Ginger Nuts of Horror
Chad is a Midwestern born author, living most of his life in Iowa as well as in Illinois and Michigan. He studied at the University of Iowa and has been cultivating his own passion for the written word for most of that time. He focuses on genre fiction, namely horror and science fiction. In 2014, he published Borrowed Time, his first book, a collection of short stories. His writing can also be seen at his blog, bakedscribe.com where an original piece of short fiction is shared every week.
Chad's latest book Winter Holiday published by Dark Minds Press is released today. You can purchase a copy by clicking here.
Hello Chad, it is the beginning of a new year, so how did you do you with last year's Resolution of reviewing every book you read?
I actually did pretty well. At the very least, I left a rating for pretty much everything I read. Some of the books from more established names like Stephen King and Joe Hill, I didn’t bother as much with leaving more than a rating. As much as I figure, writers at their level aren’t exactly hurting for reviews. Is there really a point to writing an actual review for a book that already has a thousand of them? The reason why I try to do this is to support independent and small press authors.
Do you have any book related resolutions for this year?
I’ll be doing the review resolution again and this year I’m going to try and make a point to, whenever I post something on social media about my books, I will try to also post something about someone else’s book. This is something I think I’m pretty good about but there’s always room for improvement and we can all definitely use the support. On an emotional level, I’m trying to avoid the point where I let projects pile up so high that I have no time for any of them. I have stepped back largely from blogging and I am trying as much as possible to focus on one book at a time, so that I can be available for all aspects of my life. With as difficult as it has become to get my existing work noticed, there’s no need to be killing myself in order to add more.
With all the millions of books out there, how do pick a book to read, and what makes you decide to write a shorter review for Goodreads or a longer more in-depth review for Machine Mean?
One thing that is particularly important for me is to trumpet the achievements and the work of my peers when I feel it is deserved. I post reviews on Goodreads or Amazon for most of what I read but if I really enjoy the book, I’ll go the extra mile to do a writeup for the blog. It’s my way of using what platform I have to try and reach out in support of other authors.
And what puts you off from picking up a book to review?
There are any number of points that might tip my interest away from the book. I’m not a huge stickler when it comes to the cover but if it looks like they just threw together an image in a few minutes just to go through the formality of having a cover, I tend to lose interest. If the description for the book is badly written, I often won’t bother. Those might sound petty or unfair but the way I see it, the whole point of a description and a cover is to entice the reader into picking up your book. So if it seems like you aren’t putting much energy or enthusiasm into that, what can I expect for the rest of the book? I tend to steer away from areas that seem well-trodden upon. I don’t have an inherent objection to vampires or werewolves or zombies but if the story seems like “just another” kind of a book, I will likely give it a pass. Often anymore, I find myself trending towards authors, more than book titles. There are a lot of intangibles that go into my process of evaluating a book, picking the melon up off the shelf and sniffing it, pretending I know what the hell I’m smelling for. I’m sure that while much of this is superficial and I likely end up skipping over some good books, I know that I’m also skipping over some bad ones.
Do you ever wish you could just read for pleasure so to speak?
I actually have no trouble reading for pleasure anymore. Even as a writer, I am more than happy to dial down that aspect of my brain and just enjoy a book. After years of acting at being intellectually engaged at University, it was important to me to get back to that place mentally where reading was something I did to bring joy to my life. I have been a writer for a long time but I’ve been a reader for even longer. Books were what got me into this in the first place. And as I have two young kids now, I don’t really get the chance to watch what I want on television anymore. So for me, books have become my primary means to ingest my preferred mode of entertainment.
Many other authors don't like to leave reviews, for fear of retaliation reviews, have you ever wished that you hadn't written a review, and how bad would a book have to be to stop you from leaving a review?
I actually make a policy where if I really don’t like the book or if I’m just not getting it, I won’t leave a review. That stems from two places. First, in my earlier days as a writer, one thing that was really pounded into me was the notion of being respectful and positive when giving feedback to an author. It’s important to remember that no matter how strongly we might feel about an issue, we really are just one reader and what we have to say should be presented as our opinions, not set-in-stone fact. So even in reviews for books that I didn’t like as much, I try to make sure my comments are as constructive and respectful as possible. If I think it’s a book that merits fewer than three stars, I just refrain from rating it or leaving a review.
The other is that I do often give thought to the issue you bring up, of authors taking out revenge for a review they aren’t happy with. It seems anymore in this industry that any stray match can have the potential to flare up into a full brush fire so I do try to tread lightly. I do also see an inherent conflict of interest in how I use my reviews. With books on the market myself, I don’t want to give the impression that I’m just trying to tear down the competition. In my mind, it would be like a chef going onto a review site and ripping all the other restaurants in town.
Point is, when I review, I try to keep it positive and upbeat so I don’t think there has been a review that I’ve posted with concern or trepidation.
Reviewing is just one feather in the cap, for those who may not have heard of you, you are also an author. What made you want to a writer initially and what drew you to the horror genre?
Growing up, I was lucky on several levels. First, I had parents that made sure we were going to the library on a regular basis and I had books in my hands, constantly. By the time I started kindergarten I was already reading quite well on my own, so books made an early entry into my life. I also experienced much of the eighties right at that perfect time of childhood where everything can still be magic and fun. The Star Trek films were starting to become a cultural phenomenon and of course, Star Wars was a towering giant. It really was a great time for popular entertainment and as cable television and video rentals were still in their infancy, going out to the movies was much more of an event than it is now.
I think that this love for books as well as for the more visual aspects of storytelling planted much of the seeds for what would become my identity as a writer, many years later. It wasn’t long after I developed the love of stories that I realized that I could take up a pen and start telling some of my own design.
The eighties were also a time when the horror genre was getting huge. Obviously this was when Stephen King was becoming the name he now is but also, a ton of great movie franchises that are in the process of being rebooted got their start, largely in the eighties. I remember reading John Bellairs as a kid and loving the spooky atmosphere in books like The House With A Clock In Its Walls. It wasn’t long after that when I found myself delving into King’s work, the books that I had always seen lying around my dad’s house but was too afraid to read. Those were books for adults, not me.
For me, horror has always been about intense storytelling and the shiver you get up your spine, sometimes, in just the right moment. I like it when stories force you to bring your own moral compass to bear and really think about what you’re reading. It’s about seeing a character in the worst possible situation, then looking inside ourselves and wondering, “What would I do?” It’s about going straight to the brink of madness but with the ability to turn away and make our way back to safety, outside the covers of the book.
The genre is as broad as they come, is there a particular sub-genre that you the most comfortable writing in?
I suppose supernatural horror is where I’m most fond of being. I love the notion of the power of things unseen and of the unsettling nature these types of stories can often take on. I think that you often have to recruit the reader to be a part of the storytelling as you often count on their psyche to fill in the blanks of what you have on the page and to be creeped out by the implications of what they just read. I’m also a big fan of stories that bend the horror and sci-fi genres together, in the style of films like Alien and Event Horizon. I think that those genres play really well alongside one another so I’m always excited when I see authors that go there.
You published your first book Borrowed Time in 2014, which was a collection of short stories, did you write these stories especially for the collection or where did you select them from your back catalogue?
When I made the decision to start publishing my work, most of the stories in that book had already been written. Of the six stories in that collection, all but one had been written within two years of publishing the book. The one exception was what ended up being the title story, Borrowed Time. This was more of a novella length story and it was actually this that, many years later would become my standalone book, Yesterday, When We Died.
How would you describe the collection, is there an overriding theme to the stories?
I don’t think there is a particular theme. Two of the stories are pretty dark, supernatural horror. There are two sort of speculative sci-fi type stories and the other two are really more literary, with one of them taking on some vague supernatural elements.
At the time, my thinking was (and I think I still tend to feel) that while having a theme to a collection or an anthology can be great, it can also be an effort largely lost on the reader. I’ve read some fantastic anthologies of stories that were centered around a common theme and I’ve read books just as good that are all over the place in terms of theme and story. I think it largely depends on the game of the writer, more than anything else. If the author is taking me places I enjoy, I’m going to go along for the ride, regardless of the form it takes.
As with so many new authors, the collection did not sell as well as you hoped, if you knew then what you know now about how hard it is to market a short story collection by a new, and hell sometimes by an established, author would you still have Borrowed Time as your debut publication?
That was a tough one for me. It’s hard to put something out there that you believe in and just see it tank. Releasing that book was my first hard reality check as an author as I found out that it is far easier for people to say, “Yeah, I’ll totally buy that when it comes out” than it is to actually follow through and click on that old purchase button. I don’t think I ever had the notion that I had a bestseller on my hands but I think I was hoping for slightly more active engagement and responses than I got.
The book was received well, for the few people who bought it and I did get a handful of positive reviews. But ultimately, the book just sat there and did not move.
And much of that is my own fault. I didn’t know what I was doing, not that I would characterize myself as knowing much, even today. I don’t have the kind of budget that would allow me to run a bunch of ad campaigns or pay for marketing. I was depending a lot on word of mouth and as many have also found out, that just isn’t a good way to sell books.
So to get around to an actual answer, I probably would have done things differently and maybe tried to put something out that would have had more potential to garner attention with the amount of resources I had to push it out there.
You have recently been releasing some of the stories as stand-alone versions, what made you decide to do this?
Yes, as of now, all but one of the stories in that book have been released as single titles. It reached a point where I realized I had to do something differently with that book. I couldn’t remember the last time I had sold a copy, but I still felt strongly about the stories in the collection. I think they were all good, but the problem was that no one was reading them so they weren’t doing any work for me. A golden egg doesn’t do anything for you if the goose isn’t giving it up.
As kindle singles have become more popular, I thought this would be a good way to get them out there and in front of readers. I have released four short stories, Utopia, Falling To Dark, Tomorrow’s Memory and Mist On The Highway. And as I mentioned earlier, the title story from that book, Borrowed Time, was released this year with a new title, Yesterday, When We Died.
While I wouldn’t say that the stories have set the world on fire, they have by far gotten more engagement and response as single titles than they ever had when I released them all in the same collection. Yesterday, When We Died and Falling To Dark both have gotten more ratings on Goodreads by themselves, than the book Borrowed Time ever did. So on the whole, I feel happy with how the decision has gone and looking back, I wish I had done it this way from the start.
Have you tweaked these stories in any way?
I gave all the stories some additional editing before I re-released them. The most radical change I did was in Yesterday, When We Died which had a scene that is similar to a scene from another one of my books. I went in and did a little rewrite. But other than that, all I did was go through and clean up areas where I thought the writing was dragging the story down. I’m far better now than I was then, both as a writer and an editor but one happy surprise I found when I was going back through these old stories was that I was still capable of enjoying my own work. I took that as a definite good sign.
Looking back over the years, how do you feel you have developed as a writer?
I’ve definitely gotten more confident in my abilities and in my instincts as a writer. I think I have a better sense of my strengths and my productivity has definitely improved. Making a point of writing every day has been a major decision for me and I’m currently sitting at close to 1,600 straight days of writing at least two hundred and fifty words.
Self esteem is something that as a writer, you are struggling with constantly. There’s a quote about writing I have always loved, I think it’s from Anne Lamott, that writing a novel is like trying to cross the ocean in a bathtub. There’s plenty of room for doubt.
The point is that early on, when I was younger I was constantly battling an unresolvable conflict. On one hand, I was a writer because I needed people to tell me that I was a good writer. That was never going to happen though as I never let anyone read my writing because I was terrified that they were going to tell me I was shit. I started plenty of stories but never had the steam to finish them. And then, after a year, I would find those handful of chapters in a notebook in my closet and I’d think, “This is really good, why didn’t I finish this?”
Getting more years and experience has taught me to trust that I do have good instincts and that my ideas are good. I’ve done much better at understanding that the statements of any one person shouldn’t be given too much weight and what really matters is that I realize that I AM a good writer, regardless of what they tell me. That may sound arrogant and maybe to some extent it is. But I think the point I’m trying to drive at is that as this is my art, if I can be honestly happy with what I put out there, I consider that to be a win.
It took me a lot of years to get to that head space and I still wage war on my own self-image, on a daily basis. As the time crawls by, I just get a little better at compartmentalizing that negativity and leaving it in the sewer, where it belongs.
