By KEVIN HOOVER
Joshua Millican will tell you that even fun work is still work; The blood, sweat, and tears are no less real because they were shed in the trenches of horror journalism. Working in excess of 80 hours a week as the former editor-in-chief of Dread Central was commonplace. Still, it was a ship he was more than happy to helm until the birth of his son forced a reevaluation of his priorities. A brief sabbatical to enjoy his new role as a doting dad also afforded Millican the freedom to realize a longstanding goal: to become an author and to finally publish a novel – a challenge he had met with fits and starts in the past. On June 14, his debut novel, DEEPER THAN HELL, published by Encyclopocalypse Publications, will be released to the masses. Now, Millican is, at last, enjoying playing the part of the interviewee. He recently sat down with Rue Morgue to discuss his new project.
For years, you’ve been one of the foremost voices in horror journalism, but there’s much more to Josh Millican than a byline can convey. Tell us about the man behind the madness.
I was editor-in-chief of Dread Central from 2018 through 2021, and before that, I was a contributor, starting back in 2016. It was a dream job for me, and for the past few years, I’ve been a news journalist who loved singing the praises of filmmakers, artists, writers, and actors who do horror. I loved it, but all of my own creative impulses got put on the back burner. Most people who know me through Dread Central as a news guy don’t know that I actually have a creative writing degree from UC Santa Cruz and that I’m a published poet. I’m also a musician, and I’ve been in several bands. Going from being the engine of the news to the subject of it is kind of surreal and really cool.
As you’ve mentioned, you’ve built a career around telling other people’s stories, but as a fiction writer, you’re getting the chance to give life to your own ideas. Those are two very different beasts. Was it a difficult transition?
For me personally, it wasn’t, but I think that I learned a lot from starting in a creative space and then going into journalism. Journalism teaches you to get to the point, to trim the fat and to be as enticing as possible so you never lose your reader’s attention. After doing strictly journalism for seven or eight years, I honed my writing craft. When I went back and looked at DEEPER THAN HELL, I knew I could be a lot more succinct about things. It’s affected my writing style moving forward, because I’ve already started on some new creative writing projects, and everything is much more concise. My voice is more focused.
How long had you been working on Deeper Than Hell and where did the idea originate from?
There was this online magazine that put a call out and they wanted to hire people to write monthly serials. At the end of twelve months, they would potentially release everything as a novel. I thought that was a great idea because I had started a couple of novels before that got lost in the weeds. I’ve always been fascinated by the concept of life underground, from Journey to the Center of the Earth to anything that involved caves and things like that. I’d also seen this documentary called Dark Days, which is about, for lack of a better term, the “mole people” of New York City – people who lived in this underground train tunnel and had created their own society. So I sent in a synopsis, and then I hear back that I’m a finalist, and now they want me to write a full first chapter and then give them an outline of what each monthly installment is going to be for the whole year. I dove in and wrote chapter one and then planned out the whole thing and submitted it: “Oh, you weren’t selected.” Well, now I’ve got the first chapter, and I’ve got a map of the whole thing laid out from where I started all the way to the end. I thought I might as well do this anyway, just for my own edification. So I was going to write a chapter a month, and at the end of the year, I was going to have my novel. It took a little longer – maybe sixteen or seventeen months, total.
In previous interviews, you’ve stated that the book is full of inspired moments from horror and sci-fi film and literature. Care to provide any specific examples?
There’s a mad scientist character who has syringes on his fingers, almost like Freddy Krueger with the Dream Warriors. This character I’m talking about, Dr. Hauptnadel, runs a cult that is an homage to the cenobites of Hellraiser. These people want to be cenobites so badly that they’ve gone off the deep end with permanent body modifications and live these hedonistic lifestyles. There are huge Clive Barker influences almost all the way through. I’m a big fan of his short stories, especially “Midnight Meat Train,” which takes place in the subways and then ends up going even deeper down into the outer reaches of the system.
It’s an extremely gritty book, rife with discussion about homelessness and drug addiction, with plenty of violence and gore. There’s a saying in writing: “Show. Don’t tell,” and in the case of Deeper Than Hell, showing is likely going to make some readers uncomfortable.
I’ve always been interested in addiction – this idea that there’s something you want so bad that you’ll fuck up your whole life for it. That it’s heaven on Earth, and you don’t care about anything else. I’m also a fan of William S. Burroughs, who had this whole subgenre of drug hallucinatory beats and otherworldly writing. He made needles seem so seductive, and the idea of having something go right into your blood makes me shiver.
Working with Encyclopocalypse puts you in some pretty exclusive company with names like Brian Yuzna (Society) and Peter Atkins (the Hellraiser franchise) who’ve had their own books picked up by the imprint. What makes this the perfect home for your debut novel?
Encyclopocalypse exists in this space between literature and film because a lot of their bread and butter are horror movie novelizations. They put out books written by folks like Mick Garris and Peter Atkins, who are best known as film writers, but Encyclopocalypse publishes their fiction. It’s a great place for me and a dream come true. To be working with a wonderful team that has graphic artists and marketing and has people who are giving me advice – people like Preston Fassel (Landis: The Story of a Real Man on 42nd Street) and Sean Duregger (audiobook narrator) who have been helping me navigate this transition.
DEEPER THAN HELL releases on June 14th. Get your copy here.