Today I welcome back author Stephen D. Sullivan for a blog tour of his latest monster book, Dr. Cushing's Chamber of Horrors. If you love traditional monsters, you've come to the right place! This book is chock full of them!
And for fun... First one to find the werewolf and comment with the phrase "Werewolves, Mummies, Dr. Cushing's, oh, my!" is entered to win the Easter Egg "Werewolf" Hunt prize, a stuffed wolf! Good luck... :)
About the Book:Strange things are happening...
The monsters aren’t only in the museum!
Despite a lifetime of traveling with their father to collect strange artifacts, twins Topaz and Opal Cushing have never fully believed in monsters or the supernatural. Oh, sure, they share an eerie psychic connection, and their tarot card readings often come true, but… Werewolves? Vampires? Living mummies? None of those could be real. Those legends are just for rubes. Right?
Since the girls’ father has been away, though, strange things have been happening in the family’s little exhibit—and in the waxworks studio that shares their dilapidated Victorian mansion on the outskirts of London. Now, the twins’ dreams of a fun, romantic summer season are turning into a nightmare, and the monsters are running...
Interview with the author:
What inspired Dr. Cushing?
Dr. Cushing’s Chamber of Horrors was inspired by the classic Universal and Hammer horror films from the 1930s to the early’70s. About the time that Universal was talking about doing a shared universe of monster movies (the failed Dark Universe project), many friends and I were talking online about the fact that though DU seemed a good idea, they were really unlikely to make it in a way that would satisfy Monster Kids. Looking at that, I decided there really weren’t many books out there written to appeal to fans of those old films. So, I decided to write one myself. Dr. Cushing’s Chamber of Horrors is the result.
As to Dr. Cushing himself… With the name Leigh Cushing, he’s obviously inspired by Hammer stars Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. And the name of the book is inspired by the film Dr. Terror’sHouse of Horrors, an antholgy film from Amicus (1965), staring Peter Cushing.
What was the most fun to write and why?
The whole thing was fun to write. I approached it as individual stories that then wove together, and that made the writing a unique experience—and very challenging (and a longer book than I usually write). But I guess that the most fun writing was the story’s climax, which is probably true for most books, because you’ve spent a lot of time and energy getting the story to the point where all the threads and characters come together in the final conflict. And in this case, that happens to be a huge monster battle. Huge monster battles are always fun to write.
What started you writing about monsters?
I have loved monsters literally as long as I can remember, probably starting with dinosaurs, but quickly moving into any other strange and possibly terrifying creatures. In fourth grade, I wrote a story about a race of half-fish half-lizards that lived under the sea and worshiped their own weird god/idol. Looking back, it was a very Lovecraftian idea, though it was many years later that I actually read my first Lovecraft story. That story got a gold star—or maybe even a gold seal—from the teacher. I guess maybe that started all this, though there may have been something earlier, too.
What’s your favorite horror movie and why?
That’s a hard thing to answer, because some of it depends on how you define “horror.” If it’s as simple as having a “monster,” then it’s 1933’s King Kong, with it’s amazing animation by Willis “Obie” O’Brien and his team. If you need more monsters than that, it’d be The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, with Ray Harryhausen’s cyclops, dragon, skeleton, etc. But a lot of people—including me—consider those more fantasy adventure films than actual horror films.
So, on the classic horror track, it’s Creature from the Black Lagoon. I always identified with the creature, because he’s a great looking monster, loves to swim, and has trouble breathing in the air. I love to swim, too, and have bad lungs, so breathing is often trickier than I’d like. As to whether I’m a great-looking monster…I’ll leave that up to others to decide. You could argue, though, that the creature is really a science-fiction film that happens to have a monster.
That brings me to The Wolf Man (1941, Universal) starring Lon Chaney, Jr. It’s as perfect a classic supernatural monster film as you can ask for, and its sequels became the first Monster Rally films (movies where there’s more than one monster, usually pitted against each other). The writing is brilliant, too, and invented much of the werewolf mythology that we take for granted today. Besides, what teenager hasn’t felt like a werewolf at least a couple of times in his or her life!
This has a Vincent Price movie flavor… what’s the movie connection on this?
With a character named Vincent Duprix, it’s probably pretty obvious that I’m a bit of a fan of Vincent Price and his many horror movies as well. (Duprix is French for “price.”) Since I decided to have a wax museum as well as a Chamber of Horrors, having a character as tribute to Price seemed natural—he starred in House of Wax (1953), after all. His wife, Victoria, is named after the (dead) wife of The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971), another Price role.
So, if you like any of Vincent Price’s horror movies, chances are you’ll like this book, too.
You have how many movies in your collection?
How many would you say you’ve watched? You’ve been collecting how long?
I started collecting films as soon as DVRs were cheap enough to own. Of course, all those old tapes are out of date and useless to me, now. Most everything I collected then has been replaced in my collection with DVDs or Blu-Rays. I estimate that I have over 5000 movies in my collection; I haven’t gotten around to cataloging them all yet.
I have not watched every movie I own, but I also don’t own every movie I’ve ever seen, so it’s certainly possible that I’ve seen over 5000 movies in my lifetime, counting re-watches, because who doesn’t re-watch favorite films? Four years ago, I started keeping track of how many films I was watching every year, and I was pretty surprised at the numbers.
In 2017, I watched 567 films. Holy cats, that was a LOT. We had a lot of family stuff going on in 2018 and 2019, so the numbers fell off in those years—475 films and 393 films and seasons, respectively. (I added full seasons of TV shows and movie-style TV shows to my count in 2019.) This year, 2020, because of being shut at home with the pandemic and my friend Derek at Monster Kid Radio doing movie streams twice a week, my movie/show watching has skyrocketed again. I may have broken my 2017 record by the time you read this… And I’ve still got November and December to go!
What do you like to write the most and why?
If you look across my career, back to my days working on Dungeons & Dragons, to my work on CHILL, to the comic books I’ve written, to my Dragonlance novels, and even the teen detective books I ghost-wrote (one of which had a giant ape in it), it’s pretty clear that what I love to write is MONSTERS.
Sure, my Tournament of Death books are epic fantasy in scope, but they’re also filled with monsters! And with things like White Zombie, Manos the Hands of Fate, and the current Frost Harrow series and, of course, Dr. Cushing’s Chamber of Horrors, it’s pretty clear that monsters are where it’s at for me.
Of course, all those monsters would be pretty boring without some human characters to interact with. So, I try to make the heroes of my stories interesting and involving as well, whether they’re battling giant monsters in Daikaiju Attack or supernatural menaces in Frost Harrow and Dr. Cushing If you don’t have people for the readers to like and identify with in your stories, I’m pretty sure nobody will read the tales. And a bit of romance or sex never hurts, either.
What’s your tip to writing scary?
The original Night Stalker TV show used to be really good at that. They’d sketch in an expendable character in Kolchak’s reporting voice-over only to have the monster murder them in some gruesome manner before the end of the scene. I probalby do that more in Frost Harrow than Dr. Cushing, though Cushing has its share of hapless victims as well.
Hopefully, once you’ve had the monsters dispatch some characters like that, readers will become worried about your main characters as well. Keeping up the suspense, and making readers worry about characters they like, is a huge key to writing scary.
It helps too if you can build a creepy atmosphere for what’s going on. Anything that adds to the suspense is fair game. Obviously you want to go for honest scares, and not cheap tricks, though certainly a “cat scare” can work as well in a book as in a movie.
Excerpt of Dr. Cushing's Chamber of Horrors:
A Tarot Reading from Chapter 1
The sign in front of the building read “Dr. Cushing’s Chamber of Horrors,” but it more accurately could have read “Daughters Cushing & Father’s Chamber of Horrors” since the twins ran the exhibition most of the time, while their sole parent was traveling, seeking the latest attractions for his macabre museum.
The chamber was a walk-down storefront in the basement of an aging Victorian manse on the outskirts of London, at 1951 Fisher St., next to the wooded end of Olde Kennington Park. It shared the building with the Duprix Waxworks, run by Vincent and Victoria Duprix, the landlords who lived in the grand quarters on the second floor. The Cushings rented the basement for their attraction, and the third floor—with its eccentric nooks and crannies and gabled ceilings—for their residence.
The waxworks occupied most of the mansion’s first floor, though the building was strangely shaped, so that the waxworks and the Chamber of Horrors abutted each other in the middle, with only a short flight of stairs, a pair of frosted glass doors, and, (when those doors were open for ventilation), a red velvet rope separating the two attractions. Most of the time, customers did not pass from one exhibit to the other, though, with a little work on the part of the Cushings and Duprixes, that would have been possible.
But, Victoria—Madame Duprix—spent most of her time running the waxworks or taking tea with her friends, while Vincent labored endlessly in his second-floor studio loft, which vaulted up into the space that otherwise would have been occupied by the third story. (He was a sculptor—and quite a good one.) The house also contained servant’s quarters with a separate entrance in the back of the building, near the seldom-used kitchens.
Perhaps the Duprixes had once employed domestics, but Topaz and Opal had never seen any staff since they and their father had moved in. And if there had been any servants there recently, the twins would have noticed some indication. The girls—often alone for the last ten years—had plenty of time to look around and discover all of the old house’s secrets.
But the secrets of other human beings and the world outside…! Those remained largely a mystery to both girls. Though lately, there had been a boy or two…
“All right,” Topaz said to her sister, “if you’re so good at absent readings… What do the cards say?”
Opal flipped up the first card on the right. “The distant past… I’d rather skip this and just look for the future…” she said.
“But that’s not the way it works,” Topaz agreed. “Assuming you can get it to work at all.”
Opal stuck out her tongue at her twin.
The picture on the pasteboard showed a woman in an elaborate robe wearing a crown topped by an orb.
“The High Priestess,” Topaz noted.
“Our father’s past, surrounded by mysteries and hidden influences,” Opal read.
“Which only makes sense, since he’s been collecting occult artifacts all of our lives.”
“And before we were born as well,” Opal noted. She flipped the second card; it showed a trio of swords piercing a stylized heart. “Three of Swords, inverted.”
“Father’s more recent past,” Topaz said. “The loss of something dear to you—I mean, to Father. I’m guessing that would be Mother.”
Opal grinned at her sister. “Who said you weren’t any good at this?”
Topaz tried, unsuccessfully, to fight down a blush. Her sister was so good at nettling her! But then, Opal undoubtedly felt the same way about Topaz.
Opal turned the next card—the one in the center of the reading. “The present…”
Topaz nodded. “The key card.”
The illustration showed the face of a bright moon beaming down upon two animals, a dog on the left and a wolf upon the right. The beasts were flanked by two solid-looking watch towers.
“The Moon,” Opal intoned, “a time of loved ones in peril and tricky choices. Choose your companions well, or they may betray you.”
About the Author: