Bewildering Stories

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Second Bewildering Stories Writers’ Conference

by Eric S. Brown (organizer and moderator)
with C. G. (Gail) Davis, Christina Sng, and Lisa Wilson

Eric: The Second Bewildering Stories talk with those creating Horror today!! Featuring Christina Sng, the Singapore poet and writer with over 150 published works, Lisa Wilson, a new writer but a bold one recommended numerous times for a Bram Stoker award this year, and C. G. Davis, co-author of the coming collection from Double Dragon books entitled Poisoned Graves: Tales Told by the Dead and editor of Night Shopping webzine.

What got you into writing?

Sng: I’ve always been writing, as cliched as it sounds. I wrote silly rhyming poems in preschool and angsty prose in high school. I only turned to actively honing my craft and submitting in June of 2000 when the IT bubble burst and we were all left sitting at our desks trying to look busy.

Lisa: I’ve always loved to write. I’m not sure what the catalyst was. I also love to read so that probably inspired me to write my own stories.

Gail: That had to be it for me as well. I don’t read books, I devour them, always have, so that probably had a lot to do with why I suddenly picked up a pencil and paper one day and started writing. I know I had fun entertaining my friends in school with what I wrote.

Why write Horror?

Sng: I grew up watching Poltergeist, The Amityville Horror, and every single movie of that genre. My mom thought it the lesser of two evils (romance vs. horror) when she confiscated my first Sweet Dreams novel. I replaced it with Dean Koontz’s Funhouse and never looked back. It is what I know, what I enjoy, it is in my comfort zone. It doesn’t scare me, and I know most of it is not real, only what I create it to be. It is a heck of a fun ride — I totally delight in it.

Lisa: I’m not sure. I read a lot of horror and dark fiction. When I write, it usually just evolves with some dark twists. I don’t think I chose horror; it chose me.

Gail: You sound like me. ;) I never wanted to write horror but I seem to have a knack for it so I don’t fight it.

Is it hard being a horror writer post Stephen King?

Sng: Not really. In fact, I think Stephen King paved the way for all of us, bringing horror to the mainstream. Despite its ebb and fall into slasher gore in the ’90s, the new millennium sweeps away alien takeovers and Armageddon for traditional horror again.

Lisa: I don’t think so. If anything, Stephen King’s work inspires me. He takes horror off of the back shelves and puts it on the best-seller lists and that can only help other authors by bringing more readers to our genre.

Gail: I agree. I’m not at all sure that horror would even be a genre without King. I realize that there were horror writers before him, but he’s the one who pretty much opened the doors for us all. The only negative thing about writing post Stephen King is that he’s got such an awesomely evil mind he’s hard to compete with!

How do you define a work as horror or something falling into that genre?

Sng: A work of horror should stir up something primal in us, either of sheer terror, discomforting recognition, or else simply unearth a hidden propensity in all of us. The only kind of horror that scares me is the kind that shows what we as humans are truly capable of.

Lisa: I think any story that frightens you with creatures or entities that are not wholly human, are definitely horror. A story that is seen from the antagonist’s viewpoint instead of the hero’s is also usually horror. Horror can also be centred around the unknown such as death itself.

Gail: That sums it up pretty well. Anything that leaves the reader feeling shaken, whether by use of creatures, monsters, ghosts, etc. or by some psychological means, falls into the category of horror. If it makes you jump, leaves you with a feeling of dread, makes you nervous about turning out the light... that’s horror.

Are there any set guidelines or rules for writing about monsters today and do you?

Sng: I don’t think there are any set guidelines, although unwritten ones are set by cultural influences. We went through the zombie era, the vampire era, the ghost and poltergeist era, the alien and giant monster era, the flesh-eating bug era, the psychological terror era, and now back to good ol’ hack and slash. I don’t set any rules for myself. I usually write on what I’m interested in or reading about at the moment. I think I pretty much went through the vampire era, the thing-under-the-bed era, and the virus era, but still write quite a bit on giant monsters and world-end themes. These days I write a lot on death and life extension, and on space and nanotechnology simply because I am fascinated by them.

Lisa: I don’t think so. You can usually find conflicting mythologies for most all monsters, and I think it’s more fun for the author and the reader to add a little twist to a monster’s make-up to really make it a new unique story.

Gail: Not if I can help it. I would rather create a monster that’s completely unscripted and not follow guidelines or rules. A lot of editors and publishers will slam a writer for doing that, they usually have their favorite mythologies and won’t bend on them, but in my opinion it keeps the writing fresh, unpredictable and uncliched.

Do you think horror is a male-dominated field and what is it like for a female horror author/poet/artist today?

Sng: I live on the other end of the world, so it doesn’t make much of a difference to me. The world of horror to me as a writer is gender agnostic, which is a good thing.

Lisa: Yes, I think horror is dominated by males, but I haven’t witnessed any prejudice against female authors at all. In fact, as a genre, I think horror is a pretty supportive bunch of authors and readers. Everyone wants a scare and some fun. It doesn’t matter whether the author was male or female.

Gail: That’s exactly right. I think it just goes to show that men tend to have sicker minds than women do. ;)

What are your goals as a writer?

Sng: After crawling out of the woodwork finally ready to show my poetry to the world back in summer 2000, I had these grandiose ambitions of being the next Stephen King, publishing a zillion books and winning awards. I never did finish a single novel, and found I only have the attention span of a gnat, which makes for pretty much only poetry (and on occasion, with very violent nudging from fiction collaborators to continue on our story (ahem), short fiction). In September 2000, I sold my first two poems ever to Dreams and Nightmares and decided then that my goal would be to get my work out there to share with the world, but I’d value a poem (or three) at a contributor copy or a token sum of money. That hasn’t changed, but the feverish ambition has cooled. My priorities in life have shifted, and I feel I have told most of the tales I’d wanted to tell. But there will be more: some different; others, various shades of the same. I will write them as they come. Now, I’d just like to be remembered by my work, and know that it has touched people in a positive way. I thrill at receiving contributor copies and always print out my work that appears online. Acceptance notes, fan mail, and/or reviews make my day. But mostly, I treasure the friendships and shared joys the writing community brings. That, essentially, is my goal: to enjoy the speculative genre in its whole (no rhyme intended).

Lisa: I’m looking forward to someday being a full-time novelist.

Gail: My short-term goals are simply to find a home for a new story I have written and finish the other three I have waiting. When I grow up, though, I want to be a writer just like Lisa. ;)

Are there any interesting things going on in your career you would like to share?

Sng: Well, I am working on three collaborations at the moment, all varied and fun, with three of my favourite people. I am putting together a third collection of my poems. I just finished pasting all my sold and sellable poems since September 2000 into a single RTF file for easy reference. A bunch of my poems were recently published in the Double Dragon anthology Cemetery Poets, together with two of the poets I admire most in the world, Scott Urban and Kurt Newton, which makes it a great honour!

Lisa: My short story “Immortal Beloved” is on the Stoker recommendation list from the HWA. I’m very excited about that! My first novel is also being considered by a publisher and my second novel is nearly complete, so I’ve been keeping busy.

Gail: See why I want to be like her? Here in the next several months I have an e-book coming out through Double Dragon Publishing. It’s called Poisoned Graves: Tales Told By the Dead and is a collection of stories by myself, Eric S. Brown and John Grover.

Does writing horror imply a personal world view?

Sng: Not necessarily. I believe all writers write on two things: personal experience, and observances of the world. When we exhaust the former, we tap the latter. And the latter normally consists of what genre we read, what we are familiar, fascinated, or frightened of. With horror, there are unlimited terrors, most of which are other people’s, so I’d say most of my poems are observances.

Lisa: I think it depends on the author. I write and read horror as an escape from real-life horrors. Reading about an inhuman monster can help keep you from watching the local news and seeing the real horror in the world.

Gail: For some it may but I think in most cases it’s simply a desire to be different and see how much you can freak people out. Given some of the horror tales I’ve read in my stint as an editor for Night Shopping I would be very afraid if I thought they were a product of the writers’ personal view on the world!

And finally, is there such a thing as a horror tale with a happy ending?

Sng: Yes there is! Tale 1: Monster eats human. Monster is no longer hungry. Monster belches. Monster takes nap with smile on face. Monster is happy. Tale 2: Wife dies, wife comes back as living dead. Bereaved husband overjoyed. Couple back together, both happy. Voila !

Lisa: Yes! Although in horror a “happy ending” is often not a “perfect” ending. There’s a big difference.

Gail: Exactly. Happy is relative. I think all horror tales, short or novel length, end on a darkly happy note. The hero is triumphant but the horrors he’s faced make it impossible for him to live happily ever after.

Copyright © 2003 by Eric S. Brown