Here it is, dear fiends, the moment you’ve all been waiting for – the Dreadful Tales interview with Bram Stoker Award-winning author Lisa Mannetti! You wouldn’t believe the trouble Mannetti had trying to get this to us. The ghosts in her computer and Kindle Fire made it nearly impossible for her to relax on what was supposed to be a hassle-free retreat. After many hours of pain, anguish, hair-pulling, and tech support, Mannetti was finally able to respond to our questions. And boy did she ever, folks! As you will find in the interview below, Mannetti is quite thorough with her answers and revealing in the origins of her passion for writing, reading, and life! She was as dedicated answering our interview questions as she is in her fictional writing. It was a great pleasure to have this opportunity and I hope you all enjoy the interview as much as I do!
DT: Hello Lisa,
The weather was gorgeous here today! Hope you enjoyed the same.
Thanks again for taking the time to do this interview.
Let me know if you have any questions about what I am trying to ask,
sometimes I don’t make sense and have trouble getting to the point!
OK, let’s get to it.
MANNETTI: Thanks for asking me to participate in the WIHM series and let me just add, that as I am typing this, (at six a.m.) it’s a balmy (ahem) 24 degrees here in Springfield, MA where I’m visiting the talented Corrine De Winter—one of my great friends and favorite writers! Corrine won the Stoker a few years back (poetry) and she has a few books coming out shortly (short stories, graphic novel and novel) and I hope you two cool chicks have a chance to meet in cyberspace! Onward to the questions and my hopefully intelligible responses!
DT: Can you tell us a bit about your writing career? Did you always know you wanted to be a professional writer or did that come later?
MANNETTI: I was a voracious reader as a child and I had two “Aha!” moments when I was 8: the first involved a teacher who was reading the opening to Dickens’ Great Expectations, and our assignment was to tell what we thought came next in the story. I don’t remember what I wrote, but weirdly I somehow intuited the convict’s name was Magwitch. At any rate, my teacher read my “conclusion” out loud to the rest of the class.
In the second instance, (same year) I had been having night terrors and was pretty much driving my parents insane because (never one to keep quiet and suffer alone in the dark) I was waking them to explain the graphic details of each and every lurid nightmare each and every single night. A few weeks into this routine, they were not only sleep-deprived but, since my mother was a public health director, ready to send me to a psychiatrist—preferably one located, I’m sure, in some remote corner of the country so they could process the horrors my perfervid little brain was churning up at a distance and from the fresher perspective of an actual night’s sleep. (I always envisioned them reading the shrink’s reports at breakfast time, surrounded by coffee and sunlight, able to deal with my crises—much like people in the New Yorker cartoons who digest catastrophic events and mutter stunning quips from around the edges of the morning paper. It was a lot easier, I figured, to deal with atomic bombs and nervous breakdowns after the caffeine has been ingested and the orange juice poured.) Anyhow, just before this “last resort” was implemented, I wrote a short story in which the child heroine—in a less than startling denouement—reveals that actual monsters are not invading her room: instead, the kid reasons when Mom comes in to kiss her good night, it triggers nightmares of vampires bending over the bed and pouncing. Eureka! Thousands of dollars are saved; all proximate Mannetti family members are now deliriously happy and sighing with relief because the first night my mother skipped the June Cleaver act, I slept like a felled ox.
Actually, once they all turned in their insomniacs anonymous cards, not only was no one coming in to kiss me goodnight, they wouldn’t have tossed a teacup of cold spit against the door if my room was on fire. It’s hard to maintain a sunny disposition—or even one that’s acceptably surly—subsisting on eight hours sleep–a week.
Anyway, since I was blissfully unaware of the whole episode (that is, I didn’t know my mother was coming in to kiss me while I was asleep and I didn’t remember waking up every night) the “Aha!” moment for me was when my mother read the story out loud. My parents were decidedly not of the ilk who believe their kids need to be praised and coddled into being prodigies–they were more the kind who believed deflating egos was crucial and that children regularly need to be reminded just how many hideous faults they possess and worse, inflict on others; so when she read that story to my Dad, and I understood that unconsciously I solved the problem through writing, I knew that was what I wanted to be: A person who tortures others by sharing the misery of their horrifying dreams.
Speaking of which, I had a doozy last night, replete with lots of shouts and screams…you see, there was this strange police state, and the authorities were constantly using some kind of tracking device on kids and when they found the dear little innocents hiding, they took these menacing steel pliers and sharp-nosed pincers and pulled off bits of flesh and…
DT: Horror is a really broad term considering all the flavors of the genre. What is your preferred taste and why?
MANNETTI: I really have only one mandate: good, solid writing.
DT: DEATHWATCH was my first introduction to your work and I was instantly hooked. The companion novellas, Dissolution and The Sheila Na Gig, are dark, atmospheric, and psychologically haunting. What was the inspiration for these stories? Can you explain how they developed?
MANNETTI: As I recall, The Sheila Na Gig, started out as another work, but turned into what it is…the first scene I wrote was the sexual encounter between Tom and what he thinks is his beloved; except somehow I knew that wasn’t the opening…crazy as it sounds, when I “saw” the image of the milk dripping from Rose’s face, the book clicked. With Dissolution, I heard the opening in my head and I heard Stuart’s voice and just started writing. As the book developed I realized I owed a great deal thematically to Peter Straub and Edith Wharton regarding the isolating effects of harsh winters—a concept I’m still really caught up in.
DT: Both novellas included shocking erotic interludes, especially those between the doctor Stuart Granville and the young Siamese twins in Dissolution. How do you determine how far you will take scenes that deal with sexual content, especially of a sensitive nature?
MANNETTI: Boy, these are really hard questions, Meli…anyhow, I was worried with both novellas that the material was not only horrific and shocking, but too much. However, when I wrote them I was working just for myself (sometimes the best way a writer can work, I think) without regard to who might be put off, or whether they’d actually even be published, and with that little mental masquerade in the forefront, I just went for it.
DT: What do you think are fears people have that transcend time? What do you think are fears that are dormant, waiting to be reawakened? (Things we used to be afraid of, but perhaps aren’t so much anymore). In DEATHWATCH, I felt there was a combination of universal, timeless fears, but also fear we may have forgotten (like old medical experimentation). Was it your intention to blend the two?
MANNETTI: I think all fear is essentially related to the dissolution of self—though it comes in many guises; for example, the fear of abandonment (which leaves a shattered self that is too weak to stand alone); the fear of disfigurement (the self is unrecognizable and alien and possibly repugnant to others); or, say the fear of losing one’s job, status or home (the underpinnings of ego have been kicked aside leaving a self that has no sense of continuity)…well, you get the idea, the individual can no longer maintain control or a semblance of order, or the ‘fitness’ of things. Death, of course, is the ultimate destruction of self. We really can’t imagine we’ll no longer exist.
I’ve just mentioned a few fears, but really all of them can be seen (or reduced, if you prefer) to an obliteration of the self (which is mostly an imaginary construct) that we carry inside ourselves. From that perspective, terrors lurk everywhere and at all times.
While it’s true that situation gives rise to greater or lesser anxieties (I’m not, say, overly worried about being tossed into a pit with lions even though I’ve been baptized; I feel pretty sure I won’t die of smallpox or in a caving accident—on the other hand, I could drown while vacationing on a cruise or from an infection—or (to play devil’s advocate—be an unlucky loser in the gardasil lottery or succumb to the havoc wreaked by tainted vaccines or recalled surgical implants….(And you thought medical experimentation was moribund…wink wink wink.)
DT: Your debut novel, THE GENTLING BOX, was a Bram Stoker Award-winner. Following that, “Dissolution” garnered a Bram Stoker nomination. That’s a pretty great start for any writer’s career and I’ve no doubt it was exciting, intoxicating, surreal, and all that. What was another moment where you remember thinking “THIS is why I write!”?
MANNETTI: That truly was one of the most exhilarating moments of my life, the culmination of a year’s work that was a madly joyous carousel ride. Conversely, if I’m not writing I feel deflated. Writing can be a tough slog like any other job—and there are good days and bad days and one just pushes through—but I’m not sure most writers really have a choice; they have to write. But on days when you’re flying along and you feel you’re there and not there and the words seem to reel themselves out and even without thinking about it you just know the writing is spot on—those days create their own special niches in your memory and for me, sum up the why of my writing.
DT: One of your short stories was also features in a free web anthology from the Italion Il Posto Nero Web Magazine. Do you speak Italian? Are you networking on some Italian horror enthusiast’s message board? How did these people find you!?
MANNETTI: Last spring I had a lovely surprise when Alessandro Manzetti contacted me on Facebook and asked if he could do a profile. He mentioned that other authors who he’d previously featured included Dan Keohane, Brian Keene and Michael Laimo; after that he asked if I’d contribute a story to a few of his webzines and as well as some e-publications. “Everybody Wins” which came out a few years ago and was made into a short film directed by Paul Leyden was translated (“Vincono Tutti”) for the dark webzine, Mama Brigitte. Subsequently Alessandro became the liason for the HWA in Italy and Il Posto Nero became the official Italian HWA blog. He’s been a huge supporter of my work and he’s fantastic to work with. I do speak Italian–but not well—so luckily for me Alessandro’s English is perfect.
DT: THE GENTLING BOX will be released in Italian this year. How did that come about? Where can your Italian fans find the release when it comes out?
MANNETTI: Toward the end of the summer, Alessandro approached me about the possibility that Edizioni XII might be interested in publishing The Gentling Box in Italian….much to my delight, they accepted the book and it will be out in 2012. Alessandro stepped into the role of publicizing it and introduced me to my wonderful Italian publisher, Daniele Bonfanti, and my truly incredibly talented translator, Luigi Musolino…it’s been a long-held dream of mine to have my work published in Italy for a couple of reasons. I have relatives who live there and also, I lived in Venice for 4 months (January to May 2000). I feel very alive when I’m there and for me, it’s a special place—and I was thrilled when Alessandro published my short story, “Castello, 985” which I wrote while living in Venice in the free-book, Arkana. At any rate, I hope when the book is released there, I’ll be going over to do signings and visit family and do a little sight-seeing. I’m really excited about this and can’t thank Alessandro, Daniele and Gigi, enough!
DT: I recently reviewed THE NEW ADVENTURES OF TOM SAWYER AND HUCK FINN. This is quite a departure from your horror fare. It’s more fantasy, but also a heart-warming tale of friendship at the core. Your respect and admiration for Mark Twain and love for the Tom and Huck characters is palpable in your writing. How did you prepare for the story? Did you re-read your favorite Twain novels? Did you keep his books close at hand?
MANNETTI: I had voice mail back then that allowed you to ramble on for a pretty good amount of time when you recorded your outgoing message; that turned into 90 second playlets featuring the voice (ostensibly) of my cat, Tom Sawyer, narrating the latest harum-scarum hijinks (which I concocted) he and Huck were perpetrating. I had to change the messages regularly (or friends complained) and honestly, solicitors would call…hang up…then call again and I’d get these messages, “Hello this is Bob Smith from Worldwide Insurance and I’m sorry to bother you, but I had to let my colleagues hear this…” and on the voice mail, you’d hear a whole office full of people laughing. The good part was, they never bothered trying to sell me insurance…So, I had the smartest cat in the world, Tom Sawyer and his sweet-natured brother, Huck Finn, right on hand, so to speak, and I was always re-reading Twain and one day a book just naturally erupted….and to tell the truth, it was the easiest book I’ve ever written, but the worst in terms of copy-editing with all those apostrophes and dialects—which is why even Mark Twain gave up and made William Dean Howells correct his manuscript.
DT: Even though I wouldn’t categorize THE NEW ADVENTURES… as horror, there were a few very graphic and horrific bits that might not be suitable for children. Luckily, a YA version is coming out in just a month and a half. What kind of changes, without giving too much away, were made for this version?
MANNETTI: Mainly I just cut down the rough parts and as you would imagine scaled down anything iffy for teenagers…it’s a tough call because that kind of thing always shifts—remember in ET when (then) five-year-old Drew Barrymore called her brother “penis-breath.” As I recall, Spielberg wanted the PG rating, because he thought adults would give the film a miss if it was G-rated.
DT: I don’t want to press my luck, because I’ve asked you this a couple times, but I’m gonna take a chance! Will Tom and Huck make a comeback soon?? I really miss those rambunctious little bastards! I bought a copy for my grandma for Christmas. She had twin black cats (before one passed away), she’s a cat lover, and she’s obsessed with ghost stories. While this isn’t a ghost story necessarily, I knew she would enjoy the supernatural elements. She read the story in one day!
Can you bring ’em back for grandma?? No pressure *wink*
MANNETTI: I’d love to return to this book and my beloved Tom and Huck at some point—and now that I have a couple more twinnies—Harry and Theo Houdini who are black mischief makers, they might show up, too…but I have two books to write before that happens…let’s hope all goes smoothly and the further adventures comes to light soon.
DT: THE NEW ADVENTURES… won’t be the first YA novel on your resume. As a horror fan, I am guilty of tunnel vision when it comes to my favorite writers, only focusing on their genre titles. So, I was surprised when I came across IRAN AND IRAQ: NATIONS AT WAR. What was the impetus behind writing that book? And why did you aim it towards grade 7 and up specifically?
MANNETTI: I don’t know what it says about the book on Amazon now (and by the way it was selected as one of the Child Associations Books of the year back then) but it was actually sold to high school libraries and intended for Advance Placement courses (the ones where kids earn college credits); there was nothing out there at all about Iran and Iraq and I was hired by an editor at Franklin Watts to write that book specifically (and paid well, too, I might add) along with a book (for a much younger grade school audience,) called Equality.
DT: You announced the start of your next novel, THE HUNGER ARTIST, recently via Facebook. Even though you made no confirmation of the release date, I quickly included it as one of Dreadful Tale’s most anticipated titles of 2012. Can you share any details about the book with us?
MANNETTI: I’m still researching, (not that I’ll really stop because I often research on the fly as I write, too) so I haven’t chosen the point of view, the setting, or the time period yet, but the background story is based on true events. Two wealthy young women at the turn of the century were hoodwinked by a woman who was an osteopath and a ‘licensed fasting specialist’ in Washington state. She killed lots of her patients, but these sisters were especially vulnerable and the woman clearly intended to rob them of their valuables, their properties. She essentially held them prisoner, but worst of all was how she manipulated them and those around her. Heartrending and horrific. Right up my alley, in other words.
Just to keep in mind how this kind of transition from real life to fiction is done, I’ve also been rereading books about the Indiana torture murders which Jack Ketchum turned into the brilliant The Girl Next Door, and the Pam Smart case, which Joyce Maynard re-imagined so magnificently in To Die For. So, I’ve set some pretty high standards for myself and am really hoping to be equal to the task. But just thinking about it gets me all fluttery and I feel that excited nervous tick behind my sternum and that’s a good sign.
DT: OK, last one. Vincent Price has invited you to the House on Haunted Hill and he wants you to pick the other 4 guests. Who do you pick and why?
MANNETTI: First I have to tell you that I watched this movie on TV as a kid and it scared me so much, I actually developed a fever….so it’s one of my all time faves and it’s a great question.
- Shirley Jackson—because she wrote one of the greatest haunted house stories of all time and since this film is definitely part of her legacy, I’d like to see what she’d do to change the course of events that Loren (Vincent Price) set in motion.
- Alfred Hitchcock so he can film the evening in black and white, edit it, and talk about the effectiveness of Psycho and what he’d change if he were remaking it so that modern audiences would be as terrified as those who watched it back in 1960.
- Vlad the Impaler—because I’d like to ask him what he makes of all the vampire myths and find out where he thinks real modern vampires are hanging out these days. Plus as Tom Sawyer would say, he’d probably liven things up noble good and bring a lot of gaudy execution-ware.
- Lizzie Borden—why settle for tricks and games (like those in the film) when you can have the real thing? Between Lizzie and Vlad they could keep any pesky ancillary personnel or curiosity seekers under control so the rest of us-serious minded types aren’t bombarded with whining and annoyances like gunshots and cold breakfasts.