Jenny Ashford is a horror and paranormal writer, graphic designer, and barfly. Her books include three novels, Red Menace, Bellwether, and The Five Poisons; two short story collections, Hopeful Monsters and The Associated Villainies; a graphic novel, The Tenebrist; and two paranormal nonfiction books, The Mammoth Mountain Poltergeist (with Tom Ross) and The Rochdale Poltergeist (with Steve Mera). She also writes erotica ebooks under her own publishing arm, Panty Party Publishing. Her short stories have appeared in several horror anthologies, including The Nightmare Collective, History Is Dead, 2012AD, ChimeraWorld #3, and ChimeraWorld #4. Her horror blog, Goddess of Hellfire, contains writing news, short stories and articles, and her reviews and opinions on horror films and books.
Terror Realm (TR): What is your first memory of horror?
Jenny Ashford (JA): When I was a little girl, we used to visit my grandparents’ house a lot. I loved that house; it was so old and big and spooky. At the time, one of my uncles still lived there and had a bedroom upstairs at the end of the hall. For Halloween one year, he made this amazing papier-mâché dragon head mask to wear. I mean, it was so beautiful, and it was all covered in colored glitter. But for some reason, that thing terrified the ever-loving crap out of me when I was a kid. Seriously, I hated to even go upstairs while it was in there; I had to run past the door to his room when I went up there to use the bathroom. I still don’t know why it frightened me so much. A few years ago I wrote a story called “Heartworms” that used that mask as an inspiration.
Oh, and here’s another one that just occurred to me. I can’t remember what year it was, probably 1982, but my parents had taken my brother and I to the drive-in for an all-night movie marathon. We were in our jammies and had our pillows and snacks, and we were really jazzed, because when you’re a kid and you get to stay up all night watching movies at the drive-in, that’s pretty much the raddest thing ever. Weird thing was, though, that it wasn’t like a regular movie marathon, where all the movies were the same genre. The first one was a comedy, and then there was like a blockbuster-type one I think, and then the third one came on, and we were just sitting there watching it, not knowing what it was about. Turns out it was Scanners. The minute the first head exploded, my mom was like, well, time to go! I wanted to stay and see what the rest of the movie had to offer, but I guess my mom didn’t want us to be further traumatized.
TR: What is your favourite horror book of all time?
JA: The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. Best haunted house novel ever. I love its ambiguity and the way Hill House acts as a sort of psychological mirror for the main character of Eleanor. I’m also a big fan of Thomas Tryon’s Harvest Home, which is one of the most insidiously eerie things I’ve ever read.
TR:How long have you been working in the horror industry?
JA: I’ve been writing horror since I was little, but I think my first published horror story was in 1994. I sporadically published a few stories in the years following, but I didn’t really start writing and publishing in earnest until probably about 2005 or so.
TR: What has been your greatest success so far?
JA: Honestly, I consider it a success whenever I’m able to finish a book and get it out there. As far as book sales and notoriety go, I’ve actually had more success from my paranormal books than my horror, which I didn’t really expect to happen, since the paranormal thing was something I just kind of stumbled into.
TR:Tell us about your most recent horror project.
JA: Well, my two most recent books have been paranormal nonfiction books, and I’m actually halfway done with another one of those that will be out in a few months, but my most recent horror novel is called Red Menace, published by Damnation Books. It’s about a couple who move back to the husband’s childhood home and then encounter a frightening old witch who sort of turns the household upside down. There’s also a serial killer angle and a touch of Edgar Allan Poe going on in there too. I love stories about old creepy witches, and I’m glad I finally got around to writing one.
As far as upcoming horror projects, I’ve been planning a huge, sprawling, multimedia type horror story that I want to be interactive and immersive, almost like a murder mystery sort of thing that the reader can solve using clues not only in the story itself, but also in outside media that I’m making, like videos, card decks, cryptic blog posts, that kind of thing. I want it to be like a horror scavenger hunt, a whole universe unto itself. It’s a big undertaking, but it’s something I’ve been wanting to do for ages, so hopefully I can get that rolling later this year.
An excerpt from Red Menace:
Paige’s eyes snapped open in the darkness. She didn’t know what time it was, only that there was no faint sign of dawn yet showing through the windows—and that Daniel was sleeping deeply beside her, his body heavily still.
Just before she had awakened, she was having a horrible dream where she was sitting in the balcony of a dimmed concert hall, looking expectantly at the stage below, which was bathed in the glow from the red footlights. An orchestra was arrayed on the stage, though Paige couldn’t see any of their faces because they all wore red hoods. The effect of the crimson light on the similarly colored hoods was unsettling, making the movement of the fabric seem turgid, liquid, like slowly draining blood.
At last, the orchestra raised their instruments as one body. The music stilled Paige’s heart for several beats. It was an infernal music, and in the dream, Paige thought of a story she had once read about a violinist who had sold his soul to the devil to be able to play like a virtuoso, only to send everyone who heard him spiraling into madness. Surely this orchestra was just as miraculous in their command of tone and timbre, in their deft manipulation of the snaking harmonies, but the miracle, if it was one, was of a satanic nature, just like in the violinist story, welling up from the darkest recesses of the soul. Paige wanted to scream but could not, wanted to cover her ears but could not move her arms. She was rendered motionless by the music, a stone carving from which a trapped consciousness peered out helplessly.
At the crescendo of the piece, just when Paige felt that she could not listen anymore, all the musicians upon the stage turned toward her in unison, the movement causing their hoods to fall back with soft and somehow obscene whispers that could still be clearly heard, though the din of the music carried on uninterrupted. Their faces were all white, grinning skulls, the black of their multitudinous eye sockets made even blacker by the wavering scarlet light, their expressions seeming to mock her.
She suddenly did scream then, feeling the stretch of her lips, the vibration of the sound in her dream-throat just as she would in waking life, though nothing emerged but silence. She just had time to glance down at the audience and see that they had all turned toward her too, accusing her with their skeleton eyes, and then she woke, her breath catching in her throat, making her cough. Daniel stirred a little but then turned onto his side and resumed snoring. Paige’s eyes struggled to identify familiar shapes in the darkness, a curtain rod or light fixture she could focus on so that she wasn’t seeing the endless parade of red-tinted skull faces peering at her with their empty yet somehow malevolent gazes.
As her heart rate calmed, she reflected on the sound that had surely wakened her. Even in the bare, few seconds after launching out of sleep, she heard a telltale echo throughout the house, the remnants of a solid sound that had not issued from her mind, however rattled. The sound could not have been very loud, or it would have woken Daniel also. Paige lay very still, feeling sweat pooling in the hollow of her stomach, straining her ears for the slightest noise.
An interminable stretch of time passed, and Paige began to think the sound had been a product of her fervid imagination after all. She closed her eyes, reluctantly settling back into sleep mode, but then she heard it—a tiny, slight wheeze, like the breath of a mouse behind the walls. Paige wondered what it could be, and as she frowned out at the surrounding darkness, the other sound came—the devilish music of the skeleton orchestra. She leaped out of bed and was halfway to the door of the bedroom before her brain even registered the movement of her body. Daniel was awake now too, his voice thick with sleep, calling her name, but Paige was already out the door and climbing the stairs to the attic room, two at a time. Some part of her must have instinctively known that the horrible sound was coming from the clock in the black room, but it was only now, as she reached the landing, that she became consciously aware of it. Just as she did, the chime came again—a deafening and doom-laden gong seemingly accompanied by the combined screams of all the tormented souls in hell.
The thought of that coffin-tall clock singing its malevolent song to the gleeful audience of that one red-windowed eye in the otherwise abandoned black room filled Paige with a horror that compelled her quickly down the hall and through the door of Helena’s attic aerie, not caring if the old woman thought she’d gone right off her rocker. She just wanted that fucking clock to stop.
Paige tore into the attic room, intending to march straight into the Red Death suite and smash the clock’s smug face with her bare hands; however, she stopped dead in her tracks at the strange sight of Helena, sitting upright and cross-legged on her narrow bed in a small circle of lamp light, her eyes closed, her ogre face bearing the serene expression of a stone Buddha. She was dimly aware of Daniel’s presence behind her, and she felt his breath upon her neck. As she stared at Helena, the echoes of the horrible chimes danced all around them, like whispering little caper-demons scurrying for the corners and concealing their evil laughter behind tiny, clawed red hands. Then, the chime came once again, full and resonant, seeming to shake the house to its foundations. Paige clapped her hands over her ears the way she had been unable to do in her dream, even though this had the awful effect of making the sound closer, more intimate, as if it was coming from inside her own head.
When the last of the chimes had finally died away, Paige cautiously drew her hands away from her ears, listening to the silence that now seemed like the world’s sweetest music. After a moment, she realized her cheeks were wet; the tears had spilled without her knowledge. She stared at Helena’s blissful figure, feeling exhausted, empty, and suddenly afraid.
The old woman’s eyes opened, and the fishy, white one twirled in its socket while the normal eye fixed on Paige, a shimmering jade-green jewel in the lamp light. Helena smiled her sunken smile. “I was afraid it wouldn’t work anymore,” she said.
TR: And finally – as we’re all fans of horror here: if you could be in any horror movie what would it be and why?
JA: I’m going to have to say The Hunger from 1983. I would let Catherine Deneuve vampify me if it meant I’d get to live in that sweet NYC townhouse for a couple of centuries. Though remaining alive while crumbling into dust in a coffin would be a bit of a drag.