Selene – Welcome to The Horror Tree, and thanks for taking the time to answer some questions! First, tell us a bit about yourself.
Rob – Well, I’m a father, writer, editor, and small town postal carrier—in that order. I grew up (and still live) in Salem, Massachusetts, where, back in 1972, my mom taught her imaginative, energetic, three-year-old son to read in order to give him something to do. I’ve loved stories ever since.
Selene – How long have you been writing, and what about horror draws you?
Rob – I’ve only been writing for about ten years—and I say only because unlike a lot of people I know who’ve been doing this their whole lives, that means I started at forty. As for why horror? I’m not sure. It might be that we write what we know, and deep down I’m just a fearful person. I tend to read eclectically, with fantasy, sci-fi, police/legal thrillers, mysteries and more in both my read and TBR piles, and not everything I’ve written falls into the horror category. For instance, I’m cowriting a YA supernatural adventure series with Stacey Longo at the moment. We’re editing the second book now, while agent-shopping the first—if any agents out there are reading this, I’m right here! The ideas that pop into my head, however, do tend toward the creepy, and so far that’s what I’ve found works easiest for me. I have plans for other genre work in the future, but right now horror just feels like home.
Selene – You have a long publishing history; where would you recommend a new reader start to explore your work?
Rob – Echoes of Darkness. Like I said, I started this later in life, and I was essentially learning to write through short stories. That some of them were being published was incredibly encouraging, but I’ve grown a lot as a writer since then, and looking back at some of them now is . . . well, cringe inducing springs to mind. In 2016, Books & Boos Press allowed me to gather some of those early works together, update them in a way that reflected my greater experience behind the keyboard, and add in a few brand new, not-to-be-found-anywhere-else tales to create a collection I could be—and still am—proud of. Thirteen stories, ranging in length from a thousand to fifteen thousand words? Yeah, it makes for a pretty good exploration.
Selene – Let’s talk about your novella, Friends in High Places. It’s partially set in a carnival. I’ve written a few carnival stories, and your story “The Biggest Little Show on Earth” from Carnival of Nightmares is, while a very different story, also set in one. After decades of carnivals losing popularity (due to people being more ethical, both about the treatment of animals, and of people with disabilities who are no longer considered “freaks” and put on display)…Why do you think carnivals lend themselves so well to horror?
Rob – One of the main ingredients in many horror stories, in my opinion, is isolation. The haunted castle on the moors, the cabin in the woods, the small town you happen upon while driving, all of these popular settings for scary stories (and more, so many more) have in common that they’re in the middle of nowhere, and when trouble strikes there’s no one to call for help. Even stories that take place in the city often have a sense of isolation about them: We can’t go to anyone for help because they’ll think we’re crazy/ they might be in on it/ we’ve done something wrong ourselves, and we’ll be in the soup!
Carnivals, circuses, and other traveling shows essentially are those small towns in the middle of nowhere. They just happen to be mobile. The carnys, or circus folk, or whomever, are like the odd small-town citizens, but worse because they’ve chosen to be together. They’re more like a family than a population, especially looking at them from the outside, and they’re a family that lives by different rules than the rest of us: rootless, essentially modern-day gypsies in the eyes of John and Joan Q. Public. And we, the public, choose to visit this family, often with the intent of letting them frighten us just a little. The roller coaster, swing ride, and Ferris wheel shooting us into the sky. Getting lost in the hall of mirrors. Taking a ride or a stroll through the haunted house.
Is it any wonder that, even without the sideshow and its so-called freaks, in this little town that seems so distant from the city it’s currently plunked down right next to, we’re a little more susceptible to a prod in the nerves? Is it so odd that, surrounded by this family of frighteners we don’t really know or understand, we don’t find it that much of a stretch to think they might be a little more different than they seem on the surface? And if those differences turn out to be darker than we ever dreamed when paying our money and pushing through the turnstile, well really, in the middle of this brightly colored little town in the middle of nowhere, who can we turn to?
Selene – Let’s talk about specific fears. Specifically (!) I, like poor Tagalong Tommy, am TERRIFIED of the Ferris wheel. His ordeal is probably my worst nightmare. What scares you, and how do you tap into that current of fear for a story?
Rob – I too am terrified of Ferris wheels. And roller coasters. And—but the list goes on. I have, however, gone on the damned things, most recently while trying with all my heart not to look like a big pussy in front of my (then) young son. To be honest, I failed. But I did force myself onto a Ferris wheel a couple of times, and what I can remember from the last trip onto the big rig is pretty well reflected in Tommy making himself take a seat. We only see Tommy in that scene, we’re not in his head, but I tried fairly hard to make his actions fit my memory.
Having that memory, I’ll likely tap into it more than just this time. If I have a character who’s afraid of something—and it can be anything—I’ll try to remember what it was like as an acrophobe to be seventy or eighty feet up in the sky, nothing holding me up there but a horribly flimsy-feeling gondola supported by a machine I couldn’t even see most of the time. What passed through my mind? Did I have a physical reaction? Yes, you bet your ass, so what was it? How did I feel? The character likely feels the same way, or at least close to it, and so I’ll write them that way. Or, sort of conversely, I’ll write a scene with those feelings in mind, trying to impart them to my reader. It keeps me from adopting an I’m just writing this scene attitude, and gives me an I need to get their hearts beating faster, and maybe make them feel a little loose around the bowels goal.
Selene – The characters in Friends in High Places are a pretty relatable bunch of kids. They feel like real kids, even if they are sometimes bratty and unlikeable. How do you create believable characters?
Rob – I read them all aloud. I read every word of Friends in High Places aloud during the revision process, multiple times. For certain passages—anything with dialogue—it was very multiple. If characters or their dialogue start feeling fake to me, then they’ll feel twice as fake to readers, and I need to fix that. If they start sounding the same, I need to fix that. If they sound boring, I need to fix that. I’ve heard it said that we should all write the stories we want to read. Well, I like good characters, so I try hard to let mine be that way and write a story I enjoy. If other people like it too, it’s a win-win!
Selene – I also found the plot quite suspenseful, with unexpected twists and turns. And very sad, given the boys’ fates. How do you create suspense in your plots and avoid predictability?
Rob – It’s hard to be predictable when even you don’t know what’s going to happen next.
That’s a kind of smart-ass way of saying I’m a pantser, or discovery writer if you’re feeling fancy. I’ve tried mapping things out—being a plotter, or outliner—but I never stick to the plan very well. For most of my writing, Friends in High Places included, I have a beginning and I have a destination, but how I get from one to the other is pretty much up in the air when I sit down to start. As I learn more about the characters—and they’re quite important to me, as I said above—I gain a better understanding of how they’d react in certain situations, and then their reactions start guiding the story.
Sometimes they’d do something that gets me closer to that destination, but sometimes not, and I’m not going to make them act out of character just to further the plot. That just doesn’t work for me. So instead, I have to work the plot in this new direction and try to bend it—believably—back toward my goal. Sometimes that means involving other characters that would move toward my goal. Sometimes that means creating new circumstances to herd my characters in the right direction. And sometimes that means moving the goal a little. Would you believe the original idea for Friends in High Places didn’t even involve either the Ferris wheel it started at or the building where it ended?
So when that happens, when a character, acting like that character does, makes me say “Well, I didn’t see that coming” as I’m writing it, I feel pretty confident it may take the reader by surprise as well.
Selene – What’s it like working with Bloodshot Books? Pete does quite a lot for the horror community, so it would be nice to give BB a plug here.
Rob – Have you seen the cover on High Places? That’s Pete’s fault. I had another cover artist in mind, one I’d worked with before and been quite happy with, but he suggested Lynne Hansen. I mentioned my guy again, and he pushed for Lynne. I caved.
And then I wound up with this gorgeous cover Lynne decided to release as a numbered print.
On Friends in High Places release weekend, I wound up at an event at the Haverhill Public Library, with me selling my book at one end of the room while at the other Lynne was selling her numbered prints of the cover. It was a lot of fun, sending people back and forth between the tables, and I kind of felt like a star, and the whole thing happened because Pete Kahle at Bloodshot Books decided to give me a new cover artist.
Selene – You have some upcoming author events in May and June. What have you got planned?
Rob – May 5—so I it this might have already happened by the time people are reading this—I’ll be in Salem, Massachusetts at the Old Town Hall, taking part in Cinco de Mayhem, a dark art market being run by Freaks Antiques and Uniques, an oddities shop right there in Salem. Like they say on their website, “If you are looking for oddities, curiosities, bones, skulls, jewelry, dark art, horror, macabre, occult, or just plain old creepy out of the ordinary items you have come to the right place!” I’ll be one of just two authors at the event (the other being Scott Goudsward, event coordinator for the New England Horror Writers) throwing books at passersby. Possibly literally. We’ll at least be throwing candy at each other, because that’s how we roll.
Saturday, June 29, I’ll be at the New England Authors Expo, sitting in at the Books & Boos Press table at Northern Essex Community College–Haverhill Campus―at the Moore Atrium in the Hartleb Technology Center in Haverhill MA. I’ll be selling books and representing S&L Editing, of which I am half, so I’ll be wearing at least two hats that day. The event is free and open to the public, so if you’ll be in town you can wander in at will to see and chat with authors, editors, publishers, and whatnot.
See? I’m old. I even use words like whatnot.
Selene – What do you think of social media’s role in writing? Why did you give up on writing a blog?
Rob – Social media can be a great tool for marketing, spreading the word about what you have going on and coming out. I’ve seen people use Facebook and Twitter very effectively for this. Blogging, too. But it’s not a method that works for everyone, and I include myself in that not category. I am awkward and terrible at self-promotion, which is something I keep vowing to buckle down and get better at . . . but I’m pretty uncomfortable saying Hey, look at me! I’m being great over here!
I’ve had a couple of blogs. The first, While You’re Making Other Plans, went on for years. It was basically a response to the people around me asking the first real question you asked back at the start of this interview: why horror? They, however, seemed to be asking out of concern. I was basically a happy guy, wasn’t I? And I’d always read everything, not just horror, so where did this focus on such dark topics come from? So I started writing WYMOP as a way to show people I could write happier stuff—what folks like my grandparents might think of as more normal—and offer a look into my everyday life, which is pretty different in tone from the fiction I pour out onto the page. A large part of the source material for that blog were things I did with my son, who, though I no longer live with him and his mom, is a tremendo-gantic part of my life. Of course, he grew up and became a teenager, and we naturally began doing fewer and fewer things together. So then all I had to write about was me.
My other blog, Writer in Progress, was intended to be a journal of sorts, very Rob-centric, covering my development as a writer and how I was going about it. So again, all I had to write about was me.
Have I mentioned how uncomfortable I am pointing the finger at myself and making myself the center of attention? This is okay, this interview, because you’re asking me questions and I’m answering them. Coming up with stuff to tell people about myself, essentially saying Here, I know you were wondering this about me, is different, and for me very difficult. I was spending an inordinate amount of time working on those blogs once they were about nothing but me, and I agonized over every sentence, constantly asking myself who really cares about this? Eventually, I was spending so much time working on them—and accomplishing very little—that it was seriously cutting into my time for writing fiction, and to be honest, I’m much more comfortable writing about people other than myself, even ones that come from inside my head.
All that being said, I’ve been thinking recently about starting up Writer in Progress again. Maybe. We’ll see.
Selene – Going from current technology into past technology… Friends in High Places is set in the 1970s (I think. Although it’s not stated outright, Tommy’s mom drives a brand-new 1974 Buick). I’ve been seeing more horror set in the Seventies and Eighties, or pre-cell phones and Internet, and I wonder how much of it is nostalgia and how much is a desire to avoid modern technology in horror plots. What do you think of setting horror in the past?
Rob – Every story has a place and time where it fits in. It just depends on the story. I’ve read period horror set back in colonial times (and earlier), modern stories, and futuristic sci-fi or post-apocalyptic horror, and it all worked because the story fit the setting. The setting for this particular novella was one part influence (I’d recently read Laymon’s The Traveling Vampire Show, a coming-of-age novel set in 1963), one part nostalgia (I wasn’t alive in 1963, but I do remember the later 70s), and one part setup. Lots of things I write are connected, often in ways only I know about as the connections aren’t germane to the stories themselves. In my mind, this story has a connection to another story I’m working on that happens much later in my own particular timeline. The public may never even see that other story, but a much younger version of one of its characters does appear in Friends in High Places. They’re only in High Places for my own enjoyment, but they did have a bit to do with just when the novella was set.
Selene – In the Afterword to Friends In High Places, you mention the requisite “Where do you get your ideas” question. I won’t ask that, since you answered it well in the piece, but what would you say is the strangest or most unusual source of a story you wrote?
Rob – A Long John Silver’s radio commercial. *mic drop*
Selene – Since all writers are also readers, what authors would you say have influenced your work?
Rob – All of them, in one way or another. The most influence, I suppose, comes from writers I’ve gone back to again and again. It’s become a rather hackneyed claim, but Stephen King is a big one. Several of his books are kind of go-to reads when nothing else around me looks appealing. I’ve also read a lot of Scott Sigler, Jeff Strand, Brian Keene, Jack Ketchum, and Dean Koontz. But I mentioned earlier that my reading taste is kind of eclectic, so I’d have to include (in no particular order) John Irving (A Prayer for Owen Meany is my all-time favorite novel), Sue Grafton, Robert B. Parker, Patricia Cornwell, Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams, Piers Anthony, John Sandford, Tony Hillerman, Robert Heinlein, Tracey Hickman and Margaret Weis, Joe R. Lansdale, and Janet Evanovich may write rom-coms that are the furthest thing from horror there is, but damn me if she doesn’t write characters that shine and stick in the memory. And this is all just off the top of my head. There have been times when I believe a particular influence was fairly obvious—I’ve already mentioned how The Traveling Vampire Show impacted Friends in High Places, and I have one that I actually think of as my Joe Lansdale story—but they’re all in there. All these and more.
Selene – You belong to a collaborative group of writers, called The Storyside. Coincidentally, some of my online writing friends have recently been discussing the merits of belonging to a writing group. What do you think the pros and cons of writing groups are?
Rob – It depends on what kind of a group you belong to, and what you’re looking for. I’ve been in a few writing groups so far, and they ranged in focus—and I don’t mean to be derogatory, this is just how I think of them—from rah-rah to this is a business.
To cover just the two extremes, in the rah-rah group, everyone was expected to read aloud at the meetings, but no one was looking for any real feedback or criticism; the gatherings were, essentially, something to spur you on to write every week. There were people of various levels of skill and talent (the two are not the same), some of them quite good, but the focus was more on fun than improvement, and a couple of members actually looked down on me for pursuing publication. Everyone else was quite happy there, and were all getting what they wanted at the time: encouragement. And that was fine. I was using the group as a practice ground for reading in front of an audience, but I was looking for something, if not more, then at least else.
Then I discovered The Storyside, were the focus is much more this is a business. The business, I’m happy to say, is in helping its members put out the highest quality fiction they can, in whatever genre they write. There’s a lot more critique and feedback, with the common goal of publication. That’s what I was looking for, but there’s more. It’s a small group, but with our combined social media we can reach a much wider audience when trying to get any kind of message out, and that definitely helps the business aspect of it.
In the end, pros-and-cons-wise, any writing group is going to be what its members make of it. The key is to try to find like-minded people with goals at least similar to yours. If you’re looking for support, try to find that kind of group. If you’re looking for constructive criticism, those groups are out there too. Ditto if you’re looking for a little business help.
And by the way, writing groups can grow and change just as the writers in them can. In The Storyside, we defined some goals and work collectively toward them. I took a course in editing, and the other (much more professional) editor in the group took me under her wing and helped me get much better at that, benefiting me and the group as a whole. A couple of members have gained a great deal of experience in book layout and what goes into self publishing (I plan to delve into this myself sometime soon). One of us is going to school for marketing and analysis, and his experience is helping everyone involved. As strong as The Storyside was when I joined it, its members have looked for the pros they want to get out of working collectively and actively moved in that direction.
Selene – In addition to writing, you work as a mail carrier, and you have an editing service. How do you balance work, family and other commitments, and still have time to write?
Rob – When I’m feeling good, I tend to sleep about four hours a night. Maybe five. I’ve had some health issues recently that, though thankfully minor, have been wearing me down and pushing that number up, and sometimes keeping me from doing anything other than the day job. Hopefully, after a few doctor visits, I’ll be up to snuff again and rolling along. I kind of can’t wait. But whether I’m feeling terrific or not, I try to set aside some writing time every day. I have to punch in at the post office at eight o’clock, but if I get in there by six o’clock, that gives me two hours where I can work mostly uninterrupted. Especially if I’m wearing my headphones. In a perfect world, when I’m feeling good, I try to write in the morning, then edit (or whatever else needs doing, and that might even be more writing) at night. When S&L Editing has a client, thus a deadline, sometimes those time slots will reverse, and I’ll maybe get to my own writing in the evening—or maybe not.
But in that list you gave of what I do, the only inflexible is the day job. My whole family has always been supportive of my need to write, even though some of them don’t necessarily read what I’m putting out. Like I said, I’m a father first, and that does take precedence; but as long as everything that needs to get done does get done I don’t get a lot of pushback when I want to put something off for a bit to work on something else that’s important to me. To be honest, I think I’m hardest on myself when things aren’t getting done. And the L in S&L Editing is Stacey Longo, my editing partner and best writing friend. She’s both a much better editor than me and someone who occasionally makes me a little jealous as a writer, and we both understand this odd balancing act of a life we’ve chosen. We take each editing job as it comes, working as a team and shifting the heavy lifting back and forth depending on who has more time at that moment, and this seems to work for us. It does for me. I’m not sure what would happen if I had to do it alone.
So yes, I’m pretty busy. All the time. But I’ve somehow managed to become surrounded by a pretty good support system where if things start to fall down it’s because I’m the weak link, and I’m doing my best to be the strongest link I can. Some people might point to me and say I’ve been lucky. I might point back at them and say, “You’re right.”
Selene – What advice would you give a new writer who’s starting out?
Rob – Learn to type. Oh, I can hunt-and-peck about ten times faster than I could ten years ago, but it’s still hunting-and-pecking. I think I’d get a lot more done if I was able to focus more on what I was trying to say and less on how I was getting it in though the keyboard.
But that’s just me bitching. Real advice? Always strive to be better. Writing is the kind of thing where you never have to stop trying new things, so never stop trying. Never stop learning. Read and pay attention to what other writers—writers you admire—do. Listen to what people who read your work have to say, both the good and the bad (though listening to the bad sucks, believe me I know), and use what they say as a tool to shape what you do. If you have something edited (And everyone should at some point, no matter who you are. The books Stacey and I write together are sent out for editing and we’re both editors!), don’t just take your manuscript back and say Well, that’s all right then and consider it done. Look at what the editor pointed out, just as you would feedback from beta readers or a critique group. This is someone who’s been training themselves to be a very careful reader. See if they’ve helped identify any of your weaknesses—and then step on that weakness’s neck and crush it under your heel.
And never stop asking questions. It’s a use for social media I forgot to mention earlier, but when you’re just starting out, Facebook can be a fantastic learning tool. Who am I kidding? Ten years later and I’m still using it that way. Whatever you write, whatever genre you like, there’s at least one Facebook page dedicated to it, and there are writers of that genre gathered there. I belong to several, some horror related, some more general. If you have any questions—for instance, I mentioned beta readers a minute ago, but what the hell are they?—you can ask the writing community on Facebook.
Now some newer writers may be saying Dude, I’m so new I don’t even know what to ask about! That’s okay. Don’t panic. We’ve all been there. Again, I direct you to Facebook. If there’s one thing writers like to talk about, it’s writing. You don’t even have to take part in the discussion if you don’t want to. Just watch. Lurk. You might see terms float through the conversation like content edit, or an advance paying out, or even a whole thread about Ingram vs. KDP on customer service, or maybe something else that makes you scratch your head and say “Huh?” Well, now you have something to ask about.
Selene – Thank you again for taking the time for an interview today. Do you have anything else you’d like to mention here?
Rob – Seriously? This thing’s like nine pages long now—if you’ve gotten this far and been imagining me saying all this stuff the whole time, then you’re probably sick of the sound of my voice!
Okay, real quick: if you’re a fan of the carnival theme, Limitless Publishing’s releasing the third book in their Creepiest Show on Earth anthology series in May. Available for preorder on the 4th and releasing on the 14th, it’s called Carnival of Strange Things, and somewhere in that little collection of oddities you’ll find my rather long short story, “The Fate Machine.” Check it out—it’s a fun series.
If newer writers out there have any questions about what to look for in an editor or what to watch out for in a publisher, feel free to go to the S&L Editing website, click on over to the Contact Us page and . . . well, contact us. Whether you’re using S&L or not, Stacey and I don’t mind answering questions to help you make more informed decisions. We don’t know everything—hell, sometimes I sit around just reveling in all I don’t know—but what we do know, we don’t mind sharing.
Anyone who’s trying to keep track of me can find me on Facebook, or my website, where I may or may not be restarting my blog. We’ll see.
Selene, thank you for asking me these questions and allowing me to talk your virtual ear off. I appreciate all the time you’ve given me.
Oh! One last thing: if there are any agents out there who might be interested in a funny YA paranormal adventure book starring two teen girls, one of whom happens to be a little living impaired, I may have something for you. Have your people call my people . . . by which I mean me.
Selene – Welcome to The Horror Tree, and thank you for agreeing to an interview. First off, tell us a bit about yourself.
May – My name is May J. Panayi and I’m 56. I have been a writer since I was a kid. Okay not anything earth shattering; just a poem in the local paper at age five, then a newsletter to the neighbourhood age ten. I hobby wrote poems and short stories throughout my teens and early twenties, then various magazine submissions, and a lot of activity in the underground fanzine scene of the eighties; contributing to others as well as producing my own. I started writing books around 2000, and currently have fourteen titles published. I moved onto just writing fiction novels with the occasional short story collection. I became a full-time self-employed writer in 2014. It’s been an interesting journey so far and one I hope will long continue. I write across a variety of genres; my friends call me the eclectic indie. My Sun series, in which there are two novels so far, a third coming this year to complete the trilogy, is my most popular style. It is travel romance/mystery; bit hard to categorise. My horror is next most popular though a bit graphic for some. I also have written a collection of dark horror short stories. My website details my books, as well as trailers, interviews and more.
Selene – You write in just about every genre, from romance to non-fiction (including travel, pets, and cooking), to horror and fantasy. What’s your favourite genre to write, and why?
May – I enjoy realism, and things that are going on now, or nearly now. I enjoyed writing Escape to Europe, about a world that in many ways seems to be running parallel to our own. When I have finished the Sun series, I have a drama romance that grapples with the problems of Dementia. I am looking forward to that.
Selene – More specifically, what about writing horror draws you?
May – I like to explore the darkest parts of the human psyche, that is what really fascinates me most. In Tales from The Library of a Twisted Mind, my collection of horror shorts, I tend to get into those issues pretty quickly. Malbed Mews is a slow build into the madness of others when in a crazy situation. For horror, I am inspired by Stephen King, Dean Koontz and James Herbert, and have spent many happy hours curled up with their works. Like Herbert, I did not ignore sex when it came to Malbed Mews; it is firmly tied in to the darker side of the human psyche in many ways, and I feel, has as much of a place in horror as the violence, shock and gore.
Selene – You mostly self-publish, but have published with some magazines and more “traditional” places. What do you like about each means of publishing?
May – Well I like the flexibility of self publishing, but the money is better with ‘traditional’ publishing. I do not miss the rejection slips from legacy publishing houses. I do like the Indie community. Sadly, the market is becoming rather saturated and it is getting harder to get noticed in the Indie world. Promotion is a bit of a pain, I am a writer and have had to learn promotion techniques from scratch. I do not love the piracy which is rife. Overall, I cannot complain.
Selene – Speaking of self-publishing, most of your titles are available on Kindle Unlimited. I have a KU membership and love it! I think it’s a good way for independent authors to reach readers, too. What do you think of the platform?
May – I like the idea of KU, but Amazon have significantly reduced the amount per page read, paid to authors, so it is a very low paying return at this point. I have considered leaving that part of the self publishing platform, but hesistate to do so, because so many readers love it. Personally, as a reader, I do not use it; I prefer to buy paperbacks, or buy Kindles to fill up my reader and get back to when I am travelling.
Selene – Your true “horror” novel is Malbed Mews. Let’s talk about that one. In particular, it has a huge cast of characters. How do you develop your characters?
May – I started off with a floor plan of the flats and wrote the occupants names and who they were in their own apartments. That helped me keep track until I got to know them better. The characters kind of grew on their own as I wrote them. Some I knew before I started; bad neighbours I have endured in real life, in the past. That was cathartic! Others just grew as I wrote. Guy and Vicky, in particular, developed alongside the storyline. Vicky especially, did not go where I originally intended.
Selene – Your book Escape to Europe examines the lives of people dealing with the realities of the refugee crisis in Europe, along with Brexit and other current hot-button political topics. Not to get into too much of a political debate, but what do you think of politics in stories? Do they belong, or is it better to fictionalize ideas so the story will remain more “timeless?”
May – I think there has always been a place for politics in fiction. From George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm, to J.G. Ballard’s High Rise and many of his other works, I think the politics of our current culture help make a good What If? setting for culturally based fiction and horror. When I first wrote Escape to Europe it was 2016, and I published it under the title The Difficult Journey. It was rebranded as Escape to Europe in 2018. I made the media sections lean to the right, in a sort of Devils Advocate fashion, as I feel our media lean towards a more politically correct left. I wanted to explore the notion of society taking a darker turn, after the fashion of J.G. Ballard. I have been accused by some readers of having those opinions myself, but I tried to make the book sit on the fence politically. At the end of the day, it is about people; their hopes and dreams, hate and love, naivety and realism. My favourite characters by the way, were Amena and Adnan; with their courage and spirit, they were the ones I was rooting for as I wrote it. I mean, I knew how it was going to turn out, and I knew there were some sad and dark scenes coming, not just for them; but I always liked and felt for them as characters.
Selene – I wrote a story about a school shooting, which was published a day after (yet another) school shooting in the US. Similarly, your Escape to Europe character John Whitehead shoots a number of victims in a mosque, much like the Christchurch shooter earlier this year. How do you feel, when life imitates art (so to speak)? Or is it a matter of art simply reflecting the horrific realities of other mosque shootings like the one in 2017 in Quebec City?
May – When I first wrote Escape to Europe, no one was shooting up mosques, but there were terror attacks and bombings of both sides (for want of a better term). It felt prophetic when these things started happening in real life. It makes me sad. It is not a world I want to see in reality; I would prefer it remaining in the confines of horror fiction. Ballard wrote High Rise about how disconnected High Rise living would make us as a society, and how we would degenerate into a wilder, more animalistic species because of it. Luckily, he was wrong and that did not happen. I hoped I would be wrong too, but some of it is happening. Thankfully not all of it.
Selene – On to a lighter topic (sorry!). You’re also a photographer, and shoot many of the photos on your book covers. What are some of your favourite photographic subjects?
May – I love photographing architecture and graveyards. My partner is all about the wildlife photography and filming, but I prefer things that keep still, while I decide on a context to best frame their beauty. I like landscapes too.
Selene – Speaking of photography, you also keep a travel blog. I enjoyed reading about so many beautiful, exotic places (that I’ll likely never get to see in person!). What is the most interesting place you’ve been, and how do your travels inspire your writing?
May – I wrote a non fiction book, Travel the World in Words, and the Sun series was inspired by the settings I travelled to in Greece and Cyprus. Some of my travels popped up in Escape to Europe. They say write about what you know; so whenever I travel, I am adding to my reference section for future writing. The book I referred to that incorporates the Dementia topic, is actually set on the Isle of Wight. I cannot pick one most interesting or favourite place I have been. Las Vegas was the craziest and most colourful. The Gambia was the most exotic. The Cypriot mountain villages have some of the most interesting culture, not to mention some of the best views, but I really like Spain too, especially the Canaries. Madeira was fascinating.
Selene – You’ve just started a web magazine for book reviews, called Best Books and More. Tell us about that.
May – The magazine and its associated Facebook group by the same name, has both authors and readers subscribed to it, in probably equal numbers. The idea is to present books to readers so they can make some new choices about what to read next. Often scrolling through a site, reading the occasional blurb is just not enough. Hearing about what other people have been reading and enjoying, is a better way to find that next great read.
Selene – You occasionally interview authors, as well. What question would you ask, if you were interviewing yourself, that interviewers don’t ask you?
May – What is your biggest handicap as a writer, other than writers block? I suffer from a collection of health complaints in the real world, and often, overcoming these to sit at my computer and write, can be a real problem. Sometimes they are a brick wall between me and my writing. A wall which sometimes I can push past and other times I cannot. You mentioned my travel blog (thank you for reading by the way), but I also have another blog called Diary of A Writer. Sometimes I might interview other authors on there, but more often than not, I get into the dark and gritty realism of my life as a writer with health issues. Sometimes I depress myself, other times I feel almost normal- whatever that is!
Selene – Also on the topic of author interviewers, what authors are your favourites to read, and which author (whether they’re still with us or not) would you most love to interview?
May – I would have loved to interview Terry Pratchett before he got ill, maybe even after. I recently discovered Jodi Picoult, and her writing is so good it almost makes me want to give up in despair. I mentioned other favourite authors earlier on. My favourite horror Indie authors are Michael Kelly, whose book Waters of Life is amazing, and Iain Rob Wright whose book The Housemates was something else. That is just skimming the surface though. I could talk about books all day.
Selene – How do you deal with criticism and bad reviews?
May – These days I just ignore them. When I wrote Malbed Mews, the death of a troll scene was especially cathartic- not that I had one particular troll in mind, but generally speaking. Of course, I still read my reviews, but I do not really care much about bad reviews anymore. I try and look for constructive criticism, but let us face it, most of the one-star comments are just trolls who usually could not even spell constructive criticism. Most cannot even capitalise I, when talking about themselves, so not a lot of hope for input there.
Selene – What advice would you give an author who is just starting out?
May – Try and aim for 80,000 words as a minimum for your book, and 120,000 as a maximum. In the old days of sending your manuscript round to a publisher, they would not consider a book unless it fit into those confines. 40,000 words qualified as a novella. 120k was the absolute limit for a new author, though obviously established authors like Stephen King could get away with more. Honestly, I think it demeans all serious authors when someone publishes a “book” that is a mere 20 to 40 pages long. That is not even the length of a standard dissertation. It gives indies a bad name collectively, when people do this. That and bad editing, that is my other bugbear. On a more positive note; stick at it. Indie authors are the freshest reading out there right now, and I would say go for it.
Selene – Thank you again for agreeing to be interviewed. What’s next for you, and do you have anything else you want to talk about here?
May – What is next? I am currently working on In Search of Small Treasures, the final in the Sun trilogy, and then moving on to Paradise in the Pumpkin Patch, which is a romance but deals with Dementia too. I would like to rewrite Malbed Mews as a screenplay and send it around. I have another idea for a novella collection Four Adults Only, which is a collection of four novellas all of which have a different kind of adult theme; sex, drugs, violent uprising and the occult. I only hesitate because they appeal to very different audiences, so I am still cogitating on that one. Thanks for interviewing me, great set of questions; really thought-provoking.
For more about May, visit her website:
Selene – Welcome to The Horror Tree, and thanks for agreeing to this interview. First, tell us a bit about yourself.
Marlena – Thank you so much for having me! My name is Marlena Frank and I’m a YA Fantasy/Horror author. I’ve been writing short stories in both horror and fantasy since 2010. Last year I released my YA Horror novella, The She-Wolf of Kanta, through Aurelia Leo. It made a splash for a month on NetGalley and got some fantastic reviews on Goodreads. Just last month, my debut novel, Stolen, was released through Parliament House Press. It hit the Amazon Bestseller list on release day! I was super thrilled as you can imagine!
When I’m not writing or thinking up stories, I’m an active member of the Atlanta cosplay community. I’ve also recently become active in the HWA Atlanta chapter. I also own three goofy cats.
Selene – You mainly seem to write in the fantasy and horror genres. What about each appeals to you?
Marlena – Sometimes the environment of my horror pieces, especially the really gritty worlds, can feel like going underwater for a bit to get hold of those characters’ perspectives. Those worlds need to be dark, but once I’m done with a piece like that, I tend to lean toward lighter works. Now note, my fantasy is hardly light, it’s just less gory and intense. I write some pretty dark fantasy, as has been noted in several reviews in Stolen. I simply lean toward a darker edge.
Selene – You also work a lot in YA literature. What are some differences between writing for a younger audience, and writing for adults?
Selene – Welcome to The Horror Tree, and thank you for agreeing to an interview today. First, tell us about yourself.
Naching – Hi, Selene! Glad to be here. My name is Naching T. Kassa. I live in Eastern Washington State with my husband, Dan, our three children, and our dog. I’m a horror writer, an intern for Crystal Lake Publishing, and Head of Publishing for HorrorAddicts.net. I also write and interview for them.
Selene – How long have you been writing, and what about the horror genre draws you?
Naching – I’ve been writing fiction since 2nd grade (which was a million years ago in 1983.) My teacher loved my stories and she allowed me to write for my classmates. I wrote and illustrated silly monster stories for them. In 2011, I started writing full-time.
Mystery draws me to the horror genre. Every horror story holds some sort of mystery to me. If you think about it, Stephen King’s IT is a mystery. The kids don’t know what Pennywise is. They follow clues to discover the truth and this extends into their adulthood. Stephen King says that horror is symbolic. I like to try to figure out what the monster means, whether it belongs to me or another writer.
Selene – Since it’s a new year, do you have any 2019 writing goals? Most of us have broken our “resolutions” by now, but that’s okay!
Naching – I’m going to finish the novel I started during NANOWRIMO before the end of the year. (This is a much better resolution than the, “I will not eat cake,” one. I broke that in about two seconds.)
Selene – February is Women in Horror Month, and you and I have something in common: Not Just a Pretty Face, DeadLight Publishing’s upcoming anthology of women-authored horror stories. Let’s talk about your story, “War Beads.”
Naching – “War Beads” went through many incarnations before becoming what it is today. In fact, the one thing which remained constant through those different versions were the bone beads the hero uses to see spirits he must follow and avoid. It became a WWII story, when I read an article about the Holocaust in 2015. I read the comments (always a mistake if you’re easily infuriated) and discovered something I’d heard about but never encountered. A young man said he didn’t believe the Holocaust had happened. And, as I read his ignorant and illogical argument, I realized that young people know nothing about the Holocaust. (Last year, CBS reported that four out of ten millennials didn’t know six million Jews had died in it.) So, I decided to transform my story into one about two soldiers, one Jewish-American and one Comanche, who are charged with destroying an SS commander who’s been possessed by a dybbuk. The Jewish soldier, Aaron Goldberg, must place a bone bead in his mouth in order to see the ghosts who will lead him and to see those who’ll try to kill him. And, as he encounters his ghostly guides, he sees the manner of their death and comes to understand how they died in the death camps. It’s a raw and gritty subject. But, it’s my answer to the young man in the comments and to the country we now live in. We can’t hide from the past. We must face it or become the enemy.
