Featured Author: J. Lamm
Story: The Bells of Rue La Barriere
State of Horror: Louisiana Volume II
Born in Baton Rouge, LA, in 1976, Jay Lamm began his foray into writing when he published his first essay, The Dark Tunnels of the Bone Box: the Astonishing Story behind the Music of Mr. Doctor in 2003. After receiving a BA in Criminal Justice and English from Southeastern Louisiana University in 1999 he pursued a life of music, releasing one solo album of planetarium/new age music and two studio albums with his mercurial metal band, Cea Serin. He has been a featured performer and touring musician with Cirque Dreams, and also provides session work as a bass player, keyboardist, and vocalist for other studio albums. Jay Lamm has also written and recorded original music for movies, television, web series, and planetariums. Lamm maintains a steady blog schedule on his personal website where he writes about music related topics and how-to instructionals—mostly geared towards bass guitar and live performance issues. Lamm currently serves as the Administrator for the Louisiana Art & Science Museum’s planetarium/science blog where he frequently contributes articles relating to science, recent discoveries, and space exploration. Currently, Lamm is working on a third album with Cea Serin, a solo album, and his first novel.
Synopsis: “The Bells of Rue La Barriere” from State of Horror: Louisiana Volume II
Mark is helping his girlfriend as her group from college explores an abandoned dormitory on Rue La Barriere. The group has tons of equipment to study the supernatural and are determined to get answers about the strange occurrences surrounding the building—especially from the 8th floor. As the equipment is set up, odd things start happening—sounds, lights, electrical interferences. People from the study begin to disappear. Something has not been shared with the group from the professor and it becomes clear there are nefarious motives going on in the building. Mark is desperate to get out alive and save his girlfriend—whether he is able to may not be in his control. Even the streets outside the building are affected by the forces within the building marked by the sounds of the bells.
The eyes in her face were wet, bulged in black-rimmed bruising, while the lower lids drooped as if they had been microwaved; the open wound of her maw leaked drops of blood on her already toxic liver spotted old arms.
Time to Meet J. Lamm
Charon Coin Press: What inspired your story in State of Horror?
J. Lamm: My story was actually inspired, in part, by a real place in Baton Rouge, LA. Back when Jimmy Swaggart had a massive presence as a televangelist, he got the idea to start his own bible college—replete with its own dormitory building. Well, when the whole Jessica Hahn scandal went down all the money being filtered into finishing the bible college and dorms dried up. This left the dormitories as a vacant structure. For a long time there was no fence around it so anybody could just walk in and hang out. And I’ll be honest, when I was a kid I went inside it several times with a bunch of friends. It was a very dangerous structure: there were holes in the flooring where tubs should’ve been placed, rebar was sticking out in random places, some steps in the stairs weren’t finished, and judging by the graffiti it wasn’t the most hospitable of hangouts at times.
With that in mind, I wanted to get back into writing—really give it a shot—and did a search for any anthologies looking for submissions. I saw the listing for the State of Horror: Louisiana and figured that no one from Louisiana probably knew about the abandoned dorms. I changed the names in the story for obvious reasons, but if you’re from Baton Rouge, Louisiana you know the dorms I’m talking about.
Not only was the story inspired by the Jimmy Swaggart scandal but it was also inspired by John Carpenter’s “Prince of Darkness” and Gareth Evans “The Raid.” Those stories had the characters—and the viewer—trapped inside a building to complete the narrative. I thought it would be interesting if one of the characters in my story was allowed to come and go, viewing the conflict from different angles.
CCP: Is there a reason this particular state appealed to you?
