‘At the Hands of Madness’ has been recently released from Severed Press. To celebrate the release, we got the opportunity to talk with its author Kevin Holton. Check out what he had to say about ‘At the Hands of Madness,’ his futures titles, and his fascinating story of how he became a horror fan and writer…
-PH: Lets jump right into it and talk about your new book, ‘At the Hands of Madness.’ What’s it about?
-Kevin: Short answer: A ragtag militia with a grenadier, a sniper, a cyborg, a psychic, a pyro, and a guy who builds battle mechs try to defend their city from a Lovecraftian kaiju and the ravenous locust-like creatures that spawn from its body.
Slightly longer answer: The narrator, Hennessy Jones, tried to hold himself together while fighting a psychic kaiju most believe to be invincible. At the Hands of Madness isn’t just about fighting one monster–it’s about the fact that humankind has always needed a monster to fight, and when one doesn’t exist, we create a new one. After centuries of people demonizing each other, a real demon has arrived.
-PH: One of your reviewers said, “Holton provides a wild and gritty tour-de-force that pits humans, metahumans, and the combat robots they have built against a horror that combines the nightmares of H.P. Lovecraft, Ishiro Honda, and George Romero.” Those are some pretty big names mentioned. Would you agree that they had some influence in you writing this story?
-Kevin: I was incredibly honored to be compared to such figures, and yes, they did have a huge influence on me, especially Lovecraft. The title of this book is a nod to At the Mountains of Madness, with ‘hands’ because the kaiju in my story, Medraka, has four hands (among other bizarre features). Ignoring the bigotry aspects of his work, he did such amazing work with suspense and psychological tensions. Same with Romero. In respects to his work, a lot of zombie stories/films these days seem to think the fear factor is about the zombies eating a character, but the real scary part is when they haven’t eaten them–yet. That sense of “Oh god, something terrible is about to happen” is something I strive for in a lot of my work (and I have another novel in the works from HellBound Books, These Walls Don’t Talk, They Scream that really digs into that suspense).
-PH: When horror fans think of the apocalypse they think zombies, but you created some monsters of your own. What can readers expect from your monsters?
-Kevin: I’ll break this one down a bit:
Medraka: A four-armed, headless kaiju with psychic powers. Expect that word from the title: Madness. I designed it specifically to fly in the face of kaiju tropes, because in many kaiju stories, the Big Bad immediately tries to wipe out all human life. Not Medraka. Sometimes it attacks, sometimes it just walks by, making each time it’s near a coin-toss as to whether it’ll kill you. (You’ll notice the cover shows it with a head–there’s a reason for that, but you’ll have to read to find out!)
The Phranna: These are the locust creatures, though some of their anatomical design comes from the Praying Mantis. They’re humanoid in shape, generally armored, and always hungry. They seem to come from somewhere in Medraka’s body, as if it’s a walking hive. Unlike Medraka, they’ll immediately swarm whatever life is nearby.
“The Final Monster”: Don’t want to spoil anything, but man, I loved writing it. It’s such a big WTF.
-PH: So there are also robots in your story. Would you say this book has a little of something for both horror and sci-fi fans?
-Kevin: Oh yeah. I’d say that about a good bit of my work, actually. My horror tends to fall into The New Weird, so there’s a lot of cross-genre stuff going on all the time, but At the Hands of Madness in particular has a good bit of sci-fi. Foremost, one character’s a cyborg with basically an energy cannon for an arm (inspired by a rather well-known video game character), and another builds robots/battle armor. Reality has some combat exoskeleton technology, but we’re far from making it really usable. Another character in this book has what I call ‘Psybernetics,’ or, Psychic-cybernetics, so she has a brain implant that allows her to use telekinesis and other skills. It’s a little like the Biotics of Mass Effect, except I have a few tweaks in the way I approach it.
The robots, aka Nanites, or, Homo Autonomous, are humans comprised of nanobot swarms. I won’t give much away here, but I’ll hint that they play a huge (pun intended) part in both the ending and the sequel, Through the Void of Despair.
-PH: You managed to squeeze in some comedy amongst all the horror. Was that hard to do?
