Monday, November 28, 2011

Featured Ghost Story in the Madhouse: Scott A. Johnson


Every writer has his or her specialty, even within genres.  There are writers who specialize in zombie stories, vampire stories, and other more bizarre things.  We don't all specialize, but some of us do.  If I'm known for anything, I like to think it's for my ghost stories.  One of my favorite things to do is tell the old tales of ghosties and ghoulies and long-legged beasties and things that go bump in the night.  I love to drop my voice at just the right moment and open my eyes as wide as I can, and scare the hell out of an audience.  But people have asked me time and time again two questions:  What's my favorite ghost story, and why do I tell them?  I know so many ghost stories, that one might think it a difficult question to answer.  I could choose between haunted houses, dolls that move, parks that are mass graves, and a thousand other stories that I regularly tell to chill and terrify.  But the answer often surprises people.  The answer to both questions are the same. 

My home town (a little stain of a place called Lake Jackson) was built on a swamp that used to be a sugar cane plantation.  It was owned by a pair of brothers, John and James Jackson, one of whom shot and beheaded the other.  So you see, my home town had a rough beginning, one filled with blood.  Years later, the land was bought by Dow Chemical, which, to some people, was not an improvement.  Dow built the town around the chemical plant, and Lake Jackson was born.  That was in 1943, and one of the first people to buy a house there was my Grandfather, Addison, and my Grandmother, Doris. 

My Grandmother was, in her youth, a beautiful woman, and as she aged, her beauty became more refined in that she radiated strength and love.   She was a Principal for the tiny school in Lake Jackson, and as she grew older, her love of children grew as well.  When she retired, she opened up her own school, a preschool, for anyone who cared to come, but I suspect it was just a ruse to get to spend more time with us, her grandchildren.  She lived to be around 90 years old, and because of her kindness, the turn-out for her funeral was huge.  Everyone in Lake Jackson knew who Doris Johnson was, and everyone loved her. 

But then, there was her house.  The old converted duplex was old, and none of us wanted to take possession of it, so we decided to sell it.  It may have been wishful thinking on our parts, but we wanted to sell it with a stipulation, that it be sold to a family or person with at least one child.  The house was where she taught her nursery school  classes, and to us, children were a sort of defining characteristic of the house.  All the days of playing in her massive back yard or her converted garage needed to never be lost, and enjoyed by a new generation of people. 

A woman moved to town, recently divorced, with a brand new job at Dow, and wanted to buy the house.  We didn't know her.  In fact, she came from a different state and knew nothing of our town's history, or my Grandmother.  But she had a little girl and very little else.  The house wasn't what she was used to, but it was what she could afford.  And, she noted, it felt more like a home than just a house.   My uncle brokered the deal and that was that.  The house was hers and everyone was happy.

Three months after she moved in, my uncle got a curious message from her.  In the message, she asked him to come by, to see the renovations she was performing on the house, so he'd know she was taking care of the house he grew up in.  A kind gesture, to be sure, if a little odd.  But my uncle, himself a recent divorcee, agreed to meet her at the house for coffee.  The two of them sat in the kitchen, drinking coffee, making small talk, when the woman blurted the inevitable question.

"Did someone die in this house?"

My uncle was, understandably, taken aback.  He told her yes, that his mother died in the house. 

"Was she about this tall," she said as she raised her arm, "with white hair and a crippled right hand?"

When my Grandmother was a child, she fell in a fireplace and burned her right hand so bad that it was, for the most part, useless.  It was the one blemish on her beauty, but one that the new homeowner could not possibly know about. 

"Yes," said my uncle.  "Why do you ask?"

"Because my four-year-old sure does love playing with the sweet old lady who still lives here." 

Usually, at that point in the story, I drop my voice, pick the gooseiest looking person in the crowd, lock eyes, and scare the hell out of them.  And every time I tell it, my audience gets goosebumps. 

So there it is, my favorite ghost story, and the reason I tell them.  I grew up around ghost stories, and I have them in my own family.  That particular ghost story has a special place in my heart. 

Scott A. Johnson is a professional author specializing in horror and true ghost stories. He currently has eleven books in print and is the Paranormal Studies Editor for Dread Central. In his free time, he teaches Kajukenbo karate, hunts ghosts, and spends time with his wife and two daughters. And this blog is updated when he feels like it, not according to some schedule. 

Scott is available for readings, signings, guest lectures, or just to stand around and tell ghost stories. He is adept at public speaking to any size audience on subjects that include, but are not limited to, writing, getting the first novel published, and ghost hunting. He can be reached through the following e-mail address: 

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Featured Director in the Madhouse: Johnny Daggers

Greetings Horror Fans,
This week, I decided to do something different and take a step away from the writing world...well kind of. A couple of weeks ago, I met Melanie Stone (who I hope to interview soon!) and she introduced me to her fiance, Johnny Daggers, who is an all around horror artist. Seriously guys, the man does it all. He writes his own movies, directs/acts/models for them, and even does the soundtrack.  He has produced movies such as Caustic Zombies and SAMHAIN:Night Feast, and has some really sick ideas for the future. I'm including the interview that I did with him below, and I highly encourage you to check out his websites.

Stay tuned for next week, when I post a chilling ghost story from my mentor, Scott Johnson, and as always, if you have anything exciting going on, shoot me an email.

Stay Scared,

By Stephanie M. Wytovich

What got you into horror in the first place?
I can’t really say. It just feels like something that was born in to me. Some kids like G.I. Joe, I liked monsters.  My earliest memories are probably around the age of 3 when I went as Frankenstein for Halloween. A few years later, my uncle was living with my parents and I remember how he would make his own masks. I remember watching him and being transfixed by it. He also had this coffin bank that when you put the penny in the slot a skeleton hand would come out of the coffin and pull it in. I would play with that for hours. My family was very liberal as to what they allowed me to watch, so I was lucky enough to grow up being allowed to watch scary movies. It’s really hard to define one exact moment that got me in to “horror”. It’s the only way I can remember being.

When did you start writing/directing? I started writing and directing in 2010 with my first short film, Samhain: Night Feast. The film was meant to be something for me and my friends, but just weeks after it was finished I received word that Tim Gross was showing it at his Bastards Of Horror short film fest. Much to my surprise, the film was voted the best film of the contest. After that, I realized that we had something special and started my own film production company, DaggerVision Films. 

Who are your biggest inspirations? Favorite author/director/movie? And Why?
I know that this is really going to come of as a crass statement but no particular artist inspires me. There are artists whom I appreciate but none that truly inspire me. There is only one person who truly inspires me, and that is my talented fiancé Melanie. She is a photographer and also makes custom horror jewelry for her company, Dark White Arts. When I watch her work taking photos it sends chills up and down my spine. When she is photographing you can see the energy and passion pour out of her. It’s truly amazing. This inspires me. We are artists. We do what we do for the love of the art, not for the monetary gain. 

What are you currently working on?
I currently have about 8 scripts or so in my computer that I revert back to from time to time, but the one that I am focusing on the most which will be the next DaggerVision release is an anthology called, “Necrology”. Necrology will be comprised of four short stories from four of Pittsburgh’s leading horror directors such as Mickey Maggot (Magggot Films), Brian Cottington, Jason Swinchock (E-Nertia Global) and myself. I know a little about Brian’s piece which sounds amazing. He does not have a working title for it yet. Jason’s piece is entitled, “Midnight Kiss” which also sounds extraordinary. And the piece that I am working on is entitled “My Dark Place (Alone). The title was inspired by the Murderdolls song. I am probably most excited about this project than any other that I have been involved with thus far. The one thing that excites me most about it is that I am bringing other Pittsburgh Horror Directors together to work together as a family. No bullshit, no egos, no rivalries, just comradery. I feel that we have a scene that is more talented than any other that I have witnessed in this country. There are so many amazing artists that it just makes sense if we all join together and make some truly amazing art. In essence I feel like we are the Warhol’s of the underground film industry in Pittsburgh.   

Where do you plan on seeing yourself in 5 years?
I haven’t thought about it, at least not in my professional career. DaggerVision Films is a company yes, but I never want it to feel like work and a grinding job so I take it one project at a time.  
Talk to me about your opinions on Corporate Hollywood Horror. Can remakes ever be beneficial in your eyes? Why or why not?
Eh, the “Hollywood” question. That’s okay that you ask. I’m glad that you did. I just laugh now because I have become so well known for my outspoken hatred towards Hollywood and the stale, regurgitated and purified bullshit that they so relentlessly force feed to the younger horror audience. The horror genre is the only genre that vilifies itself with needless remakes and sequels. Some of the directors have brought this upon themselves by not knowing when to stop their own movies before they just make a parody of themselves. And then you have directors such as Michael Bay who in my mind is the number one serial rapist in the industry. Not literally of course.
In my opinion for what it’s worth, I can see a director wanting to remake his /her own film under the following pretenses. If he/she as a director made an extremely low budget film, and due to lack of finances could not make the movie as he or she truly envisioned and then were presented with backing that would allow the respect artist to remake the film the way that he/she had originally envisioned then yes, this is acceptable. I made Caustic Zombies on $350. I had a lot of great support and donations such as two military vehicles which upped the production value, but the movie was not filmed the way that I had fully envisioned in my head. If I were presented with the opportunity to remake it, there is no question in my mind that I would. My intent would be for artistic purposes, and not financial gain. I did leave Caustic Zombies open for a sequel and the reason that I did that was due to lack of budget and also the time frame in which we had to finish the film. And in regards to Samhain: Night Feast, I would seriously consider making a sequel because the original was shot for fun and was a very Hitchcockian film in the essence that I wanted the viewer to determine what happened and why, leaving each viewer walking away with their own interpretation of the film. I have ideas in mind for Samhain: Night Feast which would tie up some of the intentionally lose ends. Who knows? The point I am driving home is that if a remake is done for artistic merit by the original writer and director than I am all for it. If you are out for money and remake someone else's film where the film was flawless to begin with then that’s where I have a problem.       

You mention in an interview on your site that you’re not a fan of how Hollywood plugs in T and A just for the sake of sex. Do you deny that sex sells? What’s your position on nudity in horror? Should it be avoided completely, or is it enough to know what’s going on behind closed doors rather than actually seeing it?
I will not argue that sex sells and by that, you validated my point. In current films, writers and directors blatantly show nudity to either mask a weak script or to sell out. The other day Melanie and I were watching the film Knock-Knock. Dreadful. I don’t think that we made it past more than the first 15 minutes. In the beginning there is a murder. The detective arrives at the scene. The detective is a female in a low cut, lace blouse with her jacket unbuttoned three quarters of the way down and her tits half hanging out. Really? Not only is this cheap, but unrealistic. Yes, this sells to an audience of adolescent men, but is this what you want to be known for? There is no substance here. It is not what I want to be known for as a director. If nudity is required to pull off a scene, then so be it. I have no problems with that. In our modern society people forget that the mind is the greatest deceiver of them all. You do not have to be blatant. The mind is a twisted thing that is capable of creating the most vile and gruesome images on its own. When the mind has some time to wonder, that is when it works the best and this in powers the viewer to scare themselves worse than any visual effect that we can create as artists. Look at Psycho. Hitchock in part to the censors could not show Janet Lee nude in the shower, but he didn’t need to. The shower slaying was much more beautiful left to interpretation and then watching the blood circle the drain before descending.    

How would you describe Daggervision Films? I know Melanie described it as an Indie…but what does that mean to you?
I grew up a punk. I’m still a punk. When I was growing up there were no Hot Topic chains selling Manic Panic or trashy clothing. If you wanted to dye your hair you did what we did, you used India Ink or, you painted your hair like my friend Kenny and I did. One time we stole Tempera paint from the art room and literally painted each others hair. After a week our hair turned brittle, snapped off and then fell out, but that’s what you did. If you wanted cool clothes, you made your own. I taught myself how to silkscreen, sew and paint the shit that I wanted. This is the approach that I took to making movies. Don’t bitch that you don’t like what going on in the current scene if you’re not doing your part to change it. If there is no scene, make your own. And if you have ill contempt for what’s around in the movie industry, then you make your own. Totally D.I.Y. This is how DaggerVision operates. You may or may not love our films, but either way you have to respect that fact that we take no shit and our films are made by fans for the fans.

·What do you hope to achieve with Daggervision Films?
Melanie and I have talked about this about both of our artistic endeavors. As long as we make enough to put back in to the art and keep making more art we are happy. This year at Cinema Wasteland a young boy came up to our table. He was eyeballing the Samhian: Night Feast comic books that we had for sell. He would continuously pick up a copy, look at it and then put it down. I could tell that he wanted a copy but had no money. The boy walked away looking somewhat sullen. I called the boy over and gave him a copy of the comic for free. Who knows, in doing that I could have been the one to introduce this young boy to a world of horror that may grow in to a life long passion. If that ends up being the case, then that is what I hope to achieve. The thought that this boy might remember this for years to come means the world to me.

Do you only work with Zombie plot lines? What draws you to this category of the undead?
No. Sadly my first two films were zombie films. By sadly I mean that I started and or filmed both Samhain: Night Feast and Caustic Zombies just before the zombie craze really set in. Now I am sick to death of zombies. The undead are more or less dead to me at this point. I do not feel that anything new can be accomplished in making another zombie film that is why I am going towards the more disturbing mind fuck style films such as Necrology.

