No Greater Agony is going on tour. (Blog tour, that is.)
First stop: Paperback Princess. They’re doing a feature on the novel and have graciously included a free excerpt.
For a limited time, Goodreads is giving away 5 signed copies of my new book, No Greater Agony. Enter for your chance to win.
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.
By day, Barbara Custer works as a respiratory therapist. By night, she weaves tales of horror and science fiction, bringing her medical background to the printed page and blending it with the supernatural. Her impressive list of published works include Close Liaisons, Life Raft: Earth, and Steel Rose and she joins me today to talk about her upcoming release, When Blood Reigns.
Todd Allen: Tell me about your anticipated release.
Barbara Custer: When Blood Reigns is the sequel to Steel Rose, but it works as a standalone book. Alexis has teamed up with her lover, Yeron, and four other survivors to search for an underground laboratory, where they believe renegade scientists are making the chemical responsible for humans becoming flesh-eating zombies. Alexis is the only female among five men, and struggles with the hardships of military life. Despite one of the survivors turning on her, she fights and kills the ravenous flesh-eaters that go after her team. But health problems plague her, distracting her from the renegades who watch her every move. When Kryszka alien officials capture her, she becomes deathly ill. Can DNA splicing save her? Will Yeron’s attempts at rescue jeopardize all their lives? Read the book and find out!
TA: What drives you to write in the horror genre?
BC: What I’ve actually been doing is cross-genre writing, a cross between SF and horror, with emphasis on the horror. Most horror tales encompass the good-versus-evil theme, and basically, that’s the theme of my tales. Human monsters exist, and I have to wonder what drives their behavior, so I’ll try to explore this as I write. I also suspect life exists in other worlds. I find it hard to believe that the universe was created just for us humans. This gets me to speculating, are these beings friendly or not? What are their customs and beliefs? As for zombies, in theory I believe their existence can be made possible through biological weapons and chemicals.
TA: The pessimists among us might say we are not far off from being zombies right now. We mindlessly consume everything in our path. We destroy the environment, the oceans, other species. All that’s really missing is the cannibalism.
BC: A lot of folks are like that—for example, the dentist to who shot Cecil the lion and left his body to rot. I would classify them as greedy, spoiled but not necessarily zombies. But…more virulent strains of bacteria and viruses are evolving, and not all of them respond to antibiotics or preventive shots. That and the chemical and biological warfare. I believe that one day, someone will develop either chemical or biological warfare that will alter humans, turning them into flesh-eating zombies. How? When the brain deteriorates, as it would with this agent, it no longer recognizes the difference between right and wrong. It only knows hunger.
TA: What scares you? How does it affect your writing?
BC: The one thing that has always scared me and likely always will is the sight of a human skeleton, especially if it’s covered with blood and other debris. It started at age ten, after I visited a mummy on display. At the time, I expected to see a live model or at least a statue. Instead, a skeletal woman clothed in a dress was sitting inside a bathtub and waving her hand. Later on, I learned that the tub was a sarcophagus and that most likely, wiring was used to move the limbs, but at the time, I knew nothing about this. Every so often, I use skulls on my book covers—notice that When Blood Reigns portrays a skull and some of my most horrific scenes will involve human bones. The walkers in When Blood Reigns are wasted, skeletal zombies.
TA: I experienced a profound fright as a child as well. And the more I talk to horror writers, the more I hear about similar childhood traumas. Do you think a seed was planted when that mummy scared you half to death? Did that event steer you toward the genre?
BC: Although I doubt that the mummy by itself steered me toward the horror genre, it certainly started the skull rolling. As I hit my teens, I became a fan of Dark Shadows and the Hammer films. But any time there was a scene involving a skeleton, I’d shield my eyes. Those films steered me toward horror, until finally I read a Stephen King novel, ate it up, and continued buying. So I started reading books by other authors and watching other horror films, like The Mummy.
TA: What got you started with writing?
BC: I made my first attempts with writing back in 1991 after my mother passed away. I took her death really hard, and my college instructor suggested that try journalizing and writing short stories. I decided to try horror. Why horror? Because at the time, I was making an avocation of reading Stephen King books, and I began asking myself and speculating: could I write something like that? So I began with short stories and migrated onto books.
TA: I started writing for similar reasons and I found that the pen helped me to work through some tough times. But the process of writing also forces those personal troubles to the forefront. You have to face them for the untold hours it takes to complete a story. What was that process like for you?
BC: In most of my books and short stories, I managed to scare myself and if I did the scene well, I had nightmares about dead people chasing me. I don’t get them the way I used to now, and even when I do, I assure myself that the dead can’t come back to life. Still, that didn’t stop me from draping a sheet over the skeleton in my anatomy class or at my orthopedist’s office. Once, at the doctor’s office, when I yanked off my sheet, the skull snapped off the neck, landed on the floor, and rolled down the hall like a bowling ball. Thankfully, my doctor had a great sense of humor.
TA: What do you find most challenging about writing?
BC: So often a scene will play through my mind, but when I go to translate it to paper, I lose the thought, or it will take several rewrites to get it right. I’ve struggled with visual problems over the years, and have had difficulty reading facial expressions, so I find that I need to research body language to have the feelings come through in a scene. You do what you have to.
TA: Sparse descriptive writing can leave a reader guessing. Highly descriptive writing can bog the reader down in details. Finding the middle ground can be tricky. How do you know when you get it right?
BC: That can be challenging—when something is sparse, it pretty much stands out. I have to ask, would this setting be clear to a reader unfamiliar with my work. According to one of my editors, more than two adjectives can clutter a sentence. To help find a middle ground, I work with a writer’s support group—one of the other members writes horror. I’ve used Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass to help. Finally, before I send any book manuscript to a publisher, or decide to self-publish, I send it to a developmental editor. No matter how good he or she is, no writer can see their own mistakes.
I have been in discussion with Barbara Custer. Look for her latest work, When Blood Reigns later this year. For more information on this and Barbara’s other releases, visit BloodRedShadow.com.
Frank Julius Palumbo was born in the Bronx in 1964. When not transporting readers to other worlds, he has worked as a carpenter, a freelance illustrator, and is now in law enforcement. His studies include psychology and neuropsychology, and he has been practicing Zen Buddhism and the Kabbalah for several years. He is a writer of horror and dark fantasy with a spiritual bent toward astral projection, occult sciences and Enochian magick. His novel, The Enochian Wars, was published earlier this year by Caliburn Press.
Todd Allen: Hi Frank. Thank you for joining me to answer a few questions. Tell me about The Enochian Wars.
Frank Julius Palumbo: The protagonist in my book is Jack Savage, a veteran NYPD police officer who encounters the angel, Enav, during one of the out of body experiences that come naturally to him during his daily meditations. During this time, a new planet has entered our solar system. It draws close enough to Earth to appear as a second sun, yet it’s dark and ominous. Soon, rumors of ancient Sumerian writings emerge. These stone texts tell of the planet Nibiru returning from a twelve thousand year orbit. It was said the mighty gods who descended from Nibiru were worshiped by early man.
In the story, Planet Nibiru approaches and electromagnetic nuclear bombs are deployed, leaving Earth devastated and defenseless. As New York City is brought to its knees, alien invaders round up humans for slavery and their feasts. Thousands of rectangular space ships land and form a wall around the city, and some begin to coalesce into a centrally located tower that dwarfs every skyscraper in town. Jack Savage and his partner Gilmore Boyle journey to combat the gargoyle-like aliens. What fate awaits those left alive as they are marched toward the colossal structure? Savage is determined to find out as he leads a stray group of survivors in a fight to free Earthlings from their invaders. With the help of Enav, Savage uses his talent for separating his soul from his body and engages the invaders.
TA: It sounds like the story has some pretty strong ties to science fiction. Is sci-fi a second love?
FJP: Yes, sci-fi is definitely my second love, if not tied for the first. Although The Enochian Wars falls into the horror genre, there is a strong element of sci-fi and dark fantasy. I’m really not sure what genre it fits into. I write what pleases me, and I hope that if I do that, it will please others. My passions lie with aliens, mysticism, supernatural beings, particle and astrophysics. Now, throw that all together and what do you get? Novels by Frank Julius Palumbo.
TA: Do you believe in happy endings?
FJP: Happy endings? Nope, not for me. I prefer a pseudo-happy ending. Such is life, No? See, my characters not only change due to outside conflicts but undergo an evolutionary spiritual awakening, which I believe is inherent in all of humanity. It is this tapping into the inner depths of one inner being, the god within, that allows the protagonist to defeat both external and internal nemesis. And just like life, the process is one of unfolding, a peeling away of the countless walls society has forced us to build. Yes, the battle is won, and we all cheer and celebrate, but the journey has just begun.
TA: Where do you see this journey taking us?
FJP: The end of the journey is the end of human evolution. Even though our physical attributes have ceased to partake in natural selection, our consciousness has yet to evolve. Our brains are the same as those of early man, who lived in darkness within cavities in the earth. We are stagnant, stuck living in fear. Yes, we may go to the stars, but without tapping into that which lies hidden within the core of our being, I believe we have little chance of survival. There have been a few individuals in last four thousand years that have appeared to Humanity as a fully evolved consciousness, teaching compassion and understanding for all life. It is in that direction that we must strive.
TA: Imagine your home is burning down. Assuming all your loved ones made it to safety first, what is the one book you would save?
FJP: I believe the book I would save is one that not only supports my spirituality but also is a tool that can be employed when the need arises. The book is called Modern Magick by Michael Craig. It is a book for both the novice Magician and the advanced. Within its pages are all the symbols, rituals, techniques, and references that one would need to perform Magick. Magick, according to the famous occultist Aleister Crowley, is “the science and art of causing change to occur in conformity with will. If this sounds like a lot of hocus-pocus, one only has to read a book about quantum physics. There lies a world full of contradiction and unreal phenomenon, where the mind can alter experimental outcomes and influence the manifestation of matter.
Like my protagonist, I too am on a journey, boldly going where few have gone. Many of the experiences in my books have been documented throughout history, and as a humble servant of Humanity, my testimony is that I too have stepped into the unreal world that lay hidden just beyond reality.
TA: What drives you to write in the horror genre?
FJP: My drive for writing horror is manyfold but mainly comes from my intimate relationship with anxiety. From a newborn dropping his pacifier, to a college student failing an important exam, or a business professional losing a key account, anxiety is always there. Its churning shadowy fog of unforeseen circumstances emerges around the unsuspecting individual consuming all other thought. Even in extreme happiness, one only has to think of its end to experience the shroud of doom lurking in the background, waiting patiently to appear and dominate one’s disposition. Horror is my way of producing the extremes of human emotion and eliciting the protagonist to delve deeply into the core of their being. When the protagonist reaches that point, he or she exposes the undiscovered and untapped human potential that is inherent in all of Humanity.
TA: Living with anxiety can be like walking around all day with a very heavy pack. Does writing help to relieve some of that pressure for a time? Can it be therapeutic?
FJP: Writing is very rewarding. The joy it brings far outweighs the work involved. Creating stories that push my personal boundaries takes me far away from the hum-drum of daily activity. And believe me, being a Sergeant in the NYPD is not hum-drum, but compared to my stories… There is not a day past that I did not delve into myself, seeking out ghouls, goblins and creatures undreamt of. This, in addition to my daily meditation practice, is the perfect therapy for any ailment.
TA: What advice would you give beginning writers?
FJP: Now this is an outstanding question and the advice I would give is a word I wished I could have whispered to myself when I started writing all those years ago. I would have done it if I could travel back in time, but I’ve tried and no success…so far. That word is edit…edit…edit…
The Enochian Wars, was revised seven times. That is work. There is no joy. I would even suggest paying someone to edit a manuscript before submitting to a publisher. (The manuscript’s) chances of being picked would increase exponentially. Additionally, there is a series of small books, all about one hundred pages, which are priceless guides to writing technique. The books are a quick read and I believe they encompass what every publisher looks for in a book. The first one is called Sizzling Style, Every Word Matters, by William Bernhardt.
I am grateful to Frank Julius Palumbo for sharing his thoughts with me. To get more news and info on Frank, visit his website at FrankJuliusPalumbo.com. The Enochian Wars and his other works can be found at Amazon.
Jodie Pierce is a full-blooded vampire author. She has written vampire horror. She has written vampire erotica. She has penned four traditionally published novellas and many other self-published novellas all about—you guessed it—vampires. Her fascination with vampire culture dates back to childhood, but it wasn’t until she discovered Anne Rice while in college that she sunk her teeth into vampire fiction. An avid researcher, Jodie likes to combine fact with fiction to give her tales an added air of realism.
Todd Allen: Thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions, Jodie. You have a series you’d like to talk about?
Jodie Pierce: I have a vampire trilogy. There is The Vampire Queen, The Vampire Chronicles and Demise of the Vampire Queen. The Queen becomes over-confident through the series to the point that she crosses the line as a vampire in the last book. She is bi-sexual, takes many lovers and visits exotic places in the books like Italy, Rio de Janeiro, Japan. She also has a mantra in the book of purifying the vampire race and she cruelly gets rid of those that are not pure bread vampires.
TA: What was it like for you to create and develop a character like the vampire queen and sort of walk in her shoes for three books? Was it difficult to part ways?
JP: I was at a difficult point in my life so I tried to create a character with trails that I wanted for myself—once naïve then strong and self-confident. The first two books originally started as one book but I split it into two when I was sending it out to publishers. Much later, I wrote book three and you can see the growth in my writing from book one to book three. I did not kill her off in book three so there’s always a possibility for more if I decide. I wrote a prequel meant to be read after the three books which explains her before she became a vampire but then took it off Amazon to re-write it some.
TA: What is the hardest part of writing horror fiction for you?
JP: The hardest part for me is knowing where the line is I want to draw for the story. I have one that is very violent and sexually violent that I have been holding on publishing because I want to work on it more and I’m hoping to give it to one of the top four big publishing houses. It is very graphic and I’ve researched a lot for it. If anyone goes through my browsing history, they’re going to think I’m an insane serial killer!
TA: What factors influence where you draw the line?
JP: I guess it would be my moral code. I don’t believe in violence, especially sexual violence—it was the way I was raised—so I guess you could say I almost feel guilty about my mindset, that I wrote and researched it. I set it in Brazil. I lived there for six months in high school and loved it, so it’s one that’s dear to my heart for that reason. Plus, I don’t know if I want to establish a reputation with my readers and then put out this really graphic story.
TA: Do you believe in happy endings?
JP: I think it really depends on the story. I like to take books that are part of a series and leave them with a cliffhanger. Others, I like to end with an extreme act of violence that it makes it a happy ending. I also like to end books where the reader is confused and has to reread portions of the book to get it. I guess, though, in the end, most of the time my stand alone novellas do have happy endings.
TA: Sometimes the ending I envision for a story is not exactly the one I arrive at. Sometimes characters develop a little differently and end up steering the story in a new direction. Do you allow your characters to dictate whether the ending is happy?
JP: Absolutely! I have a plan, general concept and then just start writing. The complete story evolves as I write, read and research it, but I do like my cliffhangers!
TA: Do you have a favorite author, or writing inspiration?
JP: I’ve been writing since high school, just about teen romance but I felt like I was floundering in my writing. I was never happy with my work. In college, a friend handed me the Anne Rice book The Vampire Lestat and I realized that since I’d loved vampires since seventh grade, writing about them like Ms. Rice would make me happy. I then read a Christine Feehan book and that’s when I started dabbling in vampire erotica.
A few years ago, my husband and I traveled to New Orleans at the same time Ms. Rice came out with Prince Lestat and was doing a book tour. So, we went to see her, a city we both always wanted to see and go on a short cruise that departed from New Orleans. I have to say, Ms. Rice was the most humble and friendly person I’ve come across. She has a great sense of humor. We visited her old house there and of course I had to take pictures from both events. At the time, I gave her a copy of my vampire crime novella. Later, I was looking at who was following me on Amazon and she, Ms. Anne Rice, was following me! I couldn’t believe it! I also got to meet Ms. Feehan at the same author signing and she was also great! We could have talked for hours. I took Karate and she was involved in the martial arts for many, many years. She gave away great swag, was friendly and went way beyond my expectations as did Ms. Rice.
My other inspiration is Brazil. I lived there when I was sixteen-years-old for six months which left an indelible impression on me. I just self-published a book in Portuguese about a friend of mine in Brazil. It was the most fun book I wrote and for many of my stories I pull an experience from there and put it in the story.
TA: Tell me about your writing process. Do you have a certain writing routine?
JP: I’m not an author who can just sit down and write. I, or sometimes my hubby, will come up with an idea and I work from there. Many times I have writer’s block so I put the story aside for a few until I have a great idea and/or dream about what should happen next in the story. At the end, I agonize over a title so usually hubby gives me a title if I can’t come up with one myself. He’s my rock and my muse!
TA: Writer’s block—those are not words any writer likes to hear. A lot of us scare easily when it comes to blocks. Of course the fear is that the words will just simply stop coming altogether. Does that frighten you? How do you stay calm during a block?
JP: I try not to stress about it as that makes it worse for me. I just put it aside or work on something else until it comes to me. Many times I wake up at 3am with an idea I dreamt about the story and just have to add it. I dream a lot of my work so I just have to wait for it to come…hence my only putting out about two novellas a year. I’d like to do more.
In the coming weeks, I will be hosting a series of interviews with some excellent authors of dark fiction. I hope to get to know my fellow writers a little better through this process, but whether or not that happens, I know I will learn a lot from them.
My guest today is J. E. Cammon, a talented writer hailing from beautiful Atlanta, Georgia. He spends his days thinking of fantastic pasts, paranormal presents, and possible futures. When he talks to himself, it’s always in the form of questions like “What if” and “Why not” and he only rarely answers out loud, preferring instead to write things that seem a bit like answers, but mostly like stories.
Todd Allen: Tell me about one of these stories. What is your book about?
J. E. Cammon: Where Shadows Lie: Bay City, is the first in a series of novels that tries to examine the monster genre from a different angle. The closest, popular idea I could compare it to is Being Human, though the (TV) series is different from the show, because I also wanted to challenge the characteristics of those afflictions as well, their origins, their cures, and the lore surrounding them. In the first book, many of the main characters are introduced, and the stage is set for a plunge into a dark world of debts and lies.
TA: A world of debts and lies? The cynics among us might say that sounds a lot like our world. Was that world influenced by the one we live in?
JE: Definitively. Because I wanted to try to turn the notion of monster = bad guy on its head, the characters had to be as close to real, genuine people as I could make them. And I believe that distance can be contracted via detail: if the characters have to deal with rent, bus fare, keeping a job. I wanted the world in the novel to feel exactly like the world we live in, except nightmares can happen in the daylight.
TA: What is the hardest part of writing horror fiction for you?
JE: It feels like the normal response to horror is not to embrace the circumstances of a given character. To call them stupid, or slow, to label their misery as deserved or just. In that regard, I think the hardest part of writing horror is immersing the reader in the circumstances so they feel how the character feels. That they could have made the same decisions, and so could find themselves in the same situations. In genres where positive things are more likely to happen, their guards are lower, I find.
TA: At one time or another, a reader has said to me, “That was an odd choice your character made. I wouldn’t have done that.” But the inconsistency is that the reader knows they are reading a horror story. The character doesn’t know they are living a horror story. How do you keep the reader sympathetic to the character’s struggles?
JE: Well, it is a challenge, but what I try to do is keep the reader interested. Invested might even be a better word. They may never experience the full immersion, but I think a strong second place would be to keep them on the character’s side, so rather than “I wouldn’t have done that,” it comes across more as “No! Why would you do that?” Emotion can be a strong glue to fasten a reader to a character, or circumstance.
TA: The horror genre is synonymous with violence. How do you view it?
JE: I view violence in a lot of different ways. There’s physical violence, but there’s also emotional violence and verbal violence. When someone tears a person down with criticism, it can be done harshly, or gently, quickly or slowly, directly, indirectly. It can take on a lot of the same characteristics of a sledge hammer to the knee, even the impact can be similar, and in some cases farther reaching. I definitely think of it as a tool, because tools depend a lot on how they’re used. Their existence is inherently inert, but in the right hands, all sorts of other things can be crafted and conjured.
TA: That kind of brings me back to what you said about immersing a reader—putting the reader in the character’s shoes. When you get the reader there, what do you prefer to hit them with, emotional violence or physical violence?
JE: Well, surprise, physical violence of course. I don’t structure my plots from the angle of always looking to do what is unexpected. I try to work on character authenticity, so their decisions, their perspectives are believable and understandable. But if I can make them appear as genuine and real people, and surprise the reader with turns in the situation at the same time, all the better.
TA: What do you find most challenging about the craft of writing?
JE: The thing I find most challenging is getting the image from my head to the reader’s head. Since I started, it’s the only thing I still consistently do very poorly. I’ve improved in every other way. It could also be that I have improved at conveying my mental images, but the complexity of my ideas has far outpaced my ability to explain them. It is a constant challenge to thoroughly work through the paces, mechanically invest in the process, and hit that mark where the reader understands all of what you wrote.
TA: Sometimes it is difficult for a writer to not get too descriptive when conveying an idea. How do you keep from going too heavy on description?
JE: Actually, I’ve been told that I don’t describe things enough. I went through my share of doorstop novels and had an adverse reaction. In school, I was accused more than once of being a minimalist. Normally, unless it’s ongoing phenomena, I don’t spend more than a line or two on whatever it is.
TA: What advice would you give beginning writers?
JE: Recently, I happened upon a metaphor that I really like concerning this: writing is like scratching through a scab. The first several swipes can be futile and purposeless, but if you keep at it, you can scrape down into the messy truth of your aim. Advice I was given was to “write it all down before you realize it sucks,” and that idea requires a lot of unpacking, at least it did for me. My metaphor has the same premise, and is a manner of saying to keep at it. Don’t stop. The more you practice, the better you’ll get. You’ll find different ways, clearer ways, better ways of conveying your ideas to others. You will also likely find other things to write about. Keep digging. Eventually, you will scrape down into the messy truth of your aim.
TA: Can you sum up the messy truth behind Where Shadows Lie in a few words?
JE: Certainly. There are a few ideas that kind of ground the universe and set the tone for the series. Two of them are “are you willing to ruin someone else’s happy ending to get your own,” and “all debts come due.”
Many thanks to J. E. Cammon for taking the time to talk with me. Where Shadows Lie: Bay City is available for purchase at Amazon and for more news and info on J. E. check out his website at JECammon.com.
Hope you all survived Black Friday and got home with your goods unscathed!
I recently spoke with Eric Dye at Enterprise Radio about horror novels, writing and the afterlife.
Check out the podcast here: http://epodcastnetwork.com/losing-your-soul-to-writing-a-discussion-with-author-todd-allen/