Category: Interviews

The Horror Tree Presents… An Interview with Jim Phoenix, Founder Czykmate Productions & Haunted MTL

An Interview with Jim Phoenix, Founder Czykmate Productions & Haunted MTL

By Angelique Fawns 

 

There is a dark and creepy place lurking on the internet for those that LOVE all things that go bump in the night. Hauntedmtl.com publishes horror news, criticism, and original fiction.  Looking to learn about the hottest new survival-horror video game? Need some direction finding the best in scary television and movies? How about some original dark fiction? Jim Phoenix and his team keep the daily horror feed current and prolific.

 

Haunted MTL is also announcing a new project called The Undead and Uncut -Live! It’s a podcast running just for the month of October, where everyday is a new episode building to an exciting climax Halloween. Any and all “listens” equal donations to the Ottawa food bank for Canadian Thanksgiving. Also anyone who donates to a food bank this month can show the receipt to @HauntedMTL, and get a free PDF copy of their new anthology 101 Proof Horror, which is for sale right now on Amazon.

 

Czykmate Productions is the publishing branch and produce anthologies and novels/novellas. They look for work that is “strong, punk, dark, humorous, and just strange enough to be true.” 

 

 I discovered this gem when I found a call on Submittable from Czykmate Productions, “How HORROR-able”.  I uploaded one of my very first short stories “Death Metal Fan” in February of 2019 and it was accepted. It was the first money I ever received from my fiction, and I was thrilled to make the $2.00 US. 

 

Jim Phoenix is also a very interesting and mysterious character. When asked about his day job, he said, “I used to write scripts and book adaptations but put that away once Czykmate started up. I do have ‘another life’ outside of horror, but I can’t say what it is here. Let’s just say my current day job isn’t exactly ‘open’ about things.”

 

Well, now I’m intrigued! Let’s learn more about the man and his mission…

 

AF: How has your company evolved since you opened your figurative doors?

 

JP: We started out ‘way back when’ as a punk ‘zine. It was something I wanted to start for people who normally wouldn’t have a voice in publishing. Our first venture was Ricky’s Back Yard named after my friend’s brother who died way too young. He was a new punk that wrote his own songs – something damn rare – and the name was a tribute to him. Our ‘zine was anthology based and we would have certain themes where all the money (not profit–all of it) went to the charity that was tied to the theme.

 

Back then it was Lizzie Nicodemus doing all the cover art and Jenni Hill reading the subs. I made sure that the people who we accepted got paid and did me best for internal design. We experimented a lot back then (still do, really) and hit major conventions like the AWP (The Association of Writer’s and Writing Programs) to help us grow. I remember ‘inventing’ a Trello board slush pile scheme because we didn’t have enough money to use Submittable. That’s how raw things were.

 

That moved slowly to Czykmate with an experiment of ‘ebook only’ authors where I likened it to ‘not ready for prime time’ but they had ‘something’. The result was offering an ‘ebook’ only contract where if the ebooks sold enough, we’d offer a print  book contract to the author. We were getting bigger then and, unfortunately, Lizzie and Jenni had other obligations so they parted ways.  I did most of the ebook covers and interiors (again, learning form conventions like AWP on how to do it) and went to out source the print books. With Lizzie and Jenni gone, I had to move into the freelance market to round off the staff (readers, editors, cover, interiors). 

 

From Czykmate came HauntedMTL. I’ve had this ‘real life hauntings’ idea for some time now. Originally, the website showcased some ghost hunting material that I was part of in Montreal with Taylor G and Stephanie R. We even had a pilot filmed where the concept was not so much ‘we believe everything’ but ‘we doubt’. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll dig that old pilot off…

 

After the ghost hunting died down (no pun), I turned the focus to covering horror. We’ve kept the charity grass roots and are huge supporters of LGBTQ and BLM issues, as well as food banks, retired veterans, and other projects of the more political nature. In the early days of that the site was just me–then Dave Davis came around. I gave him a shot as a writer and he expanded into designer and creative push for the site. I started recruiting from Submittable and put people in. Now we have reviewers, original content (short stories and art), a line of podcasts, and even a bit of swag available on Red Bubble. The future has a few tricks in store (video and radio dramas and choose your own adventures with RPGs and oh my! I’ve said too much!) but it’s always family first. I don’t have staff–I have a horror family with Brannyk, EV, Payne (yes, ‘that’ Doctor Payne), LJ, Parz, Shane, two Nicoles, Court, Dave, Vicki, Jenn, Jake, Brianna, Sarah, Rachel, Wade, Scream, Ruby, 3C3, Kayla, and Kota. And, of course, all of our listeners (special shout outs to Eric Gengle, a Missouri friendo of Brannyk’s, and someone who beat the dog act, and everyone lurking daily on the site and on our feeds–come say hi!).

 

AF: What kind of writing do you do yourself?

 

JP: I had a career as a script and novel writer (read as ghost writer). I got tired of ghost writing. It felt weird getting money for something I could never put on my CV. I still like to write, though. I have a novel in short stories that is coming out in 2021 where every chapter is a stand alone short story (yet they are all linked together like a traditional novel). After that, there is the Choose Your Own Adventure along with a YA novel. Believe it or not, I’ve got a card game coming out with an old friend (hi, Mike!) in 2021, too. 

 

AF: You certainly have a lot of irons in the fire! Is there any profit margin in your website/publishing?

 

JP: I’ve never done it for the profit. It’s always been about creating a safe space for horror fans. To be fair, we still give most of our money to various charities. Heck, there are people like Payne and Cleaves on my staff who have donated all of their pay to charity. I think giving people a voice, especially underrepresented people, is far more important that money. We used to use Google ads, but I got sick of banning so many crap political ads (and that damn earwax ad gave me the willies–if you use Google Ads, you KNOW the one I’m talking about). I’m a bit weird about money. It’s just funny little numbers to me. I’m definitely not a ‘money beats soul’ person (as Morrison would say). 

 

AF: There is an alternative, avant garde feel to your website. What sort of stories and/or writing are you typically looking for?

 

JP: Authentic. Make it real–from you. Don’t retell the same ol’. Grab me. Make me shiver. Make me go HOLY FUCK DID YOU SEE THAT?! It all comes down to being real with your art. Hone your craft and send in the best version of that story you can. 

 

AF: Thank you for picking up one of my very first stories. Why did you like Death Metal Fan?

 

JP: Remember when I said ‘grab me’? Check this hook: ‘The weather was unbearably hot. Smoking, steaming, bra-dripping hot. Mia lay on top of her bed with a fan blowing air on her body. Moderate relief.’ 

Let’s break that down. It’s hot out. How hot? Smoking. Steaming. Bra-Dripping. Hot. Some writers ignore rhythm in their work, which is a shame–BUT–when someone does have a great sense of rhythm it shows up that much brighter. I loved the beats here. This play goes throughout your writing–‘yada yada yada. Ya right.’ That plays out as Bum-pa Bum-pa Bum-pa. BUM BUM! Alex Van Halen would be jealous of that rhythm. 

 

https://hauntedmtl.com/originals/death-metal-fan-angelique-fawns/

 

AF: Your contract has a clause where the contributor has to pay $1000 if the work turns out to have been previously published. Why do you have that clause?

 

JP: Previously published can mean two things:

 

1) The author ripped someone off directly (boo!) or were using lyrics because they’ve seen their favorite authors do it (I think most people who haven’t studied writing need a big lesson…ready for it…here we go: If you didn’t write the song–then please don’t include the lyrics in your writing. Lyrics are expensive for rights and we don’t have Random House’s money.)

 

2) They published it before somewhere — maybe with another publisher or even a blog — and don’t own the rights for a republish. Not owning rights to republish puts us in a shitty spot. Don’t be that guy. Also, if you put something in a blog–and gave it away for free–why would I pay you for it? Why would a customer pay you for reading something they just read for free?  Writing is a business. 

 

AF: What are your plans for your website in the future?

 

JP: The immediate future includes an audio version of an exquisite corps for October. We are recording 30 one-minute story extensions October first ‘live’ and then releasing them one per day until Halloween as a special episodic podcast feature. Also–very exciting–short film and radio story originals are coming your way! COVID 19 makes some filming a bit tricky, but there are always possibilities…

 

AF: Any advice for others who want to start up a horror destination on the web like yourself?

 

JP: Family first. Don’t chase followers. Build a product people want to see and they will come to you. Be real with people. Don’t be a dick (Jim Breuer rule #1). Have fun. Learn from people (shout outs to SexyFandom, BlueBlood, Molly, Amelia G, Forrest Black, Sandy King-Carpenter, S.R., Darcy n Joe Bob, the Shudder crew, Kevin Smith, Sharknado crew, Tony Todd, Norm MacDonald, and everyone else that pushed, taught, gamed, and help us along the way–luv on ya). 

