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.
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?
DR: Salvage 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!
August 3, 2015 | Categories: Horror, Reviews | Tags: author interview, Duncan Ralston, Gristle & Bone, Horror, Horror Anthology, horror stories, horror writer, Richard Bachman, Salvage, Stephen King, Tales from the Crypt, The Black Room Manuscripts, The Twilight Zone | 3 Comments
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…
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 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!
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.
March 26, 2015 | Categories: Horror, Reviews | Tags: Angela Carter, author interview, Donald Sutherland, George RR Martin, Haruki Murakami, Horror, horror review, Jeff Vandermeer, Joe R Lansdale, Madeleine Swann, The Black Room Manuscripts, The Giant Book of Zombies, The Weird | Leave a comment