Interview with Donor Author Elena Hearty

Elena Hearty is a first-time Samhain novelist–heck, first time novelist in general–whose personal story regarding the start of her writing career is as fascinating as her first book, Donor. If you read my review yesterday (check it out here) you know I loved the book. Well, I hope I at least got that across. I rambled on a bit too much about vampire tropes and the state of bloodsucker lit and probably not enough about Hearty’s book, Donor, but the short version is it’s a helluva lot of fun to read. In fact, I feel so strongly about the quality of this book that if you leave a comment in the comment’s section below, I’ll pick one lucky reader for a Donor giveaway.

Hearty is the type of author that doesn’t restrict her craft with deadlines. She writes purely for the enjoyment of it and also because she’s got to get those damned voices out of her head!

She let me steal away some of her time to talk about Donor, her writing process, the road to Samhain, and all that good authory type stuff.

Enjoy!

DREADFUL TALES: Thanks again for taking the time to talk to Dreadful Tales. We are having a bit of a Samhain celebration this week and are excited to
learn more about one of its first time novelists.

You mention on your website that creating stories was in part a result of your bouts with insomnia as a preteen. How were you finally able to get the stories out of your head and put pen to paper? Can you tell us about how that process has worked for you?

ELENA HEARTY: Inventing stories began as a way to combat insomnia, but had spread to nearly all aspects of my life by early adulthood. Stuck in traffic? Story time. Bored in a meeting? Story time. Attending a lecture vital to the understanding of computational complexity theory? Unfortunately, story time.

To justify this arguably self destructive habit, I told myself I was “working on a novel.” I told myself that for over a decade. And my daydreams eventually followed suit, organizing themselves into neat little chapters. One day I realized my longest standing novel (Donor) was complete, but it wasn’t until years later that I actually worked up the courage to write it all down. At that point, the process felt more like typing than writing – but that’s not to say my characters didn’t still manage to surprise me in several places.

DT: When you brought DONOR to life on the page how did the story and characters change? What stayed the same?

EH: The story line remained largely the same, but my characters developed minds of their own. For example, Lenore – the main character – is addicted to Xanax. She was originally supposed to kick the habit by the end of the book, but I realized it wouldn’t be in character for her to do so. Actually, I hate the phrase ‘in character’ because people act out of character all the time. Let me put it a different way: Lenore doesn’t kick the habit because she doesn’t *want* to kick the habit. As the author, I have to respect her decision.

Another example of character development gone wild is Richard, Lenore’s captor. He was initially slated for only a minor role, but I just couldn’t get him to stop talking. Once I decided to give his character a little more freedom, he drove the one scene in Donor that wasn’t in my original outline: Dinner Theater. It turned out to be a great addition to the narrative.

DT: I think that is a very interesting way to put it – “I have to respect her decision.” That attitude certainly made the characters all feel very true to life. Vampire or mortal human, their actions developed in a realistic way which amped up the suspense. For better or worse, I cared about these people and what was happening to them. Even Charles at times. Speaking of Charles, Dinner Theater was a great scene! Richard had a real sick sense of humor, but was a bit full of himself as well. Lenore’s disconnectedness and aloofness to Richard made for some humorous moments.

So back to your progression from dreamer to novelist, before writing DONOR did you warm up with short stories or just jump right into your first novel? How did Don D’Auria find you and how did you become part of the Samhain family?

EH: Glad you enjoyed dinner theater. And Richard has a sick sense of humor because he has mysense of humor. I wouldn’t know how to write him any other way. 🙂

Believe it or not, I didjump right into novel writing, but that’s because I had no intention of getting published. I just thought it would be fun to finally get a story out of my head. Once I started writing, however, I realized how much I cared about the quality of my project. I mean, I’d been living with these characters for such a long time — I didn’t want to let them down. Man, that even sounds nuts when I read it back to myself, but it’s true. 

I decided to become a good writer so that I wouldn’t let my imaginary friends down.

YIKES.

But how would I know if I was any good? The answer seemed simple: publication. So I took a break from novel writing to work on short stories for a while. A few months later, I’d sold a story to a semi-pro market. This small success was such a thrill that it inspired me to seek publication for my novel, which I finished shortly thereafter.

Finding a publisher is a bit like applying to college: there are “reach” schools and there are “safety” schools. For Donor, Samhain was my “reach”, and I never expected them to give me the time of day. I’m still floored that Don D’Auria contacted me. I still can’t believe he read my book. I still can’t believe he wanted it for Samhain’s horror line. Don’s been great to work with, as has everyone on the Samhain team.

DT: I’m just fascinated by the fact that you took the story in your head and made it into a novel so (seemingly) easy. I’m interviewing Jonathan Janz as well, a fellow Samhain novelist, and the process for him has been much different, but I found both of your first efforts absolutely impressive.

Are you personally a fan of horror? Who are some of your literary influences in the genre and outside the genre?

EH: Maybe writing Donor seemed easy to me because it was so much fun. 🙂

To answer your question: YES, I’m a fan of horror. I read ‘Interview with the Vampire’ when I was in third grade and have been hooked ever since. I wouldn’t say that any of the authors in that genre have really influenced me, however, even though I’ve read a ton of Clive Barker and Stephen King. They write a lot of material with nebulous evil whereas I like my bad guys to be people you’d be able to have a conversation with. In that sense my biggest influences have probably been great character authors like Elmore Leonard or John Kennedy Toole.

DT: It’s fun to read as well!

Funny you should mention INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE because I was reminded of that story, in particular the approach of making vampires realistic and showing readers a world where they actually exist.

Which brings me to my next question. I love vampire stories and it is a genre trope I never tire of, so I don’t believe that a phenomenon like TWILIGHT can ruin vampires. With successful novels John Linqvist’s LET THE RIGHT ONE IN and Guillermo del Toro & Chuck Hogan’s vampire apocalypse trilogy THE STRAIN, it’s obvious there is still plenty of blood for thirsty fans. Still, these days when you say “vampire” you often get a roll of the eyes. Considering the current discontentedness with paranormal romance, were you at all concerned about whether or not a vampire novel would capture the interest of horror fiction fans?

Donor is definitely NOT a romantic tale and it can’t be categorized as paranormal romance, but do you think there is an inclination to tag vampire stories as romance these days with the wild success of books like Twilight and shows like The Vampire Diaries?

EH: I’m thrilled that you mentioned Twilight because I think the success of that series signifies something very important: In this age of instant gratification – with youtube playing on every cell phone – people are still reading. That’s huge. And I’m grateful to Stephanie Meyer for inspiring so many young people to turn off their televisions and pick up a book instead.

Has the whole phenomenon left people sick to death of vampires? Maybe. But I didn’t write Donor for anyone but myself; finding other readers was the last thing on my mind. When I decided to seek publication, however, the trend became more of a concern; I’m not a fan of paranormal romance (or romance in general) and certainly didn’t want Donor labelled as such. Thankfully, Samhain has taken great care to market it appropriately.

DT: I’d have to agree with your take on TWILIGHT; it is getting teens to read and for some it will be their gateway into horror. For some reason genre fans want to hold it solely responsible for ruining vampires or making them soft, but don’t want to give it credit for the positive.

In Donor you made an interesting juxtaposition between Lenore’s addiction to Xanax and Richard / Paul’s need for blood to survive. Lenore even criticizes them stating, “You either kill people or you don’t. That’s not one of those subjects where there’s a ton of gray area.” But it turns out, and Lenore finds out personally, that there is actually a lot of gray area.

You’ve mentioned the characters as having minds of their own. Is the commentary in DONOR about addiction and the complicated nature of killing a product of the character’s themselves or was that  intentional?

EH: Lenore’s life revolves around her need for Xanax much in the same way that Richard and Paul’s lives revolve around their need for blood. That juxtaposition was intentional. What wasn’t intentional was the extent to which the characters would recognize how much they have in common. In the end, both Paul and Richard sympathize with Lenore’s addiction and even strive to provide her with meds. Likewise, Lenore comes to accept Paul and Richard’s habits without passing judgement.

DT: DONOR is a fun read, but it is also thought-provoking. Readers will be entertained but have something to chew on as well. Was it important to you for DONOR to be a fun, fast-paced read, but still have some meat on the bones? Or, again, was this a product of the characters’ motivation?

