Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Humour From The Dark Side - an Interview with Stuart R. West

Stuart R. West is the author of Demon with a Comb Over and Dread and Breakfast among others. He has an uncanny knack of combining dark humour with horror – and getting away with it. Quite simply – it works. I’m delighted to welcome him back here today.

Cat: Hi Stuart. Great to see you again. A lot has been happening this past twelve months, hasn’t it? Tell us how it’s been for you.

Stuart: Thanks for putting up with me again, Catherine. Yes indeedy, a lot has been happening. We’ve all been busy scrambling trying to find new homes for our Samhain Publishing orphaned books. Tons of anxiety and ridiculousness and time that I’d rather spend writing. But Demon with A Comb-Over landed at a new home. Dread and Breakfast went to another horror publisher, Grinning Skull Press (very nice to work with and their covers are spectacular). And I’m currently trying to polish a horror short story collection. Oh! Like a warrior, I’ve been battling every dang flu and virus unleashed on mankind.

 Cat: Demon with a Comb-Over has just been reissued by Riverdale Avenue Books in a new edition that combines it with The Book of Kobal. Tell us more about how that came about and what to expect.

Stuart: Demon never had its time in the sun, never given a fair shake. No one knew about the book and I think that extended to its first publisher, Samhain. Not to speak ill of… Oh, the hell with it! Samhain threw the book under the bus without a skidmark of marketing.
Sorry. I know I’m inviting bad karma to the party by speaking ill of the dead. Anyway, RAB rose to the challenge. But I thought there should also be new content upon a rebirth. Hence, my titular demon’s origin tale, The Book of Kobal. In all of its glorious bad taste (spanking Hitler, a slap fight with Jesus, you know…history), it just had to be spewed out. You’re welcome!

Cat: I know you must have been asked this a lot recently, but did you have anyone in mind when you settled on the title Demon with a Comb-Over?

Stuart: Honestly, I didn’t. I wrote the book a couple years ago before the Orange One rose above being a blip on bad reality TV radar.  But now he’s such an ugly, loud, orange blight on the world, it’s hard not to draw post-comparisons. Both Kobal and the Cthulhu-like Orange One want to end the world.  My book’s fiction. But in reality, I have fingers crossed that there won’t be a whole lotta’ nuking going on in the next four years. Keep hope alive!

Cat:  Dread and Breakfast is a great read. I love stories where everything is homey on the outside – but scratch the surface and there lies something scary. You say your home state, Kansas, is scary so I wondered if there was a model there for the Dandy Drop Inn?

Stuart: Not a physical model, Catherine, but I think the tale represents our wondrous, red-state of mind, peculiarity of Kansas. Pretention time! I’ve only scratched the surface, though. As I’ve said before, Kansas is creepy. Our serial killers really take the cake (whatever that means).

Cat: So, what next from Stuart R. West? Any more books coming out this year?

Stuart: The aforementioned short story horror collection, all tales taking place within Kansas. It started as a lark, then I discovered I had a lot to say about the Midwest. Kinda’ driven by political angst and fall-out but I hope I don’t let that get in the way of the entertainment and spooks and chills and laughs.
I’m also considering writing a novel based upon one of these tales. There’s something about a teenage girl, in early ‘60’s farmland Kansas, whose father is a mortician, and happens to dwell in a peculiar town full of supernatural events. 

 Cat: I’ll look forward to reading it. I think 2016 was a great year for horror books. What were your favourite reads of last year?

Stuart: I’m copping out here, Catherine. There wasn’t a bad book I read and yours were among the best. I’m also fond of L.X. Cain’s book, Bloodwalker. Girl can write.

Cat: Thank you, Stuart! It was a pretty good year for horror films too. Any particular ones that stood out for you?

Stuart: Yeah, there were some really good flicks. Lights Out, Don’t Breathe, What We Do in the Shadows (maybe a little old, but still one of the freshest, finest horror comedies ever). Hangman was seriously sinister and creepy and nightmare-inducing. There’re many more I’m forgetting.  Oh! The Nicolas Cage “Left Behind” film was absolutely hilarious. What’s wrong with Nic Cage these days?

Cat: You’re a prolific author and cover many different genres. Is there any genre you wouldn’t tackle – and why?

Stuart: I used to say “romance,” but I’ve changed my mind about that as I have a fun idea, I think. I kinda’ want to say science-fiction (because I don’t want to research science), but I’m never gonna’ say never there either. Possibly porn/erotica. Only because it bores me after the first several paragraphs. Then again, my idea about gay, Christian, werewolf erotica probably needs to be spilt.

