The Devil Will Be at the Door
in Crooked Houses from Egeaus Press
The Devil Will Be At the Door in Crooked Houses from Egeaus Press
Haunted houses are one of the most familiar tropes in supernatural and horror fiction, and like all familiar things, they run the risk of becoming too familiar, even comfortable and cozy, and losing their power to evoke awe and terror. That was the risk that Mark Beech, editor of Egeaus Press, wanted to subvert with the anthology Crooked Houses. “I hope to put together a book that taps into a more archaic and paradoxically fresher version of the haunted house,” he explained in an email to prospective contributors. “These don’t necessarily need to be ancient houses (and ‘house’ is interpretive), nor do the stories need historical settings. I ask only that you seek to create something fresh and new.”
I was thrilled to be invited to write and submit a story, so I took the challenge. I decided to focus not so much on beautiful, atmospheric descriptions, but on fear. Real fear. The kind that stops your heart and makes your blood run cold. Where could I find it?
I thought first of a story that my father used to tell to a busload of teenagers when we were on our way home from church-trips. It was basically a “jump scare” story (and he was very good at making us jump at the end). It was also one of the most horrifically violent and bloody stories I’ve ever heard. It filled the whole bus with a feeling of cold, sick horror that grew in the pit of my stomach and would not easily go away. I thought of how a story with that kind of power might lodge itself somewhere in your brain where it could then slowly but surely take over your life. That’s the place I started from.
The next real-life ingredient was an experience I had in college. A professor of folklore (who still collects and publishes books of traditional ghost stories from rural Kentucky) was approached by two families who claimed their houses were haunted. Although he tried to turn them away, explaining that he was a folklorist, not a parapsychologist, he then decided that their stories were in fact a kind of contemporary folklore-in-the-making (or maybe he was just curious), so he agreed and recorded interviews with them. I don’t recall exactly how I ended up listening to those tapes, but a friend of mine from the psychology department and I visited the professor in his office where he agreed to let us borrow and listen to the tapes. Then she and I both sat in the University library one night and listened to both families’ stories.
The two tapes and two stories could not have been more different. The first was almost light-hearted, told by a couple who said they had a poltergeist who never did anything more frightening that pull the covers off the bed in their guest room. They thought it was funny. But there was nothing funny about the second tape. It’s been forty years since I’ve heard it, and although I can’t remember any of the specific details of the haunting the second couple described, what I do remember is the raw and real terror in their voices. It was the same cold, sick feeling I’d had on that bus listening to my father’s story years before. Real fear. So I took all those ingredients and let my imagination supply the rest.
One more thing––the title. I have a very distinct memory of hearing an old country song on the car radio when I was very young. This would have been in the early 1960s, and the song was old-school country––three chords and two-part harmonies like the Louvin Brothers. I can remember the chorus, word-for word:
Don’t go to Matt’s cabin, don’t go to Matt’s cabin.
The Devil will be at the door.
Don’t go to Matt’s cabin, don’t go to Matt’s cabin.
You’ll never be seen anymore.
I don’t remember the rest of the lyrics, but in my memory, it was basically a haunted house story, or a old-time “murder ballad”, dark and bloody and full of warning. It scared me back then, and haunted me for forty years.
Here’s the thing––I’ve tried to find this song, even some mention of it somewhere, but so far I can’t find a trace of it. (In this internet age, that’s really saying something.) I’ve often wondered if I might have made it up myself, even dreamed it. That feeling of self-doubt and unreality also went into my writing, and I decided to give the story that one line from the song as its title––whether it’s real or not.
Naturally, I was thrilled when Mark Beech accepted ‘The Devil Will Be at the Door’ for Crooked Houses. And it’s an honor to have my story alongside some terrific tales by Lynda Rucker, Steve Duffy, Helen Grant, Rebecca Kuder, Reggie Oliver, Rebecca Lloyd, and others.
