Interview: Horror Writer John Everson Talks About “Creepy Little Tales”

John Everson will soon celebrate the 30th anniversary of his first published piece. Since then, he’s worked as a journalist and music magazine editor, spending his spare time, in his words,  on “Sunday afternoons writing creepy little tales.” He’s written several dozen short stories and a few novels in the horror and thriller genres, including The House by the Cemetery, the Bram Stoker Award-winning Covenant, and The Night Mother (Dark Arts Books), a sequel to his previous novel Nightwhere. The Naperville resident took time to answer a few questions about his books, horror fiction, and writing a horror novel that’s both “highly sexual and skin-peelingly gruesome at the same time.”

What brought you to horror writing?

I blame TV shows like Twilight Zone, Outer Limits, Night Gallery, Alfred Hitchcock Presents… While growing up I was a voracious reader, I mainly read science fiction. I read some ghost stories and Edgar Allan Poe, but my main loves were classic SF…Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Clifford Simak, et cetera. I got so much enjoyment out of reading that I really wanted to do that for others—I wanted to write stories that would transport people to other worlds. I wanted to write books that kids like me would find in bookstores. But when I actively started writing short stories in college and beyond, instead of being about aliens, they all seemed to be about nasty twists. Murders and rituals in the basement. Demons. So I really think those TV shows that I watched as a kid influenced me more than the sci-fi I read. It wasn’t really a choice: “I’m going to write horror.” It just happened. Those were the kinds of ideas that hit me.

Did any particular author or book or situation inspire you as a young horror writer? Who or what inspires you now?

Author John Everson

Like so many, Stephen King was a big influence. I found Carrie on the library carousel when I was a freshman in high school and was amazed at what he did with internal dialogue. I loved that his Firestarter was a mix of horror and science fiction, and I remember a friend cursed me out for giving him Pet Sematary because he couldn’t sleep for a couple nights after reading it. After college, I discovered Clive Barker, and his beautiful, yet brutal prose showed me another side of horror. The sensually dangerous. That aspect really appealed to me and as I began submitting stories to small magazines and reading them, I found authors like Lucy Taylor, Charlee Jacob, Edward Lee, Gerard Houarner, and more who were huge inspirations. They always amazed me with both their command of the language and the insane tales they told. They really helped mold my short fiction as I wrote more and more because…I wanted to be able to have the impact on a reader that they had on me.

These days…I’m still probably most influenced by Edward Lee. He’s written a ton of over-the-top novels that almost always suck me in so that I don’t want to stop turning the page. He’s the only author who has grabbed me so hard that I’ve read a novel start-to-finish in a day.

Talk about your latest book, The Night Mother. What differentiates it from other horror novels?

My latest—fourteenth!—novel The Night Mother is a book I’ve wanted to write for literally a decade. Back in 2012, I published a novel called NightWhere, which was a finalist for the Bram Stoker Award that year. One review called it 50 Shades Meets Hellraiser. It was the most over-the-top thing I’d ever written, and in fact, was afraid to write for several years. Because the story needed to be both highly sexual and skin-peelingly gruesome at the same time. 

The story was about a swinger/BDSM couple who regularly attend bondage clubs and the like. But one day, they receive an invitation to NightWhere, a club talked about only in whispers. It only appears once a month and always in a different location. You can only find it if someone invites you… and if they do… anything goes. There are no “safe words”. NightWhere allows any fetish you can dream of… Once they get inside though, Mark realizes that things are not what they appear and tries to save his wife Rae from the Watchers who rule the club. He will literally go through hell trying to save her before she loses both her life and her soul.

The Night Mother is a long-promised return to NightWhere. There’s a mysterious angel figure in the first novel called Selena, who I personally wanted to know more about. So, when I began The Night Mother, it was intended to be a prequel… but while stories of Selena’s past and genesis—and in fact, the genesis of NightWhere—are part of the book, ultimately most of the action takes place after the events of NightWhere. It’s a standalone sequel, but it begins with the demons of NightWhere trying to capture Mark and Selena to bring them back for a game of torture. It also tells the story of Cassie, a dominatrix who has a tendency to go a little too far. When she gets an invite to NightWhere, we are drawn into the club with her. And like Mark before her, she’ll realize that some pleasures should never be tasted.

Have any of your books been optioned for film, and how did you get involved with the original Netflix series V Wars?

I’ve actually had both the short story and the novel versions of The Pumpkin Man optioned. And Siren was optioned and in the running to be made as a film for SyFy Channel for a couple years. In the end, all of those options lapsed without production, unfortunately. But then the V Wars thing happened, completely unexpectedly. 

I had contributed two stories to Jonathan Maberry’s V Wars shared world books. In the books, several authors all wrote stories that tied into Jonathan’s main story arc, which had to do with a vampire “outbreak” in the modern world due to a virus that unleashed dormant “junk DNA” in people. I wrote two stories about vampire sisters Danika and Mila for books 1 and 3 of the four-book series and… several years after those came out, Jonathan and IDW Publishing sold the concept to Netflix, which produced a 10-episode series starring Vampire Diaries’ Ian Somerhalder. And while I knew the production was happening, I didn’t think that my stories or characters would be part of it—it was Jonathan’s world and I figured they’d focus strictly on his main story arc. So, imagine my excitement when one night during a business trip, while sitting at a bar in New Orleans, I pull up an article announcing the cast list for the first season of the show… and Danika and Mila’s names are both there! It was really fun to see real actresses bring my girls to life on the screen.

What are you working on right now?

Last year, I published a novel called Five Deaths for Seven Songbirds. It was a homage to the great Italian murder mystery thrillers of the 70s. I adore those films with the black-gloved killers with ridiculously twisted psychosexual motives and bizarre murder sprees, made popular by Mario Bava, Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci, Sergio Martino, and others.  The novel got great reviews and my publisher asked me to do another book of that ilk. So, right now I’m halfway through writing The Bloodstained Doll, another giallo-esque thriller that follows Allyson, a London girl who goes to live with her uncle in Germany after her mom’s death. But after a casket is unearthed by a fierce storm and fallen tree, people all around her uncle suddenly start dying. Each of the victims are left to be found with a broken doll. What’s the meaning of the dolls? Who is blackmailing her uncle and why? What happened to the missing bones from the casket? And will Allyson figure all these things out in time? As soon as I finish the novel, you and I both can know those answers!

John Everson's website is located at johneverson.com.

Picture of the author
Dan Kelly

Dan Kelly has been a writer and editor for 30 years, contributing work to Chicago Magazine, the Chicago Reader, Chicago Journal, The Baffler, Harvard Magazine, The University of Chicago Magazine, and others.