Hijacked Consciousness: an Interview With B. R. Yeager

B. R. Yeager’s novel Negative Space (Apocalypse Party, 2020) caught me utterly unprepared this year and easily maintained a spot in my top ten “Best of 2020” list. Ever since putting it the book down, I’ve been aching to pick the mind behind the novel. I genuinely can’t thing of a better way to inaugurate yet another season of SMM author interviews than by alerting you to this book. Weird fiction and horror fans, particularly those of you with your ears to the ground, waiting to catch a glimpse of possibility on the bleeding edge of genre fiction: you can’t afford to miss this one. Stop by Apocalypse Party’s website (pick up a title there. They’ve got some good ones), visit Yeager online, and for god’s sake get a copy of Negative Space

“Lately I’ve been seeing this sentiment tossed around a lot: ‘True horror fans don’t read horror to be scared. They just like the tropes. They think it’s funny that regular people could be scared by a book.’ I think that attitude kind of sucks, and is even kind of sad. Like, maybe I’m just a normie, but I’ve absolutely read some books that have scared the hell out of me! And it’s been exhilarating! That’s a big reason for why I read and why I write. To me, horror is an emotional response. I want a horror novel to fuck me up.”

Justin A. Burnett: Negative Space is a dizzying novel, and it’s difficult to spot a clear lineage of influence from the outside. It seems to have a bit of everything: near Less Than Zero-levels of teenage decadence, the hallucinatory vibe of contemporary horror films like Mandy (sans the cheese), vivid occult horror in the vein of, say, Richard Gavin, and multiple narrative voices that, somehow, actually work. In short, I’d be interested to know your central inspirations for this novel.

B. R. Yeager: I forget who it was, but there was a musician who suggested that those starting out use all of their influences–not just one or two, but all of them. Throw them all together, and what will come out will most likely feel fresh and unique, because no two people will have the exact same influences. A great example could be a band like EyeHateGod–Mike IX said “I want to be in a band that sounds like Black Flag and Black Sabbath at the exact same time.” This is obviously an oversimplification of their sound, but by combining all these unique and sometimes contrasting elements, they were able to create something unique to their character, and is still unique to their character. There still isn’t a band that quite sounds like EyeHateGod.

My Negative Space melting pot largely consisted of: Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, John Keel’s The Mothman Prophecies, The Gate (1988), Pig Destroyer, Khanate, Grace Krilanovich’s The Orange Eats Creeps, Blake Butler’s 300,000,000, early Bret Easton Ellis (plus Lunar Park), Dennis Cooper’s My Loose Thread, Stephen King’s IT, Kathe Koja’s The Cipher, Jennifer’s Body, Wicca Phase Springs Eternal, David Wong’s John Dies at the End, Silent Hill 2, Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher,” Antichrist, Clive Barker, The Kybalion, Sunn o))) & Boris’s Altar, Boogiepop Phantom, The Maxx—the list goes on and on.

But above all, I was inspired by my experiences, and my friends experiences, as teens. Lots of our memories and experiences made it into this book. And New England in general was an enormous influence–Kinsfield is largely a composite of towns I’ve spent time in and around.

Burnett: I love that you packed music and video games in there. We’ll circle back around to Negative Space, but while we’re talking music, you mentioned at some point on social media that Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s album, Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennae to Heaven, changed your life. Do you mind sharing that story? I love hearing details about pivotal moments like that.

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Yeager: I don’t mind at all. I was either 16 or 17, so this was  early to mid 2001. Up until then I’d been a fairly strict metalhead, and pretty naïve about any music outside of metal (and to be honest, pretty naïve about metal too). But I started hitting a wall with aggressive music in general, getting bored with it. At the Drive-In’s Relationship of Command was a huge turning point, because it was still aggressive and there was the Ross Robinson connection, but it wasn’t a style of music I was familiar with at all, so it acted as a bridge between the nu-metal that had dominated my life and the music I’d become enamored with going forward. It helped me realize there was a whole world of music I didn’t know anything about. So I started seeking this stuff out–lots of indie rock like Sonic Youth, Yo La Tengo and Modest Mouse. Lots of emo and screamo, because it was still aggressive but not in a boneheaded way. I was just soaking up as many different styles and sounds as I could. I was buying zines so I could learn as much as much as I could about underground music.

That’s how I found out about Godspeed. I can’t remember the zine’s name, but they had a review of Lift Yr. Skinny Fists. The way they described it–20 minute songs, 9+ members, field recordings, “the soundtrack to the apocalypse”–I’d never heard of anything like that before. I went out and bought it that week. It absolutely blew apart any of my pre-conceived notions about what music could be. Which–not to take any credit away from them–was mostly a product of my naivete at the time. But the atmosphere and emotion, the textures, the scope of their music–I’d never heard anything like it. And the whole Coney Island monologue–I was used to bands putting cheesy snippets from horror movies or Boondock Saints at the beginning of their songs. It was like “What the hell is this recording and where did it come from?” No one knew. It was all so mysterious and evocative–it captured my imagination in a really fresh way.

I got my friends really into them too, and we linked up with these other guys after we found out they were into them (they’re still some of my best friends to this date), and we started this godawful post-rock band. We just didn’t have the dynamics or the ability to pull it off. We were still teens. It was very much “You like this riff? Good, because you’ll be hearing it over and over for the next 10 minutes!” We shot for hypnotic but ended up with monotonous.

How about yourself? What’s your Godspeed story? Ha ha.

Burnett: mine’s actually pretty similar–there was a review of …And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead’s album Source Tags & Codes in Guitar World at some point, wherein they were compared to Pantera. Totally inaccurate, but I was a nu metal goth kid myself and when I came across the album in a massive CD store that sadly no longer exists, I snagged it. The album’s a dynamic indie/shoegaze thing, and it led me to checking out At the Drive In, Sonic Youth, Pavement, Modest Mouse and all that. Soon, I saw GY!BE mentioned in Amazon “best of” lists along with those other albums, and I snagged it.

Long story short, I got the album and cranked it up in the car with friends, having no clue what I was in for, but expecting traditional song structures. Everyone was like “wtf?” We were all extremely high and one guy started freaking out. I was bummed and a little embarrassed at the time, but I got around to listening to it alone several months later and it blew me away. It also earned me a reputation as liking weird music, which eventually led to me seeking out Primus albums to troll my friends with, and THAT led to a whole new dimension of revelation, ha ha.

Alright, next question: Was there a book that did something similar to you? At what point did you decide to write what I’ll just loosely call “horror” here? Which book made you think “that’s it… that’s the direction I’d like to go?”

Yeager: Woah! Source Tags & Codes was also a huge record for me (still a great record–that first half is totally unfuckwithable).

I don’t think it was a particular book. I know it’s cliché, but horror is just a part of who I am. I’ve loved the genre since I was a little kid–reading lots of R.L. Stine and Christopher Pike, the Scary Stories books, Scholastic children’s horror anthologies, etc. Edgar Allan Poe was a revelation for me (this was still grade school), and it was my first encounter with the classic macabre and gothic tropes–unreliable narrators and cursed families and the past coming back to haunt. I remember being thrilled by “The Tell-Tale Heart,” the paranoid, anxious style of the narration. I had no idea you could do tell a story that way. So that had a really profound impact.

I have a very broad definition of horror, and at the end of the day I consider myself a horror writer, even if a lot of my work is on the border of what many people would consider horror.  Regardless of my subject matter, I skew toward a desire to horrify.

Burnett: Cliché or not, I absolutely understand that response. “Tell-Tale Heart” was exactly the one that cracked it all open for me as well, and it’s been lurking somewhere in my brain ever since.

The horror aspect definitely comes across strong in Negative Space. One remarkable thing about that book is how many motifs you play with–there’s the coming of age aspect, with all the ennui that entails and substances galore, there’s the voyeuristic presence of the Internet, there’s the occult–all of it, however, has a depth that feels… well, true, like your ideas and themes are very lived-in before they get on paper. Nothing is a prop, and one thing in particular that appears to have carried over from your earlier work is the concern with online culture and its apparent tendencies to bring out the worst in humanity, but even this is tempered with a sort of curiosity that keeps the whole thing from feeling too condemning. If you could condense how you feel about “the horrors” of online culture on one hand and its redemptive qualities on the other (if there are any), what major points would you want to make?

Yeager: It’s difficult to pin down. I’m not entirely convinced that online culture brings out the worst in humanity–it just makes it visible, and enables communities to form, sometimes around virulent behavior.

I think that’s what I found so compelling when I was writing Amygdalatropolis–less the anti-social behavior itself, but that there were communities centered around anti-social behavior. Even when people only wanted to destroy others, there was still this desire for connection, for validation by another human. I think that’s a fascinating tension, and tragic in a lot of ways. So there’s the surface horror of the violence these people are describing (or actually committing in some cases), but the deeper horror is occurring at a personal, internal level.

Thinking in terms of monsters and transformation–how does that transformation occur? Many of the people in these spaces describe histories of being abused, and that’s their explanation for monstrous behavior. Others are just there because they find it entertaining–they have an active desire to become monstrous, to destroy in themselves the ability to empathize with others. I don’t really have an answer for why this is, but I felt it was worth documenting.

But that book has a very narrow view of online cultures, which I wanted to rectify in Negative Space. I wanted to depict an online community that wasn’t centered around malice, and was instead centered around dealing with an ongoing tragedy. It’s a form of coping. That may strange when we’re talking about a forum where people try to predict who’s going to commit suicide next, where people post photos of dead bodies, but ultimately I think it’s a method of trying to make sense of this pattern of nebulous violence, that no one understands. It’s gallows humor.

I see it a lot of it on social media, this gallows humor, and COVID has only accelerated it (hell, I often engage in it). It’s cynical, but it isn’t cruel or insensitive–I actually think the opposite is true. The present and the future look like a nightmare in so many ways that are out of our control on an individual level, and people are just trying to figure out ways to deal with that. It’s a form of commiseration, and I think that’s ultimately a positive one. Even when the ship is sinking it’s nice to have someone by your side.

Burnett: That actually nicely fleshes out the ambiguity I was trying to indicate–I think the aspect of “concern” surrounding the message board in Negative Space distinguishes itself a lot from other writings on violence and the Internet. To say it again, it gives the theme depth.

Let’s talk about Tyler, the protagonist of Negative Space–the Void himself. He’s one of those charismatic individuals who tend to draw others into their destruction. Did the impetus to write about someone like this come from lived experience or from an interest in cult-like leaders? Where does Tyler come from?

Yeager: He comes from lived experience. None of my characters are surrogates for real people, but real events and relationships inspired his creation. As you suggest, I imagine everyone has known someone like Tyler: incredibly charismatic, but destructively narcissistic, who doesn’t even realize he’s being predatory, or harming others–someone who just goes so far into their own world, there’s really no coming back from it.

Burnett: I know you’ve cited more than a few inspirations, but if you were asked to prepare a lecture on a single writer, who would it be? What are the points you’d want to cover in this lecture? What makes this writer worthy of a lecture?

Yeager: That’s a good question. It would probably be on one of two rappers, either Ghostface Killah or billy woods [sic]. Fiction writers could learn a lot from rap in general. The rhythm of sentence structure is an obvious one. And there’s a rigidity to the form, so there’s a lesson in economy there: you only have so much space to get your point across. Ghostface and woods each accomplish so much with such limited space. It’s easy for writers (myself included) to get caught up in over-explaining an image, or an environment, or a character, but these two show how you can evoke an entire world with just a line or two.

It’s the minute details that make a piece of fiction feel real, and Ghostface’s records are a masterclass in minute details. His characterization is next level: “Nice like Van Halen, seen him at the tunnel with his skin peelin’ / Did two days, thought he was jailin’ / You get close, look at his hands / That’s the same kid that cut his wrists, talkin’ bout ‘The cuffs did it.’” It’s so vivid. And there’s a unique, natural surrealism at play in his work. I could go on and on. I think he’s one of the most important living writers/poets.

billy woods has only been on my radar for little over a year, but he’s probably my favorite rapper right now. Again, it’s all about the details, and the massive pictures he paints with so few words. “No Christmas this Christmas, kitchen frigid / Space heater in the room, Chinese delivered / Watched the Knicks, every shot missed / Like airplane bottles out mini-fridges / I washed dishes, I’m an isthmus / My arm’s length is quite the distance / Once distant future now day to day existence / My ex-wife is my mistress / Your woman on a pedestal but this Ruby Ridge shit.” Again, so vivid. You can see this guy’s Christmas evening playing out while you’re listening to it. Just an unbelievable writer. One of favorite new podcasts, Call Out Culture, did episodes on each of them, really delving into their lyrical qualities, the methodology that I highly recommend, especially to writers. [episodes: billy woods, Ghostface Killah]

Burnett: Once again, what an excellent response! woods is phenomenal, but I haven’t gotten around to Ghostface. I’ll have to check him out.

This also slides things nicely into my next question: you mentioned Silent Hill and several movies earlier. I take a lot of inspiration from horror games myself. I watch playthroughs or play short indie horror titles as a break between projects–in a lot of ways, I think horror games tend to probe the bleeding edge of horror concepts. However, video games and movies are undeniably different entities from writing. I can generally tell when a horror writer is thinking in cinematic terms, and it just doesn’t go well. My question is: what exactly can horror writers learn from movies and video games? What specific aspects of these media do you walk away with feeling impacted by, and in what ways do they manifest in your writing?

Yeager: That’s awesome. I was very lucky–woods was the second to last live show I saw before the pandemic, in a very small venue and maybe 15 other people, and it was incredible.

It’s generally useful to pull ideas and techniques from mediums outside your own, because those mediums can offer a unique take or approach to well-trod subject matter. You can then take that approach and further modify it to fit back inside your working medium. Ideally, the outcome will be something original, or at least possess the appearance of originality.

Film–more so documentaries–can be useful for writing dialogue, or figuring out how to include exposition into dialogue, though this can be a bit dangerous, as it’s easy to make characters who sound like Hollywood caricatures. Again, documentaries (particularly older ones, before we all got used to talking on camera) can help you avoid this. But if you’re looking to fictional source material to study for dialogue, plays are probably more useful.

I’m frequently influenced by films and video games, but more on a conceptual level than a formal one. I agree that writing that attempts to replicate the formal traits of film often falls flat. The great thing about cinema is that it’s a condensed medium, and sometimes a film will brush over a very fascinating topic, and I’ll end up spending the rest of the run-time expanding upon it in my head.

It’s similar with video games, but for the opposite reason, since video games are frequently sprawling. My favorites tend to be the one that immerse you in a vibe–FromSoft games (Dark Souls/Bloodborne/etc.) is an example I often use. Their approach to environmental storytelling has been a huge influence–they really excel at the whole “show, don’t tell” principal, allowing their stories to be ambiguous and interpretative, and much of Negative Space was an attempt to apply that technique to literature. Silent Hill 2 also does a phenomenal job of environmental storytelling and ambiguity–there’s huge portions of that narrative that aren’t directly explained, just left to the player to piece it together if they want to. That’s how I try to approach my storytelling.

Game writing is also improving. I played Disco Elysium earlier this year and was floored. I keep saying it’s one of the best books I’ve read this year. I love fractured narratives, and this game has such a compelling approach to that. Not sure if you’ve spent any time with it, but throughout the game, different aspects of the protagonist’s body and personality are in conversation (and sometimes conflict) with each other, to a stunning effect. That’s something I’d like to play around with in the future.

I’ve always been fascinated by video games, on a formal level, aesthetic level, narrative level, etc. I had wanted to design them for a long time, but I just don’t have the patience for coding. One thing that games do better than any other medium is convey movement through space, and if that space is compelling enough, it can be exhilarating. It’s one of the few things I wish literature could do that it isn’t really equipped to accomplish.

One last little thing—there’s this indie game Discover My Body by a dev called Yames that is one of the eeriest things I’ve encountered. Terrific writing, and the sheer vibe of this thing. I’d love to one day write something that feels like this:

Burnett: I haven’t tried Disco Elysium yet, but I went over to itch.io for Discover My Body [available to play for free] and man, it was a good one. I have a serious soft spot for simple, lo fi games that manage to be creepy or thought provoking (this was definitely both).

Yeager: Oh totally, those are some of my favorites, and resonates with what you were saying about horror games often being at the bleeding edge of horror.

Burnett: I feel like it’s the same sort of thing with movies–you mentioned Tetsuo 1: Iron Man on social media as being a movie that made you sad because it represented a possible “alternative history” to cinema–one that is pure will and creativity without the fetters of the shit that destroys freedom (i.e., focusing on a mass product engineered to appeal to the lowest common denominators). These little games are the same thing to me. So is indie writing.

In that spirit, have you read any indie horror authors that you feel don’t get enough attention who you’d like to shout out here? Also, feel free to add anything to the topic leading into that, or to correct any mischaracterizations about your feelings regarding Tetsuo.

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Yeager: You characterize of my thoughts surrounding Tetsuo perfectly! I dream of a film landscape where every piece of CGI is replaced with janky stop-motion. I just think it would be beautiful. Have you seen Dawn of an Evil Millennium? It’s like if someone tried to remake Blade Runner with a $20 budget. Absolutely incredible. That and Tetsuo just feel so fucking alive.

Apologies for the tangent, but this brushes up against something I find really interesting. We’re at a strange point of such overwhelming media saturation that has severely impacted the creation of art. What I’ve always appreciated about indie and underground art is its divergence from (or explicit opposition to) the aims of mainstream mass-appeal. Lately, that seems to have turned around, in that we’re getting a lot of art that is independent only in terms of success or distribution (or lack thereof), rather than on an aesthetic or philosophical level. In other words, there’s a glut of indie art identical to what’s already in the mainstream, or that aesthetically and philosophically aspires toward the mainstream.

Parallel to that, there seems to be a flush of art that is primarily inspired by other mass media, rather than lived experience, or even unmediated thought in general. This can become stifling, to any form and any genre, so I think it’s important to be conscious of it. I’m obviously not exempt from this–looking back at your first question, I named off like a million pieces of media I count as influences. But I’m not convinced anyone can create anything remotely original unless they put a significant chunk of their self, their being, into what they’re creating, in one form or another. You can’t just be taking and replicating bits of media you’ve consumed, no matter how varied and diverse the source material is.

This is a problem for any genre (including “literary,” whatever that even means), but since we’re talking about horror we can use horror as a lens. Lately I’ve been seeing this sentiment tossed around a lot: “True horror fans don’t read horror to be scared. They just like the tropes. They think it’s funny that regular people could be scared by a book.” I think that attitude kind of sucks, and is even kind of sad. Like, maybe I’m just a normie, but I’ve absolutely read some books that have scared the hell out of me! And it’s been exhilarating! That’s a big reason for why I read and why I write. To me, horror is an emotional response. I want a horror novel to fuck me up. I want to be ruined by it. Not necessarily in a shock-value, splatterpunk way, because I usually find that stuff really cold and boring (a story needs warmth and feeling to be truly devastating), but work that pushes the boundaries of what I’m even capable of conceiving.

When somebody reads your book or story, you’re hijacking their consciousness. It’s your consciousness invading theirs. It’s a form of mind control, and it’s so important not to forget how powerful that is. A focus on tropes rather than emotional response runs in opposition to that. I loathe the idea of horror being defined by familiar tropes and familiar monsters doing familiar things in a tidy prescribed way. I think that’s fallout from an out-of-control consumptive culture, and as I was saying above, it seems to have become just as prevalent in indie spheres as it is in the mainstream. There’s an excess of reverence for what’s come before, recycling the hits, hewing to imagined boundaries and abiding by the rules. Nothing against those who enjoy reading or writing “cozy horror” and stories that are defined by tropes and familiar signifiers, but if the genre becomes defined by that it will stagnate.

Which I think finally gets around to your question, ha ha! Some indie horror I’ve read in the past year that I do think pushes the genre in new and powerful directions:

Sam Richard’s To Wallow in Ash & Other Sorrows absolutely wrecked me. There are passages in there that I think about on a weekly basis

I haven’t gotten to the entire thing yet, but what I’ve read of Charlene Elsby’s Hexis is absolutely phenomenal and damaging.

I recently read a short story by Kealan Patrick Burke in the Lullabies for Suffering anthology that was very cool–I need to check out his novels.

Jane Unrue’s Love Hotel is supremely wild and disorientating.

Gary J. Shipley is a favorite, and not just because he’s published me.

Maggie Siebert writes beautifully vicious short stories.

And of course there’s Matthew Bartlett, who operates in a style I don’t typically gravitate toward, but he pulls it off so well that it doesn’t matter. I admire his dedication to original mythmaking, and his approach to imagery is just so unique and evocative.

I need to finally get around to C.V. Hunt and Andersen Prunty, and dive into Grindhouse Press in earnest–they seem like they’re doing some really exciting things.

Oh, and David Leo Rice! His work is incredibly eerie and unique. Another person who squeezes whole worlds into his text.

Burnett: Your response to the “readers don’t read horror to be scared” thing reminds me a lot of David Foster Wallace. Have you read him?

Yeager: I’ve only read his essays, and that was a while back so I don’t remember too much. I know he was also concerned with hyper-mediation, and understood firsthand the addictive nature of commercial culture. It’s funny because he was primarily talking about network television, which feels quaint in comparison to the present landscape.

I’m not a very disciplined person, and am very much addicted to media and stimulus. I refuse to get a smart phone for this reason, because otherwise I’d be plugged in all the time. Working from home, spending the majority of my waking day on the computer, I’m already about as plugged in as you can be. I’m constantly craving stimulation though I realize it’s a destructive urge. COVID has naturally exacerbated that.

I think the greatest danger of hyper-mediation is the limit it puts on our imaginations, in what we can conceive of and dream. Paired with the hyper-commercialization of the arts (primarily the outcome of the people having too little, stuck in work that pays too little, is inconsequential, and is often literally destroying their bodies), they’re the ideal conditions for creative stagnation. I’m seeing this in many (not all) indie writers’ circles, where there’s an extreme emphasis on following prescribed rules for success, around writing what sells, reiterating upon past commercial successes etc. Ironically, I’m not entirely convinced these rules/strategies are that effective. Strict adherence can actually cause an author’s work to just submerge and drown beneath the ocean of content that’s already out there.

All that said, I realize I’m in an insanely fortunate position to have lucked into employment that enables a relatively comfortable and stable existence, where my writing is separate from my livelihood. That spares me from needing to commercialize my art, and I realize most people are in positions where they can’t justify creative endeavors unless they’re able to derive money from it. It’s an awful condition.  When art is only valued when it can turn a profit, it’s such a powerfully stagnating force.

Burnett: This is the last question: are there any upcoming projects of yours you’d like to highlight? What can readers expect from B.R. Yeager over the next few years?

Yeager: I’m presently working toward finishing my piece for Hymns of Abomination. I’m excited about it. It’s been fun trying to reinterpret Bartlett’s style and setting, especially since I’m from the town Leeds is based on. It’s letting me look back certain memories with his tint.

I have another couple short stories scheduled for anthologies that haven’t been announced yet. This has been the first year I’ve written short stories in four or five years, and it’s been good getting into the swing of them, working on compact projects that require lots of minute tinkering. It’s practice for the next novel, which is too early to talk about, and will probably take another two or three years.

B.R. Yeager reps Western Massachusetts. He is the author of Negative Space (Apocalypse Party), Amygdalatropolis (Schism Press) and Pearl Death (Inside the Castle).

Chad Ferrin Talks The Deep Ones’ Lovecraftian Horror

Back in January, we broke the news that cult writer/director Chad Ferrin (Someone’s Knocking at the Door, Easter Bunny! Kill! Kill!) was producing an original horror flick inspired by the work of H.P. Lovecraft.

Three months later, the film has wrapped and post-production is underway on what can only be described as a very sticky, very bizarre and oft-amusing throwback genre entry that combines the Cthulhu mythos with what you might call that Chad Ferrin feeling.

In the wake of the flick’s gory execution I spoke to the veteran indie filmmaker about how the picture came together and what audiences can expect from the mind behind John and Wilma Hopper (Someone’s Knocking) and the murderous mole people of Parasites.

Bob Freville: The Deep Ones is very different from anything else you’ve made. What was the genesis of this project?

Chad Ferrin: Star/producer, Gina La Piana offered her beach house as a location, and said we should shoot some kind of airbnb horror film there. The moment she said Airbnb, my mind clicked and the script was done in two weeks. It fell into place faster than anything, from script to production that I had done before. Perhaps it was writing for specific actors, seaside locations, divine intervention or Lovecraft guiding my hand…whichever, it was a perfect formula.

Were you reading a particular Lovecraft work when you alighted on the idea?

Shadow over Innsmouth, Dagon and The Call of Cthulhu inspired me the most. And I must say, it’s truly a dream come true to make a Lovecraftian film.

How did the project come together and what did that look like from inception to pre-production to wrapping on the beach?

It all started with Robert Miano introducing me to Gina for another project and when that didn’t work out, this one fatefully slithered up. Once we had her and the locations, Robert found the first batch of investors Michael Schefano and Richard Pate, followed by Gerry Karr and Jerry Irons. Then producers Zebadiah DeVane and Jeff Olan came in with the rest of the budget. Gina recommended Johann Urb and Jackie Debatin who were FANTASTIC in the roles of Petri and Deb. We had Zeb’s excellent catering, perfect weather, I only almost died twice(fell asleep at wheel)…it was really a blessed production.

How much planning went into the creature FX? I imagine you had a hand in sketching out the design of the mythical beast.

Jim and I went back and fourth on few concepts for Dagon that fit within our budget. Elements of C.H.U.D. were the icing on the creature cake. Then Jim and his crew had a couple months prep and they really out did themselves.

How was this experience different from that of your previous films? What were some of benefits to this shoot and, by contrast, the struggles you came up against?

It was the smoothest from start to finish and by far the most rewarding for me artistically. In large part due to a really top notch cast and crew that gravitated to the material. The set had a family vibe that helped keep everyone in high spirits and the beautiful locations didn’t hurt.

I understand that Robert Miano co-produced this one with you. How did that come about and can you talk a bit about your collaborative process with someone like Rob?

We collaborate on everything from script to screen. I first worked with Robert’s wife Silvia Spross on Someone’s Knocking at the Door, and she introduced me to Robert. The three of us had an amazing collaboration on Parasites, and then continued with Robert Rhine on Exorcism at 60,000 Feet and now The Deep Ones.

Did you have any specific influences in mind when you were prepping The Deep Ones? I know we touched on some aesthetic similarities to Brian Yuzna’s Society and Peter Jackson’s Braindead when we were talking about a particular sequence from the script, but were there

other influences that you were consciously or, subconsciously drawing upon?

Yes, Society and Braindead, as well as Kubrick’s The Shining, Horror Express, Rosemary’s Baby, Halloween III, Dark Shadows, Possession, Humanoids from the Deep, Salem’s Lot and Prince of Darkness.

The Deep Ones has reunited you with some people that you have worked with frequently in the past. I believe this was your third time working with Robert, but you’ve also got Timothy Muskatell on board for the first time since…Someone’s Knocking? You’ve always had a bit of a repertory company of actors going. Do you have a dream team of sorts that you’d like to work with in the future?

Well when you find talented cast/crew you just want to keep that magic going from film to film. Worked for John Ford, right? I hope to add Gina, Johann, Jackie, Kelli, Nicolas and Jerry to the next one. It’s nice to work with talented people that you have a little history with. I worked James Ojala back in my Troma days. Rae Robison had done costume design on Unspeakable, so it was pretty awesome to reunite 20 years later. Jeff Billings worked on Parasites, really dug the script and went above and beyond. Steve Hitselberger, John Santos, David Defino have been on most of my films since The Ghouls. Richard Band and I had a such a great experience on Exorcism that just had to get him on board.

I have to say that this flick seems pretty epic in scale in terms of the practical creature effects and whatnot. Do you see yourself going in the opposite direction with your next picture? Could we ever see a two-person character study from Chad Ferrin? Maybe a claustrophobic single location thriller?

I have a sort of single location thriller sitting here as well as a few bigger budget things. I’m ready for anything.


What do you think audiences can look forward to experiencing when The Deep Ones is finally unleashed on them?

Wall to wall cosmic creepiness and a score that is phenomenal. A Lovecraftian Rosemary’s Baby that will leave you gasping.

Do you have any acquisition deals in place? Is there a global sales rep attached or anything of that nature?

There’s a lot of interest, but I’m waiting to do a festival run before locking anything.

Can you see yourself expanding on the Cthulhu mythos down the road?

Yes, working on a sort of sequel to The Deep Ones now. Very excited.

Are there any other existing IPs that you would be interested in tackling?

I have a western version of Kihachi Okamot’s The Sword of Doom ready to roll.

Keep your eyes peeled for updates regarding The Deep Ones as they come in…

Red Lights on a Lonely Road: An Interview with Stephen Graham Jones

I’ve recently heard Stephen Graham Jones’s writing voice described as an acquired taste. I hadn’t heard that term, “an acquired taste” since I was a kid—this is how black coffee was explained to me after my first ever bitter sip. Beer was the same (what parent doesn’t give their kid a swallow from the beer can just to get them to stop asking for some?). Acquired tastes. Later in life, I recalled the saying when I started a long stint of smoking cigarettes. I suppose wine is also an acquired taste, as is seltzer water. So when I heard SGJ described as an acquired taste it really hit home…all these memories of various tastes I became addicted to for long chunks of my life (still way into coffee and seltzer water, to be honest), and the fact that Stephen’s one of my very favorite authors—it all adds up. Hell yes SGJ’s an acquired taste, and one you should probably start sampling if you haven’t already.


Austin James: Ice breaker—congratulations, you’re a superhero! Your superpower is the ability to shapeshift into three different animals (as well as human). Which animals would you choose, and why?

Stephen Graham Jones: Some deep-sea thing, first. Something that can do way deep but also surface. So probably a whale of some sort. I want to see what’s down there, but I also want the rush of rising. Next . . . maybe an Irish Elk, because they were around a long time ago, and, looking through those eyes, I could see a Neanderthal or a Denisovan, maybe. That would be so exciting. Third, um, let’s see . . . well, an eagle or hawk or falcon, right? Who doesn’t want to fly, and eat the occasional rodent? Or, I want to be whatever bird can fly the highest. And I don’t want any birdwatchers looking at me either.

You’re widely recognized as the foremost zombie expert in academia and beyond. In fact, you even teach creative writing classes just about zombies. Based on your extensive knowledge, if you could take just two weapons into the zombie apocalypse, which two would you choose? Why those specific two?

I know Max Brooks warns against swords and katanas, so I’ll nix those. I guess, first, would just be a good camp knife. I mean, it’s a weapon when you’re in close and that’s all you can grab, but there’s going to be a lot of doors to pry open a lot of canned food to be cracking into. A good camp knife can really help you live. If you have some big Rambo job with serration and a compass in the butt, all that, you feel cool, yeah, but you’re also going to slice your finger half open trying to get the syrup those peaches are swimming in. So, a good camp knife is one. The other weapon . . . Daryl’s already got the crossbow called, and those seem to blow up in your face enough anyway, and a recurve, while elegant, will still probably require more maintenance than I could really keep up with in the post-apocalypse. So, I’ll go with Rick, just keep a revolver strapped to my hip. They only hold so many rounds, sure, but they also don’t jam. When you’re hip-deep in gore and sinking fast, you need something reliable like that. You’ve still got to scrounge cartridges all the time, but scrounging is the name of the game once the zombies rise.

Zombie stories are generally categorized as “scary zombies” and “humorous zombies”. Having read both The Gospel of Z and Zombie Bake Off, you’ve clearly written about zombies from both angles. Do you think there are any freedoms for a writer unique to each type of zombie story? What core elements do you think remain the same regardless, and why?

I think one of the most important aspects of the zombie, whatever kind it is, is that we can’t negotiate with them. We can’t lie to them, we can’t make deals with them. They’re just shuffling locusts, come to cut us down to size. And, the freedom you have, writing about zombies, is that surprise deaths of main characters is the name of the game. So if, at any point, a character gets troublesome, you just whack them. It’s kind of fun.

You’ve said (in much more eloquent terms) that zombie culture is popular because the undead, zombie apocalypse, etc., creates this massive void that can be filled with pretty much any metaphor and meaning—from political, to social, to personal, to dealing with our ultimate mortal fate, and everything in between. What did the zombies represent to you in The Gospel of Z? What about Zombie Bake Off?

Hm, never really thought about that. Or, with my own stuff, I just write it, feel it, don’t really subject it to analysis or any of that. I don’t know. I guess, with ZBO, the zombies were supposed to be the obvious opposite of these soccer moms. But it turns out the soccer moms are the real killers, of course. With The Gospel of Z . . . can I just say ‘locusts’ again? Or, I mean, yeah, I guess they could kind of be a warning against heedless progress or something, but, I don’t know. Wasn’t really thinking that. Was just thinking the usual thing, that zombies are cool, let’s write about cool stuff. Really? I wrote that novel during Bush’s second term, when I was getting quite nervous about church and state stuff. So I cooked up a novel expressing my fear of that. And it had zombies in it.

You grew up a Generation-X kid in small desert towns. Back then, kids adventured outside more often than they seem to now…maybe up to more mischief, ending up in places they didn’t belong. Not saying you were one of these troublemaking kids, but it wouldn’t surprise me—I can relate having grown up outdoors in small towns myself (seems like there was always some kid or another starting fields on fire, for some reason). What was the single weirdest thing that happened to you, or that you witnessed, while growing up in West Texas?

Friend and me in my truck, coming home on a lonely road round about two in the morning. The cab kind of glows blue and red, and we both clock the mirrors, sure it’s a cop pulling us over. But we’re still alone. But there are lights in all the mirrors. Our best and last guess is that there’s a plane coming in behind us to land, that’s it some emergency situation. We can clearly see the line of lights approaching. But then that memory just ends, with us turning around in our seats to see what’s happening.

You’re a professor in the MFA programs at University of Colorado at Boulder, University of California Riverside – Palm Desert, and occasionally at the Institute of American Indian Arts. What do you find to be the most rewarding part of teaching others?

That they teach me as well.

What’s the craziest thing one of your students has done in class?

Not in class exactly, but after class. Like, months after. I’m up for a big award, and, surprise, there’s one of my students on the ballot with me. And? She wins. As she very much should have—amazing writer, Helen Marshall. So cool when someone in your class is suddenly beside you on the shelf, and then past you. Kind of the dream.

You’ve got a long publishing history. Which writer(s) would you love to be published alongside, whether in an anthology or a co-written piece, that you have not yet had the pleasure of doing so?

Be neat to have a piece in an anthology that’s also running a reprint of some Philip K. Dick story. I’d copy that TOC out, put it on my wall.

I know you like to think of monsters in ways that feel more realistic and relatable, rather than living in castles with bottomless bankrolls. In this light, “The Night Cyclist” is a great piece of innovative vampire fiction with an interesting take on how being a vampire could be problematic in certain aspects of modern life. What inspired you take this specific angle?

I guess two things. The first is biking home at night, and always looking behind me, sure a Night Cyclist is pacing me, is waiting for a quieter, more lonely place on the trail for us to maybe share a moment. Second is . . . it’s midnight, I’ve been writing for hours, need a break, so I take my dog out for a walk. Everything’s going fine, fine-ish, anyway—I’m always terrified, alone in the dark—but then, walking super on the dark sidewalk by an elementary school, no life or lights anywhere, like I’m the onliest person there is, I get a kind of prickly sensation and turn around to see did someone just step onto the street a block or two back. Wrong. What’s happening is this guy is doing that . . . I don’t know, that thing where you walk so close behind someone that you’re practically touching them, like you’re their shadow, your feet in their footsteps, all that. I flinch ahead, no clue how he got there, did that, and—

I don’t know. That memory ends there.

Let’s close this out with another random question…what are the two most ridiculous things someone tricked you into doing or believing? How long did it take you to realize how ridiculous they were?

Got into a nightlong argument with my wife once about whether Pennsylvania was in Pittsburg or Pittsburg was in Pennsylvania. I was arguing for the first way. And I think she eventually gave up, let me believe that. For two or so years, until, looking at map, I had a certain kind of dawning awareness. But I still can’t keep all those states in the northeast straight. The West makes sense to me. The East, eastern American, not so much. I mean, when I’m up there in the northeast, the highway exits don’t even work the same. Like, stores and gas stations aren’t clustered like I’m used to them being. There’s just, I don’t know, Dunkin Donuts every third step, and too many trees for me to figure anything useful out.

Also, though this probably doesn’t really count, I always default-think that Scarlett O’Hara played Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. And this somehow involves me having no clear grasp on who exactly Audrey Hepburn is, or what she maybe looks like. It’s like a tiny lemur got into my head and started unplugging wires, stabbing them in at complete random into stupid places, so that now I can no longer think my way out of this bad, kind of hopeless situation I’m forever in.

Stephen Graham Jones is the author of sixteen and a half novels, six story collections, a couple of novellas, and a couple of one-shot comic books. Most recent are Mapping the Interior and My Hero. Next are The Only Good Indians (Saga) and Night of the Mannequins (Tor.com). Stephen lives and teaches in Boulder, Colorado.

Austin James writes obscure and uncomfortable fiction.

If Desire is Scarcely More Than a Spark: An Interview with Danger Slater, “Impossible James”

By Gordon B. White

Silent Motorist Media: First and foremost, tell us about Impossible James. What is this novel about and what kind of people should read it?

Danger Slater: It’s about death and birth and families and corporate greed and love and a whole bunch of other really weird horrible things. A terminally ill man impregnates himself his with his own clone, setting off a series of events that may or may not be the cause of an unstoppable existential apocalypse. Anyone should read it because I wrote it and I am awesome.

SMM: What was the genesis of the novel? Because its tendrils touch on so many different themes—parenthood, the struggle to create, existential despair, climate change, near-terminal stage capitalism, gooey and gross body horror—which of these was the seed? Looking back on it, you can trace the growth of it into the Impossible James we have today?

DS: I just thought it’d be funny to write a book about a guy who gives birth to his own clone. Like, how would that even work? What are the personal and philosophical implications of that? From there, I figured out the themes of the book and different characters, and built out a few plot points that seemed interesting to get too, including the ending, and I slowly started building up from there. The son character and narrative style came into play as the story fleshed itself out.

SMM: Is there a passage you could offer us to whet the appetite of those readers who haven’t yet acquired the book? One that maybe captures the james ne sais quoi of the book?

DS: There’s a sentence several people have quoted so far, and it goes like this: “If desire itself is scarcely more than a spark, what’s an arsonist to do when everything is already burning around them?”

SMM: There’s a fascinating fatalism to this book (it is, in fact, subtitled “ a book about death”). The novel kicks off when James Watson Sr. receives a fatal diagnosis of a black spot on the brain: it’s a malignancy that’s sure to kill him…in just a couple of decades, give or take. This confrontation with his mortality is enough to drive him on to quit his job, clone himself, find a partner, and set out to change the world. None of which ultimately makes him happy, however. If a reader were to approach Impossible James as a cautionary tale, what is it warning us about? Is it cautioning us towards anything?

DS: As a cautionary tale, I’m not too sure, because the book deals a lot with the unavoidable nature of who we are as human beings, and it’s hard to caution someone against something that’s inevitable. I suppose its more about acceptance, and trying to find meaning and fulfillment in things that aren’t going to last.

SMM: Impossible James presents us with two warring impulses or, perhaps, strategies for confronting the absurdity of modern existence: Hyper-expansion and hyper-constriction. Maybe ironically, however, the final form is both impossibly tiny and impossibly huge. Is this a tension you see in the world around us? Is this something you’ve looked to tackle in your recent works?

DS: That is EXACTLY what I was going for so thanks for pointing it out! There are these pictures on the internet of like brain neurons and they look identical to clouds of swirling galaxies in space. The separation between the big impersonal things (the universe) and the tiny hyper-personal things (your own thoughts) is not as wide as it seems and may even loop back in on itself if extrapolated far enough. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but it’s certainly a fascinating prism in which to view life.

SMM: In your 2018 novel He Digs a Hole, you employed an unnamed narrator who broke the fourth wall in fairly meta-dramatic ways to express authorial angst. Here you again employ a style which directly addresses the audience, but the narrator is a specific character — James Watson Jr. — so it feels more “grounded” in the story. What is your interest in using this kind of narrative style? What accounts for the differences between the two, particularly the more traditional sort of use of it in Impossible James? Are there any other authors who employ these sort of aesthetic flourishes that you admire?

DS: Oh I really liked the 4th wall breaks in He Digs a Hole, but when I started this book I was trying to think of a way to weave it more organically into the story, so to have a character in the book (who isn’t the main character) narrating the story of the main character directly to YOU the reader, I could employ whatever perspective and narrative techniques I wanted. Kurt Vonnegut used to do this all the time with his books, from inserting himself as the author, to his proxy character Kilgore Trout, so that’s kinda one of my favorite examples of an artist doing it.

SMM: Astute readers of your previous novel, He Digs A Hole, might recognize a few familiar elements here, particularly with regards to Sycamore Lane. The neighborhood where James Sr. lives is also home to Harrison and Tabitha Moss, the protagonists of HDAH, and features cameos from them, as well as neighbors Brad and Jen Flatly.

I was fascinated to see these characters again, and was wondering how you view their use. Do He Digs a Hole and Impossible James take place in the same universe? Or perhaps parallel dimensions? Or is it more like American Horror Story, where the same actors play different roles every season? What sort of advantages or disadvantges does working with these repeated elements present?

DS: Haha. YES, thank you for noticing that too! I just liked the setting of that book and when I was thinking of where to have Impossible James take place, I figured why not put it on the same street? There are lots of crossover characters, but there is no continuity between the two books, so they function more like Easter eggs without the events in any book prior affecting the others. The characters aren’t even necessarily the same, personality-wise. So yeah, I guess it would be like parallel versions of the neighborhood, but I wasn’t thinking of it in those terms. In fact, in my next manuscript I’ve finished I do it again, not set on the same street, but there are callbacks to Sycamore Lane and even a reference to my book Puppet Skin. It’s just fun for loyal readers.

SMM: Finally, what’s next on the Danger-scope? While we’re interested in hearing what you’re working on next, what are you going to be working on next next? What are the projects that are still fever dreams and nebulous nightmares?

DS: So the next book is about a group of five unwilling astronauts who were sent to the moon in 1906 and get trapped there for the next 900 years. I’m calling it ‘Moonfellows’ right now, but that might change, of course. That book is actually finished, but there are no plans for its release anytime soon. What I want to write after that is a book in which someone starts mobilizing all the people in their neighborhood to work together to build an impossibly huge tower to get past the sky so they can climb into heaven and confront God. I haven’t started working on that one yet, but it’s coming together slowly in my head.

Danger Slater is the Wonderland award winning writer of I Will Rot Without You as well as other works of Bizarro and horror fiction. You can follow him on Twitter, where he’ll be making bad jokes all day: @Danger_Slater

Gordon B. White has lived in North Carolina, New York, and the Pacific Northwest. He is a 2017 graduate of the Clarion West Writing Workshop, and his fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in venues such as Pseudopod, Daily Science Fiction, Tales to Terrify, and the Bram Stoker Award® winning anthology Borderlands 6. Gordon also contributes reviews and interviews to various other outlets including Nightmare, Lightspeed, and Hellnotes. You can find him online at http://www.gordonbwhite.com.

War and Whiskey: An Interview with S. L. Edwards

It’s an honor to bring you this latest of our long series of author interviews. In celebration of his release of Whiskey and Other Unusual Ghosts from Gehenna & Hinnom Books, I talked to weird fiction advocate, relentless memer, and thoroughly talented author, S. L. Edwards. Through the course of our delightful conversation, we touched on a diverse array of topics, including comics, war, and fiction’s responsibilities to history. I hope you enjoy this exchange as much as I did. Before you read on, however, be sure to preorder Edwards’ excellent debut collection. You don’t want to miss out on this momentous release.

-Justin A. Burnett


“Fiction is a great medium for not just S. L. Edwards, […] but for writers across the world to collectively pool our feelings together. It’s a way to share, and maybe increase understanding in the process”

-S. L. Edwards

Justin A. Burnett: You now have a stunning fiction collection out with Gehenna & Hinnom Books. Besides the fact that it’s your debut release and features a diverse selection of work from your years of appearances in various publications, is there anything you’d like readers to know before they venture into the weird and wonderful world of Whiskey and Other Unusual Ghosts?

S. L. Edwards: I suppose the most important things that I would like them to know is: (1) it was a labor of love. I wanted my introduction to be a collection that samples a little bit of everything I have to offer. The stories were carefully selected, and I hope that pays off for a really fun reading experience. And (2) this was not a labor I undertook alone. I had a great editor in the form of Charles P. Dunphey and an eager partner in Yves Tourigny. But there were also hours of conversations, with friends, family and fellow writers. The collection would not exist without them.

I think you succeed magnificently in keeping things fun with Whiskey, but, as there must be with horror, there’s also a lot of discomfort, and much of it is deeply convincing. Do any of the recurrent themes—such as the broken childhood from which several protagonists desperately try to escape—come from your past?

That’s a good question. The short answer is “no.” My approach to horror, at least in the beginning, was to write what scared me.

I come from a relatively, if not exceptionally stable childhood. I’m the only child between my parents, and they really did do right by me. Even when they divorced, which I think is a pretty rough experience for any kid. Dad carted me all over North Texas to different comic shops. He made quesadillas on Wednesdays and watched “Ghost Hunters” with me, even though he had no interest in that. Mom was supportive, always supportive. She showed me reading was a leisure activity. And just really got interested in my hobbies.
Those themes don’t come from a place of familiarity, at least not the ones about broken homes. Even though I suppose you could say my home was “broken,” it was merely separated into two perfectly functional homes.

Now…the stories with depression. That’s a bit of a different story. That’s a reoccurring theme in the collection too. And one that I’ve had more encounters with than I would like. I’ve only recently become comfortable talking about the subject, but I’ve found there’s something vaguely empowering about acknowledging its existence.

When people do ask, I’ve always described it kind of like this: “There’s this person in the corner of the room. And they’re always there. And they’re to tell you, no matter what you do, that it’s not enough. That you’re not enough.”

That’s…that’s real enough for me. And that certainly is autobiographical in these stories.

Thank you for sharing that; It’s good practice to avoid mistaking fiction for autobiography, but what inspired that question is the amount of what Gwendolyn Kiste calls “heart” in her introduction to Whiskey, and what I’d be tempted to call “empathy.” Something tells me you are able to deeply identify with your characters. How do you achieve this identification, and how important is this imaginative empathy to your writing process?

whiskey and other

Part of it is lived experience. Talk to people, live with them. Go out, get your heart broken. I’m a bit naïve, I’ll admit that. I try to believe the best in people, even when it gets hard. And it’s gotten me in trouble more than once. Hurt more than once.

I don’t think I’ll stop anytime soon though…

You’re right in that it’s a process. I need characters to anchor me to a story. Many writers can evoke terror, wonder, etc. through the use of powerful imagery. Lovecraft comes to mind, as someone with very flat (almost nonexistent to be frank) characters but who could just inspire such terror through his word choice.

But I’m no Lovecraft. Ultimately, I need people to help me through the process. And usually those people are the characters.

So I always do a few things before I write a story. I write a 2-3 sentence summary. I write a word count goal. And then I write a paragraph each about my main characters. I make myself care about the characters; I try to write something that gets an emotion out of me. And when I do that, the outline of the story begins to change. I try to think about what might evoke an emotional reaction of these people, and then work backwards to re-edit the story around those moments.

And this is a process, but it actually tends to go much faster when I do this kind of work. Because I write faster, and better, when I have an emotional stake in the story. And I believe that if I don’t care about my characters, readers certainly won’t. So, to answer that question, empathy is central to the process. It HAS to be.

To circle back to your earlier question and tie my answers together, the question of broken homes and childhood trauma. I gotta feel that. Because if I can’t, my readers can’t. That’s critical. I want to care about these characters before I let them go.

I like the line you draw around Lovecraft‘s work here—out of all the writer’s you’ve mentioned in other interviews, you remind me more of a Tolstoy than a Lovecraft, and I think that’s an interesting change of pace in the context of contemporary horror. If you were charged with the task of convincing horror readers to give Tolstoy a try, what would you say?

Oh God. Haha.

I suppose I would try to draw a line between horror and Tolstoy, to make the connection a bit more clear.

I’ll admit to mainly being a War and Peace guy. I tried Anna Karenina and am due to give it another chance. So keep that in mind as I go.

What I think makes horror so salient is that it inspires emotion. For all the talking down to horror writers get (I’ll never forgive a prominent reviewer, for instance, for DISMISSING Lovecraft on the grounds that he “merely” induced terror) fear is a palpable, evocative and profound emotion. Even more so when it’s dressed up, gilded with description and characters.

And War and Peace, perhaps more than any work, is a master-class in emotion. Some of that no doubt came from Tolstoy’s own background, as a former soldier and then a radical Christian philosopher (his pacifist treatise “The Kingdom of God is Within You,” still gets a bad rap from some governments). But for the reader what Tolstoy gives us is a clearer representation of the human experience, one more immersive than just a moment. We see poor Pierre Bezhukov turn from a bumbling oaf, to a radical philosopher, to man who plans to kill Napoleon. Poor Natasha Rostov falls in and out of love. And why wouldn’t she? That’s the human experience. That’s what we do.

So, if you, dear reader, are looking for works to resonate with your core, it might be healthy to look beyond fear. And I can’t think of a better work for that than War and Peace.

Maybe they don’t start there though. Maybe try a little magical realism first. I’d recommend 100 Years of Solitude before getting into the deep end of War and Peace
But I came to Tolstoy by way of Vasily Grossman, whose work Life and Fate was inspired by both his service as a Red Army correspondent and by War and Peace. That novel is…well, quite frankly it’s not for the weak. The novel certainly inspires terror, but also deep, deep heartache. Grossman lost his mother to the Holocaust, and this certainly changed him. I am not sure that I would recommend that book. It’s a hard one.

Last thing I would say is that yes, it’s important to feel more than fear. Fear most effectively functions alongside other emotions. Has more impact. And Tolstoy certainly makes his readers care about his characters.


That was an excellent response! I particularly appreciate your second point, that horror is particularly good at doing what all great stories do: evoking emotion. While we’re here, and because I’ve always advocated an open border policy between horror and (god, here comes the awful phrase) “literary fiction,” are there any other books outside of horror you’ve drawn personal inspiration from or that a reader of horror might find especially worth reading?

I also hate that phrase. And, to demonstrate how much I hate it, I’ll answer by being as “un-literary” as possible:

I like comic books. Superheroes. Love ’em. Now, a lot of comics that I read have horror elements to them. But there’s also the smaller character moments that I treasure in things like Geoff Johns’ Green Lantern and Teen Titans runs. And on the subject of non-supernatural horror, I would say Joshua Dysart’s Unknown Soldier is a must. Dysart researched the Ugandan Civil War pretty thoroughly for that one.

So yeah, superheroes. I draw a lot of personal inspiration from superheroes. Except I wouldn’t call Dysart’s run “superhero.”

I have to admit I’m not up on comics, but not for a lack of respect or desire (the latter only recently acquired). I’m definitely going to have to check out “Unknown Soldier.” Speaking of research, you mention in your authors notes that several works in Whiskey come from historical research. Aside from adding a nice diversity to your palette of topics, what draws you to these historical narratives, and what do you think fiction can do—if anything—to help us understand or confront these events?

A lot of it comes from my day job. I research political violence, and as a fluent Spanish speaker a lot of my attention comes to Latin America.

I want to be careful though, because I can’t in good conscience say much more without it: I am a white man from the United States. I am not in a position to define anyone’s narrative, nor is that what I am trying to do. As I research though, I do have an emotional reaction to what I read. I think most of us would, and what you see in stories like “Cabras” and “Volver Al Monte” is not me making a commentary on any real, existing case, so much as my own emotional working through what I read.

Colombia is not a nation we should be characterizing by violence. Nor is Mexico, Honduras, or even Uganda. As fun as programs like Narcos can be, they’ve done some very sad damage to how we see these countries. We should not be doing that. Full stop. These are incredible places, full of wonderful people, great food, and blue happy skies.
Okay, now that disclaimer aside: I do work in historical inspirations into my stories. The “Tuta Puriq” of “Volver Al Monte” are inspired by the very real Maoist insurgency, Sendero Luminoso in Peru. “Cabras” mentions a bit of a dynastic struggle, based on the Somoza family in Nicaragua.

And to get to the latter part of that question, I think “working through” it is a very important aspect of fiction. Ultimately, I’d like to think that we are a world of empathetic people. I’d like to think it’s difficult to shrug off the suffering of another person, just because they’re not within your line of sight.

Fiction is a great medium for not just S. L. Edwards, the guy held up on his laptop going through issues of La Semana, but for writers across the world to collectively pool our feelings together. It’s a way to share, and maybe increase understanding in the process. Engaging bits of history even as inspiration can direct authors and readers to more carefully understand the dynamics that created this history and, in some cases, what perpetuates it.

Calling back what we said earlier about broken childhoods, I am not a survivor of a Civil War. I hope I never am. But I think these terrors are universal. I’d like to think, and maybe this is naïve, that sharing stories like this can get us to be careful in how we think about things like war. Is it really some heroic struggle? Or is it like Tim O’Brien said, that war stories don’t really HAVE heroes?

Which, in a way, brings us back into Tolstoy’s territory, doesn’t it? War is a universal experience, and it also represents an extremity in human behavior. I think your horror stories of war and shattered childhoods work so well together because they inhabit the outer limits of pain and suffering. They may even suggest that one pain, despite its differences, isn’t unlike another, and this realization seems to be embodied most in Manuel of “Cabras.” You mention, incidentally, that “Cabras” is your favorite piece; it’s mine as well, partially for the reasons I just mentioned. What makes it stand out to you?

It was rough to write. That one was so rough.

I think I liked it because it was the first story I wrote where I really just wanted to write it, regardless of what an editor might think. It’s heavy on exposition. I like exposition. I like writing it and I like reading it.

Also, the fun of having a truly silent main character was an interesting one. Poor Manuel…his character too, was a difficult one to get inside of. Here you have a man desperately trying to do the right thing, and yet he can’t. It’s just not an option available to him.

And then the “monsters” of the story. I won’t spoil this for potential readers, but I think one of the creepiest sequences I wrote involves something coming through the window. Yves drew the scene and just captured it perfectly. I was horrified.

All of it came together for something that, in retrospect, seems inevitable. Of course, war was going to come back to Manuel. It was foolish of him to think he could ever get away. But that desire to do right, to be good…for all the things that Manuel did, for what he was, I think there’s something to be said about someone who relentlessly tries to redeem themselves as Manuel did.

Poor bastard.

As something of a change in pace, as a Texan I’ve been wanting to ask you this: does it feel strange to be a horror writer from Texas? Do you ever feel a little “out of place?” I know I do, but I’m in the DFW area, and my day job keeps me in contact with a demographic of people who are far removed from stereotypical readers of horror. How has being from Texas defined you as a writer?

Haha. The bigger question is “how has being a Texan defined you?” We’re a gregarious, stubborn people. We’re loud, we announce ourselves. Essentially every Texan abroad is Robert Baratheon, but hopefully without the womanizing. We love Whataburger. We love our queso.

I am not sure it’s defined my writing, certainly my online presence though.

Speaking of online presence, rumor has it that you will make a meme about everyone eventually. How are you going to manage this?

These are slanderous lies. There are other better memers than me entering the field. Kevin Holderny chief among them. Matthew M. Bartlett’s cat, Larry, no longer needs me. And one day Robert S. Wilson will snap, probably fire me out of a canon.

Then it’ll be just me and Obadiah Baird. Our same dance. Him, rejecting my stories. Me, making memes about it.

And this will continue.


It would be a pity to see you step aside to make room for fresh memes, but I begrudgingly respect your decision. As a sort of redemption, however, I’d like to point out that you also use social media to relentlessly promote other writers. Who are some authors we should be reading right now?

[Editor’s Note: I actually attempted to link the names of *every* author Edwards mentions below to a website, social media account, or Amazon page. My fingers went numb about two hours in, and I had to reconsider my plan of attack. Only books mentioned specifically by title or authors previously mentioned on this site are linked, but this indicates no personal preference of one writer over another by the editor. At this point, it’s sheer survival. I strongly recommend the reader peruse as much of this list as she can manage, however, since Edwards provides us with a veritable gold mine of weird fiction authors here.]

So, I just read Christopher Slatsky’s novella “Palladium At Night,” which was one of the coolest ‘cosmic horror’ stories I’ve ever read. You’ve got something of a NASA conspiracy mixed with this Blackwood-infused nature/terror story. A bit of Gavin-meets-Ligotti. His collection is amazing too. I think one of the most creative things I’ve read since joining on as a weird fiction writer.

I also just read Max Booth III’s Carnivorous Lunar Activities. That’s one funny story, and one with a lot of heart too.

And I’m flipping through some work by Kurt Fawver, who is one of the single most creative minds we have working in weird horror right now.

Then there’s those that need no promotion, but you never know. Matthew M. Bartlett is going to be as remembered and cherished as Lovecraft or Barron. His Leeds mythos stories are innovative, and his more traditional short fiction is just astounding.

S.P. Miskowski broke the wheel with her Skillute cycle. I hesitate to say “it’s Straub but better.” But that’s how I feel, sue me.

Gwendolyn Kiste is a treasure. We need to give her all deference not only for her astounding creativity, but just being personable and friendly as well. A genuinely good person.

Gemma Files has such an enormous body of work, but everything I’ve read I’ve just adored.

Michaeul Wehunt, of course, keeps threatening us with a new collection. He doesn’t have the guts. I’m kidding Michael, please don’t @ me. But really y’all, check out Greener Pastures if you haven’t yet.

John Langan’s Sefira and Other Betrayals came out this year and I gotta say, it may be some of his best. It’s less alien horror than say, Carnivorous Sky, but damn good nonetheless.

Nadia Bulkin changed the game. Speaking of politics and horror, she’s really rewritten the rules. She came out with a great “sports horror” story in Nightscape’s Ashes and Entropy

Betty Rocksteady’s debut collection is coming out soon. I’ve been waiting for this one for a very long time. Scott R. Jones too, who is quite a writer himself. Debut collections need all the help they can, so I’m gonna ask anyone reading this to look at those author’s amazon pages and see if they might be interested in giving their collections some pre-order love.

Jeffrey Thomas is a bit more established, but he has a collection coming out too. One that, if I remember right, is pretty high-concept. Look for that one.

Speaking of established, there’s the elite shrimp-rater himself. Peter Rawlik is known for some quality work in the Lovecraft mythos, but what you don’t know is that he has been the special guest judge in Arkham County’s annual shrimp pageant for the past two decades. The man knows his shrimp, and his way around a damn fine story.

Then there’s Brooke Warra, Fionna Maeve Geist, Farah Rose Smith, Amber Fallon, Premee Mohammad, Lena Ng, Jonathan Raab (you gotta pick up the latest books from Sheriff Cecill Kotto), Mer Whinery, Tom Breen. That whole circle. I like to see Erica Ruppert’s name in a ToC, and Alana I. Capria-Linares. Cody Goodfellow. Duane Pesice. Robert S. Wilson (who is also the editor of Nightscape).

When William Tea and John Paul Fitch bless us with their short story collections, I demand they let me write the introductions. Unless they get someone more popular. Or prettier (not possible). Then they better let me blurb it. And Christopher Ropes KNOWS that I will demand to blurb his collection. Sarah Walker too.

One of my first big writer friends, Jordan Kurella. She’s since moved on from horror into fantasy, but she’s still a good egg.

And Sean M. Thompson. That guy. Just gonzo.

Russell Smeaton, of course. When you see him a ToC, give him a chance.

And I suppose you should be reading poetry. There’s good poetry out there. KA Opperman, Ashley Dioses, D. L. Myers, Adam Bolivar constitute some secret society called “The Crimson Circle.” Scott Couterier had a poem I really liked.

And I’m sure there are some I have forgotten. I would advise then, that readers not be afraid of picking up journals. Occult Detective Quarterly, edited by John Linwood Grant. Vastarien, edited by Jon Padgett. Hinnom, edited by Charles P. Dunphy. All three of these editors are also some quality writers, and these magazines should ideally give readers and writers a pretty good sampling of what is out there. And of course, Doug Draa’s omnibus magazine Weirdbook.

Anya Martin! She combined some of my favorite things, dogs and the King in Yellow! See, there’s so many talented writers out there right now…

And Jayaprakash Satyamurty. Lynda E. Rucker. I better stop before someone gets mad at me.

Do you feel stylistically or thematically affiliated with any writers in particular? If your writing had blood relatives, who would they be?

That’s tough…and it may be a bit presumptuous of me to try and affiliate myself with more established writers.

I will say, a lot of my readers have affiliated me with Nadia Bulkin. Which is a HUGE compliment in my eyes. I can’t recommend She Said Destroy enough. And if somehow through some freakish accident one reads Whiskey, enjoys it, but has not read She Said Destroy, I urge you to drop everything and download it to your kindle.


I think a lot of this comparison comes from the subjects that we deal with. Both of us deal with politics and political violence, but Nadia’s is more “socio-political.” She, more than any other writer, has demonstrated the power of politics in affecting everyday people. The State is not some alien entity in her fiction. It’s the air we breathe. It’s our streets. Our world. Everything inputted to us is part of this nebulous body politic.

My stories are considered “political,” in contrast, merely because my characters are given to long speeches. They themselves are often politicians, soldiers, police captains. That’s not the same as what Nadia does, in demonstrating politics.

Beyond this…I don’t know. So much of trying to come up with a place in this community is finding a niche. I certainly identify with someone like Robert Bloch, whose writing changed drastically and had an extraordinarily large breadth of writing abilities.

Yeah…maybe this one is better left to readers. Maybe they should define my place, if I deserve to have one at all.

Thank you for your thoughtful responses. It’s been a genuine pleasure interviewing you. I’ve got one more: what’s next in the world of S. L. Edwards? Is there anything else you’d like your readers to know?

It’s been a great opportunity! I’d say you’re pretty damn good at this.

So, I actually have two more collections in the works. The Death of An Author collects my pulpier stuff. Vampires. Lovecraft. The ilk. And Monsters of the Sea and Sky is an advancement of the themes developed in Whiskey. Half of Monsters will share a mythology, so I’m pretty excited about that one.

I’m also working to cleanse my palette a little. I’m currently working on a series of Weird Western stories, all focusing on a warlock sheriff, John Armitage. John lives in a world of vampire cave-civilizations, necromancer slave-owners, civil wars and great power politics. I’m working on a longer story in that Universe and I’ll just tease it as:

Warlock Sheriff vs. Samurais vs. Kaiju.