Red Lagoe is the author of horror collections Lucid Screams and Dismal Dreams. She is the owner of Death Knell Press and editor of its upcoming anthology Nightmare Sky. When Red is not spewing horror onto the page, she can be found under the stars, enjoying the hobby of amateur astronomy. Find Red on Twitter at @RedLagoe and online at her website.
What first attracted you to horror writing?
I’ve always loved horror, but didn’t know I wanted to write, even though I wrote my first horror story when I was eleven years old. It was called The Creature from Over the Hill, and it was about a seventeen-year-old girl and her dog, alone in a cabin after an alien crashed nearby. There was a shotgun and Molotov cocktails, and everyone but the main character and her dog died by the end. My mom said that all the supporting characters couldn’t die, and she suggested that the best friend should survive. This was not something I agreed with, but I made the change, because even at eleven years old, I knew to listen to my editor.
The story was probably inspired by the countless horror movies I’d seen up until that point. I grew up on 80’s horror flicks from a very young age, so by the time I was eleven, I was daydreaming about my own survival situations—my own final girl scenarios, and I never tripped in the forest while running away. I would imagine full scenes and entire story arcs, some of which included navigating jungles, escaping kidnappings, or throat-punching Nazis … you name it.
But the creature tale was the only story I’d written on paper. All the others lived solely in my head. When I was a teenager, the crazy daydreams continued, but I thought I’d be a children’s book writer because I liked drawing cartoons. Life didn’t take me down that path initially and I ended up working in a completely unrelated field for over a decade. Then, in my 30s, a weird turn of life events occurred, and I became a stay-at-home parent. I’d never not worked, so it was a tough transition for me. I tried to do the domestic thing, cleaning, baking, playdates … but I was losing my mind. More daydreams with new fears—mom fears. Home invasions, losing my children, real nightmare fuel kind of stuff was at the forefront of my imagination.
I knew I needed a creative outlet. So, I finally set out to write that children’s book I said I’d write back when I was in high school. I wrote and published a picture book, and I tried to write more, but all the stories I came up with took a turn toward the serious side. So I tackled a young adult novel, which was rightfully rejected. I dabbled with some women’s fiction, but everything I wrote veered into those places we fear to tread. They addressed the dark issues that lurked in my head. Everything I came up with was far too horrific for the genre in which I was supposed to be writing. And it occurred to me that I was writing horror. And why wouldn’t I be writing it? Horror—those dark emotions, those feelings people like to avoid—it’s always been there, itching to come out in those survival stories I’d imagined as a kid. I was a horror writer. It just took me a while to figure out what eleven-year-old me knew all along.
What is your most notable work?
I have two horror collections out, both of which I like to think are worth taking note for different reasons. Lucid Screams is a collection of all those horror stories I wrote over several years, while I was still new to writing horror. Half of the stories were rejected, revised, rejected and revised again, and rejected again. They were the stories that went to critique group, got torn apart and pieced back together. I learned so much from writing those stories that eventually many of them were good enough to get published. Lucid Screams was the amalgamation of my hard work and dedication to learning, and proof that it paid off. I’m very proud of the stories within. The Well Read Beard, Kevin Whitten, named Lucid Screams as his best 2020 horror collection, and at the time, named it his all-time favorite indie collection. I’m not sure if the title still remains.
Dismal Dreams, on the other hand, was written with a little more experience under my belt. About half of the stories within—like in Lucid Screams—had been published before and the other half are brand new. For Dismal Dreams, though, I was able to hire a professional editor to look at every story. Gabino Iglesias was fantastic to work with and had a lot of wonderful things to say about that collection.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on several things. I like to have a lot of projects going at once—many pokers in the fire, as the saying goes. Currently, self-edits on my novel Bloodstains by Gaslight are consuming a huge amount of my time. This book means a lot to me personally. It’s a story of teenage relationship abuse, told through the lens of a vampire story. It’s important to state first that it’s a story of abuse, because I don’t think it fits the typical vampire story mold. Hopefully that will be a good thing. I’m incredibly nervous about querying this book, because I’m not sure how people will take it. After self-edits are done, I’ll be sending it to beta-readers, and then eventually publishers.
I’m also working on some new short stories for a collection/anthology hybrid that will be put out by Cemetery Gates Media. Corey Farrenkopf, Sara Tantlinger, and Jessica York are the other contributors on this project and I’m excited to get a chance to be part of this. These are fantastic writers. Their prose is beautiful and poetic, and I worry my writing will look like neanderthal grunts in comparison, so I’m doing my best to bring my A-game.
There’s one other short story that I’m slowly working on for a March submission call. It’s a goofy, bizarro kind of body horror story that I’m clunking my way through.
And, I’m excited to announce that I’ve recently launched my micropress, Death Knell Press, and have been busy laying the groundwork for the first anthology, Nightmare Sky: An Anthology of Astronomical Horror, which I will be editing. I’ve been wanting to do this project for a long time, and I’m finally making that happen.
What is your writing routine?
I don’t tend to stick to routines. Routines suck the life out of me. I do have certain hours of the day that work best for writing, but that changes throughout the year depending on whether the kids are home from school, or what time of day I have to do my normal job. Routines and I don’t get along. They become mundane and boring and I end up unable to function. I like to keep it spicy.
For writing, no matter when I write, I must have a quiet room. No distractions. They say that a writer should practice writing in a lot of different locations, so that we can learn to write anywhere, under any conditions. So I have tried to write in busy, noisy spaces, and it’s really difficult for me to concentrate. I like a quiet space and I must have the following: chapstick; a thesaurus and dictionary—because words are hard; and a beverage … usually coffee and/or water. One Saturday afternoon, I tried drinking bourbon as my beverage of choice. I wanted to see if the old Hemingway thing worked—you know, “write drunk.” Well, I got a little saucy, opened my computer, and then screwed around on social media for an hour, rambling about how I was drinking and writing like Hemingway, but I didn’t actually write anything. So booze and I do not make good writing partners. I do not recommend.
Who do you admire in the horror world?
I’m a huge fan of Paul Tremblay. I love his style, I love the stories, the characters … even the ambiguity that seems to divide his readers. I love it. My favorite art is a work that can be interpreted in different ways by different people.
Josh Malerman has this passion for creativity that oozes out of him. I admire that he’s doing the thing that a lot of us want. He got the book deals and the movie deal and he lives and breathes creativity, and his positivity and work ethic is inspiring.
But most of the names that come to mind are indie horror writers. They are the people who are doing the hard work, putting in the time, and having it pay off. They’re people I look up to for inspiration, because I see where they are now, and it occurs to me that it’s not so far-fetched that I can have that kind of success too. And that’s incredibly inspiring. I’ll name a few, but this list could go on and on forever.
V Castro: I met her at Scares That Care. Her writing is strong, she’s got the talent, and she’s got the determination. She has pushed through boundaries and she’s inspired me to do the same.
Hailey Piper: I swear, I think Hailey rules the indie publishing world right now. Left and right, every other week, I think I see something new from Hailey, and it’s always good stuff.
Gabino Iglesias: He is like a pillar in the indie horror community, in my opinion. He does everything he can to raise voices and to help other writers. I hope to be able to be as helpful to others in the future.
Seriously, I can name countless others who inspire me for different reasons. Laurel Hightower, Gemma Amor, RJ Joseph, and Jonathan Janz, to name a handful. There are so many. We call it a horror community for a reason. There are many here, authors, publishers, editors, and other creators who all work together to build each other up, and that dynamic of positivity and encouragement is admirable.
Overall, I tend to lean toward the psychological chills. All-out gore rarely phases me—maybe it was all those 80’s movies which desensitized me. Gore usually just makes me cringe. I’m not opposed to the gross-out, by any means, but I want more feelings than just disgust. I want that disgust to be paired with another strong emotion, like rage, or grief, or even humor. If I’m getting an all-out gore fest, make it mean something more, or at least make me laugh. That’s when I think gore works the best.
Psychological chills though … they take a different kind of finesse. Those are the scares that can stick with me. Those are the books and movies that make me have nightmares, the ones that make me want to jump into bed really fast after I shut off the light so the darkness-demons don’t get me. If a story can make me afraid to go to the bathroom alone, then it’s done a good job.
There was a while in the 2000s when I stopped watching horror movies because it seemed that many of them either went for excessive gore, or the supposed psychological chills were no more than jump scares. So I’m happy to see more works lately where the story takes over, and because of our attachment to the characters, and our connection to those emotions, both the chills and/or the gore tend to work better.
Why should people read your work?
This is the hardest question, so I’ll do my best not to wave airily and say “oh, I don’t know …” I like a fast-paced story. Not necessarily all action, but I like the stories to move along… where every word counts. And because those are the stories I tend to enjoy reading, I think I tend to write that way too.
Also, a variety of subgenres of horror interest me. I like to mix it up, especially with my short stories. I’ve written ghosts, aliens, apocalypse, body horror, psychological horror, and bizarro stuff. My stories might be serious and thought-provoking, dark and dreadful. Sometimes I get playful, I get hopeful, or flat-out dismal. I would tell people to read my work because maybe they haven’t yet. And that goes for any author out there you haven’t read yet. Check out new writers, of all different backgrounds. Read outside what you’re used to, because you never know who will surprise you.
Recommend a book.
To Be Devoured, by Sara Tantlinger. It’s an all-time favorite book. I went on a podcast with Staring Into the Abyss, where I got to choose a short story or novella to discuss with the hosts. I chose this novella. There are few books I read more than once, and this is one I’m sure I’ll revisit a third time. The character’s decline into madness is executed spectacularly. There’s symbolism and darkness. I love the uncertainty and the grotesque beauty of it all. I think we spoke about this book for about an hour on the podcast, and I had notes and post-its that would fill at least another hour. A quote from this book is on my wall. In my office, I painted a silhouette of a tree and crows. Since Sara’s book was about a woman’s fascination with carrion birds, I knew I needed a quote from the book to go on my carrion bird wall. “Our deaths have no other meaning than to be devoured.” This is where I would insert starry-eyed emojis, to ensure you understand just how excited I feel when I talk about this book.