Psychedelic Flapper: An Interview with Madeleine Swann

Madeleine Swann is a psychedelic flapper, weird fiction writer, creepy stuff lover, and hideous face puller. And she’s a lot of fun to interview!

-Austin James

“I wanted to be a writer, an actress (but not a famous one), and every single animal in existence.” -Madeleine Swann

Austin James: First off, thanks for chatting to me… I’m excited to get to know you a little better through this interview. Now let’s cut the crap and get down to the real, deep, issues: where do you stand on the Marmite spectrum of lovers/haters?

Madeleine Swann: Basically, Marmite is the devil’s eye boogies.

James: It seems to be the consensus that it’s generally horrible shit.

Swann: I know people who absolutely love it. I don’t trust them. One of them is my best friend Steve. I’m waiting for the day he reveals his true form as some ungodly being.

James: You’ll have to defeat him with a sword made of lightning in order to advance to the next level.

Swann: I’ll probably just look away, embarrassed, and pretend I didn’t see anything.

James: If you don’t fight him, who’s gonna stop him?

Swann: I can’t see that he’ll do any real damage, he gets confused very easily.

James: Ah, so a lower level boss. Makes sense.

Swann: Yeah, he’d probably wander towards the village, bent upon destruction, then worry he’d left his phone in the car and turn back.

James: As an American, I know everything (like I needed to remind you), and I’m not even sure Marmite isn’t just #fakenews…

Swann: I wish it was. Do you have Nutella? It’s just as bad. Also, Twiglets.

James: We do have Nutella. I have not partaken, but I will keep your warning in my pocket for future use.

Swann: Make sure you do, although I think marmite might be the worst.

James: So, changing pace, I hear you’re a writer?

Swann: Oh yes! I try.

James: In fact, you’ve had a book release just recently.

Swann: I did! Fortune Box in June, with Eraserhead Press.

James: Tell us about it?

Swann: Ok. Tower Ltd Surprise Packages is a mysterious company sending packages to strangers throughout the city. Each package is a different story and they all contain a magical object that either helps or proves disastrous for the recipient.

James: Oh cool! So, it’s like a collection of intertwined and loosely related short stories?

Swann: Yes! They’re different stories with the same premise.

James: That sounds fun. Where’d you find the inspiration for this idea?

Swann: A section of The Red Tower by Thomas Ligotti has a creepy tower sending gifts to people in the nearby town that contained spooky items, and I wondered what kind of items a tower of mine would send, and it went from there.

James: I’ve read the first story/chapter in Fortune Box, which (by the way) I loved. Tell me about Seed Man?

Swann: Oh, glad you liked it. Before I met Bill, I was single for about six years, because I’d had such a succession of terrible relationships, and I was determined not to get involved with anyone unless I was completely sure it was right. It led to a lot of awkward dates which was the basis for that story.

James: This is my favorite line: “They’d talk politics, films and art, and maybe she’d allow him a boob to touch on the first night.”

Swann: Haha! I was really proud of that one.

James: Moving on to the real issues, what relation are you to the James Bond character of the same name?

Swann: Zero, although I’m not sure if she has some Proust connection. I don’t know, I read somewhere that her name is a Proust reference and it made me feel intellectual.

James: Bullshit. You work for MI6. You heard it here, folks!

Swann: Shhhh, you’re not supposed to tell people.

James: Don’t worry, no one but the hundreds of thousands of people reading this interview will ever know. Your secret is safe with us.

Swann: Phew!

James: What’s it like working with Eraserhead Press?

Swann: Good. I like being part of a group of writers weird enough to be accepted into the weirdest publisher; it’s a nice feeling.

James: How involved were you, as the author, in approving cover art, etc. (I ask out of ignorance)?

Swann: They did the cover and I thought it was brilliant. They asked what I thought, and I said, “yes!”

James: Well, I happen to agree. It’s a sweet cover!

Swann: Thank you, I love it too!

James: How did working with Eraserhead this time around differ from when you released Rainbows Suck through New Bizarro Author Series (one of their imprints) back in 2015?

Swann: The first time around we were all placed in a Facebook group and assisted each other with promotion etc.. I found that quite stressful because I’m not great in groups. This time around I’ve kind of just been doing it myself.

James: How has that been? You have any readings or anything lined up?

Swann: I’ve managed to get most of the copies I bought into bookshops, told people online to ask me questions which I’ve answered in videos, and I did a giveaway. Not sure about readings but I’m sure I will at some point.

James: Nice. Getting books into bookshops is an important aspect of the game, even in the age of Amazon and social media. Maybe even more so in this age.

Swann: Definitely! I was really pleased when Blackwell in Oxford said they wanted ten copies.

James: How’d you go about setting that up?

Swann: I emailed them with links to my book and my website and they seemed to like it!

James: Do you find “the UK” to be generally accepting of Bizarro/weird fiction?

Swann: I think there’s a lot of weirdos here, so I think we’re generally open to weird stuff yes. Haha. Not everyone, but there’s always some.

James: How long have you been writing weird fiction?

Swann: Oooohh… erm, I think to be honest I was experimenting with weird stuff in primary school, I was writing surreal comedy stories that made sense to no one but me, and no one else found funny, but I thought they were hilarious, so I kept doing them and making people listen to them.

James: That’s awesome! How did you learn about the bizarro movement?

Swann: I found out about it probably around 2014. I was searching for the weirdest books ever written because nothing was satisfying my weird needs anymore, and I stumbled on Eraserhead Press.

James: And then?

Swann: I read a few and wasn’t sure. Then I kept reading and started to get into it, and submitted some stories to things, and it went from there.

James: Which Bizarro authors do you think helped you “start to get into it”?

Swann: I think probably The Haunted Vagina, I thought it was a genuinely sweet story, by Carlton Mellick III. Also, A Million Versions of Right by Matthew Revert. And Autumn Christian’s work.

James: Yeah, I can definitely see why you were lured in. Okay, so other than Eraserhead, where else have you been published?

Swann: Got a collection with Burning Bulb and a novella with Strangehouse Books, and short stories on The Wicked Library Podcast, Clash Books magazine (issue 1), and various other places. For transparency, I’m answering this question on the toilet.

James: Do they have toilet paper in the UK?

Swann: No, you use tea cups.

James: Ah. Well, at least you’ve all been upgraded to indoor plumbing (I assume)?

Swann: We have now, thank goodness. I used to have to sit in a field.

James: How relevant are broadswords in England nowadays?

Swann: I don’t know about anyone else, but I carry mine everywhere. Also, I’m now hiding because Bill’s got in from work, I’m going to jump out at him

James: Use your broadsword…

Swann: Good idea!

James: If you accidentally kill him I’ll help feed his body to the hogs by documenting each aspect for our viewers.

Swann: I’d probably try Necromancy. I don’t know how I’d handle day to day life without him.

James: Have you successfully necromanced before?

Swann: A couple of times, mostly just old people who popped off again ten minutes later.

James: Makes sense. So, which of your books are you most proud of?

Swann: Definitely Fortune Box. I’m so proud of it, I feel like I’m getting to where I need to be as a writer.

James: Where’s that?

Swann: It still very much has my sense of humor all over it, but I wanted to say more about my thoughts on the world, and people, and things like that.

James: What’s next? Any current projects you can talk about?

Swann: I’m working on a weird middle grade book right now.

James: That sounds awesome. Can you share any details?

Swann: Not sure at the moment because it’s not finished, but I think it will be quite dark for a kid’s book. Hopefully still funny though.

James: Have you talked to any publishers about it? Is there a market for weird YA books?

Swann: I hope there is! Not yet. I’ll do the looking when it’s finished.

James: You mentioned that you’re getting to “where you want to be” as a writer. What’s the next step?

Swann: I’d really like to get an agent. The next thing I’ll do is send this new one out to them and hope for the best.

James: In your opinion, what is the advantage of having an agent?

Swann: I’m not good at promoting myself and such. Agents help you with those things a bit more.

James: Makes sense. How many hobbits live in your town?

Swann: 17, all named Harry.

James: What did you want to be when you grew up?

Swann: I wanted to be a writer, an actress (but not a famous one), and every single animal in existence.

James: How are the actress and animal careers going?

