November 30, 2015

Killer Serial: an interview with Kelli Owen, author of "Wilted Lilies"

It's not that Lily May Holloway is a broken, battered teenager recently escaped from her kidnapper. 

It's not that she may or may not have killed him to escape. 

The question on Detective Travis Butler's mind is — what exactly does the death of little Tommy Jenkins have to do with her kidnapper? 

And why does the man behind the one-way glass want the detective to entertain Lily's tales of speaking to the dead... and being able to hear the thoughts of the living? 

AVAILABLE AT AMAZON.COM



Gef: So Wilted Lilies was first presented as a four-part serial in Lamplight. Was it originally crafted as a serial?

Kelli: In a word: Nope.

The longer version: I knew the story (had the outline) and had just started writing it, when I decided to read the opening at the local bookstore. Jacob Haddon from Lamplight Magazine was in the audience—he and I had been discussing me being his next serial novelist. After the reading he simple grinned at me and said, “yes, that one.”

Each section was to be between four and five thousand words per issue, so I just needed to cut the action somewhere in that area as a teaser for the next installment. It didn’t change the storyline at all really, though it may have changed the pacing of individual scenes just a touch.

Gef: If there's a supernatural entity that trumps vampires and zombies in horror fiction, it'd have to be ghosts, I figure. Would you agree? What's the allure for you to ghost stories?

Kelli: I would absolutely agree that ghosts trump vamps and walkers. Because vampires and zombies are monsters, born of something else. But ghosts? They’re scarier than monsters, because ghosts were once human. If you listen to my podcast about ghosts (Buttercup of Doom ep 10) you know I also think demons and devils and such were once human as well. The fact they used to be human adds a touch of terror to the idea of a haunting or possession. This isn’t some spell or a monster dredged up from the pits of whatever. This was a person. Born, raised and died.

The other sketchy thing with ghosts is that they’re unknown, and there are no rules with the unknown. There is no lore or superstitions that carries across beliefs. Oh sure, some believe this or that to be rid of them, but it’s not universal. Ask someone how to kill a zombie: shoot them in the head. A vampire? Stake in the heart. A ghost? Well… if you believe in god, you can call a priest. If you’re Wiccan you do this. If you’re agnostic you do that. If you’re atheist you don’t believe in them in the first place (usually). No set rules for destroying, vanquishing, etc. Which means there’s no set way to fight them. And all that leads me to my favorite saying for the unknown and ghosts: how can you hope to fight that which you do not understand?

Gef: What kind of considerations if any did you have to give the story's pacing in serial format, as opposed to it now being released in its entirely?

Kelli: I’ve only experienced this once, with WILTED LILIES. The pacing wasn’t really changed so much as it was more carefully controlled by word count location. For instance, I knew Tommy was going to show up in the beginning of the tale because he’s important to the whole story, but to serialize it properly and leave that gulp in the reader’s throat, I needed to make sure his appearance landed after that first break.

I don’t use a true outline. I use a notepad file with thoughts, scenes, dialogue bits, etc. put into the order they’ll appear. Usually I follow that. For this one, those were broken into four larger areas, and I planned the breaks based on what was there. Then I gave each area a header, so I would know what story notes were in each section. I thought about putting them in here for you, but there’s no way to do it without spoiling storyline. In the end, the only thing that really changed was pacing near a break.

Gef: You've got quite a few novella notches on your gun belt now. While you don't concern yourself with story length as you're writing, once you have a novella in your hands, how have you found the internet age lending itself to selling and publishing that length of fiction?

Kelli: I don’t know if it’s the internet age or not, but I’m glad they’re popular. In truth, most of mine were planned to be novellas, by request of the publisher—the four to Paul at Thunderstorm Books for the Waking The Dead collection (Grave Wax, Survivor’s Guilt, Buried Memories, and Crossroads), Wilted Lilies to fit the format of Lamplight, Deceiver was requested for the novella line of Dark Fuse, and The Hatch was expected to be a novella (as a sequel to a novella: Waiting Out Winter) but went longer than the rest to tell the story naturally. The only two to naturally land as novellas on their own were the first two: Waiting Out Winter and The Neighborhood.

The audience is obviously out there as the length was repeatedly requested, but I also personally enjoy the length. It’s a good way to tell a simple story concisely, without purple prose or forcing it to stretch to novel length. Most of the time an author can tell from the idea what length they “think” it will be based on the complexity or scope. When they get to the outline (if they use any type of method at all) they have a more solid idea as things start to twist and turn and unravel. At that point, some will decide to chop some and make it a short story, or add to it and bring it up to full novel. Once I get to outline, I just write. The characters tell me how long it will be. And the audience seems to be okay with me doing that, so I’ll stick to that.

Gef: In the acknowledgements preceding the actual story, you mention you're not done with Lily May. Was she a character you saw yourself returning to from the get-go, or did she kind of impose herself on your imagination as you went along?

Kelli: She’s a noisy one. I can actually her voice, little dirty twang and all. And I could from the first sentence. But worse than that, I started to hear the other characters she meets after the end of Wilted Lilies. One in particular, Caroline, is especially chatty.

Over the years I’ve heard requests for continued stories or the return of specific characters—Ryan from Survivor’s Guilt, Mark from White Picket Prisons, The Neighborhood, and Six Days are the most often mentioned. In truth, there are tidbits for some stories or characters among those requests, but I don’t know which will ever truly solidify enough to happen. Six Days probably has the best chance for a sequel. But outside those, Lily May jumps up and down in a place all her own.

Lily May had a sequel brewing before she was halfway done telling us Wilted Lilies. And if I’m to be truly honest, there’s more than just a chance she could turn into a serial character… it all hinges on what goes down in McMillan Hall.

Gef: I've seen you tinkering with Periscope. How has that experience been so far interacting with readers and others?

Kelli: Outside of the fans with names I can see who interact directly with me, it’s creepy. Really. There’s no way around that fact. A little bit on the “skin-crawling, need a shower in bleach, new blackout shades, and maybe move to a new town and get a different name” side of creepy. It’s inviting stalkers to not only talk with you, but to look directly at you, or your eyes, hair, neck, whatever it is that gets them going, screenshotting their little creepy hearts out—and if you’re not careful, see your house, or surroundings, wherever you are at the time. Ack… creepy.

Don’t get me wrong, I think the program is interesting and could be used for good. I watched a sunset in Rome, saw a man play piano in Australia (his own music), and giggled at the yelling at a fish market in Japan. But I also ran away from other things, which felt mildly voyeuristic if not downright stalkery. I don’t need to stare at strangers doing private personal everyday things, like eating, or watching television.

I could see using it for a Q&A or live reading again sometime, maybe. But considering a couple things that happened on the tail of me using it, I won’t ever do a public session again. I’ll invite everyone who’s following me and they can use the app where they have a name and face and aren’t an invisible stalker. Because *shudder* eww. Just eww. The idea of people clicking a link to log into the web and just watch anonymously, with no name, and without even having the ability to interact, is beyond creepy. I think it’s a huge flaw in their program, and it’s one of the reasons I won’t do publicly open sessions again. (Read as: if any of your readers ever want to periscope with me, they’ll have to follow me so I I can invite them)

Gef: You also have your new podcast up and running. With fourteen episodes of Buttercup of Doom in the can, do you feel you've found your footing and a feel for what you want the podcast to be about?

Kelli: I would love to say “yes” or “god, I hope so” but I think those would both be lies. I never truly find my footing in anything—life, writing or otherwise. I’m in a constant state of movement and growth. I don’t expect the podcast to be any different. Also, I’m my own worst critic, so I’m constantly striving to be better than myself. I like to think they get better as you go, but I don’t want to think that will stop and they’ll just plateau. That sounds so boring!

I’m having fun with it. I’m still humbled anyone listens, but am delighted people are enjoying it.

Gef: Now, last time we talked on the blog, you had mentioned the projects coming to pass this year, including Wilted Lilies as well as your Waiting Out Winter sequel, The Hatch. But you also mentioned you were working on a novel or two. How is the progress on your Lovecraftian homage, Floaters, coming along?

Kelli: Floaters is coming along. It will be done and handed in by Christmas, and out sometimes early next year. I really like this one, and I think the fans will, too. My patreons will get a sneak peek of it before it goes to print, so if any of your readers are interested there’s that tidbit.

Did I say Lovecraftian? I may have. Usually I say “love letter to Frankenstein but most people will think it’s a Lovecraftian thing.” Time will tell what people try to compare it to or call it as they analyze my thought process while writing it.

It’s monster horror, like Live Specimens. Maybe not as red-shirt and gory, but definitely more of a monster horror than quiet thriller. Much more.

And after that, another monster… though I’m not sure in which order. It’s either time for coming of age, the end of the world, voodoo, or those damn vampires. And then Lily can tell me all about Caroline.


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