Derek – Well I am 33 years young, I am married to my beautiful wife and I have two amazing daughters. They are the driving force behind all that I do. I am currently a Registered Nurse and work full time. I was in the Army as an Airborne Infantryman. I am a really big fan of Batman. I love football both watching and playing.
Liz – How long have you been a writer for?
Derek – Now that is a bit more of a difficult question, I mean I would say my whole life but I suppose you want me narrow that down a bit. I have always been an avid reader for as long as I can remember. I read the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan when I was 15 and it changed my life. I began devouring books after that, and I think it was Stephen King who said something to the extent, that “you can only read for so long before you have to write your own story.”
So, when I was 29, I decided it was time to start checking on items off my bucket list. This included completely my first triathlon, completing the swim Alcatraz duathlon, and writing a book.
Liz – That’s some impressive bucket list items right there! What do you enjoy most about writing?
Derek – When I was younger, I remember reading this book and being transported to another world. So, for me writing is my chance to share the journey with the reader. I work very hard to make sure that I transport my readers into my world.
Liz – You’re first novel, Until the End, was released last year digitally and will be released in paperback later this year – can you tell us what it’s about?
Derek – At its essence it is a journey about the lengths that a father would go to for his daughter. Of course, it is told of the course of an outbreak of a virus that causes people to become flesh eating monsters. I mean if you are thinking to yourself, Zombies, you are on the right path.
So the reason behind the waited release of the paperback version is due to some of the feedback that I have gotten from my readers. I am currently working on some edits, I want to make sure that it is in its most perfect form when it is put on paper.
Liz – What was the inspiration behind it?
Derek – The idea of what I would do my daughters, there is no question, there is nothing that I would not do for them.
Liz – The unbreakable Daddy/Daughter bond! How long did it take you to write, from planning right through to now?
Derek – Too long, but I suppose that is the story of many authors. The idea started when I was 29 and I would say that is still an ongoing process. Another quote from Stephen King, a story is never finished as long as the writer is alive. Basically, I think that as you become a better writer there are always going to be things that you are going to want to improve.
Liz – We can be our own worst enemies…What made you decide to self-publish?
Derek – For me, I didn’t really see any other option to get my book out, as I have gotten more into writing, I realize that there are other avenues but it worked for me.
Liz – How have you found that whole process?
Derek – Self-Publishing has been an amazing process. I like the way that Amazon makes it very easy to see how my book is performing. The control that I have over pricing and sales. I think it is a great way to reach readers.
Liz – You’re currently working on a collection of short stories and poems – is there a central theme? Or is it a collection of work you have accumulated over time?
Derek – True Horror, every story that I write is something true or something that could happen. I have always been afraid of the darkness of human nature.
Liz – It’s the scariest kind of horror, I think! In your spare time you enjoy photography, in particular horror photography. What does that entail and how to you prepare your shoots?
Derek – I have always enjoyed photography, trying to get the perfect shot. I recently came across Joshua Hoffine’s work. It is amazing and inspiring. So, I have decided to try my hand at that and see what I can come up with. I’ll have to get back to on what it entails exactly.
Liz – You also spend time in Cosplay a Batman, The Dark Knight – why Batman?
Andrew – I have always been a huge fan of Batman, I mean the story of a tortured hero, what’s not to like?
Liz – How did you get into entertaining children in hospitals and schools? Was it a natural progression of the cosplay, or was it something you were doing first?
Derek – I got into it with the intention of wanting to do something nice. After watching the story of Lenny B. Robinson, who was a cosplayer who dressed up visiting hospitals before his untimely death. I thought it was such an awesome thing that he was doing and said to myself, hey I can do that. So, I got to work and put my costume together. It has been such an amazing experience, the people that I have got to meet and interact with because of it.
Liz – That’s amazing, I’m sure your visits are greatly appreciated. I have to ask – you’re the self-appointed ‘Bob’s Burger’s’ Biggest Fan – what makes you so? And what is about the show that you enjoy so much?
Derek – Yes the self-appointed, biggest ‘Bob’s Burger’s’ Fan, I am just a huge fan of the show. I love watching the show, the dark dry sense of humor, compliments my own so well. I also got to recently meet the creator and cast, it was a high point of my visit to San Diego Comic Con earlier this year.
Liz – You’ve recently become a Registered Nurse. How do you juggle the nursing and the writing?
Derek – I am blessed to be working as a nurse; fortunately I work three nights a week so I am able to spend my days with my family and my other nights writing.
Liz – Have you always wanted to be a nurse? What do enjoy most about it?
Derek – I have always known that I want to help people. I just didn’t know what avenue I would take to obtain that goal. About nine years ago I was faced with a huge decision in my life. I had been accepted to a Licensed Nurse Program and to a Police Academy. As part of the application process for the nursing program, I had requested a letter of recommendation from a doctor I worked with. He spoke with me a few days prior to me needing to make my decision. He asked me what I was going to do and I told him I was on the fence. So, he says hold on, goes to his car, comes back with a check for my nursing tuition, and tells me to go to nursing school. To this day I cannot thank him enough, I still keep in touch and talk to him now. He completely altered the direction of my life for the better.
Liz – What an amazing gift of generosity! The world needs more acts of kindness like that. Do you find inspiration for your writing in your nursing work?
Derek – I do, I have seen many things in my career as a nurse and it would be hard to not incorporate my experiences into my stories.
Liz – I see you have also directed short films! Can you tell us about them?
Derek – Yes as if I didn’t have enough things on my plate, I have recently tried my hand at writing, directing, and editing short films. You can check them out at my youtube page.
Liz – Is directing something you would like to do more of in the future?
Derek – It was a ton of fun, but a lot of work. I will be doing more yes. My mind rarely stops moving.
Liz – I certainly know that feeling! Aside from Bob’s Burger’s and Batman, who else inspires you?
Derek – If you can’t tell, Stephen King a huge inspiration for me. Robert Jordan opened up worlds for me. Raymond E. Fiest ranks among my top favourites, I actually got to meet him a few years ago. Lee Child’s ability to tell fast paced action filled stories amazes me. Frank Miller’s dark noir tales are fantastic and KC Wayland’s, We’re Alive, podcast are phenomenal. I could literally go on.
Liz – Lastly, if you could meet one person in the world, dead or alive, who would it be?
Derek – Wow… I think it would be pretty awesome to meet, Edgar Allen Poe.
Liz – Now that is an impressive choice! Thank you so much for your time, Derek!
If you would like to contact Derek, or check out the below links.
Liz – Please welcome author, Karen Runge! Karen, tell us a little bit about your side of the world?
Karen – I currently live in Johannesburg, South Africa. It’s a large, eclectic city that captures a lot of extremes. Wealth and poverty, sincerity and superficiality. The crime rate is high, so you need to stay on your toes around here. As a city, it has its own unique beauty. If you’re bored in Johannesburg, you’re doing it wrong.
Liz – It sounds intense! Were you born there?
Karen – Actually no, I was born in Paris. My father was a diplomat, and our family was stationed in France for six years. We then lived in Gabon for about eighteen months before returning to South Africa when I was still very young.
Liz – France! I’m envious…You also lived in the Far East for seven years – whereabouts?
Karen – I spent three years in Harbin, a city in China’s northeast that is just a few clicks down from Siberia. I then spent four years in Beijing before I packed up and returned home.
Liz – What prompted the change of scene? Did you find it a culture shock?
