The description that came to mind when I read “Four Haunted Houses” is “quietly devastating.” The second was “choose your own misery,” since the tone and format reminded me a bit of those classic Choose Your Own Adventure books. What gave birth to this distressing quartet of scenarios?
It occurred to me that there are multiple definitions of “haunted,” as the word can be applied to a home. I point out with the story that only one of the four is desirable, in the sense that having a sorta kinda but not really haunted home might be fun. Two others are the stuff of horror fiction, and the fourth happens on this planet. The story is an attempt to provide one scenario with each definition, and the final house is the one I consider most important.
The third and fourth haunted houses were particularly shocking and sobering. Without spoiling too much, one of the things that I find so interesting about this piece is that it suggests that we haunt ourselves, and the horror comes from a very personal place—which perhaps makes it so much harder to escape. Do you find psychological horror more compelling (or scarier) than purely supernatural horror?
Although there’s significant variation for the skill of the author, on average I find supernatural horror among the least disturbing forms of fiction extant. It can provide a fun little chill and it can keep me turning the pages, but because it is so dependent on a mythology I’ve internalized, it rarely lingers in the way that stories of human dysfunction or evil do. Shirley Jackson’s Hill House was a terrifying place, but the story is scary, and lingers decades after the first encounter, primarily because of what’s happening inside Eleanor.
A quick look at your bibliography shows you have written more horror stories than in any other genre. Do your reading preferences also reflect the ratio of the stories you write, or does something else compel you to delve into the dark side time and again?
Left to my own devices, I tend to read more mysteries and thrillers than either science fiction or horror, though my work as a reviewer tends to enforce a more fantastic diet. I note that the category labels in my bibliography can be deceptive, as there are horrific elements in a great number of stories categorized otherwise: science fiction stories “Fuel” and “During the Pause,” fantasy story “Of A Sweet Slow Dance in the Wake of Temporary Dogs,” Spider-Man story “The Stalking of John Doe,” and the more-or-less true story “The Pussy Expert.” My prior Lightspeed story “Her Husband’s Hands” received award nominations as both science fiction and horror. The Andrea Cort and Gustav Gloom novels are also both tinged by dark considerations. I take care to note, though, that while the imagination runs dark, that only means it is where this particular muse most frequently finds the tension that drives fiction. Others emerge downright cheery, and light as air.
Along the same lines, what are you reading now, or what recent book or story would you recommend for readers of Nightmare magazine?
My most recent source of absolute adoration was the western Paradise Sky by Joe R. Lansdale. But you wanna be surprised by something that’s pretty difficult to reconcile with my output? One Good Dog by Susan Wilson, a novel about a wretched man who adopts an abused pit bull, and how they wind up fixing each other. I guarantee to you that it will unleash your tear ducts within the first four hundred words. (My wife can testify: I weep so easily, it’s downright embarrassing.)
Your sixth and final Gustav Gloom book, Gustav Gloom and the Castle of Fear, was just published in August. (Congratulations on completing a great series!) What other work do you have out now or soon? Can you tell us anything about these “projects to be announced” for release in 2017 and beyond?
Analog is about to publish “The Soul Behind the Face,” second in a series of stories about the quest of a retired spy named Draiken. I have another horror story, the EC-camp “Framing Mortensen,” coming out this very month in the John Joseph Adams/Douglas Cohen anthology, What the #@&% Is That? There are many more coming at Lightspeed, and in other venues: about a dozen in the pipeline, right now. Of the “projects to be announced” I am not yet certain that I’m allowed to say much about the novel, launching a new series, that is now weeks from completion, but I will let slip part of the title: Spooks. And after that’s put to bed, I return to the proposal for a very different project entirely, still top-secret. All will be revealed when it is ready to be revealed.
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