About Plutonian Press

Friday, March 3, 2017

Review: Evolution



Related image


Recently, I got a chance to see an amazing French film called Evolution. What is Evolution about? It is a film about a seaside town harboring a disturbing secret. A tale of a strange evolutionary diversion. Fears of alien substances and beings penetrating and subverting the body. A delirium of not knowing what is human and non-human, what is mother and what is non-mother. A film that is erotic and fascinating in its secrets. And so far the best film I have seen in 2017.


Evolution is directed by Lucile Hadzihalilovic, her follow up film to her first film Innocence. Evolution has some of the most beautiful oceanic photography I have ever seen in a film. A visual delight, the textures and the overwhelming dampness of the film are beautiful rendered. The film also has a very sparse score, which only kicks in when needed to help completely submerge the viewer in the film’s mysterious and melancholy tone. Evolution is a film as beautiful as any arthouse film, but it has a deeply embedded cult midnight movie sensibility.

While watching this I could not help contemplating how this film plays out like a female version of David Lynch’s Eraserhead, itself a nightmare of strange and troubling things. Mostly concerned with just how strange it is to give birth and the nebulous desires that often overtake us, this film is a kind of response to Eraserhead. Also, there is a large, but subdued, influence of the seaside horrors of H.P. Lovecraft in this film. The Shadow over Innsmouth is probably in the local library of this secluded town featured in Evolution.

I give this film my strongest recommendation. A slow burn into surreal and mysterious depths. Easily one of the best films I have seen in a long time and one I shall obsessively revisit, like any good mystery. Lucile Hadzihalilovic is one of the most promising up and coming filmmakers working out there, and I can’t wait to see what she has in store for us next.

Interview: Adam Golaski



 Image result for worse than myself

Hello Adam Golaski and welcome to The Plutonian!


When I first read your Weird Horror collection Worse Than Myself it really blew me away. At turns surreal, beautiful, shocking, and obsessive. It really made a huge impression on me. So let me say it is a huge honor to have you here for an interview! Looking back on Worse Than Myself, how you do feel about it? How have been the responses to it?

Shortly after Worse Than Myself was published I held a clothbound copy in my hand, alone in my parents’ kitchen, and felt ambivalent. Here it is. Earlier this year, looking for Hiroshima by John Hersey in the stacks at Brown University, I saw a copy Worse Than Myself—I was thrilled! It’s unreal in the world. But it is in the world and I’m glad. I like the stories. I like the book’s structure. I care about Worse Than Myself.

You wrote to me: you read my book, you liked it, you asked me to contribute to an anthology you’re editing—that’s gratifying. Very infrequently, someone seeks me out because of it. To tell me it meant something to them.

There seems to be an increasing feeling in modern society of a loss of reality. A lot of people, seemingly more in the last couple years, have started looking around and not be able to take what is happening in society as something that corresponds with the normal accepted notions of what reality is supposed to be. There seems to be no core reality anymore. No new music scene. No real counter culture. No identifiable sense of what is culturally relevant, since there is no culture to speak of. Our media bombards up with nostalgic images of other eras to try to hide the emptiness of our society. And now the United States government is using ‘alternate facts’. I think that Weird Horror right now is uniquely positioned to be able to talk about this genuinely strange era we live in. One of the main concerns of Weird Horror is in exploring the different masks that society wears to conceal the darkness and utter chaos that lay hidden behind the workaday world. In Weird Horror reality is an extremely malleable thing. What are your thoughts on Weird Horror and our increasingly unreal reality?

Not to pick a fight, but reality is awfully real, Scott. What you’re describing is dissonance. What we want the world to be like and what it is like. That’s a modern angst, but it’s not new. Much of the horror in my weird fiction describes a failure to comprehend what is right in front of us. You write about a lack of culture—there’s culture! You just don’t like it. Or: it’s hard to see. Romanticized, the present will look as coherent as the past does. “Weird Horror” is a tool with which to describe human experience. I don’t think there’s any experience it can’t be used to describe; the only limits are generic. I try not to police myself too much when I wander into the horror genre hinterland.

There are all kinds of different traditions in the history of Weird Horror. In North America, Weird Horror seems to follow in the tradition of Lovecraft, Bradbury, Matheson, and King which is more realist, idea driven, speculative horror fiction. Whereas Eastern Europe deals in more introverted and personal psychodramas with writers like Grabinski, Kafka, Ewers, and Schultz. And in Japan there is a tradition of socially and morally transgressive authors like Rampo, Izumi and Abe. There is so much interesting and criminally underread work out there. Where do you feel your horror fiction falls in terms of themes and traditions? Do you have any favorite non-English or just lesser known horror writers who you would recommend?

I don’t know. I don’t have an allegiance to a particular tradition. Mary Caponegro’s fiction is deeply weird in the way it describes experience. A few of Alyn Ryan’s short stories interest me. I was deeply impressed by Jennifer Claus’ “The Room Is Fire,” which I published in New Genre no. 7. I liked “The Witch House” by Jessica Phelps.

I don’t think anyone writing horror these days can have escaped the influence and historical weight of horror cinema. From classics like Night of the Living Dead and Repulsion to lesser known deliriums like Messiah of Evil and Goke: Bodysnatcher from Hell, there has been some amazing work done in the horror film. Has horror cinema influenced you?

I’m influenced by cinema in general—I studied filmmaking and made films (student films). I worked in a movie theater! Horror cinema—and other genres beloved by the folks who raised me—are a part of my childhood. Roused from bed to see Them! on T.V. when I was five.

One of the most talked about aspects of your collection Worse Than Myself, is how the book is divided into two different sections. One being more focused on a more abstract surreal horror, and the other more focused on playing and experimenting with traditional horror tropes. How did you decide to go in that direction with the collection?

You say that one part is more abstract and the other part more focused on playing with traditional horror tropes—fantastic. What an interesting read! The two parts were determined by place. And place had a lot to do with how abstract or traditional the stories were.

I love the quote from Ramsey Campbell where he calls your work “ insidiously weird “, which I feel is a very apt description. But it begs the question, why do you want to pass these nightmares off onto your readers?

Why did you want to read a book called Worse Than Myself?

I don’t think of my stories as nightmares. My approach to telling a story, no matter how strange, is to treat it as if every aspect of it were absolutely real. As a result, I think about why people react as they do to the inexplicable and/or the horrible. My characters don’t know what’s going on—in the same way that you or I have only a dim sense of what’s happening where we are not.

Instead of “to pass these… off,” maybe “to give.” As in, here, these are stories I wrote. Do with them what you will.

Some of your work deals with both sexuality and horror. In those stories, there is exploration of the pull of eroticism and the push of abject disgust. What connections do you see in those topics?

Sex is every day. Occasionally, I write a story directly about sex, but sex is likely to appear in any story that’s engaged with the world. Sex makes us vulnerable, so it’s a natural subject for horror. If you’re distracted by the affair you’re conducting, you might not notice that there’s a monster in the room (“The Man From the Peak”). If you’re resisting a sexual urge, you might find yourself isolated when you most need community or worse—utterly perverted by your self-denial (“The Demon,” “The Dead Gather on the Bridge To Seattle”).

Disgust is a personal matter. A matter of taste, a matter of morality, a matter of cultural attitudes. What happens to a person when they feel disgusted with themselves is a central concern in Worse Than Myself.

I know I speak for a lot of people when I say this, I would love to see a new horror collection from you! Any chance of one emerging in the future? And is there any upcoming projects you would like to talk about?

Since Worse Than Myself, I published a book of stories called Color Plates. I’ve also written a collection called Stone Gods I’d like to see published by the right publisher (I don’t want it to vanish on the shelves of book collectors). I’ve half-completed another set of stories and a novel (an excerpt from that novel appears in Nightscript no. 3). I’ve published lots of stories, poems, and hybrid pieces in various little journals (check out OUTLAND 1 – 6 in the third Sharkpack Annual). I’m writing a book about the Ti West film The House of the Devil for Auteur. And there’s much that’s weird on my blog, Little Stories. I’d be very pleased if people subscribed!

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Review: A Collapse of Horses by Brian Evenson




   


I have just read a fantastic horror collection and am excited to tell you about it. After having read first Brian Evenson’s story Glasses in Ellen Datlow’s anthology Children of Lovecraft, then reading his story A Seaside Town in The Year’s Best Weird Horror volume 3, I realized there maybe a great writer who I have been overlooking. So I read up on what collections he has available and settled in on A Collapse of Horses. And I was correct. There has been a major author in the field that somehow I missed. There is something indefinite and not human about Brian Evenson's stories in A Collapse of Horses. Each story in this collection is a hymn to confusion and uncertainty. While I would almost say he is a bit experimental in his writing, it is an experiment in mood and theme more than say, how a Cisco or a Burroughs would experiment with form and prose style. He seems to be more influenced by Demons by Daylight era Ramsey Campbell then by the usual suspects Lovecraft and Ligotti. He takes familiar tropes, then reassembles them in such a way where you still recognize them, but know there is something just not right. Another thing about these stories is how drained of emotion they are. Now notice I did not say lack of emotion, I said drained. It’s almost like there was emotion there, which for some unknown reason, has been removed. What is left is a void of mystery and dread. I think Brian Evenson is to Weird Horror what Japanese Noise is to music. Everything is stripped down to its essential elements and what is left is this non human abstraction of horror. And it is somehow even more powerful for it. To see what I mean, try this little experiment, read A Collapse of Horses while listening to Haino’s album So, Black is Myself. Or maybe in the interest of your mental health you really shouldn’t. Now to talk a little of the stories contained in this tome. The title story A Collapse of Horses is absolutely one of the most malignantly disturbing stories I have ever read. A story full of obsessive images like a nightmare that just keeps returning. I swear, for the rest of my life I will be frightened of sleeping horses. A true masterwork of the form, A Collapse of Horses, like Ligotti’s The Bungalow House or Etchison’s The Walking Man, reading it you will know you are reading a master of Weird Horror, and you are not safe. What you are reading may harm you. BearHeart (™) is just fucked up and perverse. It ranks up there with Sturgeon’s The Professor’s Teddy Bear for stuffed animal horror.  Past Reno is a slow burn of inescapable delirium. And the last story in the collection The Blood Drip, ties in with the first story in a very unsettling and vertigo inducing way. You really may not be ok when you reach the end of one of his stories. Evenson’s collection A Collapse of Horses is a black nebula of abstract strangeness. I give it my highest recommendation. Horses? Houses? Horses? I just don’t know anymore.



Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Interview: Richard Gavin



Image result for richard gavin author

Today it is my pleasure to have Richard Gavin stop by for an interview for The Plutonian! He has been writing some of the best Weird Horror in the field for years now. His newest collection is called Sylvan Dread: Tales of Pastoral Darkness, and he has also recently released a book on Dark Mysticism called The Benighted Path. I highly recommend this always interesting writer to all readers of The Plutonian.


Hello, Richard Gavin! And thanks for stopping by to chat a little bit here on The Plutonian!




It’s my pleasure, Scott. Thank you for the opportunity.


Congrats on your new collection Sylvan Dread! I really enjoyed it. Could you talk a little about how the concept of the collection came about?


Sylvan Dread was informed by two streams. The first was a subconscious inclination that led to my producing a number of Nature-based stories in a row. The second was recognizing that while certain motifs and concepts unified aspects of my previous books, I had never created a collection with an established theme. I worked closely with my editor Daniel A. Schulke to fashion a book that consisted of what I term Tales of Pastoral Darkness.


In most horror fiction there is an underlying masochistic thread in the narrative. A lot of Lovecraft’s or Ligotti’s characters seem to be searching for the dark doom or ruinous knowledge that befalls them. But in your work, it seems to me, that for the most part, the main characters are just going about their lives and inadvertently stumble into a revelation that reality is nowhere near what they thought it was. And now, to try to make sense of things, they have to look for an answer that they may not find or in fact does not exist. There is a sense of riddle and play in your stories. What is your take on this?


Ambiguity and an oneiric atmosphere are absolutely crucial elements to my fiction. While I’ve also written my share of stories involving doom-seeking protagonists, the reason why the lion’s share of my characters find themselves facing a deeper reality they did not necessarily seek has less to do with an artistic decision and more to do with my own cosmology. I believe that our planet is teeming with presences, both physical and non-corporeal. Spirits abound. There is a superb quote from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Marble Faun where he describes the abyss potentially being opened at any place by anyone (“A footstep, a little heavier than ordinary, will serve.”) Any of my tales that are worth anything are so because they carry with them a glimpse of this Underworld.


It is my hope that the trance-like state I experienced during the creation of a given tale can be transmitted, even slightly, to the reader. This is a form of the “Third Mind” phenomenon explored by William S. Burroughs and Bryon Gysin; that liminal sacred space that opens whenever a writer’s words and a reader’s imagination touch. I believe in the vitality of this liminal space. But in order to reach it, one must be perplexed, unnerved. Thus, the nightmarish imagery is prevalent in my work not simply to frighten a reader, but because it is indigenous to this liminal space. My aim is not to entertain you but to awaken you.


I have also been a big fan of your nonfiction work. Do you prefer to write fiction or nonfiction?
Is there a possibility of your nonfiction being collected at some point?


Fiction and non-fiction each have their own merits. I enjoy doing both equally, though their processes are quite distinct. In terms of a non-fiction collection, yes, I would like to compile my individual essays of esotericism along with some of my essays on the philosophical underpinnings of Horror for a future book. But when this might materialize is anyone’s guess at this point.


One of the things I have noticed being a horror fan is the difference between the casual and the obsessive fan. The casual fan seems to find outrageous gore and roller coaster thrills to be the pleasure of horror. While the obsessive horror fan seems to seek both a dark beauty and a deeper insight into reality. What pleasures do you find in horror? Why is horror important to you?


I agree with your assessment. As an admitted obsessive, Horror is important to me because it is almost combative toward our preconceptions about life, death, and the universe. Transgression is art’s raison d'ĂȘtre. Art exists as a means by which we can violate our own perceptions of reality, can shock ourselves into a new way of perceiving. Art presents something --- an idea, an image --- that terrifies and liberates us with its Otherness, its stubborn refusal to slip neatly into our preconceptions of how the world is. We are changed.


Therein lies Horror’s pleasure; its agitation infuses us with an awareness of being alive. This awareness permeates Horror’s aesthetics, its tropes, and its motifs. Because of this, Horror, for me at least, is an ever-replenishing well of worthy experiences.


Which stories would you pick as touchstones for influence and inspiration in the weird horror fiction field?


Well, I would never presume to create anything like a canonical list for the field entire, but some Horror stories that have long served as personal touchstones would be:


“The Spider” by Hanns Heinz Ewers
“All Hallows” by Walter de la Mare
“The Dissection” by Georg Heym
“The White People” by Arthur Machen
“The Man Whom the Trees Loved” by Algernon Blackwood
“The Human Chair” by Edogawa Rampo
“The Hound” by H.P. Lovecraft
“Apparition” by Guy de Maupassant
Any of M.R. James’s ghost stories

In my youth, I readily mixed both visionary horror and mind altering drugs in a search to dig deep into this strange thing called existence. Dropping acid while watching the film Begotten. Smoking weed and reading some Lovecraft. What do you feel about the relationship between mind altering hallucinogens and weird horror?


I think hallucinogens can certainly broaden one’s vistas, can, to borrow Huxley’s phrasing, open doors of perception. However, I also believe that their effect is limited. Once those doors have been opened, I would encourage people to seek other modes of consciousness expansion and exploration, such as art, meditation, trance states, or dance. This prevents the hallucinogen from becoming a crutch.


A number of critics and readers have described my work as “hallucinatory,” which really pleases me. While I do not use any drugs (including alcohol) myself, I have always been a prodigious dreamer and I frequently engage in praxis to induce visionary trance states and exploration of Spirit realms. The fruits of these endeavors have made their way into a number of my stories.


In their interest and exploration of our secret inner lives and the taboo, horror and transgressive erotica have similar goals. But sex and the erotically perverse seem to rarely interact with horror. And the mind reels at the possibility of such a weaving of genres. What if Thomas Ligotti tried his hand at some fetish stories? What if de Sade wrote an alien invasion story? What are your views on horror and the perverse?


You’ve made some really insightful comments here, Scott. I suspect that the seeming reluctance of many Horror authors to explore the erotic is connected to Horror’s priggish disdain for the body, particularly the female body. We see the opposite side of this coin in Horror’s gleeful willingness to maim, mutilate and destroy the body (again, particularly the female body). Horror, for all its grue and supernaturalism, can be stiflingly conservative. There are a number of writers and readers who squirm at scenes of frank carnality and yet seem to have no issue whatever with torture and mayhem. The reason for this is simply that for many people the flesh is negative. The sanctimonious view it as unclean (again, particularly in relation to the female body), the transcendentalist/nihilists perceive it as a trap or a punishment, et cetera.


My own work stands in stark contrast to this view. As one who resounds with the Biocentric worldview, I regard all physicality as the expression of the soul of Pandaemonic Reality, just as the soul is the esoteric meaning of the body.


Transgressive and erotic writers are of tremendous importance to me. Bataille, Sade, Von Sacher-Masoch, Mirbeau, Nin; these authors are as influential on my work as any Horror author one might name.


As far as the weaving of genres goes, I tend to favour writers who channel an obsessive personal vision, something that is uniquely their interpretation of the universe, rather than skillful raconteurs who skim across categorical fiction.


If you could pick one film director throughout history to adapt one of your stories to film, who would your pick be and why?


A very interesting question! Truthfully, I’d never given much thought as to how my tales would translate into film simply because my interests as an artist are focused on how text can be utilized to transmit depth experiences. For me, prose has never been a substitute for filmmaking, it has always been my chosen medium. I write books to be books. That being said, I am also a lifelong fan of horror movies and avant-garde cinema.


Fittingly enough, next year there will be a short film of my story “The Hag Stone” released by a new filmmaker named Malachi Cull. I’ve seen the trailer and some production stills and it is a thrill to see my words translated visually.


In terms of directors, I think E. Elias Merhige (Begotten, Shadow of the Vampire) would be the ideal candidate. I say this not only because of his incredible work, but also because of his deep comprehension of the mystical underpinnings of genuine art. I’ve been fortunate enough to become acquainted with Elias over the last year or so and have enjoyed some lively exchanges with him. He is a wellspring of ideas and numinous energy.


It seems of late the world could be taking a darker turn with the recent controversial elections in the US and Europe and a troubling rise in hate crimes. What is a horror writer's role in a world that may be going wrong?


I shall only speak for myself here…


If there are any laudable qualities present in my stories I believe those qualities are rooted in a startling realization that everything is alive here on this beautiful, deranged and haunted planet. Our everyday lives tend to fog this principle, to place a damper over that pyre, and this is where art can be useful. It stokes those primordial flames and enables us to see and be outside of ourselves, outside of our ego. That alone is the path to Real. Artists and audiences should bear this in mind as we proceed deeper into this, the Iron Age of the Kali Yuga.


Do you have any new projects coming up? What is next in your writing career?


It will likely be some time before I have another fiction book published, simply because I strive to make each new book better and unlike anything I’ve published previously. I want to explore new themes and sharpen my prose as much as I possibly can. That takes time, especially at this phase of my career, where I’ve already written a lot of the stories I wanted to write.



Much of 2017 will likely be dedicated to exploring, researching and writing my next book of esotericism.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Review: Sylvan Dread by Richard Gavin



I have just finished Richard Gavin’s latest short story collection, Sylvan Dread, and must say I think it is his most inspired and accomplished collection yet. This is a themed selection, with stories based on Nature and our interactions with it. But Gavin’s takes on the theme are so brilliant and various, if you did not know there was that connection between the stories, you may not get there was supposed to be one on your first read through of this book. When Gavin writes about Nature, he is writing about the Earth that does not necessarily include or care about the human race. A Nature that has existed long before Man and will endure beyond Man. We are but one mutation in an epic history of blind mutation, Nature being almost a factory of evolving flesh. He writes about its secrets and our inability to truly grasp this world we call home. His stories in this, to me, relate to the ancient myths of Chimeras, these unknowable secrets symbolized in collages of flesh and riddle, one could say the stories in Sylvan Dread are in fact, literary Chimeras. Each story presents a metaphysical mystery that gets deeper upon each reread. In these stories, I can see the influence and kinship with authors like Clive Barker and Arthur Machen in their belief that this world we inhabit in fact contains many worlds, both banal and sublime. Also he shares with them an interest in the philosophy of flesh, the unknowability of our own bodies and desires. In Gavin’s literary world, Eros and Thanatos both wear masks, and it’s really never clear with one is standing before you, and what their touch will bring.


One of the things I most love about Gavin’s fiction is his obvious love for the horror genre. He strives to show what the horror genre is capable of. In it’s best examples, the genre can show us a tenebrous and heart breaking transcendence, like in his story Mare’s Nest. Or it can make us question what we always thought we knew, in a sublimely creepy manner, like in his story The Old Pageant. It can also talk about repression and what we secretly wish for, like in his story Fume. And in his story Thistle Latch, it can show us salvation in disease and rot. Horror is one of the oldest forms of literature. And its different manifestations are legion. Horror truly is a many headed Hydra.

