News & Blog

The Scariest Part: Christa Carmen Talks About SOMETHING BORROWED, SOMETHING BLOOD-SOAKED

This week on The Scariest Part, I’m delighted to host my friend Christa Carmen, whose debut story collection, Something Borrowed, Something Blood-Soaked, is already getting a lot of buzz. Here is the publisher’s description:

A young woman’s fears regarding the gruesome photos appearing on her cell phone prove justified in a ghastly and unexpected way. A chainsaw-wielding Evil Dead fan defends herself against a trio of undead intruders. A bride-to-be comes to wish that the door between the physical and spiritual worlds had stayed shut on All Hallows’ Eve. A lone passenger on a midnight train finds that the engineer has rerouted them toward a past she’d prefer to forget. A mother abandons a life she no longer recognizes as her own to walk up a mysterious staircase in the woods.

In her debut collection, Christa Carmen combines horror, charm, humor, and social critique to shape thirteen haunting, harrowing narratives of women struggling with both otherworldly and real-world problems. From grief, substance abuse, and mental health disorders, to a post-apocalyptic exodus, a seemingly sinister babysitter with unusual motivations, and a group of pesky ex-boyfriends who won’t stay dead, Something Borrowed, Something Blood-Soaked is a compelling exploration of horrors both supernatural and psychological, and an undeniable affirmation of Carmen’s flair for short fiction.

And now, let’s hear what the scariest part was for Christa Carmen:

Much of what we observe in horror films never results in the creation of fears or phobias in the everyday world that we inhabit. Sure, we may check the basement, or peer out the window into the shadowy backyard upon watching The Conjuring or You’re Next, but for the most part, we navigate the mundanities of life confident that our cars won’t turn evil, our dogs won’t turn rabid, and a day at the beach won’t turn into an installment of everyone’s favorite week-long television block of shark-based programming.

There is one horror film-founded fear, however, that’s not only warranted, but backed by statistics, perpetuated by home security system companies and gun manufacturers, and illustrated with dismal regularity on the local evening news, where reports of random break-ins and armed robberies roll in.

The home invasion narrative is one that can incite vivid fantasies; certainly you wouldn’t hide, trembling and helpless, beneath your bed. You would face your foe with courage, brandishing butcher knives from once-benevolent kitchen blocks, collecting other household objects with which to make your siege: bedposts, hairpins, car keys, golf clubs.

Needless to say, I felt that getting the final scene of my short story, “Red Room,” right, was imperative to highlighting a rather universal fear (what human throughout history has not placed the soundness of their shelter above most else?), to capitalize on that dread initiated with Marci’s discovery of the first inexplicable, gore-saturated photo on her phone.

The inspiration behind this story, appearing in my debut collection, Something Borrowed, Something Blood-Soaked, and first published in the January 2018 issue of Unnerving Magazine, is a bit more true-to-life than that of many of my other works of short fiction. The story is about a woman who, despite her fiancé’s belief to the contrary, is convinced she should be concerned by the gruesome photos appearing on her phone, and whose fear proves justified in a rather ghastly, albeit unexpected way.

On April 13, 2017, published an article by Emily Asher-Perrin entitled, “The Peril of Being Disbelieved: Horror and the Intuition of Women.” The piece examines one of the most overdone tropes in horror: that of the woman who feels that something is off, but is disbelieved and brushed off by everyone, right up until the moment the chainsaw begins to rev, or zombies break down the door. The article discusses how every woman knows what this feels like, and how “women know that it’s their responsibility to prevent harm from coming to them.”

Not long after reading this article, something odd happened. I awoke the morning after a wedding to a series of photographs on my phone that I did not take. The photos were of two men in a bar, and they had an eerie, old-fashioned feel that lent them a patina of wrongness as palpable as any Instagram filter. The next day, at a post-wedding brunch, the topic of the mysterious photos came up. The reaction from several men in the group was that, one way or another, I had to have been the cause of these photos appearing on my phone. “You probably just screenshotted them from a website,” or “you must have accidentally downloaded them.” I don’t drink, so the activities of the night before were clear in my mind. This complete unwillingness to believe that the photos had appeared through no action of mine collided in my head with the echoes of Asher-Perrin’s article, and “Red Room” was the result.

