Christopher Slatsky is a horror and weird fiction author with multiple chapbooks to his name, including the 80’s Satanic paranoia story A Plague of Naked Movie Stars, the cosmic horror-tinged No One is Sleeping in This World, and the horror-in-memory work This Fragmented Body, all available from Dunhams Manor Press. His short fiction has appeared in Resonator: New Lovecraftian Tales From Beyond, Xnoybis #1, The Lovecraft eZine, and others.
His newest book, Alectryomancer, also from Dunhams Manor Press, is “A Depression-era Weird tale about California laborers, cock-fighting, time travel, UFO abductions, and more.” Color me crazy if that doesn’t sound like a helluva read.
You’ve been publishing chapbooks with Dunhams Manor Press/Dynatox Ministries for about a year now. What draws you to that format, and what’s it like working with Dunhams Manor Press?
My history with Dunhams Manor Press is certainly the longest in a short career (short for some I suppose) as No One is Sleeping in This World was released in Sept. 2014. I’d never considered the self-publishing route, instead focusing on publishers with a strong track record in releasing novellas and short stories. Dunhams Manor Press was one of the few entities interested in difficult-to-pin-down tales.
Alectryomancer’s description evokes a lot of disparate elements. Could you tell us a little more about the story and characters? What inspired you to write this tale?
Alectryomancer really started with the current popularity of weird westerns. I’d considered writing a story set in 19th century California, but my love of Steinbeck and Nathanael West, as well as the lack of horror stories set during the Great Depression, lured me to a later decade. As is the case with most weird story telling, the atmosphere was my first consideration, so the dingy hardscrabble world of migrant workers in the late 30s offered the most potential.
Rey represents my attempt to convey the plight of the laborer far from home, exploited in a foreign land, his photographs and strange journal are his only link to the past, a past distorted by odd circumstances. I tried to convey a sense of occult machinations behind the façade of everything, a hint of grandeur and cosmic conspiracies the characters are incapable of fully grasping, while the reader is allowed a bit more understanding, but the entirety of these forces are kept tantalizingly ambiguous. I’m fascinated by origin of life narratives, and Alectryomancer was my attempt to convey an alternative creation fable. I’ve never mapped out any sort of mythos or rules or checklist, but I do have a template that gently guides most of my stories.
I have a strong interest in ufology, conspiracy theories, and how sociology affects and is affected by both. How much of your own interest in these subjects informed Alectryomancer?
Very influential. I’ve been obsessed with the paranormal, Fortean phenomena, pseudo-anthropology, In Search of…, and such since I was a kid. The idea of pocket universes, alternative explanations for proto-human’s evolutionary lineage, and UFOs of course, all came together in Alectryomancer.
Have you had any otherworldly experiences? Are you a believer, a skeptic, or somewhere in between?
I don’t believe so, as I defer to Occam’s Razor as my default in interpreting anomalous experiences. While I certainly don’t have all the answers, and it could be argued that epistemology necessitates all anthropocentric cultivated data as flawed, I would argue that anything violating well-established physical laws had best present a solid case before accepting anything like psychics, UFOs, or an afterlife. I’m an atheist and skeptic who doesn’t accept the existence of anything beyond the foundation of mechanistic processes that govern the universe’s activities, including the life forms composed of these physical constituents. I’d love the evidence to be such that I’m wrong, but the universe has yet to give any hint of a ghost in the machine, a Bigfoot in the PNW, or a ghost in the dilapidated mansion.
Writers tend to explore and focus on certain themes during different arcs of their careers. What patterns do you see developing in your own work? How do they relate to the broader resurgence independent horror literature is experiencing?
At the risk of sounding incredibly pretentious, which may have happened already, I’m interested in exploring the nature of God, consciousness and memory. I’m fascinated by the universe as described above, but also curious as to how the world would be different if these processes resulted in something that upended well-accepted physical laws (like a mind or soul), or, contravene that with how the world would operate if these laws were only the thin veneer of reality disguising far more profound forces that elude any attempt at labeling them—i.e., a Creator or creators. Everything is so intimately wrapped up in how we remember how things were, or remember how we want them to eventually become, that any hiccup along the way offers so much potential for the weird to crack the firmament and allow the intrusion of wonder and apprehension.
While acknowledging the contentious nature of labels, I see the broader aspects of weird fiction as an acknowledgement that genre is all too often stifling, not revelatory, and that one may be as influenced by Flannery O’Connor as they are Poe, Jackson as they are Sebald, or Langston Hughes as they are King. I’m proud to be associated with the weird renaissance, horror, or whatever label fits. I hope I can contribute something meaningful. There’s a wealth of exciting, diverse voices as of late.
I first read your work in Resonator: New Lovecraftian Tales From Beyond. “Film Maudit” was one of the best stories in a very, very strong book. It reminded me of haunted film/haunted theater movies like John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness and Cigarette Burns, as well as Lamberto Bava’s Demons, but with a classic 50s and 60s spookshow gimmick sensibility. Where did you draw inspiration for the tale?
Maya Derren’s work and Canawati’s “haunted film” Return to Babylon were instrumental in actually forcing me to write the story down. I’m a movie buff fascinated by lost films, and cult, transgressive cinema in general. All of that and my love of Ramsey Campbell meant “Film Maudit” was always in my head in some capacity and I just needed an appropriate anthology to submit. I was very fortunate that Scott R. Jones, an editor I expect to become more and more known, and an author whose works I admire, accepted it.
What’s your next project about?
A limited edition hardback of Alectryomancer and Other Tales will be released in April 2016 with a new cover and interior art by Dave Felton. It will also contain two unpublished stories: Sparagmos, Ltd., and a novelette, a spiritual prequel to No One Is Sleeping in This World and sequel to Alectryomancer, titled No One May See Me and Live. I also have a story in the upcoming anthology Summer of Lovecraft.