News & Blog

The Scariest Part: Richard Dansky Talks About GHOST OF A MARRIAGE

This week on The Scariest Part, my guest is my good friend of many years Richard Dansky, whose latest book is the deeply personal haunted-house novel Ghost of a MarriageHere is the book’s description:

There’s something in Gary’s house that doesn’t want him there.

Ever since his marriage fell apart, he’s been seeing things, things that everyone keeps on telling him aren’t there.

But Gary’s not just seeing things, and soon it’s more than his peace of mind that’s at stake—it’s his life.

And now, let’s hear what the scariest part was for Richard Dansky:

The scariest part of Ghost of a Marriage was the first word.

It had been roughly three and a half years since my wife had left me before I sat down to write the book, and in that time I’d barely written an original word. I mean, I’d written — written for video games, written for tabletop RPGs, even written some tie-in fiction — but for three years I’d been unable to churn out a single original piece. In the months preceding sitting down to write the novel, I’d managed to squeeze out a single, very short story, but that was it, and I was really questioning my future as a writer.

So I decided to confront the elephant in the room. I would attempt to write a novel drawing on my recent experience, on the heartbreak I’d felt, and see what supernatural elements I could weave into that.

And then I sat there for weeks before I was able to start. I knew that I wanted to write about a disintegrating marriage, about the effects when one partner is ready to move on and the other isn’t. I knew that it would be a ghost story, for what are ghosts but memories, and I was still living in mine far too much at the time. And I knew that my protagonists was in for a rough time, but I was prepared for that. This wasn’t going to be a stroll in the park for me, so why should he get off easy?

As a result, I forced myself to dive back into the emotions I’d experienced at the time. Three and a half years is a long time, plenty of time for emotional scar tissue to build up. Plenty of time for people to move on, in many cases, but there I was, trapped in the amber of my feelings, and the only way to break free would be to live it all again as I wrote the book.

Which left me sifting through my memories for the moments of particular vibrancy, of particular pain. Soft-pedaling things wasn’t going to lead anywhere. Taking it easy wouldn’t lead to creative catharsis. I needed to probe at the heart of things, tear away the scars and poke at the tender, unhealed feelings underneath.

That was when I remembered the moment that, in its own way, had hurt the most. Not the request for a divorce, not the farewell, but a simple bit of a day that in its own way had dug deep. I’d been writing in my office, working feverishly on the tie-in novel I was writing for the Ghost Recon video game, when I heard a sound coming from the bedroom. It was a grotesque noise, ripping and tearing and moaning all at once, and I went to see what it was.

It was shrink wrap, and my ex-wife was neatly wrapping up a pile of her belongings. She looked at me, I looked away and retreated to my office, and the noise started again. If I’d been smart, I would have vacated the house until she was done. But I wasn’t smart, and I thought I was stronger than I was, and so I sat there and typed a few words while listening to the plastic dying screams of my marriage from down the hall.

That was it. That moment, that sound, that feeling of helplessness — that was the key I needed. And so I wrote the first words of Ghost of a Marriage: “Heartbreak is the sound of shrink wrap coming from your bedroom.”

I won’t say the rest of it was easy. I dug deep on a lot of feelings and came to a lot of realizations, not all of them terribly complimentary to me, as I wrote the book. I got stuck 45K words in and had to put it down for a month while my subconscious scrambled for a way to get me out of the corner I’d written myself into. I had to keep going back to that well, to that awful sound and everything it meant, and eventually I emerged with a complete manuscript.

But I won’t lie. Facing that blank page and all of its implications was terrifying. That I was finally able to confront and transcend it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done as a writer, and it scared the hell out of me while I was attempting to do it.

Ghost of a Marriage: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Powells / Bookshop

Richard Dansky: Website / Twitter

Richard Dansky is a twenty-plus year veteran of the video game industry who has written for franchises including The Division, Splinter Cell, Outland and more. A passionate advocate for the craft of game writing, he is an advisor to the Game Narrative Summit at Game Developers’ Conference and curates the narrative at East Coast Game Conference. On the fiction side, he is the author of eight novels and one short fiction collection. In addition to video games, he made extensive contributions to White Wolf’s seminal World of Darkness roleplaying setting, most recently Wraith: The Oblivion 20th Anniversary Edition. Richard lives in North Carolina with an extensive collection of single malt scotches and a cat named Goblin, whom he swears was named that when he got her.

