Friday, December 8, 2017

The Gal's 2017 Halloween Frivolities Day 47: Among the Stacks with Mike Lombardo Part 2


The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Hi again, Mike.  Welcome back for part two of our two-part interview.  Now we really get into the heart of things and find out more about you and filmmaking.  You are actually the FIRST filmmaker that I have interviewed, and I originally got the idea during Scares That Care earlier this year, so thank you, again, for agreeing to sit down with me.
            Tell us about yourself and your latest project.

Mike Lombardo:
Howdy, my name is Mike Lombardo and I am a writer/director/FX artist who runs Reel Splatter Productions, a small indie film troupe based in Lancaster, PA. 
            My first feature length film, I’m Dreaming of a White Doomsday, just hit the film festival circuit in late October. Its best described as Miracle on 34th Street meets The Road. It was based on a short story I wrote (of the same name) that appeared in the bizarro Christmas anthology, A Very StrangeHouse Christmas. White Doomsday is the story of a mother and her 7 year old son living in a bomb shelter after an unnamed apocalypse. With food and hope steadily dwindling, the mother is forced to make difficult choices that will lead her to discover just how far she would go for her child and what lurks outside the safety of the shelter.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What made you pursue filmmaking?

Mike Lombardo:
I was always fascinated with horror movies as a kid and I was obsessed with making things, weird little props or writing stories, building haunted house sets, etc., so filmmaking was a natural progression as it incorporates all of these creative elements into one glorious hell.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Was there a particular event or time that you recognized that filmmaking was not just a hobby, but that it would be your life and your living?

Mike Lombardo:
Since I was in elementary school, I always wanted to be a “Horror movie maker”. I grew up making little movies with my VHS camera and teaching myself FX, so I don’t think it really surprised anyone when I eventually dedicated my life to it. As time went on and I began to get really serious with the equipment and FX stuff, things started to change for me. We started getting into film festivals and built a fan base for the weirdo short films and I realized that it was totally doable to make a living at this, just like Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson who started out the same way in their own small hometowns before me.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What was THE movie, the one you knew you wanted to be a part of, the one that hooked you and never let go?

Mike Lombardo:
I can't really say there was ONE movie, but Hellraiser, C.H.U.D., Dawn of The Dead (the original of course), Evil Dead, Dead Alive, and Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 were huge ones for me. I would sit around with my fake body parts (I begged my mom to buy them for me from the Halloween store every year and one amazing Christmas morning, opened a box full of dismembered corpse parts) around and reenact scenes from C.H.U.D. in my living room. I saw a behind the scenes special on the movie Death Becomes Her on TV one night and it solidified my desire to be an FX artist.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
How did you break into the business?

Mike Lombardo:
I don't think I can say that I ever “broke into the business”, more just kept doing my own thing and eventually people started noticing it and became fans. I think when it comes to indie film; you just do it yourself and hope to find an audience. 

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What is your philosophy in life that influences your creative work?

Mike Lombardo:
I guess you could say that, over the years, the creative philosophy I’ve developed is that pain is the truest muse. I liken making a film and showing an audience to standing on a stage, tearing your stomach open and letting strangers see your guts. Filmmakers and artists are a strange sort of exhibitionist masochists. My other firm philosophy is that you never fucking stop. It doesn’t matter how miserable it becomes, you tough through it if you believe in the project. Filmmaking is absolute hell and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy, but if you stick it out and emerge on the other side, it’s the most amazing feeling in the world and is totally worth it. By the time you hear the applause of an audience at your premiere; you will have forgotten how awful the experience of making it was and will be planning the next one.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What makes a film great for you?  Are there certain qualities that make a film better for you?

Mike Lombardo:
What I look for in a movie is nothing that I can quantify. I love so many movies for so many random reasons that are seemingly unconnected. I think you can feel when someone really put their heat and soul into a movie so seeing that passion on screen always gets me. Good writing is a must as well. I love practical fx work and humor too so those are always big pluses for me too.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
When you get angry at a movie, what sets you off?  Are there common qualities in cinema today that you dislike?  Is there something you try to subvert or avoid or rebel against in your work?

