John Brhel and Joe Sullivan grew up consuming the short, sharp shocks of horror fiction anthologies in the ’80s and ’90s. After several successful writing projects, they’ve finally found the perfect way to channel their love of twisted tales in their new anthology, Corpse Cold. They took the project to Kickstarter. and, with just under a week left ’til the deadline, they’ve blown past their $3,000 goal.
Brhel (who, when he isn’t writing short stories, writes the “My First Fright” column for Cemetery Dance) took a few minutes to answer some questions about the origins and approach to Corpse Cold.
(Interview conducted by Blu Gilliand)
CEMETERY DANCE: Let’s jump right in: tell us about the book you’re trying to, uh, kickstart: Corpse Cold: New American Folklore.
JOHN BRHEL: Corpse Cold is a collection of 17 campfire-style tales inspired by ’80s and ’90s books like Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and Goosebumps. Each story is accompanied by macabre art from our oft-collaborator Chad Wehrle. The book is for people who grew up in the ’80s and ’90s who still crave that style of storytelling but want something geared more toward adults.
Clearly, the idea struck a nerve, as you’ve exceeded—by far—your initial goal well before the deadline. Why do you think this book’s concept is resonating so strongly with your backers?
We are amazed at how much support the book has received. There are definitely a lot of readers out there, like us, who are nostalgic for the books from their youth. Those tales, with their short, easy-to-digest style and clever twists, really stick with you, and people see that Corpse Cold is clearly calling back to that style.
You say that these are stories inspired by ’80s and ’90s horror. Are these all original stories, or are they old folk tales reworked with a more modern sensibility===or somewhere in between?
It varies. We have stories that call back to standard folk tales and urban legends (e.g. vanishing hitchhikers, black dogs, campus stalkers), but we have taken them beyond the tropes, mashed them together, and put a new spin on them. I think what differentiates us from what’s come before is we’re writing character-driven short stories that still captures the flavor of the campfire legend. We even have a few original creepypastas in there.
How many stories will the book have?
The book, as of this interview, will have 17 stories. However, if we hit our $15,000 stretch goal, we have promised readers that we we’ll include three more stories with original art, bringing the total stories to 20. We’d love to do that.
You and co-writer Joe Sullivan have worked on several projects together—tell us a little about those.
Joe and I have written four books prior to Corpse Cold. Our first book, Tales From Valleyview Cemetery, is an anthology that is set in a cursed cemetery, inspired by one in our hometown of Johnson City, New York. Marverly’s Curiosity Shop is about a retired magician who runs an antique shop that’s filled with hexed items that he’s picked up during his travels. Our third book, At The Cemetery Gates: Year One, is a collection of stories inspired by urban legends and folklore, with many “Twilight Zone”-type stories. Our last book, Carol for a Haunted Man, is actually a novella inspired by the Christmas stories of Charles Dickens.
How did you two come up with the Corpse Cold concept?
We actually had this idea a couple years ago. Tales From Valleyview Cemetery was our first attempt at capturing the feeling of the horror anthologies we read as kids, but it became more of a themed anthology as we wrote. We always wanted to do a fully illustrated book, and finally Chad agreed to team up with us this past spring and we’ve been working on it ever since.
The illustrations on your Kickstarter page are very reminiscent of those found in Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Tell us how you ended up working with illustrator Chad Wehrle on this project.
I actually found Chad by searching for the hashtag #scarystoriestotellinthedark on Instagram, and he had tagged all of his art with it.
Chad designed the covers for our first two horror anthologies: Tales From Valleyview Cemetery and At The Cemetery Gates: Year One. Once we had a good working relationship with Chad and a few books under our belts, we felt that it was time to make it happen, so we pitched the idea to him, and he was immediately on board.
This seems like the kind of book tailor-made for a series. So, given the success of this Kickstarter, when can we expect an announcement of a sequel?
There’s always the possibility of a sequel, if there’s enough demand for it.
What other projects do you guys have in the works?
We have an anthology of paranormal/weird stories focusing on love and relationships, which we plan to release around mid-winter. Beyond that, we’re working on a book of dark fiction inspired by real locations in Upstate New York, where we live.