Connie is a University of Iowa grad (MS + 30) and college professor with 56 years of writing experience who has taught at six colleges as well as at junior high school level. She’s written for five newspapers and nine blogs, founded three businesses, plays four musical instruments, and has two children. Connie followed the 04 and 08 presidential campaigns live for Yahoo, and writes about television, politics and movies for them as well. She is sometimes referred to as T.Q. (Trivia Queen) because she can be found playing Pub Quiz trivia on AOL at all hours of the day and night.
What first attracted you to horror writing?
I have always enjoyed Stephen King’s novels and short stories, as well as those of other horror writers like Peter Straub and William F. Nolan. I didn’t, initially, set out to emulate Stephen King (or anyone else), but I did set out, after selling my two businesses, to write ‘one of everything’, after years of writing non-fiction and teaching the craft at six colleges. I wanted to see if I could write anything I tried to turn my hand to; I wanted to learn what I enjoyed writing the most.
Different types of writing require different skill sets. Even Stephen King said, in the introduction to his short story collection Just After Sunset, “There are lots of things in life that are like riding a bike, but writing short stories isn’t one of them. You can forget how”. When I was being assigned to interview celebrities, I found that they required a different skills from, say, writing an Internet piece or composing a short story. I took a class to learn how to write a screenplay and wrote one based on my first novel (Out of Time, Lachesis) – that’s yet another different kind of writing (the screenplay won a Writer’s Digest award).
My very first publication was something I was hired to produce, a scholarly book which was published in 1989 (Training the Teacher as a Champion, PLS Bookstores). I checked that sort of scholarly investigative writing off my list after working for PLS as an educational writer for a year. I next decided to put everything I had ever written and published between two covers – mainly humour columns, but also including some poetry (Both Sides Now, 2003).
I became aware that there are two areas of writing that are easier to ‘break in’ to without an agent: romance novels and horror genre writing. I now have an agent, but that wasn’t the case in 2003. I neither read nor want to write romance novels, so I wrote a collection of short stories entitled Hellfire & Damnation, which I hoped would be akin to Stephen King’s Night Shift. The organizing framework for H&D was Dante’s Inferno and the Nine Circles of Hell. Each story would illustrate a crime punished in a particular Circle. I was also hired by a small publisher to write ghost stories that related to Route 66, so I travelled the road and wrote three volumes of Ghostly Tales of Route 66. The horrific nature of these last four publications set me more firmly on the path to writing horror with psychological underpinnings, but I’ve also written a children’s illustrated book (The Christmas Cats in Silly Hats) and published a second set of humorous essays (Laughing through Life) along the way.
I’ve settled on works that have a basis in fact and involve psychological horror because, as William F. Nolan has said, I am a born storyteller. I also write in the genre because I want to both read and write stories where something happens. There’s nothing more boring than slogging through page after page after page of Dickensian-style description, where nothing happens except the family goes on a picnic (this is the actual plot of a major literary work). I was a Literature major, so I think I’ve read and/or taught most – or, at least, A LOT – of the Great Works, since I have near PhD concentration in that field. I don’t think I’m cut out for ‘literary fiction’, although I greatly admire authors like John Irving, who writes interesting literary fiction without it being boring.
What is your most notable work?
The works for which I am best known are probably Hellfire & Damnation, which is to be followed by a sequel entitled Hellfire & Damnation II to be published this autumn, and there’s a trilogy which I’m launching this month (see above). My nonfiction book It Came from the ‘70s: From The Godfather to Apocalypse Now has won five national awards, composed as it was of fifty representative films from the 70s that I reviewed at the time, plus the ads and pictures from press kits of the day, major cast and interactive trivia. I saved all that for 43 years in scrapbooks, so that book is special to me.
I think that the trilogy I am working on now, which begins with The Color of Evil, will also be notable. The first book has already garnered a Silver Feather award from IWPA (Illinois Women’s Press Association) and an E-Lit Gold Medal for Horror fiction. Book One is out now in both paperback and E-book, and Books Two and Three will follow. The Color of Evil follows a young boy with paranormal abilities, Tad McGreevy, through his junior year of high school. The second book follows him through his senior year. Book Three will take him to college as a freshman. It’s Carrie meets Firestarter meets television’s The Medium. The book begins a Virtual Tour in mid-June.
What are you working on now?
I launched Book One of the trilogy mentioned above, The Color of Evil, at a book signing on April 28 and followed that with a speaking engagement at the Spellbinders Conference in Hawaii and attendance at ThrillerFest in New York City in July. I’m half done with Book 2 of the trilogy (Red Is for Rage) and an artist is already at work on the cover. I’m also finishing up Hellfire & Damnation II for the same small press in Rhode Island that put out the first Hellfire & Damnation volume.
The third book (title TBD) will follow the protagonist as he continues his struggle against evil, fighting to keep those he loves safe and fleeing those who would seek to harness the power he possesses. Tad is blessed – or cursed, depending on your view – with the ability to take one look at someone and, through the auras surrounding them, determine whether they are good or evil, whether they are fated to die young, etc. At night, he dreams about the evil-doers but, unfortunately, he has little control over these nightmares, which make him relive the crimes the truly “bad” people commit.