Karen – Having been raised in a family that moved around a lot, ‘culture shock’ doesn’t seem to hit me as hard as it might others. I was born into the idea, at least subconsciously, that no place you put your feet down on is necessarily going to be your permanent space. I’ve always felt it’s important to remember that the world is far, far bigger than just the tiny corner you might know. Or think you know. When I get sick of a place or feel I need a change, for some reason I don’t just reach for my bags—I grab my Passport, too. I’m settled in Johannesburg for now, but I won’t be surprised if in two or three years time I catch myself scouring maps and researching exit strategies.
Liz – I’m intrigued to see where you end up next! You are fluent in Chinese, and can swear in Russian – which language do you prefer? Did you find it difficult to learn a new language?
Karen – Wow, you’ve done your research! Yes, I can swear in Russian. And say a few other, less colourful things, too. In South Africa it’s kind of weird to only be able to speak and understand one language. Most people are operating on a minimum of two over here. And even if your second language skills aren’t exactly at full fluency, you can still get by with what you do have. I think being exposed to many languages from birth does a lot to help you if you decide to learn a third or fourth language later on in life. Your brain already understands the necessary gearshifts and is open to accept new grammatical structures. That said, I found Russian much harder to learn than Chinese—which is why I ultimately gave up on pursuing it past a few basic grammar structures. That and also, since I was living in China, proficiency in Chinese was much more of a priority. But swear words—hey, those are useful in any language! Even if you’re not going to use them yourself, it always helps to know when someone else is slagging you off!
Liz – Haha! That’s very true! You have a tattoo of a black dahlia that holds special meaning, can you tell us about it?
Karen – Wow, you’ve really, really done your research! Sure. When I first found out about Elizabeth Short’s (aka The Black Dahlia) brutal unsolved murder in 1947, I was completely captured by it. The beauty, the tragedy, the mystery. Something about her really resonated with me. I read up on it, watched documentaries about it, you name it. I was horrified to see that YouTube documentaries show up with thumbnail images of her corpse. That struck me as beyond sick, and so horribly unfair. This beautiful girl’s mutilated body is now on display to the whole world. I find that despicable. How would she feel, to have that final dignity taken from her? We don’t know too much about her life: She was a starlet with high ambitions, and there are hints that she might have been dabbling in the sex industry to get by on the way to achieving her dreams. She was sweet and trusting, navigating a dangerous world: an easy target for a psycho. I got the tattoo as a way to try and pull something beautiful out of something brutal. Forget those hideous, degrading autopsy photos—let’s look at the dahlia. For me, the black dahlia as an image represents the beauty in tragedy. Further to that, you could say I got it in honour of abused and victimised women around the world.
Liz – I think that’s a beautiful tribute. I’ve long found her murder both fascinating and haunting. It’s still horrific even seventy years after the fact…
You describe yourself as a ‘goth in recovery’ – how so?
Karen – My older brother nurtured my musical tastes from a young age. We’re talking Iron Maiden, Metallica, then Nine Inch Nails, Rammstein…. You get the picture. I was that weird girl in high school who carries Stephen King books around with her and hides from everyone, then gets home and locks herself in her room blasting heavy metal while she writes terrible poetry. Yep. That was me. But you have to grow up sometime and mainstream yourself at least a little. Take out the piercings, hide the tattoos. My tastes have since diversified a lot, too… but I still like to wear black. The day you see me wearing pink, you’ll know that whole Invasion of the Body Snatchers/Stepford Wives thing might well be going down.
Liz – I read my first Stephen King book at ten so definitely understand carrying around his books – and I feel the exact same way you do about wearing the colour pink, haha! Where do you do most of your writing?
Karen – These days, usually at my desk like any civilised scribe! I converted a room in my apartment into a dedicated studio for any and all art projects. Sometimes I take a notebook out onto my balcony and work on stuff out there. My balcony is usually reserved for writing terrible poetry. (Yes, I still write terrible poetry. And more often than not, I’m blasting dark music while I’m at it. How little we ever really change!)
Liz – You’ve had ‘Shellfish’ and ‘Exile’ published in the Double Barrel Horror chapbooks from Pint Bottle Press – Can you tell us about chapbooks? Was it challenging to write for this format?
Karen – Chapbooks are really just short stories, published as stand-alones. I write a lot of short stories (the short form is still easier for me than novel-length works) so when Matt Weber got in touch with me about submitting for his Double Barrel Horror project, I was easily on board. It’s a great concept, as it helps readers taste-test new authors. And overall is just a boatload of fun. Pint Bottle Press has done a fantastic job with these—from the calibre of authors showcased right down to the pulpy, slapstick cover art. They’re just gorgeous. I would love to see more publishing houses run projects like this.
Liz – It’s a great idea! ‘Hope Is Here’ and ‘Angeline’ were published in the Suspended in Dusk anthologies – can you tell us about these?
Karen – The Suspended in Dusk editor and champion, Simon Dewar, has been a long-distance pal of mine for a good few years now. We met when we were both on the cusp of taking this ‘writing thing’ seriously. It’s been great to watch each other grow, and incredible to look back and see where we were when we first crossed paths. Suspended in Dusk is his baby—as a relative nobody, he solicited, edited, and housed the first anthology to startling acclaim. He even got Jack Ketchum to write the Intro. (The guy’s got super powers. That’s all I’m gonna say.) Simon very kindly asked me if I’d like to write a story for SiD, and I was lucky enough to get my tale ‘Hope is Here’ in the ToC. When he announced SiD2, I wrote ‘Angeline’, a story inspired by the PJ Harvey song of the same name.
Liz – You describe your short story collection, ‘Seven Sins’ as an ‘exploration of the darker aspects of love and nurturing’ – can you elaborate?
Karen – I’m always interested in using art to bust people’s expectations. Old people are ‘sweet’ – says who? Women are ‘nurturers’ – always? Nurturing is only ever a virtue – wanna think about that again? Children are angels on earth – are you actually serious?! You get the picture. If you look at life in real terms, there’s a lot of stuff going on in this world that turns these socially accepted assumptions right onto their shallow, box-shaped heads. Seven Sins came about when I pushed myself to think a bit harder about why people do things that shock us. Why are we shocked? What was the motivation and psychology of the perpetrators? I picked seven, absolutely awful acts and created stories that explored them. Concord Free Press took the collection on, and put an amazing amount of work into getting it out there, including securing blurbs from writers like Paul Tremblay and Stephen Graham Jones. Concord were awesome to work with. I was very lucky to land my first solo effort with them.
Liz – I love the concept! Human nature certainly can’t be categorised into boxes. How long did it take for you to write your collection?
Karen – One or two of the stories in there were written before I had the idea to create a themed collection, so it’s hard to pin down the start date. But I do remember very clearly sitting at a packed bar in Beijing one night, completely ignoring my friends while I scribbled down the existing titles and new concepts I thought might work together. That list, scrawled in a slightly less than sober state, became my guide through the whole process. I guess you could say from there it took about a year to get the rest of the stories together.
Liz – Do you have a favourite story from ‘Seven Sins’?
Karen – Yikes, that’s a tough question. I guess it would probably be a toss-up between Sweet Old Men and The Killing Machine. I was exploring lean, stripped-down formats when I wrote those, and was pretty happy with the results.
Liz – Which authors have inspired you over the years, and why?
Karen – As a teen poetry junkie, I read a lot of Sylvia Plath and Margaret Atwood. Stephen King I think goes without saying for any dark fiction writer. I also love Ian McEwan and John Fowles’ earlier novels. I’m inspired by authors who aren’t afraid to approach their material a little differently. I am completely hooked on any author who has the guts to go where few have gone before. To me these are the main markers of what makes a great dark fiction writer; at least, they are the traits I most admire. To be a little different. To be completely unafraid.
Liz – You’ve just published your first novel, ‘Seeing Double’ – congratulations! How does it feel?
Karen – Thank you! It feels absolutely glorious… and completely nerve-racking! Like sitting on a bed of needles with warm sunshine on your face. Grey Matter Press is a fantastic outfit, and I’m so honoured that they took this work on. It recently caught its first review from Dark Hall Press, where Bill Renehan described it as ‘walking the line between poetry and pornography’. I love that description. We’ll see what happens from here.
Liz – ‘Like sitting on a bed of needles with warm sunshine on your face.’ – I love that imagery! You’ve described it as ‘an exploration into sadism’ – how so? What was the inspiration behind it?
Karen – When I wrote Seeing Double, I was going through a disturbo phase. I was digging up all the old video nasties I could find and watching them with eyes wide open. I was reading every banned and/or controversial book I could lay my hands on. Everything from JT Leroy to the Marquis de Sade. And if I found a disturbing film that was based on a book, you can be sure that I was doing everything possible to get a hold of both. The thing with the disturbo end of horror is that while it’s not exactly ‘pleasant’, it gets you thinking like nothing else can. These stories and images haunt you for a good while after—and I think I was addicted to that. That journey you need to take with yourself when you’re exposed to the truly horrible. I think extreme horror is something of an unsung hero—it can go to places milder versions can only hint at. It has a point-blank honesty to it that is nothing if not admirable. It didn’t take long for me to ask myself, Can I do this? The important thing is that creating this kind of shock art cannot be based only on sadism for sadism’s sake. That’s where the ‘exploration’ part comes in. The truth is that a lot of sick things happen in this world. But it can’t just come out of nowhere, right? So, what drives it? What feeds it? What influences people to do such vicious, unforgivable things? I wanted my story to feel real. So, when I picked up my pen to start writing, it was with that idea in mind. Hold nothing back. Feel it as much as you see it. How far can you go? Pretty far, as it turns out!
Liz – It sounds like it’s going to be one hell of a read! The cover is intriguing! Who designed it?
Karen – Isn’t it just! I took one look and fell in love. The artist did a great job capturing all the key themes of the book in one powerful image. Blood, sex, and the surreal. The artist’s name is Dean Samed. You can follow him on Twitter @DeanSamed.
Liz – If you could work with any author, who would it be, and why?
Karen – It would be awesome to collaborate with someone like Jack Ketchum or Stephen Graham Jones. I haven’t done a lot of collaborative work (Simon Dewar and I co-wrote ‘High Art’ for Grey Matter Press’s Death’s Realm anthology, and recently wrote another story together that is currently out on sub) but from what little I have done, I know it can work. Jack Ketchum collaborates a lot with filmmaker Lucky McKee, and I’m a huge fan of them each, both as stand-alones as well as the work they’ve done together. Stephen Graham Jones blows me away, every time. There’s a raw purity to his voice that forms a powerful kind of poetry. It would be incredible to work on something with him.
Liz – What’s next for you?
Karen – Suspended in Dusk 2 will be coming out at some point, this time from Grey Matter Press. In the interim, I’m currently working on another short story collection. I know they’re not always popular, and are notoriously difficult to sell, but as an artist you don’t always get to pick your projects. Sometimes they pick you. I’ve written about four stories so far and I’m ankle-deep in the fifth. The goal is ten. Let’s see if it’ll see the light of day when I’m done. I’ve also caught myself researching a lot lately—something I do when a book might be on the way. I’m creatively in a great space at the moment, and trying to make the most of it while I can. Writing is very much about bumbling around in the dark—you never know what’s really going on, or where each step is taking you. You just keep going until it starts to make sense.
Liz – Fantastic! Thanks so much for your time, Karen, it’s been a pleasure!
If you’d like to check out Karen’s work, click on the following links:
Liz – I’d like to introduce you to author, actor, and all-round nice-guy, Ace Antonio Hall!
Ace, tell us a little bit about your part of the world?
Ace – I live in South Pasadena, California, which is about one of the best places in SoCal an author can live. It’s neighbor, Pasadena, is rumored to had been the first “Beverly Hills”. The people here are great, the Target stores out here have the best popcorn for your buck, and the jogging trails from South Pasadena to San Gabriel are awe-inspiring. I mean, to capture a California sunset in South Pasadena is to hold an angel’s wings with bated breath.
Liz – that certainly paints a picture! What do you enjoy most about writing?
Ace – I love the fact that anything, is possible. A writer has the chance to create worlds, and beyond. Take for example, the way Laurell K. Hamilton created the power of the ardor for her character Anita Blake. How she came up with that idea can be argued over many a margarita, but the fact that it’s so imaginative has to inspire horror, science fiction, and romance novelists, whether on their first manuscript of their twentieth. That power to create, to manipulate a reader’s mind, to scare them, to make them cry, and even better, to put my character through as much turmoil as possible, makes me get up nearly every morning at four a.m. to write. People don’t care how much you know, until they KNOW how much you care! Well, I love, love, love to read, and I love, love, love to write.
I always tell my fellow writers when I’m speaking on panels, “When you get some free time, write. When you get some lazy time, plan. When you get down time, world build. When your time comes, shine!”
Liz – Glad to see another 4am riser! It’s the best time of the day to write, in my opinion. Would you say creativity is in your blood?
Ace – That is something that I’ll let you decide. I have been fortunate to over-the-years to come up with a few ideas that have been very imaginative, and many more that have not been as imaginative.
Liz – You’ve stated, ‘Not only must a writer be an avid reader, but one who reads a ton in their areas of writing’ – can you elaborate on this?
Ace – A very fine teacher, and former literary agent, Denise Dumars, was the first person to look at my horrid first novel, back in 2009. I remember her saying, “Ace, we call this a kitchen-sink novel. It has everything in it except the kitchen sink. But it doesn’t seem like you even read in your genre. It is horror, isn’t it?” she asked. That’s because it had spies, monsters, natural disasters, action, and whatever else I could throw in, as a novice, thinking it would make it better to mix all the genres I loved to read.
Denise gave me the best advice ever, and I started reading horror novels, namely in the undead sub-genre, and what I learned after reading well over fifty novels and short stories, was the tropes, the language, the rules, the voice, different styles, the scares, what was standard, what was over-used, and what was paying homage to that genre so much so, that it became innate in my very being. After about a year of reading only in the genre I wanted to write, was I able to, not only recreate what I’d learned and was inspired by, but create, from my own personal experiences and imagination, only something that I COULD WRITE.
Liz – That’s some good advice I think all of us as authors could take on.
What motivated you to study screenwriting at college?
Ace – When I was maybe, eight or nine years old, I made monster comic books with my artist friend Johnny Bryant, and dreamed of seeing my stories on the big screen. My favorite comics to draw were Godzilla, and I developed my own set of super heroes. I knew that if I’d gotten some formal training, it would better-prepare me for the future. A lot of my friends who are writers never needed that kind of formal training, but can tell you every plot line that Larry Niven has ever written. Me, I wasn’t so good reciting and analyzing an author’s work, but by studying with masters of their craft, I developed better technique that translated into what many of my readers call a “visual style” of writing.
Liz – You’ve had an impressive career in education – you taught middle school English for 10 years, before moving to Los Angeles to take on the role of director of education for the Sylvan Learning Centre – has this experience benefited or influenced your writing?
Ace – I think it has. Being immersed in the psychology of children, their likes, their concerns, their troubles, their tragedies, and their future, molded certain principles and themes in my writing like abandonment, growing up in single-parent homes, or homes with strong matriarchs and weak patriarchs, their language, and their dreams. One of my stories, published by Bard and Sages, called Raising Mary: Frankenstein is about a dying girl with a last wish to have her dead relative, Mary Shelley, raised from the grave. I wouldn’t had harnessed the magic of a young girl’s imagination had I not taught children.
Liz – You then decided to leave your education career behind you in order to pursue writing and acting – was it a hard decision to make?
Ace – Yes, it was! Simply because it was a decision to leave behind a stable 80 grand-a-year job to hustle as a stand-in actor for sometimes 1,500 a week, to sometimes nothing when the show got canceled in a very unstable profession. However, I needed the free time to think, create, develop and polish my craft. Being an English teacher where you take your work home (reading and grading up to 120 student essays/stories), and leading a multi-million-dollar institution as a director at the Sylvan Learning Center was just too demanding and if it weren’t for my dear friend, Jane Eugene, from the iconic British Soul group, Loose Ends, encouraging me to follow my dreams and write, that dark hole of regret that was growing in my soul would have enveloped my entire being by now. I’d be a walking cesspool of bitterness.
Liz – Sometimes you just have to take the chance and trust that the universe has your back.
A TV show named Creature Features captured your attention from a young age – what was it about the show that stood out and how has that influenced your writing?
Ace – Lol. This interview has the best line of questioning I’ve ever had the pleasure of answering! Another great question, Liz. Partly because it proves you’ve shown an interest for your subject and that is probably one of the most flattering things an interviewer can do. (Liz – Why, thank you, Ace!) Yes! Yes! Yes! I loved Creature Features. I was always enamored by the possibilities of putting people in situations where fear drives them into even more danger. The Creature from the Black Lagoon and so many other films that came on that program shaped my warped imagination. Those programs gave me the foundation to scare the heck out of my readers with the fantastical.
Liz – Confessions of Sylva Slasher debuted in 2013, courtesy of Montag Press, what influenced you to write a young adult zombie novel?
Ace – Would you believe me if I told you it started out as a story about a woman trying to overcome breast cancer? How it turned into an eighteen-year-old necromancer fighting just as many as her own personal demons as the monsters of the world, I don’t know. What I can tell you is that Sylva Slasher would never had been born had it not been for Anita Blake, nor Bruce Lee. I wanted to create a female teen Bruce Lee with a twist of horror and that’s who I came up with. The first novel I ever read was Escape to Witch Mountain by Alexander Key that featured a female protagonist. That has never gotten out of my system. I guess it didn’t hurt to have crushes on Wonder Woman and Batgirl when I grew up, either. Wasn’t the Wonder Woman film awesome? Gal Gadot is so beautiful, and her acting in the movie was top-rate. What a great film for DC. But as everyone who knows me knows, I’m a huge Spider-Man and Marvel fan. So “Avengers Assemble! “-nuff said.
Liz – Now that is a kick-ass assembly of inspiring characters. Is it true that you believe we have entered the ‘Golden Age of Zombies?’
Ace – Awesome Question, Liz! Yes, just like the Golden Age of Hollywood, which started in 1927 with the Jazz Singer, we are seeing a prolific paradigm shift in zombie theatrical and TV releases. The same way that I credit Christopher Nolan by changing the superhero game in 2005 with Batman Begins by, not making a superhero movie per se, but a dramatic film with the protagonist happening to be a superhero, and thus lifting the genre to a greater cinematic quality, the October 31, 2010 debut of Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore, and Charlie Adlard’s The Walking Dead, did the same for the undead genre and brought us into the Golden Age of Zombies. Look at the film World War Z? Clearly, one of the best ever!
I will add though, that Shinji Mikami’s survival horror video game Resident Evil, released by Capcom in 1996, is the catalyst for the zombie craze. He re-birthed the fascinating world that George Romero made famous and infected the young world with, to this day, the scariest video game I ever played. Playing that game was the first time I jumped clear out of my skin and up on the ceiling. I made everyone else in the room who watched me play jump from pure fright, too. Awesome! We are now in an era that the undead films and projects are made with better plots, characters and stories. Hear ye! Hear ye! It is definitely the Golden Era.
Liz – I couldn’t play Resident Evil as a child – far too scary for me, back in the day! You’ve also published a number of short stories, do you have a favourite, and why?
Ace – Yes, I’ve been fortunate to have had a dozen or so stories published in the last year. Many of them you can find on my website at AAntonioHall.com/books. I think my favorite is the one published by Bard and Sages, Society of Misfit Stories, Raising Mary: Frankenstein, because it involved so many emotional elements in the story, as well as fantastical moments. I guarantee that once you meet my character, Dresy Swansea, you’ll see why the story was nominated in 2016 as “Horror Story of the Year” by Preditors and Editors, and was on the Reading List for the Horror Writers Association Bram Stoker Awards in 2016-2017.
Liz – You’ve also seen success with your acting, including working as a stand-in for shows such as Son of Zorn, and How to Get Away with Murder. Can you tell us a little about your experiences? How does it feel to see your goals unfolding?
Ace – I always joke that I’ve lived a Forest Gump life in that I been associated with some of the most iconic personas in history: I danced with Madonna in a club called The World, hung out at Michael Jackson’s house because I once gave Rebbie Jackson’s daughter, Yashi, a vocal lesson at their home in Woodland Hills, CA, and was welcome to her son, Austin’s, high school graduation party. Check this out: I was in charge of seating Prince, and welcomed him to B.B. King’s nightclub at the Citywalk when I was a promoter there. I lived with N’Sync’s and Britney Spears’ co-manager, Doug Brown, and got to saw them all the time in the studio.
I managed an artist named Asu the Mike Tightner, who did a few songs with Tupac, and produced an underground video featuring he and 2Pac. I had a father who wrote the lyrics to “So What” by Miles Davis that led me to meet the iconic Cicely Tyson and hear her tell me stories about Miles Davis, and omigod, had one of the most talented actresses in TV and Film today, Viola Davis ask me to be HER Facebook friend. I thought it was a hoax and when I asked her did she friend me, she said, “And I’ve been waiting for you to to friend me!” I ran right to my phone and accepted. Lol. I mean, I got a lap dance from Ashley Graham with her husband sitting right next to me when I stood in for NeYo on Lip Sync Battle for rehearsal, and that was crazy! Yeah, it was definitely mind-blowing to play the talented, smart and absolutely beautiful Vanessa Williams’ boyfriend in Desperate Housewives, but truly, writing is my passion.
Life has dealt me some cool cards, and my life, if anything, has been extremely exciting, but in all honestly, all I really ever wanted was to write entertaining stories good enough that even the great authors of today could nod to, and appreciate.
Liz – You have an impressive portfolio of connections, that’s for sure. But to have a legit friend request from Viola Davis!? I’m beyond fangirling over here… you have no idea, haha! With so much success with both, do you prefer, writing or acting? Why?
Ace – Writing: Because I read to inhale, and I write to exhale. Creating stories is the way I breathe. Writing is why I exist. And I want the world to experience my stories as much and as many times as they possibly can. I want to create worlds that people can delve into and disappear.; stories that stay with my readers forever, and mold the way the see things.
Liz – ‘Because I read to inhale, and I write to exhale.’ – I really like that! Sounds like something I should have pinned to the top of my computer monitor. Do you find the ability to act helps with developing characters in your stories?
Ace – Not my acting, but watching great actors, like Viola Davis, and Alfie Enoch, inspires me to create nuances and emotions in characters that are borne from the struggles of the choices they made with their character’s past. I’ve worked with Damon Wayans, Jr. probably more than fifty times, and it’s always great to see how he approaches his characters. He’s a strong actor and a natural comic. It allows me to think about creating characters that are compelling and entertaining.
Liz – Liz – Damon Wayans, Jr. is hilarious! I came across a little random fact about you and have to ask – how did you come to play the music for New Kid’s on the Block’s remix of ‘Dirty Dawg’? (I’m a massive NKOTB fan from way back! I’m not kidding…I had my wedding to Joey McIntyre mapped out and everything…)
Ace – You are too funny! One of my homies, the legendary Greg Nice, from the hip-hop duo, Nice and Smooth asked me to do the music. We recorded it in D&D Studios on 37th Street in Manhattan. Again, another iconic musical group that I’ve had the pleasure to be associated with was New Kids on the Block. In hindsight, I wished I’d done more with the track. But Greg was happy with the keyboard parts that I did, and then he added the magic that he always does with his records. To this day, it is the record I made the most money off of, and although I didn’t get credit on the record, everyone who’s anyone knows I did the keys on it. I can’t tell how much of an honor it was, and feel indebted to Greg Nice for asking me to do it. Remember when NKOTB had four albums on the charts at the same time? They were bigger than big, back in the day.
Liz – They certainly were! I’m not ashamed to admit I have an NKOTB playlist on my Spotify…Tell us about the inspiration behind your latest release, Lord of the Flies -Fitness for Writers.
Ace – In 2008, I’d gotten to the point where my waist was an unhealthy 38” and I was up to 210 pounds. After my niece teased me about my “man-boobs”, I decided that enough was enough and started a lifestyle that combined fitness, healthier eating (because I still enjoy peach cobbler, but my diet was consistently HEALTHIER than it had been), detoxing, and better sleeping habits. Eventually, I got my waist down to 29” and my weight to 164 pounds.
After six years of that lifestyle, I’d gotten the rep for being a generally healthy guy, and I was approached by the Editor of Omnium Gatherum to do a fitness workshop for the 2017 StokerCon, back in March 2016. That Halloween at a Horror Writers Association party, she asked me to write a book as a compliment to the workshop. I wasn’t confident that I could pull it off, but went for it, and couldn’t have been happier with the results. I sold out of the book in the first two hours of release, on February 25th at StokerCon!
Liz – What a brilliant result! You must be so proud! What inspired you to put together the video, 24 Cali Fitness (a music parody of Bruno Mars’ 24k Magic) What was the process like in putting it together?
Ace – A friend of mine, a 16X Jiu Jitsu World Champion, loved Bruno Mars, and infected me with her love of his music. He’s a great artist and a terrific performer. It didn’t take long before I became a big fan of his art. I called up a friend of mine who cast me a few times in theatrical projects that featured the beautiful and talented actress, Shanti Lowry (The Game, Family Time) and asked her to direct it. She pulled in director, Dale Stelly, celebrity choreographer, Jabari Odom (Mariah Carey, Ginuine, Chris Brown), and John (Good Times) Amos’ son, KC Amos, to edit the project. I was blown away at the prospect of working with so many talented professionals of that industry.
The next thing I knew, Jane Eugene from Loose Ends was singing on it, and the original member/songwriter from the Commodores, Dave Cochrane, co-produced it with me. The record got some radio play in Las Vegas on KCEP Power 88 FM. It only got about 1,600 hits total between my website, and the other YouTube versions, so it wasn’t a big hit like all the other 24K Magic parodies, but I had a lot of fun doing it. What many people don’t know is that I had laminectomy back surgery two days after the video shoot, and as much as I wanted to get in tip-top shape for the video couldn’t, because of pre-surgery restrictions. So, my tummy looked “out-of-shape”, but I took it all in as a funny parody, and didn’t mind people laughing at the concept.
The process: Lawdy, Lawdy! There were so many fires I had to put out, being that I was also funding the video myself, and the entire experience probably added more gray hairs on my head, but if I had to do it all again, I would (with someone else’s money, though). It was an amazing experience and I’m so grateful to Amber Schwartz and Shanti Lowry for doing the project. Those two incredible women made the 24 Cali Fitness video special. I’m indebted to them, forever.
Liz – You’ve also recently undertaken your first major radio interview in Los Angeles, which must have been exciting – how did it come about?
Ace – Nice and Smooth was in town doing a few shows, and I hung out with them. The Legendary Holiday was their deejay, and I played the song for him. He loved it! The rest is history. He played the song, a couple of times, and loved it so much, he said he’d put it in rotation. When I was up in Vegas, I gave him a call and he had me come down to the radio station for an exclusive interview. I can NOT tell you the emotional outburst of humility and gratefulness I felt when I was driving in the streets of Las Vegas, listening to the radio and all of a sudden heard my song come on the radio in between a Janet Jackson song and Beyoncé song! It was one of the most memorable moments of the year, next to having Omnium Gatherum release my book, Lord of the Flies: Fitness for Writers! To hear my song on a popular FM radio station was incredible!
Liz – Since you’ve embarked on your writing journey, have you met anyone who has influenced and/or mentored you?
Ace – Two people I credit with mentoring me in the “Write” direction was: Heather Graham, Alexandra Sokoloff and Robert J. Sawyer. Heather was the first author I met, back in 2008, and immediately we clicked. I met her at the WeHo Book Fair, and she told me about HWA. She gave me her email address and was so nice to answer any questions I had, and gave me great advice. I met Robert J. Sawyer on the set of Flash Forward, and we also immediately hit it off. He has been a great influence, and friend.
The Greater Los Angeles Writers Society (GLAWS) president, Tony N. Todaro has probably had the most influence on me through his group. He took me in, elected me Vice-President and offered me the most substantial programs that novice writers need. I learned about the business, met industry professionals, developed marketing tactics, spoke on dozens of writing panels, helped run conferences and crafted my writing all because of his organization, GLAWS.
Liz – What’s next on your busy agenda?
Ace – I just got back this morning (June 26th) from speaking at a conference at the University of Pacific in Stockton. I love Scott Evans’ writing conference. He does great promotion and the second I step out of the car, am treated like royalty. The people up there know me, and I love that. My panels are always filled, and I always am able to offer help to many writers.
This month, I’m finishing up an untitled horror novel (maybe I’ll call it Feeder), about a young troubled dhampir (half-human, half-vampire) who is investigating a homicide that may be connected to a string of child abductions and becomes personally involved when her own siblings are kidnapped. It isn’t until the ghost of her deceased mother “Feeds” her clues that she begins to gain an advantage on the killer, and get a step closer to saving her younger brother and sister before something happens to them. I’ve already finished the book, and am now in the fourth draft editing the manuscript. My goal is to be done with the novel by September.
Liz – Wow! That sounds fascinating – I can’t wait to read it! Thank you so much for your time!
If you would like to know more about Ace, or check out his work, click on the below links.
Liz – Welcome, Andy! Tell us about the part of the world you live in.
Andy – I live in Prague, the heart of Europe. It’s a beautiful city with all the benefits of a capital city without the chaos and cost that you get in larger cities like London, Paris or New York. The city centre really is a centre – you can walk all the big tourist spots in a couple of days. Cheap/free ice-skating rinks are set up in the centre each winter, you can live well relatively cheaply, it’s great for the kids, has loads of green space, enough castles and spires to inspire any number of gothic-tinged novels, and a number of beer gardens. It also has a Museum of Torture Instruments. I’m still debating whether I really want to go there for a ‘work day out’. Undoubtedly, it will prove a mine of inspiration, it may also give me nightmares – the things people do to each other is way worse than what any monster or divine creature can do.
Liz – It sounds like an amazing place. Plenty to inspire!
You grew up on the ‘fringes’ of Europe – can you tell us where, and did you have a favourite place?
Andy – I grew up in the UK – the fringes of Europe, geographically speaking. I was born in England but grew up in South Wales, where my family moved when I was around six. As a result, my sense of nationality is a bit blurred. Despite the UK being officially one country, the four constituent areas of the UK still have a strong sense of individuality.
The move from England to Wales also resulted in a blurred accent. That was mainly because the Welsh took the p**s out of me when I was a kid for being and sounding English. When I then lived in London (via Italy), the English took the p**s out of me for sounding Welsh. The story of my life, it seems, as the Czechs take the p**s out of me now when I try and speak their goulash of a language. (In my defence, Czech has fourteen cases and four genders. The way I speak it, the language is even more ‘gender fluid’.)
I didn’t have a favourite place as such, but I’ve always been a ‘home-bird’. I like my space and my routine. That’s been one of the big adjustments as a parent, having to share those things with the kids.
Liz – Sounds like you would have quite an interesting accent. What inspired you to do the One Book Interviews?
Andy – It’s healthy for a website to have regular, new content. It keeps things active and fresh. The problem was, I wasn’t sure what to do for mine. The obvious choices for an author are short stories, blogs or interviews. I don’t have time to produce a new short story a week purely for my website, and I find writing regular content for blogs tricky. I don’t want to be a digital echo, i.e. purely regurgitating and repackaging information that already exists on any number of other websites. A similar issue applies to author interviews – there are plenty of interviews out there that are a variation on where/why/what do you write? Many of those interviews do that very well, so I see no need to add to that.
One day I was playing around with the famous LOTR quote: ‘One ring to rule them all.’ I changed it to ‘one book to rule them all’ for an idea I was toying with. The One Book Interview was born soon after. It’s turning out really well. It gives me content for my site which is fresh and relevant to what I do, and it’s really interesting to read about what writers read, to discover the words behind the words.
Liz – What a great idea!
You’re a member of the British Blues Awards Hall of Fame – can you tell us about it, and how you came to be a member?
Andy – I’ve played music all my life. I toured Europe and beyond for a long time, playing bass in a blues/soul/funk/Americana band. As part of that band, I was lucky enough to win the bass player of the year category three years in a row (2010, 2011, 2012). Anyone who wins their category three times is ‘retired’ and put into the Hall of Fame. It needs to be said that that award belongs as much to the other members of that band (Ian and Nik) as to me – blues bass playing on its own is not always the most exciting thing to listen to!
I’m also very grateful to anyone who voted for me and anyone else in that competition. Music can be a hard way to make a living (just like writing) and support from the public for any kind of creative arts is essential for its survival, these days more than ever.
Liz – It’s a wonderful achievement to win once, let alone three times. How long have you played bass guitar for, and what inspired you to chose it?
Andy – In the county of West Glamorgan (where I grew up) there was a fantastic school music scene in the 80s. You could borrow instruments from school and there were all kinds of ensembles to play with – orchestras, wind bands, brass bands, big bands, groups etc. There was also a thriving local pop/rock music scene. When I was around thirteen-years old, someone came into the music class and asked if anyone would be interested in playing cello. I said yes. The next day they said they didn’t have any cellos left so I’d have to play double bass. Fine, I thought. Same thing, really. They aren’t the same thing. They’re very different, but a shortage of cellos pushed me onto double bass. Double bass has the same tuning as bass guitar. Before long, I was pestering my parents for a bass guitar and I got one for my 15th birthday. So, I didn’t choose bass guitar as such, the choice was sort of made for me. But I haven’t looked back. (Though I’ll grudgingly admit that sometimes I wish I’d been a drummer.)
Liz – Does your creativity extend to other instruments?
Andy – I’d love to have a decent double bass, but they cost too much for it to be possible at the moment. (We also don’t have enough space for it in the flat!) I played trombone for a while and have dabbled in piano, but bass guitar is my thing.
Liz – You’ve stated you have ‘too many interests’ – what are they?
Andy – Music. Reading. Writing. Pain science and its role in osteopathy and sports massage. Exercise. I’ve tried all sorts of things – swimming (I do a mean ‘splash and flounder’), sprinting (more like ‘slowing’ in my case), boxing, kick-boxing, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and football (I think the kindest thing said about my football skills was “He runs a lot.”). These days I mainly just go to the gym. It helps keep me sane and I can fit it around my family and work commitments more easily than the other things. There’s also less of an injury risk. A big chunk of my non-work time is taken up with my kids. I want to spend time with them while they still want to spend time with me (and vice versa).
Liz – Ahhh… a fellow ‘splash and flounderer’! It’s a skill-set in its own right!
Your day job is working as an osteopath – how did you come to work in this field?
Andy – As with many osteopaths, I was converted by another osteopath. I hobbled into a clinic with a back injury and walked out almost pain free. I was already doing some work as a massage therapist at that time and thought that this was a great skill.
At that time, I’d been working as an EFL teacher off and on for over ten years and I wanted a change. The band wasn’t too busy a lot at that point, so I thought I had nothing to lose. I took out a loan, enrolled into an osteopathic college and went from there.
Typically, the busier the osteo course got, the busier the band became. To the point that my prep for my finals was a two-week tour of Europe with me trying to study in the back of the van while the rest of the band mocked me. Mercilessly.
Liz – Wow! That’s certainly an intense way to go about it. You’ve also worked as a sports massage teacher in the UK – which did you prefer?
Andy – I still teach sports massage. It works well for me to do clinic work in Prague and teach in the UK. It keeps things varied and interesting. It also means I get to go back to the UK, keep in touch with friends and the manual therapy profession over there.
I like the challenge of teaching groups of people, often with different experience and knowledge levels. It’s a nice change from the one-on-one clinic sessions or the solitary writing sessions. It also gives me ideas that I can use in my writing. For instance, I taught in Edinburgh last year and there’s an area in the city called Sighthill which became Blind Mount in one of my short stories, and a ruined version of Edinburgh castle also cropped up in the same story.
Liz – What inspired you to write “The Lords of Misrule’ series?
Andy – A few years ago I finally decided that if I really wanted to write, I needed to stop thinking about it and actually do it. So, I sat down and wrote two short stories. One was about a world where twins were banned because it made it harder for the government to track their citizens. The other was about some soldiers who find a monster under a mountain. That story sprang from a sentence I said to my young son one day: “Where’s your ray-gun gone, Ray?” I remember being quite worried about never having any more ideas ever again, so I decided to turn the short stories into a novel. It took a little bit of hammering and sculpting, but those two short stories became Franklin – a brother in search of himself, now book two of The Lords of Misrule.
That book combined some of the various interests of mine – deadlifts, pain science, BJJ (I don’t roll anymore but I try and stay in touch with the sport), urban myths in massage etc. It’s interesting re-reading the book now, I can see where ‘my head was’ with regard to a lot of these things.
Once I had finished Franklin, a few people asked for more of the back story, particularly relating to Bethina Laudanum, the president, who is central to the overall arc of the whole series. So, I wrote a prequel, Aijlan – The Silk Revolution, which became book one, Franklin became book two, and book three is called Rose – A Mother’s Unreason. Much as I like books one and two, book three is where I really feel I began to get to grips with what I’m doing.
All the Lords of Misrule books are morally ambiguous and draw on the current political machinations in the EU/US. I think this is both its strength and weakness. Some people love the realism, others get turned off by it. Some people really enjoy the breadth and depth of characters, others get confused by this. I like the series, the story of Franklin in particular. I realise that it has some issues and I made some newbie mistakes, but I believe the overall story is a good one.
Liz – I think it’s safe to say you won’t run out of inspiration/ideas anytime soon! Are there more to come?
Andy – I’m a third of the way through the rough draft of book four of The Lords of Misrule. I’m struggling with it, to be honest. Partly because ‘real’ work, kids and life in general seem to be eating into my writing time, and because An Angel Fallen grew from a short story to a novella that then needed promoting once it was launched.