Swann: I kind of abandoned those but I do a good impression of a napping cat.

James: Tell me about your book out from New Kink Books?

Swann: Oh yeah! It’s a novelette of surreal erotica set in a wonderland world of kinky things. It’s another set of linked short stories.

James: Talk about a wide range of audience appeal! Weird porn to Bizarro YA…

Swann: Ha! My interests are vast but they’re always weird.

James: What do you do when you’re not reading or writing?

Swann: I’m probably either watching a weird film, terrible TV or YouTube.

James: What are some of your favorite weird films?

Swann: Guy Maddin is probably my favorite director, he loves the 20s, surrealism and daft humor like me. Also, I quite like Cat Soup, Freaks, A Page of Madness, Pandora’s Box, lots!

James: I’ll have to check some of those out. Don’t make fun of me for having not seen any of them.

Swann: I wouldn’t make fun of you!

James: Do you have a routine you follow when you write?

Swann: I usually write in the morning, then finish around midday.

James: Do you people have coffee on that side of the world, or are you forced to drink tea whilst writing?

Swann: I’m hooked up to a tea drip 24/7. Bill does prefer coffee, though.

James: Mainlining earl tea is supposed to be good for your liver.

Swann: That’s what I tell myself.

James: Haha. Well hey, this has been a great chat! Is there anything else you want to get out there before we finish up? Any links or opinions or #fakenews?

Swann: Sure!

And fake news: if you look deep into a shark’s eyes, you’ll probably die.
Austin James writes obscure and uncomfortable fiction.

Horror Sleaze Trash: An Interview with India LaPlace

I recently met India online, seeing that we have several mutual FB friends in the creative arts circles and that she’s local to the SLC area. When I noticed that she’s an associate editor for Horror Sleaze Trash, I got all sorts of excited to discover the art/lit zine (that has been and always will be for the misfits) is actually a part of my local underground arts revolution. One thing led to another and voila!, here’s an interview:

India LaPlace Pic1

“Real life isn’t clean and full of happy endings—it’s painful and it’s tragic and it’s dirty.”

-India LaPlace

-Austin James

Austin James: So, what is your role over at Horror Sleaze Trash?

India LaPlace: My official title is associate editor. I run the social media, reach out to artists and models and writers—both new and former, and just help out wherever our Editor-in-Chief needs me. I love it. I feel like I’ve been able to make a lot of cool connections with people I’d never know otherwise, and it gives me a platform to promote art that I feel is real and honest and raw and it’s important to me.

James: I’ve read your poem on the site, which—by the way—I love. Do you dabble in other arts or is poetry your primary outlet?

LaPlace: I would say that writing in general is my primary outlet. I’ve always written poetry, as well as fiction and short stories and little rants and essays about various topics. I feel like even when I’ve tried painting or drawing, I end up painting or sketching words or quotes I like, so it’s really all in the words for me.

James: When did you first discover this love for the written word?

LaPlace: It’s so hard to say. I don’t have memories of not being really into reading. I remember teaching myself to spell and read and write when I was 4 or 5 years old and I was always way ahead in English and literature than anyone else in my classes—although I definitely cannot say the same for math, haha. I think I was in 1st or 2nd grade the first time I showed my dad this little “book” I had written and drawn illustrations for and he told me that writing was a waste of time and I needed to find a hobby that would make me more money one day. Clearly, I didn’t listen very well to that advice. I guess you could add that I had kind of a tumultuous childhood so reading and writing became a way to escape from that.

James: Mathing is for the devil, so I am in favor of your decision to pursue, well, anything else. Anyway, I’ve only read the one poem of yours, which is very sexual in nature—possibly even “shocking” to some readers. Is everything you write edgy like that particular piece?

LaPlace: I wouldn’t say it’s edgy in the same way. I was raised in the LDS/Mormon church and they have some pretty strict views when it comes to sex. I feel like they have pretty strict views when it comes to talking about any feeling that isn’t happy and grateful to God, to be honest. Anyway, I left when I was pretty young, but I don’t think you get out of that kind of environment without developing some sort of complex or feelings of shame when it comes to sex. Writing about that sort of thing has helped me work through all sorts of what I believe is religious abuse. I guess everything I write about, I try to make it sort of dark and raw. I want to write about things that other people are afraid to admit they’re feeling, so one of my favorite subjects is sex and one of my other favorite subjects is being a mother.

India LaPlace Pic3

James: I tend to agree. Suppression of emotion never ends well—regardless of what means is used to suppress. I’m curious though, what kind of “taboo” feelings do you write regarding motherhood?

LaPlace: Well, I never wanted to be a parent growing up. I wasn’t that kid who dreamed about a white wedding or getting married and having babies. I actually did everything I could at the time to prevent getting pregnant, so when I found out that I was pregnant, deciding to go through with the pregnancy and raise a child was a serious decision for me. I felt like I gave up everything I had ever envisioned for myself and I feel like I continue to make the decision to be a mother—and a good mother—every day. I think that when you become a mother, all anyone expects to hear you say is how much you love it and what a gift they are and all that generic bull shit. I feel like the worst complaint I hear is, “well, it’s challenging.” And it’s not just “challenging.” You don’t just lose your body or your mind or your sense of self and independence; you lose the dreams you had of what your future looked like and you lose it in ways that you can never prepare for. I’m sure there are a lot of people who think I’m a terrible mother, but I’m going to keep talking and writing about how difficult it’s been for me. All that being said, I want to be clear that as much as I struggle or as much as I don’t enjoy being a mother in the ways I’m expected to, I am absolutely in awe of the person that my daughter is. I feel like she saved my life. I enjoy being her mother and I love her more than I know how to put into words. But that doesn’t make it less challenging and I think that’s important to talk about. I think that writing about that—the challenge, the sense of loss, the struggle with being selfish and independent vs. selfless and maternal—is so important. I don’t think that real conversations happen unless people feel like they have permission to be honest and I want to be a part of helping people do that.

James: How old is your offspring?

LaPlace: She turned 9 in April.

James: You’ve kept a human alive for nine years. Seems like you’re doing fine as a mother. My wife and I use that as our measuring stick. We can’t keep any plants alive, but our kids are still alive and happy (#winning). I think those feelings are natural—it’s not supposed to be easy. Otherwise it wouldn’t be worth it. I’m glad your expressing these things in an effective, and creative, manner.

LaPlace: Good point! And she’s pretty fond of me and already a better person than me, so I know I’m doing something right.

James: Have you been able to get any of these pieces published?

LaPlace: I honestly haven’t tried to get any of those pieces published yet. I was pretty shy about sharing my writing before I got involved with Horror Sleaze Trash. I’m working on putting together a little collection of that writing right now though.

James: Nice! Are you planning on shopping it around, self-publishing, (any plans thus far)?

LaPlace: I’ve thought about self-publishing, but we’ll see what ends up happening. I’ve been lucky enough to make a lot of friends who are in publishing, especially small press, and so I’ll probably end up asking for them to edit/review it for me and suggest the presses they think fit best. I think it’s important to me to either self-publish or go through an indie/small press.

James: I’m definitely looking forward to reading this collection once it’s available! When it comes to writing pieces with explicit subject matter, have you seen any “backlash” or unwanted “attention” in your personal life? What about your online life?

LaPlace: Not really. Most people either love it or think it’s funny or sexy. I think the only “backlash” I got was from the first poem that HST published. In their Horror Sleaze Trash Quarterly: Summer 2017 issue, I have a short poem called “Making Feminism Great Again.” Most people understand what I was doing writing that piece, but I did have a couple of friends who hated it and told me not to publish it because they thought I’d give Trump supporters a big head or justification/feelings of validation for their beliefs. I don’t agree, and I also don’t care. I really love that poem still and I don’t think it’s wise to worry about how my writing is “received.” I know that a lot of people disagree, and they want what they write interpreted in a certain way and of course I want that, but I don’t get to tell people how to interpret art or how it should resonate with them. Of course, I haven’t showed any of my more risqué work to my parents. I’m not sure they’d be too pleased.

James: Haha. I basically tell my parents and certain coworkers that they are welcome to “read and discuss it with me, but they won’t like it.”

