It wasn’t the pandemic that provided the inspiration for Denver horror author Josh Schlossberg’s new novel, Malinae, a yarn of biological horror about growing old…and perhaps growing in terrifying ways, too. But the pandemic did provide the time in which he could write it.
“The book’s biggest overlap with the pandemic is the isolation the protagonist experiences, cooped up in his house thanks to a severe case of rheumatoid arthritis and unable to participate in the activities he used to take for granted. And, as many of us have learned over the coronapocalypse, the long-term effect of isolation is an increasing alienation with humanity as a whole,” Schlossberg says. “Or maybe that’s just me.”
But it wasn’t just COVID-19’s social shutdown that helped him with the project. Schlossberg says the novel “couldn’t have happened without Denver Horror Collective…and no, they’re definitely not in the room with me, holding a gun to my head.” Schlossberg believes his work with the group — as lead editor on the local collection Terror at 5280’ , as copy editor for the more recent cannibalistic collection Consumed, and as sole editor on the upcoming The Jewish Book of Horror, due out this Hanukkah — helped take his writing to new levels.
“I credit DHC’s writing critique groups for getting Malinae in the shape it needed to be for publication,” Schlossberg says. “You obviously have to write and read a lot to become a horror author worth your salt. But I believe the secret ingredient is getting your work critiqued by others and doing plenty of critiquing yourself. Hell, I’d go so far as saying that if you’re not getting critiqued and critiquing, you’re stunting your growth as a writer. On your own, it can take years — decades, even — to figure out something about yourself that someone else can point out in seconds.”
All the feedback in the world won’t turn an idea into a full-grown novel, though, and the idea behind this particular petrifying plot came not only from the failure of the body, but from his own family. “I’ve always been close with all my grandparents,” Schlossberg says. “Over the previous decade, my maternal grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. While that was hard on everyone — including my grandmother, obviously — my grandfather seemed to take it the hardest. I saw him struggle as he watched his wife of seventy years mentally and physically change before his eyes, and it broke my fucking heart.”
And it inspired an idea: What if it wasn’t dementia…but something far, far worse?”
“I also wanted to tell a story from the point of view of an elderly person,” Schlossberg says. “Our culture tends to shove older people in the corner — figuratively and literally — and I think that’s mostly because we don’t like thinking about how that’s our future, too.
"Many traditional cultures know how much elders have to teach us. They’re the wise ones, whose life experience enriches us all," he continues. "I’m also not going to deny the fact that seniors are more likely to suffer from physical ailments and are closer to death, both of which make for good horror. But I think there are some deep lessons in the process of learning how to let go of our physical form and get more in touch with what’s inside — whether you want to call that spirituality, consciousness or demons.”
Schlossberg claims to be “so psyched” about writing about the geriatric set that he’s joined “a
small pack of horror authors staking out a new subgenre called ‘elder horror.’” To this end, he’ll be part of a virtual event on July 29 called “Monsters of D&T: Elder Horror,” during which Schlossberg and several other authors of recently published books from D&T Publishing, all of which have elderly main characters, will speak.
“Some say we’re in a horror fiction renaissance right now,” Schlossberg says, “and I agree. Mostly thanks to small, independent presses, there’s a swarm of excellent horror fiction out there — from emerging to seasoned writers, including the next household names. No longer do authors have to get on the radar of literary agents looking for the next mainstream bestseller or cram themselves into the commercial boxes demanded by the 'big four' publishing houses to get picked up by a reputable press.”
And local means something to a guy whose work with the Denver Horror Collective helped create it all. Horror, after all, starts at home. And Schlossberg knows the creepiest places here in Denver, where there are many creepy places — just check the short stories in Terror at 5280’ for proof.
“If I had to pick one, though,” muses Schlossberg, “it’s a particular basement of a historic building in the Art District on Santa Fe — I’m not going to tell you which one — where you can peek into one of the sealed-up tunnels that used to run under old Denver. Supposedly they were for moving workers, transporting coal and visiting brothels, but I’ve always suspected something far more sinister. Just sticking my head into that cold, dark, damp space left no doubt in my mind that I’m right.”
Josh Schlossberg’s Malinae is available now; for more information on July 29's “Monsters of D&T: Elder Horror,” see the D&T website.
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