Daron Kappauff is a content editor by profession and a member of the Horror Writers Association (HWA). He is the author of We Can Never Go Back, and the co-author of The Wicked Rex of the West and We Are Legend. He lives in Missouri where he’s raising a pair of toddlers, while dabbling in conjuring the occult. You can find Daron on Twitter at @daronk77.
What first attracted you to horror writing?
My journey to becoming a horror writer is probably different than most. I didn’t grow up reading or watching horror. In fact, I didn’t read my first horror novel until 2019 (other than The Road, which is definitely a horror novel—whether the publisher or author describes it as such). I’ve always been more of a sci-fi guy, both in what I consumed and wrote. Around the end of 2018, though, that all changed.
A friend and beta reader for essentially everything I’d ever written made a comment about how I should be writing horror. Apparently, I’d been including horror elements in my stories, or straight up writing horror, without really realizing it. I also hadn’t been too happy with the sci-fi stuff I’d been producing. So, after some self-reflection and a ton of encouraging conversations with friends, I decided to give intentional horror writing a try.
After that I began immersing myself in the genre, reading tons of books and watching movies that completely blew me away and destroyed all my preconceived notions about horror. It only took a couple months to turn me into a full-blown horror fan. From there I started working on my first horror novel, Children of the Dreamer (which will actually be my fourth release when it drops next year) and then I joined the Horror Writers Association (HWA). Things just sort of fell into place from there. And if I’m being honest, these last few years, writing horror and getting to know the horror community, have been the best of my writing life.
What is your most notable work?
This one’s a little hard to answer. I only have 2 books out in the world: The Wicked Rex of the West and We Can Never Go Back. Both were released this year, and only one of them is a solo work. I don’t feel like I have enough output or time in to comfortably call anything I’ve done notable. That said, my third book, We Are Legend (my second mashup collaboration with author E Lorn—slated for release around the time this interview is published) is the one I’m most proud of.
We Are Legend (a mashup of Gremlins & I am Legend) is a multi-POV, character-driven novel about a diverse group of gifted teens and pre-teens that have survived the goblin apocalypse behind the walls of a secluded summer camp for child prodigies. However, when their supplies run dry, they’re forced to explore the ravaged landscape around their sanctuary and pit their intellect against the ravenous horde of tiny, ferocious creatures lurking behind every corner, often with disastrous results.
What are you working on now?
I have a few projects going, currently. I’m primarily focused on adapting my novelette We Can Never Go Back into a short film. I’m working on the screenplay now, and filming is on track to begin in Spring 2023. It’s been an interesting process, turning an already short story into an even shorter film, but I’m really enjoying it and can’t wait to see this cosmic horror/slasher brought to life on the screen.
Past that, I’m plugging away on the sequel to my forthcoming, first solo novel, Children of the Dreamer. A cosmic horror/noir, Children of the Dreamer should be released Spring/Summer of 2023, with the follow up (tentatively titled The Obsidian Queen) dropping a year or two later.
E Lorn and I have also started work on our third book together (tentatively titled Hella Mean), which throws Hellraiser and Mean Girls into a blender to horrifically hilarious effect. We’re hoping to have that one ready to go for Fall/Winter 2023.
What is your writing routine?
I have two younger kids (3 & 5), so my routine is to sneak away whenever they’re preoccupied with something (either that or when they’re passed out) to get some words down.
Seriously though, I usually write after they go to bed or on the weekend for a few hours when my fiancé can wrangle them for a spell. Basically, whenever I can squeeze a writing session in.
Who do you admire in the horror world?
My writing and business partners E Lorn and TC Parker are two of the most amazing people and talented writers I’ve ever met. Teaming up with them literally changed my life. If you aren’t reading them, you really need to fix that (especially TC’s Hummingbird).
Laurel Hightower and Jeremy Hepler were two of the first people to welcome me when I decided to get involved with the horror writing community, and their books, Crossroads and Cricket Hunters respectively, showed me how powerful character-driven horror stories can be. You won’t find another pair of authors who are as insanely talented and supportive as these two. They’re all-around awesome people. I’m proud and honored to call them both friends.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Gabino Iglesias. The dude is certifiably incredible. Coyote Songs was one of the first horror novels I read when I began immersing myself in the genre. It annihilated all my preconceived notions of what horror was and could be. It made me want to be a better writer, something I hadn’t experienced since reading Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Watching him blow up has been fantastic. I don’t know anyone who deserves the attention and success more.
And a list like this couldn’t be complete without my brilliant mentor, Lee Murray. After joining the HWA, I signed up for the mentorship program and was beyond lucky to be paired up with Lee. (I’ve often said that I won the lottery when it came to mentors.) She helped me tighten and refine my writing, paving the way for me to truly find my voice and style. Lee is one of the most selfless people I’ve ever met. It’s not an exaggeration to say she often has upwards of half a dozen mentees at one time. I don’t know how she finds the time to help so many writers and still have any time to write herself. But I’m glad she does, because on top of everything else, she’s also an immensely talented writer.
Honestly, I could talk about horror authors I admire for a few pages (we’re truly blessed to live in an age with so many phenomenal horror writers), but for the sake of brevity I’ll cut it off here.
Do you prefer all-out gore or psychological chills?
Psychological chills, definitely. I don’t mind gore. I’ve certainly written my fair share of it, but I’ve found that psychological horror stories tend to be more focused on character, something I seek out in any story in any genre or medium. Don’t get me wrong, a thoughtful/thought-out plot is important, but for me it’s secondary to fully realized, believable characters that make me feel some kind of way. And to me, that’s what you need to tell a powerful psychological horror story.
Why should people read your work?
A reader once described my writing as athletic, which I think is a good descriptor for my minimalistic style. I like to keep my prose tight and focused. I try to set the mood or scene or give a little character background, and then get the story moving, without a lot of fluff or unneeded exposition. So, if you’re into concise storytelling that keeps you turning pages, you might like what I’m doing.
Thinking specifically about the books I have out, or are releasing in the near future, there are a few things that might set them apart:
With The Wicked Rex of the West, E Lorn and I set out to mashup two properties that had no business meeting (namely the Wizard of Oz and Jurassic Park) to create something entirely original. I think we successfully created an amusing dark fantasy story that turned out much better than it should have.
My second book, We Can Never Go Back, was a novelette inspired by a photograph of a creepy phone booth in the woods that Kealan Patrick Burke posted on Twitter. At its heart, the story is about toxic relationships and how hard they are to escape from, even when you absolutely know you should. This was set against my idea to mix a cosmic horror story with a slasher—a subgenre amalgamation that doesn’t get much attention (if any).
We Are Legend releases in October. As I mentioned above, this is my second collaboration with E Lorn. This one landed squarely in the realm of horror, while maintaining the darkly amusing tone/voice E and I created in Rex.
Finally, my first solo novel, Children of the Dreamer, is slated for release in Q1 of 2023. With this supernatural crime-noir thriller I wanted to tell the story of a middle-aged detective who specializes in cases of the occult and how his continued exposure to the supernatural affects not only his mental state but his life in general. Fans of True Detective season 1 will probably like this one.
Recommend a book.
Just one? I guess it’s a good thing I inadvertently recommended a few above …
Past those, I think everyone should read John F.D. Taff’s The Fearing. I read the original four novellas as he released them a couple years back, and then went and bought the collected version once it was released. It’s a wonderful post-apocalyptic story in the vein of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (there’s that book again—obviously I’m a fan) and Stephen King’s The Stand, while being completely original at the same time. Rather than a plague or cannibals, this particular apocalypse is brought on by humanity’s collective fears (hence the name). It’s one of those books I wish I could forget just so I could experience it again for the first time.
I’ll leave you with some of the final lines from my review of Taff’s masterpiece:
“The Fearing creeped me out. It broke my heart. It had me literally yelling, “Hell yeah” more than once. This book is not to be missed.”