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.

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.


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.

Amazon US
Amazon UK


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!

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.


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.

Amazon US
Amazon UK


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

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

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

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

Joseph Sale: This is a deliciously challenging question!

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

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

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

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

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

Meghan: What is the first book you remember reading?

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

Meghan: What are you reading now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meghan: What do you think makes a good story?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meghan: What is in your “trunk”?

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

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

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

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

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

Meghan: Where can we find you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He is obsessed with Attack on Titan and Community.

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

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

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

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

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