AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Sarah McKnight

Meghan: Hey, Sarah! Welcome to Meghan’s HAUNTED House of Books. Thanks for joining us today. What is your favorite part of Halloween?

Sarah: I think the shorter answer is what isn’t my favorite part of Halloween! I love seeing all the fun and unique costumes (and occasionally dressing up myself), the crisp fall air, and of course the endless supply of horror movies.

Meghan: Do you get scared easily?

Sarah: It really depends. Paranormal things don’t scare me so much because I’ve always had a huge interest in them. It’s the things that could cause direct harm to me, like real people, that really scare me.

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

Sarah: This is a really hard one! Off the top of my head, I think I would have to say Stephen King’s Apt Pupil. There is a particular scene in both the movie and the book involving a cat that disturbed me so much I will never, ever look at either of them again.

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

Sarah: Probably the murders that take place in Funny Games, which is incidentally probably my favorite movie of all time.

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

Sarah: That’s never happened to me!

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

Sarah: I would have to say The Haunting, that terrible 90’s movie based on Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. It was the first horror movie I ever saw, and I always wanted to explore that gigantic house.

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

Sarah: Anything paranormal! Probably Stephen King’s IT. I want to be in the Losers Club.

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

Sarah: Pennywise the Dancing Clown, of course. Chucky is a very close second.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween tradition?

Sarah: Scary movies in the dark. I will never get tired of it.

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

Sarah: Oogie Boogie’s Song from The Nightmare Before Christmas. Not to brag, but I can really belt that one out!

Meghan: Which horror novel unsettled you the most?

Sarah: We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver. I think the reason it’s so scary is because it’s an extremely realistic situation that could happen to anyone.

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

Sarah: My friends and I had been messing around with a Ouija board (I know, I know…) I went back to my apartment and none of my roommates were home. While I was in my room, I heard something fall and break in the kitchen. I went to investigate, but nothing was out of place, and I was still there alone.

Meghan: Which unsolved mystery fascinates you the most?

Sarah: So many! I think if I had to pick just one, I’d want to know what happened aboard the Mary Celeste.

Meghan: What is the spookiest ghost story that you have ever heard?

Sarah: The classic Lady in White. Can you imagine picking someone up off the side of the road, driving her all the way home, only for her to disappear and discover she was dead the whole time?

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

Sarah: Probably a hammer. Easy to carry and good for bashing brains!

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

Sarah: Vampire, please! Can you imagine having to manage all that fur? Yikes!

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

Sarah: Aliens. Maybe they’re friendly after all?

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

Sarah: What exactly is “zombie juice”? Is it like Bug Juice? I’m probably going with that just to be safe.

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

Sarah: The Poltergeist house. Show me all the paranormal activity!

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

Sarah: Bitter melon with chilies please. I don’t even want the mental image of the other thing.

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

Sarah: Depends, what is the witch cooking up? A potion? A delicious soup? I’ll take the mystery cauldron!

Boo-graphy:
Sarah McKnight has been writing stories since she could pick up a pencil, and it often got her in trouble during math class. After a brief stint teaching English to unruly middle schoolers in Japan, she decided she wasn’t going to put off her dream of becoming a writer any longer and set to work. With several novels in the making, she hopes to tackle issues such as anxiety, depression, and letting go of the past – with a little humor sprinkled in, too. A St Louis native, she currently lives in Pennsylvania with her wonderful husband and three cats. You can find her on Twitter and on her website.

The Reaper Chronicles 1:
The Reaper’s Quota
Meet Grim Reaper #2497. Behind on his work, he must complete his quota of thirty Random Deaths or face termination in the worst way. Faced with an insurmountable task and very little time to complete it, Reaper #2497 struggles to hang on to the one thing he’s not supposed to have – his humanity.

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Dani Brown

Meghan: Hey Dani… or should I say Queenie? Welcome to Meghan’s HAUNTED House of Books. I’ve honestly never had a Queen on the blog yet… especially a Queen of Filth. Thanks for joining in this year’s frivolities. What is your favorite part of Halloween?

Dani: Halloween in the United States and Halloween in the UK are two very different things. I lived in America from about the age of 3 until I was 16. I did have a last Halloween in America when I was 16. I went trick or treating with my friends. Americans go all out for Halloween with the decorations. I was too young for the American parties unless it involved a keg in the woods. When I was growing up, I was looking forward to the parties and nightclubs I was too young to attend. But the parties never happened and I’ve been to one club on Halloween (it wasn’t that exciting).

I know there’s parties about and clubs put on a theme night, but before having my son my mother wouldn’t let me leave the house or do anything a functional person might wish to do (society over here, instead of telling someone who had a traumatic experience, like my mother’s entire time spent living in the USA that it is over now and offering help to move past it, instead encourages people who have experienced trauma to never heal, so any time I went for help for her, it was always, ‘your mother had a rough time blah blah blah’ and of course, society likes to write off the children of these people regardless of whether we ended up traumatised by our experiences).

Then I had my son. I was sick after having him so I don’t think I dressed him up and took him trick or treating until his third Halloween. I don’t even think I had the energy for pumpkin carving before then (unknown post natal infection, lots of tests, lots of anti-biotics, virals and fungals but no diagnosis, I eventually mostly recovered). Children over here go as something scary instead of the latest Disney Princess or whatever comic book character. I would dress him up and take him trick or treating, but not as many homes hand out sweets as they do in America. I did find a cute pumpkin costume for him one year though. And a lot of British children aren’t allowed to ‘go begging at people’s door steps’ as some parents say. My son is too old for Halloween now. And unfortunately, he doesn’t really like it apart from the bucket of sweets and chocolates I buy for him (in one of those plastic pumpkin buckets).

These days, I usually carve a pumpkin and hand out sweets. I don’t really do much in terms of decorations, but that’s more to do with lacking in the time and energy. If I had the energy levels required, I would love to go to a themed night at a club now that some legal changes over here mean I’m away from miserable people. And a haunted hayride (I think we have those over here).

Meghan: Do you get scared easily?

Dani: I’m squeamish, but I don’t scare easily. I’m not keen on jump scares but that’s more to do with the people mentioned above who don’t want you to move on from your bad experiences (they’re more vocal than ever in using something bad that happened to you once, happened through no fault of your own and using that experience to define who you are) giving me a pretty nasty case of PTSD (please note, the PTSD is literally from dealing with people who decided to create every obstacle imaginable because all their books and websites said someone who went through what I did should be traumatised, it wasn’t the traumatic experiences of my childhood and very early adulthood, when my mother’s mental health took a worse turn, but the people claiming they were ‘helping’ who gave me the PTSD). I had to watch The Haunting of Hill House with the lights on and in short segments despite really enjoying it because the jump scares were pushing my physical responses to the point my body wouldn’t be able to handle it. But that applied to one of the Harry Potter films as well so it isn’t restricted to things traditionally seen as horror.

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

Dani: This is easy to answer, The Wizard of Oz. My American grandmother put it on one Thanksgiving as a treat and I’ve had nightmares about it since. I didn’t like that pink dress worn by the ‘Good Witch’. All of Munchkin Land was like what I would later describe as a bad trip. Even before Dorothy crash-landed her house on whatever Wicked Witch, her neighbour was horrible. I haven’t watched that horrible film since. But I did watch it in its entirety when I was a child, and the entire thing was unpleasant. I haven’t read the books and I think I’m going to have to give Wicked a miss. I have not put on the film for my son. I still can’t decide if I’m more frightened of the Good Witch, the Lion or the Flying Monkeys.

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

Dani: I’m not too sure. They kinda blurred together years ago, especially with the extreme stuff. Murder in itself is disturbing, so I guess they’re all pretty disturbing but you aren’t watching horror films for a happy ending or no bloodshed.

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

Dani: I’ve refused to watch Human Centipede. I’m too squeamish for that one, although I don’t think I’ve seen any advertising for that or any of the squeals. It obviously sunk into popular culture rather well. It seems everyone has seen it, except for me and I will keep it that way.

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

Dani: I would go with Scream. I had this horrible boyfriend in my late teens and early twenties who would call films like Scream ‘mainstream Hollywood slashers’ in the most derogatory way imaginable (but of course, the very violent Japanese films were apparently works of art). But Scream for me, was the horror franchise of my youth. I think I was 12, maybe 13 when the first one came out, so prime age for the beginning of a horror franchise. I saw the first few at the cinema. It is just one of those special things from childhood. Plus, Ghostface isn’t the brightest of killers, so I think I would make it out alive.

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

Dani: I’m not really sure. After getting away from my mother, I had to deal with people similar to her and then a society that did not want me to move on with my life, so I would say my life has played out like a horror movie until some legal changes took place in this country (and post pandemic, people that way inclined have shown that they want things to return to when there was a ‘pecking order’ and get back to bullying people who experienced adverse events that were beyond their control). Life in the United States is still that same horror movie for me though. Unfortunately, you can’t dissociate real life in the same way you can a film when the end credits roll and you are getting up from your seat.

