Tell me a bit about your childhood, your family, siblings, if you had them, and what influences, if any, started your artistic spark.
I am an only child, which ensured entertaining myself. Only children do that. We make our own entertainment. I did. But I was happy. I had great parents, and if I didn’t have siblings, I had their total love and generosity. If they were compensating, I was accepting!
The best present I ever got was a Disney Theater set. It had little figures of Disney characters and a book of plays. I never used that. I made up my own little plays. I think that was what sparked my writing. In fact, I’m sure of it.
In the summer we’d go to the seashore and I’d put on little plays for my friends.
While I was still quite young, my father had me get a library card for the children’s section. Even then, I recall my greatest desire was to grow up and use the adult section. Wow, I could hardly wait.
I always loved books. With both my parents avid readers, I was surrounded by them. My earliest recollection of interacting with books was playing with pink books and green books (all very small). I’d knock them out of the bookcase and just play. I must have been about three. By the way, the pink books were the works of Edgar Allan Poe, and the green ones were Shakespeare’s plays, and if that isn’t baby nerdy enough, there’s this: I loved my Golden Books and would go to sleep holding one every night (forget the doll or teddy bear)!
You’re originally from Manhattan. How did you end up in England?
I met my first husband on vacation and then returned home. We corresponded for a couple of years, then I went back to England, met his family, and we were married. He was charming and fun. His family was nice. The one catch, he turned out to be a verbally abusive alcoholic. It’s because of him I write horror. In fact, I wrote a story based on our life together. It’s called Monster Inside. It’s free to read on my blog.
The one good thing that came out of it was growing to love England. England, and living in England.
In the fourth grade, there were a couple of science fiction stories you wrote. Could you tell us about those?
My parents were sci-fi fanatics. Never missing a science fiction film, they would take me to every single one that came out: War of the Worlds, Them, The Thing from Another World, The Fly … what new worlds, what imaginations! And my parents, always cheerleading: “Come and watch this, Carole. This one’s great!”
Watch, I did, and I was thrilled. They all left their mark.
At eight, I wrote my first short, a story about a Martian invasion of Earth. Apparently, Mars needed children. The second story I wrote shortly after was about a large globe in a library. A child (me) manages to open it up and climb inside … but only to find she is in outer space.
That sci-fi rubbed off!
High School? That might be jumping the gun a bit. Let me back up to when I was 11, the year I was heavily into Edgar Allan Poe. That year, I was writing the most morose of poems, about loss, about death. My mother met with my teacher to see if there was anything to worry about. She was told to let it come out. She did—and it did!
At 12, there was a particularly hopeless and depressing poem for brotherhood week. My teacher had me modify it because it was that gloomy!
Then came high school. And with all due respect to Mary Shelley, I was the first Goth—at least according to the word’s modern usage. I had honor English for creative writing and also honor art. The rest of the subjects I wasn’t really great in or interested in. I was strictly into my own thing. I read what was required, but I also read what I liked. I did a lot of reading.
I also continued to write short stories. I wrote one entitled Repeat Performance, which I still have somewhere, a story which takes place in the South, about a young man being lynched for the crime of helping with voter registration. Turns out he is Christ, and it is the Second Coming, and he is executed all over again. He says at the very end, just before the rope snaps his neck: “Father forgive them, for they still know not what they do.”
Yup, big message. That was me!
I was very happy from this time on until my father’s sudden death when I was in my 20s. That began an extremely long period of trauma. There would be no writing until the end of this very difficult time.
Let me just say, to avoid confusion, after leaving my abusive husband, I cared for my (by then) totally disabled mother for the last 12-years of her life. It was difficult, but I did the right thing. It was after her death, and after finding my own place in the world, that I turned back to writing.
After this period of time (later I’ll rephrase the question, but the period referenced is that time you were not writing), what spurned you on to once again hit the page? What did you find challenging? What (or who?) did you find encouraging?
The big spur was joining a local writer’s workshop run by playwright and novelist, the amazing Clive Hopwood. It’s because of him and his encouragement that I took chances and was not afraid to try anything!
The workshop was advertised in the local paper. We met in the library, and just to name drop here, one of the people I met and became friends with was crime novelist Zoe Sharpe! Zoe had already written her first book, Killer Instinct, but she didn’t attend every session. I think she was shopping her typescript around then.
Zoe ran a workshop, too, and I used to go. She’d drive me because she wanted me to keep up with it. She was a great inspiration. It’s because of Zoe that I never gave up trying to get myself out there. She also gave invaluable advice, about the need for consistent, scheduled writing … of thinking of it as my job.
Regarding Clive and the Playwrights: Clive had me enter a scene-writing competition. North West Playwrights were the sponsors. Out of over a thousand applicants, I obtained one of six seats for a time at Lancaster University to study playwriting under the direction of North West Playwrights. It was really exciting. With an observing director, I had some work performed by professional actors.
