For WIH month, Calvin Demmer asked Christa Carmen a few questions. I have the privilege of posting the interview today. Thanks to Calvin for setting this interview up and thanks to Christa for the great answers!
I was going to post this earlier in the week but life got in the way. I’ve since started the latest issue of Unnerving Magazine in which Christa has a story (Red Room) which she talks about here. I read this story late Thursday night and it scared the shit outta me! It is seriously good. Here is a link to pick up a copy of Unnerving Mag issue #5. It is a doozy, trust me!
Calvin Demmer: What is it about the horror genre that you enjoy?
I’ve enjoyed horror for as long as I can remember. Counted among my favorite books as a child were Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, the Goosebumps and Fear Street Series, the vampire novels of Christopher Pike, the harrowing mysteries and narrow escapes of Caroline Keene’s Nancy Drew, and James Howe’s Bunnicula, The Celery Stalks at Midnight, and Howliday Inn. That love of the unknown, of things that go bump in the night, it only increased as I got older.
I remember lying in bed following my first ever horror film, John Carpenter’s Halloween, certain that Michael Myers was in my backyard, making his way up the trellis to my bedroom window. That there was no trellis alongside my house mattered not; only that beguiling, paralyzing feeling of fear. I can recall darting across my room to retrieve a crucifix from my jewelry box after reading the scene in ‘Salem’s Lot in which Danny Glick floats outside of Mark Petrie’s window, tap-tap-tapping, hoping to be invited in, and I refused to venture into my bathroom at night for weeks after reading Chapter 25, ‘Inside 217,’ of The Shining, certain that Danny Torrence’s vision of the hideous dead woman would become my own.
Today, the horror that interests me most is a different kind of horror than the vampires or ghosts that inducted me into the genre. That’s not to say I don’t still enjoy these types of stories; I love a great creature-horror or supernatural-horror novel, short story, or film as much as the next horror fan. But the terrifying parts of life cannot always be gleaned by staring them in the face, or by watching them on the evening news, and if you give a reader a window into something that truly frightens them—addiction, mental illness, the death of a loved one, marriage, childbirth, the future, dead-end jobs, not being good enough, being forgotten—that window will likely become a mirror. Horror reflects the hideous and the appalling parts of life back at us through a carnivalesque filter that makes the suffering bearable. And that’s what I love about it.
Calvin Demmer: Of the stories you’ve published, which was the hardest to see through? And what made it a challenge?
One of the stories that will be included in my upcoming collection with Unnerving, “Something Borrowed, Something Blood-Soaked,” is called “Flowers for Amaryllis,” and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve rewritten it. Even now, in its finished state, it’s gone through so many overhauls and tweaks, that the story seems strange to me. It’s about a young woman whose circumstances take a dark turn after her parents are killed, but who stumbles across an abandoned puppy in a rainstorm, and turns her life around in order to care for this creature more helpless than she. Years later, when her dog dies, she is poised to make a decision that would very quickly return her to that place of danger and despair, but something intervenes, though I won’t say what.
I wrote the first draft of this story at least two years ago, if not longer, and it’s clear, as it would be to anyone who knows me, that I wrote it from a very personal place, a place that recoils from the idea of losing my own dog in however many years. I think I thought I could write away my anxiety, my uncertainty, my dread, and it would all go into this story and get tied up with a neat little bow, and of course, that’s not how stories, or life, work. Still, I persisted with the idea, and I wrote, rewrote, cut, and altered the structure, until I was as satisfied as I was going to be with the result. It still doesn’t do that panicky feeling in my chest when I think about losing this dog I’ve already had for ten years, and relied on for so much, justice, but I think it comes close enough. And that’s all I can really ask for, right? To have captured even a tiny piece of those feelings, those thoughts in my head, and not to have diminished them too considerably on the page.
Calvin Demmer: Your story “Red Room” was published in the latest issue of Unnerving Magazine. How did the idea for it come about?
The idea for “Red Room” came about from a fairly distinctive sequence of events, which is a departure from the mode of conception for most of my other stories. 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, Tor.com 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 violins begin to screech and the masked killer breaks 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 woke the morning after a wedding to a series of photos 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 inexplicable 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’m not a drinker, 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.
Calvin Demmer: What are your writing plans for 2018? Any forthcoming publications you can share with us?
From January 26th-28th, I attended the Borderlands Press Writers Boot Camp and workshopped a horror/crime thriller I’ve been plugging away at over the past year, called Coming Down Fast. Last August, I met author and artist Dean Kuhta at NecronomiCon, and I’m putting the finishing touches on a short story called “Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge” for Issue #2 of Outpost 28, a Lovecraft-inspired dark fiction magazine Dean invited me to be a part of.
I have additional work forthcoming from Quantum Corsets’ Her Dark Voice 2, Black Ice Magazine Volume 2, Space Squid, and Dead Oaks’ Horror Anthology Podcast. I have about ten other short stories in various stages of completeness, and my goal is to finish one a month over 2018, keeping in mind that new ideas will inevitably strike during that time, as well as to participate in a second short story collaboration with author David Emery, whom I met while judging a short story contest through The Write Practice and Short Fiction Break literary magazine.
I also want to return to an unfinished novella, entitled “The Curious Incident at the All Souls’ Chapel and Crematorium,” and hope to have it finished in time to submit to Independent Legions Publishing’s first ever Inferno Award.
Calvin Demmer: Who are some of the female horror authors you believe people should be reading?
There are so many great female horror authors writing today, and each February, when authors, bloggers, etc. start compiling their WiHM lists, I discover new women whose work I grow to love. As for a few of my favorites, and where to start with their work, every one of Ania Ahlborn’s books I’ve read, I’ve enjoyed immensely. I recommend Within These Walls out of her seven published novels, and The Pretty Ones from her collection of novellas. I’ve devoured most of Stephanie M. Wytovich’s poetry collections, and particularly enjoyed Brothel, which won the Bram Stoker Award in 2016 for Superior Achievement in a Poetry Collection, and I’m a huge fan of Jessica McHugh’s The Green Kangaroos—if you want to check out a teaser, an excerpt from this novel appeared in Wicked Run Press’ Garden of Fiends, Tales of Addiction Horror, and man, will it suck you RIGHT in.
Carmen Maria Machado’s Her Body and Other Partiesisn’t pegged as straight horror, but you read “The Husband Stitch,” or any other of the nightmarish fables in her collection and try to tell me these aren’t stories of the horrific. Kelly Link’s “The Specialist’s Hat” and “The Summer People” are two of my favorite pieces of short fiction, and Damien Angelica Walters’ “Paskutinis Iliuzija (The Last Illusion),” from her Sing Me Your Scars collection, stood out as a hauntingly beautiful story in a collection full of them, and her debut novel, Paper Tigers, is hypnotic.
Other favorite female horror authors include Sarah Pinborough (#WTFthatending), Gwendolyn Kiste (And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe is on the preliminary ballot for the 2017 Bram Stoker Awards, and “40 Ways to Leave Your Monster Lover,” from Unnerving’s Hardened Hearts anthology, is second-person-dark-fairy-tale-horror at its most devilishly divine), Patty Templeton (There is No Lovely End), Leza Cantoral (Cartoons in the Suicide Forest), Theresa Braun (Heirloom, also from Unnerving’s Hardened Hearts anthology, is fabulous), Caroline Kepnes (You and Hidden Bodies are shelved in the thriller section, but the narration is reminiscent of Easton Ellis’ Patrick Bateman, and the plots of both novels are equally terrifying), and Caitlín R. Kiernan (I’m currently making my way through her Chance Matthews’ series).
As for the classics, Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle and “The Lottery,” Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper,” and of course, in the year of its 200th anniversary, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.