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Hailey Piper Interview

A naked pregnant woman with a cavalry saber. A cannibalistic demon. A mad preacher. Over the course of one night in 1882, Annette Klein’s life in the New Mexico Territory changes forever. That is, if she can make it to sunrise. From Bram Stoker Award-Winning author Hailey Piper, Cruel Angels Past Sundown is a tale of ancient evil and a grueling fight for survival.

Read the full interview below.

The synopsis for Cruel Angels Past Sundown is gripping. Right away, the reader is pulled in. How did the novel start to take shape for you? Which facet of the narrative came first?

This narrative twisted against me at first. When I started talking with Death’s Head Press about writing a book for their Splatter Western series, I originally pitched them an entirely different story, which they were into. But when I started writing that story, I realized after eight or nine chapters that it wasn’t working for the characters, and I wasn’t happy with where it was going. I fought for a while to make it work, but eventually I scrapped it and gave the characters over to something new. At that point, I pretty much went “If you could start this any way you like, how would it go?” And that brought a saber-wielding pregnant woman to Annette Klein’s ranch, and all the horror that follows.

You write across a broad range of genres and subgenres in your books including horror, mystery, science fiction, and fantasy. What was it like delving into the realm of the horror western?

I like to keep my fiction varied, and my reading too. Horror western was something I toyed with in ideas when I was younger, but I never really sat down and tried to write it before now. That first try at writing one fell through in part because I was trying too hard to replicate what I loved in spaghetti western movies. As cool as they might have been, I realized I had to do my own thing. It turned out pretty strange, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The horror western is sort of having this awesome moment right now. What do you make of that?

I wish I had a concrete answer. My best guess is that it kicked off with The Magpie Coffin by Wile E. Young, the first book in the Splatter Western series from Death’s Head Press, and as further books released in the series and gained popularity, more readers found something they’d been missing and writers found a realm of fiction to explore that they might not have considered before. Our concept of the western is a mythic perspective versus the reality of the American west in that stretch of time. It’s ripe for horrors both imagined and real.

Do you have a favorite western book/film? Either in the horror genre or outside of it?

I never really watched older American western films, always drawn more to Sergio Leone’s Italian westerns. When I was younger, my favorite was The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, but I haven’t actually watched that movie in quite a long time, so I don’t know if I’d love it as much now. Once Upon a Time in the West is breathtaking, as is Django Unchained. In books, I adore Shadow of the Vulture by Regina Garza Mitchell.

This isn’t your first foray into writing a story that involves cannibalism. Can you talk a little about what draws you there?

There are a couple answers to that depending on the story. Kind of a threat cannibalism vs intimate cannibalism, where the latter asks, “What could be more intimate than wanting to consume one you love, to digest and make them part of you?” Think the NBC series Hannibal. My first novel Queen of Teeth explores both. There’s also the idea of communal cannibalism, like in my story “The Bird With the Clownish Plumage.” Whereas something like my novella Benny Rose the Cannibal King is solidly threat cannibalism. That’s the case in Cruel Angels Past Sundown, too. Maybe I’m drawn to this subject because there are so many different ways you can approach it. Or maybe because, at least with threat cannibalism, there’s an innate fear in us of being consumed, of what we consider ourselves, our only self, being broken down and turned into part of that which has eaten us.

I love books that take place during a confined length of time. Cruel Angels Past Sundown is set over the course of one bloody night. What would you say is most challenging about that kind of timeline? And what was the most fun about it for you as a writer?

I think the most challenging aspect of having a story set in a night that changes everything is the confinement. Are the characters stuck? To what extent? Are they trying to escape, or fight, or both, or something else? But beyond that, these are the most straightforward stories for me to write. I actually have to fight myself not to write them sometimes in an effort to not go back to that well too often, but I enjoy the tension and immediacy of the characters’ plight. The pacing is a constantly tightening fist around their fates, something I love to read and write.

There’s a whole cast of old west character types in this book. A preacher. A bounty hunter. A barkeep with a shotgun. Whose voice was the most interesting to explore?

I’m not sure I have a great answer? They were all fascinating to dig into. I’m drawn to characters doing terrible things who think they’re in the right, which is certainly the preacher Balthazar Wilcox, but I’m also drawn to characters who are sick of violence and just want a peaceful life, like bounty hunter Gloria Travers.

The cover art for Cruel Angels Past Sundown is just incredible. It goes hard. Who did the art and how did you feel when you first saw it?

There was some uncertainty over who would do the cover art at first, but I had been talking with Justin Coons for a while, and we both wanted him to do the art. So when Death’s Head Press asked me if I had a preference, he was my immediate answer. I believe he’s painted the covers for all of the Splatter Western series so far, and it was a pleasure for him to work on the cover for mine. Because Justin paints the covers, I got to see the work in progress layer by layer, first as a swimming golden backdrop with line art depicting the characters, and then slowly colors came, and details, and every little touch until it was complete. It was a beautiful process to witness, and the end result is magnificent. I personally think he’s outdone himself.

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

With Cruel Angels Past Sundown releasing on July 25, I’ll have one more book out this year past that, when A Light Most Hateful, about a runaway, a small town, and a disastrous storm that shatters minds and reality, releases from Titan Books on October 10, 2023. I’ll also have short stories appearing in several anthologies such as Shakespeare Unleashed and Swords in the Shadows: An Anthology of Sword-and-Sorcery Horror.

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

I just finished Slewfoot by Brom, which was enthralling—I read the last 100 pages in a sitting. I’m in the middle of The Spite House by Johnny Compton, which is under-your-skin chilling. I think my favorite recent read though was Motherthing by Ainslie Hogarth, a clever, sad, unnerving book that made me fall in love with the characters and hope they could pry themselves from a terrible haunting.

Thank you so much for talking to Frightful!

Cruel Angels Past Sundown hits shelves on July 25, 2023.

Hailey Piper is the Bram Stoker Award-winning author of Queen of Teeth, No Gods for Drowning, The Worm and His Kings series, and other books of dark fiction. She is an active member of the Horror Writers Association, and her words appear in Tor Nightfire, CrimeReads, Library Journal, Pseudopod, Cast of Wonders, Vastarien, and various other publications. She lives with her wife in Maryland, where their occult rituals are secret. Find Hailey at, on Twitter as @HaileyPiperSays, or on other social media as @haileypiperfights.

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