Ruschelle: Welcome to the Tree. We’ve grown a twisted branch especially for you. Speaking of twisted, give us a little taste of your horror writer’s mind. What is a line from your works you are most proud and frightened of?
There are several, but I’m going to go with a short line from my short story, “Meat Lover’s Special” in Boundless:
“Get out now! You may have less than 15 minutes after consumption, before…” the rep replied, breathing hard and stuttering into the phone receiver.”
Ruschelle: By day, you don your glasses, Ala Clark Kent and ‘voila,’ you’re a mild mannered Social Worker. Has any of your experiences in social work, bled into your writing?
In my book, Social Workers are the ones that wears the cape and are quite heroic.
Absolutely, Ruschelle. Over the years, I’ve worked in various fields—mental health (adults/teens), domestic violence (victims/survivors), hospice, and currently geriatrics. Some of my work experiences have bled over to formulate some story ideas, while past and present personal encounters continue to inspire other ideas.
Ruschelle: Where do you mine your creativity? Books, movies, real life?
My mom has been a huge part of my creativity. She introduced me to horror via an AM radio horror show that aired on Friday nights, when I was in the fifth grade. My mom also told me some interesting stories about growing up in Crawford, Texas, and her personal journeys. Many books, movies, and personal experiences from my elementary to college years, also fuel my creative juices.
Ruschelle: You dove into the novel world with book one in your series, Doll. What challenges did you face while creating a new world with fantastic characters growing through multiple books?
I believe replacing my fears with procrastination was the biggest challenge for me to write my first novel, Doll. My self-confidence was poor, and I fed myself a lot of negativity, such as, “No one will like this… might as well stop writing…” Then, one day, I figured that I’m going to finish this story inside of me, no matter what. If one person enjoyed it, then I’ve succeeded, but most of all, I conquered my fear by completing it.
Ruschelle: Doll, takes place in halls of Frost High. Did you base any characters from your own high school classmates and experiences? Well, maybe not the witches and mayhem…
Ruschelle, some of my high school experiences assisted me to build my story. As we all know, mean girls existed way back when and will always, whether in an educational institution or any workplace. Being teased in junior high and high school, myself, and seeing others impacted way more than I had to deal with ignited part of this story. I wanted the underdogs to win and beat the main antagonists. Did they? Just have to read the Doll Trilogy to find out… wink… wink.
Since I mentioned the Doll Trilogy, I wanted to share a little more about it. It’s a coming of age supernatural love story, which deals with outcasts, friendships, family, sacrifices, free-will, bullying, romance, grief, new identity struggles, betrayal, making healthy/unhealthy choices, revenge, racism, and teen domestic violence with some unexpected twists and turns. At the end of each book, I give my readers an unrelated bonus short story and a little surprise in Doll 3: The Hunting.
Be Careful What You Wish For…
Ruschelle: You won 2nd place in the Young Adult category for ‘Doll’ in the Purple Dragonfly Awards. Kudos! How did it feel to have your first novel written, recognized?
Thank you very much, Ruschelle. I was shocked and didn’t believe my little book stood a chance. I reviewed that email so many times, and once I received my certificate in the mail, I knew it was real. Ruschelle, it was and always will be an extreme honor to possess a Purple Dragonfly Award. It definitely boosted my self-confidence.
Ruschelle: You mention in your bio that the Cars song, Drive, was what helped inspire you to become a writer. This sounds like a great story, so please share.
Ruschelle, first of all, music is my natural therapy. I love listening to all kinds of music with the 80s—#StrangerThingsForever—being my favorite, especially love and soft rock songs, but I Iove everything! So, when I first heard Drive by the Cars, those lyrics really stuck with me. I wrote them down on a sheet of paper in my purple and white Trapper Keeper. This was probably the first time I really paid attention to how the words from a song told a story, and then boom, I started writing free-verse poems. This song led me off the dance floor to sit at a table with a typewriter, pen, paper, and a pocket dictionary.
Ruschelle: Love me some 70’s and early 80’s soft rock! You’re a girl after my own dark little heart.
As a horror writer who is a fan of the blood suckers of the night, aka. Vamps- if you could change anything from the vampire mythos, what would it be?
