On the phone the other night, a friend of mine asked me what it was like meeting some of my heroes. I thought about it a moment and answered very honestly, “It’s pretty dang cool.” It is cool, and among some of the very coolest people I have been fortunate enough to get to know is one of my first and greatest sources of inspiration, the horror novelist Tamara Thorne.

Tamara Thorne is the author of more than a dozen horror novels. She also had works published under the pseudonym Chris Curry. I came across her work in the ’90s at my local library, and immediately fell in love with her style, twisted humor, and morbid (in a good way) vision of the world. It was around this time that I began to seriously contemplate writing my own novels, and by the time I read her novel Moonfall, I was sure this was what I wanted to do.

Needless to say, you can imagine how excited I was the first time I spoke to her. In the beginning, I kept a respectable distance for fear of frightening her away. I hadn’t yet learned to keep my gushing reflexes under control, and had serious anxiety that I might say something unseemly like, “I’m your number one fan…” or something (I managed to refrain from telling her this until I was sure she didn’t think me a stalker!) ~ but in the beginning, I was totally starstruck. The first time I received a personal e-mail from her, I couldn’t quit reading it ~ and when we first exchanged phone numbers, I would think of things to text her just so I could relive that giddiness when I received the “Message from Tamara Thorne” notice on my phone when she texted me back. I still get a little giddy when I get that notice! Suffice it to say, I’m still a bit starstruck. To be able to casually chit-chat with horror-lit royalty like Tamara Thorne is, for me, one of the coolest things ever.

I’ve spent a good deal of time talking to Tamara. She’s told me a lot about her writing journey and her experiences in the industry. When she told me about how she and some of her fellow horror-author comrades observe a personal tradition in which they create characters based off of each other and kill them as a kind of tip-of-the-hat gesture to one another, I was fascinated. As she and I got to know each other better, I asked her if one day, I could put her in one my books and kill her. She said, “I would be honored, and one day I’ll kill you in one of mine, too.”

That, for me, is probably the closest I will ever come to a sense of having “arrived,” and I couldn’t have dreamed of a classier, more appropriate way for it to happen.

For more on Tamara, check her out at:  twitter.com/tamarathorne or: http://www.facebook.com/tamara.thorne

Q: Of the books you’ve written, which is your favorite, and why?

A: It depends on my mood.  Haunted was the most fun to write because it’s pastiche, even though the characters don’t know it.  I felt like a kid in a candy store while writing it.  Overall, though, my favorite novel is probably Bad Things.  Not only did I plumb the depths of my own childhood terrors, but I got to write about elementals — I love Green Man mythos.

Q: Do you ever look at any of your books and wonder how you did it?

A: Every time.

Q: What’s the story behind Chris Curry?

A: Curry’s my maiden name and I would’ve been Christopher had I been a boy.  At that time, I wanted to hide gender, so Chris Curry fit the bill.

Q: When did you decide writing was what you wanted to do?

A: There was no decision; it was just a fact of life.  I was in the primary grades around the time the Beatles recorded Paperback Writer.  It was a dirty story about a dirty man and his scheming wife didn’t understand — but I did, because I wanted to be a paperback writer. . . paperback writer. Paper-baaaaack wriiiiterrrr.

Q: What motivated you to write Moonfall (I love that book!)?

A: My editor.  He’d gone to Catholic school and wanted some sweet revenge on the knuckle-rapping nuns.  I remember cooking it up the night we went to see Les Miz in New York.  We kept whispering back and forth about it during the play.  I really had a good time with that book.

Q: Describe how it felt the first time you got an acceptance letter.

A: It was for an unpaid shameless pun story for an itty bitty small press magazine.  When I got the news, I laughed, I shrieked, I giggled, I crawled on my belly like a snake.  That one still outshines even the big ones.

Q: What was it like seeing your first book in print?

A: Surreal.  It still is.

Q: Besides Chris Curry, what other names have you written under?

A: Just a few: Sue Sydell, Phil Anders,  Eugene Nicks, and Anakin Flyswatter.

Q: Have you ever cried while writing something?

