Mr Brian Hodge is so often one of my ToC buddies nowadays that if I don’t see him in said ToC I get a bit nervous and assume he’s met with an unfortunate accident. I am therefore very pleased to find him in The Spectral Book of Horrors and my own equilibrium undisturbed – at least on that score, for his tale, “Cures for a Sickened World”, is quite disturbing enough.
1. Can you remember the first horror story you read that made an impact on you?
That was probably Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart.” I recall reading that while in gradeschool, in a book I got from the children’s floor of the public library. I remember being creeped out by the old man’s cataract, and getting a particular thrill from the last line: “It is the beating of his hideous heart!”
2. What inspired the story you wrote for this anthology?
The piece I did is called “Cures For A Sickened World,” and it came out of two factors that were perfectly juxtaposed. One day, on Facebook, I followed a link that author Steven Savile posted to a review of the last Coldplay album. Scathing doesn’t even begin to describe it. I don’t care anything about Coldplay — I don’t think I’ve ever heard one of their songs in its entirety. But this reviewer’s whole routine seems to be that he hates everything and everyone, and tries to be as insulting as possible, even if he has to bring your family into it. Apparently it’s supposed to be amusing.
At the time, I happened to be devouring this big encyclopedic book on black metal. I don’t give a shit about Coldplay, but I love black metal, and as I was reading that review, I thought, “Hmm, how might one of those guys react to this? What if someone decided to take this reviewer’s hyperbole at face value?” So the story emerged as this unlikely head-on collision between cosmic horror and the deterioration of journalistic integrity. And it definitely wouldn’t have happened if not for those two windows of exposure lining up the way they did.
3. How would you describe the kinds of stories you usually write and does this Spectral Book of Horror story depart from that?
In addition to the novels, I’m closing in on 120 stories, novelettes, and novellas. I can’t think of a blanket definition that would cover them all, other than that they tend to be character-driven. Creatively, I like to roam, and ruts are death. But I go through phases, and lately I seem to be in a cosmic horror phase, and this fits that. And still, it all comes down to the characters and their choices.
4. In your heart of hearts do you prefer your horror to be of the slashy variety or of a more subtle psychological stripe?
I fear my heart of hearts finds that an untenable dichotomy. For me, it comes down more to the strength of the premise. Is it interesting, is it imaginative, is there something going on below the surface? Does it take me somewhere I’ve never been, or show me something I’ve never seen? So much of the slashy stuff is just an atrocity exhibition to knock off a sequence of 2-D people whose neural pathways still have a lot of connecting to do. I don’t find that interesting. It’s played out. Something more subtle may not fare any better, but at least it knows it’s going to have to work harder to keep your attention than “Oh my god he just popped her head like a strawberry!” Gore is fine. Extremity is fine. Subtlety is fine. Atmosphere is fine. Mind games are fine. But what are they in service of? That’s my metric.
5. What are you currently reading?
I usually have several going at once. Right now, I’m into my contributor copy of Ellen Datlow’s newest The Best Horror of the Year anthology. I’ve just started The Pagan Lord, the latest in Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon Tales historical series. For nonfiction, I’ve got a marketing book going, and one on theology, Bishop John Shelby Spong’s Why Christianity Must Change Or Die. Finally, I’m reading Nikki Sixx’s The Heroin Diaries. I’ve started that because the other day I finished The Dirt, the Motley Crue autobiography, and thought nope, can’t stop now, I haven’t hit my debauchery limit yet.