AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Patrick C. Harrison III

Meghan: Hey, III. Welcome to Meghan’s House of Books. Thanks for joining us today. Let’s get started: What is your favorite part of Halloween?

Patrick: The answer to this question has changed over the years. Obviously, as a kid I loved suiting up and running from house to house collecting goodies. Then in my teens Halloween became more about wreaking havoc with friends, playing pranks and whatnot. That was long before Netflix and Tubi, so during those years I was always excited about the horror movies running on TV for the weeks prior to Halloween. Once I had kids, I loved watching them go door to door dressed in their costumes. Now, my youngest is eleven and isn’t sure she still wants to go trick-or-treating. So, what I’ll probably be doing is watching scary movies and dishing out candy at the door. Geez, this is a long first answer, so let me stop and come up with something…I guess my favorite thing is that Halloween is the time of year when the entire country embraces the horrors that I love year-round.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween tradition?

Patrick: The last few years as I’ve driven the kids around trick-or-treating, we’ve played a Halloween soundtrack in the car, with Halloween themed songs and songs from various horror movies. I really like that. Going to haunted houses is also fun.

Meghan: If Halloween is your favorite holiday (or even second favorite holiday), why?

Patrick: Christmas is probably my favorite, but Halloween is right there. As I said in the first answer, the whole world kind of embraces my loves. You see spooks and witches and jack-o’-lanterns everywhere. The air is just starting to cool and fallen leaves crunch under your feet as you run from one house to the next. For kids, it’s like a night that never ends.

Meghan: What are you superstitious about?

Patrick: Hmmm. When I played baseball, I would never step on the baseline when going on and off the field. When I worked in the emergency room and it was suspiciously slow night, I would never mention it. (If you ever work in healthcare and you say ‘It sure is quiet today,’ be prepared for an avalanche of medical emergencies. And be ready for your coworkers to kill you.)

Meghan: What/who is your favorite horror monster or villain?

Patrick: In cinema, probably either Freddy Krueger or Art the Clown. In fiction, probably Pennywise. Yes, I know, very cliché. How about Patrick Bateman then? Does he even count as a villain since the entire story is told from his perspective?

Meghan: Which unsolved murder fascinates you the most?

Patrick: The Elisa Lam case. She’s the lady that went missing in the Cecil Hotel in Los Angeles. She was on camera acting very bizarre, like maybe she was being followed. Then she just disappeared. Footage of the hotel’s entrance showed that she never left the Cecil. Like three weeks after she disappeared, her body was found in the hotel’s water tank on the roof. People had been drinking and taking showers in that water—containing her decomposing body—the entire time. I love missing person stories too. Check out the Dennis Martin case. Very bizarre!

Meghan: Which urban legend scares you the most?

Patrick: When I worked in the ER, there was this urban legend about a patient coming in complaining of a severe headache. Upon assessment, it was discovered that the patient had a nest of spiders in her tangled, matted hair. They’d been biting her head, which caused the headaches. Given the things I saw during my years in healthcare, I bet that’s based on a true story. Yikes!

Meghan: Who is your favorite serial killer and why?

Patrick: That’s an odd question. I guess H.H. Holmes. I mean, he made a fucking (am I allowed to say ‘fucking’?) murder hotel! He killed people and then sold their skeletons to medical schools. He was pretty damn wicked. By the way, if anyone answering this question says Charles Manson, they need to be fired from the horror community. Charles Manson is overrated and far more cliché than me answering Pennywise to the villain question.

Meghan: How old were you when you saw your first horror movie? How old were you when you read your first horror book?

Patrick: Movie: I have no idea what my first horror movie was or when I saw it. The first one I remember being terrified of was Silver Bullet. I think I was maybe seven or eight when I saw it. Book: Again, hard to say. Three early books of horror I remember reading are Alfred Hitchcock’s Haunted Houseful, Ghost Stories of Old Texas by Zinita Fowler, and Spine Chillers by Jim Razzi. I still have all three of these books.

Meghan: Which horror novel unsettled you the most?

Patrick: Oooo, tough one. Pet Sematary is terrifying and really punches you in the gut, especially if you’re a parent. The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks and American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis are two books that are brilliantly written and yet soooo fucked up. They really dig at your soul.

Meghan: Which horror movie scarred you for life?

Patrick: My tolerance for crazy, fucked up horror movies is pretty high. I don’t think anything has scarred me. But…there were some scenes in The Human Centipede 2 and Nekromantic that made my jaw hit the floor. The scariest movie I’ve ever seen would probably be The Autopsy of Jane Doe. Close second goes to the often-overlooked Vacancy.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween costume?

Patrick: I don’t think I ever watched an actual episode of The Lone Ranger, but I sure did go trick-or-treating as the masked hero. And I loved it! Thought I super cool.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween-themed song?

Patrick: “Monster Mash” by Bobby “Boris” Pickett and the Crypt-Kickers. This song leads off the Halloween playlist I mentioned earlier.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween candy or treat? What is your most disappointing?

Patrick: Reese’s Pieces have to be number one, right? They naturally come in Halloween colors. The worst are those little candies that come in either black or orange wrappers. No name or label or anything on them. Just crappy candy on the inside. I know most people probably shit on candy corn, but I’ve been known to consume candy corn from time to time.

Meghan: Before you go, what are your top 3 Halloween movies and books?

Patrick:
Movies:
House of 1000 Corpses
Terrifier
Halloween 3

Books:
Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury
The October Country by Ray Bradbury
The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury is October’s author. No one else quite encapsulates the nostalgia of the season.


Boo-graphy:
Patrick C. Harrison III (PC3, if you prefer) is the author of A Savage Breed, Inferno Bound and the Hell Hounds, 5 Tales That Will Land You in Hell, 5 Tales of Tantalizing Terror, Visceral: Collected Flesh (with Christine Morgan), and Cerberus Rising (with Chris Miller and M. Ennenbach); and his works can be found in numerous anthologies.

