher’s Kid in general? I don’t remember my exact age, but I remember the event. I was in elementary school, and my father insisted I accompany him to a youth retreat for high school students. The facility was creepy, but the moment of crisis occurred when he showed a movie at midnight (don’t laugh) Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy. Toward the very end of the movie is a quick shot of the mummy’s bones, which for some reason I can’t explain having watched the movie a dozen times as an adult, scared the living bejeezus out of me. I couldn’t sleep that night.

The next day we went for a hike around the lake. (If you’ve seen Tarkovsky’s Solaris, think of the lake at Kelvin’s parents’ house.) We rounded a bend and I spotted a moss covered stick poking from the water, a stick which, at that moment, I mistook for a human finger.

I couldn’t sleep by myself for months. Instead, I slept on a cot in my sister’s room, which probably contributed more to my adult neuroses than the moments of terror I experienced at the retreat.

2.)    What author has influenced you most?

Walker Percy, but I suspect you mean horror writer. From a literary standpoint, Peter Straub, but from a writer’s standpoint Steven King. I lived for each new release for several years until The Stand, which became the manual for everything I never wanted to do as a writer. I loved the story, but the prose was atrocious. I continued to read him until It when I couldn’t pick up another book.

This doesn’t change my respect for what he’s accomplished, and I faithfully followed his exploits with Joe Bob Briggs (John Bloom), redneck film reviewer as long as Bloom’s column ran.

3.)    What inspired you to write your piece, “Subroutines?”

I was working with a writing group on the topic “passing through a doorway.”

4.)    How much control do you exert over your characters? Do they have free will?

If I like the direction they’re taking, they’re free to do as they please. If I think they’re interfering with the story, I’ll slap them down in a heartbeat.

5.)    Do you listen to music when you write? Who do you listen to?

I have, but I also write with the TV on.  Looking back, I’d say my biggest influences are Laurie Anderson, David Byrne, and Brian Eno.

6.)    Where do you find inspiration?

I’ve trained myself to take inspiration from scraps of information and passing thoughts. I often riff off (aka rip-off) strands of conversation. But it could be a reflection in a window, an asshole ordering coffee, or something that passes the corner of my eye.

7.)    What is your favorite horror novel?

William Browning Spencer’s Zod Wallop. Think night terrors wrapped in a meltdown and surrounded by a mind fuck. Spencer is a brilliant writer that few readers know.

KSCoverSmall8.)    Favorite horror movie?

Tarkovsky’s Stalker. Many consider it science fiction, and it is, and others find it tedious, but this movie exemplifies Tarkovsky’s ability to make beauty from debris. The movie explores the premise: what happens when you discover what your heart truly desires?

9.)    Favorite horror television show?

Twin Peaks. Nobody twists angst into terror better than Lynch.

10.)  What does the future hold for you? What do we have to look forward to?

That depends on the publications to which I submit. My life is in the hand of good editors like you. I’m making the final corrections to the novella version of my #TweetNovel Doublemint Gumshoe which I posted Tweet-by-Tweet for the better part of a year. Think the mob, digital gangs, the tech industry, aliens, nanobots and the dumbest detective who ever lived. We’ll see what happens.

You can find Phillip on Twitter and Instagram.

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Chilling Chat: Episode 166 Isobel Blackthorn

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Isobel Blackthorn is a prolific novelist of unique and engaging fiction. She writes dark psychological thrillers, mysteries, and contemporary and literary fiction. On the dark side Blackthorn_Isobelare Twerk, The Cabin Sessions and The Legacy of Old Gran Parks. Her Canary Islands’ collection begins with “The Drago Tree” and includes “A Matter of Latitude” and “Clarissa’s Warning”. Her interest in the occult is explored in The Unlikely Occultist: A biographical novel of Alice A. Bailey, and the dark mystery A Perfect Square. Her short story, ‘Lacquer’, appears in the esteemed A Time for Violence anthology.

Isobel is a gracious and charming woman. We spoke of inspirations, influences, and surprising characters.

NTK: Welcome to Chilling Chat, Isobel! Thank you for joining me today. Could you tell the Horror Addicts how old you were when you discovered horror?

IB: I discovered horror when I was sixteen and sat petrified in the movie theatre watching The Omen. Then came Rosemary’s Baby. I am not sure which was more terrifying. I could not bring myself to watch Carrie or The Exorcist. I was too easily spooked.

NTK: What author has influenced you most?

IB: Both King and Stoker were my early influences. Now I have been introduced to the novels of many horror authors, including the magnificent Sangré by Carlos Colón, a vampire tale like no other, and Return to Hiroshima by Bob van Laerhoven, which is as classy as noir thrillers get.

NTK: What inspired you to write The Cabin Sessions?

IB: The Cabin Sessions arose out of a combination of factors that were going on in my life at the time. That was how the book started out.

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

IB: As soon as I started writing The Cabin Sessions, a minor character stepped forward and took over the narrative. Nothing like that has happened to me as a writer before or since. It was a very dark and confronting process, giving her the freedom to express The Cabin Sessionsherself. I had my own internal horror story going on inside of me during the writing process as a result.

NTK: What is your creative process like? Do you outline before writing? Or do you just write as the mood strikes you?

IB: A little of both. I start out with an idea, which gradually gathers substance. I conjure a few characters, the setting, and the bones of a plot. Then, once I have enough, which usually takes a year, I start writing. I let the voice come, the narrator. Once I have the narrator, I write the first chapter and see where it takes me. Then, there is usually a bit of figuring out before I write the next few chapters. After that, I only plot when I have to. Sometimes I know the ending, sometimes I don’t.

NTK: Where do you find inspiration?

IB: I am inspired by everything. I follow my passion and it leads me all over the place. Every book I write is unique as a result. Horror is a vast genre and as soon as The Cabin Sessions came out and I tried to define it–it’s a dark psychological thriller–I began to explore all the other kinds of horror fiction out there and wondered where I was heading next. I decided I had an appetite for dark thrillers and as soon as I was introduced to Giallo, I was sold. My novel, Twerk, set in a Las Vegas strip club, draws on Giallo tropes.

NTK: What is the difference between a thriller and a horror story?

IB: A thriller follows certain rules and does not necessarily contain any horror tropes. Horror is all about the tropes. Horror is there to shock, to horrify, to revolt. Thrillers seek to thrill. I write dark thrillers and there is enough horror in them for all but the most hardline horror aficionados.

NTK: In your opinion, why do people enjoy horror? What attracts them to darkness?

IB: People like the adrenalin rush. It’s the same as a roller coaster. You are wobbly when you get off and kinda pleased it was over, then the rush fades out and you are in the queue for the next ride. It is very addictive.

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

IB: I have written three dark fiction novels and a few dark short stories. One has just come out in A Time for Violence, an anthology including shorts by Richard Chizmar and Max Allan Collins, Paul D. Brazill, Andrew Nette, Joe R. Lansdale, Elka Ray, and Tom Vater. My story, “Lacquer” forms the first chapter of a noir thriller set in San Francisco and Singapore.

I’ve also been shortlisted for the Ada Cambridge prose prize and my story will appear in the anthology.

NTK: Congratulations, Isobel! That’s awesome! Thank you so much for chatting with me.

IB: Thank you so much for this, Naching!

You can find Isobel on Facebook, Goodreads, Twitter, and Instagram.

 

 

Chilling Chat: Episode 165 David Leinweber

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David Leinweber is a historian with over 25 years of experience in the college classroom. He has published numerous articles, reviews, essays, and academic reference worksDavid Leinweber (including works on folklore, the occult, mythology, magic, and religion.) Dr. Leinweber is also a lifelong guitarist and pianist whose music has been featured in numerous venues, ranging from festivals and clubs to television, radio, theaters, and art galleries.

David is an amazing professor and an accomplished musician. We spoke of horror, inspiration, and the legacy of Dracula.

NTK:  Welcome to Chilling Chat, David. Thank you for chatting with me today. Could you tell us about A Song of Dracula? What is it about?

DL: A Song of Dracula is a romantic musical, loosely based on the classic 1897 novel by Bram Stoker, and also Jane Eyre.  It features a collection of original spooky songs, along with a few tavern singalongs.

It is about a young girl named Madeleine who arrives as a governess at a great estate in England, like Jane Eyre.  There is a romantic interest with the head of the estate (also like Jane Eyre).  However, witchcraft, vampirism, and a ghost enter into the story.  I really wanted it not to be gory or sensationalistic, however—no hissing or blood.  It’s a romantic story.

NTK: What inspired you to write this musical?

DL: Well, I’ve been a lifelong horror fan, especially of the old Victorian novels like Carmilla and Dracula, as well as the classic horror films.  I wanted this to be a production that evoked the romance and the historical/geographical settings of the old films, especially Hammer Films.  I also wanted it to be something that could range in targeted audiences from adult theater groups to community or high-school productions.

Interestingly, the word vampire does not appear in the story, though it’s obvious that is what is going on.

NTK: How much research went into A Song of Dracula? Did you try to incorporate songs appropriate to the time period?

DL: I would say that the play/musical reflects my long interest in horror, romance and gothic lit, if not flat-out research.  I did try to evoke spooky songs that have the spirit of a gothic estate.  There are also some tavern tunes that would be good for sailors or other port-city type characters right out of central casting (Laughs.)  However, I think the songs could be interpreted in a number of different ways.  I mostly envision them as spooky, romantic ballads.  But several could be done in a range of styles, including a few that could be hard-rock with electric guitar, and a light show.  I think a lot would depend on the director’s ideas.  For me, though, it’s a romantic Victorian gothic story, first and foremost.

NTK:  What do you think the attraction to Dracula is? Why does he have such a lasting legacy?

Bela LugosiDL: Great question.  I certainly think one could point to the classic psychological themes, like the fear of death, or subliminal sexual desires.  I also think that a good vampire story often has a folklore quality to it, and evokes a sense of being bound in time.  I sometimes think the classic elements of the Dracula tale don’t appear as much in vampire stories of the present-day when so many film studios want to update the classic elements.  Call it cliche if you want, but some of the classic horror tropes were very powerful and we should try to transmit them to the next generation.

NTK:  How did you discover horror? How old were you?

DL: Pretty young.  There was a guy on TV in Detroit when I was a kid called Sir Graves Ghastly—a Saturday matinee movie host who came out of a coffin hosted old horror movies, told bad horror jokes, read kids’ birthday cards, and all that.  I used to watch him every Saturday.  I remember all the “House of” horror movies he showed, which were truly classics, among many others.  I also was a big Dark Shadows fan, though pretty young at the time.

NTK: Do you have a favorite horror film?

DL: Another great question.  Hard to answer though (Laughs.)  I actually like some of the quiet, spooky films like Let’s Scare Jessica to Death.  But I think the Hammer films are my favorite, especially the three horror films they did that were loosely based on CarmillaThe Vampire Lovers, To Love a Vampire.  There was something special about the horror films of the late sixties and early seventies—it was still the hippie era, with all the creativity and mood that came out of it.  The fact that there were Drive-in Movies back then also created a big demand for lots of movies.  They weren’t all exactly Citizen Kane or The Godfather, but they were usually pretty fun to watch, and often surprisingly good.  That was also before Star Wars came out, which changed Hollywood into more of a Blockbuster mindset and the tasteful little movies, including B films and Drive-in Movie titles, became less common.

NTK: As a musician, did you find these soundtracks inspiring?

DL: Yes, a lot of those films had fine soundtracks.  The film I mentioned Let’s Scare Jessica to Death, in particular, had a really distinct soundtrack— quiet piano and flutes and guitar lines that really created that sense of loneliness, haunted locales, and, towards the end, isolation and fear.  That soundtrack really gave that sense of going back in time.  The Hammer Film, Lust for a Vampire, also had a really strange, very ‘sixties’ sounding tune—“Strange Love.”  It’s almost comical to watch it today because it can seem dated and out of place in the film, but it was actually a pretty eerie musical effect.

NTK: Who do you think portrayed the best Dracula?

DL: Of course, I like the Lugosi and Lee Draculas.  But Lon Chaney also did a good job and John Carradine.  But a sometimes underrated and/or less noted version was the Frank Langella 1979 Dracula, a very fine production.

NTK:  Do you have a favorite horror novel?

DL: Well, I guess the obvious choices would be Dracula and Carmilla.  But beyond those two classics, I remember that Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot really scared the heck out of me when I first read it, along with the 1979 miniseries.  When I was a kid, I used to read a lot of the cheap paperback horror novels, too, though I don’t have time for that anymore and I’m not sure if there is as big a market for them as there used to be.  Horror novels were kind of like horror movies.  They made a lot of them, which meant that there were often some quite good ones mixed in with others that weren’t’ so good, but it was always fun to read through the find the gems.

NTK: Do you think there’s any truth to be found in the folklore surrounding vampires? Do you think there are personalities who could be considered vampiric?

DL: Another great question.  Well, I certainly can see how the folklore had its roots—all the classic fears of premature burial, blood-borne diseases, or wasting away.  I also think the classic vampire motif that mixes terrible fear with desire is very powerful, for everybody.

And yes, I do think there are people who could be considered vampiric.  Not sure I want to give any names (Laughs.)  I think there are people who have a way of draining your energy and vitality.  They get stronger and richer, while you get weaker, more uncertain, and lose your zest for life.  But I guess the most classic vampire is a romantic attraction, and sometimes even kind of tragic and sad in the way they kill what they love.

NTK: David, what does the future hold for A Song of Dracula? Where can Horror Addicts see the musical? And, do you have any other upcoming horror projects?

DL: Well, I’m really hoping to have a good theater production do the musical.  Of course, Dark ShadowsI’d even love to have it turned into a film.  But first and foremost, it’s a theatrical production.  I’m still working on finding the right theater to debut the show, but hopefully soon.  I also enjoy writing ghost songs and am compiling a list of ghost songs to release as a song cycle.  My song “Daphne,” about the Kate Jackson character Daphne Harridge on Dark Shadows, remains my favorite song and it was the ghost song I wrote that got me the most inspired along these musical and storytelling lines.  Kate Jackson loves the song, which was encouraging.

NTK: Thank you so much for joining me, David. It’s not often we gain insight from an awesome educator like yourself.

DL: Thanks again for your interest in my musical and thoughts about horror.

Chilling Chat: Episode 164 Christa Carmen

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Christa Carmen’s work has been featured in myriad anthologies, e-zines, and podcasts, including Fireside Fiction Company, Year’s Best Hardcore Horror Volume 2, Outpost 28 HorrorAddictsphoto_Carmen,ChristaIssues 2 & 3, Third Flatiron’s Strange Beasties, and Tales to Terrify. Her debut collection, Something Borrowed, Something Blood-Soaked, is available now from Unnerving, and won the 2018 Indie Horror Book Award for Best Debut Collection.

Christa is an intriguing and intelligent woman. We spoke of writing, inspiration, and influential authors.

NTK: Thank you for joining me today, Christa.

CC: Thank you so much for having me!

NTK: Could you tell the Horror Addicts how you got interested in horror?

CC: Some of the first books I devoured were the ones in the Bunnicula series, as well as the Goosebumps and Fear Street books by R.L. Stine. I actually had a rather bizarre experience when I was in third grade… I went to a friend’s birthday party (I say ‘friend’ lightly, I think she was more of an acquaintance), and it was a slumber party. There was talk that we were going to partake in some mystical thing called a “Double Feature,” but when the movies in question were revealed, my nine-year-old self was horrified. After being subjected to Leprechaun and Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, I walked around in a very Elm Street-esque, sleepless daze for about a week before the memories of those terror-inducing films began to lessen. I steered clear of horror after that for about four years, then gave it another change with Halloween when I was about thirteen. Though I still ruminated long into the night over the chances of Michael Myers making his way into my bedroom, something about this experience must have struck a chord within me, because from that moment on, I was hooked.

NTK: Who are your writing influences?

CC: I’ve split this list between authors who inspired me to first pick up a pen and authors who inspire me to continue writing on a daily basis. That list of authors I grew up reading and wanting to emulate includes R.L. Stine, as well as Stephen King, Shirley Jackson, Dean Koontz, Frank M. Robinson, Mary Shelley, Margaret Mitchell, Sarah Waters, Sidney Sheldon, Harper Lee, Edgar Allan Poe, and Dan Simmons.

The authors who inspire me to continue writing, who challenge me to be the best writer I can be, include Carmen Maria Machado, Gwendolyn Kiste, Stephanie M. Wytovich, Jessica McHugh, Nadia Bulkin, Ania Ahlborn, Jac Jemc, Alma Katsu, Christina Sng, Elizabeth Hand, Joyce Carol Oates, Claire C. Holland, Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi, Renee Miller, Theresa Braun, Seanan McGuire, Kelly Link, Damien Angelica Walters, Lauren Groff, Roxane Gay, Annie Hartnett, Agatha Christie, Jennifer McMahon, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, J.K. Rowling, Cormac McCarthy, Stephen Dobyns, Michael McDowell, Jack Ketchum, Caroline Kepnes, Ruth Ware, Sarah Pinborough, Gillian Flynn, B.A. Paris, Joe Hill, John Palisano, John Langan, Nicholas Kauffman, Grady Hendrix, Sara Tantlinger, Dean Kuhta, and Calvin Demmer. Mind you, this list might seem long, but it is imperfect and ever-growing!

NTK: It’s a great list! Christa, where do you find inspiration? And, what inspired “This Our Angry Train?”

CC: I find inspiration everywhere, as cliche as that may sound. I’ve had stories spring from the strangest of places as well as from the most innocuous ones, from a flock of extremely over-sized turkeys roosting on tree branches that seem destined to collapse beneath their weight to everyday hummingbirds sipping from their plastic feeders, from a cyber attack that led to enigmatic photos appearing on my cell phone to your regular old post or news article scrolled past before bed. In some instances, the inspiration behind a story is a great deal more direct than a reader may anticipate, and in the case of “This Our Angry Train,” the events that led to the story were indeed a matter of life informing art.

In the summer of 2016, I attended an event in Brookline, Massachusetts that featured Joe Hill, Paul Tremblay, Kat Howard, and Thomas Olde Heuvelt. Joe Hill ended up mentioning Kelly Link’s “The Specialist’s Hat” over the course of the discussion, and I spent the train ride back to Westerly reading Link’s bizarre and thoroughly unsettling story. Upon finishing it, I experienced this strange half-waking dream during which I became certain I was no longer on the same train I had boarded.

When I sat down to write my story of a train as an extension of a young woman’s fears that she is not as far removed from the bad decisions of her past as she might have thought, that she may, in fact, be heading backward without even realizing she’d changed direction, my pen couldn’t move across the page fast enough. After completing the first draft, it occurred to me that the story might benefit from an element of connective tissue, some incantation all the characters on this midnight train to madness know and feel the need to recite.

I knew of Joyce Kilmer from his poem, “Trees,” but I simply Googled ‘poems about trains,’ and found “The Twelve-Forty-Five” after a minimal amount of research. In the same way that the excerpts from ‘An Oral History of Eight Chimneys’ are weaved throughout the narrative of “The Specialist’s’ Hat,” the stanzas from “The Twelve-Forty-Five” are meant to break up Lauren’s train ride fever dream, and ultimately contribute to the mounting horror.

Something Borrowed Something BloodsoakedNTK: Where do your characters come from? Do they have free will? Or do you direct their actions?

CC: While I want my stories to be character-driven, I usually come up with the idea for a story first, and the character is contained within that story idea. For example, if I wanted to tell a story that says something about women being routinely disbelieved, and how this is a serious a problem whether it’s within the plot of a horror film or in real life, at, say, a doctor’s office where an M.D. is telling a woman that everything is fine because he believes she is exaggerating her symptoms, or when a woman is kidnapped or killed by her stalker because the police didn’t believe her when she said he was a threat, then I would start to write the draft of that story, and find my protagonist coming to life from one scene to the next, fulfilling the needs of the narrative.

I used to think I directed my characters’ actions pretty much across the board, with occasional surprises where they’ve gone off in a direction I didn’t see coming. With that being said, I’ve found that my characters are acting of their own free will more and more, and I can probably chalk that up to feeling more comfortable with my story-telling abilities the longer that I write.

NTK:  You spoke of Halloween earlier. Is that your favorite horror film? If not, what is your favorite?

CC: I do love the original Halloween (and the remakes that Rob Zombie directed, which might earn me a few groans of disgust from die-hard Carpenter fans), but the 2013 remake of The Evil Dead is my favorite horror film of all time. I love it because, in addition to existing within the Evil Dead universe, it introduces fans to a new protagonist in Mia. Plot-wise, it’s pretty straightforward: Mia is brought to a rundown cabin in the woods by her brother and her friends in order to detox from heroin. That everything this Ash Williams-worthy heroine endures after her arrival is borne while simultaneously going through cold turkey withdrawal, propels this film into territory that, for me, far surpasses a simple supernatural horror film or a wannabe Evil Dead installment heavy on the gore.

The film is like a perfectly constructed layer cake. The death scenes are memorable, the horror is palpable, and yet, there is an entire subplot in which a very real and fleshed-out character is struggling to overcome a very real and highly formidable affliction. Writer/director Fede Álvarez’s decision to have Mia’s addiction provide the foundation for her strength in fighting off the evil that possesses first her, and then her friends, is truly commendable. It gives the Final Girl’s gumption the backstory it deserves.

I’ve always found the final scene to strike such an intensely visceral emotional chord: as the blood-rain pours down, Mia’s evil doppelgänger prophesizes, “You’re gonna die here, you pathetic junkie.” To which Mia responds, like an addict who has crashed to rock bottom and is finally on the verge of change, “I’ve had enough of this shit.”

NTK: Do you have a favorite horror TV show?

CC: Unsurprisingly, my favorite show (although sadly, it was canceled after only three seasons), is Ash vs Evil Dead. With her character, Kelly Maxwell, Dana DeLorenzo does Bruce Campbell AND Jane Levy proud.

NTK: What does the future hold for you, Christa? What works do Horror Addicts have to look forward to?

CC: I have a fair amount of forthcoming fiction and nonfiction this year, including a Outpost 28 Isue 2.jpgpiece of flash fiction entitled “Shadows” in Issue 4 of Outpost 28, planned for July or August of this year, and a reprint of a story called “Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge” to air on The Wicked Library podcast (the story originally appeared in Issue 2 of Outpost 28) There have been a few delays in publication, but I have two stories coming out with Chilling Tales for Dark Nights, “Shark Minute” and “What Are Little Girls Made Of?”, the first as part of a Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark tribute anthology, the second on The Simply Scary Podcast Network. I’ll have a story appearing in a middle-grade graphic anthology coming out in October of 2019, and I have two other stories coming out in unannounced anthologies, later in the year. My nonfiction essay, “A Ghost is a Wish Your Heart Makes,” will be published in a scholarly anthology of articles on Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House series. I also have a story, “And Sweetest in the Gale is Heard” appearing in the Not All Monsters anthology, edited by Sara Tantlinger and to be released by Strange House Books in the fall of 2020.

After that, I hope to release either the novel I’ve been working on for the past two years, Coming Down Fast, or the new novel I’ve planned for my thesis at Stonecoast (MFA program at the University of Southern Maine), which is a historical horror novel, the details about which I won’t say too much more.

NTK: Congratulations! We’ll look forward to it. Thank you for chatting with me, Christa. You’re a delightful guest.

CC: Thank you so very much, Naching and HorrorAddicts for having me, and for posing such fun and horror-centric questions!!!

 

My Darling Dead: Episode 1 – The King

 

 

As a hurricane is preceded by calm, the kingdom of Dandoich had known peace and prosperity for many years. The townsfolk fought, argued, lied, cheat, stole and generally behaved as humans do, but they were content within their sphere of existence. There had been the odd uprising against this noble or that plantation owner, but it was swiftly quelled by the kingdom’s royal guards, often without too much bloodshed. A true civil war had not happened in centuries.

King Wendell had been ruling the throne for over sixty returns of the season and had taken care to extract the maximum enjoyment from his posting as he was able. Wary of the fate of his own father, Rockney the Beheaded, he exercised his kingly power with discretion, well aware that he was ultimately at the mercy of his own people whose population far outnumbered him. As a result he was well loved by his subjects, who knew their grievances would be fairly heard out and attended to in a fair and just manner.

Today, the bells were tolling as though for a wedding, but with one tone missing. The bell carrying the middle C note had been silenced, and the altered tone of the bells told of the christening of the princess, and all hastened to the square to bear witness. Christenings were the common practice in the kingdom, but the christenings of royalty were done by a fairy, and many of those living in the kingdom today had never beheld a fairy in the flesh. They were mystical beings, rarely seen unless they chose to reveal themselves.

Queen Hespa looked at herself in the mirror, her gown’s dark green blended with her red hair nicely but she could have shattered the mirror and used its shards to cut her own throat. Her smile remained frozen as her ladies in waiting bustled about her, adjusting a stitch here, a loose end there, an unbasted seam somewhere else. They were a hive of activity about her and she wondered, once again, if today would be the day she would take her own life.

The king, ensconced in his own chambers, looked up from the wench servicing him to beckon another to refill his glass with the honeyed mead he preferred. Another set his ceremonial crown on his head, and he could feel his neck creaking. He never wore the enormous heavy thing except for formal occasions, and his daughter’s christening would definitely qualify if nothing else would. He took a mighty drought of mead and hiccuped. It was his third such mug, but with the fairy Esmeli appearing tonight, he would need all the strength and nerve he could get. He glowered at the servicing wench, who had paused for breath.

“Did I tell you to stop?”

Dutifully, she returned to polishing his boots.

The princess Alasin, not yet two months old, wriggled in her crib as her nurse changed her. She had no idea that her very existence would bring about the ending of the way of life that so many generations before her had enjoyed. She did not know that her father’s affair with the fairy Esemli would plunge the kingdom into turmoil for years to come. She simply slept, dreaming baby dreams, oblivious to the world around her.

Two guards stood at the entrance to the castle, bedecked in garlands and flowers to mark the christening day. Both felt like the posterior of an equine, but knew better than to remove them. The only soldier who had done so was now on latrine duty for being out of uniform.

“Cor,” grunted the larger guard. “’ot as ‘ell today.” He spit.

The other nodded, yawning and exposing several yellowing teeth. “Aye.”

“’most noon,” said the first, squinting at the sky.

The second looked to the sky as well, nodding as he did. “Aye.”

“I never seen’t a fairy before,” the first continued, looking up at the sky as though he expected her to drop from the clouds. “They purty?”

The second licked his lips, unaware he had done so. “Aye.”

The first guard chortled and scratched himself. “Where do a fairy come from?”

“D’no,” the second said, shrugging. In his mind, he came upon a fairy in the woods, missing most of her clothes, chest heaving. His manhood throbbing, he walked up to her and…

“I’ll thank you, sir, to remove that filth from your head this instant,” a cool voice whispered in his ear. The guard jumped a mile, colliding with the larger guard who was still staring at the sky.

Esemli stood with her hands on her hips, long blonde hair waving in the gentle breeze. Her dark green tunic and leather boots were of the deepest forest greens and browns the guards had ever seen. Her green eyes matched them perfectly as they radiated scorn at the second guard, who at that moment felt the size of a worm.

“A thousand apologies, Milady,” he stuttered, stumbling over his words as inane jabber raced through his head. “I was… you see we…”

Esemli held up her hand and the guard’s voice froze in his throat, though his mouth still worked, attempting to speak. “Do not finish. You will go inform the Lord Wendell that I have arrived and await his pleasure in his receiving room.” So saying, she lowered her hand and swept past them through the door they guarded as the larger guard followed, leaving the second guard to regain control of his vocal cords and pray the fairy did not speak of his discourtesy to the king.

When King Wendell arrived in his receiving room, the windows had been covered and the torches burned with a dark red light, casting large shadows in the room’s corners. Esemli’s blonde locks were a muted bright spot in the dim room, and the king made his way toward her, blood rushing unbidden to his loins.

“My lady,” the king said gravely as he approached her.

Esemli turned, the shadows giving her face a sinister cast as she smiled and dropped her tunic from her shoulders. “My lord,” she whispered, and moved to greet him.

Queen Hespa stood outside the receiving room door, listening to the sounds coming from within. There were no tears from the queen, only rage. With the strength of fury she raised a foot and kicked the door open with a bang. The sun was behind her coming through a window slit and it fell neatly through the door and illuminated the king atop the fairy.

Chilling Chat: 10 Quick Questions with Timothy G. Huguenin

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Timothy G. Huguenin lives in the dark Allegheny Mountains of West Virginia. He is the author of the Appalachian horror novels When the Watcher Shakes and Little One. His tghugueninshort fiction has appeared in various places including Hinnom Magazine, Beneath the Waves: Tales From the Deep, and Horror Tales Podcast. Timothy is an active member of the Horror Writers Association.

1) How old were you when you first discovered horror?

I was in middle school, I think, when my parents bought me a collection of Edgar Allan Poe stories for Christmas. I loved it! I still go back to Poe often. I get the feeling that he is more often talked about than actually read. His work is still unique and effective today.

2) Who is your favorite author? Who has influenced you?

If you judge this based on the most books I’ve read by any one horror writer, I suppose you would say Stephen King wins. I’m constantly amazed at his ability to make characters that I absolutely buy into. Even the ones who are mostly just exaggerated stereotypes are somehow still so lifelike and believable. This talent allows him to take the whackiest idea and turn it into a compelling story. However, over the last couple years, I’ve been turning more toward the weirder side of horror. Authors like Robert Aickman and Thomas Ligotti have been very influential on my recent writing. Lastly, I want to mention Michael Wehunt. I think his work is fabulous, and more people need to read Greener Pastures.

3) What inspired you to write your piece?

It happened and kinda freaked me out. My wife explained to me what was really going on, but it was a very strange experience when I didn’t understand it.

4) How much control do you exert over your characters? Do they have free will?

Generally speaking, I have a basic framework for how a character will react to things, and their personality and actions grow out of that as I write and continue to develop/get to know them. I try not to be too forceful. I am mostly a “pantser.” There is something about it, especially when the story is going smoothly and quickly, that feels as if the characters have their own will, even though I am the one creating them. I suppose it depends on how you define “free will.” Everyone’s will is limited to some degree by something. So “free” must always be relative, whether you are talking in terms of writing fiction or in terms of philosophy.

5) What did you learn from participating in the contest?

The contest forced me to try some things I normally wouldn’t do and write a few more things that I might not have written otherwise. One of the short stories I wrote for the contest was my first conscious attempt at pure cosmic horror (not a requirement for the prompt, btw, just how it turned out). It did not score well with the judges, but I consider it one of my best pieces. Agree to disagree, right?

6) Would you do it again? What would you do differently?

I probably could not do it again, at least in the foreseeable future. I just don’t have the time or the mental space for it. I have enough writing projects I need to focus on, as well as other things I need to work on in life, like work, school, and my marriage. I am not a good multitasker.

7) What is your favorite horror novel?

That is a tough one. Just off the top of my head, I’m going to say Revival by Stephen King. But Dracula really made a great impression on me. It often depends on the mood I am when I read something, and the environment. These things greatly shape our feelings toward a book, more than we probably realize. I read a great deal of Dracula in a small tent during a violent thunderstorm in the Cherokee National Forest. I’m not sure if I will feel the same way about it next time I read it. One of my favorite books of all time, which I have read many times and always loved, is 1984 by George Orwell. Few people would consider it a horror novel (especially those outside our little camp), but it captures that creeping sense of dread that I look for better than almost any other book that claims to be horror.

8) Favorite horror movie?

I’m not sure if it is my favorite or not, but I finally got around to watching Carnival of Souls and really loved it. Though I’m not sure it totally made sense.

9) Favorite horror television show?

NGHWEdPSmOK, maybe I’ll disappoint some people with this because there’s a lot of really better polished and very popular horror TV shows that have been made since then, but I really love The X Files, which wasn’t always horror but did have plenty of monsters.

10) What does the future hold for you? What do we have to look forward to?

You’ll probably see some more of my short fiction being published this year. I have a novel manuscript that I’m trying to find a good fit for. As far as works in progress, I am about 5,000 words into a new novel, but most of the writing I’ve done this year has been on a short story that turned into a novelette and may even keep growing to novella length. Not sure what’s going to happen with it. We’ll see.

 

You can find Timothy on TwitterFacebook, Instagram, and Goodreads.

 

Chilling Chat: 10 Quick Questions with Cat Voleur

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Cat Voleur is a horror blogger and writer of dark speculative fiction. She is following up her traditional education with studies in linguistics and parapsychology. When she is notMe at work or school, she’s enjoying a nice book or stressful video game in the company of her many feline friends.

1)  How old were you when you first discovered horror?

I was about 8 when I acknowledged that horror was a genre, but I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t drawn to it. I grew up loving scary stories and some of my first favorite movies were the black and white horror classics.

2) Who is your favorite author? Who has influenced you?

My favorite author would be Joe Hill. He consistently amazes me with his work, and has written some of my favorite novels and short stories. I’d say Stephen King is one of my strongest influences, for better and worse, because reading him taught me to include a lot of detail – much of which has to be edited out later. Some of my more recent influences would be Clive Barker and Max Lobdell.

3) What inspired you to write your piece?

The piece I have included in the collection is actually nonfiction. When I read that prompt, it was just the event that I was taken back to and I tried to write it as faithfully as I could remember.

4) How much control do you exert over your characters? Do they have free will?

I think a lot of that depends on the project. The longer a piece is the more the characters control me, but I feel like I have a certain level of authority when writing something a little more structured, like flash fiction.

I remember recently I was trying to explain my writing process to a friend, and I described myself as a sort of “Jigsaw” in regards to my less polished ideas. I set up these really dark scenarios based off of my assumption that I know the characters who will be experiencing them, but sometimes they surprise me with their will to survive or think outside the box.

5) What did you learn from participating in the contest?

I learned a lot of things about myself participating in the contest, a lot of personal things regarding my limits as a creator and my writing process.

The most important thing that I learned about writing horror though, would be how connected it is to other genres. I think one of the hardest aspects for me was that it required the contestants to write in many different tones for many different mediums that I would never have expected from a horror contest. The challenge I found most difficult was the comedy commercial script. Some of my favorite horror films are the self-referential slashers that rely very heavily on dark comedy, but I had never considered writing comedy as something I should try to improve on until this contest.

It was difficult, but learning about all the things that tie into horror made me a  better writer.

6) Would you do it again? What would you do differently?

I would absolutely do it again.

The one thing I’d do differently is I’d stick it out to the end. At the time I was participating in the contest, there were just so many personal things going on in my life that felt out of my control. I ended up switching jobs, moving across the country, there was a lot of my drama with my extended family, and I was struggling with a relationship that I didn’t realize was very unhealthy and actually harmful to me. When I also fell ill, it felt like one thing too many, and I just wasn’t turning out the quality of work I wanted to be submitting, so I dropped out.

That might have been the right thing at the time because I got worse before I got better, but I’ve learned a lot since then. I have more control over my life than I realized, so if I got another opportunity to compete in something I feel this passionately about, I’d feel confident in prioritizing it higher than I did last time around.

7)What is your favorite horror novel?

My favorite horror novel is The Hellbound Heart by Clive Barker.

Aside from being an intimately disturbing read, I’ve never found a horror novel that reads quite so poetically. It’s some of the most beautiful body horror ever written.

8) Favorite horror movie?

My favorite horror movie is Cabin in the Woods because it’s got a little bit of everything. It’s funny, it’s scary, it’s emotional, and it’s so intelligently written. It pokes fun at the genre while simultaneously expressing a deep love for it, explaining tropes along the way. You can enjoy it as a casual fan, or watch it over and over to pick up every last horror movie reference they squeezed in. It’s been my favorite movie since I saw it in theater, and I don’t see that changing any time soon.

9) Favorite horror television show?

NGHWEdPSmThe Haunting of Hill House, hands down.

I’ve been a Mike Flanagan fan for years now, but he handled the source material so brilliantly that I don’t even have to worry about being biased; the show’s just good. It’s scary, it’s gorgeous, and there are always new things to discover if you are in the mood to watch it again.

10.) What does the future hold for you? What do we have to look forward to?

Now that I’ve had plenty of time to recover and get my life back on track, I feel confident in saying that the future holds more horror writing for me.

I have a few very dark, experimental short stories under consideration right now and am about to start querying for my first two longer projects. Of course, I’m still blogging about the genre whenever I can find the time.

You can find Cat on Twitter and please, check out her Portfolio Site.