INTERVIEW: S. L. Edwards on WHISKEY AND OTHER UNUSUAL GHOSTS

Greetings from the Ether,

As the Kickstarter continues to pick up momentum, we couldn’t think of a better time to interview the wonderful authors whose collections we are publishing this year. If you didn’t catch our previous interview with Lovecraftian maestro Pete Rawlik, you can find it here. In this interview, we’ll dive into the mind of S. L. Edwards, and find out what his upcoming collection has in store for the horror world.

 

CP: Whiskey is going to be an amazing release, and we couldn’t be more excited to helm it. Can you tell our readers a bit about the collection? How it came to be?

SL: Thanks, CP! I’m excited to be working with you guys too!

Whiskey and Other Unusual Ghosts, I would say, almost reads like watching me evolve as a writer. It has some of my earlier stuff, “The Case of Yuri Zaystev” being one of the earliest things I’ve written, all the way up to “Volver Al Monte,” which is one of my most recent pieces.

As to how it came to be, I knew for a while what I wanted the title to be. I had a story, exclusive to my collection called “Whiskey and Memory.” That story is one of my oldest, one of the most re-written things I’ve ever worked with. The other stories sort of fell into place, I am fortunate to have friends (some of them writers) willing to give me feedback on my work. I had a bit of coaching as to what to include, what might not fit. Frankly, I had a good editor who was willing to give me just enough pushback.

But yeah, I sent you “We Will Take Half,” and you really liked it. You accepted it on Super Bowl Sunday and the Patriots lost. We got to talking and now here we are . . .

 

CP: What would you say are the central themes to Whiskey?

SL: So, I’ll answer that in a roundabout way. The last story of the collection, “Whiskey and Memory,” set the tone for what I wanted to try with this collection. The first version of the story was written when I . . . I must have been around nineteen. I was terrified of drinking, for a number of reasons. But I was mostly afraid that I would lose myself in it. That if I got drunk I would lose my personality, be unable to be myself. And there was a horror in that line of thinking, this idea that you no longer get to be you. That choice has been made. sl 1

If I did my job right, the horror stories in Whiskey are more real than the events of the stories themselves. When the supernatural intervenes, it’s a catalyst, speeding up a fire that was already burning. Addiction, abuse, cyclical violence, depression, loneliness. These are all things just as scary and harmful as any monster. And we see them every day. I think we see a total of one ghost in Whiskey, and even in that story the “haunting” is really an extension of the melodrama inside the narrator’s own life, an extension of his relationships and a manifestation of his guilt.

 

CP: What is going to set this collection apart from others?

SL: It has an excellent cover! No, seriously. Yves Tourigny is a mad genius and he went absolutely bonkers illustrating a gorgeous wraparound cover. Readers: I’m a Kindle guy. As I run out of room in my apartment, I really enjoy having a neat little place to store all my books. But, this is something you want in hardcover. Yves is doing interior illustrations and it’s going to be phenomenal.

It’s also been blurbed by some of the greats. I’m really shocked at how well it’s been received.

I know this is the part of the interview where I’m supposed to say it’s the greatest collection ever. It can restore hair, increase your muscle mass. You’ll be the hero of the beach, get the man or woman (possibly both) of your dreams! It will grant you three wishes and only one will be ironic. Self-promotion is still pretty difficult for me though, so I’ll say this instead:

I put my all into these stories. I agonized over what I wanted to show readers. I know full well that for many people, this will be their first time reading my work. If anything, they probably may know my name by way of Borkchito, and really the genius in Borkchito all comes from Yves. So I wanted to be very careful as to how I introduced myself. I wanted these to be stories that made people slow down, take their time and get to know me. sl 2

To that end, these stories are very character-driven. I’m a big believer that even short stories, perhaps especially short stories need to have characters who  resonate. You need to care about characters before they go through a horror. That’s what makes it horrifying! A lot of writers can get away with establishing horror in the tone of their stories, or in evoking such a vivid image that it imprints on the reader. Lovecraft, Machen and those sorts were very good at that.

I am not. I need characters. I need believable casts who moor me to the story and the events. I need their interactions to be impactful, I need to be invested in them, even if that investment is that I hate them, because that creates more emotion in me when I write.

 

CP: You are still a rather fresh voice to the scene. How would you describe your experience as a writer thus far?

SL: Surreal. Every story acceptance seems surprising and new. I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to that. And I still get rejections, I think every writer does and I would advise anyone reading this who is thinking about trying to publish fiction to brace yourself for rejections.

Beyond the act of writing itself, I think my favorite part has been getting to know my peers. My favorite writers are now friends of mine! S. P. Miskowski, John Linwood Grant, Matthew M. Bartlett, Jordan Kurella, Jon Padgett, Gwendolyn Kiste, Betty Rocksteady, Christopher Ropes, Sean M. Thompson, Duane Pesice, Ashley Dioses, KA Opperman, Mer Whinery, Jonathan Raab, Alana I Capria-Linares, Can Wiggins, Sarah Walker, and Nadia Bulkin. They’re great folks who have been very kind and welcoming.

Then there are a few writers who are working on the ground floor of our community, people who are climbing up high and fast. Rob F. Martin has a novella out called The Doll Keeper, that’s criminally under-read. Russell Smeaton is someone who walks humor and horror in a way I haven’t really encountered since Robert Bloch, if readers can find a copy of his story “The Street,” they really should. John Paul Fitch writes like he’s fighting for his life, every word is just another bleeding cut. They’ve all been so good to me.

