I first became aware of Joanna Parypinski when we each had stories appear in the anthology Indiana Science Fiction 2011 from James Ward Kirk Publishing. Since then, her writing career has really taken off, having stories published in numerous high profile publications (just check out her impressive author bio after the interview to see what I mean). She’s without question a rising star in the horror/speculative fiction community and even teaches a college course on Gothic Horror as well. Alongside all of this, her new novel Dark Carnival is hitting the market this week from Independent Legions. This seems the perfect time to ask her about that novel, her career, writing and more.
H.D.: Tell us about your new novel Dark Carnival which is coming out on June 14th?
J.P.: Dark Carnival is a horror novel following Dax Howard, a college student returning to his rural hometown after his father’s death, who gets caught up in trying to solve the 14-year-old mystery of his mother’s disappearance at a traveling carnival. Along the way he stumbles onto a dangerous local cult led by a girl who may not be entirely human.
H.D.: What sort of research did you have to do for it?
J.P.: I love this question because I think readers who aren’t keyed into the writing process may not realize that even books that don’t seem to obviously include research still require some form of research. For this book, I spent some time researching Native American folklore, specifically Lakota. I love including folklore because there are so many interesting stories and figures to be found there, and it gives me the chance to get a richer understanding of the mythology of different cultures. For this reason, I like writing about different cultures, even in small ways. Research is really important here because, even though the story takes some liberties to create its own world, I want to be authentic and not misrepresent another culture or just use them as “the other,” which you can see a lot in older works of horror and which I think the genre is, happily, moving away from.
H.D.: Did you have any particular theme in mind while writing it or perhaps one that developed along the way?
J.P.: I think my themes usually develop along the way, but I tend to continually return to the experience of alienation and isolation, and the question of how we reconcile the seemingly disparate values of science and myth. Dax is studying astrophysics but frequently returns to his mother’s teachings about his Lakota heritage, both of which he finds to be valid, but, because of typical Western ideology, result in a somewhat conflicted experience of the world.
H.D.: I find myself instantly intrigued by this mysterious Carnival you mentioned. What do you think it is about them that inspires such fascination amongst us horror fans.
J.P.: I wonder if the reason behind carnivals being used for horror is similar to why we find clowns so creepy? Clowns should be fun and funny, but the riot of entertainment can also be unsettling. Maybe there’s something to that connection between joy and fear. There’s also the sinister history of freak shows in carnivals, and I think people (especially horror fans) are just fascinated by the abnormal. Maybe I’ll have to re-watch the TV show Carnivale to see how they address this question.
H.D.: You’ve had several short stories published, do you have a personal favorite among them?
J.P.: The short answer is… no! Every time I think I’ve picked a favorite, I remember another story I like just as well. I could probably narrow it down to a few, though: “The Thing in the Trees” in Nightscript IV, “The Deepest Part of the Ocean” in The Beauty of Death 2, “We Are Turning on a Spindle” and “What’s Coming to You” both in Nightmare, and “Beach People” in the most recent issue of Black Static. So maybe a bit more than a few! I like them all for different reasons, which is why I can’t choose a favorite (but then, I’m like that; ask me my favorite book or favorite movie, and you’ll get only a resounding, anxious silence because I simply can’t choose!).
H.D.: What began your love of the genre?
J.P.: Horror has been my favorite genre for, truly, as long as I can remember. I devoured Goosebumps and Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark as a kid; I watched every episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark? My favorite movie growing up was The Nightmare Before Christmas. Even before I was really “writing” anything, I used to make my own “books” by folding and stapling paper together, drawing a cover, and writing a bunch of scribbles in the pages to mimic writing; then I would “read” these books to people, making up the story as I went. They were always scary stories, typically based on the Goosebumps formula.
H.D.: You offer a course on Gothic Horror at Glendale Community College where you teach English. That sounds like an amazing class. Can you give us some details about it?
J.P.: We just wrapped up the class, and it was fantastic! We read some graveyard poetry with a few modern poems as well, short fiction like “The Masque of the Red Death,” “The Yellow Wallpaper,” “Nethescurial” by Ligotti, and other contemporary stories from John Langan and Brian Evenson. We also read We Have Always Lived in the Castle, which is one of my favorites, and The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle paired with Lovecraft’s “The Horror at Red Hook.” It was really hard to narrow down the reading selections, but thematically they ended up feeling very cohesive and worked well.
H.D.: How has it been received?
J.P.: The students were absolutely fantastic and really made the class so wonderful. They were enthusiastic, and I think I may have converted a few of them to becoming horror fans! I’m just now finishing up with their research papers, and the essays I’ve gotten are astoundingly good. I’ve got essays about occultism and Creepypastas, Goth music and Faulkner, horror video games, feminism in Gilman and Jackson, racism in Lovecraft and LaValle, Poe’s influence on King, haunted houses… So, needless to say, the class went great and was received really well! I’m looking forward to teaching it again.
H.D.: Who are some of your favorite horror writers?
J.P.: I know I’m going to leave some out, but here goes: Shirley Jackson, Edgar Allan Poe, Thomas Ligotti, John Langan, Stephen Graham Jones, Adam Nevill, Paul Tremblay, Caitlin R. Kiernan, Gwendolyn Kiste, Laird Barron, Gabino Iglesias… well, that’s a few at least! There are so many great writers working in horror today, aside from the classics, that the list is ever-expanding.
H.D.: Do you have any advice for aspiring writers out there?
J.P.: Perseverance is everything. Push through even when it seems like everything is going wrong.
Also, in terms of honing your writing skills, my advice is to follow R.I.P: Read a lot of good work, Imitate what you like, and then Practice until you find your own style.
H.D.: What future projects are you working on?
J.P.: I have another completed novel waiting in the wings, which my agent is currently sending out to editors (it’s sort of a postmodern gothic), and I’m working on a new project right now that is actually a fantasy novel with elements of sci-fi and horror. It’s an idea I’ve had in my head for a really long time, so it’s been fun getting it down on the page, finally.
H.D.: I know you’re a big fan of Halloween. Do you have any traditions to celebrate the holiday?
J.P.: I suppose my new tradition is to celebrate my anniversary; my husband and I had a Halloween wedding on October 27, 2017. But other than that, I carve a jack-o-lantern and get candy to hand out (even though I don’t get more than a handful of trick-or-treaters at my apartment… but then I just eat the candy!). Also, dressing up is one of my favorite parts of the holiday, and it has to be something scary. I think my favorite costume I did was the Babadook.
I also watch Halloween-themed movies every year. For a while it was the Halloween films, but currently Trick ‘r Treat is on my roster of yearly must-watch movies.
H.D.: Which horror element or creature in literature or films consistently gives you the chills (example: for me it’s faceless creatures/specters)?
J.P.: Ooh, faceless creatures are definitely creepy! In fact, there is a faceless figure that features prominently in the gothic novel that my agent is sending out to editors. I also like creatures with weirdly long limbs who move in odd ways, or strange eyes—anything that’s uncanny, really, the sense of being almost-human-but-not-quite. The uncanny is great for giving you the shivers.
BIO: Joanna Parypinski is a writer of dark speculative fiction whose work has appeared in Black Static, Nightmare Magazine, Chizine, Haunted Nights edited by Ellen Datlow and Lisa Morton, New Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark edited by Jonathan Maberry, The Beauty of Death Vol. 2 edited by Alessandro Manzetti and Jodi Renee Lester, Tales from the Lake Vol. 5 edited by Kenneth W. Cain, Nighscript IV, Vastarien, and more. She holds an MFA from Chapman University and is a member of the Horror Writers Association. She currently lives in the L.A. area and teaches English at Glendale Community College.
Dark Carnival Amazon Kindle:
Dark Carnival Paperback:
Listen or Read Joanna’s story “What’s Coming to You” from Nightmare Magazine here:
Interview conducted by Matt Cowan