There are plenty of horror novels out there, but if you want to read something truly strange, concerned with myths and magic, exploring language, tradition, and those spaces in between realities, you’ll want to pick up DOORWAYS TO THE DEADEYE by Eric J. Guignard.
This epic tale revolves around Luke Thacker, an everyman thrust into a life-changing experience. Guignard describes him as a relatable, likable, and honest young man who was orphaned as a pre-teen and had to make his own way during the hardships of the 1930s-era Depression.
“He embraces the life of a hobo, tries to do the right thing, and ultimately discovers that he’s granted a bit of knowledge and access to the world of memories by a benefactor who’s been grooming him,” Guignard says. “Luke does not see himself as a hero at all, nor would he want such a title, until he realizes that’s the only way to make his own memory stronger, which leads him to be able to fight injustice as well as nefarious enemies.”
Luke’s life changes forever when he enters Athanasia, another name for the realm of the Deadeye, which is the state of collective memory amongst the living. In the book, memories are tantamount to ghosts; they’re all around us, unseen, unless they “take” our attention, which then causes us to remember them, and by that action, make the memory stronger.
“The idea,” Guignard says, “is that once someone dies, they become part of the collective memory of the living. Memories reappear where they were thought of strongest, and they act as they were recalled, whether the memories are factual or changed through mythology or legend. For example, Harriet Tubman helps people escape troubles. The Earp Brothers act as vigilantes according to their own sense of justice. Lizzie Borden is an emotionally-unhinged spinster with an ax. Pocahontas, on the other hand, tries to change her legend from a love-struck doe to an indomitable warrior.”
Individuals who are remembered strongest are the ones to persevere, while most normal people disappear after a short period. People, animals, even objects that can’t support their memory are eaten by an amoeba-like pox, and the world continues as if they were never there. Most of the surviving memory-people in this story are actual figures from American history who we still remember. In the book, these characters have fought to not be forgotten, whether by trickery, violence, or daring.
Guignard is a well-known writer of dark and speculative fiction with two Bram Stoker Awards to his credit. He’s involved in a lot of horror works, but he finds it hard to call himself a horror writer.
“I love monsters and explorations of fear,” Guignard says, “but I also love literary accouterments and beautiful storylines. I usually consider my work to be dark fiction which encompasses dark fantasy, speculative fiction, and ‘weird,’ but often while upholding ideals of love and hope. I think it’s always important to add mystery and thrills and adventure into stories, so it becomes a melting pot of worlds and styles.”
Guignard does acknowledge that everything he writes has elements of horror in it, but feels that that’s true for every literary work. There are always personal or psychological fears or troubling events, natural life horrors that propel a character forward.
“Generally, I think that if a reader goes into a bookstore with the purpose to purchase a horror book, then they’re expecting tentacled creatures and violence and scary things to occur,” he says. “I enjoy writing stories that touch upon those things, but my tastes have always leaned more toward quieter introspective works, stories that I think would belong more in The Twilight Zone.”
DOORWAYS TO THE DEADEYE may not have tentacled monsters, but that doesn’t mean it’s devoid of scary villains. In fact there are two primary antagonists. The first is a bogeyman-like railroad guard named Smith McCain whose legend grows as he dispenses horrific discipline on hobos trying to hitch free rides on trains. The other was a bit of a surprise.
“The second villain is American forefather Benjamin Franklin, who finds a way to enslave memories in order to increase his own notoriety and idolatry among the present-day living,” Guignard says. “The core conflict revolves around the idea that a person may be kept alive in memories, but how they are remembered can be changed; once they’re forgotten, however, they’re gone for good.”
People in Athanasia will do anything to keep their memories alive, and Luke Thacker travels the nation trying to preserve the legends of two loved ones who were murdered by Smith McCain.
As you might guess, a period piece with deep historical roots like DOORWAYS TO THE DEADEYE called for a great deal of research. That started with lots and lots of reading.
“I obtained a number of memoirs and first-hand accounts of hobos during the 1930s,” Guignard says. “And read about the struggles they faced finding food, work, and general purpose in their lives. It was endlessly fascinating, and completely heartbreaking. Most everything in my novel relating to hobos is based on factual experiences. Particularly I drew upon their encounters with the railroad bulls who would guard the trains against hobos who tried to hitch free rides, by beating, robbing, or even murdering them. Also I studied the Hobo Code, which was an actual hieroglyphic language developed by hobos to communicate with each other.”
These background details help to make this book highly entertaining, but there is also quite a bit that this author wants readers to take away from the novel—he hopes they find that dark and fantastic genre elements can mix with literary sensibilities.
“I would love for readers to find a bit of magic or hope from my book, find excitement, find pleasure,” he says. “Mostly, I just hope DOORWAYS TO THE DEADEYE is read and that by its last page, the reader isn’t dissatisfied. Beyond that, I didn’t have any loftier goals, except, perhaps, to remind people to make the most of their lives in positive ways.”
Lofty goals, indeed, but all this and more can be found in the pages of DOORWAYS TO THE DEADEYE.
Eric J. Guignard is a writer and editor of dark and speculative fiction, operating from the shadowy outskirts of Los Angeles. He’s twice won the Bram Stoker Award (the highest literary award of horror fiction), been a finalist for the International Thriller Writers Award, and is a multi-nominee of the Pushcart Prize.
He has over 100 stories and non-fiction credits appearing in publications around the world and has edited multiple anthologies, including his most recent, Pop the Clutch: Thrilling Tales of Rockabilly, Monsters, and Hot Rod Horror; and A World of Horror, a showcase of international horror short fiction. Through his own press, Dark Moon Books, he currently publishes the acclaimed series of author primers created to champion modern masters of the dark and macabre, Exploring Dark Short Fiction, and through SourceBooks he curates the new series, The Horror Writers Association Presents: Haunted Library of Horror Classics with co-editor Leslie S. Klinger. Also out now is his story collection, That Which Grows Wild (Cemetery Dance).
For more, visit Eric on his website and on Twitter: @ericjguignard.