John Milas’s The Militia House is an impressive debut, a novel that shows the horrors of war last long after the battlefield has cleared.
Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:
“Horror debuts don’t come much more impressive than this unsettling offering from Milas…Milas is brilliant at making his lead’s eerie experiences and surreal hallucinations vivid, scary, and psychologically nuanced.”
I envy writers who can easily transition from their waking lives to horror writing. For me, initially writing The Militia House as a graduate student and subsequently a nine to five employee, it never felt simple. I needed to ladle my mind from the haze of grad school and office work and into a disturbing, yet literary place. I had never written to music before I tried to write horror. I suspected there might be something useful about writing to dark music in order to stay in the headspace of dark literature. I quickly learned I was correct.
As I wrote and rewrote the book, I built a playlist of instrumental music pulled mostly from the scores for It Follows and HBO’s Chernobyl with some selections from Big Black Delta’s third album, whoRU812. In hindsight, some of the tracks on my playlist correspond with specific scenes and images in the book while others helped keep my mind in a dark headspace while I wrote the book on campus, in my apartment, or at local coffee shops.
Big Black Delta – “whoRU812”
- When the opening motifs repeat, the addition of steady percussion gives “whoRU812” a sense of direction and inevitability. At this point, I can see veins of supply lines, convoys across the desert, and helicopters hovering over forward operating bases. The gears of the war machine are turning.
Disasterpeace – “Detroit”
- The section this piece corresponds to is now deleted. Originally, there were somewhere between five and seven chapters establishing the setting of the base in Kajaki when the main characters arrive. They get their bearings and meet some characters earlier than they do in the final draft. It was boring! My agent and I decided there would be more urgency to the story if we started later, and I’m inclined to agree that the current opening of The Militia House is more striking now.
Disasterpeace – “Doppel”
- Now we’ve reached the first scene of the book. The dog is walking toward the guard post from the shadows. Loyette and Blount see the dog has been severely injured by a porcupine. I can scarcely hear the high pitched shrieking in this track as anything other than the flies swarming into the guard post as the dog arrives. Then Loyette watches the militia house outside the base perimeter, but he doesn’t know the militia house is also watching him.
Disasterpeace – “Detritus”
- “Detritus” reflects the paranoid feelings that Loyette has about the strange things happening on base and serves as a theme for the story behind the militia house as the British characters share their knowledge of the legend with the Americans.
Disasterpeace – “Anyone”
- Loyette and his team stand outside the front door of the militia house. Their British escorts refuse to go inside with them. They wait for a moment and then walk inside to set off the novel’s supernatural sequence of events.
Disasterpeace – “Relay”
- Following the first incursion into the militia house, the characters face a tense scene that reminds them of the real-life war’s high stakes. “Relay” is a short, but slow and relaxed piece that reflects the drawn out breaths of someone who is exhausted, but grateful to have survived a frightening experience.
Big Black Delta – “jakeAmo”
- The Militia House is a novel about people who have a job to do. As they go about their work routine, “jakeAmo” represents the monotonous grind of serving at a remote base with spartan amenities, but with a creepy undercurrent that keeps the characters and the reader off balance.
Disasterpeace – “Company”
- Without spoiling too much, the percussion that opens “Company” stands in for each cautious step taken by Loyette on a staircase. He falls deeper into the psychological hold the militia house has on him and his men. We transition sharply from the staircase to see what Loyette has found at the end, and then we close on his terrifying realization: this might only be the beginning.
Hildur Guðnadóttir – “Pump Room”
- This is an abridged list, so “Pump Room” is the only track I’m including from Hildur Guðnadóttir’s Chernobyl score, but it’s the most effective from my large playlist in conveying the quiet horror that Loyette finds himself in after going back into the militia house. The dark and sustained sounds of Guðnadóttir’s work convey no possible escape.
Big Black Delta – “RIPinPEACE”
- It’s about as close as you can get to the score of Werner Herzog’s Aguirre: The Wrath of God without actually listening to it. The high-pitched choral chanting is eventually joined by an organ, which adds a spiritual and ritualistic flavor I find creepy. The uncanniness falls right into place. The understated ending evokes a hypnotism, but of who? Loyette or the reader?
Big Black Delta – “Sunday”
- This one has nothing to do with the book or its imagery, but was necessary as a buffer following the two-hour writing sessions I was aiming for. I needed something to remind me that even though the war will always be real, the dark images and sequences I was immersing myself in were not. I needed to come up for air after writing horror, and “Sunday” is the perfect sunrise after a long night of dread.
John Milas served on active duty in the Marine Corps and deployed to Afghanistan in 2010. He later earned a BA and MFA in creative writing. He lives in Illinois, where he reads, writes, and watches baseball. The Militia House is his first novel.