2020 Just Keeps Getting Harder

2020 has been an insane year almost from it’s beginning. Each month – can you believe it’s already the beginning of August? – has brought us a new thing to worry about, and sadly we all seem to be waiting with bated breath for the next big thing, almost joking about how it can’t possibly get worse than it already is.

As I sit here waiting for a hurricane – now tropical storm – that may or may not be hitting us (didn’t I go through this last year?), I can’t help but think about just how much loss has happened in this world.

I woke up this morning to the news that Wilford Brimley had died.

Such unfair news in this world today. Wilford Brimley was one of the best, and always will be. A lot of people know him because of The Thing and his Diabetes commercials, but I was obsessed with The Waltons and Our House growing up because of this man. And I watched the VHS tapes we had of Cocoon and Cocoon: The Return so much that they started to deteriorate.

He was the loving and caring person that he portrayed on TV and the world will truly miss his talent and his heart. It hurts that things seemed to stand in the way of me getting to meet him again, as every convention that we were both going to be attending, either he had to back out of or I did. But just having met him once was enough to know the man that he was.

This just days after the horror community found out about the loss of Jon Recluse.

He was one of the most amazing people I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. A really good friend. Someone who meant the world to me.

People have tried discussing the loss with me, people who knew how much he meant to me, how much I admired him, but I just can’t right now. Losing a friend is hard, but losing a friend that truly inspired people in this world, a friend that had a lot more to give, is just hard. So so hard.

We originally met on Goodreads, what seems like eons ago. He was always there for a conversation about books, and there were many times that we messaged into the wee hours about a book one or both of us were reading. He was such a horror connoisseur, and a really dedicated fan. There wasn’t much about horror he didn’t know, and he was spot-on every time he recommended I read something, after learning that I loved something else. His reviews were always so thought out, so perfect. He was such an asset to the horror community, and I actually feel more for the people who never got the chance to get to know him, having never had that experience, than the people who knew him and loved him who are now grieving.

Somehow our friendship ended up going beyond just books, almost like we were just meant to know each other. Even when he was down, he was there when people were having a bad time of this or that, and would defend those who were treated poorly with everything he had. He was my biggest supporter, and he made me feel important, made me feel strong, just knowing that was how he saw me in this world. He would never let me give up on what I loved, and would remind me how much I was hurting myself (and others) by taking a step back, reminded me that I was better than that. I didn’t always listen to his advice, didn’t always be the friend that he needed, no matter how hard I tried. His loss is crushing.

We talked about family – his and mine – and I don’t think he ever recovered from the deaths of his sweet dog (his brother) and his mom. I’m happy to know that he is with them again, and that thought brings me comfort.

In my sadness, I try to remind myself of what my priest told me when my father died: On that day, there was a child being born, and God looked everywhere – in heaven and on earth – for the perfect guardian angel, and when he saw Jon, he just knew. Having known Jon the way I did, I can tell you that he would be the perfect guardian angel, and I hope that the baby he is watching over today lives a long and happy life, one filled with love, friendship, and definitely a love for horror.

Maybe the two are up there together now…

An Open Letter to My Bully

Beware the person who stabs you and then tells the world they’re the one who’s bleeding.”

~Jill Blakeway

Dear… Well, you know who you are. I have been told by several people (those people that give you information whether you want it or not, whether you care about it or not) that you still follow my blogs, still read my posts, so I know that you’ll read this one as well.

Today I’m writing as a different person than I was yesterday, as a different person than I was last week, last month, even a different person than I have been over the last couple of years.

I forgot who I was.

Or maybe I let you steal who I am from me.

When I got bullied, harassed, and attacked by authors, I was told to be proud, that this meant I had made it. It is worn almost as a badge of honor, or at least people tell you it’s supposed to be.

This is the world we live in, where this kind of behavior is acceptable, where there’s nothing you can do about it. People tell you it’s no big deal because it’s just online. It doesn’t hurt. It doesn’t bother you. It’s not real life. Just get off the computer, get off the internet, and it will all go away.

(No matter how much it really hurts. No matter how much it doesn’t go away.)

When I was attacked by you, a fellow book blogger, I was ignored. And worse, I was abandoned.

They believed your lies, with zero proof of the allegations you piled at my feet. (Ms. M to the public, my name in private.)

No one wanted to hear the truth, or even cared to find out the other side of the story.

Your wife destroyed my reputation, liabled me to the point of considering legal repercussions, and threatened me.

I lost business because of your lies. I lost followers because of your lies. I lost working with some authors and even some publishers because of your lies.

I was scoffed when I tried to eloquently, but abstractly, speak out about what I was going through. I wanted someone to listen, someone to hear what I was going through, someone to care, to understand… and maybe explain to me how something I love, something I am so passionate about, can give me such anxiety now.

I sat in silence as people I knew for years spoke about being Team Other Guy, publicly calling for the head of the person who was daily trying to make you quit.

Something that never happened.

You made it all up. Every single bit of it. And the worst part of it all is that you needed no proof to rally the public to your side.

And now, the people who knew your name and know what you did to me, they like to remind me that you are no longer a blogger, as if that changes things, takes away from the hurt and pain that you caused, means I won.

It doesn’t.

And I can’t. Can’t be a blogger. Not really. No matter how much my heart wants to.

My brain just won’t let me.

I have always been so strong. I was not stronger than this.

I was so confused when you did what you did. Followed by hurt, then angry for so so long. But now? I just feel sorry for you. You felt so unimportant that you had to steal your importance from someone else, rather than create your own.

You compared yourself to others, and you chose to systematically destroy someone that you were… what? envious of?

No one knows the real story. Just you. Just me.

It’s time I spoke out and let people know what REALLY happened.

We were friends. We spoke often about books, I listened to you share problems and concerns you were having in the book community, and when you decided that you wanted to be a book blogger, I spent MONTHS helping you create your world. I was there when you were picking apart every little detail of the blog, when you were nervous about writing your first post, when you needed someone to remind you that you could do it. That was me. I was the one. I gave you my opinion when you asked for it, advice when you asked for it, and read every post you put up so that I was ready to discuss it with you when you contacted me. (And you did. Every day. Discussing your post. Needing feedback. Needing validation. Needing someone to tell you how good you were.)

And it wasn’t just me. In your forgetting all that I did in our friendship, you forgot that my mother was a part of this as well.

It went on for weeks, months. Every single day. Hours, daily, of our time.

(Note: I don’t regret the time that I spent helping you. I do, however, regret the time that I put into a friendship that clearly was not one.)

(Do you remember how angry you used to get when I didn’t respond to you quick enough, even though you knew that it was in the middle of the night for me, expecting me to sit up all night helping you in whatever way that you expected? Do you remember the fits you would throw, the nasty, negative things you would say? Your childish behavior? I sure do.)

I told everyone I knew to read your blog. I put links to your blog on mine. I shared your posts on social media.

During this time and after, you had a public falling out with a fellow blogger who I happened to also consider a friend. I spoke to him at great lengths about the issue and you at great lengths about the issue, never once judging either one of you or choosing sides, not because I needed or wanted gossip, but because that’s what friends do. They listen when their friend has a problem. And that’s what I considered us. Friends.

At some point, I noticed that you weren’t messaging me every day like you had been for weeks. When I reached out to you, you didn’t respond. I figured that life had just gotten busy for you – I mean, blogging is not easy. People who don’t blog think that it’s just a bunch of fun and games, but it’s a lot of work. I gave you your space, but still supported you just as strongly as I had been.

That’s when I started hearing the whispers.

You were going to quit. Not because you wanted to, but because this terrible, horrible person was trying to force you to do so.

Some said blackmail. Some said bullying. All agreed that there was some vendetta, some campaign against you.

But no one knew a name.

I reached out to you on several occasions to find out what was happening and how I could help. Nothing.

Then one day, while scrolling through my Facebook feed, I saw a friend of mine comment about how you were being attacked and he was so emotional about the fact that anyone could do that to you. I read his words, his call for anger from the community, his support of you, and his venom for this person that was bullying you across social media.

The infamous Ms. M.

Your wife had a lot of stuff to say about this woman – threats and condemnation and a call for war, but nothing more about who the person was that was attacking you.

More whispers. A couple of odd questions from people that didn’t make sense at the time. Some people blocked me on social media (including a friend of mine from real life that was part of the book community).

Then there were several nasty emails. Nothing specific. Just calling me out of my name, telling me where they thought I should end up after my death. Ya know…

It wasn’t until I tried to message a publishing company that I was working with, and found out that they had blocked me, that I really started to question things. I spoke to the gentleman I mentioned before, and he assured me that this had nothing to do with me, that I wasn’t this Ms. M, that I was just reading too much into the fact that you weren’t responding to my attempts at contact, that I was just trying to make this all about me (boy was I selfish and self-important).

A week or so later, the same publishing company over on Goodreads recommended a book to me. And I’ll admit, I was rather unprofessional in my response to them. I called them out for the fact that they blocked me somewhere – WHILE WE WERE WORKING TOGETHER – and then had the gall to think that I would want to read a book that they recommended to me. Their response floored me. But I now finally knew the truth.

I was the infamous Ms. M. It was ME that your wife was stirring hatred up for, it was ME that everyone was against (without knowing who I was, because apparently you only spoke my name in private to people you were sure would believe you), it was ME that you were spreading outright lies about.

I was, to be completely honest, livid. Not at first with you, interestingly enough. (As I said before, I was concerned, and then hurt.) I was angry at this person for not asking me anything about the situation. He actually apologized several times, saying that he had been bullied before and that he just immediately believed it, but then later, questioned whether he thought this was actually something I could or would do to someone. He used the book request as a way to reach out.

You made everything up. Because I NEVER bullied you. I NEVER once tried to get you to quit. I supported you FROM DAY ONE of you deciding you wanted to be a blogger.

I cannot fathom how you were so believable that NO ONE asked you for proof. Which would have sucked for you since you have none.

In this day and age, when everyone screenshots everything – this happened after the author-blogger battle on Goodreads – and you don’t have anything to post to prove what I supposedly did to you? You calling me a bully was all you had to do? Oh and put up a post on your blog with a sign saying you quit?

(Trust me, the fact that no one made you PROVE IT really made me lose all respect for LOTS of people. A respect that no one has been able to earn back yet.)

I spoke your name to less than ten people, never anything more than to defend myself to people I really cared about. You spoke my name to a lot more than that.

I quit. Not really, I couldn’t do that – I loved my blog too much to be an actual quitter, to admit to anyone, including and especially you, that I had – but the reality of it is, I quit. I’ve hardly written a review or a blog post in all these years. I couldn’t read for over two. I’m lucky if I can read 50 books in a year, when before I was reading 200+. My Kindle is not something I pick up every day like it was before. (In fact, and it makes me want to cry to think about it, but it’s something that goes ignored an awful lot in my world now, this ever present companion that has gotten me through the worst of times.)

I realize that I am not STUCK on what you did to me, as I always thought, but AFRAID that I will have to go through the whole situation again with some other blogger that, for some reason, has decided I’m in their way.

TODAY I speak out.

TODAY I say that it is NOT right, that it is NOT okay, that it is NOT a right of passage.

Bullying is wrong. No matter what venue they pursue it in. It is WRONG.

This is ME taking back my name. Taking back my voice. Taking back what I am so passionate about.

This is ME letting go.

And to you, the man who bullied me all those years ago, who still has the nerve to speak my name and still try to ruin me…

I forgive you.

I pray for you.

And now… I forget you ever existed. Because you are not worth taking up space in my brain.


UPDATE: I figured something out today, after reading this post 50+ times, making sure it was perfect and that I was really ready to speak my truth to the world. NOTHING has been the same since this event. I have never looked at the community, or the people in it, the same. I no longer feel a part of it, instead seeing myself as someone standing outside looking in (like Charlie at the candy shop). No matter how much I try to be a part of it, no matter how much I help, no matter how much I do, I am no longer a part of this community. And that’s fine because I no longer feel anything for it. There are some people that I still very much care about, but as a whole, it means nothing. (You took more from me than I already knew.) I blame them as much as I blame you. I supported everyone and have been all these years since, but in my darkest hour, when I was being bullied, not a one of them supported me.

I’ve realized that I AM stronger than this… and I forgive them too.

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Troy Gardner

Sadly, this is my last interview with some of the authors from Blood Bound Books’ latest anthology, Burnt Fur. It’s been great fun getting to know some authors I had never met before, and I hope that you have enjoyed these as much as I have.

Meghan: Hi, Troy. Welcome! Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Troy Gardner: I’m a New Englander transplanted to Florida who writes, watches, and talks about horror. It’s the most expansive genre out there. I’m a cat dad and garage enthusiast.

Meghan: What are five things most people don’t know about you?

Troy Gardner: Hmmmm, let’s see. 1- I’m color slow, 2- I never learned to drive, 3- I don’t have a sweet tooth, but I can’t turn down trail mix, 4- I don’t understand electricity, 5- I love music but I’m basically tone deaf.

Meghan: What is the first book you remember reading?

Troy Gardner: The first novel was Jurassic Park. The movie came out when I was nine and I loved it so I read it.

Meghan: What are you reading now?

Troy Gardner: Shit Politicians Say by Governor Jesse Ventura. It was a Christmas gift. I enjoy outsider perspectives that poke fun at both parties.

Meghan: What’s a book you really enjoyed that others wouldn’t expect you to have liked?

Troy Gardner: Since most of what I talk about is horror-related, I’ll say Michael Cunningham’s The Hours. Such a beautiful book. I have a soft spot for Virginia Woolf so his fictionalization of her hits deep.

Meghan: What made you decide you want to write? When did you begin writing?

Troy Gardner: I’ve always been a writer. We got this Tandy-900 when I was a kid and I filled floppy disks with fiction stories when I was nine or ten.

Meghan: Do you have a special place you like to write?

Troy Gardner: I cleaned out my garage and put in my uncle’s old futon and built a four foot by four foot screen I hooked a projector to. It’s a great place to be isolated and write in the dark with some movie playing. Downside is it’s unusable during the peak summer.

Meghan: Do you have any quirks or processes that you go through when you write?

Troy Gardner: I almost always have the TV on when I’m writing first or second drafts. Occasionally, if I need to focus, I listen to music. It’s extremely rare that I write in a quiet space.

Meghan: Is there anything about writing you find most challenging?

Troy Gardner: Editing, in a good way. Revisions make the story stronger, but it’s far easier to say, “Act two needs to be strengthened” than to actually strengthen the act.

Meghan: What’s the most satisfying thing you’ve written so far?

Troy Gardner: I lost someone very important to me to drugs and I wrote this long YA supernatural book about grief and magic and time travel and it’s all over the place and maybe some day it’ll find publication, but I didn’t write it to be published, I wrote it to process. And it did help.

Meghan: What books have most inspired you? Who are some authors that have inspired your writing style?

Troy Gardner: Every single book I read inspires me. Everything. I’m the type of guy who watches a documentary, then wants to write a book about that topic. I read a murder mystery and it makes me want to write a murder mystery. Specific books, I’d say The Picture of Dorian Gray was a big influence. David Sedaris is up there. Christopher Rice.

Meghan: What do you think makes a good story?

Troy Gardner: Characters. There’s a famous quote (that’s been attributed to different people) that says there’s two types of stories: a man goes on a journey, or a stranger comes to town. Characters are what makes narratives distinct and memorable.

Meghan: What does it take for you to love a character? How do you utilize that when creating your characters?

Troy Gardner: I’d say relatability is pretty high on the scale. If a reader connects to a character, not necessarily even the protagonist, then the story becomes so much more than words on pages.

Meghan: Which, of all your characters, do you think is the most like you?

Troy Gardner: I have a project that my agent is currently querying that I can’t say too much about, but it’s about a young filmmaker who is a little too enthusiastic about movies. It’s a comedy/drama with a pinch of romance, and he’s me in many regards. I just tapped into my life when I built his backstory for how he fell in love with movies and the horror genre and gave him all my insecurities.

Meghan: Are you turned off by a bad cover? To what degree were you involved in creating your book covers?

Troy Gardner: “Don’t judge a book by its cover” is one of the oldest sayings we’ve all heard, and it’s true, we can’t help it. If a cover looks cheap, there’s that gut instinct of “oh, the story is bad,” but logically I know that’s not true. I’ve had a lot of say with all the small publishers I’ve worked with, and none with the anthologies because usually an anthology cover is done before they even choose which stories will go in it. No complaints there.

Meghan: What have you learned throughout the process of creating your books?

Troy Gardner: I’m constantly learning as I write, edit, and publish work and beta read and edit other writers’ works, and read for pleasure and watch movies as a habit.

Characterizations, dialogue, plots, what to avoid, what techniques work. I have an obsessive personality, so I’m fairly good at deconstructing elements. You analyze art, you learn from it.

Meghan: What has been the hardest scene for you to write so far?

Troy Gardner: I can’t think of a specific scene, but generally the hardest parts of a manuscript to write are in revisions. When you realize a sub-plot is weak and needs something, but you’re not entirely sure what, and you spot a great place to hone in on it. So you sit there with the cursor blinking thinking, “Right here, this is the spot where I’ll make the whole sub-plot and side character worth it. Okay, so… what now?”

Meghan: What makes your books different from others out there in this genre?

Troy Gardner: One thing is I can’t stick to one genre and I love blending them. And it’s rare that I don’t throw humor into even tense and frightening scenes.

Meghan: How important is the book title, how hard is it to choose the best one, and how did you choose yours?

Troy Gardner: Oh, my God, I HATE coming up with titles! That’s the absolute worst. I’ve written a few things and worked with my friend Josh Winning (check out his YA fantasy action SENTINEL series) and he’s blessed with the ability to create titles. I am not. I slave over them. With the Burnt Fur anthology, I just named the story after the central figure, “Randall Rabbit,” because alliteration is fun.

Meghan: What makes you feel more fulfilled: Writing a novel or writing a short story?

Troy Gardner: Oh, tough one. I’d say short story only because I can write ten shorts in the time it would take me to write one novel, so that feels like I’ve done more. But that one novel might be greater than all the shorts, so it’s a tough call. I do think that shorts don’t get the respect they should in some literary circles (or all film circles).

Meghan: Tell us a little bit about your books, your target audience, and what you would like readers to take away from your stories.

Troy Gardner: My target audience is me. I write stories I’d like to read. And hopefully, other people, too. I don’t read one genre, so I don’t write in one genre, and I often blend them. I like quirky, out there, queer stories. I like to be surprised. These are the things I strive to write.

Meghan: I am always excited to get my hands on anthologies, especially ones from publishers that I have grown to trust. Tell us about Burnt Fur and your story in it.

Troy Gardner: I love anthologies, too. Ever since I was a kid watching Are You Afraid of the Dark? on Saturday nights. A fur-themed, extreme horror anthology just sounded fun, so I came up with this story about a young hustler with a client dressed up in a rabbit costume that reminds him of a stuffed animal that crossed his path a few years back. I’d been writing a lot of YA, and Middle Grade, so it’s always fun to change tracks and write something more extreme once in a while.

Meghan: Can you tell us about some of the deleted scenes/stuff that got left out of your work?

Troy Gardner: That’s funny you ask that, because this is the first short I’ve published in which I ended up totally changing the ending. There’s always an editing phase to make the story stronger. I cut quite a bit of fat out of “Randall Rabbit” which I’m happy to do to make it a leaner, more effective read. I’m happy to trim stories to make them stronger. I’ve had publishers and editors compliment me on being enthusiastic to edit and rework pieces, and this was the most major change I’ve made. My original idea was to focus on psychological terror, but we ended up going with a shorter, more physical ending. The Burnt Fur team’s been wonderful to work with and I’m very happy with the changes we made.

Meghan: What is in your “trunk”?

Troy Gardner: Not sure if you’d call it my trunk because I devote a LOT of free time to it, but I’m working on making a no-budget horror movie anthology. I had the idea last June and I already have seven segments done totalling eighty minutes. I don’t know what shape the final project’s going to take, but it’s been fun, it’s been challenging, and I’m looking forward to sharing it with an audience in the next year.

Meghan: What can we expect from you in the future?

Troy Gardner: Besides my film opus 🙂 , I’d love to write some more extreme horror. I’ve got a short coming out on the Monsters Out of the Closet podcast and I write reviews and random articles for Gayly Dreadful.

Meghan: Where can we find you?

Troy Gardner: I wrote “Randall Rabbit” for Burnt Fur with my Elliot Arthur Cross pseudonym, but I’m on Twitter under my real name and I post Are You Afraid of the Dark? fan art every week on Instagram.

Meghan: Do you have any closing words for your fans or anything you’d like to say that we didn’t get to cover in this interview?

Troy Gardner: Thank you for reading. As a writer, I sit alone in a room typing on a laptop and it always amazes me that someone somewhere will read that story and (hopefully) enjoy it.

About the Book:
Sit. Roll over. Who’s a Good Boy?

There are no good boys in in this anthology, only twisted, deviant, and burnt encounters with pets, people in costume, animals who behave like humans, and creatures who blur the line between the three. Violent pigs, killer ducks, horny bees, a naughty rabbit, and many more fill these pages with tale after tail of hair-raising horror.

Don your Fursuit, slip into your Fursona, and ride the dark wave of horror that is Burnt Fur. You may never go back to wearing your normal skin again.

The Moon in Her Eyes by Sarah Hans
Mallard’s Maze by Joseph Sale
Salivation by Theodore Deadrat
The Hamford Pigs by N. Rose
The Willingness of Prey by Paul Allih
6 Dicks by Rachel Lee Weist
The Others by C.M. Saunders
Randall Rabbit by Elliot Arthur Cross
A Concubine for the Hive by Rue K. Poe
Five Nights with Teddy by Thurston Howl
Oh Piggy, My Piggy by Matt Scott
Ware the Deep by Stephanie Park
The Molt of a Diminishing Light by Michelle F. Goddard
The Victims by James L. Steele

About the Author:
Troy H. Gardner was born in Florida but left at the ripe age of six months. He grew up and earned his Bachelor’s Degree in New England before returning to the Sunshine State just in time for Hurricane Irma.

He started writing stories on his Tandy Personal Computer as a child in the ’90s after devouring the works of Stephen King in elementary school.

Red is his favorite color, but blue hasn’t gotten the memo yet. He doesn’t understand why fans can’t equally love Star Wars and Star Trek (they’re different genres, people!). When Troy isn’t writing, or talking about writing, he enjoys killing hours on his PlayStation or watching horror movies (both really great and incredibly bad are his jam).

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Jonathan W. Thurston Howl

Jonathan W. Thurston Howl is another author from Blood Bound Books‘ latest anthology, Burnt Fur, edited by Ken MacGregor. I learned a lot about this interview, including some interesting facts about HIV, the difference between sexual and erotic, and sex trafficking.

Meghan: Hi, Jonathan. Welcome to Meghan’s House of Books. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Jonathan W. Thurston Howl: I am a PhD student in English at Michigan State University, an activist for HIV destigmatization, and an editor for Thurston Howl Publications and Weasel Press.

Meghan: What are five things most people don’t know about you?

Jonathan W. Thurston Howl:
1) I got HIV through a partner who lied about his status.
2) I identify as a furry.
3) I have a very sex-positive household with lots of toys and art everywhere.
4) My fiance and I met through publishing.
5) I have a TED Talk out!

Meghan: What is the first book you remember reading?

Jonathan W. Thurston Howl: Dr. SeussFox in Socks.

Meghan: What are you reading now?

Jonathan W. Thurston Howl: I’m always reading eight books at once, so I finish several a week. Currently I am reading the following: Some Kind of Fairy Tale by Graham Joyce, Imperial Earth by Arthur C. Clarke, a collection of stories by Lovecraft, Overflow by BGK, Fragments of Life’s Heart by Weasel Press, Silver Sword by Michael Morpurgo, Politically Correct Fairytales by James Garner, and a collection of spooky fairytales.

Meghan: What’s a book you really enjoyed that others wouldn’t expect you to have liked?

Jonathan W. Thurston Howl: War & Peace. It’s infamous as such a large book that is incredibly dry, but I actually have loved the book each of the three times I read it. Its social critiques are often still relevant, and I love the characters.

Meghan: What made you decide you want to write? When did you begin writing?

Jonathan W. Thurston Howl: I decided I wanted to write after realizing my writing could make people feel something. It made me feel like a magician, tricking the audience. I first started writing in eighth grade, when I wrote my first novel.

Meghan: Do you have a special place you like to write?

Jonathan W. Thurston Howl: Usually just any cafe.

Meghan: Do you have any quirks or processes that you go through when you write?

Jonathan W. Thurston Howl: I often write via the Snowflake Method. I write the whole story as one sentence, then one paragraph, then one page, so on and so forth, until it’s done.

Meghan: Is there anything about writing you find most challenging?

Jonathan W. Thurston Howl: Descriptive prose. My writing style is very fast and animated. It’s hard to just slow it down to let the setting tell a story by itself.

Meghan: What’s the most satisfying thing you’ve written so far?

Jonathan W. Thurston Howl: One of two works. Either my experimental horror book The Devil Has a Black Dog or my nonfiction exposé Blood Criminals.

Meghan: What books have most inspired you? Who are some authors that have inspired your writing style?

Jonathan W. Thurston Howl: David Clement-DaviesThe Sight, Jack London’s White Fang, Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation, Bill Kieffer’s The Goat, and Clive Barker’s Sacrament.

Meghan: What do you think makes a good story?

Jonathan W. Thurston Howl: One that makes its reader feel what the author intended.

Meghan: What does it take for you to love a character? How do you utilize that when creating your characters?

Jonathan W. Thurston Howl: It takes quirks and active personality. However, as a horror writer, it means I’ll make my most fleshed out character the one who gets their flesh outed.

Meghan: Which, of all your characters, do you think is the most like you?

Jonathan W. Thurston Howl: Probably the protagonist of my award-nominated book Straight Men.

Meghan: Are you turned off by a bad cover? To what degree were you involved in creating your book covers?

Jonathan W. Thurston Howl: Yes, I can’t stand bad covers. I often work as a cover advisor for a few different publishing houses because I’m so nitpicky.

Meghan: What have you learned throughout the process of creating your books?

Jonathan W. Thurston Howl: Formatting experimental fiction sucks.

Meghan: What has been the hardest scene for you to write so far?

Jonathan W. Thurston Howl: Some of the explicit scenes of Straight Men definitely. Doing bad things to good people is hard.

Meghan: What makes your books different from others out there in this genre?

Jonathan W. Thurston Howl: They take popular narratives and queer them. There’s just not enough solid gay fiction out there, not that isn’t a coming-out story.

Meghan: How important is the book title, how hard is it to choose the best one, and how did you choose yours?

Jonathan W. Thurston Howl: I usually choose my titles fairly fast. I think for me they are usually simple but have multiple layers of meaning.

Meghan: What makes you feel more fulfilled: Writing a novel or writing a short story?

Jonathan W. Thurston Howl: Usually a novel. It just takes more time, and you get to hold it in your hands with its own cover.

Meghan: Tell us a little bit about your books, your target audience, and what you would like readers to take away from your stories.

Jonathan W. Thurston Howl: Usually, my target audience is erotic horror readers. I like them to be aroused but then made uncomfortable for their arousal: they feel complicit in the consequences of the intercourse scenes.

Meghan: I am always excited to get my hands on anthologies, especially ones from publishers that I have grown to trust. Tell us about Burnt Fur and your story in it.

Jonathan W. Thurston Howl: So, my story in Burnt Fur twists a couple of narratives: Tusk (an old body horror film) and the video game Five Nights at Freddy’s. Furries are all about wish fulfillment. They buy art of their fictional character. They get fursuits of them. They imagine themselves as that character sometimes. So, my story tackles the question of, “What if you got your wish and could be plastic surgeried into being your character?” But as is usual with wish fulfillment horror stories, you really should have been more careful of what you wish for.

Meghan: You wrote a book called Straight Men, published by Black Rose Writing. Explain to us what a gay sexual thriller is.

Jonathan W. Thurston Howl: (Content warning: all kinds of sexual abuse) So, first off, there is a difference between sexual and erotic. Erotic implies that the author hopes the reader is aroused. An erotic thriller could involve, for example, a very Stockholm syndrome case of a person falling for their kidnapper and having lots of sex and then later regret when they escape, masturbating to fantasies back in the safety of their home. Sexual thriller takes out the arousal but keeps the sex. Straight Men does not make me aroused. It didn’t at any portion of writing it. Unfortunately, sex is not always beautiful. There is sex trafficking in this country. There is sexual abuse. There is rape. There are bestiality shows in almost every state, and people live their lives as if these things could only happen on the news, not in real life. Straight Men follows a young man who goes on a hookup without telling anyone and is entered into the sex traffic market, drugged, shock collared, and unable to escape for months. It might sound crazy and extreme, but it almost happened to me. I once had a hookup where I was raped and told that if I didn’t do as I was told, the man’s dog was going to rape me, and I wouldn’t be allowed to leave. This novel came from a very real place for me.

Meghan: I’ve never met someone who has done a TED Talk and this has intrigued me. Tell us more about your nonfiction expose called Blood Criminals and that talk.

Jonathan W. Thurston Howl: Sure! So, I was diagnosed with HIV on January 7, 2015. It was from a partner who had lied to me about their status. And since then, I’ve had some interesting things learned. Did you know, if you have HIV, you take one pill a day, and you both don’t have symptoms and can’t actually spread it to anyone else? You could literally drink my blood, and you wouldn’t catch HIV from me. Because of my meds. The hardest part of HIV is people telling you once a week to go kill yourself. That’s kind of what my TED Talk and book are about. They’re not focused on my experiences. They’re focused on what having HIV in the 21st century is like. It’s not the death threat it used to be in the 80s, but it has wholly new problems that people don’t think about, and it needs to be addressed.

Meghan: Can you tell us about some of the deleted scenes/stuff that got left out of your work?

Jonathan W. Thurston Howl: Not really. I can’t think of anything notable that was deleted.

Meghan: What is in your “trunk”?

Jonathan W. Thurston Howl: Well, the third book in the Straight Men series is the next book I will probably write. Also, I have a book coming out this year called Spiders in Our Bed, a collection of a few erotic horror stories centered on the troubles that can happen if a spider interferes with your sex life.

Meghan: What can we expect from you in the future?

Jonathan W. Thurston Howl: Spiders in Our Bed soon! Plus an erotic horror monster anthology I’m writing with my loving fiance, Weasel.

Meghan: Where can we find you?

Jonathan W. Thurston Howl: My Twitter account (18+ only), and my publisher’s webpage. And if you’ve read this far, you can always feel free to reach me through any of those places or email me at: jonathan.thurstonhowlpub@gmail.com. I am always willing to answer questions, provide recommendations, give tips, etc.

Meghan: Do you have any closing words for your fans or anything you’d like to say that we didn’t get to cover in this interview?