PC3 is also the co-owner (with Jarod Barbee) and editor-in-chief of Death’s Head Press, a Texas-based publisher of dark fiction. Follow PC3’s website/blog for frequent horror movie reviews and updates on forthcoming fiction.

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Gayle Trent

Meghan: Hi, Gayle. Welcome to this year’s Halloween Extravaganza. Thanks for joining us. What is your favorite part of Halloween?

Gayle: Please don’t make me pick just one! I love the candy, of course (seriously, who doesn’t?), the costumes, the cartoons, and the movies.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween tradition?

Gayle: It used to be trick-or-treating. When I was a little girl, that’s something we looked forward to every year. There was a woman in our neighborhood who would even make homemade cookies or popcorn balls.

Meghan: If Halloween is your favorite holiday (or even second favorite holiday), why?

Gayle: I love Halloween because it brings out the kid in all of us. Dressing up as superheroes or monsters, eating too much candy, getting scared just for the fun of it.

Meghan: What are you superstitious about?

Gayle: The number 666. If I’m at a store, and my total rings up $6.66, I’ll buy something else. I recently read Greenlights and learned that Matthew McConaughey is superstitious about that number too. LOL

Meghan: What/who is your favorite horror monster or villain?

Gayle: I love Dracula. I once played Lucy in an off, off-Broadway (my high school was about as far from Broadway as you can get!) production of Dracula.

Meghan: Which unsolved murder fascinates you the most?

Gayle: JonBenet Ramsey

Meghan: Who is your favorite serial killer and why?

Gayle: Although I hate to say ”favorite,” I find Ted Bundy really interesting. I read The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule, and it was fascinating how he maintained such a strong friendship with her despite being a murderer. At one point in the book, she said that when she’d have to leave work at 2 a.m., he’d walk her to her car. She said the policemen in the building might watch her from the window, but he’d walk her out because “you never know who might be out there.” If you haven’t read the book, I highly recommend it.

Meghan: How old were you when you saw your first horror movie? How old were you when you read your first horror book?

Gayle: I saw Psycho when I was about thirteen. Even though I thought the movie was great, and have watched it again, at the time it scared the daylights out of me. I always made sure someone else was home and that the bathroom door was locked when I showered. But I did have reservations about someone in my family going crazy and killing me, so… LOL I can’t remember the title of the first horror book, but it was something about demons. I have apparently blocked it from my memory. LOL

Meghan: Which horror novel unsettled you the most?

Gayle: The one about the demons whose title I can’t remember. LOL

Meghan: Which horror movie scarred you for life?

Gayle: The Birds. Every time I see large flocks of birds gathering in the fall, it makes me want to get in the house and cover my head.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween costume?

Gayle: A flapper.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween-themed song?

Gayle: Scary – Legend of Wooly Swamp; Funny – Monster Mash

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween candy or treat? What is your most disappointing?

Gayle: Fave: Anything chocolate (Reese’s, Snickers, M&Ms, Peppermint Patties) Most disappointing? Sour gummies

Meghan: It’s always a pleasure getting to talk to you, Gayle. Before you go, what are your three go-to Halloween movies?

Gayle: 1) Tucker and Dale Versus Evil – it isn’t a Halloween movie, per se, but I love it. It’s a comedic horror movie that is fantastic. 2) Hocus Pocus 3) Practical Magic – not sure it’s a “Halloween movie” either, but I really liked it.


Boo-graphy:
Gayle is a Southwest Virginia based author who is working on the Daphne Martin Cake Decorating Mystery series. The first book in the series, MURDER TAKES THE CAKE tells the story of Daphne Martin, a forty-year-old divorcee who returns to her fictional hometown of Brea Ridge, Virginia to start her life over. She has left behind an ex-husband who is in prison for an attempt on Daphne’s life, a dingy apartment and a stale career. She has started fresh in a new home with a new career, Daphne’s Delectable Cakes, a cake-decorating company Daphne runs out of her home. She is thrilled to be living closer to her beloved niece and nephew, although being close to other family members brings up lifelong resentments and more than a couple complications. Daphne is also reunited with childhood friend, Ben Jacobs, a full-fledged HAG (hot, available guy). Daphne’s business hits a snag when her first client turns up dead.”

Ghostly Fashionista 1: Designs on Murder
Amanda Tucker is excited about opening her fashion design studio in Shops On Main, a charming old building in historic Abingdon, Virginia. She didn’t realize a ghost came with the property! But soon Maxine “Max” Englebright, a young woman who died in 1930, isn’t the only dead person at the retail complex. Mark Tinsley, a web designer with a know-it-all attitude who also rented space at Shops On Main, is shot in his office.

Amanda is afraid that one of her new “friends” and fellow small business owners is his killer, and Max is encouraging her to solve Mark’s murder a la Nancy Drew. Easy for Max to want to investigate–the ghostly fashionista can’t end up the killer’s next victim!

Ghostly Fashionista 2: Perils & Lace
A murderer outwitting a quirky flapper ghost? Seams unlikely!

Budding retro fashion designer and entrepreneur Amanda Tucker is thrilled about making costumes for Winter Garden High School’s production of Beauty and the Beast. But when the play’s director Sandra Kelly is poisoned, Amanda realizes there’s a murderer in their midst. She’s determined to keep herself and the students safe, so when her ghostly fashionista friend Max suggests they investigate, Amanda rolls up her sleeves and prepares to follow the deadly pattern…

Ghostly Fashionista 3: Christmas Cloches & Corpses
Bodies are dropping like gumdrops off a gingerbread house!

Max’s nephew, Dwight, is in a nursing home; but instead of the holiday season being a time of goodwill, several of Dwight’s friends have died under mysterious circumstances.  Is the facility merely suffering a run of bad luck, or is there something sinister going on?

