Today’s interview is with short fiction writer Scott Zavoda, another short fiction writer whom I’ve discovered through Goodreads. His recent story collection is Alone at Midnight: Short Horror Collection.
A few words about him:
After hearing enough of my right brain argue with my left, I gave in and began writing. That was five years ago. I’ve never looked back and find this passion works well with my career (as an airline pilot) in that I have plenty of time to put my crazy ideas down on paper.
ZAVODA: Horror reaches deep and tickles your soul. And when done just right, you can’t look, yet you can’t look away. You’re curious not because you’re exposed to new terrifying things, but because these fears already exist and your subconscious demands to see how things will pan out.
Horrors hide in the mundane. It’s this variety I like to write about. Who’s to say the quiet lady in the last church pew every Sunday isn’t slipping something into the communion wine? We’re hardwired the same: we know what to seek and when to run as if imprinted in us. Horror, at least to me, provides a relief valve, a healthy means to understand our real life monsters in a make-believe world.
Mostly, horror draws me because it holds power over all ages. You may think you’ve banished your childhood fears. You tell your children the bogie-man isn’t real. But then why do you sometimes wake alone on a still winter night and wonder what that scratching sound might be? When the witching hour is upon us, age and maturity are out the window.
SARETT: There are lot of rules about what’s good writing and what’s bad. Is there any rule that you secretly enjoy breaking?
ZAVODA: When my brain itches, I scratch it. I write what I want to write. Period. I don’t ignore my audience, but I do try to avoid the conventional wisdom of writing what’s popular now. Oh, if you want the nerdy answer, then yes . . . I occasionally use slang, begin sentences with conjunctions, and end them with prepositions. And I don’t plot. Not because I think it’s wimpy but because my characters rarely grow that way; I’m much happier being on the ride than waiting for it at the exit corral.
SARETT: Do you think men and women have a different sense of what is scary?
ZAVODA: Yes and no. Men may fear commitment, botching their wedding vows, or getting the common cold, while for women it might be becoming their mothers, getting lost on an unfamiliar drive. We are as much a product of culture as culture is a product of us.
Yet nothing is true all of the time. In fact, I remember a male friend growing up. Whenever we saw a horror movie he would curl into a fetal position and make horrible retching sounds at the first sight of blood. Meanwhile, plenty of female moviegoers leaned forward greedily as if they couldn’t get enough.
We all have our issues, but inside we fear the same. Whether you’re boy or woman, girl or man, you’ve (at one time or another) thought that the basement door above you will slam shut, the lights will snip out, and something will skitter across the cold concrete for you.
SARETT: Some horror writing depends explicitly on the supernatural, and other writing is purely psychological (e.g., Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle.) What’s your preference?ZAVODA: Employing consistency with just one would disservice my readers. Horror is characters facing the unknown, and better said, readers facing the unknown. Holding to one type, the stories would fall into very predictable but not-very-scary molds. I have read brilliant books driven by psychological elements, but I have not found any where the supernatural exists without a psychological.
SARETT: Lots of writers, including the estimable Henry James, have toyed with the ghost story. What is it about ghost stories that writers love?ZAVODA: Ghost stories intrigue us because they explore the possibility that beside our world is another, where shadows separate the living from the dead, that the end of the body is not simply the end. These stories have survived time because they scrape the truth of the matter—giving meaning to death, giving rise to those who’ve passed without letting them go completely, giving the deceased another chance in a world which has forgotten them. Ghosts always seem to want something more than just to scare us.
SARETT: Any lessons from the world of self-publishing that you’d like to share with our readers?ZAVODA: Don’t get ahead of yourself. Don’t edit your own writing. Don’t create your own cover unless you’re a skilled fiction cover designer. Indie doesn’t mean do it ALL yourself. Indie means giving yourself the freedom to be creative, opening doors that weren’t open before, telling the world your story YOUR OWN way. But take your time. Be patient. Find the professionals that will make you professional. Best of all, enjoy being self-employed.
SARETT: What are your current projects -- and is there any new horror in the works?ZAVODA: I have a novel with a planned release in 2015. I can’t say much more about it, only that you can stay up to date and receive advance peeks by signing up for my VIP email list.
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