Thank you to our CALLING ALL INDIES! winner and new boogeyman for infiltrating our happy place with some pretty indelible horror imagery. Here we get to know a little bit about the mysterious writer/professor, and why he may never write again (NOOOOOOO!!!!!!). Enjoy.
DLB: What do you want readers to find when they open The Bad Box?
HC: A dark jewel with many facets. I want them to be constantly entertained to the last page, often chilled to the bone, and at least occasionally moved. Horror needs to be entertaining, thrilling, and scary or else it’s not worth reading. But I think a good horror novel should also have a resonance that lasts after the last page is turned. What interests me most in the horror genre is the element of the fantastic, and I think the resonance I’m talking about requires this element.
Some people say that supernatural fiction has no connection to the real world, but I disagree. Consider Kafka’s story “The Metamorphosis.” I guess most people don’t consider it a horror story, but in some ways it is. One morning Gregor Samsa awakes and finds out he’s been transformed into a gigantic dung beetle. There’s no explanation of why this has happened, no effort to explain it with sorcery or pseudo-science. What could be more fantastic, more unrealistic? And yet readers have been deeply moved by the story for a hundred years now, and even without coaching from English professors they read it as a metaphor for disease, disfiguration, depression, or other unpleasant conditions that separate us from our families and society. The fact that the premise is unrealistic gives the story more resonance, not less, because the fantastic element makes the story harder to pin down, explain, and ultimately forget.
Good horror fiction has the same sort of resonance. When vampires were still new to the printed page, before they became trite and defanged by overexposure to ink, readers of Dracula or Carmilla no doubt found, consciously or unconsciously, all sorts of real-world resonance in these other-worldly monsters. The Bad Box contains some supernatural premises that readers won’t believe, but the other-worldly elements are used as a sort of magnifying glass to explore some issues and fears that are part of our real-world lives. Among other things, it’s about relationships of all sorts, sibling, parental (or in this case grand-parental), spousal, etc., and especially about the fear of finding one’s own personality being submerged or subsumed by someone else. That’s why I spend some time in the beginning on Sarah’s dysfunctional relationship with Peter, a man whose driving desire seems to be to submerge or “bury” the personality of his lover. It’s a theme that keeps recurring with more intense variations as the novel progresses until we reach the ultimate exploitation of one human being by another. I know that readers understand this theme and are disturbed by it because several of them have told me so.
But this sort of resonance or subtext isn’t worth a dime if the story isn’t entertaining, thrilling, and scary, so those are always my first priorities. If people find themselves wanting to turn on a couple extra lights while reading it, then I’ve done my job.
DLB: What are you working on now?
HC: I just finished a new horror novel called Demon Frenzy and am very excited about it. It has a simpler structure than The Bad Box or The House of Worms (a single point of view and a “real time” narrative), and it moves along at the speed of a jet plane. I have to depend on my own aching eyes to find typos because I never use a beta reader, and right now I’m proofreading it for the fourth and final time, so it’s pretty much ready to go except for the blurb and the cover. Michelle Garrison, the very talented artist who did the cover paintings for The Bad Box and The House of Worms, is right now toiling away on a painting for Demon Frenzy, and as soon as she’s finished I’ll get it out in paperback and Kindle. I know nothing about launching a book, so I suspect this may be the only announcement.
DLB: What’s next?
HC: Last year I wrote a children’s book called Deidre and the Dreadful Doodads. I left it sitting neglected in a drawer while I was working on Demon Frenzy, so I suppose now I should do something with it. Michelle (my cover artist) is interested in illustrating it, but self-publishing a heavily illustrated book may be a daunting task, and I suspect a self-published paperback with lots of color illustrations would cost too much. So I’m thinking I’ll probably have to go back to knocking on publishers’ doors, something that brought me no pleasure or success in the past.
I have a couple old novels sitting around here. One of them I think isn’t very good, so it will continue sitting until I get around to burning it, but the other one I like very much. I’ve put off publishing it because I didn’t want to confuse fans of my horror novels, but I think its time is coming around at last. Though it has a witch, a fortune teller, and some black magic, it’s not a horror novel. It’s a quirky comedy about a young boy who hitchhikes from West Virginia to Columbus in search of his runaway girlfriend and finds himself in a bizarre and dangerous predicament. It’s called Magic Times.
And I think that may be the end of my writing career. I’ve been obsessed with writing fiction ever since grade school, and I’ve spent countless hours working on stories and novels over the years, but so far I’ve earned only a few pennies doing it. I think self-publishing can be lucrative for writers who are able to bang out several novels per year and are good at promoting them. Unfortunately I take a long time writing a novel, and I haven’t the faintest idea how to promote them, so for me this is turning out to be a time-consuming hobby instead of a career. I stupidly gave up a good teaching position so I could write novels full time, but now my savings are gone and nothing’s coming in. So, unless my sales pick up very soon, I’m going to lay down the quill.
DLB: Is there really a Longevital mythology?
HC: Well, there is now. Though I don’t write sequels, I like to develop a fairly consistent magical mythology in my horror novels, and I explore the idea of Longevitals more fully in The House of Worms. They don’t show up in Demon Frenzy, but in that novel readers will rediscover a couple ideas and tropes from the other two novels, albeit used differently this time.
But of course you’re asking if there’s any real-world precedent in the history of alchemy, and the answer is yes. In addition to searching for a philosopher’s stone that could turn lead into gold, some alchemists sought an elixir of life that would allow one to live indefinitely. Since early childhood I’ve been fascinated by books about sorcery and alchemy, and there’s a treasure trove of ideas there for horror writers who want to write something more original than the millionth zombie apocalypse novel.
To purchase a copy of The Bad Box, click HERE.