|Illustration by Luke Spooner, © LVP Publications|
Welcome to The Pulp Horror Author Interview Series. Today's interview is with Asher Ellis who explores the fear of doctors in his short story "The Clinic" 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?
ASHER ELLIS: Whenever I'm asked why I'm drawn to the horror genre, I usually point the inquisitor towards Stephen King's essay, Why We Crave Horror Movies. In this short piece, King famously referred to the cathartic release of horror as "keeping the gators fed." This essay, along with so many of his classic stories, is why I would say King is my favorite horror creator. As a fellow New Englander, I've always been able to relate with his small town settings, characters that could've easily been my neighbors, and overall themes of what lies beneath mundane, day-to-day living.
Besides King, however, I am very inspired by the deft plotting of Richard Matheson, the brutal honesty of Jack Ketchum, and at the risk of sounding overly literary, the stark prose of Ernest Hemingway. I've always been a firm believer of his "iceberg theory," and find it especially important when crafting a horror story.
LVP: What were your biggest fears as a child? Do you have any current phobias or fears now as an adult?
ELLIS: As a child, I was never a huge fan of heights. Whether it was riding a rollercoaster or jumping from a ledge into water, the fear of falling was always present. (Interestingly enough, I was never uncomfortable on even the highest chairlift or gondola, and I loved traveling by airplane. Go figure.)
As it turned out, I grew up to be a rollercoaster enthusiast, and while high places still aren't my favorite places to be, I would never describe it as a "phobia." Like many people out there, I now find myself suffering from "white coat syndrome," whenever I have to see a doctor. And while it's not exactly considered a "phobia," it has resulted in lot of high blood-pressure readings, as well as a source of inspiration for my story, The Clinic.
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?
ELLIS: I've written thrillers, "creature features," backwoods horror, supernatural horror, body horror, sci-fi horror (a la The Twilight Zone) —and I find them all to be fun in different ways. But if pressed to decide my favorite sub-genre? I think I would have to say I most enjoy a page-turning thriller where continually rising stakes propel the reader towards a white-knuckle climax. Perhaps it's due to my background in film, but I'm total sucker for structure and pacing. I think "taut" is the word I'm after, isn't it?
…Oh, and I totally dig cannibal fiction. For whatever reason, I always return for second helpings.
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?
ELLIS: To quote the dearly departed British horror author, James Herbert, "You can forgive virtually anything—any perversion, any nastiness—if it’s really done with style.” I too believe that a writer should be more concerned with the how than the what. That being said, I wouldn't jump head first into any subject matter unless I was confident I could handle it with due respect and consideration.
To use another quote from a great author who is no longer with us, Dallas Mayr (aka Jack Ketchum), once wrote, " You’ve got to make us give a damn—about all this grief, about all this suffering. You’ve got to exercise the compassion muscle.”
If I feel I can't do that, I'll leave it someone else.
LVP: In your opinion, what is the scariest or most terrifying thing you’ve ever written?
ELLIS: I don't think I've had my "Pet Semetary moment" yet, referring to when Stephen King hid away the first draft of his now famous novel in a desk drawer, believing he had "gone too far." There is, however, a particular scene near the end of my novel, The Remedy, where a likable character meets a particularly gruesome and drawn-out end. I remember writing that scene and thinking I might've done something right, because instead of relishing in the blood and gore like the 80s-eque slasher I thought I had written, I found myself wanting the whole experience to be over.
And interestingly enough, it wasn't just the physical violence—the antagonist's justification of their horrid acts is probably what disturbed me the most. The malleable nature of morality, or that every villain is "the hero of their own story," is one of the more uncomfortable truths of both fiction and real life. (And is probably what makes cults so damn creepy.)
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.
If you don't mind, I'm going to keep that one under my hat. Though I haven't brought myself to write it down today, tomorrow could be a different story (no pun intended). It's a great question, though, and I look forward to reading the responses of the other contributors!
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?
ELLIS: I'm not sure if they have earned the "legendary" status yet, but I do throw a themed Halloween party every year and always try to outdo the year before. Our most recent party was "cult" themed, and we chose one guest to be our cult leader. He had no idea he was our fearless leader until he arrived and saw all the tributes we had scattered all over the house (which included prayer candles, photoshopped pictures, and a huge banner). We were unsure if he would see it all as a huge honor or just be really uncomfortable all night, but fortunately, he loved every minute of it.
Other than that, like most horror hounds, I surround myself with various paraphernalia from all my favorite horror properties. Whether it’s the Amityville Horror tote bag I use when grocery shopping or the Carrie umbrella I use when it rains, it seems the genre follows me everywhere. Not that you asked, but one of my favorites in my collection is the Sleepaway Camp light switch cover my brother gave me for Christmas last year. It features Angela on its surface, and if you’re familiar with the film's ending, I bet you can guess where the switch is!
LVP: What advice would you give to someone who wanted to try dabbling in horror writing for the first time?
ELLIS: So there's this essay in the Michael Knost edited Writer's Workshop of Horror that I absolutely love called, "How Stephen King's Writing Advice Broke My Heart and Smashed My Dreams." It’s by an author named Robert N. Lee and, as far I'm concerned, should be required reading for anyone considering this writing game. Though I highly recommend tracking down the book (as it's filled with great pieces from cover to cover), allow me to answer this question with a quick passage:
"…I'd learned for myself the big secret--or my big secret, anyway--about writing King didn't drop in that interview: do it how you do. Do it as often as you do, do it as hard as you do, do it where you do, do it when you do. These are all things you have to define for yourself, and if you're thinking too much about how other people do it, you will cause yourself no end of pain and you will end up writing less than you could otherwise, or not at all."
So yeah, go buy the book. That and On Writing Horror, released by the Horror Writer's Association. I agree with everyone else that Stephen King's On Writing should be on your shelf, but if you're looking for advice on writing horror, I can't recommend these other two enough.
LVP: What would you like your legacy to be? Or alternatively, what should your survivors engrave on your tombstone?
ELLIS: As a writer, I think it's really fun to try to outsmart the reader. I find so many stories, whether they be novels or movies or TV shows, to be pretty predictable. I've always enjoyed a good twist, whether it's in my own writing or someone else's, that throws the reader/viewer for a loop, but at the same time, makes perfect sense. In my opinion, Rod Serling was the king of his, along with his frequent collaborators Richard Matheson and Charles Beaumont. If I could be remembered as being even half as good at plot as they were, I would be more than fine with that.
My most frequent readers will often tell me they approach my stories looking for a twist. To their credit, they always admit when I "get them," despite their best efforts. For me, that's the highest compliment. I just find perspective so darn fascinating, which, at its core, is what a twist is all about.
So I guess a good tombstone for me would be:
"Here lies Asher Ellis—Bet you didn’t see that one coming."
LVP: Anything else you'd like to say or add? Any final thoughts?
I have nothing to add except I hope that people really dig this anthology, and I am extremely thankful to be a part of it. Personally, I can't wait to read everyone else's stories! Thank you to LVP Publications for putting so much work into this, from the impressive table of contents to the amazing artwork. We're all in for a real treat.
~ Asher Ellis is a novelist, screenwriter, and educator. He is the author of the horror novel, The Remedy, as well as multiple award-winning short films that can be viewed on various streaming services. When not working on his latest project, Ellis teaches at several colleges and universities in his home state of Vermont. You can visit him at www.asherellis.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)!