Take A World And Put Monsters In It: An Interview With Horror Writer G.A. Alexander

That I have any friends at all is something that constantly surprises me, and sometimes when I think I’ve missed an opportunity at friendship, that deeply saddens me.

I met G.A. Alexander briefly on a side-trip to Seattle, a branching-off from a trip to Portland, that I took a few years ago, in order to spend some time with friends. G.A. Alexander was the partner of one of these friends (a human whom you are all very familiar with, poet and writer Sonya Vatomsky, whom I have interviewed previously!) and I maybe said two words to him at the time. I met him again on a trip back to Seattle and was deeply privileged see him and Sonya get married…and again maybe only spoke a handful of words to him. I am very shy and I did my best!

As I know we share similar enthusiams–a love for the horror genre, and what I broadly think of as “goth musics”– I have kinda low-key, stalkery been following his projects with great interest over the last four years or so. As a musician and writer, G.A. Alexander has played in the bands Golden Gardens, The Vera Violets and Push Button Press, and is the writer of Kickstarter comics success Keepsakes, along with short stories published by Eerie River Publishing and Nocturnal Sirens Publishing. His new project, OBSO/LETE, is over on Kickstarter right now, and I am very much looking forward to these dystopian tales of terror.

In the meantime, I thought it might be fun to ask him a few questions about this forthcoming effort, and his inspirations/enduring influences, as well as wrangling some recommendations from him to share with all of you!

See below for our chat on all things horror from the grimy and lo-fi, the the elevated and possibly “too beautiful” and be sure to check out OBSO/LETE on Kickstarter!

Unquiet Things: I’ve written previously about how much I thoroughly enjoyed your first comic, Keepsakes. It had that sort of retro-anthology vibe, with stylized imagery recounting horrific yarns, that took me back to the feeling of reading copies of Eerie and Creepy magazine when I was way too young to understand them. And maybe, too, my more recent memory of watching Tales From The Crypt and wishing I had seen it when I was younger! Your new project, OBSO/LETE, which I understand to be cyberpunk body horror set in a collapsing future, sees a very different direction and vision! Can you tell us what OBSO/LETE is about? What should readers know prior to diving in?

G.A. Alexander: Thanks for noticing that about Keepsakes! A lot of people brought up  the Tales from the Crypt similarities, but I was also a fan of things like Creepy, Eerie, House of Mystery and other horror books that were either active or were enjoying a period of extensive reprinting when I was a kid.

OBSO/LETE is definitely a different beast altogether from Keepsakes. The book is set in an alternate future where technology (especially anything using networking) was severely restricted for the average person by the American government from the 1990s-onward. In the meantime, however, development for things such as medical research and the military have experienced no hindrance at all. Due to the stunted development of technology and the way society developed, the power grids in the large MegaCities that have sprung up have become overburdened to the point of near-collapse, and so different districts have started experiencing rolling blackouts which have come to be known by the population as “Cold Spots”. 

The first issue of the book tells the story of Sandra and Juliette, two bartenders working in District 4, an extremely blue-collar part of a large, un-named MegaCity. As their neighborhood is hit by Cold Spot after Cold Spot, they begin to notice that things may not quite be what they seem: the constant power fluctuations in the city seem to have ignited something buried deep below the city. Things that appear to be neither completely human, nor machine are now lurking in the shadows of the city, waiting for their opportunity to strike.

Could you share where the idea for OBSO/LETE came from, and what inspired you to tell this type of story? And what ‘type’ of story would you say this is?

OBSO/LETE’s main influences came from a few different sources: I noticed a lot of modern cyberpunk media had adopted a sort of “neon palm tree” sort of aesthetic, which eventually became a bit too ubiquitous to be fun for me, and so I really wanted to make something that could be considered “Cyberpunk” under its original idea of “high tech, low life”, but could be dirtier, nastier and grimier. Aside from that, a lot of the inspiration came from the movies Tetsuo The Iron Man and Hardware, the comic books Akira and BLAME! and the box art and aesthetic of 90’s FMV computer games like Under a Killing Moon and Phantasmagoria 2 along with 90’s cable television shows like The Hunger, Max Headroom and Highlander.

The story’s genesis came from mis-remembering a scene from Hellraiser III. After re-watching it and quickly realizing my memory had distorted it into something else entirely, that then turned into the inciting incident in OBSO/LETE (and which you can read on the Kickstarter campaign). From there, pieces started falling into place. The rolling blackout concept was something I had been thinking about for a few years after reading about how certain countries had actually implemented it. 

The premise of technology being hampered for regular people but completely unhindered by any restriction for the military came from living through Y2K while also working in an office park directly next door to a military contractor. 

I’ve got a fair amount of techo-skepticism in me and some very distinct worries about the growing alienation we’re experiencing due to social media and other technological things that past few decades have inserted into our lives, but I’m also very well-aware of how these things have absolutely improved certain peoples’ lives and how much of a net-benefit they can be. I wanted to tell a story that explored what the world would (possibly?) be like without some of these things. I didn’t want to come into that story with a pre-conceived black-or-white “Technology Bad/Technology Good” perspective at all, but I really wanted to think about and depict how I believe human interaction and the world may develop without mass-media communication as we currently know it.

Also, I wanted to take that world and put monsters in it.

You’ve got some stories on the popular horror r/nosleep subreddit and you’re a musician/songwriter(?) as well. As a writer of all sorts of interesting things, I’m curious as to who you consider your biggest writing influences? 

I’ve come to writing very late in life, having done most of my creative work as a musician and songwriter. I’m very influenced by who I grew up reading, including people like Billy Martin (who wrote under the name Poppy Z. Brite), Clive Barker, Stephen King, Brad Meltzer, William Gibson, Caitlin Kiernan, Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison and many others.

The writers who really “clicked” for me as an adult, and who kinda pushed me into a mode where I not only felt “I can do this” but also “I need to do this because they’re so good and I have to catch up!” are Thomas Ligotti, Nicole Cushing, Kathe Koja and Matthew M. Bartlett. I would recommend anyone with a taste for left-of-center horror with a VERY distinct sense of setting (which is a thing I find really appeals to me) check out any and all of those authors.

And in terms of horror cinema, if you had to narrow a list down to two or three films that shaped your view/appreciation of the genre, or that you recall as particularly profound, what would they be? (and why, if you’re feeling expansive!) Is there anything going on with horror right now that you find inspiring?

A lot of the horror movies over the last two or three years that have been connecting with me have been somewhat low-budget affairs. On the micro-budget end, Nigel Bach’s Bad Ben series has been an absolute delight to watch, as you get to see a filmmaker find his voice and his “style” as he goes. I really enjoyed Brandon Cronenberg’s Possessor, as well, which utilized a ton of practical makeup effects, which I REALLY enjoy.

Historically speaking, my favorite horror movies would have to be Hellraiser, Halloween and The Thing. These are obviously fairly pedestrian takes, but I struggle to think of stronger and scarier works. I’m a big fan of Takashi Shimizu’s Ju-On The Grudge, as well, and I think it’s an unfairly overlooked classic.

I feel a lot of modern horror can be sabotaged by how modern technology had granted us access to beautiful cinematography. The modern “elevated horror” subgenre has put out SO many great movies, but most of them have failed to connect with me and on reflection, I think it’s because so many of them are TOO beautiful to look at. Having been raised in the VHS era, I think there’s something with film grain and tracking static that my brain associates with “scary”.

You and your wife and cat just made an international move during a pandemic! Well done! I know that was challenging to say the least, and that whole process almost seems like a horror story in and of itself. I’m always interested in how one’s geography shapes one’s fears and inspirations in that vein. Can you speak to how aspects of place and environment, and perhaps even culture, find their way into your writing?  

That’s an interesting question, and one that I think I’m just starting to grapple with. Having grown up and spent most of my life in the USA, how does or should my writing change now that I’m, for all intents and purposes, a British Writer? 

A lot of my previous stories are set in and around North East Pennsylvania, which I only spent a couple of years living, in my 20s, but left a very specific impression on me. How long can I go on writing about America, while not living there, and have my stories feel grounded in reality? How long should I immerse myself in the UK’s culture and places and idiosyncrasies before I can safely write a British Horror story? It’s odd because on one hand, I have these very specific experiences and memories and on the other hand, I worry about how long those will feel “Valid”.

For example, in Keepsakes, there’s a short story “An Open Letter to Blue American Petroleum”. That’s directly inspired by actual experiences I had moving cross-country in the United States, filling up at little gas stations in little towns off the highway. I don’t think the same sort of experiences happen here.

While that’s the case, every place has its own strange culture and unique features. The city I live in now has an extensive canal system and you have the ability to travel from neighborhood to neighborhood through tunnels underneath bridges and by the side of long stretches of water. I can see this, and many other features of where I now live sneaking into my work soon.

Keepsakes felt very North Eastern USA to me. Keepsakes 2 (which will be a standalone story, tangentially connected to the original collection) will be Pacific Northwestern. OBSO/LETE’s setting feels Chicago to me, while its characters feel very St. Petersburg, Florida. I always seem to want to write about places after I leave them more than when I’m there.

I’m extremely fascinated by the personal routines of creators. Do you have a particular process you use when entering into your work? What gets you in the mood to write? Any rituals or practices? 

I wish I had a better or more structured routine. A lot of my process feels like “stealing time” from other things. I recently bought a couple of notebooks and a fountain pen to try and make my writing process feel a little less tethered to a keyboard, but I’ve found that the notebook is its own tether.

Some of my favorite work has been typed into my phone at 11:30pm at night while laying in bed, dealing with insomnia. 

I only just realized that you stream on Twitch! Horror games, is that right? I am not very good at these things, but I recently just tried my hand at World of Horror, an H.P. Lovecraft/Junji Ito-inspired RPG horror game set in a quiet Japanese town filled with eldritch beings, wild-eyed cultists, and impossibly twisted human forms. I died a lot! Have you played anything lately that you really enjoyed and that you might recommend?

I tried out World of Horror on-stream a few months back! 

I died a lot too. I think my issue is that I have exactly zero history with RPGs. My game of choice was always point-and-click adventure games.

The Twitch stream, Welcome to Frankenstein House, came as a result of wanting to fill time when the pandemic hit. Initially the idea was to do comic book reviews but that quickly evolved into abandoning the review format about 10 minutes into each stream and them proceeding to goof around about whatever we wanted (usually complaints about the Stuart Townsend depiction of Lestat in the Queen of the Damned movie, or how Alfred from Batman is in fact an interdimensional sex god) for 2-3 hours every week. 

After that, we started adding in horror gaming streams, which then took over the whole thing. We’ve been on pause for a couple of months due to the movie and the time difference but we’re planning on restarting soon and we’re probably going to be switching to more of a variety show format.

The games I’ve really enjoyed playing lately are:

Detention: Scary point-and-click adventure game set in a haunted school during the White Terror in Taiwan

Love, Sam: I dubbed this a “Reading Simulator” on the stream as a joke, but it was REALLY scary. You play an unidentified character, reading a school friend’s diary in their tiny apartment. As you read, things in the apartment being to move and change. Doors appear, taking you to different places. You realize that the diary may have opened the door for something to haunt you.

Stories Untold: Sort of a puzzle/adventure game. It’s 4 different games that each tell a story in different ways. The first game, The House Abandon, is a retro text adventure and each of the others keep the sme spirit if not the same mechanics. It has a great early 80’s style aesthetic to it.

The Glass Staircase: Made by Puppet Combo, one of the more interesting “auteur” game creators out there right now. This is effectively a take on the Resident Evil or Clocktower style survival horror gameplay, but in an Italo-horror environment. It’s really cool, but really difficult.

Speaking of recommendations! I am normally constantly on the hunt for, and learning about new music–although in 2020 my interest in this has regrettably waned quite a bit. I have to imagine that as a musian you’re constantly finding and listening to new things! I’d love to know your favorites from 2020.

The most recent I Like Trains album Kompromat was fantastic, a really great return for a band I was half-sure was done. It’s odd post-punk, extremely politically outspoken, dark and upsetting.

Ghostpoet’s I Grow Tired But Dare Not Fall Asleep is an amazing album as well. It’s an extremely sad, dark and introspective album.

A lot of my 2020 has been spent discovering things I missed from previous years too.

Vore Aurora’s Eidolon from 2018 is a beautiful, atmospheric dark synthpop album.

Carpenter Brut’s Leather Teeth is a great retro-synth dance album.

Creux Lies’s The Hearth is absolute The Cure-worship, but the songwriting and performances are so on-point.

This question is a bit silly, but I hope you’ll indulge me! Your wife Sonya sometimes shares your thoughts on the perfumes that they’re sampling, and I know I’m not the only one who loves to read about them! Unquiet Things readers are fragrance fiends as well, and I think I speak for all of us when I say that I’d love to know what perfume of theirs you’ve smelled recently…that you might base a horror story around! Tell us everything about this aromatic atrocity, please!

Oh god. So, the problem with writing a horror story about Perfume is you don’t want it to be derivative of the Patrick Suskind book!

So for anyone unfamiliar with Sonya’s “My Husband Smells” posts, Sonya collects all these samples from various boutique perfume companies and has me smell them and say what I feel they smell link.

The gimmick is that I have no idea what I’m talking about. I have no frame of reference for what traditional perfumes or colognes are “supposed” to smell like. This is only compounded due to the fact that I have bad sinuses which affect my sense of smell.

Ultimately, you’ll end up with a $400 bottle of expensive perfume and a review from me that just says “Smells like Dracula makeup?” because some chemical in it smelled sort of like Halloween makeup I put on as a kid and it triggered a sense memory.

The Story:

My perfume horror story would be based around us receiving a number of samples from some company that Sonya couldn’t remember ordering from, and that doesn’t have a website. 

Rather than triggering sense memories, the perfumes would cause us to relive entire moments in our lives. As we went down the series of samples, the memories would get more and more recent, and we would find ourselves unable to stop sniffing each of the samples.

The story would end with us testing the last of the samples, in a jet black, unlabeled nebulizer. As we each breathed it in, we would feel the air disappear from our lungs, the lights disappear and the walls close around us – we wouldn’t be in a memory from the past, we would be trapped  in a memory of something that hasn’t happened yet. 

We would be “remembering” being dead and being interred in a grave, unable to breathe or speak or escape.

The End.

Back to OBSO/LETE as we wrap up! Is there anything else you want to share about this project or what we can expect? I’m really looking forward to it!

We have about 7 days left on the campaign and we’ve just debuted our second of two t-shirt designs.

It’s really been a labor of love, and I’ve gotten the opportunity to make some new friends in the industry, Justin M. Ryan (penciller and inker) is also an accomplished writer on his own and has a fantastic graphic novel he put out a while back called Tresspasser. Todd Rayner (colorist) has an awesome comic book he does called Icepick.

In addition to OBSO/LETE, I also have a scifi-horror story called “Flickering” which just came out in an anthology from Eerie River Press called “It Calls From The Sky”.

You can pick up my first comic, Keepsakes, on Comixology, Seernova and TromaNOW!

You can also read a short comic I put up for free on my website: “Welcome Home.

Find G.A. Alexander: Website // Instagram // Twitter

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