WOMAN IN WHITE
by Kristin Dearborn
As a fierce snowstorm descends upon the sleepy little town, a Good Samaritan stops to help a catatonic woman sitting in the middle of the icy road, and is never seen or heard from again. When the police find his car, it is splattered in more blood than the human body can hold.
While the storm rages on, the wave of disappearances continue, the victims sharing only one commonality: they are all male. Now it's up to three young women to figure out who or what is responsible: a forensic chemist, a waitress struggling with an abusive boyfriend, and a gamer coping with the loss of her lover.
Their search will lead them on a journey filled with unspeakable horrors that are all connected to a mysterious Woman in White.
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Gef: What was the impetus behind Woman in White?
Kristin: My friend Melissa Robitaille works for the Maine State Crime Lab, and she took me on a tour of the facilities a few years ago. I didn’t have a specific work in progress in mind, so as I took in all the equipment and heard about the work they do there, my mind was a blank slate. I thought a lot about the blood, and how everything in the lab has to be kept sterile. I kept chewing on the blood piece as we went through the whole lab.
I love “winter” horror novels, where the weather is as much an adversary as the villain. I decided I finally wanted to write my own, and during the snowy drive from visiting the Crime Lab back to Vermont, the two things congealed in my head and the story seeds were planted.
Gef: While this book has a small town backdrop with a bit of an isolated vibe, you still have three main characters squared off against whatever is responsible for all of the grizzly deaths. Was this a story that you had to plot out ahead of time to balance out the attention towards each character, or are you more of a "pantser" when writing?
Kristen: I’m a devoted “pantser” and tend to write my first drafts off the cuff. I knew I wanted multiple POVs, and knew I’d need to rotate chapters within my manuscript. I found it pretty easy to keep track of who was doing what as the three MCs came together. Each of them, Mary Beth, Lee, and Angela, had distinctive voices and personalities, and I really enjoyed spending time in each of their heads.
Gef: How much emphasis do you place on setting as character? Also, what is it about Maine that lends itself so well to horror stories?
Kristen: Setting is a key character in any book, and I think winter and snow make a wonderful horror setting. The film The Thing, Dan Simmons’ novel The Terror, Stephen King’s The Shining all make excellent use of setting as character, including snow and cold temperatures. I think all of New England lends itself to horror, something about how old it is (as far as America is concerned) the perceived stand-offishness towards outsiders, and the variation in the seasons contribute to the spookiness. I don’t know how many readers have lived through a New England Winter, but the days are short, the nights are long, and if you’re not an avid skier, it can be a daunting, depressing time. Maine in particular lends itself to horror because of how big it is—compared to Texas or Alaska it’s not much, but most of Maine is extremely remote and isolated. The phenomenon of not having cell service is a very real phenomenon in most of the state, and you can walk for days in the woods without seeing another human being.
Gef: How have you found your progression as a writer thus far?
Kristin: Well, 2015 was the first year I claimed my writing income on my taxes, so in that sense it’s coming along well! I credit all of my success to Seton Hill University’s Writing Popular Fiction MFA program, where I got to immerse myself for the first time in like-minded writers. The program focuses on both the art and the craft of genre fiction, and teaches the business side so we can actually sell the books we produce. I’ve looked at writing as a job and not just a hobby, and have worked very hard to make it a priority in my life.
Gef: Who do you count among your writing influences?
Kristin: My three biggest influences are Dean Koontz, Michael Crichton, and Stephen King. Koontz writes excellent monsters and villains—the Outsider from Watchers, the Pollard family from The Bad Place, and the monsters in Darkfall come to mind. Crichton, particularly early sci-fi Crichton, comes up with some of the most amazing plots and scenarios I’ve ever read. Favorites include Sphere, Andromeda Strain, and of course my beloved Jurassic Park. I feel these and many of his early works could be claimed by the horror genre as opposed to sci-fi. Stephen King writes the best characters in literature, vivid real people you can imagine knowing. The Body, the underappreciated Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon and Christine make some of my favorites, but as I’m thinking about the characters, almost every one of his books has personalities that seem ready to stride off the page into fully realized lives.
Gef: How do you feel about the state of the horror genre these days? And what do you consider to be the saving grace of the horror genre?
Kristin: This is a tough question and one that’s often chewed over at horror conventions. I think the genre is going strong, though I feel the real gems are being carried on the backs of zombies and vampires. Urban fantasy (which seems to be waning at the moment—don’t worry, it’ll be back) seems to have paved the way for mainstream shows like Walking Dead and The Strain. I was recently at a BAM! and noticed they did have a horror section, which was exciting, but it was all zombies and Stephen King. I feel like we have a ways to go before a lot of the real meat of the horror genre is mainstream, and maybe we don’t ever want it to be.
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?
Kristin: Ugh. “Write what you know.” I consider myself a well-balanced human being, have never seen a ghost or monster, and certainly have never murdered anyone, summoned a demon, or been abducted by aliens. If I wrote what I knew, you all would be reading about energy efficiency, motorcycle riding, and me going out for Vermonty craft beers with pals. That’s all well and good, but I want to explore darkness through my words, and since I’ve had a pretty blessed life where not much bad has happened to me, that would be impossible if I stuck specifically to what I know. Thank goodness I have the internet to do my research.
Gef: What kind of guilty pleasures do you have when it comes to books or movies or whatnot?
Kristin: You know, the whole “guilty pleasure” thing is so subjective…I feel like most of what I write and read and watch falls into that category, but I take no guilt. When it comes to movies, I love creature features: Piranha, Tremors, Night of the Lepus…all great and fun. As for books, I love a lot of the lurid paperbacks from the 80’s with awesome 3-D or hologram covers. Paper thin plots and characters, dripping with gore that you can feast on in one sitting.
Gef: What projects are you cooking up that folks can expect in the near future, and how can folks keep up with your shenanigans?
Kristin: I’ve got a few projects I’m wrapping up right now, my novel Stolen Away will be released in paperback and ebook with Raw Dog Screaming Press this summer, and my novella Whispers will be out in the fall from Lovecraft eZine. This story is a modern retelling of H.P. Lovecraft’s Vermont story, Whisperer in Darkness. I’ve got a few novels I’m tweaking and wrapping up. One is about the English in Egypt in the late 1800s and the Egpytian gods Bast and Apep. The other is about Skunk Apes and a teenage prostitute in the swamps of Florida. Just think of how dull those would be if I wrote what I knew…
You can keep up to speed on most of my writerly adventures at www.kristindearborn.com.