Ginger Nuts of Horror
Welcome back to part 2 of our in-depth interview with author Chantal Noordeloos! Part one can be found here In this post, we talk about more stories from the ‘Deeply Twisted’ collection, as well as getting a sneak peek into what 2015 has in store for Chantal…
GNOH: 'Deeply Twisted' has a historical setting, as do a few other stories in this collection. What attracts you to writing about other time periods, and what if anything do you find challenging about such tales?
CN: I wrote ‘Deeply Twisted’ because of the book cover. It sounds weird to write a story just because of a picture, but the model is a friend of mine. When I saw that photograph, I knew I had to have it as a book cover. I’m a bit of a cover snob, and I believe the outside visuals of a book need to have something to do with what’s inside, so I decided to write a story to fit the image.
At that point I had already written ‘The Widow’, and I thought... why not do more with that story? It would suit the collection perfectly, and it would mean that the image on the front of the book would be tied to a story set in my own country. What could be more fitting?
Sorry... I’m digressing. Ehm... the time setting. I find it difficult to write in other time periods, and I have to admit I tend to be too modern for historical settings. My ‘voice’ is simple, I don’t use flowery language or unconventional words, I write in ‘every day speech’, so to speak. This doesn’t always suit historical tales. My characters often think very modern as well. For one, they tend to be too feminist *grin*. So I have to really keep that in mind when I venture back in time. At the same time, though it poses a challenge, I do love playing around with old settings. The 19th century holds a special appeal to me. It’s great to play around with atmosphere, and the lack of knowledge and technology can be interesting to work with.
GNOH: Some really horrifying scenes in this one. One thing I’ve noticed throughout this collection is a lack of willingness to ‘look away’ with such scenes – you rarely if ever pull back to soft focus or cutaway – the horror is graphic and centre frame throughout. Do you ever get tempted to pull back some? What informs that choice to stay ‘on the action’?
CN: Would you believe I’m exceptionally squeamish? I mean, not just a little bit... if I have to get a blood test, someone has to come with me to distract me, or I will faint. That’s how squeamish I am. As a writer I’m cruel, I guess. I don’t shy away from graphical gore, nor do I shy away from emotional horror. It’s never a conscious choice, I just write what the story demands of me. I never set out to be shocking or overtly gory (unless someone asks me specifically for a splatterpunk story). Some stories just take me in that direction. If I write them for a specific editor, or audience, I will be more inclined to ‘let myself go’.
GNOH: This story has a classic 3 act structure, with Act 2 told mainly in flashback. What led you to avoid use of standard chronology for this tale?
CN: I wrote this story a few years ago, at the beginning of my publishing career... before I became afraid of writing flashbacks. *chuckles*. It was one of those stories where I sort of knew how I wanted it to end, but I pantsed my whole way through the rest of it. I wish I would have a more ‘thought out’ answer to your question, but it’s the sad truth. I mostly ‘winged’ it.
GNOH: On to ‘Dinner Date’ – I really enjoyed the opening to this one – the dialogue and setting are very mundane, yet even from early on, there’s a tension bubbling beneath the surface. Do you enjoy writing in this kind of domestic, naturalistic setting?
CN: Sometimes I like keeping stories close to home. My favourite kinds of characters are the ones that don’t really seem that special to begin with, but that have something below the surface. ‘Dinner Date’ is one of those stories that I never quite managed to write the way I wanted it to. Sometimes I wonder if I could have done more with this concept. It was just a silly little thought that I turned into a story one day.
I have a note book filled with thoughts. Every time I play out a scenario in my head (which I do often) I write it down. They can be really useful to turn into short stories, but I’ve also used some as scenes or chapters in novels.
GNOH: One of the undercurrents of this story is the sometimes uneasy mix of obligation and friendship. What about those themes attracted you as a writer?
CN: We all have those friends that we love, but don’t really mix with other friends. Often that feeling goes both ways. I thought it would be funny to play around with it. I honestly can’t remember where I got my inspiration for this one, but I’m pretty sure that it was probably by observing awkward social situations in real life. I try to give a bit of reality to my characters, and that means they can get awkward too.
GNOH: I LOVED the ending of this one. Did you originally run longer, or had you always planned to cut where you did?
CN: I planned to cut it where I did from the beginning, but a part of me has always second guessed that decision. I have a few stories that leave me with the desire to tell more. In a way I feel like I’m only showing the reader part of a bigger thing. This is one of those stories (‘Jack Harrington’ and ‘…The Bell Tolls’ are other examples).
GNOH: With 'The Door', we have another absolutely classic conceit – the step-father and the forbidden door. How conscious were you of the tradition of this kind of story, and to what degree were you consciously playing with reader expectation?
CN: You are making it very challenging not to write spoilers, hahaha. Ehm, I was very conscious during this story, I was trying to be a magician. *waves her hands with an air of mystery* “Nothing up my sleeves... see? Now don’t look at my hands... no, look at the sleeve... no, the sleeve... I suck at this”.
I wanted to try and manipulate the reader’s expectation. Again, whether this worked or not is up to the reader.
GNOH: I actually thought you did a decent job with the twist on this one. This deep into the collection, I was obviously expecting something, but you still managed to wrong foot me a bit. Have you written a lot of stories that don't have twist endings? To what degree do/did you struggle with the pressure of that for this collection?
CN: I have to admit, I’m a sucker for a twist. If I look at all the things I’ve written... there’s usually a bit of a twist in there. Even in Coyote (though I think only in the first book so far).
For this collection part of it came natural, but I did struggle. Because I wanted the stories to have a twist to bind them together, if that makes sense. At the same time, I didn’t want to force anything. I do love it when I get to surprise people, but it needs to be natural to the story. I can only hope I succeeded in that.
GNOH: This story is 3rd person close on a child/young teenager. What are the challenges of writing for young characters?
CN: The slang is difficult for me. That’s where I realize I’m foreign and... old... *sighs*. I find characters in their very early twenties easiest to write. Probably because I mentally got stuck in my early twenties, so I find them easier to relate. Someone once criticized some of my characters for seeming younger than their twenties, because they stuck out their tongue too much. All I thought was “I’m doomed... I’m 38 and I stick out my tongue all the time.” I guess I’m just a big child.
GNOH: The relationship between the sisters is particularly well handled in this tale – did you base that on real life experience, or was it more a question of observation or creation?
CN: I was raised an only child. I do have a half sister, but she’s fourteen years older than me, and we never lived in the same house, or saw each other often when I was young, therefore I never really experienced what it’s like to have a sister. I just wrote this story from the gut.
GNOH: 'In The Dead Of Night' – we’re back to darkness and children. To what extent does being a parent inform your horror writing?
CN: Having a daughter has had a huge influence on my horror writing. It’s funny that you picked this story, it’s almost autobiographical (except for the gory part, obviously) My daughter suffered from really bad night terrors from age 2 – 7 (she’s turning 8 soon, and the night terrors haven’t been around for about eight or nine months) It was quite terrifying at times, and I could hardly sleep at night. I would lay awake and think about scary things... this story was born from that. When I read this one to my husband he gave me a ‘look’. I think it’s a little more close to home than he would like. He also didn’t seem too impressed at the fate of the husband.
GNOH: I also notice insomnia and/or sleep deprivation has been a background theme in a few of these stories. Personal experience?
CN: Morpheus and I have had our differences ever since I was eighteen or nineteen, I think. Before that I was a happy sleeper. Even if I do fall asleep, I’m prone to wake up in the middle of the night and just lie awake. It’s... interesting.
GNOH: Another theme that runs through the collection and is highlighted in this story is powerlessness, loss of control. To what degree do you think that's a central theme of horror in general? Why?
CN: Being powerless in itself is a form of horror. In any situation, it’s frightening if you experience a total loss of control. I’m struggling to think of a horror story or movie where the protagonists have full control. Personally I like to play around with that sense of powerlessness.
Years ago, when I was still in my teens, I had a dream. The fact that I still remember the dream is quite extraordinary for me, because I have the memory span of a goldfish with Alzheimer.
Anyway... I shan’t bore you with the details of the whole dream, but at the end a bomb landed in the room I was in. I sat around looking at it with a few people, knowing it was about to go off and there was nothing we could do about it. We couldn’t run, even if we did, it would still kill us. So we stood and stared, waiting for it to explode. It was just seconds, but someone in my dream said: “Do it now, before I lose the courage to die”. And that was it.... that was how I felt too. I had accepted that I was going to die, but waiting made me rethink my acceptance, made me feel like there was hope. That feeling was so powerful, I still remember it today. Of course I use that in my writing too, or the opposite of it, the feeling of having lost hope.
GNOH: As noted earlier, you work in other genres as well as horror. What is your favourite thing about working in the horror genre, and what is your least favourite?
CN: My favourite part about writing horror is the freedom it gives me. I don’t have to worry about censoring anything. With this genre I can be as graphic in my descriptions as I want to be, and I can be confronting. I don’t have to be ‘kind’ to my reader, so to speak. They’ll appreciate it more when I’m brutal. That means it opens up a lot of topics for me.
My least favourite is the research. It can make me ill.
GNOH: Which of the stories in this collection would you most like to see made into a movie/short film, and why?
CN: I think some stories would be better for movies / short films than others. ‘When the Bell Tolls’ or ‘the Dispensation of Jack Harrington’ would be obvious choices. ‘Death Awaits You’ would probably make an interesting film also. But personally I would have to go with ‘The Widow’. I think it would make a nice visual movie, and I like the idea of having one of the stories with a bit of a Dutch flavour make it to the big screen.
GNOH: Lastly, looking back at 2014, how was it for you in writing terms? And what are you looking forward to in 2015?
CN: In 2014 I wrote three books (two of those are published) and I rewrote a novella into a full novel. I guess that’s not too bad. The reception of my books was pretty good on the whole, so I can’t complain there. Every year I learn new things, and hopefully improve my skills.
As for 2015, I have a lot of plans. There are several books I want to write, and I’m currently involved in a rather time consuming (and fun) co-op project. One of my plans is to try and find an agent. One of the personal projects I’m working on at the moment is the first novel in a series called ‘Celestials’. To be honest, I haven’t quite determined the genre for this one yet. The story has been haunting me for years, but I struggle getting it on paper the way I had in mind, so I keep rewriting it. It’s definitely ‘dark’, but I don’t think it will be horror, more contemporary fantasy.
I’m looking forward to writing something new again. The last months have been mostly about editing and rewriting. One of the books I look forward to most is writing the third novel in my Coyote series. Those books always appeal to my more light hearted and joyous side.
Many thanks to Chantal for taking the time to complete this long interview, and best of luck in 2015!