Monday, October 25, 2010

Halloween Nightmares

As Halloween draws near, I invited a few authors from Dreamspell Nightmares I  and II to join me. David Fingerman, John Capraro, and Joe Prentis are here today to discuss their scary stories in the anthology Dreamspell Nightmares I, and Ellen Dye, who is in Dreamspell Nightmares II, both published by Texas-based L&L Dreamspell. Welcome, folks.

Susan: Congratulations on having short stories published in the anthology. Please give us a brief biography and a short snyopsis of the story.

David:  I was born in St. Paul, but once out of the hospital I've lived my entire life in Minneapolis. During the summer months when the sun is shining and birds singing, I'm perfectly content to sit in my office, with blinds drawn, typing away at my computer. My favorite day of the year is the first day I pull a flannel shirt out of the closet.

As per my story in Nightmares ~ Remember as a little kid being scared of monsters under the bed or hiding in the closet? "The Charcoal Man" is a story of a man who never outgrew his monsters. Well, at least one particular monster that followed him into adulthood.

John:   Oddly enough, music was my first love, with writing a close second. Though I’ve been writing my entire life, it wasn’t until 2007 (while in my mid-forties!) that I finally began to take my writing seriously. Since then, I’ve had a number of stories, articles and even poems published, both in print and online. My agent is currently shopping around my first novel, a YA science fiction piece titled Reaching for Stars.

“Security System” is a story about three young men who enter a recently abandoned research facility for a little urban exploration. To their horror, they soon discover the building isn’t too eager to let them leave.

Joe Prentis attended Union University and then worked for the FBI in Washington D.C. After he returned to his native state, he was the pastor of one church and the interim pastor of three others. He worked for Tenneco until his recent retirement. He is an avid runner and bicycle rider, but admits to having settled into a more leisure pace after retirement. He has written five novels, over fifty short stories and articles, and a musical production to commemorate the National Bicentennial. His play, Freedom 76, had a total attendance of almost 70,000 persons. He is now working on a sequel to a previous novel and doing historical research of a story about the Colonial Era. Joe, how about a synopsis of your story?

Joe:  Sure, Susan. In "Bear Essentials" Merrick and Quentin had served in Special Forces in the Middle East, and half a dozen other trouble spots around the globe. Their hike into the rugged mountains of Montana to confront a group of terrorists was almost routine until they encountered a dangerous situation they had not expected. Their only choice was to discard everything they didn’t need and resist the impulse to run.

Ellen Dye:  I got bitten by the writing bug early in life, declaring at nine years of age I wanted to grow up to write the juicy confession stories I was forbidden to read, but yet devoured in secret. It took a goodly number of years and even more growing up, but I finally arrived at the destination of published author.  Now, in addition to those confession stories I so long ago admired, I write novels and short stories for L&L Dreamspell.

"Just Another Dead Hillbilly" teaser:

Meet Dr. John Ingersoll, a man of money masquerading as a man of science, who is about to get a most deserved comeuppance in a most unusual way.

Susan:  What stories or anthologies came along at just the right time to influence your writing short stories?

David: I really don't know about the timing issue but when I graduated from college I had absolutely no desire to pick up a pen or even read a book for pleasure again. Then one day a friend tossed me a book of short stories titled "Shatterday" by Harlan Ellison. He told me I had to read it. That reignited the creativity spark to read for pleasure again. Soon after the urge to write again started gnawing away at me.

John:  There were a few good anthologies I read that inspired me: “Get Off the Unicorn” by Anne McCaffrey; “The Anything Box” by Zenna Henderson; and “Something Strange” which was published by Macmillan Gateway English. One particular story in that last one really threw me for a loop: “The Cold Equations” by Tom Godwin. Reading those stories created a fire inside me—I needed to write short stories too.

Joe: have always been an avid reader. I read short stories of various types, but when I discovered Dephne du Maurier, I was hopelessly hooked on the type of stories she created. They are compelling, frightening, and very entertaining. I think it takes all three to get the job done.

Ellen:  Well, of course, there was those long ago issues of True Confession which kept me company late at night under the covers with a flashlight. But also, I’ve been heavily influenced by Ray Bradbury’s work as well as all those highly addictive episodes of "Twilight Zone", "Tales From The Crypt" and "Night Gallery".

Susan:  Where do you get your inspiration to write nightmarish content?

David:  Write what you know, right? In all seriousness there is some truth to that. I worked for years in the courtroom as a judge's clerk. I pretty much saw the lowest of the low in human nature. There is no way one cannot be affected by that.

John:  I’ve always enjoyed good, scary stories. For me, ideas can come from anywhere. I have one of those minds that likes to take something real I’ve seen or experienced and twist it into something unsettling. The impetus for “Security System” came from one of my lunch-time walks while at work. There was this huge, ominous, abandoned building, and every time I passed it, I got the willies. So I started thinking about people breaking into the place, and what kind of security system might be inside…and what would happen if that system was a little out of the ordinary.

Joe:  The kind of frightening stories that appeal to me are the ones that are possible. There are a lot of really scary things in the world, and capturing them on the page where others can experience the scalp tightening terror can sometimes be a challenge. With the type of stories I write, it is only necessary to place myself in the scene and sit back and watch. In a certain sense, my nightmarish stories are autobiographical.

Ellen:  From real life, most certainly. I’ve often found that people will do the most nightmarish things in the name of goodness.

Susan:  What makes a good story?

David: I think an opening line that grabs the reader is especially important in a short story ~ and of course to not let go until the story is over. A story that makes the reader think, or at least wonder after they're through reading would define a good story. I mean that in a positive light, not thinking I just wasted twenty minutes of my life that I'll never get back reading this piece of crap.

John:  To start with, you need a strong protagonist a reader will care about, sympathize with, root for. Put your character in a world that comes alive, a world so real the reader actually feels she’s a part of it. Your character has to want something…badly. Then, as the metaphor goes, you chase them up a tree. You throw rocks at them. I also like to start a fire at the base of said tree. In a word, conflict. Keep the reader wondering, What’s going to happen next? After you finally allow your character down from the (now burning) tree, your ending should have resonance; it should leave the reader both happy at the outcome of the story, and sad that the story is now over.

Joe:  For a story to be good, it has to be plausible on some level, and that involves laying the groundwork. If the story is about the supernatural, then it must be set in an atmosphere where ghost, goblins, and demons can get a toehold in the reader’s imagination. I must confess that I don’t have a very good posture when I am typing, but there is an advantage to this. Hunched forward in my chair, I can see my feet. When they start to kick around under my desk, I know I’m going in the right direction.  

Ellen:  For me, I think it’s the characters.  I love to create a character and turn them loose on the page.  And, I also love being able to give them exactly what they deserve in the end, just as I did for the not-so-nice Dr. Ingersoll, the star of "Just Another Dead Hillbilly".

 Susan:  How do you discipline yourself when writing?

David:  My discipline is fear. I credit (blame) my wife. I convinced her I'm a writer. So now if I don't write all day she'll make me go out and get a real job.

Susan:  LOL

John:  Discipline, for me, is pretty easy. First, I have a dream of being a successful novelist. (Haven’t heard that dream before, I bet.) As long as I keep my goals in focus, I don’t notice the obstacles. Also, I’m passionate about writing, so it’s never really a chore. I think the Nike ad sums up my philosophy rather succinctly: Just do it.

Joe:  Distractions are not a problem, but I do make an effort to keep them at a minimum. My office is away from the rest of the house. I keep the radio and television off and I discourage visitors when I write. I set aside a period of time to get my writing done, and I don’t let anything interrupt, short of an extraterrestrial invasion or the last trumpet blowing.

Ellen:  Butt in the chair, my personal catch-phrase for working days.  You’ve just got to sit, focus on the screen and tune out everything else from the dirty laundry to wondering what’s for dinner.

Susan:  Writer Graycie Harmon said, “Being an author is like being in charge of your own personal insane asylum.” Please comment on that statement.

David:  I'm in charge??? Please tell that to the inmates tromping around in my brain.

John:  What, with all the characters running rampant in my head, and the sparks of ideas flitting around like so many fireflies on a warm August evening, and looming deadlines, and relentless fears and self-doubts, and where’s that contract I was supposed to sign, and the chances of becoming a success in the publishing world being less than winning a hefty sum in the Lottery, and…
No madhouse here.
Who said that?
Not me.

Joe:  Graycie Harmon shouldn’t have said that because it is too close to the truth. There are a lot of people who want to be a writer, but don’t want to write. Those of us who were born with a writing demon inside write because we have to let it out occasionally or suffer the consequences. There are characters that live inside of us and they are manipulative. If we don’t write down their stories it can become intolerable. We are all driven to some extent, but a strong character has the tendency to take over . . . Well, what else can I say on this uncomfortable subject. Tell Graycie to shut up.

Ellen:  Oh my, I think Steve has the right of it.  I’ve often thought that writers have a great deal in common with schizophrenics.  We both hear voices and we also have imaginary friends who are very real.  Hey, how sane do you expect a writer to be when we spend our professional lives jotting down what imaginary people say and do?

Susan:  Do you have other writing projects underway?

David:  I'm about halfway into writing a horror novel. I recently started the third Louise Miller book, and just the other day I had an irresistible idea that I couldn't let go of, so I started chapter one of a new horror novel. ADHD can be a good thing.

John:  Yes. I am currently slogging through revision on my second novel, A Place Where Magic Happened, a coming-of-age action/adventure contemporary fantasy.

Joe:  Gore Vidal once described his writing process as being somewhat like a conveyor belt in a factory. My own writing experience is somewhat similar. I have never had a problem with trying to find something to write about. Stories leap full-blown into my head. It is only a matter of finding the time to work on individual projects. I am currently working on a sequel to Abraham’s Bones. I am doing research on a historical novel. I have two suspense novels in various stages of completion. There are also several short stories I have finished. I am waiting for them to ‘cool’ before I do a final edit.

Ellen:  I most certainly do, I’m currently working on another mainstream comedy which I hope will be as laugh-out-loud funny and uplifting as my current L & L Dreamspell release, "Relatively Crazy".

Susan:  Where can readers learn more about you?

David:  Information overload about me can be found at

John:    Of course, under the Authors section at L&L Dreamspell.

My blog is here:

I’m also on FB:

Website in pre-production phase. (i.e., I’m still thinking about it.)

Joe: My website and blog are at

Ellen:  Drop by my website any time. I love hearing from readers and writers as well! 

Thank you all for letting me get inside your head for a few minutes. It was truly scary but fun. Best wishes with your anthology and other endeavors.

David:  Thank you so much for inviting us and conducting this interview.

(For more information about Dreamspell Nightmares I and II and other Dreamspell publications, go to