Ambrose Stolliker: The Strange Nighttime Journey of Father Stephen Marlowe
Tyler Hauth interviews Ambrose Stolliker in May of 2022:
You know, I think when people think of walking through Hell and coming back out again that their mind immediately goes to Inferno from Dante's Divine Comedy. I happen to know that wasn't a chief inspiration for you, though. Could you talk about where you actually did derive inspiration?
Father Marlowe is, to my mind, a mix of a variety of genres, including supernatural horror, of course, but also gothic horror, weird fiction and even some elements of the fantastic. I have been a voracious reader of all those genres since about the age of eight, so it's not surprising that there are shades of each in this story. One novel that comes to mind as having had a significant influence is What Dreams May Come by Richard Matheson. Father Marlowe pays tribute to Matheson's book in that it is also a story where the protagonist descends into a strange, fantastical, and sometimes horrific underworld to rescue the soul of someone important to him. Likewise, Father Marlowe explores many of the same themes found in What Dreams May Come - most prominently faith, forgiveness and what it means to have an eternal soul.
Other inspirations include William Peter Blatty's possession masterpiece, The Exorcist, which is not so much a story about a young girl becoming possessed by a demon as it is one about a man undergoing a crisis of faith, which Father Karras does in Blatty's story and Father Marlowe does in mine. I'd also include H.P. Lovecraft's The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath as an influence as well, both in terms of its epic scale from a world-building perspective as well as from Lovecraft's use of horrific and strange elements. Kadath, which I first read in college, is replete with ancient cities and dark fortresses, primeval forests, towering mountain ranges and malevolent beings, and I don't think one needs to look very hard to see similar imagery in Father Marlowe.
Who do you think the audience for Father Marlowe is? What's your ideal reader look like?
First and foremost, fans of horror and weird fiction - so, fans of Matheson, Blatty and Lovecraft, as well as writers such as Stephen King and William Hope Hodgson, author of The House on the Borderlands. Also, if you're a fan of novellas that are a little on the longer side, then I think you'll like Father Marlowe. It's something that, to my mind, can be read in two or three sittings or over a long weekend or on a long plane ride.
Could you tell us a little about your career before finding a home at Muddy Paw Press for this novel?
I've been writing fiction since I was about nine years old, but I didn't actually become a horror author until some time in 2008. I wrote two books and several short stories that would probably be best classified as literary novels. I was working on a third when I got stuck and couldn't figure out where to take the story next. I decided to take what I thought would be a short break from that novel to write something dealing with the supernatural. I've been a horror fiction fan since an early age, so I've always had an appreciation and love for the genre and its many subgenres. I thought it'd be fun to try and see if I could write a passable ghost story and figured it was different enough from the literary novel I'd been struggling with that it might help to get my creativity flowing again. I remember thinking the story, which was eventually published in 2010 under the title Ghosts of Annapurna in Ghostlight Magazine, wasn't half bad and it was fun to write. So, I wrote another horror story. Then another. Then several more. Nearly all of them eventually got published in small horror magazines or podcasts over the next several years. And I haven't ever really looked back. In 2017, my first horror novella, Old Hollow, was published by Aurelia Leo, an indie publishing house. Two years later, Aurelia Leo published my second novella, The Death Chute. Now, Muddy Paw is publishing Father Marlowe, a story I've wanted to share with readers for a long time and have always hoped would find a good home, which it finally has.
I promised I'd keep this short, so one last question: Is there anything that surprised you about writing The Strange Nighttime Journey of Father Stephen Marlowe? Or anything interesting that came from it, aside from the publishing journey.
I'm always surprised (and usually pleased) when a story I think is going to be one thing turns out to be something completely different than I'd originally intended. Father Marlowe actually started as a 2,000-word short story about an arrogant young priest who has an encounter with a Satanic figure in his church confessional. When we first meet the priest, he's operating under the youthful notion that he knows everything there is to know about the nature of faith, right and wrong, and good and evil. By the end of the story, he's left in a state of spiritual crisis, and it's really that crisis that is the seed for what would eventually become Father Marlowe's story. I submitted that piece, called The Confessional, to just about every horror magazine I knew, but it didn't get any takers. I always felt there was a great story in there though, so I revisited it and started a second draft. The more I worked at it, the more the story grew in size and scale, and the next thing I knew, I had a novella on my hands. By the time I finished the fourth draft, it had crossed over into novel territory. So, the way Father Marlowe's story continued to expand and evolve is really the most surprising aspect to me, at least in terms of how the book was written.
Thanks for taking the time to speak with myself, and by extension, our readers. I know I'm looking forward to seeing Father Marlowe in print later this month - it truly is an emotionally fraught and exceptionally well told story.
Mike Sullivan: DOGS
Tyler Hauth interviews Mike Sullivan in April of 2022:
Mike – your novella Dogs is coming out on April 16th of 2022. With that in mind, do you think you could tell interested readers where the story’s genesis comes from?
The story grew from the last line, which I pilfered from Shirley Jackson. (If you’re going to steal, steal from the best!) I can’t say the line here because it’s a spoiler, but I took that one line and put in the word “dogs.” Then I asked myself, why would the dogs do that? And the story came to me from there. It’s funny, my first novella, The Bugs Come Out At Night, also sprung from the final image in the story. I guess my muse likes to work backwards.
I think when people think of rabid dogs that their mind immediately goes to Cujo. When they think of dystopic plagues, however, they’re normally going to be thinking of The Walking Dead or maybe World War Z or perhaps even Night of the Living Dead. It seems to me that there are quite a few familiar elements here, put together in a way that results in something totally unique and yet somehow still familiar. Was that intentional? How’d you manage to pull it off so successfully?
I wish I knew! I’m kidding, but not kidding. I didn’t set out to write a Cujo/dystopia mash-up. After I had that last line, the story grew into itself organically. Obviously, Cujo is the king (no pun intended) of the “killer dog” genre, so I didn’t want to seem like I was simply re-treading those waters. Not only did I want more than one dog or just a pack of a few dogs. I wanted ALL the dogs, from big to small, in a neighborhood to be a threat. So, I asked myself: What kind of scenario would lead to that? The most difficult part was coming up with a good main character. Who was he? Why was he there? The readers need to care about him, or the story won’t work at all. Writing this was kind of like putting a puzzle together, but all the pieces are turned over so you can’t see how they might fit until you try them and turn the entire thing right side up and see if there is a complete image. It took many drafts. Many. Drafts.
It's telling that you understood the need for not just a compelling situation, but a compelling character to navigate that situation. I know readers will be quite glad you recognized that necessity. And speaking of readers: did you have a specific kind of reader in mind when you wrote the story? Who would be the ideal audience for this novella?
I wasn’t writing for a specific audience. Anyone who likes a good, scary story. If they’re into horror I think anyone-- man, woman, adult, young adult-- would like the story.
That’s exactly what I’d have said if the question was turned! It’s clear that you’re a great author – could you tell a little bit about your journey and career in terms of the road that brought you to Muddy Paw Press?
Thanks! That means a lot. As anyone who does it knows, writing is hard! I’m from Massachusetts and I’ve been into stories all my life. I’ve always loved reading, TV, movies. I grew up in the 1970s and 1980s, so of course I was really into Star Wars, Indiana Jones, comic books, and the two Steves –Spielberg and King. My dad was a TV news photographer and video editor in Boston, and he introduced me to movies and the art of filmmaking and my mom encouraged me to read anything I wanted. She would take me and my sister to the library every Saturday when we were kids. I studied film in college, and during the day (and many nights) I am a documentary film editor. My work can be seen in museums and visitor centers all over the world. (Check out www.sullivanedit.com if you want to see some samples.) I had always wanted to write fiction and had tried here and there over the years, but it wasn’t until fairly recently that everything seemed to click, and I was able to start producing good work. A few years ago, I took a horror writing workshop run by authors Christopher Golden and James Moore. Jim and Chris, plus the other writers in the workshop, really helped me find my voice and understand the craft of writing fiction. I self-published the novella that I wrote during that workshop (The Bugs Come Out At Night) and later it was chosen to anchor Stories We Tell After Midnight Vol 2. I also have a short story in If I Die Before I Wake Vol 6: Tales of the Dark Deep.
I promised we’d keep this short, so one last question before we let you go. Is there anything that surprised you about writing Dogs? Or anything interesting that you’d like to let readers know before you go?
Like many creative people, I suffer heavily from Imposter Syndrome, so I’m always surprised that I actually finish something, and people seem to like it! Again, kidding -- not kidding. Writing Dogs was fun and, although I put him through hell, I liked hanging out with Tom Richmond. It was a long journey and I’m very excited to see Dogs coming out with Muddy Paw Press. I hope people seek it out and enjoy the read.
Something tells me that people will seek it out. Tom is an extremely memorable character. We’re all fortunate to be able to spend some time with him—at least once April 16th comes around and we’re able to get Dogs in our hands.