AUTHOR INTERVIEW: CM Saunders

Meghan: Hey, Chris. Welcome back to Meghan’s HAUNTED House of Books. Thank you for once again taking part in our annual Halloween Extravaganza. Tell us about this new release I’ve been hearing about.

Chris: That would be X5. As the title suggests, it’s my fifth collection of short fiction. Most of the stories have appeared in magazines or anthologies before, and it’s a great feeling to package them up together and give them a new lease of life.

Meghan: What’s your favorite story in X5 and why?

Chris: You know how some people say you should love all your kids the same? Well, that’s bullshit, we all have favourites, and the same applies to stories. There’s one called Subject #270374, which I wrote about doing a drug trial in London making the story an (un)healthy mix of fact and fiction. It was a very weird experience, and fully merited having a horror story written about it. It first appeared in the anthology DOA3 on Bloodbound Books.

Meghan: What is your favorite part of Halloween?

Chris: I have a tradition where I stay up all night and watch horror movies. It doesn’t matter whether I’m alone or with someone else. That’s what I’ve always done, and that’s what I will continue to do. It can be a problem if I have work the next day!

Meghan: Do you get scared easily?

Chris: Only by centipedes and beautiful women.

Meghan: What is the scariest movie you’ve ever seen and why?

Chris: I remember watching the original Evil Dead as a teenager and being absolutely terrified. The whole concept of being the only survivor in the middle of nowhere having to overcome so many unnatural horrors  having just seen all your friends get either killed or possessed is just grim.

Meghan: Which horror movie murder did you find the most disturbing?

Chris: I don’t really find horror movies disturbing. It’s just a movie, right? Right?

Meghan: Is there a horror movie you refused to watch because the commercials scared you too much?

Chris: Unfortunately not.

Meghan: If you got trapped in one scary movie, which would you choose?

Chris: Without a doubt, Lost Boys. Come on, it was the eighties. That movie struck the perfect balance between style, substance and cheese. It made vampires cool before they were cool.

Meghan: If you were stuck as the protagonist in any horror movie, which would you choose?

Chris: Probably Jason Vorhees, because he just keeps on trucking.

Meghan: What is your all-time favorite scary monster or creature of the night?

Chris: Werewolf. Can you imagine having a friend who was a werewolf? I think, depending on the nature of your relationship, every full moon it would would cease to be scary and start being hilarious. The level of banter would be unprecedented.

Meghan: What is your favorite horror or Halloween-themed song?

Chris: Anything from the Disintegration album by the Cure. It’s brilliant, but so bleak and atmospheric. If dying sounds like anything, it probably sounds like that. It would also be the perfect soundtrack to anything remotely scary.

Meghan: Which horror novel unsettled you the most?

Chris: The Troop by Nick Cutter. If you’ve read it, you’ll know why.

Meghan: What is the creepiest thing that’s ever happened while you were alone?

Chris: I once woke up with scratches on my back in places I couldn’t reach, all in sets of three. I concluded that I had been the victim of a demonic attack, and thanked my lucky stars I’d been asleep when it happened because I don’t want to see that shit.

Meghan: Which unsolved mystery fascinates you the most?

Chris: There are so many. For a species that’s supposed to be intelligent, people leave a lot of questions unanswered; Jack the Ripper, Dyatlov Pass, the Bermuda Triangle, the JonBenet Ramsey murder, the 411 disappearances, and whatever is going down at the Winchester Mystery House. Top of the pile, though, is WTH happened to Flight MH370. I’ve read a couple of books on it, and they all agree there was a lot going on behind the scenes. Those poor people might just have been collateral damage.

Meghan: In a zombie apocalypse, what is your weapon of choice?

Chris: It would be easy to say some sort of assault rifle or machine gun, or even a sniper’s rifle enabling you to take zombies out from distance? But what happens when you run out of bullets? Then you would be in a world of hurt. For that reason, maybe a sword would be better, especially up close. One good swipe could take out a whole family of rotters.

Meghan: Okay, let’s have some fun… Would you rather get bitten by a vampire or a werewolf?

Chris: Vampire, because then I could party all night, sleep all day, and live forever (or until someone rams a wooden stakes through my heart). I know they say that if you’re bitten by a werewolf you turn into one at the next full moon, but most of the werewolf victims I see in movies just get torn to pieces. That’s no fun. No fun at all.

Meghan: Would you rather fight a zombie apocalypse or an alien invasion?

Chris: Zombies. Aliens are more likely to exist, but they’re an unknown quantity. They might be capable of anything. You know where you are with a horde of zombies so theoretically you’re more likely to come through.

Meghan: Would you rather drink zombie juice or eat dead bodies from the graveyard?

Chris: Zombie juice, please. It sounds like a Halloween cocktail. We can always put some vodka in it to give it a bit of a kick.

Meghan: Would you rather stay at the Poltergeist house or the Amityville house for a week?

Chris: Ooh, Amityville! I was greatly affected by the original Amityville Horror and it looks like a beautiful house. The poltergeist house is suburbia personified. Boring.

Meghan: Would you rather chew on a bitter melon with chilies or maggot-infested cheese?

Chris: I love chilies! I think the maggot-infested would depend on the maggots. There’s an Italian cheese called Casu martzu which has live maggots in it. Google it. I am a huge fan of cheese, but that’s gross. I have a line.

Meghan: Would you rather drink from a witch’s cauldron or lick cotton candy made of spider webs?

Chris: Dunno. What’s in the cauldron? Is it all eye of newt and toe of frog, etc? If so, I’ll go with that. I lived in China for ten years and I ate all that stuff anyway. One day a friend of mine told me she was coming over to cook a ‘special’ meal, and then she turned up with a pig’s snout.

Boo-graphy: Christian Saunders, a constant reader who writes fiction as C.M. Saunders, is a freelance journalist and editor from south Wales. His work has appeared in almost 100 magazines, ezines and anthologies worldwide including Fortean Times, the Literary Hatchet, ParABnormal, Fantastic Horror, Haunted MTL, Feverish Fiction and Crimson Streets, and he has held staff positions at several leading UK magazines ranging from Staff Writer to Associate Editor. His books have been both traditionally and independently published.

The fifth volume in my X series featuring ten (X, geddit?) slices of twisted horror and dark fiction plucked from the blood-soaked pages of ParABnormal magazine, Demonic Tome, Haunted MTL, Fantasia Diversity, and industry-defining anthologies including 100 Word Horrors, The Corona Book of Ghost Stories, DOA 3, and Trigger Warning: Body Horror.

Meet the local reporter on an assignment which takes him far beyond the realms of reality, join the fishing trip that goes sideways when a fish unlike any other is hooked, and find out the hidden cost of human trafficking in China. Along the way, meet the hiker who stumbles across something unexpected in the woods, the office worker who’s life is inexorably changed after a medical drug trial goes wrong, and many more.

Also features extensive notes, and original artwork by Stoker award-winning Greg Chapman.

Table of Contents:
Demon Tree
Revenge of the Toothfish
Surzhai
The Sharpest Tool
Something Bad
Down the Road
Coming Around
Where a Town Once Stood
The Last Night Shift
Subject #270374
Afterword

X X2 X3 X4 X5

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.