The Horror Tree Presents… An Interview With S. L. Edwards

Today we’re sitting down to interview one S. L. Edwards. Part man, part weredog, part lover of olives and mayo*, he is also the creator of the upcoming collection ‘Whiskey and Other Unusual Ghosts’.  The work has an introduction by Charles P Dunphey and is described as follow: “Whiskey and Other Unusual Ghosts debuts a meteoric new voice in modern dark fiction. In these tales, you’ll discover the humanity of horror, and the traumas that birth ghosts of all kinds. From inner demons to the bloodied fields of war, Edwards maintains his unique voice while whispers of classic writers such as Arthur Machen and Thomas Ligotti shine through. Edwards enters the contemporary dark fiction crowd with a standout collection that is likely to cement his position amongst the modern greats.

 

*S.L. hates olives and mayo with a passion rarely found outside of a zealot who has found the latest person they feel is against their own cause and the two must be offered to him at all available opportunities.

 

Horror Tree (HT): Mr. Edwards, what can you tell our readers about your upcoming blasphemous work known only as ‘Whiskey and Other Unusual Ghosts’?

  1. L. Edwards (SLE): First, thanks for having me, Stuart. I broke into the scene largely because of what you do at Horror Tree. The site was a gamechanger, and really allowed me to get my foot through the door. It’s an honor to be here, talking about my debut collection.

So that brings me to the collection. “Whiskey” is a collection of twelve stories (plus a bonus story after the Afterword). Each story has an illustration from the incomparable Yves Tourigny. I may be biased, but I think this is his best work. It’s called “Whiskey and Other Unusual Ghosts” because the stories are, at their core, about the things that haunt us. Violence, intimate and political. Mistakes. Addictions. Deals made between people who you never know. Devastating obsessions. The “ghosts” in these stories are more thematic than literal, and the supernatural merely serves as a catalyst for horrors that were already there. Latent variables brought to the forefront. They focus on a variety of characters, who I came to know pretty well in the course of writing.

I’m proud of it, but I would be lying if I didn’t tell you I’m a little anxious too. The writing community has been very kind to me, and I just hope I can make people proud. Charles P. Dunphey, in particular, has taken me on as a new writer and I owe him so much for it.

HT: You enjoy bringing back characters from your stories and revisiting them in new tales. Does this collection contain any crossover in characters from your other works? Any from within the collection itself?

  1. L. Edwards: Originally, there were going to be two stories containing a character named “The Matchmaker.” The Matchmaker is a mix of internet urban legends, myths coming out of the intelligence world, and a bit of an autobiographical monster. The premise of the Matchmaker was relatively straightforward, this is a person (question marks on “person”) who people can summon by leaving very specific amounts of money in a very specific pattern. There are different Matchmaker “maps” for major urban areas across the world. And once properly hired, the Matchmaker will arrange one murder for their client to carry out. Essentially, the Matchmaker allows people to kill other people, but with no consequences. However, one of those stories got cut.

    But as I was assembling “Whiskey,” the tone of the collection became quite clear. It would have been difficult to bring in Congressman Marsh (my politically Lovecraftian character), or Joe Bartred (my occult detective). I enjoy writing those characters and a few others, but I would like to have enough material to collect these characters into their own collections later on down the road.

HT: Do you feel that any of the stories found within will lead to other tales of involving spirits? Your call on if I mean alcohol, nonphysical beings, or both!

SLE: Oh, I think they already have! I’m currently shopping around another collection, entitled Monsters of the Sea and Sky that follows similar themes from Whiskey. Particularly, the stories in Monsters build off of the DNA established in “Cabras” and “Volver Al Monte,” which kind be found in the latter half of Whiskey and Other Unusual Ghosts. The “spirits” in these stories are centered around political violence, it’s cyclical nature and repeating consequences. There is something profoundly sad to me in peace being a divisive issue. It’s very rare for groups to make peace with their friends, instead it is by necessity that peace be made between groups and nations that do not trust each other. That have no reason to trust each other! And for this reason, we conflict repeated over, over and over again.

As for nonphysical beings, most of my monsters are remarkably physical. When they’re not people, they’re monsters in the most straightforward sort of sense. But I did take some of the themes of “Maggie Was a Monster” and “I’ve Been Here A Very Long Time,” and put them into another story involving adolescence, growing up and finding first loves. I don’t want to give too much away about “Please Don’t Worry,”  as it’s coming from Hinnom Magazine this year. But it was a profoundly personal, painful story. I am very proud of it, and I hope readers enjoy it as much as it pained me to write it.

Now alcohol…you know, a lot of my characters sit around drinking whiskey! It’s become something of a cheap way for me to make excuses for writing long, philosophic conversations. Maybe that will be a running joke one day: “You know you’re in an S. L. Edwards story if you’re speaking Spanish and drinking whiskey.”

HT: Did any other authors inspire the specific works in this collection? If so, who and how?

SLE: I did, but I have to say I draw a lot of my writing from outside the horror community. Boris Pasternak and Vasily Grossman were big influences on me. Pasternak is pretty well-known, but Grossman is sort of the entire tragedy of WWII wrapped up in one sad human life. He was a war correspondent traveling with the Red Army, and a Ukranian Jew. The things he saw and the profound personal loss the war cost him are written across his masterful novel “Life and Fate.”

For horror influences, there’s a lot of Poe. Lovecraft, of course. To an extent I think all of us live in Lovecraft’s shadow, and I also think that’s okay. Algernon Blackwood’s cosmic horror approach to nature made its way into “The Case of Yuri Zaystev.” Neil Gaiman’s ironic fantasy also shows up a few times too.

HT: Anyone who follows you on social media will instantly recognize your love of doggos. While I understand this love, can you share a bit of your passion for our furry four legged friends with the world?

SLE: The more I come to know people, the more I like dogs. I grew up with, and still have an extreme fur allergy. It was particularly bad with cats. But when you’re a withdrawn child, given to mood swings and just days of bitterness you don’t understand, that can be very hard. If I’m going to be honest, a lot of my childhood I often felt like I was underwater, or on a different planet, when my peers spoke. It led me to alienate more people than I wanted to, and I tended to have a difficult time making new friends.

So there’s something to be said, for someone who is always happy to see you. Someone who doesn’t care about how awkward you are, someone who always wants to sit with you. Someone who doesn’t care about the news, or how you feel about your job, or how much the rent costs. Just someone who loves you, unconditionally. Who always dances when you come home, who always wags their tail.

I don’t have anything against cats now, I want to make that clear. But I get very severe allergy attacks around them. A few people have told me that you can grow to tolerate it, but it’s very difficult for me. I instead enjoy pictures of cats.

HT: How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck was a ghost?

SLE: Three. But poorly.

HT: If you could write something with any other author who would it be and why?

SLE: You know, that’s a very difficult question for me. I’m quite reluctant to answer, because the idea of a collaboration is quite intimidating to me. I don’t know how the mechanics works, and can be quite flighty with my schedule. For these reasons, I don’t think I would make a very good collaborator at all. The closest I’ve come is writing a character for Jonathan Raab’s Kottoverse. And while that was fun, I’m not sure that it would be easy to do again.

Of course the obvious answer is Yves, who did the vast majority of the heavy lifting in crafting Borkchito. He deserves credit for that.

But there are a few I think would be fun. John Linwood Grant pays such intensive attention to his characters that it would be impossible to turn him down. I’d be honored to get the opportunity to work on something with Misters Dry or Bubbles one day. Mer Whinery…it’d be great to do an Oklahoma/Texas sword-and-sorcery tale one day. My old Ravenwood friends, John Paul Fitch or Russell Smeaton…

But then there are the dreams. These are authors who, if they approached me (please don’t approach me) would be very difficult to turn down. Gwendolyn Kiste is obviously my hero, as is Nadia Bulkin. Those two are just modern powerhouses, I am in awe of everything they do. S.P. Miskowski is another one. Jon Padgett once threatened to collaborate with me but luckily I was able to weasel my way out, I’m not sure I could that again. Most of these folks though, for good reason, don’t collaborate. And again, I’m just not sure what kind of collaborator I would be. I am sure I will try one day, but for now I’m perfectly happy playing in my own sandbox and inviting people in.

HT: It is said that your nemesis is the wickedly evil Edward L. Samuels (though the way he tells it, you’re the villain in his story.) What can you tell us about this man of mystery?

