Rob Smales is the author of Echoes of Darkness, which garnered both a five-star Cemetery Dance Online review and a 2016 Pushcart nomination. With over two dozen short stories published, his story “Photo Finish” was also nominated for a Pushcart Prize and won the Preditors & Editors’ Readers Choice Award for Best Horror Short Story of 2012. His story “A Night at the Show” received honorable mention on Ellen Datlow’s list of the Best Horror of 2014, while “Death of the Boy” and “In Full Measure” made the same honorable mentions list for 2016. Most recently, he edited the dark humor anthology A Sharp Stick in the Eye (and other funny stories) for Books & Boos Press, and released the coming of age horror novella Friends in High Places with Bloodshot Books.
When did you first begin writing stories?
August 9, 2010. I know, because I still have the file. I wrote a single scene, just to see what it would be like. I eventually expanded that scene into a short story, a—if you can believe this—romantic comedy that no one will ever, ever see. But it did all start with a scene about a young man picking up a girl for a date, written just for myself, back in August of 2010.
On your website, you state that you write character-driven dark fiction. Would you elaborate on that?
Sure! I’m a pantser—or discovery writer if you’re feeling fancy—which basically means that when I sit down to write, almost nothing about the story’s set in stone. I have a starting point and a proposed ending, and I just start writing my way there. Along the way I meet my characters, become acquainted, and see them in action. Just like you get to know the people around you by observing what they say and do, I do the same with the people in my head. And just like it strikes you as odd if someone you know does something out of character—say your mom started snarfing down a Skippy on whole wheat sandwich, when you know she has a peanut allergy—it strikes me as odd if these new friends of mine start doing things that are out of character for them. If it strikes me as odd, it’ll strike my readers as odd, and that will give that temporary suspension of disbelief thing we fiction writers rely so heavily on a serious poke, and pull the readers out of the story.
Take the mother in the above example: if someone told you she was eating that peanut butter sandwich, and you knew about her nut allergy, your first reaction is to say “I don’t believe it!” That’s the kind of reaction I’m trying to avoid. If it were her brother, however—and we all know he has a serious love for Skippy—it wouldn’t raise any eyebrows. What if someone had a gun to the brother’s head and told her he’d die if she didn’t eat that sandwich. Would she eat it then? Of course!
That’s the way I write my stories. Along the way to the intended destination, everything that happens has to fit the characters involved. If none of the characters would do a thing that needs to happen in my story, I either have to change the circumstances so they would (the gun to his head above), or change the story itself to make it fit the characters. The story becomes driven by the in-character actions of those characters. Sometimes that means the ending can even change, a new one rising up propelled by the characters themselves.
How did you get the idea for "Do I Fat?"
I’m a mailman by day, and I have a lot of customers. I used to have a woman who received registered packages with stunning regularity, and whenever she did would give me a packet of cookies while signing the receipt. Eventually I told the cookie lady, “Please, you don’t have to do that. I’m going to get fat.”
The cookie lady is an elderly emigrant from the former Soviet Union, and though her English is about a billion times better than my Serbo-Croatian, she looked up at me and said, in an accent worthy of Mr. Chekov, the original Star Trek helmsman, “But you walk all day. You walk, you sweat. You sweat, you lose weight. I work in bakery. Hard work. I sweat.” She raised spindly arms to showcase her spindlier body. “Do I fat?”
I had to admit that she did not.
But her little speech stuck with me—I love accents, and might easily listen to her tell stories for hours—and I’d recently read something that had reminded me of Baba Yaga, the witch of Russian folklore who appears in so many tales, though is best known around these parts as the child-munching cannibal in Hansel and Gretel. I started wondering what it would be like if Baba Yaga had survived to the modern age. Would she fit in? Would she still be up to her old kid-eating tricks? Would she, in fact, fat?
Now we know.
As a side note, a couple of months after having that little conversation, shortly after I’d written my first draft of “Do I Fat?”, the cookie lady took that day’s receipt into her apartment to sign and was gone for longer than usual. When she returned, she handed me the signed slip . . . and an apple.
Apparently, I had been right all along, and I do fat.
Do you have an essential book on the craft of writing that you would recommend to others?
The only book on writing I’ve read is On Writing, by Stephen King. I read it because I love King’s work, and his style, and also because it was entertaining as hell, but I wouldn’t call it essential. Much of what he actually says about writing is more general than specific, more guidelines than rules—which might be a result of his basic belief that writing can be learned, but it can’t be taught. People come at this writing thing from so many different angles, no one book will work for everyone, and he’s pretty upfront about thinking that. I believe that as well, so to my way of thinking no book is essential. If you don’t like King or his style of storytelling, then it’s definitely not the book for you. If you do like King, then read it for fun, but don’t go into it assuming it will make you a better writer—though it may help.
So, essential? No. Recommend? Sure, if you like him, pick up a copy of On Writing, because:
Who is your favorite author and what really strikes you about their work?
I’ve mentioned loving King's work, but my favorite book of all time is A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving, and I’ll tell you why. It’s the story of someone’s life—Owen Meany’s, of course—and is written that way, with lots of scenes and little stories that don’t really seem to have a goal, or even anything in common other than their having to do with the title character. That’s how we live: some stuff happened yesterday that has nothing to do with some of the stuff that’s happening today, and all of that really has nothing to do with some of the things that will happen tomorrow, other than that they’re part of our ongoing lives. Irving managed to write all these disparate parts in such a way that they’re all interesting, all fun, and you never sit there wondering Jesus Christ, where the hell’s he going with all this?
Then you get to the end of the book, and all those loose threads he’s left lying all through the story, he starts pulling them tighter. He tugs on this scene, then that one, and your perception of them begins to shift—and then, like one of those optical illusion puzzles where if you look at a pattern just right it resolves into a picture, and instead of seeing just a random bunch of colored dots you’re suddenly looking at the face of Jesus, or Hendrix, or John Lennon, every scene that’s come before that used to seem unconnected sort of lines up and falls into place in your mind, and you see that everything--everything—that’s come before was actually all aimed toward this exact point in Owen’s story. You draw in a deep breath of wonder, and it comes out through rounded lips in a sigh that sounds suspiciously like “whoa . . .”
I want to do that. Someday, I want to do that.
Who is your greatest cheerleader?
I have a few cheerleaders, each great in their own way, and it would be insulting and unfair to choose one above the rest.
How’s that for a political answer?
What's next for you?
The next thing I have coming out is a small standalone not-quite-a-novella, the next installment in Grinning Skull Press's Grave Marker series, Red Blood, White Wood. This little pirate story is a tale of murder, mist, and magic, and will be available in the Kindle store on June 27 for just 99 cents.
You had us hooked with the notion of a 'Skunknado'. but the heroes of the tale really made the story. What inspired you to create them?
When I was brainstorming for Strangely Funny VI, a coworker saw a skunk in the parking lot and thought it was a cat. When we got closer, we realized it wasn’t a cat, and we all laughed. I decided then that there is just something innately funny about skunks, because when they attack, you aren’t really injured, you just stink (which is somehow worse than being bitten), and that there needed to be at least one skunk in my next Strangely Funny submission. I’d watched a few disaster movies over the preceding month or so, including classics like Twister, and I liked the idea of writing a parody of disaster films. But with skunks.
I’d never seen any of the Sharknado films, but I felt that they were now the industry standard for disaster movie parodies. I watched one, it was bad. Really bad. Really, really, gloriously bad. I wanted to write a parody of a parody, so it had to ratchet up the insanity exponentially. If Sharknado stretched the suspension of disbelief to the breaking point, my story would have to tear straight through it. Disaster movies have their own tropes, and their own highly specialized characters who are uniquely capable of coping with the extreme situations they find themselves in. For instance, in Twister you have Bill Paxton and Helen Hunt’s characters, seasoned storm chasers who work at the fringe of acceptable science. At least one character in a disaster movie has to be the lone-wolf outsider who correctly predicted the disaster was coming, but was ignored, or worse, mocked. Think of Jeff Goldblum’s character in Jurassic Park (which is both a disaster movie and a horror movie!) when he says “ ...your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn't stop to think if they should” (which I quote in "Skunknado"). Then, of course, you need a group of otherwise capable characters to be put in a situation from which they need to be saved. One of the defining characteristics of a disaster film is that somebody, usually several somebodies, must be saved by the hero. It is this heroic salvation that drives the drama in the story.
So, I needed a disaster. I took the insanity of Sharknado, and made it yet more insane by replacing the sharks with skunks. But that wasn’t bad enough, so I made the tornado the biggest one ever, sort of like the final tornado in Twister. Now, I needed someone to put into danger. I settled on a team of storm-chasing scientists who had a new laser-based technology that were studying tornadoes. I looked at the tropes and settled on the elderly academic who lets his mind wander, a uniquely rebellious graduate student who is fiercely intelligent, but has poor people skills, and an overweight guy who has memory lapses that require the other characters to explain what’s going on at inopportune moments. I threw them in a van, hurled a Skunknado at them and voila! You have a recipe for disaster.
Now, for the hero. Think of disaster movie heroes and you come up with a stereotype pretty quickly. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in San Andreas (or Rampage, Skyscraper, etc.), Bruce Willis in Armageddon, Thomas Jane in The Mist, and any film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, all hyper-masculine and all hyper-capable heroes that few olympians could hope to match. I briefly considered making the hero of the story a female, but since "Skunknado" is a parody of the genre, I felt I needed a man to really sell the complete ridiculousness of the story.
Enter Jack Dammett. Jack is a ruggedly handsome man, with four PhDs and a nice car. He’s the kind of guy that has theme music playing when he walks down the street, and has serious opinions about meteorology and the quality of his tan. I conceived of Jack as a kind of genetic hybrid of every action movie hero, combined with the brains of Steve Jobs and the laid back attitude of Matthew McConaughey. Everything he does is essentially effortless, yet undeniably cool. He got his name because I wanted to include the line, “Dammit, Dammett!”
I really like the character, and I think Jack Dammett will return.
Can you tell us a little about your writing process?
I like to write in the evenings, or in the very early morning (a couple hours before the sun rises). I brew a pot of tea, usually a Darjeeling blend, and fire up some music. It needs to reflect the genre I’m writing. For instance, when I wrote my detective novel, Bigshots & Bulletholes, which is set in the 1940s, I listened to musicians like The Andrews Sisters and Bing Crosby, while some of my horror stories had Marilyn Manson or Skindred as the soundtrack. Honestly though, the playlist I use most is Bach’s Inventions, which I can listen to while writing almost anything.
My stories are plot-driven, so at the start I decide the broad themes I want to explore, and then decide on a few must-have elements that must happen in the story, then I start to write. I don’t do any detailed plotting in advance of starting the story (which I’m told makes me a pantser), I prefer to let the story progress organically. Some writers consider this approach suboptimal because the plot can meander a bit if you’re not careful, but from what I’ve seen of the real world, meandering is an unavoidable consequence of living. I find great satisfaction when a plot unfolds in a story without my needing to bludgeon it to fit within a preconceived plot framework. It doesn’t always happen, but when it does, it’s narrative magic.
If you could ask your readers one question, what would it be?
What specific type of novel is an automatic “must buy” for you?
Is there a new author or book out there that you think we should be reading and why?
I just discovered Jo Nesbø not long ago, and I’m working my way through his backlist now. He’s not necessarily a “new” writer, but his work is new to me. Last year I did the same thing with Henning Mankell’s work. The specific genre that both authors fall into is Scandinavian noir, which is again, not new, but new to me. Give it a try, you won’t be disappointed.
What is your current project?
I’m writing another 1940s detective novel, a sequel to Bigshots & Bulletholes, featuring my female private eye, Kissy Lisbon. My progress has been slow for a couple of months because I’m still trying to adapt to my new work schedule at my day job (I work for Uncle Sam, but not in a bad way). I’ve spent the last fifteen years happily working third shift, but now I’m working seconds, and I’m having trouble sleeping during the night. Insomnia is not conducive to writing. I just wrote a script for the PLB Comics Halloween Special due out later this year. It’s an anthology title, my story will be one of several. My brother is doing the sequential art for my part of the book. I also have several short stories in various states of completeness, ranging from barebones ideas, to final polishing.
Beverly Alice Black is an immigration attorney in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania during the day and a fiction writer at night. Her short stories have been published by The Saturday Evening Post, Disturbed Digest and Enchanted Conversation. Follow her on Facebook at Attybeverlyblack and on Twitter @AuthorBevBlack.
When did you know you wanted to become a writer?
I want to be a writer? I thought it was just something I had to do. But seriously, as like most writers, I've written since childhood, created characters and backstories. But I really started writing when my children were little and I wrote for them.
Can you tell us a little about your writing process?
I start with a character. I get to know that character, create a very detailed backstory. From there I create the story, focusing on the most important day in that person's life. I try to keep the other characters to a minimum.
Where did the inspiration for "Angel in Hell's Kitchen" come from?
That's an easy one. I went to Mexico at 18 and two years later spent my junior year abroad in Costa Rica. When I was growing up, where I was growing up, an attractive female was a blonde with long legs, big boobs and no butt. I was just the opposite: dark haired, short and with a big butt.. When I went to Latin America the men not only showed attention to me but they actually thought I was pretty. Hot, even. I couldn't believe it. I thought they were just trying to trick me, but I soon realized that different cultures have different ideas about beauty and what makes a person attractive. This story is all about that. About a group accepting you for who you are and appreciating what you bring to the table.
A lot of your writing is fact-based and serious. How different is it to write humor?
Writing humor is hard! It is much easier to write a legal brief because you know what has to be written and in what order. Humor is subjective ... It's hard to hit the sweet spot between being illuminating and obnoxious.
Your day job (immigration attorney) sounds pretty interesting. Tell us a little about it.
Many people in my critique group think I should write about immigration and immigrants. I have written a few stories, but I live this every day. My clients' stories are tragic. Many of my clients from Central America have lost loved ones and still don't qualify for asylum because they don't fit into rubric we've created about who deserves asylum. I don't feel qualified to write as a Latina because i'm not, even though my daughters are and I've spent a lot of time in Latin America.. I think Latinos should tell their own stories.
Is there a new author or book out there that you think we should be reading, and why?
Definitely. John Schoffstall's book The Half Witch came out last year and has bee nominated for a ton of awards. He's probably the most imaginative writer I know. if you haven't' read his work, you should. His imagination is amazing.
Kate Franklin lives in Sarasota Florida, where she teaches college English and Creative Writing. Kate enjoys reading, writing, gardening and driving her Subaru Cross Trek to the beach in her spare time. She loves to travel. Kate's travel adventures have included Europe, Argentina and Antarctica. Kate's mystery and science fiction short stories have been published on-line and in print anthologies. Her story, "Coin Karma," was a featured podcast from the Liars' League in London. The Tattooed Mermaid, her first novel, won a silver medal from the Florida Authors and Publishers Association. She is working on the sequel, Mermaid Park. Kate is a member of the writing groups Sisters in Crime and Saturday Sleuths.
When did you know you wanted to become a writer?
When I was about six, but it took me decades to actually write.
Can you tell us a little about your writing process?
Generally, I postpone writing as long as possible. Then when, as Julia Cameron says, it becomes "more painful to avoid writing than actually writing," I sit down and start something. Usually, it goes well once I face the blank screen.
Where did the inspiration for "Ghost Heist" come from?
I wish I knew.
Tell us about The Tattooed Mermaid.
The Tattooed mermaid is a murder mystery, but I see it primarily as a novel about relationships: A mother and daughter; two best friends estranged for years who come back together; a romantic relationship tested by life, some very dysfunctional relationships and a peek at a brand new relationship that will come in the next novel.
Are you writing something at the moment? Tell us about it.
I'm thinking about a couple of things I've started but I'm still in the postponing, or gestation period. The one I like best is what I hope will become a series about a witch who has inherited a number of familiars/entities from her mother. These entities are under spells to make them appear to be dogs. Each one has a special gift and will have his/her own novel. They all help solve mysteries. The series is called "The Witch's Daughter."
You recently took a trip to Antarctica. What part did you enjoy the most?
By far, bouncing around in the Zodiacs was the best. Getting up close and personal with huge icebergs, seals, whales, and penguins was fantastic. Zooming in and out of rock and ice caves was a total thrill.
Thanks for visiting with us!
Strangely Funny VI is now available in print and Kindle on Amazon, and is currently free on Kindle Unlimited.
Be sure to read Kate's story, "Ghost Heist" for a good laugh. Bed and breakfasts have found a new way to attract customers: by advertising that they're haunted. And if they aren't really haunted, the ghosts better watch out.