I also have a collection of short stories set in the world of The Lords of Misrule. They should be ready to be published in a few months. Once that’s done and book four is written, I’ll probably put TLOM to bed and move on.
Liz – I can certainly understand the time-constraints of life on an author’s writing. Makes it all the more rewarding when you complete a project, though! You have a collection of five short stories, titled “I Died Yesterday” – were these written specifically with this project in mind?
Andy – No, the reverse! I wrote them because I had several ideas that didn’t fit into The Lords of Misrule. Often, I find that I get an idea and it sits in my mind like a mental splinter until I write it down.
I also like writing short stories. Novels can take months just to get a draft down, whereas a short story can be done in a fraction of the time. I find it good to keep things moving.
Liz – Can you tell us about your short story anthology “Glimpse – A New World” and what inspired it?
Andy – That book is a compilation of short stories by various authors. My contribution was ‘Switch’, a story partly inspired by some of the vague promises of efficacy that I’ve heard from some manual therapy practitioners. It also deals with the issue of trust when you go into a hospital for an operation; once you’re put under a general anaesthetic, you really are at the mercy of the doctors and nurses, and just like other people, not all doctors and nurses are good.
Switch provides a little back story to The Lords of Misrule – something which is not vital to the plot of the main books but adds colour to it. I’m going to take another look at Switch soon and add it to the collection of short stories I have coming out. They all serve the same purpose – they add detail to the main novels without distracting from the main plot.
Liz – Do you find suffering from insomnia helps or hinders your writing and inspiration?
Andy – A bit of both. I always seem to write well when I haven’t been sleeping well. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s a little like those authors who write while drunk or on drugs – the ‘higher centres’ of the brain are suppressed. Maybe it’s because insomnia makes me grumpy (grumpier?) and I just want to get words on the page. It seems to help, but I don’t recommend insomnia to anyone and would happily trade a little inspiration for a little real sleep!
Liz – As a fellow insomniac I completely understand! Your new release, An Angel Fallen, is a Supernatural Horror novella. What was the inspiration behind it?
Andy – A post on FB. Two teenagers had killed a dog. They cut off its nose and ears, split it up the middle, and crucified it. Then they took a selfie and posted it online. The whole thing was vile. While I was trying to get my head around why people would do such a thing, and what should be done to people like this, I found myself wondering what the dog would do if it could get its own back. At some point the dog became an angel. And then the angel became a fallen angel.
Why angel? Not entirely sure, to be honest. My wife has a couple of stone angels by our bed (little ones, not people sized, that would be a little too creepy) and I’d been toying with the idea of writing something with a supernatural twist. They are the only reasons I can think of for why the dog suddenly became an angel. As for the biblical plagues? That idea crept up on me as I started writing. Again, as with many of these things, I’m not 100% sure where that idea came from.
Liz – The cover for An Angel Fallen is quite powerful – who came up with the imagery/design?
Andy – The image was my idea, I found it by trawling through a lot of the online image databases. The design was done by a lady I found on Fiverr.
I’d used a statue of an angel for my short story collection I Died Yesterday. I liked the idea of having that theme continue with this novella, and given the title it seemed obvious. I toyed with a few other ideas, but kept coming back to this one. I sent the image and text to the cover designer and she worked her magic. I think it has turned out really well. My only concern is whether I’m going to run out of statues of angels to use on future books!
Liz – How do you find the time to write while juggling work and a young family?
Andy – By not seeing my friends as much as I’d like and by not sleeping as much as I need! It’s tricky at times, but there’s a natural ebb and flow to my day job which usually gives me sometime each day to do at least a little writing. A lot of it is just trying to make time to write. It’s a cliché, but if it’s important you have to make time for it.
Liz – So true. The sacrifice is worth it. Do you have a specific process you like to follow when you sit down to write?
Andy – I waste time on the Internet. Huff and puff for a while. Make and drink more coffee that I should (maybe there’s a link to my insomnia there?). Type and delete the word ‘the’ over and over, and slowly get into the groove. The more disciplined and regular I am with my writing, the easier it is. The longer I am away from the page, the harder it is to pick up again. This has been part of the issue this year – it has been very bitty.
Liz – Who are your favourite authors, and why?
Andy – Top three are currently:
Stephen King – because Stephen King.
Neil Gaiman – I love the way he tells a story. It’s dark but not over the top. He has a great attention to detail without smothering the reader with information. And his sentence structure is a thing of beauty.
Joe Abercombie (Lord Grimdark) – Say one thing for Lord Grimdark, say he writes great action scenes. Reckon I like the ambiguity of his characters. The humour. The grim realism. And I like the way he has a burst of short, choppy, grammatically incorrect sentences interspersed with longer sentences which connect and flow and carry you through the text with minimal punctuation.
Liz – What’s next on the horizon for you?
Andy – I want to finish book four of The Lords of Misrule, and publish the short stories set in that world this year. Then (or maybe before, still not sure) I’d like to write the follow up to An Angel Fallen. The working title is A Demon Risen. It will probably feature a character from An Angel Fallen and one from Sunflower (a story in my I Died Yesterday collection). I like the idea of a world of interconnecting stories. In the meantime, I want some sleep. J
Liz – Well it doesn’t sound like you’ll get any for a little while yet! Thank you so much for your time, Andy!
If you would like to find out more about Andy and his work, check out the below links:
Liz – This month we chat with author Aaron J. French. Thanks for joining us, Aaron! Why don’t you start with telling us about your part of the world?
Aaron – I am currently pursuing a PhD in The Study of Religion from the University of California, Davis. It’s typical beautiful California weather here; Davis is a college town, full of very intelligent people, for the most part it’s quiet and studious, so it’s a great place to live to get lots of work done.
Liz – That sounds like an inspiring environment. How long have you been writing for?
Aaron – I used to write in elementary school, actually. Short ghost stories and pseudo-Weird Tales kind of stuff. I took a break out of middle school, then started up again writing full time in my twenties, so I guess I would say I have been writing seriously for 10 years now.
Liz – What do you enjoy most about writing?
Aaron – There’s a variety of reasons. When I first started writing fiction, most of the time it was an attempt to express certain ideas or personal experiences, frequently depressing or related to traumas I’d experienced or watched others experience—and, of course, to try and imitate all the writers I loved to read. As time has gone on, more and more I like writing as a form of communicating my inner world with the outer world—or, to put it plainly, as a way of expressing my ideas with people in a way that hopefully reaches them and has an effect.
Liz – Tell us about the European Society for the Study of Western Esotericism?
Aaron – Technically, it’s a group of scholars interested in studying esotericism who have grouped together to help promote each other’s work because esotericism is still a somewhat marginalized field. The term covers a broad array of ideas and practices, including things like mysticism, the occult, alchemy, the kabbalah, hermetic and neo-Platonic philosophy, stuff like that. I am a member of ESSWE as well as the American arm, the ASE, and have presented papers at both conferences now. It’s an amazing group of scholars doing extremely smart and revolutionizing work.
Liz – It’s certainly a fascinating field. What inspired you to study Esotericism?
Aaron – I guess studying philosophy and literature. Well, first it must have been all the weird fiction I read my whole life, full of esotericism, only I didn’t know it was called that then. Later, when I started reading stuff like Goethe’s Faust, Hermann Hesse, Charles Williams, the modernist poet H.D., I realized there were certain ideas underlying a lot of this work which I soon discovered was related to esotericism.
Liz – You’re pursuing a PhD in the study of Religion at the University of California. What are your plans once you’ve completed it?
Aaron – My plans are to work as a professor in a religious studies department somewhere, while still doing my fiction and writing on the side. I like the academic work and the fiction work equally. Which means I typically have a lot on my plate!
Liz – Yes, I imagine that would keep you very busy! How do you juggle studying with your writing?
Aaron – Honestly, I don’t know. I mean, when I was training as a writer in my twenties, I wrote 1000 words a day like it says in King’s On Writing religiously, but when I went back to school, started editing more, and getting more fiction out there, at this point I just work all day and take breaks here and there along the way. I usually keep a file open on my laptop with all my upcoming projects and their deadlines and move down the list, checking things off and adding in new ones. That usually helps keep me on track. Listening to music also helps.
Liz – I’m also a big fan of the working projects list, I’d be lost without it…and of course, the same goes with music! Where does your love of the dark aspect of life, and of the occult come from?
Aaron – Like I mentioned, I think it actually comes from some of the stuff I was reading, starting with Weird Tales. Lovecraft, Machen, and Robert E. Howard—stuff like that all has occult influences throughout, but later I sort of graduated to more sophisticated “literature,” which also has lots of occult themes in it. I think that kind of stuff is more prevalent than we realize, or else I just have a nose for it. I eventually started reading actual occultists, magicians, heterodox theologies, and everything that comes with that. I really eat that stuff up, still do, and it convinced me that there is more going on in the world than we suppose and more than conventional science can account for. Now I try to use my writing to explore these hidden aspects of people and reality. But let’s see… why do I like that darker stuff? I think that goes back to all the dark things I experienced growing up. I had an okay upbringing, sort of, but still it wasn’t Leave It to Beaver. A lot of bad stuff happened too. Horror was how I made sense of what the hell was happening.
Liz – Have you any first-hand experiences with the occult?
Aaron – Hmmm, should I answer this? As a religious studies scholar, no. But, as some crazy-ass horror writer named Aaron J. French, yes. Nothing too weird or crazy, I don’t go running off into the hills to kill goats and chickens or sacrifice babies and have orgies… lol, well really the occult is not about that at all. The way I see it, pure occultism is a kind of religious system almost, a philosophical worldview and cosmology that allows for a bridge between science and spirituality; also, if you view reality in that way, it opens the door for interesting things to happen in your life. So in that sense, yes I have had some interesting experiences. Dreams are the best way to begin talking about something like this, because everyone dreams at night (most everyone), and when people share those dreams with others, should we believe they are not just making something up? Maybe they are having visions and don’t realize it? I love thinking about stuff like that.
Liz – I could discuss it for days…but in other news, you also work as Editor for JournalStone Publishing, as well as Editor in Chief for Dark Discoveries magazine. What do you enjoy most about your editing work?
Aaron – I love getting to read all this cool stuff and then cobble it together. Slush pile tasks are not so much fun, but putting together a Dark Discoveries magazine issue or an anthology is great fun. Also, all the editing I have done over the past several years really helped my own writing, which I’m thankful for. As a writer, you can learn a lot from editing.
Liz – Which do you find easier to edit – the work of another author, or your own?
Aaron – Definitely the work of another author. I have no idea what to do when it comes to my own stuff. Well that’s not true, I am getting better at that, but it’s extremely difficult. I use to think it was great whenever I had written something, but now more and more I am realizing that most of it is crap and that, oh wait!, actually just need to start all over, the whole thing needs to be rewritten. It is a lot harder for me to clearly arrive at that decision about my own writing, probably because of ego, than it is for me to see that in the writing of others. But that’s all been part of the learning process for me.
Liz – Agreed – I think sometimes with self-editing it can be a case of, ‘You can’t see the forest for the trees’, yet we don’t seem to have that same barrier with the work of others. You edited the anthology The Gods of H.P. Lovecraft which has been hugely successful. What was it like working on this project?
Aaron – That’s probably the most well-known thing I’ve done, and it just came together organically and spontaneously. I am very thankful to Chris Payne and JournalStone for funding that project. I have edited a couple anthologies before that, but with Gods of HPL I had the resources to truly go after the authors I wanted and make the project and the physical book I wanted to make. All of the authors in that book produced fantastic stories, and the artwork is great too. I’m just happy it’s been so well received. It’s their book, really.
Liz – Tell us about your debut novel, The Time Eater?
Aaron – The Time Eater came out in January from JournalStone. It’s a short novel, but still it’s my first one. It brings together all my interests, from weird fiction, to the occult, to psychology, etc. It follows the story of a depressed guy named Roger Borough who has forgotten part of his past and doesn’t realize it, and part of that past has to do with trauma and the occult. Through the course of the book, Roger must come to terms with his past and face it, as well as do battle with a pseudo-Lovecraftian enemy called the Time Eater, which devours space and time.
Liz – Sounds right up my alley! What inspired you to write it?
Aaron – It’s interesting, I actually wrote that book during a really messed up period in my life, which I managed to get through, and the result was that book. What I went through and discovered about the world at that time is now preserved in that book, so I think it helped me reach a new level in my writing. I set out just wanting to write my first novel. Then all hell broke loose.
Liz – Tell us about some of your other published work?
Aaron – I think I would like to mention my short-story collection Aberrations of Reality out from Crowded Quarantine Publications. That book showcases these aspects of my work I’ve been talking about, i.e. exploring the mystical and occult through fiction. You can read my Lovecraftian New World Order novella, “The Order,” in Dreaming in Darkness (written pre-Trump, thank you very much). I also would mention my novella about a young girl possessed by a demonic pigman called “The Chapman Stain” in The Chapman Books. All of those are on Amazon.
Liz – Your novella, Festival, is set for release soon, can you tell us about it?
Aaron – That’s right, it’s out end of May from Unnerving. That is a little different. It still touches on the occult and esoteric themes, but from a different angle. I would describe it as The Wickerman meets Psycho meets The Last House on the Left. I think… It’s about a guy and his girlfriend who stop for a Christmas vacation at a place called the Serenity Sanctum and get more than they bargained for because the place is actually home to a New Age neo-pagan all-female cult. That’s sort of The Wickerman part of it. But it gets much weirder. I was hoping to consciously explore the idea that horror fiction can be made to symbolize male repressed resentment toward women. I took this idea further to see what would happen if the repressed horrors took on their own reality for a horror-writing male. It’s really a thought experiment. A lot of the experiences and emotions of the characters in the novella are humiliating, repellent, and vulnerable, but that’s what I wanted to explore. The famous quote comes to mind: “…Nothing of that which is human is alien to me.”
Liz – Now that sounds fascinating! Aside from length, how did you find writing and publishing a novella compared to a novel? Do you prefer one over the other?
Aaron – I rather like the novella form, just because it’s not too long, not too short (this one’s juuuust right). I know other writers have said that too, but it’s true. I have three or four novellas out there now, and just one novel. Even though I really like the novella format, my plan is to get another novel out. Will I ever get to one of those crazy 600-page novels? I don’t know. Sounds like deciding to build a house from the ground up. But I would like to get there…
Liz – We all need goals – though 600 pages is certainly up there! What are your writing plans for the future?
Aaron – A dissertation, for one thing, and I am sure a lot of nonfiction articles related to that, so I imagine that will keep me busy. But I am still going to be editing a lot, and in fact there are a few secret anthologies in the works that are going to blow people’s minds, as well as I’ll be continuing Dark Discoveries magazine. In terms of fiction, I have a few new stories coming out, but I hope to sit down and get to work on a new novel fairly soon here.
Liz – It sounds as though we’ll be hearing a lot more from you in the future! Thank you so much for your time, Aaron – it’s been a pleasure! All the best for the release of ‘Festival’!
Check out Aaron’s work for yourself via the links: