As we near Halloween, it’s always fun to have dark fiction authors on the blog. Today I have horror writer, Joshua “J.A.” Crook answering questions about Amid the Recesses: A Short Story Collectionof Fear.
J. A. Crook is an independent American horror and literary fiction author. He writes anthologies that combine terror, suspense, and supernatural elements. His short literary fiction focuses on the human condition with southern gothic influence. His inspirations include the modernist writers Ernest Hemingway, Carson McCullers, and Flannery O'Connor. Contemporary inspirations include Stephen King, Clive Barker, Cormac McCarthy, and Raymond Carver. He has written and released two horror anthologies and has published a series of short fiction pieces. His style involves the use of intertextuality between stories and anthologies, with a focus on keen dialogue and minimalism.
Welcome, J.A. Please tell us about your current release.
Amid the Recesses: A Short Story Collection of Fear is a second edition release of my first horror anthology. It’s also the first book I wrote. Amid the Recesses was a practice in intertextuality and humanity, in understanding people and how their minds work. I wanted to dig into the very depths of ourselves, of parts of our society that are plagued by diseases and distress, that are lost in this world and are healed or left for dead. I wanted to talk about love and horror and about how these two ideas, this intensity of emotion, of fear which sometimes hangs in the balance of the two, can manifest itself. I wanted to understand myself as a writer, to export my ideas and imagination onto a page. The second edition is a sort of “purifying” of an old work with new, grown talent. I wrote this book when I hadn’t known myself. I know more now and wanted to infuse my old art with it. Besides, it’s one of the few luxuries of self-publishing—the ease of editions.
What inspired you to write this book?
I was drunk. I was sick. I didn’t know anything about anyone or myself for a long time. I’d trapped myself in my own world and hid and tried to prevent myself from doing things that made me evil or angry. Somewhere in the middle of this book I gave into myself and damaged a lot of important things in my life. Writing this book was a way to keep me sane when I was certainly becoming less and less so. Writing became that way, truthfully. It saves me from myself. I had to get the darkness out of me and that’s what this book was about: expelling demons.
Excerpt from “The Horse, the Elephant, & the Lion”:
The carpets were bloodied. The walls were streaked with red. Everything she had cleaned was soiled again. Her mouth fell open and her lips quivered toward a scream, but she could not. A trembling hand shot over her mouth.
“How? How is this possib—“
She heard a metallic lullaby. The sound chimed through the hallway and came from the room in the middle of the hall. She recognized that it was the song from the mobile over the cradle. Her legs weakened and sweat sprung at her forehead. She stepped toward the door of the middle room. The sound became louder. She braced herself against the wall. Hand over hand, she scaled along flat surface. She depended on the wall for support. She depended on the wall to remind her of reality.
“This isn’t real. This isn’t real.” She said over and over again.
The door to the room was cracked. She reminded herself that she had closed it. She considered a weapon—a lamp or a knife. She took a broad step toward the end of the hall before the door opened fully. She froze.
Patterns of light projected from the room onto the hallway wall. Irene pressed her back against the wall and watched the ghostly shapes float by. The light projected a horse, an elephant, and then a lion. One appeared after the next in their endless circus march. She wanted to hide inside of the wall. When nothing came from the door, she slid closer to it.
She shook from head to toe as she peered into the dark room. The mobile turned around and around. It sang its provocative lullaby. The light in the center of the spinning mobile beamed through the carved shapes of each animal and they circled the room. Each projected animal crawled along the wall with more confidence than Irene. When the light hit her eye with the passing of each projection, she was blinded. Light faded into darkness and darkness into light as she stared at the spinning mobile.
The sound was too much for Irene to bear. The melancholy melody ripped at her heart. She stepped into the threshold of the door. Her bare feet rose over obstacles—she dodged animal-printed wallpaper and she stepped over unopened bags from the baby shower. She scanned the room for an intruder. She eyes scanned the room and followed the projected shaped across the walls. She waited to see if something would be revealed when the light passed. Nothing was. She reached the cradle to brace herself—it was a grounding point in the center of the room. She stared down its emptiness. The horse passed. The elephant followed. The lion stalked behind. The room became colder. The door ticked closed and remained cracked.
She grabbed the spinning mobile and it clicked as the motor fought to turn against her grip. The parade stopped but the song played on. She ripped the mobile from the hook above the cradle. The hook fell into the cradle and the rattle of plastic was heard as it impacted. The light in the mobile shut off and there was complete darkness. The song played on.
Irene reached for something to hold her up far from the cradle. She heard plastic shifting again coming from the center of the room.
What exciting project are you working on next?
I’m writing my first full novel. It’s about a character named Joe who’s a detective. He’s suicidal and hates everything except that he falls in love with a dead woman, whose death is a mystery. It invigorates him, enough, and on his own maniacal terms he works his way toward vengeance and understanding.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I’ve written nearly as long as I could. I remember being in love with writing when I was a young child and we were made to create our own books in second grade for some parent-involved show and tell. I strengthened my writing in online roleplaying forums and chatrooms in the early days of MSN and AOL and internet service that somehow survive for reasons beyond me. I left the military in 2012 and decided to go to school for writing, but always questioned the validity of it as a “career choice” and people are pretty good about reminding you that it’s a poor one. However, I decided eventually that they’re both right and wrong. They’re right in that I may never make a dollar. They’re wrong because it doesn’t matter. I truly embraced “being a writer,” with the title and all recently. I was slated to go to law school next year. I decided not to. I’ll write. That’s it.
Do you write full-time? If so, what's your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
I don’t know what writing full-time entails. Daily word counts seem to vary between writers. Some say 500 words a day is enough to call yourself full-time. Stephen King claims to write at least 10 pages a day. I strive to write as much as I can when I can. I’m a student, too, and I’m stuck often reading uninteresting Victorian-era junk while I’d rather be writing. But I’m also a dedicated student, so I read what I need to. If I have a moment to myself, I write. If I think I should be doing something less productive, I try not to, then I write. I find any moment I can.
What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
Quirk? Hm. Sometimes I make the voice of my characters as I’m writing their dialogue. I don’t even notice I’m doing it sometimes. It’s especially unusual when I’m writing a monster or some sort of intense villain. In moments like those, I’m glad I’m alone. But it helps me to tighten the dialogue and get the feel. It’s weird, I don’t know.
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
An architect. I was an ignorant little fool.
Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
I suppose I’d like to thank any supporter of indie writers like myself. We walk a fine line between trying to be enjoyable and avoiding being outright annoying, but I hope readers understand that we’re entirely in and of our own business. I should add our business is full of pitiful writers, too. We try hard to distinguish ourselves, us that truly care about the craft. Be patient with us. Give us a chance. Consider something unusual, whether it be my writing or someone else’s who’s trying to compete with the Stephen Kings of the world—you might be surprised.
Amid the Recesses releases on December 8.
Thanks for being here today, J.A.! Happy writing.