Either way, Max, the Ghostly Fashionista, is determined not to let her beloved nephew be the next victim and enlists Amanda to help keep an eye on him. But someone drugs the cake that Amanda gives Dwight, and Amanda is banned from visiting him again. It’s going to take a Christmas miracle for Amanda to clear her name and stay out of the killer’s line of fire…

Ghostly Fashionista 4: Buttons & Bows
FIND OUT WHO KILLED VIOLET. I WON’T REST UNTIL I KNOW…AND NEITHER WILL YOU.

The note, typed on a manual typewriter, is Amanda Tucker’s first introduction to the second ghost she’s ever met.

When retro fashion designer Amanda learns that Violet, the sweet little old lady from whom she bought antique buttons, has been murdered, she’s dismayed—especially when she realizes the murder occurred the evening after Amanda had visited Violet’s shop. Now the ghost who was enamored of the victim is demanding that Amanda help him bring the woman’s killer to justice.

It certainly isn’t an ideal time for Amanda’s parents to be visiting her from Florida for the first time. In addition to Max, the ghostly fashionista, Amanda now has another sassy specter to deal with. Will this one haunt her for the rest of her life?

GUEST POST: Dave Cole

Windows in the Movies

“I was fifteen when I saw my best friend die. Although, if you think about it, I was fourteen when I saw him die the first time. Time had a way of confusing me that year. Ever since I’ve looked at past and present with a jaundiced eye. What is now and what is then? The one thing I’m certain about is that the worst year of my life started on December 16th, even though the bad stuff didn’t happen until the next year. I’m certain of the date, because that’s when I discovered the window.”

-excerpt from The Window by Dave Cole

Such an ordinary thing, a window. And yet, sometimes an ordinary thing can become something sinister in an author’s hands. Add in the magic of Hollywood and the sinister becomes a psychological thriller. Here are three of my favorite movies with “window” in the title.

Rear Window (1954) is considered one of legendary director Alfred Hitchcock‘s best films. When Jeff Jeffries (Jimmy Stewart) is confined to a wheelchair, he has nothing to do but observe his neighbors from the rear window of his apartment. When Jeffries becomes convinced one of his neighbors has killed his wife, he enlists the help of Lisa (Grace Kelly), his fashion consultant girlfriend, to investigate. A taut, well-directed movie consistently ranked one of the top films of all time. There was a remake starring Christopher Reeve that came out in 1988, but I’d stick with the original. Rear Window was based on the book It Had to Be Murder by Cornell Woolrich.

Secret Window (2004), a psychological horror thriller, is one of many Stephen King stories to make its way to the movie theaters. Based on King‘s novella Secret Window, Secret Garden, the film stars Johnny Depp as a successful writer in the middle of a painful divorce and a case of writer’s block. Moving to a remote lake house in upstate New York to get his head straight, he is stalked by a would-be writer (John Torturro) who accuses him of plagiarizing his work. It wouldn’t be a psychological thriller without a misdirection or two. The window overlooks a secret garden in the backyard and the window’s view involves one of the disturbing twists.

The Woman in the Window, the 2021 movie based on the novel of the same name by AJ Finn, is the newest edition to the suspense films involving a view from a window. Agoraphobic Dr Anna Fox (Amy Adams) begins to spy on her neighbors, the picture-perfect Russell family. One night Anna witnesses Jane Russell (Jennifer Jason Leigh) being stabbed to death in the living room. The police don’t believe her story, claiming the family is all fine. Alistair Russell (Gary Oldman) arrives with “Jane,” only it is a different woman from the one Anna had met before.

And while it doesn’t have “window” in the title, I would be remiss to not at least mention the iconic window from The Exorcist. It’s a powerful scene which illustrates the sheer force of entity behind the window.

Check out these four films during the Halloween season to see how something so ordinary as a window has the power to give you a good scare.


Boo-graphy:
Dave is the author of the YA novel The Window and The Math Kids series for middle grade readers. When he is not designing data center management software, he is usually reading, writing, or coaching elementary school math teams. He loves writing and his wife loves that he has found a hobby that doesn’t cost anything!

The Window
A dark window to the future…

Everything changed the day Brian Bingham looked out the attic window and saw something that wouldn’t happen for another week. Through a mysterious window no one else can see, Brian gains a portal into the future. But the future is not always something he wants to see.

Brian has enough troubles in the present without worrying about the future. His parents are constantly fighting, his grades are plummeting, and his new relationship with Charlotte, a girl way out of his league, is in jeopardy.

When the window reveals his best friend’s brutal death, Brian’s world is turned upside down. He must find a way to change the future…or die trying.

The Math Kids: The Prime-Time Burglars
Jordan and Justin are best friends and the only two kids in their class’s advanced math group. So it isn’t until Stephanie Lewis marches into their classroom that they meet someone who’s as good with numbers as they are. Their shared interest in math quickly draws them together, and the three soon form The Math Kids.

Unfortunately, life as math club kids isn’t always easy. In addition to extra homework, the three friends have two new problems. First, a string of mysterious burglaries has the whole neighbourhood on edge, including their parents. Then, they manage to earn unwanted attention from Robbie, the class bully. Luckily, Jordan, Justin, and Stephanie soon learn that their new club may give them the skills they need to solve both problems.

The Math Kids: A Sequence of Events
The Math Kids Club is back! After solving the case of the prime-time burglars, The Math Kids, Jordan, Justin, and Stephanie are ready to return to the original purpose of their club: solving math problems. And the district Math Olympics is the perfect opportunity to do just that. But before they can enter the competition, they need a fourth teammate. The Math Kids set their sights on Catherine Duchesne. Even though Catherine has been quiet in class, she knows some really cool math tricks that are sure to help The Math Kids win the competition. But when Catherine doesn’t show up for school and Jordan, Justin, and Stephanie find out her father’s been kidnapped, the group springs into action to help their new friend. The Math Kids: A Sequence of Events, the second book in David Cole’s fast-moving math adventure series.

