AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Joseph Sale

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

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

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

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

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween tradition?

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

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

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

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

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

Meghan: What are you superstitious about?

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

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

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

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

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

Meghan: Which unsolved murder fascinates you the most?

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

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

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

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

Meghan: Which urban legend scares you the most?

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

Meghan: Who is your favorite serial killer and why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meghan: Which horror novel unsettled you the most?

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

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

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

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

Meghan: Which horror movie scarred you for life?

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

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

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

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween costume?

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

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween-themed song?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Boo-graphy:
Joseph Sale is a novelist and writing coach. His first novel, The Darkest Touch, was published by Dark Hall Press in 2014. He currently writes and is published with The Writing Collective. He has authored more than ten novels, including his Black Gate trilogy, and his fantasy epic Dark Hilarity. He grew up in he Lovecraftian seaside town of Bournemouth.

His short fiction has appeared in Tales from the Shadow Booth, edited by Dan Coxon, as well as in Idle Ink, Silver Blade, Fiction Vortex, Nonbinary Review, Edgar Allan Poet and Storgy Magazine. His stories have also appeared in anthologies such as You Are Not Alone (Storgy), Lost Voices (The Writing Collective), Technological Horror (Dark Hall Press), Burnt Fur (Blood Bound Books) and Exit Earth (Storgy). In 2017 he was nominated for The Guardian’s Not the Booker prize.

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

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GUEST BOOK REVIEW by Romana Drew: The Haunting of Hill House

First published in 1959, Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House has been hailed as a perfect work of unnerving terror. It is the story of four seekers who arrive at a notoriously unfriendly pile called Hill House: Dr. Montague, an occult scholar looking for solid evidence of a “haunting”; Theodora, his lighthearted assistant; Eleanor, a friendless, fragile young woman well acquainted with poltergeists; and Luke, the future heir of Hill House. At first, their stay seems destined to be merely a spooky encounter with inexplicable phenomena. But Hill House is gathering its powers—and soon it will choose one of them to make its own.

Author: Shirley Jackson
Genre: Horror, Gothic
Publisher: The Penguin Group (Penguin Classics)
Publication Date: 11.28.2006 (1st published 10.16.1959)
Pages: 182


“Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more.”

I first read this book when I was twelve. Rereading it as an adult has given me a different perspective and greater appreciation for the book.

Kathy and I sat on my bed and read The Haunting of Hill House aloud. I read one chapter, and she read the next, I think. Memory can play tricks. Kathy wasn’t much interested in books. I may have read it to her? It really doesn’t matter. I read it while sitting on my bed when I was twelve.

As I started reading it this time, I realized that I didn’t remember the beginning or the ending, only that I was scared. Hill House was haunted and creepy. I was genuinely frightened about what might happen next but couldn’t stop reading.

I don’t think my twelve-year-old self realized that this book is so much more than just a scary story.

Dr. Montague invites several people to spend a summer with him in the supposedly haunted Hill House. Two women, Theodora and Elenore, accept. Luke, whose family owns the house, joins the party. Mr. and Mrs. Dudley, the daytime caretakers, complete the initial cast.

Dr. Montague is a thoughtful, careful researcher with a penchant for studying supernatural manifestations. Theodora is a free spirit looking for adventure. Luke is an ordinary young man here to keep an eye on the guests. But life has not been kind to Elenore. Lost, forgotten, and cast aside, Visiting Hill House is the only adventure she ever has, the only time she makes her own decisions.

The view from inside Elenore’s mind is often chilling. Some people are resilient. They can weather great tragedies or difficult living conditions, stay sane, and recover. Elenore isn’t one of those people.

Too many unexplained things happen at Hill House to make this just the ramblings of Elenore’s misfiring brain. Cold spots, things that go bump in the night, and shared hallucinations, suggest that Hill House itself has a mind or at least the ability to control the minds of its occupants.

This book was written in 1959 when men tended to dominate women. That attitude is well represented in The Haunting of Hill House. Neither Theodora nor Elenore see it as anything out of the ordinary. I doubt that my younger self noticed.

I think my younger self saw Elenore as being driven bonkers by Hill House. My older self sees her as a tragic and complex character deserving of understanding and sympathy.

The story develops slowly, taking plenty of time to flesh out the characters and set the scene before anything unexplained happens. The first manifestations are harmless, but the tension keeps building.

Hill House is dark, claustrophobic, and alive. If you visit, don’t stay after dark.

The book deserves its status as a classic. The Haunting of Hill House will leave you thinking about the house and the other characters for a long time.


