The Essential Lucas Mangum: Dark Descents, 1

Hi folks, I’m Lucas Mangum. I’m an author of dark fiction with several books published by independent presses. At this stage in my life, I’ve noticed my work has a variety of recognizable themes and motifs. With some heavy revisions, putting them together could almost form a sort of meta-narrative. Now, I’m not deluded: I don’t think I’ve originated archetypes or motifs, though I do believe I’ve made them my own. While listening to an episode of the Weird Studies podcast in which they covered the Sun Ra film Space is the Place, I thought it’d be fun to pull out essential passages that best represented this overarching narrative.

The first of these is excerpted from the first chapter of my debut novel FLESH AND FIRE, which you can get a FREE digital copy of by subscribing by email to this blog, or by signing up for my newsletter on my store page.

It depicts the protagonist Chloe falling into the abyss and meeting the demon who brought her. The descent into the pit has always intrigued me. Death of the hero, whether real or symbolic, often comes before the ultimate victory or resurrection, which is all well and good, but I want to know what happens down there in the dark. Is it necessary to descend? If so, why?

In FLESH AND FIRE, her fall is orchestrated by a demon who’s mistaken her for a resurrected lover from the past. Her ultimate revival is also at the hands of another. My reasoning for this is simple: I often struggle with the idea of free will. Do we have it? I’m not sure. Sometimes, I think our actions are mostly up to fate, our programming. It’s in moments where we reject our programming, that we grow and become something better. Chloe, who I clearly see as the hero even though we spend more time in Todd’s head, embarks on her journey due to influences of forces outside herself. Todd, too, acts in ways he believes he’s supposed to act due to the people who’ve guided him. They’ve both been programmed and their story won’t end happily unless they do things contrary to how they’re wired.

This passage is one of the earliest examples of me showing what I call the Engines of Ruin, hands of fate that push us toward destruction, masquerading as choice.

Flesh-and-Fire

If this is dying, Chloe thought, I’d like to do it again sometime.

The brightest light she’d ever seen washed over her, burning brilliant whitish yellow. Blinding, but soft, it reminded her of the sun, finally showing its brilliant face after weeks of rain and starless nights. It brought warmth, security, and a deep sense of euphoria, better than the greatest high, more intense than her strongest orgasm.

Moments ago, she’d been in her room, sinking into the bed below, as if it were a cloud. Her vision blurred and her surroundings fell further away. She gave each of them one final glimpse, pausing the longest on the Yamaha DX7 keyboard, upon which she played all of her music, and the photograph of her and Todd smiling drunkenly as they held each other in the parking lot of the Black Horse Pub.

As she slipped away, she only regretted not being able to tell him goodbye. Maybe even apologize. She settled for humming the melody to “Blissfully Damaged,” a song he’d written for her. Maybe doing so would, through some kind of clairvoyance, allow her to commune with him in her final moments.

The poison killing her now had also destroyed their relationship. She’d been clean for a while, but it hadn’t lasted. Once he’d seen he couldn’t help her, he’d run away. She didn’t blame him. He didn’t really know everything. He didn’t know about the dreams, or the monster that pursued her in them, or how she sometimes even saw and heard the monster when she was awake. She’d never told him and because of this he just saw her as an addict, no matter how much he’d loved her.

Now she’d never be able to tell him.

Now she was dying.

And she accepted it.

Embraced it.

She knew only the light and a euphoric sense of floating. She hadn’t expected this; she hadn’t expected anything. No undeserved reward, no cruel and unusual punishment. Only sleep. Whatever this was, this was better. As she glided through the sea of bright warmth, a soothing swish, like the gentle splash of waves on a beach, accompanied every movement. The place had a smell, too, sweet and strong. Like Mother, she thought, without understanding how she knew.

Natalia, her father’s only true love, had cast a shadow over their lives. She’d died while giving birth to Chloe, and existed only in photographs and Les’s stories. A mythic figure. Unreal in her legacy and tragic in her absence. Thinking of her brought a wave of sadness that broke through Chloe’s ecstasy, like a wind chill on an otherwise warm day. The next thing she knew, she was falling into darkness.

In the inky surroundings, the cries of countless others assaulted her ears. Some of them human, some animal, she could only interpret them as full of agony and fear. Underneath, a dry, gritty sound. Bone against bone, a chorus of grinding teeth.

Her heart hammered like a machine gun. No longer dying, desperation took hold.

As she fell, hands clutched at her from out of the darkness and she screamed. They tore at her clothes and kneaded her skin, pulling her out of the chasm and moaning like diseased animals. She saw only glimpses of the rotting, scaly things as they tore her black dress to shreds.

She twisted and kicked in their clutches, preferring to fall than to be groped. She clawed through a forest of bulbous hands. Something primal was awake within her, a violent will to live as old as the universe itself. Rather than pull away from the creatures and back into the pit, she dove into the tangle of limbs and reptilian bodies. She bit and scratched. She drove forward until she fell again. This time she tumbled down a spiraling wet shaft. She reached the bottom, wounded and bleeding, not yet broken, happy to stand on solid ground.

Dirty crimson light illuminated her surroundings. Pointed rocks grew from above and below. Somewhere nearby, waves crashed against land. Behind her, wailing and gnashing of teeth. The rocks along the wall jutted out like gnarled tree branches. Gray rags hung on them, along with something like hair. Some of them moved. She realized then what they were as the skeletal limbs reached for her.

“Help me,” one rotting mouth said, “please…”

Sobs fell from her mouth as she backed away, her cries echoing in the massive cavern. She turned and ran toward the sound of the waves but in front of her, she heard more bellows of pain. She stopped and looked around. Water splashed upon the shore, blood red in the dirty light. The dome of the cavern gave way to a sky full of swirling fire and black smoke. Panic surged through her, beginning in her heart and spreading like wildfire on a dry field throughout her body until a scream burst from her lips, joining the chorus of terrified, suffering voices. Like them, she had nowhere to go.

A lean, shadowy figure emerged from the blood-red ocean and put his face into the light. Deep angry scars marked his cheeks and brow. His eyes burned with something like rapture. She knew him. He was the monster of her dreams, her rapist and lover, her imaginary friend, her angel and demon, but this was no dream. Every precise detail overwhelmed her senses: the wet jagged earth digging into her feet; the stenches of burning hair and rotted meat filling the air. She had entered a new reality and he had brought her here. She thought of how she had felt guided tonight, by something outside of herself, to buy the heroin, to shoot enough to overdose, and she understood.

Samael approached her, reached out his hand like he was blessing a martyr, and she knew she was destined for pain.

My Books and the Works that Influenced Them

This past summer, after watching Quentin Tarantino’s newest, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, I’ve been thinking a lot about people who influenced me. After all, Tarantino proudly wears his influences on his sleeves, and he’s certainly inspired me over the years. From the nonlinear narrative of Pulp Fiction to the insane midpoint twist in From Dusk Till Dawn, he taught me how to defy an audience’s expectations. He’s certainly defied mine, over and over.

But before this becomes a Tarantino love-fest, I want to get us to the meat of this blog. I want to talk about my individual works and the specific works that influenced them.

A few things to keep in mind. First, I will do this in chronological order of release, starting with Flesh and Fire. Next, I will exclude my collection Engines of Ruin, because I think that probably warrants its own post. Last, this is probably not comprehensive; some of my influences are bound to get overlooked, so apologies in advance.

Now, without further ado, let’s get into this.

Flesh and Fire was probably most obviously inspired by the show Supernatural. I love the Winchester boys, and the first five seasons are especially excellent (Season 7 is pretty tight, too, so don’t tap out after 5). However, a less obvious influence, though one that Brian Keene picked up on, was the novel Animals by John Skipp and Craig Spector. The way that book is paced, particularly in its first half, and the feelings of longing and loss the work depicts stuck with me in a way few books have. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend checking it out. There are some admittedly dated elements and the latter third of the book feels rushed, but those flaws are easy to overlook. It occupied a good amount of headspace while I was writing Flesh and Fire.

Mania, my novella about a cursed screenplay, is just one in a long tradition of cursed media horror stories. From Ringu to the plethora of stories featuring the Necronomicon, there is no shortage of this type of horror. Mania’s strongest influence though comes from the John Carpenter-directed episode of Masters of Horror titled “Cigarette Burns.” It’s plot concerning a film that, when screened, can drive an audience insane. In that respect, it almost plays like an epilogue to his 1995 masterpiece In the Mouth of Madness. It certainly has it’s own surprises though, and it’s haunted Hollywood vibe was definitely something I wanted to pull from for this book.

Gods of the Dark Web remains my most extreme book. Lots of folks have bestowed this honor (?) on Saint Sadist, but there’s a scene in this book that I refuse to revisit. If you’ve read it, you know the one. The inspiration for the work as a whole came from listening to dark web stories on a YouTube channel called Dorset Ghost. He pulled the stories from various subreddits and creepypastas. The dark web as this doorway to the forbidden recalled the long tradition of cosmic horror and works like Frankenstein that depicted technology-based forays beyond the natural realm. I decided to tell this kind of story, but give it a contemporary face-lift.

We Are the Accused was the book where I pulled most from my life and the town where I grew up. It started as my attempt at a traditional small-town horror tale and then became something else. My jumping off point was Brian Keene’s A Gathering of Crows, but I also pulled from the Preacher comics and, again, Supernatural. My declining mental health was probably the biggest influence on the last third of this book. Not an excuse, just a fact.

I’ve made it no secret Saint Sadist is my favorite of my works. It also has the widest and perhaps strangest range of influences. When I came up with the idea, I very much wanted something between Martyrs and Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac. Stylistically, however, I looked to Faulkner, Milton, Henry Miller, Carson McCullers and Daphne du Maurier. Truthfully, I had no choice. I was reading all of these people while writing Saint Sadist. I wanted something stream-of-consciousness, Southern, and poetic. I even wrote the first draft entirely in verse. This project was the most fun for me to write and is still the most satisfying to revisit in spite of its disturbing content.


A couple of final things: 1. I’ll likely update this list next year when more of my books come out. 2. I’ve been posting daily content on my Patreon, so now is a great time to subscribe. A dollar gets you free stories, writing advice essays, and access to serial novels.

Extinction Peak-A Novel of Dinosaur Horror

I’m about to make what will likely be one of my final passes on Extinction Peak, my dinosaur horror novel. Some of my work comes from my subconscious and flows rather easily. This book was not one of them. I wrote the first draft almost five years ago. The version that exists today has only the title in common with that old draft.

Weirdly, this book will likely be more fun to read than some of my other titles. It relies heavily on world-building and action, not symbology and style. That’s not to say it lacks depth. If you’re looking for it, my thesis will present itself. That’s all I’ll say about that for now.

Jeff Burk made it official the Monday after Killer Con, so I’ll announce it here: Extinction Peak is set for publication in 2020 by his new press Section 31 Productions.

Long Nights and Cruel Summers

It’s been a wild few weeks, gang. Hope y’all have been keeping up with the newest episodes of The Mangum Show. If not, you can subscribe here. I’ve recorded almost half a year’s worth of episodes and have been airing them a week at a time. That intensive period of recording is mainly to blame for the relative silence here as of late. But things will pick up again soon. I want to do more videos, as they seem to draw more traffic.

I’ve got two new books out. They’re novelettes, technically, but a good bit of fun, at least I think so.

The first of these is Long Night at Jade’s Diner.

It’s available wherever e-books are sold.
Click here to see the list of stores.

Here’s the back cover description: The patrons and employees of a 24-hour diner face the wrath of an unnamed woman with a gun in this story of pain and the human beings behind the statistics.

Long Night at Jade’s Diner came from multiple places. First, I’ve wanted to address mass shootings in my work for a while, but it wasn’t until I came upon this idea that I found what I thought was the best approach. Second, I read After Dark by Haruki Murakami, and really loved the faux screenplay style of the prose. I loved it so much, I wanted to try it for myself. Lastly, the story is another example of what seems to be a running theme in my work: women in trouble who have to rely on themselves or each other.

I think Long Night at Jade’s Diner contains some of my strongest writing. That’s not entirely thanks to me. I owe great debts to Dr. John Blair, Rae Glassford, and Shelby Guthrie. The former is an author and professor at Texas State. The latter two are great up-and-comers themselves.

The other story is Cruel Summer.

Cruel Summer is currently on Amazon, Apple, Barnes and Noble, and Scribd. More stores are to follow. You can choose your store here.

Here’s the back cover description: A compulsive voyeur named Willow films a couple making love on an empty beach. When the masked killer comes for the couple, she keeps the camera rolling, but before she can escape, the killer sees her. When Willow stumbles into the yard of Sarah, an exhibitionist swimming in the nude, the killer isn’t far behind. Now, the women must fight for survival against a desperate, powerful and dangerous man. A man who’ll soon find out he’s in for more than he bargained for.

As you may be able to tell, Cruel Summer is a bit more playful than Long Night. It’s also very sexual. My starting point was imagining what sort of work would result if James Patterson had hired Richard Laymon to write a piece with him. I kind of just ran with it from there.

You hear a lot about beach reads. Cruel Summer is a beach read for horror fans.

These two pieces represent the poles of my work. The two types of stories I enjoy telling. Long Night is experimental, ambiguous, and emotionally driven. Cruel Summer is pulpy and fun. A lot of times, I end up weaving these approaches together. With these two works, I separated them. Watched them try to stand on their own.

I’ll let you decide whether or not I was successful.

As always, love ya, Mangumaniacs. Thanks for reading.