The Bone Cutters by Renee S. DeCamillis Genre: Psychological Horror, Supernatural Thriller
Horror, Psychological Thriller, Supernatural, a novella from the 2019 New Bizarro Author Series from Eraserhead Press:
Dory wakes up in the padded room of a psychiatric hospital with no recollection of how she wound up there. She soon finds out she's been Blue-Papered--involuntarily committed. She gets sent to the wrong counseling group and discovers a whole new world of psychiatric patients she'd never known existed. At first she just thinks they're cutters, all marked by similar scars, but then she finds out that those scars are from carving into their bodies where they chisel and scrape their bones. They harvest bone dust, and this dust is highly coveted and sought after, as well as highly addictive. When they realize she's never been"dusted", Dory becomes their target. After all, dust from a "freshie" is much more valuable than theirs. Frightened for her life, she desperately tries to prove to the psych. hospital staff that she's not delusional about these particular patients wanting to slice her open and scrape her bones. The staff doesn't believe her. They all think she's crazy. Dory ends up on the run, fighting for her life, trying to avoid getting "dusted" by The Bone Cutters.
Like Girl, Interrupted and "The Yellow Wallpaper", The Bone Cutters is one woman's dark and surreal experience with a madness that is not necessarily her own.
**Only .99 cents on Amazon May 11th – 25th !! **
A sudden knock on the doorframe of my room startles me. The black marker in my hand streaks across my sketch pad.
I’m not allowed to have a pencil—I might use it as a weapon.
Before I turn toward the door, my hand moves up to my head and starts scratching.
“Come on. It’s time for group. You’re late. Let’s go.” A redheaded nurse, toe tapping rhythmically on the linoleum, calls into my closet-with-a-bed. The pastel colored butterfly print scrubs she’s wearing, along with that thick shimmering hair, scream Mary Poppins. If she starts singing, I’m going to vomit.
Mind foggy, I hesitate before I say, “I haven’t been assigned a counseling group yet.” My fingers scratch harder. I can feel the fuzz of hair growing back on my bald spot. I don’t want to go to any group.
“Oh, no worries, dear. I know exactly whose hands to put you in.” I’m not sure how to read the smile she gives me. Then she looks at the clipboard in her hand. She happily huffs, if that’s even possible, and rolls her eyes. But that creepy smile remains. “You haven’t had your meds. Why haven’t you had your meds?” Not waiting for my answer, she says, “No worries. I’ll fix that. Let’s go, dear.” She wills me out into the hall with a wave of her hand, almost like a puppeteer. I can feel the pull.
Dear? And that smile—I think she took my meds.
After a quick stop at the nurse’s station, a plop of meds and water into my mouth, the redheaded nurse—Nurse Hatchet is what the tag on her lanyard reads—ushers me through the first door we come to that has a group of patients gathered inside. The door clicks shut behind me. I reach under my tongue, pocket my meds. My hand involuntarily starts scratching my head, again.
I’m about to turn and flee, until every face in the circle of people whips toward me. My eyes immediately look away. I look down at the black and white checkered floor. I shove my shaky hands into the pockets of my jeans. With my sneakered-foot, I push an empty plastic chair toward the group of patients.
I enter the circle.
I have no idea if I’m in the right group. It’s only my second day here. Feeling all eyes on me, I can’t force myself to look up, to look anyone in the face.
A man starts talking.
A weight lifts off from me.
The attention is now on someone else.
After a couple minutes of what I assume is someone’s psycho-babble, it feels safe to look up from the floor. His words—I can’t hear any of them. The vice that repeatedly squeezes on my head and chest has always caused a malfunction with my hearing, ever since I was a child. With the arrival of my teen years, it never got any better—which is how I’ve ended up where I am.
A new voice sounds out. I turn toward the sound.
A skeletal-thin man speaks with passion of an insatiable hunger. His voice sounds strained, scraping and clawing its way out of his mouth, stumbling past his dry cracked lips. His eyes scream pain, empty and hollow, drained of what may have been behind those doors before.
With every syllable he utters, I can’t stop staring at his neck. With every bob of his Adam’s apple, I’m fascinated, mesmerized. With every bob of his Adam’s apple it slithers around the base of his neck.
The size of a mutant slug—fat and glistening—with a thickness five times my thumb’s width.
How did it get there?
What is it from?
Does it hurt? Itch? Throb?
Does he ever, sometimes, forget that it’s there?
These questions shoot through my mind in rapid succession—as I stare.
I can’t make sense of the scarred man’s words. My questions are too loud. Too many. And I can’t stop staring.
I need to hear his words.
I force myself to listen. Now I can’t not listen. I can’t un-hear the insanity, the desperation. His story is permanently etched into my brain.
