The Horror Tree Presents…An Interview with Steve Stred
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?
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
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Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi has Bachelor of Arts degrees in English, Journalism, and History. She is an author and has over twenty years of experience in her field which includes being a professional writer, a journalist, an editor, and a PR Professional/publicist among many other things.
Breathe. Breathe. (Unnerving in 2017) is her Amazon best-selling (paid) debut collection and a mix of dark poetry and short stories. She has stories and poetry featured in several other anthologies and magazines and was the co-curating editor of the gothic anthology Haunted are These Houses.
She is an editor at Sinister Grin Press, assists with publicity at Raw Dog Screaming Press, and owns Addison’s Compass Public Relations and Hook of a Book Media, the latter from which she’s busy freelance editing, coaching writers, and doing book publicity and more.
She continues to make progress on her novels and write multiple stories and poems from the forests of rural Ohio while juggling activities and meltdowns of her three children and a cat. You can e-mail her at hookofabook (at) hotmail (dot) com and find her easily at www.hookofabook.wordpress.com. You’ll also find her on her Amazon page, GoodReads, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.