When one thinks of horror literature, the first names that come to mind are classics in their own right. Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, Stephen King, Clive Barker, Dean R. Koontz, Shirley Jackson … the list would be long. Fortunately, in recent years there seems to have emerged a new wave of American writers who are betting on renewing the genre with stimulating works. One of the names that is coming on strong with his stories is Philip Fracassi (1970), author that I’ve claimed due to the recent publication of Contemplad el vacío (Dilatando Mentes).
Fracassi was born in Michigan, and from very early felt the need to write. He owned a book store and his own publishing house. He currently lives in Los Angeles, where he alternates writing books with his work as a scriptwriter and location manager in the film/tv industry.
In 2016 Philip Fracassi began to dedicate himself to the horror genre. In that year he published the nouvelles Mother and Altar (both included in Behold the Void), and since then he has not stopped creating stories meant to scare the reader.
1. Before starting, introduce yourself briefly to Spanish readers. Who is Philip Fracassi?
Of course! I am an author and screenwriter. I live in Los Angeles, California and have been writing my whole life (ever since 3rd grade, at least!). A few years ago I decided to start writing horror fiction, which has always been my passion as a reader but for some reason I had never tried writing horror (most of my earlier work is character-based, dark fiction, but not horror). My first story – “Mother” – was published in 2015 and things really took off after that. I’ve been writing horror ever since.
I also write screenplays, and I am the credited writer on a children’s film for Disney and a thriller called GIRL MISSING, which is an original script I wrote and was produced for television in 2016.
When not writing I work in the film / tv industry as a Location Manager, which essentially means I coordinate getting the crew to different locations they need for the script.
2. I understand that you have had many different jobs before you started writing. How did you get the fever of writing? Why did you choose the horror genre?
I’ve had a lot of careers, but I’ve always been a writer. Like I said, I started very young and never – ever – stopped. That said, writing was, unfortunately, secondary to a paying career. So in addition to working in the film industry, I was a music executive for many years, and also owned a bookstore & art gallery in Venice, Ca. for a decade.
I think – for good or bad – writers are born with the need to write. The fever, as you said. Like a painter or musician or anyone born with a real desire to do something (and hopefully they work hard enough at it to be competent), writing is just something I do. I could never imagine doing anything else and I could NEVER imagine not writing. It would be a nightmare. I’m hopelessly addicted to the craft and very rarely – even when working or doing social activities or with my family – do I ever stop thinking about a story. Everything I see gives me an idea for a story, or I am thinking of stories that I’m currently working on… it’s a constant thing for me. Like breathing.
3. I think horror is one of the most difficult emotions to transmit through a written text. What are the mechanisms you use to succeed so easily in this challenge?
Well, it’s definitely not easy. There are a lot of “tricks” that one can use to imbed a feeling of horror or dread within a story. The alphabet doesn’t look any more scary just because it’s a horror novel, so you have to find ways to use the words and structure to add a sense of fear or terror or whatever emotion you’re trying to convey.
There are many things I do that would take far too long to write out here, but here are some bullet-point things that I think go a long way:
– Make the characters relatable and personable – If the reader feels that the character in the story is someone they “could” know in real life, or identify with their thoughts or challenges or emotions, it makes it that much more horrifying when that person is put into a perilous situation. So I spend a lot of time with character and creating real, living breathing people for my stories. That way the horror works much better.
– Language – I try and use certain words and ideas to create a conscious, and sometimes subconscious, feeling of dread for the reader. If a wall is white, maybe it’s “white as exposed bone”; or if there is a strange sound, maybe that sound is “clanking through the walls like old Marley’s chains”. Those are a bit on-the-nose, but you get the idea.
– Atmosphere – I spend a lot of time describing the way the world of the story smells, tastes, feels, how it sounds, etc. I write a lot about what a character senses about the place they are living in a story, this helps make it more real for the reader and brings a reader deeper into the story and tricks the brain into believing what they’re reading is really happening. It’s much scarier to say, “The inky dark room was thick with the smell of burned flesh, and he walked through it, blind and shaking, his hand extended before him, praying to find only a door handle and not something slimy and cold, something with teeth.” Than it is to say “He walked through a dark room looking for the door.”
Like I said, I could go on and on but it’s little things like these examples that build a sense of fear or suspense or dread in a story.
4. In some of the stories of “Behold the void” as “Mother”, “Altar” or “Mandala” there’s a feeling of a “cosmic horror” somehow hidden below the first layer of the story. H. P. Lovecraft automatically comes to mind, but what other influences have made you cultivate this kind of set-up?
I think a lot of my sense of cosmic horror comes from my own personal take on the world, on life and death, on the afterlife, on our place within the cosmos. And when I combine that philosophy with my writing style, it tends to create that layered effect you mention. I try to always write two stories: One that a reader can enjoy on the surface and another that a reader can delve deeper into, and perhaps pull more meaning from and, oftentimes, realize that the deeper story changes the surface story – sometimes considerably. My story “Mandala” has this characteristic, as does “Mother” and others.
