Welcome one and all to our new section here on Blazing Minds where I interview some brilliant authors, my first interview is with Sam Stone. A special thanks to Sam for letting me grill her with quite a few questions.
What inspired you to write your first book?
I have loved literature of all kinds since I was 11 and read my first adult fiction book. I loved writing at school, and always knew that deep down I was a novelist. In 1997 I joined a creative writing class in our local adult learning centre. Being with other writers inspired me to write more poetry and some short stories. I later had some of these published and this was very encouraging. In 1999 I decided to do an English and Creative Writing degree at Bolton University. The fact that I had been published helped me to be accepted on the course. After that I went on to do a PGCE at Manchester. Once I was teaching English full time at High School, I felt dissatisfied. Teaching and working with young people was rewarding but still I felt this uncontrollable urge to write. The problem was that teaching got in the way. It’s a very demanding job and the marking was excessive at times. It was difficult to devote the time I needed to the passion I had for writing. Therefore I took on more work! I signed up part time at Bolton for a Masters Degree in Creative Writing. It was one evening a week for 3 years, but it meant that I had to find time to write.
I wrote my first novel, Killing Kiss, for my Dissertation in 2006. My tutor, the literary author Janette Jenkins, really inspired me. She gave such good feedback on a small extract I’d done in class that I wanted to write more about the character I’d invented. Hence Gabriele was born. After that I used to write a chapter a week to share with the class. Everyone seemed to really enjoy the story and it suddenly became important to me to finish the book. This was I think what drove me to complete that first crucial book.
Do you have a specific writing style?
My style changes all the time. At first I really used to feel comfortable writing in the first person. I thought that was my style. Then I discovered the joys of third person narrative and now prefer to write in it. What has remained consistent about my writing though, and I suppose this is something stylistic, is that I write very fast-paced prose. I like action. I don’t like to waste words, and I think it is important to only describe things in detail if it is actually relevant to the action or story. Too many authors have a character entering a room for a crucial confrontation or moment in the story, only to pause to write a few pages of description about the room. This not only takes you from the moment, but it’s also boring. I like to treat my reader with respect for their intelligence and imagination. A brief description allows them to bring their own vision into your story. Making it a more personal experience for them.
Other than that I think it’s important not to be formulaic. One thing I pride myself on is that each novel I write is very different from the last.
I’m also very much a ‘cross-genre’ writer. I love to merge different elements. Like mixing fantasy with horror (for example the time-travel element in my Vampire Gene series), or mixing Steampunk and Horror for Zombies At Tiffany’sand Kat on a Hot Tin Airship.
Also I recently dabbled in Science Fiction when I wrote an original horror novella for AudioGo called The Darkness Within. Merging genres is fun and it can also bring in elements to the writing that staying with one specific genre might not have.
How did you come up with your lead characters?
Gabriele was created because of a classroom exercise in my MA. We were asked to describe a fairground using all five senses. Typically I took that instruction and thought, what would a vampire make of a fairground? How would the food smell to him? What would he think of the music? The rides?
Kat Lightfoot (Zombies At Tiffany’s/Kat on a Hot Tin Airship) was originally inspired by Audrey Hepburn and is a kind of mix between Shaun of the Dead and Breakfast At Tiffany’s. I needed a classically attractive character that would grow into a truly kick-ass female lead.
Sometimes I also have used real historical figures and then fictionalised them. For example in Futile Flame (Book 2 The Vampire Gene) I used Lucrezia Borgia as my female protagonist, and I mixed some historical fact in with her completely fictional vampire life.
The lead character in The Darkness Within is Madison Whitehawk and there is another character called Syra Connor that is also a strong female lead. Maddison and Connor are the surnames of my two sisters and it was a little bit of a tribute to them to use these names in the story. But neither character is particularly like my sisters!
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
I do have a meaning or message in all of the novels. For example, Killing Kiss is very much about loneliness. It explores the aspect of immortality, and its impact on the person who lives forever. I show Gabriele’s life and losses throughout his present, juxtaposed with his past to, hopefully, make the reader consider what it would be like to live on while everyone you love dies.
I was very much playing with the idea of the loss of one’s ‘soul’ in Zombies At Tiffany’s. Or rather how war and suffering can destroy us inside, focusing on how it depresses happiness and leaves us devoid of emotion as a coping method. Negative energy draws in negative or bad things in the real world, and so too does it in my Kat Lightfoot universe. In Kat on a Hot Tin Airship I explored the effect of secrets, as well as the awful aspect of slavery but also carried on the theme of emptiness of the soul which later becomes crucial to the final outcome of the story.
