“The Rest Is Noise” is a phenomenal story of addiction, need, and the growing horror of your life falling down around your ears. Tell us of the inspiration behind the story.
Thank you so much! The story actually went through a number of iterations, as I suppose lots of stories do before they achieve their final form. “The Rest Is Noise” was something I started writing many years before it was finally published, but for whatever reason I couldn’t quite get it right. I can’t remember anymore what my initial inspiration for the piece was, although I knew that I wanted a strong part of it to be about how the power of music can transport and transform the listener. At one point, I even wrote the story in the form of an album review in Entertainment Weekly! I shelved it for a long time, until editor Lois Gresh asked me to contribute something to a Lovecraftian anthology that Arkham House was going to put out. I began tinkering with it again, and it turned out that focusing on the cosmic and the unknowable was just the lens I needed to whip the story into shape. Then Arkham House went belly up and PS Publishing picked up the project, expanding it from a Lovecraftian anthology to more of a general horror anthology called Dark Fusions: Where Monsters Lurk. I’m proud of “The Rest Is Noise,” but I don’t think a lot of people got to read it in the anthology—it’s an expensive UK hardcover with no paperback or digital version—so I’m thrilled more people will get to read it now in Nightmare Magazine.
The scenes jump through time to continue and expand the narrative, weaving present and past together much as a reoccurring theme in music. Did you set out to create such an intricate piece? How conscious are you of the narrative flow when you write?
I wish I could be all, “Yes, the intricacy of the piece is exactly how I set out to write it because I am a super genius,” but as you can see from my answer to the previous question, the story went through a lot of drafts and versions before it settled into what you’re reading now. I’m not always very conscious of the narrative flow at all when I’m writing something, and certainly not in its rough draft form. My rough drafts are ridiculously rough. It’s only once I have the bones of the story down to my satisfaction that I then go back and start adding all the cool stuff, like the Pied Piper analogy, the painting of the archangel, the rats on the porch of Indigo’s house and how it all ties together. It takes me forever to write a story this way, but it’s my process and I’ve learned to accept it.
Many writers mine fairy tales and old children’s stories to tell a new tale. Are there other traditional stories you would like to explore? Other tropes you would like to turn on their ear to create something new?
Well, as I mentioned, the Pied Piper angle came very late in the game, so I don’t really consider “The Rest Is Noise” an exploration of a children’s story, even if it does have those details in it. But maybe it is. What do I know? There’s a mystery to creativity, and we don’t always know what we’re creating. Oftentimes, other people need to analyze and interpret it for us. Still, exploring fairy tales and children’s stories fascinates me. I find that echoes of those stories can add a wonderful, deeper layer. I did something similar in my 2010 novella Chasing The Dragon, taking hold of the legend of St. George and the dragon and weaving it in with dragon mythology from all over the world, from the serpent Vritra in Hindu mythology to Jörmungandr in Norse mythology and beyond. I also played a bit with the idea of the Greek goddess Aphrodite in an old story of mine called “V.I.P. Room.” Playing with these kinds of elements is a lot of fun.
What first inspired you to dip your toes into the waters of horror fiction?
I don’t think my answer will be very original. As a kid, I loved monster movies and playing with plastic dinosaurs, the scarier the better. I still love monster movies, of course, although I don’t play with dinosaurs as much as I used to, but back then, it all conspired to plant a seed in my mind that sprouted into wanting to tell stories with those same ingredients. In fact, for a time I wanted to grow up to direct Godzilla movies! Not any monster movie, mind you, just Godzilla movies! I was an avid reader, too, so I started writing stories at a pretty young age. They were mostly science fiction stories, but they all had monsters in them. I think it was only once I started reading Clive Barker back in the 1980s that I realized what horror fiction was capable of and started writing more of it. Barker was a big influence on me. Still is, really. So once I started taking writing seriously, horror was what I cut my teeth on. Even my urban fantasy novels are strongly tinged with horror.
To whom do you turn when you want to get your horror fiction on? Who gives Nicolas Kaufmann the shivers between the covers?
My favorite author of all time, horror or otherwise, is Peter Straub. Bar none. I call his novels brain food. They consist of so many layers, and so much wonderful imagery, and just unbelievably beautiful prose. He’s second to none in my book. After that, there are plenty of contemporary horror writers I enjoy reading, including the aforementioned Clive Barker. I haven’t read a lot of Joe Hill, but everything I have read has really impressed me. Then there’s also Laird Barron, John Langan, Paul Tremblay, Sarah Langan, David Wellington, Daniel Braum, Simon Strantzas, Helen Marshall, Nathan Ballingrud, Ian Rogers, the list goes on and on. Pretty much everyone you’ve published in Nightmare Magazine is on that list!
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