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The Scariest Part: John Goodrich Talks About HAG

Hag front cover

Welcome to a special new installment of The Scariest Part, a recurring feature in which authors, comic book writers, filmmakers, and game creators tell us what scares them in their latest works of horror, dark fantasy, dark science fiction, and suspense. (If you’d like to be featured on The Scariest Part, please review the guidelines here.)

This is quite a distinguished week for The Scariest Part, because this time we’re spotlighting not one but two authors! (Click here to see F. Paul Wilson’s Scariest Part from yesterday.) I’m very excited to have John Goodrich as my guest today. He’s been a friend of mine for several years now, and I couldn’t be prouder to feature his long-awaited debut novel, Hag, which includes an introduction by esteemed, multiaward-winning horror author Laird Barron. Hag goes on sale today as part of Thunderstorm Books’ Maelstrom V three-book collector’s series, along with two new books by World Horror Convention Grandmaster Brian Keene. Here is the publisher’s description:

All David wanted was to rest and get better. He moved from Vermont to Boston to beat his cancer. Even before the boxes are unpacked, he and his best friend Sam notice an eerie presence in his new apartment building. The emaciated haunt is a roiling storm of fury with black iron claws and jagged metal teeth. She attacks David without reason or pity, and just when he thinks he knows her limits, she tears through them. Hag is a dark, brooding novel set in a blighted personal landscape. A story of deathless rage and enduring hatred.

And now, let’s hear what the scariest part was for John Goodrich:

I want to tell you a little secret. Although my debut novel is a ghost story, I don’t really like ghost stories.

Before I started Hag, the novel that’s about to be published, I wrote a fantasy novel that I loved to pieces. I couldn’t get agents or publishers interested in it. That hurt. I loved my book. Still do. Someday someone will buy it. But it’s insanity to write a sequel to a book that hasn’t sold, so I decided to write something different, something I wouldn’t love quite so much. After some thought, I decided to write a ghost story.

The ghost story is the prototypical horror story, and humans have been telling them for thousands of years. Thanks to cultural saturation, ghosts are no longer automatically scary. Casper is a friendly ghost. A ghost mascot flogs breakfast cereal. So I knew I would have to add my own spice to make the story effective horror. Given how often the ground has been trod and retrod, I would also have to come up with something unconventional to make it stand out.

Looking for that new something, I read up on the classics: Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, Matheson’s Hell House, Elizabeth Massie’s Homeplace (there’s a reason Hag begins with an H). I fell in love with these stories. They’re complex and brilliant, transcending the cliched sheeted phantom clanking its chains. These ghosts had agendas, personalities, and needs.

I decided to load my ghost with some unfinished business. This would give her depth of character, and provide the protagonists with a mystery to solve, rather then just standing around being terrified. So what kind of unfinished business make a story horror, rather than a mystery?

Some recent stories have altered their emotional hook from an existential fear of death to a naked fear of dying in pain. We read about people who die every day. Murders, accidents, and cancer all claim lives. But every now and then, we hear whispers of someone who did not pass away peacefully, surrounded by their family. The elderly woman who breaks her hip after falling on the kitchen floor, lying in helpless, blinding pain for three days before dying of dehydration. The child manacled to a brick wall, slowly dying of thirst and loneliness. The infected patient, fighting with all their strength, losing a little bit each day, organs failing one by one, painfully dragged toward the inevitable end. The terror of such cruel deaths is both heartbreaking and horrifying. Thus, the perfect thing to make my ghost violent and at the same time, understandable.

How far should I go? How far could I go? It had to be good. The ghost’s story was going to be the emotional center of the novel. If I made the character’s suffering weak, the story loses its driving force and credibility. On the flip side, did I really have the nerve to write the excruciating death of Chibuike, a character I had invented and cared about?

This was the scariest part. Most of my short stories have been Lovecraftian, cosmic horror, rather than anything about pain or physical suffering. I didn’t know if I could write a long, torturous death. I was afraid, and the fear of writing that chapter haunted me until I had to write it. To prepare I read Jack Ketchum’s merciless Off Season and The Girl Next Door. Ketchum is merciless but dispassionate in his description of atrocities. I would have to not tell the reader how to feel about awful things happening to Chibuike, even as I described them. I wrote an entire chapter describing the agonizing demise, imagining the horror consuming her as she clawed at her chains, groped for a light in the darkness, watched all light and hope be slowly, cruelly extinguished. It was an exhausting two weeks.

My work paid off. In his introduction to Hag, Laird Barron writes, “Chibuike’s anguish is most acutely felt for she reflects the very savagery and malice that tore her from hearth and home, peeled away her humanity, and snuffed her life. She cries the loudest and repays hurt with hurt.”

That’s what horror is about. Facing fear and seeing if it kills me.

John Goodrich: Website / BlogTwitter

Hag: Order it as part of the Maelstrom V three-book collector’s set

John Goodrich lives in the haunted Green Mountains of Vermont, the last refuge of true Lovecraft country. His stories have been included in Steampunk Cthulhu, Dark Rites of Cthulhu, Undead and Unbound, and the Lovecraft E-Zine. Hag is his first published novel. He has spent the last year and a half writing about kaiju films on his blog. His other unhealthy obsessions include biplanes, Icelandic sagas, the Call of Cthulhu role-playing game, and semiotics.

The Scariest Part: F. Paul Wilson Talks About FEAR CITY

Wilson cover

Welcome to this week’s installment of The Scariest Part, a recurring feature in which authors, comic book writers, filmmakers, and game creators tell us what scares them in their latest works of horror, dark fantasy, dark science fiction, and suspense. (If you’d like to be featured on The Scariest Part, please review the guidelines here.)

I’m especially happy to have New York Times bestselling author F. Paul Wilson as my guest because I’ve known Paul for nearly fifteen years now and am delighted to call him a friend. He also happens to be one of those most talented, prolific, and accomplished authors I know. His latest novel, Fear City, features one of his most popular and enduring characters, Repairman Jack, in the final novel of the Repairman Jack: The Early Years trilogy. Here is the publisher’s description:

Rage, terror, and redemption: these are the stones upon which F. Paul Wilson builds the concluding chapter of Repairman Jack: The Early Years, the prequel trilogy focusing on the formative years of Wilson’s globally popular supernatural troubleshooter.

The strands of Jack’s life, established in the first two books, Cold City and Dark City, are now woven into a complete pattern.

Centered around an obscure group of malcontents intent on creating a terrible explosion in New York City in 1993, Fear City shows the final stages of young Jack becoming Repairman Jack. It is a dark and terrible story, full of plots and needless mayhem, with secret agents, a freelance torturer, a secret society as old as human history, love, death, and a very bleak triumph. Jack threads his way through this intricate maze, as people he loves are stripped away from him in a way that presages the later epic series of novels.

And now, let’s hear what the scariest part was for F. Paul Wilson:

When the copyedited manuscript of Fear City arrived from the publisher six moths ago, I set about fine-combing the text. My copyeditor for the last dozen-plus years, Rebecca Maines, had done her usual excellent job of flagging inconsistencies and typos and the occasional verbless sentence. I always take extra time at this stage because it’s my last chance to sharpen dialog, hone descriptions, and make cuts before the book is typeset.

Things went smoothly until I came to Dr. Moreau.

Yeah, Dr. Moreau. I couldn’t resist naming a torturer known to all the clandestine services and organizations as La Chirurgienne after H.G. Wells’s vivisectionist. It seemed…right.

You have to realize it had been months since I’d sent off the manuscript and she’d kind of faded from my consciousness. But as I reread her passages, I kept thinking, What dark corner of my hindbrain did I plumb to find this woman?

