Ginger Nuts of Horror
It's not everyday that you get to meet one of your heroes, let alone be given the chance to sit down and have a fabulous chat with them.
So when I was asked if I would like to interview Tamara Thorne and Alistair Cross. I jumped at the the chance. I can still remember finding Panic and Thunder Road hiding in the shelves of St Andrews library during the mid 1990's a time when excellent horror was very hard to find.
Tamara has now teamed up with fellow scribe Alistair Cross to co-author Grandma's Rack, and a new serial novel Belinda.
So why don't you go and grab a drink and sit down and read one of the most in depth and extensive interviews I have ever had the honour of doing.
AN INTERVIEW WITH TAMARA THORNE AND ALASTAIR CROSS
Hello Tamara and Alistair, how are things with you?
T&A: Just ducky! And you?
First of all could you give the readers some background information about yourselves?
Alistair: I have been writing most of my life, beginning with what I used to think of as songs. I quickly moved into short stories… and then novels.
Tamara: I, too, have been writing all my life, but I started with science fiction and moved into ghost stories and horror.
A lot of horror authors use writing as a way to excise some of their childhood fears. Is this true of either of you? And what are some of those fears?
Alistair: I don’t believe I write horror as a means to conquer fear, no. As for my childhood fears, I mostly feared real threats such as intruders. As for ghosts and vampires and such, I only looked forward to meeting one.
Tamara: Same here. I never feared ghosts, but I certainly didn’t trust live people!
Do they still linger at the back of your subconscious?
T&A: Human fear is universal; it simply wears different clothing depending on whose closet you’re looking in. Access to our fears, past and present, give us access to others’ fears so, you see, it doesn’t really matter what we each precisely fear in order to write horror. We rarely write about any of our own fears although Tamara did address a childhood fear in Bad Things. We both prefer getting into others’ heads and exploring new fears and phobias.
And have they been replaced by any new fears?
Alistair is afraid of slipping in pie and Tamara has a deathly fear of cumquats.
As well as fears, authors are also the embodiment of their upbringing. In terms of books and films what would you say has had the biggest influence on your writing?
Tamara: Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, a short story titled, “The Thing in the Cellar,” and MAD Magazine.
Alistair: I read the novel Dracula as a child. Or a good portion of it, anyway. The imagery creeped me out and gave me lots of great nightmares.
Rewinding the clock back twenty years or so, the seeds for the pair of you working together and forming such a strong friendship were sown when Alistair picked up a copy of Moonfall. Alistair, what was it about Moonfall that made you initially pick up the book, and then fall so much in love with it?
Alistair: The cover made me pick it up. I didn’t even know it was a gargoyle; I thought it was a pig with an inverted cross, and hey, that’s fun! And then when I read it, probably what made me like it so much was the setting and characters. I thought the atmosphere was very vivid. It stuck in my head. Also all the nun sex. Mmm… nuns.
Most people would have given up after twenty years, but you stalked (or as I like to call it, selectively walked) Tamara from afar, and it was only with the invention of Facebook that you finally made contact with her. How long did you spend writing that first message to Tamara?
Alistair: Two seconds. I wrote, “Love your work.”
Tamara, can you remember what his first contact was like? Did he come across as a crazed fan?
Tamara: Yes, I remember. I missed the “Love your work,” PM, but a month or two later, he made a comment I liked on something political I’d posted. I answered that. Then we got to PMing. Like bunnies. Crazed fan? Absolutely not, or I would have run the other way. Once he had me trapped, though, he mailed me a pair of his boxer shorts. (Used. Very, very used.) But by then we were already writing together so I just washed them and sent them back and figured that if he was crazy, there was nothing I could do about it now.
Why do you think the pair of you hit it off so well?
T & A: We have similar sensibilities and writing styles, and even more importantly, our senses of humor make us think we’re long lost twins. We spend an inordinate amount of time laughing and scratching.
Do you have a list of back-up writer friends, like some couples do in the case of the death of their spouse?
T & A: No. We just refuse to die until we’ve done everything we want.
Tamara, it was you who first came up with the idea of working together. How easy was it for you to come to that decision? It’s one thing being close friends, but working together, that could have been difficult?
Tamara: I swore many years ago never to collaborate again. Never, ever, no, no, no. But then came Alistair, who had similar feelings, and we realized we were writing together before we ever consciously considered doing so. It came so naturally, we couldn’t help it. We both feel it was meant to be. We were creating stories together the first time we spoke on the phone.
With all partnerships there has to be the bossy one, so which one of you is bossy pants?
T & A: We’ve both had enough of being bossed around; that’s why we work together. Mutual respect is at the core of our relationship. That and mad giggling.
So why horror? What is it about it that appeals to the both of you so much?
T & A: We like it when people die horrible, frightening deaths, and it’s also quite therapeutic to kill them.
Is there anything about the genre you don’t like?
Alistair: The assumption that it is a genre without morals.
Tamara: I just happen to like spooky stories. I don’t really think about it as a genre, but I suppose what I avoid in reading horror is torture porn. Unless I write it, of course.
I must apologize and say I’m not familiar with your work, Alistair, but one thing I noticed about yours, Tamara, is the vein of humour that seems to exist in it. Is there a reason why your books have this feel about them?
Tamara: I’m never very good at staying serious for long. Also, I agree with Hitchcock’s ideas about using humor in horror. It keeps people off kilter. They don’t see it coming.
I’ve always felt that horror and comedy share a common reaction centre in the brain that relies on shock. What do you both think about this?
Alistair: I don’t know what it does to the brain, but I think that horror and comedy go together for the same reason sweet and sour go together. They compliment each other because both sit at extreme ends of the spectrum and, alone, can be very intense. They offset each other nicely.
Tamara: I agree with Alistair and I also think shock is often a common denominator between humor and horror. That’s why I love lemon meringue pie. It’s shocking!
Grandma’s Rack. Who first came up with the idea for the book?
T & A: We were goofing around on Facebook, and Tamara made a crack about “Grandma’s rack,” and Alistair said, ‘Ooh, great title.” We instantly deleted from Facebook and got on the phone to discuss the possibilities. Originally, it was supposed to be a short story.
Please tell me it’s not a prequel to the other book you’re working on just now (more on that later folks). I really don’t need an image of old ladies parts in my head, you know?
T & A: No, our erotic serial novel, Belinda, is not at all related to Grandma’s Rack. You’ve made us giggle with horrifying possibilities, though...
Does the book have a message?
T & A: Grandmas need love, too. And we never said what kind of rack it is. You just have a dirty mind! Come on, admit it!
Sometimes the setting of the book is almost as important as the cast of characters. How much work did you put into getting the setting right for the book? And how did you come up with the name Milkwort? Is it a real place?
T & A: Milkwort is a fictional town, but we can’t explain the name, other than to say it’s a pretty meadow flower and we liked it. Sometimes names just pop into your head. Other times, you choose them.
How much work do you put into getting the setting right? Is the time period just as important as the geographical nature of the setting?
T&A: The setting is a character as far as we’re concerned and time periods are just as important. Regarding eras, for the time being, we’re sticking with the contemporary, with flashbacks generally within our own lifetimes. You know, like Quantum Leap. We might do something historical together at some point, but there is so much study and fact-checking involved that right now, it feels like a way to slow down the story telling. We both have a favorite era or two, though…
Characterisation can make or break a book, and I would think that could have been tricky as a co-authored book. How did you go about assembling the cast for Grandma’s Rack? Did you fight over any characters?
T & A: Oh, we fight like cats and dogs, non-stop. Just kidding. Seriously, neither of us are drama fans and if we fought, we wouldn’t write together. We each have favorite characters. You could say we tend to adopt them and while we both write every character, each of us will write the majority of differing characters. We both get a kick out of Grandma herself, but Tamara writes the majority of her scenes while Alistair enjoys doing her antagonist, Devanny. We split up the super fun (twisted) scenes so we both have fun!
So do either of you have a favourite character from the book?
Tamara is fond of Grandma and Alistair excels at Devanny. We wallow in those characters. Others, we enjoy equally. Darius is one that breaks us both into laughing fits regularly.
When is the book out? I can’t find a listing for it.
Later this year. We don’t have an exact date yet, but we will announce it once we do. We’re writing the final scenes now, then we’ll let it sit and “age” for five or six weeks to give ourselves some distance from it before doing an extensive edit. Then it will go to the copyeditor before coming back to us for final revisions. Then it goes to the publisher.
Meanwhile, the first installments of Belinda are scheduled for release this summer.
Belinda is a serialized erotica novel. That’s a bit left field? How did this come about?
T & A: It’s not really left field. We both have a penchant for sexy scenes, so we’re indulging something we already enjoy. It’s comic relief for us because our other projects are very intense. Also Belinda has a horror element. There plenty of ghosts. Sexy ghosts. Belinda came about because we kept pushing the envelope with Grandma and trying to outdo each other with outrageous sex scenes while brainstorming. It was getting out of hand and we realized we could use those scenes in the right novel.
Did you find it slightly embarrassing reading over each other’s work? (I’m what you might call rather prudish).
T & A: We are two ten-year-old boys at heart, in love with potty humor and sex jokes. The other day, Alistair sent Tamara a sexy scene from Grandma, saying he thought it might be too dirty. Tamara made it dirtier. Also, we read scenes aloud while Skyping. It’s the best way to know what needs fixing, or if something is out of place, especially on the complicated Grandma’s Rack. We often end up in fits of giggles, but we also emerge with the best possible project.
Over here there is an annual award for the worst written sex scene in a book. How do you go about writing a good sex scene?
T & A: Oh, that would be fun to enter! And enter again, and again, shoving harder, pushing, thrusting ourselves into that eager contest until it could stand it no longer! However, a serious sex scene requires a certain subtlety. When Tamara put a half page scene about kissing a cut on a finger to make it better in Candle Bay, she found out that this is evidently the hottest scene she’s ever written. We show our good guys some respect and close the doors on them when it’s obviously time to get it on, but the rest of the characters -- they get the outrageous stuff. There’s an orgy in Grandma’s Rack that Alistair is primarily responsible for that nearly made Tamara strangle on her own tongue because it was so through-the-roof. That may have been the day we both wet ourselves. Outrageous sex may be stimulating, but overall, the serious, more restrained scenes are the real turn-ons.
Did either of you live out any of your fantasies on the page?
T & A: Hahahaha! With the completion of Grandma’s first draft, we are just now getting into Belinda, but we’ve come up with many adventures for her and more are coming, so to speak. Fantasy is fantasy. Reality is reality. Most of the scenes in Belinda would require fairly adventurous people to act them out in real life. Alistair will call Tamara and say, “Can I do the ‘stable boy’ scene?” Tamara in turn wants to do the ‘lawyer’s briefs’ scene. We choose scenes according to what appeals to us most.
As well as writing the book you are both designing and creating the covers for the series.
T & A: We do have creative control per our publisher… within reason, of course.
Am I correct in thinking that you are using friends as models?
T & A: We have a friend who happens to be a professional model and he may work with us. We haven’t made any firm decisions yet.
Alistair, will you be taking the photographs? I hear you into photography?
Alistair: I am going to try my hand at it, but if we’re not satisfied, the job will go to the publisher’s staff. (Tamara adds that she can’t imagine anyone being a better people-photographer than Alistair.)
Excuse us for a minute while two geeks talk technical for a while. What kit do you use?
Alistair: I started out with a small format Canon before graduating to a digital SLR Nikon.
Do you have a favourite lens?
Alistair: My favorite lens is my 50mm.
How would you describe your photography style?
Alistair: I’d like to think it’s dark and sensual, but most of all, thought provoking. I am forever trying to tell a great story, and I hope to do that with photography as well.
Black and White or colour for portraits?
Alistair: I prefer black and white. It’s more mysterious… and more forgiving.
Sorry folks, back to business.
I believe that once Grandma’s Rack is completed the pair of you are also going to be working on another horror novel. Can you tell us anything about this project or is it still hush-hush?
T & A: The first novel idea we ever came up with, back before we realized we were going to write together, is a haunted house tale in the vein of Hill House, Hell House and Haunted that is set in the mountains. We wrote down a very basic plot and cast, then set it aside, figuring we’d write it someday. Then we had the chance to spend a few nights investigating an allegedly haunted cabin for a concerned owner and that piqued our interest in our novel. It inspired. So that one got pushed up to next on our agenda. There are more after that.
So what else are you working on, do you have any solo projects you can talk about?
T & A: After Grandma, Tamara will finish her sequel to Candle Bay. It’s about vampires on a roadtrip to the crazy Jack-the-Ripper mountain town of Eternity in northern California. It’s a lot of fun. We find out if human Amanda married the vampire of her dreams, but more importantly, we find out what the twins, Poison Ivy and Juicy Lucy, are up to, besides no good.
Alistair is working on his solo project, The White Room, a lusty tale of betrayal, the power of family ties, addiction, redemption, and kinky vampires who just can't keep their fangs to themselves.
Before we wrap up this interview I would be remiss in not asking about your recent ghost hunting trip to California. First of are you both believers?
T & A: We are both skeptics in the true sense of the word. That means the mind stays open until there’s reason to close it. The word “skeptic” has been sorely abused by ghost hunters and people think it means “debunker.” To us, a true believer or a true nonbeliever are two sides of the same coin. We prefer to balance on the fence and watch. Tamara has been into this since childhood and investigating for others - not just herself - for nearly 15 years and Alistair has now joined her in this venture. She has witnessed half a dozen anomalies that are, so far, unexplainable. Labeling the anomaly - calling it a spirit or demon or anything else - clouds the issue. And frankly, as storytellers by nature, we both prefer the mystery. We don’t want to know; we just want to explore possibilities. (http://alistaircross.wordpress.com/?s=five+nights)
Have you had any prior encounters with the other side?
Tamara: I have seen hundreds of anomalies that proved to be nothing, but have seen at least half a dozen that are, as yet, inexplicable. There have been a couple of apparitions that would have been mistaken for living people if there had not been other witnesses and had the anomalies not vanished in front of all concerned. I’ve also had some rather fabulous poltergeist experiences at various times with various people. I’ve witnessed several other anomalies as well. I have no idea what they were, but I love the mystery.
Alistair: I can recall a few incidents that still make me shudder if I think about them enough, but nothing I would say has made me a believer in anything.
What are your theories about what ghosts and spirits are?
Tamara: I have never seen anything I’d call a “spirit” (an intelligent soul) except for a deathbed visit from my mother that I cherish. ( http://tamarathorne.wordpress.com/?s=mother%27s+day)
I would be happy to meet a soul, but I tend to doubt souls hang around long after death; they’re too intelligent to do that. Ghosts, on the other hand, if they seem to interact, are likely the decaying remains of the false personality -- the persona we all use to get by in society. This outer shell is where heavy emotions live. Hate, love, sadness, fear: these are the domain of our personalities. Assuming souls exist, they don’t fear death because they know they’re eternal. Personalities aren’t eternal and they’re scared shitless. I call this kind of ghost a revenant to distinguish it from the echo-type ghost that is embedded in walls and other places. These residual ghosts are like loops of tape that play for various reasons. They seem to be most common in places where there is lots of stone and cement - silica and other ingredients are also the materials that were originally used to make records. It’s logical. In the cabin, there was a huge fireplace with crystals in some of the stones and this probably increased the activity there.
Alistair: I tend to think of ghosts as psychic impressions, left behind – memories in motion, so to speak. I, too, have a hard time believing that a ghost would linger for any reason. Also, I can’t help but roll my eyes a little when I hear about ‘ghostly’ behavior. After all, if a ghost can muster the strength to hide photographs, make footstep sounds, and leave scratches and bite marks on your thigh, then why can’t it pull the trigger of a gun and get its revenge properly and efficiently? Show me a ghost that straight up shoots people in the face, and you’ve got my attention!
Did California reveal any of its secrets?
T & A: No. But it did show us a lot of leg and a fair amount of cleavage.
If money was no option what would be your ultimate place be to go Ghost Hunting?
T & A: We are in absolute agreement on this one: Greece. Greece is the word.
Thank you for agreeing to do this interview, it has been both a pleasure and honour. Do you have any final words for the readers?
T & A: We hope you enjoy reading our books as much as we enjoy writing them. Stay demented!
Tamara Thorne is a lifelong student of the paranormal, folklore, and shameless humor. She is the author of such supernatural thrillers as The Forgotten, Bad Things, Eternity, and Thunder Road, amongst others. She has also written horror novels, based in research but often slightly tongue-in-cheek, including Haunted,Moonfall, and The Sorority Trilogy. Thorne and her husband, Damien, spend their spare time hoping not to sleep in haunted hotel rooms and prowling other anomalous sites, hoping to be accosted by poltergeists, falls of frogs, or phantom jackalopes. A Fortean, she goes ghost-hunting as often as possible, always hoping to encounter anomalies or at least expose a fraud or two. She is currently at work on a ghostly new novel based on a real southwestern haunting.
Alistair Cross was born in a small town in the western United States.
He grew up on horror novels and scary movies, and by the age of 8, began writing his own stories. In 2012, his first novel, a collaborative effort called Beautiful Monster, was published by Damnation Books, LLC. under the pseudonym Jared S. Anderson.
Mr. Cross is now hard at play on several other works, including a macabre little project with acclaimed horror novelist Tamara Thorne.
His influences include, but are not limited to, the works of Stephen King, Dean Koontz, John Saul, Tamara Thorne, Ira Levin, and William Peter Blatty.
Mr. Cross' turn-ons include horror movies, photography, offensive books, blaring music, Swiss cheese, bloodletting, leather boots, and making people feel uncomfortable.
In his spare time, he can often be found playing with fire, conquering ant colonies, flogging his friends, appearing pensive and thoughtful for no real reason, and exploring the various stages of hypnagogia on the freeway.
There's a new coven in town......
The plague witches have declared war, and ten-year-old Joey is in more trouble than he can even imagine. As the town of Milkwort becomes a battleground of magic and mayhem, the only thing he seems to have on his side is the sweet, soft-spoken woman who cares for him - his grandmother. And Grandma has a secret...Grandma's Secret WeaponsWhen a gruesome murder is committed, the residents of Milkwort suddenly don't seem to be themselves. Little Joey is going to have to grow up fast if he wants to survive. Can he and Grandma uncover the heinous secrets and unravel the twisted mysteries that lie just beneath the surface of this seemingly quiet, small town?
Thorne & Cross
Grandma's Rack, the first collaborative novel from Tamara Thorne and Alistair Cross arrives this year from Avalerion Books.
Belinda is a paranormally-inclined serialized erotic tale which chronicles the story of a beautiful young woman who acquires a job as governess to the children of a mysterious and unattainable millionaire named Eric Manning. This series follows Belinda from her first tentative visit to the spooky old manor, to meeting the strangely lascivious staff, and finally, to her initiation into an erotic lifestyle she never knew existed. Her experiences will prepare her for the ultimate challenge: to acquire the lust and love of the handsome and entirely oblivious Mr. Manning.
The first installment of Belinda is due out this summer. Listen for the heavy breathing…
She’s coming… Thorne & Cross
Belinda will be out this summer by Avalerion Books.
For more great interviews and reviews follow the links below