Interview with Author K. Banning Kellum

Recently we got an opportunity to speak with K. Banning Kellum, a horror author from New Orleans. Some of you might know him from his winning ‘Jeff the Killer’ story. Well now he has a new book for horror fans, and he’s here to tell you all about it and more…

-PH: You just released your new book ‘Gris Gris and Juju: A New Orleans Horror Lagniappe.’ Tell us what it’s about?

-K. Banning: Gris Gris and Juju is a collection of 12 horror stories that I’ve written over the course of the last 5 years, ranging from short stories to novellas. They were all inspired and written at different times. I like that because no two stories are the same and because of the amount of time between some of their creations, they can serve as almost a roadmap of those years.

-PH: So it’s an anthology! Why did you decide to write an anthology?

-K. Banning: It was far less choice and a lot more circumstance. When I first began to share my writing with the public, I did so on various online horror platforms. I enjoyed writing novelettes and novellas as opposed to going for a full novel, because there was no expectation of word count. I wrote until the story was told. I decided to release those stories as an anthology because I too am a big fan of those sorts of books. You get so many eclectic tales that it’s almost impossible to get bored.

-PH: For those who don’t know, can you tell us what the title means?

-K.Banning: Both terms are defined as the use of charms in magic, generally associated with Voodoo. New Orleans has a strong presence of Voodoo in our culture, arts and history. It seemed like the best title to demonstrate the essence of the city and giving the book a creative and engaging title.

-PH: Is there any specific inspiration around certain stories?

-K. Banning: Secret Bar is about a 21 year-old guy named Kurt who, after turning 21, realized that the long awaited privileges of adulthood were not living up to what he’d hoped. He was bored and wanted more. This was based off of my own feelings of boredom when I was around that age. Every time I’d go out at night I hoped that some incredible adventure might just kick off.

Joe Montana Saves the Princess is one of my favorites because it’s actually an adaptation of the 4th chapter from a novel I was attempting to write when I was around 17 years old. The manuscript, which was all pen and paper back then, was sadly lost in Hurricane Katrina, so I really wanted to find a way to bring at least a portion of that story into my current works. The names of the antagonist were changed because I used those names in other stories later, but all the personalities and motivations remained as close to the originals as I could get them.

All of the stories have an inspiration though. Some are more mundane than others, but they all translated into great stories regardless.

-PH: If readers could only read one of these stories, which one would you want them to read and why?

-K. Banning: The Doctor and the Coffin Song. My best friend Mike Rucker is the guy I send a lot of my drafts to first. I’ve known him since our freshman year in high school and he was the first friend I ever showed something I’d written to. He’s accustomed to my style of writing and I usually chat with him as I’m constructing a story anyway, so he’s rarely taken by surprise by the finished product.

When I sent him The Doctor and the Coffin Song, he called me up and told me that it was the first story I’d ever written that left him feeling disturbed afterwards. I received similar praise from a fellow horror writer friend after she read it. So I guess it passed the test!

It was also one of the most polished stories I’d ever written in that amount of time. The entire plot just flowed on to paper so naturally. 

-PH: What was the hardest thing about writing an anthology?

-K. Banning: Each story had its own challenges during the writing process. Since I wrote them over such a long period of time, I guess I never thought of it as writing an anthology as much as just building a portfolio. But each one represented more knowledge and a better finessed style. I grew myself as an author with these stories.

Secret Bar was the first story I ever shared with the public. The hardest thing then was hoping anyone would even find it on the internet. I had no idea how to network or promote back then, so readers had to sort of stumble upon it.

Hoy Rod was inspired during a writing contest where I was given a random song and adapt it into a story. My prompt turned out to be the song Goi Rod Goi by Arkona. I’ll be the first to admit, I am terrible at writing from prompts. I do my best writing when the inspiration comes naturally and without restrictions. Hoy Rod, as a story, missed the mark in that contest, because I really couldn’t write something that fit the “vibes” of the song. However it did turn out great as just an awesome little horror story with some powerful inspiration behind it.

Dinner with Vivianna was another contest story, but it has a pretty broad prompt and came together perfectly. I decided to go with a “dark comedy” trend for it, which isn’t my usual style. Once I found the comedic voice for it though, the difficulty dropped off.

-PH: Any chance you turn one of these stories into its own book?

-K. Banning: In a lot of ways they already are. My stories all take place in the same universe. A couple characters might pop up once or twice in another story. As far as a single book though, I think that will be the Hyraaq Tobit Series. It’s already a full length novel, just waiting to get put between two covers.

-PH: Before this new release, you wrote a very popular ‘Jeff the Killer’ story. Can you tell us a little about that, and how it came to be?

-K. Banning: In 2015 there was a contest on the Creepypasta Wiki to write a re-booted adaption to the original Jeff the Killer. I ended up with a novella length story and had to cut it almost in half as the contest had a 10K word limit. The uncut version can be found on the Spinpasta Wiki as Jeff the Killer 2015: Creator’s Cut.

