Monday, July 15, 2013

WYTOVICH GETS STRAIGHTJACKET READY

PATIENT: LEE ALLEN HOWARD
ILLNESS: WRITER

When did you start writing? Why did you pick the genre you write it?

One of my favorite books in elementary school was the humorous and horrific How to Care for Your Monster (1970) by Norman Bridwell. I’m not sure where else I got my excitement for horror fiction from, but I’ve always liked the spooky and morbid.
In second grade I started writing my own stories on three-ring notebook paper, binding them with construction paper covers. One memorable story was titled “Eyeballs Only,” about a mad scientist who turns into a monster that goes on a rampage to pluck people’s eyes out and eat them. Like chocolate-covered cherries, they squirt in your mouth.

I got a charge out of seeing people react with horror and disgust to something I’d written. (And I still do.) When I was around 14, I devoured Tom Tryon’s The Other (1971). I was electrified! And that’s what spurred me to write stories of horror, crime, and the supernatural.

Where you get your ideas from? Do you journal at all?

I journaled in grade school and high school, but not now. Sometimes I print out articles concerning something weird or gruesome, but I rarely write about them. Most of my ideas seem to come from out of the blue (black, rather), and haunt me until I do something with them.
 
I think inspiration comes from another realm, and ideas descend like pinballs, bouncing off this creative person and the next, until they find just the right soul to communicate their message. I’m not sure what that says about me. But I feel I’m the only one who can relate the things I write about, however twisted they may be.

What’s a normal (writing) day like for you?

I work from home full time as a technical writer for a software company. So the day job comes first. I’m done by 6:00 p.m., when I’m happy to leave the house. I go out for dinner and then spend two hours writing at one of my favorite coffee shops on the east side of Pittsburgh. I also write Saturday afternoons and Sunday mornings from 7:00 a.m. to noon.

Favorite author or book? Who are you currently reading?

As I mentioned previously, Tom Tryon’s The Other is responsible for my wanting to write, along with James Herbert’s The Rats (1974). My favorite British author is Ramsey Campbell. I also adore Patrick McGrath’s Asylum (1996).

Currently, I’m reading Stephanie Wytovich’s HYSTERIA and loving its delicious darkness. I’m also into neo-noir writer Trent Zelazny’s Too Late to Call Texas. He’s another favorite of mine.

Do you prefer writing poetry or prose? Why one over the other?

I wrote some poetry when I was younger. I’ve also written a number of short stories. Now I need more room for my characters, plot, and story, so I’m concentrating on novels (working on #6).

Why do you write dark fiction?

I write horror because I’ve always seen things from a dark perspective. For most of my life I’ve struggled with anxiety and depression. So what “normal life” looks like to others has been fear and misery to me.

Yet somehow, a horrifying story—one that creeps me out, makes my mouth drop open or my hair stand on end—has always filled me, strangely enough, with life. I figure if fictional characters can go through hell and come out on top (if there’s a happy ending, of course), so can I. Horror keeps me going.

Reading and writing horror not only stimulates me, it makes me laugh. I think I was able to interject some humor, albeit grim, in my latest novel, Death Perception.

Would you consider yourself a Plotter or a Pantser?

Definitely a plotter. I now spend a lot of time developing characters, timelines, backstory, story structure, and scene outlines before I begin drafting. This process helps me work out issues that would be more difficult to fix, were I free-drafting. I hate investing time and effort into something that stalls when I could have worked through the problem in the plotting stage.

What do you think is the hardest aspect of the craft?

Developing an initial idea into a full-blown story. I’m still learning this process—but I’m getting better at it.

Current projects?

My fourth novel, the supernatural thriller Death Perception, was recently released. Nineteen-year-old Kennet Singleton lives with his invalid mother in a personal care facility, but he wants out. He operates the crematory at the local funeral home, where he discovers he can discern the cause of death of those he cremates—by toasting marshmallows over their ashes. He thinks his ability is no big deal since his customers are already dead. But when his perception differs from what’s on the death certificate, he finds himself in the midst of murderers. To save the residents and avenge the dead, Kennet must bring the killers to justice. Dark and fun!

I finished my fifth novel in April (it took me only four months to plot, write, and revise it). Call of the Piss Fairy is a dark and disturbing psychological thriller about an abused young man with chronic secondary nocturnal enuresis (adult bedwetting). As pressures mount, he embarks on a killing spree using the tools of his dark fantasies: a military fighting knife and a pair of electric hair trimmers. I’m hoping the book will be out this fall.

How do you balance being an editor and being a writer?

Not all editors are writers, but all writers must also be editors, at least of their own work. I’ve made a concerted effort to develop both my creative writing talents and my editing skills. Self-editing often makes the difference between acceptance and rejection. I spoke about “Self-editing for Publication” at this year’s In Your Write Mind conference at Seton Hill University. I also do freelance editing of dark fiction.

What do you think people expect from you with your writing?

I hope readers get an interesting story well told—and well written. There are plenty of people dumping stories and books out there that aren’t ready for prime time because they aren’t sufficiently edited. I strive to make my stuff as smooth and clean as possible.

Considering what I have out there for sale, readers can expect a generous helping of misery in my fiction, served up with a chuckle and a generous side of creepiness. My motto is, “The creepier, the better.”

Advice for aspiring writers?

STUDY your craft. Read books. Go to workshops. Get feedback. APPLY what you learn to your own writing. Over the past 25 years, I’ve bought and read nearly 250 books about story development, writing craft, and editing. Whenever I discovered something I was doing wrong, I edited ALL my unpublished stories to fix the problem. (Some stories I’ve opened and edited more than 500 times.) A lot of work, sure. But by the time I was done, the new technique was mine.

All education is self-education. If you want to write—and publish—you must teach yourself.

BIO: Lee Allen Howard writes horror, dark fantasy, and supernatural crime. He’s been a professional writer and editor of both fiction and nonfiction since 1985. His works include The Sixth Seed, Desperate Spirits, Night Monsters, “Mama Said,” and Death Perception, available at http://leeallenhoward.com. Lee is a practicing medium and blogs about Spiritualism and metaphysics at http://buildingthebridge.wordpress.com.

Lee will also be presenting a "Self-editing for Publishing Success" workshop at the WE WRITE! event, September 21, at the Monroeville Public Library.