Wednesday, September 18, 2019

20Q7A: An interview with Michael Kelly

20 Questions, 7 Answers is an interview series for writers of genre fiction. Each author receives the same batch of 20 questions, but they may only answer 7.

This week's guest is Michael Kelly.

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What's your latest book, and how does it differ from your previous work?

My third collection of short fiction, ALL THE THINGS WE NEVER SEE, has just been released. In many ways, it's not all that different than my previous two collections in the sense that these are odd stories that share that liminal space between horror and weird fiction. What is different, perhaps, is that this collection is less speculative, less outre, than my previous work. I'm telling the same stories in a more realist fashion.

Do you have any creative endeavors other than writing fiction (art, music, knitting)?

I play guitar. I have a couple of acoustics, a couple of electrics, and a bass. I don't write songs or play original material. I cover rock and metal and folk and blues. I find playing music a great cathartic, soul-cleansing endeavor. Mind, I'm not very good. I just enjoy strumming and plucking the strings and making some noise.

Do you listen to music when you write, and if so, what? Is it different than what you listen to when you're not writing?

No, I don't. Strange, yes, considering my passion for music and guitar. But I need dead silence when I write. I need to concentrate. Whenever I've tried to write to music I just find myself getting caught up in the music, carried away. Then I reach for the guitar and pretty soon two hours are gone and the writing day is shot. I need as little distraction as possible.

What's the best movie, new or old, that you've seen for the first time in the past 3 months?

I just recently saw THE BLACKCOAT'S DAUGHTER and thought it was excellent. Oz Perkins is a really interesting filmmaker. I quite enjoyed I AM THE PRETTY THING THAT LIVES IN THE HOUSE, and he's got another film out soon, GRETEL & HANSEL. Quite intrigued to see what he does with Paul Tremblay's book A HEAD FULL OF GHOSTS.

Twilight Zone or Outer Limits?

Oh, wow, tough choice. Twilight Zone by a hair, I'd say. But I think Night Gallery topped them both for exceptional psychological horror.

What happens when you die?

You cease to exist, except as memory. But, for some time, the hair in your ears continue to grow, weed-like. Then you're put in the ground to rot, or incinerated to dust. I believe the ear hair lives on.

What's the most disgusting thing about the human body?

Ear hair!! Actually, so many gross things: toe nails; penises; the epiglottis; teeth. But I'm sticking with ear hair. Disgusting!!

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Michael Kelly is the former Series Editor for the Year's Best Weird Fiction. He’s a Shirley Jackson Award-winner, and a World Fantasy Award nominee. His fiction has appeared in a number of journals and anthologies, including Black Static, The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror 21 & 24, Postscripts, Weird Fiction Review, and has been previously collected in Scratching the Surface, Undertow & Other Laments, and All the Things We Never See. He is Editor-in-Chief of Undertow Publications.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

20Q7A: An interview with Christopher Lesko

20 Questions, 7 Answers is an interview series for writers of genre fiction. Each author receives the same batch of 20 questions, but they may only answer 7.

This week's guest is Christopher Lesko.

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What's your latest book, and how does it differ from your previous work?

My latest book is Victim 666. It’s straight up Horror compared to my previous work, which is hard to define by genre other than General Fiction or what some would call Bizarro. But it still has my crazy sense of humor throughout.

Do you have any creative endeavors other than writing fiction (art, music, knitting)?

Other creative endeavors randomly cycle through me as the ideas spark, and that helps relieve burnout. Photography is one I picked up when I lived near Wrightsville Beach, NC. I use it mostly to explore nature and cherish a little quiet time. Abstract paintings using acrylics on canvas I enjoy making as well. Four pieces currently decorate the walls of my home. I design my covers, edit, format, and publish my books as well. I get a thrill out of it all and plan to keep going as long as I can. Video Production is what I have a degree in from The Art Institute of Pittsburgh. I made a few short experimental films and have them up on YouTube, but haven’t done much recently other than make a book trailer for Victim 666. Watch here.

Have you traveled outside your home country, and if so, where? Where would you like to go that you haven't been yet?

Been to Australia for my younger brother’s wedding. We visited Brisbane, the Gold Coast, and Esk—a little country town where I saw something odd that gave me the title for my next book: The Locals Are Watching You. This fall, I’m planning to visit again to see where my brother and his family now live in the Sunshine Coast. As far as where I’d like to go that I haven’t been yet, that would be the Bermuda Triangle. As a kid, I read all about it in books from the school library along with ones about UFOs, Bigfoot, and the Loch Ness Monster. I’m pretty sure there’s a legendary party going on out there right now.

What is your writing environment like? (Are you out in public or in seclusion? Is there noise? Is there coffee? Do you type on a laptop or write longhand on lined notebook paper?)

Currently, my writing environment is on a laptop at my kitchen table or on my sofa with some incense burning in the background. In silence. Used to be I had to get in the mood to write by smearing white Halloween makeup all over my face and drawing fake tattoos on myself. I’ve chilled out with that. Only because it’s a pain to wash off. After that, I went through a phase of drinking big ass Monster energy drinks while killing a pack of sunflower seeds. That got expensive quick. Now, a small pot of coffee simply does the trick.

Twilight Zone or Outer Limits?

Twilight Zone for sure. Actually, I don’t think I’ve seen any Outer Limits episodes. Anyway, I still love watching the black and white episodes on TV with my dad and hearing him tell about his favorite one: “Time Enough at Last” (S01E08). It’s about a guy with super thick glasses who likes reading. The shit that happens to him at the end cracks us up.

If you could share a beverage with any fictional character, who would it be, and what would you drink?

I’d get all full of Fanta with Ashley Schaffer (Will Farrell) from Eastbound & Down. Of course, I’d want the illustrious Cherry Blossom to dance for us too after we eat Mammy’s dumplings.

What’s your secret?

For me, the secret is complete and total sobriety (11 years). My creativity exploded after I quit trying to escape reality and became a master of reality. I don’t regret anything from my past, though, and believe everything happens for a reason. Just have to stay positive and be grateful for the good and bad; have a great day no matter what. Ya dig?

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Christopher Lesko is a weirdo writer dude from Ohio.

Wednesday, September 04, 2019

20Q7A: An interview with Sara Tantlinger

20 Questions, 7 Answers is an interview series for writers of genre fiction. Each author receives the same batch of 20 questions, but they may only answer 7.

This week's guest is Sara Tantlinger.

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What's your latest book, and how does it differ from your previous work?

My latest book is my debut novella titled To Be Devoured, published by Unnerving. It’s a psychological and body horror story about a woman obsessed with vultures and carrion. My other two books, Love for Slaughter and the Stoker Award-winning The Devil’s Dreamland are both poetry collections, so the novella differs in that it’s my biggest prose project out there, but I think it might be my most intense work-to-date, too.

Who or what is your favorite movie monster, and why?

I really loved watching The Mummy (1999) when I was growing up. Ancient Egypt is one of my favorite time periods to read about, watch documentaries about, and just generally learn about. When the beauty and surrealness of the excavation and treasure hunting gets turned into a nightmare when Imhotep is summoned by the Book of the Dead, he always stuck out in my mind as a great movie monster. He brings the ten plagues back to Egypt, sucks the flesh off people’s bones and makes himself appear more human, but underneath that borrowed skin lurks a monster obsessed with bringing back his own lover from the dead – these are all elements that create a huge win for me!

Do you listen to music when you write, and if so, what? Is it different than what you listen to when you're not writing?

I love creating themed playlists for brainstorming and outlining, but when I’m in draft mode I usually prefer the quiet. The music tends to be what I normally listen to, which honestly is about every genre. I have my preferences, but my iTunes has everything from soundtracks to classical music to pop hits to German metal – so my playlists tend to be very eclectic. When I wrote Love for Slaughter, my “horrormance” collection about bloody, twisted love, my playlist had a lot of She Wants Revenge, In This Moment, and Marilyn Manson on it.

Are you most afraid of ghosts, aliens, or clowns, and why?

Aliens! I’m not really sure why, but I’ve always had a fear of aliens since I was very young. Maybe it was because my older sister liked to tell me I was hatched from alien eggs when I was a child? It’s okay, we’re best friends now, but when you’re 8 years apart and you’re a kid when your sister is a teenager, these things happen. Otherwise, the thought of aliens both intrigues and terrifies me. The universe is so extremely vast and strange, I have no problem believing something exists out there.

If you could be reincarnated as a sentient but inanimate object, what would you like to be?

I love this question! I think I’d like to be the writing tool that Shakespeare used, which being the nerd I am, I recently watched a debate video about what type of writing instrument he may have used – but whatever the answer, I’d love to be that piece of history and watch the plays and sonnets unfold. It’d be fascinating to observe that time period in any way.

What is your writing environment like? (Are you out in public or in seclusion? Is there noise? Is there coffee? Do you type on a laptop or write longhand on lined notebook paper?)

When I’m really into the draft or revision, I usually like a quiet, isolated environment. I have terrible handwriting so while I may sometimes jot down notes on paper, I do most of my writing on my laptop and type up notes on my phone. There is almost always coffee or some kind of tea (I’ve been loving the Numi Moroccan Mint Tea lately); every once in a while, I’ll try to write at a coffeeshop, but I end up people-watching more than writing.

If you could share a beverage with any fictional character, who would it be, and what would you drink?

Bloody Marys with Dracula.

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Sara Tantlinger is the Bram Stoker Award-winning author of The Devil’s Dreamland: Poetry Inspired by H.H. Holmes. She is a poetry editor for the Oddville Press, a graduate of Seton Hill’s MFA program, a member of the SFPA, and an active member of the HWA. Her other books include Love for Slaughter and To Be Devoured. Currently, Sara is editing Not All Monsters, an anthology that will be comprised entirely of women who write speculative fiction. The anthology is set for a 2020 release with Strangehouse Books. She embraces all things strange and can be found lurking in graveyards or on Twitter @SaraJane524 and at saratantlinger.com.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

20Q7A: An interview with Josh Malerman

20 Questions, 7 Answers is an interview series for writers of genre fiction. Each author receives the same batch of 20 questions, but they may only answer 7.

This week's guest is Josh Malerman.

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If you could have chosen your own name when you were born, what would it have been?

What a great question. I’ve always thought “Josh” was too soft. I like J names but mine lands on a cloud. “Jack” lands on a motorbike. Okay so... I wish my name was Dungeon Punchinello. As in: a dungeon clown. If you can make people laugh down there, you can be funny anywhere. (I’ve considered using it as a pen name... maybe I will)

Who or what is your favorite movie monster, and why?

Anthony from “It’s a Good Life” in Twilight Zone: the Movie. I don’t think I’ll ever quite get past the idea of a god-child and how he could remove his sister’s mouth with a thought. How he made Uncle Walt pull the insane rabbit from the insane hat. There’s an elasticity to this segment that kickstarted my entire affair with the genre. For that, Anthony will probably always be my main monster. But there are many! I have a lobby standee of the Wicked Witch in my office. She stole my heart, too.

Do you listen to music when you write, and if so, what? Is it different than what you listen to when you're not writing?

So, I definitely do. And it used to be that music without lyrics was best for me. Now I don’t care, so long as it drives, you know? And the great thing about horror movie soundtracks is that they tend to play a single beat or tone through the whole thing. So you don’t necessarily have to worry about a poppy song cracking the rhythm you got going. And it used to be that the horror stuff was relegated to my office, but ever since Allison and I bought a house, we’ve been playing the scary shit on the outdoor speakers and, for reasons I don’t entirely get, it goes incredibly well with the pond, the trees, the flowers, all that. So now I’ve been listening to soundtracks everywhere and pretty soon I’m gonna mistake my life for a movie.

What's the best movie, new or old, that you've seen for the first time in the past 3 months?

Hagazussa really did something to me. I heard it was a student film? German. I don’t even know. But early on the mother is calling for the daughter, “Albrun! Albrun!” and long after the mother dies we hear that same tone of voice calling for her again, the daughter now all grown up, “Albrun! Albrun!” and it chilled me to the bone. I hear that name in the trees at night now. Loved this movie.

If you could survive on one food for the rest of your life with no health repercussions, what would it be?

Does the Indian buffet count as one food? Because there are times I wonder if I have spent my entire life there. Helluva hangover food. Works almost as well as leaping into a pool upon waking.

Are you most afraid of ghosts, aliens, or clowns, and why?

I used to think it was ghosts and demons but I’m discovering lately it’s aliens. I was reading Whitley Streiber’s Communion and it really messed with me. Had to set it down. Then I was reading a nonfiction account of Roswell, etc, and that messed with me, too. It’s on odd thing for a horror author to chance upon a new fear, you know, you think you’ve already accounted for them all. But for whatever reason, aliens have been scaring the shit out of me as of late.

What's your secret?

I like this question. Because we all have them, yes? Mine is that I ate my parents at a very young age. No no wait. The secret I want to talk about is the writing secret, that is, the one that propels me to write a rough draft for a new book as I’m waiting to receive the notes from the editor for the last one. And I think the answer to that is simply not caring, at first, if anything I do is “good or bad.” It may sound simplified, but truthfully, the minute I got rid of those words, a kaleidoscopic life opened up for me. The life of the artist. In full color.

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Josh Malerman is the New York Times best selling author of Bird Box, Unbury Carol, and Inspection. He lives in Franklin, Michigan, with his soulmate Allison Laakko.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Meeting Clive Barker

It was that now-famous Stephen King blurb on this edition of Books of Blood Volume 2 which led me to Clive Barker. Well, that’s not entirely true. It was actually that creepy green mask first. And the title second. The blurb was third.

I was 12, I think. Maybe 13. Somehow, I convinced my grandmother to buy it for me. I would track down Volume 3 soon after, and get my mom to purchase it. I think she was hesitant at first, but I leveraged the fact that “Grandma bought me Volume 2”. Or maybe she just thought reading would be better for me than watching any of the blood-drenched movies I had become a fan of. The first in the series took me longer to locate, but eventually I found it during a trip to the mall (it was the late '80s in New Jersey). I read them all, mainly in the car on family road trips.

I picked up The Inhuman Condition and In The Flesh next, then The Damnation Game, and later, Cabal and all the rest. I stared endlessly at the art on the covers, and devoured the words inside.

I learned of Hellraiser in the pages of Fangoria, and rented it as soon as it was available on VHS. It immediately became my favorite movie. Then I listened to the audiobook of The Hellbound Heart (on cassette), read by Barker himself. I found the fully dramatized audio editions of his stories The Inhuman Condition and The Body Politic next. I was already a fan of old radio dramas, so these were pretty exciting, and I hoped they would continue adapting his stories in that medium.

I wrote Barker a fan letter (the only person I ever did that for), asking for writing advice, never really thinking I would ever truly be much of a writer myself (I had dabbled in a few short stories at the time)—but what else do you ask writers about when you’re a kid? Months later, to my delight, he answered with a typewritten letter, signed by hand at the bottom. (Joke’s on me now - I guess I followed his advice and kept at the writing thing.)

I visited comic shops to pick up issues of Tapping The Vein and the Hellraiser anthology series. An artist myself, I was over the moon when I found out about his art book, Clive Barker, Illustrator (and its eventual sequel). I spent hours poring over the drawings and paintings inside, and emulated them in some of my own work.

In reading interviews, and in the book Pandemonium, I discovered Barker’s history in theater. I quickly became obsessed with tracking down scripts for the plays he had written. I wondered if anyone had filmed any of the productions, and if so, how I could get copies.

Occasionally I would hear about readings and signings that he had done in bookstores—but always, sadly, after the fact. I would occasionally see pictures in magazines (like Fango, I assume) of the crowds, of him signing books for attendees.

Some friends and I went to see Nightbreed the Friday it came out. I may have been the only one of us who liked it. Later on, I found a VHS tape of Barker’s early short films, Salome and The Forbidden. I tape-traded for (at the time) rare interviews and TV appearances. I bought the Dread and Lost Souls fanzines via mail order. I dragged my freshman year college roommates to see Candyman, then scrawled “Sweets to the Sweet” on the bathroom mirror in the middle of the night, hoping to be woken in the morning by a scream.

That Christmas, my parents gave me a copy of The Thief of Always, and to our surprise, it turned out to be a signed copy. I was thrilled, but also wondered: Had Barker done a signing in my hometown that I had somehow missed?

A few years later I got to see a bunch of his drawings on display. But it was another reminder that I always seemed to miss the chance to meet him or catch a reading. I had all these artifacts, at least—stories, images, a couple autographs.

Then, many years after that, in 2012, Barker was booked for a Monster Mania convention in Cherry Hill, NJ. By this time I had moved around a bunch, but had eventually circled back to the area, and was now living in Philadelphia, across the river from New Jersey. I was making art, and working as a graphic designer. And I had resumed writing after a bit of a hiatus, and had a handful of stories in print.

I was excited. I would finally get to meet the man who inspired so much in my own work. And on top of that, there would be a screening of the “Cabal cut” of Nightbreed, which added another layer of anticipation. I bought my ticket and anxiously awaited the weekend of the show. But then, unfortunately, Barker had to cancel at the last minute, due to health issues. I was of course saddened by this for multiple reasons, and was also forced to realize that meeting him was simply never going to happen. I accepted it and moved on.

But then...

Flash forward 7 more years. Suddenly Barker was scheduled for another Monster Mania. I couldn't believe it. A sense of giddiness bubbled within me. Would I actually get to meet him this time?

My buddy Adam and I made plans to go. We got our tickets. We got in line. A very long line. I wondered what might possibly go wrong this time around.

Thankfully, nothing did. After standing in line for two and half hours, most of it outside in the sun, we entered the room and spotted Clive Barker seated behind a table, smiling, shaking hands and signing autographs for fans. His artwork hung about the room, old and new copies of his books were piled high.

And a few minutes later, the moment arrived. I finally met the man whose work meant so much to me as a kid, and as a young adult. And still today. Adam and I both spoke to him for several minutes. He was absolutely delightful, full of all the enthusiasm I had expected from all the interviews I had seen over the years. I brought with me a Hellraiser comic book promotional print, featuring the design of the Lament Configuration, to have him sign, which he happily did. I told him how important his work was to me, and he seemed pleased. He even did a sketch for me. Later that day, I got to see him again, when he crashed the "Hellraiser Reunion" panel.

Clive Barker was my first real horror hero. Sure, I found King first, but Barker’s work was different. There was something special about it, something extra that spoke to me in a unique way. Maybe it was his wild imagination. Or maybe the fact that, in addition to being a writer, he was a visual artist like me. Or maybe it was because he worked in so many different mediums—books, movies, paintings, drawings, theater, comics, and so on. Whatever the reason, a connection was made, and fused, and I’m thankful.

Looking back on what I’ve written here, I suppose it amounts to little more than a fan appreciation post. But that’s okay. Sometimes other creators put the wind in your sails, and inspire your own artistic pursuits. A handful of them, perhaps, can fuel you for a lifetime. Clive Barker has been one of those latter individuals for me, and finally getting the chance to meet him felt like something to commemorate and place on this (digital) shelf.