Interview with Author/Editor Jeff Burk

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I’m psyched to interview Jeff Burk. He’s the author of SHATNERQUAKE, SUPER GIANT MONSTER TIME, and CRIPPLE WOLF, Head Editor of Eraserhead Press’s horror imprint Deadite Press, and enthusiastic collector of DINOSAURS ATTACK trading cards. I first met him at World Horror Con in Portland where I watched a clown staple a copy of one of his novels to his back during the annual Gross-Out Contest. Don’t let the kill-rock star antics fool you though. In conversation, he’s one of the genre’s most articulate voices and as a publisher provides a venue for those who prefer their horror fiction rare, bloody, and crawling with maggots.

Read on for the interview.

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LM: Deadite Press has already done a lot during the five years since its launch, what can readers expect from you as a publisher in 2015?

JB: Other than lots of new books from Deadite authors you know and love like Brian Keene and Edward Lee, there will also be a few brand new authors having books released through Deadite. Bryan Killian will be the first new author you see in March with an awesome, intense, and violent zombie novel titled WELCOME TO NECROPOLIS.

Later in the year will be the first Deadite Press anthology – HARDCORE FUCKING HORROR. I promise the contents earn that title.

LM: In your essay, “You Sick Fuck, Or Why I Love Extreme Horror,” you talk about how hardcore horror, with its often realistic elements, scares you—which is, of course, what horror should do. Was there ever a piece of quiet horror that really got under your skin?

JB: Not really. Quiet horror just doesn’t do anything for me. I’m not sure I can even name a quiet horror story that I really enjoyed. I can get into a few quiet horror movies – the remake of THE WOMAN IN BLACK and the original THE HAUNTING stand out in my mind – but I greatly prefer horror that goes straight to the throat and doesn’t let up.

To compare it to punk music (what I mostly listen to), the type of horror I like would be equivalent to the Dead Kennedys or Leftover Crack. Most quiet horror comes across to me as Blink-182 – an attempt to water down and pander a chaotic form of art/expression to a more mainstream sensibilities.

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LM: I recently read a post by Rose O’Keefe that said you thought ghosts were going to be the next big trend in horror. Did anything specific lead you to that conclusion?

JB: I believe quiet horror (which ghosts stories dominate) is going to be the main trend in the genre for the next few years. Horror is a pendulum that swings back and forth in how it expresses itself. On one side you have the more splattery, visceral stories and on the other you have the more subdued, psychological side.

For most of the past decade, torture porn and extreme horror dominated the genre. This started right after 9/11 in America with the release of HOSTEL and SAW. But now the pendulum has swung back. The SAW series was replaced by PARANORMAL ACTIVITY as the annual horror franchise and Eli Roth can’t even find a distributor for his new cannibal flick THE GREEN INFERNO. The most celebrated and praised horror film of 2014 was easily THE BABADOOK – which I found to be a rather generic and forgettable family drama with some supernatural elements.

This is far from the first time we’ve seen this change. In the eighties splatterpunk and slashers defined the genre and then in the nineties were got endless meta-teen comedies and things-that-go-bump-in-the-night ghost stories (we have SCREAM and THE SIXTH SENSE to thank for that terrible decade in the genre).

LM: In the same post, she said you were interested in seeing horror manuscripts featuring mummies. What would you like to see done with mummies that hasn’t been done before?

JB: Hahaha. That was more of an off-the-cuff remark I made to Rose while we were on a cigarette break at the Eraserhead Press office about what “topic” I would like to see someone address in a Deadite book.

The horror genre can be so varied but we get book after book and movie after movie focusing on the same topics – zombies, serial killers, rednecks, and vampires seem to completely dominate the genre. And I know that I’m guilty of assisting with that as Deadite has put out multiple books focusing on all those things.

But there are so many other cool topics and tropes that creators rarely touch. Mummies was just an off the top of my head example. But we could do with a lot more variety. Where are the mummy stories? Where are the stories about kaiju or dinosaurs or killer robots? I know there are some out there but they make up the fringe elements of the genre.

Horror has always had the problem of taking the same concepts and just doing them over and over again – just look at the found footage craze as a perfect example of this in current horror films. But horror can come from anywhere and anything. I just would like to see more creativity, imagination, and variety in the genre.

LM: I think what sets Deadite apart is that although the books are extreme, most of the titles didn’t strike me as “gore for gore’s sake.” For example, the work of Wrath James White is loaded with deeper social and philosophical messages and Edward Lee’s stuff is pretty damn funny, as well as grotesque. Am I right in this assessment or am I reading into the works too much?

JB: Thank you. That is what I try to do with Deadite. I like my horror to be filled with sex and violence but just sex and violence without a grander agenda becomes boring.

One aspect of Deadite Press that I think most readers – both fans and haters – miss is that there is an overarching political agenda with the titles. You will never find a Deadite book that promotes sexism, racism, homophobia, religion, materialistic greed, or blind patriotism. While many Deadite titles explore these themes, at the end of the book it is clear that these are the evils of the world and far worse than any fictional monster.

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LM: I’m going to shift to bizarro for a bit, since you also do some work for Eraserhead Press. What’s on their publishing agenda for 2015?

JB: I know there’s a bunch of things in the works but I’m not quite sure what all I can talk about. One of the upcoming titles that I’m looking forward to is a new collection from David Agranoff titled AMAZING PUNK STORIES. It’s made up of stories from various pulp subgenres (post-apocalyptic, horror, fantasy, western, etc…) but presented with all the mohawks, steel-toed boots, and Ronald Reagan bashing that is normally missing from those types of stories.

And some guy named Carlton Mellick III has some books coming out.

LM: Why do you think the horror and bizarro communities seem to work so well together?

JB: Bizarro got its start in the horror scene because of one simple reason – horror fans are actually some of the most open minded people in the world. They fully embrace creators like John Waters, David Lynch, Alejandro Jodorowsky, and others who aren’t explicitly horror but work in genre-related material. Horror fans are welcoming to anything that truly tests their senses in ways other genre fans aren’t – of course, this is all just my opinion.

LM: Anything new on the writing front for you?

I am currently trying to finish my long-awaited (by someone I’m sure) new novel, HOMOBOMB. It’s about a bomb who is attracted to other bombs instead of people and buildings. Hopefully, you’ll be seeing that sometime this year.

After that will be LORD OF THE LARPERS – a sort of rewrite of LORD OF THE FLIES but with warring groups of LARPers (live action role-players) instead of kids. A group of civil war reenactors led by Robert E. Lee will be the main villains.

I’ve also started working on my first horror novel. Its current working title is A SNUFF FILM IN A HAUNTED HOUSE. It’s about, well, you can probably figure it out from the title.

And I have a new novella in progress called MY CAT IS A CAM WHORE.

I just gotta sit down and finish writing these fuckers.

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LM: Tell us a fun fact about yourself that you would like readers to know.

JB: I’ll give you three:

1: I’m banned from the Monroeville Mall (where DAWN OF THE DEAD was filmed) for shoplifting a DAWN OF THE DEAD DVD. It was the only time I ever stole anything and I got caught. I’m a terrible criminal.

2: I love playing Magic: the Gathering and chess.

3: I probably own more DINOSAURS ATTACK trading cards than any other living human being. I buy them by the case.

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Thanks for stopping by, Jeff!

For more info, check him out at https://jeffburk.wordpress.com/ or follow him on Twitter.

Interview with Horror Author Glenn Rolfe

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LM: Tell us about your latest release, ABRAM’S BRIDGE.

GR: Abram’s Bridge was supposed to be a short ghost story, but once it got rolling I realized it was bigger than that. I got the idea from the lyric in a Bruce Springsteen song. “tell ‘em there’s a spot out ‘neath Abram’s Bridge, and tell ‘em there’s a darkness on the edge of town”. I set out to discover what happened beneath Abram’s Bride. I started with a boy (Li’l Ron) and a girl (Sweet Kate) and let that take me where they wanted. Before I knew it, I had a real mystery tale on my hands. Ron finds out Sweet Kate is a ghost and he sets out to discover what happened to her. It’s a ghost/mystery/thriller. I’m super proud of it.

LM: One of the most interesting aspects of the novella is how classical it felt. Were there certain works you had in mind when writing it, or was your process more natural?

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GR: I’m sure it’s a mix of all of my influences, but I can pinpoint a couple of them for you. Sweet Kate is definitely the product of reading Mercedes Yardley’s Beautiful Sorrows. I come from a Laymon, Ketchum, King back ground, raw and gritty, but brutally honest, but Mercedes showed me you could open some of those prettier doors in our hallway of terror and let slivers of brighter colors into our darkness. Other than that, I love Ketchum’s ability to create human monsters. I think a few of the grown-ups in this story fit that mold. And lastly, Ronald Malfi. A couple of his pieces definitely showed me how to do this.

LM: What do you like about writing novellas versus full-length novels?

GR: I love both. Like I said, Abrams Bridge was supposed to be a short story. Having the novella craze take off like it has certainly allowed me to forget about the word count and roll with the story. As writers, I believe that’s the ultimate freedom that we should allow to all of our characters.  Obviously, if you’re trying for a specific anthology call you want to keep it short, but I don’t believe we should stop ourselves or our stories if they prove bigger than that.

