Archive for the ‘Advice’ Category


As soon as I was accepted for publication by a publisher, I was given some advice by more than one writer: do not read the reviews on your book. For some reason, book critics seem to be especially harsh, and I can see how reading bad reviews would make a writer feel pretty terrible. So, I considered this to be good advice, and made a not very committed decision to follow it. Beautiful Monster has been out for less than two weeks, and guess what I’ve done almost every day since? Yep. I’ve been on Amazon. I’ve been on Goodreads. I’ve been on Barnes & Noble. I’ve been everywhere the book is being marketed and I’ve been reading the reviews.

So far, the reviews have been good… great actually. I’ve been impressed by the readers’ insights into the story, I’m fascinated by the way they are affected by it, and I am, of course, flattered by their kind words. However… it’s just a matter of time till someone feels differently, and publicly states their hatred for me as an author, and/or the book itself. It’s inevitable. The question is: how will I handle it? The answer: I’m not sure.

I’d like to think I’m thick-skinned enough to take some criticism, but after reading some of the incredibly abrasive negative reviews on some of my favorite books, I’m not so sure. People get downright nasty about these things! So… I’ve made a decision. I’m going to stop while I’m ahead and not read any more reviews. The truth is, you can not write for other people. Writing is something that is almost entirely intrinsically motivated~ you have to do it for yourself. As soon as you start listening to critics, you start questioning yourself.

I also need to use my time writing new material. Beautiful Monster is complete; there’s no taking it back, and no changing anything about it, even if I wanted to. It’s been given wings and is out of my hands. It’s been placed in a world which will do whatever it chooses to do with it. It’s not my business what becomes of the book at this point. The only business I have is to keep writing. That’s what this is all about: keeping on keeping on, and so… onto the next chapter…

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After putting my first manuscript, The White Room, in a dark corner and leaving it there for the past half a year or so, I have reluctantly unearthed it with serious intentions to re-vamp. As I’m looking it over, I realize how much work it needs before I’m willing to let my publisher come within five feet of it.  For the most part these re-writes should be somewhat simple, easy fixes, but there are a few things that I am really having a hard time with. The thing troubling me most right now is the prologue. The reason it’s so problematic is that I’ve chosen to write it in third person. I’ve made this decision because I feel I need to introduce the concept of the story before beginning the adventures of my protagonist…and he can’t be present in the scene.

I don’t know when, or even if, I ever made the conscious decision to write in the first person, but that’s what I’ve always done. We live our lives first person, so I guess writing from that same perspective just made sense to me. Regarding the books I read, I have no especial preference as to which method is used. If it’s a good story, it’s a good story and I don’t really care who’s telling it, but I didn’t think that in my own writing, shifting my person was going to be this difficult. It has taken me seven days to write six very mediocre pages.

The first problem I’m having is an inability to find my voice. When I write from a protagonist’s point of view, I am becoming the character. I know how he sees the world and how he responds to it. I know the things that fascinate him, and the things that he wouldn’t give a second thought to; I simply get into his state of mind and let him tell his story…but in third person, who am I? This may sound ridiculous, but I’m serious. Who is narrating this story? It can’t really be me, can it?

Another issue is that I don’t know what details in the setting to focus on. This probably ties into not being able to find my voice. Since I don’t know who is telling the story, I’m not sure what to point out to the reader. The answer is obvious: point out what’s important…but my question to that is: important to who? Bob the gardener might care that the fern needs watering, but chances are slim that Rhoda the gold-hearted hooker is interested in ferns…which brings me to my next third person pitfall: point of view.

If I write third person limited, whose eyes do I decide to see the world through, and how can I show the readers anything that this character doesn’t see him or herself? If I write third person objective, I will convey my story with all the emotional zest of a tape recording, and finally, if I write third person omniscient, won’t I be head-hopping? Isn’t head-hopping a big no-no?

Writing this prologue has taught me that I need to expand my abilities. I don’t like being this confused and unsure of myself. I plan to get some books on point of view, as well as talk to some other writers I know who write in different styles than myself. I’m eager to get on with the rest of the story, which is written in the first person, but I don’t intend to simply avoid writing in third person just because I don’t have a firm grasp on it. I’ve been working at it, and am coming to more deeply appreciate all the different styles that are available to writers. As frustrating as it’s been, I guess sometimes you just need to learn to see things from a different point of view…


Last summer, on a road trip to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, I picked up a book I thought looked pretty interesting. This book was meant to simply pass the time; to be something I could read until I got to the beach and was able to see the ocean and all the wonderful things it had to offer my senses. As it turned out, the book I bought, titled Speak Softly, She Can Hear by Pam Lewis, very nearly trumped Myrtle Beach in the way of excitement and sheer awesomeness. Not that the beach wasn’t cool… but this book really just had a profound effect on me. It made me want to be a better writer.

I’ve since read everything else by Pam Lewis that I could get my hands on, and I’ve loved every one of her novels. I was dying to get her on here for an interview, and have since found her to be as kind and fascinating as I imagined she would be. Visit her at: http://www.pamlewisonline.com/

Q: What is your favorite part of the writing process?

A: I’m a visual writer and when things are going well, I see what’s happening as if it’s being played out in a movie. At those times I can barely keep up the pace, writing as I watch and listen to what’s going on with my characters. This always comes in a rush, misspelled, poorly punctuated, but I get the sketch down and then the fun is in going over it, taming it, making it work. I often work with my eyes closed, the better to concentrate on what I’m seeing.

Q: Which of your characters has been the most fun to write?

A: Luther North is a guy in his late fifties, a rangy, outdoor person who is in charge of thirty hikers who have come from the east coast to hike in the Yellowstone wilderness. He’s a wonderful, careful leader, the kind of guy with whom people feel entirely safe. He’s inspired by my late husband who had all these excellent qualities, and the fun is recreating him in a new, perilous situation. There are so many issues around wild places – how to handle wildlife encounters, how to manage many competing interests in national parks, how to sort through all the opinions about all this to come out with a purpose and a plan. This, by the way is happening in the book I’m currently working on.

Q: What inspired Speak Softly She Can Hear?

A: It’s difficult to pick out one inspiring idea for this book as there were so many over a period of years, but one image often came to mind during the writing of the book that I will tell you about.

As sixteen-year-old juniors in high school, my friends and I went to Stowe for a week of skiing. We stayed in a dorm much like the Double Hearth of the novel. My sister and her friends were there as well and at some point during the week, my friends and I decided we didn’t like the supervision that was being provided by the older girls. Full of a sense of freedom to do whatever we wanted, we went up the road to a motel, planning to take a room and be on our own. The motel owner threw open the door to one of the rooms so we could see, apparently thinking it was unoccupied. There on the bed was a girl about our age, drunk and passed out. Beside her on the night table was a half-empty bottle of liquor. I was shocked, as were my friends. We all fled back to the security of the dorm and the supervision, but the image never left me of a girl with too much freedom too young. I’m still haunted by that image and it became the idea behind the novel: how a single wrong choice can completely alter a person’s life.

Q: My favorite character in that novel was Eddie. Do you think he was likable?

A: You did? Wow. Eddie is certainly a charmer, but that’s all he has going for him. I never found him likable; he scared me every time he showed up .In fact, in the first draft he appeared only in the first chapter. Little
by little he insisted on being present for the entire novel. He came back gradually over several revisions and every time he appeared, he scared me more.

Q: Do you do outlines?

A: I worked with a freelance editor for Speak Softly, She Can Hear and she demanded an outline, so I came up with one and found the process extremely difficult. It felt very limiting to lay out all the action in advance. But I was very glad I’d done it, and with subsequent books, yes, I do outline but roughly. I like knowing approximately where I’m headed, but I never produce a step-by-step guide for getting there. Mostly what I have in mind, what the outline consists of, is the arc of the novel, how it starts and how it ends, with a vague sense of what’s in the middle. I like to outline knowing that it can all change considerably.

