Author: Lionel Ray Green

WIHM: An Interview with Zoey Xolton

Australian author Zoey Xolton begins her debut collection Darkly Ever After with a piece of flash fiction about a woman named Destiny who ventures into an ominous forest and is never seen again.

Yes, Xolton likes her fantasy dark.

Blood Song Books released Xolton’s collection of microfiction, flash fiction, and short stories on Feb. 4. It features dark fantasy, paranormal romance, mythology, and fairy tales with elements of horror.

“I do actually write a fair amount of horror, on its own; but speculative horror is certainly my favourite, so I find blending the genres comes naturally,” Xolton said in an exclusive interview with Horror Tree. “They all lend themselves to it!

“A paranormal vampire romance, in my mind, inherently contains an element of horror. It’s the love of a monster, a creature of the night, whose primary sustenance comes from sapping the life of humans. It bites, it stalks, and it charms — like a wolf in sheep’s clothing. What is not horrifying about that? It all depends on the degree to which you take it, that defines which genre it will most accurately fall under.

“Fairy tales in their original form are notoriously dark; they give warnings and teach lessons to generations of readers and listeners (in oral tradition). They’ve only become hopeful, fluffy, princess tales since becoming commercialised.”

Xolton is a fan of dark fantasy author Anne Bishop and other fantasy luminaries like Terry Brooks, George R.R. Martin, and J.R.R. Tolkien.

“Dark fantasy is definitely just ‘me’ in a nutshell, because it contains all the trimmings of every genre that I love, all wrapped into one neat package,” Xolton said. “It usually contains paranormal romance, traditional sword and sorcery elements, and in amongst all that, the darkness and the horror dance! The dark creatures, the high stakes, the overwhelming odds, with often just the smallest glimmers of hope … I live for it.

“In my opinion, a good dark fantasy has to contain decent lashings of tragedy. Someone crucial has to die, a beacon, or embodiment of importance must be sacrificed, or fall … and the best part is, sometimes, it doesn’t end happily ever after! Or if there is some form of redemption, or hope, it comes at an incredibly steep price — the kind that leaves scars on the memories of the world and the reader.

“The best dark fantasies stay with me forever, the characters living on, beyond the words which brought them life. I want to achieve that. I want readers to feel emotionally involved, because to me, that is what reading is all about. It’s about living another life, about becoming part of a story beyond your own.”

February is Women in Horror Month, and Xolton appreciates the spotlight on female authors in the genre.

“I think it’s a meaningful gesture that women are being championed in a genre, that traditionally, society doesn’t seem to believe women write in often,” Xolton said. “However, I just don’t know, personally, how much of a tangible effect the event has as a whole — on recognition, or sales — for the authors, themselves. I certainly don’t think there are any negatives to promoting the voices of female authors, regardless. We’re here, and we’re talented!”

Married with two children, Xolton is not only talented but determined to pursue her passion for writing.

“I do love it,” Xolton said. “Outside of my family, writing is my reason for living. I make time for it, no matter what is going on in my life. With kids, I had to learn to make writing a habit. A lot of writers talk about ‘the muse,’ and that they can only write if they feel a certain way. I think if you’re serious about this craft, you can’t allow yourself to be held back by such trivial, constrictive notions. I don’t have a quiet office, or private space, of any kind in which to write. Even if I did, I couldn’t use it. My son is school aged, but my daughter is a toddler and needs constant care and attention. As such, I never get time alone.

“I have a lot of my colleagues asking me how I get so much done. At last count, I’ve been featured in 65 to 70 anthologies and had over 150 acceptances, most of these taking place in the space of one calendar year. The strange thing is people don’t really want to hear my truth — because it’s ugly. I sacrifice enormous, unhealthy amounts of sleep to write. I sometimes go 72 hours without sleep, when I’m on a roll. My logic is: I can sleep when I’m dead! My dreams are more important to me than some relative notion of sanity.

“I write when the kids are collectively louder than King Kong’s destruction in New York City, when Baby Shark is playing for the eight millionth time in a row, and when I should probably be doing some more, mundane, everyday mum tasks. I have dreams to achieve, and time doesn’t wait for anyone, that’s what my children made me realise. Children are additions to your life. They are my world, but they don’t rule it.”

So, when asked to share a piece of advice for writers who visit Horror Tree, a site that helps support authors, Xolton reiterated her own approach. 

“I just strongly advocate pushing your boundaries and making the time to write,” Xolton said. “I suggest ditching the concept of ‘the muse,’ or a ‘mood’, and just taking your craft seriously, and making a habit out of it.

“Bakers, teachers, boilermakers. and technicians don’t just work when they feel like it. If you want to succeed as an author moving forward, I think you have to treat your passion like your job, long before it officially is. Whether you’re tired, busy, or otherwise, you just have to make it a priority!”

LINKS:

Website: https://zoeyxolton.com/

Amazon Page: https://www.amazon.com/Zoey-Xolton/e/B06W52X3X7/ref=dp_byline_cont_ebooks_1

Twitter: @zoeyxolton

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/authorzoeyxolton/

 

WIHM: Horror Tree Presents … An Interview with S.P. Miskowski

In the midst of Women in Horror Month, acclaimed author S.P. Miskowski begins our interview by invoking the name of Frankenstein’s true creator to make a valid point about the month in question.

“Women in Horror Month reminds me of the need for an extra effort to get readers interested in horror by writers who identify as women,” Miskowski said. “I find this odd since the genre was practically invented by Mary Shelley. But I think the overall effects of the annual celebration have been positive. Readers, editors, and publishers are introduced to new work by living writers they might not know. Having a special occasion like WiHM adds a much-needed spotlight, especially for small press writers who struggle to bring mainstream attention to horror fiction.”

Speaking of a spotlight, the horror community has been shining its beam on Miskowski’s work for nearly a decade. Her 2019 novel The Worst is Yet to Come and 2017 novel I Wish I Was Like You received Bram Stoker Award nominations for Superior Achievement in a Novel. She also earned Shirley Jackson Award nominations for her novel Knock Knock (2011) and for her novellas, Delphine Dodd (2012) and Muscadines (2016).

 “I write because it’s my nature,” said Miskowski, a Decatur, Georgia native now living in Canada. “Storytelling has come naturally to me all of my life. I think all writers need some kind of recognition, even the reclusive ones. All writers are ambitious. Without ambition, we would never bother to write anything down. We would be content to dream up stories and then forget them.

“Writing is a form of communication, not just a form of expression. We want our stories to connect with other people. An award nomination can help, somewhat, by providing an occasion for people to mention your work. An award nomination can get your book title in front of more readers and editors. It’s an opportunity writers ought to enjoy while it lasts. Enjoy the moment and use it to sell books. If you know someone who’s nominated, celebrate and congratulate them. Tangible rewards are few and far between, in our field. What really matters in terms of community is being good to one another.

“Being nominated doesn’t prove your work is better than anyone else’s work but it indicates that there’s a niche and an audience for it, no matter how idiosyncratic your writing may be. If your book or story isn’t nominated, it’s still in good company with all of the works not included on what is, let’s face it, a very short list. Awards don’t confirm that a writer is ‘the best.’ They confirm that you’re doing something interesting and people have taken note. That’s lovely.”

Knock Knock and Delphine Dodd are two of the titles in her four-book Skillute Cycle, chronicling the evil in the backwater town of Skillute, Washington. What keeps her returning to Skillute, a town haunted by its past?

“Without being at all disingenuous, I’m not sure,” Miskowski said. “All of these books came about quite naturally. I didn’t write a series for commercial reasons, and I didn’t start out with the intention of creating this haunted world with its own rules and recurring imagery and connected events.

When Kate Jonez at Omnium Gatherum Media decided to publish Knock Knock, she asked me if I had a series in mind. I told her I didn’t, but I had notebooks full of material — sketches for side stories, brief biographies of characters that didn’t make it into the novel because they were not directly related to the main story. All of this extra stuff seemed to me to fit into three long stories: a prequel to Knock Knock (Delphine Dodd); a concurrent tale about one of the Knock Knock characters trying to escape her fate (Astoria); and a sequel that begins exactly where Knock Knock ends (In the Light). Each novella dances around the events of the novel but then spins out in other strange directions.

“After a novel and three novellas, I thought I was finished with the fictional town of Skillute. Then I was invited to submit a story to an anthology called Sisterhood (forthcoming from Chaosium). Immediately I had this vision of the childhood of a key character from Delphine Dodd, a doctor whose practices and clinic were based on a frightening historical figure. Dr. Graham developed out of my interest in the case histories of female serial killers. For the Sisterhood short story (‘The Resurrected’) I set aside my true crime books and invented a family and an upbringing that could have shaped my fictional doctor. How did she develop a method of treatment for young women that included starvation diets and physical abuse? ‘The Resurrected’ is an epistolary tale in which I imply an answer to that question, I hope without ruining the mystery of the novella.

“My next book was set in Seattle in the early 1990s. It was a ghost story told in first person with second person POV interludes. I think I just needed to get the hell out of Skillute for a while. Also, around that time, several people I knew had begun to refer to my work generally as either folk horror or Southern Gothic. This is fine, all good, but it isn’t the only thing I do. So, I broke loose with I Wish I Was Like You. Different setting and slightly different style, and vastly different idiom and worldview — it set me free, in a way. More important, it was a story I needed to tell for all sorts of personal reasons. I never expected anyone to like it or find it as funny as I did. I was completely surprised by the book’s reception, and I’m still amazed when readers say they love it and find it hilarious. This is very gratifying.

“Coming back to Skillute for two Journalstone/Trepidatio books (The Worst is Yet to Come in 2019 and The Best of Both Worlds in 2020), I had enough distance and perspective to imagine the town as urban dwellers might see it. For the novel, I thought of friends who had been priced out of Seattle, and their search for a less expensive way to raise their kids the way they had been raised. Whether or not this is possible or even desirable is something I deal with thematically. I remembered a friend from San Francisco who said, in 1995, she was going to wait for housing prices to drop before she invested $85,000 in a craftsman home in Seattle. Then we watched the same houses climb to an estimated value of $450,000. Today, they’re probably priced at nearly a million. What do families do in such a market? They move further out. So, this was my story for The Worst is Yet to Come.

“While writing the novel I did the same thing I’d done with Knock Knock. I kept notebooks full of extra material. Another storyline developed around the main action, but it took us too far afield. Eventually I realized this was another complete book, a novella about the opposite of the novel — the third- or fourth-generation families of Skillute. The adult brother and sister who emerged were observers of the newcomers, and their lives were connected to the former urban dwellers in odd ways. So, I decided to make the action in both books concurrent, with the story arcs leading to a violent convergence.