Huzzah! Strangely Funny VI is now available on Kindle, and is free on Kindle Unlimited. Join the authors below for tales of paranormal humor:
As always, stay tuned...
MAHLLC will open to novel and story collection submissions on May 1st. So, let me tell you a little bit about what we’re looking for.
First, while we are always open to a story collection that grabs our imagination, we've already heard from two authors interested in submitting theirs to us this year. We'd like to see some novels, too. Please note that an overarching storyline with a group of tales counts as a collection in our eyes. We love them, but would like to mix it up a little.
So, what are we looking for in a novel? Your story should fit into the horror or mystery genre and should run from 40,000 to 75,000 words. The lower end of this technically counts as a novella, but if it’s a good story we’ll consider it.
We require that your story be interesting and that it be well-written. Grammar and spelling are important, but the author should also be able to string sentences together into a coherent story. If we trip over a bunch of awkward phrasing, we will reject it. If we can't tell which character is speaking, or the viewpoint changes from one character to another in the same paragraph, it won't get very far. If you get your history wrong, and it's important to the plot, we will reject it. Many authors want to write about the Salem Witch Trials, but you would be surprised at how many of them think the witches were burned (Europe) instead of hanged (Salem).
Next: In your query, we would appreciate a notion of your intended audience and ways you intend to promote the book. We purchase (affordable) ads and promote via social media, but there's a lot more to book promotion than that. Our most successful authors have their own Internet presence, work with other authors to cross-promote, sell their work at conventions, or have some contacts with their local media.
Finally: Terrible things happen in mystery and horror, but if you use hate speech (anti-gay, anti-Muslim, anti-women, etc.) in your story, we'd better be able to tell that it is a character with a problem and not you, the author. Also: no ‘on-screen’ depictions of rape (adult or child). Implication is one thing, depiction is another.
If this doesn't scare you off, or you regularly send out your (mystery or horror) trunk novel despite the odds, send it to us.
Please come support our books in the 2018 Critter Readers' Poll!
Sparky of Bunker Hill and the Cold Kid Case:
Young Adult Books
Strangely Funny V:
Short Story - Horror (by story)
We love it when our authors win. They get a handy-dandy graphic for their site, and we get bragging rights. So drop by and support them!
Great Escapes is hosting a blog tour for Sparky and the Cold Kid Case, beginning December 13. Visit the tour stops below to read reviews, interviews with Rosalind Barden, guest posts, and a giveaway!
December 13 – Here’s How It Happened – REVIEW
December 13 – StoreyBook Reviews – GUEST POST
December 14 – Babs Book Bistro – SPOTLIGHT
December 14 – Escape With Dollycas Into A Good Book – AUTHOR INTERVIEW
December 15 – Celticlady’s Reviews – SPOTLIGHT
December 15 – The Avid Reader – REVIEW
December 16 – My Journey Back- The Journey Back – REVIEW
December 17 – The Pulp and Mystery Shelf – GUEST POST
December 18 – Ruff Drafts – INTERVIEW
December 19 – Mallory Heart’s Cozies – REVIEW
December 19 – Varietats – GUEST POST
Come learn more about Ruschelle Dillon and her unique brand of dark humor this coming week, courtesy of Tomorrow Comes Media! Her schedule is below.
Tour Schedule and Activities
11/5 Horror Tree https://www.horrortree.com Guest Post
11/5 Shells Interviews http://shellsinterviews.blogspot.com/ Author Interview
11/6 Breakeven Books https://breakevenbooks.com Author Interview
11/7 I Smell Sheep http://www.ISmellSheep.com Review
11/7 Sonar4 Landing Dock Reviews http://sonar4landingdockreviews.blogspot.com/ Review
11/8 The Seventh Star http://www.theseventhstarblog.com Guest Post
11/9 Sapphyria’s Books https://saphsbooks.blogspot.com/ Guest Post
11/10 The Book Lover’s Boudoir https://thebookloversboudoir.wordpress.com/ Review
11/11 Jazzy Book Reviews https://bookreviewsbyjasmine.blogspot.com/ Vlog or Guest Post
11/12 Willow’s Thoughts And Book Obsessions https://wssthoughtsandbookobsessions.blogspot.com/ Review
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