Q: What is the most fascinating thing you can tell us about your grandmother?

A: My grandmother was fifteen when she left the Netherlands and went to Comodoro Rivadavia Argentina with a 45-year-old man (my grandfather). It was a terrible scandal. They married (I believe) and once in a while they traveled by ship to Buenos Aires. On one of these journeys, the ship caught fire and the crew took off with all the lifeboats. My grandfather fought his way onto one of them and to persuaded the others to allow my grandmother onboard. She was pregnant with my mother at the time. My grandmother described this in detail in a piece she submitted to the Readers Digest who used to solicit stories of true life adventure. She described the way the water was lit from underneath and seeing people she knew plummet through the bright blue water. Not until she was in the lifeboat did she realize a shark had bitten through her calf.

Q: Is your family supportive of your writing career?

A: Oh yes. They’re thrilled. My sons, my sister. Two of my mother’s sisters are living. One of them helped with the background for A Young Wife and accompanied me to The Netherlands to research the story. The other will be one hundred this year, and I have not told her about the book. It’s not so much that she would disapprove; more that she would not understand the concept of fiction, and the inaccuracies, the departures from reality would drive her crazy.

Q: What was the biggest hurdle in your writing career and how did you overcome it?

A: After having some success with short stories I acquired a fairly high-powered agent and sent her an early draft of Speak Softly, She Can Hear. I had the very naïve belief that she would take it and sell it without hesitation. Instead she called and kept me on the phone for about forty-five minutes telling how much she did not like the book. I was devastated. Really destroyed. My late husband (on whom the hike leader in the novel-in-progress is based) was very sympathetic and told me we should get in the car and go to a hike we enjoyed nearby. I said I couldn’t possibly: I was suffering from this rejection too deeply. I really felt almost paralyzed by the rejection. In the end he prevailed and we hiked. Midway through I realized I hadn’t thought about the rejection at all and discovered the immense value of physical activity. I sent it to another agent who had, I have to admit, many of the same complaints as the first one. I had to swallow the fact that there was truth in what they said and use the information to improve the story. These rejections, painful as they were, lit a fire under me, I doubled down. I rewrote that book three times in its entirety, determined to get it right.

Q: How many years of writing did you do before you got a book published?

A: I began writing seriously at the age of 39 and my first book was taken when I was 59, so twenty years. I never counted on publication. I hoped for it, wished for it, but knew better than to expect it, certainly knew better than to expect I might earn a living at it.

Q: Which character was hardest to write?

A: The characters I don’t like are difficult to write because the temptation is to make them one-dimensional.  Eddie Lindbaeck comes to mind. He was a lowlife, but every lowlife is the way he is for a reason and for Eddie, it was coming from a family with a great deal of money who neglected him and ultimately cut him off. Tinker Carteret is another such character. She’s annoying, officious, bossy. But she’s had a lifetime of being the ugly, responsible, overweight sister. I need to feel compassion for the characters I don’t like. It makes them easier to write.

Q: When you first got published, how did you celebrate?

A: I bought something called a body-bridge. It’s a sort of padded table shaped like a half circle. It’s great for relieving stress and stretching my back after I’ve spent time on the computer.

Q: What has been the most rewarding part of writing for you?

A: I made the mistake many years ago of telling people I was working on a novel. This generated persistent questions such as did I have a publisher? What else had I written? I regretted having told people but at the same time, I saw myself not just as a writer of marketing materials for insurance companies, but as someone who also had artistic ambitions. So it was vanity, I know. Nevertheless, over the years, the recurring question was, “so, how’s the novel coming?” And my replay was always, “Oh, it’s coming along.” I had the feeling people felt sorry for me and thought I was banging my head against a wall.

One day I was hiking with my usual group and one of the people asked me that question. How’s the novel coming. I was able to say “Great! Simon and Schuster is publishing it next year.” That was absolutely the most rewarding moment, followed by many others exactly the same.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: As usual the new novel has no title. I call it bearnovel. It’s based on many experiences my late husband and I had leading hikes in faraway places with groups of people who usually didn’t’ know one another and among whom there were always some difficult people.  It will take place in the wilds of Yellowstone and will include a predatory bear and a group of hikers who become isolated from the world by terrible weather conditions.

Q: What does your writing space look like?

A: I’ve recently changed my writing space. I now have a glass-topped desk that looks out a very large picture window over the woods on the east side of the house. I live in the woods and it’s common for deer, owls, hawks, raccoons and other creatures to pass by. I try to keep all the surfaces free of clutter, but am not always successful.

Q: Do you have any pet peeves about your writing style?

A: Yes! I play far too much Scrabble and solitaire online. But I understand that Joan Didion does this too, at least the solitaire part. This is the second piece of comfort I’ve had from reading about her. Years ago, when I was doing some journalism I read that she was capable of spending a full afternoon in a motel room working up the courage to call the person she was supposed to be interviewing. I can relate to that. It can take me days to make necessary phone calls. I should add that I am comparing myself to her in only those two ways.

Q: What is your all-time favorite book?

A: My all-time favorite book is R.W.B Lewis’s Edith Wharton biography. It changed my life many years ago to read of her story so beautifully written. Another of my all-time favorites is Drop City by TC Boyle. Into Thin Air by John Krakauer also comes to mind. For older books, The Way of All Flesh by Samuel Butler and just about everything by Edgar Allen Poe.

Q: What makes you laugh out loud?

A: I laugh easily and often at all sorts of things. Life’s foibles make me laugh out loud. So does my sister, my sons and my grandsons. It can be about anything. When I’m in their presence I know I’ll laugh, so I do. Very recently I saw a movie called 21 Jump Street by myself and I laughed out loud. The poet Bruce Cohen makes me laugh out loud. So does the short-story writer Leslie Johnson, the novelist Wally Lamb and the short story writer Sari Rosenblatt.. These people can all make me laugh so hard my cheeks hurt.


After spending a year writing a book, another six months revising it, and having somewhere between seven and ten people re-read it, you’d think all the typos, redundant words, and other various errors would pretty much be nonexistent. I’ve learned that this is not at all the case.

After Beautiful Monster was accepted for publication, it underwent a three-round series of editorial revisions… on top of the four, maybe five rounds Mimi and I did ourselves before submitting it. Last night, we finished the final revisions, and the feeling that followed was bittersweet. On one hand, I was relieved. For over a year and a half, my whole life has been this book. Needless to say, I am very tired of reading it, looking at it, and thinking about it. On the other hand, however, there’s a certain sadness. The book is done. Final. There is nothing more to be said on the matter, and whatever becomes of the book from here on out is pretty much out of my hands. That is a surprisingly sad realization.

It’s been a hell of a ride. I’m not sure I’ve ever learned as much about writing, the publishing industry, and  myself, as I have these past several months. In one way, it feels like it took forever to get to this point. In another way, it feels like it has all happened so fast. In just over two weeks, the book will be available in e-book format and in paperback. This feels unreal to me.

Last night, when Mimi and I realized we had completed the final round of revisions, we both just kind of stared at each other for a minute… and then we got giddy. The sadness of it didn’t really hit me for a few hours afterwards, when I realized that this was the end of the line for this book. But there’s still a lot to look forward to.

We’ve already begun the sequel for Beautiful Monster, and we both have several solo projects going on, too. We still have some marketing things to do for this book as well, but still, the story is complete.

So while my life in writing isn’t over, this book has reached its final conclusion. It’s too late to change anything now even if we wanted to, and that’s okay. I think we wrote a good, strong story, and I think lovers of horror, suspense, kinky sex, and various kinds of creepiness will like this book. The only thing left to do now is to decide how I am going to celebrate! I am open to suggestions…

Check out Beautiful Monster on the upcoming releases page at Damnation Books at: http://www.damnationbooks.com/searches.php?category=upcoming


As we get closer to the release of Beautiful Monster (September 1st, 2012!), I begin thinking more and more about the sequel. Mimi A. Williams (Kim Williams-Justesen~ my mentor and co-author), and I decided shortly after the manuscript was accepted for publication, that we’d like to make this a three-part story. Whether or not this will be of any interest to the publisher or not, we don’t yet know, but if the only reason we do it is for ourselves, that’s reason enough for us.

We’ve outlined the second novel, which we are planning to call Beautiful Liar, and I have written the first scene of my first chapter. As I get going again, there’s only one thing I’m not looking forward to: seeing the world through the eyes of my deranged main character, Sterling Bronson. Sterling came into existence as the result of more than a year’s worth of intensive research on serial killers, sociopaths, narcissists and a variety of other psychologically disturbed social deviants. I know Sterling well, and this is both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, knowing him makes him easier to write. On the other hand, he disturbs me.

Writing fiction seems to be a lot like acting in many ways. When you’re inside the mind of your characters, you really become these characters, and when you’re writing a true monster of a man, as is the case with Sterling, this is not always a pleasant thing. For one thing, you subject yourself to the possibility of nightmares. I have had many disrupted nights of sleep because of Sterling, and I was glad when we finished Beautiful Monster because of that. Now that we’re going again, I have already dreamed of him twice. In one dream, he was just standing on a bridge looking at me, nothing serious. In the most recent dream, however, he was digging up the floorboards in a house to show me all the bodies he had hidden there. For the sakes of the more sensitive readers, I won’t go in to details, but the point is, Sterling is back to his old self again, and eagerly showing me the worst side of his nature.

I’m not complaining. In fact, I feel truly blessed that someone finally believed in me enough to publish one of my books. And that it didn’t take the statistical seven to nine years of rejection after rejection is something I’m truly grateful for. There’s just a small part of me though, that wishes it had been a different, more pleasant novel of mine that caught the eye of a publisher. I didn’t write Beautiful Monster with any real expectation of it ever being published. I thought it was too graphic and too offensive to ever get picked up… but, go figure, it’s the one that made the cut. Again, I am neither complaining nor apologizing. I’m just not looking forward to seeing life through a maniac’s eyes again. I don’t like wondering what kind of mentality is required to take a human life. I don’t like wondering what someone’s flesh, under the blade of a knife, would look like as it separated from itself. I don’t like thinking about the last words a person might utter as their life is being taken away from them. I don’t like the fact that in order to believably write this character (again), I need to really understand the wicked twists and bizarre kinks of his mind.

But I’ll do it. I’ll do it because I want to tell this story. I’ll do it because, despite the horrors this character is composed of, I’ve somehow come to like him, and I want to see how his story plays itself out. I will do it because I was lucky enough to be given an opportunity to prove myself, and if I treat it like a hobby, everyone else will treat it like a hobby, and I don’t have time for another hobby. I’ll do it because it’s my job. And… I’ll do it because if I don’t, I’m afraid of what Sterling might do to me!


Of all the writer’s minds I’d like to crawl inside of and investigate for a while, the mind of Christopher Moore would definitely be in my top ten. Probably my top three, actually. With his vivid imagination, exceptional storylines, exquisite characters, and wicked sense of humor, I doubt there’d ever be a moment that wasn’t good times.

I was so excited when Christopher told me he’d give me an interview that as soon as I sat down to form some questions, my mind went blank. There were so many things I wanted to ask him, and as nice of a person as he is, I didn’t he’d like being bombarded with a 150 question interview. My mentor, Kim Williams-Justesen is a huge fan, and in fact, is the one who turned me on to his books, so I enlisted her assistance with these questions.

Christopher Moore is the author of more than a dozen novels. His titles include (but are not limited to), A Dirty Job, The Stupidest Angel, Fool, and Practical Demonkeeping. His latest novel, Sacre Bleu, came out last spring. I’m about half through it and I absolutely love it. I’m also a huge fan of Bloodsucking Fiends, You Suck, and Bite Me. If I had to choose a favorite though, I’d have to go with Lamb. I’m not sure I’ve ever read another book that had me giggling like a ticklish schoolgirl for so many weeks after I’d read it… but no matter what book you pick up by Christopher Moore, I will personally guarantee you’ll love it. Unless you’re completely dead inside.

For more about Mr. Moore, visit him at: http://www.chrismoore.com/

 

Q: Where is the most interesting or unusual place you’ve ever done any writing?

A: In the main gallery of the Musee D’Orsay in Paris. I worked out much of one of the scenes in Sacré Bleu. Or, possibly, under a stairway in the Guam airport where I was “camping” my way through a 20 hour layover.

Q: In your memory, what is the first story you ever told, and what was it about?

A: I don’t know if I remember the first story. The first novel I ever wrote was when was in sixth grade and it was how I became king of the frogs and me and the frogs took over the planet. I think it was about 8 handwritten pages long.

Q: Are there any certain conditions that make it difficult or impossible for you to write?

A: A lot of impact-type noise- hammers and whatnot – or being on fire. Especially the latter.

Q: Do you do anything differently now than you did when you wrote your first book?

A: A lot. I wrote my first book longhand on spiral notebooks at the counter of a diner, without an outline or deadline. Now I have an office, a bunch of computers, a deadline, and more and more, an outline to work from. It makes a difference having done it a lot. Stuff I used ot really stress about are just autopilot now – like handling time and transitions.

Q: Why do so many of your characters cross over from one book to another?

A: Mainly because my readers like it and ask for it. It doesn’t make my job any easier, but the readers get a kick out of it.

Q: Do you exhibit the same sense of humor in your day-to-day life as you do in your writing?

A: I joke a lot, but obviously not in context. But if someone else is around, I’m usually cracking-wise.

Q: Where did Chet the enormous cat come from?

A: I was walking down Market Street in San Francisco when I saw a guy who had a sign that said “I am homeless and my cat is hungry,” but not only was his cat hungry, it was huge. HUGE. Like 30lbs. So I thought it would be fun to make him a character in the book, but his sign would say, “I am homeless and my cat is huge.”  So I did.

Q: What do you like to do outside of writing?

A: Well, since I moved to San Francisco, I like to watch baseball. I still kayak a little up on the Russian River, something I started doing when I was researching Fluke. (I don’t ocean kayak much anymore, simply because I don’t have a vehicle that’s easy to move my boats with, so they live up on the river.) I’ve been painting with oils and acrylics for a couple of years, too, which I like a lot, but which I’m pretty lousy at.

Q: What makes you laugh out loud?

A: Eddie Izzard cracks me up. Some of the scenes in Modern Family. John Steward and Stephen Colbert can still crack me up. Russell Brand’s new show has made me laugh. I live a few blocks from a comedy club, so there’s some comics I go to see. Jake Johansen, Paula Poundstone, Todd Barry, come to mind.

Q: Do you have any books that have never been published?

A: Just that frog one, and I started a few that never got past chapter two, and probably shouldn’t have.

Q: What, in your opinion, is the single most important quality a writer must have to be good?

A: I’d like to say discipline, because that was a big thing for me. Probably “talent”, and I put it in quotes because I’m not sure what that entails. I know some writers who have crap discipline, and are still quite good, but I don’t know any that don’t have some innate talent. I’m not sure when, exactly, that manifests itself, but by the time I was 15 or so, I was a better writer than any of the kids I was going to school with. I can’t tell you why, other than I read a lot as a kid, and books were important in my house, but I didn’t consciously do anything to get good at that age. Soon after, yes, I tried to learn my craft as a pro, but early on, I don’t know.

Q: What is currently your top selection on your iPod or stereo?

A: Eric Satie’s Gymnopedia #1. It’s a piece I listened to all the while I was writing Sacre’ Bleu, and I have a whole playlist of instrumental music from that period (1890s), so when I’m writing, I still cue it up. As for more pop music, I’ve been listening to Train, sort of catching up, since I “met” their guitar player, Jim Stafford, on Twitter and he likes my books, so I thought it only fair.  I’ve also dredged up a bunch of old Garbage albums, so I’ve been listening to them as well. I’m sort of discovering Jack Johnson, too. I’m usually out of the loop on new music by at least ten years.

Q: Which of your books are you most proud of and why?

A: Hmmm. Probably Lamb, because it was such a ridiculously ambitious project and I think I pulled it off. Sacre’ Bleu second, for the same reason.

Q: If you couldn’t be a writer, what would you be?

A: I’d love to be a painter or a musician. Maybe do stand up, although none of those things are just “I can do this because I want to. You have to work hard and be lucky to do them for a living.”  I think I’d like to do marine mammal research, too, but again, I’m not sure I have the smarts to do that. Realistically, I’d probably be waiting tables if I wasn’t a writer.

Q: About how much do you write in a given year?

A: It’s hard to say, since one doesn’t count stuff like this as writing. So, about 3/4s of a book, or about 75,000 words of fiction. If I add all the sort of “stuff” I write, probably double that.

Q: Of your own characters, who is your favorite and why?

A: I really like my Fool, Pocket, because he’s so little, and almost always the weakest character in the scene, socially and physically, but he is always clever and irreverent and funny. He’s hard to write, but I like him a lot. I like my Goth girl Abby Normal for almost exactly the same reason, except she’s also cute, while Pocket is usually just borderline disgusting.

Q: What part of the writing process is most difficult for you?

A: Always the discipline. Making myself do the work and go back to it when it doesn’t work. You’d think it would get easier as time goes on, but it doesn’t. I didn’t have the internet to distract me on the first few books. The internet is a problem for writing discipline.

Q: What are your current goals for your writing?

A: I’d like to finish the new Shakespeare-based book I’m working on, then write another one. I mean, that’s always the goal — finish the next book. Always. I’d like to adapt Fool to the stage, I’d like to do an illustrated story, maybe a kids’ book, but the novel is always the most important thing.


A few years back I happened upon a novel called The Keeper by Sarah Langan. I was intrigued for several reasons. 1) this was a new horror author, and as a devoted lover of all things horror, I just had to check it out, and 2) Peter Straub, according to the blurb on the cover, really seemed to dig this new author. How could it go wrong?

The good news is, it didn’t go wrong. Sarah Langan turned out to be every bit as good as Peter Straub said she was, and went on to become one of my favorite authors of all time, so I was quite giddy when she agreed to do an interview for me. I love learning from people like Sarah. For more about her and her books, visit her at: http://www.sarahlangan.com/

Q: What were some of your favorite books and movies growing up?

A: Oh, that’s a fun one. As a kid I loved the Dorrie The Little Witch series (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patricia_Coombs), about a little girl in a coven, whose socks never match. Like Peanuts, she only ever sees her mom’s legs.

As I got older I stopped reading as much – except for Lloyd Alexander (The Foundling, The Book of Three, etc.). I couldn’t find much that appealed to my sensibilities until a friend in sixth grade handed me a copy of John Saul’s The God Project. From there, I read all of Saul, then King. Oates was a later discovery. Atwood, too. Straub I didn’t get to until college. McGrath was introduced to me by Michael Cunningham in graduate school. I still read most of those same authors, which makes me wonder if the genre needs some shaking up. Then again, maybe they’re just that good.

Movies? Night of the Living Dead!

Q: I read The Keeper a few years ago and loved it! What inspired that book?

A: I was in my twenties and half-crazy with angst, which is pretty palpable in the book. They were very bad times for me. A few good times, too.

The idea of exponential consumption as a practical economic model has always seemed absurd to me, and a lot of the book is about the people who get hurt by the American dream – a dream I still think is real, but which has a very dark side. Kind of like me!

Q: How many completed novels have you written?

A: I’ve published three, finished three. Got partials/drafts of two more. I stopped working as much when I had my first daughter three years ago, and am taking this year off from novel work with the birth of my second.

I love novel writing – it’s the thing I do best and care about most (except for my family). But it also takes up a lot of brain space—the same space that tends to get co-opted by baby hormones. I’m about 90% as smart, with 50% my normal energy. The way I write books (intensely, chewing, chewing until I get them right), that just doesn’t fly.

With the birth of my second (and last), I decided I wouldn’t find it. I’m getting back to writing slowly, with stories and scripts, which makes a lot more sense. Hopefully, for more reasons than just a few books, I don’t get hit by a car any time soon.

Q: What is it about horror that interests you most?

A: I think horror is honest in ways other fiction is not. It gets to the feelings inside people – their humanity. The plots themselves are ridiculous, but they’re not the point. The point is the people. The human condition. The point is figuring out what we care about, and how best to protect those things for the future.

Q: You are a three-time Bram Stoker Award winner. What does that feel like?

A: Pretty fucking good!

Q: For you personally, what is the most stressful part about writing?

A: I’m a perfectionist, and I tend to overwork things to the point where they’re crap. Then it stops being fun, which is lame, because I worked very hard to get here. I keep reminding myself of that, every time the neurotic bug creeps up. Sometimes it helps. The kids especially help, because I have to remember I’m not the center of the universe.

Q: Do you write outlines for your novels before you begin them?

A: I don’t, but ought to. I just finished a screenplay that started as an outline, and I found it a lot easier to write as a result. I guess it depends on how soon I need to turn it in to an editor – outlines make the work flow a lot faster, but they do tend to sand away nuance.

Q: Who is/are your hero/heroes?

A: Tess Gerristen and Liz Hand both carry themselves like they can handle anything thrown at them. They’re also nice people. Classy, I’d have to say. I tend to lash out when under stress, which is less classy.

Jack Ketchum has been a long-time friend and mentor. Both Peter Straub and his wife are a delight.

Q: What makes you laugh out loud?

A: Rodney Dangerfield, Louie CK, my kids, my husband, Homestar Runner.

Q: Of your novels, which one are you the most proud of?

A: All of them. They all mark moments in my life, and are all my best effort. I’d change nothing about them. Then again, I never read anything I’ve written, once it’s published. I walk away, and hope only that I keep getting to write books, and keep getting better, no matter how the trajectory looks from the outside.

Q: What do you think is your greatest strength as a writer?

A: When I’m feeling good and in a groove, I write things people can’t put down.

Q: What do you struggle with the most?

A: My own perfectionism. Self doubt. The gnawing someplace, that it’s all a dream.

Q: How many rejections did you get before someone signed you, and how did you handle being rejected?

A: I queried every agent in NYC twice over a period of five years, all with partials from The Keeper. So, about 100. Plus another 100-200 short story rejections. Which seriously adds up, back in the era of stamps.

The guy from Weird Tales sent me a hand-written two page rejection letter that practically foamed with rage, and which I left out on my parents kitchen table by accident. My mom read it and cried, that anyone would talk to me that way. Which tells you two important things: (1) my parents supported me, and without that, I’d never have gotten as far as my first short story. (2) people in the position to reject often suck.

I was signed by a film agent, Sarah Self, whom I met at an HWA chapter meeting. She hooked me up with an agent (several initially turned her down, even though she was highly esteemed – at the time, no one wanted horror). Jointly, they got my book sold.

Q: Would you like to see any of your novels become a movie?

A: Yes! For the money, please!

Q: Was there ever a moment when you felt you’d “arrived” as an author?

A: No. I’ll let you know.

Q: How did people respond when you first started writing horror?

A: They told me to stop writing it, and do something literary. Half decided to help anyway, once they saw I couldn’t be swayed. The other half threw up their hands and walked away, figuring I was a waste of time.

Q: Have you received a lot of criticism for being a horror writer, or do you feel that most people are pretty cool about it?

A: Who’s talking behind my back???

Q: What are some of the necessary qualities a writer must have, in your opinion, to be good?

A: A room with a door. The nerve.