A Midnight Graveside Chat with Author Vanessa Hawkins
Another author I have had the pleasure of meeting is Horror and Fantasy writer Vanessa Hawkins and here she has agreed to share some of herself and her works in an eye-squenching interview with Common Sense Press. Like her books, if you are squeamish of heart, then maybe you shouldn’t read further. But if you love the darker side of things, then get comfy, this is the place for you! Let’s dive right into the pool of things that go bump in the night! This interview is from SRL’s journal found and returned by the graveyard grounds keeper. There was no writing past entry V. SRL hasn’t been seen since.
SRL Journal, VH Interview, part I
The town clock struck midnight and to twelve she waited. In that dark lot – full of souls, a faint chill blew…of shadows and ghouls her story began …Every sense screamed to run, but instead, I sat and listened…
“…who’s to say I wouldn’t have grown up to become the New Brunswick Gouger?”
Randy: Hi Vanessa, we are so glad to have you here. I saw in several blurbs about you that you started your writing in the 5th grade, with a tale entitled, “Mutilated” that landed you in the counselor’s office. That certainly indicated something about your future! What can you tell us about that incident, and some of your early life that, thankfully, led you to a writing career?
Vanessa: Thanks for having me here. Yes, I remember sitting at the table when my cousin told me what the word ‘Mutilated’ meant. Instantly I was intrigued. At that age I find whenever a kid learns something new they want to utilize it right away, and I did so in the form of a story.
I remember being in class when the teacher asked us who wanted to read from our writing portfolios. There I stood in front of the class and started by telling everyone about the new word I had learned and what it meant, then I went on to tell a —frankly—pretty disturbing story for a kid in grade 5. I remember thinking: the more gory the better, though my actual thought process at the time probably went something like: MORE GUTS AND BLOOD AND YUCKY STUFF!
Anyway, most of the kids liked my story. The boys especially did because it was gross. I actually wrote a short story called The Princess that was essentially a retelling of my story Mutilated from fifth grade. It’s in an anthology called Graveyard Girls that was published with Hellbound Books. This time I wasn’t made to go to the counselor however.
Randy: That is remarkable, I must say. I have to wonder, did that give you some sense of vindication for your work, moving from the counselors office to a publishing house? What were your thoughts on that?
Vanessa: Well, I can’t say there wasn’t any merit in attending the counselor’s meet up. If I hadn’t gone, who’s to say I wouldn’t have grown up to become the New Brunswick Gouger? However, it is pretty darn neat to think someone thought my sinister little eight year old mind was worth publishing. Go me. 🙂
“…but in my opinion, the bad guys were always more interesting than the superheroes.”
Randy: Were you an avid reader from an early age, or was your inspiration more from T.V. and movies, you seem to have a leaning for the macabre and horror side of things, where did that spring from?
Vanessa: I have always been a reader, a trait I inherited from my Oma, because neither of my parents read much. When I first started writing full length stories I tended to write fantasy because that was what I read. I like all the classics, but ever since I was a teenager I preferred more adult fantasy, you know, stuff that doesn’t gloss over the nasty bits.
My favorite series was the Wayfarer Redemption by Sara Douglass. Douglass had a habit of including a lot of gory details and sex in her books. I guess it was my teenage years [version of] Game of Thrones. As I got older, I tended to find the villains more interesting. I loved comics, especially Batman and Watchmen, but in my opinion, the bad guys were always more interesting than the superheroes. You’ve got to consider how they got there, and I find the inner psychology of antagonists very interesting.
I don’t much care for scary movies to be honest. I’m not a TV person at all, really, but I can appreciate makeup artists for their ability to make an open wound look disgusting. Movies don’t tend to give you inner dialogue however, it’s all about what you see and plot—not always, but often. I like seeing a character really grow and develop. That’s hard to do in an hour and half or two hours. I also like romance when it’s done right and feels real. Romance in movies usually makes me gag.
Randy: So, then, what sorts of things did you read in your younger years?
Vanessa: I tried to read all the classic works of literature when I was younger because I was a nerd. Beowulf, Edgar Allan Poe, I even had a copy of War and Peace that I tried to read but ended up as an extra leg under my coffee table while in University. The Chronicles of Narnia and The Hobbit were also books I read, because I was trying to grow my higher-than-thou repertoire of classic literature. Then I broke into the cheesy Harlequin Romance: Seduction and things went south from there. I call that the Dark Ages of my reading years. Eventually I got into Anne Rice and Dragonlance and resurfaced to continue reading fantasy and horror.
“I just liked writing it.”
Randy: Did anyone else, besides the counselor, have concerns about your apparent leanings to the darker sides of creative drives?
Vanessa: My parents were a bit concerned at first. I remember my mom asking me if I felt sad or depressed. That was around my teenage years though. I wrote a lot of terrible stuff around that age: terrible writing I mean. Lots of us do at that age. I was never [sad or depressed,] or anything, despite her concerns. I just liked writing it.
Randy: (Laughing) Whew, that is good to know, How would you describe the realization that writing was the perfect outlet for the ideas you had swirling around in your head instead of becoming a female menace to society as like, say, the New Brunswick Gouger?
Vanessa: Okay… I don’t like saying this but I started out writing fan fiction. Ugh! I know, I know, but at the time it was a way for me to rewrite certain stories or characters to fit my own imagined ending. That was back when I was in grade 8, I think? I still have some of my old stuff, I used to print it all out when I was finished and make an entire book cover for it with cardboard and construction paper and self-made drawings. I was a total nerd when I was in high school!
Anyway, after writing hundreds—and I mean hundreds… somewhere around 600 pages worth of trashy fan fiction, my mother—again— said I ought to try writing my own stuff, maybe then I could publish it.
I thought that was a great idea and started right away. Since I lived in [in the middle of] nowhere I had a lot of time for myself. I was also an only child. I guess writing helped curb the boredom and allowed me to explore my own worlds and characters. Also I could write as much sexy or gory stuff as I wanted and no one would know. I was uncensored!
Randy: You say your mother, though not a reader, per se, encouraged you to write your own stuff, in light of her early concerns, do you think she was hoping the themes would lighten up some? Too, looking back at her suggestion, how does she receive the books you write now?
Vanessa: I don’t think so. At least, she never said so. I’m pretty sure she kept tabs like any mom would, but as long as I was happy and healthy she let me do my own thing. My mother loves horror too, so does dad. They both understand there is a very clear line between reality and fantasy, one that I am also well aware of. Also she loves my books. [She] has every one.
“I never do, though—bring them back— actually I can be pretty terrible to them.”
Randy: I know from writing about certain events and emotions around them can color an authors mood, though, I have never written horror, I have to wonder, does this happen as you work though your book constructions?
Vanessa: I think it is definitely true, which is why I had to take a break from horror and write The Curious Case of Simon Todd. I think a lot of horror authors tend to take breaks from their preferred genre at times to ‘refuel’ as it were. Also I think it’s important that when you are writing deep and dark stuff you make sure to find the time to resurface. At least it is for me.
I don’t want to say I am always depressed or in a certain mood when I write, but some of my best writing was written when I was. At the same time I’ve written a ton of stuff I am very proud of when I was quite content. I don’t know, it’s a tough question. Though I will say whenever I have to kill off a darling or have something terrible happen to them I am usually pretty torn about it. Thankfully I have my husband around to tell me they aren’t real people, or that I can bring them back to life. I never do, though—bring them back— actually I can be pretty terrible to them.
SRL Journal, VH Interview, part II
I heard that distant bell strike two, a wolf howled maybe a league, or more, … the wind now cutting to the core… My mind lost will to flee, so there I sat, lusting to hear ever-more…
Randy: More specifically, in GloryHill you write about an underworld of vampires, but it seems to go much darker, than say a Twilight, in content. What would you say about that story that pushed its way out of your head and to paper?
Vanessa: Oh Twilight… the story that made an entire genre of vampire fiction authors have to apologize every time they release a book.
Randy: (Laughing hard) Now that cracks me up, and I couldn’t agree more. But please, go on…
“… I was fed up with vampire romance and goody-goody vampire playboys who were too tormented to love.”
Vanessa: Gloryhill was my very first brain baby, the first paragraph of which I wrote while listening to Vera Lynn’s ‘We’ll Meet Again.’ I remember starting it with a very clear ending in mind, but it took a few years to get there and I ended up adding a whole lot in between.
I started it right at the end of the Twilight craze because I was fed up with vampire romance and goody-goody vampire playboys who were too tormented to love. Too, I hated how they became synonymous with lame pretty boys and I wanted them to be monsters again, like in Anne Rice’s books. So, I guess it was my way of apologizing.
Randy: Wow, Vera Lynn, that was a perfect mood setter for the paragraph, and story, it really lends an air of something…off, well done! In chronology of your published works, where does this one show up? Amazon didn’t have the published date, but from reviews it looks to be 2016 or earlier?
Vanessa: 2016 is right. I think I may have started it in 2014.
Randy: Generally, I find that writers have post views of their works. Looking back at it, what do you love about this story? Is there anything you dislike about it?
Vanessa: I will always love my characters. They really are so much more developed in my mind then they were on paper. Which I guess is one thing I dislike about Gloryhill. Honestly, when I wrote it, I was very young to the ins and outs of writing. I think if I had to go back I would rewrite a dozen different things, add some other things and take out some more. I also think I tell more than I show. At the time I didn’t realize there were so many rules to writing, but thank goodness I approved.
Gloryhill holds a special place in my heart because it paved the way to more enriched stories and showed me the entire scope of what it is to be published.
Also, I don’t care what everyone else says, I love all of Pachuco’s terrible euphemisms for private parts. Clam Hammer, Bologna Barn, all of them! …feel free to take the last line out if you want. 😛
“You’ll see a few of them pop up in other works I’ve done, and I like to think it’s all canon.”
Randy: (Again, laughing hard) I wouldn’t dream of cutting that out! But moving on, will there ever be a continuation of this story line?
Vanessa: Originally, the city of Gloryhill was set to be the backdrop of a few characters that I wanted to explore, hence the roadway and city background featured in both Gloryhill and A Sinister Portrait of Cherie Rose. They are very different stories but they exist in the same time period and if you look closely and read them both you can see instances where they overlap. Easter eggs, as it were.
I may go back to it eventually. Both stories are set apart from one another and I did that so you didn’t have to read one to understand the other. I do reuse characters, however. You’ll see a few of them pop up in other works I’ve done, and I like to think it’s all canon. Cherie Rose actually appears in The Curious Case of Simon Todd, and despite the vastly different genres it’s not a different Cherie. It’s the same one.
SRL Journal, VH Interview, part III
That damned bell, by now, climbed to four. I was still and bewitched, for now I had a hunger like none before…
Randy: Okay, then, what about the book entitled The Sinister Portrait of Cherie Rose? Here again, the theme is more dark and titillating than an average teen pop oriented offering. Kudos for that, by the way, what can you tell us that brought this story to your paper?
Vanessa: I wanted to write a creepy, crazy circus lady. That’s it. Well, mostly…
I love killer clowns and the idea of a dark circus, the red and black and white stripes, everything. I also like exploring themes of madness and how a person gets to that point. When I wrote The Sinister Portrait of Cherie Rose I knew I had to write it in first person because I was going to write a “bad” person doing bad things and I wanted readers to like her despite all that.
I think it goes back to my love of villains, I don’t really believe the ideas of right and wrong and good and bad. I don’t think people are, or do, terrible things because they are inherently evil or something, but because somehow, they got to that point. I’m not a psychologist either, so what do I know? But, I do like exploring those kinds of paths and characters. Gray characters, as it were.
Randy: Writers sometimes write from connections they convey to paper, others from pure imagination. Would you say you have some connection to that story’s main character, or would you say it is simply a product of your very vivid imagination?
Vanessa: I definitely do when it comes to some other characters. Most of them embody some trait that I either find interesting or possess myself. Other times they are just made up people I’d like to see in certain situations. With Cherie? Hmm… I guess yes and no. At lot of her comes from imagination and I definitely connect to her on some emotional levels. She loves the bad guys and so do I —my husband is an upstanding member of society by the way and in no way a serial killer… that I know of.
Randy: Yeah, but remember you said it, how people end up doing bad things, suppose he had a crazy old lady always putting crazy ideas in his head…(Smiling)!
Vanessa: Haha! The only crazy idea’s I put into his head relate to housework. Do the dishes… pick up your underwear… Unfortunately they don’t write news stories about that sort of thing… if they did maybe more husbands would be inclined to do it.
“If I’m thinking I’d like to go watch The Office and eat tacos, it’s going to be hard for me to write a convincing death scene…”
Randy: (Laughing) …Too, I noticed that your style of writing is very polished in effectively portraying the mood of the work itself. Stephen King comes to mind. In your preferred genre, I would think that is very important, and not so easy to do. Would you describe it as something you can learn to do or more of a gift to have?
Vanessa: Well thank you. I am glad you think so.
Mood can be tricky, I am one of those writers that tries very hard to write even when they don’t feel like it. If you’re feeling uninspired, mood can be difficult to maintain. If I’m thinking I’d like to go watch The Office and eat tacos, it’s going to be hard for me to write a convincing death scene where the character sees his life flash before his eyes minutes prior to dying beneath a set of moldy stairs.
(Randy, again, laughing!)
I don’t really know if it’s a gift. Music helps me a lot, that and writing at night. Sometimes when I think no one’s around I stare into space and try and visualize everything that is about to happen in my mind—which can be awkward if you’re at the local pub trying to write and you’re accidentally staring in someone’s direction. Sometimes I wear spooky clothes and that helps. Oh! And driving around alone in the car. I’ve set entire scenes while listening to metal and going to pick up groceries!
I’m getting off topic though. I guess for me setting a spooky mood is easy. If it wasn’t, I probably wouldn’t write horror.
“I like dark haunting music, stuff that makes me delve into the abyss…” (Snort!)
Randy: That doesn’t seem off topic at all, I would love to know the kind of metal you listen to. I am a huge music fan, hard rock and metal, and easily see the connection of inspiration, tell me some of your favorites.
Vanessa: I listen to a lot of metal covers by Leo Moracchioli. You can find him on Youtube and he is amazing. I also love Disney songs converted into metal. Poor Unfortunate Souls come to mind… As for actual bands, I like the classics: Rob Zombie, Korn and Manson to name a few. I don’t know if it’s a genre, but I listen to a lot of angry clown music and dark cabaret compilations. Circus Contraption, IAMX, Johnny Hollow, The Dresden Dolls, Jill Tracy and Tragic Tantrum Cabaret are all favorites. I like dark haunting music, stuff that makes me delve into the abyss… Snort!
Randy: By the way, I didn’t throw that Stephen King out there lightly, he is one of my favorites, with The Stand being the very top of my personal likes list, but I have to say that looking over your body of work, that King reference kept coming to mind. It sure looks like all that ‘nerd’ reading paid some big dividends in you writing skills.
Vanessa: That’s very generous of you. I haven’t actually read a lot of Stephen King’s work, to be honest. Though in the last few years I’ve been picking up his stuff more and more. The last I read was Carrie and I loved it. I feel when you’re in the horror genre you can’t help by mention King. With exception to his son, Joe Hill: who wrote some amazing works like NOS4A2 and Horns, and Dean Koontz, King is synonymous with Horror.
Randy: In that case I highly recommend Salem’s Lot if you haven’t read it, I’m not talking about any of the crappy movie/TV versions, but the book. I would say the same thing about The Shining, too. The movie versions are terrible, the books are great.
Vanessa: I haven’t read them, but I have Salem’s Lot on my bookshelf waiting in queue. I did see The Shining, but it was the version I think King oversaw himself, not the one Stanley Kubrick directed. I was told it was closer to the original and it was a billion years long so it fits King’s narrative length. I’ll take a look though!
Randy: In late 2018, you had a story, Alice in Horrorland appear in an anthology entitled An Unholy Trinity that comprised yourself, Terry Grimwood and C Bailey-Bacchus How did you come to be involved with and selected this publication?
“Let that be a lesson for aspiring authors: just query and find out.”
Vanessa: I just queried. Hellbound Books had accepted a short story of mine—adult revised Mutilated, remember?— and so when I saw that they were looking for novella’s, I threw mine in the mix. Actually, it had been accepted somewhere else, too, but Hellbound got to it first. Let that be a lesson for aspiring authors: just query and find out.
Randy: Give us a snippet of your take on Alice and why you choose that classic tale to take it from a sideways tale to a horror tale.
Vanessa: I love Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland because it deals with all manners of mad adventures! All her characters are wild and unique and it already has some underlying dark themes to it.
When I was younger—I say that so often you’d think I was 100 years old—I remember watching Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland and being so darned disappointed. I never felt like he did the story justice, and I had really pumped myself up for something haunting and creepy. Needless to say I never got what I wanted and so hearkening back to my teenage days I rewrote the story how I envisioned it. I guess that kind of makes it fan fiction, which horrifies me only a little bit!
Randy: Again, here I have to agree with you, that version, to me was unwatchable, but please, go on…
Vanessa: In my rendition Alice is a poor match girl living in industrial England who’s lured into Horrorland by the White Rabbit. Of all the denizens of Horrorland, she is the only one who has a heart. All the others had theirs removed by the Queen. Everyone talks about how Horrorland used to be wonderful, but all Alice can see is a terrible place. Despite that however, she has a hard time deciding whether it’s more horrible than home.
“I’m a bit of a pantser, which I’ve been told means that I write by the seat of my pants.”
Randy: How was the experience of working on a collaborative effort, like an anthology, like, and unlike, doing your own book?
Vanessa: I thought the three-piece novella anthology would be a lot different, but I didn’t really have to speak to the other authors featured in the work, outside a few words of introduction and the such. The publisher really handled everything. Now, this fall(ish) there is another anthology coming out by Dark Dragon Publishing and that’s a bit more back and forth. We have a contributor’s Facebook page, which is neat.
I guess the only real difference I can think of is that you usually have to write to the genre of the anthology. Sometimes I don’t like doing that, especially if there are a lot of details the publisher is looking for. I’m a bit of a pantser, which I’ve been told means that I write by the seat of my pants. I don’t always have an endgame and sometimes the characters tell the story with me just reporting the details. In anthologies that have strict story guidelines this can make it tough. I still do it though. I want more books on my shelf.
SRL Journal, VH Interview, part IV
Looking East, the sun broke there…faint rays I see, though dark still rules… a perfect web spun just for me… stuck I was… to the bitter end…
Randy: This brings us to The Curious Case of Simon Todd. This book seems a slight turn from the previous tone and themes of books and stories we have discussed thus far. Is that true?
Vanessa: Absolutely. When I first came up with the idea I was living in South Korea. My friend was talking about her favorite works of classic literature, Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice being amongst her favorite characters. I kind of blurted out, ‘imagine if a dragon, who only read classic works of human literature, went out into the world and he pretended to be human. Then he called himself Jane Darcy after his two favorite book characters and tried to blend in.’
Anyway it obviously went from there. I think it only got sillier and sillier as time went by.
Randy: Can you put your finger on why this story welled up within you to the point that you wanted to make it a full novel?
Vanessa: My husband said “why don’t you try writing something happy and fun,” and I did, first by creating Simon, then Jane Darcy and then Dick Dashing. My husband doesn’t really like horror stories. He says they make him feel bad. I wrote one he could read without feeling that way.
Randy: Can you give us a short synopsis of the story contained within this book?
Vanessa: Essentially, Simon Todd is an accountant who dies while peeking in the window of his long time crush: Miss Baxter. It’s entirely innocent, at least… he swears it is. Anyway after dying and becoming a ghost, he finds himself swept up in a journey to find dragon treasure. Mr. Darcy, the dragon in disguise, who is also quite embarrassed of locking himself out of his own cave, decides to go with the group to gobble them down before they can take his hoard, and after they manage to get inside. Along the way they meet up with a wizard mafia who is after Miss Baxter, and some circus Reapers bent on taking Mr. Todd’s soul back with them to the underworld.
“…all the squishy bits that made up the flesh of the novel grew on its own as the story developed.”
Randy: The story itself weaves a tale that combines several themes, the undead, magic, myth and several more. It seems that it is quite a tome on some of these things. Did this make it more difficult for the finished product, or, was it more of a natural progression of the work?
Vanessa: Some of it was planned. I had some snapshots in my mind of scenes I wanted to include. However, I really struggled with the relationship between Miss Baxter and Simon. For a long time I let it evolve on its own but at the end of the day I had to make a decision and I stand by it.
I guess to properly answer your question I’d have to say that although the bare bones of the story was planned, all the squishy bits that made up the flesh of the novel grew on its own as the story developed.
Randy: I guess the real question is, did all your previous works build into this or is it a completely new track you decided on?
Vanessa: I like to explore new themes and genres. I think I’ll probably jump back into horror again—in fact I’ve just finished a novel that deals with an eight year old child murder—but keep my options open. Right now I’m planning another story that’s a bit more lighthearted.
I like to hop on different trains.
Randy: Do you see this a one-time story, or is it open to more books?
Vanessa: No. There is a book 2: Simon Todd and the Journey to the Nether Regions that is in the planning stages. I definitely will be going back to this genre. I’ve quite liked writing my ‘happy and fun story.’ I shall endeavor to do so again.
Randy: Looking back at all your works, which book or story would you say is you favorite one? Why?
Vanessa: That’s a hard question. I really love The Curious Case of Simon Todd because I know where it’s going, but as a whole I think it may be Alice in Horrorland. Gloryhill was the precursor to all this madness however… and Cherie, well, Cherie has clowns…
This question is too hard, Randy!
Randy: I love the way you answered that question. It really shows something about how you see the entire body of work, or segment of, at least; that really shows your personal connection to them. It is a great answer, in fact.
SRL Journal, VH Interview, part V
Back in my skin, the morn’s sun burning my face… I stare at the place and not seeing a trace… and from over there, the bell tolled once for half~past~six.
Randy: Okay, one of my favorite questions for an an author is this one. When you put the business of writing aside, do you find yourself reading any, or a lot, for pleasure?
Vanessa: I really believe reading is the path to good writing. If I just can’t seem to sit my butt down and write, reading can be so inspiring. I have so many books in my house that I had to pile some above my cupboards in the kitchen. I am endeavoring to collect enough to have a library someday. A library with a secret door. A secret door that may or may not lead to an underground dungeon.
Randy: So, then, what kind of book do you enjoy picking up to spend some time with?
Vanessa: Usually I try and read in the genre that I am writing at the time, to help set my own mood. Joe Hill and King are among those I’ve read recently, but Frog Music by Emma Donoghue, Perfume by Patrick Suskind, 1984 by Geroge Orwell and the Wayfarer Redemption Series (rereading to see if it’s still good) by Sara Douglass are other’s I’ve read over the last few months.
“However, writing is the easiest part. Editing is a bitch. Querying is the devil.”
Randy: Okay, allow me one more sausage making question. If you were asked to give new writers advice on how to get going on their dream, would you offer any answer to them? If so, what would be your top three points for them?
Vanessa: [You need to] get out now and again. Meet other writers. Network. Fellow writers and authors have a plethora of knowledge to pass on. They also know the feels you’re going through, and in my experience, the more you know the more you’ll be invited to speak… or do readings… or participate in writing related activities.
However, writing is the easiest part. Editing is a bitch. Querying is the devil. BUT! Keep writing, keep editing and keep—please oh please—keep querying. There will be days you want to pull your hair out, or cry into a pillow about how you’re wasting your life, but keep going because those who do, see their dreams become reality.
Randy: Vanessa, sadly our time is at an end, but I have to tell you that this interview has been a very enjoyable and enlightening experience for me, and I am sure it will be to any that read it. I truly appreciate your openness about you stories and the mind that conceived them to paper, you have a wonderful gift for the written word, not to mention of conversation. I can’t thank you enough for letting me have the honor of visiting inside your world.
Vanessa: You’re welcome, Randy! Thanks for the opportunity.
You can connect with Vanessa here: