Raised on ’80s slasher horror, Red Lagoe is the author of three horror collections: Lucid Screams, Dismal Dreams and, the reason for our conversation, Impulses Of A Necrotic Heart. Revving up her engines, she has also penned the forthcoming novella, In Excess Of Dark and the novel Bloodstains By Gaslight, both due to hit the ground running in 2024. Red is also the editor of the anthology Nightmare Sky: Stories Of Astronomical Horror and is the owner of Death Knell Press. As an amateur astrologer, this fearless woman may have her dark muse nestled in the darkest reaches of the universe but keeps us all well grounded with stories of loss, grief, trauma and suffering most of us can relate to in some way, though perhaps not quite as balls-to-the-wall insane as some of her more unfortunate victims, er, characters inevitably do.
On top of it all, Red is a formidable artist who lends her impactful drawings to each of the stories we are about to dive into with Impulses Of A Necrotic Heart. But be warned: while Red is as sweet and kind as they come, don’t let her demeaner fool you. A promising voice worth paying attention to, Red creates a web of haunted ruins from which we can expect to never fully escape from unchanged while our appetite for what’s to come grows more insatiable story by story, book by book.
Without further ado, it’s time to dig in and find out exactly what Red’s necrotic little heart is made of.
(Interview conducted by Rick Hipson)
CEMETERY DANCE: To kick things off, Red, do you have any early influences that you can put a finger on where you’re like, yeah, that’s it, that’s the pivotal moment that made you the dark, awe-inspiring creature of the night you’ve become?
RED LAGOE: I was a little kid in the ’80s and a teenager in the ’90s. I grew up on ’80s slasher horror. There were really not any restrictions in my household. My brothers would go rent VHS tapes from Action Video and we’d watch all the horror movies. I’d also watch Alfred Hitchcock with my mom, and The Twilight Zone. I had a lot of dark stories coming at me all the time, but I was also very imaginative. Every kid plays pretend, and I did a lot of playing pretend by myself and it was always some kind of survival story and it was often like a slasher thing where I was the final girl, so it was all fun and games.
Until somebody falls in the forest?
Exactly. I would never fall. I would not be the person who fell. I would practice running in my backyard, jumping over things, getting away from Jason. As for when I got older though, when it comes to the real dark stuff that gets inside of us, beyond stories, the psychological things, I mean, everybody has trauma to one degree or another.
I had… I guess you could call them parent issues, family issues. I was in an abusive relationship. I’ve been manipulated. I mean, we’ve all had darkness in our life in one way or another. And so I can kind of feed off those things and use them to tell my own stories.
Your stories are so immersive that they almost become a visual medium on their own. Obviously there is a visual part of reading the words, but the part that you see in your head is very visual, and you also take it to the next level by creating artwork. When it comes to your artwork and the written word, how have you found that those two mediums complement each other in your creative life and your personal life as well?
I’m very much a visual person. I’m a visual learner. Even when I come up with stories, they tend to be more visual in my head, like acted out as scenes in my head rather than words. So, words are kind of secondary. It’s difficult to be a writer when words don’t come to you before images.
It does take me a little while to write because I have these, it’s almost an abstract cloud of an idea. When it comes to stories it’ll be emotions and some visuals and some key words and phrases, but for the most part, they’re just these jumbled scenes and feelings that I have to kind of wrangle and pull down from this storm cloud and put into words.
But once I get them into words I feel pretty good about it. The drawings usually come after the story, so I write the story, and then I come up with a drawing that will hopefully kind of encapsulate that story in a single image, and that’s usually the case. Occasionally I’ll draw a picture, and the picture inspires a story, but for the most part, the story come first.
Every one of these stories has just an incredible hook to it, where you waste no time at all telling us exactly what the story is about. And then, it just keeps getting better. Or, you know, in the case of a lot of the characters, it keeps getting worse for them.
Would you say that those initial hooks is how your stories present themselves for you? Or are you kind of somewhere in the middle where… This is what happens ultimately, let’s find out how they got there?
Yeah. It’s usually the latter. Most of my ideas are just a small concept. Whether it be, I don’t know, the sheep ghost and how the sheep ghost died, or if it’s the The Persic invasion via the stars. So it usually just starts as this concept or sometimes an ending. It rarely starts with a beginning.
I usually have to figure that out later. It starts with a small nugget of an idea and I kind of pack on some things. I come up with a character that will fit this concept and this plotline well, and then I go from there and then I go back to the beginning. The first line I write, it’s almost never the same line that I stick with because by the ending, the story kind of reveals itself and the full arc of the story kind of reveals itself to me, and I come up with something much better to put.
At what point did you realize these are connected stories, I need to put this all together. Walk us through the evolution of your collection if you will, please.
I think I’ve said this to someone before, but Impulses of a Necrotic Heart, the collection itself, was somewhat impulsive in nature, which helped with the name. It wasn’t rushed, but I wanted a book to come out this year. I wanted to release a book in 2023 because I will not have had a book released since 2021. My next one wouldn’t come out until 2024. So that’s a full three years.
I had Nightmare Sky, which I edited. It was an anthology that I curated and edited, but I didn’t have any of my own work released as a single publication since 2021, and I didn’t want to hurry up and write something because that would be rushed and potentially not very good quality, but I had tons of stories. I had well over 80, 000 words worth of stories that I had rights back to that I could put in a collection and so I decided in early 2023 that since I had all the stories, or most of the stories were already written, I should just put out another collection.
Because a lot of them had already been written, they’d already been edited. A lot of the work was already done, and I’d only have to polish a few of the stories I had and maybe write a couple more. I had all year to get this done.
I pulled from those stories I had and picked the ones which best went together in both mood and tone. I started to see that a lot of these more recent stories of mine have more heart in them. I really, like you said, get into the guts. I dug in a little deeper emotionally with most of these stories. I tied in the whole idea of this necrotic heart and these stories being pulled from the heart.
That’s what I absolutely love about these as well. You really do get into the literal heart of these stories, which makes them resonate really well. Despite some of the more gruesome aspects of some of these stories and how over the top some of them are — I mean, you’ve got a story in there all about the worst period ever, and it was incredible. It’s so over the top, but there’s also a lot of relatability, even as a man reading this. I can assure everybody reading this that I have no uterus, but I’m pretty sure I grew one just so I could feel the pain of this story. That’s how effective these stories are. I’ve got extra parts now I didn’t have at the beginning of this collection because of how personal the writing is.
As you were exploring the themes of grief and despair and loss through your stories, was there anything you were surprised about or that that you perhaps learned about yourself?
I don’t know a simple answer for that. I dug into some parts of me that I’m not always comfortable digging into, especially with the next couple of books that I have coming out next year. I think I was probably writing both of those books about the same time that I was writing most of the stories that are in this collection. It was kind of like the COVID years, and we’re all isolated and had a lot of time to think about all the terrible things. I don’t know if I learned a lot new by writing the stories. I think I discovered things about myself and then I wrote the stories.
Do you find in writing some of these stories, certainly the ones which were most cathartic which had you diving into the more traumatic themes, that perhaps they helped you to shed some things that you are better off not carrying around on you?
It’s like therapy because even when it’s fiction we may elaborate on the darker side of things. We’re digging into those parts of ourselves, the traumas, the things that have happened, and we deal with them by writing about them and there’s some truth in what we write. Maybe not all of it, but the parts that are true, we know which parts of those are, and I think it helps. It’s therapy to get it on the page and to understand a little bit more about why we feel the way we do.
A hundred percent. And I’m so glad that we have writing as a medium, plus it’s also a heck of a lot cheaper than actual therapy.
Is there any particular story you’re able to put a finger on as your most personal or most satisfying story for you in this collection?
There are a few that are a little more personal. They’re so over the top though.
Some of the personal ones for me were “Don’t Make It Weird,” which is kind of silly. It is a little graphic and violent at the end, but that comes from an actual experience I had growing up playing sports. I was angry for a long time about being treated unfairly on the field. I don’t know, I just stopped being angry about it eventually. And in writing that story, it was fun to get those frustrations out and a little cathartic and goofy to explore some kind of monster side to it and her getting a little revenge for what they put her through.