Afterwards, I wrote a radio play for the BBC. It never aired, but I learned to write radio plays! I also kept working on writing scenes of dialogue, and was getting very excited about writing plays. In fact, I was starting to contact professional theater companies in response to notices provided by the Playwrights. But then I got real. I thought to myself, I do love to write, but I will not, in all likelihood, be the next Harold Pinter. I’m better off to write short stories and, one day, possibly a novel.
In all honesty, I think had I been living in London, I probably would have continued with the playwriting. But living in the north, I didn’t see much scope for that to continue … it’s just so different.
Not to worry, however, as I immersed myself in writing stories and started and finished a couple of novels and got loads of practice!
It’s been said that everyone remembers their first. With you, what was your first story acceptance, and how did it come about? Was it a positive experience?
Yes, well the first story that was accepted was for SNM Magazine (2009). Steve Marshall, by the way, is great to deal with. When I was told it was accepted, I was so excited, it took weeks to come back down to earth! I think I wrote a story about a werewolf.
Short stories and novels are two different animals, yet with more than 20-short stories published, and four (or is it five?) novels, you seem to be at home with both. Not only that, but when thinking about the technological side of things, you also span the spectrum, from writing historical gothic pieces, to those set in the far future. To what do you credit that versatility? And what do you find to be the draw for both the short and long forms of storytelling?
Well, I love history, and really, I love research! I enjoy setting my fiction in the past. I also love to include real historical characters in my novels. In Unholy Testament—The Beginnings, and Unholy Testament—Full Circle, the novels tell of a demon’s confessions. He has documented all the sins he has ever committed, all the things that have occurred in his life, including the realization at the Crucifixion that Satan had it completely wrong. This messiah was the Messiah. (This latter part was inspired by a story I wrote entitled, The Ointment, which is free to read on my blog!
Using my imagination is using it in all ways, from past to present to future. If I can write about ancient Egypt—and I can—then I can write about a future society that knows no death. That worships death. It is not impossible to do because people don’t really change, ever, only their circumstances, superficial changes, if you will. We still have our basic needs that have not changed in thousands of years. And really, even in writing about beings from another world, I like to find core things that unite those beings with my own world.
For example, if androids take over a lab (and they do in a story I wrote), they might just pick up enough human characteristics to become terrifying and murderous enough to revolt world-wide!
Short and long fiction: why not? Each tells a story. Writing flash fiction is great training ground because it teaches writers to get down a story’s core idea. I mean you could write a really short, short story:
“John! Don’t shoot!”
“You and my wife! How could you!”
An exaggeration (but arguably not), but that is a very short story. There’s a beginning, middle, and end. And we know exactly what’s happened. I think you can take any book and make it (just for fun or practice) into a short story.
There is basic action, a message of some kind, and one main protagonist—can’t overload a short story.
But a story is a story. If it is longer and more developed, it is a novel, and if it’s just a slice of life, with a piece of the action, it’s a short story.
If someone wrote a short about an escaped convict on the run who is helped by a priest who says he didn’t steal from him, you have the essence of Les Misérables, just that core bit could be an unforgettable short story.
Author, speaker, and writing instructor, Maralys Wills, has stated that typically writers often share two commonalities; that a) they’ve suffered trauma; and b) they tend to be optimists. Do you share those commonalities, and if so, will you elaborate?
Trauma! Yes! Half of my life, at least. My father died suddenly. It affected my mother, turned our world upside down. I met the wrong man and married him (impaired judgment), then I just tried to survive from day to day, to get away from him and start all over. Eventually, I did, but within a very short time I was caring for my mother.
At that point, for years, my life went on hold. Twelve years of caring for my mother, whom I dearly loved, but who was in very bad shape, trapped in a wheelchair. Our lives were bleak to say the least.
After she died, frankly, I felt lost. I had developed no life for myself. I had to have one or not.
I knew I wanted to go on. So, because of basic optimism and the will to carry on, I turned back to writing, and within three years, met the love of my life, my second husband.
With your dark gothic work, you’ve said: “I’m seeking to cast aside the boundaries of gothic romance. I want to take it to places it has never been … and then beyond.” What are these boundaries, and where do you see your work breaking those strictures?
Okay. Remember the gothic romance novels of the past? There were mad uncles, evil servants, strange relatives. I want more than that. The covers of those novels promised darkness, but they didn’t deliver enough dark. At least I don’t think so.
Our world has changed since then. It’s more dangerous. Fiction, I think, should reflect that.
I want murder, obsession, satanic rites!
Also, I want to know what was the story with Mrs. Danvers, the housekeeper, in Rebecca. Was she a lesbian or what? She and the first Mrs. Dewinter were too close. Her hatred of the second wife was murderous. I want to know why. Something was very strange. If lesbianism were a factor, that would make a lot of sense, and, of a truth, would make the story even better. However, years ago, that never would have been acceptable.
Well, I want to go there. Those are the boundaries I want to push. The same applies to Wuthering Heights. Were Heathcliff and Cathy half brother and sister? Is that what she meant when she said I am Heathcliff?
