Lee Allen Howard is a technical writer in the software industry. As per his website, he writes dark fiction: horror, LGBTQ horror, supernatural crime, dark crime, and psychological thrillers, and technical manuals. He is also the founder, editor, and publisher at Dark Cloud Press, publisher of horror, dark crime, and psychological thrillers.
Q1. Lee, it’s wonderful to have you with us! Tell us a bit about yourself and your writing process.
Great to be here. I write and edit dark fiction. I used to say I write horror but, over the years, I’ve written more than this, although horror is my first love and primary genre. I also write dark crime, supernatural crime, and psychological thrillers. All dark genres; thus, dark fiction.
I used to write sporadically—only when inspiration struck. Years would pass between writing sprints during which I produced a short story or a novel. This year I’m on a mission to solidify a workable process that lends itself to continual productivity. I’ve partitioned my process into seven segments:
This takes me from the initial spark of a story idea through its development by brainstorming, plotting, and then outlining (something I consider crucial), to the drafting stage, which many people consider to be the only part of “writing.” (The writing process, or at least my writing process, consists of more stages than typing words into a manuscript file.) Very few writers sell first drafts—they suck. It’s actually the process of editing that turns a lump of coal into a diamond. So far, editing for me has been self-editing. The ultimate step is to release your literary gems to the world and promote them and yourself through marketing.
You can read more about this process on my website at Ramping Up My Writing Process.
Q2. What got you into horror fiction?
I don’t know where my love of horror came from because no one in my family shares my interest. But I was a precocious reader.
Every few weeks, Teacher would pass out a newsprint flyer—a four-page catalog of books for young readers. I would pore over every title on those pages and count the pocket change I’d saved to buy at least one book. One of those books was Norman Bridwell’s How to Care for Your Monster. It was a scary yet funny guide to caring for your pet—if your pet happened to be Frankenstein’s monster, the Wolfman, Dracula, or the Mummy. That’s the book that turned me on to horror.
As soon as I learned to print letters and form sentences in second grade, I started writing horror stories in pencil on tablet paper. My second-grade teacher passed on one of my stories to the elementary school principal. Both he and my father, a Methodist pastor, were members of the local Lion’s Club. Principal Sprunger read my story at a club meeting and fined my father a dime because the preacher’s son had written such a horrific story full of skeletons, witches, and blood. That was the first time money exchanged hands for my fiction, but it didn’t find its way into my pocket!
What really confirmed my love of horror were two books I read back in the 1970s when I was about twelve years old. Thomas Tryon’s The Other absolutely electrified me. It was so horrifying and thrilling to my adolescent mind that I wanted to read more and write stories like it. The other book was James Herbert’s The Rats. Since reading those novels and many others, I’ve been trying to terrify and thrill my readers.
Q3. How do you find a balance between your day job and your writing?
I earned a bachelor’s in English, opting for writing courses over literature. By the time I graduated, I realized I couldn’t make a living writing short stories and poetry. (Although I had some poems and stories published by that point, I hadn’t sold any writing for actual money.) Instead, I directed my writing education into a career in technical writing. I’ve been employed in the software industry my entire working life.
I also earned a master’s degree in genre fiction writing from Seton Hill University. Death Perception was my thesis novel.
My current practice is to get up early, have breakfast and coffee (black), then read for an hour, usually about writing craft. Then I write (which means spending time on one of my seven writing phases, not just drafting) for an hour or ninety minutes. Then I log in to work (I’ve worked remotely from home for the past fifteen years). Shave, shower, and dine out, then spend up to two hours at my personal laptop for more fiction writing. Four to six hours on both Saturdays and Sundays. I track my writing progress through an iPhone app called WordKeeper, which you can read about on my website.
I hope to retire from corporate work within three years and segue into full-time fiction writing. Finally, my childhood dream will have come true.
Q4. What would you say are your Top 5 Reads of All Time?
Not all of these are horror books. But the novels that have formed me and which I reread from time to time include Thomas Tryon’s The Other, James Herbert’s The Rats, Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, and Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea.
Favorite writers over the years include Patrick McGrath (especially The Asylum), Ramsey Campbell (Nazareth Hill), and Stephen King (early books).
Q5. Self-publish or go the traditional publication route – what would your advice be for aspiring authors?
It’s always been my dream to be traditionally published. But the stigma against self-publishing is easing. I’ve spent most of the past forty-five years trying to get traditionally published with little luck. Rejection has contributed significantly to depression and seasons of unproductivity. In 2012 I started self-publishing and met with some success.
Writers should strive for getting their work traditionally published. But don’t waste years (yes, years) of your life waiting for publishers to get back to you about works you’ve submitted like I did. If you choose to self-publish, make sure you get your work beta-read, professionally edited, and formatted for publication. Hire a decent cover artist. I’m also an editor and have experience with publishing tools because of my day job. If you don’t, hire these jobs out. And don’t expect to get rich quick.
My novels include The Sixth Seed (dark paranormal), Death Perception (supernatural crime), The Adamson Family (YA gothic), and The Bedwetter: Journal of a Budding Psychopath (psychological thriller/horror). Short story collections include Night Monsters, Desperate Spirits, and Severed Relations. The stories from these brief collections are included with many others in Perpetual Nightmares.