Sunday, October 24, 2010

Tea with John Everson

John and I have known of each other since the mid-naughties (I think that’s what they call that era) and he’s been putting out dark, evocative horror for quite some time. Toad would like to thank John for sparking some time out of his busy schedule to drop by her corner.

Tell us about the day you knew you had to start writing.

I don't think I could narrow it down to a "day"...but I've known since I was in grade school that I was going to be a "writer" of some kind. As a kid, I was a voracious reader (mostly of classic SF and fantasy) and I remember back in 3rd or 4th grade trying to write a "space opera" short story along the lines of Isaac Asimov's galactic foundation. When I went to high school, I worked as an editor of the student newspaper, writing music reviews and an opinions column, as well as news. That paper was where my very first piece of fiction appeared, a short vignette about a man who commits suicide. In hindsight, I wonder if that subject focus worried my teachers! I knew in high school that I was going to major in journalism, which I did at the University of Illinois, and while I was there, I wrote some short fiction for a creative writing class, along with poetry and song lyrics. And I worked almost every day there at the student newspaper--again doing both feature interviews/reviews and news. I always liked the more colorful writing best.

I didn't start trying to sell my fiction until a couple years after I graduated college, but I knew that I'd make my living at writing early on. My first job out of college was at a community newspaper. Later, I went on to pay the mortgage by working as an editor at a music magazine, and then for a medical trade publication. Along the way while working those "dayjobs" I wrote an increasing amount of dark fantasy/horror fiction, and slowly racked up publication credits for short stories until my first book-length collection of short fiction, Cage of Bones & Other Deadly Obsessions, was published by Delirium Books in 2000.

What is your all-time scariest movie, and why?

I think Alien has to rank in the top five there. It has the perfect balance of dark mood and claustrophobia mixed with the terror of a malevolent unknown. The "monster" is both intelligent and deadly and the environment is dark and enclosed, as the crew are all trapped on a spaceship with the creature. The mystery of what the alien wants to do with the bodies of the crew helps make the movie more than simply a cat-and-mouse kill game. It's really one of the best horror films ever made. More recently, I've liked the intensity of French films like High Tension and Martyrs. The endings of both films either resonate or alienate the viewer, but the naked intensity of both keep you gripping the cushions on the couch throughout. Or, at least, they did me!

Do the things you write about scare you and, if so, are there bits of text where you had to sit back and say, "Oh my god, what have I let loose?"

The events that I write about don't scare me per se...because I'm in control of them. So from that perspective, I'm not afraid or threatened by what I write. I don't "freak myself out" because I don't really believe in my heart that a demon is going to come reaching out of the cracks in the wall at any of the hotels I stay in, as one does in my novel Sacrifice. That said, the "themes" that I write about definitely draw from my fears. In my new novel, Siren, which is out this month from Leisure Books, the lead character is a man named Evan, who is an aquaphobe. Evan's back-story is that he was unable to save his son from drowning due to his phobia of the water, and at the start of the novel he is essentially "the walking dead", just going through the motions of life while being eaten alive from the guilt of watching his son die. I am not an aquaphobe--I love the water!--but since I finished my first two novels, Covenant and Sacrifice, I became a parent. And one of the most horrible feelings that I think every parent has is the fear that you can't protect your child from the bad things in the world. That's a "paralysis" of sorts along the same lines as Evan's aquaphobia. You simply can't save your children from everything they are likely to face in their lives. That's one of the most frightening feelings you can have, I think.

Do you have any amusing incidents that have occurred at book signings?

One thing I've learned over the past couple years is that bookstores are frequently frequented by very...interesting...characters! I have done a couple dozen book signings for each of my three previous novels, and in almost every store I end up meeting someone who is memorable...frequently because of the odd things I learn from them. I've had a man in an electric orange jumpsuit scream at me because he had lost relatives to a serial killer (in reaction to my novel Sacrifice) and I've gotten a lecture from a bag lady about sexual abuse and misogyny (in reaction to hearing the premise behind my novel The 13th). I've had a man tell me about how his wife was "hit on" by Adolf Hitler. In Nashville, I met an enlisted man in uniform who produced a Chinese fighting star from a pocket and proceeded to tell me about a number of ways that you could kill a man. And once, in Cincinnati, I had to laugh when a woman's child hit the alarm button on the escalator near my signing table and froze the entire escalator system for a large Barnes & Noble store.

When you write horror, what is the most important factor contributing to an authentic sense of the genre?

