Featured Author: Ambrose Stolliker
Story: Blue Belly Bayou
State of Horror: Louisiana Volume II
Ambrose Stolliker lives in the Pacific Northwest with his wife and son. He is a former newspaper reporter and magazine writer and currently works in marketing at a global technology company. His work can be seen in Ghostlight Magazine, Sex and Murder Magazine, Hungur Magazine, Sanitarium Magazine and The Tincture Journal. His Civil War ghost story, Reckoning in Spotsylvania, will be published later this year in Stupefying Stories.
Synopsis: “Blue Belly Bayou” from State of Horror: Louisiana Volume II
Josh and Alisha are ghost hunters for a web broadcast. They travel all over Louisiana looking for evidence of ghosts. They are tipped off about Blue Belly Bayou which was a prison camp during the Civil War. A unit of over 100 Union soldiers were kept at the prison and then executed, their remains dumped into the bayou. Josh and Alisha go to the remote town to investigate the story and find evidence of the haunting by the executed Union soldiers. Everything about the town is “off” but the pair are determined. In the bayou it becomes evident that the legends are true and the couple experiences the Blue Belly Ghosts first-hand. They cannot wait until the next night to gather more evidence. However, there are forces at work no one could have foreseen. Alisha and Josh find themselves in peril as they face the Blue Belly Bayou.
After a moment, all of them slowly fixed their bright, yellow gazes on me, or at least it seemed like they were looking directly at me, and I felt the sudden urge to break and run or to yell out to Alisha. I didn’t though.
Time to Meet Ambrose Stolliker
Charon Coin Press: What inspired your story in State of Horror?
Ambrose Stolliker: I was in New Orleans a few years back visiting my wife’s family. My wife and I were walking along Bayou St. John on a sunny, clear afternoon, and, quite without warning, my mind was overcome with an image of faceless, dead men emerging from the bayou’s cold, dark waters late at night. I couldn’t get the image out of my head, and I immediately started to ask myself the questions that would help form the story’s plot. Who were these men? Why were they in the bayou? And most importantly, how had they died?
CCP: Is there a reason this particular state appealed to you?
AS: Well, New Orleans is where my wife and her family are from, so I have a very close, direct connection to that place. New Orleans and the surrounding area also have very rich and somewhat dark histories. I’m an unapologetic history buff and Civil War nerd, so as a place, it appealed to me on a number of levels. I’d always wanted to write a story that takes place in New Orleans or in the surrounding rural areas, which are both beautiful and haunting in and of themselves. All I needed was the right inspiration and the right story. Luckily for me, the bayou was within walking distance of my mother-in-law’s home and I had the best tour guide a writer can ask for in my lovely wife. I guess it pays to get out there and take a walk in strange, new places every so often. You can’t spend every waking moment with your eyes glued to a laptop, waiting for the words to come.
CCP: What do you look for in a horror story as a reader?
AS: As a reader, all stories – for me – start with the characters. If I don’t care about the characters, I won’t care about the story. I don’t necessarily have to be able to sympathize with every character (though it helps,) but I do have to understand what it is each character wants, why they want it and what they’re prepared to do to get it. Those are the things that help build tension and conflict. Those are also the very same qualities that build what I believe are the two critical elements of any horror story – suspense and a gradual, deepening sense of dread. It’s also important to establish a sense of time and place in any story, but that, to me, is secondary to creating believable characters with clear motivations.
CCP: What is your favorite writing snack food?
AS: Maybe I’m the exception, but I don’t have one. Mainly because I almost never write on an empty stomach. I find an empty, growling stomach distracting, which takes away from the writing, so I never write when I’m hungry. That said, when I write on the weekends, I absolutely must have a hot cup of coffee sitting next to my laptop when I start to write. If I’m writing at night during the week, after we’ve put my son to bed, I’ll usually drink an RC Cola. Not Coke. Not Pepsi. Not Sprite. RC Cola. I don’t know why. It’s my favorite soda. What can I say?
CCP: What other works do you have out there?
AS: I’ve secured nine fiction writing credits in the last few years. In the fall of 2010, Ghostlight Magazine, a publication put together by the Great Lakes Association of Horror Writers, published my story Ghosts of Annapurna. In the summer of 2011, Sex and Murder Magazine published my story Ronnie Van Zant Really Does Walk on Water. Hungur Magazine has published two of my stories – Zulu 1 (May 2012) and Bull’s Head Creek (June 2013). In June 2013, Sanitarium Magazine, an online horror magazine based in the United Kingdom, published my story The Dust Storm. The Tincture Journal, an Australian literary magazine, has published two of my stories – Children Without Faces and Before I Forget Who You Are. In addition, I recently received word that Stupefying Stories will soon publish my Civil War ghost story Reckoning in Spotsylvania.
CCP: What is one important thing the readers need to know about you?
AS: Next to my wife and son, I love writing fiction and storytelling more than anything. It’s what I was born to do. If I could make a living doing it, I would. And because I love it, I take it very seriously and am very disciplined about it.
CCP: Who are your favorite authors?
AS: In terms of horror writers, I’d have to go with some of the giants of the genre – Stephen King, William Peter Blatty, Richard Matheson, H.P. Lovecraft and Edge Allan Poe. I’m also a huge fan of some of the classic ghost story writers – Algernon Blackwood and M.R. James come to mind. I love science fiction and fantasy as well, so I’d be remiss if I didn’t include such greats as Ray Bradbury, Mary Stewart and J.R.R. Tolkien. I love mysteries and hardboiled crime fiction too – I’m a huge fan of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Michael Connolly, James Ellroy and James Lee Burke. And who can forget amazing writers like John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway, Flannery O’Connor, Carson McCullers and Tobias Wolff? The list goes on and on, always evolving, always changing as I change.
CCP: What drew you to State of Horror?
AS: Really, it was the state – Louisiana – and the connection I have to it through my wife. And I just happened to have a recently finished story called Blue Belly Bayou that the anthology’s editors really liked. And they’ve been great to work with – true professionals who take the writing and editing process very seriously.
CCP: Do you have a favorite state or state you are waiting to open?
AS: Hmm. That’s a great question. For the most part, my stories are set in places I’ve either lived or to which I have some kind of emotional connection. That’s not always the case – a few of my stories – Bull’s Head Creek and The Dust Storm – take place in the fictional Panhandle town of Bull’s Head, Oklahoma. I think part of the reason Oklahoma and its neighboring states – Kansas and Colorado – have such appeal to me is they’re so very different from where I grew up in the northeast, just outside of New York City.
CCP: Music or no music when writing?
AS: I absolutely cannot listen to music while I write. It’s simply too distracting.
CCP: If you could go anywhere in the world right now where would you go and why?
AS: Some place I’ve never been before, so I have new people and a new place to write about. Preferably people and a place that are very different from where I live now in the Pacific Northwest or where I grew up in southwestern Connecticut.
CCP: What was the hardest part about writing your story?
AS: Getting the characters and their motivations right. I came up with the legend that underpins Blue Belly Bayou in about five minutes. I knew exactly who those soldiers were, how they’d died and what they wanted pretty quickly. But getting the protagonist and his voice right (the story’s in the first person, so getting the voice right was critical) took longer, and, as is often the case, the story went through multiple (four) drafts before I was sure I’d gotten it mostly right. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten a story one hundred percent right. Maybe you can’t. But I feel good about where Blue Belly Bayou ended up.
CCP: Do you have any writing rituals?
AS: Other than trying to write at the same time every day, not really. I typically write 500 – 1,000 words three or four nights per week and 2,000 words on both Saturday and Sunday. Oh, and I absolutely cannot begin writing unless I’ve swept the downstairs area where my office is located. I have a dog and cat and can’t abide the idea of putting pen to paper until I’ve gotten all the dog hair and cat hair swept up and immaculate hardwood floors.