Sunday, 25 October 2015

Halloween Week: An Interview With Author Todd Allen

Welcome my horror minions,

to the start of my gloriously devilish

Halloween Week!

And do have a great beginning to kick off the week! Today's post is a wonderful interview with fellow Atlantic Canadian, and horror author, Todd Allen. He chats about his debut novel, Sacra Obscurum, discusses his writing and shares a wickedly tantalizing excerpt from his novel.


An Interview with Todd Allen

1) Why don’t you begin by sharing a little about yourself.

I was born in New Brunswick, Canada in 1976. Maybe it had something to do with being the youngest of three boys, but I was a kid who always needed a creative outlet. I drew and I painted, and later, I picked up the guitar and played in garage bands.

I have been a fan of all things horror for as long as I can remember. I first took an interest in horror novels by picking up my older brother’s paperbacks and reading bits here and there. One day I picked up Stephen King’s Pet Sematary and my eyes were opened to a whole new world. I was hopelessly addicted.

Today I’m a husband and a father and when I’m not occupied by the duties of those roles, I like to write horror stories. Sacra Obscurum is my first novel.

2) Could you tell us a bit about Sacra Obscurum?

Like most every horror story, it explores a struggle against evil. In it, a few small-town boys perform a ritual from an arcane book and the story focuses on the effect the rite had on the town several years later and the effect it had on the Dawson family in particular.

It opens with Matt Dawson returning home after the death of his father, Stanley. Like Stanley, Matt is a clinical psychiatrist and he is obliged to assume control of his father’s practice. As Matt learns about his new patients, questions arise concerning Stanley’s recent behavior. Matt begins to fear that his father was involved in a decades-old murder and rumors persist that he dabbled in the occult. Matt is so driven to uncover the truth that he ultimately puts his own life in jeopardy.

3) How did you become interested in writing about the occult?

There was a poll conducted in 2013 that revealed 57% of Americans believe in the devil. Of that group, 40% believe the devil has occasionally possessed people. Quite simply, people believe in the devil. They believe in the occult. That people still hold such old-world beliefs is fascinating to me.

I was raised in a Christian household. We weren’t what some people would view as devout Christian, but we went to church weekly and observed all the holidays. On occasions that I went to my parents with concerns about vampires or werewolves, their response would never vary. They would tell me, “Those things aren’t real. Monsters aren’t real. But the devil, he’s real. He is the only thing you need to worry about. So go to church and say your prayers and he won’t bother you.” I think a lot of parents send a similar message to their kids even today—roughly 57%, of the population I’d say. That alone makes it an interesting sub-genre to work in. Also, there is a wide back story to draw material from and it is based in a history that is widely accepted by the society we live in.

When dealing in the occult and in demonology, the ultimate threat is coming under possession by a foreign intelligence. Possession brings about a total loss of freedom, a loss of identity. That is the one concept in the genre that frightens me above all others. And if it is frightening to me, I just have to write about it.

4) What did you enjoy most about writing your book?

I had a lot of fun working with the setting. The story unfolds in the town of Saint Andrews. It is a real place. It is a coastal town on the North Atlantic with a deep tradition of fishing and seafaring. The physical characteristics of the place are quite unique. It is nestled between a mountain ridge on one side and the sea on the other. It has the feel of a place that would be very difficult to escape so it made the perfect setting for putting characters in danger. The townspeople were fun to write, too. They have a bit of a regional dialect and a few unique traditions that I hope came through in the book.

5) What did you hope to accomplish by publishing your book?

Being from Eastern Canada, the Maritimes in particular, I wanted to contribute a story to the horror genre that my neighbors could relate to, that we could call our own. This is an old place—one of the first regions settled in North America—and ghost stories abound. My grandmother could tell a slew of them. In recent years, some of the region’s more popular ones have been published in collections, but I still don’t think we do enough to celebrate our history of the macabre.

6) Why did you decide to write in the horror genre?

I had my first run-in with horror at a tender age. I saw a movie that I was altogether too young to see. I was terrified. Needless to say, there were sleepless nights to follow. When I finally got over the trauma of my first horror film, I learned something about myself that was a little surprising—I liked being scared. And I stopped at nothing to recreate the terror that gripped me during that first film. I watched every horror movie I could get my hands on. As I matured, I turned to books and found a whole new appreciation of the genre. Books can provide the reader another level of intimacy with characters and it pays dividends when those characters are endangered. When you spend ten chapters getting to know characters, it is so much easier to fear for them when they ultimately face the monsters.

Writing horror is such a liberating experience for me, as well. Perhaps no other genre allows a writer to make commentary on society while still having so much fun. Metaphor plays a heavy roll in this. Sometimes monsters aren’t just monsters. Vampires have been known to represent the spread of disease; werewolves, a lack of self-control; the Frankenstein monster, the folly of Man playing God. There are so many ways for horror writers to speak their minds.

7) What do you enjoy most about writing in the horror genre?

There is no better feeling than the one I get when a reader explains how my book frightened them. When they say, “I had to put it down at night, because I was too freaked out to continue,” that’s the best. I guess I get a kick out of making people feel uncomfortable.

8) Do you have a favourite author, or writing inspiration?

I can’t narrow it down to just one favourite, although Stephen King remains a stand out to me. There are some excellent horror writers emerging on the Canadian scene. Guys like Andrew Pyper, Nick Cutter and Michael Rowe are doing some fantastic work. I suppose, when I read their books, I get excited about the future of horror fiction in Canada.

9) What advice would you give beginning writers?

A great way to practice story building is by telling stories to friends. Years ago, a few friends and I had a weekly ritual. We’d meet at the pub every Friday after work for a few pints. During all the elbow-bending, we’d talk about whatever happened to each of us over the last week at work, or at home, or with women—the whole bit. I didn’t see it at the time, but I was getting great practice at telling stories. If it was a funny story, the timing had to be just right to elicit a great laugh. If the story was a jaw-dropper, the twist had to be delivered perfectly to get the most impact. The friends who listened to those stories made the best critics. Whether or not they realized it, their faces would tell me just how well I presented my story. I learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t. The same story-telling rules can be applied to writing.

Now we don’t meet at the pub very much these days. We’re all married and have families to care for, but those experiences remain invaluable. I really believe that recounting those stories for friends helps me in my process today. Sometimes when I’m trying to arrange a passage effectively, I’ll think, how would I tell this story at the pub?

Author Bio: 

Todd Allen lives on the East Coast of Canada in Southern New Brunswick, and is a down-to-earth, fascinating interview. His examination of the occult exposed him to many modern witchcraft, demonology, and summoning practices and he was more than happy to get those research materials out of his house upon completing his book.

And here's an excerpt from Sacra Obscurum:

Matt reviews the mysterious Dykeman’s long-lost chart

A turn of the page revealed another incident report. It was more of the same – violent behavior followed by punishment. This time, Dykeman managed to bite an orderly despite being restrained to his bed. That earned him lockdown and a dose increase. Matt was beginning to see a pattern. Dykeman had been doped up, restrained and kept under lock and key for more than fifty years. And it had started long before he was placed in Stanley’s care. How did he survive all that time? Matt pondered. What could possibly be keeping him alive when his body has been poisoned with drugs like this for decade after decade? Ordinarily, Matt would sympathize for the patient. Clinically speaking, Morris Dykeman was a very ill young man and the years had not improved his state. But speaking from the heart, Matt saw Dykeman as a homicidal madman who was kept in Stanley’s hospital mere blocks away from his home, where he grew up, where his mother lived. Dykeman had been there the whole time, while Matt attended elementary school, went to Boy Scout meetings, played barefoot on his lawn. Dykeman was there like a beast lurking in the shadows.
            After he emptied the wine bottle, Matt flipped through more pages. There were more incident reports, but he could not bring himself to read them. He had the gist. As he got to the bottom of the chart, there were fewer and fewer dose records and none of them bore any notes by attending psychiatrists. If there was no change in condition, there was nothing to write about. And how could there be any change when he was kept in a vegetative state? He became the forgotten patient. And when Stanley came calling, Centracare was probably thrilled to be rid of their guest. Dykeman became someone else’s burden.
            Strangely absent from the chart were Stanley’s notes. Matt had assumed that he would have performed his own patient evaluation, but maybe he didn’t bother. After all, Dykeman’s records spoke for themselves. It was clear that the patient would never be well. He could never improve to the point of reentering society, or even achieving any quality of life, so why waste time on him? But then again, why bring him to Saint Michael’s in the first place? Matt may have found Dykeman’s elusive chart, but he still did not find any answers.
Matt groaned and rubbed his tired face. There was another wine bottle chilling in the fridge with his name on it. He was about to stagger to the kitchen to retrieve it when he noticed the envelope at the very bottom of the folder. He flipped to it, pulled it free, and pushed the chart away. On the front of the manila envelope, Saint Andrews Police Dept was stamped in red ink. Matt opened it, dumped its contents on the desk. There were some pages stapled together and half a dozen or so eight-by-twelve black and white photographs. The first one took a moment for Matt to comprehend. When he did, the Chardonnay he had consumed attempted a comeback. Tears stung his eyes as he swallowed hard against the tempest in his stomach. He took a breath. 
“They’re crime scene photos…Dykeman’s crime scene photos,” he said softly. “It’s okay. You’ve worked on cadavers before…you can handle this.” 
Indeed, he had. Matt had even dissected a human brain in the course of his studies. But there had not been any blood. That was all the difference. Though the blood appeared black in the pictures, there was no mistaking it. It was everywhere: splashed on the floor, climbing the walls, dripping from the ceiling, everywhere.
He looked back to the photographs. He had never seen anything like it. What used to be people was rendered to bits and pieces. What was once Dykeman’s family was mere gore strewn about their kitchen. Matt shuffled the pictures to the next. It was a close up of a housedress – white with flowers dotting it on the parts that were not blood-soaked black. The next depicted a pair of hedge clippers resting on the kitchen table. “Oh my God…” escaped Matt’s lips. He brought his hand to his mouth. The image of the huge shears slick and dripping, froze the breath in his chest. How does one use those to butcher people…to butcher family? Stunned, Matt looked to the next photo. It was a shot of a weird symbol painted on the kitchen wall. No, wait, it was not paint, it was drawn in blood. And by hand, too. Matt could see streaking made by individual fingers in the gruesome drawing. He put the stack of photographs face-down on the desk.

Well, that's it for today. 
Please pop by tomorrow for some of my wicked poetry,
and for some featured poems by guest poet, Sean Theall.

And for a Halloween treat, both books in my Killers and Demons series
are free until midnight October 31st on Smashwords. 

Check them out here:

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