When solicited to add my own name to the list of incredible contributors to The Healing Monsters benefit anthology the world simply sucked a lot less than it sucks today. For one thing, former Metal Maniacs editor Katherine Ludwig still lived and rocked among us. Then the book’s purpose was solely to help Dustin LaValley with his outrageous medical expenses. Much has happened since, too much, in fact, but one bright and awesome silver lining: that one book is now two books, thanks to the huge response that editors Shawn Macomber (Decibel, Fangoria, Magnet, Rue Morgue) and Kriscinda Lee Everitt (Despumation Press) received from noteworthy metalheads wanting to lend their talents toward the cause. So to celebrate the release of the first volume of The Healing Monsters, I interviewed the editors behind the killer stories. Here’s what they say about working with some of your favorite metal musicians and horror and metal writers and what it took to get these anthologies into your hands.
Kriscinda Lee Everitt
Kriscinda, first thing's first, let get down to some metal. Which song best describes how you feel about the release of this benefit anthology The Healing Monsters?
Holy Moses’s “Finished with the Dogs.” Maybe just because I’ve been listening to it lately, but this was supposed to have been this relatively simple project that wouldn’t take too long. It ended up taking forever, for various reasons. Lots of difficulties, and obviously, tragedy, when we lost Katherine. That sort of threw us into a collective state of grief. Then my husband, Anthony, was diagnosed with Lymphoma, which was ironic and terrifying, which made this even more difficult and stressful to work on. So, basically, just having the volumes ready to release is a relief. We are absolutely finished with these dogs and want to see them run free and thrive out there.
Could you explain to our readers what is the aim of the anthology and what its revenue ultimately will go toward?
The purpose of these volumes is to raise funds for the medical expenses of Dustin LaValley, who has been—for some time—struggling with a rather debilitating (to put it mildly) and life-threatening bout of Inflammatory Bowl Disease and Crohns, and also for Katherine Ludwig, who, as most folks probably know, had been battling Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Just split all proceeds between them (both volumes), and since Katherine’s passing, we’re arranging it so her share will go to her son, Max.
You edited both volumes of The Healing Monsters, alongside Shawn Macomber. What exactly did that entail? Like, did you solicit the writers? Did you fix all of our grammar and syntax?
Shawn came to me with this idea, and together we pulled the contributing writers and musicians together. The lion’s share came through Shawn, what with his Decibel connections. I’d say 98% of the people we asked to participate responded generously with a big yes, and the stories and poems came pouring in, which was both wonderful and overwhelming. But we basically split the manuscripts and each tackled them—each was different and required varying levels and types of editing. This was Shawn’s first time really doing this kind of editing, which could sometimes be rather structural, and I think he’d agree it’s easy to get a little heavy handed at times. That said, his instincts were spot on and he was extremely easy to work with during that process. After we did the heavy lifting, I had the back and forth with the writers, got the stories all ship shape and fine tuned—yes, including grammar and syntax, proofing, etc. I think there were very few issues in regards to the editing process, and what existed were easily squared away.
You've written a lot of horror and weird fiction, what record has proven to be endlessly inspiring for you?
This is tough. I don’t know if I can pinpoint a certain album, but I can say that I generally gravitate toward lyrics that, while perhaps not necessarily concrete in terms of a story happening, have a certain lyrical (in the literary sense) poetry to them. I do have a story in the second volume (release:September 15, 2016) based on Carcass’s “Heartwork” (the song) called “Dark Foul Light.” That’d be a good example, actually—it started with the song, but grew through a series of thematic and visual connections. I’d say that a lot of my writing works that way. A song may have kicked it off, but then it sort of pulls from all directions. Throughout the story, there are snippets of lyrics, and while there’s no discernable “story” to the song, I used the imagery of painting and the dark language in general to lay the foundation of the piece. Then, it was a pretty quick process of the imagery from the video, the industrialness of which reminded me of Pittsburgh—where I live—leading me to the Maxo Vanka murals at the St. Nicholas Croatian Catholic Church in Millvale here, which is just on the other side of the city and were painted in the run-up and start of the Second World War. The church is also allegedly haunted. All of these things went into that story, and, of course, it seemed appropriate to set it in Liverpool. In the end, you get a story about a painter who just barely escapes being blown to bits taking shelter from shelling under a bridge (which, historically, actually happened) during the Second World War and is later commissioned to repaint the walls and ceilings of the Church of St. Luke (which also exists and was hit during a set of bombing raids in 1941). There might be a ghost. That’s all I’ll say, but this gives you a pretty good idea how the process works for me. It started with the song, and it started with the song because the lyrics were so fascinating and poetic—Jeff Walker really has a knack for shaping language to its purpose (whatever that purpose is). And then it just goes from there, but in order to retain the spirit of the song, so to speak, I did listen to that song on a loop the entire time writing.
Whose story in this collection was the most surprising for you?
I’ll just stick to this first volume, and I’d say JR Hayes’s “Odious,” because, well, Pig Destroyer. The lyrics tend toward being rather bleakly straightforward, sometimes amusing, but I wouldn’t say “funny,” as the subject matter is often so dark, but with “Odious,” Hayes comes out—although obviously leaning dark—very funny, downright wacky, and, I hesitate to say it, even very sweet. It’s a wonderful story. What’s not surprising, actually, is Hayes’s knack for telling a story, which, very often, I think, his lyrics can be considered a species of micro-fiction.
Whose is the most metal?
Again, sticking to this first volume…ah, it’s so hard to say, because metal—with all it’s subgenres and sub-sub-genres—really does span so many subjects and styles and whatnot. But I’ll say Larissa Glasser’s “Imperator—Terror Lizard (Part One).” It’s this sci-fi-fantasy piece, the main attraction of which is a massive fucking lizard designed to destroy everything. And I think I say “fantasy” (a genre I’m not fluent in by any means) because…giant lizard, makes me think of dragons, which makes me think power metal. That said, though, it’d be inaccurate to give the impression that this is about wizards and shit. It’s something else entirely, and the piece—though a short story—is rather epic and brutal. Yeah, epic and brutal. Giant fucking murder lizard. That’s pretty metal.
You actually gave me a new and better ending for my story. My original ending was unbelievable, which is different than being unpredictable or even weird. Something about the ending never sat right with me. Now you and your husband Anthony Everitt publish Despumation Press so you no doubt have an ever-mounting slush pile. Can you talk a little bit about the difference between writing fiction and editing it?
First, my slush-pile is but a tiny thing. Seriously, it is incredibly hard to find good metal fiction. For some odd reason, there seems to be a disconnect between persons who are serious and dedicated to their craft, and who also listen to extreme or underground metal (which is what I’m really looking for). That’s not to say they don’t exist—we do have a whopping two issues out. But those two issues took forever to put together because, frankly, it was slim pickins and I didn’t want to sacrifice quality for quick quantity. But to answer your question, there is a huge difference between writing and editing fiction. When you write, you’re writing. You’re the writer and you’re writing what you write. But when you’re editing someone else’s writing, you are not the writer, you’re the editor. This sounds simple enough, but it seems that too many editors edit the work of others to shape the piece into something more like they would write personally. You really have to detach yourself from your style and tone, and all of that, and pay close attention to what the writer you’re editing is trying to accomplish. And communication is key. Never assume anything, or, if you do, always be prepared to be wrong. You may remember, I think, the first story I read of yours—not editing, but just reading—there were things I didn’t recognize, or thought they meant something else, but ended up being a regional thing where you’re from. I can’t possibly know something like that, so it pays dividends to have good and open communication with the writer. If you’re a good editor, I think, the story comes out reading absolutely nothing like your own writing and everything like what the penning author intended. That’s your job. All of that said, the common thing I think serves you well both as a writer and an editor—with which good writing and knowledgeable and efficient editing can’t do without—is a solid foundation in reading. If you haven’t read far and wide in terms of quality and genre, there’s no point at all in writing or editing.
If you could biograph one metal musician's life, whose would it be and what would you call it
Not Without My Mustache: Rick Rozz: The Early Years
Besides your place on the cover of The Healing Monsters Vol. 1, where else may our readers find your name?
Not much of anywhere lately, I’ve been so preoccupied writing, editing, and doing various other things, I haven’t been putting up out there to be published. That said, I’ve got short stories in a number of anthologies—you know, like everyone. I think if you search my name on Amazon, in addition to Despumation and The Healing Monsters, you’ll find a few things I’ve been in. I will be putting out a novel, which is basically a murder mystery/werewolf novel with Robert Louis Stevenson as the protag and follows the account of his journey in his Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes (1879). Historical, werewolves, mystery, Stevenson—it’s been too daunting to try to place, and, to be completely honest, I haven’t the patience to go through the process of placing it. And, the industry isn’t exactly what it used to be, so I’m just going to not give a shit and put it out. I have another three-to-five projects that I’ll crap out over the course of the next year or two. We’ll see what happens.
Shawn, which song best describes how you feel about the release of this benefit anthology The Healing Monsters?
I’ll give you two: First, “No Hope In Sight” off the most recent Paradise Lost record The Plague Within, which I reviewed for Decibel and got super into in the middle of this whole process. Even as a longtime devotee of the band, this particular collection of songs at this particular moment in my life—and in the life of this project—really resonated with me. That said, I’m a tiny bit reluctant to pick it in this context considering the back story of the anthology and the fact that I wouldn’t want a superficial reading of the title to leave anyone with the impression that I’m endorsing nihilism—which I despise as the trite, morally degenerate bourgeoisie affectation that it is. To bust out a cherished Youth of Today couplet, that’s not the type of life I want to live and that’s not the type of energy I want to give. And if you delve deeper into the song—and, really, the entire record—you’ll find Nick Holmes rather beautifully wrestling with the search for meaning and light amidst the always-impending, unavoidable dark terminus of death. You know, “You'll face your fears through faded years/It's a battle as the years start to fade.” That “battle,” to me, is continuing to fight, despite the odds, despite the existential fears, and it’s hard to think of a better example of that than Katherine Ludwig texting line edits on her story to me, less than two weeks before she passed, slowly because her treatments had numbed her thumbs and sapped her strength, but nevertheless still engaged, still creating, still summoning forth gorgeous, ghastly, odd, singular visions. And Dustin? He’s a straight-up warrior, too. I mourn the pain and loss but celebrate the example.
The other track I’d choose is “Broken Foundation” by Earth Crisis just because it so eloquently expresses what it means to look a fucked up situation directly in its metaphorical eyes and defy it. “Arise and build anew.”
Could you explain to our readers where the name for the book came from?
Well, on one level it’s pretty self-explanatory: You know, “Hey, here’s a book full of things that go bump in the night and the proceeds will hopefully help its beneficiaries heal.” I suppose I’d add—speaking only for myself, of course—it alludes to the idea that these transgressive art forms myself and many readers of Decibel gravitate toward—dark fiction, extreme music, horror cinema, whatever—are not simply ways for sadists to vicariously revel in psychological violence and physical pain. The late, great Wes Craven talked about how dark narratives put fears into a manageable series of events so we could approach and deal with them rationally. I believe that, and I also believe that consciousness expands out at the extremities. In that way, it’s a celebration of the potential positive powers of a subculture that is often looked down upon as lacking any redeeming values.
In your own words, what is the aim of The Healing Monsters?
From afar, Katherine served as an honest to goodness north star for me as a young teenager. I bought my first copy of Metal Maniacs at the supermarket around the corner from my grandparents’ place probably in the summer of 1991—which in pre-Internet Rollinsford, New Hampshire was like receiving transmissions from another universe. Her editorial voice and coverage choices connected me to seriously outré, perspective-shifting ideas as well as about a million strains of perception-bending aural heaviness. Had I purchased a lesser magazine, my life and career arc—for better and worse, admittedly!—would be profoundly different. When she first went public with her illness, I gave some cash via her GoFundMe page, but it just didn’t seem to match her contribution to my life. Simultaneously, I learned Dustin—an awesome writer/human I had long admired, written about, and subsequently become friendly with—was in dire straits as well, and, as someone who operates in both the horror and metal worlds as a journalist and author, I hatched a plan with Kriscinda to bring the two worlds together to help these two true artists through heavy metal horror specialty press Despumation—a perfect fit, aesthetically.
The aim changed somewhat for me after Katherine died. Obviously continue to fight like hell for the living—Dustin—but at the same time I want these volumes to serve as a monument to Katherine’s work, her legacy, and the devotion she inspired.
You edited Healing Monsters, alongside Kriscinda Lee Everitt. Can you detail, in layman's terms, what exactly that means? Like, did you wrangle up some of the writers? Did you fix all of our grammar and syntax?
Layman’s terms are all I’ve got, dude! So…yeah, at the outset, soliciting writers for the project was the main thing. There wasn’t much wrangling to it—in fact, I think way more people from both the initial wish lists Kriscinda and I put together said “Yes” than either of us expected. For Katherine to give her “pantheistic blessings” to the project, and then to have underground music legends like J.R. Hayes, Karyn Crisis, Mike IX Williams, Jessica Pimentel, Ryan McKenney, and Jeremy Wagner sign on alongside amazing horror writers like John Boden, Stephanie Wytovich, John Edward Lawson, Larissa Glasser, and…fuck, everyone else. The lineup is stacked. It extremely humbling experience to have an array of talent like that join the cause. Everyone I edited brought their A-game. No one needed much help with their grammar as far as I recall. It was more about just teasing out themes and, while syntax was generally super, occasionally helping create better, clearer flow. I learned a lot from the process and from Kriscinda and was grateful to have an excuse to spend so much time exploring the imagined universes of all these wonderful creators.
What do you jam when you're writing? Vs. What do you jam when you're editing?
Unless I’m working on a record review, I actually don’t listen to anything when I’m writing these days. I’m an enthusiast and what I guess you might call an active listener and composing essays or stories doesn’t come naturally enough for me to be introducing other distractions. Before I write to clear the mental decks I might put on some old school death metal or hardcore—I’m a huge fan of Rob Fusco projects for this purpose. I love Most Precious Blood and am almost certainly the biggest evangelist for One King Down’s Bloodlust Revenge you’ll ever meet. I just think he’s an amazing lyricist and force of nature vocalist. Editing is a little different and you might find me quietly spinning Angelo Badalamenti’s Twin Peaks shit, Time Life Presents Classical Thunder, that underappreciated first Jeremy Enigk solo record, some Red House Painters, or—yes, for real—Danzig’s Black Aria.
Whose story is the scariest in this anthology?
Yeah, not gonna answer this one mostly because I don’t want the fourteen authors I don’t name to be sitting at home muttering, “That motherfucker doesn’t think I’m scary enough?! I’ll show him!”
Whose is the most metal?
I feel more comfortable on this one. Sean Frasier’s “Forest of Anguish,” no question. I mean, it’s about a doom metal band that goes into the woods looking for a suitably sinister promo photo and gets a nasty supernatural lesson in the wages of sin, for fuck’s sake.
If you could biograph one metal musician's life, whose would it be?
Oh, man, that’s a tough one. Metal is full of philosophical outlaws—there aren’t too many individuals in the true blue scene I wouldn’t be up for writing about at length. Off the top of my head, I’d love to dive into the life journeys of, say, Trey Azagthoth or Pete Sandoval or Phil Anselmo or Ray Cappo or Karl Sanders or Keith Caputo…god, the list really is endless. But if I had to narrow it down to one, it would probably be Dwid Hellion from Integrity. The term is thrown around a lot, but I think of him as a true iconoclast, a true artist, and a guy smart and introspective and badass enough to help create a book that entertained but also challenged. If I had to pick one scene, I would very much like to eventually write a book on the early nineties Krishnacore explosion, which to my mind represents one of the craziest, purest rebellions in the history of rock n’ roll.
Besides your place on the Decibel masthead, you also "haunt" Fangoria, Magnet, Rue Morgue. You're a professional writer! Any advice for the wanna-bes?
I recently read Abraham Heschel’s Who is Man? There’s a lot of cool, useful insights into how to approach one’s own existence in that book—if you’re into that sort of thing! One line that stuck out for me, though, and seems apropos to your question is, “Mankind will not die for lack of information; it may perish for lack of appreciation.” I think you could apply that to a lot of things, including journalism and fiction writing. There’s a couple ways the concept is relevant here, I think: First, I would say appreciate the fact that the opportunity to do this exists at all. I was on the fading side of my mid-twenties when I started taking night classes in writing at my state school, so I tend to have a little different perspective on the quote-unquote writing business I suppose than people who went straight into it at twenty-two or whatever. I spent several years working construction, working agriculture, working catering, retail, shit-shoveling, strip mall Easter Bunny—the full gamut—and, trust me, though you wouldn’t know it from talking to reporters in the average newsroom, there are less enviable ways to make a living than exploring the culture and world and the life and times of other human beings. Appreciate it! I’ve reported from countries where people are too busy, you know, trying to not get blown up in a market or securing basic sustenance for their children to argue on Twitter about the merits of a record or a magazine cover or bullshit boring politics or work on building their brand. I’m glad people are able to do those things, but spare us the woe-is-me act. You’re luckier than you could ever imagine. Second, I would urge writers to cultivate a genuine appreciation for individuals and ideas outside their spheres of experience and interest. There is a difference between storytelling and self-flattery or haranguing that not everyone in this trade gets. I think most writers slip into it from time to time—myself most definitely included—but I don’t think you can progress as an individual or a translator of the human condition if you’re always looking for a reason to scoff and never checking your premises.
The Healing Monsters Vol. 1 features new and original works by JR Hayes (of Pig Destroyer), Decibel writers Shawn Macomber, Sean Frasier and myself, as well as Larissa Glasser, Andrew Bonazelli, John Edward Lawson, Mathias Jansson, Brian Serven, Jessica Pimentel, Dustin LaValley, Jesse Bullington, Tim Deal, Stephanie M. Wytovich, John Palisano, John Boden, with introductions by LaValley and John Skipp. Now go support a worthy and just cause by picking up your own copy of The Healing Monsters Vol. 1, available at Createspace and Amazon.