Ruschelle: We’re glad to have you here at the Horror Tree. Make yourself comfortable. Have a freshly baked scone. I baked them with love-and a little bone and sinew. It makes for a fluffier scone and gets rid of those pesky neighbors.
Lydia: I am a huge fan of bone and sinew, so I am sure this goes better with coffee than neighbours ever could. Thank you!
Ruschelle: When did you first realize you were a dark and scary gal rather than one of the bright and shiny variety?
Lydia: Maybe when I was three and realized not many other kids liked spending time tending cemeteries, pressing flowers, and investigating roadkill. Other people had far more children’s books than we did too, having grown up with more Edgar Allan Poe and Washington Irving lining the shelves than Berenstain Bears.
Ruschelle: You host a creepy podcast called Dead Air where you discuss horror films. Tell us a little about the method to your madness. How do you choose the movies when there are so many fantastic beasts to pick apart?
Lydia: It is deceptively easy when my co-host, Wes ‘Dead Air’ Knipe is a deep mine of the darkest horror lore, and not a production meeting goes by without us adding a few more gems to our list of to-watch titles. We try to pick things we love, that the other hasn’t seen, and sometimes try to unearth a theme while we go. Some are surprised that our show is unscripted, but we do just banter naturally.
Ruschelle: List your top 5 films all horror buffs should watch and kindly explain why.
Lydia: It is a terrible task to attempt to choose horror films or books for another. I’ll list some for the sake of curiosity, while knowing full well there is a different kind of fan out there for every colour of the horror rainbow. Halloween and Halloween II sit together as one that I feel really sum up the genre in a lot of ways with excellent writing and filmmaking. Pieces will appease the fan of old grainy slashers, and Terrifier will bring that to the 21st century. Hell House occupies a space for me as a film and book that equally terrorized my teenage mind and hold a lot of gothic charm under it’s cursed roof. Hellraiser has to be in there since it has been such a delightful vision for me, for so many others, and continues to be.
Ruschelle: As a Horror Writer Association member, you have been knighted (just roll with me here) with the awe-inspiring responsibility of updating their ‘new releases’ website! Is this just one of the many benefits of being a HWA member?
Lydia: As with any good writers association, group or affiliation, it can be pretty much what you want it to be! As a casual meeting place, a formal representative, a networking hub, the HWA does excel and continues to expand and experiment with ways to serve authors. From my point of view, as cliche as it sounds, you get out of it what you put in to it. I was a member for a couple years before volunteering to keep the new releases updated, and I have loved it every month for something like four years now!
Ruschelle: You are a short stories girl and novelist. Most writers aspire to be novelists, unlike myself who is a champion of the short and sweet. Okay, I honestly don’t have the attention span for a novel—or much of anything—
…eggs, milk, squeaky toy for pups, new recreational axe with self cleaning blade…
OOPS, sorry! Grocery list. See what I mean about attention span?
What do you find is the most difficult while crafting a novel compared to shorter works?
Lydia: Keeping motivated. There is something magical about having an idea, grinding out a draft, polishing a draft, then having a brain-child of a short story ready for the world in as little as a day or month. The long haul that is a novel can deflate me. If I could approach my novels with as much energy as I do short stories, there would be more than one published by now.
Ruschelle: Speaking of novels, your offering, Nightface is a fantastic vampire tale. Which vampires and their mythos did you find your inspiration?
Lydia: There is a little of every vampire I’ve ever met in Gunnar and Solomon, who feature in Nightface. There are also non-vampire inspirations like the most visceral fight scenes in film, occultists of centuries passed, and medical experimentation. The quieter vampires of Anne Rice made a big impact, and even more so did the worldbuilding of Vampire: The Masquerade in the mid-90s when White Wolf had such wonderful guides for live-action role-playing, specifically the Brujah clan.
Ruschelle: You have a sequel to Nightface being birthed. Will you give us a little nibble of where the story begins…or will you have to kill us if you give us the skinny?
Lydia: If only video existed of the night I read the first chapter at the ChiSeries night in Ottawa! There were about ninety very intrigued and slightly disturbed friends and fans there to hear it. The book begins at the end of Black River Road in the field surrounding an abandoned estate featured in Nightface. The working title has changed a few times, but the final title is now Nightface: Elders. Some people have asked if certain characters come back, and I’d have to say everyone comes back… in one way or another.
Ruschelle: If you could be turned into any blood-thirsty or modernly vegan creature, what would it be and why?
Lydia: It may be out of the horror universe proper, but once of the Radley family from Matt Haig’s book would be an interesting life that can pass for human. Truly, I’m already not far off the Jarmusch vampires, with the obvious exception of committing murder. There is something to be said for a perfect and near-rare cut of meat so I’d not compromise there, given the choice.
