April 20, 2016

Extreme Metal and the Moon: a guest post by Ty Arthur, author of "Empty"

There are terrors still waiting to be discovered in the vast emptiness of space. After millennia of travel through the void, man has convinced himself he is master of the stars. 

Down-on-his-luck, stuck performing punishment duty in the lower levels of the Penrose, Junior Engineer 3rd Class Hansen wants nothing more than to see the wreckage of a newly discovered ship dating back to man's earliest deep space explorations. 

The engineer is about to get his wish, and in the process come face-to-face with a long-dormant horror waiting patiently for the perfect vessel. What he'll uncover in the darkness will threaten to consume him, body and soul. 


When I first started writing fiction, I spent a lot of time wondering how the creative process worked for the genre greats. What inspired Barker's unique vision in “The Hellbound Heart?” What experiences spurred on the fantasy-meets-terror of “Weaveworld?” Where did that wellspring of ideas for the weird cosmic horror of Machen and Lovecraft truly come from?

I suspect the answer would change drastically from author to author, and what's true for one would be false for another. A personal answer to that question eluded me as I tried, and failed, to draw the attention of a publisher for any of my work.

It wasn't until something outside my control well and truly rocked my whole world that I was able to find my voice. I can honestly say I've never known the same euphoric high as the first time we discovered my wife was pregnant. I discovered an equally new despairing low when our child died in the womb, with both of us utterly powerless to do anything about it.

As part of the grieving process, I wrote a story meant to make the reader feel as awful as I did, and to express a rage that had no healthy outlet in the real world. No one was ever particularly meant to read it, and I had no expectations of it ever seeing print. Nearly ready to give up after all the rejections, I sent that short fantasy/horror tale out on a whim.

That was the first story I ever submitted that publishers were actually excited about. It's a lesson I took to heart.

Everything I write now starts with a kernel of a personal experience, and my new sci-fi/horror book “Empty” is no exception. For the basis of this story I went way back to my youth and drew on the experience of being the only non-religious kid at a religious summer camp (which was interesting and eventful, to say the least).

The initial idea was to create a feeling of sleepless paranoia, where there's something inside the main character that could cause problems if discovered by those around him. Intending to go a more literal route, “Empty” started as a story about a kid at a camp who has been cursed with lycanthropy, and has to find some way to keep his transformation secret.

Beyond the diverging methods of authors finding inspiration for new stories, it's fascinating to me how many different ways a single idea or basic framework for a book can be expressed. While writing that original version of “Empty,” the words just weren't flowing particularly well, and I wasn't satisfied with anything that was hitting the page.

Rather than continuing, I decided to spend some time thinking about the overall ideas behind the story, and I kept getting drawn again and again to celestial bodies like the moon – a major component of any werewolf story. That's when it all seemed to click, and something about all that vast empty space in an uncaring universe (where man is far less significant than he thinks he is) suddenly seemed like the perfect setting for this story.

I'd never written anything in the sci-fi genre before, but it's really an amazing match for anything horrific. The classic “Aliens” is not, strictly speaking, a horror film, but has there ever been a better sci-fi/horror mashup on the big screen? “The Thing” and “Event Horizon,” while both taking their fair share of knocks from the reviewers, are still two amazing examples of Lovecraftian horror expressed in drastically different ways through the sci-fi medium.

With the setting picked and the characters and environments coming together, there was only one piece of the puzzle left - the mood. For that, I turned to my second passion: music. Extreme metal was a cathartic outlet for me as a kid, and it's remained so as an adult and even turned into a profession as I found myself freelancing for heavy metal sites.

A constant stream of the most discordant and avant-garde sounds fueled the writing sessions, along with some interludes into melodic and spacey territory for introspective moments (for those who are interested, a full listening playlist and my thoughts on why the music matches the book can be found here.

It's been a long and winding trek to finally seeing “Empty” completed and now released through Mirror Matter Press, and based on the feedback so far, the journey was well worth the effort. Hopefully those of you who take the time to give it a read will agree, and if I've done my job right, you'll find yourself more than a little disturbed by engineer Hansen's experiences being separated from the herd onboard the Penrose and the Thorne.

“Empty” is available digitally and physically through Amazon and I'm already well into working on the next book, which delves even deeper into the most disturbing reaches of the human condition. Can't wait to meet you all there!

- Ty Arthur

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