The art of the written word: an interview with Rachel Autumn Deering

To some, Rachel Autumn Deering is an up-and-coming name in the ranks of horror literature. To those who know her, the 2016 novella Husk and a collection of upcoming writing projects is just another reason why Rachel is a true mover and shaker in the genre.

Having just read Husk myself, I can attest that Deering is a writer to follow. She cut her teach in the entertainment world with comics, having written, edited, designed and published for DC/Vertigo Comics, Dark Horse Comics and Cartoon Network, to name a few. Now she’s focusing on literature, with a number of projects creeping onto bookshelves soon.

Recently, I had the pleasure of chatting with Rachel. Read on..

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MANGLED MATTERS:  The first thing that struck me while reading Husk, and it happened immediately, was your descriptive storytelling skills. That sounds like such a basic rule of writing, but it’s not an easy tool to hone nor is everyone a natural at it. I can’t help but think your experience with comics- telling stories through imagery- helped sharpen this tool in your case. (feel free to elaborate on what kind of “voice” you wish to convey with your writing, etc)

RACHEL AUTUMN DEERING:  I actually wrote a lot of prose before I began my career in comics, so I think my approach to writing has become a sort of hybrid thing over the years. I see stories play out in my mind and I write what I see. The format, whether it’s a script or a manuscript, is about the only thing that changes. The editors and artists who read my comic scripts would often tell me that my style of writing was very novel-esque, and folks who read my prose work say I have a very visual style of storytelling and some put it down to my career in comics. I honestly can’t say where my style came from. It’s just what comes natural to me.


MM:  Another thing that really made me just fall right into the story was the dialogue between characters- another skill that even some of the gods of literature don’t grasp all that well. It’s roundly accepted that when authors start out writing novels and short stories, they tend to borrow from the voices that shaped them as readers and writers. Who are some of your favorite writers?

RAD:  I’m a big fan of classic gothic writers like Algernon Blackwood, J. Sheridan LeFanu, Eric Stenbock, and William Blake. Those sorts of folks really helped direct my early years as a writer. Later in life, I started to embrace my southern roots more and I took to contemporary authors like Cormac McCarthy, Elmore Leonard, Robert McCammon, Ron Rash, Joe Lansdale, and just about anyone telling a story on their front porch. I think I get more inspired to write dialog simply by listening to real people speak.


MM:  Husk received fantastic reviews and cheers from around the literary community, and rightfully so. How long did it take you to write the novella?

RAD:  Ten whole days, from concept to finish. I’m a bit of a procrastinator, so I put the thing off until the last-minute. I actually wrote most of the story on the road, in hotels, at parties, etc. I guess I work well under stress.

RAD


MM:  As a writer, are you an “outline and follow it” sort of author or do you prefer to write with as few boundaries as possible?

RAD:  I didn’t outline Husk at all, but Wytchwood Hollow has been fully outlined. I think I needed some sort of structure for Wytchwood because it’s much longer than Husk and I need to remind myself to include all the things I’ve planned to say. I doubt I’ll use the outline much when it comes right down to it. It’ll be more a set of suggestions and less a Bible. I think I like the security of knowing it’s there, in case I lose my mind.


MM:  When writing, do you prefer silence or music? If music is your thing, what is on the iPod when the keyboard starts to clack?

RAD:  It depends on my mood. If I’m writing something tense and dramatic, I’ll usually need silence. If I’m writing a fun scene that doesn’t really take much out of me emotionally, I’ll throw on an old heavy metal album – something like Iron Maiden, Mercyful Fate, Dio, Judas Priest, Motorhead. When I’m editing, I like to listen to more laid back folk music to keep the tedium from melting my brain.


MM:  Like King and Bradbury and so many others, you’ve created your own community for your literary world. Ash Hill was introduced in Husk and also plays a large role in your upcoming project. You’ve mentioned that your own upbringing in a small town and the bond those kind of towns share plays a big role in your writing. When you began to construct Wytchwood Hollow, was it just natural to come back to Ash Hill?

RAD:  Wytchwood Hollow has actually evolved from being a short story collection to being a novel. The short story collection is still coming soon, but under a different title. Both of those books will take place in Ash Hill, as will the bulk of my work, I imagine. I feel like it’s a place where I make the rules and that creates a safe atmosphere for me to bring characters to life. I know it better than anyone, so I can change details and rework things in my mind to make everything work in my stories. Beyond that, I just always enjoyed the feeling of coming home when I sit down to write a book. I want to feel that sense of place, and I hope my readers will develop that feeling as well.

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MM:  What can you tell us about Wytchwood Hollow?

RAD:  Wytchwood Hollow is now a novel about growing up in a town where people have forgotten how to dream. It’s about life on repeat, from one generation to the next, with no change in sight. It’s about drug abuse, betrayal, lust, murder, and a very old curse that refuses to die. There’s also some young love and kids finding the strength to be true to themselves buried under there somewhere.


MM:  You have said that “love is terrifying and loss is powerful and crippling”. Like most of the horror films I love, my favorite horror stories provide an emotional depth that the audience can drown in while using the physical monster as an inconvenient terror for the characters. Which of the characters that you’ve created have you felt the closest emotional connection to? ( I know, it’s like being asked to choose your favorite kid..)

RAD:  I think I would have to choose Samantha from Husk. She wants to make everything right, even when things are confusing and scary. She’s more worried about everyone else.


MM:  You are a Hammer horror fan and big on the monster magazines of yesteryear. If you had to pick one Hammer horror film that every self-respecting horror fan must see, what movie are you picking?

RAD:  Twins of Evil. Easily. If you haven’t watched that one, I’d say there are worse ways to spend a few hours.


MM:  Growing up, what movies/shows/books/characters pulled you into the horror world?

RAD:  Warren and EC comics, films like The Howling and Night of the Demons and The Gate, books like ‘Salem’s Lot and Cycle of the Werewolf. I devoured whatever my uncle wanted to send my way, and there was a lot of it, but those are the titles that stand the test of time for me.


MM:  You’ve got a lot of projects on the agenda currently. Can you update the masses?

RAD:  Non-disclosure agreements make it tough to really tell you anything exciting. I have 3 short stories coming in various anthologies, Wytchwood Hollow, the short story collection, a non-fiction book, and I’m co-editing a witch-themed anthology. I’m sorry that’s not terribly exciting, haha.

 

 

 

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