WOMEN IN HORROR
AUTHOR: K.L. NAPPIER
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I write dark fiction: supernatural thrillers, mysteries, dark fantasy and sci fi, speculative fiction…along those lines. I author under K.L. Nappier, but please call me Kathy. I’m originally a Midwestern girl (can you tell already?), born in a tiny town in Franklin County, Missouri. But for the past twenty-plus years, I’ve lived in Florida and climes farther south.
Q: Tell us a little about the projects you have going right now.
A: Last October I released Chosen: Book III, the final book in the Full Wolf Moon Trilogy, which is a werewolf based supernatural thriller. That final book was well over a two year project, so I took some time off, caught up on my housekeeping and my DVR queue, and generally took it easy for a few months. At least, writing-wise. But how long can any author stay away from the keyboard, right? Now I’m about a third of the way into, what is for me, an entirely new venture: a YA novel that’s a bit of a steampunk/sci fi mash up. It still has dark fiction elements, but it’s very much in a different wheel house for me. I’m excited!
Q: Is your writing based on people you know, or events in your own life?
A: I think I write from a place that I’m not conscious of, so in that respect, no doubt. But that’s probably true for every writer, actually, and maybe particularly for authors of dark fiction. For the most part, I don’t intentionally base work on my own life. I just let a story lead and I follow, but I have no doubt the leader pulls elements from the follower on a regular basis.
Although one amusing (I hope) exception comes to mind. You can edit this out if it strikes you as TMI. In my Full Wolf Moon Trilogy, I based the agony of the lycanthrope’s metamorphosis on my menstrual cramps. Horrific on Day One, better but still debilitating on Day Two, painful but can at least crawl out of bed on Day Three, with a natural dopamine rush once the pain finally subsided. Maybe I shouldn’t have revealed that. Might make a lot of people chuckle at scenes where they’re supposed to be riveted and horrified. 😀
As for writing based on people I know, I frequently model characters on people in my life. Perhaps a quirky personality I’ve met in passing (as with the Florida poacher Millie Mackley in Full Wolf Moon Books II and III), sometimes someone I’ve known and loved for decades (as I did when I named Full Wolf Moon main character Doris Tebbe after my stepmother).
That’s not to say, however, that the character in the book is the person in my life. That’s not something I do. Rather, I might lift a certain trait from a person I know and place it in or on a character. My characters tend to be grafts, rather than whole transplants.
Q: What inspired you to get into the horror genre?
A: It has just always been a natural fit for me; something I’ve never questioned. Growing up, I was an avid Poe reader and adored TV like The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. And Dark Shadows, of course. In my teen years an exciting night out for me was the dusk ’til dawn Hammer Films marathon at the drive-in. I know, right? Where the hell were my parents!?
Q: Have you always been interested in horror?
A: *Lol!* See above answer. Honestly, I have no idea where that childhood attraction came from. It just seems to have always been there. But I promise you, I didn’t torture kittens when I was a kid…nor do I now for that matter! Far from it; actual, real-life cruelty of any kind has always repulsed and horrified me.
Q: What do you love most about writing horror?
A: Wow, there’s a good question. The descent, maybe. The descent into the story and its machinations. The sense that it isn’t coming from me, but from a non-temporal source. Not in control and, yet, knowing I can enter and leave at will.
Q: Is there anything you find particularly challenging when writing for horror fans?
A: Striving for word craft that serves the story while simultaneously giving readers a great, rip-roaring tale. When I write, there is always a constant, subliminal hum of worry that I’m not doing the best I can to give them a story that is both meaningful and entertaining.
Q: Where do you stand on the gore factor?
A: Your blood splatter, your choice. 😉 But for my personal enjoyment, gore has to serve the story. And while I am an admirer of Troma, to use them in example, I can’t say I’m a fan of gore porn or splatter punk, whether in book or film. In spite of the intended (and very clever, I might add) campiness in many of those horror categories, it’s just too much for me. It’s a primary reason why I never followed the slasher genre as it rose to horror dominance in the ’70’s. I still don’t.