 

CP: If you had to choose a favorite piece in the collection, what would it be? Why? sl 3

SL: So, for a while it would have been a toss-up between “Cabras” and “Volver Al Monte.” The two stories were supposed to be parts of a sequence, thematically connected and focusing on different actors involved in wars. “Cabras” is guerrilla/insurgent focused, “Volver” focused more on the military. Both stories involve parents, the things they do for and to their children.

I’m leaning towards “Volver” however, because to my mind it’s not a straightforward horror story. There’s a sense of justice in that story that’s absent in “Cabras,” along with a bit of fantasy. I mean, it’s a bleak story, I won’t kind myself. But it also didn’t leave me scared when I finished it.

 

CP: The Kickstarter Exclusive Hardcover is going to feature two extra poems from you, and the cover itself is going to be a little different as far as color schemes. What can you tell us about the two poems included?

SL: So the two poems are Raven-length, 18 stanzas with six-lines each. The first one “The Owl,” has been sort of a fan-favorite. It’s been printed twice, once in Douglas Draa’s Weirdbook #33 and then in Haunted are these Houses from Unnerving.

The poem is a horror story. About old age. About dying in an unfamiliar place. About the horrors of the modern world vs. an older one. Yes, we have electricity now. You can turn the lights on if you hear a sound. But owls can still get into your attic. The vermin can still bite your hands while you sleep.

The second poem is called “This Hungry Earth,” and is about the very real Potosí silver mines in Bolivia. The mines are a dangerous place, and life expectancy in the town of Potosí is quite low. For a time it was the crown of the Spanish empire, a place where they sent indigenous slaves. Over time there’s been this very fascinating culture developed between the miners, namely the worship of a death god by the name of “El Tío.” Tío lives underground, and there are statues of him within the mines. The stories go that he causes mine cave-ins, that statues can become animated and kill those who disrespect him.

So, like “The Owl,” it’s a story. But it’s told in the second person. And is a poem.

 

CP: You mentioned earlier the difficulty in being an author, and the rejection new writers should expect. You’ve experienced what some may call a pretty rapid ascension up the ladder, so to speak. What helped you maintain this pace, and how could other authors learn from that?

SL: I had a bit of a different experience. I had a few stories stockpiled, because I gave up writing. I thought there were only two markets, and I had enough rejections from them to make me think that there really wasn’t going to be a way forward. Weirdbook, Turn to Ash, and Ravenwood Quarterly all accepted my work around the same time. Then I used sources like Stuart Conover’s The Horror Tree (on facebook) to find new markets.

What worked for me was finding a market that liked me and was willing to have me back. And in there you meet new writers, talk with them via Facebook and email, and learn about other potential calls. Then you get ready.

I’d also say it’s a good idea to start assembling story collections in your head. Imagine a unifying theme, and get ready for the email or inquiry or submissions call from a publisher.

 

CP: Have there been any voices in particular that you feel have shaped your voice? How would you describe your unique style to a new reader considering Whiskey?

SL: Well I referenced some of my favorite living writers, so I won’t do that again.

An author who had an enormous impact on me was Vasily Grossman. Grossman was a reporter for the Soviet Union who travelled with the Red Army. He had a formative experience in Stalingrad, which was essentially hell on earth. He was also a Ukrainian Jew, and his mother was killed in the Holocaust. sl 4

These experiences compelled him to write Life and Fate. It’s a book that I come back to every now and then, for the horror and the heartbreak and the hope.

Another book that really influenced me was Dr. Zhivago. Boris Pasternak’s novel often gets consigned to “just a love story,” but there’s something profoundly tragic and sinister in forces of coincidence swallowing up characters in anti-climatic ends.

In terms of my voice . . . I’d say Whiskey is a “diverse” book. I’m funny in real life, but I don’t find myself very funny in fiction. But despite that, more than a few have told me there’s a humor in the stories. I also tend to gravitate to real-world tragedy. Believable things that happen to believable people. I’d like to think that this creates an emotion in the reader.

 

CP: When Whiskey is unleashed, what will be next for S. L. Edwards?

SL: Hopefully two more collections. I’ve got one that is mostly pulp stories that I’m calling The Death of an Author. It deals with classic monsters. Vampires, zombies, Dracula. And then it has my whole “Congressman Marsh” cycle, including an unpublished Marsh tale. “The Cthulhu Candidate” turned out to be a very popular story, so I’m hoping that a publisher will be interested in that one.

Then I have another called Monsters of the Sea and Sky. This one will be about “conspiracies.” Not conspiracies like the Trump White House is full of lizard people or “the earth is flat.” Instead it’s about secrets. Covering up a massacre. Writing a person out of history. To get a sense of what I’m talking about, I encourage readers to Wikipedia “The Cantuta Massacre” or the “Palace of Justice Seige.” Hiding bodies and burying family secrets.

I’m hoping to send that one out in April.

Then, honestly? I’d love to slow down. I’ve been writing fiction full cylinders for about two years, on top of my day job. I’d love to sit back, take a breath and wait for an idea to catch me instead of constantly looking for submission calls. Maybe that idea’s a novel. Maybe a few more Bartred stories. We’ll see.

 

CP: If you could sum up the collection in one catchy sentence, what would it be?

SL: “You know all your ghosts.”

 

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Thank you so much for stopping by, and we hope you enjoyed the interview. Make sure to check out the Kickstarter and to subscribe to our newsletter for updates and other news!

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