A: I’m far too macho to ever admit to crying, but I do have Romancing the Stone moments that are dear to me.  Remember when the movie starts, Kathleen Turner’s character is finishing her romance novel and she’s in a frenzy of emotion as she types that last page.  I get like that.  Biggest was Bad Things.  It was exhilarating, freeing.  Next biggest was Haunted’s orgy of romance at the end — there was an intentional Ghost and Mrs. Muir vibe going on.  But all of them get me in the end in one way or another (I’m prone to gleeful giggling.)  If they didn’t, I’d have to write a new ending.

Q: Your talent for dialog is, in my opinion, very impressive. Does it come as naturally to you as it seems?

A: Um, yes.  I just listen to the voices in my head and transcribe what they say.

Q: Do you have a muse?

A: Mel Brooks and a gallon of gin.  Also, I reread a little Ray Bradbury now and then.  His beautiful poetic prose has inspired me since I first read him in second grade.  I also like to recall the opening/closing dialogues from The Haunting of Hill House.  “No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.”  Oh, how I love that paragraph. Talk about painting a picture with words.

Q: When you first started writing horror, how did the people around you react?

A: I only remember my son, in junior high, being really embarrassed that his mother sold a horror novel.  (He got over it.) Before I was published, I didn’t talk about wanting to write with anyone but Bill Gagliani. I just wrote – so did he, and we critiqued each other for years.  It worked; we’re both published.

Q: What kind of imagery sparks your imagination?

A: There are three images that always get my heart beating a little faster.  One is the image of a slender, pale hand appearing softly, slowly  from underneath the bed (or chair), or this same phantom hand holding back a curtain to peer out of a haunted room.   Another is low-level levitation.  When I read Graham Masterton’s brilliantly witty horror novel, The Manitou, and then saw the movie by the same name, I found the old lady floating along a couple of inches off the carpeted corridor about as spooky as anything I’ve ever cringed delightedly over.  Finally, plumbing horror.  Who doesn’t love that?  Whether it’s a shower curtain that’s not quite closed or a gush of blood from a faucet, whether it’s a ghost floating under water ala The Changeling, or the watery scent of the drowned ghost in Peter Straub’s If You Could See Me Now, it just works for me. 

Q: What do you like to read?

A: Anything but directions.  I love a good haunted house novel more than anything, but I don’t stick to the genre.  I like Nelson DeMille’s thrillers and big fat science/adventure thrillers of all sorts.   (One of my favorite novels is Jeff Long’s The Reckoning. Anyone who likes horror is in for a treat.) I always enjoy Stephen King, Peter Straub, Douglas Clegg and Robert McCammon as well as historical fiction like Andersonville, and narrative non-fiction like Erik Larson’s Devil and the White City.  I teethed on Ray Bradbury and Richard Matheson and had no idea that Roald Dahl even wrote kids’ books until I was an adult;  I just loved the nasty little short stories he turned out.  I read lots of science fiction before I stumbled upon The Haunting of Hill House in the library when I was eleven.  That set my course.

Q: What has been your greatest challenge as a writer?

A: Changing the ribbon in the computer.  Also, for the first few years, I always worried about my next plot forming, but after reading Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey, I lost that fear.

Q: Have you ever killed a character and regretted it?

A: Well, not exactly.  As my dear friend and mentor, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, told me, sometimes characters insist on rushing into a burning barn to save the horses even though you’re screaming at them, “No, you’ll die!”   So, characters have died when I’d have preferred to keep them around, but I’ve never done in a major one unless he absolutely insisted.  Gotta listen to the characters; they always know best.

Q: Have you ever killed a character and enjoyed it a little too much?

A: Oh, no.  It’s fantasy, so when I kill a character, no matter how much I enjoy it, it’s never too much.  My favorite editor once told me that horror writers are the pussycats of the writing community, undoubtedly because we get to indulge our dark sides on a regular basis.

Q: What do you think are the three most important qualities a good writer must have?

A: You need to develop great observational skills. Learn to listen more than talk and do it without judgment.  Learn to shut off your own inner critic while you work.  You must write to please yourself, nothing more.

Q: Of the books you’ve written, which one are you the least satisfied with, and why?

A: The Sorority, because the schedule was tight and I couldn’t edit the way I normally would.  It was a big book in three acts published as a trilogy and each third was put to bed before the next one was done, so I couldn’t go back and change things the way I normally would — there are always threads the subconscious knows about that don’t reveal themselves until I’m almost done with the entire book.   However, I get to make my changes before Sorority comes out as an omnibus for Halloween 2013.  Whee!

Q: What do you consider to be your “Masterpiece?”

A: Hahaha! Masterpiece? I’ll get back to you when I know.  I’ve had a couple of books I’ve absolutely “had” to write — Thunder Road and Bad Things — and I have another must-write that I’ve barely begun, but that doesn’t necessarily mean one of those will be my “masterpiece.”  Actually, if I thought in those terms, I’d never be able to write anything!

Q: What are you working on now?

A: Converting several titles to e-book form. Boy, is that work! There’s nothing like proofreading scans of your own work.  Scanners do strange little changes so you have to pay attention to every word — and you know you’re still going to miss some! On the more-fun side,   I’m planning Candle Bay’s sequel. I hope to start serious work on it the minute I’m done with the e-books and revamping my website this summer.

Q: Do you think that women horror writers are underestimated?

A: Hmm. I obviously used to think so because I used a genderless name.  Nowadays, I don’t think it’s much of an issue, but it’s not something I ever ponder. I just write what I’d like to read. Gender isn’t an issue for me.

Q: Have you ever collaborated with another writer, and if so, what was that like?

A: My BFF, children’s writer (author of the Scary Stories for Sleepover series) Q. L. Pearce and I are currently doing some collaborative work; we have half an adult novel on the back-burner and we’re working on a YA [young adult] vampire novel right now. It’s a pleasure to work with Q because we’re so well matched in our interests, attitudes and personalities. Because we normally write for different readers, we expand each other’s interests and audiences. That said, I do think you must be very cautious about entering into collaborations. Don’t do it on the spur of the moment. Know your collaborator well and be sure they understand professionalism. Be realistic and work out what you’re going to expect of one another in advance.  In most cases, a simple contract is a very good idea.

Q: What is your proudest moment in writing?

A: When my editor told me I made him cry.

Q: What inspired the Sorority Series?

A: Oh, cool!  I’m glad you asked.  Arthurian legend and my mother’s stories about a northern California mountain town she lived in as a girl being moved higher up the mountain so a reservoir could be built on the original site.  That story, alone, thrilled me, but the epilogue was even better: On their honeymoon, my parents swam over the drowned town.  My mother saw the tops of the pines beneath her in the water and was too spooked to go deeper.  Instead, she sat on the banks while my father repeatedly dived and swam around the old church steeple.  As for Arthurian legend, it’s simply something I’ve loved since I was little.  The antagonist throughout the trilogy is Malory Thomas: invert the name and look it up.  And they’re searching for the ghost of Holly Gayle.  Say that one out loud. . . Sorority is loaded with horrible puns –that’s the most shameless one of all.

Q: How do you feel about e-books?

A: As long as they don’t destroy old-fashioned books, I’m all for them.  I think the format may help a lot of us earn a little more money than we’re used to.

Q: What is the best thing anyone has ever said to you about your books?

A: Kids who write to tell me they hated reading before they found my books and people who write to tell me they became writers because of me. Makes me feel like I’ve really accomplished something.

Q: What do you like to do aside from writing?

A: I collect hub caps and turn them into wind chimes.  I also make Cthluhu figures out of dried apples and squid.  I also make these things by special order. Finally, I love local history, visiting ghost towns, and staying in haunted hotel rooms. Because if you’re going to shell out over $100 for a room, it’d better have some entertainment!

Q: What makes you laugh out loud?

A: The book CAT by Kliban. The Colonel Angus SNL sketch. Blazing Saddles Robin Hood: Men in Tights. Airplane! and Idiocracy. The song stylings of Tom Lehrer.  Also, just thinking about setting off a fart app in a crowded elevator. Oh, the things I could do if I could control the giggle fits.  I never should’ve stolen the soul of that 10-year-old boy.

Q: What do you think the most important rule of good storytelling is?

A: Write what you love.

Q: Of the characters you’ve created, who is your favorite and why?

A: Oh boy, that’s a toughie.  There’s nearly always a secondary character – or even an intended throw-away character – who suddenly comes to life and does all sorts of unexpected things.  The Prophet James Robert Sinclair in Thunder Road.    Professor Tongue in Sorority.  Theo Pelinore and the Cox brothers in Haunted.  A major character who really fascinated me was Carlo Pelegrine in Thunder Road.  I dreamed him up one night (literally) and he was the missing piece the book needed.  In the dream, he was a serial killer called “The Peeler.”  In the book, well, same thing.  Only he’s reformed. Possibly. Oh, and Dakota O’Keefe in Bad Things.  S/he’s a cross between Tim Curry’s Dr. Frankenfurter and my idea of what a best friend should be.

Q: Which of your characters do you most relate to and why?

A: Two of them, for very different reasons.  First, Ricky Piper of Bad Things.  I gave him most of my childhood terrors concerning the dark.  It was an intense write.  The other would be David Masters, the ghost-chasing uber-skeptical horror writer in Haunted.  I gave him all my thoughts on the paranormal and he’s not buying anything unless it happens to him. Even when it does, he continues to explain it away until, well, you know. . . the ectoplasmic shit hits the fan.  In real life, I’ve experienced some things which probably aren’t explainable by current science, but like David, I just end up wanting more.  But those are tales for another day.

Q: What do you usually do for Halloween?

A: I like to put on a costume — a grim reaper, dead clown, something nice like that and go out amongst the trick-or-treaters and scare the snot out of them.  Last year, I was Zombie Gimli and got to walk bow-legged all night gibbering about brains and running at children. I was in Austin and had George Bush’s head on a stick, so there was an attractive air of danger.  Best night of the year.

Q: Where do you see the publishing industry in five years?

A: There’s a lot of reinvention going on.  I agree with Del Howlison of Dark Delicacies Books in Burbank:  e-books are the new mass market paperbacks. I don’t think *real* books will disappear.  People will gravitate toward what they like and publishers will try to fill the niches.  Maybe there will be a lot more boutique publishers.  I think there will be — already is — a closer connection between the writer and reader thanks to technology and social media.  I love how easy it’s become to interact with readers via Facebook.

Q: Do you do outlines?

A: Only if they buy me a drink first.  Generally I have a page with a beginning, middle, and end on it with a few side notes.  I like to know where I’m going so I don’t have to worry about it.  Chances are, the characters will take it somewhere else, but sometimes they agree with me.  I tend to do a lot of plotting while dreaming/lucid dreaming.

Q: What is your writing process?

A: I think about and research a book for a year or three beforehand — I like the slow simmer approach.  The research amps the instant I complete the current book.  Very often, I dream at least part of the book.  Lots of times, I know a book is ready to write because I’ll have had the whole thing pop into my head, like a big gestalty blob, for a few seconds.  This tells me it’s time to sit back and let my subconscious take over.   It’s almost ripe.

Q: If a person you loved dearly told you they wanted to be a writer, what warnings and/or words of wisdom would you give them?

A: Half would be the same advice my mother gave me: have another skill, too.  The other half is write what you love, what you love to read. Don’t think about selling, just have fun.

Tamara’s novels, Haunted, Candle Bay, Moonfall and Eternity will be out in e-book format this summer, and in September, new paperback editions for Haunted, Candle Bay and Moonfall  will be available from Kensington Press . Also, look for e-book versions of Bad Things, The Forgotten and Thunder Road which will also be released in e-book format this fall.

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Comments
  1. Thank you, Jared. You give great questions!

  2. Linda L. Bennett says:

    You make my want to read again. Thanks for the inspiration. 🙂

  3. Kim Justesen says:

    I love reading these! Tamara, you are an inspiration and I can see why Jared recommends you so highly!

  4. Raquel says:

    I can’t find any of Tamara Thorne’s non fiction books when I google it. Does anyone know of any off hand. Thanks

    • That’s because my non-fiction tends to be in other people’s books and for newspapers, usually around Halloween, when I write up the latest in local hauntings for them:-)

  5. Reblogged this on Tamara Thorne's Little Blog of Horrors and commented:
    Here’s an interview Jerod Scott, over at the JSAscribes blog, did with me last year. It’s one of my favorites.

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