Aside from this, I’m a woman of multi-racial heritage (I’m Jewish and Native American among other things) and I wanted to read a WWII story with non-white protagonists. I couldn’t find one so, I wrote one.
Selene – Do you have any other upcoming projects or plans for Women in Horror Month?
Naching – Yes, I’ll be participating in the Ladies of Horror Picture Prompt Challenge on Nina D’Arcangela’s blog. Plus, I may have a few surprises on my own. Check out: www.frightenme.weebly.com and see.
Selene – What are some of your writing influences, and where do you get your ideas?
Naching – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Stephen King, R.L. Stine, and Kathryn Ptacek are some of my influences, but my biggest is Dean Koontz. His writing is amazing and I love the hope in his horror.
My ideas come from the ether, blooming in my mind like dark flowers. Strong emotion sparks them but the characters are the ones who bring them life.
Selene – In researching some of your work, I read your story “Audition,” in Crescendo of Darkness, which I loved. Great story—so great, in fact, I went looking to see if Ezra’s a real person! How do you create realistic characters?
Naching – Thank you! I think the secret of creating realistic characters is to think about what they will and will not do. What master do they serve? Is it money? Fame? Love? Death? Find what defines them and then fill in the details. These could be a backstory, their favorite color, the food they like, anything to make them real to you.
Selene – I also read the first story in your erotic horror publication Esther Ghould’s Love Spells. Those stories, “The Passionate Possession” and “Prey Upon The Wicked,” were previously published and then published them on your own. What do you think of self-publishing vs. “traditional” or small press publishing?
Naching – I think Self-publishing is a great way to go if you know what you’re doing. And, by that, I mean you should have a good cover and your work professionally edited. The advantages of doing it yourself, is the quick turnaround (your book can be out on Amazon in a month or less rather than two to three years.), you have control of your work, and you receive a large portion of royalties if your book does well. Unfortunately, because anyone can do it and do it badly, self-publishing carries a stigma. Unless you’re making $10,000 a month, people are going to look down their nose at your work. Traditional and Independent publishers give a certain amount of dignity to the project. And, sometimes, they can push your book better than you can. All three ways of publishing work well in their own ways.
Selene – The stories in Esther Ghould’s Love Spells, along with several of your other stories, are horror erotica. Now, I’ve always been not-so-great at erotica, so I respect anyone who can write it well. How do you approach the writing, so it’s not awkward or gross or cliche?
Naching – That’s a great question. I approach the work with love. If you can cast that spell of romance in the story, it can smooth out those rough edges. I also try not to be too serious. I turn the awkward, gross, and cliché into something funny or sweet. My Dad used to say that sex was God’s greatest joke and I find that rings true when I write erotica.
Selene – Still on the subject of erotica, why are there so many stories and books that mesh the two together? What do you think the appeal is, of sex and violence together (since most of horror consists of “Kill the monsters and try not to die”)?
Naching – I think the appeal is a primal one. The expectation of violence can be just as arousing as the expectation of climax. Suspense builds in the same way an orgasm does. In a way, the threat of violence from the monster can act as foreplay between the two characters. So it becomes, “Kill the monster, try not to die, and when you live, celebrate with sex.” Hahaha.
Selene – You’ve also published some horror poetry, which is not easy to do well. How does the process differ for poetry than for a story, and which do you like best, poetry or prose?
Naching – When I write prose, I have a general idea of where the stories are going. (Unless the characters change direction.) When I write poetry, I have no idea where I’m headed. The words just spill out.
I like prose best. It allows me to give full expression to my stories.
Selene – You’ve got one novel out, as well, The Venihi, from 2012 which seems to be out of print. Any plans to re-release it, or to write another?
Naching – Yes! I’ll be re-releasing it and the sequel, “Master of the Shade,” on Curious Fictions. Curious Fictions is a place where readers can find their favorite author and subscribe to their work. You can find me here: https://curiousfictions.com/authors/512.
Selene – The other story of yours that I was able to read was “The Face,” from Horror Addicts’ Campfire Tales anthology. I found it both suspenseful and kind of hilarious, but the quality I enjoyed most about it, as a “campfire story,” was that cautionary/urban legend/fable storytelling. It was fun picturing a narrator telling the story around a campfire, and the “audience” reacting. How do you create this kind of story, and are “fable”/campfire type stories favourites of yours?
Naching – I love these stories. They’re the kind I told my friends in school and now tell my children. “The Face,” was my entry in the Campfire Tale Challenge of the Next Great Horror Writer Contest and I created it using “The Man with the Golden Arm” as a template. You have a protagonist, a repetitive phrase, and you build the suspense by utilizing the phrase. Plus, you have to have the surprise twist at the end that is both scary and funny.
Selene – Still on the subject of influences and the well from which we draw our stories, I noticed some of your themes and subjects draw on other existing properties (like riffs on a theme in a musical piece). For example, your poem “Call Me Mary” from the Horror Writers Association Poetry Showcase Volume V is about Mary Shelley and the Frankenstein story. Do you think there’s anything new to be done with horror?
Naching – I like to start with something I know works, something familiar before I lead the reader to a new horizon. But, I believe there’s a ton of new things to do with the genre and I’d love to be one of those innovators. We’re only limited by our imaginations and the darkness in our souls.
Selene – Speaking of Horror Addicts, you do some interviewing yourself. Tell us about some interesting interviews you’ve done. Have you found asking questions of other authors influences your own writing at all?
Naching – Oh I’ve interviewed some terrific people. Mary Turzillo, the wonderful Science Fiction/Horror Writer and Champion Fencer; Marge Simon, Poet extraordinaire; Theresa Braun, Ghost Hunter; Nancy Holder, Mercy Hollow, H.R. Boldwood, Lori Safranek, Jess Landry, I wish I could list them all because they were all interesting to me. Josh Malerman was awesome. I talked to him about Bird Box before it was released and he’s just a cool guy. He’s so creative and I love his writing process.
And, yes, the questions do influence me. I’ve often thought about the creative process of the others while I’m creating my characters and plots.
Selene – As an interviewer, is there a question you would ask an interviewee, that you’d like to be asked here? (Yes, I’m asking you to be your own interviewer for one question!)
Naching – Hahahha! I’d love to be asked about my characters and whether I exert control over them. (It’s one of my favorite questions and gives insight into the author’s personality.) I don’t exert any control over mine. They drive the story with their actions. They have free will and can choose to be good, evil, or neutral. Perhaps, that’s what makes them so realistic.
Selene – What advice would you give to a new writer who’s just starting?
Naching – Read anything and everything you can, Respect anyone who gives you advice whether you plan to take or not, and check your ego at the door. If you’re full of yourself, you’ll never improve. You have to develop a thick skin and learn to take criticism and rejection.
Selene – Thank you again for talking to us today. Do you have anything else you’d like to discuss?