JL: I was unaware of the State of Horror series until I did a search for open anthology listings. It was a happy surprise to find that the series was currently accepting submissions for the very state that I was from. I’ve lived in Louisiana all my life and served as a great springboard for me to get back into writing. Louisiana has a rich history and a completely different culture from all the other states I’ve been to as a touring musician. So many people are aware of Louisiana because of voodoo, mardi gras, Marie Laveau, but there are so many other little stories that exist in isolated parts of the community, e.g. the French Town Road tales that involve Satanic rituals, the subset of Haitian hoodoo practices, and—one of my favorites—the rumored New Orleans haunted house that’s located in some unknown high-rise building that is so scary you’ll get your money back if you can make it all the way to the top floor—everyone knows someone who knows someone that has seen it or been to it but no one knows where it’s actually at.
CCP: What do you look for in a horror story as a reader?
JL: The same things that I look for as a horror movie viewer. Horror movies and horror stories can be extremely formulaic. But this is a great setup for creating something truly unique and exciting. It’s why I like the genre so much. It’s very exciting to come across a horror movie or story that truly does something different in a genre where it seems like everything has already been done. I get excited over a horror story when it takes a different look at what frightens us and presents it in a different way. I thought “The Descent” was great because I’d never seen a horror movie based on cave exploration before. I’ve always been fascinated by Clive Barker’s “Hellraiser” franchise because—aside from the iconic monsters—there’s this interesting subtext of BDSM and alternative lifestyles being explored. I also like when certain conventions are challenged and obliterated. For example, there’s been this unspoken rule that if you have a horror movie you’re not supposed to kill dogs or children. If you do this you run the risk of losing the viewer—they’ll tap out on you. I find when writers can figure out a way to challenge these conventions while retaining their audience—whether it’s because the audience wants to see retribution or they’ve become further invested in the character’s plight—that you’ve got something both timely and unique. I found that the movies falling into the genre of New Wave of French Extreme to be good examples of this.
CCP: What is your favorite writing snack food?
JL: I don’t really like to snack while I write. One reason is that I don’t want to make a habit of popping M&Ms every few minutes; the other reason is that I find it to be a bit distracting. If you can consider drinking coffee or water to be a snack then that’s what I do when I write.
CCP: What other works do you have out there?
JL: The only thing I’ve had published is an essay I wrote several years ago called The Dark Tunnels of the Bone Box: the Astonishing Story behind the Music of Mr. Doctor. It’s the true account—at least “true” from all the sources I’ve read—of the Slovenian/Italian musician known as Mr. Doctor. Back in the late ‘80s he placed an ad seeking musicians. The ad read: “a man is less likely to become great the more he is dominated by reason: few can achieve greatness – and none in art – if they are not dominated by illusion.” That’s not a statement I agree with, but it found him the musicians he wanted. They formed a rock band and chamber orchestra called Devil Doll and recorded a debut album; however, only one copy was printed of this first album. Mr. Doctor said that he had created “…a painting and not a graphic work.” However, the second album, and a few other albums (some still unreleased) were made available to the public via the fan club. I’m glossing over the details here—details involving a studio fire, the war in Yugoslavia and how it affected the band, censorship issues in Italy, and many unrelased albums just to name a few things. It’s an interesting tale about a musical genius few people know about.
CCP: What is one important thing the readers need to know about you?
JL: There’s a maxim that I live by that I try to adopt into all my creative endeavors: I think for myself, therefore I am. I know that might come across as a tad pretentious but what I’m trying to say is that I want my material to stand on its own. Sure, I’m influenced and inspired by certain things. I subscribe to a certain philosophy. I’m not claiming to reinvent the wheel or anything like that. I just think that when someone writes a song or a story that they’re saying “these are my beliefs, these are my values, this is what I stand for.” And even though I don’t believe in the paranormal or any forms of mysticism, I have a passion for storytelling and the creative process. Whatever I create, it comes from a place of deep respect for the craft; I’m not doing it to become famous or serve any other means other than my own desire to create something that I understand to be interesting.
CCP: Who are your favorite authors?
JL: I’ve always been excited over writers such as David Foster Wallace, Ayn Rand, Clive Barker, Sam Harris, Comte de Lautréamont, Carl Sagan, and Philip Pullman.
I like reading certain authors for certain things. Sometimes I want to read something and examine the technicality in the writing, e.g. David Foster Wallace or Italo Calvino. Sometimes I want to read J.K. Rowling just for the story and characters. I try to balance out fiction and non-fiction. I like reading a novel, then reading a book on music theory, and then something dealing with science.
CCP: What drew you to State of Horror?
JL: Initially, I was just looking to see if there were any series of books accepting unsolicited short stories that I might be able to get in on. My first search brought me to State of Horror and as luck would have it, the listing was accepting for Louisiana, my home state. I’ve since grown fond of anthology series because they’re great to read right before going to bed. You can knock out a story in about 20 minutes then turn in for the night.
CCP: Do you have a favorite state or state you are waiting to open?
JL: When I was on tour back in 2012 I went to a lot of different states and took notes on the cities, interstates, theaters I played in, local customs, local attractions, etc. I knew I would be able to use the information one day—write what you know, am I right? So, besides Louisiana, I was looking forward to submitting a story on California. I also really enjoyed visiting Washington state and Colorado. Whether I get to contribute stories for these states, I don’t know.
CCP: Music or no music when writing?
JL: I actually don’t like listening to music when I write. I prefer absolute silence. I have a room in my house that I devote to just reading and writing and if a neighbor’s dog is barking, or if I can hear traffic, it really irritates me. I don’t want the music to influence my writing’s tone or voice. I find it hard to concentrate and focus when someone else’s music is playing.
That being said, I’m currently working on something that is kind of ethereal and weird. I started working on certain textual sequences and I thought it would be interesting if I came up with my own mix of music that I could play while working on these large chunks of otherworldly scenes. Some of it is music with binaural sounds mixed in, some of it is just ambient beds, and some of it is chunks of electromagnetic space sounds recorded by the Voyager spacecraft mixed with my own music and binaural recordings intended to increase concentration and/or relaxation. But I only do that for certain sections of my current writing project. It’s not anything commercially available, just my own stuff I made for myself.
CCP: If you could go anywhere in the world right now where would you go and why?
JL: I’d really like to go overseas. My band, Cea Serin, has a larger following in Europe as opposed to the U.S. so I’d like to go to some of the places where our music is appreciated. Germany has always been very good to us as well as Spain, and Sweden. I’d also like to visit New Zealand and Australia because I like the accents so much.
Aside from that, I plan on writing a book that deals with characters who have to travel from the bottom of Louisiana to various parts of the northern U.S., stopping off in certain cities to handle certain bits of business. So, when the time comes I’d like to revisit those areas again to get a sense of geography.
CCP: What was the hardest part about writing your story?
JL: The hardest part was keeping the story confined within the limits of 9000 words. When I finished my first story I believe it was over 11,000 words. I knew it was going to go over the limit of 9000 but I wanted to get the entire thing down and then later on figure out what had to get the axe. I ended up completely chopping out the first part of the story and had to figure out a way to introduce the characters in a different way.
CCP: Do you have any writing rituals?
JL: Not really. I always have a pen and paper on my person, in my desk at work, at home, or in the booksack I always carry around with me. So I don’t really have to set the mood to start writing. One thing I do find myself doing—and this is for writing music or writing prose—is that I have to get fully dressed. I can’t pal around my house in pajamas. When I wake up I have to put on jeans, shirt—the whole deal, just get fully dressed. I feel like a lazy bum if I’m in sweatpants or something. Having some coffee is nice but it’s not necessary. Oh, I have to have the house clean, too. It’s hard to write if I feel dirty. So the dishes have to be cleaned as well. I mean, it doesn’t have to be…but it’s a double-plus. I also have to have two computers going: one is for the actual writing, the other one has a dictionary, thesaurus, and reverse dictionary opened up so I can make sure I’m using certain words right as well as making sure the words that just popped into my head are actual words and not gibberish.