The Knife In A Scribbler’s Heart : An Overview of Kill, My Darlings & Interview with Author Chri
One of my favorite parts of the Netflix hit show, Stranger Things, is the title introduction. The Duffer Brothers wisely opted to fully embrace the aesthetics of the 80’s with their red neon title and ominous score that echoes back to films and shows like Halloween and Creep Show.The moment the music started playing and the camera zoomed out from the title, I was hooked. The 80s gave American culture some of its best scares with Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, The Thing, Hellraiser, and many more. This was also during the early parts of my youth when friends and cousins would share their own scary stories and urban legends. With those factors combined they instilled in me a passionate appreciation for the style of horror in the 80s (as well as the 60s and 70s).
I was immediately won over by the cover of Kill, My Darlings by Christy Aldridge for the same reason. The title, taken from a quote by William Faulkner, is a diluted red against a faded cover of black bearing the image of a knife and nothing else. It’s simple, stark, and reminiscent of my favorite 80s horror movies with a literary bent. Knowing little else about it, I hastily ordered a copy, ready to read new tales of fears that were hopefully varied and well executed.
Aldridge’s work is varied. Lethal sentient plants, clowns, cults, serial killers, and angry self aware hands are just some of the creatures that make up her menagerie of nightmares. A couple even capture that childhood nostalgia for spooky stories and scary movies (Elders in the Cotton).The narrative itself, however, tends to follow a safer route. This isn’t necessarily a drawback, but I would have liked to see as much experimentation with the prose as Aldridge gives with the concepts. I think short stories collections are a perfect time to really play with your writing styles, and while Aldridge presents great horror that often left my jaw unhinged, the buildup before the scares required a small dose of patience. There were occasionally moments I forgot I was in a horror story as the human drama takes center stage. Some fans of the genre who prefer getting to the blood and gore might lack the patience to invest the time, but the slow burn does pay off in the end. In fact Aldridge's vivid creativity with the moments she plunges you back into the scares is why I’d love to see her tackle some bizarre new tales with more experimental styles. Aldridge’s writing really shines in her shorter tales, which are more streamlined and focused, alongside those that continuously add new disturbing images from start to end (Insatiable, wow). It’s these stories that make me believe she truly is a force of horror to keep an eye on. Nothing was predictable until the writer wanted me to predict it, and by then what soon followed was unsettling madness along. I loved it.
Christy Aldridge’s Kill, My Darlings is a required read for those who love those veins of gold the indie world can produce and general fans of horror. It also looks fantastic sitting atop your bookshelf, face out so you can enjoy that wicked retro cover.
What made you want to tackle the horror genre? Horror has always been more than just a genre to me. It's simply the feeling, not the action. Horror is a feeling, and being able to instill that feeling is a powerful gift. It's an honest one. Because I've always felt that horror is one of the few genres that can bring about honest reactions. Good horror should be able to make you look inward, to be honest about what it makes you feel, and I wanted to be able to do that. Is there another genre you’d like to write? I have. Before I went solely into horror, I also published poetry. Before I decided I wanted to be more focused on horror, I also dabbled in romance and supernatural genres, but those are just manuscripts collecting dust for me. Characters in horror are unique in that they are, in the end, fodder for an author to torture or kill. How do you make a reader care about characters in horror knowing this? By making them as human as I can with written words. After all, aren't we all defined by what we say and do as well? I try to create people, rather than characters. Flaws, insecurities, bad decisions, these make us human. It's those things that remind us that characters are just like us, this making them easier to relate to and feel for. Some of your stories, like The Mistress, rely on a slow burn to flesh out the characters, keeping the elements of horror generally out of sight until the end. Can you explain this creative choice? I've always preferred that type of creative choice from other writers. People like to relate horror strictly to the kills and gore, but it's far more than that. Horror is in the emotions. It's a feeling. Shock, gore, and blood have their place, but they also should never be the only focus. Having characters you root for, care for, should typically be the main focus. I think it's a fact most writers have forgotten. What is your favorite part of the writing process? Do you have any unique routines or rituals when you write? Being done. Just kidding. . . Mostly. I need silence to write. That's about the only thing I feel is different or needed. I pretty much just sit down and write and that always seems to work for me. Out of the various monsters you’ve created- metaphorical and real- which is your favorite? There's a monster that hasn't been released yet that I just love, but since no one has read his story, he can be on the back burner for my second favorite. I cannot tell you how happy I was when the Hiccups landed in my lap. A metaphorical monster for a very real childhood fear. You feature a killer clown in one of your stories. Nowadays, it seems clowns are more synonymous with horror than humor. What about clowns makes them such potent archetypes? Can you think of something similarly unrelated to fear that you find scary? For me, it's the idea of what's truly under the makeup and why you have to put it on in order to make other people happy. There's a psychological aspect to it that intrigues me and scares me. Anyone that has to paint a smile on their face has a lot of issues going on in their head. This is going to sound crazy, but for me, it's chickens. They are the Devil's Bird in my opinion, but no one else ever seems to agree. The events in Elders in the Cotton were inspired by a true and eerie encounter your brother experienced. Was the mystery of the Elders ever solved in real life? Never. The ending of what happened to the cotton is just as similar as what happened in real life. To this day, none of know what really went on. Were there any ideas that didn’t make it into the book? If so, why? Quite a few actually. Most just didn't fit with the flow, or were stories that needed more work, more time to think over them. I didn't want to rush a story in order to make it fit. I also liked sticking with the number 13. 13 is a lucky number for me. The Curseling features the characters Charlotte and Darryl who, according to your notes, were originally planned to appear in a different story. Can you share some details about it? The original story will eventually have it's day in the sun as well. Charlotte and Daryll are characters that I plan to use again because of their jobs. I'd love to have them explore other myths and legends and flesh them out as people. That'll include the other story, which was originally written for a contest. The contest had certain places and characters needed, which is why the story ended up being cut from my book and replaced with this new idea. There’s also another disembodied voice of something inhuman in Curseling similar to Elders in the Cotton. Are your monsters part of a larger mythology and will we ever see some of these mysterious things explored in more detail in future works? Most of my work is connected. I'd like to think that most writers are creating their own world when they write, and I certainly am with mine. The voice from Elders in the Cotton actually appears three times in the collection, and the Curseling isn't it. But I enjoy that sort of thing and eyes keen enough to catch it. You often inject a humorous tone into your work like in The Pig on Mercy Lane and especially in Billy where we see a hand take on a dangerous and obsessive personality. What urges you to add those comedic elements to your horror? Comedy and horror have always gone hand in hand (Non-pun intended). So it's very easy for me to find comedic elements in horror and use them. Sometimes, a good laugh is needed in times of extreme horror. And certain topics you can't help but find the funny side of the situation. A majority of your monsters are people, and out of that number a considerable amount are unhealthy minded men who prey on children and women. What makes real humans beings especially potent monsters for horror fiction to you? Does gender play a role when creating them and if so what aspects of men and women would you consider monstrous? Because that's reality. Human beings are the biggest monsters known to man. A look in a history book would show you that. We have always been our biggest enemy, and that might be the scariest thing of all. As for genders, I don't actively seek out to make one worse than another. There are situations where one gender is typically predisposed to certain actions, but I also love flipping that. With the Mistress, my primary thought was that female serial killers are low in regards to make serial killers, but their motives are often more extreme than a male. I wanted a serial killer that also had a sexual thrill as well as a murderous one, but in a different way than sexual assault. Having a female character worked brilliantly for that in a way that I doubt a male character could. The indie platform has granted many writers an audience they might not have had otherwise, which of course opens them up to examination. Because authors are often viewed as sensitive and reclusive by nature, it might be difficult to take criticisms. How did you take your first criticisms and what advice would you give new writers about the experience? We should first establish that criticism and reviews should be separated. Authors don't need to read reviews, and even more, shouldn't take them too seriously in terms of their writing. Reviews are for the reader. Your book is published. You can't change it now and even if you did, you're not going to please everyone. At the end of the day, you loved it enough to publish it. No one else needs to love your book and you shouldn't fret over trying to change it to make people love it. We all have an audience and you will find yours. Critique is different. That's typically before you publish, when you give your book to friends and colleagues, and basically ask them to critique your work because you can see the things that need work. If you can't accept critique, you should find a different job or grow a tougher skin because it's all part of the process. No writer is perfect. And we all need to be told when something is weak or needs work. It took me a long time to realize this with reviews. I've always been okay with critique, and with fixing the issues, but there's a helpless feeling that comes with critique in reviews. But as I said, reviews aren't for the writer. A good review tells the reader what to expect and gives the reader an idea of whether they'll enjoy that type of content or not.
Where you can find more about the author, Christy Aldridge, and her work
Amazon Page amazon.com/author/christyaldridge