Fred Wiehe is the author of a short story collection, six novels, and has made numerous contributions to anthologies, magazines, and e-zines. His novel, Aleric: Monster Hunter, was an Amazon Bestseller and he enjoyed a #1 bestseller with his collection of short stories, Holiday Madness: 13 Dark Tales for Halloween, Christmas, & All Occasions. Fred’s new Young-Adult supernatural novel, Fright House, was released in 2015. He is now splitting his working hours between a collection of short stories entitled The Collected Nightmares, a feature-length script, The Uglies, and a YA urban fantasy novel, Under the Protection of Witches.
Todd Allen: Fred, thank you for setting some precious time aside to talk with me. It seems that you are one of the busiest writers I know. With all these projects on the go, are you a writer who feels more at home multitasking?
Fred Wiehe: You’re welcome, Todd. I appreciate the opportunity to reach more readers, so thank you for that. In answer to your question, yes, I’m very much at home multitasking. I like working on multiple projects at the same time. It seems to free my mind up and keeps my creative juices flowing. When facing a problem with one project—whether it’s a plot point, character issues, or simply writer’s block—I can turn to another project. This usually not only refocuses me but most times helps me work out the solution to the project that was giving me a problem. The mind is a funny thing. Sometimes, the more I concentrate on something, the harder it is for me to work it out. When I start concentrating on something else then suddenly the solution to the original problem comes to me. I hear from other writers that they would have a difficult time finishing any one project if they worked on too many at one time. I’ve never seemed to have that problem. I think working on multiple projects actually helps drive me to finish them.
TA: Tell me about your latest release.
FW: Fright House is a good, old fashion ghost story on the surface. However, I believe it goes much deeper, and that the personal journey of the main two characters and how those journeys intersect definitely drives that simple paranormal plot.
First, we have seventeen-year-old Penny Winters. She’s always been different. She’s seen things, unexplainable things that at thirteen years old land her in a psych ward. There, her parents all but abandon her. Then, after years of therapy, she’s supposedly cured and unceremoniously released. But her classmates never accept her or let her forget. They call her a freak, tease her at school, and cyber-bully her on Face Book, Twitter, and in text messages. Even her teachers and her family are afraid of her. So Penny runs away, setting out on her own to make a new life for herself, determined to disappear into society and hide from her past. But being underage and a runaway leaves her with little to no options. Lying about her age and her past, she lands a job at a Halloween attraction called Fright House. But she should’ve known better; a one-time insane asylum is the last place she should be.
Next, there’s the eighteen-year-old ghost hunter Tory Jackson. His personal quest to prove paranormal activity is spurred on by a childhood tragedy, shrouded in the supernatural. His Paranormal Scene Investigations (PSI) team arm themselves with digital video cameras, thermal cameras, EMF detectors, EVP equipment, Geiger counters, ghost boxes, and other high-tech, expensive gadgets in that pursuit of the supernatural. On every job, they hope to find a true haunted locale, but undeniable proof of paranormal activity continues to elude them. When Tory and his team are hired to investigate a sudden rash of supernatural events at Fright House, they hope this will be the job that finally brings them face to face with the spirit world.
It’s Penny’s arrival that awakens the asylum’s long-dormant ghosts. Her sensitive and clairvoyant nature gives Fright House power, enabling it to manipulate the once scary but harmless Halloween attraction into a dangerous place, with a deadly agenda all its own. To survive, Penny has to come to terms with her past and accept what she considers her curse as a gift. Tory too must not let the supernatural tragedy of his past define and control him. Only by trusting one another and working together can these two solve the haunted attraction’s horrifying secrets and discover its insidious plan.
TA: What drives you to write in the horror genre?
FW: My own sanity drives me to write horror. Writing horror is better than paying a therapist. I get to work out all my fears, stresses, hatreds, fantasies, and more on the written page. If I didn’t write horror, I would probably be in a straightjacket someplace much like Fright House, banging my head against the padded walls.
TA: What scares you? How does it affect your writing?
FW: Dying scares me. Not death itself, but rather the process of dying. Taking those last gasps. Fighting for air. Not being able to breathe. That scares me. I’m also very claustrophobic, and the thought of being buried alive has given me nightmares. I logically understand that these days—with modern embalming techniques—being buried alive is next to impossible. Still, I can’t shake the fear. I’ve always felt that I must have been buried alive in a past life, and I’ve never gotten over it. When I do take that last breath—in this life—I hope it’s above ground and not already six feet under. I actually used this fear as basis for my opening scene in my novel, Aleric: Monster Hunter. The novel opens with Aleric digging himself out of his own grave.
TA: What was it like facing your fear in order to write that scene? Any sweaty palms at the keyboard?
FW: It was probably one of the most difficult scenes I ever had to write. I had major panic attacks doing so. But I believe a writer must put themselves in their characters’ place and live the situation with them as it’s playing out. That mind set forced me to imagine myself buried alive right alongside Aleric and to experience with him everything that meant. That’s what makes writing so therapeutic, though. I believe to some degree I was able to work through this basically unfounded fear. Besides, if I expect my characters to face their fears, it would be hypocritical of me not to face mine.
TA: What was your inspiration for writing this book?
FW: Fright House is based on a screenplay of the same name that I wrote for Elftwin Films. The idea was The Shining-meets-Ghost Hunters. I’ve always loved to watch shows like Ghost Hunters, Psychic Kids, Most Haunted, and Paranormal State. Besides that, the business of ghost hunting or paranormal investigation has grown exponentially over the past decade or two. I’ve also always loved visiting Halloween attractions like Fear Factory and the idea of the “safe scares” in a Halloween attraction suddenly coming to life and becoming real excited me to no end. Then I added a great, sympathetic heroine like Penny Winters, a complex hero like Tory Jackson, and a group of very diverse ghost hunters. It’s my hope that I ended up with a story that’s scary, humorous, and touching all at the same time.
TA: A lot of us horror writers are nudged toward the genre after experiencing some kind of paranormal event. Do you believe in the existence of ghosts?
FW: Yes. I’ve experienced a couple of paranormal events in my own life. The first one happened when I was in college. My best friend from high school had remarried. His new wife had two little girls, and they had just bought a new house. They invited me to dinner, so of course I went. Being a struggling student, I never turned down a free meal. After dinner, the girls went to bed. Their room was on the second floor. My friends and I went down to the basement to play pool. It was late by the time we finished playing a few games, so they asked me to stay over.
Before we went upstairs, I racked the balls and placed the cue ball on the table as if we were going to play again. The stairs to the basement shared a wall with the living room. The sofa was against that wall and that’s where I slept. My back was to the room, my feet were facing the corner where the basement stairs met the first floor, and my head was facing the corner that led to the Master bedroom and the second-story stairs where the girls slept.
I woke in the middle of the night, startled by the sound of the balls breaking and scattering across the pool table. Next I heard footsteps on the basement stairs. Being a brave soul, I lay back down and like a little kid pretended to be asleep. I couldn’t help myself, however, when the footsteps stopped. I just had to peek. So I lifted my head slightly and peeked through squinted eyes. There, standing at the corner of the room, just at the top of the basement stairs, was an unrecognizable man. His face was blurred out like in those reality cop shows to protect the identity of the perp. I could see the rest of him very clearly, though. Again, with the courage of a small child, I lay my head down and continued to pretend sleep. Nothing can hurt you if you can’t see it, right? Maybe I was wrong because moments later I felt someone sit down on the edge of the sofa, right behind me, their back pressed against mine. It was all I could do not to jump up screaming or piss my pants. Somehow, I remained quiet, outwardly calm, and in control of my bladder while still feigning sleep. When I felt this person get up, I (gathered) the courage to sneak another peek, and I saw him turn the corner.
The stairs to the second floor immediately creaked with his footsteps. Then the girls suddenly yelled, “Leave our feet alone. Stop tickling us. Leave us alone.” My friends jumped up, me following suit. We all ran upstairs. By the time we got there and turned on the lights, no one was there except the two girls. They were still kicking their feet and screaming. Up until then my friends hadn’t mentioned that weird things had been going on since they moved into the house. Let me tell you, I’ve been much more open to paranormal activity since then. For the most part, I don’t believe spirits mean us harm. However, if there are evil people living in this world, doesn’t it stand to reason that after death their spirits are just as malevolent?
TA: You have been published many times now. What do you want to achieve next in your writing career?
FW: I’ve been published multiple times—six novels, a collection of short stories, and numerous short stories in anthologies. I’ve even had a couple of Amazon bestsellers. My next goal is screenwriting. As I said earlier, Fright House is actually based on a screenplay I wrote for an independent producer. We optioned it to a production company, but it’s been stuck in pre-production hell. I’ve also written a screenplay based on one of my short stories, The Uglies. I actually got to meet director Paul Lynch (Prom Night, 1980). He read my script and emailed me, saying, “I was pleasantly surprised and most impressed. Great characters, story and it kept me reading.” That definitely was a boost to my morale.
TA: Suppose your goal comes to fruition, the hard work pays off, and you become Fred Wiehe: professional screenwriter. What becomes of Fred Wiehe: author?
FW: Fred Wiehe: professional screenwriter and Fred Wiehe: author will have to learn to coexist. I don’t plan on giving one up for the other. In fact, I hope to be Fred Wiehe: director/producer someday too. It’s going to get crowded in there, so we better all get along.
My guest has been Fred Wiehe. Many thanks to him for his openness and for sharing some fascinating thoughts. If you’re like me and you want to learn more about Fred and his latest projects, look him up on Facebook or visit his home on the web at FredWiehe.com.