Today I welcome Matthew Tait to my blog. He's recently seen the release of Slander Hall through Dark Continent's Publishing Tales of Darkness and Dismay collection. Thank you for stopping by, Matthew. In a recent discussion you and I had, you mentioned your interest in cult groups that are heavily involved in brainwashing--such as the Jonestown Massacre and Heaven's Gate. What, in your opinion, is the special horror attached to these social situations?
I think the core horror attached to these situations – and one of the reasons people find them so fascinating – is that many of us (if given just the right set of circumstances), might be able to envisage ourselves in a similar situation. Millions of years of evolution have taken place, and yet we are all still grappling for answers – the reasons behind our existence and why we are here. There are certain watershed moments in history when particular charismatic individuals seem to give these answers to us in a coherent structure that makes sense at the time … and those answers fill a void we’ve carried since infancy. It’s only in the aftermath after these groups implode that the real eye-opener dawns: that seeking revelation can ultimately lead to a dead end.
Not only that, of course – but I think the fundamental fascination lies in how these cults ultimately self-terminate. Death will always hold its morbid spell. We hope to see (perhaps by catching a glimpse of the bodies) if there are any answers to own mortality etched there… that maybe we’ll even be granted revelations of our own.
How did these two tragedies come together to give rise to Slander Hall? Did you do a lot of research?
I think writing (in particular fiction writing), will always be cathartic to those who practice it. I’ve long held a fascination with this taboo topic and Slander Hall was a short attempt to exorcise some of those niggling demons and unanswered questions that still plague me to this day. Very little research was needed as most of the information still resides in my skull; however, some of the the main encouragement came from a book I bought by one of the sole survivors of the Heaven’s Gate tragedy. This book is very difficult to find and gives an insider's view as to what really went on during the final days. Suffice it to say I’ve been studying it for so long now the spine has rubber bands holding it together …
Can you tell us more about your protagonist, Cedar Jarrell? Why does he go back?
This question goes back to my previous answer for the above one. The main protagonist in Slander Hall is loosely based on the sole survivor and why he left at the eleventh hour just before the suicides took place. Unbelievably, this particular individual didn’t "come to his senses" or expunge the belief system from his psyche (to this day he still holds true to it). In my fictitious version, Cedar Jarrell returns to the ghost town of Slander Hall for some kind of closure … perhaps even revelation. He thinks his deceased friends might still be alive in some capacity – that their energy might still remain. That is, after all, why they died: so that they could live on in another evolutionary level.
What scares you the most in real life?
Interesting question … and one that some people might not like the answer to. In the past I’ve been labelled somewhat of a conspiracy theorist (which I don’t believe), but ultimately what scares me is big government using the general population as sheep or fodder to further their own agendas. Another taboo subject I hope to write about one day is the advents surrounding 9/11. We know now that government’s version of advents cannot possibly be true … and in the face of this information the alternative theories that crop up are terrifying beyond belief. If such things have taken place in the past (innocent people being sacrificed for a greater cause), then there is a total lack of control on our part … and that scares me the most.
And now, for the not-so-serious question: do you have a writing soundtrack of go-to albums/songs that put you into "the zone" when you're creating?
It is no secret among my writing friends how much Clive Barker has influenced me over the years. Not only as a writer but ultimately as a person. His keen insights and philosophies have always been pertinent with my own. When composing, I like nothing more than listening to Danny Elfman’s soundtrack from the film Nightbreed. The opening sequence of music never fails to induce a frisson of pleasure. But I am just enamoured to the music of Lord of Illusions or even Candyman. There is a haunting quality to all of it – an apocalyptic ease I try to imbue into everything I write. When editing, the tune changes somewhat and my heroes from the nighties all get a spin: Nirvana, Bush, Alice in Chains and most of the music featured around that era.
You said you worked in a video store. Are there any of the films you saw that later influenced you to become a writer?
It will always be the books one grows up with that plant the seeds for that particular ambition; however, there are many films that have added to the tide. They might be somewhat self-indulgent, but I’ve always held the same fascination someone like Stephen King holds for the art: stories on celluloid that are actually about writers and the often blurry world they inhabit on a daily basis. (And he’s created quite a few of them). Movies like Secret Window and Misery and The Dark Half. One particular one that I’ve watched too many times to count is David Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch. To this day I’m still puzzled by what I see up on the screen – but the images did induce me to pick up my pen on more than one occasion. Lastly I have to give another shout-out to Mr. Clive Barker. After seeing the original Hellraiser I sought out his novella The Hellbound Heart immediately. After that, my life changed forever.
Purchase Slander Hall here.