Mike Lombardo:
Oh boy, that's a dangerous question. I’ll just mention a couple things I cannot stand in current movies: hyperactive jittery camera work ala the Dark Knight and Jason Bourne movies. A fight scene is exciting to me when I can see what the fuck is happening and get a sense of the danger and also the choreography that went into it. Seeing a blur of choppy frame rate punctuated by an occasional grunt and loud smack to clue me in that someone got hit doesn’t do anything for me. Another huge turnoff for me is shitty PG-13 ghost movies tropes. Check out the opening scene of my short film, Long Pig and you’ll see exactly how I feel about that shit. Things crossing the camera from out of frame accompanied by a loud noise is not scary, its lazy fucking filmmaking. You want to scare me? Write a decent story, draw me in with atmosphere, and then show me a disturbing visual to tie it all together. Being unsettling is infinitely more effective than being loud.
            I actively subvert horror tropes all the time in the short films I’ve done, Long Pig in particular. With White Doomsday I wanted to go in an almost anti-cinematic style. Everything is told is real time, with no flashy editing or visuals, just very long takes and a lot of raw emotion. I wanted the movie to feel almost like you were watching a fish aquarium with people in it. There’s no swelling score to tell you how to feel, no bloated climaxes or stylized action scenes. I wanted it to feel as naturalistic as possible.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What films have been the most inspiring or influential to you and why?

Mike Lombardo:
There are hundreds of movies that influenced me in little and huge ways over the years. Aside from the ones I mentioned above, I’ve been ridiculously inspired by David Cronenberg’s films like The Fly, Videodrome, and Dead Ringers. Charlie Kaufman is another amazing filmmaker whose work, like Synechode, New York and Adaptation, struck me so hard I was paranoid that he was living in my skull. Some of my earliest influences were Troma movies from Lloyd Kaufman, they taught me so much about low budget filmmaking that I can’t even describe the enormity of their impact on me. 

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
We get noticed because of our successes - but we create them on the back of our failures.  We learn best from the experiences where it doesn't work.  What failures (of your own) have you been able to learn from?  How did they change you and your process?

Mike Lombardo:
I can't say that I would consider anything I've done a failure, and before I get burned at the stake for being a pretentious douchebag, let me explain. In indie film, you don’t have the luxury of failing. If something goes wrong (which is ALWAYS does), you have to figure out how to make it work on the fly with what you have available to you at the moment. The advice I always give to aspiring filmmakers and FX artists is “Be MacGyver.” Sometimes this means making a boom pole out of a broomstick and duct tape, sometimes it means using your camera guys hands to double the actor’s in a close-up because they had to leave early. Sometimes that means rewriting the end of your movie on set during the shoot because your fx didn’t work the way you wanted. A lot of the time I’ve found that these on the fly changes actually yield a better end result and force you to think in completely different ways than you would normally. It’s one of the reasons I don’t like to storyboard or too heavily follow the script I wrote sometimes. If something cool happens on the fly, roll with it, improv, you never know what you can get. 

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
When do you know a script is ready to shoot, and what is your process in getting it there?

Mike Lombardo:
I just know when it's ready. I brainstorm ideas and write script notes sometimes for years for a single project before I ever sit down to write it, so when I do, it’s usually pretty mapped out in my head. I also change things on set a lot, so I never use a script as a set in stone law, but more of a solid guideline. 

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
I remember watching an episode of Columbo (Murder with Too Many Notes) many years ago where he was investigating a Hollywood film composer for murder.  The character was Findlay Crawford, played by one of my favorite actors, Billy Connolly.  In the show, Findlay takes some time to show Columbo the importance of the background score in movies, and goes so far as to conduct his symphony to play the themes from Jaws and Psycho to show him the effect that the music had on people, and how it would be different if you changed the music to something like a lullaby.
            How important do you think the background score is in engaging the audience?

Mike Lombardo:
The score is super important depending on the type of film you are making and what type of mood you want to achieve, but I find myself preferring minimal score in my own work. I really don’t like wall to wall full on orchestral scores that tell the audience to feel a certain way. I think music can be used to enhance a mood, not instruct it. We use very little actual music in White Doomsday, I wanted long periods of silence with just background ambience to pull the viewer into the world we wanted to create. Music can make sadness into a beautiful thing which in turn makes it easier for an audience to process, but I wanted everything to feel raw and in the moment so we actually did the opposite of what a normal movie would do and cut the score OUT of those types of scenes. It ended up making those moments more devastating and harder hitting in my opinion.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Do you do original work or adaptations?  If adaptations, what's it like adjusting something?  Which book would you love to make a film of one day?

Mike Lombardo:
I do original work mostly, though I have helped adapt a few things. There are some awesome books I would love to adapt and I’m fortunate enough to have a couple of them in the talks right now, but I can’t really say too much about that. 
            One book I would absolutely love to adapt though is The First One You Expect by Adam Cesare. I would film that fucker TOMORROW if we had the resources, but who knows what the future holds?

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Film, perhaps more so than any other popular art form, is the compromise between art and commerce.  How has your art been shaped by both the money you had or not had?  Do you create with your budget limitations in mind?  What do you do to stay under budget?

