Rumor has it that the abandoned house by the cemetery is haunted by the ghost of a witch. But rumors won’t stop carpenter Mike Kostner from rehabbing the place as a haunted house attraction. Soon he’ll learn that fresh wood and nails can’t keep decades of rumors down. There are noises in the walls, and fresh blood on the floor: secrets that would be better not to discover. And behind the rumors is a real ghost who will do whatever it takes to ensure the house reopens. She needs people to fill her house on Halloween. There’s a dark, horrible ritual to fulfill. Because while the witch may have been dead... she doesn’t intend to stay that way.
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About the Author
Over the past 25 years, his short fiction has appeared in more than 75 magazines and anthologies and received a number of critical accolades, including frequent Honorable Mentions in the Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror anthology series. His story “Letting Go” was a Bram Stoker Award finalist in 2007 and “The Pumpkin Man” was included in the anthology All American Horror: The Best of the First Decade of the 21st Century. In addition to his own twisted worlds, he has also written stories in shared universes, including The Vampire Diaries and Jonathan Maberry’s V-Wars series, as well as for Kolchak: The Night Stalker and The Green Hornet. His short story collections include Cage of Bones & Other Deadly Obsessions, Needles & Sins, Vigilantes of Love and Sacrificing Virgins. To catch up on his blog, join his newsletter or get information on his fiction, art and music, visit John Everson: Dark Arts at www.johneverson.com.
Covenant HWA Bram Stoker Award for First Novel, 2005
"Letting Go" - Bram Stoker Award Finalist, Short Fiction, 2007
NightWhere - Bram Stoker Award Finalist, Novel, 2013
You’ve written nine other novels; what inspires you and what makes this one different than the rest?
I’ve always been fascinated by ghosts and witches and possession and demons – the incursion into our world of some after- or other-life that is patently supernatural. I’ve never been much interested in serial killer horror, because you can read about crazy people picking up knives and guns and killing innocent people in horrible, unfathomable ways every day in the newspaper. That’s not entertainment or escapism to me. I find the idea of an invisible world, even if it is sinister, a fascinating diversion from the horrors of real life.
So most of my novels have dealt with demonic, supernatural themes – albeit, with lots of bloody sacrifices and rituals. The House By The Cemetery shares that aspect with my other work, in that this novel takes place in a true haunted house… which conveniently is located next to an old abandoned cemetery. When a local group decides to rehab the house and turn it into a haunted house attraction, you know things are not going to end well – because, well, the house was already haunted by a witch who has been biding her time, waiting for the chance to return.
What really makes this book different for me is that it is set in a real place that I’ve always lived around. Bachelor’s Grove is a cemetery tucked off the Midlothian Turnpike near Midlothian, IL and surrounded by a forest preserve and small pond. It’s a lonely desolate place that has been desecrated over the decades by many people, including satanic worshippers according to various accounts. I used to hear stories about this cemetery when I was growing up – I can still remember kids talking about it during a forest preserve campout when I was in Cub Scouts. There were stories about ghosts roaming the graves and the road near by, and even ghostly lights of a house hidden in the forest.
As a kid I never actually saw the cemetery, which was a few miles from our house. But many years later, I found the site of the cemetery, which is actually guarded by county police around Halloween time to keep troublemakers and grave desecrators out. I wrote a couple newspaper feature stories about it, and then wrote a couple short fictional stories about it. Finally, a couple years ago, it occurred to me to really have some fun with the local lore I grew up around and write a novel.
Did you base your characters on anyone you knew?
I did actually name the manager of the Haunted House after my friend Lon, who used to run a haunted house for neighborhood kids in his garage, and probably has more “haunt” props than anyone you’re likely to meet. He also helped me put on my Halloween Movie night for family and friends for many years. He even baked me a cake in the shape of a zombie head for my birthday one year. Nobody would make a better haunted house manager than Lon!
Who influenced you most in the writing of the book?
I’m not sure if it’s a who, really. I got the idea for writing the book from local ghost stories and legends, but then when I began writing the book, I really looked to classic cult horror movies for ideas, because I wanted to decorate each of the haunted house’s rooms with scenes from key films. And since my personal favorite films are the more obscure ‘70s and ‘80s European horror films, you’ll see a lot of inspiration from that quarter in my house. Of course, for this I blame the house’s set designers, Argento and Lucio… who insist on being called by the names of their two favorite Italian directors, Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci.
What are some of the room themes in the haunted house?
I don’t want to give too much away, but you can tell you – and you can probably guess based on my set designer’s obsessive nicknames that there will be some references to Suspiria and Deep Red and Zombi and The Beyond and The House By The Cemetery. You can’t have a haunted house without a touch of the more well-known classics like Hellraiser, Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Nightmare on Elm Street though.
Do you believe in Ouija Boards and demons and voodoo and spells and magic?
I believe the world is wider and stranger than we know, and I’d like to believe there are invisible forces that don’t understand. But that’s about as far as I can go. I’m a skeptic, but I’d like to find that there is a Beyond of some kind.
Is there any advice you can give someone starting to write?
I think the best advice is that if want to be a writer… establish goals and deadlines for yourself. There are millions of people who will tell you “I got a book in me I really want to write” who will never discipline themselves to actually do the work to make that happen. They will talk the rest of their lives about how they want to write a book once they get the time. Got news for you: you never “get” the time. You make the time. Or you don’t.
The other advice is also pretty simple. Write the kinds of stories you like to read. Don’t try to chase the next fad to get rich quick by writing. You’d be better off watching TV and playing the lottery. But if you write books that you want to read, you will always entertain yourself and find joy and fulfillment in what you produce, regardless of whether it becomes a bestseller or not.
Where did you write?
Part of establishing a regular schedule of writing is finding a place where you can focus. While I have a home office, I actually very rarely write in it. I have a cockatiel and cockatoo who live in that room, and while they hang out with me while I’m answering e-mail or interviews, they can be distracting when you’re trying to focus on writing a scene. So when I’m actively involved in a project, I typically assign one night of the week as “writing night” and go to a local pub after my dayjob to spend 4-5 hours in the corner working on my laptop. It’s a great and enjoyable way to be productive – I look for places with good music and comfortable seats. Once I’m there, people bring me beer and finger food (nachos or wings) and I can’t really find excuses to leave my table to go take care of pets or other house chores. I’m pretty much locked in to a good spot to write.
I also have an oak bar that I built in my basement, and sometimes I’ll go down there on the weekend, crank up some moody Cocteau Twins or Delerium CDs and get a couple hours of undisturbed work in. And for The House by the Cemetery, I wrote a lot in the late weeks of summer, so I was able to spend multiple hours on several weekends sitting at the bar on my patio, enjoying the last breezes of summer and listening to music on my outdoor speakers while writing key scenes. That was an especially helpful location when writing some of the outdoor scenes in the book.
Did you write in silence, or to any particular music?
I always write to music. I really don’t like to do anything in life without music! For writing, I listen to a lot of dreamy pop CDs with dark or exotic overtones. I play Cocteau Twins and Delerium to death while working on a project, and also plug in Conjure One, The Cure, New Order, OMD, This Mortal Coil and other things. I’m a big fan of StrangewaysRadio mixes on Mixcloud.com too. Now and then, during an action scene, I might plug in some more upbeat or angry music, from Marilyn Manson or Rob Zombie to The Blasters.
Did you find it hard to write? Or harder to edit your own work?
It’s hard to find the time to write or edit. Both exercises take a lot of dedicated focused time. Carving that out consistently is the hardest part of writing when you also have another full-time job and a family.
What was it like to be edited by someone else?
With the right editor, like Don D’Auria who I have worked with on many of my novels, it’s a pleasure. It’s not about the quantity of the edits ultimately, but the quality. One of my best edits was by a romance line editor who literally marked up every page. You could find that disheartening… but his comments and suggestions were spot-on and improved the book. But then I’ve had copyeditors for a horror line miss obvious corrections and make suggestions to change things that are counter or irrelevant to the book’s direction. One copyeditor once suggested that I remove a Rocky Horror Picture Show reference because readers might not get it. I would be both shocked and very disappointed if I found that most horror readers aren’t familiar with the “Time Warp.” The reference stayed in the book.
Where would you like to spend Halloween night if you could?
Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery. Just once, I’d like to see the ghosts. Of course, once I did, I might never have the guts to write another novel!