The most important factor in horror is to capture the emotion of fear. Regardless of whether the horror story deals with vampires, zombies, werewolves, a serial killer, a malicious demon or a creeping deadly virus...the common thread of them all is the fear that the characters have of the monstrous challenge they need to overcome. Horror is about our fear of the unknown and its potentially terminal impact on us. If you can capture that fear in your character and translate it to the reader effectively, you've written a good horror story.

Tell us more about Siren. Who will enjoy this novel?

I think anyone who's ever felt a deep pain, or been obsessed by desire will appreciate this novel. Siren, as I said, follows Evan, an aquaphobe, who moves from a sort of "living death" to reclaiming his life thanks to the influence of a true Siren. Ligeia, the sexy creature who lures him into the water for the first time in his life and away from his wife, also re-awakens Evan to the pieces left of his life that he still values. But when he comes to his senses and tries to escape from Ligeia's embrace, well...a woman scorned is bad. A Siren scorned is mythologically bad.

Useful links.

I have a website and blog at, where information on all my fiction, artwork and music is available. You can also sign up for my monthly e-newsletter there, at

To order most of my books, take a look at my page on at:

To find some of my rarer small press releases, from e-books of my short fiction collections to some of my rare hardcovers, check out the "John Everson" section at The Horror Mall:

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Carol Hone and Edge of Humanity

Edge of Humanity is a very special story. Blending steampunk elements such airships and a fascinating culture of bioengineering, Carol Hone brings a detailed milieu to life. Here quagga (a now not-quite-extinct form of zebra) are useful pack animals, dodos have been domesticated, ghosts can be used for ammunition, and magic and science have fused into some remarkable hybrid technologies. Not quite fantasy and not quite science fiction, Hone’s setting is a plunge into a world where surprises lurk around every turn and nothing is quite what it seems.

Carol, thank you for stopping by Toad’s Corner to share a little of your magic.

Tell us about Kara and the origins of Edge of Humanity.

Edge of Humanity came about because I wanted to use the world I’d already developed in a novella-length story. This world has a curious and possibly lunatic mix of pseudo-sciences like acupuncture and herbology along with ghosts and trinketology—my invented pet favourite. I threw them into a steampunkish background, stirred and stomped on the mixture, then simmered it for a while.

Kara, the female protagonist in Edge of Humanity, was an adventure in writing a character who is not quite who she thinks she is, or it can be hoped, who the reader thinks she is. She became the somewhat unreliable narrator of a story within the story, though these two strands eventually merge into one another. I was drawn to the idea of the mind being a foreign land that no one ever sees in exactly the same light.

Along the rocky path to writing this, I learned a lot about the process of insinuating hints and clues into a story so that they can combine and deliver that “aha!” feeling when the answers click into place. By the time I reached the ending I was very deep into Kara’s character and found it both cathartic and simple to write. A warning here—though I would call this a romance adventure, don’t expect this to be a standard romance. I mostly wanted to have a go at turning the reader’s mind into a pretzel. Pretzels, come to think of it, do a fair imitation of that mind-numbing construction, the Mobius strip. Plus you can eat them.

Your setting borrows not only from fantasy but a healthy dose of SF. How did you realise your biomechanical mages?

I loved the idea of combining a technological device with some organic magic. Hence the biomechanical mages, who I’ve termed trinketologists, can take ingredients such as branches, metal objects, rock, jewels and so on and turn them into a device that will function for the lifetime of the bio-mage who created it. To supply the magical energy required to run these devices they harvest the animus of living things, mostly from animals, like the songster beetle in Edge of Humanity, but also sometimes from plants.

One character in the story has a coveted long gun that is a fusion of metal and plant. This weapon fires the rare gheist ammunition, which is derived from the ectoplasm of ghosts. Being hit by this ammunition either kills in a spectacular fashion, or causes insanity. It also begs the question as to how society would regard and use something this good at killing if it required the use of a ghost that might once have been a close relative. I like that sort of moral question coming up as the result of a world device.

You write about extinct creatures. Why quaggas and dodos? How do you give them the breath of life?

Oh, I had a terribly logical reason for putting them in—because I wanted to. Sorry, but dodos are sorely neglected in adult fiction, and so are those gorgeous zebras, the quaggas. Unfortunately for the dodos they ended up as the equivalent of chickens and so tend to be seen on the end of a kebab stick. The quaggas made a lovely pack animal. The stripes are to die for. I guess I also did have a notion of drawing attention to the tremendous ability of humanity to drive species to extinction.

Describe your writing process. Do you plot or do the words just flow?

I do a combination of both. I plot the major events as much as I seem to need to. I generally have a good idea of the main characters and a visual idea of the finale or a scene close to it in my head. Also I sort out the background and an overlying reason for writing the story, and then I go for it. If I get bogged down at any point I start plotting in more detail. I like to throw in things as I write that have the potential to twist the plot into different directions. Sometimes they get used in the story, other times not.

The fun times are when something links to something else in an unexpected way. Or you get stuck in a cul-de-sac and suddenly one of those weird plot thingies turns into a vital ingredient that sets the plot churning over again.

Who are some of the up-and-coming authors worth looking out for? And your all-time established favourites?

Old favorites range from the very old like Robert Heinlein and Zelazny and TH White to recent YA authors Philip Reeves and Phillip Pullman or the urban fantasies of Karen Chance. I’m also keen on Emma Bull, who I’m reading right now, as War for the Oaks is so yummily well written.

Care to share a bit about your works in progress?

I’ve got a steampunk universe that’s in the early stages. Tentatively titled, Mia, post-apocalyptic and I’d like to plonk it into the middle of the Pangea Ultima map when all the continents get squashed together, though it’s not likely humanity will still be around by then. My favourite quirk with that one should be my frankenstructs, a sort of frankensteinian clone that’s used by one of the nations as either cannon fodder or slaves.

I also have Needle Rain going through the beta reading phase, and it’s set in the same world as Edge of Humanity. It’s of far larger scope and I get to run a lot more of my nifty concepts though the story. Like my Immolators who are elite warriors created by Needle Masters who use a magical type of acupuncture. The bio-mechanical magic makes an appearance, of course, and I play around with the side effects of my female protagonist being over-dosed on needles and thus susceptible to possession by ghosts.

Magience, my first novel where I used the world of Edge of Humanity should, it can be hoped contracted and released within the next year or so, and is currently under consideration with an editor.

Useful links:

The Critters Workshop:

Carol’s website:

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Tea with Sara-Jayne Townsend

This week Toad had tea with author Sara Townsend, who was happy to share a little about her experiences at writing cons.

Tell us more about some of the conventions you’ve attended.

There’s a difference between ‘conventions’ and ‘conferences’ and I’ve attended enough of both to be able to tell the difference. Conventions usually feature panels, where a group of people discuss a topic. Conferences have talks―one person discusses a topic, and it tends to be a bit more structured. People will often dress up in costumes for conventions―this doesn’t happen at conferences.

Conventions I attend regularly include FantasyCon and EasterCon. FantasyCon is the annual convention of the British Fantasy Society and is usually in September. “Fantasy” in this case tends to embrace the genres of dark fantasy, horror and SF, as well as more traditional fantasy. EasterCon, also known as Odyssey, is another annual con, specialising in SF (film, TV and books) and is generally held somewhere in the UK over the Easter Weekend (hence the name).

This year was my first year attending World Horror Con, which is hosted by the Horror Writers’ Association and is generally in North America, but this year was in Brighton. I also regularly attend the Winchester Writers’ Conference, held in June every year at Winchester University, and the St Hilda’s Crime & Mystery Conference, held in Oxford in the summer. The latter two involve staying in student dorms, which can be quite an adventure in itself―trotting down the corridor in your pyjamas to the toilet block is a whole different experience when you’re over 30, than when you’re an 18-year-old student.

Did you get to see any of your favourite authors? If so, who, and what was especially memorable about their presentations?

As a crime fan, I particularly like the St Hilda’s Conference, because it’s quite a small conference and you get pretty up-close and personal with a lot of crime writers. Val McDermid is a regular speaker at St Hilda’s, and her talks are always very entertaining. She has a lot of time for new writers too.

PD James did a particularly interesting talk at St Hilda’s recently, in which she talked about a writer selling film rights, and the difficulties of converting a book to a film. I got the opportunity to talk to her afterwards, about the film adaptation of her story Children of Men. She felt the film version was very different from her story, but she enjoyed the film, and she said she would rather have a good film that was different from her story, than a bad film that was faithful to the original.

Do you have any amusing anecdotes relating to conventions that you’d like to share?

Not so much amusing but I have a couple of inspiring stories I’d like to share with you.
My contract with Lyrical Press arrived just a couple of days before I left for the St Hilda’s Mystery Conference last year. I was therefore still deciding whether it was the right thing for me. My dreams of publication had always involved print copies of my book and signing sessions, and I knew that signing up with LPI would involve electronic publication with no guarantee of a print book, so I was still considering whether they were the right publisher for me.

That first evening at St Hilda’s I happened to find myself, quite by chance, sitting next to a literary agent at dinner. This particular agent I had met before, and in fact she has rejected two of my novels, including Suffer the Children. But in spite of that she had encouraging things to say about both, and is a lovely person, and I don’t bear her any grudges. Over dinner I told her about the contract I’d been offered and asked her what her professional view was on this. She encouraged me to go for it, relaying her view that e-publishing was going to become big business over the next few years and all publishers were going to have to find a way of working with it, as e-books were here to stay. Encouraged by her opinion, when I returned home from the conference I signed the contract.

I have another story about the first year I attended the Winchester Writer’s Conference. I had arranged to meet with two agents for my one-to-one pitch meetings, and for my third meeting, which had to be with someone other than an agent or editor, I chose Sally Spedding, who as a writer of crime and supernatural novels I thought might be able to offer me some helpful advice.
The two agent appointments were first, and I pitched my recently-finished crime novel to them. Although they both offered helpful comments on how I could improve, they both felt the novel wasn’t yet saleable, and I came away feeling somewhat deflated. But then I had my appointment with Sally, who had read the first chapter of my crime novel, Death Scene, and she said it was the best thing she’d read all weekend, I had talent and I had an idea worth sticking with. My meeting with Sally made my weekend. I have stayed in contact with her since then, and she has continued to be extremely supportive and encouraging. I came out of the agent appointments thinking I should just shelve the book and work on something new, but after meeting Sally I was encouraged to start sending it out again.

I tell these stories because sometimes just one person you meet at a con can change your future.

As an author, what do you think is the most important aspect of attending a convention?

The most important thing is to not be afraid of talking to people. The only way to meet people at conventions is to go up and introduce yourself. People are generally friendly and everyone wears name badges, so it’s easy to spot people that you think you might like to meet. The best place to meet people is in the bar. So don’t be shy. If you see an author whose books you really like, go and tell them so. Another good conversation opener is approaching someone you saw on a panel―perhaps they made a point that you thought was a particularly good one. When you’re an unpublished writer you are sometimes tempted to put successful writers up on pedestals, but in reality all writers are the same, and we all like talking to someone who’s got intelligent or encouraging things to say about our writing.

You should also not be afraid of going by yourself. Plenty of people go to cons alone, and everyone’s looking for someone to talk to. If your worst fear is that you’ll stand all by yourself all evening, find someone else who also looks a bit lost and go and talk to them. Another good place to meet people at cons is at meal times, especially if you’re staying in the con hotel. Some of the most interesting conversations at cons happen over breakfast.

If you’re a writer with a book coming out, make sure you don’t go anywhere convention-related without your business cards or promotional material about your book. Whenever you chat to anyone, you should give them a business card. I learned this the hard way at World Horror Con. We arrived on Friday night, dumped our stuff in the room, and headed out to the bar. I then found myself talking to all manner of interesting people and my business cards were back in the hotel room.

There are usually book launches at cons. Try and get to as many as you can, even if they are for writers you are not familiar with. You never know who else you will meet there, and it’s worth investing in a new author. They might get the opportunity to return the favour one day and buy your book.

Are there any conventions you think fit the bill as “The top conventions to attend before you die?”

It really depends on what you want to get out of them. A convention geared towards your particular genre as a writer, such as World Horror Con for horror writers and Easter Con for SF writers can be invaluable, and everyone writing in the genre should attend at least one.
I would recommend the Winchester Writers’ Conference for anyone starting out in their writing career, or who is beginning to pitch their novel, because it’s the best place to meet agents or editors there. I can’t really speak for any of the US writer-orientated Cons. I know there are a lot of them, but I’ve only attended UK ones.

Some conventions, however, are just geared towards fans, and only geeky fan girls (or boys) will get anything out of them. Personally speaking, as a die-hard Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan, I would very much like to attend at least one Buffy Con before I die.
* * * *
Sara-Jayne Townsend writes horror and crime fiction. Whichever genre she writes in, somebody always dies in a horrible way. By day, she works as a personal assistant at a medical college. By night, she kills people off in her stories.

She is a UK-based writer, living in Surrey with her guitarist husband and two cats, but spent most of the 1980s living in Canada after her family emigrated there.
Her first novel, Suffer the Children, was released by Lyrical Press, Inc as an e-book this year.

She is founder and chair person of the T Party Writers’ Group, the longest-running writing group in London specialising in genre fiction.

Her website can be found at:

You can also catch up with her ramblings on books, writing and commuting life on her blog, at