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Women In Horror: Interview with SHANNON LARK – ACTRESS, WRITER, DIRECTOR, SPOOKSMODEL, Co-founder of Viscera and former CEO of The Chainsaw Mafia by Alan Kelly

Welcome back to the 9th Circle of Horror Reanimated; right in time for Women in Horror Recognition Month and an in-depth chat with Shannon Lark.
(BTW Adam Wolf has paid for his crimes – abducting me and claiming the Soska Sisters interview as his own! I still can’t get the smell of sulphur out of my hair! Adam’s punishment involved a shiny new cage and a few hours on the wrong end of my pliers…)

The following interview was conducted via Ouiji Board from HRHQ – because we haven’t paid the telephone bill.

Flame haired, chainsaw-wielding, bold, brutal and bloody beauty queen Shannon Lark is a woman who epitomises the unique diversity of the horror genre and all of its surrounding culture: someone we can root for as a new force in the darker creative arts.

As co-director of the Viscera Film Festival and former CEO of The Chainsaw Mafia she is a force to be reckoned with, exploring every facet of the horror genre as a writer, director, producer, actress, and film festival director. Shannon is a woman who understands the alchemy of horror and the transformative power of the macabre. She has worked in a variety of different disciplines from a splatter theatre provocateur with The Living Dead Girlz to producing The Elm Street Murders AND playing Nancy Thompson as well as holding the crown for the First Fangoria Entertainment Spooksmodel!

Alan Kelly: Hello Shannon, welcome to Horror Reanimated, hope your trip down here wasn’t too terrifying…

Shannon Lark: Not at all. I’m used to strange company. :)

AK: Now first I want to ask about The Viscera Film Festival which was created in 2007 to promote, distribute and honour female horror filmmakers. When the festival first began it specialized in showcasing short films. Now, with the aid of sponsors and viral marketing, lots of awareness has been raised and in 2010 you teamed up with superbitchextraordinare and cult journalist/filmmaker Heidi Martinuzzi (Wretched) and suddenly Viscera has screenings all over the world! Could you give me the skinny on what’s in store for us gore aficionados in 2011?

SL: Viscera has come a long way from conceptualization to a full blown Festival. We have become a 501(c)3 non profit with an awesome staff (Annette Slomka, Jamie Jenkins, Stacy Hammon, Shersy Benson, Heidi Martinuzzi, and myself) who work hard all year to get these films created, seen, promoted, distributed, and to throw our annual event in Los Angeles. So many women are coming out of the wood works and out of the kitchen to make these films, and the quality of the submissions this year is truly blowing us away.

AK: You’re a pioneer for people wanting to make their mark on the horror genre – both in theatre and film – by championing new filmmakers, writers and artists wanting to work in various areas of the film industry being the former CEO of The Chainsaw Mafia (The Chainsaw Mafia is a production company and website which offers services to artists who come together to create. They have an array of services such as resume posting, discounted equipment rental, interviews/reviews of artists and filmmakers, up-to-date news, film festivals, and the Slaughter Shop) before you handed the baton over. Now you pour all your malevolent energy into Viscera, directing, acting and dismembering men in back-alleys with a chainsaw. Can you tell me a bit about why you felt compelled to start a gender-specific festival?

SL: Back in 2007 I made a short film called “Go Ask Alice” with a small group of women. I had an epiphany about the importance of this type of Festival that supports female’s working together, instead of competing. The idea is that there is enough room for everyone in the film industry: men, women, varying races, and talents. Viscera creates a platform where women can support each other in public, which is not what we are taught to do. Our species is conditionally encouraged to compete, but this is not competition, it’s about fulfilling your potential as an artist and a person.

AK: When you are selecting films to screen at the festival are there any particular subgenres you are partial to – vampire, home-invasion, zombie, noir, rape-revenge, werewolf, serial killers, ghost stories, fantastical realism, B movies, Classic et al? Roughly how many films are sent your way and do you find the process of choosing the ones which are right for the festival exhilarating or exhausting?

SL: We receive more films each year, as women all over the world discover the Festival through press outlets (like yourself), advertisements, and word of mouth. We have about 30 submissions so far, all of them directed and/or produced by women, including several feature film trailers.

It has become apparent to myself and many of the Viscera judges that women tend to make different horror than men. The female gender sways more towards psychological, body issues, rape, abstract, childbirth and child loss, and the issues of dealing with how society expects women to be perfect, tucked, plucked, and bent over. The majority of the films contain social and gender commentary from a woman’s perspective and I say it’s about damn time we have more of this dynamic in the horror industry, it will only make the genre better, more diverse, with stories more complex.

We receive quite a few humorous entries, but most of the Viscera films are just plain twisted.

AK: You are one of the women changing the way people experience horror right now; what other changes will you be pushing for within the horror industry and more importantly what areas do you think most need to be addressed and why?

SL: What? Really? I am? That’s one of the best things anyone has ever said to me! If it’s true, it’s not just me, it’s all these women collectively combined. They are the rock stars and I only hope they keep creating.

I would like horror to be more well rounded, not completely overshadowed by typical B-Slasher films. I love slashers, and watching men and women be penetrated with phallic objects is fun, but it has swarmed the genre to the point where many people think that’s what horror is. I would like that to be changed. Yes, let’s keep the slasher sub genre, horror wouldn’t be the same without it, but we should be looking at the varying types of horror that creates an internal, disturbed feeling that permeates your cells. Horror can be more than simply the fear of death, it can be much, much worse than that.

AK: Do you pitch in with all aspects of running the film festival? How difficult is it securing the right venue to screen movies and what kind of budget constraints (if any) do you encounter along the way – is there a place where people can make a donation or contribution to the festival?

SL: Absolutely! I oversee everything regarding the staff (who work really, really hard) so nothing is missed. The venue is one of the most difficult items on the list, as you have to find a perfect fit that creates the feel and respect you wish to give to your audience, Special Guests, Press, and Filmmakers. Our after party is vital for networking, so I had to do a lot of research on venues in the LA area to provide for everyone’s needs. Budget constraints are always there, however we hope to grow into an organization that can actually pay their staff, and expand our marketing to reach more women all over the world.

We have just launched our Donation Campaign, which is integrated with Women in Horror Month! You may go to our IndieGoGo page to contribute. As for independent artists, we are taking product sponsorships, wherein we promote you, as an artist, in return for artwork for our goodie bags.

AK: Can you tell me a bit about soliciting the right films and is there anybody you would like to see contributing to Viscera?

SL: Heidi is in charge of wrangling not only the Special Guests, but also contacting female filmmakers whose work we discover online. She reaches out to them for a screener, then it goes in front of the judging board.

I would love to see a directorial debut from Debbie Rochon and also from Juliette Lewis.

AK: As a director can you tell me about any forthcoming projects you will be working on?

SL: I am currently working on my first feature film, about a girl who grows up in a funeral home who can talk to the dead. It’s definitely the best thing I’ve ever written. I truly hope to shoot the film this year.

AK:Can you give me a list of filmmakers/artists/writers you admire, who you would most like to work with?

SL: Alejandro Jodorowsky, David Lynch, and Mary Harron. However, I am open to working with anyone who is professional, respectful, and creative, no matter the budget.

AK: Do you have any plans on expansion with Viscera? Will there be a Viscera films somewhere down the line?

SL: I would love to get the Viscera Film Compilations picked up by a distributor who can repackage the DVD and get it onto the shelves (or netflix). It’s important for these films to get out there, especially to a more mass market.

AK: I understand Viscera is a festival created by women for women but I’m curious, if you were sent an exceptional film directed by a man which covered terrain and themes which really interested you, would you consider screening it?

SL: I’ve seen plenty of exceptional films by men but Viscera specifically involves women to be in leadership positions on the film set.  However, I would promote the film and do whatever I could to help the filmmaker advance his work.

AK: Well this leads us to the end of our journey, thanks for talking to HR and be careful how you go….

SL: Thank you for having me! And remember, if a woman can go through the terror of pushing out a baby, she can make a horror film!

1 comment February 17th, 2011

A nice, juicy update…by JD’L

Bad Moon Books are soon to publish two JD’L novellas in one gorgeous volume!

SNAKE EYES contains ‘A Man of Will and Experience’ and ‘A Trespasser in Long Lofting’. Between them, the stories span Horror, Science Fiction and Fantasy and both were an absolute blast to write. Something about the novella form really fires me up.

Jacket designs and release dates are yet to be agreed but I’ll let you know the moment there’s more news.