Can you talk a little about the plot of Caustic Zombies and Samhain: Night Feast?
Samhain: Night Feast is a story which revolves around some terrifying events which happen on Hallows Eve. I do not really want to say much more than that because as mentioned, I want each viewer to walk away with their own interpretation of the film. Caustic Zombies is loosely based around the near nuclear mishap which happened here in Pennsylvania at Three Mile Island. I also adapted some facts from Chernobyl and embellished on those facts. I wanted to bring something horrific to the attention of younger Pennsylvanian residents who may have never known that such terrible tragedy was once almost bestowed upon us. I began writing Caustic Zombies months and months before the Tsunami’s of Japan which caused there nuclear reactors to shut down. Once this happened, the media brought the spotlight back on the nuclear disasters of Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. Life was imitating art at this point and this shed a lot of focus on my film. It felt like some twisted prophetic premonition come true. It was quite strange.

Do you act in your films? If so, what’s your acting background?
I have acted in both of my films. I played the lead in Samhain: Night Feast and I wrote in a small cameo role for myself in Cautsic where I played a street punk/junkie. I will be playing the lead in my short “My Dark Place (Alone) as well. I have some theater background and am use to performing in front of other be it in theater or the years I spent playing in bands and performing on stage, so it has always felt very natural to me.

Do you find it a necessity to include humor in your horror? Why or why not?
I am glad that you asked that. I certainly do. As a horror kid growing up in the 80’s, the 80’s horror films perfectly captured the combination of horror and comedy. I have adapted that in to my films as well. You need a balance between the two, then again only if the film calls for it. Any one who knows me personally knows that I am a clown who will do anything for a laugh. So I try to show this side of me in my films when it is needed.

LADYASLAN wrote that you are a horror model. Can you talk a little about that?
Well, I have modeled before. And I was recently asked to pose nude for a “punk” publication which I won’t mention but needless to say, I turned that down. I get lots of requests but turn most down. Modeling is not what I am really in to and to be truthful I don’t like to have a lot of attention on me. I can and will model if it is for something dark and artistic but I’m really picky about what I chose.

What’s a typical work week like for you? (How much time to do you spend writing/editing/shooting , etc.) Do you have any type of routine that you follow?
Thankfully I am in my down time at the moment, Sort of. Daggervision is close to releasing a film written and directed by DaggerVision family member, Brian Cottington. The film is entitled “Tablet Of Tales”. The rough cut is done and we’re shooting for a December or January release.  I played one of the leads in the film and I am composing part of the soundtrack, so I guess I am not really on down time all that much. On top of that I am finishing my part for the Necrology release and working on some meetings with the other directors.  

Advice to aspiring artists in the field?
My advice would be to just pick up a camera or pen and paper and just do it. Fuck what your friends or parents are telling you. If you have the drive and ambition you can succeed. And regardless of the financial gain, if you are doing what you love than you have succeeded.

 If you have anything else you want to add…feel free!
If you want the genre to survive, support independent filmmakers. We are the ones making the true films that you want to see. We do not expect to make millions of dollars doing what we do. We just want to make enough to bring you more films. When you buy a DVD or merchandise from us, it goes directly to the artist and it helps us bring you more movies. 

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Featured Author in the Madhouse: Lori Pollard-Johnson

By Lori Pollard-Johnson


Writers crave it. The idea of creating a life activity scale that weights our vocation (read: day job) with our avocation (read: writing life) and holds even burns within us. If only I could spend as much time writing as I did working... If only I could carve time out every day to write... If only I had consistent hours (substitute high-paying, night job, day job, school hours job, etc.), I could finally get the time to write... Most of us are guilty of thinking, and probably saying (repeatedly), any of the above. But does balance necessarily mean productivity?

I’ve wrestled with these questions since I first began writing professionally over twenty years ago. Now, with four published novels and over 100 pieces of short fiction and nonfiction behind me, I think I know the answer. No. Having the scale successfully balanced between work and writing does not promote creative productivity. It doesn’t even maintain writerly output.

For me, it’s about readying myself for the opportunity to write; it’s about allowing the scale to tip so far one direction, to get so out of whack, that I cannot wait to get back to the keyboard. It’s about giving myself permission to become so dazed from the idea of a story that nothing could deter me from it, once I engage. It’s about hungering for the twists of plot and the thirsting for the synesthesia that comes from tapping away at a great scene. It’s about allowing the idea to percolate, germinate, age, come to full boil, before immersing myself in the writing process.

I’m not the first to find this true. Others have expressed it better. Pat Conroy writes, “The idea of a novel should stir your blood, like a lion lifting up at the scent of impala” (Why I Write, 1998, ed. Will Blythe). Jane Yolen identifies this passion as “Saku-taku-no-ki: the instant a chick pecking on the inside and the mother pecking on the outside reach the same spot. The egg cracks open. New life emerges” (Take Joy, 2003, Jane Yolen). It’s about inspiration--and inspiration rarely comes from routine. It comes in flashes; some sizzle and die and others ignite into an energy that can’t be contained. Ultimately, it’s about trusting the cosmos to expand and contract in a way that gives birth to art.

Now when I think of balance, I see it not as a scale, but as a teeter-totter with the two equally-weighted children--the tweedle-dee and tweedle-dum of work and writing--that vigorously pump, pump, pump their tiny legs, feeding each other to higher levels of insight and creativity. They manufacture an ebb and flow of productivity that is as sure and consistent as any eight-hour-a-day writer can promise; more importantly, they give each other the room each needs to explore and expand. And when the writing is at the top of this other-worldly see-saw, there is a moment of weightlessness, of release, that enables a story to be told well and true.

Lori Pollard-Johnson is the author of four novels: THE LIE (Young Adult), TOXIC TORTE (Adult Mystery), RECIPE FOR A REBEL (Children’s) and THE TRUTH TEST (Children’s), and over 100 short works of fiction and nonfiction. She teaches college-level English and creative writing courses in the Seattle-Tacoma area.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Featured Author in the Madhouse: Dana Marton

By Dana Marton
I attended a great writers’ conference this past weekend, with a lot of workshops on craft and industry. I LOVED the one about how to use myth as a basis for a book. I sat through workshops about plot and characterization, and learned for two days non-stop. The energy of a couple of hundred writers in one place is amazing. I feel like my batteries have been recharged. So much energy and creativity all around me! So, perhaps not surprisingly, I began thinking about possibly teaching a workshop at the next conference. But try as I might, I couldn’t think of topic that others haven’t covered already, and covered much better than I ever could. Which lead me to the question: WHAT MADE THE BIGGEST DIFFERENCE IN MY WRITER’S CAREER SO FAR? I’m nearing 30 published romantic suspense novels now, for sure I have discovered a secret or two to writerly success along the way, right? But the truth is, when I really thought about it, it didn’t come down to any brilliant talent or insight or discovered formula. The most important thing had little to do with me, in fact. What became quickly apparent as I thought about this is that it’s all about the readers.
It’s so easy to get distracted by craft and industry, workshops and how-to books, trends and submission guidelines; but here is the thing: Once you reach a certain level of competency and write enjoyable stories, it’s all about the readers.
I have the best readers in the world. I love my readers. They are caring, and funny and smart. I love keeping in touch with them. Readers are not some fickle faceless mass out there that certain marketing people would have you believe. Some of my readers have medical issues, and I keep in touch to see how they’re coming along. I know about their grandkids, what their grandkids got for Christmas. I’ve received mail from soldiers overseas, grandmothers thousands of miles from me, and even inmates from prison.
Readers care. They care about books as passionately as we authors do. They care about authors, too. Readers are forgiving. They will stick with you even if you have an off book. They’ll stick with you long after the publisher decided that your books are not marketable and you move to a small press or self-publish. They’ll email years after a series came out and ask what the characters are doing now. And to your readers, you can admit that, yes, Alex and Nicola are going on with their lives and raising their kids, because they are real in your head as well—a discussion you couldn’t have with your family, for example, without the risk of them having you committed.
Readers will have your back. I just released a new romantic suspense novella, WARRIOR AGENT. This is the time when I need to be on the Internet 24/7 to promote my new release. But we’re moving, and our cable guy never showed, so we had to reschedule, which means I won’t have Internet access for 2 weeks. At the absolute worse time. I posted about this on my Facebook, and my readers rallied. They’re Tweeting, Facebooking, blogging about the novella, generously giving me their time, lending a helping hand. I’m truly humbled by the outpouring love and support.
So instead of thinking about all the million things a writer should worry about, I think about my readers when I write. I think about what type of stories they like, how I can craft a hero to fall in love with, a heroine to like, and a plot to transport my readers to another world. I want to entertain them, share stories from my heart. I want to write the paragraph/scene/chapter that will make a reader dash of an email saying how it made them laugh or cry, how much fun they had.
Because when it comes to writing, readers are the most important element, bar none. I truly believe that.

Dana Marton writes fast-paced action-adventure romances that take her readers all over the globe. She is a Rita Award finalist and the winner of the Daphne du Maurier Award of Excellence. She loves writing stories of intrigue, filled with dangerous plots that try her tough-as-nails heroes and the special women they fall in love with. Her books have been published in seven languages in eleven countries around the world.

She would love to hear from her readers.