Eryk Pruitt on truth and storytelling, reading bad books and the appeal of writing short stories

“The title story in TOWNIES takes place in a honkytonk just outside of an unnamed East Texas town. When a series of accidents cause the bar staff to systematically die off, one-by-one, it’s up to Darcy, the new manager, to determine the cause.”

“I have been kicked out of a bar, a school, a church, and a country.”

 

SR: You’ve released a short story collection. Tell give us a teaser for the oldest story in your collection.

Townies-Cover-DesaturatedEP: The oldest story is probably “An Afternoon with the Parkinson’s,” which was published in the literary journal where I went to college. I fixed it up and had it republished by The Avalon Literary Journal in 2012.

SR: Where did the title come from?

EP: I once worked a summer with a man who had late-stage Parkinson’s disease. This was my attempt to get inside his head.

SR: Tell us about one of your favorite stories that’s included in your collection.

EP: Out of the Gutter’s Flash Fiction Offensive published my short story “Knockout” in 2015. It was a revenge tale about a victim of The Knockout Game, a fad where kids posted videos to YouTube of knocking out strangers with one punch. When I traveled to Detroit that summer, I was terrified of getting hit by some kid, so it manifested into a story. I was super stoked later that year when it was named a finalist for the Derringer Award.

SR: What is it about writing short stories that appeals to you?

EP: It lets me suss out a plot or character without having to commit to a full novel. Every short story I’ve written was a novel I didn’t have time to write. So that’s forty-plus novels I can come back to when the well runs dry!

SR: How do you think short story writing has strengthened you as a writer overall?

EP: It’s helped me make things lean and mean. The first time I wrote a 5000 word story and had to edit it for a 3000 word market was brutal. So brutal. But every one of those cuts made the story stronger, and I learned from it. Even now, I trim my chapters in a novel to 3000 words before I send it to the betas.

SR: Do you have any recurring characters you feature in more than one short story? If so, what is it about the short story format that suits those characters?

EP: I have a character named Deacon Easter who pops in and out of stories. He’s a fuck-up who ends up in bad situations. I actually snipped a couple of the Deacon Easter stories out of TOWNIES, so only two survived the cut. But the most recurring character isn’t a person, but a locale. The setting of my novels—Lake Castor, the fictional Virginia mill town—makes several appearances throughout the book. There’s even a glimpse of Lake Castor in the 80s with the story “It’s Morning Again in Lake Castor.”

SR: Which story in the collection is the most personal story for you? Why?

EP: I wrote a story titled “The Only Hell My Momma Ever Raised” for inclusion to an outlaw country anthology published by Down & Out Books. It tells the story of the black sheep of a family who comes home to see his mother before she dies from disease. Between the second and third drafts, my mother was diagnosed with cancer. The fourth draft took on a new trajectory.

SR: Is there something you hope the reader carries away with them after they’re done reading? An insight or philosophy that you wanted to come through in your work?

EP: I want folks to have a good time, have some laughs, and hopefully get a little weirded out. As for philosophy: I hope they see dark fiction from the South in a slightly different light. But most of all, I hope they want to see some of these stories on the big screen and help us get them made.

SR: When you looked at your stories as a collection did you notice anything about your writing or themes that hadn’t really stood out to you before?

EP: Said once or twice while choosing these stories: “Dang, I used to be a lot angrier than I am now.”

SR: What was the first short story that you had published? Tell us a little about it and how it got published. How did that experience impact you as a writer?

EP: Outside of the lit journals in college, my first published short story was “Coda,” published by MAD SCIENTIST JOURNAL. It was (and still is) a paying online market that requires you to fashion your story after a journal entry written by a “mad scientist.” At the time, I had a story about two mismatched lovers with a penchant for violence, but I couldn’t think of an interesting enough way to frame it. When I saw the MSJ challenge, a light clicked on in my head, and I jumped at the chance. They accepted it and suddenly I had something to put in my bio. I really think that helped, having publications listed in a bio, because it convinced other markets that I was worth taking  a chance on. At any rate, I revisited that couple several other times in fiction, ultimately later including the two starcrossed lovers—”Sweet” Melinda Kendall and Sam Tuley—in the final third of my second novel HASHTAG. So often, people want to know what happened next for Sweet Melinda after the final pages of HASHTAG…I’d recommend they hunt up “Coda.”

SR: What’s the first book you remember reading that had a huge impact on you? How did that story affect you? How do you think it shaped your desire to be a writer?

EP: AGATITE, by Clay Reynolds. I had taken a bunch of lit classes and reading started to get on my nerves. Mr Reynolds made reading fun all over again, and set the book in rural Texas, which was an area I knew all to well.

SR: What do you think the hardest emotion to elicit from a reader is? Why?

EP: Humor. Laughter. It’s hard to suss out a laugh because my sensibilities are so dark, it’s not always going to strike a chord. What one person might find funny, another will find offensive. So it’s a fine line and a huge challenge, but that doesn’t keep me from trying. The biggest compliment I’m ever given is when somebody tells me they laughed throughout my books. There will always be a warm place in my heart for the dearly departed reviewer William E Wallace for calling DIRTBAGS “the funniest serial killer novel ever written.” Thanks, Bill.

SR:  What’s the best thing about writing?

EP: Exorcising demons. It gives me the opportunity to zig when I could have zagged, or to take the road less traveled.

SR:  What’s the worst thing about writing?

EP: Doubt. Usually during rewrites.

SR: What detail in your writing do you obsess over the most? Character names? Locations? Description? Dialogue? Research?

EP: Tone. I waste a lot of drafts trying to get the tone I want.

SR: What was your journey to publication like? What kind of obstacles did you have to overcome?

EP: I queried agents and editors every day when I was shopping DIRTBAGS. If there wasn’t a rejection letter in my Inbox when I woke up each day, that meant I wasn’t trying hard enough. Six months of that and when I finally got the acceptance, I stared at it for an hour.

SR: Are you drawn to things that are really popular or wary of them? Do you find it helps you to market your work if you’re familiar with what’s currently selling or do you ignore all of that and focus on what you’re interested in?

EP: I rarely stand things that are popular. Every once in a while, I get surprised. For example, I expected to hate Gillian Flynn, but man was I wrong. If I see everybody going one way, my natural inclination is to try something from a different way or POV or genre. It’s not me trying to be contrary, but I find little reason in chasing something.

SR: Do you relate more to Sherlock Holmes or Professor Moriarty? Why?

EP: Moriarty. I like to break things.

SR: What’s your personal life motto?

EP: Never let the truth ruin a good story.

SR: Tacos or Burritos?

EP: Tacos

SR: Chinese or Italian?

EP: I like to cook for myself so Italian

SR: How long will you survive in the zombie apocalypse? How long will your protagonist survive? Why?

EP: I’ve been waiting my whole life for the zombie apocalypse. When I die, the credits roll. I make it to the end.

SR: What movie world do you wish you could live in? Why?

EP: More of a TV show. I’m a WALKING DEAD guy. I’m tired of the way things are. I’d like to hit the reset button and have a chance to shape how things will be from now on. A good old fashioned zombie apocalypse might be what we need to get that started.

SR: Everyone needs an outlet to help them recharge. What hobbies do you have outside of writing?

EP: I have a vegetable garden and I’m pretty obsessive about it. I also live near a river and a state park, so I’m a hiker.

SR: You strike it rich. What charity are you going to create or support?

EP: I’ll do something for the arts. Not like an arts council, which is basically worthless. Maybe I’ll do something that makes arts councils obsolete.

SR: What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

EP: You learn more from reading bad books and watching bad movies than you do from good ones.

Eryk Pruitt is a screenwriter, author and filmmaker living in Durham, NC with his wife Lana and cat Busey.  His short films FOODIE and LIYANA, ON COMMAND have won several awards at film festivals across the US. His third novel What We Reckon can be found on bookshelves across the country. Be on the lookout for his first short story collection Townies and Other Stories of Southern Mischief, due from Polis Books this October. He is the host of the Noir at the Bar series in Durham. A full list of credits can be found at erykpruitt.com.

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“Read. Write. Persist.” Darrin Doyle talks about his short story collection, Scoundrels Among Us, his inspirations, hobbies and writing themes

SR: Where did the title come from?

coverDD: Scoundrels Among Us is a story in the collection, and I named the book after it. Once I assembled the stories and read them together, I realized how many were about people doing bad things to each other. Obviously a lot of fiction contains somebody doing something bad or wrong, but often they’re making bad decisions for themselves (or to themselves). My collection features many folks (mostly men) behaving in creepy, questionable, violent, or otherwise unseemly ways – which seems to mirror our own culture at the moment, I might add. Plus, I like the word “scoundrels.” It’s cool and old-fashioned and should be brought back into our lexicon.

SR: Tell us about one of your favorite stories that’s included in your collection.

DD: I’m pleased with the story “Second Home.” It’s sci-fi, for starters, and I don’t usually write in that genre. I should say that it’s sci-fi light in that regard, but it’s modeled on classic writers like Ray Bradbury, Ursula LeGuin, and Kurt Vonnegut. There’s not really hard science, but there’s a futuristic atmosphere and a utopian (or is it dystopian?) society and a moral/ethical question underlying the plot. I actually wrote it based on a prompt. A former graduate student of mine said he wanted to solicit sci-fi stories based on space jobs. Jobs in the distant future! That sounded interesting to me, so I took a stab at it.

My first thought was to have a dentist, probably because dentists and doctors give me anxiety. The story focuses on a patient at the dentist. The society in “Second Home” is entirely geared around keeping people alive for as long as possible with minimal stress. To that end, the main industry is body revitalization. People occupy their entire lives visiting robot doctors (called Mandroids) who replace and upgrade their body parts. Disease, aging, and sickness are things of the past. The robots do all the work, so people don’t even have jobs. Humans routinely live more than 200 years.

When our hero visits the dentist, he has a panic attack. He’s never felt this way before, and he’s confused about such a scary experience. It’s the first time he’s experienced a taste of mortality. The story becomes a meditation on death (and life), and the idea that if we take away death and physical imperfection and discomfort, what remains? If we are only living to remain alive, then what’s the point? If we never have to fear death or sickness or disease, what emotions remain? Is it possible to be truly happy if we never experience adversity?

The guy also finds out that they’re replacing all of his teeth with virtual teeth. Full extraction. This raises other questions about the physical self vs. the metaphysical, spiritual self.

SR: What is it about writing short stories that appeals to you?

DD: I love the small canvas, the contained experience for both writer and reader. As Edgar Allan Poe said, a story should ideally be read in one sitting, and every word should be in service of a “singular effect.”

Scoundrels Among Us features not only short stories, but brief stories. That’s my term for a story that’s longer than flash and shorter than a standard short story. I’m talking about 1,000 – 2,000 words. I was intentionally writing in this range, which presents unique challenges but also has the potential for meeting Poe’s dictum: easy to read in a single sitting, and ripe for creating a singular effect.

The brevity puts pressure on every word, every sentence. It means there is little time for subplot or deep backstory. The risk is that the stories may feel “incomplete” to some readers, but I’m OK with that risk. The reward, as I said, is a more streamlined emotional impact, and I hope that I’ve achieved that.

Plus if you don’t like one story, you don’t have to wait long to get to the next one!

SR: How do you think short story writing has strengthened you as a writer overall?

DD: When I was younger I wrote poetry as well as short fiction. The processes are similar for both forms, and if I had to boil it down it would be that they both force you to write distinctive, memorable, accurate sentences. Create a memorable voice through your sentence structure, and pay attention to every word. Cut any word that isn’t adding something essential. Choose muscular verbs and descriptive, concrete nouns. Use figurative language, but not at every turn. Vary the sentence structure and length. Surprise yourself. Every word is a building block toward that singular effect – toward an emotional, intellectual, or psychological response.

As a writer I don’t even need to consciously know what the desired “effect” will be. That’s because it’s ideally not something that can be nut-shelled into a simple phrase. The effect is more complex, more ineffable than that.

As the great Flannery O’Connor says, in a short story 2 + 2 always equals more than 4. Through the accumulation of imagery, voice, character, conflict, setting, figurative language, and so on, the story becomes more than a sum of its parts. It becomes, as she says, a way to “intrude upon the timeless” – to usher us toward the mysteries that make us human.

SR: When you looked at your stories as a collection did you notice anything about your writing or themes that hadn’t really stood out to you before?

DD: I noticed that beneath the humor and absurdity there’s a persistent loneliness and melancholy. The characters have a difficult time connecting with one another. This wasn’t intentional at all! I don’t think of myself as lonely. I wrote many of these pieces (although not all) to make myself laugh. But in the process of trying to capture the “whole person” of my characters (another idea from Flannery O’Connor), the humor revealed souls who feel deeply estranged from humanity.

I’m not sure what this says about me. But I’m not sure that it matters, either. I never want to be mistaken for my characters because they aren’t me; they’re an amalgamation of observations and people I’ve known, mixed together with some of my psyche. Probably it suggests, if anything, that I’m scared of being alone (and yet I crave solitude all the time).

SR: What’s one of the first short stories that you really remember reading and how did it impact your approach to short stories or your writing style?

DD: Jack London’s “To Build a Fire” is a landmark for me. In the 7th grade, I read this and realized the power of storytelling. Up to that point, I had read a lot of Piers Anthony and Stephen King, but this story changed my entire reading trajectory. The piece is a survival tale in one sense, but it’s also a story about facing death – a microcosm of all of our experiences on this planet. We all have to face our mortality, and this story did it in such a cool way as this fellow and his dog try to survive trekking through the Arctic. For English class we had to do a “presentation,” and I read this entire story out loud. It’s a pretty long story! I’m shocked that I read the whole thing. But this is undoubtedly one of the reasons that I still like fiction that’s existential – that raises questions of our purpose and existence in this life without sacrificing entertainment value. Because in the end, nobody’s going to read your work if it isn’t entertaining.

SR: Everyone needs an outlet to help them recharge. What hobbies do you have outside of writing?

DD: I’ve played music for more than thirty years, mostly guitar but also banjo, mandolin, bass, ukulele, piano, and drums. It’s a terrific outlet. I’m part of a trio called Daryl & the Beans, which is me and poets Jeffrey Bean and Robert Fanning. Check us out on YouTube or Facebook or at https://darylandthebeans.wordpress.com/

SR: What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

DD: Read. Write. Persist.

 

Check out what’s on Darrin’s To Be Read Pile here.

Scoundrels Among Us is reviewed here.

 

IMG_8884Darrin Doyle’s most recent book is the story collection Scoundrels Among Us. He has previously published two novels – The Girl Who Ate Kalamazoo and Revenge of the Teacher’s Pet:A Love Story – as well as the story collection The Dark Will End the Dark. He believes in Bigfoot, shaves on days of the week that contain the letter T, and teaches at Central Michigan University. His website is darrindoyle.com.

Darrin Doyle shares what’s on his To Be Read Pile

cover

Fun Fact: Darrin says, “I saw Ben Affleck at the airport in Washington, D.C., then boarded a plane, flew to Detroit, and saw Willem Dafoe!”

 

 

What are some of the titles in your current TRB pile?

51hngprhful-_sy346_I have such a large pile. It’s a mix of contemporary and classic authors: Louise Erdrich’s The Plague of Doves, Christine Schutt’s All Souls, Bill Knott’s poetry collection I Am Flying Into Myself, Ha Jin’s War Trash and The Crazed, Alison Lurie’s Foreign Affairs, Bernard Malamud’s The Fixer, Christine Sneed’s The Virginity of Famous Men, Katie Chase’s Man & Wife.

What book are you currently reading?

I recently finished Jess Arndt’s story collection, Large Animals. What a wonderful book: dark, surreal, challenging, funny, serious, and laced with dazzling prose.

What do you hope to add to your TBR pile soon and why?

51rvdbjtwrl-_sy346_I’m trying to keep up with the releases from Tortoise Books. I’m so proud to have two of my books with this press because they consistently publish interesting, well-written works. So I’m eager to pick up Jeremy Wilson’s Adult Teeth and Joe Peterson’s Gun Metal Blue.

Bonus: Which author do you want to see have a new book out soon?

I’m looking forward to whatever Jess Arndt comes up with next (see Answer 2). I also recently discovered Bill Cotter – who writes down-and-dirty comical fiction in the mold of John Kennedy Toole and Charles Portis – and will keep an eye out for his next project.

 

Check out our interview with Darrin about his latest work, Scoundrels Among Us.

Scoundrels Among Us is reviewed here.

 

IMG_8884Darrin Doyle’s most recent book is the story collection Scoundrels Among Us. He has previously published two novels – The Girl Who Ate Kalamazoo and Revenge of the Teacher’s Pet:A Love Story – as well as the story collection The Dark Will End the Dark. He believes in Bigfoot, shaves on days of the week that contain the letter T, and teaches at Central Michigan University. His website is darrindoyle.com.

Online Issue 14

TSP OI14 coverAuthor Lee Murray talks about her novelInto the Sounds, and how traveling has shaped her life and writing, the actor she’d pick to play her protagonist for the series and her faithful author assistant, Bella.

Stuart R. West drops by to talk about his faithful companion, Zak, and his novels Secret Society (which may be one of the most original takes on a serial killer story) and how a real-life ghost town inspired Ghosts of Gannaway.

Jon O’Bergh is back to share the music his characters in The Shatter Point would listen to.

S.D. Hintz is also giving us the goods on the nosey neighbors who inspired The Witching Well and the reason he may just live in the creepiest house, ever.

ICYMI, Brian talked to Steph Post and Nik Norpon about their tattoos. And there’s a new story up at Zombie Cat: Waiting on the Stress Boxes by David Hagerty.

Goldilocks and the Dark Barometer

Every now and again, someone writes about the darkness that permeates Young Adult fiction. This leads to speculation about whether it is too dark, and summaries on the topic. I could do likewise, but I felt  already did that so well, I don’t need to.

What I did decide was that I would focus on reading some popular YA authors and titles and see what I thought. So, reads over the past few months classified as YA have included Nightwolf, Salt, The Fragile Ordinary, The Forest of Hands and Teeth

Out of all of these offerings, Nightwolf is probably the darkest. Salt has monsters and The Forest of Hands and Teeth has zombies, but Nightwolf focuses on real horrors some kids today live with, and although it isn’t pure noir, there is a sense of hopelessness and futility that permeate the story. It isn’t what I’d call cheery. The other titles have varying degrees of hope – for resolution of problems, for overcoming difficult situations, for the future. I didn’t find any of this unrelentingly dark.

Now, your mileage may vary. But here’s the thing. Young people are dealing with a lot of crap. We did, too, in our day. They’re trying to figure out who they are, what they want out of life and what others expect of them. They have to make decisions that will shape their entire future. And they’re looking at a war of words between politicians that might lead to war with North Korea and all kinds of other crap going on that could change their future. They want to assume control of their lives but they aren’t adults, so they’re caught between taking responsibility for their actions and having limited authority for their choices.

And everything they do is presented on social media for all the world to see.

Frankly, the stuff I’ve heard about via the kids over recent years has been numbing. They are far more aware of a lot of crap than I ever was. And I specifically started watching The Walking Dead because their biomom was watching it with them when they were eleven. Brian and I always felt we should have some sense of what they were watching and being exposed to so that we could have informed conversations about it, so a show I’d resisted watching became part of our regular viewing. (And they had some good seasons, so for a while it wasn’t a chore at all.) Frankly, if they can watch that when they aren’t even teens, it’s got to be pretty damn hard to top that level of darkness in fiction.

People read for all kinds of reasons, and one of those reasons is to escape. Another is to learn about things they otherwise wouldn’t get answers about. And another is to help them process things they’re dealing with.

Hells bells, I’m just glad to see young people reading. You want to read dark? Read on, I say.

