January 29th also sees the publication of Yolanda Sfetsos’ The Wired City which is Book 2 in our new Weird. Wonderful. Other Worlds’ series. The cover is by Adrian Baldwin. Over the Christmas / New Year period Dean and Yolanda (who also has Short Sharp Shocks! AND Murder! Mystery! Mayhem! Books under their belt) sat down and talked about this new story.
DEMAIN PUBLISHING: Happy new year Yolanda! Welcome to the new series…for those that don’t know you (yet!) can you tell us about yourself…
YOLANDA SFETSOS: Hello! Great to be back and yes, happy new year to you too. Well, I live in Sydney, Australia and spend a lot of my day lost in fictional worlds. Sometimes they’re mine, other times they’re not, but I love to lose myself in stories. It’s the reason I became a writer. There was nothing else I could do, not when ideas started turning up inside my head when I was a kid, and the characters wouldn’t be quiet until I told their story. Being a writer has always been a part of who I am.
DP: Me too! What was your first introduction to the fantasy / sci-fi / weird genre?
YS: Like most people my age, Star Wars was one of my earliest introductions to sci-fi/fantasy. I was a little kid when Episode IV came out and can still remember how amazing it was to experience this movie. After that, anything that came along featuring robots, space and an interesting but weird ensemble of characters caught my attention.
DP: Definitely, I’m definitely a Star Wars guy 100% but also love Star Trek and I’d love to write something in that universe one day, I’ve got a couple of ideas for novels, I also wrote a spec episode of The Next Generation when I was a kid which is in a drawer somewhere but a film, that’d be the ultimate…anyway, anyway, tell us about your novella…
YS: The Wired City is a story about a bored android who wants to live a better and more exciting life. When she stumbles on a mysterious classifieds message, her life gets a huge boost of adventure. A LOT more than she ever imagined. This is a story that I’ve wanted to tell for a while, but it didn’t come together until last year. One night, I was wondering if I should trunk the idea, when suddenly—Tolliver decided to speak up and tell me all about her adventure. After that, the story came together very quickly and I really enjoyed writing it.
DP: And we enjoyed reading it so well done. Did you have to do a lot of research before writing?
YS: Most of my research for this one was about mechanical brains, androids, cyborgs and Mars. I did all of this online. The internet can be a very helpful creature sometimes. Besides, I’ve been doing robot research for years.
DP: Ah, then I guess you didn’t find the story particularly difficult to write?
YS: Not really because I LOVE robot stories and have always wanted to tell one of my own. This is my love letter to a genre I’ve enjoyed and have found fascinating since I was a kid.
DP: What would you say is your biggest creative success to date?
YS: My biggest, personal success is having the ability to write. Telling stories is one of my favourite things to do and I feel very fortunate to be able to do it.
DP: And you do it very well – which has been proven by the great reviews you’ve received for your DEMAIN titles…with regards to the WWW! series – what does ‘weird’ mean to you?
YS: To me, ‘weird’ is pretty much anything that isn’t considered mainstream. It’s a label that people put on something they don’t understand. I find most of what’s considered to be weird to be very interesting and even beautiful in its own very unique way.
DP: That’s great and I’m with you on that. Creatively is there anything you’d like to do that you haven’t yet achieved?
YS: I would love to write a cosy mystery one day. One featuring an amateur sleuth who loves tea, books and cats. Ideally, I would like to keep the supernatural out of this story…but I know that’s an almost impossible thing for me to achieve. LOL.
DP: Haha – I know what you mean, there’s so many stories I start writing which are meant to be ‘calm’ but by the time I’ve finished them they’ve become a very very different beast. I’m guessing writing isn’t a short term career for you?
YS: Always a long-term thing for me. I can’t imagine not writing. I mean, where would all of these ideas trying to burst out of my head go? 😊
DP: True, true…trying not to end on a depressing note, how are you handling all the covid restrictions / lockdowns?
YS: I can’t believe it’s 2021 and we’re still in the middle of this Covid-19 nightmare. I’m a homebody, so the lockdown hasn’t been that much of a problem. As long as I get to go out for a daily walk, I can handle spending the rest of my days inside writing, reading, watching, and hanging around with my husband and cat.
Great to speak to you again Yolanda…all the best with The Wired City.
If you’d like to connect with Yolanda direct:
On the 29th January DEMAIN will be releasing the first two books in a new series called: Weird. Wonderful. Other Worlds. The first title is The Raven King by Liz Tuckwell who is already part of the DEMAIN family with two Short Sharp Shocks! to her name. The covers and general branding for the series is by Adrian Baldwin. A couple of days into the new year Dean and Liz spoke about this new book and exciting venture.
DEMAIN PUBLISHING: Happy New Year Liz! Welcome back to DEMAIN and congrats to you – kicking off the new WWW! series in style. For those that don’t yet know the Weird. Wonderful. Other Worlds. titles will have a very broad brief covering a bit of fantasy, a bit of sci-fi, a bit of weird…more on that as we talk, let’s first remind our readers a little about yourself and why you became a writer.
LIZ TUCKWELL: Happy New Year! Yes, I’m Liz Tuckwell, I’ve only started writing seriously since 2011. I’ve always been interested in writing and wrote a very bad children’s novel when I was thirteen. English was my best subject at school. But life and work took over for a long time and I stopped writing. Then in 2011, I went to a seminar where the speaker was talking about doing what you loved. In her case, it led her to starting a smoked kipper business (each to their own). That had a big impact on me – what did I really want to do? The answer - of course - was write, so I started writing again and attended writing courses. I went part time at work then which helped to get me started again. I do regret getting distracted and giving up writing but tell myself the old cliché – better late than never!
DP: Dead right. What’s your background Liz and has that influenced you as a writer?
LT: I grew up in South East London/North West Kent, so I think London has had a big influence on me plus having airport and ports close by to fly away to other countries. I realised that London wasn’t the centre of the universe when I studied for my degree in Manchester. I’m very much a city person. My feeling about the countryside is that “it’s a nice place to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there”. That’s why urban fantasy is one of my favourite sub genres. I actually did my dissertation on science fiction, it was called “Images of Women in Science Fiction” and featured Ursula K Le Guin, Joanna Russ, Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein.
DP: Really? I never knew that, I’d love to read it…mine was about the Salem Witches and I’ve always wanted to revisit it and completely rewrite the conclusion…anyway, so your first introduction to the fantasy…
LT:…fantasy/sci fi genre was through my dad who liked to read science fiction. I read the books he had lying around. These were mainly what you’d call classic science fiction, I suppose, Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov etc. I remember going to the adult library to pick out books for him. Librarians were more relaxed in those days about children going into the adult sections. So, I got to know the science fiction shelves of my local library very well. There used to be a Woolworths near the library that had a stall full of remaindered paperbacks from the USA. I was first introduced to Fritz Leiber’s Gray Mouser and Fafhrd and other sword and sorcery authors through those and some other great SF novels such as the Greenwich Village Trilogy.
DP: That’s amazing – I need to check those books out as I’ve definitely not read any Leiber before…and your WWW! Book, The Raven King, let’s talk about that…
LT: It’s the second story I’ve written about [characters] DI Lis Liszt and DC Jaz Sharma although it’s the story of how DI Lis Liszt and DC Jaz Sharma met and the start of the Supernatural Crimes Squad. The first story was called A Dead Mermaid on Eel Pie Island and appears in the MCSI: Magical Crime Scene Investigations anthology. It’s set in a world a few years after the ‘Great Unveiling’. This was when supernatural creatures revealed themselves to the world after centuries of hiding. The world is still getting used to the fact that they and magic really do exist. I thought that the Tower of London would make a great setting for a story and once I learnt more about the ravens, well, they had to be in it as well. The ravens disappear from the Tower of London and the fledgling Supernatural Crimes Squad has to work out what is going on and who is behind this.
DP: Yes I think that was a particularly clever angle…I’ll have to check out the first story (as I’m sure a lot of your readers will once they’ve read The Raven King). Did you have to do much research before writing?
LT: I had to do a fair amount of research. I researched the ravens, Welsh mythology, Welsh, and the Tower of London. Ravens are amazing creatures. I hadn’t realised that they really can talk. Google is my best friend for finding useful and interesting websites. I visited the Tower of London to get a feel for the layout, the buildings and the sense of the place. Looking at maps was not enough. It’s a fascinating palace (and it is a palace not just a fortress as I learnt during my research). There was a documentary series about the Tower on TV at the time, which I watched purely for research purposes of course. Luckily, the ravens featured a lot in the programmes.
DP: I will admit that there is a plot line / character in your story which has affected me profoundly since I read it about a certain period of history I’m really into and I’ve been thinking about it a lot now – I won’t say what as I don’t want to ruin it for anybody else but I’ve made a connection between two points / episodes in history which as far as I know have never been linked before so I’m going to do some more research on that…thank you very much! Um, anyway, did you find The Raven King particularly difficult to write?
LT: I found it difficult to write as it’s a prequel and I was trying to keep it as realistic as possible while being a fantasy story. I found a prequel much harder to write than starting from scratch because you have to make sure that you don’t contradict what you’ve already written and there aren’t any discrepancies. I regretted a couple of the decisions I’d made in the first story but too late now! It’s very tempting to stop and spend ages looking up a query rather than getting on with the story.
DP: That’s so true! Can you tell us about books / authors who influence you?
LT: I love Ben Aaronvitch’s Rivers of London series, that’s obviously been an influence on this novella. His sense of place and the interesting characters he creates is inspirational. I also like Charlaine Harris, China Mieville and Jasper Fforde. Charlaine Harris was one of the earlier writers about vampires and I loved her take on them. I think China Mieville’s The City and the City is a great book about the amazing capacity of human beings to see what they want to see. Jasper Fforde has such a fantastic imagination and he makes the impossible seem plausible and logical especially in his later novels such Shades of Grey (I bet he wishes he’d chosen a different title for that one), Early Rising and The Constant Rabbit.
DP: I wonder how many customers have picked up Jasper’s Grey rather than the slightly more famous one and then got to the end and thought “hang on, what the hell is this?!” ha ha…do you have a favourite ‘weird’ author / book / film?
LT: I’m not sure that I do. I really like China Mieville as I mentioned before. I read the ‘classics’ by H P Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith when I was younger. Some of the authors I like who can be considered ‘weird’ are Neil Gaiman, Shirley Jackson, Angela Carter, and Tanith Lee. One author who’s not normally associated with ‘weird’ is Daphne Du Maurier but I think her story, The Birds, is brilliant and memorable, and much better than Hitchcock’s film.
