Trailer Review – And The Night Growled Back, by Aaron Dries

I like Aaron Dries work, and was specifically drawn to it due to his book trailers as mentioned in my review for The Fallen Boys. It turns out he has made them himself. This is my second prerequisite for a horror fiction trailer I want to review. The first is that they be good, so here we are!

This one begins innocuously enough. I like the mix of the brooding voice-over, highway shots and live action. By the time the tension and mystery build, the soundscape warps. Some may be turned off by the high pitch tone used, but I love this. Nothing says terror like your hearing giving out, no? It’s at just about that point that this trailer rears up and snaps at you – literally!

Anyone out there looking to release a book trailer can learn a lot from these reviews. And remember, there is a larger life for these videos outside of YouTube. They are far more fun to share than a static image. They make great entries to horror and Halloween film festivals. With a little added audio, most can do well as radio spots and the like. So, to not keep you waiting, here is some conversation with horror author Aaron Dries about the trailer for And The Night Growled Back.

Typicallydia: I want to ask about the technical side. What camera did you use?

Aaron Dries: No grade A camera in use here, sadly. My book trailer budget was miniscule—which is a polite way of saying absolutely bloody nothing—so the bulk of this  production was shot on my partner’s DSLR with an HD video capture function. The one problem is that it’s so lightweight. Lightweight cameras are great if you’ve got a tripod but can be problematic because they capture every shake of your hand. And no, I didn’t have a tripod. The camera had no image stability feature. I actually had more dolly/tracking shots in my shotlist, but my arm just wasn’t steady enough. Not a gliding THE SHINING-esque push in to be found in any of my footage. Oh, and let’s not forget that I didn’t have any dolly tracks laid out or anything. The interior shots were all done in my one bedroom Canberra (Australia) loft. So I cleared away my coffee table and rolled up my shag rug so I had the open floorboards to work on; then I sat on my wheel-based swivel chair and had my partner push me around, back and forth, front-ways and sideways. I’m glad we’re on the third floor of our apartment building. The people on the street would have thought us insane otherwise. But then again, maybe we are.

I used a secondary camera for the ‘highway’ shots, an old Bloggie cam, which is USB powered and is about the size of a small TV remote. We’ll get to how I used this one later…

TL: What sort of lighting was needed? I know how important good light is…

AD: For all of these interior shots, the only lighting I had available was that I could source from around my apartment. I accumulated every lamp and torch I could find and strategically placed them around the limited space, just out of shot. I bounced light off the walls to give the background some definition and to try to cast some shadows over the actor’s faces, where appropriate (especially at the dining table). I used a floor lamp to light their faces, and angled the lamp shade in a particular direction to diffuse the brightness. I would alternate which ceiling lights I’d use depending on which direction I was shooting in, but this was often problematic, as it let too much light into the scene, breaking the mood. Lighting, for the record, was the hardest part of the shoot. You can have a good camera, or a really simple one, and shoot something that looks great—but if it’s not lit well, you might as well have shot your masterpiece in a shoebox. Lighting is critical. It was a challenge, but it worked. Eventually.

TL: Where is that highway, and was the lighting there a challenge as well?

AD: That highway was actually just a road, which kind of looked like an eerie and abandoned highway when shot from a low angle. I tried shooting on an actual highway, but there was too much traffic—highways are well lit, too. I didn’t want that. I only wanted the glare off the tarmac and the blare of the dividing lines, really. I was really going for a David Lynchian LOST HIGHWAY kind of thing. I just wasn’t going to get that on your average Australian highway… So these exterior shots were taken on Mount Ainsle in Canberra, about a five minute drive from my apartment. I waited until the middle of the night so there wouldn’t be any other cars and did it all in one shot.

To capture this image, which to me was crucial (I even considered just using this one shot, unbroken and complete, without any of the interior inserts, just a voice over), I took my little Bloogie cam and used electrical tape to fasten it to the number plate of my car! In order to do this, I had to set the camera to record first and then attach it, crossing my fingers as I did so. I then got back in my car and … sped and swerved up that mountain and then down again. I’m sure if the police had seen me I would have been pulled over for sure. I wasn’t terribly proud, but I was careful. The only real danger up there was all the wildlife bounding about. At one point a Kangaroo leapt out in front of me.

[That, right there, is why I like interviewing Aaron Dries]

So I drove, and the whole time I was praying to the low-budget filmmaking gods out there, “please-please-please don’t let the sticky tape break, please don’t let the camera hit the ground and shatter into a million pieces. After all, the damn thing doesn’t even belong to me. It’s my partner’s as well! I took it without permission because there’s no way I’d get the green light if I’d actually said what I planned to use it for!” (I mean, who would?)

