At the end of January (2014) I attended Borderlands Press Boot Camp, and there I met Sean Davis. I’d kill for Sean’s energy. He’s a genuinely nice guy and serious about his writing. Sean invited me to be one of his guests for a blog tour started by Michael Cieslak, a Board Member for the Great Lakes Association of Horror Writers and a writer and editor. His latest anthology, Desolation: 21 Tales for Tails, includes tales of loneliness, isolation, and abandonment. A portion of the proceeds goes to benefit Last Day Dog Rescue. To learn more about Michael, please visit him at The Dragon’s Roost. For this blog tour, Sean posted lasted Monday, June 2, at his blog The Chimerical Dark. Check it out. Meanwhile, here’s mine:
Why do you write what you do?
|Admit it. You find this adorable.|
You mean horror, dark fiction? Because I have a dark soul. I say that jokingly but there’s truth in that statement. In life you’re pretty much either a puppies and rainbows person or a bats and stormy clouds person. This doesn't mean you're evil; it just means you perceive the world through a particular filter. I watched a lot of horror movies with my mom when I was a kid. My dad was in the Navy and would be gone for months. Mom and I would stay up late and watch all the old monster movies. I think I was seven when we came across Night of the Living Dead for the first time. That was a game changer for me. So it’s the chicken/egg thing. Was I attracted to horror because of my dark soul or did I acquire my dark soul because of too many horror movies?
Aside from that, I believe in the horror genre. Probably more than any other genre it speaks to the human condition—every aspect of it. Horror is introspective and revealing. You want to learn about life, go read some quality horror stories.
What are you currently working on?
An epic novel. I’ve been working on a very long, supernatural, historical novel for some time. It’s required a lot of research and traveling, as far as France in fact.
After Deep Cuts—an anthology I co-edited with Angel Leigh McCoy and Chris Marrs—I knew that in order to finish this novel I needed to stop writing short stories and editing anthologies for a while. I had edited two anthologies in less than two years, Deep Cuts and The Haunted Mansion Project Year One. I needed to focus my time and energy on my novel.
Last summer I was approaching the end of the novel (or what I thought was the end), when I came across the website for Heather Graham’s Writers for New Orleans Conference. What caught my attention was the list of editors and agents for the pitch sessions—editors from Simon & Schuster, Penguin, Tor and well-known agents from well-known agencies. Something in me said I had to go and I had to pitch. So I cleaned up the manuscript and prepared my pitch. My advice: Don’t wing a pitch. I didn’t. I wrote out mine by hand about twenty times just to help me memorize it. I had an elevator pitch and the longer version for the session. But I met writers who winged their pitches—let’s just say that’s not a pretty sight.
I came out of it with interest in the book and an agent, Donna Bagdasarian, who is really passionate about the project. I thought I was finished with the novel but Donna wanted me to add to it. It was a direction I had considered myself, but I’m glad someone else confirmed what I thought I should have always done. So I’m still working on it—new chapters, more plot, more character development—to my agent’s exasperation. Which leads me to my process...
|Haunted Mansion Project Year One|
I’m a full-time middle school English teacher. I’m a good teacher. This means I dedicate a lot of my time to creating interesting lessons and making sure my students learn as much as possible in the time I have them. I once had a student teacher tell me “You teach too much.” Because of teaching I don’t write (or edit) as much or as often as I like. It’s dependent on what’s happening in the classroom. Teaching takes a huge amount of brain space in order to do it well. Writing also takes up a huge amount of brain space too. Both require a person to be in the zone, that place in your brain where you do nothing but think about that one thing. Now, my husband teases me about my big brain, but to hold writing and teaching simultaneously in your head, that’s tough. I always feel that the teaching and writing are at war with one another.
I’m not going to accept anyone’s judgment about this as some sort of excuse not to write. People say if you really want to write then write. I teach 5 periods of 7th grade English a day to about 170 students. Until you’ve taught middle school English and taught it well, don't be quick to judge. I have to take writing at my pace. And I'm okay with that. I've seen a lot of writers give up because their careers didn't take the trajectory they wanted and expected. What I have seen is that some measure of success happens to everyone who sticks with the writing.
The irony of it—I would rather write than teach. I’m a natural teacher; it’s in me to teach. I'm also a natural writer, been doing it since elementary school. But I feel mentally healthier when I write. I prefer writing to teaching. I’m an introvert. I can spend hours, days, weeks with just myself. So summer break and holidays are for writing. In order to get in that zone for writing, I’ll check into a local hotel for a few days and with no distractions or obligations, I can commit myself to writing. I have a favorite coffeehouse to write, Lestat’s on Park. I also have a home office/library. The trick is to stay in that zone and not get sucked out of it. So many things in life want to suck you out of that zone, and when writing time is rare and precious, I’ve learned to guard it.
How does your work differ from others in the genre?
Because I’m me and will never be anyone else. And that goes for everyone writing in the horror genre, and hell, all of life. Everyone’s original and everyone’s derivative. All of a person’s likes and dislikes shape that person’s work. I know a lot of writers. Not one of them writes like another writer. People are attracted to certain styles and tropes which could lump them into a particular category. Quiet horror versus Splatterpunk. Zombies versus vampires. Hemingwayesque prose versus Lovecraftian (I know, Hemingway’s not a horror writer but you get my point). But even within those veins, everyone’s writing is different from everyone else’s.
And then there’s that on the shoulders of giants thing. I’m influenced by both movies and books. Romero, Carpenter, Argento, Bava. Jackson, King, Rice, McCammon. I’ll never forget my first Robert McCammon novel, They Thirst. I was sixteen. The neighborhood tough girl who chain smoked was also a ferocious reader. She lent it to me. Wow. One more influence on my writing. You know what bothers me? Writers who don’t know the history of the genre in which they write. Learn it, if for no other reason than out of respect for those who came before you.
It’s not a good idea to set out with the plan to be original. Absorb what interests you and what doesn’t. Let it ferment. Practice the craft. And then write. You will be who you will be.
Here are next Monday's, June 16, guests:
Kelly Dunn's career in journalism when horribly wrong when she became editor of the horror anthology Mutation Nation: Tales of Genetic Mishaps, Monsters, and Madness. Her short stories have appeared in the anthologies The Dead That Walk, the Bram Stoker Award-winning After Death, and the forthcoming Midian Unmade, published by Tor Books. Visit her at www.kellysdunn.com.
Derek Clendening lives in Fort Erie, Ontario. His writing interests include horror and young adult fiction and finding whacky ways to weave lgbt themes and humor into his young adult horror. In some of his young adult work, horror takes a back seat to humor and lgbt themes. Visit him on the web at derekclendening.com
Erinn L.Kemper grew up in an isolated mill town in coastal British Columbia Canada. From there she moved to the city to study Philosophy at the University of Victoria. Over the years she’s worked as many things, including an eye glasses repair person, fish farmer, cabinet maker, parks department laborer, small museum staff, book store clerk, home nurse, teacher—and lived in a camper, in Japan and on a forty foot wooden sailboat. She now lives in a small town in Costa Rica on the Caribbean Sea where she plans to write her first novel from her hammock. Erinn has sold stories to Cemetery Dance Magazine and [Nameless] Digest and appears in various anthologies including Chiral Mad 2, Zombies: Shambling through the Ages and Handsome Devil: Stories of Sin and Seduction. Visit her website at erinnkemper.com for updates and sloth sightings.