Richard Gavin is one of the most talented authors working in the field of Weird Horror today. I highly recommend Sylvan Dread. In a year of many standout collections, it certainly holds its own. Sylvan Dread is a new classic and I certainly will be returning to it again and again. It certainly left me with a lot to think about. Gavin extols his midnight philosophy in every tale: Everything begins and ends in Mystery.


Monday, October 24, 2016

Strange Flowers/Strange Films 2: The Halloween Edition.




The Halloween season is upon us. Cold winds blow through gold and crimson leaves. The nights grow longer and sunlight is a dim memory. It is the season for horror films. Here are some autumnal delights I obsessively watch every October.



Halloween 3: Season of the Witch - A pretty much perfect blending of creepy television signals and ancient pagan occultism. It stands up with any John Carpenter film, and really, I find it hard to believe it's not a John Carpenter film. It really captures his artistry of dread pitch perfect. I will warn you of one thing. The famous television jingle from this film is contagious and will infect your mind, playing over and over in your head for the rest of your days.




Night of the Living Dead - The most bleak film ever made. A case may be made this is the greatest horror film of all time. It really goes for the throat. It confirms what you don’t want to realize. The worst things will happen. Everything will fall apart into ruin and chaos. Everyone will fail you. Death is everywhere and is in fact coming for you. And there is nothing you can do about it.





Onibaba - A feverish Japanese fable. A tale of scavengers and a demon mask. The film follows the logic of nightmare. Meanings float in and out, nebulous and hazy. One of the scariest films I have ever seen, and I can not give an exact reason why. Maybe the reason could be found in the dark pit contained in the center of this delirious film.




Suspiria - The horror film as hex. From the first scene on, Suspiria traps you into its witch haunted world and never lets up. This is a film that seduces you and brings you willingly into its labyrinthine corridors, where something worse than death awaits. A poisoned apple for those looking to be lead astray into delirium.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Interview: Jon Padgett

   

First off, congratulations on the new collection! How does it feel having your own book to be able to put on the bookshelf?




Thanks, Scott. It’s still a bit hard to believe, frankly. Mostly, right now, I’m feeling grateful—especially to Dunhams Manor Press and my supportive and perceptive readers.




It seems that most of the stories in The Secret of Ventriloquism take place in the same smog filled old mill town. Was it intentional to have the stories take place in a shared world? Or was that a decision to link these stories later on? Do you plan on writing more stories in the old mill town setting?




The shared world of the collection took some time to develop and was an organic, rather than a planned, process.




Back in 2002, I heard a piece on NPR called “The Killer Fog of ’52” about London’s horrific environmental disaster, which likely took the lives of some 12,000 people in the course of a few days. "Roads were littered with abandoned cars. Midday concerts were canceled due to total darkness. Archivists at the British Museum found smog lurking in the book stacks. Cattle in the city's Smithfield market were killed and thrown away before they could be slaughtered and sold — their lungs were black." That story and its horrific impact came to haunt “20 Simple Steps to Ventriloquism” and “The Secret of Ventriloquism” as I was writing them. My research deepened and focused on temperature inversion—a meteorological condition described in the aforementioned NPR piece and a 1950 New Yorker article called “The Fog,” which describes another environmental catastrophe, this time in a Pennsylvania mill town called Donora. What’s the connection with the stories in my collection? Well, my research into the gastromantic forbears of ventriloquists kept leading me back to the Oracle at Delphi, which was guarded by a monster called The Python. The Oracle herself was high off toxic fumes from a geologic fault line under the temple. Maybe those fumes and this Python were one and the same, I mused. And perhaps this Python was the motivating power that spoke through the Delphic animal-dummies down through the ages. Thus the Black Fog was born into my work. The idea of smoggy Dunnstown (aka Foyle) itself came to me while writing “The Infusorium,” which was conceived as a kind of sequel to “20 Simple Steps to Ventriloquism.” I grew up in just such a mill town, which was plagued with smelly “paper mill days.” In fact, I have often visited that surreal south Alabama cityscape in my own dreams and nightmares, complete with awful ranch-style houses and paper mill stench. After I wrote about half of the pieces in the collection, I began strengthening the common elements of setting and character between them, though most of that process was an automatic one and existed almost immediately in my first story drafts.