LaPlace: I know how that feels! To be honest, I don’t think my parents are capable of reading anything I write without finding a way to make it a personal attack on them and I’m not interested in coddling adults so it’s easier to just not show them anything. I do think that getting involved with Arthur and Horror Sleaze Trash is something that, at least in my head, gave me permission to be less politically correct—or at least less worried about it, as I am a little too caught up in politics—and so that’s something that I believe has made my writing stronger.

James: It’s funny how various personal discoveries end up “giving us permission” to push boundaries in our own creation. For me, discovering Bukowski was a big influence along those lines. Are there any artists in particular that have inspired you in this way?

LaPlace: Oh, god. I love Bukowski. As a child, I was a huge fan of Harry Potter and, weirdly, The Count of Monte Cristo, so I think those books really made me want to write. I wanted to write things that connected with people the way that both of those connected with me. My dad also used to have me read poetry out loud, just from random collections, because I was shy and kind of stumbled over my words. He was super excited when I had a class in 6th grade that required me to memorize a poem each month. He bought me a copy of a picture book for “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost, when I memorized that, and an Edgar Allan Poe collection when I memorized “The Raven.” I think that’s where my love for poetry probably started. In my mid-to-late teens and early 20s, I think that Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Betty Smith’s novel “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn”, and the art of Salvador Dali and Van Gogh really resonated with me and added to who and what inspired and influenced the direction I wanted to take my writing.

James: It sounds like your family was ok with you enjoying the arts, just urged you to practice something that could provide financial security (they have a point a point, there’s no money here—bwahahaha!).
LaPlace: I think they were okay with me enjoying the arts. They definitely tried to direct what arts I enjoyed, but they also never exactly stopped me from enjoying the things they didn’t approve of, including Harry Potter.

James: Makes sense… everyone knows Harry Potter leads to decreased gas mileage and teen pregnancy.

LaPlace: My parents definitely thought so! My mom actually went out and bought me a set of like 20 of the abridged classics and started reading me The Count of Monte Christo. She didn’t force me to stop reading Harry Potter because my parents didn’t think it was right to discourage reading, but my mom tried to intrigue me with other books, which really only made me love Harry Potter and the classics. It probably didn’t help that I had a grandmother who was pretty into some witchy stuff.

James: Other than putting together the short story collection, what are you working on now?

LaPlace: I’m currently working on that collection as well as some poetry I plan to submit to John D. Robinson for his Holy&Intoxicated Publications Poetry Card Series. I’ve been working out the details for a couple of ideas I think would make good zines or collections for others to submit to, as well as some new stuff for Horror Sleaze Trash; we just finished up with a pretty spicy shoot for the 4th of July that I’m really excited about and have some more projects in the works!

James: Sounds like you’ve got a lot going on! How involved are you in these “spicy shoots” (meaning, do you photograph, format, publish online, ogle, anything)?

LaPlace: Well, I’ve been photographed in two shoots for HST thus far [link 1, link 2]. I helped come up with the theme for this 4th of July shoot and was in some of the photos as well. We’ve been having some trouble with our website and so while we figure that out, we’ve branched out into social media, so I’ll be publishing the shoots there. At some point, I’ll probably try my hand at photographing some of the shoots, but we’ll see. I’m definitely there to ogle though. I’m always down to watch a hot chick pose for the camera, especially one who is cool enough to do it for something called “Horror Sleaze Trash”!

James: I, for one, am glad you’ve branched out on social media. HST was already on my radar but meeting you—especially being that your local to the SLC area—makes it that much cooler for me personally. Are you at all concerned that your conservative family will learn things about you they don’t want to know via social media?

LaPlace: Thank you! I’m glad too. It took some convincing—meaning I had to do a bit of work to convince Arthur. He’s not into social media, which I find very cool and refreshing. I was going to delete my Facebook entirely until we decided to create a Facebook page. It’s been a really cool way for me to connect with a lot of different artists, so I definitely love it. And no, I’m not worried about my family learning about it. My siblings know and aren’t really involved in religion anymore, I don’t care at all what my extended family thinks, and my parents aren’t really involved in social media. And even if they were, they’d either ignore it or just be like, “That’s just India! She’s kind of weird.”

India LaPlace Pic2

James: Right? My family has just kind of come to expect that there will be weird and inappropriate things on my social media too.

LaPlace: I love that! I’d rather have my family just be reluctantly resigned to the way I am. That way I don’t have to hide it. I think that’s pretty much the way they’ve learned to view my averse-reaction to religion and marriage and traditional dating as well.

James: You mentioned earlier that part of your role as associate editor is to “reach out to models and authors and artists.” Care to talk about that at all?

LaPlace: It’s sort of a job that I gave to myself, but I already followed and enjoy following so many talented people via social media. The opportunity to work with them and help promote their art is just too good to give up. So really, I just spend time figuring out the best contact methods, emailing or messaging them and offering them the opportunity to be published on the website. It gives them a chance for more exposure and brings new faces to HST, which we are always looking for.

James: So, you’re just like: “hey, you’re sexy and like to model for pics, wanna model for some on this website I work for?”

LaPlace: Not exactly. I usually introduce myself and let them know I’m a fan of their work, then briefly describe the website and why I think they’re a good fit. Some people aren’t into it—I think people are worried about being associated with a website that has the word “trash” and “sleaze” in it and that’s fine. If they don’t understand what we’re doing and how we’re using those words, they probably aren’t as good a fit as I assumed anyway.

James: Yeah, your way probably works a lot better—way less creepy. Also, you’ve provided the perfect opening for this question: what does HST “stand for?” How are you using those words?

LaPlace: As you know, “HST” stands for ‘Horror Sleaze Trash’. The definitions being Horror: adj. inspiring or creating loathing, aversion, etc., Sleaze: adj. contemptibly low, mean, or disreputable, and Trash: n. literary or artistic material or poor or inferior quality. But if you want more personal definitions, here is what it means to me: There are so many artists and people out there who are insanely talented, but their stuff doesn’t get published or get the recognition it deserves because it’s risqué or dirty or “too dark.” Often, that means these artists have put aside their fear of being vulnerable and delved into the darkest parts of their minds, their trauma, and their lives. They’ve been honest and raw and real. Real life isn’t clean and full of happy endings—it’s painful and it’s tragic and it’s dirty. We’re not afraid of that and we have worked to create a platform where people can go to those dark places and be honest about what they’ve experienced.

The opportunity to be real and honest in that way is what drew me to HST in the first place. I think you reach more people and touch more lives by being honest. I think that’s why some people have strong oppositional reactions to words like that and art, writing, etc., like that. It forces us to face the dark stuff that’s easier to ignore. But it doesn’t help people grow to ignore that shit and I don’t ever want to lend my name or time to something that doesn’t feel honest.

James: Aha, so you’re an “artistic expression freedom fighter?”

LaPlace: Haha, I guess that’s one way of looking at it. I just find that the idea of not being as honest as I can in the most blunt way that I can in the only life I can confidently say I have too depressing to handle. So, the opportunity I have—a platform that allows others to be honest in that way—is a dream come true for me.

James: That’s so cool.

LaPlace: You’re too kind! I definitely think it’s one of the coolest things I’ve ever been a part of. I feel really lucky. I mentioned it briefly before, but I had a pretty weird, rough childhood and I’ve had a lot of moments where I was overcome with depression and I thought nothing was going to be okay… but in the end I’ve kind of started to grow into exactly the kind of person and woman I admired and always wanted to be as a child. Realizing that is really cool.

James: I can sympathize with some of these things, depression and such. {enter something wise and philosophical about the sum of one’s experiences or some shit}. Sounds like, if nothing else, it’s “all starting to make sense.” I’m happy for you!

Changing direction here, have you thought at all about what happens when your daughter is old enough to read your work, considering your typical subject manner?

LaPlace: Funny story, she’s actually googled me. She was on her grandmother’s phone, and she texted me on Snapchat to tell me that she googled me and my poem on Horror Sleaze Trash came up. I just told her that was funny and that a lot of what I write is a for an adult audience and so I would rather she wait until she’s older to read that stuff. I am probably more open with her than people believe I should be, but I just told her that it wasn’t because I didn’t want her to read my writing, I just didn’t think she needed to deal with adult themes before she was old enough to understand them. She responded by saying, “That’s what I thought you would say, so I didn’t read it.”

James: That’s awesome! My kids kind of know I write stories for adults. One day they’ll read them… probably think they’re dumb.

LaPlace: She knows that I write stuff that’s more adult and she knows that the stuff that’s less adult is still pretty dark. I’m not too worried about her reading my writing though. We have a pretty open relationship—I believe that if she’s old enough to ask a question or engage in a conversation, she’s old enough for an answer, even if I have to make sure to tweak it so that it’s age-appropriate.

James: When it comes to writing, do you have a specific routine?

LaPlace: I wouldn’t say I have a specific routine. I definitely have to “schedule” time to write. Between being a single mom, working, spending time with family, and making time for my partners, if I don’t schedule days that are specifically just for me and time that is specifically for writing, I tend to put those things off and start to get a little down and stressed out because of it.

James: How often are you typically able to take a day to yourself to write?

LaPlace: A whole day? Almost never. Even the thought of that seems crazy to me. But a whole night works out often. I don’t ever make concrete plans with people on Monday, Friday, or Sunday evenings and I usually try to spend time reading or writing most evenings before I go to bed.

James: Nice, I’m glad to hear that—I’m definitely looking forward to reading more of your work! This has been a fun interview. Is there anything else you’d like to get out there before we wrap up? Words of wisdom? Shameless plugs? Dad jokes?

LaPlace: Thank you! This has been a fun interview—it’s been my first interview! The only Dad jokes I know are every single dad I’ve ever met—just kidding, I know some pretty kick ass fathers—and if I had words of wisdom, I’d probably be rolling in cash instead of peddling smut.

But I am definitely not too shy to promote myself!

You can find Horror Sleaze Trash at the following places:

We also have a Patreon and a Merch shop, which are great ways to support us if anyone feels so inclined.
Merch Shop:

Otherwise, just keep those submissions coming, share HST with your like-minded friends, family, and enemies, and watch for the re-launch of the website, hopefully before the end of the year.

Keep it sleazy, guys and gals.


Austin James writes obscure and uncomfortable fiction.


Beholding the Void: An Interview with Philip Fracassi

It’s an absolute honor to announce that Philip Fracassi, author of the widely esteemed collection Behold the Void, declared “Short Story Collection of the Year” by This Is Horror UK, as well as the novellas Fragile Dreams, Sacculina, and the eagerly-anticipated Shiloh, is gracing the ranks of our ever-growing author interview series. Be sure to visit Fracassi’s beautiful website, and join the newsletter for updates on the slew of upcoming releases mentioned at the end of this interview. If you’ve enjoyed the writers featured here so far, then you certainly don’t want to miss out on Fracassi. Enjoy.

“I want readers to be entertained, and I want them to be moved. While it’s great to have my stuff bought and read, what really makes it worthwhile is hearing feedback from readers about how a story impacted them in a bigger way […] I want the story to be an experience remembered, not just empty calories.”

-Philip Fracassi

Justin A. Burnett: You recently released Shiloh, a work set during one of the most famous battles of the Civil War. I think readers may find themselves happily surprised by this unusual setting (both unusual for you, and the horror/weird community in general, as far as I can tell). What inspired you to locate your story here?

Philip Fracassi: I was inspired not so much by the locale or the war itself as I was by a little-known anecdote about the battle of Shiloh. Apparently, during one of the nights of the battle a few of the soldiers who were wounded started to GLOW. Specifically, their wounds were glowing a bright, luminescent green color. Not only that, but the soldiers who were glowing were healing faster than was considered normal. They nicknamed the phenomenon “Angel Glow” for its healing properties and strange lighting effect. This is factual record, mind you. Anyway, about a hundred years later some high school kids did a science project about it and discovered the glow was caused by a bacterium carried by insects. Regardless, I’d always been fascinated by the legend and decided to run with it. It’s only a part of what happens in the story, but it got my mind going on the “how’s” and “why’s” of that battle. Then, the more I read up on the battle and its horrors and the degree to which it was a blood-bath, I became more and more fascinated and eager to work in that sandbox. I did an absolute ton of research, read a few first-hand accounts, and hopefully got most of the facts right, from the weapons used to the battle formations to the overall strategy of the armies. It was fun but exhausting and it’ll be a while before I do another period piece, but I’m happy with the way this one turned out.

Burnett: You anticipated my next question. My brother is an absolute civil war expert, and I picked up a little of this merely by proximity. I think you succeeded wonderfully on recapturing the intensity of battle. I think a lot of people watch the reenactments without getting a sense of what it must’ve been like to be there in the midst of it. Was this your first research-intensive writing project?

Fracassi: Oh no—not by a long shot. All my stories are exhaustively researched. I think stories like “The Baby Farmer” and Sacculina come to mind as ones that were especially heavy on the research front. “The Horse Thief” as well. Any time I step into a world or write about a topic I’m not definitively familiar with, I always spend days or weeks researching the details I’m writing about for accuracy. It’s actually a really fun part of the process. With Shiloh, I think it just became a lot more than I’d bargained for—there are so many details that need to be verified for a period war piece. Everything from the formations of the troops to the vernacular of that time to the guns and ammunition to the types of underwear the soldiers wore. It’s one thing to write about parasitic barnacles, it’s quite another to realistically recreate a battle that took place over a hundred years ago.

Burnett: I can definitely appreciate the sheer volume of material out there one would have to sift through to recreate the battle of Shiloh. I applaud you for it. I think lot of writers in the horror community would just toss it together. But your level of detail is not at all surprising to me, since one of my favorite aspects of your work is the obvious level of care you put into the craft. This extends to what I would call the “classic” Fracassi story, “The Soda Jerk,” featured in Shiloh. It’s an absolutely gorgeous piece. Did anything in particular inspire this one?

Fracassi: Oh, well thanks very much. The idea of “Soda Jerk” stemmed from the idea of creating a larger world of fiction to play within. I had the idea of doing a series of stories about a small, nondescript, mid-century American town called Sabbath. The plan was to do a series of novellas that would ultimately culminate in one large book—a serial, to be precise. While the serial may or may not come to fruition, I have begun work on additional stories and characters, along with a plot arc, for that world. “Soda Jerk” is a sort of preface to that longer story arc, ergo the “A Sabbath Story” tag. There’s also a story in my collection called “Soft Construction of a Sunset” that takes place in the same small town. The idea of Sabbath is that it’s a place where strange and supernatural things occur due to the infestation of cosmic creatures that harbor there. Hopefully, the full story will come to light one day, possibly as a novel or the aforementioned serial project.

Burnett: That would be fantastic. You submerge the reader into the little town of Sabbath quite nicely, and it feels like a world rich for exploration, like Welcome to Night Vale, except richer and more serious. I called “The Soda Jerk” classic Fracassi because it establishes a relatively normal setting which gets ripped out from under the protagonist’s feet. You have a serious ability to suck the reader into a pretty straightforward plot before pummeling them with something horrific. Shiloh seems to depart from this model in that the “action” is intense from the beginning. The “horror” doesn’t come exclusively from “outside” the normal world but is very much part of both the supernatural and realistic element alike. Was this a conscious departure on your behalf? Did writing it feel different to you?

Fracassi: I do have a tendency to engage readers in an “everyday” scenario with characters that readers can hopefully empathize with or relate to in some fashion, and then, yeah, sorta infuse the story with horror and/or the supernatural. I don’t know why I do this, but I don’t think it’s conscious. Even stories I’ve written that have not been released yet—a couple on a Ferris Wheel, a cornfield church wedding—tend to take common, or “normal” situations and turn them upside down. I certainly wasn’t thinking about Shiloh being a departure from this, but in a way I’d say it’s similar because while the battle is certainly bloody and horrible, it’s still very “real”… at least until the supernatural stuff shows up and takes the story in a very different direction. On one hand I certainly don’t want to be pigeon-holed into this kind of setup, but on the other hand it’s a lot of fun and I think creates a nice impact for the reader. That said, I’ll likely try to shake things up a bit moving forward. Don’t want to telegraph my punches too much.

Burnett: I feel less like it’s a pigeonhole and more like it, as you say, “creates a nice impact.” I still never know what I’m getting into with one of your releases. I remember being blown away by Altar, which is kind of the pinnacle of that setup.

If you were to sum up your artistic goal as a writer, what would that look like? What are you trying to do with your unique and thoughtful version of cosmic horror?

Fracassi: In regards to goals, I think that’s a still-developing target. A couple years ago, my goal was simply to get something—anything—published. Then my goal was to build on that and get more out there and build a readership base. Then it was to have a collection. So, it’s hard to say what the endgame is, because I’m always looking at the next rung on that ladder and striving to reach it. Right now, I’d say my goal as an artist is to get a novel out into the world. I’m still writing screenplays and short stories, however, so a novel is a big undertaking and would mean putting the other stuff on hold. But I have one that’s being shopped around, and I’m hoping that in the next 12-18 months I’ll be able to announce a novel and a 2nd story collection release. But, as I said, I’m also working on multiple screen projects, so it’s really hard to prioritize. It’ll be interesting to see what the next year brings. In the meantime, I’m gonna keep my nose down and work my ass off.

In regards to the art of creating stories, my goals are very simple. I want readers to be entertained, and I want them to be moved. While it’s great to have my stuff bought and read, what really makes it worthwhile is hearing feedback from readers about how a story impacted them in a bigger way, created a new memory that is forever lodged in their brain. That’s why I always try to make my characters memorable and three-dimensional, and why my prose is probably a bit more dense or poetic than a lot of horror writers, because I want the story to be an experience remembered, not just empty calories. At least in a best-case scenario.

Burnett: I personally think you absolutely achieve this, at least given the way your work has stood out to me over these relatively few years. Regarding your initial goal, were you surprised by how quickly your initial publications found an audience?

Fracassi: I was! I mean, you’re talking to a guy who has been writing his whole life. I’ve written three novels and over a hundred short stories–all literary—and tried for YEARS to get published or find an agent, etc. Bupkus. So, to dip my toe in the horror genre (with my short story “Mother”) and get accepted to the first publisher I sent it to was mind-blowing. And then to get mentored by Laird Barron—one of my literary heroes—and get the early support of folks like Paul Tremblay, Adam Nevill, Ted Grau… I mean, it boggled my mind. Totally surreal. And I was pleased that reviewers enjoyed the story, and it got a small readership which was amazing to me. But then Altar came out and the whole thing sort of exploded. Suddenly, all these people were reading my work and seemed to actually ENJOY the work… it was crazy. So since then I’ve just worked hard to keep putting stuff out and doing my best to create the stories I’ve fallen in love with and just hope that people like them. The reality is that when you get to a certain “level” (I hate that word but it’s the only one that fits), you get hit with a dose of reality—you realize that there’s a big, bad world out there that doesn’t care about your hundreds or even thousands of readers, and that if you want to make an honest-to-goodness living doing this sort of thing, you need to adjust your sights and aim a LOT higher, which is sad and daunting at the same time. I miss the early epiphanies of getting published and having my stories chatted about on social media… and while it’s still incredibly fun to achieve those things, I’ve had to adjust my expectations and my goals, and in some ways the work itself. It’s a big-time reality check. I think a lot of writers hit this same wall… I mean, you’re kind of like walking down this golden road, laughing and singing just as—BAM—this looming black wall slams down in your path and you’re like “oh shit!” So you can either start climbing that sucker or you can stay on the road you’ve been on… and it’s not an easy decision to make. Me? I’m climbing. I don’t know if I’ll get to what’s behind it, but I’m gonna try. I know that’s a long-winded answer, but I hope it reflects how a writing career can quickly evolve. It’s incredibly taxing mentally and emotionally, but you just keep doing your best to find readers and publishers who want your work and try to keep building on that.

Burnett: I seem to gravitate towards writers with one foot in horror and another in literary fiction. Is there a chance of your older literary work surfacing now that you find yourself accepted in the horror world?

Fracassi: I think whatever “training” I had writing lit fiction was evident from my first story. I take pride in the prose as much as I do the story. Not that it always succeeds (ditto for the stories), but the effort is there to make the words count for something other than relaying the plot. But it has to contribute. No purple prose, etc. Sometimes, though, it really helps create a sensation or help attain an emotional or visceral response from a reader to write a certain way—using certain words, or phrases… you can create a lot of dread without actually having anything dreadful necessarily happening. This has been fairly effective for me based on some of the reader response I’ve received. Altar is a great example where nothing bad is happening—just a family going to the community pool on a sunny afternoon—but the reader still gets a strong sense of dread or fear simply by the way I describe things. Folks like Laird Barron are pros at this sort of thing, and Brian Evenson, who creates a wonderful sense of detachment, or a better word might be “incertitude,” at what’s occurring. These can be just effective as a scary plot at disturbing and disorienting a reader

Burnett: You mentioned Barron and Evenson, two writers who also add a strong literary twist to the horror genre. Are there any more like them you feel you share a particular affinity with?

Fracassi: That’s an interesting question, and one I’ve given a lot of thought to. It’s always a warm fuzzy feeling to have comparable writers you can associate with in order to help readers get a grasp on what you’re giving them… but honestly, I’ve had a hard time. There is a large quadrant of “new weird” writers out there really tearing things up—guys like Michael Wehunt and Kristi DeMeester and Nadia Bulkin. And then there are folks doing things completely original, like Jon Padgett and Matthew Bartlett. I think Brian Evenson stands pretty outside the box as a “weird” horror writer who is able to create things with language not many writers can accomplish. I suppose he’s akin somewhat to Robert Aickman? And then Barron is a force on his own, and is really not comparable to any other modern writer, although he came up with other greats like Paul Tremblay, S.P. Miskowski, John Langan and Stephen Graham Jones. Then there’s the old-school guys—Straub, McCammon, King, Koontz, Laymon, Ketchum—who all had their unique styles but are still definitively of a period… but still it’s not a perfect fit. I think if I had to pick a couple modern writers to associate with, it’d be folks like Josh Malerman, Nathan Ballingrud, Jeffrey Ford. But I really can’t say with any certainty because, frankly, I haven’t done enough! I don’t even have a novel out there yet! To answer a slightly different way, I would say that there are writers whose careers I’d like to emulate—authors like Adam Nevill, Ronald Malfi, Malerman,Tremblay… guys who are pumping out a horror novel every year, just like they used to do with King, Laymon, John Farris, Bentley Little and Koontz. So, to answer your question, I don’t feel like I’m part of any current group of modern horror writers. I think I’m sorta doing my own thing, which is a little lonely! I don’t get into a lot of anthologies, and don’t make many of the award lists… but if the readers are there? That’s all that matters.

Burnett: You mentioned shopping around a possible new collection and a novel earlier. Are there any details you want your readers to know about these?

Fracassi: There aren’t a ton of details at this time regarding the novel or the 2nd collection, other than to say the novel is “throwback” horror with all the tropes sort of tossed together and pushed into a new direction, and the collection will likely consist of at least 1-2 of my current novellas plus the stories I’ve published over the last year in places like Dark Discoveries Magazine and anthologies like Test Patterns and A Walk on the Weird Side. Plus 1-2 new things, I’m sure.

As far as my current slate, I’ll have a reprint in Best Horror of the Year Vol. 10 coming in June, then an original novella called Overnight coming from Unnerving Press in July, then I’ll appear in a couple unannounced anthologies, and finally another new novella called The Wheel from Cemetery Dances in early 2019. My collection, Behold the Void, will also be translated into a Spanish edition coming in October of this year, and a Czech edition coming late this year or early 2019. So lot’s going on. Fingers crossed that I’ll have news on the collection and/or the novel by the end of the year. I have a newsletter folks can subscribe to, or you can follow my blog. All of it is available at my author site.

Into the Library Loft: an Interview with Toby Driver

I have to admit, I’m a little bit giddy about this one. I first listened to Toby Driver and Kayo Dot back when Choirs of the Eye was released in 2003. I’ve followed Driver’s work since, and happily purchased every release he’s been involved in. Interviewing Kayo Dot front man and multifaceted musician extraordinaire Toby Driver is a bit like interviewing Maynard, for me. Scratch that. I am way more excited about this than I would be about a Maynard interview.

This is officially Silent Motorist Media’s first interview with a musician. I’m sure you’ll find Driver’s work every bit as dark, deep, and weirdly satisfying as any of the authors featured here. Listen to and follow both Kayo Dot and Toby Driver on Bandcamp. Stop by their website. Fall into the darkness, like I did. I’ve never made a better decision. Claiming that Silent Motorist Media probably wouldn’t exist without Driver’s influence, in fact, wouldn’t be an exaggeration.

“The artistic goal for myself can be summed up as a search for self-identity, and the goal for my audience is to try to open minds and share new perspectives in order to help society grow its consciousness in whatever way I can.”

-Toby Driver

Justin A. Burnett: To get the unavoidable Kayo Dot question out of the way, over the years I’ve come to rest assured that a new Kayo Dot release is always looming on the near horizon. Is that still the case? Should fans expect a follow-up to Plastic House on Base of Sky soon?

Toby Driver: We have a new one in the works but haven’t made any announcements about it yet. You’ll hear something about this soon, though!

Burnett: Excellent! I never know what to expect from a Kayo Dot release, which is one of many aspects of your work that keeps me paying attention. From my end, at least according to what I see on Amazon reviews and interviews, it seems like KD fans are pretty accepting of this tendency to radically change musical approaches. Is this your experience as well, or has there been some resistance from listeners through the transition of, say, Hubardo and Coffins on Io?

Driver: Kayo Dot has a small and loyal group of fans who are curious about everything and have come to accept that exploration is what it’s really all about. The keenest type of Kayo Dot fan can see the KD oeuvre as a sort of Final Fantasy overworld map, ha ha (which I hope some amazing artist draws someday, or maybe I’ll eventually do that myself). The resistance has come mostly in the form of the band’s difficulty in finding a scene that totally fits; it’s extra difficult for us to grow constrained by the genre limitations of scenes.

Burnett: I understand that. As I writer, I find myself at my weakest when I write for a genre. Is the resistance you mentioned in the form of listener expectations, or a personal feeling of not belonging somewhere specific in the musical spectrum? In other words, do you feel “genre limitations” as something imposed externally by industry, or is it more of an internal struggle of wanting to play with genres while aspiring to transcend them at the same time?

Driver: I’m trying to be like Kubrick, who made one of the best horror films of all time, one of the best war films, one of the best sci-fi films, one of the best comedies, etc., without being a genre director.

Burnett: Of course, however, no one Kayo Dot album confines itself to a single genre. There’s so much more going on. It’s important for me, in my capacity as a fiction writer, to challenge my readers a bit. Do you set out to challenge your fans as well, or is the challenging aspect of your work a natural byproduct of an altogether different artistic goal you consciously strive for?

Driver: Relating the music to writing is apt; earlier on, I wanted the experience of my music to be more like reading a book, where the reader has to meet the writer halfway and put some energy and investment into the experience, as opposed to watching television. TV does 100% of the work for you. But nowadays, I try to go a little bit further than halfway with the music. I try to be a bit more inviting. The artistic goal for myself can be summed up as a search for self-identity, and the goal for my audience is to try to open minds and share new perspectives in order to help society grow its consciousness in whatever way I can.

Burnett: I think Kayo Dot succeeds beautifully at this. I think a lot of readers of experimental/weird fiction who appreciate the resistance to the culture of instant gratification will find a lot to admire in your work as well. While we’re on the subject, are there any books out there that you feel speak to you on an artistic level, or inform your creative vision?

Driver: Well sure! There are tons, so many… Riddley Walker (Hoban), Pale Fire (Nabokov), The Lathe of Heaven (LeGuin), DFW’s short stories, Lovecraft, Ligotti, Blatty, Alan Moore, Gravity’s Rainbow, House of Leaves, etc. etc.

Burnett: Oh man, you hit some of my favorites there. I’ve recently gotten into LeGuin and I’m thoroughly enjoying the discovery. And, of course, I don’t go on any vacation without at least some Pynchon or Ligotti. Let’s talk about your solo work. You released Madonnawhore last year. It’s certainly the most subtle and among the most beautifully haunting work of your oeuvre. However, I’ve seen it advertised as your debut solo release. Does it bother you that it eclipses the In the L.. L.. Library Loft?

Driver: Yeah, that bothered me and I immediately addressed it with my publicist, but it was too late by that point. The info had already gone out. It was something I just hadn’t thought I would have needed to communicate to my publicist but it’s an easy mistake to make–my Tzadik release has been extremely obscure.

Burnett: Madonnawhore is much different than Library Loft; it’s been called “pop,” which seems to beg for a little qualification. It’s deep, haunting, and tracks like “The Deepest Hole” have more than a little characteristic weirdness going on. Did you set out to write a “pop” album, here, and were any of the experimental recording techniques that characterized the Library Loft employed?

Driver: It’s close to pop because all the songs basically have a verse-chorus-verse thing going on. I have a few friends who were encouraging me to explore this side of my writing and experiment with reining myself in, in this way, so I gave it a shot. It took me about 2 years of dipping in before I was able to settle on a sound that I felt accurately expressed this side of me and could function as a definitive as opposed to a deviation.

Burnett: It didn’t feel like a deviation at all. I have to ask about “Kandu vs. Corky (Horrorca)” on Library Loft. Library Loft was featured on this site in a list of darkest albums ever recorded. Not an insignificant element of the album’s dark momentum comes from the opening track. Where did “Kandu” come from? I’ve never heard anything quite like it, before or since. Also, what does the title “Kandu vs. Corky” refer to? I’ve tried to investigate and find out, but came up empty. Ha ha.

Driver: Thanks! Well, the foundation of that piece was the bell-curve rhythm that you’ll hear mostly in the snare drum, and later, the guitar. The rest of the sonic palette just comes from who and where I was at the time. Kandu and Corky were two orcas at Sea World San Diego in the 80’s when I was a kid. During a performance, Kandu charged Corky and collided with her to assert dominance, but fractured her own jaw which punctured her nasal cavity and caused her to bleed to death, spraying blood from her blowhole all over the audience. The lyrics of the song also tie this in to the washes of blood in Wes Craven’s The Serpent and the Rainbow, kind of oblique references but they make sense to me in terms of a certain type of horror.

Burnett: You have no idea what kind of a long-standing mystery you just solved for me, ha ha. “Spraying” and “washing” are good descriptions of that song. The massive build-up/release structure of your work seemed to reach its pinnacle in that song, although Dowsing Anenome with Copper Tongue still had moments of it. Soon after, Kayo Dot abandons that structure, as I think you explicitly point out in another interview somewhere. Did “Kandu vs. Corky” seem like it exhausted the possibilities of the “slow burner” with its absolute intensity?

Driver: Thanks! No, I’m not sure that I felt exactly that way, but was definitely interested in trying something different after that point. That’s not to say there aren’t plenty more places to go with that kind of vibe or structure.

Burnett: I’m a huge fan of the Tartar Lamb releases. What circumstances typically necessitate the decision to record a Tartar Lamb album, and do you foresee any further work in that direction?

Driver: The first one, Sixty Metonymies, came about during the time that Kayo Dot had eight members. That made it not only difficult to organize everyone’s time and be productive, but also difficult to hear all the details in the music due to how extremely loud and oversaturated the band was. So, Mia [Matsumiya] and I started a duo so that we could play more frequently without too much scheduling trouble and also in quiet settings so that all the details could be heard. Mia’s way of reading and expressing rhythms is unorthodox, so I had to come up with a system of flexible rhythm that suited her style of playing, and that’s what became the Tartar Lamb system. When I was doing Tartar Lamb II, Mia wasn’t available so I wanted to adapt this particular system to a woodwind ensemble. If I use the same method for a piece in the future, it’d make sense to think of it as a Tartar Lamb jam.

Burnett: It would be a delight if a resurfacing of that method happens to be in the cards. Speaking of “resurfacing,” do you get tired of fans asking for more Maudlin of the Well?

Driver: No, I certainly appreciate the interest

Burnett: Awesome! There always seems to be a demand for more Maudlin out there in the Kayo Dot world. Our above-mentioned list, “Darkest Albums Ever Recorded,” is due for another addition soon. As a musician featured on that list, do you have any recommendations for possible inclusions?

Driver: That’s tough to answer, because the definition of what’s dark can be very broad. There’s also performative darkness vs. real darkness. For example, some stuff that would be genuinely dark would be like white supremacist hardcore, government propaganda music, or a proselytizing David Koresh album (I picked one up from Aquarius back in ‘04). Performative darkness (still expressive) might be something like Khanate’s Things Viral. Personal pain, maybe that last Nick Cave album, The Skeleton Tree. I think comparing suffering is unfair. Many people really felt that Mount Eerie album about the guy’s wife dying but it actually sounded like nothing to me. Who’s to say?

© 2018, Silent Motorist Media

Horror, Nature, and Truth: An Interview with Michael Wehunt

Throughout the beginning of the week, I had the distinct pleasure of talking to one of my favorite voices in weird and horror fiction, Michael Wehunt. You know him, of course, as the author of the Shirley Jackson and IAFA’s Crawford Award-nominated debut collection, Greener Pastures. Stop by, subscribe to his site, and for God’s sake, pick up Greener Pastures on Amazon if, for some unfathomable reason, you haven’t done so already. With luck, you will enjoy reading this interview half as much as I enjoyed having the conversation.

“All a writer can do in the end is write their own truth, with their own fears and moments of beauty and grace and pain and hope. Whatever audience is out there will hopefully be drawn to that truth.”

-Michael Wehunt

Me: I’m sure I speak for all readers familiar with your work when I say I’ve been eagerly anticipating a follow up to your short story collection, Greener Pastures, which was nominated for both IAFA’s Crawford Award and the Shirley Jackson Award. Your website says “stay tuned” for a novel, The Lighted Hand, and you’ve said something about the release of a short story collection on Facebook. Is there anything you want to tell your readers about these much-anticipated releases?

Michael Wehunt: There’s not much that’s as fine a sustenance as “eagerly anticipating,” so thank you for that, Justin. Yes, I have my first novel and my second collection in the pipeline, and when I occasionally crawl out of the woods and onto social media to say things about them, it’s an attempt to remind people I still exist during this existential—I mean, er, publishing—limbo. It seems that with every rung one climbs on the ladder, there’s more waiting involved than there was before. Having an agent is a wonderful thing, but it requires a different kind of clock!

I’ll say a little bit about The Lighted Hand. Its heart is a woman who has lost everything but her father. Clair Fuentes returns to her hometown in North Georgia to be near his nursing home. There she meets his new friend, a man who, as a boy, was the central figure of a failed Appalachian doomsday cult back in the 1950s and 60s. Lost in grief and opiates and struggling to connect with her father, she turns her attention on Wyman Louth and convinces him to tell his story. As an aspiring filmmaker, she knows this will give her something to focus on instead of her broken heart. But she begins to find a strange comfort, too, in Wyman’s past… along with some equally strange discomfort. The odds are pretty good that weird stuff starts happening in the present day as well.

It’s told in an epistolary, found-materials style. Yes, there is some found footage, but I’m keeping mum about that. I wanted to play with that structure, hopefully with something new brought to it.

My second collection is complete, but while the novel is in edits, I’m sitting on it. I’m not in a huge rush, and I’d like to get a glimpse of where my big picture is before I throw it out into the marketplace. Having said that, it will feature an original story I’m really excited to share with the world.

Me: I wouldn’t worry about readers forgetting you after Greener Pastures, which we’ll definitely return to shortly. I (and many others, as a glance at your Facebook feed clearly shows) read “The Pine Arch Collection” published at The Dark. I was pleasantly surprised by the inclusion of film elements, and the epistolary style. You pulled it off very well, while maintaining the beautiful quality of Greener Pastures. Was this written in tandem with The Lighted Hand, since it contains many of the new elements you are describing? What inspired this new fascination with found material/film for you

Wehunt: I’m glad you liked “The Pine Arch Collection”! Film/found footage isn’t a new fascination for me. It’s more an obsession that I’ve only semi-recently allowed myself to indulge. The fear of using tropes can hamstring a writer early on, but while I’m still a pretty new writer, I’ve come to be fascinated with them. Not just the tropes themselves but how they relate to storytelling itself. There’s a line in “The Pine Arch Collection” that goes, “What is horror as fiction if it’s not horror without proof?” That’s the root of a lot of my interest. A near-meta exploration of horror through its own media, a sort of embracing of the trope. Chain letters, round robins, epistolary, subgenres—the ways to tell a story don’t have to be tired if you dig into why they’re ways to tell a story.

“Pine Arch” wasn’t written in tandem with the novel, though the force of the novel was still with me. I’d written a story back in 2015 (“October Film Haunt: Under the House” from Greener Pastures) that spoke directly to horror fandom and a mysterious “found” film, and I wanted to write another piece that overlapped with it a bit and shared its world. The trick was doing so while adding to it rather than repeating it. The strange media group Pine Arch Research will make another appearance in my next collection, and I plan to expand their operations a bit in the future. They are a bit of a mixed-media collective.

Me: I’ve always appreciated the level of thinking that clearly goes into your writing process. A lot of horror and weird fiction feels much less deliberate and often suffers for it, in my opinion. “Horror fiction” as “horror without proof” interests me. This statement seems to make a theoretical distinction between horror in real life and horror as entertainment. Do you feel like this lack of proof is what keeps horror fiction entertaining and fascinating? Are unreal elements, in other words, exactly what should be embraced by horror, rather than attempting to deny them by an emphasis on realism? Or am I reading too much into that statement?

Wehunt: I can agree with that. I think your question is touching the edges of the Weird Fiction/Horror Venn diagram. The monster in horror fiction is typically understandable (or made understandable by the story itself) even at its most monstrous, whereas in weird fiction there’s a leaning toward the uncanny and unknowable. But yes, I’m sort of making a distinction there between actual horror and fictional horror. The “proof” in the context my story provides is an email message vs. a phone call or personal visit. It’s not actually proof, and so does that make it fiction to the person reading the email? Just another veil of storytelling. So is the fact of found footage itself: Film is a fictional construct, but found footage asks you to believe it’s not fictional. Who can you trust? Walking up to that line, as close as one can to “Maybe this is actually really real,” is deeply satisfying and, to me, the creepiest thing.

Linear storytelling, meanwhile, will always be the primary mode. It’s what the largest number of people relate to. And while, yes, many writers pretty much exclusively use it, I’m sure I will many, many more times if I’m allowed to keep doing this. I doubt Homer sat down beside an ancient Greek campfire and started his story by saying, “I found this packet of letters from Odysseus in a cave…” It’s possible that one day I’ll look back at this handful of years as my “Meta Phase” with a chuckle. As long as it’s not an embarrassed chuckle, I’ll be more than happy.

Me: I definitely see more clearly how these metafictional elements are coming into play on multiple levels. Excellent explanation! In my last question, I called you a “horror” writer, although “weird fiction” in the sense that you approach the “uncanny and unknowable” is probably more apt. However, you’re also well-known in bizarro circles, and you’ve written about an overlap with literary fiction on your blog as well. Do you find it productive to deliberately straddle the line between these genres, or is this a byproduct of an altogether different artistic vision?

Wehunt: Do I find it productive to straddle genre lines? That’s a tough question because I think every answer is correct, including “maybe,” ha ha. I think there’s the possibility of having one’s own personal Venn diagram, with a readership willing to meet an author in their unique middle, and for that middle to reach widely. But for the most part, if a writer is labeled horror, they’re horror. A huge number of readers who don’t like horror aren’t going to come pouring over the cursed wall simply because an author injects A or B into the mix. But perhaps these dark things can go over to their side of the wall. Conversely, if one gets too far away from horror and writes an only “sort of horror” book, there’s the risk of alienating those readers who live and breathe horror. I love it all. I live and breathe several things. All a writer can do in the end is write their own truth, with their own fears and moments of beauty and grace and pain and hope. Whatever audience is out there will hopefully be drawn to that truth.

As for strictly horror vs. weird fiction, I consider myself to be both, equally. It will bleed one way or the other from time to time, from story to story, but I can’t let either go. I’ve been reading Stephen King since the age of eight, but one thing I never did in my childhood years was fall deeply into horror. There are reasons for that (income, non-awesome town library, etc.), but the result was I went a couple of decades not reading horror and not even knowing there was such a thing as weird fiction. I first read Aickman, Lovecraft, Blackwood, Machen, and all the other dead white men in the last five or six years. I’m ashamed that I wasn’t able to generate enough fascination to circumvent those circumstances and find a way to explore dark genre fiction, but I’m also happy that I spent all those years reading other things, primarily (but by no means only) literary fiction. When I finally decided to try fiction myself (after a very long time being scared to), horror was still there in the forefront of my heart. It had been waiting all along. And out came… whatever this is. This strange blood. It’s me, and I will continue to see what I have to say as I bleed everywhere. I’m having fun extending the figuring-it-out-as-I-go part as long as I can.

Me: Well “whatever this is” came just in time for me. I came from a similar background. I was a Goosebumps and Koontz fan as a child, then discovered classic literature and fell in love. Lovecraft, Ligotti and the rest I’ve only discovered in the past five years as well. Greener Pastures really opened me up to the possibility of a brand of horror that incorporated some of the more “serious” (for the lack of a better word) concerns of literary fiction. Disregarding any attempt to put a brand or genre on it, are there contemporary authors out there you feel a particular stylistic affinity with?

Wehunt: Sometimes an affinity, for me, can relate to what happens on the sentence and paragraph level. The musical notes of prose, so to speak. Chopin instead of Nickelback. Sometimes, too, an affinity can be very intimidating. I don’t want to claim a kinship with an author who is deeply established and admired. That said, Steve Rasnic Tem is perhaps my personal hero in the horror/weird fiction world. What a wonderful body of work he has given us, full of quiet terror and strangeness and versatility and, most of all, heart. His work speaks to me in a way I hope my work will speak to others. Annie Proulx is another, particularly her short fiction. A few of her stories creep close to the supernatural and uncanny with wondrous results, but even when they don’t, her prose is magnificent. And when I first read Nathan Ballingrud’s North American Lake Monsters, I had a moment: This is it, this exists, the horrific can be woven into the mundane in a harmony that gives equal billing to each.

There are others. Daniel Woodrell, Kristi DeMeester, Daniel Mills, John Boden, Simon Strantzas, Robert Aickman, Damien Angelica Walters. But in the interest of brevity, my favorite affinity is a fake one: the spooky stories of Mary Oliver. Which, of course, I made up. She is a poet and, to my knowledge, has little interest in creeping people out or even telling stories with paragraphs, beginnings, middles, and ends. But the way she writes about nature and the human heart inside of nature is a part of me. But I often want to write spooky fiction as I pretend she would. Where the words don’t get in the way of the dread and the dread doesn’t get in the way of the words. Her poems are not terribly far from horror, to my eyes.

Me: Wow. I’m familiar with none of these, despite my long-standing intention to give Annie Proulx a read. This is just another moment where I’m reminded I have a lot of reading yet to do. Your mention of nature and Mary Oliver brings me perfectly to my next question: nature is always present in your writing. I imagine you holed up in a cabin in the thick of the woods somewhere when you write. Is this accurate? Ha ha. The natural element adds such a deep layer of mystery to your work. You mentioned the uncanny and unknowable, and I can’t help feeling that the natural setting in your work harkens back to a primordial past where the natural world was unknowable, and housed the pre-enlightenment gods and demons of our ancestors. Do you feel this way about the ubiquitous presence of nature in your work, or does it serve a different purpose?

Wehunt: For all my talk of living in the woods or crawling out of them to pretend to be human, I’m a city boy. But I must mention that more than a third of Atlanta is trees, well above the national average. It is sometimes called a “city in a forest.” There are many areas, including my neighborhood, where nature is right outside, a bit wild and unkempt. Invasive species of plant constantly creep into our back yard. And I think that shows up a lot in my work, this ready metaphor of nature rubbing against mankind, rubbing until places of contact are worn thin. It shows us that we haven’t really evolved as we believe we have. We’re just slower to react to the unknowable than we used to be.

I grew up farther north in Georgia, in a rural town near the toes of the Appalachians, and so that’s how the woods got into my DNA. I don’t have to be near them to be in them, but I seek them out pretty often, just for walks and, sometimes, the feeling of being in a cathedral. And this is the other power of nature for me, something Mary Oliver touches on in her poetry: the sort of atavistic religiosity of being swallowed by nature. The way the light slants through the trees, minced by leaves, the dust in the light, the quiet and the age and the mountains looming to my north. The woods can feel like God, or the decayed memory of God. There’s a passage early on in Flannery O’Connor’s The Violent Bear It Away, in which Tarwater’s great-uncle goes off into the woods to commune with God, and the way she wrote the scene is every bit infused with cosmic horror as anything Lovecraft ever came up with. So yes, nature has its teeth in me.

If anyone is interested in a deeper, more esoteric melding of nature and horror, I recommend seeking out Richard Gavin’s short fiction. He’s a wonderful author who is very easily pictured not just living in the forests of Canada but actually made of the forest.

Me: That’s exactly the sense in which I was attempting to describe the element of nature in your work. It’s one of my favorite aspects of your fiction, and I will definitely be checking out Richard Gavin. Here’s a rather generic one, but it must be asked: do you prefer writing novels or short stories, and why?

Wehunt: Thank you! It’s awesome when things like all those trees get noticed as more than just setting.

I think I prefer writing short stories because they allow you to try anything. Zoom in on a subject in a way that has never quite been done before. Go with a strange narration style. Write about something huge but only pay attention to one moment of one person on the periphery. A short story is a lot like a poem in that way, and I don’t only mean flash fiction, as would often be assumed when making that comparison. A nice six-thousand-word story can do a great deal. I usually don’t want to skim rocks across a pond. I want to wade in, to various depths. Or maybe I do want to skim a rock, but across a lake instead of a pond.

But it’s not that simple. A novel allows so much more exploration. It’s not just more story or more characters. There is more feeling and more examination. I’ve only written one novel, but by the time I reached the end of it, I was exhilarated by all the streams that branched off from the main creek (to continue the water metaphor). Letting them go where they wanted before coming back in a sort of crescendo to inform one another and create a final cohesive shape. Another way to put it is that a novel is like lungs that are allowed to breathe much more deeply, with all the attendant particles in the air they pull in. One thing I never want to do is write a novel that is a novella or even short story with a lot of expansion or filler packed into it. A novel should do things that a shorter story could never come close to doing.

I’m sticking with my choice of short stories, with an asterisk stating I might change my mind.

Me: Awesome. Thank you for your thoughtful responses. I’ve been impressed by your taste in music as you post your favorite albums on Facebook. Do you have any preferred music you write to?

Wehunt: You’re very welcome. Thank you for the wonderful questions.

I’ve loved ambient and drone for a very long time, to the point where I’m as likely to listen to it on a sunny drive as I am to pop or indie rock. This kind of music is perfect for writing because, as Brian Eno famously said, ambient can function both with our full attention and as “aural wallpaper.” When writing, I tend to listen to either very beautiful or very ugly ambient. An example of the former is Stars of the Lid (probably my favorite artist, full stop). An example of the latter is Indignant Senility. My collection is large enough that I can usually tap into any mood I’m feeling. The element of decay also resonates deeply with me in music and all throughout whatever I’m working on. William Basinski’s The Disintegration Loops is a series of four albums built from old cassette tapes that Basinski realized were decaying as he was archiving them. Gorgeous sound art that truly haunts my words and themes as well as the mind that tries to make them.

Like many writers, I avoid vocals. They’re intrusive and ask the brain to pay full attention to them. But the human voice can be an instrument of its own, and there’s a lot of ambient music with vocals that really tap into the moods I search for in my work. A voice is necessarily human, and the best stories, in my opinion, must also be necessarily human. Grouper, Ian William Craig, Julianna Barwick, and others process their voices into smears or textures that are beautiful and ghostly. And sometimes old choral music really does it for me. It’s typically in Latin, so I don’t have to worry about wanting to understand the words!

I also listen to a lot of field recordings while writing. Chris Watson is a famous field recordist with many albums I’d recommend. But my #1 record to write to is a 1970s recording of a rural thunderstorm from the Environments series. Birds and insects are muted and driven away by rain and thunder. The calm is profound. Once I listened to it while a live thunderstorm wrapped around our house, which was interesting.