Walk through your lawn or a field nearby. Depending on where you live, there’s a good chance you heard a crunching sound underfoot. No, it likely wasn’t the desiccated corpses of your foes. Unless you’ve made a lot of arboreal enemies – for you see, you’ve been trodding on the chlorophyll-bleached husks of what used to be leaves. Deciduous trees are called that because each year they ‘decide’ to fall on ‘us.’
And Fall is just about one of the coolest times of the year. Smack in the center of it, you have the month of October – notable for containing Halloween, massive amounts of pumpkins, being the most ‘okay’ month to watch Horror Movie marathons on Netflix, and for being the favorite month of talented and bearded emergent writer Anthony J. Rapino.
Our second ‘volume’ of ‘Thoughts from Actual People’ takes us inside the mind of this horror writing, Halloween-loving, beer-brewing young man – so leave some breadcrumbs behind you for a trail unless you plan on setting up camp in the depraved depths of Mr. Rapino’s peculiarity.
So, Anthony – I first stumbled across your work online and I was so impressed by you that I quickly hatched a plan to make you think that we had become friends online instead of the truth: that I had become your fan and wanted you to like me. Just to make sure our readers have a similar opportunity – and so some of the stupider ones who might not already know who you are can pull themselves out of the well of their own ignorance, I am going to provide the link to your well-designed site – http://www.anthonyjrapino.com – and point out that lots of reviews and information about your two currently available books - 'Welcome to Moon Hill' and 'Soundtrack to the End of the World' - are ‘findable’ there.
When it comes to your books, the first one I had a chance to look at was the ‘Uprooted’ chapbook. This work of yours, now out-of-print, has actually gotten kind of old by our standards. Anything you’d like to say about that, looking back? Any ‘behind-the-scenes’ stories that would be nice to share? Also, when you were picking and choosing stories for your collection, which we’ll turn to in a minute, how much of a chance did the tales in ‘Uprooted’ have, and was including or not including them an easy decision?
AJR: First, thanks so much for having me over, Troy. It’s not every day I’m considered an actual person, but on those rare occasions when I am, I try to make the most of it. In celebration, I even went out and bought my very first mirror, and wouldn’t you know it, I actually have a reflection! Maybe there’s something to existing after all.
Now then, Uprooted. This was my first major print offering, everything preceding this having been mainly magazine publications. The publisher accepted me for publication in his chapbook series based on the title story, “Uprooted,” and then asked me to send a few reprints that he could choose from to publish with it. I sent some of my favorites that were also unavailable, so as to keep the collection somewhat fresh.
Moving forward into the assembly of my short story collection, Welcome to Moon Hill, I immediately considered reprinting the entire chapbook within its pages (since the chapbook had sold out and was completely unavailable). I ended up changing my mind about reprinting all of the stories from the chapbook because I liked the idea of it remaining exclusive, for those readers who shelled out the money for the chapbook, and also so if those same readers followed me along to the new collection, they didn’t feel ripped off.
I did, however, include one story: “Just Once More, Little Sister.” There was no choice really. I love that story, and it has pumpkins in it.
I love that story. I knew as soon as I read the title I knew that I would like it, but when I read further I realized how delightfully evil your mind could be, and liked it even more. The next book you put out was your first Kindle work, and something you wanted to get out there while ‘Bad Moon Books’ prepared your first novel for publication, if I remember correctly. Your Kindle exclusive short story collection ‘Welcome to Moon Hill’ is unique in that it has a thematic ‘core’ of the town of Moon Hill without being a slave to the idea that all the stories MUST revolve around said town. I truly enjoyed it, and I think a lot of our readers would like it as a perfect October short story collection.
Could you tell us a little bit about when most of those stories were written, how many of them were new for the book, and what it was like working on your first Kindle collection?
