G'day Polly, welcome to the Couch of Chaos. Apologies for running late this morning. The bloody Primian escaped again, the bodies I concreted in the basement created cracks. And, homeschooling. Homeschooling is a form of torture I could well do without. Oh, your coffee smells like whiskey, you must have picked mine up by mistake. Don't look at me like that, it's lunchtime somewhere in the world. Year 5 Math, it drives me to drink. Anyway, I'm glad you're here, shall we get this show on the road?
From where do you hail? And what is your modus operandi with the blood soaked pen?
I’m from Birmingham, AL. I grew up there in the 70’s, so I was witness to all sorts of racial strife and interpersonal cruelty. I was well-primed for a life writing about terrible things, but I’m not sure that I write horror, per se. I’m more interested in the fantastic, particularly when it gets really really horrible. So I call my genre ‘dark fantasy.’ Occasionally I’ll write more realistic psychological horror.
All of our characters have elements of ourselves woven into them. Which poor character is most like you?
I think all of our characters are ourselves, even the antagonists. I certainly try to imbue my own with a kind of flawed humanity, and their opinions are usually extensions of my own in some odd way, just magnified and distorted to grotesque proportions. Certainly we all know what it feels like to be retributive or hostile or jealous or argumentative. Those nascent emotions are ripe for exploring and extrapolating into larger, more destructive patterns, sometimes even on a global scale.
Imagine I am filthy successful agent (I did say imagine) we are stepping into an elevator. Hit me with your top three elevator pitches for three pieces of your work.
1) The Occultists: A small-town teen in the early 20th century becomes ensnared in a spiritualist faction which initially seems benevolent, but turns out to be anything but. My first novel.
1 2) Shadowdays: In contemporary rural North Carolina, a young schizophrenic woman seeks revenge against the brutal gang who killed her family, but as the casualties grow she learns her illness may be complicating her efforts, or perhaps obscuring them altogether. My second novel, coming out in early 2021.
3) The Night of Nights: After a mysterious cosmic event in which most of the population on earth disappear overnight, a gender-questioning teen learns that the laws of nature don’t quite work the way they used to, and that people both good and bad will exploit these new rules, with epic ramifications. This is a YA trilogy.
Now I can’t start writing until I have a coffee and digestive biscuits to hand. Do you have a ritual before you start writing, or is it spontaneous venture?
I do like my coffee. But that’s it. I’m proud of the fact that I don’t need many stipulations to write; I can do it most anywhere, as long as the ideas come.
Is there one thing you would have done differently or known earlier in your writing career?
I dallied in film for almost two decades, made several award-winning indie features and got several scripts optioned and came close to getting multimillion dollar projects off the ground. But when circumstances beyond my control killed those projects time and again, I decided to get back to what I could control—writing excellent material. So now I focus on novels.
Other than this ground breaking interview, what are you currently working on?
I’m hard at work on a YA fantasy trilogy. It’s big—you have to know the whole arc before you can properly begin on the first one (at least that’s the way I do it). So I’m not only working with one big book, but three big books, all at once. It’s daunting.
We all know horror people are just the warmest, friendliest bunch of writers around. Why do you think this is?
I think we successfully exorcize our demons on the page. Thus when we get back to real life, we’re cuddly and receptive.
How do you determine success for yourself?
Critical respect, respect of my peers, some minor commercial success. That’s about it. I’ve already experienced the whims of fortune (both sides of it) and know that so much is beyond our control. Just do the best work you can, and let the rest fall where it may.
Directed By Polly Schattel Available on Amazon
Other than WIHM which is an amazing month for female horror writers. How do you feel other women can best support each other in this genre.
I think every month is WIHM. Every year is WIHY. As a trans woman, I may have a bit of male privilege left in me when I say, why can’t we have what we want? Don’t be shy, just take it. Whatever it is, take what you want, make it happen, no apologies. Let everyone else take notes from your moves.
Where did you discover your love for all things that go bump in the night, or splat on the walls?
I was twelve years old when Stephen King hit the popular culture. I was all in, and devoured everything. From there it was fantasy, and (in grad school) even mainstream and literary fiction. But I always came back to the fantastic. My favorite types are the mixed categories—part literary, part genre. If you can craft a well-told tale of something exciting, but still take the time to examine the humanity of your characters, I think you’re gonna hit a home run.
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