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Weldon Writes ... Almost a Blog

From Semi-Pro Skateboarder to Horror Writer: Meet Shaun Meeks

Shaun Meeks was born and raised in Toronto, and still lives there with his partner, Mina LaFleur. They run the business L'Atelier de LaFleur, which specializes in hand-finished couture corsetry and accoutrements. Shaun was formerly a semi-pro skateboarder. Now he enjoys sharing his nightmares in his writing—and scaring the hell out of his readers! His short stories have been published in many magazines and anthologies, including Haunted Path, Dark Eclipse, Zombies Gone Wild, A Feast of Frights, Insidious Assassins, Someone Wicked, Zippered Flesh 2, and Zippered Flesh 3. He is also the author of the books The Gate at Lake Drive, Down on the Farm, and Earthbound and Down.

Thanks, Shaun, for hanging out with us for a few minutes. To say you have a passion for horror is an understatement. What was the first horror novel that you found truly frightening?

 

I was in grade four, and I went to the corner store near my house to pick up some new comics. But when I saw this book cover—all silver, gray, and black with a faceless head on it—I had to pick it up. I already knew who Stephen King was, but I had never heard of The Shining before. The movie was something I hadn't even known about, but when I read what the book was about, I was sold and luckily I had enough money in my pocket to buy it.

 

I started to read it, tearing through the pages so fast. I think part of what scared me about the story was how I saw bits of my own father in Jack Torrance, a man fighting his demons and losing. I brought the book with me to school and was sent to the principal's office. They used words like "pornographic" and "disgusting trash," and threw my copy out. Luckily, the local library also had it and I took it out from there, but only read it at home. I had already been into monster movies and horror things before then, but this was the first horror novel I read that gave me nightmares.

 

Your novel, The Gate at Lake Drive, is a great monster story. (And the cover is super, too!) What's your recipe for a memorable monster?

Really depends on what you're going for. Making one scary—the stuff of nightmares—is just fun. To do that, I usually think of what frightens people. Deep-sea life, spiders, demons, the dark—these are things I'll splice into a monster so that, on a deep level, the elements strike a chord of fear within the reader. I love the idea of monsters with slimy tentacles, coarse hairs, a multitude of eyes, and a nest of sharp, deformed teeth. The trick is making the reader imagine what it'd feel like to be face-to-face with the monster. The idea of feeling the repulsive skin touching your own, the overwhelming odor of rot that lingers on the thing's flesh. That's what I want readers to be thinking as they read.

But what about the monsters that truly hate or can't change what they are, the ones that you pity? I enjoy playing with that theme—the monster that is hunted and feared yet proves to be the character with which the readers relate. The humans who shun or hunt the creature prove to be the real monsters. Having a reader relate to the monster isn't always easy, but it's great when it works!

 

So, which is the better monster, Alien or Carpenter's The Thing? 

  

For me, without a doubt, it would be Carpenter's The Thing. When I saw this movie for the first time, alone in my dark house (everyone else sleeping), I was terrified. There is nothing simple or easy about the creatures in The Thing, nor is it the actual monster effects that make it overall better. The idea of sitting next to a monster, hidden as a friend, and not knowing who you can trust, is the true greatness of the horror in this. Yet, when the monster is revealed, each time looking different and freaky in a Lovecraft sort of way, the sheer imagination of them raises the terror to an all new level. No scene in Alien can come close to comparing to the dog or head spider scene.

 

Some of your work hints at Lovecraftian themes. How has Lovecraft impacted your fiction? Why do you think Lovecraft has such an appeal today?

 

My introduction to Lovecraft didn't come from his books; it came from Stuart Gordon's movies (mainly Re-Animator and From Beyond). Those movies, and a few others, eventually led me to his books. When I started with Lovecraft's stories, I started at the beginning, and was not as hooked on them as I was his later work. I think, like all of us, Lovecraft grew into a much better writer the longer he was at it. His themes on fear, isolation, change, and the unknown are the things that really appealed to me and helped to shape some of what I write. They are simple themes that are universal, and I think that's why they still stand today.

 

What horror novel by another writer do you wish you had written ... and why?

If there was only one I had to choose of the many I wish I'd written, I think it would have to be Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury. I know this is not the scariest book, or one of the most horrific books ever, but for me, it was a book I read at a young age that stuck with me throughout the years. I remember the first time I read the book, a few weeks before Halloween, and I felt as though I was in the story. I would lie out on the grass by my house, reading it, and hoping the stories I had started to write by that time would be as perfect as Bradbury's were. I still hold on to those hopes. Fingers crossed.

 

Besides Stephen King, who is your favorite author? Maybe some unsung horror hero?

 

One of my favorite horror writers I discovered awhile back is Gemma Files. Not only is she a local writer from my hometown of Toronto, but she writes the kind of horror I love. I think the first story I ever read of hers had appeared in one of the editions of The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror, which led me to look for more of her work. The one that I picked up first was a collection of her short stories called Kissing Carrion. There are some real favorites in there that spark my own drive to write.

 

Another favorite would be Christian A. Larsen. He is someone I started reading in 2012 when we both appeared in the Zippered Flesh 2 anthology. I loved his story, "The Little Things." It seemed like every anthology accepting my stories, he was in as well, which had me reading more and more of his work. Not one of his stories disappointed. When he released his first novel, Losing Touch, I was there on release day to grab my copy. I find some writers are good at short stories, some excel in novel or novella length. With Losing Touch, Chris showed he had the skill to do both, keeping the reader engaged from word one to the end.

 

What horror cliché or trope bugs the crap out of you?

 

One of the first ones that comes to mind is any movie where there's a creature, especially zombies or vampires, and someone in the group gets bitten and hides it from everyone, only to turn at just the wrong moment. Does anyone not see that coming a mile away every time this cliché is used? I think that's what made a movie like 28 Days Later so unique. The change happens so fast, there's never a chance to try and hide it.

 

I think the only other one that is used way too much for a cheap scare is the "is he/she dead" cliché. The monster/killer/alien is apparently killed, but instead of continuing to beat, stab, or shoot it, they stop, walk over to make sure it's dead only to have the baddy get up and wreak more havoc. Every time I read or watch one of those scenes, I just imagine how I wouldn't stop until there was no doubt the thing was dead.

 

Let's talk about short fiction for a minute. You've published a collection of your short stories, At the Gates of Madness. Your stories have also been published in anthologies, including many published by Smart Rhino Publications. What's your strategy for writing a short story?

When I'm writing a new story, most days I have no idea what it's going to be about or how it'll end. Often all I have is an opening, just a line, or maybe a full paragraph—and the story is born from there. People think that everything I write is plotted out and outlined well in advance. It's really not.

When I wrote "Treats," which appears in At the Gates of Madness, the story was simply going to be about an older man on Halloween night, reflecting on his life and his loneliness. A group of vicious teens were going torment the man until he snapped, and he would attack those harassing him. What I ended up writing was a bizarre, very different monster story that many have said is one of the vilest things they've ever read. I remember, when writing the story, that it took a sharp turn. I didn't see that coming.

From time to time, I write something for a themed anthology. "Taut," which appeared in Zippered Flesh 2, is a good example of that. I knew the theme was about body modification, so I sat down intending to write a story about suspension. That was as much as I knew when I started. I had no idea who the characters would be, where the story was going, or how it would end. That's the way I prefer to write a short story—allowing the story to become what it wants to be.

 

With all that in mind, what would you advise a new fiction writer concerning tailoring a tale?

Whenever a newer writer asks me for advice on writing a short story, I tell them four things.

 

Number one: Grab the reader right from the start. Whether it's jumping into the action or simply writing something that's striking, you need to give them a good punch right off the bat. Hook 'em and reel 'em in.

Number two: Give the reader a great punch at the end. Don't end the story with a cliché like and then he/she woke up. Nobody likes that.

Number three: Make sure your characters' actions make sense. Don't ever make a character do something that nobody would do in real life. We see it all the time in movies, those moments where you think, "Why would they go in the basement! Get out of the house!" If you can explain the reasoning behind the action though, then do it. But re-read that section and, if it sounds forced, cut it.

Number four: Don't over-explain! All too often, I see writers over-explaining things, especially through dialogue. It's sloppy writing to have a character explain the cause of some unexplainable event when there's no way he/she could possibly know the cause. Use scenes, actions, and descriptions to push the plot, and let the reader take it from there.

 

Okay, now let's talk about editors. What do you find most rewarding about working with editors? Most frustrating?

 

I have worked with so many great editors over the years, and only one or two experiences stand out as unpleasant. The best thing about most editors is how they've taught me to be a better writer. Showing me what works and doesn't work, what common mistakes I make—that teaches me how to improve. At one time, I used to throw the words "that" and "had" into my stories like they were punctuation.

 

Most frustrating is the few I've worked with that won't listen to why a scene has to be the way it is. In one of my stories, I wrote about an abusive man who says some of the cruelest things to his wife. The editor told me it wasn't realistic, that nobody would ever speak like that. But when I told the editor that it was something I heard firsthand, they still tried to cut it. Luckily, the publisher agreed with me. I've also had some issues with characters saying some unsavory things. Some editors have said that being offensive in today's climate makes people steer clear of your books. I don't believe in censorship when it is something important to the story, so in the case where this was an issue that wouldn't be let go, I declined the offer of being in the book, and included the story in one of my own collections.

 

What has been your greatest challenge as a writer?

 

The greatest challenge has been trying to get my work out there to as many people as I would like. I've tried social media advertising, giveaways, special offers, free books to reviewers, and getting into anthologies with big name publishers. I've done interviews with a few different magazines, vloggers, and podcasts, but the writing industry is a hard nut to crack. I'm happy with the success I've had, but it's my dream, as well as for many other writers, to quit my day job and write full-time. I have more novel ideas I want to write than I have time, so having the time to write them would be nice.

 

What advice would you offer new writers about marketing their work?

 

Be careful would be the first. I think many new writers think that social media is the way to get your work out there to a massive audience. They get their Facebook friend's list up to 5000, and then start bombarding people with page "likes," sharing links to their books once an hour or on each of their friend's pages, and just push way too hard. I did the same thing when At the Gates of Madness came out. I was so excited to have my book read that I did everything I could to let people know where they could buy it.

 

I think another thing to stay away from is the paid option to "boost" posts on Facebook. If you have a page for people to "like," paying to promote a post actually hurts any other posts you make. It's a strange algorithm that chokes the rest of your posts. The trick to getting more people to see your posts is to create more engagement. Share things to you page wall, and tag where each source comes from. Get people involved, and then use the page to advertise your book once a week or less and you might see a rise in sales. And show your personality, not only your work. Other ways to get your book noticed are doing book conventions, offering free copies for honest reviews, and being visible and accessible on places like Twitter and Goodreads.

 

I'm always fascinated with what scare horror writers. What's your worst nightmare?

 

I'm not really someone who has many fears or worries. I think if you focus on negativity, worry about things too much, you have a strong chance of attracting those very things to you. There are worries I have, usually involving my kids, and how stressed they sometimes seem, as well as their safety, but nothing I would consider a true fear or nightmare. So, I think I would say that I can offer what my worst reoccurring nightmares are. I think dreams are a sign of what we fear subconsciously anyway. I like to use my bad dreams as fodder for my stories, so anyone who has read my work might be able to figure out that I have nightmares of isolation, abandonment, unsafe heights, and unknown things in the shadows. I don't wish I only had nice, safe dreams though. My nightmares always give me something fun to write about.

 

One last question. If you could rewrite or remake any horror movie, which one would it be? And why?

 

If I could rewrite or remake any horror movie, I think it would have to be The Stuff. I know it seems like a strange one to pick, but when I was watching it the other day, I wondered what this movie would be like made in today's world of social media influencers. When I watched it as a kid, I thought it was silly that so many people would go crazy over something like that, but with how things are now I think it would go over even better. We live in a world where everyone wants to jump on the next big thing. They want to go on Instagram with their black ice creams, unicorn drinks, and whatever other food is trendy. The Stuff would be a social media wonder, and I think it would be how I would tackle a remake of it.

 

Thanks, Shaun, for such an informative interview. We look forward to reading more of your work!


For more on Shaun Meeks, visit his website at http://www.shaunmeeks.com/ and his Amazon bio page at https://www.amazon.com/Shaun-Meeks/e/B007X5KZLO/.

 

This interview was originally published in the Spring 2019 issue of Suspense Magazine.

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Suspense/Horror Writer Billie Sue Mosiman Talks about the Craft of Fiction

We were all greatly saddened to hear that Billie Sue Mosiman has passed. She was always supportive of so many of us in the writing community, and her work was enjoyed by readers around the world. Billie was an incredible woman, a wonderful friend, a powerful creative force, and a champion for female horror writers everywhere. This interview was originally published in the November/December 2018 issue of Suspense Magazine, shortly after her death. It's unfortunate that she never had the chance to read it in print.

 

Billie's Night Cruise was nominated for the Edgar Award and her novel Widow was nominated for the Bram Stoker Award for Superior Novel. She was a prolific writer—although largely suspense/thriller novelist, she often wrote horror short stories. Billie had also been a columnist, reviewer, and writing instructor. I'm glad I had the opportunity to interview her before she passed … and hope you find the following inspiring.

 

You've been writing professional since the early '80s—more than 60 books and probably more short stories than I can count. What persuaded you to write in the first place?

 

I was always a reader and went through a lot of books as a youngster. Then one day a man in a suit came to my grandmother's house. He looked so grand I sat around listening in the living room while they spoke. I discovered he was a Dean of a University and I knew you had to be educated to do that. I was smitten by an intellectual. I thought, yes, that is what I want to be. Just like this man.

 

My family had never gone to college, but, at thirteen, I knew I would. And it would be grand. Of course, I wanted to go to learn how to be a better writer. I had faith and determination. I went to my little blue diary and wrote in it: When I grow up, I want to be a writer.

 

What authors inspired or influenced your style?

 

I loved Steinbeck, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Jim Thompson, Bradbury, and a raft of others. It was a few years of reading before I came upon genre books and loved them too, reading each author's entire works.

 

Your work often bridges the gap between suspense and horror. A prime example, I think, is your novel Night Cruising, an Edgar Award Nominee. How much of this wedding of horror and suspense is intentional, and how much is simply "I write what I enjoy reading"?

 

 

The books are organic in the way they turn out. My work was always graphic and I didn't think I owed anyone anything. I was free to write the novels as they came to me. So sometimes they were called horror, but were unlike straight horror.

 

Your novel Widow was also nominated for a Bram Stoker Award. The story involves a female serial killer and a male copycat murderer, and apparently you did a lot of research for the book. You even interviewed exotic dancers. Likewise, your novel Wireman was based on true crimes in the Houston area back in the late '70s. How much research is required for your fiction? How do you go about it?

 

Sometimes it takes a lot of research. If I don't know something I won't write about it. I didn't know how detectives worked so I asked questions of another writer's chief of detectives' husband to build my own in Wireman. Some books are purely imaginary, set in places I've lived or traveled to. But if I don't know something I make sure to research it.

 

You've also been an editor, most notably of the anthology Frightmare—Women Write Horror, which also garnered a nomination for a Bram Stoker Award. You've always been a champion for female writers, especially those in the horror and suspense genres. What led you to start this particular project?

 

I saw so many anthologies on the market in horror and it always appeared to have a predominance of male writers. I have nothing against them as some are the best in the world. But where were the female writers? I knew for certain there were great women writers being ignored. I decided I'd do something for them. I'd pull together an anthology that gave them a voice. I think I was angry. I never backed down from a fight and I thought it was past time for a fight. The women came through and I was so proud. I did not add my own work. It was for them.

 

As an editor, what do you look for in a story? What gets you to "yes"?

 

If it excites me and if it catches me in the first three paragraphs. I don't like info dumps or overly wrought work or stories with no point. I'm kind of exacting about those things.

 

Your novel Moon Lake involves a lake monster, but the focus is on the teenage lead characters. Is this the closest you've come to a YA novel? If so, was this meant to attract a younger audience?

 

It was meant as an adult read, but I see how it would appeal to a teen. I'm part kid myself so I'm not surprised I end up with novels meant for a younger reader.

 

You've also written a memoir of sorts, Alabama Girl: Memoir of a Writer—Part 1. What motivated you to write your own story? Is there or will there be a "Part 2"?

 

My mother was such a towering personality in my upbringing and a disruption to the family. I had her and my dad living in my large home when they aged, but each day was like I was twelve again and my mother was the queen in my life. I don't know if I have the heart to write the second part of that book. My son, our only child at the time, died in a house fire. Other terrible things all living creatures confront happened and I just didn't think I could face writing about it. So it may never happen.

 

Do you think about marketing at all when you're in the "creative mode"?

 

Nope. I never had to do that and I can't start now. I just write stories.

 

From your perspective, how has publishing changed over the years? Where do you think it's headed?

 

Publishing has lost its way. The Amazon digital phenomenon started it. Anyone who wanted to write a book did. Those who hadn't read enough. Those who hungered for fame before they knew the rules of grammar. And so forth. We all know what happened. People got used to free digital copies. Why should they pay? Publishers, in some instances, did a rights' grab from authors then overpriced the market. The film and TV scripts have overtaken the reading of books. I weep for the whole scene and hope one day things return to normal. Normal being more than three major publishers, higher advances, more promotion, sharing digital rights with authors, and so forth.

 

We are not tradesmen. We don't make art except with words. From our minds to yours we share worlds. It's an honorary endeavor and as serious as can be. That's what I learned from the great authors who came before me. The world needs stories and novels. People need them. They may not know it, but I do. Since the caveman wrote on cave walls, we should have known now important a life of letters can be.

 

Looking back, what would you have done differently? In short, what advice would you offer a young writer following in your footsteps?

I doubt I'd done anything differently except maybe slowed down publishers who pushed me for the next book. My advice to young writers is to be true to yourself. If you like mystery writing and someone pushes horror onto you, balk, back-peddle, do anything you can to stick with what you love. Read tons of books, of all kinds. Write like a mad person. Trust your gut. And never, never give away your Life of Copyright. If someone wants to give you a million bucks for it to one of your books, trust you can get $1.2 million from some other publisher who won't steal your copyright. Besides being productive, you must be smart.

 

And, last question, what do you enjoy most about writing?

 

Being lost in the story and nothing else exists. Thinking how others feel when they read my words. 

 

 

We miss you, Billie.

 

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The Multi-talented Aaron J. French Discusses Writing, Editing, and His Love for Anthologies

Aaron J. French is one busy guy! Besides being a prolific writer, he is an accomplished editor and has pulled together some of the best horror and weird fiction anthologies now available. His story, "Whirling Machine Man," appeared in the Smart Rhino anthology, Zippered Flesh. His latest novella, The Dream Beings, is a hard-boiled Lovecraftian tale involving a serial killer and an investigator who is pulled into cosmic horrors.

Aaron agreed to answer some questions for us--and we hope you'll learn something from his vast experience!

Aaron, you and I have similar backgrounds: writer, editor, anthologist. Let’s start with your own fiction. Your collection of stories, Aberrations of Reality, has been described as a “modern grimoire of mystical horror,” and you’ve also written a zombie collection, Up From Fresh Soil. Your The Dream Beings is an incredibly creepy serial killer/occult novel. Plus you’ve written a number of novellas. How do you manage to juggle your time to write your own work, considering your many other obligations? Do you have a defined routine?

Thanks. Yes, it’s a lot of work, there’s really no getting around that. But it’s work I love to do, so that makes it worth it. I used to have a steady routine of writing 1000 words a day, and I did that for many years. But at this point, I’m basically just working all the time, whether writing, editing, and working academically (still writing). So I basically just do as much as I can on all fronts, but focus on whichever one has the nearest deadline (ha). But whenever I have a break, I try to write a new short story, or at least revise one that I have already written. It’s a way of keeping myself working on my own fiction, given everything else I do. And yet,  Read More 

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Interview with Michael Bailey, Bram Stoker Award Winner

Michael Bailey is a multli-award-winning author, editor, and publisher of incredible speculative fiction. He recently won the Bram Stoker Award for Best Anthology for The Library of the Dead. His nonlinear horror novel, Palindrome Hannah, was a finalist for the Independent Publisher Awards. His follow-up novel, Phoenix Rose, was listed for the National Best Book Awards for horror fiction, was a finalist for the International Book Awards, and received the Kirkus Star, awarded to books of remarkable merit. Scales and Petals, his short story and poetry collection, won the International Book Award for short fiction, as well as the USA Book News “Best Books” Award. His short fiction and poetry can be found in anthologies and magazines around the world, including the US, UK, Australia, Sweden, and South Africa.

Michael has published a number of anthologies (including Pellucid Lunacy, Qualia Nous, The Library of the Dead, and the Chiral Mad series) and has just released Chiral Mad 3, published by his own imprint, Written Backwards, at Dark Regions Press. He is currently the Managing Science Fiction Editor at Dark Regions. Michael took some time off from his busy schedule to talk with us.

Chiral Mad 3 was just released, and you must be ecstatic. An introduction by Chuck Palahniuk, illustrations by Glenn Chadbourne, stories and poetry by incredible writers (Ramsey Campbell, Stephen King, Jack Ketchum, Mort Castle, Gary Braunbeck, Gene O’Neill, and 15 others). Wow! This is your most ambitious project to date. Can you share with us some of your process when pulling together such an impressive anthology?

I’m not even sure where to begin. I knew there would be a third Chiral Mad someday (I was hounded for it immediately upon release of the second volume). I knew if it were to exist, the book would have a specific story by King: “The Last Rung on the Ladder,” so I guess it all started with Steve. Apparently he digs my anthologies, or at least I hope he does, since he’s found his way into three of my books. “The Jaunt” appeared in Qualia Nous last year (a literary blend of science fiction and horror), and “I Am the Doorway” will appear later this year in You, Human, my first science fiction anthology with Dark Regions Press.

I designed the cover for Chiral Mad 3 and on a whim decided the entire book should be chiral in structure, with an odd amount of stories and an even amount of symmetrically-placed poetry. I reached out to a handful of writers I wanted in the book (for both fiction and poetry). Before I knew it, I had a dozen stories and a dozen poems; every single one of them spectacular. Chaos quickly took over.

I had so much fun  Read More 

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