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

Dani: I’ve never really thought about this. Does El Chupacabras count? It is more of a cryptozoology thing, but ever since I first heard the legend, I found them fascinating.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween tradition?

Dani: Probably more of a harvest thing than a Halloween thing, but I like what the American’s call ‘candy apples’ or what we call ‘toffee apples’. They’re available over here for the entire month of October. Unfortunately my expensive dental work doesn’t like them as much so I try to ration myself.

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

Dani: This is a tricky one. When you listen to Skinny Puppy, it is impossible to answer unless you move away from Skinny Puppy (this is really like asking what is your favourite Skinny Puppy song and you just can’t decide). So I guess, let’s pretend Skinny Puppy don’t exist and hop on over to a dark sci-fi theme and go with Gary Numan’s Down in the Park. I can pick a Gary Numan song that stands above the rest, but I can’t do it with Skinny Puppy. And obviously, there’s a lot of songs out there with darker and horror themes.

Meghan: Which horror novel unsettled you the most?

Dani: This honour goes to Adam Neville with No One Gets Out Alive. This influenced my own writing as well. But it was very unsettling to read. The sheer length of it ensured it took about a week so I was with that book for a week and it became creepier and weirder. I imagine him sitting there laughing when he came up with Black Maggie but I found her terrifying.

A close second goes to Clive Barker and his hybrid filmstar-exotic animal creatures in Coldheart Canyon. The creatures weren’t created in a lab but through sex. That was a bit unsettling. In fact, the way Barker takes the outright disgusting and distasteful and turns it into something weird and beautiful is unsettling and it is something he has done repeatedly through his career.

And these are my two most favourite books.

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

Dani: One of my childhood friends lived in a real life haunted house and sometimes in our teens, I’d stay with him overnight (needed a break from the family). I’ve seen some strange shit in that house when everyone else was asleep. His mother said they had exorcisms on it, but they obviously weren’t very effective. They eventually sold it when I was in my early 20s. But before it was sold, every night something would happen and sometimes I would be alone, sometimes not. I suppose you just became used to it, ‘oh that’s just the spirits’.

Meghan: Which unsolved mystery fascinates you the most?

Dani: This isn’t something that has been on my mind since I was very little. I guess I used to like the Bermuda Triangle. I don’t know if science ever explained that. When you grow and get saddled with a bunch of responsibilities at too young of an age, you don’t really have time for unsolved mysteries.

Meghan: What is the spookiest ghost story that you have ever heard?

Dani: I spent my formative years in New England. Those aren’t stories. It really is like that and everything is haunted. When I went back to my homeland, I thought it would be more haunted here, because you hear about the English stories growing up in America, but it was nothing like living in New England. I’ve heard so many it is hard to pick a favourite and at some point they all blur together. And when they aren’t really stories because everything and everywhere where you spent your formative years is haunted, I think I’ll go with something real life.

I suppose the spookiest experience I ever had was checking the travel reports before a day trip into London (this was when I lived down south, London is a bit difficult, although can be done on a day trip from Liverpool). I swear I saw that there were numerous problems on the Underground and decided against travelling to London on that particular day. We went to Oxford instead (this was when my mother would let me out every now and again, before her mental health really declined – I was allowed a boyfriend, but not allowed friends, minus letters sent back and forth to my childhood friends – this day trip was planned with the awful boyfriend mentioned above). A few hours later, I had a phone call from my mother asking where I was and I told her ‘Oxford’. And she replied, ‘there’s been some explosions reported on the Underground’. Turns out it was the 07/07 bombings. There also weren’t any reported problems on the Underground that morning. I imagined there were, or maybe it was foresight. It took a few weeks for how spooky that was to really sink in. I still swear it was reported on the BBC 24 hours news channel that morning that there were problems on the Underground. We didn’t go to London that day because of me watching the travel reports, which apparently didn’t exist in the way I saw them.

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

Dani: I would probably improvise and pick whatever is closest to me, it is the English way.

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

Dani: I like sleeping in the day, but also really like undercooked meat. I think I’d probably go with vampire, they have some table manners and are a bit more refined than a werewolf. I just wish there was some meaty texture to all that blood, like a blue or raw steak.

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

Dani: I’m going with zombie apocalypse. Their brains have decayed a bit, plus you know what you are up against so have a better chance than fighting the unknown. Not to mention, the aliens would need advanced technology to make it to an outside arm of the galaxy regardless of where they’re coming from, so they would obviously be much smarter than us.

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

Dani: This is absolutely disgusting, not to mention that embalming fluid is pretty toxic for consumption and if the body is fresh enough to be eaten, there’s still going to be a lot of embalming fluid in it, so I’m going with the zombie juice. Besides, I’m sure someone somewhere has invented something with a high alcohol content and dry ice and called it zombie juice.

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

Dani: I don’t recall watching either of these films, although I probably have seen both at some point, so I can’t pick. They’re probably as bad as each other, and possibly as bad as the house my friend lived in growing up.

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

Dani: I know some people like maggots jumping out of their cheese, but ewww that is disgusting. I’m going to have to pick bitter melon with chilies. I like chilies. A strong enough chili will override the bitterness of the melon and please note, I drink absinthe and regular gin – neither are known for their sweetness.

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

Dani: You don’t really know what it is that witch’s cauldron, but the spiders are known. However, I check my bananas to ensure there’s no spiders or cocaine in them, or worse, coked-up spiders and I’m pretty sure someone has invented a highly alcoholic drink also with dry ice like the zombie juice, shoved it into a plastic cauldron and called it ‘the witch’s cauldron’ so it’ll be witch’s cauldron.

Boo-graphy:
Suitably labelled “The Queen of Filth”, extremist author Dani Brown’s style of dark and twisted writing and deeply disturbing stories has amassed a worrying sized cult following featuring horrifying tales such as Ghetto Super Skank, Becoming, 56 Seconds, Sparky the Spunky Robot, and the hugely popular Ketamine Addicted Pandas. Merging eroticism with horror, torture and other areas that most authors wouldn’t dare, each of Dani’s titles will crawl under your skin, burrow inside you, and make you question why you are coming back for more.

Jo-Jo needs attention from online lovers. Her baby cries from the box room. Her baby is sick. The online lovers shower her with sympathy and their bank account details. Old Woman Mabel downstairs doesn’t like the sound of the baby crying. She bangs on her ceiling with her broom handle. Comforting the baby takes Jo-Jo away from her computer screen.

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Katie Marie

Meghan: Hey, Katie! Welcome to Meghan’s HAUNTED House of Books. It is so nice to have you here today. What is YOUR favorite part of Halloween?

Katie: I love Halloween, it’s really difficult to pick a favorite part! I love so much about the holiday, I love decorating the house, I love the events around Halloween, especially the rise (at least in the UK) of live action events with actors, etc. I love the excuse to eat too much sugar and to dress up.

But if I had to pick a favorite thing, it would be the coziness. I love spending Halloween night curled up on the sofa in some kind of cozy costume (I was a shark last year) with my partner, the lights down low, lots of tasty snacks, the cats curled up dozing and something blood curdling on the TV. The only interruption being the doorbell every so often as we’re invaded by tiny monsters come to partake of our snacks.

Meghan: Do you get scared easily?

Katie: This entirely depends.

I’m unbothered by hyper violence, I very much enjoy a good psychological horror but rarely find them overly frightening but when it comes to certain types of horror, I’m a bit of a wimp. I suppose supernatural horror is most likely to scare me.

So, if you show me people being scary, I’m less likely to be bothered, show me something inhuman and I scare easily.

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

Katie: I found the movie Paranormal Activity (the first one) terrifying. The idea of something threatening being in the house but you couldn’t perceive it. You couldn’t see, smell or touch it but it could touch you and had malicious intent. Burrrr. The level of vulnerability I felt for the characters really got under my skin.

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

Katie: The ending of Eden Lake. I was cheering for Jenny and when she got away from the woods and you thought she was out of danger only for that to happen to her… ugh, makes my skin want to crawl off and hide.

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

Katie: Can’t say there ever was, the more freaked out I am by a trailer the more likely I’m going to want to see the film.

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

Katie: It’s not a movie but I’d choose the Netflix Haunting of Hill House Series. I’d totally fix up a super Haunted House that eats people.

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

Katie: I’d be Tree Gelbman from Happy Death Day, hunting a murderer in a ground hog day like scenario. Each day full of new opportunities to kick the villains head in.

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

Katie: Probably a ghost.

I love the mystery element behind most ghost stories, I also feel most afraid when I can’t see or touch the threat but I can see or touch me. Most of my favorite horror films are ghost stories. Ever since I was young and watched the Lady in White a 1988 horror film about the murder of a young girl.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween tradition?

Katie: Decorating the house with all the spooky decorations. I put my decorations up probably a week earlier than I should and even then, it’s only through epic self-control that keeps me waiting that long. I love making my house look like somewhere Winifred, Sarah, and Mary from Hocus Pocus would feel at home.

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

Katie: It’s a tie between ‘This is Halloween’ from The Nightmare Before Christmas and Thriller by Michel Jackson.

Meghan: Which horror novel unsettled you the most?

Katie: When I was young my mum used to read to me before I went to bed. Sometimes she would make up stories, sometimes she’d read children books and fairytales to me. Then one day she came into my bedroom with a copy of The Thief of Always by Clive Barker.

It was my first experience of horror and I remember feeling super unsettled but also utterly captivated. I was gutted when the book finished and went on my own little crusade to find horror books that my mum would let me read.

Even now when I occasionally re-read this book, I feel the way I did when I was little.

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

Katie: My partner and I were on our first holiday together. We went to Boscastle in Cornwall, an absolutely beautiful village in a glorious part of the country. We stayed in an old fisherman’s cottage down in the harbor. One evening I was upstairs, in the bedroom, faffing about while my partner was downstairs. I heard the tap in the bathroom turn on.

This tap was the kind where to turn the water on you lift a lever and to turn it off you push the lever down. So, it turning itself on was bloody odd. I went and turned it off. I went back into the bedroom and continued my faffing. The tap turned itself back on.

This happened multiple times during the holiday, I’d wake up during the night to the sound of water running. It got to the point where I just left it alone. If spooky ghosts want to wash their hands, who was I to stop them.

Meghan: Which unsolved mystery fascinates you the most?

Katie: Oh, this is an easy one, mass disappearances.

The Roman 9th Legion, Aztalan Indians, Moche Civilization, ghost ships, there’s too many to list. But cases where large numbers of people vanish up in smoke. Usually suddenly.

If you enjoy those kinds of mysteries as well, I would recommend the book and film Phantoms by Dean Koontz, the video game Man of Medan and the very recent film directed by Jordan Peele, Nope.

Meghan: What is the spookiest ghost story that you have ever heard?

Katie: I love Creepy Pasta for this kind of thing. It’s impossible to name just one, but the No Sleep Podcast and Reddit pages are an absolute goldmine for great ghost stories.

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

Katie: I really struggle with this.

A shotgun would be great but bullets are not infinite. So, some kind of melee weapon, maybe an axe, something heavy and weighted because I’m not particularly strong so if I need something to give weight to my attacks.

The downside with a melee weapon is that I’m also pretty short and I don’t have much in the way of reach.

So, with that in mind, I’d probably go with my car. My car is big, heavy and I can squish things with it with very little effort on my part. If I had unlimited resources I’d trip my car out with window armor, big spikes and junk. I’d probably also have an axe and a shot gun on the passenger seat.

Meghan: Okay, let’s have some fun… Would you rather get bitten by a vampire or a werewolf?
Katie: Vampire. I don’t need fleas on top of everything else. Also, I’m pale and have red hair so I’m used to avoiding the sun.
Meghan: Would you rather fight a zombie apocalypse or an alien invasion?
Katie: Zombies, aliens would be smarter than me. Zombies I think I’d be on a more even keel with.
Meghan: Would you rather drink zombie juice or eat dead bodies from the graveyard?
Katie: Grim. I guess eat dead bodies, provided they’ve not been embalmed cause that’s toxic.
Meghan: Would you rather stay at the Poltergeist house or the Amityville house for a week?
Katie: Poltergeist house, it was a great film with a strong sequel. Though I’d get annoyed that the ghosties like moving my furniture. I’m particular about things being tidy.
Meghan: Would you rather chew on a bitter melon with chilies or maggot-infested cheese?
Katie: I’m intolerant of spicy food, it literally makes me sick. Whereas I like cheese, so I guess I’m eating maggots.
Meghan: Would you rather drink from a witch’s cauldron or lick cotton candy made of spider webs?
Katie: I’ll have the witches brew please, hopefully she’s put some kind of adult beverage in there.

Boo-graphy:
Katie Marie is a horror enthusiast and writer from Norfolk, England.

She has been published in several anthologies and magazines, and her Novella, A Man in Winter, was recently released by Brigids Gate Press.

Katie started writing while studying for her Law Degree at Aberystwyth University in the early 2000’s and several years and stories later she received her Masters Degree and published her first novel.

Website
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Arthur, whose life was devastated by the brutal murder of his wife, must come to terms with his diagnosis of dementia. He moves into a new home at a retirement community, and shortly after, has his life turned upside down again when his wife’s ghost visits him and sends him on a quest to find her killer so her spirit can move on. With his family and his doctor concerned that his dementia is advancing, will he be able to solve the murder before his independence is permanently restricted?

A Man in Winter examines the horrors of isolation, dementia, loss, and the ghosts that come back to haunt us.

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: 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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