GUEST POST: Joseph Sale

The Slasher Genre Finally Gets a Sequel

The Slasher is a unique artifact in literature and cinema. In my view, there is no horror experience quite like it. It is a formula that on the surface of things seems almost ludicrously simple, yet this simplicity is precisely its power.

Many critics have written about the mythological origins of the Slasher. Arguably, one could trace the roots back to Beowulf, an epic penned circa 900 A.D. in Old English (which more closely resembles German, in many respects, than Modern English). In this legendary tale, the monster Grendel attacks the mead-hall of King Hrothgar, each night killing two of his servants and warriors. When Grendel is finally defeated, the hero Beowulf then has to contend with the monster’s mother, who proves a far worse foe. Giving Beowulf even a cursory analysis already reveals some fascinating insights. For a start, Grendel emerges from the swamps and fens, which seem to represent the roiling unconscious with their serpentine, reptilian forms. He attacks the bright hall of Heorot, which is illuminated by blazing fires, and seems to represent the conscious mind. Whilst Grendel could well represent a very real-world fear of the killer brute who comes for us at night, there is another fear, perhaps a deeper one, one what dwells in the depths of our quagmire-like minds.

One can also immediately see how Beowulf has informed Slashers. Grendel is a monster, a killer who emerges from a dismal swamp and picks off a group of victims one by one in increasingly gruesome and disturbing ways. He is inhuman – trollish, giant, hideous – but also disturbingly pathetic at the same time. Grendel even has a strange relationship with his uncanny mother. If your mind immediately leapt to Jason Vorhees, or even Norman Bates from Hitchcock’s Psycho (which is often consider a cinematic “proto-Slasher”), then you can easily be forgiven. Vorhees is certainly a Grendel in more ways than one. The fact he haunts a lake is not simply a reference to this classical source, but also another psychological dynamic. Water often symbolises sex, for reasons too numerous to list here. Suffice to say, the human mind naturally associates the two. Vorhees has a particularly distaste for sex, and one of the tropes of the Slasher genre is that only the pure or virginal survive. As I said before, what seems a simple formula is layered with meaning, and it is this layered meaning that makes Slashers so powerful.

In Grady Hendrix’s recent novel, The Final Girls Support Group, which utlises clever meta-narrative devices to deconstruct and analyse the genre, Hendrix also draws parallels between Slashers and the ancient Greek myth of Theseus and the minotaur. The minotaur is the bestial killer, haunting a labyrinth. The hero Theseus can only overcome the killer with the help of Ariadne, the plucky “final girl” who helps him navigate and escape the labyrinth. Again, labyrinths are often psychological: they represent the human mind. Notice how the runnels of a brain seem like the paths in a maze. So, the killers are not only embodiments of things we fear—monsters and things that go bump in the night—they are also fear itself, the things dwelling in our mind that we do not consciously acknowledge, waiting deep at the heart of the labyrinth.

What we are dealing with is an archetype, something that speaks to the very depths of the human condition. A frightening monster on one hand, and some form of heroine who is capable of surviving the monster, or even overcoming them at times, on the other. It could be argued that the “final girls” who are so vital to the genre represent the better part of ourselves, the part that is able to face the id of our own mind. Whatever the truth, these images are seemingly hardwired into us, which explains why the Slashers of the ‘80s and ‘90s remain so iconic.

However, Slashers fell away during the Noughties and early 2010s. Perhaps the market was oversaturated? Perhaps the law of diminishing returns finally kicked in? A few failed reboots and sequels kicked the reputation of the genre into the dust. The creative spark was lost. All of these are possible, but I think these reasons are only part of why Slashers went away. The other part has to do with how our tastes and interests reflect what is really going on in our cultural psyche.

In the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s, a certain type of horror was in. But, at the turn of the millennium, we saw the rise of the Psychological Thriller and the decline of Horror in general. Thrillers dominated the Noughties and 2010s, both in cinema and in the literary world. Titles such as Before I Go To Sleep, The Girl On The Train, and Gone Girl (all of which are books and movies), in which the real enemy is often memory or perspective, replaced the crazed killers of an earlier epoch. There are a number of reasons why our tastes could have shifted so drastically. One is perhaps that the escalation of mass-shootings in the US, and the terrorist attack of 9/11, which made the killers of old-school Slashers seem, relatively speaking, quaint. With the rise of Psychological Thrillers also came a rise in Spy and Crime Thrillers, in which Jason Bourne, Jack Bauer, or another hero with the initials J. B. has to stop a terrorist attack: a bomb, a WMD, a catastrophe of nuclear proportions. One might argue that James Bond existed long before any of these and contemporaneously with the Slashers of the ‘70s and ‘80s, but note how Bond has changed from a suave spy into an action hero, how the plots he must foil are increasingly global in scale. This shift from fearing sickos with knives to fearing bombs going off in the middle of populated cities reflects a (very understandable) cultural anxiety that has dominated for 20 years.

However, whilst this shift was inevitable and certainly had just cause, it moved prevailing cinema and literature away from archetypal and mythological roots that imbue it with deeper meaning. Bombs are scary but they are impersonal. We can represent explosions on the screen, but often it devolves into spectacle over emotional resonance. There is a reason that, with this shift towards modern fears, came a pining for ‘80s and ‘90s memorabilia like never before. And furthermore, much criticism levelled at the “emptiness” of modern cinema. Whilst it would be easy to dismiss these kind of remarks as simply one generation’s nostalgia, or comments by people who are out of touch with today’s society, there is clearly a disconcerting ring of truth to it. It isn’t just one generation saying it, either: many younger creators and critics I know remark often that “they don’t make them like they used to”. Whilst I don’t fall strictly into either camp—there are plenty of recent films I adore, though they tend to be independently produced—it’s worth reflecting on what this means, because a society’s artistic output reflects its fears, hopes, and psychological abherrances. Horror in particular exemplifies this. What are we really scared of? Once it was clowns and dream-rapists and swamp-things. Now, it is something else. We’ve shifted from highly personalised demons such as Freddy Krueger to the impersonal fear of societal destruction and catastrophe. Or, we had. Things are changing.

The world moves in seasons and cycles, and we’re currently experiencing something of a revival of Slashers. The Halloween reboot exploded onto the cinema screen in 2018, and the sequel, Halloween Kills, which came out October of this year. Stephen Graham JonesThe Only Good Indians won not only the Bram Stoker but also the Shirley Jackson award. Grady Hendrix’s The Final Girl Support Group is a love-letter to the genre that has smashed the bestseller lists. Whilst there is a healthy dose of trepidation for Scream 5, given that it will lack the brilliance of Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson, there is also a great deal of excitement. Love them or hate them (I am personally in the former camp), the Fear Street movies on Netflix have been voraciously devoured across the world. This resurrection of the genre indicates yet another cultural shift, and perhaps a welcome one.

The intimacy of the Slasher genre seems more appropriate to us, given that most of our worlds shrank drastically as a result of Covid-19 and lockdown. Sadly, domestic violence rose dramatically during this period, and it is likely that many of us had to confront demons, be they people we live with, skeletons in our families’ past, or even more profoundly: within our own minds. The modern world, with its rapid pace and relentless insistence of busyness, has a tendency to drown out reflection. Lockdown forced many of us to turn our attention inward for the first time, and perhaps not all of us liked what we saw in this interior and neglected world. The swamp of the unconscious is a perfect home, after all, for the Grendel-terror to come forth from. I am only guessing, of course, and there is no single, true answer to “why”. But certainly, the personal nature of Slashers, where people are not just blown up en masse but almost lovingly killed (and yes, often psycho-sexually as well), does seem to correlate with our current psychological temperament and the altered cultural norm.

We’re not quite there yet, however. The new Slasher revival has some teething problems, the main one being that we still seem to be either regurgitating the same franchises, or else deconstructing the genre with modern twists to such an extent that it no longer has the mythological feel and scope of the haunting originals. I cannot help but think we are due a true, original Slasher, something condensed from the psychic cultch of the western world, fermented in the fear of Covid and the pressures of lockdown, and imbued with a mania born out of 20 years of repression. We are due not just the sequel and reboot of the Slasher, but the glorious claw-out-of-the-grave resurrection.

And I want to be in the front row seat when it airs.


Boo-graphy:
Joseph Sale is a novelist and writing coach. 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 fantasy epic Dark Hilarity. He grew up in he Lovecraftian seaside town of Bournemouth.

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 You Are Not Alone (Storgy), 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.

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Dark Hilarity
Tara Dufrain and Nicola Morgan are eleven year old girls growing up in the ‘90s, obsessed by Valentine Killshot, a metal screamo band. In particular, they’re enamoured by the lead singer, the mysterious yet charismatic Jed Maine who bears the epithet “The Cretin”. In Jed’s lyrics, he describes a world beyond the Dark Stars that he hopes one day to reach. The girls think it’s all just make-believe they share together, until a freak, traumatic incident makes this world very real. As adults, Tara and Nicola try to come to terms with the devastating catastrophe that changed their lives growing up, but to do so they will have to step once more into Jed Maine’s world, and confront the man who took everything from them. Dark Hilarity is My Best Friend’s Exorcism meets The Never-Ending Story, a fantasy that explores addiction, depression, and the healing power of friendship.

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AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Joseph Sale

Meghan: Hey, Joseph. Welcome to this year’s Halloween Extravaganza. What is your favorite part of Halloween?

Joseph: I love Halloween. For me, it’s all about the change in energy. There is a wildness that comes with Halloween season. It’s okay to dance around like lunatic in the street. It’s okay to jump out of a doorway and scare people. It’s okay to flirt with the totally un-politically correct (a friend of mine once attended a Halloween party as the ghost of an S.S. officer; reprehensible though it was to see him in the uniform, swastika and all, you have to admit: that’s pretty God-damn scary!).

In Elizabethan times, the “Twelve Days of Christmas” was a Festival of Misrule in which the strict, hierarchical mores of British society were overturned temporarily. Jesters became kings. Idiots became teachers. And the wealthy aristocrats were led like dogs on collars through the shit-caked streets. This yearly “blow out” was essential to the cultural psyche of the nation. In many ways, it was their version of a Purge, though of course it stopped short of allowing murder or serious criminal activity.

In my view, Halloween is the closest thing we have to this age-old and vital tradition. It’s a great equaliser. We live most of the year repressing our Shadow selves, but on Halloween, we step into the world of Shadows, and we see them in their natural habitat. There is something wondrous and liberating about the change in energy where, for just one night, all bets are off.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween tradition?

Joseph: I don’t really do fancy dress, except on Halloween! I have become many dark figures in my time. I used to do a lot of acting, and there is something empowering about quite literally stepping into the shoes, or putting on the face, of someone else. We can learn a lot if we engage with this healthily, I think.

I also do love the more laid-back and classic Halloween tradition of putting on a scary movie. I don’t need Halloween as an excuse, of course, as I love horror, but Halloween is a time of year when even people not usually inclined to horror might overcome their doubts for one night. I will watch horror movies alone, and that can be its own unique experience, but there is something about the genre I believe is best suited to communal viewings. Perhaps it connects back to the old “tales around the campfire”? Regardless of where it comes from, enjoying a horror movie with good friends is hard to beat. There is a special bonding that takes place when you “survive” a terrifying experience together!

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

Joseph: Halloween is my favourite holiday. Don’t get me wrong, Christmas can still get me excited like a child. The cynicism hasn’t gotten to me yet. But Christmas is in many ways the reverse of Halloween. Christmas is about family, about expectations, generosity, and more conventional togetherness. Many people I know feel very stressed at Christmas and I have felt it myself from time to time. I’m not in any way denigrating the value of family, but the fact remains there are certain obligations that come with the notion of Christmas and where and how we spend it. Halloween creates no obligations. In fact, it actively asks you to discard them in the spirit of Misrule! Halloween isn’t spent with family, or rarely is, it’s generally spent with unruly friends.

This isn’t to say that when I was younger my parents didn’t throw some humdinger Halloween parties, and this is perhaps another reason Halloween has to be my favourite season. My mother is an artist, my father a writer, the combination was perfect for creating memorable Halloween experiences, one of which will stick with me and my friends for all time: they converted our spider-filled old garage into a ghost-train haunted experience. It didn’t take much, to be honest, the place was so dank and dark, but it was truly mythical and memorable. That kind of joy (and terror), the exhilaration of stepping out of mundanity and entering the story, stays with you forever. So, I’m eternally grateful to my parents for that, and you can blame my Halloween obsession on them!!

Meghan: What are you superstitious about?

Joseph: As an occultist, I consider myself very open to weird or supernatural phenomenon. I’ve had many spiritual experiences. Some transcendental. Some hellish and indelible. So, the truthful answer to this is: I’m superstitious about virtually everything! Or at least, open to it. However, one also has to recognise our own agency in these matters. Rarely do spirits or demons, or whatever the preferred terminology is, seize us out of the blue without warning, just as the past only holds power over us if we invest it with authority. We invite demons in. We play a role in their habitation, and their enlivening. We feed them with psychological abherrance and desire. What we repress returns in sevenfold horrifying form.

One might look to Clive Barker’s immortal film Hellraiser to see exactly what I mean by this. The cenobites only come when they are called. The horror that was once Frank Cotton is invited into the house by Julia Cotton’s desire, and then subsequently fed by her with human blood in an act that is far from subtly psycho-sexual. Whilst fiction, there is a lot of truth in this. Whether you view the demons literally or figuratively as expressions of psychological malady is up to you.

So, I’m not afraid of being randomly attacked by ghosts or demonic entities, terrifying though that would be. I’m more like the vertigo sufferer. People with vertigo aren’t afraid of heights, but rather what they might do if they stand on a ledge. I don’t really fear demons, spirits, ghosts, but I do fear what I might do should I glimpse the infernal plane, or should one such entity make me an offer I cannot refuse. The greatest blindness is to think we are beyond temptation. After all, those beings really do have “such sights to show you”.

