What Screams May Come: Innocence Ends by Nikolas P. Robinson

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Innocence Ends by Nikolas P. Robinson
Uncomfortably Dark (June 21 on Godless/June 30 on Amazon)

cover of Innocence EndsThe Synopsis

Six friends meet together in an isolated mountain town in Northern Idaho to commemorate the fifth anniversary of a close friend’s suicide. A week of hiking, spending time in nature, and a bittersweet reunion soon takes a sinister turn as the friends find themselves fighting for their lives and struggling to survive. A seemingly tranquil community bombarded by late spring storms becomes a trap filled with monsters and threats everywhere they turn. Terrifying secrets are revealed and the survivors are left to wonder what will be left of the world outside if they can find a way to come through the gauntlet alive.

(Interview conducted by Rick Hipson)

CEMETERY DANCE: First off, before we get to chatting about your stories, I want to do something totally unconventional and talk about other writers’ stories. No, I’m not trying to be cheeky, but I was impressed that my first impression when I checked out your author space on Facebook was that you spend a lot of your online real estate lifting the works of your fellow authors. At a time when it can seem like a saturated sea where so many creatives are clamoring 0ver the others for a place in the spotlight, it’s refreshing to see you sharing your spotlight to boost the signal on other authors swimming alongside you.   

I have my own strong take on why doing what you’re doing is integral to the long-term survival of this thing of ours, but I’d love to hear your take on why using your social media space for boosting others is clearly important to you.

NIKOLAS P. ROBINSON: I’m an avid reader and, as an indie and small press author, I know how important any signal boost happens to be. It’s not just my social media platforms that I use for promoting other writers, but the bulk of what appears on my website are reviews of titles from other authors as well. They’re not all indie, but the vast majority of them fall somewhere in that vicinity. I like to share the things I enjoy with others, and if they like my work, chances are they might have similar tastes to my own. Plus, I prefer not to think of these other writers as competition. We’re all afloat and drifting on the same nameless sea, and a rising tide raises all ships.

Can you think of a time, or times, when another author helped boost your signal at a time that came as most surprising and/or most vital to your own writing journey? What difference did it make to the overall trajectory of your creative career?

My first novel, from more than a dozen years ago, received a blurb from David Moody. He’s an author I highly respected at the time, and still do. I may have taken a bit of a hiatus from writing a short while later, but it still meant a great deal to me that he took the time to not only read my work, but offer kind words about a title that definitely had plenty of issues that could stand to be addressed. Just the fact that, near the beginning of my journey, I was able to discuss the craft with men like David Moody and Scott Sigler meant a great deal to me. Since then, I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know a great many people in the horror community, and there are so many of them who have had a massive impact on where I’m going and what I’m doing…too many to list, for sure.

Perusing your social media space, it seems you have put in a lot of work over the past little while to do some soul searching to be the best version of you that you can be, which I wholeheartedly applaud you for, my friend. In adjusting your perspective on yourself, on life, and, by extension, on the world around you, how might this impact the type of stories you tell?

I would like to think it could potentially make my work more honest. I’m not saying it was dishonest before, but it might have lacked a certain truth that I’d hope to see moving forward. A better understanding of myself and the people around me seems like it should—or at least could—have some small impact on the characters populating my stories. I like to think I’ve done a fairly good job of crafting well-developed characters up to this point, but it can always be better. 

And on the flip side of that last question, have you ever found your writing, once you’re able to look at it from a more detached vantage point post-publishing, has helped you to examine parts of your world any differently? In other words, how might your stories inform your real life?

There are definitely points, albeit usually when someone else points it out to me, that I see aspects of myself in a character, often aspects I was blind to. I’ve recently had it brought to my attention that my writing is ADHD and ASD friendly, and it’s been suggested that my own psychological characteristics manifest themselves in such a way that it influences my writing.

To bring our chat to the reason we are having this conversation in the first place, congrats on Innocence Ends. I think any story which involves suicide as the major catalyst for things to come is always going to be a personal one, both for whomever writes it and for whomever reads it. What can you tell us about any personal attachment you might have to this particular tale and about what early seeds resulted in your need to tell this one?

It all started more than 20 years ago. Not only am I an avid reader, but I consume media of all kinds — especially where horror is concerned. Movies, video games, television shows, comic books, and whatever else you put in front of me.

An old friend and I were talking, sometime between 1998 and 2000, and there were some tropes from B-horror flicks we wanted to see played straight. A lot of the seeds that germinated into what became Innocence Ends started there. It was only fitting that a lot of the aspects of the various characters evolved from qualities I saw in some of those old friends from that point in my life. Suicidal ideation, mental illness, and obsession with horror and the end of the world are things I’m intimately familiar with, so they found their way into the work in a way that felt natural.

While I do enjoy reading about a main character fighting solo to survive against insurmountable odds, I could come up with a nice-sized list of why I really enjoy stories in which a group must work together (often by having to first work against each other) to survive whatever horrors they encounter. But, because this is your interview, not mine, what do you see as a rewarding experience when writing about a group of characters working to fight evil versus just one poor individual? 

Exploring different perspectives and discovering different voices in the process of the writing is both challenging and rewarding. It feels like there are more doors available to explore when there are more characters involved than just one or two. 

Are there any added challenges to writing for a group of characters vs just one main protagonist? 

Keeping their voices straight and authentic to the character is easily the greatest challenge involved. Reading and re-reading everything to make sure it feels like something that character would say or do.

I often choose their names based on the meaning…tying that to one or another character trait. But yeah, I put together backstories and profiles on the characters…much of it never makes its way into the final product, but I like to think it influences who the characters are and how they behave.

As if your band of survivors aren’t up against it enough, you also throw in not-so-natural storms to further add to the things trying to ruin their day. I’ve often heard some writers won’t start writing a story until they have at least three subplots going on in their story. What are your thoughts on this approach, and how might you incorporate such a thing, or perhaps something similar, to your approach to novel writing?

For me, the additional elements I threw into the mix were necessary to propel the plot in the direction I wanted it to go. I played a lot of “What if?” games with myself along the way. It ultimately played out in a sort of Murphy’s Law scenario…where anything that could go wrong inevitably would.

How has implementing multiple barriers to survival in Innocence Ends affected the overall impact of the story?

I like to think the multiple barriers help to create a sense of futility and hopelessness that nevertheless fails to make the characters give up…at least not all of them…not all the time.

Far too many of us have had some kind of association with suicide, if not directly, certainly indirectly with the tragic loss of a friend or family member. What was your approach to writing this into your story while being mindful of how such a polarizing topic might affect those readers who have been most affected by suicide within their own lives?

I tried to avoid making the suicide the main focus of the story while also keeping it there in the background, the sort of thing that lurks and haunts them even when they don’t see it clearly. Suicide is like that — death is like that, when it’s someone close to us — even when we think we’re in the clear, something happens that reminds us that we’re nowhere near over it, that we may never be over it. In Innocence Ends, the suicide serves as the impetus behind everything that ultimately plays out, but it’s far enough removed by the time the narrative kicks off that the characters are marked by it, but not dwelling on it quite as much — at least not all of them.

I find it fascinating that, along with your extreme horror and splatterpunk stories, you’re also a photographer, a musician and a producer currently working in television. That is an impressive juggling act, and I would love to know how each facet helps to shape not only your creative sensibilities, but how it might shape the stories you tell and the style in which you tell them?

photo of author Nikolas P. Robinson
Nikolas P. Robinson

I’ve had some people describe my writing as cinematic, and that might be a correct assessment. I’m quite visually driven, in that I see scenes playing out in my head a lot of the time when I’m writing. I can see the light and shadows and how they play on the action in the scene, the warmth or coolness of the light, and a lot of the things that play a major part in being a photographer. Writing for newscasts and journalism forces me to keep it pithy, more so than I ever would in fiction — but it does encourage a certain tightness in my writing that I like to think carries over into my fictional work. As far as my former life as a musician and songwriter, I tend to score or soundtrack the work as if I’m watching it in a movie. Of course, I have none of the skill necessary to bring those scores and soundtracks to life — and the skills I do have are rusty as all hell by now — but it does help me to pick the right music to listen to while I’m focused on a particular section of the story.

Speaking of horror and splatterpunk, it seems even veteran readers and authors are still a bit misaligned as to the difference between splatterpunk and extreme horror. Seeing as you’re touted as an author who dabbles in both, maybe you can set the record straight as the difference between the two styles, and perhaps why you think they are often confused with the other? No pressure! ?

If that isn’t the question for the ages. Splatterpunk, at least as far as I see it, always has some sort of message or purpose behind the scenes. It may not always be clear or clearly visible to the reader, but there’s something deeper than the superficial violence, over-the-top action, and other elements that cause some people to dismiss the work. Extreme horror, on the other hand, sometimes seems more like an exercise in pushing limits (both for the reader and the author), instilling a sense of discomfort or a visceral reaction of some kind. That isn’t to say that there can’t be a message or a meaning in those stories as well, but the message is secondary to telling the most graphic, unsettling, and no-holds-barred story the writer can muster. Now, don’t get me wrong…this is by no means a textbook definition of the two subgenres…and I’m sure I’ve probably made someone unhappy with the way I’ve tried to delineate them…possibly many someones. If I’m in the doghouse amongst the indie horror community after this, I’m going to hold you accountable.

If anyone should put you in the doghouse over that, not to worry because I will take full responsibility to making sure it is well insulated.

When it comes to getting the extreme dark stuff into the paws of those who crave it, Godless has really done a great job at making sure distribution of such stories is as accessible as possible. How do you feel Godless has helped magnify the more extreme side of dark literature as we know it today?

What Drew Stepek has done with Godless is nothing short of a miracle. He’s essentially erected the equivalent of the indie horror Statue of Liberty, asking us to bring our tired, our poor, and our huddled masses yearning to breathe free of the yoke that Amazon’s content standards placed around our necks. Allowing people to distribute titles that would be — and have been — removed from other platforms is a beautiful thing and I’m proud to have been a part of it since near the beginning. I’m proud to call Drew a friend.

Regarding your home for Innocence Ends, how did your working relationship with Candace Nola and her Uncomfortably Dark publishing line come about? I mean, Candace is definitely the real deal and does so much with her passion of supporting this thing of ours and the writers within it, but what, for you, makes her stable an ideal home for your next book?

Candace and I originally started talking a couple of years back. She invited me to contribute to her Trapped Dark Dozen anthology, after inviting me to blurb and review the previous Dark Dozen anthology, Bakers Dozen. We became friends and we’ve had the chance to work together a couple of times since then. She was a big supporter of Innocence Ends (the original self-published version) and felt it slipped through the cracks in a way that it shouldn’t have. When she offered to re-release it, in a new and improved form (with additional editing, a foreword, new cover art, and my author’s notes), I don’t know how I could have refused.

I also understand, this is but the beginning for you as far as releasing your work through Uncomfortably Dark. Care to share a surprise about what else you have coming down the pipe from Candace and company?

Well, I have a novelette/novella that will be coming out shortly after Innocence Ends, a revenge tale entitled Have a Blast. Additionally, she’s informed me that I owe her another manuscript early next year. We’ve also talked about fixing some of the glaring flaws in my debut novel, Unspoken, and re-releasing that as well, and she’s floated the idea of releasing a collection of my poetry at some point down the line.

And finally, Nik — speaking of surprises, what do you think will most surprise or catch readers off guard once they’ve read Innocence Ends and give it a chance to digest in their subconscious?

I like to think the story will stick with them. I’ve heard from a couple of readers that the story definitely had an emotional impact on them while they were reading it…and that’s arguably one of the biggest compliments a writer can receive.

Nik, thank you so much for all your time! I really appreciate you doing this and spending your valuable time with us. Please do let us know the best way to follow along with you and your work so we don’t have to miss a thing from you.

Meltdown Messiah is my website, where descriptions of, and links to, all of my work can be found. Additionally, there are dozens, probably hundreds of reviews waiting to entice new readers to find joy in the same things I have.

I’m sporadically active on TikTok both as @nikolasprobinson and @meltdownmessiah.

Facebook is where I’m most active, and I have both my personal profile as well as an author page there.

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