DP: That’s a great call. It is a cracking story and I’ll have to find some time to read that again. What does ‘weird’ mean to you?
LT: To me, ‘weird’ means old weird like H P Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith although I realise there’s a lot more variety in weird fiction than that. China Mieville described it as ‘tentacle fiction’ which does sum it up for me. It’s a crossover between horror and fantasy with a dash of science fiction. I think it’s fair to say that some horror fantasy is also weird fiction but not all weird fiction is horror fantasy. One sub-genre of ‘weird’ fiction I like very much is occult detective. I love the nineteenth century occult detective stories and modern ones like Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files and Randal Garrett’s Lord Darcy stories. I especially like the Lord Darcy ones because they’re also alternate history. I think my Lis and Jaz stories fit into that although I haven’t written a story involving tentacles yet.
DP: Personally I’m not into alternate history too much but a few years ago I did read and enjoy a great deal Richard Dreyfuss / Harry Turtledove’s The Two Georges and when I moved to France a friend gave me a book by Ben Elton called Time And Time Again which really captivated me and had a cracking twist…what do you think draws readers into the genre…are they looking for something specific?
LT: I think readers are looking for stories about non-traditional monsters in a universe where the protagonists are pretty insignificant and sometimes powerless against malign creatures and forces they don’t understand. That’s certainly a mood for our current times. I feel there’s a surfeit of vampires, werewolves and zombies at the moment, so to have other monsters is refreshing.
That’s so true Liz!
Thanks a million for your time.
The best of luck with your WWW! And congrats again for being the author to launch the series.
If you would like to connect with Liz direct:
January 29th sees the publication of Dave Jeffery’s Cathedral (cover by Adrian Baldwin; central art piece by Roberto Segate). As Lockdown 3 was about to hit, Dave and Dave sat down and talked about it.
DEMAIN PUBLISHING: Great to speak to you again Dave, glad that you’re well and safe. We’re here to talk about Cathedral…the story is set in the same universe as your previous (and critically acclaimed) A Quiet Apocalypse – is it a sequel?
DAVE JEFFERY: Hi Dean, great to speak to you too. To answer your question, no there are no characters from A Quiet Apocalypse featuring in Cathedral. This is one of the things I enjoy about this particular universe, the ability to have stories that could be happening at the same time as each other, just like real life, is liberating as a writer. There are references to places and certain events that link the books, but its chronology is deliberately ambiguous.
DP: It’s a very expanding / expansive universe and quite honestly thousands of different stories could be told. Congratulations on what you’ve created. I suppose for those that haven’t yet read A Quiet Apocalypse can you tell us a little about it?
DJ: Sure. A Quiet Apocalypse is set in the aftermath of a pandemic. A mutant strain of meningitis (MNG-U) has killed most of the world’s population and left the majority of survivors with profound deafness. There are a few hearing survivors, and they are hunted as a commodity for those affected. The story is told from the perspective of Chris, a hearing survivor enslaved by Crowley - a deafened farmer. It explores the brutality of slavery and the fears associated with both physical and psychological trauma. It is a very dark story and I’ve been stunned by reader response, with many reviewers likening its emotional impact to that of seminal greats like The Road and I Am Legend.
DP: You thoroughly deserved the plaudits Dave, it’s a great story with really believable three dimensional characters and I don’t believe I’ve read one bad review – so well done! In Cathedral who are your characters?
DJ: In keeping with the first book, the narrative is told in first person, this time from the perspective of Sarah, a citizen of Cathedral. Like all citizens, she has been deafened and quietly continues to mourn the loss of her family and best friend. Sarah is compliant and generally accepting of the ritualistic -and often brutal - laws of Cathedral but is left with a sense that she is missing something in her life. Her best friend, Alice, holds what is known as a High Role and is a proponent of Cathedral’s ethos. Conflict arises when Sarah falls in love with Paul, a man who has been rescued from the wilderness. As relationships form part of a quota system, Sarah must share the man she loves with others for the betterment of the whole community. The book explores Sarah’s battle to keep both her lover and her place in Cathedral, and the results of this conflicting scenario.
DP: Thank you – now, without giving any spoilers away (I know this one might be difficult though I am genuinely interested) – somebody called Abraham Maslow features heavily in Cathedral. He’s a real person right?
DJ: Yes. Abraham Maslow was an American psychologist who created a theoretical framework based on chronologically meeting human need. At the bottom of a five-tier pyramid is physiological needs such as food, water, warmth etc, and at the apex is the concept of self-actualisation, or the ability for an individual to achieve their full potential. In order to progress, Maslow theorised that a person must have each need met in his proposed hierarchy. Of course, for the purposes of Cathedral’s version (or Maslow’s Law as it is known in the city), the top two tiers that foster individuality are removed for the betterment of the whole community. The resulting trapezium shape this creates is a symbol of order in Cathedral and features on the city flag, and the doorways of the arboretum are fashioned in such a shape as a reminder to all that they are always under the influence of its doctrine. This removal of individual achievement ultimately creates an intriguing conflict between protagonist and the world they inhabit.
DP: I honestly haven’t found many horror authors who have gone to this level of detail in their stories Dave and this is why I and everybody else love what you have created with the A Quiet Apocalypse universe…I’m assuming that a lot of research was required?
DJ: As with A Quiet Apocalypse, I drew upon my existing knowledge as a mental health professional to explore Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and the adaptation of it to meet the skewed ethos of Cathedral. It was an odd thing to pick apart such a well-established and lauded framework so that it became something at odds with the original ethic established by Maslow. However, the more I worked on it, the more right it felt for the story. There was no going back once I started.
DP: I bet – so did you find any of the scenes particularly difficult to write?
DJ: Well, there were a few scenes that had me wincing, one even had me questioning whether I should edit it out because it was too barbaric. There are several bleak core concepts in the origins of Cathedral as a city and the ethos it has adopted. One of the overarching issues is a universal (yet unfounded) belief that people from the Deaf Community were carriers of the original disease and are therefore branded Harbingers. If harbingers are captured, then they are brought back to the city where they are ritualistically killed in a ceremony known as Retribution, a cathartic outpouring of hate that is inflicted upon the poor soul who is caught. The scene is pretty nasty but I feel there is counterweight when we look at Sarah’s rationalisation of events and the impact this has on Paul.
DP: Considering the times we now find ourselves in and though you began writing Cathedral before the Covid pandemic do you think what you are creating in your universe can be seen as a metaphor for the virus / current landscape?
DJ: I think any book written during such a time is bound to become a product of events. Cathedral (and A Quiet Apocalypse for that matter) try to be as realistic as possible in terms of human interaction and response to adversity. Cathedral explores how this is done on a grander scale, a city with radical policies to prevent a return to the chaos that is the immediate aftermath of World’s End. But like many human endeavours, the cure can sometimes be as harmful as the disease.
DP: Too true…so what next for the A Quiet Apocalypse universe?
DJ: The Samaritan, the third book, is already written and will hopefully be released later in 2021, if not early next year. Again, this will be a first-person narrative from one of Cathedral’s search units who becomes trapped in the wilderness beyond the city walls. Of all the books, this is possibly the darkest in terms of content.
DP: That sounds exciting…do you think that there might be further stories?
DJ: Okay…there is also another, super-secret project that is also greenlit for late 2021 that may well feature a story set in Cathedral, certainly an origin tale, but at the moment I’m not at liberty to give out any more information than that, sorry!
DP: Ah, spoilers! Love it…finally then, 2020 was a very tough year for most, how did you handle it and did it affect your creative work?
DJ: I was fortunate in that I’d literally only just retired in February 2020 and had a long ‘to-do’ list for the year, particularly around writing projects. I also have two young adults in the house who needed my support, so in all, I have been lucky in that my focus was predetermined. However, I am aware that not everyone has been so lucky, and my heart goes out to all those affected by this terrible disease.
Dave, thank you for your time and all the best of luck with Cathedral. You honestly deserve it.
Cathedral is released on the 29th January but is currently available for pre-sales.
If you would like to connect with Dave Jeffery direct:
Facebook: Dave Jeffery Writer
December 31st sees the publication of Dan Weatherer’s novella Cheslyn Myre (cover by Adrian Baldwin) – currently available for presales. Dan is no stranger to DEMAIN with a contribution to the Short Sharp Shocks! series (Unnecessary Evil & Sick Girl – cover by Adrian Baldwin) and his recent release The Underclass (cover by Adrian Baldwin, central art piece by Roberto Segate). Dean and Dan recently talked all things Cheslyn Myre…
DEMAIN PUBLISHING: Great to speak to you again Dan, let’s get straight down to it, is Chesyln Myre based on a real town?
DAN WEATHERER: Yes, Cheslyn Myre is based on the town I grew up in. Many of the places mentioned are real, with slight name tweaks here and there. The Air Ministry was also real. I say was, because it was decommissioned. I think it’s a private residence these days.
DP: Reading your book brought back a memory of somewhere I lived in Kent when I was very young, there was some military ground nearby where we were ‘allowed’ to play. In the ground there were these metal doors which led to an underground chamber of some kind…I remember going into one once, I must have only been six, seven, something like that…scary but great fun ha ha. Anyway…did you find Cheslyn Myre difficult to write?
DW: No, because this book is probably the closest work to resembling my childhood of all. It seems fitting that my writing career looks to be ending with this release, if only for now.
DP: Indeed. When you create Dan do you challenge yourself or give your readers more of the ‘same’?
DW: I think a quick glance through my back catalogue will show that I don’t have a set style of writing. I like to keep things fresh, as much for me as my readers. I like to challenge myself to different styles, perspectives, even media. I’m happy with what I’ve produced.
DP: And we’re happy to work with you! Do you want each of your releases to stand on their own or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each title?
DW: There are some, subtle ties between books and stories of mine. Some take place in the same universe. Others visit the same locations, albeit at a different time. I like to leave details for my readers to come across. They aren’t integral to the story, but I see them as little rewards for my more dedicated readers.
DP: That’s brilliant. Dan, what does horror mean to you?
DW: It used to be my outlet – my way of processing the world and its demons. These days I’m not close to the genre. I think 2020 has forced great struggles on a lot of people, and while some find respite in horror fiction, I tend to find myself searching for lighter relief. While I was suited to the darker realms of thought and creativity, I no longer feel that is the case. Perhaps this book sees the end of that particular chapter – as I mentioned, Cheslyn Myre contains chunks of my childhood within its pages. Releasing it into the world is my way of letting it go.
DP: That’s interesting and I don’t think you’re alone actually – it’s been a tough year all around hasn’t it – I wonder if as you say this will be your last ‘horror’ book? I think a lot of the more darker creators might end up expressing themselves in a different way moving forward just because 2021 has been so dark in so many different ways…on that depressing note, final question Dan: Do you interact a lot with your readers? If so, how / why? Any funny stories to tell?
DW: I don’t. I’m quite reclusive. I used to when I was starting out as a writer, but these days I prefer a quieter life!
Great chatting to you again Dan, all the best with Cheslyn Myre and here’s to a much better / brighter 2021.
If you’d like to connect with Dan direct:
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.
Entry 66 in the Short Sharp Shocks! series is Let Me Take You Down by Marc Shapiro. The book is out on the 31st December but is currently available for pre-sales. The cover is by Adrian Baldwin. Recently Dean and Marc talked about it…
DEMAIN PUBLISHING: Hi Marc, hope you’re doing as best as you can during this difficult period. For those readers who aren’t yet familiar with you or your work, can you tell them about yourself?
MARC SHAPIRO: Hi, yes of course: Born in Boyle Heights, California. Grew up in Monterey Park on a steady diet of Saturday matinees and old pulps and paperbacks. Graduated from high school. Only a so so student. Spent two years in the army. Went to college. Got a degree in journalism. Freelanced for underground newspapers, music magazines and horror film publications like The Los Angeles Free Press, Zoo World and Fangoria. Started writing books. Wrote a shitload of books and still do. Happily married for better than 40 years. One daughter. One granddaughter. Film rights available.
DP: Excellent! Fangoria is brilliant isn’t it – one off my bucket-list was when Barbie Wilde interviewed me a couple of years back – we had a fab time doing the interview and when it was published…still makes my heart beat a bit faster now…anyway, why did you become a writer…
MS: I was always kind of introverted but had a creative outlook on things so, by the time I was thirteen, I figured writing was the way to go. I love the freedom that writing brings. I also love the idea of making a living doing what I love to do and proving decades of doubters wrong.
DP: Without a doubt and good for you. What would you say was your first introduction to the Horror genre?
MS: Too many to remember but some faves growing up were Robert Bloch, Richard Matheson, Harlan Ellison, Ray Bradbury. Movies like Frankenstein, Dracula, The Blob, The Wolfman, Attack Of The Puppet People, Them. You get the picture. Toss a dart in any direction in my world and you’ll hit an influence.
DP: Which is exactly the way it should be – I know that certainly when I was younger and just starting out, though Horror was my be all and end all, my actually influences were far more ‘literary fiction’ – it all goes into the mix…so let’s talk about your Short Sharp Shocks! Let Me Take You Down.
MS: It’s horror but I like to think of it as something more cerebral, something that makes its points without the necessity of exploding in your face. I had recently read the autobiography of Miles Davis and I found myself immersed in the culture of jazz and the collective tenor of the times. I knew there had to be a sense of menace and encroaching unease which is how I developed the sense of evil that had more on its mind than cheap booze and good music. It had to be a sense of something engrained in the culture. And for my money, there’s an underpinning to The Twilight Zone connected to it, something with a message or a philosophy that emerges in all the weird and erotic happenings as an ultimate truth.
DP: I loved your approach and definitely agree that it is something ‘cerebral’ – here at DEMAIN we treat Horror as a very broad church, there’s room for all believers but I personally love something that really makes me think – so well done. What does Horror mean to Marc Shapiro?
MS: Horror is an escape, just like any form of literature, at its core, is. Going to an unsettling place where evil or the personification of evil dwells and dealing with it is cathartic. It scares. It enlightens. Like all good literature, Horror is an escape.
DP: Exactly – so what are you afraid of?
MS: In real world terms just about anything on the 6 O’clock news these days is pretty frightening. Getting a job done to everybody’s satisfaction makes me uneasy a lot. Nobody is perfect but I think creative people in general, carry around a lot of emotional baggage and insecurities that cause them to lose a lot of sleep. My demons usually arrive around 3 a.m. and that’s usually the end of any hope for a good night’s sleep.
DP: Yeah, and it’s been getting a lot worse for me this year – not getting much sleep at all and always feeling that there’s not enough hours in the day, worried a bit about the next ‘crisis’ coming down the road…it’s been quite depressing…did you find Let Me Take You Down difficult to write?
MS: When I’m writing non-fiction I’m very focused on the manuscript and the deadline and that makes the process fairly stress free. My philosophy when it comes to writing fiction is that if an idea has been kicking around in my head for more than a couple of days, it’s worth writing. When that happens, I tend to write fairly quickly usually a day or two for the first draft of a short story, then a couple of passes through to self-edit and polish. I try real hard to finish something even if it means taking another look somewhere down the road.
DP: That’s a good philosophy – I’ve personally got two story commissions on the go right now, need to get the first one finished before I can really work on the second…never suffered from writer’s block before but for some reason I’m really having an issue with the last few paragraphs…it’ll come I know but it’s been a pain in the proverbial these last couple of weeks…anyway, considering what we’ve been talking about (or perhaps it’s just the elephant in the room) – would you say that the Horror genre is affected by world events?
MS: Certainly. You’re going to see tons of books with variations on the current pandemic in the coming years. The mess that our current political system is will be ripe with different takes on 1984. The Horror genre is like a sponge. Turn on the television, radio or read a newspaper and ideas are everywhere.
DP: Ha! You’re so right – I’m working on a tv project with another writer - it’s period drama / sci-fi – and we were clear that though it’s going to be about the pandemic it’s got to be as far as away from current times as possible because we know it could just get rejected out of hand as “just another covid story” – which it isn’t really, that was just our way in. There’s also a French period history idea I’ve been trying to crystallize recently and found my angle and then realized that it could be viewed as being about covid which it definitely isn’t…with regards to yourself I would say that writing is a long term career?
MS: Let me see. I’ve been writing professionally for more than fifty years which makes me older than dirt. I’d say I’m definitely in this for the long haul.
DP: Good for you – okay, two quick questions. First, what is something your readers might be surprised to find out about you?
MS: I once had an editor wave a loaded pistol in my face because I was hounding him for the $20 he owed me. I roadied for the band Blue Oyster Cult for a night while researching a magazine article. I was an extra for three days in a truly awful martial arts movie called Force Five, playing a Mexican prisoner who gets the shit beat out of him. But when the writing wasn’t paying the bills and you’ve got a family, you do what you’ve gotta do.
DP: You definitely do – will have to check out that movie if I can – and finally then Marc, what, creatively, has been your biggest success to date?
MS: I’ve had books on the New York Times, Los Angeles Times and Canadian Bestseller Lists. When you’re recognized, that’s definitely a plus in your heart and soul. But at the end of the day, it’s as simple as writing the best books you possibly can and finding out that people are reading them and enjoying them. That makes it all worthwhile.
Doesn’t it just!
Marc thanks for your time. Best of luck with your Short Sharp Shocks!
More about Marc can be found at:
Goodreads: Marc Shapiro (Author of J. K. Rowling) | Goodreads
And: Marc Shapiro | Authors | Macmillan
We welcome author David Massengill to DEMAIN with his Extermination Days, entry 65 in the Short Sharp Shocks! series. The book is out on the 31st December but is available for pre-sales now. The cover is by Adrian Baldwin. A couple of weeks prior to publication, Dean and David sat down and talked about it.
DEMAIN PUBLISHING: Hey David, welcome, welcome to DEMAIN. Pleasure to have you as part of the family now. So let’s talk about your first introduction to the horror genre.
DAVID MASSENGILL: And a pleasure to be here…when I was 12, I was fortunate enough to go on a family trip to Europe. We visited England and Italy and Switzerland. For some reason my parents allowed me to buy Stephen King’s Pet Sematary—my first ‘adult’ novel—and I was as thrilled about reading that book as I was about seeing Stonehenge or the Colosseum or Lake Geneva. I didn’t start writing horror fiction until my thirties, and sometimes I wonder if my turning to the genre had something to do with that well-worn paperback copy of Pet Sematary.
DP: I suspect it did – and that’s a great book…who else do you read and have they influenced you too?
DM: My top three favorite genres are horror, literary, and thriller/crime fiction. I’m partial to—and inspired by—minimalist writing. (I prefer reading books that are under 300 pages.) I’ve learned much about economy of style from Hemingway, James M. Cain, Jean Rhys, and Richard Matheson. The author who made me want to start writing short horror fiction was M.R. James, the absolute master of the ghost story.
DP: Definitely [Dean recently wrote a M.R. James inspired story for Trevor Kennedy’s Phantasmogoria James special –available on Amazon] agree with you there. What does horror mean to you?
DM: I think of horror as exploration of ‘the shadow’—the part of ourselves or others or society that we fear or worry about or don’t understand—and death. Horror fiction and horror movies allow us to safely venture into uncomfortable areas, through narratives and characters and symbols, and we come out of that exploration a little more comfortable with the shadow or death.
DP: That’s a great definition! Probably the wrong time to ask this but would you say that the horror genre is affected by world events?
DM: Horror is an excellent way to process tragic world events. I’ve definitely relied on my knowledge of Historical Bad Things Peoplekind Has Done while writing my fiction. I’m of the opinion, though, that mixing horror fiction with real-world horror rarely works well. If something truly horrific happened in the past, why do you need to add an element of fictional horror to that? That being said, I’m going to contradict myself and say I’d probably enjoy a serial killer thriller set during COVID lockdown.
DP: Actually I think I would too – let’s write it ha ha – creatively David is there something you haven’t yet achieved?
DM: A novel in fragments or found documents. Or the short story In the Blood, 1982: An Incident Not Described in the Biography of Delilah Dawn, Scream Queen. Or a Paul and Jane Bowles-type novel (The Sheltering Sky-ish) set in post-apocalyptic California. I have a list of ideas that have made it into my fiction or have remained in limbo.
DP: That’s very cool, I’d read them for sure – so writing is a long term career?
DM: Writing is definitely a long-term passion for me, and I’ve been crafting fiction for over 20 years. I think writing is an incredibly isolating and slow-going activity that doesn’t really suit people who want quick rewards. Somehow I always feel a little happier and more centered after a productive writing session, and that’s probably what keeps me coming back to the blinking cursor. I also love when my fiction reaches someone years after I wrote it, and I find out that person was somehow moved or provoked or entertained by whatever story I told.
DP: The lockdown then…
DM: The lockdown has been helpful for my writing practice—especially in the beginning, when we knew so little about the virus and what could or couldn’t get us sick. During those early days when I was rarely leaving the house or seeing friends, I didn’t have the excuse for not sitting down to write at least once a day. Just before the pandemic began, I started drafting a novel about a haunted property in Seattle. I’ll probably always think of this novel as my COVID book even though it’s set pre-pandemic and concerns the supernatural. I’ve noticed the characters in the novel are at home a lot and struggling with isolation (in addition to the terrifying goings-on on the property).
DP: Very clever! I like that idea – perhaps we’ll talk more when it’s finished. Finally David, can you tell us something your readers might find surprising about you?
DM: After reading the post-apocalyptic stories of Extermination Days, they might be surprised to learn that I’m an optimist. Sure, the world will come to an end one day, but something else will begin.
And on that note – thank you David for your time, the best of luck with your Short Sharp Shocks!
If you’d like to connect with David Massengill direct:
We welcome back DT Griffith to DEMAIN and the Short Sharp Shocks! series of books with Number 64 – Darkness Calls. The cover is by Adrian Baldwin, the books is published on December 31st but is currently available for pre-sales – recently Dean and David sat down and talked about it…
DEMAIN PUBLISHING: Hello David! I hope life isn’t treating you too badly right now, considering! Your time is precious, let’s get down to it – can you tell our readers a little about yourself and how / why you became a writer?
DT GRIFFITH: My personal and professional backgrounds have been based in some area of the creative world for as long as I can remember. I studied fine arts in college, originally focused on photography, but quickly branching out to other fine and commercial art mediums, including music and creative writing. As a result, inspiration comes from all sorts of directions, such as punk or classical music or surrealist paintings, which sparks the ideas that become elements of my stories or other creative outlets.
DP: Oh, I love that – I think maybe I studied the wrong subject at college ha ha…anyway, what was your first introduction to the horror genre?
DTG: This might sound ridiculous – at a pretty young age in the 1970s I loved the original Scooby Doo cartoons. I was always drawn to creative works that portrayed dark or scary elements, usually gothic or noir in nature, which the cartoon series was filled with. I loved dark atmospheric settings and creepy situations in any sort of show, song, or book. The ideas of ghosts and monsters both fascinated and scared me. This opened the door to watching horror movies like the original Halloween and Alien, as well as reading works by Emily Dickenson and Edgar Allan Poe among other classic and contemporary writers in-and-outside of the dark fiction genres.
DP: “I would have got away with it” etc etc – that’s brilliant and yeap what a great series of cartoons! Talking about series, can you tell us about your Short Sharp Shocks!
DTG: Darkness Calls weaves the real-world horrors of drug addiction and cult behavior with my own take on psychological horror. To be clear, neither is a reflection of my life. You could say I had Lovecraft on my brain while writing this story, though I’m not drawing directly from any specific stories or mythos. Rather, I used grotesque visuals to depict mental anguish and subsequent physical manifestations, though these imagined visuals are actually tethered to the underlying supernatural element.
DP: I’m not a massive fan of Lovecraft but I loved the way you weaved the imagery in…did you find the book difficult to write?
DTG: At times, yes. I strive to keep my work as original as I can, so I’m constantly backing away from tropes I often encounter in dark fiction books or movies and finding new directions that are unfamiliar to me. Whether I am successful in maintaining originality will be determined by the readers.
DP: I really enjoyed reading it so well done! Could we talk about books or authors who influence you?
DTG: I am all over the place with what I read. It’s the same with music – I’m not tied to one genre. I have been reading George Saunders regularly amidst numerous other indie and well-known authors. The reason I mention him is his fearlessness in trying new things with fiction, such as his novel Lincoln in the Bardo, which intertwines historical accounts with a ghost story told from multiple characters’ perspectives. I have come to love and appreciate how he layers humor and absurdity on top of incredibly uncomfortable and sometimes horrific situations.
DP: That’s very cool, I need to read more Saunders asap. I love doing these interviews as I’m introduced to so many new voices, my TBR pile is so high now ha ha. Okay, so what does horror mean?
DTG: To me, the horror genre is about facing subject matter that we are afraid to acknowledge or to confront, often stemming from the fear of the unknown and unexplained. It exists in everyday life on a small scale, yet it’s enough to be unsettling. I think some of the most horrific scenarios are internalized, such as facing one’s own mental decline or contending with a loved one’s battle with a disease. Whether it’s caused by panic of having no money for rent or witnessing a protest turned deadly, it’s the immediate uncertainty that follows and subsequent events that create the horror.
DP: That whole realising you are declining mentally must be very very difficult for somebody to comprehend / understand / live through – it always sends a shiver down my spine…Is the horror genre affected by world events? Do you ever put world events in your work?
DTG: Without a doubt. Just as with any other genre of fiction, real world events affect how we see, feel, and create. Obviously, some subject matters are far more polarizing than others, especially where politics and tribalism come into play, which opens the door to exploit fears and die-hard belief systems. So yes, I do incorporate real-world events, but more so as a backdrop or catalyst rather than being the actual subjects of my stories, such as the effects drug addiction have on a family used in Darkness Calls.
DP: I keep hearing the horror genre is dead (yes, even considering the year we’ve had) – would you agree?
DTG: Absolutely not, the horror genre is not dead, nor will it ever be. I see this often in music, for example, with the common proclamation that punk is dead. I find this to be the result of fans of a certain era of a genre being dismissive of the changes said genre has gone through as new creatives enter the field and others pull away. Genres constantly evolve. For anyone proclaiming horror or anything else is dead, they are welcome to live in a time capsule while the rest of us enjoy what we are doing to perpetuate it.
DP: Creatively David is there anything you’d like to do that you haven’t done yet? If so – what is it?
DTG: I would love to write the narrative for a long-form video game, or possibly, a feature film script.
DP: That’s very cool – the best of luck. So writing is definitely a long term career for you?
DTG: Writing is a long-term career coupled with the other skillsets I employ. Not everything I write is horror, or even fiction for that matter, as it plays a partial role in my current profession. I love to write and intend to keep doing it for as long as I can, whether to entertain or inform readers. If I can make some kind of money writing in my old age, all the better.
DP: Indeed, indeed. Let’s talk the lockdown…
DTG: The lockdown hasn’t truly ended as of the time I’m writing this – December 2020. We’ve hardly seen family and seen no friends because the disease infection rate has been consistently high in our region since March of this year and leading to many unfortunate outcomes. As a result, both my fiancée and I have been working from home since mid-March with no real end-date to this circumstance in sight. Since I currently don’t have my daily commute of an hour in each direction, I’m able to find productive uses for my personal time at home in this solitude, such as reading and writing far more often than I would be otherwise. I even took on a project of editing a short story anthology.
DP: It’s been a tough one hasn’t it – as a full time writer I’m often in front of the laptop working on own but boy the last couple of months have been hard…in the UK where I currently am, the national lockdown has been lifted BUT we’re in the highest tier so nothing has really changed…I can’t wait until 2021…anyway, anyway…finally David, is there something your readers might be surprised to find out about you?
DTG: I love video games even as a middle-aged adult. I grew up with them in the late 70s and throughout the 80s, so I have a particular fondness for the classic arcade stuff, though I do love a well-written and well-produced immersive experience like Red Dead Redemption 2.
What a great place to finish! David thanks so much for your time. All the best with your Short Sharp Shocks!
If you’d like to communicate with DT Griffith direct:
Short Sharp Shocks! 63 is The Corn Witch by DEMAIN author, Christopher Beck. The cover is by Adrian Baldwin. The book is published on the 31st December 2020 (though available at the time of writing for pre-sales). Early December, Dean and Chris had a quick chat about it:
DEMAIN PUBLISHING: Welcome back to DEMAIN Chris. We loved your new Short Sharp Shocks! Can you tell us about it?
CHRISTOPHER BECK: Hi Dean, pleasure to be here. Yes – The Corn Witch came out of a conversation I had with my friend, Bill. He grew up across the street from a corn field and his brothers would scare him with tales of a witch that lived under the corn and flew over it at night.
DP: I love it – as I said to you over email initially, I’m really digging American rural horror stories right now and this totally fitted the bill so thanks for that. Did you have to do much research?
CB: There wasn’t a lot of research for this one, just the planting and harvesting time for corn in New Jersey.
DP: So did you find it difficult to write?
CB: The first go around turned out a bit cartoony, with less action and substance. Bill wasn’t feeling it. He was hoping for a take that brought to life the fear he felt as a kid. So I started again and it all came together.
DP: Great! Creatively what is your biggest success to date?
CB: I would say my first Short Sharp Shocks! The Birthday Girl And Other Stories, as it was my first stand-alone book.
DP: It also got some cracking reviews…what does horror mean to you Chris?
CB: Interesting question. Surely my answer has changed over the years but currently, to me, it means life. Life happens, and it isn’t always peachy. We all face hard times; dark periods; there isn’t always a happy ending. Horror is a part of life.
DP: It is, with that in mind then, would you say that horror is affected by world events? Do you ever put world events in your work?
CB: I would say a lot of horror is affected (low key or on a lager scale) by world events: it’s tough not to be influenced by what is going on around you. I can’t say I’ve put world events in my works, but I’ve certainly used life events.
DP: Indeed you have…I keep hearing horror is dead…would you agree?
CB: I would not. I would say, much like rock music, its heyday may have passed but that doesn’t make it any less Important or any less needed. And, there is still an incredible group of horror lovers out there. Life runs in circles, yeah? Horror’s time will come again.
DP: Oh it will and we’ll be ready for it! What is Christopher Beck scared of and has it made its way into your work?
CB: Loss, maybe, something I’m all too familiar with, and, yes, it has.
DP: Creatively is there anything you’d like to do that you haven’t done yet? If so – what?
CB: Still hoping to knockout that first novel, some novellas, and maybe even a film adaptation of a piece… perhaps The Corn Witch?
DP: Well, you know my opinion on that last one! How did you handle the lockdowns – what was your routine, was there anything different you did to get through them?
CB: A lot of hiking and exercise. I did a little drinking, too, at the start, but I wanted to improve my physical and mental health, so that’s what I did. The Corn Witch was written during that time, as well as a couple of other unreleased tales.
And we look forward to reading them.
Mr Beck – great chatting with you again. All the best with The Corn Witch.
If you’d like to connect with Chris direct: