The Horror Tree Presents- an Interview with Jennifer Anne Gordon
The Horror Tree Presents- an Interview with Jennifer Anne Gordon
By Ruschelle Dillon
Ruschelle: Ladies and Gentleman, The Horror Tree Presents an interview with THE award-winning author Jennifer Anne Gordon! A woman of many masks, dancer, teacher, writer, model, podcaster, business owner, butcher, baker, candlestick maker- okay maybe not those last three, but I bet she would if she wanted to do so. Her newest offering Pretty/Ugly is due out July 13th, 2021. But if you can’t wait to see what this fantastic author is all about, check out her other offerings-Beautiful, Frightening and Silent, From Daylight Madness, When the Sleeping Dead Still Talk and Victoriana. But FIRST, let’s have a little fun. Tell us three things about you but one of them isn’t true. You can reveal the answer at the end of the interview…if you want to. If not, just let everyone speculate and spread crazy rumors about you on Twitter.
Jennifer: I held the hand of a ghost while in an abandoned executioner’s home in Prague. Once I locked myself in a bathroom—panicked—then peed my pants while still in the bathroom. I met Vanilla Ice after seeing him in concert at a place called Club Land in Worcester Mass.
Ruschelle: If I was a betting gal, I’d have to stop, collaborate and listen before I decided on those three. Heh heh. Okay, you teach ballroom dancing. When I think of ballroom dancing my brain conjures a couple dressed beautifully, moving together in an intimate dance, complimenting each other, completely in tune with the music as well as each other. Because of these nuances is ballroom dancing an influence on how you write?
Jennifer: You know, I have always considered it an influence—but the way you phrased this made me realize perhaps the way it has influenced me without me knowing. Specifically in the idea of partnerships or writing two separate character stories that in the end are really one beautiful thing. Like dance partners. Both can do the moves on their own and be one half of something, but when they are together then there is some magical there that can only be created by the combination. I feel like that with a lot of my work. I am a sucker for writing (and reading) stories with at least two POV. Characters that seem to not be connected until the reader can see their fates being slowly thrown together. Eventually the characters become one story, one beautiful (and sometimes not so beautiful) connection.
Ruschelle: Have you ever read a book and felt that THAT particular novel/story was what you really wanted to write? Be it topic or style?
Jennifer: YES. Honestly the first time I read The Haunting of Hill House, it just broke my mind in two. It was everything I wished I could write, yet at the same time I was so glad it was already out there in the world to inspire me. I love my horror to walk a fine line between “Is this a story about a haunting, or is it a story about mental illness…is it both?”
Another book that just knocked my socks off was The Dog Stars, by Peter Heller. I had never read a book that was such pure poetry, that combined with the fact that it was dystopian and about the end of the world…it was everything. I read it about 8years ago maybe and then gave it a re- read about 6 years ago. That book made me realize that it was possible to write a story about “the end of the world” and have that aspect of it be a back seat to the emotions of the characters.
Ruschelle: Your newest creation, Pretty/Ugly has a pandemic vibe to it. Did Covid 19 situation threatening the world inspire the book or was this a concept you’ve had brewing for years?
Jennifer: The idea came about pre-Covid in the before times. And the characters were in my head taking shape. I was figuring out what the “virus” really was. I am a punster, but I knew who the characters were, I knew what the virus was, and I knew the very last moment of the book. I did not know much else.
Then, Covid hit. I was finishing up work on the Hotel Series (From Daylight to Madness and When the Sleeping Dead Still Talk) and I really wanted to write Pretty/Ugly. I did not want to be writing just another pandemic book, BUT—those characters were in my head, and that last moment of the book…even I had to figure out how to get there.
It was hard to be writing this during a lockdown. There was a long time when we had no light at the end of the Covid Tunnel, and I finished this book while we were still there. I will say that my fictional virus is not the same as Covid, though of course there are some similarities in how the virus is “dealt with”. There are masks, temperature checks, social distancing etc. But that is where the similarities end.
Ruschelle: What was the most challenging part of the writing process for Pretty/Ugly?
Jennifer: I think it was convincing myself that it would be okay to write a book about a pandemic DURING a pandemic.