Naching – Thank you for having me, Selene and I can’t wait to work with you on NJAPF. And, thank you, Horror Tree, for interviewing authors.
I love the Horror Tree and have used it as my go-to resource for Horror submissions for eight years. I’ve found and been accepted by some great publications all thanks to them. Please, keep up the good work.
Selene: Welcome to The Horror Tree, and thanks for agreeing to an interview. Tell us a bit about yourself.
Eric: Thank you so much for your time and for allowing me to be a small part of The Horror Tree!
A bit about me, via my usual bio: I’m a writer and editor of dark and speculative fiction, operating from the shadowy outskirts of Los Angeles, where I also run the small press, Dark Moon Books. By day job, I’m a technical writer and college professor, and before that I worked in mortgage banking. I’m married, with a young son and daughter. Plus I’ve a dog, cats, desert tortoise, and a terrarium filled with mischievous beetles. I’ve survived 42 years on this Earth, although I feel half that age mentally. I’ve travelled quite a bit, but I’ve lived in the same 25-mile radius in Southern California my entire life. I’m a pretty normal suburban White dude (third-generation Swiss-American), mostly passive, mostly introverted, pretty easy-going. I can jump rope all day long. I founded a hackysack club, that’s long gone under. My wife and I grew up together. I feel more comfortable in a dive bar than a fancy club. Outside other life responsibilities, I enjoy hiking and I study entomology (insects) and genealogy (family history); I woodwork in my garage; model miniatures; and read, read, read!
Selene: How long have you been writing, and what about the horror genre draws you?
Eric: I’ve been writing fiction driven by the goal of publication since February, 2011. However, I’ve been writing and drawing stories ever since I was a child. I just did it then for my own interest, or for friends. I stopped in college, in order to pursue business and serious-minded life necessities… which, of course, I now regret. I don’t regret the pursuit of those things, but rather having given up writing for so many years. I only jumped into as a potential career after the realization struck me that I was missing out on something I was passionate about!
And part II to your question, regarding the horror genre: I’ve just always found horror to be “exciting.” It gets my heart pumping, adrenaline rushing, etc. I enjoy literary thrills of all kinds, whether the ghosts and monsters of horror, or the shoot-em-up conquest of military conquest; the excitement and wanderlust of adventure tales, or the far-flung speculative legends or fables from any era or land. They all inspire me in different ways!
Selene: Your bio mentions all of your literary influences. Was there ever an “a-ha” moment, when you decided you wanted to be a genre writer, or did it come about in some other way?
Eric: All my life I’ve been drawn to creation, whether writing, drawing, painting, building, acting, designing. I’m sure it must have been infuriating to my parents, I could never decide what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I still don’t. One day I think I should be a businessman, the next day a cowboy. I fulfill my responsibilities, but otherwise I’m lost adrift in my own whims and imagination. Suffice it to say, I’ve always just wanted to have a creative profession, but to balance that with success and wealth, which, naturally, I have yet to find!
Selene: Is there a person or people who have really influenced your writing decisions?
Eric: I can’t say that any one author has had the most influence. I first read Stephen King in elementary school, and then his subsequent novels through my formative years, along with the horror standards of the late ’80s and early ’90s, like Dean Koontz and Anne Rice, so those were my first introductions to horror reading. I grew to like short stories more though, and comics, and I read across genres, so I can say there are a number of authors who have impacted me in different ways, whether by their plot twists, or humor, or relatable characters, or rich prose, etc.
Those authors I currently adore and consider influences and inspirations include Cormac McCarthy, George Orwell, Stephen Graham Jones, Jeffrey Ford, Lisa Morton, Kaaron Warren, Dennis Lehane, Seanan McGuire, Joe R. Lansdale, Nisi Shawl, Hunter S. Thompson, Jack Kerouac, Neil Gaiman, Robert McCammon, Mark Bowden, O. Henry, James Ellroy, Steve Rasnic Tem, Helen Marshall, John Steinbeck, Weston Ochse, John Langan, and many others…
Selene: We’ll get to your own writing in a moment, but first I’d like to talk about your work as an editor, which is how I’m familiar with your work. Tell us about this, and Dark Moon Books.
Eric: I find editing is easier for me than writing, although writing brings more satisfaction. Writing is emotionally exhausting, whereas editing I can do all day long. And I’m always thrilled with the chance to connect and work with other writers while editing. But I love so much to type “The End” at the end of a writing piece—it’s a wonderful, fulfilling sense. Both are different journeys to a creative destination.
And regarding Dark Moon Books—I bought it from its original founder last year, and completely rebranded it. I dropped all of its previous titles and started it over from the ground up. DMB was founded by Stan Swanson in 2011, and he was a mentor and friend who was one of the first people to buy my work, so Dark Moon Books since has just held a sweet, soft spot in my heart. I started off in the indie horror world knowing no one, and I blindly wrote to publisher after publisher asking them to work with me to publish my first anthology, Dark Tales of Lost Civilizations, and he was the only one willing. Anyway, as of a couple years ago, he’d stopped doing anything with the press, as he had some other life issues, and hackers had taken over the site. I didn’t want to see the name die, so I bought it out, built out a new secure site and image, and set a goal for it to be a short story venue, primarily for anthologies and my own oddball projects which can’t get signed elsewhere. My mission statement is for “Dark Moon Books to publish unusual and invigorating dark fiction for readers around the world.” I run my anthologies and Primers through there now, and hope to do more, but finances dictate most of those decisions.
Selene: Writing (and reading) and editing are sort of a chicken-and-egg cycle. Readers love stories and become writers and then editors, and so on. Do you find your editing work has improved your writing, and vice versa? I found when reading slush that my writing improved, through exposure to the editorial process and a feel for what makes a good story.
Eric: Oh yes, like, 1,000%!! I started editing because I wanted to improve as a writer, and it’s helped immensely. I recommend it to anyone wishing to improve their writing. By reading slush I saw what everyone else was writing about, the same tropes and styles, and immediately knew to write something going the other direction. By an aggregate of stories, I would find flaws in writing that I would then recognize in myself. And I found it’s true that you can accurately judge a story based on the opening paragraph, and in most cases the opening sentence. From editing, I gained experience in story development, author communications, layout, promotions and so on. I now look at projects from the multiple eyes of “Editor,” “Marketer,” “Distributor,” “Publisher,” and it’s made me a better person.
Additionally, my day job of Technical Writing can get dull at times, but it’s also definitely improved my fiction writing, by articulating stories in concise language, with focus on impact, brevity, and an understanding of audiences.
Selene: You’ve got a new anthology out this week, Pop the Clutch: Thrilling Tales of Rockabilly, Monsters, and Hot Rod Horror. How did this come about?
Eric: Funny that I can remember the moment so clearly, and that the moment was so bland. I was working remotely for my job, and I took a break and lay down on my bed, and out of nowhere I thought, “Man, I should create a horror anthology about rockabilly.” Totally random! I used to be a big rockabilly music and culture fan, and there was some great cross-over punk and gothic tunes, bands like the HorrorPops, Tiger Army, Nekromantix, and others, especially bands with Psychobilly tastes. And I used to collect Tiki Head statues and Fez caps, vintage pin-up artwork, stuff I don’t have any longer since having children. Anyway, such is kismet.
Selene: I was looking through your author listings on Amazon, and you have a vast range of work, from 100 word drabbles to novels, to what even appears to be a scholarly paper. You also work as a tech writer. What’s your favourite thing to write?
Eric: My main profession is as a Technical Writer, and I used to work in advertising and wrote copy write at that time. I’ve written for marketing, and academia, and also non-fiction of various subjects. Persuasive writing, content writing, descriptive writing, ghost writing, you name it. And each of these types of writing has different styles and nuances. But my favorite thing to write? Fiction short stories, of course!!! Totally, totally, totally!!
Selene: Another odd question. I read in your interview with The Horror Writers’ Association that you had taken a break from writing, then got back into it through genealogy. What interests you about genealogy, and how does it influence your work?
Eric: True, genealogy was a great connector back into fiction writing for me (and the following anecdote is a long-winded and off-track response to such). I have an obsession with family history stories, and had been writing articles for periodicals, and history books for family members on the subject. I’d been laid off the year prior (this about 2010) due to the mortgage market collapse, and so I was trying to publish more broadly on history articles (old pay-per-click models), and was chatting with a friend of my wife’s (whom I’d known in high school) about writing for income, as she’d recently started blogging for profit, and she remembered the fiction stories I used to write in years past. I told her that I was jealous and wished I could be a writer, and she said, “Well, what’s stopping you? Why don’t you write again?”
It was that simple… I really wondered then, why had I given up something I’d loved so long ago, for a failed mortgage career? It inspired me then to do something I was passionate about, rather than trying to rebuild a business life of which I’d never felt particularly adroit at. Which all goes to the age-old trade-off: Once I had money though was cheerless, and now I’m broke and happy (or at least having a sense of purpose)!
Selene: I’ve only managed to read a few of your stories, but I noticed a couple of things about your characters, namely strong protagonists, and a feeling for even minor characters as real people (even the ones who are aliens or robots!). How do you approach writing your characters?
Eric: First, read more of my stories (really, please!), haha. And thank you for the kind compliment. I don’t think that I have any formula for writing a character, it’s rather more of a litmus test. If I start to write someone, and they immediately feel “flat” or without purpose, I dispose of them and start over. I usually think of people in terms of flaws (myself included), and that carries over to characters. Everyone has emotional issues, disappointments, fears, curious or morbid ways, and that often drives what I write in the realms of dark and weird fiction.
Selene: Your plots are also pretty complex, even in your shortest stories. Where do you get your ideas, and are you a “pantser” or a “plotter,” so to speak?
Eric: OMG, I had to Google, “What is a Pantser?” But now that I know what it means, yes, a Pantser is I (most of the time)! I do always begin just by “writing as I go,” but if the story becomes complicated or I get burned out, or stuck, then I turn to plotting or outlining to figure the proper direction.
And ideas come, literally and figuratively, from everywhere: Dreams (both night and day), global news and current affairs, conversations with people, personal observations of the world, and playing the “What If?” game.
Selene: Your settings also vary wildly from story to story. I’ve read about a small town in PA and the “event horizon” of a black hole, and intimate settings such as an office or a bedroom after dark. How do you develop your story settings, and do you “write what you know” or try to imagine different places?
Eric: I always try to imagine different places, and enjoy researching different settings, even if they’re commonplace locales—reading what other people have written of geographic areas helps me imagine them in different ways. I don’t think I’ve ever written two stories in the same place, now that you mention it… It hasn’t been a conscious decision either, so considering that, I guess it’s just part of the creative process in that I want to “learn” about new ideas and places. I’m constantly surfing news and social media for interesting items that I store away in a Notes document. (So thanks, Selene, for prodding me to self-analyze something new about myself!)
Selene: I saw Facebook post from you the other day, outlining all the things you have on your plate right now. It can seem overwhelming. How do you juggle so many projects, and manage your time?
Eric: Probably not as well as I should! I constantly fear that I spread myself too thin, and that because I’ve involved myself in different activities and obligations, I don’t put truly sufficient time and attention into any of them. I work from home, which is really the only way I could possibly multi-task what I do, in that with flexible scheduling I can push things around at all hours of the night. I work full time as a corporate Technical Writer, plus two more part time gigs (including adjunct teaching in the University California system). I prioritize work and playing with my children: I coach AYSO Soccer and Little League baseball, and I’m Den Leader of my son’s Cub Scout Pack. Things like that are where I find meaning in life, along with my creative endeavors—I work on book projects whenever I have time. I don’t watch TV, I don’t socialize, I just read, write, and edit!
Selene: What advice would you give someone who’s just starting out, either in writing or editing?
Eric: Be confident to fail. Read broadly. Experiment. What I tell others, and what I repeat to myself like a mantra, is simply: “Keep writing, and remember that every rejection is an opportunity for improvement!”
Selene: Thank you again for answering my questions. Do you have anything else you’d like to talk about here?
Eric: Thank you, again, for your time, Selene. The only final things I like to say are to plug my latest works!
My most recent writing work is my debut collection, That Which Grows Wild: 16 Tales of Dark Fiction (Cemetery Dance Publications; July, 2018)
Quick synopsis: Equal parts of whimsy and weird, horror and heartbreak, That Which Grows Wild, by award-winning author Eric J. Guignard, collects sixteen short stories that traverses the darker side of the fantastic.
My latest published editing work is my anthology, A World of Horror, which is a showcase of international short fiction authors. (Dark Moon Books; September, 2018)
Quick synopsis: A World of Horror is an anthology of all new dark and speculative fiction stories written by authors from around the globe.
My next anthology to come out next month is, Pop the Clutch: Thrilling Tales of Rockabilly, Monsters, and Hot Rod Horror. (Dark Moon Books; January, 2019)
Quick synopsis: A 1950s-themed anthology of 18 all-new rockabilly, pulp, and horror tales, with fast cars, rowdy characters, and revved-up classic movie monsters.
Additionally, I’ve created an ongoing series of primers exploring modern masters of literary dark short fiction, titled: EXPLORING DARK SHORT FICTION, of which I’m estimating to release an average of 2—3 volumes per year (Vol. 1: Steve Rasnic Tem; Vol. II: Kaaron Warren; Vol. III: Nisi Shawl; Vol. IV: Jeffrey Ford; Vol. V: Han Song; Vol. VI: Ramsey Campbell).
Volume 3, for Nisi Shawl, will be landing in a few weeks!
And finally, I’m in process of shopping my first novel (publishers and agents, take note!), which I finished writing last year: Crossbuck ’Bo.
Quick synopsis: A Depression-era hobo rides the rails and learns the underlying Hobo Code is a secret language that leads into the world of shared memories, where whoever is remembered strongest can change history and alter the lives of the living.
If you would like to find out more about Eric and his writing endeavours, check out the links below.
Author website: www.ericjguignard.com
Dark Moon Books website: www.darkmoonbooks.com
Author Blog: ericjguignard.blogspot.com
Author Twitter: @ericjguignard
Dark Moon Books Twitter: @DarkMoonBooks
Dark Moon Books Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DarkMoonBooks2/