Facing the Ancient Things: An Interview with Author C.M. Forest

Last year, about this time, Maniacs and Monsters attended Horror-Rama in Toronto, Ontario.  A relatively small convention, its main draw for me was several unique celebrity guests, including the iconic Caroline Munro.  It is also where I met Canadian horror author, C. M. Forest.  At that time, I picked up a copy of his novella, We All Fall Before the Harvest, and it wasn’t long after that I sought out his novel, Infested.  This past May, Infested was a silver winner for horror fiction of the Independent Book Publishers Association’s prestigious Benjamin Franklin Award.  When I approached him to talk about his writing, Christian enthusiastically agreed.

MD:  What should I call you?  You have made it no secret that C. M. Forest is a pen name dedicated to your horror-themed work.  What led to this distinction between horror and your other writing?  Is there a significance behind your chosen nom de plume?

SP:   Although I enjoy writing under the name C.M. Forest, I would definitely find it weird if folks started calling me that.  So Christian is fine.

When I began my writing career, everything I produced was under my own name (Christian Laforet).  Which, let’s be honest, isn’t the sexiest name around.  So that, coupled with the fact that I was writing different genres at the time, pushed me towards adopting a pen name.  Not only would it make me sound cooler (something I desperately needed!), it would also allow me to house all my horror fiction beneath it.

The name itself is just a variation of my own name.  C and M are my first two initials, while Forest is just the English translation of my last name.  Nothing too clever or exciting I’m afraid.

MD:    Ok, so tell us a bit about Christian Laforet.  How long have you been writing, and what was your first published work?  Is writing a full-time career or are you moonlighting?

CL:     I started writing in the early 2010s.  It was a strange time for me as I had just finished school for animation, and, more impactful to my existence, had welcomed the birth of my daughter.  I wasn’t working, thanks to the severe lack of animation jobs in my area, so a great number of days were spent on my computer as the baby slept.  During one of those sleepy days, I began writing a novel.  Why?  I have no idea!  It just sort of happened.  The book was garbage, completely unreadable, but I wrote it fast and with gleeful determination.  Afterwards, I was completely hooked.

Realizing that my writing was novice, at best, I took a step back and dedicated my time to honing my craft.  I did this with short stories.  Small drabbles I posted online.  After a couple years, I took the ten best stories and partnered with a local press to release my short story collection The Space Between Houses.

The dream is to make writing a full-time gig…. but I’m not there yet.  However, with the recent success of Infested, I’m getting closer.

The Space Between Houses – A short story collection.

MD:    Now tell us a bit about C. M. Forest.  Are you a long-established horror fan yourself, and if so, what are a few of your literary and cinematic favourites?  As a horror author, what are your inspirations?

CL:     I am a horror geek through and through.  Some of my earliest memories of movies and books are in the horror genre.  Most of this is thanks to my older brother.  Through him I first saw movies like Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm St., and Halloween.  He was also a voracious reader of horror novels.  Even before I could ever attempt to read one myself, I would pull his books from the shelf and stare at the cover art.

My own tastes are fairly wide ranging.  I’m accepting to most, if not all, sub-genres of horror.  That said, I usually gravitate more towards, slow, atmospheric horror when it comes to film.  Something like The Ring remake, or The Shining.  Then again, to contradict myself, I consider Friday the 13th Part 4 to be amongst the greatest horror movies ever made, so take what I say with a grain of salt.

Theatrical Poster for Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter also known as Friday the 13th Part 4.

In terms of literary inspiration, there are three authors that stick out the most.  The first, and most obvious, is Stephen King.  I am not a King superfan, and have only read about 30 of his books (which sounds like a lot until you look up the man’s bibliography) but to be a modern horror author and not be influenced by Stephen King in some way is virtually impossible.  More recently, I’ve been drawn to the works of Adam Nevill and Nick Cutter.  The visceral nature of their prose speaks to me in a profound way.

The Troop by Nick Cutter – Another Canadian horror author.

MD:    I’m slightly surprised you didn’t mention a certain son of Providence, Rhode Island.  I can’t be the first to draw comparisons between your work and that of H. P. Lovecraft.  You don’t share Lovecraft’s verbose, formal, and, some would say, archaic writing style, but you haunt the spaces Lovecraft was most at home.  Unknown lurking terrors, oversized monsters, cultism, and even a touch of cosmicism permeate your stories.  Was your intent to create Lovecraftian tales, or is that label too broad an interpretation?

CL:     Okay, so short answer is yes, Lovecraft is an inspiration.  Longer answer is:  Much like Stephen King, any person writing cosmic horror today is inspired by Lovecraft.  However, unlike with King, I personally never read any Lovecraft until well after I was writing stories of my own.  If anything, I would say I was influenced by authors who were themselves inspired by Lovecraft.

I have definitely been drawn to cosmic horror lately in both my reading and writing.  This newfound love led to the creation of my novella, We All Fall Before the Harvest.  What I find most interesting about cosmic horror is that the stories told within the genre have such a profoundly human element, even though the subject matter is, usually, very unhuman.  It’s as if the only way to really find the soul of humanity is to face the ancient things that live in the void.  I tried to capture that with the protagonist in Harvest. A man that has many skeletons in his closet and a personal history he can’t seem to reconcile until faced with something beyond human understanding.

