The Horror Tree Presents…An Interview with Brent Kelly
Selene – Welcome to The Horror Tree, and thanks for agreeing to an interview! First off, tell us a bit about yourself.
Brent – Thanks for having me! Let’s see, what about me is interesting enough to discuss in this interview… Well, I like campfires. To me, there isn’t much better than a cold beer next to a cracklin’ fire. I live in the country in northern Wisconsin, and tonight the bullfrogs down in the pond are ribbiting back and forth to each other like crazy. The moon is bright, the stars are out, and if I didn’t have to work tomorrow I’d be out back throwing another log on the fire. My wife and I have a son who is now 6. He and I study Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu at Groundwork Grappling in Rhinelander, WI. We like hunting for treasure (geocaches), and we’re building a pirate ship in the backyard. And I have a dog in my shirt at this very moment.
Selene – How long have you been writing, and what about the horror genre interests you?
Brent – I wrote my whole life, just nothing big. Anything I wrote on my own was usually no longer than a page up until I took Creative Writing in college. One of the big reasons for that was I wanted to be able to hand somebody something and watch their reaction as they read it. I was always a bit of a prankster. Jumping out of the shadows, leaving little wooden Blair Witch guys in your pillowcase, tricking people into eating human flesh, stuff like that. It was always fun to get people, and horror was the best way to do that. But then it got deeper. I started to realize there were bigger reasons to write horror and dark fantasy stories. You can actually help people deal with real-life horrors. You can give people hope. Like, if Nancy can beat Freddie, maybe Clyde can get through tomorrow. And the horror community is amazing. They’re people who have been into the darkness, and they don’t want anyone to be left there.
Selene – Is all your work published with Omnium Gatherum? What’s it like working with them? I’m curious because I’ve seen their calls for submissions periodically.
Brent – I have a few short stories published in other places, but most of my stuff is published with Omnium Gatherum. All of my novels are published with Omnium Gatherum. I met Kate Jonez, the Chief Editor, back in like 2009 or 2010. Kate liked my story about this guy named Chuggie, and she helped me workshop the manuscript into an actual book. She’s one of the hardest working people I know, and my experience with OG has been overwhelmingly positive over the years. OG authors support each other a ton. I highly recommend submitting to Omnium Gatherum if you have something that meets their call.
Selene – On your website, you describe your work as “Dark Fantasy, Horror, and Whimsy.” The stories of yours that I read (“JP,” “A Friend in Paga,” and the first 40 pages of Cruce Roosters) definitely have a thread of humour and weirdness running through them. I’ve never been all that good at writing “funny,” so how do you do it?
Brent – I don’t know how good I am at it either, but I’ll tell you my approach. When it’s time for something funny to go in the story, I write something that makes me laugh. I laugh at some pretty stupid stuff. They don’t all land, and sometimes the joke is a stretch. I don’t try to make all of my readers laugh. I try to make myself laugh and a couple of close friends. Keep Away From Psycho Joe was basically written for an audience of two.
Selene – Let’s talk about your artwork, which can be found on your website. It’s also pretty weird and disturbing. What inspires you visually, and how does the visual nature of art inspire your writing (if it does)?
Brent – I get inspired by folks like Beksinski and Giger and Wayne Barlowe and Chet Zar, among a long list of others. My art is a LONG way off from those guys, but that’s the kind of way-out stuff I’m drawn to. I love things that are strange and bewildering. The kinds of things where you stare and wonder what other bizarre marvels exist in that world. What is the history there? What is the mythology? How late for work am I willing to be today, in order to ponder this further?
Selene – Obligatory question: Where do you get your ideas?
Brent – Well, the world is full of strange things and terrifying history. Everywhere you look there’s something dark and twisted that we just accept as normal. Eavesdropping on people when you’re out and about is helpful, as long as you don’t, you know, be all creepy about it. Driving through the countryside with the radio off and the windows down has been good for idea birthing, too.
Selene – Cruce Roosters was just released a few months ago. For our readers, what is it about?
Brent – Cruce Roosters is a future-sports/dystopian horror novella. The land is governed by a man called Prophit King, and the national pastime is a sport called Cruce. It’s a violent team sport that involves getting “bombs” into the opposing team’s roost. Roosts are protected by crucibles built by each team. The players are called Roosters. Some attack the opposing roost, some defend their own. The story follows a young Crucecaster named Molly Most who catches the eye of Prophit King. He isn’t the sort of person who you can say no to, so Molly is in a tight spot. Horrific things happen, and then I don’t know, probably rainbows and friendship? I’m not positive how it ends, but people seem to like it. It’s also full of fake ads that I made.
Selene – Cruce Roosters has a pretty motley cast of characters, but the strongest is the story’s heroine, Molly. How do you develop your characters, and what goes into creating an interesting protagonist?
Brent – I think what helps me is to think about a specific person playing the character. Chuggie, for example, is inspired by Tom Waits. Developing Molly happened more in the second draft. First draft, she was just a name that stuff happened to. My editor Kate asked me, “What does Molly want more than anything?” I pondered a few days and realized that what Molly wants most is to be the #1 Crucecaster in the nation. Once I understood what she wanted, her personality became clear. Her reactions and dialog came much more easily then. Molly kind of became a mash-up of Erin Andrews, Olivia Munn, and Mila Kunis.
Selene – Do you find it difficult to write female characters? How does it differ from a male protagonist, if at all?
Brent – I definitely have to think a little harder when I’m writing female characters. Writing dudes, I don’t have to dig very deep for reactions and dialog and stuff. It’s nice to have a female editor who can say, “Uh, no, she wouldn’t do that. Throw this whole manuscript away and start over. Again.”
Selene – You also have a series of books about a character called Chuggie, which I haven’t started yet. The quality of your work that struck me, and I’ve mentioned it a couple of times, is “weird.” Not that it’s a bad thing, but I guess this is a question about “world building.” What disturbs you, and how do you use it to creep out your readers? (Again, that’s a compliment!)
Brent – I used to get sleep paralysis, starting at about age 15. I didn’t know what it was back then. I thought I might be going crazy, so I didn’t really tell anybody about it until college. It happened a lot, though, and I decided to deal with it by writing them down. I kept a little journal that would have a little write-up and a little sketch of each episode. The little ventriloquist dummy standing in the doorway, the giant dog that came into my room, lots of others. So those things used to disturb me, but then I wrote them down. Now they work for me, like little, abstract monster-slaves.
From a world-building standpoint, it’s a question of, in what world are these things possible? More questions follow: What forces allow – or cause – these things to exist? Who opposes those forces, and how? Keep writing and answering those questions, and soon you’ve got a world that’s nice and juicy… Juiceworld! Ah, Juiceworld, where the rain makes you sticky and the Shlooblian Juicefolk will kill you dead if they catch you drinking from the holy fountain of Juicikalis!
Selene – Do you find you like revisiting characters and plots for a series? How does it differ from writing a “standalone” story?
Brent – I do like revisiting. Keep Away From Psycho Joe and Cruce Roosters were both intended to be standalones. Psycho Joe ended with a bit of a cliffhanger, but I was happy to leave it there. When people ask you what happens next, though, it’s hard not to think about what happens next. Hm? You wanna know what happens to Ruby and Justine? Alright, have a seat by the fire and I’ll tell you. What happens after Cruce Roosters? I don’t know. Well, I know a couple things. Okay, have a seat by the fire and I’ll tell you that, too. What happens in Chuggie #4? Put some coffee on and wheel the big chalkboard out here.
Selene – Another obligatory author question. What authors or books have influenced your writing, and what do you like to read?
Brent – Stephen King’s Dark Tower series was a huge influence. Frank Herbert’s Dune series. Douglas Adams, Wayne Barlowe, Hunter S. Thompson, and Piers Anthony, to name a few. I get into comics sometimes, too. Most recently I read Irredeemable, and it blew me away. I’m re-reading Requiem: Vampire Knight now, because that series is so juicy they ought to change the name to Juiceworld!
Selene – OK, I have to ask. What’s the deal with JP? I read the story and it creeped me out, then I saw the real JP on your YouTube video, and I can’t imagine how something so harmless can inspire something so creepy!
Brent – For folks who don’t know me, JP is my little dog buddy. He’s a Chinese Crested, and he lives to snuggle. One time my wife was in the next room, and I go, “Hey, can you call JP in there and take a look at this thing on his head?” So she calls him in thinking he’s got a lump or something, and what does she discover? JP’s wearing a little cowboy hat. Adorable! He and I are quite fond of each other. The short story was for an Omnium Gatherum anthology called Little Visible Delight. The theme was obsession. In the story, I’m obsessed with JP’s well-being, to an unhealthy degree. What happens when your little angel dog starts to get old? Well, you do what has to be done. The story came from my real fears. I’m glad people seem to like it.
Selene – Your writing work is fairly prolific, yet you have a lot on your plate. How do you balance writing with “real life” obligations?
Brent – No idea. I don’t know how prolific I am, and right now the writing is kind of taking a back seat to real life. When things settle down and it’s time to get serious, I’ll go to bed early and get up at 4 or 5am. I prefer to stay up late, but my best writing these days comes in the early morning when it’s dark and quiet and the coffee flows like wine. A hard ride down the ol’ bike trail does wonders for boosting the creativity, too.
Selene – What advice would you give a writer who’s just starting out?
Brent – Get a tiny notebook. Put it in your pocket and take it with you everywhere. Also a pen and some fingernail clippers (unrelated, just handy). Fill the tiny notebook with notes and sketches and outlines for your story. Later, you might take a highlighter and use it to write the number of the chapter each note would go into. Then you might type those notes into those chapters and find you’re halfway to a manuscript.
Selene – Thanks again for joining us here. Do you have anything else you’d like to talk about, and what’s in store for the near future for you?
Brent – Thanks for having me! I have a handful of projects in the works, all ripping along a glacial speed. I thought I’d leave you with a passage I think about all the time. It’s from “The Ladder of St. Augustine” by Longfellow:
“The heights by great men reached and kept
Were not attained by sudden flight,
But they, while their companions slept,
Were toiling upward in the night.”
Thanks so much for your time, Brent! If you would like to find out more about Brent and his work, you can find him via the following links:
- About the Author
- Latest Posts
Selene MacLeod is a night operator and sometime writing hobbyist. She holds a BA in Communications from Wilfrid Laurier University and resides in Kitchener, Ontario. Her work has appeared in several horror and crime fiction anthologies, most recently Shotgun Honey, Drag Noir (Fox Spirit Books); and the upcoming Freakshow: Freakishly Fascinating Tales of Mystery and Suspense (Copper Pen Press), and Tragedy Queens (Clash Media).She’s most excited about editing a charity anthology for Nocturnicorn Books called Anthem: A Tribute to Leonard Cohen, due out late 2017.