Ruschelle: Thank you for chatting with us here at the Horror Tree. I was peeping your titles online and what grabbed my peepers first…was the adorable lizard on your Literary Lizard Adventures series. It’s a children’s book. I’m a fan of adorable little illustrated lizards. What made you pen a fun book for kids and about the library to boot?
Angela Y. Smith
Angela: The Literary Lizard was originally a short story I wrote off the cuff to fulfill a personal challenge I was doing—seven stories in seven days or something. I worked at a newspaper in Florida at the time and that day we’d had a lizard crawl across the glass door. From the inside, his silhouette appeared to be hugging one of the letters. He became the inspiration for the little lizard that ran away from home to follow his quest for new words. An illustrator friend of mine, Robin Wiesneth, read the story and asked to illustrate it. Since then we’ve done quite a few kid books together.
I identify with “Lit” as well, so it’s lightly autobiographical. I ran away from home at 16. There were a number of reasons to do this, but at the forefront of my mind was the goal of finding a life worth writing about. The thought that every experience is material to work with still drives me. Whatever happens to me, however pleasant or unpleasant, I always find myself appreciating and notating the experience to tap into later.
Ruschelle: What do you love about writing children’s books?
Angela: I don’t consider myself a children’s writer at all. I started reading before kindergarten and by the time I was in third grade I was reading adult books. I had no concept of age appropriate and read everything I could get my hands on. I was exposed to quite a lot of material that I didn’t understand at all, of course. Reading The Succubus by Ken Johnson was one of those experiences. I paged through a lot of sex scenes trying to get to the part where the demoness just killed the guy. Mrs. Whitmore was not happy when she discovered what was keeping me so absorbed at reading circle.
‘The Christmas Spiders’
I don’t like the idea of stories being candy coated for kid consumption, and I think many of our kids are also tired of being force fed joy. As a child, reading was how I figured out what life was. I wanted to know about the cycle of death and why people could be cruel. Those questions are often present in my work today, kidlit or adult reading.
In The Christmas Spiders, my seasonal children’s best seller, an old woman goes on a mountain to reevaluate her life at its end. In the original version, she does die on the mountain and the spiders encase her in a silvery, frozen cocoon as a Christmas gift. I thought it was beautiful and I cried as I wrote it. Later, at the advice of beta readers I ‘jollied it up” by having the spiders decorate her tree instead and she returns down the mountain. I don’t think it would have been as popular if I’d kept that ending.
Ruschelle: It’s great to spend some time getting to know you. Especially, since it’s most Horror author’s favorite time of the year. So let’s explore that. What was your first Halloween memory, and did it shape and inspire your writing?
Nikki: I was of trick or treating age way back in the 1970’s. When I think back to those days, the first memories are of my cousins and me sneaking into my granddaddy’s room and going into his closet. He had one of those deep, walk-in closets made for storage more than for clothes. It smelled of tobacco, dull sweat and something sweet that I could never figure out. We’d tunnel ourselves back as far as we could go so we wouldn’t be found and make a nest in old clothes and discarded boxes filled with who knows what.
Back there, out of the sight of any adults, we’d tell stories. The scarier the better. There were the old stand-bys: The Hook Man of Percy Priest, that urban legend chestnut that everyone knows someone who had a cousin’s whose half-brother was on the police force and saw the bodies WITH HIS OWN EYES! Or the story about the Crosslegged Man, a monster with broken arms and legs that twisted around themselves, that we made up on the fly but had spooked ourselves into believing was true. But, inevitably, we’d get to the biggest, baddest mother of them all, The Bell Witch.
Anyone who suffered childhood within the confines of the borders of Tennessee had their psyche scarred by the stories of The Bell Witch of Adams, TN. She was a ghost of a witch, a sour neighbor or a jilted lover (depending on the telling) that haunted the Bell Family in the 1800’s. She tortured the daughter, Betsy, and eventually murdered the father with poison. And then, through folklore, she haunted all of us. There was the “Red Book” that no library could contain because it would disappear from the shelves. The Nashville Children’s Theatre did a play that, for some ungodly reason, our school system thought would make a fun field trip for the kiddies. And, there, in the back of that closet, we’d tell the story, over and over again with the direst of warnings that if you said you didn’t believe in the Bell Witch three times while looking in a mirror, she’d reach out with long, bloody fingernails and scratch your eyes out!
So, did that affect my writing? Did it inspire me to read and write horror stories about ghosts, witches and other horrible things in the dark?
*Postscript: When I was 40 years old, I visited the Bell Witch cave in Adams, TN. It was a catharsis to come, face to face, with the old biddy. I listened to the tour guide gives us the spiel about the Bell family, how the cave was where the Witch hid and how if you took a stone, bad luck would follow you for the rest of your life.
I took a stone; never tell me not to do something.
Nothing ever happened because of it.
But you still couldn’t pay me to say “I don’t believe in the Bell Witch” three times in a mirror.
Ruschelle: Wonder Woman was created by her mother, Hippolyta, from nothing more than a lump of clay…and some love. And like Hippolyta, many authors are able to birth ideas from next to nothing, while others must seek out ideas and inspiration from outside stimuli? How are your stories birthed?
Nikki: All of my stories start in so many different ways.
The seed for Jake Istenhegyi started with the name. The school my kids went to when we lived in Budapest was on Istenhegyi Ute. My husband, Brian, and I joked, “Isn’t that the best name for a private detective? Jake Istenhegyi, Private Eye!” That was in 1998.
I let that little nugget sit until I was approached by Tommy Hancock in 2014 to write a short story for an anthology, Poultry Pulp. The entire book was going to be pulp stories that somehow involve chickens. I told Brian, “I think I finally have a story for Jake.”
And that’s how “A Chick, A Dick and a Witch Walked into a Barn” was born.
Many times, a story will start with a challenge.
I read a biography about Poe and it struck me as odd that many of the women in his life died. I mentioned it to a fellow horror writer, Todd Keisling, “Hey, Do you think maybe Poe was a vampire?”
“Write that story!” commanded Todd.
So I did and published it under the title, The Perverse Muse. *Spoilers: Poe’s not a vampire.*
Or, once I was challenged to write a spooky Christmas story. I wrote, Ode to the Holly King, a short story that starts off with, “Two old gods met at the Bogie Bar….” That story started me off to write an anthology titled, Bogie Bar stories, a collection of stories about forgotten monsters, gods and legends that hang out in the Bogie Bar. *Sidebar: this collection is as yet unpublished. It’s on the board to be hopefully 2019/2020.
Or some stories will be created by deadlines. A friend, Alan Lewis, texted me that he needed one more story for a collection about superheroes in a Steampunk setting that he was editing. Would I be interested in writing a story? I told him I’d be happy to although I don’t know much about Steampunk. How long did I have?
SEVEN DAYS. I had a week to learn a genre, figure out a story and crank it out.
I wrote Ectoplasmic Eradicators Wanted and it was published in Capes and Clockwork, vol. 1.
When the rights came back to me, I republished it under the title, Revenge of the Blood Red Maid: A Salt and Pepper Caper.
I’m also a voracious reader of everything. I can find so many nuggets for stories in books about history, a newspaper article or an obituary. Stories are everywhere if you know how to look at it in just the right way. I’ve often said that writers are very nice people. To us, everything is fodder. Happiness. Tragedy. It’s all fodder. Be careful when you tell me things. I reserve the right to use them in a story.
The one thing that all my stories have in common is that each has a journal devoted to it. I take special care to find a book that reflects the heart of the story. Sometimes it’s a fancy leather-bound tome or a simple spiral notebook with a kitten on the cover. The journal is like the womb where the story is formed and fermented.
Ruschelle: Perusing your Amazon catalogue, it looks as if the mystery genre gets a lot of love. What sparked your love of THE QUESTION? Who Done It? It was the board game Clue, wasn’t it? Or was it Mystery Date? Come on. Mystery Date was awesome!
Nikki: Never played Mystery Date. I love the game Clue but my husband always wins which really pisses off my inner Sherlock.
I have always been fascinated by mysteries and the big WHAT IF. That’s what drives me. Not only creatively but personally. How does a person remain sane without it?
But consider these facts:
When I was five years old, I wanted to marry Rod Serling.
When I was nine, I was entranced by Kolchak the Night Stalker. I skipped out on slumber parties because I had to be home to watch the tv show. I love Carl Kolchak and, to this day, I will FIGHT YOU if anyone says a wrong word against him.
When I was eleven years old, I was crazy for Bigfoot. I created the Monster Hunters Club at school and entered the first Cryptozoology entry in the science fair. We won an honorable mention.
That same year, Mrs Tarkington, my long-suffering teacher, allowed me to put on a play, The Hunt for Bigfoot. A classmate, Trent Ridley, put on a parka and we hunted him all around the classroom by following the footsteps cut out of construction paper we laid on the floor. After we caught him, we autopsied him behind a bedsheet screen and threw organs out into the audience. The kids LOVED IT.
In high school, I was pegged as the Vampire Chick and a Witch. I can’t say that I was bullied because, hell, I dug it.
Later in life, I joined several paranormal investigative groups and dipped my toes in a dozen or so New Age weirdness.
What I’m trying to say is that it takes a lifetime to get this weird.
Ruschelle: I’m a card-carrying member for weirdness myself. Nice to meet a fellow weirdo! Back to you. What was the first book you read that made you say, “This is exactly what I want I want to do”
Nikki: At first, I wanted to write horror stories so I drowned myself in Stephen King and a bunch of other authors that have fallen to the wayside. One day, I was reading a cheap horror magazine (the ink rubbed off the cover and the pages were pulpy) and my boss asked me, “Why do you read that trash?” I told him I wanted to be a writer and that this was splatterpunk, the future of horror.
He said, “Stop reading that shit. Read this.” And he tossed Watership Down over to me.
I read it and thought, “Man, I have been wasting my time.”
I went to the library and checked out lots of classics and quickly got bored. A story can’t just be metaphor and similes strung out with big words. There has to be more to it.
There had to be a middle ground.
I found Sharyn McCrumb’s Ballad Series. The richness of the world and the tapestry of her words…omg…my gut still winds up when I think about some of those scenes.
I stumbled across Flannery O’Connor’s, A Good Man is Hard to Find. After reading it, I wanted to take a shower. I felt filthy. And then I read it again but this time with a writer’s eye. It’s a simply told story. Not one word is above a 6th-grade level. But, MAN, did it have a punch.
I wanted to write stories like that. So I consumed O’Connor.
And then, I found Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. I read that book a hundred times.
Years went by and when my husband and I were stationed in Oman, a Marine there gave me a copy of Terry Pratchett’s, Guards, Guards.
And I got hooked. I love how Pratchett’s stories work on different reader levels. A basic reader can enjoy a good story while a more advanced reader can marvel at the clever satire.
What I’m trying to say is that it’s not just one book that started me down this path. It’s all books. It’s up to me to find my own voice in this ocean of words.
Ruschelle: Since this is the Season of the Witch and the granddaddy of all scary movies, Halloween, has sliced its way onto the big screen, via 40 years later; I need to ask, do you like that they changed the whole mythos by negating all other films after the first one,– or do you feel they did it justice giving the story a clean slate? Or are you a Friday the 13th fan and don’t really care? Lol
Nikki: To cut to the chase, I don’t care. I was a teenager when Halloween came out and, hey, it was just another teen slasher movie. While I appreciated the movies primarily for the special effects (my bf at that time was a sfx guy) but, I never thought they were quality movies.
Although, it could be because, the older I get, the more I side with the chain welding maniacs. Teenagers are a pain in the ass.
Ruschelle: I can’t argue with you about teenagers being a pain in the ass. The herd does need culling from time to time. LOL Tell us a little about your unorthodox method for choosing your next project. Very nice hat by the way.
Nikki: Ha! Thank you!
Currently, I have no contracts and no deadlines dangling over my head.
So, I am free to do whatever I want.
Freedom is constipating. I am stuck on what to do next.
Like the hamster in a tornado that my brain is, I have dozens of ideas percolating up there.
Should I work on my Travis Dare story? Oooooh, what about that family drama Hand Me Down? Or the Bogie Bar Stories? Still, need to finish up those bad boys. How about that Sherlock Holmes story? Or that other Sherlock Holmes story?
Ad nauseum. You get the picture.
So, I decided to put it up to fate. I just put all the stories on pieces of paper, crumbled them up, and drew one from a hat. And because this is the 21st century, I did it live on social media.
I drew The Baby Whisperer story. Which I was happy about because it’s a coolio idea and I’ve got some real weirdness bubbling up with it.
But then…I got this idea for a haunted house story.
Don’t worry. I’ll work on both and see which one root quicker.
Ruschelle: You have been described as the unholy love child of Flannery O’Connor and H.P Lovecraft. That is a very interesting pairing. So…which do you resemble? Are you Cthulu-esque?
Nikki: My friend, Hunter Eden, gifted me with that moniker because I am fascinated by the holiness that can be found in the grotesque the same as Flannery O’Connor. However, my personal philosophy tends to be more nihilist much like Lovecraft than Catholic as was O’Connor.
I’ve written a few Southern Gothic stories which lay moldering in my desk drawer. Stone Baby was supposed to be in Nashville Gothic, an anthology, but the publisher went mad and disappeared. As one does.
The closest that I’ve written to something that could be considered Lovecraftian would probably be The Answer Bell, a lovely tale where a local Nashville tourist spot rings out the end of the world.
Baby Whisperer, if things go as planned, will be a story of Cosmic Horror that I think Mr Lovecraft would appreciate.
To be fair, I think I am an equal measure of both. Southern monstrosity with a dash of cosmic nihilism.
Ruschelle: While creeping on your website across the www, it seems you are into the weird. I like that. What is the weirdest book you’ve ever written? Or is it yet to come?
Nikki: Weird has so many connotations.
So, what I have out there in the world, I would say the weirdest story is the Jake Istenhegyi: The Accidental Detective series mainly because I paint a huge swath across the canvas of weird. There are boodaddies, bloodthirsty alchemists, golems, pirate treasure, voodoo priestesses and zombie chickens.
The story that has the most visceral in your face weirdness is Stone Baby. The editor of Nashville Gothic said he needed to shower after reading it but he went nuts, so….
BUT I really think my most weird book is yet to come. I have a story called Church of the Living Waters, unfinished, that is delightfully cruel, terrifying and flesh crawly Lovecraftian. Oh, I definitely have to get back to it very, very soon.
Ruschelle: You are an editor and writer for Pro Se Press. How do you change you writers hat to an editors hat? They can battle sometimes…if hats had hands and could throw down…
Nikki: OH man….when I’m editing, I can’t write. I’m too judgmental, too hypercritical and looking for errors and I can’t be in that brain space when I am creating a new story. I need to be fluid, ready to go anywhere and everywhere without worrying about whether it’s good or not. I need to be a kid. Being an editor is far too Adult.
I don’t do much editing any more. I’m spending all my time writing.
Ruschelle: You are a pulp fiction girl! Your books delve into the gritty crimes of Jake Istenhegyi: The Accidental Detective, and the bizarre cannibalistic trolls in the Western, The Problem at Gruff Springs. Hell, you even go full bore smashing into the present day with Mongolian Death Worms battling the Mole People in Rumble (Cryptid Clash! Book 5)! So what sparked your love of pulp fiction?
Nikki: I never realized I was a pulp fiction writer until I fell into the clutches of Tommy Hancock and Pro Se Press BUT I AM! It’s so obvious. I love good old-fashioned adventure stories with ghosts and ghouls and all sorts of over the top plots and characters. If there isn’t a monster or a murder by page three, I’m bored.
I write to entertain. It is as simple as that.
I came to that realization when I was on a panel and we were asked what social responsibilities we believed our stories owed to the world at large.
My friend, the late Logan Masterson, had a long, pithy explanation about how he wanted his stories to create a bridge between the mainstream religions and the pagan beliefs. He had lofty aspirations and wanted his stories to spark conversations and show the legitimacy of his own personal belief systems. It was heartfelt and well spoken.
And then it was my turn. Oh, man.
I said, “Look, I’m not here to teach you anything and my stories sure as hell won’t fix any sort of social problem. My stories are there to give you a diversion. Something to pass the time when you’re in a waiting room, riding on the bus or sitting on the toilet. The highest compliment I’ve received so far is when a reader emailed me that she was got so into the story while reading Sherlock Holmes and The Shrieking Pits, she missed her bus stop and had to do the entire circuit again to get home. My stories are here to entertain. I don’t have any higher goal than that.”
I believe that diversions are not a luxury; they are a necessity. Especially now when the world seems to be spinning off its axis.
Ruschelle: I was stalking you on Twitter and I was drawn to your spirit animal. Tell us about the frog and how he guides you. It doesn’t look like guiding it’s more like demanding your presence. Is it because he’s “packing” and you feel you have to let him guide you? Are you afraid he may put a cap in your B-HIND? (Insert frog photo here)
Nikki: Confession Time: I’m a puncher. I don’t know why. I just am.
For example, one day at my day job, I was contently listening to a podcast on my iPod when a coworker leaned over my desk to get my attention and startled me. My innate reaction to being startled is to reach out with my left hand to grab the offender, rear back my fist, scream “JESUS CHRIST!” and punch the son of a bitch in the face.
Luckily for her, I had only gotten to the “JESUS CHRIST!” part before I realized it was Julie and not, I don’t know….some rando axe murderer.
Julie’s eyes got as big as dinner plates and she stepped away from me saying, “I have never felt that much in danger of being punched in my entire life!”
Anyone who knows me knows this truth: Never, Ever, EVER come up behind me…unless you want a broken nose.
Ruschelle: ‘Note to self…Stay out of punching distance when around Nikki.’ You’ve leapt into the world of audiobooks. As an author, how does it feel to hear someone voice your creation? Will you ever put your own voice to book?
Nikki: I had to push myself to listen to the Jake Istenhegyi audiobook. I remember walking around in circles, full of anxiety because it’s so weird to hear your words actually in the air. My only real complaint was that he mispronounced Istenhegyi (understandable) and Harleaux (what?). I wish he’d asked me for some pronunciation guide.
Would I do one? Maybe. I think I could do it. I have an acting background. I don’t know if my voice is good enough but, I’d give it a try.
Ruschelle: I read, in a previous interview (Yes I do stalk my prey…I mean authors), that when you were young you believed in everything. But that changed as you grew older. We are kindred. I also was a firm believer in anything and everything but it changed quite a bit as I grew out of my size 5 jeans. ( Yeah I like to eat.) What makes you forge on to write and create fantastical beings that you now know aren’t real?
Dammit, I still really want to believe!
Nikki: While my gullibility is definitely dimmed as I’ve gotten older and a lot less bold, my desire to WANT to believe is still there. I desperately want to believe that a talking mongoose named Gef that lived in the walls of a house in the Isle of Man in 1930. The idea that Bigfoot secretly walks in American woods, giant underwater dinosaurs survived and live in Loch Ness, fairies, ghosts and extraterrestrials…..all of these things make me happy. I don’t want to live in a world where these things can’t exist.
A few years ago (omigod, don’t make me count), I was very active in the paranormal investigation community. Yeah. Ghost hunters. I was kicked out of one because I was too skeptical and received a really nasty email from another because I was a bit too…um….frank…at a ghost hunters conference. Yeah. Ghost hunter conferences are a thing.
But, dammit, I still want to believe! So, to quell that need, I make it real. It’s every writer’s superpower.
Ruschelle: You’ve written pulp in so many genres. Which is your favorite to pen?
Nikki: So far, my most favorite has been The Problem at Gruff Springs, a weird Western with cannibalistic trolls and Rumble, the Mongolian Death Worm/Mole People stories. I think it’s because they were stand-alones and I didn’t have to worry about any sort of continuity for the next one.
And, also, because of monsters. I love monsters.
Ruschelle: From your first book, A Chick, a Witch and a Dick Walked into a Bar, (I love the title) to your most recent offering, Revenge of the Blood Red Maid, how has your writing evolved? Tell us a little about your writing process and how its morphed.
