Author Interview: James Pratt (Part 2 of 3)

Black Scarab picture, James Pratt,

Meet James Pratt (disguised as The Black Scarab)

Welcome to the second part of the Haunted Eyeball’s interview with horror author James Pratt. Today we discuss Inspiration & Publicity.

Part 1: Writing Process

Part 2: Inspiration and Publicity

Part 3: Lovecraft and Horror! 

James Pratt likes to create realistically flawed but basically decent characters and have them cross paths with serial killer angels, redneck vampires, slithering horrors from other dimensions, and the end of the world. He also likes to write stories that demonstrate how the ever-present darkness threatening to wash over the world like a wave of endless night can be held back with a little courage and a big shotgun (assuming one hasn’t already used both barrels, of course). Some take place in the distant past, others in the far future, and still others somewhere between eight minutes ago and twelve minutes from now. Whether sci-fi, adventure, or straight-out horror, the running theme is that the universe is very, very big and we are very, very small.

All of James’ books are available right now at SmashwordsAmazon and check him out over on Goodreads and Twitter.

Inspiration & Publicity 

Haunted Eyeball: Who were your favourite author(s) while you were growing up?

James Pratt: That’s a tough one. When I was younger, I didn’t make a point to read any one author. I did discover  Kurt Vonnegut,  Stephen King, and Roger Zelazny in high school. If someone had told me I could only read the works of one of them back then, I probably would have chosen Stephen King because he gave me my first real taste of modern horror.

Favourite author now?

It would be a toss-up between Kurt Vonnegut and H.P. Lovecraft.

Does any art or artist inspire you to write?

Not consciously. I do like the creepy, haunted house vibe of Berni Wrightson’s work though, and the desolate, end of the world quality of Brom’s illustrations.

Any favourite comic books and writers and artists?

Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Berni Wrightson, and Mike Ploog off the top of my head. I really liked Grant Morrison’s run on ‘Animal Man’, and Garth Ennis’s ‘Preacher’ was pretty entertaining.

Do any TV shows or films inspire you?

Everything science fiction, fantasy, and horror TV show and movie I’ve ever seen has contributed in some way to every story I’ve ever written. I was a big fan of the gritty sci-fi of the tragically short-lived TV show ‘Space: Above and Beyond’. That’s the only one that readily comes to mind.

 Publicity

 How do you think social media has helped ‘indie’ writers?

Social media is a great way to market yourself and if you do a good enough job, you can write the stories you want to write and make a living doing something you love on your own terms.

Which ‘social media tools’ do you think connects you most successfully with fans? I.e. from Twitter to Goodreads and Facebook, blogs etc.

I’m not sure. I haven’t done a very good job of using their full potential. Twitter has put me in contact (more or less) with the largest number of people in the shortest amount of time, but I’m not sure just how effective it’s actually been. Each of my tweets is just one among millions.

Explain a bit about your ID picture. Why have you chosen an illustration over a photo of yourself?

My ID picture is the Black Scarab, a pulp superhero-style character from a story I wrote called The Black Scarab in “The Sad, Strange Fate of Evil Eye”. I used that because I think it’s a cool illustration plus I believe that when you get your picture taken the camera can steal your soul. (We think he’s joking… – H.E.)

How do you pick your book cover designs?

A good cover is important, but the amount of thought and effort I put in really depends on how motivated I’m feeling at the time. If the story features a visually striking character there’s a good chance he’ll make it on the cover, otherwise it’s probably going to be just text. I use a program called HeroMachine to create the covers. It’s pretty versatile but primarily for illustrating characters so when designing a cover, its limitations are also a consideration.

How seriously do you take reviews, be they good bad or indifferent!

Pretty serious. I have low self-esteem so I crave validation. Ironically, when someone gives me a good review, I assume they’re just being generous. On the other end of the spectrum, somebody gave all the free stories I had listed on the Barnes and Noble website one star so I had the stories removed. Childish, I know, but if you just want to bash me you should have to pay me first. I also tend to view indifference as a polite way of saying “I didn’t care for it.” I’m a big baby.

Sounds like a reasonable response to us, James. 

Thank you for reading Part 2, you awesome Eyeballers.

Part 3 of this interview, where James discusses H P Lovecraft and Horror, is coming up tomorrow!

Don’t forget, all of James’ books are available right now at SmashwordsAmazon and check him out over on Goodreads and Twitter.

Also of interest:

Part 1 of this interview.

Part 3 of this interview

James Pratt’s work has already been reviewed right here on the Haunted Eyeball!

5 Stories That Bite by James Pratt

When Dead Gods Dream by James Pratt

Other Author interviews:

A recent Eyeball Interview with urban horror writer Chris Davis

Advertisements

Author Interview: James Pratt (Part 1 of 3)

Black Scarab picture, James Pratt,

Meet James Pratt (disguised as The Black Scarab)

Today I am very excited to introduce another horror author who’s agreed to be interviewed here on my Haunted Eyeball.  James Pratt writes horror fiction and his work gives an interesting and skewed view on familiar genre conventions. He also has a knack for bringing an otherworldly twist to some treasured childhood memories.

Part 1: Writing Process

Part 2: Inspiration 

Part 3: Lovecraft and horror! 

James Pratt likes to create realistically flawed but basically decent characters and have them cross paths with serial killer angels, redneck vampires, slithering horrors from other dimensions, and the end of the world. He also likes to write stories that demonstrate how the ever-present darkness threatening to wash over the world like a wave of endless night can be held back with a little courage and a big shotgun (assuming one hasn’t already used both barrels, of course). Some take place in the distant past, others in the far future, and still others somewhere between eight minutes ago and twelve minutes from now. Whether sci-fi, adventure, or straight-out horror, the running theme is that the universe is very, very big and we are very, very small.

All of James’ books are available right now at SmashwordsAmazon and check him out over on Goodreads and Twitter.

Part 1: Writing process

Haunted Eyeball: Hi James and welcome to the Haunted Eyeball. When did you first start writing?

James Pratt: As far back as I can remember I’ve always had ideas for stories and characters, but I didn’t try writing full-fledged stories on a regular basis until I turned 40. Maybe it was a midlife crisis kind of thing.

Do you have a writing routine? How do you fit it in with the day job, etc?

No routine. I just try to write at least a little bit every day, the goal being 1,000 words before bed. Between work and kids I usually only have a couple of free hours each night. If I haven’t started by 10 p.m. on a given night, chances are I’m not going to get any writing done.

Do you listen to music while you work?

Occasionally. It does seem to help so I should probably make a habit of it.

Where’s your favourite place to write?

Anywhere that’s relatively quiet where I can stretch my legs and get comfortable.

Does Writer’s block ever hit? How do you deal with it?

I’ve been hit by writer’s block so many times I have a concussion. That’s why it’s important to take advantage of those rare moments when the creative juices are really flowing. One thing I’ve found that helps when things are going slow is switching from laptop to a plain old notebook. That way I’m less tempted to obsess over every sentence and instead just write down whatever pops into my head. Even when I’m running on empty there’s still plenty of editing and revising to be done. And I’ve found that “sleeping on it” actually works pretty well. I’ve gone to bed plenty of times wondering how to finish a scene and woken up the next morning with a perfect ending. All I had to do was let my subconscious work it out.

Is there anything you wouldn’t consider writing about, such as genre type, political issues, sexuality etc, and why?

I would only write about the things that interest me, and those things happen to be monsters, doomsday scenarios, and alien demon-gods. That said, even though a story might have a fantastic setting or supernatural overtones, it can still contain a moral, make reference to classic literary themes (religion, philosophy, etc.), and act as a metaphor for the tragic comedy that is the human condition. I just find those topics more interesting within an unconventional framework. I don’t have a problem with more conventional topics like politics or sexuality, I’m just not interested in writing about them.

 How long do you allow for research? Is research overrated?