SLE: E. L. Samuels lives in the corner of your eyes. He is impossibly tall, and flickers in the light. In the night he’ll sing songs to you, but each of them are lies. Sometimes the wind will last too long, settle on your hair and that space just behind your ear. Do not turn around. When the lights flicker, the shadows in the corner seem to change. Keep looking forward. Before you go to sleep, you may hear a laugh. Just sleep. Please, just sleep.

HT: What advice would you give to an author who is just starting out?

SLE: Even just 45 minutes of exercise a day can lead to better health, including better sleep. The average person needs 8 hours of sleep a night, and eight cups of water in a day. Remember that: 8 hours, 8 cups. Try to eat fresh fruit and vegetables whenever possible. Substitute darker lettuce for iceberg when you’re eating a hamburger. And a balanced breakfast is actually HEALTHIER than no breakfast at all.

HT: Do you have an ideal writing environment?

SLE: Well…can I afford one? No. Ideally I’d like to right in some mountain cabin, drinking dark coffee out of a metal cup. I would wear flannel, and pet a corgi as it gently rested on my lap. After dinner with the people I love I would retire once more to writing.

But no, no I don’t have one now.

HT: Short story collections have been making a comeback in recent years, what inspired you to put one together and do you feel that this is a trend which will continue?

SLE: I’ve always wanted to get a collection in people’s hands, and for a very long time I knew I wanted it to be called “Whiskey and Other Unusual Ghosts.” The idea of drinking scared me quite a bit when I was younger. I wasn’t an athletic kid, but was a smart one. My grades were everything to me. My state of mind was everything to me. And I was terrified that alcohol and other drugs would just annihilate myself. This led to the titular story, “Whiskey and Memory,” which has undergone many revisions since I first wrote it. So I’ve always wanted to get a collection together. These days I actually prefer them to novels. You get a better sampling of what author has to offer.

I do think it will continue, by necessity. There are so many talented writers in Weird Fiction right now, and the ranks are only growing. There isn’t a lot of time for people to just generate novels. Less time to read them. As break out voices emerge, readers will want to sit down with a whole collection of the author’s works. I’m still dying, for instance, for collections from authors like Brooke Warra, Christopher Ropes, William Tea and John Paul Fitch. I’m over the damn moon that Betty Rocksteady’s collection is finally coming out this summer (check it out, y’all). So yeah, I at least hope it will continue.

HT: What else would you like to share with the readers and authors who spend time at the Horror Tree?

SLE: First of all, thank you for reading this. Putting a collection together is a stressful. Getting it out there is even more so. I hope that I’ve inspired some interest in “Whiskey and Other Unusual Ghosts.” If so, I hope you leave a review on Jeff Bezos’ evil empire, or on goodreads. Reviews make or break independent authors and publishers, and I could use your help.

My other is a plea to check out the following emerging writers, who I may or may not have mentioned before: John Paul Fitch, Russell Smeaton, William Tea, Rob F. Martin, Brooke Warra, Jordan Kurella, Sarah Walker, Can Wiggins, Sean M. Thompson, Mer Whinery so many others. Support independent presses like Charles P. Dunphey’s “Hinnom,” Jon Padgett’s “Vastarien,” Scott R. Jones “Martian Migraine,” Robert S. Wilson’s “Nightscape” Doug Draa’s “Weirdbook.” These folks are on the frontlines of new weird fiction, new horror fiction. They are going to be the ones finding and promoting weird authors. Duane Pesice is also really good about that with every anthology he edits.

And even more established writers could use your help and dollars. I cannot recommend the works of Gwendolyn Kiste or Nadia Bulkin enough. Same for S.P. Miskowski. John Langan. Michael Wehunt. Jayaprakash Satyamurthy. Kurt Fawver. Matthew M. Bartlett We live in a golden age of sorts, but it only lasts as long as readers keep reading. So I encourage you to give those good folks your time, your energy, and just a bit of your money.

And this gets to my last thing: authors, support each other. Particularly you new ones. Your fellows are going to be your first readers, and your first advocates. But you are responsible for lifting them up too. Promote your fellow writers: it’s the right thing to do.

‘Whiskey and Other Unusual Ghosts’ is available for pre-order on Amazon! (Disclaimer: This is an affiliate link. If you purchase something through the links in this article we may receive a small commission or referral fee. This happens without any additional cost to you.)

A Talk About Terror, with Chris Mason and Tabatha Wood

Australian author, Chris Mason, lives in Adelaide, often dubbed “the murder capital of Australia.” Her stories have won a number of awards over the years —
“The Stairwell” (Below the Stairs – Tales from the Cellar) won the best horror novella for 2017 in the Aurealis awards, and “The Black Sea” (Beneath the Waves – Tales from the Deep) was shortlisted for the Aurealis best horror novella for 2018.

Most recently “The Black Sea” has been nominated for three prestigious literary awards. Here she talks to Wellington author, Tabatha Wood, about her journey into writing horror, what inspires her to write and what she believes we can learn from the horror genre today.

TW. Your story, “The Black Sea” has been nominated for the Shirley Jackson Award, the Australian Shadows Award, and the Aurealis Award. That is an outstanding achievement. Congratulations! Tell me more about the story and how it came to be.

CM. Thank you. I wrote “The Black Sea” specifically for a submission callout for the “Things in the Well” anthology, “Beneath the Waves – Tales from the Deep.” I was actually going to submit something else but that ended up being a much bigger story so I put it aside. All I had left was a title – “The Black Sea”- and the idea of a family being trapped on an island by a catastrophic event.

I’m a pantser not a planner, and must admit I was surprised where the characters led me. I didn’t see most of what was coming until it was down on the page. Towards the end I had to stop and ask myself what I was actually writing about. In my mind there were a lot of layers to the story. When I figured out guilt featured heavily in the equation, it all fell into place. I did groan a couple of times as I was writing it. But then I looked on the bright side. If I felt uncomfortable, maybe I was doing my job as a horror writer.

TW. Have you always considered yourself a writer, and what prompted you to start writing scary stories?

CM. No, not at all. I’ve always thought of myself as a storyteller, though. I’m a bit of a daydreamer, and I can spin a yarn reasonably well, but I never had much confidence in my writing skills so turning what was in my head into words on a page, came quite late for me. I was well into my 40s before I wrote anything down. It took me another decade to start sending my stories out. I think I’m living proof that it’s never too late to start! The day after the Shirley Jackson finalists were announced I had to fill in a form that asked for my occupation. I lingered on the blank space for far too long, eventually smiled, and put down writer. It felt good!

I’ve always liked scary stuff, the more creepy and weird the better. It feels natural to write those kinds of stories.

TW. Who would you consider your influences — from any genre — and what was the first horror story you can remember reading?

CM. Stephen King has been a huge influence. I started off with “Carrie” when I was sixteen and never stopped. I also love the work of Peter Straub, Joe Hill, Clive Barker, Ray Bradbury, and Shirley Jackson. “The Haunting of Hill House” is a story I often return to. John Fowles “The Magus” I’ve also read over and over. More recently, I’ve been reading Joe Lansdale. I’ve just binged five Hap and Leonard books. There is so much to learn from Joe. “The Thicket” is a huge favourite. The list could go on and on. I’m probably influenced by everything I read.
First horror story? Hmm… I read lots of ghost stories when I was a kid and loved Daphne du Maurier books, but the first book I remember really frightening the hell out of me was “The Sentinel” by Jeffrey Konvitz.

TW. What sort of things interest and inspire you outside of writing?

CM. I love to travel and explore new places. There is so much to see – the different cultures, the people, the history, the food, and the architecture. The world is full of fascinating stories.

I also like to spend time outdoors, either in the garden or taking long walks. One of my favourite walks is around the bays in Wellington, your hometown, Tabby. New Zealand has stunning scenery. I can’t wait to get back there again.

TW. We will have to meet up for a coffee when you do! Tell, me what scares you?

CM. Humans! We can be nasty little creatures at times. We seem to be hell bent on wrecking the planet at the moment, and that terrifies me.

TW. I totally agree. Monsters under the bed are nothing compared to what human beings can do. Are there any topics which you wouldn’t feel comfortable writing about?

