This page is devoted to sharing info about authors and filmmakers appearing at conventions and generally spreading the word about their work. As with the reviews and everything else on this site, nobody’s getting paid to write or relay anything that’s up here… or if someone is, um, where’s Cooper’s piece of the action? He may write in third person, which is weird, but he’s doing the work….
edited by Alexander S. Brown and Louise Myers
Book Synopsis: Deep within the South, read about the magickal folk who haunt the woods, the cemeteries, and the cities. Within this grim anthology, eighteen authors will spellbind you with tales of hoodoo, voodoo, and witchcraft.
From this cauldron mix, readers will explore the many dangers lurking upon the Natchez Trace and in the Mississippi Delta. They will encounter a bewitched doll named Robert from the Florida Keys, and a cursed trunk that is better left closed. In the backstreets of New Orleans, they will become acquainted with scorned persons who will stop at nothing to exact their revenge.
These hair raising tales and more await you in Southern Haunts 3: Magick Beneath the Moonlight. Read if you dare.
Interview with Alexander S. Brown, Editor
For Cooper’s views on the subject, see his review.
Witch South? While every story in Southern Haunts 3 has at least a character or setting connected to the Southeastern United States, the range of characters and settings is broad. For example, the central character in “Live Big” is a New Yorker who finds trouble in Key West, and “Without Xango There Is No Oxalla” haunts the U.S. by way of Brazil. Beyond character and setting, what, if anything, makes a haunting particularly Southern? What, if anything, makes a story Southern?
In reality, for the haunting to be Southern, the entity must be in the South. It is true that some spirits are travelers, meaning when they get tired of being in one place, they can attach themselves to the living and jump off at their preference. This type of attachment haunting rarely happens, as most spirits tend to dwell where they spent their life or final moments.
In a story telling sense, for the haunting to be Southern, if we were to take away setting and location, we are left with the narrator’s tongue. However, just because the narrator’s dialogue reflects Southern slang and phrases, that doesn’t make the tale Southern. Anyone from any culture can tell any story they like, but in the end, the story is its on placement in location.
For a story to be Southern, there must be Southern elements. For example: the tale must be seasoned with Southern verbiage, culture, habitat, architecture, food and drink. One could say, “I reckon Dixie is out back drinkin’ her mint julep after eatin’ that gumbo.” Without me saying the speaker or setting is Southern, the reader can identify that this story probably isn’t going to be set in Maine.
Storied Witching. The opening tale, “Granny Wise,” ends with a note about how readers can discover facts about the fictionalized Granny’s historical precedent, and the book’s “Outro” emphasizes that “tales were inspired by actual events, places, and persons throughout the South.” Within the tales, discovering and telling older tales—such as “The Untold Tale of Wiccademous”—also becomes a focus. Why do you think uncovering a magickal history is so important for the book as a whole as well as for particular stories?
When creating Southern Haunts the idea was to find true stories and bend them into fiction. The call that we had, stated, “Become inspired by an actual person, place or event and write a fictional story based on what would happen if your character interacted with that subject.” This was the premise that allowed Spirits that Walk Among Us to exist, as well as Devils in the Darkness, and Magick Beneath the Moonlight.
For this particular volume, magickal history is important to the South. The further South one goes, the richer the superstitions, fundamentals, and practice become. Any sort of history is important to remember, however, magickal history seems like it is swept under the rug more so than haunted history. Because of the masses knowing very little about iconic characters such as: Marie Laveau, Granny Wise, and the Yazoo City Witch, it is important to direct their attention to these magickal names in history, so more can be learned about them.
Bewitched Legacies. Titles such as “Vengeance” and “Cursed” make the emphasis clearest, but almost every story in the volume ties magickal events to justice or revenge. Why do you think this connection is so strong? Further, several stories place larger social injustices—particularly the legacies of slavery and lynching—behind supernatural events. With its specific histories of social injustices, is the South a cursed place? Why or why not?
Despite if a spell be casted for revenge or justice, I believe these subjects entertain the reader on a level they can relate to, but from a magickal perspective. Many persons have known what it’s like to be wronged without having an opportunity to receive payback. Because of this, I believe vigilante stories satisfy a depth of our crocodile membrane that we try to keep locked away. When reading stories such as these, it grants that dark side of us satisfaction in a healthy non-violent way. What makes these stories even more intriguing is that their weapon of choice is magick, and it provides unique scenarios that are abnormal compared to what Charles Bronson might do under the circumstance.
I don’t believe the entire South is a cursed place, however, I do believe there are cursed spots. But these spots aren’t just throughout the South, they are throughout our nation, and the world and I do believe historical actions play a big role in this. I believe this because it is simple to create a cursed object or location with one’s emotions. I also believe most persons create curses while being unaware they are doing so. For something to be cursed, ritual and prayer can play a factor, however, most cursed objects or places are born out of hatred, fear, and depression as they absorb the vibrations of the sufferer.
Good Witch, Bad Witch. The intro talks about “bad apple” witches as exceptions, and the outro mentions good and bad witches being a matter of individual judgment just like good and bad people. Your subtitle gives “magic” a friendlier, and more contemporary, “k” ending as well. “The Apartment House” and other stories demonstrate that the spiritual traditions associated with magic(k) have their own codes of good and bad. In 2016, what’s important about addressing questions of good and bad when you put together horror stories about magic(k)?
Depending on the question, depends on the answer. But to give a summary of magick and the occult in general is to remember that in every grouping, no matter what that grouping is, there will be practitioners, or persons, with good and bad hearts. Because of this, every occult practice comes with warnings, and in most cases, magickal workers are aware of the three fold, which can prevent anyone from wanting to dive into the darker side of magick.
Throughout my occult studies, I have noticed Satanism, (not to be confused with witchcraft, voodoo, Santeria, etc) even has their own set of commandments to abide by. These commandments allow them to live a fulfilling life, and suggests they respect all walks of life, as long as they are respected in return. Since most denominations of Satanic practice don’t believe in any sort of higher or lower power, their fundamentals allow some wiggle room for curses. Even with this being so, these practitioners are well aware of the repercussions of sending out harmful vibes.
Overall, the majority of the occult is a gray practice, meaning anything used for good can be used for bad. At a young age, we are taught how to pray, may this prayer be occult related or not. Once we are taught how to pray, this allows us to open up the door to ask for whatever we want to whoever we want. For those who are afraid of magick workers, I urge for you to do your research in non-fiction occult books. Once you understand the subject, your fear of all magick practitioners being evil will fade.
Witch Appetites. As I read it, your story, “Dances with Witches,” has a lot to do with appetites: a man with violent appetites follows a strange yearning that puts him in the way of appetites of another, more supernatural kind. Whether it’s based on desire for violence, power, sex, revenge, or something else, appetite seems like a source of horror in your story and throughout the book. What’s magickal—and horrible—about appetite?
We all have an appetite, and satisfying that appetite isn’t a bad thing. Such as our dietary intake, moderation is the key. Being a practitioner of Voodoo/Catholicism/Santeria I might pray to Saint Joseph to help me financially. For this to be possible, I give sacrifice (mostly fruits, sweets, or meat from the grocery). Upon asking for Saint Joseph’s assistance in my financial standing, I know to be humble in my request so that I am asking for nothing more than what I need. After asking for spiritual help, I have to also be willing to work for the money I need. It is the strength of Saint Joseph who fulfills me when I no longer feel that I have the gumption to continue. To have a humble appetite and working with spirits to satisfy that can be very rewarding and magickal.
The flip side of this is overindulgence. This is entering ritual with greedy expectations. I can’t think of too many positive entities who would answer prayers in regards to greed, as an overindulgence of anything can be hazardous mentally, physically, and spiritually. For magick practitioners who decide to turn to negative spirits to get what they want, the price can be more than what one has bargained for. Be careful what you wish for, is the best advice I can give to these practitioners. The most horrifying thing I could conceive by practicing negative magic in regards to overindulgence is the possibility of death or insanity.
Witch Direction? What’s next for the Southern Haunts series?
Southern Haunts is perhaps at the midway point of concluding. We are expecting to get Southern Haunts 4 together which will regard creatures of the South and Southwest, this one will probably be the only book that is strictly based on nothing more than Southern folklore. Southern Haunts 5 will be based on serial killers of the South and Southwest. If the fandom is still strong, we might do a Southern Haunts 6 which will be invite only where the best of the best have free choice to write about ghosts, demons, witches, creatures, or serial killers.
About the Editors:
Alexander S. Brown: Alexander S. Brown is a Mississippi author who was published in 2008 with his first book Traumatized. Reviews for this short story collection were so favorable that it has been released as a special edition by Pro Se Press. Brown is currently one of the co-editors/coordinators with the Southern Haunts Anthologies published by Seventh Star Press. His horror novel Syrenthia Falls is represented by Dark Oak Press.
He is also the author of multiple young adult steampunk stories found in the Dreams of Steam Anthologies, Capes and Clockwork Anthologies, and the anthology Clockwork Spells and Magical Bells. His more extreme works can be found in the anthologies Luna’s Children published by Dark Oak Press and State of Horror: Louisiana Vol 1 published by Charon Coin Press.
Visit Smashwords.com, Amazon.com, and Barnesandnoble.com to download his monthly short stories known as Single Shots. These are represented by Pro Se Press and they are known as stories that will be featured in the upcoming book The Night the Jack O’Lantern Went Out.
Louise Myers: Louise Myers was born in New Orleans and during her teenage years was uprooted from everything she knew and was replanted in Mississippi. Though the transition was difficult, she is very glad to have the opportunity to have both worlds under her belt. She says this because she knows from living in both places, they are both a world all to their own. She is the wife of a wonderful husband and mother of three beautiful children, as well as the proud parent of a spoiled mutt.
She was assistant editor of Southern Haunts: Spirits That Walk Among Us, co-editor of Southern Haunts 2: Devils in the Darkness, and co-editor of Southern Haunts 3: Magick Beneath the Moonlight.
She is a beta reader, book doctor, editor, and author. Though this is her second story in print, she has been weaving tales for many years for pleasure. She has many thoughts on several topics she’d like to write, mostly surrounding ghost stories.
Spotlight on Nicole Cushing’s Mr. Suicide (2015)
How many times in your life have you wanted to slap someone? Really, literally strike them? You can’t even begin to count the times. Hundreds. Thousands. You’re not exaggerating. You’re not engaging in… whatchamacallit? Hyperbole? You’re not engaging in hyperbole.
Maybe the impulse flashed through your brain for only a moment, like lightning, when someone tried to skip ahead of you in line at the cafeteria. Hell, at more than one point in your life you’ve wanted to kill someone; really, literally kill someone. That’s not just an expression. Not hyperbole. Then it was gone and replaced by the civilized thought: You can’t do that. Not out in public.
But you’ve had the thought…
Cover Art and Design by Zach McCain
Pub Date: July 15, 2015
Format: Trade Paperback, 224pp
You can read Cooper’s review, or continue for the
Extreme love. I love Mr. Suicide, but I wonder if that’s a problem. To explain: I am fond of my own extreme stories, and I want people to love them, but I also wonder what other people loving my extreme horror means. To illustrate: Anne Rice doesn’t go to such extreme places, and in her heyday she accommodated fans better than just about anyone, but she also got freaked out on occasion when fans asked her to sign various weapons and body parts. How do you feel about folks loving the extremes, the Perfect Monsters and Border Crossings, of Mr. Suicide?
It depends on what you mean by “loving”. Sometimes extreme horror fandom brings with it a frivolity that I wouldn’t want to encourage. I’m not sure I want to see anyone gleefully cosplaying my characters at a con, for example, or–as you mentioned–making strange signing requests. I say this not because I’m a killjoy or a stick in the mud. I say it because responding to my work with frivolity means that the transgressive incidents are being trivialized, and that’s not what my work is about.
Mr. Suicide isn’t intended to be read as a celebration of the foul. It’s intended to be read as a book that points out the world’s foulness only so it can be mourned. I wanted to use transgressive fiction as some of my literary heroes (Jack Ketchum and Hubert Selby, Jr., for example) have used it. I wanted to use it to address topics like trauma, mental illness, and a certain inner brokenness that–in worst case scenarios–can be a part of both.
Are there occasional moments of dark humor in the scenes you mention? More with the Border Crossing scene than with the Perfect Monsters scene, I believe. And even in the Border Crossing scene the dark humor is, in my opinion, gallows humor. When I go for laughs, I’m going for bitter laughs at the logical consequences of the protagonist’s intense foulness as well as despairing laughs in recognition of a Greater Foulness that is ultimately visited upon everything and everyone.
So far, most readers and reviewers seem to understand what I’m driving at, and respond to the work appropriately (i.e., “loving” the book because it mourns things that need mourning). That’s been quite gratifying to see.
Love in close quarters. The horror of Mr. Suicide is intimate, an effect you jack up by writing in the second person, a technique that fails, in my opinion, at least nine times out of ten but that you pull off by combining it with very specific characterization. What is your relationship with your… antihero?… and what sort of relationship do you want readers to form with him?
The main character of Mr. Suicide is a composite. Some aspects of his depression are based on my own experiences when I was a teenager, but I also drew on people in my family and other people I grew up around. For example, some of the character’s most disturbing drives are loosely based on those verbalized by a boy I knew in high school.
My imagination obviously plays a huge role, too. I relied on it to flesh out the protagonist, to make him his own person who is separate from anything I’ve ever encountered in my own life. I want the readers to experience the temporary delusion that he is as real as they are. I want the readers to feel as though they are tucked deep, deep into his brain and that they know–vividly–what it’s like to be him. This means he can’t merely be a Frankenstein’s monster of two or three personalities from my past, sewn together. No amount of lightning can animate such a literary creature. The whole of the character must be greater than the sum of his parts.
Fuck love. I could write essays based on your “Acknowledgments” but, for now, will limit myself to a review and this question. Using your discretion vis-à-vis content spoilers, could you tell potential readers a little about “anti-natalism” and how it informs Mr. Suicide?
Antinatalism (as I understand it) is the position that it is morally irresponsible to reproduce, because existence inevitably entails pain that exceeds pleasure. Nonexistence is reckoned to be a preferable condition on the grounds that, although it brings no pleasure, it also brings no pain. Philosopher David Benatar’s 2008 Oxford University Press book Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence presents a plausible logical argument for antinatalism.
It’s worth mentioning that, in his book, Benatar wisely notes that he is not arguing that we should all kill ourselves. Instead, he’s arguing that we shouldn’t reproduce and thrust the horror of existence upon our progeny (who are better off not existing). In other words: antinatalism isn’t inherently pro-death. It’s anti-birth. It isn’t about stopping an existence that’s already started, it’s about taking care to not usher life into existence in the first place.
I was introduced to antinatalism through Thomas Ligotti’s book of philosophy (and literary criticism) The Conspiracy against the Human Race. (The idea is also a significant theme in much of Ligotti’s fiction and poetry.) Other figures who have been associated with antinatalism include Peter Wessel Zapffe and Arthur Schopenhauer.
I’m not one hundred percent sure I buy into antinatalism (or any philosophy, for that matter). I’m not temperamentally equipped to be a doctrinaire. But when I first read about antinatalism, it resonated with me. Without going into spoilers, I’ll just say that certain emotional tensions relevant to antinatalism help drive the second half of Mr. Suicide.
The Sorrowful Midwest. “The Ohio is an ugly, brown river flowing through ugly, gray towns” (98). Your prose skewers much of American culture, but Mr. Suicide’s Louisville setting, populated with religious and sexual hypocrites whose violence feeds the violence of the main character, seems to provide the pumping heart for much vitriol. On my first trip back to Louisville after reading your book, I saw more truth in the city. How critical is the setting for your story? Could Mr. Suicide happen elsewhere? Why or why not?
I set the book in Louisville because I live near Louisville and know it fairly well (as well as I know anywhere). I suppose its location at the crossroads of the Rust Belt and Bible Belt might make it uniquely situated as the ideal backdrop for my bleak book (especially since the protagonist experiences pressures associated with both fundamentalism and working class life).
But, then again, ugliness is a muse with no fixed address. An observant writer will spot (and be inspired by) the squalor in any city. Ramsey Campbell has his Liverpool. Hubert Selby, Jr. had his NYC. Henry Miller had his Paris. So, given the history of dark and/or transgressive literature, I think Mr. Suicide could have been set elsewhere if someone else had written it. But I wrote it, so it’s set in Louisville.
In the Mouth of Greatness. The title page tells us Mr. Suicide is “A Novel of The Great Dark Mouth.” Are more tales of The Great Dark Mouth coming, and do you see yourself developing a new kind of mythos? What general things might you Reveal to potential readers now?
The Great Dark Mouth made its first (enigmatic, low-key) appearance in my 2013 novella Children of No One. I wasn’t planning on ever writing about it again, but about halfway through the writing of Mr. Suicide it showed up of its own accord. (As characters do, sometimes.)
But I don’t think of Mr. Suicide as a sequel to Children of No One. At least, not exactly. The Mouth as it appears in Mr. Suicide is an actual character in the book. The Mouth as it appears in Children of No One is less of a character and more of a vague force that lurks in the background. But the books have similar themes and those who enjoyed Children of No One will probably find that their understanding of the Great Dark Mouth will be enriched by checking out Mr. Suicide.
I don’t have any plans, at the moment, to write additional works about the Great Dark Mouth. I don’t rule out writing about it in the future, though. It’s just that I have to be in a certain frame of mind to write about it. It has to emerge organically. Currently, I’m at work on a novel that will have nothing to do with the Mouth. So any future appearances of the Mouth won’t be for a while (if they happen at all).
About the Author: Nicole Cushing was born in June, 1973 – the youngest of four children. She was raised in rural Maryland. Despite the relative isolation, her hometown was within driving distance to various historical sites related to Edgar Allan Poe. She counts her school field trips to these sites as formative experiences that threw fuel on her already-morbid imagination. She holds degrees in psychology and social work.
Spotlight on Stephen Zimmer’s Hellscapes, Volume Two (2015)
Book Synopsis: Return to the nightmarish, shadowy realms of Hell in the latest installment of the Hellscapes series by Stephen Zimmer. Six brand new, macabre tales of the infernal await you… but be that you only visit these realms, you do not want to share the fates of the inhabitants you will encounter! Included in the pages of Hellscapes, Volume II:
- In “The Cavern”, a man finds his way into a nightmare, subterranean world that leads to an even greater, and more devastating, revelation.
- A police officer takes pleasure in violently executing his duties and it appears to be open season in “The Riot” when he is part of an operation sent to crack down on a gathering of people protesting an economic summit nearby. But this is an operation that is going to take a very different kind of turn, one that opens his eyes to a new reality.
- A woman finds herself stranded on a high, rocky ledge, along with many other men and women, surrounded by a frothing sea in “Above as Below”. Shadows glide beneath the surface and soon she will discover what lurks within the depths.
- “Spots Do Not Change” tells the story of a man who has never had any qualms lying, cheating, or deceiving the women in his life. A reckoning day looms as he comes to understand that his actions have harmed the lives of many others, actions that in the realms of Hell take on forms of their own.
- Having spun webs of intrigue and personal destruction at the heights of national politics throughout his life, a man finds webs of another sort to present grave danger when he finds himself lost within a strange wilderness in “Weaving Webs”.
- Many are drawn to “The Club” in the heart of the decaying, shadow-filled city of Malizia, hoping for some entertainment and release, or even safety from the monstrous dangers lurking in the darkness. One man struggling against amnesia finds his way to the seemingly popular establishment and its confines give him momentary hope; until he discovers the nature of this night club and those who run it.
For Cooper’s review, go here. Proceed for the…
Me and Dante, few years back, used to hang…
1. Hellscaping? Dante and Virgil provide a virtual map of the Inferno for readers as they journey, and you also provide visual details of Hell’s pathways and cities, with “Malizia” providing the focus for Hellscapes, Volume Two. Why the concern with Hell’s geography and look? Why is the visual scape/scope of Hell so important?
With new tales, the scope of Hell is unfolding even more in this collection, and it is one that is unlimited in its possibilities. As I have taken an approach where the characters find themselves in more individualized hells or predicaments, the scope is very important. I want the reader to think that anything could happen or be encountered, and wonder what kind of depiction they will find in a new story.
At the same time, I like to have echoes of the “real world” that the various characters have left behind, so there are cities like Malizia. I didn’t want to depict another version of the city of Dis, which many have done, so I conceived of my own urban center in this volume. The idea is a city that reflects malice in all of its forms, and hopefully that comes across in the bookending stories of this volume.
Hell is not a physical place, but it contains physical properties and physical kinds of sensations. They tend to be harsher, darker, and more intensive than the realities we encounter in this world, but the physical laws that govern our world do not reign there, as is obvious in the story “Above as Below” when the main character explores the “below’. So while there is a look and geography, in a sense, it is one that is malleable and full of uncertainty!
2. Author-god? Like Dante’s, your choices of the damned have political resonance, as in “The Riot,” which is especially poignant given rising concerns about police and excessive responses to alleged criminals. Writing about Hell, how do you feel about your power to damn political transgressors?
For me, it is a bit cathartic, as far too often it seems that accountability eludes so many in positions of power. The very idea of Hell involves accountability and having to face consequences. Hellscapes is ultimately an exploration of various kinds of evils, both simple and more complex, and I do find it positive that I can reflect and depict the more complex kinds of evil, which are present in the political transgressors.
I try to be very careful to make clear that the character truly has piled up some vile actions and is not an innocent in an undeserved situation. But it is a nice thing to be able to hold evil accountable.
3. Pantheistic punishment? No Catholicism, no Dante. Your Hell, on the other hand, is “polyglot,” fashioned for all ethnicities and religions, yet the imagery you use seems more specific. What traditions and influences inform your vision in this volume most directly? [Feel free to range from religion to the movies to whatever inspires]
There are Eastern religions that have concepts of very individualized/personalized kinds of hells, and those play as much of a part as my own background. My introduction to the idea of Hell came through growing up in a Catholic family, but the idea centered on just a place of fire, nothing too specific or varied. As I grew up and was exposed to other concepts, including reading accounts of near-death experiences, the idea of a varied, more individualized kind of Hell grew toward what is ultimately reflected in the Hellscapes collection.
I also am very inspired by art and literature, and Dante’s Inferno certainly had an impact, as did Milton’s Paradise Lost. In the movie world, Hellraiser, based on Clive Barker’s The Hellbound Heart novella, made a strong impression with how visceral it was.
The Hell of Hellscapes is a real polyglot concept, influenced by Eastern religions, Judeo-Christian faiths, accounts of near-death experiences, and art and literature. I don’t want it to be dogmatic, but rather an exploration of evil, so while some imagery may relate to a given tradition in certain stories (such as the flesh and bones “cathedral’ in “The Cavern”) the whole of the collection is going to reflect a wide variance in depictions.
4. Cheery Charon? Dante wrote about Purgatory and Paradise for his second and third volumes, but you have stayed in Hell. Nevertheless, your vision of bad people getting their due, most of them learning regret in the process, might seem optimistic. How about it: is Hellscapes a fatalistic or optimistic project? Why?
For the reader, I would find it to be a more optimistic project in the sense that it is a warning and exposure about various kinds of evils. Perhaps it can help people think about the nature of evil in more areas, recognize it when it is found, and address it. I would love to see that happen when it comes to the more subtle and complex kinds of evil, such as the aforementioned political transgressors.
For the characters in the stories, it is pretty fatalistic. No way to really get around that!
5. Practicing Paradise? If not Purgatory or Paradise, where does Hellscapes lead next? Do you foresee another volume, perhaps another city, or perhaps some other horror…?
More cities, more volumes, and more visions of Hell for sure. Maybe some more abstract environments too! I have lots of ideas about settings, and the exploration of the nature and kinds of evil has a lot of room to work in. Stay tuned, much more to come!
About the author: Stephen Zimmer is an award-winning author and filmmaker based in Lexington, Kentucky. His work includes the cross-genre Rising Dawn Saga, the epic fantasy Fires in Eden series, the sword and sorcery Dark Sun Dawn Trilogy, featuring Rayden Valkyrie, the Harvey and Solomon Steampunk tales, and the Hellscapes and Chronicles of Ave short story collections.
Spotlight on R.J. Sullivan’s Darkness with a Chance of Whimsy (2015)
Book Synopsis: Collected for the first time since their initial publications, Darkness with a Chance of Whimsy presents ten tales from the imagination of R.J. Sullivan. Thrills and chills await you, but you may also get blindsided by the absurd. This volume includes a pair of stories featuring Rebecca Burton, the mysterious investigator of R.J.’s acclaimed paranormal thriller series. Among the ten stories, you’ll find “The Assurance Salesman,” who shows five strangers more about themselves than they ever guessed; you don’t want to venture into Daddy’s basement in “Fade;” Rebecca Burton tries to talk someone out of a bad idea in “Backstage Pass;” a bullied police detective finally defeats his rival in “Able-Bodied;” a desperate father finds the “Inner Strength” to save his young daughter, “Becky” Burton; a child seeds his aquarium with a most unusual “Starter Kit;” and a brilliant robotics engineer creates a “Robot Vampire.”
Starter Question. What do “darkness” and “whimsy” mean in this book’s galaxy? When do they belong together, and why? How do you know when to favor darkness and when to take more of a chance on whimsy?
SULLIVAN: The title speaks to the idea of not taking myself too seriously, and that most of my stories and specifically the ones in this collection are all dark in tone, but have some element that, on the surface at least, is rather silly. “Robot Vampire,” which closes the collection, is the most obvious example. It’s a dark tale that takes itself very seriously within its own context, but a reader can take a step back and see the whimsy of the idea—Robot Vampire. How does that even work? Also in the collection is a whimsical look at future Spellcheck, a portal story, a magical gem, and a telepathy helmet, to name a few. They are all whimsical ideas, but set within a dark tone.
Grammetiquette 2015. Your writing reveals a strong sense of craft as well as self-consciousness about your own and others’ uses of English. Particularly since you write about both past and future, what are your views on “standard” language, and how important are grammar and mechanics for writers of horror and science fiction?
SULLIVAN: First of all, thank you for the compliment. Yes, I do believe that a writer’s first priority is learning and mastering the standards of the English language. I spent several years employed as a proofreader, and frequently would shake my head when people would throw something together and say “the proofreaders will fix it.” I see the same “let the computer take care of it” mentality now being applied to spell checkers and grammar checkers. If this trend continues, it could easily lead to the sort of scenario that “Grammatiquette 2030” illustrates.
Character Strength. This collection spans a decade of your development as a writer and covers a lot of ground in terms of both genre and themes. As I see them, one of the stories’ greatest commonalities is that all involve serious character study. How do your characters relate to your uses of genre and theme, and why is character so prominent in your work? Who’s your favorite, and why (yes, I am asking to you to choose among your offspring)?
SULLIVAN: Genre, whether horror or science fiction, really only describes the setting and tone of the story. I’m not as interested in someone being stalked by a vampire or a spaceship launching to go off to war as I am the person’s response to being stalked or the captain and crew of that spaceship. I suppose in SF terms that makes me a “soft” SF writer, and in horror, that’s just the standard approach. As a reader, I need to care about the person this is happening to; the rest is just window dressing.
As for a favorite… in the case of this collection, I would have to pick the robot in the robot vampire. Without getting too far into spoiler territory, the machine is accidentally imbued with cognizance and crosses that line between machine and self-awareness. It was a tricky line to walk, to imagine that ah-ha moment when a being realizes what it is, where it is, why it was created, and how it will respond to this world it’s been dropped into. To have so many readers respond at how much Jinan touched them was rewarding, because I knew I had, for those readers at least, pulled it off.
Able-Written. You don’t shy from potentially difficult subjects, such as disability in “Able-Bodied” and the historical struggles of LGBTQ communities in “Backstage Pass.” What draws you to these subjects, and what roles do they play in your work?
SULLIVAN: Writers by nature are observers of the world. The struggle of the LGBTQ community is the ongoing civil rights success story of the last couple of decades. Anyone paying attention has known someone who came out or who has lived openly and received some sort of grief for trying to do so. In my own experience, I’ve witnessed the majority view shift from the early 1980s when information and personal acquaintances were both difficult to find, to the early 2000s when both were much more accessible. I know I personally moved on the issue a great deal. Anyone open to it realized that the propaganda put out there was designed to discard the humanity of others while isolating one personal practice (between adults of mutual consent and in private, to add to the silliness) that was literally demonized to the point it perpetuated fear from both sides for several centuries. But then there was a shift, and most of us had a few acquaintances who got brave, came out, and told people their stories. Acquaintances turned into friendships, and when you become invested in your friends, you want the best for them, and you get angry when they’re disrespected for ridiculous reasons. The same is true for depression, which seems to hit creative people particularly hard, and of course skin color, a bigotry which continues in spite of all common sense. These things are a part of what I’ve seen, and I’ve been affected by them, so they’re a part of my work.
I Will Have Remembered Clearly. Your bio mentions Andre Norton and Gene Roddenberry , but as I read, I found myself thinking back even further to folks like Nathaniel Hawthorne (the short stories) and Ambrose Bierce, even Henry James and yes, Bram Stoker (mostly works beyond Dracula). Do you feel your roots reaching to the nineteenth century? And where do you see yourself as you send your probes forward?
SULLIVAN: This question comes as a surprise to me. I had the same basic literature classes as any other college major, but beyond a fascination with Poe, Arthur Conan Doyle, and, well, okay, H.G. Wells, my reading tastes fall decidedly 20th century. I still cite Asimov, Andre Norton, Robert Heinlein, Rod Serling, and others from that era as my primary “fun” reading, though I have of course read Stoker’s Dracula, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and the others you mentioned I’m sure are in my Norton Reader. J I suppose these authors may have influenced the authors I read, and I somehow channeled those qualities. How’s that for a whimsical notion? J My plan first and foremost is the same as it ever was—to tell stories that fascinate and entertain me, and hope that my readers feel the same. I’ll do this in the style that seems to fit best and let bloggers like you analyze where it all might come from.
Thanks for the great questions!
Spotlight on Brick Marlin’s
Shadow Out of the Sky (2015)
Book Synopsis: A scarecrow crucified on a wooden cross made from a pair of two-by-fours sits in a field of corn, placed there to frighten away birds and protect the crops. Under its straw hat large buttons pose as its eyes, placed there by child’s fingers, viewing something sinister in the grave sky, appearing in front of the full moon. Twisting, it forms into a sleek black mass, peering down upon the town of Woodbury. Four demons called The Reckoning have pulled this shadow, this urban legend, from the past, out of an unmarked grave to bring terror across the planet, shoving it toward an apocalypse. Now it cuts through the air, as if it were opening wounds in flesh, peering down at the first house that it hovers over…
Shadow Out of the Sky is Book One of the Transitional Delusions Series.
Lead-in question. Your book gets a lot of scary imagery by tapping into a source of horror I find inexhaustible. So—why are kids so creepy?
MARLIN: What goes on in children’s minds, as they absorb pattern recognition while growing up, is a mystery. Some are taught to be good, others taught to become bad. When I wrote Shadow Out of the Sky, I steered away from writing about zombies, thinking it would be more sinister to have not only one possessed child, but hundreds running the streets armed with knives and cleavers and whatever else they could grasp.
One of my readers told me while reading my novel he gave his son a double-take, questioning the possibility if his son acted as horrid as the characters in the book. It frightened him.
Egghead question. You include many references to film and television, tapping in particular the sci-fi side of horror with what characters are watching early on. Where do you see your work on the science-fiction-to-horror spectrum, and other than Stephen King (whom you mention), who influenced this work in particular, and why? As a follow-up, I would say Village of the Damned (The Midwich Cuckoos) and Pet Sematary, both books and films, are major touchstones for your work. Did you have these or other titles specifically in mind while you were letting your own ideas grow in new directions?
MARLIN: After writing the gruesome and horrifying tale of “Shadow Out of the Sky” I have switched gears, writing darker sci-fi, all included in the Transitional Delusions series. Plus, I’m not sure what genre to call it, being a mix of cyberpunk, horror and dark fantasy. Ray Bradbury, Rod Serling, Gary A. Braunbeck, Lucy A. Snyder, Philip K. Dick, William Gibson, Rudy Rucker, Terry Pratchett, John Connolly, Neil Gaiman and Michael Libling – an author I have just discovered – have been huge influences while creating my new worlds. The worlds these particular authors have created steered me to evolve and grow my ideas.
Controversy question. The violence and gore go far enough at times for this book to earn the description “extreme,” yet the sex, although disturbing, is not very explicit, and the language is fairly reserved as well. How do you feel about going to extremes?
MARLIN: I certainly don’t mind extremities, as long as you are careful with them. In my book I show the reader how horrid the children and the evil entity are because it is the apocalypse. And the end of the world, I think, is never a pleasant scene.
Philosophy question. One of the book’s strengths is the pervasive imagery of light and dark, which suggests a struggle between good and evil. Do you see the book advancing a worldview in which Good and Evil exist as such, with capital letters, or do you think that, especially with backstories like the one you provide, morality ends up being gray? Explain.
MARLIN: Morality will almost be in despair in the series. I am trying to challenge my characters’ minds, challenge their fears. I’m evolving colonies run by a dictatorship or big corporations. Computer hackers make appearances. As well as monsters, both human and not.
Context question. Where does this book fit in your larger body of creative works, and how does it connect to where you see yourself headed?
MARLIN: In my book, four demons called The Reckoning are responsible for driving an entity to destroy the world. The next book in the series reveals life after the apocalypse: not wastelands, but a birth of a new world. And The Reckoning are still lurking in the shadows, invisible to the human eye, overseeing the world as it Shifts forward.
About the author: Brick Marlin has been writing since he was a child. From an early age he was exposed to older horror movies. The great ones making their mark in history. He also tackled reading the likes of Stephen King, Clive Barker, Ray Bradbury, Kurt Vonnegut, Dean Koontz, Charles Dickens, Harper Lee, H.G. Wells, etc. Thus, he decided to engage himself and write horror, dark fantasy and dark sci-fi, scaring readers such as his parents, his friends, neighbors, and even leaving a few school teachers scratching their heads wondering if the boy should be committed or not with his gruesome tales of terror. Short story ideas continued to visit. A book idea or two sometimes stopped by for a sit. In 2007 he decided to take a more professional approach with his work. Hence, as a member of the Horror Writers Association, already having nine books published by small presses – this you hold in your hand, constant reader, makes his tenth – nearly thirty short stories published, adding to the few anthologies and collaborations with other authors, Brick Marlin trudges onward, hoping to achieve more creations, wallowing in the brain pans of his characters, giving them the choice whether to twist the knob and enter through the Red Door, or enter through the Blue Door where a group of servo monkey badgers are consuming packages of cinnamon-flavored Pop Rock Candy with a Kung Fu Punch of caffeine.