Horror After Dark Interviews Shock Totem

Charlene over at Horror After Dark recently interviewed me and John. Charlene is great and it was good fun!

Check it out here.

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Lights Out: A Conversation with Director David F. Sandberg

Author’s Note: Some spoilers ensue below. If you haven’t yet seen the short film Lights Out, I cannot be held responsible for spoiling its details—nor for any lack of sleep you may get if you do watch it. You’ve been warned.

“Have you seen Lights Out?” my girlfriend asked me one cold April night, as we snuggled beneath the covers to go to bed.

“No,” I said, getting comfy. “What’s that?”

“It’s a short film,” she said, and curious, I asked her if she could show it to me.

She had me grab her phone so she could find it, the light from the screen piercing the dusk of our bedroom. She stopped then, turned to me, and said, “Just remember, you asked me to show you this.” (This was after I’d made the same mistake only a couple of months earlier, when she introduced me to Salad Fingers.)

Two minutes later, she found what she was looking for and angled the phone towards me…

As I watched, my eyes slowly widened, my facial muscles slacking, and something very primitive began worming its way through my chest. I was experiencing a situation both familiar and unwelcome: that gripping, childhood terror of the boogeyman lurking just out of sight in any and every shadowed corner and half-open door. Needless to say, when the video was done, my girlfriend laughed and said, “I’m sorry, I’m a terrible person!” To which I replied, “That’s fine. Goodnight, dear.” It was quite some time before I was able to relax long enough for sleep to claim me.

Needless to say, my girlfriend and I were far from being the only victims of this short film. Lights Out has gained viral status as it continues to scare the living daylights out of people—including professional horror writers. Created for a UK film anthology group, Bloody Cuts, for their “Who’s There?” short film challenge, Lights Out is the horror-child of writer-director David F. Sandberg, and starring his wife, actress Lotta Losten.

Mr. Sandberg was kind enough to share some of his time to dish on his short film, its production, the waves it has been causing, and future projects.

BLD: You really, really perfectly captured the paranoia and panic of hiding under the bedsheets with this film. (Speaking for myself, I felt like a little kid, scared of anything outside of the safety of my bed.)

DS: Thank you! Since it was a zero budget film we had to make use of what we had. An apartment. A bed. Creaky floorboards. The story was kind of written by the location.

BLD: Starting with that initial shot of the woman walking up the hallway and turning off the lights behind her: how did you get the phantom to appear like that? It’s an immaculate shot.

DS: Since Lotta plays both characters, it’s a split screen shot, and I simply faded the phantom shot in and out with the light. You’d think a light bulb turns off immediately, but it actually fades out during a couple of frames.

BLD: In that final, terrifying shot before the lights go out of the phantom’s face…well, just what are we looking at? (i.e. was its face done with makeup, prosthetics, animatronics, SFX, etc.?)

DS: I’m a big fan of makeup and animatronics but since I don’t know how to do those things I had to do it CG. I modified and painted on a still frame of Lotta’s face and then added slight movement in Blender, a free 3D software.

BLD: You also did the cinematography to this film. Did you also edit it? (And did you score the music?)

DS: Yes, I do most things myself. Partly out of necessity, but also because I enjoy pretty much every aspect of filmmaking. Music is probably my weakest skill but at least I don’t have to pay any royalties. Though it was funny to see a short on YouTube use the “music” from Lights Out. I mean, if you’re going to steal music anyway, why not steal something good?

BLD: Lotta Losten is a natural actress. She conveys so much sympathy with her performance. How did you come to work with her?

DS: We actually dated when we were eleven years old. Then we took a break for about fourteen years, got back together and then got married last year. So we’ve known each other for a while. She’s an actress, among other things, and we help each other in our creative endeavors and work together on joint projects as well. We’ve written two screenplays together, but they’re not horror. Lotta’s not as into that as I am.

BLD: What films, TV shows, etc. have inspired you the most? And did any of them influence or inspire Lights Out?

DS: I guess everything you see influences you in one way or another. I love sci-fi as well, and especially when it’s mixed with horror, like (in films such as) The Thing, Cube and the Alien movies. It’s kind of hard being a horror fan, because most of the stuff that gets made is really bad.

BLD: What was the most recent great (or at least good) horror/science fiction film you’ve seen?

DS: I’ve mostly been re-watching things lately, like Jaws the other day. But I did go see Godzilla, which was kind of disappointing and X-Men: Days of Future Past, which didn’t make a lot of sense, but was very enjoyable.

BLD: How about literature?

DS: I read embarrassingly little fiction. Does manga count? I love Japanese horror manga, especially (from artist) Junji Ito. I guess I read some stuff online like creepypastas and SCP Foundation, but very little proper books.

BLD: Have you ever had anything spooky happen to you?

DS: The spookiest was probably when I was a kid, and during one really foggy evening, my friend and I were running around the woods not far from where we lived. We marveled over how little you could see ahead, through the thick fog. Suddenly we see a person in a cloak standing on top of a hill. As if that wasn’t scary enough, the person then pulled out a big sword and we ran for our lives home to my parents, who didn’t believe us. I’m guessing it was just a teenager having fun, but it was scary as hell when it happened.

BLD: I wonder if somewhere, someone just read that and laughed, thinking, “Oh wait, that was me!”  (Either that, or it was…something else!)

DS: If he reads it he better get in touch so I can finally prove to my parents that it happened. That’s the worst thing about being a kid; spooky things happen, and nobody believes you.

BLD: How do you feel, having this video achieving such popularity (or infamy?) online?

DS: Fantastic and strange. The film was a contest submission, and we didn’t expect it to have a life outside of the contest. When the plays on Vimeo were getting close to a million, Lotta and I sat in front of the computer refreshing the browser to see it happen. It was kind of like a New Year’s Eve countdown. It’s amazing what a 2.5- minute film can do. But I guess the fact that it’s so short, and that there’s no dialogue contributed to (it), it’s spread across the world.

BLD: How does it feel to know that you’ve successfully scared the you-know-what out of professional horror writers with this video?

DS: That’s the greatest compliment of all, if I’m able to scare someone who creates scary stuff for a living. Hopefully I’ll be able to do it more in the future.

BLD: Have you gotten any noteworthy work offers since this film’s release?

DS: Yes! I now have agents and managers in Hollywood. It’s crazy. I’m working on a feature film script now, and I’m getting sent scripts by my agents as well. I’m really excited to see what comes of all this. Maybe I’ll finally be able to make a horror film outside of our apartment.

BLD: That’s very exciting that you have a feature film in the works.  What can you (or are you allowed to) share about it at this stage?

DS: I’m not really sure what I can say, but I guess with the success of Lights Out, it’s kind of obvious that it’s based on that. When I made the short, I had no thought of a feature in mind; it was just a short. Luckily, since the short is very brief and kind of open, the feature can be anything really. But the main thing is the whole concept of only being safe in the light while surrounded by darkness where evil lurks.

BLD: Let’s pretend you had first choice to direct any upcoming film, be it officially announced or just a dream project. What would you choose, and what would you bring to it? (I’m calling it now: a new version of Richard Matheson’s Hell House.)

DS: I’ve never actually read (or seen) Hell House. I had to look it up and it sounds really interesting. I’ll definitely have to check it out.

I’d like to do a version of Day of the Triffids, but there’s already been a movie and two mini-series done, and another movie is on the way. There’s a very recent book called Bird Box (by Josh Malerman) that I would love to do as well, but it’s already in production, from what I hear. I guess the two are pretty similar in that they deal with the collapse of society and not being able to see. I guess that’s something that appeals to me, for some reason.

BLD: Would you like to add anything else?

DS: You can find more of Lotta and me at lottalosten.com and dauid.com. Or @lottalosten and @ponysmasher

BLD: Thanks, David! This was, quite frankly, very exciting.

DS: Thank you!

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A Conversation with John Langan

John Langan is well on his way to becoming a contemporary horror legend. Not only are his ideas brilliant, but the style and authority with which he crafts his fiction makes his work required reading for anyone even remotely interested in the genre. His stories have frequently appeared in best-of-the-year anthologies as well as several of the themed anthologies edited by John Joseph Adams and can be found in his two collections, Mr. Gaunt and Other Uneasy Encounters (2008) and The Wide, Carnivorous Sky and Other Monstrous Geographies (2013). Whether you’re a fan of monsters, literary analysis, or the weird, you’ll find something to love between the covers of either collection. Langan’s novel House of Windows (2009) is likewise recommended. Co-founder of the Shirley Jackson Awards and an instructor at SUNY New Paltz, Langan is also an accomplished academic.

I recently had an opportunity to speak with the man himself about monsters, family, writing advice, and his host of new projects on the horizon.

ZCP: Your work tends cover a wide range in terms of literary and genre horror. In one story you’ve placed readers in a classroom for a lecture about Poe while in the next you’re speaking with authority about space vampires. What’s it like to call so many corners of the genre home? Do you find your process changes from one story to the next?

JL: My process remains pretty much the same from story to story, which is to say, I try to write about a page a day, sometimes more, sometimes less, until the story’s done. What changes from piece to piece is the narrative voice, which adapts to and shapes the material of the story. Once I can hear the voice of a particular story, usually in an opening line, I’m off and running. If my work covers a lot of ground, then that’s because I see the horror field as a rather large and baggy tent. No doubt, it’s a consequence of growing up during the horror boom of the seventies and eighties, when so many writers were doing so much work that was widely-available, and all manner of reprint and year’s best anthologies were available, too. A book like Stephen King’s Danse Macabre, with its very catholic view of what might be considered a horror narrative, exerted a tremendous influence on my own thoughts on the matter. I see that variety as a fundamental strength of the horror field, a tremendous asset for those of us working in it.

ZCP: What draws you to write about monsters and madness? Did you have any childhood interests that steered you toward the horror genre?

JL: I write what I do because I love it, because it speaks to me and energizes me in a way that cuts right to the heart of who I am. I’ve always loved monsters: initially, the big ones, Godzilla, especially, and Gamera and Gorgo (who should have starred in a series of films of her own–what a missed opportunity!), and then the human-sized ones, the vampires and the werewolves, the gill-men and the zombies. I love their gaudiness; I love the way they embody what I see as one of the horror narrative’s central concerns, the irruption of the irrational into our daily experience. I expect my affection for them grows out of a number of different childhood passions: for dinosaurs, for comic books, for the mythology of the Greeks and the Vikings.

As for madness, I suppose it’s the complement to the monsters. If they represent that incursion of the irrational as an external force, then madness figures it as internal, a rupturing of the self by the self. I imagine my interest in it grows out of early exposure to the works of Poe, as well as to the history of Jack the Ripper and what was during my childhood the contemporary figure of the Yorkshire Ripper, whose crimes and taunts of the police terrified me, an ocean away. I would guess, too, that as someone who was a literature major in college and graduate school, I’m informed by the interest in madness that permeates so much of the literature of the last few hundred years, from the work of the British and American Romantics to a figure such as Rimbaud, and up through the Moderns and Postmoderns.

ZCP: In past interviews you’ve mentioned working on a second novel with a working title of The Fisherman. How is that progressing?

JL: I’m pleased to say that I finished work on The Fisherman at the end of 2013, and currently, my agent is shopping the book around. It’s the story of a pair of fishing buddies who venture to a haunted stream, wrapped around an account of the secret and terrible history of the construction of the Ashokan Reservoir in upstate New York. Fingers, obviously, crossed.

ZCP: You also have a third short story collection in the works, correct? You’ve said you view The Wide, Carnivorous Sky and Other Monstrous Geographies as a continuation of your first collection, Mr. Gaunt and Other Uneasy Encounters. Will the new collection share traits with the first two?

JL: Absolutely: there will be the same mix of monsters and narrative approaches, anchored by an original, lengthy novella. If there is a difference, it’s that the stories in this book all cohere around the idea of betrayal. This wasn’t a conscious decision on my part; it was more a matter of, when I was looking at the stories that would go into the third collection, I realized that every last one of them revolved around some notion of betrayal. This, in turn, affected my decision about the new piece I wanted to include. I haven’t started showing this book to publishers, yet; I’d like to have the novel settled, first. But I would imagine it will appear in either 2015 or 2016, with a fourth collection appearing two to three years after that, and a fifth another couple of years on from that, the Good Lord willin’ and the creek don’t rise.

ZCP: In 2011 Prime Books released Creatures: Thirty Years of Monsters, which you co-edited with Paul Tremblay. Do you two have any other shared projects on the horizon?

JL: Paul and I have a few paragraphs of a story we’ve been planning to co-write for something like five or six years, now. Eventually, we’ll get to it. Paul’s an outstanding writer; his 2010 collection, In the Mean Time, is essential reading. Our other ongoing project is the Shirley Jackson Awards, of which we’re founding members. With JoAnn Cox, Paul is responsible for the smooth running of the whole shebang; I show up for the awards and look thoughtful.

ZCP: The Year’s Best Weird Fiction, Volume One, which is being edited by Laird Barron and Michael Kelly, is slated for release in August and contains your story “Bor Urus.” You’ve been a supporter of weird fiction for a long time. What’s it like to be included in the first wave of this new anthology? Do you think weird fiction may get more of the attention it deserves?

JL: I’m delighted that my story is appearing in the anthology, tucked in amidst truly stellar company. Of course, it’s always nice to have your work recognized, and for it to be in such a high-profile venue as this is the proverbial icing on the cake. Between the VanderMeers’ recent anthology, The Weird, and now this, it does seem as if the weird is on the cultural radar. Certainly, it would be nice for a writer such as Michael Cisco, who for a decade and a half has been writing brilliant fiction that exemplifies much of what I understand the weird to be about, to receive the recognition he so richly deserves.

ZCP: You’ve had a close friendship with Laird Barron for some time now. Any chance we’ll see you two team up as a dynamic duo to frighten readers?

JL: Laird is one of my favorite people, and one of the contemporary writers who most makes me throw up my hands and shout, “How did he do that?” We’ve been kicking around ideas for years, now; I think the first one centered on Godzilla vs. Cthulhu. (I actually wrote a couple of hundred words on it.) It’s something we still plan to do, once our plates become a little less full. Our latest plot involves a global pursuit and at least one monster.

ZCP: Aliens or Predators?

JL: Conan!

ZCP: Earlier this year you set up a new blog. You’ve already put up a list of works and interviews as well as some advice on writing. Any plans for the blog’s future? How would you say your overall use of social media has changed since your career took off?

