Dead Head Reviews (DHR): Kit, you’ve dipped your toe in a lot of areas within the horror community. For those that aren’t familiar with you and your work, would you care to share how you got started in the horror community?
Kit Power (KP): Man, it’s so funny you would ask me that; I just got done writing what ended up being a big piece about exactly that.
I was invited by James Everington to do a guest post for his blog to promote the My Life In Horror IndieGoGo campaign, and around 11pm, I hit on this idea, and I thought it’d be a quick 500 words I’d bash out before bed, and it ended up being a 2000 word essay on the history of my relationship with the UK horror community, via Gingernuts Of Horror, My Life In Horror, and various conventions.
That said, it started with the writing, for me. I grew up on horror – King, Koontz, Herbert, Freddy and Pinhead (not so much Jason or Michael), but then basically dropped the genre in the early 2000’s. It wasn’t a conscious choice, it wasn’t a growing-out-of, I just really started getting into crime fiction – my dad had a big Elmore Leonard collection which I devoured, then James Ellroy, Kellerman, early Grisham, Thompson, and Goodfellas, Casino etc, which I came to late.
Then it’s 2013 and I’ve just done an OU course and I decide I don’t want to study but I want to do *something* with this time discipline I’ve discovered. And I read King’s On Writing, a Christmas gift from 2012 – Lord knows why I’d asked for it, couldn’t tell you – and it really was just like a row of lights going on – ‘you could write, dude’.
I had always wanted to, as a kid and a teenager I’d write short stories, but I could never make myself do it; it had to be just when it felt like I had to; and yeah I know how that sounds, but I was a teenager, if you can’t be melodramatic then, what’s even the point? But it had sat in the back of my head, this thing I could do. Maybe. And the course showed me how I could, mechanically, because I’d had my arse in a chair four nights a week and a few hours at weekends and I’d produced. So, maybe…
Long story short, I started and didn’t stop. And it was always going to be horror. Because King, I guess, still my favourite writer of all time in any genre. As a kid I always wanted to write like him, and as an adult, if I’m honest, I still kinda want that.
So I wrote a few horror stories, and then had no idea what to do with them. And my missus was like, it’s 2014, hun, we have this thing called social media, and I grumbled and moaned, and then I got on Facebook and then I got on Twitter and started meeting people that way.
And that was it, honestly, that’s how it started; finding other writers, and reviewers, and bloggers, sending a lot of friend requests, seeing what people were up to. Making friends.
DHR: Wow, ok so there’s a few things I’d like to break down from that reply. First off, I’m right there with you on the whole horror-to-crime thing. Only, for me, I was a kid growing up in Massachusetts, and one of the biggest gangsters in America, Whitey Bulger (second to Osama Bin Ladin on the FBI’s 10 most wanted list, once upon a time), was this mythical man. It was strange, my dad’s friends grew up where he was from–South Boston–and my dad actually has a story about a guy Bulger was connected to. Everyone knew he was a bad guy. The Departed and Black Mass pretty much hits the nail on the head as to what kind of lunatic he was, but…there were still people from South Boston that claimed he kept the monsters out of their city. I always found things like that crime, dark crime, organized crime, whatever other sub-genres you want to throw in there that relate, go hand-in-hand with horror. Isn’t that what horror is? It was around the early 2000s that I was drawn to similar films, Casino (holy hell was Joe Pesci a mad man in that!), Goodfellas, anything that Martin Scorsese came out with, I had to watch it. I read books about gangsters, watched documentaries on them. Some of them are glorified serial killers. Mass murderers. Rapist. All bad types you wouldn’t want to associate with, yet…they are so incredibly fascinating. I’m not too familiar with many novels that dive into organized crime and horror, I’m sure they exist, but I’d certainly like to see more of those.
As for On Writing…and your wife pushing you to write. It’s really funny, but my path parallels those two situations as well. The initial rush of writing, I’m sure that felt amazing. But when you went back to read it, did you think maybe it needed only one edit before it was good to send off? Did you wife read your work? And if she did, how did she react to your early story?
KP: Didn’t Johnny Depp do a Whitey Bulger movie? I think I saw that a couple of years back. Yeah, absolutely, Crime and Horror feel like linked genres to me for sure; what is Crime if not Horror that can actually happen? Is Silence Of The Lambs crime or horror? Jim Thompson’s The Killer Inside Me? Shit, even Casino, come to that? I did a My Life In Horror about that film, making the case that that final scene in the corn field is one of the great horror movie sequences of all time. And I love King, but a lot of my favourite King short stories are the ones with no supernatural element. I was so happy when he did a straight crime novel with Mr. Mercedes, not perfect but man I really dug that book. Finders Keepers even more, actually.
As to that first story, Lifeline, oh for sure. I followed the On Writing formula to the letter, which meant I put that novella in a drawer for three months and just kept writing. And when I came back to it, there was plenty that needed fixing. My memory is I did a second round edit, then sent it to a couple of friends – maybe my Dad, he’s still one of my regular critical readers – and I used that feedback to tighten it up a bit more. I remember I had one friend who’d been a bouncer, and the story features a lot of physical punishment for the main character, and he told me that you get to a point with pain where you just want it to stop; you literally don’t care if you live or die, you just want it over. And you can bet that went straight into the third draft 🙂 .
I honestly can’t remember if the missus read that one. She reads some of my work but not all of it, it’s not her preferred genre so some of it I don’t even want to inflict on her to be honest. I know she read the next two, because I remember her really helping me out with The Debt, the third one. The main character in that is East End London, and it’s first person, and I was really trying to capture that voice, and my wife’s from that area, and we read it aloud, together, and man, we caught every single time that voice slipped, it was amazing. That’s still one of the stories I’m most proud of, actually; it’s grim crime drama, no good choices, and I think that the voice really works.
DHR: He did! His performance was really creepy at times, probably more true to Bulger than Jack Nicholson’s character in The Departed. Oh man…can we just talk about that last scene in Casino for a moment? I’m not doing a spoiler notice on a film that is 25 years old, ha. I have never thought of it as a horror scene…but yes. It has every. Single. Ingredient for horror. I absolutely love how they threw us off with the narration being cut off as if it were in real time! You know what, I own the first two novels in the Mr. Mercedes trilogy, but I never got around to reading them. My wife suggested I break from my King marathon, because, that’s ALL I read. And that was actually right around the time I started reading indie horror books. I hear good things about Mr. Mercedes. One of my favorite King books is 11/22/63, have you read that?
Oh really? Is your dad a writer or an avid reader? I’m really interested to hear how his feedback is generally. Ha, interesting. Did your friend tell you any of his stories as a bouncer that maybe influenced any of your fictional scenes? Or perhaps, has he been turned into a character?
That actually brings me to another question that, as an American that hasn’t much knowledge on the different dialects of England, am curious about. I imagine it’s similar to, say where I grew up in Massachusetts where there’s some pockets with super thick Boston accents to the point where it’s hard to understand them, and then there’s weirdos like me that doesn’t have much of an accent until I drink. What part of England are you from? And how different are the accents and dialect from where you were raised to where your wife was raised?
KP: See, the basic philosophy of the My Life In Horror column is, if it messed me up, it counts as horror and I get to write about it; and yeah, that closer of Casino messed me up big time. I mean, I think you could make a case the whole film is the bleakest thing Scorsese ever did, but yeah, the moment Pesci’s voiceover is interrupted is dark genius; it’s just wrong on a fundamental level, it breaks the rules, and from there it just goes straight to hell. Brilliant.
Those first two King books I really liked. I didn’t enjoy the third book so much, because it brought back in a supernatural element; but yeah, if you dig crime, I think you’ll like those two when you get to them. Two of his best openings ever, also, as I think about it. That man knows how to get a story rolling. Not read 11/22/63 yet. This might sound weird, but I’m saving that one – IT is my favourite novel of all time, and I know that 11/22/63 has a scene with Bev and Ben in it and… I’m saving it. Maybe I’ll treat myself over the next christmas break.
My dad’s a huge reader, yeah – most of the Elmore Leonards I mainlined as a teeneager and in my twenties came from his shelves. Iain Banks too, who is a huge influence on my work. He’s a big crime fan, big horror fan, all kinds of stuff. He’s also a PHD, spent most of his life writing academic papers and editing books. Though after me doing this for a few years he’s started writing fiction – short horror stories, and damn it, he’s actually really good! So, he’s been a great supporter and a key critical reader – he’s the only person who has ever read a first draft of my work – but at the same time, professionally, now he’s breathing down my neck a little with these short stories. He’s got game.
The regional accents thing is funny actually. By definition, I’m a cockney, because I was born in London, within the sound of Bow Bells, which is the dictionary definition. And my missus wasn’t, she’s Fulham, which is still East End London, but not the same. But I moved around a ton as a kid and don’t have much of any kind of accent, just bland English, whereas my missus grew up Fulham and has that strong London accent. But I get to wind her up by telling everyone I’m the real cockney, which always drives her nuts!
DHR: That’s pretty interesting. Horror is absolutely subjective. What scares you, may not scare me. I can see where you can make a case of really anything being horror. As for that ending, great point. Has that been done in previous films? I can’t think of any. I also can’t think of any other film I’ve seen of Scorsese’s that was as bleak.
There’s just so many good books I need to read that I may never even get to that trilogy. There’s a lot of other King books I need to read through, Dark Tower 4.5 and on being the main King books. I’m particularly fond of Harris Thomas’ brilliant Hanibal Lecter series (I don’t consider Hannibal Rising as something worth mentioning, it just…it wasn’t for me).
Let me tell you, I’m a huge King fan too, and that one is a great time traveler story. What he does with bringing the main character into Derry, Maine was brilliant. He did a massive amount of research on events, people, and the areas he wrote about and it shows. I am certain you’ll really enjoy it.
As for your dad, any chance you can link him in this interview? I’m sure I’m not alone in saying I’d really like to see what your father writes. I’m just thinking out loud, but wouldn’t it be interesting if you two collaborated on a story? Similar to the Kings or Chizmars.
Ha! I’d enjoy watching you wind her up and see her reaction, man.
My Life In Horror, comes off as a project that has your every fiber interwoven into its pages. Not to say you don’t put your heart and soul in all of your other stories, but what does this book mean to you? What are your expectations with this non-fiction collection?
KP: I’ve never seen that interruption to voiceover done before or since – it’s kind of a genius trick, but I think one you can only do once. All respect to Scorsese for having the imagination to think of it, and the guts to actually do it.
My dad’s not quite there yet, he’s just starting to get his first shorts out to market. I’ll let you know once he starts getting published. I don’t think it’ll take him long. We did talk about maybe a joint short story collection at some point, which would be fun.
My Life In Horror is such a strange project; it really did just start as a way to raise my profile. It was a huge opportunity, to get a regular slot at Gingernuts of Horror, and I took that very seriously – and for the record, I still do – but I certainly thought of it as a shop window for my writing, and a way to hopefully turn more people on to my fiction. I don’t think I really realised it would become a thing in its own right.
I remember when I was pitching it to Jim we kicked around a list of possible things to cover, and that list leaned heavily towards movies, I think because I was thinking about that RoboCop piece and wanting to tap into that vibe again, find that energy. And before the series started properly, I did another warmup article about Appetite For Destruction, which was just a transformational album for me as a kid, instant life changer.
But it very quickly became clear to me that the project was its own thing; I started talking about experiences far wider than that initial brief – an amazing trainee teacher who’d run my class in junior school for a few weeks, the way the Band Aid single had made me feel as a very young child, the passing of a childhood friend… it just got more and more personal, more raw, and I remember this string of messages to Jim every month as I’d send him the essay, saying ‘I will understand if this isn’t what you’re after, but…’ . And Jim, man, he was amazing, he’d just say it was great and run it and plug it, no matter how wild it got.