CM. I try not to censor myself too much. Horror is meant to be disturbing. Having said that, I’m not into excessive violence, descriptive scenes of rape and torture, or gratuitous sex. I don’t like reading it and I wouldn’t write it. I’m also very careful with my younger characters, and what I put them through. I generally defer to ambiguity and let the reader fill in the blanks when it comes to horrific scenes.

Blood and gore doesn’t bother me if it’s done with a bit of humour. I’m a big fan of “Z Nation” and I thought Chuck Palahniuk’s “Guts” was absolutely hilarious. I think Jack Ketchum’s “The Girl Next Door” is a great example of how to cover a really difficult topic. He gives enough detail for the story to be disturbing without it ever being graphic. By the time you get to the end you know what’s going to happen without it being described. It’s a powerful and unsettling book. Stephen Graham Jones’ “Chicken” is another story that comes to mind. You need serious skills to pull off stories about sensitive topics. I admire anyone who can do it well.

TW. I agree with you again. I have to admit I’m also a bit of a wuss when it comes to blood and gore. I prefer my horror more psychological, but that’s just my personal taste. Is there anything that you want to read or watch, but are too scared to?

CM. I’ll read pretty much anything. It’s the visual medium that I sometimes need a viewing buddy to get me through. I want to watch “The Exorcist” again but have been putting it off as the movie terrified me when it first came out. Maybe it will be a different experience with the passage of time. I watched “The Autopsy of Jane Doe” alone, late one night. That was a mistake. Boy, did that have some jump scares! The second season of “American Horror Story” I skipped after the first couple of episodes. I loved all the other seasons, but that one really got to me for some reason.

TW. I really enjoyed AHS, but I have to admit that Season 4 got under my skin a bit. The conjoined twins and the clown creeped me out too much! Do you think there are any books or topics you wouldn’t want your own children/nieces & nephews (if you have any) reading or watching?

CM. I think it all depends on the age and maturity of the child, and their life experiences. Something I might recommend for one child would be completely wrong for another. Having said that, there is nothing wrong with books that challenge the reader to think. Obviously, I would steer away from anything of a violent or sexual nature, but in terms of horror, a ghost or two and some creepiness never hurt anyone. But then I’m of a generation that was brought up on Grimms’ fairy tales. Have you checked out “Little Red Riding Hood” or “Hansel and Gretel” lately?

TW. Gosh, yes. Most fairy tales are dark and bleak when you look at them more closely. Kids being cooked. Parents being murdered. Disney might have sanitised a lot of the stories in their movies, but the original books are quite disturbing.
My family has always been somewhat bemused by my love for the macabre. What kind of responses and support do you get from friends and family to your work?

CW. Apart from a couple of dear friends, most people close to me haven’t read any of my work — and that’s fine! I don’t push my weirdness on them. My husband is my first reader and he’s always been supportive of my writing. It’s always good to see him having a quiet chuckle over what I’ve written.

TW. My husband does that too. He’s always my first reader and I trust him to be honest with me. My eldest son is an excellent proof-reader. He can spot a typo from ten pages away. Heh! Are there any stories you’ve written that you’ve purposely hidden from those close to you and why?

CM. No. There are a few ideas I’ve shelved though. I probably need to be braver on that score.

TW. I understand that. It can be really hard knowing what to put out there to represent your best work too. Do you ever use events or experiences (or people) from your own life in your stories?

CM. Events and experiences, yes. Individual people, not directly, mainly because their story is not mine to tell. Some of my characters are different versions of me, or who I’d like to be. Others are hybrids, bits and pieces of a whole lot of people. My stories, although completely fictional, are littered with emotional truths.

TW. I like that — it’s a bit of the old “write what you know” but also “write what you like”. Good writing, even if it focuses on fantasy and the impossible should still feel “real”.
You live in Adelaide, a place which is often dubbed “the murder capital of Australia”. Do you feel like that has influenced your writing in any way — perhaps you’ve felt pulled towards the weird and grisly or found inspiration in true-life events?

CM. Yes, we do punch above our weight, unfortunately. I was about eight when the Beaumont children went missing. The mystery surrounding the case still haunts me as it does for most, older South Australians. It marked the end of leaving our doors unlocked and letting children roam the streets from sunup to sundown. As yet, the case hasn’t directly influenced my writing, but there are elements of my work that hark back to simpler times and the loss of innocence.
I’m currently procrastinating over a novel I’ve written set around the same time and involving a group of children. There is so much of my childhood in there I’m finding it difficult deciding what actually is serving the story and what has to go. The Somerton man is another fascinating piece of our history and I’d love to work elements of that case into a storyline at some point. The case involving the Snowtown bodies in the barrels is intriguing, but I tend to gravitate towards the cases that are shrouded in mystery rather than ones full of gory details.

TW. It just shows, yet again, how monstrous human beings can be. Much more terrifying than ghouls and vampires. Where do you think modern horror as a genre fits into society today? What do you think — if anything — it can teach us?

CM. I think we are living in an era where reality is increasingly becoming stranger than fiction. I keep looking at news headlines and saying, “you just can’t make this stuff up.” Horror is a safe way to escape. At the end of the day, no matter how hard our heart is pumping, we can tell ourselves monsters aren’t real. Well, the fictional ones anyway! Does horror teach us anything? Yes I think it does in the same way a lot of old legends are basically cautionary tales.

Horror can be a reflection on society, pointing to how we behave under stress or when faced with dire circumstances. I love zombie stories. They are basically survival manuals. “The Walking Dead” is full of tips on what not to do when rebuilding a community. To this day I still think of Stephen King’s “The Mist” whenever I go into a supermarket. I look at people and mentally choose the ones I’d want on my team in a crisis. Is that weird?

TW. Not at all! Although as an slightly paranoid introvert, I’d probably end up as a lone wolf in that kind of situation, distrusting everyone like the father in “The Road” (Cormac McCarthy).
Genres such as sci-fi and horror have always been very typically dominated by men. What sort of issues do you think modern female horror writers face which men don’t? Do you believe there are any, or is it a more level playing field now?

CM. That’s a hard question to answer, especially as I’m so new to the game. I don’t doubt female writers are experiencing the same problems women have in any other field. When I look back at my favourite horror writers of the past they were predominantly all white men. Do I hold that against them? No, they were/are exceptional writers, but I do wish there had been a lot more Shirley Jacksons in the mix. Perhaps it would have encouraged me to start writing earlier, who knows?

In my opinion, the internet and social media has certainly changed the landscape. I’m reading more work from female writers — and indeed writers from a whole range of backgrounds — than ever before, simply because I have better access. I can go from seeing a new name in a Twitter feed to ordering their books on Amazon or wherever in minutes. In the past I was limited to what was stocked in the bookshop or local library.

TW. That’s definitely one reason why I love ebooks. I have such a more diverse reading list than I ever had and I’m finding some amazing new voices — yours included.
You said a lot of your earlier influences were make. Do you feel like your idea of horror as a woman is any different to that of a male writer?

CM. I’d like to think gender isn’t an issue and its got more to do with individual preferences and our own life experiences informing our choices.

TW. That’s a good answer, and very true. I’ve always felt that diversity and representation are always important in any genre. How do you approach these issues in your writing?

CM. I’m certainly mindful of including a diverse range of characters in my work, but it is something I grapple with, and need to get better at. It’s difficult to get right, I don’t want my characters to appear tokenistic. I also don’t want them to be stereotypical or misrepresented either. It’s always good when I watch a show or read a book where diversity is the norm.

TW. That also goes back to what you said earlier about being mindful that some stories are simply not ours to tell. We always need to make sure that there is space for other writers who are better equipped to tell those tales.
Are there any reviews of your work, positive or negative which have stayed with you?

CM. I haven’t read any reviews of my work. Perhaps that’s a good thing.

TW. What piece of advice would you give to any new and upcoming writer right now? What advice do you wish you’d been given?

CM. My advice is to READ, READ, READ. And then read some more!

The advice I wish I’d been given is easy. Just. Start. Writing. And study the craft. Knowing where to put commas comes in handy.

TW. That’s great advice. And I have to admit, sometimes I still have no idea where to put the commas in!

Who else do you think is “big” in Australasian horror right now, and what books are in your To Be Read pile?

CM. Kaaron Warren is an inspiration. Did you see the Locus Awards finalists? She is up there with the best of the best. Her work has the ability to sit with you long after you put it down. I still think about “The Grief Hole.” Lee Murray is no slouch when it comes to picking up awards either. I really enjoyed “Into the Mist.” Her work has a unique Kiwi flavour. Deborah Sheldon is another female writer who puts out great work. Her short story “The Sand” in “Beside the Seaside – Tales from the Daytripper” is an absolute ripper – I don’t think I’ll ever walk on a beach again without it in mind.

Matthew R. Davis, a fellow Adelaidian who also has stories published in the “Things in the Well” anthologies, was shortlisted for a 2018 Aurealis Award. His work is deliciously dark and layered.

At the moment I’m reading John Ajvide Lindqvists “Handling the Undead.”
My current TBR pile is a treasure trove from the charity bookshop: Joyce Carol Oates “Jack of Spades”, Richard Laymon “The Lake”, “The Hungry Moon” by Ramsey Campbell, Clive Barker “Mister B. Gone,” John Scalzi “Agent to the Stars,” and an old Ellen Datlow anthology, “The Dark.” I’m also looking forward to reading the new Paul Tremblay collection “Growing Things,” and of course Stephen King’s “The Institute” when it’s released later in the year. Oh, and on Kindle I’m reading “Coyote Songs” by Gabino Iglesias, which is hard to put down.

TW. That’s a great list of good books. There are some of my favourites listed there too.
So, to finish: If you were trapped in a lift with a character from one of your stories, who would you choose, and why?

CM. My protagonists are all in the company of monsters. I don’t want to be trapped with any of them!

* * *

Chris Mason lives in the Adelaide Hills, South Australia, with her husband, a cat, and five goldfish. Her stories have appeared in numerous publications, including the Things in the Well series of anthologies, and the Australasian Horror Writers Association’s magazine Midnight Echo #12. Chris’s ‘The Stairwell’ from the anthology Below the Stairs-Tales from the Cellar won the 2017 Aurealis Award for Best Horror Novella.

Her story ‘The Black Sea’ from Beneath the Waves- Tales from the Deep has been shortlisted for the 2018 Shirley Jackson Awards, the Aurealis Awards, and the AHWA Australian Shadows Awards.

You can visit Chris at facebook.com/chrismasonhorrorwriter or on twitter @Chris_A_Mason.

The Horror Tree Presents… An Interview with Don Gillette

Claire – Hi Don! Great to chat with you. Let’s jump right in. What are you currently writing/working on?

Don – Thanks, Claire. Really nice to meet you. And thanks, too, for the opportunity to talk with The Horror Tree. I’m working on a novel, ‘Dark Voices,’ and also serving as editor for ‘The Thirty,’ a group consisting of me and 29 other writers. We’re lashing together an experimental novel, ‘He Has Stayed Too Long,’ with one chapter written by each of us. I honestly thought ‘Dark Voices’ would be out by now, but ‘He Has Stayed Too Long’ is taking quite a bit of time, as you can imagine. Coordinating with 29 other writers isn’t quite as easy as I thought it would be although everybody involved has been fantastic.

Claire – Tell me about your latest release, ‘Fallen Angels.’

Don – The artist Don Gilbert and I have been good friends since we were in our teens. He came by the house one day to drink whiskey and play guitar and as I was flipping through his sketch pad, I was drawn to a series of bizarre-looking drawings. When I asked him what they were, he said, ‘Fallen Angels’ and we took it from there. ‘Fallen Angels’ are the creatures responsible for every aspect of our lives down to the most insignificant events. Lose a button? A Fallen Angel’s responsible. First kiss? A Fallen Angel’s there. Final breath? Yep—a Fallen Angel. The poems I wrote to accompany the illustrations tell the reader a bit about the particular part of life the Fallen Angel on the opposing page controls and also a bit about how that angel feels about his job.

Claire – Your journals ‘The Meeker Collection’ sound interesting. How did/does your newspaper writing affect your fiction?

Don – Oddly enough, most of my newspaper pieces were in the humour vein and most of my fiction is dark horror. While I was working as the editor of ‘The Wilson County Advocate,’ I wrote a column under a pseudonym every week, usually an entire page, and because I was so completely bored with actual news, I would take the facts, bundle them with fiction, insert my alter-ego into the story, toss in a bit of biographical folderol, and just have a good time with it. The fan mail and the death threats began to pour in (some people have NO sense of humour) and soon ‘Jimmy Joe Meeker’ (that was the name I used) was the most popular writer we had. Once you start writing humour, you can’t stop. There’s a comedian inside me and he’s going to come out whether I’m writing a non-fiction piece for a magazine or writing a horror novel. I enjoy that. Everybody needs a laugh now and again, regardless of what you’re reading, and I’ve never been able to write anything without tossing in a bit of humour, however subtle.

Claire –Tell me about your writing process. Where do you write? When do you write? Do you have any writing rituals?

Don – When the muse visits me, I’m like a man possessed. I’ll write 5,000 words in a day, getting up every hour to spend 5 minutes on the recumbent bicycle so I don’t forget how to walk—but the muse doesn’t visit daily. I don’t force anything because I don’t think, for example, that making yourself write 1,000 words a day is going to get you quality results. There are going to be days when you’re not on, days when you’ve got other things on your mind. Yeah, it’s a job, and it’s a difficult job, but you have to enjoy it. Readers are smart folks—they know if you didn’t enjoy what you wrote and forcing yourself to write when you don’t have the spark is not an enjoyable experience for the reader OR the writer. Having said that, though, my works-in-progress are always on my mind and it’s rare a day goes by when I don’t work. I’m up early. I grab a mug of black coffee, plop myself down in my office, fire up the computer, and I’m off to the races. I use a two-monitor set-up which I find really helps when I have to research something, but I’m still torn about that because I’ve caught myself getting distracted. My office is where my guitar collection hangs and it’s much too easy to be able to grab one when I stumble onto another guitar player on YouTube demonstrating a song I always wanted to learn. It’s easy to be lazy.   

Claire – Tell me about your novels ‘Pandemonium,’ ‘Phantom Dead Man,’ and ‘Sarcophagus.’ Where did the inspiration come from?

Don – ‘Pandemonium’ was my first novel and the inspiration came from several old buildings in Lebanon, Tennessee. Spooky, creepy old buildings—McClain School and the Lebanon Hotel. Late one night I went into the Lebanon Hotel—just walked right in—and took a tour of the place. After leaving, I drove to the abandoned school building and found it unlocked, so I took a moonlight tour of it, too. I got home at 2 a.m. and immediately began ‘Pandemonium,’ a story about an incubus in a small, Tennessee town. ‘Phantom Dead Man’ was an experiment in stream of consciousness and it arose from having too much on my plate. I was going to graduate school, working on two horror stories with deadlines looming, writing a how-to piece for a craftsman journal, working on a documentary for public television, and outlining a novel. I sat down one day with all these things whirling around in my head and I just started writing whatever popped in there. The book had a wildly opposing reception; readers either liked it or hated it—there was no middle of the road. ‘Sarcophagus’ came about after a trip to New Orleans. I’ve always been fascinated by the above-ground graveyards there and during that visit, I saw several tombs in St. Louis Cemetery #3 with gaping holes in them large enough for a person to squeeze through—and all the holes looked as if they were made by something pushing out, rather than in. ‘Sarcophagus’ was started on a legal pad the moment I got back to my hotel room.

Claire – Where does your inspiration come from? Do you have a writing ritual?

Don – Most of my inspiration comes from things I see; very little of it comes strictly from imagination. When I see something that triggers a “What if…?” I take out my phone and click a picture of it, but I’m also very old school. I carry a small, brown, leather notebook with me all the time and I’ll scribble the beginnings of the story in there. Once I’m back in the office, I open a document, type my notes into the document, write the first line or first few lines of the story, and save it in a working directory for later. That’s how I keep up with ideas these days and it’s much handier than shuffling through stacks of paper.

Claire – You received some great reviews for ‘Fallen Angels,’ most compliments enjoying the mixture of creepy and humorous. Do you often blend writing styles?

Don – Ha! Yes, the ‘Fallen Angels’ are just like us—some of them are funny, some are sarcastic, some are pricks, and some take themselves way too seriously. I do blend writing styles, though, and I do it with a purpose. Too much of anything is too much. In horror, you need a funny character—not laugh out loud funny, but observationally witty and self-deprecating. When you ask readers to suspend disbelief, you’re asking a lot, so having a character or a scene that’s something amusing out of real life helps the unbelievable become believable.

