Saturday, October 31, 2009

Horror Authors Talk

Second Halloween feature is based on the "Gather the 13" principle. I have one question and I ask it to as many horror or dark fiction writers as possible and just see what lurks inside their creative minds. The questions for the horror authors is:

It's undeniable that Halloween has had quite a sway over mainstream culture. Apart from giving a push to many formats from Halloween special TV episodes to Halloween themed books, movies, comic books and even music, I think it has popularized and helped spread the horror genre around the globe as well as the desire for a chill thrill and a hefty scream. Halloween has established a pantheon of monsters used for scaring small children and grown-ups alike. Whether you yourself celebrate this holiday or don't, can you say what monster or paranormal concept scared you in your youth and fascinated you at the same time?

And here are the answers:

1) Marcia Colette - Bio: Paranormal Romance and Urban Fantasy writer with a known tendency to flirt with horror and the dark, gritty side of things. Her work includes the novels "Half Breed", "Stripped" and "Unstable Environment" - Answer:

Demon possession scares the crap out of me and still do to this day. Vampires, werewolves, the walking dead. Those I can handle. But demons? That's another story. I guess it's because of all the paranormal that's out there, demons are the most real to me. I think they exist, though I've never had a demonic encounter and don't want one. But at the same time, I'm fascinated because like vampires and werewolves, they're part of the unknown. I want to know more with the hopes of being less afraid. The Exorcist scared me when I first saw it. Today, it's fun to sit around and watch it while analyzing the possibilities. Not only that, but they have been known to be the reason for some hauntings, too, which is why I have some reservations when it comes to ghosts. When I was a kid, I could count the number of movies that creeped me out like Poltergeist and the Amityville Horror. Today, not so much. And no, I have no intentions of seeing Paranormal Activity either. Not knowing what I know now about it. I need all of the sleep I can get these days.

2) Kaaron Warren - Bio: Australian horror writer currently living in Fiji with more than 70 short stories under her belt as well as three novels, among which is also the chilling "Slights" - Answer:

The radio commercial for “The Shining” terrified me. The sound of water rushing, but it wasn’t water, was it, it was blood. I knew I had to see that movie. I hadn’t read the book. I can’t remember if I’d even heard of Stephen King then.

But I knew I wanted to be scared like that for a whole movie.

I can’t remember now if my parents let me go, or if I lied. I think I lied; I saw it with a friend who had grown siblings. We met at her sister’s house. It was the one and only time I was there. It was the night we were told that her husband molested their children. I remember clearly hearing this. I had met him; he was maybe ten years older than us, short hair. He was almost handsome and nice to us. I think he gave me a chocolate bar.

His daughter told her mother, “Daddy makes us look at the white stuff in his penis.”

I remember we were standing in the kitchen of my friend’s sister’s house. The tiles on the floor were purple and white squares; I counted them. I didn’t know what you said when someone told you such a thing.

We saw the movie. It was terrifying, surprising, sick-making. Funny. “Red Rum became a catch-phrase for us.

We caught the train home. It was late. The train door wouldn’t shut and it banged, banged, and every time I thought someone had run through the air and thrown themselves onto the train. I didn’t want to know what sort of person could do such a thing.

My friend and I scared each other, talking about the people on the platforms as we pulled in.

“You never know,” she said. “See that woman? She keeps children under her house.”

“You never know,” I said. “See that old guy?”

He climbed onto the train slowly and walked towards us, dragging his leg. Just like Jack Nicholson. Jack Torrance in The Shining, like that crazy axe-murderer.

My friend and I clutched each other. He had one arm tucked in his coat and we knew he had an axe in there.

The old man sat down and it was a bottle he held hidden. He offered it to us. We giggled.

Scary stories were over.

I’ve seen The Shining dozens of times since then. Jack Torrance always scares me, the way he shifts into hate so easily.

My friend’s sister left the husband. I think we talked about it; my friend was angry and I think we talked about what we’d do to him if we ever aw him.

That night remains clear in my mind as one of the scariest of my youth. There was the created fear of the movie, the imagined fear of people flying through the air, and the very real fear of an adult hurting a child.

3) Gary McMahon - Bio: Gary McMahon lives, works and writes in West Yorkshire but possesses a New York state of mind. He shares his life with a wife, a son, and the nagging stories that won’t give him any peace until he writes them. He has published numerous short stories to anthologies and magazines as well as novels. - Answer:

I'd have to say that the concept of hollowing out a pumpkin, carving a creepy face on it, and thenplacing a burning candle inside has to be the creepist Halloween tradition. Just the look of a glowing pumpkin (or turnip, as we used to utilise when I was a boy) is inherently spooky. It's a very evocative image, and one that has always held a strange resonance for me that I can never quite explain...

4) David Barr Kirtley - Bio: Profilic short fiction writer with a rather lengthy bio that can't be summed up in a few sentences to capture the whole awesomeness. - Answer:

When I was a kid I read a picture book of scary stories. I wish I remembered what it was called. The first story was about a boy who gets a stuffed monkey toy, a sort of ragged old hand-me-down, and someone has sewn needles into its paws to make claws, which cut the kid before he notices them. He starts having nightmares about the monkey, and by the end of the story the nightmares have become reality and he’s trapped, and the monkey has become gigantic and is looming over him -- this was one of the illustrations. That story scared the crap out of me. So much so that I returned the book to the library without reading any of the other stories. So much so that I basically didn’t go near the horror genre for years afterward. I was too scared to read Stephen King, too scared to watch Friday the 13th or Nightmare on Elm Street, so I missed a lot of the standard stuff that kids of my generation would probably name. I used to have to cover my eyes during the librarian ghost scene in Ghostbusters, and for a long time James Cameron’s Aliens was probably the scariest movie I’d watched. Then one night I was sitting in front of the TV, and somehow started watching this movie called Killer Clowns from Outer Space, about alien clowns who land in a UFO/circus tent, and start abducting people and cocooning them in cotton candy, and then the clowns use curly straws to suck out their victims’ blood. The only way to kill them is to shoot them in their big red noses. It sounds like a comedy, and if I watched it today I’d probably see it as a comedy, but I don’t think any movie has ever unnerved me as much as that one did. There’s just something really freaky about clowns. Clowns, dolls, puppets, anything like that. (There was a great episode of the Tales from the Crypt TV show that featured a puppet who avenges himself on his owner’s scheming wife.) A piece of fiction that really did it for me was George R. R. Martin’s “Sandkings.” I read that in an airport while waiting for a delayed flight to board, and the story transported me completely, and by the time I finished it my adrenaline was racing and I looked around, startled to be back in the airport. You know something is good when it can scare you even in a crowded airport at noon.

5) T. A. Moore - Bio: Irish short story writer with affliction to the haunting and gothic fiction with one novel "The Even" and a sequel under works. - Answer:

There was something about the concept of Frankenstein's Monster that always troubled me. I wasn't scared of the Monster himself, he was always more tragic than anything else, but the concept behind his creation was a different matter. The idea of a patchwork creation of corpse flesh and man's ambition, patched together with bolts and stitches, possessing the concept of humanity but rebuked for reaching for it. Frankenstein did not wish to be a father, but to be a God - and what worth is the godhead if you must admit your creation is your equal? The Monster's gradual moral deterioration, its discovery of cruelty and vengence, is troubling too. Could the events of the novel have been averted if Frankenstein had not been repelled by his creation, if someone had extended the hand of kindness or if the Monster had another of its kind? Or was the Monster's nature defined by the means of its creation?

The questions and concepts raised in Frankenstein are pervasive in both SF and horror: cloning, robots, evil hands.

Of course, as a child I was most terrified of the Toilet Monster: a tentacled monstrosity that dwelt in the toilet and tried to grab you whenever the toilet lifted the grate that kept it out. The Toilet Monster doesn't raise as many philosophical questions as Frankenstein's Monster, but Stephen King did explore the idea in a short story called 'The Moving Finger'. For all the monsters already birthed into the collective consciousness, we can still find our own versions of them in the oddest of places.

6) Nancy Kilpatrick - Bio: I think that we can skip with this bio, because everybody knows just how prolific with both novels and short stories - Answer:

I agree that Halloween is a popular holiday. One reason is that it’s not like the others. Halloween is given over to the dark side and Valentine’s Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Eve etc just don’t go there.

The history of Halloween is intriguing and your readers can check it out elsewhere, but essentially this was All Saints’ Day, which followed on the heels of Samhain, a Celtic harvest ritual when the change of season straddled the ‘light’ days of summer and the ‘dark’ days of fall. There are times of the year where a big change occurs (and even times of the day—dawn and dusk), but fall is the most shocking. I mean, who gets shocked when we slip from the cold end of fall into the colder winter? Or from the chill of winter into the rebirth of spring?

It seems innate in human beings that some part of us is deeply effected by these pivotal events, and the shocking and scary one is the demise of summer. The Celts believe this end-of-harvest time was when the dark door opened and spirits from the other side could enter our world, for good or for ill. There are other cultures which have similar traditions, for instance in India, in parts of South America, and Mexico’s Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) on Nov 1 and 2, where it’s thought that the souls of the dearly departed return. If you don’t know about the Mexican holiday you can check out this website, which has my story “Dia de los Muertos”:

The Celts must have been a fun people. They came up with the idea of (dis)guising one’s self so that when these spirits came through the wrinkle in time, they wouldn’t harm the living by trying to cart them back beyond the veil. If you dressed up like a creepy other-worldly being, they would believe that you were one of their own and continue on their search for the living to torment. Pumpkins or jack-o’-lanterns protected your home by showing these ghastly beings from the beyond another demonic face to stop them from entering what, presumably, reminded them of where they normally dwelled.

Of course, the modern world just plays at this, or so they think. There are still plenty of scary images on Halloween roaming the streets, along with a plethora of angels, fairies, corn flake boxes... Personally, I think it’s safer to go the scary route with costuming, because you never know…

But despite laughing at the supernatural and dressing up like Madonna, a majority of 21st century people have a strong belief in ghosts. Yearly media surveys prove this. And ditto for the existence of vampires.

Although I have written a lot of vampire fiction, vampires were not the most frightening supernaturals for me in childhood. I’ve always been creeped out by ghosts and, as they emerged from the Haitian style, zombies. The former are passing through realms. Most of us humanoids are privy to only one realm, aka ‘reality’, with our mini-voyages to other realms in dreams or through artwork, and for some through intoxicants. Because we have fears, ghosts, being rather hazy and incorporeal, are an easy way to envision those fears. Zombies are a more definite fear, it seems to me. They are unstoppable killers, often orally fixated, and mindless. Banded together they form mobs, reminding us of fantasy--where the living stormed castles with torches and pitchforks; or fact--those who painted the streets red with blood during revolutions in France, Russia and other places around the globe. Any rational person fears this irrationality because we know there’s very little if anything that can be done to stop it.

As a writer with what I hope is an artistic bent to my work, I tend to find these beings horrifying and fascinating at the same time. I view them as I would a rather ugly insect pinned to a board: I want to vomit and yet I’m in awe of such a hideous creature and astonished that it exists.

For the record, my most recent ghost story “Sara” appears in Campus Chills. My most recent zombie story “Mozakia” is in the upcoming The Moonstone Book of Zombies. As for vampires, check out By Blood We Live for “The Vechi Barbat”.

7) Robert Dunbar. - Bio: Horror novelist of "Monsters & Martyrs", "The Pines" and "The Shore" - Answer:

As a child I was terrified by the legend of the Jersey Devil. This was of course before Sarah Palin taught us all the true meaning of fear. Nothing scares me anymore. (Well ... FOX News maybe.)

8) Barbie Wilde. - Bio: Performer, actress and writer. A true and dark Renaissance person in the art world. - Answer:

Oh, where do I begin? Both my father and older brother were big Sci-fi fans and my brother always wanted company when he watched the old Creature Feature reruns on Saturday afternoons. ‘The Thing From Outer Space’ and ‘Invasion From Mars’ are two that stand out. I still watch ‘The Thing’ (1952) with great enjoyment today. For its time, the effects were pretty good, but it was the cast and the quirky, smart dialogue that makes it a classic. ‘Invasion From Mars’ (1953) had a very disturbing effect, because the main premise was that aliens land in the back garden of the young hero and take over the minds of his parents. The fact that he couldn’t trust his mother and father (or indeed virtually any adult in the film with the exception of two attractive scientists) was a terrifying concept to an impressionable (and fairly paranoid) 10-year old girl.

However, the granddaddy of them all for me as a child was ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ (1956). I was checking under my bed for alien pods for years after seeing that film! So the upshot is that aliens from outer space are the scariest monsters for me, although the bad daddy ghost in ‘The Haunting’ (1963) is a close second. And for erotic horror, Christopher Lee as Dracula in ‘The Horror of Dracula’ (1958) was also a childhood favorite.

9) Steven Saville. - Bio: Again rather comprehensive to sum up accordingly. You must read it to get an overall idea. - Answer:

While I don't think Halloween itself established many of the monsters I 'enjoyed' as a youngster half-hidden behind the couch (like for instance vampires - I had a deep and abiding dread of vampires from about age 10, which included a lot of nightmares and really kicked off when, in the middle of the night I heard a tap tap tapping at my window. Of course my mother didn't believe me when I said the Prince of Darkness was outside my window and wanted to come in... but come dawn I pulled back the curtains and the glass had shattered with a cobweb of cracks) there's no denying the fact it's popularised ghoulies and ghosties and things that go bump in the night.

For me though, I think ghosts have always been one step beyond (excuse the pun) any of the pantheon of monsters like the mummy, Frankenstein's monster, the wolfman etc. It could simply be the innate Englishness of ghosts, given that we're surrounded by so much history (but no Native American burial grounds, alas) it seems almost inevitable that something should linger - preferable even. I used to have to walk along the edge of a huge cemetery on my way home from school, though walking makes it sound like a casual act, usually it was more like a frantic dash as I was sure I spotted movement in the shadows around the older mausoleums. And then there was the fact that, despite 'not believing' I had several experiences that believers would
claim were proof enough, including waking to see the familiar white clad victorian lady at the bottom of the bed, seeing the ex girlfriend's dead father, and other stuff. But then... I wouldn't have become a writer if I didn't have a very over-active imagination, right?


Adele said...

great post, loved the stories and always good to see Steve talk on any subject.

Harry Markov said...

Thanks Adele :)

Stephen Roberts said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stephen Roberts said...

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Male Grooming

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