We got to review and chat with Morgan Tanner with his latest release – a novella titled An Army of Skin. Joe read and reviewed the novella below, and I interviewed Morgan about his love of horror and his craft. Check it out below!
Premise: After losing his Mother to a brain tumour, Trevor King feels totally alone in the world. Someone needs to pay for her death and Dr. Mellick, Trevor's work colleague and family GP, is the man he holds responsible. Trevor's yearning for vengeance leads him to concoct a vicious plot to frame the doctor for multiple murders. Trevor skins the corpses, turning them into elaborate art pieces after being inspired by a mysterious textbook. But as the skins of the flayed victims come to life and continue the killings for him, Trevor wonders whether he is in too deep. When Dr. Mellick goes missing Trevor becomes convinced the doctor is planning a similar scheme to bring him down. But as Trevor discovers the truth of his Mother's death and his own life, this murderous path becomes more of a calling.
I was asked to review AN ARMY OF SKIN by Morgan Tanner and it always makes me a little nervous when that happens because I choose the books I read, for the most part, based off if I think I will like it. I don’t always read reviews but if others like a certain book then I know I will probably like it too. But this book I went into totally blind, no recommendations and no idea what it was about. Luckily, the story started off in a way that let me know right where it was going to settle. Some gruesome violence and a possible evil doctor? Yes please!
This has all the makings of a book that I would love right from the beginning and I did love parts of it. The plot was fantastic and I thought it was paced really well. There were no real down spots in the novella and it kept me reading straight through to the end, I think I read it in only two sittings. There are also a few twists in the story and while I had one minor twist kind of figured out early on, the major one caught me off guard. I’m usually pretty good at sniffing out a plot twist ahead of time, but this one got me! The climax of the book was fantastic and really well written and fit the rest of the book really well. Sometimes in shorter books, the ending can feel show-horned in to fit the word count, that was not this case here.
There was one part of the story that didn’t work as well for me and it was the main character Trevor. I don’t know if I just didn’t connect with him as much as I should have but really wanted to and just had a hard time doing so. Mostly he seemed overly angry, especially at the beginning of the book which turned me off to his character overall right from the start.
Regardless of that fact, I’d definitely recommend this book to any horror fans. It’s worth the time and I’d read another of Tanner’s books in a heartbeat!
This is your first novella that's been published. How long did this process take? And how awesome does it feel to have it out in the world?
Very, very awesome!! I know that anyone can publish a book themselves these days, but after all the hard work I've put into it, having a physical copy of a book containing words I've written is a great feeling. It's very much early days but the feedback I've had so far has been positive so that's excited me even more. And now I'm being interviewed. Me??!!! It's all still a bit unreal to be honest. Who wants to read about me? I'm not complaining, though.
The whole thing started around 18 months or so ago, although I did ignore it for three or four out of that in order to go back with fresh eyes. It definitely helped; the plot holes and clunky sentences suddenly made themselves known to me like bloody fingers clamped around my throat.
Do you have plans to publish any of your short stories into a collection?
I do. I used to finish a short story and immediately look for somewhere to send it. As I progressed the rejections got fewer, which was a good sign. There were still loads, of course. To the casual observer I've been very unproductive over the last year or so, but I have a few stories I'm hoarding for a collection, plus a few other drafts that need completing. Who knows when I'll get them ready, but I'm hoping it won't be forever away. No one wants to be a one-hit wonder.
Where did the idea for this story come from?
I entered a writing competition where the first round was to write a 100-word story. The first chapter of An Army of Skin is pretty much an extended version of these 100 words. Damn, it's hard to captivate and horrify in such a small word count.
It was never supposed to be more than that, but the idea of the skin of a dead human coming to life kept nagging away at me and in the end, I had to listen to the voices in my head and write that sucker. Characters and motivations came later, it was never plotted to the letter. I haven't got the attention span for that.
What inspires you to write?
I love reading a book and being shocked and creeped out. There have been plenty that have done this to me over the years. My inspiration comes from trying to go one further and scaring the absolute crap out of a reader. It's tough, and I'm nowhere achieving that yet, but that's my motivation. I will keep going until the whole world is cowering in puddles of gore after reading my words, or something.
What is your first memory of horror?
Does the opening scene of Ghostbusters count? That librarian screaming into the camera made me squeal (I'm pretty sure I did anyway). My cousin once showed me Evil Dead 2, and I was too young at the time to understand it was actually funny, but the zombies in that really freaked me out. The first horror film I really loved was The Shining, and as I've got older I love it even more. The mood of the whole thing is just horrible, but in a really excellent way.
Who are your top 5 favorite horror authors?
Stephen King. I write horror so how can I not enjoy some Kingo? It's his skill of characterization that really draws you in so that when the scares come, you really care. And are scared, of course.
Another author I really admire is Clive Barker. His fantastical worlds are equal parts fascinating and horrifying.
The writer that got me into writing in the first place was HP Lovecraft. I binged through his entire collection like a series on Netflix. I'd never read anything like it. “I can do that,” I said. It turns out I couldn't, but I'm so glad I tried, because now I'm addicted to that writing buzz.
Thomas Ligotti has such a talent of mixing Kafka-esque strangeness with Lovecraftian-style horror. After reading his short stories I wondered if I should just give up there and then. Truly terrifying. And his non-fiction book, The Conspiracy Against the Human Race is something every horror fan should read, but probably not in the depressing winter.
He's not exactly a horror author but I'm a big fan of Chuck Palahniuk. His writing style is one that draws me in, and his take on modern life and celebrity culture is one I really agree with, in the most part anyway.
Do you love horror movies? What are your favs?
I don't watch as many films as I used to these days, I much prefer a book (what a geek, eh?). But when I do, horror movies are where it's at! The aforementioned Evil Dead 2 and The Shining (and Ghostbusters) are up there, as is The Wicker Man, Martyrs, Hellraiser, It Follows, and Night of the Living Dead. But the film that genuinely frightens me more than any is Fire Walk With Me. Creepy. As. Hell.
Since it's Women in Horror Month, who's your favorite woman in horror and why?
I'm really embracing Women in Horror Month. I've just finished Fortune Box by Madeleine Swann, and now it's Eat the Rich by Renee Miller. After that I've got books by Lydian Faust, Gemma Amor, Gwendolyn Kiste, and Christa Carmen ready and waiting. I'm excited! If I don't finish them all before March then it's Women in Horror Months in my house.
As for my fave, that's a tough one. I'd have to big up Mary Shelley for the most excellent Frankenstein. It's been a few years since I read it but it was definitely not what I was expecting going into it, it was so much better.
Kirsty Cotton from Hellraiser certainly wasn't taking any shit and she's someone I'd want on my side when the Cenobites pay another visit.
I also have to mention Laura Palmer from Fire Walk With Me and Twin Peaks, or more specifically, Sheryl Lee. Her performance in the movie is amazing, and her descent into madness is terrifyingly realistic. And that scream!