JL: To put the matter kindly, I’ve tended to under-use the various social media platforms, from Livejournal, to Facebook, to Twitter, to whatever’s looming on the electronic horizon. In part, this has been a result of trying to balance those platforms with a marriage, a family, a day job teaching, and a night job writing. I’ve preferred to devote the majority of my writing time to working on my fiction. And, to be honest, I’m not particularly good at the kind of rapid-fire discourse that flourishes online. Probably as a result of my academic training, I prefer to take a longer time working through whatever subject or issue is in front of me, by the end of which, the online community will have moved on to the next thing. I used to feel worse about this, especially when I considered those writers who were all over the place on the web. More recently, I’ve noticed a) how many of those same writers haven’t written much except for their online commentary and b) how many of them will declare their need to go offline in order to complete their next work. This said, I have established a new blog. I wanted a single place where I could link to what I’ve published online, which turned out to be more than I’d realized. I imagine I’ll continue to use it to that end, and also try to employ it to somewhat the same end as my Facebook account, which is to say, as a place to bring together things I think are interesting and cool.

ZCP: What is one piece of bad writing advice you think gets passed around too often? What good piece of advice doesn’t get passed around enough?

JL: As a fan of the adverb, I’m annoyed at their continuing denigration. I understand the purpose of telling beginning writers to do without them, as I understand the reason why the whole “slaughter your darlings” adage is passed on to them. Both strike me as reductive and constrictive. My feeling is, if a piece of writing advice helps you to write more, then take it to heart. If it stops you from writing, then ditch it.

As for good advice: read. And do what you love. If you don’t love what you’re doing, then why do it?

ZCP: You currently teach as an adjunct instructor at SUNY New Paltz. Would you ever consider teaching in an MFA program?

JL: Depending on the program, sure. The biggest challenge to me doing so is location and duration. My family and I are pretty settled where we are, now–my wife has tenure; my younger son’s in middle school–which means I would need to teach either someplace locally, or someplace with a low-residency program. Of course, given that the low-res programs tend to be more genre-friendly, that might not be such a stretch.

ZCP: You’ve mentioned your family a few times now. How does being a husband and father inform your writing? Do you find bits of that portion of your life slipping into your work, or do the two remain relatively separate?

JL: I wouldn’t be the writer I am today without my wife and sons. When my wife, Fiona, and I first started seeing one another, she was completing her dissertation on the fiction of Jack Kerouac (not so much On the Road as Dr. Sax and Visions of Cody). We talked about her work on Kerouac a lot, especially his use of popular culture. Through those conversations, Fiona helped me to realize that popular cultural forms such as horror fiction were as capable of serious literary expression as anything, which had been something of an anxiety of mine during my twenties. Then, when we first started living together, Fiona and I watched reruns of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, after which, we would discuss the episodes. I don’t think I’ve ever known anyone who understands narrative in so fundamental a way as my wife; discussing Buffy (and later Angel) with her was like a master class in the dynamics of narrative. Once I returned to writing horror, and before our son was born, I would read whatever story I was working on to her and she would critique it–continuing, I suppose, my education.

More generally speaking, being a father to both my sons has made my life richer than I would have dreamed possible. With my sons in my life, even the bad times are better than they would have been, otherwise. There’s definitely been a bleed-over from my life to my fiction, from my older son asking me to write stories about certain monsters, to my wife and younger son appearing in not-too-subtle disguise in a couple of stories and my first novel.

ZCP: In the past you’ve given shout outs to writers. Is there anyone out there readers should keep an eye on who maybe doesn’t have the readership they should?

JL: There is no shortage of writers doing great work, right now. I mentioned Michael Cisco above as someone who’s been on the cutting edge for years and has yet to receive what I consider his due. I’m sure your readers are aware of Laird Barron and Sarah Langan (who is, incidentally, no relation); if they’re not, however, then I would heartily recommend all of Laird and Sarah’s fiction, starting with The Imago Sequence and Other Stories and The Keeper, respectively. The last few years have seen a number of very strong debut collections; I’d call attention to Livia Llewellyn’s Engines of Desire and Nathan Ballingrud’s North American Lake Monsters as well worth your readers’ time and attention. Recently, I’ve had the pleasure of reading new collections from Scott Nicolay and Damien Angelica Walters. Scott’s Ana Kai Tangata is out, now; I believe Damien’s Sing Me Your Scars and Other Stories will be released in the fall. As they say, run, don’t walk, to get them.

ZCP: Thanks so much for taking the time. Is there anything you’d like to say in closing? You have the floor.

JL: Thank you for inviting me to speak with you, and for asking such interesting questions. The only thing I’d like to add is a thank you to the people who have read and who continue to read my fiction. What success I’ve had, I owe to my readers, and I’m grateful for them.

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Tavern Doom: A Conversation with Bohren & Der Club of Gore

Put on a pair of headphones and turn off the lights. Press play, and close your eyes as the melancholy night-sound of the German instrumental band Bohren & Der Club of Gore fills your ears and casts shade upon your soul.

In 1988 in Mülheim an der Ruhr, in the state of Nordrhein-Westfalen, four musicians gathered: Thorsten Benning on drums, Robin Rodenberg on bass, Morten Gass on guitar and piano, and Reiner Henseleit on guitar. All previously members of various hardcore, death metal, and doom bands, they began to meddle with jazz and ambient styles, all while keeping their sound strictly instrumental. By 1992, they had come to call themselves Bohren (which translates literally to “boring,” and although it has an ironic association in the English language for a disappointed listener, it is actually a reference to the physical action of boring, like drilling a deep hole into the ground.) In 1993, they added “und Der Club of Gore” to their band name, as an homage to the ‘80’s Dutch noise rock band Gore, whose exclusively instrumental approach to music was a direct influence upon Bohren’s own style.

Bohren & Der Club of Gore’s debut album, Gore Motel (1994), featured a variety of sounds, including some distorted guitar and even an up-tempo track, but the majority of songs were brimming over with a very moody, dark sound. With 1995’s Midnight Radio, Bohren’s sound became even more dense, its eleven untitled tracks (each clocking in at 10 minutes or longer) sounding like a nighttime cruise in the grim streets of a city straight out of a noir film.

In 1995, Henseleit quit the band, and in 1996, Christoph Clöser was hired—but instead of continuing the band’s guitar-heavy sound, Clöser introduced the saxophone. Starting with 2000’s Sunset Mission, Bohren & Der Club of Gore’s style shifted fully into what is generally thought of as their signature sound: extremely slow-paced songs that are gloomier than a moonless night and denser than a black hole, with haunting melodies creeping through every track. By this time, Clöser was also playing Fender Rhodes, piano, and vibraphone, and Morten Gass picked up organ, vocoder, 8-string bass, synthesizer, and Mellotron. It was with the 2004 re-release of their fourth album, Black Earth (2002), on Ipecac Recordings, that they began to grow popular in the United States, and with each subsequent album, they’ve gained more and more exposure.

Recently, I had the pleasure to chat with Morten Gass about the music, albums, and creative process of Bohren & Der Club of Gore.

BLD: Many people attempt to classify Bohren’s music as anything from “doom jazz” to “death jazz.” Do you or the other members of the band have some kind of name for your sound?

MG: I remember in the beginning I described our music as “Tavernen Doom” (tavern doom). That is still okay for us.

BLD: How would you describe der Club’s sound over the years?

MG: Minimalistic, quiet and slow without distortion but a lot of bass. Music with a certain kind of heaviness, but not in a heavy metal kind of way. The basic recipe is still the same as (when we started playing) 22 years ago; we try to play very slow and quiet music in a jazzy, easy-listening kind of way. But of course, it is no real jazz that we play; (we’re perceived this way) by using all the classic jazz instruments. On our new album, Piano Nights, we were more focused on sound by using better studio equipment.

BLD: What bands or musicians were the biggest inspirations for der Club?

MG: Since the early ‘80’s we listened to extreme music. Bands like Hellhammer, Repulsion, Autopsy, Gore, Cocteau Twins, Sade, Martin Böttcher or Helge Schneider.

BLD: What are some non-musical influences on your music? (Any books, stories, or myths, for example?)

MG: Video games and nighttime activities.

BLD: The band has generally used the same instruments (keys, drums, bass, saxophone, and occasional guitar), and has more or less retained the same styles for quite some time now. Are there any plans to incorporate other instruments or styles?

MG: We always use some different instruments on every record. Since Midnight Radio, we use no more guitars. On Sunset Mission we used a saxophone for the first time. Black Earth got lots of Mellotron. Geisterfaust got no keyboards except the Fender Rhodes, and saw the (use of a) vibraphone and eight string bass, plus a fine housewives choir. For the next one (Dolores), an old organ, and so on. I mean there will be always some kind of small changes in style and instruments and music, but not too drastic.

As I know us, I am very sure that one or another new instrument will sneak in our sound again. At least this was always the case on our previous albums.

BLD: Does anyone in the band have musical ideas that you’d like to explore, but haven’t yet?

MG: We like the style of our music so very much. That is why we are extra careful with our musical formula. For example, we are big fans of techno and house music, and of course heavy metal. But we find it silly to integrate something like that into our music.

BLD: Has the band ever been approached to score a movie? (I think your music would make for an amazing soundtrack.)

MG: Yes, there were some. But to be honest, we are not so keen to write a soundtrack. Something like that means a lot of work, and especially a lot of compromises, so we’d prefer to save ourselves up for the right one.

BLD: On your 2011 mini-album Beileid, you have a song, “Catch My Heart,” the in which you do two very unusual things: covered another band’s song, and had a vocalist, the great Mike Patton. Do you guys plan on doing either of these things ever again?

MG: The Beileid mini-album was just something special in between two regular albums. We will stay an instrumental band until maybe one of us recognizes his own great voice.

We had this obsession to do a cover of a German heavy metal ballad. (When) our version of Warlock’s “Catch My Heart” became such a monster, Patton was just the only one we knew and in which we trusted to sing it properly. Plus it was a great honor to finally work with him.

BLD: Were there “themes” on any your previous albums?

MG: There is always a theme on our albums. Just to get in the right mood for the music. The theme, or the title of the album, comes before the writing process.

Midnight Radio was about lonely driving around in an urban city at night. Sunset Mission was about assassins. Black Earth was our graveyard album. Dolores (2008) was about pain. (The 2009 single) “Mitleid Lady” was inspired by the Chris Norman song. Beileid was fun at the funeral. Piano Nights, a bar at the end of the world.

BLD: So what was the story behind the “hand theme” of your 2005 album Geisterfaust (which translates literally to “Ghost Fist”)?

MG: The fist of a ghost is like our music. It’s a spectral kind of thing, but it can hit you full force in the stomach.

BLD: There’s a black and white photo of a very young Christoph Clöser on the cover of Piano Nights. What’s the story behind that?

MG: Actually, it is a very sad story. Teenage Christoph was forced by his parents to earn money for the whole family by entertaining people in front of the Cologne Dom with his piano magic. This was by the way in the early ‘70’s where no digital pianos existed. The poor guy had to carry the big upright piano all the way to the Dom on its little narrow shoulders, whether summer, winter, rain or storm. Not to mention that he and his parents lived in the eighth floor.

BLD: Does the band tour much?

MG: We play about thirty shows per year.  (We’ve) got regular jobs. This makes touring difficult for us. So we do short trips, like three to five shows in a row. But we fell fine with that kind of situation. Touring gets boring and exhausting after a few days. Plus we are not the type of guys who “want to see the world” or are interested in cultural things and stuff like that.

BLD: Do you think the band will ever tour in the U.S.?

MG: We were there in 2009 for the first time. Under the right circumstances, we will come back, for sure.

BLD: Would you like to say anything else?

MG: Thank you very much for the interview, Barry. Stay happy.

Bohren & Der Club of Gore’s albums are available from major retailers nationwide.

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Hitting a Nerve: A Conversation with Lee Thomas

Lee Thomas is one of the strongest writers going today. If you aren’t familiar with his work, reconcile that. Stunning writing, believable characters, and horrific…well, horror. He’s the real deal, folks. Lee was kind enough to drop by ST Manor for some tea and playful banter…

John Boden: While I have a lot of your books, I have not read them all…yet. What I have read has been wonderful. Of all the possible charms I could go on about, the rich and realistic portrayals of emotion and character are staggering. Truly. There are also recurring themes of inner struggle as well as the given outer struggles. All of it delivered with such deft edge and detail. Do you put a lot of yourself in your work? Meaning, do you tend to infuse characters with struggles and feelings you have had or have?

Lee Thomas: Yes. I imagine most writers do. A character is an author’s conduit to readers, so characters have to express feelings accurately, whether through action, speech, or thought. We all know what fear feels like, and we all know what love feels like. Granted I’ve never encountered a horrific visage of an old god on a fog-shrouded eve, but I’ve spun around in a car after losing control of it and felt that ice cold, near-paralysis in the process. I’ve waited in a hospital room while my partner was undergoing heart surgery, and I went through a spectrum of emotions about it. You use those things. Granted, that’s oversimplifying, but most adults have enjoyed and/or endured the range of emotions. They are available to us, and they need to be employed. When you’re writing, you’re not just dropping info and walking readers through a series of events, you’re trying to engage them and make them believe that what you’re sharing feels real, even though they know it isn’t. Characters are the primary way to do this. If what your characters feel reads as authentic, you won’t have readers pulling back and thinking, “Huh?”

JB: I recently read your novel The German. (I know I was late to the party on that one…all of them, sadly.) I would imagine there was a great deal of research that went into the historical aspects of that novel. It was so rich with detail. What was the inspiration for such a book?

LT: I enjoy research, though I try to keep it unobtrusive. I don’t want to weigh a reader down with a bunch of information that I might find fascinating, but which has no bearing on the story or the characters. With The German, I drew inspiration from a few places. They all hit at once within a relatively narrow window period. The first was a documentary on The History Channel, when they still did the occasional piece on history. It focused on a high-ranking German soldier who was openly gay. His name was Ernst Röhm, and it struck me as odd I’d never heard of him before. Fascinating stuff. That night I sat down and wrote what would become the prologue of the novel, and then it was out of my system, and I went back to other projects. Not long after, a week or two, I went on a day trip to Fredericksburg, a small town in the hill country out here, and they really play up the area’s German heritage. I hadn’t been living in Texas for very long at that point, but the fact it had been so heavily settled by Germans surprised me. Back in Austin, I found that there were still German music clubs and the like. So I had a protagonist and a setting (though I changed Austin to a smaller, fictional town named Barnard). The last piece was just random. I won’t go into it. It includes adult entertainment.

JB: I know you to be a music fan (a fellow “metal head”), so I feel obliged to ask: how important is music to your creative process? Some find it distracting, others can’t work without it. If you need or like music to create, what are some of the soundtrack favorites?

LT.: Music is important to what I do. Before starting a project, I’ll try to find music that might enhance the tone of a piece while I’m putting the first draft together. The first draft of The Dust of Wonderland, which was written in a compulsive haze over the course of a few weeks, was written almost entirely to NIN’s Pretty Hate Machine and the first Candlebox record. Back then it took effort, okay minor effort, to pop a CD out and throw another in to change the music. It didn’t really matter. I was so lost in the story the music barely registered. I’d occasionally think, “Head Like a Hole” must have played a million times by now, but it still sounded good so I kept going. I need dead silence when I’m editing, but when I’m writing I like to have the music blaring to mask other distractions. Sometimes I’ll rework a title from a favorite song and use it for a short story or book. I’ve done it a few times. Of course the story or book has nothing to do with the lyrical content of the song. It’s just that metal and horror share a language palette. The cadence of the words gets into my head. Most of the titles I do from scratch, but there are a few that would certainly sound familiar to the hard rock set.

JB: I am always quite interested to hear how people got where they are today. Did you always want to be a writer? How young were you when you first began that journey?

LT: I was always interested in reading, but I thought writers were the anointed few who were identified as brilliant and predestined to have writing careers. Turns out…not so much. When I was in the Third Grade, I wrote a series of illustrated “novels” based on the Universal Horror canon. My teacher caught me working on one and asked to see them all. He typed up the stories and photocopied the pictures and made books out of them for the class. Great teacher. That was the last inkling I had from educators that I might be a writer, or have any useful skills at all. When I was sixteen I wrote my first full-length novel: 400 pages of a painfully bad werewolf story that was basically a modern interpretation of The Wolfman. I wrote another when I was in my early twenties. I probably wrote 10 “practice” novels, but I didn’t think to do anything with them. Then, a friend of a friend hooked me up with a literary agency. They were legit and worked really hard for me, but my focus on characters “fraternizing,” which was their nice way of saying “the characters are doing too much gay stuff,” pretty much nailed the coffin shut for a while. I was fine with that. Writing was something I did, not a career I dreamed about. Early versions of Stained and The Dust of Wonderland were both written during that period, about 10 years before either saw publication. Then, in 2001 I took a speculative fiction course with Terry Bisson. He encouraged me to send some stories out, so I did. I sent out six stories and three or four of them got picked up. The first acceptance came from Brian Keene at Horrorfind.com. So yeah, blame Brian. Ha. One of the others went to Gothic.net, which was a pro market, and the story received some praise from writers I had heard of. It felt strange to suddenly have my work out in front of people, but it also felt pretty good. More short stories followed, and in 2004 my first published novel, Stained, was released.

JB: Being an avid reader, I find endless inspiration in the books I read. I try to get at least two books in a week. Plus all the submissions for Shock Totem. So I read A LOT. Are you a voracious reader and what sort of books do you like to read?

LT: I was a voracious reader as a kid. I picked up whatever book was lying around the house (some of which should not have been left lying around, I might add). I also made regular trips to the library, because we didn’t have much money, so I couldn’t buy comics or the books I saw at the grocery store. The library was always a good place to hang. I fell away from reading in my late teens and ever since I’ve gone in spurts. I’ll read a dozen books and then nothing for a while, usually when I’m working on a novel. A few years back I was a judge for the Shirley Jackson Awards, and I spent six months reading everything they sent my way. It was wonderful. It was also a little exhausting because I was, at the time, organizing a World Horror Convention, starting my masters degree, and meeting deadlines for my own books. I’ve read a few books recently that other authors have sent me to blurb or edit. It’ll be a bit before I can pick things up from the bookstore and see what’s new.

JB: After I finished The German, I tore through Stained and The Dust of Wonderland. I can’t help but wonder why these and so many other incredible small-press offerings have not translated into crossover mainstream success. It sometimes seems as though the small imprints are an invisible fence, and I guess it’s open for interpretation as to whether they’re to keep us in or others out.

LT: I never thought of fences in regard to the small press. Many successful writers in our genre write for both major publishers and the small press. Tim Lebbon, Joe McKinney, Gary McMahon, and Tim Waggoner are just a few of those that come to mind. Granted, I know of few small press titles that are picked up and re-released by big houses. Norm Partridge’s Dark Harvest went from Cemetery Dance to Tor, I believe, but I can’t think of other examples just now.

The small press serves a valuable service by publishing quality books that are perceived to be non-commercial. It also produces a good amount of bad books, but then so does mainstream publishing. Most of the spec-lit writers I admire these days–Barron, Ballingrud, Langan, and just about everyone who’s published by Chizine–thrive in the small press, primarily. I could list a dozen folks whose work should be mass consumed but isn’t. Over analyzing it doesn’t really help things. Commercial trends are ocean waves and you can ride them in or continue to struggle against them. What you shouldn’t do is scream at the waves and complain about them going the wrong direction, because it’s a waste of breath.

For me the quality of the work isn’t in question. I’ve had interest from editors at big publishers for all of the titles you mentioned, but when it came time for the marketing folks to chime in, the books didn’t hit the right commercial notes. The sales teams didn’t think they could sell to a large enough audience and the editors came back with rejections. Not great, but it doesn’t make me question my skills. I’d love to make high five- or six-figure advances (or more) on all of my books, but that’s only happened a couple of times. I’m grateful for it. The fact is, what interests me in regard to content isn’t always perceived as having mass appeal, as noted above regarding the “fraternizing.” I accept that, after I stomp and fume for five or ten minutes. All I can do is keep writing stories that fascinate me, and write them as well as I can. There’s already an audience for it, and in time that audience will grow.

JB: I also started your collection, Like Light for Flies, and I am just as gob smacked with it as I am the novels. Truly unique and horrific, very much reminds me of the early masterworks of Clive Barker. Where do these ideas come from?

LT: Thank you. That’s great to hear. I wish I had a quick and snappy answer for you, but the ideas come from all over the place. There’s no real process involved. My stories don’t emerge from dreams or deep transcendental states. I see a news story and think, “This is exactly like a news story I saw last month, which was exactly like a news story I read the month before that,” and I sit down and write “Testify.” I watch a brain-blasting marathon of Italian horror flicks and think, “They must lose something in translation, because they’re awesome, but most make no damn sense at all,” and I want to do that, so I write “The House by the Park.” An editor asks me to write a story about a Bruce Springsteen song, so I throw on my favorite tune of his and the musical structure becomes integral to the structure of the story, and I come up with “Nothing Forgiven.” I want to write a story about my dog and think about her as part of an adventure, so I write “The Dodd Contrivance.” Somewhere in the process of writing, themes and metaphors emerge that tie into bigger issues. If effective I play those up. If not, I leave them buried. Whatever works for the story.

JB: Thanks so much for chatting with me, Lee. I have said many times, the greatest perk of working with Shock Totem has been the experience of getting to meet and befriend many wonderful and talented writers, and that definitely describes you. Anything you’d like to say or rant on before I have our driver take you home?

LT: Oh, just the usual promotional nonsense. “Buy my books.” “Leave your reviews on Goodreads or your favorite online retailer site.” “Tell your friends!” And more seriously, “Thanks for reading my work. I hope the stories hit a nerve or two.” And thank you, John! I enjoyed the chat. \m/

Visit Lee Thomas at his website and then spend the rest of the day tracking down all of his books.

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Bottom’s Up: A Conversation with Bill Braddock

Bill Braddock is a man of many talents, one of them writing. Brew is his debut novel and let me tell you, it’s an ass kicker. Full of enough grue and gore and ridiculous violence to sate the biggest horror hound appetite, and yet peopled with strong and real characters you can relate to…and others you wish you couldn’t.

Bill was kind enough to run out to Shock Totem Manor for a chat. (I say run as he is in shape enough to do that and still kick all of our asses without getting winded.)

John Boden: Brew is set in a “college town,” and growing up a stone’s throw from State College, PA (Penn State), it held an awful lot of obnoxious truth. The mentality of those football-headed folks, the fact that ALL can and will be sacrificed for the sake of that game…I could go on, but I fear it would be fairly negative. I know you hail from the same state as I, so I have to ask: how much “real life experience” found its way into this book?

Bill Braddock: Well, first of all, you nailed it…College Heights is my take on State College/Penn State, where I went to school and worked as a bartender. Virtually every place in Brew is based on a real spot, and some of the names are fairly obvious parallels—“Short Ridge” vs. “Shortlidge,” for example. I had great fun, traveling back in time and walking around my memories of these places, then prettying them up with plenty of chaos.

I considered simply setting the story in Penn State, but the town has gone through so many changes since I lived there twenty years ago, I either would have had to become the Michener of horror, doing extensive research and killing the fun, or I would have received an avalanche of e-mails pointing out my errors. While streets and stores change, however, I was confident that mass drunkenness and football mania still ruled. No need to change those.

The insanity that grew out of those football Saturday nights—that crackling weirdness, everybody hyped-the-eff up, looking for fun, looking to get laid or get in a fight or maybe overturn a car—all that, paired so incongruously with the ubiquitous laughter and hooting and celebration, weirded me out, resonating until it finally triggered this book.

All this being said, I love that town, insanity and everything. It ruined me on college ball forever, but I had a blast there, an absolute blast.

JB: I adored the fact that the heroes were all sort of “unlikely” in that they were the misfits and shadow people that are never on the scope of popularity. Was this a conscious choice or just how it turned out?

BB: Brew was a situation-first-characters-second story. I knew the central event, knew I wanted to tell a story like Richard Laymon’s One Rainy Night or Jack Ketchum’s Ladies Night, but I didn’t know the characters until I started writing. Herbert arrived first, then Steve, then Cat, then Demetrius, I think…and it wasn’t until I’d gotten well into Demetrius’s side of things that I realized all my heroes were outsiders.

Later on, I discovered that this is a recurring thematic concern of mine, the idea of people whose native strengths, due to societal circumstances, end up becoming paradoxical liabilities… until something big comes along, turns polite society on its head, and yesterday’s outcasts become today’s heroes.

JB: As gloriously over the top as this novel is, it is not entirely unfeasible. I mean, instead of the shambling undead, you give us mobs of ourselves, stripped of all objective reason and hyped up on animal aggression. I found this much more terrifying. Also the fact that in an isolated college town in central Pennsylvania, some shit like this could go down and linger for days before anyone really caught on and showed up to do anything about it, which amplifies the horror.

BB: Brew is far-fetched, but yeah, it’s not entirely impossible. Even the synchronized insanity, which is probably the least feasible aspect, isn’t completely out of the question. I had fun researching the book, and after gathering what I could on my own, talked to a chemist, a paramedic, and a pharmacologist. The more I learned about less-than-lethal technologies, brain science, and pharmacology, the more frightening (and frighteningly plausible) this all seemed.

I love traditional zombies. The inexorable slow shamble of their mindless mass attack seems to me the perfect metaphor for tireless pressure of the mundane world. Busy work, pointless job duties, paying bills, applications and permits, stuff that only rolls around once or twice a year, like remembering to shut off and drain the hose bib before winter hits, things that kill us not because they’re difficult in isolation but because they just keep coming, keep coming, keep coming…

And what do they want? Your brains.

Z-apocalypse stuff is fun because it takes all those mundane tasks that worry at our brains, solidifies them symbolically as a monster—a physical threat—and allows the strong individual to shrug off the maddening trivialities of day-to-day existence and get down to some this-shit-actually-matters-and-therefore-my-performance-actually-matters activity. Refreshing.

Despite my love of the walking dead, however, I wanted something different, something more in step with both the real-world madness I’d witnessed at Penn State and the cultural fears of the moment. In the 21st century, random violence, whether you’re talking about terrorism, school shooters, or the “knockout game,” rules headlines. Personally, I am frightened by violence outside logical cause-and-effect, from a beer keg I once saw tossed from one of the upper floor balconies of a high rise apartment at Penn State to the cancer that took my mother to bullets fired from shooters unseen.

You also mention isolation. When I was a kid, one of the coolest things about Penn State was its isolation. Forty-thousand people roughly twenty years old, most of them scuffing around without a full-time job. I decided to employ the other side of that particularly shiny coin by telling an apocalyptic tale versus a post-apocalyptic one. That’s why the whole story takes place in a matter of hours rather than days or months or years. I didn’t want the cavalry to get there in time to solve the problem. I wanted to leave that up to my outcasts-turned-heroes.

JB: It was a very cinematic read, in that I could totally see it playing out in film form. I would imagine there may be some interest in that. Is this something you would be on board with?

BB: Thanks. I’d really dig seeing Brew on the big screen, and I think it would make a fun movie. My excellent publishers have been talking to some absolute rainmakers on the West Coast, but I’m not holding my breath. It hasn’t even been optioned yet, and these things are a long shot. Still, even long shots do work out from time to time, and that would be really cool, so one of these midnights, I might have to sacrifice a goat or something.

JB: Have you always liked horror? What was it, if any one thing, that lured you to the dark side?

BB: I’ve always loved horror. As in always. I blame my brother, who was six years old and tended a tall stack of horror comics. My brother wouldn’t share, and my mother didn’t allow me to read them, since I’d been having night terrors all the way back to the crib, so I made it my daily mission to sneak in there and read those things. My brother, who went on to earn a degree in mechanical engineering, went so far as to rig up a homemade alarm built out of a screaming toy motorcycle. All too often, he would catch me in there, and he was merciless, as protective of those comics as a mother wolf with its pups. Other horror writers can pontificate all they want about the genre, but I’ve taken countless ass whippings in the name of horror. I’ve bled for horror. And I’m cool with that.

JB: What is on the horizon for Bill Braddock?

BB: I’m always writing, man. Right now, I’m mainly pounding away at a mainstream thriller, but I also have a couple of short stories I’m dying to write, a horror novel I’ve planned and can’t stop thinking about, and about 1,000 pages of work piled up on my long-time pet project, Perils of the Road. Given the positive response to Brew, however, I’m thinking of writing a collection of stories set on that same apocalyptic night. I’d call it Microbrews.

JB: That would be brilliant, the Microbrews thing. You aren’t messing with me, are you? Anyway, I don’t care. Thanks for taking the time to talk with me a bit. You’re the bee’s knees!

BB: Thanks so much, man. I’ve had a blast talking with you, and it’s awesome to find myself in the Shock Totem camp. You guys really know how to throw a party! As to Microbrews, not messing with you at all—and your enthusiasm just pushed me one step closer to writing the thing. Thanks!

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A Conversation with Voice Actor Georgie Leonard

Georgie Leonard is a playwright, screenwriter, voice artist, and actor from Bristol, United Kingdom. She was chosen to play the female roles in the audiobook Exquisite Death put out by In Ear Entertainment. She reads both of my stories in the audiobook, and she did a wonderful job on two very different pieces. I asked Georgie if she’d be down for an interview, and I’m so excited that she agreed.

Mercedes M. Yardley: So Georgie! Please tell us how you came into voice acting. And why audio books? What’s the draw?

Georgie Leonard: I’ve always loved the idea of voicing a character in a Hayao Miyazaki/Studio Ghibli (HMC’s Sophie is my spirit animal) or Disney film (ideally I’d play Belle in Beauty and the Beast, but I guess I’m a little late for that!) but even with that interest, my foray into voice acting was almost more of a happy accident than a planned move.

I’ve been lucky enough to work with Mark on a couple of different voice-based projects in the past, which is how I became involved with this particular recording.

Why audiobooks in particular? I love, love, LOVE reading and I think getting to read books to people as part of my career is pretty damn awesome!

MMY: I’ll agree with you about Studio Ghibli. I think anybody who takes part of their work in any form would die happy!

How does an audiobook differ from other voice work?

GL: I’ve been lucky enough to have varying voice work over the few years I’ve been professionally working  as an actor, with projects as diverse as session-singing to radio dramas. From my experience, audiobooks are different in that it’s just you and the mic—there’s no accompaniment in the form of music or another person in there with you. Whereas when you are working on a radio drama/online podcast drama, then you tend to have at least one actor in the room with you. Even if it’s just to deliver one line! Though it really does depend on the project!

MMY: Have you had any favorite projects that you’ve worked on? What made them memorable?

GL: Each project I’ve worked on has been so different to the last, and so it’s rather difficult to compare them to each other! As this is the first set of (hopefully many!) audiobooks I’ve worked on, it’ll always be special to me! But I always love projects where I get to work foley as well as act.

MMY:What do you do if you have a piece you’re not particularly excited about?

GL: I’m yet to have a piece of audio work that I’m less than enthusiastic about, but I suppose the trick is to treat it as any other job. If you’re that unsure about it before you perform it, then you shouldn’t take the job!

MMY:How do you prepare for voice work? Can you share any tricks of the trade?

GL: Plenty of water, and try to avoid dairy for at least a day before! If I have time beforehand, then I also try to run through a few vocal warm-ups- there’s nothing worse than sounding croaky when you’re supposed to have a light and clear voice for something.

MMY: Tell us what a basic recording session is like. (the room, the mic, what you do, etc.)

GL: Well, it differs from place to place. One recording I did for a songwriter had me standing in a booth made of mattresses and duvets for sound dampening!

For In Ear, the recording studio is pretty bare, but fully functional. It’s not like you need much in the way of anything other than the recording equipment, a chair, and something to rest your script on anyway, so it’s a good room without any distractions.

MMY: What projects do you have coming out, and how do we contact you?  (this is the chance to pimp your stuff!)

GL: At the moment, I am currently working on a BBC drama production that will be televised next year, and have a few projects lined up to begin after that is done shooting. Plus there’s hopefully some more work with In Ear Entertainment coming my way!

I’m all over the place! Twitter, Facebook, my website to name but a few! Pop along and say hi.

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A Conversation with Author Todd Keisling

In his Goodreads profile, author Todd Keisling admits that he is “awkward and weird” and that if you were his neighbor, you’d probably die. Mercedes M. Yardley recently sat down with Todd to get the details on his latest projects and jot down pointers on how to dispose of cranky men who steal things off your lawn.

Mercedes M. Yardley: Todd, you started out with A Life Transparent. Its sequel, The Liminal Man, was a 2013 Indie Book Award finalist in the Horror/Suspense category. Congratulations. Are you currently working on the third book of the trilogy? Did you plot the trilogy out start to finish before you began?

Todd Keisling: Thank you! Being a finalist for the award was a big surprise and an even bigger honor. Initially, I didn’t plot the trilogy from start to finish. A Life Transparent (or ALT) was originally intended as a standalone story, but about a year after its initial publication I had an idea for what became its sequel, The Liminal Man.

That second book was a monster and went through many iterations (I think the final version was draft #5). When my editor finally got her hands on it, she gave me a choice: either add another 150 pages to make the existing ending work, or change the ending and complete the story with a third novel. I took some time to think it over, wrote a broad outline for what a third book would look like, and decided to move ahead in that direction. So to answer your question, no, it wasn’t a planned trilogy.

I spent most of this year working on some shorter fiction since TLM took so long (almost four years) to complete. I really just needed a break from that storyline. That being said, I’m in the early stages of the final Monochrome novel, and while I have the high points of the novel already plotted, I’m still trying to keep the process as organic as possible.

MMY: What’s the draw to writing a series vs. a standalone work? Do you do standalone as well? How do you keep the series fresh?

TK: That’s a good question and I don’t have a straight answer for you. I’ve written standalone novels before, but the Monochrome books are my first real series. I find it’s interesting to watch a character develop over the course of multiple titles rather than a single work. It’s liberating in some ways, and constraining in others: liberating in that I don’t have to tie up loose ends right away (which leaves a sense of mystery, keeping things fresh for the reader), but constraining in that some minor plot detail written in the first book can come back to bite me on the ass in the final book (which makes me cry). Those loose ends that were left untied in the first book always have a way of becoming tangled up in your plot later on, and fixing them always makes for a fun exercise in problem-solving.

It’s just a lot to juggle at one time, and for the third book I’ve started keeping track of extensive notes and details in Scrivener. You know, so minor character names don’t change halfway through, or so one person’s eyes don’t suddenly change from blue to brown.

Overall, I’m enjoying the experience, but I’m also looking forward to being done with the series so I can work on other ideas. Honestly, I think I prefer writing standalone fiction, and I don’t see myself doing another series any time soon—not without planning it, first.

MMY: I know you’re working on a collection of short stories. There seems to be a resurgence of the short story, lately. Would you consider yourself more of a novelist, a short story guy, or both? What are the pros and cons of each form?

TK: I’d like to believe I’m both. I used to write a lot of short fiction, but I turned away from it for a while after writing ALT. After TLM’s publication, I realized I had a number of ideas for stories that had accumulated over the last few years. I wanted to try my hand at shorter fiction again, and I quickly discovered that particular art form is even more difficult than I remembered. Two of the stories in the collection (titled Ugly Little Things) aren’t even “short” by today’s standards; at 14k and 17k words, they’re more novella than short story.

I think novels are fun because they allow for so much development and exploration. The canvas of a novel can stretch as far and wide as you want it to. The danger, of course, is that it can become overwhelming at times, and something complex can require years of commitment. Short stories are harder to execute, but more rewarding if you manage to pull it off. The usual word count restrictions that come with the typical short story markets are also fun to work with, but can be a thorn in your side if you have an idea that begins to take off and grow beyond your original scope.

Ultimately, I believe in letting the story be what it wants to be, which works well in the realm of novels; with short stories, you have to be a lot more hands on, directing the story where it needs to go.

