5 Questions for Matthew Brockmeyer

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I met Matthew Brockmeyer through the San Francisco Bay Area chapter of the Horror Writers Association.  We were selling books together just last month at the Bay Area Book Festival. Between customers, Matt told me a little about living up in Humboldt County, which I haven’t visited in way too many years.

Here’s his official biography:

Matthew Brockmeyer lives deep in the forest of Northern California with his wife and two children. He is the author of the award-winning and critically-acclaimed novel Kind Nepenthe. His short stories have been featured in numerous journals, magazines, and anthologies, both in print and online. For more, please visit his website: www.matthewbrockmeyer.com

Cover KIND NEPENTHE

Did something in the real world inspire Kind Nepenthe?

Kind Nepenthe was inspired by the culture of rural Northern California: that strange mix of back-to-the-land hippies, rednecks, bikers, pot growers, and meth freaks that populate the back hills of counties like Humboldt, Trinity, and Mendocino. The Emerald Triangle, they call it. I think the novel is especially poignant today, in that the way of life portrayed in it is quickly beginning to become obsolete. With the legalization of marijuana, the price of weed has plummeted to next to nothing, forcing families who have lived in the hills for generations to leave. Business are closing, community centers going bankrupt. It’s the end of an era and people are growing increasingly desperate. This struggle for survival is one of the main tenets of the book.

What is your favorite scene in the book?

Hmmm, that’s a really tough one. I suppose some of the writing I’m most proud of is the final scene with Rebecca. It’s a moment of great existential crisis and collapse. I once took a creative writing class with Fight Club author Chuck Palahniuk and we studied the montage in literature. Melville and Gatsby used them to show the passage of time. But in modern literature they can also be used to reveal the rawest inner-understandings of a character. Bret Easton Ellis does this masterfully in the end of Lunar Park. It’s a “life flashing before your very eyes” type of free verse, where visual snippets fly by like pages flipped in a book, full of lyricism and sadness and music and dashed dreams and regret. Heavy stuff. Well, this scene of Rebecca in an alley behind a bar at the end of the novel was my homage to that whole thing. Montages in literature can be very powerful as well as very poetic.

What was your writing process like as you wrote Kind Nepenthe?

I had a general outline worked out. I knew where I wanted it to go. I just started sketching in the details. After a year or so, I had a rough draft of over 300 pages. I rewrote it, edited a lot out, got it down to 200 pages. Then I went in and added a few things and polished it up, expanding it to around 250 pages. That was about another year and during that time I workshopped it heavily. I worked out the climactic violent scenes with splatter punk founder John Skipp. Worked on my character arcs and dramatic structure with David Corbett, Ania Ahlborn and Mark Spencer, all fantastic authors and fabulous teachers. The ending changed drastically during this time. The characters really let themselves be known more, started showing me some of their quirks and such. It was a very organic process.

What was the best thing that happened during your promotion of the book?

Probably making all these new friends! I’ve met so many cool people; it’s been great. Somehow Grand Master of Horror Award-winner Ray Garton got hold of it and read it and gave me a fabulous blurb. That was pretty mind-blowing. I get messages all the time from people who have read it and loved it. I’m a total geek and really like talking about books and movies and horror and culture, so it’s been wonderful meeting all these fellow bookworms and horror nerds.

What do you have planned next?

I’m working on a new novel right now. It’s very punk rock. Set in San Francisco in the early eighties, during the heyday of Flipper and The Dead Kennedys. It’s about a young punk runaway girl, strung out on heroin, who gets indoctrinated into a cult of blood-worshipping pornographers, and her father’s quest to rescue her. It’s going well. I hope to have a finished manuscript ready by autumn.

Want to know more? Here’s the summary:

Rebecca thought she’d find a hippie paradise when she moved to the desolate back hills of Humboldt County. A place to commune with nature and teach her five-year-old daughter how to live off the land. Instead she discovered a nightmare.

Coyote is a washed-up pot grower. Strung out on pills and dealing with dropping prices and looming legalization, he wonders if it’s even worth it anymore.

Diesel Dan abandoned his son for a life of methamphetamine and prison. Now he wants to make amends. He’s going to be a grandfather. But his son is on the same dark road of drugs and violence that once consumed Dan.

These characters will come together in an explosive ending that will leave you stunned and breathless. But more than just a gripping horror novel, Kind Nepenthe is a deep examination into the nature of love and greed, lost ideals, and the essence of evil in one of the last frontiers of the American West.