“Through no intention of my own I’ve written six books and a short story set in Skillute. And these disturbing tales keep suggesting new possibilities. To me, the essence of Skillute is that it can only be apprehended in fragments perceived over time. So, I’ll probably visit again — and again.”

Notable authors described Astoria, the third book in the Skillute Cycle, as “part Hitchcock, part David Lynch” and “a unique blend of The Omen and Elizabeth Berg’s The Pull of the Moon.” Which begs the question: Who and what inspire her unique style of writing?

“Hitchcock and Lynch are influences, certainly,” Miskowski said. “More recently I’ve been fascinated with the films of Jordan Peele, Jennifer Kent, and Oz Perkins, rooted in a world we recognize while the horror (much of it created by humans) unfolds around us. In the early 2000s I watched a lot of Japanese and South Korean horror films. These have been a big influence on my sense that you can tell a story of grief, longing, and domestic violence through the tropes of traditional horror.

“A couple of years ago I read Ryū Murakami’s short novel on which the Takashi Miike film Audition was based. I loved the deceptive simplicity of the style, the understated depiction of horrific violence. I’ve tried to accomplish something like this in my most recent Skillute books. I wanted no waste, and little repetition. Readers aren’t led by the nose or coddled; they have to accept the brevity of accelerated action. Terrible things occur and nothing is fully resolved. The extent of the damage precludes a happy ending.

“Over the years, the single biggest influence on my writing has been Shirley Jackson. She does such extraordinary things, and always with great wit and insight. The reader can pick up on her clues, or just ride along on this little adventure. If you do pick up the clues and examine them, she’s saying some pretty terrifying things about human nature.”

Besides writing acclaimed novels and novellas, Miskowski is also a talented short story writer, her work appearing in a long list of high-profile anthologies and magazines. “Alligator Point” was among the twenty-one stories featured in The Best Horror of the Year: Volume Ten.

“As a young writer I was only interested in short stories,” Miskowski said. “I read novels but had no intention of ever writing one. I was a student when Donald Barthelme was still alive. I watched him read from his work, one time. The room was set up for over a hundred people. That afternoon an uncharacteristic downpour scared away the intended audience. I think there were about twenty of us, in this enormous room with an echo. Well, he was brilliant — absolutely unfazed by the turnout and really mesmerizing. Back then I was mostly interested in form and structure. People who discussed my stories in workshop said they were cold, but I was learning what was possible, so I didn’t take an interest in the characters’ heartfelt desires and losses until much later.”

Since Horror Tree is a site that supports authors with markets and writing advice, I asked Miskowski to share a tip to help writers along their journey.

“The note to take seriously is the very specific one that underscores what you already suspected,” Miskowski said. “You have the answers in your head. You are the story. No one can fix the story for you or tell you how to write or why to write. Do it for you, first, but be merciless. Don’t tell yourself how talented you think you are. The story matters more than any attention it might bring.”

Miskowski’s next book, The Best of Both Worlds, is scheduled for release on May 1 by Journalstone/Trepidatio.

“And I’m revising a new novel set in a suburb thrown off-kilter by the rivalry between two women who were once best friends,” Miskowski said. “When it’s done, we’ll see if it’s any good.”

I asked Miskowski what her worst fear is. She shared a dream instead.

“I would never tell anyone my worst fear,” Miskowski said. “But I’ll tell you about one of my most upsetting dreams. I was visiting with friends, just wandering around in the city. We separated and I found myself standing on a patio outside a shop. I turned around and saw my husband, who was also sort of wandering around with friends. We greeted one another and I could tell by his expression and his manner — he didn’t love me anymore. I don’t know what had occurred between us, but it was as if we’d broken up, and on this particular day we had run into one another by accident, and all of the love we had shared was gone. He wasn’t angry, just friendly in that casual, indifferent way that indicates you don’t spend time thinking about the other person. This was the saddest and most disturbing dream I can remember.”

LINKS:

Website: https://spmiskowski.wordpress.com/about/?fbclid=IwAR3R30adF2LbuGuXI8m0f7IUcra3evGlQhQ7t-DD0IqmL1l6blZ-WWLbzlg

Amazon Page: https://www.amazon.com/S-P-Miskowski/e/B002GG88ZA?ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1&qid=1581656077&sr=1-1

Twitter: @SPMiskowski

WIHM: An Interview With Jessica McHugh

Jessica McHugh is the author of more than 20 books, including an edgy young adult series, The Darla Decker Diaries, and acclaimed novels The Green Kangaroos and Rabbits in the Garden. She’s appeared in high-profile anthologies alongside names like Jonathan Maberry and Jack Ketchum.

However, it’s her upcoming poetry collection that has her almost literally beaming with joy.

“My first poetry collection, A Complex Accident of Life, comprised of blackout poems found in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein will be released from Apokrupha Press in April,” McHugh announced in an exclusive interview with Horror Tree. “I seriously couldn’t be more excited about this. I even feel … sparkly.”

Oddly enough, the death of her precious feline companion, Tyler, led McHugh to discover her love for creating blackout poetry. She writes movingly of Tyler Durden Bonito McHugh in the acknowledgments of the anniversary edition of her novel Rabbits in the Garden, sharing that losing Tyler changed her as “an artist and human being.”

“It’s really quite amazing how grief changed me,” McHugh said. “I mean, not beneficially as an author sometimes, but it’s still pretty fascinating how losing him affected my brain chemistry. Grief stole from me a certain spark I’ve never quite been able to regain. It also caused my hands to shake, and I began having bad panic attacks. It was really bad for a while, as Tyler was incredibly tied to my writing life.

“I do feel a lot better in that area now, but sometimes when I try to write I’m overcome by that deep loss and my hands shake again. Luckily, I have the tools to combat that now. Meds, breathing exercises, and yoga have helped me immeasurably.

“And the thing is, even though the spark I had with him is gone, I’ve found other sparks. I discovered my love of making blackout poetry last year and sold a bunch of pieces and books at an art fair around Christmas; it’s been years since I did a festival or con, so it was a pretty big deal for me. As I say in my poem ‘What You Get For Caring,’ grief’s a witchy trickster, and yes, I was changed by it, but not all those changes are bad, or unwelcome.”

Of course, February is Women in Horror Month (WiHM), and McHugh recognizes the value of it. She has a new story titled “This Can Happen to You” in the upcoming Strangehouse Anthology By Women of Horror, Not All Monsters.

“For me, it’s about celebration and education,” she said of WiHM. “It’s the exchange of joy and knowledge and, yes, sometimes uncomfortable conversations (or really friggin stupid conversations where small-minded individuals are involved), and it’s had a profound impact on me as a writer and reader. I discovered Octavia Butler during WiHM. I discovered Daphne Du Maurier. I read The Yellow Wallpaper for the first time.

“But more than that, I discovered a diverse and witchy horde of viciously talented artists who inspire me to own my power as an author and a woman. We still have a long way to go – trans woman and women of color still aren’t represented as much as they should be – but I think there’s value in spotlighting female horror artists whenever possible.”

McHugh’s fiction is edgy, often writing complicated characters dealing with issues of addiction and mental health. She said she’s “know (and been) quite a few complicated people.”

The Green Kangaroos was directly inspired by my brother, who’s an addict and middle child like Perry Samson,” McHugh said. “And while the familial relationships are altered, there are some deep pockets of personal pain in that novel. It was also, oddly, the most fun I’ve ever had writing a novel.

“But I’ve had my struggles too, of course. I mentioned having panic attacks after Tyler died, but the truth is I’d had a bunch throughout my childhood without ever realizing it. I guess when Tyler died and the attacks affected my ability to hold a pen, my brain was finally able get through to me about the depression and anxiety I’d been self-medicating for years. Again, amazing things those brains.

“But it’s also not as fun for me writing someone who isn’t complicated, who doesn’t have moral quandaries or an angry broken heart. I’m not always trying to write unlikable characters though. Except Rebecca Malone. I definitely set out to write the most unlikable character ever. I want my characters to feel realistic, and there are some pretty shitty people out there.”

While McHugh boldly tackles adult themes, she also applies her edgy style to young adult fiction with The Darla Decker Diaries, a series following a girl’s journey to adulthood.

“I feel like the life of a teen girl growing up still has elements of grit, addiction, and horror,” McHugh said. “While The Darla Decker Diaries are mostly meant to be fun, I definitely didn’t shy away from the icky and downright scary stuff. I don’t change my style or intent much when writing for a younger audience. I’m not going to swear as much, of course – though the first Darla book does have the word ‘fingerbang’ – and I can’t shred the flesh from anyone’s face – but that doesn’t mean things don’t get bloody – but there is legitimate darkness on the edges of Darla’s world.”

Roald Dahl and H.P. Lovecraft were McHugh’s chief influences when she started writing seriously at 19 years old.

If you read my first stories, I feel like it’s extremely obvious too,” she said. “It tickles me to no end that I’ve actually reworked and sold some of them. But I was also hugely influenced by Bret Easton Ellis and Anne Rice, and I’d be remiss not to mention I’d been reading Stephen King since fifth grade. My selections weren’t all that diverse back then, which is why I’m so grateful there are so many different kinds of writers in the small-press community. I love a fun horror anthology that allows me to hang out with some old favorites and get to know the up-and-comers.”

The Green Kangaroos published by Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing and Nightly Owl, Fatal Raven from Raw Dog Screaming Press are two McHugh novels by McHugh that would be perfect introductions for new readers of her work.

“They’re both brutal, but in very different ways,” McHugh said. “While The Green Kangaroos centers on body horror and the impact of Perry’s addiction, Nightly Owl, Fatal Raven has more of a grimdark ensemble that battles the horrors perpetrated by the corrupt men who run their broken world. But I feel like both perfectly embody me as a writer and my fondness for genre-mixing.”

Since Horror Tree is a website that supports writers with markets and writing advice, I asked McHugh if she had any tips to share.

“I didn’t have any mentors when I was starting out,” McHugh said. “I didn’t go to school for writing (or much of anything), and I barely knew any other artists, let alone writers, so I wasn’t given much advice. Except, when it comes to process, you have to find what works for you. I like working on multiple stories, in multiple genres and POVs, so if I get stuck on one, I can switch to something else. But that’s madness to some people, and I totally get it. I mean, I handwrite my stories most of the time, and that’s just not possible for other folks.

“But working as a creative writing instructor for kids 8-18 for 5-plus years allowed me to see this strange obsession new writers have with word count. They would literally call out their total every few minutes. I also saw this behavior mirrored on social media for a number of years. Not to say accountability isn’t important – it’s essential – but there’s a point when you get so focused on accruing words, you stop noticing whether they’re the right, or most powerful, words. And when you consider that a great piece of writing uses the least amount of words possible to convey maximum effect, my advice is this: Don’t aim for a word count. Aim to make your words count.”

LINKS:

Website: https://mchughniverse.wordpress.com/

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Jessica-McHugh/e/B003NUKAA4/ref=dp_byline_cont_book_1

Twitter: @theJessMcHugh

Horror Tree presents … An Interview with Bryan Smith

When I received my first Kindle, one of the first three books I purchased was an extreme horror novel titled Depraved by Bryan Smith. I was already a fan of extreme horror, or Splatterpunk as the genre is known, but Smith’s tale terrified me in the same way the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre did and horrified me in the same way the original I Spit on Your Grave did. It was that one-two punch of terror and horror that hooked me and turned me into a fan of Smith’s work.

For me, the best way to describe Smith’s writing is by sharing a snippet of my Amazon review of Depraved:Not for the faint of heart or most decent folks, Depraved is pure grind house. It’s the best kind of hard-core horror, because it’s written for fans of the genre, which means no PG-13 cop-out scenes and no easy way out. … Smith thrusts the reader into a gut-wrenching tale of sickening lust and intense brutality where the worst-case scenarios get worse and the twists get more twisted.”

After experiencing Depraved, I devoured my second favorite Smith novel, The Killing Kind, where he creates one of the most memorable characters in horror, the homicidal yet sexy-as-hell Roxie.

Years later, I’m still reading Smith, and the Tennessee author is still consistently cranking out some of the most entertaining reads in horror fiction.

In January, Grindhouse Press released Smith’s latest book titled The Fucking Zombie Apocalypse, which is about a guy trying to save his beloved hamster from his crazy girlfriend during a zombie apocalypse.

Smith can relate to loving a pet that much.

“Well, I’m a dog person,” Smith said in an exclusive interview with Horror Tree. “Have been ever since I was very young. I’ve loved all the dogs I’ve ever had like they’re family because that’s what they are to me. They live with you, love you unconditionally, and make life more tolerable in general. I’d do anything I could to save any of the dogs I’ve ever shared my life with, including plunging headlong into a horde of ravenous zombies.”

And Smith knows how to write zombie fiction. The 2014 World Horror Grandmaster Award winner, Brian Keene, said Smith’s 2015 novel Slowly We Rot was “the best zombie novel I’ve ever read.”

I asked Smith why zombies continue to permeate the horror film and fiction landscape and what they symbolize to him.

Zombies are still popular, of course, but the mania for them that was there for several years seems to have waned recently thanks to over-saturation in all forms of popular media,” Smith said. “Of course, I’ll never get tired of revisiting all the old classics like Dawn of the Dead and Return of the Living Dead, but it’s been a while since anything new in the sub-genre stirred my interest much. It’s always possible I’m simply not aware of good new zombie stuff because I’m not actively on the hunt for it. I’d welcome recommendations for any distinct new and fresh visions in zombie fiction.

“For me, the popularity of zombie books and films stems from a deep social malaise and dissatisfaction with a world and oppressive society that no longer works for too many people. A decay and decline in a social order that only benefits a tiny percentage of the population. The zombie apocalypse scenario is so popular because it typically depicts a sweeping away of all that. A clean slate in which the only imperative is to fight and survive and protect the ones you love. There’s a great appeal in the idea that this is your only responsibility and that you are no longer a slave to a state rule that doesn’t care about you at all as an individual.”

Zombies, though, are a small sample of Smith’s catalogue, which includes more than 30 novels and novellas ranging from Splatterpunk to crime fiction. Smith’s 2018 release Kill For Satan! won the 2019 Splatterpunk Award for Best Horror Novella, and last year’s Merciless should be a contender in 2020. The Splatterpunk Award is a recent creation, first presented in 2018, to spotlight authors of extreme horror.

It’s a way of finally recognizing the value in the works of a whole category of talented horror writers who have been systematically ignored by institutions bestowing other horror fiction awards,” Smith said. “I have great faith in the integrity and honor of the Splatterpunk Award jurors, and thus I trust completely in the worthiness of all nominees and winners. For these reasons, the award for Kill For Satan! actually meant a great deal to me. With certain other awards, it’s always felt as if writers have to play the game of schmoozing up to the right people and getting in with the right cliques while paying yearly dues to the organization handing out the award. I’ve never played that game and have no interest in it.”

Smith’s wild ride of a crime novel, 68 Kill, was adapted into an award-winning and well-reviewed 2017 film starring Matthew Gray Gubler, one of the stars of the hit TV show Criminal Minds. Classic horror and crime fiction are major influences on Smith’s work.

One of my earliest filmmaker influences was John Carpenter,” Smith said. “Halloween was massively influential and led to a whole wave of imitators responsible for shaping my tastes as a young horror fan in the ‘80s. His film The Thing has also had a lasting influence on me. The Friday the 13th movies and the early novels of Richard Laymon were a big part of setting the template for my early horror-writing efforts, but Stephen King was always my favorite writer, my literary idol, and icon. The same is true, of course, for countless other writers and aspiring writers of my generation.

“Then, as I got older, I started reading a lot of crime fiction. Guys like Elmore Leonard, Ed McBain, Richard B. Parker, Donald Westlake, and old pulp noir/detective writers like Gil Brewer, Richard Prather, David Goodis, and Charles Willeford had a subtle influence on books like The Killing Kind, Blood and Whiskey, and 68 Kill. Of all my later film influences, Quentin Tarantino was by far the biggest. He’s easily my favorite director of all time.”

