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  • Writer's pictureLee Murray

Midnight Echo #15 Showcase: Jason Franks

In the seminal novel that launched a genre, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley wrote, “There is something at work in my soul, which I do not understand.” With this single sentence, Shelley cuts at the reason that so many of us embrace dark fiction. And it is with this notion in mind that I am showcasing some of the dark souls who contributed their twisted and chilling creations to the 2020 edition of the AHWA's annual magazine Midnight Echo. Today, my guest is Jason Franks. Welcome Jason!

Who are you and where do you write from?

By day, I'm a mild-mannered data scientist and father. By night, I'm an alien serial killer from hell. You might know me from the Sixsmiths graphic novels, or Bloody Waters or Faerie Apocalypse. Or you might not know me at all. I like that, because you're less likely to see me coming.

I write prose fiction and comics across all of the speculative genres, but horror is my default setting and most of what I do comes from there. Even when I'm doing comedy there's some kind of horror at the root of it.

I have spent most of my life in Melbourne, but I have lived in South Africa and the US. I worked in Sweden for a year and I've spent a lot of time in Japan, as well. But my home country is the Republic of Horror.

Please comment on your involvement in the AHWA and its importance to you. I've been an AHWA member for about ten years, although I wasn't very active for the first few, when most of my writing was for comics--a marginal business in Australia, even compared to small press horror. If I am not mistaken, the reason I joined in the first place was that former president Marty Young asked me to write a comics primer for horror writers and I wanted to be involved.

As I shifted my emphasis back to prose I got more involved, and I discovered a real sense of community and made some good friends. AHWA stalwart Greg Chapman is a comics guy also, and former president Geoff Brown was a positive force for comics also, which definitely helped me fit in. I was a judge for the Shadows last year in the graphic novel category and that it felt good to immerse myself in local comics again. 

Why does the short story format appeal to you?

Well, now I feel a bit like an impostor. Like most writers, I cut my teeth on short stories, but the truth is that I don't write too many of them these days. My focus is on longform and many short ideas of mine go into comics, not prose. But I still love short stories. I love the efficiency of the form, and I love the way it lets me try out ideas without having to commit to a longer work.

If you're like me, and you like asshole characters, you can sometimes get away with more of that in a short story than in a novel. Once your character betrays the audience you're going to lose a a big chunk of the audience--which is less of a problem if that's the end of the story.

Can you tell us what inspired your contribution to Midnight Echo #15?

A snatch of the poem The Fairies, by William Allingham:

Up the airy mountain, Down the rushy glen, We daren’t go a-hunting For fear of little men

That stuck with me, like a creepy nursery rhyme. Hunters, afraid to go into the woods because of little men. So that was where I got the little man from. I wondered where he might have gotten to today, and whether he would be a threat in an urban setting. The hunters' superstitions seem ridiculous today... but I imagine they were a lot tougher and more capable than soft suburbanites like you and I. What if they weren't superstitious at all?

Why did you have to be so dark?

Because I look good in black.

2020 has had its share of darkness. Do you think horror is more or less important in these very turbulent times?

I think horror is always important and I don't know if its waxing and waning in popularity really does coincide with turbulent times. Horror is important because it's a genre that does not require a happy ending--in fact it usually expects the other kind. It's my belief that this is a more honest position to take. No story ends with a wedding and a victory parade. All heroes fail eventually. Darkness will fall every night without fail, until the sun explodes or grows cold. Plenty of real life villains not only prosper, but have sometimes been democratically elected to the highest office. Ya know.

The Marie Kondo challenge: in an effort to de-clutter, you’re only allowed to keep three books on your nightstand. Which three would you choose and why?

Marie Kondo is one of the most disturbing new voices in horror. I think the intention of this question is to name three favourite books, but if I really had to make this choice, I would pick three new books that I haven't read.

But okay, I'll play by the rules, and only cheat a little:

I'd keep collected editions of the Earthsea Cycle, by Ursula Le Guin, and the Amber cycle, by Roger Zelazny, which are two series of books I keep coming back to and which I think you can see stamped on just about everything I write. Neither of which counts as horror, I admit. My third pick is Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy, which I think is rich and dark and horrifying enough for all three picks.

Any books outside of those three would vary from day to day but, as I write this, American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis is adjusting its tie clip and imagining what I look like with an axe in the face for relegating it to number 4.

Poe, Straub, King & Co aside, can you name any lesser known but deserving writers of horror fiction whose work has resonated for you recently?

There are so many! It's a long list, so I'll give you two off the top of my head (not an invitation to scalp me, if you were wondering). I'll start with Australia's own Kaaron Warren, with whom I share a birthday, who is probably the prose author whose work scares me the most. I thin the best horror comes when characters fall into moral jeopardy, and Kaaron's characters cross that line and run with it in a way that really gets under my skin.

John Langan is brilliant. The Fisherman is the best horror novel I've read in ages, and there is so much to admire in it. The literary style, the careful character work, the way that he draws other, more lurid work in and keeps it apiece with the style. But what I really like is the stuff he only shows us in glimpses. The weird city and its place in the cosmology--that's what draws my imagination back again and again, years after I've finished reading it.

Folks like Laird Barron, Jason Nahrung, Paul Tremblay and Kirstyn McDermott are all top villains in my book. Just superb, smart practitioners who really make you feel it.

Midnight Echo #15 is being offered in both print and ebook versions this year. Did the offer of print make a difference to you? Are you seduced by the waft of vanilla and printer’s ink?

Not really. Can I say that? Not really. My first ever short story sale was to a digital market and I'm just kind of used to it now. Almost all of my story sales that weren't for an anthology have been digital only. It's nice to get into a print magazine, but if I had to choose one format only I like digital. I think it just makes the work much more accessible to more readers.

I love print as a reader, but as an author, for a short story to be in print is purely a bonus. Heresy, I know.

What are you working on right now?

Well, I am glad you asked. I have a few things on the boil. First up there's Blackened Skies, a sequel to my first book, Bloody Waters, which is about a rock'n'roll apocalypse. I am also writing a dark urban fantasy novel called Sorrow, which is inspired by the Ulster cycle from Irish mythology. I have a story commissioned for IFWG's Dracula Unfanged anthology next year.

Oh, and I have a novel coming out in 2022 from IFWG called X-Dimensional Assassin Zai Through the Unfolded Earth, which will need to be edited sooner or later.

Also...  I am shopping arund a short graphic novel called Gourmand Go. And the second issue of my villain-themed comics anthology, Smiling Damned, is getting close to done.

I'm a busy boy.

Jason Franks is the author of the novels Bloody Waters and Faerie Apocalypse, and the writer of the Sixsmiths graphic novels, which have been shortlisted for Aurealis, Ditmar, and Ledger awards, respectively. He is based in Melbourne, Australia, but has at various times lived or worked in South Africa, the USA, Sweden and Japan. Jason's short stories have been published in Aurealis, Deathlings, After the World, SQ Mag, and a variety of anthologies and collections.


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