TIH 544: Rachel Harrison on Black Sheep, Religions vs. Cults, and Writing Routine

TIH 544 Rachel Harrison on Black Sheep, Religions vs. Cults, and Writing Routine

In this podcast, Rachel Harrison talks about Black Sheep, religion vs. cults, writing routine, and much more.

About Rachel Harrison

Rachel Harrison is the National Bestselling author of BLACK SHEEP, SUCH SHARP TEETH, CACKLE, and THE RETURN, which was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in a First Novel. Her short fiction has appeared in Guernica, Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading, as an Audible Original, and in her debut story collection BAD DOLLS. She lives in Western New York with her husband and their cat/overlord.

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Michael David Wilson 0:28

Welcome to This Is Horror, a podcast for readers, writers, and creators. I’m Michael David Wilson and every episode, alongside my co-host, Bob Pastorella we chat with the world’s best writers about writing, life lessons, creativity, and much more. Before we get into today’s conversation let’s have a quick advert break.

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Michael David Wilson 2:23

we are chatting to rate your Harrison for the second and final part of our conversation. Now if you missed the previous episode, all you need to do is go back to Episode 543 For the first part, but as we've all this is our conversations, you really can listen in any order. So by all means, listen to this now, and then go back to the first part when you're done. Now Rachel is the National Best Selling Author of books such as black sheep, such sharp teeth, cackle and the return, which was nominated for a Bram Stoker award for superior achievement in a first novel. She's also had her short fiction appear in a number of publications, including Guernica, electric literature's recommended reading as an audible original, and then our debut story collection, bad doors. So let's not delay, let us get on with it. This is a second part with Rachel Harrison. On This Is Horror. So your brand new book is black sheep. And there are so many elements within this story that I want to talk about. But to begin with, as this is centered around religion and a cult. How do you define the difference between a religion and a cult?

Rachel Harrison 4:05

How many Hulu documentaries there are about it. If there's more than one Hulu documentary, it's probably a cult. That's my definition. And I'm sticking to it.

Michael David Wilson 4:20

Well, I think there's been a fair few documentaries about a guy called Jesus Christ. So good. You said it. On you. Yeah. Now I've been I've been thinking about the distinction between a religion and a cult. And I mean, one, one could make the argument that all religions are a coat, but not all cultures or religions. What do you think about that?

Rachel Harrison 4:55

I think that's valid to be a I'm very respect, like, I have a lot of respect for people who find religion and are happy and religion. And I think, you know, this book is less a commentary on religion than it is about belief. And I think it's like, it's interesting to see the book described as a cult book, because in some ways, it is a bit culty. But I never saw black sheep as a cult book. It's kind of easier to pitch it that way. But I don't see it as a cult book. I don't think the book is about a cult, even though it was a kind of a cult in it. Yeah,

Michael David Wilson 5:41

yeah. And so, so about family and fractured relationships, and navigating, like, your relationship with your parents navigating the idea of whether you will or won't become your parents, sometimes, quite literally, over time, you know, in terms of characteristics, so I want to talk about that, as well as religion, but we're not done with religion just yet. So I want to know, did you grow up in a religious household? And what are your personal beliefs regarding religion, and the supernatural, or lack thereof?

Rachel Harrison 6:32

So I was raised Catholic. I wasn't raised in a intensely religious household, but I did grow up going to church, I made my confirmation in the Catholic Church. So after I was confirmed in the church, I kind of stopped going back, I had an experience. When I was between around 10 years old, I befriended a classmate who went to a Christian church, I forget the denomination, but it was very different than the Catholic church that I went to, which was kind of like, sit down, sit still, like don't make any sound when you're not supposed to. And at her church, it was like, we're standing on the pews, were waving our hands were all singing or like speaking in tongues, there was a teen scene. And we were like, We were preteens, but we could go and there was like, blowup couches, which was, this was like, late 90s. So that was very cool. But that church, got into some trouble, because it was pretty intense. There was pictures of the Cryptkeeper in the bathroom. That said, like Satan is watching you. And then they put on the this. around Halloween, they put on a Hell House, which they advertised as a haunted house, but was actually a play about how if you drank, had sex, or did drugs, you're going to hell. And a lot of local teens came thinking it was a haunted house and left traumatized and went home until their parents and the church got in trouble. So I had this kind of like formative experience, being in that church that I was going to with my friend. And that affected me pretty deeply at the time. And I kind of carried it with me. And so I'm not currently religious. And but I do. I do believe in ghosts, I do believe in the supernatural. I've had a few experiences and I, I I wish I could put my faith in something bigger than me. I don't. I'm kind of not able to do that. I'm as much as I do believe in ghosts and things like that. I am ultimately a skeptic. So I don't know. I believe there's more to the world than what we can see. But as far as a god I'm if he exists, please forgive me. I'm, I'm dubious.

Michael David Wilson 9:36

Right? Well, I didn't because Well, if God exists, then God will be wholly different than any of the mainstream or indeed minor religions have portrayed. God. I think God won't be as we've imagined, him or them or I God is God. God is so outside if God exists, human conception. But Bob knows where I'm going to go here. Bob knows as soon as you said that you said that you've had a number of supernatural experiences. So I want to know about them, I want to know about all of them in as much detail as you're prepared to give.

Rachel Harrison 10:27

Well, the the one story that I tell and I'm like, I can't remember I know, I've told it before, but I can't remember when or where, but I always like I felt I would feel presences. And I would feel like I would walk into a space and I would feel a shift or I would always have these feelings, but I kind of just dismissed them. And then when I was between my sophomore and junior year at college, I got an apartment in Beacon Hill in Boston, which is a very old neighborhood. And my two best friends sublet an apartment up the street. And I was, they were weren't in the apartment, for some reason, I was staying in their apartment, and I was asleep on the couch. And there was a long hallway to the kitchen. And I was like, half asleep. And I kind of as I was dozing off, I saw a man in the kitchen. And I kind of like jolted awake and there was nobody there. And I was like, Alright, I went back to sleep. And then a week or two later, I was sitting in the kitchen. And I felt like there was a man over my shoulder. Like, just, I just had this crazy sense, like out of nowhere, that there's a man over, like, standing behind me. And it wasn't like a malevolent presence. It was just like a very, like, I just had this moment of just like, oh, there's a guy behind me, even though there wasn't. And I mean, I had, I've had senses like I'd had. This happens to me a lot, where I'll just be like, oh, there's a woman there. There's somebody out there. Like, I think that a lot. The time but so I thought, oh, there's a guy behind me. And then throughout the summer, I've kept feeling it. Like I would just have these moments like this a guy behind me and I the and I realized it was the same spot where I saw the man as I was falling asleep. But I didn't say anything to my friends. Because one, my two best friends who lived in that apartment one is very woowoo and would be fine with it. But the other is like very easily freaked out. And if I said anything, she would have a tough time. So it's like, I'll just keep my mouth shut. And my friend who's kind of woowoo spiritual, her doorway was right by the kitchen table where I would sit. And so this one on all summer where I would just be sitting there and I would feel him there. And he didn't feel like it would just was kind of pleasant. Like it just like it felt like like a nice presents, and got to the end of the summer. And I was like, Alright, I'm getting like they were moving out of the sub last, like, I'm gonna say something worse that that happens is they're like, You're crazy. But they were both in the kitchen. And I said, and I felt him and I was like, you know, view of a ghost, right? And my one friend who's easily scared was like, Oh, my woowoo friend is like, oh, yeah, the guy who stands in my door. He likes you. And I was like, Oh, I never said anything about where, where I sensed the ghost, that it was a man that I felt like it was like, just out of nowhere. So that that. And that was the moment where I was like, Okay, I don't think I'm wrong to believe that there's like, when I'm feeling these presences. It's not me being like, it's not out of nowhere. It's not me being like, crazy or anything like that. Like, could be something to it. So I think it would after having these experiences, I think it would be like wrong for me. But like there's no such thing as ghosts. Like, I don't, I'm more certain that there's energies and ghosts and things that linger than I am about like a giant cloud man, you know?

Michael David Wilson 14:50

When she said he likes you, did you follow up on this? Like, I'm not just gonna nod and be like, Oh, okay, cool. Oh, I'm gonna be like, What do you mean? How do you know? Do you talk to him?

Rachel Harrison 15:05

I was sort of just like she was I think she was just like, yeah, she stands in my doorway. Like I see him sometimes. Yeah, he likes you like it was just like, I think she had the same sense that I did. Like, I think her experience. I haven't talked to her about it in a long time. And I don't think like, it was probably at the time was just like, just kind of so shocked by her response that I didn't really follow up. But I think like, she's also very, like, you know, just kind of census stuff. And like, I mean, she's like, I learned how to read tarot. Because I went to college and Boston and we go to Salem all the time. But like she, she would like read auras and stuff. And so she was kind of just like the same level of like, open to spirits. And I think you, you know, there's a lot of stories about like kids seeing ghosts, I think you have to be open to if you immediately dismiss and shut down experiences, I don't think you're gonna have them. But I think if you're also if you're too anxious to have them, either or you'll manifest things that aren't there. I think it just needs to be that kind of like, peaceful openness. But I don't know. I'm like, I'm not like ghost hunting on the weekends or anything. But if I like walk into a space and I sense a ghost or sense like, I believe in energies, like energy exists, we create it roams around. So that stuff I believe in.

Bob Pastorella 16:52

You know, when you when you said that you hadn't you hadn't talked to her in a while. An idea just like, snapped in my head. And it was like, what if you did? And she said he misses you.

Rachel Harrison 17:06

If she were still

Bob Pastorella 17:06

art. Okay, so and that's creepy as shit. But it could have been you need to come back. That's even creepier

Rachel Harrison 17:17

story. Yeah,

Bob Pastorella 17:18

I know. It's like, and that's how that's how my mind thinks it's like, I haven't talked to her in a while. And I'm like, Well, what if you did? What if? What if you did? Yeah. I mean, it's, I don't know. That's, that's some creepy is the presence thing. That reminds me of my nightmares, then then I have, it's always you know, the shadow people, you know, and it's always somebody who's standing like in a doorway or something like that. So that reminded me of that. I'm probably gonna have a knock turn now. But you know what, this guy

Rachel Harrison 17:48

was nice. He's like, it felt like a young I don't know, for some reason. I thought it was like a Revolutionary War soldier. Like that's kind of just like how I perceived him. He was just like, a nice guy. He was just there was just there was just hanging out.

Michael David Wilson 18:11

I mean, I don't know if any of us will use it. But this is always the danger of having conversations with writers but I do think he misses you is a great title for a ghost.

Bob Pastorella 18:24

I love it. Yeah. I didn't even think of it as a title. But that is a good title. Oh, yeah. Y'all can have it.

Michael David Wilson 18:35

And have you had any like negative supernatural experiences or they can be kind of supernatural adjacent where you just get a vibe or an aura or an intuition about a place or requests in

Rachel Harrison 18:54

my apart my Beacon Hill apartment was very bad energy, like, also felt haunted. And like there was a presence there, but not a good one. That felt like felt bad. Like from the moment I moved in, it felt bad. And yeah, there's been I went house hunting two years ago, and I walked into a house and I was like, this feels bad. It wasn't like an old house or creepy house or anything, but it's like everything in me was just like, ah, it was like a perfectly fine house like there was nothing about it that would have that should have had me being like, but it just did not. It did not feel good. And something weird did happen in that house. Like we walked through the whole house, and then we opened the door to the garage. And there was an or like an old Oregon. In the like, not like got huge pipe organ, but in Oregon, is sitting in the garage. And my husband when he was younger had found in Oregon on the side of the road, and like brought it home and he was like, I think it was haunted like, just like bad vibes. I forget the story that he told me, but he had told me about finding an Oregon that he thought was haunted. And we opened the door to the ground and the Oregon was there. And he's like, I think that's the Oregon. Like, I don't think he was joking. It's hard to tell. But yeah, so I don't know, maybe there was a haunted Oregon in that house, or maybe my husband was pulling my leg. But it was definitely bad energy in that house. So like, I'll have times like that, where I'm just like, something about this space is wrong, but I don't even necessarily think that house was haunted. Like maybe the people who lived there were just really unhappy. You know, things like that. But I never had like a, you know, like, I'm seeing a creature like I'm seeing a ghost in the corner of my room experience or anything like that. Yeah, not good.

Michael David Wilson 21:11

It's good that you get that intuition pretty instantaneously, because it would be very troubling to, you know, buy the house and then get the energy a few weeks later. And it's like, no, no, financially, not going to work. Yeah, how I mean, how about the Beacon Hill apartment? How long were you living there for,

Rachel Harrison 21:35

for two semesters? So little less than a year? And

Michael David Wilson 21:41

I mean, when you find that that has bad energy? I mean, what what's your response to that? I mean, what can you do when you find that there's bad energy, but it's also a place that you're living in? I

Rachel Harrison 21:57

think there's probably things I could have done in retrospect, but like, like, I had a roommate who I didn't, who I was, dear friends with, but like we didn't gel as roommates. And like, I think if you have bring good energy into the place, you can kind of balance it out. In retrospect, I probably should have done that. But yeah, there, I'm sure there are things that you can do. Unless it's like, really cursed.

Michael David Wilson 22:33

Yeah, yeah. I mean, do you if you felt that there was a presence and it was a more malevolent present? Would you try to engage with them? Would you try to talk to them and see, can we defuse whatever's going on? Or would you be like, No, I ain't talk into.

Rachel Harrison 22:56

Yeah, yeah, probably bad. But like, my nature is a little bit to be like, Hey, how's it going? What's happened? Like, I probably would try, which is probably, like, sometimes that like, I joke. I've joked about this before, where I'm like, I don't think I could ever get possessed. Because the, the demon would be so fed up with me within like, 10 minutes. They'd be like, they'd possess me. And I'd be like, somewhere in there, the tiny voice being like, how's it going? How are you liking it in here? You could have dairy, but not too much dairy. Like, I just feel like any demon who tried to possess my body would be like, like, she's too high maintenance. So but like, if I ever were to get possessed, it's because I would be engaging with a malevolent spirit. Like, is it something I did? Is that something I can do? Or is this candle Okay, do you prefer, like, an ambery? sense? Like, I just, I don't know, I feel like I'm too high maintenance for demonic possession. But like, I definitely would open myself up to it by just being like, hey, spirit. I'm sensing. I'm sensing some animosity. Anything we can do?

Bob Pastorella 24:22

You would lose the talk to me. Tic tock challenge. Yes, yeah, but not by your own fault.

Rachel Harrison 24:28


Bob Pastorella 24:29

You'd be like, no, no, he couldn't take it. Yeah.

Rachel Harrison 24:32

I feel like I'm like, talk too much. Like, if there's a sequel to talk to me, it's gonna be the demon. That's like stop talking to

Bob Pastorella 24:41

me. Yeah. But, you know, your approach to like the in talking to empty is so different than like, you know, Ghost Adventures? No. Are you mad at someone that someone hurt you? You know, and it's like, you Would you be like, Hey,

Rachel Harrison 25:03

me? Is it something I did? Is there something I can do?

Unknown Speaker 25:08

Do you want something?

Rachel Harrison 25:10

Get you anything? I have assortment of teas? Yeah, that's it. I'm very needy and anxiety ridden. And an aim to please.

Michael David Wilson 25:26

Yeah, if this was mainstream journalism, then I think we've got the headline right there. I'm too high maintenance for demon possession to be what you believe. But I mean, going back to black sheep, I understand that the writing process was a little different when compared to other novels that you've written. So I want to know both about the writing process. But then the genesis of the idea and how you started out with this one.

