*AIR HORN* Hello, readers. This week I’m a little giddy. Why? Because I’m super excited to present my interview with Lisa Morton. So let’s can the intro and get to the good stuff, shall we?
“Monsters Of L.A.” was a fantastic collection, a must-read for any horror fan. You cast the spotlight on a different monster with each story. To me, this demonstrates your range as a writer and simultaneously proves your love for the genre. What motivated you to write this book?
First off – thank you for those kind words, Lindsey! I’d been considering putting together a collection for a while, and when I started looking at stories I wanted to include – I already had the urban legend and slasher stories, for example – I started to realize how often I wrote about my hometown, Los Angeles. I knew then I wanted the collection to be all about Los Angeles, almost like a mosaic novel, and since Hollywood has created our visualizations of most of our classic monsters, the “monsters” part was an obvious addition.
What I love about your stories is the subtle horror of the human condition–handicaps, deformities, drug addiction, gender identity issues, homosexuality. You present people who society might refer to as “different” and allow us to view the world through their eyes. Are you inspired by the downtrodden, by the victims of prejudice? Or does it simply make for a compelling tale?
I’ve known so many interesting people in all walks of life, and I wanted the collection to reflect as much of that as possible (especially given the wide range of social classes and cultures here in Southern California). I knew the basis for my homeless vet in “Frankenstein”, my wannabee actor in “Kaiju”, my creepy studio head in “The Urban Legend”, and the preoccupied young mother in “The Creature”. And I’m really the protagonist in several of these stories, at different points in my life – I was a searching undergrad at UCLA (as in “The Urban Legend”), I was (briefly, thank goodness) the directionless person stumbling across strange geography in my “Slasher” story, and I’ve been the “Invisible Woman” reporting smashed cars and burglarized stores to apathetic police.
One thing I’m not sure I can ever write authentically about is someone in a small town. I’m a lifelong big city girl and I know that small towns have a very different dynamic. Fortunately there are plenty of other fine genre authors tearing into small towns!
I see your new book “Trick Or Treat: A History Of Halloween” is available for pre-order. It’s no secret that you’re obsessed with Halloween. You’ve been referred to as an “aficionado” on the subject, having already released “The Halloween Encyclopedia”. Please, tell us about the new book. What draws you to this holiday?
I always loved Halloween, of course – I was one of those kids who worked on my costumes for months in advance, and as that rare little girl who loved monsters, I preferred werewolves and walking dead to princesses and ballerinas. But I kind of fell into being a Halloween expert by accident: Back in the early 2000s, I’d just finished doing a film book for McFarland, and they asked me if I’d like to do another book. Well, they’d just published The Christmas Encyclopedia, so almost on a whim I proposed The Halloween Encyclopedia, and it took off from there. Fortunately I’m someone who loves research (I would probably have been a great academic!), and I amassed so much information just researching that first book that it spun off into more books.
One of the great things about Halloween is that it keeps transforming, so even when you think you’ve surely discovered everything about the holiday’s history, it’s changing right in front of you and there’s a new wealth of information. While working on Trick or Treat: A History of Halloween, for example, I was astonished to discover how the global popularity of Halloween had exploded in just the last five years. Places as diverse as Ukraine, South Africa and China are now celebrating the festival, something unheard of just a decade ago. It really is constantly fascinating to me.
Your story “Sparks Fly Upward”, which appeared in the anthology: The Living Dead, addressed the sensitive topic of abortion. I’m dying to know: have you had any negative feedback from this story?
Some, but fortunately it’s been far outweighed by the positive response. There was one I saw recently somewhere that repeated over and over, “I don’t have any strong personal views on abortion, but THIS –“ I will freely admit that I loved that response!
Do you enjoy writing on a theme, or do you find it restrictive?
I enjoy it. I like the challenge of addressing some subject or worldview I would never have come up with on my own. Editor Stephen Jones gave me two whoppers for his The Mammoth Book of Zombie Apocalypse volumes: For the first one I had to write from the point-of-view of the ultimate zombie movie geek, and for the second I had to be a general in a zombie-human war. I don’t mind telling you that I’m neither an expert on zombie movies nor military history, and I had a great time researching both. For the former, I watched zombie movies galore and read studies on zombie cinema and asked more knowledgeable friends about obscure zombie movies; for the latter, I discovered that WikiLeaks had posted hundreds of military reports from the U.S. conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and I pored over those things at length. I’m pleased with how both works turned out, and hope readers will get a sense of authenticity from them as well.
The majority of your fiction has been in the form of short stories, with a few longer works along the way. Do you have a preference for short stories over novels? Or is their abundance in your bibliography simply the result of novels taking longer to write?
For years I thought writing a novel was surely an impossible task. I started my career as a screenwriter, and the average feature film screenplay is shorter than most novellas; then for years I wrote nothing but short fiction and non-fiction.
Now that I’ve written three novels, I’ll offer another explanation: Novels are a harder sell! With short fiction, editors come to me and I do all the deals myself, but for novels my agent has to shop them and even with him in there fighting for me, response times are forever and there are more writers competing for fewer slots. And for me personally, self-publishing is just not the answer. I tried it with one novella (Wild Girls) and I wasn’t happy with the resulting sales figures. Novels are too much work for me to be content with having a small readership for them.
“The Lucid Dreaming” and “The Castle Of Los Angeles” are two of your longer works, both of which won a Bram Stoker award. Can you tell us a little bit about each book? What is it about these books, in your opinion, that brought home the Stoker award?
The Lucid Dreaming was my first longer work, and it’s a novella about a young woman, Spike, who is a paranoid schizophrenic who finds herself the sanest one left after a viral outbreak leaves everyone else wandering in a permanent hypnagogic state. Spike is full of attitude, and a lot of readers really responded to that, especially women. Too often in horror women are reduced to victims, so I think Spike was a welcome change.
The Castle of Los Angeles was my first published novel (although the second of the three I’ve completed), and again, I think a lot of readers responded to a strong female protagonist. Castle was also frequently autobiographical – it’s based on a lot of time I spent working in small theater, and my lead, Beth, is a writer and director in that arena – and I think readers also enjoyed stepping into that peculiar little arena.
I’m also interested in hearing about “The Samhanach”, which was–no doubt–inspired by your love for Halloween. What’s the storyline of this novella?
The Samhanach is indeed based on a tidbit I stumbled across in my Halloween research – it was little more than a mention of a shapeshifting Scottish bogie that stole children, but the idea of putting something like that into a contemporary suburban Halloween setting really intrigued me. It’s set on a contemporary Halloween night in a suburban neighborhood as a single mother, Merran, finds that her family was cursed by this creature centuries ago, and when it appears to steal her young daughter, Merran pursues the Samhanach into a dimension where legends are real and dreams are reality. My goal was to provide a sort of fictional overview of the history of Halloween (Merran comes into possession of a journal that describes her family’s Halloween celebrations going back hundreds of years), and to talk about the murky subconscious realm where a lot of these notions spring from, and it was tremendous fun to write.
What are you working on at the moment?
This will undoubtedly surprise absolutely no one: Another Halloween novella. This is one of the most unusual things I’ve written, though: The lead character is a Halloween expert named Lisa Morton who is brought in to consult when certain new discoveries about Samhain, the ancient Celtic holiday that was precursor to Halloween, come to light and change everything we think we know about Halloween’s origins. It’s called Summer’s End and will be coming out from JournalStone in 2013.
I’ll also have a novella coming out for this Halloween from Bad Moon Books: I wanted Hell Manor to get away from the nostalgic, trick-or-treat aspects of Halloween that seem to provide the basis for most Halloween fiction, so it’s about the modern haunted attractions industry, and pits a professional trickster against the real (supernatural) thing. It even throws in a bit of noir, which is another genre I love.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
I’d like to mention another book I had come out earlier this year that I’m very proud of: Witch Hunts: A Graphic History of the Burning Times, co-written with Rocky Wood and illustrated by Greg Chapman. It’s a graphic novel about the history of the witch persecutions in Europe and America, and (thanks largely to Greg’s amazing talents) I think it’s a real feast for the eyes. We’ve also been tremendously gratified by both the reviews and by teachers telling us they’ve been using it to teach students about discrimination, which is surely one of the best compliments an author can ask for.
Where can we find you on the web?
I’m at http://www.lisamorton.com, or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/lisa.morton.165, where you might find me posting about everything from new book announcements to Exorcist lunchboxes and silly stories from my day job as an overworked used bookseller.
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