Alyson – Hi T.J. Welcome to the Horror Tree.
I read on your blog https://tjtranchell.wordpress.com/about/ that you’d had a variety of jobs – one of which sounded great preparation (in a way) for your horror writing – being a haunted house monster- can you tell us something about your early years? And that eclectic mix of jobs?
T.J. – I was born on Halloween, so this is something that has always been a part of me. I had been involved in theatre during my early teens and when I was 15, I saw an ad asking for actors for a haunted forest. I couldn’t resist. I was picked and worked almost every night of the month. I took my birthday off and did a small haunt at my high school with friends. All of this was in Utah, which might not seem like a place someone like me would spawn from, but that’s my home.
Years later, I worked another haunt in Las Vegas and had a blast. That time I didn’t take my birthday off and it turned out to be one of the best nights of my twenties.
When it comes to jobs, well, I’ve done more than my share of seasonal work and jobs that I didn’t like. I’m a person who will let something I don’t like go and try something else if I’m not happy.
I’ve also moved around a lot. In fact, my family just moved again at the end of May. I got my own office out of it this time.
Alyson – Which books and authors influenced you? As a child? As an adult? Have you always been a fan of horror?
T.J. – As a young kid, I was into mysteries. Sherlock Holmes and all of the juvenile knock-offs. My Utah upbringing introduced me to The Great Brain, which was a series set in rural Utah in the last years of the 19th century. They’re like Encyclopaedia Brown but with Mormon and non-Mormon kids at an interesting time in the state’s history.
Later, I found Poe and was hooked. The imagery and suspense was a major step up from what I had been reading. And then, when I was 11, I found Stephen King. Misery was a big film that year and I watched it with a friend. The next day I went to the library and checked it out. The librarians didn’t even blink. The book scared the crap out of me, even though I didn’t understand all the words. When I think about it, that book should have turned me off from being a writer. Instead, it set me on my path. The other kids my age were reading R.L. Stine. I like Stine, but trying to read him after King just didn’t work.
Other authors I’d cite as influential include Hunter S. Thompson (one of those jobs I’ve had was as a journalist), Jack Kerouac, Chuck Palahniuk, Tom Piccirilli, and Rod Serling.
Alyson – I notice that in a recent tweet you posted covers of Shirley Jackson’s novels- one of my personal horror writing heroines- do you feel her work has influenced your writing?
T.J. – I wish I could say I remember the first time I read “The Lottery” but the truth is that I probably read about it before actually reading the story itself. Jackson is a writer who always finds me when I need her. When I read a less successful haunted house book, The Haunting of Hill House is right there. When I found my first beaten-up copy of We Have Always Lived in the Castle, I was busy falling in love with Goth and theatre girls. The Blackwood sisters were women I would have fallen hard for, because of their quirks not in spite of them.
I think we are in danger of losing how important Jackson’s contribution to horror specifically and American literature in general is. With the newer push in literary horror, I think she’s ripe for a resurgence. If anyone needs somebody to teach a class on Jackson, hit me up.
Alyson – Which book(s) do you wish you had written? Any era.
T.J. – A Choir of Ill Children by Tom Piccirilli. When I had decided writing was the best and only thing for me, I had just discovered Pic. When I was in college (I started late, so I was in my mid-twenties), I emailed him about a project and he messaged me back. That was the first time I felt like I was taken seriously as a writer by a professional.
That book is always at the top of my list I recommend to other people. It’s like Faulkner, not just because it is set in the south, but also because it gets into what family means to people who have become isolated from other communities. It is also wildly different from anything I had read before. King is like a gateway drug to horror, like pot. Pic was like coke: I read that book so many times, the pages of my first copy fell apart.
I can also guarantee that if there is another book with Siamese triplets connected at the forehead, it isn’t as good.
Alyson – How helpful has it been to have gained your Masters? For your personal development as a writer and/or improving your writing and/ or raising your literary status as it were?
T.J. – Having a Master’s degree opened doors that wouldn’t have opened otherwise, but it is also just one piece of the puzzle that I am. The biggest thing about it for me is that I can use it to subvert statistics. I dropped out of high school, earned a GED, got an associate’s from a community college, failed out at university, finished my bachelor’s and master’s in my thirties, and am now getting an MFA from the university I failed out of a decade ago.
The other key part has been that higher education has given me a community to turn to. Many of my first readers are from my graduate program at Central Washington University. The program I am in now is a literary fiction-focused program, so I have to push my boundaries and challenge myself to write the stories I have to tell and prove to the people in charge that my stories are just as good as someone else’s story that doesn’t have a ghost or a monster in it.
I was more concerned about my literary status when I was younger, but now with writers such as Benjamin Percy, Paul Tremblay, Victor LaValle, and Carmen Maria Machado showing that horror IS literary, I’m not as worried about it. I’ll have a bunch of letters after my name that hopefully get me some teaching gigs—I love teaching—but otherwise, I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing and try to get better at it.
Alyson – Your first novel ‘Cry Down Dark’ was published in 2016 by Blysster Press- http://blysster.com/store/ who you are now ‘author development coordinator’ for- which sounds really interesting and creative – can you tell us more about your involvement with Blysster Press and their origins?
T.J. – I met Charity Becker, the publisher/editor-in-chief, at Crypticon Seattle. I gave her the manuscript for the novel and she told me it wasn’t ready. She was right, but what she didn’t do was tell me no. She told me to work on it. I spent another year on it after having written the opening sections in 2006. I did the work and sent it back. The day Charity notified me that Blysster would publish the book, my grandma died. Grandma never would have read the book, but I know she was waiting for me to get to that point. It was the last good news she heard.
