The Box by Scott J. Couturier (Upcoming Release)

Greetings! It’s been a while since we’ve announced an official update here, but it hasn’t been for a lack of exciting developments. Among the latest is our upcoming publication of Scott J. Couturier’s fiction collection, The Box. This book will contain 16 of Couturier’s distinctive and flavorful weird tales collected from previous anthologies, along with 5 new works. This is a particular delight to announce, since Couturier’s classic-minded weird fiction has long caught our eye. We’re more than confident that readers who have enjoyed our previous publications—Mannequin: Tales of Wood Made Flesh, The Nightside Codex, and two (at the time of writing) issues of Mysterium Tremendum—will find much to admire in these pages.

Presses, reviewers, and authors of horror and weird fiction can request a digital advance review copy of Couturier’s collection by contacting us at

Another announcement is necessitated by details regarding a release timetable previously posted on social media: The Box, originally scheduled for August of this year, is now a 2022 release. This has become necessary because Silent Motorist Media has (quite quickly and almost unexpectedly) relocated to Austin, Texas. While we consider this move fortuitous and most welcome, it has inevitably set us back a bit. We apologize for any inconvenience arising from this, and assure you we will keep you updated as an exact release date becomes available.

There’s so much more to come! Stay in touch by subscribing to our newsletter, or by joining us on Patreon, where you can subscribe to Mysterium Tremendum, gain exclusive early access to stories from Hymns of Abomination: Secret Songs of Leeds, our tribute anthology to Matthew M. Bartlett, and other exciting things designed just for patrons.

Scott J. Couturier is a poet & prose writer of the Weird, grotesque, liminal, & darkly fantastic. His work has appeared in numerous venues, including The Audient Void, Spectral Realms, Eye To The Telescope, The Dark Corner Zine, Space and Time Magazine, & Weirdbook. Currently he works as a copy & content editor for Mission Point Press, living an obscure reverie with his partner/live-in editor & two cats.

The Endless Walk, by Rohit Sawant COMING AUGUST, 2021

We are thrilled to announce that we are scheduled to release The Endless Walk, a debut horror collection of 11 tales by Rohit Sawant, in August 2021. This is one of two fantastic debut collections we are privileged to publish this year. It is also our first original single author publication. 

For this milestone in our publishing journey, we knew we wanted to present a book that encapsulated all the elements we value in weird and horror fiction. The Endless Walk neatly fits the bill–Sawant’s colorful and hypnotic style is infused with a unique and imaginative flavor of the weird that we quickly fell in love with. Readers will easily identify his reverence for the classics–two stories directly deal with Poe and Doyle–while succumbing to Sawant’s seductive and thoroughly-contemporary strain of literary weird. This is not a release our readers will want to miss. 

Rohit Sawant’s short fiction has been published in various anthologies and magazines. His short story, “Brother Mine,” has appeared in the Shirley Jackson Award winning anthology The Twisted Book of Shadows.

His career in entertainment media has been varied. After getting a Bachelor’s degree in Animation and Computer Graphics, he worked as a CG artist on animated features at Prana Studios, Inc and later as a VFX artist elsewhere. He lives in Mumbai, India and freelances as an artist, screenwriter, and web designer. His favorite Batman is Kevin Conroy.

You can find him online at and on twitter @iamrohitsawant

The cover art below is by the inimitable Don Noble. Stay tuned for more updates on this incredible release, along with the many others we have scheduled for 2021!

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 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).

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

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

-Justin A. Burnett

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Justin A. Burnett