December 19, 2014

Like-Minded Twisted Little Brats and the Stories They Tell: an interview with Kelli Owen, author of "Crossroads"

Kelli Owen is one of those stand-outs in the crop of horror writers to come along in this decade. One of her real talents is in the novella department, as exemplified by some books of hers that I reviewed (The NeighborhoodWaiting Out Winter, Deceiverand most recently Crossroads). I had the chance to ask her a few questions about Crossroads and writing in general. Enjoy! 

Gef: What was the impetus behind Crossroads?

Kelli: Oddly enough, two things. Firstly, why I wrote a novella. This was the last of four novellas contracted for Waking the Dead. I had initially turned in the novella Buried Memories for the Elemental series (previously having published Waiting Out Winter and The Neighborhood in that line of Thunderstorm books), and for whatever reason Paul (Goblirsch, owner of Thunderstorm) decided to ask me if I’d be interested in a 4-novella collection, rather than just another Elemental. I was flattered, and honored, and agreed. So I suddenly needed three more novellas to turn in. Two months later, this was the last of those.

Secondly, why I wrote this novella, was as a nod to not just the onslaught of teenagers in horror books and films, but to both poke fun and smile at the group of teenagers my son called friends. Yes, these characters are based on my boy child’s best friends, as punishment for the damage they’ve done to my walls, my fridge, and my sanity over the years. But it still makes me giggle, because each of them would act almost exactly as their characters did in the story.

Gef: What kind of a gear shift is it when writing a novella as opposed to a novel?

Kelli: I almost never go into something deciding it’s one or the other. I tell the story—the length it takes to do that properly decides whether it will be a novella or novel. Some ideas sound really big in my head, but once I map them out they are much shorter and tighter. Others sound simple, and then turn into a swirl of subplots, characters I hadn’t originally planned on, and a story that requires much more room to explore. While I always think I know what I’m writing, either a novel or a novella, I do so knowing it can change, and has a couple times.

Gef: Did you ever play with a Ouija board as a kid? What went through your mind when it was announced a PG-13 horror movie was being made based on the game?

Kelli: I wouldn’t say I “played” with one. I experimented a couple times and then ran the other direction. For those who didn’t get the memo: I really am a big chicken and prefer my horror nice and fictional. Ouija touches that unknown area of reality and I’ve always said, “we cannot hope to control what we do not understand.” Thus, my flight rather than fight proclivity, and some seriously creepy incidents in my life, keep my fingers far, far, far away from the planchette. We have one in the house, but I don’t touch it. Unless you count throwing salt at it when others pull it out to “play.”

The movie? I had high hopes. I really did. I love all things unknown in my horror movie choices, well, and evil kids—evil kids creep me out more than anything. The problem is, they took a great idea and failed to hit potential with it, failed the audience. But I’ve seen that a lot lately in movies. I don’t know if it’s because I’m old and jaded, or because I’m a writer and would have written it differently.

Gef: How much has folklore, especially local folklore, influenced your writing, or even your view of the horror genre?

Kelli: I grew up in northern Wisconsin. We didn’t have a whole lot of folklore there, just, you know, serial killers and cannibals. In second grade I used to make up stories, trying to create folklore I guess (like turning the creepy house on the block into a witch’s hiding place) to scare the other children. Eventually I found like-minded twisted little brats who also told stories, and by fifth grade we had a little circle of demented children scaring each other. I remember the china doll tale (I still shudder at the memory of that particular story) and one about a guy who nabbed people when they walked past a bush and then used their body parts for furniture. My mother overheard us on the porch that day and informed me after dinner, the story was based on facts—filling my tiny little head with the gruesome reality of Ed Gein. That changed my view on “stories”, and probably had a lot to do with everything horror-filled that came after it, including my writing.

Gef: What do you consider to be the strength or saving grace of the horror genre?

Kelli: In a word: reality. Just when you think there are no more taboo topics, nothing you can come up with to really scare people, the nightly news comes on. Seriously. We writers are competing with a world with more day-to-day horror in it than ever before. Sure, ours is a form of entertainment, but art imitates life—I don’t care that “they” say it’s the reverse. I don’t generally write about monsters or supernatural things. I write about the guy down the street, your kids’ bus driver, the little girl who witnessed something that changes her forever. Reality is both a blessing and a curse to our genre, I choose to use the blessing portion to my benefit.

Gef: What's the worst piece of writing advice you ever received? Or what piece of writing advice do you wish would just go away?

Kelli: The worst advice I’ve ever heard? That’s tough. My gut reaction is to say there’s no such thing. Even bad advice is good to hear, because part of what you have to learn in this field is when to ignore advice, when to heed it, and when to balance somewhere in the middle.

But with my gut reaction out of the way, I need to make enemies and bring up the ever-popular “just self-publish it” advice often given to those who have been rejected. I always cringe at that. Yes, I am technically self-publishing my works now, but (except one) only after they have been already published somewhere else and the rights revert to me. By publishing through a house (if a little one), dealing with an editor, working with an artist, I’ve learned valuable insight, tools, and tricks those who skip that process will never gain. And their work may reflect it (note I said may, I’m getting nicer regarding self-publishing every year). I could go on and on about this particular topic, so I’ll stop it with just a thought: if you’re getting rejected, take a long honest look at why before you decide they’re all “just wrong.”

Gef: What kind of guilty pleasures do you have when it comes to books or movies or whatnot?

Kelli: Guilty pleasures… hmmm. I don’t really have any normal ones. I’m not a reality TV person, or closet romance reader. So while boring, I guess my guilty pleasures would be anything at all I can find on authentic gypsy history (I probably have the best gypsy library in the country at this point), herbs and healing (I opened a shop this year for the softer side of me — gypsyspirts.net), and old poetry. Yes, you read the last one correctly. My favorite place in the local used bookstore is the poetry corner. I just sit down right there and look at everything currently in the stock—for hours.

Gef: We're coming up to the end of the year, which means everyone and their mama is writing a year-end list. So what book, movie, game, show, song, or dirty limerick has found its way to the tippy-top of your favorites this year?

Kelli: You know, I’ve never done one of those lists. Ever. It’s strange. Maybe because I used to edit for other writers, so I was reading things long before publication and it threw me off to try and remember “best of” for any given year because in my mind “novel X” came out a year before it actually did. Or because I’ve always tried to avoid anything that could be considered nepotism and/or idolatry in a list form. But I have enjoyed some things this year. Babadook was the “creepiest” movie I saw this year, but Insidious scared the bloody crap right out of me. No really, like, clinging to the person next to me and hiding behind them kind of scared. Please do not clap near me in the dark. There’s a good chance I’ll punch first and then run. I’ve enjoyed a lot of non-genre novels and nonfiction. But within genre, I really enjoyed Jonathan Janz’s The Sorrows… though I think I scared him when I finished it and messaged him “we gotta talk.”

Gef: What projects are you cooking up that folks can expect in the near future, and how can folks keep up with your shenanigans?

Kelli: 2015 will be a bit crazy. Which is good, since I feel like I’ve been seriously slacking as of late. I’ll have the final two parts of Wilted Lilies, a serial novella I’m doing for Lamplight quarterly magazine (the first two portions are available now in volume 3, issues 1 and 2). You will also see The Hatch, the sequel to Waiting Out Winter, hopefully by early spring. And then I have to decide which order I’m doing a couple novels in, based on outside contracts, but you can look forward to Floaters (my Lovecraftian homage), Tomorrow (apocalypse with a twist) as well as a teaser short for it called Faith No More, Gracie’s final installment (from Left For Dead and Fall From Grace), and an unnamed novel about a new kind of vampires I’m rather excited to play with. Yes, I said vampires.

As far as keeping up with my shenanigans, the website kelliowen.com is always a good place for updates, or my author page on Facebook (facebook.com/kelliowenauthor), especially for sales and specials. And now I’ve got a Patreon page (patreon.com/kelliowen) for those fans who really want to dig around my head and get exclusive behind the scenes goodies. And of course, I’m on twitter, but that’s me the person, not me the writer, and I cannot be held responsible for what craziness comes out of my fingers in 140 characters or less!


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