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eSpec Books interviews James Chambers, co-editor of Even in the Grave.
eSB: Even in the Grave is a collection of ghost stories, where did you get the idea for the collection and what inspired you to compile it?
JC: Ghost stories are a classic staple of horror fiction. They’re perpetually popular and offer endless opportunities for storytelling because you can write a ghost story set in any time or place. About three months into the COVID-19 pandemic, the idea hit me that ghost stories would be a fun escape from the daily bad news. I’d wanted to play with that type of story, and I thought of several writers who I felt would enjoy it too. I proposed the idea to Carol Gyzander, and she agreed. There’s something timeless and romantic about ghost stories. It’s easy to lose yourself in their mystique.
eSB: This isn’t your first time editing an anthology. What is it that you enjoy about the process that keeps bringing you back? What is your favorite part?
JC: My favorite part is working with authors. I’m a writer as well as an editor. Writer/editors bring something different to the table than people who are only editors because we understand the writers’ experience firsthand. Whether that’s good or bad, others can decide. Maybe the objectivity of a pure editor is a better approach. But I love the opportunity to work with authors and help them tease out the best their story has to offer, to spend some time in their imagination, and guide them through the creation of the anthology. It’s about welding together different visions: my vision for the anthology and twenty or so authors visions for stories that might fit that anthology. My favorite part of the process is arranging the story order for publication. That’s where an editor really has an opportunity to shape the reader’s experience and shed light on the themes of each story as well as the themes that can emerge collectively.
eSB: Did you face any unexpected challenges while putting together Even in the Grave? Please tell us about them.
JC: The biggest challenge was time. The pandemic years have been characterized by nothing more than uncertainty. Carol and I started the anthology project with assumptions about what our other work would be during that time—and then events conspired to upset those. For example, we launched an online reading series, Galactic Terrors, during the anthology submission period, and it proved a lot more work than we’d anticipated. At the same time, I was co-chairing StokerCon 2021, which was supposed to take place in-person in Denver, but when the pandemic continued, we wound up switching to a virtual convention, which meant my co-chair, Brian Matthews, and I—and whole bunch of other folks on the StokerCon team—had to rapidly learn how to put on a virtual event. All of that ate away at the time I’d expected to put into Even in the Grave. So the project took longer than I’d hoped, but our authors were supremely patient and did their best to work with us until we brough it across the finish line.
eSB: Do you foresee more anthologies in your future? If so, what is the next project you are excited to get started on?
JC: Yes. I’ve got two anthology projects in development, as the saying goes. One may be announced in early 2022. The other is still a way off from any announcement.
eSB: Okay, first off the top of your head, who is your favorite ghost and why?
JC: The Spooky Space Kook! He’s one of the so-called ghosts from the original Scooby Doo cartoon, and I love the design of the character. It’s one of the creepiest Scooby-Doo episodes, and it really creeped me out the first time I saw it. Also, Jacob Marley from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. The notion of the chains weighing down his spirit being the links he forged in life is wonderfully horrifying.
eSB: Do you believe in ghosts, and why? Is there an experience in your life you can share with us that strengthened that belief?
JC: I’m skeptical but open-minded. I love the idea of ghosts, especially for storytelling purposes, but also for the notion that spirits linger after death. The classic signs of a ghost’s presence—cold spots, doors opening or closing on their own, strange bumps and creaks—are so cliché now, yet they remain effective and people who love ghost stories still love them, perhaps because it’s a fun way to react to ordinary quirks of an old house or whatnot. There’s a delightful mystique to spiritualist practices, seances and Ouija boards, and even to modern ghost-hunting. And there’s an appealing hopefulness and optimism to the idea of ghosts. I feel like Fox Mulder when it comes to ghosts: I want to believe. But so far I’ve had no experience or seen any evidence to convince me either way.
eSB: What drew you to appreciate the horror genre? What inspired you to write in it?
JC: I connected with the horror genre through comic books and short fiction. The first things I read in childhood aside from the usual kids’ books were comic books such as Man-Bat, Man-Thing, Tomb of Dracula, and Werewolf by Night. So horror images took root in my imagination very early in life. Later I read Edgar Allan Poe, then Stephen King’s Night Shift and Skeleton Crew collections, and Clive Barker’s Books of Blood. At the same time, I grew up watching the classic Universal monster movies and classic science fiction films, like Them and The Thing, and all of this just seemed so much more interesting and cooler than real-world stuff. A movie without a monster was boring. A book about people doing ordinary stuff really needed a vampire to spice it up. And Clive Barker’s work, especially, pushed me way out of those boundaries into a kind of transformative, meta horror that showed me how much one could do in the genre. Right after that I started reading a comic book series, John Constantine, Hellblazer, which took me further down that path of transgressive and exploratory horror. So those were the kinds of stories that grabbed me, and stuck with me, and when I sat down to write I wanted to play in the same arena.
eSB: You are an author, as well. Other than horror, what genres do you write in? Tell us something about your other works and what makes those genres different from writing horror.
JC: I write in many genres, including crime, fantasy, pulp, science fiction, steampunk, and walrus fiction. I enjoy them all, especially the challenge of switching from one to another because they all have their own conventions and readers expect different things. I’ve been lucky enough to connect with several editors who’ve given me opportunities to write in new genres and stretch my writing muscles. I’ve written classic pulp characters, such as the Avenger, the Green Hornet, the Spider—and Kolchak the Night Stalker—for Moonstone Books. I’ve written steampunk tales in my Machination Sundry series for several anthologies edited by Danielle Ackley-McPhail. Science fiction tales for the Defending the Future series, including several stories being collected in a new book, Vox Astra: The Black Box, and a second volume to be announced soon. And, last but not least, “Meet the Tuskersons,” my one excursion into walrus fiction, published originally in Walrus Tales edited by Kevin L. Donihe, and reprinted in my recent collection, On the Hierophant Road.
eSB: What is your least favorite aspect of being an author/editor, and why?
JC: It’s excluding myself from the anthologies I edit. I always get excited reading the stories and have ideas for a story of my own that would fit the anthology, but I never include my own fiction when I’m editing. I like to keep that line clear and distinct. When I’m editing it’s about other authors’ work, about their stories, about the whole package of a book, and about the reader’s experience. Thinking about a story of my own would be a distraction. My creative imprint is in the book itself, the type of stories accepted and their sequence.
eSB: What are some of your other anthologies readers can look for?
JC: A New York State of Fright: Horror Stories from the Empire State, co-edited with April Grey and Robert Masterson. This one featured New York horror stories by New York horror authors, published by a New York horror specialty press, and it raised funds for Girls Write Now, a non-profit that teams at-risk teen girls with mentors in writing and publishing. It was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award.
Under Twin Suns: Alternate Histories of the Yellow Sign. Published by Hippocampus Press, this book features stories and poems by authors exploring different facets of the writing of Robert W. Chambers, who created the Yellow Sign, and the King in Yellow, a play rumored to drive mad anyone who reads its second act. Chambers wrote only four stories in this cycle, teasing readers with snippets about lost Carcosa on a world where black stars shine and twin suns fill the sky, ruled by the King in Yellow in his tattered mantle.
eSB: As a horror editor, where do you find support for your craft?
JC: One, from the authors who work with me. As an editor, you’re asking authors to trust you with their writing, to have confidence that you will publish their work well in a book they can be proud of. That’s no small responsibility. Two, my publishers. They’re also counting on you to deliver a book of stories that they will enjoy and that will appeal to their readers. As far out on a limb an editor might like to go with an anthology concept, at the end of the day, the goal is to sell books and satisfy readers. Third, my friends and colleagues in the writing community. They’re always there to lend me advice or encouragement or help with a problem.
eSB: What advice would you give aspiring horror/anthology editors?
JC: Get to know as many writers as you can. Read their work. Read, read, read, and build relationships. Sure, you can always work with open submissions and craft an anthology from what arrives. Many wonderful anthologies have been edited that way. But you have an advantage when you’re familiar with a writer’s work, its tone, voice, and style, and can reach out to one for a story that fits what you need. That also enables you to bring together a wide and varied collection of voices and perspectives. You need to reach outside what presents itself and look for the authors and stories who bring additional dimensions to a book.
eSB: What projects of your own do you have coming up?
JC: I’m presently working on a new story collection to be announced later in 2022 as well as a comic script for the Kolchak the Night Stalker 50th Anniversary Graphic Novel Anthology plus some new Kolchak prose projects. I’m working on a new anthology project and an original horror graphic novel, and a handful of short stories. And, of course, putting the finishing touches on “The Eyes of the Dead,” the fourth and final novella in the Corpse Fauna series.
eSB: How can readers find out more about you?
JC: There’s plenty of information about me and my writing on my website. You can also look me up on various social media. Or read one of my books!
James Chambers is an award-winning author of horror, crime, fantasy, science fiction, and other genres. He wrote the Bram Stoker Award®-winning graphic novel, Kolchak the Night Stalker: The Forgotten Lore of Edgar Allan Poe and was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award for his story, “A Song Left Behind in the Aztakea Hills.” Booklist described his collection On the Night Border as “…a haunting exploration of the space where the real world and nightmares collide,” and, in a starred review, said of his collection On the Hierophant Road: “For fans of the new breed of dark-speculative-fiction writers who actively play with genre confines to create reads that are inventive, thought-provoking, and creepily fun.” Publisher’s Weekly gave his collection of four Lovecraftian-inspired novellas, The Engines of Sacrifice, a starred review and described it as “…chillingly evocative….”
He is also the author of the short story collection Resurrection House, the Corpse Fauna novellas, including The Dead Bear Witness, Tears of Blood, and The Dead in Their Masses, as well as the dark urban fantasy, Three Chords of Chaos, and Kolchak and the Night Stalkers: The Faceless God. His short stories have been published in numerous anthologies, including After Punk: Steampowered Tales of the Afterlife, The Best of Bad-Ass Faeries, The Best of Defending the Future, Chiral Mad 2, Chiral Mad 4, Gaslight and Grimm, The Green Hornet Chronicles, Kolchak the Night Stalker: Passages of the Macabre, Qualia Nous, Shadows Over Main Street (1 and 2), The Spider: Extreme Prejudice, Truth or Dare, TV Gods, Walrus Tales, Weird Trails, and the magazines Bare Bone, Cthulhu Sex, and Allen K’s Inhuman.
He edited the anthology Under Twin Suns: Alternate Histories of the Yellow Sign and co-edited A New York State of Fright: Horror Stories from the Empire State, a Bram Stoker Award nominee.
He has also written and edited numerous comic books including Leonard Nimoy’s Primortals, the critically acclaimed “The Revenant” in Shadow House, and The Midnight Hour with Jason Whitley.
He lives in New York.
Learn more about James Chambers:
Website * GoodReads * Amazon * BookBub * YouTube
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