Author Rickey Russell is also a fellow horror blogger, running a site called “A Southern Life in Scandalous Times.”
Demon in the Mist, his first novel, is a story of a small town being terrorized by a supernatural monster from the mountains and a group of locals that bands together to stop it.
The novel is atmospheric right from the start and has a great throwback feel to 1970s creature feature movies and horror fiction. It begins with a small coven of Wiccans, which includes a gay couple, attempting to summon a demon in hopes of getting revenge for anti-gay attacks of the past.
But this isn’t a case of “the gays are to blame for the evil.” Some of the novel’s heroes are gay, including members of the police force. And in keeping with life in a small town, they are not living openly as gay men. However, they aren’t ashamed of their sexuality either and it does not become an issue in the main plot. It just happens to be who they are.
The focus is on the monster—a demon that travels in the mist at night and is on a rampage, slaughtering anyone who gets in its way. The community struggles to stay out of its path while figuring out a way to defeat it.
Along with the scares and the body count, Demon in the Mist features a magic man who lives in the mountains with the sole purpose of keeping the demon at bay. He’s known as a “ghost walker” and it’s his job to serve as a barrier between the living and demons. And now he’s found another ghost walker to help—a local woman who didn’t even know she had it in her. And this is where the Wiccan and psychic elements of the novel come in, adding another layer to the story and making it more complex than your standard monster tale.
Rickey took the time to answer some of my questions about his writing, his blog, and his love of horror!
BOYS, BEARS & SCARES: Where did you come up with the idea for Demon in the Mist? Is it influenced by any particular horror novels or movies?
RICKEY RUSSELL: First I want to say thank you, from one gay horror fan to another, your blog and reviews have led me to some wonderful and entertaining gay film choices. Some new and some long forgotten. Now as for Demon In The Mist‘s concept, I have always played with the notion of some dark demon-y creature lurking just beyond the shadows. Just the product of a warped childhood fed by way too much horror I guess. LOL. The idea of having him become a subject for my first novel didn’t happen until I moved to S.E. Kentucky with my partner. The mist lingers so low and thick against the hills, and moves almost with purpose and life. That is when I decided to take that shadowy creature from my mind and place him in this nightmare scenario. The other components of Demon In The Mist are taken from other aspects of my own life. The paganism is based on my free-flowing spirituality and polytheism. The characters and their stories are peppered with some of my own personal exploits. The main influences that inspired how I wanted to write the story came from a childhood of Stephen King, Poppy Z. Brite, both phenom horror writers. The creature feature aspects come from a love of Peter Benchley novels, most of which have been adapted into film.
BB&S: While the novel is essentially a story about a town terrorized by a mist monster, there are various magical and supernatural elements, such as the ghost walkers and the demon itself. Are these all creations from your imagination or are they based on actual lore and legend?
RICKEY: The ghost walkers, both Canaan Tallman and Karen Ison, are completely from my mind. To be honest the only real influence or reference I have to witchcraft as a practice comes from Willow (Buffy The Vampire Slayer) and the educational books that I have gathered over the years on Pagan Spirituality. I have always leaned more toward a polytheistic belief system. The demon is also something from my own twisted desire to constantly try to scare myself when ever I am out after dark. Now, as far as having the Demon be the creature of substance that it is, that comes from Bible study as a child mixed with modern paranormal topics of ghosts, demons, why they exist, what is their agenda. Things like that. One of the most interesting things in the Christian Bible, for me, was the mention of the leviathan, and this dark void filled with creatures that supposedly existed before “creation.” I always kind of sympathized with the fact that “they were here first, so of course they are pissed at us.” The lore and legends that I chose for these characters are a mix of ancient mysticism from the East, like Buddhism and Hinduism. I took and mixed that with some Native American lore. I love the whole New Age spiritualism of the late 60s and early 70s.
BB&S: Was it important for you to include Wiccan themes and gay characters in the novel? And why did you decide to make your initial Wiccan characters gay?
RICKEY: I have always been partial to Wicca. If I actually practiced “religiously” then Wicca would be my religion of choice. It and Buddhism are the only world religions that speak to me on an honest, organic level. But most religions tend to make you hold to a set of organization and regulation and I just can’t get into that. I keep my altar set based on the season, I light my candles and set special offerings and trinkets of importance in honor of whatever god’s holy day is taking place and on the Wiccan holidays. Mine is a mixed acknowledgment of Hindu gods, Celtic gods, Roman gods, and Norse gods. I do ’em all. LOL!
As for having my first group of witches be both gay and Wiccan, that was just my desire to have as many gay characters in both powerful and vulnerable positions within the story—both on the negative and positive side of the situation.
BB&S: Demon in the Mist clearly leaves room for a sequel or series. Is a follow- up in the works? And are you working on any other horror novels?
RICKEY: I have Demon In The Mist set up to be the first of a series. The next book is called The Haxan’s Well and will tie up some of the characters’ stories that I left open in Demon In The Mist. It will deal with Necromancy and explore the ghost walkers’ backstory further. I have the basic outline set out but I haven’t actually started writing it yet.
As far as what else I am working on, (sigh) I was almost done with my trilogy horror based on the local urban legends from my hometown. The place I grew up is Trion, Georgia, and we have an awesome legend surrounding gay Satanist lovers, and their mountain home called Corpsewood Manor. Plus tons of locations that host demon dogs, vengeful spirits, stories like that. Southern Nightmares is three short stories that have a connection to Corpsewood Manor yet contain their own nightmarish story unfolding in different times. Unfortunately I failed to back up my work like I know that I should have done, and lost it when my hard drive crashed last fall. So now the book is pushed back.
BB&S: Ouch. Losing so much work is devastating. I’d love to read the legend of the gay Satanists as a fiction novel. As for Demon in the Mist, if it was made into a movie, who might you want to see playing your gay male characters?
RICKEY: If Demon In The Mist was made into a movie I would like for Thomas Dekker to play Caleb, with maybe a Matt Bomer playing Mark—the bi guy. For Christopher, I think someone like Sean Paul Lockhart would be good, and maybe a Robbie Amell type for Marimus.
BB&S: Speaking of horror movies, let’s talk about your blog, A Southern Life in Scandalous Times. How long have you been blogging about horror films and how did you come up with that name?
RICKEY: I started blogging about horror back in 2010. I had the blog site way before that but I just never did anything with it. I was taking a quiz and one of the questions was, ”If there was a book written about you what would the title be?” I instantly typed out A Southern Life In Scandalous Times and thought, damn—I love that title. So to preserve it I opened up a blog account to hold the title digitally. I later learned that there is a series of Romance novels based on that title. I assume it came to me because of my obsession with Blanche Devereaux and growing up in a small Georgia town as an out-of-the-closet gay teen.
In 2010 I came out of a strange haze that I had been in for a few years and began noticing a lot of horror and sci-fi films coming out and I wanted to keep up with them. So I decided to use my blog as a reference guide so I wouldn’t forget any of the movies that interested me. The reviews and interview requests within the indie community came as a result of that. Doing the A Southern Life In Scandalous Times blog almost instantly reconnected me with that kid, hitting the video stores on Friday, renting 10 tapes and sitting up all weekend to watch them over and over. Even now I can connect with that same emotion the minute I sit down to log a news story, or write a review. My favorite thing is interviewing the indie horror actors and directors in the industry.
BB&S: As a follower of your blog, I know and appreciate that you focus heavily on independent film as I do on my blog. Why do you spend more time on b- movies and low-budget films than mainstream and popular movies?
RICKEY: Honestly, for me the indie horror stuff feels more real, honest, and passionate. Even the bad stuff that comes along does more to entertain me than the big studio flicks. I still watch them too, it is just that the indie stuff has more of a freedom of story telling and styling than the over-produced studio films. Plus, having grown up with late night horror hosts hooking me on b-movies sort of deeply programmed me to love the indie stuff more…LOL! To be honest if it wasn’t for the low-budget b guys creating their stuff then horror would have probably died out the minute that Tipper Gore and the PMRC hit! Indie horror is what draws in more horror fans, puts out way more films for what ever subgenre you like, and offers way more original material than Hollywood would ever allow. It seems Hollywood really only knows three stories!
BB&S: Horror movie quickie Q&A. What are your favorite horror subgenres?
RICKEY: My favorite subgenres are the slasher movie, giallo movies, the cult/witchcraft movie, and the possession movie.
BB&S: What scares you most in a horror movie?
RICKEY: The scariest things for me in horror movies are not the monsters or evil entities, it is the fucked up guy in the group that turns on everyone else. The minute another character gets left in a room with that guy I cringe! After him, the rapist/assailant in revenge and exploitation horror followed by the cannibal people. Those are the scariest creation within horror for me personally. I will watch any movie that has these characters in them because I just love all horror. But if I am seeking out a movie to watch or re-watch then I go for my fave subgenres.
BB&S: Horror mixed with comedy. Yes or no?
RICKEY: I like horror comedies but only if it is over-the-top and tacky. But I don’t like for there to be cliché comedy guys in my horror that is marketed as serious horror. Does that make sense? I guess you can say that I like a bit of horror in my comedy but I don’t want a lot of comedy in my horror!
BB&S: Sex and nudity in horror. Yes or no?
RICKEY: Sex and nudity is a must, lol. Not to discredit all the cool flicks out there that don’t exploit the flesh in their stories but I really embrace a horror franchise that has a lot of sex and plenty of full frontal action.
BB&S: Final girl or final guy?
RICKEY: I enjoy both the final girl and the final guy. Most of the films I watch tend to have the final girl set-up. I really want to see more final guys that are gay characters.
BB&S: Who are some of your favorite scream queens?
RICKEY: I am totally old school with my Scream Queens. Jamie Lee Curtis, Heather Langenkamp, Debbie Rochon, Sigourney Weaver, Adrienne King, Felissa Rose, Marilyn Burns. But I have to give love to the new girls, Danielle Harris, Natasha Lyonne, and Jodelle Ferland.
BB&S: Favorite iconic horror baddie?
RICKEY: My favorite horror baddies are Jason, Michael, Freddy, Pinhead, and Leatherface. But if I had to go with just one it would be Jason.
BB&S: What are some of your favorite horror TV shows?
RICKEY: Wow. I don’t think there is one out there that I don’t like cause I seem to watch them all, even the ones that suck. The best ones I think are The Walking Dead, American Horror Story, Penny Dreadful, Salem, and Bates Motel.
BB&S: What songs or artists might be on your Halloween party playlist?
RICKEY: My Halloween artists and music is the same as the rest of the year, Marilyn Manson, Ozzy, The HorrorPops, Mary Magdalan, The Creepshow, and Alice Cooper.
BB&S: And finally, who are your favorite horror authors?
RICKEY: My favorite authors are Stephen King, Poppy Z. Brite, Brian Keene, Anne Rice, Peter Straub, and Clive Barker.
BB&S: Thanks for taking the time to chat, Rickey!
Check out Rickey’s horror blog here.
And you can get Demon in the Mist on Amazon.