Have you met Heinrich von Wolfcastle? You’d remember him if you did. Relatively new to the horror writer scene, his work is drenched in thrills, acidic humor and blood—among other things. He also happens to be my ‘mentee’ from the Horror Writer Association’s mentor program. I’ll be reviewing his first book, Screams Before Dawn tomorrow, but first get to know the… man… behind the mayhem.
- Heinrich von Wolfcastle—Screams Before Dawn was a labor of love, and it was birthed in a familiar tradition of horror–by bursting through my chest cavity and scurrying after anyone in proximity. Thankfully, though, no one else was harmed in the delivery. But once I wiped away the blood and guts of it all, I was excited to see what was there.
Horror is a beautifully perverse form of social commentary, and if I had to dissect what I found in my collection, I would say it is a culmination of… a lot of true stories.
I came across Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried as compulsory reading in high school (one of very few credits to give there), and it was my introduction to the concept of “story-truth” versus “happening-truth.” The unmitigated truth cannot be shared in a mere recalling of events. To really convey an experience, there needs to be symbolism, allegory, allusion. And horror is the only metaphor for me.
I was writing before then. I’ve been writing since then. Throughout it all, I’ve been a large consumer of all things horror. At some point, I just felt gross about it–like I was taking too many trips to the buffet line without contributing something in return. So, I followed that feeling through midnight writing sessions until this strange concoction of words and ideas gestated in the form of a book, sprouted black wings, and took flight.
AYS—You mentioned midnight writing sessions, can you tell us a bit more about your writing process?
Heinrich von Wolfcastle—I am a creature of many habits, and I adhere to many rituals. I’ve found I can only write if there are no scheduled interruptions. To try to add something to a story for an hour or two does not work for me, and I don’t even bother with the effort anymore. The greatest lesson I’ve learned along the way is to accept my writing process for what it is rather than to force it to be something different. Writing happens when the environment is conducive for it. Thus, if I’m feeling called for it, I will sit at my writing desk in the late evening with a cup of something hot to drink and wait. Sometimes I get a paragraph–sometimes pages–and sometimes only a series of words or ideas. But I’ve learned that no matter what, if there’s something to be written, it only shows its face in the dark.
Heinrich von Wolfcastle—My muse cares for only one thing, and that’s that I write from a felt sense of a very specific kind of nameless feeling. Maybe you’ve felt it before too. It’s that quieted lull that sets in on a long drive when you’re equally distant from everything on the horizon, just as far from home as you are from where you’re headed.
All I know is that she shows up late on a Saturday night with pizza and horror movie reruns on TV, when you know that the next day isn’t out to hurt you. I can get lost in the strangeness of those late nights–the way they drag on in the best way possible, and it becomes difficult to know when one day begins and the other ends. If I can rebel against the coming tide of another day, divide those moments in two and then halve them again, there’s a timelessness there–a sweet space of comfort. That feeling, for me, drives the writing. If anyone reads Screams or anything else I’ve written and tastes the flavor of that, then she is pleased.
AYS—You collect toys. This seems too innocent to be sinister. Please tell us about this collection.
Heinrich von Wolfcastle—My first love before horror was a love of toys–Ghostbusters, Ninja Turtles, G.I. Joes, you name it. I still have most of what I grew up with and that likely could have been the end of the story. And then I stumbled across Todd McFarlane’s Movie Maniacs toy line in the late 1990’s. Specifically, they were Jason Voorhees, Freddy Krueger, and Leatherface. I bought them with money I didn’t have and was confronted with a question about why I purchased something that I was too old to play with and wasn’t really designed to be played with anyway. I couldn’t answer it, but I couldn’t take my eyes off of them either.
I tore the three figures open from their boxes and placed them above my desk and started writing stories about them–not stories about the characters, but stories about who I imagined the three figures were if I had never heard of their respective franchises. Soon, I was buying every McFarlane figure I could find. And not long after, the 3 ¾ inch G.I. Joe line was brought back to life and I was nostalgically buying them too.
I agree with a sentiment shared amongst collectors: it’s easy for someone who loves a sport to celebrate that love by talking about it or playing it. But for someone who loves a (horror) movie, it’s hard to capture that affection; it’s hard to play it. The play is in the chasing and finding of small trophies in the likeness of your love. And a figure is not just a figure. It encompasses a world of context and history with it too. In each packaged and unpackaged character is a connection to people and places long past. In that way, my collection is an eclectic assortment of things I love or once loved–small portals to worn memories.
…and I do play with them.
AYS—You are a recent member of the Horror Writer’s Association. As a self-proclaimed recluse, do you feel the camaraderie of other writers has helped or hindered you? Does ink run thicker than blood and water?
Heinrich von Wolfcastle—Writers are a strange animal, and they’re usually the unsocialized kind. It can be difficult to differentiate a smile from someone revealing their teeth at you. But there is a camaraderie in meeting someone who knows the secret handshake, someone who can share their map of the layout ahead or give a knowing glance that they understand the lunacy of it all.
There is no bus for writers to board and no train to any shared destination. I think we’re all collectively working on our own to figure out this confounding thing that drives us–this strange quandary of writing for ourselves and also putting that writing out in the world for others to see. It’s a demented kind of thing to say, I write for me and am therefore my own critic, but to also follow that with a whispered, I hope you like what I write.
Let’s get large picture about it: we all live and die alone, but it’s nice when we can set that aside for a moment and talk about something else–like a story–isn’t it? (I am fun to bring to parties).
AYS—As an author, what advice would you give those hopeful to tread the lonely path of words?
Heinrich von Wolfcastle—My advice is to explore what your process is before you decide what to make it, and allow your enthusiasm to be your compass to see if you have it right. As for the writing itself, you just have to do it. Don’t stop and look back. Don’t reflect on it. Don’t judge it. Just write like a vamp fleeing a sunrise. There will be plenty of time to go back and pick up the bodies later. And most of all, if there’s any part of it you like, notice it. Celebrate it.
Also, everybody who reads anything you write will have an opinion. When they voice that opinion as feedback, they’re right from their perspective. But also allow yourself to have the final say–the privilege to discard what doesn’t fit for you. If something in that feedback resonates, follow that and see where it takes you.
AYS—If we find ourselves unable—or unwilling—to travel to the Carpathian Mountains, where else can we find you?
Heinrich von Wolfcastle—Ugh, you mean I have to leave the house? I hate when that happens. You might find yourself bumping shoulders with me at a few concerts or toy conventions around the Chicagoland area. I do hope to start touring some local conventions with a booth where I can sign your book, take a picture, share a scream–whatever suits you.
I don’t have any formal dates set for 2020 yet, but you can always keep up with any plans that unfold here: HeinrichvonWolfcastle.com/blog