Eric J. Guignard is a writer and editor of dark and speculative fiction, operating from the shadowy outskirts of Los Angeles, where he also runs the small press Dark Moon Books. He’s twice won the Bram Stoker Award (the highest literary award of horror fiction), been a finalist for the International Thriller Writers Award, and is a multi-nominee of the Pushcart Prize.
He has over 100 stories and non-fiction author credits appearing in publications around the world; has edited multiple anthologies (including the current series, The Horror Writers Association’s Haunted Library of Horror Classics with co-editor Leslie S. Klinger); and has created an ongoing series of author primers championing modern masters of the dark and macabre, Exploring Dark Short Fiction through his press. Outside the glamorous and jet-setting world of indie fiction, Eric’s a technical writer and college professor, and he stumbles home each day to a wife, children, dogs, and a terrarium filled with mischievous beetles. He recently talked about the Exploring Dark Short Fiction series with Daryl Maxwell for the LAPL Blog.
What was your inspiration for the Exploring Dark Short Fiction series?
There’s not a lot of discussion about horror writers outside of the horror writing community, and when there is, such as reading the works in advance of some college class discussion, or sitting in on a panel of horror genre influences, the same two names who are generally given any academic credibility will come up repeatedly: Edgar Allan Poe and H. P. Lovecraft, and these authors being from generations ago. These names are widely recognized as the champions of poetic and descriptive dark prose, yet Lovecraft perished over eighty years ago, and Poe near a century before that.
What they wrote is still compelling today—I’m not saying otherwise—but, so too, are there living authors whose words can shape the boundaries of our imagination, who can invigorate and capture our modern era tastes and sensibilities, who can connect to us in ways not possible by our literary forebears, names such as Joyce Carol Oates, Neil Gaiman, Tananarive Due, Junot Díaz, Ramsey Campbell… I could go on. Anyway, I wanted to further the discussion of dark fiction authors who, today, may be those who are studied generations later.
What is your process for this series? How do you select your authors? How are the stories selected from their catalog of work?
Besides selecting authors that I just happen to subjectively “like,” I also defined a list of criteria in helping to select distinct and diverse voices as per the following.
The selected author:
1: is still living;
2: is still actively writing; dependent, of course, on item1!
3: has a large, "influential" body of work including dark fiction in short story form that spans at least 25 years
4: has, besides novels and other longer forms, a body of work including at least 50 short story pieces
5: has received at least one major industry writing award
6: is someone accessible
7: is willing to write an original story for this series.
There are many, many authors who fit all these criteria. The challenge is to find writers that by their greater aggregate will complement and advance each other—and the genre—by showing the depth of the form, the rich difference in voice and influence that is possible, rather than putting forth a lot of similar styles and backgrounds.
The Exploring Dark Short Fiction series focuses on Horror stories and writers. What do you think it is about Horror that draws writers and readers to these types of stories?
Although the stories do tend to all have overtones or elements of horror, I try to emphasize that this series is not horror-specific but more broadly considered “Dark Fiction,” which includes science fiction, fantasy, mythology, etc., albeit with darker and/or supernatural tones.
And regarding what draws people to horror—there are a number of reasons: That it incites a deeper awareness of one’s surroundings; it soothes stress by providing diversion and an emotional outlet; it creates an adrenaline rush and releases “feel good” chemicals in the brain such as dopamine and serotonin (good for combating depression and anxiety); it incites empathy for others, allows us to envision things or situations that (probably!) don’t exist, as well as challenges us, and provides adventure, action, and thrills.
For me personally, I’ve just always found horror to be “exciting.” It gets my heart pumping, adrenaline rushing, etc. I enjoy literary thrills of all kinds, whether the ghosts and monsters of horror, or the shoot-em-up conquest of military conquest; the excitement and wanderlust of adventure tales, or the far-flung speculative legends or fables from any era or land. They all inspire me in different ways!
How far out is the series planned? Can you tell us about upcoming volumes and whom they will feature?
I’m working on a volume for next year, 2022 release for Canadian author Gemma Files. I have three other authors I’ve started conversations with, and they’re interested, but timing or other circumstance may not be ideal. So… I’ll just keep rearranging slots and move up other authors I’d love to see be part of this series!
The series seems to be focusing on living authors that are able to provide an original, unpublished story for their volume. Is there an author that you wish you could have highlighted who passed before they could be included?
I have a shortlist, and a slightly-longer “longlist”... I’ve found that over the past several years, I’ve had to cross off a few names I was interested in working with in the future. Dennis Etchison was one, and someone I’d conversed with infrequently, and had thought definitely I’d be doing a volume on. Another author was Carlos Ruiz Zafón, whom I’d never met, but would have loved to have worked with, but he passed away suddenly in 2020.
What’s currently on your nightstand?
I read multiple books at the same time (although I’m a rather slow reader), so currently stacked on my nightstand are If It Bleeds by Stephen King; The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones; Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes; The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle; The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell; and a half-dozen others!
Can you name your top five favorite or most influential authors?
These types of lists seem to change all the time! But presently, and in no order, I’ll go with Joe R. Lansdale, Stephen King, Cormac McCarthy, Neil Gaiman, and Dennis Lehane. And to a lesser extent, James Ellroy, Jack Kerouac, and George Orwell … and, really, many, many others.
What was your favorite book when you were a child?
