AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Tim Pratt, Author of “Hunters in the Woods”

What were your thoughts when you first encountered the concept behind this anthology?

That it was a wonderfully wide and versatile theme that could be used to tell any kind of story full of surprise, horror, wonder, or all of the above, and that it would be a book of delightful breadth.

With the theme in question, you could have taken your story in any number of different directions.  How did you come up with your particular idea?

I’ve always had a fondness for mashing together different genre tropes and seeing how they interact. I’d been reading and watching a lot of “horrible dystopia” stuff (Hunger Games, Battle Royale, etc), and thinking about the gamification of human suffering. People in those stories often rebel and try to overthrow the current regime to bring about a new world, and Lovecraftian cultists are trying to bring about a new world *too*, so it seemed natural (or at least interesting) to marry those ideas. I speculated over whether it would be better to be ruled by cruel oligarchs who are amused by your suffering, or ruled by inhuman cosmic entities that are merely indifferent to your suffering. (Spoiler: they are both *terrible*.)

What challenges if any did it pose having to incorporate a particular phrase into the flow of your story and making it seem perfectly natural?   

None at all! Anyone who sees the stuff my hunters in the wood see would utter similar, um, utterances.

What kind of research did you have to do for your story?

A lifetime of reading Lovecraft and dystopian deadly games fiction, the latter going back to Stephen King’s The Running Man and The Long Walk? I did research a bit to refresh my memory about Blemmyes (mythical headless people).

What else are you working on right now?  Anything coming out that you’d like to talk about?

I am always writing stories! I have a Patreon where I publish a new story every month for my supporters. Give at least a dollar a month, get a new Tim Pratt story every month. You can read about it at www.patreon.com/timpratt.

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Terence Taylor, Author of “The Catch”

What were your thoughts when you first encountered the concept behind this anthology?

When I was invited to submit I inevitably and immediately thought, “What the fuck does that mean?” and then immediately realized it meant enormous creative freedom in what I could write. I was in.

With the theme in question, you could have taken your story in any number of different directions.  How did you come up with your particular idea?

I try not to analyze how my mind works, because if I ever figured it out they could find a cure for it, but for whatever reason, the first image that popped into my head was someone cutting open a living human body and finding something unexpected inside, with the inevitable “What the fuck is that…” to follow.  Figuring out what would lead up to that moment and away from it is what drives me. Most of what I write starts with an odd image or moment in time that I have to explore enough in words to explain what it is I saw in my head. So to make sure I was on the right track I pitched the one line description — “Serial killer saves the world” — and when I was told no one else was doing that, I plunged right in! And I loved the result. I love when an editor suggests a theme that spawns a story you might never have stumbled across otherwise, and this was that.

What challenges if any did it pose having to incorporate a particular phrase into the flow of your story and making it seem perfectly natural?  

Once I had the idea, it fit perfectly, no problem. What I liked was that it didn’t feel stuck in; the phrase flowed naturally from events in the story. There was literally nothing else he would have said at that moment of discovery, and so the story didn’t feel like a gimmick to me. It stood on its own regardless of the theme.

What kind of research did you have to do for your story?

Hm, a serial killer story — not what you’d expect. There are no researched bodies in the Gowanus Canal nearby… Oddly, most of it was interrogating author Rick Bowes on his years at the research desk at the NYU Bobst Library, which utterly mystified him until I brought the story into the writing group for a critique. So, in an odd way, the story details what Rick’s life as a serial killer would have been like. I assume he isn’t really one, or he would have killed me as soon as he found out I was about to out him.

What else are you working on right now?  Anything coming out that you’d like to talk about?

I have three stories in print this year, including this story, and am hard at work on the third novel in the Vampire Testaments Trilogy that began with Bite Marks and Blood PressurePast Life is set twenty years in the future, so it offered additional challenges — vampires in space! Well, no — most of the changes are societal, but I do want to throw in a privatized space shuttle flight near the end …we’ll see. It’s been interesting going back to it after letting it sit and simmer for so long, but time has brought new perspectives, and the goal is to make it the kick ass close to the series it can be.

And I am video-editing the Invisible Universe documentary on the history of black speculative fiction over the years, in three historic periods, which has been an amazing journey so far. I’m looking forward to helping M. Asli Dukan raise enough funds for us to finish what is an epic three-hour long adventure! We have about 45 minutes cut already, and going into the footage she’s been shooting for the last eight years with everyone from Octavia Butler to Sam Delany — well, it’s an amazing experience and education.

