Selene: Welcome to The Horror Tree, and thanks for agreeing to this interview today. First off, tell us a bit about yourself.
Andy: Thanks for having me, Selene. Well, really, what to say? I always feel like people want a confession when they ask someone who writes horror to talk about themselves… like I’m going to admit to some dark secret that explains why I write what I write. Unfortunately, I don’t have any secrets like that. I’m just a huge fan of the horror genre and community at large. By day, I’m an elearning developer, which I swear is more exciting than it sounds – for me, anyway. I create online training with a focus on user experience. I try to make training interesting for the users. From the feedback we get, I think I’m mostly successful. Beyond that, I’m a cat loving, coffee addicted, book collecting, movie nerd and pop culture geek. I get excited about some of the stupidest things. I am also closing in on 9 delightful months as a newlywed. That’s really the biggest and best thing I’ve got going on right now.
Selene: How long have you been writing, and what draws you to the horror genre?
Andy: I think everyone wants to say something like “I’ve been writing all my life” and while that’s sort of true, I’ve only been really serious about it in last handful of years. I went to school for film and that really rekindled my love of storytelling, but film is a much more involved medium – there are budgets and crews and a cast… it’s too much. Writing is unbridled. Whatever you want in there, it suddenly exists.
If I wanted a monster in a film, I needed to come up with a concept, hire an artist to create it, get a special effects team or a CGI team to bring it to life, then we have to shoot the scenes… like I said: too much. If I want a monster in a book, I come up with it, and then I decide how much to tell. The great thing is that sometimes it’s what you don’t include makes it that much more powerful. Your brain will start filling in the gaps and suddenly things are more horrifying than I could ever come up with.
It’s less that I was drawn to the genre and more that I’ve always been here. I grew up watching horror movies with my dad, my aunt bought me Stephen King novels for every birthday and Christmas, my uncle took me to my first haunted house… I come from a long line of weirdos, so it was just kind of natural to be part of it and embrace it. There’s a very unrepeatable exhilaration to being scared. It doesn’t happen often for me, so I’m always chasing it… maybe that’s why. My wife would tell you that my scare is broken. I think it’s been broken for a long time, that’s probably why I’m always chasing the scares.
Selene: I read your story “The Christmas Miracle,” in the Mutate anthology. Let’s talk about body horror. How do you approach writing visceral scenes?
Andy: So, visceral horror is really not that much of a stretch when you realize how terrifying the human body is on its own. We are all just walking sacks of blood and meat, and any number of our organs are just waiting for the right moment to kill us. Everything about humans is terrifying. Everything that we do and are is a nightmare when you think about it.
So, what I like is the juxtaposition of something so natural and beautiful – like pregnancy – and adding an inhuman element to it, something unnatural and monstrous, as happens in Christmas Miracle. From there, I’m just following the natural progression of things in the story.
I don’t rely on body horror very often. I try to limit myself because it’s something that can be overdone so quickly. But sometimes I get an idea to play with something ugly and perverse. It gives me a chance to play Frankenstein from the safety of my own mind.
Selene: In the bio included in the Mutate anthology, there’s a mention of your 2013 novel Empty Hallways (which I grabbed over on Kindle but haven’t started reading yet!). Is it true you wrote it for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)? Since it’s November, and some of our readers are probably deep in their word counts, let’s talk about that. Do you participate every year, and how does your NaNo process work?
Andy: Actually, all of my novels started as a NaNoWriMo challenge. Those 30 days are key for cranking out a fast first draft and putting an idea out of our head and on paper. I try to participate every year. I’ve got a great story that I’ve started working on for my fifth novel and next NaNoWriMo challenge… my tenth, maybe?
As far as a process, I’m what the NaNoWriMo community calls a Pantser – as it “by the seat of my pants”. When I was gearing up to write Empty Hallways, all I had was a title and the desire to write a ghost story.
So, it’s not much help to anyone on the receiving end of this advice, but really: it’s writing. Just write. Put it all down, one word at a time and keep going until it’s done. That’s the whole secret. It’s not even my secret. I’m pretty sure that’s advice from Neil Gaiman’s 8 Rules of Writing (It is: https://www.brainpickings.org/2012/09/28/neil-gaiman-8-rules-of-writing/). But it’s solid advice that will get you through 30 days of NaNo. Don’t think, just write.
Selene: Speaking of November, you’ve got two author events upcoming in the next few weeks. Now’s the time to promote them, for any of our readers in your area.
Andy: Ah, thanks so much! I’m really excited about these events.
November 11, I’ll be in Monroe, Michigan for Writers on the River (https://monroe.lib.mi.us/events/writers-river), hosted by the Monroe County Library System. It promises to be a great time, with a couple of my favorite local authors: Peggy Christie and Chad Erway. This is my first time at this event, so I’ve got my fingers crossed for an amazing day with about 30 other authors.
November 17, I’ll be taking over The Scriptorium (http://www.greywolfepublishing.com/scriptorium-calendar.html) in Clawson, MI. The Scriptorium might be the best thing to happen to Michigan authors – Diana loves her authors and does so much for them, including letting them takeover the store to promote themselves. So, I’ll be setting up camp, ready to chat, sign books, and who knows what else we’ll do with the day. In the afternoon, I’ll be relieved by Andrew Lark, another fantastic local author. I’m looking forward to chatting with him for a while and hearing about what he’s been working on.
And that’s it for the year. My next event isn’t until 2019, but they’ll all be announced on my blog.
Selene: You’ve got a new novel coming out soon. Tell us about that.
Andy: Yes, Threshold comes out February 14, 2019. Threshold is the story of a mirror, but much in the same way that Empty Hallways is the story of a hospital. Cate is willed an antique mirror by her grandmother, but finds that the mirror has a dark secret that may have led to the death of her grandmother and many of its previous owners. While Cate tries to uncover the mirror’s secrets, her life is ebbing away as she is haunted by her own reflection.
There’s a presence that thrums through this story that gave me the heebie jeebies while I was reading it over through the drafts. Sometimes my imagination runs away with me. Mirrors don’t usually freak me out, but after writing this novel, I’m not sure I’ll be able to look at one the same way again – literally. But at the heart of it, like all of my stories, there’s a human element; a love story. It’s possibly my favorite thing about horror – not the scares, but the raw emotional value that I hide in the stories.
Selene: Here’s a standard “author question.” What do you like to read, and where do you get your inspiration for your stories?
Andy: I read a lot of different genres, and different stories. Your audience may think the worst of me, but I judge books by their covers. If I think a cover looks good, I’ll pick it up check out the blurb. If I like the blurb, I’ll read it. Or I’ll pick up the books my wife likes to read. It gives us something more to talk about – or inside jokes. Readers have the best inside jokes, like codewords that get you into a secret society.
More recently, I’ve been introduced to the Skulduggery Pleasant series, The Kingkiller Chronicles, and I’ve been slowly working my way through Stephen King’s early works and the Dresden Files from the beginning.
I get inspiration from everywhere. Anything can be twisted into something else. A mirror can be turned into a portal to another world. A hospital can hold a dark secret. People can be dangerous and ugly and monstrous behind their smiles and kind words.
Selene: Your other novel, House of Thirteen, is the first of a series, and At Calendar’s End is a limited series which takes place (and was published) throughout a calendar year. What are some of the pros and cons of writing a series, versus a stand-alone story?
Andy: The obvious pro is that you don’t have to quit working with characters that you adore. I really did fall in love with the characters in House of Thirteen. It was already hard enough for me to end the first book, if that had been it, I think I would have been crushed. I’ve been working slowly on Book Two, which means I do a lot of rereading through Book One… I can understand why it’s the fan favorite, there are some really wonderful characters in this story, and every now and again I’ll reread a passage, a little amazed that my writing is as good as it is.
It’s nice to have something familiar that you can drop back into and start writing without any need for world-building and origins and character introduction.
I think the downside to writing a series of any length is the struggle to keep the story going. There are times – especially on a project like At Calendar’s End, where it was tough sometimes to juggle such a big cast of characters and keep them interesting. Calendar has a cast of 13 characters, plus incidental characters scattered throughout. But thirteen characters is a hard crowd to keep shuffling around. You have to come up with things for them to do because people don’t just stop existing because you aren’t paying attention to them. It gets to be maddening when you’re trying to keep everyone straight and how you are going to keep everything moving to the end of the story. To borrow a phrase, it’s a lot like herding cats.
Selene: For At Calendar’s End, you worked with a cover artist, Brian Ritson. What was that like? Would you consider further collaborations, or a graphic novel?
Andy: I love working with Brian. We’ve known each other for a long time; he’s one of my dearest friends. He’s been my cover artist since I started publishing. He did the covers for Empty Hallways, and House of Thirteen, and he’ll be doing my covers until he doesn’t want to anymore.
It’s kind of to the point where I can give him what I’m thinking about for a cover – I can give him a crappy sketch – and just know that what he’s going to do with that is going to be awesome and exceed my expectations.
When I approached him with my idea for At Calendar’s End, I was sure he was going to turn me down. It was so much to ask. It was a taxing project, and it’s a lot to ask of an artist, but Brian worked magic. Sometimes all I had for him was a description of a character and nothing else. A lot of the art is his – not just his as in he did the art, but his as in he actually came up with the ideas, what the characters look like, and the execution of the whole cover design. The coloring book for At Calendar’s End was all his idea. (http://a.co/d/j5YRCOM). It’s brilliant. You never think you’re going to have these accomplishments, like “a coloring book based on your work” until suddenly there it is.
But yes, I will collaborate with Brian until he is done with me. It’s always a pleasure working with him, and a delight seeing his art come to life. I can’t tell you how excited I am for his art on Threshold.
Selene: Speaking of collaborations, your wife is an editor. Do you enjoy working with her, and her advice (as Stephen King says about his wife’s suggestions, even when they’re great his first response is “Yeah, but…”)?
Andy: I feel like saying anything but “yes” to this question is kind of a trap. Seriously though, yes, I love working with her. She is a non-stop supporter. She’s been there since all this author nonsense started. I don’t think either of us would have it any other way.
There are these moments as a writer where you have to take a breath and just step away. Those moments are super important when your editor is telling you things you don’t want to hear about your writing. The truth is that 99% of the time, the editor is right. They know what they are talking about. This is their job, and you just have to stop and accept that they aren’t criticizing your work because they want to hurt you, but they are invested in this project alongside you. They want the story to succeed as much as you do.
That doesn’t mean it is easy to take criticism.
The wonderful thing about having Bailey as an editor is that she knows how to wrangle me. Yes, she is my editor, but she is also my wife and my support system, both life and work. She knows how to talk to me about changes that need to happen. You could call it babying. She’s really good at it. But there have been arguments. There are these moments where she is trying to talk to me about my characters and I don’t want to hear it. It gets a little tense and I have to remember that Bailey the Editor and Bailey the Wife are separate people. And then, there are times where I know what the story calls for, but she is invested in the characters and doesn’t want anything to happen to them, then she has to remember that Andy the Writer and Andy the Husband are separate people – and both of them would like to live through the tragedies that befall the characters.
I totally understand that “Yeah, but…” Stephen King is talking about. It’s in the same bundle of nerves as “you just don’t get it…” but they do, and you as the writer just need to take a breather and give it time, because Bailey can tell you… it might be an hour, or it might be a day, but at some point, I’m going to come back and tell her that she was right and I’m going to make the changes she told me to.
Selene: You’re also a former student of film, and have made a short film called Atlas. How does working on a film differ from writing prose, and how might film influence your other work?
Andy: Writing has no budget. If you want it, you only have to describe it and it’s there. It’s an amazing weight off your shoulders. Film is a much more difficult discipline because of all the parts and people involved. It’s also much harder on the writer creatively.
When you write, you’re playing a film in your head. You’re describing scenes playing on your mind’s eye. But when you write a script, you’re providing cues and dialogue – and all of that is subject to change. You may think you know how it’s going to play out, but that’s the version you see in your head. Add in a director with his own sense of the scene, actors who have their own take on characters and delivery, a budget that may not have the money for the setting you wanted, etc… suddenly, that scene in your head looks a lot different from the scene that is actually being shot.
When Nathan Porter and I wrote Atlas, he was a super hero that could do everything. The trouble was that we were working on a micro budget and it was just the two of us shooting; the two of us would be doing the post-production, too. Suddenly, we’re making executive cuts to figure out what Atlas can do within our constraints.
On the other side of that, when I write a novel or a short story, I’m still seeing the movie play out in my head, but the story I’m writing is me telling you what that movie looks like. I’m going to tell you all the details you need to hear in order to get the story the way I want you to get it. I know you’re not going to get everything. That’s just how it goes. But I’m going to give you the important details and let you fill in the rest. It’s still my movie, and you’re seeing it mostly the way I wanted you to.
Selene: Your bio mentions you returned to school relatively late, and eventually obtained two film degrees. What was it like going back to school “late,” if that means you attended as a mature student? Do you find you use what you learned in your writing process?
Andy: I was in my late-20s when I went back to school for film. I was years older than most of the people in the program. It wasn’t that much of an issue, especially among film geeks. We’ve all seen Lynch and Kurosawa and Citizen Kane and all those movies that appear on all of the “greatest films” lists. Age didn’t really enter into it except when you’re trying to market to a specific audience.
I definitely use what I learned in my film classes. Setting the mood of a scene is exceptionally important. Film and prose are both, at least in my case, character-driven. Ideas translate very well between the two media, the only thing that really changes is the execution.
Selene: Let’s talk about setting. You live in Michigan, and your story in Tales of Horror On Halloween Night was set in Detroit. Do you “write what you know” with your settings, or do you like to explore stories set in different places?
Andy: I prefer to piecemeal my stories. I take a little of what I know and a lot of what I want to say, and I try to find a happy balance between the two. There’s very little of what I know in The Nain Rouge Incident, except that I really wanted to play with some Detroit legends, so this seemed like a really good place to start. Really, I’m combining a couple of pieces of Detroit folklore: the Nain Rouge and Devil’s Night. They worked really well together – at least I felt so. The story is also a period piece set in early-century Detroit. I have done very little historical research, but I also feel like that isn’t as necessary for the kinds of stories I write as it might be for some other writers.
I’m not writing for accuracy, I’m writing for entertainment, so I tend to cobble a lot of information together for my stories, settings, and characters, and a majority of it gets thrown out because it’s extraneous. There’s no place to fit it in without cramming it, so I leave it on the cutting room floor.
Selene: What about characters? What kinds of characters do you like to write about, and how do you come up with their personalities and choices?
Andy: I write what I want to read, so a lot of these characters that I am coming up with I either think are underrepresented in the stuff I am reading, or I think there is a really cool idea for a character and I try to build a story around them.
I have a lot of fun writing 20-somethings. I like putting that youthful lens on the world and trying to see it with that same frame of reference I had when I was just starting to figure things out. There’s a lot of room for bold assumptions and terrible mistakes and everything seems so much more drastic when you’re in that grouping. The highs are higher and the lows are lower, and it just makes for more compelling characters.
My favorite themes are mortality, identity, and love. I like exploring these, whether they are all crammed together, like in Empty Hallways, or they are all unknown and out of reach, like in House of Thirteen, I like to give characters some position within those three themes.
In House of Thirteen, Ren dies and comes back – right from the get-go, she is dealing with her mortality and in the process, kind of loses herself and her identity as a person because of this new phase of her life.
Mostly, I let the characters define their own personalities. It usually comes out in the dynamics between characters. Certain stories need certain people, and those people need other characters to play off of.
In Threshold, Cate and her boyfriend Lucas have a playfully antagonistic relationship. They’re invested in the relationship and in love, but at the same time, they are wrapped up in who they are as individuals, not as a couple. Through the story, they start to feel things out and understand who they are as individuals and as a couple – because and in spite of the true antagonist of the story.
Selene: What advice would you give a writer who’s just starting?
Andy: Write the stories you want to read. Look for inspiration for those stories. Watch tv, and movies, and start looking ahead of the plot. Try predicting the story and see where your story diverts from what you see. Take those predictions and start your own stories. Just one good idea will unfold into a story for you.
Come up with what-ifs, swap characters out of existing stories, combine two pieces of pop culture and create something new. Tell the story from a new perspective, maybe it’s the villain’s story… maybe it’s the dog’s.
Write a story that you get excited about telling. It doesn’t matter what it is; it only matters that you write it.
And the best piece of bad advice I can offer is this: write what you want to write, what you enjoy writing; don’t write what you think is going to sell. Sure, it might be the harder road, and there might not be any success in it, but the reward is its own. You’re not chasing anyone; you’re not rushing to keep up with tropes and genres. Do your own thing. Make yourself happy.
Selene: Thank you again for answering my questions. Do you have anything else you’d like to talk about?
Andy: I would love to just put it out there that the people of NaNoWriMo work their butt off every year to put this program on for the rest of the world. If you can, show them a little love and buy a tshirt or a coffee mug from their store to help keep the lights on. Then, find your local NaNo chapter and sign up. Show some support, go to the meetings, get involved. You may be a good writer on your own, but you’re a better writer with a community. I tried and failed to win NaNo for years before I finally found my people. I finished that year and six months later put out my first novel.
It’s not a gimmick. They don’t ask me to advertise. This is a community of writers, both hobbyists and professionals, that love what they do and want to encourage and pass it forward.
I believe that the world needs more stories, and we’re not going to get them if people aren’t writing them.
Thank you for having me, Selene, it’s been a pleasure.
If you would like to see more of Andy’s work, check out the following links:
Blog, books, and events: www.happierthoughts.com
Amazon author page: https://www.amazon.com/Andy-Lockwood/e/B00EZAVBEU/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_7?qid=1541565793&sr=8-7
Bailey’s editing site: justduckyediting.com
‘Cellar Door’ is the second release from Chimera’s Comics and is a collection of darker horror comics inspired by the likes of H.P. Lovecraft’s works and the ‘Twilight Zone’! The concept of the collection is that “in “Cellar Door,” an author retreats to a secluded manor to overcome his writer’s block. There he meets a hungry reader literally foaming at the mouth for his work. What follows are 15 stories the author must “feed” to his reader to keep himself alive.”
It is a fun anthology graphic novel in the works that should clock in at roughly 140 pages which is currently seeking funding on Kickstarter and will include 15 works of terror. Initially, a chain of comic shops in the suburbs of Chicago, the company has grown into a publishing house that has caught our eye.
Today, we’re sitting down with Carmelo Chimera who is a co-founder of the shops and publishing house!
Stuart Conover (SC): Carmelo, Thanks for sitting down with us today! Could you tell our readers a bit about how the idea for this collection came together?
Carmelo Chimera (CC): Thanks, Stuart. This collection grew out of our first work because we built a pretty large following around “Magnificent.” My friend Ryan Fleharty, who wrote one of the Cellar Door stories, pushed me to spearhead it. And it turned out, in our community were a lot of talented creators with a real passion for horror. So it felt a lot like a bunch of friends sitting around a campfire telling stories until finally, someone wrote it all down.
SC: One of our favorite “Trembling With Fear” contributors, Kevin M. Folliard is part of this project. How did you go about bringing the writers into the project which are attached to it?
This is a quick video refresh of our previous interview ‘The Horror Tree Presents… An Interview With Liz Butcher’. As our Interview Coordinator, I love that we were able to give Liz some time in the spotlight and am thrilled that we’re getting a chance to bring it back to the forefront with this video refresh! If you’d like to learn more, please be sure to click on the direct link to the article below!
After watching the video, please like, share, and subscribe to our channel!
This is a new format that we’re playing around with for articles, interviews, and potentially Trembling With Fear. Please let us know if this is something that you’d like to see more of!
You can read the full interview here: https://horrortree.com/horror-tree-presents-interview-liz-butcher/.
Ruschelle: It’s great to spend some time getting to know you. Especially, since it’s most Horror author’s favorite time of the year. So let’s explore that. What was your first Halloween memory, and did it shape and inspire your writing?
Nikki: I was of trick or treating age way back in the 1970’s. When I think back to those days, the first memories are of my cousins and me sneaking into my granddaddy’s room and going into his closet. He had one of those deep, walk-in closets made for storage more than for clothes. It smelled of tobacco, dull sweat and something sweet that I could never figure out. We’d tunnel ourselves back as far as we could go so we wouldn’t be found and make a nest in old clothes and discarded boxes filled with who knows what.
Back there, out of the sight of any adults, we’d tell stories. The scarier the better. There were the old stand-bys: The Hook Man of Percy Priest, that urban legend chestnut that everyone knows someone who had a cousin’s whose half-brother was on the police force and saw the bodies WITH HIS OWN EYES! Or the story about the Crosslegged Man, a monster with broken arms and legs that twisted around themselves, that we made up on the fly but had spooked ourselves into believing was true. But, inevitably, we’d get to the biggest, baddest mother of them all, The Bell Witch.
Anyone who suffered childhood within the confines of the borders of Tennessee had their psyche scarred by the stories of The Bell Witch of Adams, TN. She was a ghost of a witch, a sour neighbor or a jilted lover (depending on the telling) that haunted the Bell Family in the 1800’s. She tortured the daughter, Betsy, and eventually murdered the father with poison. And then, through folklore, she haunted all of us. There was the “Red Book” that no library could contain because it would disappear from the shelves. The Nashville Children’s Theatre did a play that, for some ungodly reason, our school system thought would make a fun field trip for the kiddies. And, there, in the back of that closet, we’d tell the story, over and over again with the direst of warnings that if you said you didn’t believe in the Bell Witch three times while looking in a mirror, she’d reach out with long, bloody fingernails and scratch your eyes out!
So, did that affect my writing? Did it inspire me to read and write horror stories about ghosts, witches and other horrible things in the dark?