Cat: When you sit down to read a horror story, what do you look for in your ideal read?

Stuart: Characters, always characters first.  Scares don’t come if you don’t care about the characters. And even though humor keeps sneaking into my horror books (can’t help it; it entertains my bad boy), I would never sacrifice character or plot to end up in inane farce. So there.

Cat: What is the best piece of advice anyone has ever given you?

Stuart: Always wear clean underwear.

Cat: What advice would you give to your 21 year old self?

Stuart: Value your hair while you have it. And invest in computer stock.

Cat: Thank you for being my guest today, Stuart

Stuart: Thanks for letting me darken your cyber doormat, Cat!

 Demon with a Comb-Over (featuring The Book of Kobal) by Stuart R. West and Riverdale Avenue Press. Available in Kindle format and paperback.
Dread and Breakfast: Kindle and paperback.
Stuart R. West Blog: Twisted Tales from Tornado Alley
Stuart R. West Amazon author page
Stuart R. West Facebook
Stuart R. West Twitter: @StuartRWest

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Beware the Chindi

 In my novella, Dark Avenging Angel revenge, as its title suggests, is the major theme. In this case, revenge of the most demonic kind. We’ve all heard the old adage, “Be careful what you wish for…” Jane learns the truth of this in graphic ways.

Avenging angels, spirits and demons abound in the traditions and folklore of people all over the world. One group of this type of ghost is known as a chindi.

Chindis have their origins in ancient Navajo tradition. They are believed to be left behind after a person dies. The deceased’s last breath contains all that is evil and bad, the very worst traits that the person quite probably suppressed while alive. Chindis are much feared because they can inflict illness and even death on any who come into contact with them. They can also attach themselves to the building where the deceased has drawn their last breath and inadvertently created them. As a result, it is Navajo tradition for death to occur outside, in order to allow the chindi to disperse into the air. Where a person dies in a house or other dwelling, that place is often abandoned.
There is also a belief that Navajo witches, who are followers of the ‘Corpse-Poison Way’, infect others with chindi sickness by planting a piece of the corpse on them. This can be something small or insignificant - such as powdered bone - that the unfortunate victim doesn’t even notice at the time.

Chindis can take any form – both human and animal. If a Navajo sees a coyote walking on its hind legs, they know it is a chindi.

Encounters with chindi have been recorded even relatively recently. In 1967, The Frontier Times carried an article written by John R. Winslowe recounting his meeting with a teenage Navajo girl called Alice Long Salt, in 1925. She told him she believed her entire family to be cursed because, over 100 years earlier, they had deceived a blind medicine man who had apparently cured a member of their family from being tormented by the spirit of a man he had killed. The man had met his end in a ‘fair fight’ and in a manner acceptable to the tribal law of the time. The spirit’s restlessness was apparently caused by his inability to sing his death song before he died.

The medicine man mounted a three day vigil over the tormented man, who eventually gave an enormous sigh of relief. The spirit had been freed. Now it was time to pay for the medicine man’s services and the Long Salts could well afford the fee of five butchered sheep from their considerable herd. At the time (around 1825), the Long Salts numbered around 100 and were rich and powerful. But the sheep were grazing some considerable distance away and the two Long Salt men assigned to butcher the sheep were lazy and decided that the blind man wouldn’t notice, so they substituted five dead antelope instead. They cut off their heads and legs from the knees downwards and even managed to deceive members of their own family, including the man who had been cured, and who had been more than ready to pay the agreed fee honestly.

 Everything was fine, until the medicine man discovered he had been tricked. Angry, he sent a chindi to destroy the Long Salts. First an older member of the Long Salt family, who had been in excellent health, suddenly died. He was swiftly followed by a young and robust man who fell dead with no apparent cause.

After that, every few weeks, yet another member of the family would suddenly and inexplicably die. The family was in turmoil. Clearly, a chindi had been sent, but why?

Eventually, the two men who had substituted the antelope confessed. Immediately, carefully selected delegates from the family were sent to try and plead for mercy from the medicine man. They explained to him that the family had also been duped by the two men. They begged him to call off the chindi as, by now, so many members of the family were dead.

The elderly medicine man listened to them and admitted he had indeed summoned a chindi to wipe out the entire tribe of Long Salts, but he said he judged the words of the delegates to be sincere. He was, he said, too tired to talk further but would remove the curse once a proper recompense had been made to him. He wouldn’t discuss what that might be then, but told the delegates to return ten days later when they could agree terms.

This they did – but discovered a mourning party. The medicine man had died and no one could determine whether or not he had removed the curse. When the delegates returned home, they discovered that family members were still becoming sick and dying from unknown causes. The chindi continued to do its work.

  The curse also seemed to have applied to anyone marrying into the Long Salt family. Alice’s mother died when her daughter was just seven years old, and her father withered away to just skin and bone, dying two years later. All that remained of the Long Salt family by the time Alice told her tragic tale, were herself, two uncles and an aunt. Alice said that she could do nothing to help her few remaining relations, who were all ill, crippled and helpless. Friends looked after them, but all Alice could do was watch them slowly fade away.

An ageing Navajo named Hosteen Behegade adopted Alice Long Salt and vowed to protect her from the chindi.

He and Alice took to a nomadic way of life, always on the move, trying to evade the curse. In the winter of 1928, they sought refuge from a blizzard, in a hogan (a traditional Navajo dwelling) three miles from the trading post at Red Mesa. During the night, the storm deteriorated into the worst seen in years. The next morning, Alice was dead. All their running from her destiny had been in vain.

After 100 years, the chindi curse was over. The Long Salt family was no more.

Now, to give you a taste of Dark Avenging Angel, here’s the blurb:

Don’t hurt Jane. You may live to regret it.

Bullied by her abusive father, Jane always felt different. Then the lonely child found a friend in a mysterious dark lady who offers her protection—a lady she calls her “angel”. But that protection carries a terrible price, one to be paid with the souls of those Jane chooses to suffer a hideous and eternal fate.

When Jane refuses to name another victim, the angel reveals her most terrifying side. Payment must be made in full—one way or the other.

And here’s a brief extract:

Something had woken me from a deep sleep troubled by my recurring nightmare in which I was in a wood, being chased by some unimaginable horror. I never saw its face, assuming it even had one. But I knew if I didn’t find sanctuary, it would kill me. I had just made it into the strange little house that always appeared in the clearing, when my eyes opened and I gasped at the white, smiling face looking down at me.

That night, my angel seemed different somehow.

Oh, she looked the same. Same black cloak, but this time it shimmered and I wanted to touch it. I was sure it would feel soft as velvet under my fingers.

She put her finger to her lips and stroked my hair. Her touch was like a gentle breeze in summertime. My eyes wanted to close, but I forced them to stay open.

I knew I mustn’t speak out loud, but I could still whisper. “I wish I knew your name. Who are you? Please will you tell me?”

She continued to smile. Her lips moved, but the answering voice I heard was again in my head. Do not be afraid, child. It is not yet time, but soon you will have the power to avenge yourself on those who have done you harm. Look for me in the shadows and I will be there, taking account.

I understood nothing of what she said. But, from somewhere, a calm I had never felt before emerged and wrapped itself around me.

I blinked in the darkness as she faded from sight.

Then I closed my eyes and slept. I never had that nightmare again after that night. But what if I’d known what was ahead for me?

Some things are better off left in the dark.

You can find Dark Avenging Angel here:

"I have not felt this excited by a horror writer since reading Susan Hill. I look forward to reading more from this hugely talented author." - Ajoobacats

"This author has an uncanny of illustrating the dark and disturbed while refusing to relent until the final climax" - Horrornews.net

“I discovered Cat Cavendish’s books not too long ago and she very quickly became one of my to-be-hoarded authors. She writes a type of horror I don’t see often: gothic, wonderfully descriptive, has witches, demons, good ol’ scares horror. Angel is a perfect example of her writing.” – Cat After Dark

Dark Avenging Angel wasn't quite the novel I expected - it's something deeper, more well-rounded, and more emotionally relevant because of it.” – Beauty in Ruins

Dark Avenging Angel is a beautiful and haunting horror story.” – Bibliophilic Book Blog

“For an original, thought-provoking, and captivating read, look no further.” – Books are Delicious

“I'd definitely recommend this book if you are looking for a scarier read!” - Fictional Candy

Dark Avenging Angel is a fantastic read…It is a standout story that reminds me why I love horror literature.” – Horror Underground

"A riveting story, Dark Avenging Angel plants unforgettable roots in the reader's mind." The Haunted Reading Room 2017