Welcome back! This week, I’m excited to spotlight author Douglas Ford. Douglas is the author of the collection, Ape in the Ring and Other Tales of the Macabre and Uncanny, as well as numerous works of short fiction.
Recently, Douglas and I discussed his new collection as well as his inspiration and favorite parts of the writing process.
A couple icebreakers to start: when did you decide to become a writer, and who are some of your favorite authors?
Thank you so much for this opportunity! I’ve pretty much always aspired to write, starting at a young age, like around seven or eight, when I put together a community newspaper in my parents’ garage. My friend and I wrote all the content, including a sports section where we talked about our t-ball team, and we went around and sold it to neighbors for pennies. I had a romantic idea about writing and being a reporter that probably came from Superman’s alter-ego, Clark Kent. I was the kind of kid who didn’t aspire to be Superman, but rather Clark Kent since he had such a cool job. Later, as a teenager, I would write short stories that imitated what I read in The Twilight Zone magazine and Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, all of which was pretty terrible. I still have my first rejection from Asimov’s that I received when I was around 17. I’d always wanted to write horror and speculative fiction, but my adult inspiration came when I read two short stories for the first time: “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been” by Joyce Carol Oates and “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” by Flannery O’Connor. Those stories lit a fire in me, and so I would acknowledge them as favorite authors, along with Shirley Jackson, Charles Beaumont, and Brian Evenson. Short fiction is my life-blood, and I gravitate towards those authors, along with writers we don’t always associate with genre fiction, like Don DeLillo, Thomas Pynchon, Ralph Ellison, and Toni Morrison.
Congratulations on the recent release of your collection, Ape in the Ring and Other Tales of the Macabre and Uncanny. How did you choose the stories that appear in the book, and do you have a personal favorite?
Thanks! The stories in that collection come from work I’d published in the last decade, mostly in the small press, and the decision to include them simply came down to them being some of my favorite pieces. It’s hard to identify a favorite–when people read the collection, almost everyone mentions different ones as favorites, with “Wasps” probably mentioned most often. But if pressed, I’d probably say that the title story, “Ape in the Ring,” means the most to me since it’s the first story I wrote that is set in a fictional area of Florida called Vissaria County. It was also the first story I wrote where I felt like I found my voice, something I realized when I had the opportunity to read it out loud to audiences. It’s also weird and nasty, with questionable parental figures, a motif that I seem to come back to over and over again. That, and apes, though the titular “ape” in the story might be something else, but I want to avoid spoilers in case anyone wants to read it.
You also have a new book due out in the fall. What can you share about the inspiration behind it?
It’s a novel set in Vissaria County, which I just mentioned. I’m a proud horror nerd, and in some sense, that novel is essentially me free-basing on the genre elements I adore. I let myself have fun with the characters and the narrative, which as one early reader has pointed out, has a stronger than usual southern gothic vibe. It’s also a love-letter to the kind of Euro-cult horror films I love, with a character through which I paid homage to the late, great Jacinto Molina, who went by Paul Naschy in his films, many of which involve a recurring werewolf character. Likewise, this novel involves lycanthropy, witches, black masses, and lots of other fun stuff, even possibly a Skunk Ape, which is Florida’s version of Big Foot. It’s called Beasts of Visssaria County and will appear in late 2021 from D&T Publishing.
What draws you to the horror genre in particular? Do you remember the first horror movie you ever saw or horror story you read?
As a kid, I would grab every issue of Tomb of Dracula I was lucky enough to find, and at some point, someone gave me a kid’s version of Poe’s works, printed on really cheap paper with lurid illustrations. I was most drawn to its version of “The Fall of the House of Usher,” and that’s still my favorite Poe story. My parents let me stay up late to watch scary movies on the tube, and the one I remember seeing first was Son of Frankenstein. The best part was that my parents would wait until the movie was over and hide in the hallway when I stumbled to my bedroom. They would jump out of the shadows and scare the hell out of me, which definitely added something to the experience of watching the movie. I really love them for doing this. I can’t say for sure what draws me to the horror genre. Maybe I still crave that feeling of knowing something lurks in the shadows and I want to tease it out into the open so that it’ll reveal itself.
You currently reside in Florida. How, if at all, does your home state influence your writing?
A big part, certainly, since I have a good portion of my work set in Vissaria County. Aside from all the stuff about Florida Man, Florida is just strange and swampy. It’s a diverse state, not just in terms of people, but in land and history. With climate change and rising sea levels, there’s even a sense that it’s sinking, fueling the sense that we’re surrounded here by nature in forms that are both beautiful and terrifying. For me, it often generates the feeling of the sublime that Edmund Burke talked about and which is so important to horror and weird fiction.
If forced to choose, which is your favorite part of the writing process: crafting characters, writing dialogue, or establishing setting?
I was re-reading King’s Tommyknockers recently, and there’s a line about how creative people hear voices, and that’s me: I tend to start with characters who manifest themselves in the voices I’m hearing. Hence, I tend to start with characters and how they sound, how they talk, and from there, I learn about what they’re feeling and what they want. In the fiction I write that works best, it begins there, with the characters teaching me about themselves, and I try to listen.
What are you working on next?
I’m finishing up a novella for Madness Heart Press, another story about Vissaria County, this one a love story involving a couple with a pet leech. It’s called Little Lugosi: A Love Story. Where Beasts of Vissaria County has many hallmarks of the southern gothic, this one has folk horror qualities that I enjoyed playing with. I also recently finished a short story that fictionalizes the creation of Coral Castle, a strange, long-standing roadside attraction in South Florida. I’m pretty happy with how that one turned out, so hopefully it finds a home in a magazine or anthology.
Where can we find you online?
I can be found on Facebook as well as Instagram and Slasher. Give me a holler–or a howl!
Big thanks to Douglas Ford for being this week’s featured author!