EH: I’m glad you found Donor thought provoking. A great deal of things that keep me up at night worked their way into the manuscript, such as quantum immortality, acceptance of death, and what it really means to be a monster. Those topics are in Donor because I wrote the book I wanted to read, and I like books that touch on larger themes.

DT: Now that DONOR has been published, you’re hard at work on another novel, FIX. Can you tell us about the next book? Any additional tidbits you can share that aren’t revealed on your website?

EH: Fix takes place in the same universe, but features zombies instead. It’s my take on zombies, though, meaning that they’re real people. The main characters constantly inject themselves with serum to prevent from rotting. And when the sole provider of serum goes missing, they set out to discover what happened to him – and they don’t have much time.

DT: I’m a big fan of DONOR so I’m looking forward to your next book. It may be a bit early to ask, but do you have a tentative date for the release of FIX??

EH: I refuse to commit to any deadlines! I write for fun and deadlines would definitely take the fun out of writing. I’m also working on a sequel to Donor and at this point I don’t know which book will be finished first.

DT: I know at least one of your fellow Samhain novelists that is hitting the horror con circuit, any book signings, conventions, or readings you will attend that fans need to know about?

EH: The horror con circuit probably isn’t for me. Honestly, that type of thing sounds like my worst nightmare. I love writing, but I don’t have any designs on being an ‘author’ if that makes any sense.

DT: Do you still suffer from insomnia?

EH: I had a particularly bad bout with insomnia earlier this week, as a matter of fact, and I was up until five in the morning. Thankfully, I had lots of friends in my head to keep me company 😉

DT: And 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 choose and why?

EH: I love the House on Haunted Hill question! I’m going to use this as an opportunity to list my four favorite horror movie characters of all time…and probably means I wouldn’t make it out alive.
1) Warwick Davis as the Leprechan. Seriously, watch Leprechaun in the Hood. The rap at the end is priceless.
2) Ash from The Evil Dead series. He is the fucking man.
3) Chris Sarandon as Jerry Dandrige in the original Fright Night. I absolutely loved this movie growing up and thought the vampire next door seemed to have a great sense of humor.
4) Gizmo from Gremlins. If I’m stuck in the House on Haunted Hill, I’m pouring water all over Gizmo and feeding him after dark.

Who would survive? It’s anyone’s call, but my money’s on Ash.

Keep up with everything Elena Hearty at her website. Be sure to check out everything that’s going on with Samhain Horror as well here!

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Genetic Profile: Terrence Zdunich

“And it’s my job, to steal, and rob…”

Terrence Zdunich (Zuh-doon-itch) is a name that you’ll hear me praising time and again. He’s an accomplished actor, singer, writer and illustrator. Born and raised in California, Zdunich has always known that he’s a bit creepy. He began drawing at an early age, and never stopped.

Influenced by graphic novels and a burning need to create, Zdunich started his career as an actor, but his desire or more brought him (along with co-creator Darren Smith) to write a play/musical hybrid stage show. In fact, you might have heard of it.

Credits

  • Co-creator of REPO! The Genetic Opera stage production. Also acted as Graverobber for the entire run.
  • Starred in a REPO! short film, that sadly won’t be seen due to legalities.
  • Creator/writer/illustrator of The Molting comic book series.
  • Reprised role as Graverobber in the full-length feature REPO! The Genetic Opera.
  • Co-creator/writer/star of The Devil’s Carnival.

The Molting is currently (March, 2012) sitting at 6 issues, approximately half-way through the concept and storyline that Zdunich has envisioned. The series focuses on Trevor and Joseph, brothers growing up in Anaheim, California, and chronicles their journey of survival while living with an apathetic father and psychologically disturbed mother. I got my hands on the first 6 issues at ComiCON in March, and I tore through them in a day.

Chapter 1, Guilty Susie – The series starts off in the 1960s, Susie is but a girl at this point, forced to live with the terrible tricks that life sometimes plays, as well as her aunt and uncle. I loathed the adults, Zdunich created very simple, yet powerfully despicable characters in the short span of this chapter. Susie isn’t completely stripped of innocence, as she has her big brother to protect her…mostly. The artwork has a deliberately orange/brown/purple hue, the tones warm but conveying the “ugly” feeling of the overall story. The climax is both chilling and shocking, and just what the hell is in the attic?

