Author: Claire Fitzpatrick

The Horror Tree Presents… An Interview with Don Gillette

Claire – Hi Don! Great to chat with you. Let’s jump right in. What are you currently writing/working on?

Don – Thanks, Claire. Really nice to meet you. And thanks, too, for the opportunity to talk with The Horror Tree. I’m working on a novel, ‘Dark Voices,’ and also serving as editor for ‘The Thirty,’ a group consisting of me and 29 other writers. We’re lashing together an experimental novel, ‘He Has Stayed Too Long,’ with one chapter written by each of us. I honestly thought ‘Dark Voices’ would be out by now, but ‘He Has Stayed Too Long’ is taking quite a bit of time, as you can imagine. Coordinating with 29 other writers isn’t quite as easy as I thought it would be although everybody involved has been fantastic.

Claire – Tell me about your latest release, ‘Fallen Angels.’

Don – The artist Don Gilbert and I have been good friends since we were in our teens. He came by the house one day to drink whiskey and play guitar and as I was flipping through his sketch pad, I was drawn to a series of bizarre-looking drawings. When I asked him what they were, he said, ‘Fallen Angels’ and we took it from there. ‘Fallen Angels’ are the creatures responsible for every aspect of our lives down to the most insignificant events. Lose a button? A Fallen Angel’s responsible. First kiss? A Fallen Angel’s there. Final breath? Yep—a Fallen Angel. The poems I wrote to accompany the illustrations tell the reader a bit about the particular part of life the Fallen Angel on the opposing page controls and also a bit about how that angel feels about his job.

Claire – Your journals ‘The Meeker Collection’ sound interesting. How did/does your newspaper writing affect your fiction?

Don – Oddly enough, most of my newspaper pieces were in the humour vein and most of my fiction is dark horror. While I was working as the editor of ‘The Wilson County Advocate,’ I wrote a column under a pseudonym every week, usually an entire page, and because I was so completely bored with actual news, I would take the facts, bundle them with fiction, insert my alter-ego into the story, toss in a bit of biographical folderol, and just have a good time with it. The fan mail and the death threats began to pour in (some people have NO sense of humour) and soon ‘Jimmy Joe Meeker’ (that was the name I used) was the most popular writer we had. Once you start writing humour, you can’t stop. There’s a comedian inside me and he’s going to come out whether I’m writing a non-fiction piece for a magazine or writing a horror novel. I enjoy that. Everybody needs a laugh now and again, regardless of what you’re reading, and I’ve never been able to write anything without tossing in a bit of humour, however subtle.

Claire –Tell me about your writing process. Where do you write? When do you write? Do you have any writing rituals?

Don – When the muse visits me, I’m like a man possessed. I’ll write 5,000 words in a day, getting up every hour to spend 5 minutes on the recumbent bicycle so I don’t forget how to walk—but the muse doesn’t visit daily. I don’t force anything because I don’t think, for example, that making yourself write 1,000 words a day is going to get you quality results. There are going to be days when you’re not on, days when you’ve got other things on your mind. Yeah, it’s a job, and it’s a difficult job, but you have to enjoy it. Readers are smart folks—they know if you didn’t enjoy what you wrote and forcing yourself to write when you don’t have the spark is not an enjoyable experience for the reader OR the writer. Having said that, though, my works-in-progress are always on my mind and it’s rare a day goes by when I don’t work. I’m up early. I grab a mug of black coffee, plop myself down in my office, fire up the computer, and I’m off to the races. I use a two-monitor set-up which I find really helps when I have to research something, but I’m still torn about that because I’ve caught myself getting distracted. My office is where my guitar collection hangs and it’s much too easy to be able to grab one when I stumble onto another guitar player on YouTube demonstrating a song I always wanted to learn. It’s easy to be lazy.   

Claire – Tell me about your novels ‘Pandemonium,’ ‘Phantom Dead Man,’ and ‘Sarcophagus.’ Where did the inspiration come from?

Don – ‘Pandemonium’ was my first novel and the inspiration came from several old buildings in Lebanon, Tennessee. Spooky, creepy old buildings—McClain School and the Lebanon Hotel. Late one night I went into the Lebanon Hotel—just walked right in—and took a tour of the place. After leaving, I drove to the abandoned school building and found it unlocked, so I took a moonlight tour of it, too. I got home at 2 a.m. and immediately began ‘Pandemonium,’ a story about an incubus in a small, Tennessee town. ‘Phantom Dead Man’ was an experiment in stream of consciousness and it arose from having too much on my plate. I was going to graduate school, working on two horror stories with deadlines looming, writing a how-to piece for a craftsman journal, working on a documentary for public television, and outlining a novel. I sat down one day with all these things whirling around in my head and I just started writing whatever popped in there. The book had a wildly opposing reception; readers either liked it or hated it—there was no middle of the road. ‘Sarcophagus’ came about after a trip to New Orleans. I’ve always been fascinated by the above-ground graveyards there and during that visit, I saw several tombs in St. Louis Cemetery #3 with gaping holes in them large enough for a person to squeeze through—and all the holes looked as if they were made by something pushing out, rather than in. ‘Sarcophagus’ was started on a legal pad the moment I got back to my hotel room.

Claire – Where does your inspiration come from? Do you have a writing ritual?

Don – Most of my inspiration comes from things I see; very little of it comes strictly from imagination. When I see something that triggers a “What if…?” I take out my phone and click a picture of it, but I’m also very old school. I carry a small, brown, leather notebook with me all the time and I’ll scribble the beginnings of the story in there. Once I’m back in the office, I open a document, type my notes into the document, write the first line or first few lines of the story, and save it in a working directory for later. That’s how I keep up with ideas these days and it’s much handier than shuffling through stacks of paper.

Claire – You received some great reviews for ‘Fallen Angels,’ most compliments enjoying the mixture of creepy and humorous. Do you often blend writing styles?

Don – Ha! Yes, the ‘Fallen Angels’ are just like us—some of them are funny, some are sarcastic, some are pricks, and some take themselves way too seriously. I do blend writing styles, though, and I do it with a purpose. Too much of anything is too much. In horror, you need a funny character—not laugh out loud funny, but observationally witty and self-deprecating. When you ask readers to suspend disbelief, you’re asking a lot, so having a character or a scene that’s something amusing out of real life helps the unbelievable become believable.

Claire – Tell me about your chapbooks. I see they were penned in the ‘80’s. Has your writing style changed since then?

Don – My style hasn’t changed all that much, but my focus has changed. I’ve moved away from poetry to fiction mainly because it suits me better. Poetry will drive a person nuts. I have two pieces in the newly released ‘Speculations’ edited by my friend Frank Coffman and I bled over those two poems like I’d been beaten with chains. Thirty lines of poetry and I spent weeks on them. I love poetry; it’s the easiest thing to do poorly, the most difficult thing to do well, and not many people seem to know the difference anymore. Hearing “I don’t like poetry” from people who’ve barely read any is painful, so although I continue to do it, I don’t publish much of it, not even in chapbooks. I still contribute to anthologies but chapbooks seem to be becoming a bit passé. I hope that’s not true, but it’s the impression I get lately.   

Claire – Tell me about your avant-garde project ‘The Thirty.’ Who did you work with?

Don – I got this wild idea that it would be very cool to read a horror novel where each chapter was written by a different author; where each author could take the story in whatever direction they wanted. After turning the idea over in my head for a few weeks, I approached the writing community on Twitter with the concept and the response was fantastic. Within just a day or two, I had 35 people on board and the mix was as eclectic as you can get. We have well-known horror authors, we have noteworthy book reviewers, we have bloggers, and we have horror aficionados who’ve always wanted to try their hand at writing but never have. Using some very basic calculations for word count, and realizing we’d lose some participants along the way, I decided on 30 chapters, wrote the first one, and sent it out. The next author in line wrote their chapter, sent it back, and it took off from there. We’re on Chapter 18 now and I’ve been pleasantly surprised, especially at the writing from newcomers—people who’ve never written fiction in their lives. It’s been an amazing, exciting experience. If I mention everybody involved we’ll be here all day, but I do want to say that the “name brand authors” on board have all been extremely generous in lending credibility to the project. We have new writers who still cannot believe they’ve got a chapter adjacent to Jonathan Janz or Chris Sorenson or D.W. Gillespie. This speaks volumes to the support and camaraderie present in the horror community.

Claire –Let’s learn more about you. Who is your favourite author and why?

Don – Wow… It’s incredibly difficult to pick just one, but though it may be cliché, I’m going with the master. If it weren’t for Stephen King, I don’t know what we’d all be reading and writing now. Stephen King took a genre that had been marginalized for two centuries and with raw talent, dragged it into the mainstream and kept it there. At the risk of sounding like a fanboy, I think King is the greatest horror writer who’s ever lived. Sure, he misses the mark sometimes—everyone does—but when it comes to the most important thing in fiction, which is story—story—story, he can pull it off 99% of the time.   

Claire – Do you get writer’s block? If so, what do you do to overcome it?

Don – I get writer’s block from time to time, but I have the greatest remedy—I grab my Gibson SG, plug it into a Marshall amplifier, and play along with Pete Townshend while The Who blasts “Won’t Get Fooled Again” over the sound system. It works every single time. The neighbours probably don’t care much for it, but most of them have “real” jobs so they aren’t home during the day anyway.

Claire – Writers are weird, right? What’s the strangest/most interesting thing about you?

Don – Most people would never guess, especially from my politics, that I was a United States Army Chief Warrant Officer for 26 years.

Claire – What’s on the horizon for you?

Don – I hope to see ‘Dark Voices’ published by year’s end and also see ‘He Has Stayed Too Long’ wrapped up by then. I’ve got an idea brewing for another book featuring the most terrifying monsters known to humankind: babies.

Claire – And finally, you’re stuck on an island with only one book. What’s the book?

Don – US Army Field Manual 21-76, ‘Survival, Escape, and Evasion’ along with Stephen King’s magnum opus: ‘The Stand.’ Thanks for your questions, Claire—it’s been a genuine pleasure.

Twitter: @dongillette

Website: http://www.dongillette.com

Amazon page: http://amazon.com/author/dongillette

 

 

 

The Horror Tree Presents… An Interview with Curtis M. Lawson

Claire – Hi Curtis! Great to chat with you. Let’s jump right in. What are you currently writing/working on?

Curtis – I’m currently working on the final book in my Bad World series, which is proving to be more elusive than the previous two books. There’s this balancing act of trying to keep the tone of the book familiar without regurgitating the same tropes and techniques from the previous books.

The Bad World books are kind of known for being really over the top, so I feel like I need to make this last instalment absolutely ludicrous, which is fun, but it brings a lot of pressure with it.

I’ve also been taking breaks here and there to work on short stories, and I’ve been experimenting with structured poetry. I guess poetry is a tough market, especially for weird/horror-based work, but I’m finding that I enjoy it.

Claire – Tell me about your latest release.

Curtis – This summer Gehenna & Hinnom books will be publishing a novella that I co-wrote with Doug Rinaldi. The book is called Those Who go Forth into The Empty Place of Gods. It’s a cosmic horror story that follows an underachieving genius who finds himself dragged into a war between an ancient cult of immortals and his own undead Grandfather.

While a palpable darkness hangs about the story, it doesn’t take itself too seriously. There is a bit of black humor in there, and it draws as much from pulpy b-movies as it does deeper literary horror.

This was an interesting book to write, as I had never collaborated with another author before. Doug and I have similar senses of humour though, and our writing styles meshed well enough that the book doesn’t read like two disparate voices. It was a smoother experience than I had expected, and it forced me to do a lot of conscious thinking about my writing process.

Claire – You write novels, short stories, and comics. Have you always written in multiple styles?
When I first became seriously interested in writing my main focus was on comics. I had this wildly unrealistic goal of writing blockbuster revivals of d-list characters at Marvel. Hellstorm. Morbius. Foolkiller. Sleepwalker. Stuff like that.

During my time as a comic creator I did toy around with short stories as well. I would send a story to an anthology or magazine every so often but would give up after one or two rejections. I just figured it wasn’t my medium.

 It wasn’t until I had spent nearly a decade and thousands of dollars pursuing a career in comics that I decided to shift my attention to prose. I had finally sold a short story to a magazine (though the magazine never ended up being published), so my confidence was high, and I had a story concept in my head, but no money to pay an artist to draw the comic. I decided to say the hell with it and wrote the story as a novel instead. Amazingly that novel, The Devoured, got picked up by a publisher within months of my final draft being finished.

Since then I have mainly focused on prose. I love comics, but they are expensive to make, and my short stories and novels just sell better, so that’s what I focus on. I’d still love to play in the Marvel and DC sandboxes someday if any of their editors are reading this.

Claire – Tell us about your writing process. Where do you write? When do you write? Do you have any writing rituals?

Curtis – I have a little corner of the living room set up with a computer desk and my laptop. I’m a stay at home dad, so I spend a few hours in the morning and a few hours in the afternoon writing. My routine is pretty basic. Tea or soda to drink with some music playing. The music varies depending on the mood of the project, but I usually listen to classical music or black metal when I write.

Claire – Let’s focus on your novels. ‘It’s a Bad, Bad, Bad, Bad World’ has garnered a lot of great reviews on Amazon. Tell me about the book. Where did your inspiration come from?

Curtis – It’s a Bad, Bad, Bad, Bad World was really something I just wrote for fun. I honestly thought it was too weird and that no one would get it, but luckily, I was wrong.  It turned out to be my most popular book.

The title is a riff off of the old film It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. The name inspired the rest of it. I wanted to capture the madcap, frenetic scavenger hunt feel of the old movie, but in a darker way. I chose to populate my story with colourful villains (lunatic nuns, inept occultists, serial killers in love), all vying for an ancient set of cursed artifacts, and let them battle it out.

You can really see my comic book roots shine through in this book. The characters, the settings, the battles – everything is just over the top. It has a very cinematic feel to it as well, and it draws a lot of inspiration from exploitation cinema and Tarantino films.

Bad World resonated with a lot of people because it’s as fun as it is dark. I would say the fun parts of it – the black humor, the snarky characters, and the ridiculous fight scenes – make the really dark aspects of the book stand out deeper.

Claire – The Sequel to ‘Bad World’ is ‘Bad World 2: To Kill An Archangel.’ Had you always planned a sequel? How does it follow the original?

Curtis – I had originally planned it as a stand-alone book, but my publisher pushed for me to make a trilogy because “people want to read a series”.  So, I outlined two more books, but then parted ways with the publisher before the first book came out.

When I self-published Bad World it ended up selling really well and people kept reaching out to me, asking for more. I figured I already had two more books outlined, so what the hell.

As for the second book, it picks up five years after the first and focuses on the few characters that survived book 1. The pacing is a bit slower, the storytelling less frantic, and the characters are fleshed out more deeply, but it still manages to one-up the absurdity of the first book, culminating in a Vatican City heist caper and a battle with the Pope.

Claire – ‘The Devoured’ is described as a ‘grim and compelling new vision of The Old West, filtered through Norse and Native American myth.’ It sounds fascinating. How did you merge all those concepts together? Where did the ideas come from?

Curtis – The initial idea behind The Devoured was to tell the story of a man who had lost everything. I chose to make my protagonist a Confederate soldier because it played into that theme of loss. He was a man who’d lost his war, his nation, and comes home to learn that he’s lost his family. He has nothing to lose, which makes him desperate and dangerous.

I also wanted to explore some of the classic themes behind cosmic horror, particularly nihilism and man’s insignificance in the universe. I didn’t want to do a Lovecraft pastiche though, so I chose to delve into the largely unexplored dark side of older religions. Since the story was taking place in the Reconstruction Era, I thought that looking at the elder god concept, or more accurately the concept of the titan or jotun (which more accurately translates into devourer) through the lens of Norse myth for one character and the lens of Native American myth for another would be fitting.

The last thing that I wanted to explore was the Luciferian, enlightenment ideals that went into the building of America. The Old Man, the protagonist, represents these luciferian/promethean concepts of man standing up against a heavenly tyrant, as well as the concept of young gods (modern man in this case) rising up against the titans of old.

Claire – Tell me about your short story ‘Everything Smells Like Smoke Again’ published in Wicked Haunted: An Anthology of the New England Horror Writers. Frank Michaels Errington from Cemetery Dance reviewed the anthology and commented that he loved your story.

Curtis – The story is about a woman who slowly goes insane as the ghost of her estranged father haunts her home, or maybe her mind. It’s my most autobiographical story and it explores the repercussions of addiction on one’s family, as well as the toxicity of resentment.

Claire – Two of your stories have appeared in the anthologies ‘Black Pantheons’ and ‘Wicked Haunted.’ Tell me about those stories.

Curtis – Black Pantheons is my collection of weird fiction stories that drop imperfect characters into an uncaring universe, inhabited by malevolent deities. The stories range from haunting melancholy to hardcore occult horror.

My favourite story in the collection is a novella called Paramnesia, and it flips the slasher movie trope on its head, pitting elderly, dementia patients against the evil spirit of a dead cult leader. I largely modelled the structure on the first Nightmare on Elm Street film.

Claire – What do you prefer to write? Novels or short stories?

Claire – I like both for different reasons, but I often struggle with short stories. I have a better grasp on the mechanics of longer form stories, even though they take more time and work. My ideas generally lend themselves more naturally to novels and novellas.

Claire – Do you conduct research for your stories? If so, what kind?

Curtis – I do. It all depends on what the story demands, but I’m a stickler for the details. For the Devoured I had to research the history of the railroad, the civil war, fire arms of the era, Native American reservations, and the Reconstruction Era. It was intensive.

For the Bad World books, I had to research guns, body armour, the history of Rhodesia/Zimbabwe, Vatican security, and the maps of Vatican City.

Last year I spent months researching classical music and goetic demons for a project. Luckily, I enjoy the research.

Claire – Your website includes quotes of praise for your work. What do these mean to you as an another? How do they impact your future writing?

Curtis – They are nice ego boosters, but I try not to let compliments go to my head any more than I let a bad review get to me. I just keep that stuff on my site to try and gain clout and interest from readers. If they see that someone, they respect likes my stuff they might be more likely to pick up one of my books. That’s the theory anyway.

Claire – Let’s learn more about you. Who is your favourite author and why?

Curtis – H.P. Lovecraft is my favourite author. I love his vocabulary and use of language. His imagination is a thing of legend, and the details he denies the reader are scarier than the details that most writers reveal. His work is intelligent, deep, and thoughtful and it touches upon themes that I find myself drawn to.

Claire – Do you get writer’s block? If so, what do you do to overcome it?

Curtis – Not writer’s block really, but I get in the way of my own progress often. Either I get caught up on fine details, some logistic that can be fixed later, or I fall into research pits. 

Claire – Writers are weird, right? What’s the strangest/most interesting thing about you?

Curtis – Wow, there’s a lot. I’m a teetotaller, and I’ve never so much as drank a beer. That’s the one that raises the most eyebrows, I guess. What else? I used to be in MENSA. My likeness has been drawn into a Spider-Man comic. Other than that, maybe my esoteric interests – underground music, psychology, philosophy, mythology, occultism.

Claire – What’s on the horizon for you?

Curtis – Last year I wrote a novel called Black Heart Boys’ Choir, which is the story of a troubled teenage boy obsessed with a cursed piece of music. To do the Hollywood mashup thing, one might call it a mix between The Music of Erich Zann, American Psycho, and A Clockwork Orange.
It was emotionally exhausting to write, but I think it is my strongest work to date. It’s been very well received by my friends and colleagues who have read it so far. S.T. Joshi has even offered to write the foreword once I find a publisher.

I also have a short story coming out in a few months in the Corpus Press anthology, In Darkness Delight: Creatures of the Night. That’s pretty exciting. The table of contents is very impressive, and Corpus Press is a great publisher to work with.

Claire – And finally, you’re stuck on an island with only one book. What’s the book?

Curtis – Probably Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology. I think Gaiman’s versions of the myths are more entertaining and readable to modern readers than the original Eddas, but they still contain the deeper levels of meaning that are present in the original texts. I could be happy reading those stories over and over. I think I could always find something new in them to ruminate over.

Claire – Thanks, Curtis!

Website: http://curtismlawson.com/

Twitter: ‎@c_lawson

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/curtismlawson/

Amazon:

https://www.amazon.com/Curtis-M.-Lawson/e/B01096UIOM/ref=dp_byline_cont_ebooks_1

 

The Horror Tree Presents… An Interview with Peggy A. Wheeler

Claire: Hey Peggy, how are you? What are you working on at the moment?

Peggy: I am fine and thank you for asking. I hope you are doing well, too.

What I’m working on – l Right now I’m completing the first draft of the sequel to my supernatural mystery-thriller, The Raven’s Daughter. After working on this project (The Summer Ravens) for over two years, I finally got down to business in hopes I can get this novel to my publisher in time for a summer release. It’s a good thing she’s patient because I’ve been under contract for this book for quite some time.

Claire: I see you aside from fiction you also write non-fiction and poetry. I do, too! Do you take a different approach to writing different things?

Peggy: Yes. I was a technical writer for many years. The difference between tech writing and poetry or prose is vastly different. Same with prose vs poetry. Even though there is cross-over between prose and poetry, the two forms require a different skill set, same with the differences between non-fiction and fiction.

Non-fiction is, of course, more cerebral and requires a more complicated level of research and precise language than in novel writing.  Poetry is a creative free-for-all but uses more concise language than in prose writing, generally relying on fewer and more carefully chosen words to make its impact.  Technical writing is sparse and exact, with lots of white space on the page, and relies on an economy of words, short, precise sentences with bullet points and sometimes diagrams. To reiterate, all forms of writing besides novel and short story form are generally more concise, use fewer words to convey meaning, and although there is cross-over, all require a different author mindset, and sometimes as mentioned (such as in technical writing, journalism, or copywriting) require completely different skills.

Claire: Tell me about your books. Let’s start with ‘Chaco.’ Where did your inspiration come from? Have you always been interested in writing a dystopian disaster novel?

Peggy: I visited my sister-in-law in 2012, and while there I picked up a printed copy of National Geographic.  While thumbing through the pages, an article on The Carrington Event caught my attention.  In 1859, two British amateur astronomers, one named Carrington, observed independently a series of Class X Coronal Mass Ejections (a type of solar storm, also known as CMEs) on the surface of the sun.

The CMEs hit Earth directly creating all kinds of havoc, knocking out telegraph service throughout the entire northern hemisphere for months. Spontaneous fires erupted over the surface of the planet.  Telegraph operators in a few cases were able to communicate without any connection, as though the Earth itself acted as a huge battery.  The CME generated Northern Lights observed as far south as Colorado where hunters sleeping in their tents thought it was morning because it was so light out, got up to make breakfast – it was the middle of the night.

Right away I began research on what would happen if The Carrington Event occurred today. What I found was terrifying and intriguing, and right away I began to formulate a post-apocalyptic adventure story, named after the protagonist, CHACO.

I wanted an unlikely hero, so I chose a young Salvadoran living and working  undocumented in California — that he was a university professor and astrophysicist in El Salvador, but is in hiding after landing on a death list in El Salvador because he fought on the wrong side of a U.S. backed coup, all play an essential role in how the story and the characters come together.

Claire: ‘The Splendid and Extraordinary Life of Beautimus Potamus’ seems completely different from ‘Chaco.’ It doesn’t even seem like it was written by the same person! Tell me about the book. Where did your inspiration come from?

Peggy: In the last year of my mother’s life, she suffered from dementia and had gone blind from macular degeneration.  She was bedridden and couldn’t even feed herself, and I was not equipped or trained to be a full-time care-taker, plus my husband and I lived in a small house with no accommodations for a wheelchair even if we’d had an extra bedroom. I found a long-term facility for her only a little over a mile from my home.  Every day I’d visit her and read to her.  I came up with an idea to write a story for her, and that story became a book, and that book was The Splendid and Extraordinary Life of Beautimus Potamus.

On the day I read the final chapter, (I read to her one chapter at a time as I finished the drafts), I thought she was sleep because her eyes were closed as she rested still and quiet on her pillows.  I attempted to tip-toe out of the room, but then I heard her. She sat up straight in her bed, her eyes open, tears running down her cheeks. “That was beautiful, Peggy Ann.”  Beautimus Potamus was the last thing I’d ever read to her.  Unfortunately, she didn’t live long enough to hold a published copy in her hands. I wrote the book because I thought she’d get a kick out of it, and I knew that even with her dementia she would appreciate the political references, the cultural jokes, and the satire. The book’s language, themes, and style were intentionally for her.  I dedicated The Splendid and Extraordinary Life of Beautimus Potamus to her.  By the way, Bea Potamus is my personal favourite book of those I’ve written.

Claire: ‘The Raven’s Daughter’ seems like a cinematic novel. Where did the idea of blending myth, monster, and murder come from? Did you conduct any research for the novel?

Peggy: I’ve always been interested in Native American and Irish culture and lore, especially since there are indigenous people in my family from several tribes, and I’m over 50% Irish. I always thought I’d build a character from the two cultures, one culture my protagonist would accept, the other she’d reject, ergo Maggie Tall Bear Sloan, half Yurok/half Irish and 100% gutsy.

I reached for months and employed sensitivity readers for the Native American parts of the books to ensure that I was respectful in my approach.  The legend of the Pukkukwerek (sometimes spelt differently) is a Yurok legend about a woman who shapeshifts into a raven, so I made Maggie a shapeshifter, too, although she denies it, as she does her Yurok culture, and tries to excuse away her shifting. Maggie is a cantankerous, sometimes unlikable character, who is also compassionate and loves deeply, but she is a confirmed sceptic and does not believe in anything supernatural.

I set out to write a murder mystery and included horror, supernatural, and mythological components as a natural part of the process that grew out of the story.

 

Claire: The book was also a finalist in the CCC Great Novel Contest. That’s amazing! What was it like being a finalist? Did that impact your writing career in any way?

Peggy: The CCC Great Novel Contest is a small, regional contest.  It is a juried contest, not a confirmation of popularity, as in “vote for my book, friends.”  An actual panel of judges, mostly academic, presided over the contest and selected winners and finalists, and I believe that makes a difference.  I’m proud that my debut novel made it to the short list, and I’m glad my name is associated with the contest because I think contests and awards are great for getting one’s name out there even in a small way, and they help to validate the author’s work.

Claire: You’ve been featured in a few anthologies. Do you prefer writing novels or short fiction?

Peggy: I enjoy both, but I consider myself a novelist.

Claire: Do you find it difficult to write different genres?

Peggy: No.  It’s more fun for me to write in different genres and voices.  One good friend of mine, a successful writer who has had her books made into movies, once told me to “Pick a planet and land on it.” My publisher thinks it’s more difficult for an author who writes in different genres to gain a readership because some readers will love Raven’s Daughter but may detest allegorical satirical fantasy, such as Beautimus Potamus. Others may love CHACO but cannot stand the character of Maggie Tall Bear Sloan.

The idea is to write in one genre, so you build a brand. If someone is a huge Stephen King fan, for example, and pick up his latest novel, but it turns out to be a steamy bodice-busting romance, or a cute, cosy mystery rather than horror, they may be a wee bit disappointed, as in to the point of lighting the book on fire and demanding a refund.

In a way, that’s already happened to me.  A reader was enchanted with The Raven’s Daughter hated Beautimus Potamus and was detailed about her disappointment in the review she gave me, because despite having read the book blurb for Lady Bea, what she really wanted was more Raven’s Daughter.

I, however, am having a blast trying different genres on for size. Every new genre is an intriguing challenge for me, and because of that, I probably will write mash-ups as I do now, or cross-genre, for a while. I am even pondering trying my hand at literary fiction. One day, I may settle on a single genre. Right now, I’m tending toward the supernatural mystery-thriller, but that’s probably because I’m working on one.

Claire: I see you have a B.A. in English Literature and an M.A. in English with a Creative Writing. How have these degrees helped your writing?

Peggy: No education is ever wasted.  Some will say differently, but even if I’d studied architecture, biology, or history instead of literature and creative writing, I would still benefit from my formal education, and my writing benefits, too. There are life-skills one learns as a successful university student — successful meaning you complete your courses, and graduate with a good GPA — too, that help with being a writer.  These include:

  • Following directions (What about following submission or query instructions that so many writers gloss over?)
  • Stick-to-itiveness/perseverance (You don’t give up until you’ve got that diploma in your hand, just like you don’t give up until your story is finished and you have done your best to get it published)
  • Discipline (Gotta get those papers, research, and reading in on time, or you don’t pass. Better meet rewrites and editing deadlines, or you lose contracts)
  • How to research and how to write an academic paper (Helps in all kinds of writing)
  • Willingness to invest in one’s passion and achievements (Costs money, energy, and time to be successful in anything)
  • Communication (You better know how to communicate well and to use good vocabulary if you are to earn a degree or to pitch a book to an agent)

I still take classes in writing and marketing.  Right now, I’m on Lesson Thirteen of a class from The Great Courses on writing elegant compound sentences, and I’m already applying what I’ve learned.  I ordered another on script writing and will be ordering more.  I never quit learning, and every class I take directly related to writing or not, helps me grow as an author.  The more knowledge of the world, in addition to growing knowledge and skill in my craft, the better.

Claire: I read your blog post ‘Never Too Old To Write’ and think it’s great! Do you think you you’d be a different writer if you started earlier on? Are you happy to be published later in life?  

Peggy: I am sure my writing at age 20 would be far different than it is at nearly age 65.  I’ve accumulated so many more life experiences and have acquired so much more knowledge over the last forty years.  My writing skills have also markedly improved since I was much younger.

The thing about being a writer is you are never too young or too old to start.  The young woman who wrote The Outsiders first published in 1976, one of the most popular YA books of all time, S.E. Hinton, was 15 when she penned that book.  My friend, Ray Straight, turns 95 in May. He is just now subbing his first novel.  I was 61 when my first novel debuted from Dragon Moon Press.

Claire: You’ve had the wonderful opportunity to study with Robert Pinsky. I’m jealous! What was it like working with such a celebrated poet? How did it assist your writing?

Peggy: Robert Pinsky is the most generous-hearted, most genuinely caring professor I ever studied under.  He was a guest prof at UCLA when I was an undergrad.  He only wanted twelve students, and only graduate students, in his class, but he liked a poem I submitted and thought it had “something” so he made an exception for which I will always be grateful.

Of course, learning about how to write anything better, whether it be poetry or business letters, is helpful in any writing we do.  Robert Pinsky is a master at using beautiful language, and I did pay attention in class, so, yes, I do regularly apply what I learned from him at the seminar many years ago.

Claire: Are you reading anything at the moment?

Peggy: I’ve almost finished reading The Master Butchers Singing Club, a 2003 novel from Louise Erdrich. I just finished re-reading Octavia Butler’s, Kindred, and a few days ago I read for the first time, Delta Lady, the memoirs of Rita Coolidge.

Claire: What’s next for you?

Peggy: I’ve a third in the series planned for The Raven’s Daughter – this one will be set in Ireland.  I’m five chapters deep into the sequel to CHACO.  Soon, I have to decide if I want to write more in The Raven’s Daughter series or leave it as a trilogy and continue with the sequel to CHACO or move onto something else entirely.

I’ve several books in progress, one will be a short  non-fic guide to finding literary agents (I’ve  had three agents, and even helped with the slush pile for one of them) and small publishers; another is a literary ghost story set in the Beat era in San Francisco, narrated by the ghost of an old Russian woman.  I’ve started a mystery that takes place completely underground among survivalists living in a series of bunkers connected by tunnels, and a speculative novel for a New Adult audience about a social media catfish who turns out to be, well, I don’t want to spoil it. I’ve a couple of others on the back burner in different states of completion, too.

My goal is to get out one good book each year and to complete and submit a few short stories or non-fic pieces each year to anthologies in hopes that one or two may get picked up. Most recently, I’m in an anthology, Paranormal Encounters, that just came out from Anubis Press about true supernatural encounters and experiences.

Claire: Finally – your house is on fire, and you can only save one book. Which book is it and why?

Peggy: 100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.  I’m a huge fan of magical realism, another genre I want to try my hand at, and 100 Years was the first time I’d encountered Marquez or the genre he’s known to have had a huge hand in inventing – it’s said he coined the term “magical realism.”  I was absolutely enchanted by the premise and the language, and reading the book made a huge impact on my decision to write.

Thank you for inviting me to participate in the interview.  It’s been fun!

 

 

The Horror Tree Presents…An Interview with C.R. Langille

Claire: Hi C.R.! How are you? What have you been up to on the writing front?

C.R.: I’m great! Thank you for asking. At the moment I’m working on an episodic shared-world serial set in a grim, post-apocalyptic fantasy world where all the gods have died. Think if Cormac McCarthy’s The Road had a bastard child with Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire…maybe a pinch of Robert E. Howard in there for taste. I’ve also been finishing up the first draft of the third book in my Dark Tyrant Series.

Claire: Tell me about you! Are you a full-time writer, or do you work in ‘the real world’?

C.R.: I work in the real world as you put it. I’ve been in the military for nearly 20 years now. I’m actually set to retire in September, where I plan on writing full-time. It’s been a challenge trying to juggle writing, work, and family. I’m okay at that juggle. However, I know of a lot of folks who are masters at making it work. It amazes me what people are capable of if they put their mind to something.

Canyon Shadows

Claire: Tell me about your novels ‘Consequence’ and ‘Canyon Shadows.’

C.R.: Consequence and Canyon Shadows are dark urban fantasy books with some heavy horror elements. However, all that aside, the stories are really about how much someone is willing to sacrifice for their loved ones.

They are both set in Utah, my home state. Canyon Shadows deals with a small town I created in Southern Utah of the same name, where an ancient entity known as the Dark Tyrant was imprisoned deep in the mountain when the earth was still young. As time has worn on, the Tyrant has grown stronger and he seeks a way free from his bonds. Consequence, takes place right after the Tyrant has broken free and a demonic apocalypse kicks off across the world.

When I started off to write these books, they were going to be traditional horror novels; however, as I fleshed out the stories, I couldn’t help but add elements of magic and other strange things. I think it stemmed from my love of reading fantasy novels when I was younger. I started really getting into reading with Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms books, my absolute favourite still being Homeland by R.A. Salvatore.

I finally embraced it and my books turned into this mix of urban fantasy and horror which I think is really fun. I have a certain scene in Consequence that I’ve been told was traumatizing to a reader.

Claire: As well as being published in magazines, you also self-publish. What do you enjoy about self-publishing?

C.R.: I enjoy the freedom that comes with self-publishing. I set my own deadlines, goals, and objectives. I like being able to release on my own schedule as well. The best part, is all the return comes to me and I’m not sharing any of that royalty with a publishing house. However, don’t get me wrong, there are certainly drawbacks to self-publishing as well. For example, all the cost is now on me (cover art, ISBNs, editing, interior design, etc), not to mention all the marketing is up to me as well. I’ve had to become educated on marketing and I’ve only scratched the surface.

Claire: Tell me about your writing process. Do you set aside time to write, or do you write as your stories come to you?

C.R.: At the moment I try and sneak in writing whenever I can. My schedule is pretty crazy at the moment. I know there are a lot of successful folks who get up super early in the morning and do all their things…well, that isn’t me. I think if I tried to do something like that there would be an incident. As for plotting books, I gave that up a long time ago. It doesn’t work for me. I’d spend all this time and energy plotting out each chapter, and it would derail by the middle of chapter one. The way I do it, is I know the major scenes and the end, so I know where I’m headed, and then I’ll just ensure I write what I need to end up at those scenes.

Claire: I see you also write for younger readers. Is your writing process different for younger readers than it is for adults?

C.R.: Very much so! My stories for adults are way darker than anything I’d ever write for young readers. I have to be careful when I’m writing those stories that they don’t get too scary or bleak. That doesn’t mean I don’t write scary stories for young readers, because I do. I grew up watching scary movies and loving horror from a very young age, and I think it’s important that kids and teens experience those emotions in a healthy way.

Claire: How long have you been writing for?

C.R.: I started writing over 20 years ago for fun, but I decided to get serious about writing 17 years ago.

Claire: You have a MFA: Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University. How has that impacted your writing career?

C.R.: Getting my MFA from Seton Hill was one of the smartest things I ever did for my writing career. My first published short story came out in October of 2011 and as you could imagine, I was excited about it. When I was accepted at Seton Hill I thought I knew a lot about writing, turns out I was wrong. I realized pretty quickly that I had a lot more to learn. They also taught at a lot of the back-end pieces of writing like market study, research, querying agents, teaching, etc… The greatest thing about Seton Hill’s program though, wasn’t just the education, but the networking. I met so many awesome people out there that I still converse with today.

Claire: I see you’re a tabletop gamer. Does that help shape your writing?

C.R.: Definitely! I started playing paper/pencil RPG’s when I was in 6th grade. None of my friends at the time had ever played, so it was on me to get the books, learn how to play, teach them, and ultimately run the games. I spent a lot of my formative years creating adventures, campaigns, monsters, and characters for them to enjoy. I still run games today as the DM/GM. There is no doubt in my mind that being able to create fun adventures for people and see how they unfold has helped me with creating stories for folks to read.

Claire. Reading through your blog, I see you’re also an expert in survival techniques, and regularly post about your activities. Does that aspect of your life influence your writing? If so, how?

C.R.: Indeed it does. The Air Force sent me to an outdoor survival school which was amazing and throughout the years I’ve taken other classes and seminars to help reinforce those skills. Whenever I’m writing about a character that is stuck in the wilderness, I pull on that knowledge to help me create realistic scenes. In fact, the main character in Consequence has some of the same training and utilizes his training as he’s fighting his way through the forest.

Claire: You also mention you’re inspired by the Utah outdoors. How do you blend real locations within your stories?

C.R.: I like to draw on real experience in my books. I think it’s that touch of reality that helps turn horror even scarier. There are places both Canyon Shadows and Consequence that are very real. A lot of the times if I come across something unique, or something that sticks out to me, I’ll make a note and incorporate it somehow later. For example, in Canyon Shadows, there is a scene where the character is driving along a lonely road on his way to Canyon Shadows, Utah. Canyon Shadows itself is a fictional place; however, along the way he passes a run-down cabin in the middle of a field. I first saw that cabin when I was a very young boy and always wondered who built it, what its story was, and how long it had been there.

The coolest thing, is that I give enough information in the book, that anyone can go find that place and experience the same things as well. The hunting scene in Consequence is drawn from an area I hunted several years ago. Black Rock in “Brine and Blood” is a real landmark near the Great Salt Lake. The list goes on, but I think adding a touch of realism enhances the story.

Claire: You’re a member of the Horror Writer’s Association. What does being a member mean to you? How has it furthered your writing career?

C.R.: For me, being a member of the HWA is a way of showing that one, I take my writing seriously. I love horror and writing and the HWA promotes both of those things. It’s a great way to network as well and bounce ideas off other like-minded individuals. I like to give back as well, and I’ve participated in the HWA’s mentorship program for the past few years. Basically they will pair up a newer mentor or someone who wants help with their writing, with another HWA member who has some experience. I enjoy being involved in the mentoring program, because just like any good mentoring relationship, if done right both participants can learn a great deal from one another.

Claire: Tell me about your protagonists. Do you base them on people you know? Or are they purely fictitious?

C.R.: My protagonists are mainly fictitious; however, I do incorporate some aspects of real people at times. Not just with my protagonists, but with supporting characters as well. When I’m out and about, or interacting with folks, I am always taking note of interesting mannerisms. During my studies at Seton Hill one of the teachers mentioned people watching as a research skill. Basically, take a notepad and go sit in a coffee shop, or a store or shopping mall and just watch people. You’d be amazed at the amount of interesting things that come from that.

Claire. I see you also review movies. What do you enjoy about reviewing?

C.R.: Reviewing is a way for me to unpack what I just watched. It’s a way for me to analyse my own thoughts on what happened. What worked and what didn’t. Mainly, I love hearing back from people to see if my own views line up with what they were thinking or seeing if I’m way off. I generally only review movies or books that made an impression, so it’s another way for folks to see what influences me as a writer and a person.

Claire: What’s your favourite book?

C.R.: That’s a tough one. My taste in books have changed so much over the years it’s hard to pin down. Some books that have influenced me or left an impression throughout the years are Homeland by R.A. Salvatore, The Shining by Stephen King, and Penpal by Dathan Auerbach.

Claire: You’re stuck on a desert island. Being a survivalist, what would you do?

C.R.: I’m going to stick with the basics and follow a few simple things. Let’s talk about the rule of threes to begin with. This is an over-generalization because extremes can definitely change the timelines, but a person can last three hours exposed in harsh climates, three days without water, and thirty days without food. Therefore, my first priority is going to be finding or making shelter. I am assuming if it is a desert island that heat is going to be the biggest factor, so shade and protection from rain/storms. Depending on what’s around me that shelter could be a debris shelter, a lean-to, or even a cave if such a thing exists. Things I’d be looking for is a location that is close to a water source, fuel for a fire, and food (if all that is possible).

Following that, my next priority is going to be water. Ideally, there is a body of fresh water on this island, which would make things easier. At that point I just need to figure out a method of purification which probably means building a fire.

