Horror, Hearses & Bears...oh my! Getting to Know Author, David Allen Voyles
Updated: Feb 1
Who is David Allen Voyles? Tell us a bit about yourself.
I am a retired high school English teacher with a lifetime love of Halloween and all things spooky. I often wrote stories and poems with my students, but never tried to publish anything until after retiring. (If anyone reading this has ever taught in public school, they'll understand why.) My wife and I have a long tradition of throwing "over-the-top" Halloween parties, and by "over-the-top" I mean extreme decorations with as much immersion and guest participation as possible. My son is incredibly talented and creative, and with his technical skills it's now the norm to have mind-blowing animated figures and scenes that accompany stories I write for the occasion.
Your Halloween parties sound amazing! I'd love to attend one someday. On that note, rumor has it that you drive an interesting car.
Oh, yes. Lenore. Our family's fascination with Halloween is responsible for us owning a 1972 Cadillac hearse. I named her Lenore after the character for whom Poe's sorrowful narrator mourns in "The Raven." About five years ago the theme of that Halloween party—yes, our parties have a different theme each year—was "ghost tour." We had scenes everywhere, inside and outside, and even took our guests on a walk on a haunted trail through the woods on a neighboring friend's property. That year, hosting in my usual role as Mr. Dark (one of my all-time favorite characters from one of my all-time favorite books, Something Wicked This Way Comes) I told scary stories about the scenes as I escorted them about the Hellton Hotel. (Even our home assumes a new name to accompany its Halloween persona.) Our guests really seemed to like it.
The next night as my son and I discussed the success of that party while grilling hamburgers, I said, "You know, regardless of how old people get, they love to hear ghost stories. But what would be REALLY great, is if you could actually take people to real, haunted sites and tell them stories…in a hearse!" We all laughed about the concept, but my son and I kept talking about the possibility while my wife caught snippets of the conversation as she came in and out of the house. When my son and I were still discussing the idea hours later, my wife said, "OK, now you guys are scaring me. You sound like you really want to do this."
Six months later we had bought the hearse, had it re-modeled so six people could ride in the back, and the next October we gave our first ghost tour as Dark Ride Tours. We had a good three-year-run with so many wonderful experiences that will last us a lifetime, but eventually we got to the point where a decision had to be made. We either had to expand the business or let it go, and since we weren't willing take out another big loan, we dissolved Dark Ride Tours. (Photos of the hearse and our guests are visible on the Dark Ride Tours Facebook page. I haven't the heart yet to take it down.) We still have the hearse, and just recently I began making short videos in which I tell some of the stories I used to tell on the tours while sitting in the hearse in a series called "Tales from the Hearse." You can find those stories on YouTube.
I'm sorry to hear you had to let Dark Ride Tours go. That sounds like so much fun.
You recently released The Thirteenth Day of Christmas. Tell us a bit about the book.
Our ghost tours were offered year-round, so we decided that we needed to make a special tour for the winter holidays. I wrote two or three Christmas ghost stories especially for those tours, and once we had ended the business I thought it might be a good idea to write a few more and put them into a collection of Christmas-themed horror stories. I should warn readers, though, that some of the stories are much darker than the tales I told on the tours. The novella at the end of the collection whose title is used for the entire collection is a good example of this dark content.
What made you decide to release this book with Gestalt Media?
I was so happy when I met Jason and Anna Stokes through a mutual friend who had invited me to join a writing group here in Asheville. Jason was just in the process of releasing the Dark Tides anthology, which includes stories by Stephen King and Neil Gaiman, so I was naturally impressed. After a couple of months of going the indie author route on my own and having little success getting visible even in the horror genre much less the whole literary scene, I was thrilled when Jason accepted me as a client. It is such a relief to have someone working with you who really understands and cares about independent authors.
What draws you towards writing horror?
That is a question that I am still trying to find the answer to. I've always loved it even though I'm really kind of a scaredy-cat when it comes to actually going to see a horror movie in the theaters or going to a haunted attraction. But I'm really picky about what kind of horror I like. To be honest, most horror novels and movies are terrible. Writers all too often just go for what Stephen King accurately calls "the gross-out." I'm not opposed to some gore or content that makes the reader or viewer squirm, but the real satisfaction comes from horror that makes you think and feel. One of the best examples of good cinematic horror for me ironically comes from television, not the big screen, and that is the first season of The Haunting of Hill House on Netflix. It's not the original Shirley Jackson story, although I like her, too, but the show is terrifyingly wonderful. Those are the kind of chills I want to give my readers.
I agree. I loved The Haunting of Hill House. It was just the right level of creepy for me.
Have you ever had a real life paranormal experience?
The honest answer is, I'm not sure.
I've always been a skeptic, but through Dark Ride Tours I met a woman who claimed to be spirit sensitive. So sensitive that she had trouble being out in public because she said she was like a lightning rod for spirits, and being an empath made her overwhelmingly susceptible to everyone's emotions and angst. (I imagine some of your characters, Dawn, might relate.) We discussed the possibility of offering special tours for folks who wanted a genuine ghostly experience with someone who was able to sense spirits, and thus investigated several sites in the Asheville area together. I recorded excerpts from those investigations and posted them on YouTube where you can still view them. She appeared to make contact with the spirit of an African-American man who was buried in an unmarked grave in historic Riverside Cemetery (we verified his existence and gravesite with the manager of the cemetery later), with the spirit of an artist who painted the backdrops for the theater in the Masonic Temple (she said he was distressed about the absence of many more backdrops, and then we learned that indeed many backdrops were lost), and with the spirit of a young boy in a local school (stories seeming to confirm his existence we later heard from a teacher and an assistant principal who had worked there years before).
Those experiences were remarkable, but still, looking from a totally objective perspective, all of the information she gathered could have been obtained through research ahead of time if she were dishonest and had wanted to do so. I actually believe she is an honest person and did not do this, but I still needed something else—some way of getting verifiable information that no one could obtain beforehand, before I could say I believed.
I can't tell the whole story of what happened since it involves information that is sensitive to the people involved, but basically, I set up a meeting between her and a friend of mine whom she did not know, who had been troubled about the death of a loved one. The information she learned from that encounter was absolutely astonishing. She confirmed my friend's suspicion that his father had been murdered (nothing hinting at this was ever published as the death was ruled the result of an accidental fall) and she described details surrounding his father's death that no one could know. And then she sat down beside my friend, gripped his arm in an odd manner—a series of squeezing his forearm several times—and said, "I don't know why, but your father wanted me to do that." My friend said, "That's exactly what my dad used to do to all of us kids." That one I can't explain. Still gives me chills just remembering that.
Wow! That is fascinating and sounds like you definitely had a few experiences with the paranormal. So, tell us: what scares you?
I can get freaked out just sitting in my own house when I'm alone and it's dark and quiet. Or taking a moonlit walk on the "haunted trail" that I mentioned before. I love to do that.
What is your favorite genre to read? Who is your favorite author?
Horror, without a doubt. I love Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, and Ray Bradbury. They are all excellent storytellers, which is precisely what I strive to be. A storyteller. I must also mention newer (to me) writers like Paul Tremblay. The Cabin at the End of the World and A Head Full of Ghosts are must-reads for any horror fan.
Tell us about your special friend, Eileen.
Eileen is a beautiful, three-legged black bear whom my family has come to love so much it hurts. We live in the mountains of North Carolina where black bears are becoming more visible as more and more land becomes developed for human habitation. We first saw Eileen (yes, pun intended) when she and another female sibling appeared, first with their mother and a third cub. All the bears seemed fine, but the next day, one cub appeared by itself, crying pitifully as it worked its way across our property. If you ever should hear a cub cry as often happens when a mother bear leaves a cub in a tree while she forages, you'll have heard one of the saddest sounds on earth. That's what we heard; this little cub was crying for its mama. The next day we saw two cubs, one of which was limping and dragging its useless front paw. We never saw the third cub or the mother bear again, but the two female cubs stayed together for a whole year, frequently "visiting" us as they searched for food in the wooded area that surrounds us. Eileen eventually lost the useless paw, bravely hopping along in what became a familiar gait for us to witness. I should point out that she is quite capable of running and even chasing other bears up a tree as she successfully claims her turf.
Eventually Peanut, Eileen's sister, went on to claim other territory, but Eileen comes back after every winter. Two years ago she had two adorable cubs whom we named Linus and Lucy. Trying to keep our Halloween scenes unharmed was a real challenge as cubs are like puppies--they will play with anything, including each other. I have hours of video of those two wrestling on the grass in front of our house. Cubs leave their mothers during their second year, so Linus and Lucy are gone now, but we believe Eileen is very likely to have cubs again this spring as we did witness some courtship this past June and July. Guess we'll have to have more inside scenes than outside ones this coming Halloween!
Eileen has won my heart and I've never even met her! Thank you so much for talking with me and helping us get to know you a bit better. Where can readers find more about you?
I have an official author website at www.DavidAllenVoyles.com. Readers can also interact with me on my author Facebook page (David Allen Voyles), on Twitter (@davidavoyles), and on Instagram (davidallenvoyles).
You can take a virtual hearse ride with me and view episodes of "Tales from the Hearse" on YouTube, and listen to the stories I wrote for this past year's Halloween party at darkcorners.podbean.com
Here are the links to two of the ghost investigations I mentioned earlier:
At Riverside Cemetery: https://youtu.be/8RI2Kpbk_9A
At the Asheville Masonic Temple: https://youtu.be/xkEUAFucfNo