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? (more…)
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.
Selene: Welcome to The Horror Tree, and thanks for agreeing to this interview today. First off, tell us a bit about yourself.
Andy: Thanks for having me, Selene. Well, really, what to say? I always feel like people want a confession when they ask someone who writes horror to talk about themselves… like I’m going to admit to some dark secret that explains why I write what I write. Unfortunately, I don’t have any secrets like that. I’m just a huge fan of the horror genre and community at large. By day, I’m an elearning developer, which I swear is more exciting than it sounds – for me, anyway. I create online training with a focus on user experience. I try to make training interesting for the users. From the feedback we get, I think I’m mostly successful. Beyond that, I’m a cat loving, coffee addicted, book collecting, movie nerd and pop culture geek. I get excited about some of the stupidest things. I am also closing in on 9 delightful months as a newlywed. That’s really the biggest and best thing I’ve got going on right now.
Selene: How long have you been writing, and what draws you to the horror genre?
Andy: I think everyone wants to say something like “I’ve been writing all my life” and while that’s sort of true, I’ve only been really serious about it in last handful of years. I went to school for film and that really rekindled my love of storytelling, but film is a much more involved medium – there are budgets and crews and a cast… it’s too much. Writing is unbridled. Whatever you want in there, it suddenly exists.
If I wanted a monster in a film, I needed to come up with a concept, hire an artist to create it, get a special effects team or a CGI team to bring it to life, then we have to shoot the scenes… like I said: too much. If I want a monster in a book, I come up with it, and then I decide how much to tell. The great thing is that sometimes it’s what you don’t include makes it that much more powerful. Your brain will start filling in the gaps and suddenly things are more horrifying than I could ever come up with.
It’s less that I was drawn to the genre and more that I’ve always been here. I grew up watching horror movies with my dad, my aunt bought me Stephen King novels for every birthday and Christmas, my uncle took me to my first haunted house… I come from a long line of weirdos, so it was just kind of natural to be part of it and embrace it. There’s a very unrepeatable exhilaration to being scared. It doesn’t happen often for me, so I’m always chasing it… maybe that’s why. My wife would tell you that my scare is broken. I think it’s been broken for a long time, that’s probably why I’m always chasing the scares.
Selene: I read your story “The Christmas Miracle,” in the Mutate anthology. Let’s talk about body horror. How do you approach writing visceral scenes?
Andy: So, visceral horror is really not that much of a stretch when you realize how terrifying the human body is on its own. We are all just walking sacks of blood and meat, and any number of our organs are just waiting for the right moment to kill us. Everything about humans is terrifying. Everything that we do and are is a nightmare when you think about it.
So, what I like is the juxtaposition of something so natural and beautiful – like pregnancy – and adding an inhuman element to it, something unnatural and monstrous, as happens in Christmas Miracle. From there, I’m just following the natural progression of things in the story.
I don’t rely on body horror very often. I try to limit myself because it’s something that can be overdone so quickly. But sometimes I get an idea to play with something ugly and perverse. It gives me a chance to play Frankenstein from the safety of my own mind.
Selene: In the bio included in the Mutate anthology, there’s a mention of your 2013 novel Empty Hallways (which I grabbed over on Kindle but haven’t started reading yet!). Is it true you wrote it for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)? Since it’s November, and some of our readers are probably deep in their word counts, let’s talk about that. Do you participate every year, and how does your NaNo process work?
Andy: Actually, all of my novels started as a NaNoWriMo challenge. Those 30 days are key for cranking out a fast first draft and putting an idea out of our head and on paper. I try to participate every year. I’ve got a great story that I’ve started working on for my fifth novel and next NaNoWriMo challenge… my tenth, maybe?
As far as a process, I’m what the NaNoWriMo community calls a Pantser – as it “by the seat of my pants”. When I was gearing up to write Empty Hallways, all I had was a title and the desire to write a ghost story.
So, it’s not much help to anyone on the receiving end of this advice, but really: it’s writing. Just write. Put it all down, one word at a time and keep going until it’s done. That’s the whole secret. It’s not even my secret. I’m pretty sure that’s advice from Neil Gaiman’s 8 Rules of Writing (It is: https://www.brainpickings.org/2012/09/28/neil-gaiman-8-rules-of-writing/). But it’s solid advice that will get you through 30 days of NaNo. Don’t think, just write.
Selene: Speaking of November, you’ve got two author events upcoming in the next few weeks. Now’s the time to promote them, for any of our readers in your area.
Andy: Ah, thanks so much! I’m really excited about these events.
November 11, I’ll be in Monroe, Michigan for Writers on the River (https://monroe.lib.mi.us/events/writers-river), hosted by the Monroe County Library System. It promises to be a great time, with a couple of my favorite local authors: Peggy Christie and Chad Erway. This is my first time at this event, so I’ve got my fingers crossed for an amazing day with about 30 other authors.
November 17, I’ll be taking over The Scriptorium (http://www.greywolfepublishing.com/scriptorium-calendar.html) in Clawson, MI. The Scriptorium might be the best thing to happen to Michigan authors – Diana loves her authors and does so much for them, including letting them takeover the store to promote themselves. So, I’ll be setting up camp, ready to chat, sign books, and who knows what else we’ll do with the day. In the afternoon, I’ll be relieved by Andrew Lark, another fantastic local author. I’m looking forward to chatting with him for a while and hearing about what he’s been working on.
And that’s it for the year. My next event isn’t until 2019, but they’ll all be announced on my blog.
Selene: You’ve got a new novel coming out soon. Tell us about that.
Andy: Yes, Threshold comes out February 14, 2019. Threshold is the story of a mirror, but much in the same way that Empty Hallways is the story of a hospital. Cate is willed an antique mirror by her grandmother, but finds that the mirror has a dark secret that may have led to the death of her grandmother and many of its previous owners. While Cate tries to uncover the mirror’s secrets, her life is ebbing away as she is haunted by her own reflection.
There’s a presence that thrums through this story that gave me the heebie jeebies while I was reading it over through the drafts. Sometimes my imagination runs away with me. Mirrors don’t usually freak me out, but after writing this novel, I’m not sure I’ll be able to look at one the same way again – literally. But at the heart of it, like all of my stories, there’s a human element; a love story. It’s possibly my favorite thing about horror – not the scares, but the raw emotional value that I hide in the stories.
Selene: Here’s a standard “author question.” What do you like to read, and where do you get your inspiration for your stories?
Andy: I read a lot of different genres, and different stories. Your audience may think the worst of me, but I judge books by their covers. If I think a cover looks good, I’ll pick it up check out the blurb. If I like the blurb, I’ll read it. Or I’ll pick up the books my wife likes to read. It gives us something more to talk about – or inside jokes. Readers have the best inside jokes, like codewords that get you into a secret society.
More recently, I’ve been introduced to the Skulduggery Pleasant series, The Kingkiller Chronicles, and I’ve been slowly working my way through Stephen King’s early works and the Dresden Files from the beginning.
I get inspiration from everywhere. Anything can be twisted into something else. A mirror can be turned into a portal to another world. A hospital can hold a dark secret. People can be dangerous and ugly and monstrous behind their smiles and kind words.
Selene: Your other novel, House of Thirteen, is the first of a series, and At Calendar’s End is a limited series which takes place (and was published) throughout a calendar year. What are some of the pros and cons of writing a series, versus a stand-alone story?
Andy: The obvious pro is that you don’t have to quit working with characters that you adore. I really did fall in love with the characters in House of Thirteen. It was already hard enough for me to end the first book, if that had been it, I think I would have been crushed. I’ve been working slowly on Book Two, which means I do a lot of rereading through Book One… I can understand why it’s the fan favorite, there are some really wonderful characters in this story, and every now and again I’ll reread a passage, a little amazed that my writing is as good as it is.
It’s nice to have something familiar that you can drop back into and start writing without any need for world-building and origins and character introduction.
I think the downside to writing a series of any length is the struggle to keep the story going. There are times – especially on a project like At Calendar’s End, where it was tough sometimes to juggle such a big cast of characters and keep them interesting. Calendar has a cast of 13 characters, plus incidental characters scattered throughout. But thirteen characters is a hard crowd to keep shuffling around. You have to come up with things for them to do because people don’t just stop existing because you aren’t paying attention to them. It gets to be maddening when you’re trying to keep everyone straight and how you are going to keep everything moving to the end of the story. To borrow a phrase, it’s a lot like herding cats.
Selene: For At Calendar’s End, you worked with a cover artist, Brian Ritson. What was that like? Would you consider further collaborations, or a graphic novel?
Andy: I love working with Brian. We’ve known each other for a long time; he’s one of my dearest friends. He’s been my cover artist since I started publishing. He did the covers for Empty Hallways, and House of Thirteen, and he’ll be doing my covers until he doesn’t want to anymore.
It’s kind of to the point where I can give him what I’m thinking about for a cover – I can give him a crappy sketch – and just know that what he’s going to do with that is going to be awesome and exceed my expectations.
When I approached him with my idea for At Calendar’s End, I was sure he was going to turn me down. It was so much to ask. It was a taxing project, and it’s a lot to ask of an artist, but Brian worked magic. Sometimes all I had for him was a description of a character and nothing else. A lot of the art is his – not just his as in he did the art, but his as in he actually came up with the ideas, what the characters look like, and the execution of the whole cover design. The coloring book for At Calendar’s End was all his idea. (http://a.co/d/j5YRCOM). It’s brilliant. You never think you’re going to have these accomplishments, like “a coloring book based on your work” until suddenly there it is.
But yes, I will collaborate with Brian until he is done with me. It’s always a pleasure working with him, and a delight seeing his art come to life. I can’t tell you how excited I am for his art on Threshold.
Selene: Speaking of collaborations, your wife is an editor. Do you enjoy working with her, and her advice (as Stephen King says about his wife’s suggestions, even when they’re great his first response is “Yeah, but…”)?
Andy: I feel like saying anything but “yes” to this question is kind of a trap. Seriously though, yes, I love working with her. She is a non-stop supporter. She’s been there since all this author nonsense started. I don’t think either of us would have it any other way.
There are these moments as a writer where you have to take a breath and just step away. Those moments are super important when your editor is telling you things you don’t want to hear about your writing. The truth is that 99% of the time, the editor is right. They know what they are talking about. This is their job, and you just have to stop and accept that they aren’t criticizing your work because they want to hurt you, but they are invested in this project alongside you. They want the story to succeed as much as you do.
That doesn’t mean it is easy to take criticism.
The wonderful thing about having Bailey as an editor is that she knows how to wrangle me. Yes, she is my editor, but she is also my wife and my support system, both life and work. She knows how to talk to me about changes that need to happen. You could call it babying. She’s really good at it. But there have been arguments. There are these moments where she is trying to talk to me about my characters and I don’t want to hear it. It gets a little tense and I have to remember that Bailey the Editor and Bailey the Wife are separate people. And then, there are times where I know what the story calls for, but she is invested in the characters and doesn’t want anything to happen to them, then she has to remember that Andy the Writer and Andy the Husband are separate people – and both of them would like to live through the tragedies that befall the characters.
I totally understand that “Yeah, but…” Stephen King is talking about. It’s in the same bundle of nerves as “you just don’t get it…” but they do, and you as the writer just need to take a breather and give it time, because Bailey can tell you… it might be an hour, or it might be a day, but at some point, I’m going to come back and tell her that she was right and I’m going to make the changes she told me to.
Selene: You’re also a former student of film, and have made a short film called Atlas. How does working on a film differ from writing prose, and how might film influence your other work?
Andy: Writing has no budget. If you want it, you only have to describe it and it’s there. It’s an amazing weight off your shoulders. Film is a much more difficult discipline because of all the parts and people involved. It’s also much harder on the writer creatively.
When you write, you’re playing a film in your head. You’re describing scenes playing on your mind’s eye. But when you write a script, you’re providing cues and dialogue – and all of that is subject to change. You may think you know how it’s going to play out, but that’s the version you see in your head. Add in a director with his own sense of the scene, actors who have their own take on characters and delivery, a budget that may not have the money for the setting you wanted, etc… suddenly, that scene in your head looks a lot different from the scene that is actually being shot.
