AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Matthew R. Davis

Meghan: Hey, Matthew! Welcome to Meghan’s (Haunted) House of Books… or (Holiday) House of Books because, technically, it’s December… but I’m just not ready to finish with Halloween, as you can tell. Thanks for joining in our annual frivolities. What is your favorite part of Halloween?

Matthew: The fact that we celebrate all that is spooky and dark! While the day has come a long way from its roots, it’s broadened to include all kinds of horrors, and so naturally I love the aesthetics and the focus on peering into the shadows.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween tradition?

Matthew: Ah, I don’t really have one. In Australia, we don’t get out on the streets as much as other countries – I’ve never been trick or treating, though at one of my previous homes (Ghastly Manor) we did put out some props and hand lollies over to groups of roving children. I do like to get out and celebrate the Spooky Season – there are usually a few goth events on, my partner and I attended a double bill of Shaun of the Dead and Dawn of the Dead a few years back, and last year a dearly departed friend had his final, posthumous exhibition opening on Halloween night.

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

Matthew: Again, it’s all about the celebrations of horror and the macabre. The trappings of Christmas are an annoyance to me – carols and tinsel, chintzy decorations indulged in just because It’s What We Do, the religious angle – so Halloween provides a much-needed balance.

Meghan: What are you superstitious about?

Matthew: Pretty much nothing. I’m an entirely irreligious person, and while I keep an open mind, I don’t believe in the paranormal – which is perhaps an odd attitude from a horror writer whose work is so often supernatural! I guess I’d like some of the stories to be true, for these hints of further worlds to be genuine, because then there’s so much more to explore and it might also mean there’s something else to come after we shuffle off this mortal coil – and while I don’t think there is, I have to admit that the idea of an afterlife beyond the codified legends of religion, freely entered without having to follow some deity’s laws of conduct and devotion, is an appealing one. I believe we get one life and we need to make the most of it, but I won’t feel too bad if I’m ultimately proved wrong… so long as I don’t end up consigned to excruciating and unjust torture for all eternity!

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

Matthew: I tend to wince when I see yet another meme or image that wheels out the pop culture horror big guns like Freddy, Jason, Michael, Pinhead, Ghostface, Regan McNeil, Pennywise, Leatherface, etc. There’s so much more beyond these figureheads! That said, I am a fan of most of those characters, or at least some of the movies in which they feature. (My hot take: The Exorcist is overrated Catholic propaganda.) But I prefer standalone films with one-off monsters or villains, and having said that, now I have to think of some in order to actually answer this question! Here are some notables: the witches and their associates from Suspiria (original and remake), the titular woman from The Autopsy of Jane Doe, the ghosts of The Haunting of Hill House series, the creepy doubles from The Broken, the grotesqueries that appear throughout In the Mouth of Madness, the demons from, well, Demons, the haunting at the heart of Mungo Lake… and so, so many more!

Meghan: Which unsolved murder fascinates you the most?

Matthew: I don’t know if I could pick just one! Some cases are so intriguing that a solution is craved if only to satisfy the onlooker’s curiosity, but then, so much of their interest is predicated on them remaining unsolved. I hope they are unraveled so those close to the victims can gain closure, but the mystery is always more satisfying than the solution. It may be a little ghoulish to find titillation in the unsolved disappearances and deaths of strangers, but why shouldn’t we be curious? Nothing is ever learned without someone applying thought to the situation.

Meghan: Which urban legend scares you the most?

Matthew: I’m not credulous and I don’t scare easy, and most legends are fairly humdrum and ridiculous anyway, so I guess… none. I do find them interesting, though, and I occasionally include one in my work. A pair of 1960s teenage spree killers inspire a schoolyard ditty in my novel Midnight in the Chapel of Love, and rumours of their visit to the titular Chapel lead others to try and find the place.

Meghan: Who is your favorite serial killer and why?

Matthew: None. Fuck those people. I don’t have a favourite rapist or a favourite thug, so why should I have a favourite murderer? While I am intensely curious about serial killers and love to read about them, I don’t ever glorify what they do – my interest lies largely in my inability to understand how people could do such atrocious things to others, and in the processes by which they can be profiled, identified, and captured. I want to know what causes some people to kill and I want to know how we can stop them. Accordingly, I find great interest in books by John E. Douglas and Mark Olshaker, who set out their stall with Mindhunter.

Meghan: I guess I should have worded that question differently. I did not mean “favorite” as in one you idolize, but “favorite” as in the one that intrigues you the most. But I digress… How old were you when you saw your first horror movie? How old were you when you read your first horror book?

Matthew: Okay… I don’t know for sure, but I remember seeing bits of a movie I now know is Cruise into Terror (1978), including an Egyptian sarcophagus that started breathing, and that was quite creepy when I was so young. The only movie I ever turned off was The Masterson Curse (aka Scared Stiff, 1987) when I was ten, because I couldn’t stand the tension building up to a well-telegraphed jump scare – something tells me I’d find that movie very mild going these days!

As for books… I read one of Guy N. Smith’s Crabs books before I should have, and that was pretty heavy going. The Choose Your Own Adventure books got quite grim sometimes, and then there were darker variants like the Plot Your Own Horror Story series. The only one I own is Grand Hotel of Horror (Hilary Milton, 1984), which snaked under my skin with its anything-goes terrors and eerie illustrations, and other entries saw you trapped overnight in a mall, a haunted house, and even a space museum. In fact, Space Age Terrors has one of the best back cover taglines I have ever seen.

It is programmed to destroy.
It can walk through locked doors.
It is looking for you.

Brrr!

Meghan: Which horror novel unsettled you the most?

Matthew: At the risk of sounding repetitive and dull, it’s rare for a book to actually scare me. Sometimes it’s individual pieces that get to me: some of the seabase scenes in Nick Cutter’s The Deep, the exploration of an abandoned flat and subsequent entry of Black Maggie in Adam Nevill’s No One Gets Out Alive, the increasing religious mania of the father in Ramsey Campbell’s The House on Nazareth Hill and the concomitant persecution of his daughter that leads to a truly shocking climax. Sometimes it’s the creeping mood and atmosphere that lingers after the covers have been closed, like in Laird Barron’s The Croning, Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, or Stephen King‘s Pet Sematary.

Meghan: Which horror movie scarred you for life?

Matthew: See above, but to avoid repeating myself: Jaws (1975), which I saw far too young and instilled in me an instinctive fear of water deeper than I am tall, not to mention a lifelong phobia of great white sharks! My brother, who watched those films with me (and was two years younger to boot!), recently went cage-diving amongst the great whites of Port Lincoln, and man, let me tell you – it is exceedingly unlikely I would ever even contemplate doing the same!

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween costume?

Matthew: Nothing I’ve ever worn, as I’ve never dressed up in full costume for Halloween. I’ve seen some great ones, though! (Not Great Ones, thankfully.) Let me give a shout out to my partner, who did this great little goth vampire thing a few years back complete with fangs and creepy contacts. As for me, I was wearing a skirt and steel-capped boots – perhaps scary, but not in the same way.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween-themed song?

Matthew: John Carpenter’s Halloween theme, naturally; “Halloween” and “Halloween II” by Misfits; “Black No. 1 (Little Miss Scare All)” and “All Hallows Eve” by Type O Negative. I can’t think of much else that is explicitly about the season, but I’m a big fan of dark, creepy music in general – I could put together a playlist for Halloween that would kill.

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

Matthew: Chocolate. Not chocolate.


Boo-graphy:
Matthew R. Davis is an author and musician based in Adelaide, South Australia, whose novelette “Heritage Hill” (found in Outback Horrors Down Under: An Anthology of Antipodean Terrors, edited by Steve Dillon, published by Things in the Well Publications) was shortlisted for a 2020 Shirley Jackson Award and the WSFA Small Press Award. His books are the horror collection If Only Tonight We Could Sleep (Things in the Well, 2020) and the novel Midnight in the Chapel of Love (JournalStone, 2021). Find out more at his website.

Midnight in the Chapel of Love
THE MAN: Jonny Trotter has spent the last fifteen years running from tragic memories of the country town where he grew up—but the black envelopes pushed under his door won’t let him forget, and now that his father has died, he can run no more.

THE TOWN: Returning to Waterwich for the funeral and wake with his partner Sloane, Jonny must confront old resentments, his estranged best friends Brendan and Coralie, a strange, veiled woman the locals call the White Widow…and the mystery surrounding the fate of his first lover, Jessica Grzelak.

THE GIRL: A morbid and reckless city girl banished to the country to live with her aunt, Jessica loved to push the limits and explore the shadows—and no one has seen her since the night of her high school formal, the night she and Jonny went looking for the Chapel.

THE CHAPEL: Rumored to be found in the woods outside Waterwich, mentioned in playground rhymes about local lovebirds Billy and Poppy and their killing spree in 1964, the Chapel is said to be an ancient, sacred place that can only be entered by lovers—a test that can only be passed if their bond is pure and true.

THE TRUTH: Before he can move on to a future with Sloane, Jonny must first face the terrible truth of his past—and if he can’t bring it out into the light at last, it might just pull him and everything he loves down into the dark forever.

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Jonathan Janz

Meghan: Hey, Jonathan. I don’t know if you realize this, but you have been a part of our annual Halloween Extravaganza long before it was named a Halloween Extravaganza. In fact, you have been part of every Halloween celebration since I started blogging, back in 2014, on The Gal in the Blue Mask. So thank you so much for all the support. And for once again taking part. Let’s begin: What is your favorite part of Halloween?

Jonathan: I think the general mood. I love the aura, the spooky, cozy, gloomy vibe of late-October/early-November. There’s something uniquely mysterious in the air, the feeling that anything could happen, will happen. Wet-black tree trunks and rain-shiny streets. Drooping leaves and shadows. No time can transport me back to elementary school like this time of year. Nothing can reproduce that shivery feeling quite like Halloween time.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween tradition?

Jonathan: Hmm… For me, the music plays a big role. The Halloween score is a central, seminal work there. I think not only of Carpenter’s incredible main theme, but of the other tracks, specifically the one we hear when Jamie Lee Curtis walks through the neighborhood when we first meet her. I hear the same music when I walk through my own neighborhood, which is like hers with more hills. I also love “This Is Halloween” from The Nightmare Before Christmas. I sing that one with my youngest daughter Peach.

So listening to the music is a big part of the celebration for me.

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

Jonathan: It’s my favorite non-religious holiday, I’ll say that. It’s just such a marvelous celebration of all the things I love about horror. It’s being joyful in the terror, it’s reveling in the macabre. It really is a time where what we love all year is normalized and appreciated by all, including the hobbyists. For a short time they can see through our eyes and understand the dark beauty we see all year. So there’s a sense of community with the full-timers and a moment of communion with the part-timers.

Meghan: What are you superstitious about?

Jonathan: I’m really not superstitious anymore, but I used to be. Like catastrophically so. I was afraid to leave a room without first smiling into a mirror because I was sure the last expression I made in that mirror would determine the tenor of the day or evening. I had an intricate series of rituals I had to complete (everything in threes, everything pointing in a specific direction) that held a mystical power over me. Essentially, I was raddled with these superstitions, and they profoundly affected me in many negative ways. I eventually overcame them, but it took time.

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

Jonathan: Michael Myers still scares the daylights out of me. So does Jerry Dandridge from the original Fright Night. I love werewolves in general, so the one in Silver Bullet, for instance used to really give me the willies. Oh, and The Thing was awesome because it’s this hostile intelligence and always changing.

Meghan: Which unsolved murder fascinates you the most?

Jonathan: Wow. Tough one. There were a pair of murders in my hometown of Delphi, Indiana (which is known as Shadeland in Children of the Dark) that remain unsolved, so for several reasons I want that killer to be caught. Two adolescent girls lost their lives, so it’s an unspeakable tragedy.

Meghan: Which urban legend scares you the most?

Jonathan: I don’t know if this qualifies, but Spring-Heeled Jack has always fascinated me. I love the uniqueness of his powers and the mysterious, fantastical nature of his abilities. I’d like to write a novel about it someday.

Meghan: Who is your favorite serial killer and why?

Jonathan: Well, I probably wouldn’t say that any would be my favorite, but the most fascinating has to be Jack the Ripper. So much of that has to do with the surreptitious nature of the crimes, the Whitechapel setting, the myriad theories about the killer’s identity, and the fact that it remains unsolved. I also think the clothing of the time and the fog add to the mystique.

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

Jonathan: Probably something like The Omen, which scared the crap out of me. I vividly remember watching The Twilight Zone when I was little, especially Nightmare at 20,000 Feet. Also the one where there’s an alien in the café and the one where the woman is going to have plastic surgery because (supposedly) she’s so hideous. Those shows truly impacted me. They scared me to death but they absolutely absorbed me and compelled me to keep watching despite my terror.

As far as the first horror book, that one’s easy: Stephen King’s The Tommyknockers. That book changed everything for me. Not long after that, I read ‘Salem’s Lot, The Stand, The Dead Zone, The Shining, Night Shift, Carrie, The Gunslinger, Skeleton Crew, Pet Sematary, and It. Essentially, the first twenty books I read were all by Stephen King, so he’s the reason I’m where I am today. He made me a reader, a writer, and an English teacher. Regarding the way those stories made me feel…for the first time, I felt smart when I was reading those books. Obviously, I was entertained too. And mesmerized and unsettled and transfixed. Those books were revelations to me.

Meghan: Which horror novel unsettled you the most?

Jonathan: Ah, nice question! Let’s see…I’m going to say The Girl Next Door. Jack Ketchum/Dallas Mayr had a way of going to the core of an issue and showing us what he found there, without flinching. That book made me cringe, put it down, return to it reluctantly, despair for humankind, and weep for what happened to that poor young woman.

Meghan: Which horror movie scarred you for life?

Jonathan: This one is easy, though it’s surprisingly recent. It’s called Lake Mungo, and it’s a slow-burn faux-documentary that’s at turns depressing, unnerving, and flat-out terrifying. There’s a moment in the film I keep replaying in my head to an unhealthy, obsessive degree. When I wake up in the middle of the night, I’m afraid to see this face coming out of the dark. So even though I’m an adult…I might just be permanently scarred by Lake Mungo.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween costume?

Jonathan: I had a chintzy Godzilla costume when I was really little. Cheap as hell, the sharp plastic mask with the string. But I loved it, felt like I was a fire-breathing monster when I wore it. I loved that costume and love it still.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween-themed song?

Jonathan: Got to be “This Is Halloween,” though some of the tracks from Halloween are in the running. The song I referred to earlier I think is called “Laurie’s Theme,” though I could be wrong about that.

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

Jonathan: My favorite candy altogether is Dots, so because I sometimes get to eat those on Halloween, I’ll go with Dots. Other favorites include Snickers, Twizzlers, Reese’s Cups, and Kit Kats. Disappointing candy? I can’t think of any.

Meghan: Thanks again for stopping by today. As always, it was an absolute pleasure having you here. Before you go, what is your go-to Halloween movie and book?

Jonathan:
Top Halloween Movie: Halloween (1978): I know this is an uncreative answer, but Carpenter’s original film is just perfect. What I appreciate is how Carpenter treats the quieter moments, not just the kills. That film just drips atmosphere.

Top Halloween Book: Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury. Look, there are many great Halloween stories, but this one feels perfect for Halloween. I love the evocation of the small town, the friendship, the father-son relationship, those cusp-of-adulthood themes, and of course the sinister elements in the book. Basically, it’s perfect. I taught it for a few years to freshmen, and they ate it up. It’s a timeless novel.


Boo-graphy:
Jonathan Janz is the author of more than a dozen novels and numerous short stories. His work has been championed by authors like Joe R. Lansdale, Jack Ketchum, and Brian Keene; he has also been lauded by Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, and School Library Journal. His ghost story The Siren and the Specter was selected as a Goodreads Choice nominee for Best Horror. Additionally, his novel Children of the Dark was chosen by Booklist as a Top Ten Horror Book of the Year. Jonathan’s main interests are his wonderful wife and his three amazing children.

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