For these Ypsi horror authors, Halloween is "24/7"

We talked with three Ypsilanti-based horror authors about what draws them to the horror genre and why they love living in Ypsilanti.
If you enjoy a good horror read in October, you might find that one of those bone-chilling books you've purchased or checked out from the library features the work of an Ypsilanti author. We talked with three such authors about what draws them to the horror genre and why they love living in Ypsilanti.

Killed by Ken

Horror author Ken MacGregor says he's always loved horror and remembers being scared by a horror movie at a young age, which prompted him to seek out horror legends like Stephen King and Clive Barker.

"I was really into dark, disturbing, icky things," he says. "I think part of it is that it's a nice, safe way to get that fight-flight response going. I've always been an adrenaline junkie, and it's a good way to do it without getting hurt."
Ken MacGregor at the Holy Bones Festival at the Ypsilanti Performance Space.
MacGregor acted in TV and radio commercials, wrote and performed sketch comedy, and finally helped create short films with a small media company in Ann Arbor before finding his niche with horror short stories. He submitted a horror screenplay to the local media company that became a short film called "The Quirk and the Dead."

Energized by the experience, MacGregor kept sending more and more scripts, and the founder of the media company said he didn't have time or budget to film all the screenplays. Instead, he advised, MacGregor should turn them into short stories.

MacGregor did so, and also got in touch with the Great Lakes Association of Horror Writers

"I started doing better and better, learning more about my craft, and I've ended up selling about 115 short stories so far," he says. 

Some of his stories were collected in anthologies with other authors, but there are also two collections just of MacGregor's stories: "An Aberrant Mind" and "Sex, Gore, & Millipedes."

"I was at a party, and another author was complaining about horror writers today, how they seemed to have overlooked plot and characterization, and now it was all just sex, gore, and millipedes," MacGregor says. "I jokingly said that would be the title of my next story collection, but I decided, damn, that was a good name. I also named a character in the first story after her."

MacGregor also is proud of two horror story collections he edited. The first was called "Burnt Fur," on the theme of furry and anthropomorphic animals. The second, self-funded anthology is called "Stitched Lips: An Anthology of Horror from Silenced Voices," with cover art by another Ypsi local: Holly Schoenfield, artist and proprietor of the downtown gift shop Stardust Ypsi.

"The premise was that I was creating a platform for people who are traditionally under-represented, including LGBTQ, women, and POC," he says. 

Part of the proceeds from that volume are paying off the debt he accrued funding the publication, and the rest will be donated to the Southern Poverty Law Center. He has already sent the organization a series of small checks totalling more than $300.

MacGregor says he loves Ypsilanti, its thriving arts community, and it's "urban, gritty, cool" feel. Taking part in the local arts and culture scene, MacGregor set up shop outside Stardust during a First Fridays event in Ypsilanti over the summer. He talked with Schoenfield about how to draw people in and get them excited.

"I came up with the idea of making it interactive. I'd offer to write people into a story and kill them for a fee," he says of his "Killed by Ken" project. He'd give interested customers a questionnaire asking about their favorite color, occupation, or things they are repulsed by, and work those details into the story. He has since written about a dozen "Killed by Ken" stories, and recipients were all "thrilled with the results." MacGregor would like to create several more and collect them into one volume.

"It was such a hoot," he says. "It pushed me to work within the guidelines they gave me, but still craft an original story."

MacGregor currently writes as a side gig while working for the Ypsilanti District Library driving the bookmobile. He says he hopes to write full-time someday.

More about MacGregor and his short stories are available on his GoodReads page.

"Our house is Halloween 24/7"

In Ypsi's Normal Park neighborhood live a married couple who are both authors: Greg Pizzino (writing under the pseudonym Thomas Gregory) and Crysta Coburn. Although they write in a variety of genres, horror is close to both their hearts.

"My wife and I are both into Halloween," Pizzino says. "Our house is Halloween 24/7. We embrace the kitschy side of it."
Greg Pizzino and Crysta Coburn in their Ypsilanti home.
Pizzino studied film and theater, and first began writing for the theater before having several stories published in anthologies. The most recent was called "Fairy Tales Punk'd," a collection that melds horror, steampunk, and fairytales, and also includes a story by Coburn. Pizzino says that collection has his most horror-oriented recent writing, describing his piece as a "post-apocalyptic diesel-punk story." 

He is also hoping to have what he calls an "LGBTQ-oriented horror musical" produced one day by Ypsilanti's Neighborhood Theater Group.

"My first musical was just about to start production when COVID hit. It's called 'Benestopheles and the Last Days of Ghoulita Graves,'" he says. "It's a spin on 'Faust' that takes place on the set of a late-night horror show."

Coburn primarily writes in the steampunk genre, with a little overlap into horror. She has primarily been published in anthologies, although she's also had a couple stories printed in magazines as well.

"I've always been a storyteller," she says. "There's evidence of me trying to write stories and poems before I knew how to spell. It's all phonetic."

She wrote a story about a unicorn for a competition, earning a runner-up award, and was published in the local paper.

"One of my teachers at school cut it out of the newspaper and laminated it for me. It's now framed, and I hang it in the office wherever I live," Coburn says.

Coburn notes that there's a big overlap between the goth style and steampunk, and it was through goth clubs that she discovered the steampunk subgenre. 

"There's this joke that steampunk is when goths discover brown," she says. 

She says she's been writing what she calls "my monster stories" for many years as well, though none of those are published yet. 

Coburn is proud of a steampunk collection she put together called "Queen of Clocks," but says it was a lot of work. So when author Phoebe Darqueling said Coburn should put out another anthology, Coburn encouraged Darqueling to create her own collection, which became "Fairytales Punk'd."

Coburn's other horror-related interest is co-hosting a podcast called "Haunted Mitten," highlighting ghost stories from around Michigan. She and her co-host are currently working on an Ypsi-related segment that will focus on the Starkweather family, and the possible haunting of both the Ypsilanti Ladies Library and Starkweather Hall on Eastern Michigan University's campus.

The "nicest people"

All three authors mention networking with other writers as a key piece of their success.

"It's nice to be in a genre, both steampunk and horror, where there's a pretty tight-knit community," Coburn says.

MacGregor says horror authors are typically not the ghouls many would expect based on their writing.

"Horror writers have a reputation, and people wonder what's wrong with us," MacGregor says. "But almost all the horror authors I've met are the sweetest, nicest people. I think we get all that junk, that angst, pain, anger, and gut-wrenching fear, out of ourselves onto the page. And generally, we're much more laid-back people."

Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township and the project manager of On the Ground Ypsilanti. She joined Concentrate as a news writer in early 2017 and is an occasional contributor to other Issue Media Group publications. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.

All photos by Doug Coombe.
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