New Voices in Horror with Cameron Ulam

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Joe Sullivan: When did you begin writing horror and what compelled you to send out your first submission in the genre? 

Cameron Ulam: The first horror piece I ever wrote as an adult was also my first audio publication, which I cranked out in 2018. I wrote in middle school and sporadically (and a little bit secretly) through high school, but I found that my poor little creative brain became too overwhelmed to dabble in the arts while I was finishing up graduate school. I found writing again in 2018, when I was in a better space in life and more confident in myself as human. Writing for me has always been about confidence. I never shared my writing with anyone until adulthood. In middle school I was in on a competitive “Power of the Pen” writing team, which forced me to share my work with others, and I remember that being a time of growth for me. I wrote some short horror stories back then, and I read it feverishly, but I always kept my writing very private. Somehow, I lost my confidence for the creative for a few years. Then, all at once, I picked it back up…writing, painting, etc. It was all timing. I’ve never understood the concept of the starving artist…if I’m not in a calm, positive space, my writing and my art suffers. Horror has always been what I’ve wanted to write. It’s the genre I consumed and the genre I always hoped to one day contribute to. I just finally found the guts. And the proper headspace. That’s what compelled me.

You had your first publications in audio horror, I believe “Raking Fingers” for Creepy Podcast in 2019 was one of the first times anyone would’ve heard your name as a writer in the genre. Were you first attracted to audio horror, and specifically creepypasta? Or was it just one of the avenues you were exploring, and the popular audio format just happened to hit first?  

Audio horror is still something I indulge in almost daily as a listener. I adore the Creepy and NoSleep podcasts. My first job out of college had an hour-long commute, so horror fiction podcasts were just another way to absorb my daily dose of the creeps. It was never really about the “creepypasta” culture to me. I have tried to become a reddit person over the years, but just can’t get there. I am still very old-fashioned in that, if I can afford to buy a physical book, I will buy it. I own a kindle, but only use it as a last resort. I like to hold writing in my hands…it’s the whole tangible experience I need. I wreck my books and will dog-ear and leave them on a rainy porch before picking them back up to dive in. If you ever borrow a book from me, expect a little duct-tape on the cover. I think that’s ok, though I know some would chastise me for it. Personally, if I ever saw my novel tattered on someone’s coffee table, I would see the wear and tear as a sign of love. I’m obsessed with overall book presentation as a whole…cover art is important to me, and I would be lying if I said I hadn’t bought a book in the past based purely on visual intrigue. Shallow, I know. In short, I love audio horror, but print novels are where it’s at for me.     

I first heard your name attached to the Silver Shamrock anthology Midnight in the Pentagram, which already had a lineup of killers, so I did what editors often do, and searched my unread slush for your name and found your submission “Propagate”. What wasn’t surprising, was an editor from Eerie River Publishing had already scooped up your story “Propagate”—which goes to show, the endorsement of Ken Cain and Ken McKinley means a whole lot in our little community—at least it does for me. What was it like getting your first few writing credits? Did it embolden you to brand yourself as a horror writer?

Ah! I remember that email from you…I felt terrible I couldn’t contribute “Propagate.” But I was glad to still work my way into Places We Fear to Tread… I appreciate you motivating me to write another story for that collection. I think you and Ken McKinley from Silver Shamrock have both emboldened some drive in me…some confidence in something I always wanted to take a chance on but never had the gall. It feels good to put yourself out there and have established names in the community respond positively to your writing, so yes, I would say writing credits gave me the confidence to walk onward. Getting those credits was like stepping into another universe, one I didn’t know could exist for myself. It was very visceral…I believe my hands were shaking when I opened the email to my first acceptance. Silver Shamrock and Cemetery Gates were two publishers who really gave me the confidence to step forward into the writing community. And yes, I owe Kenneth Cain all the thanks in the world for his help with my contribution to Midnight in the Pentagram. I think I grew a years-worth of writing skill while engaging in the editing back-and-forth with Kenneth—so much insight! Other authors published by Silver Shamrock, Cemetery Gates, and Cemetery Dance have also reached out to compliment my work this year, so those moments have given me drive—and if I’m being completely honest—have left me a bit glassy-eyed with gratitude. The horror community has been nothing but welcoming and supportive to me in 2020—I want to do right by them and keep creating. As for branding myself as a horror author, it just felt natural. As soon as I began writing, that is what I wanted to write. If in the future I feel the desire to write outside of the genre, then I will without hesitation. So far, however, horror is the road I see on the map.

You’ve posted on social media about working on a novel manuscript. What themes are you exploring with it?

My new novel explores themes of toxic dependency and trauma, and the blackened cesspool we gather around (often in company) when we decide to give ourselves over to that trauma. The book explores the way humanity enables itself…the way our past festers, sporing like mold and spreading like plague to the people we form relationships with. The cyclical nature of trauma is horrific in that it always seems to rise up again after decades of repression—a cancer chemo never fully douses. My novel proposes that when we sacrifice pieces of ourselves to trauma, we create space for dark things to take residence. A void is always begging to be filled, and if we don’t take charge of our own lives, something evil might steal the reins. I don’t want to give too much away about the plot quite yet, but I hope as I get closer to finishing, I can start releasing some teasers on social media. I think readers are going to enjoy the journey through the swamp of my new novel…there’s a lot of darkness waiting to bubble up.

An author’s first book is usually the end of a major chapter in their nascent writing career. It identifies their brand to a wider audience, and often gives them their first set of readers that will follow them throughout their career. Ideally, what types of books do you hope to put out in the 2020s? Do you have writing plans outside of—or adjacent to—the horror genre?

When I write horror, I like to flex my world-building muscle by giving the physical setting a heartbeat. I want the space in which the book begins to breathe just as audibly as the living characters that walk through it. The setting needs to have blood running through its veins—the grass needs to scream along with the hunted protagonist. That is important in the stories I tell. It may sound childish, but I partly want my books to mirror emotions I felt when reading some of my favorite adolescent gems, such Goosebump’s The Werewolf of Fever Swamp or The Horror at Camp Jellyjam. Read those books as an adult and you will find that, as simple as the vocabulary on the page may seem to your adult repertoire, the worlds breath—they growl—they hiss. I adore this sentiment and hope to modify and inject it into my own adult horror. I want you to grin with delight while reading my stories…I want my horror to be delicious, so that you remain just as enraptured with the torture as you are simultaneously nervous to turn another page too close to bedtime. I want to make you feel like a kid again—not in a way that feels amateur—but in a way that captures that clandestine wonder that we all felt while reading horror as children. I think it’s important we never lose that—adult life is boring enough.

Cameron’s website and social media pages:

Website: https://www.cameronulam.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ulamwrites

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/ulam_writes/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/ulam_writes

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