I’ve been able to develop a great professional relationship with Charity. We’re on the same wavelength when it comes to the state of modern publishing. What she has that I don’t, is a more experienced grasp of technology and business. What I brought to the table is being a cheerleader for other authors. We have relationships with a variety of writers through a contest we run and the annual Crypticon. What I do is offer encouragement when things are tough—especially to début authors who get frustrated with the formatting and revision processes—and serve as a guide for marketing, promotions, and questions. I’m the guy people come to when they think a question might sound stupid to the publisher. That doesn’t happen because Charity is an amazing human, but no one wants to look dumb when talking to their publisher.
Blysster started in 2010 and has been growing ever since. We had two début authors with us at Crypticon this year. Maria Giakoumatos and William H. Nelson. Their books are wildly different, but they are both part of the family now.
Alyson – Talk us through a typical writing day- where do you write? Pen or pc? Coffee or tea?
T.J. – I’ve spent the last couple years trying to write from a couch in a small apartment. That hasn’t been the best. Now I have a dedicated office and the output has already ramped up.
I might be one of the few writer/journalists in the world that doesn’t drink coffee. I just never got a taste for it. I prefer Mountain Dew, but since I’m a Type II diabetic, I drink Diet Mountain Dew. I also obsessively chow sunflower seeds when I write. You could tell how long I’ve been writing by the pile of empty shells. It’s kind of gross, I know, but that’s the truth.
I write now on a PC laptop, but I take lots of notes in notebooks. I love notebooks. Make them special and about a writer I like and I’m hooked. I have one that the lines in the notebook are the text of Dracula. I haven’t written anything in it yet, but I will.
I need background noise, too. Sometimes movies, but usually music. Movie scores are the best. You can feel the beats of a story but not be distracted by lyrics. There is a flow to a score that facilitates the process, too.
I also tend to write better early in the morning or late at night. I feel more engaged at those times.
Alyson – Modern horror films or those from the Golden age of Hollywood- do you have a favourite? B&W or colour? (I have a sneaky preference for B&W).
T.J. – I could talk for days about movies. When I was a kid, my grandpa was the manager of a single screen theater. My mom and some of my aunts worked concessions while my uncles took turns running the projector. Movies, even more than books, are where I became obsessed with storytelling. What you get from movies is an immediate emotional reaction. I’ve been chasing that my whole life. It’s one of the reasons I loved the haunted house work so much.
I love a wide range of movies and there are good things from the entire history of film. I wouldn’t say that I have a preference for an era, but I would say that horror from the mid to late 1990s is not as good as what came before. Thankfully, that time had plenty of other great non-horror films. Many of them were movies that hinted at horror or had horror backgrounds. “Pulp Fiction” and “The Shawshank Redemption” are the two best examples. Back-to-back, 1993 and 1994 were two of the best years in movies. Any year that one man is responsible for movies like “Jurassic Park” and “Schindler’s List” should be seen as important. Speilberg pretty much ruled my childhood, too.
Having said that, “Poltergeist” is a Tobe Hooper movie and I will fight people about it, even if I’m wrong.
Alyson – Recently films like ‘A Quiet Place’, the upcoming ‘Hereditary’ and last year’s ‘It Comes at Night’ and especially ‘Get Out’ have redefined what audiences can expect from a horror film with new approaches and strong subversive stories, do you think we are in a bright new dawn (as has been suggested) of horror cinema?
T.J. – The thing that has changed is that people who haven’t always and only made horror films are taking them on. They have to because the world is a scary place and that’s our cultural filter. People dealt with the Great Depression by going to Universal monster movies. The other change, which is more a cycle than a real change, is that more people who aren’t horror fans are going to these movies. They go because they like what the directors, writers, and stars have done before and this is something new to them. It’s new to see a horror film by an African-American writer-director get a major release. Jordan Peele had a fan base for previous work, so people were curious. And he delivered.
“A Quiet Place” had some of the same thing going for it. Here are people with a fan base doing horror and audiences are curious about it. Krasinski brought the goods and I ‘d love to see Emily Blunt get some awards.
I think, in the past when people not known for horror have tried it, it felt more like they were doing it at the end of their primes and just because someone offered them the right amount of money. These newer films are love letters to filmmaking and are using the horror genre to tell stories that are important to society at this time in a way that people can engage with but not be beaten over the head about.
Horror has always been subversive. It’s when it becomes too commercial that the quality goes down. Formulaic movies drive the non-fans away. Too many fans, even when they complain about it, just want to see Jason and Freddy killing nobodies. When filmmakers take risks beyond that, that’s when more people start paying attention.
Alyson – I notice you were a guest on this podcast dedicated to the late, great Maestro of horror Vincent Price, http://thom-carnell.squarespace.com/bonus-material-podcast/2018/2/20/episode-163-vincent-price-w-tj-tranchell- whose films I grew up watching myself on BBC TV late-night showings. Is Price a particular favourite of yours?
T.J. – Price is one of my all-time favorites. I discovered him through the show ‘Mystery’ on PBS here in America and the Disney film “The Great Mouse Detective.” I have recordings of him reading Poe that I can listen to for hours. Price is a hero of mine, as is Thom Carnell, one of the co-hosts of The Bonus Material Podcast. When I was discovering my way, I was reading his magazine “Carpe Noctem.” Just when I was ready to send in my work, the magazine’s run ended. Then in 2011, I met Thom at ZomBcon in Seattle and nerded out hardcore. We’ve been friends ever since.
He’s a great writer, too. He recently released his second short story collection titled “A String of Pearls.”
Alyson – How much research do you have to do for your writing? Where do your ideas come from? And why have you chosen to write horror?
T.J. – Horror chose me, I believe. It is a place that I can talk about things we don’t talk about in polite society and treat them seriously. The ideas, really, come from that. ‘Cry Down Dark’ is about grief and loss. It’s my grief response to losing a friend from my late teens and early twenties to a brain tumor. Many of my stories start from things that have happened and me wondering what would have happened if one or two things had been just a bit different.
My work in progress has been the most research-intense thing I’ve done. The biggest problem was that for most of the first year of working on it, the pieces of research I needed didn’t exist. I’m writing about exorcism in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), and I couldn’t find any historical accounts. Then in December 2017, a professor named Stephen Taysom published an article which was exactly what I needed. I have no shame and emailed him right away. He’s been quite helpful.
I’ve also been able to do research into the histories of the church, my family, and the town I grew up in, which is the setting of the novel, although in a fictional form. Readers of ‘Cry Down Dark’ will recognize Blackhawk, Utah, as the town that book’s hero was from.
Alyson – Writing can be a solitary business, how do you connect with other writers? Are you in a writing group yourself?
T.J. – I connect with a whole world of writers via social media. Again, I am shameless and if I find someone I admire on Facebook, I will message them. If I’m lucky, they’ll message back. I’d tell you who some of the more famous ones are, but I think it would be more fun for readers to discover them on their own and see if they get a message back.
Right now, my writing community is my MFA program. Workshops are part of the program and getting feedback from people with similar goals is amazing. I also have friends I’ve made that I email back and forth with. I made new friends after attending the Borderlands Press Writers Boot camp in 2017. Those are people I know I could go to with a story and get quality feedback with no fluff. And they’d expect the same from me.
Alyson – What advice would you give aspiring (horror) writers? Those who read/use the Horror Tree as a resource?
T.J. – Don’t stop. If this is your dream, don’t quit. If someone tells you that you aren’t good enough, get better. Take a class, join a workshop group. Reach out to people like me. I want you to succeed just as much as I want my own success. This is how it works. If you succeed, you get to do an interview like this and name drop the people who helped you get there. One way I help you succeed is by putting your name in front of as many people as I can. We aren’t competing with each other. We’re all here to help.
Alyson – What is your latest fiction release? Where is it available to buy online?
T.J. – My latest is called ‘Asleep in the Nightmare Room’ and can be found on Amazon or through any bookstore. Personally signed copies can be ordered directly from my publisher at www.blysster.com.
It is a book of short stories, some poems, a long essay on Stephen King, a series of columns on horror movies, and one experimental piece about living in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Alyson – Where can writers/readers find you or follow you online?
T.J. – I’m pretty easy to track down. On the web, I am at www.tjranchell.com, on Twitter I’m @TJ_Tranchell, and on Facebook at @TJTranchell. Amazon: amazon.com/author/tjtranchell
I do have a rule about Twitter. If you identify yourself as a writer and you follow me, I will follow in return and spread the word about your work.
Alyson – Hi Nina and welcome to the Horror Tree.
Can you tell us something about yourself? Your beginnings? And how long you’ve been writing?
Nina – As a child, I had vivid nightmares – the kind where I’d fall out of bed terrified. I also had an active imagination, so I’d see things. This combination filled my head with eerie stories I sometimes wished were true.
I was the oldest child in my family, but I had a dream where a young woman visited me at night and told me she was my big sister. She would sneak me from the house and we would fly through the night on vigilante adventures. As a Catholic second-grader, I’d share this story on the playground to such an attentive group of friends that I’d add chapters on the spot. Eventually, the nuns took me aside to verify if these stories were true. “The other children are afraid these are real. Maybe you should just write your stories down.” It was a thrill to keep their attention, to seize their imaginations, and to give them a little scare, so I began to write.
Alyson – Growing up which books made an impact on you? Who were your favourite authors?
Nina – My first chapter book was a Nancy Drew mystery. I devoured those and the Hardy Boys series. My English Nana sent me a book of fairy tales – not the Disneyfied versions – the original, nitty-gritty, little mermaid getting her tongue cut out tales. I loved them! And while I loved ghosts, I also adored the Christopher Robin poetry of A.A. Milne and stories about fairies and the Borrowers and the little people who created magic around us. I was also obsessed with illustrated encyclopedias. I memorized all the ordinary and exotic animals and plants I could the way other kids memorize train or baseball facts.
Alyson – Have you always been interested in history and legend?
Nina – I remember being fascinated by early American history because the stories were about people who left England to come to America. Like my mother, I imagined. She left her mother, her brothers and sisters to come to the USA and this both amazed and terrified me. My fascination was cemented by 4th grade when Indiana schools require a year of intensive Indiana history lessons. This included not only reading history, but creating drums, dioramas of battles, and even cooking old recipes. This made history very real to me.
Alyson – How much does living in Indiana, USA influence your work? The physical geography of the area for instance?
Nina – I grew up roaming the woods around our house, creating make-believe lands, climbing trees, and adventuring to creeks to watch tadpoles. While I enjoyed this freedom, there were dangers. A fire raged through those woods and threatened our home twice. One beautiful day, I happened upon a dead wild turkey. A local boy had shot it, stripped all the feathers, and left it sprawled on a fallen tree. It was gruesome and a waste. I’ll never forget it. The Indiana landscape, the contrast of natural beauty and danger, always sneaks its way into my work.
Alyson – I was intrigued to read on your blog about your volunteer work at Indiana Cemetery Works, on headstone restoration, could you tell us more about this?
Nina – Indiana Cemetery Works is dedicated to keeping historic figures alive by maintaining their burial sites. I restore headstones by removing lichen, walnut stains, and general dirt and grime. We also reset stones that have heaved over and mend cracks. We’ve been fundraising for a special lift to assist with the larger stones and obelisks. It’s quite dangerous work, actually! For years, we’ve focused on the anti-Slavery Friends Cemetery. This is the final resting place of Quakers who were excommunicated for assisting in the Underground Railroad.
Alyson – Do you watch supernatural/horror films? Which are your favourites? And do they inspire any of your stories? (One of your recent Facebook posts references du Maurier’s Birds – which was filmed by Hitchcock)
Nina – My mother introduced me to Hitchcock and other horror films when I was very young. I remember watching black and white films, introduced by a host called Svengoolie. He’s a Chicago legend. My sister and I loved his camp humour and we’d create colouring books about the films. The Hand, The Brain, The Creature from the Black Lagoon. Really junky horror, but we loved it. I still love horror films, but I watch less slash and gore and more supernatural, psychological suspense like Babadook, The Witch, I Am the Pretty Thing that Lives in the House.
