Inside Gutted: John F.D. Taff

Describe how your story, “Cards for His Spokes, Coins for His Fare,” took shape–from where did you draw inspiration for your contribution?

So, I met Doug Murano for the first time at the World Horror Convention last year in TaffAtlanta.  My novella collection The End in All Beginnings was a finalist for a Stoker Award that year, and I was madly trying to capitalize on this by introducing myself to anyone and everyone. Doug introduced himself and told me about the project, and I thought it fit right in my wheelhouse. I’d been noodling on a story anyway that seemed like it would fit perfectly, but I knew it was going to stray a little past the 5k mark.

What I learned from writing the novellas in The End in All Beginnings I applied to this story, and pretty much everything I’ve written since.  And that’s to strip mine your childhood.  And I mean that quite literally. Don’t be gentle, don’t be afraid, don’t shy away frTaff Cards for His Spokes-001om things in your childhood that might be sad or disturbing or hard to look at even know from your adult perspective.  Because those experiences—the good, the bad and the ugly—all can be tamed, all can be made to give your stories a verisimilitude that it’s very hard to capture otherwise.

So, I sat down when I got back from Atlanta and thought about some of the important things that defined my childhood. And key amongst those was a bike. A 10-speed bike and the heady freedom it offered a kid like me bck in the day. It opened up whole new worlds of exploration and personal liberty, and I don’t know that I’ve ever felt so absolutely free since those days four decades ago. In my formula for writing, I seek out these kinds of experiences—the ones that have a kind of commonality across readers, that evoke those emotions and memories—and then turn them, veer them off in a direction that is darker and more gut-wrenching.  From the feedback I’ve received for my story in Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories, “Cards for His Spokes, Coins for His Fare,” I think I accomplished that.

What does beautiful horror mean to you?

“Beautiful Horror” acknowledges that there is something spectacularly unexpected at the heart of everything dark. That there’s a core of breathtaking poignancy in every horrible, hurtful, painful thing we experience, whether that’s an important lesson or some kind of deep, spiritual growth. It underscores that, for the most part, experiences are neutral, neither good nor bad. It’s what we bring to these experiences—and more importantly, what we choose to take away from them—that colors them.

Learn more about John. 

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Inside Gutted with Christopher Coake

Describe how your story, “Dominion,” took shape–from where did you draw inspiration for your contribution?

I’ve lived in Reno, Nevada, for nearly twelve years, but the vast deserts and mountain ChristopherCoakeranges that make up most of the state remain eerie to me—this place is huge, and much of it is generally empty of human life. About an hour and a half from Reno there’s an empty company town, and though it has not been abandoned for as long (or as completely) as the town of Dominion, it’s even weirder and more unsettling than the desert surrounding it. I’ve always wanted to set a story there.

A lot of cruelty toward/devaluation of women is bound into Nevada’s history, all the way up to the present. Far too many women I know and love—friends and family—have suffered such cruelty, too. I was hesitant to write about sexual assault and domestic abuse, but it has been too much a part of this place, and my own path to this place, to avoid addressing forever, especially in a story that is meant to horrify.

What does “beautiful horror” mean to you?

The kind of horror I like best attempts to engage with hard moral questions. I find 05 Dominion-001something beautiful—and hopeful—in stories that attempt to wrestle with the hardest questions, even if their plots are full of suffering, pain, and fear.

Our own world is, all at once, beautiful and terrifying. The stranger who walks into the coffee shop might be a new friend in the making, or might be carrying an AR-15. Death may be painful, or it might be a release from pain. The breathtaking, snowy mountain slopes may be ready to avalanche. The best horror writing is a pretty good reflection of the world as it is.



Christopher Coake is the author of YOU CAME BACK (Grand Central Publishing) as well as the collection of short stories WE’RE IN TROUBLE (Harcourt), which won the PEN/Robert Bingham Fellowship. In addition, Coake was listed among “Granta’s Best of Young American Novelists” in 2007.

Buy Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories. 

Inside Gutted with Lisa Mannetti

Describe how your story took shape–from where did you draw inspiration for your contribution?

Although I attribute the dream of the Nazi boots tramping up the stairs to the protagonist lm-photoof “Arbeit Macht Frei,” I actually had it—much as it’s described—when I was about three years old. In my case, I dreamt I was at my favorite aunt’s house hiding when I knew I was about to be taken away from my family by the storm troopers. It was incredibly frightening and terribly sad and I distinctly remember the horrifying welter of emotions I experienced. I have no idea why I had this dream at such a young age (it’s the first one I can remember). I can only attribute it to seeing something on TV about the concentration camps that disturbed me and resonated (so much) so that I not only dreamt about it, I developed a lifelong interest in the fate of those whom the Nazis abused. When I taught Social and Philosophical Foundations of Education at S.U.N.Y. New Paltz (for college students who were going to be future teachers) I included a long, involved section on the Holocaust. And, needless to say, despite reading and viewing as much as I could get my hands on over the years, I also did quite a lot of research (daily for about six weeks) to write the story. Quite a few details came from this most recent bout of research. At any rate, I’d always wanted to write about the Holocaust and I’m glad I had the opportunity to do so—even though I’d still like to tackle a longer project on this harrowing subject in the future.

What does “beautiful horror” mean to you?

For me, “beautiful horror” is comprised of powerful, heart-wrenching emotion. I wanted 03 Arbeit Macht Frei-002to write something that was not only poignant but searing. There wasn’t much beauty during the actual Holocaust, but there was some (more likely in a kind gesture than in the sort shallow beauty my protagonist Eligia seeks). On the other hand, like Styron’s Sophie says, “If the people were good or acted like animals, you couldn’t blame them”; though in reality she judges her own behavior, actions and emotions very harshly. She can’t help feeling overwhelmed by guilt. My character, I suppose, falls under that heading. She can’t help herself even though she knows what she’s doing is wrong. She also realizes the Nazis have put all the inmates of the camps in hideous, intolerable situations. In the end, Eligia is left with trying to make a choice that (at some level she realizes) will never expiate the guilt she feels; the transcendence she seeks is beyond attaining. The war is over, but the horror is very much alive—and that may be the most terrible aspect of all.

Find out more about Lisa. 

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Inside GUTTED with Brian Kirk

Author Brian Kirk discusses the inspiration behind “Picking Splinters from a Sex Slave” and describes what “beautiful horror” means to him. Kirk

Describe how your story took shape–from where did you draw inspiration for your contribution?

I think we all have a primal fear of being buried alive. Of being confined against our will in a coffin, waiting for the air to run out. Just thinking about that gives me anxiety.

Have you ever been stuck in a tight spot? Backwards in a sleeping bag, or caught wiggling through a narrow tunnel? Claustrophobia is serious business. You may have access to all the oxygen in the atmosphere, but it feels like you’re about to suffocate. You panic. Seconds feel like minutes as you get a real sense for what it may feel like to be driven insane.

I’ve read stories about young women who have been abducted and kept as sex slaves. My cousin runs a non-profit in Texas called New Friends New Life that fights against sex trafficking and helps women who have been sexually exploited, so it’s top-of-mind for me. That horrifying world is our dark underbelly. Our worst impulse.02 Picking Splinters Out Of A Sex Slave-001

You read these stories about women who were rescued from places where they were shackled in dungeons, or stored in boxes like the poor girl in my story, but you rarely get an interview with them afterwards. An interview would feel exploitative, and we don’t need one, but I do wonder about the mental toll such an experience takes. How does one integrate back into society after going through something like that? And then there’s Stockholm Syndrome to consider, where victims form attachments to their abductors. Complicated stuff.

I often try and put myself in the mental state of people who have suffered unbearable traumas. It’s an attempt to empathize with the victim’s condition and tease out what could drive people to commit such heinous acts. It’s also a way to bear witness to our worst atrocities. A shallow form of penitence on the behalf our broken brothers and sisters who cause and experience such hurt.

This story was my way of exploring the great damage caused to innocent women who are taken from home and kept hostage by deranged men. Despite the horrific subject matter, however, it’s ultimately a story about love.

What does “beautiful horror” mean to you?

Nature is a form of beautiful horror. It’s the flower that blooms from decay. The bloody rabbit dangling from the wolf’s jaw. I think horror helps forge our hearts against the beauty that would break it.

Learn more about Brian.

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