Best of 2015: The Top 5 Interviews of 2015

Authors, poets, and screenwriters, oh my!

Our interviews this year ranged from new literary voices to journalists and from comedians to woodworkers (who are also comedians).

Here are our five most popular interviews from 2015. Look for many, many more in 2016!


Pouring Gasoline On the Fire With Horror Author Joe Hill

Author Joe Hill talks to Sean Tuohy about his writing style, his next book, and what books are currently cluttering his nightstand table.


Woodworking 101: The Craft Comes Alive at Nick Offerman's Woodshop

Offerman Woodshop, located in Los Angeles and helmed by comedian and “Parks and Recreation” star Nick Offerman, has been described as “kick-ass” and is filled with extremely talented and skilled artists. With the help of RH Lee, Sean Tuohy learned more about what it takes to design an original piece of art from a slab of wood.


Author On The Rise: 9 Questions With Paula Hawkins

Photo credit: Kate Neil

Photo credit: Kate Neil

Paula Hawkins, author of The Girl on the Train, talks to Daniel Ford about her love of creativity, her early influences, and how the idea for her popular thriller originated.


Author Enthusiast: 10 Questions With Literary Agent Christopher Rhodes

Literary agent Christopher Rhodes talks to Daniel Ford about how aspiring authors can sensibly chase their publishing dreams.


Royal Writing: 8 Questions With Best-Selling Author Meg Cabot

Best-selling author talks to Stephanie Schaefer about writing, royalty, and those rumors about a “Princess Diaries 3” movie.


Pouring Gasoline On the Fire With Horror Author Joe Hill

Joe Hill

Joe Hill

By Sean Tuohy

Twisted, dark, funny, and filled with a heart (dark heart, maybe), Joe Hill is an author whose stories are filled with characters so full of life that they fill the seats beside you. His stories are injected with so much humor and original prose that you are instantly brought to another world. 

Hill's novels cover the gamut of storytelling: Heart-Shaped Box is about a former rock star who buys the suit that a man died in and is haunted by his ghost; Horns features a young man who wakes up to find out he is growing horns from his head and then develops dark, magical powers; and NOS4A2, in which a young woman uses her powers to fight a supernatural evil.

I was lucky enough to speak to Hill about his writing style, his next book, and what books are currently cluttering his nightstand table.

Sean Tuohy: What authors did you read growing up?

Joe Hill: The first writer I really fell for was Arthur Conan Doyle. I had a deal with my parents: bedtime was at 9:00 p.m., but I could stay up an extra half hour if I was in bed reading a book. I soon discovered a half an hour was exactly enough time to read a Sherlock Holmes story. I read them all, over the course of about three months… The Sign of Four and the other novels usually required a week to finish. It’s possible I owned a Sherlockian Calabash pipe and sometimes wandered the house, gumming it thoughtfully, and looking for things to detect.

I loved Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe novels, which were full of slaughter and betrayal.

I read comics without discrimination or judgment: good comics, bad comics, hilariously bad comics. For a year or two I was very emotionally wrapped up in the soap opera of Chris Claremont’s X-Men. I once stalked Chris Claremont at a Boston SF Convention.

I was (and still am) a big fan of Tabitha and Stephen King. I’ve read both extensively.

ST: Was there one book that you connected with above all others?

JH: I read The House with a Clock in its Walls by John Bellairs over and over. It is, in some ways, like the perfect Harry Potter novel; it just happens to have been written about 30 years before J.K. Rowling got started. A lonely orphan discovers he’s related to a wizard and must learn how to cast spells himself, so he can defeat the doomsday plot of a terrible sorcerer who has returned from the dead. Sound familiar? But instead of Hogwarts, the setting is New Zebedee, Conn., and instead of art by Mary GrandPré, the illustrations were provided by Edward Gorey. I’ve reread the book more than once as an adult and it still retains all its old power. I’m persuaded the novel itself is a perfect, compact work of enchantment.

