About a month ago, I promised to get my ass in gear and update this blog regularly, something I’ve failed at in the past. It’s still early, but I’m gradually breaking out of my shell and in an effort to keep my promise, I’ve decided to conduct author interviews with some of my favorite talents. I hope to include a wide variety of voices, ranging from the relatively unknowns to the seasoned veterans, and maybe (just maybe) even some household names. I think it will be fun to help promote new writers and learn from those who have been at it for some time. I hope to post at least one a month.
That’s the plan anyway.
So without further ado, I’d like to present my first interviewee (victim), the very talented, very compelling, D.S. Ullery. I’ve been a fan of his work for a few years now, ever since our stories appeared together in a Christmas anthology by Horror Novel Reviews. I can’t recommend his work enough. He released his first short story collection, Beyond Where the Sky Ends earlier this year. I had a lot of fun chatting with D.S. and found the whole process entertaining as hell.
Enjoy the interview!
TIM MEYER: Hey, DS. Thanks for dropping in. Why don’t we start off with something easy: tell everyone a little bit about yourself. Who is DS Ullery? Man? Monster? Or conjurer of some wicked horror fiction?
DS ULLERY: I’m a man who has a little bit of a monster locked up inside of him. Without indulging in a depressing amount of detail, I experienced some very dark chapters early in my childhood, which I managed to survive. Though I’m essentially a practical optimist by nature (I think things can work out, but only if we do the necessary work to make it so), I’m also keenly aware human beings have a vicious dark side. It’s been my experience that a lot of the suffering – a lot of the horror we experience on an everyday basis – is the result of a series of choices which lead people to a bad place. I’m not denying there are legitimate victims in this world – there are plenty of occasions when people have things happen they have no control over, leaving them to pick up the pieces in the aftermath – but much of the bad stuff we read about online and see on the news every day is specifically the result of human choice. I’m a guy with a knack for the written word who uses that perception to (hopefully) craft stories in which readers will recognize familiar aspects of the human experience. I also don’t mind putting the creepers on people, because sometimes it comes down to the basic need for allowing your inner goblin out to play.
TM: Sooooooo… I read this magnificent little short story collection called Beyond Where the Sky Ends. Before we go further, can you tell the world what all the fuss is about? I could, but I’m lazy.
DS: Beyond Where the Sky Ends is a collection of the horror stories I have had published via multiple platforms over the past three to four years, be it self-publishing, e-zines, print anthologies, print periodicals, e-books or websites. I also included a few never before published works. I am absolutely floored by the positive reception that book has received thus far.
TM: Which one of these dark darlings is your favorite?
DS: Whew… tough call! They’re like my children and I have an attachment to all of them, but if I were to narrow it down, I think “The Rise” may be by my personal favorite, because it touches on the themes of racism and revenge. I’m also really fond of “Trick”, which I think works as a nifty little piece of flash fiction, nicely capturing the vibe of Halloween.
TM: The story “Beyond Where the Sky Ends” hits on an emotional level that differs from the rest of the collection. It’s a personal favorite of mine. Can you tell us about this story in particular and why you chose this “real-horror” approach?
DS: Bullying is still a tremendous problem in our schools, and though there are obviously some people who are born with issues, most of us start out relatively normal. But for some of these kids, the abuse and ridicule build up over time with no relief. Then something breaks down along the way and bad things start happening inside their head. Yet no one notices until there’s an act of violence. I wanted to tap into that. The type of real world horror implied to happen after the conclusion of “Beyond Where the Sky Ends” is a lot more common today, yet it’s this taboo subject no one really touches on in short fiction very often. Why? Because someone might get ideas? I don’t agree with that. Anyone who has arrived at the point where they would actually do the sort of things the brothers in the story do are going to have those ideas anyway. Sweeping this under the rug in our literature isn’t going to help. We have to collectively face this monster and get it out there. Maybe if we start having this conversation, then we can start intervening with these people before things get to that point. By the way, I consider the story – which is another one I’m particularly fond of – to be a tragedy more than horror story. Specifically, it’s the tale of a younger brother who is corrupted by the psychosis of his older sibling.
TM: Of all the characters you have created, who do you “identify” most with and why?
DS: Danny Burke from BG Gruff (formerly released under the title “Gruff 123”). I was a bullied kid in high school. I actually had one kid stalk me after hours at my home, so there were elements of that story which grew out of my own experiences. I was also one of the smart, academically inclined kids and a natural born wise ass. So, as was the case with Danny, I got into trouble a few times.
TM: You’re primarily known for your short fiction. Should we expect some long fiction in the near future? A novella? A novel?
DS: Both. I have novella that is almost near the completed first draft stage, titled The Side People. That’s gonna be a dark, nasty bit of work, pure supernatural, go for the throat horror. I think that one is actually going to have people turning on lights and jumping at shadows. I really hope to have that out later this year, maybe in time for Halloween.
I also have some work done on Bleed the Choir of Angels, intended as my first novel. I had hoped to have that ready this year, but I’m pretty sure that will be a 2017 release. I also plan to release a second collection as soon as I have enough stories gathered. There are already five or six in the planned line up, stuff that was published but was still under copyright at the time BWtSE came about.
TM: All-time favorite horror novel?
DS: Still Stephen King’s The Shining. I was ten and it represented my graduation from reading young adult books to full blown adult novels. I was one of those kids who was reading on a college level by the time I hit the fourth grade and I absolutely loved it. For the record, I adored Doctor Sleep. I wasn’t disappointed by the sequel at all. It was definitely a different book, but King is also a superior writer now and his skills really showed there. By the way, as long as I’m naming favorites, it should interest you, Peter Draper and Chad Scanlon to know Sunfall is my favorite apocalyptic story to date. Not at all kidding there. I think you three have developed a really fascinating, original universe and you’re moving the narrative forward beautifully.
TM: You have me blushing, sir. OK, back to the interview. Name some literary influences.
DS: King of course, because he’s the reason I wanted to take up writing horror and he’s done more to make literary horror cool than any author in my lifetime. Clive Barker is a master of dark imagination and I think every aspiring author of dark tales should read The Inhuman Condition at least once in their life. If King showed me how engaging horror could be, Barker was the man who demonstrated how far we could let our imaginations spin while writing it. Ray Bradbury is a hero of mine – he is, as far as I am concerned, the undisputed master of the short story and my direct inspiration in many ways. Read The Illustrated Man some time. That’s possibly the best collection ever written, with a brilliant connective tissue linking everything. Oddly, I’m not much on Lovecraft (cue a thousand of Cthulhu fanatics burning me in effigy), but I love Edgar Allen Poe. “The Tell Tale Heart” is still my choice for the very best short horror story ever written. It’s a master class in the compelling twist, descriptive writing, suspense and form.
TM: I happen to know you’re a big fan of 80s horror movies. I can see traces of it in your stories, like “Gore” and “The Basement.” Any movies in particular that influenced your work?
DS: Creepshow and Creepshow II, Tales from the Darkside the series (and film), Amazing Stories, any iteration of The Twilight Zone (but particularly the original and the movie) and, of course, HBO’s excellent Tales from the Crypt. All of these influenced my style. My take on short fiction is you either go dark or have fun with it. Give the story punch either way. I don’t mind leaving a reader unsettled, but I’m just as happy putting a diabolical grin on their face.
TM: When I write, I usually listen to music. Sometimes I build a soundtrack for the project I’m working on. Do you ever listen to music while writing or do you prefer silence? If so, what genre? Norwegian Death Metal? Hip-Hop? Disco?
DS: As a rule, I don’t listen to music. I did initially, but I’d get so wrapped up in the story I was writing, I’d stop paying attention and end up blocking the music out. On the rare occasions when I do feel I’m up for accompanying my sessions with music, I actually opt for movie scores. Jerry Goldsmith’s excellent score to The Final Conflict (The third Omen film) is a good one to have on, particularly when I’m writing an action/horror beat ending with the gruesome demise of a character.
TM: Title of the first story you ever sold?
DS: “The Haunted Air.” Now, I had been published a few times some years prior to that, but that was the first time someone told me they were willing to pay me for my work.
TM: And how did that feel?
DS: Man, even though it was a paltry five bucks, it might as well have been five million.
TM: Describe your fiction in three words.
DS: Dark, fun and memorable.
TM: How does your fiction differ from today’s horror fiction?
DS: I think I’m one of an emerging breed of writers working in the independent arena right now who are pushing things back to a focus on solid, traditional storytelling, not relying on gimmicks or hopping bandwagons. In addition to yourself, there’s also Terry West, Robin Dover and Jon Woodrow, all of whom write fiction with a focus on delivering a compelling narrative. Look at my story “The New Meat.” It’s my only zombie story to date and, rather than try to jump on the zombie bandwagon, I chose to completely flip the switch on the traditional structure of the core premise. It’s about telling a good story, not necessarily trying to capitalize on a hot trend to make a quick buck.
By the way, I mentioned Jon Woodrow up there. If you have the chance, read his debut novel Wasteland Gods. It’s a perfect example of what I’m talking about – an entirely original, well spun narrative that held me captive every step of the way.
TM: Any advice for new writers? Some do’s and don’ts?
DS: I still consider myself a new writer (I didn’t begin getting paid for my work until a couple of years ago), but I have picked up a few things in the past several years, so here it goes:
Don’t connect with other authors just to promote yourself. Interact, learn and grow. Make friends. Horror is a community and we’re not competition, but colleagues.
Do edit, edit again and edit some more. If you think you need to, edit once more to be sure. This is particularly important if you’re self published, as I am. Every story I’ve ever written has had a minimum of three drafts, some as many as seven. That’s before the editing process I will then engage in with the publisher before it goes to print.
Don’t automatically assume your story has been rejected a dozen times because it sucks. Generally, editors receive hundreds of submissions for single open call. They can only use a few and though the rest may be well written, many of them tend to contain similar themes and concepts to a story that has already been selected for the same open call. That doesn’t mean your story sucks. It means it wasn’t something that editor for that call could use. Rejection stings, but it’s part of the process. Every author worth a damn has been rejected at some point. The only ones who haven’t (that I’m aware of) are a few self published hacks who churn out quickie dreck and have never bothered submitting to a single legitimate publication because it’s obvious no one in their right mind would pay them for the rights to publish that crap (Apologies if that sounds harsh, but cats like that are the ones who tainted self publishing in the early days. Fortunately, readers are catching on and by and large we’re seeing their numbers dwindle). With one exception, every single story in Beyond Where the Sky Ends previously published in a paying market was rejected multiple times. One or two of them took up to a year to find a good home. As a rule, it usually boils down to matter of timing, not quality. So don’t give up!
And hey, although I am an affiliate member of the HWA, let me admonish any writer trying their hand at this that you don’t need a group or other agency to approve of you or validate you as an author. If you have the skill, the desire and the stories to tell, write them. Whether you self-publish or find success the traditional way, your writing is as valid and important as that of anyone else.
Finally, do it for the passion, not the money. You may make some scratch, but most authors (particularly us independent types) will likely not be able to support themselves doing this full-time. I actually have a day job. I work forty hours a week. But writing is my passion, one I plan to indulge as long as I am able. That’s the key: Invest the work with your passion. That’s what makes the connection with reader. That’s how you make them feel something and that’s why they come back to read what you come up with next.
TM: Awesome. Thanks for stopping by. Good luck with your writing and I can’t wait to see what you come out with next!
DS: My pleasure, Tim. Thank you for the opportunity to share with you!