Novels are still my favorite beast to tackle, but it’s pretty much the same for me. I start with a scene and see where it takes me. I don’t outline until I absolutely have to, and even then it’s just a couple of ideas where that particular story seems to be heading. I feel like with a novella, the difference is that there is zero chance of letting any “filler” crap in there. There’s no room for it. It’s pretty much a compact novel, free of any side streets. Don’t get me wrong, I love that Stephen King stuff where you venture into characters pasts and really get to know them, but that’s the trickiest part of writing a novel. It is so easy to get lost in your characters backstories. The best authors know when to cut those from the final manuscript and when not to. Some of the younger novelists tend to keep too many of them and wind up slowing down a great story. And that’s the one thing you don’t want to do in a great story, lose the reader, or make the reader say “get on with it already”.  It’s a very tricky line to walk, but when you do it right, it’s one of the subtleties that make a novel length work shine.

LM: As a reader, what length do you prefer?

GR: I’m sounding lame here with my answers, but again, I love both. I used to pick up a book of short stories to read between novels, but now there are so many great little novellas being written and published that I tend to reach for those first. Something like Hunter Shea’s The Waiting or Jennifer Loring’s Conduits, give me just the right amount of compact storytelling with maximum impact that I’m looking for. Nothing beats a great novel, but novellas like the ones I mentioned are certainly worthy of our time.

LM: Since ABRAM’S BRIDGE is a ghost story, tell us your favorite ghost story.

GR: I have two favorites. Hell House by Matheson and Floating Staircase by Malfi. I think Floating Staircase is my favorite traditional style ghost story. I also think that there are definitely connections between Malfi’s masterpiece and my novella, Abram’s Bridge. That whole mystery/thriller aspect. Obviously I’m not at Malfi’s level, but this story is my first step in that direction. I’ll keep busting my butt to improve my writing and reach my potential.

LM: Do you have a favorite passage from ABRAM’S BRIDGE you would like to share here?

GR: I had to go back and look! I think this one sets up the story nicely.

Li’l Ron was silent. There were too many questions, too many things to say, but they were all running into one another before they could roll off his tongue. She was real. A real ghost. Frightened as he was, intrigue had captured the flag.

She led him to the spot he’d seen her in the day before. They sat down upon the cold ground, holding hands, listening to the melody of the creek. It was a sweet song, sweet like Kate. He wanted to know her story.

LM: In April your second novella with Samhain Horror, BOOM TOWN, will be released. What’s the premise for that one?

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GR: Boom Town is a Horror/Sci-Fi tale. An early reader says it is in the Tommyknockers vein. My editor also likened it to The Blob meets Invasion of the Body Snatchers; I’d say it’s that with with a side of heart. That’s the one thing I find in some of my favorite Richard Laymon books–you get this really horrific tale with characters that surprise you with how special they are. I think I achieved that in Boom Town.

LM: Where else can we find your work?

GR: I’ve got a number of short stories out there in various anthologies. Those, along with my debut novel, The Haunted Halls, and my first short story collection, Slush, can be found at my Amazon page: http://www.amazon.com/Glenn-Rolfe/e/B00AXYEBTY/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_pop_1.

LM: Tell us a fun fact about yourself that you think readers would like to know.

GR: Well, if anyone that reads my novels is into punk rock music, I also moonlight in a nineties-style punk band called, The Never Nudes. We have an EP available on iTunes and Amazon. If you like Rancid, Green Day, Bouncing Souls, Street Dogs, or remember One Man Army, you should check us out.

Interview with Bizarro Author Scott Cole

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I’m so thrilled to have my friend and Bizarro author Scott Cole featured on my blog. His debut novella SUPERGHOST is really something special. A cinematic bit of comedic horror and bizarro strangeness, I read it basically in one sitting and cannot recommend it enough. Read on for the interview:
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Lucas Mangum: First, tell us about SUPERGHOST.
Scott Cole: Well, SuperGhost is my first book. It’s a bizarro mad scientist story, about a man who invents a way to steal phantom limbs from amputees, and then assemble them into a giant ghost-monster, as part of a plan to attack the city and destroy his detractors. From there, things get weird.
“Frankenstein meets Pacific Rim” is one of the comparisons I’ve been using when I tell people about it, but I think there’s a dash of Monty Python and a sprinkle of Cronenberg in there too. And some people have been comparing parts of it to Ghostbusters.
LM: When writing the novella, did you have Eraserhead Press’s New Bizarro Author Series in mind or did you choose it as a market afterwards?
SC: Yeah, the New Bizarro Author Series was what I was aiming for. Prior to writing SuperGhost, I had always considered myself to be strictly a short story writer. But I wanted to get into the NBAS, and I knew I’d need to put together something longer in order to have a shot at it. I was stuck for a while, in terms of HOW to structure a longer work (longer than a few thousand words, that is – SuperGhost is not exactly epic, in terms of page count), but eventually something clicked, and when it did, I hunkered down at the keyboard and knocked out the first draft in two weeks.
There would eventually be several rounds of revisions to come, but I felt like I unlocked something in my brain at that point. And suddenly I have no shortage of ideas for longer-form fiction. So I hope people check out SuperGhost and I can get more books out into the world.
LM: I’ve never read a story dealing with phantom limbs before, so I found your concept highly original. What made you decide on that theme?
SC: Phantom Limb Syndrome is something I’ve been fascinated with for a long time. It’s just such an unusual real-world thing, and it goes to show how complex our brains and bodies really are.
I had never read a story about phantom limbs either, and I guess that was part of why I decided to write this story, at least on a subconscious level. The idea of a mad scientist assembling them a la Frankenstein just sort of came to me in a flash. Eventually I combined that idea with another story idea, and I realized the whole thing had legs, so to speak.
I was at a sci-fi convention recently, selling copies of SuperGhost, and someone recommended Larry Niven’s “Gil The Arm” stories to me. They’re collected in a book called Flatlander, which I plan to pick up soon. Beyond that, I don’t know of any phantom limb fiction either. Maybe it’ll be big twenty years from now.
LM: The cover art is also yours. As someone who works in both mediums, what would you say is your first love?
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SC: Art was definitely my first love. I was drawing from a very early age, and eventually got into painting, sculpture, and digital photo manipulations.
I did some writing pretty early on too – short stories here and there, and more than my share of awful poetry. But I zig-zagged in and out of that over the years, while visual art was near-constant. For the past several years, however, writing has definitely been taking priority in terms of my creative output, and I don’t see that stopping any time soon.
LM: How often does your graphic art influence your writing and vice versa?
SC: Well, I’ve always been an extremely visual person. I think visually, and I tend to learn visually. When story ideas come to me, it’s usually in images, either static or moving. I’m not sure if my own art or design work has been an influence on any of my writing (or vice versa), but the work of other artists definitely has. If I’m ever stuck for inspiration, I can usually crack open an art book and find a spark.
It doesn’t really relate to influence, but I will say it was fun to come up with my own cover art. I do some work as an illustrator and graphic designer, so I had a good time taking an idea from the book and translating it into an image that served as cover art, but could also be used as an iconic design element for promo pieces.
LM:. Do you have a favorite passage from the book you would like to share?
SC: Well, some of my favorite parts are a bit spoilery, and I don’t want to ruin some of the surprises in the book… But here’s a little exchange I like:
Michelle, Darren, and Trina had a quick conversation with their eyes: Someone’s here. Should we go? We gotta get outta here! What the fuck are we waiting around for?! But before they could act, something entered the room from the far corner. Two things, in fact, each semi-transparent, and glowing green from within.
“Oh shit,” said Michelle. “The guard dogs are here.”
The first of them looked like a mutant starfish—three human legs and two arms, all a bit larger than they should have been, all attached at a central point. Despite its monstrous appearance, however, it spun into the room cautiously, in a slow cartwheel roll.
The second thing followed closely behind. It was a pair of larger-than-normal human legs, connected by what looked like a forearm across the top, like a ghostly, mobile Stonehenge with a floppy hand hanging over the top of one leg. It walked in like any normal pair of legs might, if legs could walk without a body. It took short strides, perhaps unsure of its movements.
Trina screamed. There was no point in being quiet any longer. Even the octopus in the tank had suddenly become more animated, undulating his arms, occasionally splashing water over the top edge of the case.
“Whoa… Are those… are those phantom limbs?” Darren asked.
“Fuck! That’s it!” said Michelle, stunned. She had her hands on her wheels, but didn’t move.
“What’s it?” said Trina.
“That’s what that body cast contraption was all about. It wasn’t a pain-relief procedure. That bastard was actually stealing our phantom limbs.”
LM: Ice cream plays a big part in the story. What’s your favorite flavor?
SC: That’s a tough one. The Happee Freeze company in SuperGhost is sort of a bigger version of Little Baby’s Ice Cream here in Philadelphia. They’ve done some really odd, bizarro commercials which people may have seen on YouTube (like “Ice Cream is a Feeling”), and they have flavors like Everything Bagel, Peanut Butter Maple Tarragon, and Earl Grey Sriracha. They do some really delicious stuff, including the best vegan ice cream I’ve ever tasted.
So I guess my favorite ice cream is one scoop each of whatever they have available on that particular day.
LM: Tell me one, little-known fact about yourself that you’d like readers to know.
SC: I don’t like bananas, or honeydew, or cantaloupe. So no matter how much you enjoy SuperGhost, please keep your fruit salad to yourself, thank you very much.
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Scott Cole is a writer, artist, and graphic designer living in Philadelphia. You can check him out at http://www.13visions.com/
and pick up his debut novella SuperGhost right here.