Interview with horror author Marko Hautala.

Marko Hautala is one of Finland’s best contemporary writers. His books employ the methods of horror and thriller literature to look into the minds and pasts of their characters – with terrifying results.

Order his books here.

Below is my interview with Mr. Hautala.


Marko Hautala

(photo Veikko Somerpuro)

1) Who are you? Tell us a bit about yourself!

I’m a Finnish writer who’s mainly written psychological horror, but also essays and even poetry. My writing has been translated into eight languages.

2) When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I first started to write a novel when I was seven years old but didn’t finish one until I was 27. I suppose that means that the plan has been there all along! It just took time and several short stories to get there.

3) Your works are set in the city of Vaasa, which is refreshing, as most Finnish novels are set in Helsinki. Does Vaasa inspire your writing? How would you describe the city to someone who has never been there?

Vaasa is a small city on the West Coast of Finland, close to Sweden. It’s very middle class but also culturally diverse due to the big international companies in the region. That may sound a bit boring as a setting for horror stories but actually it’s not. Vaasa has a long history and all the mystery and tragedy that goes with it if you know how to look beyond the polite façade.

vaasa

(Vaasa)

4) One thing I love about your books is how you play with the feeling of uncertainty, and use it to build horror into your characters and, subsequently, the reader’s heart. The characters are often going through a period of transition of some sort, and the future is uncertain. Is uncertainty, the fear of what comes next, the basis of horror, in your opinion?

I’m really happy you point that out! Horror as a genre is often seen in too simplistic terms. For me it’s a form of fiction that offers the most suitable tools for tackling with those aspects of life that are strange and almost unbearable. For me, both as a writer and reader, the best horror stories go straight to that basic uncertainty that we as vulnerable creatures with limited understanding of reality have. It doesn’t really matter to me whether the story deals with that aspect of life through the supernatural or in purely realistic terms, but my own stories often fall somewhere in between. Whatever you believe in, you have to admit that reality is so strange and endlessly complex that our view of it is helplessly limited. A good horror story makes you acknowledge and face that fact.

5) Is there a specific method you employ to build suspense, or do you just aim to tell a scary story and things come naturally from there on?

The funny thing is that my intention is not to scare people, really. At least I don’t usually think about it that way most of the time. My main motivation is to create a strong atmosphere that would be intriguing, mysterious and yet strangely familiar. To me atmosphere is at least half the story and I do pay a lot of attention to it. Having said that, in every novel there is at least one scene that I realize might scare the reader. Then I sometimes work it up a little bit just for the joy of making someone I don’t know feel uneasy while reading a book.

6) Do you plan the entire arc of the story before hitting the computer, or do you go one section at a time, making it up as you go along?

Every novel is slightly different, but I often do make plans and drafts and synopses at some point. Usually they don’t have much to do with the final story, but they serve as temporary signposts I think. Mostly I just follow my instincts because they tend to take me to places I didn’t even know exist. If and when I get lost in my own imagination or run out of inspiration, I go back to story arcs and stuff like that just to find my way again. Often when I run out of steam, I also start drawing pictures as it seems to reactivate the verbal side of things really well.

7) How “connected” are your books in your mind? Or are they “islands” onto themselves?

Yes and no. I don’t enjoy writing series but on the other hand I sometimes feel that everything I’ve ever written is just one long story about things I try to get a grasp on or come to terms with.

8) The book Black Tongue (Finnish Kuokkamummo) employs faux folklore beautifully to create a kind of sinister past to a place. How much do folkloric tales inspire you? Do you read a lot of them?

Actually the urban legend in that novel is an authentic one! It’s from my childhood neighborhood and it really scared me when I was a kid. The legend basically included an old woman who haunted the surrounding woods and killed children. Like all urban legends, it probably had a basis in a real event (in this case in a tragic incident of a mother killing her own children decades before) but it had changed over time into this ubiquitous, almost demon-like character.

I recently also wrote a Finnish folklore-based short story that was published in several languages. The story is called Sauna Requiem and you can read or listen to it on Storytel (I don’t know if that’s available in all parts of the world though).

My latest novel Leväluhta (The Red Marsh) is also based on a real place, an ancient water burial site close to my home town. The place and all the stories connected to it have fascinated me for over a decade but it took time to find a way to write fiction about it. The funny thing is that this became possible only when I started to feel that two other seemingly unrelated elements had something to do with the place, namely a life-form known as mycetozoa (do look it up!) and early 1990’s black metal. There’s no logical connection, of course, but I felt that on some deeper level these things were connected.

Overall, I think stories and legends are important if they survive long periods of time. Although they might be factually wrong, there’s some other kind of truth in them if they survive.

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9) How and where do you write? At home, at a cafe? Can you write anywhere anytime, or do you need a certain atmosphere?

Whenever possible, I write at our summerhouse (even in the winter). In the past I used to also write in cafes and bars and places like that but nowadays I feel that other people are an obstacle to intensive writing. I’m most productive when I haven’t heard a human voice for a couple of days. Lack of speech does something to your imagination. It makes you turn inward and your dreams become crazily vivid.

10)  Have you personally ever experienced anything paranormal?

I’ve seen a ghost but I don’t think I believe in them. It was a strange experience though. When I was younger I used to work as a nurse in a mental hospital so I know that the mind can do all kinds of tricks, but that experience still sometimes bothers me. We lived in an old wooden house back then so the setting was right I guess. I woke up to noises from the front door and rose from the bed to look at what was going on. Then I saw an old woman walking towards me. I tried to wake up my wife but she only has a vague recollection of that. It might have been something like sleep paralysis without the paralysis part, but the experience was quite unusual. I wish my wife would have woken up so there’d be confirmation that it was just a hallucination!

11)  What are you working on at the moment?

I’m working on a novel, an audiobook, game script and a book of essays. At least those. Then there are several small ideas that I’m toying with.

12)  Where can people write to request that more of your books be translated into English?

I really don’t know! My agent Ahlback Agency takes care of my foreign rights so I don’t really get involved in that side of things at all. I’m really, really happy to get my stories translated though. [Write to elina@ahlbackagency.com -admin]

13)  Where can people keep up with you and your work?

I write a blog at markohautala.fi but it’s only in Finnish, unfortunately!

And, finally, my standard questions:

14)  Your top 3 movies and why?

1. 2001: A Space Odyssey (saw it as a kid, didn’t have the slightest understanding of what’s going on but was completely mesmerised. I still watch it at least once a year)

2. Psycho (took horror film to a completely new level)

3. Rosemary’s Baby (a prime example of a great horror story: creepy, atmospheric and a great finale which is terrifying and blackly humorous at the same time)

15)  Your top 3 albums and why?

1. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds: Murder Ballads (this album marks the transition from the young, angry Nick Cave to the calmer one we have today. On Murder ballads you can hear both)

2. Ghost: Meliora (the best pop metal album ever. I almost feel bad for the band because they will probably never be able to top this)

3. Lustmord: Songs of Gods and Demons (a classic dark ambient album to which I have written several novels in the past)

16)  Your top 3 books and why?

This is even more difficult than the ones above! I’ll approach this from the genre angle:

1. Everything by E.A. Poe and H.P. Lovecraft and the best novels of Stephen King (sorry but I have to make the first slot like this, otherwise this is impossible!)

2. Clive Barker: The Books of Blood 1-3

3. Sara Gran: Come Closer

17)  Do you have a favorite place to read?

Anywhere by the sea in the summer, otherwise in my study or on a train. I also try spend two hours every day walking and listening to audiobooks.

Book review. Visalia Ransacker – Secret Origin of the Golden State Killer, by Kat Winters and Keith Komos. 2018.

visalia

Winters and Komos continue their important work in making the complicated East Area Rapist/Original Night Stalker/Golden State Killer case readable to both the general public as well as more advanced researchers. Now that Joseph DeAngelo has been arrested as a suspect in the EAR/ONS case, more and more people will probably be interested in understanding the case, and Winters’ and Komos’ books provide a fantastic “road map” through the complex terrain.

Some time ago, the duo released the book Case Files of the East Area Rapist / Golden State Killer, a masterpiece in true crime writing. This time, they are digging into the weird case of the Visalia Ransacker, a burglar with an M.O. similar to the EAR/ONS/GSK. Whether the VR actually was the EAR has been debated for some time; this book, I believe, makes the case pretty convincingly that the VR and EAR are one and the same.

