Nightmare Magazine




Interview: Eric J. Guignard

First, a personal note: I’ve known Eric J. Guignard for at least a decade, before he seemed to stride onto the speculative literature field like some fully formed mythological figure. During those ten years, Eric has gone from a fine short story writer to an acclaimed and award-nominated novelist (for his first novel, 2019’s Doorways to the Deadeye) to an editor and small press publisher (Dark Moon Books). Eric oversees two book lines that offer insight into horror’s history: Exploring Dark Short Fiction, which provides primers to various writers; and the Horror Writers Association’s Haunted Library of Horror Classics (co-edited with Leslie S. Klinger), which reprints classic novels like The Phantom of the Opera and House on the Borderland with notes and discussion guides. His 2021 anthology Professor Charlatan Bardot’s Travel Anthology to the Most (Fictional) Haunted Buildings in the Weird, Wild World was nominated for the World Fantasy Award, the Bram Stoker Award, and the This is Horror Award, and it won the Shirley Jackson Award. With all that, Eric somehow manages to keep day jobs as an adjunct professor and a technical writer. He lives in Southern California with his wife and two children.

You didn’t start writing fiction professionally until 2011. I know you’ve mentioned that a career change in 2010 was a big part of it, as was the advice of a friend, but was there a single story that demanded to be written, or was writing fiction an overall goal?

Writing itself became a goal. I’ve been writing fiction with the goal of publication since February 2011. However, I’ve been writing and drawing stories since I was a child. I’d just done it previously for my own interest, or for friends. I stopped in college, in order to pursue business and serious-minded life necessities . . . which, of course, I now regret. I don’t regret the pursuit of those other things, but I regret having given up writing for so many years. I never went to school for writing, and I only jumped into this as a potential career-type desire after the realization struck me that I was missing out on something I’d been passionate about in my youth and had been stuck in these other job cycles relating to things that gave me no enjoyment or enthusiasm.

So, here’s an Eric J. Guignard-life-story vignette: I was laid off from work in early 2010 and was trying to reinvent myself. I had (have) an obsession with genealogy and family history stories, and I started writing articles for periodicals and history books for family members on the subject. I also started writing academic articles back when we could publish to Yahoo! Content pay-per-page views, which was my introduction to publishing online. Remember those early PPPV days?

Fast-forward six months, and I was chatting with a friend of my wife’s (whom I’d known in high school in the creative arts) about the process of writing for income, because she was blogging for profit for big entertainment companies, and I was totally jealous that she was able to make an income doing so, while no one was clicking on my PPPV content pages that were about entomology trends and organizational theory. I liked writing, but realization came that my articles were straight-up dull. Add to that, my wife’s friend then explained all the mind-numbing algorithms and data/timing that go into calculated online content, and I probably visibly paled and said, “I wish I could do that, but for fiction stories,” and she answered, “Well, what’s stopping you? Why don’t you write fiction, then?”

It was weirdly that simple, it just took someone else to tell me . . . Ultimately, I still don’t make much money writing fiction, but I do it for the love of storytelling, as most writers do. It also led tangentially into the day job I hold now as a technical writer, which is cool, too.

You once mentioned that you occasionally think you should be a businessman, and you’ve purchased two horror lines now: Dark Moon Books and Horror Library. Are you that rare creative who actually also enjoys the business side?

No, not at all! And by now, I have to come to terms that I’m a terrible businessman, anyway. I probably did say comments about being a businessman because I used to work in outside sales in the banking industry for ten years, and I’d been sharp and did well “oh so long ago,” prior to writing. But I’ve come to terms that on my own, my level of successful entrepreneurship—at least financially—is dismal. So I work as a technical writer now, and I supplant my publishing losses as an adjunct professor. I have a love/hate relationship with publishing, running my press Dark Moon Books. I’ve learned so much from that side—how to build web sites, how to do book layout, how to compile and publish anthologies, how to edit, run promotions, and a million other things, but it’s also put me in debt, and the cumulative time-cost is abysmal. At the same time however, I so appreciate that I’m able to balance the means to continue publishing others and to promote what I’m passionate about, being indie horror, through my Primer and Anthology lines. I help mentor others who want to take a stab at micro presses, and I’m insanely proud of the authors I’ve been able to work with and books I’ve put out.

