Ginger Nuts of Horror
Marjorie Kaye lives in Southern California. After working as an actress and then for many years as a casting director in film, she decided to get a real job, and became a credentialed English teacher working in East LA and the San Fernando Valley. Ah, good plan. As usual, her timing was impeccable. The economy tanked and she lost her teaching job, however all was not lost: While she was teaching English, she started to write.
She has always loved a good horror novel so decided to write one. The Demon Rift is her first novel,
Could you tell the readers a little bit about yourself?
My family history includes Great Uncle Arthur, who had been an inmate at the Ohio State Penitentiary, which famously burned to the ground in 1930, killing 320 prisoners. No one knows what caused the prison to burn, but there are stories of ghosts--prisoners still trapped where the prison once stood. The early part of the 20th century was a hard time to be poor, especially if you were a child. I grew up hearing my grandfather's (Uncle Arthur’s brother) stories about being a “charity kid” in an Ohio orphanage during the early 1900’s. These stories led to my novel, The Demon Rift.
What do you like to do when you're not writing?
I watch a lot of TV news (mostly MSNBC) trying to make sense of the alternate universe that I now inhabit. I do lots of crossword puzzles (they’re very soothing) and I read magazines, a habit I developed when I was working in casting. I’m interested in science news—in fact I wrote my second book after reading an article by Ray Kurzweil about mind uploading.
Other than the horror genre, what else has been a major influence on your writing?
When I was fifteen, we moved from Kentucky to a small house in Glendale, California, where I discovered a treasure--a cardboard box filled with science fiction paperbacks. Heinlein's Have Spacesuit Will Travel was the only sci fi novel that I had come across in the small Kentucky library I left behind. It was a blissful summer. There were stories by Asimov, Sturgeon, Bradbury and eerie novels like The Circus of Dr. Lao. I have loved science fiction since the house in Glendale. My second book, Tales From Babylon Dreams is science fiction. It takes place in an “after death destination,” where people can continue to exist, provided they can afford it.
The term horror, especially when applied to fiction always carries such heavy connotations. What’s your feeling on the term “horror” and what do you think we can do to break past these assumptions?
You’re right; these connotations imply “for less sophisticated readers.” I’m all for great prose and profundity, just don’t bore me. On my own blog, I reviewed Alex Shakar’s novel, Luminarium a book that deals with the nature of reality. It was very dense, but I stayed with it because I cared about the character and what happens. A critic in the New York Sunday Times Book Review, lamented that it “. . . might have yielded a schematic novel of ideas, if Shakar weren’t so committed to showing his readers a good time." You can’t do both? I don’t have any answers when it comes to these assumptions. I wish I did.
Horror addresses an important part of being human: our sense of vulnerability when confronting the unknown. When we read a horror novel or see a scary movie, while enjoying a safe ride through a nightmare, we witness terrible things. Feeling a kinship with the characters, we sigh in relief when it all turns out well. On occasion, there’s an unhappy ending and most of us can shrug it off because it isn’t personal; it’s pretend. I think any horror novel that offers a new approach to old material, strong characters, sound structure and a clearly defined conflict deserves respect. An example is David Mitchell’s Slade House a novel tied to his earlier, much longer book, The Bone Clocks. I felt that in The Bone Clocks, his prose dazzled but upstaged everything else and I stopped caring about the outcome. I appreciate reading something that takes a fresh look at what scares us, but I need to care about the characters and what happens. Mitchell does this with the nasty soul eaters in Slade House, a shorter novel where the prose serves the story rather than the opposite.
A lot of good horror movements have arisen as a direct result of the socio/political climate, considering the current state of the world where do you see horror going in the next few years?
Social media is a proven source of real life horror. It has played a role in a few pieces, mostly film. I think it can also yield some interesting plotlines. Perhaps North Korean zombies are on Snapchat. No? How about a Facebook page for Ku Klux cross-burning vampires? I used a social media setting in a short story, “The Seventh Folding of Willow Sprite.” It concerns a gamer, whose romantic interludes with her online lover take place in an alternate reality. The boyfriend lives in the Seventh Dimension. Ultimately, she becomes two dimensional before her unfortunate end.
Then there’s virtual reality, a whole new medium that requires the development of a different story telling language and new conventions. VR technology offers opportunities, challenges and hopefully, very exciting horror. It may be a little too real for some people.
What are the books and films that helped to define you as an author?
In A Tale of Two Cities, Dickens comments on doors and that behind each, there’s a story. Whether or not you choose to write it, every character in a narrative, no matter how minor, has a story. When I was a teenager, I read Earth Abides by George R. Stewart. It was a post apocalyptic novel, written in the late 40’s. I remember being touched by the scene where Bridget, a bewildered Irish setter cries for her master. Her grief expresses something profound: the loss of a world. I’ve read several novels by James Michener. I was fascinated by his use of a single setting as he built one story upon another, as time built layers of soil on the ground where they all took place. When I began to write the novel, The Demon Rift, I based it on a screenplay that I had co-written with a friend who was a professional screenwriter. Reading Michener had an influence on the way I chose to structure my book. To answer my own questions about these characters, I expanded the time frame and built my novel by interweaving their family histories into a tapestry that unfolds in a single setting.
Nabokov was another influence. Gunter, an amoral narcissist, is the narrator of my second book. Gunter has a lot in common with Humbert Humbert, the pedophile narrator of Lolita.
What new and upcoming authors do you think we should take notice off?
I have read several authors, who though established, were new to me. I’ve recently discovered Claire North’s work. After reading The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, I am currently reading two more of her works. I was very impressed by the simple but chilling The Bird Box, Josh Molerman’s 2014 novel, but a bit disappointed by the new novel by Victor LaSalle, The Changeling. The story meandered and fell apart at the end, but LaSalle’s prose is lovely so I’m open to reading more.
Paul Tremblay’s Head Full of Ghosts was powerful and unsettling, however I think his second book, Disappearance at Devil’s Rock, was weaker. Though working with the same elements of character relationships, a possible supernatural event and tragedy, it lacked the fierce, unsettling madness that made the first one so compelling.
One new writer, Dennis E. Taylor, self-published his first science fiction novel, We Are Legion, We Are Bob. He had me at the title. The novel is a witty take on AI and space exploration. Bob, the AI first person narrator, is very likeable and quite funny. I was invested for much of the story, enough that I bought the two sequels, which predictably aren’t as good but still engaging.
How would you describe your writing style?
Although it’s not a necessary part of writing a horror novel (The Bird Box has none but still manages to pack a considerable scare) I use a lot of humor. It’s a family thing. We’re all that way. It’s one zinger after another when we get together. I can’t help it.
There’s much to love about Charles Dickens, but it’s his humor, his sly observations of human nature that I love the most. It’s been years since I read The Shining, but I still remember the dialogue from the scene where the old man briefed Jack Torrance on caring for the boiler. When Stephen King sends a chill up the spine, it’s often via the funnybone.
Are there any reviews of your work, positive or negative that have stayed with you?
Yes, several readers complained that the timeline changed so frequently in first pages that they were confused. In response, I created a narrator, a sort of guide to help the reader follow the story and understand the relationships.
I was very pleased when a reviewer said he was touched by the way I handled scenes that involved the deaths of different characters.
What aspects of writing to do you find the most difficult?
I wish I were more disciplined. Sometimes writing is the most fun I’ll ever have. More often, it’s rolling that rock up a hill and wondering if I’ll ever get there. Technically, pacing is difficult—building the action to a satisfying conclusion, one that your readers haven’t already anticipated.
Is there one subject you would never write about as an author?
My family. That’s not to say I don’t mine aspects of my own life and character or use things that I’ve observed in others. I don’t want to hurt or insult anyone, especially people I care for. It’s also self-preservation. I don’t want to be dodging zingers at family get-togethers. They know all the right buttons to push. There will be no tell-alls. Sorry Oprah.
How important are names to you in your books? Do you choose the names based on liking the way it sounds or the meaning?
Names are important. Often, I’ll choose a name for its sound or because I knew someone who reminded me of the character. In the case of my second novel, I named the protagonist Gunter Holden, a privileged but troubled “golden boy,” for Gunter Gräss who wrote The Tin Drum, a nightmarish look at the Third Reich and Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield.
And, of course titles are extremely important—the first thing that catches your attention.
Writing, is not a static process, how have you developed as a writer over the years?