I honestly don’t know if Dunnstown and its environs will continue to haunt my work in the future. I wouldn’t be surprised if it did.




Some of your most effective stories, such as The Mindfulness of Horror Practice and 20 Simple Steps to Ventriloquism utilize a meta-technique of presenting fiction as if it were nonfiction, to extremely disturbing effect. It reminds me of Ligotti’s Notes on the Writing of Horror and some of Jorge Luis Borges’s writing. Is Borges an influence on your writing? What inspired the meta approach?




Thanks, Scott. That’s good to hear.




“20 Simple Steps to Ventriloquism” took me almost twenty years to write. Originally, I meant it as an ode to Ligotti’s work, and the first draft of the story—“The Eyes of the Master”—was an embarrassingly terrible Poe/Ligotti hybrid pastiche. I rewrote that story from scratch close to a dozen times over the years, without success. Later drafts of the story were written in the form of a memoir, drawn from my past theater experiences, with the narrator reminiscing about his fear of dolls and dummies. When I was a child, my first ventriloquist dummy came with a pamphlet entitled “7 SIMPLE STEPS TO VENTRILOQUISM,” and this manual began making an appearance in my writing attempts. In 2004, I had an epiphany, scrapped my latest draft and rewrote the thing from scratch, using that pamphlet from my childhood as a template but expanding beyond it.




In the years that followed, the tale became the combination guidebook-confession of a character named Joseph Snavely. The “final” version of the tale (then entitled “The Secret of Ventriloquism”), was over 14,000 words long. In 2011, I was invited by Joe Pulver to submit my story to his Ligotti anthology, The Grimscribe’s Puppets. I sent him the long version, but he had a 5,000 word cut off. That’s when I reimagined the story, stripping out both character and plot—all extraneous to the manual itself. What was left? A 4,500 version of my story, which I entitled “20 Simple Steps to Ventriloquism.” So it was out of sheer necessity that the “author” of the manual was removed, leaving the story lean and honed and even more purely metafictional in nature.




The Ligotti influence is probably mostly due to the fact that between 2005 and 2009 I read and made notes on upwards of a dozen drafts of Thomas Ligotti’s book long philosophical argument, The Conspiracy Against the Human Race. There’s no doubt that Ligotti’s masterful and profoundly disturbing treatise rubbed off on my humble story—the student unconsciously acting as dummy for the master-mentor ventriloquist. If I was influenced by Borges, it was an oblique influence. Consciously, the final version of “20 Simple Steps to Ventriloquism” was inspired by Ligotti’s vignette, “10 Steps to Thin Mountain” and the philosophical writings of Eckhart Tolle. “The Mindfulness of Horror Practice” was inspired and informed by Bodhipaksa’s recorded Mindfulness of Breathing, my mindfulness practice of choice for the last ten years or so.




On a personal level, I love successful works of metafiction—either comprehensively or selectively produced by the author. I was one of those teenagers who half-believed, for instance, that Lovecraft’s Necronomicon and all the associated mythology were based on fact. Ligotti himself once called “20 Simple Steps” “a kind of Necronomicon for ventriloquists,” so perhaps things have come full circle for me.


The stories in “The Secret of Ventriloquism” seem to utilize a kind of Ligottian mythos in the same way Leiber and Campbell used a kind of Lovecraftian mythos. What does Ligotti’s writings mean to you as an author and reader?




Ligotti is my favorite prose writer, living or dead—the one fiction author, more than any other before or since, that speaks to and for me. His fiction nearly always transports my imagination and—paradoxically
considering the subject matter—produces a great sense of well-being, relief and calm in me. To quote Ligotti's “The Cocoons,” when I read Tom's stories I feel a “...great sense of escape from the poles of fear and madness ...as if I could exist serenely outside the grotesque ultimatums of creation, an entranced spectator casting a clinical gaze at the chaotic tumult both around and within him.” I invariably leave those tales feeling calm and aware and even ecstatic. Ligotti's stories are like Transcendental Meditation for me, which probably explains at least in part my obsession with the horror of compulsive thinking and its cure via a Ligottian shattering of identity.




