What got you into horror? Have you always been a fan of the genre or did one particular work pique your interest?
From a very young age, I preferred horror and the macabre to anything else. I remember one year I missed a lot of school because I got very sick, and I spent the days in bed watching a marathon of old Vincent Price films. Many of them were based on works by Edgar Allan Poe, which guided me towards his books. I read everything I could of Poe's and he was my first, biggest influence. I loved the way he created such rich, Gothic atmospheres even in very short works.
On of your stories, Hat Man, deals with night terrors. Do you have any personal experience with sleep paralysis or other terror-inducing sleep disorders? An interesting phenomenon occurs during the hallucinations triggered by sleep paralysis where the brain has trouble recalling the face of a remembered person and thus places a hood or dark hat over the character in an attempt to make the blurred face appear logical.
Hat Man is definitely based on night terrors I had when I was young. In fact, 80% of what Bernice lives through in Hat Man are things that actually happened to me. I have read all the scientific explanations behind sleep paralysis and night terrors, and I do think there is a physiological component to them. However, no one will ever be able to convince me that there isn't also a supernatural element to what I experienced.
Have you ever used a Ouija board yourself? If so, how did it go?
I have, with a childhood friend. We both loved ghost stories and anything spooky, so we played with it often. The only thing I can remember happening when we played was that she would get terrible migraines almost every time, which is part of why we stopped altogether. Another reason we stopped was a story that her mom told us. Her mom said that when she was a little girl, she played with the Ouija with her friends, until something happened that scared them out of it. One of the girls she played with had recently lost a family member who, by all accounts, was not a nice guy. So, they asked the board what happened to him, if he was in a better place, that type of thing. She told us that the board suddenly shifted under their fingers, and then spelled out "Satan knows" before sliding across the room and hitting the wall. Of course, she might have made the whole thing up, but that story coupled with the migraines was enough to scare us out of playing with the Ouija anymore. I haven't picked it up since.
Almost everyone experiences some type of terrifying, unexplained event. What's yours?
Other than the night terrors, which were truly terrifying, I have experienced a lot of strange events. I'll pick one from when I was a kid. I grew up in a house set back deep in the woods, with big windows all over the first floor looking out at the trees. My mom says I used to stand at the windows and smile and wave outside. One day she asked me who I was waving to, and I said, "All the people." Now, no one was outside. At least, not that she could see.
Do you believe in ghosts? How about spiritual beings such as angels and demons?
Definitely, I believe in all of them. I don't think that this life is all there is and that there is a lot we don't know and can't prove. There is real evil in the world, both natural and supernatural. I also believe there is pure good and love that counteracts that, whether it's angels or God or whatever your particular beliefs name it.
When you first started writing horror, how did your friends and family respond?
It's not a surprise to anyone who knows me. Most little girls play with baby-dolls--I had a plastic skeleton who I named Skellie that I carried around. My parents are a little shocked, though, that I remember the night terrors so vividly, since it's been over twenty years since I first had them.
What has been the most difficult thing that continually plagues you as an author?
Self doubt is a huge obstacle to getting words on the page. What I've learned to do is "brain dump"--just get it all out there. No matter how terrible that first draft is, you can always go back and change things, edit, add, subtract. My advice to writers who struggle with the same issue is to give yourself permission to suck. Really, it's OK if what you put down is terrible at first. None of it's permanent, it's not as if your first rough draft will be tattooed on your body forever. But if you don't at least start somewhere, the words will never make the jump from your brain to the page.
What is the most unique advice you've ever been given by another professional in the writing world? Did that advice prove to be useful?
I read an interview where Stephen King answered the question, "What makes a talented writer?" or something along those lines. I'm paraphrasing, but basically he said that if you write something, and someone pays you for the story, and you then take that money and pay your light bill with it, he considers you talented. I love that. It takes the pressure off of setting out to be the next Hemingway, and lets me have fun and focus on being a storyteller who people pay to entertain them. That's something I can be proud of, too, it's not all about Pulitzers and The Paris Review.
If you had to pick one author for your writing to be favorably compared to, which would you pick? What elements from other writers do you try to incorporate into your own writing?
In my dreams, Vladimir Nabokov, simply because of his mastery of the English language. As far as my genre goes, Stephen King knows how to tell a great story and create realistic, flawed characters, and that's my main focus in writing. The fanciest prose, scores of allegories, and a dreamy, stream-of-consciousness style of writing are worthless if you can't tell a story worth a damn. I want to entertain and help people immerse themselves in the more visceral and scary elements of the world in which we live, and he is the master of that.