Claire – Tell me about your chapbooks. I see they were penned in the ‘80’s. Has your writing style changed since then?

Don – My style hasn’t changed all that much, but my focus has changed. I’ve moved away from poetry to fiction mainly because it suits me better. Poetry will drive a person nuts. I have two pieces in the newly released ‘Speculations’ edited by my friend Frank Coffman and I bled over those two poems like I’d been beaten with chains. Thirty lines of poetry and I spent weeks on them. I love poetry; it’s the easiest thing to do poorly, the most difficult thing to do well, and not many people seem to know the difference anymore. Hearing “I don’t like poetry” from people who’ve barely read any is painful, so although I continue to do it, I don’t publish much of it, not even in chapbooks. I still contribute to anthologies but chapbooks seem to be becoming a bit passé. I hope that’s not true, but it’s the impression I get lately.   

Claire – Tell me about your avant-garde project ‘The Thirty.’ Who did you work with?

Don – I got this wild idea that it would be very cool to read a horror novel where each chapter was written by a different author; where each author could take the story in whatever direction they wanted. After turning the idea over in my head for a few weeks, I approached the writing community on Twitter with the concept and the response was fantastic. Within just a day or two, I had 35 people on board and the mix was as eclectic as you can get. We have well-known horror authors, we have noteworthy book reviewers, we have bloggers, and we have horror aficionados who’ve always wanted to try their hand at writing but never have. Using some very basic calculations for word count, and realizing we’d lose some participants along the way, I decided on 30 chapters, wrote the first one, and sent it out. The next author in line wrote their chapter, sent it back, and it took off from there. We’re on Chapter 18 now and I’ve been pleasantly surprised, especially at the writing from newcomers—people who’ve never written fiction in their lives. It’s been an amazing, exciting experience. If I mention everybody involved we’ll be here all day, but I do want to say that the “name brand authors” on board have all been extremely generous in lending credibility to the project. We have new writers who still cannot believe they’ve got a chapter adjacent to Jonathan Janz or Chris Sorenson or D.W. Gillespie. This speaks volumes to the support and camaraderie present in the horror community.

Claire –Let’s learn more about you. Who is your favourite author and why?

Don – Wow… It’s incredibly difficult to pick just one, but though it may be cliché, I’m going with the master. If it weren’t for Stephen King, I don’t know what we’d all be reading and writing now. Stephen King took a genre that had been marginalized for two centuries and with raw talent, dragged it into the mainstream and kept it there. At the risk of sounding like a fanboy, I think King is the greatest horror writer who’s ever lived. Sure, he misses the mark sometimes—everyone does—but when it comes to the most important thing in fiction, which is story—story—story, he can pull it off 99% of the time.   

Claire – Do you get writer’s block? If so, what do you do to overcome it?

Don – I get writer’s block from time to time, but I have the greatest remedy—I grab my Gibson SG, plug it into a Marshall amplifier, and play along with Pete Townshend while The Who blasts “Won’t Get Fooled Again” over the sound system. It works every single time. The neighbours probably don’t care much for it, but most of them have “real” jobs so they aren’t home during the day anyway.

Claire – Writers are weird, right? What’s the strangest/most interesting thing about you?

Don – Most people would never guess, especially from my politics, that I was a United States Army Chief Warrant Officer for 26 years.

Claire – What’s on the horizon for you?

Don – I hope to see ‘Dark Voices’ published by year’s end and also see ‘He Has Stayed Too Long’ wrapped up by then. I’ve got an idea brewing for another book featuring the most terrifying monsters known to humankind: babies.

Claire – And finally, you’re stuck on an island with only one book. What’s the book?

Don – US Army Field Manual 21-76, ‘Survival, Escape, and Evasion’ along with Stephen King’s magnum opus: ‘The Stand.’ Thanks for your questions, Claire—it’s been a genuine pleasure.

Twitter: @dongillette

Website: http://www.dongillette.com

Amazon page: http://amazon.com/author/dongillette

 

 

 

The Horror Tree Presents… An Interview with Steve Vasquez

Ruschelle: Thank you for stopping by The Horror Tree and sharing a few of your writing secrets. So…do you happen to have at least one big fat writing secret? Lol

Steve: Thank you for having me.  Well, I have one main tenet I stick with and have stuck with throughout my years of writing so I suppose it’s worth divulging and that is to always listen to your voice. Writing is always better when it feels truthful and for me, I know it is the truth (at least my truth) when I listen to the voice inside me that guides my character development, plot, pacing, etc.  Don’t get me wrong, I am definitely open to feedback as my stories develop but ultimately, I have always gone with my gut as to what would be right for the story.

 

Ruschelle: Tell us about your first foray into writing with your teleplay, Final Transference.

Steve: I was taking a writing for television class in college and as always seems to be the case, my mind went toward developing a horror story.  I was living in one of the dorms and so the story developed about two college roommates that upon meeting find they have the ability of telekinesis but only with each other.  One of my friends had a crush on a girl I also liked at the time and so that idea of competitiveness developed into the teleplay as a love triangle but with the roommates using their telekinesis as a weapon. I was quite proud of it and got an A-.

 

Ruschelle: An A- is pretty sweet. You’re a fan of the Twilight Zone. What was it about the series that helped inspire your writing?

Steve:  For me there is so much about that show to admire.  Visually, one element that stands out is when faces were used to show the emotion of the moment. Of course, the show used exemplary actors who had the skills to pull off the fantasy/horror themes.  In my writing, I love creating small intimate moments for my reader so they are invested in what happens next and are right there with the character as the story unfolds. This is the essence of the kind of writing I strive to create. Also, the twist endings have always been inspirational.  I strive to find that moment in all my writing where my readers will say, “Oh, didn’t see that coming.”

 

Ruschelle: There were so many well-written, creative episodes, which was your favorite?

Steve:  This is a difficult question because there are so many but I would say Shadow Play is one of my favorites. It is about a man who is convinced that his life and everyone around him are in his dream. He is on death row and he tries to convince everyone that if he dies, they all die with him.  I loved the idea of a dream you never wake up to—very scary, especially because it involves your own death.

 

Ruschelle: Was there an episode you wished you had written because it reminded you of your own storytelling?

Steve: Maybe the one called The Living Doll.  I like the idea of an inanimate object coming to life and then being angry at you on top of that. To this day, it still creeps me out and as a side note, I always treat my daughter’s dolls with respect and kindness…just in case.

 

Ruschelle: How did you choose the stories to debut in your collection, Palate of the Improbable?

Steve: One of the seven stories had been one I had started years ago but was never quite satisfied with, so around that time I decided to re-visit it.  Four other ideas for stories came to me around the same time. One story Final Audition was a dream I had and two stories Through A Wormhole Darkly and A Hand is a Terrible Thing to Waste were based on incidents from my childhood that evolved pretty quickly, so all in all these stories were all written within a year’s time so they all were included.

 

Ruschelle: Do you have a favorite story from your collection?

Steve: I love all my children equally because each one took me to a different place in my imagination and challenged me in different ways; however, the one that I was most happy to see all grown up (so to speak) was Through a Wormhole Darkly because it challenged me in so many ways. I had never attempted a time travel story so it was a challenge to pull it off and I feel very satisfied with how it turned out, particularly its sweet ending.

 

Ruschelle: What’s the one piece of writing advice you received from a mentor that really resonated with you?

Steve: I’d have to say the idea that story-telling must be full of descriptions that pop.  I always strive to edit out words that are wasteful.

 

Ruschelle: Fun question, if you could be the first person to discover the existence of a cryptid, which one would it be?

Steve: I think the Jersey Devil would a fascinating creature to run into.  It is definitely the kind of creature that will give one nightmares.

 

Ruschelle: You have a cat named Blueberry who uses you as a scratching post. Sounds delightfully evil. Story material?

Steve: Anything is possible.  So far, she’s had just a brief appearance in my story Good Night, Sleep Tight, but if she gets a better agent who knows.

 

Ruschelle: I’ll put my cat’s agent in touch with your cat and they can hash out the details. You won a Quarterfinalist award in a contest writing a script for Two and a Half Men. Kudos!  Tell us a little about the script and the writing process you used to pen your script.

Steve:  The script was a lot of fun to work through. I sat for hours watching videos of the show to get a sense of each character’s voice and to map out story beats and even learned in the process comedic principles like why words with M or W are funny.  I also did a lot of reading out loud to get the timing right.  Once I had the idea of the main character Alan going to his high school reunion and getting stuck in an elevator with the girl that ditched him during his Senior prom (real life incident by the way: being ditched, not getting stuck) the rest of the story just wrapped itself around that.

 

Ruschelle: Do you have any ideas for television scripts? Movies?

Steve: Yes, I do, but ideas are easy. It’s the execution and follow-through that is the tough but rewarding part.  I do have a few unfinished movie scripts that I hope I can finish in the near future.

 

Ruschelle: You are the daddy of a toddler! All parents know toddlers can morph into adorable little monsters and those monsters can be inspirational. So, has yours crawled into any of your stories?

Steve: Yes, she was the yet to be born baby in Good Night, Sleep Tight, also, she was the inspiration for the story Baby in the Mirror.   I was up late one night having a particularly difficult time of lulling her back to sleep when I imagined my mirror-self helping put her to bed, but in the mirror.  And, she is in a short story called Angel in a Box in which the protagonist wishes her baby never gets old and she never does.

 

Ruschelle: Speaking of toddlers…you’ve written children books. Are they sweet and shiny books with happy endings or do they channel a darker side? Like… Winnie the Pooh meets Freddy Kruger?

Steve:  Hey, that’s an idea…” When the police entered the room, there was Pooh, lying in a pile of his own stuffing. We would need a catch phrase after the kill from the evildoer such as, “How’s the honey, Pooh?” or something cheesy like that.  My first published children’s story was about a parrot that wanted to break out of its routine (it lived on a farm with an old man) so it escapes to the neighboring farm for adventure. I have others unpublished that I need to revisit and I’m certain my daughter will inspire me to write sweet happy stories in the future.

 

Ruschelle: If you could speak with Rod Serling from across the veil, what would you ask him?

Steve: Hey, Rod, I’d love to be a staff writer on the new Twilight Zone, can you put in a good word for me? Or, more seriously, Rod, how did you know when an idea was good enough to put effort into seeing it completed?

 

Ruschelle: Thank you so much sharing your experiences here at The Horror Tree. Please share with your newfound fans what is next in the writing world of Steve Vasquez?

Steve: I am currently working on adapting my stories from Palette of the Improbable into a film anthology or perhaps YouTube episodes along with working on a second anthology of short stories.  It will probably have twice as many stories as my first book.

 

Ruschelle: Where can your fans find you and your books on the www?

Steve: On Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Palette-Improbable-Tales-Horror-Darkness-ebook/dp/B01M9IFPI2/ref=sr_1_4?keywords=steve+vasquez&qid=1557926993&s=gateway&sr=8-4

Or on my website: writersteve.com

 

 

The Horror Tree Presents… An Interview with Rob Smales

Selene – Welcome to The Horror Tree, and thanks for taking the time to answer some questions! First, tell us a bit about yourself.

 

Rob – Well, I’m a father, writer, editor, and small town postal carrier—in that order. I grew up (and still live) in Salem, Massachusetts, where, back in 1972, my mom taught her imaginative, energetic, three-year-old son to read in order to give him something to do. I’ve loved stories ever since.

 

Selene – How long have you been writing, and what about horror draws you?

 

Rob – I’ve only been writing for about ten years—and I say only because unlike a lot of people I know who’ve been doing this their whole lives, that means I started at forty. As for why horror? I’m not sure. It might be that we write what we know, and deep down I’m just a fearful person. I tend to read eclectically, with fantasy, sci-fi, police/legal thrillers, mysteries and more in both my read and TBR piles, and not everything I’ve written falls into the horror category. For instance, I’m cowriting a YA supernatural adventure series with Stacey Longo at the moment. We’re editing the second book now, while agent-shopping the first—if any agents out there are reading this, I’m right here! The ideas that pop into my head, however, do tend toward the creepy, and so far that’s what I’ve found works easiest for me. I have plans for other genre work in the future, but right now horror just feels like home.

 

Selene – You have a long publishing history; where would you recommend a new reader start to explore your work?

 

Rob – Echoes of Darkness. Like I said, I started this later in life, and I was essentially learning to write through short stories. That some of them were being published was incredibly encouraging, but I’ve grown a lot as a writer since then, and looking back at some of them now is . . . well, cringe inducing springs to mind. In 2016, Books & Boos Press allowed me to gather some of those early works together, update them in a way that reflected my greater experience behind the keyboard, and add in a few brand new, not-to-be-found-anywhere-else tales to create a collection I could be—and still am—proud of. Thirteen stories, ranging in length from a thousand to fifteen thousand words? Yeah, it makes for a pretty good exploration.

 

Selene – Let’s talk about your novella, Friends in High Places. It’s partially set in a carnival. I’ve written a few carnival stories, and your story “The Biggest Little Show on Earth” from Carnival of Nightmares is, while a very different story, also set in one. After decades of carnivals losing popularity (due to people being more ethical, both about the treatment of animals,  and of people with disabilities who are no longer considered “freaks” and put on display)…Why do you think carnivals lend themselves so well to horror?

 

Rob – One of the main ingredients in many horror stories, in my opinion, is isolation. The haunted castle on the moors, the cabin in the woods, the small town you happen upon while driving, all of these popular settings for scary stories (and more, so many more) have in common that they’re in the middle of nowhere, and when trouble strikes there’s no one to call for help. Even stories that take place in the city often have a sense of isolation about them: We can’t go to anyone for help because they’ll think we’re crazy/ they might be in on it/ we’ve done something wrong ourselves, and we’ll be in the soup!

 

Carnivals, circuses, and other traveling shows essentially are those small towns in the middle of nowhere. They just happen to be mobile. The carnys, or circus folk, or whomever, are like the odd small-town citizens, but worse because they’ve chosen to be together. They’re more like a family than a population, especially looking at them from the outside, and they’re a family that lives by different rules than the rest of us: rootless, essentially modern-day gypsies in the eyes of John and Joan Q. Public. And we, the public, choose to visit this family, often with the intent of letting them frighten us just a little. The roller coaster, swing ride, and Ferris wheel shooting us into the sky. Getting lost in the hall of mirrors. Taking a ride or a stroll through the haunted house.

 

Is it any wonder that, even without the sideshow and its so-called freaks, in this little town that seems so distant from the city it’s currently plunked down right next to, we’re a little more susceptible to a prod in the nerves? Is it so odd that, surrounded by this family of frighteners we don’t really know or understand, we don’t find it that much of a stretch to think they might be a little more different than they seem on the surface? And if those differences turn out to be darker than we ever dreamed when paying our money and pushing through the turnstile, well really, in the middle of this brightly colored little town in the middle of nowhere, who can we turn to?

 

Gulp.

 

Selene – Let’s talk about specific fears. Specifically (!) I, like poor Tagalong Tommy, am TERRIFIED of the Ferris wheel. His ordeal is probably my worst nightmare. What scares you, and how do you tap into that current of fear for a story?

 

Rob – I too am terrified of Ferris wheels. And roller coasters. And—but the list goes on. I have, however, gone on the damned things, most recently while trying with all my heart not to look like a big pussy in front of my (then) young son. To be honest, I failed. But I did force myself onto a Ferris wheel a couple of times, and what I can remember from the last trip onto the big rig is pretty well reflected in Tommy making himself take a seat. We only see Tommy in that scene, we’re not in his head, but I tried fairly hard to make his actions fit my memory.

 

Having that memory, I’ll likely tap into it more than just this time. If I have a character who’s afraid of something—and it can be anything—I’ll try to remember what it was like as an acrophobe to be seventy or eighty feet up in the sky, nothing holding me up there but a horribly flimsy-feeling gondola supported by a machine I couldn’t even see most of the time. What passed through my mind? Did I have a physical reaction? Yes, you bet your ass, so what was it? How did I feel? The character likely feels the same way, or at least close to it, and so I’ll write them that way. Or, sort of conversely, I’ll write a scene with those feelings in mind, trying to impart them to my reader. It keeps me from adopting an I’m just writing this scene attitude, and gives me an I need to get their hearts beating faster, and maybe make them feel a little loose around the bowels goal.

 

Selene – The characters in Friends in High Places are a pretty relatable bunch of kids. They feel like real kids, even if they are sometimes bratty and unlikeable. How do you create believable characters?

 

Rob – I read them all aloud. I read every word of Friends in High Places aloud during the revision process, multiple times. For certain passages—anything with dialogue—it was very multiple. If characters or their dialogue start feeling fake to me, then they’ll feel twice as fake to readers, and I need to fix that. If they start sounding the same, I need to fix that. If they sound boring, I need to fix that. I’ve heard it said that we should all write the stories we want to read. Well, I like good characters, so I try hard to let mine be that way and write a story I enjoy. If other people like it too, it’s a win-win!

 

Selene – I also found the plot quite suspenseful, with unexpected twists and turns. And very sad, given the boys’ fates. How do you create suspense in your plots and avoid predictability? 

 

Rob – It’s hard to be predictable when even you don’t know what’s going to happen next.

 

That’s a kind of smart-ass way of saying I’m a pantser, or discovery writer if you’re feeling fancy. I’ve tried mapping things out—being a plotter, or outliner—but I never stick to the plan very well. For most of my writing, Friends in High Places included, I have a beginning and I have a destination, but how I get from one to the other is pretty much up in the air when I sit down to start. As I learn more about the characters—and they’re quite important to me, as I said above—I gain a better understanding of how they’d react in certain situations, and then their reactions start guiding the story.

 

Sometimes they’d do something that gets me closer to that destination, but sometimes not, and I’m not going to make them act out of character just to further the plot. That just doesn’t work for me. So instead, I have to work the plot in this new direction and try to bend it—believably—back toward my goal. Sometimes that means involving other characters that would move toward my goal. Sometimes that means creating new circumstances to herd my characters in the right direction. And sometimes that means moving the goal a little. Would you believe the original idea for Friends in High Places didn’t even involve either the Ferris wheel it started at or the building where it ended?

 

So when that happens, when a character, acting like that character does, makes me say “Well, I didn’t see that coming” as I’m writing it, I feel pretty confident it may take the reader by surprise as well.

 

Selene – What’s it like working with Bloodshot Books? Pete does quite a lot for the horror community, so it would be nice to give BB a plug here.

 

Rob – Have you seen the cover on High Places? That’s Pete’s fault. I had another cover artist in mind, one I’d worked with before and been quite happy with, but he suggested Lynne Hansen. I mentioned my guy again, and he pushed for Lynne. I caved.

 

And then I wound up with this gorgeous cover Lynne decided to release as a numbered print.

 

On Friends in High Places release weekend, I wound up at an event at the Haverhill Public Library, with me selling my book at one end of the room while at the other Lynne was selling her numbered prints of the cover. It was a lot of fun, sending people back and forth between the tables, and I kind of felt like a star, and the whole thing happened because Pete Kahle at Bloodshot Books decided to give me a new cover artist.

 

Thanks, Pete!

 

Selene – You have some upcoming author events in May and June. What have you got planned?

 

Rob – May 5—so I it this might have already happened by the time people are reading this—I’ll be in Salem, Massachusetts at the Old Town Hall, taking part in Cinco de Mayhem, a dark art market being run by Freaks Antiques and Uniques, an oddities shop right there in Salem. Like they say on their website, “If you are looking for oddities, curiosities, bones, skulls, jewelry, dark art, horror, macabre, occult, or just plain old creepy out of the ordinary items you have come to the right place!” I’ll be one of just two authors at the event (the other being Scott Goudsward, event coordinator for the New England Horror Writers) throwing books at passersby. Possibly literally. We’ll at least be throwing candy at each other, because that’s how we roll.

 

Saturday, June 29, I’ll be at the New England Authors Expo, sitting in at the Books & Boos Press table at Northern Essex Community College–Haverhill Campus―at the Moore Atrium in the Hartleb Technology Center in Haverhill MA. I’ll be selling books and representing S&L Editing, of which I am half, so I’ll be wearing at least two hats that day. The event is free and open to the public, so if you’ll be in town you can wander in at will to see and chat with authors, editors, publishers, and whatnot.

 

See? I’m old. I even use words like whatnot.

 

 

 

Selene – What do you think of social media’s role in writing? Why did you give up on writing a blog?

 

Rob – Social media can be a great tool for marketing, spreading the word about what you have going on and coming out. I’ve seen people use Facebook and Twitter very effectively for this. Blogging, too. But it’s not a method that works for everyone, and I include myself in that not category. I am awkward and terrible at self-promotion, which is something I keep vowing to buckle down and get better at . . . but I’m pretty uncomfortable saying Hey, look at me! I’m being great over here!

 

I’ve had a couple of blogs. The first, While You’re Making Other Plans, went on for years. It was basically a response to the people around me asking the first real question you asked back at the start of this interview: why horror? They, however, seemed to be asking out of concern. I was basically a happy guy, wasn’t I? And I’d always read everything, not just horror, so where did this focus on such dark topics come from? So I started writing WYMOP as a way to show people I could write happier stuff—what folks like my grandparents might think of as more normal—and offer a look into my everyday life, which is pretty different in tone from the fiction I pour out onto the page. A large part of the source material for that blog were things I did with my son, who, though I no longer live with him and his mom, is a tremendo-gantic part of my life. Of course, he grew up and became a teenager, and we naturally began doing fewer and fewer things together. So then all I had to write about was me.

 

My other blog, Writer in Progress, was intended to be a journal of sorts, very Rob-centric, covering my development as a writer and how I was going about it. So again, all I had to write about was me.

 

Have I mentioned how uncomfortable I am pointing the finger at myself and making myself the center of attention? This is okay, this interview, because you’re asking me questions and I’m answering them. Coming up with stuff to tell people about myself, essentially saying Here, I know you were wondering this about me, is different, and for me very difficult. I was spending an inordinate amount of time working on those blogs once they were about nothing but me, and I agonized over every sentence, constantly asking myself who really cares about this? Eventually, I was spending so much time working on them—and accomplishing very little—that it was seriously cutting into my time for writing fiction, and to be honest, I’m much more comfortable writing about people other than myself, even ones that come from inside my head.

 

All that being said, I’ve been thinking recently about starting up Writer in Progress again. Maybe. We’ll see.

 

Selene – Going from current technology into past technology… Friends in High Places is set in the 1970s (I think. Although it’s not stated outright, Tommy’s mom drives a brand-new 1974 Buick).  I’ve been seeing more horror set in the Seventies and Eighties, or pre-cell phones and Internet, and I wonder how much of it is nostalgia and how much is a desire to avoid modern technology in horror plots. What do you think of setting horror in the past?

 

Rob – Every story has a place and time where it fits in. It just depends on the story. I’ve read period horror set back in colonial times (and earlier), modern stories, and  futuristic sci-fi or post-apocalyptic horror, and it all worked because the story fit the setting. The setting for this particular novella was one part influence (I’d recently read Laymon’s The Traveling Vampire Show, a coming-of-age novel set in 1963), one part nostalgia (I wasn’t alive in 1963, but I do remember the later 70s), and one part setup. Lots of things I write are connected, often in ways only I know about as the connections aren’t germane to the stories themselves. In my mind, this story has a connection to another story I’m working on that happens much later in my own particular timeline. The public may never even see that other story, but a much younger version of one of its characters does appear in Friends in High Places. They’re only in High Places for my own enjoyment, but they did have a bit to do with just when the novella was set.

 

Selene – In the Afterword to Friends In High Places, you mention the requisite “Where do you get your ideas” question. I won’t ask that, since you answered it well in the piece, but what would you say is the strangest or most unusual source of a story you wrote?

 

Rob – A Long John Silver’s radio commercial. *mic drop*

 

Selene – Since all writers are also readers, what authors would you say have influenced your work?

 

Rob – All of them, in one way or another. The most influence, I suppose, comes from writers I’ve gone back to again and again. It’s become a rather hackneyed claim, but Stephen King is a big one. Several of his books are kind of go-to reads when nothing else around me looks appealing. I’ve also read a lot of Scott Sigler, Jeff Strand, Brian Keene, Jack Ketchum, and Dean Koontz. But I mentioned earlier that my reading taste is kind of eclectic, so I’d have to include (in no particular order) John Irving (A Prayer for Owen Meany is my all-time favorite novel), Sue Grafton, Robert B. Parker, Patricia Cornwell, Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams, Piers Anthony, John Sandford, Tony Hillerman, Robert Heinlein, Tracey Hickman and Margaret Weis, Joe R. Lansdale, and Janet Evanovich may write rom-coms that are the furthest thing from horror there is, but damn me if she doesn’t write characters that shine and stick in the memory. And this is all just off the top of my head. There have been times when I believe a particular influence was fairly obvious—I’ve already mentioned how The Traveling Vampire Show impacted Friends in High Places, and I have one that I actually think of as my Joe Lansdale story—but they’re all in there. All these and more.

 

Selene – You belong to a collaborative group of writers, called The Storyside. Coincidentally, some of my online writing friends have recently been discussing the merits of belonging to a writing group. What do you think the pros and cons of writing groups are?

 

Rob – It depends on what kind of a group you belong to, and what you’re looking for. I’ve been in a few writing groups so far, and they ranged in focus—and I don’t mean to be derogatory, this is just how I think of them—from rah-rah to this is a business.

 

To cover just the two extremes, in the rah-rah group, everyone was expected to read aloud at the meetings, but no one was looking for any real feedback or criticism; the gatherings were, essentially, something to spur you on to write every week. There were people of various levels of skill and talent (the two are not the same), some of them quite good, but the focus was more on fun than improvement, and a couple of members actually looked down on me for pursuing publication. Everyone else was quite happy there, and were all getting what they wanted at the time: encouragement. And that was fine. I was using the group as a practice ground for reading in front of an audience, but I was looking for something, if not more, then at least else.

 

Then I discovered The Storyside, were the focus is much more this is a business. The business, I’m happy to say, is in helping its members put out the highest quality fiction they can, in whatever genre they write. There’s a lot more critique and feedback, with the common goal of publication. That’s what I was looking for, but there’s more. It’s a small group, but with our combined social media we can reach a much wider audience when trying to get any kind of message out, and that definitely helps the business aspect of it.

 

In the end, pros-and-cons-wise, any writing group is going to be what its members make of it. The key is to try to find like-minded people with goals at least similar to yours. If you’re looking for support, try to find that kind of group. If you’re looking for constructive criticism, those groups are out there too. Ditto if you’re looking for a little business help.

 

And by the way, writing groups can grow and change just as the writers in them can. In The Storyside, we defined some goals and work collectively toward them. I took a course in editing, and the other (much more professional) editor in the group took me under her wing and helped me get much better at that, benefiting me and the group as a whole. A couple of members have gained a great deal of experience in book layout and what goes into self publishing (I plan to delve into this myself sometime soon). One of us is going to school for marketing and analysis, and his experience is helping everyone involved. As strong as The Storyside was when I joined it, its members have looked for the pros they want to get out of working collectively and actively moved in that direction.

 

Selene – In addition to writing, you work as a mail carrier, and you have an editing service. How do you balance work, family and other commitments, and still have time to write?

 

Rob – When I’m feeling good, I tend to sleep about four hours a night. Maybe five. I’ve had some health issues recently that, though thankfully minor, have been wearing me down and pushing that number up, and sometimes keeping me from doing anything other than the day job. Hopefully, after a few doctor visits, I’ll be up to snuff again and rolling along. I kind of can’t wait. But whether I’m feeling terrific or not, I try to set aside some writing time every day. I have to punch in at the post office at eight o’clock, but if I get in there by six o’clock, that gives me two hours where I can work mostly uninterrupted. Especially if I’m wearing my headphones. In a perfect world, when I’m feeling good, I try to write in the morning, then edit (or whatever else needs doing, and that might even be more writing) at night. When S&L Editing has a client, thus a deadline, sometimes those time slots will reverse, and I’ll maybe get to my own writing in the evening—or maybe not.

 

But in that list you gave of what I do, the only inflexible is the day job. My whole family has always been supportive of my need to write, even though some of them don’t necessarily read what I’m putting out. Like I said, I’m a father first, and that does take precedence; but as long as everything that needs to get done does get done I don’t get a lot of pushback when I want to put something off for a bit to work on something else that’s important to me. To be honest, I think I’m hardest on myself when things aren’t getting done. And the L in S&L Editing is Stacey Longo, my editing partner and best writing friend. She’s both a much better editor than me and someone who occasionally makes me a little jealous as a writer, and we both understand this odd balancing act of a life we’ve chosen. We take each editing job as it comes, working as a team and shifting the heavy lifting back and forth depending on who has more time at that moment, and this seems to work for us. It does for me. I’m not sure what would happen if I had to do it alone.

 

So yes, I’m pretty busy. All the time. But I’ve somehow managed to become surrounded by a pretty good support system where if things start to fall down it’s because I’m the weak link, and I’m doing my best to be the strongest link I can. Some people might point to me and say I’ve been lucky. I might point back at them and say, “You’re right.”

 

Selene – What advice would you give a new writer who’s starting out?

 

Rob – Learn to type. Oh, I can hunt-and-peck about ten times faster than I could ten years ago, but it’s still hunting-and-pecking. I think I’d get a lot more done if I was able to focus more on what I was trying to say and less on how I was getting it in though the keyboard.

 

But that’s just me bitching. Real advice? Always strive to be better. Writing is the kind of thing where you never have to stop trying new things, so never stop trying. Never stop learning. Read and pay attention to what other writers—writers you admire—do. Listen to what people who read your work have to say, both the good and the bad (though listening to the bad sucks, believe me I know), and use what they say as a tool to shape what you do. If you have something edited (And everyone should at some point, no matter who you are. The books Stacey and I write together are sent out for editing and we’re both editors!), don’t just take your manuscript back and say Well, that’s all right then and consider it done. Look at what the editor pointed out, just as you would feedback from beta readers or a critique group. This is someone who’s been training themselves to be a very careful reader. See if they’ve helped identify any of your weaknesses—and then step on that weakness’s neck and crush it under your heel.

 

And never stop asking questions. It’s a use for social media I forgot to mention earlier, but when you’re just starting out, Facebook can be a fantastic learning tool. Who am I kidding? Ten years later and I’m still using it that way. Whatever you write, whatever genre you like, there’s at least one Facebook page dedicated to it, and there are writers of that genre gathered there. I belong to several, some horror related, some more general. If you have any questions—for instance, I mentioned beta readers a minute ago, but what the hell are they?—you can ask the writing community on Facebook.

 

Now some newer writers may be saying Dude, I’m so new I don’t even know what to ask about! That’s okay. Don’t panic. We’ve all been there. Again, I direct you to Facebook. If there’s one thing writers like to talk about, it’s writing. You don’t even have to take part in the discussion if you don’t want to. Just watch. Lurk. You might see terms float through the conversation like content edit, or an advance paying out, or even a whole thread about Ingram vs. KDP on customer service, or maybe something else that makes you scratch your head and say “Huh?” Well, now you have something to ask about.

 

So ask.

 

Selene – Thank you again for taking the time for an interview today. Do you have anything else you’d like to mention here?

 

Rob – Seriously? This thing’s like nine pages long now—if you’ve gotten this far and been imagining me saying all this stuff the whole time, then you’re probably sick of the sound of my voice!

 

Okay, real quick: if you’re a fan of the carnival theme, Limitless Publishing’s releasing the third book in their Creepiest Show on Earth anthology series in May. Available for preorder on the 4th and releasing on the 14th, it’s called Carnival of Strange Things, and somewhere in that little collection of oddities you’ll find my rather long short story, “The Fate Machine.” Check it out—it’s a fun series.

 

If newer writers out there have any questions about what to look for in an editor or what to watch out for in a publisher, feel free to go to the S&L Editing website, click on over to the Contact Us page and . . . well, contact us. Whether you’re using S&L or not, Stacey and I don’t mind answering questions to help you make more informed decisions. We don’t know everything—hell, sometimes I sit around just reveling in all I don’t know—but what we do know, we don’t mind sharing.

 

Anyone who’s trying to keep track of me can find me on Facebook, or my website, where I may or may not be restarting my blog. We’ll see.

 

Selene, thank you for asking me these questions and allowing me to talk your virtual ear off. I appreciate all the time you’ve given me.

 

Oh! One last thing: if there are any agents out there who might be interested in a funny YA paranormal adventure book starring two teen girls, one of whom happens to be a little living impaired, I may have something for you. Have your people call my people . . . by which I mean me.

 

 

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