Interview: Christopher Conlon Releases ANNABEL LEE

I recently interviewed Christopher Conlon, prolific author, poet, and winner of the Bram Stoker Award.

Christoper, tell us about your new novel, Annabel Lee.
Annabel Lee stems from my lifelong love of Edgar Allan Poe. He was my first favorite writer, from virtually the moment I discovered his work when I was eleven or twelve. For several years I was all but obsessed with him, reading every word of his I could find—even things like his literary criticism, which I couldn’t really understand, and yet I loved the way he used words. “Annabel Lee” was my first favorite poem, which ignited a love of poetry I still have more than forty years later. My novel is narrated by Annabel Lee herself—telling her own story, in her own words. It turns out that Poe got a lot of things wrong! My Annabel tells the true tale.

What have you published so far, and where?Annabel Lee by Christopher Conlon
Lee, I have a website at http://www.christopherconlon.com, where interested parties can check out my bibliography. I’ve done something north of twenty books, the best known of which are He Is Legend: An Anthology Celebrating Richard Matheson, which was a genre bestseller and won the Stoker Award, and my novel Savaging the Dark, which Booklist placed in their list of the ten best horror books of the year and Paste Magazine called one of the fifty best horror books of all time. I’ve worked with a lot of the major players in the horror field—Tor, Cemetery Dance, Dark Regions—and had work in anthologies like Masques V and magazines like Dark Discoveries. So I’ve been around for a while.

Tell us a little bit about yourself: where you’re from, how long you’ve been writing, what kind of fiction you like to write.
I’m from the Central Coast of California originally, but I’ve lived in the Washington DC area for the past twenty-nine years. In all that time I’ve been writing. I began with my own homemade comic books when I was five or six and graduated to prose fiction around the time I discovered Poe and then The Twilight Zone, my other great formative influence. Most of my fiction has a “weird” edge as a result, though I’ve written mainstream and literary fiction too, not to mention poetry.

What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
I’d have to say the eighty dollars or so that I used to by a Sears portable typewriter when I joined the Peace Corps in 1988. It caused some problems occasionally with airport security people, but I used that little machine all throughout my time in the Kalahari Desert of Botswana. I wrote all my first published poems on it. I was the only Peace Corps Volunteer in the entire country with his own typewriter—it just wasn’t something people brought along from the U.S. But it kept me writing throughout the whole experience.

What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
Well, this answer could go into some dark places, since both my parents were drunks—my mother died of cirrhosis when she was forty-nine and my dad was arrested for driving under the influence at least twice that I know of. They certainly said any number of things to me that proved language had power, and in a way I think I’m still recovering from some of them. But I discovered that I could also fight back with words—and I did so, through my writing. Maybe I’m still doing that, I don’t know.

What do you owe the real people upon whom you base your characters?
I’ve never based a character on a real person. I might use some aspect of a real person as part of a character—a habit of speech they have, say. But why base characters on people I know instead of using the most powerful tool in the whole writer’s toolkit—my imagination?

What does literary success look like to you? Do you think you’ve attained it?
Hmmm. Interesting question. There are the obvious material signs of success, which for the most part I have not attained. My income as a writer isn’t large, nor is my readership. On the other hand, my books get published, they’re generally very well reviewed, and I’ve even received an award or two. Is that success? Some days it feels like it is. Other days, no.

Have you read anything that really made you think differently about fiction?
When I was in my early twenties I discovered the fiction of Truman Capote, who definitely made me rethink the possibilities of fiction. I’d never read any of the so-called Southern Gothic writers, and his way with language was almost as potent, and as revelatory, as Poe had been for me a decade earlier. Any horror reader should be familiar with Capote’s stories “The Headless Hawk,” “Miriam,” “Shut a Final Door,” “A Tree of Night”… and of course his great nonfiction masterpiece, In Cold Blood.

What was your hardest scene to write?
Generally speaking, I don’t find writing hard. Once I’m going on a project I rarely get stuck for any significant period of time. But I’ll admit that there was one scene in Annabel Lee that caused me fits because I simply couldn’t figure it out. I had my heroine in a dramatic situation from which she needed to escape, but I just could not figure out any way for her to do it. I was writing on the book day after day, coming closer and closer to that pivotal scene and still not knowing what would happen! Well, the clouds parted at last, and it came to me in a rush only a day or two before I had to write it. The writing itself, once I had the approach to the scene, wasn’t difficult.

Does your family support your career as a writer, Chris?
Oh, sure. My wife reads all my work. It was a different story when I was young—my parents definitely did not support the idea of this weird kid writing all these stories and sending them off to magazines that always rejected them. I got no support at all from them. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Do all authors have to be grammar Nazis?
I’m not sure what a grammar Nazi is. Is someone who points out an error a Nazi? I don’t know. I try the best I can with grammar, but I make mistakes—which I usually discover upon reading through a brand-new printed and bound copy of one of my books!

How often do you write?
Not as often as I used to. When I was in the Kalahari Desert thirty years ago I wrote every morning in the pre-dawn hours, before I went off to my job teaching at a secondary school there. Now it’s more sporadic. Most of my writing nowadays I do in the summertime.

What, according to you, is the hardest thing about writing?
The same thing that’s the hardest about any regular disciplined activity—getting started each day. Once I’m going, though, I just go.

What would you say is the easiest aspect of writing?
Having ideas. People who aren’t writers always think that ideas are the big thing. They come to somebody like me and say, “I have this great idea for a story!” and generally want me to write it and for us to split the proceeds. But any idiot can have an idea, and many idiots do. The idea is the least of it. It’s how the idea is fleshed-out, developed, written. That’s the real work.

Do you read much and, if so, who are your favorite authors?
Lee, I would be extremely dubious of any “writer” who said that he or she didn’t read much. Reading is all! It’s everything. It’s the foundation of all the writing any writer will ever do. For me it’s Poe, as I’ve mentioned, and Capote, and Tennessee Williams, all the Southern Gothics, along with the Twilight Zone crew—Serling, Matheson, Beaumont and the rest. Joyce Carol Oates. The early Bradbury. But also different types of writers—I’ve read all twenty-three of Anita Brookner’s quietly beautiful novels of British middle-class life. H.G. Wells, George Gissing, W. Somerset Maugham. James Baldwin. Proust, Turgenev, Chekhov. Science fiction guys—Asimov, Pohl, Clarke, Simak. Just all sorts of things, really. And I haven’t even mentioned poetry! But that’s what I’d tell anyone who wants to be a writer: Write, yes, but for God’s sake read. Start reading and never, ever stop.

I had to agree with Chris on this reading point, and I enjoyed hearing all his answers.

Get Annabel Lee here:

REVIEWS APPRECIATED!

You can connect with Chris at:


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Interview: Brian J. Smith

Brian J. SmithI recently interviewed Brian J. Smith, who lives in southeastern Ohio with four dogs that he treat like his children. Brian has been writing since he was thirteen because, he says, “I didn’t have many friends because I was the quiet ‘Stephen King geek.'”

Brian loves horror fiction because he grew up watching slasher movies like Jason and Freddy, but his favorites were always the “bugs-gone-bad” flicks such as Kingdom of the Spiders, Island Claws, and Slugs.

He admits, “I fed myself on a smorgasbord of Tales From the Darkside, Twilight Zone (black-and-white and the mid-90’s), Tales From the Crypt, and Stephen King movies.”

Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
I want to be original. I’ve always tried to think outside of the box when it comes to my writing. I’ve written a few unfinished novels about zombies and other terrifying things but not vampires and werewolves like writers who came before me.

If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
Keep going no matter what anyone tells you. It’ll take you a long time but you’ve got to keep going. Stay strong and be patient.

How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?
When I published my first Kindle book, Dark Avenues (more about this later), I realized that the process takes a lot of time and patience to perfect. Short-hand first, then pounding it out on my computer, and then the long process of reading it out loud while editing.

What’s your favorite novel that you think is under-appreciated?
A Hell of a Woman by Jim Thompson. Thompson is known for other novels such as The Killer Inside Me, Pop. 1280, The Grifters and Nothing More Than Murder, but I feel like that A Hell of a Woman doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Those novels are good, but if I hadn’t read A Hell of a Woman, I wouldn’t have been inspired to write my own noir crime novel.

What is your favorite childhood book?
The Berenstain Bears. I also read a lot of comic books, too.

If you could have been the original author of any book, what would it have been and why?
Off Season by Jack Ketchum. His novels were such an inspiration to me. They opened my eyes to a version of horror fiction I never knew existed. Off Season was the visceral, gritty horror novel that got to the core of its subject matter and left a lot of blood on the walls.

When did it dawn upon you that you wanted to be a writer?
When my sixth-grade teacher told me I gave him nightmares and my parents were telling me to stop.

What inspires you to write?
Anything really. A lot of my short stories have been inspired by something that occurred in my past, whether during my childhood or my teenage years, or between myself and a family member.

Do you set a plot or prefer going wherever an idea takes you?
I’ve done outlines in the past but I’ve never stuck to them. I end up going off and adding something else later that I wish I’d included the first time. I like this. I’ve been told when you do outlines you put your characters on a leash. Life is full of challenges, and I like challenges.

Did you ever think you would be unable to finish your first novel?
No. I had doubts about starting with a short story collection but then considered that many other authors had started out like this as well.

Three O'Clock by Brian J. SmithHave you ever incorporated something that happened to you in real life into your novels?
A lot of times. I went to summer camp when I was ten, and we did all kinds of activities such as fishing and tubing, but one thing I really enjoyed was when we did “headstone rubbings”—putting paper on a tombstone and rubbing with a charcoal stick to get the text. I hope to pick this back up sometime in the future. When I set about writing my novella Dark Avenues, I used headstone rubbings in it, and it worked out perfectly.

Do you have a day job other than being a writer? And do you like it?
No. I’m a homebody so I don’t even leave the house unless it’s really necessary.

What books and stories have you published, and where?
I’ve published many pieces of short and flash fiction in multiple anthologies and e-zines, two with The Horror Zine, one with Metahuman Press, and I’ve even had a western horror story published as well. My other Kindle books are Three O’ Clock and The Tuckers. My publications are listed on my Amazon author page (see below).

Dark Avenues by Brian J. SmithWhat project are you currently working on?
I’m working on a short story collection that will be released in the fall. Dark Avenues will include the novella of the same name along with eighteen other stories that range from dark horror and other genres. There’s a haunted house story, a zombie story, and a post-apocalyptic story about how love triumphs over death.

You can find Brian’s publications on his Amazon author page at http://amazon.com/author/brianjsmith. Brian is on Facebook under Brian Smith and on Twitter @BrianJSmith13. Visit his website at http://brianjsmith468368465.wordpress.com.

Reading and Signing at AUTUMN OF FEAR

I’ll be reading and signing books at AUTUMN OF FEAR, October 5, 2013, from 6:00–9:00 p.m. This horrific event is hosted by Carla E. Anderton of Jozart Center for the Arts in California, PA.

Along with Anderton, author of THE HEART ABSENT, I’ll be there with writers Stephanie M. Wytovich, author of HYSTERIA, and Sheldon Higdon, author of “Hand-Carved Coffins” and many other dark tales.

If you’re in the southern Pennsylvania area, come see us It will be a howl of a good time!

http://jozart.com/the-autumn-of-fear

For more information:


Coming Soon: DEATH PERCEPTION

Here’s the cover of my forthcoming supernatural crime novel, DEATH PERCEPTION. Leave a comment and let me know what you think.

DEATH PERCEPTION by Lee Allen Howard


NIGHT MONSTERS Unleashed!

Supernatural Thrillers Available for Kindle

NIGHT MONSTERS by Lee Allen HowardVampires, beasties, zombies, and ghouls… NIGHT MONSTERS presents four stories to read with the lights on.

Wyatt is looking for a no-strings fling in “Savoir-Faire.” When he meets the beautiful and sexually voracious Natalie, all his fantasies come true… until he discovers that unseen strings are more entangling than he bargained for.

In “The Worst Thing,” Petie’s first sleepover seemed like a good idea in the daylight. But after dark at Nate’s house, he can’t fall asleep. Braving the terrors of the night to make it home, he finds he must face the worst thing that could happen—and sacrifice what he treasures most to save his parents from a horrible fate.

“Keeping Cool”: After a late night at work helping hospitals handle the strange flu sweeping Pittsburgh, Terry finds he’s run out of options to get himself home. Searching for a working phone to call his wife, he encounters a deserted diner—and another way to stem the tide of disease. Chilling!

Justin wants to be cool like Drew, so he tags along to throw corn at cars on Halloween night. When a 1970 GTO Judge stops on the country road and its ghastly occupants pursue them, he wishes he’d gone trick-or-treating instead. Pray the “GTO Judge” passes you by.

If you love things that go bump in the night, download NIGHT MONSTERS—before the sun goes down!

Get NIGHT MONSTERS from Amazon now!


DESPERATE SPIRITS On the Loose!

New Supernatural Thriller Now Available at Amazon.com!

DESPERATE SPIRITS by Lee Allen HowardIn this duo of supernatural thrillers, Calvin Bricker deals with desperate spirits right in his own neighborhood.

In “The Vacant Lot,” a supernatural presence beckons from the empty neighborhood lot. Calvin’s curiosity leads him to an aged portrait painter with a terrible secret about a dead undertaker and his missing wife, who seeks eternal release.

In “How I Was Cured of Naïveté,” a seemingly innocent spirit appears in the foyer of Calvin’s home. When he discovers her fate, he sets her free—only to find that little girls aren’t always made of sugar and spice. Snick, snick!

If you like crime and mystery with a supernatural bent, succumb to the call of DESPERATE SPIRITS!

Get DESPERATE SPIRITS from Amazon now!