Nikki: Oh, man. I’m thinking about stories that I wrote WAAAY before Jake or Red Maid and….it’s embarrassing how much my writing has changed. I want to use the word improved so, I will. Yeah. I’ve improved tremendously. Mainly, it’s in the streamlining. I’ve learned to carve out the boring stuff, keep it fast, lean and exciting. Nobody cares about your hero’s morning ablutions. If it doesn’t help the story, cut it. Murder those darlings, sweetheart.
And the biggest reason I’ve improved? That’s easy. I’d like to say it’s because of practice, practice, practice and that’s part of it but the real reason? The community of writers I’ve been so lucky to find myself a part. Editors, beta readers, critique groups and friends who are there to keep my head above dark waters when I feel overwhelmed.
Nothing is created in a vacuum. That’s basic physics.
Now, about my writing process.
1) Decide upon a story
2) Write out a crude plot outline. I’m a hybrid pantser/plotter. I need the beginning and the end to be in stone so that I can make that wobbly middle bit make sense.
3) Sit your butt down and write. Just write. Vomit it out.
4) Finish it.
5)Take a walk. Just get away from the story. Clear your head.
6) Read what you wrote. Cut and slash. Find the story in all that mess.
8) Repeat actions 1-6
9) When finally satisfied with the story, send it to 3-5 trusted beta readers. Listen to their advice. Take some of it. Ignore some of it.
10) Once that revision is done, send to your editor. Wait. TAKE THEIR ADVICE. PERIOD.
11) Publish, if you’re an indie publisher. Send it out to publishers, if you are not.
12) Repeat actions 1-7 ad infinitum.
I’ve often said that if you think being a writer is all about drinking and being witty, become a drunk. It’s easier.
Ruschelle: Becoming a drunk does have its perks…Do you prefer to pen short stories or novels?
Nikki: So far, short stories have been my forte but, dammit, I really want to do a novel length story. I want to try it primarily because they are more marketable.
However, I believe a story length is dictated by the story and not by some perfunctory word count definition. I have a short story, Coon Hunt, that won the Jack Mawhinney Fiction Prize in 2015, and is only 900 words long. I have tried to make it longer, but it falls like a souffle when I try to force more words into it.
Sometimes a story is as long as it needs to be.
Ruschelle: You do some awesome blogging on your WordPress, ”Nikki Nelson-Hicks: A Friendly Wolf Among Sheep”. Not always an easy task when life grabs all twelve of your arms and pulls you in different directions. So the long and short of it…why do you blog? It’s an interesting question because…I also blog and I wonder why I put black to white. Could you enlighten me and our readers?
Nikki: I started my first blog mainly to keep my sanity.
It was 2005 and I had just started my latest mind-numbing desk job. That old Black Dog was howling and I knew I had to do something. Would I just fall back into depression or finally get off my ass and use this time to work on my stories?
At first, I fell into a depression because that’s my pattern but, afterwards, I got up and started up my first blog, Nikcubed, on Blogspot. It was a way to write and just blather into cyberspace.
Later, I opted to start up a tad bit more professional (i.e. paid for) blog on WordPress, www. nikkinelsonhicks.blog.
I’m a little embarrassed because I don’t do enough with it. I wish I had the devotion like Chuck Wendig or Neil Gaiman but I don’t. Who has time? I have a day job, a family, pets, and stories to write.
I also blame Facebook and Twitter. I can easily post funny little anecdotes, blast them out and get immediate satisfaction. #addict
Ruschelle: Your new fans need to know what you’re up to and what to patiently wait for. Could you give them a hint or just a tiny smidge of your upcoming offerings?
Nikki: Right now, since I don’t have any contracts or deadlines hanging over me, I’m like a divorcee a year after the papers are signed. I’m playing the field, baby.
Here are a few of the projects I’m playing with:
- Bogie Bar Stories: It’s a running anthology of stories much like the old Thieves World series. All the stories somehow involve the Bogie Bar, a pub where all the gods, nightmares, monsters and legends hang out for drinks. A running thread throughout the book is the story of the Kalupaluit, a mythical boogey man, that becomes a Messiah to the fading, forgotten legends.
- Morbid Mommy series: It’s an anthology series of YA horror stories. Think Scary Tales to Tell in the Dark kind of thing. I have five stories already lined up. I’m just waiting on the illustrations.
- Jake Istenhegyi: When the final rights come back to me next year, I plan on rewriting, editing and releasing each story with a bonus new short. Each book will include at the end a new adventure featuring Bear Gunn and Melinda Paige, Jake and Bishop, Mama Effie, or a Radu caper.
- The Baby Whisperer story: It’s going to be a cosmic horror, tad Lovecraftian, story about a trapped interdimensional being that just wants to go home and doesn’t care if it means destroying this polyp of a universe to do it.
- Have you ever noticed that ALL haunted house stories are written about rich, white people in huge mansions? Every damn one of them. I want to write a haunted house story from a poor person’s perspective. I also want to explore the idea of the Haunted Mind, a theory created by the psychical researcher, Nandor Fodor, that postulates that it is the PEOPLE, not the place that is really haunted. I’ll finally get to use the info I learned from my years as a ghost hunter.
Ruschelle: Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me and your newfound friends and fans. Give us the 411 on all your books, blogs, tweets and everything in between.
Nikki: Thank you for this opportunity to ramble!
You can find all my books available on Amazon in paperback or Kindle. Go to my author page, amazon.com/author/nikkinelsonhicks and click on the Follow button to get updates.
I’m on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/nikcubed
I also have a fun thing that I’m playing with called Dinosaur Cubicle Fun Time: https://www.facebook.com/dinosaurcubiclefuntime/
Ruschelle: Thank you for hanging out with us in our little piece of ‘Horrific Hell’ and giving us the opportunity to know the man of many talents. You’re an author an editor a director, filmmaker and Pinhead aficionado! Is there anything you don’t do?
Dean: Hey – no problem at all! It’s a pleasure to chat with you, so hello to you Ruschelle and to all visitors to ‘The Horror Tree’. Wow – laying it all out there like that does suggest I do a lot doesn’t it, ha ha?! Don’t worry though, I’m humble – there is a lot I can’t do I will admit but wish I could (book covers, formatting ebooks etc etc, score the winning goal in the Champions League for the mighty Spurs, throw a touch-down for the Dallas Cowboys)…I’ve been thinking about taking up acting recently – that is something that hadn’t particularly interested me before and whilst sure, I’ve done some cameos in short films I’ve directed (and even once or twice had to suddenly step onto the stage last minute due to an actor’s lateness or illness) when I’ve been offered parts in friends’ work I’ve politely declined (though saying that I’ve just remembered I did do a mainly non-speaking part in a film – I played a soviet soldier / NKVD agent…I’ll have to check that out some more, I’m sure it’s on Youtube somewhere…I don’t remember much about it (ha – the title is ‘Applause’ it’s just come back to me) except we shot it in an old church in North London and someone from Hollyoaks was in it!). Anyway, in a few scripts I’ve been writing recently I’ve written parts that I could just about play…Lord help us!
Ruschelle: You and I definitely have some “body part” issues (See BoneSai on Amazon. You need to help make it a musical Dean! LOL) But back to YOU… I read that you prefer to devour Clive Barker’s work than that of Stephen King’s. What makes Barker so much more…delicious?
Dean: Yeap – for me, Stephen King was good, but Clive was GREAT! I’ve been lucky to meet him a couple of times and my opinion didn’t change, super guy – I directed his play ‘Frankenstein In Love” in London a few years ago and would love to revisit it but perhaps on a grander scale sometime in the future…doing a prequel to ‘Hellraiser’ would be a dream job – I’ve got a great idea if anyone can help with that and as I’m on ‘friendly’ terms with many of the cenobites – let’s make it happen. But to answer your question, I watched ‘Hellraiser’ and for some reason I was like yeah, suddenly everything now makes sense (and I definitely wanted to be one of the ‘monsters’ in ‘Nightbreed’). It was as if a switch in my head was suddenly turned on. I can’t put my finger on exactly what it was about the film which turned me on so much but I believe it was the combination of the imagery, the twisted fairy-tale story…the desire…yeah, the desire in that film is quite interesting isn’t it and much of it (that whole Frank, Kirsty, Larry family triangle) taboo ha ha. And then when I saw ‘Hellbound: Hellraiser II’ I knew I had died and gone to…hell. I perhaps haven’t drawn parallels in previous interviews I’ve done but I’m sure it wasn’t too long after seeing both films that I started writing myself. When I was a kid, my mother devoured Stephen King and sure, I have my favourites (I love both the book and the film of ‘The Dark Half’) but when I saw that ‘Hellraiser’ was based on a short story (well, a novella actually) I raced to the shop and bought up as many of Clive’s titles as I could carry. A lot of that ‘early’ stuff I really really got…’Weaveworld’, ‘The Great and Secret Show’, ‘Everville’, ‘The Books of Blood’…it was as if I had found my calling. My family and I went on holiday once to Rhodes and I took a couple of old ‘Clives’ to re-read…my father picked up ‘The Great and Secret Show’, read a few pages, gave me one of his looks, threw me it back and said: “Right, now I understand.” Makes me smile even now.
Ruschelle: Are any of your works a direct homage to Clive Barker?
Dean: Um, probably everything I write is a direct homage – so the reviewers keep telling me anyway. Well, definitely my horror output. In all seriousness, I love it when comparisons to Clive are made – the first story I had published after I decided to take a break for a while from the theatre and short films and return to short stories etc was in an anthology called ‘M is For Monster’ (John Prescott) and reviews of that favourably referenced Clive – particularly his ‘Books of Blood’. A review in 2017 of a novella I wrote for the ‘Darker Battlefields’ collection (The Exaggerated Press) said the same and that made me happy. Of course I have my own voice as a writer and importantly I am not ‘copying’ him but I believe there is a ‘link’ between the two of us (does that make me pretentious or ‘above myself’? No, I don’t think so, because there are a few of us working in the genre where you can see that link or his influence in our work – we’re in good company). If there’s time I’ll quickly tell you a story: when I first started out I was in discussions with a German publisher, they had read some of my published stories and asked whether I had a collection available as they wanted to translate it and publish it in German – I put one together, sent it off and waited. And waited. And waited. Eventually they came back saying that the stories were ‘written well’ but they weren’t looking for another Clive Barker! Sure, I was pissed at the time considering that they had already read my work, they knew what they were getting…but to then say it wasn’t what they were looking for…perhaps it was that famous German humour we’ve heard so much about – I don’t know. If I had a bucket list of things I want to achieve creatively, writing a story set in the Barker mythos (I’ve got a great idea for a ‘Cabal’ / ‘Nightbreed’ story set in Paris by the way) or, as I mentioned previously, writing / directing a ‘Hellraiser’ film would certainly be on it and undoubtedly near the top. Can I add though that I do have a lot of other influences…Umberto Eco, John Fowles, Brett Easton Ellis, William Burroughs, A.S. Byatt, A.L. Kennedy…just to name a few…
Ruschelle: On a side note, do you think Pinhead donned pins on other parts of his anatomy other than his head? His robes hide a lot…
Dean: Lordy, what kind of interview is this ha ha! Well, I haven’t given that much thought before…hang on let me make a cup of tea and come back to you…right, I’ve returned…I’m glad I had that Earl Grey and chocolate Hob-Nob…whilst I was waiting for the kettle to boil, I did an internet search about this subject and well…I wished I hadn’t…um, okay…I suppose IF I had ever contemplated this before I wouldn’t have necessarily thought that there were other parts of his anatomy which were pierced…IF we would be referring to his genitalia I’m not even sure they would still be intact (I mean he has lost his nipples hasn’t he)…as a human I’m sure everything was in working order and he got good use out of them, but as a cenobite, I suspect they would have been removed or have had some modification / mutilation done perhaps very much like the throat of the female cenobite…hang on, I’m going to stop because my imagination is beginning to run wild…thanks for that Ruschelle! Is there such a thing as cenobite porn? Perhaps if there isn’t then there should be…can we get an anthology or comic book going please?
Ruschelle: I know a talented comic book artist. Let’s do this! But first…another question. Most creatives regard their work as their “children.” And like the human children we nurture, raise and cast-out into the world, we have ones that make us most proud-as well as ones that make us want to tear out all of our teeth and glue them onto stray cats’ genitals. Not that we would do that, obviously. We also might wanna completely disown one or two. So… which of your ‘children’ fit into the above categories?
Dean: As far as I am aware I don’t have any physical children though that would certainly be interesting if someone knocked at my door and introduced themselves as my off-spring – I’d definitely invite them in for a cup of tea and a chat – whether they would leave again is another matter! Intriguing nonetheless. In terms of this question, look, I’m sure every artist creates what they believe is their best work at that time (otherwise what would be the point) and then at some point in the future looks back and cringes a little bit or wishes they’d taken their story etc in a different direction. It’s all part of the learning curve and growing process of being creative isn’t it? I admit I have a slightly different issue and that is the fact that for a two- or three-year period some of my work had become quite extreme. I’m not embarrassed about that by the way – it was just what was in me dying to get out – it was graphic, extreme, violent, sexual…if there was a ‘problem’ with that it was that my stories might not have fitted 100% the anthos/ collections they went into and perhaps looking at it now, that affected the book as a whole. Sometimes I could get away with it such as one of the anthologies I did for Nocturnicorn which was about William Burroughs (‘The Junk Merchants’) – now I absolutely love the story I wrote, it was a combination (so I pitch it anyway) between Burroughs and Easton Ellis; it captures a time for me in Cannes which was as much exciting as it was perplexing and those ideas of confusion / misunderstanding / love / desire are the spine of the story. The inspiration behind it came from meeting someone at a beach party one evening who didn’t want to be the centre of attention (so he said) yet did everything to ensure that he was. The odd thing was (and I swear I didn’t know this at the time) was once I’d been introduced to him I started thinking about a particular plot point for a story etc and I imagined what it would be like for someone like him to have a twin brother who was (allegedly) his complete opposite…anyway, we had a good chat, I had to leave though not long after meeting him as I had a two hour walk back to my apartment along the coast. As the days progressed and I began working on the story, I saw my new friend all the time walking the streets, in the pubs, the cafes etc etc – I thought this weird as I hadn’t ever seen him before our meeting and yet here he was popping up everywhere. As we’d become friends on Facebook, I messaged him about seeing him one particular day and I thought that he had ignored me when I’d said hello – guess what, he came back to me saying that it wasn’t him, he’d been at University in Nice in lectures and (the truth I swear!) he said it was probably his twin brother who had been in Cannes that day – talk about life imitating art! To get back to the point, that story (which was definitely graphic in its sex and violence) suited the book / subject so all was cool. The follow up book I did for Nocturnicorn was ‘The Thirteen Signs’ and that was about the zodiac. There were twelve great great stories by amazing authors that I invited and I decided to be clever (my mistake) and write the thirteenth – well, I love the story and it’s definitely a world I want to revisit – it was certainly inspired by a lot that was going on for me at that time BUT I guess it is a very very different story to the others in the book and would come as quite a shock to a ‘gentle reader’ when they stumbled across it – I suppose the great thing about nowadays is that it is possible to go back and revisit our work so (and I had wanted to do so long before now but I’ve just been so busy) early 2019 I want to do a second edition of the book with a brand new story from me more suited to everybody else’s. I must be clear, it’s not about censoring myself as I know that there is an ‘extreme’ part of me which now and again will creep out and I’m okay with that – it’s just about knowing / understanding the tone of the overall project etc. And whilst referencing this – I think I better offer an apology to Peter Mark May of Hersham Horror – he very kindly asked me to write a novella in his ‘CURSE’ series. My book was ‘Curse of The Vampire’ and boy did I enjoy that ride, BUT I know what I wrote was probably not at all what he was after when he first thought of me – in places my story went very very dark and some of the imagery whilst beautiful was also graphically pitch-black. I would absolutely love to write a sequel and continue the story of Lucien Moncrieff but this time it would be a lot less extreme. Peter – I’m sorry…but if you ever want that follow-up you know where I am. Please. Pretty please. I know there are other questions about theatre and film coming up, but I’ll say this briefly: in the theatre, my ‘issue’ was that some of the plays / pieces we did needed a bigger budget. Yes, I’m all up for being imaginative but sometimes you just need the money. A really good friend of mine, after seeing one of our shows one night, came up to me afterwards and said “Dean – if only you had more cash that would have been fucking amazing!” And he was right…oh well one day, I might go back to that medium and do something spectacular just to satisfy my own ego (I’ve always wanted to write / direct a fantastical opera and a play where Satan becomes Lucifer called Satan/Lucifer and the actual transformation scene will be incredible – there will be two actors who can alternate the roles as that’s all the rage nowadays isn’t it?). In terms of films – well, if you look for a lot of my earlier work you won’t be able to find it so that might say something in itself ha ha – I’ve got all the copies don’t worry – I do remember one particular short that I was ‘only’ directing and the lead actor was also the writer and producer, I had great fun and tried to put my stamp on it but that was certainly…challenging…
Ruschelle: You have written and directed theatrical plays as well as film. Which offers the bigger challenge?
Dean: One easy answer is that in theory if you make a mistake in film you can go back and reshoot it or edit it in a certain way to get what you originally intended – in the theatre, if someone makes a mistake then somehow you have to get past it and hope that the audience doesn’t notice. From a writing point of view I loved working in the theatre as I saw it very much as a collaborative process – if we were working from one of my plays then through the rehearsal process etc I didn’t have too much of an issue if an actor added more to my words (to a point obviously, I’m up for collaboration but not necessarily continual improvisation otherwise why agree to be in it in the first place?). When I directed Clive’s ‘Frankenstein’ we had to stick resolutely to the text and weren’t allowed to change anything so that brought a couple of challenges for sure…in the films I did at that period, bar one they were all my scripts so again I was happy for actors to ‘riff’…the film I directed last year ‘15’ (for Midas Light) was based on an idea I had with the writer / producer – we talked about the idea whilst in Cannes, he went away and wrote the script, I had a couple of suggestions, he revised and we were shooting 6 months later. We shot that in a pub over a weekend in Northampton. I really enjoyed it, I hadn’t directed for a while so thought I might be a bit rusty but it all came back to me quite quickly and I think we all had a blast (it’s called ‘15’, there were 15 actors and it lasted 15 mins). It’s been screening in some festivals recently and the response has been good and I must have done something right as I’m making my feature film directorial debut for the same producer next Easter with his project ‘Chocolate Potato’ – it’s a low-budget British farce but promises to be a hoot! I want to direct more now that I’ve got the bug again so hopefully I’ll be able to play in other people’s sandpits for a while. As I’ve mentioned previously, a lot of being successful (as far as I’m concerned) in both theatre and film is money – yes, please don’t misunderstand me, no money means you have to be imaginative and there’s no point in throwing loads of cash at something which was rubbish in the first place…perhaps it does come down to the story – if you have a two person story set in a room there’s no need for the budget to be millions BUT larger finances means (hopefully anyway!) the best actors, crew, sets, locations…in the theatre more money leads again to the best actors, best crew, the best sets, costumes and sometimes even staging the piece in the best theatre itself. I have to say though when I’m writing (whether it’s for the theatre or film) I don’t limit myself on ‘budget’ in the main (though that was slightly different for ‘The Tragedy Of The Duke Of Reichstadt’ which I’ll talk more about in a while but for that as I was supposed to be directing it we tried to write it with a particular budget in mind, one which a ‘first time’ director would be comfortable with) I get everything I can down on paper and then once the play / script is finished then start looking at the finances…
Ruschelle: If you could collaborate with anyone on your next film, who would it be? And as a bonus question (lucky you) who would choose to star in it? Let’s put those feelers out now. Hey, you never know who might be reading our little chat that wants to be a part of your next project!
Dean: Right now, as well as everything else I’m up to, I’m working on a French language sci-fi / horror script called “La machine”. It’s an idea that’s been gestating for a few years, slowly but surely I’m putting pen to paper and writing the script. I think I’ve come up with a couple of clever ideas that I’m trying to mesh together to create something hopefully amazing and writing in a second language is a challenge in itself. Anyway, I’m writing it for a French actor by the name of Vincent Rottiers who I have been wanting to work with for the last ten years (and if the gods keep smiling will be happening on at least one of my other projects as things stand) or so. Ever since I saw Vincent in a short film at Cannes (‘Narco’) I was blown away – he’s been in about thirty – thirty-five films now but seems nobody knows him. He’s been nominated for Cesars and has won acting awards at many festivals, but you mention his name to the average French person and they shrug their shoulders the way they do in that Gallic way of theirs – one of his recent films was the Palme d’Or winning ‘Dheepan’ (2015) from which he received his second Cesar nomination. In September / October his brand-new film “Ange” (Engel / Angel, 2018) will be released throughout Europe and already he’s getting great notices at the festivals where it’s been screened. The first time I laid eyes on him I was yeap, need to work with this guy. I’ve always wanted to write a modern day ‘Jesus’ story and he’d be so damn perfect…what he can do with his eyes alone…wow…I’m working hard that there will be many feature films for me to direct after ‘Chocolate Potato’ and I pray that Vincent will be in as many as possible. I’d better stop before it sounds like I’m a stalker ha ha – no, of course not, I just admire his talent and want the world to see how great he is. I want to work with Leonardo DiCaprio too. I was lucky enough to spend some time with him a few years back in Cannes – he was a great guy and also a great great actor. I’m glad he eventually won his Oscar. As I said in a previous question, I’d love to a do ‘Hellraiser’ and get the original cenobites in it – even if just as ‘cameos’ (and I’ve got a great idea for the opening which would allow that). I’ve always loved Diane Keaton and would jump at the chance to work with her and Isabella Rossellini, Annette Bening (and Warren Beatty!) and in Europe perhaps Diane Kruger, Cecile de France, Lea Seydoux, Sylvie Testud…recently I saw the second ‘Jack Reacher’ and was blown away by the young American actor Danika Yarosh, I wonder if she can speak French as she’d be perfect for ‘La machine’.
Ruschelle: You moved to Cannes France for a film and it just happens that film won two screenplay awards. That is amazing. Do you believe living in the iconic city fuel your inspiration and motivation?
Dean: So – what happened was this. In 2015 I was living in London but in May was in Cannes for the film festival. There was a pub I frequented quite a lot (The Station Tavern) when I wasn’t having meetings, attending screenings etc etc and one of the other reasons for always being in there was karaoke! Yeap, I admit, I love karaoke and from what I’ve been told I’m not half bad…anyway, I got friendly with the girl running it and her boyfriend. One night they said I had to speak to this younger French guy who had written some stuff (mainly political blog posts and film reviews) but wanted to write a film though he didn’t have anyone to help him. His name was Romain Collier. We chatted and within a couple of minutes (yeap it happened that quickly) I decided that I needed to leave London and move to Cannes to write a script with him. Which is exactly what I did. As it was a historical story we had to do some research so we spent a couple of months first meeting up either in Cannes or in Paris and then at the beginning of 2016 I moved to Cannes permanently. It took us nine months to write the script and many, many drafts but then later that year the work paid off and we won two screenplay awards at the Monaco Int. Film Fest – ‘Best Historical’ and then a special award ‘Best Independent Spirit’. We’ve now got a production company and the project looks like it’s going to become a major European tv series. With respect to that particular script (which is the aforementioned ‘Tragedy of The Duke Of Reichstadt’ by the way, I wouldn’t say there is a lot of ‘Cannes’ which went into it (it’s a French story set in Vienna) BUT there is definitely a lot of myself and Romain in it. Many people who have read it and then met us in the flesh have said that the two main characters of Francois (Franz – Napoleon’s son and titular Duke of Reichstadt) and his older mentor Major Anton Prokesch are Romain and I. I can see why they say that and for us it adds more potency / richness to the story / project. Cannes has certainly worked its way into my short stories / novellas. I do find it an inspiring town but other than the film festival (and tv festivals I suppose) there is no film industry per se there, so I’ve accepted that at some point in the future I will have to relocate to Paris even if for a few months of the year as that is where in the main the French film industry is.
Ruschelle: You wrote a screenplay surrounding the life and death of the little dictator Napoleon Bonaparte and his son. Did you trick it out with beheadings, torture and sniffs of Hell? I’m…err asking for a friend…
Dean: Okay, so, our script is about Napoleon’s son, Francois / Franz / Duke of Reichstadt / Napoleon II – Napoleon himself only appears as a ghost a couple of times (we pay homage to ‘Hamlet’ at several points in the story) so I’m sorry there is no beheadings etc BUT now that you’ve mentioned it – I am happy to tell you that one of my projects I’m working on RIGHT NOW is an out and out horror film with Napoleon as the main character (I’d love Vincent to play him – he’s about the right age) set at Waterloo. I won’t say too much obviously BUT I can promise you it is gore heaven…I’ve felt ‘liberated’ working on it as it’s a bit of a departure for me (ie mixing horror and history) but some of the scenes have even been scaring me and to have Napoleon as the main hero…I have to be clear though it’s not a comedy nor a pastiche or anything like that…it’s a down and dirty horror film which just happens to have a true figure of history as its centre. Wellington is in it for a couple of scenes also but remember Napoleon was a great soldier and it’s that I’m writing about – he certainly wasn’t worried about getting blood physically on his hands if it came to it. 2021 is the 200-year anniversary of Napoleon’s death so that gives us a couple of years to get the project up and running…I’m writing it in English though ideally I’d like it in French…I guess actually if it ends up the way I think it will then there won’t be much talking at all – it’s all to do with the atmospherics. Recently I attended a Napoleonic war re-enactment in Kent to do some hands-on research…I was totally inspired, so much so that I might be able to become a ‘soldier’ at the next one…now that will be amazing…if any producers reading this are interested in my film, please hit me up – budget about £5m okay!
Ruschelle: When you write a story do you craft it as though it could be a potential film?
Dean: I’m sure I do a little bit but with some of my short stories being ‘extreme’ I don’t think there is a market for those sort of films…thinking back to that ‘Hellraiser’ porn though mainly I’m wrong on that and some of Clive’s photographs / art is quite ‘out there’ so perhaps I’m missing a trick. The way I work is that when an idea first hits me I flesh it out a little and then mentally tell myself whether it could be a film, play or story…with the Napoleon horror I’ve mentioned last question that might also work as a novella and would be fun to write if anyone’s interested in publishing it but I’ve noticed as the years progress that I do write films / plays differently to the way I write stories. I’ve spent a little more time than planned in the UK this year and the reason for that is because I was working on two tv pilot scripts. I set myself a challenge which I gladly accepted (ha ha) and wrote from scratch two scripts – one is an American political and the second is a very dark police procedural…neither would work as stories (novels at a push I suppose) but are perfect for the medium which they were intended. I’ve been talking to some producers about them both recently so they may see the light of day (I must say the whole experience of creating them was fun and I know now that if I was approached to write a tv script on spec or as part of an established series then I’m more than capable of doing it). One series of stories of mine actually could be a great film – these are my ‘Dr Papper’ stories which have appeared in various anthologies / collections etc these last couple of days and were inspired by something Justin Bieber once said in an interview with David Letterman about ‘the sixteenth chapel’ (he was confused with the Sistine Chapel) – once I heard those words I came up with a whole horror conspiracy story spread across the last two centuries…I’m making notes on a new story which should see publication in 2019…yeah, perhaps that might be worth pursuing…
Ruschelle: Is there a film you saw in the theatres that was so damn awesome and so…YOU, that you wish you’d have written and directed it?
Dean: Not so much a film but I have just finished binge-watching ‘American Horror Story: Cult’ – have you seen it? It’s bloody brilliant – I was hooked from the start to the finish and thought it was very very clever, by far the best (and I really liked ‘Freak Show’ and ‘Hotel’.) – I’m not a fan normally of Evan Peters but he was excellent as was Sarah Paulson…I can’t wait for the new series ‘Apocalypse’. There is so much great genre stuff now on Netflix / Amazon etc – it’s a real beggars banquet. Europe is so rich with it too – particularly France and did you see ‘Dark’, the German series with Louis Hofmann – that was sublime. ‘Bates Motel’ wasn’t bad either, neither was ‘Gotham’…let me think of a film – okay, a few years old but have you seen ‘Bugsy’ directed by Barry Levinson, starring Warren Beatty – I have watched that film probably fifteen, twenty times…it never bores me – you actually observe Warren and Annette falling in love for real in front of your eyes …I’d even get on a plane (and I hate flying!) to the States if I had the chance of working with Warren…one of my favourite films is ‘Flash Gordon’ and whilst it certainly has its detractors, I’d love to remake it…there is one particular scene where Peter Wyngarde, as the masked Klytus, out-acts everybody with just his speech and actions…a brilliant, brilliant tour de force in acting…and Christopher Reeve in the dual Clark Kent / Superman role…I always wanted to do a Superman film with Colin (son of Tom) Hanks in the titular role …or Leonardo as Captain Atom…
Ruschelle: Collin Hanks? Hummm…interesting. I’d buy that casting. Could you share with us a little of your writing process when penning a screenplay? How does it differ from that of a short story?
Dean: I suppose the main difference is that for my screenplays, more often than not, I write them long-hand, with the stories yes I might make some handwritten notes but generally I’ll work on the computer directly – I’ve always found it easier to write the scripts physically on an A4 pad – it’s a habit I can’t seem to shake – I’ll write the main text on one side of the page and then any notes / revisions etc as I go, on the other. I do find it a lot easier that way – particularly if I alter character names half way through etc or think about different locations, different nationalities or sometimes even change a character’s sex. It’s good also if I think of actors to play the parts as I’ll make comments about them or note the films they’ve been in. Sometimes I’ll write parts for actors I personally know or locations I’m familiar with. When Romain and I wrote ‘The Tragedy’ we both spent several months separately making notes, writing scenes, plot points etc etc so when we got together to start work properly we already had a gamut of stuff to work from and that made the writing processes a lot more straight forward (not easy mind, just straight forward). I do like the idea that at the end of the day, if I’ve set myself a target I can easily see if I’ve hit it or not and once you’ve written for two weeks or so you can actually hold a completed 90 – 120 page (handwritten) screenplay in your hand – it’s an achievement for sure. I guess you can do the same with stories but it doesn’t have the same impact (as far as I’m concerned anyway).
Ruschelle: You are the Associate Editor of Fear magazine. How does that particular hat fit on your head with all the others?
Dean: Yes, I was and that was all thanks to someone I hold in high esteem, the venerable John Gilbert. FEAR had always been a massive influence in my life (as well as FANGORIA – when writer / actress Barbie Wilde interviewed me a couple of years back for Fango and I saw my face, my name in that magazine, boy – that was a buzz I still haven’t come down from I can tell you – especially as the day / night before I’d been out drinking in London with some friends I hadn’t seen for a long while, anyway, on the Sunday I met up with Barbie in the basement of Garlic & Shots bar in Soho…we did the interview and had a few more drinks…it got messy) so when he talked about re-launching FEAR after a few years away and as we’d been friends for a little while, he said could he interview me (yes, of course!) and from that interview we then talked about me becoming Associate Editor – that was a dream come true. Some real high-quality work was produced and I know people were totally buying into what John was trying to achieve but sadly I don’t believe (as far as I know so happy to be told differently) that the publishing people were completely understanding what FEAR was all about so it sadly folded again. John is a brilliant guy and has done so much for the genre – he’s written a couple of forewords for me and right now I know he’s working closely with Trevor Kennedy (check him out he’s a great writer / independent publisher too and is really trying to have a good crack at breaking into some bigger markets – he also acts and has his own radio show!) in Northern Ireland on one or two of his projects as well as writing some new poetry and stories. I don’t see John enough but hope to rectify that in the near future. I will forever be grateful.
Ruschelle: Fear collaborated with NOCTURNICORN PRESS on the Christmas anthology, “12 Dark Days: One Hell Of A Christmas”. I’ve been lucky enough to have met a few of your talented authors, albeit via social media. How did you choose the talent that oozed from the pages? I also just like saying the word OOZED…
Dean: Thank you so much for mentioning this anthology (available in both kindle and paperback – I’d love to do an audible version if I can too, some of the stories are really disturbing) – I really enjoyed compiling /editing this (what a great cover by artist Phil Stevens too don’t you think!) – it was released just before Christmas last year and now as we’re heading towards Christmas again (wow where did that year go, and so much has changed during that time) we can make this a real best-seller as it deserves it – so much time, effort and yeap, love went into creating it and I thank the other writers from the bottom of my heart for joining me on that journey. Like a lot of the actors I work with I try to take them from production to production where suitable…the same for the anthos – everybody I asked said yes and it’s full to brimming with top notch writing talent from across the UK and France. If okay, I’d like to mention the contributors here (in alphabetical order): Jason D. Brawn, Romain Collier, Raven Dane, Theresa Derwin, Tim Dry, Stephanie Ellis, James Everington, Paul M. Feeney, Heide Goody & Ian Grant, Dave Jeffery, Mark West and myself; John Gilbert wrote the foreword and publisher Alex S. Johnson wrote a nasty little extra story to complete the TOC. The subject is obviously the ‘twelve days of Christmas’ but with a horror slant – if you love your Christmas books with a nice and nasty twist then I definitely recommend this – forget my story if you want – but buy it for the others…
Ruschelle: You are a man of a few awards! Is there one award out there you are damned and determined to win?
Dean: I’ve been lucky enough to win some awards in Monaco at an International Film Festival there…I was also runner up for a Sir Peter Ustinov Screenwriting Award (which is given out at the International Emmy award ceremony)…I’d like to win a BAFTA or Oscar for sure but in all honesty I would love to get my hands on either the Palme d’or at Cannes or a Cesar award given out by the French Academy. Slowly but surely my French is improving (at long bleedin’ last many across La Manche would say) so if we can get somewhere with ‘La machine’ then you never know what the future holds…of course, any award that I’m long listed, short listed, nominated or even win well then I’m a lucky man, right?!
Ruschelle: It all counts! What is the most horrific story/film you’ve even written…or is the idea still attempting to burrow out from your meaty flesh like a baby alien?
Dean: Honestly, I don’t think I’ve written it yet. I’ve written some stories which are close perhaps but my ‘magnum opus’ is yet to reveal itself in its entirety to me. There is a dark (not extreme, just dark) fantasy piece which is very personal to me which is called ‘The Keeper Of The Bees’ – it’s a project I’ve made notes on these last couple of years and if I get to finish it might just become what I am known for once I’ve vacated the planet – I think I will have to go away somewhere secluded (perhaps Gothenburg as I love it there) for six or so months and just write it. As I say, it’s a very dark but also very personal and is definitely inspired by my time in France – though it is set in a fictional kingdom. Right now I try my hardest to make sure that every piece of work produced is better than the last – I do put a lot of time and effort (perhaps too much) into the stories or scripts to ensure they are the very best they can be. It’s fun for me working across the various mediums in different genres – I’m certainly having a blast but horror is my passion and I truly want to leave my mark…
Ruschelle: Most horror writers love Halloween. Are you a Hallo-wiener as well? LOL
Dean: Ha ha – nice one – I’m loving your sense of humour. Okay, I’ll be honest – for me, it’s not something that has ever particularly interested me. Yes, I can see its attraction (particularly as a genre writer) and sure, a couple of times I’ve had a good laugh at parties or whatever but generally, it’s a bit ‘take it or leave it’ for me. Perhaps this year will be different – maybe I’ll dress up or something and gate-crash a stranger’s party and see if I can enjoy myself – maybe that’s an idea for a story actually…yeah, a horror writer who hates Halloween…I’ll give that some serious thought. I must add though (so I can mention it somewhere) I’m a great fan of Rob Zombie’s two ‘Halloween’ films – that’s probably thrown the proverbial cat amongst the pigeons hasn’t it – but I like them a lot. I’ve been a fan of Rob’s music and I was lucky enough to see probably the original cut (extended, a lot more gory / scary) of ‘House Of A 1000 Corpses’. I’m looking forward to seeing his soon to be released ‘Three from Hell’ – I know it’s going to be amazing!
Ruschelle: Your newfound fans would love a glimpse into your next projects. What should we look for?
Dean: Um – first up is my novella in the collection (alongside Jan Edwards, Phil Sloman and Romain Collier) ‘Into The Night Eternal: Tales Of French Folk Horror’ (Lycopolis Press), this is coming out at the end of September. Then in November my own small press Demain (www.demainpublishing.com) will be releasing ‘The Darkest Battlefield’ which is the follow-up to ‘Darker Battlefields’ which I mentioned earlier – this collection has been collated and edited by Anthony Watson and includes stories by Anthony, Richard Farren Barber, Paul Edwards, Terry Grimwood and finally myself. As well as the screenplays I’ve previously noted I’m currently working on three others (two horror and one historical) which I’d better not talk about too much right now as I don’t want the producer’s chasing me ha ha but it’s a super busy time (when isn’t it?) because there will be some more stories, a novella…and maybe, just maybe…a novel. I’m also editing a couple of titles for the Lycopolis Press and will be releasing some top-notch short fiction through Demain (two series will soon be unleashed: short sharp shocks and murder mystery mayhem – I’m so humbled by the talent I’ve already been able to sign-up. I truly am blessed.). Of course if anybody wants to keep an eye on what I’m up to – please visit www.deanmdrinkel.com, it’ll all be on there…and of course I’m always available for more interviews, signings, events…and KARAOKE!!!!!!!
KARAOKE!!! Holy cenobite balls Batman, I’m there! Thank you so much for sharing yourself with us. We look forward to stalking you on the WWW and will be sending you disgusting body parts in your fan mail.
Ruschelle: Thank you so much for taking a break from haunting cemeteries to chat with us here at the Horror Tree. You are somewhat of a Taphophile as your books Wish You Were Here: Adventures in Cemetery Travel, 199 Cemeteries to See Before You Die as well as a myriad of other blogs, posts and essays on cemeteries you’ve written affirms. What continues to draw you to the granite and marble bones of our past?
Loren: Cemeteries are libraries of stone. Each grave contains a story. Sometimes there are hints to the story in the iconography or the epitaph or the grave offerings, but you’re never going to be able to piece the whole story together without a whole lot of research. I love that graveyards are full of mysteries: who were these people? How did they end up here? Did they touch people still living?
Ruschelle: You’ve been a member of the Association for Gravestone Studies for almost 20 years. Of all the sites you’ve visited, which one has made the biggest impression on you and your writing?
Loren: That’s a great question. Different cemeteries strike me in different ways. Some are full of lovely sculpture. Some are historic, others are spooky. Sometimes they’re beautifully landscaped or full of birdsong and wild creatures… I guess the one that’s affected me most is Highgate Cemetery. I’m sure everyone knows, but just in case: Highgate was a Victorian cemetery on the edge of Hampstead Heath. It’s up on high ground that overlooks London. In the 1970s, the cemetery was overrun (in real life) by vampire hunters who broke into tombs, staked corpses, and wrote books about it afterward. I discovered the cemetery when I was accidently sent to England during the first Gulf War, but I fell in love immediately. Some of my favorite Christopher Lee Dracula movies were filmed there. In fact, one of the scenes from the new Harry Potter-verse movie was filmed there. Highgate is an incredibly beautiful, atmospheric place with a truly bizarre history.
Ruschelle: Is there a cemetery somewhere on this giant marble you are dying to see? I’m sorry I had to say it. LOL
Loren: I really, really want to see the Great Pyramids in Egypt. I’ve got a big birthday on the horizon, so it’s time to start saving my pennies!
Ruschelle: You have created a notebook for likeminded Taphophiles to take into the field and document their own cemetery discoveries. What makes this book a “must have” for fellow enthusiasts?
Loren: The Cemetery Travels Notebook is a place to keep field notes from your own graveyard adventures. It features 80 lined pages, interspersed with 20 lush full-page color photographs of cemeteries from Paris to Tokyo, with stops at Sleepy Hollow, San Francisco, and all points between.
Ruschelle: You have your monthly Grave Fascinations column appear in the Horror Writers Association newsletter. That is awesome. Has your expertise in the subject found its way into other author’s works?
Loren: Not that I know of yet, but I am hoping! There’s nothing better than to inspire someone.
Ruschelle: Ever come across anything creepy in any of the graveyards?
Loren: I visited Forest Hill Cemetery in Madison, Wisconsin a couple of years ago, on Memorial Day. Forest Hill is such a lovely, leafy green place, full of the most incredible symphony of birdsong. I was roaming around alone, as one does, looking for the Native American mounds around which the cemetery was built. Despite the heat of the day, I found myself suddenly covered in goosebumps. There was an odor… the horrible, overwhelming smell of something large rotting. It stopped me in my tracks. Then I noticed the birds had gone silent.
I stood there, nauseated and shivering, and realized that no one knew where I was. I’d come to Madison for a convention, but my roommates had already gone on home, and I hadn’t told anyone else I was going to the graveyard. I had a real sense that something dead was aware of me, daring me to step off the road to investigate.
So I backed away. I kept walking until I heard the birds begin to sing again.
Ruschelle: Woah, that would be creepy as all Hades. Speaking of creepy, you were the creator of Morbid Curiosity Magazine. For 10 issues it was bursting with viscera, violence and the macabre. And all the stories were true! Tell us a little about the birth, life and the death of the Zine?
Loren: My husband and I started a publishing company in the early Nineties and published two books. Then he started a record label called Charnel Music. Because of the label, people used to send him all kinds of fun things. I got to thinking: what kind of things do I want people to send me in the mail? I decided I wanted to read confessional true stories. I never considered anything else for the name of the magazine. Morbid Curiosity fit perfectly.
Since I started the magazine in the days before the world wide web exploded, all of Morbid Curiosity was done by mail: getting submissions, taking payments, mailing out orders. I didn’t sell subscriptions, so I mailed postcards every year to let people know the new issue was available. It took me pretty much 6 months each year to assemble and sell each issue.
I continued on for 10 years, but the whole publication process was pretty much just me in my back bedroom editing, selling ads, doing the layout and design, handling distribution, and fulfilling the mail order. Eventually I had a kid and didn’t have time to fool around with the magazine any more.
Ruschelle: Could there be a rebirth in Morbid Curiosity’s cycle of life?
Loren: People still ask that, but I don’t think so. I burned out hard on doing all the work, even though I had a really terrific stable of authors and illustrators I counted on for each issue. Anyway, publishing print magazines is expensive. Distribution is hard. Back in the day, my two biggest distributors were Tower Records and Borders Books, both of which went out of business owing me thousands of dollars.
Morbid Curiosity lives on in a sort of half-life as a Facebook group where I link to morbid tidbits and collect up essays that would have fit into the magazine. Here’s the link: https://www.facebook.com/Morbid-Curiosity-magazine-152307981457917/ Come join us.
Ruschelle: Done! Okay readers, Morbid Curiosity is waiting for you. If you could meet any author and ask them one question about writing, who would it be and what would you ask?
Loren: Wow. I don’t know how to answer that. I’ve gotten pretty bold about asking living writers questions, so it would have to be someone dead. Maybe I’d ask Manly Wade Wellman for a blurb.
Ruschelle: I have a question that’s been nibbling at my spleen and it’s just who IS Alondra and how is she the center of so many wonderful stories?
Loren: You completely made my day, Ruschelle! Alondra DeCourval is a young witch who travels the world to fight monsters. I’ve been writing about her for years and years. Her stories have appeared in Best New Horror #27, Frightmare: Women Write Horror, The Haunted Mansion Project: Year One, nEvermore: Tales of Murder, Mystery, and the Macabre, and many more books and magazines.
Two new Alondra stories are coming out in Weirdbook and Occult Detective Quarterly this year.
Ruschelle: Is there a part of you that’s Alondra? And more importantly, which part? Her left arm? Her eyeballs? I bet it’s the bladder. Most monsters we craft are cobbled from bits and pieces-parts of ourselves.
Loren: Alondra is my love of travel and ghost stories and the real-world history of magic, particularly Dion Fortune’s Society of the Inner Light in the early 20th century. Oh, and my earlobes. Alondra wears her charms pierced through her ears.
Ruschelle: Earlobes! That’s a great answer. Lol! The Alondra’s stories are now available in three chapbooks with two more on the way! What can we expect from your heroine in the coming books or is it a secret?
Loren: One of the upcoming books is a novelette about a firestorm in the Sierra Mountains. They seem to be a fixture of summer now, but I find them terrifying – and Alondra inadvertently goes camping in the middle of one. The other chapbook will be a novella that combines ghosts, the lore of the sea, and great white sharks on islands 25 miles off the California coast. The Native Americans considered those islands the Land of the Dead. Alondra sorts through the hauntings and elemental phenomena to solve the disappearances of two naturalists.
Ruschelle: Your Wake of the Templars Trilogy is Science Fiction! How do you go from terra firma to terra nova?
Loren: I actually started as a science fiction writer, but veered into horror, then wandered into cemetery nonfiction. The trilogy was called grimdark space opera by Publishers Weekly, which I took as high praise.
Ruschelle: How much research did you do while penning your Templar Space Opera?
Loren: Those books took less research than some of the Alondra stories! My space opera research was a lifetime of reading science fiction and digesting the themes.
Ruschelle: Smooshing your love of cemeteries and science fictions together…What do you think graveyards in space or another planet would be like.
Loren: Actually, I’ve written a story about one! The trilogy’s heroine Raena Zacari visits the Monument in Remembrance of the Crimes Committed During the Galactic War, an enormous cemetery satellite where the cremains of people executed for war crimes are stored, along with holograms illustrate their trials and deaths. It’s an enormous place, filled with little square markers that cover the cremains and serve as the recorders. People need to get gps coordinates to find the person they’ve come to visit. The cemetery is staffed by nonhuman docents who spy on visitors and make sure they are not missing the good old days, before the war.
Ruschelle: That is so cool. I love that idea. Speaking of ideas, we writers have a process when we carve flesh from bone. Would you share your writing process?
Loren: I usually manage to crank out a sloppy first draft during Nanowrimo each year, but the rest of the year, I like to have breakfast in a café every morning and write or edit for an hour or two. There’s something about being out in public that makes it easier for me to concentrate.
Ruschelle: Of everything you write and have written, what has been the most challenging?
Loren: I have been struggling to finish the sequel to Lost Angels, the succubus/angel novel I wrote with Brian Thomas. When we originally wrote the book, it was hugely long. In order to find a publisher, I split the text in half at a natural climax. The first book was published in 2013 and revised and republished in 2016, but the second book still isn’t quite ready for publication. I keep being offered shiny new projects – like 199 Cemeteries – which pull me away from finishing Angelus Rose. I need to find a way to settle down and focus on it until it’s finished.
Ruschelle: Are you dabbling in anything new that we should watch out for?
Loren: Well, there are the two new Alondra short stories coming out in Occult Detective Quarterly and Weirdbook, then the two Alondra novelettes will be out before the end of 2018.
Next year, I hope to see published a book I’ve been researching for almost 20 years called Pioneer Cemeteries of the San Francisco Bay Area. Local history fascinates me – and much of it is deliciously grim. Have you heard about the Donner Party? They were a party of pioneers to California who were trapped by deep snow in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and had to resort to cannibalism to survive. Most of the survivors were children, who went on to build the state of California. They are buried all around the Bay Area.
Then, who knows? Maybe I’ll finally finish Angelus Rose.
Thank you so much for sharing with us. Where on this world wide web will your new fans find you?
Loren: My home page is https://lorenrhoads.com/. My cemetery work is focused on https://cemeterytravel.com/. I’m on twitter and Instagram as @morbidloren and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/loren.rhoads.5.
Thanks so much for your great questions, Ruschelle!
Ruschelle: Thank you for sitting down to share a little about yourself with us.
Debra: I’m thrilled to get the chance to interview with you. We all love The Horror Tree!
Ruschelle: You’re written a few books on the paranormal, two of them being memoirs. Tell us a little about the events in your life that motivated you to pen your stories.
Debra: I think the thing that affected me most, was spending three years in a haunted house. I was a fairly normal kid until we moved in. Whatever it was, the invisible thing living there with us seemed to focus on me in particular and unleashed a lot of poltergeist-style terror. This was the beginning, for me, of realizing there might be things out there we weren’t being told about by the grown-ups! Since that early age of fourteen, I’ve dealt with many similar experiences, and tried to help others who didn’t know where to turn. (I even worked a bit for California Psychics-and yes, they actually make you go through testing with two different managers before you’re hired) Eventually, this evolved into deeper understanding of hauntings, people involved with them, and learning the parameters of psychic abilities. Somehow, from all this, I also developed an understanding of the psychology of people in general, their motivations, both good and bad, and their triumphs and tragedies.
Ruschelle: You refer to yourself as a ‘reluctant psychic.’ Your books, A Haunted Life: The True Ghost Story of a Reluctant Psychic and The Dead are Watching: Ghost Stories from a Reluctant Psychic- splash your feelings out on their covers. Why reluctant?
Debra: Some of the female line of my family had psychic abilities. They were also very religious, so “psychic” wasn’t in their vocabulary. We heard the word demon bandied about enough that it terrified me to admit to having abilities, let alone using them! My mother’s family is also descended from Alice Nutter, one of the Lancashire Witches, who was executed by King James I in August of 1612. I don’t believe she actually was a witch of course, but then again, it has made me wonder if she had these same psychic abilities. Back then it was enough to get you executed.
Ruschelle: Have you embraced your psychic insight, your ‘gift’?
Debra: I have, and I haven’t. Yes, they can be a good thing and can help others. But over the years, I’ve come to believe they can attract negative energy, sometimes in the extreme. I think everyone has them to some extent, but some people shut them off young—especially if your family of origin is not accepting of it. I’ve also found the so-called right brained types have more experiences. This may be due to the creative person’s greater ability to adopt a childlike openness and viewpoint, which I believe is necessary in order to write, paint, play music, or act, well.
Ruschelle: Have you met others like you and have you thought of working with them to write another book on the subject of the supernatural?
Debra: It’s funny, but people seem ashamed to talk about this for the most part. They’re afraid of being called delusional or whatever. Once my books came out and I was doing a lot of appearances and events, I heard story after story from folks who had seen spirits, or had a deceased parent come back to them after death, or they lived in a haunted house. Once you break the ice discussing this stuff rationally, you would be surprised at the huge number of people who’ve had these experiences. I recently did a regional book on hauntings, mostly a labor of love for my area history and legends. I love the subject, the research, and would always be willing to write more nonfiction paranormal books. I’ve also done some smaller articles for charity and so forth. I am a big believer in giving back whenever possible.
Ruschelle: You have written fiction as well. What did you find easier to pen, fiction or your own experiences?
Debra: I love writing fiction too. Somehow, letting my imagination run wild and creating unlimited story ideas is so freeing. I love to write what scares me. So, monsters, both human and cryptid, Post Apoc and SHTF, ghosts, demons, and almost anything that would pit people against something scary, is fair game for me. Writing nonfiction is easier in some ways, since it’s merely retelling what happened. So, I think that making it up out of whole cloth, so to speak, is more exciting!
Ruschelle: Have any of your real-life experiences with the supernatural oozed into your fiction?
Debra: Yes, since feeling that heightened terror at a young age, I think I’ve been affected in many ways, and I can’t help but pass it on in my writing. That sense of possibility, of the existence of unseen things in the dark, or in the light, is always with me. We read horror to get that thrill. When we put the scary book down, doesn’t it make us want the lights on a little longer? That’s what I mean by affecting me. I want others to suffer with me. Ha ha, just kidding, sort of… I just finished edits on a book that will be coming out with Digital Fiction Publishing in the next couple months, titled “The Evil in the Tower”. It’s got a lot of personal experiences within it. Obsession, possession, and evil from the past get triggered by circumstances that mirror the original traumatic event which caused the haunting. It flips back and forth in time, to the California Gold Rush days, retelling the story.
Ruschelle: Red Death and its sequel Red Death Survivors take place in a post-apocalyptic world. What inspired you to create a world filled with different ’ghosts’?
Debra: Oh man, I’ve always been two things–a bit of an armchair prepper, of the what–if mentality, and a total germaphobe. So, combine those two things and add an Ebola Zaire pandemic, and you’ve got “Red Death: A Post Apocalyptic Thriller”, released by Severed Press. I loved the research that went into that stuff. How many microns of virus can live on the seat of an airplane, for how long, that sort of thing. The premise of those books, is what would a couple of normal people do if most of the world died? How would you avoid the virus? What would you eat? Can you hunt? Trap? How would you gather water and the firewood needed to boil it? What about the gangs of starving madmen you see chasing down the neighborhood cats to cook and eat them? I did learn you can eat any variety of Hosta—those green and white striped plants you see in everyone’s yard. I actually went out back, dug up daylily roots and roasted them in olive oil and salt. Yummy. Yes, I’m one of “those” writers…experience it all, live it, soak it in, whenever possible-except the chasing cats to eat part.
Ruschelle: Here’s a fun question. The Ghost and Mr. Chicken or the Ghost and Mrs. Muir? The young’uns might have to Google this. LOL
Debra: Oh yeah, The Ghost and Mr. Chicken! I was flipping through channels not long ago and saw that one. I watched the ending, and it sure brought back good memories.
Ruschelle: Some of us have a book inside us we’d love to write or think we should write but it just eludes us. Mine is romance. I think I can write it but…blood and guts end up happening. Carnage is always a mood killer. LOL Is there a genre you’d LOVE to write to but aren’t sure if you can or should?
Debra: Wow. Now that sounds familiar! I started trying to write a cozy mystery, and blood and guts and possessions started happening to me too. So I went with it, and that’s the book I mentioned above, The Evil in the Tower. I’d love to write some YA or midgrade. There are parameters I’d have to research, or maybe one of my writer friends could give me guidelines on rough patches. I’d still like to try the cozy mystery though, if I can tame the monsters inside. LOL
Ruschelle: Are you lucky enough to craft your books quickly from beginning to end or are you a writer that let’s things stew, steep and bubble before it sees the light of the moon?
Debra: You know, I think I am sort of a hodgepodge type, using whatever comes to mind. I usually start with an idea, as most of us do, then I start a file on my desktop, adding scene ideas, or whatever as I go. Then at some point, when it looks as though there’s enough of an idea there to make an entire book, I will start it. When I first began all this, I found a book on a screenwriting style of novel writing, called “Story Engineering”, by Larry Brooks. It was very helpful, and I always see my scenes in my head first, so it made sense. I do think I did it all a bit backwards though-most of my friends started writing short stories first, then moved on to full length works. I’ve written eight books, and just recently started on short stories. I’m really enjoying writing them too. There are so many great anthologies coming out this year alone-The Twisted Book of Shadows, Lost Highways, New Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, Monsters of Any Kind, Haunted are These Houses—wow. I can’t wait to read them all.
Ruschelle: Writing music is a different art form from writing books. Lyrically, one can be more cryptic and sentence structure isn’t always followed which can be very liberating. How do you tackle writing each art form?
Debra: Songwriting really helped me lay the foundation for writing novels I think. The Nashville songwriter mantra is “Paint a picture with words”, because you only have three or four minutes to tell the story in a song. So you end up trying to be more descriptive, choosing words carefully to convey exactly what you want. No extraneous words, because every single one counts. I find in songwriting, I look at it as, every line counts, whereas in novels, it can be looked at more as every paragraph. Some may quibble with me on that one, but the songwriting rules are so exacting sometimes, you can’t deviate. In novel writing, it feels freer, like you can mess around a bit without getting into too much trouble.
Ruschelle: Since you are an author and therefore a wordsmith, when you concentrate on songwriting do you write the lyrics first or is it the music that spurs the lyrics?
Debra: For me, they’ve always come at the same time. It might be just a single line, which comes to me along with a melody. Then I work on the melody most, adding the lyrics as I go along, changing them as needed. I’ve also found a little trick, for the songwriters out there: always write the melody in your head first. If you sit down to a guitar or piano, your melody will be limited to the chord structures you know, and sometimes we get into a rut with those. Go for the soaring new melody, then try to find the chords that fit with it afterwards.
Ruschelle: One of your songs was featured in the movie Killer Joe with Matthew McConaughey. Could you tell us what the process of submitting music is compared to submitting a story or book to be published?
Debra: I’ve had several music publishers over the years, and signed many single-song contracts. (as opposed to being what’s known as a staff songwriter) The Nashville publishers bleed over into the Los Angeles music scene these days, whereas not so long ago, they were more separate. I’ve signed several songs with a publisher who had many #1 hits in his catalogue, both country and pop. He teamed up with an LA music publisher (Pen Music Group), who specialize in TV, and Film, doing everything from commercials to movie soundtracks. I have about twenty songs signed at the moment being pitched for various things. The way it works is, I record something I like or think is right for a certain star, or for TV or whatever, then I send it via MP3 to him. If he likes it, he signs it, and starts pitching it. (I have my own recording studio in my basement, so that makes it nice) So in a way, the book publisher pitching is similar. I think I had the edge on what to expect when I started writing for print publishers. I’m a little new to print publishing, my first book having come out in 2013, but as far as rejection goes, it comes with the territory in both music and print publishing!
Ruschelle: You’re a blues gal with a sultry, rich voice. I love it. Other than your voice being perfectly suited for the genre, why else did you choose to write and perform the blues comparatively to other genres?
Debra: Thank you. Honestly, I love singing all kinds of styles. In live performance, I sing everything from Adele to Joplin, Stevie Nicks, to Carrie Underwood. People comment on the bluesy voice, and I like singing (and writing) blues, but it apparently comes natural, and it chose me, rather than the other way around.
Ruschelle: Could a concept blues album based on the supernatural be on the horizon? New things could happen at the Crossroads. LOL
Debra: Ha, ha. Never say never! I am always up for a challenge. Now you’ve got the wheels a turning.
Ruschelle: You set up a scholarship fund in memory of your son. That’s a beautiful yet meaningful gesture to those you are able to assist. Could you tell us a little about the scholarship?
Debra: Yes, I am excited about the scholarship. My son James was killed by a drunk driver in 2009. He was an only child, so it’s a devastating thing, all around. Rather than wallow in the grief-which believe me, is easy to do- I wanted to try and somehow turn a negative into something positive. So, eight years ago, we started an annual aggressive roller blading contest and music festival. All proceeds went into an account to fund this music/arts scholarship. The contest itself grew huge, and many people helped donate their time to achieve the final result. In May, 2018, this year, the first scholarship was given out. Long after we are gone, it will continue to help a young person going into the arts, music, or writing. It’s self-sustaining now, so all the work was worth it. My son James (a pro roller blading musician) would be happy.
Ruschelle: You just had a story in Killing It Softly 2. Congratulations! What can you share with us on your future offerings? Books, music?
Debra: I’m busy pitching short stories at the moment, and three are shortlisted with publishers, so wish me luck! I expect my book “The Evil in the Tower” with Digital Fiction to be out very soon. I also signed a two book paranormal suspense series with them, which will follow late this year or early next. I continue to perform locally, at my favorite gigs, and my publisher also continues to pitch songs. You just never know what will happen, and that’s the beauty of both songwriting and print writing. If you do it for the love of it, anything else that happens is a bonus!
Thank you so much for sharing a little of your life with us. We look forward to hearing your music and reading your tales!
If you want to find out more about Debra and her work you can find her via the below links.
Goodreads: https: //www.goodreads.com/author/show/6981130.Debra_Robinson
Amazon author page: http://www.amazon.com/Debra-Robinson/e/B00BMHA032/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0