Horror fiction has the ability to tap into the darkest corners of the human mind create genuine fear out of abstract concepts. It can inspire real terror, fuelled only by words and the reader’s own imagination.
In bringing horror stories to life, a talented narrator is crucial to giving any tale that extra edge that will keep the chills coming. G.M. Danielson is the kind of narrator who can bring a scary story to life and heighten its darkest elements.
On his YouTube channel and the podcasts he contributes to, he celebrates the best of horror writing ranging from classic stories to the work of emerging creators.
We spoke to him to find out more about his work in horror narration and what he loves about the horror genre.
Kirstie: Who is your favourite writer and why?
GM: Without a doubt, my favourite writer has to be H.P. Lovecraft. That might surprise some of my followers, since my vampiric persona suggests otherwise; my style of narrating certainly lends itself easier to Poe, Stoker, or other Gothic horror authors. I discovered Lovecraft fairly late in my horror journey, but fell in love with his writing. It’s so self-aware and flamboyant. In some ways it’s cheesier than a 4th wall break in a Seth MacFarlane cartoon, but Lovecraft owns it.
I liked that he could write like that in his stories without the slightest bit of literary shame! Then I discovered Lovecraft was an egocentric chap and it all made sense! The alliteration and exhausting run-on sentences get a bit much even for me at times, but they’re a small price to pay for the world to which he exposes you. Plus, they have a greater purpose in the fiction anyway, and the first story I ever read was Pickman’s Model.
I loved the premise of horror existing beneath the everyday (a theme I later discovered is common in his work), further still the strength of the narrative, its rawness and precision of feeling. Where Poe often gets bogged down by Gothic melodrama that invariably reduces into a kind of catabolic depression, Lovecraft’s work always feels like reverse. What starts as the simple dread of something progresses to an awareness of cosmic things that transcend mere horror to something entirely different.
I suppose Lovecraft’s cosmicism fascinates me the most. I’ve always enjoyed astronomy since childhood. While I don’t mind the typical horror fare, I must say his cosmic mythos satisfies on a deeper level. It’s so much richer than War of the Worlds, again just an evil monster story when it’s all said and done. I’m being a bit trite when I say that but I don’t know how else to express it.
Azathoth, Yog-Sothoth—they really aren’t monsters when you get down to it. We call them monsters because of our hopelessly limited understanding. The paradox is, some of what the Elder Gods do is…monstrous! That kind of stuff is so infinitely satisfying to read about.
Kirstie: How did you get into dramatic readings?
GM: Honestly, I’m not sure. Up until I started reading online, I never read aloud much as a child. Now, I pretended to be certain people as a child. I have many memories of playing Edmund from The Chronicles of Narnia, for example, but this never materialised into anything besides play. I enjoyed things like public speaking in college well enough, but again nothing really jumped out at me, I never dwelled on the fact that I could voice act convincingly.
I think the first time I knew I could read rather well was in Advanced British Literature in college. I was always that student to whom the professor defaulted to read passages aloud in class. Most students, English majors, declined to read aloud which always baffled me. One of my professors, Ms. Cooper, had us read the entire play Twelfth Night as part of our analysis, and I absolutely loved it. I even demanded that I voice for the Duke Orsino. During that, I found that I enjoyed getting into character in front of others.
Kirstie: What inspired you to start your own YouTube channel?
GM: Creepypasta sort of awakened a sleeping interest in me, I suppose. Though I was aware of horror fiction since childhood, I’d only ever read Poe and not very much of it, at that. Then, four years ago everything changed. I was researching for a WWII paper for college, the Russian counter-offensive against Nazi Germany I believe. I was watching YouTube documentaries when I saw a recommended video, The Russian Sleep Experiment. The title intrigued me, I began to listen, and discovered what creepypasta was!
After that, I binged on any horror story I could find, ran across the channels of several voice actors who are now friends. A few days later, I knew without a doubt I too wanted to narrate stories.
Kirstie: How did you get involved with the Simply Scary Podcast?
GM: Craig Groshek, the founder of Chilling Tales for Dark Nights, ran a voice acting contest on YouTube in 2016, Evil Idol I believe he called it, haha. I’d always enjoyed CTFDN’s take on horror fiction, they were one of the first channels I listened to. At the time, I wanted to increase my presence in the horror community, so I submitted an audition, got accepted, and a few months later got eliminated in round two or three, I think.
That really gutted me because I felt I had a decent enough voice to win. A day later, Craig contacted me, explained his idea for the podcast and said he was searching for a host who could start work immediately without any prep. He told me the same day that he really wanted me to host the show regardless of whether I won the contest or not.
From that moment, we began planning episodes, I sent him some samples for potential host accents/voices, and we started recording a month before the Evil Idol contest ended!
Kirstie: Where do you source stories from?
GM: Typically, we contact authors via various subreddits like NoSleep, Let’s Not Meet, etc, but we’ve also been including anthology and up-and-coming horror authors more. The fiction’s generally better, and the authors have a vested interest in their work as they are either self-published or formally published in some way, and are looking to reach a broader audience. Many of the CTFDN team including myself also write, and we try to feature their work as much as we can.
Kirstie: What drew you to the horror genre?
GM: Honestly, because it was so different from anything else I’d read. My first exposure to it was a comic book collection of Poe stories, The Tell-Tale Heart, The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaall, etc, and I was electrified by the writing. Horror fiction is uncompromising. It’s taboo, daring, gritty in a way other fictions aren’t. It explores human pain and suffering without hesitation, and the best material searches for answers.
Horror is often misunderstood and over-simplified by some people who see it as mere “blood’n guts.” To be fair, there’s quite a lot of that in the film industry, some of it good some of it bad, but within fiction, horror comprises so much more. Some of the most generous people are in the horror community, and I’m constantly impressed by the breadth of the material and the heart of the individuals.
Kirstie: What inspired you to create readings of creepypasta stories, as well as stories from published and emerging writers?
GM: From the beginning of my channel, variety of content was the motivating factor. I noticed shortly after learning about creepypasta that other narrators tended to restrict their content to it. I wanted to be different. Plus, I have always tended to be a Renaissance-man in everything I’ve done. I am bored easily by the repetitive, unimaginative, and recurring.
Kirstie: What is your favourite horror story of all time? Why?
GM: Toughest question of all for someone like myself! I am tempted to say it’s a tie, but I will be sporting and name one, haha. It has to be Pickman’s Model. True, like most Weird Tales-type fiction, it has hopeless clichés and stereotypes. At times, the story almost becomes pontifical. But these issues are paltry in contrast to the strong characters, narrative and message within the story. The hero, Thurber, is a mix of likeable and unlikable traits, and is one of Lovecraft’s rare developed characters.
Most of Lovecraft’s stories are philosophy-driven as you know. We’re at the mercy of his omniscient will to learn the lessons the Church robbed from us! But with Thurber, things do not merely happen to him, we see them through his eyes as though we are him. You don’t get that from The Call of Cthulhu. And Pickman’s narrative, it’s a masterpiece of the gradual descent from the familiar to the unknown. And the story’s message, while a tad simple, is arrived upon with such horrific grace that it becomes a welcome command: always be careful in choosing your friends!
Kirstie: What is your favourite story you’ve come across while creating you dramatic reading? Why?
GM: Haha, I managed to abide by the rules of the previous question, but this one is where I’ll cheat! Honestly, it’s a tie between The Tell-Tale Heart and Jimmy Juliano’s Why I Didn’t Shower for 21 Years. Both stories just beg to be properly dramatised, Tell-Tale because of the chance to embody the mind of perhaps the most iconic madman in horror fiction, and Why I Didn’t Shower because of the opportunity to exploit the story’s shower setting.
Especially in the latter, there’s so much going on that can be aurally enhanced: the uneasy narrator, the misunderstood old woman, the shower where the narrator is accosted, etc. The whole thing just begs for dramatic narration and sound effects, and the result never disappoints in all the versions I’ve heard.
Kirstie: Are there any writers you think horror fans should be looking out for?
GM: Too many to count! As clichéd as creepypasta can sometimes seem, there are some real stars creating unique stories, pushing horror fiction in ways traditional writing and publishing do not. Manen Lyset comes to mind, his stories are so polished and well-crafted. There’s Tobias Wade. He is well-known in the Reddit community, and has several books published, horror anthologies and the like. Will Dalphin, with whom I and the Simply Scary Podcast crew have worked, produces some of the finest content around. If creature horror is your flare, his stories will not disappoint you.
And last, I must give a shout out to my friend, Vincent Vena Cava. He is one of the most popular new horror authors out there, and has really embraced creepypasta and given it a professional touch with his book Pastel Colored Dreams and Human Flavored Nightmares.
Kirstie: What are your top tips for being an effective narrator?
GM: Chiefly important is vocal pacing and timing. In the studio, there’s so much going through your mind as you read that it’s surprisingly and embarrassingly easy to forget proper timing with your words and punctuation. Narration is much like music in that the page is our Grand Staff, the words our notes. The metronome applies as much to the spoken word as it does to the sung!
Inflection too, is important. It can be hard to do; there certainly are those days when the voice just won’t go low enough or smooth enough for some things, but it’s essential to proper voice acting. Inflection is a lost art nowadays what with the popularity of the “urban voice.” There’s a way to inflect speech that isn’t theatrical or melodramatic but pleasing, even entertaining; sometimes frightening.
Most important of all, though, is having an iron clad will. Because narration involves human emotion, the dark days make it seem impossible to voice act. Plus, everyone receives dissenting fans who do nothing but spread destructive criticism. You have to move on and narrate the way you know to be right, and success will come!
Kirstie: Do you have any advice for anyone looking to get into narration or voice acting?
GM: Never give up. It’s a clichéd answer to give first, or even at all for that matter, but it’s the truest advice I know. Much like writer’s block, things come along in a narrator’s life that discourage and some days make it impossible to want to speak. You have to push through it and narrate, even on the tough days.
Also, learn to become your own worst critic. There’s a realm even harsh criticism occupies that is not destructive but helpful, and many times the only way to continue on is to listen to the harshest criticism from yourself. When balanced against reason and discernment, I think self-criticism is the most powerful untapped tool in one’s arsenal. It’s the friend to which we turn when there are no friends, the advisor to trust our ideas with when everyone else will just ignore and thieve. Developing the inner critic is the surest step to becoming not just a good narrator but a strong person when not in front of the mic.
We’d like to say a huge thank you to G.M. Danielson for taking the time to talk to us! To keep up with his work, you can follow him on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, as well as checking out the Simply Scary Podcast website and supporting him on Patreon.