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Author of the Month (June 2021) – Lee Allen Howard

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:

  1. Ideation
  2. Brainstorming
  3. Plotting
  4. Outlining
  5. Drafting
  6. Editing
  7. Marketing

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.

You can find Lee at:
His website: https://leeallenhoward.com,
His Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/LeeAllenHowardauthor),
and His Twitter (https://twitter.com/LeeAllenHoward).

Categories
Romance

The Regrets (2020) by Amy Bonnaffons – Book Review

Every once in a while I go in search of a book that is a bit quirky, that can hold its own in a lineup of weird art, that truly speaks to the mind and soul. I go looking for books that have been overlooked by the consumers of mass-market hysteria simply because not enough people were talking, tweeting, Instagramming about them. And I’ve discovered some pretty cool gems.

I vaguely remember how I stumbled on to this book, but it turned out to be a rewarding read. It is a love story. The love is between two wildly different people – the difference being that one is alive and the other is not.

Book cover for The Regrets by Amy Bonnaffons

Reality and dream collide in Amy Bonnaffons’s dazzling, darkly playful debut novel about a love affair between the living and the dead.

Set in the hallucinatory borderland between life and death, The Regrets is a gloriously strange and breathtakingly sexy exploration of love, the cataclysmic power of fantasies, and the painful, exhilarating work of waking up to reality, told with uncommon grace and humor by a visionary artist at the height of her imaginative power.

Here’s what made me really like this book:

  1. It tackles subjects like death and mortality in a way that is fresh and non-mopey. There’s none of the “Why me?” in it, there’s no lingering sadness over the face that something as inevitable as death happened. It focuses more on the “What now?”
  2. This book contains a lot of sex but not in a creepy way, and there’s isn’t any smut. The sex is pretty much part of the plot without being the center of attention. It’s there because it has to be – non-creepily.
  3. It isn’t overly dark or overly happy – just the perfect shade of grey.

One concept in this book that I really related to was the desire to find someone with “complementary weirdnesses” and then wanting to hold on to said person. Everyone is their own flavor of weird and finding someone who subscribes to your particular world-view is one of the few gifts that life (or death?) can give you.

Don’t let the weirdness of the book fool you. It is fresh and highly recommended.

Categories
Featured

Author of the Month (May 2021) – Priya Sharma

A bit about Priya…
Priya Sharma’s fiction has appeared in venues such as Interzone, Black Static, Nightmare, The Dark, and Tor. She’s been anthologized in many of Ellen Datlow’s  Best Horror of the Year series and Paula Guran’s Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror series, among others. 
“Fabulous Beasts” was a Shirley Jackson Award finalist and won a British Fantasy Award for Short Fiction. Priya is a Shirley Jackson Award and British Fantasy Award winner and Locus Award finalist for “All the Fabulous Beasts”, a collection of some of her work, available from Undertow Publications.
“Ormeshadow”, her first novella (available from Tor), won a Shirley Jackson Award and a British Fantasy Award.

Q1. Priya, it’s wonderful to have you with us! Tell us a bit about yourself and your writing process.

Thank you for having me here on Literary Retreat.

I write mainly short stories- dark fantasy, fairy tales, alternative history, horror, and some SF. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with editors like Ellen Datlow, Paula Guran, Mark Morris, and Andy Cox, at venues like Interzone, Black Static and Tor.com

About half of my short stories were collected as “All the Fabulous Beasts” in 2018 and my first novella, “Ormeshadow”, appeared in 2019.

I enjoy writing for themed anthologies where editors give me a lot of latitude to explore. I’ll often start with a series of thumbnail sketches then research as I go. It’s not always a linear process. I like to work up a series of key plot points, then expand as I rewrite. Those initial points may change, which is fine. The most daunting thing for me is having an opening and no clue where I need to go next with it. It induces paralysis. I try to end a writing session when I know what the next thing I need to write is, then pick up from that point at the next session. Characters are the key to developing stories. Once they’re vivid enough in my mind, that is the time that the story starts to really work- any action must be in keeping with their personalities and motivations.

Q2. What got you into horror?

I loved fantasy, horror, and sci-fi growing up. I was born and live in the UK- so I loved things like “Armchair Thriller”, “Dr. Who”, “Star Wars”, Alfred Hitchcock and Roald Dahl’s books. As a teenager, I discovered “Twin Peaks”, Ray Bradbury, Daphne du Maurier, and Stephen King.

Curiosity got me into horror. As a child I wanted to see what was behind the door or under the bed- first literally and then metaphorically. I was drawn to secrets. Horror is stuffed with the big questions of how we survive in the face of the unknown and unexpected. What it means to be a small and fragile human at the mercy of bigger forces.

Q3. What do you feel most influences your storytelling? (Ex: Books you’re reading at the time, movies/TV shows, daily life events, etc.)

All writers are magpies. Everything we absorb influences what we write in some way. Inspiration can come from a news story, something you read, a painting, or a photograph.

I’m a big fan of research- it’s the geek in me. The small details, used with care, make for great world-building – and the world needs to be bigger in your head than on the page. I once wrote a story for Ellen Datlow’s “Mad Hatters and March Hares” called “Mercury”. It was about the Mad Hatter character. Hatters in the Victorian period used mercury in hat production. I read medical journals for information on mercury poisoning, read books on Lewis Carroll, and visited a hat museum in Stockport.

Q4. What are your Top 5 Must Watch/Read horror recommendations?

  • Watch: Let The Right One In (the original version- I actually prefer the film to the novel)
  • Read: Beloved by Toni Morrison (gothic themes rooted in the real world horror of slavery)
  • Read: Things We Lost In The Fire by Mariana Enriquez (all the gothic tropes but against the backdrop of Argentina’s abandoned torture cells, slums, police corruption, child poverty and abuse. Recommended by superb horror author Paul Tremblay)
  • Read: Starve Acre by Andrew Michael Hurley (English folk horror)
  • Look at: Francis Bacon paintings (they evoke a visceral reaction between nausea and horror)

Ask me tomorrow and the list will be different.

Q5. Any exciting upcoming projects?

My novella, Ormeshadow, has just been published in France by Le Bélial’ Éditions, which is very exciting. Later this year I have stories in two new open-themed horror anthologies – “Dark Stars” (edited by John Taff for Nightfire) and “Beyond The Veil” (edited by Mark Morris for Flame Tree Press). There’re a few other story acceptances that I can’t talk about yet. I’m also working on a new novella. It’s dark fantasy rather than horror.

Learn more about Priya and her work at:

https://priyasharmafiction.wordpress.com/

Ormeshadow – Tordotcom Publishing

All the Fabulous Beasts – Trade paperback — Undertow Publications