In addition, my novella ‘The Failing Flesh’ will appear in a Dark Prints Press collection titled ‘Surviving the End’. Those of you who enjoyed The Kill Crew  may be pleased to hear that ‘The Failing Flesh’ is set during the same cataclysm but focusses on new characters trying to stay alive elsewhere in the world. I plan two more novellas in this series with the aim of collecting all four in one volume.

For horror readers in America, Garbage Man launches Stateside in April and MEAT will follow six months later. This is VERY exciting indeed!

If you want to comment or ask about any of this you can find me on Facebook and Goodreads or you can just leave a message right here.

Finally, watch out for Alan Kelly’s upcoming interview with Shannon Lark – coming soon on Horror Reanimated to celebrate Women in Horror Recognition Month…

Add comment February 14th, 2011

E-Book news by JD’L

You can now beat the January credit card blues by spending even more money!

But at only £1.59 the Kindle edition of MEAT will, at the very least, take you to a world even grimmer than this one.

Enjoy that rancid flesh…

2 comments February 1st, 2011

THE ROAD TO COMMISSION By Donna Condon (Senior Editor: Piatkus Fiction – Little, Brown Book Group)

After I contributed an article to the wonderful Horror Reanimated blog late last year I was asked by a few readers whether I could also contribute something with a focus on commissioning. Well, what better time than now: the beginning of a new year when we are all reassessing things and determining to make those dreams become realities. What I thought would be useful is an overview of how exactly fiction commissioning works. So here goes . . .

Editors work on lists (or imprints) which have their own personalities, subsequently meaning that editors will have a remit to look for something specific that fits comfortably on that particular list. Some editors acquire various types of fiction (like me, and in my case it’s commercial rather than literary), and some will specialise further and, for example, will publish crime fiction only. Even within a remit there is a remit: if publishing and looking for, say, urban fantasy, exactly what type of urban fantasy is missing from the list? Urban fantasy that is grittier, more series that are aimed primarily at women, more international settings to balance out the number of series with US settings? It’s the editor’s job to assess what is working for the list, what is missing, what opportunities exist within the remit they have, and also what opportunities exist that could stretch that remit a little – all the while making a profit, establishing new authors and publishing successful books. Balance is very important; very seldom is there space for a lot of the same types of fiction, as it makes it very difficult for the company’s sales team if they have the job of pitching books and authors to retailers that have an identical hook.

Most big houses very rarely assess unsolicited submissions so my first advice to aspiring authors out there is to secure an agent. As editors are so specific about what they are looking for (which isn’t necessarily concrete and is instead something that evolves as new trends emerge/people’s reading habits change etc) it’s really essential to have an industry insider championing your book who’s in a position to target exactly those people who are looking for the kind of book you’ve written. Also, if your book falls too much between two stools they are in a great position to advise you how to tweak so that its placement is not a problem that will result in your book being deemed not quite right for any list at all.

In terms of assessing a manuscript that has come to the editor from an agent who says, ‘this is exactly the book for you,’ there are also additional factors to consider along with the above. If it is indeed exactly what you have been looking for, and you’re really impressed by the content, you’ll look at sales of similar authors and novels. Experience allows an editor to assess sales data in such a way that you have a good idea whether there is room to publish more in this area or whether the trend is coming to an end. There has to be a market for each book published, else it disappears into the abyss. Also, increasingly, the author’s profile is important. If you have a debut crime author who is active on crime blogs (perhaps even has their own review site) and understands social networking, this knowledge/profile will definitely go more in their favour than that of an author who never goes online and doesn’t know the first thing about that realm.

Once the editor has decided there is a tangible reason to pursue a submission, the material is then assessed by the rest of their editorial colleagues and, if everyone believes in the content, it goes forward to be discussed finally with sales and marketing, the big question being: will we sell copies? If the editor gets everyone on board and gets the thumbs up to offer, the advance offered to the author essentially reflects the level of sales hoped for and, once the offer has been made via the agent, the author hopefully say yes!

I’m aware how far detached writers can feel from the realities of the commissioning process so I hope this overview today has been helpful. Best of luck with your writing!

About Donna Condon:

Donna Condon is a commissioning fiction editor on the Piatkus list at Little, Brown Book Group where she has worked for three years. Prior to that she worked at Piatkus Books (when it was still an independent) and Virgin Books. She commissions commercial fiction across a whole range of genres.

2 comments January 20th, 2011

Interview with Simon Marshall-Jones editor/owner of Spectral Press by JD’L

The rise of independent genre presses is meat and drink to Horror Reanimated and we’re keen to spread the word. Today we’re chatting with Simon Marshall-Jones who recently launched Spectral Press.

Because Simon enjoys a bit of body art, we’ve hired The Harrow from Franz Kafka’s ‘In the Penal Colony’ for the afternoon and set it up on Doom’s Hump, a windswept hill not far from HR HQ. The sentence we’ve programmed into it is:

‘I got a good old poking at Horror Reanimated’

Hope he likes it…

Joseph D’Lacey: Hi, Simon. Thanks for joining us on this rather foggy afternoon at the crest of Doom’s Hump. I’m sure you’re familiar with The Harrow. To the prisoners in Kafka’s Penal Colony, it was a machine of punishment but in your case it should bring only pleasure and an occasional tingle.

While we get you settled into the optimum position, why don’t you tell us about the moment the idea of running a small press first struck you?

Simon Marshall-Jones: I’ve been involved in publishing a few times before, first in 1983-84 when I self-published an underground comic called The Cosmic Bean, a mad drug-fuelled trip with a sentient, outer-space surfing bean. Then, at the beginning of the nineties, I ran a small music ‘zine called FRACtured (which incidentally, was where a certain Mathew F. Riley was first published), entirely devoted to the newly emerging industrial music scene. That was quite well-respected, despite it running to only three issues – I know of at least one person who still owns all three issues.

Spectral Press was one of those ideas that took time to germinate, and when it flowered into the full light of consciousness it took me by surprise. The direct inspiration came from getting copies of some Nightjar Press chapbooks at FantasyCon 2010, and it just hit me that it was an absolutely brilliant little format to present stories in. It never really occurred to me until about a month later that it was exactly the kind of thing that I could do, so, at the start of October I started mooting the idea that I was going to get into publishing again, after an absence of nearly two decades. Within weeks, it went from an abstraction to a reality – and now, here at the very start of 2011 it’s now moved on from there to the books actually being in my possession.

JD’L: You’ve had other incarnations, though, haven’t you? Involvement in the music industry and some experience with fine art – not to mention blogging, right? Is horror publishing the natural progression from all this?

SMJ: I originally had ambitions of becoming a full-time artist when I left school back in early 80s, and I managed to get into art college, which ended me getting into all that bohemian lifestyle malarkey, as well as drink and drugs. I was completely in love with HR Giger’s nightmarish, surreal and otherworldly work, and it was he who inspired me to take up the airbrush in the first place. The practicalities of studying in an art school environment never really suited my somewhat rebellious temperament, so I left before I could get thrown out. I still paint occasionally, and in fact I have been commissioned to do two book covers and a portrait this year.

Then, in 2008, after wandering aimlessly for a few years, then going back to university and having a stroke, I launched a record label called FracturedSpacesRecords, specialising in releasing avant-garde/industrial/noise type stuff. I ran that until the beginning of last year, after realising that I wasn’t really cut out for the music industry. I enjoyed it while I was involved with it, at least initially, but towards the end I have to admit it I started getting a bit tired of it all, and the spark had gone. And maybe, just maybe, there was also a feeling that I had bitten off a bit more than I could chew – it wasn’t all hopeless, though, as it taught me a few things that I can use in running Spectral Press.
 
And of course, the blogging has helped greatly in getting both my name and that of Spectral Press’ out there into people’s consciousnesses. Already there appears to be quite a buzz about the imprint, and I am very confident, not to say very excited, about its prospects.

JD’L: If the universe were to tip the scales of fortune entirely in your favour and nothing could stand in your way, what are the highest hopes you’d have for Spectral’s future?

SMJ: I have a lot of plans for the imprint, should it all turn my way. The most important hope, of course, is that Spectral becomes a highly respected imprint, by readers and writers alike, and that people will appreciate the chapbooks for both the quality of the stories published and the high-quality presentation and attention to detail.  In fact, I’d like it to become one of those imprints that authors would love to get published by and that readers are eager to get their hands on. In other words, it’s all or nothing for me.