Rachel Harrison 26:02

So I had a very high concept. And I feel like we'll get into spoilers in a little bit, but very high concept idea. And it just kind of came to me one day. Probably as I was stewing, and self loathing, and I had this like, kind of punchy, like real logline idea. And then from there, I kind of built the story around it. And at the same time as when I came up with this idea, I was also in many ways, this is a pandemic novel, I wrote it in 2022. I think I came up with the idea in 2021. I think we all had a lot of time to think during the pandemic, and I was thinking a lot about one nature versus nurture. And, you know, I'm now the age, my parents were in my earliest memories of them. I also think as you get older, and take on more responsibility and settle into your life, the more you kind of see, you'll catch yourself in behaviors and be like, Oh, my God, and my parents, like, it's weird. And, you know, sometimes it's like, I get a sense of pride and being like, Oh, I'm doing this, I'm like my dad. And then other times, I'll be doing something. I'm like, Oh, my God, I'm like, my dad, I think we all kind of experienced that. So I was kind of going through that. And then also, there was just such a sense of hopelessness, or these past few years, and I don't know, I mean, obviously, things are pretty shitty. But I think just sitting on social media, a lot of us were just doing at home, and like, only engaging with stuff online. And just feeling like, like, every time I went online, everyone was like, the world is ending, this is the worst time to be alive. Everything sucks. This planet is on fire. We're all doomed. And me having to interrogate that for myself and being like, do I? Is it hopeless? Like? Do I feel like there's no hope in humanity? And having to think about that. And seriously, like, ask myself if I have faith in people if I have faith in goodness. And so this kind of storm of those things, along with this kind of like high concept idea, sort of was the storm that went into black sheep. And from there, I pitched it to my agent in my editor and submitted an outline. The outline changed a lot in the writing process, as I found best for my protagonists voice, but that's sort of sort of how it all came to be.

Michael David Wilson 28:58

And to go into what I consider a mild spoiler at about the 50 page mark, but I think, you know, we've retrospect I should have seen it coming, but I somehow didn't. I mean, we start off, we know that Vesper is in a religious family, a kind of cult we don't know what that call is, the way that it's written. I would say that's pretty obvious misdirection, for parallels with Christianity. Then you find out oh, it's a satanic cult. So I want to know, in a did the story ID and critiquing religion as a whole come first, or did Satanism come first? Satanism

Rachel Harrison 29:51

came first. And I like I don't really see the book as critiquing. religion as I'm asking questions about groups of people who have who believe 1,000% that they are right? I think watching January 6 happen until like, to sit there and and realize that these people believe that they're heroes was really heartbreaking and disturbing and hard. Like, it was just hard for me to wrap my head around. And like this dis faith, like, how can people believe like, there's so many conspiracy theories online and like watching, especially during the pandemic, people having all this time to fall into these rabbit holes, watching people fall into conspiracies, I think is really is people, you know, who you don't think would buy into his conspiracies, and then watching them buy into conspiracies and the shock and heartbreak of losing them to that belief is really hard. And I think you talk to anybody, and they know somebody who has fallen off some sort of deep end into a belief that, like, we know is wrong, but they don't think they're wrong. And so it wasn't like, I sat down and I was like, I'm gonna criticize Christianity, or I'm gonna, like, go after organized religion, it was more about me really examining like, how do we deal with groups of people who believe things that like, we we fundamentally disagree with? Or, like, this world that we live in now, where the truth has been so twisted and mangled that like, some people don't recognize it when they see it? So it was more about that. And like, yes, they're Satanists. But the Satanism was a function of this. Something else it wasn't about, like me being like, I'm gonna write about satanic cults like I actually, I watched a documentary called Hail Satan, which is about I believe, this is called the Satanic Temple, which is a group that challenges organized religion. In the US, and it's a great documentary, documentary, and I highly recommend it, but like, I, I was, like, totally on board with what they were doing. Like, I don't want to start a critique of Satanists. So it's not a critique of anybody who puts their faith in anything. It's more of a like, me being like, when does faith become dangerous? And when is it becomes something good? Like when? Like, where's that line between faith being something beautiful and worth having and faith being like, a slippery slope to to some dangerous stuff?

Michael David Wilson 33:18

Yeah. And I liked that you did do it under the metaphor of Satanism, because obviously, critiquing any sort of cult or group or group I think, is one of those things that we can't talk about or that we have to talk about very carefully. But because so many people think all Satanism bad suddenly you can you can do it if you're putting it under that umbrella. But yeah, I certainly didn't come away thinking you hate. Satan is just a perfect vehicle for talking about what you can't talk about.

Rachel Harrison 34:03

Yeah, and I wanted to make this Satanists very, like, Fine, like, perfectly. For the most part. They're perfectly pleasant. They're just like, nothing about them is strange, or, like, weird, really like, other than the, what they believe in, and they do what they do because they believe Oh, yeah, they're all perfectly nice to Vesper. Now, welcome back. Pull up a chair.

Bob Pastorella 34:44

Yeah, it's, it's not any different than what do you see what, you know, religions that aren't Satanism, they pick religion. I mean, I grew up Catholic too. They do some weird stuff. You know, I mean, when you look at it outside, if you If you can step outside of it and go, What are they doing? And it's there's, there's, there's this ritual in you know, it's the it's the Eucharistic mass and all that. And it's like, from an outsider, they're like, well, what didn't What is this? You know? Yeah, it so it's no, they're doing what they believe in. It's a totally different take on Satanism. And it had that in, I mean, this as a compliment. It reminded me of the work of our Levine because he had this, you know, you have the satanists living next door to rosemary in Rosemary's Baby, you know, and it's, it's, especially in the film, you have Rick garden, you know, and she's knocking on the door products, Mary, I got it. You know, and they're just like, the sweetest people that you ever meet. You want to hang out with these people, you know, and then you find out that nurse, you know, they're Satanists. But and that's like, the one thing, and I love, I love the way that you did that. You did that. I mean, I know what you know, talking about the book. When I hit that page, was reading in bed. I went into the book, cold reading in bed. And it was like, when I was talking earlier, it's like, oh, it's at a point where I was about that, you know, hey, I'm gonna go ahead and, you know, go to sleep and everything. And hit those two words, though, like, you know, big spoiler here, Hail Satan. Read that. And I'm like, wait, wait, did I miss something? Did I blink? Let me let me go up a couple sentences and read it again. And then I'm like, okay, strange.

Speaker 1 36:42

Let's get the pillow propped up here. And I'm like, okay, okay.

Bob Pastorella 36:48

I was already in, but I'm in deep now. You know, and I just kept going. And I was like, holy shit. This is not. I mean, it blindsided me. And, and of course, like, what Michael was saying, in retrospect is like, oh, man, I should have seen it coming. But that's, that's the beauty. That's the beauty of writing is that you don't realize the foreshadowing until you get to the shadow, you know?

Rachel Harrison 37:14

Yeah. And I worked hard to keep it off jacket cut, like, I was, like, let's keep it off jacket copy, like, I don't want to, like I really wanted to avoid talking about it, because I do think it's a fun, surprise. But also at the same time, like, the little page breaks or pentagrams. And like, they're, the sheep has devil horns on the reading. So like, there's, there's like little signs there that I was like, Is that too much? Are people going to pick up on it? But I was pleased that people seem to be. And I tried not to talk about the Satanism. In early interviews and stuff like that. I mean, the books been out for a while now. So but yeah, I wanted it to I wanted it. The experience to be exactly your experience to be like, wait, what? Yeah,

Bob Pastorella 38:04

it worked.

Michael David Wilson 38:07

Yeah, I was kicking myself because I mean, you've even got a character called RoseMarie. It's like, How did I not see this? I mean, it could have only been more obvious if it was called Black goat. It was one animal away from really hitting me over the head with it. And well, the fact that like the pentagrams RoseMarie, and Black Sheep didn't do it for me. Maybe even if it had been called Black go to the moon. Oh, Satan. Goodness, yeah. So, so well done. And, of course, there's another reveal. I don't know if we will get into that one. And I didn't even I didn't even see that one coming in until it was very close to coming. And it like she's done it again. How am I not seeing these things? But I guess as well, I mean, maybe that's testament as well as to how much I mean, it was about religion. And as you say, it wasn't at the same time, it was about nature versus nurture. Here, it was about family dynamics. So I guess I was so enthralled in the rest of the story. I didn't see the satanic elements coming in. But, I mean, we were talking about, you know, January 6, and I guess the pandemic was such a time for people to to almost go down the conspiracy theorist, rabbit hole. And I mean, I used to think naively and wrongly that as we had the internet and we had access to more information that there would be more truth, there would be less this division, we would have access to truth and reality and facts, but actually feels like it's the opposite. It feels like the more information we have, the more confusing things become. And you know, then you start asking, well, whose narrative? Can you trust? And if so many people get it so wrong. Sometimes you have to ask, well, what am I getting wrong? What am i Believing that might not be true? Do you have battles like this yourself?

Rachel Harrison 40:42

I, but like, I, I feel like I have a pretty good ability to be like, this seems true to me. But like, it's, it's so shaky. It's like, just because I think it's true doesn't doesn't mean it's true. Like, I think, though, that questioning happening, like, for the past few years, it's become easier to be like, do I know what's true? And where am I getting my information from? And can I trust these sources? And so, you know, we can have confidence up to a certain extent, but I don't know if we can ever. Like, unless we completely cross our T's dot our eyes do deep dive like, it's hard to speak confidently about anything anymore. Because you see one thing on the internet, and you can't really form an opinion, because you've only seen one thing on the internet. Right? And

Michael David Wilson 41:46

it seems that, you know, for the smartest and the most articulate, I mean, they can make a persuasive case or, or something that at a surface level. It's like, well, yeah, you can see how that's plausible. It's like this, this person is trying to trick us because of x, y, and Zed and but I feel we have to believe something, can we have to take some things to be true? Or we may literally go insane or not, and then just live in a state of distrust. So there have to be some things we believe until substantial evidence that they're not true anymore. Yeah,

Rachel Harrison 42:30

and I think it's, I explored a lot of that through Vesper, in black sheep, because she sort of has this ability to be like, she's very confident in her self. And in her belief system, and like, I She's the character I've written, who's the most different from me, in how she's able to make these hard decisions of like, I'm gonna, I don't believe what these people believe that's like, I'm gonna trust my own compass, and I'm gonna go. And I really admire that about Vesper. And I'm somebody who, like, anytime I watch a cult documentary, I'm always watching it, like, would I have bought into this? Like, because I'm susceptible, I'm very, like, I, if I'm sitting across from somebody, and they're telling me something, I want to believe what they're saying is true. Like, I'm kind of easily swayed not so much by online stuff. But like, if I'm sitting next to somebody, and they're telling me a story, uh, probably like, I'm inclined to believe what they're telling me. Like, I have a lot of like, I love people, I want to trust people. And knowing that makes me vulnerable is kind of a weird thing, because you think maybe that would be a virtue of being open. So, like, if I, if I was little, and nobody told me that, like not to take candy from strangers, the stranger offered me candy be like, Wow, thank you so much. Like, that's just kind of who I am. So, it was an exploration of like, writing Vesper was like, what would it be like to be somebody who can make up their mind and like, stick to their guns and kind of trust, trust themselves? And, like, rely on their own, like TrueNorth and

Michael David Wilson 44:38

to be writing as a protagonist who is so different to yourself and to also be writing about someone in their early 20s. I mean, did that take quite a shift and what kinds of things did you have to do to get yourself into the Vesper mindset?

Rachel Harrison 45:00

So it was difficult, because I, Vesper was a tricky protagonist. Because she's tied into the concept, the high concept I had for the book. I needed the right person to tell that story and to fit into that. Like, it's kind of a big mantle to fill. And so I needed the perfect protagonist. It took me a while to kind of find the right voice and I write first person. So it needed the voice needed to be right. And I was talking to my agent about it. And she was like, Well, what if she worked at like a chain restaurant? And that's when I was like, Yes, done. And that's when I came up with shorties. Which is like an American like TGI Fridays Applebee's kind of chain restaurant. And like putting her there, just like, that's how I met her. And like, as soon as I met her, it was completely easy to get into them. Like once. Once I met her, she was there and she showed up. It took me a while to meet her. But once she arrived, she arrived fully formed. She's like, it's me. I'm here. So I think I usually have in an awkward, I have an okay, time finding my protagonist, like I love. I love writing first person I love meeting my protagonist, but they've always like for my first three books, they kind of just arrived. And I didn't need to look for them. desper like, hid for me for a while. But when she did arrive, boy, did she. Yeah.

Michael David Wilson 46:40

Yeah. Was there initial panic when, you know, he wasn't there. And you're looking for her? Cuz you know, this is territory that you've not been in before?

Rachel Harrison 46:52

Yeah, definitely. For my first three books. I had written them before. I sold them. So I was writing the books I like, had, I wasn't like pitching them and then writing them. Like I was sitting down and writing them. So as I came up with a concept, the character was there at the same time. This one I came up with the concept pitched it. And we're like, okay, go write it. And then I like went to write it. And I was like, Oh, shit, like, where's my protagonist? So yeah, there was definitely initial panic. And I, I wrote a draft of it with a Vesper who didn't work. So, yeah, it was it was tough to find like, characteristically she, she made herself she was difficult to pin down. But thankfully, it was just that that I needed shorties to, to go to shorties to meet her. Yeah,

Michael David Wilson 47:56


Bob Pastorella 47:57

It's funny, because you never know what's gonna make that character come out. Yeah, you know, and that's me. I mean, I'm thinking of great ideas in form of story, but typically can't write anything until I started hearing their voices. And I have to hear them talk to me. And it's usually when I'm not even thinking about it. And you know, I'll I'll hear somebody have a conversation or something like that overhear something and it will springboard from there. But that voice is, is so important. Because it helps you with you know, having that momentum to get you know, you you know, these characters, and I'm writing in I've done some first person, I love the way that you do it. You kind of do it in a way that seems very unrestrained gives me no you knew here, like you have, you know, in the middle of school, Hey, you want to you know, bury your eyes, all that to where you know. And that can make the sentences a lot more dynamic. But sometimes you're stuck. You just got to each kind of go. Yeah. You know, and if you're telling the story, and if you're writing it well enough, then then you're not going to sit there and focus on how many eyes you actually see on the page. It doesn't matter, you know, and so I liked that I felt it was very fluid. It has very unrestrained everything, everything fit together. Do you know, it was great writing is inspired me to do something in first person.

Rachel Harrison 49:38

It's fun getting to character. It's fun.

Michael David Wilson 49:42

Well, we like to get into the specifics of writing. So I want to know, what does your writing routine look like? What does a typical working day look like for you?

Rachel Harrison 49:54

So I feel like I'm best in them. Morning. So I usually get up and try and get riding around by six 630. And then I will write until mid morning, go for a walk, move my body, I will eat lunch, and then I'll come sit, work through the afternoon. And then you know, around four o'clock 430 get up move again. And sometimes I will, depending if I'm on a deadline, I'll work again at night, but I kind of treat it like a nine to five, but I definitely have to, like, get up and move and leave my desk at multiple points throughout the day. But yeah, that's pretty much my routine.

Michael David Wilson 50:54

And do you work on one project at a time? Or do you ever have multiple on the go? Uh,

Rachel Harrison 51:02

usually, because I write, like, close first person and like, kind of get into character. I really try to and I like, if I'm working on something I like to be consumed by it. I like to get momentum. So I typically try and just work on one thing at a time. Occasionally, I will have, like this past year, I was I had to write stories for anthologies. So nights and weekends, I'd work on those. But typically, I really admire people who can work on multiple projects at a time. But even for me, like, if I have to stop and work on copy edits, and then go back, like it's difficult for me to leave one project and then jump back into another project, especially because of the first person how deep I get into that first person. Character. Milan,

Michael David Wilson 52:01

know, when you submit something to your editor, and they are working on the copy edits, what are you doing in that time when they're working on it? So

Rachel Harrison 52:13

usually, it kind of the cycle I'm on, sometimes I'll write a short depending, like, if I have a fair amount of time. Like if I'm submitting a novel and waiting to get like, first round of edits, I'll work on stories, short stories or all like, when I now I've my edits my first round of edits on my next book or with my editor, I'll which work on the pitch for my next book. So I'll usually have some kind of short project to come in between or if I have a lot of, like blurb reading to do or like, be like, Okay, I'm going to take this week, knock out these, like, I'm going to read. So

Michael David Wilson 53:00

I sell my time. Yeah, yeah. And I mean, what does your blurb reading look like? Have you got some kinda hard rolls so that you just don't get inundated with blurb requests?

Rachel Harrison 53:15

I, I love blurbing I love reading blurb books. But like it like last year, I had a spread like I had to come up with a spreadsheet. And like, I blurbed like, it was like over 30 books last year. And now I'm like, I'm gonna have to start. Like I've had to start saying no, which breaks my heart. Because I hate I hate saying no to blurbs. But yeah, it did get to the point where it was like, if I have to, like, have this spreadsheet, like it's probably it's probably too much at the moment. So I'm probably going to try and and I get like I get this weird place where I'm ahead on reading but also behind on reading, like my TBR pile is just like I don't know, I'm a type A Virgo. I like the TBR pile really gets to me. So I it, it messes me up that like people are like, have you read this book? And I'm like, No, but I read this amazing book that comes out six months from now like it's, it's tricky. I love to do it. But yeah, I used to be like I will say yes to everything. And now I'm like, that's not possible anymore.

Michael David Wilson 54:28

Yeah, and given you've told us how much of your day is consumed with writing, given that you're also married so you have a relationship to maintain. When is the reading time?

Rachel Harrison 54:44

Usually at night. I'll usually read like eight to nine or something and then I'll watch some stupid TV till well myself to sleep from nine to 10 and then I'm a Early to bed early to rise. That's

Michael David Wilson 55:03

impressive that you are effectively reading one hour a day and still managing to blurb 30 books per year. And presumably also reading for pleasure. The

Rachel Harrison 55:16

reading for pleasure kind of suffers. I try and read for an hour every day. Sometimes I'll go through phases where I'm just like, I mean, if I have a physical book, it's easier for me to read. But if it's on, like, if I'm in the thick of editing, or if I'm in like, the thick of drafting and I have a digital book, sometimes I can't. Sometimes I'm like, I cannot hold my computer anymore. So then I will just I don't want to sound like too much of a hero. Like I don't do it every day. I try to but some days I just like, watch shit TV. Yes.

Michael David Wilson 55:57

Yeah. Sometimes that's what you need. Yeah. We've got a question from Nicole Neely via Patreon. And he says, I love that the return. It was a great setup of a psychological thriller. An excellent bam, surprise, horror. What are some of your favorite tropes in your current novels, and future projects?

Rachel Harrison 56:30

tropes? I guess, I mean, the book I'm working on now. sort of became a, like sexy vampire book. So which is not like a trope? I wanted to write a vampire book. And then it kind of turned into this. And like now I'm kind of like, oh, yeah, like, like, like, I never read Interview with a Vampire or anything. But now I'm into it. Right? I don't know. I just love I love monsters. I love I love like all the classic. Any classic trope, any classic monster, like trying to take it and do something a little bit different with it. It's kind of my my favorite thing. Like, I'm very, like, it's like a haunted house. Yes. Give it to me like any like, How can I come up with my own take on it? Like with this book I'm working on now vampires? Like, what can I do with vampires to make them? Mine? Werewolves? What can I do with a werewolf to make it mine? Which is like what? And then you know, the haunted hotel? What can I do with that? So I like to I love the genre so much. I love just like plucking, plucking monsters plucking these classic horror tropes. Like out and trying to figure out what I can, what I can do to them to make them to make them mine. Which sounds selfish, but it's fun. If I'm not having fun writing, no one's gonna have fun reading it. Yeah,

Michael David Wilson 58:12

yeah, absolutely. And in terms of the current work in progress, I understand it is cold. So thirsty, man. You've pitched it as Dale Moran Louise, We're vampires. So is this the next book that will be coming out from you? And tell us more about it if you can.

Rachel Harrison 58:38

So I don't know when it's coming out. I should know within the next few weeks, we should have a date. But it is about a woman named Sloane who is in her who's about to turn 36 and is kind of feeling stuck in her life and unsatisfied and sort of resigned herself to kind of living with the husband that she their relationship is fine. Maybe not so good. And she's kind of accepted her circumstances. And she goes on a weekend trip birthday trip with her best friend Naomi, who's like a free spirit who's kind of the opposite. She's of Sloane. She's wild. She's like, likes to get in trouble. She likes to shake things up. And Naomi's tried to give Sloane the space to figure her shit out and just kind of sick of watching Sloane be passive and makes plans for a with a stranger for a kind of impromptu party, and the night goes a little bit south and their lives change binge Forever, forever, forever. But yeah, it's a I couldn't write a vampire book called so thirsty without a little bit of sexiness and a little bit of intrigue and sort of how things take off is a bit. Road trippy. But Thelma and Louise see a lot of trouble a lot of blood. Classic high jinks. Well,

Michael David Wilson 1:00:29

I mean, I can't wait to read it. I know, the Bob can't wait to read it. Because as you're describing it is like this is exactly the type of thing that's in his wheelhouse. And more hopefully, we'll get to read it sooner rather than later on. We'll have to get you back on the podcast.

Rachel Harrison 1:00:51

I haven't this is my first time like talking about it. So hopefully I did the was a good I mean, I feel like the Thelma and Louise with vampires is like a pretty solid, easy.

Bob Pastorella 1:01:02

As you said that I was like, Well, okay, I'm in.

Michael David Wilson 1:01:05

I'm in. Yeah. And you said we should have some news on that by the end of the year. So we might know, when it's coming out. I think

Rachel Harrison 1:01:14

they're supposed to be late. I think I should have a date soon. Maybe a preorder link before the end of the year. So

Michael David Wilson 1:01:24

very nice. Indeed. Looking forward to it. Well, what is something that you should be kinder to yourself about?

Rachel Harrison 1:01:39

Gosh, we talked so much about this in the first half of the show. Hmm. I think generally, I've gotten better at being kinder to myself about things. But maybe not getting to my not getting to my TBR or when I watch TV not feeling when I take a break from doing something that I should be doing. Not feeling so guilty about it. Yeah.

Michael David Wilson 1:02:12

It's easier said than done. Yeah. Well, what do you hope that people say about you when you're not in the room? Ah,

Rachel Harrison 1:02:27

that question. She's fun. And like a nice way I feel like that could be like, well, she's fun guy. Oh, people like I, I want to be like a fun, positive. Presence. I find meet people I want to be I want people to have fun reading my books, on people that have fun hanging out with me. I like people. When I leave my writing cave, I want to have fun. And I want to be fun.

Michael David Wilson 1:03:00

Yeah, well, you've certainly exuded fun and positivity in this conversation. So I think people who are listening have certainly got that from us. So I'm sure that is what people say about you.

Rachel Harrison 1:03:16

I hope.

Michael David Wilson 1:03:20

Well, thank you so much for spending the vast majority of your evening here and with us. This has been amazing. And we definitely have to do it. Again sometime because there are so many of your books that we haven't even spoke about. We haven't spoken about the return or such sharp teeth. So there is every opportunity and reason to do it again if you'd like.

Rachel Harrison 1:03:48

Of course, yeah, anytime. All right, well,

Michael David Wilson 1:03:51

where can our listeners connect with you?

Rachel Harrison 1:03:55

My website is Rachel hyphen. harrison.com. And I'm on Instagram and Tik Tok and threads at Rachel Harrison's ghost.

Michael David Wilson 1:04:05

Nice. I like it. Rachel Harrison's ghost. All right. Do you have any final thoughts to leave our listeners with?

Rachel Harrison 1:04:19

Well, we talked a lot about you know, negative self talk and, you know, being kinder to yourself, and I just hope the takeaway from this episode is for people to to be kind to themselves take care of themselves and have faith for for a good future for good things. I hope that for everybody listening. Yeah,

Michael David Wilson 1:04:46

yeah. Thank you so much for chatting with us.

Rachel Harrison 1:04:50

Thank you.

Michael David Wilson 1:04:54

Thank you so much for listening to This Is Horror Podcast. If you want to get Each and every episode ahead of the crowd and support the podcast, please head over to www.patreon.com forward slash This Is Horror and consider becoming a patron. Not only do you get early bird access to each and every episode, but you get to submit questions to the world's best writers. You can also listen to exclusive Patreon only podcasts including story on box the horror podcast on the craft of writing, in which we unbox and dissect short stories and movies. The patrons only q&a sessions with myself on Bob Pastorella where we answer all of your questions writing related and otherwise, and a video cast on camera off record. And if that is not enough, you can also become a member of the writers forum over on Discord. So head over to patreon.com forward slash This Is Horror. Have a little look at what it is that we offer. Listen to the testimonials from our vets who are patrons. And if it looks like a good fit for you, then I'd love to see you there. Now another way that you can support the podcast absolutely free of charge is to leave us a review on Apple podcasts. to rate us on Spotify, or to follow us on social media. We are This Is Horror on acts formerly known as Twitter. And we are This Is Horror Podcast on tick tock for video clips and little bites of motivational goodness and a splash of humor. You can also sign up for our newsletter at this is horror.co.uk and if you would like to read my fiction, you can check out books including The Girl in the Video and House of bad memories. And if you want to read Bob Pastorella is fiction. Do consider picking up a copy of mojo rising. You can also check out our collaborative novel They're Watching. Well okay with that said, it is now time for a quick advert break. House

Bob Pastorella 1:07:24

of bad memories the debut novel from Michael David Wilson comes out on Friday the 13th this October via cemetery gates media. Denny just wants to be the world's best dad to his baby daughter. But things get messy when he starts hallucinating his estranged abusive stepfather Frank, then Frank winds up dead and Danny is held hostage by his junky half sister who demands he uncovers the cause of her father's death with Danny to feed his demons or be perpetually tortured for refusing to answer impossible questions. Clay McLeod Chapman says house of bad memories hit so hard you'll spit teeth out once you're done reading it. Preorder house of bad memories by Michael David Wilson and paperback at cemetery gates media.com or an ebook via Amazon.

RJ Bayley 1:08:09

It was as if the video had on zips my skin slunk inside my tapered flesh and become one with me.

Bob Pastorella 1:08:18

From the creator of This Is Horror comes a new nightmare for the digital age. The Girl in the Video by Michael David Wilson. After a teacher receives a weirdly arousing video his life descends into paranoia and obsession. More videos follow each containing information no stranger could possibly know but who's sending them and what do they want? The answers may destroy everything and everyone he loves The Girl in the Video is the ring meets fatal attraction for iPhone generation available now in paperback ebook and audio.

Michael David Wilson 1:08:47

Or that about does it for another episode of This Is Horror. I will see you in the next episode when we will be talking to Clay McLeod Chapman who recently released his brand new book, What kind of mother but until then, take care yourselves. Be good to one another. Read horror. Keep on writing and have a great, great day.

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