February Author of the Month: DW Gillespie

Image from Goodreads

This month I present to you: DW Gillespie, winner of the MacDougle Award in 2002, lover of all things horror, sci-fi and supernatural and a master of suspense! Gillespie was a new find for me last year and the book that introduced me to him was One by One, a chilling haunted house tale complete with a recently moved in family and creepy stick men drawings. Needless to say, he has a fan for life. So let’s get to know him:

What was your favorite childhood book?

Do videogame instruction manuals count? Do people even remember those at this point?

Seriously though, I really loved short stories as a kid, and there were always tons of scary story collections to choose from. I also vividly remember heading to the same section of the library in grade school to check out all the classic monster books. No clue if those things even exist anymore, but there were these really great series of books that had tons of pictures of the old Universal monsters, King Kong, Godzilla, all that stuff. Whenever we were supposed to be reading something constructive, I was back in that corner rotting my brain.

You have stated that the first story you wrote was in second grade and involved monsters wreaking havoc on an unsuspecting victim. Can you tell us more about it and if you have ever considered fleshing or rewriting it into a novel?

There’s probably not a ton of meat on those bones, to be honest. I don’t remember all the details but one story ended with my dad shooting Frankenstein in the head with a shotgun. Probably not enough to work with be honest.

I will say that I do enjoy going back to my earlier stories from my 20s and cannibalizing those stories. Most of them were not very good in terms of character or perspective, but there were lots of good ideas in them. My current work in progress is actually based on an unfinished story from about a decade ago.

What was the first horror book or short story you read that truly sent shivers up your spin and had you keeping the lights on?

I jumped right into some pretty heavy stuff once I started reading novels. I think Pet Semetary was my first Stephen King book, which is pretty wild to think about now. I was almost too young for some of that horror to really work on me though. It’s a lot scarier now that I’m a parent.

I think one of the first short stories that stuck with me was Harold from Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Looking back now, those stories were mostly very simple, but I think that’s what made them work so well on kids. You just had a basic story, a very creepy picture, and your imagination filled in the rest. The ending of that one in particular is excellent…I don’t remember the exact words, but it’s something about Harold stretching human skin out to dry. Just perfect.

What is your favorite book now?

It definitely changes depending on what I’m into at the moment. I just read Boy’s Life by McCammon, which is just as fantastic as I’d heard. Definitely shot into my top ten instantly. I love books like that, things that sort of defy classification or genre. It was less of a horror book and more of a slice of someone’s life and the history of a town.

I’m also kind of obsessed by A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. LeGuin. It’s a deceptively simple book with so much depth hidden there.

As a horror writer, what is Halloween like in your house?

It’s a blast. I’m lucky that my wife and kids are both really into it. We almost always end up building a fire in the back yard and sit around, taking turns telling stories. I have aspirations to write a short story collection for kids at some point, and if I do, it will almost certainly include a frame story about a family sitting around a fire.

Who has been a main influence in your writing?

It’s kind of cliché to say, but it’s pretty much everyone. It would take forever to make a real list, but off the top of my head, I’d say the following people are huge influences on my imagination:

Stephen King, Shirley Jackson, John Carpenter, Clive Barker, Guillermo Del Toro, John Steinbeck, Cormac MacCarthy, William Faulkner, Toni Morrison, Gillian Flynn, Junji Ito, and on and on…

Do you have any mascots or rituals to your writing?

The biggest ritual for me is trying to find a theme song of the book I’m working on. It’s become such a vital part of the process for me. I spend a ton of time in my car driving to and from work, so if I can find a song that captures the mood of a book I’m working on, I’ll just listen to it over and over again. It really helps me envision scenes, and its useful for me work through any sticking points I might have.

What are you currently reading?

I just got a few new Junji Ito collections for my birthday. I just love his work, mainly because it’s so insanely different from mine. I really enjoy spending time in worlds that I could never up with on my own.

One By One:

Image from Goodreads

How did the story of One by One first come to you?

I wish I could say there was some really cool story about it, but this one just sort of popped into my head one day. It took some work to flesh out the idea, specifically bringing the characters and the house to life, but the central hook was definitely the seed that everything grew from. The idea of a family finding a picture of themselves hidden away in an old house…that was an concept that I just knew I had to run with.

There is something creepy about stick people and having them on the book cover first drew me in. Why do you think stickmen are unsettling?

I think it’s all about finding things in places where they shouldn’t be. A child’s drawing itself isn’t super creepy, but a child’s drawing hidden under old wallpaper is pretty damn chilling. I always love fiction that deals with those impossible, out of place things.

The house creates a beautiful atmosphere for the story. I could never stay in a bedroom that had windows that look out into a laundry room for fear of shadows crossing the curtains! Did you ever live near a house that inspired it or rented one for a vacation?

I’d say about 90% of the house as described in the book is taken directly from a house I lived in when I was in high school. There were a few details that I created, but most of the big ones were all real. The pool, the bedroom windows, the upstairs crawlspace, all of it was real.

Alice’s bedroom was directly inspired by my own, and I really did have windows that looked into a different room. The whole house was just oddly arranged, and it had been built onto several times over the years. It made it feel like a small scale Winchester Mystery House.

After reading this book, I talked the ear off of my husband about it. We had just moved into our first home and as revenge, he pulled a prank on me by drawing stick people on the wallpaper. Any pranksters in your family that like to make your work come alive?

First off, that’s such a great story! I love to hear when one of my books has escaped into the real world, so to speak.

My kids definitely know all about the basic plots of my books. My son in particular wants to hear all about them, and we talk through them, even in the early stages of the books while I’m still working things out. Neither of my kids have tried to prank us like that though…honestly, I don’t want to give them any ideas!

I feel we all know someone like Debra and Frank, why do you think Frank just couldn’t settle?

I love Frank, because you’re right, most everyone knows someone like that. He’s a schemer, but not in a bad way. He’s just the type of guy who gets genuinely excited about bad ideas, and his excitement rubs off on his family. They’re excited too!

I think most people can relate to them, just because the grind of being an adult is so boring. Even if we don’t admit it, I think most of us dream a little bit about jumping into something crazy, if for no other reason than to just escape the feeling of everything being so safe all the time.

Kudos, on the plot twist! Since the appearance of Walker with his mental problems, it got creepier and creepier. His last scene was particularly disturbing. Were his endsceen and demise always set in stone?

I had that final image of Walker in my mind relatively early on, so I worked back from that to make it work. A lot of the details changed, but I’m still in love with that image of him tapping on the glass, almost politely asking to be let in. Its almost an inversion of the movie trope of the bad guy returning for one last, crazy action sequence. I think in a sillier story, Walker and Frank might have had one last fight where Walker gets thrown into the pool or something like that. This is much darker than that, much more stark.

The epilogue tied everything up in the end nicely did you ever consider leaving it out to put us, poor readers, into purgatory?

Well, going back to the previous question, I knew I wanted to hit the audience with the surprise and horror of seeing Walker at the window. Then, with a hard cut away from the action, I wanted to give them a chance to breathe before they realized what actually happened that night. The epilogue is just a nice chance to let the story relax and settle after that shock.

Did you edit anything out of the book?

There weren’t any big plot threads or branches that had to be cut, beyond just the usual trimming. It’s a lean story, and I wanted to stay focused on Alice’s point of view.

I’m convinced One by One would make an amazing movie and reading through Goodreads review comments I’m not the only one. If the opportunity came along who do you see acting which character?

I certainly agree! I’m not really up on too many child actors, but I think you could probably age Alice up a bit for a movie. Someone like Millie Bobby Brown would be great, but even she’s probably too old at this point.

Maybe, if I’m lucky, there will be more to talk about on that front at some point!

Where is the best place to get ahold of One by One?

It’s available wherever books are sold, including Amazon of course.

Lastly:

What are you currently working on?

Three projects up in the air at the moment. I have my first middle-grade novel being read by publishers as we speak. I really hope to have some news on it soon, mainly just because I want to talk more about it. It’s a great, simple hook that I don’t want to say too much about until it’s signed.

