|Illustration by Luke Spooner, © LVP Publications|
Welcome to The Pulp Horror Author Interview Series. Today's interview is with Jonah Buck who explores the fear of gelatin in his short story "Not Just Desserts" 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?
JONAH BUCK: Horror is fun, both to write and to read, because it’s hardwired into our brains in a way that most genres aren’t. People fundamentally understand fear. Whether it’s small children cowering under the covers to keep the shadows at bay or adults who break into an icy sweat at the sight of needles, we all have at least a passing familiarity with the cold, clutching hand of horror. We can all imagine ourselves flying spaceships, going on journeys of self-discovery, or romancing saucy British librarians. Pick whatever genre you like. Horror is what happens when your imagination starts lifting up stones to see what comes squirming out of the mud, though. Those pincered, clicking bugs and spiders are always there. Some of us are just more inclined to go looking for them. Horror writers are just the people who like to catch them in little glass jars and show them off to anyone who will look.
We’re very lucky to have a lot of these entomologists of the imagination active right now. Stephen King has always been a favorite of mine, but I feel like I always learn something about the craft whenever I pick up a book by Joe R. Lansdale or David Wong, too.
LVP: What were your biggest fears as a child? Do you have any current phobias or fears now as an adult?
BUCK: Spiders. It’s always been spiders. I’m squeamish about any number of things, but nothing else makes me squeal and flail my arms and run around like my brain caught fire quite like spiders. Now, I should mention that I don’t hate spiders the way some people do. They’re actually marvelous creatures. They clear out disease-carrying insects, and they really only want to be left alone. Even the supposedly deadly species, such as the black widow, almost never cause anyone serious harm. When spiders do bite us, it’s usually because they were quietly living in our sheets or clothes and we startled or nearly crushed them. There’s a lot of benefit to having the little creatures around, keeping our homes clear of mosquitoes and flies.
But also, I don’t want them on me or near me or within a certain radius of anything I plan on touching because they are horrifying, skittering land krakens with venom injectors and way too many eyes.
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?
BUCK: I’ve always been a fan of good ol’ fashion monster horror. There’s something fundamentally pleasing about an antagonist primarily motivated by hunger. It’s simple; it’s clean; it’s easy to understand. Overgrown sharks, towering prehistoric beasts, or even the humble zombie. They’re all fundamentally scary in part because of their simplicity. They have a single, all-consuming goal. They’re going to find our favorite characters and strip the flesh from their bones before coming for us.
That’s not to say that you can’t have layered and nuanced monsters with complex motivations. Frankenstein’s creature, vampires, and the occasional mummy or fishman might be acting out due to loneliness, love, or self-defense. There are great stories to be crafted, stories that would be difficult to tell outside the horror genre with its monstrous “others.” It’s a very rich and vibrant sub-genre of horror with room for lots of different interpretations, from midnight movie schlock to high art.
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?
BUCK: I sometimes see publishers or anthologies that want submissions for erotic horror. Nope. No thank you. Not for me.
I wouldn’t knock anyone who likes it, but I personally do not want those two flavors on my plate at the same time.
LVP: In your opinion, what is the scariest or most terrifying thing you’ve ever written?
BUCK: Perhaps I’m just a bit of an odd duck, but I almost never set out with the express purpose of making a story scary. I usually want, first and foremost, to have interesting or relatable characters who become enmeshed in extraordinary situations that go from bad to worse.
The stories I’ve written for Lycan Valley Press, appearing in Subliminal Reality and The Pulp Horror Book of Phobias, feature abandoned, rotting factories, half-seen glimpses of dead relatives at the hospital, and investigations into peculiar murders. I think the best way to make something scary isn’t to toss ghosts and ghouls and blood at the reader but to draw them in just far enough that they can’t go back and then slam all the doors and turn the whole thing upside down on the characters. Leave the reader right there with the protagonist, alone and fighting for breath and with just enough extra knowledge to understand things are going to get worse.
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.
BUCK: I will sometimes think that I can’t write that, but I’ll think the idea over for a while. Then, one of two things will happen. Either it’s a mediocre or bad idea, and I’ll quickly forget about it. If it’s actually a halfway decent idea, it’ll stay stuck in my craw a lot longer, and I’ll eventually come up with a way to incorporate what I want because I have a story that demands that outcome. That result is either logical or necessary based on what’s happened in the rest of the story.
I have a story featuring a stricken submarine stuck on the bottom of the ocean and the crew hears knocking on the outside of their hull. Part of that story was stuck in my head for years before I finally found the appropriate vessel for it, and the tale ended up in The Beauty of Death Volume 2 alongside works by Clive Barker and Ramsey Campbell.
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?
BUCK: I use the phrases “Halloween store” and “home décor store” interchangeably.
LVP: What advice would you give to someone who wanted to try dabbling in horror writing for the first time?
BUCK: Do it. Do it. Do it.
Writing is a skill. We get better at it primarily by practicing it. Even if you never sell the story, even if you never show it to anybody, even if writing it absolutely confirms that you want to stick exclusively to the saucy British librarians genre, you’ll be a better writer for having written it. The next time you want to write a scene with tension or dark moodiness or a hint of morbidity, it won’t be your first time. You’ll have exercised (or exorcised) that part of your imagination, and that will make it snappier and better at its job next time. And if you decide you want to write more horror? Then let me be the first to bid you welcome to the club.
LVP: What would you like your legacy to be? Or alternatively, what should your survivors engrave on your tombstone?
BUCK: Well, I have won quite a few Inmate of the Week stickers at the asylum since I stopped chewing through the restraints. Aside from that, I’d like to be remembered for my creativity, wit, and dedication to the people important to me.
LVP: Anything else you'd like to say or add? Any final thoughts?
BUCK: I should mention that I’ve written a number of novels. Carrion Safari features washed-up big game hunter Denise DeMarco. Hired to explore a cursed and sweltering island, she’s promised a fortune if she can capture a monster. The first in a series, the book sparked some acclaim and multiple sequels.
Meanwhile, in Substratum, private detective Jasper O’Malley must investigate a number of disappearances in the salt mines underlaying Detroit. His work will place him in a web of unlikely allies and enemies, from gangland mobsters, to occultists, to corrupt competitors, to a very angry monster. A sequel, Cesspool, should be available later this summer.
~ Jonah Buck wanted to study eldritch knowledge and commune with pale, furtive creatures of darkness, so he went to law school in Oregon. His interests include history, professional stage magic, paleontology, and exotic poultry. He is the author of numerous short stories and several novels, including Carrion Safari and Substratum.
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)!