{Interview} Whiskey And Other Unusual Ghosts: S.L. Edwards Talks To Kendall Reviews.

S.L. Edwards is a Texan currently residing in California. He enjoys dark poetry, dark fiction and darker beer. His debut collection Whiskey and Other Unusual Ghosts was released in 2019 from Gehenna and Hinnom Books.

Whiskey And Other Unusual Ghosts

  • Paperback: 163 pages
  • Publisher: Gehenna & Hinnom Books (July 14, 2019)

KR: Coffee?

KR: Could you tell me a little about yourself please?

I’m a Texan currently travelling the world, spending time in Latin America for research. I’m a big fan of dogs, nearly all types but with a special fondness for corgis. When I have a stable enough life, I’d like to get a corgi and name him “Zhivago,” after my favorite novel. I enjoy dark poetry, dark fiction, and even darker beer.

KR: What do you like to do when not writing?

This is a bit of a weird question for me. As a consequence of my day job, I’m almost always writing. When I do write fiction, it is almost always to work through what I had to read and write for my day job. In that sense, my fiction is my therapy.

But I enjoy camping. California, in particular, is just absolutely gorgeous for hiking and camping. I’m an exercise enthusiast too and enjoy running as well. I also like to find craft breweries with my friends and share in the experience of finding new places. I cook too, though I’m not the greatest chef ever.

KR: What is your favourite childhood book?

The books that really began my love of writing and reading were the “Chronicles of Narnia.” My fourth-grade teacher read The Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe to us in class and I was hooked. I started writing the next week, and she was kind enough to let me share those stories with my class too. I know a lot of people dismiss Narnia because it is Christian allegory (a connection I did not make until I was a young adult, who had moved on to darker fiction) but it was my gateway into this world of storytelling. For that, I’m always going to be eternally grateful.

KR: What is your favourite album, and does music play any role in your writing?

You got me. I like a little bit of everything. I don’t think I have a favorite album because of this. I do have a favorite series of albums, Johnny Cash’s America series. To me, Cash is the soul of the United States. Both the beauty and the ugliness of it. And he could capture that, hope and heartbreak. So to hear him cover this grand panorama of songs from other artists is truly a unique experience.

I know a story is going to be particularly dark when I switch over to country music, not a decision I make consciously while writing. But mostly music is just a way to block out distractions while I write.

KR: Do you have a favourite horror movie/director?

Guillermo Del Toro is certainly my favorite horror director. Pan’s Labyrinth was an eye-opener for me, particularly how Del Toro contrasted the encroaching horror of the Spanish Civil War and the brutality of the fascist father, against the terrors scene through a child’s eyes. I’ve never forgotten that movie, and I always have trouble not tearing up at the end. We don’t talk about La Espinaza Del Diablo that much, but it’s a particularly brutal one too. Probably better than Pan’s Labyrinth in this author’s opinion.

My favorite horror movie? The Exorcist is high on that list. So are The Mothman Prophecies, The Amytiville Horror and Trick R’ Treat. In terms of more recent movies, Hereditary and The Witch lead the pack.  

KR: What are you reading now?

I’ve been attempting to read a whole slew of collections published this year. So far I’ve read John Langan’s Sefira and Other Betrayals, Betty Rocksteady’s In Dreams We Rot, Jeffrey Thomas’ Unnamed Country, Matt Cardin’s To Rouse Leviathan, Laura Mauro’s Sing Your Sadness Deep, Nathan Ballingrud’s Wounds, and Brian Evenson’s Song for the Unraveling of the World.

At the moment though, I’m reading Dr. Zhivago again. It’s my favorite novel, and I always try to read it before a major life change.

KR: What was the last great book you read?

That would be Brian Evenson’s latest collection. I have to tell you, every single line of that book is pure poetry. In retrospect, I’m kind of mad that I have only heard of Evenson this year. None of the stories in that latest collection are long, but they are all effective. He can conjure tone, character, dread and awe all in an opening line.

KR: E-Book, Paperback or Hardback?

E-Book. I like to collect hardcovers, but I’m also someone who likes to maximize their space. And someone who travels a lot. And a speed-reader. So I just need an e-reader.

KR: Who were the authors that inspired you to write?

If you don’t mind, I’ll tell you who inspired me to write at first and then who inspired me to continue writing. As a kid, I consumed a lot of fantasy. C. S. Lewis, J. K. Rowling and the like. R. L. Stine too, I destroyed so many of my goose-bumps books. My mom was a major Stephen King fan, and I grew up in a house with all these first edition Stephen King books. So horror was in my DNA pretty early.

When I was a young adult, I came into Weird Fiction via Lovecraft, like so many of us do. From Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith. And of course, Poe.

But then I began reading contemporary Weird Fiction. John Langan was particularly an inspiration to me. His story “Technicolor” really impressed me, so I went to my local library and just devoured everything he wrote. Even now he’s my gold standard for modern weird fiction.

Nadia Bulkin was another author who broke the wheel for me. Reading her work was like enlightenment. I can’t recommend her collection She Said Destroy enough. S.P. Miskowski’s Skillute cycle is also an inspiration because it really pushes the limits of how far a writer can take a ghost story. Gwendolyn Kiste’s recent book Rust Maidens (which cleaned house recently, earning all the awards) also served as a reminder as to what work remains to be done.

Matt Cardin, who I mentioned earlier, was another illuminating read. I love his approach to horror as resting in the familiarity of Judeo-Christian culture and Biblical analysis. This idea that there is a darker meaning to the gospel, and executing that idea, is pretty impressive. Jon Padgett too always inspires me to keep going.

And then I want to mention Kurt Fawver. Kurt, I think, is someone who is going to continue experimenting with meta-fiction. His stories have masqueraded as community guidelines, reviews, interviews, conversations and myths. That inspires me to keep trying new formats, and I really can’t wait to see what he does next.

KR: Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer to just see where an idea takes you?

I always try to start with an outline and a paragraph summary of my characters. I also write down the target word count of my stories. But I always deviate from this outline, which is okay. I try to think about the outline as a vague idea, and my characters as my anchors. When a story is good, I end up changing parts of it because the characters change.

KR: What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?

As I’ve alluded to, I’ve done quite a bit of research on political violence. But I try not to ground my stories in real-world cases. I use history as a launching-off point and find it easier to make up my own worlds and cases.

All this is to say, I rarely do too much research. I’ll look up things like architecture terms, types of trees, geographical features if I want to use a particular setting. Maybe a rifle type (readers always want to know this and I’m not sure why).

But beyond that, I’ll admit that I don’t do much research.

KR: How would you describe your writing style?

This question never gets easier.

I write horror, unapologetically so. Lately, we have this notion that “horror” is a lesser descriptor, that authors should aspire to something “greater.” The term “weird fiction,” which I also would use to describe my own writing, is also slowly being moved away from. And then, there’s a debate about how useful genre is at all. To each their own. I have genuinely read some great writing that I don’t think neatly fits into genre. Here I’ll plug Laura Mauro again, who’s work to me reads mostly like very dark modern fantasy. For her work, I think “speculative” is a very effective descriptor. But it certainly doesn’t fit into a peg. I’ve referred to Nadia Bulkin’s stuff as “ghost tragedies,” and she’s used her descriptor of “suffering” to describe her stories. I think that fits, and doesn’t exactly speak to one particular genre.

But I write horror.

I do, however, think terror works best in tandem with other emotions. It’s important to me that my characters leave an impression on the reader, that they inspire an emotion in them. To achieve that, they need to inspire an emotion in me. Whether I hate or love them, I try to understand these people. And they’re very, very rarely heroes. There’s usually a darkness or a flaw in them, and when the supernatural is introduced it only serves as a catalyst to burn up these fires that had already been started.

I don’t think I’ve often thought about my style, in terms of diction and syntax. I will say that in many “weird tales” you have instances where it is deliberately unclear as to what events are taking place in a story. Many writers (see Kurt Fawver, see Christopher Slatsky, see Christopher Ropes) can thrive in word choice and ambiguity. Or they can put forth an idea so effectively terrifying that the reader is left deeply unsettled, even more so because they don’t fully comprehend what it was they just read.

While I love that, that’s not what I do.

Readers will usually understand “what” is happening in my stories. Less clear is the “why.” There are, of course, a few exceptions. “Maggie Was A Monster,” is the second-person story that opens my collection. Readers have come away with a few interpretations of it that have really surprised me. But usually there’s an apparent play-by-play of the events of my stories.

KR: Describe your usual writing day?

I write in the morning and evenings, both for work and for this whole fiction thing. Then I read during the day, take notes. Drink coffee. Take a break in the afternoon to exercise. Cook. I try to wind down operations by 9 pm.

KR: Do you have a favourite story/short that you’ve written (published or not)?

It varies day-to-day. I think my story “Volver Al Monte,” is a very powerful one. It concerns a retired general, a past civil war, and inner-earth giants. “Cabras,” was also a brutal story, about an insurgent and an encroaching supernatural terror from the jungle he is hiding in. “The Hollow Songs of Father Prester,” is a Ligotti-inspired Weird Western about a mad priest and the bounty hunter sent to surveil him.

Right now though, I have a story that has been accepted and is waiting for publication called “Please Don’t Worry.” I’ve always been a fan of clean, simple ghost stories. And this was my attempt to write one. It’s written in the second person, and is about a young man and his family. There are themes of bullying and its effects, the looming shadow of gun violence over school life in the United States, and firsts loves. It’s a tragic little tale, but I hope it reminds people that I write about characters who aren’t generals or insurgents.

KR: Do you read your book reviews?

I honestly can’t help it. So far, my reviews have been pretty flattering. Now don’t get me wrong, there have been some critiques and all those critiques have been fair. Several reviewers have, for instance, noted that Whiskey reads like a book with two halves. And that’s correct. The first half sort of deals with more classic horror motifs, the latter with civil wars. Some readers might like that, others might get whiplash. Others have noted a few typos (I am so, so sorry) as well as some stylistic things that they did not always like.

