Wednesday, July 8, 2020

New and Notable: 324 Abercorn by Mark Allan Gunnels

Oh, how I love a good haunted house story! And 324 Abercorn is a very good haunted house story, indeed! I tore through the pages, soaking up the weirdness, the unsettling events, the rich Savannah, GA setting, and original characters that I truly came to care about.

I was lucky enough to be able to interview author Mark Allan Gunnels and to get some exclusive insight into the book, his process, and what's coming next from this great voice in horror fiction.

And now, I share that interview with you...

1. What inspired you to write the book? 
My husband and I spend time in Savannah every year, it really has become sort of a home-away-from home for us. And during one trip several years ago, I absolutely fell in love with an old abandoned house we saw on a ghost tour. It was really the house more than anything else that inspired this novel.

2. What did you want to do differently with the haunted house story trope? 
In some ways, I wanted at least the first half of the novel to be a very traditional haunting story. I wanted to imbue it with that atmosphere of things slightly off-kilter and the ambiguity of “is this really happening or not?” However, in the later half I wanted to introduce some new wrinkles into the narrative. So I guess the real challenge of this one was I wanted to create a book that both read like a very traditional, familiar haunted house story while also delivering something fresh and unexpected.

3. Speaking of haunted house stories, what are some of your favorites, ones that you'd recommend others read? One of my all-time favorite haunted house novels is The Dwelling by Susie Moloney, and I was thrilled that she actually blurbed this book because I’m such a fan. The House Next Door by Anne Rivers Siddons is another excellent one. Speaking of Anne’s, Anne Rice’s novel Violin is a sumptuous and atmospheric haunted house tale. Recently I read The Good House by Tananarive Due and found it highly gripping and effective. Funny, those are all by women. Didn’t plan it that way, but there you have it.

4. What difficulties did you encounter when writing the book? Any stumbling blocks? You know, oddly enough after I got about four or five chapters in, I hit a wall and put the book aside for a couple of years and worked on other projects before coming back to it. Oddly, that’s not uncommon for me. Sometimes I get an idea that I’m super excited about, but really the idea needs more gestation time. That happened here, I put it aside but never out of mind and the idea continued to percolate and evolve until it all came together and I knew I was ready to really commit to it. When I returned after that hiatus, it flowed smoothly all the way to the end.

5. You include a bit of gay romance within the story. How do you feel that element will be received? Early reviews have largely singled out the romance subplot as a highlight, and I’m very pleased. The love story in the book developed very organically. I knew I wanted my main character to start dating someone who would act as Mulder to his Scully, but I had no idea how deep that relationship would become and how important to the overall narrative. As the characters fell in love, I fell in love with them falling in love, if that makes any sense. I don’t think it distracts from the overall story, but actually enhances it and makes it feel more intimate and personal. I think people will continue to respond in a positive fashion to the romance aspect, and the fact that it is a gay romance I hope will be a non-issue.

6. What intrigues you about the setting of Savannah, GA? There’s a certain magic to the city that is almost indescribable. It’s beautiful for one, with so many grand historic homes, lush squares and parks, trees dripping with Spanish moss. It is also a city that feels accepting and welcoming, even to outsiders and outcasts. Maybe especially to outsiders and outcasts. It was a real thrill setting the novel there in that unique atmosphere, I felt like for a year I was able to live there vicariously, and I tried hard to really capture the essence of the city.

7. What horror writers influence you and why? So many. Like most horror fans of my age, I grew up reading King and he definitely influenced me. He creates such a grounded realism in his stories so that you feel you know those places, the people feel as familiar as your next door neighbors. He therefore makes it effortless for the reader to then accept the more otherworldly aspects of his stories. Clive Barker and Anne Rice, each in their own way, taught me to just go for it, to be bold and uncompromising in your vision. Barker was also particularly inspiring to me as a gay writer of horror, acting as a role model that made me feel there could really be a place for me at the horror table.

8. What message do you hope readers get from reading 324 Abercorn? Overall, I hope they are entertained. Whatever deeper meaning or themes may exist in my work, first and foremost I want them to be entertaining reads. With the gay romance aspect of the story, I guess my hope is that maybe it can reinforce the idea that love really is love, no different between members of the same sex as opposite sex.

9. Do you listen to music when writing? If so, what? I never used to listen to music when I wrote, finding it too distracting. That changed recently. From an antique store I bought an old-time radio that still functions and set it up in my office. I found an oldies station that plays music from the 50s and 60s and some 70s because it seems somehow wrong to listen to modern music on an antique radio. I let the oldies play softly as I work. In fact, as I type this I’m listening to “Clean Up Woman” by Betty Wright.

10. What's next for you in terms of writing/publication? I have another novel with Crystal Lake Publishing slated for sometime early next year. This one is a tightly-paced suspense novel entitled Before He Wakes, and I’m very excited for this one to be out in the world. Recently over a two month period I was furloughed from work, I wrote a novella called When it Rains that I recently submitted to a publisher for consideration and have my fingers crossed on that one. I’m also finishing up a non-genre novel entitled The Advantaged that has been a thrilling challenge.

Brad Storm doesn’t believe in ghosts, but moving into the house at 324 Abercorn just may change his mind.

Best-selling author Bradley Storm finally has enough money to buy and restore his dream home. Despite 324 Abercorn's reputation as one of the most haunted houses in America, Bradley isn't worried. He doesn't believe in the supernatural. Then strange things begin to happen. Objects no longer where he left them. Phantom noises heard from empty rooms. Shadows glimpsed from the corner of his eye.

Is his house truly haunted, or is there something more sinister happening on the property?

With the help of Bradley’s new boyfriend and a few friends who are just as intrigued with the seemingly inexplicable occurrences surrounding the infamous house, they set out to find the truth of what stalks the halls at 324 Abercorn.

Brad woke suddenly, his heart pounding as if startled. He wasn’t sure what had woken him until the sound repeated. The loud bang of a door being slammed. A door downstairs.

Bias was also up, propped on his elbows, looking around with the foggy eyes of someone violently pulled out of his slumber. “Whaizit?” he mumbled.

Another bang and what sounded like someone clomping halfway up the stairs and then back down to the foyer. The bedroom door was shut, though Brad honestly couldn’t remember closing it before they went to bed.

“Someone’s in the house,” he said in a harsh whisper.

Bias bolted upright against the headboard, rubbing at his eyes with the heels of his hands. “What time is it?”

It seemed a rather absurd question in this particular situation. As if an intruder in the house at ten would be acceptable, but not at eight. Nevertheless, Brad reached for his cell on the nightstand to check the time. The quality of the light pouring in the window suggested noonish, but he’d confirm on the phone before calling—

Brad’s hand groped along the nightstand but found nothing. He glanced over and saw that the phone was not there. He leaned over and looked beside the bed to see if it had fallen in the night, but again nothing.

Pounding from downstairs, like someone beating a fist against the wall while running up and down the hallway.

“Do you have your cell phone?” Brad asked.

Bias blinked at him for a moment, and then seemed to understand. He grabbed his jeans from where they lay crumpled beside the bed and dug around in the pockets. “I swear it was here last night.”

It had gone quiet downstairs, but somehow the silence felt more sinister and dangerous than the noise.

“What do we do?” Bias asked, seeming fully awake now. “Have a landline?”

Brad shook his head. He hadn’t had a landline for the past five or so years. They seemed so outdated in today’s digital world. Right now, he would have given anything for one.

Climbing out of bed, Brad quickly slipped on his pants from the previous night while Bias did the same. Barefoot and bare-chested, the two crept to the door. Brad paused with his hand on the knob, took a few deep breaths, drew courage from the feel of Bias pressed against his back, then opened the door an inch, placing his eye to the crack. The house was still silent, and he had an unobstructed view to the stairs. They could make a dash down the stairs and out the door, or they could instead go the opposite way and into one of the spare rooms, accessing the balcony and making their way down to the side yard. The stairs provided the most direct line out of the house, but also an increased risk, since—as far as Brad knew—the intruder was still downstairs. Under the circumstances, the balcony was the smarter choice.

He half turned, meaning to tell Bias to put on a shirt and shoes, but he noticed something lying on the floor just in front of the staircase. Two objects, side-by-side.

“Stay here,” he whispered to Bias.

The young man looked truly frightened, his eyes wide and his skin paler than usual. He gripped Brad’s arm. “What are you going to do?”

“Our cell phones are out there. I’m going to grab them then we’ll lock ourselves in here and call the police.”

“They’re just lying out there…you mean like bait in a trap? Whoever broke in could be waiting.”
Brad’s eyes scanned the room, looking for something he could use as a weapon. For the first time in his life, he wished he was more into sports, possibly keeping a baseball bat or hockey stick close at hand. He considered the floor lamp, but it seemed unwieldy and without much heft to it. His gaze panned the far wall and he almost laughed out loud when he spotted the sword.

Three years ago Vertigo comics had done an adaption of his zombie novel, Dead on the Inside, and as part of the promotion, Brad had attended Dragoncon in Atlanta, Georgia. He’d received many gifts while there—graphic novels, posters, T-shirts, trading cards, and from one publisher of Manga a katana sword with sheath and wall mount. He’d hung it up, thinking of it as a mere decoration and nothing more, but now felt silly that it hadn’t immediately sprung to mind when in need of a weapon.
He crossed the room, snatched the sword from the mount, and removed it from its sheath.

“Are you serious right now?” Bias said. “What? You think you’re Michonne from The Walking Dead or something?”

Brad did feel somewhat silly wielding the sword, but better silly than dead. “It’s just a precaution. I’m only going to be out there for a couple of seconds.”

Before Bias could argue further, and perhaps weaken his resolve, Brad threw open the bedroom door and bolted over to where the phones lay. Holding the sword out with his right hand, he bent and collected the phones in his left. A slight breeze ruffled his hair and caused him to look up. He could see straight down the stairs to the foyer. Both the double doors stood wide open to the street. A tingling suddenly shot down his back, and he turned in his crouch, before he sprang for the bedroom. He dropped the sword on the way, but didn’t bother retrieving it. He practically leapt through the doorway, closing and locking the door behind him. He handed Bias his cell phone, feeling out of breath even though the distance he’d traveled to the stairs and back was a few feet at most.
“Call 911,” he said, back against the door as if to barricade it.

Bias immediately began punching at the screen. Brad glanced down at his own phone, expecting it to be broken, but found himself looking at his own feet. At first, his frantic mind registered only confusion, but then he realized that the phone’s camera app was open. Frowning, distantly hearing Bias talking to the emergency operator, he scrolled through to the most recently taken pictures.
The tingling in his spine spread over every inch of his body, encasing him in ice. There were a series of photos—six total—of him and Bias asleep in bed.


Mark Allan Gunnells loves to tell stories. He has since he was a kid, penning one-page tales that were Twilight Zone knockoffs. He likes to think he has gotten a little better since then. He loves reader feedback, and above all he loves telling stories. He lives in Greer, SC, with his husband Craig A. Metcalf.

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