Jonathan W. Thurston Howl: If any of this sounds interesting, just hit me up, and I can possibly get you a discount on any of my books. Just mention the interview! I’d love to just have more readers of my work honestly.

About the Book:
Sit. Roll over. Who’s a Good Boy?

There are no good boys in in this anthology, only twisted, deviant, and burnt encounters with pets, people in costume, animals who behave like humans, and creatures who blur the line between the three. Violent pigs, killer ducks, horny bees, a naughty rabbit, and many more fill these pages with tale after tail of hair-raising horror.

Don your Fursuit, slip into your Fursona, and ride the dark wave of horror that is Burnt Fur. You may never go back to wearing your normal skin again.

The Moon in Her Eyes by Sarah Hans
Mallard’s Maze by Joseph Sale
Salivation by Theodore Deadrat
The Hamford Pigs by N. Rose
The Willingness of Prey by Paul Allih
6 Dicks by Rachel Lee Weist
The Others by C.M. Saunders
Randall Rabbit by Elliot Arthur Cross
A Concubine for the Hive by Rue K. Poe
Five Nights with Teddy by Thurston Howl
Oh Piggy, My Piggy by Matt Scott
Ware the Deep by Stephanie Park
The Molt of a Diminishing Light by Michelle F. Goddard
The Victims by James L. Steele

About the Author: Jonathan W. Thurston Howl is a PhD student in English at Michigan State University. Aside from working on their dissertation, they are an editor of two publishing houses and an activist for HIV destigmatization. They are an avid horror writer, particularly when it comes to erotic horror.

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Joseph Sale

We have a second interview today, from those good folks at Blood Bound Books and their Burnt Fur anthology, author Joseph Sale. This interview is, in all honesty, in my top five favorite interviews of the year. He was so thorough and engaging, and I hope you enjoy his responses as much as I did.

Meghan: Hi, Joseph. Welcome to Meghan’s House of Books. It’s a pleasure to have you here today. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Joseph Sale: I’m an author based in the UK, south of England. I grew up in a Lovecraftian seaside town that truly is the British Innsmouth! Full of existential dread, fish people, and drug trafficking. I’ve published probably over 30 books now, including books written under different names or ghost-written. I love fantasy, science fiction, and of course horror. I edit and write full time, but it has been an uphill battle to get to that stage! I’m also part of The Writing Collective, along with my partner in crime Ross Jeffery, so I also publish indie-fiction. Like yourself, I’m also really big on promoting writers. I feel there are so many real talents out there who’ve been neglected and I feel a duty to bring attention to them. I’m a gamer at heart, drunk on Warhammer, Dungeons & Dragons, and Dark Souls.

Meghan: What are five things most people don’t know about you?

Joseph Sale: This is a deliciously challenging question!

(1) I spent thirteen years in a tang shao tao temple learning a grueling form of Kung Fu that has left an indelible mark on me. This is 100% real. And of course I’ve written a book about it! I’d like to thank the neo-noir master and insanely good editor Richard Thomas for helping me get that book onto paper.

(2) I also spent sixteen or more years competing in fencing – or swordfighting. That was also a life-changing experience. I got to train with Hungarian masters and ex-army coaches; it was pretty wild, and, as someone who writes the odd sword and sorcery story, very useful for the combat scenes!

(3) To move away from physical stuff, not many people know I’m a hard anime and manga fan. I am obsessed with Attack on Titan, which I think I admit on my website, but it doesn’t stop there. Seven Deadly Sins, or Nanatsu no taizai, is another brilliant anime I watch religiously. The storytelling is just incredible. Most TV shows can barely do one character arc, and Seven Deadly Sins is out doing seven – more if you count the B-characters and villains. And each one hits with resonance and depth. DeathNote is another brilliant story, of course (I own the complete special edition black-manga collection). And anything by Junji Ito, Uzumaki probably being my favourite. A few years ago I took up learning Japanese and it’s been incredibly challenging, but I hope one day to read a Kobo Abe or Haruki Murakami novel in the original language.

(4) I write music and play piano and guitar. There are some truly terrible early tracks I did that are still lurking on YouTube somewhere. They are unbelievably bad. But, more recently, I’ve been scoring short films and musicals, and that has been an awesome and rewarding experience. I think it marks a transition from trying to be a rockstar as a teenager and not having even an ounce of the star quality needed, to, well, writing. Writing the music and being more in the background but still playing that key role (pardon the pun). My wife is a huge inspiration to me musically.

(5) I am a really big heavy metal fan. Avenged Sevenfold, Coheed and Cambria, Slipknot, and on a rainy day, Ankor, Breaking Benjamin, Starset. I do listen to other styles and genres. I’m a sucker for a really good ballad or a killer rap track. But I keep coming back to metal. Most people view it as “depressing” but I think the reverse: there’s something joyous and uplifting about that music. And metal artists never get enough credit for the complexity of their sound.

Meghan: What is the first book you remember reading?

Joseph Sale: Wow, that’s a tough one. I’m a bit peculiar because I kind of largely skipped children’s books and went straight into heavy duty literature; the perks of having an awesome dad, who used to be an English teacher and who writes poetry. So, he got me reading Milton’s Paradise Lost, and Macbeth when I was about eight years old! We’d read them together, and I’d stop him every five seconds to ask what a word meant, but together we’d work through these epics and, of course, there was such a sense of achievement and understanding when we reached the end together. My mother contributed huge amounts to my reading as well, and is responsible for introducing me to 2000AD, David Gemmell, Terry Pratchett, Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, David Eddings, the kind of “fantasy OG” if I may be permitted such a phrase. And the book my mother and father overlapped on was, of course, The Lord of the Rings. That’s probably the first book I remember reading. I’ve read it three or four times now. Once as a very young kid, I mean five or six. I barely understood it, but was just awed by the majesty, the heroism, and remember my hair standing up on end so many times, not even sure why. I think it changed me forever. The book became a part of who I was. Then I read it again, a little older, more twelve or thirteen. And the third time, at university, eighteen or nineteen. I think I read it one time after that as well. But the third time was actually the charm, the best reading of it. I was finally ready for it, if that makes sense. And the metaphor for addiction was so powerful.

Meghan: What are you reading now?

Joseph Sale: I used to be a “read one book at a time” kind of guy, but now I haven’t got time for the luxury of that, so I tend to have several books on the go at once. I’m currently reading and as yet unreleased book by Christa Wojciechowski. She is one of my favourite authors, and an absolute genius at creating psychologically rich and compelling characters. I’m in awe of her writing. If you haven’t heard of her, definitely check out her Sick trilogy.

I’m also reading another unreleased horror novel by Dan Soule (the perks of being an editor). He is another great indie-author, and his first book, Neolithica, I edited. It’s a really strong horror title that is more than it appears and kind of revives old-school King-style horror but also puts a new spin on it.

Lastly, I’ve just started re-reading Grady Hendrix’s My Best Friend’s Exorcism. I know with The Lord of the Rings example it sounds like I re-read books all the time, but it’s actually super rare. For me, only the very best books justify the time to read them twice or more. And my God, is My Best Friend’s Exorcism one of the best books I’ve ever read. Hendrix’s prose is unbelievable. The two principle characters, Abby and Gretchen, are so well fleshed out, and you care so much about them. Hendrix is at that level where you feel magic in the writing. So, I can’t wait to re-read it. I feel it’s an important benchmark for me as a horror writer.

Meghan: What’s a book you really enjoyed that others wouldn’t expect you to have liked?

Joseph Sale: Good question. I think because I kind of purport to be quite a stylist, and talk a lot about beauty in prose, most people don’t expect me to be a fan of, for example, bizarro novels. But I really am! I love Carlton Mellick III’s work, particularly Biomelt. That novel is batshit insane but totally full of heart. The way he shifts perspective in it is genius. And, it has one of the greatest names for a serial killer of all time: Porn Eyes. The character is called that because he’s watched so much holographic pornography that flickering lewd images have been scored onto his irises. I mean… what more do you need to hear? Buy the book now!

Meghan: What made you decide you want to write? When did you begin writing?

Joseph Sale: This is always a tough question to answer, in some respects. Life doesn’t always throw you the epiphany moments that fiction deals with! The revelation can be more gradual. However, I used to want to be an actor. I did a lot of theatre and drama, and my Sixth Form studies (High School to my American friends) almost entirely consisted of drama-related studies. I did really enjoy being on stage, playing characters, the drama and life and vitality of it, but something felt like it was missing. I began to realise that I was more interested in the words being said than how I was saying them, if that makes sense. And this eventually led me to realise I wanted to tell stories, write the scripts, rather than necessarily be the mechanism by which the stories were interpreted or passed on. It was a subtle shift. Both are creative, but the acting in the end wasn’t for me long term. Although, having said that, a few things have come up, projects that have not yet seen the light of day, in which I may be “treading the boards” again (or in this case getting in front of a camera). You may have noticed I like to do lots of different things. I think the diversity is what’s kept me alive these last few years!

Meghan: Do you have a special place you like to write?

Joseph Sale: I recently moved out of a tiny, one-room flat with my wife and we’re now finally enjoying a bit more space; I even have my own office! So, that office is now where I love to write. But I’m easy. Once I get into the flow, it’s hard to get me out; like I’m plugged into The Matrix.

Meghan: Do you have any quirks or processes that you go through when you write?

Joseph Sale: Good question! Two things I often do. I start the session by re-reading and editing the last couple of paragraphs I wrote the session before. This eases me into the writing process so I’m not staring at a blank screen. Then, at the end of the session, I always write the first sentence of a new chapter. This means that when you come to sit down next time, you have the first line to kick you off! Apart from that, I have no unusual rituals. Lots of tea, sometimes music!

Meghan: Is there anything about writing you find most challenging?

Joseph Sale: Slowing it down. I have a tendency to write in a frenzy when I’m full of ideas, and sometimes this means I rattle through scenes and they don’t get the development they need, which I then have to laboriously fix in editing! But, if I’m able to “centre myself” a little bit, and slow down, it often produces better results. It’s hard, because riding the wave of excitement is good and means productivity, but I definitely have a tendency for economy rather than depth and whilst concision is important sometimes the reader needs that richness to fully feel a scene. I recently read China Mieville’s Perdido Street Station for the first time and it totally blew me away. I learned a lot about slowing down to take in the scenery and senses from that book. Of course, scenery is not just scenery, it can itself be a character or a way to reveal character!

Meghan: What’s the most satisfying thing you’ve written so far?

Joseph Sale: That is an interestingly worded question. I like it. This might sound a bit promotional, but it is genuinely my latest book, Return to the Black Gate. The reason being it’s the final entry in a trilogy, but not only that, it also draws together a kind of hidden (not-so-hidden anymore) inter-connected multiverse that spans throughout many of my books. I call it “The Sevenverse Saga”. This book ends that, as well, and says goodbye to some characters that have been with me for seven years or more and have cropped up in numerous books. It was immensely satisfying as well as sad. It’s the first time I’ve finished a novel and not immediately needed to start writing something else. I was actually at peace with myself for a long time afterward. It was eerie and strange, but kind of welcome.

Meghan: What books have most inspired you? Who are some authors that have inspired your writing style?

Joseph Sale: Actually Christa Wojciechowski’s books inspired me a great deal. I bought the first Sick novel thinking it would be one type of story, a kind of sleazy body-horror, and it blew my away with its psychological depth, insight, and with how compelling the narrative was. I couldn’t stop reading. And I realised I had to up my game in terms of character development. She showed me the way with that really.

Eric Van Lustbader’s The Ninja and Black Heart are two really important books in terms of informing my writing stye. What I love about Lustbader’s work is he is so counter-cultural in terms of the trend towards “stark”, “stripped” prose. The kind of Cormac McCarthy / Lee Child effect of this hard-boiled narrative without any ornamentation. Lustbader is a poet, however. And he fearlessly writes about horror, sex, and taboos in a way I’ve never seen anyone else tackle. The Ninja and Black Heart will both haunt me forever, I think. There are some passages in there that are transcendental in their beauty but also terror. It’s a shame that people view him as pulp, or know him as the successor to Robert Ludlum (he continued the Bourne series), he’s so much more.

I won’t bore you with more gushing praise, as I mentioned them before, but The Lord of the Rings and My Best Friend’s Exorcism are both big influences too.

Meghan: What do you think makes a good story?

Joseph Sale: I think that’s an interesting question, because there is no definitive answer. For me, however, a good story is something that moves me emotionally. It has to land the final “catharsis” or emotional punch. If I don’t weep or feel my heart swell with joy, there was no purpose. For me, there’s nothing worse than a film that leaves me cold. Boring is worse than bad, in my view, because sometimes bad books or bad films have something underneath they’re trying to express that still gets you in some way.

And I think this draws out another point: the ending is so important. In a way, the ending is the story. Otherwise, why did we come all this way? There’s a shocking trend of botched endings right now (not to mention any particular TV series… cough cough) but I’m actually seeing it in a lot of books, too. People just don’t seem to know how to end their stories. It’s weird. There’s probably some sociopolitical or cultural psychological factor that is influencing this. Someone with more brains than me could do a study!

So, I would urge authors to really sweat the emotional resonance of their ending. Go for bittersweet, go for heartbreak, go for redemption, don’t be afraid of these big emotions. It’s better to try and fail, in my view. There’s nothing worse than the clever-dick “Character looks directly at the audience / camera and says, ‘Oh, you thought this story had meaning? Well, tough shit.’”

In the same way it’s harder to be emotionally real and sincere with people in real life without sounding corny (we Brits are terrible at sincerity, we’re too stuffy), it’s harder to be sincere in your writing, but the harder path is better in the long run.

Meghan: What does it take for you to love a character? How do you utilize that when creating your characters?

Joseph Sale: I think the truthful answer to this is sin. I need them to be sinful in some way, or I don’t believe them. There’s also a trend at the moment for squeaky clean characters. We need characters with flaws! Only then can we be engaged in the journey to them perhaps overcoming their flaw, which is what character arcs are all about.

In terms of creating my own characters, a “tragic flaw” – or “hamartia” to use the ancient Greek term – is definitely up there as possibly the most important thing to consider. You might also want to consider the inverse: what are their strengths? And things get really interesting when you start to make the character’s weakness also the source of their strength.

So, for example, Craig Smiley is one of the key antagonists and sometimes protagonist of my Black Gate series. He is a killer and it’s his zealous belief that makes him so unstoppable. Truly, his belief creates the reality he wants and means he can overcome almost any obstacle. But it’s also his belief which blinds him to the true horror of who he is and what he’s done. And, at a plot level, blinds him to what the gods he’s serving are really doing. So, here we have an interesting conundrum. What happens when that weakness is “lanced” and he loses faith – therefore also losing his greatest strength? There is a lot more narrative room to play here.

Meghan: Which, of all your characters, do you think is the most like you?

Joseph Sale: This is a positively naughty question! I feel compelled to answer it honestly. Craig Smiley is almost certainly the character most like me. The serial killer… My dad has this brilliant phrase “monomaniac with a mission” and it’s so true. I am that monomaniac who never takes his eyes off the future. Often when people ask me what I’m doing, I quote the Blues Brothers “I’m on a mission from God”.

I’m very aware there’s a thin line that stops someone like me becoming someone like him. Smiley was an expression of my own madness and despair when I was trapped working at a call centre, answering 150 phone calls a day. I started to experience auditory hallucinations (waking up hearing a phone ringing where there was none, for example), and a general deterioration in my health and psyche. We start with Smiley in Gods of the Black Gate imprisoned in a high-security facility on Mars. Smiley then enacts an escape (this is on the back cover, so no spoilers). I think Smiley’s journey was a bit of a way for me to explore how angry and trapped and insane I was feeling. I wanted to escape that call centre, and eventually I did. The thing about Smiley is as evil as he certainly is, he genuinely believes what he’d doing is right, and as a result is strong and he is a survivor. And those qualities were what I needed. He taught me how to endure, in a way.

