dark fiction

In Convo with Dino Parenti at StokerCon 2017

Mackenzie Kiera – Hi, Dino! So, what can you tell my readers  to pick up? 

Dino Parenti – Well, two days ago I finished the Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead which just won the Pulitzer and the National Book award in the same year. The book is amazing, it’s beautifully written, wonderful prose, but it is a brutal, brutal book, subject matter-wise, but it’s amazing. Just started reading today The Book of Joan by Lidia Yuknavitch. I’m only in chapter one but the book, it’s just awesome. I’m already hooked. She wrote The Small Backs of Children. Lidia Yuknavitch is an amazing writer and that’s pretty much it right now, and really whatever short stories I can get my hands on. 

MK -And what is it you do for the industry? 

DP – Right now I’m a writer and I’m also one of the fiction editors for Gamut. We’re in hiatus right now because we just fulfilled our slots for 2017. 

MK – I know! That’s incredible. Congratulations.

DP – We were getting slammed with submissions. The first time we opened for submissions we closed in twenty-four hours. The second month we closed within twelve hours.

MK – Twelve?

DP – We cap at three hundred submissions. They just rolled in, which we are thankful for. We’ve had some great work come in. I don’t know when we’ll open up for 2018, I mean, assuming we’ll still be up and running at that point. 

MK – I’m sure you will, if you’ve had this much traction in just the first part of the year. 

DP – Yeah, but we are subscription based, so go to the website and subscribe. You’ll benefit from some wonderful and awesome fiction you can really sink your teeth into. 

MK – Go to Gamut! Keep them alive! Now, you, Dino Parenti, are one of the sponsors here at StokerCon

DP – Gamut is a sponsor. Our names are on the gift bags and we’re here and we have this purple tag on our name tag so, we’re fortunate enough to listen to all of the wonderful panels and so far it’s been fun.

MK – Have you been to other StokerCons?

DP – No! No, this is my first ‘con’ ever. And this is my first interview ever. 

MK – It’s a pleasure. Tell me, would you encourage writers to come to StokerCon? I realize it’s only the second day but…

DP – If you really want to meet the writers, you’re not going to find a more open and accepting bunch of people and I mean, people think ‘horror writer’ and assume we’re weird but really…

MK – They think we’re scary.

DP – Right? And we’re teddy bears. Teddy bears with issues but still, teddy bears.

MK – I’ve heard too that horror writers are more empathetic, because if you write horror, you tend to want to connect with what makes people tick, what makes them scared.

DP – Yes! And I’ve been to the literary functions and there are some incredibly stuffy people hanging around so, it’s hard to find down to earth people. The great thing about this field is, it was known as “genre”, but it’s becoming so much richer than that. There’s incredible literary merit in everything you’ll find here, for sure. 

MK – Indeed. I did a study last year where I read the most beautiful horror I could find. BirdBox, When we Were AnimalsMongrels,  The Fisherman. So, I have this theory that the horror authors are making a breakthrough that other writers in other genres aren’t. I have read some beautiful fantasy and sci-fi but it seems to be the horror writers that are making the most drastic leaps. Could you give me a comment on that idea? 

DP – Good craft is good craft, whatever genre you are writing on. Gamut is doing a series of “craft videos”—you can buy them online—and mine was how genre and literary actually make perfect bedfellows. The rules still apply, regardless of if you’re writing a straight literary piece or a “genre” you still have to delve into character arc and motivation. How you employ language, point of view, setting and atmosphere and how they all work together to tell the story. Horror writers get the worst rap because I think it’s hard for people to think that the horrific can also be beautiful or, vice versa. 

MK – Totally. We all need to respect each other as writers. 

DP – Exactly. We’re all in the same boat. [He says this, arms extended, aboard the Queen Mary] Literally! It’s a disservice to pit writers against each other, to say that what someone does in the New Yorker is any different than what someone in Cemetery Dance does. If you could lay them out on a cutting board, all the same stuff is coursing through their system. 

We’re all in the same [totally haunted] boat.

MK – Anything you want to add? 

DP – Read more horror! Read reviews and get your hands dirty. Be brave. Read horror. It may be scary but it’s stuff we all deal with. 

When not scribbling twisted musings into spiral notebooks, photographing the odd puddle or junk pile, or building classy furniture, Dino Parenti earns a little scratch drawing buildings. He’s also one of the fiction editors at Gamut Magazine. When not plowing through slush, he writes. His work can be found in a several anthologies, as well as the following journals: Pantheon Magazine, Cease-Cows, Pithead Chapel, Menacing Hedge, and the Lascaux Review, where he won their first annual flash fiction contest. His short-story collection, Dead Reckoning and other stories, has been recently accepted for publication and slated for an early 2018 release with Crystal Lake Publishing.

*This interview originally appeared in Dwarf + Giant

In Convo with Stephen Graham Jones at StokerCon 2017

Mackenzie Kiera – Dr. Stephen Graham Jones. Good to speak with you again, thanks for meeting with me.

Stephen Graham Jones – Absolutely. 

MK – Sir, was hoping you could tell my readers at The Last Bookstore what books to pick up? Give us some ideas. What are you currently reading? 

SGJ – Currently reading Elizabeth Hand's’s Wylding Hall and audiobooking John Scalzi’s The Collapsing Empire

MK – He’s so cool. I like Red Shirts.

SGJ – Red Shirts is amazing, that’s one of my favorite all time novels.

MK – What else have you read this year?

SGJ – This year? Man, my favorite has got to be Grady Hendrix’s My Best Friend’s Exorcism.

MK – I’ve heard good things about that book. 

SGJ – I love that book. And, just got to hang out with Grady. He’s a cool dude, smart. I think I’ve read that book three times this year.

MK – This year? You don’t have to put it down or…?

SGJ – No, no what happened was, I finished reading it, then started another book and thought: “This sucks.” So, I just went back to reading what I knew I liked. Also? He and I are the same age and it’s set in 1988, I think? So, it feels like a landscape, a cultural landscape I’m familiar with, I guess. Same way Ready Player One spoke to me.

MK – Because you’re from the future?

SGJ – Ha! No. I was born the same year Earnest Cline was born so, for some reason it’s comforting to read about my growing up through people who also grew up in the same time. 

MK – So, in the late eighties, you would have been an adolescent. I heard you say once that writing adolescent characters was something you preferred if not what you bend towards. 

SGJ – I do, I don’t know why but that’s where I’m really comfortable. 

MK – How many of your books are in that age range?

SGJ – Counting Mongrels, five. So, five of sixteen.

MK – Why not more? If that’s where you’re comfortable.

SGJ – Um, probably, you know, when I published The Ones That Got Away in 2010 I guess, I didn’t realize it but some of the reviews said, I mean, they liked it and all but some of the reviews said: ‘This really is a neat way of haunting up childhood.’ I guess I didn’t realize that all those stories are from, like, a kid. I didn’t even know I was doing that so, that told me I probably need to do that less. 

MK – So, what do you think of YA horror? 

SGJ – It’s totally a thing. Gretchen McNeil who is here I believe, she does YA horror. I just read Wolf Road for my class at UCR, and that’s totally YA horror/science fiction. Yeah, I like YA horror. It’s fun to see what you can sneak past the gatekeepers. 

MK – Totally important. Are you allowed to tell me what’s next? Can you talk about Mapping the Interior

SGJ – Yep, it’s about a family trying to hold together after the father died, they are living a few hours off the reservation but then, one night, the oldest son, he’s about twelve, he sees his dead father walk through the living room. Decides to chase him or, follow him. And then, yeah, things happen. Also, there’s this. You seen this yet?

MK – No, tell me. 

SGJ – It’s a comic book called My Hero and it’s coming out in June.

MK – So you have two things coming out in June. Awesome. What made you write this one? 

SGJ – I wanted to engage the comic book form, and I wanted to do it in a way nobody had and, well, a comic book without pictures is a way no one has done comic books before. 

MK – You really got to play. 

SGJ – Yeah! Yeah, I did get to play. 

MK – May I take a picture of this?

SGJ – Yep. Absolutely. 



MK – It’s like you were trying to find all of the corners no one ever writes in.

SGJ – I was trying to get people to read words as images. 

MK – You succeeded. So you have those two coming out and also, you were writing a slasher?

SGJ – Just finished it, it’s going to New York on Monday. 

MK – Good luck!

SGJ – Thank you. Thank you. I’ve also got a crime novel called Texas is Burning, going to try to get it in bundled in with the slasher somehow. And what else? I have another novel called Washed in the Blood. I wrote it in a month and, I mean, it was a month four years ago, I just never sent it out. It’s about bow hunting in West Texas. 

MK – You always come back to West Texas in your writing, don’t you? 

SGJ – I do. Really I think we all, as writers we have only one place where we know all the emotional contours of that place, and for me, that’s West Texas. So, any other place I’m writing about, peel back the scrim and it’s West Texas, whether it’s off planet or inter-dimensional. 

MK – So, you have a lot of desert planets, then?

SGJ – I do. And a lot of tumbleweeds. 

MK – “The Night Cyclist” though, that’s Colorado, isn’t it?

SGJ – It is, and I have another that’s based in Colorado, coming out in Gamut soon, I believe. 

Mk – What was the other one you had in Gamut?

SGJ – That was “Love is a Cavity I can’t Stop Touching.” Also, I think I’ve had another in there, um. “Spider Box,” “Second Chances,” and another called “Teaching a Sociopath to Cry.” Oh! And “The Lazarus Complex.” But the one coming up is “The God of Low Things.” It’s about prairie dogs.

MK – How do you teach a sociopath to cry?

SGJ – I think that’s what it was called. I don’t know. I wrote that one at a talk, and I mean, I got bored at the talk so, I wrote a short story. As you do. 

MK – I remember that. You had a whole bunch of paper in your fists and you were just, “Hey, guys. Wrote a short story.” And then you disappeared. So, wait, you teach for the University of California, Riverside and also for Boulder. Don’t you have a new title for CU Boulder?

SGJ – Yep, I’m an endowed chair now. 

MK – Congratulations. Any other books you can recommend? Before we sign out? 

SGJ – Scary books?

MK – Up to you. 

SGJ – Man, I just finished Bracken MacLeod’s Stranded and that book impressed me a lot. But I mean, all of the Stoker Con finalists have amazing books. 

MK – And you are one of the finalists?

SGJ – I am, I am. For Mongrels.

MK – Well, best of luck to you sir, and thank you for meeting with me. 

SGJ – Thank you. 

Dr. Stephen Graham Jones was raised mostly in Greenwood, Texas. Currently, he teaches English and Creative Writing for the University of Colorado, Boulder and University of California, Riverside-Palm Desert. He is the author of twenty-three novels and some 250+ short stories. His latest novella Mapping the Interior and comic book My Hero will be available June, 2017. Dr. Jones lives in Boulder, CO with his wife, two teenage kids, some dogs and too many old trucks.

*This interview originally appeared on Dwarf + Giant

In Convo with Paul Tremblay

Lisa Quigley – I actually read your two most recent novels—A Head Full of Ghosts and Disappearance at Devil’s Rock—back to back. Needless to say, I’m a little traumatized. But, what intrigued me about both of them is that the supernatural element (in both of them) is never really explained or even really confirmed or verified. So you’re left wondering, was that aspect really real, or were they imagining it, or what? Which is almost more terrifying than having it explained, I think. Would you explain your thought process for choosing to make those elements of the novel more ambiguous?

Paul Tremblay – You are a wonderful glutton for punishment!  Or ambiguity…

Treating the supernatural as ambiguous (ie. is there really something supernatural going on or not?) is one of the links between the two novels. I wanted what happened in reality to be the most horrific aspects of each novel, with the hope that the ambiguity and maybe-supernatural would be what lingered and nagged at the reader once they were finished with the novels. Some of that satisfies my own skeptic’s brain; it’s difficult for me to commit to full on supernatural-ness. If that’s not a word, it is now. I try to take a realistic approach to the supernatural insofar as I think that if I were to personally experience a supernatural event, I believe it would be very subtle, difficult to describe or explain or identify. It wouldn’t be obvious that something supernatural happened and I’d be left with doubt and a sense of something being off, a glimpse of the cracks of things.

LQ – There’s a lot of social media in your newest novel, Disappearance at Devil’s Rock, almost to the point of commentary in my reading of it. It’s like, there are all these pros and cons. It unites us in a really empowering, global way, but it can also be really horrifying when people’s unfiltered thoughts are just unchecked and on display like that. What are your thoughts on social media?

PT – Besides the ambiguous supernatural element, I wanted to treat Tommy’s disappearance as realistically as possible. I wanted to zoom in on the emotions that his friends and family would be experiencing, and also explore what the day-to-day would look like during the investigation, and what that all would look like now, particularly if something weird was happening at the edges.

There are definite pros and cons to social media. Without going too far down that rabbit hole, giving voice to the voiceless and instant data and reaction are/can be great things. At the same time, social media gives people as false sense of safety and comfort. Social media attention often muddies the waters and makes incidents/tragedies worse. Just last week the Twitterverse was sharing the name and photo of a man who was not the Dallas shooting suspect, right?

I’m addicted to social media and I’ve become more and more, if not frightened by it, then anxious over it.

LQ – I loved when Elizabeth goes down a google rabbit hole after her mother sends her the article about “felt presences.” And then the comment about how the article was the kind that people usually share without reading the entire thing. It’s funny, I remember being a kid/teenager, and when I wanted to learn about something, I had to watch a documentary or go to the library. Now, there’s google and, not to mention, everybody sharing everything (true or not) on facebook, on twitter, etc. It’s a virtual information shitshow. (Haha.) Do you think this has helped and hindered us and the way we now absorb information/learn things?

PT – It’s done both, though I fear that we may be reaching a point in the Internet’s brief history where we should be calling it the ‘misinformation age.’ That both Google and Facebook curate their algorithms and pages according to the users data, which means the user on sees what she/he is predisposed to believe in, which in turn hinders learning, discussion, and the sharing of true information. Instead, we get comments sections…

LQ – I’m curious about the decision to include Tommy’s journal entries as actually handwritten, along with his drawing of the “shadowman.” What was the thought process behind doing that, rather than allowing the reader to conjur these images with their imagination?

PT – I wanted the diary pages to look more personal, more like they actually came from Tommy. I think that kind of visual cue can make for a more powerful connection to the character for the reader.

The drawing of the “shadowman” is so important to the story plot-wise, I wanted the reader to have that image. Again, I think it help to build Tommy’s character; you get to see part of his personality, his talent as an artist, and whatever it was he saw or experienced.

Besides, it was also an excuse to ask one of my favorite artists, Nick “The Hat” Gucker, for an illustration. He’s such a talented and gracious guy. Now I have to write more books with pictures in them…

LQ – It’s hard for me not to compare your two most recent novels to each other, given that I read them back-to- back. And though there are similarities between them—I’m thinking of the blog/reality TV show in Ghosts, and the social media/Internet in Disappearance—they are also very different in tone, voice, and texture. Tell me a bit about your writing process—how do you hone in on the specific tone/style of whatever you’re working on?

PT – For every choice I make in the novel writing process, my first question is ‘does this serve the story? Everything from setting, character, style, and point of view. A Head Full of Ghosts would not have worked as a third person account. It would’ve been a cheat. Merry had to be the one telling the story and from her unreliable first person point of view. I didn’t think Disappearance at Devil’s Rock would’ve worked as first person as I needed multiple character point of views and it wasn’t going to be as expansive (and certainly nowhere near as brilliant) as Marlon Jones’s A Brief History of Seven Killings, where his story had the space for all those amazingly constructed first person voices. DaDR needed to be close third (for the most part), with a similar style and tone, I think, throughout, to help build a claustrophobic feeling.

LQ – More about your writing process: Your books often have terrible, dark secrets that are revealed at the end. Do you start off knowing what those things are and then work your way backwards? Or is the process one of discovery for yourself as much as it is for the readers?

PT – It depends on the story. I got lucky with A Head Full of Ghosts in that I knew the structure of the story almost right away. I knew where it started and where it would end, and I only had to figure out how to get from A to Z. When I get to work that way, I find it fun to have a beginning and ending in mind, and then the challenge is to find the winding path between them in the middle.

Disappearance at Devil’s Rock was much different. I wrote a 15 page plot summary before writing the book, and before that I filled a whole bunch of notebook pages with plot ideas and character sketches and the like. That book was pieced together over a much longer period of time and through many revisions and edits, including an ending in the first draft that was slightly different than what we ended up with.

For me it’s less about finding the process that works me, or any notion of a personal process, but the process that works best for that particular story. I think that keeps things fresh for me, and it feels like I’m starting over from scratch each time I start a new novel.

LQ – Something that makes me giddy is the way your novels are genre-bending. I’ve heard them described as ‘literary horror.’ Do you do that on purpose? What are your thoughts on the ‘genre’ vs. ‘literary’ debate?

PT – I do. It’s my agenda. Muhahahaha!

Horror remains, I think, the genre that is most associated with its worst works; the mostly crappy and exploitative Hollywood films (not the good movies, which are almost all indie productions).

That said, I do think we’re seeing a shift toward a more progressive and inclusive attitude toward genre, but you still see asshat comments (reeking of classism and narcissism, among other things…) like the following from Glen Duncan in a review of Colston Whitehead’s Zone One:

“Colson Whitehead is a literary novelist, but his latest book, ‘Zone One,’ features zombies, which means horror fans and gore gourmands will soon have him on their radar. He has my sympathy.”

I interviewed the great Peter Straub recently and he said the following as a part of an answer to the genre question: “…everybody of any sense, anyone who can read at all well, should understand it’s the way the things are written and not what their content is. There are good books and bad books.” I’m on team Peter. The very idea that horror genre elements would preclude or disqualify the use of character development, style, theme, symbolism, and any other techniques of literature is patently ridiculous.

Horror fans are not blameless in the literary vs. genre discussion as far too often readers will view or use “literary” as a pejorative. But as I said above, I’m hopeful these attitudes are changing.

LQ – Which authors did you grow up reading? Who were you most inspired by?

PT – I didn’t fall in love with reading until I was a mathematics graduate student. I didn’t know any better…

Second semester senior year I found my way into a freshman lit class (don’t ask) and I read Joyce Carol Oates’s “Where Are You Going? Where Have You Been?” and it blew me away. I had no idea people wrote stories like that. Soon after, my girlfriend (now my wife) bought me Stephen King’s The Stand for my birthday. I inhaled it. And then for two years in graduate school, struggling to get my degree, I read all the King books, and moved on to Peter Straub, Shirley Jackson, more Oates, Kurt Vonnegut, and so many more.

LQ – Who are your current favorite authors?

PT – I’m afraid to leave some of them off here, but, let’s go with…

John Langan, Laird Barron, Liz Hand, Stephen Graham Jones, Megan Abbott, Victor LaValle, Livia Llewellyn, Nathan Ballingrud, Jeffrey Ford, Aimee Bender, Junot Diaz, Mark Danielewski, Nick Mamatas, Kelly Link, Stewart O’Nan, Sara Gran, Michael Cisco, Brian Evenson, and I know I’m leaving off many others…

LQ – Okay, I’ve got to mention it: Stephen King blurbs your novel A Head Full of Ghosts. How did it make you feel to hear that that though he’s not easily scared, your novel terrified him?

PT – You mean August 19, 2015…yes, I have the day of his tweet memorized… I fell in love with reading, never mind writing, because of Stephen King. I’m not ashamed to admit that I got emotional when I read his tweet about the book.

Other friends had seen the tweet before I did and my phone was blowing up with notifications. It was a fun way to find out. I immediately sat down with a few adult beverages and my laptop, and watched people react to it for a little bit. That was a good night.

LQ – Do you have any book recommendations, anything new and fresh we should know about?

PT – Stephen Graham Jones’s coming of age/road/werewolf novel Mongrels. Joshua Gaylord’s werewolf novel without any werewolves When We Were Animals. John Langan’s epic The Fisherman. Livia Llewellyn’s collection Furnace. Laird Barron’s forthcoming collection Swift to Chase. Victor LaValle’s The Ballad of Black Tom. A little bit off the beaten path, but Karen Runge’s collection, Seven Sins, is just fantastic too.

LQ – We’ve got a lot of readers who are also writers. Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

PT – Read, read, read, and read some more, and as widely as possible.

Also, it’s okay to have patience with your writing and career. Don’t let jealousy take over your mental energies. You can fool yourself into believing it’s healthy and motivational, but it isn’t.

*This interview originally appeared on Dwarf + Giant