Wendy Potocki lives and writes in NYC. If that isn’t scary enough, she writes in the genre of horror. She feels creating good horror is an art form. She religiously devotes herself to pursuing it over hill and dale — and in the crevices of her keyboard.
Named one of the Top Ten “New” Horror Authors by Horror Novel Reviews, she has six self-published novels: The White Lady Murders, The Horns of September, The Man with the Blue Hat, Adduné: Part I. The Vampire’s Game, Adduné: Part II. The House of Cards, and Black Adagio. Book trailers for many of her works may be found on her official website. Her next planned projects are Thrill, All the Women Are Witches, The Virgin, and ZaSo, a Gothic tale of horror. Please subscribe to her mailing list for updates and giveaway information.
In her spare time, she loves to go for long walks, drink Starbucks Apple Chai Lattes, make devotional offerings to her cat named Persephone, and be stilled by the grace, beauty and magic of ballet.
Also check out the Haunted Eyeball’s review of The Man with the Blue Hat.
Haunted Eyeball: Hi Wendy and welcome to the Haunted Eyeball. As usual, we’re going to start at the very beginning! Tell us, which authors did you enjoy reading while you were growing up?
My favorite authors as a child were Walter Farley, Jack London, and Anna Sewell. The Black Stallion, White Fang, and Black Beauty were devoured at regular intervals. I must have read each a thousand times. And if you sense an animal-loving theme going on, you would be correct. I was, and am, bonkers about our four-legged furry friends. I had pets, rode horses, watched nature programs, and was so besotted with wolves that my girlfriend and I would play “Wolf,” a game we invented. On sleepovers, we would wait until the household was asleep. We’d then crawl on all fours out of the bedroom and roam the darkened house, jumping on furniture and pretending we were out in the great wilderness stalking prey. And, yes, I was either dropped on my head as a child or bitten by a werewolf, I never did find out which. As for fairy tales, I was taken with The Grand Panjandrum. It had nonsense phrases that included: “So she went into the garden to cut a cabbage leaf, to make an apple pie.” That sort of thing appealed to me greatly since it captured whimsy.
As a teenager, I moved on. I was so into mysteries that it was a little obsessive. Agatha Christie was my favorite followed by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Dorothy Sayers. I also fell in love with Jane Austen. Pride and Prejudice is one of my all-time favorites.
Who are your favourite authors now?
There are so many that I greatly admire—all for different reasons. Albert Camus, Hermann Hesse, Martha Grimes, Jean Paul Sartre, Stephen King, Anne Rice, Elmore Leonard, Louis Pauwels and Jacques Bergier, Edgar Allen Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker, Rod Serling, Stirling Silliphant, Jack Finney, Peter Straub, Whitley Streiber, Kurt Vonnegut, Joyce Carol Oates, Ira Levin, William Peter Blatty and probably a string of others that I’m forgetting. I should mention that in my 20s, I used to read a book a day. That’s a lot to keep track of.
Which films, TV and music influenced you in your writing, and daily life?
The number one TV show that influenced me is The Twilight Zone. The tension in that show was palpable. The characters on screen could be eating breakfast, but there was no relaxing. I’d be sweating and riddled with anxiety about what would happen next. I try to convey that sense of tension in my writing.
Of course, Kolchak: The Night Stalker has to be mentioned. I’ll never look at a cocky reporter in a rumpled suit the same way again! I also would be remiss in not giving a shout out to Dark Shadows. It was the first vampire/paranormal soap opera, as far as I know, and did some damage in blazing a trail. I loved the writing in that series. They had such fabulous storylines that delved into the dark undercurrent of the occult. The show was like some never-ending dream that just flowed seamlessly from episode to episode. And, of course, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Freaky Links, The X-Files, The Norliss Tapes and Fear No Evil were also stellar.
Films that warped me include Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Forbidden Planet, The Matrix, Dracula, The Wolf Man, Night Tides, Psycho, House of the Devil, Toolbox Murders, Poltergeist, The Exorcist, Diabolique and Rosemary’s Baby. Watching these types of films helps develop the horror palate to an extent that isolation will not accomplish. So rather than stay away from what you’re trying to write in an attempt to not be influenced, I say drown yourself in it! Drench yourself—being careful to dab behind the ears—soak, stew and simmer in the broth. This actually is the surest way to find your own voice and ensure you won’t copy rather than the reverse.
As for music, there are so many influences. Camille Saint-Saëns’ The Danse Macabre helped inspire my last published work, BLACK ADAGIO. I also love trippy classic songs from The Beatles, The Stones and The Doors. You get great imagery from listening to the old greats and sometimes it helped conjure up a scene or two. It’s the limbic system you’re trying to activate in writing and music is a great way to switch that on.
What’s the strangest thing that’s ever happened to you?
The strangest thing was something that happened in my childhood. It was during summer recess and I was up really late playing poker with my siblings. At about midnight, we heard a soft tap and thought someone was at the window. We got up and looked out, but there was no one there. We even went outside to look on the patio, but no intruder was anywhere near our home.
We resumed our hot game of illicit gambling when there was another knock. Because it was louder, we identified it as coming from the far end of the kitchen. The only thing in that corner was a storage cabinet and door that led to the basement. We all assumed a plate must have fallen inside the cupboard. One of us opened the cabinet—very slowly I might add—so the dish wouldn’t fall out and break, but there was nothing there. The china was neatly stacked. We huddled together in the corner trying to figure things out when it hit us that if the noise wasn’t coming from the cabinet, it must be coming from the basement. In unison, we turned and looked at the securely latched door. As if on cue, the door rattled on its hinges by someone pounding on it. We about lost our minds. Freaking out, we ran up the stairs screaming. After all, the force was so powerful that we saw the door move—and split down the center.
We woke our parents who ordered us to get to bed which we did. No argument there. By that point, we were more than happy to oblige. In the morning when we got up, the crack was there—proof that we hadn’t imagined things. An investigation of the basement revealed that all the doors and windows were shut and locked so no one could have gotten in.
I should add that coincidentally around that time, one of my sisters had been playing with the Ouija board. She’d brought it up from its cellar graveyard position into the parlor to ask a host of riveting questions like, “Who will I marry?” and “What will his name be?” The Ouija board answered and was put back downstairs. When I read/saw The Exorcist, I was reminded of that encounter with the unknown. I’ve always wondered if that night, it was our household’s version of Captain Howdy saying hello.
What scares you the most?
Oh, everything! I’m a big weenie and cry about fifty times a day! But what terrifies me most are psychopaths. That’s because they’re real and out there and I hope to God not at my back door trying to get in!
Is an audience or genre a starting point for your writing?
No, the muse telling me the story is the starting point. I’m one of those writers that insist they have a muse. Of course, I only insist that because she insists that I insist. She usually tells me the idea and then fleshes it out down the line. More ideas come, or sometimes a whole string of dialogue. For instance, in The Horns of September, I was cleaning the bathroom, when the entire opening paragraph came. I wrote it verbatim. I went back to cleaning and the ending came to me. I wrote down the last paragraph, and because I’m such a trooper, I went back to cleaning. Again I was interrupted from my household chores by the middle of the story. Interestingly, the middle chapter described a love scene between Chuck and a new character, Kit. I had no idea who she was or how they got there, but, man, were they in love! So there I sat, looking at the beginning, middle and end wondering what went in between. I truly had no idea, but learned when I wrote the rest.
Do you spend long on research, or is research overrated?
Yes, I do, and no, research is not overrated, but the reliance upon it is. After all, I’m writing horror and not documenting some historical event. If I were writing historical non-fiction, you best believe I’d be accurate, but I’m not. For me, it’s a way to get the flavor of the times. The best way I can describe it is that reading about an era makes you feel comfortable in writing about it. Therefore, it’s imperative that you saturate yourself to the point where you describe things in your own words. Like in school, when they insist that they teach you things so you can apply them. That’s the best explanation.
How do you start a novel?
Well, as discussed above, I receive the idea—and usually the title. I open a word document and write the title down. Save, close and then it’s time to wait for the details to come to me. I never begin a story without knowing the beginning, middle and ending of it. To me it gives the story context and keeps it from wandering places it doesn’t need to go. When the main character’s idiosyncrasies and preferences come to me, and I receive a bit of dialogue and flashes of the story, I begin writing. It sometimes takes minutes, days, weeks or months for this to happen. There’s no set pattern.