*Postscript: When I was 40 years old, I visited the Bell Witch cave in Adams, TN. It was a catharsis to come, face to face, with the old biddy. I listened to the tour guide gives us the spiel about the Bell family, how the cave was where the Witch hid and how if you took a stone, bad luck would follow you for the rest of your life.
I took a stone; never tell me not to do something.
Nothing ever happened because of it.
But you still couldn’t pay me to say “I don’t believe in the Bell Witch” three times in a mirror.
Ruschelle: Wonder Woman was created by her mother, Hippolyta, from nothing more than a lump of clay…and some love. And like Hippolyta, many authors are able to birth ideas from next to nothing, while others must seek out ideas and inspiration from outside stimuli? How are your stories birthed?
Nikki: All of my stories start in so many different ways.
The seed for Jake Istenhegyi started with the name. The school my kids went to when we lived in Budapest was on Istenhegyi Ute. My husband, Brian, and I joked, “Isn’t that the best name for a private detective? Jake Istenhegyi, Private Eye!” That was in 1998.
I let that little nugget sit until I was approached by Tommy Hancock in 2014 to write a short story for an anthology, Poultry Pulp. The entire book was going to be pulp stories that somehow involve chickens. I told Brian, “I think I finally have a story for Jake.”
And that’s how “A Chick, A Dick and a Witch Walked into a Barn” was born.
Many times, a story will start with a challenge.
I read a biography about Poe and it struck me as odd that many of the women in his life died. I mentioned it to a fellow horror writer, Todd Keisling, “Hey, Do you think maybe Poe was a vampire?”
“Write that story!” commanded Todd.
So I did and published it under the title, The Perverse Muse. *Spoilers: Poe’s not a vampire.*
Or, once I was challenged to write a spooky Christmas story. I wrote, Ode to the Holly King, a short story that starts off with, “Two old gods met at the Bogie Bar….” That story started me off to write an anthology titled, Bogie Bar stories, a collection of stories about forgotten monsters, gods and legends that hang out in the Bogie Bar. *Sidebar: this collection is as yet unpublished. It’s on the board to be hopefully 2019/2020.
Or some stories will be created by deadlines. A friend, Alan Lewis, texted me that he needed one more story for a collection about superheroes in a Steampunk setting that he was editing. Would I be interested in writing a story? I told him I’d be happy to although I don’t know much about Steampunk. How long did I have?
SEVEN DAYS. I had a week to learn a genre, figure out a story and crank it out.
I wrote Ectoplasmic Eradicators Wanted and it was published in Capes and Clockwork, vol. 1.
When the rights came back to me, I republished it under the title, Revenge of the Blood Red Maid: A Salt and Pepper Caper.
I’m also a voracious reader of everything. I can find so many nuggets for stories in books about history, a newspaper article or an obituary. Stories are everywhere if you know how to look at it in just the right way. I’ve often said that writers are very nice people. To us, everything is fodder. Happiness. Tragedy. It’s all fodder. Be careful when you tell me things. I reserve the right to use them in a story.
The one thing that all my stories have in common is that each has a journal devoted to it. I take special care to find a book that reflects the heart of the story. Sometimes it’s a fancy leather-bound tome or a simple spiral notebook with a kitten on the cover. The journal is like the womb where the story is formed and fermented.
Ruschelle: Perusing your Amazon catalogue, it looks as if the mystery genre gets a lot of love. What sparked your love of THE QUESTION? Who Done It? It was the board game Clue, wasn’t it? Or was it Mystery Date? Come on. Mystery Date was awesome!
Nikki: Never played Mystery Date. I love the game Clue but my husband always wins which really pisses off my inner Sherlock.
I have always been fascinated by mysteries and the big WHAT IF. That’s what drives me. Not only creatively but personally. How does a person remain sane without it?
But consider these facts:
When I was five years old, I wanted to marry Rod Serling.
When I was nine, I was entranced by Kolchak the Night Stalker. I skipped out on slumber parties because I had to be home to watch the tv show. I love Carl Kolchak and, to this day, I will FIGHT YOU if anyone says a wrong word against him.
When I was eleven years old, I was crazy for Bigfoot. I created the Monster Hunters Club at school and entered the first Cryptozoology entry in the science fair. We won an honorable mention.
That same year, Mrs Tarkington, my long-suffering teacher, allowed me to put on a play, The Hunt for Bigfoot. A classmate, Trent Ridley, put on a parka and we hunted him all around the classroom by following the footsteps cut out of construction paper we laid on the floor. After we caught him, we autopsied him behind a bedsheet screen and threw organs out into the audience. The kids LOVED IT.
In high school, I was pegged as the Vampire Chick and a Witch. I can’t say that I was bullied because, hell, I dug it.
Later in life, I joined several paranormal investigative groups and dipped my toes in a dozen or so New Age weirdness.
What I’m trying to say is that it takes a lifetime to get this weird.
Ruschelle: I’m a card-carrying member for weirdness myself. Nice to meet a fellow weirdo! Back to you. What was the first book you read that made you say, “This is exactly what I want I want to do”
Nikki: At first, I wanted to write horror stories so I drowned myself in Stephen King and a bunch of other authors that have fallen to the wayside. One day, I was reading a cheap horror magazine (the ink rubbed off the cover and the pages were pulpy) and my boss asked me, “Why do you read that trash?” I told him I wanted to be a writer and that this was splatterpunk, the future of horror.
He said, “Stop reading that shit. Read this.” And he tossed Watership Down over to me.
I read it and thought, “Man, I have been wasting my time.”
I went to the library and checked out lots of classics and quickly got bored. A story can’t just be metaphor and similes strung out with big words. There has to be more to it.
There had to be a middle ground.
I found Sharyn McCrumb’s Ballad Series. The richness of the world and the tapestry of her words…omg…my gut still winds up when I think about some of those scenes.
I stumbled across Flannery O’Connor’s, A Good Man is Hard to Find. After reading it, I wanted to take a shower. I felt filthy. And then I read it again but this time with a writer’s eye. It’s a simply told story. Not one word is above a 6th-grade level. But, MAN, did it have a punch.
I wanted to write stories like that. So I consumed O’Connor.
And then, I found Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. I read that book a hundred times.
Years went by and when my husband and I were stationed in Oman, a Marine there gave me a copy of Terry Pratchett’s, Guards, Guards.
And I got hooked. I love how Pratchett’s stories work on different reader levels. A basic reader can enjoy a good story while a more advanced reader can marvel at the clever satire.
What I’m trying to say is that it’s not just one book that started me down this path. It’s all books. It’s up to me to find my own voice in this ocean of words.
Ruschelle: Since this is the Season of the Witch and the granddaddy of all scary movies, Halloween, has sliced its way onto the big screen, via 40 years later; I need to ask, do you like that they changed the whole mythos by negating all other films after the first one,– or do you feel they did it justice giving the story a clean slate? Or are you a Friday the 13th fan and don’t really care? Lol
Nikki: To cut to the chase, I don’t care. I was a teenager when Halloween came out and, hey, it was just another teen slasher movie. While I appreciated the movies primarily for the special effects (my bf at that time was a sfx guy) but, I never thought they were quality movies.
Although, it could be because, the older I get, the more I side with the chain welding maniacs. Teenagers are a pain in the ass.
Ruschelle: I can’t argue with you about teenagers being a pain in the ass. The herd does need culling from time to time. LOL Tell us a little about your unorthodox method for choosing your next project. Very nice hat by the way.
Nikki: Ha! Thank you!
Currently, I have no contracts and no deadlines dangling over my head.
So, I am free to do whatever I want.
Freedom is constipating. I am stuck on what to do next.
Like the hamster in a tornado that my brain is, I have dozens of ideas percolating up there.
Should I work on my Travis Dare story? Oooooh, what about that family drama Hand Me Down? Or the Bogie Bar Stories? Still, need to finish up those bad boys. How about that Sherlock Holmes story? Or that other Sherlock Holmes story?
Ad nauseum. You get the picture.
So, I decided to put it up to fate. I just put all the stories on pieces of paper, crumbled them up, and drew one from a hat. And because this is the 21st century, I did it live on social media.
I drew The Baby Whisperer story. Which I was happy about because it’s a coolio idea and I’ve got some real weirdness bubbling up with it.
But then…I got this idea for a haunted house story.
Don’t worry. I’ll work on both and see which one root quicker.
Ruschelle: You have been described as the unholy love child of Flannery O’Connor and H.P Lovecraft. That is a very interesting pairing. So…which do you resemble? Are you Cthulu-esque?
Nikki: My friend, Hunter Eden, gifted me with that moniker because I am fascinated by the holiness that can be found in the grotesque the same as Flannery O’Connor. However, my personal philosophy tends to be more nihilist much like Lovecraft than Catholic as was O’Connor.
I’ve written a few Southern Gothic stories which lay moldering in my desk drawer. Stone Baby was supposed to be in Nashville Gothic, an anthology, but the publisher went mad and disappeared. As one does.
The closest that I’ve written to something that could be considered Lovecraftian would probably be The Answer Bell, a lovely tale where a local Nashville tourist spot rings out the end of the world.
Baby Whisperer, if things go as planned, will be a story of Cosmic Horror that I think Mr Lovecraft would appreciate.
To be fair, I think I am an equal measure of both. Southern monstrosity with a dash of cosmic nihilism.
Ruschelle: While creeping on your website across the www, it seems you are into the weird. I like that. What is the weirdest book you’ve ever written? Or is it yet to come?
Nikki: Weird has so many connotations.
So, what I have out there in the world, I would say the weirdest story is the Jake Istenhegyi: The Accidental Detective series mainly because I paint a huge swath across the canvas of weird. There are boodaddies, bloodthirsty alchemists, golems, pirate treasure, voodoo priestesses and zombie chickens.
The story that has the most visceral in your face weirdness is Stone Baby. The editor of Nashville Gothic said he needed to shower after reading it but he went nuts, so….
BUT I really think my most weird book is yet to come. I have a story called Church of the Living Waters, unfinished, that is delightfully cruel, terrifying and flesh crawly Lovecraftian. Oh, I definitely have to get back to it very, very soon.
Ruschelle: You are an editor and writer for Pro Se Press. How do you change you writers hat to an editors hat? They can battle sometimes…if hats had hands and could throw down…
Nikki: OH man….when I’m editing, I can’t write. I’m too judgmental, too hypercritical and looking for errors and I can’t be in that brain space when I am creating a new story. I need to be fluid, ready to go anywhere and everywhere without worrying about whether it’s good or not. I need to be a kid. Being an editor is far too Adult.
I don’t do much editing any more. I’m spending all my time writing.
Ruschelle: You are a pulp fiction girl! Your books delve into the gritty crimes of Jake Istenhegyi: The Accidental Detective, and the bizarre cannibalistic trolls in the Western, The Problem at Gruff Springs. Hell, you even go full bore smashing into the present day with Mongolian Death Worms battling the Mole People in Rumble (Cryptid Clash! Book 5)! So what sparked your love of pulp fiction?
Nikki: I never realized I was a pulp fiction writer until I fell into the clutches of Tommy Hancock and Pro Se Press BUT I AM! It’s so obvious. I love good old-fashioned adventure stories with ghosts and ghouls and all sorts of over the top plots and characters. If there isn’t a monster or a murder by page three, I’m bored.
I write to entertain. It is as simple as that.
I came to that realization when I was on a panel and we were asked what social responsibilities we believed our stories owed to the world at large.
My friend, the late Logan Masterson, had a long, pithy explanation about how he wanted his stories to create a bridge between the mainstream religions and the pagan beliefs. He had lofty aspirations and wanted his stories to spark conversations and show the legitimacy of his own personal belief systems. It was heartfelt and well spoken.
And then it was my turn. Oh, man.
I said, “Look, I’m not here to teach you anything and my stories sure as hell won’t fix any sort of social problem. My stories are there to give you a diversion. Something to pass the time when you’re in a waiting room, riding on the bus or sitting on the toilet. The highest compliment I’ve received so far is when a reader emailed me that she was got so into the story while reading Sherlock Holmes and The Shrieking Pits, she missed her bus stop and had to do the entire circuit again to get home. My stories are here to entertain. I don’t have any higher goal than that.”
I believe that diversions are not a luxury; they are a necessity. Especially now when the world seems to be spinning off its axis.
Ruschelle: I was stalking you on Twitter and I was drawn to your spirit animal. Tell us about the frog and how he guides you. It doesn’t look like guiding it’s more like demanding your presence. Is it because he’s “packing” and you feel you have to let him guide you? Are you afraid he may put a cap in your B-HIND? (Insert frog photo here)
Nikki: Confession Time: I’m a puncher. I don’t know why. I just am.
For example, one day at my day job, I was contently listening to a podcast on my iPod when a coworker leaned over my desk to get my attention and startled me. My innate reaction to being startled is to reach out with my left hand to grab the offender, rear back my fist, scream “JESUS CHRIST!” and punch the son of a bitch in the face.
Luckily for her, I had only gotten to the “JESUS CHRIST!” part before I realized it was Julie and not, I don’t know….some rando axe murderer.
Julie’s eyes got as big as dinner plates and she stepped away from me saying, “I have never felt that much in danger of being punched in my entire life!”
Anyone who knows me knows this truth: Never, Ever, EVER come up behind me…unless you want a broken nose.
Ruschelle: ‘Note to self…Stay out of punching distance when around Nikki.’ You’ve leapt into the world of audiobooks. As an author, how does it feel to hear someone voice your creation? Will you ever put your own voice to book?
Nikki: I had to push myself to listen to the Jake Istenhegyi audiobook. I remember walking around in circles, full of anxiety because it’s so weird to hear your words actually in the air. My only real complaint was that he mispronounced Istenhegyi (understandable) and Harleaux (what?). I wish he’d asked me for some pronunciation guide.
Would I do one? Maybe. I think I could do it. I have an acting background. I don’t know if my voice is good enough but, I’d give it a try.
Ruschelle: I read, in a previous interview (Yes I do stalk my prey…I mean authors), that when you were young you believed in everything. But that changed as you grew older. We are kindred. I also was a firm believer in anything and everything but it changed quite a bit as I grew out of my size 5 jeans. ( Yeah I like to eat.) What makes you forge on to write and create fantastical beings that you now know aren’t real?
Dammit, I still really want to believe!
Nikki: While my gullibility is definitely dimmed as I’ve gotten older and a lot less bold, my desire to WANT to believe is still there. I desperately want to believe that a talking mongoose named Gef that lived in the walls of a house in the Isle of Man in 1930. The idea that Bigfoot secretly walks in American woods, giant underwater dinosaurs survived and live in Loch Ness, fairies, ghosts and extraterrestrials…..all of these things make me happy. I don’t want to live in a world where these things can’t exist.
A few years ago (omigod, don’t make me count), I was very active in the paranormal investigation community. Yeah. Ghost hunters. I was kicked out of one because I was too skeptical and received a really nasty email from another because I was a bit too…um….frank…at a ghost hunters conference. Yeah. Ghost hunter conferences are a thing.
But, dammit, I still want to believe! So, to quell that need, I make it real. It’s every writer’s superpower.
Ruschelle: You’ve written pulp in so many genres. Which is your favorite to pen?
Nikki: So far, my most favorite has been The Problem at Gruff Springs, a weird Western with cannibalistic trolls and Rumble, the Mongolian Death Worm/Mole People stories. I think it’s because they were stand-alones and I didn’t have to worry about any sort of continuity for the next one.
And, also, because of monsters. I love monsters.
Ruschelle: From your first book, A Chick, a Witch and a Dick Walked into a Bar, (I love the title) to your most recent offering, Revenge of the Blood Red Maid, how has your writing evolved? Tell us a little about your writing process and how its morphed.
Nikki: Oh, man. I’m thinking about stories that I wrote WAAAY before Jake or Red Maid and….it’s embarrassing how much my writing has changed. I want to use the word improved so, I will. Yeah. I’ve improved tremendously. Mainly, it’s in the streamlining. I’ve learned to carve out the boring stuff, keep it fast, lean and exciting. Nobody cares about your hero’s morning ablutions. If it doesn’t help the story, cut it. Murder those darlings, sweetheart.
And the biggest reason I’ve improved? That’s easy. I’d like to say it’s because of practice, practice, practice and that’s part of it but the real reason? The community of writers I’ve been so lucky to find myself a part. Editors, beta readers, critique groups and friends who are there to keep my head above dark waters when I feel overwhelmed.
Nothing is created in a vacuum. That’s basic physics.
Now, about my writing process.
1) Decide upon a story
2) Write out a crude plot outline. I’m a hybrid pantser/plotter. I need the beginning and the end to be in stone so that I can make that wobbly middle bit make sense.
3) Sit your butt down and write. Just write. Vomit it out.
4) Finish it.
5)Take a walk. Just get away from the story. Clear your head.
6) Read what you wrote. Cut and slash. Find the story in all that mess.
8) Repeat actions 1-6
9) When finally satisfied with the story, send it to 3-5 trusted beta readers. Listen to their advice. Take some of it. Ignore some of it.
10) Once that revision is done, send to your editor. Wait. TAKE THEIR ADVICE. PERIOD.
11) Publish, if you’re an indie publisher. Send it out to publishers, if you are not.
12) Repeat actions 1-7 ad infinitum.
I’ve often said that if you think being a writer is all about drinking and being witty, become a drunk. It’s easier.
Ruschelle: Becoming a drunk does have its perks…Do you prefer to pen short stories or novels?
Nikki: So far, short stories have been my forte but, dammit, I really want to do a novel length story. I want to try it primarily because they are more marketable.
However, I believe a story length is dictated by the story and not by some perfunctory word count definition. I have a short story, Coon Hunt, that won the Jack Mawhinney Fiction Prize in 2015, and is only 900 words long. I have tried to make it longer, but it falls like a souffle when I try to force more words into it.
Sometimes a story is as long as it needs to be.
Ruschelle: You do some awesome blogging on your WordPress, ”Nikki Nelson-Hicks: A Friendly Wolf Among Sheep”. Not always an easy task when life grabs all twelve of your arms and pulls you in different directions. So the long and short of it…why do you blog? It’s an interesting question because…I also blog and I wonder why I put black to white. Could you enlighten me and our readers?
Nikki: I started my first blog mainly to keep my sanity.
It was 2005 and I had just started my latest mind-numbing desk job. That old Black Dog was howling and I knew I had to do something. Would I just fall back into depression or finally get off my ass and use this time to work on my stories?
At first, I fell into a depression because that’s my pattern but, afterwards, I got up and started up my first blog, Nikcubed, on Blogspot. It was a way to write and just blather into cyberspace.
Later, I opted to start up a tad bit more professional (i.e. paid for) blog on WordPress, www. nikkinelsonhicks.blog.
I’m a little embarrassed because I don’t do enough with it. I wish I had the devotion like Chuck Wendig or Neil Gaiman but I don’t. Who has time? I have a day job, a family, pets, and stories to write.
I also blame Facebook and Twitter. I can easily post funny little anecdotes, blast them out and get immediate satisfaction. #addict
Ruschelle: Your new fans need to know what you’re up to and what to patiently wait for. Could you give them a hint or just a tiny smidge of your upcoming offerings?
Nikki: Right now, since I don’t have any contracts or deadlines hanging over me, I’m like a divorcee a year after the papers are signed. I’m playing the field, baby.
Here are a few of the projects I’m playing with:
- Bogie Bar Stories: It’s a running anthology of stories much like the old Thieves World series. All the stories somehow involve the Bogie Bar, a pub where all the gods, nightmares, monsters and legends hang out for drinks. A running thread throughout the book is the story of the Kalupaluit, a mythical boogey man, that becomes a Messiah to the fading, forgotten legends.
- Morbid Mommy series: It’s an anthology series of YA horror stories. Think Scary Tales to Tell in the Dark kind of thing. I have five stories already lined up. I’m just waiting on the illustrations.
- Jake Istenhegyi: When the final rights come back to me next year, I plan on rewriting, editing and releasing each story with a bonus new short. Each book will include at the end a new adventure featuring Bear Gunn and Melinda Paige, Jake and Bishop, Mama Effie, or a Radu caper.
- The Baby Whisperer story: It’s going to be a cosmic horror, tad Lovecraftian, story about a trapped interdimensional being that just wants to go home and doesn’t care if it means destroying this polyp of a universe to do it.
- Have you ever noticed that ALL haunted house stories are written about rich, white people in huge mansions? Every damn one of them. I want to write a haunted house story from a poor person’s perspective. I also want to explore the idea of the Haunted Mind, a theory created by the psychical researcher, Nandor Fodor, that postulates that it is the PEOPLE, not the place that is really haunted. I’ll finally get to use the info I learned from my years as a ghost hunter.
Ruschelle: Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me and your newfound friends and fans. Give us the 411 on all your books, blogs, tweets and everything in between.
Nikki: Thank you for this opportunity to ramble!
You can find all my books available on Amazon in paperback or Kindle. Go to my author page, amazon.com/author/nikkinelsonhicks and click on the Follow button to get updates.
I’m on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/nikcubed
I also have a fun thing that I’m playing with called Dinosaur Cubicle Fun Time: https://www.facebook.com/dinosaurcubiclefuntime/
Alyson- Hi Sarah and welcome to the Horror Tree. Growing up, what books did you read and love?
Sarah- A very wide range of books. Enid Blyton’s school stories were always a huge favourite. I do know they were unbelievably classist, of course, but I did love them, and there does seem to be an echo of them in today’s young adults reading the Harry Potter books – boarding schools and all that goes with them, although Enid Blyton certainly didn’t dabble in magic.
I also remember plundering my mother’s own store of school stories – Angela Brazil mostly, and being fascinated by the glimpses into that far-off world.
And I absolutely loved Pamela Brown’s Blue Door Theatre books – I still have the entire set.
In my teens I was fascinated by Dennis Wheatley’s black magic books as well – I can still remember devouring and being terrified by The Satanist and, of course, his classic story, The Devil Rides Out.
Alyson – Have you always been a writer? When did you start to think of yourself as one? Was there a definite turning point? Have you pursued other jobs along the way?
Sarah- I can’t remember a time when I didn’t write. At school, I wrote plays for the Lower Fourth to perform – it was a convent school, and the nuns were always very enthusiastic about encouraging that kind of thing.
As for jobs – I had a wide variety, from newspapers, to the legal profession, and property selling. But I used to write in my spare time. In fact, for years I lived a kind of double life, because when most people were heading for the TV or a wine bar after a day’s work, I was pounding an elderly typewriter on the end of the dining table with Mozart on the stereo. I would turn up at the office each morning, pink-eyed from lack of sleep, giving rise to a belief that whatever I did in my spare time, it might be somewhat colourful.
Alyson- How did you get your first novel accepted and published? How did you deal with the rejections which are so much a part of a writer’s life?
Sarah -It took four years of writing and of submitting work to various publishers. I finally had a series of light historical mysteries accepted by a publisher who is now (sadly) no longer in existence. At the end of that time, I acquired an agent. Writers do need one or two bits of luck along the way and being taken on by my agent was certainly a massive piece of luck for me. She’s been an unfailing support and a very good friend.
As for rejections – they have to be accepted and any advice that might be dished out has to be taken on board. You just have to keep believing you can get there.
Alyson- Do you have a writing routine? Or a dedicated space? Pen or pc or iPhone? At home or on the go? Music playing or complete silence? Coffee or tea?
Sarah- Desk and computer – sometimes the laptop from a prone position on the sofa, but that’s usually late at night, or maybe if I’m working on editorial re-writes. Mugs of tea throughout the day.
I usually work from around 8.30 am to lunchtime – which can be anything from 12 o’clock if work’s going badly, to half-past two if it’s going well. Then a couple of hours’ break in the afternoon, and back to the desk between around 4.30 and 6.30.
As for where I work – after the eventual transition from working by day and writing by night to becoming a full-time novelist – I initially thought I might adapt the attic for a study. The idea was to emulate the romantic 18th century poets starving in garrets, and I was all set to buy a skull as a paperweight when it was pointed out that at its highest point the attic was only four and a half feet deep. That meant I would have had to work lying down or scrunched into one of those peculiar and painful positions like medieval torture victims locked in cages.
So, in the end I turned the corner of a bedroom into a study. My desk faces a framed photograph of a Victorian actor-manager called Sir John Martin Harvey – one of those soulful young men with black hair that needs cutting and an alluring line in dishevelled Edwardian evening dress. (Think Aiden Turner after a night on the tiles). In the photo, Sir John is portraying the all-time romantic anti-hero, Sydney Carton, in his own stage version of A Tale of Two Cities.
Mozart is usually on the stereo, or Classic FM, while I work.
From the desk, if I look to my left there’s a view of trees and fields through the window, and around dusk an owl emerges from the foliage of a large oak, surveys its realm in lordly fashion for a few moments, then silently glides across the sky. Lovely.
Alyson – How long does each novel take to research and write? (e.g. your latest ‘Song of the Damned’) https://www.amazon.co.uk/Song-Damned-Phineas-Fox-Mystery/dp/0727888145/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1536230034&sr=8-1&keywords=sarah+rayne+song+of+the+damned
Sarah – On average about a year – some of the time is taken up with research, which I tend to do as I go along. Some, of course, is taken up with staring in indignant frustration at the blank screen, vainly trying to think what happens next.
Alyson – How much do your interests – history, music, theatre and old houses – shape and influence your writing?
Sarah – A great deal, I think. The theatre interest probably filtered through from my father, who was a comedy actor in the 1920s and 1930s, and in ENSA during WWII. He wrote a good deal of his own material. Even in later life he maintained a tenuous connection with the theatre – giving single performances at clubs and for charity organisations. When, as a starry-eyed teenager, I announced I wanted to go on the stage, he guided me towards the amateur theatre instead. I can see now he didn’t want me to have to face the hardships and uncertainties of an actor’s life, but he did it very subtly and tactfully and I did have a very enjoyable time acting and directing plays.
My brother was a music researcher – he was immensely knowledgeable, and in fact there’s a section of a University Library in Cork which now houses his CD collection and has a dedication to him.
My mother loved houses – all houses. When I was very small we used to take walks together, and she would say we would pick out the houses we liked best along the way and think what kind of people might live in them. She, too, wrote – she never attempted to get anything published and she wrote for the pleasure of doing so, in the main. She certainly completed her memoirs and several novels and was still writing almost up to her death at the age of 91.
So most of the influences for my work were all there within my family from the start.
Alyson- Music is very important in your novels. It’s often crucial to the whole plot. How do you choose the pieces of music you write about? Do they reflect your personal favourites or are they chosen for the purposes of the plot?
Sarah -If the plot calls for a certain type of music, I look for something that will fit. If I can’t find anything, I create a fictional piece of music. In the Bell Tower, (Book 6 of the Haunted House series), I discovered the eerie and hauntingly beautiful death song called The Unquiet Grave, sometimes known as How Cold the Wind Doth Blow. It’s believed to date to around 1400, but, incredibly, it’s survived to the present day. Singers including Joan Baez, the Dubliners and Steeleye Span have recorded it, and at the other end of the scale several arrangements of it have been made by the great romantic composer, Ralph Vaughan Williams. The first time I heard it I found it immensely moving, but I didn’t want to use such a well-known piece outright. I did, though, base Thaisa’s Song on it – which is at heart of The Bell Tower, and I’ve paid tribute to The Unquiet Grave in the book.
A few years before that, writing What Lies Beneath I discovered an eighteenth-century opera called The Deserted Village, (composed c.1880) and written about and around Oliver Goldsmith’s poem of the same name (first published in 1770). The plot of the book centres on an abandoned village with all its secrets and its strange tragedies, and the opera chimed so well with the story that I ended in altering my original structure to make more use of the music.
Alyson -You have written a series of thrillers (six) starring Nell West/Michael Flint and then moved on to introduce your current protagonist, music researcher Phineas Fox, in three books. How did you create these regular characters? Do you plan ahead as to how many books each series will have? Or is it more spontaneous? Will you go back to write another West/Flint story?
Sarah- When I wrote the first of the Nell West/Michael Flint books I didn’t know it was going to be a series. I had always written stand-alones, and I thought I would continue to do so. I was convinced that having written an emotional, emotive closing scene, there was nowhere else for the main characters to go. Could you keep them happily together, letting cosy domesticity into the plots, so that they solved murders while shopping or washing up, or disinterred ancient secrets in between choosing new bedroom curtains and worrying about the central heating boiler? Or should you scrub the sunset finale altogether, and let them go along on their own, book by book, from one love affair to the next? Difficult.
But when I finished Property of a Lady, I saw that my Oxford don, Michael Flint, couldn’t possibly be banished to the obscurity of that stand-alone title. Having discovered ghosts – having also discovered a fellow ghost-hunter in Nell West – he was keen, in his own understated way, to embark on more exploits. I was keen, as well, to explore the sometimes difficult, but gradually developing, relationship between the two characters. So what had originally been a stand-alone ended up as a series of six – at least, it’s six so far, because I do hope there are going to be more! Michael and Nell haven’t retired, they’ve just been put on the back burner for a while, and there are certainly more spooks for them to investigate.
The Phineas Fox series, on the other hand, was definitely conceived with the idea of it being a series. I have no idea how many books will result, though.
Alyson- You’ve written under at least two pen names that I am aware of- Frances Gordon is one I remember when I was collecting and reading your entire back catalogue! How did the use of pen names come about? Why the change to Sarah Rayne?
Sarah -It’s simply because I switched genres. Publishers like to pigeon-hole writers. I had written mostly contemporary horror and some fantasy, and I was embarking on psychological thriller territory. So, a different name for a different kind of book.
Alyson- In the last couple of years most of your back catalogue has been reissued in digital format. How did this happen and was it a surprise after so many years had passed since you’d written them? e.g. The Wolfking quartet.
Sarah- Yes, it was a great surprise I don’t write in the same way now, but it’s so good to have that back list in circulation again, and the Wolfking fantasies especially were such fun to write. In fantasy, the rules are different – sometimes easier. For instance, if you write yourself into a corner, you can escape by creating a spell – newly-woven or disinterred from a cobwebbed crypt, or possibly stolen from a sorcerer. And you can have exotic punishments. In fantasy, it isn’t a question of turning up at Court No 3 and being sentenced to two years in the nick, or even an afternoon in the stocks. In fantasy, people can be exiled from kingdoms. They can be turned to stone or drowned in lakes of blood or sacrificed in a ritual specially written for the occasion.
As for the contemporary horror books, they were immensely satisfying to write. I loved investigating the astonishingly macabre life of the Countess Elizabeth Bathory for Blood Ritual, and then creating the ‘Black Chant’ for The Devil’s Piper.
Alyson- Do you have a favourite out of all your thrillers? (For me it’s ‘Ghost Song’, partly because I love the theatre background). https://www.amazon.co.uk/Ghost-Song-condemned-London-deadly-ebook/dp/B002RI99UK/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8
Sarah -I’d usually say my favourite is the one I’m writing at the time of the question. But I will admit that I too have a definite soft spot for Ghost Song, partly for the theatre settings, but also because it touches my father’s era in the music halls. I did, in fact, name a character for him – his stage name was Frank Douglas, and the Frank Douglas of the book is very like him – light-hearted and insouciant, and capable of finding humour in almost any situation.
Alyson- Do you watch films? Are you influenced by any movies in particular?
Sarah- I have a great weakness for old black and white films – usually, although not exclusively, British ones. I love the old Ealing comedies – and films such as The Ghost Train with Arthur Askey. Also, any of the Will Hay movies.
When I was about eleven years old, one rainy Saturday afternoon there was nothing much to do, but the Radio Times was advertising an old film from the 1940s. Those were the mystical days when there was only one TV channel. I thought, vaguely, that it would be boring, with people talking in impossibly clipped accents and ladies with corrugated hair. But I curled up in a chair to watch it anyway. (There may have been tea and toasted crumpets with butter halfway through viewing, which would have added to the cosy eeriness). The film enchanted and mesmerised me. It was never televised again, but I never forgot it. Some people will know it as The Dream of Olwen, and it was also titled While I Live. It’s based on a play called This Same Garden by Robert Bell, and the plot centres on a girl coming into a clifftop house, not knowing who or what she is, sitting down at the piano and playing an unpublished piece of music that had been composed twenty years earlier, by a girl long since dead. For me that film ticked all the boxes – eerie music, secrets from the past, and, of course, a faint whiff of the supernatural. While working out the plot for the book that was to become The Bell Tower, that long-ago rainy afternoon came back to me vividly. Music – specifically a lost, sinister piece of music – and a wild clifftop setting. Some of those elements certainly got into my plot.
Two or three years ago, While I Live was in fact released on DVD. I’ve watched it several times, and it still works the magic for me.
Alyson – How involved are you with social media? Do you do book tours or library visits or speak at book festivals?
Sarah- Moderately involved. I’m on Facebook and I have a Facebook author page, at https://www.facebook.com/SarahRayneAuthor
There are also some YouTube clips which were made a few years ago. www.youtube.com/user/SarahRayneAuthor
I’m happy to speak at libraries or book clubs, etc, if I’m asked, although I don’t particularly seek that out.
Alyson- What would be your top tips for aspiring writers?
Sarah- Write. Just keep writing and keep submitting work to agents and editors and keep looking ahead to the goal of being published.
If a rejection contains advice or suggestions, try to take that on board, because agents and editors do know what they’re talking about, and they’ll often take trouble with a writer they see as a potential author.
Alyson -What are you currently working on? Do you still have unfulfilled writing ambitions?
Sarah- It’s Book 4 of the Phineas Fox series at the moment – scheduled for publication around next August, I think. I’m liking it very much – I’m finding out all kinds of things about Phin that I hadn’t previously known! No title yet, because I find titles harder to think of than plots. Fortunately my editor has a great knack for coming up with a good title.
One day I would like to write a massive theatre saga – on the lines of Clemence Dane’s extraordinary book, Broome Stages.
That’s a book I probably read about once every four years. I discovered it about thirty years ago and lost an entire four-day bank holiday reading it.
In a very general way it’s a family saga, but it’s like no family saga I’ve ever read, before or since. It spans 1715 to 1930 and covers seven generations of a theatrical family. The story begins with travelling players in tavern courtyards and traces the family’s rise – through the Victorian actor managers, those lovely fruity characters who re-wrote Shakespeare to suit themselves – and on into the early years of the 20th century, with the onset of the early movies. It’s about the changing world of the theatre, but it’s also about the Broomes themselves – their loves and hates, and feuds and plots. It’s about their fortunes in the theatre world – the buying of theatres, the building of a theatrical dynasty. A wonderful book, exquisitely written.
Alyson – Where can readers follow you online?
Sarah- My Author Page on Facebook is probably the best way. That’s at https://www.facebook.com/SarahRayneAuthor
I try to put on it brief details about new books and other snippets of information that might interest readers.
I also have a blog – it’s a bit erratic, but I try to post articles on the background to the writing of each book, or odd things about writing/reading/publishing that, again, I hope might be of interest to people. https://sarahrayneblog.wordpress.com/
And my website is at www.sarahrayne.co.uk
Alyson -Your first novel was published in 1982. Your books have been published in the US and elsewhere and translated into several languages. You’ve had a very successful career lasting over 3 decades- is this something you ever thought would happen? Has it all been a surprise? How would you describe the writing journey you’ve been on?
Sarah- When I started writing, I didn’t really look beyond getting a book accepted by a publisher. Since then, I’ve just gone from book to book, hoping after I’ve finished each one that readers will enjoy it. The translations and foreign deals are all lovely bonuses.
Writing books isn’t always the easiest of careers, but when it goes well – when your books are published, and people read them and enjoy them – then without question it’s the best job on the planet.
This is a quick video refresh of our previous interview ‘The Horror Tree Presents… An Interview With Patricia Stover’. The author has some great advice on getting your work from draft into its final form! If you’re interested in learning more, be sure to check out our full interview with Patricia Stover by Derek Brown, if you’d like to learn more, please be sure to click on the direct link to the article below!
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You can read the full interview here: https://horrortree.com/the-horror-tree-presents-an-interview-with-patricia-stover/.