Today I have the pleasure of a bit of coffee talk with outstanding new author, Tamworth Grice.
JW: I started loving all things scary when I was very young. I remember watching my first horror movie by myself – the movie was about Medusa and scared the pants off of me. That feeling had such an impact on me and I will never forget it. And from that moment on, I was hooked. Halloween became my favorite holiday, horror movies were all I wanted to watch, my music begged to always have a creep factor most didn’t always enjoy.
And then…I started writing.
As you might expect, my words always wanted to wrap themselves around something, at the least, eerie. I’m not really sure the reason – maybe it’s because I want to scare myself or maybe because I went through a long period of time where there just never seemed to be any books available that seemed both scary and graceful at the same time. I know it sounds insane (and shouldn’t it?), but I like to write what I like to read. Most authors of dread like to take a hammer and beat the nail of doom into their words. I prefer a touch that adds an element of eloquence to the words, while still shilling the sick to the reader.
TG: The first scary movie I recall was one I saw in pre-school at about age three. It was Peter and the Wolf, by Disney, and it scared the bejeezes out of me. All these close-ups of the wolf, of his face, with his big eyes and huge mouth and e-fricking-normous teeth! It was terrifying. The witch in Disney’s Snow White also made a lasting—and psychologically damaging, LOL!—impression, although I think maybe I remember that from a book and not a film? Anyway I guess I can blame Disney for my morbid imagination.
TG: The neighborhood kids and I would make up stories and act them out. We didn’t much play games or with toys for some reason. Unless the toy, the doll or whatever, became a victim in one of our monster stories! I was usually the one who game up with the storyline—and an early teacher, in maybe kindergarten or first grade, sent home a note about how good I was at making up stories. This skill served me well later as a teenager when I had to make up lies to stay out of trouble! As for style, I don’t think about it much; the words just come out. But then of course I try to fix all the mistakes after the fact, in the editing, and take out the clumsy stuff and the stuff, as Elmore Leonard says, that readers skip.
JW: That makes me think of something I mentioned to another writer – suffering over sentences. I gather you tend to write like myself, you just go with it. But every once in a while (ever three or four paragraphs or so) a sentence stops me and takes away my breath. That sentence demands I give it my full attention and bleed and sweat over it’s birth. Those passages are precious cargo to me, but don’t always make it to the published version.
My process has become very much like my process was when I was an actor. The exploration and germination of that first draft is so wondrous. The discovers made, the happy accidents, pushing characters into situations and seeing how they react…
…that’s right, it’s like playing God with pen and paper. That is never so apparent as when writing monsters and serial killers. Getting my fingers dirty with the muck and mire of most depraved human conditions is where it’s all at for me. I want to write something that will give me nightmares and make me wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat.
TG: When you said, “Those passages are precious cargo to me, but don’t always make it to the published version,” that reminded me of something I heard was said by F. Scott Fitzgerald. He said that as a writer you should always be willing to “kill your darlings.” He was referring to just the situation you describe: a word, phrase, line, sentence or whatever that is perfect and precious—a “darling”—but that just doesn’t fit and so must be killed. It’s a really nice metaphor for horror writers, isn’t it?
TG: And your other line, “I want to write something that will give me nightmares” reminded me of something I heard was said by James L. White, the screenwriter who wrote the movie Ray based on the life of Ray Charles. He said that if he reread a scene he’d written and it made him cry, he knew he should leave it in. That happens to me; I identify with my characters so much that sometimes when I read about them in these tragic or scary situations, I get all weepy. Dorky, I know, but true!
JW: I get a lot of those – “darlings” that end up on the editing room floor. But that’s fine, because in turn I wind up with a lot more “darlings” that have been thoroughly edited and fawned over. So, in the end it all works out for the better.
I was writing a scene the other day for the final book in my I Zombie trilogy. The scene was just after the small group (including the protagonist) finally escaped from what should have been certain death. The protagonist fell to her knees and wept. Writing that scene really twisted my heart around. At that moment I felt so connected to that character I could have stepped right into her heels and lived her life for her. It was such an amazing feeling that I would love to say comes around more often than not – but, to be honest, it was such a remarkable moment, I was glad for its rarity. That incident told me what I had written was true, honest, and meaningful.
TG: Sounds like a great scene! I love those final scenes—both writing them and reading or watching them—where someone “finally escapes from what should be certain death”! I also like scenes where there’s some kind of huge surprise. I always try to include at least one of those big surprise scenes.
