BY DAN COXON
"A lot is talked about authors finding their ‘voice’, and I was spending all my time trying to fake somebody else’s accent. It’s no wonder that I was rarely convincing."
Today marks the launch of a Kickstarter project that gets the full Ginger Nuts seal of approval. Tales from The Shadow Booth is a new journal of weird and eerie fiction, edited by Dan Coxon (Winner: Best Anthology – Saboteur Awards 2016) and published as a mass market paperback. Drawing its inspiration from the likes of Thomas Ligotti and Robert Aickman, The Shadow Booth explores that dark, murky territory between mainstream horror and literary fiction. The journal is crowdfunding on Kickstarter from Today with a view to publication in December 2017.
Featuring stories by:
Paul Tremblay, Malcolm Devlin, Richard Thomas, Stephen Hargadon, Annie Neugebauer, Richard V. Hirst, Sarah Read, Timothy J. Jarvis, Gary Budden, David Hartley, Kate Feld, Dan Carpenter and Joseph Sale. Tales from The Shadow Booth looks set to be a must read for fans of intelligent horror fiction.
To celebrate the launch of the Kickstarter Ginger Nuts of Horror has a series of exclusive interviews and articles from some of the contributors to the first volume. Today we are honoured to have Shadow Booth editor Dan Coxon over for a fascinating article about his journey and reasons for bringing this anthology together.
As a writer, and an editor, the last ten years of my life have been filled with confusion. During my university years, and the years immediately after, I wrote strange little stories that I thought were groundbreakingly brilliant, but which few others had the time for. I remember one about a burns victim slowly peeling the dead skin from his head, another in which a psychiatric patient gained god-like powers thanks to an experimental drug. Then there was the time travel story about an erratic time machine constructed of skin and bone. You get the idea.
Thankfully I started to enjoy some limited success with these, and a number of magazines and journals published the better ones (I remember Trevor Denyer, now of Midnight Street, being particularly supportive with his Roadworks magazine). I was even published, briefly, in The Third Alternative, the seed from which Andy Cox has grown his wonderful TTA Press. I barely made a penny from any of them, but I felt as if I was slowly getting somewhere.
For someone with a degree in English Literature, however, and (at that time) a career in bookselling, these genre stories felt rather lowbrow and garish, knock-offs of pulp fictions that were thirty years – or more – out of date. I don’t recall making a conscious decision to write ‘straight’ literary fiction, but gradually I turned my sights on supposedly ‘literary’ journals and competitions. I kept my weirder impulses firmly in check, replacing them with everyday tragedies and a search for epiphanies, both literal and literary.
This, by the way, was a huge mistake.
At the time, I felt that my writing simply wasn’t good enough to ‘step up’ to that level. This, to me, explained why I didn’t seem to be getting anywhere. The competition was simply too good. I, by extension, was not.
In case you haven’t worked it out, this was also a huge mistake.
The truth of the matter is that I spent a number of years suppressing the stories that occurred to me naturally, trying instead to manufacture mainstream tales that never really interested me, never mind my readers. A lot is talked about authors finding their ‘voice’, and I was spending all my time trying to fake somebody else’s accent. It’s no wonder that I was rarely convincing.
Eventually, I realised that I’d strayed down the wrong path, but things were still far from simple. The pure, genre horror ‘voice’ wasn’t mine either. To this day, I’m not a great fan of monsters and gore – they don’t scare me, they simply leave me bored (or, worse, make me laugh). I recalled authors I’d enjoyed in my teens – Alan Garner, Michael Moorcock, Jonathan Carroll – but as far as I could see, there wasn’t a name for the strange blend of fantasy and realism that got my pulse racing, that misty realm of the odd and the profane. I enjoyed King’s The Shining, but not Salem’s Lot. I read and re-read Ian McEwan’s early stories, but Atonement left me cold. I seemed to exist between genres, neither one thing nor the other.
Slowly, I started to encounter a few authors who occupied a similar hinterland. Jeff VanderMeer, Robert Aickman. There was something different happening out there, in unmapped territory. Adam Nevill’s novels thrilled me too, with their very literate, and yet muscular, take on the supernatural. Here was something genuinely scary, and genuinely interesting. Through Adam, I found Machen, and then Ligotti. I returned to Lovecraft, and found him weirder and more challenging than I remembered. My interest in the strange even started to spill over into literary realms – Andrew Michael Hurley’s The Loney is a fine example. Suddenly, strangeness was everywhere.
I suspect that some of these writers I love have gone through their own identity crises. In his Introduction to The Wine-Dark Sea, Peter Straub reveals that Aickman disliked the term ‘horror’ for his fictions, preferring to call them ‘strange stories’. Lovecraft used the term ‘weird fiction’, shifting his focus away from horror and towards ‘vague, elusive, fragmentary impressions of wonder, beauty, and adventurous expectancy’. This seemed to apply to most of the stories I enjoyed, even the supernatural ones. Fear alone was not enough.
Hopefully this goes some way towards explaining why I decided to launch The Shadow Booth, a journal of weird and eerie short stories by contemporary writers. For a long time, I felt that there were a number of authors writing and interesting stories in this hinterland – stories too philosophical and introspective to fit the horror genre, but too weird and unsettling to sit within the literary field. It seemed natural to try and give them a home. I had recently bought several second-hand Pan Books of Horror at a book stall in London, and I wanted to use them as a touchstone: broad in their range, encouraging new writers as well as established authors, and yet extremely readable and accessible. It made sense for The Shadow Booth to be a mass market paperback too, somewhere in the region of 200 pages (slim enough to still fit in a pocket). The black cover suggested itself and could not be ignored.
In his book The Weird and the Eerie, Mark Fisher does an excellent job of distinguishing the two terms, but he also brings them together. For Fisher, ‘the weird is that which does not belong. The weird brings to the familiar something which ordinarily lies beyond it, and which cannot be reconciled with the “homely”’ (Fisher’s italics). The eerie, meanwhile, ‘concerns the most fundamental metaphysical questions one could pose, questions to do with existence and non-existence: Why is there something here when there should be nothing? Why is there nothing here when there should be something? The unseeing eyes of the dead; the bewildered eyes of an amnesiac – these provoke a sense of the eerie, just as surely as an abandoned village or a stone circle do’ (italics again are Fisher’s). For me, the first half of Stephen King’s It is eerie, that unsettling image of Pennywise lurking in the sewer. The second half spirals into the weird pretty fast (and not always in a terribly convincing way, it has to be said).
I knew from early on in the process that I wanted The Shadow Booth to encompass both. Going back to Fisher again, he points out that, ‘What the weird and the eerie have in common is a preoccupation with the strange. The strange – not the horrific.’ We’re back to Aickman and his ‘strange stories’ again. I remember a song from my teenage years, around the time that I was starting to read Moorcock and explore the gothic, by the band Therapy?. The song was called ‘Face the Strange’, and if I remember rightly, the chorus went: ‘So you turn/To face the strange/You turn/To face yourself’. I had finally found my ‘voice’, and indeed, it was strange.
I hope I’ve managed to bring all these elements together in the first volume of The Shadow Booth. I think I have. Some of the stories are undeniably weird (Dan Carpenter’s contribution, for example, as well as Richard Thomas and David Hartley). Some are definitely at the eerie end of the scale (Paul Tremblay, Stephen Hargadon). Others, for me at least, sit somewhere between the two (I’m thinking particularly of Malcolm Devlin’s story, and Gary Budden’s too). Whether you find them weird, or eerie, they are all undeniably strange.
On a personal level, The Shadow Booth feels like an odd kind of homecoming. This is territory I left many years ago, and I’ve spent the interim tramping through the literary wilderness. But now, unexpectedly, I have stumbled across a tiny, one-man booth in the desert sands. It looks like an old-fashioned Punch & Judy booth, the striped fabric faded by the sun and the winds. The sign is so worn I can barely read it, but I can just make out the name, and the promise of excitement, of beauty, and maybe even a little fear. The decision takes no time at all. I lift the canvas flap and step into the darkness.
The Shadow Booth is now crowdfunding on Kickstarter, until 26 October. Featuring stories by Paul Tremblay, Malcolm Devlin, Richard Thomas, Stephen Hargadon, Gary Budden, Annie Neugebauer, Richard V. Hirst and many more, it is available as a mass market paperback. Please pre-order a copy here and show your support:
Dan Coxon’s writing has appeared in Salon, Unthology, The Lonely Crowd, Popshot, Neon, Gutter, Wales Arts Review, The Portland Review, and the DadLit anthology Daddy Cool, amongst others. He is the editor of Being Dad, a collection of short stories about fatherhood that won Best Anthology at the Saboteur Awards 2016. He was long-listed for the Bath Flash Fiction Award 2017, and is currently a Contributing Editor at The Lonely Crowd.
He also writes weird and eerie fiction under a pen name, some of which has been published in Black Static, Unsung Stories, Speculative 66 and The Year’s Best Body Horror. He’s starting to feel that Stephen King’s The Dark Half may have been a grittily realistic depiction of the schizophrenia of storytelling.
In an unlikely – and terrifying – plot twist, he once chaired a writers' pitching panel at the SCARdiff horror convention, and he is appearing on two panels at this year’s FantasyCon. His dark half will also be reading something strange on the Saturday evening.
He runs a freelance editorial and proofreading service at Momus Editorial, and is happy to take on private clients as well as established publishers. Find him on Twitter @DanCoxonAuthor.
Horror is defined as a feeling of great shock, fear, and worry caused by something extremely unpleasant; an intense feeling of fear, shock, or disgust. Edgar Allan Poe is not only recognized as the “Father of the Detective Story,” with his publication in Graham’s Magazine of The Murders In The Rue Morgue in 1841, but he is also the first American writer to popularize horror and the macabre. Poe is also credited with contributing to the emerging genre of science fiction.
Horror is a genre of fiction which has the capacity to frighten, scare, disgust, or startle its readers or viewers by inducing feelings of horror and terror. Howard Phillips (H.P.) Lovecraft, the master of the horror tale in the twentieth century, once said that “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.”
The components of a good horror story usually include fear, surprise, suspense, mystery, foreshadowing, and imagination. A good storyline will interconnect these important elements together in one way or another.
Fear is paramount to any horror story. Scaring the reader with fears they may or may not have (fear of the unknown) is key to writing a spooky tale. A strong emotion of fear sets horror apart from the other genres, and expanding on that fear can contribute to surprise. If the author can’t elicit fear in the reader, then the story shouldn’t fall into the horror genre.
Surprise is important in order to connect with the reader. If the writer can make the fear(s) a surprise, then the story will be even more exciting. Many horror movies rely on the element of surprise to terrify its audience. By tying a surprise to the end of a long suspense, the reader will stay hooked on the storyline.
Suspense can be used to keep the reader’s adrenaline flowing, especially if it plays off of fear. If the story is written well, then the reader will be afraid if the character is afraid. Well-placed suspense holds the reader’s interest in the story and puts them on the edge of their seat. If suspense is intertwined with fear, then it will keep the reader on a roller coaster ride. A suspenseful story is more often than not dependent on a good mystery.
Mystery is a strong element in any horror tale. Generally speaking, the more unknowns the author has in a story, the better the read. A mystery that’s not solved until the end of the book can definitely make for a suspenseful tale. Mystery and suspense can also be used together as a hook to keep the reader’s attention. In order to surprise its reader, a story needs a convincing mystery.
What’s the difference between mystery and suspense? Mystery contains one or more elements that remain unexplained or unknown until a story’s ending. A good mystery story showcases a given character’s struggle with different psychological and/or physical obstacles in an effort to achieve a particular goal or goals. Suspense is elicited when the reader isn’t aware of what’s coming next or what the outcome of an event or conflict in a story will be. A savvy author will create suspense by keeping the reader guessing as to what will happen next. As the great Alfred Hitchcock once said, “Suspense is the state of waiting for something to happen.” A mystery story reveals the major crime or event, followed by the protagonist solving the mystery of the who, why, and how of it. A suspense story delivers twists and turns before showing the crime or event later, thus eliciting a feeling of suspense in the reader. The enemy of suspense is predictability, which should be avoided when constructing the plot. Many authors are able to create a blend of suspense and mystery in their stories, thus providing a reliable way to keep their reader’s interest.
Foreshadowing is a way of preparing the reader for the climax of the story. By leaving well-placed clues in the plot and not giving away any answers, the author can make the mystery in his book even more enticing. Foreshadowing can be used as a tie-in to a mystery as it builds anticipation in the reader. An indication for the occurrence of future events, foreshadowing is a valuable tool for any writer.
Imagination can be a horror author’s best friend when used to construct the events, characters, situations, and storyline of a book. The reader can also draw upon their imagination as they conjure up images and visions of what they’ve read. When used synergistically, fear, mystery, and imagination are crucial to any good horror story. If the reader can imagine themselves as a character in a story, then the author has succeeded in his endeavors. “Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s.” - Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.
Why is it important to include mystery in a horror novel? Most people enjoy mysteries because it’s an intellectual challenge for them to figure out the answer to a puzzle. If the narrative contains a thought-provoking mystery, then the reader will want to know how the plot is resolved. A good mystery will leave clues that should keep the reader hanging until the end of the story. Horror is tailored for those readers who wish to have their imaginations stimulated through fear, especially psychological fear or fear of the unknown. Given that the human imagination knows no limits, a cornucopia of scary characters have been created throughout time, including monsters, demons, and ghosts, just to mention a few. The genres of horror, science fiction, and fantasy are usually based on fear and imagination, which is why they often overlap each other. A well-written horror novel can uncover a reader’s hidden anxiety or deepest nightmare—the more mysterious the antagonist, the more effective the horror. Adding mystery to horror not only makes for a more interesting story, but it also heightens the fear. Horror authors know that keeping the narrative terrifying is a must for any tale of horror. A horror story without mystery is like a body without a soul!
About G.A. Minton
From his early childhood, G.A. Minton has always been a diehard fan of science fiction and horror. Whenever a scary movie was playing down at the local theater, he was there in attendance with his friends, loudly screaming in terror alongside them. G.A. enjoys many hobbies, but the game of golf is one of his favorites, having lettered on his high school golf team. Besides writing, he also enjoys reading, traveling, fishing, swimming, snorkeling, working out, listening to hard rock music, and watching great movies—especially those genres that encompass horror, science fiction, mystery, and comedy.
Strangely enough, it was only after G.A. was rear-ended by a drunk driver and suffered a closed-head injury that he developed a newfound passion for writing (even though this story has the makings for a bizarre Stephen King horror novel, it is nonetheless true). After numerous visits to a neurologist and months of taking medication used by patients afflicted with Alzheimer’s Disease, his injured brain slowly began to mend itself. When the damage to his brain finally healed, G.A. noticed something very different in his thought patterns. Now, there was an overwhelming urge, a compulsive drive to put on paper fascinating stories that had formed de novo in his mind. That’s how Trisomy XXI, his first novel and recipient of multiple awards, was born. One could surmise that the damaged neurons in G.A.’s frontal cortex had rearranged themselves into a different pattern, thereby enhancing the creative elements in his brain (a rare medical condition, known as “acquired savant syndrome”). God only knows… stranger things have happened! G.A. is now referred to as “the savant horror writer” by many of his friends.
G.A. has recently completed his second novel, Antitheus, a dark supernatural tale of horror that takes Good vs. Evil to a whole new level. Currently, his brain is busy at work, meticulously processing the text for another story of the macabre that will both entertain and horrify its unsuspecting reader. One of G.A.’s trademarks is that his stories contain an O. Henry or Rod Serling surprise ending that would baffle even the likes of the great Sherlock Holmes! G.A. lives in Texas with his wife, a son and daughter, and two Bengal cats named Phinneas and Shamus.
Trapped by a blizzard in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, a group of clergymen attending a religious conference find themselves thrown into a gruesome battle with evil incarnate itself. One by one, the holy leaders are being brutally slaughtered by an unknown, malevolent entity. Facing impossible odds and running out of time, the survivors must work together to match wits against their deadly adversary. It’s an epic battle of Good versus Evil, with the winner taking all. . .the fate of every man, woman, and child on Earth hangs in the balance!
Conjured up from the vivid imagination of G.A. Minton, the award-winning author of TRISOMY XXI, comes a tale of unspeakable horror. Akin to Seven, The Prophecy, and Angel Heart, ANTITHEUS takes the forces of light and darkness to a whole new level—holding an unforeseen ending that will both surprise and amaze its reader. Prepare yourself for a terrifying trip into the world of infinite evil!
“ANTITHEUS is a masterfully executed story that will entertain fans of horror and stay with them for a long time. Couldn’t put down!” – Christian Sia’s 5-STAR Review from Readers’ Favorite.
“ANTITHEUS is written to read like an irresistible spell for fans of thrillers and realistic tales of horror.” – Readers’ Favorite 5-STAR Review from Romuald Dzemo.
You can find out more information about G.A. Minton and his books at:
G.A. Minton Author Website
G.A. Minton Author Webpage at World Castle Publishing
ANTITHEUS on Amazon
TRISOMY XXI on Amazon
G.A. Minton Facebook Pages:
Barnes & Noble link for ANTITHEUS
Goodreads webpage link for ANTITHEUS
I leaned closer to examine the designs and was startled to discover that they depicted, in grossly caricaturised form, human sexual organs. Yet this was no simple gallery of antique erotica, for not one of the organs in the pictures was shown to have a human owner. They didn’t even seem to have human skin: the phalluses were covered in interlocking plates much like a suit of armour, while their female counterparts – which more than anything resembled a maniac’s attempt to copy a diagram of the female reproductive system from a biology textbook – were translucent enough for the viewer to discern a tangled network of blood vessels and nerve fibres beneath the surface of the uterus. This network became more or less visible depending on the angle from which it was viewed – a singular quality which I spent a minute or so experimenting with. But when I started moving away to inspect the reliefs on the other side of the tunnel, one of those uterine tubes suddenly throbbed, and an unidentifiable black fluid appeared to surge through it…!
I was so alarmed that I dropped my Zippo, which stayed alight for a moment after it struck the ground. I looked down at the area thus illuminated and saw that the soft grass I had slept upon wasn’t grass at all – it was curly, wispy hair, sprouting from a smooth grey surface whose spasmic twitching beneath the naked flame suggested a monstrous kind of flesh…!
I choked with fright and ran, choosing to abandon my lighter rather than risk direct contact with that abhorrent parody of turf. As I pelted through the tunnel – following it around to the left, then to the right, down a slight declivity and at last sharply upwards – I commenced going ‘La la laaa’ at the top of my voice in a desperate bid to drown out the slapping of my trainers against that repellent sod, and clenching my fists as hard I could lest I became too acutely aware of its loathsome undulations. Eventually I was able to make out a patch of light in the distance which seemed too pale and bright to have been created by those hellish bas-reliefs, and the further I ascended the more certain I grew that it was daylight. Daylight! It was the first time in my life I’d ever been genuinely excited by the prospect of going outdoors.
The light was streaming from an opening on the right-hand side of the corridor, and as I drew nearer it became apparent that this offered my only possible escape route; the tunnel I had been following terminated in an impassable barrier of fallen rock a few feet beyond it. In view of this I stopped beside the aperture, which was more or less twice the size of a standard doorway, and cautiously put my head around it.
What I saw then was enough to make me doubt my own sanity, yet it was so palpably real that my first instinct was rather to doubt the sanity of the universe.
'The story I’m about to tell is true in every detail and you must try to believe it, no matter how hard that may seem, because it proves that my "impotence" was never anything to do with me not loving you, or not thinking you were gorgeous, or being a secret gaybait. It was to do with primal forces of inhuman evil.'
That’s how I put it to my ex-girlfriend. I’m not quite sure how to put it to YOU – let’s face it, you’re capricious – but that doesn’t alter the fact that you MUST read this book. Not only does it relate the full story of how I met and fell in love with the most extraordinary woman who ever lived, it also offers a genuinely plausible explanation for all the terrible wickedness in this world AND exposes a monumentally revolting cosmic conspiracy that implicates the whole human race, as well as several others you’ve never even heard of.
But I wouldn’t want to alienate you, so please try also to keep in mind that it’s basically just a lovely light romantic comedy for much of the time, with lots of droll observations about university life in the 1990s blah blah rites of passage blah blah end of innocence blah blah beautifully evoked. It only really starts to go all H.P. Lovecraft about halfway through, and even then you’ll need your sense of humour as much as your strong stomach (it IS strong, isn’t it? Oh do please say that it’s strong!). Moreover, I can promise – in fact positively guarantee – that you will never, ever be able to forget it...