Michelle Kilmer, author of When the Dead; The Spread (co-authored with Becky Hansen); and the upcoming collection Last Night While You Were Sleeping, tagged me in this weekly blog tour in which writers discuss the process ofwriting. Up next will be Sean Thompson, a fellow horror writer. Here we go.
What are you working on?
I am revising my first novel, Cry Down Dark; outlining the novella that will serve as my Master’s Thesis (more on this later); reading for GIVE: An Anthology of Anatomical Entries, that Kilmer and I are co-editing (Sept. 30 submission deadline); and finishing up a story for another anthology. These are the top projects at the moment, but I always have story ideas swirling around. I also have a nonfiction book in the planning stages and a screenplay treatment based on an idea my wife and I came up with. I’m doing this while raising a son (not quite 18 months old yet), spending time with my wife of almost five years; and preparing for my second year of graduate school. I’m a graduate assistant, which means I teach English 101. Classes start at the end of the month, so I am also making preparations for the upcoming school year.
How do you differ from others in your genre?
Everything I write is true. Now, that doesn’t mean everything in my stories has happened. There is a big difference. So even when something horrible happens to a character, that event, that moment, the words the characters say, all of it is true. This is what WOULD happen. This is HOW people would react. More specifically, I have based many of my best stories on actual events—although I would never market them as “based on a true story”—and then mixed them up with other events. Or I’ll take something that did happen, the very basics of it, and go somewhere completely different that the reality of the situation. The truth remains, even if the reality has been altered.
Why do you write what you do?
My primary genre is horror and it is just something I love. But it is also a chicken and the egg question. I was born on Halloween. Did I take this and decide to like horror or did it just come naturally? I don’t know. I do know that I have always been attracted to the darkness, even if I regretted it later. For example, when I was five, I was delivering birthday party invitations to my friends. We had recently moved and I wanted to invite a friend from our old neighborhood. I showed up as he was just beginning his own birthday party. My mom let me stay and the party soon ventured out to a haunted house. The house was supposed to have two sides: the regular haunted house side and a “kid-friendly” side. I came out of there white as a ghost. I remember one part that had a guy just sitting there covered in spider webs, One of his eyes glowed red. I’m sure there was plenty that scared me that night but that one image is the one that has stayed with me. Naturally, I started reading Stephen King at age 11 and watching more adult horror movies with a friend of mine whose parents let him watch whatever he wanted. We watched a lot of garbage and one that stuck with me was the Zach Galligan (Gremlins) movie Waxwork. Not a great film by any means, but I loved it. I got plenty of my own exposure through TV and other movies (when I was younger, around the haunted house time, my grandpa managed a theater and while he kept things at PG-13 or lower, I still saw Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Ghostbusters among other films).
Trying to scare people, and this is the psychological part that I know you want, is also a defense mechanism. If I am scaring someone else then they are not scaring me and I am not scared. Writing horror is how I deal with deaths that have happened and the inevitability of every death that will happen.
I also understand that I won’t be able to scare everyone. If faced with such a situation, I will go for other basic emotions. I will try to make a reader laugh if I can. Or just make them angry. Given the choice, however, I will often go for the gut wrench and make readers cry. I tend to keep this in mind for readings, too. It’s hard to scare an audience at a reading, but make them cry once and they’ll remember you forever.
How does your writing process work?
For the majority of my writing life, I have started with whatever nugget I come across and I write until I feel the story ends. This means that I have a few too many starts to stories without ends and many stories that are borderline flash fiction. Once I finish a draft, I read it and look for plot holes or anything else that is missing. One of the last things I usually do is name characters. If it makes sense for a story, I will often leave people without names. Once that is done, I will leave a story alone for a few days (if it is short) and then read it again for a copy edit. I’m not the best typist, so I am prone to typos. I’ll repeat this process again before I submit a story.
When I actually sit down to write, I need to be sure that I am stocked up on beverages and snacks, otherwise I tend to get up a lot. Sunflower seeds are my go-to writing snack because they fill me up without filling me up and the process of removing seeds from shells keeps my brain stimulated. (I’m a one shell at a time guy, so I always end up with a pile of empties to one side. The bigger the pile, the longer I wrote.)
Music is also important to my process. The louder and darker, the better. AC/DC, Metallica and Black Sabbath are staples, but so are film scores. Not soundtracks because lyrics can get in the way sometimes. Scores, however, are designed to move a story forward and are generally well-paced enough to help sustained writing time. Top film composers for my writing are Danny Elfman, Hans Zimmer, Marco Beltrami, Ennio Morricone, and John Carpenter.
For the new book, the Master’s thesis novella, I am required to submit a 10-12 page prospectus, or rather, a detailed outline. I don’t like outlining, but for this, I am doing it. Right now, I have eight pages of notes: a skeleton summary and notes on key scenes. I’m using K.M. Weiland’s Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success as a guide to my outlining efforts. The payoff will be worth the effort.
About Sean Thompson: Thompson is a horror writer, blogger and podcaster extraordinaire. Hailing from Boston, Thompson’s short work has appeared in a number of anthologies and magazines, including Aliens, Sex, & Sociopaths: The Best of Surreal Grotesque. He co-hosts the Stpehen King-centric podcast “There Are Other Worlds Than These” and the H.P. Lovecraft- focused “Miskatonic Musings,” both of which are awesome. To keep up with his burgeoning legend, check out www.spookysean.com.