The book has been laid out similarly to the aforementioned Case Files… The incidents involving the VR proceed from the first to the last. The structure is heaven-sent in a case as all-over-the-place as this one: we finally get a cohesive idea of where the nightmare started and what it entailed. The VR’s actions were easily as creepy as those of the EAR, and this book is not for those with a tendency towards bad dreams and/or anxiety. In fact, even if you’re of a steely mind, you’ll be looking over your shoulder at night for months after reading Visalia Ransacker.

The question many will be asking themselves is “Is this worth buying and reading now that Joseph DeAngelo has been arrested as the EAR?” The answer is yes – indeed, it’s MORE pertinent now that the VR/EAR/ONS/GSK has most likely been captured, because we’re now at the beginning stages of trying to understanding the mind, the human being behind these terrifying crimes, and a book like Visalia Ransacker is worth it’s weight in gold in such a process.

Highly recommended.

Buy it here.

 

Book review: American Kingpin, by Nick Bilton. Portfolio 2017.

american_kingpin

The Deep Web is a kind of “secret” part of the Internet only reachable by a special browser called Tor. The place is basically a digital reflection of the human id: illegal pornography, weird sexual fantasies (often including rape or other crimes), sick videos – it’s all right there.

A few years ago, a new site popped up there, seemingly out of nowhere: The Silk Road, a website that facilitated the buying and selling of drugs, guns, stolen software, stolen electronics, and the like. It became a hit overnight and, considering the nature of the goods changing hands through the site, a fresh nightmare for governments and law enforcement agencies. The anonymous nature of the Deep Web and the Tor browser made finding the creator of the site that much more difficult.

Despite the challenging premise, the creator of the site was ultimately captured. He turned out to be a brilliant young do-it-yourself libertarian named Ross Ulbricht, a physics whiz kid and self-taught computer genius who believed the government should not be able to regulate what people put in their bodies. He was running the multi-million dollar drug empire from a Samsung 700z laptop, borrowing wi-fi from local coffee shops in Austin, Texas and San Francisco, California.

This book tells the story of the creation of the website, and the efforts of the various law enforcement agents (from the DEA, Homeland Security and FBI, among others) to find the person behind the “Amazon of Drugs”.

Bilton is a master storyteller, and he knows the tech and start-up worlds well, having written about both before.

The portrait he paints of the young Ulbricht is vivid and alive, the story of a young man who believes he is making a difference in the world by challenging the government on its drug laws head-on. Whatever you might think of Ross Ulbricht, he had the guts to follow through on what he believed: instead of arguing on Twitter or lecturing his friends about the hypocracy of the “War on Drugs”, he built something of his own, and left a lasting impression on the world, for better or for worse.

American Kingpin also succeeds in balancing the stories of the agents on Ulbricht’s trail with the rest of the narrative. Determined, inventive, and loyal to the very government the Silk Road challenged, they worked around the clock to dig up “Dread Pirate Roberts” (Ulbricht’s user name on the Silk Road) from the murky waters of the Deep Web. In presenting these agents as human beings too, Bilton evokes the theme of loyalty vs. rebellion towards authority, an age-old question that gets a fresh treatment between the pages of this book.

An enjoyable read that tells an unforgettable true crime story, while at the same time sophisticating the reader with regard to Internet security, digital crime, and the battle between libertarian political philosophy versus governmental institutions.

Grade: 4.5/5

 

 

 

 

Interview with Anne Penn, author of Murder on His Mind.

Anne Penn is the pen name of Laurie, a woman with a personal connection to the East Area Rapist / Original Night Stalker case. She has written a book about the case entitled Murder on His Mind.

Thank you Laurie for this interview!


penn_book

Who are you? Tell us a bit about yourself?

I am Laurie. I am also Anne Penn the author of a first and second edition book called Murder On His Mind Serial Killer.  The second edition I added “A Family Member Speaks.”  Anne is my pen name of course.  I am the granddaughter of Lyman J. Smith Senior the father of murder victim Lyman Robert Smith and his wife Charlene Smith.   They were killed March 13, 1980.

My family are longtime Sacramento, CA natives. I grew up in Sacramento, a mile away from my grandparents near Land Park, spending quite a lot of time with them over 35-40 years. I was born at Mather Air Force Base and grew up in the same home for 18 years. I was in Sacramento beginning my career 1976-1978 in downtown Sacramento when the East Area Rapist began his crimes breaking into homes and raping women.