1st and 2nd grade, I recall were the Bunnicula books by James and Deborah Howe, and also Superfudge books by Judy Blume. 3rd grade was probably Against Incredible Odds by Arthur Roth. And lots of Hardy Boys mysteries. 4th grade I believe was King Solomon’s Mines by H. Rider Haggard. 5th or 6th grade was probably Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers. A lot of Gordon Korman books were in there too, during those years. Through junior high and later I started getting into Mark Twain and John Steinbeck, but I also was reading Stephen King, and a lot of old pulp magazines and back issues of MAD Magazine. Besides those, reading of my youth were also boys’ adventure such as Jack London and Rudyard Kipling and Charles Dickens. And lots of comics… Man, I could go on!
Was there a book you felt you needed to hide from your parents?
Is there a book you've faked reading?
Ohhhh yes. In high school, I was in a track of Honors English that studied women of Victorian literature—Tess of the d'Urbervilles, Madame Bovary, Return of the Native—I faked reading a lot of books those years.
Can you name a book you've bought for the cover?
In Junior High and High School, I would get books through the used book racks and also on the shelves of the local discount retail home goods store (Pick 'n Save, for those who remember it), so for only 50 cents or so, I was definitely much more susceptible to trying out new books based solely on the cover. One of those back in the mid-1990s was a horror anthology, Borderlands 2, which had an ominous cover and turned me into a horror anthology lover. I recall another book I got based on the cover was Panzer Spirit by Tom Townsend. And a couple of years ago, I saw the cover and just had to read The Fold by Peter Clines, which was well worth the visual hype.
Is there a book that changed your life?
In college I was interested in philosophy, notably existentialism, and the writings of Nietzsche and Kierkegaard had a lot of impact on my world views and personal responsibility. And six years ago, I’d been caretaker for my younger brother who passed from a sudden and excruciating cancer. I was shattered over that, felt just profoundly unrecoverable. But Life After Life by Raymond Moody and Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl both helped pull me out of a very dark place.
Can you name a book for which you are an evangelist (and you think everyone should read)?
Big Fish by Daniel Wallace. It’s such a beautiful, reflective, imaginative piece. And it’s a short read, a novella, so it’s easy for those who may not be avid readers, to get excited or inspired by fiction. I’m also a die-hard fan of Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters.
Is there a book you would most want to read again for the first time?
Probably, Boy’s Life by Robert McCammon. I’m a father of a boy, and this book really spoke to me about the father-son bond, in addition to just being one of the greatest novels ever written. It’s epic, beautiful, dark, and mysterious, and told through life’s magic of imagination as seen from an adventuresome youth, in a town corrupted by racial strife and murder. For a couple of years after reading it, I literally could not talk about the book without choking up. Just resonant and impactful, and sweet, even when spiraling through the hard truths of life and loss.
What is the last piece of art (music, movies, tv, more traditional art forms) that you've experienced or that has impacted you?
I think over the past decade I’ve been most “excited” about A Song of Ice and Fire (George R.R. Martin) books and the adapted Game of Thrones TV series. The world-building was amazing, and plot twists and spin-offs could go to insane places… plus I found it fun watching the paths diverge between the books and the TV shows. I feel like it was a part of my life for a long time, and have warm memories of watching the first several seasons with my brother and also talking about the (then) latest developments with friends. I started watching the show first, and then went and read the books back-to-back during the 2nd and 3rd seasons. So visually, I had ideas of what the characters looked like, and expectations of how they should act, which were not necessarily accurate for the books.
What is your idea of THE perfect day (where you could go anywhere/meet with anyone)?
I don’t want to sound misanthropic, and maybe it’s just because of having been in COVID quarantine the past year-and-a-half and being stuck at home, but I feel I’ve lost the interest to venture out into public anymore! People I want to meet with, I video-chat. I do have this desire to go out and socialize, but then when I actually do it, I immediately feel uncomfortable, and just want to flee and go home, haha! So, a perfect day is probably just being by myself so I can write uninterrupted. I have young children, so I’m never able to just be by myself, especially during quarantine, which kept them home and us all locked up together all day, every day, with no escape…
What is the question that you’re always hoping you’ll be asked, but never have been? What is your answer?
Q: “Would you like to accept this check for $1 million?”
A: “Yes. Yes, I would.”
What are you working on now?
Through my press, Dark Moon Books, I’m publishing the afore-mentioned series of author primers created to champion modern masters of the dark and macabre, titled: Exploring Dark Short Fiction (Vol. 1: Steve Rasnic Tem; Vol. II: Kaaron Warren; Vol. III: Nisi Shawl; Vol. IV: Jeffrey Ford; Vol. V: Han Song; Vol. VI: Ramsey Campbell, etc.).
And through SourceBooks I’m curating a new series of books with co-editor Leslie S. Klinger titled, The Horror Writers Association Presents: Haunted Library of Horror Classics, reissuing classic novels with new introductions and other ancillary material.
I also enjoy writing short stories, averaging about one new publication a month. And I’ve started four new novels, although I'm not very far into any of them! One is a pulp science fiction, one a paranormal detective series, one a literary-historical horror, and one a cosmic slipstream time-travel. And I’m editing and publishing the anthology series, +Horror Library+, which promotes unthemed horror short stories.
Lastly, I’m editing a new anthology about haunted buildings around the world, which I’m co-editing with Professor Charlatan Bardot titled: Professor Charlatan Bardot’s Travel Anthology to the Most (Fictional) Haunted Buildings in the Weird, Wild World (2021 edition) scheduled to publish late Fall, 2021!