8/18/15: Chumming with Duncan Ralston
Welcome to Chumming with Sharky™, my blog series where I treat viewers from every corner of the deep blue sea with a taste of talented authors from a myriad of genres. This month, it is my pleasure to join the Gristle & Bone Blog Blitz and Giveaway to welcome fellow Horror Hooligan Duncan Ralston. Today, our focus is on the horror entertainment industry, including video games, books, and movies. Duncan made us some appetizers, so grab a tasty plate of canápes with fattened liver, choose a comfy reclining seat, and enjoy the show . . .
with your host Robert “Sharky” Pruneda
Robert “Sharky” Pruneda, Host
Duncan Ralston, Guest Hooligan
Anchor the Hammerhead, Our Toothy Bartender
Anchor: Mwahahaha! Lather up some sunscreen on that biatch! Nom-nom-nom!
Sharky: All right, Anchor, that’s enough Hungry Shark Evolution for one day. We have a show to start.
Anchor: Hey, you’re the one that got me addicted to this game, Sharky.
Sharky: Yeah, yeah, whatever. Go make me a Beetlejuice cocktail and find out what our guest of honor would like to drink.
Anchor: Beetlejuice! Beetlejuice! Beetle–oh, never mind. What’s your poison today, Mr. Ralston?
Duncan: Rye and Diet Coke, sir!
Anchor: Excellent choice, señor. And I’ll have you know that I make a killer Rye and Diet Coke. Best you’ll ever taste.
Sharky: You say that about every drink, Anchor.
Anchor: Well, it’s true.
Sharky: I don’t doubt it. Anyway, for those of you who don’t know, Duncan and I have a couple of common interests. We’re both published by Booktrope’s horror imprint Forsaken and are avid gamers. Duncan, in particular, has such a passion for the horror video game genre that he devotes an entire section on his website for reviews. Duncan, tell us a little bit about this and why you decided to add horror video game reviews to your site. (Update: Sadly, Booktrope went belly-up on May 31, 2016, but both Duncan and I have since republished our books independently.)
Duncan: Back when I used to have a lot of free time, I found myself looking up horror reviews a lot: books, movies, video games. One thing I noticed was that nobody had focused on survival horror games, which are my favorite.
Sharky: Same here! Another common interest.
Duncan: I wanted to look at them not just from a fear standpoint but also story and character, and I rate them by fear and story. I think the idea was born from my need to tell people about Clive Barker’s criminally underrated Undying, and that’s my first review in the series. I’d like to get back to reviewing them, when I can find the time. Hell, I’d love to have the time to play them more, but life and writing get in the way.
Sharky: No kidding! If I had a clone to take care of all of my other responsibilities so I could send more time playing my favorite survival horror video games, I’d be one happy gamer. Which video game in the horror genre is your absolute favorite? What makes a great horror video game in your opinion, Duncan?
Duncan: It’s hard to pick a favorite. I still love genre classics like Clive Barker’s Undying, Doom 3, Altered Beast, along with newer games like Bioshock, Alan Wake, Dead Space, and The Last of Us. But Silent Hill is my all-time favorite series (Sharky: High five.) I love every sequel I’ve played, although I have yet to find part 4: The Room, and a playable version of Shattered Memories. I even loved the much maligned Silent Hill: Downpour (yes, even the Korn theme song, which worked well thematically, at the very least; speaking of which, the soundtrack was also great), and Silent Hill Origins. I will argue their merit in the canon fiercely.
Sharky: I need to play Undying. I didn’t know about that game until I read the review on your website. Regarding Silent Hill: Downpour, I’m glad I didn’t listen to the reviewers, because I agree with you. It was much better than I anticipated. The Room also got some bad mainstream reviews. It was a different beast, but I think it had some great moments that we love about the Silent Hill series. So, out of all the Silent Hill games, which of them is your all-time favorite?
Duncan: I guess I’d have to pick Silent Hill 2 as my favorite. It really set the tone for the rest of the series, solidifying certain elements that feature in all the rest: a trauma in the player character’s past, and creatures specific to that character’s trauma. The whole game, with its puzzles and creepy atmosphere, it’s all built around a specific event, and the deeper you get in the game, the closer you get into the core of the mystery. Thematically, the Silent Hill series are perfect games. Not to mention, they’re scary as hell. Plus, they were heavily influenced by two of my biggest influences: David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, and Adrian Lynne’s movie, Jacob’s Ladder.
I was psyched when I heard about Silent Hills, the now-cancelled sequel.
Sharky: Oh, don’t get me started on the cancellation of Silent Hills. I’m still bitter about that news. The playable teaser P.T. on the PS4 was awesome! Thankfully, I still have it installed on my system.
Anchor: Bottoms up, gentlemen. One Rye and Diet Coke for Mr. Ralston and one Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, Beetle–
Sharky: Na-na-na-na! Careful there, Anchor. You know what happened last time you served me one these.
Anchor: Aside from the sandworms, it wasn’t all that bad. After a couple of Zagnuts and a few screenings of The Exorcist, we had a great time.
Sharky: Ah, yes. There’s nothing like watching demonic projectile vomiting in 3D. And speaking of horror films, Hollywood has put out a few gems lately, but they’ve also released some really bad movies too. Of course, what one person may think is absolute garbage, another horror fan may rate it as the best horror film of all time. Duncan, what do you think about all of the remakes, reboots, prequels, re-imagined, or whatever the hell Hollywood wants to label recycled movies? Are there any that you actually liked?
Duncan: Recently? I haven’t watched a lot of the remakes. They seem to only want to remake the best ones, which is an odd practice. Why not remake the movies with a great premise, but flawed? One remake I enjoyed sort of recently was The Crazies. This was originally a Romero movie. Never seen the original, but the remake was really well-done. Decent script, really creepy, and great acting. Maniac was a decent update, too. The Curse of Chucky was an embarrassment. Don Mancini needs to stop beating a dead horse.
Sharky: I haven’t seen the original The Crazies either, but I loved the remake. I haven’t seen Maniac yet, and I gave up on the Chucky movies after the third one . . . as much as I enjoy a good, sarcastic villain. Maybe I’m being a bit too judgemental, but I can only take so much cheese. Unless, of course, it involves Bruce Campbell. How do you judge a good horror film?
Duncan: I judge a movie first by concept, then character. If those elements aren’t there, I’m out. I’m a pretty harsh critic with movies, because I “studied” them for so long, in film school and my own research (along with attempts at writing them). I was pleasantly surprised in 2014. There were a lot of excellent, interesting horror movies (some standouts for me were Starry Eyes, Oculus, The Babadook, Digging Up the Marrow), and I feel like it’s just the beginning of a real horror renaissance. Maybe I’m being too optimistic, but it does seem like, outside of the big Hollywood model, there are a lot of non-generic, imaginative ideas seeping through the cracks.
Sharky: Yes, 2014 was a surprising year, and I agree that the horror genre is starting to make a comeback. I’m personally looking forward to Sinister 2. I thought the first one with Ethan Hawke was creepy as hell. The sequel looks promising for me personally.
Duncan: I loved Sinister. I felt it was far superior to Insidious, and unfairly overlooked. Insidious is horror for the tourists. Not that it was a bad movie, just… I mean, the set-up was great. Real dark and atmospheric, just like Sinister. But then the ghostbusters showed up with their near-constant comic relief, and it turned into an entirely different movie. Then that scene with “Tiptoe Through the Tulips.” I mean, that was weird and sorta creepy, reminiscent of Doctor Satan in House of 1000 Corpses, but it was kinda corny, too. Suffice to say, I’m looking forward to Sinister 2.
Sharky: Another creepy foreign psychological horror film I just recently discovered is Goodnight, Mommy. We’ll see if it lives up to the hype, because you know how trailers can make a movie look much better than it actually is. It sure did make my skin crawl, though. And that cockroach scene! Take a look at the trailer and break it down for us, Duncan. What do you think?
Duncan: It’s cool you mentioned Goodnight Mommy, because I just saw this trailer recently and feel like it’s going to be one to look out for. The amount of sheer creepiness they’ve drawn out of such a simple concept in a two minute trailer is pretty impressive. I’m not big on the shaky-head clip. The first time I saw that film trick was in Jacob’s Ladder, and it’s lost its effectiveness the more I see it repeated in other, far less imaginative movies. It might just be an effect for the trailer. I’ll overlook it. And I’m not big on the cockroach, honestly. That being said, I’m excited for this. It looks really different, and it’s a really cool concept that seems, with doppelgangers and the young twin boys, like it will explore the theme of body snatching in an interesting, sinister way.
Anchor: I guess Mr. Ralston hasn’t had a good, crunchy cockroach before. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. Then again, maybe he has, and it’s bringing back–
Sharky: Back to work, Anchor. I asked for an honest opinion and he gave one. By the way, we need our drinks topped off, sir.
