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An Extraordinaryly Close Encounter w/ Duncan P. Bradshaw

DPB Picture

Many of you may have heard his name whispered in certain circles. Down dark alleyways. Flickering pubs. The smoke stacks of places sunlight dare not tread. Rumors written on bathroom stales right next to an elaborate image of Lobstercock and bible verses and call-for-a-good-time and that strange looking oval shaped hole cut out in the wood. You dare not recant his name three times whilst standing in front of a mirror, for fear he may just show up, hidden if not for the odor of fresh tobacco and the wool of a fashionable newsboy hat. But the worst is when he laughs. A chuckle belonging to the creatures only children believe in, whistling sunny songs before being dragged down between the sewer drain. Shuffling into your house late at night, his shadow is cast by the yellow porch light, and in his hands he offers you a sampling of tea and biscuits. You may have heard the name before, the name of Duncan P. Bradshaw. If you have, then you’re one step already in the door, if not, well…you’re in for a treat. Newcomers and everyone in-between, I invite you to sit back, for you are about to behold something truly wicked, a one-on-one interview with the real urban myth.

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Machine Mean: Let’s get some basic introductions out of the way, shall we? Can you tell us a little bit about yourselves? What got you into writing? What brought you into the genre of horror?

Duncan P. Bradshaw: Why hello there! Tis I, Duncan P. Bradshaw, from the land of tea and crumpets. I reside in the majestic county of Wiltshire, in Southern England, with my amazing wife Debbie, and our two cats, Rafa and Pepe. I started writing a few years back now, finally managing to get my love of zombies down into words. I think if it wasn’t for my penchant for the undead, I doubt I would’ve been drawn to the horror world.

MM: What’s your favorite book and why?

DPB: It has to be World War Z by Max Brooks. I just love the style of how it’s done, instead of taking a normal narrative, it’s this after-action series of interviews. Just love how this big huge earth changing event has been and gone, and now you have people trying to go out and record what happened, by speaking to those who survived through it. I rarely read the same book twice these days, as my TBR pile is in danger of taking out a satellite or two, but WWZ gets re-read every few years.

MM: Here’s a hard one… What is your favorite zombie movie? Should zombies be fast or Romero-esk slow?

DPB: Hands down, without a doubt, the original Dawn of the Dead. Yes, if you watch it now, it is a little dated, the zombies are a touch too much blue, especially the Blu-Ray version, but that is all part of the charm. It’s just become the archetypal zombie film, you have video games based on the setting, an entire sub-genre is undead and kicking thanks to it. Really does showcase the human condition extremely well. How they take the mall back, and slip into that kind of nonchalant aloofness, that is only challenged when they are under attack by the biker gang.

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Personal choice here, I prefer the Romero shambling dead, to me, they pose a more terrifying threat than the ones from the remake. It’s that slowly moving wall of dead, which just loom down on you, building up dread. Over-confidence is the worst thing, as you assume they are easy to evade, but then BOOM, you round a corner and one is nibbling on your jugular, they’re my favourite ‘monster’.

MM: Duncan, you seem to have a wide arsenal of genres and sub-genres within the horror/dark fiction umbrella that you write in, from horror-comedy to science-fiction, to mystery, and even a bit of extreme. Is there one particular sub-genre you prefer to write?

DPB: I like to try different things out, mainly just from the weird and wonderful thoughts that I have going on. My aim is to get to the end of 2017, have a look back at what I’ve done, and try and focus down onto what I enjoyed doing, and try to specialise a little more. I’d say, here and now, the book I loved writing the most, was Class Three. It is equal parts horror and comedy, and I think it’s safe to assume that I’ll be trying to go down the comedy route in time. Whether that also includes horror, maybe? I think there will be elements in there, I like a bit of blood and guts, but I doubt it’ll be chilling psychological drama that I’ll be releasing.

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MM: You are keeping busy, by my count you’ve had Celebrity Culture, Prime Directive, Easter Eggs and Bunny Boilers: A Horror Anthology, The Black Room Manuscripts Vol. 2, and now you’re releasing your newest book, Hexagram. Do you have a writing method that you like to keep to? A schedule of sorts? Do you have a special place you like to do your writing?

DPB: Cheers man, had quite a productive end to 2015, which meant that I had a number of titles ready to go at the beginning of this year. Definitely more luck than design I’d say. I don’t have a method at all, most of my books start from a line of dialogue or one event, I’ll have a few days to think about it in general, then just start writing and see where it takes me. Like most writers, I try to get something down every day, but that’s not always possible with a full-time job and other commitments. Still, I miss it when I don’t do it.

I’m lucky that I have a room upstairs which is now converted into my office, which has all my junk in it. Got a desk there which I work from, with a speaker dock for my tunes. Though if I’m editing or doing a short story, I’m more than likely just to sit downstairs on the sofa, with some random sport on in the background.

MM: According to the all-knowing and all-powerful Amazon, you’re last publication was Prime Directive, which is a science-fiction story, something a little out of what you’ve normally published in the past, correct? Can you tell us a little bit about Prime Directive and what compelled you dabble in this sub-genre? Are there any future (no pun intended) works in store for us in the Bradshaw science-fiction realm?

DPB: Yeah, I think Prime Directive was a bit of a head scratcher for some people. It came about when I was writing the first draft of a novel called Deadlock. I had these five words of dialogue repeating in my head, over and over again. Then that little spark fused with a number of other ideas I’d had in the ol’ brain, and BOOM, I had a story. Deadlock was getting to a bogged down part, so I took a few weeks off, and wrote Prime Directive.

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I’ve always loved space exploration, find it enthralling and terrifying in equal measure. There’s just so much that we have no idea about, it’s inevitable that there are things out there which are even worse, morally speaking, than us humans. It provides such a wealth of opportunity. So, using an old story idea about the first set of Mars explorers, I was able to get it done. I’ve got no immediate plans for another one, but you never know…

MM: You are one of three of the founding members of Sinister Horror Company, alongside that vile cat-loving Daniel Marc Chant and the locks-people-in-basements Justin Park. What’s it like working with your partners and with Sinister Horror? How do you like working with other horror authors? Do you guys have any big plans down the road?

DPB: Honestly? It can be tricky, you’ve got three people, who have very different ideas on how they do things, and how best to approach growing the small press. It does cause friction, anyone who says otherwise is lying. But…at the end of the day we are all friends, and we find a way to make it work. It’s like a relationship, in that you have to work at it, and whereas before, when we just used to hang out, drink, play video games etc, now we are all responsible for this fledgling company.

I personally have not had much of a working relationship with the other people that have been published to date, or in the pipeline, as they are being dealt with by Justin or Dan. The one obvious exception is Kit Power, when we put GodBomb! out. As soon as I read that premise, I wanted us to be the ones to publish it, and am so glad I managed to speak to Kit and get it sorted.

We’ve got a really packed end of the year coming up, there will be new releases out every few weeks, but I’m quite lucky in one sense, as none of them are mine or I’m connected to. Sounds selfish, but I’ve been non-stop up until now, and I’m looking forward to watching Dan and Justin get some of their work out there. My plan is to try and clear a number of projects I’ve got on the go.

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MM: Okay…let’s talk a little bit about your new book coming out, Hexagram. The cover looks wicked. Can you tell us a little bit about the story? What sub-genre in horror would you label it?

DPB: Cheers fella, appreciate it. The idea for HEXAGRAM, came about from the adage, ‘We are all made of stars’. I wondered what would happen if stardust could be extracted from people, could it be used in some way to create something? From there, I started to write what I thought would be a novella. Typically, as soon as I started it, I thought about the origins of the ritual, and settled on the Inca. Then…my stupid brain suggested that I start with the Inca, and work a set of stories through history, to the modern day, and the story I had started on.

After a bit of going through a number of historical events, I managed to find a path through which I could do it. It became six stories, based on stardust. BOOM, a six pointed star, each point one step closer to the completion of the ritual, starting five hundred years before the climax. For each story, including the Inca tale, I used an actual event as either the foundation, or inspiration. So we have a survivor from the 1715 Spanish Treasure Fleet, a Confederate soldier at the Battle of Kolbs Farm, a detective with information on one of history’s most notorious serial killers, and the Jonestown Massacre.

In many ways, it is almost a collection, rather than a novel. For people who don’t like reading novels, as they’re ‘too long’, this is essentially five short stories and a novella at the end. As for which sub-genre, I don’t think it really has one. Some of the stories, I’d argue, aren’t particularly horrific. I don’t like aiming to fit my books into pigeonholes, I think it’s just a slightly weird concept, with horror elements. Best thing really, is to go and pick it up yourself. (SHAMELESS PLUG TIME).

MM: In the description, it looks like the book deals with some Inca rituals and shipwrecks, and suicide cults. What kind of research did you have to do with Hexagram?

DPB: When I was working out the chronology, I discarded a number of possible historical events, as I wanted ones which gave me the room to do my own thing in. So, when I did the story based on the Treasure Fleet, I used one of the ships that was never found. Likewise with the American Civil War story, I settled on a relatively small engagement, but which had some cool features in. I checked out some maps on the layout of the town, and in particular, the church.

One thing I get asked about, is the penultimate story, which is based on the Jonestown Massacre. They asked why I didn’t just use the event itself, why make up something? I just felt that using something so recent, which has been pored over by a multitude of journalists, would not enable me to do my own thing. I want people to enjoy the story, not picking holes in it, saying that so and so didn’t do this, or nitpicking the details. This is a work of fiction, so even the other stories use the events as a background, not a slide rule.

MM: The book cover for Hexagram looks freaking sweet. Can you tell us a little bit about that? Who designed it? Did you both get any say in the creative process?

DPB: I love the cover to HEXAGRAM, it’s done by a chap called Mike McGee, who runs Big Foot Studios with his mate, up in Liverpool. I found him when I was after the CLASS THREE cover, and wanted to use him again for the right project. When I finally settled on the book name, I had the idea of having each main character as a point of the star, with a little picture of something within their story. As it’s borne from the Inca, I wanted that golden coin in the middle.

I’m quite a particular person, and covers are no exception. I fully understand that when I write a brief for an artist, that what I will get back will not match it exactly, but it must incorporate a number of the key elements. When I got the black and white drawing back from Mike, I was blown away, he could not have gotten it more perfect. Once I had it, I then made the galaxy background, and it was all done.

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MM: Before we go, can you drop a little hint on future projects you may have cooking?

DPB: I’m working on a horror novel called DEADLOCK, about a retired jewel thief lured out of retirement for one more job. He ends up in Hell, and has to go through a number of trials to try and get what was promised to him. There is a comedy horror book called SUMMONED, about an apocalyptic monster that gets accidentally summoned. This is a multiple narrative book, with a mini comic, and a choose your own adventure, hoping this will be ready early next year.

I also have to finish up the CLASS FOUR trilogy, book two, VERSUS, is next on my list, so looking forward to getting that all done. Typically though, I already have two more books bubbling in my head, one is called AFTERTHOUGHT, and the other unnamed one, is a comedy horror post-apocalyptic book, set during the Brit-Pop years.

This concludes our interview with Duncan P. Bradshaw. We here at Machine Mean wish Duncan the best during his launch of Hexagram, now available on Amazon in both eBook and paperback editions for the mere price of $2.99 and $12.48 respectively.

Purchase Links

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Sinister Horror Company Website

 

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Duncan P. Bradshaw lives in the county of Wiltshire, nestled around the belly button of southern England, with his wife Debbie, and their two cats, Rafa and Pepe. During the day, he is a mild mannered office goon, doing things which would bore you, if he was forced to tell you. At night, he becomes one with a keyboard, and transforms his weird and wonderful thoughts into words, which people, like you, and me, can read. Why not pop over to his website, http://duncanpbradshaw.co.uk/ or give him a like over on Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/duncanpbradshaw or read his ravings on his blog, http://duncanpbradshaw.blogspot.co.uk/

 

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Follow along the tour with these hashtags:  #Hexagram #IncanRituals #HookofaBook

Hexagram, Synopsis

  • File Size:3282 KB
  • Print Length:232 pages
  • Publisher:EyeCue Productions (July 25, 2016)
  • Publication Date:July 25, 2016

Their lands plagued by invaders, the Inca resort to an ancient ritual. By harvesting star dust from people, they hope to accumulate enough to raise the sun god, Inti, and reclaim their lands.

Yet when the collection is interrupted, it sets in motion events which will rattle human history.

Six stories. Six different time periods. One outcome.

We are all made of stars.

When an ancient Inca ritual is interrupted, it sets in motion a series of events that will echo through five hundred years of human history. Many seek to use the arcane knowledge for their own ends, from a survivor of a shipwreck, through to a suicide cult.

Yet…the most unlikeliest of them all will succeed.

Praise for Hexagram

“Hexagram is a visceral journey through the dark nooks and crannies of human history. Lovecraftian terror merges with blood sacrifices, suicide cults and body horror as Bradshaw weaves an intricate plot into an epic tale of apocalyptic dread.” – Rich Hawkins, author of The Last Plague trilogy

“A rip-roaring boy’s own adventure yarn. This novel contains multitudes, and the sheer scale and breadth of the story is exhilarating. A glorious, unhinged thrill ride.” – Kit Power, author of GodBomb!

Praise for Bradshaw’s Writing

“Duncan Bradshaw has a fantastic writing style. He gets you engrossed in the characters from the very outset. His mix of comedy and horror and real life are superb.” – Confessions of a Reviewer

“The true genius of Duncan P. Bradshaw is the rollercoaster ride of words and expressions.  I have never seen an author go from the depths of dark and gore to laugh out loud all within the same paragraph.” – 2 Book Lovers Reviews

“Remember, you’ve now willingly plunged yourself into the mind of Duncan Bradshaw. You’re completely at the mercy of his strange imagination and all the eccentric oddities that his curious mind can conjure up.” – DLS Reviews

“Bradshaw is able to weight the horror set pieces with a dry humour and plenty of laugh out loud moments.” – UK Horror Scene

“One of the first things that I did after reading The Black Room Manuscripts, was to go out and buy Class Three by Duncan Bradshaw. I just found his writing in Time for Tea to have this gleeful kind of undertow to the carnage he wrought on his tea drinkers and wanted to see what his writing was like in a longer format.” – Ginger Nuts of Horror

Purchase Links

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Sinister Horror Company Website

Want to Feature Duncan Bradshaw?

If you’re a member of the media or a blogger and you’d like to feature Duncan Bradshaw or Hexagram, then please contact Erin Al-Mehairi, publicist, at hookofabook@hotmail.com

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Hellish Interviews: w/ Duncan Ralston

Adding to the already growing list of differing topics covered with Machine Mean, we’re adding something new! Hellish Interviews is as it says, interviews with hellish authors of the dark and unusual. Interviewing is something I’ve wanted to dip my toes in for some time,especially among horror writers. From my experience, horror writers tend to be the most normal people imaginable, which is odd compared to the macabre twisted things they write about. Getting to know writers better is interesting on more then one level. There are things we all can agree on, to a degree, and some be probably will disagree, and then there of tidbits of information ultimately new and exciting, which is what the act of discover is, is it not?

Joining me today is horror author Duncan Ralston. Duncan was born in Toronto sometime during the year 1976. He lives with his girlfriend and their dog where he writes dark fiction about the things that frighten, sicken, and delight him. In addition to his twisted short stories found in GRISTLE & BONE and the newly released THE BLACK ROOM MANUSCRIPTS, his debut novel, SALVAGE, will haunt various booksellers later this year.

Duncan Ralston

Machine Mean: So, Duncan. You’ve got a horror anthology that recently came out with Booktrope: Forsaken. What drew you into penning this anthology? Did you have any favorite anthologies that inspired this work?

Duncan Ralston:  I’ve always had a deep love of short stories. I started with the Alfred Hitchcock Presents books, moved on to Stephen King’s Night Shift and Clive Barker’s Books of Blood. Now I’m reading a lot of Harlan Ellison shorts, Ramsey Campbell’s, and some small press crime and horror anthologies. Short stories are the bastard children of the literary world, but with horror and crime, they are often better than novels. To maintain a consistent level of horror and/or suspense throughout a novel can be difficult. Short horror cuts right to the quick. It doesn’t mess around. It makes its point and then it gets the hell out.

MM: If you had to put a label on your “writing voice,” what would that label be?

DR: The Darkest Place of All is the Human Heart. Short and sweet, huh?

MM: Absolutely! Thinking about your inspirations, if you could pick one famous author, dead or alive, to review your work, who would that be? Why?

DR:  No question, Stephen King. I love a lot of authors from many genres, but King was my inspiration. And he was never afraid to call himself a horror writer, unlike some, as if the term itself is distasteful, and the genre should be looked down upon. Plus, he’s proven that horror isn’t just myths and monsters with stories like Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, The Body, Roadwork (one of my all-time favorites, written as Richard Bachman), etc.

MM: Great answer! I’m a total freak about King as well. And I love the way he blends normality into these classic monster motifs. Speaking of which, what horror mythology would you consider focusing on most for your next anthology? Werewolf’s, swamp creatures, vampires, mad scientists, aliens, mummies, ghosts, or zombies, or any combination of the above?

DR: My next collection (I’ve already been gathering up some stories for it, but I won’t be putting it together for a while) will focus more on human monsters, the darkness within the psyche. Serial killers, crimes of passion, cults, crimes “against nature,” and against humanity.

MM: On the subject of anthologies, do you have a favorite film or television anthology?

DR:  Of all time? Probably The Twilight Zone. I just loved how it often took real world issues and gave them a dark twist. I know the plots seem a little hackneyed nowadays, following a pretty standard formula. But the formula is virtually perfect, so why mess with it? I’ve got a a novelette out (How to Kill a Celebrity) that’s inspired heavily by The Twilight Zone. It was fun to write. I love when stories surprise me, when I’m not sure exactly what’s going to happen, and I was surprised by how it turned out. I hope other people feel the same.

I love anthology horror, though. Kolchak, American Horror Story, Masters of Horror, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Amazing Stories, Tales from the Crypt, Tales from the Darkside. There’s just so much you can do with anthology TV that you can’t with episodic. They’re the short stories of television.

MM: I couldn’t agree more. Love me some classic Twilight Zone! And I pretty much grew up ingesting Tales from the Crypt. So, I’ve heard you’ve got a full length novel coming out later this year? Salvage, right? Could you tell us a little bit about the book? What are some of the main themes?

DRSalvage is a novel about a man struggling with depression after the death of his little sister. His depression leads him to follow in her footsteps to the lake where she’d drowned, Chapel Lake: a valley flooded for a hydroelectric dam, with the ruins of a town below the water. The further he looks into her drowning, the more he believes foul play might have been involved. But he also starts to think the lake itself might be haunted. Depression, lost memories, childhood trauma and religious zealotry feature heavily.

MM: What inspired you to tackle the subject matter in Salvage? Would it be fair to say that faith, religion, and spirituality have deep roots in Salvage? Do you have any life experiences that helped you tap into the themes?

DR: My own memories of early childhood are very spotty, and I often wondered why that was, if other people’s memories of their own childhoods were mostly a mystery. One thing I do remember is a time when I was about three or four, my mother was invited to what turned out to be a sort of hippie Sufi commune, unbeknownst to her, and she brought me and my brothers along. It was a lot of holding hands and chanting, and since we didn’t go to church, it was my first experience with religion. It wasn’t exactly what I would call a fun time, but I think it’s the root of my interest in cults. Not that it was a cult, necessarily; I’m not even sure how faithful it was to the Sufism (which I believe is a sort of mystical offshoot of Islam, like what Kabbalah is to Judaism), since I was about three or four years old. I’ve always been interested in fringe groups, and atypical religions. Jim Jones, the Heaven’s Gate cult, David Koresh, Charlie Manson. The Svengali archetype is fascinating to me. I’m curious what makes intelligent, rational people follow maniacs to their deaths?

Plus, I’ve always wanted to write about God and religion in a horror story. It’s often used as a crutch to solve problems in horror (or used to be, like using the cross against vampires), and I thought it might be interesting to deal with it head-on, but without the Satanic overtones of most horror stories that deal with religion.

MM: How do you feel about your main character? The transitions? Are they a sympathetic character? Pitiful? Strong? or Despised?

DR: Owen Saddler starts out on shaky ground. He’s deeply depressed, but it hasn’t really occurred to him it could be a problem. He doesn’t much like the world around him. He’s in a downward spiral. I’ve been there myself, and it’s not a good place to be. After his younger sister drowns, he really feels he has nothing to keep him afloat–so to speak–aside from throwing himself into work. When his partner suggests he takes time off to grieve, instead of grieving (which he doesn’t want to do), he turns his sister’s death into mystery to solve. So in the beginning he’s possibly delusional, heading down a dangerous path, but he believes it’s the path to healing.

MM: During the process of telling a story, many writers tend to favor some of their characters over others, who would you think is your least favorite character? Why?

DR: None of them! Okay, I guess if I have to pick, it’d be Howard Lansall, Sr. He’s the sort of sad sack drunk who seems interesting at first, but you’d hate to meet at a bar. Gabbing your ear off, and complaining about his life, so drunk he doesn’t know he’s repeating himself.

MM: Why is water such a large focus in the book?

DR: Water heavily featured in my childhood. I grew up near a lake. I used to spend hours playing in the water, entire summers at another lake up north. I used to have dreams about draining the lake and finding treasures, hidden caverns, lost ruins. It’s also a nice metaphor for the subconscious, and buried memories, which is a big part of the book.

MM: Thanks for telling us a bit about your upcoming debut novel, SALVAGE. When can we expect to see its release?

DR: I’m hoping to see it released before Halloween, most likely late-October.

MM: Before we end this hellish interview, do you have any other projects you’re willing to discuss?

DR: ‘m percolating a thriller about a couple undergoing an unusual form of therapy, while I write my next novel. The blurb for this one is TOP SECRET, but I think it would be safe to reveal that it’s all about ghosts.

MM: Okay, last question. If you could create your own horror anthology on TV, what would that look like and why?

DR: There’s a lot of untapped talent in the indie author world. We had Masters of Horror (and it was mediocre, at best), so why not Indies of Horror?

And while it’s not technically an anthology, I’ve written a pilot for a series about the town of Dark Pines from “Beware of Dog” in Gristle & Bone. It’s about a small town psychiatrist dealing with inner monsters gone very bad.
MM: Okay! Thanks Duncan for stopping by and giving us our first author interview. I wish you all the best with your release of GRISTLE & BONE with Booktrope and the upcoming novel, SALVAGE.
DR: THANKS, THOMAS! Great questions!
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And there we have it folks! I want to thank Duncan Ralston for taking the time to answer my questions. Hopefully i didn’t make things too hard on him! If you want to keep up with Duncan, check out his website here. You can purchase his book, GRISTLE & BONE, here. Duncan is also hosting a giveaway contest for GRISTLE & BONE. If you want to enter for a chance to win a free copy, follow this link. Duncan also has a short story that will be published in a newly minted horror anthology, THE BLACK ROOM MANUSCRIPTS, available here for purchase.

 

 


Opus Questions with Dane Cobain

Howdy, and welcome to other rendition of Opus Questions! Much like the late great H.P. Lovecraft, I believe that the most merciful thing regarding humanity is our inability to grasp the whole of anything. If we could somehow piece together the great mysteries of life, said knowledge would cause us to go scampering off, mad from whatever terrifying revelation that came our way, sending us screaming gleefully from the light and into another Dark Age. But we have to look, don’t we? WE have this innate desire to peek into the dark. And this is what horror writers do, is it not? Horror wordsmiths pen strange and unusual stories to give us a peek at the cosmos. Horror illuminates our desire to look, reckless and heedless as it is. We voyage into the unknown because at root we crave that which terrifies us, the unknown. Horror writers of the strange and unusual are the grand heretics of the macabre, derelict puzzle guardians, whisperers in darkness asking, “What is your pleasure?” But what do these writers read? What sends them running for fear into the light? What has inspired them? Opus Questions delves into this curiosity. To understand the works that stimulate the heretics. It most certainly feels like a prerogative. To write, you must first read. So, to keep things interesting and to be a bit villainess on my part, I’ve asked my guests, up and coming authors of bizarre tales, to tell us a bit about their favorite books. And they could pick only two. You heard me. Just two!!! (laughs manically) So, without further ado, here is…

Dane Cobain:

Hi, folks! My name’s Dane Cobain, and I’m the author of No Rest for the Wicked, a supernatural thriller which was released by Booktrope’s Forsaken imprint. Thomas is one of my fellow writers on the imprint, which specialises in horror, and so when he asked me to take part in his Opus Questions series, I couldn’t say no! Despite the fact that we’re both horror writers, and that horror is something that brought the two of us together, my two favourite books would both be classed as fantasy. Let’s start with my second favourite, first.

 

J. K. Rowling – Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

 

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I wouldn’t say that I’m a Potterhead, but like any serious reader of my generation, I’ve read each of the Harry Potter books multiple times, including the spin-offs. Prisoner of Azkaban marked a departure for Rowling – up until this point, the Harry Potter series had been relatively childlike, and also relatively simple. Here, though, Rowling flexed her authorial muscles and delivered a masterclass on how to create a truly interconnected novel.

This, then, is the book which showed that Harry Potter wasn’t just for kids – in fact, this was the first book in which if you were a parent reading it to your kids, you’d enjoy it more than they would. It’s also the first book in the series which makes Rowling’s fictional world seem as realistic as the real world that we’re used to.

 

Philip Pullman – Northern Lights

 

Best book ever, I swear down. I first read Northern Lights, which was called ‘The Golden Compass’ in the US, when I was about thirteen, and I was instantly hooked – unfortunately, I had to wait for the next two books in the trilogy to come out.

northern lights

I’m not sure what it is about Pullman’s writing that blows me away, but there’s no denying that his work is both subtle and powerful, and his alternate universe is still as engrossing now as it was way back when I first discovered it.

Unfortunately, the novel was made into a (terrible) film, and that’s what most people remember. For the love of god, do not watch the film – read the book, then read the second book, then read the third book and cry at the ending, like I did.

 

Azkaban V.S. Northern Lights

 

It’s funny, because in many ways, the two books have a lot in common – in particular, they both take a look at a reality that’s close enough to our own for it to be believable, but different enough to be interesting. That’s an important quality for a book to have – Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the influential poet, claimed that if a writer could infuse “human interest and a semblance of truth” into a story, the reader would suspend their disbelief for as long as it took them to finish it.

They’re also both parts of a series, which means that there’s plenty more to come if you enjoy them. As the first in the His Dark Materials trilogy, Northern Lights makes for the better book for a first-time reader, because you’re not reading the series out of order.

And what Northern Lights has, which Azkaban doesn’t, is a message. Azkaban is just a piece of entertainment, although the time travel mechanism is exceptionally well worked-out. Northern Lights is a piece of entertainment as well, but it has a lot to say on the subjects of ethics, morality and religion.

But let’s face it – both of which are well worth reading, even more so than my book. Big thanks to Thomas for inviting me to stop by, and big thanks to you for reading! Feel free to hit me up on Facebook and Twitter, or to drop a comment on this post to let me know what you thought of my choices.

There you have it folks. Thank you Dane Cobain for stopping by and giving us a peek at the books that have inspired you and have helped you develop your own stories. As Dane has states above, he has a new book coming out, No Rest for the Wicked, being released with Booktrope Forsaken imprint, so be sure to check that out as we all know it’ll be hauntingly fantastic!!

Dane Cobain

Dane Cobain is not just a writer, but also a poet and musician from a place you’ve probably never heard of, somewhere in England. When he’s not writing books, he’s reading and reviewing them on his book blog – SocialBookshelves.com – or working at his day job in social media marketing. Find him at Facebook.com/DaneCobainMusic or follow @DaneCobain on Twitter.


Class Three: book in review

Class Three Tour blog tour banner

Well well well. Look what we’ve got here? Class Three, a feast de la resistance to the growing horde of literary works in the Zombie genre, Duncan Bradshaw takes us through what is known (the undead), tosses in plenty of gore and meat (the treats), adds a dash of bromance (the laughs), a sprinkle of off beat romance (the awes), two scoops of dark comedy (more laughs), and a tablespoon of religious zealotry (the jeers), and wallah, a new addition (or addiction if you choose) to the classic Romero-esk zombie story. And while the across the pond slang jokes might leave one pondering, the dark comedy shouldn’t, as it is rather prevalent and entertaining. Cruising my way through the chapters, either by Bradshaw’s intention or not, I felt as if I had somehow stumbled upon a long lost episode of Shaun of the Dead. However, to be forthcoming here, I must say, Class Three is a tad darker than the popular British horror-comedy, and for that I am grateful. This fact comes at you from the very beginning, as the book opens with the cataclysmic future and double murder of Colin and Francine at the hands of some rather disturbed individuals and then moving on to a heart wrenching if not entirely uncomfortable breakup of Jim and Sophie…”It’s not me, it’s you…” The statement itself sets the off beat pace. The survival of Jim and his big bro Philip, who “has a plan,” carries us in a 24 hour period till “hey, you got red on you…” And it is in moments like these, such as towards the end, when you’re not sure if this is a serious drama, but thankfully, we’ve got Phillip to remind us that life shouldn’t be so droll.

Synopsis Class Three:

Class Three book cover

Hungover, dumped and late for work.

On an ordinary day, one of these would be a bad morning, but today Jim Taylor also has to contend with the zombie apocalypse.

Follow Jim through twenty four hours of Day One, as he and his zombie obsessed brother deal with the undead, a doomsday cult and maniacs in their quest to get to their parents, win his girlfriend back and for them to instigate ‘The Plan’.

Worlds will collide and fall apart in a Class Three outbreak.

Duncan Bradshaw pic

From the author, Duncan Bradshaw:

I live in the simply marvelous county of Wiltshire in England with my wife Debbie and our two cats, Rafa and Pepe. We wile away the wee hours learning arcane incantations and medieval wind instruments, surviving solely on what our two furry faced fellows bring us. Winter is a bleak time indeed, when the common vole, the staple of our diet slumbers deep within the earth. I am a little obsessed with the undead, and devour (sorry) with my eyes anything relating to a zombie apocalypse. It means I have to wade through a lot of drivel, but once in a while I happen across something a bit different or so genuinely mental I weep softly as I didn’t think of it first. I suffer my day job with as good grace as I can muster, looking forward to getting home each day to continue with something creative.

You can get your copy of Class Three and follow Duncan Bradshaw and all his antics, here.

 


Opus Questions with Madeleine Swann

Much like the late great H.P. Lovecraft, I believe that the most merciful thing regarding humanity is our inability to grasp the whole of anything. If we could somehow piece together the great mysteries of life, said knowledge would cause us to go scampering off, mad from whatever terrifying revelation that came our way, sending us screaming gleefully from the light and into another Dark Age. And this is what horror does, is it not? Reminding us through strange and unusual stories our very own magnum opus, our grand plight as mere morals, our inability the fathom the depth of the cosmos. And horror also illuminates our desire to look, reckless and heedless as it is. We voyage into the unknown because at root we crave that which terrifies us. Horror writers of the strange and unusual are the grand heretics of the macabre, derelict puzzle guardians, whisperers in darkness asking, “What is your pleasure?” But what do this writers read? What sends them running for fear into the light? Opus Questions delves into this curiosity. To understand the works that stimulate the heretics. It most certainly feels like a prerogative. To write, you must first read. So, to keep things interesting and to be a bit villainess on my part, I’ve asked my guests, up and coming authors of bizarre tales, to tell us a bit about their favorite books. And they could pick only two. You heard me. Just two!!! (laughs manically) So, without further ado, here is…

Madeleine Swann:

The Giant Book of Zombies, 1995.

The Giant Book of Zombies, 1995.

The first book I’ve chosen is The Giant Book of Zombies, edited by Stephen Jones. It holds a special place in my heart as it was the first Christmas present from my stepdad when I was around 14 or 15 (he already knew me so well).

I was very fond of the ‘weird one at the end’ as I called it, On the Far Side of the Cadillac Desert with Dead Folks by Joe R Lansdale. Also Patricia’s Profession by Kim Newman has an intriguing take on the mythology where people pay to ‘murder’ living dead girls.

Sex, Death and Starshine, by Clive Barker, involves the mission of undead visitors in a theatre to make the director’s play as good as possible. Les Daniels’ story They’re Coming for You is about an affair that goes wrong; when my teenage self-first read the ending I laughed and laughed like the strange person I was. Finally Re-animator, Schalken the Painter and A Warning to the Curious are classics, and there are lots of other very good ones too.

The Weird, Ann and Jeff Vandermeer, 2012

The Weird, Ann and Jeff Vandermeer, 2012

 

The next one is called The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories. One of my favourite genres by far is weird fiction and it’s an extra packet of biscuits if it’s dark too.

Edited by Ann & Jeff Vandermeer, this enormous tome (incidentally also a Christmas present, this time from mum. Hi mum!) contains almost everyone I’ve ever been influenced by ever. My eyes literally bleed and I prolapse when I try to explain how much I love this book.

Here’s just a tiny amount of those involved: Neil Gaiman (with an unexpectedly dark tale for him); Haruki Murakami; silky worded Angela Carter; George RR Martin (wrote some stuff about thrones or something); Daphne Du Maurier’s story Don’t Look Now, which became the film with Donald Sutherland; Saki (if you’ve never read Saki, do – he is possibly one of my favourites and very mischievously funny); surrealist Leonora Carrington; Robert Aickman; Kafka…need I go on? Just read it!

madeleine-swann

 

I want to thank Madeleine Swann for taking the time to tell us a bit about the works that have inspired her, that have pushed her into the mad dark abyss. For those not in the know, Madeleine Swann is the author of several pieces of bizarre fiction, including her own collection of short stories, The Filing Cabinet of Doom: 17 Bizarro Short Stories. You can find Miss Swann lurking about her blog and on Twitter. Madeleine Swann is also contributing a new bizarro story in the upcoming horror anthology, The Black Room Manuscripts, due later this summer.


Opus Questions with Kit Power

Inside the imagination of horror writers you’ll find untold curiosities. Strange and unusual stories crafted from equally appalling minds. But where do horror writers get their ideas? Certainly, from the world around them. No doubt. For the world, historically speaking, can be both strange and unusual. But I think equally important, horror writers hone most of their craft from reading the works of others. It most certainly feels like a prerogative. To write, you must first read. Thus, here with Opus Questions we delve into this line questioning. What do horror writers read? What works have helped shape their own words. What books have inspired these wordsmiths of the macabre? So, to keep things interesting and to be a bit villainess on my part, I’ve asked my guests to tell us what their favorite books are and why. And they can pick only two. You heard me. Just two!!! (laughs manically) So, without further ado, here is…

Kit Power:

It is, of course, impossible. Two favourite books? Just two? I’d struggle with the two favourite books I’ve read this year. Of all time? Ludicrous bloody question. Quite impossible.

I have therefore done what any honourable person would do – I’ve cheated. Here, then, are not my two favourite books, but rather the two books that I think have had the most direct and immediate impact on my writing life. Without these two books, I’m fairly confident you wouldn’t be reading this now. So, you know, blame them.

Or rather, as both books were written by Stephen King, blame him, I guess.

First up is IT. I read this book when I was eleven years old, and read it every year for the following ten years at least – normally over winter. Something about short days and long nights made this epic tale of the summer of 1958 deeply appealing – even with all the child murders, shape shifting monsters, and bowel loosening terror.

IT, Stephen King, 1986

IT, Stephen King, 1986

That first time though – jeepers. The book is dedicated to kids, thus giving the entirely false impression that it may be in some way suitable for them. It isn’t, as anyone with even a passing familiarity with the text will attest. It emphatically isn’t. For example, (and spoiler alert, I guess, but for heaven’s sake sort your life out and go read the bloody thing) the opening chapter of the book involves a six year old boy having his arm ripped off by a clown that isn’t really a clown but a monster that lives in the sewer.

Chapter 1. Things do not improve from there, to put it mildly. There was at least twice, during that first read through, when I had to abandon the book for a while, so vivid and terrifying were the nightmares (and for that matter, daymares) it invoked. The first was a passage concerning the strange death and even stranger life of a ten year old psychopath called Patrick Hocksetter, and the second involved the Losers Club preparing to storm what was clearly the haunted house from hell, which I wasn’t expecting any of them to survive.

But really, the book doesn’t let up at all – cruelty after cruelty, monster and human alike, a catalogue of horrors that avoids monotony by sheer force of imagination, of personal touch, of characterization.

Not Safe For Kids. And yet… reading it transformed my outlook. About what fiction could be. About what it could do. The notion that a horror story containing kids could have the kids get killed was a violation of what I’d thought of being a fairly iron clad rule of fiction – threat, sure, temporary cruelty or hardship, absolutely, but vicious death? Never! Impossible. And yet…

It was suddenly clear to me that actually, it was possible that there were no rules. That the gloves could come all the way off.

That anything was possible.

That’s the reason I write the kind of fiction I do – whatever the genre, this insight is my north star, the question I ask myself when I edit, draft, polish. Did I go all the way? Did the story?

So for better or worse, IT is why I write what I write.

The reason I write at all is “On Writing.”

The timing was perfect, that’s all. I’d gotten the book as a birthday present three years ago, after finally finishing The Dark Tower series which reignited my interest in King (yeah, I didn’t hate the end or the last three books. Sorry.) It sat on the shelf as I frantically completed a year of distance learning to improve my CV. I picked it up either as the course was finishing or just before.

On Writing, Stephen King, 2000.

On Writing, Stephen King, 2000.

And just POW! ‘Do you need permission to write? Very well, I give you permission.’ Lightbulb. Fireworks. Pick your choice of overworked synonym.

I loved writing. I loved it so much. I even didn’t completely hate writing essays about a subject I detested to get a qualification I needed. This realization collided with the fact that I’d been spending 8–10 hours a week for the last year on this course. That’s 8–10 hours of time a week ‘spare’. Unclaimed.

Wasted.

Would I go back to watching lame telly, or acquiring PS3 trophies? That would feel… not good. Should I perchance enroll in another course, maybe start trying to complete a degree course? My very soul shriveled from the thought of another five years spent thus wise engaged.

There was Another Way. Another Choice. The author who had most shaped my philosophy about fiction, and done so by raw example, had just advised me that writing fiction for fun was one of the greatest, most rewarding and pleasurable pursuits known to man, and that the more seriously you took it, the more fun it was. He’d shared his approach to the craft, which married so closely with my own I found it eerie (I guess not thinking then how it must be a fairly common approach overall – there may be more than one way to skin a cat, after all, but probably not a ton more).

Best of all, I had Permission. Permission to write. Permission to take it seriously. Permission to set loose that imagination in the service of telling a story, and making others feel by sheer force of language.

I sat down and wrote my novella Lifeline in three weeks. I still haven’t looked back.

 

kitpower

I want to thank Kit Power for taking the time and sharing with us a bit about the books that have helped shape his strange and unusual mind. Kit Power is an up and coming wordsmith of macabre. He has several anthologies he’s contributed to, all available on Amazon. His novella is also available, Lifeline. You can find Mr. Power lurking about on Ginger Nuts of Horror as a contributing writer and reviewer for the site. Or you can find him on his own site, here, discussing the art of writing and the world of horror entertainment. Kit Power will also be featured in the up and coming horror anthology, The Black Room Manuscripts, coming later this summer.

 


Opus Questions with Jeffery X Martin

Beyond the sunlit world exists a land of shadow and myth. Are you ready to enter? On this episode of Opus Questions we’ll have the unfortunate pleasure of hearing from Jeffery X Martin, a twisted brilliant mind of dark and unpleasant words.  If you’ve been following this chain of segments, Opus Questions is all about traveling that dark and narrow road to discover what horror writers enjoy reading, what books tickle their fancy, what novelizations have terrified them, haunted them, forced them to turn on the light. Opus Questions is also about finding what books have inspired these up and coming wordsmiths of the strange and unusual. For every writer has their favorites, the ones they hold dear. Because part of being a good writer, you have to be a good reader as well. So, to keep things interesting and to be a bit villainess on my part, I’ve asked my guests to tell us what their favorite books are and why. And they can pick only two. You heard me. Just two!!! (laughs manically) So, without further ado, here is…

Jeffery X Martin:

You’re on the bus after a long day at work. It’s a Friday, and you want nothing more than to take off your pants, fix a stiff neat drink and hope to hell your head clears out. Not on the bus. That would be weird. Note to self: Must keep pants on while riding public transit.

An old woman has decided to sit next to you, of all places. There are easily fifteen empty seats on the bus, but she plants herself right beside you. She smells faintly of denture adhesive and knee sweat. On her purse is a giant white button, which reads in bright red letters, “ASK ME ABOUT MY GRANDCHILDREN!” You catch her maneuvering her bag on her lap, making sure you can’t help but see the button. The sweet message is now a challenge. Her matriarchal pride looms over the two of you like a hot cloud.

You know asking her is a terrible idea. There is never just one grandchild. She is the Mother of Nations. She will have to tell you about each and every dismount, in alphabetical order, stating their latest developmental milestones like new commandments, cooing their names like she can wish them into her presence. Her anticipation and nervousness are getting to you now, and you can feel a fine film of sweat forming on your forearms.

You don’t want to ask.
You need to ask.

THAT is precisely what Thomas S Flowers has done by asking what my two favorite books are. He has put himself in that situation. He has done it to you, also, Reader. I am shifting in my seat, a small smile on my face.

Come here.
Let me tell you about my two favorite books.

There’s nothing more punk rock than a good short story. Get in, make your point, and get out. Leave an impact. Make someone feel something without having to wrap them up in a blanket of flowery prose. Do that, and you have done something amazing not only for your reader, but for yourself as a human being. You’ve communicated effectively. Not even politicians understand how to do that.

Dark Forces, Kirby McCauley, 1980

Dark Forces, Kirby McCauley, 1980

But legendary editor Kirby McCauley understood. He got it. When he put together the anthology, Dark Forces, he created the perfect snapshot of horror at that time. I was eleven years old when I read that book and it changed my life. That’s not hyperbole.

Each story by itself is a prime example of fierce writing, even Stephen King’s novella The Mist, which sets itself up with comic-book like quickness and delivers on every level. It introduced me to the lonely highways of Dennis Etchison and the poetic dread of Lisa Tuttle. Robert Bloch’s tale, “The Night before Christmas,” was a direct influence on one of the stories in my book, Black Friday. It was a crazy collection, a gonzo mixture of old and new. It was also the first time I thought of short stories as something other than homework. They were viable vessels of fear.

The more I became involved in horror, the more I wanted to read. New stuff, old stuff, whatever. The Arbor House Treasury of Horror and the Supernatural read like a full college course in horror fiction. It was even divided up into a “Classics” section and a “Modern Masters” section. Eclectic? You bet. This book has horror stories from Truman Capote, William Faulkner and Winston Churchill. The modern stories are equally as fantastic, featuring Ramsey Campbell, Charles L. Grant, and one of Karl Edward Wagner’s best stories, “Sticks.”

The Arbor House Treasury of Horror and the Supernatural

The Arbor House Treasury of Horror and the Supernatural

I credit these two books for helping me pass English classes. If the Arbor House book with the crazy long name was my college education, Dark Forces was my extra-curricular reading. I absorbed them. I learned structure by osmosis. I figured out character development through repeated reading. It’s like that anti-drug PSA from the Eighties.

I learned it by watching them.

Thanks to Mr. Flowers for allowing me to bogart his blog. I’m sure you’ve already bought his new book, Reinheit, and are looking forward to his story in The Black Room Manuscripts. I’m going to go back to the beginning of this blog entry and finish that story I started.

Blame Arbor House and Kirby McCauley.

 

jefferyxmartin

I want to thank Jeffery X Martin for taking the time and telling us a bit about the books and collections that have helped shaped his darkly twisted mind. You can find Jeffery X Martin lurking somewhere in the Great American Southland, where his name is whispered in fear around dying campfires on humid nights at the edge of summer. He enjoys Italian horror movies, professional wrestling and a nice sunset. He can be heard on several podcasts, including Kiss the Goat, a show about Devil movies he co-hosts with his wife, Hannah. His latest book, Short Stories about You, is available on Amazon. You can also follow him on Twitter: @JefferyXMartin.

 


Opus Questions with Duncan Ralston

Greetings Boils and Ghouls, on this episode of Opus Questions we’ll be hearing from the fiendishly talented Duncan Ralston. If you’ve been following this chain of segments on Machine Mean, Opus Questions is all about finding out what horror writers enjoy reading, what books tickle their fancy, what novelizations have terrified them, haunted them, forced them to turn on the light. Opus Questions is also about discovering what books have inspired up and coming wordsmiths of macabre. For every writer has their favorites, the ones they hold dear. Because part of being a good writer, you have to be a good reader. You have to read — prolifically (grammar?).  So, to keep things interesting and to be a bit villainess on my part, I’ve asked my guests to tell us what their favorite books are and why. And they can pick only two. You heard me. Just two!!! (laughs manically) So, without further ado, here is…

Duncan Ralston:

When someone asks “What’s your favorite (book, movie, TV series, song)?” I find the answer about as difficult as choosing what to order when everything on the menu looks good and I haven’t eaten since breakfast. For the sake of Thomas’s request, I’ve narrowed it down to the two books that influenced me to start writing. Stephen King’s Night Shift, and Clive Barker’s Books of Blood were my first journeys into their terrifying minds, and still resonate with me long after reading. They aren’t necessarily my all-time “favorites,” but they’ve inspired me to achieve similar heights in my own writing.

Night Shift was on the shelf at the old cottage, and its creepy cover called to me… You may know the one: the hand covered in eyeballs and wrapped in gauze (this was the double cover, with the eyes peeking out from holes in the flap). It refers to the story “I Am the Doorway,” where an astronaut brings home an alien stowaway that uses him to peek into our world. Night Shift effectively blends science fiction, horror, terror (if you don’t know the difference, pick up his seminal non-fiction book, Danse Macabre), and gross-outs. Most may not be the best King shorts, nor the most chilling, but they are memorable for the far-outness of their concepts, and the sheer amount of adaptations they produced.

Night Shift, Stephen King, 1978

Night Shift, Stephen King, 1978

“Jerusalem’s Lot” and “One for the Road” serve as a sort of prologue and epilogue to the novel, ‘Salem’s Lot. “Children of the Corn,” about a couple who stumble into a creepy religious town where there are no adults, was made into more sequels than it deserved. “Trucks” became King’s directorial debut, Maximum Overdrive, with Emilio Estevez and an AC/DC soundtrack King probably listened to while he wrote the script. My favorite of the bunch when I was a kid, “Battleground” (which I copied from memory for a school assignment on my dad’s Tandy laptop), was adapted well in the Nightmares & Dreamscapes miniseries, with John Hurt as the hitman besieged by the toymaker’s box of animated soldiers.

In a recent reread, I found two decidedly non-horror stories work very well for their surprising level of emotion and honesty. “The Last Rung on the Ladder” is a haunting story about siblings, trust, and suicide. “The Woman in the Room,” the first short film by Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption, The Walking Dead), is a sad tale of a man’s inner demons and remorse as he prepares to pull the plug on his dying mother. I have a feeling King, whose mother had recently passed, wrote the story to purge his own demons, and those feelings shine through (darkly) on the page.

The book also stands out in my mind for two quotes about writing that have stuck with me, one from John D. MacDonald, and the other from King himself. In the Introduction, MacDonald wrote that when he met people at parties, someone would always said, “You know, I’ve always wanted to write,” to which he began gleefully replying, “You know, I’ve always wanted to be a brain surgeon.” In the Foreword, Stephen King answers a question in a similar fashion: when asked “Why do you choose to write about such gruesome subjects?” King responds, “Why do you think I have a choice?”

I think he was on to something.

“I have seen the future of horror… and his name is Clive Barker.” This quote by Stephen King was splashed across the covers of Clive Barker’s Books of Blood omnibuses that I happened across at my local library. (For a small town, the Millbrook Public Library seemed to have just about everything a young horror fan required to keep himself sane.) Barker’s short stories are still some of the most visceral and imaginative I’ve ever read. His prose is often spare, but always vivid. It was Barker’s work that inspired me to try my hand at writing fiction outside of school assignments. My first few short stories as a teen were very Barker-esque, featuring sado-masochism and love-starved demons.

Books of Blood: Vol 2, Clive Barker

Books of Blood: Vol 2, Clive Barker

The omnibuses open with the eponymous frame story, in which we learn the Books have been carved into the flesh of a phony psychic by the ghosts of a haunted house. From there we take a ride on “The Midnight Meat Train,” following serial killer Mahogany into the depths of depravity. “In the Hills, the Cities” contains some incredible imagery and heavy metaphor, and introduced me to openly gay protagonists, which is significant mostly because I almost chose Barker’s 1996 novel, Sacrament, as my favorite, a book often criticized by cretins for a handful of explicit gay sex scenes.

There are other stories that return to my imagination like the animated dead from time to time: “The Body Politic,” in which our hands revolt, lopping each other from the oppressive shackles of our bodies and skittering off to conquer the world. In “Down, Satan!” a man seeks the attention of God by building a Hell on Earth. “The Age of Desire” is a chemical aphrodisiac experiment gone wrong. “The Forbidden,” a story about the power of legends, became the basis for one of my favorite horror movies, Candyman. It was Barker’s collection, filled with gruesome imagery, insane twists, poetic style, and in-your-face sex and violence, that made me decide to publish a short story collection of my own.

Stephen King once wrote that short stories are becoming a dying art. Everybody wants longer novels, series, sequels. I believe there will always be a place for them. Anthologies are becoming increasingly popular, particularly in the horror genre. Short stories have the benefit of being read in one sitting. For a writer, there is no better spark for the imagination. Both Barker’s and King’s short stories have been and continue to be a huge inspiration for me and my writing.

DuncanRalston

I want to thank Duncan Ralston for taking the time and telling us a bit about his two favorite books and how they’ve inspired him in his our disturbed quests. Duncan Ralston is the author of Gristle & Bone, a collection of fantastic and terrifying short stories. His debut novel, SALVAGE, will hit eBooks and paperback shelves this summer. You can find and keep up with Duncan via his website The Fold and/or you can follow him on Twitter and/or Facebook.


Opus Questions with J.R. Park

Next on our insidious list of horror writers is none other than J.R. Park. If you do recall, we’ve been traveling down this macabre road to discover what tickles the underbelly for horror writers, that is, what kinds of books do dark and unusual wordsmiths keep on their shelves? When it comes to writing, one must read. It is a necessity for the trade in which we like to keep. Reading other works helps showcase a range of talent by not only reading our own genre of choice but also other genres. And when it comes to horror writers, we are often found to have a wide assortment of favorite books we like to keep close-by. And because we are “prolific readers”  we can reach into a deep chasm of knowledge and information that helps shape and adds depth to our own stories. So, in keeping things interesting and to be a bit villainess on my part, I’ve asked my guests to tell us what their two favorite books are and why. That’s right. You heard me. Only two!!! (laughs manically) So, without further ado, here is… J.R. Park:

The crafty author of Reinheit asked me to nominate and write about two of my favourite books.  Since he extended the invitation I have been pondering over exactly which two to choose.  Whilst I make it no secret that the books of Guy N Smith was the spark that ignited my motivation to finally sit down and write I didn’t want to repeat myself.  Nor did I want to write about classics that you have read about countless times.  Whilst I have a big love and admiration for Alice In Wonderland, The Picture Of Dorian Gray and The Hitch Hikers Guide To The Galaxy, these books have been discussed often. So instead I thought about my horror influences and the books that guided me on to that shadowy path from an early age. My first selection would be House Of Hell by Steve Jackson.  This was book number 10 in the Fighting Fantasy series: a collection of choose your own adventure books with a combat gaming system involved.  Most of the series was set in a fantasy world with the usual goblins, dwarves and elves as well as a breath-takingly imaginative menagerie of original creations.  House of Hell was the odd one out in that it was set in modern times.

House of Hell, Steve Jackson, 1984

House of Hell, Steve Jackson, 1984

In the book you are the central character and after driving through a storm and crashing into a ditch you spy an old house and decide to take shelter.  From this moment the choice of the story is in your hands and you can either knock on the door or wander round the side of the house and investigate this potential place of refuge. Once inside the house things get real nasty quickly.  Wandering through the corridors and different floors you encounter zombies, a hunch back, devil worshippers, fire sprites, severed heads, scary ass demons and more.  At the young age of seven this was spooky fun, made even more creepy by having the submersive element of being able to decide what to do next.  I was so scared of turning the wrong corner that I’d keep my fingers in previous pages so I could quickly go back. Unfortunately this would end up with me marking six or seven sections, running out of fingers and make turning the next page an impossibility. I still have my original book from 1985, horded like a piece of treasure and still love to look over the stunning artwork inside. To this day I never completed the book and vanquished the House Of Hell, but I’ll keep trying. My second horrific piece of prose is the sensual and genre breaking work that is Cabal by Clive Barker.  It was 1990 and although still young I was beginning to read more adult books.  Nightbreed was coming out as a movie and I remember seeing it being written about in computer game magazines of the time.

Cabal, Clive Barker, 1988

Cabal, Clive Barker, 1988

Intrigued by this, but knowing I was far too young to be allowed to watch the film I tracked down the book, discovering it to be called Cabal.  Reading this book I realised horror could be much more than the adaptation of Stephen King stories I had seen played late night on the TV.  Barker offered an intellectualism that I had not encountered in the genre mixed with an eroticism that seeped through the text on the page. I read the first few chapters in my mum’s car as she drove me back from the neighbouring city where I had bought my copy.  By the time we had arrived home I had already been witness to a man losing his mind, overdosing on meds and trying to kill himself by jumping in front of truck, only to end up in a hospital with a lunatic that spouted about monsters before tearing his own face off. The speed of the action was wonderful.  Within a short space of time we had gore, horror and the building of an imaginative mythology. The imagination only flourished from there.  A wave of monstrous outcasts, rejects from society, filled the pages as they banded together for survival.  This was a very poignant sentiment for my young teenage mind at the time. I have read this book more times than any other and the beautiful thing is that I keep reading different interpretations. It was only last year I read that Cabal was considered the first openly gay horror story, an allegory I had not thought of before.  But it fits with the ‘Breed being an underground culture persecuted by the Church, the Police and Psychiatry (something very true for the gay community in the 1980s/ early 90s). Another comment and viewpoint came from the author himself, explaining how it was a reaction of the old, fantastical horror of myth and beasts vs the new horror of hack and slash, human killers. I won’t labour the point any more, but this book has hidden depths, deeper than the 268 pages it is printed on. With a restoration of the ‘directors cut’ of the film and a TV series currently being worked on I suggest you take a look at the source material and read this wonderful novella.

jrpark I want to thank J.R. Park for taking the time to sit with us and discuss the two books that have helped shape how he sees and understands horror. I’ve seen Nightbreed but have yet to read Cabal. I think I’ll be adding a new book to my reading list. Thanks! J.R. Park is the author of horror fiction and strange tales, including both Punch and Terror Byte. Mr. Park is also contributing to a horror anthology titled The Black Room Manuscripts to be released later this year. You can keep up with J.R. Park on his website and follow him on Twitter.