As for the lighting, I knew that the majority of the shot would be in shadow. The night was pitch black. By putting my blinders on I knew I was guaranteed to get the road glare, if nothing else. And that was enough. My problem was focus! This is a low-fi camera we’re talking about here, with no manual focus feature. I just had to luck it. There was also no way of checking the footage until after I’d gone up and then back down the mountain. I pulled over, jumped out of the car and pretty much screamed Hallelujah when I saw that a) the camera was there in place, and b) the footage was useable. Eureka! David Lynch, eat your heart out. In post-production I desaturated the shots and put a slight blue/green filter on it. All of the camera shake was digitally simulated in Final Cut Pro.

TL: There is a wonderful growl at the end… where did you collect that sound?

AD: It’s a good growl, don’t you think? So monstrous and evil sounding… Sorry to disappoint you kind folks out there, but this noise isn’t the roar of some Australian creature in the outback, which I coincidentally captured whilst going up Mount Ainslie. Nope… It’s me. I did multiple takes, ran the sound at 50% speed and overdubbed the tracks. I dropped a couple of audio filters on it, thus upping the bass. I cranked the sound so it would really blare. Done. Easy as pie—only cheaper than your average pie.

All of the sound was done by me, including the score. Not that I can play any instruments, mind you. There’s an out of tune piano at my work (I work in a nursing home), so I went into the room on my lunch break and recorded myself just striking random keys. At home, I changed the footage into MP3 files. I imported the audio clip into Final Cut Pro, dropped the speed a little and played the sequence backwards. The wind sounds and the scratchy record effect were sourced from a generic sound-effects CD that I borrowed from my local library. These worked a treat. Finally, I asked my friend, Leigh, who has a wonderfully laconic voice, to do the narration.

TL: So, you mention a tiny budget of $25. What was that spent on?

AD: The number one expenditure for the entire trailer was the monster at the end. I really wanted to find a bear mask, or something wolfish. But I couldn’t find a single mask that fit that description in all of Canberra. I considered sourcing something via Ebay, but everything was so overpriced. Remember, sadly, we don’t celebrate Halloween in Australia (please let that change, and soon!), so there isn’t the huge market for these kind of novelties like there is overseas, especially mid-year. I went to a costume shop wedged between two XXX adult stores on the outskirts of the city (go figure) and found a zombie mask that I thought would work. Not because it looked like a bear or wolf (I’m not that lucky), but it had these great teeth on it. I also knew it was something I could operate with my hand. I knew the shot I wanted, and I knew that the monster would only be seen for a moment. All I needed was the suggestion of jaws. I also bought a kid’s ‘tiger snout’ (which goes over your nose and is attached with elastic). I went home, widened the zombie’s jaws with a pair of scissors and stitched the snout to the zombie’s nose, thus extending the face. I masked the stitches by cutting off the zombie’s hair and sticking it to the divide with chewing gum!

I remember looking at it and thinking to myself, “there’s no way on earth that this is going to work.” Turns out it did. I knew if this bastard mask was shot from the exact right angle, with the exact right amount of camera shake, it’d at least look threatening. In the end, this composition ended up being my ‘money shot’. So, in the end, I guess getting that mask from the little store between the two XXX adult stores was … well … apt.

The rest of my grand expenditures went towards buying the electrical tape used to fasten my camera to my number plate, and towards a small packet of sewing needles that I got at the local dollar store (for, you guess it, a whole buck), so I could stitch the mask together.

So here’s the budget.

Mask: $17.00
Tiger snout: $3.00
Tape: $3.95
Sewing needles: $1.00

TL: Two bottles of wine were also listed in the budget. Did it cost more than $25 and, most importantly, what kind of wine?

AD: The wine! To thank my wonderful actors (my friends Beth and Harrison, who are very good sports, indeed), my partner and I cooked dinner for them (Malaysian red curry, rice and vegetables—from ingredients all in our pantry) I dusted off two bottles of wines that I found under my staircase. I thought a couple of drinks would ease their nerves. We cracked open a bottle of Shiraz (from the Barossa Valley) and Semillon (from the Hunter Valley, my old stomping grounds) and they were delicious. We didn’t overdo it, though. We shot this book trailer on a Wednesday night. A school night. Hardcore, right? Yep, that’s how I roll.

***

(Before I could get to additional questions about making trailers, Dries beat me to the punch. You can tell he is as passionate about film as he is about writing. There is little I can add to his perfect addendum with tips on making a good short video.)

AD: There are a lot of book trailers out there. 99% of them are god awful. That’s not to say they haven’t been made with love, and often exorbitant amounts of money (and for many of us authors, anything more than a hundred bucks can—and usually is—be considered very expensive). There are many things you can do to make your trailer better, without breaking the budget.

Here are some helpful tips.

  • Don’t put over-dramatic stock music in your trailer. This only ends up making your cheap visuals look cheaper. Scale it all back. Make your music complementary to your images, not dominant. Go for minimalism. Also, all stock music has been heard before. It diminishes the effect. You’re better off just having atmospheric sounds and narration.
  • If you’re going to have any text in your video, choose it well. Make sure it’s appropriate for the material you’re advertising. Don’t use a font that looks like it was written by a fifteen year old girl daydreaming about her first school crush when your content is about blood-and-guts murder. It just doesn’t work. I see this all the time. Keep it simple. Less is always more.
  • Don’t have an amazing camera to shoot your trailer on, as was the case with me? That’s okay. Shoot it on your phone. Shoot it on anything. But whatever you do, light your compositions well. Anything less than really good lighting will make your trailer look as cheap as it really is. But lights don’t need to be something you hire. You can go a long way with lamps and headlights.
  • Don’t have professional actors to work with? That’s totally fine! Use your friends … Just don’t get them to deliver any lines. Getting your friends to pose on camera is very different from having them read a script poorly on camera. Just get them to look in the right direction and create the drama out of the film techniques you’re employing — and you should employ them. Get a book on simple filmic techniques, or model your setups after sequences in the movies you like. Hell, Youtube how to shoot basic conversations.
  • Don’t make your book trailer too long and don’t give too much away. I’ve seen five minute long trailers. I usually turn off about 3 minutes in. Two minutes max, unless it’s really good. Like, really REALLY good.
  • Get creative. Don’t settle for mediocrity.
  • You can download free editing software online, or you can dish out the $200 to buy a copy of the new Final Cut Pro. There’s iMovie, there’s all sorts of stuff out there… But whatever you use, remember this: just because there are effects and transitions in the toolbox doesn’t mean you have to put them all in your book trailer. So, no star wipes, scrolling text, or any of those other awful 3D simulators. If you do, watch out. The night really will growl back at you.
  • When it comes to editing, you want your finished product to look as much like film as possible. You’ll never reach this height, trust me. But you CAN get closer by doing the following: desaturate your footage, increase the grain and color-grade every shot. Make the blacks look really black. Contrast is good. Contrast looks like money has been spent on lighting. And yes, I know it’s cheating, but changing everything to widescreen instantly makes everything look more cinematic. But if you’re going to do this, make sure you allow extra space above and below every shot when you’re filming live, otherwise you’ll end up with chopped off heads when you go to edit. And not the ‘good kind’ of chopped off heads.

This list isn’t exhaustive, but it’s a start. So what are you waiting for? Get filming now! In the immortal lines of the Wicked Witch of the West, “Fly my pretties. Fly!”

*end transmission*

So.

There we have it. I certainly hope I can find more scary book trailers out there with authors willing to share the production experience with Dreadful Tales. Huge thanks to Aaron for giving us a front-seat view of his project. You can pick up this short story, And The Night Growled Back, at Samhain for $2.50 while you wait for him to wrap up his next novel. I’ll be writing up a review on this in the near future too!

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Failure by John Everson

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.

To find out more about John Everson check out his web page John Everson: Dark Arts and you can purchase Failure for the kindle from Amazon here.

Tatterdemon by Steve Vernon

Tatterdemon begins in 1861 as Preacher Fell is locked in mortal combat with a powerful witch Thessaly which leaves both of them dragged down in to the cold earth but not before Thessaly has laid a powerful curse upon the town of Crossfall. Flash forward 300 years where Maddy Harker murders her abusive husband Vic and buries him in the very same field, though you can’t keep a bad man down.
The evil lying in the soil is a palpable force of dread which appears to have seeped into the unfortunate souls who inhabit Crossfall. The story is populated by a diverse cast of characters each of whom holds within them sinister twisted desires and secrets. All of the people of Crossfall harbour a skeleton in the closet of indeed a body in the freezer and not one of them appears to be completely sane but this is nothing compared to the madness that follows.
Three days later Vic rises again as a terrifying revenant and all hell breaks loose in a delirious maelstrom of slaughter and chaos. The body count rises quickly and the dead walk again as a malevolent and implacable undead army which falls upon the town and carnage ensues.
Vernon weaves a wonderfully gripping tale told in his inimitably lyrical style and suffused throughout with a wicked sense of black humor. Tatterdemon is told by a master of his craft, the novel progresses rapidly and it is a real page turner which I found difficult to put down. Hold on tight because this is a fabulous dark hayride which leaves you breathless and in wonder at Vernon’s marvellous and mercurial imagination. I highly recommend this novel as it is a terrific barnstorming read that evokes some of the great horror fiction of the 80’s and 90’s.

I thought I would ask Steve a few questions about Tatterdemon and what we can expect from him in the future.

********

DARK MARK: Tatterdemon boasts a wonderful and diverse cast of characters are any of them based upon people you know?

STEVE VERNON: Now there’s a question.
The truth of it is that EVERY character in every one of my stories and novellas and novels are generally a compilation of people who I either met or know or heard about – or even watched in a movie or read about.
For the main character, Maddy Harker, I chose to model her after one of the toughest women I know – my wife.
Earl Toad was a combination of a pair of uncles of mine who were two of the toughest shortest men I ever met.
Wilfred has a strong streak of Matt Dillon – from Gunsmoke – in him, that is, if Matt Dillon had ever decided to put Miss Kitty “on ice”.

DM: I’ve noticed a delightfully dark sense of humor pervades much of your work. Does this occur naturally in your writing process?

SV: Funny just naturally goes along with scary.
How many times in a horror movie has that dude in the hockey mask jumped out of the shadows and you browned your skivvies just a little and maybe even went eek or oh-my-god or just a heartfelt “HUH!!!” – and then right afterwards you sort of giggled and let your breath slide on out.
Part of that was most likely you trying to manfully cover up your inadvertent display of the chicken-shitters – but the bigger part of it was a whole lot more basic than that.
Every scream starts with the seed of a giggle.
It’s like sunshine and shadow – you need one to find the other.

DM: The characters in this novel are I think defined by their secrets. Are there any skeletons in your closet or bodies in the freezer?

SV: We ALL have secrets.

DM: Which writers do you admire and take inspiration from?

SV: I’m inspired by the work of Joe Lansdale, Stephen Hunter, Robert Parker, Stephen King and Norman Partridge – for starters.
I’m always looking for a good storyteller – somebody who can spin a yarn that is so very compelling that you feel you have no choice except to pull up a rock to the campfire and give that story a long, hard listen.
A book – for me – is just that. It’s a story. When I sit down at my keyboard I don’t see a screen in front of me. I see a campfire – and people waiting to be entertained. The yarn-spinner inside my soul takes over from there.
The fact is – I read an awful lot of books. Fact is, if you claim to be a writer you NEED to be a diehard seriously addicted devourer-of-words. I’m a book junkie – I can’t walk into a bookstore without buying SOMETHING!

DM: What can readers expect next from Steve Vernon?

SV: Something different, I expect.
If you’re looking for a couple of suggestions I would DEFINITELY recommend picking up a copy of SUDDEN DEATH OVERTIME – a tale of hockey and vampires.
Fans of the weird west genre might want to pick up a copy of LONG HORN, BIG SHAGGY: A TALE OF WILD WEST TERROR AND REANIMATED BUFFALO.
If you want something more along the lines of end-of-the-world sci-fi, you might want to grab the first episode of my continuing series FLASH VIRUS. It’s the story of the end of the world as told by a teenager – and you can pick up Episode One for free on Kobo or Kindle.
I’m currently working on a young adult novel involving the Cape Breton Bigfoot, Coyote, the ghost of Sam Steele, a Spirit Bear, the Great Lakes Sleeping Giant and the great trickster Raven.
You know – just the same old thing…

To follow Steve Vernon check out his blog YOURS IN STORYTELLING… or friend him on Facebook.

Savage Species by Jonathan Janz

Savage Species, the forthcoming novel by Jonathan Janz (The Sorrows, House of Skin) is a thrilling serialization in five parts. The opening of the Peaceful Valley Nature Preserve unleashes a terrifyingly rapacious evil that has lain dormant for over a century. The story has two branches one of which follows a group of young cub reporters dispatched to cover the grand opening of the park, who find themselves in the thick of the carnage that ensues, and the other which deals with a dysfunctional family whose child has been abducted by one of the titular creatures.

Having been privileged to read the first three parts, I can happily report that Janz has prepared a brutally ferocious banquet which opens with such a welter of savage violence that those with an appetite for bloody, shrieking terror will find it hard to wait for the next course. As the story progresses the tension and terror mounts and we are treated to a nail biting struggle for survival against a legion of seemingly implacable foes. There are a number of nasty surprises awaiting the hapless protagonists who have to increasingly draw upon their own untapped reservoirs of courage and ferocity in order to survive the relentless terror.

As with House of Skin one of the great strengths of the novel is the attention Janz lavishes upon his characters, it is something which grounds the story as the reader is thrust into a maelstrom of fantastic and dreadful, slavering terror.

This is hard, biting horror which grips from the get go and will leave you trembling in anticipation for the next enthrallment.

With publication imminent I thought I would ask Jonathan a few questions about his novel and what we can expect from him in the future.

********

DARK MARK: I think the eBook format lends itself well to serialization, what prompted Samhain to publish this as their first serialization?

JONATHAN JANZ: I couldn’t agree more, Mark. I think the eBook format is ideally suited to the serial for several reasons, not the least of which is the speed with which new installments can be acquired.

As far as Samhain and its decision to publish SAVAGE SPECIES as its first serialization, I think that has to do the collaborative relationship between the higher-ups at Samhain (including Don D’Auria, my wonderful editor) and my agent Louise Fury. Of course Louise works with several different publishers and editors, but she has a great relationship with the folks at Samhain.

Louise posed the idea of a serialized horror novel, and Don (and the rest of the decision-makers) loved it. They then approached me and asked if I had anything in progress that would lend itself well to the serial format. It happened that I was working on a novel then titled NATIVE that was quite different than the other novels I’d written. Previously, I’d worked with ghosts, demons, and other otherworldly villains, but in NATIVE I was working with something a bit different. There were supernatural aspects to the villains, but they were certainly more tangible than ghosts or demons.

Anyway, I felt the story was perfectly suited to the serial format. It was fast-moving, wild, and full of twists and turns. I’d written about sixty percent of it already, but even the stuff I’d written without thinking about serialization was ideal for the serial format. I told Louise and Don that the book I was writing would be perfect for serialization, and when they heard about it, they agreed. Then I completed the novel with serialization in mind. The five-act structure ended up working, in large part due to the gut punches and hooks that occurred near the beginnings and ends of those five acts.

Eventually, the title changed to SAVAGE SPECIES (thankfully, and with the help of honest opinions from Don and Louise), and I couldn’t be happier with the way everything turned out.

DM: The creatures in the novel appear to have stalked from native American mythology, how much of them is based upon the legends of the Algonquian peoples?

JJ: Mythology is fascinating. In preparing for SAVAGE SPECIES, I read voraciously of Native American mythology (especially Algonquian and Iroquois legends), as well as a great many other stories (most notably Algernon Blackwood’s “The Wendigo”). And while I owe a huge debt to those sources, what I tried to do—what I always try to do—is to take the existing myths in new and unexpected directions. The Wendigo is one of the scariest and most mysterious legends, which made it great fun to explore. The taboo of cannibalism plays a large role in many of the Wendigo myths, so I wanted to explore that concept too. Not everyone would agree with this, but there are aspects of the Wendigo myth that relate to some of the best-known subgenres of horror, particularly the zombie tale. So while I definitely and consciously utilized the Native American myths to which you’re referring, I also tried to add some new or different ideas to the existing mythology.

At the heart of the Wendigo myth, I think, is the fear of the known becoming the unknown, the fear that there’s something malevolent out there, and even worse, the possibility that it could carry away and change someone you know. The Algonquians and others explored those ideas long before I did, and I learned a great deal from them during my research.

DM: I find your characters to be very well fleshed out and believable, how important do you think this is to a work of fantastic horror fiction?

JJ: Thank you! I can’t tell you how much that means. If you ask me what matters in a story, I’d give you the generic answer: “Everything.” But if you put a gun to my head and tell me to pick one facet of a story that absolutely must work, I’ll say characterization. And as you sort of alluded to in your question, it’s as important and perhaps even more important for the characterization to be strong in a horror story.

We’ve all heard the phrase “suspension of disbelief.” For readers to suspend disbelief for a horror novel, the characters have to not only be interesting and unique—they also have to ring true. When faced with the inexplicable, how would a person react? If the writer has done his job prior to that point, his protagonist’s reaction will not only ring true to the audience, it will essentially write itself.

Joe R. Lansdale talked about this recently, and I couldn’t agree with it more: a writer doesn’t have to carry around a handy-dandy bag of mix-and-match character traits in order to make a character interesting. You know, throw in a physical abnormality here, toss in a childhood trauma there. Maybe give the guy an exotic pet and a bizarre hobby—collecting discarded bottle caps and fashioning them into a pornographic mosaic perhaps. These aren’t Joe R’s words, but I think they speak to his point. Characters must grow naturally. For me, it’s a matter of feel, experience, and most of all, my subconscious.

Mark, you and Meli and I have spoken about Frank Red Elk, one of the main supporting characters in SAVAGE SPECIES. He’s a great example of what I’m talking about. Most of Frank’s personality sprang forth from my subconscious in several powerful bursts of creativity. He existed as a shade in my mind already; I just had to coax him onto the page.

Frank was also forged by experience—and no, not my own experience! I had an acquaintance in college who was a lot like Frank. Essentially likeable, but wildly inappropriate and incapable of wearing a social mask. This acquaintance found the female form mesmerizing, and he spoke freely about it (often embarrassing everyone around him).

Another element that contributed to Frank Red Elk was my own experience with films and books that feature Native American characters. In many stories it’s like writers are too busy venerating their Native American characters to remember that these characters are still men and women with flaws and feelings and everything else that real humans have. To me, treating any character with kid gloves is an unintentional disservice. I detest caricatures—here I’m talking more about old television and film—and I hope my characters never fall into that trap.

So with Frank Red Elk, I wanted to stay true to what was in my head. He was big, he was blunt, and he was incredibly profane. He had some atypical character traits, but they grew naturally instead of being plucked from a grab bag. I’m proud of him and hope readers enjoy him too.

DM: The novel features monsters with terrifying and rapacious appetites. Do you worry that they may prove too much for some of your readers?

JJ: Ha! The Frank Red Elk stuff was a good bridge to this question, huh? Anyway, you make a good point about the extreme nature of the beasts in SAVAGE SPECIES. They’re powerful, sadistic, and vile. Like my other characters, they developed naturally from my subconscious, though I’ve no doubt that my reading and viewing influenced them too (specifically Richard Laymon’s BEAST HOUSE books, Tolkein’s THE LORD OF THE RINGS mythos, and the creatures from the film THE DESCENT).

But your question is a good one, and one that readers should consider before taking on SAVAGE SPECIES. If a reader is squeamish and doesn’t want a book with graphic violence and depravity in it, this is a book that reader should avoid. In some ways it’s my most extreme book. However, there isn’t a single word in the book intended for shock value or meant to elicit gratuitously cheap thrills. This is the story exhumed from my imagination, and I think it’s a heck of a yarn. I love the positive characters and loathe the malevolent ones.

I think the real world contains people who, like Charly (my female lead) and Sam (one of my male leads), act from the heart and do their best to live with integrity and love. There are others who, like Eric (Charly’s husband), behave like monsters, whose minds are cesspools of cruelty, perversion, and selfishness. I write the truth of these characters and all the characters in between. If folks are turned off by events that occur in SAVAGE SPECIES, I just thank them for reading my work. If folks are entertained by it, well, that’s even better.

But if a reader is searching for a good, cozy Amish romance, he or she might be best served by giving this one a miss.

DM: What can readers expect in the future from Jonathan Janz?

JJ: My first five novels are all original, unrelated (or barely related) stories: THE SORROWS, HOUSE OF SKIN, THE DARKEST LULLABY, SAVAGE SPECIES, and DUST DEVILS. After DUST DEVILS is released in February of 2014, readers will see me begin to sprinkle in some sequels along with additional original works.

DUST DEVILS is a vampire western, and it’s a story dear to my heart. It’s the first story I’ve told from a single point-of-view, which alone makes it different. It’s also set in 1885 New Mexico and very much a western. And while I’m excited about those aspects of the tale, folks should know it’s also a horror story featuring vampires that are both intelligent and endlessly vicious, a combination that makes for an exceedingly scary tale.

After that one, the summer of 2014 will see the release of my first-ever sequel, CASTLE OF SORROWS. In it I’ll return to the mythos of my debut novel THE SORROWS and pick up that story where it left off. I’ve begun work on it and should have it done by the end of September.

Some other projects I’m planning include a horror/revenge tale set in the 1930s, a young adult novel about aliens that’s about a third of the way done, an unannounced trilogy of novels I’ve been talking to my agent about, sequels to HOUSE OF SKIN and SAVAGE SPECIES, and an incredibly violent crime thriller (titled GARDEN OF SNAKES) that I finished and trunked but am strongly considering resurrecting and re-working.

********

The first part of Savage Species will be unleashed in eBook format by Samhain Publishing on June 4 with further installments released fortnightly.

– Dark Mark

Interview with author of The Sorrows Jonathan Janz

Jonathan Janz had a much different road leading to his first published book, The Sorrows, than his fellow Samhain novelist Elena Hearty, author of Donor. While Hearty just needed to get the voices from her head to print, Janz dedicated himself to perfecting his craft for more than a decade. Luckily for Janz, all his hard work has paid off in his first published novel and the promise of a darkly horrific future at Samhain.

I ask Janz about his influences, his favorite authors, the arduous path to publication and his next projects beyond the break. Enjoy!

  Continue reading

Trouble in Paradise: An Interview with Frazer Lee

Aside

I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with one of the coolest, funniest and genuinely good guys in the genre, Frazer Lee. Frazer and I talked everything from Samhain to giallo and everything in between. 

Frazer has also been kind enough to offer a free e-copy of his Stoker-nominated novel, THE LAMPLIGHTERS to one lucky reader who leaves a comment in this post.  I hope you have as much fun reading this as I had being a part of it.

Enjoy!

Pat Dreadful: First off, thank you so much for taking time for Dreadful Tales.  We greatly appreciate it. 

Frazer Lee: Thank you for having me! Does that sound dirty? Or dreadful? I hope so!

Pat Dreadful: How about we settle for dreadfully dirty?

Frazer Lee: We have a winner!

Pat Dreadful: Since this is a celebration of Samhain and the amazing stable of authors they have published, I want to ask how your relationship began with them?

Continue reading

Interview with Donor Author Elena Hearty

Elena Hearty is a first-time Samhain novelist–heck, first time novelist in general–whose personal story regarding the start of her writing career is as fascinating as her first book, Donor. If you read my review yesterday (check it out here) you know I loved the book. Well, I hope I at least got that across. I rambled on a bit too much about vampire tropes and the state of bloodsucker lit and probably not enough about Hearty’s book, Donor, but the short version is it’s a helluva lot of fun to read. In fact, I feel so strongly about the quality of this book that if you leave a comment in the comment’s section below, I’ll pick one lucky reader for a Donor giveaway.

Hearty is the type of author that doesn’t restrict her craft with deadlines. She writes purely for the enjoyment of it and also because she’s got to get those damned voices out of her head!

She let me steal away some of her time to talk about Donor, her writing process, the road to Samhain, and all that good authory type stuff.

Enjoy!

DREADFUL TALES: Thanks again for taking the time to talk to Dreadful Tales. We are having a bit of a Samhain celebration this week and are excited to
learn more about one of its first time novelists.

You mention on your website that creating stories was in part a result of your bouts with insomnia as a preteen. How were you finally able to get the stories out of your head and put pen to paper? Can you tell us about how that process has worked for you?

ELENA HEARTY: Inventing stories began as a way to combat insomnia, but had spread to nearly all aspects of my life by early adulthood. Stuck in traffic? Story time. Bored in a meeting? Story time. Attending a lecture vital to the understanding of computational complexity theory? Unfortunately, story time.

To justify this arguably self destructive habit, I told myself I was “working on a novel.” I told myself that for over a decade. And my daydreams eventually followed suit, organizing themselves into neat little chapters. One day I realized my longest standing novel (Donor) was complete, but it wasn’t until years later that I actually worked up the courage to write it all down. At that point, the process felt more like typing than writing – but that’s not to say my characters didn’t still manage to surprise me in several places.

DT: When you brought DONOR to life on the page how did the story and characters change? What stayed the same?

EH: The story line remained largely the same, but my characters developed minds of their own. For example, Lenore – the main character – is addicted to Xanax. She was originally supposed to kick the habit by the end of the book, but I realized it wouldn’t be in character for her to do so. Actually, I hate the phrase ‘in character’ because people act out of character all the time. Let me put it a different way: Lenore doesn’t kick the habit because she doesn’t *want* to kick the habit. As the author, I have to respect her decision.

Another example of character development gone wild is Richard, Lenore’s captor. He was initially slated for only a minor role, but I just couldn’t get him to stop talking. Once I decided to give his character a little more freedom, he drove the one scene in Donor that wasn’t in my original outline: Dinner Theater. It turned out to be a great addition to the narrative.

DT: I think that is a very interesting way to put it – “I have to respect her decision.” That attitude certainly made the characters all feel very true to life. Vampire or mortal human, their actions developed in a realistic way which amped up the suspense. For better or worse, I cared about these people and what was happening to them. Even Charles at times. Speaking of Charles, Dinner Theater was a great scene! Richard had a real sick sense of humor, but was a bit full of himself as well. Lenore’s disconnectedness and aloofness to Richard made for some humorous moments.

So back to your progression from dreamer to novelist, before writing DONOR did you warm up with short stories or just jump right into your first novel? How did Don D’Auria find you and how did you become part of the Samhain family?

EH: Glad you enjoyed dinner theater. And Richard has a sick sense of humor because he has mysense of humor. I wouldn’t know how to write him any other way. 🙂

Believe it or not, I didjump right into novel writing, but that’s because I had no intention of getting published. I just thought it would be fun to finally get a story out of my head. Once I started writing, however, I realized how much I cared about the quality of my project. I mean, I’d been living with these characters for such a long time — I didn’t want to let them down. Man, that even sounds nuts when I read it back to myself, but it’s true. 

I decided to become a good writer so that I wouldn’t let my imaginary friends down.

YIKES.

But how would I know if I was any good? The answer seemed simple: publication. So I took a break from novel writing to work on short stories for a while. A few months later, I’d sold a story to a semi-pro market. This small success was such a thrill that it inspired me to seek publication for my novel, which I finished shortly thereafter.

Finding a publisher is a bit like applying to college: there are “reach” schools and there are “safety” schools. For Donor, Samhain was my “reach”, and I never expected them to give me the time of day. I’m still floored that Don D’Auria contacted me. I still can’t believe he read my book. I still can’t believe he wanted it for Samhain’s horror line. Don’s been great to work with, as has everyone on the Samhain team.

DT: I’m just fascinated by the fact that you took the story in your head and made it into a novel so (seemingly) easy. I’m interviewing Jonathan Janz as well, a fellow Samhain novelist, and the process for him has been much different, but I found both of your first efforts absolutely impressive.

Are you personally a fan of horror? Who are some of your literary influences in the genre and outside the genre?

EH: Maybe writing Donor seemed easy to me because it was so much fun. 🙂

To answer your question: YES, I’m a fan of horror. I read ‘Interview with the Vampire’ when I was in third grade and have been hooked ever since. I wouldn’t say that any of the authors in that genre have really influenced me, however, even though I’ve read a ton of Clive Barker and Stephen King. They write a lot of material with nebulous evil whereas I like my bad guys to be people you’d be able to have a conversation with. In that sense my biggest influences have probably been great character authors like Elmore Leonard or John Kennedy Toole.

DT: It’s fun to read as well!

Funny you should mention INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE because I was reminded of that story, in particular the approach of making vampires realistic and showing readers a world where they actually exist.

Which brings me to my next question. I love vampire stories and it is a genre trope I never tire of, so I don’t believe that a phenomenon like TWILIGHT can ruin vampires. With successful novels John Linqvist’s LET THE RIGHT ONE IN and Guillermo del Toro & Chuck Hogan’s vampire apocalypse trilogy THE STRAIN, it’s obvious there is still plenty of blood for thirsty fans. Still, these days when you say “vampire” you often get a roll of the eyes. Considering the current discontentedness with paranormal romance, were you at all concerned about whether or not a vampire novel would capture the interest of horror fiction fans?

Donor is definitely NOT a romantic tale and it can’t be categorized as paranormal romance, but do you think there is an inclination to tag vampire stories as romance these days with the wild success of books like Twilight and shows like The Vampire Diaries?

EH: I’m thrilled that you mentioned Twilight because I think the success of that series signifies something very important: In this age of instant gratification – with youtube playing on every cell phone – people are still reading. That’s huge. And I’m grateful to Stephanie Meyer for inspiring so many young people to turn off their televisions and pick up a book instead.

Has the whole phenomenon left people sick to death of vampires? Maybe. But I didn’t write Donor for anyone but myself; finding other readers was the last thing on my mind. When I decided to seek publication, however, the trend became more of a concern; I’m not a fan of paranormal romance (or romance in general) and certainly didn’t want Donor labelled as such. Thankfully, Samhain has taken great care to market it appropriately.

DT: I’d have to agree with your take on TWILIGHT; it is getting teens to read and for some it will be their gateway into horror. For some reason genre fans want to hold it solely responsible for ruining vampires or making them soft, but don’t want to give it credit for the positive.

In Donor you made an interesting juxtaposition between Lenore’s addiction to Xanax and Richard / Paul’s need for blood to survive. Lenore even criticizes them stating, “You either kill people or you don’t. That’s not one of those subjects where there’s a ton of gray area.” But it turns out, and Lenore finds out personally, that there is actually a lot of gray area.

You’ve mentioned the characters as having minds of their own. Is the commentary in DONOR about addiction and the complicated nature of killing a product of the character’s themselves or was that  intentional?

EH: Lenore’s life revolves around her need for Xanax much in the same way that Richard and Paul’s lives revolve around their need for blood. That juxtaposition was intentional. What wasn’t intentional was the extent to which the characters would recognize how much they have in common. In the end, both Paul and Richard sympathize with Lenore’s addiction and even strive to provide her with meds. Likewise, Lenore comes to accept Paul and Richard’s habits without passing judgement.

DT: DONOR is a fun read, but it is also thought-provoking. Readers will be entertained but have something to chew on as well. Was it important to you for DONOR to be a fun, fast-paced read, but still have some meat on the bones? Or, again, was this a product of the characters’ motivation?

EH: I’m glad you found Donor thought provoking. A great deal of things that keep me up at night worked their way into the manuscript, such as quantum immortality, acceptance of death, and what it really means to be a monster. Those topics are in Donor because I wrote the book I wanted to read, and I like books that touch on larger themes.

DT: Now that DONOR has been published, you’re hard at work on another novel, FIX. Can you tell us about the next book? Any additional tidbits you can share that aren’t revealed on your website?

EH: Fix takes place in the same universe, but features zombies instead. It’s my take on zombies, though, meaning that they’re real people. The main characters constantly inject themselves with serum to prevent from rotting. And when the sole provider of serum goes missing, they set out to discover what happened to him – and they don’t have much time.

DT: I’m a big fan of DONOR so I’m looking forward to your next book. It may be a bit early to ask, but do you have a tentative date for the release of FIX??

EH: I refuse to commit to any deadlines! I write for fun and deadlines would definitely take the fun out of writing. I’m also working on a sequel to Donor and at this point I don’t know which book will be finished first.

DT: I know at least one of your fellow Samhain novelists that is hitting the horror con circuit, any book signings, conventions, or readings you will attend that fans need to know about?

EH: The horror con circuit probably isn’t for me. Honestly, that type of thing sounds like my worst nightmare. I love writing, but I don’t have any designs on being an ‘author’ if that makes any sense.

DT: Do you still suffer from insomnia?

EH: I had a particularly bad bout with insomnia earlier this week, as a matter of fact, and I was up until five in the morning. Thankfully, I had lots of friends in my head to keep me company 😉

DT: And last one. Vincent Price has invited you to the House on Haunted Hill and he wants you to pick the other 4 guests. Who do you choose and why?

EH: I love the House on Haunted Hill question! I’m going to use this as an opportunity to list my four favorite horror movie characters of all time…and probably means I wouldn’t make it out alive.
1) Warwick Davis as the Leprechan. Seriously, watch Leprechaun in the Hood. The rap at the end is priceless.
2) Ash from The Evil Dead series. He is the fucking man.
3) Chris Sarandon as Jerry Dandrige in the original Fright Night. I absolutely loved this movie growing up and thought the vampire next door seemed to have a great sense of humor.
4) Gizmo from Gremlins. If I’m stuck in the House on Haunted Hill, I’m pouring water all over Gizmo and feeding him after dark.

Who would survive? It’s anyone’s call, but my money’s on Ash.

Keep up with everything Elena Hearty at her website. Be sure to check out everything that’s going on with Samhain Horror as well here!