|Illustration by Luke Spooner, © LVP Publications|
Welcome to The Pulp Horror Author Interview Series. Today's interview is with W.T. Paterson who explores the fear of rising body temperatures in his short story "Mutual Possession" in The Pulp Horror Book of Phobias.
LVP PUBLICATIONS: What draws you to horror, both as a writer and as a reader? Who is your favorite horror creator? Who are your inspirations or influences?
W.T. PATERSON: Horror is a very exciting genre because it demands attention, and the characters require action. While there’s a place for contemplative love stories and looking out over bodies of water while a character finds themselves, there’s something to be said of the average person put into a situation that tests their own humanity. What is the breaking point of a character? How do we get them there? Why is this killer/monster/disease so important to the characters? What does it reveal about the larger world? Everything is exciting because we have to face death head on with both brains and ferocity.
My favorite writers in the genre are Joe Hill and Paul Tremblay. King is a legend, of course, but Hill and Tremblay, for me, have their fingers on the pulse of a more modern reader. I also was blown away by the movie “Hereditary”, which taught me that sometimes tension is equally as powerful as a masked killer.
LVP: What were your biggest fears as a child? Do you have any current phobias or fears now as an adult?
PATERSON: As a kid, I was always afraid of snakes. I’m still a little afraid of snakes, but not the way I used to be. Now, I just think they’re creepy and if you have a pet snake, I probably think you’re a little creepy too. You’re probably great, but that snake…
As an adult, I’m actually deathly afraid of whales. They’re WAY too big. I’ve been swimming in deep water when the thought of a whale will nearly debilitate me. It’s bad.
LVP: Horror has a million sub-genres, from psychological to splatterpunk. Which sub-genres have you written in? What's your favorite flavor of horror?
PATERSON: I’m a huge fan of speculative horror à la Black Mirror. That show nails it. The technology isn’t the problem, it’s people who are the problem and how the tech plays into our existing neurosis. When I write, I love to cross genres and get dark. I’ve blended elements of true crime, humor, slipstream, creature, you name it. If it seems fun to write, I’ll give it a shot.
Most recently, I’ve discovered horror stories that exclusively take place inside of a Disney park, which is wild. Many of the stories aren’t the best in their execution, but their concepts are killer. Over the summer, I’m going to sit down and knock out a few of the Disney themed stories that I’ve had kicking around.
LVP: Is there any sub-genre or area of horror that you won’t go anywhere near? Any one area that is completely off-limits?
PATERSON: Anything that is overtly racist or bigoted doesn’t interest me at all. It’s not that those themes shouldn’t be represented or discussed, but every now and then I’ll read a story that is clearly written with ignorance and it’ll ruin it for me. It’s also tough to write about things like human trafficking knowing that these things are very real, and that we don’t really have a solution for it. People are working hard to save lives, and new disturbing details keep popping up that make things somehow worse. True life is the greatest horror writer.
I tell my writing friends all of the time that nothing is off limits, but they also have to defend their choices. I’m not going to give you a pass just because a story is risky. It has to be risky and done well in order to get my approval, and the path to something being done well often requires a lot of failure and re-writes. I always have to ask myself if the story is worth the deep dive and what the message is that I’m trying to send. Sometimes they are, sometimes they aren’t as good or scary as I thought.
LVP: In your opinion, what is the scariest or most terrifying thing you’ve ever written?
PATERSON: A few years ago, I wrote a novel (unpublished) called “The Woods” that blends old Polish folklore into the Nazi Resistance of WWII, and I wrote about how villagers would stage ritual sacrifices to appease “the Horned king Amaeil, and his legion of crooked animals”. It was meant to drive German soldiers insane, which would work, and the idea of crooked animals, for whatever reason, always makes my blood go cold.
LVP: Have you ever had an idea for a story so scary or disturbing that you couldn't bring yourself to write it down? Tell us about it.
PATERSON: Yes. I had a close friend pass away from cancer at a young age (20s) and it was really hard watching him succumb to the disease. After he passed, I kept having nightmares where I would talk to him, and he’d be aware that he was dying, and he would start crying because he was afraid. I’d wake up terrified and just weeping. In all honesty, I don’t know if I’ll ever write that story because it’s too close. I’m not sure what the underlying message would be aside from “Death is Scary,” because those nightmares would only be part of the story and not the whole. I don’t know. Real death is tricky.
LVP: Are there any ways that your interest in horror bleeds over (so to speak) into other areas of your life? Do you throw legendary Halloween parties, do you dress like Alice Cooper when you go grocery shopping, do you have a pet albino snake named Nosferatu?
PATERSON: I’m a huge fan of Halloween. I love the vibe, the movies, the weather. It’s the best. Also, whenever I’m in a new city, I almost always take their ghost tours because those ghost tours talk about the true grisly histories that a tourism pamphlet wouldn’t touch.
LVP: What advice would you give to someone who wanted to try dabbling in horror writing for the first time?
PATERSON: It’s not enough to have a monster or a killer or a disease. There has to be an emotional drive that makes us invest in the story and characters. The plot is just what happens. The trick is to create the “but why is it happening to these people?” over the plot. Why is it so important that they survive? What is driving this killer to kill? If things are spiraling out of control, why is control so important? Bad guys aren’t just bad, and our heroes aren’t altruistic. Play with those ideas. How do the good guys and bad guys relate to each other?
LVP: What would you like your legacy to be? Or alternatively, what should your survivors engrave on your tombstone?
PATERSON: I’d love to have a number of books and television shows under my belt. Blending dark humor with elements of horror is what I love love love and constantly push for ways to tell new stories. I always joke that my tombstone will read “Worth it!” because I’ll probably end up dying in a real silly and stupid way, and those will be my last words.
LVP: Anything else you'd like to say or add? Any final thoughts?
PATERSON: I think horror is coming up on a new revolution. With movies like “Hereditary,” and “Get Out,” and shows like “Black Mirror,” and “True Detective,” we’re starting to blend the occult, social issues, and complex characters into really compelling art. As new voices rise, they’re each going to bring unique perspectives to their work, which will ultimately define what the genre becomes. And that is very exciting.
~ W. T. Paterson is the author of the novels "Dark Satellites" and "WOTNA". A Pushcart Prize nominee and graduate of Second City Chicago, his work has appeared in over 40 publications worldwide include Fiction Magazine, The Gateway Review, and a number of Anthologies. He is a current MFA candidate at the University of New Hampshire. Send him a tweet @WTPaterson.
Pre-order The Pulp Horror Book of Phobias (paperback or hardcover) from your local indie bookstore through IndieBound, from Barnes & Noble or Amazon now... or come see us at Crypticon in Seattle, WA and StokerCon in Grand Rapids, MI to read this story along with all the other madness contained in The Pulp Horror Book of Phobias (including limited edition autographed phobia card sets, available at conventions only)!