The Horror Of What Happened There

Samuel Church Author Interview

Engelstatt follows a group of university friends who decide to spend spring break in Austria and end up in a fight for survival.What was the inspiration for the setup of your story?

Engelstatt is in large part inspired by stories from my childhood. I grew up in a rural area of western Germany near the Rhine. It’s this beautiful fairytale landscape dotted with castles and medieval ruins, but underneath there are still remnants of the Nazi period that were just always at odds with the beauty. In my backyard was an undetonated bomb leftover from the war, buried in a mountain of dirt. Looking back, it’s a bit strange!

Plenty of people who lived through the war were still around when I was a kid. One of our landlords was a former Panzer driver who lost his eye to a Soviet soldier in a Gulag, and my mother was close friends with a concentration camp survivor. I used to spend a lot of time around her and her husband, and grew up immersed in stories from the period. Engelstatt is broken up with this fairytale inspired by a legend told by the Brothers Grimm that I often heard as a child. In the story, a king is sleeping underground, waiting to awaken and return to rule Germany. As I was writing, that story became intertwined with everything.

Despite all those childhood memories floating around in my head, the concept actually hit me while I was visiting a friend in Denmark to work on a film project. We went to this small, picturesque village and we were standing in the town square with a camera getting some footage when these little blond children started peeking around the corners of buildings at us like dwarves in a storybook. They just wanted to see what we were filming but it was a little spooky. Somehow the idea just clicked then.

Why choose this place and time for the setting of the story?

First and foremost, I wanted Engelstatt to feel modern. With the resurgence of fascism and hate, it feels a bit like the Weimar period where a villain like the one in the book really would have a fanbase. I used a lot of newspaper clippings and social media excerpts throughout to try to capture the way that media create platforms for extremism. As far as the setting goes, most of Engelstatt is set in the Salzkammergut. It’s a region of Austria that is shockingly beautiful but also known by locals as the ‘Devil’s Dustbin’ on account of all the Nazi artifacts hidden in the mines and lakes. I was fascinated by the contrast between the overwhelming beauty of the landscape and the horror of what happened there in real life.

Some of the book is also set in the US, which is shown in a state of decay. New York City feels as if it is in shambles, with derelict subways and garbage strewn streets, which contrast the sleek, clean locales seen in Germany and Austria. I wanted there to be a seductive quality to the surface level of Engelstatt, the same way that propaganda lures people in. For the villains, there had to be pieces of truth in their insane philosophy, and the protagonist Jacob is very vulnerable in that way. As the survivor of a school shooting, he represents all the failings of the USA, and the antagonists see that and use it against him.

What intrigues you about the horror and paranormal genres that led you to write this book?

I have a lifelong love of horror that has a few origins. When I was a kid, my great-grandmother—who was an English teacher—gave me a box full of horror books, and I read constantly and fell in love with the genre.

Part of my fascination with horror also comes from my own odd experiences. When I was thirteen or so, my family moved from Germany to England, and we moved into an 18th Century house in a small city called Ely. I recall touring the house with my parents and the landlord before we moved in, and the landlord casually mentioned that the house had ghosts. Initially, I remember laughing, and we all thought he was just a bit eccentric.

I have a few stories from that house but one in particular takes the cake. While we were living in that house, my father ran off and abandoned the family. The day he disappeared, a raven had somehow found its way inside and my mother and I spent forty minutes chasing it to get it out. A fitting omen! Later that night, I was standing with my mom and my brother in the kitchen, and all of a sudden, coins started flipping off the counter one by one. And then at the end of the room, a jar full of coins lifted up in the air and got thrown across the room towards us. We all saw it. Afterwards, we found out that my father had just emptied out my mom’s bank account.

I haven’t seen my father since, and to me, it seems like it was some sort of warning. It’s a bizarre experience that I still haven’t made sense of, and for me writing horror became an outlet for exploring the unexplainable in a way. I’m a big believer in the old adage that truth is stranger than fiction.

What is the next book that you are working on, and when will it be available?

I’m currently absorbed in finishing a ghost story I started several years ago. I will release it this summer if I’m happy with it!

Author Links: GoodReads | Facebook | Website


“Samuel Church brings your worst nightmares to life in a methodical fashion… They don’t make them like this anymore.” -Reader’s Favorite

Evil is waking up…

On the surface, the mountain town of Engelstatt, Austria is picture-perfect. It offers guests stunning views, fresh air, and the chance to experience an Alpine village untouched by time. For university student Jacob Liro, a school shooting survivor and aspiring artist, it is the perfect place to spend spring break with his classmates and a chance to hit the reset button on his life. What Jacob and his class don’t know is that beneath its fairy-tale facade, something sinister lies in wait in the salt mines below the town—and horrors from Engelstatt’s Nazi past threaten not only their lives and their sanity, but the entire world.

About Literary Titan

The Literary Titan is an organization of professional editors, writers, and professors that have a passion for the written word. We review fiction and non-fiction books in many different genres, as well as conduct author interviews, and recognize talented authors with our Literary Book Award. We are privileged to work with so many creative authors around the globe.

Posted on May 17, 2023, in Interviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.


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