I keep an open mind when given feedback, but I’ve learned to trust my instincts. And again, it’s discipline. None of us like staring at the monitor, knowing that the first rattle out of the creative brain box is usually a tuning process, revving the system so that it might yield something useful. I’ve learned more about the craft. For a short time, I committed to writing movie reviews for a website. Those craft-related skills helped me meet deadlines. It’s amazing, when you have to produce, you do.
What tools do you feel are must-haves for writers?
An interest in what goes on around you—the littlest thing can spark an idea. Years ago, I knew someone who collected thimbles. In The Demon Rift, a character collects thimbles. It is her way of connecting with places outside her rural existence. Another example is when a friend remarked that his coffee always tasted better in a white cup. I loved the sound of the words “better in a white cup.” It seemed one of those personal bits of magic we use to create our own reality. In my second book, Gunter always wants his coffee in a “white cup.” This character quirk reveals something important about him at the end.
It’s important to keep reading the work of other writers.
A good vocabulary and a grasp of the basics of grammar are a must.
I value friends who will read my work and give honest feedback, especially one who loves me but who will be ruthless when necessary.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received with regards to your writing?
One of my sisters is a lifelong and dedicated reader of horror and science fiction. When I started writing, she schooled me on the conventions common to horror, like making sure that all the important women in the story, which spans 120 years, shared certain traits and that they were connected in some way. She was very helpful when it came to setting and exposition details. She would give an example; I would run with it, and we would both marvel at the result.
Getting your worked noticed is one of the hardest things for a writer to achieve, how have you tried to approach this subject?
By far, this is the most difficult for me. I’ve tried several avenues like chat groups, which can be a minefield if they think you’re there only to promote your work. I did find a readers group I liked, but it was a strain to stay with it. I’m not a social animal. I have a book page on Facebook, an author’s page on Amazon and a wordpress blog where I promote my book and post book and movie reviews I’ve written—mostly horror and sci fi.
And here I am, waving my white hanky at you.
To many writers, the characters they write become like children, who is your favourite child, and who is your least favourite to write for and why?
My goodness, you’re asking me to choose among my book children? Okay. In The Demon Rift, there’s a hardened eleven-year old orphan, Patty, whom I call “The fragile warrior.” Her courage and the way she protects those she loves touches me. I love her voice—she has no illusions. My least favorite is the villain, Bernie. To understand him, I wrote a number of scenes from his point of view. Several are in the book. His mind is pathetic and totally icky.
In the second novel, I can’t help it; I’m in love with my incorrigible narcissist, Gunter. Is that so wrong?
What piece of your own work are you most proud of?
That’s a tough one. I’m proud of different work for different reasons. When it comes to The Demon Rift, I’m proud that I kept working on it and didn’t give up. My first priority was to write a story with a new supernatural twist that people would enjoy. I wanted to know how the supernatural part came about and why, so I kept asking questions. Why did these rules of magic exist and why were they binding? Some writers allow the reader to fill in the blanks and it works just fine. I chose to develop both sides of the good vs evil equation. It helped me strengthen the relationships and reach, in my opinion, a more satisfying conclusion.
And are there any that you would like to forget about?
I wouldn’t want people to read some of the early drafts of The Demon Rift. There are the beginnings of stories that I will regret if I don’t revisit them at some point. When it comes to writing, I was a late bloomer—very late. I started writing because I needed a creative outlet and teaching left me little free time. It’s been an enlightening process. I had always assumed that good writers were born that way. I’ve known several writers and was always a bit in awe of them. Now, because of self-publishing, everyone and their Aunt Tilly is a writer. And there are a lot of good writers named Tilly. It’s easy to get lost in the Amazon jungle. I dearly wish I could navigate the world of social media more effectively. Still, I don’t regret all the time and effort and I love to research.
For those who haven’t read any of your books, which of your books do you think best represents your work and why?
I’ve written two. One is unpublished. The first one is The Demon Rift, a horror novel with a timeline of 120 years so there are historical aspects. It has a lot of characters and a high stakes conflict (the entire universe is in peril). The Rift is about the need to survive versus what we owe our fellow humans and society in general.
Like everyone, I’m a work in progress. Truthfully, I can’t say anything I’ve written is completely representative. Different facets of me are reflected in my work.
Do you have a favorite line or passage from your work, and would you like to share it with us?
From The Demon Rift, the end of a scene that takes place in a turn-of-the century Cleveland orphanage:
“Mrs. Murphy was trying to say something. Her lips were wide ridges supporting the drooping folds of what had been her nose. As she opened her mouth, the tissue formed an oblong opening the size of a jellybean. Steam began to leak out, along with a long whistle.
A teakettle, thought Mrs. Kray. Still whistling, Mrs. Murphy collapsed on the floor. Maryanne was whimpering. Mrs. Kray scooped the little girl into her arms, as the other children continued to cry. As she comforted Maryanne and began to collect her senses, Mrs. Kray saw Bernie standing in the kitchen doorway. He’s finally grown a little, she thought; it’s about time. He was eating something. It was a potato peel, the lunch she discovered later, that Mrs. Murphy ordered served to him on his tray.”
Can you tell us about your last book, and can you tell us about what you are working on next?
The second one is Tales From Babylon Dreams (unpublished). It’s a sci fi novel, taking place almost entirely in virtual reality. The virtual reality setting is portrayed as an unremarkable product of society, so prevalent that there are lobbyists promoting the rights of virtuals—citizens, who as they die, have their minds scanned by nanobots and uploaded to their chosen virtual environment program. These programs are expensive and marketed like high tech gated communities. Compared to the Rift, there are fewer characters. The voice of Gunter, the first person narrator is very important. Within this world, which changes after a company merger, the mind data of its citizens is vulnerable. Gunter’s secrets, buried in his memory folders, are revealed. A breach in his file results in his being forced to confront events in his life and he learns hard truths about his family and his past.
I’m working on two new novels at present. The Daevas is about a woman who since childhood, has been stalked by a family of demi-gods. The protagonist and I have a lot in common (though demi-gods rarely trail me). The other one, Shemathra’s Realm is a sequel to Tales From Babylon Dreams. It takes place in the same VR program, now controlled by a different VR company, owned by a media mogul (think Rupert Murdoch) who has transitioned to VR as a god and leader of a new cult. Rather than first person, it’s a third person narrative about the worship of power and how group-think can destroy civilization. Within this virtual reality environment, members of the cult manifest as herd animals. They dominate, exploit and marginalize non-members—the virtual humans who remained after the take over.
If you could erase one horror cliché what would be your choice?
This is a comment from a review I wrote about McCammon’s Swan Song mentions a plot device, overused in post apocalyptic novels. Since writing this, I have read and greatly enjoyed almost all of his work, including his Matthew Corbett mysteries.
“This novel was long, way too long--over 800 pages. McCammon could have carved out at least two hundred pages of that fruit-and-nut ingredient necessary to every post apocalypse mix: the military mad men, the crazies and the religious zealots.”
What was the last great book you read, and what was the last book that disappointed you?
In terms of horror novels, the clinging dread of The Bird Box stayed with me for days after I finished it. The madness of the “possessed” teenage girl, Marjorie, in Tremblay’s Head Full of Ghosts unsettled me. There was one scene in LaSalle’s The Changeling that made me gasp. Currently, I’m reading Michael McDowell’s The Elementals. I’ve read so many positive reviews of it that I have high expectations, often a disadvantage.
I was disappointed in Cronin’s The Passage. The first two hundred pages were really good. I thought the 600 plus pages that followed weren’t even close to good. It was a major letdown.
What's the one question you wish you would get asked but never do? And what would be the answer?
Considering all the effort, time and frustration involved, is writing worth it? Yes it is.
In a dark universe, a planet churns in the bowels of chaos.
It was old when, peering though the shifting folds of the barrier, it glimpsed our world. It witnessed Earth’s smoldering beginning, the parade of life and the rise of Man. And it entered our dreams, whispering, cajoling and hissing promises of glory and power. Instead, it means to feed on our destruction. To gain unfettered access, there must be a rift in the barrier and so, it creates a saboteur.
It's 2004. There are no smart phones, no Facebook, no Snapchat or Instagram. "The Mall" is the new town square, a place to hang for mall rats and best friends and a mecca for shoppers.
With the Grand Opening of Redhill Mall many hope that it will revive the Ohio town's dying economy. As Christmas approaches, it seems they may be right. Then the murders begin. On Christmas Eve in 2004, the saboteur has plans for Mall shoppers searching for last minute gifts.
Madonna Bedonne, a young mall worker, knows that unless she can defeat the saboteur, she, her friends and hundreds of shoppers will die in . . . THE DEMON RIFT.