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

Joseph: This is such a tough question to answer, as there are so many great villains in Horror. One of my favourites is a rather obscure character known as Melmoth The Wanderer, who is featured in the novel of the same name by the oft-overlooked Anglican curate Charles Maturin. Maturin wrote a number of novels, and Melmoth The Wanderer is his Gothic masterpiece. It is equal parts Faustian legend and Miltonic evocation. Melmoth is a deviously complex character, both a tempter of souls and one who was tempted. He is, like Milton’s Lucifer, strangely heroic at times. He tries to fight against his darker nature but knows he can never win. The novel is almost ludicrously convoluted, with no less than six layers of framed narrative (perhaps more if you include certain interludes) but this convolution is intentional, because it begins to draw you into Melmoth’s own warped psyche. The labyrinth of his mind is not a place I will forget in a hurry and the sheer intensity of his hatred is awe-inspiring to behold. He is a true compelling villain, and one who deserves far more recognition among the greats.

Meghan: Which unsolved murder fascinates you the most?

Joseph: I do find unsolved murders fascinating, but I find unsolved disappearances far more so. I am not sure why, perhaps because there is even more mystery when no body is found?

In the UK, there are few cases more unusual than that of Madeleine McCann. Some might find this a predictable choice, but it is one of those cases that, whilst it may not seem particularly weird at first, becomes stranger and stranger the longer you look at it. She disappeared in Portugal and was one of the most widely televised and reported on disappearances of all time. How, then, were investigators completely unable to make any headway at all? It seems impossible that in 2007, with so much surveillance and technology, with her face plastered on every TV over the world for years, that we could not find her.

I have oscillated from believing wholeheartedly the parents did it, to swinging wildly the other way. Then my writer’s brain goes into overdrive with more bizarre possibilities. For example, could she be still alive? If she were, she would be seventeen or eighteen in 2021. What horrors would she have experienced and overcome to have survived until now? How would that shape someone’s understanding of the world?

The disappearance of a three year old is a truly terrible, ugly thing, and one cannot help but think there is some dark secret buried somewhere, unlikely to come to light save on Judgement Day.

Meghan: Which urban legend scares you the most?

Joseph: My God, this is a great question. It would have to be the Slenderman. What’s funny about this is I know full well that the Slenderman is fake. I researched him extensively for a novel I wrote back in 2013. It is not a brilliant book, as I was very young then and still learning my craft, but some of the stuff I dug into for research stills scares me, even knowing it was created by photoshop experts and Creepy Pasta lore enthusiasts. I think it was partly how meta the book became. I was writing a book about a man writing a book about becoming obsessed by the Slenderman, and in the end, I became obsessed by the Slenderman. The old Nietzschian adage is certainly true: stare too long into the abyss, and it really does stare back into you.

Meghan: Who is your favorite serial killer and why?

Joseph: Fictional or real, now that is the question! If I was saying fictional, it would have to be Ghostface from Scream. This is a bit of a cheat answer, of course, because Ghostface can be, and has been, many people, but that is precisely the genius of him. Ghostface is a character in his own right, but anyone can don the mask and become him. That is, in some ways, infinitely more scary than an iconic killer whom we all recognise. Ghostface could be anyone. He could be you or me (and of course can be “she” for that matter). Similar to my comment on superstition, Ghostface asks us to look inward and confront the question of what we are truly capable of, in the darkest sense.

If I had to pick a real-life serial killer, I would not use the term “favourite” to describe them, because we then run the risk of glorifying degraded and immoral killers; they are scum, at the end of the day. However, I do find Ted Bundy particularly fascinating. That may be a cliché to some, but there are a number of unique things about him. The sheer depravity of his crimes sets him apart: not just murder, but torture, necrophilia, and worse. His charm is another weird factor. The transcripts of his trial show him actively flirting with the female judge and succeeding. If you wrote this scene in a novel, no one would believe it, especially not in today’s age of female empowerment. I’m personally not interested in Bundy’s pseudo-philosophy and God-complex. But I am interested in the fact he escaped – twice, no less – and was only really “caught” when he turned himself in. It reminds me of the quote from the original 1986 Hitcher movie in which Rutger Hauer’s nameless killer answers the question “What do you want?” with perhaps the most chilling answer possible: “I want you to stop me.” This is the epitome of evil, I think. The hitcher knows what he is doing is wrong. He knows he is a mad dog that’s slipped the leash. But he can’t stop himself, so he wants someone else to rise to the challenge. Bundy’s story is similar. I think he wanted the electric chair, in the end: to return to the nothingness he believed in.

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

Joseph: Far, far too young! Weirdly, I saw horror movies before I ever got to horror books. I am not sure I could even name the age I was when I saw my first horror film, but I was definitely not yet eleven years old. Probably the first horror movie I remember was the Terminator movie. It isn’t really that gnarly by comparison with other ‘80s Horror, or even by modern standards, but it is unrelenting in its tension. The thing that made Terminator so great to me was the idea of the truly unstoppable evil, and the film still conveys that idea far better than many modern attempts. The terminator isn’t invulnerable: the flesh-suit rips, the metal skeleton is damaged, it is even cut in half. But despite all of these things, the terminator keeps going. That is truly scary. Though the terminator is a robot, we sense something beyond that: an evil willpower and determination that is frightening.