After fire and water is taken care of, I would need to find food. I’d be looking at local wildlife, insects, and plants to cover that aspect.

Finally, after all of that, I’d be looking for a means of rescue. That means building SOS signs large enough to be seen from the air. Having three large bonfires ready to go at a moment’s notice to signal I need help, or things of that nature.

Of course, all of this is easier said than done and it comes down to having the skills to implement this type of training, and ultimately having the will to live in a survival situation. Nothing is guaranteed, but proper training and the will to live can go a long ways to successfully surviving in an extreme environment.

Claire, I want to thank you for taking the time to interview me. It’s been a lot of fun and I appreciate the opportunity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Horror Tree Presents…An Interview with Patrick Freivald

Claire – Hi Patrick! Great to chat with you. Let’s jump right in. What are you working on now?

Patrick – I have several projects going right now. I’m waiting for last beta reader feedback on a dark fantasy about a necromancer trying to save the world, I’m collaborating with David Price on a contemporary or near-future thriller, and I’m cranking out some original short stories in the hopes of putting out a collection in the next year or so.

Claire – I see you’re a beekeeper and high school teacher. Quite an interesting combination! How do those jobs impact your writing?

Patrick – Besides getting in the way? It really depends. My novels Twice Shy and Special Dead are about students and education (and zombies), so of course teaching impacted what I wrote about, how, and why. Physics sometimes comes into play when I don’t feel like ignoring it for the purposes of a story—my Matt Rowley thrillers are about augmented superhumans and fallen angels, so didn’t much tie in to teaching or physics there. As for beekeeping, I’ve only written one story involving bees, because I will only portray them in a positive, or at least neutral/natural, light. I’m pleased to say that this story was published in an anthology alongside Neil Gaiman and Clive Barker!

Claire – You’re also a Bram Stoker Award® nominee. That’s amazing! Tell me about the nominated work/s.

Patrick – Four awards, but who’s counting?

I’ve been nominated in three categories. In 2013 I had two: Special Dead (the sequel to Twice Shy) is about zombies mainstreamed into a public school and was nominated in the Young Adult category. That year, Joe McKinney’s absolutely wonderful novel Dog Days took the award. “Snapshot” was nominated in the short fiction category, a cautionary tale about biomedicine and vanity—I have no idea how it got enough attention to get nominated, as the publisher of the anthology it appeared in collapsed maybe a month after it came out. David Gerrold’s “Night Train to Paris” won.

The Matt Rowley books have gotten some love, too. In 2014 the first book, Jade Sky, was nominated through the member recommendation process, and in 2015 the sequel, Black Tide was chosen by the jury to be on the preliminary ballot and made the cut to become a nominated work. That’s pretty fun, given that they’re basically hyperviolent superhero stories, with demons and fallen angels and macabre technology. I lost out to Steve Rasnic Tem’s Blood Kin and Paul Tremblay’s A Head Full of Ghosts, both excellent books.

Claire – Did winning an award change your perspective on writing? Has it influenced you in any particular way?

Patrick – Hey, now, I’m a four-time loser! My ego, though vast, is as-yet unvalidated with a haunted house statue.

I did receive the 2015 Richard Laymon Award for Service from HWA President Lisa Morton, but that was for my role moderating the HWA’s Facebook Page. Andrew Wolter shared the award, and we both got a very nice engraved glass plaque. Moderating the page is a bit of work that sometimes can get a little eye-widening, and the acknowledgment was nice, but it wasn’t for my writing.

Claire – You’ve received great reviews for your ‘Matt Rowley’ series. Tell me about the books. What is it about writing thrillers that interests you the most?

Patrick – They were kind of inspired by the Marvel movies, in that you watch these superheroes get thrown into cars hard enough to dent them, or blasted straight through brick walls, but they suffer no bodily trauma. So, there’s violence, but there’s not really much in the way of violence. So, I decided to make people who are very strong, very fast, etc, etc, and can heal very quickly, but along the way can take (and inflict) truly horrific damage. That turned into, “well, what do these augmented humans have to deal with?” And an action thriller franchise was born. And because I’m me, there’s bound to be horror folded into the narrative.

Thrillers are fun because, well, they’re fun. In addition to the Matt Rowley books, I co-wrote an FBI/Serial Killer novel with my twin brother, Blood List, about a killer trying to save his father’s life, as a way to upend some of the thriller tropes but still give a solid gut-punch ride to the reader. I write a lot of softer horror, too, especially in my short stories, but my agent is shopping several novels right now, one of which is a thriller involving transhumanism and aliens, one is straight-up horror about an affluent violinist being sexually stalked by a demon, and one is mid-grade fiction for reluctant reader boys, about the only kid in his class who sucks at magic.

Claire – Where did the inspiration for Matt Rowley come from? Is an action-hero version of yourself? Was he inspired by other fictional characters?

Patrick – I Tuckerized the name from my friend Matt Rowley, who is about as different from the character as a person can be. The character himself is sort of a small-town Captain America but with a much more fragile moral compass when it comes to “just following orders,” and, and I think this is quite important, real ties—he’s got parents, a wife and child, a home town, things that Cap, even in the older comics, basically doesn’t. My favourite character in the series, Sakura Isuji, isn’t really inspired by anyone—she’s a stoic badass with a troubled past that involves infiltrating the Yakuza at a very young age before rising in the ranks of the Tokyo PD, and then becoming a superhuman soldier alongside Rowley. She is, I think, the best kind of character—I didn’t want her to be like or not like anyone else, and didn’t draw any obvious inspiration from anywhere, I just knew who she was and how she became that person and wrote her that way.

Claire – Tell me about your writing process. Do you set aside time to write? Do you write on a schedule? Or on a whim?

Patrick – I write when I feel like it, which is most days. During Robotics build season—I’m the coach of our local team—I don’t write at all, because it sucks up all of my time from early January through mid-March or so, and any downtime I have is spent churning on the engineering challenges, keeping on top of paperwork, etc. Despite this sporadic and heavily-interrupted “schedule,” I write about two novels and five to ten short stories a year, so it works for me.

Claire – You co-wrote ‘Blood List’ with your brother. How did that work? I’d imagine it would have been an interesting writing process.

Patrick – We lived nearby, so spent a lot oftime talking in person. After hammering out a very comprehensive outline, we tackled the chapters out of order, each picking and writing what we felt like writing, until we’d finished the rough draft. We then went back, and each rewrote, edited, tweaked, etc, until neither one of us have any idea who wrote which part.

I’m not saying I’d recommend doing things that way, but it worked for us at the time, and the result is a pretty kickass yarn.

Claire – ‘Blood List’ concerns characters who are connected to the FBI. Do you do a lot of research for your stories?

Patrick – We do, and we also make a lot of stuff up. The entire conception of Palomini’s team is total fiction—the FBI doesn’t do things that way, and likely will never start doing things that way, but the way the FBI actually does things is pretty routine and boring and doesn’t really make for a good thriller, so we quite deliberately said, “here’s a new model for investigation that the FBI is doing, and…” But on the flip-side, much of the technology, the information on serial killers, tactics, and so forth, yeah, we tried to get those details as right as possible.

Claire – I read you coached an award-winning competition robotics team for high school students. Does your busy schedule help or hinder your writing process?

Patrick – It’s a hindrance, but I don’t have kids, don’t watch a whole lot of TV, and don’t play video games, and I like writing, so when it comes down to it I probably spend more time writing than a lot of people, robotics and day job notwithstanding.

Claire – I see on Amazon you’ve contributed to several anthologies. What do you like about writing for anthologies? Do you prefer short stories or long-form fiction?

Patrick – I like both. My first published work was a piece of flash fiction, and the form is a lot of fun—trying to pack as much as possible into a thousand words, no exceptions, is a great challenge and I highly suggest that people try it.

My method for writing short stories is entirely different from my method for writing novels. My novels are obsessively outlined, researched, plotted—with detailed character dossiers, necessary bits of dialogue, Easter Eggs, and so forth built into each scene before I “write” the first word. (That is to say, the first words that an actual reader will see.)

My short stories are totally pantsed—I have a character and an idea of where it will probably go, and then I just let it go where it does. Sometimes that turns into a thousand words, sometimes six thousand, sometimes something in-between.

Claire – Who is your favourite author, and why?

Patrick – I don’t have a favourite author. I put down more books than I finish, but the books I finish all bring me something I didn’t have before I read them, and I appreciate any author who can do that—and there are a whole ton of them.

Claire – Do you read books of genres different to your own writing? How important do you think it is to read to be able to write?

Patrick – I read a lot of horror, fantasy, science fiction, thrillers of various stripes, non-fiction (science and history, mostly, plus anything by Sebastian Junger), and the occasional contemporary fiction (from Bridget Jones’s Diary to Gone Girl to Big Trouble). Sometimes I read for fun, sometimes for catharsis, sometimes just because whatever it is (fiction or non-fiction) is interesting.

I would assume that, all things being equal, an author who reads a lot will likely be better than an author who doesn’t, but to be honest I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about how other people are spending their time. Are there authors out there who don’t read much but who write great books? Probably. Are there authors who read like crazy but put out some rather crappy work? Sure.

But when I pick up a book, I don’t know whether the author reads widely, or only in their genre, or at all. And I don’t care. Either the book stands on its own merits or it doesn’t. I’m not going to name names, but one of my favourite fantasy authors has also written some utter tripe, and they weren’t that many years apart, so I can’t imagine that her reading habits changed in-between. And I can’t imagine why I’d care. Either the books are good, or they aren’t; the first series was amazing, and the second was dreck.

Claire – Do you get writers block? If so, what do you do to overcome it?

Patrick – No.

Claire – Writers are weird, right? What’s the strangest/most interesting thing about you?

Patrick – Everybody’s weird, and everything weird about me is normal to me. I think I’m a pretty regular guy, but there are people who think I’m mad as a hatter. Are they crazy, or am I? Who cares?

Maybe that’s the answer. The weirdest thing about me is that I truly, genuinely don’t care what other people think about me. My tribe will find me, and the people who don’t like me can go find their tribe. It doesn’t bother me one whit if people don’t like me, my work, my attitude, whatever. There are a lot more people and a lot more things to read, so if I’m not your cup of tea, you’ve got lots of options.

Claire – Tell me about your future projects.

Patrick – As I said above, I’m working on two novels and some short stories right now and trying to sell the four completed novels that aren’t out yet. This is the first time in a while that I haven’t had a deadline with a specific project, so I’m doing whatever strikes me as the next cool thing to do. Today I think I’m going to play some Warhammer 40K, watch football, and drink beer with the real Matt Rowley, then come home and tuck into Justin Cronin’s The Passage for a couple of hours.

Claire – And finally, you’re stuck on an island with only one book. What’s the book?

Patrick – ‘How to Get Off An Island’ by somebody way smarter than me.

 

Author website: Patrick.Freivald.com

Editing blog: patrickfreivald.blogspot.com

Facebook: Patrick Freivald

Instagram: patrickfreivald

Twitter: @patrickfreivald

FIRST Team 1551: grapesofwrath1551.org

The Horror Tree Presents…An Interview with K.R. Rowe.

Claire: Hi K.R! Great to chat to you. Let’s jump right in. Tell me about you!

K.R. Rowe: Hi Claire!  Thank you so much for having me.   I’m honoured to be interviewed here at The Horror Tree.  I’m a wife, mom and lover of the mountains and all things outdoors.  I am fortunate to have two precious rescue chihuahuas and one ornery cat.  I also love horror, heavy metal, animals, cheesecake, Milkduds, and writing.  In my spare time, I love to hike and occasionally kayak.  If I don’t get my outdoor time, I start to have withdrawals. 😊  I was born and raised here in Chattanooga and have family throughout the South and the Appalachian Mountains.

Claire: What are you working on at the moment? Would you like to tell us what it’s about?

K.R. Rowe: I’m on my fourth novel now.  The first two, Amber and Blue and its sequel Victory, are romance/suspense but the third, Blood of the Sixth, is paranormal horror.  My fourth will be paranormal horror as well.  If I had to choose my favourite, I think it would be Blood of the Sixth.

Claire: Tell me about your books. You feature ‘Blood Of The Sixth’ and ‘Amber And Blue’ on your Facebook author page and describe them as Southern Gothic. What do you mean by that?

K.R. Rowe:  Amber and Blue and Victory are romance/suspense/action.  Blood of the Sixth is paranormal horror, and one reviewer has described this one in particular as Southern Gothic.  The setting is the fictional town of Port Bella Rosa, Louisiana.  Southern Gothic Horror is described as having a setting in the Deep South with characters who are usually complex and often mentally unstable.  I didn’t realize that Blood of the Sixth would be considered Southern Gothic at the time of writing but many of the elements do fit within the style.

Claire: You describe your genre on your Facebook author page as romance/action. How do you blend the two?

K.R. Rowe:   Sometimes love makes people do crazy things, and in Amber and Blue and Victory, you will find this to be true.  I think excitement and romance go hand in hand, so the action is a natural by-product of the mix.

Claire: What advice would you give to authors who want to fuse the two genres together? Or any two genres?

K.R. Rowe:  My advice is to let the story flow naturally.  If you end up with action in your romance, then it was meant to be.

Claire: Do you find it difficult to write different genres?

K.R. Rowe:  Not at all.  I love romance, and I love horror.  I think if you look closely, you will find a little romance in my horror as well.

Claire: Tell me about the inspirations for your books. You mention the Appalachian Mountains on your Amazon author page. Has this location always inspired you? What else do you draw inspiration from?

K.R. Rowe:   The Appalachian Mountains played a huge role in Amber and Blue as two of the main characters met there.  The first scene in Amber and Blue was inspired by The Fontana Village Lodge.  A lot of inspiration comes from music as well.  One of my favourite characters in Amber and Blue is a psychopath inspired by the song Possum Kingdom by the Toadies.  I draw inspiration from multiple places, many of which are right here in my hometown of Chattanooga.  For instance, a tree growing along the side of the highway once inspired one of my flash fiction stories, and a photo of an umbrella discarded on cobblestones inspired Blood of the Sixth.

Claire: Do you conduct specific research for your stories?

K.R. Rowe:  I do a lot of research online.  I do love to visit the places I write about as well, even if these places have inspired a fictional location.  I’ve been to the mountain lodge, and the bunkers mentioned in Amber and Blue and I have also visited Old Montreal in Canada.  It is a beautiful city, and I am anxious to go back.

Claire: Tell me about your writing process. Do you set aside time to write? Do you write on a schedule?

K.R. Rowe:  I work full time during the day and recently I have been so busy it is difficult to find time to sit down to write.  I rarely write on a schedule.  I will find time in the evenings usually when dinner is done, and things are quiet.

Claire: You’ve received great reviews on Amazon. How important do you think reviews are for authors? How important are reviews for you?

K.R. Rowe:  I think reviews are very important.  I do pay close attention to what people say, good or bad, and remember it while writing my next novel.  Although I can’t please everyone, good constructive criticism can be a great learning tool.

Claire: How long have you been writing? Have you always written romance/action, or did you develop your niche over time?

K.R. Rowe: I’ve written poetry since I was in my early teens, maybe longer but I can’t remember anything specific before then.  I also wrote short stories about my friends as a teenager and odds and ends throughout my adulthood.  I didn’t become serious about novel writing until around 2010.  I enjoy a good romance and I think that the genre came naturally, but I ended up killing a lot of people in my books and wondered why I was writing romance!  Haha!  I switched gears to horror and find that I absolutely love writing the genre as it allows me more creative freedom.

Claire: Tell me about your protagonists. Do you base them on people you know? Or are they purely fictitious?

K.R. Rowe:   Although many are named from people I know, my characters are purely fictional.

Claire: You mention in your website bio about spending free time with your family. How important do you think it is for writers to take time away from writing to delve back into ‘the real world’?

K.R. Rowe:  Oh, it is very important.  It is great to live in the fictional world in my head for a little while, but we only have one life to live, and we need to live every second to the fullest. It is important to spend time with loved ones because we will never get that time back.

Claire: Writers are weird, right? What’s the strangest/most interesting thing about you?

K.R. Rowe:  I have a foul sense of humour and am difficult to offend. 😊 

Claire: Tell me about your future projects.

K.R. Rowe:  Currently, I’m working on my second horror novel.  It is paranormal, much like Blood of the Sixth and if you like demons, you’ll enjoy this one.  I hope to have it ready in 2019 or 2020.

Claire: And finally, you’re stuck on an island with only one book. What’s the book?

K.R. Rowe:   101 Ways to Cook Fish! 😊

Contact Info:

Blog: https://krrowe.wordpress.com/

Website:  http://krrowe.com/

Twitter: @KRRowe

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/K-R-Rowe-Author-333526920072279/

Amazon Author page: https://www.amazon.com/K.-R.-Rowe/e/B00BF3AURE

Goodreads:  http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6571714.K_R_Rowe

Email:  [email protected]

The Horror Tree Presents…An Interview with Lee Murray

Claire – Hi Lee! Great to chat with you. Let’s jump right in. What are you working on at the moment?

I’m supposed to be working hard on the third book in the Path of Ra series, in conjunction with my Kiwi partner in darkness, Dan Rabarts, because the deadline for that manuscript is hurtling towards us. In reality, I’ve been putting together the draft programme for GeyserCon, 2019, New Zealand’s national science fiction, fantasy, and horror convention, which is held in Rotorua, from May 31 through to June 3. That still counts as horror, right? Because our guests of honour are Jonathan Maberry, New York Times bestselling author of the Joe Ledger books, Glimpse, and writer of IDW Entertainment’s V-War which is s releasing soon as a Netflix drama series, and Kaaron Warren, also Guest of Honour at World Fantasy Convention this year, who is arguably Australia’s best-loved and most avant-garde horror writer. Earlier this month I was in Canberra for the release of Warren’s latest work, Tide of Stone, a one-of-a-kind novel on crime and punishment, which is set in an Australian Timeball Tower. It sounds heavy-going, I know, but not in Warren’s expert hands. Her prose is just so exquisitely sharp. It’s hard to believe such an approachable, down-to-earth person can assemble words in ways that are so beautifully grotesque and agonisingly compelling ‒but then you’ve met her, so you know what I’m talking about… What was the question, again? Oh yes, what am I working on? Depending on the number of explosions my co-author has me mopping up, The Path of Ra finale should take up the rest of the year, and then I have a couple of rollicking kids’ adventures to write, to follow up my middle-grade title Dawn of the Zombie Apocalypse, which is forthcoming from Australian publisher IFWG. I have the proof of Hellhole: An Anthology of Subterranean to go through one last time before its release on 3 December ‒ it’s my first solo outing curating an anthology project, and I’m determined to get it right ‒ and I also have some mentees I’m working with whose projects will be wrapping up over the next month. I’m looking forward to reading the New Zealand Michael Giftkin Prize submissions on behalf of the New Zealand Society of Authors in November, as well as manuscripts for New Zealand’s inaugural Youth Laureate Novel Award, which is currently open to New Zealand school students. Actually, I might have bitten off rather a lot. I think I’ll show this list to my family. I wonder if it’ll get me off doing the laundry for the rest of the year…

Claire – Your latest release is ‘Into the Sounds,’ another Taine McKenna adventure. Tell me about the book. Had you planned to write a sequel to ‘Into the Mist.’

The latest Taine McKenna military thriller is called Into the Sounds, and it’s a completely new adventure, a follow-up to Into the Mist, and the short story Restless (which appears in SNAFU: Unnatural Selection). However, Into the Sounds is a stand-alone, which means readers can dive right in without any need to read the earlier works. As it happens, I didn’t plan to write a sequel. Into the Mist was inspired by a long run I did in the forest. With the idea still in my head, I came home, opened a file, and headed it up Global Blockbuster. Since it was going to be a exactly that ‒ a global sensation ‒I hadn’t envisaged writing two! Well, it wasn’t a blockbuster, but Into the Mist sold well enough that the publisher approached me for a sequel. I hadn’t realised it would such a difficult process. I wrote half a book, which didn’t work at all, eventually throwing it out. I think I was trying too hard to write a ‘sequel’ from a non-existent long story arc, instead of a second fast-paced action adventure. Once I understood that, I took all the things people said they’d loved about Into the Mist ‒ a isolated and breathtaking landscape, a sapient kaiju-esque predator, elements of New Zealand mythology and urban myth, and the heroes from the first book ‒ tossing them together in a new adventure. And while Into the Sounds resembles Into the Mist, it’s not the same at all. Here’s the blurb:

On leave, and out of his head with boredom, NZDF Sergeant Taine McKenna joins biologist Jules Asher, on a Conservation Department deer culling expedition to New Zealand’s southernmost national park, where soaring peaks give way to valleys gouged from clay and rock, and icy rivers bleed into watery canyons too deep to fathom. Despite covering an area the size of the Serengeti, only eighteen people live in the isolated region, so it’s a surprise when the hunters stumble on the nation’s Tūrehu tribe, becoming some of only a handful ever to encounter the elusive ghost people. But a band of mercenaries saw them first, and, hell-bent on exploiting the tribes’ survivors, they’re prepared to kill anyone who gets in their way. As a soldier, McKenna is duty-bound to protect all New Zealanders, but after centuries of persecution will the Tūrehu allow him to help them? Besides, there is something else lurking in the sounds, and it has its own agenda. When the waters clear, will anyone be allowed to leave?

Claire – You’ve won several Sir Julius Vogel Awards and a Shadows Award. Tell me about the wins.

Claire, I still feel humbled and overwhelmed that people have enjoyed my work enough to nominate and vote for it. There is something very special about being recognised by your peers for your efforts. I have ten Sir Julius Vogel (SJV) Awards (three of those shared with my colleague Dan Rabarts), receiving my first pointy trophy eight years ago for Battle of the Birds, a dark fantasy for middle-grade readers, which I set in New Zealand’s pre-colonial years. All of my SJVs have been for dark fiction and horror (novel, novella, short fiction, edited work), with the exception of one, which was for services to the science fiction and fantasy community. That last one was wonderful. Getting a prize for reading books and telling people how much I loved their stories? Better than ice-cream.

When it comes to the Australian Shadows Award for Baby Teeth ‒ that was really our colleagues’ work; Dan and I are just putting the final polish on the stories before they went out into the world, so I can’t really claim that as my own. But Baby Teeth was the beginning of our writer-editor collaboration ‒ Dan and I working on four book projects and appearing in several anthologies together since then ‒ so, in that sense, it was a pivotal moment in my career.

Claire – Did winning an award change your perspective on writing? Has it influenced you in any particular way? What do you think awards mean to writers in general?

Is this a polite way of asking me if I have a big head? I hope not! The truth is, gaining an award doesn’t change much ‒ sales might jump a little for a day or two, and the local newspaper might call you up for a photo ‒ but otherwise, you’re still the same struggling writer you were before the awards. (I should point out here that neither the Sir Julius Vogel Awards, nor the Australian Shadows, come with funds attached). The difference is, people who are not your mother have seen fit to give you a shiny trophy, something solid and tangible which says they believe in you and your work. And if you’re like me, with a chronic case of Imposter Syndrome, that’s a huge boost. When you win more than one, when there is a chance that the first one wasn’t a fluke, then it’s simply epic. I can’t talk for other writers. I only know it makes me strive to write a better book if only to prove that people’s confidence in me wasn’t misplaced.

Claire – You’ve received great reviews for ‘Into the Sounds.’ What is it about writing military thrillers that interest you the most?

Thank you! It isn’t the military aspect that excites me so much ‒ everything I know about guns and helicopters and rocket launchers comes from my amazing NZDF weapons expert ‒ it’s the thriller pacing in a homegrown setting that I find intriguing. When I couldn’t find a Kiwi speculative thriller anywhere, one with high stakes and high action yet set in our sweeping New Zealand landscape, I set out to fill the gap.

Claire – Where did the inspiration for your main protagonist Taine McKenna come from? Are you inspired by people you know?

My weapons advisor, Rock Chesterman is a real-life Taine McKenna, so much so that my emails to him always get bounced back by the military firewall. Yup, the real deal. But there are aspects of Taine McKenna’s personality that are drawn from my dad, my husband, various friends. Physically, I tend to picture New Zealand athlete Sonny Bill Williams when I’m writing him. Born in Auckland, Williams has Samoan descent on his father’s side, and English, Irish and Scottish on his mother’s, which makes him a very close fit for Taine. I’m pretty sure he has the abdominals to match, too.

Claire – Tell me about your writing process. Do you set aside time to write? Do you write on a schedule? Or on a whim?

I’m a full-time writer, and have been for eight years, although I probably dedicate less than a day a week to my own writing. Did you gasp? I know, I know, how can I be a full-time writer and yet write part-time? It’s because I can’t say no to community-building projects or mentoring new writers, and because those tasks are important, I tend to do them first. Maybe they’re part of my procrastination routine. In any case, I start every day at my desk at around 8:30 and I stay there sometimes until well into the evening. Regarding productivity, I’m as slow as Hemingway, typically only putting down 500-1000 words a day. I plot vaguely ‒ the first chapter anyway ‒and I usually have an idea of how the story ends, and then I dive in hoping to avoid a quagmire in the middle (rarely successful). However, I seem to be streamlining the process because although Into the Mist took three years to write, the most recent Taine McKenna adventure, Into the Ashes, (currently with the publisher) took me three months.

Claire – You co-wrote ‘Hounds of The Underworld’ and now ‘Teeth of the Wolf’ in the Path of Ra series with fellow kiwi author Dan Rabarts. What was it like to co-author a book with someone? I’d imagine it would have been an interesting writing process.

The more I learn about collaborative writing projects, the more I realise that there are a million ways to go about it. It’s always different, depending on the medium, the subject matter, and the writers in question. With Dan and me, we have a kind of Lucy and Linus van Pelt thing going on: where I am the bossy big sister, and Dan is the highly independent little brother, who likes to charge off and do his own thing. Of course, that makes me even crabbier! So, we’ll have a basic plan, and we’ll start out writing chapter about, and by Chapter Four, Dan will have Matiu racing down a dark alley, dodging explosions. Then I’ll have to come up with an explanation for the ‘diversion’, since I’m responsible for the science, writing the uptight stickler-for-rules science consult. Aargh! It’s actually a lot of fun, our real-life process mimicking the relationship you see on the page between our protagonists, Matiu and Penny. I haven’t heard of any other teams writing in quite the same way, but it seems to work for us.

Claire – What kind of research do you do for your stories?

I spend hours researching my work. I have a squillion tabs open, books and magazines on my desk. Sometimes I’ll visit a museum or take a trip to a location to soak up the ambience. I consult with experts in the field, even attend workshops on subjects I’d like to know more about. Research comes in lots of forms.

Claire – As well as an author you’re also an editor. I’m most familiar with ‘Baby Teeth,’ which you co-edited with Dan Rabarts. Is editor Lee different from author Lee?

My editor brain never turns off. Yes, I’m one of those people who notice spelling mistakes in street signage and go off on a rant. I think it’s the reason my writing output is so limited, because my editor self is so grammar-critical that my shambling writer-self gets paralysed with self-doubt. Weirdly, I often miss glaring errors in my own work, so I typically send my manuscripts out to editors before submitting them. And when it comes to blogs and articles, I do my best editing after I press send.

Claire – I see on Amazon you’ve received fantastic reviews for ‘Into the Mist’ and ‘Into the Sounds.’ What do reader reviews mean to you? What do you think they mean to authors and general?

Readers reviews are an author’s bread and butter because more reviews mean greater visibility and discoverability on internet search engines and distributor algorithms (whatever that means). Reviews can generate sales, pure and simple. Regarding their content, I’ve taken on board some things reviewers have commented on when developing new work. For example, when Dan and I started writing Teeth of the Wolf, the second book in our Path of Ra series, I saw that several readers had commented on the squabbly but affectionate banter that existed between the two protagonists, so we deliberately set out to incorporate that aspect into the new novel.

Claire – Who is your favourite author, and why?

Oh please, don’t ask me this question. It’s just too hard. I like so many books, and I know so many wonderful authors. How about I list the names of the some of the kindest authors I know? Writers who have boosted my career, given me confidence, and shown me the kind of writer I’d like to be. People like Graeme Lay, Greig Beck, Michael Collings, Jenny Argante, WA Cooper, Dave Jeffrey, Kevin Berry, and my lovely colleagues in Clark’s crit group, and that’s just for starters.

Claire – Do you read books of genres different to your own writing? How important do you think it is to read to be able to write?

It’s like King says, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” I read every day. And widely.

Claire – Do you get writer’s block? If so, what do you do to overcome it?

Not really writers’ block. Sometimes, I’m not sure what’s going to happen next in my story, and it might take a few days before the universe, or the characters, reveal it to me. Other times, I’m distracted by other things, Facebook and phone calls and vacuuming, and they’re more likely to impact on my productivity. When I’m working with students, and they tell me they don’t know what to write, I make them write the word Weet-Bix until something else pops into their heads. They tend to giggle a bit at that, and next thing they have their heads down writing a story.

Claire – Writers are weird, right? What’s the strangest/most interesting thing about you?

I’m really very boring. [scratches her head.] I was born with congenital hip syndrome (clicky hips) and wore a baby doll plaster for most of my first year. The doctors told my parents that I’d never walk, but they forgot to tell me, so I went ahead and ran 25 marathons and an ultramarathon. Hmm. Not interesting enough? I also fell in a machine for milking cows when I was seven. We were on a school trip to the farm, and I was standing at the back of the group when a gush of water went past the door. No one wanted to get their feet wet, so we all stepped backwards, and that’s when my pigtails got picked up in a flywheel. By the time they pulled me out, I had friction burns all over my back. Worse, my pigtails had been ripped out at the roots. It was okay; my dad was there as parent help. He was an ambulance officer, so I knew I was going to be okay. My baby brother, who was in the same class as me ‒ our teeny NZ school only had four classrooms ‒ rushed over, just as they were about to whisk me off to Rotorua Hospital:

“Dad, Dad,” he said. “Is Lee going to hospital.”

He was six. He might have been traumatised. “Yes. It’s okay, though,” Dad said. “She’s going to be fine.”

“Okay, good,” said my brother. “Can I eat her lunch?”

And the interesting thing is that I was bald for two years after that.

 

Claire – Tell me about your future projects.

A publisher friend has offered to publish a short story collection, so I’m working on creating some original short fiction for that. I also have an idea for a foray into magical realism horror, although it’s still clattering around in my brain and not quite fully formed yet, and there’s another editing project on the horizon which I hope will appear in 2020. There are other things, but by now I’ve probably worn out my welcome.

Claire – And finally, you’re stuck on an island with only one book. What’s the book?

If I’m stuck on an island, I should probably pick a survival manual by Bear Grylls, but I think I’ll stick with To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, still highly relevant nearly sixty years after it was first published. Plus, I’ve read it every other year since I was eighteen, so it feels like a friend.

Contact Info:

Website: http://www.leemurray.info/

Twitter: @leemurraywriter

Titles: https://www.amazon.com/Lee-Murray/e/B0068FHSC4

Articles:

https://www.stuff.co.nz/entertainment/books/93912373/exotic-kiwi-scifi-makes-a-mark-overseas

https://womeninhorrorblog.wordpress.com/2017/01/31/women-in-horror-in-the-words-of-lee-murray/

SmashDragons: http://smashdragons.blogspot.com/2016/03/interview-lee-murray.html \

Fanbase Press: https://fanbasepress.com/index.php/press/interviews/books/item/8732-fanbase-press-interviews-new-zealand-author-lee-murray-on-her-book-into-the-mist

Mondegreen – Richard Parry: https://www.mondegreen.co/interview-lee-murray/

Book Den: http://www.bookden.net/2018/08/guest-post-writing-from-land-by-lee.html

The Misadventures of a Reader: https://themisadventuresofareader.com/2018/08/10/blog-feature-for-into-the-sounds-by-lee-murray/

Sinister Reads/AHWA: https://sinisterreads.wordpress.com/2018/09/10/new-release-interview-with-lee-murray-on-into-the-sounds/

Dark Fiction to Die For: https://matthewjbarbeler.com/2018/10/09/author-interview-lee-murray/

The Horror Tree Presents…An Interview with Stephanie Minns

Claire – Hi Stephanie! Let’s get right into it. Why don’t you tell us about yourself and what you’re currently working on.

Stephanie – Hi Claire. At the moment I’m working on some folk horror stories for my second short story collection. I live in Somerset, England, and there’s a rich history here of centuries of belief in folklore, witchcraft and magic. I’m basing the stories around some of these tales and legends, but with a modern twist. I’m from the suburbs of London originally but I’ve always loved ancient history and strange folk tales of the countryside.

Claire – Tell us about your background in writing. When did you start and why? What did you first write before you found your niche? Or have you always written offbeat, dark fantasy, and creepy stories?

Stephanie – I wrote stories when I was a kid and I was a big reader then, mostly sci-fi and classic ghost stories. I never gave up the reading but only took up story writing seriously again four years ago and started submitting them to competitions and to publishers calling for stories for horror collections. I had some success when publishers like Grinning Skull and Almond Press accepted my work, then I had a novella called ‘The Tale of Storm Raven’ published by Dark Alley Press. I’ve worked as a magazine editor/feature writer myself in the past, although I’m a hospital administrator at the moment. Mysteries, ghosts and creepy stuff has always been my fave genre to read and write.

Claire – You mention on your website you are a competition winning author. What competition did you win? What story did you submit, and why?

Stephanie – It was back in March 2014, a story called ‘Tiny Claws’ with Dark Tales Press. The story is re-published now in my book ‘The Obsidian Path’ and is about a Russian lady who knits scary dolls that come to life. I was a runner up too with Almond Press in 2014, and my story ‘Dreg Town’ was included in their ‘Broken Worlds’ anthology.

Claire – I wrote an article about the differences between dark fantasy and horror. We also had a debate about it on a panel at a speculative fiction convention. What’s your opinion on the differences? Why do you classify your writing as dark fiction/fantasy rather than horror?

Stephanie – I think of horror as more the obvious splatter-gore stuff and I think a lot of readers do too. Dark fiction/fantasy can include that of course but I tend to think of it as more subtle, also maybe involving more psychological stuff where the reader wonders sometimes if there really is a monster outside of the character’s head. I like the creepyness of classic ghost stories like M. R. James, where there is no graphic bloodshed, but the story still chills the reader, more dark than horrifying.

Claire – What do you enjoy most about writing? Why do you like to tell stories?

Stephanie – I love scaring myself with my imagination and just have to write the images down. I’m one of those daft people who look out of the kitchen window at night and imagine some elemental terror climbing over the hedge to scratch at the back door. It’s that ‘what if it really did’ wonderment I think I’ve not lost since childhood. Of course, I know it’s not really likely but I’ll lock the back door anyway! If I feel I’ve done a good job of the story, I like to think other people might get something out of it too when they read it, even if it’s just to lose themselves for a while.

Claire – Your books sound so interesting! Tell me about Death Wears A Top Hat. Have you always been interested in Victorian England? Do you think growing up in London influenced your interests?

Stephanie – I think London influenced me a lot. I’d go into town on the train or bus to see bands play in some of the seedy clubs in my teens and early twenties. I studied graphics at college in the Elephant and Castle area later and got involved in the modern Pagan scene that was really vibrant back then in the late 80s/90s. The book shop in ‘Death Wears A Top Hat’ is loosely based around a real 100-year-old occult bookshop a friend used to own, famous witch Gerald Gardner having been a past patron and holding coven meetings there in the basement. A short walk away is the famous Red Lion Square where Pagan conferences were held in Conway Hall (mentioned in the book) and I went to several of those to listen to various talks. London has such an incredible history and many old buildings still stand firm among the modern, with their cobbled streets and Victorian shopfronts. You can almost see the shady Jack The Ripper type characters from times past, still haunting street corners and alleyways. My book is a paranormal thriller, essentially, telling the story of a psychic, Alison Graves, who is drawn into a serial killer investigation and many of her scenes happen in these places I’ve known, with characters loosely based on some people there I’ve known.

Claire – I’ve been looking over your website and see you’ve played drums in a band. Have you always had an interest in music, and if so, has that influenced your writing?

Stephanie – I wasn’t a very good drummer, but I was into the punk scene in London back in the day, and went to some of the more underground bohemian ‘goth’ clubs too – ‘The Tale of Storm Raven’ is based in that scene/era.

Claire – Tell me about your interest in UFO’s and the occult. How do you weave them into your writing? Are they the main aspects of your writing or subtle undertones?

Stephanie – The weird stuff of life fascinates me and I think it adds richness to the stories I write. UFOs and the occult are things I’ve spent years researching into. Now I live near Wiltshire I’ve visited the infamous Starr Hill and have certainly seen some odd things I can’t explain, first-hand. I add a dollop of imagination of course to the stories but some include personally based experiences, and things other people have shared with me or I’ve read about.

Claire – You describe your stories as unsettling stories with a contemporary twist. Tell me about that. How do you weave contemporary elements into your story? What influences you?

Stephanie – I do often use modern urban settings and current topics, along with the ghosts and weirdness. I did a lot of research for ‘Death Wears’ into police procedures to ensure I got the details right when DI McKentee was working on the killer’s case, and also of course did a lot of research for the transgender character, Alison, to ensure she was authentic and her experiences believable. Although her gender re-assignment was only touched on as part of the story, and paralleled her psychic unfolding in a way, I wanted her to feel real and do justice to people experiencing this in their own lives today.

Claire – I read your short stories Butt Clouds and The Rain. I found Butt Clouds amusing, but also tense and thrilling. The Rain, if I’m not mistaken, seems to weave elements of science fiction. Tell me about the stories. Are they examples of your writing style?

Stephanie – Glad you enjoyed those stories, Claire. ‘Butt Clouds’ was a bit of a diversion for me into humour, although I’ve since written a ghost story about a murdered woman who comes back to get her revenge and ruin her murderer’s raid on a bank, which is dryly funny, I guess. ‘The Rain’ is more my general style – that was published originally by Grinning Skull Press in their anthology of alien monster stories. Although I’m not so hot on sci-fi I have read classics like Ray Bradbury and topics such as the possibility of parallel dimensions and alien contact fascinates me.

Claire – Tell me about The Obsidian Path and the stories within the collection. Was it hard to choose which stories to add?

Stephanie – I think I chose my personal favourites there, but I’ve enough now for another collection. I like to do short stories as they are quite gratifying, they are a quick option while a novel is more of a long haul, a different creature entirely to write.

Claire – Tell me about the protagonists in your stories.

Stephanie – I’ve tended to use a lot of different protagonists. ‘Storm Raven’ was written from the first-person viewpoint of Nick, a male character. I often write as a male character, but I think, male or female, my main characters are generally likable but with human failures. No one is too shiny. Detective Sue McKentee in ‘Death Wears A Top Hat’ has some very human failings, lack of self-confidence and can alienate people with her hard-faced attitude. But at the same time, she is loyal and kind hearted. She and Alison become firm friends after a shaky start. I don’t like crying girls, always the victim, so I write my leading ladies as resourceful and intelligent, independent thinkers who kick butt.

Claire – Who and/or what influences you as a writer? What do you like to read?

Stephanie – I read a lot of new horror/dark fiction writers, often self-published or published by indie small press, like myself. There’s a lot of talent out there but it’s not always easy to get your voice heard without a great promo money-machine behind you, sadly. I like to read other authors recommendations on forums.

Claire – Writing takes time and patience. Do you set aside time to write? What do you do when you’re not writing?

Stephanie – I have to pay the bills so still work part-time at my local hospital.  But weekends plus those extra 2 days in the week are my writing time, although I don’t set a particular regime to sit down at it. That doesn’t seem to work for me. I have to have the muse with me. But I do keep a notebook to hand to scribble ideas down, even when I’m just having tea in front of the telly. I also paint and draw (I did my own cover for ‘The Obsidian Path’), grow veg and keep pet rescue ferrets.

Claire – Is writing, for you, a gift or a curse? How has it shaped your life?

Stephanie – I think it’s both. A gift in that people say they enjoyed reading this or that, so I feel writing it down was worthwhile if it gives someone else enjoyment. But a curse if struggling to get a storyline right, pace and structure, all that stuff, but I just can’t seem to get it. I belong to a writers’ group and they are excellent as a fresh pair of eyes when I’m stuck. So far, I’ve not made big money at it so its’ not really changed my life in that way, but it has certainly given me a creative outlet to focus on.

Claire – Is there anything you find particularly challenging as a writer?

Stephanie – I’m still not good at tenses. I’m not a technically scholarly writer.

Claire – Who is your favourite author and why?

Stephanie – Lots. Obviously, Stephen King and Neil Gaiman feature heavily though.

Claire – And finally, what are you working on at the moment?

Stephanie – I’m toying with a second paranormal crime thriller where Detective McKentee and Alison team up to solve another case. I’ve also sketched out a dystopian future novel based on the characters in one of my published short stories, ‘Dreg Town.’ Plus, the collection of folk horror stories of course, although I’m not sure yet whether to publish that myself or approach an indie publisher who has already taken my work. I need to finish the stories first and then have a think.

 

Claire – You can find out more about Stephanie by visiting the links below:

Homepage

Amazon author page

DWTH on Amazon US
DWTH on Amazon UK

https://amzn.to/2M34a6l

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