Boo-graphy:
Romana Drew is a retired park ranger. She lives in California with her husband where they raise baby squirrels for the wildlife care center she runs. When asked, she could go into detail about her background and education, but finds that to be rather boring. What she will say is that she is quiet and loves the outdoors. When she’s not drawing pictures, she writes about fictional worlds, aliens, and other fantastic things that her imagination pours into her mind.

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End of Innocence
Lenea’s brother spends every clear night pointing a telescope at the same stars. When she confronts him, he lets her look through the telescope. A small sliver speck changes course, slows, and merges with a larger silvery spot.

In that brief moment, her life changes. Her brother spies on space aliens! Soon she learns the aliens have a settlement in the Kenned Valley, and that her boyfriend monitors their communications.

What do they want, and can her world survive?

The Marauders of Sazile
Aliens, called Hocalie, come to Earth, cute, furry, and apparently harmless. They didn’t even bring weapons. They say they’re searching for one person to represent Earth at the Intergalactic Trade Center on Rosat. The right person.

Thousands of people apply. Earth’s governments vie to get their representatives picked. The Hocalie listen to all the suggestions. Then they choose Robin Mayfield, a young artist. Only after they are in space, and it is too late to turn back, do they tell Robin why they picked her. The Hocalie believe that only she can stop an intragalactic war. But they won’t tell her how she is supposed to do that.

No one knows who the Marauders are or why they are attacking different worlds. They appear out of nowhere to attack then disappear just as fast. They never make any effort to communicate and never respond to any form of communication.

The Marauders of Sazile is a fast-paced space adventure. The Hocalie are ever so gentle, but clever enough to hold their own against even the worst enemy. The Langons are technologically advanced but arrogant, self-centered, and domineering. The Marauders only want their world back.

Throughout her adventures, Robin keeps a journal. She also draws pictures of the people and places she visits. The Marauders of Sazile is Robin’s Journal. Some of her illustrations are included.

GUEST BOOK REVIEW by Karissa Laurel: The Haunting of Hill House & NOS4A2

Reviewing Horror Novels:
Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson & NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

I was working on an interview post for Meghan about Halloween, and that got me in the mood for a good horror story. Since I listen to way more audiobooks than I can afford to buy, I often rely on my library to supplement my Audible diet. When I went searching on my library’s audiobook app, I stumbled across The Hunting of Hill House. While I’m familiar with Shirley Jackson and the story on which a terrible 90s movie and a pretty good recent Netflix series is based, I’ve never actually read the source material. So, I decided it was time to remedy that.

I’m glad I did. Hill House is clearly a foundational story in the horror genre, particularly the hunted house sub-genre. You can see Jackson’s inspiration in so many stories that came after hers. Stephen King openly admits Hill House was a big influence on The Shining, for example. Eleanor and Danny Torrance have a lot in common. So does Hill House and Overlook Hotel.

If you know nothing about The Haunting of Hill House, here’s a blurb: “It is the story of four [paranormal activity] seekers who arrive at a notoriously unfriendly pile [abandoned mansion] called Hill House: Dr. Montague, an occult scholar looking for solid evidence of a “haunting”; Theodora, the lighthearted assistant; Eleanor, a friendless, fragile young woman well acquainted with poltergeists; and Luke, the future heir of Hill House. At first, their stay seems destined to be merely a spooky encounter with inexplicable phenomena. But Hill House is gathering its powers—and soon it will choose one of them to make its own.”

The main protagonist is Eleanor, who has an extremely sensitive connection to the house. Jackson, however, leaves what the house actually is, and what the haunting actually is, very much up to the reader’s interpretation. Read carefully from here on… my discussion will contain spoilers. For me the fact that Jackson made a point of mentioning Eleanor’s childhood “poltergeist” experience (an avalanche of rocks rained on Eleanor’s childhood home without any clear source or reason) meant it was Jackson‘s intent to show that the “haunting” at Hill House wasn’t entirely inside Eleanor’s head. Plus the book clearly states the other members of the party were witnesses the haunting events (beating on doors, vandalism of Theodora’s clothes, writing on the walls in what seemed like blood, a frigid cold presence that sucked the warmth out of rooms). Whether Eleanor is the poltergeist herself–she might be some kind of telekinetic–or is highly psychically sensitive to those kinds of energies is what’s so wonderfully ambiguous in this story. Ambiguousness plays a big part in heightening the story’s sensations of terror and dread, and it’s often my most favorite tool in horror.

I decided that, for me, I believe Eleanor was psychically sensitive to the energies of the house, which had a history and reputation for malevolence long before Eleanor’s arrival. Those energies manipulated her specifically because of her vulnerabilities and sensitivities.

The arrival of Ms. Montague (Dr. Montague’s wife and a self-proclaimed spiritualist/psychic) seemed to underscore this—she was the embodiment of dramatic irony. She was so insistent that the others in the party had no psychic ability. However, when she worked with “planchette” (as in a Ouija Board planchette), all the information Ms. Montague received from it had to do with “Nell” i.e, Eleanor, which proved how physically sensitive Eleanor was and how obtuse Ms. Montague actually was even, although she believed the opposite about herself. This irony was one of my favorite devices in the story. The results from Ms. Montague’s consultations with “planchette” were yet another clue that the things happening to Eleanor were not completely in Eleanor’s head. Yet, it also served to further muddy how much of what happened in the house was Eleanor’s doing and how much was the house itself.

In the end, it’s my belief that (BIG SPOILER) Eleanor’s spirit becomes a part of the house’s energies along with those of the others who died there before her. I think before her death, Eleanor was already starting to become a part of the house’s sentience, as if the house were absorbing her and vice versa. The house is basically an amalgam of all the people it victimized over the years.

I can’t believe it took me this many years to finally get around to reading this book, but I’m glad I did. It’s such a cultural touchpoint, I think it should be expected reading as much as Dickens or Shakespeare or Faulkner or Steinbeck, etc. It’s also interesting in its themes of female sexuality. It’s definitely ahead of it’s time and such a masterful portrayal of the “human condition”. I’ll fight anyone who says genre fiction can’t represent the human experience as well as literary fiction. Haunting of Hill House should prove all genre naysayers wrong.

After finishing Hill House, which was indeed very literary in tone and style, I was still in the horror mood, so I went back to my library app and found N0S4A2, which has showed up repeatedly over the years in lists of “best horror novels”. The book is by Joe Hill, who is Stephen King’s son. It’s written in a much more commercial and accessible style, and Hill is clearly influenced by the works of his father. So, if you’re a King fan, which I am, you might enjoy Hill’s books, too.

Again, for those who may be unfamiliar, here’s a blurb (with which I have taken great liberties):

Victoria “Vic” McQueen, a deeply flawed woman who spends most of the novel in a state of perpetual denial, has an uncanny knack for finding things using a Raleigh Tuff Burner bike and a magical covered bridge. Joe Hill is, as I mentioned, Stephen King’s son, so it’s no surprise this story is set in New England, and what is a New England story without a covered bridge?

The magic bridge eventually takes Vic to Charles Talent Manx, a soul sucking vampiric creature-person who drives a cool old Rolls Royce Wraith that’s a lot like Kit from Knight Rider if Kit were possessed by a demon. Or, you know, kind of like that evil 1958 Plymouth Fury in Christine, a book by Joe Hill’s dad. Anyway, Charlie Manx likes kids but not in that “kiddie fiddler” kind of way that everyone wrongly accuses him of, and he kidnaps and takes the kids to a perpetual childhood in “Christmasland” (Hint: Christmasland isn’t as fun as it sounds). Helping him is the “Gasmask Man”, a simple-minded, childlike man who really, really hates women, especially “Mommies,” and does everything he can to torture and abuse them throughout the book. Fun times.

Manx sees Vic as a threat and tries to do bad things to her, but Victoria manages to escape and spends decades dealing, poorly, with the emotional trauma of her magical abilities and her near-death run-in with Manx and Gasmask Man. She has some good times, even manages to fall in love with a wonderful cinnamon roll of a man (seriously, Lou is the best character in the book), and she writes some successful children’s novels (that sound so cool they should exist in real life), but literal demons from her past haunt her into near insanity, and her life starts falling apart.

Eventually Vic, Manx, and Gasmask Man have their final showdown when Manx, still pissed that Victoria got away from him all those years ago, comes to seek his revenge. She puts on her big girl panties long enough to get stabbed, burned, beaten, and broken a whole lot before she finally goes Grinch all over Manx’s Christmasland.

I’m not going to lie. I struggled with this book. There was a time when I had more patience and tolerance for horror that used misogyny as one of its elements. That the misogyny was presented as an evil thing that came from the “bad guys” who may or may not meet justice for their violent hateful ways isn’t enough justification for me anymore. I don’t have much stomach left for premises that are predicated on violence against children and women (mothers in particular). I feel like we’ve been victims in media far too long, and I’m just so tired of that trope.

That Vic, a woman and a mother, turns out to be a righteous hero (somewhat of an anti-hero at times) was perhaps a redeeming element. She’s a complex character, written well. She and Lou, a great gentle giant of a man who was a great contrast to the woman hating violence of Manx and Gasmask Man, are what made the book worth finishing. There were more than a few times when I wanted to give up on it, but Lou and Vic were worth rooting for.

I might read The Haunting of Hill House again in the future. It’s the kind of book that will, I suspect, stand up to re-reading and will reveal new secrets and themes and elements upon future study. For me, N0S4A2 has none of that. Not that a good entertaining book needs to be deep or literary to be worthwhile. The kinds of books I write don’t stand up to long term scrutiny either. But as far as horror goes, phycological terror always appeals to me more than bloody violence and gore. For that reason alone, I definitely recommend The Haunting of Hill House over N0S4A2. But, I think any well rounded reader, especially ones who are fond of horror, would get something out of reading both.


Boo-graphy:
Karissa Laurel lives in North Carolina with her kid, her husband, the occasional in-law, and a very hairy husky named Bonnie. Some of her favorite things are coffee, dark chocolate, superheroes, and Star Wars. She can quote Princess Bride verbatim. In the summer, she’s camping, kayaking, and boating at the lake, and in the winter, she’s skiing or curled up with a good book. She is the author of the Urban Fantasy trilogy, The Norse Chronicles; Touch of Smoke, a stand-alone paranormal romance; and The Stormbourne Chronicles, a YA second-world fantasy trilogy.

Serendipity at the End of the World
Serendipity Blite and her sister, Bloom, use their unique talents to survive the apocalyptic aftermath of the Dead Disease. When Bloom is kidnapped, Sera is determined to get her back. Attempting a rescue mission in an undead-infested city would be suicidal, so Sera forms a specialized team to help retrieve her sister. But unfortunate accident sets Sera teetering on the edge of death. She must fight to save her own life, because surviving could mean finding family, love, and possibly a cure.

You can find it on Kindle Vella
New episodes come out every Saturday

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Karissa Laurel

Meghan: Hey, Karissa! Welcome to Meghan’s HAUNTED House of Books! What is your favorite part of Halloween?

Karissa: I like that Halloween makes it culturally acceptable to indulge the darker side of our human natures. We can explore our feelings about monstrous and evil things without explicitly approving of them. The world is both light and dark, and most of the times we’re not supposed to acknowledge the dark stuff, but on Halloween, it’s acceptable.

I also love the aesthetics of Halloween—skeletons and bats and spiders and gothic clothing. I love costumes and how, for one night, you can be something or someone completely different. I love the idea of trick-or-treating, that we let down our guards and open our homes, even temporarily, to the community. It’s one activity that will never work as a virtual, on-line event. You only get the candy if you’re willing to go door to door and actually meet your neighbors. Some people hate that part of it, but I always liked the human interaction aspect of trick-or-treating.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween tradition?

Karissa: In my day job, I work in an office in a historical home in the downtown area of my city. My office/house is adjacent to one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city, and that neighborhood goes ALL OUT at Halloween. They put up very elaborate decorations. The city shuts down one of the main streets in the neighborhood to keep cars out, and there’s a huge street party and tons and tons of trick-or-treating. Ever since I started working near that neighborhood about six years ago, I’ve been taking my family there on Halloween night. My kid is too old to trick-or-treat any more, but we enjoy going to see the decorations and the costumes. There’s also a Krispy Kreme nearby and we always stop in and grab some of the Halloween themed donuts.

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

Karissa: I don’t know that I have a favorite holiday because there’s something I like about most of them. I guess, if I had to choose, I like Thanksgiving most of all because it’s all the best stuff about Christmas but without all the commerciality and pressure to spend money and give gifts. I love to eat, I love spending time with my family, and there are fewer expectations. But Halloween might be my second favorite (even though we don’t get any days off from work for it. Why not? Who do I send a petition to about that?) because of all the things mentioned previously. So many holidays are similar, but there’s nothing else quite like Halloween, culturally speaking. It’s all about having fun, letting loose, indulging in fantasies.

Meghan: What are you superstitious about?

Karissa: I am not really a superstitious person, although I do sometimes feel afraid to acknowledge out loud when something is going well or when I’ve had a streak of good fortune. Some part of me seems to think that acknowledging good luck is the fastest way of making sure that good luck comes to an end. But I’m not afraid of anything like broken mirrors, walking under ladders, or black cats.

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

Karissa: This is a hard one, mainly because there are so many good ones. I conferred with my kid (who is 19 y.o. and not much of a kid anymore) and he chose the demon from the Jeepers Creepers franchise, and I agree he’s a good choice. He only shows up every so often, but once he does, he’s impossible to kill. No matter what you do (like run him over with the car until he’s pulp in the road), he just keeps coming back. And he has the scariest face ever. That is some quality special effects make-up right there.

But while the Creeper is high on my list, I think Tim Curry’s performance as the demon clown in Stephen King’s It is probably top of my list. He was utterly terrifying in the most subtle way. He could just stand there in his clown make-up and pointy yellow teeth and scare the bejeezus out of me.

Meghan: Which unsolved murder fascinates you the most?

Karissa: I do watch quite a lot of true crime shows and listen to podcasts, but I can’t say there’s one that really fascinates me more than another. I was intrigued by the story of Hae Min Lee’s death, and whether or not Adnan Syed, convicted for killing her, really did it. Check out Season one of the Serial podcast for the whole story. I have to say, based on what I’ve heard and what we know in the years since…I think there’s a really good chance Adnan didn’t do it.

Meghan: Which urban legend scares you the most?

Karissa: Not so much an urban legend but when I was little, I had a book of local, North Carolina ghost stories that fascinated me. Ever since then, I’ve had a special place in my heart for local stories like the Devil’s Tramping Ground and The Maco Light.

The Devil’s Tramping Ground is a camping spot located in a forest near the Harper’s Crossroads area in Bear Creek, North Carolina. Lore says that the Devil “tramps” and haunts a barren circle of ground in which nothing is supposed to grow. Things left there will disappear overnight. Of course, there are some scientific explanations for why this place is so strange, but speculating about the devil is more forum

As for the Maco Light, according to the most common version of the legend, Joe Baldwin was in the rear car of a Wilmington, NC-bound train on a rainy night in 1867. As the train neared Maco, Baldwin realized the car had become detached from the rest of the train. He knew another train was following, so he ran to the rear platform and frantically waved a lantern to signal the oncoming train. The engineer failed to see the stranded railroad car in time, and Baldwin was decapitated in the collision. Some say the head was never found

Shortly after the accident, residents of Maco and railroad employees reported sightings of a white light along a section of railroad track through swamps west of Maco station, and word spread that Joe Baldwin had returned to search for his missing head. The light was said to appear in the distance, before approaching along the tracks facing East, bobbing at a height of about 5 feet, and either flying to the side of the track in an arc or receding from the viewer. Other reports spoke of green or red lights, or other patterns of movement

Meghan: Who is your favorite serial killer and why?

Karissa: Although I like true crime a lot, I don’t tend to care for serial killer stories. It’s one thing to get a thrill from a fictional murderer like Mike Myers, but I don’t like anything that smacks of glorification of real-life killers in any sort of way. I tend to shy away from serial killer mythology.

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

Karissa: I probably had seen movies that were considered horror at an earlier age, but don’t remember anything specific. However, I do remember having a Halloween sleepover with some girlfriends when I was in middle school, I was probably about 12 years-old, and my mom let us rent The Lost Boys. I was absolutely enthralled. I don’t know if that can actually be considered a horror movie, but Kiefer Sutherland and his band of vampire misfits were certainly no vegetarian, sparkly Twilight vampires. I still love that movie to this day.

I can’t specifically remember when I picked up my first horror novel, but I do remember that The Berenstain Bears and the Spooky Old Tree was one of my most favorite books as a little kid—I was always drawn to spooky things and didn’t scare easily. I read way ahead of my grade level, and I grew up reading Stephen King, Christopher Pike, V.C. Andrews, and Dean Koontz. My mom was very open minded about reading, and I have no memory of her discouraging me from reading anything.

Meghan: Which horror novel unsettled you the most?

As a kid, I remember reading The Tommyknockers by Stephen King and being so freaked out that I had to go outside in the daylight to finish reading it. But the most recent thing I’ve read that made me feel deeply unsettled is The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones. The whole book is full of moments that took my outside of myself in a frightening, disturbing way, but there is a climactic chase scene near the end that is one of the most downright horrifying things I’ve read in a long, long time. Jones establishes a prolonged period of heightened tension that is torturous, but in a really good way, and it’s never boring or tedious. If you love horror and haven’t read that book yet, you must.

I also have to shout out to I Am Legend by Richard Matheson. It’s nothing like the Will Smith movie, by the way. It’s one of the most gorgeously written books I’ve ever read and filled me with so much existential dread. It’s also extremely timely and relatable to the current pandemic culture we’re all experiencing.

