Theresa Braun recently sent us a copy of her novel to read and we were lucky enough to get a chance to interview her as well! Check out Dave’s review below of Fountain Dead, and then the interview where Theresa and I chat about her first horror memory and her scariest real life ghost experience!
Can a teenaged boy save his family from a century old curse? Or will the furious spirits in the house claim more lives?
Flashback to 1860 – Dr. Durley accepts an opportunity to have his own practice in the small lumber town of Winona, Minnesota; moving his family and beginning the construction of their dream home, a dream life. That dream soon becomes a nightmare as disaster strikes before the family is united in Winona. On the way to join the men of the family, the matriarch of the family is murdered; her daughter Emma, forced to watch unable to help. With a nation on the verge of civil war and tensions growing with the indigenous people of the Dakota tribe, the brothers Hugh and Riley leave for military duties. As a result, Emma is the sole family member able to assist her father with his medical practice.
Enter a mysterious stranger, Jonathan, who is injured during a confrontation with Emma’s mother’s murderer. Emma takes Jonathan back to the Durley’s house/medical facility to heal. To show his gratitude, he agrees to stay on to help around the estate. Around this time, Emma’s brother Hugh returns with a sick and injured Dakota woman leaving her in the care of his father. Tensions between the town and the Dakota tribe continue to rise and Emma becomes fearful for the safety of the Dakota woman, especially since her father’s behavior has become increasingly stranger. While Jonathan and Emma become close, they devise a plan to protect the Dakota patient and get her safely away from the house and back to her father, a Dakota shaman. A vengeful brother, a forbidden love, a father obsessed with strange medical procedures and a Dakota shaman seeking vengeance for his daughter contribute to a curse that will be haunt this house for generations.
In 1988, Mark is about to have the worst summer of his life. His parents purchase a new home in the town of Winona, close to the university at which they now work; a house that is surprisingly cheap and has been on the market for a long time; a house that was built by renowned Dr. Durley. Mark’s uneasiness is apparent almost immediately as his sister Tausha dances and plays on the end of a neglected fountain; a fountain out of Mark’s nightmares. Strange noises of claws scraping on the floor, appearance of apparitions that mistake Mark for a love from the past, and strange smells of chemicals and burnt tobacco begin on moving into the place. The experiences become more intense and violent toward the family and Mark starts on a quest for answers. Mark meets a friend, Hexx, whose grandmother knows about the dark past of the old Durley place. She also mistakes Mark for a specter of the past. After some coaxing, Mark and Hexx receive a possible answer about the entity plaguing Mark and his family; the fabled Skinwalker of the Dakota tribe. Armed with this information, the two friends must find a way to defeat it. With Mark’s dad and sister in the hospital clinging to life, and a mother that is becoming more despondent by the hour, will Mark be able to save his family and life this century-old curse?
The story of Mark and Emma is told in an alternating fashion; showing the reader Emma’s life in 1860, then showing Mark’s experiences in the Durley house during the summer of 1988. Transitions between times work well, with chapters ending with enough tension that the reader wants to hurry onto the next time each characters’ story begins again, setting a nice pace between the experience of both characters. The reader is dropped into the middle of 1988 (at least for me; I am a child of the ‘80s) flawlessly; from clothing, to music (Metallica’s Master of Puppets) and the Walkman Mark uses to listen to his music, there is no doubt about when the story takes place (besides the chapter titles…).
The characters are well developed and relatable. Mark and Emma war with feelings about love, family, and responsibility. The mood and tone are evident with the oppressive feelings of a malevolent spirit in Mark’s house, and the tensions building in the time of Emma. There is early foreshadowing of trouble to come for Mark. He hears stories of the mythology of Winona; his mother is critical of the music he listens to, making him read the lyrics of songs for albums like Slippery When Wet and Shout at the Devil (this is set during the Satanic Panic of the ‘80s…); and the book Mark is reading about Andrew Jackson, known for his treatment of the indigenous people of the US.
Most everything worked in this story, though some suspension of belief is necessary; hell, it’s a haunted house story. Personally, if I experienced half of what Mark did at his age, I would have slept in the car, or start walking back to my old house. The story flows smoothly between the time hopping right up until the end. The story is set up for a potential sequel (let’s be real, the Evil is never defeated) but lacks closure for Mark’s family. What happens with them after the final confrontation is largely unknown. Other than that, this was a great story that holds the reader’s attention and makes them want to read more.
What was your first introduction to horror?
I’m not really sure, since I was so young. I definitely watched The Addams Family, The Munsters, and Scooby Doo and read a lot of Nancy Drew books, but that was pretty tame. It wasn’t until my parents let me watch movies like Poltergeist and The Amityville Horror that I realized things could get a whole lot scarier. I think it was the rush of being terrified and not being able to be home alone at night when watching these films that was kind of a twisted thrill. Finding something to watch that could have that effect on me was a bit of a personal challenge. In that vein, The Exorcist and The Shining are still some of my top favorites.
It’s always great to see romance show up in a horror setting! What’s your inspiration behind adding this to the story?
I don’t think that I necessarily set out to include a romantic thread in my stories, but it seems to inevitably creep in there. When I was fleshing out Fountain Dead, I felt a pull in that direction with the main teenage character living in the 1980’s. I wanted to give him a reason to explore his sexuality and adolescent feelings—something that might be even more confusing that the average plight. That’s how the relationship with the ghost from the 1800’s came about. What can be more maddening than something you’re not even sure is real? And, then, of course, each character has their own romantic entanglements in their individual time period. In the end, I think I like to explore attraction and relationships because it’s so complicated and interesting. Plus, it’s what makes life so entertaining.
How do your ideas come to you?
Most of the time I get ideas via dreams or when I’m not really thinking about anything at all. That could be in the shower, on a car ride, or on a walk. Other times, I might get a light bulb over my head when watching a film or television show. That’ll spark something that’s connected, but completely different. Another way I get inspired can be when coming across a news article or listening to someone tell a true story. I’ll be like—oh, I need to write that down…
I read that you were into ghost hunting and grew up in a haunted house, what’s your scariest real life ghostly experience?
That’s a great question. I think the most frightening experience is the one that I wrote about in the beginning of Fountain Dead. My dad and I spent a first night together in a new house. We were so nervous that we hunkered down in the dining room because it would’ve been so easy to escape from. There was a door that led outside and two other doors to other parts of the house. After we finally fell asleep on the floor, sometime in the middle of the night the dogs started barking like crazy. My dad popped up and was staring into the living room. Shivers ran up and down my spine. When our eyes met, my father was like, “How about we spend the night in a hotel?” I was so spooked I think I just nodded. In the car, he asked me if I saw what he did. Afraid to ask what that was, I shook my head. That’s when he described the floating skeleton-looking ghost with glowing red eyes that was coming for us in the dining room. To this day, I don’t completely understand how my family lived a total of two years in that place.
Outside of the horror genre, what’s your favorite genre to read?
I like to pick up bestsellers or books being turned into movies. For example, it was fun to read The Help and compare the original version to the screenplay. Biographies are also pretty interesting. Michelle Obama’s release has been getting quite a bit of positive attention, so at some point I’ll probably pick it up. I’m also a huge David Sedaris fan. Whatever he cranks out, I’m all about it. I’ve seen him read before, too. He’s not only an amazing writer, but also a really down-to-earth person.
It’s Women in Horror Month so we’re honored to have you spotlighted, who are your favorite women in horror?
Thanks so much for having me. I’m thoroughly delighted. There are so many outstanding women writers in horror that I’m sure I won’t be able to do a list justice. I think Gwendolyn Kiste, J.H. Moncrieff, Catherine Cavendish, S.P. Miskowski, Lisa Mannetti, Lee Murray, Miracle Austin, Gemma Files, Caroline Kepnes, Alma Katsu, Larissa Glasser, Somer Canon, Caryn Larrinaga, Caitlin R. Kiernan, Kelly Link, Tananarive Due, Octavia E. Butler, and Renee Miller are doing great things right now. Like I said, I’m probably leaving some awesome names out. But that’s how much female writers are kicking ass at the moment. Cheers to all of them!
Do you ever encounter any push-back from being a female in the genre?
Writing is so competitive in general that it’s really tough to gauge whether or not there’s any pushback happening based on gender, at least for me personally. However, I have noticed occasional public discussions about whether or not a certain anthology’s TOC is male dominant or not. Also, it’s worth mentioning that Women in Horror Month has been a bit controversial. Some people take the stand that female writers should be celebrated all year round, and not just for one month. Other people simply don’t get that there is any inequality happening. Because of that, they resent WIHM. Either way, I’m happy a discussion is happening. We still live in an age where some women authors feel the need to take on gender-neutral pen names, or initials instead of their real first names. Hopefully, that will eventually shift.
What are some great horror reads that you’ve recently read that you’d like to recommend?
The most recent books that I thoroughly enjoyed were Caroline Kepnes’ You and the sequel, Hidden Bodies. She’s working on a third installment, which I’m looking forward to. I watched the first season of the Netflix series, and it was so cool to see the screen adaptation come to life. I also really liked Alma Katsu’s The Hunger. Right now I’m working on J.G. Faherty’s, The Cure, which is rather good.
Do you have any plans for a short story collection or a full-length novel?
As a matter of fact, I do. I’ve been chipping away at a short story collection for a while now. There are 2-3 stories I still need to whip into shape, and then I can see about getting it published somewhere. As far as another full-length novel, I’m bouncing around a few ideas before embarking on that. One of the things I’m considering is whether or not to do a Fountain Dead sequel. I definitely left it wide open for that, and there are a few characters I could play with in terms of point of view. However, I’m not sure if the muse will take me there… we will see!
What are your plans for the future? Anything in the works that you can tease?
I’ve recently been asked to submit two short stories to an anthology, which I’m excited about. I can’t reveal the details just yet, but I started hammering away on my keyboard already. Nothing like a deadline/specific project to get the good old fire of inspiration lit. Hopefully 2019 is a productive year!