Kind Nepenthe is available on Amazon: https://amzn.to/2LhBjvQ

Or check out Matt’s Amazon page: https://www.amazon.com/Matthew-Brockmeyer/e/B06Y3NC5GC/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0

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Behind “Last-Born”

Alondra's InvestigationsWhenever I start to write a story about Alondra DeCourval, I usually don’t have any idea what the story will be about. Generally, I’m inspired to write about her in a new location. I throw her together with some characters, then see what they talk about.

In the case of “Last-Born” — which closes out the Alondra’s Investigations chapbook — I knew I wanted to write a story about Alondra studying in New Orleans. She wouldn’t get involved in vodun proper, but she would be studying herbs and tisanes from a powerful woman. That led me to Marie and her husband Jackson.

Alondra has had a complicated relationship with her own mother, who had children too young and never had much interest in raising them except to be reflections of herself. Alondra ran away from home at the age of 12 and was taken in by Victor, but I felt she needed a strong matriarchal figure in her life. Hence, Marie Jackson.

I also knew I wanted to include a hurricane or tropical storm in the story. I’d visited New Orleans for the first time in September 1988 and was deeply impressed by the warm downpours that drove everyone off the streets every afternoon. Because Alondra’s element is Air, a lot of her stories revolve around weather. “Last-Born” was the first to do so.

“Last-Born” is also the first story I wrote about Simon Lebranche, although it comes later in Alondra’s life than “Valentine,” which appeared in the first Alondra chapbook, Alondra’s Experiments. The character of Simon was suggested by Brian Thomas, who also provided Simon’s backstory. Brian is the one who proposed that Simon’s blood would work as an abortifacient, which led me directly to the outcome of this story.

Alondra’s miscarriage did not have a direct parallel in my life, thankfully. This story was written ten years before my one and only, extremely complicated, pregnancy. I thought of Alondra a lot as my pregnancy progressed, but luckily, the story didn’t prove prophetic.

“Last-Born” was originally published in an anthology called The Ghostbreakers: New Horrors, edited by Danielle Naibert and G. W. Thomas, put out by RAGEmachine Books in May 2005.

It was reprinted in January 2008 in Sins of the Sirens: Fourteen Tales of Dark Desire, edited by John Everson. John’s Dark Arts Books published four author anthologies, combining published and new works in a showcase that allowed each author four stories. I was the newest author in the Sirens book, but John gave me the honor of leading the book off. I was privileged to appear alongside Maria Alexander, Mehitobel Wilson, and Christa Faust.

One of my favorite reviews of the story appeared in an interview I did with Meli Hooker for Dreadful Tales. She wrote, “This is a really dark, terrifying story. I consider this the closest to horror in the bunch [of my stories in Sirens] with seriously frightening imagery and buckets o’ blood…or at least a bathtub full.”

You can check out the story for yourself from Amazon: https://amzn.to/2HVox7i

Alondra's Investigations

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Get Alondra’s Experiments free

“The three stories collected in Alondra_s Experiments are filled with sensual magic that whispers like velvet. Alondra DeCourval walks with monsters, magicians, and old and deep poweHey, I’m not sure how much longer this will last, but for the moment, Alondra’s Experiments is free for the kindle on Amazon.

Here’s the link: https://amzn.to/2IoBiEG

Please check it out and leave a review if you’re inspired to. Thanks!

 

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5 Questions for S. G. Browne

SGBrowne Author PicI met Scott the afternoon he drove me up to the first Haunted Mansion Writers Retreat in 2010.  Since then, I’ve been following his work.  I’ve heard him read it a couple of times, which makes it really come alive (not to be missed, if you get the chance). I fell in love hard with the series of short stories he published as stand-alones on Amazon. (Try Dr. Sinister’s Home for Retired Villains or Scattered Showers with a Chance of Daikaiju, to get the flavor.)

Officially, S.G. Browne writes dark comedy and social satire. His published works include the novels Breathers, Fated, Lucky Bastard, Big Egos, and Less Than Hero, as well as the short story collection Shooting Monkeys in a Barrel and the heartwarming holiday novella I Saw Zombies Eating Santa Claus. He is also the author of The Maiden Poodle, a self-published fairy tale about anthropomorphic cats and dogs. He’s an ice cream connoisseur, Guinness aficionado, animal lover, and a sucker for It’s a Wonderful Life. He lives in San Francisco.

I’ve interviewed Scott here before, when we talked about the Haunted Mansion Project: Year Two. Now I’m excited to get to talk to him about one of my favorite of his novels, Less Than Hero:

Less Than Hero CoverDrowsiness. Nausea. Rashes. Bloating. For the pharmaceutical soldiers on the front lines of medical science—volunteers who test experimental drugs for cash—these common side effects are a small price to pay to defend our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of antidepressants.

When Lloyd Prescott, a thirty-year-old professional guinea pig and victim of his own inertia, notices that people around him are falling into slumbering heaps whenever he yawns, he realizes that he’s developed a bizarre superpower from years of testing not-quite-legal drugs. Meanwhile, his guinea pig buddies—Randy, Vic, Charlie, and Frank—are discovering their own unusual side effects that are causing people to break out in rashes, become nauseous, go into convulsions, and experience rapid weight gain.

Under cover of night, Lloyd and his misfit band of guinea pig superheroes patrol the streets of New York City to project their debilitating side effects onto petty criminals who prey upon the innocent and become quasi-media celebrities. When a horrible menace with powers eerily similar to their own threatens the city, only one force can stop this evil: the handful of brave men who routinely undergo clinical trials.

Less Than Hero is a dark comedy and social satire about superheroes and pharmaceutical drugs that fills the prescription for an over-medicated society.

Did something in the real world inspire Less Than Hero?

As is the case with all of my novels, several real world experiences inspired Less Than Hero. The first was a TV commercial for a prescription drug that promised to cure abdominal cramping with a side effect that it could cause abdominal cramping, which sounded asinine. This was October 2003, when direct-to-consumer advertising of pharmaceutical drugs in the U.S. was in its infancy. The second inspiration took place sometime in 2008, when I read several articles about professional human guinea pigs who make a living beta testing pharmaceutical drugs in paid clinical trials. I mean, that had to be the basis for some fun character development.

The third inspiration was the decade-long percolation of an idea for my own superhero origin story. Admittedly, I came to be a fan of the superhero genre through films and TV rather than via the original comics. And while I love Batman, The Avengers, and the entire MCU, the films that inspired me the most were Mystery Men, Unbreakable, and the X-Men series. These films not only helped to shape Less Than Hero, but the novel encompasses aspects of all three films. I wrote a more detailed blog post about the inspiration for Less Than Hero, along with a number of fun facts, on my website if you’re interested in checking it out: http://sgbrowne.com/2015/03/beyond-the-keyboard-less-than-hero/

What is your favorite scene in the book?

That’s a tough one, as there are several that stand out to me. But I’ll go with Chapter 22, which takes place during lunch at Curry in a Hurry on Lexington and East 28th in New York City. In the scene, the group of guinea pigs, who have all developed supernatural abilities and have started using those abilities to fight petty crime, are also aware that there might be other mutants like them in the city using their newfound powers for evil. Isn’t that always the case? While having lunch, another customer, who is drunk and who claims to be Karma, sits on top of his table and starts espousing unsolicited wisdom. When another customer verbally abuses Karma and immediately trips and falls into another table, thus suffering instant karma, the group of misfit superheroes wonders if Karma is like them and whether or not they should recruit him to join their gang. But before they can, the police show up and take him away in handcuffs.

Screen Shot 2018-05-08 at 8.12.18 AMI chose this scene as my favorite because it’s a crossover with a scene that takes place in my second novel, Fated. There are several other scenes in Less Than Hero that cross over with Fated, but this is the first major scene where the characters interact with one another, which was a lot of fun to do. And it was also a challenge, since I didn’t want the reader to have to have read Fated first for the scene to make sense while, at the same time, creating a bit of an Easter Egg for anyone who had read Fated. Both novels deal with the concepts of fate and destiny, each in its own way. One of the lines Karma speaks while espousing his lunchtime philosophy is: Man creates his own destiny. The path you seek is your own. This line stays with Lloyd, the main character of Less Than Hero, as the concept of destiny ends up becoming a main theme for him.

What was your writing process like as you wrote Less Than Hero?

I’m a pantser rather than a plotter, which means I write by the seat of my pants and make up the story as I go. So each scene and chapter is pretty much a discovery for me as I write it. Mostly I try to stay out of the way and let my characters do what they want to do. But since this a first-person POV told by Lloyd, the main protagonist, it’s also an origin story for his guinea pig pals. So I added third-person POV interludes throughout the novel for the other superheroes (and villains) to provide a little more insight into each of them and how they discovered their new abilities. I also peppered newspaper articles throughout the novel to give a larger scope as to the strange activities occurring in New York City and how the media would react to the unusual gang of heroes.

What was the best thing that happened during your promotion of the book?

I would have to say the signing at the Mysterious Galaxy booth at Comic-Con. It’s always fun to sit and watch all of the people walk by, whether in costume or in regular garb, because everyone is just so happy to be there. And it doesn’t hurt when someone you’ve never met before who has read one of your books comes up to you and tells you how much they enjoyed one or more of your novels. As writers, we spend a lot of time alone creating, so it’s nice to have that moment of personal connection with a reader.

What do you have planned next?

Screen Shot 2018-05-08 at 8.11.48 AMI’ve been writing a lot of short stories lately, three of which I self-published as singles on Amazon (“Scattered Showers with a Chance of Daikaiju,” “Remedial English for Reanimated Corpses,” and “Dr. Sinister’s Home for Retired Villains”). Including those three, I have eleven stories that I’d like to compile in a collection, though I’d like to add a couple more to bring the total to a baker’s dozen. The title for the collection would be Lost Creatures, as all of the stories deal with a character, human or otherwise, who is lost in some way or looking for meaning or purpose. Actually all of my novels are about finding a purpose or reason for existence. While my stories deal with issues such as discrimination, the consumer culture, celebrity worship, and the over-medication of our society, they’re really quests by the main protagonists to find meaning in their lives. Obviously I’m using my fictional characters to work out some of my real world issues.

You can keep up with Scott and follow what he does next below:

Website:          www.sgbrowne.com

Facebook:        www.facebook.com/SGBrowneAuthor

Twitter:           twitter.com/s_g_browne

Goodreads:      www.goodreads.com/author/show/2129854.S_G_Browne

Amazon:          https://amzn.to/2Irrk8D

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Behind “A Curiosity of Shadows”

Alondra's Investigations

Early in 2010, I was invited to join a retreat of horror writers at a historic mansion in Northern California. I knew several of the other authors by name and reputation, but the only other person I knew personally was Rain Graves, the retreat’s organizer.

Once I paid for the first Haunted Mansion Writers Retreat, I worried what I’d do if the mansion really was haunted. I wasn’t able to drive to Mount Tamalpais, since I couldn’t leave my family without a car for the long weekend. If I caught a ride with a stranger, I would be trapped at the mansion. What if things got really bad and I was afraid to sleep? I wouldn’t be able to slink out to my car and sleep in it.

I also couldn’t call my husband—assuming the isolated mansion got cell reception—to come and get me in the middle of the night. No way could I ask him to get our seven-year-old up, put her in the car seat, drive across the Golden Gate Bridge, and rescue me from the ghosts. If I went, I had to stick it out.

Probably, I told myself, if it got that bad, someone else would have the sense to want to leave. I could ride back to the ferry or a bus stop with them.

Of course, I was pretty sure that we wouldn’t face a full-on Poltergeist-style freak-out. As I packed for the weekend, my new worry became that I’d spent a couple hundred dollars to write for a weekend in a haunted mansion—and nothing would happen. The ghosts would ignore us, or they’d prowl around downstairs while we were all upstairs asleep. How disappointing would that be?

See, I have a healthy respect for ghosts. I’ve seen their shadows since I was a kid. Generally, they don’t do anything more than make the hair on the back of my neck stand up. I feel cold and slightly jittery. Most of the ghosts I’ve seen were people I knew, or at least people I recognized. They weren’t trying to scare me. My body’s reaction to them was scarier than anything they ever did.

Rain, the hostess of the retreat, hadn’t told us much about the ghosts that she’d encountered in the mansion. She wanted us to have our own experiences, to form our own opinions. It was hard to go into the retreat blind, knowing no one other than her.

I met S. G. Browne and E. S. Magill for the ride over to Mount Tam. Eunice had come up from Southern California; Scott would drive the two of us from San Francisco’s Marina District across the Golden Gate. I was relieved to find them your typical very nice horror writers. They made me feel comfortable, like I wasn’t making a terrible mistake going away with strangers to a haunted house for the weekend.

We arrived at the Haunted Mansion in the middle of Thursday afternoon. As we carried our bags into the mansion, Rain was standing in the grand staircase. She offered to give us a tour, so we could pick our rooms for the weekend. We hurried to move our luggage into the first-floor parlor and followed her up the stairs.

The second floor was a maze of interconnecting rooms that encircled the stairway. Almost everyone else had come with a friend with whom they planned to share a room. Since I was solo, I wavered between asking to share a stranger’s room or taking a room of my own. Would the ghosts be more or less likely to mess with me if I slept alone?