Since a lot of writers visit Horror Tree looking for markets and writing advice, I asked Smith if he had any words of wisdom for authors trying to navigate the publishing world.

It’s hard to know how to give a solid, informative reply to that, at least for me,” Smith said. “When it comes to my approach to getting published or advancing my career, I’ve never been the most organized or tenacious person. I’ve honestly blundered my way through some of it, while getting fantastically lucky on a few occasions.

“I will say that once I did get some of the handful of big opportunities that came along, I made the most of them while I could. So, I would tell young writers not to take anything for granted. Seize any chance that comes along and put your all into it. Lock yourself in a room and write like your life depends on it. The work comes first, not networking or trying to be a funny guy on social media. Write a certain amount every damn day, make sure it’s something you genuinely enjoy and not just something coldly calculated to aim at some cynical market niche, and then worry about what you can do with it after you’re done.

“If you’re a young writer, trying to see if you can get published traditionally is probably the best way to start. If banging your head against a perpetually closed set of doors becomes too frustrating over whatever period of time feels like enough for you, fuck it, self-publish and to hell with what any naysayers tell you about that.”

****

LINKS:

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Bryan-Smith/e/B001JS7EQA/ref=dp_byline_cont_book_1

Twitter: @Bryan_D_Smith

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/bryansmith

 

Horror Tree presents … An Interview with John Everson

In 2010, the old Leisure Books horror club sent me a book titled The 13th by John Everson. The plot centered around an abandoned resort hotel that started showing signs of life after a century of neglect. What I discovered inside those walls was terrifying. The book, especially the ending, remains an all-time favorite and vaulted Everson onto my list of favorite horror authors.

Most of Everson’s novels are visceral, erotically charged bloodbaths. His Bram Stoker Award nominated novel, NightWhere, is a masterpiece of taboo horror that had me cringing and squirming at times. Literally. Everson’s demonic debut Covenant won a Bram Stoker Award for a First Novel in 2005.

2019 had Everson buzzing over the new Netflix series V-Wars. Why? Because he saw the vampiric Dubov sisters on TV, characters he created for Jonathan Maberry’s V-Wars books.

“It’s pretty surreal to see characters you created appear on TV, played by real actresses,” Everson said in an exclusive interview with Horror Tree. “Especially when you were not at all part of the development process, and other writers did the adaptation – so watching it was really seeing it brand new. I was in the dark about what direction the series was going to go in until I sat down to watch it.

“I knew back in 2018 that they were developing V-Wars into a Netflix series, but initially, it sounded like they would only be using Jonathan Maberry’s characters in the ultimate TV story arc, which makes sense – he was the creator of the book series and did a whole comic book series as well.  So over last winter, I didn’t give the series much thought, other than to wonder occasionally how the whole thing would turn out.

“I was certainly psyched that something I’d been part of – even if just in a small way – was going to TV. That’s cool, no matter what. But then, last spring, I happened to see a cast listing for the series posted online and realized that Danika and Mila Dubov were listed as main characters in V-Wars Season One. I was wildly anxious for the series to hit Netflix after that – because I wanted to know what they did with my characters! Did any of my actual stories survive, or did they just use the “idea” of two sister vampires and write completely new stories?

“I had to wait six months to find out, but I was really happy with how it turned out. Kimberly-Sue Murray perfectly captured the independent, self-centered sensuality of Danika, and Laura Vandervoort really plays the fierce, wounded, out-for-revenge sister to the hilt. The core idea behind the troubled sister relationship was maintained and the main plot points that I wrote are there as well. Some things are rearranged, or abbreviated a bit, which makes sense, because in the series the sisters are secondary leads, not the main attractions as they were in my stories.”

In 2019, Everson released his 11th novel overall and his second novel with Flame Tree Press, The Devil’s Equinox, where he introduces us to another ritualistic secret sex club reminiscent of NightWhere. Again, Everson boldly tackles taboo subjects involving graphic sex and torture, which certainly adds a level of intensity to his stories. Is there a line he won’t cross?

“Honestly, it’s a lot of fun to go to those dark places,” Everson said. “The thing that always attracted me to fantastic fiction was the element of ‘not-of-this-earth’ that the stories explored. They really took you to a place you could never go to without a book. As a reader, when I sit down with a story, I want to be taken to a place that is not reality. That’s why I don’t write ‘serial killer’ style horror. Serial killers are real. You can find them in the newspapers too frequently. So, stories about that kind of horror don’t take me away from reality.

“When I grew up, I read a ton of science fiction and a bit of fantasy, because those stories took me to strange and unusual worlds, with odd creatures and fantastic situations. As I grew older, I found that supernatural horror could do that too. And horror with ‘adult’ themes could really go to some weird places. Humans are naturally voyeuristic about sex and death. If they weren’t, we wouldn’t have so many traffic jams caused by people slowing down to stare at accidents, and porn wouldn’t have effectively created the Internet. So, horror with sexual overtones definitely has an audience.

NightWhere is kind of a ‘sex club from hell’ and definitely has some of the most extreme things I’ve ever written happen in it. But I don’t believe that a place like NightWhere can realistically exist, so as violent and extreme as it gets, it’s also ‘safe’ in a way to write about. It’s fun, no matter how twisted it gets, because it’s escapist.

“So, basically, I write the kinds of stories I want to read. I guess the ‘line I won’t cross’ is writing about things that I wouldn’t be sucked into reading. Because in the end, when I write a story, I’m entertaining myself first, and hoping second that there are some other people as nuts as me who might also want to read it.”

Flame Tree Press is releasing Everson’s 12th novel, Voodoo Heart, later this year.

Voodoo Heart really goes back to the dawn of my career in horror fiction,” Everson said. “When I worked with Twilight Tales Publishing to create my second book-length collection of short fiction back in 2003, I had titled the book Vigilantes of Love even though there was no story in the book called that. The publisher was doing the final proof of the book when I came up with a story that was actually called ‘Vigilantes of Love’ and asked if we could include it. ‘Vigilantes’ was a story about Detective Lawrence Ribaud, who was investigating a strange series of disappearances in New Orleans. Every month, on the night of the full moon, people disappeared, leaving behind blood on the sheets, but no other clues. Ribaud himself woke up to a ‘bloody bed’ with his wife missing, so he has a personal, emotional stake in finding what is behind the disappearances – which are also multiplying alarmingly every month. It soon becomes clear that voodoo is somehow involved, and he must get beyond the front shop tourist trap New Orleans voodoo to find the real thing.

“Back when I wrote the story, my editor at the time encouraged me to flesh it out more before agreeing to put it in the book (the original was really just a vignette). I did that, and it was dropped in as the title story at the end of the book – literally a day or two before it went to print. My editor also said that there really was a whole book waiting within that story, and I agreed. It just took me 16 years to finally sit down and write it!”

Since Horror Tree is a site that supports writers with markets, publicity, and writing advice, I asked Everson if he can offer any tips to writers.

“I’ve always said that every writer’s path is different, and what is the ‘right way’ for one is absolutely the ‘wrong way’ for another – so who am I to give anyone else advice?” Everson said. “For me, I always thought that honing your ‘voice’ by writing short fiction was the way to go before attempting a novel. I’d published short fiction for 10 years before my first novel, Covenant, came out. But some writers start with a novel and never really do short fiction.

“For some writers, self-publishing is perfect – they don’t have any interest in trying to break down the walls of traditional publishing, they just want to have their stories out in the world. For me, that was never enough. If I spent months writing a book, I wanted to make sure it had the best potential to reach the most readers possible, and that meant being allied with a publishing house that actually had money and editors and a marketing department. Not to mention a sales force and distribution. The tools to publish are easy. Getting the finished product in front of readers in a substantive way is the hard part. There are self-published authors who do it and do it well. But to me, you have a higher likelihood of success by working with a publisher who actually gets your books on the shelves (not the web pages) of Barnes & Noble stores.

“I have self-published one novel, Redemption, but only because I wanted to write the final book in a trilogy when the publisher of the first two books didn’t want it. Not surprisingly, that novel has sold the fewest number of copies of any of my books (which is a shame, because I think it’s a fun book that really ties up the first two novels, Covenant and Sacrifice). I’ve also republished some of my earlier books (like Vigilantes of Love) to make them available again, because the original publishers have gone out of business. But keeping your catalog in print is a different mode of publishing than putting out a book from scratch.”

Anyone who wants to know the real John Everson can read his entertaining end-of-year blog on his website where he shares all the highlights, personal and professional, of his life. He has a family plus a lot of interests and a busy professional life outside of writing. Why does he find the time to write horror novels?

“I’m really just an intrinsically creative person,” Everson said. “I always have to be ‘making’ something. I have always written fiction, written music, enjoyed gardening … I like to cook, I occasionally fumble about with woodworking. At the end of the week, I like to know that I’ve actually ‘made’ something that didn’t exist before. Preferably something that people can actually enjoy.

“If I just sit and watch TV, I feel like I’m just wasting my life (even if I really enjoyed all the TV shows). It does seem to get harder and harder to carve the time out to write, because life just seems to grow increasingly manic. Sometimes I think that I’d get more enjoyment by just sitting back and watching old giallo movies or playing pinball machines in my basement arcade than spending all those hours writing.  But eventually I’d get bored and need to actually make something again. Passively watching other people’s creativity isn’t enough for me. I need to produce something of my own to feel happy.”

LINKS:

Website: http://www.johneverson.com/

Twitter: @JohnEverson

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/johneverson

 

 

Horror Tree presents … An Interview with Jeff Strand

I first discovered Jeff Strand in 2010 when a novel titled Dweller arrived in my mailbox as part of the monthly Leisure Books horror club back in the day.

After reading it, Dweller instantly clawed into my Top 10 all-time books. It chronicled the entire decades-long friendship started between a lonely boy and an even lonelier Bigfoot-like creature. It was horror but unlike any horror I’d ever read before.

I met Strand at a Bigfoot conference in Georgia last year where he and his talented artist/wife Lynne were selling their books and art at one of the booths. I, of course, had to have him sign my copy of Dweller, and I even bought a print of his wife’s Dweller cover.

While mostly known as a master of horror-comedy, Strand writes straight horror with the best of the genre. Two of his novels, Dweller and Pressure, were nominated for Bram Stoker Awards. His short story, “Tipping Point,” won a Splatterpunk Award for Best Short Story.

With more than 40 books to his name, Strand released four more in 2019. The plots ranged from zombie animals and a serial killer with family issues to clowns versus spiders and werewolves.

