Stacey – Tell us a little about yourself and where you’re from?
Phoebe – I grew up in a place colder than Moscow every winter and hotter than Miami in the summer. Sounds far off and exotic, right? Well, it’s actually Minnesota! And whether I am petting friendly stray cats at the Hagia Sofia, strolling down the mosaiced streets of Freiburg, or gazing into the hot springs at Yellowstone, Minnesota will always call me home. I’ve been a bit of a nomad these past few years after a “quarter-life crisis,” followed by bouncing between institutions as The Mister completed his research, his PhD, and got his first post-doc.
Stacey – When did you start writing?
Phoebe – I got serious about writing fiction the same time we made our first nomadic leap of faith. But I admit, I am one of those writers who started young. It was that middle part where I lost my way. My first novel just sort of poured out of me at a time when I was feeling crushed by real life, and reminded me that there were other ways to feel.
Stacey – You write Steampunk. It’s an interesting genre. What drew you to it?
Phoebe – The first time I heard the word Steampunk was in 2009. But once someone explained it to me, it was more like finally having a word for the things I already liked than finding something new. In short, Steampunk is a genre of literature and its adaptations that is informed by the science and superstitions of the Victorian era, and has inspired costumers, prop makers, and other artisans to apply the aesthetic to a variety of things. I love the real 19th century, but I also love to give things a twist here and there, and that is the “punk” part of Steampunk. I started a blog to explore the facets of Steampunk in 2013, but was invited to join SteampunkJournal.org and am in the process of transferring all of my content there.
Stacey – You’re involved with the Network of Indie Steampunks. How did that come about?
Phoebe – It was my brainchild, in fact. I am still in the initial stages as my living situation remains fluid, but the goal is to bring together Steampunk authors to act as beta readers and co-promoters. I’ve also recruited several Steampunk websites to participate in blog tours to help promote these awesome independent writers. The Network of Indie Steampunks (NOIS) is intended to be a membership program that gives members discounts on products and services writers need, as well as marketing support like a free blog tour. Army of Brass will be the pilot blog tour in spring 2018.
Stacey – What do you enjoy most about writing?
Phoebe – For me, writing a story is a string of small epiphanies. Details can suddenly fall into place. Characters will change their minds on you. A little historical detail throws a door wide open or slams it shut. One word changes the mood of a whole scene. I love the feeling of solving all of these puzzles.
Stacey – Where do you get your inspiration?
Phoebe – I mentioned my fascination with the 19th century, and I think that comes in large part from watching period mysteries with my parents. I enjoyed history and seeing how these people were alike but different from me. I got older, I found myself drawn to elements of culture more than the cold facts and dates, and took anthropology courses. I know that being exposed to so many cultures, as well as simply the possibility that there are so many different ways to be humans, made science fiction and fantasy and obvious segue.
Stacey – Has anyone influenced your writing along the way?
Phoebe – In a very direct way, my mother was my first editor. She would read my essays and help me with my arguments (not to mention my punctuation). The authors who have influenced me the most would probably be Kurt Vonnegut on the sci-fi side, and Neil Gaiman on the fantasy side. Plus, Joss Whedon has definitely influenced the way I try to integrate humor into even the direst situations.
Stacey – What’s your writing process like?
Phoebe – Evolving! My first novel willed itself into being by taking over my whole brain for months at a time. The second was a product of plotting, pre-writing, and NaNoWriMo 2016. In the interim, I’ve read a few more books about the craft of writing, which is changing the process once again. I’ve got a Blake Snyder-style beat sheet to work with as I embark on the next project later this month.
Stacey – What was the first story you had published?
Phoebe – “Next Time” under the pen name M.E. Anders. It’s a romance story set in current times, which is a big deviation from my other work so far, so I created a name that spelled “meanders.”
Stacey – I see you’re a fan of American Gods. Have you seen the television series, and who’s your favourite character?
Phoebe – Unfortunately, I haven’t seen the show yet, but I am excited for it! There are a lot of great characters to choose from, but for some reason, I’ve always liked Czernobog. Maybe it is the Eastern European thing, or his role in the story, but he’s always stuck out to me.
Stacey – Do you have a favourite character from your own works?
Phoebe – I think I have two, and they are favorites for completely different reasons. One is a complete wide-eyed optimist and often wise in his own childish way. The other is a professional liar with a heart of gold buried somewhere deep below her selfish streak.
Stacey – I see you’re a coordinator at CWC, tell us about it.
Phoebe – That was a huge learning experience, to say the least. The Collaborative Writing Challenge brings together over 100 writers per project to write a novel. We plan on 30 chapters, and up to five writers attempting each chapter with the aid of reference notes and one previous chapter. As the coordinator, it was my job to select the chapter (or sometimes chapters) that would be included in the book each week. Army of Brass was the seventh project and was Steampunk-themed to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the word Steampunk. In the end, we reached chapter 30 but still had too much story to tell. I formed a committee with some writers who already had chapters in the book, and we worked together to plot and write the ending. The CWC is taking a year off to give attention to their current releases, but they will begin Project 8 with a romance theme in late 2018.
Stacey – Your story The Vigil appears in Chasing Magic, did you have fun with it?
Phoebe – That story started life as an entry into a different contest. At that time, I was with a small (but now defunct) publisher that was going to start a collaborative novel. I wrote The Vigil as a potential starter chapter. I definitely had fun writing it! I had been thinking about magic rings and how I could make the idea feel “fresh,” and I’d wanted to write something atmospheric in the tradition of Edgar Allan Poe. The story fell together from there. And who knows? Maybe I will still make it a novel some day…
Stacey – I see you’ve got a steampunk series in the works. When is it due for release?
Phoebe – Originally, I was going to self-publish a series of novellas. I submitted the first part to just two potential publishers because I knew novellas were a long shot. Months passed and I heard nothing, so I announced my self-publishing date. Within a week, I heard back from both of them requesting full manuscripts! After some feedback and a lot of revisions, No Rest for the Wicked is now a single novel rather than multiple novellas. It’s with my last beta readers now, and will go a-querying soon. But you can read excerpts on my author blog every Friday! (www.phoebedarqueling.com/blog)
Stacey – Do you have an excerpt you’d like to share?
Phoebe – Absolutely! This is from Chapter 1 of my story about a con woman in the old West who is forced out of retirement when her past comes back to haunt her…literally.
The ghost removed his hat and tried his best to mollify her. “Please, I must speak with you.”
“No. What you must do is move on and stop bothering the living. I’m out of the business of running errands for the dead, thank you very much.” Vi’s hands traced shallow furrows in the water.
“But you don’t even know what I want.”
“It’s my wife, you see—”
“There are these men and—”
“We owe them some money.”
“I can keep this up all night,” she warned.
“But, they’re going to—”
She raised her hands out of her bathwater and moved them like a conductor as she sang to the tune of a new song that had been making the rounds. “I’m not interested in helping, all the live-long day.” Her hands dropped back into the water with a splash.
If he could breathe, the ghost’s chest would have been heaving in anger, but in his current state he had to settle for pulling a sour face. “Well, I had to try. My wife is—was—my whole life.” The ghost donned his spectral hat and turned to leave with a final mumble to himself. “He warned you she wouldn’t help.”
After the lengths she’d gone to disappear, there shouldn’t be anyone for hundreds of miles who knew about her “special talent.”
“Yep, he was right,” she called lazily, then the water surged as she sat forward with sudden interest. “Wait. Who warned you I wouldn’t help?” After the lengths she’d gone to disappear, there shouldn’t be anyone for hundreds of miles who knew about her “special talent.”
“Will you help me if I tell you?” the ghost asked, hope written in the lines of his gently glowing face.
Vi narrowed her eyes. “I can guarantee I won’t help you if you don’t tell me.”
He smiled and waved his hands in imitation of her earlier display. “I’m not interested in telling, all the live-long day.”
She looked away in a huff. Not knowing the identity of the referrer was going to eat at her, but the information alone wasn’t worth the price of dealing with this guy.
Hat in hand, he tried again. “Aw, shucks ma’am. I promise. I’ll tell you the whole sorry tale of how I found out about you as soon as you agree to help me.”
“No wonder you’ve gotten yourself in trouble,” she said with disgust. “You shouldn’t offer to pay someone up front, you need to hold onto whatever it is for leverage.”
“Alright. Then I promise to tell you after you help me.”
“Nope. Still not interested. It would take a lot more than that to get me out of this tub.”
His face fell for a moment before he brightened. “Well, there’s always the gold.”
Vi’s half-smile returned. “You didn’t say anything about gold before.”
Stacey – Thank you so much for your time, Phoebe! If you would like to find out more about Phoebe and her work, check out the below links.
Ruschelle: Tell us a little about yourself. Tell us something…juicy. Something that we would never guess is hiding somewhere inside the sinew of your meat suit.
Drew: I’ll start with the basics and then get onto the FILTH. I was born outside of Detroit and moved around a lot as a kid. After Detroit, I moved to Iowa, then back to Michigan, then to Memphis, then to Minnesota and then I went to high school in Maryland, and then college in Florida. Right after college, I moved to Los Angeles. I have worked in the entertainment industry since 1994.
NOW SECRETS! This should come as no surprise to anyone who read my first book, Godless, but I used to really love making myself puke. So much so that I spent the better part of my senior year of college in a hospital for bulimia. I was the only guy there. I learned a lot and it completely changed my perspective on the world, specifically on females. I’m not sure if that’s what you were looking for. It’s kind of juicy… consistency-wise.
Ruschelle: I would agree with you on the consistency. Puke can be juicy OR chunky! But I digress…Knuckle Baller, your sequel to Knuckle Supper will be readily available around Thanksgiving. (What a great gift to bring to dinner with the fam! People reading: write this down….) What should readers expect from book number two that might not have existed in book number one; either in content or your story telling style?
Drew: [Smug tone] It’s actually Knuckle Balled. Just kidding. It’s an honest mistake. Originally, it was called Knuckle Ball. I changed it because I wanted to name to reflect how fucked our protagonist, RJ, was going to get throughout the story.
Besides the fact that the sequel has more gangs, more violence and a different location, it’s actually the exact same book. Kidding again. I wanted to take RJ out of Los Angeles for the first time in his miserable existence and turn the tables on him. Unlike the first book, he doesn’t have buy-in from those around him and he doesn’t lead a gang anymore. Spoiler: They’re all dead. With this book, I really wanted to change the theme of right versus wrong to right versus getting high and others versus self. RJ might be an anti-hero but he’s actually just a selfish asshole. He doesn’t realize that throughout the book every decision he makes is the wrong decision and no matter how he tries to justify his actions (with the help of first person perspective), the reader is on to him throughout the story. That said, I want the readers to root for him to make ANY good decision, rather than rooting for him as a hero.
Knuckle Supper is somewhat straight forward. He needs to do the right thing because he realizes that he’s a human being (kind of). On this book the lines are further blurred and if we learn from Eldritch that if we were seeing things unfold through someone else’s eyes… RJ would definitely come off as a villain.
It’s all about building his character and therefore creating the vampire lore that follows. There are going to be four books total in the main canon (there will be spinoffs) so I want the characters epiphanies to take time. I want the reader to learn something about themselves with him.
Ruschelle:AHHHH! Damn balls are always getting me in trouble. But that’s another sordid story that I’ll make up at another time. How about this– If and more likely- when they make Knuckle Supper & Knuckle Balled into feature films, do you see any particular actor/actress portraying the roles you so brilliantly crafted?
Drew: My co-scriptwriter, girlfriend and I have been making lists for years. It’s tough because of RJ’s age. Unfortunately, the people that I REALLY like for his role (in particular) might be a little too old. RJ is mid-to-late 30s.
If I were to make a DREAM CAST, it would be…
RJ Reynolds – Aaron Paul
Bait – An Unknown
Dez – Dane DeHann
The Habit – Lindsey Lohan
King Cobra – Terry Crews
Linnwood Perry – Jack Gleeson
Nomi – Erika Ervin
Eldritch – Alexander Skarsgard
Pinball – An Unknown
Cody Walker – Graham Rogers
There are many more characters, but I figured I’d just knock out the big one. Trust me. I know this ain’t gonna happen. Ruschelle: Which bad ass vampire would you like to see munch the hell out of any and all of the Twilight Vampires?
Drew: Too easy. I’d like to see the posse from Near Dark roll there RV up to the Twilight house, break in and just destroy them… then use their shitters and not flush. I would watch a home invasion movie with that happening over and over again.
Ruschelle: LOVE those Near Dark vamps, in a…non-conjugal way.Here’s a question that will chaff your chorizo, I know it does mine. (And yes, I HAVE a chorizo. I keep it in my purse.) PG-13 in horror? GO!
Drew: It’s like fake news. It’s not a real thing. It’s a brutal cash grab and I fucking hate it. I’ve been a fan of horror for as long as I can remember and (for instance) when I saw Halloween for the first time when I was 7, I felt like I was doing something not allowed. It was dangerous. It was… AWESOME!
BRAGGING ALERT: When I won the award in 2011 for best Indie horror novel for Knuckle Supper, I convinced myself that I won the best horror novel overall. Sure, I didn’t win the award for best commercial horror novel and I’m fine with that. I swear a lot in my books, there is an incredible amount of drug abuse and they tend to be extremely violent. So, yeah, that’s not commercial. Fuck commercial.
Ruschelle: It took 4 years to complete the sequel to Knuckle Supper. What was going on in those 4 years to shape Knuckle Balled?
Drew: It was a rough experience… one that I’m not going to relive with the third book (which I’ve already put a dent in). The second book in the any franchise is always the toughest. It can truly be make or break. I spent a long time overthinking how to get from point A to point B. That said, writing these books takes a toll on me. I want to write things that are true and real (with the supernatural element) but sometimes it’s tough to jump through the hoops and write about the horrors of the real world. I want this series to be more than just some horror book series and I think for a long time about what lines I can cross. That’s why A LOT of the most awful shit goes down off-screen. I don’t want to end up painting myself into something that will be frowned upon later (i.e. the gang bang scene in IT).
Real answer. I’m a procrastinator. Good thing people are liking Knuckle Balled as much as the first.
Ruschelle: Billy Idol, Billy Corgan or wait for it…Billy Ocean? Give this one some thought.
Drew: Idol FOREVER! Funny. Two weekends ago, on my birthday, my girlfriend took me to Vegas to see Idol’s last residency show at House of Blues (Mandalay Bay). Anyway, I texted my friend Chris that I was going to see “Billy” in Vegas and that he should come meet us there. He responded, “Billy who?” Of course, I responded “Ocean.” It was the only answer to such a dumb question. I’ve seen him many times and it’s always a great show.
Ruschelle: Are you one of those writers that can work while listening to music? Or are you like…ahem…some of us that feed off of the teat of silence? At least I think it’s a teat…
Drew: Yes. I write every chapter and every character to music. For instance, in the very first chapter of KS, I listened to “One Track Mind” by Johnny Thunders over and over again. In another scene, when RJ and Dez take down the cops and the Perry snitch, I listened to “Riot Squad” by Cock Sparer. The main character/music songs below. You should make a playlist on THE Spotify. You can see that each character’s music changes in the second book. At least, those who survived the first. SPOILER!
RJ – “Change the Key” – 7 Seconds
Dez – “Buried Myself Alive” – The Used
Eldritch – “Farewell” – Xymox
The Habit – “Drain the Blood” the Distillers
Bait – “Somebody Got Murdered” – The Clash
Nomi – “After the Fall” – Klaus Nomi
King Cobra – “Mystic Man” – Peter Tosh
Linnwood Perry – “Seventy-Seven” – The Furios
Copperhead – “Hand Grenade” – Cutty Ranks
The Knucklers (gang) – “Chinese Rocks” – Johnny Thunders
The BBP (gang) – “Gangsters” – The Specials
The Batwangers – “invaders Must Die” – The Prodogy
The Battlesnakes (gang) – “Ravers” – Steel Pulse
El Reinado de Sangre (gang) – “Raining Blood” – Slayer
Skinland Invasion (gang) – Anything by Screwdriver
The Cloth – The Lord’s Prayer
RJ – “Ain’t it Fun” – The Dead Boys / “Life is Pain” – Leftover Crack
Eldritch – “Rodent” – Skinny Puppy
Linnwood Perry – “Can You Dig It” – Jam X & DeLeon
Pinball – “Jeruselum” – Sinead O’Connor
Cody Walker – “Bro Hymn” – Pennywise
The Chaplins (gang) – “Modern Times” – Michel Villard
The RTL (gang) – “Ride the Lightning” – Metallica
The Real McCoys (gang) – “Straight to Hell” – Hank III
The Sixth Street Skulls (gang) – “Tu No Viva Asi” – Arcangel X Bad Bunny
BBP (gang) – “Pursuit of Happiness” – Kid Cudi / MGMT / Steve Aoki
The Minutemen – “I Fought the Law” – Bobby Fuller Four
The Cloth – The Lord’s Prayer
There is also a scene near the end of Knuckle Balled that I listened to “Thunder Kiss ‘65” by White Zombie OVER AND OVER AND OVER again while I wrote it. The guitar intro sets up about fifty pages of non-stop action until the end of the book… which was difficult to write because I am much more of a dialogue and character writer.
Ruschelle: This is the most beautiful list of punk rock music I have ever seen. I’m gonna need some time alone with it and so will the readers. Download these tunes people!
You’ve done work in the entertainment industry. Buffy the Vampire Slayer (a personal fav, don’t judge me), and The Profiler, to name drop a few. Were you inspired in your own works by what you helped others create? Sometimes helping others can ultimately help you…
Drew: I kind of divide my work up into two sections… A) the work I do to put food on the table and B) the work I do to fulfill my creative drive. Anything that I do during the day is usually based on someone else’s IP (I’ve worked pretty heavily in branded entertainment for the past 11 years). I try to separate the two and hope one day, I’ll be able to bring my IP to life as a film or TV series.
Ruschelle: In life we learn from all sorts of places. You’ve written for Film Threat. What is one thing you learned from writing for Film Threat that you feel you wouldn’t have learned anywhere else?
Drew: It was my first job out of college and I wouldn’t EVER go back in time and change it. It was like getting hit by the Hollywood bus the second I walked into town. Strangely enough, I met E. Elias Merhige when I worked there and I fell in love with his first film, Begotten. About three months ago, I got the opportunity to catch up with him and even got him to read the Knuckle series (so far) and give me a blurb for the cover of the new book. It meant the world to me. I wrote a blurb that was on the cover of the Begotten video and DVD and he returned the favor.
My quote on Begotten (1994):
“The result is a thing of beauty where realistic images are turned upside down by the grotesque and flowers are trampled by the darkening clouds of a nightmare.”
His quote on Knuckle Balled:
“Anything that represents and reveals the most painful and disgusting parts of ourselves and our society, and does so with glee and humor—heals us by the very act of its creation. Knuckle Balled has fun while accomplishing this.”
I guess the thing I learned… don’t burn bridges. Friends from 20+ years ago will remain your friends and support you forever. I wish I could talk to a bunch of kids who are about to enter the working world to tell them that.
Ruschelle:You have made some fantastic connections. You lucky bastard. On that same ‘lucky bastard’ note, you’ve worked on Conan O’Brien, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno & Saturday Night Live. What was your role on each show? And please don’t tell me pastry & coffee provider because that would be AWESOME!!!
Drew: Nope, nothing that… AWESOME! In 1996, NBC was just starting to build NBC.com. That said, I got this incredible opportunity to come on and be a writer (online, of course) for all of the NBC-owned properties (including Saved by the Bell: The New Class and the Saturday night THRILLOGY). So, most of my work was limited to online but I did end up winning a Webby award (Stand of Excellence: Best of the Web) for an online gameshow called The Probe that I created for Saturday Night Live.
Don’t get me wrong, it was absolutely the biggest opportunity of my life and man.
Ruschelle: You have written, produced and directed. That’s a lot of different hats, and you have such sweet hair! But…which one do you feel fits you the best. Which one is Drew Stepek?
Drew: I like writing. I like creating from the ground up. Producing is such a money/numbers game and it makes me anxious. The best thing I think that I’ve produced in the last five years or so was this branded thing that I did for AwesomenessTV and Pride, Prejudice + Zombies (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pkXwIo3sycQ).
Ruschelle: Godless was your first novel. You mention that you wrote it because of your own personal issues with addiction and bulimia. Did enrobing your struggles in fiction help you deal with your issues? Or had you already battled your monsters and needed to put them to rest the way many Creatives do…by slaking their hearts in a book?
Drew: It went on much longer than it should have and continued after the publishing of Godless. I can honestly say that I have come to terms with it and kind of forgotten about it. My Pirelli will attest to that. All my books and stories have a common theme of addiction and abuse. Like I said earlier, being the hospital taught me something that I didn’t even realize (at the time) that I had to learn. 100% of the girls that I was in the hospital with had been sexually abused and that seriously spiked into my psyche.
But to answer your question (I’m not doing a very good job at that), fiction helps me take those dark roads again without actively participating. I was originally going to write a sequel to Godless. I kept putting it off because I didn’t want to find myself in that world again… because it was REAL. Then, the idea for Knuckle Supper came along and I figured that I would take these “happy” themes and put them into another world. If I weren’t trying to bring these two worlds together, the Knuckle series would be trash. It’s important to use horror as a vessel to deliver reality. I guess that’s why I’m not super into extreme horror. What the fuck is the story about? If there isn’t an arc where the characters learn something about themselves… it isn’t even a story. It’s just gross words folded into a book. I don’t mean to be a snob or discredit anyone but that’s just my opinion. To me, it’s like… let’s take all the gross shit out of Clive Barker books and ditch the characters and any motivations.
Ruschelle: Atheism is a notable theme in Godless. You have also written stories of soulless beings in the Knuckle series. How does Atheism affect your characters? Is there more freedom with creating characters who are Atheist?
Drew: Yes, Atheism is another common theme in my writing. I think I stopped believing in God when I was around 14. It’s not something I’m incredibly proud of because (like most people), I’d like to believe that there is something after all this. I just… don’t. I think everyone should stand behind what they believe in though (even if it’s dumb like $cientology). I respect the hell out of people who stand up for their beliefs and don’t try to force it down other people’s throats.
There is a freedom (for me) in creating Atheist characters. I guess we are taught to write what we know, or in the case of Atheism… write what we know doesn’t exist. I think that was the genesis of The Cloth in the Knuckle series, and to some extent, The Habit. Even if the characters are used to mock the other side of my belief, they are purposely put there to show that the other side exists. After all, RJ is an increasingly untrustworthy narrator so who’s to say that he’s right or wrong. Spoiler: He’s wrong 99.9% of the time.
Ruschelle: Do you like pasta? Is so, what is your favorite? If you do not like pasta, I will change your answer so it looks like you DO like pasta because it is the CORRECT answer. Any recipes ya wanna share?
Drew: Rigatoni. Rigatoni. Rigatoni. Whenever I order pasta online, I will usually order spaghetti and meatballs… insisting in the notes that they send Rigatoni. Last time, Maggiano’s fucking dissed me and sent me spaghetti. I chased the Door Dash driver down and slit his tires and then beat him into a coma. Not really. I wanted to though. Stupid long-ass noodles. I don’t have a pasta recipe but I do have my own Three Meat Ass Explosion Chili Recipe below. I guess you could put it over Rigatoni.
1 lb Ground Turkey
1 lb Ground Pork
1 lb Ground Chicken
1 Bottle of Heinz 57
1 Bottle of A1
1 Bottle of Worchester Sauce
1 Bottle of Chalula
2 Habanero Peppers
1 large can of tomato sauce
2 cans of S&W chili beans
1 shaker of chili powder
1 shaker of cayenne pepper
1 shaker of Old Bay (I lived in Maryland)
2 Squares of dark chocolate
1 bag of shredded cheese (sharp cheddar)
Begin by cooking all three meats in a large frying pan (one at a time)
When simmering the meat, add 1/3 a bottle of 57, A1, Worchester, Chalula to each. Also, cover the top of the meat with chili powder, cayenne pepper and old bay and mix it in until the meat has sucked up all the juice and spices.
When all three meats are cooked, throw them into a crock pot.
Pour in the two cans of S&W beans and at least half of the tomato sauce.
Dice the habaneros and add them in as well.
Add the dark chocolate.
Let cook in the crock pot for 6 hours. Stir regularly. If that shit isn’t hot enough, add Tabasco continuously.
Serve in a bowl. Sprinkle the shredded cheese on top.
Serve to your friends. It’s a gnarly experience. They taste the chocolate first and think, “Oh, this isn’t so bad… kinda sweet.” About 10 seconds later, they feel that shit attacking their bodies like a chest-buster from Alien is about to jump out of their sphincter. The next day, they will hate you.
This is a ‘stand-in’ bowl of black bean soup. Drew’s actual pot of chili asked not to photographed (friggin Diva) so I had to make do.
Ruschelle: That looks absolutely delicious. Chili is best eaten over pasta. In my opinion. So when should I expect you over to make me a vat? Better be soon, you made me hungry.
Back to the questions–Hindsight is always 20/20. So is there anything about your books that you would change if you could? Or do you love every word, ellipses and quotation you penned?
Drew: OMG, yes. We went back in the 3rd edition of Knuckle Supper (The Ultimate Gutter Edition). We took out this REALLY dumb thing that I put in the book where the vamps would take on the traits of the animals that they devoured. I really wanted to create a vampire series where almost everything can be explained in the real world… our world. My editor at Blood Bound Books, Andrea Dawn, made me get rid of it and thankfully, I listened.
Boy, was that dumb.
We also added in this new “character” that is important in the second book called The Gooch. Essentially, The Gooch is RJ’s withdrawal speaking to him. There is a real tug of war in Knuckle Balled between The Gooch and RJ’s dreams, that act as his conscious.
Ruschelle: Will there be a 3rd book in the Knuckle series?
Drew: YEP! As I said earlier, I’ve already put a dent in it. It’s now called KNUCKLER. Originally it was called Knuckle Smasher.
Spoilers ahead. If you haven’t finished Knuckle Balled, DO NOT read this next paragraph.
The book takes place in Mexico and RJ faces his worst big bads to date. Much more inspired by The Five Deadly Venoms that The Warriors (like the first two books), in KNUCKLER, RJ goes head-to-head with a cartel of Mexican vampires called The Five Knuckles of the Demon’s Fist or Cinco Nudillos del Puño del Demonio. The Cartel is broken up by five different vamp leaders who participate in five different illegal activities across the Mexican state of Chihuahua. The cartel is broken up by:
The Solider – El Soldado – Arms Dealer
The Scientist – El Científico – Black market organ dealer and more
The Shephard – El Pastor – Human trafficking
White – Blanco – Coke Dealer
Black – Negro – Heroin Dealer
It’s totally fucking insane. There is also a main character returning from the first book. That person will play an important part in showing who RJ is. A lot of the book will take place in flashbacks before RJ met Bait.
Ruschelle: Dammit it, I read the spoiler without finishing the book! UGH!! Honestly, that’s okay because I am a spoiler junkie. Yes, I read endings first. I do what I want!
What is next on your literary plate? Anything in the works or are you delving into something different?
Drew: I’m going to finish KNUCKLER and then almost immediately start the final book in the main canon, The Last Knuckle Supper. Then, I am probably going to start the spinoff books, which (as of right now) are:
Assault of the Earth – Cody Walker versus the Sunshine zombies I’m With Perry – What happens to Linnwood Perry after Knuckle Balled
The Poser – Not revealing any information Lunar – Not Revealing any information
Maybe an Eldritch Book. I should call it that.
Ruschelle: Some of the proceeds from the Knuckle series goes towards the charity Children of the Night, which helps sexually exploited children from prostitution. These children are much more than a statistic. What do you want people to take away from this organization and to learn from these kids?
Drew: I just really want people to know what’s going on and that there are people doing things to try and stop human trafficking, as well as child prostitution and exploitation. It’s not something that really comes up on everyone’s radar very often and it should. Granted, I live in Los Angeles where it’s a major problem but people shouldn’t be surprised to find out that it’s going on right in their backyards. It is the main driver for this entire series and in KNUCKLER, I will definitely be hitting it much stronger. Bait and Pinball are just scratching the surface and when all is revealed by the end of the series, I am hoping that I will kick the message into people’s teeth. Lois Lee (the owner of Children of the Night) is a saint, man. The work she does goes so far beyond just getting these kids off the street and getting them a bed. She is getting these kids to college, into the workforce and beyond. Before 1979, this wasn’t even close to a reality. Even if only one person understands my message and how it relates to Children of the Night and gives their time and money to this incredible organization, well, I’ve achieved my goal. Check out their site. Follow and like them on social networks. Give MUCH NEEDED money.
BUT JUST WAIT, yeah this is now an interview infomercial—Drew wrote The Horror Tree a personal story! He brings us on an emotional journey- one that might leave us crying. But we can’t, because…there’s no crying in baseball.
PLUS, he’s gifted us with photos highlighting each step! Strap one on folks…errr…I mean…strap in and meet the man, the legend Number 666 Dreeeeeeew Stepek!
Everybody cheer, dammit.
The Dodgers fucking lost last night and I’m pissed. Gonna take it to the street and fuck shit up.
Rather than sitting around crying, I wanted to walk around LA remind myself why I live in the greatest and HARDEST city in the world.
It’s chilly out today so I threw on my phresh hood. It’ll keep me incognito if I decide to beat down some tourists from Houston.
Tagged a wall. LA is the home of street art. That’s what’s up.
Immediately outside, I was reminded of the Dodger’s loss by a sign at Shakey’s Pizza. I smiled, though. Shakey’s is from LA and they don’t have it anywhere else in the world. All you can eat pizza and hojo potatoes, BITCH!
I walked by this old diner. That motherfucker is open 27 hours! I bet they don’t have places open 27 hours where you live. LA. Only.
Walked by the Los Angeles Museum of Art. Looked at some statues n shit. Felt cultured.
Stopped in front of this dope Ed Hardy museum because it told me not walk. LA. Period.
I bet you didn’t know that in LA bushes grow empty cans of malt liquor. #MiracleMaltingBush #211
We got tar n shit, too. I bet they don’t have Mammoths drowning in tar in your town. Pussy.
Check out these plates! I bet you can’t get personalized vanity plates where you live. Stupid randomly selected numbers and letters.
That’s right. LA is the greatest city in the world. Buy Knuckle Balled and the Knuckle Supper: Ultimate Gutter Fix Edition on November 23rd. Please. Thank you.
Selene – First, tell us a bit about yourself, and what current projects you have on the go.
Claire – Hello! I’m a music/arts journalist and speculative fiction author. I have a bachelor of Government and International Relations from Griffith University, and I’m currently working on my postgrad certificate in Writing, Editing, and Publishing at The University of Queensland. This might seem like blasphemy, but I enjoyed my politics degree a whole lot more than writing and editing!
I’ve been nominated four times for the Aurealis Convenor’s Award for Excellence in non-fiction, but have never won. One day! However, my very juvenile poem ‘Rainbows,’ written when I was 12, was commended in the 2002 Dorothea Mackellar Poetry Competition. So that’s cool!
I have Epilepsy and schizoid personality disorder, which has a significant impact on my life, and why I mostly write body horror. I don’t always feel like a real person, at least, not how a person should be. I find it very hard to communicate with people, and I’m quite reclusive. But I don’t always think of it as a bad thing, as it’s very inspirational for my writing!