TG: And maybe best of all, I like dramatic irony scenes, where I’ve dropped enough hints that, ideally, the audience knows something the protagonist doesn’t. I like to have the audience reading and mentally saying to the protagonist, “No, stop, don’t trust him!” or “Don’t touch that! or “For God’s sake, don’t drink that!” or whatever. I’m a huge Shakespeare fan, and I love how at the end of Romeo and Juliet, the audience knows Juliet’s not really dead, but Romeo doesn’t and he’s about to commit suicide by drinking poison, and the audience is going (mentally at least), “No, Romeo! Don’t kill yourself! Juliet’s still alive!”
JW: I agree…even better is holding the characters on the edge of some precipice where they could either fall forward or backward any moment. That moment of imbalance is so important to me and my writing. I want to push and pull and push and pull until the characters seem to be riding some strange theme park ride and all the while the readers get that same feeling in their guts – that rush of either “What is going to happen”, “Don’t let that happen!”, or “Holy shit, did that just happen?”.
I spent a good amount of time doing Shakespeare when I as an actor and he was one of the greatest of all times. Not so much for his plot structures or character development, but because he knew how to suck an audience in and force them in directions they might not want to go. The underlying subtext of Shakespeare is so incredible. Powerful, powerful stuff. Unfortunately, most modern audiences just can’t wrap their brains around Shakespeare. And teaching his work in the classroom is so challenging unless the work is being performed. Shakespeare, after all, was meant to be seen, not read. I always tell people, if you’re having trouble understanding Shakespeare as a work of fiction, read it out loud and you’ll probably get the meaning immediately.
Wouldn’t that be great – to hear readers reading our works aloud or feverishly discussing deeper, darker plot points that may or may not actually exist? Good stuff that.
TG: I think if teachers know what they’re doing, any kind of literature can be made to work. They need to say, “How would you feel if you were Hamlet, and your father had just died and your mother up and married your uncle?” But they don’t. A lot of teachers, especially at the high-school level, don’t know how to teach Mother Goose, let alone Shakespeare.
TG: I’m so lacking in respect for authority figures such as high-school teachers! Sorry, if anyone reading this is an educator—I know there are a lot of very dedicated teachers. But mine, with one exception, were nincompoops, and I couldn’t get away from them fast enough. That’s why my female protagonists always either share my lack of respect for authority figures such as teachers, or they’re surrounded by malicious or inept authority figures who don’t deserve any respect, or both.
TG: Speaking of protagonists, I saw this blog today, something like, “Six Tips for Creating Characters” (not the real title). It talked about filling out a character questionnaire, and writing character bios, and writing a profile of the character’s family, and so on. And I thought, do people really do that stuff? I don’t. I just dream up a character concept and a name, and then I let the character move off in his or her own direction. Once I have the concept and the name, I don’t consciously do anything else to “create” the character. They just start moving around and talking on their own in my brain. My characters “create” themselves. If I were to do that other stuff, I think it would be a distraction and would get in my way—and in the character’s way. How about you? Do you spend a lot of time with character questionnaires and bios, or do you “go with the flow” like I do?
JW: There are some writers out there that go to very detailed depths for their characters. They want to know them inside and out on paper. I’m somewhat like you. I want to know the characters inside and out emotionally and mentally. If there’s some sort of back-story about the character needed at a certain point, I will figure it out when it comes up. Some times I feel if you’re too regimented and locked down with a character, it will prevent them from evolving through your story – or it will prevent your character from doing something really amazing, something that would serve your story perfectly, because you don’t want to stray from the characters bio sheet.
I am halfway through the final book in the I Zombie trilogy. The entire trilogy was written without a net, no outline, no character list…I just “went with it”. I could tell you more about Bethany Nitshimi now than I could have had I created an in-depth bio for her before I started writing. Through the process of taking that woman through hell, I got to know her very well…and I have to say, she’s my hero at the moment.
About Tamworth Grice
Calling herself “author, adventurer, and anarchist,” Tamworth Grice is a writer of horror and suspense fiction who publishes her eBooks independently in conjunction with Dusty Raven Publishing. LISTENING TO IAN MAGICK, 99¢ at Amazon.com for Kindle, is her first novel. Her upcoming novel, NASTY DISPOSITION, will be available for Kindle in July 2011.
LISTENING TO IAN MAGICK
Eighteen-year-old Chelsea O’Day is dealing with her father’s death, her mother’s remarriage, and a bratty new stepbrother as she struggles through summer school. She finds solace in the songs of her favorite rock star, Goth-styled bad-boy Ian Magick.
Until he begins communicating with her through his music.
And asking her to kill.