Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Horror Blog Fest - Debut Author Kaaron Warren

This is a bit of a coup for MFB. Kaaron is one of the lucky few who got chosen to be published by the new Angry Robot imprint. Slights will be published in the UK on 1st July 09, with a US edition following in September.

Please introduce yourself and tell us a bit more about you and your writing career.

My name’s Kaaron Warren, and I’m an Australian currently living in Fiji with my family. Important things seem to happen every eleven years. At 22 I met my husband. At 33, I had my first child. At 44, my first novel is published.

I’ve always written fiction which is slightly outside the norm. Those are the ideas which appeal and appear to me. I’m squeamish, which surprises people but that’s how I can write squeamish horror with emotion.

I wrote a novel at 14, and my first serious short story then, too. The novel is full of events of my life at the time and of the kinds of boys I wished went to my school. Interesting, smart and handsome. It was heavily inspired by S.E. Hinton’s “The Outsiders”.

I wrote stories for about ten years before sending the first one out to a magazine, and it took four years after that for the first one to be accepted. Since then, I’ve sold stories every year and always had that joy of receiving contributor’s copy. Seeing my stories in print.

What is your most recent novel about – if you are allowed to tell us?

Slights is about a woman who, at 18, accidentally kills her mother in a car accident. I’m really bad at writing these descriptions, so I’ll give you the blurb I sent to Angry Robot Books as part of my submission: Stephanie (Steve) experiences near death as a result of her injuries, but she sees no shining light, hears no loving voices. Instead, she finds herself in a cold dark room, surrounded by people she barely knows. The only thing she recognises in them is anger; she sees that they are anxious for her to die so they can devour her.

She visits this room a number of times throughout the novel as she attempts suicide periodically. She is unpopular, disliked, unable to fit in to society. She gradually recognises the people in the room; each and every one is a person she slighted in some way.

Steve becomes obsessed with death. Her brother, a successful politician, has no time for her, and her police officer father died years earlier, a hero. She is obsessed with her own death because in the afterlife, at least, she is the centre of attention. And she becomes obsessed with the deaths of others.

She digs up her backyard with the intention of planting night-blooming jasmine, a comfort flower. Instead, she finds odd things; a cracked glass cufflink, an old belt, a dented lunchbox, a shoe heel, many more odd, small items. These lead her to understand more about her past, and about why she is driven to do the things she does.

What do you think makes the horror genre so fascinating to readers and writers?

I really can’t go past an answer I gave when I was in Year 6. I remember it clearly, because the teacher, a broad, tall, scary bloke who demanded a lot of his students and let you know when you were an idiot, ran a class at the library. He spoke about the different books you could read, and when he got to horror stories and ghost stories, he asked, “Why do you think people like these sorts of stories?”

I knew the answer, but was too frightened to put up my hand. He’d roar if I got it wrong. No one else answered, though, and his cheeks started to turn red, so I put my hand up and said, “People like being scared?”

His cheeks faded to pink and he gave me a broad smile. “She’s right. She’s exactly right.”

I think there’s a bit of shadenfreude about watching other people suffer in movies, or reading about them in books. It’s not just horror; it’s the tragic love stories, the war stories, the family dramas. That could happen to me, but it won’t. I think we gossip for the same reason. Though that could be a bit of the tall poppy syndrome, too.

There’s also the concept of catastrophic thinking. Imagining the worst. I think that once the worst is imagined, then whatever comes after can only be an improvement.

As a horror writer / fan, what sells a story / concept to you?

I’m a bit of an odd horror reader in that I’m not big on vampires, mummies, slash killers or anything like that.

I like to be surprised. I don’t want to know where the story is going to go. I love crime fiction but I don’t like the ones with recurring detectives, because so much of the story in these is going over what has been said before. I’m hungry for new material!

Some of my favourite writers for this reason are Martin Amis (Dead Babies is one of my favourite books), David Mitchell (Cloud Atlas in particular), Stephen King (The Stand and The Shining, among others), William Golding (everything the man ever wrote), Lisa Tuttle (short stories and novels), and there are many others. Suzy McKee Charnas is a recent discovery.

What movies / books influenced your development as a genre writer? Similarly, what books, movies, comics, get you excited as a fan?

I don’t think I was influenced to be a genre writer. More, these are the stories which come to me and genre is where they are accepted. The places I like to go in my fiction can be shocking, and the things which happen disturbing. I think when you label something ‘horror’ you are given more leeway.

Bruce Gillespie, the Australian critic, says that I write from within the world of my stories, not as an observer. I think this is one of the reasons what I do is considered horror, because my characters accept and understand the things which are happening. I suck the reader into this as well. In “The Blue Stream”, I have children from the ages of 13 to 18 sent into suspended animation to get them through the hormonal stage. It’s a story which makes people angry, because the characters who are doing these things are the ones the reader is supposed to identify with.

The main genre writers who influenced me are Stephen King and Harlan Ellison.
Ellison because he writes wild, imaginative fiction which can go anywhere, and King because he builds horror by using the characters.

Agatha Christie is an influence because I admire her story telling and the way she weaves her clues through the story. Her character descriptions stay with me; I can still picture Vera from “And Then There Were None”.

S E Hinton, who wrote “The Outsiders” at 15, inspired me because I was young and wanted to be a writer and she succeeded. As I said above, my teen novel owes a lot to hers!

I don’t think there are any graphic novels or movies which influenced me as a writer, though I do find ideas in every thing I read and see. I always have a notebook handy (as most writers do) for scribbling down the what-ifs.

There are songs which have influenced me, though. I thought of this when singing karaoke at a Chinese restaurant in Suva last week. We were belting out “Hotel California”, and I was reminded of what a perfect horror story that song is. Draws you in gently, finishes in exactly the right place. I think the ending, “…but you can never leave” inspired me to finish my stories where they finish, rather than feeling as if I have to tie up all the loose ends to make a story work.

Who do you go all fan-boy about when it comes to the horror genre? Have you ever met anyone more famous than yourself and how did you react?

Author Lisa Tuttle
I was at the World Fantasy Convention in Saratoga Springs, New York, in 2007. Lisa Tuttle was one of the guests and she was friendly and accessible. I never dared talk to her! I’ve adored her writing for probably twenty years and I just couldn’t think of anything to say. My best chance was at a wonderful performance of two M.R.James short stories. The actor performed them as M.R. James himself, sitting in his study in Cambridge. The audience sat in the dark, with the stage only lit by candlelight. Lisa Tuttle sat two seats away, and still I didn’t say anything! But I worry about interrupting someone’s night. Being a fangirl and disturbing them. I’m sure she wouldn’t have minded.

If you had a chance to invite any horror legend, be it actor, writer, director, author (living / dead / undead) over for some tea, who would you choose and why?

I’d have a ladies’ luncheon with Daphne du Maurier, Rosemary Timperly and Celia Fremlin. I’m not sure about Rosemary Timperly, but du Maurier and Fremlin were both mothers, and both came up with nightmarish, very believable horror. I admire the tone of normalcy which runs through their fiction alongside the awfulness. We’ll have cups of Earl Gray, a large variety of sandwiches with the crusts cut off, tiny cakes and lots of chocolate. I’d like to ask them how they managed the balance; how, when they had devils dancing in their heads, did they fix dinner with a smile.

Lights on or off when watching horror flicks?

Lights off! Unless I’m also doing something else (ie reading, writing, playing computer game, cross-stitching) then lights on.

Which do you prefer: Romero originals or remakes?

The Romero movies are my exception to the rule that I’m not a fan of zombie movies. I haven’t seen the remakes, though. There are some hilarious scenes in the originals. I love the setting of “Day of the Dead”, where the zombies stagger about the shopping mall with their trolleys. Not a subtle depiction of non-dead shoppers, but still funny. I thought of it a couple of years ago, when travelling in Canberra. There is a pub about an hour’s drive out, in the bush, which was the meeting place for bikies all over the region. It burnt down in the Canberra Bushfires of 2003. The time I travelled past, the black frame still stood. And in amongst it? Bikies, drinking beer they’d bought from home, their beautiful bikes sitting amongst the ashes. It made me think of people and their habits, how they stick to them. The image helped inspire a story called “Cooling the Crows”, about a bouncer (doorman) working in a pub which burns down periodically.

I also love the joke in “Dawn of the Dead”. The zombies eat all the paramedics, then get on the radio and say, “Send more paramedics”. Cracks me up!

What is the best advice you ever received from someone about horror writing?

I’m not sure if I received this first, or started giving it; do not balk. Do not pull back from where you need to go to make the story work.

The horror genre has seen many incarnations over the past few years – what do you think the future holds for the genre?

I think we’ll see more urban horror, more historical horror and I think that slash horror will be with us for a while yet.

Do you have a zombie apocalypse survival plan – apart from going to hide in the Winchester, that is! – and will you be able to implement it?

Here in Fiji, we live in a cyclone-proof house with double reinforced doors. I reckon that’ll do for zombies, too! We even have a cyclone plan: Stage 1. Preparation. Action you can take now. Stage 2. Zombies are possible. Stage 3. Zombies are Imminent. Stage 4. Post Zombie Recovery.

We’ve got water, food, masking tape, candles, matches and a radio. I also have a set of sea monkeys, which my writer friend Cat Sparks calls zombies. They all died over Christmas, but I never got around to throwing out their water. By February, we had more seamonkeys. Back from the dead! So I figure any zombies which come will be so fascinated by the sea monkeys they’ll leave us alone.
"So I figure any zombies which come will be so fascinated by the sea monkeys they’ll leave us alone."

Are there any “how to” books on your bookshelf you would recommend to aspiring authors?

Stephen King’s “On Writing”. He moves well beyond genre and speaks to everyone who’s ever written, or wanted to write.

The other book I use as a how to is my Fowler’s Modern English Usage. I had to buy it again in Fiji, because I stupidly put my other copy into storage. I refer to it often.


Phantom of Pulp said...

Terrific interview.

I'm definitely going to hunt this book down.

A few corrections -- The shopping mall zombies are in DAWN OF THE DEAD.

"Send more paramedics" is from RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD.

I agree that KIng's ON WRITING is a keeper.

Thanks so much for this interview, and for introducing us to Kaaron Warren.

Anonymous said...

Oops! Thanks for the corrections on the movie titles. I've never been good at remembering the names of movies!

Liz said...

Epic Fail on my side! I should have run this past Mark, shouldn't I? He's the Romero student.

So, to both Karen and Pulp - thanks! I'll not amend it though - it may generate some good conversation!