I’m currently writing a novella tentatively titled ‘The Eagle and The Witch’ which explores the idea of being able to change your anatomy and, also, your sense of self. My anthology ‘Misanthropy’ will soon be released by Digitalian Publishing, so that’s exciting!
I also watch a lot of children’s television. My daughter, who is five, has opened my eyes to the brilliance of Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom. I’ve always wanted to write for a children’s TV show. I’m jealous someone thought of the show before me! Nanny Plum has got to be one of the best characters ever written!
Selene – How did you start writing?
Claire – I started writing at a young age, around eight or nine. I used to write stories for my younger sister, and then I wrote two Harry Potter ‘books’ because I couldn’t wait for The Order of The Phoenix to come out. Haha. My first major publication was ‘Madeline,’ included within Midnight Echo 12. However, I had a few short stories published beforehand, most of which flew under the radar, as they weren’t particularly good. Well, not in a professional sense! I was diagnosed with Epilepsy when I was around 12 or 13, which made me feel quite isolated from the world. I also have schizoid personality disorder. While I had a few friends in high school, I didn’t really socialise with them all that much as I’d often felt disconnected from them, so I’d spend hours alone writing stories. Most of them were about pirate adventures, although my first ‘novel’ was about a psychotic megalomaniac who had mutilated his hand. I’m a bit of a weirdo, obviously!
Selene – I’ve managed to read the first few chapters of Only The Dead, and some of your non-fiction work online. Tell us about your first novel.
Claire – ‘Only The Dead,’ I suppose, is a twisted love story of obsession and the horrors of human nature. Set in Australia and Vietnam during 1966 and 1967, the book is about two women, Lydia and Cassie, outsiders both, who develop a co-dependent relationship. Essentially, it is about the very real demons that come back with men and women from the war, and how they interact with those they left behind. I wanted to write about surgical nurses since most books about war are generally from the perspective of men. Two of my favourite tv shows, ‘Band Of Brothers’ and ‘The Pacific’ really get to the core of what it means to suffer so much mental and physical trauma, and how it changes your perception of yourself and the world around you. In a way ‘Only the Dead’ is not about war at all, but the struggles within ourselves and our identities and how we connect with others. Why are we instantly drawn to some people? Why do we instantly abhor others? Who we are on the inside is not always the person we are on the outside. We all have wars within each other, and sometimes those wars rage so hard, and so long we lose a part of ourselves, what makes us human.
Selene – One thing I was surprised to learn from Only The Dead was that Australia was involved in the Vietnam War. Of course, I’m a lazy researcher (and Canadian, and we weren’t involved), so most of what little I know about Vietnam comes from Hollywood. Let’s talk about the role of research in your writing. What’s involved, how important are the details, and what kind of tools do you use?
Claire – My research for the book included going to Vietnam as part of a study tour with Griffith, where I visited a lot of war memorials, including The War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Ming city. It’s incredibly harrowing and very anti-American. There are lots of pictures of deceased victims, including body parts of children. I also went into the tunnels of Củ Chi (a little scary, since I have claustrophobia), but it was a great way to immerse myself in just one aspect of the war. Of course, my understanding of the war is minute compared to those involved in the conflict, but I do have a good knowledge of conflict and war in general. I also watched a lot of documentaries, read books, journal articles, watched films (biased, but enjoyable nonetheless), and more importantly learned about the role of nurses. I also watched videos of amputations of other surgical procedures, which I feel was a necessary part of understanding how to write an amputation scene. I think really immersing yourself in your writing is incredibly important because it allows you to understand your own ideas more clearly, and what drives you to write the story in the first place.
Selene – Just by looking over your bibliography and website, I see two pretty different themes running through your work. Not to be reductive, but one is body horror, and the other is politics. First, what about body horror inspires you as a writer?
Claire – I like to write about what makes us human in the philosophical and political sense, the function of a human being, hedonism, decadence, and the idea of conflict – seeing the world through Epicurean-coloured glasses or Mill-coloured gladded, either Epicuras’ individual salvation or Mill’s aggregated good of all. How should humans define pleasure and happiness? Is a body horror a reflection not only the mutation of anatomy but how we view ourselves as biological, visceral creatures? ‘The Witch and the Eagle’ explores the idea of being able to change your anatomy and, also, your sense of self. Does becoming part animal means you lose your humanity? And what does it truly mean to be human? In a political sense, it’s all about how people fit into society, especially if they are a minority different in a certain way. This is where my Epilepsy comes in. I often feel I’m an anomaly, a mutation of anatomy, especially when I sustain particularly nasty injuries from seizures. I don’t always feel like a wholly functional human being. ‘Madeline’ was my first foray into body horror, and I wrote it after a particularly nasty seizure. The story is about puberty, and in a way, about my puberty and adolescence.
I also write ghost stories, but I think of them as a deviation from my usual writing. My mum is a firm believer in spirits and hauntings. While I’m not entirely convinced, my paranormal stories sometimes feel like a breath of fresh air, as I don’t feel as emotionally attached to them as my body horror stories, and they’re fun to write.
Selene – And now we come to politics! They say that you should never talk about religion or politics, particularly if you want to keep your friends, and we live in a very complicated time, politically. Why do you write about politics, or work political ideas into your writing?
Claire – Ya, politics! (Does anyone sane say that? Haha) I have a Bachelor of Government and International Relations, I’ve studied at Hanoi University in Vietnam, and once represented Russia in a mock UNSC resolution regarding humanitarian corridors in Syria. Russia won. I’m very competitive! 😉 I mentioned Epicuras and Mill, and how people fit into society, and I suppose, on a deeper level, I’m interested in humans and our relationships to each other. I like to study why we categorise people, what makes us different, and what makes us similar. Why are people racist? Why are people segregated?
The philosopher Thomas Hobbes developed a theory of violence and the state and concluded that before the sovereign state people lived in a state of nature, a war of all against all. The modern sovereign state begun after people made a social contract with each other – because the state became sovereign, no one was above the law, and no one could change the state’s use of violence. We, as humans, give up our right to violence to the state so that the state can use violence against us as a means of preserving life. Cities are a haven for disorder, as we all weren’t meant to live so close to each other.
I work these ideas into my writing through stories of how people interact with one another, how they view their relationship to the world, which is particularly evident in my short story ‘The Eagle,’ the basis of my novella. Even though the Treaty of Westphalia was supposed to end all religious wars, we still categorise people. And as much as I disagree with it, it definitely helps with my writing!
Selene – Only The Dead was set during the Vietnam War era, and the protests of the time provide a backdrop to the story. Robert Reich noted that in our current political climate, he’s seeing protests and political involvement that we haven’t seen since those days. There are definite parallels between that time and today, so why did you choose to write about the Vietnam era?
Claire – I started researching the Vietnam War (or, ‘Cuộc chiến tranh Mỹ’, the American War, as the Vietnamese call it) after learning about the conflict at Griffith University. I was particularly drawn to this war because I’m interested in the dynamics of power and the P5, the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). The Cold War set a lot of wheels in motion, and neither the Soviet Union nor the United States could risk an all-out war against each other because of the threat of nuclear war. So essentially, the Vietnam War was a Cold War-era proxy war which pitted the communist government of North Vietnam against South Vietnam and its chief ally, the United States. There are a lot of dramatised versions of the war, some which are quite good, but they often don’t explain the reasons behind the war, which I think confuses a lot of people and alters their perception of the events. Also, not a lot of people know about the role of the UNSC.
I think the parallels between the 1960’s and today stem from the idea of the Cold War, and the fear of the ‘other.’ Russia was seen as a rogue state, especially during and after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and it’s now once again viewed in the Cold War light. I suppose our current political climate mirrors many aspects of the Cold War and the idea that we cannot know what rogue states are planning. This generates political uprisings all over the world, especially in light of the continuing so-called ‘War on Terror,’ and the alliances between the P5 states. I don’t want to go too much into my own political views, but I think the Vietnam War was a turning point, and a precursor to the world we live in today. It’s much more important than people think.
Selene – Your bio mentions a lot of books in your house. What do you like to read? What are you reading at the moment?
Claire – I have just over 400 books, a mini-library in my bedroom. I read a lot of everything. On my shelves are authors such as Anne Rice, Clive Barker, Sonya Hartnett, Isobelle Carmody, Jostein Gaarder, Stephen King, John Marsden, HP Lovecraft, Ursula Le Guinn, Jack Kerouac, Kurt Vonnegut, DBC Pierre…I have so much variety I often joke I should make library cards for people who might want to read them. I like stories about people. My favourite book is Black Foxes by Sonya Hartnett, withal-time favourite quote: “Bored, bored, bored……I am so utterly bored that my life could come to an end right here and I would fail to notice any difference.” Tyrone Sully is basically me!
At the moment I’m reading ‘The Book of Lost Things’ by John Connolly. I have ‘Eucalyptus Goth’ by Brian Craddock and ‘The Girl Who Took an Eye For An Eye’ by David Lagercrantz on my bedside table as my to-read list. The original Stieg Larsson Millennium series is amazing!
Selene – Who or what are your biggest influences, as a writer, and where do you get your ideas?
Claire – Tough question! While my health issues are a definite influence, Franz Kafka is one of my biggest influences as a writer, especially regarding body horror. Franz Kafka, like me, had schizoid personality disorder, so I feel a sort of kinship with me. Reading his novella, ‘The Metamorphosis,’ motivated to write body horror. Even though I had always been fascinated by body horror, I didn’t start writing it myself until after reading his book.
Clive Barker and Sonya Hartnett are also my biggest influences. While Clive Barker is an obvious reflection of my interest in body horror, Sonya Hartnett writes about dysfunctional people, and how they do or don’t fit into society, which I mentioned is mostly what I write about. Her work is absolutely brilliant.
I suppose I get my ideas from my struggles with epilepsy, but also by observing the world around me. I like to observe people, take notes about what interests me about them, and how they interact with others.
Selene – I enjoyed the article in The Australia Times, about Vietnam. Do you get to travel often? How does travelling shape your writing?
Claire – I don’t travel all the time (although I’d like to!). The only other place I’ve been to outside Australia is New Caledonia and Vietnam, although I stopped off at Taiwan for a connecting flight. Does that count? Haha. I suppose money is the issue with regards to travelling. I’d like to travel around Australia with my daughter one day, and also travel by myself when she’s older. But I do travel interstate quite often for speculative fiction conventions and to see one of my friends. I’ve almost got capital city bingo, with Perth and Darwin left to cross off the list!
I have a world map in my office which I look at every day. I used to be a board member of Uganda For Her, so I’d take conference calls from Uganda. I left the organisation before I was able to travel to Uganda, but I’d like to go one day.
I think travel is so essential when writing. It’s undoubtedly influenced by the idea of the world and other cultures, and I think it’s so important for people to leave their country, for so often because become unintentionally closed-minded regarding the rest of the world. I’d like to travel through Europe, Russia, Iceland, and South America. I like to write about nature, which I’ve used quite heavily in ‘The Eagle and The Witch.’ But I think South America is on the top of my list. I want to traverse through the Amazon rainforest. I feel peace within nature, as though time has stopped, and everything doesn’t matter, if only for a moment.
Selene – And, further to the question of travel, let’s talk about the importance of place and setting to your writing. Where is your work set, and what are your favourite places to write about?
Claire – For me, there is no story without place and setting. At least, no major piece of work, like a novella or novel. The most important part, for me, is grounding the reader in an imagined world. Even if the world already exists, it will always be changed by your own perception of it within your writing. As I mentioned, ‘Only The Dead’ is set in Australia and Vietnam, though my science-fiction story ‘Andromeda’ is set on Mars, my novella ‘Of Man And Woman’ set in Kalgoorlie-Boulder, my short ‘The Beach’ is set on a deserted island, my soon to be published short thriller story ‘Deep Sea Fishing’ is set on a fishing trawler. I tend to isolate my characters, and make their world smaller than ours, to create a sense of claustrophobia and fear. I think it’s vital to set the scene first, to establish the setting first, so the reader can jump right into the story and feel connected to the world straight away.
Selene – Your bio also mentions that you’re a parent. How do you balance your work and other responsibilities?
Claire – As a music and arts journalist, I interview a lot of people via video conferences or over the phone, and most people I interview live overseas. I review shows, so spend time at theatres and festivals, which helps with my isolation. Festivals are also good because I can take my daughter with her. Isobelle (named after Isobelle Carmody) spends half the week with me and half the week with her father, so I do have time to work on things, which means I devote all my time to her when I can. I organise my work schedule around her, as she comes first. Although, I have had to conduct a few phone interviews while she’s in the house, and it’s tough to slip away without her shouting ‘mum! Who’s on the phone?? I want to talk to them!! Let me say hello!’ It often makes the interview more interesting, as I talk to a lot of musicians, and then the topic changes from their new album to their child’s favourite TV show. I spent six years at university studying two bachelor degrees, which was hard because I had just started my course when she was born. As she grew older, it was challenging to work around her, but I’m glad I have my family to help. Not being allowed to drive is also hard, so we take buses and trains everywhere, which my daughter considers an adventure, although I consider a nightmare!
Selene – You’re involved with Women In Horror, which happens every February. I always kick myself for asking this, because I don’t ask this question of male writers (!) but how important is a showcase such as WIH?
Claire – Traditionally women are victims in horror films, by crazed killers, haunted houses, or monsters. They’re often cast in stereotypic damsel-in-distress roles or are a mother to a possessed child. But I do think there are several films where women take the lead and are just as strong and dangerous as their male counterparts. A lot of Clive Barker novels have strong female characters, and ‘Hellraiser,’ the adaptation of his novella ‘The Hellbound Heart,’ features Julia, who is perhaps just as monstrous as the Cenobites. I hate the idea of the ‘final girl,’ where one woman manages to survive a terrible ordeal out of sheer luck. But with ‘The Hellbound Heart,’ Kirsty Cotton is a ‘final girl’ who manages to send the Cenobites back to their alternate dimension. I think because woman are physically weaker than men there’s this idea that they’re somehow mentally weaker, but I don’t think that’s the case. For me, everyone is the same when faced with unspeakable horrors, regardless of your gender. So any film or novel that includes strong female characters is so important not just for the horror industry, but also for society.
Selene – Who are your favourite women authors (horror or otherwise), and why do you think women in horror don’t get more recognition?
Claire – Anne Rice and Clive Barker are my top two favourite authors, but I love Anne Rice because The Vampire Chronicles were so important to me when I read them. At the time I was in an abusive relationship, and the only kind thing my boyfriend ever did for me was buy me Anne Rice books. Her books are eccentric, with no Anne Rice fan the same. “Good horror fiction as I see it is always about us, about the human condition,” – Anne Rice, February 2017. And that’s precisely why I love The Vampire Chronicles, and adore The Mayfair Witches books. They’re about people, their relationship to one another, how they interact within society. It’s such a big part of my own life, and indeed her books amazingly impacted my life. I found solace in her characters, even at the darkest of times, and it helped me crawl out of a relationship which almost swallowed me whole.
We were talking about female horror writers at Conflux this year, and I mentioned we need female horror writers because ‘strong female characters’ are still a topic of discussion. Where are the ‘strong male characters’ panels at conventions? Women still face discrimination, surprisingly with book covers. Kim Wilkins, who taught one of my courses at UQ, mentioned books of hers with helpless-looking women on her covers even though her female characters were heroines. It’s utterly ridiculous. Perhaps it’s because of the hunter/gatherer idea, that women aren’t built for quests, and should leave all the sword-fighting to the men. I don’t know. We talk about these things in my house a lot, and we all seem to agree and disagree on points. But I respect women who aren’t necessarily maternal. I’m not, and I have a kid. I didn’t even want children, and she was a happy surprise! But I’m glad I have my daughter, for children make you see the world in an entirely different light, especially as a woman.
Selene – If you weren’t writing, what would you be doing?
Claire – Golly gosh, I can’t imagine not being a writer (double negative! Haha). Umm….if I didn’t have epilepsy I’d likely be in the army or air force, as I wanted to be a pilot, and I think having epilepsy really strengthened my idea of myself as a writer. I’d love to be a surgeon or work in medicine in some field. Probably neuroscience, which is hilariously ironic. I also wanted to be a mechanic, which is also ironic. I think I just like how things are put together, and how to pull them apart. Especially bodies. I’d also probably be a nomad and live overseas somewhere. But alas, I’ve not yet been elected queen of the world. One day.
Selene – What advice would you give someone who wants to write, especially horror?
Claire – Lean on your own experiences. Use your own life for inspiration. We often don’t think of ourselves as incredibly interesting creatures, but we are. Humans are the most interesting creatures of all. Horror is not all about slasher films and buckets full of blood (although I LOVE buckets full of blood), but our innate desires, our fears, the limitations of our human bodies. Look to yourself for inspiration. Look to those around you, even if you only see them on the bus once a week and don’t know their names. Fear and love are polar opposites, but find a way to tie them together unusually or disturbingly. Then you’ll find the horror within.
Selene – What’s next for you, and do you have anything else you’d like to talk about?
Claire – Let’s talk about sex, baby! I’m looking forward to the publication of ‘Misanthropy,’ and also my short story ‘The Eagle,’ the June 2018 feature story for Disturbed Digest By Alban Lake publishing. I’ve never had a feature story before (although I write cover stories for work), so I’m super keen for the issue to come out. I’m also hoping I’ll finish my novella, but considering how long it took for me to write ‘Only the Dead,’ one can never know! I’ve only written 19,000 words out of my planned 25,000-40,000, so who knows? The story is taking itself in a different direction than I planned, so there’s no telling what I’ll end up with. Hopefully, it’s readable! I’m also hoping to get a full-time job. Employers seem to ignore applicants who aren’t allowed to get a licence, so I’m planning on stealing a monster truck and bulldozing companies who won’t hire me even though I’m overqualified. So, depending on what happens, I might be in jail! Now that’s true women in horror!
Selene – thank you so much for your time, Claire!
If you would like to find out more about Claire and her work, you can find her via the below links:
Ruschelle – James, nice to see you again. I’m not saying I was stalking you and taking photos of you while you were sleeping in those cute jammies or anything…I’m just…happy to chat with you.
James – Ah, those were the fuzzy looking ones with the claws? That’s actually the Goth cat Triana who likes to get on the bed at night. She really shouldn’t, but you know how it is.…
Ruschelle – Unfortunately, I do. I share my bed with 3 dogs….and a husband. I don’t know which is worse. But let’s get right into the thick of it. Speaking of stalking, not that I’ve ever done so…Have you ever stalked anyone to create a great story?
James – Not for fiction, but at one time I was city editor on a regional magazine, which involved interviewing local businessmen and politicians. This, sometimes, pretty much came to the same thing.
Ruschelle – So you have stalked for a story. Nice. You pen horror, science fiction and romance. Do you have any particular story that melds all those genres? If not, you should!
James – Yes, as a matter of fact. Tombs: A Chronicle of Latter-Day Times of Earth, just out this summer from Elder Signs Press, is a far future set novel-in-stories of (quoting from the back cover) “love and loss, death and resurrection… a beautifully written examination of the human condition of life, love, and death, through the prism of a dystopian apocalypse.” Beauty of writing, of course, will be in the eye of the reader–or at least the blurb writer–but love does play an important part throughout much of Tombs, as does horror as well, often paired hand in hand together.
Ruschelle – You are a very productive blogger. I’m envious! Other than promoting your own creations, which is something we all must do when we blog, what inspires your blog topics?
James – Usually just things that interest me. Promotion, to be sure, should be the biggest part, but if I see a film that I like I’ll often share that with an informal review, or if on the internet I run across an interesting article that might interest my readers as well, or maybe a list of books or films on a relevant topic, I’ll share that too with a link to the source. For instance, on the science fiction side I had several pieces on the demise of the Cassini space probe, by plunging into Saturn’s atmosphere, and even more recently, on October 4, two links to articles on the launch 60 years ago of the first artificial Earth satellite, Sputnik 1. Also (though this is promotion as well) I’ll occasionally post what I call “lagniappes,” free samples through a link or, if short, a direct quote of stories or poems I’ve written.
Ruschelle – Your book, The Tears of Isis, was nominated for a Stoker award for ‘Superior Achievement in a Fiction Collection.’ That is an awesome accolade for a horror writer. What was the inspiration for The Tears of Isis?
James – I was actually invited to submit a collection by Max Booth III for his then newly-established Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing. We’d worked together before, on an anthology he’d edited for another publisher, so he knew something of me and my work and offered me an almost completely free hand as long as it came in over a minimum number of words–so in a sense that was the inspiration, simply that I could in effect be editor as well as the author. Most stories would be previously published and, listing possibilities out, I came up with a theme, loosely, of art and death. That is, that the very act of creating beauty through art (including, therefore, even writing a story) transforms its subject into an object, and so the book opens with a poem, “La Méduse,” and ends with the title story about a sculptress who, like Medusa, re-creates her models in metal or stone–thus conferring on them immortality of a sort, but, at least in the case of the myth, killing them in the act.
Ruschelle – You’re a poet…and you know it. Sorry, I couldn’t help myself. You often do spoken poetry readings. On your blog, which I did NOT stalk, you mention a poem you wrote and delivered called Land of Milk and Honey. Please tell me it’s about someone getting eaten because they were doused in milk and honey.
James – Well, it does involve the release of bears (also cats).
Ruschelle – The world needs more poems of being eaten by bears and cats. IMO. You’re a semi-professional musician. What type of music and instruments do you play? Give us a taste. Please!
James – Unfortunately I don’t have the resources to create and attach a musical sample (you’ll note the first-ever post on my blog is titled “The Caveman of Computing”), but I play early music, much of it dance music from the Renaissance period or thereabouts, and lead and play tenor in a recorder consort.
Ruschelle – You are also a Science Fiction man. Your blog and your writing delves into the universe and beyond. You mentioned in your blog that you were lucky enough to take a bus to the path of totality for the solar eclipse. Will that experience show up somewhere in one of your stories?
James – That’s an interesting thought, but probably not–at least not directly. Seeing the eclipse was more of a thing I wanted to do because it was possible. However, that doesn’t rule out a possible future use, though more likely having to do with interactions between people who were there or other ancillary events (the reaction of animals, e.g.) than being about the eclipse itself. Still…who knows?
Ruschelle – Captain Kirk or Jean Luc Picard? I purposely did not choose Jonathan Archer because…well…Bakula.
James – Jean Luc Picard, because he acts more like I think a real commander would. Also, I am myself a bit of a Francophile, as witnessed perhaps by one or two references to French having survived as a formal diplomatic language in Tombs: A Chronicle of Latter-Day Times of Earth, as well as a series of flash stories I’m currently working on about les filles à les caissettes–the “casket girls” who according to New Orleanian legend brought vampirism from France to the New World.
Ruschelle- Who knew vampires were from France? Just like the Coneheads! You recently had your stories published in (two) body part anthologies; Zippered Flesh 3 published by Smart Rhino and The Body Horror Anthology by Gehenna & Hinnom Books. Mutilation or bizarre transformations can be frightening and deliciously gory. What is it about the human body that can make us squirm?
James- It is an interesting coincidence that these two similar books have come out so close together (though I should add the one by me in Zippered Flesh 3 is actually more science fiction than horror). What makes me squirm though is imagining these things happening to my own body, a sort of sympathetic cringe factor.
Ruschelle- Is there a body part you find truly scary? Like, for instance the spleen? How about the toe smack up against the pinky toe? I hear that little bugger is nasty.
James- As a serious answer, the brain, externally as the progenitor of human evil, but also internally in the fear of losing one’s own mind. But also, what interesting things might happen if a body’s glands malfunction, the pituitary gland, for instance, that regulates growth, one failure of which can cause acromegaly?
Ruschelle – I agree. The brain can be a very scary organ. Look at serial killers. The way their brains operate is quite chilling. Your new book, Tombs: A Chronicle of Latter-Day Times of Earth, released in June is a Novel-in-Stories. This is a phrase I’d not heard before. Could you explain it?
James – A novel-in-stories, sometimes called a “mosaic novel,” is one that is composed of a series of stories, often complete in themselves, but arranged in such a way that, combined, they add up to a tale of much greater importance. One example would Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles, the parts of which–stories and linking vignettes–become a “history” of the colonization of a world, while others outside the sf/horror genres include Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club or John Dos Passos’s U.S.A. trilogy. In similar fashion, Tombs tells of individuals’ lives and loves but as experienced by the last generations of people on Earth, and so becoming a narrative of the nearing destruction of that planet.
Ruschelle – That sounds amazing. But I’ve also read that a few of your stories in Tombs are a bit…how do we say it…okay, there’s no way to sugar coat it, so here it goes…saucy. Oh behave! Do you find is easier to write about human sexuality or the blood and guts of horror?
READERS! Here’s a link to his book Tombs. If you want to skip to the juicy stuff, feast your lovelorn eyes on The Beautiful Corpse and The Lover of Dead Flesh. OOOOOH MAMA
James – Tombs: A Chronicle of Latter-Day Times of Earth is certainly aimed at grownups, not children, and these two stories can stand as examples. Be warned, however, that some in Tombs may be a bit grotesque, on occasion involving, shall we say, the “living impaired.” I recommend reading some of the reviews on the Amazon site as well, possibly also giving a warning, but also that it’s not *all* about love. But to the question, when I was just starting out I’d say that love was probably the more embarrassing subject, until I purposely wrote some stories well outside my comfort level. One at least was published too so they weren’t that bad (though it took a while to find the right place), but the point is that then, having crossed a line, less frenetic expressions of love were no longer a problem. (I also may note that one Tombs tale, “Sargasso,” actually won an honorable mention in Circlet Press’s Best Fantastic Erotica in 2007–but it’s also about a pirate and a pleasure woman, so what can one say?)
Ruschelle – Honorable mention for Best Fantastic Erotica is definitely something to get all hot and bothered over. If you know what I mean, heh heh…. ah never mind. –You are a short story writer. Which is near and dear to my heart. There’s a real art to writing, short, solid, detailed works with a beginning, middle and end without all of the flowery language and “fluff,” for lack of better word, that novelist build their stories upon. What is your take on the novel vs. short story?
James – Let me start my answer with a quote from Edgar Allan Poe from his essay, “The Poetic Principle,” that “a poem deserves its title only inasmuch as it excites, by elevating the soul.” Hence a true poem must necessarily have a certain brevity. “That degree of excitement which would entitle a poem to be so called at all, cannot be sustained throughout a composition of any great length. After the lapse of half an hour, at the very utmost, it flags–fails–a revulsion ensues–and then the poem is, in effect, and in fact, no longer such.” There are such things as epics, of course, but to Poe, despite the need for unity for a work as a whole, such a work in practice becomes a series of shorter poems. I think I agree with what Poe is getting at–that at best the “good bits” will be interspersed with duller parts in a reader’s perception, and judging from Poe’s own works of fiction, I think he means for this to apply to prose as well. So as to my own work, yes, at least as a writer I prefer short stories to novels. Especially in terms of horror, which I see in part as a study of character under unnatural stress, and while I love diversions and atmosphere and descriptions and explanations to help as intellectual support, I think there is an emotional center which only can be sustained for so long.
Ruschelle – Do you feel pressure from your readers or anyone else in the writing industry to write a novel?
James – A little, perhaps, but in any event Tombs can be looked at in a way as my answer. But this also brings up the question, again, of what is–or more to the point, why write–a novel-in-stories? As noted above, the idea is there’s a larger story, in this case that of the world itself, but the approach to it is oblique, as if through, say, a series of snapshots in a photo album from which the reader might assemble a more complete picture in his or her own head. An assemblage, then, in the case of Tombs of corpse-trains that ply bridges crossing a great river, bearing a city’s dead, braving attacks from flesh-eating ghouls. Of rat catchers, gravediggers, grave guards, and artists. Of Mangol the Ghoul, of musician-lovers Flute and Harp who once played back a storm, of the Beautiful Corpse who we just met, above. A city consumed by a huge conflagration, a woman frozen for thousands of years. A flower that eats memories… And in the center of all, the great necropolis, the Tombs.
The thing is, this is one way around Poe’s dictum in my previous answer, of being able to sustain a core idea–intellectual, aesthetic, emotional–only for so long, yet to couch the totality of these ideas into a work more epic in scope.
Ruschelle – You have inspirational kitties. I love inspirational kitties. Tell us a little bit about each of them and how they fit into your writing and or writing process.
James – Triana, the “Goth Cat” (she “dresses” mostly in black) is the resident feline, rescued from the local animal shelter earlier this year when her predecessor, Wednesday, died of kidney failure. Triana in particular will often lie down next to the computer while I’m working, conveniently placed for occasional petting, but also careful to keep off the keyboard, and both she and Wednesday have been joys to play with when it’s time to wind down from writing. Both, incidentally, have their own web pages, reachable under “Pages” on my blog.
Ruschelle – You have an impressive catalog of books you’ve penned under your belt. Do you have a book that is your favorite? That just stands out from other work you’ve done?
James – I wonder if it will always be the next to last one I’ve written. I really don’t have all that many books, but I think each is better than the one before–except for the one I will have most recently written, because it’s still too close to me in my mind for me to be an objective judge. If that makes any sense. So at least at the moment it’s The Tears of Isis, my 2013 collection, but ready to be supplanted (as the mood may strike me) by my latest, but very different, Tombs: A Chronicle of Latter-Day Times of Earth.
Ruschelle – Is there something that you haven’t written about that your loins are aching to put pen to paper? And if your loins are dexterous enough to do so, I really hope you make a video of it for You Tube.
James – As a partial a contradiction of my last answer, I’ve been kicking around an idea for a (mostly) poetry book on vampire etiquette, aimed to the newly “turned” –thus not as important in any real sense as either The Tears of Isis or Tombs, but perhaps more fun. I say mostly poetry because I might add some prose as well, including some of the casket girl stories I mentioned briefly above, intended as practical examples of “appropriate” vampire behavior. This is sort of a back-burner thing right now though.
Ruschelle – So no video? Damn. Well, is there anything you want to let our esteemed readers know about you that we haven’t covered? Like your fetish for sleeping in silk pajamas with spaceships on them or the time you wrestled the evil Gorn Greco-Roman style in a vat of elderberry jelly?
James – Well, I’m more a wrestler of words than Gorn, but wrestling matches of any sort are successful only if they have audiences to attend them. So, I’m probably speaking for all writers here, but if you read a book that you enjoy, please spread the word. Tell your friends, tell it on Twitter and Facebook, etc., but also consider posting reviews, especially on sites like Goodreads and Amazon. These needn’t be long, just a line or two, though reasons for liking or disliking something are good to include. And they needn’t always be Five Star either–if you see any flaws be honest about it–but the thing is, every review published helps increase interest, and hopefully readership.
Ruschelle – Here’s my sketch of James in his jammies which I did not stalk to get…okay…maybe I did. His jammies are AWESOME.
If you would like to find out more about James, or where you can find his work, follow the below links.
James Dorr’s latest book is a novel-in-stories published in June 2017 by Elder Signs Press, Tombs: A Chronicle of Latter-Day Times of Earth. Born in Florida, raised in the New York City area, in college in Boston, and currently living in the Midwest, Dorr is a short story writer and poet specializing in dark fantasy and horror, with forays into mystery and science fiction. The Tears of Isis was a 2014 Bram Stoker Award® finalist for Superior Achievement in a Fiction Collection, while other books include Strange Mistresses: Tales of Wonder and Romance, Darker Loves: Tales of Mystery and Regret, and his all poetry Vamps (A Retrospective). He has also been a technical writer, an editor on a regional magazine, a full-time non-fiction freelancer, and a semi-professional musician, and currently harbors a cat named Trana.
Selene – First, tell us a bit about yourself. I see you’ve got a Hallowe’en story in an anthology coming out this month.
Rebecca – Thanks, Selene. I live with my husband, son, and ancient cat (it’s his 20th birthday today!) on the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria, Australia. We’ve been here for the last five years. It’s a lovely coastal community that’s welcomed our family and allowed me to feel very grounded. In between content writing, copy editing, operating StoryCraft Creative Writing Workshops, and raising my family, I try and spend as much time as I can find working on my true passion, storytelling.
I’ve got a couple of publications due out this Halloween season: One of my poems, ‘Cycle’ is included in Killing It Softly – The Best of Women in Horror Vol 2. I’ve also got a flash fiction piece ‘Knock Knock’ in Trickster’s Treats, a Halloween themed magazine with thirty-six stories, covering six creepy themes.
Selene – What got you started writing?
Rebecca – This one sounds like an easy question, but it’s actually quite hard to drill down on! I think I was born fascinated with words. I was a voracious reader from a very young age and started writing fiction early – probably when I was about eight or nine years old. I tinkered with stories, composed endless poetry, and whenever it was a family member’s birthday, indubitably a poem from me would accompany their gift.
From there my writing turned to songs, false novel starts, articles, and short stories that I didn’t know what to do with, and didn’t know how to connect to the greater writing community. It wasn’t until the mid to late 2000’s when my life was a lot more settled that I finally started taking my writing seriously – honing my craft, researching markets, networking with other writers, learning industry standards, expectations and pitfalls, and submitting.
Selene – Congratulations on your middle-grade novel that’s coming out in 2018. Tell us a bit about it.
Rebecca – Thank you! I’m so excited about it! ‘Curtis Creed and the Lore of the Ocean’ is a middle grade/early teen novel scheduled for release in 2018 by IFWG Publishing Australia. It combines my love of the ocean with my passion for speculative fiction with an Australian setting.
Set in the fictional coastal Queensland town of Midnight Cove, it brings together thirteen-year-old Curtis Creed, a talented upcoming surfer, moving through the grief of his father’s death and a dramatic speculative storyline in which two warring undersea species fight for an all-important object.
It was my objective to provide readers with an exciting, fast-paced story subtly infused with positive messages topical and relevant to today’s youth, and combines relatable characters in a familiar setting, dealing with unfamiliar circumstances and challenges.
Several themes have been used to carry the narrative, including making sense of grief; more so dealing with grief and the diverse way it affects individuals and impacts on family dynamics. I endeavoured to bring to the forefront the positive aspects that can be gleaned from grief – courage in the face of adversity; overthrowing the stigma of mental health issues; self-worth, self-acceptance and self-belief. It is my hope both male and female readers will find the characters convincing, facing issues and challenges that may parallel their own.
Selene – How does writing for a younger audience differ from an adult audience?
Rebecca – Hmmm, I feel a greater sense of responsibility to a younger audience, if that makes sense. When I first set out to write Curtis Creed’s story I decided it would be a book that tackles tough issues – it’s a tough world – but would be uplifting, and ultimately good would triumph over evil, and courage and kindness will prevail. I don’t let Curtis get there easily, mind you – he has a lot of obstacles, both mental and physical, to overcome – but I wanted to write a book that my 9-year-old son would be able to draw inspiration from.
Kids don’t want – nor need – to be spoon fed, and they can pick a bullshitter a mile away. When it comes to reading they demand the same thing as adults – authentic voices, engaging characters, and an entertaining plot that doesn’t sugar coat or condescend. Kids enjoy being thrilled, but naturally, the subject needs to be age appropriate. I bring shades of darkness into many of my works for younger readers, but the light always outshines the dark…
… but when I write for a clearly defined adult audience, most bets are off 😊
Selene – What or who are some of the influences on your writing?
Rebecca – So many! I’m inspired by the greats of the late 1800’s / early 1900’s – M R James, Guy de Maupassant, H G Wells, Saki, and others of that ilk.
I can’t rate Shirley Jackson enough – her quiet, cunning style is truly masterful.
More contemporary influences – Robert McCammon, Joe Lansdale, Annie Proulx, I’m currently enjoying Liane Moriarty’s keen observations and portrayal of suburban familiarity, Tim Winton.
Stephen King has been a giant to me since my early teens. His earlier works influenced me greatly – they challenged me to write outside the safety of my cognitive parameters; to look more intensely at the mechanics of character, and to indulge and embrace my love of horror.
Selene – As a Canadian writer, I’m always interested in the power of setting in storytelling. You mention your love of the ocean, and both ‘Curtis Creed and the Lore of the Ocean’ and ‘Coralesque’ from the Gold Coast Anthology feature the ocean heavily. What does water mean to you, thematically?
Rebecca – I’m not surprised, Selene. Canada is so beautiful, with such a vast diversity of landscapes and environments to draw inspiration from!
I have always had an affinity with the ocean. I don’t think I could ever move to a non-coastal setting. The ocean is not only beautiful and soothing, unyielding and enigmatic, it can be terrifying and powerful and unpredictable. It is also stuffed with the most fascinating alien-like creatures, many of which I am sure we’re yet to discover.
I guess, thematically, the rhythm of the ocean translates to the rhythms of life – the ebbs and flows, the highs and lows, the power and the passion, the calm and the chaos.
Selene – Other than the ocean, where do you get your ideas? OK, I know that’s a cliché, but inspiration is so varied from author to author!
Rebecca – I always love reading answers to this question! For me, it’s a combination of things. Sometimes it’s a snatch of overheard conversation (I’m a dreadful eavesdropper), that inspires the kernel of a story. An article or news item might trigger inspiration. Sometimes it’s a sequence of words that make me think what an intriguing story title they would make. Sometimes I get a glimpse of an inciting incident or situation from random sources, and little building blocks start to form a framework. The characters always seem to come later.
I walk a lot – there are some lovely walks that surround my home – and this is usually when the threads of a story come together, or when I get a resolution to plot points that have been proving problematic.
Selene – Further to the theme of inspiration and influence, why do you write in the horror genre? I see you also write in other capacities, so what stands out about horror to you, over other genres and forms of writing?
Rebecca – I initially started writing the sort of stories I loved to read – the strange, the weird, the macabre. Dark fantasy and horror were always on my radar. Even from a young age, I enjoyed horror in the form of fairy tales (I had some very dog-eared copies of the Red and Blue Fairy Books).
To me, horror in its various forms is art. It is such a great vehicle to highlight the many different aspects of the human experience, which is a perennial source of fascination to me.
While I don’t pigeon-hole myself purely as a writer of speculative fiction – I love to explore other genres as well as creative nonfiction – horror and dark fantasy is my first love.
Selene – What about character? Who’s your favourite of your characters to date?
Rebecca – I’ve got a real soft spot for new girl in town, Morgan, who is Curtis’s unlikely ally in ‘Curtis Creed and the Lore of the Ocean’, my forthcoming novel. She’s razor smart, loyal, yet socially awkward – at an age when you just want acceptance.
There’s also Mayor Selwyn Carter – my antagonist in a novel-length sci-fi thriller WIP. He’s a really nasty piece of work that I hope readers get to meet one day. I love a good bad guy, and Carter was so much fun to write. This particular novel has been ‘bottom drawered’ for some time, but the characters still make so much noise in my head, I know they are busting to come out and play. I’m looking forward to seeing what Selwyn’s got to say for himself in the redraft.
Selene – Tell us about your creative writing workshops. What are your approaches to teaching writing? Let’s talk about the quote: “Writing well means never having to say, ‘I guess you had to be there.'”
Rebecca – I started StoryCraft Creative Writing Workshops this year, and I’m happy to say it’s been really well received. My workshops are designed to inspire, educate and encourage aspiring authors of every age and ability. They are hands-on, engaging, and interactive, and cover the various elements of craft with age-appropriate content and exercises.
I love the quote, “Writing well means never having to say, “I guess you had to be there.” It’s by comic strip creator, Jef Mallett, and it pretty much encapsulates everything I love about good writing.
Selene – I see you’re involved with Women in Horror Month, which happens every February. Do you buy it when someone says, “I don’t care about an author’s gender, it’s the story that matters”?
Rebecca – Women in Horror Month is a fabulous initiative, and I think it’s gone a long way to raising the profile of female horror writers, as well as destroying a long-held myth that women can’t (or shouldn’t) write horror.
I’m fortunate (?) perhaps in that I don’t think my writing has been overlooked or dismissed because of my gender (but then again, would I know? Perhaps this is a naivety on my own part). I want to buy it when someone says, “I don’t care about an author’s gender, it’s the story that matters,” as you’d think that in 2017 gender would no longer be an issue (be it for fiction or sports writing, or historical memoir), however the evidence is still there (hello, social media comments) to indicate that this is another naivety on my part. I do feel like the tide is turning though. I really do.
The spec fic community here in Australia is brimming with males and females who are highly committed advocates for inclusivity, acceptance, and diversity, and I’m proud to be a part of that.
Selene – You’re also a copy editor and proof-reader by profession. Let’s talk about the editing process, and how important is a good editor?
Rebecca – A good editor is an invaluable, mandatory part of the publication process, in my opinion. No matter how well you can write, editing one’s own work is nigh impossible, and not recommended.
An editor can offer insights to your work that you are unable to see. From structural issues, point of view problems, character inconsistencies, and fact-checking, through to syntax, sentence structure, grammar, punctuation, a good structural editor, copy editor, and proof reader is one of the best investments you can make if you want to get your best work out there. And why wouldn’t you?
Selene – As a writing teacher and editor, you bring a lot to the process. What advice would you give to an aspiring author?
Rebecca – Read widely, read often, and read forensically!
Selene – If you weren’t a writer, what else would you be doing?
Rebecca – I would have loved to have been a Marine Biologist, a Palaeontologist, or a Museum Curator. I would also have loved to own a Cattery (this dream is not dead to me).
I’ve had quite a diverse resume in my time, with jobs across a wide range of industries. I once went through the application process for the Australian Federal Police … but that’s a story for another day 😊
Selene – What’s next for you? Do you have anything else to add for our readers?
Rebecca – I’m currently working on a bit of a change of pace for me – a young adult novel set in 1991 that explores family secrets and dynamics. I’m really enjoying the writing process for this one, and hope to have a first draft finished in the next few months.
Thanks so much for your time, Rebecca!
If you would like to keep up to date with Rebecca, you can find her at the following links:
Derek – Stephen – I suppose we should start with how did you get into writing horror?
Stephen – I’d probably blame my Grandmother for introducing me to horror. When I was a kid, she corrupted me and would let me stay up and watch “Deadly Earnest’s Awful Movies” and “The Night Stalker”. The first story I wrote, when I was about 9 years old, was called “The Cat” and was my own version of a Night Stalker episode.
Derek – Is there something that appeals to your nature in the horror genre?
Stephen – The most enjoyable aspect about horror is the way that a great writer (Stephen King and James Herbert do this well) can paint a character and build empathy with that character, then put them through all sorts of hell before eventually dispatching them in the most unexpected or hideous way possible or bringing them back safely. It’s that building stories on the back of taking simple, ordinary folk into a terrifying world and seeing whether they survive that makes the genre so involving.
Derek – Alright, so when did you first get published and can you tell us a bit about that experience?
Stephen – I’ve only recently been published in the last couple of years, previous to that I had mainly been writing film scripts for a number of years, but a friend sent me a link to a call for submissions from Hunter Anthologies for their Sproutlings anthology of plant based horror stories. I thought I’d give it a crack and managed to crank out a couple of stories which were accepted for publication. I’ll admit the first versions read like short scripts, so I had to relearn the art of prose writing and take both through a large number of rewrites until they read like stories. Since then I’ve been refining my style.
Derek – At this time how many stories do you have published and where can our readers find them?
Stephen – So far, I have four short stories and one non-fiction piece published. They are:
“Death Spores” and “We came in peace” featured in “Sproutlings: A compendium of little fictions”;
“Alone” featured in “Hells Bells: Stories of Festive Fear by members of the Australian Horror Writers Association”;
I also have two other longer stories to be published later this year. These are:
“The curious case of the sleeper” to be included in the “Sherlock Holmes in the realms of H.G. Wells” anthology by Belanger Books; and
“Eyes of Glass” to be included in the “Below the Stairs: Tales from the Cellar” anthology by OzHorrorCon.
Derek – Where do you find your inspiration for your stories?
Stephen – That’s the Stephen King question. To be honest inspiration can come from anywhere. As an example, one day I was walking to get lunch and wondering “what would happen if someone was walking along and suddenly their head exploded”. From that I wrote my feature length screenplay and associated short story “Death Spores”. The important thing is not where the ideas come from but to capture them and work them through to see if something can grow from the germ of an idea into a fully realised story.
Derek – When did you first know that you were going to be a writer?
Stephen – I think it’s always been there in the back of my mind. I was a voracious reader as a kid and teenager. My Mum reckons I hated the old “Dick and Jane” books, but I’d always have my head in a dinosaur or monster book. I read the Lord of the Rings when the original animated movie came out in 1978 (I was 13). I didn’t really take writing seriously until I was in my twenties. I wrote a few short stories and actually completed two 75,000 word novels. Both are crap, so I turned my attention to feature film scripts and have written sixteen so far, with a few gaining some kudos in international competitions. As I mentioned earlier, I came back to prose writing about three years ago and I’m loving it.
Derek – As you continue on in your career is there a point where you can look back and say yeah that is the moment that I knew that I was going to make it?
Stephen – For some strange reason I’ve always had a dream that one day I’d come across a novel I’ve written in an Opportunity Shop. That would tell me that I not only finished writing a novel, but got it published and printed, then someone bought it and thought enough about it to donate it to charity rather than just toss it in the recycling.
I reckon that would be the moment that I realise I’ve made some sort of mark in the literary world. I may never make a cent out of it, but at least someone may have read my book and there’s every chance that someone else will buy it and read it. I’d probably have to stop from buying it myself.
Derek – When did you first start writing?
Stephen – Apart from some formative stuff that I wrote in school, I think it all started again when I joined Toastmasters in the early 90’s. I had to write speeches and it sparked something off in me. I cobbled a few short stories together, entered a couple of Women’s Weekly and Australian Woman’s Forum competitions and even managed to get a couple of short pieces published in Picture magazine for their “My Funniest F***” column.
I then proceeded to write two novels, Dreamkiller and Sandman. I read some of that writing now and cower in fear at the atrocity pervading my mind, but it was a learning experience. The novels were quite short (75,000 words) but told fairly wide spanning stories, so I started learning script writing. Again, my early attempts are terrible but at first it’s all about learning the craft. I’ve now written sixteen feature length screenplays and numerous short scripts. I’ve made a few short films from them myself and had (one is in production) a couple made by an overseas company “Dark Fire Productions”. Four of my scripts, “Death Spores”, “Control”, “Dark are the Woods” and “Titan” have placed or won in international competitions, so I’m pretty stoked by that.
A few years ago I took up prose writing again. My first few attempts were flash fiction and as my skills have grown I’ve embarked on longer works. My latest piece to be published “Eyes of Glass” is 9,600 words. I’ve joked with my wife that I should attempt another novel. There was much groaning as she knows how lost I get when I’m deep into a project.
Derek –Can you tell our readers about your any unique experiences that have come up because you are a writer?
Stephen – I think the most fun part about being a writer, and now a published author, is the look in peoples’ eyes when they find out. I’m a little used to it cause I’ve also been a singer in a rock band, so the reaction is similar. But the average person harbours a deep desire to be a writer. They picture Stephen King and imagine it’s the life of a rock star or movie star. When we all know the reality is that most of the time we sit in front of a keyboard and zone out from the world, and that there’s not a lot of money straight off the bat, only after years of hard graft. But it is a great ice breaker and gets people interested in you; in fact discussing my writing was the opening ten minutes of a recent job interview.
Derek – What has been your most favorite thing to write, so far?
Stephen – I think one of my favourites was “Death Spores”. I took the seed of an idea about a dude walking along and having his head explode and turned it into a 110 page screenplay. The central story is about a meteor crashing to Earth and unleashing the zombie apocalypse via a space fungus. I didn’t hold back. I had exploding heads. Limbs chewed off left, right and center. Dudes gnawing off their own hands. Corpses in a hospital getting up off their gurneys and having their guts spill out all over the floor. It was all good fun and I took the opening sequence and turned it into the short story that was my first published piece.
Derek – How do you find time to balance your personal life and writing?
Stephen – I just steal time. I’ve got two primary school aged kids, plus I’m a Taekwondo instructor, plus in winter I coach my daughter’s soccer team, so I steal time where I can.
I’d love to set up a niche and allocate a fixed period to writing every morning, but it just won’t happen. From 6:30am till 8:00pm, its domestic bliss (read mayhem), then a couple of hours, at best, to relax the day away, but that includes running Herczeg Inc. So, I snatch time here and there at night or lunch times at work or when it’s quiet and I’ve got a lull in the hubbub of my employ.
When ideas spring, then I record them on the phone or on the laptop. I keep a mind map open on my desktop and add ideas or research when I can. I’m usually kept awake by ideas that are percolating and even in the shower manage to string thoughts together, though usually forget them once I’m dry.
Derek – Alright so without giving to much away, what projects are you working on currently?
Stephen – I have a forgotten project that I need to get back to called “All Creatures”. It’s a feature length script about animals going wild down the south coast of New South Wales. I’m about 27 pages in and have it mostly plotted out, just got to pull my finger out and get back to it.
On the cards are one short story for an anthology that I found through the Horror Tree newsletter, so thank you guys for the leads. Not only are they a great way to find out who’s looking out there, they get your creative juices flowing. Plus I have another short in the works for an anthology associated with one of my previously published stories. Both will be around the 5,000+ mark, so will take a bit of dedication and time.
Also, around November the theme for a local Canberra short film competition (held in March) is released. I’ve entered a couple of times with no real success, but am keen again to get the crew back together for another crack.
Derek – Please tell our readers who are your favorite authors and why?
Stephen – James Herbert is my all-time favourite author. I read the Rats trilogy when I was a teenager and just loved the way he weaves vignettes together by building up characters, fleshing them out with empathic stories then kills them off in gruesome ways. One of my prized possessions is a signed first edition of “Ash” and I was devastated when he died a few years ago.
My other favourite is Stephen King. I have collected 39 first edition hard covers and I’ve read “On Writing” about five times so far. I just love the simplicity of King’s style and the way he can create straightforward everyday characters and put them through hellish situations. I’ve tried emulating his process but it always comes out as a mess. I’m anally retentive so I need to plan out to keep the story tight.
Derek – Do your feel that your style is related to the authors that you read?
Stephen – I’d probably like to think that my style is similar to King or Herbert, but I know that’s not the case. The editor that helped me with my latest story said that it read almost like a film script. Probably due to the fact I’ve spent twenty years writing film scripts, which strips away all the descriptive and florally text normally found in great prose writing.
That’s my next aim, to develop my style to be more expansive. My ultimate aim is to reach the beautiful style of Clive Barker, but I think that’s more a dream and will take a lot of work.
Derek – Do you use beta readers; can you tell us how that experience has been for you? Does it help?
Stephen – I’ve used a similar system with some of my film scripts. I’ve sent them out to other film makers for their comments, but the problem being that most of the feedback I receive is basically how that person would write the script not an analysis of the story itself.
I went through a full script edit with a Los Angeles based editor with “Control”. The process was brilliant as her feedback was totally independent and the final version was stripped back and rewritten from scratch. A lot of hard work, but very worthwhile.
Derek – Where can our readers get in touch with you if they want to become a beta reader for you?
Stephen – Happy for anybody to look me up on Facebook (Steve Herczeg) and PM me, or I can be contacted through my film production company’s email address: [email protected].
Derek – Where can our readers follow you on your amazing journey?
Stephen – I must admit I’ve been very slack in setting a decent social media presence and need to pull my finger out. I mostly post to my personal Facebook page and also to the one dedicated for the feature film I’m trying to get off the ground “Control”.
Derek – So, a question I ask everyone, if you could be any animal, what animal would it be and why?
Stephen – I would be a Rhinoceros. To me a Rhino is the sort of beast that gets out there, puts its head down and just keeps going. No matter what crap gets in the way or is thrown, it just ignores everything and continues on.
In fact I have a collection of carved Rhinos at home. I think there’s about fifteen made from all sorts of materials (wood, metal, ceramic, crystal).
Derek: Thank you so much for your time. It has been such a pleasure working thus far. I am excited to see what you come up with next. I am really looking forward to following you and your career path. I see great things in the future for you.