My first exposure to Jon Padgett’s work was through the horror fiction podcast, Pseudopod. Padgett narrated his own short story, “20 Simple Steps to Ventriloquism.” The sound design, as well as Jon’s terrifically creepy voice-over performance, elevated an already excellent story into something I knew I needed to share with as many people as possible.
I’ve been a horror fan and occasional horror writer since childhood, and as in all other fields, much of what I come across is disappointing when examined without the baseline affection I hold for horror in general. The reason my fandom has and will continue to endure is that every so often, I come across a special piece of fiction, film, television, or poetry that makes wading through the rest worth the time and effort. Pseudopod has provided a lot of these pieces for me over the several years I’ve been listening on a weekly basis. Padgett, though, is in a different class.
A disciple of the great Thomas Ligotti, whose book-length and short story output has been a major influence on horror literature in this generation and several to come, Jon Padgett lives right here in New Orleans. He’s also a trained professional ventriloquist, and let’s face it—ventriloquism is a pretty creepy craft, to begin with. Jon’s background as a ventriloquist infuses his work with a curious quality. His characters always seem a little more lived-in, a little more autonomous than many others—possibly because long before he began writing professionally, he had a great deal of practice tricking himself into the illusion that parts of his personality function separately from his own.
One of the strongest influences Ligotti has had on Jon’s work seems to be the solidification of his own perspective on the subgenre, where its boundaries lie, and how to exploit its strengths. Just as I could pick out a Ligotti story with no external clue as to who wrote it, I could do the same with Jon Padgett’s fiction. His work bears a sort of perpetual baseline of grimy fear and dark pollution—almost like the grainy stock used for a 70s film. Often, this sense of pollution expresses itself directly in his fiction: “The Infusorium,” in his linked short story collection, The Secret of Ventriloquism, and “A Little Delta of Filth,” also available on pseudopod, narrated by Jon himself, to name just two. Thankfully, Jon doesn’t just limit his work to writing fiction and performing voice overs. He is also the editor of Vastarien, a literary horror journal devoted to material inspired by Thomas Ligotti.
A couple days before celebrating this year’s Halloween, I found out Jon was reading at the Latter Library. I make a point of attending Jon’s reading whenever I can, and this one was too great an opportunity to pass up. Jon set up a lectern in a rear parlor dominated by an exquisitely carved fireplace. He read with most of the lights extinguished, his book, and his figure illuminated by a small lamp positioned before him. The tilt of the light cast a twelve-foot shadow on the wall behind him, and the fact that the event was so sparsely attended made it feel more like a doomed séance than an event celebrating the work of one of horror fiction’s leading lights.
As Jon read with Holy Ghost fervor, performing each role, gesturing for emphasis, I caught myself watching his shadow, expecting it to make a mistake imitating his movements. That was when I knew that Jon had summoned the true spirit of horror with his unerring esthetic choices, his strange charisma, and his truly inspired fiction.
Make sure to purchase one of Jon’s records or the audiobook of The Secret of Ventriloquism, shut off the lights, and let Jon’s voice fill the darkened air. See if the true spirit of horror doesn’t carry you away….