Hey there horror fans, I’m Jessica Avery and I’ll be delivering your weekly brief of all that’s ghastly and grim in the world of Horror. Whether you’re looking for a backlist book that will give you the willies, a terrifying new release, or the latest in horror community news, you’ll find it here in The Fright Stuff.
This week I had the absolute joy of of interviewing author Josh Winning, whose forthcoming novel The Shadow Glass (out March 22) is an 80’s fantasy nostalgia dream full of horror and magic that – as someone practically raised on 80’s fantasy films – has stolen my whole heart. I finished that book with so many (admittedly nerdy and obsessive) questions, and I can’t thank Josh Winning enough for indulging me by answering some of them.
The Shadow Glass is about a man who grew up in the shadow of his father’s fame – and infamy – trying to come to terms with the legacy he’s inherited now that his father is dead. But when the characters from his father’s movie suddenly come to life, Jack finds himself in the middle of an impossible battle to save an imaginary world, before both it and his own world are consumed by darkness.
Inside The Shadow Glass
Belief is a key element in a lot of fantasy fiction, and a recurring theme in a lot of the 80’s fantasy films that clearly inspired The Shadow Glass. But even though belief is also a central and critical theme in the book, Jack starts out the story as a sort of non-believer. Or, maybe more accurately, an ex-dreamer who has forgotten how to believe. Why was that journey for Jack – the journey to believe again – the story that you choose to tell?
JW: I think you hit the nail on the head there – Jack has forgotten how to dream. He’s become so cynical and jaded, he lacks any vision whatsoever. It’s crippled him. The idea of belief resonated with me because I think belief and love are interlinked. If you really believe in something — whether it’s a cause, or a TV show, or a certain philosophy — you probably love it, too. You become a fan. And that love is unifying.
There’s no love in Jack’s life, for himself or anybody else. It could be because he doesn’t believe in anything. He has no line in the sand. Nothing to champion and hold aloft as something that defines him. Basically, he has to commit to something, anything, in order to come back to life.
One final thought on that: I think belief is such an adult “problem” – as one character says in the book, when we grow up, we forget how to believe without question. We demand proof and explanation. I think there’s real power in being able to suspend our disbelief, or to believe in something without question. It’s what makes books, movies and TV shows so compelling — they force us to believe!
And of course, The Shadow Glass isn’t just about Jack’s childhood fantasy world coming to life, it’s about all the other people whose lives The Shadow Glass touched. Fandom plays an important role in The Shadow Glass. We’re told that the movie was a critical flop, yet it was the influence and persistence of its small but devoted fanbase that kept the film’s memory alive and raised it to cult status. We also see the dark side of fandom – I mean one of our main villains is basically the epitome of a gatekeeping fandom troll. How did the culture around fandoms and fantasy fans give part of your inspiration for the novel?
JW: It’s funny, I never intended to write about fandom, but fandom has become so huge in the past few decades, mostly thanks to the internet, that it’s sort of omnipresent. It filtered into my writing without me necessarily being aware of it. I think I was interested in exploring just HOW people express their love for the thing they’re a fan of, and how that expression could be interpreted as positive or negative. How it can unite or divide.
In the book, Toby represents the positive side of fandom, while Wesley Cutter represents the (ahem) less positive side. They’re basically there to show Jack the two paths open to him, and the real battle is in him figuring out which to choose: embrace The Shadow Glass or destroy it?
Speaking of people: Bob, Jack’s father is a very complicated, very human character who, despite having died before the story began, is an omnipresent figure in The Shadow Glass. He’s the one who gave Jack the world of Iri when Jack was just a baby and introduced him to magic and the power of belief, but at the same time, he’s the one who darkened Jack’s perception of the world and is, in a way, the reason that Jack stopped believing. So Jack’s grief seems to be as much about the loss of that version of himself as it is about the loss of his father. What made you gravitate towards grief as a theme in The Shadow Glass?
JW: A lot of my writing tends to revolve around grief, I guess because I lost my mom when I was 21, so I know the ripple effects grief can have. And it never goes away. It’s a part of you forever, which is probably why I find it endlessly fascinating.
It’s, sadly, something we’ll all experience at some point in our lives, and we all react to it differently. In a sense, Jack has been grieving his whole life (for reasons that become clear in the book), but he only confronts grief head-on when his father dies. I think grief is one of the biggest catalysts for change. It certainly changed me.
Let’s talk about horror! This is a horror newsletter, after all, and horror is most definitely a component of The Shadow Glass. That scene at the convention? That was horrifying! I’m still cringing. Which of course means I really relished every gruesome little moment. And obviously, given how dark some of those 80’s fantasy films were (I’m looking at you NeverEnding Story, with your Swamp of Sadness), horror is just a natural fit for this story. Was it that history of dark elements in fantasy what made you lean into horror with The Shadow Glass?
JW: For starters, thank you! I hoped that convention scene would pack a gory punch. Also, I love horror! I’m naturally drawn to it and I love coming up with monsters and scary set-pieces.
Luckily, like you said, the genre of The Shadow Glass lends itself completely to darkness — films like The NeverEnding Story and The Dark Crystal never skimped on the scares, and that’s precisely why we love them. There’s REAL peril, IMPOSSIBLE stakes, MASSIVE danger. The really fun part of writing The Shadow Glass was coming up with ways that that type of horror could play out in an “adult” version of those supposedly child-friendly 80s flicks.
Stepping away from The Shadow Glass for a moment, there’s been a lot of talk lately about what kids should and shouldn’t read. And while right now the target is LGBTQ+ stories, there are also a lot of “concerned” adults who believe that kids should be “protected” from stories that they deem inappropriately scary or violent. But a lot of the 80’s fantasy films that inspired The Shadow Glass, beloved films that many of us grew up with, are, as I said, very dark and even frightening. Do you think encountering these darker narratives as a child helped shape you as a writer of dark fiction? And what do you think the importance is, if any, of letting kids have access to dark or “scary” stories?
JW: Those films were 100% my gateway drug to horror. Whenever I think about how fantastically dark they are, I remember Jim Henson saying that he didn’t think children should feel completely safe 100% of the time. I sort of agree. Those movies provided a safe space for us to explore unsettling ideas and situations, where we could experience real peril without having to actually live it.
I don’t have kids so I can’t say who should or shouldn’t be “protected” from dark stories, all I know is that I WAS that kid who watched The Dark Crystal on repeat and I turned out OK!
And to return to your first observation, I think LGBTQ+ rep is SO important in fiction for all ages – I searched for it desperately as a kid and I’m STILL searching now. It’s great that we’re seeing more representation, but the balance is still far from redressed, especially with the persistent hysteria of thinking like, “What if reading gay material turns my teenager gay?!” Look, they’re either gay or they aren’t. It really is as simple as that.
Pop Quiz Finale!
The Shadow Glass is clearly a love letter to 80’s fantasy movies, so which one is your favorite? Your go-to, must-have, desert island pick?
JW: That’s so harrrrrd! For a long time it was Labyrinth, but recently The NeverEnding Story has overtaken it. It has it all — including an absolutely audacious final act that shatters the fourth wall and invites us as viewers into the story. It’s basically a perfect movie.
What fictional world would you let yourself be pulled into/bring to life if you had the chance?
JW: Realistically, Thra is probably a bit scary for me, so maybe Fraggle Rock or that cloud city where the Care Bears live.
Who is your favorite fantasy villain?
JW: The Goblin King in Labyrinth. He has so much going for him! The hair! The voice! The junk! And ‘As The World Falls Down’ is an absolute masterpiece of a song.
How about your favorite 80’s fantasy soundtrack? (The synth-ier the better)
JW: Hands down The NeverEnding Story. So synth, so evocative, so chilling. And the theme tune still slays. But the Willow score is also hugely underrated, I really recommend seeking that one out, too.
Who are you must-read horror authors that Fright Stuff’s reader’s should go check out?
JW: Adam Cesare is a genius (if you haven’t read Clown in a Cornfield, get on it!), and I love Kat Ellis’ YA horror novels, particularly Wicked Little Deeds (Burden Falls in the US). Plus obviously no shelf is complete without Paul Tremblay, Grady Hendrix, and Stephen Graham Jones.
How about the best dark fiction book you’ve read so far in 2022?
JW: All the White Spaces by Ally Wilkes is a masterpiece in drip-feed terror. I’m still kind of not OK, three months after finishing it…
This was such a fun newsletter to work on, I hope it brings you some joy as well! The Shadow Glass will be available at your favorite book retailer tomorrow, March 22nd, so if we’ve whet your appetite don’t forget to order your copy!
Fresh From the Skeleton’s Mouth
Over at Book Riot we’ve got horror novels where the supernatural takes a back seat, and 10 horror novels set underground.
Neon Hemlock Press has announced their 2022 Novella Series! And as always it looks beyond amazing.
As always, you can catch me on twitter at @JtheBookworm (https://twitter.com/JtheBookworm), where I try to keep up on all that’s new and frightening.