The clichéd template of the torturer is Szell from Marathon Man. Adèle Moreau, on the other hand, is a cultured, rather brittle French woman with a thick accent. She was trained as a surgeon but developed a sideline of hiring out to extract information from people who don’t wish to part with it. She doesn’t think of herself as a torturer or a sadist, but rather a pain researcher — a “nociresearcher,” to use her term — and sees her interrogations as opportunities for scientific research.

She maintains a certain decorum about her work — e.g., she likes her subjects fully clothed.

“I find proximity to a naked human, how shall we say, distasteful. I can cut away to expose whatever area I wish to explore.”

That “explore” got me — and it came from me. Her specialty is the delicate, minimally invasive procedure.

“I abhor brutality—the fists, the truncheons, the waterboarding. And the mutilation of genitalia — dégoûtant! So crude. So unnecessary.”

Charlot, her pet Yorkie, stays in her procedure room when she operates and she occasionally feed him scraps.

What I found most disquieting on the reread was that I had no memory of sitting down and designing this lady from hell. Perhaps I’ve been turning stereotypes on their heads so long it simply came naturally. If the cliché is an ex-Nazi or an Albanian thug, I’ll use a genteel professional — a female instead of a male — and give her a French accent, evoking the culture that gave us the Impressionists. Think Monet’s lilies…floating on blood.

Maybe that’s all it was…unconscious habit. I took comfort in that.

But then I came to her specialty, known as “IV,” and all comfort vanished. “IV” stands for “Infernum Viventes,” Latin for “Living Hell.” It is, I would say, the nastiest, most diabolically evil thing you can do to a human being. I have no idea where IV came from. Perhaps it exists somewhere in fiction or real life, but I’ve never seen or heard of anything like it. So I’ve got nothing to blame for it except my own id. And that’s scary.

The key word is “Living.” Because in our society, we would not let someone die after they have suffered this procedure. We will keep them alive for as long as modern medical science allows. Prolonging life…it’s what we do.

But if you’re the victim, the only thing you’d request — plead for if you could communicate — is death.

What is IV? Well, that would be a spoiler. And I don’t want to spoil one of Fear City’s centerpieces for you.

F. Paul Wilson: Website / Facebook / Twitter

Fear City: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Powell’s / IndieBound

F. Paul Wilson, the New York Times bestselling author of the Repairman Jack novels, lives in Wall, New Jersey. In 2008, he won the Bram Stoker Award for Lifetime Achievement.

The Story Behind DIE AND STAY DEAD

The good folks at online literary magazine are running an article by me on the story behind Die and Stay Dead. Here’s a taste:

When you’re writing the first book in a series — especially when it’s a fantasy series — you need to spend a good deal of time building the world in which it takes place. But with the second book, that hurdle is gone. Now, your characters have a chance to fully inhabit and explore the world you’ve created. That’s what I hoped to accomplish with Die and Stay Dead…I could expand upon what I’d already built and give Trent, the series protagonist who has only recently had his eyes opened to this secret world of magic and monsters, a chance to explore and make new discoveries. It allowed me to bring him to secret locales hidden all around the city, even one within the walls of the famous New York Public Library branch on 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue (you know, the one everyone who’s not a New Yorker knows from Ghostbusters).

In other good news, Rue Morgue, one of my favorite magazines, has a rave review of Die and Stay Dead in their November issue. It’s a capsule review, so I’ll just reprint the whole thing here:

Demons and revenants stalk the streets of New York City once again in Nicholas Kaufmann’s sequel to Dying Is My BusinessDie and Stay Dead builds on the mystery set up in the first installment — that of the history of the narrator, Trent, a demon-fighter who cannot die and has no memories of his past — and Kaufmann keeps the tension high in this energetic page turner.

Pretty snazzy, huh? Have you ordered your copy of Die and Stay Dead yet?

Doctor Who: “Death in Heaven”

Look, I’m not going to mince words here. Doctor Who‘s eighth season finale,”Death in Heaven,” was crap. Although I suppose it could have been a passable, rousing adventure if it weren’t for the fact that nothing in it made any sense. If you thought the science in “In the Forest of the Night” was absurd even for Doctor Who, wait until you get a load of this episode!


My issues with “Death in Heaven” are almost entirely comprised of plot and logic holes, of which there are so many I suspect the script was written on a wedge of Swiss cheese. Let’s jump right in by talking about the major plot point: the transformation of the dead into Cybermen.

Missy employs something called Cyberpollen (magic rain!) that transforms every dead body on Earth into Cybermen — but only dead bodies. It works so perfectly that it begs the question why it wasn’t intended to transform all the living beings instead. But no, that will require a second pollination performed by the dead-body Cybermen! Why have this two-tier plan? Why not just turn every living human on Earth into a Cyberman with the first rain? Why even bother with transforming the dead first? On top of that, there didn’t seem to be any limit on how long someone could be dead before their body is transformed into a Cyberman. Did you die in the 1700s? Are you just dust and bone shards now? Doesn’t matter. Now you’re a full-bodied Cyberman! On the other hand, are you a healthy, living human being with all your limbs intact? Then sorry, we don’t want you. Just the dead , thanks. Again, why? There isn’t a reason beyond the fact that the plot demands a two-tier plan so the Doctor can stop it.

The logic holes continue to pile up even beyond that. Why did Missy upload every dead human’s consciousness over time into the Nethersphere only to download them back into the newly created Cybermen bodies? What is the point? Human consciousness isn’t necessary to being a Cyberman. In fact, they’d make much better Cybermen without their original human consciousnesses returned to them. That way, they would be certain to obey orders without fail. So why does Missy bother? What is the point of it all? Frankly, there isn’t one. It’s a plot device to allow the return of Danny to the real world in Cyberman form but still with his conflicted emotions.

Why were robots from the future looking for the Promised Land (another name for the Nethersphere) in “Deep Breath” and “Robot of Sherwood”? How did they even hear of it? What did they want from it? It’s never explained. Also, and I’ve mentioned this before: Cybermen are not stealthy! They are essentially big, honking robots, they can’t sneak around a graveyard only to be glimpsed in ghost-like flashes by Clara when she wakes up in the cemetery! And as for the Doctor flying out of the exploding plane after the TARDIS like he’s James Bond in the opening sequence of Moonraker, well, all I can say is that it’s the new version of the Doctor riding the motorcycle up the side of the Shard. It’s stupid, and the less we dwell on it, the better.

I still don’t understand why the Master would want to turn everyone into a Cyberman. As I mentioned in my write-up of “Dark Water,” she doesn’t have a good history with the Cybermen, and her plan, when it is revealed, doesn’t really require anything specifically Cybermanish. It would be fun, though, to imagine what this episode would be like if it were a Third Doctor serial. The Master would create the new Cybermen, but they would of course fall under the control of the nearest Cyber-Controller and turn against the Master. Then the Doctor and the Master would have to team up to defeat them. In “Death in Heaven,” I guess the Master just assumes there aren’t any Cyber-Controllers anymore out there?

Speaking of the Master’s plan, the whole birthday present thing had me rolling my eyes. It’s such a Moffatism, which is what I call the new, unnecessary additions to Doctor Who canon that Steven Moffat, who wrote this episode, likes to come up with. Also, since when has the Master ever needed a special occasion to mess with the Doctor’s head?

The plot holes keep coming. Why did Missy give Clara the Doctor’s phone number way back in “The Bells of St. John”? Why did she set up the newspaper ad to bring them back together in “Deep Breath”? There’s no satisfying answer. Something about teaming up a control freak with a man who can’t be controlled or something? I don’t get it. There’s no point. If it had been a trap for the Doctor, that would make sense. Instead, it was basically, “I thought you two would make each other crazy like bad roommates.” Whatever. Great plan, you diabolical mastermind!

