My first experience with John Everson’s writing was with the Stoker Award nominated NightWhere which I found to be a gripping plunge into erotically charged terror and depravity. Hoping for similar thrills from this earlier novelette I was delighted not to be disappointed. Originally published in 2006 and long out of print Failure has recently been re-released as an exclusive kindle edition.
Here Everson weaves a terse and cautionary story about a disparate trio of teenage delinquents who are willing to do anything for the promise of some elicit drugs or sex, including performing sexually for a depraved stranger Aaron. Little do they realise that Aaron is actually a wannabee warlock who is using them as part of a diabolical conjuration which will end in a welter of bloody screaming terror.
Told from the third person perspective of his characters Everson is insightful about their motivations and relentless when it comes to the terrible consequences of the poor choices they make. The real strength of this story was the way in which Everson allows the reader into the hearts and minds of his characters, they are a disparate group of desperate souls who have strayed far from the path but we are made to empathise with them and share their awful plight. This is no mean feat as none of the protagonists are particularly likable but the punishment they receive is so extreme that it is impossible not to feel some emotion for them. That said having spent much of my youth straying from the path of righteousness, I found these protagonists all too familiar. If you thought that unwanted teenage pregnancy was the worst consequence of youthful abandon then think again as far more dreadful penalties are meted out to these foolhardy teens and the wages of sin are a fate worse than death.
This story though short is an extreme and visceral experience which lingers with you long after you have finished reading it and has the power to make even a jaded horrorphile squirm. It’s a brutal and gruesome tale which is not for the squeamish but one that will delight connoisseurs of the dark. Some authors show us evil but John Everson believes in thrusting his readers headfirst, kicking and screaming into its terrible, stygian depths. If you missed this nasty little novelette the first time around I heartily recommend that you get it now.
I decided to ask John a few questions about Failure and what we can expect from him in the future.
Dark Mark: The vulnerable delinquents who feature in the story are very believable characters, are they based on anyone you know?
John Everson: They’re not based on anyone in particular, really. I went to a Catholic high school (30 years ago!), so there were a lot of “Raymond” kids there – people with plenty of affluence who still felt empty and suicidal. And there were girls like Cind who would go under the bleachers to score a nickel bag, and guys like Sal who would do anything to get both the girl and the nickel bag but felt that they were too homely to ever get the girl without a little “help.” In some ways, I think these kids feel things that we all felt in high school – displacement, wanting to just chuck it all, desperation for a score on sex or substances (alcohol or marijuana, pick your poison).
DM: Terrible things happen to the characters in your works. Is there any act of depravity that you have found too strong to write about?
JE: I generally don’t involve kids as victims in my horror stories. There are sacrificial things involving the unborn in The 13th, but I don’t dwell on that aspect and they are not “characters” in the story. I like to deal with characters who have enough maturity to potentially understand and escape from their situations (which their own flaws may have caused). Young children don’t have that maturity, and so I don’t put them in that mix, though their peril would certainly be disturbing. Kicking a young kid or a puppy is definitely horrible, but I just have no interest in using that as a focal device in my stories.
DM: Which authors do you admire and take influence from?
JE: I grew up reading a lot of science fiction, and discovered Richard Matheson, who worked both in the science fiction and horror milieu (both in print and on television, via The Twilight Zone). I loved the twist endings in his tales. Later, when I began reading horror, I found the character development of Stephen King an amazing, enviable thing. And then I discovered the gothic beauty of Anne Rice and the dark depravity of Clive Barker. Over the past 10 years, I’ve been enthralled by the work of Edward Lee, whose novels are among the only ones in my adult life that grabbed me so much that I’ve had to read a couple of them start-to-finish in one sitting.
DM: Is there any chance that we might see a sequel to Failure?
JE: I’ve always wanted to write a sequel to this story… but considering that a decade has passed since I finished it… I make no promises!
DM: What can we expect next from John Everson?
JE: My seventh novel, Violet Eyes, is due to be released from Samhain Publishing in less than a month! This is a fun arachnid novel in the tradition of Kingdom of the Spiders. I have also just put the last design touches on a re-issue of my very first short fiction collection, Cage of Bones & Other Deadly Obsessions. That book was originally issued by Delirium Books in 2000, but has never had a paperback release. I got the rights back to it earlier this summer, and reissued it in e-book via my own Dark Arts Books imprint. The trade paperback edition will be available (at last!) in about a week.