With the story’s general idea established, I discovered very quickly that both the culmination of Marci and Caleb’s disagreements and the showdown between them and the deranged, dangerous men that had left visual evidence of an untold number of murders on Marci’s phone, would take place in the master bedroom, a location of regular discontent for the on-the-rocks couple.

To set the scene for those who have not yet read the story, Marci awakes alone in their room after yet another argument with Caleb. A floorboard creaks. The ceiling fan is still, the face of the alarm clock, dark. An exhalation of breath comes from the black pit of the closet. Gathering her courage, Marci sprints for the living room. She rouses Caleb, tells him there is someone in the house, and watches as he assembles those items — a flashlight and a butcher knife — they’ll require to make their stand. Together, they creep toward the bedroom.

The subsequent chain of events was heavily influenced by one particular scene in the 2008 Bryan Bertino-directed film, The Strangers, in which Liv Tyler’s character has already been terrorized by a series of slowly escalating assaults on her home, when out of nowhere, shattering the silence and causing the audience to feel as if their equilibrium has suddenly been thrown off-kilter, the needle drops on the record player and a song begins to skip, over and over and over again, the grating quality of the sound clearly adding to Kristen McKay’s inability to quell her panic.

Back in Caleb and Marci’s bedroom, the power flashes on. Music blares from the reanimated clock radio, and they shout to be heard over the deceptively upbeat chords of a techno song. It’s their final, bitter fight. The noise, chaos, bright lights, whirring ceiling fan, and high emotion provide the ultimate distraction for what happens next.

I won’t give it away, but I hope that those who read “Red Room” will be reminded of why they should lock their doors, bolt their windows, and most importantly, never, ever disregard a significant other’s warning when she says she feels like something’s wrong.

Maybe the unfortunate events of my story will do for you what all the young women begging not to visit secluded cabins in the woods could not. Maybe it will teach you to listen, and to believe. Then again, maybe it won’t. Who am I to convince you of the nefariousness of a few photographs?

I’m sure it’s nothing, after all. I’m sure everything will be just fine…

Something Borrowed, Something Blood-Soaked: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / IndieBound

Christa Carmen: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram / Goodreads / Amazon Author Page

Christa Carmen’s work has been featured in myriad anthologies, ezines, and podcasts, including Unnerving Magazine, Fireside Fiction, Year’s Best Hardcore Horror Volume 2, Outpost 28 Issues 2 & 3, Tales to Terrify, Lycan Valley Press Publications’ Dark Voices, Third Flatiron’s Strange Beasties, and Alban Lake’s Only the Lonely. Christa lives in Westerly, Rhode Island with her husband and their bluetick beagle, Maya. She has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania in English and psychology, and a master’s degree from Boston College in counseling psychology. She is currently pursuing a Master of Liberal Arts in Creative Writing & Literature from Harvard Extension School. On Halloween 2016, Christa was married at the historic and haunted Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado (yes, the inspiration for Stephen King’s The Shining!). When she’s not writing, she is volunteering with one of several organizations that aim to maximize public awareness and seek solutions to the ever-growing opioid crisis in southern Rhode Island and southeastern Connecticut.
100 Fathoms Below Page Added

I have added a 100 Fathoms Below page to the website, which includes preorder information as well as all the blurbs and reviews it has received so far. I’m so excited for this one to come out! October 9th can’t come fast enough!

The Cabin at the End of the World

The Cabin at the End of the WorldThe Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Another incredible novel from Paul Tremblay, an author whose talents only seem to grow with each subsequent book! CABIN is a short novel that reads very quickly; Tremblay doesn’t waste any time before putting his characters into their impossible plight. But the simplicity of the plot is deceptive. There’s a lot going on beneath the surface, onion-like layers that reveal deeper questions, such as whether essentially decent people can still do something terrible if they think they have to. There’s an old saying that villains see themselves as the heroes of their stories, and while that is certainly in play here, even that layer can be pulled away to reveal new, deeper questions like: Who are we when we abdicate control of our lives and actions to another, presumably higher power? Can we ever truly know how our actions affect everyone else? How far do those ramifications spread, like ripples in a pond? Is there a higher power out there, and is it better than us or worse? There’s a reason Tremblay is one of my favorite contemporary authors, one whose work I always read as soon as it comes out. He’s an exceptional writer with big, bold ideas. THE CABIN AT THE END OF THE WORLD fulfills the promise of his previous novels while also raising the stakes for whatever he writes next.

View all my reviews

The Scariest Part: F. Brett Cox Talks About THE END OF ALL OUR EXPLORING

This week on The Scariest Part, I’m honored to host my good friend of many years and one hell of a writer, F. Brett Cox, whose long-awaited debut story collection is The End of All Our Exploring. Here is the publisher’s description:

The stories in F. Brett Cox’s debut collection move through multiple genres and many times and places, from the monsters of the 19th century to the future fields of war, from New England to the South to the American West, from the strange house at the top of the hill to the bottom of your childhood swimming pool. But whatever the time and place, and whether utterly fantastic or all too real, all of these remarkable fictions pose the fundamental question: what’s next? The End of All Our Exploring features 27 stories, and it also includes Cox’s unique historical notes.

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

One of the writer’s tasks that sometimes gets less noticed than others is the need to reread one’s own work before it’s published. Technically, it’s proofreading, I guess, but in preparing my collection The End of All Our Exploring: Stories for publication, I found myself rereading the stories carefully, more than once, in some cases for the first time in many years. Happily, the task turned out to be daunting, but not painful. I did not cringe at beginner’s mistakes or find myself regretting my editor’s decision to publish what is, for all intents and purposes, my collected stories to date.

But while I didn’t find myself thinking, “I wish I hadn’t written that,” I did find myself thinking, “How could I have written that?” Some of the stories, especially those I wrote earlier in my career, contain levels of grinding brutality that gave older reader me some pause. The father who puts the law above his family in “Up Above the Dead Line,” the couple bound within an inescapable curse in “Legacy,” the hierarchical cage that traps the young narrator of “What They Did to My Father,” the sledgehammer of oppression that keeps coming down in “Petition to Repatriate Geronimo’s Skull,” the quietly sinister systems of “Maria Works at Ocean City Nails” that leave no doubt the kids are not all right. How could I have written that?

Well, because that’s the world I found in reading the history of my own country, and that’s the world that waits outside the door every day. In “Legacy,” the character Constance says, “It doesn’t matter how careful we are. Terrible things happen for no reason.” In the story, Franklin, who loves her, has no reply to her statement, and as of this moment, neither do I.

What scares me about many of the stories in my book — several of which are taken from actual events — is that they are not just realistic, but real.

I should add, lest my publisher get nervous, that there are lighter moments in the book — some people find at least a couple of the stories pretty funny — and, in some of the stories in the book, there is a sense that forward movement is possible, that we don’t necessarily have to resign ourselves to being trapped within the systems that generate such terrible things. But even then, if you manage to move forward, there’s no certainty what you will find.

Someone once asked the philosopher Michel Foucault (whose Discipline and Punish: the Birth of the Prison is scarier than anything in my book, trust me) why he thought everything was bad. “I don’t think everything is bad,” he replied. “I think everything is dangerous.”

I agree. Don’t ever give in to fear. But let’s be careful out there.

The End of All Our Exploring: Fairwood Press / Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Powell’s / IndieBound

F. Brett Cox: Facebook

In addition to the stories included in The End of All Our Exploring, F. Brett Cox’s poetry, plays, essays, reviews, and academic writings have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies. With Andy Duncan, he co-edited Crossroads: Tales of the Southern Literary Fantastic (Tor, 2004). He has served on the Stoker Award Additions Jury and is a co-founder, and current Vice-President of the Board of Directors, for the Shirley Jackson Award. A native of North Carolina, Brett is Charles A. Dana Professor of English at Norwich University in Northfield, Vermont. He lives in Vermont with his wife, playwright Jeanne Beckwith.