Alyson – Do you have a particular routine to your writing day? Or a special place you write in?
Nina – I’m lucky to have a wonderful home office. Truly, it’s the office of someone much more successful than myself. A lovely napping sofa, books everywhere. But if I need a fresh look at a story, I sometimes tote my notes to other locations. I’ve written in coffee shops, the Indianapolis Museum of Art, and the Crown Hill Cemetery.
Alyson – How much research do you do for your (writing) projects?
Nina – It depends on the story. I use two monitors on my desk. If a story’s set in the past, I’ll research clothing, slang words, architecture, and even play music from that time on one monitor while I write on the other. It’s as close as I can get to time travel!
I also regularly visit sites of local legends or participate in ghost investigations. The locations fill my brain with scenes, vivid details, and the experience reminds me of those little things that can terrify the most reasonable mind.
Alyson – Your short story ‘Frigid’ won Mythraeum’s Pygmalion contest and has been filmed as a short film which I gather is now being edited; is this a first for you? When will the film be released? How involved in the filming were you?
Nina – Yes, this is my first story to be made into a film. I hope there will be many more! Mythraeum purchased the film rights and producer/writer Leslie Hedrick adapted it into a screenplay. A story takes a new shape as it shifts from page to film, so my goal was to be the easiest writer for a filmmaker to work with. I didn’t want to stunt the next steps in the creative process.
For the casting call, Leslie explained naming my main character would help the actor connect to the role. She’d chosen the name Henry. I was thrilled because, of all the names she could have chosen, this name holds special memories for me. This confirmed my story was in the best creative hands for this project!
I didn’t make it out to Colorado for the filming days, but I was kept in the loop with regular updates. At one point, filming was delayed because the lake wasn’t frozen enough. At another point, a main actor had to be replaced due to laryngitis.
The release date hasn’t been confirmed yet, but I am forwarding information to Mythraeum and Loste Films so it can be entered in the film competition for StokerCon 2019. It may be entered in other film festivals as early as late 2018. Here’s Loste Films’ award-winning horror short Turn Around from 2016: https://youtu.be/js2932fcKOU
Alyson – Writing is a solitary business – how do you interact with other authors?
Nina – I belong to a local writer’s group where we simply encourage each other to keep writing. I attend some author conventions and, specifically, am attending StokerCon 2019. I enjoy supporting other authors by reading and reviewing their work – especially those who publish independent or through smaller presses.
Alyson – What projects are you currently working on?
Nina – My first dark science fiction story “Regolith” is coming out this summer in the Terra Nullius anthology. It’s one of three amazing science fiction anthologies being published by Kristell Ink this year.
I’m completing my first short story collection this year: Frigid and Other Cold-Hearted Stories. It features my original story with a bonus scene plus new as well as a few previously published stories about characters who commit cold-hearted behavior.
I’ll follow up with a collection focused on ghosts and the supernatural and I’ve started a narrative memoir filled with stories and photos from my ghost investigations.
Alyson – What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Nina – Read writers you love and try to figure out why you love their stories. Then, make time to write. Write absolute rubbish just to get your story down. You can’t be a writer if you don’t write, write, write. And don’t get discouraged if your idea isn’t “new”. No idea’s truly new. It’s all been done. It’s your point of view, your voice, your unique angle that matters, that makes it fresh. Go ahead. Write about vampires and zombies, just make them yours.
Alyson – Where can readers follow you online?
Nina – I love to read a range of books, not just horror, so I post about books a lot. The rest of the time it’s cats, coffee and tea! Feel free to follow me:
Alyson – Hi Terence and welcome to the Horror Tree. Can you tell us a little about yourself? Your creative origins as it were?
Terence – Thanks, I live in Baltimore and am a visual artist, musician and writer. My visual art uses collages of cassette tapes to make decaying abstracted patterns. I play in the experimental-metal band Locrian, they’re on Relapse Records, as well as in the shoegaze-synthpop band The Holy Circle, and my solo material is more ambient. And I write fiction and about visual art.
My creative origins, really I was always making music and art, I wrote a lot when I was young and did theatre. I went to college for Religion and Philosophy with the plan to be a pastor but realized it wasn’t for me, and focused a lot on visual art. Then I went to graduate school at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago for painting and drawing and started writing art criticism, exhibiting my art, making music and teaching. I hadn’t really thought about writing fiction until maybe 7-8 years ago when I had this potent dream that became my first novella “Beneath the Remains.”
Alyson – How much does living in Baltimore, USA influence/inspire your work?
Terence – Depends on the story really, only a few pieces of short fiction have been published about the area, like short story “Vanish on the Instant”. I’m probably more influenced by suburbia and sprawl than say the city. That said, it’s a great city, Atomic Books is a refuge of a bookshop. I have a novel, “Lower Heaven”, I’m editing to get ready to submit that deals a lot with suburban living near Baltimore, it’s more about surveillance and religion that was really inspired by this giant surveillance blimp that was in a county nearby to Baltimore. And a few more stories percolating.
Alyson – Is there a book that changed your life? Which book do you wish you’d written?
Terence – Oh for sure, two actually. One is when I was young I told my mom that I liked horror movies and we watched the James Whale Frankenstein and my mother encouraged me to read Mary Shelley’s novel. I was probably in fifth grade and I just saw it as a monster story, I think she asked me a question about it, and I didn’t know what she was talking about so she told me to read it again. I reluctantly did and started to see other things emerge from it and as I grew up it became so much bigger with all these layers. Second, in high-school in Florida, I had to read Zora Neale Hurston’s “Their Eyes Were Watching God” and I remember just being floored and thinking it was so visual and evocative. It made me probably more intimidated to write, I held it up as a standard.
I think about Cormac McCarthy’s “Child of God” as one I wish I wrote, it’s so simple, it has its own vocabulary, it’s terrifying and has these layers of meaning.
Alyson – Which horror/ sci-fi writers have influenced your work?
Terence – JG Ballard was a massive influence on me, to think of our society and find meaning in banal things like the shopping mall, cars, or highways, to use them as lenses to say something larger. Samuel Delaney had a huge effect on me, sexuality as a territory for science fiction, or to blur those lines of sci-fi. In horror, writers like T.E.D. Klein, Shirley Jackson, Henry James, Jeremias Gotthelf’s “The Black Spider” really influenced me.
Alyson – Writing is only one of your creative outlets; I’m struck by how diverse the outlets are for your creativity- you’re a visual artist, a musician/performer, a D.J. Do these threads overlap? Feed into each other?
Terence – For sure, or one can act as a reprieve while another idea gestates. I try and divide up my time to think and work on projects but sometimes a deadline demands more focus, but often times I’ll be playing music and think of a weird scenario and realize it’s a good beginning for a story. Or be writing and think about something for my visual art.
Alyson – Is your music more dominant than your visual art or than your writing? Or do you juggle them all evenly? How do you prioritize?
Terence – I try and have a certain schedule just in case. Days of writing, or being in the studio, or recording. But I let it be flexible unless I’m recording a record or have an editing deadline. I work well with deadlines.
Alyson – Do you have a dedicated space you create in?
Terence – Yes, I have a studio that is where most of my art gets made and music too, it’s pretty evenly divided. I tend to write anywhere though, typically at night, but all day I take notes about characters or settings, little things that at about midnight will bug me enough to dive in and work on a story.
Alyson – How much research do you do for your (writing) projects?
Terence – Quite a bit initially, I save a lot of articles, find books, videos online, interviews, and then start taking what I need to hang on to, to make some portions real. I read a lot of non-fiction and journalism. But when I write all that is just background. I tend to know what I want, but it helps. Also, I just talk to people, cops, reporters, whoever, I ask them questions and listen. Maybe take some notes, I like vocabulary, so hearing certain words can clue you into class, or professions and really help anchor what you need.
Alyson – As I’m a keen fan of horror films (modern and Golden Age) I want to ask you about your Dead Air column for the Horror Writers Association newsletter, which focuses on horror movie soundtracks and the radio show you broadcast at Halloween? How did this link up come about? Which are your favourite soundtracks?
Terence – Well I am a horror movie obsessive since I was young, but in all my bands I play synthesizers and realized my instrument was really inspired by John Carpenter scores and Goblin and their scores for Argento films like Deep Red and Romero’s Dawn of the Dead and Wendy Carlos Williams score for The Shining. So, I was inspired by that era from the 70s to 80s and the use of synthesizers. Before the whole vinyl reissue craze on Death Waltz/Mondo, Waxworks, etc. I used to collect these import CDs and get obsessed about Fabio Frizzi and what not, so I started DJ-ing soundtracks for an annual radio show, now on WLOY, and people seem to enjoy it. I mix it up with classics; Halloween to more obscure like Brad Fiedel’s score for Just Before Dawn and new pieces like Michael Abel’s score for Get Out.
My favorite soundtracks; Texas Chainsaw Massacre by Wayne Bell and Tobe Hooper is essential, it has never been released as a record either, Fabio Frizzi’s score for Fulci’s The Beyond is great, Klaus Schulze’s score for Angst, and The Shining, Dawn of the Dead, and Coil’s original score for Hellraiser.
Alyson – Do you watch many horror films? Indie or mainstream? Can you tell us some of your faves?
Terence – I do, I watch a lot, all over the map from quality and era. That said, I think we’ve entered a neat period where you have films like Get Out, It Follows, Under the Skin, Babadook, It Comes at Night that to me really are reviving good, smart horror. But this allows us to rediscover things like The Innocents, The Burning or Angst. So my favorites are Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Dawn of the Dead, Angst, The Innocents, The Shining, Carnival of Souls, The Beyond, Suspiria, Last House on Dead End Street, The Babadook, The Vanishing, The Thing from Another World, Halloween, I could go on.
Alyson – In 2016 your novella ‘Beneath the Remains’ was published by Anathemata; (available to buy on Amazon) Is it noir? Or horror? Of a mix of both?
Terence – I like blurred boundaries when I started writing, Beneath the Remains was more a coming-of-age story, but dark. It took on the noir and mystery elements as it went on through the landscape of south-west Florida in the early 1990s. And the outside character of death metal, I really wanted to juxtapose this sunny paradise with brutal gory lyrics and a kind of pathetic loss. So I let it be, I think its horror with a lower case “h” and a mix of southern-noir. But at its core, it is about a missing brother and this younger brother trying to figure out who he is after his brother disappears – so it has that coming-of-age part at its core with details in those other genres.
The physical book of “Beneath the Remains” is still available too;
Alyson – Can you tell us about your new novella “All Internal” which is available to pre-order in April from Dynatox Ministries?
Terence – “All Internal” really evolved out of my background in philosophy and this idea of the mind-body-problem, which is about the relationship between the mind and consciousness and the body. Is the only one? Which one? Is there communication between the two? Do other minds exist? Anyway, I have this love of horror sci-fi films like Inseminoid and Forbidden World, The Brood, and I wanted to make a critique of the mind-body-problem in philosophy by way of a body-horror story. It involves a woman in the amateur porn industry around south Florida as a parasitic entity takes over her body, and eventually the narrative, driving her body to replicate and exterminate.
Alyson – What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Terence – It’s a marathon and not a sprint. Take time to listen to the people who read what you create. Reading isn’t like looking at art or listening to music, or watching a film, it takes more time, and, if you are actually saying something, people may want to think about it. So be patient and write well. I’m a big fan of the Surrealists and they were right to keep track of their dreams, to use automatic writing, to collage a story from newspapers, use these tools to find new roads. Don’t be afraid to edit. Ask a lot of questions, and, most importantly, write well.
Alyson – Where can readers follow you online?
@TerenceHannum / www.terencehannum.com
Here are 2 links to short stories by Terence Hannum to read online:-
Vanish on the Instant
You can pre-order the upcoming novella ‘All Internal’ right here!
Our reviews may contain affiliate links. If you purchase something through the links in this article we may receive a small commission or referral fee. This happens without any additional cost to you.
Title: Perfect Little Stitches: And Other Short Stories
Author: Deborah Sheldon
Genre: Horror Short Stories
Publisher: IFWG Publishing Australia
Release Date: November 1st, 2017
Synopsis: A collection of twenty-one dark fantasy and horror stories by Deborah Sheldon.
Mysterious. Creepy. Disturbing. Including:
– A funeral director, who steals body parts for cash, takes delivery of an unusual corpse.
– The crew of a nineteenth-century fishing boat encounters an unknown but irresistible danger.
– A dog-sledder on a secret mission in Antarctica fights for his life against the monsters that have fuelled his every nightmare since the Vietnam war.
“Oh, she was beautiful. She was the first cadaver of the day..“
This collection of dark fantasy and horror stories, 21 in all, is from the imagination of Australian writer Deborah Sheldon. The book comes with an impressive pedigree -Long-listed for the 2017 Bram Stoker Award- “Superior Achievement in a Fiction Collection”. One of Aurealis Magazine’s Top Picks of 2017. Nominated for the Aurealis Award “Best Collection 2017”.
It lives up to all this promise and delivers with a kick. The collection is peopled with the weird, macabre, ghostly and the alien. The titles of each short story are brilliant and clever. A shout out too for the cleverly designed cover art.
Each story creates a micro world of strangeness filled with strongly written characters and relentless tension; there are no weak links in this collection.
We meet harpies/mermaids (not the pretty cute sort)/ aliens in the attic/ the undead/a were cow masquerading as a sundowner/a killer prehistoric bird and grave robbers. Just your usual Friday night crowd down the pub. Yes, if you drink in Hell’s Grave.
In the opening story which provides the title for the collection, a funeral director who has a financially lucrative but unethical sideline, gets his comeuppance in a horrifying fashion.
In one of my personal favourites, written in a visual almost filmic fashion, ‘Species Endangered’, a day at the beach for a couple becomes a fight to survive when they’re attacked by a blast from the prehistoric past.
‘Nocturnal Fury’ evokes the legend of the Old Hag who visits at night to feed on your life force, but she’s imaginary isn’t she? The doctor is on the case so all will be fine.
Sheldon plays with our expectations, keeps us off kilter, making the normal situations of everyday life, topple into the bizarre and dangerous. We are watching through distorted mirrors and playing with shadows. Sheldon is very good at packing in a great deal of detail and terror into a few pages never outstaying her welcome.
This collection should be on every horror reader’s list for 2018.
Alyson – Hi Deborah and welcome to the Horror Tree. Can you tell us a little about yourself and what got you started as an author?
Deborah – I live in Melbourne, Australia, and I’ve been a professional writer for over 30 years. As a pre-schooler, I used to draw my stories or act them out with toys. At the age of about 11, I realised I wanted to be a writer. Without writing, I would be lost.
I sold my first piece of writing – a feature article about steroids in bodybuilding – when I started my Bachelor of Arts degree in 1986. After university, I travelled overseas and ended up in London writing for a paper. When I got back to Melbourne, I segued from feature articles to TV writing, and spent four years or so researching, writing and script-editing various Australian television programs. After that, I focused my energies on medical writing, scriptwriting and non-fiction books.
In 2005, I sold my first short story, and soon after began writing fiction in earnest. I shifted from crime fiction to horror in 2014. Since then, my work has been shortlisted for numerous Australian Shadows Awards and Aurealis Awards, long-listed for a Bram Stoker Award, and included in various ‘best of’ anthologies.
Alyson – You’ve written across a range of genres, but what is it about writing horror that attracts you?
Deborah – The challenge. Film or TV uses not just the script but visuals, audio and music to achieve jump scares. It’s tough to frighten or creep out someone with just printed words on a page. The horror genre also attracts me because it explores the terrors of being human. Knowing that one random day you will die and rot, and – even worse – the same fate will befall the ones you love is difficult to accept. We have to live in a weird and constant state of denial just to get out of bed every morning.
And lastly, horror writing is cathartic. I can’t tell you how many terrible experiences, memories, anxieties and fears I’ve ‘exorcised’ via my computer keyboard. A psychiatrist reading my horror fiction could have a field day.
Alyson – What are your favourite horror films? Do they inspire any of your stories?
Deborah – I have a great love for old Hollywood black-and-white films. The censorship at the time meant that writers and directors couldn’t show violence, sex or gore. With no choice but to rely on story, dialogue, pacing, mood, and lighting, they delivered incredible films that, in my opinion, leave most of today’s horror films in the dust.
A favourite of mine is The Body Snatcher starring Boris Karloff in what was, I think, one of his first roles without prosthetics or heavy makeup. Creepy, atmospheric, chilling; you can’t tear your eyes away from the screen for a second. Another favourite, also produced by Val Lewton, is Cat People. The shoestring budget didn’t allow for special effects, so the ‘werecat’ sequences used sound effects, shadows and suspense. The first time I viewed this film – just a few years ago – I had to watch the scary parts through my fingers like a kid! And of course, Hitchcock’s Psycho is a tour de force that needs no introduction.
And then there are scenes from so many other old films that stay with me: the heroine being led through the sugarcane fields in I Walked with a Zombie; the one unexpected jump-scare in The Thing From Another World that made me yelp and literally jump off the couch in fright; the shadow advancing up the stairs in Nosferatu; and when the heroine is swimming freestyle in The Creature from the Black Lagoon while the creature is a few metres below her, unseen, watching her, matching her stroke for stroke: *shudder* I could go on and on! There are too many more to mention.
My favourite relatively-modern horror film is John Carpenter’s The Thing. Yes, it is intensely gory and shocking, but it’s the script that amazes me. It’s a superbly written and nerve-wracking study of identity, trust, and paranoia. Other favourites: The Terminator, Terminator 2: Judgement Day, Alien, and Aliens. Oh, and let’s not forget Predator. Have I missed any? Probably. Too many to mention.
All horror films inform my writing, but particularly the older ones. A lot can be done with setting, characters and dialogue to provoke goose bumps, and the classic film-makers knew – and often invented – the tricks.
Alyson – Can you tell our readers who are your favourite authors?
Deborah – Once again, far too many to mention them all by name!
I’m a voracious reader of short stories, so I’m constantly devouring anthologies and collections, both new and classic, and admiring the skill of the writers. Perhaps one of the best anthologies I’ve ever read is Dead of Night: the best of Midnight Echo magazine. Australia and New Zealand have tremendously talented horror writers, and this anthology is all the proof you’ll ever need. (Please note: I happen to have a story in this one, but that hasn’t skewed my opinion. Purchase a copy and see for yourself.)
Some of my favourite horror novels include The Handmaid’s Tale, The Haunting of Hill House, The Shining, The Life and Loves of a She Devil, The Exorcist, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, Something Wicked This Way Comes, The Silence of the Lambs, Rebecca, and a few hundred others.
Alyson – Do you have a particular routine to your writing day? Or a special place you write in?
Deborah – I’m an advocate of the ‘Pavlov’s dog’ method: provoke a response by association. For the past 23 years or so that I’ve lived in this house, I have always written in my study. While the furniture and computer may have been updated a few times, the arrangement stays the same. The window is to my right and the door to my left. From sheer repetition, every time I sit in my chair in front of the keyboard, I’m psychologically ready to write. Just like Pavlov’s dog, salivating to the sound of a bell.
Alyson – Do you have a favourite among the books and stories you’ve written?
Deborah – The book or story I’m writing at the moment is always my favourite! I can’t pick any that I prefer over the others. Each piece carries the experience of writing it, the moods I had at the time, the challenges of the subject matter. Each book or story held my full attention and passion during its creation.
Alyson – How much research do you do for your projects?
Deborah – It depends on the project. The most research-intensive was my horror novel, Devil Dragon. I had to learn about palaeontology, herpetology, and gun usage; three topics I knew absolutely nothing about. I wanted the story to be as realistic as possible within its fantasy framework, so once I had exhausted my own methods of research, I reached out to professionals. I’m very grateful to the herpetologists and the CEO of the Sporting Shooters’ Association of Australia who offered their time to check my first draft for technical accuracy.
Similarly, for my horror novella, Thylacines, I needed to learn about de-extinction science and somatic cell nuclear transplantation – but just enough to give the story the feel of authenticity. I spent the most time researching the thylacine, or Tasmanian tiger, to make sure my genetically-modified versions were authentic to a credible degree.
On the other hand, some projects require a different kind of research altogether: a digging into one’s own experiences. My horror novel Contrition, due out mid-year, has two timelines: the present day and the mid-eighties. For the latter, I drew upon memories of my teenage years. In fact, a few people who went to high school with me might even recognise a couple of events, fictionalised and reimagined though they are.
Alyson – How does living in Australia, its landscape and people, shape your stories?
Deborah – Being Australian informs my writing in every conceivable way. It shapes my language, my settings, themes, subject matter, characters – the whole shebang! As an Aussie, I feel the only stories I can truthfully write are Aussie stories. As a reader, I love stories that immerse me into a foreign setting, and that’s what I try to achieve in my own fiction.
My novella Thylacines is about the carnivorous Tasmanian tiger, an Australian marsupial hunted to extinction some eighty years ago. I’ve since learned that not many people – including Australians – know of the Tassie tiger. The same thing happened with Devil Dragon, my novel about a gargantuan reptile that roamed Australia during the Mega Fauna age when all animals were giants. (Ducks were as big as ostriches.) A few readers expressed surprise that such a monster had ever existed.
My collection Perfect Little Stitches and Other Stories includes quintessentially Australian animals and myths, such as the cassowary (a huge, cantankerous bird with claws that can disembowel) and the yowie (Australia’s version of Bigfoot or the Yeti). To me, writing Australian stories is a way of bringing fresh material to readers.
I believe that a writer should be a product of their environment. This is what the old adage ‘Write what you know’ means to me: be authentic to your own voice. Writers in the United States are experts at documenting their own culture, in all its beauty and ugliness, and I greatly admire their pride and honesty.
Alyson – February is ‘Women in Horror’ month here at Horror Tree and elsewhere of course. Why is ‘Women in Horror’ month important?
Deborah – Go into any bookshop and you’ll find a shelf labelled ‘Women’s Fiction’. What you won’t ever find is a shelf labelled ‘Men’s Fiction’. The expectation still lingers that men write across all genres including horror, crime and action, while women are confined to chick lit and romance. I think that’s why some female writers use pseudonyms or initials to hide their gender – they fear being dismissed.
‘Women in Horror’ month is important because it reminds readers that women can and do write butt-kicking, brutal, gruesome, creepy, hair-raising stories.
I don’t think I’ve experienced sexism within the fiction publishing industry – or if I did, it was too subtle for me to notice. My one memorable experience was an editor who told me, ‘Wow, Deb, you write like a man!’ Generally speaking, publishers just want good stories and solid author platforms – they don’t care about gender. The ‘Women in Horror’ month is one way to help nudge readers in the same direction.
Alyson – Writing is a solitary business. How do you interact with other authors?
Deborah – I always have a few projects on the go at once, so I correspond daily with other writers, editors and publishers via email.
I’ve also been a member of various writing groups over the past 10 years or so. I think it’s important to workshop your writing amongst people who are roughly at the same level of proficiency. A fresh pair of eyes can help you polish your prose, and critiquing someone else’s work hones your editing and storytelling skills. Naturally, the workshops involve a lot of chatting and laughing too…
However, most of my workshopping these days is done over the phone. One of my goals this year is to socialise a lot more face-to-face. So, in short, yes, writing is a solitary business!
Alyson – Do you have a preference between writing short stories for a collection such as your 2017’s Perfect Little Stitches and Other Stories or for writing longer works? Do you plan each project by word length beforehand?
Deborah – I honestly don’t have a preference. I love all types of fiction. The demands of short story writing are very different to those of novel writing. Without the luxury of length, a short story must be incredibly precise and balanced. You need to work hard to achieve an emotional impact within just a few pages. The central challenge of the novel, on the other hand, is to find enough substance in your story to keep it running at top speed right to the end. Beginnings are easy. Endings are easy. It’s that long, daunting middle part that’s tricky.
To stave off boredom and writer’s block, I mix up my projects. For example, I might write half a dozen short stories in a row, then work on a longer-form project like a novella or novel.
Yes, I plan each project by word length beforehand. It’s a hangover from my two decades or so as a scriptwriter and freelance journalist. Typically, a 30-minute script for a TV series is about 22 minutes long, built around two commercial breaks. As a scriptwriter, you can’t get creative with that formula! You have to nail the timing or else the script editors are going to scream – and never hire you again. The same goes for a feature article. The magazine editor allocates pages in advance based on your pitched word length. If you promise an article 5000 words long but submit 10,000 or 2500 words instead, the magazine editor will pass on all your future pitches because you can’t be trusted to deliver.
Some writers have asked me if planning my word length beforehand is restrictive. On the contrary, I find it liberating. One of the core challenges to fiction is figuring out how to pin down your story. Deciding on its length is one way to set parameters.
Alyson – You have the bio-horror novella Thylacines out already this year. Do you have other books coming out later in 2018? Can you give us a taster of what to expect please?
Deborah – Oscillate Wildly Press has re-released my petite collection, 300 Degree Days and Other Stories, originally published by the award-winning Ginninderra Press in 2014. I would describe the collection as literary with a melancholic bent. Most stories were previously published in well-respected Australian magazines including Quadrant, Island, [untitled], and Tincture Journal. The back-of-the-book blurb reads:
Sheldon’s stories lift the skin of small, suburban lives to expose the raw nerves beneath. Her writing is intimate, compelling and alarming… – The Short Review UK.
Sometimes, the ties that bind are sharp enough to cut. In these eleven stories, set in contemporary Australian suburbia, Deborah Sheldon examines the darker side of family relationships. Unsettling and incisively written, each story of betrayal, envy, loss or bad blood resonates for a long time after reading.
Mid-year, IFWG Publishing Australia is releasing my horror novel, Contrition. I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, so here’s the back-of-the-book blurb:
In her late teens, Meredith Berg-Olsen had had all the makings of a runway model. Now in her late forties, after everything she had been through – including horrors that John could only guess at – she looked bloodless instead of pale, skeletal instead of slender, more dead than alive...
John Penrose has two secrets. One is the flatmate he keeps hidden from the world: his high-school sweetheart, Meredith. His other secret is the reason he feels compelled to look after her.
Contrition is a horror story with noir undertones and an atmosphere of mounting dread.
Alyson – What are you working on currently as we speak?
Deborah – I have the bulk of my work schedule roughly mapped out for 2018.
First, a horror short story based on my very recent experience of major abdominal surgery. (Yep, I’m still recovering. Ouch.)
Second, a horror novel with plenty of high-voltage action.
Third, I will again be taking part in the Australasian Horror Writers Association’s mentorship program, which will run for about three months. I will be assigned a mentee who is keen to develop their (horror) writing skills to a professional level. I had a great time being a mentor last year in the program’s inaugural run, and I’m looking forward to meeting my new mentee sometime around mid-year.
Lastly, I have a short play being performed in a festival next month. I enjoy playwriting as a break from prose, so I’ll submit a few scripts to other festivals throughout the year and see what happens.
I occasionally write non-fiction articles, so I might do some of those too.
But my schedule is always flexible. You have to yield to the ebb and flow of your desires. If something demands to be written, you must put aside everything else and write the piece while it’s hot.
Alyson – What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Deborah – Focus on the output, not the outcome. By this, I mean focus your energies on writing, not your publication success or failure. Make goals and keep yourself accountable. Setting a minimum word count for the week is a good habit to cultivate. (Mine is 2500 words of a publishable standard, not just first draft.)
Always remember that you are writing for the love of it. Publication, recognition and money may not come for a very long time, if at all. The marketplace is crowded. Thousands of new books are published every day. Rejection rates are high. Don’t focus on these outcomes or you will become discouraged. Concentrate on your output, on improving your writing. Read, read, read. Take it in and learn.
Follow your heart. Write what you want, not what you think the market will buy. Be true to your own voice.
Alyson – Where can readers follow you online?
Deborah – My website is the most up-to-date source of information on my writing. Visit http://deborahsheldon.wordpress.com to browse my titles. Please sign up for my newsletter! The button is on my homepage. You will receive monthly updates, news and giveaways.
I’m not on Facebook myself, but IFWG Publishing Australia runs a Facebook page on my behalf: https://www.facebook.com/Deborah-Sheldon-936388749723500/
And I love being friended on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3312459.Deborah_Sheldon
If you want to drop me a line, email me at: [email protected]
Thanks so much for taking the time to read my interview. I hope you found it interesting!
Thank you so much for your time, Deborah!