Chapter 2, The Happiest Place On Earth – The story fast-forwards itself to the 1990s and introduces us to Susie’s dysfunctional family: her apathetic husband Abe, and her two teenage sons Trevor and the new main protagonist, Joseph. Each character is given enough introductory depth to become attached to, and Trevor is one good deed away from being a hero.

Chapter 3, Ootheca – The female characters are the focus of this story, as we get a glimpse at just how disturbed Susie has become. Think OCD with a side of bi-polar. We’re also very graphically introduced to Sandra, Trevor’s chola girlfriend. This story builds tension in the family, as Trevor begins a hero, and ends the story a felon. The characters have now become familiar and the reader has had time to choose which member of the Pryzkind family they’re rooting for.

Chapter 4, Lethal Raids – The artwork takes centre stage in this chapter, the illustrations are vivid and far-reaching, necessary illustrations that forward the smaller plot of the story. Joseph must deal with bullying and a struggle that many artists go through. The reader is also exposed to a much larger degree of Susie’s psychosis, which I believe will divide readers between loving and hating her.

Chapter 5, Mother’s Day – The story takes place at Hallowe’en, and while Susie again brings the crazy, I have to believe that the title is a nod to Darren Lynn Bousman. This story focuses on Susie’s continued inability to provide a proper home for her family, as well as revealing more of Sandra’s personality and true intentions. While there isn’t as much violence as previous chapters, the overwhelming sense of despair and loss at the climax is undeniable, and squirm-inducing.

Chapter 6, Allied Forces – Trevor and Joseph band together to commit a crime, and while it’s atypical of brotherly role models to encourage theft, Joseph and Trevor bond together under the unusual circumstances. Zdunich doesn’t allow that to last, as the seeds of separation are planted, and alliances are truly chosen. This is the story that truly champions Joseph as the outcast of the Pryzkind clan.

The Molting series is much more than a comic, it truly is a graphic novel. The horror is unique and not always visual (a definite feather in the storytelling cap of Mr. Zdunich). The artwork is gritty yet refined, the colour palette evokes equal parts sympathy and misery, and most importantly the story feels real. I know I’m halfway through the series, and issue 7 can’t find my mailbox fast enough.

I had the absolute pleasure of sitting down with Terrence while he was in Toronto this past March, and he very graciously answered my questions about The Molting, as well as The Devil’s Carnival, his influences and other topics.

I personally would like to thank Terrence Zdunich yet again for that opportunity, as well as for putting up with my prior fanboying. For more information on Terrence, please visit his website. To pick up your copies of The Molting, visit the store. To gain admittance into Hell, visit The Devil’s Carnival.

Genetic Profile – Darren Lynn Bousman

This past weekend at Toronto ComiCON horror fans were treated to an absolutely amazing array of guests and frankly, some of my personal influences. For example: the first thing I did when I met Darren Lynn Bousman was trip over my tongue while fanboying.

Bousman is either most known for his work on the SAW series – he wrote and directed SAW II, and helmed SAW III and IV – or as the co-creator and director of REPO! The Genetic Opera. He began his career in writing, as he himself told me (see below) that he’s always written screenplays, and actually began his career directing theatre.

Born and raised in Overland Park, Kansas, Bousman attended Kansas University as a theatre major for about a year and a half. He moved on to a film school in Florida where the script-writing bug bit him. A short time later he moved to Los Angeles, continuing to write scripts while directing music videos to support himself. It was during this time that he wrote a script called “The Desperate”, which would become something completely different after being introduced to producers Gregg Hoffman, Mark Burg and Oren Koules. Those men produced a little movie called SAW, and hired Bousman to direct SAW II, and used his “The Desperate” as the basis for that film.