Meghan: Which horror movie scarred you for life?

Karissa: Horror, like comedy, is highly subjective, right? What scares one person won’t scare the next. I’ve watched tons of horror over the years and little of it has actually scared me. However, I can’t stand movies that are classified as horror but are actually just torture porn, such as House of 1000 Corpses. My husband, when we first started dating years ago, asked me to watch that movie with him and his friends. I ended up putting a blanket over my head and going to sleep instead of watching it. It didn’t scare me so much as sicken me. I still won’t go anywhere near that franchise, and I’m reluctant to watch any Rob Zombie productions because of that movie.

I wouldn’t say it scarred me, but George A. Romero’s ’68 Night of the Living Dead scared the crap out of my when I saw it years ago. It still gives me chills, and it’s still my favorite zombie movie, ever. With little in the way of special effects and nothing like CGI even remotely possible, Romero had to be clever. He used music and sound effects, lighting, and careful pacing to create a highly atmospheric movie that is thick with dread and horror. The opening scene, with that slow shambling zombie in the background, out of focus, slowly coming closer and closer… That was pure cinematic genius. I still prefer it over newer zombie movies that rely too much on CGI.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween costume?

Karissa: As a kid, I was kind of spoiled and precocious about costumes. My mom was crafty and could sew. I always insisted that she make me one-of-a-kind costumes, and she indulged me. The biggest hit of my childhood costume career was when I went as a whole bag of M&Ms. My mom sewed me a costume that looked like a classic bag of regular M&Ms complete with the logo and barcode—it was kind of like a giant, brown, rectangular dress. I painted my face to look like a green M&M poking out of the top and put M&Ms made from balloons on my shoulders. I won a costume contest, and my mom sent pictures of me to the Mars chocolate company that owns M&Ms. They sent back stickers, coupons, and a personalized thank you letter.

I don’t sew like my mom can, but I like making things, so I’ve managed to make some pretty good costumes for my kid over the years. He’s been Popeye (that was a big hit with the old folks in my neighborhood), a Ghost Buster, the Ghost Rider, Gene Simmons from Kiss, and many more. When I used to work in a bigger office, I once made fancy witch hats for all the ladies in my section to wear on Halloween.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween-themed song?

Karissa: Easily the answer to that is Thriller. I am Gen-X and was a little kid when that album came out. I loved everything Michael Jackson in those days. I didn’t see the video until I was a little older, maybe around seven or eight years old, and I remember being absolutely captivated by it. I still love the song and the video after all these years, even when it’s not Halloween.

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

Karissa: When my son was still trick-or-treating, I always looked forward to taking his Mounds or Almond Joys. I love coconut, but he didn’t, so it worked out well for me to take those and leave the rest for him. I especially like Mounds because I prefer dark chocolate. I absolutely cannot stand Twizzlers. They taste like wax to me. Ugh.

Meghan: Karissa, this was fantastic! Thanks for stopping by. Before you go, can you leave us with your go-to Halloween movies and books?

Karissa:

Top Ten Horror/Halloween Movies:
10 The Cabin in the Woods
9 It (The 1990 Miniseries)
8 Jeepers Creepers
7 Blade (1 and 2)
6 Bram Stoker’s Dracula
5 Three Witches of Eastwick
4 The Lost Boys
3 Alien (I and 2, especially 2)
2 Tumbbad
1 Night of the Living Dead (Romero, 1968)

Top Halloween Books:
10 The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux (much more terrifying than the musical version)
9 Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant
8 Dracula by Bram Stoker
7 Prodigal Son (Frankenstein Series) by Dean Koontz
7 The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
6 The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris
5 The Tommyknockers by Stephen King
4 Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King
3 The Sandman by Neil Gaiman (The BBC audio production is wonderful)
2 The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones
1 I am Legend by Richard Matheson


Boo-graphy:
Karissa Laurel lives in North Carolina with her kid, her husband, the occasional in-law, and a very hairy husky named Bonnie. Some of her favorite things are coffee, dark chocolate, superheroes, and Star Wars. She can quote Princess Bride verbatim. In the summer, she’s camping, kayaking, and boating at the lake, and in the winter, she’s skiing or curled up with a good book. She is the author of the Urban Fantasy trilogy, The Norse Chronicles; Touch of Smoke, a stand-alone paranormal romance; and The Stormbourne Chronicles, a YA second-world fantasy trilogy.

Serendipity at the End of the World
Serendipity Blite and her sister, Bloom, use their unique talents to survive the apocalyptic aftermath of the Dead Disease. When Bloom is kidnapped, Sera is determined to get her back. Attempting a rescue mission in an undead-infested city would be suicidal, so Sera forms a specialized team to help retrieve her sister. But unfortunate accident sets Sera teetering on the edge of death. She must fight to save her own life, because surviving could mean finding family, love, and possibly a cure.

You can find it on Kindle Vella
New episodes come out every Saturday

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Robert Essig

Meghan: Hey Robert. Welcome to this year’s Halloween Extravaganza. Thanks for agreeing to stop by today. What is your favorite part of Halloween?

Robert: When I was young trick ‘r treating was my favorite part. As an adult with a child, it still is. I like going out and wandering through neighborhoods (I live in the sticks these days, so I have to find a neighborhood for my son to trick ‘r treat in), and seeing all the costumes and houses decorated. In some neighborhoods people just get it, and they almost all decorate and hang out outside. I remember one year someone was walking around aimlessly in a Michael Myers costume, just sort of creeping up on people. It was great.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween tradition?

Robert: Watching John Carpenter’s Halloween, preferably on Halloween night, but certainly once or twice in the month of October doesn’t hurt. I’ve seen the movie countless times and I love it every single viewing. Just hearing the score puts me into a serious Halloween mood.

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

Robert: I’ve always loved spooky shit. Always. When I was a kid I loved those old Disney cartoons with dancing skeletons and ghosts and stuff. Halloween’s that time of year when everyone digs creepy stuff for a night (well, almost everyone).

Meghan: What are you superstitious about?

Robert: Nothing. I’ve never been one for superstition. I mean, I used to pick up pennies thinking I’d have good luck, used to knock on wood, but I think it’s all horseshit these days.

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

Robert: Nowadays that would probably be Jarod from House of Wax with Vincent Price. An artist with useless hands after a fire who kills for his art, but has the persona of a kind and gentle man. The level of deception is chilling. On the other hand, when I was young my favorite was Freddy Kruger. Somehow he made being the villain cool. He was frightening and hilarious all at the tame time. Like you could have a drink with him and shoot the shit, but chances are you’d end up disemboweled in the end.

Meghan: Which unsolved murder fascinates you the most?

Robert: Well, despite being a horror junkie, these are things I rarely think about. Off the top of my head I recall seeing an old black and white photo of a woman hanging from a tree. Her legs are touching the ground, so she’s not hanging like an execution. It’s a bizarre photo, and apparently an unsolved murder. Another that always stuck with me is Bobby Fuller, a musician who died in 1966 in his car in Hollywood. He had a hit with the song I Fought the Law.

Meghan: Which urban legend scares you the most?

Robert: Well, I don’t have a good answer for this one, unfortunately. I never really paid much mind to urban legends. I mean, I suppose they were creepy when I was younger, but I never really believed in them. They were just stories. Could be because I grew up in San Diego. Maybe urban legends are stronger in other parts of the country.

Meghan: Who is your favorite serial killer and why?

Robert: H. H. Holmes. Somehow this guy had fallen under my radar for years. I saw a documentary on him maybe ten years ago and was shocked and amazed at what he accomplished. And I’m not talking about how many people he killed. That would be one sick thing to call an accomplishment. I’m talking about his massive house. The way he had parts of the house built by different contractors and different blue prints so no one would know that he’d been building a house that allowed him to sneak around in the walls and spy on his guests. It’s so bizarre. Talk about dedication. A house isn’t built overnight. He had to have been dreaming about tormenting people all the while as he hired contractor after contractor to build the house is sections. Despite the murders, it would have been fascinating to actually walk the halls and corridors and secret chambers. I guess I know where I’m going if I ever get the time machine up and running.

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

Robert: I was eleven or twelve when I saw my first horror movie. It was A Nightmare on Elm Street 2. That one doesn’t really fit in with the series, but it scared the hell out of me. I watched it with my cousin. She fell asleep toward the end and I struggled with not waking her up for fear that Freddy would get her. The first horror book I read was probably Thinner by Stephen King. I read it for a book report in junior high school. I liked it quite a bit, but I wasn’t into reading yet, and it didn’t do anything to change that. What completely changed my mind about reading was Shirley Jackson’s short story The Lottery. That story literally changed my life. I have been a diehard reader ever since.

Meghan: Which horror novel unsettled you the most? Most horror novels aren’t really that scary, and that’s probably because I’m jaded. One that sticks out as truly unsettling me was Stephen King’s Pet Semetery. The scenes dealing with the Indian burial ground in particular. Actually, the most unnerving book I ever read was Helter Skelter. Not fiction, but damn that had me paranoid that someone could just break into my house and kill me for no good reason.

Meghan: Which horror movie scarred you for life?

Robert: Cannibal Holocaust. I’d watched it when I was a teenager and it didn’t affect me all that much. Years later I watched it with my wife and it was like watching a goddamned snuff film. The scenes that are “caught on film” seem so real it’s ridiculous. The descent into madness that the Americans take as they travel through the jungle is creepy and upsetting. Though I don’t think I’ll ever watch that movie again, it really was one of the most effective horror films I’ve ever seen.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween costume?

Robert: I took my son trick ‘r treating several years ago and wore a cloth sack with a hole cut into it for one eye to see out of, like Jason in Friday the 13th Part 2. Freaked people out. That was fun.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween-themed song?

Robert: I’m gonna cheat and say my favorite Halloween album is Halloween Hootenanny. It’s a collection of surf rock type Halloween songs that Rob Zombie compiled in the late 90s. I listen to it every year. Hell, it’s a damn fine album to listen to all year long, but especially good in October.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween candy or treat?

Robert: What is your most disappointing? Since I pretty much don’t ever eat candy bars, I look forward to snagging a snickers or milky way from my son’s Halloween loot. The worst is candy corn. And circus peanuts. I haven’t seen those in years, but I used to get them when I was a kid. They’re inedible trash as far as I’m concerned.

Meghan: It was a pleasure talking to you today, Robert. Before you go, what are your top three Halloween movies?

Robert: These are the three horror movies I would like to watch on Halloween night, so not all are Halloween themed. I’d start with Return of the Living Dead. One of my favorites. It’s funny and has all kinds of memorable dialogue, plus all kinds of gory horror goodness. Then Halloween. Can’t go wrong with John Carpenter’s masterpiece on Halloween night. Then I’d finish with Night of the Living Dead. I’ve watched both Halloween and Night of the Living Dead on Halloween night and it just feels right.


Boo-graphy:
Robert Essig is the author of over a dozen books and over a hundred and forty short stories. He has edited several anthologies, his latest being Chew on This!, which was nominated for a Splatterpunk Award. Robert’s forthcoming novel is a splatter western that will be published in 2022 with Death’s Head Press. Robert lives with his family in east Tennessee. Look for him on social media, as well as his blog.

Chew On This!
Chew on This! has everything you need to satiate your appetite for the strange and macabre.

Tonight’s menu is a fifteen-course meal of subtle and atmospheric tales all the way down to the grisly, blood-drenched extremes.

Creepy restaurants, treacherous take-out, forbidden feasts, and more!

We’ve got horror so good you can taste it!

Dig in!

Death Obsessed
Remember those old VHS tapes with labels that said “banned in 40 countries” and “not for the faint of heart,” with titles like Faces of Death and Mondo Violence? Well, they’re back, only this time it’s a book. This book. Death Obsessed is Faces of Death with an identity crisis. Get ready for something mondo macabre!

Back when he was a teenager, Calvin was into the morbid stuff. He thought he outgrew it, but he’s only a video clip away from becoming obsessed, and what’s Ronnie going to think about that? She’s not the kind of girl who digs cemeteries and dead things. But Hazel, she’s something else altogether, and oh how persuasive is a woman who knows what she wants.

Drawn back to a place Calvin had forgotten about, and lured by the baritone drawl of Mr. Ghastly, who promises the much sought-after death scenes classic known as Death’s Door, Calvin trips down one hell of a rabbit hole, and everything is at stake. Can he leave his nine-to-five life in the dust for some real action, or will he be left sick, all alone, and death obsessed?

Shallow Graves
Did you wake to the sound of the garden gate rattling in the night, or an unexplained creak in the living room floorboards? Is something stirring in the basement?

Are you, the reader, safe in the train carriage on your commute home from work? Are you safe at night reading in the comfort of your favourite armchair or do you lay awake at night clutching the baseball bat?

In this terrifying collection you’ll find renegade filmmakers, masked maniacs, opportune thieves, and disturbed individuals. People you interact with every day who have dirty little secrets. Do you really know what your neighbours are up to?

From Robert Essig, author of Stronger Than Hate, In Black and Death Obsessed; and Jack Bantry, editor of Splatterpunk Zine, comes 11 tales of horror and examination of the dark side of human behaviour that will fray your nerves, leaving you to double and triple check that you’ve locked the door at night.

Listen closely. Is that the sound of a shovel you can hear, digging your shallow grave?