By Derek Gunn
Elderwood Manor is a beautifully presented limited edition hardcover from DarkFuse, luckily also available in Kindle. It is a well-crafted novella that instantly transported me to the titled Manor as darkness began to spread its eerie fingers across the land. The fact that it is a novella allows the authors to plunge us straight into the action as they build the atmosphere from the first page.
There is no wasted backstory, merely the story itself. The characters are instantly believable and the atmosphere dripped from the pages. It put me in mind of the classic stories from Robert E. Howard where the writing was always of the highest quality and the story was thrust forward to grab you by the throat and squeezed tighter until you finally finished the story. It also suggests a nod towards Lovecraft and his unique ability to instil fear in the reader. I mention these comparisons merely to give a sense of what Christopher and Angeline have achieved in this story. In my opinion Howard and Lovecraft managed what few authors do today, they actually scared us. Elderwood Manor also manages to do this.
There is no relenting in pace, no added paragraphs to flesh out the story. This story is pure class from the beginning to end and well worth the small charge on Kindle. It would be even better if you can afford the hardcover as the cover illustration is gorgeous. I kept feeling that this was what James Herbert’s The Secret of Crickley Hall should have been.
As it is a novella I will not give too much away. It is better to let the story whisk you away. However, in brief, Bruce Davenport and his four-year-old son Cody are called to his ancestral home, secluded deep within Ozark forests. Life has not been good to Bruce and he uses the last of his funds to visit his dying mother.
There are strange stories surrounding Elderwood Manor, stories of vengeance and blood, horror and dark secrets. As night closes in it is doubtful they will see the dawn.
Christopher and Angeline were kind enough to answer a few questions to provide a deeper insight into their work.
Can you give us an understanding of how your writing process works? Do you have a ritual, do you plan out every detail or do you see where the story leads?
Every story we write together starts as a discussion. One of us will have an idea, we’ll discuss it and explore the possibilities. Sometimes that discussion ends up as a loose outline, other times it results in nothing more than the feeling that there’s enough to carry a compelling story and spawns the inspiration to sit down and get started. Even in cases where we have a loose outline, the stories tend to stray into the places they’re meant to go, even if that’s off the predetermined course. In the end, you have to follow where the story leads.
Does the fact that there are two of you make writing quicker or slower?
Our process of putting words to paper varies with each work; in some cases one of us will write the first scene, send it to the other, who edits the first scene, adds a scene and sends it back. Rinse and repeat. In other cases, one of us will write a first draft of the entire story, and the other will come behind with suggestions, edits, and polishing. How quickly this goes depends on the story and how it takes shape.
When you disagree – who wins?
We’re married, so Angeline is always right, of course.
What are your thoughts on e-books? Do they help or hinder the modern author?
Hmm. Well, overall, I think they have helped the modern author. But I also think there is a lot of “ebook noise” in the marketplace right now with so many people self-publishing. Don’t get me wrong, self-publishing can be done well, but the ebook revolution exponentially increased the number of titles available to the reader, so there’s a flood of choices which can be difficult to navigate. I feel like, at this point, people have become bargain hunters and digital hoarders. I do this myself. The great thing I see in the ebook marketplace is the availability of books long out of print, and the ability to buy and read stories that were previously available only in high priced limited editions. So, yeah, I think ebooks have been a good thing overall.
The story reminded me of Robert E Howard, one of my favorite authors, with the attention to detail and scenes soaked in atmosphere that were his trademark. Who would you consider your main inspirations for the genre?
We’ll take that comparison as high praise, as we’re both huge fans of Robert E. Howard, and pulp fiction in general. That aside, if the similarity in style is there, it was completely unintentional. In spirit, I suppose the story is kin to “Pigeons from Hell” or “The Hoofed Thing,” maybe even Lovecraft’s “The Unnamable.” As far as main inspirations in the genre, I assume you mean thrillers or horror, in which case the list is huge. I can narrow it down by saying that some of the inspirations for ELDERWOOD MANOR include the work of Michael McDowell, Jack Cady, and Shirley Jackson.
If you were given one paragraph to convince people to buy your novel what would it say?
Well, I guess that would be the description on the back of the book! Otherwise, I would just add that we hope this book appeals to folks looking for a chilling ghost story that brings something new to the table. It was a heartfelt book, in that our youngest son was about the same age as Cody while it was written, and my past has certainly taken me through some low places, so it was easy to live in the main character’s head. When writing, it was hard to stop, because the compulsion to keep that child safe was so deeply ingrained—I almost couldn’t bear to leave the boy in that manor for too long! Honestly, there were some sections of writing in ELDERWOOD MANOR that set me ill at ease, and that doesn’t always happen. This story was written with the sole intent of giving readers a compelling, spooky read on a cold winter’s night. So far, the reviews imply it came out okay.
In between research and writing do you have any time to read? Who do you enjoy most?
Yes, we’re constantly reading. Angeline is more a fan of English classics and non-fiction, whereas I am a contemporary fiction junkie, which gives us a nice balance, I think. She can usually be found reading non-fiction as research for writing projects. As she writes primarily historical horror and loosely earth-based fantasy, historical accuracy in her writing is important to her. Surprisingly (to some), her fiction tastes tend to lean toward writers typically considered non-horror/fantasy: Dickens, Shakespeare, Hardy, Hawthorne. She relishes more adventurous writers like Howard and Stevenson as well. I think she was very much shaped by her upbringing and university studies. For the most part, her favorites wrote prior to or into the 1930s.
My personal reading list, once again, is long and varied. I enjoy stories across many genres: horror, fantasy, westerns, crime. It’s hard to pick out a favorite. Some of the guys from yesteryear for me include Hugh B. Cave, Raymond Chandler, Charles Willeford, Jim Thompson, Ross Macdonald, Richard Matheson, Ray Bradbury, William Goldman, Raymond Carver. Some of my favorites still in the game include Stephen King, Harlan Ellison, Dennis Lehane, James Hynes, Michael Koryta, Joe Lansdale, Robert McCammon, Stephen Hunter, James Ellroy, and I’m waiting with anticipation for the next book from Donald Ray Pollock. I could go on…
I have a novella called THE MIDNIGHT ORDER scheduled to appear from DarkFuse in May 2015. Angeline and I have a full length novel, NIGHT WRAITH, scheduled to be released by indie UK publisher SST Publications in limited hardcover, trade paperback, and ebook editions in late 2015. We’ve got a lot of things in the works, but being parents to four kids is our top priority. We still manage to get work done, somehow. I’d invite anyone interested in following us to check out our website.
Thanks very much for the interview, and I hope folks are interested enough to check out ELDERWOOD MANOR!
The Kindle version is out now and well worth the money and the time to read it. Settle in for the night, turn the lights down and prepared to be scared.
ELDERWOOD MANOR, now available from DarkFuse, is the seventh book by the collaborative writing team of Christopher Fulbright and Bram Stoker Award-finalist Angeline Hawkes. They live in north Texas with their four children — five if you count one spoiled cat. Their new novel, NIGHT WRAITH, is slated to appear in late 2015.
They welcome communication via Twitter @FulbrightHawkes or through their website.