Filmography

  • SAW II is widely regarded as the most different of the SAW series, as it takes the concept from the first and multiplies it. A house full of strangers being poisoned, all while their captor is held in custody by the police, they must fight time and each other to find the antidotes. Many critics felt that this film didn’t “flow” with the first, however I found it to be one of the best in the series.
  • SAW III sees Jigsaw die, a fact that Bousman initially tried to implement in II, but was able to convince producers that the timing was right.
  • SAW IV has a timeline that runs parallel to III, so the viewer is treated to Jigsaw being both dead and alive through the use of cut scenes. IV doesn’t quite live up to its predecessors, but given that Bousman himself believed the series done after III, IV does a good job of advancing the plot into the focus of new characters.
  • REPO! The Genetic Opera focuses on two dysfunctional families, one who control the futuristic plastic surgery industry through a unique financing system, and the other family torn apart due to disease and deception. Bousman himself regards this film as his masterpiece (as of this writing, at least) and while I am a die-hard SAW fan, I must say that to date, REPO! is by far my favourite Darren Lynn Bousman film.
  • New Year’s Day was an episode of the Fear Itself TV series. Unfortunately I’ve not seen the episode, but knowing that Bousman collaborated with Steve Niles has me very interested.
  • Mother’s Day is a remake of the 1980 Troma classic…that you will very likely never see. Listen to the audio below for the reason. I’ve obviously not seen it, however the remake was given the blessing of both Charles and Lloyd Kaufman, so it’s gotta be damn good.
  • 11-11-11 Follows an author trying to escape the pain of the death of his wife and child. He learns that 11/11/11 is a day of bad omen for him.
  • The Devil’s Carnival will be out in April/May depending on where you live. I had the opportunity to see a trailer for this, and I can’t fucking wait. All I can say is that it’s another goth-opera, but we’re all going to hell.

One little tidbit that I’d like to spoil for anyone other than those superfans out there: REPO! was a stage play long before it became a film. In fact, it was also a short film directed by Bousman (and starring a very different cast outside of co-creator Terrence Zdunich). Sadly, we won’t see it as there’s legal flotsam to run around, and when you hear the audio, you’ll understand that Bousman isn’t a fan of lawyers.

Bousman also has his hand in the literary world, identifying himself as a writer (screenwriter) and is the creator of the comic Abattoir. So far there’s only one issue, but Bousman does plan on getting more out there. In terms of literary influences, I’ll let the man speak for himself:

I’ve said “audio” a few times, haven’t I? Not only was Bousman incredibly accessible all weekend (hence the above snippet), he also participated in two separate panels. Below, you’ll find an hour-long audio clip of Darren speaking frankly with fans about filmmaking in general, as well as brief commentary on some of his favourite (and least favourite) movies, where the hell Mother’s Day is, a little bit about REPO! and his upcoming film project, The Devil’s Carnival.

For more information on Darren Lynn Bousman, visit his website. You can find a brief synopsis of Abattoir here, and I implore you to buy your tickets to The Devil’s Carnival.

Feature: Fresh Flesh for the Feast – A Conversation with Miranda Doerfler

I’ve reviewed this author before. If I’m not mistaken, I’ve ranted a raved about her abilities on both Twitter and Facebook, posted about her on Dreadful Tales, made a gigantic street sign that read MIRANDA4EVR!, and tattooed her face on several unwilling subway riders. Regardless of that, I’d just like to point out that I’m not mentioning her here because I have some strange, stalking tendencies. No no. The restraining order has been lifted, and so have my spirits, because now I have an excuse to shout her praises to the world without actually being obliged to speak about her writing.

But I’ll do that anyways.

The who-what-where of my introduction to this young author begins with the question I ask myself time and time again:

Do I really want to read this piece by someone I don’t know? She’s self-published? Okay… I really have to justify this one. Aw hell, I’m in a good mood, and a few other self-pubbed authors really gave me faith in the fact that good fiction lies in waiting over in Kindle-land. I’ll give it a shot.

And yes, I know that’s a shitty place to be when you’re a reviewer, but let’s face it… this genre is rife with garbage sometimes.

