Sure, I enjoy working in psychological and body horror. These elements often play significant roles in my stories, though I like to mix it up. I like to play with gritty realism while mixing surrealistic elements as it makes sense to the story. I also enjoy writing in dystopian scenarios, too.
2. What is the first book that made you really emotional? What was the emotion?
This is embarrassing. But I was a young kid, maybe eight or nine years old, and I would read every night in bed. I had a few books from the Encyclopedia Brown series – for those who don’t know, he was a smart kid who solved mysteries with the help of his friends. The first book I started to read had a character scream in the opening pages and I slammed the book shut. I was actually freaked out by such a horrific moment, I don’t even remember what was happening on the pages. Anyway, it took me another year or so to read the Encyclopedia Brown books and I enjoyed them.
3. What are common traps for aspiring writers?
From my personal experience and more recent observations, I’d say overuse of figurative language and excessive description. I’m a strong advocate of efficient writing, cutting out adjectives and adverbs and replacing them with nouns and verbs that carry the same weight, if not more. Reserve those qualifiers and descriptions for the moments when they can make an impact.
4. What is your writing Kryptonite?
The blank page. Even if I have an elaborate idea brewing, turning that into legible words for the first time is often a massive feat. Procrastination certainly fits into this equation, too, as I find last-minute housework to distract myself or my addiction to playing high-scoring words in Scrabble on my iPad.
5. How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?
My first fiction publication was a short story in a horror anthology about jackalopes. It helped show me what makes a horror story of interest to readers. I was already well-versed in professional business writing at this point of my life, and pursuing an MFA in writing, but this process put me in touch with a new and different side of it all. As much as I revise and revise again for business and marketing copy, fiction requires levels of revision at magnitudes I had never considered. Not only am I editing for grammar, efficiency, and the like, but also for story craft. It’s a vast style of writing that requires multifaceted care and holistic thinking to do it well, and I love that.
6. How did you celebrate your first book getting published? What about the last book?
When the first anthology with my story was published, I went crazy sharing it on social media and the like. I can’t say there was much more celebrating than that, but I did include the story, which is rather short, in a few readings in front of audiences back then.
My last book is a dual answer. First, my last book came out almost a year ago, Darkness Calls from Demain Publishing. Just this past week the first book I edited was released, an anthology titled A Silent Dystopia, set in the universe of A Quiet Apocalypse by Dave Jeffery, also published by Demain. Honestly, I haven’t had much time to celebrate, except to promote the books as much as possible across the internet and beyond.
7. What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?
I don’t know how under-appreciated it is, but I will go with Child of God by Cormac McCarthy. It’s such an eerie, sometimes grotesque, story about a killer in the 1960s set in Appalachia. McCarthy’s use of sensory word choices is unmatched by few others. Every word is deliberate and sets the mood, emotion, environment, and character investment while telling a rich and intriguing story. I highly recommend it.
8. How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
I have many under-developed and unfinished stories. I don’t really know how many. I’ll start with a concept and run out of steam maybe after a few hours or few months. Sometimes I’ll pick up one of these and rework them if the right creative spark hits, and follow through to completion. Other times, they just rot away like forgotten leftovers in the fridge and turned into compost for other stories.
9. Have you read anything that made you think differently about fiction?
Every piece of fiction I read opens a new perspective on it, but I’d have to go with Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders. I love Saunders’s work and read it regularly.
When I came across Lincoln in the Bardo, I was left both perplexed and fascinated by the storytelling devices and methods he employed. The book has a huge cast of characters, many of which are ghosts, carrying most of the story through dialogue. And when the story focuses on scenes with the living, it reads as a collection of newspaper clippings and history book excerpts sharing accounts – with citations – from various perspectives of the scene in question, often with slightly contradictory details. What this instilled in me, if nothing else, was that fiction can be experimental and deviate far from writing norms while still telling a compelling story.
I learned from Saunders to not be afraid of doing something different, and make sure that thing is done exceptionally well.
10. What, to you, are the most important elements of good writing?
First is mastering the craft of storytelling no matter the genre. Stories need to keep the reader engaged and emotionally invested in the characters.
The other important element is multiple rounds of revision – make a sport of it. See how well you can employ efficiency and conciseness by setting goals each round to trim the word count by twenty percent without losing one ounce of the story. It’s possible, but takes a lot of hard work. Readers will love and appreciate the result.
11. Of all the characters that you’ve written, which one is your favourite and why?
Probably Essy from Plain, my first book from Demain Publishing. She’s a troubled individual, not sure if she’s seeing and hearing ghosts or reliving horrific memories. She tries to be a good, well-adjusted citizen but can’t stop obsessing over a plethora of people and things, much to her detriment. She’s a character you could identify with, root for, maybe love, and absolutely despise. She’s a survivor of physical and psychological abuse from an alcoholic mother, took revenge, spent time in a hospital, and continued her revenge upon release into society as she tried to live her plain, normal life. Pretty much every person I’ve ever known, except for the delusions, possible interactions with “ghosts,” and killing people.
I’ve been thinking about writing a second book about Essy. I have some written material I pulled out of Plain that would make a good starting point.
12. Can you tell us about the last book you published?
This would be A Silent Dystopia: Stories from A Quiet Apocalypse. I actually didn’t write it, I edited it. It’s a collection of short stories set in the AQA universe created by the prolific writer Dave Jeffery. I approached Dave with the idea of this book, asking if he had ever considered an anthology featuring new voices in his world. He was all in and I was asked to helm the project. I worked with the writers to develop the stories as I felt they would carry the individual writer’s voice while maintaining the AQA aesthetic and continuity. It was a hugely challenging project, but quite rewarding. I’m excited to take on more projects like this and in talks with Demain Publishing to do exactly that.
13. Can you tell us about what you’re working on now?
I have a few story concepts I’m fleshing out, one is quite surreal and cerebral. They will certainly fall into a dark fiction genre with horror elements, though I have no idea how long they will be. I’ve decided to go with my gut for word count, whether these end up being shorts or novels I have no idea. Sorry, I can’t get much more specific than this without giving away key concepts.
14. If you were to write a spin-off about a side character, which would you pick?
There is a secondary character in Plain, Sarah, who might do well with her own story. She’s one of Essy’s obsessions and a love interest of sorts. I have toyed with the idea but not sure where to take it yet.
15. If you could spend a day with another popular author, whom would you choose?
I would love to spend a day with George Saunders talking about writing craft. He has a great talent for breaking down stories and examining what works in each instance and why. I never gave much thought to 19th century Russian literature until I read A Swim in a Pond in the Rain in which he thoroughly examines the short works of famed Russian writers like Tolstoy and Chekhov. Between his experimentation, dark subject matter, comedic takes, and his analysis of great writing, I could talk with him for hours about these subjects and would love to learn everything he has to offer.