In terms of my first horror book, I was actually quite late to that game, although I had read classics such as Frankenstein and Dracula. I primarily read Fantasy until the age of about seventeen, when I discovered Stephen King. I read The Stand (genuinely my first King!), and it totally blew my mind. It opened doorways in my consciousness that I didn’t know had been locked. Apart from being so inspiring, reading The Stand really liberated me and was the first step on my road to becoming a half-decent writer. Previously, everything I’d been writing was very much generic fantasy pap, and I steered away from dark themes, sex, and violence. But when I read The Stand, King blew the doors wide open.

The two scenes that stick with me in terms of being exposed to horror for the first time – or at least, modern horror for the first time – were number one: the scene with The Kid and the Trashcan Man in which the latter is sodomised with a shotgun. The second was the scene in which Randall Flagg pulls an unborn child out of the womb with a coat-hanger hook (although it turns out to be a dream sequence). Reading these was like having a nuclear bomb detonate inside my skull. I couldn’t believe they had been committed to paper.

The Stand gave me permission to explore my own darkness. Many moments in that book are still indelibly printed on my brain, not just the horrifying ones. Perhaps the greatest of them all from my point of view is the final scene with The Trashcan Man. That is a moment of divinely inspired genius, I think. True epic.

Meghan: Which horror novel unsettled you the most?

Joseph: It takes a lot to scare me, especially in fiction. For some reason I find films infinitely scarier. Perhaps because films are more intense, whereas horror novels tend to be a slow burn that accumulates over time? Each of us is more or less vulnerable to different types of horror, I suppose, and for some perhaps the slow burn effect is creepier!

However, there are certainly books that have genuinely scared me. I’ve already mentioned Melmoth The Wanderer. It was written in 1820, but don’t let that fool you into thinking it lacks punch: I was genuinely unsettled, and the further in you go, the worse it gets. It isn’t just the events or what’s transpiring, but the weird and brain-jarring structure, the elliptical storytelling that starts to disconcert and unbalance you, rather like a discordant soundtrack.

I also found The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson to be uniquely terrifying. The scene with the hand in the bed (anyone who’s read it knows exactly the one I mean) actually shat me up for days afterwards, and I became frightened every time I had to go to sleep. I get that Jackson is a mainstay, but she is so lauded for a reason.

If you want to read something more modern and genuinely scary, Steve Stred’s The Window In The Ground is a living nightmare. No one does dread like Stred. It should be a catchphrase! He is one of the few modern writers who can genuinely unsettle me. It’s something about the way he writes, so directly, so straightforwardly, it lulls you into a false sense of security. Everything feels believable in his hands, even the most insane and awful things you can imagine. The Window In The Ground is probably still my favourite thing by him. I think about it way too often.

Meghan: Which horror movie scarred you for life?

Joseph: Surprisingly, no conventional horror movie has the claim of scarring me for life, though certainly some films rocked me or challenged what I thought I knew. The artifact that really scarred me for life was the 1993 Japanese anime Sailor Moon. Now, this may seem odd, as all the screenshots you’ll see online of Sailor Moon show happy, colourful scenes with an enthusiastic group of young girls fighting evil with superpowers. But anyone who watched the entirety of season 1 to its conclusion will know there is another side to the show.

The final two episodes of Sailor Moon take the lovable thirteen-year-old girls you’ve followed for 44 episodes, with all their cute love-interests and side-plots, and then tortures and murders them one by one. And the torture isn’t just physical, it’s emotional and spiritual too. Characters you fell in love with betray the Sailor Guardians and then gleefully tear them apart while Sailor Moon helplessly watches. You don’t just watch them being beaten in a fight, you watch them being tormented on every level in a fashion that can only be described as totally psychotic.

One after another, each Sailor Guardian is destroyed in ignoble, hopeless ways, until only Moon remains. At this point, where you think it can go no lower, Moon is forced to kill the person she loves most in the world in an agonising fashion. It’s harrowing, undoubtedly one of the most heartbreaking and terrifying things I’ve ever seen. The fact it is an animation only makes it worse, lending a dreamlike surreal power to each mortifying frame that a live action version would lack. I was just a kid when I saw it, probably eleven or twelve, and it shook me to the foundations to such a degree I’ve never quite recovered from it. I believe it was banned in some countries, or at least shown in edited form, but the UK was not one of them. This series and the scarring it caused has heavily influenced a novel I’m working on that will come out next year (2022) called The Tower Outside of Time. It is the third and final book in my Illuminad sequence. Each book is stand-alone, but read in order they add up to something that is—hopefully—pretty cosmic.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween costume?