Let’s talk about Missy’s magic bracelet, a plot device that comes out of nowhere. This bracelet can apparently open up a portal, but it can only be used once for unspecified reasons. (Low battery? The plot?) Danny is on the other side of the portal as some kind of…ghost, I guess? Is this a true afterlife? Or did everyone go back to the Nethersphere again? Like the bracelet and its portal-creating properties, it’s never explained or explored. Frankly, the entire scene is absurd and out of left field, but at least Moffat did right with it. Of course Danny would send the young boy back. Although, how the young boy suddenly has a physical body again is beyond understanding.

On the other hand, one of the few things I really liked in the episode was the scene where the Doctor goes looking for Gallifrey at the coordinates the Master gives him, only to realize it was a lie. The scene is incredibly powerful. Too bad it was just a flashback in an otherwise boring and pointless “catching up with Clara over coffee” scene. Good job, Moffat. I see your love of dramatizing the scenes that happen after the important ones, instead of giving full due to the important scenes themselves, is still going strong. You similarly robbed us of the scene with the young boy talking Danny out of pressing the “delete” button at the start of the episode.

Okay, I’m probably being unfair in calling the coffee scene pointless. It does have a point, it’s just that with Clara lying again, and the Doctor lying back, it feels pointless. Our emotional attachment to the characters completely disengages, and as a result it gives the scene entirely the wrong tone. If there was ever a scene where they both need to be honest with each other, it’s this one. Oh well. Maybe it’ll finally happen in the Christmas special. (I fully expect Danny to be resurrected as Clara’s Christmas wish in that episode, too, for two reasons. One, we saw Danny and Clara’s future descendant in “Listen,” and two, Moffat never leaves any character dead. He can’t help himself.)

I was not as morally outraged about the reappearance of the deceased Brigadier as a Cyberman as some fans were. It makes sense that he would be among them, since he’s dead, and the scene where it’s revealed he saved his daughter’s life and the Doctor finally salutes him was actually pretty good. I assume he self-destructed like the other Cybermen after that, but there’s a part of me that’s keen on the idea of the Brigadier now roaming the Earth righting wrongs as the Whoniverse’s version of Iron Man. (Please, though, never let that be shown, let it just be in my imagination!)

I was also not as outraged that Missy is the Master as some fans were. I have less of a problem with the Master regenerating into a woman than I do with the way Moffat writes female characters (Missy calling the Doctor her boyfriend, saying he loves only her, forcing a kiss on him, etc. — although at least this time it wasn’t the Doctor forcing a kiss on an unwilling woman again, thank God). I’m also slightly upset that this means John Simm won’t be playing the Master again, because he was amazing in the role. But in the end, the Master being a woman is okay by me. And hey, at least Missy didn’t turn out to be the dinosaur from “Deep Breath” (that was an actual fan theory!).

With “Death in Heaven” the eighth season of Doctor Who comes to, for me, a very unsatisfying end. I had such high hopes at the start of this season. We had four or five really good, strong stories, but then it all fell apart once the season became mostly about Clara’s dating life. After that, I felt like the Doctor was barely present. Peter Capaldi could have been amazing in the role. Instead, they relegated him to being the wacky neighbor in The Clara Show. I never bought all his strife with Danny. It felt as forced as all of Clara’s constant lying.

Wasn’t the Doctor supposed to be looking for Gallifrey this season? Instead, every episode was basically “Where do you want to go today, Clara?” and Moffat just shoehorned Gallifrey in again at the very end of the season. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: he does not know how to craft a good season-long arc. He focuses on all the wrong things, then shoves everything he can into the finale. It’s why so many of them fall apart under scrutiny. “Death in Heaven” certainly does.

This is going to sound a little overly dramatic, but to be honest there are times when this show doesn’t feel like Doctor Who to me anymore. It reminds me more of the overwrought, fan-fictiony New Adventures novels of the 1990s than the show I’ve watched and loved since I was eleven years old. I barely recognize it as Doctor Who these days, except that there’s a TARDIS. I don’t even rush to watch new episodes anymore, the way I used to.

There’s a lot riding on this year’s Christmas special, because if it’s as bad I might be ready to call it quits on Doctor Who.