The Unreprinted: “Throat Sprockets” by Tim Lucas

By Ben Arzate

Welcome to the first installment of “The Unreprinted,” wherein I discuss out-of-print books of every genre. For this initial discussion, we’ll be taking a look at the cult erotic horror novel by author and film critic Tim Lucas, Throat Sprockets.

A city without theaters is a guilty city; it is a place where dreams have become too terrible to share, not least of all in darkness, among strangers in the vortex of the same material.”

The unnamed narrator of Throat Sprockets likes to spend his lunch break in adult movie theaters. One day, he catches a very unusual film called Throat Sprockets. It has even less plot than most porn films and no sex, just close ups of women’s throats. Despite that, he finds it more erotic than any other porn film he’s ever seen.

He develops an obsession with both the film and with women’s throats. It affects his life for better and for worse, ending his marriage and frustrating his sex life but, eventually, leading him to a more passionate relationship and improving his creativity as an adman.

Throat Sprockets is a primarily a psychological horror novel about obsession. Everything that the narrator does after he sees the film revolves around the film and women’s throats. Even his taste in music changes exclusively to female opera singers.

His fixation leaks into his work at the ad agency he’s employed at. Rather than diminishing his work, it enhances it, leading him to climb the ladder of his company faster than he anticipated. His obsession has liberated him as much as it has enslaved him.

Vampirism is a recurring theme. Biting his lover’s throat and drinking their blood becomes the equivalent of an orgasm to the narrator. At one point, he watches a version of Throat Sprockets which has been retitled Transylvania Mon Amour. He also contemplates the psychosexual meaning of Dracula after first watching a full version of the film. Watching the film seems to “infect” a lot of the people who watch it. Throughout the book, Throat Sprockets becomes more and more well-known and causes a widespread fixation on the throat as a fetish object.

For the most part, the book doesn’t have any explicit supernatural elements. The effect that Throat Sprockets has on its viewers is hinted at being due a dark power within it, especially when the narrator learns of its origins, but he never truly finds out.

Likewise, while he’s trying to track down a home video version of the film, he learns of another one that, according to a sleazy underground video distributor, kills the person who watches it. The distributor sends him a copy of the killer tape along with Throat Sprockets, but he discards it, deciding not to take the risk.

Initially, Throat Sprockets is an obscure film known only to few people, the narrator and his new girlfriend after his divorce included. However, to the surprise of the narrator, the film gradually becomes more and more well-known, eventually becoming a phenomenon that starts a new movement of throat fetishists. He becomes worried that the widespread popularity will eventually destroy his relationship. The throat fixation is no longer a special secret between them.

Throat Sprockets is an excellently crafted and fascinating work of psychological horror. It’s an insightful look at how film and images in general can influence us and even infect us. This is a book well worth tracking down and I hope it comes back into print.

Halloween Decorations by James Jakins

Traditions are important. No matter how insignificant, how stupid, or how cruel. We hold to them.

My hometown, a small, rural place, has its own traditions. And, as is the way with small, rural places, traditions are held to more strictly than elsewhere.

And, if ever there is a day meant for traditions, it is Halloween.

My family was not native to the area. We’d moved there when I was a child, only six years old. This meant that I would forever be the new kid. Even if I stuck around until I was fifty.

This lack of local blood meant that I was not privy to what I saw as the town’s greatest tradition: The decorating of the Post Office.

Every year all the teenagers, now too old for trick or treating, would flow into the streets and respect a tradition as ancient as any of the old widows handing out candy.

Every year, Halloween day would come, kids would put on costumes and knock on doors for their prize of candy. Home owners would light candles in pumpkins and hang up tissue paper ghosts from trees. Night would set on this image. This perfect slice of Americana.

And, then, the next morning would reveal the work done in darkness. Those same pumpkins and ghosts, along with every plastic skeleton or vinyl witch, would be missing from their yard or porch and lined along the roof of the Post Office. Or hung from the flagpole, or smashed on the sidewalk.

I knew who did it. I always heard them talking. And I wanted in.

This happened every year. As one group grew too old and got married and had children of their own, the next batch would fill the ranks of this silent, Halloween army. How these vandal soldiers were selected was as much a mystery to me as how they performed this yearly operation. I could not comprehend the silent politics used in this selection. Never once had I thought it was as simple as just showing up and helping.

But my chance came when I was fourteen. It was 6 PM when they came to my door.

There were four of them. I knew them all, but only considered one a friend. Caden was the leader of this pack.

They were dressed in the low effort costumes of teenagers that had almost forgotten it was Halloween: plastic vampire teeth too small for the mouth or fake blood running from eyes. Caden carried a rusty hay hook as his costume, the sleeve of his sweater pulled up almost enough to cover his hand.

I was at the door dropping candy in the plastic grocery bags and discolored pillow cases of kids still young enough to go door to door.

“Hey,” Caden said. “After dark. Meet us at the park. We’re doing the Post Office.”

Their looks were conspiratorial, as though everyone in town didn’t know what that meant. I returned their looks with a barely contained grin.

I arrived at the park that night to find that the whole operation was much less covert than expected. Loud groups huddled together, laughing at one joke or another. I had expected an orderly army, but here there was only chaos.
At different intervals, with no prompting, these individual packs of teens would break off from the whole. One would take this street, another that.

I found my friend and his three subordinates.

“Are you seriously wearing a mask?” the one with the cheap vampire teeth asked me.

I quickly tore the fabric hood from my face, grateful for the dark hiding my red cheeks. “It’s Halloween,” I said in defense.

That just made them laugh harder.

“It’s a cool mask,” Caden said and the rest fell silent.

We chose a street and began our work.

I never really felt like one of the group, but they did cheer me with excited whispers any time I crept onto a porch and claimed a trophy for our growing pile.

Occasionally, whenever he decided we had enough pumpkins, Caden would stab one of the jack-o’-lanterns with his hook, usually through the eye, and throw it down into the street where it would burst. In the darkness of the unlit streets it almost looked like a head. Perfect for Halloween.

We would all cheer him on as he did so. “Kill it! Kill it!” we whisper-shouted in the dark. Then we would go and find another gourd to replace the one destroyed.

We stole pumpkins and stuffed ghosts, and one member of our group claimed a lawnmower from an open garage.
Sometime after midnight our prizes were silently paraded through the empty neighborhoods of the town toward Main Street. A pile of precariously stacked trophies balanced on a lawnmower with a procession of all sorts of monsters dragged behind.

The work had already begun when we arrived.

A small group was on the roof, and I wondered how they’d climbed up. From the ground the others were throwing up pumpkins and those on the roof would catch them and arrange them however they pleased. If they missed one they would let it fall back to the ground and everyone pretended like it was on purpose.

“We should get up there,” Caden said.

“Yeah,” someone agreed. “Think we can get the lawnmower up?”

“Hey,” Caden looked to me. “Wanna go?”

“How?” I asked, embarrassed by my inexperience.

“It’s easy.” He took me by the shoulder and led me to the building.

It was easy. A boost up on a trash can and a short jump to the sloping roof.

Once up I went to the front of the building and watched the crowd of my peers below.

I almost thought were watching me. They seemed to be standing in orderly rows, looking up with eyes glowing in the moonless darkness.

They were hungry eyes, I felt. But others my age always seemed hungry for something I never understood.
They started chanting. “Kill it! Kill it!”

I thought maybe Caden was going to throw a pumpkin from the roof.

I never saw the hook. Not after it pierced my neck, or even my eyes.

I never got to appreciate the scene the next morning when the sun rose to reveal the Post Office and its rows of jack-o’-lanterns and ghosts and witches and zombies. Never saw the lawnmower perched atop the roof. Or the corpse. All taken from homes around town.

A lovely Halloween tradition.

James is a South African born writer with an American accent, because children are cruel and laughed at the way he said “orange.” He was the last kid in his class to learn to read, so once that was remedied he quickly made up for lost time and read everything he could get his hands on.

