The Candy Cain Kills author shares his thoughts on the horror community, 80s nostalgia, and why he’s so excited about the Killer VHS series.
Brian McAuley is a WGA screenwriter whose debut novel, Curse of the Reaper, was published by Talos Press in 2022. He’s also the author of Candy Cain Kills, a holiday-themed horror story that takes classic slasher tropes and reworks them for a new generation of readers. The fast-paced, delightfully gory novella is the second installment in Shortwave’s popular Killer VHS series, and released on November 14, 2023.
We asked Brian to share his thoughts on writing as a profession, horror as a community, and what readers can expect from the Killer VHS series. He also offers advice for new writers, so keep reading to learn how you can craft a story as cleverly horrific as Candy Cain Kills.
I knew from an early age that I wanted to make horror movies, but it wasn't until I shot my first 16mm short film in high school that I realized I was less interested in the directing and producing side of things than I was in the writing. I've gratefully built a career as a WGA screenwriter working in film and television, but writing books has recently opened up a whole new creative outlet.
I grew up reading Goosebumps and watching Are You Afraid of the Dark? until my older brother exposed me to some proper horror films that I was way too young to be watching. Something about all those gruesome monsters and gory deaths just stirred my imagination in ways that no other genre did. Now I'm especially drawn to the welcoming community I've found in the world of horror fiction.
In undergrad, I took a mix of screenwriting and creative writing courses to learn storytelling tools and discover my voice across different mediums. After getting my MFA in film at Columbia University, I concentrated in screenwriting and wrote several feature film and TV scripts. One of them would end up being the basis for my debut novel Curse of the Reaper.
I love the standalone series format where each book tells its own twisted tale hatched from a different writer's mind. 80s nostalgia has been all the rage for a while now, but I haven't seen anybody get as creative as Shortwave has with the series aesthetics and packaging. Much like Goosebumps, they really make you want to collect them all, and I'm confident this series will become something quite legendary in the long run.
When Alan Lastufka first invited me to pitch an idea, he mentioned that my book would be released in the winter season. I love holiday horror, so I jumped at the opportunity to create my own Christmas slasher. The name Candy Cain came first, and then I engineered a backstory around the legendary figure. It's the fastest I've ever outlined a book, and I think that momentum carried over into the story's breakneck pacing. My dream would be for readers to settle in on Christmas Eve and experience the whole story in one sitting, just like watching your favorite cozy holiday horror film.
Some folks say you shouldn't abandon your WIP for that shiny new story idea, but that's exactly what I did with Candy Cain Kills. I had been stuck in a creative roadblock with a novel WIP when the Killer VHS opportunity came my way. The ease with which that new story idea flowed told me it was exactly what I needed to be working on at that moment to get my groove back. When the novella was done, I was able to plug right back into that novel with a refreshed vision and confidence to crack what I couldn't before. I say go where the fire is burning brightest and trust that the words are all guiding you exactly where you need to go.
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Nicole Dieker is a writer, teacher, and musician. She began her writing career as a full-time freelancer with a focus on personal finance and habit formation; she launched her fiction career with The Biographies of Ordinary People, a definitely-not-autobiographical novel that follows three sisters from 1989 to 2016.
Dieker writes the Larkin Day mystery series. She also maintains an active freelance career; her work has appeared in Vox, Morning Brew, Lifehacker, Bankrate, Haven Life, Popular Science, and more. Dieker spent five years as writer and editor for The Billfold, a personal finance blog where people had honest conversations about money.
Dieker lives in Quincy, Illinois with the great love of her life, his piano, and their garden.
Copyright ©2023 by Nicole Dieker.
Published by Shortwave Magazine. First print rights reserved.
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