There were only eight of us there that first night, rattling around in a house that seemed able to sleep a hundred. Rain said we would all stay on the second floor, even though that was where she’d had the most intense of her ghostly encounters.

Most of the second-floor rooms were pass-throughs: each dormitory-style room connected to the next. I don’t sleep well at the best of times, so I wasn’t eager to choose a room where people might walk through in the night to use the bathroom. Since I wander a fair amount when I can’t sleep, I also didn’t want to wake anyone else.

Rain’s tour paused outside a little blue room tucked between a suite—reserved for the one married couple among us—and dead space. I’m not sure what lay on the other side of the wall: maybe a linen closet? It wasn’t another guest room, anyway.

The blue room felt very restful to me, very welcoming. It helped that it only had one door, which faced the foot of the bed, and a window that looked out on Mount Tam. The room’s energy felt inviting. When I stepped inside and saw the artwork hanging above the vanity—a piece of white silk featuring a bright Chinese phoenix—I had to have that room. I wear a phoenix tattoo on my left arm. The room and I shared a kinship.

After midnight, my little room proved to be a great haven, especially after I set my suitcase in front of the large walk-in closet. Not that I thought anything was going to come through there—or felt that a suitcase provided much of a barricade—but I’ve seen Poltergeist too many times. You never know with big empty spaces.

I settled into the double bed, feeling safe in a way I wouldn’t have in a room with more doors. I closed my eyes, exhausted and slightly drunk from Rain’s good Argentinean wine.

Sleep wouldn’t come.

I thought I heard whispering voices, then a man speaking, but Yvonne Navarro and Weston Ochse had the suite that shared the minuscule balcony outside my spider-guarded window. I gladly put on my earbuds to block the voices out.

As I lay there in the dark, trying to sleep, the light in my room kept changing. Smudges and smears of light flashed through the well of shadow that lay between the bed and the vanity. The sliver of light coming in around the door grew wider toward morning, as if the door inched open, but it hadn’t. Even so, I didn’t turn my back toward the center of the room.

Finally, about 4:30 a.m., I told myself that I really needed to get some sleep. I rolled onto my stomach, clutched the pillow, felt myself relax. Sleep was washing over me when someone touched my hair.

Electricity thrilled through me. I knew I was still alone in the room, but opened my eyes anyway. The room remained silent and empty, holding its breath to see what I would do.

It occurred to me that a spider might have fallen from the ceiling on to me. However, the sensation of being touched hadn’t felt like something practically weightless dancing across my head. My hair is just not that sensitive. Something the size of a hand compressed the hair on the right side of my head. Without a doubt, someone touched me.

“Hello,” I whispered softly. “It will be dawn soon. I’d really like to get some sleep before then. Can we talk in the morning?”

I waited, but nothing more happened. Sleep was remarkably easy to find.

After a few hours of sleep, I went downstairs to find Scott in the parlor, quivering with fear. He told me a ghost story that made mine pale in comparison. Apparently, after the spirits couldn’t get much reaction from me, they went down the hall to find someone else to play with. Scott’s experience inspired the black shadows in “A Curiosity of Shadows.”

Even before the weekend had finished, Wes hatched a plan to create an anthology of stories inspired by our stay in the Haunted Mansion. The collection, edited by E. S. Magill, was published by Damnation Books in 2012. Parts of this essay were originally published in a piece called “Touched” in that book.

“A Curiosity of Shadows” also appeared in that book. The only character in the story with a direct analogue to the real retreat is Iris, who was modeled on Rain Graves. The other authors in the story are composites of types I’ve met at horror conventions over the years. They are not meant to represent any of the real authors who attended either of the Haunted Mansion Writers Retreats. Alondra’s attitude toward them does not mirror my own.

Several investigations of the house (which prefers to keep its anonymity, rather than advertise itself as haunted) were done by the GhostGirls. They recorded multiple voices and captured several ominous shadows moving through the house. You can see all their investigations here: http://www.ghost-girls.org/investigations.html.

When I was preparing to write the story, I research Mount Tamalpais, hoping to discover some Miwok or Ohlone legends about it. The best I could come up with was a record of the first white adventurer to climb the peak. Apparently, the Native Americans left the mountain alone, considering it the abode of the dead. That led to my explanation of things that ghosts fear.

Alondra's Investigations

Here’s a clickable link to Amazon: https://amzn.to/2r8F7XR. The book is available for the kindle and all kindle readers.

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