So, which one was the most difficult to write and which one was the most fun?

Ferocious was the most difficult to write because of its simplicity,” Strand said in an exclusive interview with Horror Tree. “Two characters in a cabin surrounded by zombie animals. It was basically just a constant series of ‘Okay, now they’re totally screwed again. How do I get them out of this?” decisions.

“The most fun to write, and I suspect that this answer will surprise you, was My Pretties. Something like Clowns Vs. Spiders seems like it would be an absolute blast to write, but the absurd-yet-scary tone was a fairly tricky balancing act, and I’m slow at writing action sequences. My Pretties is more about suspense than action, and I really enjoyed figuring out how to parse out the information that revealed the big twist.”

Strand returned to his Wolf Hunt series in 2019, continuing the story of his two beloved characters, George and Lou. Why does Strand keep returning to these characters?

“About halfway through writing the first Wolf Hunt book, I thought, ‘I love these guys! Maybe I’ll write another one!’ But I focus on original novels far more than sequels, which has meant a four-to-five-year gap between each of the George and Lou novels, and that, my friend, is a terrible way to do a series. Though compared to my Andrew Mayhem series, I am blasting out the Wolf Hunt novels at a lightning-fast pace!

Wolf Hunt 3 came from reader demand and the fact that Wolf Hunt 2, though it didn’t have a cliffhanger ending, left plenty of unanswered questions. So, there was always going to be a third book … but when? A combination of elements made me decide that it was finally time to bring these poor bastards back. I don’t consider this the final book of a trilogy, but I did purposely write it so there doesn’t have to be a Wolf Hunt 4.

“Jumping back into these characters was effortless. I could write an entire novel of just George and Lou driving and talking. But, of course, the series is also about insane, over-the-top action, so I had to make sure the book delivered that aspect as well. If Wolf Hunt 2 is the darkest and meanest book, Wolf Hunt 3 is the weirdest and sickest.”

On January 13th, Canada’s Binge Bros. Productions announced they were optioning Strand’s 2016 young adult novel, The Greatest Zombie Movie Ever, for a movie adaptation. Strand wrote the screenplay himself, admitting he had to cut a lot of content.

“There’s actually stuff happening with several other books, but it’s all under a thick veil of secrecy,” Strand said. “Well, not Disposal — I’m allowed to say that Buffalo, New York filmmaker Mick Thomas is writing and directing that. The gag orders usually don’t bother me, although with one project in particular it’s kind of maddening.

“The process for The Greatest Zombie Movie Ever involved viciously hacking and slashing away as much of the book as I could. ‘Okay, here’s a page of really funny dialogue, but can I figure out a way to trim it down to two lines?’ I couldn’t be precious about anything, because even with what I thought was a brutal culling, my first draft was waaaayyyy too long for a goofy comedy about kids making a zombie flick. So, I got out my machete and chopped away even more. It’s still too long, but we’ll work that out as I enter the ‘working directly with the producer/directors on the rewrite’ stage.”

Strand said he never thinks about actors playing roles in his books.

“I never think about specific actors when I write a novel, and when people ask who I’d cast, I’m usually at a complete loss.” Strand said. “That didn’t change when I adapted my book into a screenplay. Other people will be making those decisions.”

Up next for Strand is a novel tentatively titled Hazel.

Hazel is about a middle-aged woman with telekinetic powers that she can’t control,” Strand said. “She can make you raise your hand into the air … but she’ll probably break your arm in the process. If she gets emotional, very bad things can happen to the people around her. She’s learned to manage it through prescription medication and by basically staying away from other human beings as much as possible. Enter a desperate hit man, his pregnant girlfriend, and a scam so cruel that no amount of pills can mute Hazel’s reaction.

“There’s not a publication date yet, but I will narrow it down to ‘reasonably soon.’ Beyond that, I’m being tight-lipped about other forthcoming projects. I’ll say that one of them will make long-time fans happy, and another will be something completely different from me. I do have a specific publication date in mind, and I may spring these upon the world with little or no advance notice! Beware!”

Since Horror Tree is a site that supports writers with markets, publicity, and writing advice, I asked Strand if he can offer any tips to writers.

“That’s a really tough question because self-publishing has opened up a completely different path to success,” Strand said. “Twenty years ago, I could stand behind a podium and say, ‘First, you need to find an agent,’ and nobody would scream ‘Liar! There are other ways to go about it!’ It’s not even just about what works best for a specific author. I’m a hybrid author; I do both traditional and self-publishing, so it’s about what works best for a specific book! It’s extremely difficult to give any kind of useful advice without actually talking to people about what they want out of their career.

“But I’m not gonna wuss out on your interview question. One piece of advice that is perhaps even more relevant now is ‘Don’t be in a hurry to be published!’ I was in a hurry to be published, but I didn’t have a choice. The gatekeepers said ‘Nope, not yet!’ It horrifies me to think that today’s options, where I can finish a book and people can buy it a few hours later, might have been available way back when I only thought I was producing publishable work. You can’t imagine the crap I would’ve put out into the world.

“So, don’t be in a hurry. Practice novels are totally cool. There’s no shame in your first novel never being published. There’s no shame in your first ten novels never being published. Like a sport or a musical instrument, you’ve gotta practice to get good at it!”

LINKS:

Website: https://jeffstrand.wordpress.com/

Twitter: @JeffStrand

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/JeffStrandAuthor

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