As bookstores across the country close their doors, horror fans, authors and more seek ways to continue to indulge their dark needs. In the midst of losing easily accessible literature, independent bookstores are opening their doors even wider to welcome us in.
Eljays Used Bookstore in Dormont, Pennsylvania paired up with the modern horror convention known as Horror Realm to bring forth the Horror Realm Author Series. While small bookstores surprise their customers with such exciting events, featuring author readings and signings, the rest of the country can learn from this experience and allow the wave of darkness to continue to traipse across the country.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Sandy Stuhlfire, co-founder of Horror Realm and Chris Rickert from Eljays Used Books. Read on to find out just how these ladies will continue to keep the horror realm alive…
RavMon: First, I would like a little background information on each of you, sort of a mini bio. I’m particularly interested in how each of you became involved to create the Horror Realm Author Series held at Eljays Used Books in Dormont. What has led you up to this point, to your interest in the horror genre, as well as the literature that supports it?
Sandy: I actually have a “non-typical” horror fan job. I work for a non-profit organization as the director of finance. My co-workers get a kick out of my love for horror. Pittsburgh born and raised, I have been at the same job for about 25-26 years with accounting as my background.
Chris: Bookselling is my background. I ended up at Horrror Realm one year with no horror background. Actually, I grew up terrified of horror novels and films as a young person. My parents kind of convinced me that horror was scary. Later on, I read a couple horror books at a chain bookstore I used to work for, where I spent about five years. At Eljays, right now I work as a volunteer-based consultant and tend to refer to myself as “the book monkey.” I also make horror dolls, typically bunnies which are scary stuffed dolls. As I began making them, people kept suggesting different types of stuffed zombified bunnies until I started making even more mangled bunnies, Frankenstein, vampires and more (www.perfectfishdesigns.com). Oh, and I am from Albany, NY.
RavMon: What exactly is “Horror Realm,” defined by you to an audience which might not completely understand the idea behind it?
Sandy: Horror Realm is a horror convention located in Pittsburgh, PA that draws in a lot of people from out of the area. We see people from Ohio, West Virginia, from Maryland, all of those within driving distance. Once, we even had someone come in from England just to see Debbie Rochon, who was a celebrity guest at one of our conventions. At Horror Realm, we host celebrity guests, horror authors such as Jack Ketchum, along with other horror-zombie themed events such as Barnibus Bailey, which is an international based horror show that features independent films. At the conventions, there are plenty of other activities such as local vendors and Zombie Gras. The conventions are held in March and September each year, with other events sprinkled throughtout the year. For example, in February, we celebrate Women in Horrror month. Most of the things we do also have a tie-in to charity events and we work with other organizations such as Scares that Care. The title “Horror Realm” is what we use for the conventions as well as our business name.
RavMon: Sandy, how exactly did you become involved in “Horror Realm?”
Sandy: I was a fan of another horror host show in the area and from there we started organizing local meet-ups with other fans in the area. We started putting together different events, such as zombie walks in the area and the convention inevitably evolved from that. Horror Realm actually began with three people; Sandy Stuhlfire, Rich Dalzotto and Michelle Linhart. New additons to Horror Realm are Dr. Pus and Mike West. Horror Realm, under its official name started in 2009, but from the very beginning where we put together events, it is something we have been doing for about five years now.
RavMon: Chris, how did you become involved with Eljays Used Books?
Chris: I have been spending tons of money at Eljays ever since it opened. Since I have a background working in bookselling, in March, I saw that Eljays needed volunteers and I came in and never left. I have learned promotions in almost every job I have had, such as retail jobs for the past ten years. In addition to that, I’ve spent a lot of time helping friends out with promotions. I also did technical writing for 8 or 9 years, and in my spare time I like to do creative writing, which is a blend of my love for reading. At this point, I don’t exactly share those writings.
RavMon: What led to the association with Eljays Used Books and “Horror Realm” in creating the Horror Realm Author Series?
Sandy: We first met when Chris worked at her former bookstore job with a chain company, at a past bookstore signing with Rhiannon Frater. Chris was always so knowledgeable about bookselling and promotions. We found out thereafter that we work very good together. Chris has a lot of enthusiasm.
Chris: And Sandy is so great to work with as well! Sandy and Rich are such great people to work with. And yes, the Rhiannon Frater event was great. It was such a good event that brought a nice boom. The turnout was pretty good and it was so nice to see that there are so many people who just came out to see the author. There were so many new fans that came into the audience that night.
RavMon: How do you ladies feel about the Horror Realm Author Series and its importance to literature and horror? What kind of local impact has it had?
Chris: For customers to come in who were not affiliated with Horror Realm and to see that an independent bookstore was still doing events after so many chain stores have closed, it gave confidence to the customers that these events were still occurring. The audience was given the opportunity to interact with and listen to authors reading their own works. Again, it was such a great experience. I believe it “ups” the general atmosphere of bookselling in Pittsburgh.
Sandy: I was happy to see that some of the authors who became involved were new to this and had not done any sort of signing or had their books in a store so it was a nice opening for them. This has been such a good opportunity for local authors to get their name and their work out.
RavMon: Do you believe the Horror Realm Author Series has had any impact that goes beyond the local scene or would you say it is more localized?
Chris: Well, we had Lawrence C. Connelly come in, we advertise nationally, and have Facebook sites as well as a newsletter that can be subscribed to, so pretty much we reach out all over the country and the word gets out via newsletter notifications.
Sandy: Yes, it has brought people in from out of town, including some of the Horror Realm followers who come in from West Virginia and Ohio.
RavMon: In the future, what kinds of horror events would you like to see at Eljays and beyond?
Chris: Anything! I would really like to see as many authors affiliated with Horror Realm as possible.
Sandy: I would like to see book club or book discussion possibilties. Since we did the author series, I see some of the authors on Facebook and they seem to be doing more signings. I believe this event series has inspired people to do more.
RavMon: Do you believe that events such as the Horror Realm Author Series should be in continuance and branch out over other cities and states? Why or why not?
Chris: Yeah! I have found that people like the idea of signings but don’t necessarily know how to do it. They kind of come up and ask what exactly they’re supposed to do. The author series has made that easier for people to walk up and be scheduled.
RavMon: I’d like to know a bit more about Eljays Used Bookstore. How long have they been in business?
Chris: Eljays has been in business for 15 years. It was located on the Southside (Pittsburgh) for the majority of that time but moved to Dormont in March. The shop owners are Frank Oreto and Louise Richardson. The reason we started doing the events here was because at the old space, it wasn’t laid out as well. When Eljays moved to Dormont, I noticed some open space in the front of the store and suggested they do author signings.
RavMon: What is unique about Eljays Bookstore in regards to keeping the horror genre booming? What makes it stand out in a time where many bookstores are closing their doors?
Chris: I’d say it’s their focus on genre fiction such as horror, sci-fi and mystery. Plus, their historical and cooking sections are huge. Eljays tends to focus on “weird” more so than “rare”, though. We also don’t take a lot of mainstream, we’re more offbeat fiction. The three of us who run the store tend to focus a lot on what we are most excited about and we love horror, sci fi, fantasy, etc. Also, owner Frank Oreto writes horror and is published.
Sandy: And their chalk outlines make them unique!
(Eljays has a chalk outline of a body on their floor for the mystery section.
Go ahead and lay in it!)
RavMon: In regards to Horror Realm, what other types of events do they sponsor or support, such as multi-media shows, filmmaking, conventions, etc. which would be interesting to horror enthusiasts everywhere?
Sandy: We do book signings, movie events, co-producing of Barnabus Bailey, really working on getting the word out for it (www.barnabusbailey.com)
RavMon: I must know, why are you ladies in love with the horror genre? Give me that visual moment where maybe you were reading a book or watching a horror movie and something just clicked that made you say, “Ah, I don’t just like this, I love this…the horror genre is something I will support and enjoy forever.”
Sandy: I grew up with Chiller Theater and Chilly Billy, which I’ve watched with my dad since I was about 5 or 6. It was a great bonding experience and a family thing, which has been ingrained in me for more than 40 years. One of the very first shows I watched was the early Dark Shadows with my aunt.
Chris: Well, I’ve always read dark fantasy so scary is not exactly new to me, but once I started reading horror, only about 6-8 years ago at the chain bookstore, I loved reading it, especially with Stephen King standards where the setting is your typical scenario in New England until everything slowly crumbles. The first horror book I read was Carrie, then It and then The Stand– all within a two week period. It’s not the horror, but the watching of the internal pressure that causes the characters to crack. Afterwards, I read Joe Hill’s, Heart Shaped Box.
RavMon: How can other horror enthusiasts get ahold of you to find out more about Eljays and/or Horror Realm so that we may spread the joy to horror lovers everywhere?
Chris: My email address is [email protected]. I’m open to booking events at that address or answering general bookstore questions. Eljays Used Books page can be found on Facebook. There is also the option of Twitter, which is: @Eljaysbooks and the website at www.eljaysusedbooks.com.
RavMon: In closing, is there anything you would like to add to this interview? Any closing remarks or stories you want to leave us with in regards to the past or future of the Horror Realm Author Series?
Chris: We’ve found that people always want to know more about any events we have coming up and I love that they like to be so involved. “It’s a real community.” I also feel that horror is the most accessible genre to fans; more than any other genre. I like what we do here. It is more of an enthusiasm for the art than everybody trying to make money for themselves or get a leg up.
Sandy: We are a group of horror fans who put on a show for other horror fans. It is not our actual job, it’s just what we do and it helps to bring the horror community together. It’s very collaborative, not competitive. We like to help promote other people and help out our local, independent artists, authors and filmmakers.
These are two ladies who certainly know what they are doing and who are passionate about the arts and the people who create them.
Here is a list of just some of the authors who have exhibited their books for readings and signings:
Tim Gross (and Ed Quillin)- Gross Movie Reviews
Christine M. Soltis- Final Moon
Jon Towers- The Order of the Shining Hexagon
Rich Bottles Jr., Lumberjacked
Gary Vincent- Passageway
Mike Watt- Phobophobia
Kimberly Bennett- A Degree of Wickedness
Brian Koscienski & Chris Pisano- Bad Ass Faeries
Seth Fronzoli and Shawn Atkins- Explorers Of the Unknown
Lawrence C. Connolly-Visions, Voices, This Way To Egress and Veins Cycle
Steve Segal- Geek Wisdom
And don’t forget that Eljays will be accepting authors for signings in the future.
In closing, we can only hope that independent bookstores will continue to lead the way by allowing signings and events to flourish all across the country. We can continue to band together to keep steady the proliferation of the horror genre, branching out all across the world.