Nancy Kilpatrick’s latest two publications–Danse Macabre, an anthology she edited, and Vampyric Variations, a collection of short stories and novellas written by her–continue to expand on her reputation as a horror author and her love of reinventing the morbid and frightful. She’s here today to discuss everything from her writing methods and inspirations to her newest releases!
1. In writing your stories, do the plots or the characters come first?
It varies and sometimes it’s neither. Occasionally a setting or an object is what sparks a story and I’ll open with that. To me, plot and characters go together so it’s like asking ‘which came first, the chicken or the egg’? I don’t think I could dissect my thinking patterns enough to know for certain. What I do know is that they hold equal value for me and one effects the other, back and forth, until the story settles.
2. Of all your stories in Vampyric Variations and Danse Macabre, which one was your most favorite to write? Which one was the most difficult? Why?
Vampyric Variations is a collection of my short stories and novellas. Danse Macabre is an anthology I edited, so I didn’t write any of the stories, only the introduction.
For my collection, I suppose my favorite is always the latest, which is the last novella in the book, Wild Hunt. I think that’s just because it’s fresh for me. But in going over the stories, I do really like ‘The Vechi Barbat’ quite a bit, and also ‘Traditions in Future Perfect.’ Both stories pit the ancient against the modern and I find that’s a fascinating subject in general. Anyone who reaches late middle age is surely hit by the contrast of the world they knew and the world-becoming that they don’t know very well and often don’t care much for.
3. Your two new releases, Vampyric Variations and Danse Macabre, center on genre elements many readers will quickly recognize, vampires and Death. How do you work to provide unique takes on such familiar concepts?
I think everyone has a unique vision of death (and vampires usually symbolize death, even those romantic bloodsuckers!). What I strive for is to actualize my vision. I do that in the stories I write but also in the anthologies I edit because I’m the one selecting the stories. For Danse Macabre, the theme involved the artwork that began in the 1400s as an artistic response to the massive death caused by plague that came and went on for quite a long time, decimating the population of Europe. Today, we are removed from death, until it happens to us or someone we know and love. We read about mass deaths all the time, accidents, acts of God, wars, etc. Back then, when people lived in smaller towns and villages and ‘cities’, they knew one another so a death that occurred affected everyone.
Danse Macabre artwork touches me. I like the simplicity of it. The idea is that the skeleton is the formerly living and who better to lead the still living across the threshold to demise. Also, the concept in the artwork shows us clearly that death is the great equalizer. You can be rich or poor, beautiful or plain or hideous, smart or not so smart in life, but in the end, all meet the same fate.
4. Do you have any writing rituals? I.e. a particular place you must be to write, a particular snack you need to have available, or your morning routine before sitting down at the computer? Do you prefer writing on the computer or a notebook?
I have two computers at home and a mini for travel. I write on my desktop, because it’s easier in every way, physically being one of those ways. If I’m travelling, it’s the mini I use. I spend the morning trying to wake up by reading a bit, eating something, many cups of tea, answering emails, checking Facebook, and checking students (I teach online writing courses). This all takes up most of the morning. I might then go out to a store to shop, or to meet a friend. After that, I write. Afternoons or evenings, and sometimes in the mornings if I’m in the mood for it then. I don’t have a set schedule. I tend to write by feel and that’s always worked for me, when the spirit moves me, which it does often. Deadlines push me, of course, but I also like to write for myself and see where that goes. If it’s a short story, usually it will end up fitting an anthology sometime. As to novels, well, I’m writing a bunch now and we’ll see what happens next.
5. What piece of writerly advice do you wish someone had given you when you first started out? Anything you’d tell new/aspiring writers today?
When I began, the business was tough, but not like it is now. And publishing is changing now, so I’m not sure I can offer much advice. No one in the industry seems to know what’s going to happen in publishing. Ebooks are here to stay but how large a part they will play in the future is still unknown.
I’m not sure anyone could have told me anything that would have made a difference. I suppose if in the early days someone had sat me down and said, accept it, you’re weird. What you write will never be best seller material because your readers have to have an interest in darkness and be intelligent and sensitive and that’s not everyone. You’ll never write a book that is bought because it’s the latest thing, which many buyers won’t even read. People who read your books will cherish them and they will tell you that, and that has to be enough. Accept that you are weird and your career will be weird and you’ll save yourself some agony.
Maybe that would have gotten through to me, maybe not. Maybe some agony would have been saved. But the truth is, I never really saw myself as that weird until very recently when it hit me like a bolt of lightning striking a dense tree that the way I think IS weird. That’s a little bit of a shock. So, maybe I would have listened and absorbed, but maybe not.
6. What do you wish you could do more of as a writer? What do you wish you could do less of?
I wish I had more time to write. I have do a lot of things to earn a living because writing doesn’t pay much. People still get 3 cents a word for short stories and that’s what they paid back in the 1930s! And as with all the arts: feast and famine. Money comes in and you have to spread it out because there will be periods where little comes in. Most writers do other work, like teaching, or part-time work outside the home. Amazingly, some even work full-time and come home and write–I couldn’t do it!
I often wish I had a wife. I know quite a few male writers who have a spouse who helps with all the promo and joe jobs involved with a writing career. Some have even quit their jobs to work for their husband full time if he is highly successful. Most women are not in that boat. They are lucky if they have a husband who works and supports them financially, period. Many women are alone and some single mothers, and that means doing everything yourself, and I do mean everything. So, I wish I could do less of the work surrounding writing so I’d have more time for the actual writing.
7. How have other authors impact your writing career and/or style?
I don’t know that anyone has affected my style consciously, although I’ve read a lot in a lot of genres and various fields and that always improves writing. Sometimes I’ll read a book or story and think: yeah, I’d like to try that kind of point of view, or that tense in that way. Or that structure or rhythm is interesting. So, it’s always learning, in a way, from others.
8. If you could talk to any author from the past, who would it be? Why? Who would you NOT want to talk to?
I think I’d like to talk with Mary Shelley or Shirley Jackson. I’d love to hear what they say about a lot of things, especially their work, and the workings of their thought processes. I’d like to talk with Salinger too, if he would talk with me. As to who I wouldn’t want to talk with, I’m not sure. No one comes to mind. Maybe some of the highly commercial writers who, in my opinion, produced shallow books and made a fortune doing it. I doubt they’d have much to offer but ideas on how to exploit the market and there’s plenty of that info flying around the internet already.
9. Two part question: A. Do you have a “theme” in mind for every story you begin or does it develop in the drafting and revision process? B. Is there a central passion or set of ideals/interests that drive you as a writer?
If I’m commissioned to write a story for an anthology, there might be a theme, so that guides my writing. Otherwise, the theme develops as I write. I might have a story idea but the theme doesn’t usually become clear to me until much later, towards the end of the writing process, when suddenly I see what it is I’ve been trying to do and what I want to say. That leads to me identifying the theme which allows me to enhance it.
I think I’m a passionate writer. I like to write about emotions and the torment they engender in us mere mortals. We are caught between a rock and a hard place, knowing we will die, not knowing when or how, trying to ignore the inevitable and many of us unable to blot out the thought of our pending disappearance. I have high ideals in life. I like to be honest and honorable and people will nod and say that’s a good thing and then say that leads to being ripped off in the latter case and disliked in the former. I’ve been ripped off and disliked. So be it. I can live with myself and frankly, that’s all I care about. I try to imbued my writing with honesty. Most of my protagonists are honorable, in a world full of scoundrels.
10. Is there something you do that no one ever asks you about? This can be anything — something unusual you eat, playing poker as a day job, a hobby, whatever you like.
From time to time I make jewelry–the most recent item a zombie bracelet. When I have time, I’ll make more–still have an abundance of rotting body parts! In the past I made mourning wreathes–it’s not easy being my close friend and getting a mourning wreath for Christmas as several did that year! I also have collected religious objects and mourning hair jewelry in the past. I like beautiful objects and don’t mind if they are mired with the grotesque, as long as there’s something intriguing there.
Visit Nancy Kilpatrick’s website to learn more about her and her work!