Fred Venturini grew up in Patoka, Illinois, where he survived being lit on fire by a bully, a neck-breaking car accident, and being chewed up by a pit bull. His first novel, The Heart Does Not Grow Back, is forthcoming from Picador in fall 2014. His short fiction has appeared in Booked. Anthology, Surreal South ’13, The Death Panel, Sick Things, and Noir at the Bar 2. He lives in southern Illinois with his wife, Krissy, and their daughter, Noelle.
What first attracted you to horror writing?
Thing is, I read Stephen King stories when I was far, far too young. I vividly recall stories like ‘The Jaunt,’ ‘Survivor Type,’ and ‘I Am the Doorway’ having these shocking endings I couldn’t anticipate, after building dread and wonder throughout the body of the stories. Those early collections of his were my gateway drugs not only into horror, but into reading and writing in general.
Horror stories like that always got a visceral reaction out of me as a reader, so it seemed like the best way to get a reaction from my audience, which was at that point fellow students, teachers, or family members. That reaction is what addicted me to writing.
My most notable works don’t currently exist, but they will later this year. Burnt Tongues is an anthology I’ve literally waited years to see in print, and it finally drops on August 12, 2014. My story, ‘Gasoline,’ was hand-picked by Chuck Palahniuk, and he wrote the introduction to the collection, which makes me feel like a rec hoops player getting to shoot around with Michael Jordan. I think the story is notable for me because it’s my first, fictional visit into the one event that had the biggest impact on my childhood – I was set on fire by another kid in our town when I was ten years old, and that event is the inciting event in the story.
My re-debut novel, The Heart Does Not Grow Back, should have a release date soon. The book’s about a high school nobody who endures an unspeakable tragedy and discovers he can regenerate his organs and limbs, and then he starts giving them away on a reality show. I say ‘re-debut’ because I released this book through an indie publisher, Blank Slate Press, back in 2011. The original title was The Samaritan and the response was strong enough to attract an agent and eventually an offer from Picador. So it’s technically the second time my first novel is coming out.
What are you working on now?
I’m currently working on a YA book about a world where travel to the afterlife is possible, and a girl unlocks its dark secrets as she searches for the boy she loves. I also have two novels in early draft form. The one I’m most excited about peripherally builds the universe I started with The Heart Does Not Grow Back – an ex-criminal searching for his wife’s killer finds that her small hometown is under the grip of a cruel, supernatural race.
Who do you admire in the horror world?
First, I have to give a shout-out to Frederick Charles Krueger. When you’re a ten-year old kid named Fred with burn scars, Freddy Krueger becomes your horror movie villain of choice.
It’s probably cliché to bow down to Stephen King, but what else can you say? He’s the pen that launched ten-thousand authors. His loins are equally productive – Joe Hill is incredible. Jack Ketchum, Peter Straub, Dean Koontz. I grew up on these guys and admire the hell out of them. Admire is such a broad word as well. In the horror realm, I also had deep admiration and respect for Richard Thomas, the editor on Burnt Tongues and Stephen Graham Jones, who puts out something incredible like every other weekend. Not only is their work stellar, but their work ethic has had an impact on me. Always writing, imagining, working, communicating.
Do you prefer all out gore or psychological chills?
Threatening to chop off my foot isn’t nearly as effective as actually chopping off my foot. At least to me. I’m probably in the minority because the artistic answer is psychological chills, but for some reason, that never had a huge impact on me as a viewer or reader when compared to some of the gore-ific moments I’ve experienced. I know that psychological chills are the hardest ones to pull off, and you should strive for them as an artist, but the most effective formula, to me, is to have at least one or two ‘gore’ moments that you earn. The psychology is what lets you earn them. When I read stuff or watch a horror movie, I love those gore moments that are earned through character and patience so I always have those goals in mind. Ketchum is a master at this.
Why should people read your work?
Horrible things happen to us. The next tragedy is inevitable, and they will arrive at regular intervals until we die. What’s the point? The struggle – fighting against it, finding a way through it. Grasping the bright parts of your life and never letting them go, letting love and hope and forgiveness and faith pull you out of the mouth of the monsters. Sometimes, we don’t survive that struggle . . . but it’s not about the result. It’s about the fight, and my work tries to document these battles.
Recommend a book.
Pre-order Burnt Tongues. Yeah, you have to wait until August, and yeah, my story’s in there so how much can you really trust this recommendation, but I’m guaran-god-damn-teeing you satisfaction on this one. Before you’re done with this collection, you’re going to fall in love with some authors at first sight, you’re going to have a nightmare, you’re going to lose control of your bladder, you’re going to stress eat, you’re going to put the book down and take a shower and crave a walk in the sun.
Can’t wait until August? Booked. Anthology. A tapestry of literature that takes you to unexpected places. I loved so many of the stories in that anthology.
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