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Weldon Writes ... Almost a Blog

Alan Orloff: From Mechanical Engineering to Engineering Thriller, Mystery, and Horror Fiction

Alan Orloff has had a diversified career during his lifetime, far more than most folks. Lucky for us, he's now settled into writing awarding-winning novels and short stories. His debut mystery, Diamonds for the Dead, was nominated for an Agatha Award for Best First Novel. His novel, Pray for the Innocent, won the 2019 ITW Thriller Award in the Best E-Book Original category.

 

Alan's short fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies and other publications, including Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Mystery Weekly, Noir at the Salad Bar, 50 Shades of Cabernet, Black Cat Mystery Magazine, and many others.  His story, "Rule Number One" was selected for the 2018 edition of The Best American Mystery Stories anthology. His story, "Happy Birthday" (published on Shotgun Honey), was a 2018 Derringer Award Finalist in the Flash Fiction category. And his story, "Dying in Dokesville" (published in Mystery Most Geographical) won the 2019 Derringer Award in the Short Story category.

 

Alan is always willing to chat with readers and fellow writers. So, it was no surprise when he agreed—without hesitation—to talk with us for Suspense Magazine.

 


Alan, thanks for chatting with us. You come from a diverse background. A degree in mechanical engineering, an MBA. You've worked on nuclear submarines, at a marketing research firm, and have even driven a forklift, among many other things. Now you're a full-time writer. How in the world did that happen?

A very good question, one that my wife asks me all the time. I wish I had a better answer, but one day I just decided to give writing a try. While I never (never!) had taken a creative writing class (or shown any desire to do so), I'd always been a big reader. I guess I finally got fed up reading other people's stories and wanted to write my own! I started slow, with a proof of concept. Could I write a short story? I did, it didn't stink (too bad), so I took a few workshops, then a few more, and kept at it. Still doing it, too.

 

 

Tell us about your thriller, Pray for the Innocent.

 

 

Don't hate me, but I woke up at 4 am with the premise for this novel fully formed in my head. I recommend this method very highly! (Although, every morning since, when I wake up WITHOUT a great idea in my idea, I have to admit I'm a little disappointed.) The book kicks off with a slight sci-fi twist and then it's off to the races. (It was fortunate enough to win the ITW Thriller Award for Best E-Book Original.) Here's a brief description:

 

In the shadow of the Pentagon, a secret DoD brain research experiment goes terribly wrong, and an ex-Special Ops soldier escapes, believing he is Viktor Dragunov, the Russian operative from the 80's thriller novel, Attack on America. To capture him, the Feds turn to the person uniquely qualified to predict his next moves, the man who created the fictional character, best-selling author Mathias King.

Now a reclusive English professor, King is reluctant to get involved, having sworn off the culture of violence after a deranged fan murdered his wife. But when innocent people start dying, King is thrust back into that dark world. With help from his enthusiastic graduate assistant Emily Phan, King must outsmart his own creation--while outmaneuvering the cover-up-loving Feds--before Dragunov succeeds in his hell-bent mission.

To destroy America.

 

 

Your first novel, Diamonds for the Dead, was nominated for an Agatha Award for Best First Novel. What was your inspiration for that book?

 

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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? 

 

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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 professionally 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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