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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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A Plague of Shadows: A Written Remains Anthology--Now Available!

 

Smart Rhino Publications just released its latest anthology, A Plague of Shadows: A Written Remains Anthology. We'd published one other anthology, Someone Wicked, with the Written Remains folks. That anthology was so well received and reviewed, Smart Rhino was happy to work with the guild again, this time focusing on stories on "hauntings and the haunted." Not your traditional ghost stories, mind you. We were striving for stories slightly (or majorly) beyond the norm. We weren't disappointed.

 

Some of the early reviews for the anthology were impressive!

 

"The tales in A Plague of Shadows are captivating and entertaining. Put simply, they are amazing. Without doubt, this collection of ghost stories is the best anthology I've read in years."

— Tony Tremblay, author of The Moore House and The Seeds of Nightmare

 

"This collection of 20 stories will leave you wondering what lurks in the gloom behind that half-open closet door or in the mists that shroud the streets in the wee hours of the morning. … Would send shivers up M.R. James' back and have Poe reaching for extra lamps. I recommend it highly!"

— JG Faherty, author of The Cure, The Burning Time, and Carnival of Fear

 

"A Plague of Shadows is this year's 'don't-miss' anthology. Some of the stories creep up on you, while others come at you full force. In the end, all of them will lurk in the back of your mind, just waiting for the lights to be turned off."

— Shaun Meeks, author of Shutdown and At the Gates of Madness

 

"This is the kind of book writers and readers need. Writers need it because it showcases their work and readers because it offers fresh perspectives on complex subjects."

— Paul Dale Anderson, author of The Instruments of Death series

 

"Gloriously dark and gripping, the stories and poems in A Plague of Shadows will burrow under your skin and make themselves at home. Highly recommended!"

— Christina Sng, Bram Stoker Award winning author of A Collection of Nightmares

 

"All the speculative fiction stories—whether they concern ghosts, engineering malfunctions, post-apocalyptic, cultural beliefs, and crime sprees—are exciting and compelling to read. Each story should be read in one sitting to appreciate the twists, turns, and surprise endings."

— Frank Hopkins, author of Abandoned Houses: Vietnam Revenge Murders

 

"Shadows take many forms: from past mistakes to uncertain futures, from unresolved relationships to unanswered questions. The shadows in the pages of this anthology are guaranteed to prey on your psyche and leave you gasping for breath."

— Suzie Wargo Lockhart, Executive Editor at Digital Fiction Publishing Corp.

 

 

As with Someone Wicked, we decided to publish fiction and poetry from WR members as well as guest authors, like Graham Masterton, Billie Sue Mosiman, and Jeff Strand. Here's the table of contents.

 

 

Starving Time -- Jane Miller

 

Bark of the Dog-Faced Girl -- Maria Masington

 

The Stories That We Tell -- Billie Sue Mosiman

 

For Number 11 -- Carson Buckingham

 

Bottom of the Hour -- Phil Giunta

 

Powder Burns -- J. Gregory Smith

 

Neighbors From Hell -- Graham Masterton

 

Finding Resolution -- Patrick Derrickson

 

The Fierce Stabbing and Subsequent Post-Death Vengeance of Scooter Brown -- Jeff Strand

 

On the House -- Jacob Jones-Goldstein

 

No Good Deed -- Gail Husch

 

Haunting the Past -- Jasper Bark

 

To Heart's Content -- Shannon Connor Winward

 

Twelve Steps -- Jeff Markowitz

 

Song of the Shark God -- JM Reinbold

 

Dollhouse -- Jennifer Loring

 

The Black Dog of Cabra -- J. Patrick Conlon

 

The Angel's Grave -- Chantal Noordeloos

 

Vindictive -- Weldon Burge

 

A Hanger in the World of Dance -- Stephanie M. Wytovich

 

 

We're very proud of A Plague of Shadows, and feel privileged to once again provide a venue for authors who create incredible fiction. We hope, if you read the book, you'll enjoy it and would be willing to post a review on Amazon, B&N, or wherever you like. Every review helps! The more support Smart Rhino receives, the better we're able to continue providing an outlet for great fiction.

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Jeff Menapace: The Success and Struggle

Jeff Menapace and his copy of ZIPPERED FLESH 3.

Jeff Menapace is a Philly-born horror/suspense author who has won acclaim for his best-selling Bad Games series of novels, among his other work in fiction and nonfiction. His novella Sugar Daddy was the 2011 recipient of the Red Adept Reviews Indie Award for Horror. His novel Numb, while containing some elements of horror, is a dark noir thriller sure to please readers of suspense. And Side Effects, a psychological thriller, introduces us to his series character FBI agent Maggie Allen.

And apparently, he longs to pet a lion!

 

Jeff is an approachable, amiable guy, and was more than willing to spend a few minutes with us to answer a few questions.



Your Bad Games trilogy has been quite successful, now optioned for future feature films. Not bad! Did you intend to write a trilogy from the start, or was it happenstance?

No way did I intend to write a trilogy from the start! I wrote book one and was able to land an agent with it (this was nearly 10 years ago) and he immediately asked me for a sequel, stating that pitching two books instead of the one would help land a publisher. So, I got hard at work on the sequel, completed it, gave it to my agent, and  Read More 

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Jack Ketchum: Master of Mayhem

 

It’s hard to believe that Jack Ketchum’s debut novel, Off Season, was released back in 1980. The controversial book, involving grotesque acts of cannibalism, immediately garnered fans in the horror world, even though the original publisher abandoned support for the novel. Today, the book is a classic in horror literature, and Jack his written more than 20 novels and novellas since then. He has won several Bram Stoker Awards, and five of his books have been produced as films—The Girl Next Door, Red, The Lost, Offspring, and The Woman.

Not surprising, Jack always has projects in the works, and has recently collaborated a good deal with director, writer, and actor Lucky McKee. I was thrilled that he was willing to take some time to answer a few questions.


You’ve had a fruitful relationship with Lucky McKee, including the recent collaboration, The Secret Life of Souls. How did you two hook up, how did it come about?

Lucky knew about my stuff and wanted to option Red for himself to direct and The Lost for his buddy Chris Sivertson and by way of introduction he sent me a copy of May. I’d just returned from some Con or other with a stack of what turned out to be amateurish, bad DVDs from various people, and waiting on my desk was a DVD by this guy named Lucky, so I figure, after watching half a dozen of these things, this has gotta be more of the same. I mean, the guy’s name is Lucky.’ So after a week or so I get to feeling guilty and watch the rest of this drek, and the last one I watch is May. Good grief! this is the real deal! Brilliant movie! So I get hold of my agent and tell her let's get back to him right away, he wants to option Red and The Lost if the price is anywhere near right, he’s got ’em. Turned out Luck and I are simpatico as all hell, very much on the same page as to what we want from our stories, our people, our themes. So we decided to work together on some original pieces. Which turned out to be The Woman, I’m Not Sam, and The Secret Life of Souls, with a couple of short pieces in the bargain.

You’ve used a number of pseudonyms, particularly when you were writing for men’s magazines early on. For new writers, what are the pros and cons of using pseudonyms, from your experience?

I don’t see any cons, really. After a short while  Read More 

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Meet Horror Writer & Ferret Lover Jezzy Wolfe

Jezzy Wolfe is an author of dark fiction, with a predilection for absurdity. A lifelong native of Virginia Beach, Jezzy lives with her family and quite a few ferrets. Her poems and stories have appeared in such ezines and magazines as The World of Myth, The Odd Mind, Twisted Tongue, Support the Little Guy, and Morpheus Tales. She has also been published in various anthologies, such as Graveside Tales’ Harvest Hill, The Best of the World of Myth: Vol. II, Library of the Dead’s Baconology, Western Legends' Unnatural Tales of the Jackalope--and, of course, several Smart Rhino anthos. We love her style!

Jezzy was a founding member of Choate Road.com and at one time cohosted the blogtalk radio shows “The Funky Werepig” and “Pairanormal.” In addition to her brand of humor and horror fiction, she maintains both a blog and storefront for ferret owners and lovers, known as FuzzyFriskyFierce. Visit Jezzy on her author’s blog at jezzywolfe.wordpress.com, on her ferret blog at FuzzyFriskyFierce.wordpress.com.

Jezzy was more than happy to spend a few minutes to talk with us. Enjoy!


You've written three short stories for Smart Rhino (“Locks of Loathe” in Zippered Flesh, “Luscious” in Zippered Flesh 2, and “Agnus Dei” in Insidious Assassins). And your story, "All Will Turn to Gray," will appear in Zippered Flesh 3. Do you find writing horror fiction more rewarding than other writing? Why horror?

Horror challenges me. I gravitate to it, like a delicious, freshly brewed pot of coffee. Horror gets your pulse racing (also like a delicious, freshly brewed pot of coffee). It reminds you to be grateful for being alive ... and for not being one of the unlucky schmucks you're reading about. I am personally fascinated by what is not known and not seen--things mysterious and sometimes beyond comprehension. Supernatural tropes really grab my attention. Slashers freak me out as well, simply because they are often in very plausible scenarios. But I do not feel it is an easy fit for me, as I'm the dork who goes to the theater and laughs at the jump scares, and makes silly comments. It's knee-jerk. Maybe it's a response to fear (although you will find that I'm not the bastion of wit and humor when I'm walking through a haunted house attraction). So when I can manage to produce a story that is legitimately creepy and unsettling, I am a bit surprised. As well as giddy. In that way, I do find horror more rewarding, because it is against my nature, and therefore more an act of discipline.

Your humor always impressed me as snarky. Well, maybe not snarky—unique and dark. Do you consciously incorporate humor into your writing? Or does it happen naturally?

I have to fight to NOT be a smart-ass when I'm writing. And that's almost precisely what it is. I'm that way off screen as well, constantly making wisecracks. There are things I've written where I gave myself permission to be as ridiculous as I wanted, and those particular projects are more comedy than horror. Perhaps something akin to really enthusiastic bizarro, even. But if I want to produce something that really chills the reader,  Read More 

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Armand Rosamilia Talks About Horror

Armand Rosamilia knows quite a bit about horror writing. His work has appeared in many publications, including his story, "Creeping Death," in the Smart Rhino anthology Zippered Flesh: Tales of Body Enhancements Gone Bad! He's also written a good many novels, including his Dying Days series, Chelsea Avenue: A Supernatural Thriller, Middletown Apocalypse, Dirty Deeds, and others. We were thrilled to have a chance to talk with Armand about one of his favorite topics--horror writing.

Zombies seem to be the rage, especially with the success of The Walking Dead TV series. You've written a good deal of zombie fiction, particularly in your Dying Days books. What do you think is the appeal?

It depends on the person. Some readers love zombie fiction because it is a mirror held up to society. Some think it foreshadows our future. Some think it is an analogy for the way the world is today, and is falling apart. For me, I just think zombies are really cool. I love reading about them and, as a kid, I loved watching zombie movies. So I can see the entertainment value of them first and foremost.

You're an incredibly prolific writer. Where do the creepy, often bizarre ideas come from?

I read a lot. Always have. Dean Koontz books started me on this journey at 12. I read mostly nonfiction now and watch Discovery Channel Investigation shows. The real horror is all around us,  Read More 

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Graham Masterton: Horror and Suspense Master Extraordinaire

Graham Masterton is something of a literary chameleon. A prolific author, his 100+ books run the gamut from horror to thrillers to historical fiction to sex “how-to” manuals to his current series of Katie Maquire crime fiction. His debut as a horror writer began with the immensely popular novel, The Manitou, in 1975, which was also made into a movie starring Tony Curtis and Susan Strasberg. Several of his short stories have been adapted for television, including three for Tony Scott’s Hunger series. The man has been around the block a few times.

Graham is magnanimous and more than willing to talk about writing and publishing, and has long been a supporter of other writers in the field. In fact, he will talk your ear off given half the chance. I was thrilled that he was willing to take some time out of his busy day to answer a few questions for Suspense Magazine.

So, where did it all start?

I was writing fiction from an early age. I loved the novels of Jules Verne like Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea and H.G. Wells like The War of the Worlds, and wrote my own adventure novels and bound them in cardboard. At the age of 10 or 11, I discovered Edgar Allan Poe and loved the stories of “The Pit and the Pendulum” and blazing dwarves. I started writing my own short horror stories to read to my friends during break time at school. Some of my friends met me years later and told me that I had given them nightmares. I wrote a 250-page novel (by hand) about giant supernatural crabs when I was 12 (which I still have). When I was 14, I wrote a 400-page vampire novel that has been lost.

I was expelled from school was I was 17. Expulsion was the making of me, though,  Read More 

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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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Meet Horror/Suspense Writer W.D. Gagliani

W.D. Gagliani is the author of many novels, including Savage Nights, Wolf’s Trap, Wolf’s Gambit, Wolf’s Bluff, Wolf’s Edge, and more. Wolf’s Trap was a finalist for the Bram Stoker Award in 2004. Bill has published fiction and nonfiction in numerous anthologies and publications. He is a member of the Horror Writers Association (HWA), the International Thriller Writers (ITW), and the Authors Guild. Raised in Genova, Italy, as well as Kenosha, Wisconsin, he now lives and writes in Milwaukee.

Bill, with his co-writer David Benton, wrote the story "Piper at the Gates," published in the Smart Rhino anthology Zippered Flesh 2: More Tales of Body Enhancements Gone Bad! We had fun in the following interview!

You tend to write a hybridization of horror and crime fiction/suspense. Do you find this combination easy to write, and why?

I do find it easier (no writing is truly easy, as you know). But not because there’s something magical about the mix that I’m tapping into. I find it easier because I grew up loving thrillers (and mystery and other genres, but thrillers were big), and later fell under the spell of one S. King, who blew my mind and sent it reeling into that black hole of terror I’d always been circling anyway. I had enjoyed horror before, such as James Herbert’s The Rats and The Fog, but when King came along with ‘Salem’s Lot, I truly was lost. I went all in on horror then. I took a break for my first couple years of college, then jumped back in. It became my favorite genre to read.

But, in any case,  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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