I met Paula through a writerly friend on Facebook. One story of hers and I’m hooked. She graciously agreed to an interview. As a horror fan, I’m delighted to share her work.
Describe your writing process: schedule, medium, environment, strategies / techniques, and inspirations mental, emotional, and material.
So, I used to be one of those writers who thought she had the luxury of waiting until she was in a certain setting, in a certain mood, with the certainty of uninterrupted hours available, before she could write anything. Then that writer never wrote anything, so now I write whenever I can, provided I’m mentally able to do so. My most recent short story publication was “Exile in Extremis” in the anthology Visions from the Void by Burdizzo Books. I wrote the bulk of the first draft of that story on my phone.
I wish I could tell you I have a schedule, I really do. I will someday.
It’s sweet that you think I have strategies and techniques. I mean, I’m sure I have them, I just am not self-reflective enough as a writer to know what they are.
Inspirations are abundant. I never run out of story ideas, I run out of the energy to tell them. I tend to write about the worst of humanity so, never a paucity of material, you know? Emotionally, I’m inspired by real-life stories that make me hurt. And like any sensitive/damaged person, I experience a pleasurable frisson from exploring that pain. So…a story like “All the Hellish Cruelties of Heaven,” which is about an immortal witch who falls in love with a serial killer (the story is much cooler than I’m making it sound), gave me the chance to play around with figuring out why people—or at least I—have such a fascination with humans who wantonly destroy other humans. It also gave me the opportunity to incrementally articulate the belief system / mythology that has been pocketed in most of my fiction without much fanfare.
Talk me through the publishing process from final draft to final product and selling—who’s involved, what they do, and how much you contribute, especially to marketing.
So the process is basically like this (a flowchart would work exceptionally well here):
– An editor invites me to sub something.
– I review the guidelines, especially the deadline, because I am the slowest writer on planet Earth.
– I scan my ‘stories in progress’ folder, to see if there’s anything I’m working in that fits the anthology’s theme. Rarely do things match up.
– I cogitate.
– I write. I’m sure this is supposed to be more exciting, but it’s just not. But it’s also the most exciting part.
– I inevitably miss the deadline because I’m me.
– I ask for an extension and am usually granted one (read: several).
– I submit the final draft, knowing it’s the final draft only because I’ve prodded that exposed nerve of a tale until it’s a bloodied pulp. All that’s left is the thrill of knowing the story will (likely) go on to intrigue and/or hurt other people. I honestly have no idea why I’m like this and I don’t want to know.
– Rarely, edits are requested. When they are, I generally comply. It’s the only benefit of being the slowest writer on Earth; I tend to do a thorough job of proofreading.
– Publication day! I post about it on social media, predominately Facebook. I’m really terrible at marketing.
– I let the editors ask for reviews because I feel weird asking people to review my work. If they want to read it and review it, they will. This is also why no one knows who I am..????♀️
Who’s your support system, online and IRL? Does it shift as you progress from writing to publishing to marketing?
First of all, my wife is amazingly supportive throughout the process. I’m in several FB writing groups that offer support—Colors in Darkness and Ladies of Horror, and individually: Chris Ropes, Brian Barr, Crystal Connor, Suzi Madron, Eden Royce, and Christine Sutton, to name a dear few (I’m forgetting so many people and I’m sorry).
How does your writing influence your life and vice versa? Did this change when you became a mother?
So, I am a maudlin MF (I don’t know if I can curse in this interview…). I have…a multitude of mental illnesses—have had them since adolescence. My worldview is reflective of that. I write terrible stories about terrible people doing terrible things because…that’s how I have (by degrees) experienced the world. Now it’s not all been horrible, but the stuff that lingers…skews towards the dark. So, I love horror. I write horror, I read horror, I watch horror movies, I listen to true horror and true crime podcasts, I listen to dark and violent music (I listen to all sorts of music but there’s a theme here, yeah?).
I am a writer of the ‘nothing is off limits, provided there’s a reason’ variety. I’ve written about childhood sexual abuse, incest, necrophilia (all in one story!), serial killers, hate crimes, infanticide, mutilation, matricide, racism, patricide, ableism, religious cults, genocide, misogyny, xenophobia, etc. However, since my son was born, if I have a story where something…bad…happens to an infant or small child, my brain immediately substitutes him as that infant or small child. So, I have a sequel to “All the Hellish Cruelties of Heaven” in the works titled, “All the Heavenly Mercies of Hell” and something…bad…happens to an infant in that story, and although I’ve had most of the full story in my head for years, I just can’t bring myself to write it.
But I’ll have to.
What do you love most about your creativity?
I rarely meet an idea I don’t like. I mean, there are plenty of half-started stories that I’ve abandoned for one reason or another, but there’s always some part of it I can appreciate. For that reason I save everything I write, because it often will work its way into another, more promising tale.
Author Extra: Write a flash fiction piece right now! 50 words, ma’am!
Someday she’ll remember. Now there’s only waiting. For what, she also can’t remember. This dim, cold, aching place has no secrets. Others like her—more patient, smarter—hidden in apartments with devoted lovers. She dosed there in the hall. Alone. Paralyzing pain.
I met Steven Carr in the Facebook writing group Fiction Writing. He has astonished us all with his work, sharing each new story he has gotten published, recently surpassing 100 short stories in various publications. His complete list (so far!) is at the end of the interview. Steve is full of surprises and delights in life. He is friendly, intelligent, and more interesting the longer you talk with him, as whatever he shares urges more questions. I’m honored to share him with my readers. Find him online at Facebook and Twitter.
Tell me about your writing style.
“I type my initial draft, which is my only draft. I haven’t written anything longhand since I learned how to type while I was in high school, which was over forty years ago. I usually write a story in 2-3 days. I was trained when I was a journalist to write fast and edit while I write. I write only one draft, make sure it is as error free as possible, and submit it right away. Motivation is almost entirely internal. Where it comes from, I don’t have a clue. Writing for me is like an itch that I have to constantly scratch.
I don’t really have a schedule, but I tend to write early in the day and late in the evening. Sometimes I’m so excited about a story I’m working on, I work on it all day and forget to stop to eat. I just sit down at the computer, procrastinate a little while I see what’s happening on Facebook or in the news, and then get down to the business of writing. I have an office set up. It’s crowded with photographs, books, paintings, and art pieces. It’s a good place just to sit back and pretend I’m in a museum.”
Tell me what you write about and why.
“I like the literary genre, which I seem to have luck with getting published. I also seem to have a knack for writing speculative fiction, horror and fantasy, all of which I enjoy writing also. I’ve led a very full life, lived in and seen some astonishing places, and met an incredibly large number of people from all backgrounds and ethnicities. My writing is a way to pay homage to those people and places.
I wrote a novel a few years ago that is gathering dust inside my computer. The whole process of writing it was so horrendously tedious and unfulfilling that I vowed never to write another one. I had written plays for a while, and was moderately successful with that, and learned a lot about writing dialogue and setting a scene while doing it, but I’m such a control freak that I didn’t want anyone but me to be in control of how my plays were produced.
The short story form, for me, is easy to construct. I started writing professionally as a military journalist, and the who, what, where, when, and why of journalistic writing fits perfectly into writing short stories. Plus, I have a short attention span, so the fewer words I have to write, the better. Here are the links to a few of my favorites:
My love of the short story form actually began in high school. I was placed in an English Advanced Placement class and the teacher, Mrs. Kurtz, told me I had talent writing short stories, and I was gullible enough to believe her. God bless you Mrs. Kurtz, wherever you are. I’ve had a 50 word story published and a 7,000 word story published. Generally, they fall into the 1,500 to 4,000 word range. I borrow snippets from my life in writing a lot of my literary fiction, and practically nothing from my life when writing other genres. I’m proud to say I’ve borrowed nothing from my life when writing horror stories.”
Describe your submission process.
“I have a subscription to Duotrope. Practically 90% of the publications that I find to submit to, I find on Duotrope. Obviously, I love Duotrope. They should hire me as their spokesperson. The big thing I like about Duotrope is not only how easy I find using their search system, but that they send an email every Sunday that lists publications looking for submissions. It fits perfectly for me as I like to write a story after I see what publications are looking for instead of the other way around. The other 10% I find thanks to getting way too many emails with invitations to submit to one publication or another.
I read carefully what the magazine or anthology is looking for, and if I think I can write a story that matches what they are looking for, then I write the story. I don’t keep a stockpile of stories lying around waiting for a match. I write specifically for what a publication is looking for. I don’t write to make money, but I don’t turn money away for my writing if I can get it. I make sure they are a publication I feel matches my values as a person, meaning they aren’t racist, homophobic, ageist, sexist, and a few other -isms or -ists. I don’t discriminate in regards to the size or prestige of the publication. I want my stories to reach as many different audiences as possible, and the only way to do that is to make sure I submit to a broad variety of publications up and down the prestige scale.”
Describe your support system, receiving and giving.
“Writers are my species. It’s in the interest of all writers to support one another. I support others by buying their books, reading their stories and giving reviews, providing links to publications looking for submissions, and in general just trying to provide encouragement and support. I can’t even begin to describe the amount of encouragement I get from other writers who do something as simple as to Like a post I make on Facebook about a story acceptance. I belong to about ten Facebook writing groups. I’m only really active in about three of them. The others don’t seem to notice my absence. I’m trying to decide if I should take that personally.
I have a personal policy of not giving feedback on any work in progress. Let me make it clear, so that I don’t get hate mail, that this is just my personal opinion: If I tell a writer how to write any part of their story by giving them suggestions or advice, the story is no longer theirs alone, it is now partly my story. Each writer has a unique voice, and when someone else becomes part of the story being written, the writer’s voice becomes diluted, sometimes only very minimally, but even just a little, is still a little. I feel bad when I have to tell a writer I can’t help them by looking at their WIP, but so far no one has threatened to firebomb my house. No one reads any story I’ve written before it’s published. In some ways I’m a very private person, and until they’re published, my stories are very private also.”
How does your writing influence your life, and vice versa?
“I enlisted in the army while I was still in high school and 17, but had to wait until that summer when I turned 18, and after I graduated, before I could actually go into the Army. It was 1972 and the Vietnam war was still going, but beginning to wind down. I wanted to go to Vietnam, not to fight or kill anyone, but to see for myself what war in a foreign country was like before the war ended. I had scored really high in the verbal (written) pre-enlistment test scores and had my choice of among the military schools and occupations.
Because I loved to write, I joined to become a military journalist and was accepted into and sent to the prestigious Defense Information School (DINFOS) which was in Indianapolis at that time and trains journalists for all of the military branches. It was only a ten week program, but it was very intensive, and the only thing taught was journalism, 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. If you couldn’t write, they kicked you out. My hopes for going to Vietnam were dashed (I don’t think the military wanted me near anything that I might cause to explode) and I was assigned to the District Recruiting Headquarters in Jacksonville, Florida. It was a civilian office and there was usually no more than three of us working in it, and for a long time it was just me. It taught me how to write fast and to feel secure in editing my own work.
For the next 2.5 years, as the war wound down, I traveled around Florida writing stories for newspapers about what I knew was happening in Vietnam, about returning soldiers, and releases about men and women who had enlisted. I lived in a beautiful apartment in a complex with a swimming pool paid for by the military and was given a car to travel around in. During my time there I didn’t spend one day on a military base. If you’ve ever seen the movie Private Benjamin, I led the Army life that she dreamt of. I got out of the Army after three years without stepping foot out of Florida, returned to Cincinnati, where I’m from, started college, and never once thought about taking up journalism as a career. My first college English professor said I should become a poet! I didn’t want to starve to death so I ignored that suggestion.
Writing adds meaning to my life. It gives me another reason to get out of bed in the morning, and I go to bed thinking about what I’m writing or going to write. Writing has connected me with some truly amazing people, writers and non-writers. In some stories, I re-visit themes I’ve already written about, but I hope I’m keeping my eyes open to what is happening in the real world, to explore new themes, and tell new and original stories in innovative ways, while maintaining my style and voice.”
Here’s the list (Note: Some have been accepted but have not been published yet)
Literally Stories “Eleanor”
Sick Lit Magazine “The Tale of the Costume Maker”
Door is a Jar “The Memory of Vision”
SickLit Mag “The Tale of the Cabbage Patch”
Flame Tree Publishing (Dystopia/Utopia Anthology)
Viewfinder Magazine “An Olfactory Life”
Horror Sleaze Trash “Moon of the Forgotten”
Fantasia Divinity Princess Anthology “The Twelve Dancing Princesses”
Fictive Dream “The Missouri River Story”
50 Word Stories “Night Noises”
Centum Press (100 Voices Volume 3) “The Old Chapel Road Story”
Short Tale 100 “Mothering”
Centum Press (100 voices Vol. II) “A Decent Man”
The Spotty Mirror “Point A”
CultureCult Magazine “Opulence”
Temptation Magazine “Paradise Found”
Visitant Literary Journal “The Longhorn Creek Story”
The Wagon Magazine “The Crack Up”
Infernal Ink “Under the Trees”
Tiger Shark “Ants”
Double Feature “Amoeboid”
Sick Lit Magazine “Amelia Flew Home”
Fictive Dream “The Citrus Thief”
Fantasia Divinity Publications “The Tale of the Singing Snow Witch”
Ricky’s Back Yard “Tenderloin”
Bento Box “Artifacts”
NoiseMedium “The Terrible Secret Game”
Chronicle “The Buffalo Runner”
Zimbell House Publishing: The Neighbors anthology “The Gardeners”
The Drunken Llama “Oh, Nereus”
Fictive Dream “The Island of Women”
67 Anthology “The Wind River Story”
Inane Pure Slush Vol. 14 “Trash”
MASHED: Culinary Tales of Erotic Horror Anthology “Sauce”
Ricky’s Back Yard “Magically Appearing Potatoes”
Communicators League “Landscape With Frogs”
Jakob’s Horror Box “Goodnight Forever”
Panorama Journal “Looking for Joe”
The Wagon Magazine “A Mother’s Rites”
Midnight Circus “La Primavera”
Dark Gothic Resurrected Magazine “The Snake River Haunting”
Communicators League “Men in Trees”
The Haunted Traveler “The Dissociative Effect”
Fixional “A Woman of the Arts”
The Gathering Storm Magazine “Hunting Bunnies”
Rhetoric Askew “Men in Boxcars”
Wilde Stories 2017 (Lethe Press) “The Tale of the Costume Maker”
Trigger Warnings “Night Heat”
Night to Dawn “Catacombs of the Doomed”
Zimbell House Publishing “Sing Me a River”
Zimbell House Publishing “The Sweetwater River Story”
Not Your Mother’s Breast Milk “Dancing on the Boardwalk”
Communicators League “The Platte River Story”
Aphotic Realm “If A Ghost Comes Knocking”
Bull & Cross “Once A Fine Notion”
The Dirty Pool “Heat”
Thrice Fiction “The Tale of Talker Knock”
Story and Grit “The Stew Pot”
Eathen Lamp Journal “Voices in a Hurricane”
Thousandonestories “A Town Called Wasta”
Communicators League “All the Flickering Shadows”
Occulum “Stay Out of the Attic”
Fictive Dream “Noise”
Aether and Ichor “When Wizards Sing”
4StarStories “The Pools of Nereus”
Tuck Magazine “Dining at the Mausoleum”
Zimbell House: After Effects Anthology “Washed Away”
Ariel Chart “Sing Me a River”
Truth Serum,Wiser Anthology “The Big Mouth”
Crux Magazine “The Cheyenne River Story”
Lunaris Review “The Snow Mother”
Trembling With Fear “Portrait in Blood”
Boned: A Collection of Skeletal Writing “Clickety Clack: A Love Story
Bull & Cross “Lonesome Prairie”
The Horror Zine “The Express”
Hot Tub Astronaut “The Star Counter”
Ariel Chart “Pursued”
Kristell Ink Holding on by our Fingertips anthology “Countdown”
Ordinary Madness “Barstow Requeum”
SickLit Magazine “Sand”
A Thousand and One Stories “Under the Yaquina Bay Bridge”
Ricky’s Back Yard “The Docks”
The Serving House Journal “The Shoe Tree Incident”
Near to the Knuckle “The Saguaro Two Step”
Ripcord “The Tinsel Kingdom”
Varnish Journal “The Apple Pickers”
Yalobusha Review “Men in Mines”
Clarendon House Books “The Upsandowns
Cadaverous Magazine “Strange Water”
Blue Fifth Review “Tessie’s New Cart”
Black Heart Magazine “Death and Ice Cream”
Jakob’s Horror Box “The King of Kitchen Street”
Fictive Dream “Breadth of Knowledge”
Linden Avenue Literary Journal “Airborne”
Storyland Literary Review Magazine “Sundays at the Zoo”
Communicators League “Women in Hats”
Tessellate Magazine “The Citrus Thief”
The Airgonaut “Girl in a Mason Jar”
Jokes Review “Amelia Flew Home”
Rhetoric Askew Fantasy/Megapunk edition) “Talker Knock and the Veiled Genie”
Lycan Valley Press (Pulp Horror Book of Phobias Vol. 2) “The Peter Problem”
Two Sisters Publishing “Paper Mache Man”
Tuck Magazine “The Empaths”
Pure Slush (Happy theme): “Marge”
Your One Phone Call “Hard Knocks”
Furtive Daliance Literary Review “Lisa”
New Reader Magazine “Midnight at the t. Lazare Station”