After cracking open and devouring Modern-Day Horrors, her second self published collection of short stories, I was completely blown away and in need of more. I quickly gathered her first, Brimstone Nightmares, and soon after queried her third collection, From Blood and Brain, devouring both with reckless abandon. To tell you that I was thoroughly impressed by this author would be a total understatement. She brings flair, style, and charisma to a genre that yearns for new authors like this. Her age is continually betrayed by her weighty, oftentimes sophisticated prose – something you don’t tend to see from upstarts and younger authors. To completely date myself and fall into old man status, she’s one of those youngsters you just know is gonna go somewhere.

I can also tell you that Miranda is the first self published author I ever actually queried for another book or collection.

Now, there are obviously rough spots in her pieces, and her youthful exuberance shines through in a lot of cases, but these are stories that stay deep in your psyche, are fully realized, and would make the switch from page to screen effortlessly. Doerfler’s ability to create dynamic characters at the same time as setting a particularly terrifying setting is the reason I haven’t given up on the indie circuit altogether. She’s a breath of fresh air, and a spurt of good life in what sometimes seems to be a stagnant genre. Her modern terrors bring a different look at the things that go bump in the night, and her borderline genre-crossing leaves more room to work with a career than can be said for most.

This is a woman who knows what she wants, and what she wants is to just tell a good story. And that’s what this giggly young lady does. She spins a damned good yarn.

When you listen to my conversation with Miranda Doerfler, you’ll come across the very reason that I wanted to showcase her here. She’s articulate but bubbly, serious but funny, and wholly dedicated to her craft. But most of all, she doesn’t regard herself as a “Woman in Horror”. She’s a writer. That’s how she identifies herself. As a writer.

That’s the most important part of this genre, this art, to me. It’s not about being a particular gender in a strange landscape… it’s about the stories.

So without further ado, I’d like to present to you my favorite indie female horror author, Miranda Doerfler. You can check her out at her website, and all over the web in other places.

C.

Feature: Horror Author Sephera Giron Lets the Voices Speak For Themselves

If any of you are on the same page as I am, you’re thinking something like this:

Holy Shit! It’s Valentines Day! Oh man… did I remember to get something for my wife/husband? Did I get anything for the little guys and dolls in my life? Am I teaching my son the art of being suave and charming with the ladies?

Well… that last one is for the guys, really…

Well, for me it’s all checkmark, checkmark, checkmark. Actually… I’m teaching my son to be as charming as any rattled father of three can while also reading terrifying literature, spreading himself thinner than a layer of air, a jittering from the effects of caffeine replacing his blood stream.

And lookie here! It’s Valentines Day and I’m also on tap to talk about one of my favorite ladies to ever hit us over the head with horrific imagery, erotic scenes, and good housekeeping: witch-style.

When I think about the subject of Women in Horror literature, the first person who comes to mind, for me, is the illustrious Sephera Giron. A beautiful example of writer capable of releasing strong prose to her readership, a gorgeous specimen to behold, and an all around wonderful human being – Sephera is one of the ladies in the genre that can easily smash down the walls of the “boy’s club” mentality, and kick it square in the nuts. This is a woman who will just as easily make you tingly with erotic thoughts as she is to make you mad with feverish terror.

From supple women to dismembered bodies, Giron has touched it all and then some. And that, to me, is the mark of a brilliant and worthy artist to follow. Her reach is immense, and her body of work in incredible. She’s truly one of horror’s most cherished gems, in my eyes.

Ask any of the old Leisure authors, or anyone who’s been following the genre for a fair amount of time what they think of Giron’s work. I’m positive they’ll all agree with me when I say that Giron is every part the wolf in sheep’s clothing, a woman who is constantly watching for the opportunity to go straight for the literary jugular. The power in her words is phenomenal, and encompasses the very definition of horror in all of its various and sundry forms.

The first piece I read of this author’s body of work was House of Pain – a book that cause many mixed emotions in me for the fact that it hit really close to home. One of the characters in this story really got under my skin – he seemed too familiar, and it wasn’t until I spoke to Giron a few years later that I found out I was right to feel the way I did. The fact is, she did model this person after the true life monster I had thought about. And that, right there, cemented my appreciation of this author. Right away I found that I could rely on her to bring me to the edge of the uncomfortable realm that encompasses horror and reality, and scare me like not many others could.