In The Secret to Ventriloquism, I’ve concentrated on what Ligotti has called a “salvation by way of meticulous derangement.” I’m interested in the idea of redemption/epiphany through horror. In my collection, anyway, that’s the flavor of choice. I have no idea if this element will remain in my future work or if the writing of The Secret of Ventriloquism has exorcised it from my imagination.




Being the main entity behind Thomas Ligotti Online, you have been involved with the horror community for a long time, what are your views on where the horror fiction scene is right now?




It’s humbling and frankly hard to believe that we’re about to move into the nineteenth year of Thomas Ligotti Online’s existence. What began as a simple fan site I created in 1998 has transformed into a robust online community with thousands of members. That never would’ve happened without my co-conspirator and fellow administrator, Brian Poe.




In terms of the horror fiction scene… There are remarkable works of horror fiction being produced by authors such as the magnificently original Livia Llewellyn, the incredible prose craftsmen, Laird Barron and John Langan, the bizarre and wonderful Jordan Krall, and Ligottian standouts Nicole Cushing and Mark Samuels. There are, of course, many other exceptional horror authors, but these are some of the very best. My favorite of the exceptional new crop of horror authors is Christopher Slatsky, whose debut collection, Alectryomancer and Other Weird Tales, knocked me off my feet and who continues to write some of the most affecting and powerful weird tales in the business.




All that stated, I believe it’s all too easy (and inaccurate) to claim that we’re in any kind of creative Golden Age. Mainstream horror continues to be too generic, too easy, and—honestly—too lazy. The weird and speculative small press world is consistently outclassing most of the big bestselling publishers, but plenty of mediocre writing and cut corners are present there as well.




In a sense, though, it’s the same as it ever was. Exceptional, well-crafted writing is never the norm in the publishing world.




Reading your stories in The Secret of Ventriloquism, I must say most of them leave the reader with the same feeling as if they had just ingested some bad hallucinogens, what do you feel the role of delirium and unease are in horror?




I’d say that the production of unease is key to effective horror, and delirium is an effective (though optional) element in that production. The more authentic the distillation of unease, the more powerful the horror story. That’s why Lovecraft’s “The Music of Erich Zann” and Ligotti’s “The Red Tower” always rank high when assessing both writers’ oeuvre. Derangement of what we consider “the natural order of
things” awakens the reader to an alternate reality behind the compulsive day to day thought-creations that we call normal living. Unease and delirium in an effective horror story leads to lingering awareness—the more troubling, the better. For me, as a reader, it’s equivalent to our subconscious minds working out waking world troubles via surreal, dread-filled nightmares. Mindfully experienced, these can be transformative experiences.




The Halloween season is upon us, do you have any go to favorite horror films that you watch this time of year?




I honestly don’t watch horror films on a seasonal basis—I watch them all year round as the mood strikes me. I’ll dispense with the usual list of horror film favorites and speak only of a couple of less popular and more unusual ones. Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness is an unsung Lovecraftian classic that gets too little respect. And one of the best horror films I’ve ever seen (speaking of an atmosphere of unease) is the magnificently filmed and written Session 9.




What are some horror fiction collections that inspired you to try your hand at creating one?




Christopher Slatsky’s aforementioned collection, Alectryomancer and Other Weird Tales, was a tremendous inspiration. It gave me confidence that a newer writer on the scene could produce truly strange and memorable and distinctive work. Ligotti’s Grimscribe influenced me most. Specifically, those stories (and the characters within them) are closely linked to one another and seem to exist in the same dread-filled and oneiric world. The publisher wanted a novel from Ligotti, and these stories were Tom’s solution—the closest thing to a novel he was interested in writing at the time. Grimscribe gave me permission to write my collection my own way.




I was hoping to produce both the weird, fragment derangement of a horror collection along with some measure of novelistic world-immersion.




What’s next from Jon Padgett? Any new work coming you can talk about? And where do you want to go with your writing?




I wrote the final story for The Secret of Ventriloquism literally three weeks ago, so I’m still kind of lost in the collection.




I’m a professional voiceover artist as well as a writer (and ventriloquist), so the next step is to produce an audio version of the book. I hope to have it complete and ready for purchase alongside the hardcopy and digital versions by mid-November.




Where do I go from here as an author? I’m honestly leaving concerns about that to my future self. But I have no doubt that more stories will come. And this time they won’t take twenty years for me to write.