Eventually someone said, “Hey, James, read this fantasy novel.” He did, and still hasn’t managed to crawl out of that rabbit hole, though he has found others to fall into. The first story he ever wrote was horrible but everyone pretended it was great, so now he can’t feel good about himself unless someone is praising his work. He lives in Utah with a dog and a growing collection of porch cats.

Check out more of James’s work online:

666 Scary Things to Make Your Halloween Lit

By Bob Freville

I know you. You’re a sick little prick. You like to watch people get maimed and murdered, but lately that’s not doing it for you. You want more. Like that Billions guy getting his rocks off by taking an Asian girl’s eyeball out in Eli Roth’s Hostel, you need more. More. MORE!!!

Well, I’m your pusherman, brother. Yeah, I got the goods.

If you need awful, ungodly delights that you’d be too ashamed to tell your mother about, you’ve come to the right place, Jack.

It’s motherfuckin’ Samhain, mang! So, let’s do this bitch up right and flip those nines to show the sign. Here are 666 Scary Things to Make Your Halloween Lit! I dare you to binge them without purging.


1. The Human Centipede (Full Sequence)

If you’re anything like the rest of us, you’ve pulled your pud so many times you damn near ripped it off. But have you ever choked it with razor wire…in black and white? Didn’t think so. Try this groty gorefest on for size and see if it don’t fit your scatalogical needs like a Fleshlight.

2. Talk about the Kavanaugh Hearings with your relatives.

Sure, you already know it’s gonna happen over Thanksgiving dinner, but why not get a jump on things? Only do it in style by snorting plenty of coke, and decorating your living room with water coolers and calendars. Teach the family dog how to boof and you’re bound to have a blast!

3. Purge your neighbors.

Nobody’ll notice. If the Hulu anthology series’ first entry, The Body, doesn’t have you convinced, consider this: In 2014, folks in Farmingdale, NY mistook a severed head for a Halloween prank.

4. Smoke Spice and Eat Your Partner’s Face.

Tastes just like chicken…or liver, to be more accurate. 

5. Leave your car idling.

There are few things more scary than global warming. Do your part to make it happen.

6. Light your house on fire.

If we’re being honest, there’s no such thing as equity anyway. You don’t own your house, the taxman does. Let’s show that greedy sonovabitch who’s really in charge. You said you want your Halloween to be lit, didn’t you?

Now that you’ve alienated your family, murdered your neighbors, demolished your domicile and committed cannibalism, it’s time to unwind. Even kids with razor blades in their throats deserve a break.

Let’s chill things out with a bowl of candy, a couple righteous bong blows and a late night of scary movies…in your neighbor’s house cuz they won’t mind…can’t…can’t mind. You murdered them! Hahahahahahahahaha!!!!!!!

So what of the 660 other scary things? For brevity’s sake, I’m just gonna rattle ‘em off for ya. Make of this what you will.