 

Most of all–do it with a purpose. There are so many amazing horror voices that need amplifying–if you are one of them, drop me a line. If you are in a position of power–help others. Be kind–I guess it all boils down to that. Just be kind. 

The Horror Tree Presents an Interview with John C. Adams

The Horror Tree Presents an Interview with John C. Adams

By Ruschelle Dillon

 

Ruschelle: Hello John, it’s great to interview a fellow Horror Tree contributor and book reviewer. As Jigsaw from the movie Saw teases, let’s play a game. Two truths and a lie. Tell us two truths and one lie about yourself. 

John: This feels like a blind date. There’s no better venue to tell bald-faced lies about yourself and hope to get away with it. Here are two truths and one lie. Can you tell them apart? In addition to writing, I am a full-time carer for a brain-damaged relative. I am proudly breeding the world’s most impressive collection of giant spiders in our family’s greenhouse, and I am hoping to turn that into a profit-making business really soon. I can only pray that one of my kids will inherit my love of arachnids and take over the family business. I am nonbinary.

Ruschelle: No fair, I know this one. When should I expect my Mesopotamian Sabretooth tap dancing spider? Your latest novel, Blackacre Rising, is the sequel to Souls for the Master. When penning the first book, did you plan on multiple books or did it manifest organically as the pages multiplied?

John: Souls for the Master was my debut novel. Like any first work, it went through multiple versions and improvements. A previous incarnation was Commended in the First Three Pages of A Novel competition from the University of Winchester Writers’ Conference in 2012, so that tells you how long it has been a part of my life. It was published by Horrified Press in 2016 in paperback, and I republished it on Kindle in 2019. Overall, I didn’t have much of a clue what I was doing during the early versions up to 2015, but probably any emerging writer feels a bit like that. I certainly didn’t think in terms of a whole series. Just getting the book ready to submit to a publisher felt like a huge endeavor, but it was accepted by the first publisher I submitted it to, which is something I’m very proud of.

 

By the time Souls for the Master had been published, I had had time to get used to seeing my name in print and to think about the future a little. At that time, I made a short set of notes about a possible sequel, which I then came back to some time later when I started writing Blackacre Rising. By the time that novel was finished, I knew there would have to be at least a third instalment to see the narrative complete. But I always try to make each novel standalone because many readers come to a series partway through.

 

Ruschelle: As authors, we become attached to our characters. Often it’s because we base our characters on people we know. Do any of your characters from  in Blackacre Rising or Souls for the Master resemble friends, family, dead lovers you dismembered and buried In your garden? Oops, I didn’t mean to say garden. 

John: Actually, our home is a Victorian ex-miners’ cottage with an immensely long garden. We’ve unearthed the remains of the WW2 Andersen Shelter and, just between ourselves, many of my former lovers have unwillingly found a resting place down there. I was a lawyer before I became a writer so I’m keenly aware that basing your characters on dead people is a great way to avoid libel actions. And if the inspiration of your choice is still alive and kicking, why not take matters into your own hands…?

 

One of the main characters from Blackacre Rising is farmer Brett Flint, who owns Blackacre. He’s based in part on local farmers here, because it’s good to draw that direct inspiration to make a character credible. He’s also partly based on the character of the relative I care for (before he suffered brain damage of course). Quite often when I create a character they feel right and familiar, but afterwards it dawns on me where the inspiration came from. That was the case with Brett. On the other hand, Gerald Flint, Brett’s cousin, was one of the main characters in both novels and he’s more directly based on my adult son. I was aware of that during the writing.

 

Ruschelle: What enticed you to write about scientific experiments in Blackacre Rising? It was Monty Python’s Meaning of Life, wasn’t it? Now, I have to sing it, ‘Every speeeerm is sacreeed. Every sperm is gooood.’

John: Every child a wanted child, even when the wish for that child is downright icky and unpleasant, right? Well, it is a horror novel…

 

I wanted to portray a sick and twisted desire to be a parent right from the moment of conception. Infertility can eat away at even the most decent people, although no one would call Dr Luther Honigbaum or Sinistra Tungsten decent. Both yearn to be a parent and are prepared to be ruthless if that is what it takes to make it happen. Along the way, their desperation means that they lose touch with the fact that the child must come first. They can’t see that forcing unwilling participants to father your child or carry the infant in their womb is the worst possible way to nurture a young life.

 

It was very important to me to have both a man and a woman showing these disturbing traits, since the trope is so often that the women is crazed by the desire for a child while a man is portrayed as always wholly rational in his wish to become a father. In many ways, in Blackacre Rising, Honigbaum’s behaviour is much worse than Sinistra’s. In part that’s because he is estranged from his teenage son Don Allwood.

 

Fatherhood was one of the key themes of Souls for the Master, with Gerald struggling with his own father and the Master fulfilling a dark inversion of a fatherly relationship to those he sought to control. I was pleased to expand that theme in Blackacre Rising, but here it is Don, Gerald’s fellow member of the resistance, who is struggling with his relationship with his father.

 

Ruschelle: Do you have a favorite movie monster or wayward cryptid? There’s got to be a creature that makes you smile at its mere presence or mention.

John: I’m a huge fan of the English Fifties Sci Fi and Horror writer John Wyndham. Even my love of the Triffids, his most well known monster, is trumped by the bathys he creates in The Kraken Wakes. It’s my favourite novel of his. They arrive from Outer Space, crash land into the deepest parts of the oceans across the world, dig long tunnels to travel across the sea floor and then crawl right up out of the sea and tear people limb from limb.

 

Ruschelle: You have written fantasy as well as horror. Does your approach or research differ for each genre or do you treat all genres the same?

John: I can’t speak for other writers who cross genres, which many authors do, because I think every writer finds their own path. That’s absolutely right. For myself, I do approach horror and fantasy in completely different ways. Fantasy novels tend to be much longer. That means often writing a portion of the novel, having a break from it and coming back to it sometime later. Each country and culture has to be created from the ground up and that requires extensive reading to get the details right. All in all, it’s a lot more time consuming than writing a horror novel. My horror fiction is set in a universe recognizably our own but with some major differences, such as the omnipotence of the Master and the sinister forces of the Seven at work in Blackacre. But these are features I’ve invented, rather than involving a wholesale step back in time. I like how different the two experiences feel, and I never feel tempted to write only one genre or the other. I alternate between the two.

 

Ruschelle: When sitting down to write, do you choose the story or does the story choose you? In other words, do you always sit down to write with a story in mind, or do you hope and pray an idea bites you in the ass as you sit at the computer? 

John: With short fiction, I tend to start with a title and that gives me the germ of an idea. The title comes spontaneously to mind, so I think it chooses me! I never just sit down to write without knowing what I’m going to be working on that day. I’ve got a list in one of the my files that only ever seems to grow longer but that’s good because it means I’ve always got something to write. I’m very keen to avoid the tyranny of the blank page.

 

Ruschelle: Damn show off. Oh, I mean, brava! Lol. Actually, keeping a file of ideas is a wonderful idea. I may need to steal it…You are a book reviewer! It’s not an easy task. What do you look for when reviewing authors works? What do you feel makes a great book review? 

John: I review for the British Fantasy Society and Schlock! Webzine, as well as reviewing right here at The Horror Tree. What I look for in a book varies a lot depending on where the review will be placed because the key to a good review is to select a book that the readership will find fascinating. A review should be an entertainment in itself, and be satisfying in a small way as a self-contained publication, even if the reader doesn’t go on to buy the book immediately or at all. Many readers don’t. It is critical that the reader is provided with enough information to tell whether the plot and characters might interest them, and a good review provides a summary that avoids plot spoilers and doesn’t summarize so far into it that the whole story becomes completely predictable.

 

With the BFS, books are sent out to reviewers that have been submitted by publishers. With Schlock! and The Horror Tree I have the pleasure of selecting a book I believe the readers will be interested in and which speaks to me as a reader, too. I recently reviewed The Merry Spinster by Daniel Mallory Ortberg for The Horror Tree, and it was a privilege to be able to share an amazing work by a trans writer I really admire.

 

I like to include something personal in my response and often a little wry humor, too. Your reviewer ought to be a firm friend for the journey. I also try to be quite rigorous in analyzing some aspect of the book, perhaps theme or point of view. If a book has a particular strength or weakness that I wish to draw attention to then I try to offer more than just the observation that I did or didn’t like it. A professional reviewer ought to earn their keep, and that involves justifying the reasons for their response to a work.

 

Ruschelle: That being said, what in your opinion, makes a terrible book review? School us, and future book reviewers of the pitfalls of leaving reviews.