“I reopen it when I need to re-up.” The man speaks with a gravelly voice. The slug writhes and slithers with every word. “I scrape a good amount with each incision. The more I chisel and collect, the less often I need to slice open the wound again. I stitch it. Let it scab over. Let the scab loosen and fall away before my supply runs out.” Supply? Supply of what?
From the opposite side of the circle a woman picks up where the scarred man’s words fade away. The sound of her voice jars my attention away from the slug. Her words drag and drone and trip across the open hollow of the circle, landing in my disbelieving-ears. “Then it starts all over again. The self-surgery. The extraction.”
The woman is scarred, too. Not her neck. Her upper arm. It snakes along the outside of her bicep. It starts at her elbow and slithers up onto her shoulder. Thicker than the man’s slug. And a lot longer. Snake-girl. “It hurts like Hell, but it’s free. Music to a user’s ears—free high.” Free high?
The term stuns me to stone, heavy and unmoving. I don’t want to hear anymore.
My eyes start scanning the circle of people. Every one of them is scarred. All in a different location on their bodies.
How did I not notice this defining detail when I first entered into this circle?
The wrong group for me.
But I can’t speak up. I can barely breathe. I want to slip away, unnoticed, but I can’t even move. My nerves have tied me to the hard plastic chair.
A few moments pass. Maybe many moments. I don’t know. Someone is talking. My ears don’t hear anything but my frantic garbled thoughts of how I can flee undetected. I can’t even decipher what’s sounding in my head. There might be a good idea in the chaos of my mind, but I can’t lasso one out.
A strand of hair falls in my face. It starts tickling my nose. I force my hand to tuck my hair behind my ear. My hands are wet, sweaty. I slowly rest my hand on my knee. Now my knee is bouncing. I can’t stop the involuntary motions.
Sweat. Sweat. Sweat.
“Never let them see you sweat.”
The sweat is causing wisps of my hair to stick to my forehead. Then I notice the blood— under my fingernails. I curl my fingers under. Does anyone notice? If not the blood, all of them must see my bald spot by now.
The counselor hasn’t said a word. I don’t even know which one is the counselor.
Every one of them is scarred.
A counselor with first-hand experience, I guess. They say that’s the best kind, most respected by patients, especially addicts.
Who are they anyway?
A voice. Someone is talking. Louder now. Is it a different person? Or the same? I don’t know. At this point nothing is making sense.
A garbled voice echoes in my head. By the sounds of it, the voice is traveling through a tunnel before it reaches my ears. Is it a man or a woman? I don’t know. I can’t even make out any of the words. It’s as though all the words are jumbled together, overlapping, tossed together like a salad. I can’t look to see who’s talking. They’ll see the confusion plastered on my face. They’ll know I don’t belong. They’ll think I’m judging them.
Never judge. I don’t know where they’ve traveled. Their shoes don’t fit me.
I can’t focus on the voice anymore. It’s too maddening. I stare, instead, at the scars.
I can’t take it anymore. If I can’t make myself leave, I need to know . . .
I don’t want to know, but questions fly, like hurricane winds, out of my mouth before I can rein them back. The loud person is still talking when I blurt out, “You get high by carving into your own body? All of you?” I scan the circle, addressing the group. My eyes can’t focus on any one face. Instead, my eyes dart back and forth and round and round from person to person. They all nod in unison. As soon as people turn toward me, I feel the flames reddening my cheeks. I don’t see their eyes on me. I feel them. “How? I don’t understand,” my voice croaks, barely letting the words slip out. It feels like a snake is wrapped around my throat, constricting.
Sweat drips faster. My bloody fingers start scratching the peach fuzz again. Why can’t I leave it alone, let the hair grow back, look normal again?
The thought makes me scratch harder.
My eyes accidentally fall on a husky tattooed man in camouflage shorts. His drug-serpent slithers along his shin. Very fitting with his Medusa tattoo. The artist worked it into her snake-hair, almost undetectable as a scar--
until I’d realized this is a group of cutters. Not your typical cutters. They cut to get high. Somehow. Some way. A high follows every cut.
I don’t get it.
The Medusa Man reluctantly, almost painfully, speaks up. It’s as though my eyes pushed him to talk. The veins in his neck are bulging out, a network of rivers. Every word that emerges from him looks, and sounds, like a weightlifting challenge to haul up from his vocal chords out into the audible world. The result—the voice of a pre-pubescent boy coming from a man. “It’s in the bones. Everyone’s bones. His.” He nods toward Slug Man. “Hers.” He nods toward Snake Girl. “Even yours.” He looks, unblinking, straight into my stinging eyes.
The shock must be painted on my face.
His eyes widen and he nods. “Yes, even your bones.”
I shake my head, rub my eyes. The sweat stings.
Slug Man—he acts as the spokesman for the group. “You look confused. Let me explain— Once we slice ourselves open and get down to the bone, we chisel and scrape bone dust into little baggies, onto tinfoil—whatever the choice. It’s like heroin, but all natural. We can cook it and inject it. We can smoke it. Snort it. Best of all—it’s free.”
“Best of all?” I cringe. My stomach turns. My skin itches, like spiders are crawling all over me. Scratching my head, my hair slicks back as though it hasn’t been washed in days. Blood, warm and slick, starts dripping down my forehead.
My knee is bouncing faster. It won’t stop. No judgment. No judgment. No judgment.
Now it’s time for my burning question—“How the Hell did all of you find out about this . . . this drug-like substance in our bones?”
Slug Man speaks through his gap-toothed grin. “From my work at the crematorium.”
Each cutter, each addict, starts stating how they made their discovery. All eyes are on me as they speak. I can’t force myself to look directly at any of them. I can’t understand what any one of them is saying. They’re all speaking at once. They’re all staring at me. And they’re all getting closer.
My eyes dart around the circle, around the room. The groups’ voices are getting louder as they’re all getting closer to me. Metal chair legs squeak and scrape across linoleum. I scan the room for the door. I’m disoriented. Displaced. I can’t remember which side of the room I came in through.
There it is. The door. It’s behind me.
Just as I’m able to peel my sweat-drenched back off from the chair and unglue my ass from the unforgiving hard plastic seat, I notice, as I start to stand, that I’m now surrounded. I’m in the middle.
In the center of the circle of addicts. The cutters. All eyes on me.
I take a deep breath. My return-breath trips and stumbles up my throat and gets lodged there.
What do I do?
What can I say?
All eyes on me. Big, bulging, hungry eyes. Craving eyes.
My skin crawls.
My hand scratches.
More blood drips.
The more I bleed the wider the users’ eyes grow.
I can’t breathe.
I can’t breathe.
I can’t fucking breathe!
The door. I see it. I stare at it. It’s close at first. But the longer I stare, the farther and farther away it moves.
Feet frozen to the floor like a tongue on an icy flagpole, I’m unable to move.
The room starts spinning.
My head is going to burst.
Where’s my breath? I can’t find my breath!
I have to move. I need to leave. How can I get the fuck out?
I see the door. It’s so far away. I don’t think I can make it. I don’t know if I can even make myself move. Then I feel a breath. A breath not my own. It’s blowing hot against my neck.
I turn. A hand reaches for me. I flinch, but not fast enough. A long, rough finger slides across my forehead then quickly pulls away.
Snake-girl. She licks her finger. “Mmm . . . Fresh. I bet I can get to your bones fast, you skinny little ball of nerves. Won’t hurt me one bit.” She leans toward me and sniffs my sopping hair, what’s left of it.
That’s it. I can’t fucking take it anymore!
Somehow, some way, I find the strength to move.
With a crash and a clatter, I bolt.
Renee S. DeCamillis is a dark fiction writer, an Editorial Intern with Crystal Lake Publishing, a member of the Horror Writers Association, a lyricist and poet, a life-long musician--hard rock/blues rhythm guitarist and singer, & a tree-hugging hippie with a sharp metal edge.
Renee earned her MFA in Creative Writing from the Stonecoast Graduate Program, she has her BA in psychology, and she attended Berklee College of Music as a music business major with guitar as her principal instrument. Music has been a huge part of Renee's life ever since she was a young child. She has been in a number of bands where she took on various roles, including hand percussionist. Renee is also a former model, school rock band teacher, creative writing teacher, private guitar instructor, A&R rep for an indie record label, therapeutic mentor, psychological technician, and pre-school teacher. (Yes, she loves to wear many hats; she is known to have worn thirteen hats all at once--literally.) She is also a former gravedigger; she can get rid of a body fast without leaving a trace, and she is not afraid of getting her hands dirty. Renee lives in the woods of Maine with her husband, their son, and a house full of ghosts.
Can you, for those who don't know you already, tell something about yourself and how you became an author?
How I became an author is never easy for me to explain because I was not like so many other writers who will tell you how they used to read voraciously as a child and would hide under their covers at night with a flashlight so they could read as much as possible after “lights-out”. Yes, I loved to read as a child, and yes, I loved to write. But when I hid under the covers at night, I had my headphones on and was listening to my newest album or my favorite albums. And when I wrote, I wrote poetry and song lyrics. My dream as a child wasn’t to grow up to be an author. I saw a writing career as a means to grow up poor and depressed and addicted to drugs and/or alcohol and to eventually turn suicidal. And when my mother came home from that high school parent-teacher conference and told me that many of my teachers had told her I had a promising future in writing and that’s what I should pursue in college, I laughed and said, “No way! I don’t want to end up dead at a young age. Plus, I don’t need to go to college to be a rock star.” Then I wandered off to crank some tunes, play guitar and sing at the top of my lungs.
Yeah, that was my teenage brain for you; rock star life was a safer professional route than writing. Ha! When I did finally realize that being a rock star would mean I’d live most of my life on the road touring, and that there were many shysters out there in the music industry preying on young “meat” like me, I changed my mind about college. But I refused to study anything other than music, and I only wanted to go to Berklee College of Music. My guidance counselor told me I had to apply to more than one college. I refused. They looked worried for me. I didn’t care. I applied. I auditioned. I got in. I was a music business major, with guitar as my principle instrument. I loved it! That is, I loved it until my money ran out after two years and I had to drop out. I ended up moving to the desert of Arizona to find myself, sort of speak, and I did a lot of writing then, poetry and song lyrics and journaling, and I also dabbled in acting. Long story short…
I eventually ended up moving back to Maine and earned a degree in psychology. I worked in the mental health field for years, and during that time I rediscovered my love of literature and writing stories. As I began to realize that I was much too sensitive to work in the mental health field, and I had an inability to compartmentalize, ending many work days in tears and on the phone with DHHS to report abuse and neglect of my students/patients by my coworkers, I decided to blaze a new trail and go back to college for English Literature and Creative Writing. At the last job I had in the mental health field, I worked with at risk high school students, and I taught creative writing. I was thrilled to see how much writing moved these students to pay attention and communicate and actually participate and write; I knew I was making the right move for me. I ended up earning my MFA in Popular Fiction Writing, and here I am—still writing. As for music, it is and always will be my first love and I still love playing and singing. Now I write about the horrors in the mental health field and with mental illness and in life in general, and, of course, I also write a lot about music. Even if it’s not a central theme, music almost always finds its way into my writing somehow.
What is something unique/quirky about you?
My husband would say there’s too much to mention for his one. But what I notice that makes people go, “Wait, what? Is that really true?” is when I tell them I used to work as a gravedigger.
Tell us something really interesting that's happened to you!
I was almost arrested for assault on the set of Waterboy back in the 90s in Florida.
Which of your novels can you imagine made into a movie?
Every story I write I can imagine as a movie because that’s how it all plays out in my mind while I’m writing. I imagine it all happening right in front of my eyes. Sometimes when I can’t figure out how to word the actions that I see in my head I will get up and act it out so I can write it better on the page. I actually had one editor/publisher tell me that the work I subbed to him read more like a screenplay in certain sections than as a story. I was surprised because I have never written a screenplay. But, hey, I’ve never written a comic book before, and I’m writing one now, and the creators loved the first two test page I sent them. You just never know what you can do until you actually try.
What do you do to unwind and relax?
For me, spending time outside, close to the natural world, helps me relax. I live in the woods of a quiet small town, and my backyard is like my own oxygen bar. I like to stroll around and smell the flowers, watch and listen to the birds, wander through the woods, search for funky and colorful mushrooms, find a shady spot to sit and read a book. If the weather isn’t so conducive to my outdoor relaxation, yoga and stretching helps me relax. If I just want to unwind at the end of a long day, and if I don’t have to get up early the next morning, I’ll watch a horror or comedy or thriller movie or series. I’d say music helps me relax, but it actually pumps me up and makes me want to play and sing, and that is something that is a great mood-lifter for me.
How to find time to write as a parent?
When I was writing The Bone Cutters I was getting up at 4 AM in order to get my writing done, since my husband was working nights at the time. I’d write while the house was sleeping. I did that for about 3-4 years. When our son was a baby, I’d write when he was napping. We’ve never had childcare, and since both of our mothers died before our son was born, we don’t have the saving grace of grandmothers who usually want to watch their grandchildren a lot, so it has always been tough finding time to write. I did, for a short time, have a couple different babysitters who would watch our son for a few hours a couple times each week so I could work on my writing, but that didn’t last too long. I’ve stayed home with my son; strangers at a daycare haven’t been raising him. I also breast fed my son, and he refused to take a bottle, so even when we did have a babysitter, they couldn’t watch him for too long because he would need to breast feed.
Our son, our only child, recently turned five, and my husband recently started working very early mornings. I am now getting used to a new writing schedule, writing after he gets home from work, usually in the afternoon into the evening, when the shadows grow and stretch and devour everything. Long before our son was born, that was my usual time of day to write, since I was working mornings and afternoons at that time and my husband was working nights. Writing and playing music was always my “creative playtime” while my husband had worked late nights. It is a constant struggle finding enough time to write, since our son is not yet in school, and I will be homeschooling him for at least kindergarten and first grade, if not longer. This is just yet another area of my life that requires me to put my creative mind to work to slice out pockets of time to work on my writing.
What inspired you to write this book?
It all started with a nightmare I had. I was at a Portland First Friday Artwork with a friend I’d had since high school. She asked if I would mind if we made a quick stop to see one of her friends. I agreed. That’s when we walked into a large open room with a group of people all sitting around in a big circle. First I noticed that they were all grotesquely scarred. I thought they were all cutters and that this was a therapy group. Then I realized one guy was talking to the group—he is now Slug Man in my book. As I focused on what he was saying, I discovered that those scars were from carving into their bodies to extract bone dust that they would then use to get high. I was horrified. What shocked me even more was that Slug Man was the friend my friend went there to see. When I woke up I knew that twisted dream needed to get turned into a story. I began writing it that same day.
What can we expect from you in the future?
I do have some short stories coming out this year in various anthologies, but nothing I can officially announce just yet. But the big project I’m working on right now, which is almost complete, is a comic book. I’m writing for Phi3 Comics. I am currently writing Book 4 of the Spiralmind Muses’ Rise story line, and there’s a potential to co-write the screenplay.
The other big project I’m working on is the sequel to The Bone Cutters. I hope to get that written and published by 2021. This one will come from various points of view, including at least one bone cutter.
I am also working on a novel, with the first draft nearly done, about the evil intentions behind the invention of the iPhone. Teaser: Meat suits are involved.
If your book was made into a film, who would you like to play the lead?
I do think I could play the lead very well; I can relate to some of her anxieties and the pent-up anger she holds inside, but I think it’s very egocentric for an author to play their lead character in any type of film or stage adaptation, so I would have to say no. I actually love it when the writer steps in as an extra with only a line or two, especially in the role of a quirky, eccentric character—like a gravedigger. When I write a book/story with a gravedigger protagonist, that’s when I’d like to play the lead.
Where did you come up with the names in the story?
The protagonist’s name—Dory—is short for one of my favorite names—Dorian.
Tommy, the janitor, is named after the first person who befriended me at Berklee, and that Tommy is a drummer. The topic of drumming comes up in a scene with Dory and Tommy, and he is the first person who befriends Dory in the psych. hospital. Some people think he was named after Tommy Lee, but that is not the case; Tommy Lee never crossed my mind while I was writing this. Though his name came from someone I know, Tommy’s character is actually inspired by Danny Trejo’s character in Rob Zombie’s Halloween II, the psych. tech. who befriended Michael Myers in the asylum. I love Danny Trejo! He’s a badass!
Arie is named for the Jamaican meaning of Irie—all right—as in “Every little thing’s gonna be all right” from Bob Marley’s song “Three Little Birds”. That song has special meaning for me. I’m a big Marley fan and I wanted to incorporate that somehow. Also, the meaning of Arie is lion of God, and my girls here are a force of good, so there’s that link as well.
Nurse Hatchet was named that way because a hatchet is a weapon. (I have a slasher story—which still needs to find a home—where the street where the killings take place is named Cleaves St. I love to play with words!) My nurse was not inspired by the nurse in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, though many people think she was. But in hindsight, she does bring that character to mind, so I understand why people assume that. I worked as a psych. tech. in a psych. hospital, and Nurse Hatchet was slightly inspired by a co-worker of mine, but not a nurse—a psych. tech.
Dr. Headstrom, the psychiatrist who plays a very small though important role, was named that way because he’s a head doctor. After I named him, I couldn’t help but recall Max Headroom from the 80s, and it made me laugh. It also made me consider changing the doctor’s name, but I laughed. I decided it was the perfect name for this character.
How did you come up with name of this book?
I will admit that the title of my book is not the original title; it is a title my publisher recommended. The original title was Chiseled High. My publisher was concerned that title would make people think the book is about a high school with a bunch of buff dudes or something, so she suggested The Bone Cutters. When she told me what my original title made her think of, I couldn’t help but laugh. I had never even thought of that, but I could see her point, which made me laugh harder. I had come up with a different title idea, but my publisher had reasons for thinking that one wasn’t a good fit for this book. I saw her point, and agreed, and now I am saving that title idea of mine for the sequel to The Bone Cutters.
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
I do sometimes think about a certain confrontational scene in the book that I might like to make different, and perhaps a little better, but I can’t dwell on that. I still like how it’s written because it fits certain aspects of the book and the characters. I think some of my rethinking about it is partly due to reader responses, but I also know that when I wrote that scene I was also wondering if I should write if differently. I was writing for a submission deadline, and, honestly, I also didn’t think I had enough time to revise the scene and get it tight by the deadline. So I left it alone. Again, I can’t dwell on that now. I just take that forward with me while I write the sequel. Who knows, maybe one day I will rewrite that scene with a reissue of the book. You can’t always tell what the future will bring.
Did you learn anything during the writing of your recent book?
Less is more—that is the big lesson I learned. I’m normally an all-in sort of writer. Everything in my head goes on the page. But not everything in my head is pertinent to push the story forward and for the reader to get pulled along through the story. I hear some people complain about Stephen King and how his stories can often go on and on with scene descriptions. Some readers love that. Some readers hate that. (Many readers don’t care at all—if it has Stephen King’s name on it, they’ll read it no matter what. Personally, I’m a big S. King fan.) I’m trying to find a happy medium—enough scene description to give the reader a visual image and to set the mood, but not so much that the reader loses the sense of the actual story. My biggest fear with my writing—Here it comes!—is that a reader will come to a section in my book that makes them want to close it and set it aside. I want to be able to hold the reader’s attention long enough for them to read the whole damn book. (Then, hopefully, they’ll post a review somewhere online and share my book. Maybe it’s a good review. Maybe it’s not such a good review. But reviews are gold, and getting them is always a struggle for beginning writers like me.)
Pacing: writing this book made me think long and hard about the pacing and rhythm of a story. I love reading out loud; it helps me really set the mood with my voice, and it helps me get to know the characters better. It also helps me hear the rhythm and pacing better, and it always helps me discover where things are off, or clunky, or too slow or too fast, and where the rhythm falters and makes me trip over the words. Then I know what needs tweaking for a better flow. In my mind—everything makes music, and I want my stories to roll off the tongue like a song you can’t help but sing along with every time you hear it. (But not like one of those simple, crappy formulaic-catchy songs you hate but can’t get out of your head.)
Is there a writer which brain you would love to pick for advice? Who would that be and why?
Joe Hill: I love his work! His writing is a superb mix of heart and horror. When I read his work I can feel how much care he puts into creating each character. I also love his sense of humor. Not that his stories are comedic, but he does drop some little laughs here and there throughout his stories, and I really enjoy that. I also love his musical references he sometimes includes, as well as some throwback references to 70s/80s/90s pop culture. We grew up around the same time, so I immediately pick up on those little nuggets of nostalgia, which satiates the nostalgic side of my brain.
Paul Temblay is another one whose brain I’d love to pick for advice. He, like Hill, writes with a lot of heart. And both Tremblay and Hill can pump out work like crazy. They are very productive writers, and their work never reads like it was a rush job. Tremblay in particular—when I read his horror it’s like he’s in my head. He writes the type of endings I love and that I try to write—the non-ending that’s not tied up in a neat and pretty bow. I love it when stories make people think, they don’t answer all the questions, they don’t spoon feed the meaning to the readers; instead they set your creative mind to work trying to imagine what could come next, or what just went down—like real life. The meaning can be very subjective. I strive to write stories like that, similar to Tremblay.
Elizabeth Hand, Mary SanGiovanni, and Kelly Link: Three women who write very differently, but whose work I love just about equally. I still need to read more from SanGiovanni, but I instantly fell in love with her ability to tell a superb horror story in Behind the Door—no filler, all killer, and a lot of heart. She, like Hill and Tremblay, creates characters that I can sense she truly cares a lot about, which makes me care for them as well. SanGiovanni also writes like Tremblay—horrors happening in the real world. She has the ability to bring supernatural horror into the real world and make it believable, and I admire that and strive for that in my own writing. Elizabeth Hand is another writer, like Hill and Tremblay, who is extremely productive, and, again, her work doesn’t ever read like a rush job. There is so much advice I’d love to get from Elizabeth, and I have—since she was one of my writing mentors in graduate school. She is an all-round kickass woman and kickass writer. Kelly Link—her writing is so extremely magical and imaginative that I can just loose myself in it, and I’d love to know how she weaves such magic without confusing her readers and without having any of it sound like a Disney tale.
Chuck Palahniuk: I love his work, his humor, his cynicism…everything! He is very different from the others I mention here, but I love his work just the same. I think he’s a kind of love him or hate him sort of writer, at least that’s what I get from the responses I hear from others when his name or works are brought up in conversation. His writing is fearless, biting, snarky, and darkly humorous. I greatly admire that and strive to be just as fearless with my work. With that goal of mine, I realize that I have to accept the fact that I will have haters, but that’s fine—it’s nothing new for me. I have an innate and uncanny ability of pressing people’s buttons just by being outspoken-me. I often joke that I inadvertently bring out the worst in people, though that is not my intention. I’ve heard and read interviews with Palahniuk where he’s said things about what a horrible person he is. But when he gives an example of why he thinks he’s so horrible, often that example is exactly how I imagine I would think or act given the same situation. We seem to think in a similar way and have a similar sense of humor and similar cynical perspective of certain subjects, and I’d like to find out how he weaves in those perspectives of society and characters without sounding too preachy or hateful. Who knows—maybe that’s not a concern of his, and maybe that’s why he’s a love him or hate him sort of writer.
Have you written any other books that are not published?
Yes, I have. The first book I wrote is a novel titled Diagnosis. It is complete and revised and edited, but after getting beta reader feedback I have come to realize that the second half of the book needs revision work. I now see that the real story was polluted with an additional theme that convoluted the book as a whole, and I no longer want to have that additional theme prominent in the story. I veered slightly away from the supernatural horror of the beginning, adding in drug addiction horror in the second half that just isn’t working with the main character. I absolutely love that story and love the characters and I do plan to go back and revise that, but right now I am in the middle of a few other big projects: a novel about the true intentions of the invention of the iPhone, the sequel to The Bone Cutters, and a comic book I’ve been commissioned to write.
What are your top 10 favorite books/authors?
I always find it tough to pick favorites in literature, as well as in music and film. My tastes vary. What I think of as my favorites can often change with my mood or with the day that I’m making the list. And I often find that if I make a list like this, a week or so will go by and then I realize I somehow forgot some of my favorites.
I have a very hard time keeping this to only 10; these are in no particular order, and there are more than ten listed and more that I could add. Authors: Edgar Allen Poe, Ray Bradbury, Shirley Jackson, Stephen King, Kurt Vonnegut, Chuck Palahniuk, Elizabeth Hand, Kelly Link, Joe Hill, Mary SanGiovanni, Denis Johnson, Paul Tremblay, Victor LaValle, Clive Barker, Damien Angelica Walters… Books:Slaughterhouse Five and Welcome to the Monkey House, by Kurt Vonnegut; Fahrenheit 451 and The Illustrated Man and Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury; Jesus’ Son, by Denis Johnson, Controlled Burn, by Scott Wolven; Stranger Things Happen, by Kelly Link; Behind the Door, by Mary SanGiovanni; Wylding Hall, by Elizabeth Hand; The Ballad of Black Tom and The Devil In Silver, by Victor LaValle; Head Full of Ghosts and Disappearance at Devil’s Rock, by Paul Tremblay; 1984, by George Orwell; We Sold Our Souls, by Grady Hendrix; Books of Blood, by Clive Barker Side note: As I’m writing this answer, I notice that my favorite authors are often men, (Same as in music—many of my favorites are men.) and when I think about the stories I write there is a big male component to them. Even though the protagonist in The Bone Cutters is a female, there is a strong male cast of characters, and the main antagonist is female. And many of my other stories have male protagonists, or have many supporting roles that are males. I have a hard time not psychoanalyzing everything, and when I look deeper into why this might be, I realize that many of my friends throughout my life have been boys/men. Yes, my few closest friends are often females, but my “gang” is often men. I’ve always been that chick who easily hangs with the guys and has more to talk about with dudes than with the majority of the chicks in the room—as long as the conversation isn’t about sports. I don’t watch/follow sports. I often have a dark and harsh sense of humor and am often snarky and sarcastic, which seems generally more fitting with men than women. I like to razz people and give people shit when I joke around, and many women are often put off by that and get offended, even though that is never my intention. (I’m speaking in generalities here and purely from my own personal experience.) When I was growing up, a lot of girls were often mean and nasty and competitive and hateful, which pushed me over to the boys’ side. As a child I was a balance of Tom-boy and Hello-Kitty-girl, never a girly-girl, so I think my brain is just wired to understand and get along with boys/men a little better than I generally can with girls/women. That’s not to say that I don’t get along well with women. They just need to be the type of women who understand me. Nor does that say that I don’t have women authors/musicians whose work I love and admire. I just often lean more toward the male side of things. Now that I’m meeting and getting to know some female horror authors, I’m learning that these are often the type of women who understand me and we can get along well, like I can get along with the dudes. It seems I’ve finally found my group of girls/women I can get along with and connect with—women horror writers. Women on the dark side of life are where it’s at! Now I just need to find more women horror authors whose stories I can connect with. That is a goal of mine.
Do you prefer to write in silence or with noise? Why?
I prefer to write in relative silence. I can’t have music playing while I write. I’m a musician and a singer, and if music is playing it will make me want to sing and listen intently to the music, which is not conducive to focusing on my writing and getting that work done. I do like to have the windows open on nice days to hear the sounds of nature while I write. I live in the woods of a small town, and my neighborhood is very quiet. I do also sometimes like the thrum of white noise from a fan or a space heater. Ever since I was a very young child I’ve had to sleep with a fan on; the white noise relaxes me, and that carries over to my writing time.
Do you write one book at a time or do you have several going at a time?
Right now I do have more than one project in the works, but I find it hard to split my focus. Even though multiple projects are in the works for me, I typically spend chunks of time focused on one at a time. If I bounce back and forth too much I find that the work will lack depth, or it will end up with summarized passages peppered throughout that still need to be fully fleshed out. Also, it takes me too long to finish a project if I have too many going at one time and if I bounce back and forth too much. One of my pet peeves is not finishing something I start. It drives me batty knowing that I have many unfinished projects. That’s something that many aspiring writers struggle with: lots of great ideas that get started but never get finished. I don’t want to be that sort of writer. I need to get shit done. I need to feel productive and have something to show for all the blood, sweat, and tears I put into my work.
Pen or type writer or computer?
Pen and computer: Typically when new ideas hit me I have to use a pen and notebook to write an outline, a rough draft of a scene, or a character sketch, or dialogue I’m trying to get just right. I sometimes will handwrite many scenes or many chapters in a notebook. See, the thing is, I don’t just write at my writing desk in my office where my computer is; I’m constantly thinking about what I’m working on and how to make it better or how to move forward with the story or coming up with new story ideas or character ideas, and I need to be able to get those ideas down right away before I forget them. A lot of ideas come to me at night when I’m trying to fall asleep, or when I’m in the shower, or when I’m driving—those sorts of mundane routine activities—and I don’t have any gadgets in those places. I prefer fewer gadgets in general anyway, and I especially have no computer type gadgets in the bedroom. There’s something about computers and cell phones and those types of computerized electronics that create anxiety, and I have a hard time sleeping if those devices are close to me. I’m also a firm believer that there’s something about the act of handwriting that has a more direct line with our brain, a more direct means to tap into our creativity, so I will always handwrite a lot of my first draft work.
Advice you would give new authors?
1.) Finish your damn work! Don’t look at editing and revision as “work”. It’s fun! It’s where you really get to know your characters inside and out, and it’s where you really get down to the nitty-gritty of the story that has unfolded—the real story, not the one you try to force, but the one that has to happen naturally.
2.) Seek reviews before your book comes out. Promote your book like crazy before its publication day. Seek interviews and podcasts and blurbs and whatnot before your book comes out. Have a consistent and approachable online presence. I didn’t do enough of that before my book was published. I was dealing with some major health issues at the time, which hampered my ability to do that work for myself, and I also didn’t realize back then how important it is to do so much of that type of work before publication day. Now that my book has been out in the world for a little over seven months, I am struggling to get reviews; it seems like in the publishing world seven months ago is old news. Barely anyone even responds to my inquiries, and asking people I know who have read my book and tell me awesome things about it seems to fall on deaf ears for some reason. Honestly, I can’t even get my former writing mentors to post a sentence or two review, or throw me a blurb. It’s quite disheartening, but I love writing and I just push on through the letdowns, as I always have in all areas of my life. Keep that chin up! Keep on keepin’ on.
3.) Keep submitting your work!Don’t get discouraged by rejections. They’re not personal. They’re very subjective. Take rejections as a push to make your stories better, as well as a push to keep sending your work out to publishers to see whose interest you will spark. Also, look at rejections as a sign that you’re doing what needs to be done to get your work out into the world.
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
This can all go as advice to all aspiring writers:
Don’t be scared. Don’t hold back. Speak the truth. You can’t please everyone, so don’t try. Write down every idea before you forget them. Make sure to put your ideas to work to create something you’re proud of. Read as much as possible and read many different authors—not just the work of the few authors you already know you love. You’ll miss out on a lot of great authors if you only stick to what you know is “safe” or what is a sure bet that you’ll love it.
What made you want to become an author and do you feel it was the right decision?
The simple answer is—Edgar Allen Poe’s work made me want to write stories. (Also, refer back to the question about how I became an author for more on this.) To delve a little deeper: When I was younger I realized that I can express myself better with the written word than I can with speaking. I am the person who struggles to articulate my thoughts when I talk with people, and I often get self-conscious when speaking to others. Sometimes every thought I have just flies out of my mouth before I realize how it will sound to others. Also, I will often explain things in various ways because I feel like my point is not coming across the right way and people don’t understand where I’m coming from. I often find that when I’m talking to people there comes a point when all of a sudden a wave of self-consciousness washes over me—I get this sort of out of body experience and hear nothing but my voice and see nothing but all eyes on me and I often stop short because I all of a sudden find myself stuck, like I’m not being understood or like maybe I’ve been going on and on and am losing people’s interest/attention, or like maybe people just really don’t give a fuck about what I have to say. When that happens, I often walk away from that experience realizing that, wait—I wasn’t fully understood because I didn’t tell it all; I got too self-conscious and clammed up. (I have a history of performance anxiety and social anxiety when it comes to my voice, which is why I dabbled in acting—as a means to work through that anxiety. I’m better with it all now, but it’s still a constant battle.) Writing helps me work through what’s going on in my head, and it allows me to go back over what I have to say in order to find ways to more clearly and concisely articulate my thoughts and meanings. Also, I just love words! I love to put words together that flow and bounce and make people feel an array of emotions. I love rhyming and rhythms and stories, and I just love to create. Stories fuel me, and writing helps me expend my creative energy and my creative needs. To sum it all up—writing makes me feel good. And yes, it’s the right decision for me.
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