The Math Kids: An Unusual Pattern
The Math Kids are at it again! When their new friend, Special Agent Carlson, asks them to take a look at a cryptic poem written by a dying bank robber, they know they will need all of their math skills to crack the case. The poem isn’t their only problem, though. Their favourite school janitor is fired for stealing from student lockers. The Math Kids know Old Mike would never do anything like that, but how can they prove it, especially with the new janitor watching their every move? Jordan, Stephanie, Justin, and Catherine will need math, bravery, and a little bit of luck if they hope to solve the bank robbery case and get Old Mike his job back. Will they be able to figure out the unusual pattern in time?

The Math Kids: An Encrypted Clue
When Stephanie Lewis finds secret writing in the margin of an old book in the library, The Math Kids have a new puzzle to solve. But first, they’ll have to learn about codes and ciphers and how they can use their math skills to solve them.

As one clue leads to another, the kids are drawn into the mysterious old house that overlooks the town. Is it really haunted like some of the townspeople say? And who is the man in the long beard who keeps showing up everywhere they go?

But that’s not their only problem. The town they live in is broke. Unless they can find a solution, the math competition they’ve been training so hard for will be cancelled.

Jordan, Stephanie, Justin, and Catherine will need to use all their problem-solving skills to figure out the clues before it’s too late.

The Math Kids: An Incorrect Solution
Fifth grade could not have a worse start for the Math Kids. Jordan, Justin, Stephanie, and Catherine have been split up. The girls are in one class with most of the bullies, which is proving to be chaotic. Meanwhile, the boys are stuck with their nemesis, Robbie Colson, and their new teacher, Mr. Miller, who makes it clear he doesn’t like math. Separated like this, the kids worry this could be the end of their math club. And, to complicate matters, there’s something going on with Robbie. When Jordan witnesses a shouting match between Robbie and his dad after school, he begins to question the bully’s history of injuries and wonders if Officer Colson might do more than yell.

People problems suddenly seem a lot more challenging than homework, but maybe with the right plan―and some math―the Math Kids can deal with their classroom woes and make sure Robbie stays safe.

The Math Kids: The Triangle Secret
A Mysterious Will Launches The Math Kids Into Their Riskiest Adventure Yet!

When FBI Special Agent Carlson is kidnapped while investigating the plane crash of Willard Howell, an eccentric billionaire inventor, the Math Kids spring into action.

If Catherine, Stephanie, Justin, and Jordan can figure out the Great Triangle mentioned in Howell’s will, they might just uncover who’s behind the crash and Agent Carlson’s kidnapping—if they don’t get caught themselves!

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Stephen Volk

And now, for a little bit of fun…

Meghan: Hey Stephen! Welcome… back? Hahaha. What is your favorite part of Halloween?

Stephen: 1) My grandsons having fun!

2) The movies!……. It is the one day of the year when TV puts out horror movies or shows about horror movies. And it is the one night of the year when people who don’t like scary things like to be scared, And – see – that’s when we GET them! Heh heh heh!

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween tradition?

Stephen: Telling ghost stories by candle light. Except nobody does it any more. Our campfire tales are usually told in front of the latest wide screen plasma screen. And told by cinematographic storytellers. But there is nothing quite like the old tradition of HEARING a ghost story to truly chill the blood. The images you conjure up in your head are far worse than any CGI can deliver!

Meghan: If Halloween is your favorite holiday (or even second favorite holiday), why?

Stephen: I like ANY holiday because it means the phone won’t ring and I can get on with writing without being disturbed!

Meghan: What are you superstitious about?

Stephen: I’m not superstitious in the conventional sense, but I have a desk full of talismanic objects… A statuette of Peter Cushing, Poe and Alfred Hitchcock, skull money boxes, monster toys etc…

But generally I believe in “paying back” – so if I get paid for a screenplay, I like to spend money on a work of art. Be it a small print of £50 or a bigger piece of artwork I have fallen in love with – or indeed an expensive or lavish book. I love the visual arts – painting, etching, etc – lots of my friends are artists and you can pick up an original work of art rather than a mass produced print and feel you are supporting the artist. I like that! I also like to share all sorts of weird images on my twitter feed or Facebook timeline – they are great inspiration for stories!

Meghan: What/who is your favorite horror monster or villain?

Stephen: It would have to be Frankenstein’s creature. It isn’t just frightening it has a lot of tragedy and pathos – it was rejected by its father, so it wasn’t born bad, it was made bad by being treated badly. I love that as a metaphor for life. Maybe there is a story to be written where Viktor Frankenstein was a good daddy? That would be interesting.

Meghan: Which unsolved murder fascinates you the most?

Stephen: The Jack the Ripper murders of Whitechapel in 1888, of course. I don’t think we will ever get to the bottom of the mystery. Not anymore, so long after the primary evidence has decayed and the witnesses and investigators are all dead. All the theories overlap and the territory is too muddy. My own theory is that “London” or specifically the East End was the murderer. There was no single killer of the canonical five. And the person who wrote the “Dear Boss” letter was an enterprising reporter called Tom Bulling. In fact, I wrote a TV script about him, and the creation of the first tabloid true crime story. Bulling “created” the myth of Jack the Ripper, I think. (I was always fascinated that Inspector Abberline was alive long enough to have watched Hitchcock’s “Ripper” film The Lodger in a movie house!)

Meghan: Which urban legend scares you the most?

Stephen: The phantom hitchhiker, probably. It’s very easy to hallucinate a figure at the side of the road but it turns out it’s only a signpost or tree, but the idea of a hitchhiker being a ghost sitting next to you is terrifying. We’re terribly vulnerable in our cars at night. I tried to dramatise this is a script I wrote called Octane (called Pulse in the USA) starring Madeline Stowe and Norman Reedus. It was about vampires who prey on people in car crashes at night. It was a cool idea but the movie didn’t quite work.