I want to know. We all want to know, I think.
I write about good vs. evil. That’s the heart of my fiction. I write about Satan and how satanic evil preys upon the weakness in mankind. There are writers that glorify evil. I don’t and never will. My writing is dark as hell, but I’m batting and battling for the good side!
Tell me about the narrator, the lead character in your novel The House on Blackstone Moor. How did you come up with Rose Baines, and how did you come up with her “voice”?
The inspiration was immediate. I had decided to write a gothic romance novel that would blow the sox off people. I wanted to get the starch out of the crinolines!
The idea for it came quickly. I imagined a very grand house completely out of place on desolate moorland. I imagined who lived there. That’s when I got the story.
I don’t live that far from Haworth in West Yorkshire. I have visited the Bronte Parsonage many times and have walked on the moors. That certainly helped inspire me.
With regard to my main character, I had the idea for Rose pretty quickly.
Women in 19th century England had it pretty rough. And if they had a lunatic father who was abusing them, it was even worse. Worse than that was finding he had killed himself and Rose’s mother, brother, and sisters. That was the starting point for the story. I became Rose. That’s what I love about first person writing.
As Rose, I imagined myself in the worst nightmare. The actual start of The House on Blackstone Moor:
“They say my father was mad, so corrupted by evil and tainted with sin that he did what he did. I came home to find them all dead; their throats had been savagely cut.
My sisters, only five and eight, were gone, as well as my brother who was twelve. My mother too lay butchered in her marriage bed. The bed her children were born in.
I discovered him first—in the sitting room lying in a sea of crimson, the bloody razor still clutched in his hand…”
I call it ‘method writing’ like ‘method acting.’ I am my main character. I am no longer me at all. It is my story and I am telling the reader.
It’s been said that initially with a piece, a writer must write from their heart, and later, with editing/revising, one’s to write from their head. How does it work for you, that switching of hats, from when you’re first putting your clay on the table, to later polishing your material? I’ve heard, too, that when it comes to editors, there’s both benefits and pitfalls. When you have worked with editors, what have you learned to be wary of, and what have you enjoyed?
Firstly, I write with little or no outline. I have just finished the fourth novel in The Blackstone Vampires Series by the way. My novel only evolves after that first draft is completed.
I write for about two months and I get my first draft. The details often surprise me. There will be massive rewrites and editing (pre-editing) before the editor sees it, just to get it into a cohesive (as good as it can be) final draft.
When it is a final draft, it is a full term baby and the cigars can get handed out. But before any Christening or relatives come with cameras, it must go to the editor.
Editors differ. I’ve had book editors I thought were not right for me or for the story. I find each is different; some are better than others, etc. The best editor is the one who has the heart and soul of a writer. That editor is magical. He or she instinctively knows what will work and what will not.
And I will also know, because as a writer who has handed over the novel to be edited, I want the very best editor I can have. I want my baby, my creation, that was so hard coming into the world, to be the master of its own existence. I want the world to receive that work with respect and adulation. And, frankly, another pair of eyes and the expertise of a gifted editor is what is required!
Fantastic! Thank you!
What are the two hideous aspects of a ‘freak show?’
Answer: the people who run it, and the audience who sees it.
That was it. I thought of the people in the show, of how they came to be there. I thought of their feelings, their humanity. I remembered seeing The Elephant Man and reading a few books about him. What always struck about Joseph Merrick, was in him being called ‘freak,’ and ‘monster,’ as he was known in the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel, and during the same time Jack the Ripper was killing. In reality, there was only one monster then, and it most certainly wasn’t Merrick!
Regarding my story, I felt, sadly, that those shows catered to the very worst, most base instincts in people.
That was my inspiration. Those were the ingredients. The story followed.
For those considering putting pen to paper, what’s your advice, and what would you warn against?
- · If you are determined to write, write. Write regularly, even if it’s only an hour a day.
- · Be brave! Go for it! Get that work out there! The sooner you do, the sooner you will become more seasoned. It’s only by submitting that you learn what goes and what does not.
- · Rejected? Write another story. Don’t stop, just keep going! It’s a commitment. You have to keep at it. It’s your job, your vocation
,; you’re a writer
- · Check the requirements for submission so that you are 100-percent certain your story is a fit. Don’t send a crime story to a magazine that wants a work of horror.
- · Make sure you know what they DON’T want. But also know what they DO want.
- · If it’s horror, do they prefer gory stuff or something that’s more of a psychological approach? Look carefully. It’s to your benefit to know as much as you can!
As you go along, you will run into all sorts of people: those who are for you, against you, and those who just don’t care.
Thankfully, you’ll quickly learn to tell the difference. And you’ll learn to cope. Beware of folks with agendas. They can be hazardous to your writing health.
Just remember, not everyone will love you or what you’ve written. Most people are fair. Some people aren’t, but then again, some people are Ed Gein or Charles Manson.