|Illustration by Luke Spooner, © LVP Publications
Welcome to The Pulp Horror Author Interview Series. Today's interview is with James Chambers who explores the fear of crossing bridges in his short story "Right of Crossing" 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?
JAMES CHAMBERS: I love the sense of the mysterious in horror. I enjoy stories where characters face the unknown and the bizarre, where they grapple to make sense of terrifying things that emerge from the shadows. Those things can come from within themselves as much as they do from the supernatural or from other people, which is an aspect I enjoy as a writer. The emotional and psychological undercurrents of that kind of horror story draw me to them. The Haunting of Hill House, for example, where it’s uncertain how much is psychological and how much supernatural, but all of it illuminates the characters’ states of mind. I also gravitate toward imaginative horror, stories with vivid, creative imagery and stories with an internal mythology, such as the stories in Clive Barker’s Books of Blood. It’s too hard to pick a favorite horror creator. There are many, many people making horror stories in books, film, and comic books whose work I enjoy and follow and whose work I’m still discovering. I have probably a dozen “favorites” in any medium that produces horror, and they change over time. When it comes to inspiration and influences, I find the horror community at large inspiring. It fosters such a powerful sense of encouragement and connectedness, of support for horror as a substantive and worthwhile literary genre when many outside the genre still see it as all chainsaws and zombies.
LVP: What were your biggest fears as a child? Do you have any current phobias or fears now as an adult?
CHAMBERS: As a child I mostly feared other people, ranging from the practical such as being wary of strangers or the school bully to the less realistic such as worrying about home invaders. I feared random acts of violence. The notion that I could be going through my ordinary day and find myself attacked or caught up in some horrible, violent situation always got under my skin. As I grew older my fear evolved as my firsthand experience with it grew. I better understood the nature of that fear and realized it was a legitimate thing to worry about—but the form of it became more concrete. Colin Ferguson shooting people on a Long Island Rail Road train I could’ve easily been on. Buying food in a bodega in the Bronx when a bloody fight broke out. Being the only other person in a subway station with a guy muttering to himself and beating up trash cans with a baseball bat. Watching the World Trade Center fall from my office window on 9/11. That was all real and utterly indifferent with regard to who those tragedies claimed. I learned to better assess that fear, what I could control, what I couldn’t, how to keep it in check. That’s part of what draws me to the horror genre—the idea that dark, horrible things are waiting to happen all around us. I have no real phobias, but my fear now includes the carelessness of others—people texting while driving, a pharmacist who mixes a prescription incorrectly—the potential for danger because someone is distracted or simply isn’t paying attention.
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?
CHAMBERS: I’ve written a wide variety of horror, probably in most sub-genres except for extreme horror, which isn’t my cup of tea. I’ve written psychological horror, Lovecraftian and other weird horror, supernatural horror, straight-up monster stories, historical horror, and more. I’ve written genre blends: science fiction/horror, pulp/horror, western/horror, and so on. I write in many genres. My stories tend to run dark. My horror sensibilities bleed into everything, even when I write a crime or science fiction story. I don’t have a real favorite. I enjoy good writing and inventive stories. That’s much more important to me as a reader than a particular type of story. As a writer, my story ideas span the full range of horror. I’m more interested in challenging myself than sticking to any particular mode or sub-genre. I often look for opportunities to write some type of story I haven’t tried yet or for editors sympathetic to experimental stories. It’s good to stretch the writing muscles in new directions.
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?
CHAMBERS: I don’t write extreme horror. I’ve never really tackled survival horror, either, which can overlap with it. Extreme horror simply isn’t my thing. My natural inclination is often to focus on the aftermath of a horrific experience or to only hint at the worst, letting the reader’s imagination run wild. That approach doesn’t lend itself to extreme horror.
LVP: In your opinion, what is the scariest or most terrifying thing you’ve ever written?
CHAMBERS: My short story, “Mooncat Jack,” maybe. It picks at a lot of childhood darkness from a child’s perspective, at an age when it’s possible to be aware of awful things around you without understanding them. It suggests that hope is slim for escaping them. I’ve heard from enough readers over the years to think that story is pretty disturbing. There are some new stories in my forthcoming collection, On the Night Border, that I think are among the creepiest or most disturbing work I’ve done, “The Chamber of Last Earthly Delights,” “The Driver, Under a Cheshire Moon,” and “Red Mami.”
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.
CHAMBERS: Yes and no. I have some story ideas that are so disturbing I’ve set them aside until I can find the right way to approach them, but I intend to write them someday. Part of writing horror is tackling the things that frighten or unsettle us, so I try not to shy away from any good idea. Horror writers aren’t meant to stay in their comfort zone. But there’s a fine line between writing a very dark and disturbing tale in a meaningful way that uses the darkness to convey emotional or psychological insight and writing only for the sake of telling a twisted story. Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door does the first. Written less thoughtfully or from a different approach, that story could have been torture porn, but Ketchum brings the heart of it to light in a way that elevates it. That novel pulls back the curtain on some very ugly aspects of human nature in a way that disturbs the reader but also helps them accept that they are part of our reality. That’s the way to tackle really disturbing stuff. So I hold on to those ideas until I find the right way forward.
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?
CHAMBERS: Aside from a wardrobe stilted toward black T-shirts from horror conventions, I’m pretty sedate in this regard—except for Halloween! My family goes a bit overboard decorating the house. The last few years we’ve even put on a small yard haunt. We change it up every year and try to do a creepy display that won’t scare off too many trick-or-treaters.
LVP: What advice would you give to someone who wanted to try dabbling in horror writing for the first time?
CHAMBERS: Have confidence in your creativity. Many writers begin by emulating their favorite authors. A lot of horror writers have at least one “Stephen King style” story in their trunk. That’s fine. When we’re starting out and don’t yet know what we’re doing, we fall back on what we know from reading. All writers start out as readers. But move past that into your own imagination. Don’t worry about the rules of vampires or what’s popular or not in the genre at the moment or trying to catch a trend. Tap into your own creativity and let it breathe in your stories. The more you do, the sooner you’ll find your voice in the genre, and the stronger your writing will be.
LVP: What would you like your legacy to be? Or alternatively, what should your survivors engrave on your tombstone?
CHAMBERS: I want readers to enjoy my writing. If anything I write lives on after me or becomes the kind of story that stands out when people look back at what they’ve read or at the horror genre in general that would be a fantastic legacy.
LVP: Anything else you'd like to say or add? Any final thoughts?
CHAMBERS: I’m very excited to be part of the Pulp Horror Book of Phobias! I had great fun writing my story, bringing together some wildly different elements—Russian mobsters in Brooklyn, World War II history, Norwegian folklore, the terror of New York City traffic—all inspired by the fear of bridges, and turning them into a bit of hard-boiled darkness. This was a “stretching my muscles” story, to see if I could make it all work. I hope readers enjoy it, and I’m eager to read the other stories and see what my fellow contributors cooked up for their phobias.
~ James Chambers is the Bram Stoker Award-winning author of the original graphic novel Kolchak the Night Stalker: The Forgotten Lore of Edgar Allan Poe as well as the Lovecraftian novella collection, The Engines of Sacrifice, described in a Publisher’s Weekly starred-review as “…chillingly evocative….” He writes crime, fantasy, horror, pulp, science fiction, steampunk, and other types of stories, which have appeared in numerous anthologies and magazines. His website is www.jameschambersonline.com.
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)!