Allison M. Dickson is a writer of dark contemporary fiction living in Dayton, Ohio. Though STRINGS is her debut novel, she has been writing for a number of years, with several short stories (including “Dust” and “Under the Scotch Broom”) available on Amazon. Two of her stories were featured The Endlands Volume 2 from Hobbes End Publishing. In 2014, Hobbes End will also be releasing her dystopian science fiction novel, THE LAST SUPPER, and she is independently producing her pulpy dieselpunk noir novel, COLT COLTRANE AND THE LOTUS KILLER to be released in November of 2013. When she isn’t writing, she’s one of the co-hosts of the weekly Creative Commoners podcast. She might also be found gaming, watching movies, hiking the local nature preserve with her husband and two kids who also serve as willing guinea pigs for her many culinary experiments. Visit her website.
Q: What’s inside the mind of a horror author?
A: Most people probably think horror authors are a special brand of twisted, that we ruminate on how we want to kill people or something equally macabre or gruesome, or that we’re morbid or amoral or depressed. But from my own perspective, I can say what’s in my mind is similar to what is in the minds most authors of any genre. Our own fears and insecurities about life, questions about humanity, relationships and the future of this planet we’re on. We just express it differently, from oblique angles. We tend to venture more into those dark, cobwebby, unexplored corners of the psyche, shining a light on what lives there, what lives in all of us. There are some ugly things there, and I feel we should explore them and reflect on why they are there. Another thing that’s on my mind is, by going in sometimes extreme directions to tell a story, what will that make readers think of me? Some readers like to imprint aspects of an author’s work directly onto the author, and in the case of a story where bad things happen to good people, it might give the impression that I’m a bit of a weirdo or a sadist. But really I’m not. I’m an optimist to my core. I like giving people chances and the benefit of the doubt. I’m a bleeding heart through and through. I can’t say specifically what drives me to explore those dark corners of humanity, but with every story I write in or around this genre, I learn a little more about myself and what I hold dear.
Q: Tell us why readers should buy STRINGS.
A: I think anyone who wants to read in-your-face stories filled with challenging and cringe-worthy characters should give this book a try. I think it also calls into question the nature of control. People believe they are holding the reigns to their lives, but I feel this is largely an illusion. Writing STRINGS was one of the most harrowing but rewarding experiences of my career so far. I didn’t pull any punches and I shocked myself in more than enough instances with it. I hope like heck it translates well to the readers. I think it will, but I also expect there will be plenty who will hang me out to dry over the often bald nature of it. Either way, I think people should check it out and decide for themselves.
Q: What makes a good horror book?
A: Three things: character, character, character. Oh, you can disgust and startle and exasperate readers in a horror story with weak characters, but you won’t really get them where they live. While a lot of horror is plot-driven, it doesn’t mean squat if the story isn’t filled with people who live and breathe inside your head. We’ve all seen scary movies where we want half the characters to die already because they’re making stupid and predictable decisions, but that’s what cheapens the genre. For me, being able to relate and empathize is the key to amping up that adrenaline and making the readers feel like this could happen to them or someone they care about. Now, the challenge with STRINGS is that it doesn’t really have a hero, and that was by design. How to make people who are in many ways so flawed, but you want to stick with them through the whole thing anyway? I love stories that force me to examine my sympathies and try to justify them, and I tried to accomplish that with this book. I tried to show their vulnerabilities, demonstrate that even someone considered “evil” has humanity somewhere in there that can be coaxed out in the right circumstances.
However, the best horror books aren’t meant just to frighten. They’re designed to provide perspective. If you didn’t walk away from a frightening story feeling edified in some way, if you didn’t feel better about your life even a little, it didn’t do its job. It is said that without darkness, you can’t truly appreciate the light. That is the job of a horror writer. To bring that darkness and then to coax out that appreciation for the better things.
Q: What is a regular writing day like for you?
A: It varies. I don’t always feel creative at the same time of day throughout the year. It seems to vary by season. I come alive in the autumn months and write through the winter and spring. Summer is when the muse sleeps, though I will usually write some short stories. These days, my schedule is pretty regimented because my kids have schedules to work around, so I get as much done in the morning as I can, once they’re off and my husband is at work. Then I do regular household duties and spend some time with the family once they’re all home. I will then pick up the work after dinner for a little late evening jam session between eight and eleven, and then I hit the hay to do it all over again the next day. I will rarely turn on the TV during the day or even at night, though the internet is a constant distraction with which I must do battle, so I try to work for thirty minutes and take ten or fifteen off, thirty more minutes, another short break, working in little sprints until I reach about 1000 or 2000 words a day.
Q: What do you find most rewarding about being an author?
A: I was a lonely kid who didn’t fit in very well. I found my friends and my voice in so many books growing up. They comforted me and challenged me and inspired me. I think of everything I write as a little telegraph I’m sending out into the universe as a thank you, in the hope that it can reach someone and ignite that spark, the way so many authors did with me. I’ve received some of the greatest feedback from people I’ve never met who were touched by my work. Not only that, but I see in my kids this desire to go forth and create, and I think having a working creative person in the household gives them the permission they need to explore that completely and shape their lives through creativity.
Q: How did you celebrate the completion of your book?
A: In all honestly, I celebrated by completely shutting down and playing Candy Crush Saga for about a month straight. Writing STRINGS took a lot out of me!
Interview by Mayra Calvani
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