Reviews:

Review: Salt by Hannah Moskowitz

 

Review: The Fragile Ordinary by Samantha Young

 

Review: Creatures of Want and Ruin by Molly Tanzer

 

Review: The Middleman by Olen Steinhauer

 

Review: Walking Shadows by Faye Kellerman

 

Review: Robert B. Parker’s Colorblind by Reed Farrel Coleman

 

Bye Bye Kindle Boards

From their new terms of service:

“You agree to grant to KBOARDS.COM a non exclusive, royalty free, worldwide, irrevocable, perpetual license to reproduce, distribute, transmit, sublicense, create derivative works of, publicly display, publish and perform any materials and other information you submit to any public areas, chat rooms, bulletin boards, newsgroups or forums of KBOARDS.COM or which you provide by email or any other means to KBOARDS.COM and in any media now known or hereafter developed. Further, you grant to KBOARDS.COM the right to use your name and or user name in connection with the submitted materials and other information as well as in connection with all advertising, marketing and promotional material related thereto, together with use on any other VerticalScope Inc. web sites. You agree that you shall have no recourse against VerticalScope Inc. for any alleged or actual infringement or misappropriation of any proprietary right in your communications to KBOARDS.COM.”

You have to email and ask for all your information to be removed. Always nice for some assholes to come along and change the terms of service after the fact so that people’s information is already being sold. Jerks. Time to sign off.

Hulu Programming Campaign for Letterkenny

Now, Brian’s new favorite show is a Canadian show called Letterkenny. The first two seasons are on Hulu, and he wants them to get all the seasons added. So here’s hoping some of you will have a full appreciation for the quirky humor and jump on the bandwagon. Season 1 has a running joke starting episode 2 that has payoff in the final episode of the season…. just brilliant. These clips have nothing to do with the ostrich fucker, or my favorite joke about a certain book, or even the super-soft birthday party, but they do help set the tone of the show.

 

Now, this one… maybe not young kid friendly. But a great illustration of ‘show not tell’ writing. I know exactly what Wayne and Daryl think about Squirrely Dan’s revelation about his sexual experience without so much as a word from either of them.

 

Online Issue #1

Our first online issue is live now!

online issue 1 cover

Earl Javorksy, Gabino Iglesias, Andrew Nette, Tom Piccirilli, David Swinson, Alex Segura, James Sallis, Peter Watts, Stuart MacBride, Christine Mangan, Patricia Abbott, Joe R Lansdale and Kasey Lansdale, Dana King and more.

What’s the deal with online issues? Find out more here.

 

Patricia Abbott Talks About Bringing Sorrow in Short Stories

Patricia Abbott is the author of more than 125 stories that have appeared online, in print journals and in various anthologies. She is the author of two print novels CONCRETE ANGEL (2015) and SHOT IN DETROIT (2016)(Polis Books). CONCRETE ANGEL was nominated for an Anthony and Macavity Award in 2016. SHOT IN DETROIT was nominated for an Edgar Award and an Anthony Award in 2017. A collection of her stories I BRING SORROW AND OTHER STORIES OF TRANSGRESSION will appear in 2018.

She also authored two ebooks, MONKEY JUSTICE and HOME INVASION and co-edited DISCOUNT NOIR. She won a Derringer award for her story “My Hero.” She lives outside Detroit.

Patricia takes some time to share insights about her latest work, I Bring Sorrow and Other Stories of Transgression and what she likes about writing short stories.

SR: You’ve released a short story collection. Tell give us a teaser for the oldest story in your collection.

51ayt8fwizlPA: According to the TOC, it would be “Are You Going To Take Care of This Guy Or Not.” During the vice-presidential debate in 2000 much was made about the gentlemanliness of the two candidates. This story is about a recent convict who considers emulating Cheney after his release and how well he succeeds. I used various quotes from Cheney throughout the story, hopefully integrating them with the plot.

SR: Where did the title come from?

PA: The title comes from Cheney’s own words.

SR: Tell us about one of your favorite stories that’s included in your collection.

PA: My favorite story is the title story because it’s a story of an obsession that leads to madness. But whose is the mystery. I loved incorporating some tropes from fantasy and horror in it. I loved using the cello as the object of desire.

SR: What is it about writing short stories that appeals to you?

PA: That you get to tinker with your story a lot. There’s time to consider every word. And also you get to leave the characters behind in about six weeks.

SR: How do you think short story writing has strengthened you as a writer overall?

PA: I think it has taught me to be succinct. To consider carefully what is needed and what is not. Although it also handicapped my ability to write in more detail with the novels.