I remember trying to convince you to write a novella in 2013 (that became “Baggage of Eternal Night”), and you weren’t sure you could write anything longer than a few thousand words. How did you overcome that?

OMG, in my recollection, you did not have to convince me very much! I was definitely nervous as I hadn’t tried the longer form, but I was in no way going to pass up the opportunity to work with you and be part of a publishing series. So there wasn’t much to overcome—I wanted to do it, so I did. It’s much harder for me to heed my own personal goals, which I can blow past, but if I have a deadline or commitment made to someone else, I obsessively adhere to it. (I.e., it’s okay to let myself down, but I crumple if I let down others.)

What prompted you to revise the novella for publication in 2020 as Last Case at a Baggage Auction? Do you find it hard to revisit old work, or do you enjoy it?

The original idea for that series’ publishing project was championed years ago by mutual friend and author, Gene O’Neill, to revive the concept behind the old Ace Doubles books, in which two novellas are packaged together, pairing one acclaimed author with a “gifted, new, cutting-edge writer” (as selected by the acclaimed author, as well you know, being such the “acclaimed author”!).

I was really thrilled to be part of that process, for the experience, the mentorship, and inclusion in something bigger, along with you and Joe McKinney, Gord Rollo, Rena Mason, and the others. Plus, afterward, my novella even made its way to the International Thriller Award and was a finalist for that year’s Best Short Story, which was just wildly mind-blowing.

Ultimately, however, that Doubles series fell apart after seven or eight volumes, and rights reverted back to me, and I had the chance to release this as a standalone, accompanied by the incredible illustrations of artist Steve Lines, whose work I adore (and who also illustrated my 2018 anthology, A World of Horror).

I don’t mind revisiting old work at all, as everything I’ve written in the past is like personal photographs, reminders of what I’ve done, who or where I was back when I’d written them, my mind set, my process.

Last Case at a Baggage Auction was inspired by the deluge of storage locker-bidding television shows at the time, and of which I discovered had a history that included actually bidding on hotel luggage left behind in rooms. In my story, I stayed very true to the facts, to what I discovered in my research of this process and how it evolved. I still like reading about it now, still find it fascinating, people bidding on the remnants of others’ lives, their possessions, intimacies, set to a catcall of valuation.

Your first novel, Doorways to the Deadeye, followed hobos riding the rails in the 1930s. What about that world moved you enough to create an entire novel to explore it?

I don’t know if you know this, but Doorways to the Deadeye came from the same brainstorming session I’d had that developed Last Case at a Baggage Auction! At the time, I’d come up with two ideas, both having to do with American history. The first was what turned into Last Case at a Baggage Auction; the second idea I had, I loved more, but decided it would be way too long to be written for that project. It has to do with a Depression-era hobo reading messages through the Hobo Code, which takes him to the land of our memories.

I’ve always loved history, and I obtained a number of memoirs and firsthand accounts of hobos during the 1930s, and the struggles they faced finding food, work, and general “purpose” in their lives. It was endlessly fascinating, and completely heartbreaking. Most everything in my novel relating to hobos is based on factual experiences of people who considered themselves as such (i.e. migrant traveling laborers). Particularly, I drew upon their encounters with the Railroad Bulls who would guard the trains against transients who tried to hitch free rides on freight cars, by beating, robbing, or even murdering them. Also, I studied the aforementioned “Hobo Code,” which was an actual hieroglyphic language developed by drifters to communicate with each other, telling where to find work, food, shelter, safety, or just wishing luck. Again, really endlessly fascinating, the kind of research that you can bury yourself in, and it just takes you to so many different places.

You’re definitely a writer who has followed their muse, whether it led to short stories, a novel, editing, or publishing. Do you ever write fiction for purely commercial purposes?

Should I ever get to the point where I have an agent and a large publisher who ask me to write to a certain commercial storyline or audience, I would absolutely nail it, but barring that, I’ve just written what my mind is driven toward at the moment, which (considering) sounds rather impulsive, haha. Such is the joy of the indie world, I’ve written what interests me, generally in the short story form, whether exploring trauma or authoring twists on personal experience, or clutching onto any passing fancy. Ideas come, literally and figuratively, from everywhere, and there’s certainly more than I could ever explore in a dozen lifetimes: ideas from dreams (both night and day), global news and current affairs, conversations with people, general observations of the world, playing the “What If?” game, and on and on. It’s fun, and that’s also one of the reasons I’ve generally focused on the shorter form. I’m making a concerted effort to shift into novels now though, as I do believe that readership and future opportunity is amplified for the longer form, but I can’t get away from what my heart wants. I recently read a quote by Neil Gaiman that lays it out: “The short story is still like the novel’s wayward younger brother, we know that it’s not respectable—but I think that can also add to the glory of it.”

In 2014 you wrote a piece for this same magazine in which you predicted certain trends for the future of horror, including more environmental horror, an increase in Lovecraftian fiction, and a rise in diversity. Looking back, how accurate do you think you were, and are there directions horror has gone over the last eight years that have surprised you?

I was invited to write that article for this magazine back in 2014, on the day my daughter was born, so I always remember it with particular fondness!

Anyway, to the point: it’s always fun to look back on predictions made in the past and determine or compare how accurate or relevant they were. I wish I could say I was spot-on in everything I suggested, but I don’t think I was very far off in any of my forecasts. Eight years ago, I predicted horror to make a great swing toward pushing boundaries through progressive and diverse works, which I do think has proved true, especially as reaction to the social climate of the past few years.

Examples of some recent titles are:

The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones, in which themes of grief and cultural identity are explored in a winding four-part story that jumps between time and perspective.

Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi contrasts cultural views, along with “fear of the other,” trauma, and justice for the repressed.

Ring Shout by P. Djeli Clark punches hard into racism, cultural shifts, and the struggles of marginalized peoples through metaphoric as well as real horror in an alternate-history view of American segregation.

In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado is a complex study of personality, with chapters setting as rooms in a “dream house” built to explore the reality of silenced voices, LGBTQ sexuality, and queer domestic abuse.

I feel most of my other predictions could certainly be argued to hold true. Horror in Technology and the Environment has flourished, and there’s been growing cross-over between books and other media formats in building horror-adjacent universes. Perhaps my prediction of “familiar” monsters and tropes coming back around isn’t as visible as I might have imagined. Zombies and vampires and ghouls are still found in plenty of newly released books, but they’re certainly not given the journalistic or P.R. notice of “cutting edge” titles, such as those I mentioned above.

And as much as I tire of Lovecraftian works, there’s no mistaking the influence and direction that led into general “Weird Fiction,” which I absolutely cannot get enough of! Year after year, there are so many great weird fiction (cosmic or quiet horror) releases.

Some top titles include:

  • The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward
  • Children of the Fang and Other Genealogies by John Langan
  • Tender Is the Flesh by Agustina Bazterrica
  • The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor Lavalle
  • Hammers On Bone by Cassandra Khaw
  • The Twisted Ones by T. Kingfisher

While many authors tend to use a certain geographical setting (often their hometown) over and over, your work as both a writer and an editor has spanned the globe. Would you describe yourself as something of an armchair traveler?

Oh, absolutely. I love exploring and learning new things, seeing what else is “out there.” When I was younger, I was much more delighted to physically travel to new places (or return to old favorites), but since having children I’ve totally become a homebody. The creature comforts of domestication, and all that. Also, oddly, I generally prefer traveling alone . . . It probably goes back to working in outside sales, as I would travel regularly alone to cover large territories. I’d then take time off from work to visit elsewhere, hike or camp alone; I rode my bicycle across the country, and I backpacked throughout Europe, and I went to other places, all solo. It’s enjoyable doing things as a family too, though in completely different ways; ultimately however, I’m a wanderer—I just prefer going where the moment strikes. But nowadays, with sedentary work, family, and middle age, my travelling is fairly restricted to Google and Travel TV series.

You’ve edited or co-edited two series that have reprinted existing works intended both for casual readers and teachers: HWA’s Haunted Library of Horror Classics (co-edited with Leslie S. Klinger) and the Primer series (Exploring Dark Short Fiction) that has collected works by authors like Nisi Shawl, Steve Rasnic Tem, and Han Song. Why do you think it’s important to preserve important works and authors in the horror genre?

It’s not just important, but imperative, to preserve—and promote—important works from both the past as well as the present! The works of our past—such as explored in mine and Les’s series for HWA, Haunted Library of Horror Classics, sets a milestone for societal context and helps to understand the influence on following generations of writers. Our series reprinted classics from disparate voices in literary history, with study of the crossover of horror to mystery, adventure, science fiction, and the surreal. We put out such titles as The House on the Borderland, Of One Blood, The King in Yellow, The Castle of Otranto, and more, with each volume containing ancillary material such as annotations, reading lists, author biography, introduction, etc., with the purpose to make them relatable and accessible.

My Primer series, Exploring Dark Short Fiction, takes a different path to a similar goal, being promotion of literary horror for the general public, herein specifically for short stories. My primer books are each an introduction and exploration of dark short fiction, where horror is celebrated as literary, beautiful, and emotionally resonant. The authors chosen are subjective, but part of a larger group I’d consider “modern masters” of horror short stories. I have a long “to-do” list, but currently I’ve put out volumes on Steve Rasnic Tem, Kaaron Warren, Nisi Shawl, Jeffrey Ford, Han Song, Ramsey Campbell, and am currently working on the next volume for Gemma Files. For each primer, the goal is to give a wide representation of who the author is, what they’re capable of, and why they’re important, without overwhelming the reader. To that end, included within each book are a selection of six stories (one of which is written specifically for this Primer series); author interview, essay, biography, bibliography, and more, along with academic commentary by Michael Arnzen, PhD, and all beautifully illustrated by artist Michelle Prebich.

You just won the Shirley Jackson Award for editing the anthology Professor Charlatan Bardot’s Travel Anthology to the Most (Fictional) Haunted Buildings in the Weird, Wild World (which was also nominated for the Bram Stoker Award, This is Horror Award, and World Fantasy Award). It’s certainly a unique book, complete with a nonexistent author. What prompted its creation? Also, I know the book was more difficult than usual to complete, partly due to the illustrations—can you talk about its history?

Professor Charlatan Bardot’s Travel Anthology to the Most (Fictional) Haunted Buildings in the Weird, Wild World is an illustrated travel-themed anthology of fiction stories exploring haunted buildings, written by authors from around the globe (and the eighth anthology book I’ve created).

I began this book while we were deep in the COVID pandemic with increasing quarantine orders falling around us. I was suffering from cabin fever, especially with young children, being stuck at home all day, every day. I wanted to try something creatively different, something speaking to my need for escapism, and I was very much inspired by travel guidebook series such as Lonesome Planet and Footprint, which I’ve always adored. So tying that into dark fantasy and horror was a natural progression to create a travel guide of all those haunted (fictional) places we could only imagine to visit during quarantine.

I started brainstorming this in July 2020 and got it into publication November 2021. So, backing out about two and a half months pre-production lead time, I spent about thirteen months solid working on this, which was outlining, researching, author correspondence, editing, creating maps, working layout, designing cover and interiors, and a mass of other tasks. Besides the interior art, I’m a one-person publisher, so it was a lot to do. Of course some of the burden was carried off by my counterpart—and pseudo persona—Professor Charlatan Bardot.

If of interest, Bardot hails from a three-way split of equal inspiration: one-third Robert Ripley (Ripley’s Believe it or Not), one-third Cryptkeeper (Tales of the Crypt), and one-third of Dos Equis’ ad campaign of “The Most Interesting Man in the World,” and through Bardot, I was able to explore all the most (fictional) haunted buildings around the globe!

Most writers who live in Southern California have dabbled at some point with the screenplay form—have you?

No, I’ve never had any interest in it at all. I like prose writing. Living in Southern California, I do know many people who have dabbled in screenplays, and most of them have soul-crushing horror stories (real-life, not just genre-driven!) of the experience, which would certainly counsel me to avoid it, should I ever consider otherwise. But again, I like prose, and I write what I read, which is a lot of atmosphere and introspection, subtle word play, vivid setting, and so on.

I can’t immediately think of another author or editor who has been nominated for or won the Bram Stoker Award, the Shirley Jackson Award, the World Fantasy Award, and the ITW Thriller Award. What do awards mean to you?

I’ve been incredibly fortunate—and appreciative—to have received those nominations and awards, although I’m also fully cognizant of the subjectiveness of such things. I never think of any award as someone or something “better” than another, but that a certain recognition of quality and approval has been made alongside deserving peers. On another level, for me, they’re also the sort of things that are called “reaching for the stars,” with some expectation of falling short! To actually receive them is unreal, just incredible. Most importantly is that it’s also a validating experience, that people are reading and recognizing you, giving applause, which is an exemplar of writers’ longing.

Considering that you are an active writer with more than 100 published short stories to your credit, an award-winning editor, and a small press publisher who also has a day job and a family, I’m guessing the number one writing question you could answer for a new writer is: how do you find the time for it all?

I definitely feel exhausted! There are a lot of areas where I try to find meaning in life, and I have to balance and prioritize time among my children and family, my day jobs, and my writing projects. But I do constantly fear that I spread myself too thin, and that because I’ve involved myself in different activities and obligations, I don’t put sufficient time and attention into any of them. I work from home, which is really the only way I could possibly multi-task what I do, in that with flexible scheduling I can push things around at all hours of the night.

My work as a technical writer is contract-driven, and sometimes I work multiple contracts at a time, sometimes none, so it’s very “feast or famine”-driven, and I’m always trying to hustle the next gig in order to cover bills. I’m Assistant Scoutmaster of my son’s Boy Scouts troop, I coach for the American Youth Soccer Organization, serve on the board running the region’s program, and I participate in other volunteer activities. But I strive to write every day too, even if it’s only a dozen words. My personal goal is 1,000 words a day (though most writers I know aim for more, between 1,500-2,000). Sometimes I don’t get any writing done, but such is life. I work on book projects whenever I have time. I don’t watch television, I don’t socialize. Outside of life obligations, I just read, write, and edit!

In a career that has now spanned just slightly over a decade, you’ve accomplished a tremendous amount—more than many writers manage in a lifetime! What goals do you still have left to achieve?

I used to be much better about goal-setting, and I would document weekly, monthly, and yearly goals, relating around word count (regardless of publication), and then—separately—publishing output, in addition to goals of reading books, and editing, and goals aligned to Dark Moon Books’ publishing. I’ve been very fortunate to see many of those goals actualized, although I don’t beat myself up if I fall short on something. It all just helps me to keep track of my own journey, and to gain awareness of where and what I need to improve.

Anyway, my goals now fall into two categories, being my writing and also my press, Dark Moon Books.

For Dark Moon Books, I’d like to break even financially on projects, rather than running into the red year after year, so that I can afford to continue putting out quality projects which are experimental and innovative, promoting diverse voices, and mixing academia and art with smart horror/fantasy/weird fiction. (And maybe even become this massive international publishing house with all the other big NY publishers taken over and subjugated as imprints under my banner.)

More importantly though is my own writing, which I’d dearly like to see find homes with greater readership, and to be able to affect readers and deliver some bit of entertainment, introspection, and/or inspiration. A current goal is to start focusing on novels rather than more short stories, and to be able to complete one every twelve to eighteen months. I’m in the process of three, which I’m jumping back and forth between. One is the first book in a paranormal detective series (twenty-five percent complete), one is a literary historical horror revolving around the Panama Canal (twenty percent complete), and one is a cosmic slipstream time-travel about a skull-faced gang (fifty percent complete). I’ve also outlined a couple of other novels, but I do suffer malaise without a hard deadline from someone else, so I wander among ideas and projects, and start to also work on new things.

Ultimately, I do abide by this quote by Maya Angelou: “You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.” In that sentiment are my days; the more of life I’m vested in, the more the ideas, the passions and expressions will come.

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Lisa Morton

Author Lisa Morton. Photo credit: Seth Ryan

Lisa Morton is a screenwriter, author of non-fiction books, and prose writer whose work was described by the American Library Association’s Readers’ Advisory Guide to Horror as “consistently dark, unsettling, and frightening.” She is a six-time winner of the Bram Stoker Award®, the author of four novels and over 150 short stories, and a world-class Halloween and paranormal expert. Her recent releases include the novella Halloween Beyond – The Talking-board, Haunted Tales: Classic Stories of Ghosts and the Supernatural (co-edited with Leslie S. Klinger), and Calling the Spirits: A History of Seances; forthcoming in 2023 from Applause Books is The Art of the Zombie Movie. Lisa lives in Los Angeles and online at