Horror author Brian Moreland has written many short stories and novels, and his excellent novella collection, Blood Sacrifices, has just been released. I’ll certainly be checking out more of Brian’s books. But, for now…let’s check out Brian himself.
SRW: Brian, I see you hail from Dallas, Texas. One of my favorite places to visit (or at least it used to be in my younger barn-storming days). The people there were friendly, the women all smiles and flirtatious. So, I gotta’ ask…what happened to you?
BM: Hey Stuart, thanks for having me as a guest. Funny, I haven’t barn-stormed in years. But I do own a cowboy hat and one pair of boots. I’m not really a cowboy, since I grew up in the suburbs, but I’ve been to a few of the Country Western dance clubs around town and have ridden a mechanical bull. The women in Dallas are beautiful. It’s a great city to live in. You’ll have to come back.
SRW: Okay, you'll put me up, right? I’m gonna blow by The Girl from the Blood Coven as it actually feels to me like a prologue to The Witching House more than anything. But The Witching House? Wow. Hands down the scariest thing I’ve been witness to since the U.S. Republican debates. Was the titular house based on anything real hailing from Texas?
BM: Thanks, Stuart. The Blevins House where the story takes place is pure fiction. I made up the house and the legend of the massacre. I based the 1972 hippy colony on the Charlie Manson Family, only I made the Blevins Family a cult of witches who practice black magic. The location of the haunted house, the East Texas pine country, is where I skip off to for a few days to write in an isolated cabin. While I was on one of my writing sabbaticals, I was driving along a backwoods road and saw all these fenced-off private dirt driveways that disappear into the woods. As I began to imagine what could possibly be concealed at the end of one of those dirt roads, I envisioned a three-story rock house with boarded-up windows. The Blevins House was born.
SRW: Have you ever been urban exploring like your protagonists? You certainly seem to know your way around spelunking through creepy abandoned houses.
BM: I have explored abandoned buildings and house. Not to the degree that the Ghost Squad does, with their headlamps and climbing ropes. I’ve just walked around a few creepy places. The best houses are the ones that still have people’s stuff in them and the owners are sleeping in their beds. Just kidding. I’ve only entered old houses and buildings that were abandoned and left to rot. It’s fun to explore them and sometimes spooky. Great inspiration for a haunted house story.
SRW: Hmm, maybe I don't wanna crash at your pad, after all.
So, let’s move onto Darkness Rising, probably the most interesting tale in the book. Tell the folks out there in Tornado Alley what it’s about. (What you can, of course…much of the novella relies on plot twists and the unexpected).
BM: Yes, Darkness Rising is my most off-the-wall book. I can share that it’s an ultra-violent revenge tale about a poet named Marty Weaver who’s been bullied his whole life. He’s in love with a college girl, Jennifer, who’s out of his league. Even though they’re friends, he writes poetry about her and doesn’t tell her. Marty also has a dark past, and when he gets confronted by three sadistic killers at a lake, Marty’s dark side gets unleashed.
SRW: The book is nearly slap-happily delirious in its nightmarish plot. It almost seems like a “greatest hits” package of horror. You have savage psychopaths, ghosts, Lovecraftian critters, serial killers and snuff films all woven into the fast-moving plot. It almost read as a stream of consciousness experiment. Did you set out to incorporate all of these elements? Or did you wing it?
BM: Darkness Rising is over the top, for sure. It was inspired by my love of Grindhouse revenge movies of the 1970s, like I Spit On Your Grave, Ms. 45 and Fade to Black. In each case an innocent victim gets brutally tormented by a gang, beaten, and left for dead, then the seemingly weak protagonist transforms into something dark and goes on a killing rampage to avenge the brutality. My love for multi-genre novels by Dean Koontz is also a strong influence. He often had a monster threat, as well as some psychopath roaming the story with a twisted agenda. It certainly makes for a high-octane story when multiple elements are happening simultaneously.
So there’s a mishmash of genres going on in much of my fiction. That’s how my brain works. My novels Dead of Winter and The Devil’s Woods also have ghosts, serial killers, and physical monsters. They always tie together in some way. I wrote Darkness Rising very organically, meaning I just let my imagination roll and let the characters take over the story. It was a fun ride writing Marty and all the grindhouse horrors.
SRW: Psst, I love the grindhouse films, too.
Furthermore, some of the imagery seems nightmarish-worthy. I have a bet with myself (I’m like Sybil; multiple personalities), that some of the tale was inspired by your nightmares. Who’s gonna win the bet? Me or me?
BM: While I don’t have a specific nightmare that I put into the book, I do draw inspiration from dark dreams that ramp up my fear. I can tap into that heightened state of fear when I write. So you half win. As a prize, I’ll give you a half-off coupon for some Tex-Mex nachos next time you come to Dallas.
SRW: My favorite scene in the book is in the basement of Marty’s childhood home. The anchor piece of scary. Nothing scarier than old lady ghosts for me! In your writing, do you try to exorcise some of your fears by confronting them, either adult or childhood fears?
BM: I’m never trying to exorcise fears when I'm writing, although I do face them head on. I grew up being a kid who thought being scared was super fun. I loved haunted houses, telling campfire stories with my friends, and watching creature features that gave me goose bumps. As a kid, I was terrified of being alone in the dark. So what did I do? When I was alone at home one night, I went into my closet and shut the door so that it was pitch black. I sat there terrified that hands were going to grab me or a door in the wall was going to open up and some force was going suck me through it. Or maybe there was a prowler in the house and he was going to find me. To my over-imaginative brain, those terrors felt real. The more I sat there in the dark, shaking and waiting for the ultimate horror--death--the more I realized the dark itself is safe and I conquered my fear of it. When I began writing, the adrenaline rush I felt writing scary things is to me what makes a fun story. Since horror books and movies have been around for several decades, I like to think it’s natural for us to enjoy being scared, at least a little.
SRW: Okay, I want to chat about "Cerulean." The word itself means “the color of the sea.” Yet in your novella, Cerulean is the name of a demon inhabiting poor Marty. Is there a correlation? Other than Marty’s (and his father’s) obsession with the very important lake in the book?
BM: What inspired the name was more about the sound of the word rather than the color. I knew that I wanted the demon to have an unusual name. I wrote a list of several strange names: some were real demon names, others were uncommon words that had other meanings. “Cerulean” stood out on the page and the sound of it resonated with the poetry of my story and the watery world of the lake.
SRW: Somehow you’ve managed to tell a good portion of the story while keeping the reader in the dark regarding the “reality” of Cerulean. Even given the supernatural shenanigans going on (or is it all in Marty’s head?). Real demon or poor Marty’s twisted psyche? Did you intend this? Or is this just my lackluster interpretation?
BM: You’re spot on. I really wanted this story to unfold in layers with the mystery behind Marty’s dark side being one of the final layers.
SRW: I sense a bit of a Clive Barker influence going on in Darkness Rising. Particularly in Marty’s gruesome “work of art.” (Nice imagery, by the way). True? Or am I shooting fish with a gun?
BM: Yes, true. Barker is probably the horror author who has influenced my writing most. I’ve read his complete Books of Blood collection twice and studied his writing and plotting like they were textbooks. I love how he shows the shocking horror and describes it with beautiful prose. He can take a simple setting, like a subway or a suburban house, and turn it into a place connected to other worlds and frightening monsters. I’ve aimed to do the same in many of my stories.
You asked earlier about how I came up with the name “Cerulean.” One thing that I love about Clive Barker’s stories is he creates characters with all these cool-sounding, strange names that add to the dream-like quality of his writing. Names like Mamoulian, Quaid, Peloquin, Mahogany, Cenobites. It was his stories populated with these unusual characters that inspired me to create my Cerulean character in Darkness Rising and Mordecai in The Vagrants.
SRW: Now, I don’t know squat about poetry. Your protagonist, Marty, is a poet. And there are many of his poems throughout the tale. I can vouch for your writing. Can’t so much for your poetry. So…tough love time, Brian…is your poetry any good?
BM: I do not claim to be a great poet. Many of those poems I wrote just after college when I was experimenting with writing poetry, both love poems and dark poetry. They were more outpourings of the heart or angst, as opposed to measuring iambic pentameter or dissecting William Blake. When I decided to use my poems for the book, I could have consulted a professional poet and had them show me a thing or two about structuring a poem. I decided I wanted the raw words, the emotions that inspired them. I thought they worked for Marty. He’s never shared his poems with anyone. He just keeps all these outpourings of his intense emotions in a private journal. They range from poetry he wrote as a child living in foster homes to a young adult living in isolation. That the poems are raw and unrefined fits with his deeply flawed character.