Also, this was the first novel I have written that does not take place on my fictional haunted island (Dagger Island) so there were times that I wanted to fall back on having the setting be the invisible supporting character (the way it is in my previous books). This time I still employed a literary and rhythmic style of writing, I still have heavy emotional objects that I use…but didn’t have the safety blanket of being able to talk about the weather and the sea and foggy milky light that makes everything feel so moody.
This novel still has a lot of gothic overtones to it, but it is definitely a modern gothic.
Ruschelle: Is anyone from Pretty/Ugly a reflection of people you know or have met? That being said, are any of your characters from this novel and others people you know?
Jennifer: Well, I think most of my characters all have parts of me in them. Pretty/Ugly is definitely slivers of me in both my main characters.
There are occasions I base minor characters on people I know. Mostly the characters are imagination but sometimes their experiences are mine, or they are experiences that people I know have had, or it’s something small like a mannerism.
Ruschelle: While giving you a proper stalking or err…researching you, I noticed a particular haunt in a few of your books, Dagger Island, which you mention a scant question ago. Your newfound fans need to know more about this island. Is it truly haunted, do people go mad here, is there a nude beach?
Jennifer: I think any beach can be a nude beach at the right time of day/night/mental breakdown! So, Dagger Island is a fictional island off the coast of Portland Maine. It is based ever so slightly on Star Island (one of the Isle of Shoals in NH, and Peaks Island in Maine). I am not saying either of those places are haunted, but geographically they fit the bill, and Star Island was (is) home to a large Victorian era Hotel…though that was a real hostel and not a “hotel” like it is in my books.
As to if the Island is haunted—yes. Definitely. Do people go mad there? Yes, definitely. I have a large history of stories that I want to write about Dagger Island. All would be considered horror, not all are about hauntings. I think even I am trying to figure out what it is about the Island that draws a certain power and certain darkness to it.
I like to think of it like Derry, Maine or Goblin, Michigan. It is a place that has dark overtones, and there is something unnatural about it. I am really obsessed with Island’s in the Northern Atlantic, and pretty much just the Northern Atlantic in general. The water, to weather. Dagger Island is a great place to add that obsession to my obsession with gothic horror.
Ruschelle: I am very curious of your time working as a magician’s assistant. Please tell me you learned how to pull rabbits from places one shouldn’t pull rabbits.
Jennifer: HAHA. So, I always say Magician’s Assistant, and people assume I was getting sawed in half and wore little glitter and feather outfits. But the truth is I worked for a psychic entertainer, sometimes better known as a mentalist. So, the “magic” is very much based on authenticity and borders on “psychic phenomenon. The performer I worked for did a lot of “séance” work. and the shows were often small scale- private parties, or in haunted hotels, and had the feel and look of Victorian era occultism. So no, no rabbits. But maybe I learned how to pull ghosts out of places I should not be pulling ghosts out of.
Ruschelle: I’ve heard in through the grapevine you are a poet. How do you infuse poetry in your horror novels? What, in your opinion, gives a horrific genre book a poetic feel?
Jennifer: I will always consider myself a poet, it’s where I learned to express myself through writing really. I think horror and poetry really do go hand in hand—there is nothing spookier to me than the unknown. Combine that with foreboding mood, and intense unresolved emotions, and then you have a story I want to read. But, when you stress the unknown as an author, sometimes you just have metaphor left to describe the almost indescribable. Fear, loss, grief. These are emotions but can any author really describe them without metaphor? No.
Also, I love to use objects filled with emotion and have them keep reappearing throughout the story. It creates rhythm and tension. I also love repeating a phrase or a key word…almost as if it is a form of horror PTSD. The repetition is often very poetic.
Ruschelle: You host a podcast entitled, Vox Vomitus. For the non-Latin speakers, it means Word Vomit. Awesome title by the way. Give us all a little insight on your podcasting journey and what you love to do during the word vomiting hour.
Jennifer: Vox Vomitus is one of my favorite hours per week. I won’t lie. I get to talk with one of my best friends (Author Allison Martine my co-host) we get to drink bourbon and talk with people that we never would have dreamed we would be able to talk to. Our past guests have included legends such as Josh Malerman, Paul Tremblay, Carol Goodman, Wendy Webb, Jennifer McMahon, VC Andrews, Matt Ruff, Alma Katsu, Cynthia Pelayo, and so many more (just naming some of the horror authors, but we talk to people in all genres).
I really wanted to do a show called Word Vomit (but that was already copywritten). I thought it would be great to talk to people at the top of their game and talk about the mistakes they made (the bad first drafts, the writer’s block, the times they wrote something and then their agent/loved ones/writing groups all hated it. So I pitched this idea to the Global Authors on the Air Network, and they said yes. This was a little over a year ago. Our one-year show anniversary is coming up in July, and we just found out that we are the number one show on the network now. So it has been exciting.
Ruschelle: You had me at bourbon. So, if you could interview any author and only ask them ONE question, who would it be and what would you ask?
Jennifer: Um, I feel like I already got to ask Josh Malerman about his ducks …so …I guess I would have to ask Tana French why she had to break my heart so badly at the end of In the Woods. I don’t want to be more specific because #spoilers.
Ruschelle: What do you do to prepare for writing a book? Do you immerse yourself in research through videos, television, movies etc?
Jennifer: I look at a LOT of photos. Probably photos more than anything else. For the Hotel series I also had to do a lot of research about “island life” in the Victorian Era. As well as just a lot of history for that time, I also got a genealogist to help with historical research that was very specific to Portland Maine at that time. For Pretty/Ugly I had a scientist friend help a lot just with understanding (and then naming) a fictional deadly plague. It was fun to give her a list of the symptoms that I was writing, AND what I wanted it to look like if the person would survive (hint…it’s not pretty). So with that information she and I would go back and forth with what kind of virus it could be, and what it would have to mutate with to get the disease in Pretty/Ugly. Which the people call Interitus (which is the Latin term of to rot, or ruin. The disease has an official medical name as well.
Other than that, it always goes back to photos. Sometimes Google Earth as well.
Ruschelle: I’m going to appeal to the actress in you. If you could play any character from a horror movie, who would it be? How would you reconstruct that character?
Jennifer: Oh I love this. I think there are such incredible performances. I am not sure how much I would want to deconstruct any of them. If I had to though I would probably choose Piper Laurie’s iconic “Mama” in Carrie. She was AMAZING, but the performance was HUGE. I would probably play with playing her colder, more sociopathic in her detachment. Take out some of the religious fervor and put it back in only at certain times.
I would want to play Clarice from Silence of the Lambs, but I would play her as openly a lesbian and yet still have her strangely drawn to Hannibal even though it would not be love or sexual, but still chemistry.
Ruschelle: Novice writers are offered a ton of advice. What is the best piece of writing advice you have ever received and conversely, what is the worst?
Jennifer: Best advice would have to be a three-way tie between “writing is rewriting”, “you can’t edit a blank page” and (going against that last one) “sometimes writing is staring out the window for hours and never writing a word.”
Worst advice would be anywhere is the “you have to write 1000 words a day or you are not a real writer” family. If you write, you are a writer. Be kind to yourselves writers!!!
Ruschelle: What is your favorite part of the book writing process, I mean, other than when it’s finished.
Jennifer: I really like the moments before you officially start writing, when it from an idea in your head, to an idea you can’t get out of your head. When anything can happen, and you can’t wait to find out!
Ruschelle: What project or projects, beside your highly anticipated novel Pretty/Ugly are you working on that we all can look forward to reading, listening or watching?
Jennifer: Oh I hate to be one of those authors that says this but…. I am working on something, but I cannot talk about it just yet. My agent would kill me. But I am about 60,000 words into a first draft of something. I also have a few short stories that I may publish sometime. Also, at some point Pretty/Ugly will be coming to audio. Until then Vox Vomitus airs every Wednesday at 6pm EST. I also host Writers Showcase twice a month as well!!
Ruschelle: Thank you so much for hanging out with me here at the Horror Tree! It’s been a pleasure. So, will you please tell your newfound fans how they might find you on the www?
Jennifer: The easiest place is to go to my website at http://www.JenniferAnneGordon.com that has links to all my social media. I am most active on FB and Instagram, but I do dip my toes into Twitter sometimes.
Oh and my two truths and a lie from the beginning—I never met Vanilla Ice, but I did see him in concert. SO that was a half-truth.
Ruschelle: I knew it!