Welcome Phillip T. Stephens whose book, Raising Hell, offers a more humorous side of horror!
A clueless optimist ruins a perfectly good hell.
Pity poor Lucifer. He rules hell with a vice grip. Demons and damned scatter at the sound of his steps. The Supreme Butt In hasn’t pestered him in eons. His future looks perfect, pitch black, until an administrative error sticks him with an innocent soul—an overweight optimist who calls himself Pilgrim and who believes he must be in hell to do good.
Lucifer never considers sending him back. Why waste a second chance to corrupt an innocent soul? He orders his subordinates to torture, degrade and humiliate Pilgrim until he promises to become evil if only it will ease the pain. Unfortunately, Pilgrim makes the best of the worst possible experiences. Always polite and well-mannered, he makes Pollyanna seem like a prophet of doom. Even worse, the damned start catching on, and set about making hell into the most enjoyable place of everlasting torment ever.
Lucifer can’t let Pilgrim continue to wreak happiness, but he can’t send him back untainted, either. When God arrives with a deadline for Pilgrim’s return, he enlists fellow fallen angels Screwtape, Azazel and the gender morphing Mephistopheles in a plot to corrupt Pilgrim’s soul before the deadline expires.
How long have you been writing horror/thrillers and what drew you to the genre?
This was the first book I published, although I have another horror novel I will probably release in the spring and an earlier one I wrote in the eighties that may or may not see the light of day. I’ve loved horror stories since I was a kid. My dad was a Baptist minister and wouldn’t let me watch the late night creature features like the other kids, but I traded the cards with the other kids.
Then I found a copy of Frankenstein in the school library in third grade. It had a picture of a hanging woman with her breast exposed. I made the mistake of showing it, in confidence, to a friend who ratted me out. Even though the book was in the school library I was the one who got in trouble. But boy did I love horror and reading forbidden books after that.
How did you come up with the idea for your book?
The idea came to me when I was transitioning between two educational jobs, both of which required me to answer to multiple managers, all of whom loved to micromanage. I thought, this feels more like hell with brimstone and fire. Any one of the managers could have been Lucifer. So I pictured this poor guy trapped in a soulless bureaucracy, and the novel came easy. The ten or so rewrites until I was happy with it, however, demanded my attention for several years.
If you could erase one horror cliché, what would it be?
Horror is cliché. The cliché I would erase is another fan’s treasure. I’m probably most tired of the women dropping their drawers for any sexy vampire or werewolf motif, but that’s because my generation included a generation of women who would never be sucked into a life of sexual co-dependency (so to speak). That motif spawned an entire PNR sub-genre so erasing that cliché would wipe out an industry and raise the objection that it’s no cliché.
What are you working on now?
I’m getting ready to release a young adult novel, Seeing Jesus, about a girl who sees a homeless man no one else can see. It’s about as far from a horror novel as a novel can get. Then, in the spring I will release Scent, a horror novel in which the supernatural world needs to be protected from us.
Favorite horror movie and book?
Movie: Ghost Story (John Irvin, 1981). Book: Lovecraft, At the Mountains of Madness. (It doesn’t get more pulp, but it’s like cotton candy for the brain.)
Phillip T. Stephens appears once a year, on Halloween, on the sidewalk of his broken down, rescue cat infested three-story ranch-style duplex in the middle of a forest thick with Central Texas mesquite (where children wander their way up a trail lit by luminarias* to find the crusty old curmudgeon rumored to wait at the end) dressed in bloody bandages and spider webs with waist-length vermin infested beard and riding a broken down wheel chair, brandishing a shotgun on his lap. He rewards the children who make it to the threshold without running away in terror with a kind word and a copy of his book, which sucks for them because the last thing they want on Halloween is a shitty book. They want more candy.
*A Hispanic tradition, paper bags with candles inside.