I also just finished the first big round of edits on my next horror novel, tentatively titled The Mill. It’s the most gruesome book I’ve ever written, and a big change from my usual, more quiet horror. Hopefully, they’ll be some news in early 2020.

And finally, I’m in the early stages of yet another book. It’s another great hook, and I can’t wait to say more about it.

How can we follow you and stay in touch?

www.dwgillespie.com

www.facebook.com/dw.gillespie

www.twitter.con/dw_gillespie

January Author of the Month: Kim Taylor Blakemore

Photo supplied by Kim Taylor Blakemore

I shall start off the New Year Author Interviews as I mean to go on, with a truly talented storyteller. Presenting: Kim Taylor Blakemore, a fierce woman who tells tales of the “thieves and servants, murderesses and spoiled doves”, winner of Tucson Festival of Books Literary Award, WILLA Literary Award, and three Regional Arts and Culture Council (RACC) grants and member of Women’s Fiction Writers Association, and Historical Novel Society.

Her genres are Historical and Women’s Fiction, which has come out breathtakingly in her first adult debut historical mystery novel, The Companion, which is out today: 14 January 2020.

Without further ado, let’s meet Kim!

When looking for a new read, what stands out most for you: the book cover or the description?

Book cover and then description. A great cover will always reel me in.

E-books vs physical books, where do you stand?

I like both! I don’t think one is better than the other, merely different. Personally, I read fiction on my Kindle app on my phone and read nonfiction (including research materials) in print, so I can write notes in the margins, highlight, turn over pages, add Post-It notes and have the stack of research books on my desk in easy reach.

Do you have any mascots or rituals you do when writing?

My pets are definitely mascots – the leader is Toughie the blind cat, followed by Rocky the shepherd/Doberman/100% mutt mix, Naomi the old gal, and little Calvin. They all sleep in the office when I write, bark at passing trucks and squirrels (to remind me to take a break) and never let me forget dinnertime. Picture included. J

Photo supplied by Kim Taylor Blakemore

I do have specific rituals when I write at the library – a specific chair at a specific table, facing the mysteries. I’m out of sorts when it’s not available.

Which books defined your childhood and which ones define you now?

Nancy Drew, for sure. My mother read every Agatha Christie novel when I was very little; I think she was prepping me for the master. My family are voracious readers, so the library was a weekly event. In my teens I was obsessed with Gone with the Wind. That obsession moved into Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre. I read pretty widely, so there isn’t really a genre that I read more than others. I can devour a Jasper Fforde book and follow it with an Emma Donoghue and then a Connie Willis.

But I will say that it is Daphne DuMaurier who informs my work. She is brilliant at deception and deflection, teasing out one small detail at a time until the story is filled with delicious dread. I have a portrait of her above my desk. She is very fierce in it, very stern, and a strict taskmaster. I can hear whisper, “Make it worse.”

What was the first Historical Fiction book you read?

Wow. I don’t remember. Probably Pride and Prejudice, but that isn’t really historical fiction, is it?

As a writer of Women’s Historical Fiction what was it that first drew you into this genre?

I love women’s history, and I’m impelled to learn how women lived and what made them tick in the past. So often, this history is not found in textbooks or history tomes, but in diaries and letters, and when I read those, I see such rich worlds.

The Companion

Book cover image supplied by Kim Taylor Blakemore

How and when did the story for the book first come to you?

Lucy came to me in a dream, about 15 years ago. Her name at the time was Polly Bunting, and the dream was a fleeting image of a young woman caught in the act of stealing the pearl necklace from her (dead) mistress’s throat. I just started writing her voice, letting her speak, but at the time, I didn’t have much of a story and left it alone after about twenty-five pages. But that young woman never left me, and I picked up the manuscript and played around with scenes and ideas over the years. Each time I said to myself, “You’re not a good enough writer for this story yet.” And I’d put it away. But at one weekend workshop, Lucy came barrelling out at the first prompt and didn’t stop. I was all set to write a fun breezy book about an all-female jazz band in the 1930s, but Lucy had her own ideas. And I knew it was time. The book was complete in a year and a half.

Which character in your book are you able to connect with the most?

Lucy. She is maddeningly charming and dishonest and conniving and tough and vulnerable all at once.

Did you edit anything out of the book?

During developmental edits, we deepened some area and characterizations, and lost a murder as it pulled focus away from the main story. But nothing significant was edited out.

Lucy and Rebecca are both at some point companions to Eugenie, when first reading the book I thought the title referred to Lucy as she is the main character, but now I don’t think it is as cut and dry as that. What do you say?

Yes, that’s right. There are three companions in the piece – Rebecca and Lucy both serve as a companion to Eugenia, but the Matron is Lucy’s companion, also.

I love the description and atmosphere of the Burtons house, it’s perfect for the story, did you do research for this by having long weekends at a historical house?

I make sure I visit at least one historic house wherever I travel. In fact, I make sure to visit the historical societies also. I am obsessed with how people lived and moved through their time and their domestic spheres, and houses are telling. The Burton’s home is an amalgam of New England houses.

You don’t mind shining a light on the dark stories and the nitty-gritty which intrigues me and keeps me reading, is there anything you find too dark or nitty gritty to write about?

Rape and torture. Can’t go there at all.

Having Eugenie Burton blind in the book is a unique twist, it puts her in a very vulnerable position even though she is capable. Would you say Eugenie is the manipulated or the manipulator?

Eugenie is both. She manipulates the household and pretty much gets everything and anything she wants. She point blank tells Lucy that during one of their first conversations. But she is also manipulated by others in the house who have their own desires – for power, for love, for money.

And Rebecca, manipulated or manipulator?

As above. Rebecca is the poor cousin that is shuttled from house to house, an in-between in the household, and looking to keep any modicum of status she can. It’s an uncomfortable place to live – not close family, not distant staff, not much say over anything, even as it relates to her own life.

Do you think Eugenie’s love for Lucy was real?

I do. I think Eugenie found someone who didn’t coddle her, didn’t see her as a blind person, and saw her as an equal.

I have to ask, who killed Mary?

You may ask, but I may not tell. 😉 I will leave that to you to decide.

The novel has elements in it that at times that remind me of the works of the Bronte sisters or Daphne du Maurier did these gothic horrors influence you when writing this novel?

Thank you for that! Daphne du Maurier is my idol. She is a master at the reveal, giving away tiny bits of information – much seemingly innocuous – until the sum of the parts become a dreadful horrible whole. Then it’s too late to turn back. For the characters and the reader.

And the atmosphere in du Maurier’s works, like the Brontë’s, is used so well, each description worked to its fullest to provide not only the settings, but the feeling of dread and unease.

Lastly:

What are you working on at the moment?

I just finished the draft of my next book for Lake Union. It’s super dark and twisty: an asylum, an apparent suicide, and a woman who doesn’t buy the story she’s told about her sister’s death. And she won’t stop until she finds the truth. (Can I say she’s pretty kick ass?) It’s set in the same area of New Hampshire as THE COMPANION, though ten years later. It’s tentatively titled AFTER ALICE FELL, and will be released in January 2021.

How can we follow you?

I’d love if you joined my mailing list! I post new content monthly, from tidbits on my research trips to giveaways to stories of fierce women, and exclusive excerpts and other writings. Sign up here: http://eepurl.com/gjxqib

You can also follow me at:

Instagram: www.instagram.com/blakemorekimtayl

or Facebook: www.facebook.com/kimtaylorblakemore

December Author of the Month: Charlie N. Holmberg

Author Photo Provided by Charlie N. Holmberg

This article contains spoilers for The Fifth Doll

I am proud to present the fantastic Charlie N. Holmberg as my Author of the Month for December. This amazing fantasy author is best known for The Paper Magician series but the first book I read of hers and fell in love with was The Fifth Doll.

Let’s learn a bit about you!

What book would you say defines your childhood and which book would you say defines you now?

  • My favorite books as a kid were the Goosebumps books and the American Girl books (even though I never owned an American Girl doll). As an adult, I was shaped a lot by epic fantasy. I think the most influential was Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson.

Which was the first book to make you cry and which was the first to make you laugh?

  • I’m not sure which title first brought me to tears, but the first book to make me UGLY cry? Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier. I was all snot and tears for that one. I’m not sure on laughter either, but it could have been Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine.

How long have you been writing?

  • I started writing when I was 13, so… 18 years?

What’s the funniest typo you’ve ever written then caught yourself?

  • I’ve accidentally dropped profanity into books where I didn’t mean to. I also have a weird thing where I type “back” when I mean “bag.” All. The. Time.

Do you have a writing mascot or ritual?

  • Not particularly? I write in the mornings after my kids go to school, Monday through Friday. I’m very disciplined about it.

How do you handle deadlines and priorities?

  • I just do them. I know that’s a weird answer, but it’s how I’m wired. I have never once missed a deadline.

Do you use any writer’s apps and if so are there any you would recommend?

  • I don’t. Just me, my brain, and Microsoft Word.

The Fifth Doll is a favorite of mine, especially because I have an undergraduate degree in Philosophy and so many elements of the novel deal with issues that were in my course. I have been known to use the book as an illustration in arguments similar to The Matrix, red or blue pill. With that being said I’d like to quiz you about this novel.

Book Cover Image supplied by Charlie N. Holmberg

How did the idea for the novel first come to you?

  • So I was preparing a class on magic systems for a local conference, and I wanted to get the attendees to think outside the box and create a magic system of their own. I was walking around my house, writing down random things I saw—forks, thread, newspapers—so that I could have the class come up with magic revolving around them. I reached the shelf that had my matryoshka dolls on them and paused. Magical matryoshka dolls… that sparked something in me. Needless to say, I kept that one for myself!

What research did you do for the book?

  • A lot of late 18th-century Russian research. Most of the book is quasi-Russia, so I had some leeway, but I had to research some stuff about relevant tzars and how marriage was handled, clothing, food, etc. I also revisited Freudian psychology, since that has some influence in the novel as well.

Did you edit anything out of the book?

  • Nothing major. Not that I can recall.

A room of villager nesting dolls is a terrifying image, what would you do if you found a room filled with nesting dolls of people you know, would you open one?

  • Oh, totally. That would be a true WTF moment. Though I would be terrified of getting caught.

In Matrona’s position would you fight being given stewardship?

  • You know . . . I’m not totally sure I would. I would probably 100% play along until I figured out for sure what was going on, and then make a judgment and potentially a secret betrayal, ha.

At the end of the book, we are confronted with the concept of freedom and if it is truly desirable. Do you think true freedom is desirable?

  • True freedom is always desirable. The freedom Matrona achieves, not so much.

Which would you choose, the world within the dolls or the real one?

  • I would probably choose to stay in the dolls! (SPOILER>) The reality Matrona takes everyone into is a winter- and war-ridden one. They have literally nothing. It’s going to be CRAZY HARD to make a life and a living, especially in the throws of WWI. If I had to choose between those two worlds, I would choose the nice sunny one, thank you very much.

Have you considered writing a sequel or prequel to the novel? If so I wish to pre-order.

  • Considered? Briefly. Will I write one? No. Sorry!

Lastly

What are you working on at the moment?

  • I am working on SO MANY THINGS. I’m finishing up my Spellbreaker duology, the first book of which will release in fall 2020. I also have a high fantasy duology I’m working on with Caitlyn McFarland (author of the Dragonsworn series). Then I have a book called STAR MOTHER that I’ll be doing my first round of edits on soon (from my alpha readers—haven’t sold that one yet!).

How can we follow you?

  • Instagram: @cnholmberg
  • Twitter: @cnholmberg
  • Facebook: @cnholmberg
  • Website: charlienholmberg.com
  • Amazon: https://amzn.to/2CzffcW
  • Goodreads: https://bit.ly/36Zfaxe