Has living in the Midwest shaped your writing? Have the rolling planes and farmland ever manifested into your work?
I suppose I tend to write my stories in a generic sort of midwestern setting. All of the towns and places I use are fictionalized but my actual experiences with the environment I live in definitely affects how I write. And I do tend to lean towards stories featuring characters in somewhat isolated settings and small towns that just aren’t right. I’ve driven through more than my fair share of tiny little midwestern towns, basically just clusters of houses with maybe a gas station and a bar. I’m sure that creates somewhat of a comfort zone in my head in terms of where I instinctively place my stories.
And can you confirm that you do indeed get tornadoes there, my wife spent two years living in Clear Lake and was upset that she never saw one?
Tornadoes are definitely a thing. I’ve been in close vicinity of them any number of times but I’ve only actually seen a tornado once, actually a water spout, which is basically a tornado when it’s over water. I saw that over Lake Michigan.
Shortly after our first son was born, I woke in the middle of the night to find myself in the opening scene of an apocalyptic film. The power was off, wind howling outside and everyone was gone. Turns out, there had been straight line winds going right past us and my wife, upon hearing a sound like a train bearing down on the house had scooped up the kiddo and gotten him downstairs. This wasn’t a tornado, but basically a storm with tornado strength winds. We woke up the next morning to find about a half dozen trees along our property line had fallen into our yard, one of which came a few feet away from the corner bedroom where our son had been sleeping. So I can definitely confirm their existence. I would say every year, we get at least a handful of tornadoes that touch down and are sighted around our area.
Your latest publication is almost here, Winter Holiday from Dark Minds Press. How did you involved with this publisher?
In the summer of 2016, I was looking for a book recommendation as I was waiting for Joe Hill’s book, The Fireman to come out. A friend suggested I check out Slaughter Beach, by Benedict Jones. Just so happens that was the first of the Dark Minds novella series. At the time, they were just about to release the fourth book in the series and I saw several names of authors I knew that were involved. I read all the rest and was blown away by both the simple, but elegant cover art as well as the economic and hard-hitting stories. I have come to fall in love with novella length stories for the horror genre. I think it allows for a quick and intense story while at the same time staying legitimate. I often find with really long horror stories that the premise starts to fall apart a bit and you hit a point where you just wonder why things haven’t been resolved yet.
Late that year, I reached out to Dark Minds to see if they had plans on publishing any more installments in the series. I did this fully with the expectation of being politely told that no such plans were in the works but thanks anyway for asking. It was, therefore, a pretty big surprise when they responded back that I was free to send along anything I might have for them to look at. One aspect of these books that I have really enjoyed is that while they are all unique, there is a similar feel of grim intensity to them. I took stock of the novellas I was working on at the time and picked out Winter Holiday as the one I thought would be the best fit.
I sent it along, again fully expecting to be told thanks, but no thanks. My expectations were obviously defied, once again. As much as I wanted it, I never really thought I would get to have one of those great covers with my name on it so it was a thrill for me when I received word that they were interested.
Did you read the other books in this novella series to get a feel for what sort of story they were looking for?
As I said, I had read all of the installments that had been put out at that time. I think I was feeling a general vibe and atmosphere to the stories that Winter Holiday would do a good job standing alongside. I sent the story along, hoping that they would agree that it was a good choice, but not really having the realistic expectation that it would happen. Dark Minds is a press that puts out fantastic work so if nothing else, I really felt the pressure to make sure the work I was crafting would be worthy of being placed under that esteemed name.
What does working with a publisher like Dark Minds bring to the table?
I was thrilled for the chance to work with such a great press. One great aspect of working with smaller publishers is when you get the chance to collaborate with people who have the luxury of taking their time to work with who they want. This will be my first traditionally published book so I’m looking forward to a new experience. Working with them on the editing end of things and in crafting the book down to a more effective product has been incredibly helpful and educational for me. I know that some writers out there take the attitude that every word extruded from their soul is like spun gold and how dare anyone think to change it, but I try to be more open to input. After all, a publisher wants the same thing as you, they want your book to succeed. So I take their advice and suggestions for what they are, an effort to make the book as good as it can possibly be. Dark Minds has been phenomenal to work with. And obviously, I certainly hope that with the audience they have and the platform they have created, I can hopefully get my name out there and maybe get some more notice for my other books as well.