Anchor: Yeah, yeah. Would you like a little protein added to that Beetlejuice cocktail?
Sharky: Anyway. I agree with you, Duncan, about the shaky-head clip. That’s been overdone. Shall we bring back that dead horse?
Sharky: Let’s move on to books in the horror genre. In an effort to give that poor dead horse a bit of relief, I won’t ask you who your favorite horror author is or who your biggest influences are (Stephen King is one of them if you folks absolutely have to know), because I’m sure you’ve answered those questions a gazillion times already.
According to my sources (cheat sheet), your writing experience ranges from short stories, novelettes, novellas, up to full-length novels. Of all types of horror stories you’ve written, which do you feel was the most challenging and why?
Duncan: Novels are definitely the most challenging, at least from my limited experience. When I was a kid I started probably a dozen novels and never finished a single one. It wasn’t until 2011 that I finished my first full novel, at age 34, and it was awful. I still like the concept (it was about “witches,” is all I’m comfortable to say, in case I do get back it again), and it had some interesting moments, but storywise it was a mess. After that, I wrote a few TV pilot scripts, then a couple of shorts, some novelettes, a novella. These became the stories you’ll find in Gristle & Bone.
Finally I wrote another full-length novel, around this time last year (Salvage, due for release this fall). It’s a ghost story/mystery, and I’m pretty pleased with how it turned out, but it was a struggle in the beginning. A lot of false starts. Originally it began in a hospital with the main character thought by the staff psychiatrist to have tried to drown himself, but it was clear there was way too much backstory to start in medias res. Sometimes short stories can be harder to write, though. I think a lot of it depends on the subject matter and whether or not I’m invested in the story, in the concept. A few shorts I’ve rewritten several times and just can’t seem to get them right. At that point, it’s time to put them away and move on to something else.
Sharky: Yeah, walking away from the manuscript can certainly help. I’ve had to do that often. It’s hard to enjoy the process when staring at a blinking cursor on a blank screen. If I’m not enjoying the process of writing my story, it is time to step away for a while and work on something else. Which story in Gristle & Bone did you enjoy writing the most?
Duncan: I like them all equally, but forced to choose, I’d say “Fat of the Land” is my favorite. I like the characters a lot, first off. They came pretty easily. Also, the area in the story is associated with some great memories from a trip my girlfriend and I had, driving the coast from San Francisco to a tourist town I’d rather not name (I called it Monte Verde, or “green mountain,” in the story), which became the inspiration for it. Great views, great hikes, great food, but there were aspects of the town I didn’t love. Mostly the income divide between the people who lived in the town, and the people who worked for the town. I came up with a brief idea that the rich would eat the poor in fancy restaurants whenever one of them stepped out of line, and it grew from there.
Sharky: That alone is worth reading Gristle & Bone, folks! And wouldn’t it be awesome to get a free copy of the book? That’s right, I said FREE! Tell us a little bit about the promotion you’re running right now, Duncan, and how our guests can enter to win. Of course, if folks really want to help support a starving novelist, horror fans can grab a copy of Gristle & Bone RIGHT HERE. Hint-hint, nudge-nudge.
Duncan: I’m giving away three signed paperbacks of Gristle & Bone on my WEBSITE and from my FACEBOOK PAGE. All you have to do is enter your email address. If you share the link, you get more chances to win (Update: Contest is over).
Sharky: Hop to it, folks. It doesn’t get much simpler than that. And if you need more convincing, let me walk the stage and display the cover art for this creepy awesome collection.
Sharky: Okay, my producer is pointing to his watch, so let’s wrap this thing up. For those of you who don’t regularly follow my Chumming with Sharky™ series, at the end of each episode I like to place my guests into a sticky hypothetical scenario to see how they would handle it. I’m going to change things up a little and turn it into a writing prompt. This should be a piece of cake for you.
Here is your prompt Duncan:
You wake up in a dark, tight space, and feel water dripping on your face. (I swear I didn’t mean for that to rhyme). Anyway, in the form of a flash fiction type of short story explain where you are, how you got there, and what happens next. There is no minimum or maximum word count. It’s up to you.
Duncan: Shit. What happened? Must have passed out. Can’t move my legs. Numb. At least this water is cool. Tastes clean. Salty. Smells like damp rocks. Where am I?
Right. The salt mine. Got caught up taking photos of the cathedral, carved out of the salt. Those statues of congregation, of mythical figures, kings and soldiers carved from the rock, their shadows thrown large against the high walls. The crystalline crucified Jesus, the pits of his eyes dug out in the bluish rock. Must have taken them generations to carve it all, during their spare time. Years of chiseling down the soft mineral walls when they weren’t hauling blocks of rock salt up the shaft, or tending to the horses working the large gears that ran the pulleys. When one miner with a talent for sculpting died, another took his place, carried on the job. Only the last sculptor would have seen their work completed.
Fascinating… Frightening, down here in the cold, in the dark.
When I looked up the tour gotten away from me. I hurried to catch up, heard their voices echoing down the long tunnels. I ran, my own footfalls echoing back at me. Running until my lungs hurt.
If I could only my arms weren’t constricted… I could pull myself out of here…
Where had it all gone wrong? The fork in the tunnel. Which way led out? Couldn’t tell. Both seemed to lead down. Must have taken the wrong turn somewhere. Heard them far down in the shaft, followed them down the .
Saw a light, heard the voice. Crying out. Someone else lost, like me? Needing help?
Followed the voice into a secured area. Climbed over the velvet rope.
A large crack in the wall, from floor to ceiling. A flash of light caught my eyes from the darkness beyond. A plaintive wail from deep inside the wall.
The crevasse just wide enough at the opening to slip in easily. Why did I do it? I’ve always been the helpful sort. I should have called out to them. All those stories about miners trapped in the dark… even though this mine was no longer in use.
Whispers reached my ears. Multiple voices. I turned back, but something grabbed my arm. Something struck my head–a rock? A weapon?
My arms won’t move from my sides. At least I have water, I won’t die of thirst… Cold comfort. I try crying out, but I’m surrounded by darkness; it envelopes my pleas. The tour is probably long gone. The mine closed for tourists for another day.
Suddenly, I hear scrabbling at the soft sides of the cavern, like fingernails scratching on a chalk board. All the air seems to vanish. I turn my head, stretching back as far as I can, until my tendons hurt. I see it, the thing that dragged me in here. The thing that tucked me away in this tight crevasse for some ungodly reason I can only imagine.
In the gloom, the creature’s pale, phosphorescent skin seems to bleed into the surrounding space. It’s human, that much I see. But its eyes are black and wild; the eyes of a thing driven to madness. When it opens its mouth, what little teeth it has left are broken, jagged. It lets loose a foul breath.
Why has it left me here? To torture me? For food?
In one hand it raises a mallet. In the other, a chisel.
The sculptor squints at me. Prods my cheek with its long, curled fingernail. I close my eyes, awaiting the sharp edge of the chisel in my forehead, shivering in the dark.
The scrabbling backs out of the crevasse. I feel cool air around me again; the creature has left me here.
Not dry enough, I think. The salt will dry me out, eventually. Cure me.
Then I’ll take my place among the congregation, another statue in the cathedral for tourists to gawk at.
Sharky: And there you have it, folks. Straight from the twisted mind of Duncan Ralston. For more delectable tales of terror stalk Duncan via social media and grab a copy of Gristle & Bone on your way out. Thanks for sticking with us for this extended edition of Chumming with Sharky™.
About the Author:
Duncan Ralston was born in Toronto, and spent his teens in a small town. As a “grown-up,” Duncan lives with his girlfriend and their dog in Toronto, where he writes about the things that frighten and disturb him. In addition to his twisted short stories found in GRISTLE & BONE and THE BLACK ROOM MANUSCRIPTS, his debut novel, SALVAGE, will haunt various booksellers in the fall of 2015.
“Mr. Ralston writes horror fiction that is unflinching and pulls no punches.” – The Ginger Nuts of Horror
“Duncan Ralston is writing honest stories about real people, pitched headlong into extraordinary situations. And that is what makes them so horrifying.” – Dirge Magazine
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Twitter: Follow @userbits
Buy Duncan Ralston’s Tales of Terror
Robert “Sharky” Pruneda is a native Texan, video game “enthusiast” [addict], and fan of all things horror. He left a career in the newspaper industry in 2011 to pursue the life of a nocturnal author, brainstorming new and creative ways to creep out his readers. He doesn’t only write horror though. He also pens the occasional family-oriented tale just to keep from going completely nuts with all those creatures of the night whispering in his ears. When he’s not pulling ideas out of his twisted brain, you’ll likely find him on social media or fighting alongside his fellow gaming buddies where they all get shot up into Swiss cheese (or turned into little bite-sized chunks because of “Sharky’s” obsession with explosives). Medic!
Pursue your dreams . . . and never look back.
Twitter: Follow @SharkbaitWrites