The Scariest Part: R. Saint Claire Talks About SERVED COLD

This week on The Scariest Part, my guest is author and editor R. Saint Claire, whose latest book is the anthology Served Cold, featuring stories written exclusively by members of the HorrorTube community, content creators who talk about horror novels and movies on YouTube. Here is the book’s description:

Twenty-two teeth-chattering tales!

Wrap yourself in your favorite blanket, curl up by a fireside or in a warm bed, and enjoy these tales of sub-zero terror brought to you by some of the many voices of HorrorTube.

Foreword by Steve Donoghue
Karakoncolos by Cameron Chaney
The Rescue by Janine Pipe
Red Albums by Cam Wolfe
Magic in the Hat by Donnie Goodman
Isolation by N.M. Brown
Sweep in the Sidestreet by A.B. Frank
Frostbite by Alfie Tobutt
Black Wood by Marie McWilliams
The Cold Traps by Steve Donoghue
This Grey Winter by Mihalis Georgostathis
Orpheus Descends by Andrew Lyall
Thou by Mers Sumida
The Walk-in by Mike DeFrench
Ensnared by Aphrodite Lee
Cold Crossing by Jacob Peyton
Snow Boy by Ryan Stroud
The Woods and Mister Softee by R. Saint Claire
Revival by Madison Estes
Lake Alice by Michael Taylor
Fractals by D.L. Tillery
Water of Life by Gloria McNeely
Black Solstice by Dane Cobain

And now, let’s hear what the scariest part was for R. Saint Claire:

When did I first consider putting together a HorrorTube anthology? I’m not sure, but I was pleasantly surprised at the positive reception once I put the idea out there. Then came the scary part: can I pull it off?

I had some experience composing indie books for self-publishing, which wasn’t altogether challenging. Also, as someone who had worked in theater most of my life, I was confident in my ability to “put on a show” with minimal investment. However, once the date was set, I wondered if I’d get any submissions. I needn’t have worried. People came through, and even better, they were willing to do it for charity.

Fears confronted and challenges met, the first HorrorTube anthology, Local Haunts, went off without a hitch. It continues to sell well today. Soon after its publication, Steve Donoghue, BookTube’s prolific professor emeritus, encouraged me to do another one and offered to help.

From there, Served Cold was off and running. However, the problem with doing a seasonally-themed anthology is you need to get it out in time. Cutting it too close for a winter release, I shelved Served Cold for ten months and aimed for a holiday launch.

Served Cold emerged from the freezer this past December, and so far, it has been thawing out quite nicely. The receptions for both anthologies exceeded my expectations. People outside of our small community were starting to notice, even if just to ask the question, “What the hell is HorrorTube?”

It’s a question Steve Donoghue answers in his foreword for Served Cold, where he breaks down the evolution of YouTube and its various sub-groups. He also reflects on why horror and the cold are a perfect marriage made in Hell. “Horror tales always give chills, not hot sweats,” writes Steve. This anthology explores the many possibilities expressed by that idea.

If given a choice between fire and ice, as Robert Frost’s famous poem posits, I, like Frost, would choose fire. But, as Frost so eloquently reminds us, ice is just as hateful and destructive, but perhaps in less overt ways than its fiery counterpart. Ice’s slow, soul-eroding nature entices mountaineers to perilous summits and leads, as it does in Served Cold, men and women to embark on ill-fated missions to Antarctica, the ocean’s depths, and deep space, as well as the coldest regions of the human heart. In horror, nothing is more chilling than realizing you’re irretrievably trapped in a cage of your own making or to awaken, as one of our characters does, within a deep freeze with no way out. The deceptiveness of the cold and our belief that we can survive it make for fertile, albeit frozen, ground for horror fiction.

That’s not to say there aren’t plenty of bone-chilling frustrations involved in the real-life operations of producing an anthology composed of authors from all over the world with varying levels of experience. But I can confidently say that all the authors involved brought their A-game, as did our returning cover artist Cameron Roubique, whose bug-eyed skeleton character is a story unto himself.

Overall, the plusses of producing both anthologies far outweighed the minuses. It was an honor to have Local Haunts recognized in Ellen Datlow’s The Best Horror of the Year, and I’m proud to report that as of this date, we’ve donated over $500 to the children’s literacy charity First Book.

Will we do it again? Possibly. Honestly, it was a lot of work that, at times, felt overwhelming. But other BookTubers, such as Cam Wolfe with his recent We’re Not Home anthology, have already picked up the mantle.

