Today's author spotlight is with horror author and friend Randy Shaffer. His short story, The Horror, has been holding steady in the top 100 horror kindle books in January. Besides his horror short stories, he also writes nonfiction and has a background in film. His interview is fascinating and worth the read, even if you aren't a horror fan.
Tell us a little about yourself. What do you do outside of writing? What are your hobbies and favorite things to do outside of writing?
I was born and raised in Mentor, a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio. I am married to a lovely woman who serves as the president of the Burning River Roller Girls in Cleveland (she's also a marketing guru for a jeweler). We have no kids, but we do have one mean-spirited cat we dearly love and adore (she just tolerates us).
I went to Wright State University for a year where I studied film production. Alas, the professors weren't particularly keen on crafting cinema people would actually want to watch (or care about), so I transferred to Kent State University and studied writing and film theory instead.
I basically live and breathe writing. I'm paraphrasing, but Stephen King once said that writing was easy, life is hard. I couldn't agree more. I'm always working on stories, screenplays, books and other ideas. I even shoot skits and video blogs every so often. I don't sleep very well, only a few hours a night. My brain is always running wild, so I am continually looking for ways to keep my mind occupied.
I love movies, though I'm not a fan of going to the theater, unless that theater is a drive-in, in which case I would gladly go to the theater. I have a pretty slick setup in my house, with a terrific 1080p projector, Blu-ray and theater-quality 7.1 surround sound. There's basically no reason to leave the house with a home theater this nice. And with ticket prices the way they are, it's cheaper just buying the film when it hits video. I also really love sharing and discussing movies with people, especially films they have never seen.
I am a bit of a gamer. I feel that gaming is the next big storytelling industry. This latest console generation (PS3 and Xbox 360) really pushed the envelope in this regard. I can't wait to see what the next generation has in store.
And naturally, I love reading. I try and read at least 50 books a year. Last year I read more than double that.
How long have you been writing? What books have you published?
I've been writing stories since I was about 10 years old and I wrote a piece of (hilarious and embarassing) Planet of the Apes fan fiction. But the storytelling bug first bit me when I was 6. I was bullied by this kid named Jake and, in order to comprehend his actions, I created a story (in my head) about who he was when he wasn't bullying me at school. It was a sympathetic tale that had him dealing with cruel parents, jealousy over siblings and bullying of his own. In my story, he was a victim, too. And that's why he picked on me. A few years later, I discovered that I wasn't far off. He was abused by his parents and ridiculed by his siblings, and this drove him to dark places. Once I made that discovery, I was hooked on storytelling.
At current, I have four books published, with a fifth on the way at the end of January. And several more short stories and novellas coming in the next year. I've also got three full-length novels being prepped for sale to publishers.
Right now, I'm focusing on short stories, novellas and shorter novels, primarily because I believe there's an untapped market of readers (with e-readers on their smartphones and tablets) who simply don't have the time for longer books. We live in a very busy world, with hundreds of daily distractions. An 800-page book simply isn't going to appeal to those on the go. But something shorter might just whet their appetite. I'm trying to find that audience, and see where they take me. But I'm also seeking that core base of readers. It might sound dumb, but if I could be the guy you read in the bathroom, I would be a very happy man. That writer gets to share their stories with the world all the time. In lesser words, that person is always working.
What books or authors influenced your writing and why?
That's a tough question – one I could probably spend thousands of words discussing. I'll try and be brief and highlight just a few authors.
Stephen King. He is a master writer, and his stories have shaped who I am. Any self respecting horror writer should aspire to churn out the kind of work he does … with books that are maybe not as long as his, though.
J.K. Rowling. Her Harry Potter series is an absolute game changer. It shifted the entire landscape of young adult fiction. And even better, the books are remarkably well written, with a terrific amount of plot and a perfect balance of character.
Michael Crichton. His books are so immeasurably fun, nerdy and awesome. You learn something about science while exploring a great thrill ride of a plot. I am devastated that he's gone and I won't get to read another one of his new books (outside of those ghost-written books that keep coming out).
And finally, F. Scott Fitzgerald. If ever there was an author who nailed society in just one book, it was this man. The Great Gatsby is my all-time favorite novel. It speaks to our culture in such brutally honest ways, and it's still relevant to this day. I suspect it will stay relevant forever. I read his work, which is usually very lean and concise (Gatsby comes in at under 200 pages), and I can't help but smile, cry, loath and love. So awesome and so completely unforgettable.
What draws you to write horror?
I absolutely love writing about what scares me, though what scares me is not necessarily limited to just the horror genre. But even when I was a kid, I would write horror short stories.
I've always been fascinated with that crossroads between fiction and reality, and my mind is always conjuring new stories that explore that realm. The horror genre is a particularly potent field for that kind of storytelling.
My novelette, The Horror, for example, is about a young couple being stalked by an unnamed killer, all while isolated in a haunted house maze. On the surface, it's a tense thriller, built upon anxiety and dread. But metaphorically, The Horror is about how fear can sometimes drive us to irrational places. It questions whether or not you – the reader – would ever go to a haunted house after reading this story, despite the fact that what I wrote is purely fictional. My thesis was to spark an inner-debate. And my hope is that readers can apply what they learned about fear to other aspects in their life. Should we let fear drive us, or should we focus on the more joyful aspects of our admittedly brief existence? And can we really prevent such fears from infecting our being?
But I'm not just limited to horror. I've also written Does She Smile at Home?, which is a character drama about a man suffering from an existential crisis. Also in 2013, I completed a nonfiction manuscript about swing culture and alternative sexual lifestyles. My idea with these books was to explore the nature of human beings, from their darkest, most hidden corners, in order to discover something deeper about our ever-evolving, yet curiously ever-consistent culture.
What is your favorite part of being an indie author?
It's tough being an indie author. Sometimes it's frustrating. Sometimes it's upsetting. You sort of live and die by reviews, guerrilla marketing and the thoughts of others, which can be very challenging to your wallet, your emotions, and your ego (which is crucial for a writer to have, mind you). You have to make sure you find the right person for your book, otherwise they might not like your story, or connect with it in the right way, or the way you hoped.
But when you do connect with a reader … that's downright magical. I love discovering new readers. I find myself reading the books they are reading and sharing with them so much more than just my stories. Connecting with another human being is a rich, wonderful experience, and I sincerely welcome the opportunity to uncover new readers and friends. There are challenges that indie authors must face, and they can be quite grueling, but the end results are deeply rewarding.
What is on the horizon for you in 2014? What books are next to be released?
I'm working on a slew of short stories and novellas, which should be rolling out this summer. I've also got the remaining four issues coming of my five-issue series, Wicked Neighborhood, which readers have described as a "Goosebumps for adults" horror series. I'll be publishing the second issue, The Foot, on January 25 (my birthday), with further issues in the months following. Once that series is completed, I'll be publishing a full-length version of the complete series in both ebook and print formats. After that, I'll be taking my work to comic cons to garner an even larger audience.
I'm also hard at work editing three full-length books, two fiction and one nonfiction. I am hoping to get one of those books in the hands of a publisher in 2014.
And lastly, I'm crafting an audiobook of The Horror. I'm hoping to release it sometime this summer, or early fall, well ahead of the Halloween season … my busy season, so to speak.
Thanks again to Randy for coming on the blog and sharing his story with us. You can connect with him at the links below.
Author Page: http://amazon.com/author/randyshaffer
Official Twitter: https://twitter.com/rlshafferwrites
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/rlshafferwrites