SRW: Even with all of the hyper-violent and grotesque events transpiring in the book, I was very impressed with the lovely melancholy of the opening chapter and, to a lesser degree, the epilogue. A nice way to ease the reader into terror and then give them the calm after the storm. I, for one, thought they were very well done and badly needed. Otherwise, it’d be relentless. As a fellow writer, I gotta ask…Brian, did you tack these on after the fact? Or were they always planned?
BM: Thanks. As an organic writer, I never plan my stories, so those scenes were a part of the evolutionary creative process. I will say this. Darkness Rising originally started out as an experimental short story titled “The Night Shadow Collection” that I wrote twenty years ago. It was told partly through short fictional scenes and partly through poems. I had forgotten all about it. When I rediscovered that revenge story two years ago hidden away on my computer, I decided to flesh it out into a longer fictional narrative. I wasn’t even aiming it to be a novella in the beginning, just a short story for an upcoming collection I’ve been working on. Well, as I tinkered with this story, and explored who this Marty character is and what he’s up against, I wrote many of the brutal lake scenes first. Then, as I got to know who my killers were and what motivated them, I came up with the prologue to kick off the story with something horrific. I kept adding more and more to the story, until it eventually morphed into a novella. My ending came toward the end of the process and was inspired by Marty’s emotional journey and how he transformed by the end of the story.
SRW: The final tale, The Vagrants, has a very strong beginning, much mounting dread and mystery. It’s a story about the homeless and well…I won’t spoil it. Now you and I both know horror is very subjective. Readers bring to it what they will. For me, The Vagrants was the one weak link. It almost seemed padded out with the Irish mafia until we get to the money shots (but man, the ending is powerful and creepy). Was this the case?
BM: Well, I’ll agree that horror is subjective, as The Vagrants is one of my favorites that I’ve written and I had a lot of fun writing it. It’s not a perfect story structure. Before getting to the showdown with Mordecai, I wanted to spend some time setting up the mystery around the Seekers, develop the characters of Daniel Finley, his father, and their struggles with the Irish Mafia. I did fall in love with the O’Malleys, especially the mob boss Drake, and wanted them to be a big part of the story, especially when all the scary stuff happens in the final third of the story.
SRW: What did your research entail? Any underground visits? Chats with the homeless? Did you go all out like your protagonist and live amongst them (that’s dedication!)?
BM: I’ve seen a lot of homeless people in Dallas. Where I live, I get approached by them often. I’ve given a few money, food. I even hired a down-on-their-luck married couple to do some work around the house and they inspired my married couple character in the story. Years ago, Dallas had a tent city under some bridges and when I drove by it I saw this whole underground community of people who had nothing but a few possessions, some shanty tent homes, and time on their hands to talk and drink and sleep. Witnessing that inspired the tent city in which Daniel stays at when he lives among the homeless. My story is set in Boston, where there are some real abandoned subway tunnels. I researched those watching videos of urban explorers who went down there.
SRW: Brian, what’s currently darkening your mind and keyboard?
BM: I’ve been writing over a year now on my next historical horror novel called Tomb of Gods. It’s set in Egypt in 1937. A team of archaeologists and soldiers enter a mountain tomb that seems to go on forever, and they aren’t alone inside these caves. It’s based on real Egyptian myths. I’m currently at 250 pages. My aim is to finish the manuscript this summer and release it within the next year or so.
SRW: Alright, I’ve wasted enough of Brian’s time. Folks, if you like horror, go give Darkness Rising a shot!
Author Bio: Brian Moreland writes novels and short stories of horror and supernatural suspense. His books include Dead of Winter, Shadows in the Mist, The Girl from the Blood Coven, The Witching House, The Devil’s Woods, The Vagrants, Darkness Rising., and Blood Sacrifices: Four Tales of Terror. Brian lives in Dallas, Texas where he is diligently writing his next horror book.
Brian’s blog: http://www.brianmoreland.blogspot.com
Follow on Twitter: @BrianMoreland
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