Ruschelle: You have been featured in quite a few anthologies. Do you find you enjoy the challenge of writing for a specific submission or do you dig through the bones of your un-homed ‘children’ and see if one might fit into a certain theme? Hey, we all want our children to fit in.
Lydia: Being that kid that never fit in, I think I have my own elegant solution to that – even if it ends up being a little backward. I’ve written for submission calls and really enjoy the ‘writing prompt’ that serves. As anyone, I either don’t make the cut or don’t make the deadline in many cases. Instead of trying to home the story elsewhere, I’ll keep it for use in Pray Lied Eve. That is, unless a really suitable home can be found. Sometimes I am just moved to write a piece. In that case I’ll submit to a few editors I love to work with already or to a few I aspire to be published by. Some of those end up on the cutting room floor too, but I do have fairly good success finding homes for my work so far.
Ruschelle: Pray Lied Eve both 1 and 2 are collections of stories that you have meticulously sewn together, enchanted and made dance for our entertainment. What piece of you went into each offering?
Lydia: To avoid a long answer detailing each entry, I’d have to say almost all of them are based on a place that exists, a person who did exist, or a thing that happened. In Shrinking Dwell, from Pray Lied Eve a man encounters large ice balls falling from the sky with no explanation. In about 2010 a friend of mine experienced just that, and I was there to see one fall. It was fascinating! More recently, in Pray Lied Eve 2, I wrote about my ancestors belongings in As Is, Where Is. So, there are many pieces of me in each one – more than in my novels for certain. Fitting, as the title of the collection is an anagram of my name.
Ruschelle: Do you have Pray Lied Eve 3 somewhere tied up in your dark, cozy basement waiting to be unleashed to scare the masses? Please say, yes!
Lydia: Prayers answered, yes, there is a Pray Lied Eve 3 around the corner. A faraway corner, and perhaps around another yet; the cover art has been planned at the very least.
Ruschelle: As I was stalking you for the interview (and because a girl needs a hobby. How else does an antisocial beyotch get to know people?) I came across some exquisite wedding photos slathered in gothic charm. Some little girls dream of Cinderella weddings but we horror-lovers want for more of the Maleficent-esque wedding. So, give us the your awesomely dark wedding deets!
Lydia: Not much to relay, as it was a very quiet and private wedding as we would prefer. The most interesting part for fans of the macabre would be that yes, we were married in a haunted jail. Yes, we tied the knot at the gallows. Certainly, we relayed our vows on death row. It was a wonderful day all around! The photographer, John Wenzel, had never shot a wedding before and never wanted to but had indeed shot some of the most striking goth, cyberbunk, and zombie-walk images in town so we were very pleased he said yes!
Ruschelle: Writing can sometimes be…uncomfortable. Do you find there are themes or particular scenes that are tougher to write than others? Personally, I can murder a person a thousand different ways and giggle as I do it, but pen a sex scene—UGH! Erectile dysfunction of the brain!
Lydia: That is an affliction I gladly suffer from as well. I can’t see me writing a sex scene ever, and I had a tough time writing a romance story for an invite anthology, Allucinor: The Element of Romance where genre authors were asked to write something outside of their wheelhouse. Fight scenes give me trouble but only because I strive for believable action. This probably comes from my creative jealousy after seeing films like The Raid: Redemption and other brilliant fight films. Always feel like I’ve bit off more than I can chew writing fight scenes.
Ruschelle: As a writer, do you find yourself reading other authors critically? Do you pick apart a scene or edit sentence structure? Or are you able to just enjoy the journey?
Lydia: Usually I can read recreationally just fine, but the red-pen part of my brain clicks on from time to time unbidden. Oddly, while reading very tightly written and edited work. The last time I found myself picking apart a work was reading something by Joe Hill. The best cure for that I’ve found is to close the book and go write or edit something of my own or do a review.
Ruschelle: What is your favorite vampire ‘type’: the ugly Nosferatu, the charming Count Dracula or the Mariah Cary of blood-suckers, Edward Cullin? Glitter, get it? I’ll shut up now.
Lydia: I’d have to say The Lost Boys hold a lot of charm for me, but in a more feral, less 80s fashion. There is something about the fringes of society that is already scary to a lot of people, so take those leather jackets and motorcycles and add fangs to get a great start for a vampire. I haven’t read any of the Twilight novels but being aware of them by osmosis, I’ll take a Count Orlok any day!
Ruschelle: You’re an avid photographer as well. What are some of your favorite subjects to shoot? Please share a few pix as well, we’d love to see your work.
Lydia: I’ve shot portraits and bands, flowers and foods but my all time favourite thing was the Zombie Walk. It was an event that became too large and too commercial as years went by, but when I was writing for the fantastic Ottawa Horror, I made a point of posting photos every year. The most fun year was 2014, but likely because it was warmer than most and there was no snow. So that is really the best eye-candy for horror fans. Some select photos are on my portfolio too!
Ruschelle: Thank you so much for chatting with us here at the Horror Tree. It was a pleasure stalking you. So…what’s bubbling in that beautiful cauldron of yours? What can your new-found fan look forward to from you? And how are they able to stalk you?
Lydia: The best spot is likely lydiapeever.ca – if I post a youtube video, an instagram photo, have a new podcast up or new writing, it all ends up there guaranteed. There is a newsletter sign up as well, if one only wants to see writing related happenings. But really, it is all kind of horror related! The biggest writing projects right now are a short story for an invite anthology I can’t name at the moment, and of course Nightface: Elders. There is one more that is not writing as much as working with a very accomplished and hero of a writer as script editor. the Internet Movie Database has an entry on that for those that want to sleuth it out. I honestly can’t say whether the novel or Pray Lied Eve 3 will be out next, so it will be a surprise for all of us to see which wins! Thank you so much for the chat today!
Ruschelle: Nice to have you in the hottest of the hot seats here at The Horror Tree. Okay, it’s just a little warm. And that’s only because I’ve been sitting in it…I may or may not have created an organic geothermal reaction on your seat. Damn tacos…
Speaking of tacos, which are awesome and meaty, tell us a little about yourself that no one but your therapist or parole officer knows.
Doug: Happy to be here. I think. You sure do cut to the chase! Let’s see…if I had a parole officer, it would probably be for road rage, which I try to manage with Buddhist mind training exercises. And I think therapists are great, but the only time I’ve been to see one was to get a prescription for public speaking anxiety when my first book was coming out and I was scheduled to do appearances at bookstores. It’s weird because I used to play in a rock band and never had stage fright about talking to crowds or singing, but reading to people was hardwired to the terror I experienced as a shy kid forced to read aloud in class. So that was a real obstacle when I finally got serious about fiction writing and promoting my books. Now, four books later, I love doing events.
Ruschelle: You shared your expertise at the Bigfoot Institute in February. Awesome! School us here at The Horror Tree about the creature.
Doug: Yeah, that was weird. My friend Tom Deady and I gave a writing workshop to students at the 826 Boston writing program in Roxbury. I almost couldn’t find the building, because the graphics on the glass door list it as the Bigfoot Research Institute. There’s even a giant stuffed yeti in the lobby next to a corkboard of Bigfoot tabloid stories, but the writing program seems to be the only thing going on there. So I still have no idea what that was about. But Tom and I realized afterward that if we really wanted to prepare these kids to earn an income as fiction writers, we should have advised them to write Bigfoot porn! And it was right under our noses the whole time.
Ruschelle: What can you tell us about ‘Bigfoot porn?’ And don’t leave out any juicy details?
Doug: all I know is I’ve heard it’s very lucrative. And I wear a size 13, so maybe I should give it a shot.
Ruschelle: Your books, from the Spectra Files Trilogy, are wrapped in the ancient tentacles of the Old Ones. Tell us about your ‘love’ of Lovecraft and how it influenced Red Equinox, Black January and Cthulhu Blues.
Doug: Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos has become a sub genre unto itself, and it can be a lot of fun writing things that connect to that shared world. I think it’s one of the first shared worlds in fiction, which Lovecraft encouraged back when his friends started riffing on his material in the 1930s. In recent years, it has kind of exploded. I grew up reading Lovecraft along with the other horror icons, and I’ve always known that cosmic horror was something I wanted to do, something that resonates with me more than, say, zombies or vampires. I love mythology, and I love the philosophical aspect of occult horror. And even though it can be excessive in Lovecraft’s own work, I also like horror stories that have a lyrical voice, like you find in Clive Barker’s work—another huge influence for me. The SPECTRA files trilogy gave me a chance to explore that stuff in a modern setting with a more contemporary voice and cast of characters. Lovecraft is problematic when it comes to the racism and gynophobia that underpins the cosmic dread. So I deliberately set out to play against that and to write a story that would also explore how those fears of the other are still with us in the age of ubiquitous surveillance and high-tech terrorism. Even the fact that the books are fast-paced thrillers goes against the grain of Lovecraftian fiction, which often works best as atmospheric short stories. I knew it would either be a total mess or a thrill for fans of the genre.
Ruschelle: How long did it take to write your trilogy?
Doug: I started Red Equinox in 2013 and Cthulhu Blues was published in 2017, so about four years.
Ruschelle: Did you have the whole series plotted out from beginning to end or did you just have a rough outline of each book and let inspiration complete the rest?
Doug: I don’t outline much. I make a lot of notes about the characters and the premise until I feel like I know enough to dive in and start discovering the story by writing it. I always say that inspiration comes from writing, not the other way around. But I will make forecast notes every 30,000 words or so—just brainstorming where I see things headed based on the conflicting motivations of the characters. That leaves room for a good amount of improvisation and surprise for me as a writer. I think a storyteller’s subconscious mind can be very nimble at making connections under pressure, and those are often better than a premeditated plot. It can be stressful, but I like to provoke that in myself by making it a necessity for hitting my daily word count and moving the story forward.
Ruschelle: Of all the Lovecraft Gods, which one do you resonate with the most? Ya know, the one you’d enjoy chugging a craft beer with at the Miskatonic bar?
Doug: Nyarlathotep without a doubt. Tall, dark, and mysterious.
Ruschelle: You’re a Black Belt! Has that skill made its way into any of your stories such as The Secret Guide to Fighting Elder Gods?
Doug: I’ve been doing various martial arts for about a dozen years now. I was not a very athletic kid—always had my head in a book or my hands on a guitar—so the training has definitely enhanced my awareness of the physical side of life. I’m sure my Tae Kwon Do and karate have informed every fight scene I’ve ever written, whether or not the characters have any training or skill. I also wrote a whole novel influenced by Iaido, the samurai sword art. That’s Steel Breeze, a crime thriller about a modern samurai serial killer.
As for my story in The Secret Guide to Fighting Elder Gods, it features a character with no self-defense skills, and I doubt he would fare much better if he had them. But he is a lifeguard—a job I had as a teen. You’ll have to pick up the book to see if that helps. It was a fun story to write because it takes place on Plum Island in Newburyport, near where I live. I feel lucky to be sharing the table of contents with Seanan McGuire, Jonathan Maberry, and a bunch of other terrific writers I admire. I’m told the book will be out in April.
Ruschelle: If you could be any character from any of your books and stories, who would you choose to be?
Doug: The cool thing about writing is that I kinda get to be all of them, right? But that’s probably a copout. When I was a kid, I wanted to be Batman first, then Dracula, then an astronaut, then a rock star. So I guess I’d like to be Billy Moon from The Devil of Echo Lake because he got to be the rock star I never was. But only for like a day. Billy’s kinda fucked up.
Ruschelle: A few years back, you were on a panel of writers at The Merrimack Valley Halloween Book Festival. You were hob knobbing with the spawn of the modern master of horror, Joe Hill! Tell us about the Cons you’ve been on and becoming best friends with Joe. I hear you guys fight monsters with pointy sticks in blanket forts in your jammies while snacking on goblin spleen… and popcorn!
Doug: That sounds awesome! Totally not true, but awesome. I met Joe when I interviewed him for Dark Discoveries magazine right before The Fireman came out. Great guy. Very funny. I can’t say we’re besties, but we did spend a day playing with an antique fire truck in a cemetery for a photo shoot my wife Jen did. So that was almost as cool as what you described. I’m a big fan of Joe’s books. And with the fire truck, I think we both felt like we were ten again.
Pretty sure the panel we did that you’re thinking of was the apocalyptic fiction one I moderated at Necon, but the Merrimack Valley Halloween Book Festival is also an amazing mini-con. That’s where I got to share a signing table with Joe’s brother Owen this past year. Another great guy. I get the impression that the King family is made up of smart, kind people all around. Horror writers in general are some of the nicest people you could hope to meet. I feel very lucky to have struck up little friendships with so many of the monstrously talented people I admire. When I started publishing six years ago, I didn’t know anyone, and that’s been one of the great joys of this crazy and often solitary occupation.
Ruschelle: You wrote a story specifically for the anthology, I Am The Abyss. The theme of the tome centers on the afterlife as characters are “trapped in self-created worlds.” Could you give us a little insight on your character and the inspiration behind such a cerebral tale?
Doug: When Dark Regions Press announced that they were doing an anthology of novelettes focused on the after-death realms experienced by characters based on their subconscious projections, I was immediately attracted to it. I’ve been interested in Tibetan Buddhism for decades (Jen and I even got married in a Tibetan refugee village in India, organized by a monk friend of ours). Anyway, if you’ve ever checked out the Tibetan Book of the Dead, you know that that’s the basic idea behind what they call the bardo states, or ‘in between’ realms. I did some historical research for the story and created a character who used to be a monk but relinquished his robes when the CIA offered to train him as a resistance fighter and air drop him back into Chinese occupied Tibet in 1961. That was an actual covert operation called ST Circus, which to this day not many people know about. So it was the perfect project for me to explore some themes close to my heart. I’ve also written a longer novella that’s a sequel to my Abyss story. It takes place in New York City’s Chinatown in the 1990s, and I’m shopping it around right now. That one’s called, The Wind in My Heart.
Ruschelle: The sneak peek of I Am The Abyss from publisher, Dark Regions Press looks awesome. With its unique 8×8 trim size and gorgeous full-color paintings, this book will be a prize to anyone’s collection. What else makes this anthology special for both writers and readers?
Doug: The book has been a long time in the making, in part because of how ambitious the production is, but I hear the paperbacks are starting to ship to kickstarter backers now with the standard orders and limited hardcovers to follow in the next few months. There’s a version signed by all of the authors and artists, and the artwork is just stunning. Conceptually, I can’t think of anything else quite like it. It’s a wonderfully unique but thematically unified blend of dark fantasy and horror.
Ruschelle: Is there a piece of writing advice that you find has become your mantra?
Doug: The longer I do this, the more I realize that every writer is different and every project is different and the only solid advice is: Do whatever works for you. Whatever it takes to get words on the page. For me, personally, the best mantra has been the one Stephen King popularized: The book is the boss. Every story has its own needs and even its own voice and it’s the writer’s job to fulfill that potential without forcing it to be something else. It’s a bit like parenting in that regard.
Ruschelle: Back to the Elder Gods, is there a team up you’d love to see happen with one of our Modern Gods? Like, maybe Bastet, Vishnu… or Marvel’s Thor?
Doug: Horus and Ganesha in a buddy cop movie.
Ruschelle: I was checking you out on Twitter (I always stalk my prey….I mean authors) and noticed a post on the internet hysteria which is Momo. What are your thoughts on Momo as a parent and as a writer?
Doug: Yeah, so what I was saying on social media is that, for better or worse, devices are embedded in our kids’ lives now, and parents—even those who are pretty tech savvy—are terrified that they don’t understand all of the dangers that this connectivity and digital saturation presents to kids. The New York Times today published an article with the header, “The real ‘Momo Challenge’ is the terror of parenting in the age of YouTube. That’s a growing area of fear and anxiety, and I expect that YouTube and shared world games like Minecraft are about to become the breeding ground for a hysteria to rival the Satanic panic of the 80s. Hoaxes and rumors will thrive. But the scariest part is that some of the fear will be justified.
Ruschelle: Where do you look for inspiration when your muse decides she needs a vacation to go visit her mother?
Doug: Anywhere. Everywhere. Songs, books, the news. Mythology, psychology, family life. Whatever the cat dragged in. Any one idea by itself probably won’t provide the spark, but the friction between two unrelated ideas colliding is where the magic happens.
Ruschelle: What are you cooking inside your head’s Eazy-Bake Oven? Could you give us a little taste?
Doug: Your question about the Momo meme ties into that. I’m currently pitching a novel called His Own Devices. It’s a domestic cyber thriller with a supernatural twist. Here’s the hook: When Jessica discovers that her young son’s digital addictions have lured him into a dark relationship with a psychotic YouTube celebrity, it may be too late to stop a deadly game.
Thank you so much for sitting down with me and your newfound fans here at the Horror Tree. Where can your stalkers find you on the www?
Ruschelle: Thank you for joining us here at The Horror Tree, Josh. I hope you enjoy answering questions about your life…and death. Bwahahahaha!
Just kidding. Let’s get carve some meat off the bone; you’re an award-winning investigative journalist. What is it that pushes you to search for the truth? Were you inspired by Fox Mulder? Is the truth really out there?
Josh: The voices in my head won’t let me rest. I’ve yet to figure out whether they’re angels, demons, or as Mr. Mulder would insist, aliens.
Years ago when I was an activist and organizer, I could only see the world through one lens, and therefore anyone else looking through another was obviously wrong. However, as I transitioned over to journalist—where I genuinely try to represent a spectrum of viewpoints as accurately as I can—I began to find a kernel of truth in almost every perspective…along with a big fat load of b.s.
Ruschelle: Since you ARE an award-winning journalist, which story or stories have garnered you an award(s)?
Josh: Sorry, after bribing the awards committee I was forced to sign a non-disclosure agreement, so I’m not at liberty to discuss.
Ruschelle: You are the Editor-n-Chief as well as a journalist for The Biomass Monitor; “The Nations leading publication investigating the whole story on bioenergy, biomass, and biofuels.” Absolute serious stuff! How did you become engrossed in bioenergy and how does it affect the telling of your non-fiction tales?
Josh: Mostly because I believe in Ents. My love for forests got me deep into ecology and biology which I incorporate into much of my horror fiction.
Ruschelle: Nice to meet you Noel and welcome to the Horror Tree. I put on a pot of tea so pull up a floofy chair, grab your favorite Muse- preferably the one less likely to draw blood (the last muse that sat in with me in a Horror Tree interview was a biter) and let’s chat.
Noel: Nice to meet you, too, Ruschelle, and especially to be invited to an interview for HorrorTree. I’d prefer coffee, by the way, and I drink it like a chain smoker takes his cigarettes, so just keep it coming as I drain each cup. I’ll try to keep my monsters—and my Muses—in check, but I can’t guarantee anything.
Speaking of Muses, tell us a little about yours. Is she our ever present? Does she speak to you only when it’s dark and the world around you is quiet? And most importantly…is she hot?
Noel: After Halloween we had so many mannequins and skeletons and animated monsters that I dragged them all into the garage afterwards, and they’re all still crowded around the door of my office. Every so often the wind or a cat or a passing spirit will trigger one, and the cackle of a witch or the groan of a zombie will freak me out while I’m alone writing in the middle of the night. While that’s quite inspirational—and rather chilling—I don’t know that I have a particular Muse. I do have a partner, Joanne (yep, she’s hot), and a big family who I love. One of my workshop buddies, EJ McLaughlin, once commented that I write families very well, “probably because you’re a family man and your stories show how much you love your family”. So I guess that’s the closest I come to having a Muse.
Ruschelle: If you had to make an educated guess, or maybe you know the exact number- how many short stories have you written?
Noel: I couldn’t be sure. I started writing as a boy, though I didn’t finish a lot of what I started; education, life on my parents’ farm, and later “real” work at a TV station and in various offices, got in the way for a long time. Also, I used what spare time I could find to read. I wrote a lot of non-fiction for staff magazines, newsletters and brochures while I worked in the public service, as well as a number of unpublished stories and two failed novels. In the last five or six years, though, I have probably written dozens of stories. Some were real stinkers, but a fair degree of the good stuff is in Train Wreck and Other Stories, and a few of my tales are still waiting to find a home.
Ruschelle: You have a slew of short stories in various anthologies. Do you write to the theme of the anthology submission call or do you write and scour though your precious bits for the perfect story you’ve penned to meet the theme?
Noel: I’ve done both, though often I find myself looking through submission calls for inspiration. Sometimes I’ve just been lucky: I wrote Night Escape, for example, in an afternoon in 2013, and it received an honorable mention in the annual flash fiction competition run by the Australian Horror Writers’ Association; but I had no idea what to do with a story of 995 words until I discovered HorrorTree and found the submission call for 100 Doors to Madness. Similarly, my story Writer’s Retreat, which was accepted by non-theme anthology Fear’s Accomplice and later was a perfect fit for The Twilight Madhouse. The problem with writing without a guiding submission call is that what you’ve written (like my as-yet unpublished Something Went Bump in the Night) might never find a suitable home.
Writing to a theme is easier, and I’ve had more success when I’ve targeted proposed anthologies on, say, mutants (for example, Outback Attack, which has one of the strongest openings and perhaps the silliest ending I’ve ever done) or deep-sea horror (as in my story for the unpronounceable Anenome Enemy). The problem with writing specifically for a particular anthology is that if your story isn’t accepted, you might find yourself stuck with something that never sees the light of publication because there happen to be fifty other writers of rejected stories about hybrid dog monsters trying to get published.
Ruschelle: Of all the stories crawling through each dark and creepy anthology, which one scares you the most?
Noel: I think perhaps The Ghost in the Water, the first story I wrote for the shared universe anthology The Refuge Collection. It may sound clichéd, but I think the combination of a young woman in a strange town, creepy characters from other stories in the collection, and something evil lurking in the background, make for a terrifying story. I became so attached to the main character, Shauna, that I continued her story in volume two of the collection with The Undertaker’s Tale, and then wrote a third story without any hope of publication (although it’s included in Train Wreck and Other Stories).
Ruschelle: Your story, Call Center, in your debut collection, Train Wreck and Other Stories, is about a hellish job at…well…a call center. That’s scary in itself! How much of the “conflicts” and dialogue snippets did you pull from real life? I’ve worked at a call center. I’ve experienced the sharp tongue and dull wit from the raised voices on the other end of the line?
Noel: To the uninitiated, sitting at a desk and taking customer calls all day must sound like a very easy way of making a living. The truth is that a constant barrage of complaints, demands and abuse from customers, as well as management insistence that call times be kept to a minimum, can grind you down, and customer service staff often burn out and leave within months. Although there are a couple of things in this story that didn’t happen to me personally, I drew most of it from my own experience working in the call center of a very big power company.
Margaret, the team leader who tells David Perry off for a long call, is based on two particular people I knew. I really did get a complaint call from an actor who, oddly, also turned up at the garage where I currently work to complain about something else. I really did speak to a Henry Lawson, and to a man called James Joyce (one of the real-life Margarets didn’t know who James Joyce was, or why I was so impressed; incidentally, although not in this story, I also spoke to a Ronald McDonald and a Bill Gates, both on the same day, during a phone campaign at a previous job). The misspelling of the abbreviation for CUSTOMER in a computerised note was from another company, and the customer service rep who’d made the mistake unfortunately found he could neither correct nor delete it. The personal threat to Stan Wood actually was made by somebody from interstate who ended the call with “I know where you work”, and the story of the man whose car was blown up by an angry customer came from a friend who’d been working in social security at the time.
Terry Russell, the villain of the story, was based on a customer who rang me on numerous occasions to complain that his bill was incorrect; each time I made an appointment for a technician to reread his meter, though, his gate would be locked and I’d get another call. Eventually I suspected he was trying to drive me to insanity, and, like David Perry, I refused to speak to him. I didn’t take the solution that David eventually takes—the building I’d worked in had an outside break area that would have been perfect for a jump—but I did almost ditch the whole story when I learned that an operator at another company committed suicide when management casually raised sales targets to a virtually impossible, but “achievable”, level.
Ruschelle: How did you decide on the number of stories that would ultimately grace your collection?
Noel: Originally, I thought we’d just dump all of my stories into the book in order of publication, starting with a 55-word piece I’d written for a readers’ column in a Melbourne newspaper, The Herald Sun (I was so stressed from call center work at the time that I misjudged my speed on a wet road and crashed my car on the way to post it). I really like the discipline of writing very short stories to an exact word count, but Steve Dillon, the editor, suggested we take out several smaller pieces. He also suggested removing a zombie tale he didn’t think was good enough, and that we rearrange the stories. He rang me one day to say that he’d enjoyed Call Center so much that he thought it should be the first story in the collection.
Ruschelle: I agree with Steve. The Call Center story was awesome. Call center are a little piece of true Hell. Soooo… what is it about the art of the short story that keeps you writing them?
Noel: A short story is like an intense rush of experience, and some of my favourite writers—Charles Bukowski, Ray Bradbury, and Steven King, for example—have worked in the short form. Sometimes, as with Night Escape, a draft can be written in a furious hour or two. I wrote The Undertaker’s Tale at breakneck speed in just two days, and it was accepted for publication with only a couple of minor changes the day after I started writing; the sense of achievement was incredible. I’ve written longer pieces—I have a novella, for example, that I’ve been working on for some years—but shift work, family, and so many other distractions have kept me from concentrating on a single, long story.
Ruschelle: The stories that appear in your collection run that gamut, cannibals, a vengeful spirit and worse….a cheating husband. How did you choose each story in your collection…or did they choose you?
Noel: Sometimes it seems the story chooses the writer, like Harry Potter’s wand. Cannibals, ghosts and monsters are the stuff of nightmares, and nightmares are the stuff of horror stories. The cheating husband certainly gets what’s coming to him, and more—as a counterbalance, the main character in one of my unpublished stories (not included in this book) is a loyal and loving husband who is very concerned when he wakes in the middle of the night to find his wife missing.
I was thinking about it one day and realized how many times ghosts appear in my stories. Perhaps that’s partly the influence of my mother, who told me about some personal experiences. Partly it’s also due to the influence of one of my great grandmothers, who allegedly had been involved with a spiritualist church and owned a ouija board; she passed away when I was 15 and I’ve only seen her since in a single dream where she came to ferry me to the afterworld; of course, in real life sweet little old ladies like my nanna are always just sweet little old ladies, like the women in No More Fly Eyes or A House Returned.
Ruschelle: Many of us writers have a story on our laptop that just refuses to grow up and become a ‘real boy.’ Do you have a story that you really want to finish but it just vexes you?
Noel: Several. There’s the story of a would-be art historian working as a teacher; I started writing the story years ago—and restarted, and started again—and my frustration at never being able to find enough time for it was one of the several reasons I left my job at the call center. Eventually it grew from a simple short story of 6,000 words to a novella of 25,000 words, and I’m still not happy with it. It could even have the makings of a novel, but I suspect it might be one of those stories that just hangs around, never to be completely finished.
Ruschelle: You are lucky to belong to a group of writers who get together and do…..writing stuff. I’m envious! Okay, tell us all a little of what your awesome group of authors do at these super clandestine , super secret meetings?
Noel: I just can’t talk too highly of writers’ workshops. It’s one thing to have friends and relatives read your work, but I’d encourage anyone who’s serious about being a writer to find a like-minded group of creative people to bounce ideas off. I was lucky enough to be invited to join the Dark Fiction Writers’ Circle by its founder, a brilliant man called Davidh Digman, who I knew from my days as a consultant layout operator at a college newspaper. I was hooked from the first meeting. Generally, we read and critique each other’s writing, suggest changes, discuss books and ideas, and occasionally someone will come up with a writing exercise to challenge everyone’s creativity. My flash fiction piece A Taste for Salt, which will appear on Antipodean SF’s website in March 2019, originated with such a challenge (write about an issue, expressing a “love it” or “hate it” attitude—in my case, anchovies on pizza, love it, led me to write a short dystopian piece about salt being in short supply and affordable only by the rich).
That said, you need to be careful, too. I was lucky enough to get involved with a positive, creative group, and occasionally I wonder whether I would ever have been published at all without their support, their suggestions, and their criticism. Yet, we had to oust people along the way, too: people who weren’t the right fit, who lacked commitment or were overcritical. Though a couple of people from the original group are no longer able to come to the regular meetings, we continue to get together, six years after forming.
Ruschelle: While creeping on your Facebook page, I came across several mentions of killer critters that command your homeland. Do you keep any as pets?
Noel: So you’ve been stalking me, Ruschelle? Actually, thanks: I’ll tuck that away for another story. Australia has a lot of killer wildlife, such as crocodiles, sharks, aggressive kangaroos, platypus with poisonous barbs, some of the deadliest snakes in the world, dangerous spiders and the such, not to mention the legendary (and totally fabricated) drop bear. American crime writer Joe Clifford, who has remained in contact via Facebook ever since republishing my story Night Escape on his website, outofthegutteronline.com, once told me that he’d never visit Australia because of the deadly animals. Ever since then, I’ve made a point of posting stories and video clips of animal attacks (Hi, Joe, if you happen to be reading this).
We don’t get too many box jellyfish or taipan in the outer suburb of Melbourne where I live, but a friend confirmed there are red-bellied black snakes (listed as tenth-deadliest of Australia’s snakes) in the wetlands just down the street from her home. My father once shot a copperhead (number 7 on the list) on the family farm, and my mother used a shovel to beat a snake beyond recognition when I was a boy. My daughter even had a rabbit once that turned territorial and used to attack me every time it saw me (don’t underestimate bunny bites: those teeth are sharp enough to chomp through grass, leaves, and the skin on the back of your feet), but the deadliest monster in my house these days, apart from the occasional redback spider, is my cat Naruto, who leaves dead mice at the bottom of the stairs.
Ruschelle: Dead mice make a delicious appetizer. That What was the first real piece of writing advice you ever received that changed your writing world?
Noel: I really can’t recall. I do remember that during my final year of high school a teacher called me into his office about an essay I’d submitted, and asked whether I’d ever considered writing as a career.
Stephen King’s statement that you can’t be a writer if you aren’t a reader is true, but I think one of the best pieces of advice I ever heard was from the story of a famous writer who was giving a lecture to a group of hopefuls. He asked who among them wanted to write, and when all of the hands in the audience went up, he asked: “Then what are you doing here?” It made me realize that all the writing classes in the world, all the workshops and books about being a writer, won’t help unless you actually plant your bum on a seat in front of a desk and write. Or you can stand up and write, like Ernest Hemingway.
Ruschelle: Could you give your newfound fans a glimpse into your next projects?
Noel: One day, I’m going to finish that damned novella, I swear it. In the meantime, I have a very short story called A Taste For Salt coming out in March on the Antipodean SF website, and I’m collaborating with science fiction writer Michael Brand on a short story for an anthology. I do have something longer in mind as a future project, but at the moment it’s only a vague collection of ideas.
Ruschelle: Thank you for joining us here at The Horror Tree and letting us peek into your writing affairs…and your life! So where should your newfound fans hit you up and send you fan mail, delicious cakes and crisp 20 dollar bills?
Noel: Noel doesn’t have a website of his own, but he is on Facebook, and he’d love to hear from you. Some of the books and websites he mentions can be found by searching his name on amazon, google, or audible.com.
Train Wreck and Other Stories can be purchased via ebay at https://www.ebay.com/itm/Train-Wreck-and-Other-Stories-by-Noel-Osualdini/283311531402?fbclid=IwAR3x6NXsT7zhQwUGY6G3dryJ_aEJWjPO4ieciMZZz7Ryiw142yeC1d25P_k
Ruschelle: I love when authors talk in third person….and like pirates. Argggggg!
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.