Mike Lombardo:
I always always always write to budget. You have to when you’re making an indie film. I find oftentimes having to figure out creative workarounds for things because we don’t have any money leads to cooler stuff and it’s definitely the most satisfying part of making a movie for me personally. Everyone who works on the flicks is doing it because they love it and believe in the project, not to make money. Having a cast and crew who are willing to work for cheap/free is the reason we are able to pull off what we did in White Doomsday with so little money. The dream, as we move forward is to be able to raise a large enough budget that everyone can take a month off of their day job so we can just shoot through like a normal movie instead of shooting on weekends for 2 years, haha. 

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What guides your artistic vision?  Are you more concerned with what the audience might want, a need you see in society, or your own personal thoughts?  Do you create in the hopes of finding minds that will understand your work for what it is?

Mike Lombardo:
I use movies to dissect my own head. Even when I’m doing something gross or funny, there’s almost always a much darker undercurrent of self-analysis going on. I made White Doomsday to deal with the feelings of helplessness and depression when my mom was hospitalized for 8 months with kidney failure. I lost my father and several friends in that same stretch of time and it had a huge psychological impact on me and that short story and movie was the result. The next feature length movie I’m writing is about how the compulsion to be creative can hijack your life and destroy your relationships. I’d like to sit here and say that I’m not concerned with potential audience reaction when I’m working on stuff, but that would be a lie. I want to entertain people at the end of the day, and hopefully I’ve accomplished that while still digging into my own skull.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What role has film festivals played in your life so far?  Why are they necessary?  How do you get the most out of them?

Mike Lombardo:
Film festivals have been a HUGE part of my filmmaking career. Being able to sit with an audience and see the reactions in real time is invaluable, as well as incredibly fun. I’ve met and networked with so many other filmmakers and artists at festivals and that has definitely impacted my career and my own films a great deal. For example, we just world premiere White Doomsday at Nightmares Film Festival in Ohio, and it was fucking life changing. The support and the people we met were just incredible.  Festivals can also be tiring and not all of them are worth it, but you have to ask yourself what you are trying to get out of screening at one. Are you trying to sell your movie? Are you trying to build an audience? Do you just want to see it on a big screen? There are festivals for all of things so doing your research and deciding what’s best for your film is super important. 

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
If there is one (or more) thing you think would make the film industry better, what would it be?

Mike Lombardo:
I think the film festival would be better if it stopped obsessing over bloated budgeted super hero movies and 15 entry franchises and started taking chances on smaller indie films. People have been conditioned to not think it’s a “real movie” if it didn’t cost 50 million to make and stars Tom Cruise. There are so many amazing stories being told that people will never give a second glance at because it doesn’t have Marvel or Michael Bay on the poster and that’s very frustrating.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Did you go to film school?  Do you think there is an advantage to school over going it on your own?

Mike Lombardo:
I did not go to film school. There are definitely advantages to it if you can afford it, but with today’s technology and the internet I don’t think it’s necessary. You can learn everything you need to get started making your own film at the bookstore or YouTube. Digital technology has made the gear super accessible and after that it’s just a matter of practicing and honing your craft. School won’t make you a good filmmaker, experience will. Go to Wal-Mart and grab an HD camcorder, write a script, grab your friends and start shooting something. It might turn out like shit, but you’ll learn what and what not to do for the next one. Film school is the same thing, except they’ll charge $50,000 and shove a bunch of film theory down your throat, telling you that there’s a “right way” to make a movie. Filmmaking is art, and there’s no right way to make art. There’s a lot of tech knowledge and there are certain rules that you should learn before you try to break them, but you can learn all of that from watching movies and looking at the behind the scenes on dvds and blu rays. That’s the most important thing to do: watch movies.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What's the funniest faux pas you've seen (i.e. someone sending a script with glitter in the envelope or something)?

Mike Lombardo:
The only major faux pas I’ve seen wasn’t a funny one. There was a guy who will remain nameless who tried to hire me to do FX for his movie. He insisted that we were going to actually hurt the actors to get a more realistic reaction and at one point decided that for a suicide scene he was going to really hang himself for a few seconds to make it look more real. I kindly informed that I would have no part in that insanity and that the point of hiring an FX artist was to make things realistic without harming the actors. I heard later that when he tried to hang himself for the shot he panicked and had them pull him down immediately, and it looked like shit on top of it. The moral of the story is: movies are for pretend. The safety of your cast and crew is more infinitely important than something looking cool.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What advice would you give to someone who wanted to have a life creating film?

Mike Lombardo:
Everything is available to everyone now, break down your script, find a crew and shoot the fucker! No one will care about your movie as much as you do, so why not be the one to make it?

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Where can we find you?

Mike Lombardo:

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Do you have any closing words for your fans or anything you'd like to say that we didn't get to cover in this interview?

Mike Lombardo:
I just want to thank everyone who has helped support this madness, you guys and gals are the reason any of it is possible and I love you all. Also, please support indie film when you can. It can be as simple as sending them a message telling them what you thought about their film, writing a quick review on IMDB or Facebook, buying a dvd from a filmmaker at a convention or even just sharing a post from them on your social media. Every little bit helps and your words of encouragement can make the difference between someone pushing ahead into the uphill battle of making a film or giving up. 


About the author:
Mike Lombardo is a writer/director/FX artist who runs Reel Splatter Productions, a small independent film trouble based in Lancaster, PA. In addition to filmmaking and FX, he occasionally writes short fiction which can be found in several anthologies.  He is a co-host on The Horror Show with Brian Keene podcast and along with artist Chris Enterline, he is the co-creator of Hellraiser-themed web-comic Cenobun.
            He is responsible for judging and hosting the Horror Night section of the Lancaster International Film Festival, served as a judge for the Scares That Care Film Festival, and serves as a member of the jury for the 2017 Splatterpunk Awards.
            He recently completed his first feature length film, I'm Dreaming of a White Doomsday, a post apocalyptic Christmas movie best described as "The Road meets Miracle on 34th Street," and began premiering it on the film festival circuit during the fall of this year.


About the movie:

A mother and her eight year old son struggle to survive in a bomb shelter after an unnamed apocalypse. [IMDB]

The Gal's 2017 Halloween Frivolities Day 47: Among the Stacks with Mike Lombardo Part 1


The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Hi, Mike.  Welcome to The Gal.  I have been SO looking forward to this since you agreed to be on!!  Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Mike Lombardo:
Howdy, my name is Mike Lombardo and I am an indie horror filmmaker/sometimes writer who runs Reel Splatter Productions.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What are five things most people don't know about you?

Mike Lombardo:
One of my favorite movies is Toy Story.

After reading the book, Masters of Doom, which chronicled the creation of Id Software and the game Doom, I managed to track down an ultra-rare video of Bill Gates wearing a trench coat holding a plastic shotgun green screened into Doom advertising it on Windows 95. The video was mentioned in the book, but had never been seen outside of a Halloween event Microsoft held in 1995 and Gates was so embarrassed he ordered the only copy destroyed. After a few months of research, I tracked down the guy who filmed it and he sent me a copy. It went viral and the creator of Doom and the author of the book both emailed me freaking out because they had never even seen it before.  That was the tale of how I contributed to Doom history and it was one of my finest moments. I also co-created an animated parody of the book that the Id Software guys loved called Masters of Doom: The Animated Series.

My favorite band is The Flaming Lips.

I am an honorary Girl Scout. I hosted a Girl Scout troop at my house/fx studio as a Halloween field trip and taught them how to do some home fx and helped them shoot their first short film, The Girlie Massacre, which was a script they had written and brought along. For my involvement I received a Digital Moviemaker merit badge. It is the highest honor I have ever received.

I was almost kicked out of my high school because I wore Evil Dead shirts, played Doom, and made horror movies. Post Columbine schooling sure was fun.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What is the first book you remember reading?

Mike Lombardo:
The first book I remember reading by myself was A Light in The Attic by Shel Silverstein. Those poems taught me how to read.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What are you reading now?

Mike Lombardo:
I am currently trudging my way through It by Stephen King. I’ve owned it for 13 years and decided now was the time to finally finish it.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What's a book you really enjoyed that others wouldn't have expected you to like?

Mike Lombardo:
The Giver by Lois Lowry. I read it in elementary school and it always stuck with me. Re-reading it as an adult I realized just how dark it actually is.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What made you decide you want to write?  When did you begin writing?

Mike Lombardo:
I've always wanted to write. I would fill notebooks with stories inspired by my favorite horror movies and video games when I was a kid. Looking back on it now, I cringe to see a lot of really embarrassing Resident Evil and The Blob (remake) fan fiction.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Do you have a special place you like to write?

Mike Lombardo:
I write story notes/entire segments of stories on guestchecks at my pizza shop day job all the time, but my actual writing always happens in my room at my computer.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Do you have any quirks or processes that you go through when you write?

Mike Lombardo:
I tend to listen to the same song on repeat for hours on end while I’m writing. I’ll pick something, usually movie score or something without lyrics that puts me in the mood of the piece, and let it loop. It becomes background noise after awhile that helps me focus and it also eliminates the distraction of picking a new song.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Is there anything about writing you find most challenging?

Mike Lombardo:
Sitting down and actually doing it. I write prose so infrequently these days. I get so wrapped up in movie stuff and day to day life that I only write when the perfect mood hits me and I have the time. I will endlessly outline and brainstorm story ideas, but it rare I sit down and just write the damn thing.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What's the most satisfying thing you've written so far?

Mike Lombardo:
I'd say the most satisfying thing I’ve ever written was my short story, Playplace. It’s about a McDonald’s employee who gets takes refuge in the plastic tunnels in the play area during the zombie apocalypse. It was the first time I ever really put myself out there and wrote something really personal. It was one of the most popular stories in the anthology it was published in and encouraged me to write more.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What books have most inspired you?  What are some authors that have inspired your writing style?

Mike Lombardo:
I've been inspired by far too many books and authors to name, but off the top of my head one of the biggest is Brian Keene. His mixture of easy to digest pulp story with a dose of personal subtext showed me how that you can use horror to explore your own head. Goosebumps and Scary Stories to Tell in The Dark were huge parts of my life as a kid and inspired me to want to write my own fiction. Another big one for me was Clive Barker’s Books of Blood, they showed me a world and a type of writing I had never seen before and I revisit them often.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What do you think makes a good story?

Mike Lombardo:
I think a good story comes from personal experience. I always like stories that have truth woven between the lines and you can always tell the difference between the author having lived it and the author having researched it. 

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What does it take for you to love a character?  How do you utilize that when creating your characters?

Mike Lombardo:
I tend to gravitate towards funny and sarcastic characters because I relate to them. I tend to write myself into characters pretty heavily and fortunately I’m the funniest person I know, so they are always hilarious and lovable. Seriously, ask anybody, they’ll agree…unless they don’t, in which case I guarantee nothing. 

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Which, of all your characters, do you think is the most like you?

Mike Lombardo:
Like I said, I tend to write myself pretty heavily into the characters, but I’d say Aaron from Playplace and the mom from I’m Dreaming of a White Doomsday are pretty close to real life me.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Are you turned off by a bad cover?

Mike Lombardo:
Bad covers are the bane of the book world. They say you can’t judge a book by its cover, but you also can’t sell one if it looks like shit. Authors, publishers: PLEASE HIRE A REAL ARTIST. Your amateur Photoshop hack job or stock photo of an old house with a blue filter over it is not going to make me want to read your book. You can have the most earth shatteringly beautiful prose I have ever seen and I will never find out because I don’t buy it.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What can we expect from you in the future?

Mike Lombardo:
I plan on getting my ass in gear and writing more short fiction in the coming year. I have a lot of stories outlined, I just need to find the time away from the filmmaking end of things and sit down and write them.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Where can we find you?  (STaLKeR links.)

Mike Lombardo:


About the author:
Mike Lombardo is a writer/director/FX artist who runs Reel Splatter Productions, a small independent film trouble based in Lancaster, PA. In addition to filmmaking and FX, he occasionally writes short fiction which can be found in several anthologies.  He is a co-host on The Horror Show with Brian Keene podcast and along with artist Chris Enterline, he is the co-creator of Hellraiser-themed web-comic Cenobun.
            He is responsible for judging and hosting the Horror Night section of the Lancaster International Film Festival, served as a judge for the Scares That Care Film Festival, and serves as a member of the jury for the 2017 Splatterpunk Awards.
            He recently completed his first feature length film, I'm Dreaming of a White Doomsday, a post apocalyptic Christmas movie best described as "The Road meets Miracle on 34th Street," and began premiering it on the film festival circuit during the fall of this year.

About the movie:
A mother and her eight year old son struggle to survive in a bomb shelter after an unnamed apocalypse. [IMDB]

Thursday, December 7, 2017

The Gal's 2017 Halloween Frivolities Day 46: Saunders' Character Has Spoken


Dan Pallister is a survivalist and prepper.  Much to the annoyance of the people around him, he has been surviving and prepping since childhood.  He just didn't know what for.  When he wakes up one morning to find the world overrun with bloodthirsty zombies, it all becomes clear, and despite the fall of civilisation, he can't wait and get started.  He just needs to stock up on supplies from the local supermarket first.  But is everything what it seems?


The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Hi, Dan.  Welcome to The Gal.  Some of my readers have yet to read your story.  What should they know about you?

Dan Pallister:
I don't take any shit.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What do you believe in?

Dan Pallister:
I believe in myself. In a SHTF (Prepper speak for Shit Hits The Fan) moment, do you think some fabricated God is going to save you? Sorry to break it to you, but religion is just a crutch for the weak. And do you trust your government? If you do, you’re a fool, because all they care about is themselves. Despite what they might say, keeping you safe is pretty far down on their list of priorities. Ordering more ink for the office printers is way, way above your sorry ass. 

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What haunts you?

Dan Pallister:
Apart from the spectre of love? The terrible idea of not being prepared for something.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Do you have any phobias?

Dan Pallister:
Of course not. Whatever your fears are, you have to rise above that shit.  They will only hold you back. Okay, now I think about it, maybe zombies and aliens.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What's the worst thing that has ever happened to you?

Dan Pallister:
I probably shouldn’t have gone to the supermarket that day…

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Are you lying to yourself about anything?

Dan Pallister:
Yes. Sometimes I tell myself that everything is going to be okay.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What was your childhood like?

Dan Pallister:
Looking back, it was kinda solitary I suppose. I didn’t feel that most of the other kids accepted me. Not that I cared. While they were busy playing video games, I was camping in the woods and skinning rabbits. You tell me which of us came out better. Okay, maybe you shouldn’t answer that.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Were your actions the result of freedom of choice or of destiny?

Dan Pallister:
The former. I wasn’t going to stand back and be a victim like everyone else. I thought it was time to make a stand. I thought I was making a stand against zombies. But now I think about it, maybe I was making a stand against something else.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
If you could go back in time and change anything, would you?

Dan Pallister:
Of course I would. Anyone who says otherwise is a liar. We all have regrets. We just have to learn to live with them.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What does your name mean to you?

Dan Pallister:
We all have them, none of us need them.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
With scars, birthmarks, tattoos, or other identifying marks do you have?  What stories lie behind them?

Dan Pallister:
I have a full sleeve tatt on my right arm. I started having the work done when I was barely eighteen. The good (or bad) thing about sleeves is that you can keep adding to them. The principal design is Chinese, and incorporates lots of dragons. In Chinese culture, the dragon is a symbol of power and strength. It’s also said to bring good fortune.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What was unique about the setting of your books and how did it enhance or take away from your story?

Dan Pallister:
The setting of my story is far from unique. It all goes down in a supermarket. The kind you find on any high street in Britain. That, I think, is the beauty of it. It shows how the most mundane situations can go bad in an instant. That, in essence, is why we should always be prepared. 

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
How do you see yourself?

Dan Pallister:
As a survivor.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
How does your enemy see you?

Dan Pallister:
See above.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
How does the author see you?

Dan Pallister:
I think he’s a bit jealous of me, to be honest.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Why do you think the author chose to write about your story?  Do you think they did a good job?

Dan Pallister:
Well, let’s be fair, I was part of a cracking little tale. I may have over-reacted a little at times. You could even argue I may have got one or two things completely wrong. Like I said, I do have regrets, but that’s life. We stand and fall by the decisions we make and hindsight is a wonderful thing. 

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What do you think about the ending?

Dan Pallister:
It was only ever going to end one way, wasn’t it?

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Do you think the author portrayed you accurately?  Would you change anything about the story told? Did they miss anything?

Dan Pallister:
To be honest, I would have liked to have stuck around  a little longer. But I suppose everyone says that when it’s their time to go. I certainly made a splash.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Have you read any of your authors' other works?  Any good?

Dan Pallister:
Yup. I read that one he did recently about the dude moving to China and falling in love with a ghost. Apartment 14F or some shit. I told you, I’m obsessed with all things Chinese.


About the author:
C.M. Saunders is a freelance journalist and editor.  His fiction and non-fiction has appeared in over 60 magazines, zines and anthologies worldwide, including Loaded, Record Collector, Fantastic Horror, Trigger Warning, Gore, Liquid Imagination, and the Literary Hatchet.  His books have been both traditionally and independently published, the most recent being Apartment 14F: An Oriental Ghost Story (Uncut) and Human Waste, both of which are available now on Deviant Dolls Publications.  He is represented by Media Bitch literary agency.


About the book:
Dan Pallister is a survivalist and prepare.  Much to the annoyance of the people around him, he has been surviving and prepping since childhood.  He just didn't know what for.  When he wakes up one morning to find the world overrun with bloodthirsty zombies it all becomes clear, and despite the fall of civilisations, he can't wait to get started.  He just needs to stock up on supplies from the local supermarket first.
            But is everything what it seems?
            An encounter with a fortune teller with a difference proves the catalyst for a new wave of terror and eventually, he is forced into the accepting the realisation that something else was waiting for him on the other side of the world, and perhaps even in the next world.  What's more, his time is quickly running out.


