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Portland writer and musician Nathan Carson

Portland writer and musician Nathan Carson

In 2015, after touring with Danzig in his doom metal band Witch Mountain, Nathan Carson sat down and wrote his debut novella Starr Creek. Out last November on Lazy Fascist Press, it’s about a group of kids in the ‘80s that stumbles upon some supernatural entities in the woods. If you’re thinking this sounds a lot like a very popular recent TV show set in the ‘80s with kids playing D&D and fighting monsters in the woods, not quite.

The preteen heroes of Starr Creek start the day with a few hits of acid and have to cut deals with dangerous hillbillies for woods porn and feed oxys to aliens in order to survive. Carson’s Lovecraftian vision is alive and well in Oregon, with his vividly detailed account of life in the forest deep in the central Willamette Valley.

ELEVEN: Can you tell us about your background?

Nathan Carson: I was born in Concord, New Hampshire, so I’m kind of a Yankee from birth. But I was in Oregon in time to see Star Wars so I also feel like a pretty legit native here because I’ve lived all throughout the mid valley, raised on a goat farm in the woods, didn’t really have neighbors or pavement until I moved to Eugene. I had hippie parents who were into rock ‘n’ roll so I couldn’t really rebel much. The only way I could have rebelled is if I went to church or joined the army, and neither of those things happened.

11: That upbringing comes through in the detail of Starr Creek. Did your youth provide the setting for this book?

NC: Lazy Fascist Press came to me and said, “We love your short stories and we’d love for you to write a novella. I looked at the deadline. There [was] a book that I had in my mind for years, but it was going to be a major undertaking. So I thought, “I have a limited amount of time and I’ve never written anything of that scale before.”

I wanted the setting to be something I was really intimately familiar with. If I was setting this in Victorian times in Southeast Asia, I would have had to do an immense amount of research. Starr Creek Road was this haunted, strange place that I could see out the front window of my parents’ farm when I was growing up. I used to walk down that farm road a little ways and watch the sunset at night.

11: One writing lesson that has stayed with me is that something that may be very mundane and usual to you may be very interesting to someone else.

NC: Certainly. It’s interesting that half the people I talk to say they recognize this from their childhood, and the other half thinks it’s very exotic. Because if you grew up in the city and didn’t run around in the country having rock fights…I think it works both ways. It’s either something you can identify with, or it’s something that’s kind of rich to them. So I really wanted to capture that.

It was a free range time where parents weren’t keeping tabs on everything that we did. I also wanted the characters to be able to drive the story. I wanted to set up realistic characters that are fallible. They’re not perfect. They are not ninja-super-genius children. But they’re also not idiots; they have situations that are put in front of them and they deal with them accordingly. I really had fun following the story to its inevitable conclusion because I didn’t really know how it was going to end. I just set up these situations and these characters and then followed them through because I wouldn’t want the characters to be forced by the plot to do something that was against their character or their nature.

11: I wouldn’t say the story writes itself, but when the story really comes together, the world appears before you as a writer and this carries over to the reader, who becomes immersed in the setting. How were you able to pull this off?

NC: I was really happy with how many of the connections just kind of worked. As I was writing, I would say, “Hey, I know where this is going and how this connects, and why these characters might encounter each other.” So there were a lot of fun epiphanies that happened throughout that process.

11: Since your book is based around kids in the ‘80s in the woods, you must be getting some comparisons to Stranger Things. How do you feel about that?

NC: This book was written in November-December of 2015, and I had no inkling Stranger Things was on the way. Certainly they never read my book when they were working on the script. I’m a fan of the show. I enjoyed watching it. I liked it.

I think the key difference that has been pointed out from some generous reviewers is that Stranger Things is written by some younger people extrapolating what the ‘80s were like by watching ET and The Goonies, and my book is about having actually lived there. When you think about it, is 12-year-old kids riding BMXs and eating Eggo Waffles a genre? Is it a trope? No, it’s really just reality. So anyway, I enjoy the show. I love the actors in that, and I think it’s cool. I think my book is much more R-rated.

11: With that being said, have you ever been approached by anyone to have this book adapted into a film or for a show?

NC: One director in Hollywood has asked to read it so far, but it’s just so new. The book only came out in mid-November. I’m certainly open to it. I know that certain things would have to be changed in order to make it filmable.

11: I think the technology has caught up for some of the special effects, no?

NC: Special effects yes, but there’s some scenes with underage people involved that you couldn’t show.

11: I was kind of confused about what was going on at the end in the barn.

NC: Yes, it was meant to be kind of dreamy and psychedelic and horrifying. I got some totally flattering compliments from some horror writers who said that really disturbed them. I said, “Alright, if I can disturb Brian Keene then I’m on the right page.”

11: Speaking of horror, this book has been described and seems to fall within the Lovecraft genre. How does your book fit into that?

NC: Of course, I am a huge Lovecraft fan from a very young age. I got really interested in his writing when I was about 11 years old. Probably through role-playing games is how I would have discovered him first. There was a Lovecraft section in the Deities & Demigods. I started reading those stories a lot in high school, when I was first doing a lot of writing. It was a quantity of bad writing that I did in high school that was a lot H.P. Lovecraft and Clive Barker pastiche that is just terrible. I needed to get it out of my system and practice.

When I was 19 and thinking more seriously about being a writer, I read this book by Damon Knight called Creating Short Fiction where he says if you’re not at least 30, you might want to go get some life experience. And so I took that to heart, but I actually waited until I was 40. And so three years ago, I turned 40 and I had been doing music journalism for 15 years, but fiction is a very different part of your brain that you have to use.  

There is a short story I wrote called” The Lurker in the Shadows” and I read an unfinished fragment of that at BizarroCon in 2014, and it was like Cinderella, man. This guy walks up to me and gives me his card and says “I’d like to hear that whole story.” It was this editor Ross Lockhart who owns a press in Petaluma called Word Horde — a really highly regarded small press specializing in horror. So I busted my ass, finished the story. Made it as good as it could be, sent it to him and he bought it and published it. So my very first publication was in an anthology with a bunch of other authors who I like and respect.

11: For our readers who are not familiar with H.P. Lovecraft, can you give a quick synopsis of his work?

NC: After Edgar Allan Poe and before Stephen King, he’s the most important American horror author of all time. He wrote mostly in the 1920s and ‘30s from a very New England perspective. He was virtually unknown in his lifetime, and he died fairly young. His friends thought his work was really important so they preserved it and kept publishing it. Now you see Cthulhu, which is one of his demonic creations on South Park. It has become this ubiquitous thing; there are plush Cthulhu dolls.

11: He was ahead of his time in many ways, wasn’t he?

NC: Especially because he introduced this element of cosmicism to horror. And he was an atheist. Most horror before that had a supernatural element. Whereas his creations were misunderstood, indescribable creatures from the voids of space, affecting people through their dreams from under the ocean waves. That always appealed to me because I’m not a religious person and I thought his fiction was fantastic.

I also really like his language. It’s a very antiquated. Lovecraft had created his kind of mythological setting that most of his stories take place in. I guess this is my start in doing this in the mid-Willamette Valley. Because however weird the wilderness in New England is, the wilderness in Oregon is just as strange, just in a different way.

I did see one review that said, “Hillbillies in Oregon, I don’t think so.” And I thought, “What are you talking about?” I didn’t want to base this on real people, but it’s very inspired by the mythology of that area. Starr Creek Road really had feuding families and people living without lights or electricity. I always say, “Yes, there’s a real Starr Creek Road,” and, “No, you should not go there.” Because those people want to be left the fuck alone.

11: One of my favorite things that I heard about, but have never really seen, is woods porn. This is a real thing?

NC: Absolutely, and it’s touched on in this book. It was something I grew up with, and Dangerous Minds has a really definitive article about it that I highly recommend. It’s amazing. I reposted that article and immediately 100 people commented that, yes, this happened. There was no internet, so if you’re under 18, you get it where you can.»

– Scott McHale