Ruschelle: Nice to meet you Noel and welcome to the Horror Tree. I put on a pot of tea so pull up a floofy chair, grab your favorite Muse- preferably the one less likely to draw blood (the last muse that sat in with me in a Horror Tree interview was a biter) and let’s chat.
Noel: Nice to meet you, too, Ruschelle, and especially to be invited to an interview for HorrorTree. I’d prefer coffee, by the way, and I drink it like a chain smoker takes his cigarettes, so just keep it coming as I drain each cup. I’ll try to keep my monsters—and my Muses—in check, but I can’t guarantee anything.
Speaking of Muses, tell us a little about yours. Is she our ever present? Does she speak to you only when it’s dark and the world around you is quiet? And most importantly…is she hot?
Noel: After Halloween we had so many mannequins and skeletons and animated monsters that I dragged them all into the garage afterwards, and they’re all still crowded around the door of my office. Every so often the wind or a cat or a passing spirit will trigger one, and the cackle of a witch or the groan of a zombie will freak me out while I’m alone writing in the middle of the night. While that’s quite inspirational—and rather chilling—I don’t know that I have a particular Muse. I do have a partner, Joanne (yep, she’s hot), and a big family who I love. One of my workshop buddies, EJ McLaughlin, once commented that I write families very well, “probably because you’re a family man and your stories show how much you love your family”. So I guess that’s the closest I come to having a Muse.
Ruschelle: If you had to make an educated guess, or maybe you know the exact number- how many short stories have you written?
Noel: I couldn’t be sure. I started writing as a boy, though I didn’t finish a lot of what I started; education, life on my parents’ farm, and later “real” work at a TV station and in various offices, got in the way for a long time. Also, I used what spare time I could find to read. I wrote a lot of non-fiction for staff magazines, newsletters and brochures while I worked in the public service, as well as a number of unpublished stories and two failed novels. In the last five or six years, though, I have probably written dozens of stories. Some were real stinkers, but a fair degree of the good stuff is in Train Wreck and Other Stories, and a few of my tales are still waiting to find a home.
Ruschelle: You have a slew of short stories in various anthologies. Do you write to the theme of the anthology submission call or do you write and scour though your precious bits for the perfect story you’ve penned to meet the theme?
Noel: I’ve done both, though often I find myself looking through submission calls for inspiration. Sometimes I’ve just been lucky: I wrote Night Escape, for example, in an afternoon in 2013, and it received an honorable mention in the annual flash fiction competition run by the Australian Horror Writers’ Association; but I had no idea what to do with a story of 995 words until I discovered HorrorTree and found the submission call for 100 Doors to Madness. Similarly, my story Writer’s Retreat, which was accepted by non-theme anthology Fear’s Accomplice and later was a perfect fit for The Twilight Madhouse. The problem with writing without a guiding submission call is that what you’ve written (like my as-yet unpublished Something Went Bump in the Night) might never find a suitable home.
Writing to a theme is easier, and I’ve had more success when I’ve targeted proposed anthologies on, say, mutants (for example, Outback Attack, which has one of the strongest openings and perhaps the silliest ending I’ve ever done) or deep-sea horror (as in my story for the unpronounceable Anenome Enemy). The problem with writing specifically for a particular anthology is that if your story isn’t accepted, you might find yourself stuck with something that never sees the light of publication because there happen to be fifty other writers of rejected stories about hybrid dog monsters trying to get published.
Ruschelle: Of all the stories crawling through each dark and creepy anthology, which one scares you the most?
Noel: I think perhaps The Ghost in the Water, the first story I wrote for the shared universe anthology The Refuge Collection. It may sound clichéd, but I think the combination of a young woman in a strange town, creepy characters from other stories in the collection, and something evil lurking in the background, make for a terrifying story. I became so attached to the main character, Shauna, that I continued her story in volume two of the collection with The Undertaker’s Tale, and then wrote a third story without any hope of publication (although it’s included in Train Wreck and Other Stories).
Ruschelle: Your story, Call Center, in your debut collection, Train Wreck and Other Stories, is about a hellish job at…well…a call center. That’s scary in itself! How much of the “conflicts” and dialogue snippets did you pull from real life? I’ve worked at a call center. I’ve experienced the sharp tongue and dull wit from the raised voices on the other end of the line?
Noel: To the uninitiated, sitting at a desk and taking customer calls all day must sound like a very easy way of making a living. The truth is that a constant barrage of complaints, demands and abuse from customers, as well as management insistence that call times be kept to a minimum, can grind you down, and customer service staff often burn out and leave within months. Although there are a couple of things in this story that didn’t happen to me personally, I drew most of it from my own experience working in the call center of a very big power company.
Margaret, the team leader who tells David Perry off for a long call, is based on two particular people I knew. I really did get a complaint call from an actor who, oddly, also turned up at the garage where I currently work to complain about something else. I really did speak to a Henry Lawson, and to a man called James Joyce (one of the real-life Margarets didn’t know who James Joyce was, or why I was so impressed; incidentally, although not in this story, I also spoke to a Ronald McDonald and a Bill Gates, both on the same day, during a phone campaign at a previous job). The misspelling of the abbreviation for CUSTOMER in a computerised note was from another company, and the customer service rep who’d made the mistake unfortunately found he could neither correct nor delete it. The personal threat to Stan Wood actually was made by somebody from interstate who ended the call with “I know where you work”, and the story of the man whose car was blown up by an angry customer came from a friend who’d been working in social security at the time.
Terry Russell, the villain of the story, was based on a customer who rang me on numerous occasions to complain that his bill was incorrect; each time I made an appointment for a technician to reread his meter, though, his gate would be locked and I’d get another call. Eventually I suspected he was trying to drive me to insanity, and, like David Perry, I refused to speak to him. I didn’t take the solution that David eventually takes—the building I’d worked in had an outside break area that would have been perfect for a jump—but I did almost ditch the whole story when I learned that an operator at another company committed suicide when management casually raised sales targets to a virtually impossible, but “achievable”, level.
Ruschelle: How did you decide on the number of stories that would ultimately grace your collection?
Noel: Originally, I thought we’d just dump all of my stories into the book in order of publication, starting with a 55-word piece I’d written for a readers’ column in a Melbourne newspaper, The Herald Sun (I was so stressed from call center work at the time that I misjudged my speed on a wet road and crashed my car on the way to post it). I really like the discipline of writing very short stories to an exact word count, but Steve Dillon, the editor, suggested we take out several smaller pieces. He also suggested removing a zombie tale he didn’t think was good enough, and that we rearrange the stories. He rang me one day to say that he’d enjoyed Call Center so much that he thought it should be the first story in the collection.
Ruschelle: I agree with Steve. The Call Center story was awesome. Call center are a little piece of true Hell. Soooo… what is it about the art of the short story that keeps you writing them?
Noel: A short story is like an intense rush of experience, and some of my favourite writers—Charles Bukowski, Ray Bradbury, and Steven King, for example—have worked in the short form. Sometimes, as with Night Escape, a draft can be written in a furious hour or two. I wrote The Undertaker’s Tale at breakneck speed in just two days, and it was accepted for publication with only a couple of minor changes the day after I started writing; the sense of achievement was incredible. I’ve written longer pieces—I have a novella, for example, that I’ve been working on for some years—but shift work, family, and so many other distractions have kept me from concentrating on a single, long story.
Ruschelle: The stories that appear in your collection run that gamut, cannibals, a vengeful spirit and worse….a cheating husband. How did you choose each story in your collection…or did they choose you?
Noel: Sometimes it seems the story chooses the writer, like Harry Potter’s wand. Cannibals, ghosts and monsters are the stuff of nightmares, and nightmares are the stuff of horror stories. The cheating husband certainly gets what’s coming to him, and more—as a counterbalance, the main character in one of my unpublished stories (not included in this book) is a loyal and loving husband who is very concerned when he wakes in the middle of the night to find his wife missing.
I was thinking about it one day and realized how many times ghosts appear in my stories. Perhaps that’s partly the influence of my mother, who told me about some personal experiences. Partly it’s also due to the influence of one of my great grandmothers, who allegedly had been involved with a spiritualist church and owned a ouija board; she passed away when I was 15 and I’ve only seen her since in a single dream where she came to ferry me to the afterworld; of course, in real life sweet little old ladies like my nanna are always just sweet little old ladies, like the women in No More Fly Eyes or A House Returned.
Ruschelle: Many of us writers have a story on our laptop that just refuses to grow up and become a ‘real boy.’ Do you have a story that you really want to finish but it just vexes you?
Noel: Several. There’s the story of a would-be art historian working as a teacher; I started writing the story years ago—and restarted, and started again—and my frustration at never being able to find enough time for it was one of the several reasons I left my job at the call center. Eventually it grew from a simple short story of 6,000 words to a novella of 25,000 words, and I’m still not happy with it. It could even have the makings of a novel, but I suspect it might be one of those stories that just hangs around, never to be completely finished.
Ruschelle: You are lucky to belong to a group of writers who get together and do…..writing stuff. I’m envious! Okay, tell us all a little of what your awesome group of authors do at these super clandestine , super secret meetings?
Noel: I just can’t talk too highly of writers’ workshops. It’s one thing to have friends and relatives read your work, but I’d encourage anyone who’s serious about being a writer to find a like-minded group of creative people to bounce ideas off. I was lucky enough to be invited to join the Dark Fiction Writers’ Circle by its founder, a brilliant man called Davidh Digman, who I knew from my days as a consultant layout operator at a college newspaper. I was hooked from the first meeting. Generally, we read and critique each other’s writing, suggest changes, discuss books and ideas, and occasionally someone will come up with a writing exercise to challenge everyone’s creativity. My flash fiction piece A Taste for Salt, which will appear on Antipodean SF’s website in March 2019, originated with such a challenge (write about an issue, expressing a “love it” or “hate it” attitude—in my case, anchovies on pizza, love it, led me to write a short dystopian piece about salt being in short supply and affordable only by the rich).
That said, you need to be careful, too. I was lucky enough to get involved with a positive, creative group, and occasionally I wonder whether I would ever have been published at all without their support, their suggestions, and their criticism. Yet, we had to oust people along the way, too: people who weren’t the right fit, who lacked commitment or were overcritical. Though a couple of people from the original group are no longer able to come to the regular meetings, we continue to get together, six years after forming.
Ruschelle: While creeping on your Facebook page, I came across several mentions of killer critters that command your homeland. Do you keep any as pets?
Noel: So you’ve been stalking me, Ruschelle? Actually, thanks: I’ll tuck that away for another story. Australia has a lot of killer wildlife, such as crocodiles, sharks, aggressive kangaroos, platypus with poisonous barbs, some of the deadliest snakes in the world, dangerous spiders and the such, not to mention the legendary (and totally fabricated) drop bear. American crime writer Joe Clifford, who has remained in contact via Facebook ever since republishing my story Night Escape on his website, outofthegutteronline.com, once told me that he’d never visit Australia because of the deadly animals. Ever since then, I’ve made a point of posting stories and video clips of animal attacks (Hi, Joe, if you happen to be reading this).
We don’t get too many box jellyfish or taipan in the outer suburb of Melbourne where I live, but a friend confirmed there are red-bellied black snakes (listed as tenth-deadliest of Australia’s snakes) in the wetlands just down the street from her home. My father once shot a copperhead (number 7 on the list) on the family farm, and my mother used a shovel to beat a snake beyond recognition when I was a boy. My daughter even had a rabbit once that turned territorial and used to attack me every time it saw me (don’t underestimate bunny bites: those teeth are sharp enough to chomp through grass, leaves, and the skin on the back of your feet), but the deadliest monster in my house these days, apart from the occasional redback spider, is my cat Naruto, who leaves dead mice at the bottom of the stairs.
Ruschelle: Dead mice make a delicious appetizer. That What was the first real piece of writing advice you ever received that changed your writing world?
Noel: I really can’t recall. I do remember that during my final year of high school a teacher called me into his office about an essay I’d submitted, and asked whether I’d ever considered writing as a career.
Stephen King’s statement that you can’t be a writer if you aren’t a reader is true, but I think one of the best pieces of advice I ever heard was from the story of a famous writer who was giving a lecture to a group of hopefuls. He asked who among them wanted to write, and when all of the hands in the audience went up, he asked: “Then what are you doing here?” It made me realize that all the writing classes in the world, all the workshops and books about being a writer, won’t help unless you actually plant your bum on a seat in front of a desk and write. Or you can stand up and write, like Ernest Hemingway.
Ruschelle: Could you give your newfound fans a glimpse into your next projects?
Noel: One day, I’m going to finish that damned novella, I swear it. In the meantime, I have a very short story called A Taste For Salt coming out in March on the Antipodean SF website, and I’m collaborating with science fiction writer Michael Brand on a short story for an anthology. I do have something longer in mind as a future project, but at the moment it’s only a vague collection of ideas.
Ruschelle: Thank you for joining us here at The Horror Tree and letting us peek into your writing affairs…and your life! So where should your newfound fans hit you up and send you fan mail, delicious cakes and crisp 20 dollar bills?
Noel: Noel doesn’t have a website of his own, but he is on Facebook, and he’d love to hear from you. Some of the books and websites he mentions can be found by searching his name on amazon, google, or audible.com.
Train Wreck and Other Stories can be purchased via ebay at https://www.ebay.com/itm/Train-Wreck-and-Other-Stories-by-Noel-Osualdini/283311531402?fbclid=IwAR3x6NXsT7zhQwUGY6G3dryJ_aEJWjPO4ieciMZZz7Ryiw142yeC1d25P_k
Ruschelle: I love when authors talk in third person….and like pirates. Argggggg!
Welcome to The Horror Tree, Steve! As a resource site for writers, most of the questions will focus on your writing style, processes, and tips for other authors or aspiring writers. Let’s get started!
Erin Al-Mehairi: Describe your writing style and types of things you write for other writers/readers:
Steve Stred: I write dark, bleak, sorrow-filled horror. I’m not sure why, but this is what interests me most. I want to create an atmosphere that envelops the reader and makes them feel what the characters feel. My stories do not end with “and they lived happily ever after.”
Erin: How did your style evolve?
Steve: I don’t know if my style has evolved. I would say it’s become more efficient. A huge part of that has been from conversing with some authors and reading really good releases. Justin M. Woodward and J.Z. Foster really took me under their wings after I approached them and they made fantastic suggestions about improving my product. Hand’s down the biggest influencer on my writing has been David Sodergren. He became my de facto editor and the lessons he’s taught me have resonated. To know going forward he’s in my corner is such a relief really. I’ve always processed info a bit differently, at least I think so, so when someone tells me something I implement it immediately. I think it all started from my sports and athletics days. I’ve always been referred to as highly coachable, and I think my brain just made that transition to the writing world!
Erin: Dim the Sun is your newest release, a collection of dark poetry (which took you out of your normal “writing box”) coupled with a horror short story, and you’re selling it to raise funds for an athlete hoping to represent Canada in the upcoming winter Olympics! What did you learn about your writing or writing process from writing it?
Dim The Sun
Steve: I think Dim the Sun was a result of three things really. The first being, I read your release, Breathe. Breathe. It really kicked my butt about my snobbish views I had developed about poetry. I used to write poetry all the time. All the time. I was in a death-metal/punk type band for a few years and I wrote all the lyrics, which is poetry, but for whatever reason, I didn’t consider it poetry. Three of the ‘poems’ are the lyrics from three of the old songs. “(I’m Not) Ready to Die,” “Ashes of Redemption” and “Psychological.” We had a song called “Darkness” as well but these weren’t the lyrics that are featured in the poem. The poems in Breathe. Breathe., said so much with so little. Just violent, visceral paintings. That’s what jolted me. So I wanted to push myself beyond simply writing super bleak stories.
The second reason for releasing this wanting to have something out at the end of the year to keep myself in people’s eyes, haha! Lastly the biggest reason was putting myself out there for my friend Rob Derman. He’s the man behind the fundraiser. I tried to make it as an athlete and make it to the Olympics before. Stating that goal out loud to the world and then physically and mentally attempting to do it is the hardest, loneliest, most stressful thing you’ll ever do. Everyone will tell you; you’re not good enough, strong enough, fast enough. Rob was there for me when I had a few emotional breakdowns. He was there for me as a coach, mentor and a friend when I felt alone and isolated. He gave up his own time to help me reach my goals. So when I needed a kick in the pants and knew what he was going to be doing, I used that as motivation to get it released and put it out there.
As for what it taught me about my writing and writing process, it really made me focus on singular words and different variations of saying the same thing but differently. If you follow!
Erin: You mentioned that to take a crack at writing poetry, you tried to write one each week during your writing time. Did you see a natural progression in them by the end of a few weeks? Did it seem to start flowing easier?
Steve: Yeah, when I decided to do this I wanted to test myself about if I could do it and if so, was it something I would want to have released. Poetry can be highly, highly personal, and sometimes you don’t want to have others read it. But you know what, I write a lot of stuff that’s highly personal, just masked as fiction. I mean, my novel Invisible is 40% autobiographical. I talk about suffering from depression, spending time in the hospital, attempted suicide. All super personal. The ending is based 1000% on one of my biggest fears (which I won’t spoil for anyone). Stories like For Balder Walks, Jim, Wagon Buddy, all of that has big elements of Steve in it. Isolation, fear of the unknown, etc. So I figured it wouldn’t be fair to censor this aspect when I don’t censor any other aspect. I didn’t find any of it started flowing easier. I think I found myself more emboldened as time went on to put down words that maybe were a bit more personal. Of course, there is still fiction ‘stories’ in each poem, but everything I release has a lot of me in it.
Erin: Will trying new things like poetry help your prose in the future?
Steve: That’s a tough one. I think maybe over all it will just help we work towards different ways to turn a phrase. I speak differently anyways. I don’t know if it’s because of where I grew up or how my folks spoke or what, but even now I will write something and a beta reader or Sodergren will comment on the phrase and I’ll realize that no one else in the world says it like that!
Erin: Your short story in Dim the Sun was visceral, tension-filled horror. Is all your work as foreboding and full of dread? Where does this dark writing stem from?
Steve: Short answer – Yup. I have exceptions to that, such as Jim and Mr. Tross, but they are not happy tales. Jim is a story about a man who finds out he only has three days to live but doesn’t know how he will die. And Mr. Tross is a tale about the character transforming over his life and the struggle of having a family and a kid. They are sad stories, filled with sorrow. But as I said, I write bleak stuff. I think a lot of it came from where I grew up. I had a great childhood, but I was born and raised in a very small town in the middle of nowhere. It snowed a lot, my dad worked a lot and I had 3 younger sisters who lived with us, so I was the only boy. I had some friends but for the most part, it was just me and my imagination. I’ve also experienced a lot of crumby stuff and I think that all works towards my overall tone. Plus, I personally just like dark, visceral, grotesque carnage! I draw huge inspiration from nature and the woods, and what lurks there, and I can relate that all back to where I grew up.
Erin: What was the biggest challenge you had to overcome with any of your writing (and did you persevere)?
Steve: The biggest challenge I think was simply releasing that first thing. The first thing I put out for public viewing was my story For Balder Walks. It’s a frightening first step. I went through KDP on Amazon and clicking that Submit for Publishing button could have made me puke. I mean, I felt infinitely proud at the fact I created THIS thing that I wanted to share, but then it’s out of your hands and available for everyone. When you are an indie author, you learn a lot of lessons along the way, but that first step of clicking submit. Wow. I remember that vividly.
Erin: What is your biggest pet peeve about the writing process and how do you handle it?
Steve: Oh that’s easy; having a thousand things I want to write and only a finite amount of available time! I mean, marketing yourself and promoting your releases and begging folks to buy your stuff, read it AND review it, is always a hard aspect of doing this, but I have a folder on my cloud drive with about 50 word docs with a paragraph description of an idea, and god knows when I will get to them!
Erin: You have a busy full-time job and a family which includes a young son. What are some suggestions you have for other writers as to finding consistent time to write?
Steve: I think I use a lot of my background from being an athlete for this. I’m pretty regimented with my schedule. Monday to Thursday I get an hour lunch at work, so I eat within the first 10-15 minutes and then write the next 45 minutes straight. Or edit or whatever needs to be done. I have two 15 minute breaks as well which I use to do things as well. Friday’s I only get a thirty minute lunch, so I have three 15 minute blocks of writing. So I think prioritizing time is ideal. If that means waking up a few minutes early or staying awake a few minutes later than normal then do that. If it’s truly your dream to write something and release something, find the time. No excuses. How much time does a typical person spend each day on the various social media platforms? Lose 15 or 20 of those minutes and put down 1000-2000 words in that time.
I typically lay out most of my stuff in my head beforehand and know where the story is going, so I can write down anywhere from 2000-10,000 words in a day.
I’m the same with reading. I love reading and have started to spend a bit of time reviewing books. Some on my own but most through the fantastic Kendall Reviews site. People always ask how I read so much. Schedule and prioritize. I read 45 minutes a night on the book for review and then 45 minutes on two other books. Depending on how the chapters fall, it’s usually 25 minutes on one and 20 on another. I read nice and fast so within the 90 minutes a night of reading, I can usually read between 100-200 pages.
Erin: How do you deal with writer’s block or those times a manuscript throws up a road block?
Steve: I don’t know if I have ever had real writer’s block before. I say that because if I get to a spot on a work in progress and get stumped, I will simply put it aside and work on something else. So while I may get to a road block on one thing, I can detour around it by switching lanes. I will come back to it sooner than later, but sometimes letting something sit works best for me. I also don’t mind working on multiple things at one time.
Erin: Do you edit during or afterwards? How many drafts do you usually go through before sending to an editor or putting up for release?
Steve: That’s changed over the course of my young writing career. Previously I would write it down, then edit it as best I could, then re-write it and then edit it as best I could. But it’s apparent I’m not that proficient at editing overall. Now though, the lessons learned from Sodergren, Woodward and Foster have paid off big time. I even notice that as I write it’s written at a higher level than before, if that makes sense. Even my beta readers/street team have commented on that. I’ve made the mistake before of releasing stuff too soon, too fast, excitedly wanting to have it out there for folks to read, and it just had way too many errors. So I made sure to re-edit it and fix those mistakes. That’s a blessing I guess of the indie author. As for number of drafts, that’s really changed over time. My novel Invisible I think was ten drafts, which is the most I’ve ever done for a release. Typically I would say three or four.
Erin: What technology and how many devices do you use to write? How effective is it for you? If it’s something other than Word, can you explain likes/dislikes, advantages/disadvantages?
Steve: Just two really. The computer at work (or the rare times at home) and my phone. If I use my phone, I just email it to myself. I find it easier to then copy and paste it into a word doc. And I simply use Word. It’s here, it’s on my computer and boom, there we go! I have had most of my recent stuff formatted by J.Z. Foster and he uses Vellum, which made the finished product look phenomenal, but I couldn’t tell you any pro’s or con’s at all about that program.
Erin: Do you belong to any writing groups, in person or online? If so, do you find them helpful?
Steve: I wish I was in a writing group in person. Truly, I simply don’t have time to attend any. I’m on a few online pages that I follow for tips, tricks etc. (Indie Author Coalition, 20booksto50k, etc.) but that’s it. I do find them helpful, but I mostly stay on the periphery. Rarely do I ask questions. For the most part, what I need answered has been asked before several times over so I will spend some time searching things out. If there is something I specifically am looking for to be answered, I will usually message another author and ask their thoughts or what they’ve done.
Erin: What propels you to keep writing? When you have a low point, where do you find encouragement?
Steve: Great question. I think what propels me to keep writing is the joy I get from creating something. Seeing where my mind takes a character and developing that story line. I’ve always written just for me, and the fact anyone out there has read any of my stuff, likes it/hates it or wants more is mind-blowing. I’ve also always written to make my son proud. So that one day he might hold one of my books and think ‘Wow, that’s so cool that my dad did this.’
When I have a low point, I find encouragement from all the other fantastic folks from the various platforms. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram. All the readers who read and the writers who write. I’m one of the rare folks who don’t get social media envy. I truly want to see what awesome things you are up to, what things folks take their kids too and I want to congratulate everyone when they get good news!
Much like music, reading and writing have literally saved my life at various points over the years. I think I owe it back to the art to keep trying to create my perfect release.
Erin: What’s the BEST writing day you ever had and what made it so?
Steve: The best day of writing is always those days when I type THE END. It might be draft 1 or draft 5 or whatever that story needed, but every single time I type THE END, I get excited, because I’ve just created something. I am always proud of that thing I’ve created, but what a feeling when you type that.
About Dim the Sun –
Dim the Sun is a collection of 14 dark poems and one bleak horror short story. Focusing on pain, fear, anger, depression and anxiety Steve Stred brings you deep into his mind to share some truly unnerving moments. This is Steve Stred’s first collection of poetry he has released.
Dim the Sun Proceeds to Olympic Hopeful
Steve’s friend Rob (spoken of above) coached at the recent Winter Olympics, and after that experience, he decided to come out of retirement and try to qualify for the next Games in 2022 as an athlete in the Skeleton again. I wanted to be able to help him in some way, just like when people helped me before. Because of that, all proceeds from this will be going towards Rob and his journey, which isn’t much, but as self-funded athletes know, every little bit helps. You can purchase Dim the Sun, with proceeds going to Rob or if you would like to donate directly to Rob you can do so here: https://www.gofundme.com/2022-olympic-dream-phase-1
Author Steve Stred –
Steve Stred is an up-and-coming Dark Horror author. Steve is the author of the novel Invisible, the novellas Wagon Buddy, Yuri and Jane: the 816 Chronicles, and two collections of short stories—Frostbitten: 12 Hymns of Misery and Left Hand Path: 13 More Tales of Black Magick. His most recent release is the dark poetry collection Dim the Sun.
Steve also has a number of works on the go and enjoys all things horror, occult, supernatural, and paranormal and is based in Edmonton, AB, Canada, where he lives with his wife, his son, and their dog OJ.
Find him online at stevestredauthor.wordpress.com
Instagram – stevestred
Claire – Hi Patrick! Great to chat with you. Let’s jump right in. What are you working on now?
Patrick – I have several projects going right now. I’m waiting for last beta reader feedback on a dark fantasy about a necromancer trying to save the world, I’m collaborating with David Price on a contemporary or near-future thriller, and I’m cranking out some original short stories in the hopes of putting out a collection in the next year or so.
Claire – I see you’re a beekeeper and high school teacher. Quite an interesting combination! How do those jobs impact your writing?
Patrick – Besides getting in the way? It really depends. My novels Twice Shy and Special Dead are about students and education (and zombies), so of course teaching impacted what I wrote about, how, and why. Physics sometimes comes into play when I don’t feel like ignoring it for the purposes of a story—my Matt Rowley thrillers are about augmented superhumans and fallen angels, so didn’t much tie in to teaching or physics there. As for beekeeping, I’ve only written one story involving bees, because I will only portray them in a positive, or at least neutral/natural, light. I’m pleased to say that this story was published in an anthology alongside Neil Gaiman and Clive Barker!
Claire – You’re also a Bram Stoker Award® nominee. That’s amazing! Tell me about the nominated work/s.
Patrick – Four awards, but who’s counting?
I’ve been nominated in three categories. In 2013 I had two: Special Dead (the sequel to Twice Shy) is about zombies mainstreamed into a public school and was nominated in the Young Adult category. That year, Joe McKinney’s absolutely wonderful novel Dog Days took the award. “Snapshot” was nominated in the short fiction category, a cautionary tale about biomedicine and vanity—I have no idea how it got enough attention to get nominated, as the publisher of the anthology it appeared in collapsed maybe a month after it came out. David Gerrold’s “Night Train to Paris” won.
The Matt Rowley books have gotten some love, too. In 2014 the first book, Jade Sky, was nominated through the member recommendation process, and in 2015 the sequel, Black Tide was chosen by the jury to be on the preliminary ballot and made the cut to become a nominated work. That’s pretty fun, given that they’re basically hyperviolent superhero stories, with demons and fallen angels and macabre technology. I lost out to Steve Rasnic Tem’s Blood Kin and Paul Tremblay’s A Head Full of Ghosts, both excellent books.
Claire – Did winning an award change your perspective on writing? Has it influenced you in any particular way?
Patrick – Hey, now, I’m a four-time loser! My ego, though vast, is as-yet unvalidated with a haunted house statue.
I did receive the 2015 Richard Laymon Award for Service from HWA President Lisa Morton, but that was for my role moderating the HWA’s Facebook Page. Andrew Wolter shared the award, and we both got a very nice engraved glass plaque. Moderating the page is a bit of work that sometimes can get a little eye-widening, and the acknowledgment was nice, but it wasn’t for my writing.
Claire – You’ve received great reviews for your ‘Matt Rowley’ series. Tell me about the books. What is it about writing thrillers that interests you the most?
Patrick – They were kind of inspired by the Marvel movies, in that you watch these superheroes get thrown into cars hard enough to dent them, or blasted straight through brick walls, but they suffer no bodily trauma. So, there’s violence, but there’s not really much in the way of violence. So, I decided to make people who are very strong, very fast, etc, etc, and can heal very quickly, but along the way can take (and inflict) truly horrific damage. That turned into, “well, what do these augmented humans have to deal with?” And an action thriller franchise was born. And because I’m me, there’s bound to be horror folded into the narrative.
Thrillers are fun because, well, they’re fun. In addition to the Matt Rowley books, I co-wrote an FBI/Serial Killer novel with my twin brother, Blood List, about a killer trying to save his father’s life, as a way to upend some of the thriller tropes but still give a solid gut-punch ride to the reader. I write a lot of softer horror, too, especially in my short stories, but my agent is shopping several novels right now, one of which is a thriller involving transhumanism and aliens, one is straight-up horror about an affluent violinist being sexually stalked by a demon, and one is mid-grade fiction for reluctant reader boys, about the only kid in his class who sucks at magic.
Claire – Where did the inspiration for Matt Rowley come from? Is an action-hero version of yourself? Was he inspired by other fictional characters?
Patrick – I Tuckerized the name from my friend Matt Rowley, who is about as different from the character as a person can be. The character himself is sort of a small-town Captain America but with a much more fragile moral compass when it comes to “just following orders,” and, and I think this is quite important, real ties—he’s got parents, a wife and child, a home town, things that Cap, even in the older comics, basically doesn’t. My favourite character in the series, Sakura Isuji, isn’t really inspired by anyone—she’s a stoic badass with a troubled past that involves infiltrating the Yakuza at a very young age before rising in the ranks of the Tokyo PD, and then becoming a superhuman soldier alongside Rowley. She is, I think, the best kind of character—I didn’t want her to be like or not like anyone else, and didn’t draw any obvious inspiration from anywhere, I just knew who she was and how she became that person and wrote her that way.
Claire – Tell me about your writing process. Do you set aside time to write? Do you write on a schedule? Or on a whim?
Patrick – I write when I feel like it, which is most days. During Robotics build season—I’m the coach of our local team—I don’t write at all, because it sucks up all of my time from early January through mid-March or so, and any downtime I have is spent churning on the engineering challenges, keeping on top of paperwork, etc. Despite this sporadic and heavily-interrupted “schedule,” I write about two novels and five to ten short stories a year, so it works for me.
Claire – You co-wrote ‘Blood List’ with your brother. How did that work? I’d imagine it would have been an interesting writing process.
