|Illustration by Luke Spooner, © LVP Publications
Welcome to The Pulp Horror Author Interview Series. Today's interview is with Steven M Vance who explores the fear of razors in his short story "Halfpenny" 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?
STEVEN M VANCE: As a reader, I want to be entertained. Immersed in the world of the characters, the author’s vision.
I didn’t expect to get my start as a writer of horror. While taking care of my family and working. I always assumed fantasy would be my primary genre. When I finally took up the pen in late 2016, horror was what ended up on the page. My experiences in Operation Iraqi Freedom were a definite influence. War has to be one of the worst ideas humanity has ever come up with.
Inspirations, influences, favorites? Lovecraft’s “The Statement of Randolph Carter” was the first horror story I read, in my elementary school library. Opened up worlds for me I hadn’t been aware of. King’s “Salem’s Lot” in junior high. Still the scariest vampire novel around. So plausible…if vampires are real. Also, his story, “The Boogeyman”. Horror story as morality tale, as they so often are. Big fan of Caitlin Kiernan, Clive Barker, Dean Koontz (I know some would argue that one). “Canavan’s Backyard” by Joseph Payne Brennan. Sticks with me 30+ years later. Michael Moorcock’s novel “The Black Corridor”. More recently, Rachel Caine’s “The Cold Girl” (in “Carniepunk”) and “Noble Rot” by Holly Black (“Naked City” anthology).
LVP: What were your biggest fears as a child? Do you have any current phobias or fears now as an adult?
VANCE: The pallid, sinewy arms that were going to grab me and pull me under the bed in a dank, rubbery grip of steel. I got my feet under the covers quickly when the lights went out. I try to remember that one once or twice a year. Its good to revisit old friends now and then.
One of the few souvenirs I brought back from my time in Iraq was a healthy dislike for feeling cornered or trapped. No spelunking for me. Ever.
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?
VANCE: Favorite flavor? I like variety. Stephen King’s classic Maine-centric horror; well-written ghost stories; Cthulhu mythos and the King in Yellow; pieces set in different cultures – Asia, the Middle East and North Africa, etc.
My first published story, “It is the Sweetest”, masquerades as a noir detective story. “The Pickman Revival” and “Secret Santa” are squarely in Lovecraft territory, though with my particular take on it. I think banal 21st century suburbia, in its soul-numbing sameness is a better setting for cosmic horror than rural New England. I also find a little dark humor creeping in here and there. In “Halfpenny”, I give a nod to the work of the late, great Robert W. Chambers.
I’m certainly not done with the characters appearing in my Cthulhu Mythos stories, and I’ve had requests to return to my P.I., Sam Kavanagh. Stories waiting in the wings run the gamut from ‘mainstream’ horror (think early Stephen King) to sci fi/horror crossovers, dark fantasy and ghost stories.
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?
VANCE: Splatter. Been there, done that, didn’t want the t-shirt (Google “2004 Forward Operating Base Marez bombing” sometime).
The really bleak stuff. If I wanted to feel grim and hopeless, I could binge-watch mainstream news.
LVP: In your opinion, what is the scariest or most terrifying thing you’ve ever written?
VANCE: Its early yet, but I’ve noticed a bit of a theme in my writing. Bad things tend to happen in my stories to people who prey on children. I’ve known a number of people who lived through hell on earth growing up. When someone in a position of trust hurts (or kills) a child, that’s real horror, and truly terrifying.
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.
VANCE: I have a novel (in its first draft) that mocks, to a certain degree, the urban fantasy genre. Vampires, werewolves, and the like, are predators. Predators very rarely fall in love with their food. I don’t want to say too much. I want the shock value to be there for readers. I want their skin to crawl. Let’s just say I’m offering an alternate interpretation to why vampires’ victims are drained of their bodily fluids, and have a couple holes in their necks. Elongated incisors are not the likeliest explanation for such wounds…
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?
VANCE: Not so much. When my wife, Gina, and I were first married, we had a Tabby/Siamese mix named Lizzie Borden. Later, it was Pennywise, an American Shorthair sitting on a mountain of attitude. Presently, I am domestic staff for a Snowshoe Siamese named Lucifer. As a kitten, he would literally run up walls and hang there, glaring at everyone with crazy eyes.
LVP: What advice would you give to someone who wanted to try dabbling in horror writing for the first time?
VANCE: Employ the KISS method (Keep it simple, stupid). Read Stephen King’s “On Writing”. Take it to heart. Never hesitate to kill your children.
LVP: What would you like your legacy to be? Or alternatively, what should your survivors engrave on your tombstone?
VANCE: With four published stories under my belt, it's too early for me to worry about my legacy. I hope people remember my stories years later. I hope they feel things, reading my work, whatever that means for them.
LVP: Anything else you'd like to say or add? Any final thoughts?
VANCE: As a writer, I think heart (feelings) and gut (intuition) count for more than brains (craft).
May horror be something that entertains you, and not something you live through.
~ Steven M. Vance is a long-time husband, father and grandfather. Served as a combat medic with the infantry in Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom. Loves Southeast Asian martial arts and eating kao soi, satay and nasi goreng. He has a Snowshoe Siamese named Lucifer. Lives and works in the greater Denver area. Find him at https://www.facebook.com/StevenMVance3/
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)!