GARY HILL “Scribe of Wonder and Dread” 

By Dr. Abner Mality

Some people are born to write. Gary Hill is one of them. After ups and downs in jobs all over the map, the native of Poplar Grove, IL decided to go whole hog on a career as a writer. To say he’s been busy since that decision was made is understating things in a titanic way. 

He’s been a writer of numerous short stories, an editor on anthologies containing the stories of others, a writer on paranormal topics, the host of a vlog focusing on the uncanny and the guiding light behind one of the internet’s most eclectic musical zines, Music Street Journal. He’s ready to release a new novel titled “The Homestead” that is a radical departure for him. And oh yeah, he also writes for this here humble assemblage of weirdness as “Dark Starr”. In the spirit of full disclosure, I’ve known him for over 20 years.

With all the ambitious upgrades to Gary’s writing endeavors, it was finally high time to do an official interview with him, which I now present to you forthwith…

WORMWOOD CHRONICLES: When did you first get the urge to write? Was it fiction or journalism that bit you first?

GARY HILL: I don't really remember when the bug hit. I must have been very young. I came across a newsletter from my grade school that had a poem I had written in it. I remember that when I was in middle school I wrote movie scripts and comic books a lot. I had a couple friends who would take them home and read them. There are a few I remember, one of which was a comic book called "Wizard Song" that I recently released in about its third incarnation as a novella. I had another comic book about a hero called "Whip Master" and his arch-enemy "Chess Lord." I remember a script for a movie about a guy flying through space and having all kinds of adventures that was inspired by the album "Fly Like an Eagle" from STEVE MILLER BAND. Even today, when I write stuff, a lot of times I see it more as a movie. That's how I write scenes a lot of the time. 

WC: What was the first author that inspired you to write?

GH: I don't know that there was a specific author. For me, it was more about television and movies. Later comic books and I've always been more into the type of fiction that would be considered "pulp" fiction than the more serious stuff. When I was a kid it was a diet of "Star Trek" novelizations, novels adapted from monster movies, Doc Savage and James Bond books. I think less than being about an author, it was having stories to tell and looking for ways to tell them. 

As I got older I discovered other authors. Stephen King is one of those. I'm a huge H.P. Lovecraft fan, and I could say that his writing opened up more worlds for me (particularly through my book "The Strange Sound of Cthulhu: Music Inspired by the Writings of H.P. Lovecraft") than anything from anyone else. 

Well, I am a fan of Lovecraft's fiction, as a person he was a product of his time, and I think I would not have really liked him much for a lot of his views. I find that when those show up in his writing, it's a bit difficult to look past. Actually, if I can get a bit off-topic, I'd like to address that just a bit. With the current "waking" of culture to a lot of the intolerant and harmful views, Lovecraft is problematic. I mean, those views of his do show up in his text somewhat frequently. He was very xenophobic, and it is not something that should be ignored. On the other hand, he's often painted as more racist than others of his time. I don't see that argument. I think that's seeing it through modern eyes. I grew up in the 60s and 70s, and I can tell you that even then, those ideas were prevalent. I observed the racist talk and attitudes of lots of "average people at the time." I often challenged them, but those views were still prevalent then. For me it was not really an issue, because again, I grew up emulating "Star Trek," and inclusiveness was a guiding principle of that show. I think that when things with questionable content is sanitized, as has happened in the last few decades where whole shows are no longer shown or scenes are edited out, it gives the impression that society of the time was more evolved than it was. So, my point is, yes, Lovecraft had troubling views, but despite what some might say, they were more a function of his time than anything else. It shouldn't be glorified, but he should also not be demonized for it. He lived a life that was very isolated from people of different ethnicities, as did  a lot of people of that era, and his views were skewed because of it. Sorry for the tangent, but seemed a relevant message right now. 

WC: Was fantastic fiction your first real love?