SR: Do you have any recurring characters you feature in more than one short story? If so, what is it about the short story format that suits those characters?

PA: The only characters that I repeated was in the novel in stories HOME INVASION. Or at least I think that is true. Although to some extent I write about the same sort of people quite a bit. They are usually blue-collar types, struggling to make it, damaged.

SR: Which story in the collection is the most personal story for you? Why?

PA: “We Are All Special Cases” happened to me in its entirety save the last paragraph. It is rare for me to use my own life.

SR: Is there something you hope the reader carries away with them after they’re done reading? An insight or philosophy that you wanted to come through in your work?

PA: I hope the reader carries away that we neither all good or all bad. That we are all injured in some fundamental way. Because of this we need to feel empathy for our fellow man.

SR: When you looked at your stories as a collection did you notice anything about your writing or themes that hadn’t really stood out to you before?

PA: I think I realized once again how hard it is for me to not write dark stories. When I looked for one to read aloud at a few events, it was impossible to find one that wouldn’t repulse or scare or worry the audience.

SR: What was the first short story that you had published? Tell us a little about it and how it got published. How did that experience impact you as a writer?

PA: Well, it was when I was a student and our professor insisted we send out a story. So I sent one to the North American Auto Show. It was about two robbers, (The Imprint) nothing to do with cars at all. But it got an honorable mention and they published it on their website. It gave me enough confidence to try again.

SR: What’s one of the first short stories that you really remember reading and how did it impact your approach to short stories or your writing style.

PA: I have always loved short stories and can’t remember the first one. But I do remember the writer whose stories I read the most early on and that was Alice Munro. Her stories spoke to me from the start. Her characters seemed like the kind of people I knew.

Review: Terror is Our Business: Dana Roberts’ Casebook of Horrors

Terror is Our Business: Dana Roberts’ Casebook of Horrors is a collection of short stories that follow the investigations of supernormal investigator Dana Roberts. The first stories in the collection were written by Joe R. Lansdale and use an external narrator to frame the stories. It’s a simple but effective technique that draws the reader right in to the narrative.

One of the things I appreciated right off the bat is that Dana Roberts is something of a skeptic. She doesn’t consider her work to involve the supernatural; she is firm in her use of the term supernormal because she maintains that what is happening is just something we can’t explain yet. She strives for a more scientific and logical view of her investigations. In that respect she’s more Scully than Mulder and one of the reasons this is very effective is that when she is scared the reader has the sense that things are very bad. She isn’t reckless but she’s always prepared for a very normal explanation to reports of possible supernormal events. I think my own healthy skepticism about ghosts and such is part of the reason I immediately clicked with this approach to the stories and I imagine that a wide range of readers will find these stories immeasurably entertaining, even if they aren’t die-hard horror fans.

In spite of her insistence that most of her cases turn out to be bats or mice living inside the walls, Dana has some incredible experiences she does share with us. Each story contains its own surprise in the discovery of the culprit and the resolution of the problem.

Lansdale suggested that readers enjoy one story at a time and I employed that approach while reading this collection. I was thoroughly immersed in Dana Roberts’ world and the rhythm of Lansdale’s stories when Kasey Lansdale introduced us to Jana.

I had been wondering how such a great collection of stories would be impacted by the introduction of a co-author and sidekick for our protagonist.

In Dana Roberts and her adventures, Joe R. Lansdale gives us storytelling greatness. When Dana and Joe join forces with Jana and Kasey great stories become supergreat tales that provide a whole new level of entertainment for the reader.

Formal, proper, logical, rational… these are all terms I could use to describe Dana Roberts and all are meant as compliments. By contrast Jana is irreverent, impulsive and often inappropriate. She thinks all those things that you dare not say, only sometimes her thoughts slip out before she reins them in. She’s the spice Dana Roberts didn’t know she needed in her life.

She’s the spice I didn’t know I needed, but when I started reading Blind Love I looked up at my husband and said, “Oh hell, yeah.” And then I kicked him out of the room so that I wouldn’t be disturbed.

I have a feeling that as a reader I’m about to suffer a long period of withdrawal while waiting for more Dana and Jana stories to keep me awake at night.