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
Ruschelle: Thank you for taking the time to chat with us at the Horror Tree!
Marc: It’s my pleasure. Thank you for having me.
Ruschelle: Your debut collection, Stories of High Strangeness, has been published by publishing newcomer Copypasta. Many stories we pen evolve from shreds of experiences, albeit fictionalized…well we hope. Where did you gain your inspiration for this collection?
Marc: My inspiration came from just wanting to tell good stories with unusual twists and turns. That is the overriding theme. When you read this collection, you won’t see any overriding theme. It’s not just one thing but ‘rather, a whole bunch of things. It’s, quite simply, a collection of stories. My approach to writing fiction is very organic. I come up with an idea, it rattles around in my head for a while and, if it continues to strike some kind of weird chord with me, I write it.
Ruschelle: You mentioned your early writing repertoire included selling rock musician interviews to magazines and underground newspapers. What was it like interviewing artists on the cutting edge of music in the 1960’s?
Marc: It was a gas! Interviewing an extremely loaded Ozzy Osbourne in his hotel room at 10 in the morning. Flying on The Who’s private touring plane to catch the band in Texas. Sneaking backstage at a concert at my college and walking right up to Cheech & Chong and asking for an interview for the college paper and getting nearly 45 minutes with them. It was still very new and exciting for the musicians and the journalists. I wrote for publications like The Los Angeles Free Press, Zoo World, Phonograph Record Magazine and Rock Around the World. The writers weren’t making a lot of money but, like I said, it was a gas!
Ruschelle: Your experiences sound awesome. You’re a music buff. What gets your creative blood pumping while writing? Does the type of music you listen to influence your writing style?
Marc: I’m probably the world’s oldest metal head. Put on Black Sabbath, Dio, Cirith Ungol. Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, If it’s loud, dark and nasty I’m there. I’m also into 60’s psychedelia. If you’re old enough to remember bands like The Electric Prunes, The Strawberry Alarm Clock, The Standells, Love and just about any band out of San Francisco and Los Angeles, you know what I mean. I like movie soundtracks when they go to the dark, progressive side. I like The Exorcist and The Good, The Bad and the Ugly a lot. All that being said, when I write I write in silence. But more often than not the vibe from the music definitely winds up in a lot of my stories.
Ruschelle: Writing fiction is definitely a different monster than writing from a journalistic standpoint. Was there anything you learned or new skills you honed while conquering the fictional beast?
Marc: When you’re dealing with journalism or biographies, there’s an end game, a deadline that is always in your head. When you write fiction, the story is done when it’s done and not before. When I started to write short stories, the main thing I had to learn was get the story to the point where it works for me and then send it out into the world. I’m not a writer who talks about what he’s working on or even shows it to people when it’s done. My criterion has always been when somebody accepts it and publishes it, then the rest of the world can have it.
Ruschelle: If you could actually meet and hang out with the physical embodiment of any one of the characters you created, which one would it be? It’s the dude with the insatiable libido isn’t it? I bet he’d be fun at parties. LOL
Marc: There’s a lot of extreme, dangerous characters in my stories that if I saw them at a party or walking down the street, I would probably run the other way. Without giving too much away, the people in the stories Dose, What’s In A Name and Remember 85 are not the people one would want to spend too much time with. On the other hand, there are characters in the stories The Out Door, This Will Buy Us A Year and The Delicate Hours that I could probably be around for a while. Once you read those stories you’ll get an idea of where my head is at.
Ruschelle: Do you have another book of horror/fantasy/ Sci-Fi in the works?
Marc: I’ve got a few things that I’m playing around with that tend to lean towards horror and fantasy but are not quite ready to go out for consideration. Two chapbooks of poetry, Shakeout on Sex Street and Existential Jibber Jabbar, a full book of poetry, Melancholy Baby and a chapbook of short fiction called Out Of My Mind. I’ll know when it’s time to take a chance with them.
Ruschelle: Was there a defining moment in your life where you knew you wanted to write for a living?
Marc: Probably when I was 13. I was writing short stories, poetry and television scripts by that time. I didn’t know how good I was at that time but I knew I liked the idea of using my imagination to make magic. I also liked the way my byline looked on things. It would be seven years before I had anything published. But I knew the writing life was for me.
Ruschelle: Is there a topic you feel is too taboo to write about?
Marc: I will not do anything bad to children or animals. Otherwise it’s open season.
Ruschelle: As fiction writers and writers of the horror genre, we often write what we fear ourselves. What fears have ignited your writing?
Marc: The six o’clock news has always been a good jumping off point for me. The way humanity behaves on a daily basis has brought up more than one idea and a shudder on occasion. But finally, the fear that drives me is to wake up one day and have my imagination stripped from me. Fear of not having an idea is what, creatively, keeps me one step ahead of the Devil.
Ruschelle: You’ve written over 60 unofficial biographies of celebrities. That’s quite a few lives to get to know. Which artist started it all?
Marc: Way back in the day, I approached a UK publisher of rock music biographies called Omnibus Press about doing one of their rock books. I received a polite letter back informing me that they normally only use UK authors. But the very last line of the letter said that they were in fact contemplating doing a book on The Eagles and would I be interested? I couldn’t say yes fast enough.
Ruschelle: The Eagles = ROCK ICONS! Was there anything you researched for your biographies that surprised a seasoned journalist like you?
Marc: When you’re dealing with Hollywood types nothing really surprises you after a certain point. My only advice to would be stars would be to save your money and don’t believe it will last forever. Because it rarely does. And that goes for authors too.
Ruschelle: Do you feel any ‘real life’ events from your autobiographies may sneak into your next bit of fiction? The names and specifics to be changed to protect the innocent of course.
Marc: If they have, it’s been on a subliminal level. But Icons have made occasional appearances. I used a real NFL team as a cornerstone to a short story entitled Cut Down Daze that was published a while back and I channeled a number of music personalities by name for a horror poem that will be coming out later this year called Night Rider.
Ruschelle: If you could co-write a book with any author who would it be? And let’s make it an attainable goal and let’s keep it in the realm of the living. Seances and invoking the dead never ends well.
Marc: That’s a tough one because all my influences have long since gone to the great beyond. I’m old school. I firmly believe in one writer/one vision. If I could resurrect the dead we might be here all night. Charles Bukowski, Rod Serling, H.P. Lovecraft, Ray Bradbury any and all of the Beats. Those are my literary gods.
Ruschelle: And literary gods they are. We all learn with age and experience. Well we’re supposed to anyway. In regards to writing and the writing experience, what do you wish you knew then that you know now?
Marc: That’s a toughie because we never really stop learning. As it pertains to the business…To be smarter about things like contracts, money, people. I learned that if you’re serious about writing for a living, you stop writing for no pay and exposure early on. I’ve worked for next to nothing but I stopped working for nothing eons ago. I wish I had been a bit braver in the early days, more willing to take chances. As I’ve gotten older I’ve adopted a say yes to just about any offer and let the chips fall where they may. I know I learned quite a bit about the writing business the day an editor pulled a gun on me when I was trying to collect the $20 he owed me. And that was how to duck.
Ruschelle: Learning to duck is never a bad lesson, LOL. What do you find more challenging, fiction or journalism?
Marc: Both forms have their moments. Journalism can be like a good detective story, tracking down the facts and the people who can shed light on the person you’re writing about. Fiction forces you to stretch your imagination and conceive of ideas, notions and characters and yet have it all make some kind of sense or logic at the end. When I’m writing fiction, my head is in one space. When it’s journalism, it’s in another.
Ruschelle: Rejection is definitely a pill we hate to open our mouths to swallow. Being a seasoned writer do those rejections get any easier? What do you suggest for authors starting out when they receive the dreaded- ‘It’s not you it’s us’ email?
Marc: First realize that rejection is a part of the process. I had a couple of short story submissions kicked back in the last week. You get the twinges the first couple of times but, if you’re intent on a long-term career, you immediately forget about it and send the story someplace else. If you’ve given your best effort, the chances are good your work will find a home.
Ruschelle: Exactly. Eventually writer’s stories find the home they’re meant to have. You’re a New York Times bestselling author. Kudos! Many authors aspire to have those little words swirl around their bios. So, tell us what has that prestigious phrase done for your career?
Marc: My ego was on fire for a few days. It is an emotional and psychological lift like you would not believe. I spent a month picking up The New York Times every Sunday just so I could chart the progress of my book. But eventually reality brings you back to earth. You’ve got deadlines to make, bills to pay, lawns to mow and a dog to walk. But making The New York Times bestseller list is definitely a memory that stays with you forever.
Ruschelle: Since you’re lucky enough to write for a living, you probably have some sort of schedule or ritual. What’s your typical work day like?
Marc: There really is no typical work day for me. It depends on whether I’m on deadline with a biography or at a more leisurely pace with a short story or a poem. But more often then not, I’m up fairly early in the morning, work for 3-4 hours, take a walk for about an hour, then back to work for another 4-5 hours. A good day for me is 1000 words on whatever I’m working on. I once had to write a 50,000 word manuscript in three weeks. Needless to say, I was pulling 15 hour days on that one.
Ruschelle: Is there any one piece of advice you’d like to impart to struggling writers out there who are attempting to embark on writing as a career?
Marc: Write every day. When you’re not writing, read anything you can lay your hands on. It’s cool to go to parties and tell people you’re a writer. But if you’re not serious about it, you’re doomed to fail. Go with your gut at all times. Treat writing as both a creative art and a business but be able to separate the two. You don’t want to be thinking about the business when you’re knee deep in the creative process. And vice versa. Writing for a living is a dream come true. But you’d better take it seriously and be prepared to walk the walk.
Ruschelle: What can your new found fans look forward to from you in the future?
Marc: The future is now. You can get Stories Of High Strangeness (Copypasta Publishing) on Amazon, Smashwords, Roku, Kobo and Barnes & Noble.com. My latest celebrity biography Renaissance Man: The Lin Manuel Miranda Story (Riverdale Avenue Books) is available through Amazon, Smashwords and a bunch of the usual book selling sites. I have poems in upcoming issues of Disturbed Digest and Night To Day. Then there’s something that I’m currently working on that I’m not at liberty to talk about. Yet.
Ruschelle: Thank you so much for your time and wisdom.
Marc: This was fun. Let’s do it again some time.
Marc Shapiro can be reached through Copypasta Publishing at [email protected]
Ruschelle: Was there an event, movie book or supernatural experience that happened in your life when you knew you wanted to write in the horror genre?
Michael: Not really. Ever since I was a child my imagination has been fascinated with the morbid, so when I began telling stories and exploring that path, it was usually horror. I did have the experience most wanner-be writers have – picking up a book at the library and afterwards thinking: “I can do this better. Heck, I am doing it better.”
Ruschelle: You’ve mentioned in previous discussions that you feel that not all of your books would translate well from Danish to English. Is it more than just the language barrier?
Michael: Yes. Most of my stories are part horror, part social commentary and since Danish and US societies are pretty different both in function and mindset, some of them don’t translate very well. For instance, my award-winner Samlerne (The Collectors) deal with the newly emerging role for fathers and men, where the main character feels adrift and has a hard time connecting with his family. He has to try and fix a dysfunctional marriage and be a positive role model for his children, who are slowly becoming strangers to him.
And all that is before I even introduce the outside threat.
While a lot of things would be similar (I assume) in the US, I’m just not familiar enough with the nuances of US family life outside sitcoms. So I don’t know how well it would reflect reality in a US setting.
Ruschelle: Is the foreign market tough to break into? Is it just the English market or is it across all foreign speaking nations?
Michael: It is insanely hard. I’ve only tried the US market so far – I simply haven’t had the time to look elsewhere – but the US market is crazy. I’m not only back to square one as a totally unknown – that’s to be expected – but the way I made a name for myself in Denmark doesn’t really transfer to an overseas market. I can’t network at Cons, I can’t attend readings and get on panels because I’m on another continent. I mean, sure I could go there, but I’m not made out of money, so I haven’t made that investment so far.
The main obstacle to getting anywhere in the English market is to get people – any people – to read your stuff. It doesn’t matter how talented you are – if there are thousands of other writers giving their work away for free and promoting their own titles next to you, you simply drown.
My first title in the US market, Clowns, did get really good reviews and very positive feedback – but not enough to trigger the famous Amazon Algorithm to make them promote the title.
I had to sit down and make a plan for the next several years on how to tackle this challenge. We’ll see if it makes any difference 🙂
I did write a fairly long article on the process of getting a title on Amazon and what I learned along the way. Maybe it can help someone out there?
Hunting the Beast
Ruschelle: The American tradition of Halloween has made its way to Denmark. I KNOW you are a Halloween lover. What are you and your fellow Danes enjoying from this horrific holiday?
Michael: The main attraction is that adults are allowed to join the fun. I love decorating the house with all things spooky and think of new ways to outdo last years Halloween. Our own version is called Fastelavn and takes place in February, but that is for kids only. Adults are considered weird if they want to be part of it.
Since Halloween is new here, we get to define it ourselves and a lot of us has jumped on the opportunity.
And I’m passing it along to my children. Only Christmas can outcompete Halloween in our house. And I don’t see it challenging Christmas unless we begin giving Halloween gifts. 🙂
Ruschelle: Halloween gifts! That would be awesome. Giving each other skulls and vampire teeth rings and other macabre stuff. Sign me up when it happens. You have made a name for yourself in the Danish market. You have won the Best Danish Horror of the year in 2015 which you mention is the equivalent of the Bram Stoker Award here in the US to back that up. Kudos! What would be next on your goals to slash and conquer on your bucket list?
Michael: Thank you 🙂 Well, I am very ambitious and there’s not a lot of places to go further in the Danish market. Not as a horror writer. It is one of the reasons I try to go abroad.
My ultimate ambition is to one day win the coveted Bram Stoker Award myself.
A bit more realistic, but still very ambitious, is to get on the shortlist within the next five years.
That is also my plan for getting attention in the US market. Just go win an award, haha. 🙂
Ruschelle: I read somewhere where you said that the Danish swear more than in America. Explain please or should I say, ‘explain dammit?’ The way I swear, I must be part Danish….
Michael: I’m not sure why, but Danes have a totally different relationship to swearing. I think it’s because we are a more direct society. Danes are often considered rude and foreigners can have a hard time adjusting in the workplace. We talk to each other as a close family can do because we consider each other equals.
It can be pretty off-putting and Danes abroad have to make some serious adjustments to not mouth off to the boss.
For some reason, we use a lot of English swearwords in our daily lives – probably because they don’t sound ugly to us. It’s common to see parents drop the F-bomb in front of their kids and the kids themselves use it freely.
Calling someone a “Kælling” (our version of bitch) is frowned upon – that is just rude and considered uneducated, but calling someone a motherfucker – meh, that’s just colorful language.
I need to pay a lot of attention to swearing in my stories, because the US market reacts much, much stronger to it than I’m used to.
Ruschelle: You have a pet troll! Tell me about him or her? How the hell did you catch one?
Michael: Trolls are a bit tricky. They keep to dank and dark places but with patience and plenty of treats they can be lured into the family.
They will only eat live prey, but they are not particularly bright, so if you jiggle a piece of meat just right, they will accept it. It’s nice. Keeps mouse away.
Ruschelle: If one will do housework, ship it over to me. You established the Danish Horror Society in 2011 and your membership has grown from a few bloody trickles a generously gory splatter. You had one of your most recent meeting at a castle! How gnarly is that? Tell us a bit of what the society does for each other as well as the genre of horror?
Michael: The Danish Horror Society was created to bring attention to the horror genre as fiction for adults. In Denmark, there’s a tendency to place all of the fantastic genres in the children’s section of the library.
It is changing – in part because of the society – but back in the day one of my colleagues found his new title prominently displayed at the “New Titles” table in the children’s section. But the title in question was borderline splatterpunk and featured several mutilations.
They hadn’t really read any of it – they just assumed it belonged there.
It’s a bit ironic that I’m a co-founder and yet today it’s me writing to the children and YA segments.
We use the society to network and help each other out. If a library or a school needs one or several horror writers for an event, they tend to call the society.
It’s not just for writers, though. Everyone who deals with horror in some form are welcome. Journalists, bloggers, filmmakers.
Crime fiction reigns supreme in Denmark, and the Danish Horror Society has joined forces with the biggest crime fiction con around here, Krimimessen, so we get to participate with our horror alongside hundreds of our colleagues in crime fiction.
The castle was a nice touch, but it’s really one of our members who happen to live there. Yeah – she lives in a castle. (Add to bucket list.)
Ruschelle: Your recent 2017 offering, Clowns or Klovn (in Danish) was written for young adults. Do you find it easier or more difficult to write horror for youthful readers?
Michael: It’s mostly easier. I never hold back, so I can tell almost the same stories I would tell adults, I just have to make a few adjustments. The teenage years are filled with angst and strange new things, so horror stories are a perfect fit.
And children are much easier to set up for scary stories since they are fairly helpless on their own and that makes creating a threat much more fun. I tend to think of my own childhood and the fears I had and just go: “But what if it was real?”
Children and YA are a ton of fun.
Ruschelle: Are there differences in YA for Danish compared to English? Can you get away with more blood and guts?
Michael: There’s a huge difference and that took me by surprise. Clowns are considered a book for children in Denmark, although it does move into a grey area with the amount of gore. To be truthful it probably too gory for children who do not love the macabre.
But when I began sending out review copies in English, I got several replies that I must have made a mistake. This was no children’s book.
It turned out that no-one mentioned kids being eaten alive on-scene, but the amount of swearing put it in YA territory and sometimes straddling the border even with that.
My whole compass for judging my target audience was turned upside down. I had not even considered the swearing might be a problem. At all.
In Denmark, we try to shield children from violence and pornography, but swearing and nudity is perfectly fine. Several Danish movies for children, particularly older ones, has full frontal nudity and everyone swears like sailors.
It’s changing with globalization, but it’s still a real challenge I need to wrap my head around.
Ruschelle: How many of your novels and short stories that you’ve written do you have proudly displayed on your bookshelf?
Michael: All of them. 🙂
I’m terrible at being humble (which is bad for a Dane). I’d prefer both my books and awards to be prominently displayed in the living room, but wife says no. They are exiled to my office space alongside my horror posters and other gory knick-knacks.
Ruschelle: Of all the novels and stories you have written, which one was the easiest to pen? And on the flip side, which one was more of a struggle? Be it internally or physically?
Michael: The easiest by far was Clowns. It took me a month because it mostly wrote itself. The premise was so simple. It was the height of the Scary Clown epidemic and we had tons of them in Denmark.
So one day I wondered: “What if those clowns were not guys in suits? What if they were real?”
I pitched it to my publisher and they loved it.
It was actually named Best Horror Title for Children 2017 by a group of libraries, which makes me very proud.
The hardest was Samlerne (The Collectors). That was so personal dealing with all those fears of losing one’s family and how to navigate as a man in modern times and it made the transition into the horror difficult. I struggled for months getting through the second act before it picked up speed in the third.
It was worth it, though, since it went on to win the national award.
It was by far my most ambitious project and it took so much more effort than I had anticipated.
Ruschelle: What is it you love about Danish folklore?
Michael: It’s morbid and multilayered. Danish winters are long and dark and the old days were pretty violent. Stories of what lurks in the night are very popular and it seems everywhere you go, there’s something waiting to kill you (or snatch you away).
Nøkken (a water spirit of sorts) lurks in streams and rivers waiting to lure children to their doom. Elves in the forest can be cruel or kind. They are inhuman, so you can’t tell. Gravsoen (The Grave Sow) is a gigantic, black sow infused by evil that stalks cemeteries and other dark places at night.
Trolls and curses and undead critters rising from the grave.
So much material to choose from.
And it’s particularly interesting that we had the change from paganism to Christianity only a thousand years ago. Much of the old ways made their way into folklore and you can see how that shaped a silent conflict for centuries when symbols and names changed the meaning and became infused with the either the new or the old.
I’m actually researching right now as I’m writing a Christmas themed story. I had to learn if there were any grim traditions concerning Christmas, and yep – they delivered.
Turns out families would light candles and put them in the windows to guide the dead family members home, to join them at Christmas. In some areas, they even made room in the bed for the dead. I need to look into this in greater detail.
Ruschelle: If YOU could go back and create Danish folklore, what creatures would the old books be filled with?
Michael: As a huge fan of Lovecraftian horror, I bemoan the lack of formless terrors. I would definitely add more tentacles and creatures with an uneven number of eyes.
Ruschelle: I watched a video interview where you mentioned attending seminary school. Very interesting for a horror buff! How has that shaped the way you interpret horror?
Michael: I’m not sure it translated properly. I studied to become a teacher and taught for 8 years. That certainly showed me a plethora of teenage angst to exploit in future stories. It gave me a lot of insight into the teens of today and the world they try to navigate.
Ruschelle: Ehhh….I thought you were going to be a priest. I guess not. Lol. Damn translations!!! But I’m going to with my next question anyway because…why the hell not? It’s still a valid question. So…Has that experience (now recognized as becoming a TEACHER )played out in any of your stories?
Michael: Several of my stories are centered around school and kids going to school. School are scary places, even before I add the supernatural ingredients. I really cared for my students, so it gave me a way to write nuanced characters instead of just “the bully” and “the jock” etc.
One of my novelettes, Decay, is told from a teachers perspective as he watches his students turn to zombies one by one, and yet no-one else seems to care.
That one should hit the English market within some months.
Ruschelle: Okay, which movie badass is the most hardcore? For example; Michael Meyers, Jason Voorhees, Pinhead or Freddy Kruger? Please don’t tell me Chucky….
Michael: That has to be a tossup between Freddy Krüger and Pinhead (yeah, I know his name is Hellpriest, but Pinhead sticks.)
Both are iconic and represents an existential threat. You can outrun Jason and Meyers (until he teleports), but you can’t escape your dreams. Or Hell.
I like my horror with the imagination cranked up to 11 and both dream sequences and punishments in Hell satisfy my joy of seeing new and terrible things.
As a character I really like Jason, but I was never a fan of the movies. The slasher genre is one of my least favorite, but Jason himself seems to embody horror in a pop-cultural way.
Ruschelle: If you could go anywhere in the world to research and immerse yourself in a culture or a lifestyle for an upcoming book, where would it be?
Michael: I’d go to Japan. It’s the most fascinating culture I know of and they have a ton of scary traditions. I would like to spend some serious time connecting with that culture, both the traditional and all the crazy stuff we see on TV.
I think it could be a really interesting backdrop for a novel if I got it right.
Ruschelle: Is there a horror topic that you would consider too taboo and NOT be able to craft a story behind it?
Michael: Yeah. I won’t use the death of an infant as a shock effect. Becoming an adult and particular a father I have seen the devastation such things cause in the lives of the parents. I just don’t think the gains of a story could be worth the pain it might inflict on a reader to be worth it.
I want to scare my readers.
I want to give them nightmares.
But I don’t want to hurt them. I don’t want to cause real-world pain with made up stories.
That’s just not worth it.
I kill plenty of children in my stories and several of the stories are centered around grief and the loss of loved ones, so I’m not staying away from the subject. It’s just not worth a casual reference.
Plus it’s lazy writing.
Ruschelle: What offerings do your newfound readers have to look forward to?
Michael: I had planned to put out two titles at the start of the year, but now it’s already April, so … Decay is translated and on its way and one of my YA titles have been planned, but I have not actually translated the bulk of the text yet.
I usually translate the text myself, then hire an editor to weed out weird Danish syntax and making sure everything is on par with a native English speaker.
The YA novel is called Moln in Danish, but that is a terrible name, so I need a new one for the English market.
I tend to struggle with titles.
But right here and now I have an online comic out which can be read for free. “Monster” deals with children growing up in a family with alcohol issues and how that can manifest itself as an actual monster.
Ruschelle: Thank you so much for chatting with me!
Michael: Likewise. That was some really interesting questions.
You can follow me on-line to keep up with this northern writer 🙂
Ruschelle: Yo Cousin, how ya doing? I’ve missed you at the family reunions. LOL– Okay, simmer down with the nepotism people. Steve and I just happen to share the same surname. He’s from the UK and Australia and I’m from the US. Although, it IS a damn cool surname.
Let’s discuss our in-common surname. Have you ever used the Dillon name as one of your characters in a story? If not, you should! So what kind of a personality would that character have to hold the high esteem of the Dillon moniker? Give us a little character development.
Steve: Lol, no I haven’t (cuz!), but the nearest I came was the character Joe Dolan (which is intentionally also similar to John Doe…) Joe is the ‘narrator’ of events as they unfold in Refuge, and I often used Joe to tie-in much of the shared-world plot elements that run throughout the 36 stories that make up The Refuge Collection. Many of these stories are my own, and Joe’s main storyline is told in The Empath’s Tale, parts 1-6. As suggested, Joe is an empath, and is forewarned when things in Refuge are about to go to Hell… In fact, the first line (paragraph, actually) in The Refuge Collection is “Joe Dolan woke with a headful of hornets.” These phantom hornets appear whenever there is trouble nearby and (initially at least) these inflict on Joe intense attacks of nausea and migraines. Joe doesn’t know where this ‘spidey-sense’ comes from and sees it as a curse rather than a gift. The next ‘gift’ he receives, arrives in the form of shadow-cats which appear to protect Joe from the beings known as Hellbreed and their human accomplices. So, in a way Joe represents my own struggle to process all the ‘bad stuff,’ we’re bombarded with daily – the information overload if you like. The overriding urge to write is represented by the hornets, and the desire to hide from life’s traumas are represented by the shadow cats, which appear in various Refuge stories.
Ruschelle: You are the editor of the five books from the Things in the Well (www.ThingsInTheWell.info) series. Fill us in on the background behind that series.
Steve: When I finished pulling both books in The Refuge Collection series for charity, I was exhausted. When I recovered from that, I returned to this hankering I’d had for several years to publish a few themed anthologies, so Between the Tracks – Tales from the Ghost Train was the first. I reached out to Clive Barker’s folks and Ramsey Campbell (who’d kindly included one of his classics in Refuge) and thankfully they climbed aboard the ghost train. In part thanks to The Horror Tree, the submissions callout (as you’d expect) was overwhelmingly successful (be careful what you wish for). At the end of a daunting submissions review process and editorial slog, I ended up with an anthology of amazing stories. After that, organizing the next 3-4 books in the series has been plain sailing, with a new anthology released every three months. Book 4 is due out in April, and book 5 in July. I’ve also in this timeframe published two flash-fiction magazines under the Things in the Well imprint, for Halloween last year I published Trickster’s Treats – Tales from the Pumpkin Patch, and for Christmas, I published Shades of Santa – Tales from the Bloody North Pole, both intended as annual publications.
Ruschelle: Which of the books was the most challenging to put together?
Steve: After The Refuge Collection, which was a mammoth collaborative undertaking, it was without a doubt the first Things in the Well anthology, Between the Tracks – Tales from the Ghost Train. Not only did I have to figure out the work-flow, the process, and the communications channels, it was very ambitious in its format – 23 stories: mostly new, with a few reprints from authors such as Christopher Golden, Ramsey Campbell and Clive Barker, plus some classic tales by M.R. James, Charles Dickens, as well as a mini comic-strip, an academic analysis of Barker’s Midnight Meat Train, and an annotated version of the same. The annotations took a long time, especially formatting…
Ruschelle: There are so many concepts you could have chosen. So how did you choose the theme of each book?
Steve: Personal preference 😊 Trains have always fascinated me and provide a deep wellspring of inspiration, as well as offering a variety of archetypes, which I aim to include in each anthology. The second anthology was Below the Stairs – Tales from the Cellar, which I don’t need to elaborate on (who isn’t scared of cellars!), followed by Behind the Mask – tales from the ID. Masks can be terrifying as well as lifesaving, etc. The next was Beneath the Waves – Tales from the Deep, which while containing a couple of Lovecraft stories (Dagon and The Temple) and others inspired by the Lovecraft mythos tales, also contain a large number of stories inspired by more traditional or lesser-known myths and legends, or which introduce completely new fictitious nightmares. The next in the series will be Beyond the Infinite – Tales from the Outer Reaches, a dark sci-fi, and I haven’t yet compiled the ToC for that one, but I can share with you I will include another Lovecraft story, The Colour out of Space. Smart people will realise each anthology has a positional or directional element in the title, and I still have one or two more which begins with Be… (Beside the Seaside – Tales from the Daytripper is not announced yet. Whoops, now it is!) And then I have in mind a number of others, if my energy levels and the support of my family holds out 😊
Ruschelle: Do you find it more challenging to be an editor or on the other side of the red pen, a writer?
Steve: It’s much harder than I thought when I began. In either role, there is always something new to learn, and I’ve had great support, especially in my writing. Overall, I’d say editing is harder because there are times when I just want to stop editing so I can write, or paint.
Ruschelle: After following you through the bushes (question: why do you hang out in the bushes so much?) and peeking at you through bathroom windows, I’ve heard that your foray into writing is relatively recent. What was it that finally gave you the push to put blood to paper?
Steve: Actually, and this is pure coincidence, you’ve almost given away the title of a forthcoming anthology which I aim to publish in 2019 called In the Bush – Tales from the Outback, which will be set in Australia and/or New Zealand, although I will open up submissions to any writer who feels qualified to contribute. So, although I’d been published in fanzines, etc. I started writing seriously in 2015, which I saw as a way I could contribute to the global refugee crisis, and it just snowballed, and together the great folks who supported me and contributed to The Refuge Collection made a huge impact in the lives of two refugee families. So, thank you all. I had been writing for years before Refuge, and have several failed novels somewhere, plus very intense and self-deprecating poetry (and artwork) in my teens. I wrote a poem about Tutankhamen when I was 11 or so, and that was read on air on a local radio station (the same one Ramsey Campbell had a weekly slot on!). Then as editor of Adventurer magazine in the mid-80s, I wrote an editorial and advertising copy, and I also contributed to RPG game scenarios, etc. But since writing Refuge and in more recent stories, my writing has finally become okay, I think.
Ruschelle: There are so many fantastical beasts and creatures out there in stories and movies. Is there one, in particular, you wish you had created?
Steve: Besides Clive Barker’s pinhead, you mean? 😊 The ones that really do it for me are the human monsters like Hyde, but I’m lucky in that I have another creative outlet – my art – and it’s there where my demons come to life more readily. Here’s one for you to enjoy and is actually a 3D model I created on the PC. He was used as the cover for ‘The Empath’s Tale – The Complete Story’ and is one of the Hellbreed I write about in Refuge: –
Ruschelle: Some people are fast writers (lucky bastards) and others are slow as the beginning of most 50’s B monster movies. All stories come together differently I know, but approximately, how long does it take you to write a story from conception to polished and submission ready?
Steve: I have no idea. Honestly. I do write quickly, but sometimes I’m writing several stories at once, and sometimes it’s just a snippet, an opener or something which I revisit several months (or years) later. Then I revisit each story so many times, painting and repainting it like painting a bridge. By the time one end is dry, you have to start painting again… Eventually, I think the story has enough ‘coverage’ or the deadline appears, and then I release it. In some case I’ve revised stories after they’ve been published, for example, The Fighter’s Tale, which I started writing in August 2015 I think. It was certainly one of the first I published as part of The Refuge Collection. This was revised recently and touched up again yesterday ready to publish in Beneath the Waves – Tales from the Deep. I’m writing two novellas/novels at the moment, which I started in 2017 and I don’t expect to complete either this year.
Ruschelle: You are a painter. Sweet. Other than fancy nudes with brushed pieces of phallic fruit and stinky cheese covering your subjects’ naughty-bits instead of fig leaves, what does your artist-mind paint?
Steve: Chiefly the naughty bits. 😊 Of course, we all know the naughty bits aren’t reproductive organs or orifices. They’re usually much more secretive than that. Well-hidden you might say, and usually only surface when people’s masks drop… I include dream sequences in my written and visual work, and these are often surreal, as I’ve been influenced greatly by the surrealists, the expressionists, the post-impressionists, as well as the usual gamut of dark fantasists like Goya, the Breughels, Bosch, and of course Clive Barker 😊
Ruschelle: Are your paintings anything like your writing? Do you paint anything horrific?
Of course not, they’re all light and bright 😊 I know this is primarily for writers, but do feel free to post this, one of my latest pieces called Edenocalypse – the pleasure, the promise, the pain! And/or post the Shades of Santa book cover below. TY.
Ruschelle: Have you painted any monsters…in the nude? If not, I want you to paint me one, artists’ choice. LOL
Steve: Yes. Lots, in both senses…I’ve attended many life drawing classes, as you’d expect, and have been a life model as well, which I think is important for any artist who wants to acquire an empathy and to bond with the model and their process. It can get very painful standing still for any length of time. You can also get quite stiff at times… One day I’d like to arrange a class where everyone sits and paints in the nude, but where the subject is clothed, or hold an exhibition where the viewers remove their clothes and walk through a glass circular tunnel while being carefully observed by an artist and their clothed model.
Ruschelle: Which brings you the most creative satisfaction, writing or painting?
Painting as an outlet I suppose, it can provide a quick fix, a catharsis. Writing is much slower even when I’m writing quickly and requires much greater effort. I generally see painting as more emotive, more visceral, and writing as a more cognitive process, although both carry emotional investment and thought. So, there is a huge overlap. For me, playing the saxophone ‘free-form’ is also therapeutic in a similar manner.
Ruschelle: Do you ever plan on combining the two? Penning a story and painting scenes here and there to follow it and enhance the experience?
Steve: Like Clive Barker’s Abarat? Wow, that’s a beast (albeit a fascinating and wonderful one) which appears to consume Clive’s life these days. I don’t think I could do that, but I have used several of my pieces as both interiors and cover art for eBooks, as well as printed books and magazines.
Ruschelle: You’ve said that real life is scarier than fiction. I tend to agree. Is there anything ripped from the headlines ala S.V.U from past or present that you might consider reworking into one of your books?
Steve: In one sense, it’s all ripped from life, isn’t it? The best example I can give is The Refuge Collection, which I was compelled to produce after watching the global refugee crisis on TV – the proceeds from this mammoth work by all forty+ writers and artists went to charity. Here’s a tiny extract if I may. It reads a bit like a dream sequence because Joe is experiencing a vision in the mode of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol: –
“What crime they must be guilty of if any? Perhaps their faces didn’t fit, or the colour of their skin, their clothes, what they carried, or some other trait that didn’t fit the mould. They walked the line of refugees for some time. Joe saw all manner of sickness, disease, hopelessness and above all, despair…
“The line stretched on.
“At one sentry hut, a soldier was verbally abusing a terrified young woman. She was shaking her head and sobbing. Finally, the guard snatched the baby from her arms and threw it to another of his kind. The second soldier caught the screaming baby and held it aloft triumphantly – a trophy. It was a sick, bizarre game of football and Joe feared the baby might be thrown again – or kicked – to yet another player.
“The woman stopped crying and began unbuttoning what remained of her tatty blouse. The soldier who’d taken the baby pushed her into the hut. The others dumped the baby on a rubbish heap piled up on the side of the road while they huddled around the sentry hut. Joe couldn’t unglue his gaze as the first soldier removed the gun from his shoulder and began to unbuckle his belt.
“Joe squeezed his eyes together and bit his lower lip, throwing his head to the heavens. The baby was crying. Tears escaped from Joe’s closed eyelids.”
Ruschelle: That is a disturbing image. Well done! So, do you have a project that is just… elusive? A project you want to work on or but for some reason or another you just haven’t or can’t or won’t?
Steve: Yes. I want to publish a book of unfinished tales, both my own and others. I have the cover art and promo material ready, I just don’t have enough time to manage the process. Want to help, cousin?
Ruschelle: You are an aromatherapy masseur. Cool. I didn’t realize scents needed to be kneaded and felt up! I’m learning new things every day. I feel this might be an interesting bit to MASSAGE into a story and maybe even an erotic horror story. What if scents need a ‘full release” massage? Humm… You have 100 words to pen a smack of drabble. GO! I won’t even time you.
Steve: You researched well, young Jedi 😊 Aromatherapy is proven to work in various ways, physiologically, emotionally and physically. It can even work viscerally (Rosemary can aid concentration, while Rose can aid relaxation.) I incorporated aromatherapy into The Empath’s Tales, and Joe’s wife is an aromatherapy masseuse. In the first story (page seven), Joe showers with sensual oils, leading to his self-gratification: –
“The dream’s meaning drained as quickly as the water from the shower…
“He reached up and his fingers found the last of the body-wash Elspet had made up especially for him. She’d blended a few drops of an invigorating eucalyptus with a salving lavender, the universal cure-all among aromatherapists. To this, she’d added a touch of jasmine for its uplifting effect. It reminded Joe of his wife’s perfume, pulling him back in time to when they’d first met…”
Ruschelle: I think I now need some alone time…Writers are always morphing and evolving. So, looking back, is there any story or book you’ve written that you wish you would have written differently or you could change somehow? Or are you of the mindset that once it’s written that’s the way it should be, and one should move along?
Steve: In the digital age, stories can evolve too, and one of my favourite stories was The Neverending Story by Michael Ende. I frequently revisit stories I’ve already written, in some cases published. This is primarily to improve them, such as The Shiraz Train, which was published in Refuge and again as a revised version in Between the Tracks. Likewise, The Fighter’s Tail was repurposed and revised for Beneath the Waves. There comes a point, though where the law of diminishing returns kicks in, and it’s generally best to move on, otherwise rather than improving the story you’re merely changing it… which can also be fruitful in some cases.
Ruschelle: Which one of your stories do you feel would make a great horror film?
Steve: Although most of my stories are introspective, internalized dialogue inspired by the protagonists’ responses to the world, I’ve been told by some of my editors my writing can reach cinematic moments at time, and I think the one I’m working on now – The Beard – is writing itself in that way. I’m referencing many movies in the story, and I’m currently inspired by John Wyndham’s The Day of The Triffids, which I hope shows…
Ruschelle: Could you give us a sliver of what you’re working on right now? What do your newfound fans have to look forward to?
Steve: Two novels. Or novellas. I’m not sure because they both started as short stories. And a third, a thriller that I’ve had to put on hold. Here’s a snippet (this is the current opening) from The Beard:
“Although he’d worried about it for years, retirement held no fear for Ray Standish, former Sherriff of the Blissland and District Police Department. On the contrary, it gave him peace and solace, knowing every day spent pruning the fragrant geraniums he’d grown from tiny pot-plants, or tying the woody aromatic jasmine plants to the archway which led from one section of the enclosed garden to the next, was another day spent safely hidden away from the horrors that had chased him from his birth-town of Blissland. Horrors that had sent him running, screaming for his mother, and gasping – naked – from the place he’d called his home for thirty-three years.”
Thank you, Ruschelle, for some great questions. I’ll leave you with a jump ahead by a couple of chapters where you’ll be introduced to another protagonist, Denzell Darwin…
“But the man didn’t assault Darwin, he merely wept as he stammered and moaned, dribbling into his beard.
“He’s just desperate, Darwin told himself. But his racing pulse and his churning gut told him something else. Proximity to the creature urged a response in his bowels, arousing in Darwin some primal fear.
“The man tried to speak once more, but when his mouth opened it oozed a thick, dark liquid.
“It was blood.
“Blood – Urgh.”
Ruschelle: And thank YOU, Steve, for your fantastic answers. See you at the family reunion. I hear this year it’s in Silent Hill. Triangle Head is bringing the potato salad. Sweeeeet.
You can follow Steve and his work via the below links: