Interview with Chris Allinotte

A collection of 27 chilling horrors, by Chris Allinotte

I’m honored to have fellow writer and friend, Chris Allinotte on my blog today to talk about his latest book, Gathering Darkness and the motivation behind his dark fiction and horror.

I have been following Chris’s work for a few years now and have enjoyed his stories immensely. He’s popular in the horror crowd for good reason – Chris integrates unique suspense building into his stories and then ends them with that great dose of chilling surprise that readers love.  There is never a shortage of creativity, shock, sharp dialogue, believable characters, and malice underlying his work.

His recent anthology, “Gathering Darkness,” collects 27 short horror stories over the last three years:

Two boys out for mischief on Devil’s Night find that the old
house on the corner isn’t haunted after all. It’s something
much worse…

In the Tempting Morsels pastry shop, you can taste your
deepest heart’s desire, if you’ve got the stomach for it…

Two detectives investigating the Pick-Your-Own Pumpkin
farm find a macabre monument to marriage gone bad…

These tales plus: zombie mice, poker playing ghosts,
malevolent mustaches and more await you in

Gathering Darkness.

Please welcome, Chris Allinotte:

E.C: Tell me a little bit about the Gathering Darkness journey?  Is there a particular tone to the collection, how did you choose to style it, or are there any other highlights you’d like to share about its creation?

C.A: The true beginning of this collection started with procrastination. Just after I finished a writer’s course at Humber College here inToronto, I finally understood that writing a novel was going to be an insane process, and that I had been approaching my first attempts way too lightly.

So – I embarked on about two months of research for the book I currently have sitting in my little green notebook, waiting to come to life, and in the midst of that process – partly due to the realization of what I was getting myself in for, I decided to step back for a moment before getting up to full steam.

Since 2008, I’ve had somewhere around forty stories published, either online or in small press anthologies from fantastic publishers like Static Movement and Pill Hill Press. What I wanted to do was bring everything together in one place, as much for myself as anything else, and be able to look at that work and say, “Well, whatever else, I’ve done this much good stuff.”

This collection itself had a ridiculously high-concept beginning. It was originally going to be called “Midnight Road Trip”, and be divided into sections such as “Caution, Zombies Ahead” with black & white photos separating each chapter. Once I started doing it though, it felt incredibly hokey, so I stopped and went about it another way.

I made a spreadsheet and listed all my stories on it, assigning each a score out of 10, based on how much I actually liked the finished product. I chose everything with an “8” or better. Then I pared it down again.

The finished book really is a collection of my favourites. That’s why “Gathering Darkness” felt like the perfect title: it collects together “my” darkness, it speaks of something dreadful impending, and there’s a final image (that may one day be its own story) of someone walking through a field, gathering bits of shadow as if it were flowers.

E.C: The “Midnight Road Trip,” actually sounds like a neat idea, and to score your stories for inclusion into the anthology is an excellent way to decide which ones to put in, because there is some love for each one.  What publishing routes did you consider and what led to your choice?

C.A.: This was always going to be a self-published endeavour, for a few reasons.

The first is that I knew that getting a publisher to look at a book, a first book full of previously published material was going to be an incredibly hard sell.

Next, doing it myself meant I could keep everything looking exactly as I want it, and I’m a bit of a control freak that way. It takes me hours to put together a music playlist – and this was much the same, only bigger.

Finally, because I’d already been through the ebook process twice with the “Days of Madness” books, I knew what it entailed. Making the jump to Kindle wasn’t that different, and I’d also done some playing around with Createspace before.  For anyone who is really interested in the self-publishing process, I’ve been detailing the ins and outs of the process on my new blog, “Self Publishing: Notes from the Trenches”.

E.C: What is your favorite story in the collection and why?

C.A: Part of me wants to say Kittens for Sale, because I’ve wrung every drop of life out of those 600 words. It’s been published four times already (five now). I keep bringing it out because of the ending. The image that closes the story was incredibly vivid in my mind, and it’s one of the few things that I can point to with absolute certainty and know that I nailed the effect I was going for.

But my favourite right now is Coming Home. This is the newest story in the collection. I work shopped this story way more than I normally do, showing it to a bunch of people while it was in progress, and I think the result is a terrific story with a pace that keeps getting faster and faster right until the end. On the one hand, that means I’m getting better. Conversely, I’m going to be working a lot slower as well now, too.

E.C: They always say write fast and edit slow, but I seem to do the opposite.  Kittens for Sale” and “Coming Home” both have chilling and unsettling elements to them, but I think your suspense building in each is fabulous.  So tell us how popular is horror in Canada, and as a horror writer yourself, how do you see yourself as a part of this media?

C.A: I would say horror is as popular in Canada as anywhere else. Being that we’ve got access to most of the mainstream TV and Movies from the USA, there’s very little we don’t share.

From a literary perspective, I think there’s a larger gap. Recently I read an interview with a Canadian “genre” writer, who intimated that the Canadian literary establishment tends to favour more mainstream writers in who they support and how, in order to get noticed, one approach markets in the US and the UK instead of starting at home.

There is some truth in this. Most of the horror magazines, websites, and anthologies that I like to read, and have been published in, are not based in Canada – even my Kindle book isn’t on Kindle Canada. On the other hand, “On Spec” magazine, that I’ve had my sights on for quite awhile (and still hope to sell a story to) is a top tier literary market in Canada, specializing in Speculative Fiction. For the record, even their rejections have contained really useful notes, which – as a fellow writer, I know you can appreciate how cool that is, when it happens.

Things are changing, though. With self-publishing becoming easier than ever and online networking helping authors grow their own readership organically, I think the opportunities for authors to find their market, wherever they live, is only going to get better.

E.C: I would be lost in the writing world without online networking via blogs, Twitter, and all the wonderful eZines.  Was this the tipping point that led you into writing?

C.A: I don’t know that there was one thing in particular, but a whole lot of little things. Definitely before I was a writer, I was a voracious reader. (Still am.) My parents read to me a lot when I was little, and as soon as I could read, I was reading everything I could get my hands on – no matter what. Because of that, I was exposed to Stephen King really early when a relative left a copy of Christine at our family cottage. I loved it. The fact that you could get so scared, or happy or just plain freaked out from words on a page was so powerful to me.

Later, when I started writing my own stories, it was horror all the way.

The first “story” I wrote was in Grade 9 English class. Instead of doing the different themes and subjects for our “creative writing” assignments, my teacher was really cool about letting me try to turn in a chapter of the same story each week. It was an over-the-top gory thing called Shadowmaster. I realize now how much that teacher had to do with me keeping going in writing, though I must have disgusted her more than once with my work.  Three years later, again in high school, I had a fantastic Creative Writing teacher who also kind of let me run wild on my assignments. Those two ladies probably had more to do with why I still like writing today. They let me have fun with it, and I’m guessing that the stories themselves were decent enough to show it was worth the stretch.

Between then and now, time and opportunity have conspired a number of times to give me some acknowledgement that I’m supposed to keep writing, but if I hadn’t had my love of reading and writing reinforced during those early days, I’d probably be doing something totally different now.

E.C. What other projects are you working on?  Can you tell us anything about your future writing goals?

C.A: You’ll have to forgive me if I’m a little coy here. I’ve learned the hard way that if I give up too many details on something I’m working on, then I instantaneously have a huge block to sitting down and working on that piece again. I’ve discussed my current novel ideas with a few people, and I have yet to write a new word on any of them. They’re good pieces, and I’m sure I can get back in the flow, but I feel like it’s harder having let the air out of the anticipation a bit.

That said, I can confirm that I’m going to write a novel. We’re a little more than halfway through 2012 now, and I had two goals at the beginning of the year. The first was to put out my collection, and the second was to get a novel written. I’m amending that second to be “get the first draft of a novel written.”

I’ll be starting to hone in on which of two or three “big” ideas will be “CHRIS ALLINOTTE’S FIRST NOVEL”, soon, but as of this moment, I’m doing some work on the craft itself, trying to improve on places I know I need to, and stretching my abilities in places I feel comfortable.

Before I get going on the book, I’ll probably be writing a few new shorts, to test out what I’m learning. After that, it’s novel time.

E.C: I have all faith that you’ll get that novel written.  Your writing, no matter the genre, is exceptionally precise, suspenseful, thoroughly crafted, clever, and most of all, entertaining.  What fuels this originality and how do you nurture it?

C.A: First off, thanks for that! Hearing that what I’m writing is enjoyable to read is one of the best things there is.

What fuels me? I think because I’m such a glutton for stories, and go looking for them everywhere – books (traditional and the comic variety), tv, movies, video games, you name it.  Because I’ve exposed myself to a lot of different ways of telling the story, it’s let me come up with a few things that I haven’t necessarily seen anywhere else. That’s the “nurture” you’re talking about – never stop taking in the world around you, the art and the “real life” combined.

Inspiration is a little harder to pin down. Before I was writing, I’d get weird daydream fantasies, that I didn’t know what to do with.  I’d end up wondering how I could become a secret agent, or go looking for ghosts for real. Now I recognize those flashes as story ideas, I feel a little saner.

I’ve also written stuff based on songs I like, as well. One of those novel ideas I mentioned before owes a little bit to Metallica’s “Call of Ktulu.”  There’s also the song, “The Fiddle and the Drum” that I’ve been dying to write a story about, but haven’t gotten to it yet. Other times (and this is me giving up a little secret here) if I’m stuck for ideas, I’ll troll the pages of Duotrope’s Digest, looking for open themed anthologies. A lot of times the prompt for these will get me going, even if I have no intention of subbing to that particular market.

E.C: I’ve done the same with Duotrope’s Digest.  Since anthology themes are often unique, and the requirements are analogous to a story’s theme, they can be very inspiring.  Let’s talk about your own anthologies, 8 Days of Madness and 9 Days of Madness.  You have hosted two years of March Madness.  How was editing different from writing for you?  Did you learn anything about the experience, and is it something that you might return to again, say 10 Days of Madness?

C.A: There was an extra weight of responsibility with the editing that I wasn’t used to when just writing. It’s the knowing that other people have trusted you with their work, and hope you will do right with it, and by them. That was daunting at times, but it was a great experience, too. One thing I did, for better or worse, was that even though the event / ebook was a non-paying endeavour, I still sent back suggestions for the authors if I felt the stories weren’t 100%. I owe Mark Crittenden a debt of gratitude for that – as he did the same for me with one of my stories back when he was guest editing with Lame Goat Press. I really appreciated that someone would take the time to want to make the story better, so I wanted to pay that forward.

The “Days of Madness” thing itself is a lot of fun. It’s getting to be a known entity, and I had a lot more entries this past year.

Barring any unforeseen impediments, I’ll probably be repeating it next year, though I may try to take it down a different path. I’ve tried to be so careful in making the distinction that the stories are about “old time horror genre madness” but even still, I wince now whenever I see awareness campaigns for mental health.

Next year may also be the last time I increment the number – because once it gets past 10, it’s becoming something larger than I think I can handle.

E.C: I find that many writers believe in unusual things, be it prophecies, spiritual beliefs, or myths.  Do you believe in anything out of the ordinary that you’d be brave enough to share?

C.A: Belief is a pretty big subject. We as writers trade in belief, and the suspension of belief. So, what we as individuals hold close to our hearts is all the more important.

I’m not going into my own history with religion but I do have some personal philosophy that has both western and eastern roots. The funny thing is, that after having read some of both, and a little about other faiths as well, that at the core of everything, there’s the same desire – that everyone should try to live well, and live with each other.

That’s my belief system now: Play nicely together. If you can do that, you’re doing alright.

E.C: Okay, that one is completely out of the ordinary.  For fun, your protagonist (who lives alone and happens to be without power) hears some one calling to them from the basement.  What happens next?

C.A: I can’t resist a question like that! Here we go…

“I Won’t Hear You”

“Ma? Hey! Ma!”

Christine rubbed her eyes and checked the clock. It was blank. Stupid blackouts, she thought. The heat had topped thirty eight celsius every night this week. There was no telling when the power would have cut out, but it must have been dead for at least a few hours, the way her Blue Jays T-shirt was sticking to her now. Stripping off the moist, clingy cotton that had been so comfortable in the blowing AC of bedtime, Christine headed for the washroom. As she emptied her bladder, she tried to forget the dream that had woken her. That voice had seemed so real. So familiar. But why couldn’t she …

“Ma? Ma? Come here.”

Christine froze in mid-pee. There was no mistaking the voice, and this wasn’t a dream. She cleaned up and went back through her bedroom to the hallway.

“Ma? Aren’t you coming? Come on.” It was a man’s voice; a young man – from the tone. It wasn’t her son. She didn’t have children.

For a second, she thought about the neighbours. Despite what the realtor had promised Christine had found the dividing wall of the tiny duplex to offer nothing in the way of sound filtering. The people next door had been a decent enough couple in their mid-fifties, and still looked as if they loved each other with a passion. That passion often spilled over, however, into drunken screaming matches at three in the morning. Things must have gotten worse, rather than better, as just three weeks ago, they had moved out and a “For Sale” sign went up on the shared front lawn. So. Not them.

Moving swiftly, Christine picked up the cordless phone next to the bed and had already dialled 9-1-1 before remembering there was no power. Her cell phone sat impotent on top of the alarm clock. She checked, to be sure, but as soon as the Samsung turned on, it turned itself off with a musical chime that right now seemed to mock her, “Looo-serrr”.

“Ma? Mommy?”

As sultry as the room had felt a moment ago, Christine shivered at that last. She snatched up a tank top from the laundry basket near the door, pulled it on, and started downstairs.

(to be continued…)

C.A: What’s next? You tell us! Write the ending of this story on your own blog or site, and post the link to it with your comments below.

On July 31, I will choose up to three winning endings, to be published on his site, The Leaky Pencil. That person will also receive an electronic copy of Gathering Darkness absolutely free!

E.C: THANK YOU, CHRIS!

______________

Chris’ short story collection, Gathering Darkness is available in paperback from Amazon.com (or .uk), and in ebook format for Kindle, or epub.

You can catch up with Chris on his blog, The Leaky Pencil, or find out about his self-publishing adventures on his new site, Self Publishing: Notes from the Trenches. He’s also become quite addicted to Twitter, and you can follow him @ChrisAllinotte.

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6 thoughts on “Interview with Chris Allinotte

  1. One thing that gets kind of lost in this interview: Chris published a short story anthology! Those have nearly disappeared from publication and are such an excellent book form that we desperately need more of them. Although I’m not a horror fan I’ve bought Chris’s antho and intend to read it simply for the rarity of its format. Chris’s description of Canadian publishing also helps explain why, despite being a nearly lifelong Canadian citizen and resident (in Toronto just like Chris), I consider myself an American writer. Thanks very much for publishing this interview and hope to see more solid interviews of writers the world should know about. But please correct the typo near the beginning of the interview where three words are run together without spaces between them.

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  2. “Now I recognize those flashes as story ideas, I feel a little saner.”

    Oh, how we writers deceive ourselves. :)

    I understand about cringing when you hear mental health ads, and possibly, next year’s theme could somehow be more ambiguous, or point more directly to old-time horror.

    At any rate, fabulous interview, and Chris, you’ve had quite the journey. It was great to read about it and see how your career has evolved. From one crazy writer to another, kudos!

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  3. Laura – thanks for checking out the interview! I’m a little interested to see what becomes of that story too!

    Hermine – great comments! I’m seeing a few “single author” collections these days, but they definitely seem to be weighted heavily in the favour of self-publishers.

    Deb – no matter what becomes of the sales, it’s the book I wanted to put out – and that means a lot!

    Rebecca – I’ve already got some ideas for “10-DOM” that will be a lot of fun, and take a few steps back from that uncomfortable chalk-line. Thanks so much for checking out the interview – it’s always great to hear from you!

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  4. Thanks for sharing your work with us, Chris. It is always a pleasure to have you around. I wish you the best with “Gathering Darkness,” and especially, that elusive novel!
    Cheers.

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