In a lot of ways, Locke & Key, the comic I wrote for six years, wouldn’t exist without The House with a Clock in its Walls.

ST: When did you start to have ideas of becoming a full-time writer?

JH: Both of my parents are novelists. I started goofing off on a typewriter about three minutes after I learned you could string letters together to make words.

In junior high, I discovered role-playing games, and I was a dungeon master for a couple of years (although the game my friends and I loved to play was not Dungeons & Dragons, but Call of Cthulhu). In high school, though, I was a boarding student at a tony Massachusetts academy, and role-playing more or less ended. Make-believe with a group of friends quickly came to seem a little shameful. I started writing every day, stories of fantasy and horror, to fill the hole.

ST: Do you outline your stories or just sit down and begin to write?

JH: Ah…neither really.

I work very slowly. A short story takes one to three months. A novel might take anywhere from a year to five years. Whereas I generate ideas very quickly, I have a couple decent ideas for stories every week.

When I finally start a story, it’s already been living in my imagination for months, or maybe years. I know the first scene. I have some big set pieces in mind. I know things about the key characters. I almost always know the first sentence. Very little of this is written down, although I might have a couple notes scattered across my journals. But no outline, just an unmapped island that I’ve been visiting in my daydreams.

I think outlines are a mistake. Or at least, I know they’re a mistake for me, and I suspect they’re often a mistake for most other writers. It’s more useful to develop a single interesting situation, and a few characters you want to investigate. Develop someone who has regrets, a strong personal code, a few helpless compulsions; develop someone who can’t control or can’t express their anger; someone who has a distinctive, interesting voice; someone driven, either by their demons or their angels. Drop a really engaging character into a gripping situation, and you don’t need to outline. You can just sit back and watch the fireworks. Outlines choke off any chance of discovery, of surprising yourself.

ST: Last year, the movie “Horns,” based on your novel of the same name, was released in theaters.  How did it feel seeing the world and characters that you created on the big screen?

JH: In some ways I like the movie better than the novel. I’m proud of the novel. I worked hard on it, and I think it’s fun to read, that the pages turn quickly, that it explores interesting themes and ideas. But I had a nervous breakdown while I was working on it. I was terrifically depressed. My marriage ended. It was a sad, confused time for me, and my feelings about the book are wrapped up in a lot of personally unhappy memories.

The movie, on the other hand, is a lot of fun. Daniel Radcliffe and Juno Temple gave it everything they had, and their moments together are beautiful and heart-rending. Alexandre Aja got the book’s atmosphere of lush summery romance, and also its sick sense of humor, and managed to capture both things on the screen. In the end, it didn’t do well in the marketplace, but I think it was always a tough sell. In some ways I’m surprised it got made at all. It’s the least commercial thing I’ve ever written: a weird horror-satire, a surreal, “Twin Peaks”-sy riff on The Metamorphosis.

Late in the game, a PR person came up with the world’s best tagline: Horns: Grow a pair. I wish I had thought of that. If we had slapped that line on the cover of the book, we would’ve sold a billion, billion copies. Sigh.

ST: Do you have any rituals you have to complete before or after writing?

JH: Um, besides routine procrastination? Like lots of modern writers, I’d so much rather screw off on Twitter than actually do my job.

Which doesn’t make a lick of sense. When I sit down to work, and I finally begin to build sentences, it almost always makes me feel good. I like myself best when I’m writing. Or maybe that’s not quite right: maybe I mean I know myself best when I’m writing. Or have a chance to visit with my best, smartest self.

I get up every hour to make a cup of tea. That’s the one ritual. It takes three cups of tea to get through a normal day of work. Then I’ll have a fourth, late in the afternoon, when I sit down to read.

ST: Are you still a reader? If so, what are you reading now?

JH: I’d give up writing for a living before I’d give up reading for pleasure. I think of myself as a father first, a reader second, and a writer only a distant third. I love other people’s sentences much more than my own, and I hope I never get tired of a good story.