GH: I touched on this in the last question, but I would add that the combination of Marvel comics and "Star Trek" was a huge influence on my writing and even my outlook on life. Don't get me wrong, I liked DC, too. "The Batman" TV series from the 60s was a huge deal for me, too. So was "Dark Shadows." I'd watch it every day, and read interviews with and articles about Jonathan Frid and the show. Really, TV and movies were more of an inspiration for me than literature was in those days. Sure, I read, but mostly stuff related to the shows I loved. 

WC: Your novella “Wizard Song” has an interesting history to it. Could you share that with us?

GH: As I mentioned earlier, I wrote it initially when I was about twelve. It was originally a comic book. It really combined three of my biggest interests at the time, comic books, Star Trek and progressive rock. The story was about a mysterious band of musicians who were abducted from Earth and became involved in a battle against a tyrant in space. The comic sat around for many years. I eventually lost most of it. But, the story remained in my mind. Then in the 1990s I wrote it as a novel. I wasn't entirely happy with it, and had intended to rewrite it, but never got around to it. I eventually lost all of that but a few pages. Again, though, the story still lived in my mind. I eventually got it in a form I think works well now. The central story remains largely the same from that original comic book, and there is at least one sentence that still lives on in the final version. A lot of it changed over the years, though. I just know that twelve-year old me would be happy that it's finally out there for people to read. I also feel that one of the messages of the book - people from very different worlds uniting to fight a common enemy - seems very relevant now. 

WC: I understand you are working on a “Wizard Song” sequel. Tell us more about that.

GH: Several people said that they want to read more about the band in the book - Wizard. When I wrote the first version of the novel in the 90s I envisioned a trilogy, but I honestly don't remember where I intended the later books in the series to go. Thinking about it now, I realized that I don't want to just do a retread of the first one. I came up with an original idea that will reunite many of the main characters from the first one. It will carry on some of the themes of the first one, too, but also bring some new themes into play - or at least different angles on them. While the first book focused on a threat in space, the threat in the new one, and the action, will be mostly based on Earth, though. I still only have a general concept of what's going to happen, but I have come up with an Easter egg I want to use. That's something I do from time to time is plant Easter eggs in my tales. Sometimes I'll mention a specific song. Usually if you look at the lyrics to that song, you'll find that it has similarities to what is going on in the story (even if it's just one line that references it). Other times I'll pick out names as Easter eggs, either to reference a real person or character from something else, or because the meaning of the name tells you what person's role in the story is. I have no idea if anyone ever catches those, but I have fun adding them in. 

WC: Your new novella “The Homestead” is very different in style from your other fiction. It’s a lot more hard-edged. Tell us about the genesis of this story.

GH: First, "The Homestead" is set for release on September 4th. I think the main difference between it and a lot of my other stuff is the swearing. I can definitely go on tirades full of what Spock called "colorful metaphors" in conversation with people I know, but in terms of my writing, I seldom include swearing. I think there are all of two or three swear words in "Wizard Song" and the worst of those is "bastard." "The Homestead," though, features three main characters who are essentially thugs. They all have varied histories that have brought them to committing a home invasion, but these guys are not the kind of guys to shy away from such language. So, the dialog demanded it. 

Beyond that, the tale is in a lot of ways darker than "Wizard Song." That said, some of the back-story to "Wizard Song" - told essentially through flashbacks - includes some pretty dark stuff - torture (although that's not shown explicitly) for instance. The tone of the two works are very different, though. Yet, even "The Homestead" has some light and at least one rather positive message to it. I actually have short stories that are probably darker and bleaker than "The Homestead," but they don't have the grittier side. Also, while I wouldn't consider the violence in "The Homestead" to be in any way explicit or graphic (particularly in comparison to a lot of other fiction out there), it does have some moments that I think are a bit cringe-worthy in terms of injuries. 

As to the genesis of the story, though, I can't go into all of what goes into it, because it would give away too much. What I can say is that my wife and I live more or less in the country. Our community is a gated neighborhood that's more suburban, but it's surrounded by a lot of farmland. I can look out the windows on the second floor and see across the street to a farm. So, when we drive places, we pass a lot of farms. I was riding one day and saw a large and very typical old farmhouse. It got me thinking that the house might have an interesting history. Children had probably grown from childhood to adult-hood and then brought their children there. I thought about all the interesting stories that the house might hold. Then, as someone who thinks about creepy stories, I got an idea of doing a story with a house like that and an elderly couple living there, with the kids all gone off on their own. Home invaders decide to rob them, but find that it doesn't go as planned. 

As I started writing, I realized that to sustain the kind of story I wanted to tell, it needed something bigger than an old farm house. So, it became a mansion on a hill that has a massive underground connected to natural caves beneath. The characters all evolved from that beginning, too. Once I had the basic story down and was working on fleshing things out, I managed to put quite a few Easter eggs into it, too. There are  couple ties to two of my short stories, links to H.P. Lovecraft, John Carpenter and more. 

WC: Do you find that the more you write, the more variety you need to try? Or are you content just mastering a particular type of fiction?

In an interview I did a couple years ago I was asked (and I don't think she actually used that answer in the interview) why I write about so many different things (she was talking about music, spooky stories, cemeteries and such). I told her that I write about the things that interest me. That's pretty much it. I can't see myself writing the great American novel. I don't general enjoy reading those kinds of things. There has to be some angle that draws me in. Like I said, I lean toward pulp books. 

I can't see myself writing stuff that I don't enjoy. For one thing, what's the point? I write stories that I want to tell, and I don't see myself wanting to tell those kinds of stories. That said, there are other interests I have that I have never really touched on in my stories. Maybe I'll come up with some tales that incorporate some of those. I don't like writing the same thing over and over again. It doesn't interest me. As long as I can come up with ideas that I find interesting, I'll write about them. 

That doesn't mean that there aren't similarities between some of my things or connections between them. I've had an idea for a whole vampire world for years. I've written several short stories within that world, none of which are directly connected (although, in my mind one of the characters from one of the stories is actually a character - using a different name) in another of the stories. My point is, though, I would (and have plans to) revisit that world again, but each story needs to be fresh and not just a rehash. 

WC: What do you find the most frustrating about the creative process?

GH: Not having enough time to get to all the projects in my head would be one of them. Another that I've come to peace with over time is that it will never be just the way I want it to be. There are always things I'll wish I'd done differently. Freelance writing helped me find peace with that because you need to meet deadlines. That means you need to eventually decide that it's "good enough" and let it go out into the world. That said, I still have trouble reading my stuff once it's published until enough time has gone by for me to see it with fresh eyes. 

WC: You also have an interest in writing on “real” paranormal subjects. Anything coming up in this line of writing?

GH:I had intended to do "Spooky Berwyn Two" and "Spooky Stateline" for release this year. Then the pandemic hit. I've got bad asthma, so I'm not taking chances, and doing the books right will mean going places and talking to people. So, I've put both on hold until next year. 

WC: Have you ever had an actual paranormal experience?

GH: I have had a few odd experiences over the years. The funny thing is, I write about this stuff, and I have had some experiences that I can't necessarily explain, but I'm actually a skeptic. My wife says that a ghost could walk up to me and explain that they are a ghost, and I'd be looking for a way to explain it away.  That said, I've actually written about a few things that have happened to me in "Spooky Rockford," "Spooky Rockford Two" and "Spooky Berwyn." The most recent stuff includes a couple odd happenings I captured on video in a couple local cemeteries. 

I've actually had some UFO encounters over the years, too. Several of those were included in a piece I wrote for "Spooky Rockford" that used actual UFO reports (from MUFON along with witness accounts told to me - and my own under a pseudonym) with some of the details expanded on a bit all culminating in a fictional encounter at the end. 

I'm actually more inclined to believe the UFO stuff than I am supernatural stuff. However, my personal theory is that all paranormal activity is actually a result of parallel universes crossing over into our own. Well, that's all paranormal activity that can't be explained in a more traditional way. Science has become more and more convinced that parallel universes exist, and it sure would explain pretty much everything if there are times when the barriers between different universes intersect and intermingle a bit. 

WC: Your webzine Music Street Journal has been around a long time. What’s been the highlight of that for you?

GH: I guess getting to meet and interview a lot of the musicians who were my heroes growing up would be up there - particularly the ones I've gotten to know as sort of long-distance friends. Another would be when I was told by a musician that they had discussed one of my reviews with members of METALLICA. who had apparently read it. 

WC: Tell us about your Spooky News videoblogs and other Spooky ventures?

I started Spooky Ventures a little over a year ago. I wanted to do something different, and hadn't ever really done a lot of video stuff. There are essentially two sides to it. One involves a YouTube channel where I publish videos. The other is the merchandising side. For that I have a CafePress store and Lulu storefront. The CafePress store features a lot of great merchandise (apparel, stickers, glassware, etcetera) with Spooky Ventures designs. The Lulu side has calendars, although Lulu recently revamped their site, and the previously published calendars have been offline since. That said, they are all 2020, so at this point, it's no loss. Hope they have it back to do some 2021 calendars. 

The YouTube channel features a number of different type of videos. There are videos made from spooky audio books and videos of old radio shows. Then there are things like video reviews of Spooky movies, books and other products. There are some Spooky places features (the three so far are cemeteries - two of which include the videos I mentioned earlier under paranormal experiences). There are interviews with people who create Spooky stuff. Those are video interviews - at least on their end. My part is strictly audio. Finally, there is a series of Spooky News segments. I was doing them weekly for a while, but have been on hiatus. When I come back it will probably be every other week just because it's so time-consuming. 

I mentioned that the Spooky News videos are on hiatus. Part of that is due to Covid. When I launched the channel I didn't really know what to expect in terms of viewers, but it was all building, slower than I anticipated, but growing. Then the pandemic hit and the numbers dropped off. I didn't make the connection until I saw numerous people saying the same thing about their channels. So, I have to believe that it has something to do with algorithms changing. With the lower numbers and not a lot of news, I decided to go on hiatus for a while. I kept doing the audio books and radio shows, though. That is, until a couple weeks ago. Some computer issues caused my template files to become corrupted. I'm working on fixing it, but thus far haven't gotten it resolved. I have a couple more tricks up my sleeve, but if those don't work, then I'll be changing the whole look of the videos and building back up from scratch. So, we haven't had any new content for a few weeks, but it will be coming back soon - hopefully before this interview is published. 

WC: Could you see yourself writing a multi-part series, like a trilogy or even more?

GH: I touched on this quite a bit in an earlier question, so I guess the short answer would be "sure." The longer answer is that the key would be making sure each piece was fresh. Who knows, maybe "Wizard Song" will turn into that. There are aspects of "The Homestead" that leave it open for further exploration, be that prequels or sequels, too. I actually get a "setting up for something" vibe from the prologue of that one, but I haven't really planned anything out. 

WC: Where can we find updates on all your projects?

GH: The one link that will you to all the books and more is The online version of Music Street Journal is at is the central site for all things Spooky Ventures. 

WC:Any last words?

GH: First, these are difficult times we're all going through. I'd like to remind everyone of something that's actually one of the themes of "Wizard Song." When we work together toward a common goal we are always stronger than when we all pursue our self-interests without consideration of the impact of those interests on others. The multiple crisis we are facing seem to be dividing people, but our best hope for getting through them in the best possible way means working together for the greater good. 

Secondly, in these times people are (rightfully) concerned about their finances, and that impacts discretionary spending. That spending is what ultimately supports the artists in our communities. For those who are struggling to make their bills, keep on surviving. For those who find themselves in the position of having more discretionary income, consider using that to buy something from local artists, musicians, writers or crafts-people rather than buying something from a big corporation. The independent artists are your friends and neighbors and they are feeling the effects of this more acutely than big companies are. 

Finally, thanks for indulging me. This was fun.