AJR: The stories in my collection are from nearly the entire expanse of my writing career. Some date as far back as 2005, while others were written mere months before publication. As you mentioned, the main requirement was that they took place near or around the town of Moon Hill. When I started compiling this collection, I had already started work on my second novel, which takes place in Moon Hill as well. So in a way, this collection is a primer for that.
I wrote about three or four stories specifically for the collection, because I wanted to ensure there was a good page count for the readers.
Putting out a Kindle book was mostly easy. I had a few hiccups with the formatting that took some time to work out, but overall, it was a simple process (made all the simpler with your very generous involvement as acting editor).
I was trying not to mention that last bit so I wouldn't seem self-aggrandizing. You ruined everything. Moving on.
One thing that really struck me as interesting about ‘Welcome to Moon Hill,’ even though I lack the knowledge and equipment to be able to do anything about it, was the unique beer recipe in the end. This book has its own flavor! I find that really interesting. How did you get into beer making? Microbrewing? You know… what’s even the proper term for it, to start out with? Is it dangerous?
AJR: The proper term is homebrewing, making me a homebrewer. The decision to include the recipe for Moon Hill Pumpkin Ale was easy. It had a few things in common with the collection, and I thought it was a cool little “extra,” even if no one ever actually brews it.
Dangerous? Nah. Well...I hear-tell horror stories of glass beer bottles exploding due to improper carbonation or infection, but it has never happened to me. In fact, the worst disaster to befall me while homebrewing occurred during the creation of this year’s Moon Hill Pumpkin Ale. The table my bucket of wort (unfermented beer) was on tipped over and spilled the glorious orange liquid all over my driveway. It was a sad day:
I started homebrewing because one day my brother said, “Hey, we should try homebrewing,” and I said, “Sure.”
It was that easy. But then, I’ve always been a mad scientist when it comes to food. I cook, bake, and grill. I’ve made my own sauerkraut, fermented pickles, and caught wild yeast to make homemade sourdough bread. I’ve made beef jerky, smoked all kinds of meat, and juiced every fruit there is.
And now I’m hungry.
Your first novel from Bad Moon Books is the fantastic, well-reviewed ‘Soundtrack to the End of the World,’ a sort of twist on the zombie genre that is packed with brilliant characters and terrifying situations. Was it accepted long before the current zombie ‘wave,’ and if so was it weird waiting for the book to be published knowing that it inadvertently put you in the middle of a ‘craze’ that you might not have been aware of when events were set in motion?
AJR: I’m not entirely sure when the zombie fad started, though I do vaguely remember thinking--when the novel was first accepted--that I would have a zombie novel released during a vampire craze, which I thought was great at the time. It took at least three years for this thing to come out, and yeah, zombies are a lot more popular now than they were then (though I think zombies were always pretty big). But even so, I told myself long before I wrote Soundtrack that if I ever decided to take on a “classic monster,” I’d have to do something completely new with it. I think I succeeded in that respect. One major setback to releasing this novel now is that it can sometimes be just so much white noise in the current market. Even with an entirely unique take on zombies, it’s still a “zombie novel,” and for some people that’s enough to pass on it.
Still, I’ve been amazed by the bevy of stellar reviews, and I’m stoked that this thing is even out there to begin with.
This book was such a unique experience, with such a clear identity and set of interesting circumstances and elements, that I think people have to try it to appreciate just how different it is. I wonder, how much of the details about auras, comedy, bouncing, etc., come from things you learned about first hand or encountered in your own life, and how much did you come across through reading or other ‘vicarious’ means? What are your thoughts on writers and a balance of ‘personal experience’ with ‘research/contrived elements?’
AJR: I think the word balance covers it perfectly. I tend to use my personal experience for things like character, setting, and human interactions. Whereas research often comes into play for me with the plot elements.
A lot of the spiritual elements (the auras, out of body experiences, etc) were research based, with a touch of personal experience sprinkled on top. It’s the human interaction that I feel needs to be realistic. To write about loss, or love, without having ever experienced it, must be a hard thing to do. Not impossible, but hard.
That’s where the personal experience really comes in for me. Those connections and emotions.
Your site lists places where people can read your stories online or in print. Do you have any new stories on the horizon anywhere?
AJR: Nothing I can announce at the moment. Hopefully very soon though. Since this novel came out, I’ve been in promotion mode, and not much real writing gets done. All of that gooey black horror juice has built up in my head though, so it’s really only a matter of smashing my skull open on the keyboard at this point, and we’ll have some new stories. Plus some extraneous brain matter.
Can we expect a new book from Mr. Rapino any time soon?
AJR: I wouldn’t say “soon,” but eventually. I’m putting the finishing touches on my second novel, but if it takes anywhere near as long as it did to publish the first, it may be a while before it sees the light of day. I’d like to have the draft of this novel finished by the new year, and in the hands of a publisher by the summer, but that may be pushing it.
If you had unlimited funds, what would be your idea of the best possible Halloween bash?
AJR: The event would take place on an expansive tract of farmland. When you arrive at the parking lot, an attendant will offer you a seasonal beverage (hot mulled cider, pumpkin ale, etc) and direct you to the haunted hayride, which will take you to the main party.
The ride will last around 10 minutes and take you through fields of mutant pumpkins, zombie infested graveyards, ghost riddled forests, and monster filled bogs. Upon arriving at the party (located in and outside the farmhouse), there will be some downtime until all the guests arrive. During this time, there’s a ton of Halloween inspired foods and drinks, a live band, and a number of party games located throughout the event (Bobbing for rum-soaked apples, pumpkin carving with pumpkins that were prefilled via basting gun injector with fake blood, scare-aoke, horror movie screenings, etc).
When all of the attendees arrive, the real fun begins. An over-the-top fake murder will occur, sending the participants scattering across the “field of battle.” Everyone will have a pre-determined role (like a murder mystery dinner), and the goal will be to discover who or what the psycho killer is.
This will of course include a completely decked out haunted house (in the farmhouse), and the aforementioned locales that were briefly viewed on the haunted hayride. It also may or may not include paintball guns, hidden prizes, and buckets of fake blood.
It will be amazing.
Readers, please note that he said it will be amazing, not that it would be amazing. That's how his mind works.
Mr. Rapino, this is a triple-pronged question. What is your most formative Halloween memory? Your favorite Halloween memory? Your most shocking/disturbing Halloween experience?
AJR: My most formative is probably the year we decided to not go trick or treating, instead renting a bunch of horror movies and buying the snacks and candy. We (me, my brother, and a couple friends) were young, probably around 11 or 12, so this decision was a big one. But it helped to reinforce that connection between Halloween and horror for me. I’d of course watched horror movies before this, but it was the first year we dedicated to horror movies, completely foregoing the standard childhood Halloween rituals.
I don’t have any one favorite Halloween memory, and honestly, many of the older ones blend together now. The first year I went trick or treating alone with my friends is a big one, and the first time I went to a party instead of trick or treating. A more recent one that was a very special night was going to see The Rocky Horror Picture Show (which I’d previously never seen in a theater before). That was a killer night. The venue had a bunch of bands play before the show, and it was packed. It was also the first year in a while that I went all out on a costume.
Believe it or not, I don’t have a disturbing Halloween memory. Probably the best I could do is say that there were times I was creeped out a little in the dark, but really, nothing crazy. I know, what a disappointment!
I should have known nothing traumatic had happened to you in your favorite month... otherwise, you might have picked March or something.
Thanks for your time Anthony! You really are one of the best authors out there right now, and I very much appreciate your solid friendship to me and the site. Hopefully the readers realize how much they appreciated reading this, too. I am too tired to bother going around whacking them with newspapers right now.
AJR:Thanks a million for having me over, Troy. I’m still pretty sure you must be reading someone else’s work and attributing it to me--because there’s no way I’m as good as you think--but I thank you nonetheless.