March 2010: Up-and-Comers
I recently sat down with three individuals whom I consider ‘Up-and-Comers’ in the horror genre – Adam P. Lewis, Tom Erb and Dean Harrison. While not all published, yet, I consider their work to be of high quality and a fun read, which is why I invited them to answer the following questions. I hope you enjoy hearing their answers as much as I did.
When and why did you begin writing?
Adam P. Lewis – I wrote my first story in second grade in the early 1980’s about a melting snowman. The story was published in the school newsletter because of its complexity and my age. Since then I wrote mainly short comedy stories and about three years ago I began writing horror and children’s story book fiction. I write the picture book stories on and off but never tried to get anything published. The horror stories however, they consume the majority of my writing and I find them to be more pleasurable to write. With horror, I can dive into my own fears and fantasies. I began writing horror fiction after reading H.P. Lovecraft’s story, “The Lurking Fear”. This story was very inspirational. It created a sense of fear that I haven’t felt while reading another horror story. After reading I sat down and wrote my first horror story called, “Between the Anchor and the Air.” I haven’t stopped writing horror since.
Tom Erb – Wow, believe it or not, both of the questions are hard to pin down. I’ve always written. Whether it was creating new comic book superheroes around the age of three or four, or creating role-playing character’s for games in my early teens. Writing seems to be something I’ve always done. Now writing seriously and wanting to take it to the professional level started only a mere three years ago. I’d had this idea flitting about my noggin for many years then it seemed the perfect storm of events happened and I sat down a started writing. It would turn out to be my first novel, (a coming-of-age zombie book actually) and I haven’t looked back since. It turns out the written word was my passion all along.
Dean Harrison – When I was a junior in high school, I had stories running through my head that I wanted to get out on paper, and so I began writing them out.
Do you have a specific writing style?
Adam – My writing styles aren’t specific. It changes from story to story. It all depends on the voice I want for my story. Am I writing from a 1st person or 2nd person point of view? What time period do the stories take place? How smart are the characters? Also, how am I to describe the action and the settings? Do I wish to be extremely frightening with this story or just suspenseful? These questions and many more regarding the stories create the style I use from story to story.
Tom – I’m not sure if it’s a style really, but I tend to gravitate toward a stripped down approach. I don’t usually go into long paragraphs of description. I think I prefer to give just enough detail and let the reader finish the image in their mind’s eye.
Dean – My writing tends to reflect what I read. Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of Tom Piccirilli, Michael Laimo, John Farris, and Ramsey Campbell. When I started off in high school, it was Douglas Clegg, Robert McCammon, Stephen King, and Dean Koontz.
How do you develop your plots and characters? Do you use a set formula?
Adam – My story, “Some Words with a Corpse”, used Edgar Allan Poe as one of my characters. From what I learned about him, I already knew how he should act and interact with the other characters. The remaining characters are all fictional. I had to think like police officers and think like a doctor to make the plot I had stored in my head work. This is typical for all my characters in all my stories. However, as far as direction of the story, I just have a simple plot written out for all of my work. Still using, “Some Words with a Corpse”, as an example, the plot was written out as:
Fact: Edgar Allan Poe died mysteriously. Fiction: A doctor who practices electrical revivification is called upon by the police to find out how Poe died.
Other than that I had no direction or how the story would end. I like to leave my options open so I am not tied down to direction.
Tom – My ideas come to me out of the blue. It could be a song lyric or a phrase I overhear someone say. I sometimes come up with a story/book title and jot it down and later, while I’m looking over my list, a story may come flashing out to me and I start writing. All my stories seem to be character driven. I’ve always loved the underdog, so I’m sure that is one common element in all my characters and stories. I will also say that many of my characters come from inspiration I find all around me. I’ve been on this planet for a few years and lived in many places, worked many jobs so the “creative palette” I have is pretty colorful and rich.
Dean – I keep a notebook of character sketches, story notes, and plot outlines. Generally, I’ll start with the characters and build the story around them. So, I guess you can say I strive for character-driven stories.
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Adam – Every story I write is a challenge. The next story has to be better than the last.
Tom – Well, I think any creative pursuit is rife with struggle and challenges. I think that no true art comes easy. It were easy, than everyone would be a best seller or hanging on the wall in the Louvre. For me, it’s mostly staying focused on one project at a time. My creative mind is always looking and exploring for new ideas and “fun” things to write about. I may also from time to time find it hard to capture a certain scene or piece of dialogue the exact way I want it. But I think that’s normal.
Dean – Trying to decide on the amount of description necessary for a particular scene, and trying to create believable dialogue (especially among teenagers), is what I find particularly challenging in my writing.
Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? If so, what do you do about it?
Adam – At least once a month I suffer from writer’s block. To reverse writer’s block, I read, watch tv, listen to music, play with my kids, and anything else that gets me away from writing for an hour, a day or a few days. I don’t force my writing. I let it flow. If it doesn’t flow then I have to stop until my head is clear and a new direction or story is thought of. Some of my best work has been created after a stint of writer’s block. I think I am unlike other writers, I like writer’s block. It keeps me from forcing my work.
Tom – I do… but I think all creative people do. I find that anything I do, whether it is literary, visual, musical, whatever has an ebb and flow of passion and production to them. Sometimes it rains, other times; it’s as dry as Sahara. So when those dark times come, I usually just pick up a book, play my drums for a while, go for a long drive. (In warm weather, I take a walk). And I tell myself it will all be okay and that this too shall pass…and the best part is that is always does.
Dean – Whenever I suffer from writer’s block, I tend to refer to the many books on writing I own, or the many copies of Writer’s Digest, for inspiration. Or I’ll step away from the laptop, pick up whatever book I’m reading at the time, and find inspiration that way. I’ll also go through the notebook full of notes I keep on the story I’m working on and see if there is anything in there that might assist me in getting through the block.
What draws people to horror novels and movies? Why do we, as readers, like to be scared?
Adam – “Supernatural Horror in Literature,” an essay written by H.P. Lovecraft, published in 1927 states, “Children will always be afraid of the dark, and men with minds sensitive to hereditary impulse will always tremble at the thought of the hidden and fathomless worlds of strange life which may pulsate in the gulfs beyond the stars, or press hideously upon our own unholy dimensions which only the dead and the moonstruck can glimpse.”
In other words, fear is an emotion that inherently exists and cannot be lost, forgotten, and overcome. We can fall in and out of love, grieve but come to terms with the death of a loved one, and go from happiness to sadness and back to happiness again like a stretching rubber band. But fear, created on paper, film and reality, stays with us. Our bodies itch after seeing spiders, we’re jarred awake by noises, and we peer over our shoulders at shadows as we walk down dark streets. It’s our own personal fears, that frightening paragraph in a story, and image burned into our minds from a movie that keeps us scared. We are, collectively as humans, continuing to explore our world and galaxy. We seek out new creatures and planets. We don’t know what we’ll find and what we find may frighten us. If a neighbor’s house is broken into then we think our house will be next. We don’t look for love but we look for fear. It goes hand in hand with exploring, writing fiction, watching movies, starting a new job and many more everyday tasks that we put ourselves into.
Tom – Escape. We all love to be scared. But it’s a ‘safe’ scared. We all know when we put the book inside a pillowcase and chuck it deep under some sweaters in our dresser, turn on all of the lights in the house, or walk out of the theatre and are safely locked inside our car and on the way home, that is was a just a fear dripping fantasy. Pure, unbridled darkened fun. The true horror is what we see on CNN or read in our daily newspapers.
What horror films and novels offer us is controlled fear. Our brains thrive on that. Our fight or flight responses kick in and our adrenaline rush through our bodies. It’s a fun, legal high that keep us headed to the book store or local movie theater. And I for one am sincerely grateful for that.
Dean – For some it’s a thrill, like riding on a roll-a-coaster. For others, it’s a fascinating study of the human condition-observing how people react when facing their fears.
Are your works based on someone you know or events in your life?
Adam – Everything I write is based on my personal fears, family, friends, news articles, historical people and places, and old folklore. For example my story, “Halloween Hootenanny”, is based on a thought I had while looking at a sound effects CD cover. “Help Wanted” is based on a carnival poster I saw at a fair, “Trophy Room” is based on trophies I won when I played Little League. Ideas come from everywhere; you just have to pay attention to your thoughts.
Tom – I’m always deeply inspired by both the great and horrible things that have happened to me in my life. It’s all just grist for the creative mill and if I’m ever stuck for a new character for a story, all I have to do is take a walk outside my door or hang out at the local mall. There is plenty of inspiration everywhere.
Dean – I think every character and every story I work on contain bits and pieces of people I know (or have known) or from events in my life, from my experiences. The golden rule of writing fiction, from what I can tell, is to write what you know, and I think that comes pretty naturally to writers.
What is your favorite horror novel?
Adam – Savage by Richard Laymon, it’s an historical-fiction / adventure / horror novel. I’ve never seen or read anything else like it before. I don’t think I ever will.
Tom – Wow, that’s a real tough one. To be honest, I would say Brian Keene’s Ghoul. It’s that perfect combination of a coming-of-age story, mixed with all the trappings and memory blasts of my growing up in a small town in the 80’s. It’s an amazing book on its own merits, but it was also one of the books that made me want to write.
Dean – John Farris’s Son Of The Endless Night
What are you currently working on and/or where can folks check out your work?
Adam – I am currently working on a novel based on the Lizzie Borden murders. Along with that I am working on various short stories, book and movie reviews. My work can be previewed at http://www.adamplewis.com. There I have posted fiction, bio, essays, contact information, list of publications and links to where my work can be read online.
Tom – I have a zombie novel (Aeternus Umbra), which is almost ready for submission and I’ve started work on Snow Black – A Monster Novel and I have a few short stories submitted and I’m about half-way finished with a novella entitled, “Tones of Home”, which is part of an anthology with two amazing authors. And over course, I have a myriad of other projects in various stages… it’s that Wandering Muse of mine. At least I’ll blame it on her.
Dean – I don’t have anything published yet, but I’m currently working on my first novel, which is a combined ghost story and psychological horror.
Note: Next month will feature the article, ‘So You Want to be an Editor’ by Maurice Broaddus.
Ty is an author in the horror genre. To learn more about his work, you can visit his website at: http://tyschwamberger.com