In your own words, who was the East Area Rapist/Golden State Killer? What do the terms refer to?

The East Area Rapist was a man who came into my awareness from news reports and people talking about him in 1976. People were saying he was breaking in and attacking women, raping them in East Sacramento. Back then I was made more aware that I should be careful. The reports about him made me think twice about everything I did.  The East Area Rapist was a man to be feared and he was the worst thing I could think of – the idea of being intruded upon and raped was very terrifying. Everyone was worried because it went on for two years. Nerve racking. I do not call him The Golden State Killer. To me and most people that knew of him then (when the murders began) he was known as The Original Night Stalker. Most people who have lived with this case for 35 years or more know that name.

The Original Night Stalker was a person’s worst nightmare. He did not care if he broke in to homes with couples. He began to break in and rather than rape, ransack and leave he began to murder. I would say what those names mean to me is a man who was a terrorist in the truest sense of the word.

You have a personal connection to his crimes. Can you tell us about this?

My connection to the events of EAR and ONS was that I was there in Sacramento when this terrorist began and then less than two years after he left Sacramento attacking elsewhere my Uncle (we called him Bob) Lyman Robert and his wife Charlene were murdered in Ventura, CA.

At the time no one knew that his activity was connected to the East Area Rapist and that he had indeed become a serial killer. That was not proven until many years later through DNA evidence that was tested from the very old crimes. When my uncle and his wife were murdered I was there after my grandparents were told and saw how devastated my grandfather Lyman Senior was at the loss of his son. He was very proud of Uncle Bob and was never the same after that. Just a few weeks after the memorial service for my Uncle I was married in Auburn in an old church there.

As I was walking back up the isle having just been married I realized that my grandparents were in the vestibule of the church where my grandfather was sobbing and sobbing. No one could console him, we could think of nothing we could do. It had only been about 7 weeks since he had learned of his son’s murder. He had not wanted me to postpone my wedding and had insisted he and my grandmother would come as scheduled and would not miss it. My close friends recall the scene to this day 37 years later.

lyman_charlene_smith

(Lyman and Charlene Smith)

How did these crimes affect your family?

The murders affected my grandparents of course. These were horrific murders and the idea that they had been killed in this way was difficult to say the least to come to terms with. I personally was absolutely terrified at hearing the details of how The Original Night Stalker had come into my Uncles home and that he had bludgeoned them both to death. I was afraid from that moment on of sliding glass doors and strangers, work men. I did not want to be seen in my yard or at night in my car. My grandparents were frustrated at the lack of answers and upset that law enforcement went down the wrong path to find their son’s killer.

I moved away from Sacramento in 1984 because I did not feel safe.

What was it like to live in fear of this criminal? What kinds of precautions did people in your area take against him? I have read that burglar alarm systems and personal firearms sold like crazy…

People in the area in Sacramento during the crimes of EAR bought locks and guns and held town hall meetings in order to talk about safety measures.  Classes were held for women to instruct them on many different avenues to try to stay safe.  Personal safety measure like alarms were installed, but it seemed the East Area Rapist could get around all of it and still was not caught.

newspaper_ear

(Newspaper article from the 1970s)

The East Area Rapist / Golden State Killer has recently gained new momentum after decades of being known only to relatively few true crime aficionados. Why now?

It is time to try to resolve the case especially since we have new technologies and advances in testing evidence. DNA linked all of the crimes together in about 2001.  Santa Barbara County finally had their DNA tested about 6 years ago so we then knew the Original Night Stalker had killed at least 10 people and was in fact the East Area Rapist. Chances are good that he is still alive. The detectives that worked the cases in the beginning many are still with us and still want to see justice.

Let’s talk about the criminal himself for a second. What, in your opinion, was the driving force behind this guy’s intense need to rape and kill?

He like other guys who start out as peepers and burglars escalated to rape and then serial rape/killer.  I think he was always different and between his childhood issues and whatever makes a serial killer (a chemical brain issue) personality disorder like Anti-Social Personality disorders and/or Conduct Disorder I think he was compelled to do what he did. He had to work up to it.

In your opinion, what kind of a person was he outside his criminal activity? A transient? A middle-class family guy?

I do not think he was ever a transient. I think he became a middle class family guy after the crimes stopped. I think he is successful and functions very well in society.

This guy would occasionally tell his victims about his life, and a few times he was even heard crying and repeating either the name “Bonnie” or the word “mommy”. How much of his behavior at crime scenes do you think was genuine and how much of it was a ploy to create red herrings for the investigators?

I think that a lot of the time during his crimes when he was telling his victims supposedly about himself he was trying to lead investigators wherever he wanted them. He was smart enough to play everyone.  I think much of his behavior at crime scenes was a ploy to manipulate his victims and law enforcement.

How reliable do you think the composite sketches are? Which one do you think is the most reliable?

I don’t rely on the composite sketches. Law Enforcement knows that they came from people who thought they saw a guy lingering in areas during crimes.  Victims never saw his face. I was told the one the FBI is using currently is the one they are looking at now.

Ear_composite

(FBI composite sketch of the perpetrator)

Some drawings and writings were discovered near one of his crime scenes. What are your thoughts on these?

I hope the writings and drawings are from EAR. I do not know enough about them.  It would seem they would have tested them for fingerprints long ago.  It is thought that the landscape area drawing could be from an area in Stockton.  Others think it is from other areas.

It seems someone fitting the EAR/GSK’s description was spotted driving various different cars around the areas where attacks would soon occur. Where did he gain access to all these different cars? I have often felt that this is one of the key issues in the case, a potential “case-cracker”.

I wish I knew where he gained access to all of the various cars he drove. It could be a friend or family member had a car lot.

Was hypnosis ever used in this investigation to jolt people’s memories?

Hypnosis was used to try to get better descriptions and any information they could.

Why did he choose Janelle Lisa Cruz as his final victim? WHy did he come out of hiding to kill her?

I think he came out of hiding because he could not resist and it was easy.  He already knew the neighborhood from 5 years earlier. Manuela Witthuhn had been murdered in 1981 less than 2 miles away. I also think he had seen the Deliberate Stranger about Ted Bundy on television that night and he just had to do this one last time that we know of.

What do you think happened to him? Why did he disappear?

I think he knew about the advances in forensic technology and knew if he kept going he might be caught. He also likely got married and had children. This way he can become a legend and become a mystery for all time like the Black Dahlia murder.  People are still interested today.  He will be famous as the serial killer who they never found. He wanted fame and he will have it whether he is ever caught or not.

You wrote a book about this case. Tell us about it! What was it like to research and write it?

This was a book I had NEVER thought about writing because it was still too terrifying to look at it. Eventually it became the book I had to write because I had been studying serial killers since 1980. It made the most sense to me that my uncle Lyman and Charlene’s murders were a serial killer and not someone they had known and then it turned out to be true. I could not believe it when I found out.  I was right about that.  I sought to understand why a person does this kind of thing.  Now I know it is a compulsion to become a serial killer. It was very interesting to research the case and to learn as much as possible because I wanted to try and figure out where he came from and where he might be.  It sounded so much like the neighborhood I grew up in I could just picture it.  I lived across the street from a creek that runs all through Sacramento. I wrote it for my uncle and Charlene, for the victims, for my grandparents and for myself – to face the fear it held in my memory.

2018 is here. What do you think this year will bring? Will we finally see and end to this dark saga?

I hope 2018 will bring information and the identity of the man who did these things. We have hoped that every year since 1980 especially in my family.  My grandfather Lyman Smith Senior passed away in 2001 never knowing who killed his son.  He only knew that a serial killer had done it.

Where can people keep up with your work?

People can keep up with my work on anne.penn.wordpress.com as well as Facebook, Twitter and Amazon. My first and second editions of Murder On His Mind Serial Killer are there. The Second edition will be the only one there shortly as I have added my family story as well as DNA, Cold Case information, forensics and information about the cases especially in Sacramento where he began. I have done a few podcasts on the case with a new one coming out on FOX 40 Sacramento February 1 with Ali Wolf.

Anything else you would like to add that I forgot to ask about?

I think you covered quite a lot of ground today. A profile of this man would be good to add in some format some time when you have the space.  Those are included many places on the internet as well as my book and the detective’s books who wrote about the cases.

(Profile of the EAR/ONS aka Golden State Killer)