It’s worth noting (and pretty gratifying) that Crooked Houses sold out in one week––a sure sign, I believe, that people still find themselves drawn to stories about haunted houses, and what’s to be found in them.
Gordon White Reviews Terrible Things on The Outer Dark
“The terrible things of the title are very much of our world, and they tear a very real hole into the lives that existed before, and irreparably damage the lives that come after. Terrible things like the very real and unadorned loss of a parent or child. The anxiety of lockdown drills, or institutionalized violence against the marginalized. And loneliness. So much loneliness, sometimes in isolation, but even when surrounded. A lot of the stories here can feel bleak. Sometimes they also warn us not to give in to our grief. And sometimes they offer something that we might need in order to carry on––a possibility of hope.”In his agile-minded and generous review, Gordon takes my book as well as Kay Chronister’s new collection Thin Places as two touchstones, and uses them to explore the vast range of approaches available to writers and readers of weird, dark fiction. Also featuring great readings by Jayaprakash Satyamurthy and S.P. Miskowski.
[Link to podcast in image above.]
Terrible Things on the Outer Dark
I recently had the great pleasure of being interviewed by the amazing Anya Martin for The Outer Dark podcast. We talked about the real-life events behind the stories in my new collection from Black Shuck Books, Terrible Things, about the role of hope in horror, and the difficulty of defining “weird literature”. We also talked about writers who’ve helped open my eyes to new perspectives and possibilities, and about what I’m working on now. And If you’d like to hear me read the first half of my story ‘Writings Found In a Red Notebook’, it’s at 57:50. Thanks again to Anya Martin and Scott Nicolay for welcoming me to The Outer Dark and for the good work they do for the writing community. Hope you enjoy our conversation as much as I did.
Terrible Things Available from Black Shuck Books
I’m very happy to share the news that my first collection of short fiction, Terrible Things, is being published by the great Black Shuck Books. Steve Shaw of Black Shuck is a terrific editor, lovely to work with, and a talented artist as well, as you can see from the cover here (which I’m thrilled with). Terrible Things includes thirteen stories written over the past ten years, and it feels great to have them all gathered together between two covers. I’m also very grateful to the wonderful Lynda Rucker for writing the introduction, which is (as she herself is) immensely kind, and for all her generosity and support. To read kind and thoughtful words about your own writing by writers who you admire and have learned from is a surreal and gratifying experience, so I’m surreally grateful to all the good people who took the time to comment on my collection. A few of their comments appear here––the rest you’ll have to read in the book itself. Which brings me to…
Naturally, I hope you’ll want to have a copy of Terrible Things. If you enjoy literary horror (which is probably how you ended up here), I believe you’ll enjoy these stories. After all, I wrote them for you.
“Each of the stories contained within Terrible Things is a small treasure to be marveled at. David Surface unpicks the seam of humanity to reveal the necrosis of our terrible secrets – the harms we visit upon one another, the lies we tell – but also that quiet hope that beneath it all there might still be something worth saving. Compassionate, astute and beautifully crafted, these are horror stories with soul.”
––Laura Mauro, author of Sing Your Sadness Deep
“David Surface’s first short story collection is a reason to rejoice for all lovers of disturbing, off-beat, and ghostly fiction. Well-written and multi-layered, these stories are unpredictable in the best possible way: the author doesn’t allow the cliches of the genre to dilute his own personal vision. Put simply, these stories are some of the very best weird fiction has to offer.”
––James Everington, author of Trying To Be So Quiet and Other Hauntings
David Surface knows home is an alien place and Terrible Things is your expedition report––you’d do well to read it.
–Adam Golaski, author of Color Plates and Worse Than Myself
The Twisted Book of Shadows
Very proud indeed to have my story ‘Angelmutter’ chosen by editors Christopher Golden and James Moore for The Twisted Book of Shadows, an extraordinary new anthology from Haverhill House Publishing.
Golden and Moore are to be applauded for their approach to putting this anthology together––no solicited stories from well-known names, all submissions were “blind” so that the editors had no idea whose work they were reading. They then had the unenviable task of narrowing down over 700 submissions into the 19 stories in this book. (You can imagine now why I’m so proud to be included.)
From the introduction by Linda D Addison:
“New and darkly twisted, some of the stories made me want to turn on more lights, others made my heart ache, and each and every one stands strong. The editors’ vision of creating an anthology of excellent stories from familiar and lesser-known authors, with characters and storylines reflecting an interesting mix of humanity, worked out beautifully…It was interesting to see the common themes that presented themselves. What patterns surface, I believe, are echoes of the real-life shadows in the human condition.”
You can preorder your copy of The Twisted Book of Shadows here through Amazon:
Merrimack Valley Halloween Book Festival, 2019
In October of 2019, I was invited by Christopher Golden to the Merrimack Valley Halloween Book Festival to take part in a panel discussion about The Twisted Book of Shadows, in which my story ‘Angelmutter’ appears. Although I’d been writing and publishing for almost ten years, I’d never attended a festival or conference before. I knew that cons were places where writers and readers bond together in social groups that tend to be tightly knit, so as a con-newcomer, I was a little worried about fitting in.
That worry dissolved almost immediately as soon as I entered the Haverhill Public Library where the mood was friendly and festive, and the tables were stacked high with books and bowls of Halloween candy. I was greeted by John McIlveen of Haverhill House Publishing, who was kind and welcoming. Christopher Golden was likewise warm and friendly, not to mention busy as hell as the Festival organizer.
I took my place behind the Haverhill House table, where I noticed I was the only author who didn’t have a book of my own to sell. Then John McIlveen started introducing me as one of the authors in The Twisted Book of Shadows, and people started asking me to autograph their copies, which was (A) very kind of him, and (B) lots of fun.
Earlier, I’d met the wonderful John Langan, who was funny as hell and nice as could be. I’d brought along my copy of Mr. Gaunt for him to sign, and he did, adorning the title page with one of his amazing, quirky illustrations––so when the time came for me to autograph some books, the bar was set pretty high. I decided to keep it simple, and settled on a quick, cartoon jack o-lantern (although I was doodling so fast, some book-buyers probably went home and wondered why I’d drawn a cross-eyed kidney bean).
The Twisted Book of Shadows panel took place in a large meeting room upstairs, and drew a large crowd. I sat between P.D. Cacek, who also had a story in the anthology, and editor Jim Moore, who was undergoing treatment for cancer and had literally made himself get out of bed to come to the Festival. Jim was honest and passionate and mordantly funny, and made me laugh more times than I can remember. A one point, he and Chris were talking about my story ‘Angelmutter’, which they’d both liked so much that they’d contacted me before they were through reading the submissions because they didn’t want to risk losing it for the anthology. Jim turned to me and said in an emphatic, deadpan voice, “That’s one fucked up story, David!” I’m pretty sure I spit my coffee at that point.
In short, I don’t think I’ve ever been in the company of so many kind and intelligent people who are passionately devoted to what they do, and equally devoted to making each other laugh. They made it impossible to feel self conscious or out of place, which is a gift. When I left, I made sure to find Jim Moore. I thanked him for including my story in Twisted Book of Shadows, for inviting me to the Festival, and for making me laugh. I told him I’d see him next year, and he gave me one of the strongest bear-hugs I’ve ever received. (As someone said later, “Jim gives the best hugs.”)
I was indeed, very much looking forward to returning to Haverhill and the Merrimack Valley Halloween Book Festival in October of 2020 (this time, with copies of my own first collection, Terrible Things). So I was disappointed––as are many other people––to hear that the Festival has been cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But the spirit that I saw and felt there in 2019 seems pretty indestructible, so I’m looking forward to being part of it again when the time is right.
Horror Tales Podcast
A good horror story deserves to be read aloud, preferably in the dark. So I was especially happy to be invited to contribute a story to ‘Horror Tales’, the excellent podcast produced by Max Ablitzer. Max is a true renaissance man, a fine musician and composer, also a true artist with sound. The scores and sound effects he creates for his podcasts are extraordinary, as are his choice of narrators, in this case, Kieran Davison, whose deep and gritty Northern England accent somehow feels perfect.
‘The Last Testament of Jacob Tyler’ is especially suited for the podcast-treatment, and Max and his crew have done a fine job. I’m proud to have my story included alongside others by fine authors such as Brian Evenson, Christopher Slatsky, C.M. Muller, and Clint Smith, to whom I give my grateful thanks for introducing myself and my writing to Max.
So turn out the lights, then click here and scroll down to listen to ‘The Last Testament of Jacob Tyler’. And when you’re done, listen to these other fine tales as well.
Very happy to finally announce the publication of Uncertainties III from Swan River Press which includes a new collaborative story I wrote with Julia Rust, titled ‘TallDarkAnd.’
When Lynda Rucker invited us to submit a story, I was thrilled; Lynda is one of the writers who first taught me what modern dark fiction is all about, so to be included in this amazing and beautiful anthology is a real honor. Very pleased to be in the same pages with so many wonderful writers like Matthew Bartlett, S.P Miskowsky, Adam Nevill, Robert Shearman, R.S. Knightly, Lisa Tuttle, Ralph Robert Moore, Tracey Fahey, Scott West, and Rosanne Rabinowitz. And it’s a special thrill to appear alongside Joyce Carol Oates, who’s done perhaps more than any other contemporary author to tear down the wall between horror and literary fiction.
Many thanks to Julia for your beautiful and powerful words, to Lynda for giving this strange story a wonderful home, to Tobia Makover for her lovely and haunting cover art, and to Brian Showers of Swan River Press for his support of the Uncertainties series, and all the beautiful books he helps bring into the world.
Joining the Black Static Case Notes Team, September 2018
Thrilled and honored to report that I’m joining the ‘Case Notes’ team at Black Static magazine. My series ‘One Good Story’ will be appearing as a regular column in Black Static’s ‘Case Notes’ starting with the September 2018 issue. Black Static, in its earlier incarnation as Third Alternative, was where I was first exposed to the world of slipstream and “new horror” writing. It’s a beautiful publication, inside and out, so to have the opportunity to add my voice to it is a real pleasure. I’ll be more or less sticking to the format I’ve used on my website––a short-form hybrid of personal essay and story review––touching on both older and contemporary works. (The essays will continue to be posted on my website some months after they appear in the magazine.) I’m honored to be appearing alongside fellow Case Notes columnists (and favorite writers) Lynda Rucker and Ralph Robert Moore. Many thanks to editor Andy Cox for bringing me onto the team. See you in September!
Supernatural Tales 38, Summer 2018
Very pleased to announce that my story ‘Intruders’ is appearing in a special issue of Supernatural Tales, which will be released in print and on Kindle this July.
Supernatural Tales and its editor David Longhorn are giants of our genre (although David might object to that description). He’s been publishing and championing new writers working the boundaries between genre and literary fiction longer than anyone. This will be my third appearance in ST, and I’m as thrilled and grateful as the first time.
‘Intruders’ is a story I’m especially proud of. Although it acknowledges the reality of school shootings in America, its broader topic is the struggle to create a safe space for ourselves and our children, the bargains we make with the truth in order to protect the ones we care for, and how the truths we try to cover up will find ways to haunt us.
As always, David Longhorn has assembled a fine group of stories from a fine lineup of writers. Here is the TOC:
Supernatural Tales 38
Intruders’ by David Surface
‘Ghost Hunting’ by Jane Jakeman
‘St Magda’s Sunday Sermon’ by Katie McCal
‘Against the Dead’ by John Howard
‘Redriff’ by Michael Chislett
‘The Thirteenth Shelf’ by Stephen Cashmore
Supernatural Tales 38 is available here.
Nightscript III Reading at Lovecraft Bar
Last November, Julia and I had the great pleasure of participating in a panel discussion and reading at the Lovecraft Bar in NYC to celebrate the publication of Nightscript III. Joined by fellow Nightscript contributor Inna Effress, and hosted by Daniel Braum, it was a fantastic evening. Daniel is a wonderful host and a very nice man, as well as a fine writer. Julia Rust read her story ‘Young Bride’, I read ‘Something You Leave Behind’, and Inna (who flew in from LA) read her story ‘Liquid Air.’ We took questions from the audience, signed some copies, and had a wonderful time. Many, many thanks to all the good people who came out to join us, both old friends and new ones. And thanks to editor CM Muller for creating a good home for the stories we brought to life last night.
Nightscript III Featured on The Outer Dark
The Outer Dark podcast on This Is Horror features ‘A Strange and Darksome Night’, a panel discussion of Nightscript III and weird fiction with myself, Julia Rust, Inna Efress, and host Daniel Braum, as well as readings by myself, Julia, and Inna which took place at the Lovecraft Bar in NYC.
The wide-ranging discussion covers “starting points for defining the elusive Weird, how the author’s own works relate to Weird fiction, defying genre conventions, The Weird seeping into mainstream media, working with the supernatural or the ‘strange’ element in their stories, Robert Aickman who is an inspiration for the Nightscript series, the subconscious as ‘magic’, clueing in your muse, ‘major natural disasters’, night time logic, emotions invoked by their Nightscript III stories, the tension when the supernatural may or may not show up, their favorite stories from the anthology, sadness in horror stories, and changes in perspective when writers go Weird.”
Also featured is Scott Nicolay’s interview with Nightscript editor C.M. Muller.
You can listen to the podcast here.
Nightscript III In Des Lewis Gestalt Real-Time Reviews
As any writer in the genre of horror, weird, or dark fiction will tell you, to have your work written about by the incomparable Des Lewis is both an honor and a pleasure. Des Lewis’ “Real Time Reviews” are legendary, strangely beautiful and beautifully strange, real works of art in themselves. So it’s a thrill to find that Des Lewis has reviewed Nightscript III, story by story. He has some very kind things to say about my story, ‘Something You Leave Behind’, as well as good words for Julia Rust’s ‘Young Bride’, and stories by fellow contributors. Here’s a sample:
“Very much in tune with the many stories in the book, the Surface one may be the most exquisitely poignant example….with the onwardness to beat death, here expressed by Surface as “That person, the person we were, has to die…To make way for a new one…I think that’s why we keep moving around, looking for the right place…” Here, the couple, strangers to each other, but married for years, still in some strange love with each other, but separated by the skin that you shed each night…Unforgettably, incredibly sad while strangely uplifting.”
It’s a privilege to be appearing for a second time in the pages of Nightscript. To be published alongside authors like Simon Stranzas, Charles Wilkinson, Daniel Braum, Clint Smith, Inna Effress, and Adam Golaski is a thrill…but it’s an extra-special thrill to appear for the first time in the same TOC as my wife Julia Rust, whose story ‘Young Bride’ also graces these pages.
My story, ‘Something You Leave Behind’ which appears in Nightscript III has been through many incarnations, but found its true form in this most recent version when I finally decided to open the wound in this tale of marital and personal disintegration and let the weirdness come in.
Editor C.M. Muller has quietly created one of the most outstanding publications in the genre of literary horror, and one of the handsomest literary journals around. He’s a true craftsman, working patiently and diligently with the highest standards, and the results are evident. Nightscript has received a lot of well-deserved critical acclaim, but my favorite has to be from the estimable Des Lewis, who referred to Nightscript as “Weirdness with truth at its heart.” Amen to that.
Copies of Nightscript III and its predecessors are available here.