Since that first taste of Giron’s wares, I’ve been a huge fan of her work. I own one of the biggest collections of her stories that I know of, and have even purchased several pieces from her personal collection, in passing. This is a woman that I don’t only admire as a horror author, but as a strong willed person, a phenomenally adventurous personality, and a mother who supports her children through every one of their ventures.

When I sat down to interview her, I had a feeling in my stomach that wouldn’t go away. I’m usually pretty nervous to speak to folks like Giron, but this was something else. I was stoked beyond belief. I mean, I’d hung out with her before at a bar, in John Everson’s hotel room along with Gord Rollo and James Roy Daley, at Word on the Street, and at Durham Darklit Fest. So why the hell was I feeling nervous now?

Because this was the first time I got to ask her questions that pointed directly at her and the career that she’d cultivated.

In the following conversation, you’ll hear about everything from Giron’s horror writing career that’s spanned more years than most authors can claim to; her adventures in erotica literature; the many presses she’s written for; her expertise in Tarot reading, Reiki, and Touch for Health; and various other things I didn’t know before now, even though I thought I did.

Feel free to listen to my conversation with Sephera here and marvel at my fanboy nervousness while I speak to one of my favorite authors of all time. As usual, you can also stream the audio with the player below. My apologies in advance for the strange quality of the audio. My Skype recorder hated me that evening.

When you’re done, don’t hesitate to feast your eyes on the videos below. Giron has given us permission to embed a few of these videos for your perusal, and each and every one of these is delectable, terrifying, strange, and utterly enticing. Giron works these stories with the practiced skill of a master actress, making the viewer wonder if she’s really as strange as the characters in her stories. I can assure you, though, that Giron is an entertainer at the peak of her ability, and someone I’m proud to call a friend.

C.

Release by Sephera Giron

Cyber Promethius by Sephera Giron

No One Listens (Part One) by Sephera Giron

No One Listens (Part Two) by Sephera Giron

Feature: The Youth of Today – The Horror Girl Who Owns My Soul

It’s hard to imagine, when you’re a new father, what exactly to expect from your children as they grow. Your responsibilities are easy: feed it; clothe it; make sure it doesn’t stick any part of itself into anything dangerous (electrical sockets, lion’s mouths, inter-dimensional portals, etc); and teach them to live and learn as a functioning member of society. The idea is to get them going on a good path, kick their ass back onto that path a few times, give up and let them choose their own path, and then support them through whatever it is they want to do.

Easy.

Now, my wife and I had our first kid when I was a young pup – all of 23 years old. At that youthful point in my life, the point where I hadn’t admitted that my body hated me and I hadn’t started groaning when bending over to reach something, I’d amassed a highly impressive collection of exploitation, giallo, slaughter, slasher, stalker, and scary movies – a collection I’ve since heavily culled for various reasons. Our first child, an incredible, ginger-haired little girl, was a day-sleeper – a true child of the night who thrived on midnight and 2am bursts of energy and babbling. And this… this should have been my first hint of what she had in store for me.

Now, seven years later, we’ve been through her self-labelled “horror girl” status, the writing of a short story called “Vampixie”, the utterance of “braaaaaaaaiiiiiiins” at around a year old, and long night movie marathons that would impress even the most ardent of horror fanatics. She covered herself in marker because “I have tattoos like DADDY!”, threw ‘the goat’ in public on a regular basis, made vampire fangs out of french-fries (still does), and a flurry of other interesting, horror-centric things.

This is a child who can pick Vincent Price out of a line-up, knows that Bela Lugosi was the Universal Vampire, called out Christopher Lee as Dracula when watching Lord of the Rings for the first time, and argued with Greg Lamberson about the necessity of having poppy seeds on a hotdog bun over lunch.

She’s also the kid who sat up with me, for almost 3 years, watching horror films, listening to horror themed punk rock, and was generally steeped in the genre while the rest of the world slept.

So I shouldn’t have been surprised when she took an interest in the macabre and brought it with her wherever she went.

My kid, my horror-kid, is one of the strongest, most intelligent women in the horror genre that any of us will ever know. When I think of “Women in Horror”, I never count her, or the untold amount of other “horror kids”, out of the game.

They’re the future.

They are the women who will carry the torch.

They are the ladies who will solidify, intellectualize, and express the fury that hell hath no fury akin to, even without being scorned.

And this one… this one is mine.

Her passion, like that of mine and her mother, is literature. Her enthusiasm and dedication to the written word is rivaled by no one, and sated by virtually nothing. This is a girl who, at 6 years old, completed the entire Spiderwick Chronicles series. She’s devoured much of the seven Harry Potter books, and eradicated the entirety of the Percy Jackson series, along with the tie-in novels, to date.

But it’s the knowledge that this child is in love with the writings of Edgar Allan Poe that sends my heart a-flutter.

When our son (the second child) was a baby, the eldest and I started reading one Poe poem per night for the month of October. She was probably on the older side of 3 or just turning 4 at the time. We would sit in her bed at night, and she would point out titles she was most interested in. Of course, she wanted to read the longest ones, but I always had a different design on the evening’s reading. We hit a staggering amount of poems that year, sometimes reading two or three a night, with her favorites being Spirits of the Dead, The City in the Sea, The Sleeper, The Haunted Palace, The Conqueror Worm, and Lenore.

I cannot tell you how much this child laughed as I suffered through The Bells, though. Even a few nights ago, 3 or so years after that reading – mind you, she still finds the power to laugh maniacally about it. She can’t remember where she put her hair tie three seconds ago, but she remembers watching me suffer through…

 “To the tintinnabulation that so musically wells

From the bells, bells, bells, bells

Bells, bells, bells –

From the jingling and the tinkling of the bells”

…for four lengthy verses.

You can bet this was a favorite, and assuredly became a nightly request which was accompanied by maddening giggles.

It goes without saying that, in the lonesome nights of October, we saved The Raven for last. On Hallowe’en night we Trick-or-Treated in a violently pleasant manner – tickling, growling, and generally sharing the spirit of the season with family and friends as only our immediate family possibly could. We cavorted up and down the streets, jumped in the car, hit other neighbourhoods, and reaped our rewards for waiting patiently through yet another 364 days of the non-Hallowe’en, hum-drum year. When we retired for the evening, she could barely contain her excitement for the fact that we were about to read one of Poe’s most famous works. Personally, I wouldn’t have traded that moment for anything in the world. But alas, as the laws of Murphy take effect at any magical moment, by the 12th or 13th verse… she was asleep. I continued to read the story to her sleeping form, tucked her in, and went about my business with a contented smile on my face that is still there every time I think about that moment.

As a dedicated child of the macabre, she’s chosen to memorize Annabel Lee for a personal project/memorization practice. When prompted to memorize any poem she wanted, my kid went straight to Poe.

And that warms my cold, black heart.

So, all of you Big Bad Daddies out there, this one is for you more than it is for the ladies. Stand up and stand damned tall. Show the people celebrating this month’s festivities that we hold the hands of dragon slaying princesses, and guide the future of horror across the street to get that damned ball we told them to keep in the yard. Tell the kind folks who think a lady’s place in the world is behind the man-on-a-mission, that your daughter could probably out-think, out-gross, and out-crazy them in a heartbeat… and look a whole helluva lot prettier while doing it.

‘Cause these little ladies are the future of horror-to-come, and they’re gonna own your soul just like this one owns mine.

As a special treat, little miss horror-kid has memorized and recorded herself reading Annabel Lee, for y’all to enjoy.

Have a listen here, and remember that Women in Horror Month isn’t just about the actresses, authors, artists, and ladies in the spotlight. It’s about the little girl who begs you to bring her to cons, can’t wait till she’s old enough to read your novels, and yearns for the late-night double-bill viewings of Frankenstein and Frankenstein’s Bride.

She’s your little princess, that much is true… but her vision of all things strange is the makings of a voice that could very well revolutionize the genre in more ways than we could ever believe.

Nurture those voices. And help them become the mistresses of the macabre that they so truly deserve to be. Celebrate the little Women of Horror.

And yeah… that almost made me cry.

C.

Meli Interviews Horror Author Lisa Mannetti

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

In case you haven’t bookmarked Mannetti’s virtual haunts yet, be sure to add her Facebook, Twitter, author website, and The Chancery House webpage to follow everything the author is up to!

-Meli