|Illustration by Luke Spooner, © LVP Publications|
Welcome to The Pulp Horror Author Interview Series. Today's interview is with Hank Schwaeble who explores the fear of memories in his short story "The Yearning Jade" 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?
HANK SCHWAEBLE: Horror is not just the mirror onto which we project our fears, it is the prism through which we break down those fears to help us understand who we are. No other genre allows us to explore the human condition as unflinchingly. It is never about the monster, or the evil, or the supernatural, but about the characters forced to confront them, and forced to confront what those forces tell us about ourselves.
My favorite horror creator has always been Edgar Allan Poe, for both his writing and his vision. He arguably invented both the Horror Story and the Detective Story, and it's no coincidence I frequently try to blend aspects of both horror and mystery/crime into my stories, as I've always felt the genres were joined at the hip since birth. Poe was definitely an inspiration, as was Vincent Price. As a child, my view of horror was strongly shaped by Price, with his erudite approach when discussing it informing my sense of the powerful literary potential it had to tackle fascinating facets of the human condition.
LVP: What were your biggest fears as a child? Do you have any current phobias or fears now as an adult?
SCHWAEBLE: As a young kid, I remember being scared of two things: UFOs and Bigfoot. The reason was simple—those were potentially real. The evening news seemed to report UFO sightings far too often for my child's mind to ignore, and my own grandmother told me how she had seen, many years earlier, a UFO hover over the backyard of the very house we lived in (she'd witnessed this back in the '40s or so) one morning before dawn. It rose up as she watched it until it was very high in the sky, then its many lights went dark and it disappeared. Bigfoot documentaries took the issue of a gigantic primate stalking American forests seriously, with many normal-seeming people swearing they had seen it and experts discussing the creature as if it were perfectly plausible. Those things made me nervous, as I couldn't dismiss them as fantasy when I was lying in bed late in the night, surrounded by darkness, alone in my room, hearing strange, random noises coming from the roof or the window.
My fears as an adult are far more terrestrial and empirical. I fear the seemingly universal, relentless authoritarian/totalitarian urge of vocal, motivated segments of humanity to control others by force and crush individual freedoms in the name of security and/or progress. The 20th century was fraught with horrific events spanning the globe that make horror fiction terrors seem quaint by comparison.
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?
SCHWAEBLE: I try not to think about my stories in those terms, but it's safe to say I've written in a number of sub-genres. Action-Horror, Horror-Mystery, Psychological Horror, Supernatural Horror, Sci-Fi Horror... I would like to think most of my stories contain numerous elements associated with various of these, but I would say my “favorite flavor” is what I would call “Horror-Noir,” which, as I would define it, combines aspects of mystery, psychological horror and traditional horror to present a dark glimpse into human nature. Noir is generally a mystery with a protagonist whose own motives are shady or conflicted at best, or dark in their own right, a character who is often not just falling into the gutter, but from it. I like reading those, and writing those. Not all my stories are like that, but a sizable number tend to be, to one degree or another.
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?
SCHWAEBLE: I'm not interested in gross-out or “wet” horror. That said, I try not to shy away from a description or a depiction if the story or scene warrant it, but it always has to be consistent with and in furtherance of the story and the character(s). I've written some brutal sentences, but I like to think they were necessary for the integrity of the story, and not there to shock or merely appeal to some sado-prurient interest.
LVP: In your opinion, what is the scariest or most terrifying thing you’ve ever written?
SCHWAEBLE: That's a tough one. If I had to pick, I'd say my story “Nurture,” because there is literally nothing in that story that couldn't really happen. In my opinion, that casts it in a different light than most of my others. Supernatural horror can be plenty scary, and I enjoy it every bit as much, but at the end of the day you can convince yourself none of it was real and it could never happen.
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.
SCHWAEBLE: Once. I woke from a dream I couldn't quite remember, but whatever I had dreamt placed this image in my head, set this scene for a story. It involved a child in the 1700s or so luring his friends to a ritual summoning in the woods and convincing them to pick one of the group as a sacrifice, turning them against each other through manipulations and revelations until he gets what he wants. But the main image I had in my head around which the whole story revolved was of an act so disturbing, I decided I couldn't bring myself to write the thing, and it just wouldn't be the story without it. Let's just say “brutal” wouldn't begin to describe it. So I shoved it down the ol' memory hole.
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?
SCHWAEBLE: I'm sorry to disappoint, but no, not in the way the question suggests. Okay, I take that back. In addition to the “normal” things my wife and I do, like watching horror movies rather regularly, we also have a tradition of setting up a “Halloween Christmas Tree” starting in September. It's an all-black one I picked up a few years back, and it is decorated with nothing but horror-themed ornaments, of which we have plenty. Aside from the predictable stuff like bats and owls and witch hats and white-sheet ghosties, there's the creature from Alien, there's a Predator, there's a Dracula, a Frankenstein Monster, and dozens of other classics we hang from it, ranging from characters from A Nightmare Before Christmas to a Bigfoot. The tree-topper is a large Bride of Frankenstein figure. This stays up all season, even after we put up the regular tree around Thanksgiving, all the way to New Year's Day.
Other than that, though, I'd say we're pretty normal. Whatever that means.
LVP: What advice would you give to someone who wanted to try dabbling in horror writing for the first time?
SCHWAEBLE: Write the story that interests you, every time. If you can't interest yourself, you can't interest a reader. And never forget that good fiction is good fiction, regardless of the genre. There are no special rules, nor any freedom from rules, for horror. There's a reason people still discuss “A Cask of Amontillado” and “The Tell-Tale Heart” over a century and a half later.
LVP: What would you like your legacy to be? Or alternatively, what should your survivors engrave on your tombstone?
SCHWAEBLE: I don't ever think about that kind of thing. I just want people to enjoy what I write and I hope I provide them both entertainment and food for thought. The best compliment I can get is that a story or stories of mine lingered with a reader long after they'd finished the read.
LVP: Anything else you'd like to say or add? Any final thoughts?
SCHWAEBLE: Only that both readers and writers of horror fiction should treat it with the respect it deserves. Horror has a literary pedigree unsurpassed by any other genre, but the failure of both producers and consumers to remember that fact a few decades ago did serious damage to its reputation in both commercial and scholarly circles. It has made a huge comeback in recent years, but there is still a lot of ground to cover. We should each do our part, as writers to write the best horror fiction we can and to transcend the genre by writing the best fiction possible, and as readers to reward and encourage good horror fiction wherever we find it.
~ Hank Schwaeble is the two-time Bram Stoker Award-winning author of the novels DAMNABLE, DIABOLICAL, and THE ANGEL OF THE ABYSS, as well as the horror-noir collection, AMERICAN NOCTURNE. His short fiction has appeared in anthologies such as Alone on the Darkside, Five Strokes to Midnight, ZVR: No Man’s Land, V-Wars: Night Terrors and X-Files: The Truth Is Out There, among others. Also a World Fantasy Award nominee, in addition to being an ex-Air Force officer and military Special Agent he is a practicing attorney and a licensed pilot. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, playing guitar, and flying planes. He lives in the Houston, Texas, area with his wife (fellow author) Rhodi Hawk and their many animals.
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