Other future plans, more substantial ones, are that I will be looking to publish very limited edition hardback novellas, à la Chizine Publications, another imprint I have been mightily impressed by. Then, I would like to expand the lines available from Spectral – first, in line with my love of old ghost stories, there’ll be Spectral Old Masters, which will reprint out-of-print and out-of-copyright stories from the late Victorian/Edwardian/early 20th century eras. Following that will be another line which will be a homage to the Golden Age of pulp fiction, the 1950s and 60s, to go under the name of Spectral Pulp. That idea seems to be surprisingly popular when I’ve mentioned it to people – in all likelihood that’ll be the first of the expansion plans to be realised.

JD’L: Have you spent a lot of time working out how running a small publishing house works or did you dive in without worrying about it too much?

SMJ: Having been involved in publishing before, albeit the last time being before the computer revolution, I had a vague inkling of what I wanted and how to go about getting it, plus having run the record label as a proper business, I wasn’t too worried about setting it all up and getting it off the ground. I also knew what I didn’t want, which was something that looked as if it had been hurriedly put together in someone’s back room. FracturedSpaces had all been about a quality product and simultaneously being a beautiful object. I carried those ideas over into Spectral, wanting to create a complete and seamless package with every publication. I honestly think that all my ideas have been beautifully realised.

JD’L: How much work is involved? Does anyone help you?

SMJ: With Gary McMahon’s story, What They Hear in the Dark (the very first chapbook to be published), there was actually very little work involved, but I think that was entirely due to everyone’s extremely professional approach. It all flowed together so nicely, Gary’s a great guy to deal with as well as a great writer, so there were absolutely no issues there. We worked very closely together on getting his chapbook ready. Then, the man who designed the amazing logo, Neil Williams, also designed the wonderful cover and did the layout. It’d be true to say that Spectral Volume I is a true collaborative effort between writer, editor and designer.

JD’L: Spectral’s interest appears to lie with lovingly crafted ghost stories rather than balls-out horror. When it comes to choosing work for the imprint, what key elements will you always look for in a writer’s work?

SMJ: I am primarily looking for atmosphere and creepiness rather than gore and violence, and whether the imagery they paint projects real spine-chilling shivers. I prefer psychological chills, although all that in-your-face stuff also has its place in the horror spectrum, and I wouldn’t necessarily reject a story on the grounds that there were elements of them in there. I cut my teeth on ghost stories and a Pan Book of Horror Stories (#8) that I’d found on one of the bookshelves when I was about 10 or 11, I think. The big thing for me with those tales was the genuinely frightening and oppressive atmospheres evoked, and the implied horrific consequences. Imagination played a greater role in both horror stories and films then, I think – it was a two-way thing, a truly interactive experience, without the aid of expensive equipment.

JD’L: Is the line dividing editor from writer very fine in your opinion? How many editors are frustrated writers and how many cheesed-off editors go on to write?

SMJ: In my case, it most certainly is – I’m definitely a frustrated writer. I have the ideas, but my writing tends to lack focus and wanders around a lot. I know I’m doing it too; the number of times I’ve deleted whole sections of stories and started to rewrite them only to have to do the same thing again is legion. It takes me awhile to get to the heart of a story, by which time I’ve already written about 5000 words and nothing has happened. However, being an editor is something of an educational process – you can discern the mechanics of the whole process, how the writer has told his story with compactness and brevity, whilst still delineating atmosphere and delivering chills. I just wish I could apply it to my own writing.

JD’L: Is the horror genre just a bit of fun for thrill-seekers and those obsessed with the macabre or is there more to it than that?

SMJ: There are certainly elements of that in horror readership, as well as horror film-buffs, too, and there always will be – those people who want to push themselves to watch the most horrific movie or read the sickest story. It doesn’t have to be that way, of course. For my part I believe that horror/supernatural/ghost stories have a lot to teach us about ourselves. As a good example of this, you just need to read Gary’s story – people come to terms with grief in very different ways, and what we take from our experiences affects our view of events leading up to tragedy, for instance. Some people respond by looking inward for answers, other look to something Other and ask it the same questions. And those answers need not necessarily be mutually exclusive despite the difference of approach. Good horror writing takes the deepest puzzles of life and examines them through the lens of an emotional primacy that some other types of fiction lack. Again, it’s a difference of approach, just on another level. No one method is either right or wrong – it’s just what works for the individual.

JD’L: What’s the most disturbing piece of fiction you’ve ever read?

SMJ: That’s a difficult one, because the most disturbing piece of writing wasn’t marketed as fiction at all, but, by its very nature, could be construed as such. Someone lent me Whitley Streiber’s Communion many years ago, and there’s a scene in it where the purported aliens were outside his bedroom at night and speaking directly to him, and on the point of abducting him. I read this bit just before I went to bed, which wasn’t conducive to a good night’s sleep, as you can imagine. It wasn’t just that, however, that unnerved me; it was also the doubt engendered by the story itself – did this really happen, or was this fiction cynically marketed as ‘truth’? Both of those thoughts are disturbing in themselves, I think. (Editor’s note: this book scared the shit out of me, too.)

JD’L: Spectral Press is making high-quality supernatural fiction available outside the mainstream. Do you think this small-scale approach is the only way to bring the best writers in the genre to the reading public?

SMJ: One has only to witness the whole bowdlerising and dumbing-down of music through TV shows like X-Factor and American Idol to realise that the mainstream (in a cultural sense) aren’t that interested in quality and discernment – they just want what’s deemed to be popular and they want it fed to them and to be told what to like. On top of that you get the MTV-style horror-lite of Twilight and similar paranormal romance garbage. I’ve never been a big fan of the vampire, but even I recognise that the power invested in the creature in folklore and fiction has been sanitised and made acceptable to those who wouldn’t normally like horror – in other words, it’s horror for non-horror fans. The vampire as a monster of myth was amoral and a nasty piece of work, a being who had no qualms about killing anyone. To have emasculated him really in the way that Twilight appears to have done flies in the face of everything I love about the horror genre.

Spectral Press unashamedly aims for those people who love the written word and the ghostly/supernatural genres, as well as those who appreciate books as beautiful objects in themselves. I do think that the small, independent press approach is just one way of promoting good writing and possibly reaching out to the odd random soul who might otherwise be put off by the category ‘horror’. I can but hope, anyway.

JD’L: Being a Horror Reanimated interviewee – apart from earning you some free public torture – confers upon you a brief moment of extreme power. You may award The Sword of the Ultimate Darkness to the work of horror in any medium which you judge to be a timeless classic. By contrast, but with no less potency attached to the ability, you may banish to the Plague Pits the most…well…crap example of the genre ever created.

Please exercise your godlike gift now.

SMJ: Another difficult one, this, as it’s a tie between two films from the same creative mind, Clive Barker: Hellraiser vs Nightbreed. Both are unique visions, one of which has given us what is possibly the most instantly recognisable monster of the late 20th Century in the form of Pinhead, and the film also epitomises the darkness and filth that lies in hearts of humanity. However, I am going to plump for Nightbreed as the winner of The Sword of Ultimate Darkness, for several reasons. Superficially it shows enormous breadth of invention and imagination, but that’s mere surface gloss. Look deeper, and you’ll find that it’s a neat summation of mankind’s nasty habit of persecuting those who are different, in other words, the perpetual fear of the other. Having been a member of various musical subcultures over the years, I have witnessed the wilful ignorance displayed by those who refuse to understand that not everyone is the same, nor has the desire to be. The film ends on a note of hope, however: when the tribe disperses, you know that difference will always survive and thrive, no matter how much it’s persecuted or despised.

As for what I would choose to consign to the deepest Plague Pit, well, I will award the honour to Twilight – I have actually seen the first film and I hated what it’s done to the vampire in particular and horror in general.

JD’L: Simon, it’s been wonderful having you and I hope you like your new, soul-deep tattoo. I think The Harrow’s going to need a bit of a wash before we give it back to Franz – he’s such a stickler for hygiene!

Before you go, all of us at Horror Reanimated (that’s me, Mathew, Sgt Fetish the dungeon moggy and a few demons we never bothered to name) wish you every success with Spectral Press and, indeed, anything you turn your good hand to. I hope you’ll come back and visit again.

SMJ: Thanks very much for giving me the opportunity to talk and thanks for hosting me – I’ll be sure to drop by again very soon! (BTW, do you have the number of the landscape gardener who designed the grounds of this place? He has a great eye for capturing the essence of doom, I think…)…

Simon Marshall-Jones, writer, editor/publisher Spectral Press, artist, book reviewer and blogger,: born in Wales in the early sixties, to parents who absolutely loved and cherished books – needless to say, MY love of books was instilled by such a positive influence. I attended art college, where I nurtured dreams of being the next HR Giger. After a space of seven years, mostly spent travelling, I then went back to university in Plymouth, to study computer multimedia, the only reward for which was managing to have a stroke. Since then, I have had a much better time of it: I now have one wife, one stepson, seven cats, a dog, two rabbits and two guinea-pigs, live in the East Midlands and don’t have enough tattoos. I also ran a small independent record label for a couple of years, FracturedSpacesRecords.

Favourite authors include Clive Barker, China Mieville, Umberto Eco, Gene Wolfe, Robert Silverberg, Philip K. Dick. For non-fiction thrills, you’ll find me reading books on the cultural and social attitudes towards death and dying since the Middle Ages, or Medieval Religious History – one day I would like to study for a degree in either anthropology or medieval history at some point.

2 comments January 4th, 2011

Interview with Craig Bezant, editor/owner of Dark Prints Press by Joseph D’Lacey

If it’s a bonkers decision to become a writer then setting up in publishing must occupy the farthest boundaries of insanity. This is a personal view based on the fact that I’m a lazy slob. My experience is that people in the publishing industry work long hours and long weeks – most of it not recognised as overtime – and the reward, if there is any, is unlikely to be financial.

And yet, without courageous – foolhardy, perhaps – folk keeping the world of books alive, we authors would have no outlet for our own deranged endeavours. Often, it’s those people who set up small, independent presses who have the greatest passion and the clearest vision of what needs to make it into print. Without these innovators and without their efforts, many new writers – especially horror writers – would never find an audience for their work.

Today’s guest is a writer and magazine editor from Australia, Craig Bezant. Craig recently made the decision to take his publishing to the next level, spawning a brand new imprint called Dark Prints Press.

I was curious about what could possibly have possessed him to enter a life of self-slavery…

Joseph D’Lacey: Hi, Craig, and a very warm – nay, fiery – welcome to the sulphurous bowels of Horror Reanimated.

You’ve published a couple of my stories over the last year or two and reviewed some of my other fiction but, in reality, I know very little about you – we live on opposite sides of the world, after all. So let me begin by asking which came first for you; writing stories or editing Eclecticism e-zine?

Craig Bezant: Well, thank you for having me at Horror Reanimated. It’s kicking into summer here in Western Australia so these sulphurous bowels are nothing.

The need to write stories has always flowed through my bloodstream, so to speak, so it was definitely writing that came first. Hardly a day goes by where I don’t write – that’s my exercise routine, I guess. And with the need to write came the need to read. My teacher gave me my first novel, ‘How to Eat Fried Worms’, in Year 1, and the collection grew from there (I just can’t give a book away!). That love for reading gave me a fantastic reviewing gig at HorrorScope, and earned me a spot as a judge in the Australian Horror Writers Association’s Australian Shadows Award in 2009 and 2010.

I’ve tried my hand at writing short stories and I do enjoy it, but not as much as writing novels. I just like exploring the longer format, and thought that possibly this was wrong, that I should start out as a short story writer to build a name for myself, but thankfully found out it is not a problem at all – you should write what you are comfortable with, what you enjoy writing. But I absolutely love reading short stories from other authors, and used this passion to create Eclecticism E-zine. It was never a platform to show off my own work (although I did have a story in the first issue – come on, it was my baby), rather a chance to give others a quality publication to show their writing and artwork, especially the new and emerging writers that often get squeezed out of slush piles in favour of bigger names. And this passion to print other authors’ work grew into Dark Prints Press.

JD’L: Do you see yourself primarily as a writer or an editor?

CB: I think that, at some point in the last couple of years, I have begun to cross that line. When people realise I do both they often look at me strangely and ask, ‘Don’t you get confused with what you’re writing and take ideas from all the stories you’ve been editing?’. I have to laugh. Of course not. I have drawers of own ideas, that arrived in my mind at various times, and often I’ll have a favourite or two that I will start to research and flesh out. The writing I read for Eclecticism, and judging, in my personal time, and now for Dark Prints Press, I would never have thought to come up with a lot of that. We all have different minds, and it’s amazing to see how authors tackle similar subjects. Editing, though, is always a great way to see what works and what doesn’t – I get a writing lesson every day.

JD’L: You write reviews for http://www.horrorscope.com.au/ but you publish work in a range of genres. Do you have a favourite genre?

CB: Looking at my bookshelves, it would have to be horror (it’s why I’m here, right?), but honestly I try to read a variety of fiction. As much as possible. Often I may read too much dark stuff, especially for reviewing, and just need a release, a switch of mind frames. Then I’ll delve into comedy (Max Barry, Ben Elton, Christopher Moore), or a tech-driven thriller (Matthew Reilly, Scott Sigler, Michael Crichton), or even literary fiction (Peter Carey, Tim Winton, Zadie Smith). Those names are but a few – I have too many favourites and can’t do enough justice to them all. I’ve also found myself reading a lot more nonfiction as I’ve aged, because there is just so much in this world that I don’t know.

These days the line between genres is even more blurred. I love crime fiction, almost equal to horror, and writers such as Stuart MacBride, Chris Simms and John Connolly often use very dark horror aspects in their work (a butcher who puts their victims in pies, a killer in the guise of a supernatural creature), which I absolutely love. I am a sick bastard, I guess. But I think I enjoy that particular writing because it is well handled. It is not excessive in the sense that the gore is the emphasis. I just don’t like that type of horror. You can unnerve a reader with more than just explicit gore. Psychological horror is my favourite, hands down.

JD’L: What is about horror that fascinates you?

CB: Well, perhaps when I was younger I was drawn to horror because of the way it could creep me out – fear as a kind of drug. I still like that rush, in a way. But as I got older, I realised the reason I loved this sort of writing was that horror as a medium is not afraid to look at the unpleasantness in life, without need for rose-tinted, Hollywood-clichéd glasses. Horror always takes those ‘What ifs’ and makes them real, often to the extreme. And within a horror novel you’ll often find so many elements of other genres. You can have the love story, the mystery, the adventure, even comedy, and still scare the crap out of someone. My wife’s friend recently read a draft manuscript of mine and said they had to leave the bedroom lights on at night – that’s what horror is about! Or it can be other reactions – it can shock you into action, into positive resolutions, by showing you just how bad a situation could get. I love it.

JD’L: So, what made you decide to set up a new imprint and what are your aims?

CB: Well, the desire to start Eclecticism E-zine had been bubbling away for a long time before it eventuated – we had moved interstate for my wife’s work and I was a full-time parent with nights to fill, so I thought that time was as good as any to launch the e-zine. And I think the desire to take it further started right after that, probably even before that to be honest. Little steps first, I guess. When Eclecticism grew beyond my expectations, I had an even deeper desire to print a ‘best of’, something for the fans. And the more I looked into it, the more I began to examine the larger publishing scene – focusing on Australia, at least. For the amount of quality writers in these fields, we are severely underrepresented here in the publishing sector. So my wife and I did our research, consulted a lot of writers and small press publishers, received a general ‘You’re bloody crazy, but go for it’ attitude, and decided it was the right time to launch Dark Prints Press.

Of course, I couldn’t have done this without the support of my wife, Avril, who co-founded Dark Prints Press with me. It’s nice to have two crazy people in the household. Avril is a keen reader and has a fantastic eye for picking out what does and doesn’t work in stories. Usually, I wouldn’t give my own writing to family, because you just get the general ‘It’s good’ without constructive comments, but my wife puts my writing down (in the nicest possible way). She isn’t afraid to tear it apart, which is pretty damn cool. So future Dark Prints authors beware… Plus, Avril is the logical brains of our business. She has the skills to run the imprint successfully, and her enthusiasm for this venture is more than I could have asked.

Our aims? I’ll keep it simple by stating our tagline: ‘Shining a light on dark fiction’. Another much-needed platform to show what dark fiction writers can do.

We also want to place a great emphasis on quality – not just of the work we publish, but how we publish/present it. eBooks are hard to do there, but if we are putting the money into a print version, it should be worth it. A small press doesn’t have to act like one – too many presses have terrible covers and use awful paper and binding, and that really makes me sad. We will be using great artists like Vincent Chong for future covers, and have good ties with Australia’s Griffin Press, printers who work with the major publishers, so we hope to keep that quality continuing.

JD’L: Which is harder – publishing or writing?