Fruitcake, bacon soda, deviled eggs, reality TV, near beer, Chuck Schumer, Ted Cruz, The Golden Girls DVD Box Set, Crocs, man girdles, Dan Schneider, mud butt, man buns, cinnamon spice hummus, Montauk Monster, Slumber Party Massacre II, Chad Lowe, genocide, fried pickles, apartheid, doomsday, skank weed, price gouging, falsies, Chazz Palmintieri, off-brand cheese puffs, sickle cell anemia, pomegranate, plantain chips, asparagus, Amy Schumer, butt implants, Weinstein, beetroot, mustaches, cock rings, boot camp, James Woods, brain cancer, martyrs, anal prolapse, Katherine Heigl, toe socks, mosquitoes, Greg Paul, Logan Paul, Marmite, giant babies, normal size babies, Bad Bhabie, codpieces, cod salad, cumberbunds, Catholic priests, Protestants with bowl cuts, Jews with comb-overs, atheists with pop overs, wet sleeves, inner-nose pimples, green stool, Menopause, Men O’ Stop, Men O’ NAMBLA, elevator farts, elevator small talk, elevator breakdowns, unexpected ethnic food with in-laws, Idi Amin, Aryan Nation, Zulu Nation, Alien Nation, Quantum Leap, quantum physics, Kanye West, Carrot Top’s face, Matt Lauer’s hands, Chuck Lorre’s reach, The Conners, The Trumps, The Clintons, The Joneses, the Ramones (ghosts!), remakes, reboots, reimaginings, re-entry, realignment, rectal exams, Racism, reverse racism, recidivism, Rand Paul, Ron Burgundy, that episode of Sesame Street with the Wicked Witch of the West that was never aired again (and possibly destroyed), that episode of Blossom where you realized that an underage Six was being sexualized, every single fucking episode of Saved by the Bell, the crazy case of Elisa Lam, the confusing case of Dyatlov Pass, the curious case of Benjamin Button, flu shots, coffee enemas, asshole bleaching, Goop, scooters, singing (you know who you are and we pray for your urethra) crabcakes, G-Easy, Hot Topic employees, syphilis, Holocaust deniers, dad jokes, granny panties, sister wives, condoms, Fleshlights, rectal polyps, Whitney Cummings, timeshares, tuberculosis, boy bands, hanging out with Louis CK if you’re a woman, hanging out with Kevin Spacey if you’re a man, hanging out with Mike Pence if you’re a human being, standing in line at a Marshalls, shopping for anything at Bed Bath & Beyond, dining in at Rallys, dining “out” at Chick Filet, paying for water, fucking in a Mazda 4, masturbating in a work bathroom, measles, mites, menopause, mugwumps, Michael Cera, gerrymandering, geriatrics, jelly rolls, heat stroke, self-driving cars, motel room deposits, Jehovah’s witnesses, robo calls, Dirty Sanchez, neckties, celiac disease, people who claim to have celiac disease, celery, Rand Paul, popcorn lung, junk mail, cho-mos of the cloth, church donation trays, white guys who call themselves Trey, ironic bowties, man buns, Menudo, J-Pop, Jared from Subway, Vladimir Putin, Kavanaugh boofin, Hillary Googling, Harvey Weinstein doing anything at all, KFC tuna melts, Taco Bell shrimp tacos, mud butt, mechanically processed beef, Blump’s Weaselroni, Trump’s weasel cronies, Barack Obama’s waistline (Did I do thaaat?), mandatory minimum sentencing, quinoa, napalm, whimsical haiku, proto-Fascists, uppity gays, sexless heterosexual Incels, armed heterosexual Incels, Incels with arms, neo-Nazis, Pro Life marchers, Maxim subscribers, Cosmo subscribers, pamphlet libertarians, cable providers, customer service reps, teenage cashiers, elderly security guards, middle-aged hippies, prepubescent idealogues, millennial conspiracy theorists, flaccid penises, acrid vaginas, grundles of all stripes/smells, Dr. Pimple Popper (should be popped like a zit on sight), hopelessly resinated bowls, Dr. Drew, Dr. Oz, Dr. Feelgood, Dr. Acula (RIP, Ed Wood), cheese “product”, bath salts, synthetic weed, bogus charities, ugly sweaters, CVS shoppers, racist Rite Aid employees, Starbucks, starfuckers, Heineken, hemorrhoids, windbag novelists, flatulent elevator lurkers, bong experts, drug-sniffing dogs, fart-sniffing elitists, separatists, solipsists, stigmatists, cunning linguists, Persians, airport Hare Krishnas, Warped Tour buddhists, warehouse rave cultists, the Zeitgeist movement, the Alt-Right movement, post-Chipotle bowel movement, pre-cum, premature balding, nipple hair, penis cheese, le Nouvelle Droite, bukkake, hair transplants, snake massages, butt implants, blue waffles, Bum Wars, bulging fontanelles, rectal thermometers, The Human Genome Project! The CIA! The NSA, frogs that turned people gay because of heavy metals in our drinking water! TOADS RAINING FROM THE SKY! THE END AS MANUFACTURED BY THE NEW WORLD ORDER! RHINOPLASTY HEDGEHOG HORNETS NEST BUZZSAWQ RAZORBLADE BUTT PILE 2562 BIGFOOT AIDS @ SALAMANDER SATAN FRIES GYAAAAH!!!!