Does writer’s block ever hit? How do you deal with it?
Never. I have the opposite problem. I constantly have ideas and I’m happy I do. Knock on wood that it stays that way.
However, if you’re talking about having trouble starting a story, yes, that has happened to me. The best way to deal with it is to write. It happened with BLACK ADAGIO. While I was happy with the opening paragraph, I just couldn’t get into the story. You see, for me, there’s the story, and then there’s the story underneath the story. That’s the one I want to write. The one skittering on the top is nonsense and predictable; the one below is rich, complex and has layers. So I just kept at it, writing my little heart out. I gave detailed back stories to every character mentioned and I believe the first chapter ended up being over 50 pages long. I kept going and by chapter 3, I was into it. Of course, when I was finished and went to edit the story, I had to slash and burn most of the minutiae, but I am so happy with the final result. So the advice is:
Write. Write if you don’t think you’re writing. Write if you think it’s bad. Write if you have no idea what you’re doing. That’s what the delete key is for.
Whose writing advice do you really listen to (if any)!
I don’t really listen. I think the closest I come to listening is a quote by Stephen King. He said something like, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have time to write.” But the rest of the advice I hear really has nothing to do with me, or what I like in the way of writing. It’s like some minimalist got hold of prose and is trying to banish it out of existence. Like the advice on details. It seems writers shouldn’t include anything that doesn’t advance the plot. Really? Readers don’t need to know if it’s raining or sunny out? Or whether the character is going out to purchase that machete on an overcast day? And that when he buys it the downpour starts, and that people scatter? And that he imagines they’re scattering because of him?
To me, all the advice is so much noise. I turn the volume down and write what I enjoy. Like the current, “Show, don’t tell.” My response? Have you ever heard of a “storyshower?” Hasn’t it historically been “storyteller” since the beginning of time? Why do you think that is? It’s because writers are storytellers and not storyshowers. We’re people’s eyes and ears and I delight in giving descriptions. So there.
I’d like to add that this isn’t about not wanting to improve. You should always want to improve and if your story and writing can be improved, do it. But there’s painting by numbers, and writing by advice. I’d prefer not to do either.
Is there anything you wouldn’t consider writing about, e.g. genre, political issues, sexuality?
This is a hard question. My answer is that you have to be fearless in writing the story where it goes and not where you want it to go. Sometimes it gets dicey. There are methods and tricks you can use if the going gets rough and crosses a moral boundary. For instance, in one book I switch the murder of a little boy to the victim’s point of view. So instead of describing the horror of what’s being done, he’s describing and “telling” (take that!) what is happening. There are flashbacks he has and they help explain who he is and how he’s gotten to the point of meeting up with a psychopath. So while there are stories I would not write, if I choose to tell a story, I will take it where it wants to go—no matter what.
On ‘The Man With the Blue Hat
What makes this horror story different?
The characters. It’s really all about their interaction and that makes this novel compelling. I allow all the participants to show their ugly sides as well as what makes them great. Also, the story has a certain truth to it. By that I mean that the dialogue is honest. My stories build from the characters and this novel is no different. Having the story be character-driven lends unpredictability to the mix. So the dialogue used is what they actually would say and not words I put in their mouths to sound good.
The story also begins with a bang. Right off the bat, we’re introduced to something being terribly wrong. Then it’s the main character’s job to chase down the solution. Of course, she enlists her best friend to help. And to go back to an earlier question, this is a story where I did a lot of research. I love when fiction is mixed with a bit of truth. It makes for a perfect lie that everyone believes.
SPOILER (HIGHLIGHT TO READ): Where did the shrunken head idea come from?
Baphomet was always there. I do have a backstory for him, but didn’t include it. I wanted people to come up with their own conclusions as to who or what he is—and to imagine what he did to end up the way he did. So to answer the question, he was an integral part of the story since the inception.
And what was the most difficult part of the book to write?
Positively the most difficult part of the story was getting Beth’s actions right spoilerwhen she attempts to choose a victim. I really had to get into her head and let loose. It took me a few passes to get it right. In other words, I had to work for that one!
Were there any autobiographical elements (i.e. location, ambition, etc?)
No, none. Everything sprang from my imagination and my muse’s storytelling ability. The idea that seeded the story was taken from the news. It was the notion of dreadful things happening to people because of one wrong decision. I was ruminating on how a single wrong move could result in such dire consequences. For instance, one story I remember was of a young woman that hadn’t been out in a while. She’d been cooped up because of her job and going to school, so she decided to head to a bar and have some fun. Naturally, the person she ended up talking to turned out to be a sociopath who murdered her on the drive back home. So it was this sort of thing that I was thinking about when the story came to me.
Do you spend long editing and getting second opinions beta readers etc?
I spend way too long editing! I hate editing—hate it! The writing is hard, but editing? Just torture.
I go through the story as many times as needed. The Man with the Blue Hat I went through at least 25 times. I was ready to throw the manuscript, laptop and myself out the window when I realized I lived on the first floor and that the leap wouldn’t do much damage. Had I occupied the penthouse of a skyscraper, things could have turned out so much differently.
As for beta readers, I listen to them, but do stick my fingers in my ears while humming, “La la la la la,” at their suggestions. I’m very cantankerous (but lovable under other conditions), and don’t like backing down from the story written. The only thing I seem very amenable to is explaining something. If someone says they don’t understand something, I do very amiably add a bit of description, but changing things? It’s not going to happen. I mean it.
Do you feel that the character of Beth is likable, or should it even matter?
Can I tell you that I LOVE Beth—yes, LOVE in capital letters. Writing allows you to be intimately involved with your characters. I mean, I can’t know another human being as well as I know one of my characters. It’s impossible since I can’t know if someone is lying to me, or saying something because I want to hear it, or setting me up to be punked, or whatever. But a character? I can get to know them on the inside and Beth is wonderful. Yes, she has her faults, but she’s such a good person. I would never have persevered and carried on the way she did. And because she was imperfect, it made it all the more laudable that she struggled to try to right things. And, yes, it matters to me. Now the thing that doesn’t matter is if a reader has another take on her. They’re entitled to think what they want about her. That’s a reader’s prerogative, but me? Adore.
Who’s your favourite character in the book, apart from Beth?
That’s difficult. I love Baphomet. Yes, it is a little disturbing that I think that, but I suppose I would have to pick Kirsten. She’s just so sweet. She’s a girly-girl and I would gladly spend many hours helping her paint everything in Beth’s immaculate household pink. Won’t Beth be happy when she comes home!
What are you working on now?
I’m working on two things. One story is written and in the process of being edited. It’s called THRILL. The blurb is:
“Kyle Evans is a teenager who wants to be somebody. Joining a gang called Hell’s Bells, he thinks he’s arrived, but only finds danger. Learning that the club is obsessed with finding thrills, Kyle takes a dare. Accepting a challenge, he finds that some rides should never be taken.”
It’s a horror-a-minute extravaganza and a full-on assault. Warning: You’ll need a barf bag when you read the ending.
The next is a WIP. I’ve only finished the first chapter and will actually perform a title reveal for you. I’ve never put it in print before, but will now. It’s called ALL THE WOMEN ARE WITCHES and is a throwback to the classic novels of the 70s. It’s a very creepy tale of a couple who move to the small town of Croft. It doesn’t take long for Tom and Stacey Kestler to discover that the last owner of their house was brutally murdered—possibly ritualistically. The unsolved murder spurs Stacey into asking questions. After all, it is her house and she has a right to be curious. But curiosity turns into obsession after the discovery of charred pieces of paper. Found by the side of the fireplace in the victim’s office, when the burnt remains are arranged they spell a phrase—“All the women are witches.”
Any tips for new writers?
My tip would be to write, write, write. Go outside your comfort zone and write anything you can. Don’t turn anything down. The more you press yourself, the more fluid your style becomes. Take chances, follow the story, and just perfect your art. It’s a noble profession so always strive to be better.
Thanks for visiting us today Wendy. One final question before we let you go – do you have a message or thoughts for the lovely readers of the Haunted Eyeball?
Other than to say that the world isn’t big enough to allow you to be far enough away from your family, I can’t think of a thing! Except to thank all the other writers and artists who have inspired me. While some have given me many a sleepless night fending off figments of their imagination, I thank them all for the adventure.
Also of Interest
The Haunted Eyeball’s review of Man with the Blue Hat
- Ouija Board and my Boo Boo (majicandmayhem.com)