Joseph: Oh, this is a good question, and a hard one. I used to love dressing up as V from V For Vendetta, but sadly now the Guy Fawkes mask has become synonymous with the online group Anonymous (hey, it rhymes!), so I am no longer as keen on it. I love a good wraith or vampire. Probably the latter is my favourite, though. I guess because people used to joke I was a vampire: pale skin, weird eyes, Gothic obsession, dark arts. On a side note, I have a Magic: The Gathering Commander Deck that is vampire themed. I have a soft spot for the old long-fangs!

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween-themed song?

Joseph: Much of the music I like is arguably Halloween-themed, because it focuses on black magic, the rising dead, or some other Gothic trope! Haha.

To name a few specific songs / bands, I have recently got quite into the band Draconian. They are a kind of screamo doom-metal band, but unlike many doom-metal efforts, it isn’t all misery; there is a kind of ghostly beauty to the guitar and female vocals, offset by a triumphant growl and great melodies. They really play with the juxtaposition of fury and sensitivity well, and their lyrics have some very interesting meanings if you begin to look deeper.

Some credit has to be given to the Rolling Stones classic Sympathy For the Devil. There is something truly mesmeric about that song. I saw it live, and it was like being hypnotised when that riff rolled over the crowd!

Lastly, I adore Avenged Sevenfold’s entire album City of Evil. I think it is possibly my favourite of all time, and the greatest ever written, which I know is crazy hyperbole, but I cannot think of anything that rivals it for ambition, scope, or execution save in the classical canon. It is dazzlingly technical but also heartfelt. It soars but also screams. There is a rawness that perhaps not everyone will like, especially as we have become increasingly accustomed to touched-up voices produced in flawless studios; but if you don’t mind a bit of gravel and soul in the voice and guitars, then it’s truly startling.

City of Evil is a kind of musical interpretation of the book of Revelations, and it features such epics as Bat Country, The Beast & The Harlot, Sidewinder, Blinded in Chains, and my personal favourite: The Wicked End. The album is over 70 minutes long and most of the songs exceed 7 minutes. Rarely do you ever hear a single chorus repeated. The songs morph and change like the creature from The Thing, shifting into bridges, key-changes, and flying to previously unknown heights. If pop music bores you to tears, this is the album for you. No song is predictable. Sidewinder, for example, transitions from brutal heavy metal into a Spanish guitar that is clearly influenced by snake-charming melodies. It’s pretty unreal.

Virtually all of City of Evil is classifiable as Halloween themed, I think! But it also deals with the human quest to re-discover one’s own lost soul. If you piece together the tracks, it tells a kind of dream-logic narrative of someone setting off into the wilderness, losing everything they love, and returning from war a broken and desolate man. One of the final lines of the whole album is, “A murderer walks your streets tonight”. It’s a devastating meditation on human evil, partly inspired by the quote from Dr Johnson (which is uttered in the opening track, Bat Country) “He who makes a beast out of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man.”

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

Joseph: It would have to be eyeball pops. I mean, was there ever a more perfect marriage of foodstuff and concept?! It is genuinely hard to feel like you are not biting into an actual eyeball, but then the explosion of sugary flavour wipes away the fear.

In terms of most disappointing, I would have to be jelly slugs. The taste and texture seems disappointing to me. Perhaps I am a snob?

Meghan: Thanks for stopping by today, Joseph. Before you go, what are your go-to Halloween movies and books?

Joseph: Oh, this is super, super tough. I feel like we have to define what we mean by “Halloween movie”. Does that mean a movie set on Hallow’s Eve, or simply a scary movie that is appropriate to watch on the day? In either case, it feels criminal not to give the original Halloween the ultimate trophy! I mean, it’s in the title!

However, that aside, I adore the Scream movies. I feel like they brought a manic energy to the Slasher genre when it was flagging. They tread the fine line between celebrating Halloween, masks, scary movies, and the joy we get from them, but also recognising their problematic elements. They subvert tropes but don’t fall into the trap of undermining the archetypes that drive Slashers: the faceless killer—a dark lord or monster, no less—and the dauntless heroine. The male energy of death, the female energy which is pure and incorruptible (in old-school Slashers, represented symbolically by virginity, but really this is something much deeper). They have it all, as well as being funny to boot.

In terms of a favourite Halloween book, now that is tougher! There are so many works by indie authors that could be my top Halloween book that I would struggle to list them all, but I’ll try a few top picks!

Dan Soule writes awesome Halloween-appropriate books that have that “classic” feel. His Fright Nights series is very much a callback to the horror of a young Stephen King, James Herbert, and R. L. Stine. He has a wonderful prose-style, and his characters are people you not only believe in but care about. I recommend starting with The Ash to get a taste of his work: it’s a short novel about a police officer trying to get home after a strange explosion that covers miles of the UK in ash… But when things start moving beneath the ash, the horror really begins.

I’d also recommend Iseult Murphy’s 7 Days In Hell. It’s a great creepy-town tale that is so much more than it appears. It seems a cosy mystery, until things suddenly go deeper and darker than you ever expected, including into some gnarly occult shit. Definitely a perfect Halloween read.

I think those are some good recommendations and my top picks for now. We live in a world of abundant storytelling, so there are always more brilliant authors to talk about, especially on the indie scene, which is where I feel the real action, the real boundary pushing and interesting work, is happening.

Thanks so much for having me on for your extravaganza, Meghan. It means the world!


Boo-graphy:
Joseph Sale is a novelist and writing coach. 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 fantasy epic Dark Hilarity. He grew up in he Lovecraftian seaside town of Bournemouth.

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 You Are Not Alone (Storgy), 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.

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Website
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Dark Hilarity
Tara Dufrain and Nicola Morgan are eleven year old girls growing up in the ‘90s, obsessed by Valentine Killshot, a metal screamo band. In particular, they’re enamoured by the lead singer, the mysterious yet charismatic Jed Maine who bears the epithet “The Cretin”. In Jed’s lyrics, he describes a world beyond the Dark Stars that he hopes one day to reach. The girls think it’s all just make-believe they share together, until a freak, traumatic incident makes this world very real. As adults, Tara and Nicola try to come to terms with the devastating catastrophe that changed their lives growing up, but to do so they will have to step once more into Jed Maine’s world, and confront the man who took everything from them. Dark Hilarity is My Best Friend’s Exorcism meets The Never-Ending Story, a fantasy that explores addiction, depression, and the healing power of friendship.

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AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Lucy Leitner

Meghan: Hi Lucy! Welcome to this year’s Halloween Extravaganza. What is your favorite part of Halloween?

Lucy: Right now, it’s baking. Every Sunday, my mom and I bake together over FaceTime. From mid-September to the end of October, we’re baking exclusively Halloween-themed treats. I get a lot of inspiration from the baking shows on the Food Network.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween tradition?

Lucy: When I was a kid, we’d have huge Halloween parties. It would start in September when the Oriental Trading Company catalog arrived. My brother and two sisters and I would sit down with our mom and create an order for party favors and decorations. Weeks in advance, we’d start planning all the attractions. Putting macabre labels on spice mixes for the witches brew in the shed. Collecting supplies for fortune-telling in my sister’s room. I remember scouring DC-area magic stores one year trying to find an appropriate crystal ball. We never did, and my dad wound up mounting a glass orb onto a stocky cylinder. My mom had new ideas for the party every year, but some of the staples were the kids wrapping each other in toilet paper as mummies and eating small, powdered donuts hanging from a tree branch without using our hands. My dad hooked up a trailer to his lawn tractor, filled it with hay, and towed us around the backyard. The trailer would frequently detach, leaving kids at an odd angle in the yard, and my dad would just keep driving as he couldn’t hear the screams over the sound of the lawn mower.

But the best part was the haunted house. Since I’m the oldest, I was in charge of transforming the garage into a room of terrors and leading age-appropriate tours for the younger kids. My parents used the garage for storage, so we used whatever we found in there. A recurring character was Harold, my dad’s jeans and flannel shirt stuffed with pillows and newspaper that sat in an old rocking chair. Two female salsa dancer pinatas, a relic from my third birthday party, hung from the ceiling by their necks. Someone would always be waiting outside, sticking a foot through the cat door, then brandishing a leaf blower to terrify the kids who thought the nightmare was over when they had left the garage.

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

Lucy: The memories. Halloween was a big deal to my family when I was growing up. We’d take long drives through the changing leaves to far-off farms in search of pumpkins. We never had packaged costumes, always ones that we’d construct from seemingly disparate items around the house. When I was in kindergarten, my mom turned dining room chair cushions into turtle shells so my brother and I could dress as our favorite Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. One year, we put stuffing in long underwear to turn my little sister into the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.

Two years ago, my mom and I went up to Salem for the weekend a couple weeks before Halloween. We did a ghost tour, an interactive Rocky Horror, and a bunch of of witch stuff. It was so much fun. We keep talking about how we need to go back. It’s my most recent wonderful Halloween memory.

Meghan: What are you superstitious about?

Lucy: Five years ago, I broke my face after flying off a set of gymnastics rings at the gym. I will not use that particular set of rings again. Unfortunately, the owners just rearranged the gym so I don’t know where that set is. I have to accept that it was not the rings’ fault…

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

Lucy: Jack Torrance. Several years ago, I was the only copywriter at a busy ad agency and was assigned about 17 hours of work in each eight-hour day. In a meeting with the agency president and the project managers who were constantly haranguing me about status updates, I told them how every time they interrupted me, they broke my concentration. It’s like at the gym. I was cooled down and needed to warm back up again to get back in the creative zone. So, their constant interruptions were slowing me down. Nearly a year after I was fired, I was watching The Shining (as I do every Halloween) and realized Jack gave almost the identical speech/rant to Wendy — with a lot more profanity. The Shining has always been my favorite horror movie, but I got a whole new appreciation for the horror of stress-induced psychosis.

Meghan: Which unsolved murder fascinates you the most?

Lucy: Jack the Ripper. I like all the theories and find it interesting how many Ripperologists seem convinced that it has to be a notable person who committed the murders when the vast majority of known serial killers were losers.

Meghan: Which urban legend scares you the most?

Lucy: The ones with the spiders and bugs burrowing under skin. That sounds like it could actually happen.

Meghan: Who is your favorite serial killer and why?

Lucy: SPOILER ALERT. Leland Palmer. The singing, the crying, the dancing, and the emergence of BOB when he gets locked in the cell. And the scene where it’s revealed that Leland is the killer — one of the best things ever on TV. I was too young to watch Twin Peaks when it aired, but I can’t imagine many people saw that one coming.

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

Lucy: I remember reading Lois Duncan’s Stranger with My Face when I was 10 or 11. I loved it and was hooked on her books after that. My first horror movie was Psycho, but I can’t remember how old I was. I saw Scream as soon as it came out on VHS when I was 13. That was my first modern slasher flick. I memorized it. A few years later I won a tickets to a premiere screening of Scary Movie for calling into a local rock radio station and completing a line from it.

Meghan: Which horror novel unsettled you the most?

Lucy: The Painted Bird is more disturbing than any horror book I’ve ever read.

Meghan: Which horror movie scarred you for life?

Lucy: For some reason in 6th grade band class we watched the Twilight Zone movie. I remember getting all freaked out by the sister with no mouth. That gave me nightmares for a couple days. We also watched the original It in that class. That one left no impression…

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween costume?

Lucy: Sharon Tate. Halloween 2007 when I was 24. I wore a blood-soaked nightgown over a fake pregnant belly though which I stuck a plastic knife.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween-themed song?

Lucy: “Song of Joy” by Nick Cave. Spooky, dark, and uses one of my favorite literary devices, the unreliable narrator.

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

Lucy: I’m one of those crazy people who love candy corn and mellowcreme pumpkins. But Indian corn is disappointing. Something about that fake chocolate flavor just does not do it for me.


Boo-graphy:
Lucy Leitner is the author of horror-comedy novels Working Stiffs (2012) and Outrage: Level 10 (2021). From Arlington, VA (where the joke says people are dying to go), she lives in Pittsburgh, PA (where the movies say the dead live). She’s been making up scary stories since frightening her little sister out of sharing a room at age 10. In 2010, she earned a master’s in journalism, won an award for a piece in Justice Magazine, and promptly retired from journalism. Now she’s the writer, spokesperson, and sometimes hand model for a global vitamin company that tends to post more zombie content on social media than all its competitors… When not scaring customers into taking their vitamins, she’s working on her next horror novel.

Outrage: Level 10 was originally released through Necro, but sadly Dave Barnett died right after the book was released. It will be re-released through Blood Bound Books on November 26th.

Get Me Out of This Shimmering Oasis is a short story.


Outrage: Level 10
Alex Malone is brain damaged from a career as a legendary goon in the outlawed sport of hockey. Now he’s a cop because that’s the only job that’ll take him. His presence is enough to raise a citizen’s outrage level, putting him at constant risk of being banished—or worse, sent to the mysterious Maze.

His headaches bring the type of pain that makes plunging off one of Pittsburgh’s bridges a viable option. The bouts of unfettered rage interfere with his ability to complete even the simplest task of rounding up the centenarians with the dying brains and bionic bodies who terrorize other citizens.

Since The People assumed control of the Republic of America, death before 130 has become a thing of the pre-Revolutionary past. Cancer, heart disease, spinal cord injury—all eradicated thanks to tax dollars funding medical research instead of wars and unjust justice. If only they could figure out the brain…

So an experimental treatment sounds good to Malone. It feels good, too. The blackouts that would end with bleeding knuckles and a citizen unconscious on a sidewalk are replaced by vivid memories. The only problem is that the memories aren’t his. They’re filled with torture and more violence than even the undefeated champion of ice boxing could imagine.

With a sense of purpose not felt since his days as hockey’s premier fighter, Malone is determined to find out what’s going on in his head, even if it makes him a target of the outraged mob and the powerful sadists that manipulate it, and leads him to horrifying truths that should have remained lies.

Outrage: Level 10 is an anti-hero’s journey through the inner workings of a violent, near-future dystopia.

Get Me Out of This Shimmering Oasis
OMG this place is amazing. I can feel all the remnants of my leaky gut clearing right up. A few more days and I may even be able to tolerate dairy again. These innovative treatments are truly elevating my wellness. They are literally scaring me to death, but doing good for yourself never feels good, right? Right? 

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.