[Editor’s Note: It’s at this point in Freville’s diatribe that our senior editor began speaking in tongues and frothing at the mouth. He was spirited away to the nearest hospital for psychiatric evaluation. We may never know what the final 410 terrifying things may have been, but we can glean some idea of what they may have been by looking at the following photograph.]

Dice and Betrayals: A Halloween Board Game Review

By J.L. Mayne

The dice roll.

I hold my breath as time slows. I can feel the tiny cubes dance, their steps reverberating through the table, up my arms and into my skull. The dots of black against white sing to me, their song sweet and horrible. I want it to begin, but fear claws behind my eyes.

I can hear my heart knocking against my chest as though trying to break free. My lungs burn, thirsty for oxygen. In the back of my mind I vaguely comprehend that I hold my breath.  

The Last die spins on one corner, a pirouette. It slows, teeters on an edge before finally falling to rest with its sisters.
I count the dots, and realize that my dreams and nightmares stare at me from their depths. A faint tickling in my ear tells me that I have been chosen.

Finally, after so long waiting, after so many failed attempts, I will have my chance.
He presents me with the tome and calls me a traitor. The others are not so kind. I leave the room, a murderous smile scalpeled into my face as I begin reading the sacred text.

They will all die.

This story is based on my favorite horror board game: Betrayal at House on the Hill. In it, a group of explorers venture into an old house, searching the rooms for clues and trinkets by flipping over tiles and laying out the game board based on what they draw and where they want to go.

Through their investigation, they discover that the house is haunted, that it holds incomprehensible horrors waiting to flail and eat them. The horrors can be anything from the house being carried off by a giant bird, to werewolves, to vines tearing through the floors and walls in search of human flesh to consume.  

One of my favorite aspects of this game is that you never know what the haunt is going to be. You start out working together, searching and enjoying the creepy death mansion. Maybe someone is bitten by something or gets stuck in a room full of junk. You laugh about how silly it all is, but know that soon the nightmare will begin for your little plastic figures. That one of them will more than likely betray the others, and many of the characters will probably die.

When the nightmare begins is determined by dice roll. The ‘Haunt’ is initiated and a traitor is chosen. The traitor leaves the room and reads what their goal is, while the rest of the group reads a bit about how they are supposed to stop their friend’s hideous plans. Or it is discovered that he was actually murdered before everyone else and now that player gets to control a horde of hideous monsters hell-bent on destroying the world, starting with this house. Really, the house is just a good old-fashioned portal to Hell.

Often times, the rules are a bit unbalanced, one of the main complaints from critics of the game. This, to me, is perfect. If you were actually stuck in a haunted house with a psychopathic killer, you may not have any chance at defeating them. Likewise, they may be a complete imbecile and fall into a hole and die. Or maybe they simply wander around aimlessly as you suffocate in their alien atmosphere. When I play a game like this, I enjoy a bit of realism.

I love Betrayal at House on the Hill. My siblings and I have stayed up multiple nights playing until we can’t see straight. It’s exciting to discover the house and be a part of that tiny plastic person you’re moving around. I can recall one game in which a character died when he tried to leave the attic of the house. There weren’t any enemies around, so we pretended that he stubbed his toe and it was just too much for his frail little body. On another occasion, my sister’s character got stuck in the bathroom for a few turns while a werewolf ran around the house killing the rest of us for his werewolf pleasure.

I highly recommend this game if you aren’t squeamish about human sacrifices, murders, or people getting eaten alive. Check it out.