Patrick – We lived nearby, so spent a lot oftime talking in person. After hammering out a very comprehensive outline, we tackled the chapters out of order, each picking and writing what we felt like writing, until we’d finished the rough draft. We then went back, and each rewrote, edited, tweaked, etc, until neither one of us have any idea who wrote which part.
I’m not saying I’d recommend doing things that way, but it worked for us at the time, and the result is a pretty kickass yarn.
Claire – ‘Blood List’ concerns characters who are connected to the FBI. Do you do a lot of research for your stories?
Patrick – We do, and we also make a lot of stuff up. The entire conception of Palomini’s team is total fiction—the FBI doesn’t do things that way, and likely will never start doing things that way, but the way the FBI actually does things is pretty routine and boring and doesn’t really make for a good thriller, so we quite deliberately said, “here’s a new model for investigation that the FBI is doing, and…” But on the flip-side, much of the technology, the information on serial killers, tactics, and so forth, yeah, we tried to get those details as right as possible.
Claire – I read you coached an award-winning competition robotics team for high school students. Does your busy schedule help or hinder your writing process?
Patrick – It’s a hindrance, but I don’t have kids, don’t watch a whole lot of TV, and don’t play video games, and I like writing, so when it comes down to it I probably spend more time writing than a lot of people, robotics and day job notwithstanding.
Claire – I see on Amazon you’ve contributed to several anthologies. What do you like about writing for anthologies? Do you prefer short stories or long-form fiction?
Patrick – I like both. My first published work was a piece of flash fiction, and the form is a lot of fun—trying to pack as much as possible into a thousand words, no exceptions, is a great challenge and I highly suggest that people try it.
My method for writing short stories is entirely different from my method for writing novels. My novels are obsessively outlined, researched, plotted—with detailed character dossiers, necessary bits of dialogue, Easter Eggs, and so forth built into each scene before I “write” the first word. (That is to say, the first words that an actual reader will see.)
My short stories are totally pantsed—I have a character and an idea of where it will probably go, and then I just let it go where it does. Sometimes that turns into a thousand words, sometimes six thousand, sometimes something in-between.
Claire – Who is your favourite author, and why?
Patrick – I don’t have a favourite author. I put down more books than I finish, but the books I finish all bring me something I didn’t have before I read them, and I appreciate any author who can do that—and there are a whole ton of them.
Claire – Do you read books of genres different to your own writing? How important do you think it is to read to be able to write?
Patrick – I read a lot of horror, fantasy, science fiction, thrillers of various stripes, non-fiction (science and history, mostly, plus anything by Sebastian Junger), and the occasional contemporary fiction (from Bridget Jones’s Diary to Gone Girl to Big Trouble). Sometimes I read for fun, sometimes for catharsis, sometimes just because whatever it is (fiction or non-fiction) is interesting.
I would assume that, all things being equal, an author who reads a lot will likely be better than an author who doesn’t, but to be honest I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about how other people are spending their time. Are there authors out there who don’t read much but who write great books? Probably. Are there authors who read like crazy but put out some rather crappy work? Sure.
But when I pick up a book, I don’t know whether the author reads widely, or only in their genre, or at all. And I don’t care. Either the book stands on its own merits or it doesn’t. I’m not going to name names, but one of my favourite fantasy authors has also written some utter tripe, and they weren’t that many years apart, so I can’t imagine that her reading habits changed in-between. And I can’t imagine why I’d care. Either the books are good, or they aren’t; the first series was amazing, and the second was dreck.
Claire – Do you get writers block? If so, what do you do to overcome it?
Patrick – No.
Claire – Writers are weird, right? What’s the strangest/most interesting thing about you?
Patrick – Everybody’s weird, and everything weird about me is normal to me. I think I’m a pretty regular guy, but there are people who think I’m mad as a hatter. Are they crazy, or am I? Who cares?
Maybe that’s the answer. The weirdest thing about me is that I truly, genuinely don’t care what other people think about me. My tribe will find me, and the people who don’t like me can go find their tribe. It doesn’t bother me one whit if people don’t like me, my work, my attitude, whatever. There are a lot more people and a lot more things to read, so if I’m not your cup of tea, you’ve got lots of options.
Claire – Tell me about your future projects.
Patrick – As I said above, I’m working on two novels and some short stories right now and trying to sell the four completed novels that aren’t out yet. This is the first time in a while that I haven’t had a deadline with a specific project, so I’m doing whatever strikes me as the next cool thing to do. Today I think I’m going to play some Warhammer 40K, watch football, and drink beer with the real Matt Rowley, then come home and tuck into Justin Cronin’s The Passage for a couple of hours.
Claire – And finally, you’re stuck on an island with only one book. What’s the book?
Patrick – ‘How to Get Off An Island’ by somebody way smarter than me.
Author website: Patrick.Freivald.com
Editing blog: patrickfreivald.blogspot.com
Facebook: Patrick Freivald
FIRST Team 1551: grapesofwrath1551.org
An Interview on Writing with Gwendolyn Kiste, Author of The Rust Maidens
Hi Gwendolyn! I’m so happy to have you stop by to chat with us. As you know, The Horror Tree is a resource for writers, so the questions today will primarily focus on your writing and processes in order to showcase your personal stamp on the profession. Let’s chat about writing!
Erin Al-Mehairi – Describe your writing style for other writers/readers:
Gwendolyn Kiste – I would say that my style takes direction from fairy tales and folklore as well as some classic 20th century authors like Ray Bradbury, Angela Carter, and Shirley Jackson. Readers have used the word, lyrical, more than once in reviews of my work, so that might be a good descriptor too. It’s funny, because this seems like it should be an easy question, but I feel like I’m just the writer, and it’s up to the reader to decide exactly what kind of author I am!
Erin – How did your style evolve?
Gwendolyn – Over the last two years, I would say that I’ve honed my style and really decided the kind of writer I’d like to become, at least for the moment. Especially with genre, I’ve winnowed down my work a lot more. In the beginning, I wanted to explore everything in terms of genre and style, but as I was putting together my first collection at the end of 2016, I really started seeing what seems to work best for me as a writer. So while I certainly plan to take forays back into science fiction and other genres, for the time being, horror, dark fantasy, and the weird are the places I feel most comfortable and excited to explore.
Erin – The Rust Maidens is your newest release (Nov 2018) and debut novel. What did you learn about your writing or writing process from writing The Rust Maidens?
Gwendolyn – So much really. A novel is a whole different experience than a novella or a collection of short fiction. With a short story, I can keep all the moving parts in my mind without taking a huge amount of notes. A novel, however, involves managing a tremendous amount of information, especially with a historical book that will need time period details checked and rechecked. Editing a novel is also a more intense experience than a novella or a collection, in part because of length and also because with a short fiction collection, you’ve often had the previously published pieces through edits already, so they’re more print-ready, so to speak.
Also, since I developed this novel with Trepidatio rather than submitting an already finished book, it went through edits at an earlier stage than I’m used to. Perhaps I shouldn’t put this in print anywhere, but the first draft needed some real work, which I very much knew when I sent that draft in, but wow, I seriously shudder when I remember that version. Many of my now favorite moments in the book were underwritten or entirely absent in that first draft. It took some real work to get it to where it is now, but what an incredible process overall. Intense and draining and something that I’ll carry with me and how I write for the rest of my career.
Erin – After being Bram Stoker nominated for your collection And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe in 2017, how did that impact the writing you’ve done since? Empower you? Inspire? Or do you feel pressure?
Gwendolyn – It’s truly such an honor, and in particular, to be nominated for my first book, it feels like something I want to keep earning, if that makes sense. Ideally, I would love for that nomination to be something that doesn’t seem like a weird anomaly in ten years. I don’t want it to be an accomplishment from some writer who never did anything else. Like “Gwendolyn Who?” So it definitely keeps me inspired to keep striving to be the best writer I can be. But truly, so many things make me want to keep striving. My family, my fellow writers who are working so hard and inspire me every day, the readers who have reached out to me to say that they’ve enjoyed my work. I want to work as hard as I can to write stories that keep everyone entertained. I mean, no pressure, right?
Erin – What was the biggest challenge you had to overcome with your writing (and did you persevere)?
Gwendolyn – Getting over my fear of rejection has probably been the biggest challenge. When I was younger, I wanted to be a writer so badly, but after a few comparatively minor setbacks, I stepped away from writing for a long time because I knew I couldn’t handle the rejection of the industry. However, six years ago, I decided I couldn’t let that fear keep me from trying something I’d always wanted to do. So I’ve worked on dealing with how many times you’ll be told “nope, that story is not for us.” That’s not to say it’s ever easy exactly, but I definitely have a better perspective on things now, which has made that inevitable part of the writing process more bearable.
Erin – What is your biggest pet peeve about the writing process and how do you handle it?
Gwendolyn – I’m impatient by nature, so sometimes, when I get to the fine-tuning point, especially in a first draft when I just want a complete story, I have the instinct to rush to the end. But it never works out, since that just means I have way more work in the subsequent drafts. So I guess my pet peeve is getting the little nuances and final beats finished in the first draft, when all I want is to be able to read the story from top to bottom. As for handling it… I wish I had some great trick I use, but mostly I just grumble my way through it. Lots of scowling and reminding myself that it’s part of the journey. If I’m in a particularly impatient mood, I might step away for an hour or a day and come back to the piece with fresh eyes. That way, it feels a little less like banging my head against the laptop keyboard.
Erin – How do you deal with writer’s block or those times a manuscript throws up a road block?
Gwendolyn – Apart from my aforementioned coping mechanism which involves copious amounts of scowling, I have no problem stepping away from a manuscript for a day, a week, or a year if needed. If something’s not working, then I take a break. I’m not a “write every day” kind of writer, so if I feel stuck with ideas, I’ll take some time and reconnect with literature or films that I love. I’ve often found that studying the things that inspire me most can remind me what I love about storytelling. Then I’m reenergized to start again.
Erin – Do you edit during or afterwards? How many drafts do you usually go through before sending to an editor?
Gwendolyn – For most stories, I go through about three drafts, though of course it depends on the project. I do edit a bit as I go, but most of my editing doesn’t happen until after a full first draft is finished. I personally find it much easier to rework a whole piece rather than try to fix it up piecemeal. That first draft can be crucial for seeing the shape of the story and what direction I want it to take. Once I’ve got that figured out, editing is a much smoother ride.
Erin – Do you belong to any writing groups, in person or online? If so, do you find them helpful?
Gwendolyn – I’m actually not part of any writing groups currently. I most definitely think writing groups can be immensely helpful, but at this point, I haven’t found any locally in Pittsburgh that I’ve been able to attend. As for online groups, that’s still a possibility, but I also haven’t located one yet. We shall see, I suppose!
Erin – One of the great things you do on your blog for fellow writers is a Submissions Round-up which lists some of the open subs/markets you find every month or so. What are the best ways you’ve found to find these submission calls?
Gwendolyn – Well, we’re in fact on one of my favorite sites right now! The Horror Tree is an absolutely amazing resource! Not a month—and often not a week—goes by that I’m not on here, checking out what’s up in the submission world. I also peruse Dark Markets, and in the past, I’ve used Duotrope and Submission Grindr. Throughout the month, I keep an eye out on social media and jot down notes on any cool submission calls I see. Then when the deadlines get close, I add them to the month’s Submission Roundup post. It’s definitely a multipronged approach, and I’m always sad when I realize too late that I overlooked a great submission call, but unfortunately, it can happen. So I just keep an eye out and see what I come up with each month.
Erin – What is your advice when pitching a piece or body of work in the submission process?
Gwendolyn – Keep it simple. When I initially pitched my novella, Pretty Marys All in a Row, to Broken Eye Books, and my novel, The Rust Maidens, to Trepidatio, I tried to streamline the overall ideas to their simplest parts. Too much too early can look like a mess in the pitch phase. It’s also easier for the writer if you don’t create something so elaborate that it becomes unwieldy. So a streamlined pitch, at least in my experience so far, is the way to go.
Erin – What’s the BEST writing day you ever had and what made it so?
Gwendolyn – The one that jumps to mind happened just this past summer—the day I sent the final edits of The Rust Maidens to Jess Landry, my editor at Trepidatio. It was the Saturday of Readercon in Massachusetts, and it was the end of a very long day of meeting with other writers and attending panels and all the other exhaustion/fun that goes with these events. I’m not sure how many writers actually write at cons, but I decided that I didn’t want to wait until I got home to officially wrap up the novel. So that evening, I completed the edits on the book, which were really only a few minor tweaks by that point. Then after I hit “send” on the email, I immediately put on my favorite ridiculous bunny-print mini-dress and went downstairs with my husband to celebrate with drinks. In all fairness, there wasn’t a ton of writing that day, but to be in an atmosphere surrounded by literature and other writers when I put the finishing touches on my first novel really felt like everything fell into place. It’s surreal to complete a book anyhow, and having that moment there at a writing convention, just seemed too perfect.
Erin – Best advice for fellow writers?
Gwendolyn – Keep going. Keep writing what you believe in. Write the stories that resonate with you. Write the stories that you wish existed in the world. Write what you love, but don’t be afraid to push yourself. But above all, no matter how difficult it gets, if you still love the craft, just keep going. Everything else will work out in the end.
Erin – Thanks so much once again, Gwendolyn! I look forward to seeing more of your work in the future. 😊
Gwendolyn Kiste is the author of the Bram Stoker Award-nominated fiction collection, And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe, from JournalStone; the dark fantasy novella, Pretty Marys All in a Row, from Broken Eye Books; and her debut novel, The Rust Maidens, from Trepidatio Publishing. Her short fiction has appeared in Nightmare Magazine, Shimmer, Black Static, Daily Science Fiction, Interzone, LampLight, and Three-Lobed Burning Eye as well as Flame Tree Publishing’s Chilling Horror Short Stories anthology, among others.
A native of Ohio, she currently resides on an abandoned horse farm outside of Pittsburgh with her husband, two cats, and not nearly enough ghosts. You can also find her online at her website, Facebook, and Twitter.
Gwendolyn’s latest release is The Rust Maidens, is from Trepidatio Publishing, and can be purchased via JournalStone or on Amazon.
“Kiste makes her novel debut with this dramatic and absorbing story… This is a tale of friendship, monsters, and growing up, a lyrical and character centered story filled with danger and horrible consequences” — Booklist
Something’s happening to the girls on Denton Street.
It’s the summer of 1980 in Cleveland, Ohio, and Phoebe Shaw and her best friend Jacqueline have just graduated high school, only to confront an ugly, uncertain future. Across the city, abandoned factories populate the skyline; meanwhile at the shore, one strong spark, and the Cuyahoga River might catch fire. But none of that compares to what’s happening in their own west side neighborhood. The girls Phoebe and Jacqueline have grown up with are changing. It starts with footprints of dark water on the sidewalk. Then, one by one, the girls’ bodies wither away, their fingernails turning to broken glass, and their bones exposed like corroded metal beneath their flesh.
As rumors spread about the grotesque transformations, soon everyone from nosy tourists to clinic doctors and government men start arriving on Denton Street, eager to catch sight of “the Rust Maidens” in metamorphosis. But even with all the onlookers, nobody can explain what’s happening or why–except perhaps the Rust Maidens themselves. Whispering in secret, they know more than they’re telling, and Phoebe realizes her former friends are quietly preparing for something that will tear their neighborhood apart.
Alternating between past and present, Phoebe struggles to unravel the mystery of the Rust Maidens–and her own unwitting role in the transformations–before she loses everything she’s held dear: her home, her best friend, and even perhaps her own body.
Selene: Welcome to The Horror Tree, and thanks for agreeing to an interview. Tell us a bit about yourself.
Eric: Thank you so much for your time and for allowing me to be a small part of The Horror Tree!
A bit about me, via my usual bio: I’m a writer and editor of dark and speculative fiction, operating from the shadowy outskirts of Los Angeles, where I also run the small press, Dark Moon Books. By day job, I’m a technical writer and college professor, and before that I worked in mortgage banking. I’m married, with a young son and daughter. Plus I’ve a dog, cats, desert tortoise, and a terrarium filled with mischievous beetles. I’ve survived 42 years on this Earth, although I feel half that age mentally. I’ve travelled quite a bit, but I’ve lived in the same 25-mile radius in Southern California my entire life. I’m a pretty normal suburban White dude (third-generation Swiss-American), mostly passive, mostly introverted, pretty easy-going. I can jump rope all day long. I founded a hackysack club, that’s long gone under. My wife and I grew up together. I feel more comfortable in a dive bar than a fancy club. Outside other life responsibilities, I enjoy hiking and I study entomology (insects) and genealogy (family history); I woodwork in my garage; model miniatures; and read, read, read!
Selene: How long have you been writing, and what about the horror genre draws you?
Eric: I’ve been writing fiction driven by the goal of publication since February, 2011. However, I’ve been writing and drawing stories ever since I was a child. I just did it then for my own interest, or for friends. I stopped in college, in order to pursue business and serious-minded life necessities… which, of course, I now regret. I don’t regret the pursuit of those things, but rather having given up writing for so many years. I only jumped into as a potential career after the realization struck me that I was missing out on something I was passionate about!
And part II to your question, regarding the horror genre: I’ve just always found horror to be “exciting.” It gets my heart pumping, adrenaline rushing, etc. I enjoy literary thrills of all kinds, whether the ghosts and monsters of horror, or the shoot-em-up conquest of military conquest; the excitement and wanderlust of adventure tales, or the far-flung speculative legends or fables from any era or land. They all inspire me in different ways!
Selene: Your bio mentions all of your literary influences. Was there ever an “a-ha” moment, when you decided you wanted to be a genre writer, or did it come about in some other way?
Eric: All my life I’ve been drawn to creation, whether writing, drawing, painting, building, acting, designing. I’m sure it must have been infuriating to my parents, I could never decide what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I still don’t. One day I think I should be a businessman, the next day a cowboy. I fulfill my responsibilities, but otherwise I’m lost adrift in my own whims and imagination. Suffice it to say, I’ve always just wanted to have a creative profession, but to balance that with success and wealth, which, naturally, I have yet to find!
Selene: Is there a person or people who have really influenced your writing decisions?
Eric: I can’t say that any one author has had the most influence. I first read Stephen King in elementary school, and then his subsequent novels through my formative years, along with the horror standards of the late ’80s and early ’90s, like Dean Koontz and Anne Rice, so those were my first introductions to horror reading. I grew to like short stories more though, and comics, and I read across genres, so I can say there are a number of authors who have impacted me in different ways, whether by their plot twists, or humor, or relatable characters, or rich prose, etc.
Those authors I currently adore and consider influences and inspirations include Cormac McCarthy, George Orwell, Stephen Graham Jones, Jeffrey Ford, Lisa Morton, Kaaron Warren, Dennis Lehane, Seanan McGuire, Joe R. Lansdale, Nisi Shawl, Hunter S. Thompson, Jack Kerouac, Neil Gaiman, Robert McCammon, Mark Bowden, O. Henry, James Ellroy, Steve Rasnic Tem, Helen Marshall, John Steinbeck, Weston Ochse, John Langan, and many others…
Selene: We’ll get to your own writing in a moment, but first I’d like to talk about your work as an editor, which is how I’m familiar with your work. Tell us about this, and Dark Moon Books.
Eric: I find editing is easier for me than writing, although writing brings more satisfaction. Writing is emotionally exhausting, whereas editing I can do all day long. And I’m always thrilled with the chance to connect and work with other writers while editing. But I love so much to type “The End” at the end of a writing piece—it’s a wonderful, fulfilling sense. Both are different journeys to a creative destination.
And regarding Dark Moon Books—I bought it from its original founder last year, and completely rebranded it. I dropped all of its previous titles and started it over from the ground up. DMB was founded by Stan Swanson in 2011, and he was a mentor and friend who was one of the first people to buy my work, so Dark Moon Books since has just held a sweet, soft spot in my heart. I started off in the indie horror world knowing no one, and I blindly wrote to publisher after publisher asking them to work with me to publish my first anthology, Dark Tales of Lost Civilizations, and he was the only one willing. Anyway, as of a couple years ago, he’d stopped doing anything with the press, as he had some other life issues, and hackers had taken over the site. I didn’t want to see the name die, so I bought it out, built out a new secure site and image, and set a goal for it to be a short story venue, primarily for anthologies and my own oddball projects which can’t get signed elsewhere. My mission statement is for “Dark Moon Books to publish unusual and invigorating dark fiction for readers around the world.” I run my anthologies and Primers through there now, and hope to do more, but finances dictate most of those decisions.
Selene: Writing (and reading) and editing are sort of a chicken-and-egg cycle. Readers love stories and become writers and then editors, and so on. Do you find your editing work has improved your writing, and vice versa? I found when reading slush that my writing improved, through exposure to the editorial process and a feel for what makes a good story.
Eric: Oh yes, like, 1,000%!! I started editing because I wanted to improve as a writer, and it’s helped immensely. I recommend it to anyone wishing to improve their writing. By reading slush I saw what everyone else was writing about, the same tropes and styles, and immediately knew to write something going the other direction. By an aggregate of stories, I would find flaws in writing that I would then recognize in myself. And I found it’s true that you can accurately judge a story based on the opening paragraph, and in most cases the opening sentence. From editing, I gained experience in story development, author communications, layout, promotions and so on. I now look at projects from the multiple eyes of “Editor,” “Marketer,” “Distributor,” “Publisher,” and it’s made me a better person.
Additionally, my day job of Technical Writing can get dull at times, but it’s also definitely improved my fiction writing, by articulating stories in concise language, with focus on impact, brevity, and an understanding of audiences.
Selene: You’ve got a new anthology out this week, Pop the Clutch: Thrilling Tales of Rockabilly, Monsters, and Hot Rod Horror. How did this come about?
Eric: Funny that I can remember the moment so clearly, and that the moment was so bland. I was working remotely for my job, and I took a break and lay down on my bed, and out of nowhere I thought, “Man, I should create a horror anthology about rockabilly.” Totally random! I used to be a big rockabilly music and culture fan, and there was some great cross-over punk and gothic tunes, bands like the HorrorPops, Tiger Army, Nekromantix, and others, especially bands with Psychobilly tastes. And I used to collect Tiki Head statues and Fez caps, vintage pin-up artwork, stuff I don’t have any longer since having children. Anyway, such is kismet.
Selene: I was looking through your author listings on Amazon, and you have a vast range of work, from 100 word drabbles to novels, to what even appears to be a scholarly paper. You also work as a tech writer. What’s your favourite thing to write?
Eric: My main profession is as a Technical Writer, and I used to work in advertising and wrote copy write at that time. I’ve written for marketing, and academia, and also non-fiction of various subjects. Persuasive writing, content writing, descriptive writing, ghost writing, you name it. And each of these types of writing has different styles and nuances. But my favorite thing to write? Fiction short stories, of course!!! Totally, totally, totally!!
Selene: Another odd question. I read in your interview with The Horror Writers’ Association that you had taken a break from writing, then got back into it through genealogy. What interests you about genealogy, and how does it influence your work?
Eric: True, genealogy was a great connector back into fiction writing for me (and the following anecdote is a long-winded and off-track response to such). I have an obsession with family history stories, and had been writing articles for periodicals, and history books for family members on the subject. I’d been laid off the year prior (this about 2010) due to the mortgage market collapse, and so I was trying to publish more broadly on history articles (old pay-per-click models), and was chatting with a friend of my wife’s (whom I’d known in high school) about writing for income, as she’d recently started blogging for profit, and she remembered the fiction stories I used to write in years past. I told her that I was jealous and wished I could be a writer, and she said, “Well, what’s stopping you? Why don’t you write again?”
It was that simple… I really wondered then, why had I given up something I’d loved so long ago, for a failed mortgage career? It inspired me then to do something I was passionate about, rather than trying to rebuild a business life of which I’d never felt particularly adroit at. Which all goes to the age-old trade-off: Once I had money though was cheerless, and now I’m broke and happy (or at least having a sense of purpose)!
Selene: I’ve only managed to read a few of your stories, but I noticed a couple of things about your characters, namely strong protagonists, and a feeling for even minor characters as real people (even the ones who are aliens or robots!). How do you approach writing your characters?
Eric: First, read more of my stories (really, please!), haha. And thank you for the kind compliment. I don’t think that I have any formula for writing a character, it’s rather more of a litmus test. If I start to write someone, and they immediately feel “flat” or without purpose, I dispose of them and start over. I usually think of people in terms of flaws (myself included), and that carries over to characters. Everyone has emotional issues, disappointments, fears, curious or morbid ways, and that often drives what I write in the realms of dark and weird fiction.
Selene: Your plots are also pretty complex, even in your shortest stories. Where do you get your ideas, and are you a “pantser” or a “plotter,” so to speak?
Eric: OMG, I had to Google, “What is a Pantser?” But now that I know what it means, yes, a Pantser is I (most of the time)! I do always begin just by “writing as I go,” but if the story becomes complicated or I get burned out, or stuck, then I turn to plotting or outlining to figure the proper direction.
And ideas come, literally and figuratively, from everywhere: Dreams (both night and day), global news and current affairs, conversations with people, personal observations of the world, and playing the “What If?” game.
Selene: Your settings also vary wildly from story to story. I’ve read about a small town in PA and the “event horizon” of a black hole, and intimate settings such as an office or a bedroom after dark. How do you develop your story settings, and do you “write what you know” or try to imagine different places?
Eric: I always try to imagine different places, and enjoy researching different settings, even if they’re commonplace locales—reading what other people have written of geographic areas helps me imagine them in different ways. I don’t think I’ve ever written two stories in the same place, now that you mention it… It hasn’t been a conscious decision either, so considering that, I guess it’s just part of the creative process in that I want to “learn” about new ideas and places. I’m constantly surfing news and social media for interesting items that I store away in a Notes document. (So thanks, Selene, for prodding me to self-analyze something new about myself!)
Selene: I saw Facebook post from you the other day, outlining all the things you have on your plate right now. It can seem overwhelming. How do you juggle so many projects, and manage your time?
Eric: Probably not as well as I should! I constantly fear that I spread myself too thin, and that because I’ve involved myself in different activities and obligations, I don’t put truly sufficient time and attention into any of them. I work from home, which is really the only way I could possibly multi-task what I do, in that with flexible scheduling I can push things around at all hours of the night. I work full time as a corporate Technical Writer, plus two more part time gigs (including adjunct teaching in the University California system). I prioritize work and playing with my children: I coach AYSO Soccer and Little League baseball, and I’m Den Leader of my son’s Cub Scout Pack. Things like that are where I find meaning in life, along with my creative endeavors—I work on book projects whenever I have time. I don’t watch TV, I don’t socialize, I just read, write, and edit!
Selene: What advice would you give someone who’s just starting out, either in writing or editing?
Eric: Be confident to fail. Read broadly. Experiment. What I tell others, and what I repeat to myself like a mantra, is simply: “Keep writing, and remember that every rejection is an opportunity for improvement!”
Selene: Thank you again for answering my questions. Do you have anything else you’d like to talk about here?
Eric: Thank you, again, for your time, Selene. The only final things I like to say are to plug my latest works!
My most recent writing work is my debut collection, That Which Grows Wild: 16 Tales of Dark Fiction (Cemetery Dance Publications; July, 2018)
Quick synopsis: Equal parts of whimsy and weird, horror and heartbreak, That Which Grows Wild, by award-winning author Eric J. Guignard, collects sixteen short stories that traverses the darker side of the fantastic.
My latest published editing work is my anthology, A World of Horror, which is a showcase of international short fiction authors. (Dark Moon Books; September, 2018)
Quick synopsis: A World of Horror is an anthology of all new dark and speculative fiction stories written by authors from around the globe.
My next anthology to come out next month is, Pop the Clutch: Thrilling Tales of Rockabilly, Monsters, and Hot Rod Horror. (Dark Moon Books; January, 2019)
Quick synopsis: A 1950s-themed anthology of 18 all-new rockabilly, pulp, and horror tales, with fast cars, rowdy characters, and revved-up classic movie monsters.
Additionally, I’ve created an ongoing series of primers exploring modern masters of literary dark short fiction, titled: EXPLORING DARK SHORT FICTION, of which I’m estimating to release an average of 2—3 volumes per year (Vol. 1: Steve Rasnic Tem; Vol. II: Kaaron Warren; Vol. III: Nisi Shawl; Vol. IV: Jeffrey Ford; Vol. V: Han Song; Vol. VI: Ramsey Campbell).
Volume 3, for Nisi Shawl, will be landing in a few weeks!
And finally, I’m in process of shopping my first novel (publishers and agents, take note!), which I finished writing last year: Crossbuck ’Bo.
Quick synopsis: A Depression-era hobo rides the rails and learns the underlying Hobo Code is a secret language that leads into the world of shared memories, where whoever is remembered strongest can change history and alter the lives of the living.
If you would like to find out more about Eric and his writing endeavours, check out the links below.
Author website: www.ericjguignard.com
Dark Moon Books website: www.darkmoonbooks.com
Author Blog: ericjguignard.blogspot.com
Author Twitter: @ericjguignard
Dark Moon Books Twitter: @DarkMoonBooks
Dark Moon Books Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DarkMoonBooks2/
Ruschelle: Thank you for chatting with us here at the Horror Tree. I was peeping your titles online and what grabbed my peepers first…was the adorable lizard on your Literary Lizard Adventures series. It’s a children’s book. I’m a fan of adorable little illustrated lizards. What made you pen a fun book for kids and about the library to boot?
Angela Y. Smith
Angela: The Literary Lizard was originally a short story I wrote off the cuff to fulfill a personal challenge I was doing—seven stories in seven days or something. I worked at a newspaper in Florida at the time and that day we’d had a lizard crawl across the glass door. From the inside, his silhouette appeared to be hugging one of the letters. He became the inspiration for the little lizard that ran away from home to follow his quest for new words. An illustrator friend of mine, Robin Wiesneth, read the story and asked to illustrate it. Since then we’ve done quite a few kid books together.
I identify with “Lit” as well, so it’s lightly autobiographical. I ran away from home at 16. There were a number of reasons to do this, but at the forefront of my mind was the goal of finding a life worth writing about. The thought that every experience is material to work with still drives me. Whatever happens to me, however pleasant or unpleasant, I always find myself appreciating and notating the experience to tap into later.
Ruschelle: What do you love about writing children’s books?
Angela: I don’t consider myself a children’s writer at all. I started reading before kindergarten and by the time I was in third grade I was reading adult books. I had no concept of age appropriate and read everything I could get my hands on. I was exposed to quite a lot of material that I didn’t understand at all, of course. Reading The Succubus by Ken Johnson was one of those experiences. I paged through a lot of sex scenes trying to get to the part where the demoness just killed the guy. Mrs. Whitmore was not happy when she discovered what was keeping me so absorbed at reading circle.
‘The Christmas Spiders’
I don’t like the idea of stories being candy coated for kid consumption, and I think many of our kids are also tired of being force fed joy. As a child, reading was how I figured out what life was. I wanted to know about the cycle of death and why people could be cruel. Those questions are often present in my work today, kidlit or adult reading.
In The Christmas Spiders, my seasonal children’s best seller, an old woman goes on a mountain to reevaluate her life at its end. In the original version, she does die on the mountain and the spiders encase her in a silvery, frozen cocoon as a Christmas gift. I thought it was beautiful and I cried as I wrote it. Later, at the advice of beta readers I ‘jollied it up” by having the spiders decorate her tree instead and she returns down the mountain. I don’t think it would have been as popular if I’d kept that ending.