Psychological horror has a special place in my soul. There is something about the way that psychological horror stays with you for days, weeks, and months after you've read it. It does things that jump scares and gore cannot. With that, I am pleased to be speaking with Alison Armstrong this month about her love of vampires, and how her writing touches the soul in a way that will stay with you long after you've completed her books.
1. For those that don’t know you, can you give us an elevator pitch about what kind of horror you write?
I write psychological, supernatural, and surreal horror that focuses primarily on inner terrors and obsessions, the nightmare creations of the individual and collective unconscious. My work often includes entities of the imagination, including vampires, ancient gods, and parasitic thought forms.
2. What is the first book that made you really emotional? What was the emotion?
The first book that captivated my imagination and made me feel like crying was Thomasina by Paul Gallico. I especially loved the portions of the novel told from a cat’s point of view as she undergoes an afterlife vision of feline heaven. As an only child and animal lover, I also loved that the book’s main human characters included a lonely, depressed little girl and a beautiful witch who lived in the woods and healed sick animals.
3. What are common traps for aspiring writers?
Common traps, in my opinion, are the tendency to be overly influenced by other authors and too concerned with genre conventions rather than trying to develop a personal voice that transcends genre.
4. What is your writing Kryptonite?
My writing Kryptonite is my tendency to overanalyze my writing and get upset when it isn’t going the way I want it to go.
5. How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?
Writing my first book helped me develop my own process, working from various fragments and then piecing them together instead of trying to outline everything first.
6. How did you celebrate your first book getting published? What about the last book?
After my first book’s publication, I gave a copy to an author/actor friend and, later, talked about it at an Anne Rice Vampire Lestat Fan Club convention. I gave my most recent books also to some of the people who inspire and encourage me.
7. What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?
Sharp Teeth by Toby Barlow, a novel about shape-shifting dogs.
8. What’s your favourite horror publication? Could be a magazine, a blog, an annual anthology, anything…
Sirens Call Publications.
9. What is your favourite horror franchise? Why are you drawn to that franchise?
The Haunting of Hill House/Haunting of Bly Manor TV series. I love the psychological depth of the characters and themes and the atmosphere of sad, futile yearning.
10. How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
I have two half-finished books, possibly a third if I decide to make one of the books a separate novel.
11. Of your unfinished works, which is your favourite? Tell us about the plot.
My unfinished book, untitled as yet, is a prequel to my novels Revenance and Toxicosis. Like the other two novels, it is primarily told from the perspective of the female narrator, who, in this book, is looking back on her childhood and adolescence before she became a vampire in her mid-twenties. It shows the character’s immersion in her inner world, her sense of alienation with humanity as a whole, as well as her love for the supernatural and animals
12. Have you read anything that made you think differently about fiction?
Having read a lot of classic and modern literature while I was in college, I developed a love for descriptive language, stream of consciousness techniques, and surrealism. This, along with my love for the films of David Lynch and other unconventional filmmakers, influenced my way of approaching writing. When I write, I think in terms of scenes in a film, which I then piece together, rather than writing a chronological narrative. I prefer to focus on subjective states instead of having a more action-based plot.
13. What, to you, are the most important elements of good writing?
Vivid, evocative language that creates mood, insight into the psychology of the characters, avoidance of cliches and rigid genre conventions.
14. Of all the characters that you’ve written, which one is your favourite and why?
My favorite character is the female narrator of my novels Revenance and Toxicosis. Although she is based on my own thoughts and some of my experiences, she represents the person I would like to be if I were a vampire. Like myself, she is a loner, loves Goth and punk music, weird films, and animals but feels alienated from humanity. As a vampire, she, paradoxically, becomes more empathetic towards the people she feeds upon because she feels their deepest fears and longings as she drinks their blood. Free from the mortal restrictions of her body, she has a deeper understanding of the sadness and fragile beauty of living things.
15. Can you tell us about the last book you published?
Toxicosis, the last novel I published, is a sequel to Revenance, continuing the story of two vampires: the female narrator and the vampire who transformed her, her Awakener. As they feed upon the people whose thoughts and desires summoned them, they partake of their host’s dreams and life experiences. In Toxicosis the vampires take two half-dead kittens abandoned in a trash can and resuscitate them, in the process transforming the kittens into vampires whose blood is infected with Toxoplasma gondii. A ruthless vampire alchemist obsessed with hallucinogenic chemicals searches for the cats in hopes of developing a powerful mind-altering substance that could mutate human as well as vampire consciousness. The book explores the shifting boundaries of dream, delusion, and perceived realit.
16. Can you tell us about what you’re working on now?
Currently, I am working on the prequel to Revenance and Toxicosis, focusing on the childhood and adolescence of the female vampire character when she is still human.
17. For your latest release, Would you and your main character get along?
Yes, we would because she and her vampire consort, her Awakener, share many of my interests as well as my feelings regarding humanity and its relationship to Nature.
18. If you could meet your characters, what would you say to them?
I would ask what it feels like to be free from bodily constraints and live throughout eternity while people you have loved die.