Also, I found a voice, a rhythm, that I didn’t know I had. Fiction sometimes comes easy and sometimes comes hard, but I’m always trying something new there, always pushing at some boundary or testing some limit or other; that’s just where the juice is, for me. But with My Life In Horror… I mean, the subject could be anything, in that sense I have total freedom, as long as it’s honest and real, I can do what I want, and in that sense it’s always fresh… but I found I developed this approach, this kind of instinctive structure, like a needle dropping into a groove. A lot of months, especially when I was struggling with edits or a difficult first draft of a story, My Life In Horror was the most fun I had at the keyboard.
I learned how to write non-fiction, and learned it was a distinct craft all it’s own.
We’re in the sixth year now, and I’ve decided to end the series once I get to a round sixty essays – the focus is meant to be on seminal childhood experiences, after all, and I think there’s only so many times I can claim credibly that something left that kind of mark before I start to give the impression my entire mind is made up of scar tissue.
So, yeah, the book is hugely important to me. I’ve taken the first three years of writing, revised and expanded every essay, and put them in the order I experienced them – and I have to tell you, that was borderline spooky, when I did that. Because as I go, I just pick a subject every month, almost at random, and let the words fly, so month to month there’s no real pattern. But once I put them in order and read it through, I suddenly had this autobiography spinning out, these vignettes like brush strokes, painting an impressionistic picture of my childhood and early adulthood. Something I’d never have thought to sit down and write as a long form project, and yet… here it was, and it really worked.
So yeah, it means a lot, and it feels very strange to be putting it out there; not a novel or novella, populated by characters and situations I’ve dreamed up; this is just me, a chunk of my life experiences, joy, pain, big moments, and small moments that turned out to be big moments.
As to my hopes, right now it’s just that this crowdfunder makes the goal! I know how much it’s going to cost to publish the book right, and I’m just hoping there’s a big enough audience for it to raise that cash and get it made. Once it’s out in the world, what will be will be.
DHR: Please do keep me updated! I think Robocop is a great film to start out that series. I don’t remember how old I was when I first watched the film but I do remember I couldn’t look away. It was strange. It was futuristic with so many ugly things about it. It was a violent kick-ass cop that didn’t follow protocol. I played the video games too. I also remember Kurtwood Smith as one of the bad guys. As a kid, he was just another bad guy to me. When I rewatched it in my teens, after knowing him as Red from That 70s Show, that’s all I could see him as, ha. Strange.
That’s one of the things I love about Jim…he’s no dummy. He doesn’t care what any other platform is doing. If he likes what you write, he wants it.
With the slew of emotions and opportunities it aided you with exploring your past, with tapping into your emotions throughout your life, and writing about things you are passionate about, did you notice it aiding you with your fiction?
All that sounds amazing! I love it, it personally excites me and I feel like this will be something you will forever be able to cherish. I think it’s also a real gift for the entire community. I know there’s a lot of pop culture that many of us in the horror community share an equal love for.
Can you tell us about the crowdfunder? More specifically, where people can go to order a copy (buy the deluxe option! It’s a hardback with some neat perks!) and the basics of it, such as when does it end?
KP: It’s interesting, in a lot of ways, there’s less of a relationship between the nonfiction and fiction than you’d expect. It’s like running and cycling – they seem like similar exercises, both focused on the legs, but they use the muscles in very different ways. When I started, part of my internal valuation was that regularly writing something would pay huge dividends for my fiction, but while it was/is beneficial, what I mainly developed was being a better non-fiction writer 🙂 . I’m sure there’s a lot going on at a subconscious level, of course, and part of the ‘voice’ of My Life In Horror is storytelling, naritivising my own past, my interactions with whatever the subject is. I think as much as anything else, it’s maybe given me an eye for the telling detail – when you start digging into memory, or, at least, when I do, I find the oddest things that’ll float up as totemic, somehow, that stuck for whatever reason. And I think that can apply to fiction writing, where you’re trying to write a brief description of a place or person and what you really want is that same telling detail that the reader can use as a hook to hang their own visualisation on – because your reader’s imagination is your real strength as a writer, it’s where most of the story happens – so I suppose it’s helped with that. Though I just thought about all this as I wrote, and I can’t think of a specific example, so maybe it’s all bullshit and whatever is going on in terms of a correlation is happening at a subconscious level. But the bottom line is I certainly haven’t found My Life In Horror makes writing fiction any easier, but it has for sure made writing non-fiction in general a lot easier.
I dunno, maybe writing fiction is just never easy. And maybe easy’s not a good or useful metric, I do struggle with that.
Anyhow, the crowdfunder is to make sure I can afford to pay for the book to be edited, formatted etc to a professional level. I’m proud of the text, I want to be just as proud of the production. And I bluntly don’t have the money to do that up front. So, that’s why crowdfund – if I hit the target, I know I’ll have enough cash to get that work done the way I want, and get a professional quality book into the hands of backers.
The crowdfunder can be found at https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/my-life-in-horror-volume-one/x/22919255#/ . I’ve set perk levels for every budget, where just £2 will get you a copy of the ebook, with signed paperbacks and a couple of limited hardback editions at higher levels – as well as goofier, fun things; like audio recordings of me reading short stories or essays. The big ticket items are the two hardbacks, both of which are limited collector’s editions. The regular Hardback will be signed, numbered, limited to 100 copies, feature an exclusive cover design, and will only ever be available to buy as part of the campaign.
Then there’s the Deluxe Hardback. This book is limited to 26 signed, lettered copies, features its own exclusive cover design, and will also contain a substantial new essay that will only ever be published in this book. Again, this edition will only ever be on sale as part of this campaign, so both hardbacks are genuine collectors items.
It was important to me to do something really special for this campaign, both to put out a book I am proud of and to say thank you to the people willing to back the project – that’s why the vast majority of the perks are personalised in some way, and why every person backing either hardback edition will have the name of their choice appear in all editions of the book. My Life In Horror is, in large part, a love letter to the genre I work in, so it feels fitting that the project will stand or fall depending on the support it receives from the horror community. The response so far has been overwhelming and I’m hugely grateful for it.
DHR: Now that is a really interesting analogy – comparing fiction and non-fiction to different (yet similar) exercises. I love that, actually. That’s really interesting and so true about the reader’s imagination is the writer’s real strength. I actually read something from Patrick Rothfuss that a fan once came up to him and began raving about a particular action scene in one of his books (I can’t recall which for the life of me), and after the fan finished, Patrick told him that he never wrote the scene as he had described. That he intentionally set it up for the reader to fill in the blanks. Before I read that, I had never thought of writing in those terms. I always thought that I needed to write everything in precise detail so that the reader can follow me along, but that’s not what books are about, are they? They’re about imagination. The general arc is there, if you will, but the details, a lot of those should be left up to the reader. That’s just my take on it though.
Also, it’s really interesting that you say fiction is never easy. I suppose it shouldn’t be. Writers of fiction create worlds from scratch, generally. Even in fan-fiction, you have to create some original things.
I’m looking forward to having the deluxe hardback on my bookshelf, only to be read within the confines of my home – some books are too precious to chance the outside from tampering with.
I only have one other question, one that I don’t believe we have covered yet. I notice it says Volume 1. Is there hope or intention of this turning into a multiple volume series of books?
KP: Yeah, for sure. Volume One represents the first three years of the series. By the end of 2020, the final thirty will be written, so if the demand is there, I’ll certainly want to put Volume Two out. I guess I’ll know by the end of February if crowdfunding represents a viable model for the project, and if it does I’d love to do it again next year.
DHR: That sounds fantastic! So as of right now, January 29th 2020, you are 58% at your goal with 26 days left. I’m real hopeful that things project will be a success. I’m rooting for you Kit, and I need this book on my bookshelf along the likes of Paul Tremblay, Laura Mauro, Rich Hawkins, and many more from the indie horror community.
Thank you so much for giving me your time and being my first in-depth interviewee. It was a pleasure talking to you and picking your brain.
KP: A pleasure! Thanks for the opportunity.
Interview conducted by Patrick R. McDonough
Follow Kit on:
My Life In Horror: https://gingernutsofhorror.com/my-life-in-horror.html…
Podcast: https://talkingrobocop.libsyn.com/watching-robocop-with-kit-power… Patreon: https://patreon.com/kitpower