Interview with award-winning horror author, Deborah Sheldon
Deborah Sheldon is an award-winning Australian author with a long list of titles to her name, including short stories, novelettes, novellas and novels. Sheldon is masterful at the art of writing horror: believable plots, convincing characters, well-defined settings, decisive pacing, and the perfect amount of mayhem, destruction and bloodletting. Her new action-horror novella, Man-Beast (Severed Press) reflects all these skills. Recently, I had the opportunity to chat with Deb about horror writing in general, and Man-Beast in particular.
The title character in your book is a humanoid, but not the standard version. How did you go about revamping the Bigfoot trope?
Man-Beast doesn’t have the typical Sasquatch/Bigfoot character that is a mindless killing machine. Instead, I decided to create a monster that felt more like an apex-predator with a complex social hierarchy. For inspiration, I researched gorillas, chimpanzees, baboons; as well as looking into Neanderthal culture and other Early Human civilisations. My Yahoo-Devil-Devil clan felt ‘real’ to me because I created their hierarchy, language, culture and habits. The creatures in Man-Beast hopefully come across as members of a genuine species in their own right.
You set your story in Outback Australia 1913. Was the historical research difficult?
Yes, researching that period was time-consuming. But what a blast! From cars to guns to fashion to slang, I delved into my country’s history and discovered many precious gems. For instance, farmers believed that the car – a new-fangled machine – was similar to the horse, which meant it didn’t need petrol and could steer itself. I’m a big fan of slang, but I had to be choosy; a term only made the cut if it made sense in context. Sadly, I had to let go of many wonderful idioms and turns of phrase, simply because they were too obscure for me and modern readers.
Man-Beast, as in your other books, has brilliant and ongoing descriptions of the scene settings. Why do you put so much into this part of the narrative?
Thanks for the compliment! To me, a story’s landscape is as important as the main character. With Man-Beast, I illustrated the surroundings as best I could. I always want the reader to see the story unspooling in their mind’s eye as clearly as if they are watching a film. Various reviewers call my stories ‘cinematic’, and that’s the highest praise I could ever hope for.
At times, Man-Beast is a ‘hold-onto-your-lunch’ read. How do you decide what to include of the actual carnage in a gory scene?
By definition, ‘horror’ usually includes gore, but a writer should be sparing. Too much gore is icky, numbing and tiresome. I mix up my violent scenes, and use different methods of presenting the horrific from the graphic to the visceral, personal, and suggestive. The absolute last thing you want to do as a horror writer is hammer your reader flat with ‘gore-porn’. Finding different ways to present graphic scenes is an interesting preoccupation. Suspense is one of my favourite techniques. The anticipation substantially ramps up the reader’s reaction when violence finally occurs.
How do you feel about ‘killing your darlings’?
I invest a lot of love and energy into my characters. So, when it’s time to thwart, maim or even kill them, I have difficulties. That may sound silly but when you’ve done all you can to make characters genuine, it feels vicious to put them through hard times. I’d like every one of my characters to live happily! But that’s not how fiction works. Or life, for that matter. (If God exists, He must be a writer – why else would he put His characters through such hardships if not for dramatic purposes? And yes, I’m being cheeky.)
Are there any horror novels or films that inspire your creature-feature stories?
Classic creature-feature novels such as Jaws shape my ideas as to how a monster story should play out. I also love old Hollywood sci-fi and crime-noir. Man-Beast is influenced by a slew of films I’ve enjoyed such as King Kong, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Them, The Valley of Gwangi, plus noir favourites such as Cape Fear that focus on the theme of helplessness. I wanted Man-Beast to be an exciting, rollercoaster ride of action and horror, with a nihilistic heart for readers who want deeper layers. Hopefully, I achieved that.
Taylor’s Travelling Troupe of boxers has set up its tent at an isolated sheep station: bored farmers always bet to excess. Headlining the bare-knuckle fighters is Bluey, marketed as ‘The Man-Beast’, a Sasquatch-like monster, chained and kept drunk enough to fight punters without killing them. But the troupe has returned to where Bluey was first captured. Recognising the mountains, he calls again and again. And when his call is answered, all hell breaks loose.
MAN-BEAST AMAZON PAGE:
Deborah Sheldon is an award-winning author from Melbourne, Australia. She writes short stories, novellas and novels across the darker spectrum of horror, crime and noir. Her award-nominated titles include the novels Body Farm Z, Contrition and Devil Dragon; the novella Thylacines; and the collection Figments and Fragments: Dark Stories.
Her collection Perfect Little Stitches and Other Stories won the Australian Shadows ‘Best Collected Work’ Award, was shortlisted for an Aurealis Award and longlisted for a Bram Stoker. Deb’s short fiction has appeared in many well-respected magazines such as Aurealis, Midnight Echo, Andromeda Spaceways, and Dimension6. Her fiction has also been shortlisted for numerous Australian Shadows Awards and Aurealis Awards, and included in various ‘best of’ anthologies such as Year’s Best Hardcore Horror.
As editor of the 2019 edition of Midnight Echo, Deb won the Australian Shadows ‘Best Edited Work’ Award. Her anthology Spawn: Weird Horror Tales About Pregnancy, Birth and Babies is a flagship 2021 title for IFWG Publishing Australia.
Deb’s other credits include TV scripts such as Neighbours, feature articles for Australian, US and UK magazines, non-fiction books (Reed Books, Random House), stage plays, and award-winning medical writing.
Visit her at http://deborahsheldon.wordpress.com
DEBORAH SHELDON’S AMAZON AUTHOR PAGE: