Women in Horror Month Special: Behind the Veil

WiHM2016Sickle-BlackOnLight-large

When people first meet me, they’re often surprised that I’m a horror writer. People who know me well, however, they’re not surprised at all.

Generally, what you see is what you get with me: a big grinning idiot, favourite colour yellow, loves kittens, laughs at fart jokes. And I’m scared of just about everything; spiders, the dark, cupboards under the stairs (if you want to know, check out Stephen Volk’s Ghostwatch). Probably not everyone’s typical idea of a horror writer.

But those people who know me well, who’ve known me a long time, they know. They know that behind the shiny happy me, there’s what I refer to as ‘horror-me’. Horror-me is an entirely different beast altogether. Horror-me is scarily sadistic, knows several different ways to kill a person, and has an internet search history that raises serious questions about her sanity.

But, it’s not a case of me hiding horror-me behind a facade. I’m proud of horror-me, I love her. You just need to get to know me well before you meet her.

Looking back, I suppose it was inevitable for me to end up like this. My parents met one another at a UFO meeting, my father read me bedtime stories by the likes of HG Wells and John Wyndham, and by my teenage years, me and my brother were watching our way through the back catalogue of 70s and 80s horror movies. All this coincided with a lot of heavy metal music and a phase of serious goth fashion. Yeah, it was inevitable.

But it’s not always easy being a woman in the horror world. I know many female horror authors who’ve been told many times that women “shouldn’t write horror”, or even that they “can’t”. (Although, why any man would risk upsetting a woman who spends her days torturing her characters, is anyone’s guess. After all, hell hath no fury, right?)

But on a serious note, throughout the history of publishing, women have been advised, or forced, to hide their gender. Whether using their initials, opting for an androgynous pen name, or even a male one, women can’t always stand open and proud as women. Unless their writing in the ‘acceptable’ genres for a woman (romance, chick-lit, paranormal romance, more increasingly crime), it can be really tough. I’ve come across so many men that simply do not read books written by women. Seriously, they simply don’t. Have never, will never. Have a look at your own bookshelf, and see what the gender ratio is.

The fact is, many women find that they can sell more books when they disguise their gender. It’s sad, and it’s something that’s never going to change as long as women continue to hide. But I don’t blame them, not at all, it’s savvy business sense.

Maybe it’s the countless portrayals of women as nothing more than helpless victims in horror, maybe it goes further back into our cultural psyche, to when asylums were crammed with ‘hysterical’ women, or even further back to the view that women can only be one of two things; the virgin or the whore, and no one wants to associate with the latter. I can only speculate.

But this is why we need movements like Women in Horror Month, why we need to specifically promote, celebrate and champion the work of women. Because, otherwise, they remain invisible, veiled. Because women can do horror, and they can be far scarier than you can possibly imagine.

Women in Horror Month Special: Interview with Eeva Lancaster

WiHM2016Sickle-BlackOnLight-large

Eeva LancasterEeva Lancaster is one heck of a busy woman. She’s a book designer, an editor, and non-fiction author with three books to her name. She owns the author community Alliance of Self Published Authors. and it was this community that gave her a glimpse of the issues faced by self published authors. The result of this insight was The Book Khaleesi; the site through which she offers a huge range of services for authors. When she’s not working, you can find her snorkeling, indulging in TV series marathons, or gardening.

Give us a little introduction to the services you offer, and what your background is.
The Book Khaleesi is a one-stop-shop for Authors. There are a lot of author services websites around, but I specifically tailored my site to cater to Indies. Meaning, the services are affordable, but high-quality.

I’m a top-rated freelancer on Upwork. Working with author clients there gave me the idea to venture into the self publishing industry. I began as a ghostwriter before I started publishing my own books. The need for a site like The Book Khaleesi became evident to me as I got to know more indie authors on my Google+ community, The Alliance of Self Published Authors. I realized that many awesome writers are totally clueless about what they need to do for their manuscript before they publish. The result is a great story with poor packaging. Totally understandable. They’re writers, not designers or marketers. And many seek help, but if you look at the cost of most services, they’re pretty steep. And those that are cheap are crappy. Enter The Book Khaleesi. It’s like Goldilock’s chair. Not too expensive and not too cheap to be low quality. Just right on an indie author’s budget.

I personally oversee every single project that lands on our plate. I have to say that I micro-manage my team and check their final ouput before I send it to clients. I take pride in my work, and share in an author’s joy when they publish a high quality book I helped create.

When creating a book cover for a specific genre, such as horror, what are the most important things to consider?
Covers should let the readers know at one glance what the book is about. You can put one symbol on the cover and it works, as long as it conveys the core of the story.

And what’s the most common mistake indie authors make with their covers?
Many authors make the mistake of cramming their cover with images, but that just confuses and makes the cover look too busy. Simplicity and a kick-ass Title Font is enough to hook a reader. And a lot more make the mistake of doing it themselves, even though they’re not designers. I’m all for DIY – but some genres, like fantasy and horror, needs to have a cover designed by a professional. Otherwise, it looks… awkward. And hurts the book.

How do you decide if an editing client is a good match for you, and how do you work with them throughout the process?
I love to work with authors who leave their manuscripts with me and trust that I’ll do the best I can for it. I know it’s hard. It’s their baby. But if you get an editor, there has to be trust. In the past, well, even today, editors charged a HUGE amount of money to tell authors what they did wrong. You did not write this correctly, change it. Rewrite it. Many authors are afraid of this, the criticism, the rewrites, the back and forth, the cost. So most of the time, they’ll just skip hiring an editor.

Nowadays, there are good freelance editors who are affordable, and they will rewrite themselves when needed. Rare, but they’re there. I personally edit this way. I’m not a writing coach. I will edit the manuscript directly on Word to make it tighter, better, while retaining the writer’s voice. The author can then approve or disapprove my edits. I don’t believe in telling an author to rewrite. If they have a certain writing style, it will just come out the same way. If they’re wordy for example, or too descriptive. All they need is help in polishing the manuscript to make it tighter and more readable.

How can authors find the right editor for them?
The important thing is to find an editor who will care about the work. Cause it takes a lot of time to edit line by line. If an editor doesn’t care, what’s stopping them from just skimming and charging you for it? And my advise is to NOT rush the editor. Please. We’re self pubs. We determine the timelines. Let the editor work on the manuscript until it’s READY. The manuscript is everything.

And always credit your editor. Many authors don’t even give credit to the people who helped create their book. It’s not something to be ashamed of. Even Stephen King has an editor!

How can social media help authors, and what’s the biggest mistake to avoid?
Social media helps us reach our audience, our potential readers. It doesn’t guarantee sales but increases the chances of it. Many authors post on social media and watch their sales closely. When the needle doesn’t move, they get frustrated and stop promoting. Social media is just ONE part of the author platform, which all self pubs must build. eBook readers are online, and we need to be there and expose ourselves, promote ourselves and our work. Who will know about the book if we don’t promote? If we’re not searchable?

Sharing a link to the book is NOT promoting. It will just get buried, and is a waste of time. What we need is to establish presence and build a network. We need to be consistent and connect with people. 2 hours a day of consistent promotion is enough, and you should be saying more than just BUY MY BOOK. There are apps like Hootsuite which can help automate our campaigns so it doesn’t take up too much of our time. But sadly, a lot of authors can’t be bothered to learn these things. It’s just easier to say it doesn’t work. In the beginning, as you build your network, it will take up a lot of time. Just like any business.

Do you think women have a hard time in a genre like horror?
As a voracious reader, it never mattered to me if a writer is a man or a woman. I get how this concerns some writers, that’s why they use pen names with initials to hide their gender. But as a reader, has the gender of the writer ever been a factor when you chose books? In this context, in choosing a book, the writer’s gender is irrelevant. The story matters. The blurb matters. The cover matters. These are what convinces readers to buy.

What’s your advice to authors in the self publishing industry?
If you enter this industry, if you want your book to be read, you have to approach publishing as a business. Because that’s what it is. Self publishing allows us to release our work to the public easily, but it also means that we are personally accountable for the final product – the book. We have a responsibility to ensure that the book meets publishing standards. We are liable to our readers. Learn not only how to improve your craft, but also how to produce it and sell it. Study. Experiment. Stand out from the crowd. Writing a book is only the beginning.

Find out more at www.eevalancaster.com and www.thebookkhaleesi.com

Women in Horror Month Special: Interview with Maquel A. Jacob

WiHM2016Sickle-BlackOnLight-large
Maquel A JacobOriginally from Chicago, author Maquel A. Jacob now resides in “green and lush” Portland, Oregon. As a woman with a quest to learn new things, she boasts qualifications in accounting and business administration, digital film and video, as well as having been a licensed nail technician. But now, as a member of the Northwest Independent Writer’s Association, you’re more likely to find her “hunkered over her widescreen laptop like Quasimodo”. That, or buried in the mosh pit at a rock concert.

Author of the ‘Core’ science fiction trilogy, as well as the Welcome Despair collection of short stories, Maquel A. Jacob writes about monsters ranging from aliens to vampires and demons.

How did you first become interested in horror?
Everything imaginable seemed to frighten me but never the less, I loved the feeling of my soul being ejected out of my skin through every pore. Growing up in the 1970’s I was exposed to the rising boom of B movies. Most of it was either Sci-Fi, Horror or just plain disturbing and by the 80’s they were part of the main stream.

When did you start writing?
At the age of 12 I lost consciousness outside my house and was asleep for a very long time. During that time, I dreamt in a three-part plane of existence and when I woke up, wrote it all down. In the mid 80’s I would take my favorite musical groups and incorporate parts of the dream into all kinds of scenarios. They were my plot and character guinea pigs and when they no longer held the same giddy excitement I moved on. From that day on to present I write down my dreams and interpret them into something tangible for a story. Now a good 90% of my stories come from that.

How does your love of horror show in your sci-fi books?
Since I started publishing my works I felt a need to bring my audience in slowly with a few scenes of gore and despair in every book. (Some of my author friends with weak constitutions refer to one of my books as 50 shades of blood but I don’t see that.) I plan to use my collection of shorts as a medium for the stories that go further down the road of horror. My goal of course is to dive into full blown Sci-Fi Horror the likes of Event Horizon.

What sort of books did you grow up on, and which have influenced your own work the most?
After reading The Stand by Stephen King when I was eleven, I got hooked. Last check, I have read well over twenty, maybe thirty, of his books. Then I read Clive Barker’s works which go deep into the realms of human darkness and became even more fascinated with the genre, especially movies. I wanted to have elements of love, lust, despair and gore all rolled into one as they had done.

You’ve written stories about everything from vampires to aliens to demons. What’s your favourite horror monster?
Aliens rule supreme because my imagination can go wild. We as a species have no clue as to what may lurk in our own galaxy, let alone the universe itself. Now, don’t get me wrong, Demons come in second and I feel Vampires are part of that category. Different from aliens, they are casts from humans. Flawed, deviant animals who prey on others. I feel aliens would see our race as insects and their technology would elevate the methods of torment.

Do you think women have a hard time in the horror and sci-fi genres?
Women absolutely have a hard time in both genres because of one simple fact. We are supposed to be nurturing, maternal and the voice of reason. A woman who can dive into the fantastic or the demented is deemed an anomaly of the gender. I have been accused of having bloodlust based on my writing and find it hilarious. This is the reason I use a pen name that is perceived as male but actually isn’t. It shouldn’t be that way in the 21st century but the truth is men still have the upper hand in the industry.

What are you working on now?
Current works in progress are the first three of an eight book series tentatively titled A Curve of/in Humanity. It’s science fiction that I hope poses the question of what defines being human in the aftermath of alien interbreeding. Book one, Origins, should be out by May 2016, book two in August and the third by December. Next on the list is a vampire story focused on the elders fed up and schooling the new generation on what it means to be a vampire. Looking at Summer for that one to be released. And last is another collection with three stories revolving around religious crisis with elements of science fiction. It’s going to be a busy year.

Find out more at www.maquelajacob.com
Welcome Despair by Maquel A Jacob

Welcome Despair

So, your stomach isn’t strong enough to handle deep horror and gore? Then Welcome Despair is just up your alley. A collection of short stories that takes small steps as you delve into the dark side, dipping your toes into the shallow end of despair.

A young corporate office worker with nothing left to lose finds himself with a group of hunters who don’t discriminate when it comes to prey. Children on a ravaged planet are abducted by the enemy and learn just how strong they can be.  A jaded reporter interviews the leader of a prominent neighborhood. One soul is chased into a plane of existence with no signs of escape.

Each story opens a doorway into fear, pain, sorrow and blood. Looking for happy endings? Not here. Come, settle in and Welcome Despair.

Get Welcome Despair at Amazon

Story Worms: Who’s Watching You?

story-worms

We all have writers we aspire to be; whether that be your favourite big-name author, or another self-publisher achieving things you’d like to achieve yourself. Or, if not a specific person, you’ll have your future goals. They may look a little like this:

  • 3 years: Amazon best-selling author
  • 5 years: NYT best-selling author
  • 7 years: Attending movie premieres of my book adaptation
  • 9 years: Relaxing in my own solid gold hot tub
  • 10 years: Total world domination

Y’know, or something like that.

But it’s important to have goals, to keep striving for better, because that’s how we move forward in life, and with our writing careers.

But this, in itself, can be something of a double-edged sword. We’ve all felt jealous of someone else’s achievement, however much we try to be happy for them. And that’s perfectly natural. Don’t feel guilty for it, just focus it into pushing yourself forward.

It was just the other day when I came to realise that, while I’m busy looking forward on the road, wishing I was walking alongside this or that writer, cursing myself for still being so far behind, there are people behind me aspiring to be where I am.

A good writer friend, and one of my loyal beta readers, was asking me about how my latest book was selling. I bemoaned the usual slow sales and marketing struggles, but emphasised how I was trying to keep my eye on the long game.

He replied, saying:

You’ve done it though. Off your own back and under your own steam. Every single piece of goodness that comes from it is yours entirely…You have 2 more books than I have out there and for that I take my hat off to you. I wish I had more of your conviction and dedication.

This bowled me over. I would never consider myself to be someone to admire, or envy, never see my current position as admirable or enviable, but to discover that someone does, has been the biggest confidence boost ever. I’m struggling, but I must be doing something right.

It gives me a new way to measure success, one that can’t be quantified, counted, or graphed. And one that, actually, means so much more.

So, next time you’re feeling down or demoralised, next time a rejection hits you hard, or someone else’s success comes with an edge of bitterness, most importantly, next time you feel like giving up altogether, just remember: you never know who’s looking up to you, and aspiring to be where you are.

Keep moving forward, because you’re doing great, and you may just be an inspiration to someone else.

Story Worms: Interview with an Editor – Dion Winton-Polak

Dion Winton-PolakDion Winton-Polak is a reviewer, podcaster, self-confessed idiot, and the editor of the KnightWatch Press anthology, Sunny, with a Chance of Zombies. I caught up with him to talk zombies, red pens, and how a writer can get that much-desired ‘yes’.

Tell us a bit about your background and how you found yourself editing the KnightWatch Press Anthology, Sunny, with a Chance of Zombies.
Okay, well I’ve been a reader all my life. Books are as much a part of me as fingers and kidneys. I wallowed in English Literature through to University level, developing my critical faculties but never really knowing what I was going to do with them. I suppose I assumed I would be a writer, but writing was never a habit or a hobby with me. It was always reading.

Fast forward through a move to Wales, a wedding, a sequence of terrible or simply tedious jobs, then pause on a copy of SFX magazine. A little article pointed me towards the Geek Syndicate website and the world of podcasting. I lost myself in both for a while and then started to wonder why there wasn’t more content focused on books. I got in touch with the guys from Geek Syndicate and offered to write a few book reviews for them. Next thing you know, I’d started my own podcast called Scrolls, which they were good enough to host on their site.

Writing reviews gave me something to do with my brain and podcasting showed me how easy it could be to put myself out there and create something. Doing both also showed me how unbelievably crucial the editing process is in honing your content and getting your ‘message’ across. Many people find editing a picky and frustrating process, but I LOVED it.

The podcast spurred my good buddy and co-host, Phil, into starting his own writing career, and he in turn kept prodding me to fulfil my own potential. I joined the Society for Editors and Proofreaders and whipped through a few of their courses, but I found the expense outweighed the benefits. In the meantime, Phil introduced me to a number of contacts that he’d made in the field of Small Press publishing. You get nowhere hiding in shadows so I got chatting. I got my first paid editing gig by pretty much sticking my hand up and saying ‘I could do that.’ And I’m relieved to say I proved myself right. Since taking on the job I’ve had nothing but good feedback from authors and publisher alike.

Why Sunny, with a Chance of Zombies? It leapt off them page at me. Who could resist that title?

What were you looking for in the stories you accepted?
Interesting question. The answer I would love to give is “The best stories. Full stop.” I requested that I be given no information about the name, age, race or gender of the authors to ensure I was not swayed by other considerations. Of course, there are many other things to consider, not least of which being ‘What does the publisher want from this anthology?’ All I had to go on at first was the title: Sunny, with a Chance of Zombies. My first job was to come up with submission guidelines to give the authors a nudge in the right direction. Theresa [Derwin, KnightWatch Press] told me she wanted something light and enjoyable to make for good Summer-time reading and, during the course of the conversation I latched onto the words ‘strangely uplifting.’

So I guess that was point #1: The stories had to do what I asked – in other words, either put a big grin on my face or kindle a bit of warmth in my heart. If a story did neither, it had no place in this project.

I had something like 45 submissions to whittle down to 12, so I was looking for something to make them stand out from the crowd. In some instances it was elements of world-building – a new slant on zombies or a new way in which they could fit into our world. In other instances it was a particularly strong character – how much I was made to care about these people. I was going to be looking at these stories for a looong time, so I needed to be kept interested too. With that in mind I specifically looked for fresh perspectives and new predicaments for our protagonists to face.

Point #2 then, would be: there had to be something fundamentally memorable about the story. Something that would keep it alive in my mind after I’d put it down and moved on to other things.

Finally, there was the deadline to consider. Now, an editor can do a hell of a lot to help a writer bring their story to life. An editor can help focus a writer on what is important to the plot, an editor can help a writer sharpen their characters, hone their language, remove inconsistencies. However, the more work an editor has to put in to bring the story up to standard, the longer it takes. Time was ticking and I had a whole other life to balance.

Point #3 then: Good writing. There had to be something in the style, something in the dialogue, something in the plot and the flow that was already pretty damned good.

If you’re a writer, particularly a new writer, you might be gnawing your hand off about now. I mean, you can’t force somebody to like what you’ve written. What you can do though, is keep working and reworking your story until you can no longer see how to improve it. You will lose perspective after a while because everybody does, but make it as good as you can. Then submit it and move on to another project. If it is rejected, you may be able to sell it somewhere else, but seek feedback first. Every rejection is a chance to learn, if you grasp it. Not every editor will be forthcoming every time, but take heart. If they see genuine potential in you it will be in their best interest to encourage you for future projects.

What lessons or surprises have you had through the process?
It’s been a fascinating experience, and I’m still processing it as I write these answers. In many ways I had no notion of just how much there was to do in the editorial role. It is a far broader set of responsibilities than I’d imagined, and far more creative. Some people see it as being judgemental; a tutting red pen on a writer’s beloved work. Indeed, there were times where I had to stop myself from using the Red Pen of Doom because my proposed changes would not have materially improved the story, just made it a bit more palatable to me. That’s not my job, it turns out.

It’s strange. Having set the theme and direction of the work, I started to feel more like the conductor of an orchestra. The final 12 stories were no longer individual pieces, but instruments to be played in concert. The order they appear in has a massive effect on the way the book is received as a whole, just as the order of songs will change your experience of an album. They draw strength from each other, build arcs of meaning, can be counterpointed to reveal different nuances, and will ultimately carry the audience through a much larger journey.

Whether you are editing a novel, an anthology, a story or a newspaper advert, it is all about communication. You are there to help the creator get across their ideas, but you can only do that by earning their trust. That means demonstrating that you understand what they are trying to achieve. That means sharing their enthusiasm and celebrating their successes. That also means (tactfully! and constructively!) showing them where they are straying and helping them find their way back. Finally, it means respecting their decisions.

Sunny With a Chance of ZombiesWould you recommend the editor role to others?
I would completely recommend editing to anyone who loves language and anyone who loves a good story. You need a certain temperament. You need to have a feel for what makes a story work. You need to be able to focus your eyes on the minutiae, but still keep your mind on the bigger picture. If you can build a good relationship with a writer, you will become their Everyman audience, their confidant, their safety net. You may be invisible to the readers but you will become an invaluable partner to writer and publisher alike. Something to be proud of.

Many people say that the zombie genre has been done, and there is nothing new to explore with it. What are your thoughts?
To put it tactfully, I think that many people are wrong. If a story lacks imagination then that’s the fault of the writer, not the subject matter. The great thing about zombies is that they are so obviously us. They are our savagery and our pitifulness, our fear of death and even our hope that something might come afterwards. Death is a constant companion; life a constant mystery. How could their combination be a bore? Pick a good story from any genre, strip away the fancy dress and you’ll still have a good story about People. Zombies may be used a backdrop, they may be a thematic tool, they may even be cast as main characters, but they will never be ‘done.’

Pick any setting, any country, any planet and you can have the dead returning to life. But what could it mean? There are infinite possibilities. What would be tedious is telling the same kind of stories from the same kind of perspectives in the same kind of setting over and over and over again. That has been done before; indeed, it’s a function of big businesses to spew out more-of-the-same as long as there is a visible market for it. From their point of view creativity is expensive, time consuming, and never a guarantee of success. (See: Hollywood.)

The joy of Small Press publishing (and in fact, independent projects across all media) is the freedom to be truly creative. Money would be nice but is never the point of the exercise. If inspiration hits, they can try something new. One of the reasons I was hired for this project was because I am not a traditional horror fan. I enjoy it as a genre, but I am not tied up by its conventions and tropes. I had my own freedom to exercise, pulling together a collection of tales to be truly different from the conventional zombie horror. The author response was fantastic, and it is my greatest pleasure to present it to you all. I only hope I get the opportunity to jump back into this sandpit again in the future and push things even further out.

What other projects are on the horizon?
I have a few little bits of work that are still percolating in the background, but nothing with a deadline yet. A couple of the stories submitted for Sunny were too good to reject outright. I shall be working with the authors and KnightWatch Press to find alternative homes for them, either in another anthology or to be expanded and published separately.

Other than that? Well, I work a full-time day job, I continue writing for Geek Syndicate, and I have a family to fill up my time – but I have loved every minute of this editing job.

My aim is to make this my career, which means taking on more work on a freelance basis until I can secure a salaried position with a publisher.

The horizon is wide and the sky is blue. What have you got for me?

You can find Dion on Twitter, and you can pick up a paperback or ebook copy of Sunny, with a Chance of Zombies from Amazon.

Pin It on Pinterest