This is a theme that is very important to me because as a Reiki Master I believe in positive energy, and in being kind to all. That what we give out to the universe we also get back. I try to be extremely positive all the time. It is also why, I suppose, I am fascinated with negativity as a destructive force.
I don’t want to say too much, though, about what messages I was trying to convey. I think this is something the reader needs to find in literature for themselves. As a reader I enjoy analysing meaning, but might not necessarily come up with the same interpretation as the writer intended. What is important above all else is that the reader has fun. Fiction should entertain but if the reader takes something profound away with them from the experience then this is extremely wonderful for the writer.
In The Darkness Within, which is essentially an apocalypse story with humanity’s last chance to survive the destruction of Earth, there are many levels of meaning that people could derive from the text and the behaviour of the characters. I do like to look at how people cope in adversity and I’m interested to see what other people’s take on this piece are which is why reviews can be such fun to read.
Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
I sometimes insert dialogue from conversations I have overheard that were funny. But generally my characters aren’t intentionally like anyone I know. However they may have characteristic traits of people I’ve met.
Which books have most influenced your life most?
John Fowles’ The Collector was the first adult book I read. I loved the way it made me feel scared. The psychological darkness behind the lead character and how part of you agreed with him because it was all told from his perspective. I recall reading Interview With a Vampire (Anne Rice) when I was eighteen. I thought it was truly incredible. I also read a lot of Stephen King and Dean Koontz. Ray Bradbury interests me too, as does John Wyndham.
If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
That’s a tough one. But probably Stephen King because, like him, I don’t really feel stuck in a particular genre. I like to go where a story takes me.
Which book are you reading now?
Currently I’m reading John Wyndham. I just finished The Chrysalids and I am now reading The Day of the Triffids. I also have Robert Rankin’s The Educated Ape which I plan to read shortly. Just have to find the time to read instead of write for a little while. I love Robert’s work because it is such fun to read.
What are your current projects?
The Darkness Within is my latest publication out now in ebook, but released in audio on 23rd September and read by actor Stuart Milligan. This is coming out for Halloween this year, and I’m really excited to see how it is received. That’s from AudioGo at www.audiogo.com. Also Kat on a Hot Tin Airship, the latest Kat Lightfoot adventure, is now available in paperback from www.telos.co.uk.
I have almost completed a new novel called The Soul Thief, which is a Victorian Supernatural Crime Thriller. I’m half way through a modern Supernatural Crime. I am also hoping to have the first part of a post-apocalyptic trilogy out sometime in the near future, but still in the middle of negotiations on that score.
Zombies At Tiffany’s is also being recorded for audio this week and will be out at the end of October in time for Halloween, that’s with Spokenworld at www.spokenworldaudio.com. It looks like it’s going to be a Sam Stone Halloween this year! Very exciting.
Later in the year a Doctor Who spin-off screenplay I was involved in should be released on DVD by Reeltime Pictures. This is called White Witch of Devil’s End. Other writers involved with this are David J Howe, Raven Dane, Debbie Bennett, Jan Edwards and Suzanne Barbieri.
As well as my own writing I’m also commissioning editor for Telos Publishing’s imprint Telos Moonrise. I was pleased to commission Raven Dane’s wonderful Victorian horror collection Absinthe & Arsenic and Kit Cox’s imaginative Steam Versus Diesel young adult adventure Doctor Tripps: Kaiju Cocktail. I’ve also commissioned some great names – we recently bought Simon Clark’s The Fall for reprint and I can’t wait for this to hit the shelves. Moonrise has also signed Stephen Laws and his classical terrifying novel Spectre. We have also signed two crime novels by author Andrew Hook and a new erotic novel by debut writer Roberta Steele. Those are likely to appear in 2014. So it’s been a very busy year!
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
No. I’m really happy with the finished version of Kat On A Hot Tin Airship. However, The Darkness Within did have to be toned down a bit on the horror aspect for audio so I plan to reinstate some of the cut scenes for the standard paperback edition that will be out next year. One of the interesting things I’ve learnt about writing for different medias is how ‘less is more’ in audio. Reading a book is a completely different and personal experience though and so they do have to be treated in a slightly different way.
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
I’m not keen on writing into shared worlds. Too many restrictions. I also can’t seem to write young adult fiction. I think this is because it feels like I’m dumbing myself down too much. Plus I don’t do angst and teen fiction seems to revel in that!
I have enjoyed writing short fiction in the Cthulhu Mythos for Chaosium editors Brian J Sammons and Glynn Owen Barrass. They’ve been working on several anthologies, and I have been pleased to contribute short tales to them. So look out for Atomic Age Cthulhu – and my story Fall Out as I believe this will be the first of the books out shortly.