CB: Hmmm, I don’t think I’m ready to answer that yet – ask me again in a couple of years! I think they are both of equal merit, co-existing nicely (at times). I mean, you can’t have one without the other (if you want to extend beyond an immediate audience). Both can be fun, and both can be taxing. For writing, so much hard work has gone into crafting the story. So for publishing, the hard work has to go into presenting that story with the quality it deserves, and to give it the opportunity to find the audience it needs, be it a select group or the masses.
JD’L: What would you like to see more of in the world of horror publishing and what would you like to see less of? Do you think major publishing houses consider such things or are they merely looking to turn a profit?

CB: More of? Everyday horror. Not to scare a reader out of living their life, but to make them think about how to approach things with caution. To wisen up to the world around them. To survive. Especially now – embrace the way our world is changing and use the horror element of unknown change. How on earth will our world be soon, with the effects of out-of-control weather, increasingly-advanced technology and weapons, financial crashes, and so on? A horror novel like James Herbert’s ‘Portent’ is even more potent today, and I think we need more of this. Awareness horror? I’ll start my own subgenre there. Done.

Less of? Well, tropes in horror tend to have cycles, and right now we’re on Vampires and Zombies. I love these, zombies especially, but it’s pretty obvious it’s almost time to move on in our cycle. I think, keep them, but merge them with something else. What, I’m not sure. Not some corny match-up of the super-monsters, that’s for sure (though it would be fun). Something like a re-invention, like David Wellington has done with his monsters. I wish I could be more explicit, but I just don’t know.

I do think major publishing houses look for the new, unique tales in horror. It’s just that, once found, they take such an angle and exploit it as much as possible, by publishing hundreds of books along the same vein (take Twilight, that started a teen paranormal romance every lazy writer and his/her dog seemed to write for). There’s nothing wrong with that from a business sense – see a demand and fill it. It’s just that I often wonder: while one unique idea is being exploited, are others not even making it past the slush pile? I kind of hope so – those stories can come to us! Whilst judging for the Australian Shadows Award, though, I can say that it was evident a lot more publishing houses are taking risks with horror, especially with first-time authors, and hopefully those risks will lead to bigger things. We obviously want to be a part of that.

JD’L: Tell us a little about DPP’s first publication and how you decided what this first incarnation would be.

CB: This month we’re releasing an anthology, ‘An Eclectic Slice of Life’, our first Dark Prints baby. It showcases the best work (picked by myself and by using reader comments) from the first two years of Eclecticism E-zine. From these nine issues, I chose 13 short stories and poems. Although these were fantastic alone, I wanted to give more to readers who have had this for free from the online publication, so I also had most chosen writers contribute a new story. So in short: 14 authors, 26 tales (23 short fiction, 3 poetry). There’s even a new story by some guy named Joseph D’Lacey. Heard of him? Oh well, there are some very good authors in there. And these stories follow the Eclecticism model, in that they cross over quite a few genres – from horror to fantasy to crime and everyday drama – but they are all quite dark.

As I said before, I had always wanted to start a publishing imprint, but I initially wanted to do this separate to the Eclecticism venture. Then, as I began editing and the anthology took shape, it was clear it fitted in quite nicely with our Dark Prints Press ethos, and was a fantastic level of quality to springboard our name and future collections.
JD’L: And what does the future hold for your courageous new imprint, Craig?

CB: Well, we’re easing in to this publishing realm so that in a few years things will really take off. So 2011 is all about establishing ourselves – setting up distribution channels, marketing, schmoozing with the industry, getting our name out there, and research, research, research into the industry. During that time we will also be putting together two short story collections, one crime and one horror. These will be released early 2012. We’ve been very lucky to grab Lawrence Block and others for the crime collection (‘The One That Got Away’), and authors such as Jonathan Maberry and Will Elliot for the horror collection (‘Surviving the End’), but submissions will also be open to other writers during the first third of 2011. I encourage everyone to have a go (www.darkprintspress.com.au/submissions.html).

Also, next month I will be meeting with a well-known Australian horror writer with an interest in publishing their long overdue short story collection, which we would release early 2013. And we would like to start publishing novellas in the next two years, so submissions for these will open mid-2011. We want to embrace both digital and print publishing, so for the novellas we are interested in publishing a line (in various genres) of eBooks first. Readers will then get the chance to rate and vote for their favourites, and the chosen titles will be released as collectable print editions. So we’ll get the best of both worlds.

Then, all things going well, we would like to start publishing novels and Young Adult fiction within a few years. So Dark Prints Press has a nice long-term plan, and it’s going to be an incredible journey. I can’t thank people, groups, and sites such as yours enough for supporting us from day one.

JD’L: As you probably know, an interview at Horror Reanimated gives you temporary but immense power. You may confer The Sword of the Ultimate Darkness upon the work of horror in any medium that you regard as a timeless classic. Conversely, you may banish forever to the Plague Pits the work of horror in any medium which stinks so badly even Satan gives it a wide berth.

Please use your godlike status now…

CB: Hmmm, how to pick just one for The Sword of the Ultimate Darkness. So many titles floating through my head. ‘I am Legend’ by Richard Matheson (my favourite, but it’s already a classic), ‘Out’ by Natsuo Kirino (very dark crime novel dripping in psychological horror), ‘Patient Zero’ by Jonathan Maberry (redefining action with zombies), anything by James Herbert (especially ‘Others’)… Well, since I’m from Australia I’ll pick something local. I read it last year during my first stint as an awards judge: ‘The Dead Path’ by Stephen M Irwin. It’s old-school horror – haunted woods, spiders, witches, a man who can see ghosts – with a very distinct Australian flavour (it’s set in a very realistically-described Queensland suburb). Terrific, terrific stuff. I would publish that in a heartbeat.

And one for the Plague Pits? Well, I’ll make enemies here. This one won awards but I just think it is very overrated, from the angle of a writer and publisher. That would be Stephen King’s ‘Lisey’s Story’. In my opinion, the editing in this novel was appalling. Any emerging writer would have had their manuscript rejected with such tiresome, lengthy prose (how many pages does it take for a split-second bullet to be shot, for instance), yet King’s publishers just let him get away with it in order to make some more millions (well, I can see a certain upside to that, but I prefer integrity). When I think of this novel, I am reminded of Homer Simpson seeing a script to The Cable Guy. He grabs it and yells that the movie almost wrecked Jim Carey’s career. I think ‘Lisey’s Story’ was that piece of work for King, but he’s bounced back since then. So throw that one to the Plague Pits, along with any obscene comments I am now likely to receive.

JD’L: Craig, it’s been a real pleasure to get the inside curve on DPP and to find out a little more about you. You know that we at Horror Reanimated wish you nothing but the greatest of success in all your endeavours and we hope you’ll come back to us with more news as you go from strength to strength. Good luck to you, sir!

CB: Thanks for having me at Horror Reanimated, and allowing me to ramble on. Another piece of the dream come true; and I promise to write and keep you updated as we begin to grow up.

Craig Bezant is the co-founder of Dark Prints Press and editor of the Eclecticism E-zine, which is archived on the National Library of Australia’s Pandora Archive and was nominated for 2008 and 2009 Tin Duck Awards. He is also an Associate Editor and reviewer for HorrorScope, for which he was nominated for a 2009 Ditmar Award (Best Fan Writer).

Add comment December 23rd, 2010

Interview with Cliff McNish by Joseph D’Lacey

We don’t talk to many writers of young adult fiction here at Horror Reanimated. That’s because we prefer to eat them. I don’t know about you, but I find it off-putting when my food tries to speak to me. In general, therefore, we remove YA writers’ tongues and cauterise their vocal chords before chowing down.

Course, it’s no secret that quality control has always been an issue for us and every now and again something slips through.

Today, for example, I found my next meal out of his cage and sitting quite voluntarily in one of our body-modification suites, reading a copy of Garbage Man and gnawing on a discarded bone. Bloody cannibal.

Without even looking up from the reclining restrainer he said:
      “This book. It’s full of bloody typosrahpical errors.”
      “What? Like the one you’ve just done?”
      “Yes. Exactly like that. Ecxept worse. Muhc, muhc worse.”
      What could I do? I reached for a meat cleaver, raised it high.
      “But it’s not a bad story, though. All things considered.”
      I paused at the zenith of the strike.
      I said:
      “Eh?”
      “Not bad,” he said. “You know. Considering.”
      “Oh, yeah? And what would you know?”
      Finally he looked up at me. His eyes were quite intelligent.
      “I write horror,” he said.
      “Really?”
      “Yes. Really.”
      “Well, for fuck’s sake. Why didn’t you say so?”
      “Er, I was gagged.”
      “Fair enough. So, are you any good, then?”
      “Not bad. Considering.”
      “Hm. Not bad enough to survive a Horror Reanimated interview?”
      “I’d like to think so.”
      And so I gently strapped him down…

Joseph D’Lacey: Hi, Cliff. Welcome to Horror Reanimated where tentacled creatures roam without fear of prejudice. I hope you’ll enjoy your visit.

Cliff McNish: I’ll try. Thanks for removing the gag.

JD’L: You’re welcome. So, you write horror. How did that come about?

CM:  Basically because my daughter, aged nine, asked me for a story about a REALLY, REALLY, REALLY nasty witch, and who was I to deny her? I’d never written a thing before, but I’d always told her bed-time stories, mostly comedy, but this witch got my imagination cranking. My novel THE DOOMSPELL was the result. It’s a fantasy aimed at 9 -12 year olds, but at its heart is a bitch with four spider-filled jaws who likes torturing children.

JD’L: But your forte is writing for young adults. What are the differences, if any, in the nature of what your books explore? Are there rules about content and, if so, doesn’t this somehow negate the freedom that the horror genre has always given writers? Perhaps you feel those constraints are more like a framework in which it’s easier to work…

CM:  There are no absolute restrictions on levels of horror in YA. You only have to look at the brutal content of Melvin Burgess’s BLOODTIDE to realise what adventurous publishers like Anderson Press are willing to consider. BUT most YA publishers (and certainly all those focused on the 9-12 year old age group, where most children’s reading gets done) have pretty firm, unstated rules. Sexual content isn’t taboo, but has to be handled very delicately and in context. And any kind of human/monster sexuality is also sadly a no-no. Violence generally is also viewed with a very jaundiced eye by children’s publishers, and the idea of mothers/fathers/carers initiating physical or psychological violence towards children (which, let’s face it, is a mainstay of adult horror) would have to be justified very carefully even in a YA text. Many publishers would just say no outright unless it was a traditional kid-being-abused-by-vicious-parent story, and even in that case it would need to have a proper developed socio-economic context and a decidedly uplifting ending.

Actually, there’s another big difference. Enigmatic endings, while commonplace in adult horror, are much rarer in YA. Publishers hate them. Truly bleak endings (a mainstay of adult horror, especially in short story form) are almost unknown in childrens’ and even YA fiction. Again Melvin Burgess’s output is an exception, and there are individual examples (THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PYJAMAS comes to mind), but generally the ending has to be uplifting, the kids win, and the good guys don’t initiate violence unless they have to and when they do so they exercise it with such appropriate rules of restraint that you’d think they’d been reading police conduct procedurals. None of this is surprising really when you realise that most of the adults reading/choosing YA and younger fiction for kids are themselves female, often mothers and educationalists/librarians. These are genuinely wonderful people on the whole, the very people who are doing do much to keep our libraries open and kids reading through school, but they often possess a vocational focus that means they have strong views about not going OTT. The critical establishment consensus in children’s fiction is that visceral horror has no place in their domain. Actually, sometimes that need to limit what you show (as opposed to the horror you imply) often leads to spectacular results. In adult fiction it can be quite easy (even encouraged) to go that little bit further to up the grue. A children’s book like ONCE by Maurice Gleitzman does the opposite. A boy keeps seeing hideous Nazi horrors occur in front of him, and he’ll just say ‘Oh’ and move on, either not understanding or wilfully not comprehending. It’s devastatingly effective. The best children’s writers have developed a wonderful knack for harrowing understatement that adult horror writers could sometimes learn from.    

JD’L: I started reading adult horror when I was nine or ten. It was the doorway to a new world – you know what I’m saying, I’m sure. Do you try to keep that doorway open for younger readers? By the same token, how much appeal do your books hold for adult readers?

CM: I tend not to worry about opening doors for readers. I just write my fiction and hope people like it.  Quite a few of my fans are adults, actually. And a lot of anecdotal evidence suggests that as many adults (especially 19-25 year-old women) read YA as the teenagers themselves. So you have to write in a way that satisfies both camps to be commercially successful. I guess it works both ways, though. The whole supernatural romance sub-genre, with its emphasis on adolescence and seduction, is full of themes teen girls and young women love. It’s all romance really; the horror’s often incidental. And proof of that is that hardly anyone can name a single male writer of supernatural romance. Try it for yourself. Thought of one? I’m impressed if you did. It’s fundamentally women writing for each other and for teenage girls.

JD’L: Having corresponded with you recently, I can tell that the darker realms of the genre have been calling to you for some time. Why is that? What’s down there that you’re not already exploring?

CM: You’re right, my fiction is very dark compared to much else out there, and that has got me into trouble sales-wise in recent years. But why I go in that direction … well, I’m not sure. Who can honestly answer that? Because actually what you’re really asking is why, given a choice, do I tend to get to place my characters in ever-worsening darkness rather than angling them towards the light? My authorial answer to that question is to say that dramatically, in terms of plot, and depth of characterisation, it always makes sense to put characters firmly in deep fire before hauling them out again, but the true answer probably lies in a psychology I and I guess most horror-centred writers should best leave unexplored.  At heart, it just feels more exciting.

JD’L: How important do you think it is that someone delves into such themes and brings back what they’ve discovered for the wider world?

CM:  It’s only important if it matters to you. I don’t think there are any lessons the wider world is waiting for. Certainly teenagers moan to me constantly that adults write YA fiction that instructs them in moral values, and they hate that. As if they haven’t considered those moral values already for themselves! It’s in your teenage years, when you are struggling to discover your own identity, that people tend to explore their moral side most consciously. Of course we all have our themes as writers, which we inveigle into our stories, but the key is just writing a great story. There’s nothing fundamentally different about YA fiction from adult. Teenagers mentally lack not complex intellectual apparatus but only experience.

JD’L: Is the YA market going to allow you to perform that service or will you have to change your game plan?

CM:  It IS going to allow me to, but I think I probably have to get back more towards fantasy rather than outright horror, which sells poorly in the children’s book world. That said, my ghost novel BREATHE is about as dark as a children’s story can get, and it got a good critical reception and a decent commercial showing, so you never really know.    

JD’L: What effect do you think publishers’ expectations and desires have on the titles currently reaching bookshops – both in the adult and YA sections?

CM:  YA it is about 70% supernatural romance right now. Most sound like this (I’m changing a few words to hide origins of a recent bestseller here …):
He stood in the doorway with his hands on his pockets, the picture of nonchalance, and even as a human, he was too gorgeous for words. His dark hair had been combed back, falling softly around his face, and his mercury eyes, though they should’ve seemed pale against all the white, glimmered more brightly than anything.

And they were fixed solely on me.

I’m sorry, let me go outside to puke. The dispiriting thing is that most supernatural romance for YA, while better written than the above, is basically this one endlessly repeated love story. We can’t blame publishers for that. They need to make money. They’d happily publish that much needed story Harry Potter and the Gobbet of Incest but who’d read it (er, apart from us …) We shouldn’t be that surprised by recent trends, though. The romance genre has always been the most popular in fiction. Hardly surprising as most fiction readers are girls/women, and what most of them want from their fiction is a romance or at least the promise of a romance at the heart of the story. I’m not saying they don’t want other things as well, or that it absolutely has to have a romance to get their attention, but sales trends relentlessly show that teenage girls and women primarily pick love stories while for men/teenage boys it’s rarely a factor at all in their selection process. (Sex is another matter of course – plenty of men/adolescent boys are drawn to horror for its explicit pursuit of that in all its engorged traits). Anyway, what seems to have happened recently is that Romance as a genre has finally got its act together, reached out with its powerful, dainty hand and simply co-opted those parts of horror and dark fantasy that are useful to it.      

JD’L: If there were no restrictions, either in publishers’ desires or the realities of the marketplace, what book would Cliff McNish be destined to write?

CM: Probably a novel version of something I’ve written in short story form for adults. A reincarnation of Medusa. A girl, truly terrifying, who embraces her destiny as the cause of all misery in the world.  [NB I've just read this story and it's excellent - JD'L]

JD’L: As a ‘guest’ of Horror Reanimated – let me just tighten that strap – you have a certain power conferred upon you. You may award The Sword of the Ultimate Darkness to the work of horror in any medium which remains a timeless classic. You may also banish to The Plague Pits the opposing work of horror, the very worst in any medium, and the one that must, therefore, be forgotten for all time.

Please make your selections now.

CM: BEST and virtually unknown amongst adult horror readers is Melvin Burgess’s BLOODTIDE. It’s a retelling of the Norse Volsunga Saga, replete with men and half men and monsters, and utterly terrifying and brilliant. There’s nothing else quite like it in YA. I’d also like to put Steve Rasnic Tem’s Halloween stories in here. Proving if there was ever any doubt that the best highlighter of horror is humour.  

As for worst, do you mind if I put M. R. James in there? I’m sorry, but people are always telling me how scary they are and they are simply not. Endless dull preamble towards a deflated balloon. 

JD’L: Before you go, can you tell us what’s coming next from Cliff McNish?

CM: My horror novel SAVANNAH GREY (girl stalked by three monsters has a weapon growing in her throat) is out now, but my second ghost novel, THE HUNTING GROUND, is out in May 2011.   

JD’L: Oh yeah – and what does your mum think about what you do?

CM:  She thinks I work at the post office choosing decorative patterns for Xmas stamps. 

JD’L: Cliff, you’ve been a gentlemen and it’s been a pleasure to interrog- ahem, interview you for Horror Reanimated. I hope you won’t be offended if we decide to eat you anyway.

That said, if you do manage to escape, I hope you’ll consider returning to talk to us again. In the meantime, we all wish you very much success, no matter where the genre takes you next.

CM: Thanks, but know that if you are foolish enough to eat me I will only grow stronger.

Cliff McNish was born in Sunderland, but has spent most of his life in the southeast of England. His first book was THE DOOMSPELL, inspired by a story he told his young daughter. Since then he has published THE SILVER SEQUENCE and the highly-acclaimed stand-alone supernatural thrillers, BREATHE (winner of the Salford and Calderdale book awards) and ANGEL. His books have been translated into 17 languages, and are published to acclaim in the US.

Add comment December 3rd, 2010

The Pain Cages – by Paul Kane

Today, we’ve a special treat from Paul Kane – a sneak peek at the opening of his forthcoming novella The Pain Cages.

Hmm. Is that the sound of flesh being torn asunder?

Enjoy…

The Pain Cages

By

Paul Kane

 

Prologue

Ask someone to describe pain…

And they might say, the feeling they get when they stub their toe on a table, or accidentally hit their thumb with a hammer when they’re banging a nail into the wall. Pain can be more than merely physical, of course: it can hurt when a marriage breaks up or a loved one dies. That’s even harder to put into words.

But these are all just shadows, echoes of something much greater.

Pain, true pain is impossible to describe, no matter how hard anyone tries. It can rip apart a person’s soul, leaving them a shell of what they once were. And if it is hard to endure, it is certainly much harder to watch.

For some.

This story is about pain, in all its forms. We enter this world screaming and crying as we fight to take our first breath – being struck on the back to rouse us into consciousness. Most of us leave this world the same way: with a jolt. If we’re lucky it will be quick, if we’re not…

This story is about pain.

True pain.  

Chapter One

The piercing screams wake me.

Not straight away, but slowly. They sound as if they’re coming from a million miles away. The closer to consciousness I draw, though, the louder they are, like someone turned up the volume on a stereo: surround sound, sub woofers, the works. Then that I realise they’re not part of some strange dream, but coming from the real world.

From somewhere nearby.

I open my eyes, or at least I try to. I never would have thought it could be so difficult; the amount of times I’ve taken this simple action for granted. But now… Actually I can’t tell whether they’re open or shut because it’s still so dark and I can’t really feel my eyelids… My guts are doing somersaults; I feel like I need to be sick.

And all the time the screaming continues.

My face – my whole body – is pressed up against a hard, solid surface. I’m lying on a smooth but cold floor, curled up like a cat in front of a fireplace, though nowhere near as contented. I try to lift my head. I thought it was difficult to open my eyes, but this is something else entirely. Jesus, it hurts – a shockwave travelling right down the length of my neck and spine. Instinctively my hand goes out to clutch at my back, but I can’t move that either. Must have been one hell of a bender last night. And the screaming? Had to be a TV somewhere, someone watching a really loud horror film with no thought for anyone else. Wait, had I turned it on after managing to get back home in God alone knows what state?

This is the weirdest hangover ever. I have some of the symptoms – head feels like it’s caving in, aching all over, stomach churning… But my tongue doesn’t feel like someone’s been rubbing it with sandpaper; I’m not thirsty from dehydration. Maybe someone slipped something into my glass?

Maybe you took something voluntarily. Wouldn’t be the first time…

There’s movement to my left and my head whips sideways; I immediately regret it as stars dance across my field of vision. I still can’t see anything, even after the universe of stars fade. Now I realise some sick son of a bitch has put a blindfold over my eyes.

More movement, this time to the right. I try to lift my hands to pull down the material, but again they won’t budge. My fingertips brush against metal and now I know why I can’t move them. It’s not because of any fucking hangover: I’m handcuffed. My fingers explore further and find a chain attached to the cuffs…The manacles?

When I hear the screams again, the terror racked up a notch, it dawns on me that I’m in a whole world of trouble. Maybe my groggy condition made me slow on the uptake, I don’t know, or perhaps I just couldn’t acknowledge the shouts of agony as real. But they are; there’s no doubting that now. And I’m definitely suffering from the after-effects of drugs, just not in the way I thought. Drugs designed to knock me out rather than get me high.

More movement, this time a swishing sound in front and behind me at the same time. How is that possible? My heart’s pumping fast, breathing coming in heavy gasps. I try to say something but all that comes out are a series of odd grunts.

“Sshh,” whispers a voice; can’t tell whether it’s a man or a woman, but they’re close. “Keep quiet, and stay still!”

The advice seems sound, but I’ve never been one for taking any kind of orders. I pull at the chains holding my hands in front of me. Now I realise my feet are shackled too.

Do as he says,” comes another hushed voice, this one definitely a woman, “or you’re going to get yourself killed.”

“And us with him,” spits the first person.

Killed? What the fuck? So many questions: where am I, who are these people talking to me? Why can I feel heat on my face? Smell something burning? No…cooking. Like roasting meat on a barbeque.

Struggling again, I scrape my face against the floor, trying to pull down the blindfold. The screams reach a fever pitch, mixed with pleas for help. The cloying smell is in my nose, down my throat; I gag.

I nose at the ground like a horse eating hay…and the blindfold slips a fraction. I can see a little through my right eye; there isn’t a lot of light, but I see metal bars in front of me, all around me. A glimpse of the cages on either side: a man, no more than forty, cowering in the corner of his. A woman – the one who’d told me I’d get myself killed – is transfixed by something right in front of her, tears tracking down her cheeks.

I follow her gaze and wish I hadn’t.

I see the shape, the thing in yet another of these round cages. It’s smoking, charred almost black, but here and there are patches of pink. A tuft or two of singed hair at the top of what must have been its head. Its eyeballs have melted, the liquid running down its cheeks, viscous and thick; flesh pulled taut over teeth that gleam so brightly they could have been used in a toothpaste commercial. This hunk of burnt flesh I’m looking at is – was – a person. That makes the stench even more pungent; just that bit more sickening.

I notice the screaming has stopped. It must have been coming from inside that cage as the flames did their worst before petering out.

It feels like I’m watching the body for hours, but it can’t be more than a minute.

Then, without any warning, the burnt figure lurches forward. No screams this time – its vocal chords are jelly – but its body rattles against the bars of the cage, which swings, suspended above the ground (as we all are).

Flesh, and what’s left of the person’s clothes, have stuck to the bottom of the cage, coming away from its body like molten plastic and revealing more raw pinkness. It makes only one last-ditch attempt for freedom before collapsing, never to move again.

This time I really do throw up, seeing stars again as the blindfold slips back over my eye. Too late…I’ve seen it now…I can’t ever forget…

When I pass out I barely notice the transition – darkness replaced by darkness, black with black.

But I still see that body, hanging. A scorched mess that had once been human.

The ghosts of its screams following me back now into the void… 

 

Interlude: Twenty Years Ago

 

This happened to me when I was ten; still holding on to childhood for grim death, in no particular hurry to be an adult.

I grew up on a council estate away from the city; farms and fields within walking distance. The houses were all uniform grey, there was a small park that the older kids wrecked periodically, and the council failed to keep any of the streets tidy. Old women gossiped over fences while young girls left school and became baby-making machines so they could live off benefits for the next twenty or thirty years.

Mum and Dad were still together back then. She worked part-time in a bookies and he worked on the busses. At family gatherings I’d sometimes hear my Uncle Jim telling people Mum could have done so much better than Dad.

“With her looks, she could have had her pick.”

He was right about my Mum, though. She was beautiful in a kind of film star way, all blonde hair and curls like Marilyn Monroe or Jean Harlow, and even at that age she’d lost none of the glamour. Sure, Dad was boring, but I like to think she ended up with him because he was a kind man with a kind face. In the end she did ‘do better’ as my Uncle would have called it, running off with owner of the bookies. She ended up with money, but was as miserable as sin. And, we suspected, the guy beat her. While my Dad wallowed in a tiny flat, getting drunk until his liver just gave up the ghost…but that’s another story, and long after this one.

I first saw The Monster one Bank Holiday. Dad was working overtime, but Mum had the day off. I was an only child, so had to amuse myself a lot of the time. That day I was getting under my mother’s feet while she was trying to watch some musical on TV.

“Christopher Edward Warwick, do you have to make such a row!” she finally bawled.

I couldn’t really blame her: I’d turned the whole house into a spaceship and was busy piloting it into the deeper reaches of the Galaxy, battling one-eyed aliens with veiny skins.

She sent me out to play with the other kids, but that wasn’t really my thing. I ended up wandering off to explore what the locals called ‘The Cut’ – I never understood why, because it didn’t look like anyone had cut the grass down there in centuries. Maybe it was because a pitiful excuse for a canal ran the length of it like a wound… Here I could pretend that I was in the jungle where giant snakes and lions lived, and down by the water there were man-eating crocodiles (in actual fact you were more likely to find used condoms and fag ends).

I didn’t come down here very often, not many kids did, but on that day I wandered further than I meant to – up a winding path to a small iron bridge crossing the canal. There I played Pooh sticks, something I hadn’t done since I was six or seven – dropping twigs in the water on one side of the bridge to see which ones would come out first on the other side. Not much of a game, but the snakes and lions appeared to be hiding today.

There were only a handful twigs lying around, so when these were gone I went into the undergrowth to find more. I hadn’t gone that far in when I found the den. It was covered up with foliage; quite well hidden beneath the trees, a hollowed out bit of green with earth for the floor and the remains of a fire. It was empty. I figured it must have been the older kids that had made it, looking for a private place to hang out.

At that age caution always fell a close second to curiosity, so I dropped the twigs and went inside. There was a strange smell, a toilet smell. I was about to leave when I spotted something towards the back, pages scattered.

And a glimpse of something that, until today, had been forbidden.

I crept further in, certain that the older kids had been here because they’d left behind an Aladdin’s Cave of porn. The magazines were screwed up, the pages creased – yet the pictures of half naked women posing for the camera were a revelation. At that age girls in my class were just pests, there to torment, but this was different. These weren’t girls, they were women, and they were showing me parts of their bodies willingly, opening up as easily as I was opening the pages.

I began to feel stirrings, a pleasant sensation as I ogled the photos. Then something fell out of one of the magazines. A piece of paper with handwritten scribblings all over it. I bent and picked it up, but could barely make out the spider scrawl. All except one phrase, written time and time again: ‘They watch, and they wait.’

I frowned, then checked more of the magazines. I hadn’t gotten very far when I heard the snapping of twigs I’d left in the entranceway. I spun and saw my monster. It was big, hairy, and its skin was almost black. It wore an old trenchcoat that strained tight at the shoulders. When it opened its mouth to speak I saw rotting teeth inside. Drool spilled onto its beard as it gargled, “Did they send you?”

I shook with terror. My erection shrank away and I dropped the magazine, a couple more of the handwritten sheets slipping out onto the floor. His wide, staring eyes followed them down. He covered the distance between us easily, grabbing hold of my arm – so hard I thought it might break. He towered above me. “They did, didn’t they, boy.” It wasn’t a question. His fetid breath almost caused me to pass out.

I shook my head, unable to get any words out.

“Yes. They’ve sent a little spy…”

“P-P-Please don’t hurt me…” I spluttered.

He yanked my arm. “I’m not going back!” he shouted. “You hear me…Never.”

I nodded. He seemed pleased that he’d got through to me. Then he drew me in so close I could see the insects living in his beard.

“You go back, you tell them that, boy,” he growled.

He let me go. I gaped, but suddenly my natural survival instinct kicked in and I ran out of there. I plunged through the undergrowth, catching my head on the branch of a low-hanging tree. I fell; hard. Shaking my head, then casting a glance over my shoulder, I got up and began running again…

I felt the wetness at my temple, but didn’t stop. I ran up that path, never looking back in case the ‘monster’ had decided to give chase.

I’m never going back…

Never…

When I got home my mother said, “For God’s sake, Chris, whatever have you been doing?” She took me into the kitchen, washed the cut on my head, then put some antiseptic on it. When she asked me again what I’d done, whether it had happened playing, all I could do was stare, opening and closing my mouth.

“Christopher Edward Warwick,” she said a final time, “you tell me what happened, right now.”

“M…Monster…c…canal…” was all I could say.

“You and that blasted imagination of yours,” she said. “Go to your room!”

When the truth emerged a day or so later, she felt pretty bad. I heard that some of the older boys had stumbled upon my monster and gave him a good kicking before telling their parents…who called the police. He’d gone by the time they got there, but it was all around the estate about what had happened: that some pervo nutter had been living rough down by the bridge.

Mum hugged me when she when found out. She never said anything, but she knew. Knew the monster had been real.

I know better now – he wasn’t really a monster at all. Just someone who knew the truth, and it had sent him insane.

‘They watch and wait’ he had written.

They watch and wait.
        

 ©     P. Kane   2010.

Paul KaneAbout Paul Kane:

Paul Kane has been writing professionally for almost fourteen years. His genre journalism has appeared in such magazines as The Dark Side, Death Ray, Fangoria, SFX, Dreamwatch and Rue Morgue, and his first non-fiction book was the critically acclaimed The Hellraiser Films and Their Legacy, introduced by Doug ‘Pinhead’ Bradley. His award-winning short fiction has appeared in magazines and anthologies on both sides of the Atlantic (as well as being broadcast on BBC Radio 2), and has been collected in Alone (In the Dark), Touching the Flame, FunnyBones and Peripheral Visions. His novella Signs of Life reached the shortlist of the British Fantasy Awards 2006, The Lazarus Condition was introduced by Mick Garris, creator of Masters of Horror, and RED featured artwork from Dave (The Graveyard Book) McKean.

As Special Publications Editor of the British Fantasy Society he worked with authors like Brian Aldiss, Ramsey Campbell, Muriel Gray, Robert Silverberg and many more, plus he is the co-editor of Hellbound Hearts for Pocket Books (Simon and Schuster), an anthology of original stories inspired by Clive Barker’s novella, featuring contributions from the likes of Christopher Golden and Mike Mignola, Kelley Armstrong, Tim Lebbon, Yvonne Navarro, Richard Christian Matheson, Chaz Brenchley and Nancy Holder.

In 2008 his zombie story ‘Dead Time’ was turned into an episode of the Lionsgate/NBC TV series Fear Itself, adapted by Steve Niles (30 Days of Night) and directed by Darren Lynn Bousman (SAW II-IV). He also scripted the short film The Opportunity which premiered at Cannes in 2009. Paul’s mass market novels for Abaddon’s Afterblight Chronicles – Arrowhead and Broken Arrow – detail the adventures of a post apocalyptic version of Robin Hood. His latest novels include The Gemini Factor, from Screaming Dreams, and Of Darkness and Light, from Thunderstorm books. He currently lives in Derbyshire, UK, with his wife – the author Marie O’Regan – his family, and a black cat called Mina.

Add comment November 18th, 2010

Blood on Bridlesmith Gate – A Christmas horror event at Waterstones, Nottingham featuring Paul Kane, Gary McMahon and Joseph D’Lacey

On Friday 10th December Paul Kane, Gary McMahon and Joseph D’Lacey will be haunting Waterstones in Nottingham to spread a little festive fear. Each of us will read some chilling horror fiction with a Q&A session to follow. We’ll be signing books (and body parts) and all our latest titles will be on sale.

Copies of other titles by each author will also be available.

Tickets are £3 – redeemable against books on the night – and the first twenty ticket purchasers will receive a free book on arrival!

Gore-off is at 6:30 pm…

Venue:

Waterstone’s Nottingham Bridlesmith Gate
1-5 Bridlesmith Gate
Nottingham
NG1 2GR

To reserve tickets call: 0115 948 4499 or email: events@nottingham.waterstones.com

Add comment November 10th, 2010

Free JD’L fiction right now…

All this month you can read the opening two chapters of Fugue Hunter by Joseph D’Lacey, courtesy of the great Paul Kane:

And I’ll shortly be uploading the prologue and first chapter of Paul’s latest novella The Pain Cages right here on HR…

Add comment November 9th, 2010

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