KNIFEPOINT HORROR PODCAST: A FEAST OF FIRST PERSON FRIGHTS!
Let me be frank, ladies and gentlemen. The podcast KNIFEPOINT HORROR, written and mostly voiced by a chap named Soren Narnia is one of the best horror ANYTHINGS I’ve ever run across, much less horror podcasts. I had never even heard of the show until a post sometime this past summer from the awesome Canadian author Gemma Files, opining KNIFEPOINT’s awesomeness. I gave it a try and became an uber fan almost instantly, and have since devoured every episode.
These tales of supernatural suspense by Soren Narnia adhere to the most primal element of storytelling: a single human voice describing events exactly as it experienced them. The stories, stripped of even proper titles, spill forward as taut, uninterrupted confessions.
—from the Knifepoint Horror website
There is so much to like here. As mentioned above, there are no bells and whistles aside from a single narrator and their harrowing first-person tales, and maybe a teensy splash of spooky sound or music here and there. No theme music, no opening sequence, nothing. It really adds to the creep factor, though it doesn’t hurt that Narnia is an amazing reader. Some of the earlier episodes are voiced by hired actors, which is kind of a cool idea, but they are hit and miss as far as performance. Not so with the later ones, where the creator just kills at the telling.
Throughout, he dabbles in just about every kind of supernatural, occult, monster horror tale you can think of, with touches of crime fiction and even sci fi. He seems to be allergic to cliche, so even when something is obviously a “vampire story”, there is just no telling where it’s going to go.
He’s also a freaking natural when it comes to offbeat-yet-effective imagery and adding little details which elevate the material into the realms of true nightmare. I am so excited for any of you who haven’t listened to this show yet, as your socks are gonna be blown off!
If you want to give it a try, I would suggest starting with one of these:
Mr. Narnia was nice enough to submit to an interview, which follows:
First off, a cursory glance at Amazon shows something in the neighborhood of two dozen books by you, including everything from comedy to romance, military tragedy to dream logic parables, and of course gobs of weird horror. What gives? Are you a writing machin e masquerading as human? Please explain.
SR: I used to love writing and the ideas came in torrents. It surprises even me how much came out of all those poor Bic pens over the years. I had the time and fire to chase down every wisp of an idea that came along, and there was nothing to lose by diving deep into any genre that intrigued me.
Then I discovered something even better: NOT writing. Other things in life crowd in over time. I have cable now, for God’s sake.
Thinking is what compels me now. Turning ideas over in my head, poking them, stretching them, wailing on them with a hammer. Whether the ideas actually come to fruition is not quite as interesting.
Who/what are some of your most important horror influences? Was there a particular moment in your past that galvanized this stuff for you?
I’m not terribly well-read in this or any other genre, so my list of influences is nothing eye-opening. Lovecraft, Poe, King, Bierce, Blackwood, M.R. James, E.F. Benson, Shirley Jackson, Fritz Lieber. All the usual heavies. Even Roald Dahl, John Bellairs, Charles Addams, Edward Gorey, Joyce Carol Oates. Just got into Thomas Ligotti a bit too. And movies, very much. Watching “The Exorcist,” early John Carpenter and George Romero and the like.
“Dracula” probably set me on an inevitable course. That was the first truly memorable character from fiction I was exposed to. It doesn’t help when you’re four years old and Sesame Street has a vampire running around on it. What chance did I have to avoid writing horror?
How did the podcast come to exist? As an author, what appeals to you about the medium?
I’ve always been meh on the idea of submitting work to publishers and magazines. I thought, What do I care what one or two people in some office somewhere think? Why should they be the gatekeepers? Podcasting very efficiently solved much of that problem. No more query letters or outlines or postage or waiting for approval. It also has the benefit of indulging me when I want to be all flashy and perform.
Do you have a favorite KNIFEPOINT episode, or one that you feel best exemplifies what you are trying to do?
Let’s go with “fields.” I’m always happiest with the stories that make use of the natural environment. The cold. The wind. The woods. A good gnarled tree. That one goes out into the middle of nowhere and stays there for an hour and a half.
Do you have an overall philosophy about what makes for effective horror? Any “rules” that you try to adhere to?
I do have quite a few rules I try to keep in mind. Mostly they have to do with avoiding all the traps that have been set for horror writers. We’ve internalized decades’ worth of TV, movie and fiction tropes and we wind up imitating what we know—and usually that’s just not scary. It might be entertaining, yes, but it’s not scary at a primal level.
I keep falling for the traps myself. I’ll write something and realize it’s just an amalgam of some traditional horror elements my subsconscious has lifted and reshaped, and the end product does nothing. Then I have to go back to the drawing board. And sometimes even that doesn’t work.
The main thing I keep in mind is, true horror doesn’t want to be anyone’s friend. It doesn’t want to send you home nudging your friends and saying, “That was fun!” It wants to make you afraid to leave your bed. Often that means getting very quiet with it, very spare, very dark, and it means not taking the easy way out with jump scares, graphic violence, or sex.
Many of the tales in KNIFEPOINT contain imagery that transcends the ordinary trappings of the horror genre, while still being VERY creepy. I’m thinking of a certain bird in MOTHER, the dream about stop signs in FIELDS, the recurring comment about a particular shed in OUTCAST, etc. Many of the stories exist in full-on dream logic mode. Do you mine your dreams for this stuff, or have a method for reaching this strangely compelling effect?
I almost never remember my dreams, and the ones I do remember mostly have to do with the appearance of a random celebrity who gives me strange advice. Willie Nelson once told me in a dream that I should go into sales. I worry.
I’ve learned that it can be a very powerful thing to get the listener’s mind to visualize one key image, and that a picture—and sometimes a mysterious phrase or sound—is literally worth a thousand words. So, often I’ll just sit and try to work out what that will be. There have been times when the entire story feels like one concerted effort to get to that one image, because I sense it’ll really stick.
KNIFEPOINT HORROR is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License, which means anyone can steal whatever they like from them and do what they will. You also self-publish all of your books. For me, you are one of the best overall authors I’ve read/heard in a loooong time. Did you make a conscious decision to go DIY with all of this? If so, why?
My entire creative life feels like an attempt to return to the innocent time when writing was purely for the satisfaction of seeing the words on a page and finding a few people who might like it. Marketing, selling, profiting, promotion, getting likes and shares and reviews … those are all depressing concepts to me. It’s just not something I enjoy spending time on or thinking about.
None of this is work to me; I do it because I feel compelled to do it and it pleases me, so I’ve never felt entirely comfortable when money enters the picture. So many nice people urged me to get a Patreon page going, and I’m amazed at their generosity, but if they all suddenly said “No more soup for you!” and I never got another dime, I have a feeling I’d just keep going.
Above all, it’s very important to me that when someone reads or listens to something I’ve written, they get just that and only that—no commercialism or appeals to expand the audience. We all get so much of that every day it’s absolutely exhausting.
But you know, I wonder why I even bother to say any of this when I know for a FACT that I have a price, just like almost everyone else. That price has just never come about. (I bet it’s disturbingly low.)
Please share three horror books, movies, whatevers, that you think are particularly amazing. Points are given for obscure titles, but any suggestions you have are appreciated.
I’ll tell you the ones I consider my comfort food. I keep coming back to them. “The Shadow Out of Time” by H.P. Lovecraft for the slow cosmic dread, “The Blair Witch Project” for being such a model of economical and convincing storytelling, and Monsieur King’s “The Mist” for its painful depiction of a truly hopeless situation and for making absurd things plausible through writerly gravitas.
Do you have any new projects or plans coming up in the next while that you’d like to mention?
Speaking to you today, a gray rainy day in October of 2017, I am utterly out of ideas for horror stories. I may need to spend some time in the other world of the books I sometimes write with nice pretty scenery and flowers on their covers. But soon I’d like to do something that’s almost brutally simple in its plot—maybe use a single classic setup that has no frills whatsoever—and try to pull it off as an exercise in straight suspense and ghastliness. Sometimes I get too fancy and I just need to have my head dunked in cold vanilla pudding to remind me to keep it raw.
Thank you to Soren Narnia for sitting down with us, virtually speaking! Do yourself a favor and check out KNIFEPOINT HORROR. Also, for the last word on extremely dry humor, here is Soren Narnia’s ON HORROR: