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Patrick Barb Interview


Pre-Approved for Haunting: And Other Stories is a new short fiction collection by Patrick Barb billed as a “collection of weird, dark stories and millennial anxieties”. Published by Keylight Books, it features 18 short stories ranging from quiet horror to slasher tales, each offering new insight into the macabre and terrifying.


Read the full interview below.


The title, Pre-Approved for Haunting, is so good. How did you choose which story would title the collection?


There are 2 answers here. The first is the more mercenary. I looked for the story title that could double as a collection title. I wanted something all-encompassing of the fiction contained within, something that was esoteric but not too esoteric (looking at you, “A Portrait of the Artist as an Angry God (in Landscape)!”). This title seemed to fit those requirements.


The other answer is that many of the stories within the collection deal with characters thrust into situations where fear, terror, and weirdness are already baked into the premises. Many of my stories deal in familiar tropes and motifs of horror fiction, but viewed through a weird or askew lens. So while readers may go into the stories expecting to be haunted, I'm hoping they reach the end having been surprised by what's in the fine print.


“Lost Boy Found in His Bear Suit” is the shortest and one of the more open-ended tales. What made you decide to start the book with this story?


The first few stories in the collection are focused on tales of family and friends confronting the weird, horrific, or nightmarish. “Lost Boy” is a story that I think embodies all three of those elements. The length was also a factor. I like the idea of giving the reader a little taste of what’s to come at the very beginning. And then if they like what they read, feeding them more.


Several of the stories focus on artistic characters—painters, actors, writers. As a writer yourself, what’s it like delving into the creative mindset as you flesh out these stories? Do they feel closer to home because they are about people who create art?


Creativity as a practice is at the heart of horror. I mean, Victor Frankenstein is the O.G. creator betrayed by the output of his vision, right? Well, maybe God holds that honor.


Either way, I think creation is often tied to power and so much of horror is about putting characters in scenarios where they are or feel powerless. Having those two impulses butting up against each other can make for rich material to create with. Luckily none of my work has rebelled against me.


Yet.


Do you have a favorite story in the book? I know we’re supposed to love all of our stories, but sometimes there’s just something special about one. Did you find that to be the case here? Or do you love them all equally in different ways?


I love all my word-children. But among my original stories in the collection, I have a particular fondness for “The Giallo Kid in the Cataclysm’s Campgrounds.” The story is an attempt (one of many I’ve made) to combine my horror loves, the subgenres of the slasher and weird/cosmic horror. It borrows from some of my major influences, everything from Laird Barron and Stephen Graham Jones to John Carpenter and Clive Barker. The Cataclysm (the time-displaced sentient apocalypse) is also an antagonistic force that’s shown up in a few more stories I’ve written since, but I believe this will be its first appearance in a published piece.


Which story was the hardest (or took the longest) to write?


“A Portrait of the Artist as an Angry God (in Landscape)” was originally written in Richard Thomas’s Short Story Writing Class. I often over-write and this piece was no exception. I think it came in at novelette length on the first draft and it was supposed to be sub-5,000 words.


Needless to say, this went through writing groups, beta readers, and still wasn’t under 5K when I submitted it for class. Thank God, Richard was forgiving!


He also gave some great edits. It had a few more edits when it was accepted for Boneyard Soup Magazine. Then, there were more edits for the version published in the collection. I’m of the opinion that it’s never too late to make a story better and this one was no exception. I’d like to say it’s in its final form now. But, you never know…


In the Foreword, Richard Thomas talks about how thoroughly you’ve studied the short story as a form. What’s the most important, or even unexpected, lesson you’ve learned through that process?


When I first started to get serious about prose writing and focused on short-story writing, I came from a background of screen and comics writing. As a result, I was a lot more dialogue and action-focused. Setting was something I had a hard time wrapping my head around.


But through immersing myself in the form, reading a lot of authors I admired and that were recommended to me, I gained a feel for the amount of detail needed to really set a scene. Richard’s classes helped with that as well. It’s amazing what one extra sensory detail, outside of sight which can be a given, can do to help set a scene for readers.


Since taking those classes and reading all those stories, setting is now something I get compliments on from readers and reviewers. I can hardly believe it!


You take your stories to fascinating places. Each one features such a unique, distinct arc that makes it stand out from the others. Was it important to you that the collection feature a range of structures?


I mean, just look at the previous answer. I like to make a concerted effort with setting, to really get the readers in the headspaces of my characters. One important way to do that is to present a strong sense of the physical worlds in which the characters dwell. Once that grounding is established, whether it’s a Park Slope brownstone or town with no sky or an endless summer camp apocalypse, it’s easier to get inside the characters inhabiting those strange, weird worlds.


The cover is so cool! Who designed it and what was your impression when you saw it for the first time?


The cover and interior design are both by William Ruotto, a Nashville-based designer. He’s done work for books by Joe Hill and William Peter Blatty, so he absolutely nailed the horror aesthetic. The bear, the basement, the set of new house keys in the foreground, there’s a different riff on the “Pre-Approved for Haunting” theme and I’m glad to see readers enjoying it as much as I do!


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


Shortwave Publishing released a chapbook version of my short story “Haunting Lessons” with cover and interior art by Caitlin Marceau, who is a dynamic and prolific writer out of Canada in her own right. It’s a wonderful package for one of my favorite and best-reviewed stories not included in the collection. That came out in July and is available through the Shortwave webstore


My novelette So Quiet, So White was released as part of the third volume of the Split Scream series from Dread Stone Press. It’s paired with another novelette by J.A.W. McCarthy, who is an absolutely killer talent. That also came out in July.


I also have a space horror short story called “Red Rovers” in the space horror anthology The Darkness Beyond the Stars, edited by P.L. McMillan (another kick-ass writer!) and published by her Salt Heart Press. That one’s a Mars-set tale that’s basically Chopping Mall on the Red Planet. So if you like the idea of reading about spoiled rich space kids getting killed by robots, then I have a tale for you!


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


I’m a huge Stephen Graham Jones fan and Don’t Fear the Reaper, the middle part of his Indian Lake Trilogy, was incredibly satisfying. Moved the town and characters in new directions while staying true to some of the “formula” established in My Heart is a Chainsaw. He’s always so good at playing with tropes and motifs, flipping them or taking them that one step beyond what people would typically consider. To do that with his own book though, in this sequel, is quite the feat. There’s so much to learn from SGJ. Probably explains why he’s a teacher!


Thank you so much for talking to Frightful!


Pre-Approved for Haunting: And Other Stories hits shelves on September 26, 2023.


Patrick Barb is an author of weird, dark, and horrifying tales, currently living (and trying not to freeze to death) in Saint Paul, Minnesota. He is the author of the novellas Gargantuana’s Ghost (Grey Matter Press) and Turn (Alien Buddha Press), as well as the novelette Helicopter Parenting in the Age of Drone Warfare (Spooky House Press). His forthcoming projects include the dark fiction collection Pre-Approved for Haunting (Keylight Books / Turner Publishing, September 2023), the novella The Nut House (Brigids Gate Press, late 2024), and the novel Abducted (Dark Matter INK, Fall 2024). He is an Active Member of the HWA and a Full Member of the SFWA. Visit him at patrickbarb.com.

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