Five For Writing – Jeff Strand

Time for another Five For Writing. This time I interview the talented and prolific Jeff Strand. A Stoker nominee and the many-times MC of the Stoker Awards, Jeff has written over fifty novels, including Wolf Hunt, Dweller, and Clowns Vs. Spiders. (I won’t tell you who to root for in that one.) Several of his books are currently in development as motion pictures. It is with great pleasure that I give you this interview with one of the funniest people in horror, Jeff Strand.

1-Pressure is one of your signature novels. With Deathless, you’ve gone back to that world to write a sequel. What brought you back?
The time just felt right. I’d actually started writing a sequel shortly after the Leisure Books paperback edition came out in 2009 (three years after the Earthling Publications hardcover), and I even read the prologue at the World Horror Convention,but then scrapped that version and put the idea aside for about a decade. Every once in a while I’d think, “Maybe I should consider writing that Pressure sequel” and then I’d work on something else instead.

I’d started an original novel, which I abandoned after a couple of chapters (something I do fairly frequently) but there was the germ of an idea in there that I suddenly realized would be a perfect way to continue the Pressure story. I thought, well, I’ll keep this in mind and work on it in my spare time, then I got too excited and e-mailed Paul Miller at Earthling and said, “Hey, if I wrote a follow-up to Pressure, would you be interested?” He was, very much so, and then I was committed!

2-Do you prefer the horror or the humor aspect of your writing?
I don’t really have a preference. What tends to happen is that if I’m writing a really joke-heavy comedy, like my young adult novels, I’ll start to wish I was working on something more serious, where I didn’t have to sustain that joke-joke-joke pace. And when I’m working on something more serious, I’ll think, “Wouldn’t it be fun to be writing something really goofy?” From a marketing perspective, my books that are more straightforward horror/thriller have sold better than the more comedic stuff, so if I was forced to choose between horror or humor and wanted to keep being a full-time writer instead of crawling back to a day job, I’d choose horror. If everything sold equally well, I’d probably go with humor. Fortunately, I get to do both.

3-Clowns or spiders? Which are more frightening, and why?
I’m not sure if I should admit this, but I don’t find clowns the least bit scary. Don’t get me wrong—I love scary clowns! They’re one of my favorite monsters! But they don’t scare me at all. I just think they’re way cool. Spiders, on the other hand, are terrifying beasts. I don’t run screaming out of the room if I see a spider, but I flinch and let out a tiny yelp if one crawls on my arm. When I walk through a spiderweb, there's always that moment of horror of gaaaahhhh what if it’s scurrying through my hair??? If I woke up in the morning and a tarantula was on my chest, I’d let out a silent scream and then my heart would give out and that would be the end of me. I don’t know why. They’re just scary, okay? I don’t see YOU letting tarantulas crawl all over your bare skin.

4-You wrote a memoir of your writing career thus far called The Writing Life: Reflections, Recollections, And a Lot of Cursing. What inspired you to do that at this stage in your career?
Well, it’s been a long time since I was a newbie, and I’ve got a lot to say about the subject. I’d done a presentation at a few writers’ groups called “Stick With It: Sustaining Your Writing Passion in a Brutal Business” and I thought it might provide the framework for an interesting book.

In January 2020, I was on a socially distanced vacation in a cabin in Florida, and I thought, “I’m on vacation, I can write something fun without worrying about the commercial prospects!” and I wrote up a few of the anecdotes I wanted to include. May 2020 was going to be the 20 th anniversary of my first published novel, so I thought it would be nice to have the book out that month to celebrate this momentous occasion. I didn’t even come close to making that goal. I decided, instead, to time the book to my 50 th birthday, which was December 2020. Surely at fifty years of age I’d accumulated enough wisdom to justify writing the book. It’s emphatically not a book about the craft of writing—it’s called The Writing LIFE for a reason. I also wanted it to be funny and entertaining enough that people with no interest in becoming authors could still enjoy it.

5-You are one of the most prolific authors in the horror genre. How do you choose what to write next and keep it fresh?
I try to mix things up, so if I write a supernatural horror novel like Allison, I’ll follow it with a contemporary thriller like The Odds, and then a much more comedic novel like Cemetery Closing (Everything Must Go), and then a coming-of-age 1979-set thriller like Autumn Bleeds Into Winter. I definitely don’t want to write the same book over and over. Usually the process starts with me saying, “What horror trope haven’t I tackled yet?”  Then I try to come up with a twist. So with my upcoming book Creep Out, it was, okay, I haven’t done a scary ventriloquist dummy novel, and I’ve never seen one of those that was written in the “survival horror” genre. Then I try to write something that is different from my other books but still very clearly a Jeff Strand novel. Every once in a while I’ll veer away from the genre entirely with something like Kumquat or Bang Up, but that's always a one-off before I return to horror.

Many thanks to Jeff for taking the time to answer these questions! And tune in next week when I talk to noted video game scribe Heidi McDonald about romance in games and more!

Five For Writing – Nicholas Kaufmann

Nicholas Kaufmann is a Stoker, Thriller and Shirley Jackson Award nominated writer. His works include General Slocum’s Gold, Dying Is My Business, and the bestselling 100 Fathoms Below (co-authored with Stephen L. Kent). His newest book, The Hungry Earth, is just out from Crossroad Press. Nicholas was kind enough to take some time to answer the five questions, so without further ado, here is Five For Writing with Nicholas Kaufmann:

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The Western North Carolina Cheese Trail

This weekend was spent with friends in the tourist hub of Asheville, NC. We were up there to hang out of course (and try a couple of the legendary local restaurants and pie joints), but also to try to make some stops on the Western North Carolina Cheese Trail. What is a cheese trail, you ask? It’s a collective effort of a bunch of creameries to provide cheese-minded individuals like myself with a map to local cheese and related stuff production in the Western NC area, enabling us cheese hounds to do cheese tourism by making appointments at the creameries to take tours and suchlike. There’s a comparable trail primarily in the eastern part of the state called simply the North Carolina Cheese Trail, presumably because it’s got some members to the west, but that’s neither here nor there.

We started our cheesy journey at the North Asheville Tailgate Market, because we  had good intelligence that several of the cheese trail members would be in attendance. This intelligence turned out to be correct, and we collected seven cheeses ranging from a Havarti-like “Mountain Dane” to the locally made feta, We also picked up side dishes for our incipient cheesy feast. And some cookies, because, well, cookies.

While we were purchasing cheese we mentioned our quest to one of the cheesemongers. He suggested two creameries that might be open for tours, and specifically instructed us to call ahead at one of them. So we did, and no one answered. So we went to the other one, which was waaaaaay out a narrow, twisty, windy bit of mountain highway. But we persevered, only to see a sign when we got there saying “Appointment Only”.

Disappointed, I went to turn around, and a woman came out of the creamery’s cheese store. She told us that there were two people on the tour already, so we could all come along.

So we did, and we tasted delicious goat cheese, and met some goats.

And after that, we were all cheesed out (as opposed to being cheesed off), so we headed back into Asheville from the lovely Round Mountain Creamery, and got on with the rest of our weekend.

As for the cheese, we had it for dinner, though the concept of using a lazy susan as a Wheel of Cheese (as opposed to a wheel of cheese) got dangerous when some of the goat cheese came flying off it.

Clever readers will note that we only made two stops, as opposed to the seventeen or so listed on the trail web site. And that’s OK. We got plenty of cheese, talked to plenty of cheesemakers, and got to pet goats. All in all, a very enjoyable sojourn.

But don’t just take my word for it. If you’re ever in Asheville, go hunt some cheese yourself. You’ll be glad you did.

 

 

 

Five For Writing – James A. Moore

It is my pleasure to reinaugurate the Five For Writing interview series.

First up is James A. Moore. Some of you may know him from his work on the original World of Darkness setting. Others may be a fan of his horror, where his Jonathan Crowley novels have attracted both fans and critical acclaim. Then there’s his grimdark fantasy series, The Blasted Lands, which introduced him to a whole new audience. Most recently he edited Halloween Nights: Tales of Autumn Fright, a horror anthology with a murderer’s row of contributors. James was kind enough to sit down for his five questions. Without further ado, here’s James A. Moore’s Five For Writing:

1-You write a ton of horror, but some of your most successful work has been fantasy. Why the switch in genres?

Genres are a marketing thing. I don’t much care about marketing, I care about telling a story that I would enjoy reading, and sometimes that takes me away from Horror and over to science fiction or fantasy. Sometimes it means mixing my genres like oil paints. Wherever the story wants to go, I’m perfectly willing to follow. 

2-What does fantasy offer you as a writer that horror doesn’t?

There are certain rules to horror. Mostly it takes place in the modern world. Fantasy can take place in entirely different worlds. The best example I can give for that is the TIDES OF WAR series, where I built an entire pantheon of gods, and an entire continent of countries, and then merrily set about laying waste to everything. Really, it is horror, but with a different setting.

3-You’ve just edited an anthology for Halloween. How does editing compare to writing for you?

You have to look at editing as a collaborative effort. There’s a balance you need to achieve between the stories, the theme, and the authors. This was a Halloween anthology, so the theme was easy, but as with ay collection you want to avoid repetition, and you want as many original voices as possible. Also, editor or not, you don’t have as much control of the work as an editor. So instead of just relying on my words, I’m relying on fifteen different authors, all of whom are doing their own thing. After I get the stories I can make suggestions but really it isn’t about what tales I want to tell, it’s about how I can put the moving parts together. It’s a very different mindset and challenge and I love it.

4-You’ve done a fair bit of collaborative writing. What appeals about that to you, and how does your process work?

The process is different with each writer, but at the end of the day, I liken it to getting together with a friend and playing in a sandbox with each other’s toys. We are sharing the wonder, the challenge and the fun of each other’s imagination. Usually, you have to establish some rules up front, and you have to genuinely enjoy the other person’s work. It can also be a challenge collaborating with someone who works at a different pace than you do. Working with Charles Rutledge is normally a hoot, because he writes just as fast as I do.

5-Your signature character is Jonathan Crowley. What inspired his creation, and what do you think is his appeal?

I’ve scratched my head about that a few times. First, Crowley’s personality is a lot like mine, but without a censor button. He says and does things that I would never do in real life. But I’ve thought about a number of them often, and I realized that actually acting the way he does would likely get me in hot water. It’s fun to play around with that sort of personality, but it’s not always wise in the real world. I tend to play it safer than Crowley because I am not immortal, I do not heal bad wounds as quickly, and frankly, my mother raised me not to be that rude. As to his appeal, I suspect it’s exactly the same thing. He does and says what a lot of people would LIKE to say but never do. I had a few women tell me over the years that they find him incredibly sexy and I shook my head and wondered why. He’s a complete bastard most of the time. I expect the world works differently when you’ve been around long enough to no longer be threatened by most people and their attitudes. Crowley is an immortal. There’s very little he hasn’t seen or done, and most of the people he meets just annoy hjm. 

 

Halloween Nights: Tales of Autumnal Fright

I got my mitts on a copy of this anthology, edited by James A. Moore, and I am enjoying the heck out of it. Cover and interior art is by the always-stunning Dan Brereton and there are stories from Bracken MacLeod, Brian Keene, Mary SanGiovanni, Christopher Golden and many more. If Halloween is your favorite time of the year, as it is mine, then you’ll want to pick this one up.

Five For Writing

A long time ago, back when giant ground sloths roamed the earth and you had to code HTML by hand to update your web page. I used to run a series of interviews with writers on this site. The series was called Five For Writing, because I cannot resist a pun and a sports joke at the same, and featured short, five question interviews with writers of fiction, video games, and tabletop RPGs. It ran for a couple of years and I had a lot of fun doing it, but the upkeep became onerous and I let it lapse.

But what goes around comes around, and it’s time for Five for Writing to return. I’ll be starting the series back up in the very near future. Interviews are already lined up with writers like Jeff Strand, Anna MegillLucien Soulban, Maurice Broaddus, Justin Achilli and more. So once again you’ll get answers to all sorts of questions from all sorts of writers. I’m really looking forward to it. I hope you are, too.

I Have Seen It

The cover for GHOST OF A MARRIAGE, that is. It is gorgeous and I will share it with all of you as soon as I can.

Yom Kippur

Yom Kippur is a day of reflection. You’re supposed to spend the day thinking about the wrongs you’ve done over the past year, and trying to find ways to be better.

This year, I didn’t go to synagogue, for reasons that are long and boring and ultimately unimportant. As my niece Paige puts it, you can talk to God as easily in a forest as in a synagogue. Well, maybe she doesn’t put it quite that way, but the sentiment was there.

Instead, I spent the day at home in contemplation. There was a lot to consider – moments when I was less than kind, when I was  jealous of friends’ success, when I didn’t reach out to help when I could have. Hopefully I will do better in the coming year.

And one of the things I vowed to do was be a better writer. Whatever you think of my writing, I like to feel I have been given a gift, and I have spent too much time squandering it. This year, I hope to truly earn the title “writer”. I’ve already cranked out one story, but that’s just a start. Here’s to a year of better writing, and of being a better person for it.

Wandering Stars

Being a part of The Jewish Book of Horror is a tremendous honor for me. I’ve never shied away from expressing my Jewish identity in print – see also Charnel Houses of Europe: The Shoah for Wraith: The Oblivion – but it was an anthology called Wandering Stars that convinced me I could do it, back in the day.

Edited by Jack Dann, the book is a collection of science fiction stories by Jewish authors. I found it on the basement shelves when I was growing up, as my Dad’s science fiction collection lived down there along with most of Mom’s coffee table books. I was accustomed to just cruising Dad’s shelves and picking books at random – it’s how I ended up reading Babel-17 at far too young an age, and Heinlein at an age when I was still impressionable to give credence to some of his wackier ideas, but I digress. One day I grabbed Wandering Stars and sat down to read it, and it made a world of difference.

I’m not going to say that I loved every story, because I didn’t. But I loved a lot of them, and it was my first introduction Harlan Ellison, who contributed the frankly bonkers but also oddly reverent “I’m Looking For Kadak”. And I realized as I read it that I shared something with every writer in that book, and that they shared something with me.

I’ve never crossed paths with Jack Dann, though when I was frog-marched into the MITSFS by an ex-girlfriend I noticed his membership credentials were right next to mine in the log book. But wherever he is, I owe him a thank you.