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:

Editing blog:

Facebook: Patrick Freivald

Instagram: patrickfreivald

Twitter: @patrickfreivald

FIRST Team 1551:

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:



Twitter: @KRRowe


Amazon Author page:


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.

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Twitter: @leemurraywriter



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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:


Amazon author page

DWTH on Amazon US
DWTH on Amazon UK

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