Five For Writing – P.D. Cacek

A winner of the Bram Stoker and World Fantasy awards, P.D. Cacek is a superb, versatile author who just happens to keep a mannequin named Sebastian by her desk at all times. (More on him below). I have known her for well over twenty years, ever since she agreed to write a short fiction piece for me back in the White Wolf days, and she doesn’t hold that against me. Witty, wise and wonderful, here’s Five For Writing with P.D. Cacek.

(Just cover your ears when you get to the last question. Trust me.)

1-Werewolves or vampires? Which do you prefer and why?

Hmmm…hard choice, but I think I prefer werewolves over vampires…and that’s not because my grandfather was from the Carpathian region of Romania and sounded like Bela Lugosi, or that I’m allergic to garlic and have a tendency to burn in the sun. It’s not. Really.

Vampires are fine, but they tend to be a bit more arrogant about themselves and their needs, seeming to delight in the hunt and flaunting their total disregard for their formal corporal selves (unless I’ve written them*). Okay, so you’ve lived centuries…get over yourselves. I feel werewolves, even though they are monsters, still retain more of their “humanness” for the simple reason that not only are as much a victim of their curse as the poor (slow) souls they hunt, but are doomed to live with the knowledge of what they have become. They have no power to
fight the transformation that turns them into ferocious, ravening beast (again, unless I’m writing   them**).
And the fact that I sometimes get a little twitchy around the time of the full moon and love my steaks so rare they might be could be considered bleeding has nothing to do with my answer. Really.
[* NIGHT PRAYERS, NIGHT PLAYERS. ** CANYONS. Yes, they’re plugs…sue me.]

2-You bounce back and forth between Colorado and Pennsylvania. Which is more conducive to horror writing?

Although I do the majority of my “keyboarding” in Pennsylvania where my desktop computer is, I have been known to grab a pen (!) and legal pad (!!) and write longhand (!!!) in Colorado. It doesn’t matter where I am when inspiration strikes, and I’ve used both states as backdrops. [Stand by for another plug] I set SECOND CHANGES in both CO and PA, (CA for SECOND LIVES) and while bunny-sitting in the small mountain town of Nederland, Colorado (Home of Frozen Dead Guy Days) used it—modified for creativity’s sake—as the setting for my current work in progress.

3-You’re an experienced first reader for a publisher. What is it like being the editor’s first line of defense?

Sometimes it’s very, very hard.

I know all too well what it’s like to put your heart, soul, and, on occasion, spleen into a novel which, after countless hours spent polishing it, reworking it and suffering the critiques from readers who may or may not “understand” what you’re trying to do, you send it to a publisher only to have it rejected. It’s the worst feeling in the world and I think about that each and every time I read a submission.

In a perfect world, each manuscript I read would be a masterpiece…but this is not a perfect world and all too often the hopeful author’s hopes and skill are not equally matched. I was once of the opinion that “anyone can write” and as far as it goes, that part is true: anyone can put words down on paper or screen. The question then becomes should they? Sometimes the answer is very obvious and then it’s my job to take the hit, so to speak. But there are also times when gems appear and I get to forward it with a “YES! READ THIS!”

And those make it all worthwhile.

4-Your upcoming novel has a unique premise. Where did it come from?

[This plug was requested, so shush!]

My upcoming novel from Flame Tree Press is about the relationship between a man and his world-famous photographer mother…and their relationship with a small mannequin named SEBASTIAN.

First, a little bit of personal background of yours truly: I don’t like dolls. Never did, although, beings a female child, I was given a number of them from baby dolls to those high fashion icons with oversized…endowments.

And while I don’t suffer from automatonophobia, I’m not overly found of mannequins. Always thought they’re just a little too creepy, especially the molded plastic, faceless kind.

Another personal bit of info is that I love what I call “vulching,” which, in my case, is to swoop in like a vulture on a “Going Out Of Business” sales in search of bargains. Usually I come away with a few things, so when I saw that the JC Pennys in the King of Prussia mall was going out of business, I swooped.

The “bones” had been picked pretty well clean by the time I got there, but I wandered around a bit and found a few things. While standing in line I noticed a herd, flock, assemblage of mannequins along one wall behind an EVERYTHING MUST GO/60-75% OFF sign. All of the mannequins were adult-sized (made of molded while plastic, faceless but with enough gender features to distinguish male from female)…with one minor, and very small exception. It was near the middle of the flock/herd, half hidden behind the legs of those in front of it…about the size of a two-year old, faceless, child.

I didn’t think anything of it until the cashier rang up my purchases and asked if there was anything…at which point I asked if the little mannequin was for sale and how much it cost. It was and cost me a whopping $36.00.
So I bought it and the moment I picked it up, not only did the whole novel popped into my head: beginning, middle, and end, but also his name: Sebastian.

Sebastian stands next to my desk as I write this, dressed for the season. What? You want I should have a naked mannequin in my office? I’ll have you know that Sebastian has a full wardrobe, plus a couple Halloween costumes. My hope is to one day do a SEBASTIAN calendar which means he needs those outfits, right? Right.

5-You’ve notably given public performances as a banshee at a festival in Pennsylvania. How do you get that job?

By accident.

A bunch of us were whooping it up at the World Fantasy Convention in Minneapolis (back in 2002) where I shared the stage with Neil Gaiman and others, to perform a script in hand radio play of Gene Wolfe’s “The Tree Is My Hat.” My character was Mary, who, as it turns out, gets eaten by a shark god.

Our first read-thru went well but when I got to the point where Mary gets eaten, the stage direction said scream. Now, I’d never screamed professionally before this, but I thought ‘how hard can it be?’ As it turned out, not hard at all. So I screamed. I mean I screamed as was befitting a woman being eaten by a shark god. Method acting. I honestly didn’t realize how loud (and long) my scream was until the doors at the opposite end of the massive room burst open and two hotel security guards raced in.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Gene Wolfe seemed pleased with the show and only a few people left the play rubbing their ears. I did offer to teach Neil’s daughter the scream but he politely refused on her behalf.

If you’re ever in Phoenixville, PA, the second weekend in July, head over to The Colonial Theater for BLOBFEST and hear for yourself.

And there you have it, folks – P.D. Cacek, author, reader, and banshee. Many thanks to her for taking the time to answer some unusual questions!

Next week, strap in for Five For Writing with Todd Keisling, author of Devil’s Creek!

Five For Writing – Thomas R. Clark

Author, podcaster and gamer, Thomas R. Clark is a man of many talents. In addition to published works like The God Provides, he anchors the metal-and-horror podcast Necrocasticon. So let’s throw the goat and let Thomas answer in his own words

1-Heavy metal and horror. What’s the connection?

My two favorite niche genres of entertainment. And they are niche, no matter how rabid and vocal the fan bases are for both. They are linked through iconography and themes, mostly.One can’t think of Iron Maiden without also seeing their zombified mascot, Eddie. Many metal bands use imagery typically associated with horror – Type O Negative, for example, or Ghost and their Satanic pope character Papa Emeritus – hell, even Black Sabbath’s name comes from a Boris Karloff film. Not to mention one of my favorite horror novels, The Scream from Skipp & Spector, which is a perfect blend of this.

2-What was the experience of writing your first novel like?

Do you mean the one I just wrote? Or the two I wrote between 2015 and 2018 that will never see the light of day cos they are/were nothing but a collection of scenes and awful? Well, wait, that isn’t all true. I’ve cannibalized and re-written portions from both into other pieces. For example, the opening chapter to Whirlwind was slightly modified into the short story “Chirp” you can find in my debut collection, A Book of Light and Shadow. The protagonist of the same book, a private detective named Dianne Brighton, was reimagined as the protagonist of my WIP, The Witch of November. I write slowly, and writing a full length novel is an arduous task for me. My longest piece of published fiction to date is The God Provides, but that is technically a collection of four novelettes. The Death List, my longest narrative piece in print, is just under 40K. Now, the one I just completed, Summerhome, is my first full length commercial novel, no disrespect to F. Scott Fitzgerald. I found the process with this to much easier than I thought it would be, as I was taking what I’ve learned with my prior pieces and applied it to this. I’m in the midst of a rewrite before going to my editor.

3-What have you learned from the process?

I learned your first book will be awful, and likely your second book, too.But they need to be awful. I’ve learned writing books is a lonely trade, and the legends of writers having substance abuse issues are no joke. It’s easy to tip a bottle or light up a smoke when you are alone as much as a writer is.

4-What’s the most metal thing you’ve ever written?

Thus far, it’s Bella’s Boys. The Death List is pretty metal, too, but Bella’s Boys is so much more than a cosmic horror novella. It has meta-layers, making it everything that is metal and Rock-n-roll. For example, the chapters indicating the date, time and snowfall totals – those represent the time signatures of a song on an album. The book is an album in print, with each chapter being a new track, or song in presented in narrative prose.

5-How does your podcasting relate to your writing?

I went to college for broadcasting and journalism, so the podcasting is a natural extension of that. Podcasting, ironically, has led me to my writing career, though. I’m glad I’m doing this now, and not thirty years ago. I imagine the ME of that era wouldn’t have been very popular with the community as a whole, due to my immaturity and rampant, out of control ADHD. I’ve only learned to manage over the last decade – and much of this is a result of the structures I’ve had to build in my life to produce quality creative content. I worked in sales for 25 years nad never achieved the amount of understanding for my trade as I have with writing fiction.

Sometime around 2008 or 2009, my buddies and I started a fan podcast of a regional professional wrestling promotion. Interviews I did during this time period assisted me in landing a podcasting and journalism gig at an online entertainment news site similar to Ain’t It Cool News, called This Is Infamous. During this time period, a peer with a small press printed a series of comedy-genre pieces I wrote over the years. My coverage of horror films and the horror based fiction I wrote landed me in the HWA, which I joined to find mentoring. During this time, I started the Necrocasticon Podcast, after leaving This Is Infamous. Eventually, I was given a mentoring spot with Monica S. Kuebler at Rue Morgue Magazine, which led to me covering Scares That Care for the magazine. And there, after meeting many of the creatives who inspired me, like Brian Keene and Tom Monteleone, I discovered I wanted to write fiction. So podcasting has had a drastic impact on my fiction, without it, I don’t think I’d be doing what I’m doing today.

Many thanks to Thomas for bringing the thunder to this week’s post. You can find him online at his website, or on Twitter. And check out the Necrocasticon if you get a chance!

Next week is a special treat for me, as I bring you an interview with my long-time coworker and friend, the man who is Vampire: The Masquerade, Justin Achilli. See you then!

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. 

 

The Jewish Book of Horror

I am very happy to announce that I have a story in The Jewish Book of Horror, coming this holiday season from the Denver Horror Collective. My story, “On Seas of Blood and Salt”, features the Rabbi Palache character from my story in The New Hero, so if you’re up for some magical pirate rabbi action, this is the story for you. You can find out more about the book here. Hope you enjoy it!