When I finished the uncut version I felt that I had a strong entry. When I had to edit it almost in half I was really unsure, and honestly didn’t expect it to come in 1st place. My biggest goal in that story was to write the characters as human and realistic as possible, and to make it more character driven and less plot driven. I wrote the accident that scarred Jeff’s face in a more feasible direction, and I tried to make the bully’s and their motives less about violence and revenge and more about angry kids plotting revenge for being embarrassed.

The general reactions to the story when it was officially released to the community as the “new” Jeff the Killer were mixed, but trended towards negative. This has remained the general feeling towards the story, but I’m glad now that I wrote it.

At the time though I had a lot of regret. I went through a period of self-doubt that I’d never experienced in writing. Sure, I’d received negative comments on other works, but I felt like JtK 2015 was attracting them like flies. I felt like I’d embarrassed myself as a writer and possibly devalued my other stories in the process. Worse though, I felt as though I’d disappointed those who’d supported me throughout my growth.

It was actually a writer named Kevin Tierney that pulled me out of that slump for good. He contacted me for advice on a story he wanted to write, an adaptation of Jane the Killer, which is aptly titled Jane the Killer 2017. He wrote it as a sequel of sorts to my story, having it take place in the same city two years after the events of JtK 2015.

Here was another writer inspired to create within the same universe I’d developed. That’s what got me over those feelings of doubt.

-PH: Do you have any plans to revisit that story, or doing anything similar?

-K. Banning: I actually have revisited it multiple times. Kevin’s story inspired me to go back myself. Over on Spinpasta I’ve been doing a series, all set after the events of JtK 2015, and introducing new characters adapted to the rebooted plot. So far I have written five installments which can be found over on Spinpasta.

-PH: You served in the army. Has that experience played in role in your stories?

-K. Banning: My time in the Army is where I perfected my storytelling abilities. There is a common saying in the Army, “Hurry up and wait!” We had a lot of time to sit around and chat, especially when we were deployed or out on field training. Cellphones are usually impractical or extremely unreliable when deployed overseas, and they’re usually not allowed during field training, which means that when a dozen or so Soldiers are sitting around waiting for the next set of instructions, we can’t just pull up Facebook or Twitter.

Conversation can drag too. So, at some point or another, and I really wish I could remember that exact point, I told a scary story. Just something I’d probably told a million times throughout my life before winding up in the Army. After the story I figured someone else would pick up the conversation and that’d be the end of it. Then someone asked if I had any more stories. So I told more.

Word spread and more people would come over to listen whenever they saw me sitting with a circle of listeners. This just sort of became a part of me during the 7 years I served. People in the Army come and go – People transfer to other units, people deploy, people get discharged – that’s just the nature of the Army, but everywhere I’d go I always ended up telling a story, which led to people asking for more stories and the word spreading. It was something that I enjoyed, and it gave my fellow Soldiers a way to escape the stress and boredom.

-PH: And now for my usual questions, why horror? When did you begin to become a fan of horror, and did you ever think you would be writing horror?

-K. Banning: I’ve been a horror fan for as long as I can recall. As a kid, even from a really young age, I was just drawn to it. Halloween was always my favorite holiday, scary movies were always my favorite things to watch and scary stories were always what I was drawn to tell.

I was lucky to have a mother who allowed me to explore the things that interested me without too many boundaries. I’m grateful to her always for that, because having that freedom to openly express my love of horror is what led to it becoming a passion.

Did I ever think I’d be writing horror? I always dreamed of it, ever since I tried to write that novel back in 1997. Back then though, I’d have never dreamed that we’d have such an incredible platform to create and promote as we do now. The ability to put passion first, to create for the love of creating and to move at your own speed into the more traditional side of writing, that’s something that still seems so surreal to me.

When I sit down to write, part of me is still that 17 year-old version of myself, sitting on the floor of my bedroom with this big green binder full of loose-leaf paper and an ink pen, just spilling my story on the page.

Much of the habits and rituals of that style are still in use today. I still share my newest works with my friend Mike Rucker. I still wait on pins and needles until I get that first piece of feedback. And the feeling of accomplishment, gratitude and joy still comes over me when my work brings entertainment, emotion, impact or just a good scare into someone’s day.

-PH: Here’s your chance to promote anything we haven’t talk about. Let us know something more about your anthology, ‘Jeff the Killer,’ any upcoming books, or anything else you would like to mention.

-K. Banning: The Jeff the Killer series is still an ongoing project over on Spinpasta, so for those who are enjoying it, please keep your eyes peeled for updates as to when the next installment is coming out.

I have a Youtube Channel where my series K. Banning Kellum Presents can be found. I discuss various horror topics that I think are interesting, typically with a focus on the 80’s and 90’s.

I have a couple exciting opportunities right on the horizon, so keep an eye on my Twitter as those announcements are to come.

We would like to thank K. Banning Kellum for taking the time to answer our questions, and his service to our country. Hopefully he gave you a good introduction to his new book ‘Gris Gris and Juju,’ and intrigued you enough to picked up a copy. Again his book is available now on Amazon, you can find him on Medium, and make sure you follow him on Twitter for his upcoming stories!

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