Exclusive Interview: “Even In The Grave” Editors James Chambers & Carol Gyzander

 

One of the many downsides of the current Covid-19 pandemic is how it kept us apart from the people we love. But it was a disconnect some people countered in different ways: playing online games together, Zoom-based book clubs, and — in the case of writers and editors James Chambers, Carol Gyzander, and their friends who are writers — putting together Even In The Grave (paperback, Kindle), an anthology of ghost stories. In the following email interview, Chambers and Gyzander discuss the depth and breadth of this collection, as well as how it came together.

James Chambers Carol Gyzander Even In The Grave

Carol Gyzander, James Chambers

 

To start, what is the theme of Even In The Grave?

James: “In death — no! Even in the grave, all is not lost.” That quote from Edgar Allan Poe captures the theme. These are stories about what persists after death and what the dead long for despite having crossed the veil. Our cover, by the remarkably talented Lynne Hansen, perfectly captures this, too.

Carol: All of the stories had to include ghosts as a central element, and they had to be genuine ghost stories — no Scooby-Doo ending where the ghost pulls off the sheet to reveal that the greedy real estate developer is the bad guy.

Who came up with the theme, and where did you get that idea?

James: I proposed the initial idea. It came to me during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic. I wanted to do an anthology that would give our authors some escape from all the bad news, an exciting project to focus on instead of all the gloom and doom. Of course, for horror writers, ghost stories seemed like a good idea for that. The ghost story is a classic horror genre convention, and many of them have fun or charming elements as well as chilling ones. The point was to get back to basics, have a writing project that our authors could follow anywhere their inspiration led, but one that didn’t necessarily have to be too dark. I love reading ghost stories and have written a few. I was really curious as to how our authors would approach writing one. I floated the idea to Carol. She, thankfully, liked it, and jumped on board right away.

Aside from having to fit the theme, what other parameters did these stories have to fit? Was there a length requirement or limit, did they have to be new for this collection, did contributors have to be one of the living impaired…?

Carol: We set a hard limit of 5,000 words on the original submission. While we made no requirements that the authors be actually breathing, we did say that the stories had to be either dark literature or horror of any type, with no gratuitous violence, sex, or obscenity.

James: Well, we have one contributor who claims to only partially exist on our dimensional plane, Oliver Baer, and ironically the title of his story in Even In The Grave is “Insubstantial.” We kept the guidelines loose because we were eager to see where the authors went with the concept of a ghost story, but we weren’t expecting anyone to write from firsthand experience.

And then how did you choose what writers you’d ask to contribute?

James: We kept to the pool of contributors to our local writing community. We wanted to rally around the project with some of the writers we spend the most time with and most missed seeing in person during the pandemic shutdown. This was a great way to keep connected, keep our hands working together. It sprang from the group we normally would have been knocking around with in a pub, talking writing, horror, and other macabre things when folks still did that sort of thing in person on a regular basis.

In picking who to ask, did anyone ever say anything like, “You should ask this person, they write good ghost stories”?

James: No, this wasn’t an element of this project. We’d decided early on to “keep it in the family” so to speak. That worked well for me and Carol because we both typically have a lot on our plates, and probably would’ve become ghosts ourselves if we’d had to field too many submissions.

As you said, Even In The Grave is a collection of ghost stories. But aside from horror, what other genres are represented in this collection? Are there any sci-fi ghost stories? Romantic ghost stories? Friendly ghost stories?

Carol: We have traditional Gothic haunted house stories; ones from other cultures such as ancient Japan and Mexico during the Spanish conquest in the 1500s; an endearing story of an elderly lady trapped in her computer and IMing her granddaughter; a spiritualist’s séance…

James: We also have a story with some sci-fi elements, our lead tale, “The Final Experiment Of Eugene Appleton” by Allan Burd, and another that just might spawn a whole new sub-genre of paleontological ghost fiction. Seriously. It’s going to be bigger than paranormal romance.

Both of you are writers as well as editors of other anthologies. Are there any short story collections that you each either worked on or contributed to that you think had a big impact on how you put together Even In The Grave?

James: Three of the biggest projects I’ve done in recent years were two short story collections, On The Night Border and On The Hierophant Road, and an anthology, Under Twin Suns: Alternate Histories Of The Yellow Sign (a finalist for the Bram Stoker Award, I might add). Night Border collected my horror fiction. Hierophant Road collected my fantasy, sci-fi, steampunk, and other stories. Compiling and organizing those collections taught me a lot about balancing the reader’s experience and lining stories up in a way that enhances their themes and keeps things interesting and engaging. I used what I learned from those when editing Under Twin Suns, which was a very challenging book to assemble. Ultimately, the three poems included in it gave me a skeleton to work with and then, again, it became about balance and a thematic progression. I love doing that. That’s when an anthology really becomes a book, when the order of stories is set. The only other piece that is as much a cornerstone is the cover. It’s alchemy. It’s spinning disparate words and ideas into gold.

Carol: I actually have a short story in Under Twin Suns that James edited (may I mention that my story is also a finalist for a Bram Stoker Award?). I was very impressed by the way he set up the order of the stories in the anthology and that was useful in working with him on the order of Even In The Grave.

As for anthologies that I have edited myself, I had an interesting experience with Hideous Progeny: Classic Horror Goes Punk, which contains punk genre stories inspired by, as it says, classic horror tales. We got two submissions using the same inspiration piece of Frankenstein. My immediate reaction was that I couldn’t have two based upon the same story, but it turned out that they were very different — both in the punk subgenre and in their approach to the story, and we even opted to put Mary Shelley on the cover. It helped me keep a clear head when we were evaluating the ghost stories submitted for Grave.

As you both know, Hollywood loves turning short stories into movies. Are there any stories in Even In The Grave that would work particularly well as a movie?

Carol: All of them. Okay, many do have some excellent visual components. “Old Spirits And Fine Tobacco” by John P. Collins alternates between an intimate gathering of three long-time friends and the haunting story one tells of the past. “Fetch” by Randee Dawn is perhaps the darkest story in the anthology, and is set on the English moors during a plague; it tells the story of how the conniving Head Gameskeeper takes in a stray dog to forge a relationship with the daughter of the Lord of the manor.

James: Yeah, all of the stories in Even In The Grave have elements that would work great on film (or a streaming anthology series on Netflix, Shudder, or Hulu), whether it’s striking imagery, evocative locations, strong plots, or fascinating characters. I could definitely see Rick Poldark’s “Rawhide Rex” on the big screen, but I don’t want to give too much away by saying why. You’ll have to read that one for yourself to find out. Allan Burd’s “The Last Experiment Of Eugene Appleton” is a tight, gripping piece that blends the detective story with pulp horror and a visual element perfect for a movie. “Moshigawa’s Homecoming” by Gordon Linzner and “The Source Of Fr. Santiago De Guerra De Vargas’ Monstrous Crimes” by Robert Masterson have the makings of big-screen historical horror epics. Teel James Glenn’s “The Red Mare” is another exciting period story with strong visual elements and cinematic characters. It would’ve been quite at home if Hammer Studios had adapted it in their heyday. I could easily see Lou Rera’s “The Spectacles” playing out in the tradition of gritty films like Se7en and The Silence Of The Lambs. I hope the folks in Hollywoodland are reading this.

So, is there anything else you think people need to know about Even In The Grave?

James: Even In The Grave offers something for all kinds of readers, who like ghost stories. Our authors outdid themselves finding new possibilities in this classic horror sub-genre. Each brought their unique voice to the concept of ghosts. Readers can expect plenty of surprises.

Carol: We start out with traditional ghost stories and then expand into a great variety of ghostly flavors — something for everyone.

James Chambers Carol Gyzander Even In The Grave

Finally, if someone enjoys Even In The Grave, what other anthologies of ghost stories would each of you recommend?

Carol: Echoes: The Saga Anthology Of Ghost Stories because you really can’t go wrong with an anthology edited by Ellen Datlow.

James: It’s a collection rather than an anthology, but when I think ghost stories, the first book that comes to mind is my paperback copy of the Penguin Popular Classics edition of Ghost Stories by M.R. James. He’s a true master of the form, perhaps best known for “Casting The Runes,” which was adapted for the classic film, Night Of The Demon.

 

 

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