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Confessions of a Part-Time Horror Author

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Confessions of a Part-Time Horror AuthorIf you’re like us two things are true: you live to read books, and a little voice in the back of your head tells you that you could write them, as well. While that notion might be shared by most readers, only a few go on to actually sit down and create the stories we love.

In honor of the creepiest season of the year, we’ve sat down for a talk with burgeoning horror author Gregory Adams for his perspective on writing. Greg’s published two collections of short stories — The River Above and One Day in Hell — as well as the sorcerous political parody Season of the W.I.T.C.H. In the long tradition of horror authors hailing from New England, he’s based out of Massachusetts.

You graduated from MassArt with a degree in Media and Performing Arts. What was the path that brought you to writing?
I was actually doing a lot of writing in that program: one-act plays, spoken word performances, theatrical productions. Our final project was a radio play. We had amazing support; we had the efforts of all the students learning sound, lighting, and cinematography. Post-graduation, when I didn’t have all of that technical support at my disposal, it was natural to transition into more traditional writing.

Your stories feel like a spiritual cross between Roald Dahl and Steven King, what are your biggest influences?
I’m glad you asked that, because my strongest influence isn’t someone particularly well known. In college I worked as an assistant to a Berklee professor who was an avid book collector, and he introduced me to Robert Aickman, whose most famous book is probably The Wine Dark Sea. He’s just a master of atmosphere. It was while reading him that I decided “this is what I want to do.”

I’m also influenced by many others: Steven King and Roald Dahl, as you point out. George Orwell is a hero to me. Mark Leyner, for absurdity. John Bellairs. Ray Bradbury is amazing, because all of his short stories are so self-contained — they fit everything into one complete package.

So far, you’ve stuck with the short story format. Do you have plans to tackle longer projects?
Yes, I’m currently working on two novels! In 2018 I got an agent. At the time I had a short 30,000-word novel, and she liked it enough to take me on, so I’ve been working on expanding that, as well as writing another.

I think one of the reasons I stuck to short stories for so long was that I was frightened and intimidated by the idea of what writing a novel would mean. I was right! (laughs) One of the benefits of writing a short story is the same as reading it: it’s short, and soon behind you. Writing a novel is a much harder task, but I’m hoping to be done with both of them by the end of winter.

Do you base your characters on real people that you know?
Absolutely! It’s crucial, and it’s fun. It’s satisfying to come up with situations and ask yourself what would this person do? What solutions would they come up with? And you can check back with what you know about them to see if what you’re writing is authentic. You might not be right, but you can try.

Do they know you’re putting them in “interesting” situations?
Sure. What’s difficult is – with horror – you’re rarely showing them at their best. If people are at their best, those aren’t horror stories; those are adventure stories. You can see it in movies like Alien, or Aliens; if the marines make good choices that’s an adventure story. It’s people making the poor choices that puts them on a path toward a horror story.

What are common traps for aspiring writers?
There are many, and I know because I did all of them. (laughs) You can work too long in isolation. Get a writer’s group: they keep you accountable, and they give you feedback. It’s impossible to be objective about your own work. You need an editor, even if it’s just for the grammatical content of what you’re writing. Get comfortable with people not liking your work. Ninety percent of the people you submit your work to are going to reject it. Make sure you get that ten percent you publish out there as much as you can. There’s a right way and a wrong way to self-promote and handle social media. Someday I hope someone tells me what the right way is! (laughs)

Actually writing something is only the first of many, many steps. Your first draft is like a sketch. It’s like Michaelangelo revealing a statue from a block of stone – not that I’m Michaelangelo. But that first draft is the rough cut you do by yourself. You need to take critique – art school was good practice for that.

What advice would you give to your younger writing self?
Get a writing group. I wouldn’t have finished that first novel if not for mine. There are things I’d change about my earlier work – I think that’s true for every artist – but there are things I would have done better with their feedback.

Any organizations in particular you’d like to shout out to?
Yes. The first is the New England Horror Writers – you can find them on Facebook, as well as other places. They’ll help you find markets, agents, conventions, submit to anthologies, connect with other writers – learn the trade.

The second is Writers Assembled, which is a Facebook group that offers feedback, has contests, and publishes anthologies.

What does literary success look like to you?
Ideally? To reliably get my work out there to people who are enjoying it. To be successful enough to afford me the time to work on it more and get it out there. I hope that’s attainable.

You can reach Gregory Adams through his agent Ladderbird Literary Agency and follow him on Facebook and twitter. What are your favorite scary tales? Share them with us over on our Facebook page.

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