 No matter what the genre, I’ve found research extremely helpful. When I write a sci-fi tale, I want it to be at least partially based on real world science or at least speculative science. That means reading up on what physicists have to say about the actual possibility of time travel, teleportation, parallel universes, and other staples of science fiction. And even when I’m writing a weird western or fantasy tale, I still want the non-fantastic elements to be as accurate as possible. And since I don’t know anything about guns, siege weapons, or medieval architecture, those types of stories also require a fair amount of research. There’s no such thing as too much research.

Whose writing advice do you really listen to?

Anyone and everyone. You can learn something from everybody, even if the lesson is what NOT to do.

Are there any books on writing and creativity that you’d recommend?

Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft by Janet Burroway and Elizabeth Stuckey-French.

What’s your golden rule of writing? Any tips for new writers?

Characters are the most important part of the story and also the hardest part to pull off. No matter how intricate your fantasy world or alien civilization, it’s only as interesting as the characters that populate it. Characters are how you generate an emotional investment in the story, or lack thereof. And you can’t make a character interesting through simple exposition (ex: “Handsome yet tragic, cynical yet romantic, he was a vampire haunted by his past.”). You have to show the reader why that character is interesting. Demonstrating what a character is feeling is much more powerful than simply letting the reader peer into the character’s mind. For example, having a character smash a chair against a wall is much more effective than simply saying “He was really mad.”

Before you write, read. A lot. And read outside your favorite genre(s). Sure, The Great Gatsby doesn’t contain any robots or ninjas (unless they were REALLY good ninjas), but it’s a powerful work by a master of the craft. Take the lessons taught by the classics and put them to work in the genre of your choice.

What’s the best/worst advice you ever had?

BEST:

“Amateurs copy, geniuses steal”. -Anonymous

“Start as close to the end as possible.” –Kurt Vonnegut

 WORST:

“That shirt looks really good on you.” –The girl at The Gap

Thank you, James. Part 2 of this interview, about Inspiration, is coming up tomorrow!

Don’t forget, all of James’ books are available right now at SmashwordsAmazon and check him out over on Goodreads and Twitter.

Also of interest:

Part 2 of this interview

Part 3 of this interview

James Pratt’s work has already been reviewed right here on the Haunted Eyeball!

5 Stories That Bite by James Pratt

When Dead Gods Dream by James Pratt

Other Author interviews:

A recent Eyeball Interview with urban horror writer Chris Davis

Review: Innsmouth Magazine Issue 8

Innsmouth Magazine Issue 8
Innsmouth Magazine Issue 8 by W.H.Pugmire
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Edited by Paula R Stiles

Innsmouth Magazine presents six varied tales of terror inspired by the work of H P Lovecraft. All are chilling, involving and sometimes challenging, collecting ancient and present day horrors, trippily surreal narratives and some truly sublime moments. All unconventional, certainly worth a look.

The Second Sphinx by Rebecca Stefoff

Set during the Napoleonic Wars, this ghoulish tale of an ill-fated expedition into Egypt summons up an atmosphere of dread, the dry decay of history and the sloppier remains of ancient and bloodthirsty races. Channelling the spirit of classic Lovecraft, this is an excellent start to the collection.

Graffito Flow by W. H. Pugmire

A grieving man takes a hallucinogenic trip through his ancient city that might not even be in our world. Creepy, though at times confusing, that patch on the wall may not be all it seems, but remember that the moon means madness. Highly atmospheric and very effective.

We Are All Ghosts by Peter Darbyshire

A great idea here. The sole survivor of a disastrous mission to a hidden city becomes a superhero. Kind of. A nice riff on the Mountains of Madness, and taken to impressively apocalyptic levels. Some spirits just won’t stay buried.

And Out Came Words of Fire by Paul Jessup

Another story set in an ancient world, or possibly another dimension. When a plague of words starts to unravel reality, can the fabric between worlds be stitched back into place? Mind-bending stuff, and truly otherworldly.

Curvature of the Witch House by Wendy N Wagner

The title is clearly inspired by the classic ‘Dreams of the Witch House’ but this is far stranger. A professor loses herself in the madness of mathematics and the Gawing of crows. Short, and pleasingly strange.

We Can Watch the White Doves Go by T J McIntyre

A mountainside camping trip coincides with a horrible invasion. Gruesome imagery, great characters. In tone reminiscent of the Mist, or the Thing, this would make an excellent horror film on its own. Very strong finish to this collection.

A great variety of stories from the dark side on show here, and each one is well worth a look. Any fan of H. P. Lovecraft fan should also be all over this collection. Highly recommended.

View all my reviews

Review: When Dead Gods Dream by James Pratt

When Dead Gods Dream: A Collection of Lovecraftian Short Stories
When Dead Gods Dream: A Collection of Lovecraftian Short Stories by James Pratt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A classy collection of well-crafted horror stories. Inspired by Lovecraftian nightmares, these five stories take some wonderfully twisted liberties with certain famous icons.

Cthelvis

The one and only King of rock is trying to make a comeback, but his star is fading and even his manager has lost hope. Things look up for Elvis when a group of supporters appear with a big offer, but as he reads their ‘good book’ some revelations slowly make the King deeply suspicious. Should he risk the world just to make it back to fame and glory? This was a great story that also filled in a lot of information about Elvis’s life, and painted ‘the King’ in a very sympathetic light. A superbly judged blend of sinister cultish intrigue and reimagined real life history.

Black Goat of the Hundred Acre Wood

What happens when little children grow up? Sometimes they move on to bigger, more monstrous dreams. So what happens to the innocent icons they once dreamed of? In this case, a certain famous bear of very little brain soon discovers a few things have changed, and finding hunny (sic) is no longer his biggest priority. This was a successfully eerie take on a well-loved story. Spot-on descriptions made it possible to imagine certain famous illustrations recast in a terrifying new light. This was a strangely affecting tale about the loss of childhood innocence of a Lovecraftian source. Sadder than a sad donkey, perfectly sweet yet bitter.

Jonas Bell Presents “The King in Yellow”

A past-it actor gets his mitts on a forbidden manuscript and the fabric of reality is suddenly in mortal danger. But, the show must go on, right? Lots of surprises in this take on the King in Yellow. It’s amazing anyone manages to say the lines at all before ripping off their own head. Inescapable throes of utter madness aside, this was a really great play on the notorious production.

A Pilgrimage to Carcosa

Dealing with the complex politics of the Dreamlands and beyond, a dreadful deal and revenge is sought. Epic in scope, this was an intriguing glimpse of the cruel inter-dimensional rulers in the Dreamlands, and a lesson in how to negotiate through the King in Yellow (or not), although it seemed just a little disconnected compared to the other stories here.

Sanitarium

A low key but effectively creepy tale. The new guy at the local sanitarium learns they have some inmates with a certain ‘look’, who must be kept asleep at all costs. Everything hinges on potential human error, so we’re not all screwed – yet – are we? Fun characterisation in the conversations with the other orderlies, too. Great piece.

James Pratt’s ‘When Dead Gods Dream’ deserves a read by any Lovecraft fan, and any horror fan who appreciates tales told with tongue firmly in cheek. Capturing eons of dread and suspense, cutting through the dark with a sharp sense of humour, these rise above any cheap parody and make this a highly recommended collection.

When Dead Gods Dream – A Collection of Lovecraftian Short Stories – as available on Amazon.co.uk

View all my reviews

Review: Just After Sunset by Stephen King

Just After Sunset
Just After Sunset by Stephen King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Stephen King rarely disappoints. I’ve always particularly enjoyed his short stories, and in the introduction, he confesses that he’d thought he’d lost the knack for writing shorts until he edited a collection of short stories by other people and found his groove again. I find this an interesting lesson.

As for the stories themselves, I’d say I enjoyed well over half of them and even the less likeable ones kept me reading, eager to find out what happened next. The best ones are very grounded and all you can do is hold on tight as the characters’ worlds slowly spin off their axis and gather speed towards the freaky and terrifying. Not everyone gets out of here alive.

Before I list each one, my favourites were: Gingerbread Girl, Stationery Bike, N. , The Cat From Hell and A Very Tight Place.

Now here’s what I felt about each story – SLIGHT SPOILERS BELOW:

Willa – A ghost story, fairly enjoyable, I didn’t feel a lot happened but I liked how the ghost of the couple found a better place to rest.

The Gingerbread Girl – One of my favourites here. King goes back to survival horror and serial killer fun. It should be a movie.

Harvey’s Dream – really short, I liked it and it ends on a doomey note.

Rest Stop – A real ‘what would you do?’ one here, which King admits was taken from a similar experience. For that, I liked it, and will also avoid scary deserted rest stops in future!

Stationery Bike – Weird. Loved it, but oh, so, very weird. Great stuff. Tripping out on your own brain while exercising certainly beats using a Wii anyway.

The Things They Left Behind – Strangely, I didn’t like this one because of its weirdness. I couldn’t get into it. It was written as a reaction to the events of 9/11 and it feels very clogged compared to most of his other work. One of the few I don’t think I would revisit. Obviously a personal work, though.

Graduation Afternoon – Hope and anticipation melts into the moments before an apocalypse. Another really short one, but great moment of character and mostly wins on atmosphere as well.

N. – The absolute standout, the H P Lovecraft elements work perfectly. Diaries which should be destroyed are of course uncovered and passed on to the next luckless soul. Throw in some OCD syndrome, a circle of eight – or is it seven – stones preventing the end of the world, and a troubling sunset, and I was very happy to get creeped out here. The references to Hill of Dreams by Arthur Machen don’t hurt either, as I stumbled on that book at the library earlier this year (there was a note of recommendation by H P Lovecraft himself!) and I was pleased to see King drawing from this text too.

The Cat From Hell – A pretty strong story, silly as it is on the surface. This was made into a segment of Tales from the Darkside, one of my favourite Creepshow-esque anthology movies (Debbie Harry’s in it, check it out). Basically, an old man responsible for the deaths of a LOT of innocent kitties calls in a hitman to take out a feline with sinister markings, which he can’t get out of his house. The hitman actually likes cats, but decides to do the job anyway. Naturally, the cat has other ideas, and some unfinished business with the evil old man. As a ‘cats take revenge’ story, and as a cat lover myself, I really have to give King kudos for the plausible carnage this feline inflicts. Don’t mess with this li’l kitty!

The New York Times at Special Bargain Rates – OK, I really don’t have a lot of patience with voices beyond the grave stories, and this felt like something Spielberg would have a field day with (although I think he’d staple on a slightly cheerier ending). Bittersweet, and short, it’s all right, but the title doesn’t help me to remember the story too well.

Mute – Another very strong one, where a guy picks up an apparently deaf mute hitchhiker and proceeds to rant about the crap dealt out to him by his cheating wife. The rant leads to some problems being solved, but his conscience leads him to a priest who may offer some useful advice. Worth it for the descriptions of the dreadful things the cheating wife bought, and the gradual justification of what the guy decides to do.

Ayana – A blind girls performs a miracle with a kiss, then the witnesses start to feel the same gift affecting them. It’s another one that felt like a slightly saccharine Spielberg (although King never gets that sugary, really) but didn’t say much except that miracles happen to the most random people.

A Very Tight Place – Another great one involving realism and survival. It’ll also turn your stomach in places, but this is Stephen King at his best, taking an unpleasant but possible situation and working through it until you’re with the poor bastard every step of the way. Think that ‘Buried’ movie only a great deal ickier. Highly recommended.

There’s also a short section right at the end explaining the origin of each story, which is probably best left until the very end instead of skipping ahead.

This confirmed to me that Stephen King is often at his very strongest when he’s bringing out short stories that can be devoured in one or two sittings. This is a mixed bag, and I still don’t believe they are all his very strongest works, but there’s always something compelling in a Stephen King story, and this collection is no exception.

View all my reviews