Many writers have influenced my writing, but none so much as greats like Laird Barron, Stephen King, William Faulkner, Hemingway and several poets, as well. Poets are great sources of inspiration when it comes to language.
|Cover of the Spanish edition of “Behold the void”, published by Dilatando Mentes|
5. The reader can also see in many of your stories a gradual deformation of everyday reality. Is there any relationship between that and the current political situation in the US?
Oh no, not at all. I’m a writer who keeps his art and his politics very separated. I know there are many writers who thrive on allegorical, socio-political commentary with their work, but I’m not one of them. My stories are art and entertainment. Hopefully they generate some emotions or some ideas, but they’re most certainly not political.
6. You grew up in Detroit, during difficult times for the city. Have those days of economic crisis had any influence in your literary work?
Yes and No. I left Detroit when I was pretty young – 19 years old – and have lived in Los Angeles pretty much my entire adult life. So I wouldn’t say much of my work is influenced by urban plight or at least not as it pertains to where I grew up, but I do think everything you experience in life influences your work at some point or other, in some way or other. So I’m sure there are elements of my childhood that I’ve drawn on when fleshing out a character or a tone for a story. “Altar” is maybe a good example of this, where the idea of the community pool as a child is something I drew on heavily to make that story more realistic.
7. I find it very difficult to highlight one story of “Behold the void”, all of them are incredible, but I must confess that I’m in love with “Altar” and “Fail-Safe”, two stories very different from each other. Surely you have one or several favorite stories in the anthology. Could you tell me which ones?
Yes, absolutely. I have no problem having personal favorites, just like readers do. In fact, in the new edition of BEHOLD THE VOID coming out this month, I have a “Story Notes” section in the back where I talk about each story and discuss how I feel about them.
To answer your question, I think each story has a place in my heart for a different reason. “Mother” was my first published story, and like a first-born child will always be special for me. “Mandala” is probably my most entertaining story, and I’m really proud of that one and I think it might be my “best” story as it pertains to getting the pulse of the reader higher and higher. “Altar” and “Fail-Safe” are stories that I think (hope) will have a long shelf-life, and I would consider them to be the ones with the most artistic achievement. But “The Horse Thief” is probably my favorite story. I just really like the way that one comes together, and I think it touches on a lot of things and has a satisfying finish that makes the journey significant. I’m very proud of that one.
8. I’m fascinated by the subject of the afterlife, I’m aware of the many theories that exist about it. I ask you because I’ve heard you talk about your obsession with this topic, which you have managed to transfer to some of your stories. Do you believe in an existence after physical death, not in the religious sense but as something real?
I do, and you’re correct in that I weave themes of the afterlife into many of my stories, both in the collection and in other stories and novellas as well. I’m fascinated – from a real perspective and from an artistic perspective – how the afterlife is such a wonderful mystery and, also, how you can use that mystery to push a story in new and exciting directions. I’ve greatly enjoyed creating my own versions of life-after-death, and I’d say about half of my stories touch on it in one way or another.
I suppose the easiest way to express what I believe is to say: Yes, I believe our consciousness – our energy – survives death. What happens after that? No one can know.
|Cover of Fragile Dreams, published by Journalstone|
9. And what do you think of things such as ghosts, poltergeist, etc.?
Not very much. Not as much as many horror writers might. It’s less interesting to me to think about angry spirits from the world of the dead than it is to think about something evil that’s very alive and very real. I do think it’s interesting to think about ghosts in the sense of something that lingers when they are supposed to be long-gone. I’ve played with this idea, in a novel I’m currently writing, and in a short story I hope to write early next year. But it’s more about emotional carryover, and how it affects those that live on, and less about banging pots and flickering lights.
10. Going back to earthly topics, do you keep the reader in mind when you write, or you just try to create something that you would have liked to read?
I definitely think about the reader in the sense that I want the prose to be strong, and the writing itself the best I can make it so that readers are not bored or don’t not enjoy the writing. It’s very hard to go beyond that because you cannot write a story with a reader in mind (as it pertains to the plot, the pacing, etc.), because every reader is different, and every reader has a unique taste. That’s why some books get 1-star on Amazon from one reader and 5-stars from another. It’s too subjective.
What I try and do is write a story that I like, that I would want to read, and then make the prose and the pacing the very best I can so that most readers, I hope, will enjoy the experience.
11. Briefly (if possible), can you describe how is your creative process? How do you approach the creation of each new story and its development?
Well, first you need the Idea. The acorn. What is the crux of the story going to be? A swimming pool where a horrible event takes place? A man falling from an airplane with a parachute that doesn’t open? A person buried beneath a building after an earthquake? And these ideas can come from anywhere, at any time. A dream, or something I read, or something I see… they just stick.
Then I decide on the tone of the story. How dark. How gory. How literary? Fast-paced or slow-paced. What voice will I use to express it? This is all very important to how well the story works. “Fail-Safe” is a first-person story told from the perspective of a young boy. “Altar” has alternating perspectives that never lets the reader see everything at once. “Mandala” is a third-person narrative told in a cinematic style, with lots of cutaways from one scene to another, to create more tension.
Then, once I know what the idea is and how I’m going to approach it, it just comes down to writing it and then editing it again and again until it’s the best it can be.
12. Today, new technologies allow everyone to self-publish. What are your thoughts about that? Do you think it’s something really beneficial for literature?
Yes and No. I think it’s wonderful that authors have the ability to self-publish their work, and I think it has led to some very talented writers getting their work out there into the world, to everyone’s benefit.
That said, I think it can by a lazy-man’s gateway to the party. What I mean by that is there still needs to be the same level of professionalism when self-publishing as there is with something published by a third-party publisher. The cover of your book should look slick and professional – and yes, that means you’ll need to spend money to hire a proper designer. The text of the book needs to be well-edited, your story perfected. Some writers don’t want to put in the work of making a story perfect (or at least as close as possible). Same with the layout and other things like that. In short, it’s okay to self-publish, but do it RIGHT. Take the time to make it as professional as something you’d see and read at a bookstore or in a library.
But philosophically, I think it’s a good thing. If people like your work, they’ll buy it. If they don’t, they won’t. No harm, no foul.
|Cover of “Sacculina”, published by Journalstone|
13. I know it’s difficult, but could you tell me 3 movies and 3 horror books that have been an inspiration for your writing?
Hmm… that is tough. Movies: The Thing, Alien and The Exorcist. These are all movies that have influenced my concepts of creatures, mayhem, suspense and evil.
Books: The Beautiful Thing that Awaits Us All, by Laird Barron. The Sound and the Fury, by William Faulkner. The Shining, by Stephen King. Barron’s work taught me about physical, visceral language and how to create deep feelings of unsettlement, dread and fear with a reader. The Faulkner because what it achieves in prose inspired me to write fiction that was not only scary, but beautiful, as well. At least I try for that! And The Shining because King knows how to make you feel like you’re not reading a book, but sitting next to him in a darkened room as he tells you a story. When you read a book like The Shining, you don’t visualize Danny approaching the bathtub in Room 237, you feel like YOU are approaching that tub, and it’s YOU who sees the freaky old woman getting out to greet you. King’s a master.
14. «Behold the void» is your first work translated into Spanish. How was your relationship with Dilatando Mentes? Will we see more of your works in Spain?
I certainly hope so! Working with Dilatando Mentes was such an honor and a pleasure. Not only did they take great pains on translating a pretty big book into Spanish, but the book itself is a marvel. One of the prettiest books I own, and the fact that it’s mine is crazy. I’m a book collector as well as an author, so I appreciate a well-made, well put-together book, and CONTEMPLAD EL VACIO is that times one-hundred. It’s gorgeous.
As to the future, who knows? I have several novellas that have not been translated, and next year I hope to have a new story collection come out, and possibly a novel. So fingers-crossed they make their way to Spain!
15. Are there plans to adapt any of your stories to a movie or a TV show?
Yes, there are and I’m working on them now. This past year I’ve optioned two stories: “Mandala” and “Fail-Safe”.
Because I’m also a screenwriter, I wrote the script for “Mandala” as a feature-length film, and a director is attached so we’re hoping that goes into production next year. “Fail-Safe” was optioned by another director, and that script is in the process of being put together. I may or may not write that one depending on timing, and it will be more of an independent feature, whereas we’re hoping “Mandala” has a larger budget. But you never know!
16. In Spain, genre writing is a rather small niche. Please tell me this doesn’t happen in the USA!
Oh no, it’s a very BIG niche! I think horror and mystery books are quite profitable in the U.S., both in books and in movies. And right now we are amidst a large horror boom here, so hopefully it will get bigger and bigger. That said, I don’t think genre books get the respect or publicity that other “literary” books, or even sci-fi or fantasy, get, but the readership is there and I think it’s fervent and loyal – that’s all you can hope for.
17. What are you working on now? What are your upcoming projects?
Right now I have several things going. As I mentioned, I recently finished the feature screenplay for “Mandala”, and also finished a television pilot that I’m co-writing with another horror author. I’m very excited about both projects!
In fiction, I just finished a new novella for the collection I’m hoping to sell next year, and am now working full time on a novel called A CHILD ALONE WITH STRANGERS. Which is a hybrid of suspense, creature-feature and ghost story.
I also have several stories sold that will be coming out next year, and a few more I need to write once a draft of the novel is complete. No rest for the wicked!
Philip Fracassi’s books:
Fragile Dreams (2016)
Behold the void (2017)
The Wheel (Coming 2019)
You can find more information about Philip Fracassi in his website.