Silverwood: The Door is the follow-up to Silverwood, an original video series from Tony Valenzuela’s Black Box TV (episodes are available on YouTube). Brian Keene acts as showrunner for a writers room featuring Cemetery Dance founder and publisher Richard Chizmar, Stephen Kozeniewski, and the Sisters of Slaughter – Michelle Garza and Melissa Lason. The result is a 10-episode series, released in weekly installments in both prose and audiobook formats beginning in October. The team promises a mix of horror styles encompassing slashers, splatterpunk, psychological, Lovecraftian, and more.
Stephen Kozeniewski (pronounced “causin’ ooze key”) lives in Pennsylvania, the birthplace of the modern zombie. During his time as a Field Artillery officer, he served for three years in Oklahoma and one in Iraq, where due to what he assumes was a clerical error, he was awarded the Bronze Star. He is also a classically trained linguist, which sounds much more impressive than saying his bachelor’s degree is in German. Recently, he was kind enough to sit down with Cemetery Dance to talk about his work on Silverwood: The Door.
CEMETERY DANCE: Tell us how you became involved with Silverwood: The Door.
STEPHEN KOZENIEWSKI: Well, from my perspective, I became involved when Lydia Shamah, the Director of Content Development at Serial Box, gave me a call to discuss the job. (To show our gratitude we, the writers, naturally inserted her into the story and slaughtered her horribly.)
My understanding of what happened behind the scenes is that Lydia did some searching for the perfect showrunner but settled instead on Brian Keene. Then Lydia and Brian discussed which writers to bring in for the project based on their various strengths.
Brian was our loremaster and worked on the mythos-heavy episodes.
The Sisters of Slaughter (Melissa Lason and Michelle Garza) brought the perspective of young, working mothers to the family-oriented episodes.
I was an Eagle Scout and I work a terrible white collar day job so I was a good fit with the scouting and corporate-themed episodes.
And finally, Richard Chizmar was brought in as our pinch hitter, a horror heavyweight who could juggle our toughest, most balls-to-the-wall setpieces.
What about the project inspired you to want to work on it?
Well, I’d watched the original Silverwood web shorts, of course. I know I’m a bit older than the target audience, but technically I’m a Millennial. (Oregon Trail, baby!) Tony Valenzuela, the creator, did some amazing work bringing an X-Files-type conspiracy vibe to an Outer Limits-style anthology series. And the production values are amazing for what I assume was a shoestring budget.
That’s the kind of person I want to work with: one who says, “Let’s make the best product we possibly can with the materials at hand,” rather than always complaining that there isn’t enough.
And if we’re being frank, I would’ve come on board after seeing the raw meat episode (“The Hunger”) alone. That one sang to me. 🙂
Walk us through the process a little bit. How did this group of writers work together to deliver a cohesive series? Did you each write individual installments, or did everyone contribute to all of the installments?
A little from Column A, a little from Column B.
Every step of the way we used the methodology for creating a television series — the only difference being that this series will be in prose and audio. First, Brian developed a “bible” which outlined characters, history, and a basic arc for the “season.”
Then Serial Box flew us all out to Phoenix, Arizona, for a summit earlier this year. Once we were in the “writer’s room” (actually an Air B&B) we “broke” the season, which means analyzing all of the separate moving parts of the show and then putting them back together in the way that works best.
So all of the writers (as well as Lydia, our producer, and Tony, the creator) had input on all ten “episodes.” Each episode is about 10,000 words or 42 minutes of audio, roughly the length of an hour-long scripted TV show without commercials.
Each of the writers/writing teams went our separate ways and wrote our assigned episodes. Once the episodes were done, we had a series of teleconferences with each other, our editors, the marketing people, etc. to perfect everything.
What unique challenges did this format present to you as a writer?
This was a particularly challenging format for me due to my place in the narrative. Out of a ten episode series I did episodes 5 and 6 — literally the centerpiece of the narrative.
You can imagine what it’s like to have nothing to do with either the genesis or conclusion of a piece. I was picking up characters who had been fleshed out over the course of four episodes, playing with them for a bit, then sending them along their merry way. It felt a bit like visiting your rich friend’s toybox and only getting to play with his action figures for a single afternoon. So it was difficult, but luckily my collaborators were so sharp that they really set me up for success, and I like to think that I set them up to hit it out of the ballpark with the ending.
Writing is typically a solitary exercise — how did you have to adapt to working on one project with a whole room full of people?
That’s very true. I’ve been fortunate to collaborate in the past on a novel, SLASHVIVOR! with Stevie Kopas. One of the reasons I even took on that project was because of how simpatico Stevie and I are. I’m well aware of her strengths and (very few) weaknesses, and she of mine.
So I had some experience with collaboration walking into this project, but you’re right, I had never been in a writer’s room before, never broken a story, never had to teleconference and communicate and accept notes from the people investing in our project. But the good news is (and I hope I’m not sounding like a broken record here) my collaborators were incredibly strong.
Rich and Brian are old pros, and guided the ship. The Sisters of Slaughter and myself were new and eager and incredibly hungry.
Lydia was the exact opposite of an empty suit. We never received any horseshit corporate notes like, “Could you throw in an emoji? Emojis are hot right now!” She’s clearly sympathetic to creatives, and a strong creator and editor in her own right.
And Tony, well, Tony is the unholy god who created “Silverwood,” of course. He was just kind enough to let us play in his world.
So I was fortunate to work with people who made it all seem easy.
What do you feel was your biggest contribution to the project?
Um…I brought donuts to the writers retreat one day?
But aside from that, as I mentioned above I had the two episodes smack dab in the middle of the narrative. I like to think I managed to hold the readers’ interest and keep them wanting more.
I also think that I really got to show off the anthology aspect of Silverwood more than the mythos-heavy episodes at the beginning and end. The original Silverwood was an anthology series, but when Brian developed The Door it was more of a straight narrative. (The entire season takes place in a single, continuous 24-hour period.)
But with that being said, we still wanted to get in our anthology-type licks. There’s a creepy kid episode, a zombie episode, and so forth. The twins even did a delightful time travel episode that could have been straight out of the original Twilight Zone.
So I like to think that with my two entries I helped bridge the gap between what Silverwood was and what The Door is.
How has working on this project impacted you as a writer?
It’s been a gamechanger; I can’t deny that. Serial Box has expressed interest in working with me on future projects, as has Tony personally. So hopefully this piece will help me kick in doors in Hollywood.
But even if that doesn’t turn out to be the case, it’s definitely been a high profile job, almost an event series. People online are very excited about it, and I’m sure we won’t disappoint.
Finally, give us your sales pitch — why should readers and horror fans check out Silverwood: The Door?
Silverwood: The Door is a grand guignol romp that will appeal to fans of every sub-genre of horror. We took deliberate pains to include psychological horror, creepy kids, cosmic horror, slashers, body horror, and just about every other corner of the market. In my two episodes alone there are nods to works as varied as Jaws, Edgar Allan Poe, The Blob, and H.P. Lovecraft. If you don’t absolutely plotz after reading it you’re probably already a little bit dead inside.
What other projects do you have in the works?
Right now I’m working on a few collaborations: a SLASHVIVOR! sequel with Stevie Kopas, a reverse haunted house story with Wile E. Young, and a novella about a very unusual fan convention with John Urbancik. As far as my solo work, if I can ever get around to it, my sequel/prequel/sidequel/whatever-the-fuck to The Ghoul Archipelego is complete. As soon as I can finish editing it I’ll birth it screaming into the world for all of you to enjoy.