David O’Hanlon is an Arkansas writer of dark genre fiction. He is best known for his cynical anti-heroes and horror stories set against the backdrop of Arkansas’ diverse ecology, unique folklore, and glorious assortment of trailer parks.
Could you tell the readers a little bit about yourself?
My name’s David O’Hanlon and I’m the author of the short story A Devil of a Deal in the collection Forever Vacancy. I’ve been stranded in Arkansas for a little over a decade where I live with my two moderately-annoying children. I’m a big movie buff and bigger geek. I study and teach people how to injure each other whenever I have free time—I’ve been teaching the Libre Fighting System for about 6 years now and have trained in numerous other fighting styles from around the world. I’ve been writing seriously for about two and a half years now. This is my second story to be published and the fifth that I’ve sold, so hopefully the other three will be available soon.
What do you like to do when you're not writing?
Working or tending to my kids. Occasionally, I get out and teach combatives seminars and private lessons—real survival oriented stuff. I’ve worked with a lot of police and military, as well as victims of violent crimes. It’s very rewarding work on a personal level. There’s also a lot of research, in both my writing and training, so that takes up a good bit of my free time as well.
Other than the horror genre, what else has been a major influence on your writing?
My father was always away from home when I was growing up and I got bullied mercilessly. My TV gave me all these worlds to hide in. Schwarzenegger became my surrogate father, I wanted to be Kolchak when I grew up, I went to school in Sunnydale and Angel Grove. As a result, I see things very cinematically when I write. I constantly look back at the films and shows that I loved for inspiration—mostly 80’s creature features and action flicks.
The term horror, especially when applied to fiction always carries such heavy connotations. What’s your feeling on the term “horror” and what do you think we can do to break past these assumptions?
It’s such a mixed bag. I use to think of horror in very clunky terms. “Oh, there’s a monster? Yeah, that’s definitely horror.” That’s not the case anymore. Vampires are sex symbols, werewolves are angsty, demons are hipsters. The genres have become so blurred that content isn’t the biggest factor anymore. I think that to be horror you really have to focus on the atmosphere and tone. Look at Lake Placid. A giant crocodile eating campers is pretty scary, but the filmmakers made it so much fun! You want the crocodile to eat people because you know Pullman is going to have some great, snarky, remark about it. With horror, you can’t see what’s coming around the next corner and there has to be some feeling of genuine dread. You have to know there’s a chance no one lives. Isolation, powerlessness, hopelessness. Those are the things I look for in horror.
A lot of good horror movements have arisen as a direct result of the socio/political climate, considering the current state of the world where do you see horror going in the next few years?
I think we’re going to start seeing a return of escapist fiction that just wants to entertain. We’re also going to see some new subgenres. Political horror like The Purge trilogy will start becoming more popular. Environmental horror with nature’s revenge and wasted landscapes. There’s some potential for great stuff there. Everyone thinks they’re sending a message and being clever right now. It’s like when my kids repeat a word over and over and it starts feeling like it’s not a word anymore. We see how screwed up the world is on the news, our Facebook feeds, Twitter, etc. We don’t need a thinly veiled metaphor to tell us it’s a mess. Not to say there’s not some good work in there, but a lot of us just want to turn our brains off and go for a long ride away from this.
What are the books and films that helped to define you as an author?
Cinematically, it’s definitely From Dusk till Dawn more than any other. The shift from crime thriller to all out horror, the villain forced to be the hero, Salma Hayek’s snake dance—everything about that movie was perfect. The hero, Seth Gecko, has probably influenced more of my protagonists than anyone else. Matthew Reilly’s Ice Station was the book that made me really want to write, though. His work is so BIG. It’s always a balls out action fest. Once I read that first book, I knew I wanted to take people’s breath away like that.
What new and upcoming authors do you think we should take notice off?
He’s been around a few years, but if you haven’t checked him out Brad Carter is definitely someone you should be reading. Saturday Night of the Living Dead is probably my favorite of his. James Aquilone’s Dead Jack and the Pandemonium Device is great first installment in his debut series. I’m really excited to see what he has coming for us. If you’re looking for something humorous and fun, V.R. Craft has some great stuff out there as well. Her novel, Stupid Humans, was a great read that let me get out of my own head for a while. After reading the work of the other authors in Forever Vacancy, I’m definitely checking out more of their other offerings as well. I’ve been blown away by every story in the collection.
How would you describe your writing style?
I like to experiment with styles and tone a lot, so it’s kind of hard to describe. I’m probably best known for sardonic anti-heroes and revenge motifs. I do a lot with monsters, too. Watchers, Jurassic Park, Monster Hunter International, Relic, CHUD. Those always appealed to me. I love monsters and some of my favorite pieces of mine have been creature features, so I’m really hoping to start getting more of those stories out there for everyone to enjoy. I think my characters really stand out, I’m the guy that writes all the smart ass criminals and degenerates.
Are there any reviews of your work, positive or negative that have stayed with you?
No reviews, not yet. I was told by a published author, I guess 2 or 3 years ago, that the story I’d sent him was on par with Robert E. Howard. That was the comment that really gave me the confidence I needed to pursue this and take myself seriously.
What aspects of writing to do you find the most difficult?
Research can be daunting. I don’t have the funds or the time to go to a lot of the places I want to write about, so I have to spend days in front of a computer working out every little detail. I’m writing a story set in Manhattan in the 1980s right now. I’ve got street maps, subway maps, historical photos, Wikipedia pages on the subway stations to make sure they were open on time, pages of architectural stylings from the era. All this for 6,000 word short story! That can be the part that really kills me.
Is there one subject you would never write about as an author?
I don’t think there is. I have some that I prefer not to deal with, but I won’t say I’ll never write about them. I just wrote one that dealt heavily with sexual abuse. It wasn’t a pleasant experience and it’s not something I like to work with, but it really made the story work. That’s the most important thing to me. The story wants to be told and I let it play out how it wants to. I’m not going to stop a perfectly good narrative just because the subject matter turns my stomach. I think that’s a problem a lot of writers have. Screw your comfort zone.
How important are names to you in your books? Do you choose the names based on liking the way it sounds or the meaning?
I use a lot of name generators and write down interesting names I see and hear throughout the day. I piece together different parts of people’s names to make them more diverse. Then I put all of them in a spreadsheet and pull from that most of the time. It saves so much time, especially with supporting characters and cannon fodder. Every once in a while though, there’s a name that already decided its character. You read the name in the character’s voice and you know everything about them. This name belongs to a private detective, this is space pirate, that one belongs to a post-apocalyptic bounty hunter. So many of my stories have started with just a name, including the one featured in Forever Vacany.
Writing, is not a static process, how have you developed as a writer over the years?
Oh man, I was horrible! I have a few stories from when I started thinking about writing in high school and they’re so awful. I had no idea about formatting or foreshadowing or…well anything for that matter. They were like SyFy original pictures—a few half-thoughts that kind of explained things and then BAM! monsters and mayhem. I didn’t even bother with writing for another 10 or 12 years. I read Monster Hunter International and decided to give it another try. I had learned a lot about storytelling, but I was still sloppy. I still didn’t understand pacing and just wanted to write one action scene after another. Now, I’m really finding myself and started making my own way. Not only have I developed in terms of skills, but in confidence. That’s a big thing in this. You have to challenge yourself and that requires some belief that you’re good enough to pull off your latest goal.
What tools do you feel are must-haves for writers?
Organizational whats-its. I don’t care what system you prefer, but you have to have some way to organize your thoughts. I use a plot map to paint the picture in broad strokes. I put each piece on index cards to help me keep realistic writing goals. One card a week is good. I have a spreadsheet for names, titles, monsters, places, etc. I get binders and make story bibles for individual universe. I have a spreadsheet that lists all my universes and which characters are still alive and which ones died and who killed them. I have a voice recorder in my car for making notes while I work. Pens and notebooks everywhere in the house. My bookmarks on my phone and laptop are organized by categories. Organize everything!
What is the best piece of advice you ever received with regards to your writing?
A librarian that has been paramount in my development as a writer and also helping me get myself together personally told me “Give yourself more credit and accept the fact that you know what you’re doing.” That’s hard for me. I’m the least educated writer I know. I didn’t go to college. I was strung out and drunk most of high school. My friends say don’t use a preposition at the end of a sentence and I’m over here Googling what a preposition is under the table. It’s hard sometimes, because I can’t remember these basic rules and terms. I can tell you a story, but I can’t tell you what the parts are called and I really let that deter me early on.
Getting your worked noticed is one of the hardest things for a writer to achieve, how have you tried to approach this subject?
I decided to start writing again because I wanted to give my kids the motivation to achieve their goals. For me, paychecks and publicity don’t mean much. I want the kids to look at the bookshelf and see all the times Daddy proved people wrong. I want them to pursue their dreams. So I put out as much work as I can. I look for every opportunity to get something in print. I don’t restrict myself. I don’t say I’m a novelist or I only write horror or I only take royalties. If you’re not writing, stop saying you’re a writer. I write constantly, that’s how I get published. Getting published is how I get noticed. That’s how I go at it.
To many writers, the characters they write become like children, who is your favorite child, and who is your least favorite to write for and why?
I wrote a short story about a year ago to show the peer review group at our library how I go from concept to finished project. There’s a secondary antagonist named Lloyd Lacey, that I despised writing. He’s a sexual sadist, serial killer, torturer, and general scum bag. I absolutely hated being in his head. On the other side of that is Brad Carter (the author I mentioned early.) He used to run the peer review group and has been my mentor in this game for a while now. When he left the group to become a full time writer, we all wrote stories with him as the star. I’ve actually made the fictionalized version of him one of my regular characters because I had so much fun writing him.
What piece of your own work are you most proud of?
Oh, that’s a tough one. I think my current novel-in-progress is probably my best piece right now. I tried a lot of new stuff with it and I think all of my progress really shines in it.
And are there any that you would like to forget about?
I wrote a short story called Wormwood that was beyond terrible. I look back at it regularly to keep myself humble. I actually submitted it too, which somehow makes it worse. What a crapfest!
For those who haven’t read any of your books, which of your books do you think best represents your work and why?
Unfortunately, right now my stories in Forever Vacancy and the 2016 Halloween issue of Shotgun! E-zine are the only two published works I have. I have another three stories that I’m waiting on to be published, but they’ve all been paid for so I can’t complain too much. I think my story, A Devil of a Deal, in this collection is a pretty solid example of my work, though.
Do you have a favorite line or passage from your work, and would you like to share it with us?
Can you tell us about your last book, and can you tell us about what you are working on next?
If you could erase one horror cliché what would be your choice?
The helpless victim pool. I’m so tired of slashers (predominantly) pitting the killer against people that have no idea how to protect themselves. I went to a small high school and we still had gang members. We had redneck kids that kept rifles in their truck’s gun rack. We had several weird kids, like me, that owned The Anarchist’s Cookbook, Poor Man’s James Bond, Uncle Fester’s Guide to Household Chemistry. I want to see a killer at a college and some student there on the GI Bill go Rambo on them. We know the blonde chick that just blew the quarterback in the bathroom is going to die. There’s no tension there. Give us someone with a fighting chance. Make us actually surprised when the people live or die.
What was the last great book you read, and what was the last book that disappointed you?
The last great book would probably be Gestapo Mars by Victor Gischler. It had just about everything you could want in a book. Laser swords, dinosaurs, Jell-O aliens, sex bots, cynicism…just awesome fun. I finished it in a day, which I almost never do. The last disappointment was sadly a Matthew Reilly novel. The Great Zoo of China was such a mess. Lots of trying to get the word count up, continuity errors, mundane action. I think the fact that I’ve always held Reilly in the highest regard really amplified the disappointment.
What's the one question you wish you would get asked but never do? And what would be the answer?
“Would you be interested in book deal?” I think that’s the question I really want to be asked. I would definitely be onboard with that! Seriously though, the one thing I never get asked about is writer’s block. Everyone comments on how productive I am, but no one asks how come I don’t have writer’s block. To me it’s like sticking your finger in the light socket. Yeah, it could happen and it will hurt and probably be detrimental to your productivity. But really, just don’t stick your damn finger in the socket. It’s the same principle to me with locking up. Every writer I meet says they have so many ideas that they don’t know which one to work on. Here’s the secret to beating the block: write all of them. If the story stalls, open a new document and start the next story you have in mind. If you’re still staring at a blank page, start the next one. Open the one you never finished, you know you have about six of them, and start working on it again. There’s no way you ran out of ideas completely. One of those stories is dying to move forward. Don’t limit yourself in any way, ever. That’s where you get stuck.
Colors in Darkness, the premiere online site for dark fiction authors of color presents its first anthology!
Amid the upheaval of the 1960s, the Kretcher Motel opened in a poor, desolate part of Atlanta. It still serves its original purpose: to lure those souls who are lost, who are troubled, who are evil…to itself. Check in to view these thirteen dark tales of horror, betrayal, fear, and wickedness, all featuring characters of color. You may never want to leave.