I’m usually reading two or three things at once. At the moment I’m working my way through a big heavy collection of short stories by Irwin Shaw, the tenth book in Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin series, and Carl Gottlieb’s The Jaws Log.

That’s a pretty good representative example of what I might be reading in any given month. The short story might be my favorite form; if I have a favorite genre, it’s not horror but historical fiction; and I read a broad range of non-fiction, from history to true crime to pop cultural analysis.

I just finished David Mitchell’s novel, Slade House, which is out this October. It’s his most surprising book yet, and maybe the last book in the world anyone would’ve expected him to write: a red-in-tooth-and-claw supernatural horror thriller. It’s a little like if Wes Craven hired Umberto Eco to reboot “Nightmare on Elm Street:” erudite, witty, as finely wrought as a Fabergé egg, but also unrepentantly terrifying.

ST: What advice do you give to aspiring writers?

JH: Over the years, I’ve had a lot of good advice from some brilliant writers. But I never really learned that much from all the kind, well-meant suggestions and clever tips. They didn’t stick with me. Just about everything I learned about writing a good book I learned from reading lots and lots of good books. I studied the novels I loved. I read them over and over, sometimes with a pen and highlighter, taking notes. Once, I spent a month rewriting the first five chapters of Elmore Leonard’s The Big Bounce, just to get the feel of his sentences.

ST: What does the future hold for Joe Hill?

JH: I’m the guest editor for the inaugural edition of Houghton-Mifflin’s Best American Science Fiction & Fantasy. That’ll be out this October. And I’ve got a new novel, a dark modern fantasy called The Fireman, which will be out in the summer of 2016. It’s about a plague of spontaneous combustion; it’s my version of The Stand, soaked in gasoline and set on fire.

ST: Can you please tell us one random fact about yourself?

JH: I have never lost a game of Boggle.

To learn more about Joe Hill, visit his official website, like his Facebook page, or follow him on Twitter @joe_hill.


Flesh Addiction: 10 Questions With Horror Author Stephen Kozeniewski

Stephen Kozeniewski

Stephen Kozeniewski

By Sean Tuohy and Daniel Ford

Zombie private eye. Prohibition. Booze quenches his cravings for human flesh. Severed head as a partner.

Yeah, we’ll read that.

Horror author Stephen Kozeniewski’s Braineater Jones has one of those premises that can’t be anything other than wildly entertaining and terrifying. We’re eager to dig into it…wait…that came out wrong…

Kozeniewski put down the human arm he was devouring long enough to answer a few of Sean’s questions about his series, how his time in the military shaped his writing, and what's next for him as an author.

Sean Tuohy: When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

Stephen Kozeniewski: I've been writing since I was seven, and I started my first novel at 12. I know hearing that is usually a big turn-on, but sorry, ladies, I'm taken.

ST: You were in the military for several years. Did that affect your writing at all?

SK: Well, the most obvious way it affected my writing is that for several years I didn't attempt to publish. There's no rule that specifically states soldiers can't publish (for instance, Mikhail Lerma and Weston Ochse are both active duty horror authors), but I felt that the starkly political nature of some of my writing directly contradicted my obligation as an officer to remain apolitical. To put it simply: I didn't want anything I said to be misrepresented as something the Army said. So I held off for a few years, which means I missed the boom times of the 1990s and 2000s, but I think my writing is probably better for it.

ST: What draws you to the horror/zombie genre?

SK: I've pontificated elsewhere about the appeal/repulsion of the zombie genre, so I think I'll focus a bit on the horror part here. I actually recently attended Central Pennsylvania Comic Con with my fellow authors Mary Fan and Elizabeth Corrigan where we did a light-hearted "Battle of the Genres" panel. I, naturally, argued the appeal of horror over sci-fi and fantasy. I hope to do it again with a videographer present so I can just direct you to YouTube, but for now, to summarize my point, fear is the primal emotion. Not hope, not wonder, fear. Horror will always be able to strike the deepest chord with us of any kind of fiction because it strikes at the very core of our lizard brains.

