Short Sharp Shocks! 67 released on the 31st December is A.S. MacKenzie’s Unwelcome Space. The cover is by Adrian Baldwin. It’s currently available for pre-sales. A couple of weeks before publication Dean and A.S. MacKenzie sat down and talked about it.
DEMAIN PUBLISHING: Welcome to DEMAIN! It’s a pleasure to have you as part of the SSS! series…what was your first introduction to the horror genre?
A.S. MACKENZIE: My first introduction to horror was when I was in the 3rd grade and got my hands on an overlooked copy of The Pit & The Pendulum” by Edgar Allan Poe. I say overlooked because my school was in a very conservative area of the Appalachians and they would only allow stories like this to those in higher grade. I obsessed on this story as I read it and went out of my way to find more by Poe. Then, I discovered that he wasn’t the only one and then I grabbed whatever I could, be it pulp, comics, or novels. Concurrently, I also fell in love with Doyle’s Sherlock around the same time and with the help of the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, I found that the thing I loved the most from both mysteries and horror was the suspense. So, here years later, my writing focusses heavily on the thriller/suspense part of horror and less on the macabre or gross.
DP: That’s brilliant – personally love a bit of Hardy Boys / Nancy Drew…so, your Short Sharp Shocks!
ASM: I actually wrote this story right after listening to an audiobook about a cemetery on the moon. It spurned in me the idea that while we continue to expand ourselves out into the universe, there may just be some who don’t find us welcome. I also wanted to shy away from the typical ‘alien’ approach and make it something more sinister and unknown. Something you couldn’t see coming. A line in the audiobook really struck this idea home when they mentioned that when you’re in space, you don’t really see the stars due to the lack of atmosphere and the direct exposure to the sun. Just thinking about the inky blackness of it all made me think it couldn’t be entirely empty.
DP: Interesting – and definitely agree it’s more sinister / unknown – which is what appealed. Well done. Did you have to do much research?
ASM: This is where I show off just how much of a science geek I am and say I didn’t really have to research much at all, because I had already started studying the space station and other space faring vehicles long ago. Just for my own amusement and edification. I took that knowledge and envisioned the environment and scene as I went. There was one or two small names for things I had to remind myself of, but most of it was already up there in my mind.
DP: Ha – that’s very cool, well done you! Can you tell me about other books / authors which influence you?
ASM: I think every book influences a writer, in either big or small ways. I can’t count the number of books and authors I’ve read who have imparted something to me. If I were to be specific, the big names that come to mind right away are Jonathan Maberry and any book of his extensive library; Scott Sigler and his Earthcore epic, along with his recent Alien:Phalanx; Delilah Dawson with Phasma and her X-Files comic run; Nicholas Sansbury Smith and his Extinction series; and Chuck Wendig for his Miriam Black series and Damn Fine Story.
DP: There’s some great titles – well worth checking out. What does horror mean to you?
ASM: I find the best aspect of horror is the suspense and the thrill, or the tension, if you will. When thinking back on the stories that have stuck with me or creeped me out so bad I had trouble sleeping, they centre heavily on tension. Not the tension of ‘jump-scares’ which I find are a crutch and overused (though one or two in a story is fine), but the real building tension that comes from an increased sense of unease, danger, fear, or terror. Watching it build to a crescendo and then taking the read to the next step is what I live for in a story.
DP: I’m with you…it’s been a tough year: would you say that the genre is affected by world events?
ASM: There’s no way it couldn’t be. Even if we write for a certain period, our minds are locked inexorably here in time so what we experience and think goes into the story. With all the tumult of 2020, I won’t be surprised to find the stories we write now to reflect that in the dialogue, actions, character motivations, and outcomes. Whether it is to develop a shift in style to cope with what the writer is experiencing or using the words as a relief valve for the pent up feeling within. We will see the stories affected by this year and understand them as only those who have gone through this would. Whether that stands the test of time is to be seen.
DP: Definitely – it’ll be interesting to see what the future brings in term of literature / films / culture…is there a new writer (or director) which interests you right now?
ASM: I’m really impressed with the writers (Alan McDonald and Ryan McHenry) and the director, John McPhail, of Anna & the Apocalypse, more so than I have been with most others lately. Which is saying something because we’ve had a pretty good glut of entertainment come out in recent years. The movie is a campy, fun, rather bloody musical romp filled with tropes and I love it. It doesn’t take itself seriously, and doesn’t make fun of itself, either. The tropes are easy and fit with the story so well you don’t mind them at all. I’ve not seen a movie that easy to watch for a while and I hope to crack its secrets one day.
DP: I’m not aware of that one so will check it out – thanks for the recommendation. There have been reports of late that the horror genre is dead…do you agree?
ASM: Not remotely. Horror isn’t dead because we still have the capacity for fear. Admittedly, a great amount of the horror literary world has gone indie and away from the big publishers, which has made it more difficult for work to get in the hands of a large-scale audience. But, those indie outlets are as committed as the readers who know they are there. It might take a while for horror to claw its way back into mainstream so that the horror section of the bookstore is more than King and Koontz, but it’ll get there. Until then, it’s not going anywhere.
DP: It definitely isn’t. So is writing a long term or short term career for you?
ASM: Writing is absolutely a long-term career, though not the one I will use to pay my bills. I have a career that pays me well enough to keep my bills paid and food in my hand, while also giving me the flexibility to get into writing on my own terms and at my own speed. This has taken a LOT of the pressure off and given me the chance to write and submit to outlets with the knowledge that if they pass, it’s not the end of the line for me. If my writing takes off well enough to pay me a living wage, then I’ll probably put it to the side and cover my retirement so I can continue to write stories even then.
DP: Final question then, do you interact a lot with your readers (or writers who have influenced you)? Any funny stories to tell?
ASM: Yes, I try to interact with anyone who would like to. I send out a newsletter to around 1400+ subscribers and receive a few emails a month from readers with questions or comments. I’m also on social media regularly (maybe too regularly) and interact with readers, but also other writers. Both unknown and known. There’s even a couple of well-known writers who followed me back and we interact often. I’m also quick to promote writer friends about their latest achievements and releases. As for stories, it’s not as funny, but because of this social media interaction I’ve gotten a chance to meet some authors in the real world. One in particular, Scott Sigler, was such a defining moment for me as not just a writer, but a writer who interacts with others. It was after a panel at DragonCon and I’m sure he needed to go somewhere but he took the time to chat with me about one of his then upcoming stories, telling me about the characters, asking my opinion on some of it, getting my feedback on other things he wrote. It was such a good, genuine experience that really made me examine what I want as a writer. Do I want to just write a story and send it out, or do I want to write something and connect with someone about it. His kindness and openness told me the latter is the way to go.
And on that note! Thank you so much for your time, the best of luck with your Short Sharp Shocks!
If you would like to connect with A.S. MacKenzie direct:
A.S. MacKenzie also runs another Instagram account @oneposthorrorstory with short one-post drabbles and images.