What Screams May Come: John Durgin’s KOSA

banner What Screams May Come by Rick Hipson

Kosa by John Durgin
Dark Lit Press (May 17th, 2024)

The Synopsis

cover of KosaIn a secluded mansion hidden away from the outside world, young Kosa lives under the strict and overpowering rule of her enigmatic mother. For Kosa, the rules set by Mother are the guiding principles of her life, shaping her beliefs and actions. She has been sheltered from the truth about the world beyond the confines of their home, conditioned to fear the darkness and malevolence that supposedly lurks outside.

However, as Kosa grows older, she begins to question the reality she has been presented with. Doubts eat away at her, fueled by a deep-rooted curiosity and a burgeoning sense of independence.

But Kosa possesses a mysterious and powerful ability that Mother desperately needs to sustain her own existence. Mother, a figure shrouded in shadows and secrets, will stop at nothing to ensure that Kosa’s power remains potent and under her control. The sinister grasp that Mother has on Kosa becomes increasingly suffocating as she tightens her grip, isolating Kosa further from the truth that exists beyond their home.

In this dark and captivating tale, Kosa’s journey unravels the intricacies of control, the strength of one’s convictions, and the true nature of the world beyond the shadows. The choices she makes will not only determine her fate but also influence the fate of those around her.

(Interview conducted by Rick Hipson)

CEMETERY DANCE: John, I’ve always been a sucker for an origin story, so I gotta ask you: Assuming you didn’t barricade yourself in a secluded mansion as you try to method-write your way back out, what inspired you to write a such an extensive, provocative tale about control over another person?

JOHN DURGAN: Haha, well, with two crazy kids running around the house at all times, sometimes I wish I did get to barricade myself into a secluded mansion to write. But all jokes aside, the inspiration came to me after taking Neil Gaiman’s masterclass. At one point he talked about how fairytales can easily be flipped and turned into horror. At the time my daughter was obsessed with Tangled, and as I was watching it with her I realized how true that statement by Gaiman was. At its core, Rapunzel is a tale about a girl held against her will by an evil witch. I thought back to Room by Emma Donoghue and how heartbreaking it was to see a child’s world secluded to one location.

What fascinates—or perhaps even terrifies you—about the idea of someone being trapped in their birth home, not knowing any other way of existence, only to eventually realize not only is there a world other than theirs to explore, but that their place in it never had a chance to be “normal” in the first place?

I think what terrifies me most is the unknown. How easily someone’s mind can be swayed when they don’t know what’s on the other side of the door. The thought of growing up and thinking you know all the rules to follow only to discover not only are those rules a farse, but there is an entire world of rules you never knew existed, it’s a horrifying thought as a dad. Children often take what their parents say as gospel, and that may not always be the truth.

Did you always know what special abilities Kosa would have, or did you waffle over various possibilities before cementing what would be?

Because Kosa was greatly influenced by Rapunzel, I always knew the hair would carry an important role in the story. I knew I needed Mother to depend on that ability, because eventually Kosa would face a decision that would benefit her and those around her, or the woman she grew to view as a parent figure.

I hope this next question doesn’t get me in trouble. Looking at the covers of both Kosa and The Cursed Among Us from two years ago, there is clearly a resemblance. Coincidence, or is there a connective tissue running through your work you might like to share with of us out of the know?

One thing that has always been in the back of my mind is a loose connection in at least most of my stories. There are definitely easter eggs (really microscopic ones) that connect most of my works. The covers having a similar feel are purely a coincidence, but to say both books, as well as Inside The Devil’s Nest (my second novel) have some connections would be an accurate statement.

It feels like you all but burst into the horror genre with guns a-blazing and trails a-burning since your first story was published in the 2021 Books of Horror Anthology. Looking back, I was surprised to see your writing career seems to have all started with a Christmas horror series for all ages, published under Livid Comics which you, of course, co-founded. What drove you from the colorful world of comics to the darker reaches of horror, and what does horror writing provide you with that comic books alternatively cannot?

The series you are referring to is titled Jol (pronounced yule). I initially set out to try my hand at writing prose back when the pandemic hit. I actually started writing that comic series as a novel. My artist friend, and cofounder of Livid Comics, reached out to me saying the gallery world was dead because of the pandemic and asked if I had any story ideas for a comic book because he wanted to try his hand at sequential art. I felt the story I was trying worked perfectly in comic form and taught myself how to write comic script. While comics is a blast, you leave a lot in the artists hands to tell the story, and I found myself wanting to tell more. That would be the main difference to me at least, as I enjoy writing the description of the scenery, the scents that characters smell, etc.

How might your success in writing horror affect what you may do in comics moving forward, assuming you still plan to make room for future comic book projects? 

My passion, my dream, was always to write horror novels. I planned to do both comics and novels, but then the writing gig really took off much faster than I anticipated and I was strapped for time. With a day job, two kids, and limited free time, I had to choose. That’s not to say I’d never write comics again, but my passion is writing novels. If or when I write comics again, I’d love to get my hands on a horror series, specifically through an existing publisher, as running the publishing side of it was a lot of work and took up more time than I wanted to give it.

According to your online bio, before you began publishing novels, you started out writing and publishing short stories as a way to launch your career as a horror scribe. Obviously, exceptions apply to most rules, but in your opinion, how important is it for writers wanting to make a living writing novels, to start with short stories as their jump-off point?

For me, it was about gaining confidence in not just telling a story but teaching myself to write prose in general. I didn’t have much practice, as the story that got accepted into two anthologies was the first story I ever wrote. I wrote a few more and subbed them, but then I dove right into writing The Cursed Among Us, thinking it would be a novella. It wasn’t because I wanted a novella, it was more that a novella seemed easier to accomplish with my limited experience writing. But then something just clicked while writing and I found myself going well past what a novella length would be. So, to answer your question, I don’t think short stories are a necessity to start with, but I can promise you they make for great practice on teaching yourself prose, as well as being able to tell a full story through all the acts.

At what point did you realize that you could find success as a novelist, and what do you feel validated this beyond much—if any—doubt for you?

photo of author John Durgin
John Durgin

If I had to pick a defining moment on when I felt “hey, maybe I can do this gig,” I’d probably say when my editor really enjoyed my debut novel. At that time, I had no idea how it would sell, or how it would do with reviews, but to have a professional tell me I had something really gave me confidence. I had already put a lot of work in on the back end to promote, network, and do everything I could to make a debut, self-published novel appear like it belonged. I never in a million years expected it to sell as well as it did or get as many reviews as it has. I think the novel shows how raw I was as a writer, and I’m just thankful that the concept and story kept people sticking around through all of my early prose.

Once you knew your time was well spent writing more new stories you knew readers would read, did this change your approach or general routine when it came to balancing your creative life with other day to day activities or obligations outside of writing?

If it did anything, it was validate that the time I was committing to writing was worth it. Not that I would have been able to stop once I scratched that initial itch, but it sure was far more enjoyable knowing that people were enjoying it. It made sitting down at night after the kids went to bed, or waking up early in the morning, or giving up some of my free time I used to spend reading or watching movies, all worth it. I have a great day job, so I can go into my writing without the pressure of the starving artist. But lets face it, someday I want to be a full-time writer, and that will require me to keep this this disciplined approach, even when I eventually hit that inevitable roadblock where I want to take a break.

Back to Kosa, I love the full arcing story aspect of meeting this unusual character named Kosa who starts off barely being able to see the world beyond her own shadow, to eventually discovering a world of incredible scope in which her every choice has the power to affect so many. This is exactly the kind of story we readers can’t read fast enough. As a writer, how anxiety inducing was it to know where you wanted to go, but also knowing the time and work you had to put in before you could get there?

Honestly, it is such a blast writing from beginning to end for me. I enjoy the whole process, especially the second draft where you can really get in there and glue the pieces together. I always know where the story will start and end, and have a rough outline in mind, but I am a “pantser” to the end with my writing. While I have an idea of where it’s heading, that changes a million times throughout the first draft, so there are scenes in the second draft that need to be added to piece it together. It’s really the third draft that I get anxiety with, because it’s where I try to improve the writing itself, make scenes scarier, make people feel more feelings.

With so much to love and be fascinated by, what was the most exciting aspect of Kosa’s journey for you to explore? And, if you will, the most terrifying?

The most exciting part of her journey for me was deciding how to make her discover that everything she had been taught her entire life was so wrong. That moment where a switch goes off and she starts to doubt everything—but still has the voice of Mother in her head telling her what rules to follow. In a way, that was also the most terrifying element of it as well. After the horror she goes through growing up, she STILL thinks Mother knows best.

Are there any real or fictional stories which may have helped influence, inspire, or otherwise shape Kosa, as you wrote it out?

The biggest influence on Stockholm syndrome aspect of it was Room. I even went back and reread that book while writing Kosa because Donoghue did such an amazing job making you feel for the kid not just while he was in the room, but after he got out and had to adapt to the real world.

I think with a character like Kosa who fights to break free of a controlling environment and a suppressive caretaker, it’s easy to imagine where else Kosa’s life might take her and what other horrors are in store for her future. Do you have any plans to expand on her story beyond this novel?

I’ll never say a firm no to following up any of the books I write if the right story comes to me. As of right now, there is no plan to write a sequel, but that doesn’t mean it can’t happen, and it doesn’t mean we might not see more of Marta in other stories. There is talk of her past in the novel, and that could easily be explored.

John, you clearly have no plans for slowing down as far as churning out the nightmare entertainment goes. What’s next for you, and how do we best ensure we don’t miss a thing?

I am almost done writing the first draft to the sequel to The Cursed Among Us, titled Consumed By Evil. That is set to release through Crystal Lake Entertainment toward the end of 2024. After that, I will be writing an alien horror novella for part of a collaboration with two other authors I’ve really wanted to work with since coming onto the indie horror scene. After that, I will start writing my fourth novel, which doesn’t have a name yet, but it will be grounded in reality more than any book I have written yet. I wanted to go more psychological, and I can’t wait to get to work on that one as it will be the most challenging thing I’ve written yet. You can find me all over social media.

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