By Jeffery L Carey, Jr.
As a kid Paul Counelis was obsessed with the book Christine by Stephen King. He liked the atmosphere, the characters, and how much he could relate to King’s obsession.
“It made me want to be a writer,” he said.
Years later, Counelis, now a father of nine, started writing horror fiction because of a scary bedtime story he told his kids about a girl named Kendall Kingsley. His kids liked it. “They urged me to put it in a book, and now Kendall is in three books,” he said.
He may have inherited the “scary” gene. He says his own parents were influential in his affection for horror. He recalls watching Universal films with his dad and said his mother used to get a kick out of scaring people.
“She was good at it, so I know that played a big part for me,” Counelis added.
Like Counelis, fiction writer Chris Ringler of Flint credits family influences for his love of horror. When he was only six years old, he recalls, his cousin took him and his sister to the drive-in to watch the movie Friday the 13th. It was the start of something.
Originally from Linden, Ringler said, “I started writing as a teen and was always drawn to darker stories. I don’t know that I write horror or dark fiction, but what I write lives in those borderlands because that is where I find I have the most to say.”
And now Counelis and Ringler have become leading lights of a robust local “horror” scene. Since 2011 the Flint Horror Collective’s “Ghoul Crew” have been behind an array of events lovingly devoted to the macabre. One of the biggest is the Flint Fright FilmFest, which since it started in 2011 has grown an international following, with films coming in from around the world like The Lightdancer directed by Andra Fembriarto of Indonesia and In the Park, directed by Darlene Joanna Young of the Philippines.
“Many of us have actually been together working on the ‘Con'” — the Flint Horror Convention — “and events since the first year, 2011,” Counelis said. “Our day jobs are boring, though it is kind of funny and notable that we have among our group a social worker and a librarian.”
The “crew” are comprised of Flintstones Counelis, Ringler, Glen Birdsall, Lucifer David Fulci, Jennifer Roe, Krystle Holleman, Mandie Ringler — Chris’s wife — and Amy Warner.
“I am from Flint,” stated Counelis, as he described attending nine different schools in Flint, Swartz Creek and Clio as he was growing up. His wife, Crystal, also is from Flint and a big fan of the films Nightmare on Elm Street and Halloween.
“Our wives are cool with the horror stuff,” he said.
While they have their own individual projects, Counelis, Ringler, and the rest of the Ghoul Crew still collaborate with one another. “One of my favorite things that we do as a group,” Counelis said, “is our podcast, The GhoulCast. We get several of us together and yap about a variety of horror-related topics.”
The crew also is hosting a “dark art” show called Artes Della Mort this Friday, July 13–naturally, Friday the Thirteenth. The event will run from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Mainsail Collective 432 N. Saginaw St.
Longer term, Counelis and Ringler also are in the midst of planning for the upcoming Flint Fright FilmFest, to be held Oct. 27 at Mott Community College. The one-day film festival, started in 2011, is a showcase for short, indie horror and sci-fi films. Ghoul Crew members said they had a great first year and have been building on that success. The film submission fee is two dollars and submissions could win any of five awards:
- Grand Ghoul Award – Best overall film. $100
- Bradbury Award – Best Writing. $75
- Chaney Award – Best Special Makeup Effects $75
- Jon Cockerill Memorial Award – Best Student Film (must be a Flint/Genesee County student). $50
- Charles Shaver Memorial Award – Best Michigan-made Film (must be a Michigan-based filmmaker). $50
There will be a five dollar charge to get in, but Mott students can get in free. “We’re just over 120 entries now,” Ringler said, “so we’ll probably get around 200.” The Flint Horror Collective will take submissions of short films through Aug. 31. Films are generally about 10 minutes long.
Outside of the Flint Fright FilmFest, the Ghoul Crew host an annual April Ghoul’s Day horror fiction authors’ event and the Ghoulcast podcast–a fun critique of horror past and present. “This past event was our second April Ghoul’s Day,” Counelis said, “and was held on April 7 at the Flint Farmers’ Market.”
He also said they decided on the April Ghoul’s Day event because they always like to do a few different fun events during the year.
“We know a lot of great area horror authors that we feel deserve some kind of spotlight,” Counelis said. “It also made a lot of sense for us, because several of us in the Flint Horror Collective are also writers.”
The authors’ event hosted 18 authors, musician Mike Roland from the band Mercy Beach, and the EFX/makeup group Kreatures of the Night. With the Flint Farmers’ Market booked for the third annual event, the Ghoul Crew are planning a couple of surprises along with the authors in the years to come.
Both Counelis and Ringler continue their own prolific writing. To date, Counelis has written or co-written over 35 books, all available on Lulu.com or Amazon.com. He also keeps a blog called Halloween Machine, which is the name of a seasonal book-style magazine that he co-writes, edits, and publishes.
From among all his works he says, “I have two favorites. One is called Marshall’s Gully–it’s a nonfiction account of a very strange experience that some friends and I had when we were teens.
“It’s very personal to me,” he says, “because one of the boys passed away tragically, and it’s about a paranormal experience on the surface, but the underlying theme is really the enduring friendship of these five kids who met as strangers and had an instant kinship.” The second of his favorites is called Something We Could Never Be.
Currently, Counelis is working on a novel called Evil World Outside. He also writes a monthly column for Flint Comix and Entertainment, as well as features and the “Monster Kid Corner” column for Rue Morgue magazine, pens the articles for the Fear Finder newspaper available around Flint during the Halloween season, and is the singer in the band Lords of October.
Ringler is the author of 14 books and has been published in five other collaborative works and one magazine.
“I don’t really have a favorite,” Ringler said of his work. “I love them all in different ways and for different reasons.” He marveled that two of his longest novels came to be, saying he never expected that he would write them. His books can be found on the website spookychris.com where he also keeps a blog.
Asked if there was anything about Flint that specifically nurtures “horror,” Counelis responded, “The downfall and subsequent ‘true life horrors’ of Flint are not a conscious influence like some might think. I just feel drawn to the magical nature of horror and Halloween.”
EVM staff writer Jeffery L Carey Jr. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.