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Simon R. Green, Author of “The Sound of Her Laughter”

What were your thoughts when you first encountered the concept behind this anthology?

What the…? Cool idea, lots of space for messing around. And a nice change from some of the more exacting requirements, like stories about Cowboy Werewolves getting married on the Titanic.

With the theme in question, you could have taken your story in any number of different directions.  How did you come up with your particular idea?

The concept made me think of the old Weird Tales magazine, so I decided I wanted to do something in that vein; mad science, strange occurrences, the world isn’t what you think it is.

What challenges if any did it pose having to incorporate a particular phrase into the flow of your story and making it seem perfectly natural?

Once I decided to go with something heard, rather than seen, a message heard from a speaker at a railway station seemed obvious, and everything just followed from that.

What kind of research did you have to do for your story?

Staring at a blank page until my forehead sweated blood. You can’t really research the kind of weird shit I come up with.

What else are you working on right now?  Anything coming out that you’d like to talk about?

My first film is now out on DVD: Judas Ghost, a good old-fashioned scary ghost story. The next book in my Secret Histories series will be out this summer: Dr DOA, to be followed by Moonbreaker. And I have a new series being published only in the UK at the moment; Agatha Christie-style murder mysteries with SF&F elements. The first is The Dark Side Of The Road.

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Seanan McGuire, Author of “#CONNOLLYHOUSE #WESHOULDNTBEHERE”

What were your thoughts when you first encountered the concept behind this anthology?

Does this mean I am allowed to say swears?  I think it means I am allowed to say swears.  I am going to say all the swears.

With the theme in question, you could have taken your story in any number of different directions.  How did you come up with your particular idea?

I really wanted to do something using the Twitter format as a structural conceit.  From there, the story fell into place very quickly.

What challenges if any did it pose having to incorporate a particular phrase into the flow of your story and making it seem perfectly natural? 

None!  Mostly because I built the whole story around getting to that point.  It was a fun challenge.  Like Sudoku with swears.

What kind of research did you have to do for your story?

I ran every piece of the story through Twitter to make sure it didn’t go over the character limit.

What else are you working on right now?  Anything coming out that you’d like to talk about?

Oh, gosh, I am always working on so many things.  It can get a little daunting sometimes.  Right now, I’m finishing up the eleventh October Daye book—number ten, Once Broken Faith, comes out in September—and getting ready to work on another Eleanor West’s School for Wayward Children novella.

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Scott Sigler, Author of “Those Gaddam Cookies”

What were your thoughts when you first encountered the concept behind this anthology?

So much of what I write is WTF to begin with, so I thought this would be like shooting fish in a barrel. It was very nice that you guys created an anthology just to showcase all the things that are wrong with my mind.  Thanks, guys!

With the theme in question, you could have taken your story in any number of different directions.  How did you come up with your particular idea?
I wanted to create something that combined positive feelings, a sensory trigger that is common for so many people, and warp that into something so awful that it might forever taint that memory. If someday a reader of this story smells cookies, and then has that brief flash of what I wrote, that would be a truly WTF moment and I will have won the bonus round, where the prizes really add up.

What challenges if any did it pose having to incorporate a particular phrase into the flow of your story and making it seem perfectly natural?

Honestly, that wasn’t a challenge at all. It’s such a common phrase in our modern lexicon that it’s applied to everything from the daily mundane to the truly brain-shattering.

What kind of research did you have to do for your story?

I ate a shit-ton of cookies and declared them “calorie free” because research.

What else are you working on right now?  Anything coming out that you’d like to talk about?
I’m working on Alone, Book III of the Generations Trilogy. It’s the final book after Alive and Alright. And, yeah, the Generations Trilogy is some serious grade-A WTFedness. Some of the reveals and plot twists in this series really smack people about the face and shoulders. If you want a book that takes the standard tropes of sf/fantasy and rips them to delicious shreds, pick up Alive.

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Rachel Swirsky, Co-Author of “Whose Drowned Face Sleeps”

What were your thoughts when you first encountered the concept behind this anthology?

I wasn’t familiar with the meme [that inspired the anthology] when I got the prompt. So, my first thought was something along the lines of “What the #@&% does that mean?” Later, I tried to wrack my brains for something interesting to write about, and I actually came up with a cool concept—a woman entering the city landscape of her brain, which is dominated by a sinister tower. I wrote several pages of this story. Then I rewrote them. Then I failed to write more.

With the theme in question, you could have taken your story in any number of different directions.  How did you come up with your particular idea?

Since I failed to actually make my idea work, I relied on my friend and housemate, An Owomoyela. An and I had each received invitations to the anthology and were each having trouble battering our stories into shape. An had finished theirs while I still didn’t have a full draft, so An tossed their work my way so we could collaborate.

What challenges if any did it pose having to incorporate a particular phrase into the flow of your story and making it seem perfectly natural?

Luckily, An had already put the line in the story.  The placement was fine. Finding the right vocabulary for the character was harder; I think you (Doug and John) helped with that in editing.

What kind of research did you have to do for your story?

Not much! I think I looked up some stuff about tattoo guns.

What else are you working on right now?  Anything coming out that you’d like to talk about?

I am very pleased to have actual stories coming out this year! Two have been published already:

“Love Is Never Still” in Uncanny Magazine

“Between Dragons and Their Wrath” in Clarkesworld, also with An Owomoyela

I have a third coming out in Jonathan Strahan’s Drowned Worlds anthology. I have great hopes for hopefully getting more out, too!

I’m also blogging regularly about my fiction, recommended reading, and writing advice on rachelswirsky.com.

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Maria Dahvana Headley, Author of “Little Widow”

What were your thoughts when you first encountered the concept behind this anthology?

It sounded like lots of fun, and also like lots of giddiness. Normally, given this concept, I might have written a comedic story, but I already had a notion about cults and Tyrannosaurus Hens – I’d read an article about feathered dinosaurs, what can I say? – and so I just kept going forth with Little Widow, which, it turns out, is a very dark and also somewhat funny story.  Maybe not quite as scary as some in the anthology. The phrase “what the fuck is that?!” is so gonzo in tone to me that I couldn’t manage to make it serious. Hence the wry teenage narrative voice.

With the theme in question, you could have taken your story in any number of different directions.  How did you come up with your particular idea?

My idea spooled out from the line – now the first line in the story – “I was fourteen and at a sleepover when the cult drank poison,” which came to me suddenly one afternoon as I was doing laundry. Somehow I started getting interested in the idea that a cult might actually get the things their earthly batshit leader was promising them would be theirs in heaven. There’ve been so many cults run by solo dude wackjobs, you’d think the heavenly reward for the women and children might be some vengeance.  Add a little bit of dinosaur and a little bit of geekshow – actually that was the other element, the classic geek move of biting the head off a chicken. Feathered dinosaurs would be another kind of geek show, with just a little tilting of the world. In truth, the way my brain comes up with ideas is sometimes mysterious even to me. It grabs weird things from everywhere – science, religion, western carnivals – and then makes them into story soup. I feel like I’m just in charge of doing the grocery shopping to feed the story-making part of my brain.

What challenges if any did it pose having to incorporate a particular phrase into the flow of your story and making it seem perfectly natural?  

None, in this case. There was a carnival geekshow, and there was a very questionable thing happening at it. I feel this phrase was exactly what one would say if one saw a dinosaur’s skinny neck held between a pretty girl’s teeth.

What kind of research did you have to do for your story?

I did a little research into suicide cults, which was bleak, and a little research into feathered dinosaurs, which was fascinating. I love research. It did make me want to write a few things more about female cult leaders. There are hardly any of those. Most cults, in the end, turn out to be one weirdly charismatic guy wanting a lot of wives, and at some point freaking out like a toddler and killing everyone in a sort of Daddy Knows Best, Drink The Poison fashion. This doesn’t tend to be a female version of reality – the female cult leaders are almost always celibate healers or huggers, and I don’t think there are any that have ended in mass suicide. Ah, the poisons of patriarchal culture. They make me say WTF all the time.  If there’s a real WTF is that in this story, there you have it. W. T. F.

What else are you working on right now?  Anything coming out that you’d like to talk about?

Lots of things! The Mere Wife is coming from FSG in 2017 – it’s a Beowulf adaptation set in the present day suburbs. Aerie comes out in October from HarperCollins. That’s the sequel to Magonia. I have a story coming out in the Ellen Datlow edited Children of Lovecraft anthology which is a wacked out combination of House of Bernarda Alba and Lovecraft, so…it’s Spain, unwed daughters, monstrous mother, and you know, a hungry and tentacular monster. And I just wrote most of a new adult novel while I was off writing on a remote volcano. That one’s newborn, but I’m very excited about it! It’s been a prolific couple of years!

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Jonathan Maberry, Author of “We All Make Sacrifices”

What were your thoughts when you first encountered the concept behind this anthology?

My first thought was, what the #@&%? No, seriously. The title alone sounded crazy. But I like crazy, so I was pretty much in at that point. As for the deeper theme, it was fun because it didn’t make me keep to a tight little genre box. That’s always a major plus for writers, and definitely for me because I’ve built a career out of shifting, blending and jumping genres. So, this was really seasoned to my tastes.

With the theme in question, you could have taken your story in any number of different directions.  How did you come up with your particular idea?

Because the framework seemed a little wacky (in a good way) it immediately felt like a ‘Sam Hunter’ story. Sam is a private eye with a fearsome secret who slouches his way through several of my recent short stories. The Sam Hunter stories are blend of noir mystery, snarky humor and supernatural horror. I had wanted to do a story set on the fringes of the organized crime world, but which focused on the children of criminals. One of my working titles was ‘Offspring’, but as the story evolved in the telling I changed it to the much more appropriate ‘We All Make Sacrifices’. Like all of the Sam Hunter stories there is a bit of moral outrage here, and some very nasty comeuppance.

What challenges if any did it pose having to incorporate a particular phrase into the flow of your story and making it seem perfectly natural?  

I’m pretty sure Sam Hunter says something like that in a lot of his stories. I put him in those kinds of situations. If he was a real person he’d want to beat the crap out of me, I have no doubt. So, there wasn’t any kind of difficulty in putting that phrase in Sam’s mouth.

What kind of research did you have to do for your story?

I’m always doing some poking around in the minds and practices of criminals, but I’m particularly fascinated by their day-to-day lives, and the lives of the people in their families. I did some reading but mostly drew on conversations I’ve had with people on both sides of the law. It fascinated me how willing cops and crooks are to talk about their lives –especially to writers. Maybe they think that because we do fiction we don’t take their stuff seriously. Yeah. We do.

What else are you working on right now?  Anything you have coming out that you’d like to talk about?

This is the busiest phase of my career. I have a slew of books just out and coming out, including Kill Switch (the 8th Joe Ledger novel), “Dark of Night” (a novella featuring Joe Ledger and Dez Fox), Vault of Shadows (the 2nd book in my middle grade science fiction/horror mash-up series, The Nightsiders), Mars One (a YA novel about the first colonists going to Mars); and a slew of anthologies I’ve edited, including The X-Files: The Truth is Out There, V-Wars Vol. IV: Shockwaves, Out of Tune Vol. II, Scary Out There, and Alternate Sherlocks. Plus, I’m out in support of my first board game, V-Wars: A Game of Blood and Betrayal. At the same time I’m writing several novels this year including the 9th Joe Ledger novel (Dogs of War), a novel about teenage Dana Scully (X-Files Origins: Devil’s Advocate), a standalone horror novel for adults (Glimpse), and a YA novel about a teen bodyguard (Watch Over Me).

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: John Langan, Author of “What is Lost, What is Given Away”

What were your thoughts when you first encountered the concept behind this anthology?

I’m pretty sure the first time I ran across this idea [for the original meme] was when I saw the mock-up cover design that was circulating on Facebook.  As I recall, I laughed out loud.

With the theme in question, you could have taken your story in any number of different directions.  How did you come up with your particular idea?

I thought about what my typical response to this kind of writing prompt would be, i.e. to write a story in which some element—most likely, a Lovecraftian monster–would cause a character to utter the titular phrase.  I decided I should do something different.  A couple of ideas had been bouncing around my head.  One concerned my ten and twenty year high school reunions, the first of which had been a less positive affair than I had anticipated, the second of which I had skipped.  The second idea concerned a guy I had read about, a teacher who had fathered a child with a student, and who had seen his life disintegrate as he followed that bad decision with several more.  I realized I could bring these ideas together, especially once I remembered the Saturday Night Live skit in which the guys stood around pointing at a spot on the ceiling and asking, “What the hell is that?” in a variety of intonations—and which my high school friends and I had re-enacted in our school.

What challenges if any did it pose having to incorporate a particular phrase into the flow of your story and making it seem perfectly natural?  

Actually, once I remembered our long-ago re-staging of that late-night sketch, it wasn’t much of a problem, at all, since it was a natural part of the events I was drawing on.  The big challenge for this story came with the ending, which came a bit too soon and which the editors very wisely asked me to expand on.  I did, and the end result was a substantially better piece.

What kind of research did you have to do for your story?

I checked a couple of geographic details, but that was pretty much it.

What else are you working on right now?  Anything coming out that you’d like to talk about?

Currently, I’m typing up a story for an anthology of stories inspired by the film, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, and I’m writing a story for an anthology of stories about dreams.  My second novel, The Fisherman, will be out from Word Horde during the summer of 2016, and my next collection of stories, Sefira and Other Betrayals, will be out from Hippocampus during the fall of 2016.

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Isabel Yap, Author of “Only Unclench Your Hand”

What were your thoughts when you first encountered the concept behind this anthology?

That’s interesting! I mean – I truly thought it was a very unique concept, and I liked that it left the specific horror elements entirely up to the author. As long as it could realistically evoke that kind of statement within the text, everything was fair game. That made it both challenging and fun.

With the theme in question, you could have taken your story in any number of different directions.  How did you come up with your particular idea?

I definitely wanted to write something set in the Philippines, because we have such a rich culture of horror stories and mythical creatures. A lot of our monsters fit the WTF-is-that category, but I wasn’t really sure which one to tackle; I just knew I didn’t want to write something I had seen before.

I decided that rather than focusing on which horror element to use, I could start by deciding what themes I wanted to grapple with. When I realized that Macky was going to be a law student, the rest of the story became a lot easier. I wanted to discuss the tensions between city life and the province; justice, and the different forms it can take; helplessness and agency. It was important to me that what constituted horrific was complicated by the storyline. The ending scene then fell into my head – that creepy-crawly moment – and I tried to work backwards from there.

What challenges if any did it pose having to incorporate a particular phrase into the flow of your story and making it seem perfectly natural?

I knew it had to be spoken. Setting it up so that the main character could believably say that was the challenge for me. Macky isn’t really the type to scream or shout in a panic, so I needed to have her say it in a different scenario – maybe in shock, or anger. I wanted it to be a distinctive moment, but I also didn’t want the scene to be too conspicuous. Hopefully it turned out okay!

What kind of research did you have to do for your story?

Researching for this story was really fun. I started off with the internet, reading about faith healings, mambabarangs and how they differ from the typical Philippine witches and summoners. I read some great accounts of people traveling to Siquijor (known for its spiritual healings and other mystical occurrences), and also some message boards where people personally encountered mambabarangs.

Then, since I was staying in Manila while I wrote this story, I asked my manongs and yayas what their thoughts were on mambabarangs. One of them replied when I asked – “Bakit, sinong nabaram?” In English: “Why? Who was cursed?” They were amused that I was asking, but also dead serious. These stories were true and ordinary to them. It’s a lot more powerful to hear it direct from people; it reminded me that these tales are real to us Filipinos. I learned about the village mambabarangs: how to tell them apart from normal people, how they torture their victims, and how to survive a curse from one (hint: find an even stronger one to help you out!).

What else are you working on right now?  Anything coming out that you’d like to talk about?

I’m working on a high-tech space opera involving former military academy graduates turned mercenaries-for-hire, and an epic fantasy about a runaway princess and an exiled sorceress on a quest to find a magical healing bird. Also something I’ll just call “Steampunk Noli me Tangere.” I’ve been struggling with the length of all these pieces, but hopefully they’ll warp into sensible forms soon!

My short story series about magical girls living in New York, entitled “Hurricane Heels,” will be released by Book Smugglers Publishing. It’s got Jell-o shots, blob monsters, cool weapons, and everlasting friendship, in case any of those are your jam. I also have a story in Cyber World: Tales of Humanity’s Tomorrow, a cyberpunk anthology by Hex Publishers that will be out in November.

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