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'Something else going on' for Black Mountain horror writer Jamieson Ridenhour

Matt Peiken | BPR News

Jamieson Ridenhour remembers himself as a 10-year-old, reading the original “Dracula” novel and staying awake with his mother well past midnight to watch classic horror movies.

Nearly four decades later, Ridenhour has built a career from his early obsession.

“Good horror writing works when it’s more than just the horror, when it has some kind of psychological depth to it,” he said. “There’s a metaphor for something else going on.”

Ridenhour is a novelist, playwright and producer of audio drama who lives in Black Mountain. He’s directing the Magnetic Theatre’s production of his psychological creeper, “Grave Lullaby,” which explores past trauma and the slippery nature of memory. Performances begin Oct. 12.


“I’m a big fan of M.R. James and Shirley Jackson, and I thought it would be fun to write something like that,” Ridnehour said of his play’s roots.

“Good stories about hauntings are about haunted people, not about ghosts,” he said. “The haunting in ‘Grave Lullaby’ is a metaphor for the psychological haunting of the main character.”

Ridenhour grew up in Florence, S.C., and studied theater in college before spending a decade in Bismarck, North Dakota, where he ran a college theater department and dabbled as a rock guitarist.

By the time he moved with his family to this part of North Carolina, in 2015, he’d already published horror poetry, a horror novel and produced and debuted “Grave Lullaby” through his college theater department.

“The different forms depends on what story I’m telling and how I think it needs to be told,” he said. “Sometimes I’ll start something in one genre and realize this isn’t supposed to be a novel, it’s supposed to be something else.”

Regardless of the form, Ridenhour will create a Spotify playlist of music he believes encapsulates the moods he’s trying to evoke, serving as his soundtrack while he writes.

“I’ve learned what I’m good at. I’m good at voice, good at getting a character’s voice right and making it authentic,” he said.

The thematic thread connecting much of Ridenhour’s work is his enduring intrigue with memory.

“The mutability of memory, the things we remember might not be things that actually happened, is fascinating to me as a concept,” he said. “I’m interested in using ghosts or dark things as metaphors for how memory works, and so I’m interested in ways the past can haunt us and how the past can refuse to stay dead.”

That theme also runs through another Ridenhour creation, the audio drama “Palimpsest.” Ridenhour is the writer and co-creator of the biweekly podcast voiced by actress and co-creator Haley Heninger. The series just launched its second season, and Ridenhour’s son, the budding musical star Ian Ridenhour, composed and performed the soundtrack.

“No writer is patient and has a relaxed view of their career. We take disappointment hard and personally, and we think we’re failures when things fail,” he said. “But I’ve definitely learned over the past 20 years that it’ll happen when it happens. Publishing happens at a slow pace. Theater happens at a slow pace. That’s why you move on to the next thing.”

“Grave Lullaby” runs through Oct. 28 at Asheville’s Magnetic Theatre, and you can hear “Palimpsest” wherever you find your podcasts.

Matt Peiken, BPR’s first full-time arts journalist, has spent his entire career covering arts and culture.
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