Joseph Sale is a novelist, writing coach, editor, graphic designer, artist, critic, gamer and student of Japanese (日本語の学生). His first novel, The Darkest Touch, was published by Dark Hall Press in 2014. Since, he has authored Seven Dark Stars, Across the Bitter Sea, Orifice, The Meaning of the Dark, Nekyia and more. Under the pseudonym Alan Robson (his grandfather’s name), he won third place in Storgy’s Exit Earth anthology competition, judged by Diane Cook.
He is the creator of †3 Dark, a unique publishing project born in 2017 showcasing the work of 13 writers including Richard Thomas and Moira Katson; each story is accompanied by original concept art from Shawn Langley and with cover art by Grand Failure.
He contributes feature-pieces, film, TV, and book reviews. and fiction, to Storgy Magazine. He also writes for GameSpew, and has an enduring love of video-games.
His short fiction has appeared most recently in Tales from the Shadow Booth, edited by Dan Coxon, as well as in Idle Ink, Silver Blade, Fiction Vortex, Nonbinary Review, Edgar Allan Poet and Storgy Magazine. His stories have also appeared in anthologies such as Dark Hall Press’s Technological Horror and Storgy’s Exit Earth. In 2014 he was nominated for the Sundress Award for Literary Excellence. In 2017 he was nominated for The Guardian’s ‘Not The Booker’ prize.
In his spare time he plays badminton, watches Two Best Friends Play and puts on his DM hat, concocting fiendish dungeons for his friends to battle through.
The coffee is nice and strong, lets get started…
KR: Could you tell me a little about yourself please?
Sure thing! My name’s Joe Sale, and I was born beside the sea, in a dingy little coastal town mostly populated by Lovecraftian fish-people (only kiddin’ dudes, you’re alright). I’m now living in Guildford, a beautiful medieval town haunted by ghosts, where I write fiction, articles, and run an editing business for a living. I also created 13Dark, a publishing venture pulling together thirteen of the most awesome and unique writers in the universe to write long-form dark, spiritual fiction. Our first issue was made available at the end of last year, and it’s well worth checking out. I’ve been reading Fantasy and Horror all my life. I’ve worked in some of the most horrendous spaces imaginable: call centres taking one hundred and fifty phone calls a day, dreadful corporate conglomerates selling selling selling, even as a cleaner, scraping shit and insects from the walls of five star restaurants. I once cleaned every seat in Bournemouth Football Stadium. This is the stuff that shapes you. That, and the wonderful friends, family and loved ones who have been a constant support throughout my life. For them, I’m so grateful.
KR: What do you like to do when not writing?
I’m a big gamer. I write about video-games at a site called GameSpew, who are doing awesome things. So, when I’m not writing about games, I’m often playing them. My poison of choice right now is For Honor, a medieval fighter-cross-multiplayer which pits samurais against knights against vikings. It’s frustrating, soul-destroying, addictive, and utterly wonderful. There’s a group of us that play regularly. I also like indie-games, particularly the works of Puppet Combo and KittyHorrorShow, as well as games like Dead End Road, which is a procedural horror driving game. It sounds like a weird combination, but boy it works! I’m a tabletop gamer too, and play a bit of Age of Sigmar, Dungeons & Dragons (my own mad homebrew version) and just generally paint miniatures for fun. It’s good to be away from the screen sometimes. To stretch my legs, I enjoy a bit of badminton.
KR: What is your favourite childhood book?
There’s a joke amongst those who know me – even my clients – about how much I talk about this book, but stuff it, it’s the honest answer. The Lord of the Rings is my favourite childhood book, maybe my favourite book of all time. I think it is just majestic, and majestically executed. The style is so clear and powerful, disarmingly simple in some ways. That ending, at the Gray Havens, tears me apart every time. When a book influences you that much, it becomes part of what I call your “life-myth”. We all have one. We have a story that is burned into us, that informs everything about us. It becomes not only a model for all stories we ourselves will tell, but also a model for our life. Fiction is that powerful, I believe. That’s why we need good stories, heroic and true and beautiful stories, because otherwise there is a danger that we will take, as our life-myth, something altogether destructive. That quest to destroy The Ring – to allegorically overcome the despair of human addiction – is emblematic on a mythic level. Tolkien set out to write the unwritten epic of the English language, and he succeeded.
KR: What is your favourite album, and does music play any role in your writing?
I love music, and do listen to a lot of it, and a huge variety at that. My taste, however, seems to be changing over time. As a young kid, all I used to listen to was Dire Straits. If you’d asked me for a favourite album, it would have been “Making Movies” without a hesitation. Then, as a teenager, I moved onto Avenged Sevenfold, Breaking Benjamin, Radiohead, Slipknot, and Muse – heavier and weirder stuff. I got big into Muse in particular, saw them twice. I fell in love with “Origins of Symmetry”, which I still love. I think there was something so powerful in that album. Every guitar note and piano flourish felt like a scream of defiance. At that age, I guess, I had started to believe that something was wrong and unjust with this universe we were in, so I connected at this deep level with the anger. But the thing about rock is that it’s not just about anger, it’s about feeling things deeply, it’s actually about catharsis. You experience the negative emotion of the performer as your own, and then are freed from it. I found this really healed me in times of need.
Now, I’ve changed again. I like something a little less operatic and a little more subtle. I listen to a lot of Skylar Grey, who I think is just one of the most awesome musicians of our time. She has a song on her last album called “Come Up For Air”, which is about waiting for someone to come back (for me it’s from the edge of total addiction). At times, her voice is so expressive, it’s like the music has become a physical being wrapped around your throat. I still listen to the old stuff, of course. I haven’t gone off it, but it just isn’t my “go to”.
KR: Do you have a favourite horror movie/director?
Wow, that is a hard question to answer! I do love the classics, of course, such as John Carpenter’s The Thing. I think that has to be one of the greatest horror films of all time. It’s genuinely so disturbing, seething with paranoia, and with a creature that is still freaky as hell nearly forty years on. I’m a big Kurt Russell fan too, so that helps. Kurt was fairly recently in another amazing horror movie called Bone Tomahawk (2015) directed by S. Craig Zahler, who is definitely one to watch (I believe he also did Brawl in Cell Block 99). Bone Tomahawk is so well paced, building and building and building, biding its time, until it reaches this explosive, nearly unwatchable climax. The dialogue is superbly off-beat too, and the characters are so well drawn.
I could go on with all the usual suspects: Kubrick’s The Shining, Ridley Scott’s Alien, but it might be more interesting if I let you in on a secret that I’m also a fan of a couple of less exalted horrors. I love the Resident Evil series by Paul W. S. Anderson. I wrote a defiant review of the last one (The Final Chapter, 2016), over at Storgy Magazine. I think they are auteuristic masterpieces, really, as deliberately trashy as they are entertaining. I thought the original Silent Hill (2006) movie – another video-game franchise adaptation, seems to be a weird pattern here – was actually pretty amazing too. The Freudian symbol, Pyramid Head, is used so well, as is the religious iconography. A lot of the story in this film is told very subtly in the imagery, which is a win in my book.
My favourite horror last year had to be Jordan Peele’s Get Out. That was a masterful blend of comedy, social satire, and horror – written and directed by someone who clearly understood the genre at a bone deep level.
KR: What are you reading now?
I’m reading The Nightly Disease by Max Booth III. This book is holy-fucking-shit incredible. Max has such a distinctive style, you could pick up any of his books, without seeing the cover, turn to a random page and know it’s him. He’s incredibly funny, but dark and existential too. He handles dread, that kind of creeping sense of unease and “things not being right” really well. I cannot recommend The Nightly Disease, or indeed any of his books, enough.
KR: Who were the authors that inspired you to write?
I guess there’s a kind of then and now situation here. At the moment, I am really inspired by Richard Thomas, who wrote Disintegration and Tribulations, both masterpieces. Grady Hendrix, whose My Best Friend’s Exorcism is possibly one of the best novels I’ve ever read. Christa Wojciechowski is another – her Sick series is a masterclass in psychological insight and “real horror”. Reading these authors, and more I don’t space to list, is what keeps me going. However, when I first started writing, I had a lot of more “classic” influence. I read Stephen King – The Stand blew my mind, and opened me up to the possibilities of genre fiction. Tolkien of course was a big influence. Mika Waltari’s The Egyptian was another book that changed how I thought about writing.
KR: Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer to just see where an idea takes you?
This is an interesting question, as this is something I’ve been reflecting on a lot recently. Not too long ago, I was sitting down trying to force myself to plan out a novel meticulously scene by scene, but I’ve realised that’s not my style. I am much more of a discovery writer than I ever imagined. So, I’m trying to get into this groove of coming up with ideas, sinking into them, and just letting them run. Going where they take me. I think this is producing much more ripe fruit, but it’s quite nerve-wracking and I’m still struggling at times with the process. I owe this realisation to Karen Wiesner and her marvellous craft-book How to Bring Your Fiction to Life, which talks a lot about ideas, process, and waiting until the idea is “ripe to drop” before sitting down to write. I think this is a really useful way of thinking about it. Most people start before they are ready. Karen showed me that you have to let ideas ferment before going for it.
KR: What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
I do no research, I just use my imagination…
KR: Describe your usual writing day?
I have no usual writing days at the moment. I used to get up and write first thing in the morning, that’s my preferred time. I like to have 2,000 words done before midday. Obviously, that is not always an option, what with other work and responsibilities, so one has to work around these things. When I was working 50 hours plus a week at the call centre, I was writing during my lunch breaks, and in the evening when I got home. It was exhausting, but I had to do it for my own sanity. Bizarrely, I think the desperation I felt there fuelled my work. I think we all work differently, some are more productive in the mornings, some in the evenings. I would recommend writing every day. It doesn’t matter when, so long as you do it. It forms a habit. Also, you trick your mind into productivity. The brain is scared of writing a whole novel, but if you say “I’ll just do twenty minutes before work”, you end up writing 1,000 words before you even realise. I believe the Japanese call this “kaizen”.
KR: Do you have a favourite story/short that you’ve written (published or not)?
I think it would have to be “When the Tide Comes In”, which was published in Storgy’s Exit Earth dystopian anthology. It’s about three friends sharing their final moments on a beach before some kind of world-ending event. It’s probably the most restrained story I’ve ever written. It’s just three people talking about their feelings. I connect with this story because it was inspired by my friends from Bournemouth. We used to sit and drink on the cliffs overlooking the sea, a place called Portman Ravine. Every time night fell, it was so dark, it almost felt like it could be the end of the world.
KR: Do you read your book reviews?
I know I shouldn’t, but I do. I am someone who is always looking to improve, so any feedback is always intriguing to me. However, sometimes reviews are not the best way to get that feedback! To be fair, most people have been kind so far.
KR: Any advice for a fledgling author?
Just keep writing. Seriously, the worst thing you can do is take a writing sabbatical, or tell yourself that you’ll write the idea later “when you have more experience”. No. Writing is like any skill, you need to practice it. Write as many terrible novels as you can, because one day you’ll learn how to write not-terrible ones. Then good ones. Then, maybe even great ones. I’ve never stopped writing, it’s the beautiful constant of my life. And not everything I’ve written has been pitch perfect, I’m still learning so much, but I’d never be where I am now if I’d spent years agonising over my first novel.
KR: What scares you?
Hornets. I’m terrified of them. I have some kind of residual memory of being stung by one as a baby, and I’ve never shaken the fear. The mere shape of them is repulsive, and the sound they make makes my teeth ache. I’ve tried a lot of things. I locked myself in a room with one once as a kid, and for a time it did reduce the fear levels, but it always seems to come back. I’ve tried writing about it too, but that only seems to increase their power over me…
KR: E-Book, Paperback or Hardback?
Hardback’s are a beautiful luxury and I do enjoy them – especially for graphic novels and books with more visual elements. But I think the paperback is more practical and I really feel like I can “sink into” a paperback, lose myself in its pages. I don’t know exactly why. There’s just something king about it. I’m always most excited about the paperback landing on my doorstep.
KR: Can you tell me about your latest release please?
My latest release is Nekyia, in 2017, a 700 page epic horror about the four horsemen of the apocalypse, re-imagined for our modern day. The first half of the book is a collection of four novellas, each one about a different horseman. The second half is a novel that draws those tales together. This book evolved over about 5 years, and there were all kinds of false-starts where it was going to get published in one form or another, by one publisher or another. In the end, it finally came together as one big tome, which I think is how it was always meant to be. There are some pretty wild scenes in it, and some pretty horrifying characters, but I hope people see it has a redemptive heart. I should say the title, Nekyia, derives from an ancient Greek word which means: “A rite by which the dead are summoned to be questioned about the future”. It is a form of necromancy. I have a couple of other big books in the pipeline too. I’m hoping they will be released this year!
KR: What are you working on now?
I just finished working on a novel called Against Such Reckless Hate, which is a kind of eerie fantasy novel, very Twin Peaks-esque, about a group of people who have been brought back from the dead going on a rescue mission to save the one who brought them back from terrible shadows. The whole thing is an allegory of my battle with suicidal depression, and the power of fiction to save our souls. I went through a dark time last year, working ludicrous hours at a call centre, taking over one hundred and fifty phone calls a day. I felt like there was no escape from that place. Writing was my therapy, and helped me get through. This book was the diamond that emerged from those burning ashes. I’m just about to start working on something new. I’m not one-hundred percent sure exactly what it is yet, but I have some manic ideas.
KR: You find yourself on a desert island, which three people would you wish to be deserted with you and why?
You can choose…
a) One fictional character from your writing.
b) One fictional character from any other book.
c) One real life person that is not a family member or friend.
Wow, this is a hard question to answer! To answer (a), my favourite character from my writing is Michael Banner, the dark prince. He is a recurring character who first appears in my novel The Darkest Touch published by Dark Hall Press. He also rocks up in Nekyia. But, cool as he is, I’m not sure he would be the best company on a desert island. He’d probably end up talking you into some satanic rite, or opening a gateway, or moving the island to another dimension. To pick a fictional character from another book (b), it might have to be Allan Quartermain from H. Rider Hagard’s magical novels. He would actually be pretty useful, considering he’s an adventurer and explorer. I guess you could say he’s like the original Han Solo, a ne’er-do’well with a heart of gold, humour and wit, but also depth and emotionality. He’d be a good laugh. For the final person, (c), it would have to be Chin Ning Chu. Her work is truly inspirational to me, particularly Thick Face, Black Heart, which I think is a work touched by divinity. If I was trapped on a desert island, I couldn’t think of anyone better to help me keep calm, maintain the correct mental attitude, and remain focused on the objective of surviving. Her understanding of psychology and spirituality were profound, and her understanding of the world and business was almost prophetic. Sadly, she passed away in 2009, but her work continues to inspire.
KR: Thank you very much Joseph.
You can follow Joseph on Twitter @josephwordsmith
To find out more about Joseph please visit his official website www.themindflayer.com
Please visit Joseph’s author page here
The †3 Dark Indiegogo page can be found here
You can follow the †3 Dark project on Twitter @Project13Dark
Across time, across worlds, the dark prophets are surfacing. And above the rabble of maniacs and heretics are four supreme lords. A weaver of illusions. A life-drinking mastermind. A psychotic scientist breaking with reality. And, highest of all, The Prince with his hypnogogic eye. Where the horsemen go, hunger, death, terror and sickness follow. As their dark plots unfold, their paths will converge, centering on a city only spoken of in dreams. There are also those who resist the end times. A wolf-woman. A desert seer. A cripple. A fortune-teller. And the Last Knight. From the slums and shadows come these defenders of the old ways of life, but how can they face the dark when it is unified and they are disparate, lost, broken? Lines will blur in the darkening city. Secrets kept beneath its black stone will unspell the rule of tyrants and reveal the hidden fate of all wayward souls. Light will meet dark. Dark will meet deeper dark. And all will perish; all will rise.
A dead goddess walks, an obsessive voyeur witnesses a miracle, a brave soul ventures into the dark of the Undertow… DEAD VOICES is the first installment of 13Dark, a publication dedicated to showcasing writers committed to exploring dark, spiritual themes. Combing horror, fantasy and much more, these stories will get to the heart of the big questions about our existence. Featuring three tales from new voices in the field, accompanied by gorgeous artwork produced by Shawn Langley, DEAD VOICES demonstrates what unfettered creativity can really achieve.
You can buy 13Dark from here