-Kevin: Weirdly, no. Aside from my love of puns, I’ve always been a fan of mixing seriousness with humor. It might be a New Weird thing for me to approach writing that way, but I’ve never been in a serious situation where one person wasn’t adding levity, whether intentionally or otherwise. Plus, one of the main characters, Grover, uses humor as a defense mechanism, so the more serious things get, the more he wants to crack a joke. Nightmare on Elm Street was, as I’m sure you can imagine, as was the Treehouse of Horror episode of The Simpsons where they spoofed NoES. “You’ve mastered a dead tongue, but can you handle a live one?”
It might also stem from the way I approach other horror, especially horror movies. Whenever a movie starts taking itself too seriously, I wind up laughing at it, or pointing out holes in the story. For instance, I saw Annihilation yesterday (which wasn’t horror exactly, but had horror elements). The thing with the mutant bear was AWESOME, but the ending ‘battle’ took too long. I sat there like, “C’mon, you shiny a*******, we know what’s happening here. Get on with it.” Ultimately, I’d give the movie a 7/10, because it kept trying to make some grandiose point, but couldn’t stay focused on what it wanted to say, so it sent off all kinds of mixed messages.
Besides, like most Batman fans, I can’t help but love The Joker. If you want to talk blending comedy and horror, just take a look at that clown!
-PH: Looking ahead, you have another book on the way titled, ‘The Nightmare King.’ What can you tell us about it, and are we any closer to its release date?
-Kevin: Ooooh that’s a fun one, so thanks for asking! The Nightmare King follows Mordecai Coen. The novel begins with him at the greasiest, cheapest waystation of a diner in existence, nearly dead from starvation and thirst, when a stranger sits down in the booth across from him. He says he’s got an idea for a business: he’s going to give people nightmares, and make them pay to sleep peacefully again, but he needs a marketer, and that’s what Mordecai is for. Mordecai says no, because the man sounds insane. How could he possibly make people have nightmares? Well, he learns the hard way that yes, this man, Rex, can do just that, even putting them to sleep on the spot so they have nightmares whenever he damn well pleases.
Without giving too much away, much of this story becomes an internal struggle. Mordecai learns that, beyond the nightmares, Rex is a pretty okay guy. He’s not sure if he wants to go behind Rex’s back and get others to help stop him, or simply convince him to stop on his own–or even let him continue, because really, are a few nightmares that bad? Whatever he decides, he knows he has to tread carefully, because Rex can see people’s dreams, and any ‘conversation’ might really be an interrogation…
I’m not so sure about the release date, but it should be soon! By July, at least. You can follow me (all my social media is @TheHoltoning, and my website is www.kevinholton.com) for more details as we get closer.
-PH: ‘The Nightmare King’ sounds like something different from ‘At the Hands of Madness.’ Do you prefer writing one genre of horror over another, or is it more of whatever comes to mind?
-Kevin: Technically, all my work boils down into The New Weird, mentioned above, mainly because I love going against tropes. Sometimes, I’ll specifically look at what people typically do, what writers usually build in a genre, and go directly against that. Same thing for The Nightmare King, in which one of the biggest anti-tropes, if I can coin the term, is that the protagonist initially doesn’t know the antagonist, but becomes his friend, knowing full-well that he’s the antagonist. Normally, in stories like this, they begin as friends and go their separate ways over the antagonist’s actions.
As far as preferring one thing over another, I will say that in horror, I tend to do a lot of work with the strange and supernatural, while sci-fi is usually more tech and AI oriented. I’m not big on aliens (I’ve never seen a single Star Wars OR Star Trek), and traditional serial killer stories don’t do it for me. However, I have worked with serial killers who are particularly inventive or psychologically interesting (i.e. Jigsaw), or the product of some kind of lab accident/supernatural event.
-PH: Why horror? When did you first find an interest in horror?
-Kevin: How real do you want to get with this? At the surface level realness, I grew up reading Stephen King and Dean Koontz, so weirdness and horror and Odd Thomas were staples of my exposure. I also loved 1984, Fahrenheit 451, and a few other dystopic/satiric works. So, I guess the interest was just always there, sort of in the same way other kids immediately take to football.
In slightly deeper realness, I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, celiac disease, and hypothyroidism by the age of 4, so not only did I grow up with a host of autoimmune diseases–one of which could kill me at pretty much any moment–but I was a social outcast, since this was back when people seriously thought such conditions were contagious. Living my childhood on the fringe like that, coupled with the sense of being in a broken body, no doubt inspired a lot of my outcast characters, just like my insulin pump, continuous glucose monitor, and experience with needles no doubt inspired my love of cyborgs.
If you want to get really real, when I was diagnosed with diabetes, I died. I recall being in the hospital, outside my body, staring off into this gentle light, knowing that I had a choice between going back to my body, or into that peace. My choice should seem pretty obvious. But that’s my first memory. Seriously. The first thing I remember of this life is my own death. It’s why some call me Lazarus. How was I supposed to not write horror?
-PH: Do you think your love of horror led you to becoming a writer, or would you have been a writer regardless?
-Kevin: Aside from my previous answer, I remember being nine, reading a novel in the back of my dad’s car (he and my mom divorced when I was very young, so I spent a lot of time getting driven between houses thanks to a weird visitation schedule), and feeling that I’d be a writer one day. Not thinking, but feeling, and it wasn’t “I’d like to write one day” but “I’ll be a writer one day.” I’m pretty sure I was reading King at the time, so it was also a “Be like him” moment, the way basketball used to have that Be Like Mike trend. Should we make ‘Be like Steve’ a thing?
-PH: You also write poetry. Are they also all horror related?
-Kevin: Haha, you really did your homework on me! I like that. The answer is: …Sometimes?
My poetry tends to be a little more autobiographical, but I did send a sci-fi/horror chapbook about the singularity off for a contest. I’m also polishing/seeking publication for Painting the White City Red, which is a book of poems about H. H. Holmes, generally hailed as “America’s First Serial Killer.” Like I said, most times, serial killers don’t grab me, but he built an entire freakin’ hotel full of death traps and ‘dead’ ends. How can any horror lover not find that fascinating?
I actually got to work with Stephanie M. Wytovich, the Bram Stoker-winning poet, through Crystal Lake Publishing’s mentorship program, on this collection, so I have hopes that someone will call it “a killer collection of poetry,” because it’d be high praise, and a pun. If you write a review of any of my stuff and that review contains a pun, I’ll automatically love you forever.
-PH: Do you have a preference between writing poetry and full length books?
-Kevin: I tend to default to fiction because that’s what I grew up doing/reading. Some stories do just work better as poems, or a specific line will come to me and I’ll work that into verse. Although, as far as word count goes, writing a book of poems is WAY faster (not counting editing and all that, just getting the words on pages). Writing a book of poems well is another story entirely.
-PH: Here’s your chance to promote anything we haven’t talked about. Lets us know about your other books, website, and anything else you would like to mention.
-Kevin: Cool–I always have a lot of things going on, so thanks for this question!
Foremost, right now, I have one novel, two novellas, two story collections, and about 15 short stories out for consideration in various venues. One of my 2018 resolutions is to hit my 100th short story publication. I started the year at 82, and I’m currently at 94, so stay tuned. Won’t be much longer, and there’s always more to come!
Literally one day ago, I got an offer for another book of mine, Nova EXE, about a sentient computer program installing itself on a man’s computer. As I mentioned, I go against tropes, so don’t expect a repeat of Her or System Shock. I haven’t signed the contract yet, so I won’t say too much else right now, but it’s more dark sci-fi than outright horror.
These Walls Don’t Talk, They Scream should be coming out in the near future from HellBound Books, and I even wrote up a screenplay for that one. I have a professional looking the script over right now, so hopefully the novel will be followed up with a movie!
Also, I have a Patreon over at www.Patreon.com/TheHoltoning. I have a special going on through March where, if I get ten more pledges (at any level), I’ll be self-publishing a collection of short stories and giving all pledges a copy. If you pledge, you’ll be helping me afford insulin and stuff, and keeping me alive is super cool of you.
I publish one story a month, minimum, on Patreon, all of which will be compiled into an annual collection (that you also get for pledging), but higher tiers include getting sneak peaks to my longer WIP, downloadable MP3 recordings of me reading the story, signed copies, and The Golden God mystery box! You’ll have to pledge if you want to know what’s inside. Feel free to follow my page, or find me at www.kevinholton.com to keep updated.
And, yes, I’m seeking literary representation, so if you’re an agent looking for clients, I’d love to hear from you! Odds are, you might hear from me soon anyway.
We would like to thank Kevin for taking the time to answer our questions. We hope you’ve learned a lot about his exciting new book, ‘At the Hands of Madness,’ and a little about Kevin himself. Again you can find him at www.kevinholton.com, Amazon, and on social media: