What is this, exactly?
While going through some old files on an old shared network drive trying to track down an old script I’m working on re-writing, I found this series of interview answers that I gave for a blog that wanted to interview me.
If that seems a strange way of doing things, it kind of is. It’s also more or less the norm on a lot of journalistic outlets nowadays, especially those that cater to small press books and records. It’s not uncommon in the slightest for blog-runners to simply send over a Google Doc of the same questions that they send literally everyone, copy and paste, and move onto the next grain to grind in the content mill. Some of them even edit the answers the folks they’re interviewing and add in secondary questions to break up the answers given in order to sound more conversational.1
At this point in my career, I’m fairly open about despising that kind of dreck. I know why folks do it – either you feed the algorithm or the algorithm removes your piece from the board. Putting effort and thought into these things takes a bit of time, and in a day and age where said time is at a premium I don’t necessarily begrudge that section of our industry that refer to themselves as “content creators” over all. With that stated, I’ve given my fair share of interviews in my time, and to me, an interview is meant to be a conversation first and foremost. Whether you’re pressed for time or not, if you’re going to talk to an artist about their work you should at least do the due diligence to ask at least one or two questions that show a willingness to interact with said work. Maybe I’m just being a curmudgeon screaming at clouds here, but I don’t particularly care that media coverage of my industry has kind of just devolved into copy-slinging for eyeballs, and I’m also fully aware that my barbed tongue isn’t exactly liked by SEO-minded copy-slingers either.
Which brings us to this one here.
To be frank, I don’t remember who or which blog I originally filled this out for. I’m fairly certain it was a horror blog, and I was writing horror at the time, but I get the feeling looking over the questions they asked that I was never their target audience despite being a horror author who was being interviewed for said audience. In fact, I’m going to hazard a guess that it was a blog I never should have been featured on, given the question about whether or not I utilize “pinterest boards” in my creative process. Either way, to my knowledge the interview never actually ran, I never heard back from the interviewer, and I was never informed that it was pulled from publication until I checked their site a few months after and saw that they just never bothered to let me know they weren’t going to run it.
It’s been nearly four years since the creation date on this Google Doc, so in the interest of posterity, amusement, and time-capsuling a portion of myself, I’m posting a slightly edited version here.2
I should also point out that, at the time, I was working on what was the original version of my graphic novel BARREN (which I am currently in the process of re-working and completing), and was planning on bringing back my old comic series, Tabula Rosetta, which had kind of just died after a mental collapse a half-year or so prior. I have not made a formal return to solo comics work since, save a few magazine spots over the past couple years, so it’s interesting to re-read this now as I’m working on both two books not written by me but am currently working on returning to solo comix work as well.
So, without further ado, here’s Sarah, circa 2019, screaming at clouds.
What kind of books do you like to write or have you written? If you have written several books, do you have a favorite?
I’ve put out more than a few solid stories in my career (or so I’ve been told), but my favorites are the ones that elicit the most intense reactions. A good portion of the horror in my work does not come from the traditional “baddies of the week” format, but rather, the horrors of modern love, relationships, anxiety and trauma, and interpersonal dynamics; the monsters within rather than the monsters without. As a result, my most intense and impactful stories come from exploring the type of interaction that produce the most dangerous monsters; when love is taken away, often through forces outside of mortal control.
As a direct result, most of the stories I write aren’t necessarily horror at all…well, save the gratuitous dissections of psychological trauma, the blood and gore, the disturbingly intimate nature of the few autobiographical exerpts, and the body horror which stems from my personal experience of being transgender and having to live in a society that has things like Twitter and mirrors. They’re love stories, ghost stories, portraits of the human condition and of the hearts of mankind, and that’s exactly what makes them terrifying.
I suppose if I had the distinct pleasure of an easier life, I could have easily been a romance novelist; however most of my experiences with the hearts of men (and women) can be roughly illustrated by a series of videos of car crashes, hence my work being squarely in the “horror” genre. I’d go back to writing comedy, but quite frankly I’m too busy crying.
What is your writing process? Playlists, snacks, quiet, something else?
I have to set aside days to write; if I don’t, it doesn’t get done. Normally, when I have the spare seventy-or-so dollars to thrift a simple Core 2 Duo from a local ARC Thrift or Goodwill, I will set up a specific desk much like the one I had in my mid-twenties when I would spend my mornings puffing away at my meerschaum and drinking mediocre French pressed coffee and drowning myself in the sound of the keys and the waves of green upon my screen. I still haven’t set one up in the new place just yet, but I probably will come the end of the month. It’s nice to have that oasis, that place of respite, that a dedicated writing desk can provide.3
It may seem a tad bit like overkill, but I will often use my years of Linux experience to design a system with these applications and nothing else, forcing me into a distraction-free environment which enables me to drown myself in the work. I have a small cassette deck above my drawing table, and I will often put on records that friends of mine have worked on while I write. Occasionally, I’ll put on Radio Inter or some kind of French radio drama as well.
What does your editing process look like?
Something like this, normally.
Yes, that is a photograph of me holding one of my books which I’ve set ablaze. Fire not included, please provide your own.
What is one of your proudest achievements as an author?
Steven King once said that if you wrote something for which someone sent you a check, if you cashed the check and it didn’t bounce, and if you then paid the light bill with the money, you are a talented writer. Every time that happens, I consider it a proud achievement, because fooling someone of Steven King’s caliber into thinking you know what you’re doing is a reason to open up that aged bottle you’ve been saving in and of itself.
Pick one of your books. Now, if you were dream-casting it for Hollywood, which actor would play your MC(s) and why?
I have licensed an absurd amount of what I have produced as Creative Commons BY-SA specifically to avoid Hollywood ever getting their grubby mits on my work and molly-coddling it into oblivion (see the Silent Hill movies for a head-meet-desk example of why I lean towards a hard no in regards to film adaptations), but if I had a gun to my head and I had to pick, I’m not going to stop at the main character. Hell no. I’m earning that bullet.
We’re putting a first-year philosophy student in a room and giving him a copy of the finished version of “Barren”, Jung’s Red Book, a typewriter, all the acid he can handle, and no way to leave the room until he comes up with a screenplay adaptation. We’re snatching a bunch of high school theatre students and putting them on a Hollywood set, loading them up on sugar and pizza, and casting lots for roles per scene (every actor plays a different character in every single scene) so that none of them have any idea what’s going on or have the ability to care by the end of it. Then for the final coup de grace, we’re pulling an Airplane! on this one and telling everyone that this terrifying work of artistic horror is meant to be a comedy. You get one take. Ham it up as much as you can. We’re upending The Room off its throne and I’m bankrupting your studio.
What is the scariest book you’ve read or a favorite book you’ve read this year?
I’ve been reading the news lately, and that’s pretty terrifying. As for my favorite book that I’ve read this year, well, that’s a tough call. I’ve been leafing through Shed Simove’s rewrite of Fifty Shades Of Grey, and I find it to be a refreshing adaptation and a great improvement on the original. Highly recommend it if you can find a copy.
(Unironically, I’ve been paging through Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Principles Of Orchestration”, Ozamu Dasai’s “No Longer Human”, and doing a readthrough of the Tibetan Book Of The Great Liberation for the umpteenth time.)
Do you have a favorite author? Who is it and why?
John Le Carre. Hands down. I’m not even taking the piss on this one; I love spy novels, and John Le Carre is the GOAT. If you haven’t yet, read “The Spy Who Came In From The Cold”. The pacing is impeccable, the story is brutal and heartless, and the climax will wrench your heart out of your chest and stomp it down on the ground beneath the Berlin Wall.
What is your favorite scary novel or scary movie trope?
Believe it or not, I actually don’t like to consume horror as a genre. I much prefer spy novels on the few occasions where I read fiction, and it’s pretty rare that I read fiction at all. With that being stated, I do have a soft spot for taking the trope of the “straight man” and slapping it in a horror setting; a character who isn’t affected by the terror because he’s simply too tired, dim, oblivious, or uncaring to notice that the streets are collapsing and snakes are coming from the walls. Could be a direct result of industry burnout or just my own severe depression, but boy howdy can I relate to that as a concept.
Do you believe in ghosts? Werewolves? Vampires?
I have had a Tinder account, I do tend to get rather cranky once a month when the lunar cycle hits its peak, and I have had some conversations with certain types of people at conventions that have absolutely left me feeling like the life had been sucked out of me. So sure, why not? Hell, technically my ex-fiance counts as all three.
Have you ever had a real-life spooky encounter? If so, tell us about it!
Far too many, to be quite honest. I’ve kept a large assortment of day jobs throughout my life, and nearly all of them–over-the-road trucker, chef, sysadmin–are made up of a very superstitious lot. However, my favorite one didn’t take place on the clock.
I have been in and out of homelessness the majority of my adult life (hence why so many of my characters are transient and why a good many of the themes in my work revolve around a lack of safety), and there was a time when my (now-ex) wife4 and I were looking for a place to stay the night. We stumbled upon a local extended stay, and decided to walk around the building a bit before heading in.
Not the best idea.
We rounded a corner and stumbled into a weird religious ceremony. That isn’t that uncommon where I’m from–much of the documentary Jesus Camp takes place in my home state, and I myself was raised by a fundamentalist foster family–and the setup was much the same as it usually was. A small crop of middle-aged women with knock-off 50’s hairdos, flannel button-ups, and that specific cut of terribly-fitting mom jeans that you’ll find at LCMS fish fries all throughout the Midwest were standing around a single little girl and an emaciated man in business casual who I assumed was the preacher. We expected to be able to walk around their evangelical nonsense and go about our business, but then two lines were uttered, one by the Slenderman wannabe in a foreign accent I couldn’t place, and one by the little girl in the creepiest posessed-little-girl-in-a-horror-movie voice you can think of.
“And the power of Satan will be with you always.”
We did not attempt to walk past them. We just kinda looked at each other, noped out, ducked back around the corner, and bolted to the truck.
Do you curate writing playlists, Pinterest boards, or novel aesthetic collages? If so, would you like to share one or a link to it?
I don’t know what those words mean. 5
I’ve had a blog do this to me once without sending me the edit, and it infuriated me to the point where I’ve never linked to that interview since. If you’ve read it, you probably know exactly which one. I have a pretty unique cadence, and if you know how I write you can kind of tell they butchered it. ↩︎
The original interview contained references to books which, due to life circumstances and my struggles with mental illness, never came out, as well as references to the guy I was dating at the time. Removing those references comprise the vast majority of the edits here, and the remainder of them are documented here in the footnotes. ↩︎
The photo I sent with this interview of my writing desk from 2019 seems to have been glitched out to hell, and I don’t have the original version of it anymore, hence why my current desk is here instead. Which, for the record, sucks. I liked that desk. ↩︎
Yes, believe it or not, there was a point in time where I spent my days pretending to be a "straight" "man" and was regrettably in one of those "heterosexual marriage" things. Look, we all make mistakes when we’re young, aaight? ↩︎
The original answer I gave went on to list some music I was listening to at the time, but to be quite frank my musical taste back then was utter ass and I’d rather not list them here out of embarassment. If you were curious, however, I did start that list with exactly those seven words. And hell, to this day I still don’t know what a “novel aesthetic collage” is supposed to be. ↩︎