I Am The Nameless Dark: An Interview with T. E. Grau

I had the honor of reading and reviewing T. E. Grau’s excellent novel, I Am The River, for this site a month or two ago, and it still stands out to me as one of the best works of literary horror I’ve stumbled across in 2018. Check out the review here, pick up the book, and proceed to the interview!

-Justin A. Burnett

“I like to explore darkness, be it in the universe, on this planet, inside a human being, or in some other or any other form. I […] find a certain sad and terrible beauty in shadowed things. The dark feels comfortable.” -T. E. Grau

Burnett: I absolutely loved both The Nameless Dark and I Am The River. There seems to be a change of winds between your collection and your novel, however. Are you deliberately heading into more literary territory, or is the more literary style of I Am The River something that arose to fit the specific needs of that story?

Grau: A little bit of both, I think, but more so the latter than the former.

The Nameless Dark represents my first real foray into horror fiction writing, and horror fiction reading, and reflects the large amount of Lovecraft I was consuming for a script project I was working on at the time of my shift from writing scripts to writing prose. Hence, many of those first stories that I wrote and had published were either set in a Lovecraftian universe, or straight-up Lovecraftian pastiche, with a few other genre tropes represented, as well. As I got my sea legs, explored what I wanted to explore in the more established genres and tropes, I started to stretch a little, which resulted in stories that might be broadly described as “literary” and less easily defined and categorized. Less straight-forward “genre.” That’s probably the case with many writers who start – either by design or by chance – within the confines of well-worn and codified modes, and then work their way outward. In my case, the new geography resulted in stories like “Tubby’s Big Swim,” “Clean,” and “To the Hills,” and in my novel I Am The River, which was written in the style that the story and subject matter demanded, without me having much say in the conversation. I had no idea how I Am The River would move or sound when I sat down to write it. The style and texture of the book was born with it and grew with the story.

Moving forward, and if forced to use labels that I don’t always believe in, my work will probably be seen as more “literary” and less “genre,” although I make no distinction between the two, as anything “literary” that I write will mostly likely have an element of “genre” in some way. Genres have become genres for a reason. They’re consistently interesting, incredibly fun, and capable of delving into any aspect of the human condition, existential crisis, and universal mystery a reader (or writer) could possibly want. Besides, some of the best pieces of literature I’ve ever read were also certainly “genre fiction.” The distinctions are mostly meaningless outside of marketing, critical, and academic circles. I can’t imagine readers and writers worrying much about such terms.

Do you mind providing a quick and tantalizing run-down of I Am The River for readers who haven’t picked up the book yet?

Instead of coming up with something new that won’t be much different than what is already out there, I will defer to the promo text provided by the publisher, because a) I wrote it anyway, and b) it sums up the book pretty well:

During the last desperate days of the Vietnam War, American soldier Israel Broussard is assigned to a secret CIA PSYOP far behind enemy lines meant to drive terror into the heart of the North Vietnamese and end an unwinnable war. When the mission goes sideways, Broussard is plunged into a nightmare that he soon finds he is unable to escape, dragging a remnant of that night in the Laotian wilderness with him no matter how far he runs. Five years later, too damaged to return home and holed up in the slums of Bangkok, where he battles sleep, guilt, and a creeping sense of madness, Broussard discovers that he must journey back to the jungles of Laos in an attempt to set things right and reclaim what is left of his life.

A fever dream with a Benzedrine chaser, I Am The River provides a daring, often surreal examination of the Vietnam War and the days after it, burrowing down past the bullets and battlefields to discover the lingering horror of warfare, the human consequences of organized violence, and the lasting effects of trauma on the psyche, and the soul.

What inspired I Am The River? How did this excellent book come into being?

A few years back, a filmmaker who had read my collection approached me with the idea of exploring PTSD and sleep paralysis in relation to the CIA PSYOP program Operation Wandering Soul, which was a real thing utilized by the U.S. military during the Vietnam War (Google this – it’s pretty nuts). He wanted me to write a story that dealt with these elements, so that he could adapt the published work into a screenplay and then package it as a feature film that he’d shoot. Being the son of a Vietnam vet who has always been fascinated by that time and place and circumstance, I took on the project, and came up with the plot, characters, and mythology, based on those backdrop elements he provided. The result was I Am The River, which I sold to Lethe Press as a novella project. While writing the book, it grew into a novel, becoming my first. An unorthodox, circuitous journey for a book, but I’m very pleased with the result.

I Am The River seems to have a underlying connection to music. “Black Shuck” is a song by The Darkness, and many of the chapter titles are albums from various bands ( Ch. 27, A Love of Shared Disasters by Crippled Black Phoenix, Ch. 38, South of Heaven by Slayer, Ch. 40, The Fire in our Throats Will Beckon the Thaw by Pelican, etc.). How do these references nuance the narrative? Do these nods to the music world indicate a love for music that influenced the creation of I Am The River in any way?

I never knew that “Black Shuck” was a song, to be honest. I need to check that out. I stumbled across the legend of the old hound in my spiraling and rabbit hole research on sleep paralysis and folklore related to ghostly beasts that stole breath from humans as they slept, and thought it was perfect for the story, so I adapted Black Shuck and repurposed it for the River.

The chapter titles are most definitely nods to the songs and bands and style of music I was listening to while writing the book, or just enjoy in general, and echo something in the chapter they name. Also, Chapter Forty-One (“Everything You Need”) is a shout out to Michael Marshall Smith, a friend and literary role model; while the very last chapter, Chapter Forty-Two (“The 21st Chapter”), is a nod to A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess, who wasn’t allowed to include his final chapter – Chapter 21 – in the American edition of his novel, which was the edition adapted by Kubrick into the film. That infuriated him, and pissed me off, many years later, so I wrote my final chapter as a eulogy to his final stanza, so grossly excised from his work without his permission, that totally changes the ending of that book. I was happy that I could divide 21 into 42, slicing it into two perfect parts, and give a chapter name to a chapter name. There’s symmetry there.

I Am The River reminds me of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness in more than one way. Not only is there the jungle housing a rogue official, but the tone and sense of impending psychological breakdown of your novel further parallels Conrad’s masterpiece. Did Heart of Darkness play any role in your creation of I Am The River? Did any other readings inspire you here?

Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is one of my wife’s favorite novels, and it’s the inspiration for arguably my favorite film of all time (Apocalypse Now and There Will Be Blood are forever dueling for top status in my brain), so I’m certain it influenced the story, although not in any intentional way. Both the novel and the especially the film are just so ingrained in my DNA that I’m unable to shake either when thinking about war and colonization (the twin snakes wrapped around the caduceus staff – which, as it turns out, is the ancient symbol of commerce, the root of most war), and especially the war in Vietnam and Southeast Asia.

I did a lot of research for the book, which included deep dives into the Operation Wandering Soul history and methodology, the various covert programs run by the CIA and military intelligence in Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos, and reading the novel Matterhorn, by Karl Marlantes, which I credit for some of the slang and shorthand used between the soldiers. I also spoke with renowned horror author, Marine, and Vietnam vet Gene O’Neill at Stokercon on the Queen Mary a few years back, while the book was still in the outline stage, and that conversation was very helpful in terms of staging and coloring various scenes, especially the military base on Okinawa. I’m very grateful to Gene for sharing his experience, and I included him in the book’s dedication.

What artistic or communicative goals do you have as a writer? How close do you feel I Am The River came to meeting these goals?

Documenting wonder and beauty and horror, and the incalculable potential of the infinite. Expressing my pessimism about humanity, and distrust of large corporate structures. Celebrating the numinous, and examining the hidden. I like to explore darkness, be it in the universe, on this planet, inside a human being, or in some other or any other form. I have a hopeless fascination with the abomination (Conrad nod!), and find a certain sad and terrible beauty in shadowed things. The dark feels comfortable. I also cannot escape my sense of wonder at the mysteries and complexities and unknowns of things both near and far, combined with a deeply held trust in mankind’s ability to pervert, degrade, and destroy innocence, the natural world, and things to which it has no right. These twin concepts – wonder and pessimism – always seem to inform my writing. Also, a certain amount of outrage at the shittiness of humanity as a mean and hateful species inexorably weaves its way into the story, as it does in many of my stories. After recent world events, I can only see that getting more pronounced moving forward.
Based on the setting, concepts, circumstances, characters, and results in I Am The River, I feel that the novel comes pretty close to achieving my goals of addressing all of those things. Probably closer than anything that I’ve ever written.

Let’s focus on your collection for a moment. The Nameless Dark deals with Lovecraftian lore in more than one instance. If you don’t mind, describe your readerly relationship to Lovecraft. When did you come across his work? How did it influence your trajectory as a writer?

I touched on this briefly above, but in terms of when I discovered his work, I was handed a collection of Lovecraft’s stories my freshman year of college, and then I read the whole thing several times on a family vacation driving across the country. I don’t remember much of the scenery zipping by outside the window on that trip, as I was totally and utterly engrossed with what I was reading. I had never encountered anything like it before.

Years later, Lovecraftian fiction would serve as my entry point to the publishing industry as a prose writer. I never could have foreseen that happening, nor that cosmicism and atheistic pessimism would influence so much of what I have written, and will write. A bleak, uncaring, and vaguely populated universe grounded in both science and the inexplicable is the bedrock religion of all of my stories and books, even when nothing cosmic or supernatural is present. It’s the filter through which everything passes.

The Nameless Dark  attracted some attention. Were you surprised by its success?

Yes, I was. I figured the stories were decent, but there are a lot of great writers doing what I do, and doing it better, so I was just hoping it would move a few copies and entertain some readers, while allowing me to write stuff I really enjoyed thinking about. That The Nameless Dark is now housed in dozens of libraries from here to New Zealand, garnered a nomination for a Shirley Jackson Award, has been fully translated into a Spanish edition and contains stories that have been translated into German, Japanese, and Italian, and has been enjoyed by a surprising number of people all over the world is truly beyond any expectation I had for the book, and for my work as a writer. It’s been a wonderful surprise, and fills me with gratitude to everyone who played a part.

Do you feel a strong stylistic affinity to any other writers out there today? Who would you categorize yourself alongside in terms of style, tone, or thematic focus?

I’ve become increasingly hesitant to discuss current authors or draw some/any sort of comparison to peers, as mentioning some might antagonize by the association, while unintentionally leaving others off might hurt feelings. It’s a tricky business, so I tend to avoid it.

I’ll let others far more qualified and objective draw parallels and make correlations.

Are there any contemporary writers out there you feel deserve more recognition than they’ve received?

There are dozens and dozens of writers working in small press dark fiction that deserve more recognition, both within the scene and in the wider world. Follow the good writers, and see who they read. That’s always a good starting point.

If I had to chose one, I’d say that Christopher Slatsky deserves a mountain of recognition, as he’s a superb, unique writer, and creating work that is incredibly intelligent, haunting, and truly, truly Weird. His work will stand up a century from now.

And finally, what’s next in the world of T.E. Grau? Can readers expect new material in the future? Are there any announcements you’d like to leave your fans with?

I’m working on a few things, including my next novel, Salt Creek. For those familiar, the title (rather unimaginatively) refers to my Salt Creek universe, reconnoitered most directly in my novelette The Mission. The novel Salt Creek is set during contemporary times, and combines elements of crime, horror, and oddball speculative fiction. I’m being intentionally (and annoyingly) vague, but when asked, I fall back on a hacky Hollywood pitch of “It’s Twin Peaks meets the X-Files meets Willa Cather.” See, not the greatest logline since sliced bread, but it’ll do for now. Don’t want to spill too many beans until they’re all counted and a few of them are planted, waiting for that beanstalk.

More generally, I recently signed with Paradigm Talent Agency, represented by the superlative Kim Yau, and look forward to exploring various opportunities with Paradigm in my corner. Stay tuned.

-Justin A. Burnett