IHC Interview: Tim Paxton

Tim Paxton is one of the few people who carry their love for horror on their sleeve. He’s dedicated his life to the horror genre, having an imprint company of his own that publishes horror. He is one of the authors of City of Screams. Here’s his interview:

Tell us a bit about yourself:

I grew up in a small liberal arts college town in Ohio, USA in a mansion down the street from the town local cemetery. I came from a large family and was surrounded by books, artifacts, and knickknacks of an esoteric nature (as well as comic books, movie memorabilia, and artwork). My mother was an eccentric who was into horror, fantasy, and folk tales back in the 1930s and 1940s when it was not a proper thing for a young woman to be reading. She later passed on that love for the unusual and arcane to me and my siblings, along with a healthy dose of religious tolerance which included an appreciation for the witchy aspect of the New Age scene. Later, I began to explore my own interests and began to publish film magazines that covered the horror and science fiction genres. I also dabbled in fiction writing. Starting in the 1980s I began to expand on the types of films I covered to include any monster movie from the world over, not just those that my audience would be familiar with. To this day I still publish and write about horror films, with the emphasis on ghostly possessions and starlight up monster genres. I am not one for slasher films. If am in a mood for that kind of gruesome stuff I’ll watch war or gangster films (talk about two genres that actually scare me!). For the past decade, my primary interest had been in reviewing and writing articles about Indian cinema. And not just Bollywood, but all film industries in India. Each has contributed to the overall appreciation of horror over the past 60 years as it emerged and evolved as a genre in India.

Even though I live in the USA, I am planning to return to India for an extended stay. Sometime in the future. So, I am looking for an old mahal I can rent in some spooky area of West Bengal, Kerala or Tamil Nadu…

How did you become a part of this anthology?

Earlier this year I noticed a posting on Facebook from Neil D’Silva, the anthology’s editor. Neil, a noted and very successful author in his own right, was in search for writers to pen short stories with “urban horror” as the core theme. At that time, I was already working on a series of short stories about my travels in India for a film director, and I thought this would be a great opportunity to get my name out there. If I was selected, of course. So, I finished up the first of these tales, and submitted “Home” to the competition.

What is your story about?

“Home” tells the tale of an American author who travels to India for a work-related vacation. He lands in New Delhi and checks into a hotel in a seedy part of town. As it turns out, his first night in India just very well maybe his last day on Earth. The story was inspired by an experience I had during my stay at a New Delhi hotel and my travels to Hampi in Karnataka.

How long did it take you to come up with the final draft of the story?

From start to finish–scribbled notes to final draft–writing the story took about a month. At that time, I was also working part-time maintaining a website for local company, as well as writing articles for magazines, so I worked on it when I had time. “Home” went through various incarnations. I must add that I had my editor Steve Fenton give it a once over before I submitted the document to Neil. As a note to other writers: it’s always a good idea to get someone unfamiliar with the subject matter (who also has a critical eye) to read through your final draft.

Anthologies aren’t as popular in India as abroad. Any apprehensions signing up?

Yes, novels simply sell better, when compared to anthologies. I think it may have to do with the reader’s investment in character development. Short stories are, by their very nature, well, short and easily digestible. You can typically finish one in a single sitting over a cup of tea or whilst eating lunch. Novels draw you in and give you a better bit of world-building. I am not saying that either format is better than the other, but I believe that novel-length fiction tends to give the reader a chance to become truly entangled in the work. Reading a novel is a great way to escape your doldrums for an entire week or however long it takes to finish a novel. It’s that escapism which may be why novels are so popular in India and elsewhere in the world.

What other genres interest you?

All sorts of fiction and non-fiction. I grew up on a steady diet of H.P. Lovecraft, Ray Bradbury, Anne McCaffrey, Frederik Pohl, Stephen R. Donaldson, Larry Niven, and other such SFantasy and weird genre authors. Historical fiction is also an interest; Gary Jenning’s Aztec is a hefty read. Anything by Douglas Preston, Ruskin Bond, and a few other names. But the best way to discover a new author is by reading an anthology or magazine of short fiction. It’s like a buffet of sorts for the literary minded.

As for non-fiction, I read anything to do with folklore, religion, cultural anthology, biology natural and human history, and psychology…whatever catches my eye. Currently I am reading R. E. Enthoeven’s Folklore of Bombay and Folklore of Konkan (two books I picked up while I was in Bengaluru earlier this year), Uma Maheswari Bhrugubanda’s Deities & Devotees: Cinema, Religion, and Politics in South India, Heidi Rika Maria Pauwels’ The Goddess as Role Model, Kathleen McAuliffe’s This Is Your Brain on Parasites: How Tiny Creatures Manipulate Our Behavior and Shape Society, and Bill Wasik and Monica Murphy’s Rabid: A Cultural History of the World’s Most Diabolical Virus. A lot of what I read eventually shapes whatever I am writing. Much of what I read is research material.

Any plans to write a full-fledged novel?

I am working on a novel of short stories. The book will be about the character I developed for “Home”. The idea is to have the book easily accessible to read as stand-alone short stories or as chapters in a book, as the individual pieces will have an overarching theme and re-occurring characters. There will be a concluding chapter as well. As of right now I have ten chapters in the works, and I am about a fifth of the way done with the first rough draft. When I am finished, I will be looking for an Indian publisher.

The author market is choc-a-bloc today. What’s you take on that?

Yes, it’s like that all over the world. I have an imprint company in the USA that produces books on cinema and art. We publish in the POD format through Amazon. Sales are okay, but the market here is saturated with self-published material, with much of it on Kindle. We only publish physical paper editions, as Kindle is too easily bootlegged. The e-book market was lucrative a few years ago, but now most new authors produce material which is typically sold for pennies or given away for free on Kindle. While you can get your work out there, it’s very hard to get it noticed, let alone sell any copies. Therefore, a book like City of Screams is very important, because it is an anthology. While there are previously-published authors featured in City of Screams (and the fact that is it edited by the Neil D’Silva), I am sure the anthology will be a great way to get some fresh faces introduced to an audience who might not otherwise read a novel by any of the individual authors.

What would you tell a budding writer?

Start writing! Make a splash with your debut, but most importantly don’t assume that your intended audience knows what you’re talking about. Get yourself a good editor; someone who is a straight-shooter and will let you know if what you wrote is brilliant or a confused mishmash of ideas.

Which particular novel would you recommend to others?

Horror novel? That depends on what kind of horror you want. Some of the books that have become fixed in my brain aren’t necessarily in the pure horror genre of ghosts and so forth. These are books so perturbing that they have stuck with me for decades. The author Jeff Long instantly comes to mind. His books have that kind of effect on me. Long’s The Decent (1999) and in particularly Year Zero (2000) were incredibly disturbing reads. Jessica Faleiro’s Afterlife: Ghost Stories from Goa (2012) is a gorgeous, subtle read about weird goings-on in Goa. But as a horror novel I would recommend to others, I would go with Richard Laymon’s 1980 The Cellar for pure unadulterated horror. It’s gut-churning stuff.

Any writer you’d like to see succeed?

Everyone involved with this anthology. I have no favorites in City of Screams since I haven’t read anything by the authors in the book other than Neil’s work and Aindrila Roy’s I See You (2015). I enjoy both of their work.

What’s your favorite horror film?

I have no favourite. I have loved horror and fantasy films since I was a toddler (my mother was a big fan of the genre; her favourite film was Jacques Tourneur’s 1942 THE CAT PEOPLE), and have been writing about the genre since 1978. So, I have watched quite literally thousands of movies from all over the world. What’s your favorite horror film? That’s a tough one. I mean, I have been writing about Indian Horror and Fantasy Cinema, having written articles on or about them for several years now. As an example, a few years ago I wrote an article on Nag Cinema for which I watched over 100 films about cobra ladies from numerous genres. I don’t have a singular favourite, as many are unique in their own fashion. I’ve sat through over 700 Indian horror, fantasy, thriller, and mythological films in at least eight different languages (yes, most without subtitles), for the past seven years. While I have favourite Indian directors (Kodi Ramakrishna, Ram Gopal Varma, AE Baby, The Ramsays, etc), to single out a favourite horror film from any one of them is tough. They are all different depending on regional approach. As for non-Indian cinema, I adore the classic Universal Studios (USA) horror films from the 1930 and 40s, the Hammer Films (UK) from the 1950 and 60s, pretty much any Hong Kong horror film (and their horror comedies) from their Golden Age (1980-194). Then there is Italian, Spanish, Mexican, Euro-horror…and pretty much any Japanese ghost film from the 1930s to the present. Thai and Koran films, too. Heck, Erik Blomberg’s THE WHITE REINDEER (1952) is a wonderfully obscure folk-horror film (from Finland of all places) which is as unnerving as Robert Eggers’s THE VVITCH (2015).
So, I can’t really answer that question in any straight-forward manner.

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