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Brian McAuley Interview

The latest installment in Shortwave Publishing’s VHS series is a wintery novella by Brain McAuley called Candy Cain Kills. From the title alone, you know this story is going to be festive…and brutal. It’s about a boy and his sister spending Christmas at a remote holiday cottage with their parents. The only problem? The cottage happens to be the site of a grisly crime. And the killer is still out there.

Read the full interview below.

Candy Cain Kills is one hell of a title! Did you come up with that early on or was it something you figured out through the writing process?

The name Candy Cain was actually the first story element that came to me when I decided to write a Christmas slasher. KILLS just flowed naturally as an alliterative capper to make sure every reader knows exactly what they’re in for when they pick up this book.

Slasher films tend to be on the shorter side as far as horror movies go. Do you think that makes slasher stories well-suited to the novella, which also keeps to a tight format?

Absolutely. Structure wise, my debut novel Curse of the Reaper was more of a psychological horror story than a slasher. When tackling Candy Cain Kills, I wanted it to feel like popping in an old slasher VHS tape, something you could devour in a single sitting. That also really informed the pacing for a story that mostly takes place in one night and one location.

Can you tell us a little about the VHS series and what it’s been like working with Shortwave Publishing? I LOVE the VHS-inspired box they are shipping books from the series out in.

Working with Alan Lastufka at Shortwave Publishing has been an absolute dream. He takes such care with every release and is really invested in creating an experience for the readers. Those creative boxes and video membership cards were also part of the selling point that got me excited to work with him in the first place. He’s building something really special with Killer VHS – having individual authors bring their own unique tales to this twisted collection – and I’m honored to be a part of it.

How did you decide to write a holiday-themed tale? Was it something you ever thought you’d do?

When Alan first invited me to pitch an idea for Killer VHS, one of the first things he mentioned was that my book – the second in the series – would be released in November or December. That was the spark that inspired me to ask, “Can I write a Christmas slasher?” Alan gave an enthusiastic thumbs up, but I didn’t have any story or characters in mind then. I just knew it was an arena that I would have a blast playing in. Then Candy Cain whispered in my ear and the legend was born…

Do you have a favorite Christmas horror movie (or book)? Did you revisit any as you worked on Candy Cain Kills?

There’s no denying that Black Christmas was a huge inspiration for this book, but I also saw Jack Frost (He’s Chillin’ and Killin’) at an impressionable age. Perhaps the biggest influence on Candy Cain Kills was listening to the Instrumental Christmas Hymns playlist on Spotify on repeat while I was writing the book. It served the dual purpose of getting me into the Christmas spirit while driving me utterly mad.

Your novel Curse of the Reaper has a film reel-inspired cover and Candy Cain Kills has a VHS-inspired cover. In school, you studied Creative Writing and Film. I did the same thing, but I haven’t met many people who have done this. How did you decide to pursue both?

I think I just knew from an early age that I wanted to tell stories in whatever format I could. I also dabbled in writing and drawing comics in my high school AP Art class and I’ve written some songs on my acoustic guitar. Writing has always been both my safe haven and my way of connecting with the world. It’s a privilege now to work with young storytellers as a professor at ASU film school and help them find their unique voices on the page.

These classics are mentioned at the top of your website bio so I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask. What’s your favorite Goosebumps book and what’s your favorite Are You Afraid of the Dark? episode?

Rude of you to make me pick favorites, but okay. For Goosebumps, I’ve got to say The Scarecrow Walks at Midnight because what’s creepier than a scarecrow walking at midnight? My Are You Afraid of the Dark? favorite has to be The Tale of the Ghastly Grinner. Just imagine if someone combined those two stories and wrote a book about a cackling fictional villain breaking free of his art form to stalk people through a cornfield. Anyway, Curse of the Reaper is available now wherever books are sold.

Who would win in a fight: the Candy Cain killer or the Reaper from Curse of the Reaper?

Again with the rude questions, making me pit my babies against one another?! You’ll just have to wait until the inevitable crossover in Night of the Reaper Part XIV: Season’s Reapings.

Do you have any other work coming out this year you’d like to tell people about?

I’m honored to have a story publishing soon in the debut issue of Monstrous Magazine, edited by Bram Stoker Award winner James Aquilone. Monstrous is a pulpy mix of stories, comics and articles; and my flash fiction story "Powerless" is a very personal piece that I’m delighted found a home in this exciting new outlet. I mean, the debut issue features Dracula, Frankenstein and the Gill-man brawling on the cover, so what more could you ask for?

What’s your favorite recent read? Any genre or category. It doesn’t have to be horror.

I recently devoured Merciless Waters by Rae Knowles, a sapphic Gothic romance that left me pretty damn breathless. A History of Fear by Luke Dumas was dreadfully fun, and Liz Kerin’s Night’s Edge is presently ripping my heart out.

Thank you so much for talking to Frightful!

Candy Cain Kills is available now.

As a WGA screenwriter, Brian McAuley has written five films for the Lifetime Network in addition to writing and producing the award-winning thriller Dismissed for BoulderLight Pictures. He sold his TV series pitch Affliction to Syfy Network in a pilot development deal and penned an episode of Fuller House for Netflix. Brian’s debut novel Curse of the Reaper was named one of the Best Horror Books of 2022 by Esquire. His Christmas horror novella Candy Cain Kills was released by Shortwave Publishing to praise from Library Journal, Booklist and Kirkus Reviews. His short fiction and non-fiction have appeared in Dark Matter Magazine, Nightmare Magazine, and Shortwave Magazine. Brian is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Screenwriting at the Sidney Poitier New American Film School of Arizona State University.

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