But the way I view it is that someone took the time to read and write about my book. I should listen to what they have to say, and be open to learning from it.

KR: How do you think you’ve developed as an author?

I’ve really developed my philosophy and technique. I’ve learned that a small cast of characters makes for a more effective short story. I’ve learned how to open stories, and how to close them. I’ve learned to map out characters first, and then be more open to changing the plot as things go.

KR: What is the best piece of advice you’ve received regarding your writing?

Can I answer this by offering my own advice? In past interviews, I’ve offered advice along the lines of a playful joke. “Drink plenty of water.” “Get exercise.”

But the truth is that while everyone offers advice, it’s not always useful. Sometimes it can be downright condescending.

Like a lot of writers, I suffer from long episodes of imposter syndrome and doubt. I have days when I wake up and just disdain my writing. For no good reason. Nothing sets these episodes off. And even more frustrating/sad, not everyone believes me.

All of this is to say, the best advice I have received comes from my friends. Even when I don’t listen to it. “Don’t beat yourself up.” And it’s really as simple as that. If you’re writing, you’re trying. And so many people don’t even try.

So, “Don’t beat yourself up.”

KR: What scares you?

Serious answer first: lies. As someone who has quite extensively studied political violence, I’m sort of horrified as to what people are capable of. I’m not sure I believe in “villains,” or that these people are common. But I definitely question that belief when reading about particularly heinous events that have been hidden in broad daylight.

For instance, in the 1968 Tlatelolco Massacre, the Mexican Army killed around 300 students in a matter of hours. However, these troops only fired on the students because members of the Presidential Guard fired on the troops from the rooftops. That’s to say that the government provoked its own forces into killing these kids by making them believe that they were being shot at. But in the immediate aftermath, the government declared that only “about 30 people” were killed.

The United States government has successfully lied about events in Vietnam for years. Do a google search on “Tiger Force.” None of those guys were prosecuted for what they did. I have no doubt that there are some things that will come out of Iraq, Afghanistan that will make us go pale. This sort of routine, and is just appalling. Not only because of the violence, but in the ability to hide it for decades.

Sillier answers: sharks. They have serrated teeth and outlived the dinosaurs. I don’t like that. No thank you.

KR: Can you tell me about your latest release please?

My debut collection Whiskey and Other Unusual Ghosts just came out from Gehenna and Hinnom Books. It has a total of thirteen stories, six of which are original to the collection. Each story has an illustration from my good friend Yves Tourigny, who was my collaborator on the webcomic “Borkchito: Occult Doggo Detective.” Each story also has author notes. Gwendolyn Kiste, whose writing is some of the best today, wrote me an extremely flattering introduction.

The book deals with several reoccurring themes. Growing up. Cyclical violence (familial and political). My approach to these stories is treating the supernatural as a catalyst for problems that were already there, and my philosophy was that if I removed the supernatural aspects of a story I should still be left with a horror story. For instance, “Cabras” is very scary without the supernatural. It becomes a story about political extremism and family alienation. Without the supernatural in “I’ve Been Here A Very Long Time,” I’m left with a story about how depression can ruin a life.

There are a few “fun” stories too. “And the Woman Loved Her Cats,” is a sort of haunted house story, but based around animal hoarding. “Movie Magic” is a story about a lost film, and is my love letter to the classics of the horror genre.

Most importantly, my debut short story collection is dedicated to my mom.

And I love my mom.

KR: What are you working on now?

I am working on getting two more collections out there. The Death of An Author contains my pulpier stories, think Robert E. Howard or Clark Ashton Smith, things that border on “dark-ish fantasy” more than “horror.” And Monsters of the Sea and Sky is going to be a collection with the theme of secrets and lies.

Unfortunately, I’ve also caught the novel bug. That’s going to be a longer journey though. Interested readers can imagine “The Shining” told on the eve of the 1973 Pinochet Coup.

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.

Borkchito. Borkchito is a talking chihuahua who solves supernatural mysteries. I would love to sit down with him and talk about it. He also shares my fondness for whiskey.

b) One fictional character from any other book.

Probably Wonder Woman. Her optimism and set of powers means we could probably leave the island whenever we wanted. In that invisible jet too.

c) One real-life person that is not a family member or friend.

So a complete stranger then? Willie Nelson. He seems like a fun guy.

KR: Thank you very much Sam.

S.L. Edwards

You can find out more about S.L. Edwards via his Facebook page HERE

S.L. Edwards Author page can be viewed HERE

There is a GOFUNDME page for The Death Of An Author HERE

Whiskey And Other Unusual Ghosts

Whiskey and Other Unusual Ghosts debuts a meteoric new voice in modern dark fiction.

In these tales, you’ll discover the humanity of horror, and the traumas that birth ghosts of all kinds.

From inner demons to the bloodied fields of war, Edwards maintains his unique voice while whispers of classic writers such as Arthur Machen and Thomas Ligotti shine through.

Edwards enters the contemporary dark fiction crowd with a standout collection that is likely to cement his position amongst the modern greats.

You can buy Whiskey And Other Unusual Ghosts from Amazon UK Amazon US


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