The Cemetery Dance Interview: Kristopher Triana

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Kristopher Triana

Kristopher Triana is a Splatterpunk Award-winning author of extreme horror who needs no introduction — but I’ll give you a brief one here anyways. Author of such critically acclaimed fan favorites as Gone To See the Riverman (and it’s recent sequel, Along the River of Flesh), Full Brutal, The Ruin Season and That Night In the Woods, Triana is an animal-loving Connecticut writer you don’t want to miss. Although he also writes noir, crime, westerns. literary fiction, and is a columnist with Backwoods Survival Guide Magazine, this conversation centers around the soft spot I have for his particular brand of nightmare fuel. Fans of his work will be taken aback by the scope of his often traumatic, always heartfelt style of bringing us in his full throttle world of terror. Book after book, Triana continues to prove himself as a dependable curator of thought provoking, gut wrenching, ridiculously immersive and frightening stories any fan of this dark thing of ours is thrilled to get caught up and lost in.

Most recently, Triana was kind enough to let me pick about his evolution as an author, his proudest moments and a few morsels on how he does what he does so damn well. 

(Interview conducted by Rick Hipson)

CEMETERY DANCE: I recently made a comment to a fellow Triana fan about how I read three of your books pretty much back-to-back-to-back (Prettiest Girl In the Grave, That Night In the Woods, and The Ruin Season) and found your voice for each book unique from the last. Is there a conscious process going on when you slip into the right voice for the right story, or something else you can describe as your ability to switch on whichever voice best suits whatever story you may be working on?

KRISTOPHER TRIANA: I use one narrative tone for my third-person novels, but the genres I dabble in fluctuate considerably. When I really change the voice of my narrative is when I’m writing in the first person and everything is from one character’s perspective, as is the case with Full Brutal and And the Devil Cried, which are my two cruelest novels, and are both told from the point-of-view of the villains.

How do you feel your overall style and voice has changed since you began to write and get published?

I’ve definitely grown, as any author should after a period of years, and will continue to do so. I write less blood and guts these days (with the exception of The Obituaries series) and focus more on transgressive fiction that chills the core.

In one of your newsletters, you described dedication to your craft in which writing comes first with most everything else being labeled as a distraction. At what point did you realize you had to go all in, and what factored into this choice, assuming it was a choice at all for you?

It was a choice. I used to make music and draw, but knew writing was my strong point. Music and art was taking too much of my creative time and energy, so I abandoned it forever to put all focus on writing. I’ve never looked back.

Clearly this “all in” approach has paid off when considering your steadily growing output of great books. You’re an absolute publishing machine, which makes me wonder: how do you decide which book gets pitched and ultimately published with which publisher?

It’s on a case-by-case basis. Some publishers have been great to me, like Grindhouse Press, so I continue to work with them. Others have let me down in one way or another, so I won’t let them have anything else from me. I’ve also started putting out some books myself, which there is no shame in doing in this day and age.

cover of That Night in the WoodsYour newest book, That Night in the Woods, out now from Cemetery Dance Publications, is such a perfect creeping Halloween tale about grief and regrets and of ghosts both old and new again. What can you tell us about the initial seed for this one? I hope you didn’t have to get lost in the woods with murderous demons to method write this one.

I had written a Halloween novel previously, but wanted to do more with the holiday, it being my — and every horror fan’s — favorite time of year. The flashback scenes very much mirror my teen years, and as a sentimental person, I like writing characters who are drawn back into their pasts. That Night in the Woods was born from those two feelings coming together.

By all definitions, That Night in the Woods was quite ambitious considering the multi-character perspectives of the main group of friends you focus on, each one as unique in their quirks, flaws and lifestyle as the next. How challenging was this and what did you do to keep everyone’s back story and unique narrative straight in your head and on the page?

The more I write, the larger my stories seem to become, to the point that short stories are now harder for me to write because the space is limited. I always build character sheets for each character, to keep track of everything from their hair color to their greatest fears. And I strive to make my characters very different from each other, and to represent various types of people. And whether someone is a hero or a villain or somewhere in between, I always want to make them feel human and real. This book gave me many opportunities to play with that.

By contrast to the expansive feel of That Night In the Woods, The Prettiest Girl In The Grave had a very claustrophobic feel — it does take place in an underground catacomb after all. How enjoyable was it for you to write within a setting you experienced from your time spent in Paris exploring the super creepy catacombs there? Can we assume how much fun, and perhaps even cathartic, it is to stay somewhat close to real life when exploring the horrific landscape of your stories?

As soon as I visited the Paris catacombs, I knew I had to work something like it into a horror story. But I didn’t want it to be the Paris catacombs, exactly, but rather something entirely my own. I think it’s very important for writers to experience strange new places and people, to get out of their comfort zone and visit other countries and take in the people’s culture. 

Most recently, I concluded my current hat trick of Trianna trauma with The Ruin Season revised edition from 2016. When we chatted at the Scares That Cares Author Con in Virginia last spring, you mentioned it was your most personal story. If I may, which parts of the real you made it into the story? And to piggyback off my own question, what can you tell us about the experience — perhaps both painful and beneficial — to write yourself into the story in such a personal way?

It was my first published novel, and I wrote it after finally being diagnosed with bipolar disorder, after years of struggling with mental illness without understanding what was going on. The main character in the book, Jake, has the same disorder, and he’s also a professional dog trainer, which I was for many years before becoming a full-time writer. Even now, I am a huge dog lover. The book contains some violence and events that thankfully never occurred in real life, but I drew from my experiences with mental illness to describe what Jake goes through with his own. 

As I’ve told you before, Kris, the “Writing Through Your Trauma” panel you were on which I attended at that Author Con was a major highlight of my weekend. What advice can you give for those who are hesitant to explore their pain through written words and who might be afraid of where it might take them?

You can work through a lot by writing about your pain. It’s a pure form of therapy. And while you may be hesitant to share certain problems with the world, you can still draw from those feelings to create fictionalized versions of your heartaches and other serious issues. Write what you know and don’t be afraid.

To switch gears to something a bit more uplifting, of all the creative achievements you’ve accomplished to date so far, which do you peg as the one or ones you’re most proud of, and why?

cover of Gone to See the River ManWinning two Splatterpunk Awards for Best Novel is a huge deal for me, as is being a guest of honor at multiple horror conventions. But I think my greatest achievement to date is the overwhelming popularity of my novel Gone to See the River Man. I just released the sequel, Along the River of Flesh, which I hope the fans will also enjoy. It’s just as dark and twisted as the original!

What are you most excited for in 2024?

I have a lot of new works coming out, starting with my new novel of survival horror, The Old Lady, which comes out February 20th

Any last words for fans of your work or for any budding writers looking to you as an example to follow in this crazy business of writing?

To all the readers and fans — thank you and I love you. You make it possible for me to do what I have always wanted to do. For the other writers out there, keep writing, never give up, be open to constructive criticism, work hard, work often, and don’t make excuses. Be patient and productive, and the rest will come. 

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