19. If you were to write a spin-off about a side character, which would you pick?
I would choose the vampire alchemist who is in search of hallucinogenic substances.
20. If you could spend a day with another popular author, whom would you choose?
Chuck Pahlahniuk because although he has a completely different style of writing than mine and deals with subjects I would have a hard time writing about, he has a vast knowledge of literature, popular culture, and weird phenomena. I also like the fact that he donates money to help animals.
21. If your book were made into a movie, which actors would play your characters?
I would choose Rooney Mara or Mia Wasikowska or someone with a similar waifish type of appearance to play the female narrator in Toxicosis and Michael Easton (who, among other roles portrayed the vampire Caleb Morley in the TV series Port Charles) to play her Awakener.
22. If your book were made into an audiobook, who would be your dream-narrator?
Musician/author Patti Smith.
23. Want to do a writing exercise? Use this random word generator ( https://randomwordgenerator.com/ ) to provide you three words to use as a prompt. Write a one horror story with those words as your muse - it can be only a few words or a full book, totally up to you.
Words generated : Suite constant avant-garde
Oasis by Alison Armstrong
As she wearily lugged her small suitcase through the hotel lobby, she breathed a sigh of relief. Free from the claustrophobic confines of her tiny NYC apartment, she could perhaps at last get the rest and relaxation she needed. The large, elegantly furnished suite, equipped with a whirlpool bath, kitchenette, and adjoining living room area, would be much larger than her cramped quarters on the Lower East Side and, she assumed, would be much quieter. It would be the oasis she needed to soothe her frazzled nerves and ease her agitated mind.
Nights of insomnia had taken their toll, making her already erratic thoughts spin around in circular tracks, like horses on a carousel or characters in an absurdist avant-garde film who continually repeat the same words and phrases, ending and beginning at the same point, the same nowhere destination.
Now that she was at the hotel for the next four days, she was so tired she seemed to sleepwalk her way through the registration process, shuffle towards the elevator, and, finally open the door to her suite. Entering the room, she turned on the light.
She had anticipated a suite with an ocean view, the sight of moonlit waves and bone-white sand to lull her into enchanted dreams; however, as soon as she walked into the room, she noticed that was not the case. Although the suite was, as the Web site described, very spacious and luxurious, it did not offer the one thing she wanted most of all during her stay. Instead, the window by her bed looked out onto a vast courtyard five stories below.
Exhausted and craving sleep, she closed the burgundy satin curtains as far as they would go, leaving a thin shimmering crack of light between them. Then, pulling back the burgundy satin quilt, she let her tense body sink into the billowy soft mattress and glanced at the time on her cell phone. It was 10 pm. , much later than she had expected to arrive due to a backlog of work at her uptown office and an excessively long, congested commute to the hotel, just far enough away from New York City to seem as if she were escaping to a remote oceanside paradise with spa treatments, a health-conscious gourmet restaurant, and, best of all, the reassuring presence of sand and waves.
At least that was what the Web site had promised and she had hoped for throughout the terrifying progression of her symptoms--the headaches transmuting into migraines, the pounding, reverberating echoes and chattering she heard more frequently now, especially at night. She craved darkness, silence, a retreat from the incessant, searing light and blaring noise. but even here, it resisted summons.
Slithering through the space between the curtains, the bright light from the courtyard invaded her room, poisoning the possibility of sleep. The light, the everpresent glaring light of our species kept everything running from day to night, kept her thoughts churning, the carousel wheels turning. The light penetrated through fabric and skin, burrowing deep in the dark red recesses behind her eyelids, and with the light, came the whirring, repetitive sounds.
A rhythmic thumping, as of wooden hooves or boot-shod feet echoed in her ears. Voices shouted and cheered in merry-go-round mirth. “Come on, take your turn!” an announcer taunted. “Round we go, again and again!”
Pressing the pillow over her ears, she tried to drown out the sounds, but they just got softer, more menacing, like the steps and voices of tiny puppets revolving as our planet teetered on the brink of collapse.
The whispers, unvanquished, began to writhe their way into her brain, maggot marionettes prancing and pirouetting. “Twirl your partner, here we go; just step right in, do si do!” the announcer, in a louder whisper than the rest, exclaimed. The circling steps got faster, more frantic.
Tossing aside her pillow, she staggered, stiff-legged, to the window, as if the constant murmur and whirling were guiding her there. She pulled at the drapes, and they opened, like theatre curtains signaling a show. Hands grasping the window, she felt a force of air, like a final, wearying sigh, push her forward.
With a shattering of glass and warm, bathing release of blood, she was falling downward. Feet raced and voices screeched, like the vocals on an LP recording played at high speed, mouse-shrill shrieks welcoming her hurtling approach.
The dancers safely dispersed just as her body slammed against the floor. That was the last square dance of the evening, but for those there, the memories of it would keep on spinning.
Outside, beyond walls and glass and amplified, illuminated frenzy, the waves rolled softly, hushing human noise, erasing footprints, coaxing untroubled minds to sleep.