When Nathan Porter and I wrote Atlas, he was a super hero that could do everything. The trouble was that we were working on a micro budget and it was just the two of us shooting; the two of us would be doing the post-production, too. Suddenly, we’re making executive cuts to figure out what Atlas can do within our constraints.
On the other side of that, when I write a novel or a short story, I’m still seeing the movie play out in my head, but the story I’m writing is me telling you what that movie looks like. I’m going to tell you all the details you need to hear in order to get the story the way I want you to get it. I know you’re not going to get everything. That’s just how it goes. But I’m going to give you the important details and let you fill in the rest. It’s still my movie, and you’re seeing it mostly the way I wanted you to.
Selene: Your bio mentions you returned to school relatively late, and eventually obtained two film degrees. What was it like going back to school “late,” if that means you attended as a mature student? Do you find you use what you learned in your writing process?
Andy: I was in my late-20s when I went back to school for film. I was years older than most of the people in the program. It wasn’t that much of an issue, especially among film geeks. We’ve all seen Lynch and Kurosawa and Citizen Kane and all those movies that appear on all of the “greatest films” lists. Age didn’t really enter into it except when you’re trying to market to a specific audience.
I definitely use what I learned in my film classes. Setting the mood of a scene is exceptionally important. Film and prose are both, at least in my case, character-driven. Ideas translate very well between the two media, the only thing that really changes is the execution.
Selene: Let’s talk about setting. You live in Michigan, and your story in Tales of Horror On Halloween Night was set in Detroit. Do you “write what you know” with your settings, or do you like to explore stories set in different places?
Andy: I prefer to piecemeal my stories. I take a little of what I know and a lot of what I want to say, and I try to find a happy balance between the two. There’s very little of what I know in The Nain Rouge Incident, except that I really wanted to play with some Detroit legends, so this seemed like a really good place to start. Really, I’m combining a couple of pieces of Detroit folklore: the Nain Rouge and Devil’s Night. They worked really well together – at least I felt so. The story is also a period piece set in early-century Detroit. I have done very little historical research, but I also feel like that isn’t as necessary for the kinds of stories I write as it might be for some other writers.
I’m not writing for accuracy, I’m writing for entertainment, so I tend to cobble a lot of information together for my stories, settings, and characters, and a majority of it gets thrown out because it’s extraneous. There’s no place to fit it in without cramming it, so I leave it on the cutting room floor.
Selene: What about characters? What kinds of characters do you like to write about, and how do you come up with their personalities and choices?
Andy: I write what I want to read, so a lot of these characters that I am coming up with I either think are underrepresented in the stuff I am reading, or I think there is a really cool idea for a character and I try to build a story around them.
I have a lot of fun writing 20-somethings. I like putting that youthful lens on the world and trying to see it with that same frame of reference I had when I was just starting to figure things out. There’s a lot of room for bold assumptions and terrible mistakes and everything seems so much more drastic when you’re in that grouping. The highs are higher and the lows are lower, and it just makes for more compelling characters.
My favorite themes are mortality, identity, and love. I like exploring these, whether they are all crammed together, like in Empty Hallways, or they are all unknown and out of reach, like in House of Thirteen, I like to give characters some position within those three themes.
In House of Thirteen, Ren dies and comes back – right from the get-go, she is dealing with her mortality and in the process, kind of loses herself and her identity as a person because of this new phase of her life.
Mostly, I let the characters define their own personalities. It usually comes out in the dynamics between characters. Certain stories need certain people, and those people need other characters to play off of.
In Threshold, Cate and her boyfriend Lucas have a playfully antagonistic relationship. They’re invested in the relationship and in love, but at the same time, they are wrapped up in who they are as individuals, not as a couple. Through the story, they start to feel things out and understand who they are as individuals and as a couple – because and in spite of the true antagonist of the story.
Selene: What advice would you give a writer who’s just starting?
Andy: Write the stories you want to read. Look for inspiration for those stories. Watch tv, and movies, and start looking ahead of the plot. Try predicting the story and see where your story diverts from what you see. Take those predictions and start your own stories. Just one good idea will unfold into a story for you.
Come up with what-ifs, swap characters out of existing stories, combine two pieces of pop culture and create something new. Tell the story from a new perspective, maybe it’s the villain’s story… maybe it’s the dog’s.
Write a story that you get excited about telling. It doesn’t matter what it is; it only matters that you write it.
And the best piece of bad advice I can offer is this: write what you want to write, what you enjoy writing; don’t write what you think is going to sell. Sure, it might be the harder road, and there might not be any success in it, but the reward is its own. You’re not chasing anyone; you’re not rushing to keep up with tropes and genres. Do your own thing. Make yourself happy.
Selene: Thank you again for answering my questions. Do you have anything else you’d like to talk about?
Andy: I would love to just put it out there that the people of NaNoWriMo work their butt off every year to put this program on for the rest of the world. If you can, show them a little love and buy a tshirt or a coffee mug from their store to help keep the lights on. Then, find your local NaNo chapter and sign up. Show some support, go to the meetings, get involved. You may be a good writer on your own, but you’re a better writer with a community. I tried and failed to win NaNo for years before I finally found my people. I finished that year and six months later put out my first novel.
It’s not a gimmick. They don’t ask me to advertise. This is a community of writers, both hobbyists and professionals, that love what they do and want to encourage and pass it forward.
I believe that the world needs more stories, and we’re not going to get them if people aren’t writing them.
Thank you for having me, Selene, it’s been a pleasure.
If you would like to see more of Andy’s work, check out the following links:
Selene – Welcome to The Horror Tree. Thanks for agreeing to an interview! Please tell us a bit about yourself.
Helen – Hi Selene, thank you so much for hosting me. I’m forty-eight, have five grown up children, four grandchildren and have been married for twenty-eight years. I love reading anything that scares me, I’m partial to a good, old horror film. I love coffee, chocolate, days off work and spending time with my family.
Selene – How long have you been writing, and what about the horror genre draws you?
Helen – I started writing my first book thirteen years ago, it took eight years from start to publication because I had no idea what I was doing. Ever since I discovered Stephen King, Dean Koontz, James Herbert and Graham Masterton I’ve been hooked on reading stories that scared the pants off me.
Selene – Several of your books are more in the crime/mystery/serial killer vein than straight horror. I’ve had some discussions about what defines horror lately. Where do you think crime thrillers fall in the broader genre?
Helen – I don’t class crime thrillers as horror although there are some pretty horrifying serial killers, real life is often far scarier than fiction.
Selene – Where do you get your ideas, and do you only write longer novels? The reason I ask is many authors also work in the shorter form.
Helen – I have lots of vivid dreams, some of my ideas have come to life because of a dream. I get inspiration from settings, newspaper articles, snippets of conversations, almost anything really. I also have a very overactive imagination. I tried writing a short story once and really struggled, I much prefer writing longer stories. For some reason I find them easier to write, although when I get to around forty-five thousand words I do wonder how on earth I’m going to ever finish the book.
Selene – This question is about setting. I noticed in your bio that you live in England and haven’t really left the UK. Yet many of your stories are set in the US, in places such as New York City. Do you find it hard to write about a place you haven’t visited?
Helen – I do live in a beautiful part of the UK, near to the Lake District. I’ve been lucky enough to visit New York four times since 2015, which was where the inspiration came from. I do prefer to set my stories in places I’ve visited, I like to be able to visualise it all in my mind when I’m writing about them.
Selene – Which leads to my question about research! How do you research a novel?
Helen – I’m lucky enough to work for the police which has been a massive help with research, the internet is a fabulous place. When I first started writing I’d spend hours at the library looking through books. Now we’re very fortunate we can find out almost anything within seconds.
Selene – Let’s talk about plot. You mentioned on your website’s writing tips section that plot is most important. One of the things I have the hardest time with (and probably why I stick to shorter stories) is taking characters and scenes and making them do something. How do you stick to a plot, and see it through to the end?
Helen – I tend to have my ending before anything else, I like to know how the story will finish. Normally with some major, page turning climax. I then sit down with a notebook and pen, to write down a basic plot. Which I then transfer onto different coloured post it notes for each chapter or time difference. It’s almost impossible to follow it completely, the characters and story have a way of going their own way, but it’s there to fall back on should I get stuck.
Selene – Since horror and crime thrillers also require a means of building suspense, how do you approach the “thrills” aspect of your plots? You also mentioned scaring yourself while writing The Good Sisters.
Helen – I had to stop writing The Good Sisters once it got dark because I kept scaring myself. I’ve always been a voracious reader since I was a child, and this has been a huge help. I’ve also been brought up watching horror films and what I did was think back to all the scary, nail biting scenes that terrified me and tried to emulate the thoughts and feelings I experienced into my own writing.
Selene – On your blog, you mention knowing your characters well before you write them. How do you develop your characters?
Helen – I love Pinterest and love making boards for each book, I pin people, places, settings, locations, clothes, almost everything I think my characters would like and add it to my inspiration board. It’s great having visualisations to help bring them to life. I tend to write out their name and a basic description of them, what role they’re playing and how they move the story along. Quite often they come to life and develop minds of their own.
Selene – Several of your books are part of a series. What’s it like writing a series of stories about a character, rather than a standalone book?
Helen – I love the familiarity of the characters and locations when writing a series, it’s almost like writing about old friends. You get to know your characters so well they almost become a part of your family.
Selene – These next two questions deal with marketing your books. I saw the book trailer on your website, and since this is a newer way to market books, do you find the book trailer effective?
Helen – I’m not sure if it is to be honest, I love them. I think they bring the story to life and think that it’s a brilliant way to try and capture readers imaginations.
Selene – I think you’re the first author I’ve interviewed so far who’s on Instagram, or at least the first I’ve noticed. I’ve also been thinking that as an author, one really needs a social media presence these days. How do you like to use social media as a marketing tool, and how effective is it?
Helen – I love Instagram, it’s my favourite of all the social media sites. I think the simplicity makes it effective. I like to mix my life with my writing, I think it’s great for readers to see what goes on behind the scenes. It breaks up the ‘buy my book’ posts. Facebook is probably the most effective for authors although I really need to get to grip with Facebook Ad’s. I’m so busy with work, my family and writing that I don’t have as much time to spend on marketing as I’d like.
Selene – I took a peek at some of your reviews on Amazon, and they seemed to be a mixed bag. How do you handle critical reviews?
Helen – I don’t read them very often. It’s all too easy to get hung up on the negative ones, you can’t please all of the people all of the time. You could write the most amazing book in the world, win every prize and still someone won’t like it. Everyone has different tastes, you just have to remember that.
Selene – You’ve got ten books out now, and it seems like you’ve always got new ideas on the go. How do you manage your time, and what are some tips for productivity?
Helen – I love writing, but my crazy life can get in the way of it. The most productive way to get things done is to write whenever I have some time. I rarely watch the television now, instead I spend that time writing. I often have to get up really early to get some writing time in before work. I don’t put any pressure on myself unless there’s a looming deadline. I write little and as often as I can.
Selene – What advice (other than what’s on your blog) would you give a writer who’s just starting out?
Helen – Write what you’d want to read, don’t show your work to anyone in the early stages. Just get that first draft down on paper, don’t get hung up on wanting your best friend or parents to love it. Don’t worry about whether your commas are in the right place, the story is the most important thing. Everything else can be fixed on later drafts. There will be later drafts, possibly many. I lost count of how many times I rewrote The Ghost House before the publishers would buy it. Oh, and never give up, it does get hard, sometimes you wonder why on earth you started writing a story. Stick with it, take a break then go back to it. Remember you can do it.
Selene – Do you have anything else you’d like to talk about here? Thank you again for agreeing to an interview with The Horror Tree!
Helen – Thank you so much for having me Selene. I love talking about writing so feel free to get in touch with me.