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.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

20Q7A: An interview with Laura Mauro

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 Laura Mauro.

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

I try my hand at all kinds of crafts, though I’m not especially good at any of them. I knit sometimes, I paint, I doodle. I make sock plushies, mostly for fun, but sometimes as gifts. My husband is a guitarist, so I sing here and there. I’m fairly comfortable with the fact that I’ll never be a brilliant artist or craftsperson so it’s usually a low-pressure way to let off creative steam. And sometimes, when the stars are aligned, you might just catch me at karaoke…

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

I was originally supposed to have been named Nancey. Right up until the day I was born, I was Nancey. But then I was actually born, and according to my mum I did not look like a Nancey, which is hardly surprising as I was born resembling a ginger raisin, and ginger raisins are probably very difficult to name. I ended up nameless for a few days until my parents somehow settled on Laura. But to be honest, I think I would have made a perfectly good Nancey.

What was your greatest Halloween costume?

I don’t generally dress up for Halloween (it’s not a big thing in the UK, sadly) but I do cosplay at conventions, because I’m a massive nerd. I think my favourite cosplay was a Little Sister from the videogame Bioshock. It involved creating a prop (a kind of giant syringe) from the handle of a vintage petrol pump, a glass jar filled with red gel, and an LED light, and a length of wooden dowel, all spray-painted to look old and rusted. The costume part was relatively simple in comparison – although the bright yellow contact lenses took some getting used to. More recently, I went as Goro Majima from the Yakuza series, which involved elaborate tattoo transfers. It’s good fun.

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

A ghost can’t hurt you because it’s not made of matter, so once you get past the initial spookiness you can safely ignore it. Or you could try and make friends with it, because it’s probably quite lonely and as the late, great Bob Ross teaches us, everyone needs a friend. I don’t think it’s fair to be scared of aliens until they’re able to account for themselves – they could be really nice and chill and just want to see all the weird and wild stuff our planet does, and all the probey abduction stuff might just be a big cultural misunderstanding. Frankly, they can’t be any worse than your average Brit abroad. Clowns, though. Clowns are gits. Clowns need to be put in concrete shoes and dropped into the Mariana trench, no exceptions. They are an affront to life itself.

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

I’ve been immensely privileged in the last fifteen years or so to have seen some amazing places. I’ve visited a fair bit of Europe – Italy, Germany, Finland, the Netherlands, Ireland, the Czech Republic, Iceland, Poland, Spain, Malta, Cyprus – but there are still so many places I’d love to see. Norway, Estonia, Slovenia and Bosnia are high on my list. Outside of Europe, I’ve been to the US (Hawaii and Portland), Sri Lanka and Japan. Again, there are so many places I want to go to, but if I had to narrow it down, I’d say Vietnam, Canada, China, Greenland and Myanmar. But you could give me a ticket to pretty much anywhere in the world and I’d gladly go!

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

Too-Ticky, from Moominland Midwinter by Tove Jansson. We’d drink hot blueberry juice by the stove in the Moomin bathing hut, and we’d look out over the frozen sea and black winter sky at the northern lights, and she’d teach me how to be brave in a scary world, and how to embrace uncertainty. Too-Ticky is one of the wisest and most comforting characters in fiction.

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

I spent eight years working in medical laboratories and outpatient clinics, and I have truly seen some sights. The most bizarre and fascinating thing I ever saw was a teratoma. It’s a type of tumour which originates in the cells that produce sperm or eggs. They’re masses of tumorous tissue which often contain hair, but may also contain teeth, bone, internal organs or even eyes. The cells they contain generally vary depending on the part of the body the teratoma is developing in; the cells replicate as though they were forming a part of the human body. So you might even find a teratoma which has limbs, or fingers. They are seriously spooky things.

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Laura Mauro was born and raised in London and now lives in Essex under extreme duress. Her short story 'Looking for Laika' won the British Fantasy award for Best Short Fiction in 2018, and 'Sun Dogs' was shortlisted for the Shirley Jackson award in the Novelette category. Her debut collection, Sing Your Sadness Deep is out now from Undertow Books. She likes Japanese wrestling, Finnish folklore and Russian space dogs. She blogs sporadically at lauramauro.com.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

20Q7A: An interview with Jamie Nash

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 Jamie Nash.

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

JN: NOMAD. My other books were kids books. This one has more f-bombs (my kids books have zero) and lots of intense horror and violence. It's a bit like Alien...my others were more Scooby-Doo.

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

JN: Juggling. I guess that's creative. It can be.

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?

JN: No. But I watch television. Right now I'm watching Last Chance U on Netflix as I watch this.

If you could invent a new sport, what would it be like?

JN: Juggle Combat...actually this is already a game I've played.  I'd just popularize it. You juggle three clubs while trying to make the other jugglers drop. It's fun. It should be in the Olympics.  Google it. You'll see.

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

JN: Midsommar.

What are your 3 favorite comic books (standalone novels or ongoing series) of all time?

JN: Dark Night Returns, Red Son, Swamp Thing.

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

JN: Han Solo. Blue Milk...but spiked with some Corellian liquor.

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Jamie Nash has written for films like V/H/S/2, Exists, Lovely Molly, and Altered. He’s worked on the Nickelodeon movies Tiny Christmas and Santa Hunters. He’s the author of the middle-grade book The 44 Rules of Amateur Sleuthing and the co-author of Bunk! He lives in Ellicott City, MD.

Summer Scares

I hate Summer. If you’ve met me in person, seen the gleaming, glowing quality of my pale skin, you can understand one of the reasons why. But don’t get me wrong—it’s not just the fear of sunburn that I hate about Summer. It’s the heat, the humidity, the general lack of falling leaves and snow.

But right now it’s raining outside, which is cooling things down a little bit. And the new roof on my home seems to be holding up so far. So maybe Summer isn’t so terrible after all.

Just kidding. It’s totally the worst.

A friend asked me for some Halloween reading recommendations yesterday, and today I’m wearing a Halloween III t-shirt. So with those things in mind, plus the rain, I’m trying to pretend it’s Fall instead. It’s not really working.

There are a few not-terrible things about Summer, however. One of them is Scares That Care Charity Weekend, which happened about two weeks ago. I was there, along with some friends, a bunch of old & new writer colleagues, and a ton of horror fanatics. It was a blast, as always (this was my fifth one, only having missed the very first event). In addition to spending three days in the vendor room meeting people, talking horror movies, and slinging books, I got to be part of the Saturday late-night Bizarro Power Hour, alongside Andersen Prunty, John Wayne Communale, David W. Barbee, Eric Hendrixson, and Stephen Kozeniewski. I read my story “Slices of Me” (for only the second time in public), and was again tickled by some of the uncomfortable sounds coming from members of the audience.

Scares, each year, is such great fun - but as the name implies, there’s a bigger purpose behind it all. Click here to read more about the organization behind the convention, and to donate whatever you can.

Anyway, it seems the sun is starting to creep out again from behind the clouds, so I’m going back into hiding, back to the shadows. I’ll keep telling myself that soon August will turn to September, and September will give way to October, and then suddenly all will be right with the world once again.

Wednesday, August 07, 2019

20Q7A: An interview with Jeff Strand

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 Jeff Strand.

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

JS: It's called My Pretties. I try to mix up the tone of my books, so this an incredibly dark novel that follows Ferocious, which was a fun B-movie-style creature feature. My work always has a lot of humor, and My Pretties is no exception, but this is grim stuff about a serial killer who locks women in cages suspended from the ceiling of a basement, then watches them starve to death. My next book, Clowns Vs. Spiders, swings back to "fun" horror.

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

JS: No. I'm bad at everything except writing. Music, to me, is like sorcery. I cannot imagine how one can arrange musical notes in a catchy order that hasn't already been done in the other trillion songs that have been written. As a kid I achieved mild competence at playing the piano and nightmarish ineptitude with the oboe, but these days I am a music consumer, not producer. I can't draw. Don't know how to knit. Can make decent macaroni and cheese from a box. All I have are my words!!!

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

JS: I'm disappointed that I haven't been to a film festival for the past three months, because normally my answer would be way more interesting. In fact, some quick research shows that my answer is Avengers: Endgame. I don't want to say Avengers: Endgame. Can I go with my least favorite movie? The Dead Don't Die. Boy, did that ever suck. One of the worst movies I've ever seen.

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

JS: I feel like at some point I would say, "If I have to eat one more goddamn Buffalo wing I'm going to kill somebody!" so I'm going to go with sushi. Lots of variety with sushi. I'm assuming that this question also takes place in a magical world where sushi is free. I can't afford sushi every meal on a writer's income.

What are your 3 favorite comic books (standalone novels or ongoing series) of all time?

JS: My comic book collecting days were a brief but intense phase when I was a teenager. Ralph Snart and Blue Devil were my favorites from that era. I haven't read many comics as an adult, because I can't freaking believe how expensive they are now, but The Goon is fantastic.

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?)

JS: It's remarkably non-fancy. If the weather is decent, I sit out in my back yard, writing on a laptop. I have a portable fan and this thing that keeps mosquitos away. If it's too hot, like it is now, I sit at the dining room table. There is coffee. Every once in a while, some author friends and I will gather at a coffee shop for a long afternoon of writing, just to get us out of the house so we don't lose our social skills.

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

JS: Your face! Hey-OOO!!! Oh, jeez, I'm sorry. That was a rude and inappropriate answer. You were kind enough to let me be interviewed and I behaved in a disrespectful manner. I feel like I should just delete this, but then I'd have to pick another question to answer, and I'm a busy guy. I hate that the interview ended on this note. I'm so very sorry.

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Jeff Strand is the four-time Bram Stoker Award nominated author of over forty books, including Pressure, Dweller, and Wolf Hunt. He lives in Atlanta, Georgia, and you can visit his Gleefully Macabre website at www.JeffStrand.com.