ST: Braineater Jones is not your typical zombie book. Where did idea come from?

SK: The character name "Braineater Jones" actually pre-dated any sort of concept by many, many years. I had no idea who Braineater Jones was, but I knew that the name sounded great. I knew he had to be a zombie...but what kind of a zombie has a name? Then one day it occurred to me that Braineater Jones had to be a name for a private eye, and with that everything else practically spilled out of me: He was solving his own murder, it had to be during Prohibition, zombies needed booze to think, The Old Man sat in a vat of liquor, etc. etc.

ST: Braineater Jones is a zombie novel but feels very neo-noir. Was this done on purpose or did the story just come out that way?

SK: It was a deliberate genre mashup, à la Pride and Prejudice and Zombies or Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. At the time I thought it was unique and nobody could ever come up with such a genius idea as a noir zombie. But of course, since then I've discovered Dead Dick, Dan Shamble, Stubbs the Zombie, Matt Richter, etc. etc. I'm still, of course, very proud of my unique contribution to the sub-sub-genre.

ST: How long did it take to turn Braineater Jones from idea in to a novel?

SK: One month. Braineater Jones was a 2009 NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month for the uninitiated) entry. I don't recommend the one-month process for every kind of novel, but Braineater Jones was intentionally stream-of-consciousness in style. I think that forcing myself to pound out whatever was in my mind day after day led to the wonky, skewed worldview that makes Braineater Jones what it is.

ST: What is your writing process?

SK: Well, I just described the abnormal writing process I used for my debut novel. Normally, I hunker down in my home office, light a candle, grab a cup of coffee or something harder depending on the time of night, and just pound away at it. The novel, I mean.

ST: What does your future hold for you as a writer?

SK: The good news is I just signed a nine-book deal with Permuted Press ("Yay! Hooray! You go, boy!")! So I'm locked in for about the next two to three years on some science fiction and vampire novels. But fans of my zombie work shouldn't fret! I'm already about a third of the way through the sequel to The Ghoul Archipelago, so look for that in the next year or so. I'm also working with voiceover artist extraordinaire Steve Rimpici and legendary animator Zee Risek to bring you a Braineater Jones cartoon series. It's still in development now, so I can't promise anything on the timeframe, but I do know that a successful existing property is easier to sell than an unsuccessful one so if you want to help, the best thing you can do is help me pimp the novel.

ST: What advice do you give to other writers?

SK: Don't take writing advice.

ST: Can you tell us one random fact about you?

SK: I once ate an onion like an apple to prove how tough I was.

To learn more about Stephen Kozeniewski, like his Facebook page or follow him on Twitter @outfortune.

The Writer's Bone Interviews Archive

Author S. Craig Zahler On Why Discipline and Imagination Trumps Money and Financiers

Cover photo courtesy of S. Craig Zahler

Cover photo courtesy of S. Craig Zahler

By Sean Tuohy

All writers want to set a tone and want to set themselves apart from the crowd.

Few do it well. Some barely pull it off. Others fail completely.

Author S. Craig Zahler succeeds spectacularly and puts miles between himself and other writers with his grim tone and no-holds-barred approach to writing. Zahler hit the scene hard with his debut novel A Congregation of Jackals, which was twice-nominated for awards and highly praised. His screenplay “The Brigands of Rattleborge” was ranked number one on the highly regarded The Black List.

With stories raging from western, crime, and sci-fi, Zahler proves that hard work and believing in your story is what makes a great writer. Zalher spoke with Writer's Bone about his daily writing process, gave us a glimpse of what’s to come, and allowed us a chance to see inside the mind of a true writer.

Sean Tuohy: When did you know you were a writer? Was it something you knew from birth or did you discover it later in life?

S. Craig Zahler: I have always been creatively inclined, but as a kid, I thought of myself as visual artist (comic book artist was a goal for me, as were animator and director), though yes, I did write some weird fiction even then.

When I went to Tisch/NYU in the early 1990s, in addition to not coming into contact with women, I studied animation, film, film history, music, directing, and cinematography rather than writing, though there were some perfunctory courses that showed me formulas I then quickly (and thankfully) forgot.

I think one of the major reasons that I enjoy writing so much and have had some success in this field is because it does not require me to be collaborative and it allows me to make things up as I go rather than plan everything and try to convince people of my instincts. Additionally, getting better at writing requires effort, discipline, imagination, a critical mind, and a strong fondness for fiction rather than money, fancy equipment, and financiers.

ST: Recently on Writer's Bone a contributor expressed some self-doubt about identifying as a writer, despite a lifetime of writing. Have you experienced doubt as a writer? Have you always felt comfortable calling yourself a writer or was it something you grew into with each milestone of success as a writer?

SCZ: Anybody who writes is a writer, but for me, the term in the traditional sense has a professional connotation that is connected to generating revenue from writing—having people pay to read my work. Prior to making a living as a novelist and screenwriter, I wrote a lot of music criticism (for Metal Maniacs and some ‘zines), and although I was paid for a lot of this, I did not classify myself as a writer since my vocations at the time were as a cook, and to a lesser degree, a cinematographer. I’d say, “I write for a metal magazine,” but not, “I’m a writer,” even though I had written a massive, still unpublished two book fantasy series called Slaves of Uzrehan’be (which was me splitting the difference between Clark Ashton Smith weirdness and George RR Martin gray morality), and some plays (two of which I directed), and six screenplays, and a ton of music criticism. But this writing felt like I was trying to crack “being a writer” rather the actually “being a writer.”

When I got a three-picture deal with Warner Brothers and writing became my full time job, I felt comfortable saying, “I’m a writer.” This felt far more accurate on the day that I sold my novel, A Congregation of Jackals to Don D’Auria at Dorchester.

As far as doubt, I have always believed in my abilities, but less so the industries of publishing and filmmaking to which I sell (or attempt to sell) my material.

ST: A Congregation of Jackals was a somber and thrilling debut novel; how long did you work on the project?

SCZ: Thanks for the kind word regarding the book. I wrote A Congregation of Jackals in three and half months, including all of the revisions other than the tiny ones that I did with the publisher that took only a few days.

ST: What is your writing process like?

SCZ: My process is to have a general direction for the story—doors to which I am guiding the main characters. Then, I get in the mind of the protagonist and proceed toward those doors.

While I do this, I try to surprise myself every single day. An important thing for me is to limit the amount of words that I am allowed to type in a day to about 1,100 so that I never chase myself into a corner or plot on autopilot. If it’s all flowing too quickly, too naturally, I feel it’s too easy and has probably been done before and will not contain enough distinct invention. I’m usually surprised by which characters live and which die in my fiction.

ST: Do you have any special rituals that you have to perform before or after a new project?

SCZ: Certainly. I write seven days a week until the story is done. I do this lying down on my stomach in bed, like I’m sliding into home plate.

I write my allotment of words for the day, revise this chunk twice, and then leave it alone for the most part until I finish the whole piece (which I write in order from beginning to end, making occasional adjustments).

Usually, after two or three hours of work, I reward myself with my “morning” coffee, which is at about 5 or 6 p.m., since I usually wake up around 2:30 p.m. Then, after I have finished my writing (and completed my daily workout), I put on my “saving music,” which is a song selected as the daily reward for completing the day’s work. I tend to keep one song per project, so each book or script has its own theme. “Blood Red Skies” by Judas Priest was the song I listened to every day while writing A Congregation of Jackals. Marvin Gaye’s “Trouble Man” is what I am listening today when I finish working on my new book. Usually it’s soul music or heavy metal, which are my two favorite kinds of music, followed closely by progressive rock. The Persuaders, Nate Dogg, Ritual, Altars of Oblivion, Tavares, Ennio Morricone have all provided me with saving music.

ST: What project are you the most proud of?

SCZ: This is a tough question, since I am very critical, and although I am proud of all of my books and albums—they survived my personal process of brutal nitpicking so I can now stand behind them—of my 48 completed pieces (six novels, 37 scripts, and five albums) different pieces have different elements of which I am most proud.

I think my horror western Wraiths of the Broken Land is my most vividly written and intense piece, though it is way too dark for many readers and so comes with that caveat. My science fiction book Corpus Chrome, Inc. is my most imaginative and emotional book experience. It plays to emotional aspects that are very meaningful to me specifically, and is less gratifying in normal narrative ways than most of my tough guy material (i.e. the crime and western stuff).

In terms of my music, I’m very proud of my recent “Realmbuilder” album, “Blue Flame Cavalry,” which made some important year-end best of lists for the first time. (This is doomy epic metal, influenced by stuff like Manilla Road, Thin Lizzy, Manowar, Reverend Bizarre, Summoning, Blue Oyster Cult, and Cirith Ungol).

As for unpublished works, there is a novella/script called Hug Chickenpenny: The Panegyric of an Anomalous Child as Told in Twenty-Seven Chapters that is very, very dear to me and gets the strongest emotional reaction of all my unpublished work.

ST: You combine grim noir and the west in your works very well; where did this fascination come from and what, if any, core similarities do you believe these two genres share?

SCZ: I think classical crime and traditional westerns are historically very different, since the earlier are generally urban experiences, often heavy on colorful language and plotting, and the latter are more adventurous and expansive types of tales in which a group of people are dealing with civilization in the wild. Though yes, there are many exceptions to these distinctions.

Some of my favorite film noirs ever like “Gun Crazy” (directed by the master, Joseph H. Lewis), “Nightfall” (directed by the amazing Jacques Tourneur, based on a David Goodis book) do both things, but something like “The Big Combo” (also directed by the master, JH Lewis) or “The Sweet Smell of Success” (probably my favorite script ever) lack the adventure component.

With the exceptions of my comedy material, I try to make everything that I write vivid and atmospheric, whether it is a crime, science fiction, horror, or western piece. I did not set out to write a “noir western” with A Congregation of Jackals, but a western in which the feelings of dread and unease and remorse were there throughout. For a lot of people, this heaviness translates to “noir,” especially since I did not make A Congregation of Jackals a vicious horror western the way I did with Wraiths of the Broken Land.

My upcoming book Mean Business on North Ganson Street is noir/crime, though it certainly has some of what I like about classical westerns is in there too, especially the idea of a man defining himself and imposing his morals upon others in a wild terrain.

ST: Do you have any upcoming projects that you can tell us about?

SCZ: My science fiction novel Corpus Chrome, Inc. was recently released by Raw Dog Screaming Press. It is very weird science fiction that is more character focused than is typical for the genre. At the risk of seeming like a self-aggrandizing jackass, I’d recommend it to fans of authors like Ted Chiang, M. John Harrison, Phillip K. Dick, Gene Wolfe, and Ursula K. Le Guin. There is no specific work by any of these genre luminaries that mine actually resembles, but like a lot of these authors’ books, Corpus Chrome, Inc. explores sociological themes, identity, the arts, and the limitations of the human body and mind…and is not at all traditional sci-fi.

I’d also like to mention Mean Business on North Ganson Street, which will be coming out from Thomas Dunne/St. Martin’s Press in September. It offers the smoothest and most enjoyable reading experience of all of my books, and it definitely contains all my sharpest dialogue to date.

In film, I hope to get my movie “Bone Tomahawk” off the ground, but this is a slow process with dozens of variables that I can’t control. It is heartening that two years later, Kurt Russell, Richard Jenkins, Jennifer Carpenter, and Peter Sarsaard are all still on board!