I am also going to be doing some interviews for the ThrillerWriters website, I continue to write for my own blog, as well as for Yahoo and several other blogs.
Who do you admire in the horror world?
I admire many writers, but I have to give special props to William F. Nolan, who has believed in me and has been very encouraging. Gary Braunbeck has also been very kind, and is a terrific writer. There are so many nice folks in HWA who are good writers and who have helped me by providing blurbs and encouragement (Jonathan Maberry, Lisa Manetti, Scott Edelman, Donnie Light and Pete Giglio come immediately to mind), but I’d be hard pressed to name each and every one of the writers that I admire. There are just too many.
Do you prefer all out gore or psychological chills?
I prefer psychological chills. I am not a fan of ‘all out gore’, but I love the Hitchcock-like touch. If I can pull it off, I strive for a Sixth Sense-style ending, where you don’t see it coming. It’s hard to pull that off consistently, and I appreciate writers who can do it effortlessly.
Why should people read your work?
My work is entertaining and there’s often a buried message, as with King’s “Life turns on a dime” from 11/22/1963. If readers try The Color of Evil, or It Came from the ’70s, I think they’ll appreciate them. After years spent working, teaching and raising two kids, while waiting to write full-time, I have a lot I want to put between covers or on your Kindle.
That wasn’t as true when I was still a callow youth, auditing classes by the likes of Kurt Vonnegut and Nelson Algren at Iowa. I honestly didn’t feel I had that much to say back then. Now, however, I do. I’ve lived and experienced a lot more I can write about. I have good credentials and I have more than earned my stripes, writing for pay for 56 years, attending good schools (University of Iowa, Berkeley, University of Chicago, Western Illinois University, Northern Illinois University) where I earned a Master’s degree (and thirty hours beyond). I’ve taught writing at six colleges/universities. I always try to do the very best I can at anything I attempt, plus I always try to be me, not a faux anybody else.
Recommend a book.
After Christmas, while we were in Mazatlan, I read Stephen King’s Stoker-award-winning 11/22/1963. The cover artist, Vincent Chong, who also did the cover to Joe Hill’s Horns as well as the one for The Devil’s Coattails (a very good short story anthology from Jason V. Brock and William F. Nolan), is also doing the cover for Hellfire & Damnation II. A child of the 60s, I thoroughly enjoyed King’s time travel book, since the first novel I wrote (from the plot of another), Out of Time, involved time travel (I’ve checked off writing sci-fi/ time travel with that one and it’s permanently cured me of collaborating where one of you does all the work and someone else takes all the credit).
I also enjoyed Stephen King’s 2008 collection of short stories Just After Midnight, which I read between April 7-April 21, but I can’t give it higher marks than Night Shift or Full Dark, No Stars. I was thrilled to be leading Full Dark, No Stars on the preliminary Stoker ballot by 3 places in 2010 (7 to 10) out of 46 nominees, but, of course, the Master went on to triumph. I’m going to read Road Work by himnext, after consulting Australian author Rocky Woods’ book on King’s works, which won the Stoker this year in the nonfiction category. I recently read A Spark in the Darkness and Anon by Pete Giglio, who’s a rising young Missouri-born writer. Jason V. Brock is also someone whose work I will watch with interest.
On a more literary note, I loved Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem, which isn’t horror but involves a detective with Tourette’s Syndrome and which won the National Book Critics’ Circle and was named Novel of the Year by Esquire. I have Harlan Coben’s Stay Close waiting for me as soon as I complete The Hunger Games trilogy, which I’m reading at the moment. I’d like to read John Irving’s new book In One Person and I’ve downloaded two books by Alexandra Sokoloff (when they were free on Kindle) because I enjoyed her novel The Price (which I bought and paid for, Alex). Plus, I still have to read David Morrell’s The Naked Edge. I think I’d read all of his books up to that point, in order to interview him, but he’s so prolific I’ve now fallen behind again. I recently saw him at the Love Is Murder conference in Chicago. I also like Joseph Finder’s material and have read several of his works, and I also liked Gary Braunbeck’s Coffin County.
I read widely across genres (although I’ve a lot of catching up to do in horror fiction). During my 18 years teaching junior high school, I routinely read the Top Ten Best-Sellers in fiction during the summer. Now, I try to keep up with writers like Gene O’Neill, Lisa Morton, Nate Kenyon, Gary Braunbeck, William F. Nolan, and I recommend Frederik Pohl, if you’re into science fiction. Interviewing him was a rare treat and privilege. As a young college student, I idolized Kurt Vonnegut but I have to say, after meeting and interviewing him when I was only 19, not so much after that.
On the other hand, David Morrell is a wonderful person (and a good writer) who was very kind to me when I interviewed him, and so have been most of those I have had the honour of talking to. Jon Land (Strong at the Break) and James Strauss (The Boy) are also great guys whose books I have enjoyed—although they are very different in what they write about.
I look forward to speaking with many more talented thriller and horror writers for the ThrillerWriters website.
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