MMY: Musical inspiration. You have it. Tell me how the process works when you’re writing. Do you have something playing at the time? Do you purposely seek out soundtracks for each piece you’re working on, or does it happen to be whatever you’re listening to at the time?

TK: I always write to music. Whenever I sit down to work, I’ll try to find a piece of music that fits the mood or theme of what I’m writing. Doesn’t matter if it’s lyrical or if it’s an instrumental piece—if it fits, I’ll listen to it on repeat until I’m finished working.

I got the idea from Chuck Palahniuk. Several years ago I read an interview in which he talked about listening to the same song over and over while writing. The idea is to listen to something so much that it puts you in a kind of meditative state. Doesn’t matter what kind of music—if you listen to it enough times, you’ll eventually tune it out. I have no idea what the science is behind it; I just know it works for me.

MMY: I met you a bit earlier, but we really started to talk after being in the Exquisite Death audiobook together. Was that your first audiobook? What was the experience like for you? Would you turn your other pieces into audiobooks as well?

TK: As a matter of fact, Exquisite Death was my first audiobook and my first anthology. I had a great time working with In Ear’s Mark Chatterley, and I hope to submit one of my longer stories to him in the near future. I love audiobooks (otherwise I never would’ve made it through Atlas Shrugged) and podcasts (Pseudopod, NoSleep, Welcome to Night Vale, et al), and I intend to pursue having my other work adapted for audio.

MMY: You’re an analytical guy as well as a creative. Does this grounded side help you as a writer?

TK: I think it’s a blessing and a curse. The creative side always wants to rush ahead; the analytical side throws up its hand and says, “Wait a minute. Let’s think about this.” It’s sort of like the classic angel/devil dynamic, with one on each shoulder, keeping one another in check. I’ll have an idea that seems really cool and great, but I always have to think through the logistics—even if I’m completely making it up, I still have to make sure that what I’m writing works within the universe I’ve created.

Something my editor, Amelia, has always done is ask my why or how things work. Even if it doesn’t end up in the story, she asks me those questions as a way of reinforcing my understanding of the plot, scene, whatever is under scrutiny. If I can’t give her a straight answer, that’s usually a sign that I need to a better grasp of what I’m writing about. Sometimes I do have a clear answer; other times I don’t, which has led to several scene rewrites.

I’m trying to approach the final Monochrome book in a more analytical manner, creating a working document filled with questions that a reader (or Amelia) might have. The questions can be about anything, from character motivation to the repercussions of certain actions if they come to pass within that narrative’s universe. Once I answer them, I try to poke as many holes into them as I can, and if they don’t hold up, I try to think of a different solution.

This is the first time I’ve done something like this, but as I head into the final book of an unplanned trilogy, I feel it’s a necessity. Yeah, it’s a little grueling and painful, but I think it will make for a much tighter narrative a year down the line.

MMY: You write horror that easily crosses over into thriller territory. Does the ability to straddle both genres help or hinder your marketing?

TK: In some ways it helps; in others, it hinders. Writing a book that can be classified as a number of genres works well from the angle of appealing to as many people as possible. People who normally don’t read horror or suspense have emailed to say they loved my books, and I think that’s because the stories defy genre.

Unfortunately, the flip-side of that coin means that it may also put off people who stick to a particular genre. My books are speculative fiction, but you’ll find them in the Horror category even though they aren’t 100% straight horror. Some diehard horror fans probably don’t like that; the same goes for the folks who like thrillers or suspense stories—they want serial killers, not weird supernatural creatures. I have both, and they go out for drinks at the end of the day when the work is done.

This defiance of genre is my “brand,” I guess, and it makes the marketing aspect much more difficult. I’ve thought about compromising, sticking to one particular genre to make things easier for myself, but I don’t think I’d be happy doing that. The stories are what they want to be; it’s my job to record them as accurately as possible, and if they happen to deal with parallel realities, monsters, murderers, and noir-like atmosphere, then so be it. I’ll write them down. Maybe people will want to read them.

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If you’d like to get in contact with Todd or check out any of his work, you can contact him through his website, Facebook, Twitter or his author profile on Goodreads.

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Blood, Sweat and Drool: A Conversation with Director Jeremiah Kipp

When Shock Totem put out a call for filmmakers who’d like to have their work featured on the site, I bet that they didn’t expect to get anyone near as accomplished as Jeremiah Kipp.

Kipp, a short film writer/director, meshes art film heft and horror film content with a polish and style all his own. The combination seems to be working out for him as his work has been featured in festivals and garnered numerous awards.

Jeremiah sent us three films and was kind enough to sit down with me for some questions. Check out the films embedded below (WARNING: NSFW content) and then read on for our conversation.

Adam Cesare: The three films you sent to Shock Totem all share elements of genre films, but I wouldn’t call any of them genre. Are you a fan of the horror genre? How would you classify your work?

Jeremiah Kipp: I love horror movies and have found it to be a wonderfully flexible genre. What’s interesting to me is when Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein, they called it a romance, but not in the Hallmark sense of the word. Romance at that time meant it has sweeping elements of the fantastic. And how would you classify a movie like Don’t Look Now, the intensely dark story of a couple in Venice haunted by the death of their child and perhaps communicating with her beyond the grave? It feels like a drama and yet has a sense of tension and terror. I would call it a horror movie. I feel like the films I’m making might fall into that category. I’d be proud to have them called horror films, but am content if people find them to be beautiful and macabre.

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Chatting with Author Seanan McGuire

Seanan McGuire (pronoun-ced SHAW-nan), is like having a conversation with a tempest. She is certainly a force of nature in her own right…and often described as “a vortex of the surreal.” The first thing you learn about her—kind of like the first rule of Fight Club—is that you never ask a question about a subject if you don’t want the lengthy, detailed, and very graphic answer. Take the Black Death pandemic of the 14th century, for example. Seanan can expound on the specific gory characteristics of the spread of the various diseases associated with the event…and will do so while enjoying a friendly dinner with friends.

“Most of them have learned not to ask questions they don’t really want answers to,” she says with barely-checked laughter in her spritely voice.

Seanan is the author of a popular urban fantasy series published by DAW (the science fiction/fantasy publishing arm of the Penguin Group) featuring her protagonist, October “Toby” Daye, in a northern California world where characters that Grimm and Disney once found a lucrative focal point—faeries, gremlins, trolls, and the like—reside in carefully concealed areas in the San Francisco Bay area. Oh yeah, and they’re a lot more sinister and unfriendly than either Grimm or Disney ever dared imagine. The series thus far contains Rosemary & Rue (9/2009), A Local Habitation (3/2010), An Artificial Night (9/2010), Late Eclipses (3/2011), Ashes of Honor (9/2012), and Chimes at Midnight (9/2013).

The idea for the series began with a fourteen-page short story she wrote on a whim, and which was inspired by the Tea Gardens of Golden Gate Park. Her friends kept insisting about the main character, “Toby needs a novel.”

Seanan says, “Apparently, Toby gets what she wants.”

Toby is a cross between Joan Wilder (Romancing the Stone) and a kick-ass – and beknighted – version of Seanan herself. Not that Seanan really needs such an adventurous alter ego. Her web-bio states that many of Seanan’s personal anecdotes end with statements like, “…and then we got the anti-venom,” or “…but it’s okay, because it turned out the water wasn’t all that deep.”

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