Speaking of personal stories…thanks to the story notes at the back of the book, I know how terrified of spiders you are. To lead into your story “Arachnid,” you’ve got a picture of the left side of a big ass spider (on the book’s cover), so I have to ask you: what was it like to draw the spider? I like the fact that you’ve only got a fraction of the spider in there which might indicate exactly how terrified you were to draw the rest of it. What was the experience like for you to draw this? Did you do it with your eyes closed?
I think I did. I think I did. I am terrified of spiders but I have to deal with them sometimes. I mean, if I don’t deal with them then they will just keep moving into my house and I can’t have that.
I’ve learned to live with my fear and deal with it even though I don’t like it. I’m so afraid of spiders that when I look at pictures of them I get grossed out. I don’t like touching a picture of them. It makes me physically uncomfortable. That’s how ridiculous it is.
I understand how important spiders are to the ecosystem and if they’re outside, they can stay outside. I’m not going to kill them outside, but they’re not welcome in my house. Drawing that picture, it wasn’t too bad. I just had to step outside. It was a little skeevy, but it wasn’t as horrible as writing the story.
When I was a kid, they didn’t bother me. I used to pick them up. I used to let them crawl on my arm. I don’t know what happened.
Maybe you got bit by one or something?
I don’t remember ever being bitten by one. I was young when they started scaring me. I do remember a dream I had and being very afraid after that dream, but I don’t know if I was already afraid prior to that dream. In the dream)I was lying on my couch, in the living room of my childhood home. Looking up there was a rafter, like a beam that ran parallel with the couch, and, in my dream, I was laying on the couch and there was a huge spider about the size of my hand, kind of like a tarantula. It was walking across the beam, and it slowly came overhead. I was laying down looking at it, then it dropped right on my face and I woke up. I don’t know if that’s the origin of my fear or if it was a movie I watched, but I was terrified ever since.
You’re never going to Australia, I would assume.
I would love to, but I’m also afraid. So many exotic places I’d love to go, and I love to hike. I think it was the Virgin Islands; I was looking into some places we could go and there is this hiking trail and I watched a YouTube video and the whole hiking trail is just nothing but spiders and webs and I thought, no, I don’t think we can go there.
Nope. You don’t want to go there and have some kind of Lord of the Rings moment as Frodo. Forget that.
Do you have any plans of creating a book of just your artwork by any chance? I would buy that.
Oh, really? No, I have not made any plans for doing just a book of art. I am in the early stages of mentally scheming how to start offering my art for the rights for book covers or even selling prints. I have a few things on Redbubble, but I’d rather have… I don’t know, something else, something set up on my own online store maybe.
But I have a lot of planning to do for that. And it also requires a lot of time because it’s not just drawing the picture. It’s scanning or photographing the art and getting the high resolution images up. And then, well, there’s a lot to it. Eventually I hope to do more with my art, but for right now, it’s in the early scheming phases.
That’s cool. Well, I wish you all the best with your scheming. And, Red, I hope you don’t mind me getting a little personal here for a moment. If so, you just tell me to “F” off and I can edit that part out. Regarding being married to a military man — and thank you very much, of course, for his service.
You see it all over the world that we need men like him out there doing their part to keep us all safer. When he gets deployed and he comes back safely to you guys again and again, how much do you think the ebb and flow of his departure and reunion has maybe affected some of the themes you’ve got depicted in this collection?
That’s a great question. I never even considered that. I never considered his frequent deployments and being away from home as an inspiration, but I suppose it probably is. I’d have to think on that for a while.
The reason I came to wondering about that is a bit earlier, I was scrolling through my Facebook feed and I saw somebody else who was talking about that, who was married to a military man, and she wrote of just getting used to having him home when he got deployed again all of a sudden with no warning whatsoever. That individual has some younger children. She understands the sacrifice and does what she can, but the kids don’t quite get it yet at this point. I was thinking that must be impactful for everyone. I think about all the times when I was younger and I didn’t quite understand things when people would sort of come in and out of my life, but looking back I now appreciate the impact it had on me and was wondering if that may have, at least in part, impacted some of the amazing stories you wrote involving the heart and grief.
It probably does. That’s something, like I said, I never really considered. Yeah, it is hard. I’ve been married to my husband for twenty-two years. He’s been in the Navy that entire time, so we’ve been through several deployments where he goes away for months and months at a time.
There was one where he was gone for eleven months when our youngest was just a baby and my daughter was in kindergarten. It was a rough year and those times are rough when they’re little, but as sad as it was, I try to teach my kids to recognize their own emotions during those times. And, I have to teach myself to recognize my own emotions during those times because stress can make us react to different situations in ways we wouldn’t normally react. If we’re really stressed out about one thing, we may lash out over another situation. So, what I’ve taught my kids all along – and now they’re teenagers, I have one in college and one in middle school – is it’s so important to be in touch with those feelings and it’s okay to be mad. It’s okay to be sad. You can have all the feelings but recognize when you might be lashing out, when you might be angry with someone and whether all that anger is really justified, or if you’re just really stressed out and acting because of those stresses. I like to think that we have a healthy emotional connection and recognition of our own mental state of mind.
I hope I’m teaching them well. They seem to be dealing pretty well as they go into their teen years. I guess all the darkness would just end up on the page So any of the absences…I am trying to think if I have a story of anybody being absent. Probably not due to a deployment or anything. I’m sorry, I’m my brain is going ten different places at once right now.
It’s okay. I see squirrels everywhere I go. I’m chasing squirrels constantly.
I’m trying to decide which squirrel I’m going to chase. That’s the challenge. But yeah, I guess it’s kind of a minor trauma, you know?
I find it fascinating to think that it’s your loved one who is deployed overseas, you’re really all in it together, just on different levels. I think your kids are very lucky to have you be able to be there and help keep them grounded as someone who’s going through the same stuff and can give them a very healthy perspective. That’s some good stuff there, Red.
Oh, thank you. I don’t know. We’ll find out if they’re all screwed up and they get older and they’re writing horror stories.
It can be the family themed trauma collection.
I do actually have a fun horror story based on a deployment, and that would be “Arachnea.” Whenever my husband’s gone, I have to deal with the spiders. That’s how I learned to deal with them.
There was this one time when one of the grass spiders, or wolf spiders, I don’t know what they’re called, got into the house in the fall, and it was a big one. Like, a really big one, and it was in the bathroom and I did kill it. I’m sorry for all the people who don’t think I should kill spiders, but I can’t have that.
I had a shoe and I smashed it. It was really big because it was carrying a bunch of babies on its back so the moment I smashed it, a hundred, I don’t even know, dozens, hundreds of tiny spiders just started scurrying in every direction. There was screaming and crying and spatting those on me and smashing.
And you haven’t killed a spider since?
I’m very cautious. Very cautious. My son isn’t too afraid, so he’ll capture them now for me because he’s getting older, and he’ll set them free.
Another thing I enjoyed a lot from your collection is you’ve got the perfect stories to bookend it since the last story is a continuation of the first. Did you have both these stories in mind at the same time, or did the closing story come maybe a little bit later on?
When I was compiling the collection, I came up with the title of the collection prior to coming up with the title of that story or the story at all. I wanted to have an opening and closing story that were connected, because I did that with my very first collection, Lucid Screams, the opening and closing story kind of bookend the whole collection and it seemed to be pretty well received. People seemed to really like that aspect, so I wanted to bring that back for Impulses Of A Necrotic Heart. I knew the theme of this rotten heart and what comes from those deep dark places and so I wrote “Impulses Of A Necrotic Heart” knowing that it was gonna be a continued story but also a separate story on its own at the back of the book.
I Wanted a Poe feel, kind of a “Telltale Heart” feel for that last story to pay a little homage to Edgar Allan Poe. They were separate stories, but I knew they were going to be connected by those same characters.
It was interesting how connecting those stories made the book feel more like a living thing because even though I was done with the first story, as I’m reading the other ones, life from that first one was still happening and then I got to catch up with it at the end. It made me wonder what’s happened to some of those other characters since I left them behind in their respective tales.
Thank you. I’m glad it worked.
It was a lot of fun, too. It was really cool.
I struggled with those two quite a bit getting it right. I had months to get these stories together and those two stories I wrote specifically for this collection. A lot of times I can throw together a short story in a weekend then polish it up and within a week I’ve got a decent story and it’s ready for submission. These were tricky. I don’t know why they were so hard, but I really struggled to get down just right. I’d write it one week, read it the next week and it still sucked and I’d have to make more changes. Then it hit me one day the little changes I needed to make, and I made them.
What, for you, is the perfect reaction from folks who’ve just read the last story and put your book down? Aside from buying more of your books, of course.
My goal with most of my stories, or all my stories, is to create some kind of emotional reaction. I want people to gasp. I want people to feel like they’ve been punched in the gut or stabbed in the heart. I want people to feel moved in some way, whether that be a good way or a bad way. Maybe even inspired to write something dark and twisted themselves.
Speaking of wanting more of your books, what can we expect from you to creep us out, freak us out and what have you in 2024?
Well, that story I read from Author Con 2 was In Excess of Dark, and that comes out from Darklit Press March 2024. We should be doing a cover reveal soon-ish. The cover is done. Editing’s done. It’s now ready to start being pushed out and promoted. I don’t have a date on the cover reveal yet, but it’ll be coming soon.
Great! And did you do the cover for this one yourself?
No, I did not. Nope. That one is really dark and twisted and explores suicidal thoughts and grief and loss and it’s quick. It’s a novella that’s short, punchy and stabby, and it goes to some twisted places.
Then in July, 2024, I have a novel coming out with Brigitte’s Gate Press called Bloodstains by Gaslight. That one is a story that explores intimate partner relationship. A teenager in the nineties is in an abusive relationship and the moment she’s about to leave that relationship, her partner, her boyfriend, turns into a vampire and kind of traps her in this life of horror.
I just got goosebumps hearing about this because I think that for a lot of us as well, we’ve probably all come across at least a couple of crappy relationships, whether they’re downright abusive and traumatizing, or generally oppositional. Opposites might attract, but they don’t always work to say the least. I can see the vampiric metaphor quite fitting in a terrible relationship. It very much is like a blood sucking or soul sucking experience.
That one was told from a very personal experience. I was in an abusive relationship for my entire teenage experience from the age of thirteen to nineteen, so there’s some truths. No kidding. I mean, that cannot help.
They say if you go through a bad romantic experience, you can often find yourself at a crossroads where you can go this way or that way, but I think it’s not just a crossroads waiting for you in the end. It’s often more like a whole mishmash of different paths you can go down.
There it is. There’s so many different experiences people have. My experience is different from the next person’s and the next person’s. And then the decisions we must make are all very different. Very much.
And so, this book will explore one teenager’s experience as she navigates a horrible, horrible situation. There’s no romance in this. Oh, there’s a very brief sweet romantic encounter in the beginning of the book, but then it’s all balls-to-th- wall horror.
Is there anything you would like to leave us with, Red? Perhaps a quote of your own that helps you through some of those darker times when you’re maybe immersed in one of your stories when you realize things need to be better.
Yeah. There’s always light in the darkness. Even in the most darkest places. Sometimes we have to sit in the dark for a little while, but we can’t stay there too long. If you stay there too long, it’ll just swallow you up and it becomes harder and harder to get out. So, if there is a light…try to look at it every once in a while. Try to go into the light, try to break out of the darkness if you can. If someone’s extending a hand, take it if you need it.
Like I said, sometimes we have to sit there for a little while, but you can only sit there so long before it really takes its toll, so always look for the light.
Rick Hipson is a Canadian genre journalist living in Kitchener Ontario with his partner in crime, young spawn and two cats who insist they aren’t vying for world domination. For over twenty years Rick has written for a variety of small press publications in print and online which no longer exist through, assumably, no fault of his own. He continues to share his love for dark culture entertainment through his film and book reviews, interviews and articles, which can be found through Rue Morgue Magazine, Cemetery Dance and Hell Notes.