Posts Tagged ‘murder’


Give love the good, hard spanking it deserves this Valentine’s Day

with Beautiful Monster.

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I discovered Dan Wells’ John Wayne Cleaver series about a year and a half ago, and I immediately fell in love with his sharp style, finely honed character development, and flawless plotting. What amazes me most about these books is that Dan Wells has created a sociopath we can sympathize with. You may not think you’d want to sympathize with John Wayne Cleaver, but trust me, you will.

Dan Wells is also the author of The Hollow City, and The Partials series, as well as being a host of the weekly podcast, Writing Excuses, with Brandon Sanderson, Howard Tayler, and Mary Robinette Kowal. I’ve been dying to get him on for an interview here and I was thrilled when he accepted the invitation. He and his awesome assistant, Chersti Nieveen, have been wonderful, and I am pleased to have him.

Check out Dan Wells at: http://thedanwells.com/

Q: Who or what inspired your character, John Wayne Cleaver?

A: John came from my own interest in serial killer psychology, and specifically of serial killer predictors. Lots of psychiatrists, or psychiatric organizations, have come up with lists and tests and such to try to predict which people will grow up to be killers, from things as simple as the MacDonald Triad to long, multipage tests. I was talking about this with Brandon Sanderson on our way home from writing group one night, and he suggested a character who had every single predictor but was trying to be good. That’s not exactly what John turned into by the time I wrote him, but that’s where it all started.

Q: In these books, you managed to create a likable sociopath. How did you go about that, and was it difficult to keep him sympathetic?

A: Keeping him sympathetic was the number one driving force of the writing process, because there’s no way the book would work if you didn’t like John. Some of the ways I kept him likable were little tricks, like making him funny, because when you laugh with someone you can’t help but like them. Other ways were more fundamental to his character, such as giving him a horrible life to make you feel sorry for him. The number one thing people respond to in John, however, is his desire to be good. He always wants to do the right thing, even when he doesn’t know what that is, and audiences can’t help but root for that, especially when he takes a wrong turn or walks a razor-thin line between good and evil. We want him to succeed because we see ourselves in him: stuck in a bad situation, trying to make it work, trying to be better than who we are–or who we think we are.

Q: John Wayne Cleaver is a mortician’s son. How did you research the embalming process, and did learning about it change your views on anything?

A: Since I was already kind of an armchair psychologist, almost all of the research I did for the book was on embalming, and how it worked, and how it could go wrong. It were the cases that went wrong that fascinated me the most, and I ended up using some of these in the later books. I became really impressed with the mortician community’s adaptability, if that makes sense–they’re ability to Macgyver their way out of some tricky situation they’d never encountered before. I put some elements of that into the series as well, just because of how cool I thought it was.

Q: In researching sociopaths and serial killers, did you learn anything that especially surprised you?

A: Current theories suggest that serial killers may be ten to twenty times more common than we think they are; we catch the ones who have a really strong pattern, like stealing their victims’ eyes or whatever, but there may be tons more who don’t do that, and thus we never put it together as a form of serial murder. So, you know, sleep well tonight.

Q: I love John’s list of rules (things he does to keep himself in line). How did you develop that list?

A: A lot of the list developed over time, as I wrote the books and forced myself to identify any kind of dangerous behaviors I thought John was showing, and then not allow him to show them anymore. In a way, I guess, John helped write his own list.

Q: Were there any scenes that were especially difficult for you to write, and why?

A: There’s a scene in the first book where John threatens his mother with a knife, which I knew had to be there, and I knew exactly what kind of effect it had to have on the reader to be effective, and I kind of dreaded going into it because I tend to get very emotional as I write, and if I write something painful it affects me pretty strongly. Even with the much worse stuff that happens later in the series, that one is still the scene that shook me up the most, both before and after. I should add, though, that there’s a scene in the third book that breaks my heart every single time I read it, and thanks to the various rounds of edits and copyedits and proofreads I’ve had to read it dozens of times. It’s probably not even the scene most people think it is, but it gets me every time.

Q: Did the concept of this story begin as a trilogy, or just one book?

A: I knew John could be a cool series characters, but I didn’t write the first book with that in mind; I made it the best book it could be, all on its own, and then the publisher asked for two more and I did a little rearranging to make it happen. I had to go back and add some characters to the first book to help support the longer series, and again, they’re probably not the characters you think.

Q: Do you have a favorite scene, or favorite part of one of your books?

A: I have lots of favorite scenes. The epilogue of THE HOLLOW CITY is a huge favorite just because it’s kind of victorious for a tragic ending. There’s a scene in my ebook, A NIGHT OF BLACKER DARKNESS, called the fact scene, that I love, and I honestly don’t know if I could reproduce it; it just came out perfect the first time, and despite the millions of revisions that book has gone through, that scene remains almost untouched. My favorite scene of the John Cleaver series actually comes toward the end, building up to the final showdown, when John is completely dead inside–not evil, not tortured, just gone. I don’t know why I like that one as much as I do, but I do.

Q: How did the people around you react when you told them you were writing about a teenaged sociopath?

A: People who know me are much more disturbed by the books than people who don’t, which I find amusing. My wife was kind of freaked out by the first few chapters of I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER, and she asked if that’s how I really thought, but when I assured her that it wasn’t–that John was entirely fictional–she was fine with it. There’s a scene in the second book that made my best friend say he never wanted to be alone with me ever again, which I take a personal victory.

Q: What do you hope readers will come away from these books with?

A: I hope that people who read my books will be better than when they started–that they’ll know themselves better, or somebody else; that they’ll be inspired to write something or make something or learn something new. My characters are never content with the status quo, and I hope my readers are the same.

Q: What inspires you more than anything?

A: Audacity. I love watching somebody try something crazy and get away with it–to take a big risk and go out on a limb and shoot for the moon. Even if they fail. I love it.

Q: Who are your heroes?

A: My dad. Jim Henson. Victor Hugo. Criminal profiler John Douglas. Anyone who stands up for something they think is right.

Q: What do you think are some of the best ways for authors to find an audience for their books?

A: Write really good books. The word of mouth you get as people recommend it to their friends is the best possible advertisement you can ever get.

Q: Was it difficult for you to find an agent, and how did things change once you did?

A: I spent my early years trying to write fantasy, and so my networking had all been down with fantasy agents, and when I sold a horror novel none of them knew what to do with it. I was rejected three times by agents despite having an offer on the table, which sounds harsh but is one of the very best parts of this industry–agents aren’t in it for the money, they’re investing in an artist they love and they’re in it for the long haul. If one of those early agents who wasn’t really into my book or didn’t really know the market decided to pick up my book anyway just for the money, I’d be in a much worse position today. Staying the course and finding the right agent was absolutely worth it.

Q: On average, how much do you write over the course of a week?

A: I try to work 8 hours a day, just like a normal job, but not all of that is writing–I have revisions and edits, I have interviews, I have all kinds of business concerns that take up time. I’d say I average ten to twenty hours of writing, which is, ironically, not nearly as much as I did before I got published.

Q: What is Writing Excuses and what is your role in it?

A: Writing Excuses is a podcast for aspiring writers; 15 minutes a week, completely free, on topics ranging from plotting to dialogue to genre discussions to business advice. I helped start the podcast four or so years ago with co-hosts Brandon Sanderson and Howard Tayler, and then last year we brought Mary Robinette Kowal in as a full-time guest host. We’ve become pretty popular, and I sometimes get recognized just for my voice, which is kind of fun. We’ve won two Parsecs, and this is our second year being nominated for a Hugo, so fingers crossed.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: My current project is called EXTREME MAKEOVER: APOCALYPSE EDITION, a modern-day SF about a health and beauty company that accidentally creates a hand lotion that overwrites your DNA. It’s completely nuts, and by far the most ambitious novel I’ve ever attempted. I have just a few months to try to wrap it up before it’s time to start work on the third PARTIALS book, so we’ll see how it goes.


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!


With just one month till the release of Beautiful Monster, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, mostly about how all of this came to be. It still feels like a dream to me, and I still expect to wake up any minute. And if it’s real, I’m waiting for something to somehow go wrong. I’ve been anticipating some kind of terrible news for some time now, but so far, things seem to be on track, and the novel is still set to be released on September 1st, one month from now.

There are a lot of things I anticipated when the day came that I finally got a book published… and there are some things I did not anticipate. First on this list of surprises is the speed at which this whole process has moved. I didn’t give much thought to the new age of e-books, and therefore, I figured once I found a publisher, it’d be a good few years before I’d be able to see and hold my own book. As it is now though, the book is set to  be released in both hardcopy and e-book versions in about three months after having been accepted.

I didn’t expect to get a publisher before I got an agent. While I queried just about every agent on (and a few off) the American Continent for The White Room, I did things differently for Beautiful Monster. Because of Monster’s violent and graphic nature, I never expected it to get picked up at all. My co-author and I queried 27 small to mid-sized publishing presses for Monster as opposed to the 157 literary agents I queried for The White Room. My feeling was that The White Room was simply more commercial, and therefore would have a much easier time selling. That hasn’t turned out to be the case at all.

I didn’t expect to be so worried about who might read this book. As I mentioned before, Beautiful Monster is laden with violence, sex, and drug use. And I didn’t skimp on any of the details… nor did I use gentle language to convey these acts. I suppose that because I never expected the novel to find a home, I was much more liberal with my own twisted-ness, but now that it’s going to be a real book, I’m a little bit mortified. Not ashamed… but I do cringe a little whenever someone in my family or someone I know (who isn’t a lover of horror stories) asks me about the book.

I didn’t expect so much support, and the person who surprised me the most was my mother. Not because she isn’t supportive, but because I know that if my own son had written this book, I’d probably be a bit concerned about what the neighbors might think. When the contract was signed, I called my mom (who had read – and actually somehow enjoyed the book) and had a little talk with her in hopes of preparing her for the possible negative side-effects of the situation. I told her that people whom we may not necessarily want to read this book might read it, and there’s nothing I or anyone else can do to stop them. I told her I would very likely be harshly criticized and that a lot of people, even people we love, may not exactly appreciate the wicked and vulgar nature of this story. After prattling off my list of possible unpleasant scenarios, she said, “So what? If they don’t like it, they don’t have to read it. I’m proud of you anyway.” That made my day.

I didn’t expect to make so many new and wonderful friends. Since this book has been picked up, I’ve made the acquaintances of so many other writers, many of whom were my heroes back in the days when I used to read for the sheer enjoyment of it while dreaming that I could one day do this thing. These other writers know exactly where I’m at, and they have all been absolutely wonderful about talking to me, giving me good advice, and letting me know what it was like for them.

Most of all, I didn’t expect that I’d so quickly feel that it was time for the next step. As beginning writers, we all live our lives in terms of, “one day, when I finally get published…” and I didn’t expect that when I finally did, I’d be worried about the next book just a week or two after. The sparkle fades fast, and soon you’re left with the feeling of “So… now what?” … So now, as best as I can guess, I just keep writing the next one. I knew I’d never be content having written only one book (or even just two or three for that matter), but I guess I thought I’d at least take some time off mentally to figuratively roll around nude in my newfound glory. But I never really did. I just started worrying about the next story.

One month to blast off… and here’s what I know: there really is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow… but as soon as you find it, you just see another rainbow to chase.

 


For the past couple weeks, I have been reading Tamara Thorne’s novel, Candle Bay, and absolutely loving it. The story is great, to be sure… but the best part is that I’m not just reading the book… I get to use my editorial eyes in search of formatting issues that sometimes occur when a novel is scanned  to be converted into its digital form. When Tamara told me about the edits she was doing and the frustrations she was having, I was more than happy to offer my help. Under usual circumstances, looking for strangely placed periods and extra spaces between words doesn’t sound like the kind of thing most people would be thrilled about doing… but the thing is, well… it’s Tamara Thorne! I loved her books before the concept of being a novelist myself was anywhere on the horizon, so to not only meet one of the greats, but to get a close-up look at his or her process is really a very rare and incredible opportunity.

Over the past months, Tamara and I have become what I consider to be pretty good friends. Finding that you connect with a person you’ve admired from afar for so many years is one of those nearly-eerie things that makes you stop and wonder why you’re drawn to certain people in the first place, and what it all means. Many such events have happened for me since I began on this writing journey, and those events are what has inspired my new “Rockstar Moments” blogs. These “Rockstar Moments” are the ones that suddenly make me aware of how lucky I am, how amazing some of my recent experiences have been, and how awesome it is to get to know the people I’m getting to know.

That being said, my most recent “Rockstar Moment” came when, as I was reading Candle Bay, I got a message from Tamara asking me what color my wife Heather’s hair is. “Brown,” I told her, because it is. When I asked her why she’d asked, Tamara told me she was going to put Heather and I in Candle Bay. I was thrilled, and sure enough, a few chapters later, I came across Jared and Heather Anders, a pair of the Candle Bay Hotel’s “best customers.” I am returning this gesture, of course, by murdering off a maid who’s based off of Tamara in my current project, Tyranny Hall. I don’t know exactly how I will kill her yet, but I do know it will be gruesome. This may sound macabre… insulting even, but it’s not. It’s good times… for us, anyway.

Candle Bay will be available soon in e-book format, and I’m honored to be able to get a look at it before its release. I am only half through the novel, and I’m itching for more. Given my past experiences with Tamara’s books, I have no doubt that the rest of Candle Bay will only continue getting more and more strange and fascinating! This is where it’s very tempting for me to give out spoilers… but I am going to refrain. I’ll simply say it’s an awesome story, told by one of my personal favorite storytellers, and as soon as it gets released, I will be posting the links where the book can be purchased.


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.


While it’s true that Mimi and I wrote Beautiful Monster with an indeterminate ending, I’m not sure either of us had a sequel in mind, let alone that the storyline would evolve into a trilogy, but God help us, that’s the current plan.

Really this is my fault. It started with a dream I had one night several weeks ago ~ cheesy though that may be. I dreamed that she and I were talking, and she kept making references to “The Beautiful Books.” I even heard each of the titles: “Beautiful Monster,” “Beautiful Liar,” and “Beautiful Damnation.” When I woke up, I didn’t think of this as anything worth giving much thought to, but through a conversation with someone else that I had later in the day, it occurred me that maybe I should approach Mimi with the topic. I knew before I brought it up to her that it wasn’t something I wanted to try and sell her on…  I wasn’t entirely sold on the idea myself. I just wanted to make casual mention of the dream and let her response to it decide whether or not this was worthy of pursuit.

Her response was, “Omigod, we should!” or something along those lines. She started throwing out possible ideas then, and as soon as she told me her vision for the ultimate ending in Beautiful Damnation, I was well-invested. We talked about it in sporadic bursts through e-mail and texts for the next few days, but it wasn’t until we headed to Iowa for the 2012 Iowa Writer’s Conference that we really started mapping the second story out. So, between workshops, lectures, our downtime during the conference, and our travel-time, Mimi and I wrote a chapter by chapter synopsis of the story, and were able to get all but the last two chapters mapped out. Things often evolve in unexpected ways as the story is being written (which is why I don’t usually do real detailed outlines), so I’m interested to see what will end up in the final draft.

My vision for Beautiful Liar is a bit different from its prequel. In this one, I want to take Sterling (my character) out of his element entirely. I want to take everything away from him. I want to see how far he’s willing to go to get what he wants: Brenna (Mimi’s character). And… I want him to suffer ~ not only for the horrible things he did in Beautiful Monster, but also for the horrendous plans he has in the sequel. I don’t plan to give him a single moment of peace this time. He is the bad guy, after all. So, without giving anything away, the plan this time around is to see what he’s really made of, and I’m curious to find out.

We realize we’re getting ahead of ourselves. We barely got a contract signed on the first book and plenty could still go wrong with that ~ unfortunately, it happens ~ so to assume the publisher will be interested in a second (let alone a third) book may seem a little overconfident. Luckily, that’s not why we’re doing it. I know that I want to do this for a few reasons. One, I am not done with Sterling Bronson and I want to see what else he has up his imported-silk sleeves. Second, I want resolution; not only for Sterling, but for Brenna as well. Third, I am in love with this story and really want to see its ultimate ending… and four, I work well with Mimi and am looking forward to doing another project with her. If a publisher never looks at it twice, then it will have been good practice and good times, and really, that’s what this is all about anyway. I admit that I’m not real eager to get back to world through Sterling’s bloodthirsty, crazy eyes, but why not make the most of the opportunity that we’ve been given?

And so it begins. Again. Wish us luck!