PART TWO: L.L. SOARES INTERVIEWS PETER N. DUDAR
L.L. SOARES: Well, here we are, back with Stoker-nominated writer Peter N. Dudar, to promote his new book, and give readers a little more insight into what we’ve both been up to lately.
Peter, I’d like to talk to you specifically about your new novella, THE MISSISSIPPI GLORY HOLE MUTILATIONS, out now from Grinning Skull Press. First off, congrats on the new book!
PETER N. DUDAR: Thanks! It’s great to have a new book out, especially after the pandemic. 2020 was a total wash as far as my writing career. So 2021 felt like I was starting from scratch. Getting back into writing was difficult; when you’re not flexing those muscles on a regular basis, they tend to atrophy a bit. I started slow, working on short stories and revising some of my older work. But by autumn of last year, I was ready to jump back in and working on something a bit longer.
LLS: I totally agree with you about the pandemic. For the first year or so, I lost all of my creativity. I didn’t read, I didn’t write, for about a year there. It was similar after 911. And It does feel like we’re starting from scratch again.
So, MISSISSIPPI GLORY HOLE is a sequel to BLOOD CULT OF THE BOOBY FARMERS. Can you tell us a little bit about that first book? And why did you want to do a sequel?
PND: BLOOD CULT was originally released in 2013, through Novello Publishers. I have to confess that stylistically, the story lands far outside my normal sensibilities, and my comfort zone. I tend to prefer well-crafted slow burn supernatural thrillers rather than the overtly gory and grotesque. BLOOD CULT allowed me the opportunity to craft a campy, over-the-top tribute to the old exploitation films of the 70s and 80s. My novella went out of print back in 2018 (I think), and I honestly was just going to let it rest in peace. The whole #MeToo movement happened the year after it was released, and the book’s subject matter was suddenly controversial in a very bad way. But when it went out of print from Novello, my publisher Michael Evans at Grinning Skull Press expressed interest in getting it back into circulation through GSP. I spent a lot of time thinking about it, but there was always that hesitation because I didn’t want any backlash coming back to bite me on the ass. It wasn’t until I started writing THE MISSISSIPPI GLORY HOLE MUTILATIONS that I realized that a) I love the character of Betty-June Gray and wanted to find out whatever became of her, and b) her new book was going to be an empowered woman story, where she would flip the script on the society that made her a victim in the first book. Once I knew that, I reached out to Michael at GSP and we worked out publishing both books this year.
LLS: While BOOBY FARMERS is in the spirit of 1970s exploitation movies, the new book is more of a satire, even venturing into political humor. What inspired you to take such a different approach with the material this time?
PND: Yes, it absolutely IS a political satire disguised as a horror story, and it came as a response to five loathsome years of Trumpism and my own desperate need for a satisfying catharsis. The antagonist of the story is a composite caricature of several prominent GOP figures, but the most significant of the lot has a name that rhymes with the book’s Senator Rich McDonnell. But that isn’t the ONLY storyline in the book, it’s only one facet to it. The novella really examines a lot of what I don’t care for right now in our society. There are several really rotten characters in the story, who behave badly, and how I’ve chosen to portray them and the fates they face before the book ends underscores the sense of ridicule I believe they deserve.
LLS: The titles of both books tend to capture readers’ imaginations. But instead of inspiring dread, there’s a sense of playfulness, where they feel like they’re in for something that’s going to be a lot of fun and isn’t concerned with being politically correct. Was that your intention, and were these books fun to write?
PND: Both these books were definitely fun to write. Again, with BLOOD CULT, I was going for a campy, titillating story title that was going to stop people in their tracks and immediately want to know if that book was for real. And it actually worked fairly well, because whenever I worked a sales table at writers conferences, people would always pick that book up first, flip through it, and then put it back down on the rack. They just weren’t buying it the way I’d hoped they would. The thing with BLOOD CULT is that it IS goofy and campy, but only at the beginning. There is a certain point in that story that, once you hit it, the atmosphere immediately shifts to a serious, high-tension nightmare and the campy elements practically evaporate. When GSP produced this new edition, they hired artist Jeffrey Kosh to rethink the cover, and he went with a style that looks EXACTLY like a movie poster from the 70s. It’s brilliant! He also did the cover for GLORY HOLE, and again, with the same intensity I’d hoped for.
LLS: You’re right, Jeffrey Kosh did some amazing covers for your books! I love his style. We’ve both been very lucky when it comes to cover artists – which I think is really important. The cover gives people their very first impression of a book, before they even get to the words.
PDN: When I came up with the story idea for THE MISSISSIPPI GLORY HOLE MUTILATIONS, I wanted to create a title as evocative and captivating as THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE (1974). I wanted it to sound like a macabre true-crime thriller that was also titillating in the same sense as BLOOD CULT is.
LLS: There’s also an obscure movie from 1972 called INVASION OF THE BLOOD FARMERS that most people haven’t heard of. It’s a goofy movie made on a shoestring like MANOS: THE HANDS OF FATE (1966). If you haven’t seen it, you might want to check it out.
PND: And yeah, I really had a lot of fun writing these, because there’s the sense of freedom that introducing bizarro elements allows for. It lets me pull the rug out from under the reader, because they usually have read my other work prior to these books and never see it coming.
LLS: Both novellas take place in the town of Cold Currant, Mississippi. Can you tell us more about the place, and what inspired you to create it? Do you have more stories you want to base there?
PND: Cold Currant is an entirely fictional town established along the banks of the Mississippi River. It’s an impoverished farming community in the deep south, which is about as polar opposite as you can get to my hometown here in Maine…but when I think about it, it’s really not all that different after all. Like I said before, I’ve always been in love with THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE and wanted to create some kind of similar southern gothic vibe when I started writing BLOOD CULT. It just feels like The South has this deeper sense of cultural depression to it, where there are pockets of citizens that cling desperately to 20th Century ideals and societal norms. I loved going back there with GLORY HOLE, because the book feels saturated with that hot, swampy atmosphere you find in southern gothic novels. And I definitely plan to go back there for one final Betty-June novella sometime early next year. The final book will be titled THE JAILHOUSE CRACK WHORE EXORCISM. And if I can convince Michael at Grinning Skull Press, I’d love to put out an omnibus edition with all three novellas, with maybe one final short story at the end to cap it all off.
LLS: Have you read much fiction by Edward Lee? He’s one of these writers I find myself going back to from time to time, and he’s a master of the redneck horror story, with classics like HEADERS and THE BIG HEAD in his oeuvre. While I don’t think your stuff is anywhere as extreme as Lee’s, these books are pretty over-the top, and there is a kind of shared sense of atmosphere at times. Is this intentional?
PND: Like I said, extreme horror really isn’t my favorite style of genre fiction, but I really should rectify that at some point and read some of his books. If I was trying to emulate anyone with my style of writing in these books, I would have to say it would be Joe R. Lansdale. His work DEFINITELY has that bizarro sense of humor and some wonderfully brilliant over-the-top moments. Nacogdoches, Texas and Cold Currant, Mississippi are definitely on the same landscape, even if my town is only fictional. I think both of my books have that same vibe as BUBBA HO-TEP (2002). Or maybe even the Rodriguez/Tarantino film GRINDHOUSE.
LLS: I remember seeing GRINDHOUSE (2007)in a theater when it first came out, and it was a real event. After its theatrical run, the two movies that make it up were broken up and are shown separately now. But the entire GRINDHOUSE experience, with both movies and the trailers all together, was a real treat.
PND: Let’s just say I had to reach my late 40s to write fiction that would have satisfied the 13-year-old version of myself. It’s gratuitous and graphic and insane, but the books also address some pretty topical stuff in ways I don’t think people are expecting when they start reading. There are morals to these stories, and if I’ve done my job well, people will have walked away from these books feeling entertained and glad they read them.
LLS: I’m not sure if you’ve had a chance to really talk about this, but what writers do you think are your biggest influences? And not just for this new book, but overall?
PND: Well, Lansdale, for sure. We got the chance to meet him this past summer at (a writer’s conference in New England) which was cool as hell, but it just seemed like he always had a crowd of people constantly surrounding him, so other than getting to act like a fan boy and having him sign some of my favorite books of his, I never really got to talk one-on-one with him. In terms of style, though, I have a pretty broad spectrum for influences. For tone and atmosphere, I love authors like Peter Straub, Douglas Clegg, Shirley Jackson, Rick Hautala, and Tom Piccirilli (his southern gothic novel A CHOIR OF ILL CHILDREN is just unbeatable).
LLS: I totally agree about Lansdale. And Piccirilli’s A CHOIR OF ILL CHILDREN is excellent! I fucking love that book, and I can’t praise it enough.
PND: For building tension, it’s Thomas Harris, Robert Bloch, Richard Laymon, and Richard Matheson. For just plain brilliance, it’s Harlan Ellison, Ray Bradbury, Chuck Palahniuk, Jack Ketchum, and of course, Stephen King. It’s weird though, because every time I’m asked about my influences, I tend to panic and feel like I’ve left somebody out, especially with our contemporary authors who at the moment are creating some insanely brilliant stuff that deserves the spotlight. I feel truly jealous of the burgeoning new authors out there, still in their formative years, who are cutting their teeth on the authors in our own inner circles.
LLS: And keep in mind, over the course of our lives, we’re influenced by all kinds of media coming at us. The good and the bad. We mention the writers who had the most profound effect on us, but we’re just as affected by art and music and movies, and even the bad stuff – which helps us learn how to avoid it!
You mention contemporary authors. Do you have any that stand out to you? Who do you recommend reading right now?
PND: Oh, you for starters, brother! TEACH THEM HOW TO BLEED is hella-good. I just finished reading Steve Van Samson’s collection, BLACK HONEY And OTHER UNSAVORY THINGS, and absolutely loved it. Emma Gibbon’s DARK BLOOD COMES FROM THE FEET is as close to a contemporary version of Shirley Jackson as you’re going to find. Morgan Sylvia’s ABODE is a damn fine supernatural tale to read before Halloween. Kristen Dearborn’s new book, FAITH OF DAWN is coming out from Cemetery Dance in 2024. I got to read an advance copy and freaking loved it. Tom Deady’s novella, OF MONSTERS AND MEN is some of the best 80s coming-of-age nostalgia I’ve ever read. There’s just a ton of great writers delivering the goods right now; Tony Tremblay, Ed Kurtz, Doungjai Bepko, Bracken MacLeod, Errick Nunnally, Marianne Halbert, to name a few. Marianne’s collection, COLD COMFORTS, is terrific. Sorry if I’m rambling, but I’m always humbled and appreciative when friends of ours recommend our books. I have to pinch myself sometimes when I think about just how many modern masters of horror I can call my dearest friends. I’m still writing and publishing as a hobby rather than a primary source of income, but I feel like I’m moving closer to the day where writing fulltime will become an actuality. At some point I hope to find an agent and move from the Indie Press scene to mainstream publishing.
LLS: Yeah, we’re pretty much on the same path there. And yes, there’s a lot of talent currently in the horror field.
There’s a Mothman in your new one. Were you aware of the urban legend of the Mothman from the movie THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES (2002, starring Richard Gere and based on John A. Keel’s book of the same name)? Did you do any research on the mothman phenomenon, and were you trying to put a new spin on it?
PND: I saw THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES when it originally came out, but honestly remember very little about it. That whole storyline in my book was probably more influenced by modern cryptozoology stories and websites like Creepy Pasta. I’ve always been fascinated with what David Cronenberg did with his remake of THE FLY (1986), where he captured this downward spiral change in Jeff Goldblum’s character, and how monstrous and pathetic he became during his transformation. Making Betty-June have to watch her own child going through this transformation creates the conflict that drives her decision-making and her own character arc in GLORY HOLE. How far will a mother’s love drive her? What are her limitations? When I was writing it, I had a very distinct movie-version of how this was all supposed to play out, with the Pig-Whistle Truck Stop Diner being terrorized by a six-foot mothman lurking about outside on a sultry summer night. But I also wanted to make it so that readers were rooting for the mothman rather than some of the terrible people inside the diner. And I wanted for it to come across that this would look fucking spectacular on the big screen if it was ever adapted for film. The mothman felt like the perfect monster for a hot, moist night in Mississippi.
LLS: There were several scenes, usually involving Jesus Gray (Betty-June’s son) and his transformation, that are rather poetic and very visual. I really enjoyed the scenes that involved Betty-June and her son. They kind of transcend the more satirical elements, and reminded me of scenes in your first novel, A REQUIEM FOR DEAD FLIES. I really like when you go in this direction.
PND: My friend Morgan Sylvia pointed out that very same notion, telling me that I’m very good at capturing a sense of Americana in my fiction. It’s a hard line to walk to create characters that are honest without being cliche, that evoke a sense of empathy for the reader without being condescending, and that feel natural even though their plot-points and conflicts make them who they are. Jesus Gray was born at the end of BLOOD CULT, and it was a miracle that he’d survived at all after everything Betty-June had endured on the Tucker Farm. That’s why she named him Jesus, because he was her miracle baby. In GLORY HOLE, we have an 8-year-old boy who is suffering toxic mutations from the local chemical plant and evolving into a freak. Yet she’s still tucking him into a bed at night that’s dressed with Marvel superheroes sheets and trying to convince him that he’s still a normal boy. It really is heartbreaking when you think about it, because our landscape is filled with mothers tucking their children into bed at night and trying to convince them that everything is fine, when their reality is cancer or financial distress or some other impending tragedy. Betty-June’s reality is a cluster of hard times, but the only thing that matters is trying to make life better for her son.
LLS: We’ve known each other for more than twenty years, and our careers have involved a lot of parallels during the time. From the fact that our first novels both got nominated for the Bram Stoker Award for 2012, to that fact that we both have new books that just came out – which seem like rays of light, after the last two years of chaos involving the COVID pandemic. Have you been enjoying the ride so far?
PND: Well, it’s definitely boosted my confidence. I’m always reminded of Billy Joel’s song “The Entertainer”. He sings the line, “…and I won’t be here in another year if I don’t stay on the charts!” And it’s the goddamn truth. Unless you’re constantly putting out new material and staying relevant, readers move on to the next author and the next novel. Even if it’s just a short story in the next anthology coming down the line, every sale counts. Every publication is a stepping stone, because if they like what they’ve just read, they’ll make the effort to look you up on social media and learn more about you. I’m certain that the pandemic was a career killer for a lot of people. Without the opportunity to perform reading events or attend book fairs, we lost a LOT of outlets that we took for granted in terms of promoting our work and meeting our readers face-to-face. For me, 2020 didn’t exist. I’m a postal worker, and learned that I’m an “essential employee” when stores closed and people quarantined and basically all commerce in America was done through the USPS. I spent ten straight months of working 60-70 hours per week. I didn’t write a single word in 2020. Didn’t read a single book after March of that year. It was a disaster, and I think at some level I went through a sort of PTSD or deep depression from it all. At this point, just getting the Cold Currant Chronicles published has been a lifesaver for myself and my writing career. The fact that people are really enjoying these books is icing on the cake. I sure don’t take things for granted anymore. I feel like the luckiest man alive at the moment.
LLS: The pandemic had a big effect on our lives. Things finally seem to be getting back to normal now. So, what else have you been working on these days?
PND: I had started a new novel in November of 2019, as a NaNoWriMo project. The book is a supernatural thriller called THIS LITTLE PIGGY MISSES YOU. Once I had the final revisions completed on GLORY HOLE, I went back and reread what I’d already started, and found that it was actually better than I remembered. I’m now around 30,000 words into it and will be plugging away at that for the rest of 2022. Beyond that, I’ve signed contract with Trepidatio Publishing for a new short story collection, which will be published sometime in 2023. I also have a story titled, “Will’s Theory of Free-Floating Fat”, which will be published in the New England Horror Writers’ new anthology, WICKED SICK in April of next year. I may have one or two other surprises as well, so we’ll keep our fingers crossed as we wait and see.
LLS: Thanks a lot, man. And best of luck with the new book!
THE MISSISSIPPI GLORY HOLE MUTILIATIONS is available in both electronic format and paperback. Here’s the link to it on Amazon.