Who is your favourite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
I don’t really have a favourite anymore, but Robert Rankin is brilliantly imaginative and I find his work gives my mind all the entertainment I need. Especially as he is a completely different writer to anyone else.
Who designed the covers?
There have been several artists involved in my cover designs. The Vampire Gene series 1-4 were designed by Rick Fairlamb. Silent Sand was done by Martin Baines. My editor at The House of Murky Depths, Terry Martin, commissioned those. Martin Baines has also done the covers for Zombies At Tiffany’s and Kat on a Hot Tin Airship as David J Howe at Telos loved his work and wanted to use him as well. He is an incredibly versatile artist. Interior art on Zombies At Tiffany’s and on my collection Zombies In New York and Other Bloody Jottings was by Russell Morgan – you can see his iconic Zombie Audrey Hepburn on the title page of Zombies At Tiffany’s and I love it! The cover for Zombies In New York was done for Telos by award winning artist Vincent Chong – and many people cringe when they see that awful zombie clown on the front.
My personal preference for covers is to have ‘real’ art on them. But most of all I like them to be evocative. To have some real connection with the content and in some cases to be very scary like The Darkness Within audio cover!
What was the hardest part of writing your book?
The hardest part of writing any novel is getting to the end of the first draft. You are torn between tinkering with the early chapters and just finishing it. I’ve found that the best thing to do is finish first, improve, edit and tinker later. Research is another form of procrastination, but I leave bold captions inside on areas that need work like that because afterwards I can leisurely research and improve that area. I learned that trick from Kevin J Anderson who is a very exceptional and prolific writer, and someone I look up to a great deal.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
If you are writing for fame and money give up now! It took J K Rowling 50 rejections before Harry Potter was signed, her success, however, is still exceptional.
But, if you are a ‘true’ writer then the urge to write will be with you always. The only way to ease the pain is to let those stories out. I knew I was a writer from very young. I HAD to write stories. I HAD to reflect on life through poetry. I HAD to write that first novel and it was an obsession and still is.
If you want to write a novel then write it don’t just think about it. No one will buy an idea of a novel from someone who has never written anything. You don’t see bookstores filled with unfinished books either! So finish everything you write.
Write every day. Push yourself when you don’t feel like it. It’s like working out. At first it’s hard, but the more you exercise the easier and stronger you get. This is the same for the creative muscle. Exercise makes it strong and better. The more you write the more the creativity flows.
If you want to do it professionally and not just for fun then treat it like a job. If, like me, you are able to stay home and write all day they have a ‘working day’ and don’t be led astray from that. Writing is a lifelong vocation. It takes stamina. It takes self belief. It takes commitment. I’ll get off my soap box now 😉
Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Thank you for sticking with me. Thank you for all your kind comments and reviews and particularly your honesty. I love feedback. Please keep supporting bookshops as much as possible, but if you can’t afford to buy, then get your local library and ask them to order them in. This helps the writer too.
What were the challenges (research, literary, psychological, and logistical) in bringing it to life?
The hardest thing to do when writing into any world, especially a fantasy world, is making it believable. I try to make these recognisable. There has to be society rules and the story has to have its own internal logic that makes it believable.
Consistency of character behaviour is really important in convincing your reader these people are worth their time. I often find myself shouting at the television when I’m watching something and a character behaves in a way that goes against everything they’ve done so far. Character change is possible – but it has to be worked for. The reader has to see something that brings about that change or decision. We have to engage with the characters on a level that is psychologically and intellectually possible. And let’s face it, every reader brings different experiences to every story. They create their own logical around the plot and characters based on their own beliefs.
From a literary point of view I try to write the best prose I can. I think hard about sentence structures and how they convey meaning. Am I saying what I really wanted to say? Is the writing intelligent? Is it multifaceted allowing for the reader to submerge themselves and understand those subtleties you wanted to communicate? If not then it needs reworking.
I also make changes based on the reaction to the story and texts by my editors. If they question something then I haven’t been clear enough. You have to be good at taking criticism. It is a really important part of improving, challenging yourself and giving your reader the best because they deserve it.
With regards to research, factual information should always be correct, but there is nothing wrong with playing fast and loose with history if that is what you need to do for your story. Just don’t advertise it as being factual because people will pull you up on it!!
Thank You Sam Stone
A big thank you to Sam for taking part in the interview and also for letting my readers learn a little more about her work and I do hope to catch up with her again at another convention somewhere soon.