The Horror Tree Presents… An Interview with Don Gillette

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Claire – What’s on the horizon for you?

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

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

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

Twitter: @dongillette

Website: http://www.dongillette.com

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

 

 

 

Brain Babies: Speak up!

I want to talk about something. I mean, that’s why I write these. So, to set the tone, I’d like to quote the following bit of wisdom:

It only takes one voice, at the right pitch, to start an avalanche.” – Dianna Hardy

Unless you live under a rock, you’ve probably heard that the Game of Thrones series just ended. Now, I didn’t watch the ending. I’m still on Season 5. I know, I know. But, come on. I have kids. I can’t just watch that sort of thing with them in the room, and there are so many other amazing things I need to watch after they’re asleep. I’ll get to it.

Point is, though, that a lot of people are pissed about how it ended. And, that’s fine. They have every right to be upset. Fans get excited. It’s normal.

What’s not normal, and not okay, is this movement to have the show redone to fit their preconceived notions of how it should have been.

Now, I love readers. I truly do. I am one. And, as a writer, I’m nothing without my readers. But, you guys… come on. It’s art. It’s supposed to cause a reaction. You’re supposed to feel things. That’s the whole point! If a book, or movie, or TV show doesn’t end the way you want it to, well… too fucking bad! You want a different ending, you go ahead and write one. You want the story to go the way you think it should, then you need to write the story.

Don’t try to tell Mr. Martin what to write. Don’t tell me what to write. Neither of us is going to listen. In fact, we’ll probably write the thing you’re complaining about, because were contrary like that. At least I am. I’m betting George is too.

And, this is directed at the writers here (whom are also readers, I assume; I can’t imagine being one and not the other)… don’t try to write for anyone else. Don’t try to please everyone. You can’t. Some readers are going to hate your work. Some hate mine for sure. I’m okay with that. Some readers are going to love your work. That’s the best feeling right there. Some are going to think you’re just okay. That’s fine too.

When you try to appeal to all the readers, you’ll most likely appeal to none. Your writing will be washed out, pale, and unappealing. You want to piss people off! You want them incensed. You want them to motherfucking feel something.

That’s why we’re here. To shake shit up. To make noise. To make waves.

Go use your voice. Start an avalanche. If someone tells you that you should be doing it differently, you can say, “Thank you for your opinion.” And, then walk away, because you don’t need that kind of negativity in your life.

Go art hard. Bleed on the page. Make some noise. Send the rocks barreling down on the readers’ heads. Hurt them. Kill them (This is hyperbole: don’t actually kill your readers. You need them.). Fuck their shit up. The good ones, the ones who matter, will thank you for it.

 

Thanks for listening.

Ken MacGregor

The Horror Tree Presents… An Interview with Steve Vasquez

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

Or on my website: writersteve.com

 

 

10 steps to start writing a book

So many books and so many writers in this world. What defines their success and how can they become actually read authors? The truth is that they started from where everyone starts, a blank page and probably multiple ideas flowing in their mind. The hard part of writing a book isn’t getting published but writing it. This is a process which can take a short or long time and that usually happens in three stages. Beginning, not giving up and finishing.

In the beginning, you have to start writing something. This may seem obvious, but it also may be an overlooked step along the way. You write a book by deciding first what and how you are going to write. Once you start writing, staying motivated and not giving up it is crucial. You will face self-doubt and you will feel overwhelmed. Knowing before this situation can help you prepare for it. Finishing is the last step, and no one cares about a book you almost finished. Be sure you actually do it. What makes you a writer is the ability to complete a project.

However, writing is a big process and here are 10 steps to make it easier to achieve your final result of reaching “The End.”

  1. Decide what the book is about

Writing is always about something. If you need help in fleshing your idea out, one method is to start by the concept of the book in a sentence, stretch that out to a paragraph and then to a one-page outline. After, write a table of content to help guide you in your story. Break each chapter into sections and think about the beginning, middle, and end. These are important tips for you not to get lost.

  1. Daily word goal

Think the task is daunting? Writing a page per day will mean you have a full length novel within a year. Hopefully, time and creativity will allow you to jump past that even quicker. Make yourself write each day and set daily goals to yourself. A page a day is only about 300 words. Set realistic goals though. Write often, not necessary a lot.

  1. Set the time to work on the book

People normally have more things to do besides writing a book. Even if you can afford to be a professional writer, you might have children or other duties. Don’t expect horse racing results, because you are just human. Consistency though, makes creativity easier and it will appear with a daily basis process. Schedule the time of the week you are going to write, according to your other responsibilities.

  1. Write in the same place

Make your writing location a special and unique place, wither if it is a kitchen table or a library. It is important to distinguish your tasks and writing should be apart from the others. When you enter that space, you are committed to your goal.

  1. Set a total word count

Begin already with the end in your mind. Once you start, think about the total word count for your book. Break each chapter into equal lengths and think in terms of 10-thousand increments. A short e-book has 20,000 words, a standard non-fiction book has between 40.000 to 60.000. From this number further, all will fit the category of a long book.

  1. Get feedback once in a while

Let someone look at it and listen to people’s opinions. You are writing for people so make sure you let a few of your trust read before you need to rewrite the book. You can show it to friends, editors or family. Find someone who is honest and will make sure you are heading in the right direction.

  1. Weekly goals

Besides the daily goals, weekly goals are also a must. Always be honest to yourself about how much you still have left and celebrate your progress. Deadlines followed strictly are the way to get your work done. Make a plan for your tasks and go for it.

  1. Commit to delivering it

No one really knows when a book is finished. However, after writing all you think you needed to write, there are still a few things to do. First, deliver the book and never close it in your drawer. Send it to a publisher, check some online competitions for new writers, release it on your social media. Present it to people, no matter how. The worst thing that you can do to yourself and your project is to give up when the book is written. Remember your initial goal and the hard process of making it. Don’t go backward now.

  1. Failure is normal

Be okay with failing, give yourself grace and embrace it. As soon as you approach the end of the book, know that it will be hard. Determination to continue is what will sustain you.

  1. Think about the next book

The majority of the authors are embarrassed about their first books. However, without that first one, no more can come. The first book is a lesson, either if you fail or succeed. Practicing is getting better each day and for that, you must keep writing. Every great author started somewhere, somehow.

The reason for a lot of books never have seen the daylight is behind the attitude of the authors: they gave up. Remember how many times Stephen King and J.K. Rowling were denied? Nevertheless, remember: before you can launch a bestseller, you have to write one!

 

Ines Marinho

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