And I am currently in a creative back and forth process with Park Chan-wook, who intends to direct my western script, “The Brigands of Rattleborge,” which is shaping up to finally get made by him and the producers of “Zodiac” and “Wolf of Wall Street,” which are certainly amongst the very best pictures to get through the Hollywood system in recent years.

ST: What advice would you provide to up and coming writers?

SCZ: Finish your work and show it to people. Sitting on an unfinished book or script is as bad as not writing it at all—actually worse, since you’ve spent time doing stuff for no reason unless you consider yourself the only important audience or do it for therapeutic reasons.

Be critical of your own work, but don’t strive for perfection, since it’s unattainable. I limit the amount of time I allow myself to revise my books and scripts or else I would tweak them forever (and consequently, write a fraction as much material). Set limits and deadlines and stick to them. Sometimes it helps to tell other people what your deadlines are so that you can’t alter them.

ST: What is one random fact about yourself?

SCZ: A lot of my favorite authors started in or mainly wrote for the pulps: David Goodis, Clark Ashton Smith, H.P. Lovecraft, Norvell W. Page, Donald Wandrei, Max Brand, Robert E. Howard, Elmore Leonard, Isaac Asimov, Phillip K. Dick, and Arthur C. Clarke.

To learn more about S. Craig Zahler, visit his official website or his page on Good Reads

The Writer's Bone Interviews Archive

Horror Writer Mary SanGiovanni Explains Why Characters Are the Heart and Soul of Any Story

Mary SanGiovanni

Mary SanGiovanni

By Sean Tuohy

I recommend you read this interview with the lights on. Mary SanGiovanni is the author of the Bram Stoker nominated novel The Hollower, its sequels Found You and The TriumvirateThrall, and Chaos, as well as the novellas For EmmyPossessing Amy, and The Fading Place and numerous short stories.

SanGiovanni took a timeout from scaring the bejesus out of readers to answer some of my questions.

Sean Tuohy: When did you know you were going to be a writer?

Mary SanGiovanni: I knew probably since before I could actually write. I always told myself stories to amuse myself, and was always fascinated with the fantastic. But it was when I was about 16 and I worked for a bookstore in the local mall that it finally dawned on me that people could actually do that for a living, that people could make careers out of writing stories. I think it was then that I knew I wanted to do that.

ST: Who were some of your earliest influences?

MSG: Stephen King was definitely an early influence. I loved his early stories for the feeling I got reading them, for the creativity, if not the technical sophistication of his later works. I also gravitated pretty quickly to Lovecraft and Poe; to me, they made horror poetic. I loved short story anthologies, too, and used to buy them whenever I could find them; they were a big influence on me before I even really remembered all the authors' names. Anthologies like Charlie Grant's Greystone Bay, Poppy Brite's Love in Vein, Karl Edward Wagner's Horror Story series, and of course, The Dark Descent. Those works and authors led to other works and authors, and it delights me that today, there are so many great works of horror and thrillers to choose from.

ST: The Hollower Trilogy is outstanding. How long did you work on all three books and how did you develop the story?

MSG: Thank you! Well, initially, I had no plans to write sequels for The Hollower. It was my thesis novel for my Masters degree at Seton Hill University, and it took me about two years, give or take, to write. I sold it shortly thereafter to Leisure Books, and I guess it did well enough that they asked me to write a sequel, Found You. With that second book, I wanted to realistically pick up where I thought those characters' lives would have gone. I wanted to make parts of it familiar, as a sequel generally is, and parts of it new and different. I didn't want to rewrite the same book. I had been told once that in order to build on the momentum of your past work and build a writing career, you have to get at least one book out a year. It's been advice I've tried to stick to. Thunderstorm Books actually were the ones who asked me to write the third book, The Triumvirate. Both Found You and The Triumvirate each took me a little under a year to write. Of the three, I think The Triumvirate is my favorite. A trilogy goes by different rules, I think, that a sequel or a series. It's a triptych of ideas where the overarching story runs through all three, but the threat needs to be escalated and the scares need to be different each time than the ones audiences have seen before in relation to that threat. It was a fun book to write. What I liked best about it, though, was that I felt like that book not only ended those characters' stories for me satisfactorily, but bridged those books to my future works.

ST: In your novels you written such wonderful characters that come off the page, most of them are already broken people that must overcome huge odds. How do you write your characters? Are they based on real people?

MSG: Thanks! Characters are important to me. They are the heart and soul of the story, the part the reader cares most about, at least in this genre. I always start a story, whether it's a novel, a short story, or a novella, with an idea about the kind of person I think would make a good hero or villain, the kind of person I think I could say something significant through. The characters nearly always come before anything else. The story develops around those characters. Sometimes it's the monster I come up with first, because the monster is just as important a character to develop. Heroes and monsters, if both well developed, will balance each other, and anything worth saying about the human race comes from the exploration of that balance, and whether circumstances can or should tip the scales in one direction or another. Many of my characters are based on parts of me, and some are based on parts of other people. Really understanding people, their facial expressions and body language, the looks in their eyes, the thoughts and feelings that drive them—it's what makes characters realistic and even better, what makes them sympathetic and identifiable to readers. I like to think, though, that the qualities of both myself and others that I write into characters are blended with enough fictitious qualities that no one can point to a character and say, "Wow, that's so-and-so, through and through."

ST: What draws you toward the horror genre?

MSG: It's my fundamental belief that horror is a genre in which two things happen: 1. The injustices, the tragedies, the terrors of mankind are safely and vicariously explored, processed, and/or held up to scrutiny, so that we as a society can change them, and 2. We can see the amazing strength and resourcefulness that human beings are capable of when under extreme circumstances. Horror is a genre charged with emotion, but also with endless possibilities for the fantastic; I like a genre that allows the reader to put the average ho-hum of life aside, even if the unusual circumstances introduced are terrifying. There's a certain adrenaline rush, a thrill writing/reading about/watching humans relying on instinct in the face of the amazing and unexplainable.

ST: Do you have any upcoming project you would like to talk about?

MSG: I have a short story that is slated to appear in Lamplight Magazine, as well as a couple other short stories I'm contracted for, for various projects. I'm working on a new novel which I hope to have finished mid-2014.

ST: What is your writing process? Is it structured or unstructured?

MSG: It's not as structured as I'd like to be. I think a schedule is important for a writer looking to be prolific and productive, and I'm trying very hard to develop a schedule that allows me to produce more work faster. I teach Monday through Thursday afternoon, and I have a son, a cat, and a big family that need me and a significant other, but I still try to write at least 4-5 nights during the week, and during weekend nights that I'm not spending with family or my partner.

ST: What advice would you give to up and coming writers?

MSG: I'd advise new writers to read a lot; know what's going on in your genre, your sub-genre, and outside of it. Read the old stuff, the classics, as well as the new stuff. Also, write a lot; write what you love, what matters to you—it’ll matter to someone else, too. Learn the business: how to promote without spamming, how different publishing models work and what will work best for you, how to network, and what's going on in your genre and in publishing at large. Make sure you have health insurance and some type of retirement fund. Treat your work like the valuable commodity it is, and others will, too.

ST: What is one random fact about yourself?

MSG: Hmmm. I have some kind of Sensory Processing Disorder (Sensory Modulation, I think) or Tactile Sensory Disorder (I’m not sure which; although I think they’re similar). Basically, it means I have extreme sensitivity, both mental and physical, to certain tactile experiences, primarily the feel of certain textures of fabrics, stiff, new, itchy, rough, or stained/dirty fabrics, seams and tags, etc. Touching the wrong kind of fabric makes my skin crawl. Hell, it makes my skin feel like it's trying to jump off my bones. It's a very weird, unpleasant feeling. I have to bring my own blanket and sometimes, even my own pillow to hotels.

To learn more about Mary SanGiovanni, visit her official website, like her Facebook page, or follow her on Twitter @marysangiovanni.

The Writer's Bone Interviews Archive