(This interview originally appeared in Horror Bound Magazine on 26 February 2011.) Lisa Mannetti’s debut novel, The Gentling Box, garnered a Bram Stoker Award. She has authored a macabre gag book, 51 Fiendish Ways to Leave your Lover, as well as non-fiction books, and numerous articles and short stories in newspapers, magazines and anthologies. Recent and upcoming works (2010) include “Resurgam” in Dead Set: A Zombie Anthology; “Condemned” in Legends of the Mountain State 4; and “1926: A Fall River Halloween,” Shroud Magazine. Her story, “Everybody Wins,” was made into a short film by director Paul Leyden starring Malin Ackerman and released under the title Bye-Bye Sally. And her story “Spy Glass Hill” is featured in Horror Bound’s anthology Fear of the Dark: An Anthology of Dark Fiction - now available as an ebook. Horror Bound welcomes author Lisa Mannetti to our Issue 15, featured author profile. On Horror Fiction It’s a shame that most readers equate horror fiction with gore and sub-standard plots because that’s what they’ve been led to expect (mostly through some pretty terrible films, but certainly some bad fiction as well) because most of the horror writers I know really try to deliver in terms of elegant prose, character development, meaningful events which are organic to the book itself, and anything else you can think of that adds up to high quality work. I urge people to read writers like Peter Straub, Robert Dunbar, and Tom Piccirilli who consistently raise the bar for the genre. Anything can be horrific; in fact I’ve always been drawn to satire and one of the keys to that dual love I have is that humor is also a skewed version of reality. In fact, writers like Jean Kerr (one of the best humorists to ever put pen to paper) often describe small “disasters.” Writing Influence I majored in 18th and 19th century English literature (M.A.) so certainly those periods are not only attractive, but they’ve influenced my work tremendously. I read widely in and out of the genre so, other influences include writers like J.P. Donleavy, Flaubert, Edith Wharton, Evelyn Waugh, Kingsley Amis, Woody Allen, William Styron, John Irving, Truman name just a few. A huge influence on my development as a writer was the fact that I loved scaring myself as a kid by reading my mother’s nursing textbooks. My brother and I played a game with one where you had to open to a page at random and look at that picture, then the other of us would have to turn the pages until the next picture and look at that. You lost if you couldn’t look at your picture. (And I swear this is true, but no matter who went first or where we started in this massive tome, my brother somehow always got this picture of a woman with tertiary syphilis and no nose and he had to close the book and run to the bathroom to throw up.) I was terrified by leprosy, (and by the way there are two types: nodular and anesthetic) toxic goiter, and acromegaly. (Clearly a ‘safe’ scare since I was always the shortest kid in the class and the chances of my suddenly springing up to seven feet tall were pretty slim.) Also as a kid, I was given a book of tales selected by Alfred Hitchcock and there were some wonderful stories in it by Ambrose Bierce, Edgar Allan Poe, Shirley Jackson and other classicists of the genre, and it probably influenced my proclivity for both 19th century works and psychological horror, as well as portrayals of incidents that profoundly affect the characters in any story. I’ve also been influenced by poets like Coleridge, Wordsworth, Plath; and playwrights--especially Tennessee Williams—who is probably my favorite writer of all time. The Creative Process I let my stories and books grow organically.... I don’t work from an outline. I do sometimes know what will happen at the end and I work toward that, but I don’t plot chapter by chapter—ever. I also find it easier, if a work is failing (not just a scene which may need to be notched up) to throw out everything and start over. At that point, as a writer, you know so much more, and it’s often easier to begin over than to try and fix problems. I don’t layer afterwards when I write (example, I don’t go back to add style.) Although, I will occasionally change language a little...but usually it’s there because I go over what I’ve written for the day the first thing before I push the book or story ahead. It helps me focus on what’s there and what needs to be there next and gives me a good entre into the day’s work. I also will research ahead of time and on the fly and I find that research can be a wonderful addition to a book or story—it can help tremendously with structure and with plot events and also character development. For me, research is a huge turn on. I’m working on a book about Mt. Everest now, and I have at least 50 books and countless DVDs...still, I find there are things I need to look up and will gladly detour to do so. I also trust when I’m hitting it and the writing is sailing along (a great example of that is Imre’s first memory of gentling in The Gentling Box). I wrote it in one sitting just as it is and never changed a word. And, I also trust when I think a scene or a character is out of whack and needs to be fixed. In the case of a scene, I’ll try notching it up or toning it the case of a character, I’ll rethink it...maybe this character is more or less important than I originally conceived....maybe he or she needs to reverse and become a foil or, if she was evil, maybe a helper....that’s what makes writing fun...the constant surprises. I do “see” what I write, but I also “hear” a good deal of what is going on—including voice and dialogue—which is why I bitch so much when someone outside ruins a perfectly good writing session by revving up a chain saw or leaf blower. Advice to New Authors First of all, you have to write every day. Some days you’ll accomplish a lot, others you may sit there waiting for the muse to descend. I often hear the first line of a book or a story and you should be listening or scanning inwardly for an image to get you started. Writing takes practice—the more you do it, the easier some tricks of the trade are to pull off, but you’ll also find that the more you write, the more ideas you have and the more sophisticated your work becomes. Second. Read everything you can get your hands on. And I mean everything. Don’t limit yourself to a particular genre. Third. Keep writing even if you get rejected. It’s part of the business and we all have to deal with it. Never take it personally. Keep working. Fourth. Get yourself in some kind of critique group—whether it’s online or in person, meet with people who can tell you objectively what’s working in your stories and books and, more importantly, what’s not. Even if you disagree, it never hurts to consider what others dislike and it will help you sharpen your skills. Fifth. Remember that old credo: if you’re bored the reader will be, too. Bring passion to what you’re writing...if you’re not engaged, throw it out and start something else. Don’t worry so much about writing what you know, write what excites you. Sixth. Have fun. There’s quite enough misery in the world so let yourself enjoy the process. Writing is just that: it’s a process and a journey and the end (or the result) is less important than the steps and detours along the way. It can take years before your work begins to be recognized—or maybe it happens immediately or something in between those extremes. In any case, you’ve got a long life and a long career ahead, and your goal is to develop into the best writer you can be. Seventh: Never give up.
You can find Lisa Mannetti’s short story “Spy Glass Hill” in our anthology, Fear of the Dark - now available as an ebook!
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You can find Lisa Mannetti’s short story “Spy Glass Hill” in our anthology, Fear of the Dark - now available as an ebook!
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