Meghan: Who is your favorite serial killer and why?

Stephen: I don’t find serial killers interesting or charismatic. In real life they are boring, odious non-entities. I think we have to grow up and face the fact that they aren’t comic book monsters let alone “heroes” – they are human beings who have gone badly wrong. And we can’t spot them in a crowd because they look like you and me. In my stories about people who do terrible things I always want there to be shadings of gray. Maybe a terrible person does something for a good reason, or a good person is forced to do something awful. That is much more interesting to me than a Freddy or a Jason.

Meghan: How old were you when you saw your first horror movie? How old were you when you read your first horror book?

Stephen: First horror movie was on TV and it was a black and white one called The City of the Dead. It was a British film, I think, but set in the USA, full of men in monks’ cowls and streets swathed in fog – it was terrific! There is one particular image that stayed with me ever since, and that was a man staggering through the fog holding a life sized cross from the graveyard to ward off the evil ones – who I think burst into flames! That, to me, was almost the equal of the iconic scene in Hammer’s Dracula where Van Helsing leaps up and pulls down the curtains letting in the sunlight that shrivels Dracula to a crisp – then holds the two candle sticks in the form of a crucifix to finish him off! Wonderful stuff!

First horror book was a magazine – FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND magazine! I used to save up my pocket money and go to the local newsagent and buy it. The photographs were like nothing I’d ever seen. And of course long before I was old enough to see any of the movies themselves – which were “X” certificate in Britain – ADULTS ONLY! That’s how I got to know Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, way before I saw the films.

Meghan: Which horror novel unsettled you the most?

Stephen: Possibly Dracula at a young age – it sort of felt real because it was in diary form. Like the equivalent of a “found footage” movie today. You plunge into the immersive world and it doesn’t let go. When you are young you don’t understand the graphically sexual imagery – it is just the force of predatory evil and strangeness that is all-consuming.

Meghan: Which horror movie scarred you for life?

Stephen: Without doubt, Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now starring Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie. It’s my number one film of all time because when the ending happened (I was sitting in a movie house all alone on a wet Wednesday afternoon) I thought I’d lost my mind. I thought the reels must have been switched. I didn’t get it, then it all made sense. Then there was that marvellous montage of all the hints that had told you what was going on all along. It’s a true cinematic masterpiece, and I will watch it over and over till the day I die. Purely from the craft point of view there is so much to learn from the storytelling and the depth of character.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween costume?

Stephen: I have a skinhead skullcap with a massive rubber Mohawk sticking up. I like it because my dad wore it one time and it looked hilarious so it reminds me of him. And, since I’m bald, it is kind of perverse to wear a bald skull cap on top of a bald head! But hey, that’s how I roll!

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween-themed song?

Stephen: Gotta be “The Monster Mash”. I can’t think of any other. And now I’ve got it playing in my head, damn you!

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween candy or treat? What is your most disappointing?

Stephen: Nothing. I’ll eat anything. If you were a chocolate bar, I’d eat you.

Meghan: Stephen, thanks again for joining us today. Not for one interview, but TWO. Before you go, what are your favorite Halloween movies?

Stephen:

#1 Halloween – the original and the best!!

#2 Ghostwatch (I wrote it – so, sorry!)

But for Halloween night, I’d always recommend these superlative cinematic treats:

#3 The Innocents
#4 The Haunting (black and white version)
#5 The Woman in Black (British TV version)
#6 Herzog‘s Nosferatu
#7 Dreyer‘s Vampyr
#8 Haxan
#9 Viy
#10 The Devil’s Backbone

Thanks for the interview. To sign off here is George, my grandson, carving pumpkins and looking super chilled:

Boo-graphy:
STEPHEN VOLK is best known as the writer of the BBC’s notorious “Halloween hoax” Ghostwatch and the award-winning ITV drama series Afterlife. His other film and television screenplays include The Awakening (2011), starring Rebecca Hall, and Gothic, starring the late Natasha Richardson as Mary Shelley. He is a BAFTA Award winner, Shirley Jackson Award finalist, and the author of three collections: Dark Corners, Monsters in the Heart (which won the British Fantasy Award), and The Parts We Play. The Dark Masters Trilogy comprises of three stories (Whitstable, Leytonstone, and “Netherwood”) using Peter Cushing, Alfred Hitchcock, and Dennis Wheatley as fictional characters, with a guest appearance by the occultist Aleister Crowley. His provocative non-fiction is collected in Coffinmaker’s Blues: Collected Writings on Terror (PS Publishing, 2019) and his most recent book, also from PS Publishing, is Under a Raven’s Wing – grotesque and baffling mysteries investigated by Sherlock Holmes and Edgar Allan Poe’s master detective Dupin in 1870s Paris.

Under a Raven’s Wing
The Apprenticeship of Sherlock Holmes

In 1870s Paris, long before meeting his Dr Watson, the young man who will one day become the world’s greatest detective finds himself plunged into a mystery that will change his life forever.

A brilliant man—C. Auguste Dupin—steps from the shadows. Destined to become his mentor. Soon to introduce him to a world of ghastly crime and seemingly inexplicable horrors.

The spectral tormentor that is being called, in hushed tones, The Phantom of the Opera . . .
The sinister old man who visits corpses in the Paris morgue . . .
An incarcerated lunatic who insists she is visited by creatures from the Moon . . .
A hunchback discovered in the bell tower of Notre Dame . . .
And—perhaps most shocking of all—the awful secret Dupin himself hides from the world.
Tales of Mystery, Imagination, and Terror

Investigated in the company of the darkest master of all.

The Dark Master’s Trilogy
Whitstable – 1971.
Peter Cushing, grief-stricken over the loss of his wife and soul-mate, is walking along a beach near his home. A little boy approaches him, taking him to be the famous vampire-hunter Van Helsing from the Hammer films, begs for his expert help…

Leytonstone – 1906.
Young Alfred Hitchcock is taken by his father to visit the local police station. There he suddenly finds himself, inexplicably, locked up for a crime he knows nothing about – the catalyst for a series of events that will scar, and create, the world’s leading Master of Terror…

Netherwood – 1947.
Best-selling black magic novelist Dennis Wheatley finds himself summoned mysteriously to the aid of Aleister Crowley – mystic, reprobate, The Great Beast 666, and dubbed by the press ‘The Wickedest Man in the World’ – to help combat a force of genuine evil…

The Little Gift
The nocturnal scampering invariably signals death. I try to shut it out. The cat might be chasing a scrap of paper or a ball of silver foil across the bare floorboards downstairs, say a discarded chocolate wrapper courtesy of my wife, who likes providing it with impromptu playthings. I tell myself it isn’t necessarily toying with something living, but my stomach tightens.

What time is it?

Coffinmaker’s Blues: Collected Writings on Terror

The Parts We Play
An illusionist preparing his latest, most audacious trick… A movie fan hiding from a totalitarian regime… A pop singer created with the perfect ingredients for stardom… A folklorist determined to catch a supernatural entity on tape… A dead child appearing to her mother in the middle of a supermarket aisle… A man who breaks the ultimate taboo—but does that make him a monster?

In this rich and varied collection of Stephen Volk’s best fiction to date, characters seek to be the people they need to be, jostled by hope, fears, responsibility, fate, and their own inner demons—and desires. These tales of the lies and lives we live and the pasts we can’t forget include the British Fantasy Award-winning novella, Newspaper Heart.

(SERIOUS) AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Stephen Volk

When Stephen and I discussed what he wanted to do in this year’s Halloween Extravaganza, he told me that he was impressed with an interview I had done of a fellow author, a serious one. How can I deny someone who is impressed by one of my interviews, right? After some back and forth, and my suggestion of doing both, he agreed. So here, first, is the serious interview. Ladies and gentlemen, Stephen Volk.

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

Stephen: My name is Stephen Volk. In spite of a name that sounds German, I’m Welsh. I’m a BAFTA winning screenwriter best known for writing the so-called “Halloween hoax” Ghostwatch which was transmitted by the BBC on Halloween night 1992. Astonished that thirty years later people still talk about it! I’ve also been creator and lead writer of two TV shows (Afterlife and Midwinter of the Spirit), have written lots of other screenplays and television scripts, as well as dozens of short stories and novellas, and a few stage plays. Mostly, but not all, in the horror genre.

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

Stephen: I have a cat named Asbo. I was once at a party with Jack Nicholson. I grew up in the same town as Tom Jones. My house was built in 1692. I hate jazz.

Meghan: What is the first book you remember reading?

Stephen: A large illustrated book of The Pied Piper, when I was about four. I don’t remember if it was the poem or just the basic tale. The illustrations were magnificently terrifying, complementing the innate horror of the story. Its impact sank deep. I later wrote a story related to The Pied Piper, called “Best in the Business”. I’d also one day like to tell it in a film, set post-US Civil War, in the style of Clint Eastwood’s High Plains Drifter.

Meghan: What are you reading now?

Stephen: I’m reading My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell. (A new spin on Lolita in the age of #metoo.) It’s a spellbinding and gripping read. Before that I read The Dangers of Smoking in Bed, the new story collection by the incredible Mariana Enriquez.

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

Stephen: The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue. It’s a novel about nurses working during the flu epidemic in Dublin in 1918. It has no genre element whatsoever, but I will read anything by the author of the brilliant Room. She is such a great writer.

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

Stephen: I started drawing before I started writing. My granddad, who ran a pub, used to give me shiny squares of paper and I would hide under the table and draw on them – continuous images, as if each square was a comic book panel. I think I started writing proper in my early teens. My cousin and I were both mad keen on books and films, so for our fifteenth birthdays our mutual grandmother bought us each a typewriter. It was the best birthday present I’ve ever had. It was like receiving a travel ticket to anywhere you can imagine.

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

Stephen: I write at home, in my study, at my desk – smallest room in my house. I didn’t get a lap top until recently so if I wasn’t there, I wouldn’t be working (unless I took a notebook with me). It’s not a monk’s cell exactly, but most of my stuff is produced in that room, with a window over the garden and the cat whining in the background.

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

Stephen: No, I have no superstitions. I know all the smart advice about getting started: get writing as soon as your ass hits the chair, etc. I can give them, but I rarely obey them. As far as process goes, I have to know roughly what I’m going to do before I start. Ramsey Campbell says, always start knowing the sentence you will write. That’s pretty good advice. In general, I plan a lot. Obviously in screenplays it’s a requirement, but even in short stories, for me, there will be several pages of scribbles figuring out whether the thing is worth doing, and sometimes that goes in a drawer till it is. I don’t know if it’s a quirk, but I love the feeling of typing THE END or FADE OUT. That moment is what you live for – the story exists! But always, about half an hour later or even ten seconds later you wonder if it’s complete shit.

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

Stephen: Yes, most of writing is challenging! I would definitely say getting notes, be it from an editor, script editor or producer. You can’t reject them all and usually you can’t address them all, so there is a give and take. Negotiating that in order to make this nebulous thing called “the story” better is really complex and only comes from experience. I still find it enormously difficult, but everything needs work, and you are a fool if you don’t listen to feedback.

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

Stephen: I’m not ducking the question, but it’s literally the last thing I finished. Both generally and specifically. I think you almost have to feel that. Yesterday I finished a kind of monster story/mythic fantasy short story that has been bugging me for ages – possibly all my life. I had ideas but I didn’t know what to do with them. Only by getting them on paper did I arrive at what I wanted to say, or rather, what I wanted to explore. And the story did that. The story throws back at you what it needs to be. I’m really glad that happened, so I’m on a little bit of a high that I pulled it off.