That being stated, I’m not a hater. My preferences just don’t run that way.
Q: You were originally with Berkeley Publishing Group, but now you’re self published. How did you get your foot in the door when you were starting out, and what inspired you to go it alone?
A: My foot got in the door when I put my face in front of an agent. I attended a conference where several were accepting pitches. I won’t mention the agent’s name because we ultimately didn’t get along well and she’s not here to defend her point of view. But I will always be grateful to her for selling my manuscript to Berkeley. It was a thrill to be taken on by such a venerable house.
I had always had a tendency to write stories that, nowadays, are called cross-genre or multi-genre. During the 1990’s, though, that was a hard sell. These were the pre-Internet days and neither publishers nor book stores believed a single book could be marketed in more than one category. Not that I didn’t try to “write to type” when I was urged to do so. It’s just that when I wrote to type or was asked to mimic a specific author, I really, really sucked at it. I was with two successive literary agencies in those days, but they had a tough time courting the houses for me.
By the mid ’90’s, my life was taking a different direction altogether. My husband and I sold all our stuff, bought a boat and spent several years in the Caribbean. By the time I came back to the U.S. the Internet was born and booming and the publishing industry was in full flux. Cross-genre was no longer a liability and an author could choose a path that potentially led directly to readers. I was in my mid-forties by then. I wasn’t looking forward to starting all over: years spent finding a good literary agent, followed by more years of trying to get even a single title published. Didn’t seem to me I had much to lose by giving self-publishing/small press publishing a shot and, at the very least, I figured I certainly had a bit of something to gain. I feel it turned out well for me.
That’s not to say I wouldn’t consider being agented again or stabling at a traditional house. Certainly I would if the right fit came along. Just as I’m not a hater of gore porn, I’m not a hater of traditional agenting or publishing. But in the meantime, I’m very happy and comfortable as an indie author.
Both worlds have their advantages and disadvantages. Every author has to decide how to benefit from one, the other or a combo.
Q: Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
A: Oh, no fair! One favorite author!? I really can’t do that. There are so many that are mind-blowing. Can I list, at least, a few? I warn you that my list is a mélange, though the brew always comes out dark, if not strictly as horror. For brevity’s sake, I’ll stick with contemporary authors only. The list is alphabetically ordered.
Dean Koontz. How am I even going to begin to list his best titles and the wonderful mood he creates in each? Innocence is my current favorite Koontz.
Elissa Malcohn. Never heard of her? You’re not alone. But she deserves to be much better known. Disclaimer: she’s a dear friend. But being a dear friend does not detract from her impeccable storytelling and beautiful themes. Look up her Deviations series. You won’t be sorry.
China Mieville. Talk about cross-genre! He spins remarkably complex dark fantasy that has no regard whatsoever for genre boundaries. My most recent favorite is Rail Sea.
Toni Morrison. Wow. Do I even need to say more? Okay, one word, one title: Beloved.
Chuck Palahniuk. Beautifully crafted stories and startling originality. He sometimes goes too far, even for me (reference your question about gore porn. Or porn, period, for that matter) But when I love him, I really, really love him. Lullaby is my absolute favorite Palahniuk.
Anne Rice. A grand dame of dark fiction. Interview with the Vampire is still my favorite Rice. Nobody ever crafted mood and setting better in a story.
Q: What books and movies have influenced your life most?
A: Early book influences have to begin, really, with the Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe. I know, I know… nowadays, it’s popular to trash his flowery style. But as a ‘tweener and early teen, I just loved him.
In my adulthood, nothing affected my life and my work more than mythologist Joseph Campbell’s The Masks of God collection. He was the one who made me recognize the path and purpose of my interest in dark fiction.
Q: What book are you reading now?
A: I’ve been on a classics kick. A kind of self re-education. And I’m all over the map, reading the works of immortals from a broad sampling of genres: Woolf, Shelley, Hemingway and –right now- I’ve just finished Gustav Meyrink’s The Golem. It’s the monthly book discussion selection in Literary Darkness, a GoodReads group I joined. I want to explore what keeps these writers and their works relevant. Even ask the question are they still relevant? And why or why not?
Q: What books do you recommend aspiring writers read?
A: So many of the standards are standards for a reason. The Elements of Style by Strunk and White remains the ultimate primer. Now, that was written in a time long, long ago. So to stay exclusively with “Elements” isn’t recommended. Otherwise you’ll wind up writing like an early 20th century author. So to balance “Elements,” I highly highly recommend Stephen King’s On Writing. Really wonderful, and focuses on how to write your best no matter the genre.
Q: What movie / TV show do you most want to watch in your Netflix queue?
A: I’m as eclectic when it comes to my movies and TV as I am with my reading and writing. Some of my faves right now, in no particular order are House of Cards, The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, Better Call Saul, Downton Abbey, CBS New Sunday Morning, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Louie.
Q: Can you share your experience as a female writer in a male dominated genre?
A: You know, I’ve been either very fortunate or very clueless. Not that I haven’t seen push-back directed toward women writers in general. But I haven’t experienced disregard or discrimination aimed toward me…at least not overtly (hence, my qualifier about maybe being clueless 😉 ). The Horror Writers Association, for example, recently welcomed me with open arms. And the welcome was as unqualified as warm.
But I am mindful of the realities out there. HWA member Chantal Nooderloos wrote elegantly about those realities this past February in her blog entry “Diary of a Storyteller: A message from a hag.”
That mindfulness is the main reason I chose the gender neutral moniker K.L. Nappier to write under. I wanted readers to pick up my stories based on a preference for the writing rather than my gender.
Q: Can you share a little of your current work with us, give the readers a taste for blood? (500 word or less excerpt)
A: Happy to! This is from the prologue of Chosen: Book III, the third and final book in the Full Wolf Moon Trilogy. The trilogy follows a band of werewolf hunters and is set between 1942 and 1950, mostly in the U.S. West. At the end of Book II one of the main protagonists, David Alma Curar, was bitten by a particularly powerful lineage. The hunters are in a race to save him from the effects of that bite before the next full moon. In the prologue of Book III David awakens drugged and kidnapped, held in a strange place far away from his friends. The excerpt below is when he first meets his captors, realizes why he’s been abducted and that the leader of the kidnappers is a skinwalker:
A key rattled in the lock. The door opened just enough for David to glimpse a sliver of Navajo features and then he was blinded, his eyes and face aflame in agony. The scald spread to his hands when he pressed his palms against the pain. He stumbled back, screaming.
Silver dust. Someone had blown silver dust in his face.
He was pulled backward and laid on the mattress. Cold water washed over his head and hands. Fingers pried his eyes open and water was flushed into them. David could do nothing but lay, fetal and shivering, pinned against the mattress until the dousing stopped.
Through a yellow haze of anguish he made out a man squatting beside the mattress, his face long and gaunt, cheekbones high; hair shiny and black, pulled tight into a ponytail, Navajo style. Late thirties, early forties, maybe. Plaid shirt, Levis and cowboy boots.
The man said, speaking Navajo now, “I’m sorry I had to do that, Teacher.”
Teacher. Realization dawned and all the blood rushed from his scalded face. If David still didn’t know where he was or who was beside him, at least he understood why he was kidnapped.
He tried a bluff, saying in English, “Who are you? What did you just do to me?”
Still speaking Navajo, the man replied, “I’m called Niyol, Teacher.”
David went for the bluff again, testing his captor. Maybe what had been blown into his face hadn’t been silver. Only silver, lethally applied, could kill him, but it wasn’t the only thing that could cause him pain. Any number of chemical mixes could have taken him down, just like a normal person. And if this man fancied himself to be what David was certain he did, he was probably a skilled chemist.
“Look,” David said, “I’m sorry, brother. My Navajo is too rusty. I haven’t used it since I was a kid. Who are you? What the hell am I doing here?”
The man smiled and kept speaking Navajo. “I apologize for keeping you like this. No disrespect is intended. It’s just that we had to move quickly. I’ll have you in better quarters soon. Would you like some water? Or coffee?” Without taking his eyes off David, he called toward the open door, “Mosi, make some fresh coffee.”
A woman’s voice, very young, replied quickly and obediently in Navajo, “Yes, Niyol.”
“Can you eat, Teacher, or are you too nauseous?”
David went for the shaken, useless old man effect, putting a quaver in his voice. “Please. I don’t know why you’re doing this. Is it for ransom? I’ll pay. Give me a piece of paper and a pencil. I’ll write a note to my cousin—”
“Teacher.” Niyol leveled a look at David that said enough is enough. “That was silver dust I blew in your face.”
David went silent, gazing into the calm, confident face of his captor. Then David, too, spoke in Navajo. “’Ánt’įįhnii…” witch “…you don’t know what you’ve done.”
Q: Do you have any advice for other horror writers?
A: I have my own version of the three R’s:
Routine. Readers. Respect.
Routine: Set up a writing discipline that works in your life. Carve out a set block of time. Fifteen minutes, thirty minutes, daily, nightly, weekends only; whatever you can make work. Stick to that and do not let anyone or anything interfere. If you have to leave the house, do so. My local library is my “office” several times a week.
I recommend focusing on time spent at the keyboard rather than word count, because there are some days when the muse isn’t interested in you. Muses are like that. Their desires and yours won’t always sync. On those days, use the time to make edits on previous pages, work on the outline (if you’re an outliner) or do research. Often these activities will catch the muse’s attention. But even if that doesn’t happen, your writing time will not have been wasted. You’ll walk away from the day’s writing slot feeling productive and eager to do go at it again tomorrow.
Readers: Editors and beta readers are included in this. You need both. If you’re with a traditional publisher, then you likely already have an editor. If not, find a way to get one. And I mean a real one, someone trained as an editor. That’s not as daunting as it may seem. There are many for hire and it’s very possible to shop for a good editor that will fit your budget. But you might also be able to barter services with an editor. In any case, don’t be shy about asking for references. It is imperative that you have faith in your editor.
Beta readers are as important as an editor. Where an editor is the fine toothed comb, the beta reader is the broad-bristled brush. Beta readers are book lovers who read you final draft with the same eye as the general public. They give you a sense of how well your target audience will receive your work. You should have several beta readers preview your book. As with the editor, you should select betas that you trust.
Respect: Respect the input you receive from your editors and your beta readers. No “yeah buts” from you! Author and writing professor Elizabeth Arthur put it this way: Are you going to go to the home of every person who buys a copy of your book, stand over their shoulders while they read and say, “Yeah but I had to write it that because blather, blather, blather…?”
So listen to what your editor and betas are telling you. You chose them because you trusted them to help you make the book the best it can be. Respect what they tell you whether you like what you hear or not. Thank them for their honest assessments, then either use their advice or don’t.
Respect the public just as you respect your editor and betas. If someone posts a negative review (even a rude review), calm down, remain professional and don’t flame them. Those who don’t like your book are as entitled to their opinions as those who adore it. In any case, if you’ve listened to your editor and betas, your positive reviews will far outnumber the negatives. In fact, the occasional negative review creates credibility.
Finally, foremost, respect yourself. And -did you notice?- everything above is a reflection of that. Because, ultimately, respecting yourself means taking yourself seriously as a writer, even if no one else does. No one else is you. So respect your heart, your mind and your gut, and follow through.
Q: Where can fans reach you and buy your books?
A: “Fans.” *happy sigh* God, I love that word. Reading or hearing it never gets old. 🙂 A good place to start is my web site: www.KLNappier.com. Contact information, links to booksellers, my author pages on Facebook and Goodreads and my Twitter feed can all be found there. And my titles can be found pretty much wherever readers like to buy, including Amazon, Kindle, Smashwords, Barnes and Noble, Nook, Apple iTunes and iBooks. Everything’s available in both ebook and paperback.
Thanks so much for inviting me into the ranks of the Women in Horror Interviews. It’s been a thrill and great fun.