I sincerely hope the trend continues whether I’m involved or not. BookTube, and by extension HorrorTube, is a wonderful community of readers and writers worldwide. Not acting on the impulse to bring talented people together to strengthen the community and give to a good cause is a scary prospect indeed.

Served Cold: Amazon

R. Saint Claire: YouTube Channel / Instagram / Blog

Regina Saint Claire writes adult and young adult fiction, but always with a dark flair. Writing honors include a Watty Award for best horror novel and multiple screenwriting awards, including a Webby Honoree. Regina is also the contributing editor of the bestselling Local Haunts: A HorrorTube Anthology and its follow-up publication Served Cold.

The Scariest Part: Nick Kolakowski Talks About ABSOLUTE UNIT

This week on The Scariest Part, my guest is author Nick Kolakowski, whose latest novel is Absolute UnitHere is the publisher’s description:

Absolute Unit is a dark carnival ride through the underside of the American Dream, where hustlers and parasites fight to survive against gun-toting furries, sarcastic drug kingpins, old ladies who are startlingly good with knives, and angry ex-girlfriends. It’s a hardboiled slice of modern American horror that asks the deepest question of all: Is the human race worth saving?

Bill is a nobody, a health inspector who’s not above taking a few dollars to overlook a restaurant’s mouse problem, and hated by nearly everyone except his long-suffering girlfriend. His nephew, Trent, isn’t much better: sexually and morally confused, he’s probably the worst teenage con artist on the East Coast. But today, these two losers are going to become the most important people in the world.

That’s because Bill and Trent harbor a sentient parasite with a sarcastic sense of humor and a ravenous appetite. As the parasite figures out how to control its new human hosts, the focus of its desires grows from delicious cheeseburgers and beer to something much darker and more dangerous.

The apocalypse might come from within us…

And now, let’s hear what the scariest part was for Nick Kolakowski:

Sometimes a book is written in a sustained rush, your mind pouring out thousands of words per day. And sometimes it’s much harder, the words slowing to a trickle over months or even years. Absolute Unit fell into the latter category; I wrote the first portion in 2015 before my mind squeezed off that particular idea tap. The flow didn’t start again until 2019.

Absolute Unit is told from the perspective of a sentient (and highly sarcastic) parasite that lives in the gut of a corpulent, corrupt health inspector named Bill. Over the course of a wild morning, Bill and his parasite friend find themselves embroiled in a crime spree involving a demented police detective, a mysterious body in a car trunk, and Bill’s sexually confused nephew Trent.

That first portion ended there. It was a complete story unto itself. But the parasite still spoke to me at idle moments; it had bigger dreams than merely spending its days in the gut of a guy who shook down convenience stores and restaurants under the guise of public health inspections. It suggested a further plot to me, a horrific one that involved conquering the world.

When I sat down to work on Absolute Unit again, the world was a far angrier place. I was a far angrier person — not just because of the political situation, but because the world seemed to be falling apart faster and faster. Climate change. Financial turmoil. Jerks who didn’t respect bike lanes. My own anger about it all scared me at moments. I decided to pour it into the story.

Now here comes the scariest part, for me at least: How could I convey that broad-based anger in a way that fused organically with the narrative? If I executed incorrectly, I risked coming across as stilted and preachy. Nobody likes pages of monologue, unless you’re an Ayn Rand fan (spoiler alert: I am not). Nobody likes it when you bring the plot to a screeching halt so that characters can make some kind of point. But a speech is exactly what I wanted a character to give, and it risked derailing the action.

In the end, I wrote and re-wrote that climactic sequence in a number of ways, trying out each for effect. The speech is as extreme as the environment around it (a burning hospital, zombie-like revenants, a SWAT team positioning outside), and I’d like to think that the combined effect is a primal scream. Once I finished a satisfactory version, I went back and wove ample foreshadowing into the preceding chapters, so the end doesn’t come completely out of left field.

I finished the book in 2019. Then 2020 hit, and suddenly, I had a new thing to frighten me: What if people thought I wrote a book about a world-conquering parasite as a metaphor for everything happening with COVID-19? Especially since the climax is in a hospital? True, books are usually written years before they actually hit bookstores, but most folks don’t know that — I feared they’d assume I’d written the thing as a pandemic killed hundreds of thousands of people. I didn’t want to be perceived as leveraging a real-life catastrophe to sell books.

But there’s nothing I can do about that. Some fears you just have to live with. There are always scary parts you can’t do anything about. But I’m grateful for how the book gave me an opportunity to externalize some of my anger. I hope it soothes some of yours, as well.

Absolute Unit: Amazon

Nick Kolakowski: Website / Twitter

Nick Kolakowski is the Derringer- and Anthony-nominated author of crime and horror thrillers, including Boise Longpig Hunting Club, Rattlesnake Rodeo, and the Love & Bullets trilogy of gonzo crime novellas. His short fiction has also appeared in various magazines and anthologies, including Lost Highways: Dark Fictions from the Road (Crystal Lake Publishing) and the infamous Tales From the Crust: An Anthology of Pizza Horror (Perpetual Motion Machine). He lives and writes in New York City.

The Scariest Part: Mark Allan Gunnells Talks About 2B

This week on The Scariest Part, I’m happy to welcome back Mark Allan Gunnells, whose latest novel is 2BHere is the publisher’s description:

Berkley Simmons died…for five minutes.

Berkley woke up to find himself in the hospital. He discovered that his ex is dead after a failed murder/ suicide attempt. With nowhere else to go, Berkley must return to the apartment where it all happened. It doesn’t take long for Berkley to begin to suspect that his ex never left the apartment, and still wants him dead.

And now, let’s hear what the scariest part was for Mark Allan Gunnells:

I’ve done a few of these columns in the past, but I don’t think I’ve ever been as scared to write something as I was my current release, 2B. I was excited to write it, I believed in the power of the concept, but I also entered into it with great trepidation.

Why? you ask. Because the idea for the novel had been rattling around in my head for nearly twenty years, and over the course of those two decades it had taken on almost a mythic quality. To me, it seemed like a gem of an idea that I worried I wouldn’t be able to do justice.

The origins of the novel actually date back earlier than twenty years. For that, we have to stretch back to my college years. I wrote a short story that was built around what became a big reveal near the end of 2B. To be honest, I thought the short story was rather crap, definitely not my best work, and yet…the concept itself I thought was golden. If only I could find a way to work it into a better story.

Then about twenty years ago I was living in an apartment, and I came home one night and the light in the breezeway outside my apartment was flickering and buzzing. A short, no doubt, but I had the thought that it was the kind of creepy scene you’d see in a horror movie. Maybe a haunted house story.

In this case, a haunted apartment story, I thought with a laugh, but in the next instant I had an idea for a novel. Almost fully formed, realizing I could do an interesting take on the ghost tale and finally incorporate the concept of that college-era short story into something worthy. I even instantly came up with the title, 2B.

At the time, however, I was having a lot of work stress and personal stress, and I wasn’t writing much, so the idea went onto the backburner. A few years later when I finally got serious about my writing again, the idea was there but I didn’t want to touch it yet. Perhaps I felt too rusty and wanted to knock the dust off.

The years continued to pass, and I worked on other projects, but 2B never left my thoughts. At times it almost seemed to cry out to be written, but again I kept putting it off. The idea seemed too good almost, and I remembered that short I’d written in college and feared I would take a great concept and screw it up.

About ten years ago, I did try my hand at a beginning. However, almost right away I could feel it going off the rails and I stopped after a chapter and a half. I still have that chapter and a half, and while they aren’t terrible, they also aren’t what I wanted them to be. This made me even more afraid to really tunnel into the novel.

And so another decade passed. Then last year, I was offered the opportunity to write a short novel for a cool new publisher, Valhalla Books. I provided the editor with several ideas, and I included 2B among them. This brought my haunted apartment concept back to the forefront of my mind and while there was still fear, suddenly excitement overcame that fear.

When I sat down to actually start it (ignoring the aborted chapter and a half from ten years ago), my head was filled with doubts and worries and once more I wondered if I could do this idea justice. Having a publisher waiting for the book, however, helped me to push all that aside and simply start.

And much to my amazement, the novel just flowed from me. I wrote it over a two-month period, writing every single day with no breaks. And with every completed page, the doubts and fears began to dissipate like smoke. I simply dove into that world, lived with the characters, and it seemed like before I knew it, I was writing “THE END”.

Considering that many of my novels were started then put aside for months or years before I returned to them to finish, it is actually amazing how smoothly and quickly this one came to me. Only two months.

Twenty years and two months.

2B: Amazon

Mark Allan Gunnells: Blog / Twitter / Goodreads / Amazon Author Page

Mark Allan Gunnells loves to tell stories. He has since he was a kid, penning one-page tales that were Twilight Zone knockoffs. He likes to think he has gotten a little better since then. He loves reader feedback, and above all he loves telling stories. He lives in Greer, SC, with his husband Craig A. Metcalf.