Cover art for We All Fall Before the Harvest.

MD:    That’s a perfect segue into my next question.  We All Fall Before the Harvest was my first exposure to your writing.  One thing that struck me was how despicable a person the protagonist is.  As you say, there are a lot of skeletons in that closet and the more the story exposes to the reader, the less sympathetic the character becomes.  And yet, we see things from his perspective.  We may not like him, but we root for him and, perhaps, even relate to him at some level.  How do you, as a writer, remain faithful to a character like that without alienating your audience?

CL:     I always wanted the main character of We All Fall Before the Harvest to be a bad person.  Even in the earliest notes, when the protagonist, Owen, was an investigator, he was still a nasty guy.  I had just spent five years writing Infested (and re-writing it, and re-writing it) and that book has a much more traditional protagonist (i.e., sympathetic), so suddenly getting the chance to pen a darker main character, a criminal no less, was a lot of fun.  I asked myself what I would do or say in each scene, and then wrote the opposite for him.

To be honest, I never really gave much consideration to how readers would respond to Owen beyond what was on the page.  I think this is because of the subject matter (cosmic horror tends to feature broken, imperfected protagonists) and the length of the book.  Harvest is a novella and is only about a hundred pages. The story moves so fast that there isn’t time to ruminate on Owen’s less-savory attributes before the next set piece.

MD:    Starting with the title and continuing right through to the disturbing finale of the story, We All Fall Before the Harvest turns working the land into a perversion.  What is ordinarily considered good, honest work is coupled with the sights, acts, and even smells of horror.  Tilling the fields and livestock husbandry become unnatural deeds polluted by esoteric nightmares.  As a city boy, do you harbour some deep-seated fear of farm life?  Where did these themes originate?

CL:     I wouldn’t go so far as to say there is a fear of rural living, but I will freely admit, I do not enjoy the outdoors.  Farming would be the absolute last job I would ever want.  It’s just not for me.  That dislike of farm living didn’t really influence the story though.  If anything, it was the opposite. I wanted the city to be oppressive, smothering while the farmstead would be a place of freedom (for better or worse).

 I live in a medium-sized city (about 220k population) but am within 5 hours of both Chicago and Toronto, and live on the border with Detroit.  Anytime I am in a big city, I understand myself to be a pretender.  Like some ignorant fool that has wandered into the remains of an ancient, eldritch civilization.  Strangers with shifting eyes stand before temples to lost gods.  I am utterly insignificant.  At least, that’s how it feels to me.  So, when writing Harvest, I wanted to capture those feelings.  The city is a beast far too large for Owen to ever really escape.  The farm, as messed up as it is in the story, is something of a light at the end of the tunnel.

Wandering ancient, eldritch civilizations.

MD:    So, what the reader perceives as horrific may be Owen’s salvation?  What an intriguing concept.  But I must ask.  Knowing the type of person Owen is, does he deserve that salvation?  Or is that another aspect of the horror?  That this irredeemable man has somehow been redeemed?

CL:     I think Owen gets exactly what he deserves.  Yes, he personally finds some form of salvation, but his fate is far from desirable.  This was never going to be a happy ending.  Owen has done some awful things, things that have cost him dearly, which, in his mind, keeps any form of redemption out of reach.  The best he can hope for is usefulness.

MD:    I intentionally chose We All Fall Before the Harvest as my first exposure to the works of C. M. Forest.  I felt a novella was the perfect length to introduce myself to both your writing style and talent for spinning a yarn.  Learning that your novel, Infested, was published second but written first, I wonder which order you would recommend to new readers.

CL:     That’s a great question.  There’s really no wrong way to read them.  They’re so different in story and style that no matter which one you read first, the other will still feel fresh.  That said, I initially push folks towards Infested, as it is a bit more—how do I put this?—general audience friendly.  Infested has a wider appeal.  Harvest is dark, mean, and depressing, while Infested pokes its head above the storm clouds from time to time and basks in the light.  Reading Infested first will also reveal my progression as a writer when you get to Harvest.  Not that I think Harvest is better in that regard, just that my confidence as a writer was much higher when penning that book and I think that you can see it in the story when reading it.

MD:    I wanted to ask you about the cover art for Infested.  I think it is fabulous and very effective.  In fact, it is almost too effective.  Being a bit squeamish about insects, I hesitated to pick up the book.  There is a realism to the image that makes my skin crawl, but the skill and artistry are undeniable.  It is horrifically beautiful and suits the story perfectly.  How did that cover come about, and how involved were you in its conception?

CL:     I adore the cover for Infested!  When the final image came through from Eerie River Publishing (the publisher of Infested), I literally cheered.  It’s so creepy!  I love it!

As for its creation, the process was pretty smooth.  Eerie River reached out to François Vaillancourt, a fantastic artist that they had worked with on previous occasions to design the cover.  This pleased me greatly as I really enjoyed François’s work.  He sent us (Eerie and myself) several rough ideas and they were all fantastic.  But…they didn’t feel right to me.  There was nothing wrong with the designs he sent, they were all suitably creepy, and would all make great covers, but they weren’t MY Infested.  Thankfully, Eerie River indulged me and, when I sent a rough (a very rough!) drawing back as to what I had in mind, they forwarded it to François.  Francios was able to interpret my crude scribble and a short time later, sent us what would become the final cover.  It exceeded all my expectations.  Like I said, I literally cheered.

Infested: Cover art by Francois Vaillancourt.

MD:    Earlier, you mentioned Olivia, the protagonist of Infested, and how she is a traditional, sympathetic lead.  It struck me, however, that she is not your traditional damsel-in-distress.  She may be burdened with self-doubt when first introduced but proves to be very determined and resourceful.  All the genuinely strong-willed, intelligent characters in Infested are women.  Even the eldritch horror is female.  There is a running theme of women in control.  In contrast, most of the men are, quite literally, brain-dead brutes.  Was this undertone of female empowerment intentional, or did the writing naturally lead in that direction?

CL:     I’m glad you picked up on that.  It was very much on purpose.  Young, naïve me, had the idea to create a feminist centric horror novel (as much as any male could do so).  It was only while writing it, that I started to question such a feat.  Not because I don’t think such a novel should exist, but rather that I didn’t think I should be the person to write it.  This revelation resulted in removing some of the more on-the-nose aspects of the story, but I did keep the empowerment undertones you mention.

There is a second, much more personal reason, why I wrote the story the way I did.  All the most important, most influential people in my life have been women.  I wanted this book, in some demented way, to reflect how much they’ve all meant to me.  Remove any one of them, and I would not be the person I am today.

MD:    If I may say, I think you achieved a nice balance.  The theme of women in control is woven into the story without overpowering the narrative.  It is another facet of the tale to be appreciated with or without further reflection.  There is no sense of preaching or patronizing.

As I’ve mentioned in discussions we’ve had earlier, I enjoy how both We All Fall Before the Harvest and Infested are almost effortless reads.  I do not mean simplistic.  There are some dark, complex, and vicious topics being tackled.  But, while the content may challenge the reader, the prose does not.  You mentioned taking some time to hone your writing skills.  Was a consumable writing style one goal you worked towards?

CL:     It wasn’t consciously a goal, but rather a natural result of my own tastes as a reader. I like stories that hook me, drag me along in their currents. Especially in horror. Because of that, I wanted the language to flow at a good pace. Which, at times, was easier said than done. I have a tendency to lean towards purple prose when writing which can definitely stall the narrative if you’re not careful.

MD:    You’ve become a bit of a regular at horror conventions and similar events.  It has always struck me that authors face a difficult challenge at conventions.  You have a small window to grab someone’s attention, and books don’t have the same visual hook as other collectibles.  What has your experience at conventions been like from a seller’s perspective?

CL:     I love conventions! There’s something about the convention atmosphere that I greatly enjoy. It buzzes, if that makes sense. There’s this constant cacophony of noise, of movement. Now, that said, it can be a very long day(s) if nobody is buying. I’ve been to a few cons that were so poorly attended that there was nobody to sell books to! Or events that are just not conducive to selling horror novels (I’m looking at you, craft shows). Also, like you mentioned, it can be hard to convince folks to pick up a book amidst the slew of collectibles, merch, and other cool stuff lining the aisles. But, overall, I usually do quite well at conventions. The secret is being friendly and engaging with the people passing my table. I find most people want to ask about my work, but don’t want to break the ice. A kind “Hello. Do you like scary stories?” usually draws them in.

A reading at Willistead Manor’s Literature at the Manor event in Windsor, Ontario.

MD:    What are you working on now?  Can you give fans a hint of what might be coming next?

CL:     I’m working on a couple things, but the biggest being my second novel. It doesn’t have a name yet (titles never come to me until late in the process), but it’s a haunted house story with a cosmic horror twist. At least, that’s what it started out as. What it’s becoming is anybody’s guess. I’ve never had a story twist and turn on me so much while writing it. The process has been exciting and exhausting!

MD:    Where can people get more information, and where can they get your books?

CL:     My books can be ordered to just about any bookstore, but the easiest way to find them is Amazon. This is especially true if you are looking for an e-book option (they are both available on Kindle Unlimited). Also, and this is really cool, the audio book of Infested is up on the Chilling app for free. The Chilling app works like Spotify…but for horror stories!

I am all over social media if you want to connect with me personally. All the links can be found on the Link page of my website:  https://christianlaforet.com/links/.

Keep an eye out for more horror from C. M. Forest in the near future.

My heartfelt thanks to Christian for taking the time to talk with me.  It has been an absolute pleasure.  If you spot Christian at a convention or book signing, make it a point to say hello.  And, if you are looking for entertaining reads that will make your skin crawl, I strongly recommend Christian’s books.  As he mentioned, his writings, including short stories appearing in anthologies, are available from Amazon.

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