Interview: Michelle Renee Lane, Author of INVISIBLE CHAINS

Michelle Renee LaneMichelle Renee Lane started writing stories at the age of twelve and won a short story contest in elementary school. She really started exploring different kinds of writing in her mid-teens—poetry, fan fiction, short stories, and even a bit of erotica, “which,” she says, “I’m sure I would be embarrassed to read at this point.”

Lane now writes under the speculative umbrella, so her stories usually mix genres—horror, fantasy, often with a romantic/erotic element as well. “But,” she admits, “most of my stories don’t end with a happily-ever-after, unless you really dig monsters.” We do.

Michelle, what have you published so far, and where?

My first publication was actually in an academic journal. I presented a paper comparing the AIDS epidemic to vampirism for a colloquium at Shippensburg University many moons ago.

But my first short story, “The Hag Stone,” appeared in the anthology Dark Holidays (Dark Skull Publications). Earlier this year, my short story, “Crossroads,” appeared in Terror Politico: A Screaming World in Chaos (Scary Dairy Press). And my debut novel, Invisible Chains is available July 22 from Haverhill Housing Publishing LLC. I have a few other short stories coming out later this year, and next year as well.

Tell us about your new novel, Invisible Chains. What’s the most important thing you’re trying to say with this book? How does it express your experience as a human being that is uniquely you?Invisible Chains by Michelle Renee Lane

What am I trying to say with this book? That’s a great question. And honestly, for long time I didn’t know what I was writing about. I didn’t have any lofty goals or an agenda in mind. I wanted to write a vampire novel set in antebellum New Orleans told in the voices of several characters.

However, Invisible Chains evolved into a first-person narrative told by Jacqueline, a young Creole slave. In her quest for freedom, she encounters real monsters while dealing with the everyday horrors of slavery.

Jacqueline’s voice became the strongest voice in the story and I soon realized it was her story to tell. As I wrote her story, I realized she was experiencing many things that women of color are still experiencing today: racism, sexism, and violence against women. While history tells us that much has changed since Jacqueline’s time, there are several things happening in the novel that connect with the current state of our society that I hope will resonate with readers.

I also tried to create a vampire who was truly a monster. Despite his good looks and charm, I didn’t want to maintain the current trend of casting vampires as romantic leads. Personally, I love a good vampire romance. The bloodier, the better. But I often wonder how dangerous it is to keep creating male characters that normalize stalking and the threat of violence (sexual or otherwise) against female characters. While I enjoy reading about sexy vampires “wooing” their potential mates, I’m also aware that vampires are undead creatures who prey on the living. And, if you want your happily ever after with a vampire, your love interest must literally murder you.

What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?

My tuition to attend Seton Hill University’s MFA in Writing Popular Fiction Program. Not only did the program reignite my love of writing fiction, but the experiences and connections I made with mentors and fellow students gave me the confidence to really think of myself as a writer. I gained knowledge of the industry, an invaluable education in genre fiction, and friendships that have led to important introductions to the people who have decided to take me seriously as a writer and publish my work. SHU changed my life.

What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?

Growing up in rural Pennsylvania in the 1970s and 80s as a racially mixed kid meant that I heard racist epithets and jokes on a regular basis. I didn’t enjoy hearing this disgusting use of language, but it was common and, unless someone was targeting me, I tried to ignore it. Which seems odd now that I think back to how I coped with racism as a kid. People said a lot of hurtful things around me when they thought I wasn’t listening. Sometimes, I felt invisible. And other times, people said things directly to me that were more painful than any injury I’d experienced.

When I was fourteen, I was dating a boy I had known since first grade. We weren’t a couple in public. He cared about me, but it was a secret. I didn’t think much about that until I called his house one evening and his dad said, “Mark, your nigger is on the phone.” I remember the physical effect those words had on me. It felt like someone had kicked me in the stomach. I couldn’t swallow. My skin felt hot and feverish. I was stunned into silence. When the boy I cared about grabbed the phone from his dad, he told me that he would be right over and hung up the phone. About an hour later, he showed up at my house with visible signs that he had had a fight with his dad. He apologized to me, and my tears made him want to cry. Seven words changed both of our lives that day. And even though our young romance didn’t last, we both learned that regardless of whom you choose to love, love is worth fighting for.

What do you owe the real people upon whom you base your characters?

Ha! I’m almost afraid to answer this question. Carlos Velasquez is based on a real person. When I was fifteen and very impressionable, I had a pen pal that was ten years older than me and more obsessed with vampires than I was at the time. He dressed like Barnabas Collins, fantasized about becoming a vampire, wrote extremely inappropriate love letters to me with erotic fiction that featured our vampire alter egos, and he even sent me a vial of his blood. I met him in person three times. The second time, he tried to convince me to spend the weekend with him in New York when I was sixteen. Can you say sexual predator?

Perhaps unwisely, I maintained contact with him until I was about twenty-five. So, it was a long and strange friendship. He never hurt me though or tried to do anything inappropriate beyond the fantasies he shared with me in his letters. As you can imagine, he made a lasting impression.

What does literary success look like to you? Do you think you’ve attained it?

I suppose success is something my favorite writers have achieved—publishing multiple books and stories, establishing a writing career that pays the bills, gaining a following of readers who look forward to their next book. Writers I admire who immediately come to mind as successful are Toni Morrison, Jim Butcher, Charlaine Harris, Joe R. Lansdale, Anne Rice, Octavia Butler, and Joe Hill. With these folks who inspire me in mind, no I haven’t attained it, but I’m going to keep writing in the hopes that I do.

Have you read anything that really made you think differently about fiction?

Jewelle Gomez’s The Gilda Stories (1991) had a major impact on how I thought about my own writing and the kinds of stories I could tell as a woman of color. I wanted to write about vampires, but as far as I knew, women of color weren’t writing about them.

I had read a lot of vampire fiction, seen a lot of vampire movies and TV shows, but there weren’t many black characters in these stories. Aside from the Blaxploitation film Blacula (1972) and Akasha and Enkil, the original vampires in Anne Rice’s The Queen of the Damned (1988), I wasn’t seeing a lot of black vampires. To be honest, I didn’t really think of Akasha and Enkil as black even though they were Egyptian, because their skin had turned to the color and texture of marble. Gomez is not only a woman of color, but she wrote a vampire novel about a black bisexual female vampire that challenged many aspects of the traditional vampire myth. Gomez’s book gave me the green light to write the kinds of stories I wanted to write. So, a few months ago when Jewelle Gomez agreed to read Invisible Chains and had some very positive things to say about the book, I was beside myself with joy. I think I actually squealed when I read her feedback.

What was your hardest scene to write?

There were a lot of scenes that were hard to write, because they deal with some very difficult subjects. But, oddly enough, one of the hardest scenes to write is when Jacqueline takes back her power and stands up to the vampire. I don’t want to give too much away, because I hate spoilers. While I was writing that scene, I felt like I was Jacqueline summoning the strength she needed to protect herself and establish herself as a formidable and powerful woman. I had to dig deep and exorcise some of my own demons to write that scene. It took me three months to finish it, and I had a lot of encouragement from my mentor, Lucy A. Snyder, and my critique partners, Patricia Lillie and Amber Bliss. They gave me the support I needed to make that scene happen.

Does your family support your career as a writer?

Very much so. I am extremely fortunate to have such a supportive family who believes in me and encourages me to keep following my dreams.

How often do you write?

Not as often I should. I’ve been struggling to make writing a top priority for quite some time, but I know that must change if I’m going to take myself seriously enough to keep cranking out fiction. I work full-time and I’m a single parent, so there are plenty of days when I don’t write a single word. But I’ve come to realize that writing is one of the few things that makes me happy and, unless I’m doing it every day, I’m not happy.

What, according to you, is the hardest thing about writing?

At the moment, finding the time and motivation to write every day. I get hung up on all the other things happening in my life and I neglect the thing that matters most to me.

What would you say is the easiest aspect of writing?

Finding story ideas. My brain is constantly coming up with plotlines and snippets of dialog for characters I’m writing about or who want to be written about. I live in a fantasy world inside my head much of the time, so coming up with stories is easy. Making the time to write them, not so much.

Do you read much and, if so, who are your favorite authors?

I mentioned some of the writers I admire earlier, like Charlaine Harris, Toni Morrison, and Jim Butcher. I try to read often, but lately I’ve been listening to audiobooks because I can do other things while I listen. In the past three years, I’ve listened to every novel in the Night Huntress series by Jeaniene Frost, and her Night Price series.

I dove into the Mercedes Thompson series by Patricia Briggs. I enjoyed listening to Joe Hill’s Heart Shaped Box, Horns, The Fireman, NOS4A2 and Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep, so I’m well-acquainted with Inscapes.

Some of my guiltier pleasures include the 50 Shades series, which is great to listen to on long drives because the books are very entertaining and can make you feel much better about yourself as a writer. I have some biographies lined up to read later this summer to research some new characters while plotting the sequel to Invisible Chains.

You can connect with Michelle Renee Lane at Girl Meets Monster blog: https://michellerlane.com/.

Her Amazon author page is https://www.amazon.com/Michelle-Renee-Lane/e/B07Q7XSJR5

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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:


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!