When I came to writing the final book about him, Return to the Black Gate, I had to end his story, and that was the hardest part, because in a way it felt like making a prophecy about myself.

Meghan: Are you turned off by a bad cover? To what degree were you involved in creating your book covers?

Joseph Sale: I’ve created probably 90% of my own covers. That’s generally the way it goes in indie-publishing these days. Even in bigger publishing, actually. I know people with deals with the big five who have had a partner or friend create the cover for their book. Sounds insane, but publishers are cost-cutting wherever they can to survive.

I have created some really, really bad covers… But I’ve learned a lot from graphic designer friends and other professionals in this industry and now I’m quite proud of some of my efforts. I definitely get turned off by a bad cover. But worse, I get turned of by a bland cover. So many thrillers with bloody open windows on the front! I much prefer illustrative rather than photographic covers (I was in heaven reading Grady Hendrix’s non-fiction book Paperbacks From Hell, which showcased all the classic 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s horror covers!).

Meghan: What have you learned throughout the process of creating your books?

Joseph Sale: Wow, this question is almost too big to answer fully. I’ve learned so much. The learning is also far more universal than simply craft-related. It’s taught me how to be a better person. It’s taught me how to see things from other people’s point of view. You know, when you’re writing a character, and you’re really trying to inhabit their shoes (a little bit of the actor in me that hasn’t worn off I guess) you find yourself writing lines that then surprise you: Jesus, I never realised they would see it like this. I confess that when I was at university, that kind of age, I was not a very tolerant person. But writing has changed that. It’s helped me to see weakness and vulnerability and how it can be healed. Most of all, in myself.

Meghan: What has been the hardest scene for you to write so far?

Joseph Sale: The hardest scene I’ve ever had to write is in a book that I will probably never release called Against Such Reckless Hate. The whole thing is a metaphor for my journey out of depression in 2017. I am a character in the story who is kidnapped and taken to a warped world in which I’m being tortured by a Satanic doppelganger of myself. The fictional characters I’ve created and friends and family have to come to my rescue and daringly enter this world. Man, some of the scenes in that felt like neurolinguistic programming, like I was actually re-wiring my brain, but that’s what I intended, I guess. I had to shake myself out of these false narratives: that I was alone, that nothing I did meant anything, etc. There is a scene where a psychologist, who is a key “grey” character in the book, is finally the one to heal my broken mind by entering a labyrinth. That was unbelievably hard, every word like drawing blood, and still makes me tear up thinking about it, but it’s also probably some of the best writing I’ve ever done. Maybe one day I’ll share the book. But not this day!!

Meghan: What makes your books different from others out there in this genre?

Joseph Sale: Ahh, a challenging question. Writers are always the worst authority on their own work! I will give it a go, however.

I think ultimately what’s different about my work is what I’d call the “mythical dimension”. Lots of writers use fantasy, and blend genres really well. But that fantasy is purely conscious effort and not resonating from somewhere deeper. Lots of writers write stylish prose like I do. Lots of writers write dark pull-no-punches fiction, like I do. There are a few writers who use mythical tropes (Norse gods show up, or dragons, or demigods). But they don’t use mythic storytelling itself. They don’t pull from that deeper well of the unconscious, that kind of inchoate place where the raw stuff of creation resides. You have to go into that abyss to create myth. I can always tell when a writer hasn’t, when they’ve written the book from their head, with thinking, with conscious effort. Real stories don’t come from there (they can be refined from that place), they issue from a darker realm.

Myths are the archetypes imbedded in us. Narrative is at the core of who we are. Myths and theology define us and help us understand ourselves. The real myths tell us something about human nature. I try as hard as I can to tap into these myths. I don’t always get there, but when I do succeed, I think it’s what gives my work a slightly differently feeling. When you’re reading Gods of the Black Gate, you’re not just reading about a killer and a detective, you’re reading about something altogether more primeval and Jungian. I think the readers who so kindly reviewed it sensed that. Beneath one story is another older and more potent one that partly explains why we kill, why we hate, why we destroy. When you venture into the virtual reality escapism of Save Game, again, there’s a myth there beneath the surface. It’s not just about video-games. It’s about a journey into hell to save a loved one. It’s Orpheus, in some ways. So, I’m just not just trying to tell stories, I’m trying to create myths. Whether that is hubris doomed to fail remains to be seen!

Meghan: How important is the book title, how hard is it to choose the best one, and how did you choose yours?

Joseph Sale: Book titles are like opening lines: they’re so, so important! However, I think for me an opening line is slightly more important. I can forgive a generic title, and I appreciate how hard it is to sum up a book from my own efforts. But a bad opening line is unforgiveable to me!

I think a book title is so difficult because it’s not only summing up your story for a reader, but also engaging with all those tricky and increasingly complex issues around what genre it is, how violent / graphic it might be, what audience it’s for. Stephen King famously said the original title for The Stand was The Second Coming, but his Tabitha King told him it sounded like a sex book so he changed it!

I must say, that unlike many writers, normally a title is one of the first things that comes to me, before or simultaneously with the story itself. Not always, but frequently. The title is then almost like a focal point for me, a kind of thematic lynchpin, that I can return to to stay grounded in what the story is really about.

I think the best way to come up with a title, and this is a big vague so I’m sorry, but is to consider what feels right. It can be super hard. But sometimes all the distractions of genre, audience, etc can make making a decision hell, and you can overanalyse it and end up with something that isn’t right at all. There’s something to be said for sticking to your gut.

Meghan: What makes you feel more fulfilled: Writing a novel or writing a short story?

Joseph Sale: Novels, all the way! I actually really struggle with short stories. They’re not as natural to me. I think I much prefer having the space to play with the characters and take them on these journeys. I’m obsessed by journeys in narrative, actually. People who have to go into some abyss to achieve something. It’s very difficult to do that in a short story.

The sense of achievement when finishing a novel is so much greater as well. It’s harder to do, of course, but there’s nothing like putting the final full-stop on a long novel and realising it’s done. It’s often an emotional experience for me. I’m a bit addicted to it if I’m honest.

Meghan: Tell us a little bit about your books, your target audience, and what you would like readers to take away from your stories.

Joseph Sale: I’ll try! So, my books are a mix of genres, what unites them is the feeling and mood and aesthetic, I guess. They’re very dark, but never without a ray of light, however small. I’ve experienced some disturbing and wonderful things, so there is always a supernatural dimension to my stories, because I have experienced the supernatural in a very real way, so I think ironically I am being truer to life’s weirdness. I write science fiction, fantasy, horror primarily. I am a sucker for a good redemption arc. My target audience are people who are open to exploring new genres, or genre crossovers, and perhaps fiction that is a little more on the literary and symbolic side of things. But having said that, I think story really is king, and I hope to deliver exciting tales regardless of whether you want to go deeper. You know, just because a book has symbolic metaphors and allegories, doesn’t mean it can’t also have massive robots destroying each other…

I think you’ll like my work if you’re into Philip K. Dick, China Mieville, Max Booth III, or Clive Barker. Barker I think is the most apt comparison in some ways because of the way he blends horror and fantasy (though I’m nowhere near as good as him, of course, not even on the same plane of existence!!!).

Meghan: I am always excited to get my hands on anthologies, especially ones from publishers that I have grown to trust. Tell us about Burnt Fur and your story in it.

Joseph Sale: I’m glad you like anthologies! I think they’re awesome. They’re a bit of a niche in terms of readership, or it can feel like that sometimes, but I think they’re necessary and vital to the craft. For Burnt Fur, I saw the open call, and knew immediately I wanted to participate! I really like the books Blood Bound put out, particularly Alistair Rennie’s BleakWarrior, a surreal masterpiece that reinvents sword & sorcery in my view. I also loved The City by S.C. Mendes.

The theme of the anthology was furries and anthropomorphism, which is a subject that deeply fascinates me and tends to crop up quite frequently in my fiction without much prompting. I knew, however, that I wanted to pick a very unusual animal, not the standard furry-fare of bunnies, dogs, and the like.

At the same time that I was contemplating Blood Bound’s open call for submissions, I was playing a video-game called Nightripper by the one and only indie-developer Puppet Combo which featured a duck-masked serial killer. I found this game particularly disturbing, not just because of its excellent design and shock-factor, but also because, as a child, I used to own a duck teddybear. The rest, as they say, is history! The story wrote itself from there.

Meghan: Can you tell us about some of the deleted scenes/stuff that got left out of your work?

Joseph Sale: This is such a cool question, because I was actually a part of an anthology called Lost Voices, which also features Ross Jeffery, Christa Wojciechowski, and Emily Harrison. We basically banded together to create it because we all had these stories that’d been considered “too dark” or disturbing for wider release. So, we thought, let’s make a thing of these forbidden tales. It’s an anthology of deleted scenes material, in some sense, a director’s cut!

I don’t have many deleted scenes, but I do have lots of alternate endings. I’m sometimes smacked in the face with a memory of how a story originally ended. The most dramatic example is Save Game, for sure. Ross Jeffery, who is a fantastic writer everyone should definitely check out, read an earlier draft of the book and he loved it all, except the ending. And he was bang on. I changed it, and the ending is one of the most talked about aspects because it’s a little ambiguous. I shudder to think what would have happened had the original ending seen the light of day! I’m very grateful to him for that feedback.

There are also “deleted novels”, haha. I have a lot of unreleased material that I am probably never going to release. A lot of people think that when you self publish (I do a mix of indie-publishing and self-publishing), there’s “no quality control”. But on the contrary, I am very selective. I’ve published over 30 books, but I’ve probably written more like 50 or 60. Some books are save-able in editing. Some aren’t. You have to let them go. I’ll give you a roll call of some of my favourite titles from these deleted works: Emerald Night, Way of Black, Crowbag Bastards, Killer in Asphodel, The Last Great-Walker, and most auspiciously: Dr Cocktopus and the Mutilator Man. Yep. You did not mishear that.

Meghan: What is in your “trunk”?

Joseph Sale: There are a few things in the trunk. The main thing is two screenplays. One for a TV pilot, one for a feature film. I don’t work on them as much as the novels, because the film industry is such a different path and I barely understand it, hence why they’re in the trunk. But there is a sense that one day they might be useful. I have a friend, a director and collaborator on a few projects, who really wants to get the TV series off the ground. At least to produce episode one to show people the vision we had for it. I really hope one day it’ll happen! He’s a brilliant filmmaker and almost scarily spellbinding actor.

Meghan: What can we expect from you in the future?

Joseph Sale: That is a kind question. Thank you! I have three big projects in the pipeline. Two are new novels yet to be announced, and one is an Omnibus of the Black Gate trilogy. The Omnibus is going to be a really special book, beautifully designed and of course full of 250,000 words plus of story! Stay tuned, as there’s a competition centered around the book that people can participate in.

You can expect other novels and collections that we’re publishing via The Writing Collective too. We have some awesome releases from new authors that we really think people are going to love. It’s a joy to bring new writers to readers. And some of these stories are so unique and different from what mainstream publishing is always churning out. Already, our releases like Lost Voices, Juniper (by Ross Jeffery), and most recently The Fabric of Tombstones (B. F. Jones) are really causing a splash because they’re not like everything else, so we want to continue that momentum and go deeper into that weirdness and uniqueness.

Finally, you can expect one or two left-field projects. I’ve been involved with a really cool board-game that I’m hoping can come to light soon (can’t say more than that right now I’m afraid). And, as I mentioned, perhaps a TV pilot, if we’re lucky!

Meghan: Where can we find you?

Joseph Sale: You can find me on social media at Twitter.

You can also check out my website, and there is a mailing list on there you can sign up to in order to get a free eBook from me, plus you get goodies every month in my newsletter (which I promise is not an annoying one and contains some actual content).

I am also co-host of a podcast, Monaghan & The Mindflayer, which is a nerdy place where we discuss everything from Warhammer lore to conspiracy theories. Don’t be shy about messaging us. We love questions about our show.

If you want to connect with The Writing Collective, you can check out our website.

Meghan: Do you have any closing words for your fans or anything you’d like to say that we didn’t get to cover in this interview?

Joseph Sale: I’d just like to say thanks. We live in a world where gratitude seems to be at a premium. I am so grateful to all my readers, to all the people that take the time to type out long and thorough and beautiful reviews of my work that are pieces of art in their own right. Dan Stubbings, Steve Stred, Matt Brandenburg, Ross Jeffery, Dan Soule, Christa Wojciechowski, Iseult Murphy, the list goes on and on. I’m so grateful to all the epic writers I’m friends with, in person and online, who give me the time of day and help me develop as a writer. I’m grateful to people like yourself, who take the time to ask thoughtful questions and spread the word about indie writers. Sincerely, and genuinely, thank you so much. I made a promise to myself that however far I go in this crazy world of publishing, writing, storytelling, I would never lose touch with the people that have gotten me here, and the community that makes it happen. I hope to remain grateful and in awe and to recognise that without readers, we writers are just talking to ourselves! Cheers.

About the Author: Joseph Sale is an editor, novelist, writing coach and co-host of Monaghan & The Mindflayer. His first novel, The Darkest Touch, was published by Dark Hall Press in 2014. He currently writes and is published with The Writing Collective. He has authored more than ten novels, including his Black Gate trilogy, and his love-letter to fantasy: Save Game. He grew up in the Lovecraftian seaside town of Bournemouth.

He edits non-fiction and fiction, helping fledgling authors to realise their potential. He has edited some of the best new voices in speculative fiction including Ross Jeffery, Emily Harrison, Christa Wojciechowski, and more. His short fiction has appeared in Tales from the Shadow Booth, edited by Dan Coxon, as well as in Idle Ink, Silver Blade, Fiction Vortex, Nonbinary Review, Edgar Allan Poet, and Storgy Magazine. His stories have also appeared in anthologies such as Lost Voices (The Writing Collective), Technological Horror (Dark Hall Press), Burnt Fur (Blood Bound Books) and Exit Earth (Storgy). In 2017, he was nominated for The Guardian’s ‘Not The Booker’ prize.

He is obsessed with Attack on Titan and Community.

Gods of the Black Gate – Amazon UK / Amazon US
Save Game – Amazon UK / Amazon US
Lost Voices – Amazon UK / Amazon US

About the Book:
Sit. Roll over. Who’s a Good Boy?

There are no good boys in in this anthology, only twisted, deviant, and burnt encounters with pets, people in costume, animals who behave like humans, and creatures who blur the line between the three. Violent pigs, killer ducks, horny bees, a naughty rabbit, and many more fill these pages with tale after tail of hair-raising horror.

Don your Fursuit, slip into your Fursona, and ride the dark wave of horror that is Burnt Fur. You may never go back to wearing your normal skin again.

The Moon in Her Eyes by Sarah Hans
Mallard’s Maze by Joseph Sale
Salivation by Theodore Deadrat
The Hamford Pigs by N. Rose
The Willingness of Prey by Paul Allih
6 Dicks by Rachel Lee Weist
The Others by C.M. Saunders
Randall Rabbit by Elliot Arthur Cross
A Concubine for the Hive by Rue K. Poe
Five Nights with Teddy by Thurston Howl
Oh Piggy, My Piggy by Matt Scott
Ware the Deep by Stephanie Park
The Molt of a Diminishing Light by Michelle F. Goddard
The Victims by James L. Steele