The Gal's 2017 Halloween Frivolities Day 46: Among the Stacks with C.M. Saunders


The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Hi, Christian.  Welcome to The Gal.  It's wonderful to have you here today.  Tell us a little bit about yourself.

C.M. Saunders:
I was born in a small mining village in Wales called New Tredegar. As soon as I was able, I moved to England, then I taught English in China for a few years, then went back to London to work on magazines. I describe my work as dark fiction, rather than horror. As a reviewer pointed out a long time ago, it usually has a thread of sardonic humour running through it, but you sometimes have to look hard for it. 

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What are five things most people don't know about you?

C.M. Saunders:
I am terrified of earwigs, I have a secret appreciation for modern country & western music, I have a weakness for chocolate milk, I believe in the alien astronaut theory, and I always sleep naked.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What is the first book you remember reading?

C.M. Saunders:
Probably the Faraway Tree series by Enid Blyton.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What are you reading now?

C.M. Saunders:
I am trying to cut out the habit, but I usually have multiple books on the go. Currently it’s Renee Miller’s Church, Joe Hill’s The Fireman, and a non-fiction book called Extreme Survivors. 

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What's a book you really enjoyed that others wouldn't expect you to have liked?

C.M. Saunders:
Maybe Gone Girl. I learned more about the mind of a woman from that one book than I did from four failed relationships.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What made you decide you want to write?  When did you begin writing?

C.M. Saunders:
I started when I was a child. I think it was purely a consequence of reading so much. I wanted to create my own worlds and populate them with my own characters, rather than just observe other people’s.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Do you have a special place you like to write?

C.M. Saunders:
Anywhere private. I’m not one of those people who like to write on trains or in cafes.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Do you have any quirks or processes that you go through when you write?

C.M. Saunders:
Probably, but none that I recognize. I use notepads a lot, and when I do I have to use black ink. Does that count?

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Is there anything about writing you find most challenging?

C.M. Saunders:
I usually find the actual writing to be the easy part. I think most people would agree, marketing effectively is a constant struggle.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What's the most satisfying thing you've written so far?

C.M. Saunders:
Probably my novel Sker House, which came out last year . It’s set in a place near where I grew up, and is partly based on fact and local legends. It was a lot of fun to research, and more fun to write. 

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What books have most inspired you?  Who are some authors that have inspired your writing style?

C.M. Saunders:
Stephen King’s On Writing is a ‘must read’ for every aspiring writer. I read a lot of King when I was growing up, so some of his style probably leaked into my own. Saying that, I usually try to write at a fast pace, a la Chuck Palahniuk.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What do you think makes a good story?

C.M. Saunders:
There’s no magic formula, but I think the one thing every story should give the reader is satisfaction.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What does it take for you to love a character?  How do you utilize that when creating your characters?

C.M. Saunders:
I like characters who stand out from the crowd and have a bit of bite about them. They keep it real, but often have a tendency to do the unexpected.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Which, of all your characters, do you think is the most like you?

C.M. Saunders:
Good question. Probably Dale in Sker House, in that he’s a journalist from Wales who’s obsessed with the paranormal. I was aware when I was writing it that there were certain similarities between us.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Are you turned off by a bad cover?  To what degree were you involved in creating your book covers?

C.M. Saunders:
Absolutely. A cheap-looking or badly designed cover does not send out a good message. If a writer hasn’t spent any time or effort on presentation, then they probably haven’t spent much time or effort on the actual contents, either. I’d love to be able to create my own some day, but at the moment I hire artists who know what they’re doing to design them for me.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What have you learned creating your books?

C.M. Saunders:
I’ve learned that anyone can be the master of their own destiny. Us lowly writers aren’t at the beck and call of powerful publishers any more. We can write the stories we want, and have full control of the creative process. Furthermore, we can decide everything else from the cover and price to the marketing strategy. 

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What has been the hardest scene for you to write so far?

C.M. Saunders:
I think the final scene in my latest release, Human Waste. I can’t say too much not to spoil it, but if you’ve read it you’d know why.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What makes your books different from others out there in this genre?

C.M. Saunders:
I always strive to put out a professional product, and give my readers value for money. I’m not saying other writers don’t, but these things are always at the forefront of my mind.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
How important is the book title, how hard is it to choose the best one, and how did you choose yours (of course, with no spoilers)?

C.M. Saunders:
A lot of people fret over their titles. They are important, yes, but I find that somewhere along the line the perfect title always comes along. For me, it usually happens quite early, either as I’m writing the first couple of chapters, or even before I start the book.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What makes you feel more fulfilled: Writing a novel or writing a short story?

C.M. Saunders:
I think most people would say a novel, simply because of the amount of time invested. You can write a short story in a day, but it can take a year or more to write a novel, there are also a lot more components you have to deal with and a lot more things that can go wrong!

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Tell us a little bit about your books, your target audience, and what you would like readers to take away from your stories.

C.M. Saunders:
My fiction has always been on the dark side. I used to use a lot more traditional tropes. Haunted houses, ghosts, serial killers. I used to rely more on atmosphere and a strong plot to carry a book. In the past year or so I’ve been edging toward the more extreme side of the spectrum. It’s a lot of fun. As for the target market, I guess I cater more for the younger, tech-savvy crowd who are looking for a bit of escapism.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Can you tell us about some of the deleted scenes/stuff that got left out of your work?

C.M. Saunders:
One thing about working with publishers is that you often have to make compromises. When my novella Apartment 14F was first released, the publisher wanted me to change a lot, notably the ending. It sold well, but I was never comfortable with it. So five years later, when the publishing rights reverted back to me, the first thing I did was re-write it and put it out as I intended, with the original ending. 

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What can we expect from you in the future?

C.M. Saunders:
Early next year I’ll be putting out X3, my third volume of short fiction. A lot of my work appears in magazines, websites and anthologies, and every so often I collect ten pieces together and put them out as an ebook. I’m also three books into my YA adventure series, which my agent is frantically trying to find a home for.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Where can we find you?  (STaLKeR links.)

C.M. Saunders:
All the usual haunts!  Facebook ** Facebook Fan Group ** Twitter ** Blog ** Amazon Author Page

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Do you have any closing words for your fans or anything you'd like to say that we didn't get to cover in this interview?

C.M. Saunders:
I’d just like to thank my readers for their support. It means a lot! And if anybody out there is thinking of giving me a try, come on, I don’t bite. Unless you ask nicely!


About the author:
C.M. Saunders is a freelance journalist and editor.  His fiction and non-fiction has appeared in over 60 magazines, zines and anthologies worldwide, including Loaded, Record Collector, Fantastic Horror, Trigger Warning, Gore, Liquid Imagination, and the Literary Hatchet.  His books have been both traditionally and independently published, the most recent being Apartment 14F: An Oriental Ghost Story (Uncut) and Human Waste, both of which are available now on Deviant Dolls Publications.  He is represented by Media Bitch literary agency.

About the books:
When Jerry leaves his old life in London behind and travels to Beijing to take up a teaching position, at first he is enchanted by the brave new world he finds waiting for him.  However, things soon take a turn for the worse.  Upon his arrival, he learns of the mysterious disappearance of his predecessor, and after he moves into his new apartment, he is plagued by strange dreams in which he shares the dwelling, and his bed, with a ghostly entity.  Then things start going bump in the night, and Jerry soon finds himself embroiled in the kind of supernatural drama that had previously been unthinkable to him.
            An encounter with a fortune teller with a difference proves the catalyst for a new wave of terror and eventually he is forced into accepting the realisation that something else was waiting for him on the other side of the world, and perhaps even in the next world.  What's more, his time is quickly running out.



Dan Pallister is a survivalist and prepare.  Much to the annoyance of the people around him, he has been surviving and prepping since childhood.  He just didn't know what for.  When he wakes up one morning to find the world overrun with bloodthirsty zombies it all becomes clear, and despite the fall of civilisations, he can't wait to get started.  He just needs to stock up on supplies from the local supermarket first.
            But is everything what it seems?
            An encounter with a fortune teller with a difference proves the catalyst for a new wave of terror and eventually, he is forced into the accepting the realisation that something else was waiting for him on the other side of the world, and perhaps even in the next world.  What's more, his time is quickly running out.



Dale and Lucy are two students with a fascination in the supernatural.  One weekend, they travel to Sker House, South Wales, a private residence with a macabre history which has recently been converted into a seaside inn.  They plan to write an article for their university magazine about a supposed haunting, but when they arrive, they meet a landlord who seems to have a lot to hide.  Soon, it becomes apparent that all is not well at Sker House.  An air of oppression hangs over it, while misery, tragedy and ill-fortune are commonplace.  Gradually, it becomes clear that the true depth of the mystery goes far beyond a mere historical haunting.  This is a place where bad things happen, and evil lurks.
            Little by little Dale and Lucy fall under Sker's dark spell, and as they begin to unravel the mysteries of the past, they realize that nothing stays buried forever.
            Welcome to Sker House, a place where past and present collide.