After a brief August hiatus, we’re baaaaaaaack! Did you think we forgot? Impossible. (But summertime was calling, and we simply had to answer.)
Cue the trumpets! This one was worth the wait - our author interview series continues today with Alexander (A.L.) King.
The horror, mystery, and suspense author provides a perfect segue to Fall…and on Friday the 13th no less. Mr. King is a force. We promise that after you read his answers to our ten questions you’ll find yourself reinvigorated to look at your own writing (and writing goals) in a whole new light. We certainly did!
As an added bonus for our readers, Mr. King has dished up a lovely plate of “Scraps” - a captivating tale that is sure to give you…paws. ;) You’ll find it at the end of this interview.
The Celestial Thread: When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
A.L. King: According to my parents, I came to them and told them that I wanted to be a writer when I was four years old. My dad quotes me as saying, “I want to be the world’s greatest horror writer.” They were immediately supportive of my creative ambitions, as was everyone else I told over the years, including friends and teachers.
It wasn’t until I got older that I started to wonder what made me choose this path before I could even read. I’m pretty sure it was a TV special about Stephen King. Watching it is one of my earliest memories. I recall seeing covers of his books onscreen, and footage of him signing them for people. The narrator of the show was talking about how scary his novels were, but everyone they interviewed seemed so happy about his work. Maybe I fell in love with that contradiction.
Most importantly, his writing translated into something respectable, noble even. I’m not sure how something like that caught my attention at such a young age, but it did. I think the same day I saw that special on television was likely the day I announced my dream to be a writer.
TCT: What do you see as the greatest influences on your writing?
ALK: As noted, Stephen King—or more accurately, the idea of him—got me interested in the art of the macabre. But I had to work my way up to reading his work.
It was frustrating, knowing I wanted to write but not being able to read just yet. My brother and sister had copies of the Alvin Schwartz series Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. I begged and bothered anyone who could read to recite them to me. I would also flip through the books constantly, attracted to the grisly illustrations by Stephen Gammell.
The first chapter book I read for myself was a Goosebumps book. I still get goosebumps (you see what I did there?) when I think about the moment everything clicked. I was in the first grade, in the back of my parents’ car, travelling somewhere with a book open, frustratedly trying to make sense of it. Then suddenly—words turned into sentences, the sentences into paragraphs, and the paragraphs into pages. From that point on, I dedicated myself to reading. Many kids couldn’t wait until the school year ended so they didn’t have to read. For me, I proudly counted the number of books I could finish during summer breaks.
I abbreviated my name from Alexander Lloyd King to A.L. King so it wasn’t such a stretch for book covers, but I’m glad I did it. Somewhat of a pen name, it is true to who I am while serving as an homage to R.L. Stine and Stephen King, two of my earliest influences.
Edgar Allan Poe caught my attention in middle school, and Chuck Palahniuk in high school. More recently, I have been exploring the horror manga of Junji Ito. His ability to take a simple or absurd premise and grant it a surprising and often beautiful depth is something I admire. That inspiration has been an awakening of sorts. No matter how strange an idea, I’m not afraid to explore it. I’ve found that it’s necessary for me to go back and forth between the serious and absurd. That balance is life, whether we like it or not.
TCT: If you could be a character from a book for a day, who would it be and why?
ALK: Christian Grey.
Just kidding. I’ve never read the 50 Shades series, and I don’t plan on doing so soon, but I’m not going to mock the author or those who enjoy the books. They got people reading, and that’s what matters!
To answer this question seriously, I had to look at my bookshelf. Darkly Dreaming Dexter immediately stood out to me. For those who have not read the book, the smash hit Showtime series that ran for eight seasons is based on the title character, Dexter Morgan. Yes, I realize that he is a serial killer who preys on killers, but just hear me out!
As an avid fan of horror and most all things macabre, I often feel as he does, like an outsider. Gleaning some insight into the mind of Dexter Morgan might teach me a thing or two about compartmentalizing the more extreme aspects of my interests. Also, ideas are constantly bouncing around in my head like particles in an electron cloud. Maybe understanding the focus and attention to detail he possesses would allow me to get even more done with my writing.
At the very least, being Dexter for a day might be a cathartic experience...
TCT: What do you think makes a good story?
It may seem a contradiction that logic and creativity play such a large part in the writing process, especially when exploring the supernatural, but the two things complement each other like yin and yang. Fiction is a fabrication, but every work of fiction exists within its own world. For that world to feel real enough to hit the reader with the emotional or intellectual effect you intend, there must be boundaries. Or rules. Sometimes those confines are spelled out solely in the work, but they should often share a stage with reality.
It may be obsessive, but I’m constantly putting details of my story through a test. I call it the police test. Most of us do this, especially when we’re watching bad suspense movies. We ask ourselves why a character didn’t simply call up the police and instead subjected themselves and maybe countless others to further hell. When the answer is, “Because it’s a movie,” or “Because it was good for the plot,” then it fails the police test. It’s lazy writing. Usually about that time the audience is jarred and recalls that they are absorbing fiction, or they stop caring for the characters.
There are of course several self-aware films that used these writing tropes to their creative advantage. While Scream was groundbreaking, The Cabin in the Woods is my favorite example. For those who haven’t seen it, I won’t spoil the film. But I will say as a fan of supernatural slashers (no matter how illogical they are) that the explanation it delivers for the repetitive nature of such movies is nothing less than genius.
Good writing is like being that annoying kid who keeps asking, “Why?” If writers leave no stone unturned, then something magical happens. That’s why I’m not a fan of gaudy symbolism, but that’s a subject for another time.
TCT: You write a lot of horror, what (if anything) scares you?
ALK: When it comes to ghosts, zombies, vampires, etc., what truly scares me is the thought that those things don’t exist. At least that’s how I feel, and I think many people secretly feel the same. Life can box us in, and we’d like for something—even something of supernatural ilk—to come along and shatter those boring perimeters. When we’re young, we fear the things underneath our beds. As we get older, I think we’re more afraid that nothing’s there.
Or maybe I’m just a weirdo.
TCT: If you had to choose, what author (living or not-so-living) would you consider a mentor?
ALK: I touched on Stephen King and my other mentors, primarily from the horror genre. While they are still influential to me, I am at somewhat of a rebellious phase in my writing. I’m trying new things. I’m consistent in that I’m always thinking about something creative, but I’m also letting my inspirations lead me any way the wind blows. Chances need to be taken at this point.
That revelation has been incredibly important and allowed me to pursue my dreams unlike any time before. In the past, I was always so concerned with the notion of leaving behind this perfect body of work, being remembered and revered long after I’m gone—seeming almost as supernatural as the things I write about.
Then it hit me. I’m never going to get to a point where I can write full time or explore my more profound ideas if I don’t start getting published. I have to start paving my own way, wherever it eventually leads. If I’m lucky, some of my works will be studied in literature classes. If I’m even luckier, the one about the guy who has a heart attack on the crapper (The Golden Hour, published in the anthology The Toilet Zone by Hellbound Books this year), or the story about a mysterious force that shows up while women are babysitting and kills the kids by literally sitting on them (The Baby Sitter, still waiting to hear back on it), will still be recalled fondly for their entertainment value.
Only time will tell if I reach that point, but seeing that I’ve had upward of ten stories accepted by various publishers during the sixth months I’ve been pushing my writing, I’d say I have a great start.
TCT: You wrote a very sweet children’s book, Leif’s First Fall. Where did the inspiration for the story come from?
ALK: I’ll be utterly honest. At the time I developed the concept, I had a fear of hair loss. I was driving along one day, looking at the fall leaves, and I started wondering what a young tree might think were it sentient enough to understand that it was essentially balding. I considered all the comical things it might do to hide its thinning top.
With that seed of an idea in mind (yeah, I know I’m one for bad puns), I contacted Jeremy Gordon, a talented artist friend from college. He was immediately onboard with the idea. The next step was drafting a poem and sending it to him. He based the illustrations on the poem, we shopped it back and forth on Facebook, and then I self-published it.
Although I’m inclined to write darker genres, I will say that it makes me incredibly happy when friends, family, and locals who have purchased the book describe how much their kids enjoy it. That means as much to me as the positive feedback on any other work, if not more because it’s so different from my norm. I think any time you have the chance to reach young people creatively, as children’s books like Rainbow Fish (gifted to me by my Aunt Terri) and The Berenstain Bears (discovered at school) did for me, you’ve done something amazing. You’ve gotten them interested in reading, maybe even the arts.
Leif’s First Fall also includes a great moral message that we all go through changes. That’s the universal thing that bonds us. I think I needed to work through that at the time. Although I still have a decent head of hair (or so I think), writing that story helped me exorcise those fears of balding.
As REO Speedwagon said, “roll with the changes.”
TCT: What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
ALK: I read, watch horror films almost religiously, and enjoy spending time with friends and family. I moved next door to my parents, so in the evenings I like to visit and drink a few beers with them. That’s what I’m doing as I type this.
My dog Buddy makes sure I walk him every night, and he never fails to keep me lively while I’m writing. Sometimes walking him—or just stepping away to make sure he’s not getting into stuff—allows me the space I need to work my stories around the previously mentioned police test.
For an income, I work at my parents’ furniture store. Although my goal is to be writing full time within the next few years, I enjoy the job and believe that the physical labor involved allows my mind a much-needed rest before it’s time to hit the creative grindstone again.
I’m also on city council and a few local boards, so my writing keeps me busy on top of everything else, especially since I’ve started putting in so many hours.
TCT: Does music play a role in your writing? What’s your favorite artist/album?
ALK: Music absolutely plays a role. I have trouble reading when music with lyrics is playing. But when I’m writing, I love listening to music with lyrics. I guess it just depends on the flow. There’s a difference. Like input and output.
I listen to atmospheric stuff, jazz, chill-out mixes, occasionally hip-hop, classic rock, psychedelic rock, screamo, and sometimes folksy sounding stuff like The Devil Makes Three or The Dead South. I also recently discovered the unique trio known as Red Hearse, which includes Jack Antonoff of Fun.
As for my favorite band to listen to when I’m writing something dark, I would have to say Brand New. Their 2017 album Science Fiction is my favorite album. Lyrically and instrumentally, it really gets me in the zone.
I love music while writing, but there’s nothing like the feeling when you are so into your work that you aren’t sure how long ago it stopped playing.
TCT: Any current projects in the works?
I’ve had some success with a wonderful Australian publishing company, Black Hare Press (BHP). When I decided that I was going to push my writing career this year by submitting a total of sixty works to various publishers, I submitted a drabble to BHP. It was the first thing accepted in 2019, and it motivated me.
Since then, I have had multiple 100-word stories selected for their drabble anthologies. In addition, two longer works will be coming out in their collections (Abduction, in Deep Space and The Carolers in Eerie Christmas). They have encouraged a wonderful writing community, and I’m proud to share the stage with talented authors in their books. My writing queue for the next few months is mostly related to their calls for submissions.
Pretty soon, I will devote some serious time to finishing some of the novels I’ve started. But for now, my goal is to have enough of my stories in print that a publisher can put out one hell of an A.L. King anthology… only after the story rights have reverted to me, of course.
Co-writing is another interest of mine and something I hope to explore soon. Just as approaching my craft as an actual job has improved my work, I believe collaboration will help to further expand my horizons.
Alexander Lloyd King (publishing as A.L. King) is an author of horror, fantasy, science fiction, and poetry. As a fan of dark subjects from an early age, his first influences included R.L. Stine, Edgar Allan Poe, and Stephen King. Later stylistic inspirations came from foreign horror films and media, particularly Japanese.
He is a graduate of West Liberty University in West Virginia, has dabbled in journalism, and is actively involved in his community. Although his creativity leans toward darker genres, he has even written a children’s book titled “Leif’s First Fall.”
He was raised in the town of Sistersville, West Virginia, which he still proudly calls home.
Be sure to follow A.L. King on Facebook and stay up to date with his latest publishing news!
By A.L. King
The winter night came early, and Mrs. Flint sent Thaddeus home.
“Your home,” she emphasized, as if worried he would burden another family with his presence before dusk had fully settled. It was obvious how nervous he made her, desiring to spend so much time with her son, Bertram. She would have felt even less at ease if she knew that Thad was not as interested in her pup as he was in collecting her family’s scraps.
Hanging his cloaked head, he walked the sidewalk of the gated community. Energy efficient streetlamps cast dim shadows around him. Both hands tucked in the pouch pocket of the only hooded sweater he owned (he’d worn it out of a secondhand store just days before coldness took clutch of southern West Virginia), Thad fingered his latest treasures: a can of Vienna sausages, a chicken leg from the bucket Mrs. Flint had purchased at the local deli, and a few strips of bacon sealed in a Ziploc bag. He felt bad for not swiping more, but he knew he had to be wary. If he got too greedy, if they caught him scouring their refrigerator and cabinets, all of his hard work might be for nothing.
In other towns, more generous families than the Flints often invited him to stay for dinner. When the meals concluded, some went a step further by packing up leftovers and sending them home to share with his family. “Don’t worry about bringing back the container,” one matriarch said. “I’ve got more Tupperware than my cabinets can hold. Tell your family we said welcome to the community.” Thad had liked getting in the good graces of those families. He also liked, on those rare occasions, being able to share a treat, something tastier than pilfered pasta packets and cans of uncooked beans, with his own family.
As far as he could tell, the Flints were not mean people. With a new pup—Bertram’s little sister, who would be one in January—they had to limit their generosity. Even if Mrs. Flint liked Thad, he was pretty sure they didn’t have the means to offer lavish dinners to him and his family. Life in the gated community was expensive, and bank statements he found while snooping through their house told him they were not long for that kind of living.
Nearing the woods—he traveled them not just to avoid the community gatekeeper but also to get home—the boy of nearly thirteen took a breath of painfully cold air and sighed out a haunting mist. His visible exhalation danced like a ghost before him, an ethereal and ephemeral avatar of guilt. Then it suddenly dissolved, and all that remained in his path was the shadowy jungle leading home.
Home. His home. At least for the next few weeks.
He crossed the street, pushed through a fractured section of gate, hunkered down, and began making his way through the lower, frost-tinged branches. It was like entering another world. Shrinking behind him was a suburban empire, built upon an intricate and cluttered evolution of nature; expanding in front of him, for miles and miles, was a persistent realm of society’s purer ancestry.
Thad walked deep into the woods, his head lifting steadily the farther he went, for the branches were no longer eye level. He looked at the high-rising trees and now felt good to be on his way home. He wondered what Mrs. Flint would think if she could see him walking, the pale sliver of a moon breaching leafless canopies to illuminate his new posture, a visceral shape stalking across the dirt above long-buried roots.
He considered himself a missing link of sorts, although he was more than a defunct combination of human and animal. There was no compromise in his faculties. Only a switch. He could survive equally on either side, changing his properties with the ease of putting on or removing his sneakers.
He picked up speed, leaping above and darting around foliage with predatory agility. Finally, he reached the cavernous opening framed by withering vines. This was their latest home, where they would remain until their business with the Flints was finished. Dropping his body into the likeness of a quadruped, he did a swift bear crawl into the den. His eyes were just beginning to adjust to the darkness when he heard his kin tearing and lapping at something. Miles away, the Flints were probably just now preparing for their family dinner; right there in the underground, Thad’s family had started their feast without him, devouring whatever prey had been unfortunate enough to make their acquaintance.
The boy—a missing link who could fit in with wolves and mankind—began stripping down. He removed his shoes, socks, pants, underpants, hooded sweater, and t-shirt and set them on a rocky shelf. From the sweater’s pouch he extracted and prepared his own bounty. With a few bacon strips in one hand, fistfuls of Vienna sausages in the other, and the chicken leg clenched between his teeth, Thad was ready to join the buffet. He lowered himself to the den floor and gingerly worked his way betwixt the members of his pack. Their fur and hot breath wrapped him in warmth. The scent of their feast flooded his nostrils.
Venison! His favorite!
He dropped his slim pickings for whoever wanted them. He shared what he had and had what they shared. That was their way. Besides, even if he came home empty handed, no matter how much he hated disappointing his pack, he knew he would be forgiven. His work would pay off when the time came.
Diving into a splayed open deer carcass, he edged his teeth in sideways and tore off a piece of muscle. He could taste the youngness as he chewed, and he liked that. The younger meats were softer, not simply easier to eat but juicier. No fangs snapped his way, so he figured there must be enough for all of them: at least two young deer lying amongst them in the dark, or a young deer and its mother.
Thad possessed no memories of his biological mother and father. From what he’d been told, they took him on a stroll through the woods when he was four, and only he was found six months later, naked with paw prints all around him in the dirt, the location of his parents a mystery.
During the next few years he was the subject of many tests, studies, and articles. At first he wanted to tear the doctors’ and journalists’ throats out—he only ever succeeded in biting off and swallowing the lobe of an unfortunate man’s ear—but it eventually dawned on him that he would never escape the four-walled cages they locked him in unless he played along. Language was not lost on him, so he learned to speak like them. He learned to listen, and to operate as a human.
Shortly after his seventh birthday, a couple finalized his adoption. Julian and Jill Cartwright took him to their home in the country. Thad liked that; he liked it a lot. Living there, he learned to pass between both worlds. By day he was a boy, working vigilantly at homeschooling studies; by night he was a hunter, sneaking out and into the timberlands.
He had returned from one of his hunting sessions and was preparing to use the spare key—which he’d fetched from under a fake rock—to let himself back into the Cartwright house. However, he stopped an inch shy of slipping the key into the lock when he heard a low rumbling behind him. It sounded like distant thunder. He turned away from the door, hoping a fresh rain would fall soon. Allowing the rain to wash the blood of rabbits from his naked body (he was always naked when he hunted) would be much simpler than risking a shower at this late hour.
But as he pivoted, he saw a series of silver glows. Eyes of predators far more ferocious than he could ever hope to be were staring at him from the tree line, reflecting the light of the front porch motion sensor. There was something familiar about those orbs, something almost familial.
Thad shook with a mixture of fear and excitement, unsure which reaction was dominant. He could not move his feet, nor could he take his eyes from theirs. Their stares held more than the electric glow cast down at the lawn and into the first few feet of the tree line. They possessed a knowledge he felt was clawing to escape his own skin, a knowledge he wanted to set free.
Those wise forms started forward, across the road and into the Cartwright’s lawn. They ambled up to him, not like wolves approaching a small and defenseless young boy but instead like young boys approaching a puppy apt to startle.
When the wolf at the forefront was so close that Thad could feel her breath on his hand (by then a fist so tightly balled it tried to consume the spare key) he wanted to run… whether he would make it two steps or even one. Then, perhaps sensing his rising adrenaline, the wolf lowered her head and rubbed it against his knuckles. She continued brushing against him affectionately. Her fur felt safe and warm, like home, and that was when Thad recalled just how he had survived in the woods for half a year after he and his parents went missing. These wolves had cared for him—they still cared!—and so they had returned for him.
With this understanding, he did not fret when the entire pack surrounded him and began licking away the rabbit blood. Moments later, he used the spare key to open the door. Then he welcomed his furry family inside to meet the Cartwrights.
Years later, on the outskirts of a gated community, having finished the venison, the wolves took to licking Thad once again. It was imperative that he be clean for when he returned to the Flint house tomorrow. The suburban family could not suspect him of violence. He still hadn’t figured out where they hid their spare key.