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

Stephen: Oh, too many to mention! Sometimes it is very clear. My recent book Under a Raven’s Wing, in which a young Sherlock Holmes is educated in his art by Poe’s master detective C. Auguste Dupin, is very obviously inspired by my love of Poe and Conan Doyle. It might sound funny, but sometimes I get the voice of a story by imagining it written by someone else – when I wrote my story “Sicko” I wondered how Joyce Carol Oates would write it. For “White Butterflies” it was Cormac McCarthy. “The Airport Gorilla” needed to be a bit more loose and poetic, so I channelled the wordplay of Dylan Thomas a little bit. Another story came alive when I thought of it being told by Alan Bennett. Sometimes you unlock how to do it that way.

Meghan: What do you think makes a good story?

Stephen: Honesty. Telling it from the heart. Making opposites clash, or making the story the opposite of what it seems: I often say my “horror” stories are about love. Nail the theme – what it is about underneath – but don’t be dictatorial. Let the reader fill in the gaps. The wonderful director Billy Wilder said if you give the audience two plus two and they make five, they will love you forever.

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

Stephen: Truthfulness. I hate the boring Hollywood note that a character isn’t “likeable”. It usually means they don’t feel real. And the whole process of making them lovable makes them more boring. Make them interesting in the way real people you know are interesting and complex and compelling and unknowable and contradictory. Mine your own life for detail and authenticity. Observe. Be curious. Above all, give them a flaw. The flaw, the wound is everything. The wound is where the light gets in.

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

Stephen: Dr Robert Bridge, possibly, the psychology lecturer character played by Andrew Lincoln in my TV series Afterlife. He is a rational man and thinks logically, it is his job to think things out, put them in their place (like a writer) but he is faced with a person – Alison Mundy, a spirit medium who is entirely instinct – and he fears that, fears letting himself go to emotional upheaval.

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

Stephen: Oh, listen, I trained as a graphic designer before I became an advertising copywriter. I am a design junkie. I love book design, illustration, typography, just as much as what is inside the covers, and it literally makes me squirm when I have to buy a book with a terrible cover because I love the author. I almost will not do it. I’d rather buy a book with a terrific cover that I never read. It’s not my place to be involved in designing book covers for my own books – though I feel I could, at a push, but they wouldn’t be really excellent. One of the reasons I love doing the meticulous small-run books that PS Publishing create is that I know Pedro Marques will design mine, and he is an absolute genius. Opening the box when I receive then is always mind- blowingly thrilling.

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

Stephen: After working for thirty years writing for film and TV, that I have learned a few things about storytelling. Most of all, that I like to be in the position, now, where I get input, but at the end of the day, what I say goes. The book is mine and nobody else’s, for good or ill. I’m tired of taking the flak for other people’s mistakes in my career.

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

Stephen: I don’t find scenes that are emotional or that cut deep difficult, even death scenes – death scenes are very gratifying, actually, because you get to be with someone dying but nobody actually dies – you can rehearse it, over and over, in the way that horror is perhaps rehearsing death over and over in a way, or what it feels to be hurt, or to lose your identity. All these things aren’t hard – they are exciting. You just have to be honest with yourself and go there till you get it. The hard scenes are where you get stupid notes to address and you can’t solve the problem, or something isn’t working – those are the killer. And sometimes later on you go: “Oh course, that’s how you do it – what’s the problem?” But at the time you felt like killing yourself or handing the money back. “Here! Take it! I’m not a writer anymore! Leave me alone!”

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

Stephen: Speaking for books and scripts and plays all together? I have no idea. Maybe they’re not in “the genre” in terms of mainstream at all. PS is a very select and exclusive edition type publisher and I’m fine with that. They don’t turn around and ask for a shark on the cover, or a bleeding skull. If I started to wonder where I sat in the genre I think I’d go mad. I have tried to figure out what the genre means to me over many years. I wrote think pieces in Andy Cox’s Black Static magazine which were compiled in Coffinmaker’s Blues: Collected Writings on Terror. So that’s the nearest you’ll get to me analysing myself or my writing.

Meghan: How important is the book title, how hard is it to choose the best one, and how did you choose yours (of course, with no spoilers)?

Stephen: There’s sometimes a clever story about a title and sometimes there isn’t. It often just pops out of the air – as Under a Raven’s Wing did, the idea of mentoring and Poe in one neat phrase. I tried it out on my wife and she said: “Yeah. Obvious.” (Ha! I wish “obvious” ideas came that easily more often!) Many times, with me, the title of a story comes at the early stages – it is sort of part of the overall package of the idea that is what turns me on. That’s why when someone wants to change the title (as they always do, in films, without fail) my heart plummets. I wrote a screenplay called The Interpretation of Ghosts (which I loved) but they changed it to The Awakening. Don’t ask me why!

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

Stephen: I have only written a novel or two (the Gothic film novelisation of Netherwood; and a couple of unpublished ones), but I will answer in terms of writing a short piece as opposed to a big piece such as a film screenplay. Basically, I think a short story has immediate gratification – you can write it in weeks, if not days, sometimes, and there it is: done. A screenplay or novel will takes months at best and sometimes several years. So the two are very different beasts to handle in terms of control, focus and stamina. Your love for a novel or screenplay will have peaks and troughs, depending on collaborators. With a short story you may have no collaborators at all. You are left to your own instinct and skill, and that can be a huge liberatio. At the moment I am into short stories and novellas, but that might be a passing preference, depending what comes up next as the pandemic lifts.

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

Stephen: I’ll shift a little and talk about my next short story collection, coming out in March 2022 from PS Publishing, which will be called Lies of Tenderness. What I’d like readers to get from this wide range of tales in many different settings is that we are all given choices between empathy and selfishness at various points in our lives, and how we react to that situation and those pressures is what forms us. I’ve spelled it out in a way I would never want to, really. But that’s what I want “horror stories” to achieve – to take you to a place you think one thing will happen, and it’s actually another. You were perhaps expecting a sharp shock like the genre habitually delivers, and it’s not. It’s something else.

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

Stephen: Again thinking of Lies of Tenderness, I left out one story – which was actually fully on-theme – but was a period piece that didn’t fit the flow of the book. I’m sure it will find its way into a future book, though. In the latest story I’ve written, three characters enter the story halfway through, they rapidly get killed, and I just cut those four pages out – it made a huge difference. I always say crossing out is just as important as word count!

Meghan: What is in your “trunk”?

Stephen: I have several things are are half-baked because they are not ready – it is best to put them aside and come back to them when the penny has dropped. Of course sometimes the penny never drops! But that is part of the game. I have numerous film projects that have never comes to fruition which makes me sad, because some of them are far more interesting than movies I have had produced. For one we had Michael Caine, Danny DeVito, and Kristin Scott Thomas all signed up, but still couldn’t get the finance. It’s quite baffling. Which is why you have to get the pleasure from the actual writing, if you can. I also have a massive novel written in archaic language which nobody will touch. I don’t know about bottom drawers, I think I have a whole warehouse full of these things!

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

Stephen: Lies of Tenderness will be out n March 2022. I have a couple of TV series in development, and a couple of feature films with producers. Very excited about all of them, but I really can’t give specific details as the business is fickle at the best of times and what seems like a slam-dunk can turn into a dead duck. As ever I will split between screen work and books. I actually want a stretch of clear blue water in front of me to see what will happen.

Meghan: Where can we find you?

Stephen: Twitter ** Facebook ** Website

Meghan: Do you have any closing words for your fans or anything you’d like to say?

Stephen: Thank you for reading this far and thank you for reading or watching my work. By the way, if you read something (or watch something), try to reach out and let the writer know about it. Don’t imagine they will be too busy to hear some words of praise. Some people might be, but most of us all have dark nights of the soul and your words could mean a lot to that person at that point. It is a tough old business, writing for a living, and in some cases, those moments of contact and support are all that keeps us going! Thank you!


Boo-graphy:
STEPHEN VOLK is best known as the writer of the BBC’s notorious “Halloween hoax” Ghostwatch and the award-winning ITV drama series Afterlife. His other film and television screenplays include The Awakening (2011), starring Rebecca Hall, and Gothic, starring the late Natasha Richardson as Mary Shelley. He is a BAFTA Award winner, Shirley Jackson Award finalist, and the author of three collections: Dark Corners, Monsters in the Heart (which won the British Fantasy Award), and The Parts We Play. The Dark Masters Trilogy comprises of three stories (Whitstable, Leytonstone, and “Netherwood”) using Peter Cushing, Alfred Hitchcock, and Dennis Wheatley as fictional characters, with a guest appearance by the occultist Aleister Crowley. His provocative non-fiction is collected in Coffinmaker’s Blues: Collected Writings on Terror (PS Publishing, 2019) and his most recent book, also from PS Publishing, is Under a Raven’s Wing – grotesque and baffling mysteries investigated by Sherlock Holmes and Edgar Allan Poe’s master detective Dupin in 1870s Paris.

Under a Raven’s Wing
The Apprenticeship of Sherlock Holmes

In 1870s Paris, long before meeting his Dr Watson, the young man who will one day become the world’s greatest detective finds himself plunged into a mystery that will change his life forever.

A brilliant man—C. Auguste Dupin—steps from the shadows. Destined to become his mentor. Soon to introduce him to a world of ghastly crime and seemingly inexplicable horrors.

The spectral tormentor that is being called, in hushed tones, The Phantom of the Opera . . .
The sinister old man who visits corpses in the Paris morgue . . .
An incarcerated lunatic who insists she is visited by creatures from the Moon . . .
A hunchback discovered in the bell tower of Notre Dame . . .
And—perhaps most shocking of all—the awful secret Dupin himself hides from the world.
Tales of Mystery, Imagination, and Terror

Investigated in the company of the darkest master of all.

The Dark Master’s Trilogy
Whitstable – 1971.
Peter Cushing, grief-stricken over the loss of his wife and soul-mate, is walking along a beach near his home. A little boy approaches him, taking him to be the famous vampire-hunter Van Helsing from the Hammer films, begs for his expert help…

Leytonstone – 1906.
Young Alfred Hitchcock is taken by his father to visit the local police station. There he suddenly finds himself, inexplicably, locked up for a crime he knows nothing about – the catalyst for a series of events that will scar, and create, the world’s leading Master of Terror…

Netherwood – 1947.
Best-selling black magic novelist Dennis Wheatley finds himself summoned mysteriously to the aid of Aleister Crowley – mystic, reprobate, The Great Beast 666, and dubbed by the press ‘The Wickedest Man in the World’ – to help combat a force of genuine evil…

The Little Gift
The nocturnal scampering invariably signals death. I try to shut it out. The cat might be chasing a scrap of paper or a ball of silver foil across the bare floorboards downstairs, say a discarded chocolate wrapper courtesy of my wife, who likes providing it with impromptu playthings. I tell myself it isn’t necessarily toying with something living, but my stomach tightens.

What time is it?

Coffinmaker’s Blues: Collected Writings on Terror

The Parts We Play
An illusionist preparing his latest, most audacious trick… A movie fan hiding from a totalitarian regime… A pop singer created with the perfect ingredients for stardom… A folklorist determined to catch a supernatural entity on tape… A dead child appearing to her mother in the middle of a supermarket aisle… A man who breaks the ultimate taboo—but does that make him a monster?

In this rich and varied collection of Stephen Volk’s best fiction to date, characters seek to be the people they need to be, jostled by hope, fears, responsibility, fate, and their own inner demons—and desires. These tales of the lies and lives we live and the pasts we can’t forget include the British Fantasy Award-winning novella, Newspaper Heart.