What can we expect from the story?
I’m a big fan of a good monster story and I think/hope that this comes through clearly in Winter Holiday. I like using atmosphere a bit more than overt description. I’m not against having graphic content but I think that if I can get the reader to complete the image in their mind, it’s more effective and has more potential to stay with them. I’m a big believer in the sentiment that while a story might begin with me, it ultimately ends in the mind of the reader, so I want to make sure there is room for their imagination to roam. One author I have come to love in the past year is Amy Cross. I think she has a brilliant mix of suspenseful atmosphere but also with some more extreme content sprinkled in. I think it is a style of writing that I try to do as well, myself. My hope is that with Winter Holiday, readers will find a fun romp with a scary monster, an unsettling treatment of the experience of isolation and a plot that leaves you with just the right bitter twist at the end.
It has been described by that Canadain rapscallion Duncan Ralston as a cross between Stephen King and Owl Goingback, which in my book is a pretty good cross. Where do you think this novella falls more in the King or Goingback camp?
I’m sad to say that I haven’t read any of Owl Goingback before but I intend to correct that soon. Crota looks like a fantastic book so I think I will shuffle it to the top of my to-read pile. The reference to The Dark Half is on point, though and I’m glad to see that book popping into his mind after reading Winter Holiday. It’s one book of King’s that I think has been severely underrated so it doesn’t surprise me to think that I could have been chewing it over somewhat on a subconscious level as I wrote this. I certainly had aspects of The Shining in mind as Winter Holiday deals quite a bit on the subject of isolation and the effect that can have on a creative mind, like the novelist who is the central character of this book.
If you could write a sequel to any of their books which book would you choose?
That’s a tough one. I think it would be interesting to write a followup to Misery. Not the movie-of-the-week type sequel where Annie’s twin sister shows up to take revenge, necessarily. But I think it would be an interesting turn to see Paul in the wake of his experiences in that house, to see how damaged he is as a result and how his character is fundamentally altered by Annie Wilkes.
It's just the start of the year, but can you tell us about any plans you have for the coming year with regards to your writing career?
In a few months, I will be putting out a novella with Shadow Work titled, In The Course Of Daily Events. This is another small-town tale, centered around an outbreak of violence that has happened to the populous. It’s a horror story but also a rare departure from the supernatural for me so I’m looking forward to share something a little different with my readers. Also this year, I will be publishing the follow-up to my 2016 apocalyptic novel, Behind Our Walls. This new book is titled From Across Their Walls and it has been incredibly fun to make a return to that universe. At some point this year, my collection of Stephen King reviews from my blogging project will be released in a book titled, Tracing Trails. I started this project several years ago and have just recently finished. I read all of his books in order of publication and reviewed each along the way. It was a great way to get myself re-invested in an author I love so I’m happy to have been able to complete it.
I have also started a small publishing company called Darker Worlds. Besides handling my own work, obviously, I’m already starting to reach out to authors in the hope of starting a line of short stories to release under the imprint. I’ve already gotten verbal commitment from two writers that I am very excited to be working with so keep an eye out for those releases.
Other than that, I will keep doing what I do. I work. I write. I try and be a positive force in this industry. I try to be humble and open minded as I continue to be inspired by artists I am honored to consider colleagues. Who knows what the future will bring to me, if my books will start to find some success or if I’m simply doomed to whither away in a deep sarlacc pit of obscurity. Either way, it’s important to be able to take happiness and joy from my journey, otherwise it isn’t going to make one bit of difference what the ultimate destination ends up being. I’ll try to be happy, and hope that more people can do the same.
I think that, more than anything, is what we all need right now.
A house in the mountains, the roads to and from it impassable. The perfect place for best-selling author Peter’s annual holiday; a refuge from the pressures of life and an opportunity to recharge his creative batteries in solitude.
A dream location.
Except this year, something else has taken residence on the snow-covered slopes, something filled with malignant intent and a desire to kill. Driven by impulses beyond its ken, it seeks out the house in which Peter is staying and the writer soon finds himself in a battle with the deadliest of foes, a creature born of nightmares…