Ruschelle, this is a really hard question because vampires possess so many extraordinary abilities and powers. I’m a huge fan of many vampire stories/original movies, such as: “Bram Stoker’s Dracula,” “Fright Night,” “From Dusk til Dawn,” “The Lost Boys” “Blade,” “Salem’s Lot,” “Vampire Diaries,” “The Originals,” and “The Strain”
At this time, I wouldn’t change anything. The vampire world continues to evolve, and I’m anticipating to watch, read, and/or write the next vampire story.
Ruschelle: We are in the upswing into Fall, which means many things to us Horror Writers but to those of us with a sweet tooth, it means CANDY! So what is the scariest candy you ever received in your bag on Halloween?
I attended trick or treating in the neighborhood, once when I was maybe seven-years old, according to stories my mom has shared with me. My mom checked the candy before I was ready to consume it. Luckily, she did, because she found a sewing needle inside a Snickers Bar. To this very day, I’ll check any soft candy before I eat it. Honestly, I inspect everything.
Ruschelle: Holy cats! I thought the ‘needle in the candy bar’ was just an urban legend. Wow!
Most writers seek out and find their niche, be it horror, romance, non-fiction, children’s books etc. What drew you to writing Young Adult books?
Ruschelle, I never imagined that I would write stories for young adults. When I rediscovered my passion to write a few years ago, my mind was focused on writing for adults. A promising publisher in the past told me that the majority of my stories would fall into the young adult arena. So, I thought about what he told me and realized that he was right. Therefore, young and new adult became my arenas of focus. Plus, I absolutely love to reflect back on my teen years/struggles and/or read, hear, watch teen stories, which is why I enjoy writing young adult books and short stories.
Ruschelle: You have been a panelist at comic conventions and book festivals as well as a guest speaker for schools and writing inspired events. What topics do you enjoy discussing the most as an author? Which are your least?
I enjoy talking about everything, especially the ideas behind my stories, and inspired playlists.
Ruschelle: Do you find that there are certain questions and requests for pieces of advice that come up over and over again?
I love talking about this and, it comes up sometimes: What would you tell your younger self, right now?
I also like to share, if applicable: “Never allow anyone to tell you that you cannot do something or you’re not good enough because guess what? You can. You’re awesomeness, so soar. BOOM!”
One of my favorite quotations about believing in yourself and realizing your sparkly magic:
“Just remember that Dumbo didn’t need the feather; the magic was in him.” ~Stephen King~
Ruschelle: Explain your ‘fan-girl’ status? DC? Marvel? Manga? Tell us more?
Marvel/DC/Horror/ComicCon Fan-Girl! I used to be a really shy person, especially in late elementary/junior high and high school. However, the Marvel/DC and horror universes allowed me to crawl out of my shyness cocoon, which helped me to develop my invisible confidence cape, it’s hot pink with silver and plum stars plastered all over.
Wonder Woman, Captain America, Blade, Squirrel Girl, Kevin Wendell Crumb, Freddy Krueger, and Michael Myers are a few of my faves! By the way, I love collecting T-shirts, mostly comic book related and horror. I also love to attend comic cons, when I can.
By the way, I love to watch all the cosplayers walk past me. I find their unique costumes, just mesmerizing and their energy, simply… magical. I believe people need to escape from their realities for a little bit and be whoever they desire to be. Comic cons allow them to do that.
I’ve seen this magic many times before with my sweet hubby, when he cosplays. It’s as if once the cosplayer takes on his or her character, then he or she can dwell in that extraordinary dimension and share it with others.
Plus, I think cosplaying boosts self-esteem for some, especially when others are watching that cosplayer and requesting to take selfies. Cosplayers are celebrities, and you never know who you may bump into!
Ruschelle: If you could be any superhero or gain fantastic superpowers to ‘save the day,’ who would you be or what powers would you have?
Definitely, the absorption of any super-power, as long as I desired, with incredible martial art skills to use for the good! My costume would be a fantastic mash-up of Wonder Woman, Captain America, and Blade gear.
Ruschelle: Blade gear? Awesome!
Of all your projects was there one that was a particular, dare I say, monster? Yep, I dared.
WereVamCabra—part werewolf, vampire, and chupacabra—a trio hybrid. You can find an interesting short story in Boundless called “Study Break” about this creature.
Ruschelle: Your newfound fans would love to hear about your next big projects. Could you, would you, share a little?
Of course, I’ll be attending a few exciting book related events in the fall. Please feel free to check out my website for locations and dates.
As for my current writing project, I’m working on my next Young Adult novel, Misties. I bet you’re wondering what in the heck is that about. I’ll give you a little hint—stake or not to stake…
Ruschelle: Tell us all how we can follow you and your works on the www.
Ruschelle, I want to take this time to thank you for seeking me out and interviewing me for The Horror Tree—very grateful for this opportunity and your precious time. Awesome questions!
I love hearing from my fantastic readers, who already know me, and new ones, too!
Facebook: Miracle Austin Author (black, crouching creature with wings is my symbol)
Thank you for reading…
Selene – Welcome to The Horror Tree, and thanks for agreeing to an interview. Tell us a bit about yourself, namely what is New Wave (horror)? I’m familiar with “new wave” in other contexts (New Wave music of the 80s, French New Wave film, New Wave Of British Heavy Metal…), but not pertaining to horror.
Misha – I think that the spirit of New Wave is to embrace new techniques in order to go back to one’s roots, which sounds paradoxical, I know. But in the examples you cite—music and film—the idea was to recapture the power of earlier works using modern technology. While the instruments of New Wave music—synthesizers and drum machines—were cutting edge at the time the rhythms and to a certain extent the lyrics were very much roots Rock’n’Roll, 4/4 time with a back beat. New Wave film used modern photographic techniques in order to reach back to the early days of cinema when filmmakers were making it up as they went along.
New Wave Horror is the same principle. I work to recapture the existential horror of the Weird Tales era—not the purple prose or the dated slang of that era, but the feel of a world that has gone off the rails. The core conceit of a universe that is not only stranger than we imagine, but stranger than we can imagine.
Selene – In addition to horror, you have published many short stories in speculative and science fiction anthologies. What genre do you like best, and why?
Misha – I never know what genre I’m working in until the story is finished, and sometimes not even then. I see genres as toolboxes, with different tropes and themes. I’ll use whatever techniques I need to tell the story I want to tell. A little Mystery, a little Romance, some SF and Fantasy. If I had to pick one I’d say I have the most fun working in E C Comics Horror (is that a genre?) I like stories with poetic justice and a healthy dose of irony, that don’t explain or excuse the fantastic elements, just use them to set up the gotcha! at the end.
Selene – What are some of your influences, and what do you like to read?
Misha – Tim Powers is my idol. I’m also a huge fan of Samuel Delany, Philip Dick, George Alec Effinger, and Fredrick Brown. Right now I am listening to (I tend to do my pleasure reading by audiobook) a wonderful little novel by Drew Magary called The Hike. It’s a magical realism quest kind of thing, kind of like of The Phantom Tollbooth for middle-aged men.
Selene – In your blog post “The Dead Men’s Shoes Society,” you describe a pattern in storytelling wherein one man (emphasis on man) writes or films or creates something, then it becomes popular, then others follow in his shoes. Do you really believe there’s nothing new to be done creatively? Particularly since all the “innovators” you mention are white men of a certain class?
Misha – No, I didn’t mean to say at all that there was nothing new to do creatively, and the examples I gave were just those that came to mind. My point is that artist don’t have to imitate other artists. They can, and it’s certainly easier than blazing one’s own trail, but anyone can invent their own genre. I wish more people would.
Selene – You describe your Book Of Lost Doors series as “loosely based on Burroughs’ Nova Express books.” I’m not familiar with Burroughs books, but how do they relate?
Misha – In terms of cosmology. The basic conceit of William Burroughs’ work is that humanity has been influenced by alien intelligences—his famous line about language being a virus from outer space, for example. I wanted to take that idea and run with it, to see if I could translate it into concrete, practical terms. The Lizard People of Omega IV have just started beaming messages into your head—what do you ask them for? The other major influence from Burroughs is the idea that the Outsiders are essentially flimflam artists, they are running an intergalactic scam. They lie, cheat, and steal, and are never what they claim to be.
Selene – I read the first novel in the series, Catskinner’s Book. You’ve created a unique world and situation; how do you go about world-building?
Misha – I tend to take ideas that I like from as many different sources as I can and then toss them all in a blender and see what comes out. In The Book Of Lost Doors I did set out to create a new mythology—I didn’t want to use vampires or werewolves or faeries. The important thing for me is to present them as matter of fact as possible. I don’t believe there is such a thing as a “good idea” in fiction—there are just dumb ideas done well.
Selene – Let’s talk about characters. Jim is sort of an anti-hero, a bit of a twist on a superhero (or super villain, if you look at him that way). How did you come up with the character, and what’s it like writing someone with such complex problems?
Misha – James and Catskinner are based on myself, actually. I have Disassociative Identity Disorder, and I wanted to try to capture the feeling of having an alternate personality take control. I tarted it up some, with the superspeed and all, but I pretty much wrote their interactions from my own life experience.
Selene – You’ve also created some memorable antagonists and foils for Jim. How do you build a believable antagonist?
Misha – A believable antagonist is a character that would be the protagonist except her or his goals are in opposition to the protagonist character. That is to say, what makes a villain isn’t who the character is, but what the character wants.
Selene – On another of your blog posts, you mentioned unlikeable characters, namely the protagonists from Camus’ The Stranger and Fowles’ The Collector, and you cautioned against a predictable character arc for them. Characters in horror can often fall to this kind of simplistic arc. What are some important characteristics for drawing sympathy (or at least empathy) for a character that’s not immediately likeable?
Misha – I don’t know if I can answer that. I try to make everyone in my stories likeable—even those characters who really need to be put down for the good of humanity. I see a character’s first appearance in a story as a date or a job interview—put your best foot forward. And, I think that meeting someone you want to like and then finding out later that she eats live kittens has a lot more emotional impact.
Selene – The plot of Catskinner’s Book is full of twists and turns and the occasional deus ex machina. It also ends abruptly, just as the characters are about to confront another turn. How do you build suspense and avoid predictability?
Misha – I don’t really plot stories out in advance, so the events are frequently as much a surprise for me as they are for my readers. Mostly I try to figure out what would make sense to happen next, given who the character are and what the situation is. I think it comes across as unpredictable because readers are used to stories following a particular pattern which frequently wouldn’t make sense in the real world.
Selene – On your blog, you keep a sort of running tally of words written, stories published or submitted, and other writing accomplishments. Do you find this quantification helps your productivity?
Misha – Yes. Accountability is very important to me. It’s much harder for me to make excuses not to be productive when I know that other people are following my progress.
Selene – Speaking of productivity, how do you balance your writing with other aspects of your time, and balance one writing project against another?
Misha – I don’t really have any other aspects of my time. I get up, write for an hour, go to my day job, come home and write until I go to sleep. That’s my life. I have no social life at all. As far as balancing projects, I tend to work on one until I am done (or decide it needs to be shelved.) I am terrible at multitasking.
Selene – What advice would you give a writer just starting out?
Misha – Try as many different types of projects as you can. Set out to try to work in different forms and different genres. What you think you want to write may not be what you are really good at. Also, write sonnets. If you write a sonnet a day for thirty days your prose will improve markedly. I guarantee it.
Selene – In addition to novels, you also work in shorter stories and poetry. While each length of work has its challenges, what’s your favourite?
Misha – Short fiction. My sweet spot is around 10,000 words, give or take. Long enough to fully flesh out a story, but not so long that I (or my readers) get bored with it.
Selene – This is going to be a personal question, and I’ll accept if you’re not comfortable answering it. You mentioned working with mental illness. Many of our literary heroes have struggled with mental illness, and we live in a time where as a society we’re finally starting to overcome the stigma and be able to talk openly. How do you find your personal obstacles inform your writing?
Misha – I don’t romanticize insanity. Being crazy hurts. There’s more to that than meets the eye. I write characters who are happy and productive in direct proportion to the extent to which their comprehension of reality conforms to the real world—whatever “real” means in the context of the story. If I have a mission in my fiction (which I kind of hope I don’t) it is to put a stake through the heart of Elwood P Dowd.
Selene – A fun question, after a heavier question. If you were to have creative control over a movie of one of your stories, which one would you see made into a film, and who would be the star?
Misha – I think I’d go with “Black Dog” from Duel Visions, and I’d like to get David Morse to play the lead.
Selene – What projects do you have upcoming?
Misha – Right now I am focusing on Bad Dreams & Broken Hearts, which is a short story collection coming out from Lagrange Books. The stories are all set in Dracoheim, which is a Fantasy world loosely based on 1960s Los Angeles, with magic and demons added. My main character is Erik Rugar, who is an agent of the department that regulates magic use. Think The Untouchables, only with unlawful spellcasters instead of bootleggers. I also have stories coming out in Storyhack, DimensionBucket, and Switchblade magazines, as well as three different anthologies.
Selene – Thank you again for agreeing to an interview. Do you have anything else you’d like to talk about?
Misha – I believe that art is a vital part of the human condition. It’s not something that some people do and those people are “artists”. Everybody needs to do it—your soul will shrivel up and die if you don’t create something. It doesn’t have to be something that anyone else will ever care about or even see. You need to do it for you. Finger paint, knit, sing in the shower, do something. It’s what we’re made for.
Stacey – Hi Ruschelle, it’s great to have you here on the other side of the Horror Tree interviews! How’s it feel being the interviewee rather than the interviewer? Are you nervous?
Ruschelle – Ya know, when I interview authors, I can’t wait to see what well-crafted and thought-provoking answers they have for me and their fans. And I’m never disappointed. The authors we showcase here on the Horror Tree are so damn talented. So, when I am asked to give an interview, I do get a bit nervous because I think back to all my amazing interviewees and I hope I can sound as interesting and eloquent. But unfortunately, this is never the case, so my main goal in every interview is to try not sound like a complete dipshit. And again…unfortunately…I can’t always help myself. Oh, and be forewarned…I make shit up.
Stacey – Alright, so in the spirit of getting the mundane questions out of the way first, tell our audience a little about yourself and where you’re from?
Ruschelle – I’m from Johnstown Pennsylvania, which is steeped in tragic history. Google the Great Johnstown Flood, 1889 or the one from 1936 or the most recent one in 1977. I garnered inspiration and penned a story entitled A Grand View, about the 1889 flood. It appeared in the new Sanitarium Magazine this year.
I used to wrestle alligators for money but as you can probably guess, I had to quit. Alligators are notorious cheaters. Those dirty bastards grease up their scaly bodies! So not fair…
I have a day job that has nothing to do with the Bachelors and Masters in Education that I went to school for. Let’s see…I am a musician in a band or two as well as a writer which means I’m really broke. My husband, Ed plays in the bands with me. AND he’s usually the unwitting brunt of my rantings on Blogger’s, Puppets Don’t Wear Pants. He should have read the fine print when signing that marriage certificate. We are both animal advocates and rescuers with a house crammed full of critters, so to those of you who refuse to care for anything but your damn selves in this world, “yeah, you’re welcome.”
Stacey – When did the writing bug first bite?
Ruschelle – That little bastard bit me when I was in second grade. The horror bug bit me even younger. I loved reading scary stories, and I, as most kids are likely to do when they first learn to write, penned rip-offs of all the stories and poems I read! I still remember one of the first stories I ‘wrote.’ It was called The Mummy Brothers. That’s all I remember about it…other than it was written in number 2 pencil. I’m positive it was lifted from a paperback my folks let me pick out from the Scholastic Book orders we would get in school. Loved those books.
Stacey – You write dark humor, which is something I’ve not come across before. Do you find humor and horror compliment each other well?
Ruschelle – The only way one can get through something horrific, is with humor. It’s a coping mechanism. Gallows humor comes to mind. It may not be appropriate but it’s what’s needed to cope with a situation or it’ll swallow you up. When it comes to books and movies of the humor/horror vein, it’s the perfect combination. They’re two great tastes that taste great together, like a delicious chocolate peanut butter cup. Only with squishy brains and some giggles.
Stacey – What do you enjoy most about writing?
Ruschelle – It’s like birthing and raising a kid. You give it everything you believe it needs to grow-up and become a kick ass doctor or lawyer, but instead, it chooses its own path, quitting school, experimenting with drugs, and busking through Saudi Arabia knowing only one shitty song. But in the end, you’re still proud and love it to pieces, even though it’s not what you envisioned when you looked at that adorable little bundle of words.
The weirdo in me likes taking a sentence a seeing how many ways I can re-word it. Yeah. Weird.
Stacey – What scares you?
Ruschelle – Driving by myself at night on a long, lonely stretch of road, being unable to peek into the rearview mirror because of what might show up in my backseat. I blame Creepshow 2. “Thanks for the ride, Lady.”
Stacey – I was looking through your amazon titles and came across Bone-sai. Now I can’t get it out of my head. It’s quite clever really. What inspired the project?
Ruschelle – In 2011, a devastating tsunami brought on by a seismic earthquake disabled the nuclear reactor in Fukushima Japan. At the same time, I remember reading a story online about an ant in the rainforest zombified by a fungus. I decided to do a mash up of the two. But it became a body horror novelette- depicting the cataclysmic vacation of a nameless character, who, while traveling through Japan, gets bit on his…ahem…junk by an ant mutated but the radiation seeping around Fukushima. His ‘package’ takes on a ginormous life and murderous personality of its own and attempts to kill everyone it can get its newly sprouted teeth on- including its host! Horror and hilarity ensue! It’s pretty low-brow, but so am I. And guess what? It’s inspired a puppet! Wanna see my penis….puppet?
Stacey – Which authors have influenced your writing along the way?
Ruschelle – The usual: Stephen King, Peter Straub, Robert McCammon, Anne Rice, Dean R Koontz. A very lack luster answer from me. Sorry about that.
Stacey – What’s your writing process like?
Ruschelle – I need a process???? Aww hell. I knew I was doing something wrong.
Stacey – Have you ever used a word or said a word aloud so many times it’s lost all meaning?
Ruschelle – Are you talking about my love of curse words? Because as far as I’m concerned, the ‘F-word’ can be a noun, verb, adverb or adjective and it still has meaning. Unfortunately, police officers that pull you over for speeding don’t always feel that way….
Stacey – Why do you think horror and Halloween go together so well?
Ruschelle – How could they not? Halloween IS horror. It’s not fluffy bunnies and sappy rainbows. It’s about celebrating our darker bookmarks in history. And besides, any month where one can be weird, creepy and downright scary, and it’s CELEBRATED, is “Damn-Skippy” in my book!
Stacey – Has there ever been a book you couldn’t finish? Why or why not?
Ruschelle – There have been many. A book needs to grab me in the first two chapters. I don’t mind a slow build but there has to be SOMETHING that grabs my eyeballs and keeps the vitreous humor stuck to the page.
So in other words…yes…I’m a quitter.
Stacey – The first movie I saw at the cinemas as a child was Hocus Pocus. It’s stuck with me ever since. Name one horror movie that’s stuck with you?
Ruschelle – An American Werewolf in London had horror, gore and humor! Every time I hear Moondance by Van Morrison I think…werewolves…and sex. That tune jazzed up the shower scene. Some people wish they could be vampires, this movie made me wish for the ability to change into a werewolf. Yeah, it looked painful with bones cracking and skin ripping but… no pain no gain!
Stacey – If you could go back in time who would you go back in time to see?
Ruschelle – Never meet your heroes. They will never be able to measure up to the person you believe they are in your mind.
Stacey – What’s the best piece of advice you could give someone who is just getting started on their author journey?
Ruschelle – If you write because you have a soul satisfying NEED to constantly create other worlds and characters, then by the Shrubbery God, write. And never stop. But, if you do it because your ultimate take-away is to rake in the big bucks and buy a mansion next to Stephen King while beating off hordes of undead fans with an ill-gotten Bigfoot femur…let me ‘splain something to ya…DON’T.
Stacey – Do you have an excerpt you’d like to share?
Ruschelle – Death turned his attention to Pestilence, who was furiously scratching his nether-region and investigating the myriad of insects adhering to his slight frame. They scurried and darted under his robe as if he were transforming into another sordid creature. Death slipped a skeletal finger under Pestilence’s robe and spoke in nothing more than a whisper.
“And what have we here brother? What makes your skin reject your infestation and has you clawing at your organ? Speak to us Pestilence. Better yet, show us. There are only your brothers present.”
Pestilence slapped Death’s invading finger, preventing him from further exploration under his robe.
“It is none of your concern brother. As Famine has affirmed, these humans are a shrewd race, a curious race, a hearty race. Not the race we once knew.”
— Excerpt of Four Men On Horses from my collection entitled Arithmophobia. Check it out!
Thank you so much for your time Ruschelle! If you would like to find out more about the author, check out the links below.
www.ruschelledillon.net or ruschelledillon.blogspot.com
On Twitter — @RuschelleDillon