John: I’ve still got all the early book reviews I wrote when I was at a much earlier stage in my writing career and was learning the reviewer’s trade. I look at them sometimes to reassure myself how much I’ve improved as a reviewer. You need that affirmation to get the confidence to offer your opinion about the validity of another writer’s work, especially when that writer is so much better at it than you will ever be and has rightly been picked up by a massive publishing house and sold millions of books worldwide.

 

The worst of my early reviews are, of course, gloriously opinionated and ill informed, so it’s a very good thing that none of them ever saw the light of day. What they really all have in common is that they fail to appreciate how hard it is to write a really good novel and that one reviewer’s opinion is only ever one people’s view rather than a definitive opinion that cannot be challenged. Most bad reviews are precisely like that, in my experience.

 

Ruschelle: Do you have a prized book in your collection? If not, what would it be if you could lay your finger-flesh on its smooth and, oh so sexy, spine?

John: My boyfriend tried to persuade me recently that The Necronomicon was actually a real book. When I saw the madness in his eyes, I didn’t have much difficulty believing he might possess a copy. Let’s just say I didn’t look too closely into his unpacking when he arrived a while back for a visit. Since then there has been some very uncanny thumps emanating from upstairs.

 

I’ve always thought The Necronomicon would have a sexy spine, and indeed that the cover would be very alluring and beguiling. The true darkness lies within, but by the time you’ve opened the cover and started reading of course it is too late.

 

Ruschelle: I believe I own a copy of the Necronomicon. Of course, mine is a paperback and it’s written in spaghetti sauce and not blood. So, I’m going to guess it might be a knock off…As we were…As writers, we challenge ourselves and set specific goals to better ourselves at our craft. Is there a genre, theme, topic or word count etc. that you have set as a goal for yourself?

John: I need to master fantasy and horror first! Some might say I have my hands full on that score already and that even that task is likely to be completely beyond me. I have been writing articles recently as well as reviews, and joking apart I can see how these have improved my understanding of both genres.

 

Ruschelle: For you as an author, what do you find most challenging to write, a ferocious battle scene or a ferocious sex scene?

John: I love a good battle scene, and quite often vary them from all-out melee to single combat, to bring it back to the personal. Even on the largest battlefield with a cast of thousands there is scope for the personal to creep into the action through the settling of old scores with cruel and imaginative violence. The key is to intersperse the bloodthirstiness with plenty of trash talk. You could say the same about a ferocious sex scene, too, of course.

 

Ruschelle: Is there an author you would love to collaborate with on a novel at some point in your career? Okay, I know the answer is ME, but let’s choose someone else. ☺

John: I’d love to collaborate with you. The Stain had a very poetic resonance that is quite unlike my own writing. Collaboration works best when everyone brings something different to the table. That said, collaboration can take place a little too close to home, which is why my boyfriend and I still haven’t finished writing the two-thousand-word short story we began five months back.

 

Ruschelle: Dust that two-thousand-word puppy off and finish it! I bet it’s grown a little since you both started it. 

Here’s an interesting question, would you let yourself be haunted or possibly possessed by a ghost if it meant getting their story about life after death?

John: It’s interesting that you assume this hasn’t happened already.

 

Ruschelle: You’re right! I should never assume. I look forward to your life after death account. I hope you got pix!

As creatives, we are inspired by films, television, music, social media, movements and people. What has been an inspiration to you most recently?

John: The hell of living in the middle of nowhere, caring for a severely ill relative with no help from outside and feeling perpetually overwhelmed at the responsibility. It made the domestic arena a living nightmare and led me to write liminal horror set in an isolated farmhouse where nothing is too weird or dangerous, and horrors literally come crawling out of the walls as the house itself is alive.

 

Oh, and Litsy, obviously.

 

Ruschelle: We all need to know what fantastic projects we should look out for from you in the not so distant future.  

John: After Blackacre Rising is published it’ll be time for me to get back to my unfinished fantasy novel. I’m just over half way through the first draft, so that’s a lot of work left to do. It’s based on a Russian-inspired Medieval universe, and features some of the core characters from the Gortah van Murkar fictional world as well as some brand new characters.

 

Ruschelle: It’s been fantastic interviewing and celebrating the success of a fellow author from our Horror Tree family. So, where can your newfound fans find you and your work on the www?

John: Right here on The Horror Tree with my monthly reviews is a great place to start. Plus my website and Amazon page if you want to find out more about my writing. Just head over to Google. If you search for John C Adams you’ll have a choice between my Amazon page and website, John C Adams the well known University of Mississippi college football player and physician born in 1887, or alternatively John C Adams the highly respected Associate Professor of Finance at the University of Texas at Arlington. We’re a talented bunch.

 

The Horror Tree Presents…an Interview with Wesley Southard and Somer Canon

Interview with Wesley Southard and Somer Canon (authors of Slaves to Gravity)

by Alyson Faye.

Q1) How did your writing collaboration come about? Is this your first joint project? And after the success of Slaves to Gravity, will there be more? (Reading Slaves to Gravity, I felt it could be the first of a trilogy with Charlie as the heroine.) 

SC: Wesley had the idea for the story and asked me if I was interested in co-writing with him. I still feel so green, especially compared to so many, and I always thought that I would feel intimidated by working with another author, but Wesley and I are such good friends and I’m really comfortable with him, and I decided to go for it. Wesley is a really imaginative writer and I think that his strong suits tend to be places where maybe I could use a boost, especially when writing with such talent, but he never made me feel like I wasn’t carrying my own weight in this work. It’s a first collaboration for me, and I’m happy to say that I’d totally be down for writing with Wesley again.

WS: After I moved to Pennsylvania from Indiana, Somer and I became good friends through our mutual author friends. We hit it off pretty quickly, and after reading her work, I knew I wanted to work with her someday. When I felt the time was right to start my first long-form co-writing project, there was no other person I wanted to work with. This wasn’t my first collaboration. I wrote a novelette about ten years ago (with a friend) called “Home Invasion”, which appears in my short story collection Resisting Mad

 

ness. As far as the success of Slaves to Gravity, we’re both incredibly thrilled about it. We weren’t sure what people would think, but the reception so far has been overwhelmingly positive. I’ve seen a lot of people ask about a possible sequel in their reviews. Never say never, but I personally feel like the story has a very definitive ending, but you never know. I would absolutely work with Somer again if she wanted to.

Q2) As a writer myself, I’m really interested in the logistics of co-authoring a novel. How did you structure it? Did you say – write alternate chapters? Or did one of you write particular characters? Did you brainstorm and put ideas down on a virtual whiteboard? 

Somer CanonSC: Wesley had a lot of the framing of the story already locked in his head and we worked around that. We wrote alternating chapters and sort of started having fun leaving complicated cliff hangers for the other to deal with. I always looked forward to getting Wesley’s chapter and would always laugh at the situation he left for me. We would do light brainstorming sometimes, but really, a lot of this was us just winging it.

 

WS: We decided early on to simply flip-flop chapters. Even though I had worked on a collaboration before and Somer had not, we were both pretty nervous and needed to take it slow to feel one another out. We also decided before we started that we did not want to try to ‘one-up’ one another with our chapters. We wanted one cohesive narrative and didn’t want the readers distracted by the battle of “gotcha’s” between the authors. For me personally I find that distracting when reading a collaboration. I shouldn’t be able to tell who’s writing which chapter. I should only be invested in the here and now with the characters and their journey.

The characters themselves were created by both of us. I originally wanted the protagonist, Charlie, to be the main focus. Somer introduced the rest of the cast, and we developed their personalities and back stories as we went. The only character that was truly mine was Tanya, who, while writing the book, I realized I could fit in seamlessly. She’s a minor character in a short story of mine called “Arrearages” and she, too, experienced extreme trauma, which I realized would work perfectly in the context of the current story. I loved that we were able to fit her in as an Easter egg of sorts.

Q3) As writers, are you ‘Planners or Pantsers’? (Generally; not just when writing Slaves)

SC: In general I am a proud Pantser. Wesley is more of a planner and that happened a bit in Slaves, but there was quite a bit of pantsing that went into the creation of the story as well.

WS: Me personally—I’m a planner. I outline every single writing project I do, from flash fiction up to novels. I like to have the story completely ready to go before I start to type the opening line.

Q4 ) How long did the planning and writing of Slaves to Gravity take? And where did the idea for this rather unusual tale come from? 

SC: From the idea being laid out to us submitting the manuscript to Ken McKinley at Silver Shamrock, it was less than a year. The actual writing took four or five months and we spent maybe a month and a half tightening up the story.

WS: The idea was something I had in my head for several years. When I come up with story ideas, my brain conjures specific, cinematic scenes, and the very last scene of Slaves to Gravity had been playing over and over in my head with zero context attached. Whatever that scene was, I had to know the rest of this story. Before I approached Somer about the project, I came up with a general idea of what we could do. We talked on the phone about it and then a few weeks later we met up at a diner halfway between both of our homes and spent several hours with notebooks, hashing out the story and what we could do with it. It was a really fun process.

Q5) Do you write with pen/paper or pc? Drink coffee or tea? Have music on or off? Work in a study or the garden shed or somewhere else?

SC: I use both pencil/paper and PC. I don’t drink much caffeine because I lose my mind a little, so I drink lots of water. I sometimes have music on, but it depends on if my children are marauding about. I need to be able to hear what they’re getting up to. I have a really neat writing room that I do most of my work in, but I do change the scenery on occasion by going outside or sitting on the couch.

WS: I don’t like to write longhand. I do my outline on paper, but everything I commit to goes down into my laptop. I usually have a soda or water with me in my home office, and my ear buds are smushed into my head with music going at a low volume. It took me until earlier this year to be able to write with music playing and not be completely distracted.

Q6) Have you both always written dark/supernatural/horror fiction? 

SC: For the most part, but my first published story was a piece about pancakes!  After that, it was all dark and gruesome.  

WS: I’ve always preferred to write horror, but after seeing that I can write some form of sci-fi, as we did with Slaves to Gravity, I would be more willing to see what can come from that experience.

Q7) Do you both read that genre? If so, which authors and books stand out for you, or have influenced you?

SC: I absolutely read the horror genre. I am a fan first, always and forever.  I grew up reading paperback horror novels that my grandma kept stacks of in her house, but the first one that really blew me over was The Haunting by Ruby Jean Jensen.  That book made me afraid to put my feet on the floor for fear of the thing under the bed, the thing from the book, getting me.  As I got older, I graduated to Stephen King and some Dean Koontz, but the foundation of my fandom will always be Ruby Jean Jensen.  As for some more contemporary authors that really do it for me, I love Wesley’s work as well as Mary SanGiovanni, The Sisters of Slaughter, Tim Meyer, James Newman, Kenzie Jennings, and Jonathan Janz.  Look, if I named everybody, I’d be here all day, but those names are names I always love to see being published.

WS: I’ve always been a huge horror fiction nut. My biggest inspirations for becoming a writer were Brian Keene, J.F. Gonzalez, and Tim Lebbon, but I feel my personal writing style was and continues to be heavily influenced by Graham Masterton, and Ray Garton. I adore Masterton’s storytelling ability, and I’ve tried to adapt the way Garton writes action scenes and tension. As far as newer, more current authors, I think writers like Kristopher Triana, Aaron Dries, and Somer Canon are leading the way for the new generation. Each has such a unique voice and are highly readable and enjoyable.

Q8) What are you currently reading?

SC: I’ve just started Red Dragon by Thomas Harris. I’ve seen the movies and shows and it’s about time I got to the books.

WS: I’m actually beta-reading a new horror western for Kristopher Triana, which will be out soon from Death’s Head Press.

Q9) Do you gain inspiration from films and/or music? Can you name a fave film or album or artist whose work has inspired or influenced you as a writer?

SC: I get very light inspiration from music. My music tastes are all over the place. This is going to sound so weird, but I think the movies that I get the most inspiration from for my writing are those horrible, cheap, sequel movies that we got a lot of in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Like Children of the Corn III and The Howling V. These movies didn’t take themselves too seriously, and if they did it came off as hilarious as opposed to terrifying, and I really like highlighting the absurdity of a horror story. I tend to add humor to my work, or course, but I think that it offsets the heavier parts wonderfully. 

WS: My favorite film ever is From Dusk Till Dawn, and I feel that movie has influenced me more than any other. I adore the characters, the atmosphere, the tension, the dialogue, and the action and gore. I’m forever searching for my perfect vampire novel idea because of that movie.

Q10) What was the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given as writers?

SC: Take all advice with a grain of salt. There is no one-size-fits-all writing career.

WS: Have patience. This can be a painful, slow moving business.

Q11) Do you belong to a writers’ group or bounce ideas off each other, or other writing friends?

SC: I’m a member of the Mid-Atlantic Dark Fiction Society. I, personally, am not terribly comfortable talking openly about my works in progress with many people, but I like talking shop with other writers.

WS: I don’t belong to an official writing group, but I live around enough creative people who I’m constantly bouncing ideas off of. They’re a massive help.

Q12) How involved are you with social media? Where can fans and followers find you online?

SC: I’m present on social media, but I prefer to be a more light presence, a distraction. You can find me on Twitter (that’s where I’m usually hanging out), Facebook and Instagram.  (And here somercanon.com)

WS: I’m always hanging out online. I’m pretty easy to find on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and I try to keep my website (www.wesleysouthard.com) as updated as possible.

Thank you, Wes and Somer, for the interview. It’s been great and really interesting. 

SC:  Thank you!

WS: Thank you!

Interview with Frog Jones, Acquisition Editor for Impulsive Walrus Books

Interview with Frog Jones, Acquisition Editor for Impulsive Walrus Books

By Angelique Fawns 

 

Frog Jones and Ester Jones aren’t sitting at home, lurking behind masks, while waiting for this pandemic to blow over. Instead they’ve chosen to use the global shutdown as inspiration and create a fun and thoughtful anthology. Socially Distant: The Quarantales is a collection of twenty-one stories from all over the world. Writers from India, the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States ponder what life will look like in the near future if we remain socially distant. 

 

Impulsive Walrus opened its doors in January 2018 based on a whimsical moment at a book launch party. Frog told a bunch of party-goers a story about cows, a catapult and a coconut. By the end of the yarn, the whole room of authors wanted to take two lines from the story and write their own cow tale. 

 

Well It’s Your Cow: An Anecdotal Anthology was the very first book published by the duo. Since then, they have continued to produce fantasy and science-fiction works. I met Frog and Ester (digitally of course) when I submitted to their call for stories about what life might look like if the quarantine isn’t lifted. 

 

Socially Distant: The Quarantales is available for pre-order now.

 

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08DMTZPXV/ref=cm_sw_su_dp

 

Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/socially-distant

 

What was your inspiration for Socially Distant: The Quarantales?

 

Well, the obvious is the big one.  But the more specific part of that was when one of my friends told me about her black-market hairdresser.  Frankly, and I detail this in the anthology’s introduction, the idea  of edgy hair-stylists shanking each other for turf just sort of struck me as really interesting–and I thought I might not be the only author  

like that.  So I put the call out, and I can now say that I didn’t know the half of what I was getting into.

 

What hiccups and issues have you had publishing during a pandemic?

 

Well…the biggest one is marketing.  Normally, that’s done by the speaking tour to various conventions–obviously, that’s not happening this year.  Which means we’ve had to adapt a whole new method of launching our works out to the world.  Actually doing the introverted work of assembling an anthology or writing a novel is pretty much  unchanged… but telling people about what we’ve done has gotten a lot  harder.

 

Tell us about your background and day job?

 

In the day, I’m the Chief Public Defender of Mason County, Washington.  I’ve been a practicing criminal defense attorney for fifteen years. I’m on the board of two different charities– one for housing homeless teens, one for adult education, and I’m a proud Rotarian, to boot. 

 

(I had to look up what a Rotarian is… A Rotarian is a member of a Rotary Club and believes in “service above self” and maintains a high ethical standard in one’s business, profession and personal life.)

 

How did you find the name Impulsive Walrus?

 

We’ve done a lot of sales from convention tables, and we’ve noticed that the impulse buy is your best target.  Something a little funny-looking, something that catches the eye and the interest quickly.  We actually conceived our first anthology, Well, It’s Your Cow, before realizing we needed a publishing company to go with it.

 

So, we chose the word “Impulsive.”  And…well, and then we just picked the funniest animal we could think of.  “Platypus” was a strong contender…but “Walrus” won out when we thought about what the logo would look like.

 

What kind of writing do you do yourself?

 

My wife and I co-write the Gift of Grace urban fantasy series.  In addition, we appear in fifteen different anthologies, including the recent Straight Outta Deadwood published by Baen Books.  I’ve had short stories published in anthologies alongside Brandon Sanderson, David Farland, Charlaine Harris, Mike Resnick, Todd McCaffery, Phyllis  

Irene Radford, and Jody Lynn Nye.

 

How has your publishing business evolved?

It’s still pretty new.  We’re reaching out every day to find new authors and add to our list.   

How does your publishing company turn a profit, if it does?

It doesn’t.  It could, if we wanted it to… but we pay our authors in currency of the realm, and we pay for professional editing services as well.  We’re interested in producing a quality product…and we’re confident that, once we build up a larger portfolio of books, that  dedication to quality will begin turning a profit.

 

What sort of stories and/or writing are you typically looking for?

We are open to anything in terms of speculative fiction!  Beyond that, our anthologies come out once in a while to a certain theme… like this one!

 

What is really exciting you in the publishing field currently?

The publishing field is wide, wide open currently.  That’s exciting…both as a publisher looking to get ahead, and as a reader, looking for new stories.  There’s no established tastemaker, yet, and as a publisher the amount of upset in the field is both an opportunity… and deeply terrifying.

 

What are your plans for your press in the future?

We’re going to keep putting together quality fiction for our growing audience to enjoy.  We’re also looking at breaking into audiobooks–that will be an exciting leap forward.  In the long term, though, it’s going to be about attracting and paying a group of authors that produce quality work and developing a reputation as a solid, ethical small press you can turn to for new amazing stories.

 

The Horror Tree Presents…an Interview with C.S. Alleyne

Ruschelle: Hello, hello C.S. Alleyne. It’s wonderful to have you here with us in our little literary corner of hell and mayhem we call the Horror Tree. We are excited by your soon to be released novel Belle Vue. It’s based on a creepy asylum that is right in your own backyard. So awesome. Could you give us a bit of the asylums back story?

C.S.:  Thank you Ruschelle, I’m also excited by Belle Vue being released as it’s my debut novel and my feet haven’t touched the ground yet lol!    

To answer your first question, the Metropolitan Asylums Board opened the, ahem, ‘Leavesden Asylum for Idiots and Imbeciles’ (not a name to be reckoned with these days!) in 1870 in Abbots Langley, Hertfordshire which is local to me.  Set in 93 acres (although this figure varies considerably according to your source), the original designs for the asylum allowed for the accommodation of 1,560 inmates. Soon that figure was far exceeded and in 1948 the number was over 3,000 patients. Eventually the hospital (as it had become) closed and after a few years was developed into the luxury apartments. 

Although the regime there was strict it was nothing like the Belle Vue Asylum in my novel – that is my imagination and fictionalising from the wider sources of my research. It is quite ironic that these many asylums – both in the UK and US – which in Victorian times only housed the poor and insane (often passed on from the workhouses) should become highly desirable residences with – in some cases – million pound price tags!

That change in usage and perception of desirability fascinated me and when I found a book called ‘Murders in Hertfordshire’ which told the story of a murder taking place there at the end of the nineteenth century, I was hooked and started jotting down plot ideas  and researching more about its history. Not sure where the satanic orgies came in though lol!

 

Ruschelle: Your novel is a beautiful tapestry. Weaving rich beautiful colors of fiction into the solid strands of facts. How difficult or seamless was it to get the perfect balance of each?

 

C.S. Thank you. I did make a big effort at this since I strongly dislike those parts in often excellent novels which have research dumps! Those chunks or even pages of text which rattle off everything you wanted – or more likely didn’t want – to know about usually a highly technical or obscure subject. Often it’s safe to skip over these sections if not of interest but I think that is a wasted opportunity. I tried to focus on the actions of the characters and reveal small aspects each time.  I accept I may fall flat on my face here and every review will now identify Belle Vue is full of the very thing I didn’t want to do. But if so my heartfelt apologies and I will not make same mistake twice lol!     

 

Ruschelle: Are your main characters, Alex and Claire based on people you may know? Are they fragments of you or are they plucked from your imagination?

 

C.S.: When I first started writing Belle Vue and created Alex and Claire (who also went through a few name changes) I thought I would use bits of myself, friends, film and tv examples but in the main it didn’t turn out that way (or not consciously anyway beyond one character from Oz where I grew up) . Rather it was their role in the story and how they would react to the unfolding circumstances. I also wanted Alex and Claire to be an everyman (and woman) to enable a connection to the reader (if they had these paranormal experiences lol!) whereas the other main characters are very distinct and, as with the ‘baddies’ not necessarily likeable but hopefully compelling.

 

Ruschelle: Let’s get to the juicy part in your research of the asylum, the satanic orgies. Did you include that ‘dirty little secret’ in Belle Vue? Have you wiped your browsing history clean since then?  LOL

 

C.S.: I did most of the research just before ‘incognito mode’ existed but luckily the search sites also weren’t as sharp with bombarding you with associated adverts back then. Whereas I did visit a number of converted asylums as part of my research, the closest I got to a satanic orgy was a day trip to the Hellfire Caves in West Wycombe. Very interesting for me but just as I didn’t murder anyone or hadn’t been tried in court, I had to read around the subjects and use my imagination. 

 

Ruschelle: You discovered a cemetery on the grounds of the asylum. What did your research come up with on the ground’s residents?  

 

C.S.: When I first found the cemetery which is a surprisingly long way from the main old asylum buildings, it was over grown. There was a lychgate at the entrance but although you could see some graves, others were hidden in the undergrowth. What you could see in some places were where the graves had sunk. This I found in my reading was because they buried the pauper lunatics in hessian sacks and so as the body decomposed the ground above caved in.

Aaron Kosminski, who was one of the people suspected to be Jack the Ripper and was an inmate of the asylum (from 19 April 1894 until his death in May of 1919), is supposedly buried there. Recently the cemetery has been thoroughly cleared and more gravestones discovered.

 

Ruschelle:  Since the asylum has been converted into apartments, do you believe there are spirits haunting the halls?

 

C.S.: As a prime candidate for possible hauntings, stories appear every so often in the local press about legends and ghosts associated with the asylum. A recent one identified a past goalkeeper of Arsenal, who lives in one of those luxury apartments, supposedly haunted by the ghost of a monk holding a candle. Since I have a great imagination and, bizarrely given what I write, am a bit of a coward when it comes to the supernatural (always clutching a magazine to hide behind when watching a horror movie), I probably would not live in a place with such a history. 

 

Ruschelle: How long from conception to research to writing and editing did it take you write Belle Vue?

 

C.S.: When I started writing Belle Vue at first I focused on the research side as I knew very little about Victorian lunatic asylums or the murder case so that took quite a bit of time as I loved doing that and my research parameters got wider and wider! I also didn’t really think I’d be able to write much and wondered if it might be a short story as it was unlikely I could find enough to write for a novel. But once I got into creating the story and characters it was no problem at all! This process took a couple of years off and on. By the time I’d finished my first complete draft it was twice the length of the soon-to-be-publsihed Belle Vue!

I joined a writers’ circle and many there who had had books published said they had written lots of novels before getting published (now in bottom drawers) so each was a form of practice and developing their writing skills. I did it the other way round and used the same book to do this!  I pruned it and rewrote it numerous times instead (using advice from a lot of rejection letters!) I put it aside for a few years before someone who had read it before said I ought to try again. So I did and my wonderful agent, Italia Gandolfo saw its potential (or I caught her at a weak moment lol) and took me on as a client. After more pruning and editing, it was accepted by Crystal Lake Publishing.

 

Ruschelle: You have vacationed in many exotic locales; the Catacombs in Paris, the Pope’s crypts in Italy, the tombs of Egypt. These are definitely, The Horror Tree vacations. So where would you love to visit next? And on a side note, did any of them serve drinks with little umbrellas?

 

C.S.: One of the places, I would love to visit next is the Palermo Catacombs in Sicily which is creepier and more shocking than most horror movies. But I somehow think, just like the rest, no drinks with little umbrellas lol!

Ruschelle: Have you had any supernatural experiences in any of the places you’ve visited? 

 

C.S.: Nothing I could class as supernatural and don’t ever expect to see me on Ghost Hunters or any such show due to my cowardice even when I know it’s fake lol. My first visit to the old Leavesden Asylum Cemetery was quite unnerving – I was alone in the silence, the cemetery is surrounded by fields and trees. To walk around and discover each gravestone in the high grass and knowing that person’s previous abode and likely history was unsettling.

In all the places I’ve been there was – probably due to my fascination with all things death-related (not to mention my over-active imagination) – an underlying atmosphere of what might happen next. What if the lights went out in the catacombs? What if the blocks of stone in this narrow pyramid tunnel suddenly drop down and block any exit? I’m scaring myself now lol as perception can be as frightening as the reality (if there is any for supernatural occurrences).

 

Ruschelle: Your book Power is spelled with a mirror image letter R. Color me intrigued. 

 

C.S.:  It reflects the way the story develops. At the beginning Maude Caulkin – poor and female in Victorian London – is completely powerless. By the end, in a very gory way that surprised even me lol, that power has completely turned – hence the reversed letter.  

 

 

Ruschelle: What was the process you used for penning your novelette, Power comparatively to your novel Belle Vue?

 

C.S.: Power was written at lightning speed compared to Belle Vue. One very small part of it is actually deleted from the much longer version of Belle Vue when I was pruning like Edwards Scissorhands. As I hadn’t had anything published before and didn’t really know how everything worked such as getting an Amazon or Goodreads author page, this was a way of sorting these things out and me learning a bit more as to how the publishing process works.  But the reality of getting a proper novel to market has shocked me with the amount of work required not just by myself but by Crystal Lake Publishing and my agent, Italia Ganfolfo. I am profoundly grateful for their unstinting support. 

 

 

Ruschelle: In December of 2019, Power was NUMBER ONE on Amazon’s Hot New Releases for Historical Fiction short stories! WHOO HOO!!  How did that effect you as an author and how did that boost your book?

 

C.S.: I was on cloud nine for days, nay, weeks lol. Just as with very good reviews, it inspires you and the memories keep you going when you’re having a difficult day – writing or marketing-wise.

 

Ruschelle: With the upcoming release of Belle Vue in August, 2020, barring a rabid Sasquatch uprising or mole people collapsing the entire infrastructure of the planet, what exciting plans do you have for marketing your book? 

 

C.S.: Given the current circumstances (and bizarrely, a rabid Sasquatch uprising or mole people collapsing the entire infrastructure of the planet doesn’t sound that outlandish lol) I am currently organising for a virtual launch. This includes interviews such as we’re doing, podcasts and radio appearances, guest posts and a blog tour. I shall put these up on my website as well as my social media pages once I have finalised dates (and to be safe, I shall invite any Sasquatches or mole people who might be interested since sales for debut authors are hard to come by!) 

 

Ruschelle: What was the best and worst piece of writing advice you ever received?

 

C.S.:  For the ‘worst’, this was not told to me personally but generally writers are advised to ‘write what you know’ which I find incredibly limiting and given Belle Vue is about murder, satanic orgies and mistreatment in Victorian lunatic asylums I am not putting my hand up to any of these! Just imagine all the classics which would never have been written if the authors had stuck to this ‘rule’ – especially in the horror, sci fi and fantasy arenas such as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Fiction is about letting your imagination soar! 

Then to the ‘best’, if you love to write or have a story you want to tell, then – as long as you are enjoying yourself – keep at it. Passion for the process as well as the subject is very important – especially if you want a long writing career. 

Ruschelle: As well as a writer, you’re also a reader. How do you prefer to sink into a good book? Traditional print, e-books or audio?

 

C.S.: It used to be traditional print and I still love the feel of a book in my hands. Increasingly I am moving over to e-books and find reading fiction on my phone, most preferable. I have a lot of friends who love audio books often to the exception of all else but I haven’t really got into these in the same way. I think it has to do with the way I read – if I am not keen on how the book is written or where the storyline is going then I’ll skip forward and see if it’s worth staying – or not. But I can’t really do that with audio.

 

Ruschelle: What new works do you have simmering in your cooking pot next? Can you give us a little taste?

 

C.S.: Belle Vue is now planned to be the first of a trilogy. I am in the middle of writing the sequel – Secret Nemesis is the working title – and in it, the main characters from both the Victorian and present day move to the United States and face a cross-fire of evil and danger. So more research on murder and general skulduggery, asylums in the US and satanic societies that side of the pond.

 

Ruschelle: How can your newfound fans find you on the www.

C.S.: My website address is – www.csalleyne.com – all the links are there too to my social media pages.

And for those who would like a taster – here is the link to the Prologue and the first 2 chapters –

http://csalleyne.com/excerpt-belle-vue/

Horror Tree presents … An Interview with Christopher Stanley

England author Christopher Stanley is a masterful writer of horror flash fiction. His latest book, The Lamppost Huggers and Other Wretched Tales, is an exceptional collection of stories exploring the darkness of humanity. Released on June 1 by The Arcanist Press, The Lamppost Huggers received rave reviews from other talented authors in the genre.

Despite the whimsical title, The Lamppost Huggers is a skin-crawling exercise in creeping dread, with a pitch-perfect denouement you won’t see coming,” wrote Kealan Patrick Burke, the Bram Stoker Award-winning author of Kin and Sour Candy.”

Stephanie Ellis, author of Bottled, agreed.

“Christopher Stanley captures the darkness of the soul and refuses to let it go,” Ellis wrote. “Atmospheric and chilling, this is a true master class in the art of flash.”

The Lamppost Huggers and Other Wretched Tales features 26 bite-size tales of dread and horror. I had to ask: Why did “The Lamppost Huggers” receive top billing?

I can’t remember when I first started thinking about putting out a collection, but I do remember that ‘The Lamppost Huggers’ wasn’t going to be the title story,” Stanley said in an exclusive interview with The Horror Tree. “Originally, I favoured ‘And the World Roared Back,’ and I still think that would be a good representation of the table of contents. ‘The Lamppost Huggers’ took the top billing purely because of the response the story received when it was first published. Something about it really seemed to capture readers’ imaginations. It’s also quite an unusual title. Kealan Patrick Burke described it as ‘whimsical’ and I think he’s right – it doesn’t seem dangerous, just unsettling. And I like that.”

Stanley cites American author Don DeLillo as a likely influence on his work.

“Some of my favourite stories in the collection present two different perspectives — a wide-angle view of the world and a close-up of the central characters. I find this works well because it conveys the enormity of the threat and the vulnerability of those trying to survive. It’s not something I’ve done consciously, but I suspect it’s the result of having read many of Don DeLillo’s novels, including White Noise, Underworld, and Mao II. DeLillo’s ability to step back from his characters and show us the world they live in is frequently breath-taking.”

Stanley embraced flash fiction for practical reasons.

“Flash fiction has been good to me in many, many ways,” Stanley said. “After the twins were born, my window of opportunity to write shrunk down to maybe half an hour a day – not enough for longer form stories but perfect for flash. I can write a rough draft in half an hour and have it edited by the end of the week. Flash fiction was a way for me to keep writing amidst the chaos. I’ve made lots of friends through flash fiction, and we’re spoiled for flash fiction events in Bristol, which has been home to the UK National Flash Fiction Day celebrations and the amazing UK Flash Fiction Festival. My hope is there’s a growing appreciation for the power and potential of flash fiction, and that it will continue to grow in popularity.”

Stanley said the horror genre fits his style.

“I’ve been a fan of the horror genre for more years than I’d care to admit, but I’ve never found it easy to write and I’m in awe of people who do it well,” Stanley said. “I have a preference for stories set in a familiar world with recognisable characters, and I like writing stories where anything might happen — where there’s a real sense of urgency and danger. For these reasons, horror is the perfect genre for me.”

The opener in The Lamppost Huggers and Other Wretched Tales is titled “Norfolk.” It’s a particularly dark yet brutally honest tale from the father’s perspective. The father blames the birth of his son for an aborted writing career. These two sentences stuck with me: “In my dreams, the spirits of the dead crawl from the water to steal Eddie away, their fleshless fingers prising him from my grasp. I’m glad they’re taking him but I’m compelled to ask why.”

I asked Stanley, who’s a father of three boys, if it’s difficult to write such dark confessions of the soul, even though it’s a fictional character’s soul?

“After my eldest was born, I found it impossible to write stories that didn’t feature children,” Stanley said. “That’s how much my life changed. And it was definitely for the better.  The funny thing about ‘Norfolk’ is that so much of that story is true. Not the ending (thankfully), and obviously not the unsavoury relationship between the father and the son. But after the twins were born, my eldest and I used to drive up to Norfolk the night before to get the bungalow ready for the rest of the family, and I used to love it. He was just about old enough to sit in the front with me and he was really great company. Maybe not so much when he clawed my face in the middle of the night, but it was really dark and he couldn’t see what he was doing.”

In April 2019, Demain Publishing released Stanley’s debut standalone novelette The Forest is Hungry for its series Short Sharp Shocks! It’s another creepy tale, this time about a father trying to save his sick daughter.

“I was so happy when Demain Publishing agreed to publish my horror novelette, The Forest is Hungry,” Stanley said. “It was my first standalone publication and also the longest story I’d published. As someone whose success has been almost exclusively in the world of flash fiction, the response to Forest has been enormously encouraging. I’d recommend Short Sharp Shocks! to anyone looking for chills and thrills that can be consumed in one sitting. They’re a lot of fun, and I’m proud to be a part of the series.”

In addition to flash fiction, Stanley also writes music.

“I’d just started work on my third album when we entered lockdown,” Stanley said. “It’s a thrilling hobby – so much collaboration and energy. I recorded my first album, Americana, almost by accident after I was made redundant around eight years ago. I’d only planned to record one song, but I was blown away by all the wonderful local musicians who were happy to join me in the studio and we just kept going. My second album, Canyonlands, was more polished, mostly because I used the same band and studio throughout. It’s too soon to say how my new album, The Gathering Days, will turn out, but I’m very excited about the songs we’ve already recorded and can’t wait to get back in the studio.”

Speaking of the lockdown, Stanley said he misses his commute to work.

“I do believe I’ve been one of the lucky ones throughout the lockdown,” Stanley said. “My wife and I still have our jobs (for now), and our three kids are (mostly) terrific. Not that it’s been easy. Juggling my job with home-schooling, while my wife works at the hospital, has been exhausting. My study — where I write — has become my office and, sometimes, my bolt hole. It doesn’t feel the same anymore and I haven’t figured out how to fix it yet. I think the thing that’s surprised me the most is how much I’ve missed my daily commute – an hour, twice a day, when I’m alone with my thoughts, was something I’d taken for granted.”

The Horror Tree is a resource for authors, so I asked Stanley if he had a writing tip.

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“If you want to be a better writer, join a writers’ group,” Stanley said. “Find readers who will give you honest feedback, even if they wouldn’t normally read or write something in your chosen genre. Treasure that feedback. Learn from it. I’ve been amazed at how many people have been prepared to give up their time to help me become a better writer. I’d be nowhere without it.”

What’s next for Stanley? We could see the flash fiction master write a full-fledged novel … maybe.

“I feel clichéd saying it, but I’ve just started writing a novel,” Stanley said. “I really have. And I’m going to do my best to finish it before the Doomsday clock ticks around to midnight and we all succumb to whichever of the four horsemen arrives first. But I’m not promising anything. Recently, I’ve also had a mini-collection accepted by Demain Publishing. That’s all I can say about this one at the moment, except that there’ll be announcement in due course and I’m very excited about it.”

LINK:

https://christopherstanleyauthor.com/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B08747237B/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i1

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Forest-Hungry-Short-Sharp-Shocks/dp/B084WKLT9X/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1590087070&sr=1-1

The Horror Tree Presents: An Interview with Diane Turnshek

Interview with Diane Turnshek, Co-Editor of  Triangulation: Extinction

Published by Parsec Ink.

By Angelique Fawns

 

Triangulation: Extinction is a speculative fiction anthology due to be released at the end of July. How does our world changes every time we lose a species? Fantasy, science-fiction and horror authors craft tales of imposing threats, remarkable creatures, and the heroes who fight for them.

 

Parsec Ink produces an annual anthology that wrestles with some profound themes. Last year’s issue Triangulation: Dark Skies explored light pollution. 


Diane Turnshek is no stranger to the world of writing and science fiction and is co-editing this year’s edition with Isaac N. Payne.  She credits him with the idea of exploiting extinction in this year’s anthology. We talked a bit about Diane’s background in science and the challenges of publishing in today’s environment. 

 

Angelique: Tell us about your background and day job. 

 

Diane: I wanted to be an astronomer ever since I was seven. It’s amazing that I actually achieved that goal. I’m a faculty member in the Physics Department at Carnegie Mellon University. I have a couple dozen research papers published, mostly about cool temperature stars. But observational astronomy is not something one can easily do with four children, so I stayed home raising them for decades  — and wrote science fiction. 

 

Angelique: What kind of writing do you do yourself?

 

Diane: My first penned story sold to Analog Magazine of Science Fiction and Fact in 1999. The next stories that sold to that market showed me what kind of writer I am. I’ve tried many things, but at the core, I write scientifically accurate short stories. 

 

Angelique: Do you believe in alien life?

 

Diane: Almost all astronomers believe in alien life, but out there, not here on Earth. Space is vast. Hundreds of billions of stars in our galaxy and hundreds of billions of galaxies? It’s presumptuous to think we’re the only life that’s ever arisen in billions of years. It’s also, simultaneously, ego-centric to think that Earth is a tourist attraction for aliens. If a flying saucer landed in Times Square tomorrow and alien-looking creatures stepped out, it is overwhelmingly more likely to be a hoax, perpetrated by humans, than any cosmic voyagers. Intelligent species have probably evolved millions of years offset in time from our eager-to-communicate species. We may someday find them, waiting patiently to be discovered in the gravitational fields of black holes where time runs slower. 

 

Angelique: What was the inspiration behind Parsec Ink?

 

Diane: I founded Parsec Ink’s Triangulation anthology series in 2003. At the time, I was a new writer with a few pro sales and a swelled head. Barely on the first rung of the ladder to success, I thought I could help other local writers by giving them turns at playing editor. Once you read hundreds of submissions, you see quite clearly what not to do in your own writing. The anthology also provided another paying market for new talent. This summer, we’ll publish our 17th anthology in the series, which includes ten different editors along the way.  

 

Angelique: How has your publishing business evolved?

 

Diane: I took the anthology editing position back last year. I changed the format to be about world-scale issues that needed to have more light shed on them — stories as creative visions to entertain and educate the public. Triangulation: Dark Skies, in 2019, was about light pollution, the unnecessary, unwanted artificial light at night that robs our view of the stars and adversely affects plants and animals, including humans. Triangulation: Extinction, for 2020, is about anthropogenic species extinction. Studies now show that if we continue on this course, climate disruption will send 7.9% of all species on Earth into extinction in the near future. Think up twelve animal types. Now pick one to willingly throw into the dustbin! We receive hundreds of submissions a year, but thousands of writers read our guidelines. That in itself educates a lot of people to a specific problem in the world. Hopefully, book sales will make even more people think. 

 

Angelique: How does your publishing company turn a profit, if it does?

 

Diane: Parsec Ink is a branch of Parsec, Inc, a non-profit, charitable, literary, 501c3 organization. Parsec has been around for over 35 years and is well-established as the premier speculative fiction organization in Western Pennsylvania. The other branches are the monthly meeting group, summer conference (http://parsec-sff.org/confluence/), an author lecture series I started at CMU (http://parsec-sff.org/blog/category/lectures/) and a workshop I started in 2002 (Alpha, the SF/F/H Workshop for Young Writers https://alphawritersworkshop.org/). Each branch has their own funding structure and supports the others, for instance, the current editorial staff of Triangulation (20 people) is mostly made up of my former Alpha students. Because of this educational component of the Triangulation anthology, we have received a grant from SFWA. Last year, we also received a grant from Metro21 at CMU whose mission statement is making life better for people who live in cities using technology. Metro21 funders felt the educational value of an anthology that deals with light pollution was worthy of their contribution. We also sell the books at a price that’s set to cover other costs. The editorial staff is all volunteer, but we pay the authors and artists. What helps is our large fan base, going back many years. 


Angelique: What sort of stories and/or writing are you typically looking for?

 

Diane: It was interesting to see each person’s individual likes and dislikes fall out of the comments section on the Submittable site. Some swoon over prose that borders on purple. Some go for action-packed stories. I like stories that are scientifically accurate and closely tied to the theme. A couple of us are partial to stories with cute animals and babies. I won’t include stories with rape or suicide. Isaac insists on consistent, logical plotting. Everyone loves stories with proactive characters, a strong voice and hard choices. I like subtlety in stories where the reader is dragged in because they have little idea of what’s happening at first — an absorbing mystery to be solved. Most of the editorial staff members hold creativity above all else. I hope readers will see that we listened to everyone on staff and have all sorts of stories in the mix. 

 

Angelique: What is really exciting you in the publishing field currently?

 

Diane: Young voices. Their idealized worlds carry none of the societal baggage the rest of us may unwittingly bring to the page. I wish somewhere there was a list of stories and books in the speculative fiction field written by young people. (I’m not talking about YA, not books written for young adults but by young adults.) Magazine editors know some authors are too young to sign contracts on their own and have to get their parents to sign. Example: Osahon Ize-lyamu https://africanstreetliterature.wordpress.com/2019/03/07/interview-with-nigerian-speculative-fiction-writer-osahon-ize-iyamu/

 

Angelique: How is the current pandemic affecting you and your company?

 

Diane: I’ve heard of pizza and beer parties where submissions are read on paper, then thrown into the fire if someone doesn’t like them, but that’s never been us. We had an in-person editorial staff meeting on March 14th. That was the last time many of us met with anyone outside our own families. That meeting was just to boost our connectivity, since everything is done online anyway. Our group members are mostly spread around the world in different time zones.

 

Angelique: What are your plans for your press in the future?

 

Diane: I’ve been so focused on getting this edition out the door in July that I haven’t really thought about it. We’ll probably be needing a new editor to step forward and pick a theme. The team is waiting for someone with extra time in their schedule, dedication and inspiration . . . know anyone? 

An Interview with Beautiful, Frightening, Silent author Jennifer A. Gordon

Recently, Horror Tree contributor Jason Ivey conducted an interview with the multi-talented artist/author/ballroom dancer Jennifer Anne Gordon, whose debut novel is the paranormal drama/thriller Beautiful, Frightening, Silent.

HORROR TREE: Would you mind telling our readers more about yourself?

JENNIFER A. GORDON: My name is Jennifer Gordon, my “day job” is that I am a professional ballroom dancer, performer, and instructor. Before Covid-19 I was teaching and performing full time. My fiancé (and dance partner) and I live in New Hampshire. I am a big traveler and adore taking photos of abandoned places and haunted locations. I’ve got a little dog named Lord Tubby, and a giant cat named Fat Jimmy. For years I made my living as a mixed media artist and painter as well.

HT: Beautiful, Frightening, Silent is a dark, yet poetic tale that deals with loss, guilt, and closure. Without being too personal, what inspired you to tell this particular story?

JAG: This story has been poking around in my head for about 15 years or so. It started as the simple story of what happens if someone gets away with murder yet in turn spends their life haunted by that ghost. That is still a part of this story, of course, but I found as I was writing the book my main character Adam (who was always supposed to be a supporting character) took over. His story of grief and loss became the driving force behind the story.

I have dealt with grief and loss in my life, and I understood him as a character, that profound ache. Also, for many years I was involved in an abusive relationship. During that relationship I was a stepmother. This was something that very much tied me to the person I was involved with. I was trapped or at least I felt trapped. When I did eventually get free, due to legal reasons (orders of protection etc.) I was and have been unable to ever see the girl who was my stepdaughter ever again, and I never will. So, there was also that sudden loss of a child. Though it was not a death, there was still a grief that was associated with that. I explored some of those emotions with Adam’s loss of his son, and with the toxic relationship of my “ghost” and Anthony.

 

HT: Would you visit a place like Dagger Island if it existed? Who would you like to see/speak to if given a chance to interact with again?

JAG: I would definitely visit a Dagger Island, though I wonder if it would be too much for me emotionally. I am an empath and the energy of places can sometimes be very overwhelming. During my travels I have been to abandoned psychiatric hospitals, old prisons, an executioners home, and there have been times that the energy was too much for me, and I was overwhelmed.

I imagine that Dagger Island (though fictitious) would have that effect on me. That being said, I would love to see my father again, so I would attempt a visit there, but I may not be able to spend the night.

HT: Would you consider it a fair comparison to liken Beautiful, Frightening, Silent to Stephen King’s Pet Cemetery? If so, how do you feel they are similar and how are they different?

JAG: What is strange, is that I adore Pet Cemetery and it was the first “major” book of my life that I read, but I never really thought of Beautiful, Frightening, and Silent being a similar book…yet of course it is.

At the heart of each of these stories is the heart ache of grief and trauma, so in that way they are similar. There are also parallels between the relationship of Louis and Jud (in Pet Cemetery) and Adam and Anthony (Beautiful, Frightening), as I think there is a longing with both Louis and Adam in their hearts to not just be a father, but to also be a son.

Anthony, though (In Beautiful, Frightening) is a sociopath, so any connection between my characters is ephemeral at best, and deeply manipulative at worst.

HT: Both Anthony, the island’s sole living resident and caretaker, along with Fiona, the wraith and former bride of Anthony’s are dark, yet very nuanced characters. Which of these was the most difficult to get in the mindset of? Which of these two do you consider more antagonistic?

JAG: When I started writing this book I thought of Anthony solely being the “big bad” but the more the story developed I realized that Fiona, my ghost may have been a victim during her life, but there is now much more going on inside of her. She is not the same person she was when she was murdered 60 years before. Since that moment she has lived one long very endless day. As she says herself at one point “she is not alive, but she is not really dead.

I began to think of her [Fiona] like milk that was left out too long, at some point it goes bad.

She was the harder of the two to write, on an emotional level, as she kept changing. I would have my brain wrapped around her and then she would shift. The way light and shadows can change a room throughout a day. I found her fascinating and tricky. She was an enigma even to me at times and I loved her for that.

Anthony was hard to write because I did not want him to become a caricature of a villain. There was a fine line I had to walk between who he was, and who he is now, which is a frail 82-year-old man. I didn’t want him to be likable, but I did want people to feel a range of emotions for him.

HT: Adam is a character drowning in self-loathing and an inability to forgive himself. What do you feel is the best approach for dealing with this type of grief for those out there suffering similar guilt?

JAG: I think getting help, joining a support group, seeing a therapist…any of those things. The grief Adam feels is due to insurmountable loss. It is not something that anyone can “get over”. It changes a person on every level. Adam as a character does not have the emotional strength to survive this on his own. This is due in large part to his upbringing and his addiction. So really, if Adam was a real person (in my heart he is, and he breaks my heart) he needed and deserved help long before the accident that kills his family.

HT: Beautiful, Frightening, Silent is actually your second book that you have published with Breaking Rules Publishing. Would you mind telling us about your experience/partnership with this publisher, as well as your other book Victoriana?

JAG: So Beautiful, Frightening, and Silent is my first published novel, and Victoriana is a collection of my mixed media artwork that I created several years ago. So that book is more of a coffee table book of art. Though, it does contain a lot of the same themes that I am inspired by. Images that ache with hidden stories and desires half met, characters stuck in a moment of time…

Breaking Rules Publishing is a small publishing house, that emphasizes community-based relationships between its authors, which is lovely. I have made some wonderful friends with the other writers that are published there. We have built a strong support system for each other. I have not heard of many publishers that stress this as much.

Breaking Rules also puts out several monthly magazines as well as anthologies. I have been honored to be asked to contribute a monthly column and short story for their Horror Magazine. The first issue I am published in is the July issue and it contains the first part of a serialized short story called Simulacrum. (think  American Psycho x Rules of Attraction).

As an artist I have also been able to do some cover design work with Breaking Rules as well, which has been fun.

HT:  What kind of advice would you offer to aspiring writers out there? What can you share from your own personal experience that might also prove useful to them?

JAG: I would say first and foremost before you become a writer, you should become a reader. Read everything, read outside your genre, don’t just pick up books you know you will like, try to read books you think you will hate. Read poetry, essays, articles, everything.

Then I would say, when you have a handful of authors you know you love, find out about them, see what makes them tick. I find this part to just be fascinating. I am a big fan of “knowing” the artist, not just the art.

Then I would say, write…just write. If you think it’s too weird, who cares, write. If you think “no one will want to read this” …just write, and if you think “I’ve never read anything like what I am writing” then WRITE!!!!!

HT: I noticed in the acknowledgments section that you offered thanks to your beta readers. Would you mind explaining the kind of service that beta readers offer for those of us who are unfamiliar? What do you consider are the top qualities/expectations in a great beta reader?

JAG: So, beta readers are the amazing group of people who read your work AS you are writing it, or before it’s published. These ARE NOT editors, these are the people you trust to tell you when something is not working, or if parts of the book need to be fleshed out, or if they want more (or less) of a character. They are your cheerleaders and your sounding board.

For Beautiful, Frightening, and Silent, I knew I was dealing with a lot of mental health issues and possibly very triggering things. I made sure when I was getting Beta Readers that I had people reading that had a background in psychotherapy, and social work, I had people in recovery, I had a trauma counselor…I wanted to give all the things in my book the respect they deserved. These people held me accountable for that. I also made sure to have a few people that loved Gothic Fiction, and people that hated it. Men, women, LGBTQ+, and straight, and all ages.

The qualities I look for in a beta reader are dependability, I need them to read the book, and I want honesty and trust. For me, at the end of the day my beta readers need to know they are holding a piece of my heart and soul in their hands, and be kind, but also be truthful.

HT:  Do you have any other upcoming projects that you can tell us about? How can fans learn more about you and your work?

JAG: I have my second novel that will be released on August 20th, 2020 (It’s also my birthday!). The book is called “From Daylight to Madness” and it is a Victorian Based Gothic Horror Novel. It is part one of a two-part story. It deals (in this half) primarily with how women who may have mental illness were treated in the 1870’s. Think “The Yellow Wallpaper x The Shining”.

It’s also very loosely tied to Beautiful, Frightening, and Silent, as it explores how the island became haunted. You don’t have to read both books to understand what is going on, but there will be some Easter Eggs and symbolism that readers of both books will see.

I am also about to start hosting a new podcast (with my two fabulous co-hosts Allison Martine, and Trisha Ridinger McKee). The show is called Vox Vomitus (Translation: Word Vomit) and we will be talking with best selling authors, not necessarily about what went right during their process, but all the things that have gone wrong. We will also be chatting with people about their favorite “bad books” and so much more.

The show premieres July 1st on the Authors on the Air Global Network!

HT: Thank you Ms. Gordon for your time, we appreciate it and wish you the best of success! If you would like to learn more about this multi-talented artist/author you can do so by checking out the link to her website below.  And if you would like to purchase a copy of her debut novel, Beautiful, Frightening, and Silent you can find the link for that below as well.

More Links:

Author’s Website

http://www.JenniferAnneGordon.com

Amazon link to Beautiful, Frightening, and Silent

https://tinyurl.com/y8qq2xnb